Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda

I could have ridden yesterday, but thought that it was a bit too hot (my car said it was 104 degrees when I left the house).  I would have ridden if I’d realized that there was a nice breeze at the barn and the temperature was really only 94 degrees, but since I’m not Bent Jensen at PVDA’s Ride for Life (http://www.horsejunkiesunited.com/2012/06/24/bent-jensen-silva-martin-and-a-glow-in-the-dark-performance-fun-freestyles-at-pvda-ride-for-life/), I did not ride in my yoga shorts and sneakers.  I should have packed my riding clothing just in case.  Ah, hindsight, how clear you are.

My car said it was only 99 degrees when I left the house today, but the stifling humidity returned overnight, so it felt like 102 degrees with not a cloud to block the sun.  What was I crazy enough to do?  My riding lesson!  The horses were having a mid-day siesta with fans a-blowin’ when I arrived, and Ms. C and Mr. D had hosed them down to help bring down the body temperature.  Grooming was the bare minimum, i.e., the saddle and girth areas and the hooves.  We were ready to go in under 20 minutes.

Ike’s walk was nicely forward which was surprising given the weather conditions.  His trot was lovely, I mean really lovely.  Well connected, balanced and rhythmic.  Ms. C commented that the front and hind ends appeared to be moving as one cohesive unit.  Yea!  Progress.  So that means that either the boy is maturing into his body mass and the topline is getting stronger and/or the rider who sits astride the middle section is doing a better job with her half halts and aids to better help Ike find that sweet spot.  Since most everything is dependent on the rider, I guess we have to say that the rider is finally catching a clue.  Even his canter work was solid.  He hit his transitions and I was actually able to ask for and achieve a shoulder-fore on the right lead.  Ike still tends to get a bit quick to the left, especially down the long side, “Wee, let’s go faster!”  It too shall get better in time.  Total ride time – approximately 35 minutes before the rider cried Uncle, but I will take 35 minutes of the solid work we had today over an hour of, “Are you talking to me?” work with little accomplished.

I have to say that I thought I was in good physical condition, but this heat and humidity kicked me hard in the backside.  The weekend is not looking promising for riding here in Virginia.  We are facing more very high temperatures with heat index values well over 100 degrees by mid-afternoon.  I do so love the cloying humidity that plagues Virginia in the summer.  It will be interesting to see what my car registers as the temperature each day.  Maybe I can use the car as a roaster and slow-roast some of the 8 pounds of tomatoes we received from our CSA share.

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All Done

Well, my barn sitting duties are done and I have relinquished control back to Ms. C and Mr. D.  All horses were contentedly eating hay when I said goodbye this afternoon.  You don’t truly appreciate a well run barn until you do it yourself and feel the angst when you close the barn doors for the night and pray that all heads pop out to say good morning the next day.  What a great feeling to walk into the barn and hear every horse nicker and whinny good morning.

It is also fascinating to see the small personality traits of each of the horses when you spend a few days watching over them.  Some are independent, some are feisty when the morning is cool, some will try to bite you as you groom them, some are insecure, and Ike, he begs for my attention as soon as he sees me emerge from the barn.  “Come get me!!”  Why?  Just because I am there and maybe he is a bit insecure.  The weather was ideal today; even Goldilocks would have been hard-pressed to complain – not too cold, not too warm, not too humid, not too windy, and not too buggy.  But Ike wanted to be with me.  It was too nice to hide in the barn all day, so I let him graze around the barn.  Such a Mama’s boy, but it is hard to complain when I look into those big brown eyes.

Had a wonderful ride today.  Forty minutes of fun.  It is a nice feeling when all goes well and you can really just enjoy the ride.  Now I know that my next ride and the ride after that might not go well, that is horses and training, so I’m going to enjoy the “rider’s high” for tonight…at least until I can’t keep my eyes open anymore.  Ike and I focused on our stretch down trot for the last 15 minutes of our ride.  I think I’d go as far to say that we had maybe 20 seconds of true stretch.  I’d ask, Ike would snatch.  I’d ask again, Ike would blast through my request and motor along faster.  Maybe it was the weather or the lack of dive-bombing horse flies, but working on the stretch down wasn’t frustrating today.  Enjoyed the challenge and my handsome horse.

The takeaway from the past two days.  If you are boarding at a barn and your horse is healthy, happy, and secure, thank the owners profusely and let them know how much you appreciate their great care of your equine friend.

Barn Sitting

So I am barn sitting today and tomorrow.  Yikes, that is a lot of responsibility resting on my shoulders.  The morning feeding and turnout was peaceful.  The horses don’t seem to care who puts the feed in their buckets.  Just get the feed into my bucket NOW!

