Frankenstorm Report

I am happy to report that all is well after Sandy blew through our area.  The only damage to our home or Ms. C’s farm is the phone line to our house is partially down in the backyard.  I am thankful.  My heart goes out to all those who faced the full effects of the Heartless Wench as I’ve dubbed Sandy.  There is coastal damage from Florida to Rhode Island and everywhere in between.

The horses had very limited turn out yesterday morning before the rain and wind picked up and had them begging for the safety and dryness of the barn.  I can tell you – they knew the storm was coming.  Ms. C and Mr. D said that they were keyed up as they were led to their paddocks and most confined their antics to their own paddock….and then there was Ike’s brother Cigar.  Cigar is one of those Thoroughbreds, you know the ones I mean, the screw is loose and sometimes falls out and rattles around the brain.  Cigar jigged on the way to his paddock, reared up, and pulled away from Ms. C as if he was breaking from a starting gate.  He managed to get into a brawl with Ms. C’s mare who was being led to her paddock.  They fought like banshees.  Ms. C and Mr. D finally got them separated and Cigar herded back to his paddock.  By this time, he was fired up and passaged over to one of the ponies and kicked at the fence.  Somehow, during the melee, he managed to tear up the front of his left hind leg…great.  Frankenstorm is on her way and I’m headed to the barn praying that I don’t have to call the vet for the fool.

By the time I arrived at the barn, the horses were safely tucked in their stalls.  They were all happy to see me, “the treat lady is here!”  I quickly handed out treats (the bucket bangers would have been inconsolable had they not been given a snack…yes, I’m well-trained).  I put Cigar’s halter on and did my best to get a close look at the leg.  Yes, it was bloody looking, but thankfully, Ms. C and Mr. D had already cold-hosed the leg, sprayed it with a topical medicated spray, and given Cigar some bute.  Unfortunately for me, Cigar knew my motive for being in his stall, so he was less than cooperative.  Every time I got too close to the leg, he would cock it as if to say, “go ahead, I dare you to touch it.”  Hmm,  I did managed to snap a grainy photo with my phone (forgot the camera in my rush). It was right in the stifle area in the fleshy front part of the leg.  Hmm, what to do.  I sprayed the wound with additional medicated spray while chasing Cigar’s hind end around the stall while holding onto the lead rope…a modified ring around horsey mom, if you will.  I keep Wonder Dust on hand in the first aid kit, so I decided to apply it as well to help stop the bleeding and dry up the wound.  Interesting process dumping the dust into the palm of my right hand while holding the bottle and the lead rope in my left hand.  I then attempted to aim at the wound and just as I would throw the dust towards the leg, Cigar would move.  By the time I got the dust on the wound, his entire leg was a chalky, blue color.  Pretty.

Went back today and was pleased with how the leg looked.  The swelling was minimal. Cigar was placing his weight on the leg and continued to be uncooperative as I redressed the wound.  Ah, he was his normal self.  Good sign.  Since the swelling was slight, it leads me to believe that he got his leg hung on the fence as he was kicking, and left the hide on a fence board.  I’ll take that over a kick any day.  Thank goodness we averted the emergency vet visit this time.

As you can see from Ike’s photo, the horses were able to escape the confines of the barn for a few hours today, and Ike fully enjoyed the muddy slop.  He learned that trick from Cigar.  They were both contentedly eating hay in the drizzle when I left the barn.

I’m headed to the office tomorrow, but it will be good for Ike to have a full day of turnout after being cooped up for most of the past two days.  If life cooperates, I’ll be back in the saddle on Thursday.

Happy Halloween!

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Master of the Dark

                                                                                           A+++

That would be Ike’s grade for his performance yesterday even if our scores had been awful.  How, you ask, would that be possible since dressage schooling show success is typically judged by your score and ribbons earned?  Let me explain.

I last rode on Tuesday at our lesson.  Life intervened the rest of the week and kept me out of the saddle and away from the barn until Friday.  My job which pays the bills, general life maintenance (read, laundry and house work), and ACL surgery on my dog Tim’s knee demanded my attention.  I managed to make it to the barn long enough on Friday to load the trailer and groom big man.  I put in the basic braids so all I had to do in the morning was roll them into our cheater buttons.  Ike would have had every right to act out since he’d had limited work.