It is interesting to see how each of the horses maintains their stall.  Much like people, some are tidier than others.  Ike tends to poop in one spot in his stall and likes to push the sawdust to the edges of the stall to form a depression.  Ike eats all his hay so there is no leftovers to clean up in the morning.  Cigar is a slob; there is no other way to describe his stall other than a pig pen.  It takes twice as long to clean his stall because you are forced to mine for nuggets.  Hay is strewn everywhere including the water buckets.  All the other horses have their tendencies as well.

Once everyone was out and the stalls were mucked, I took the opportunity to clean out my tack box.  Pretty sure I now need some sort of booster shot for protection against mouse-borne diseases from the plethora of mouse detritus that was lurking everywhere.  But the job is done and everything is clean…for now.  At least I did not find any nests.

Popped on Ike for a 30 minute ride until we could no longer stand the dive bombing horse flies. Evil creatures.  We practiced our walk-trot transitions as well as our canter transitions.  Although it is less frequent, Ike still struggles with keeping the weight in the right place in his hind end.  Hoping as he muscles up and the topline gets stronger that the problems will fade away.  We also continue our quest for a stretch down trot.  Right now when I give a little, Ike lurches forward and gets faster and faster.  He tends to ignore the half halts once the giraffe neck is stretched so I resort to a stern, “slow down, slow, Ike, I said slow.”  That doesn’t always work either, but we will keep trying.

All was going well with day one until a small thunderstorm popped up out of nowhere.  Weenie couldn’t cope, so he hid in the barn.   One of the other geldings also had a meltdown, but it sure is challenging to get a halter on a horse that is rearing.  The storm was practically over before he let me get the halter on his head.  Silly boy.  The rest of the crew toughed it out and then promptly rolled to get a good coating of dirt for bug protection.  Pretty ponies.

The day ended well.  One more day.

Volunteering

If you have been around horses and horse shows for any amount of time, you know that barns and shows could not make it without people stepping up and volunteering.  Owners volunteer when barns are short-staffed or when there is a horse emergency – a show of hands of people who have walked friends’ horses who were colicking or waited with a friend for the vet to arrive.  Dressage shows would not be possible if it weren’t for the small army of volunteers who tirelessly plan the shows, set up the equipment, schedule the rides, control the chaos of warm up, run the calculators for scores, clean up and tear down the show grounds once all the riders and horses go home, and the countless other tasks that I didn’t mention.

I tried my hand as volunteer coordinator for my local chapter for 4 years.  I was brand new in the dressage world and naively said, “sure, I will be the coordinator.”  Craziness.  Much like herding cats.  I have had the chance to try every volunteer job myself at one point or another.   Don’t like scoring since you are usually tucked away in a small room with no view.  I’ve  stood in the cold rain on top of a hill in Lexington, Virginia waiting for riders who never showed up – drove home barefoot to warm my ice cold feet with the car heater.  I’ve stuffed competitor gift bags for days and stacked prizes in my guest room.  At one championship show, I had the opportunity to tell a well-known rider/breeder to leave the warmup ring since she was not competing that day – Ha Ha!  Power to the little people!  I spent yesterday afternoon setting up the ring for the schooling show today (how glad am I that the old chain rings are no longer used at the recognized shows).  We do these thing for the love of the sport and for the love of horses.

No riding today – spent the day with my husband and my parents having a belated Father’s Day celebration.  Ike and I did manage a short ride yesterday morning before the humidity got the best of us.  You know it is humid when you turn your helmet over to put it on your head and leftover sweat/condensation drips out.  Yuck!  He was full of himself and most of the ride was spent half halting and half halting and half halting and well, you get the picture.  Ike hit all his trot to canter transitions; he just didn’t want to down transition.  It is days like this that a wide open, well groomed trail would be nice to blow off some of that young horse steam so I might actually have a chance at my aids getting attention.  We ride again tomorrow.

p.s. I want a Dressage is #1 foam finger!!

We’re Melting

After two wretchedly hot days, it “cooled” off enough today to attempt my dressage lesson.  Weenie was resting comfortably in his stall when I arrived as was his friend Wussy.  Poor Ike was crusty from having sweated profusely the past few days.  There were white lines of crust like zebra stripes along his hind end.  It was tempting to hose him off even before starting our lesson, but opted for a bucket and rag.  I was sweating even before our lesson started, so I knew I’d be rather crusty by the time we were done.

Ms. C had us working on walk-trot and trot-walk transitions.  Ike was a bit heavy in my hand today to start, but at the same time, behind my leg (i.e. lazy) with the hind end.  The quick transitions woke him up and helped him connect and bring the hind end into sync with the front end.  We then refined the exercise so that I’d half halt and aaaallllmost walk, but then quickly squeeze my legs and trot on.  Sometimes I’d be a bit loud with my half halt and we’d walk, sometimes I’d be too strong with my “trot on” aids so my up transition was a bit abrupt.  Ugh, always rider error.  I can’t blame Ike because all he is doing is trying to understand what I am asking.  As I become more educated in dressage, I’m learning that not only is the half halt the secret aid of the rider, but that transitions are very important.  I’ve spent some time recently watching the Grand Prix rides on the USEF Network (http://usefnetwork.com/featured/2012USEFDressageFestivalofChampions/).  So many of the scores are for the transitions, so you’d better do them well if you hope to have a respectable score.  Of course, their transitions are from piaffe to passage or extended trot to collected trot, but we all have to start somewhere right?

Before Ike’s tank went empty, we did practice the Training 1 and Training 2 canter transitions and patterns.  The bugger was spot on with his canter transitions today and we even produced some roundish circles.  We won’t head out to another schooling show until July 29th, so hopefully by then Ike will be ready to try two Training Level tests.  And hopefully there will be no scary water trucks or big tractors in use while we attempt our tests.  We did not overschool canter and moved on to shoulder in and haunches in.  Ah, my favorites.  Yes, I know we need this work, but it is HARD making all those body parts stay in place.  I was working so hard that I was blinded by the sweat rolling into my eyes.  Also found that my dressage whip came in handy to speak to the hind end…I might have long legs, but sometimes they are just not long enough to speak effectively to Ike’s back end.  What are we going to do if his body length stretches anymore?  Carry a lunge whip?  Now that would be a sight to see.

By the time our lesson was over, my face was bright red, my clothes were soaked, Ike was soaked, and there was white lather from the bridle and reins.  A vision of loveliness.  Took some doing to get Ike hosed down…I let him graze as I hose him and I’m pretty sure he delibrately steps on the hose every time I try hosing certain areas of his body.  Stinker.

Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot!

Miserable, simply miserable.  This is July/August heat and it is only June.  At this rate we will be riding with ice packs stuffed down our shirts by August.  This heat has even made the bugs mad so they are particularly pesky to the perspiring ponies.  Ike just couldn’t take the great outdoors for all that long and somehow convinced Ms. C to bring him to the sanctuary of his stall.  Ms. C tried putting Ike back outside a couple of more times, but he protested enough to find his way back to his stall for the remainder of the day.  He has earned the new nickname of Weenie.  But don’t worry about Ike being alone in the barn, his friend Wussy (the chestnut mare who tries to bite Ike) was also enjoying the shady respite of the barn.

It is interesting to note that the green heads and horse flies don’t follow the horses into the barn.  The barn doors are wide open, the windows are wide open, but the only flies in the barn are the common house flies.  Why is that?  Are there different intelligence levels in flies?  Are they visually challenged so they cannot discern the doors and windows?  Of course, there are enough of the house flies to be annoying, but they come nowhere near the evilness of the green heads and horse flies.  Maybe Weenie and Wussy are smarter than we think…

Humble Pie

Not sure who said it, but isn’t there a saying that kids and animals will keep you humble?  My horses certainly know how to keep my head from swelling with confidence and bring me back down to earth.  Take for example our Training Level debut.  I had been stressing for weeks about our right lead canter and our stretch down trot. Our left lead canter has been spot on for months.  Can you guess where we had our lowest score on Sunday?  The LEFT lead canter!  Ugh!!  We cross-cantered and got a well-deserved 4 for our effort.  The right lead canter?  7.  The stretch down trot? 5.5.  I’m actually pleased with our 5.5 for the stretch down trot;  with all the chaos, I didn’t expect that we would have any stretch.  Wouldn’t it be nice to know which movement will cause you angst on any given day?  Too much confidence + too much chaos = average score + a big slice of humble pie.  I think I still prefer apple pie.  Deep breath.  We have over a month at home to just train rather than thinking about tests.  We will get stronger and our scores will get better.

I popped on for a short ride today to see where we stand with the canter transitions – not a single problem.  Sigh.  Stretch down trot?  Quicker rhythm and little stretch.  Sigh.  Back to normal.  And normally the summer heat arrives in Virginia in June, and the rest of the week looks to be a very hot one.  Close to 100 degrees with the heat index tomorrow and Thursday.  Yea…don’t you just love when the sweat rolls down into your eyes while you ride (burn, baby, burn) and you are a sopping wet mess even before you hose the horse off?  It is tempting to turn the hose on myself as well, but I hesitate since I do have to get in the car to drive home.

The other bonus for this time of year?  The horse flies have arrived.  Had the first one bounce off my helmet today and then head for Ike’s ears.  Unlike the green-heads and the common house flies, the horse flies are a bit slower to react when I take a whack at them.  Is it wrong to take great pleasure when I actually get one?