Yesterday started at 3:30 a.m. in the DARK of night.  Had to tend to Tim – getting medicine to go down and a morning walk were necessary.  A quick stop for coffee was also necessary and then the 25 minute drive to the barn in the DARK.  Arrived at the barn at 4:30 a.m.  It is very DARK in the country.  The horses all nickered to me as I opened the barn doors and turned on the light; not sure if it was “good to see you” nickers or  “turn off the lights, we are sleeping” nickers.  In either case, all eyes were wide open when I fed Ike, so everyone got some oats and hay.  Ike balked at getting on the trailer.  I’m assuming because it was DARK and way too early to be going anywhere.  Since he is such a good sport, he finally conceeded and we were on our way at 5:00 a.m.

We arrived at the show barn at 6:15 a.m. in the DARK.  We parked in the field in the DARK.  Did we remember a flashlight?  Of course not.  So we unloaded Ike and tacked in the DARK.  Since it was DARK and there was no one else at the show, I opted to not put Ike and I in our Halloween costumes.  What was the point?  It was DARK and no one could see it.  We then walked through the field and down the path in the DARK.  Checked in with the show secretary in the DARK.  The one advantage to being there at this early hour – since there were no lights in the field where warmup was to be, they let me warm up in the competition arena since it had lights.  The lights did a decent job at providing light, but there were still DARK, boogie man corners and shadows.  Ike, being the star that he is, didn’t spook at anything.

I should also mention that we rode by ourselves for most of warm up.  Thank goodness my husband and Ms. C were also there so Ike had some ground support.  About 7:00 a.m. another horse showed up; it was the other horse in our class.  As it turns out, the other competitor in our group scratched…I’m betting it was because they did not wish to ride in the DARK.  Ike’s warm up went fairly well.  We had tense moments and some stumbling.  Hey when it is DARK, I tend to have trouble as well.

It was finally time for Training Level Test 2.  Not our best effort.  Ike was inconsistent in his rhythm and even felt “off” during half of the test.  He also kept trying to break into canter.  The judge took some time to talk to us after our ride since the scratches opened up a block of time.  She also noticed the odd movement, but told me there were some nice moments.  She complimented my riding and Ike’s stellar performance in the early morning DARKNESS.  We ended up with a 62.5% but it came with a blue ribbon.

They let me and the other competitor do another 5 minutes of warm up in the competition ring before our second rides.  The sun was just starting to peak over the horizon, so the field was still pretty DARK.  During this five minute period, Ms. C had us trot in a circle around her and she checked Ike’s shoes.  Maybe he stepped on a rock?  Maybe when he tripped in the DARK, he torqued something?  His movement was still not quite right…..and then he finally pooped……..and my happy horse returned.  Ah!

I could feel the difference as we headed down centerline for our second test.  Ike’s rhythm was steady, there was no hitch in his giddyup, and there was no general ickiness in any of his movement.  His canter transitions were prompt (a good thing since they have a coefficient in Test 3).  His trot loops were smooth.  We even nailed our canter turn onto the long diagonal and the down transition at X.  His walk was marching and forward.  I was tickled with our test.  The judge was as well.  Her oral comment, “WOW! What a difference!  What did you do??”  LOL, I told her what made the difference.  She laughed.  She was very complimentary of our test and the score reflected her comments – 68.6%!!  Way to go big man.

As we headed back to the trailer, we finally saw more competitors.  We also could see the path back to the trailer parking and the fields and the ground and the tack room.  The sun had made its daily appearance and night was over as was our work for the day.  I joked that our experience prepared us for riding under the lights at Devon.  Ha!  Although we didn’t make it to the 70% mark, I cannot complain.  My big man proved to me that he is a rising star.

Quite the Conundrum

Phew!  Ike and I sweated our way through our weekly lesson today.  Who would have thought that we’d be riding in 83 degree weather at the end of October.  Poor Ike is sporting a heavier winter coat so he was a hot mess when we were done.  Cooler days are only a few days away and I will again be able to wear my winter riding boots (grin) that don’t need to be cleaned every day (bigger grin).

Ms. C made the astute observation that I need to achieve a better outside rein connection to help Ike learn to be straight.  He is so long and gangly that he tends to “leak” if I don’t maintain a steady connection with that outside shoulder.  We get a crooked look which is good for a scarecrow, but not so much for a dressage horse.  My connection with my inside rein is also suspect.  I’m told I throw away the inside rein or take too much contact and pull backwards.  Sheesh.  I’m a hot mess in more ways than one.

I can achieve a better connection when I’m in sit trot – go figure.  In my rising trot, my connection is more on again, off again.   So I can help Ike more from sit trot, but since he is young, his back isn’t quite sit trot ready.  Do you know what I mean?  So there is the problem.  Well, let’s be honest, it is really my problem.  Sigh.  How do I help big man learn when I can’t be the perfect rider with every stride?  I suppose that I could knuckle down on his withers or hook a couple of fingers through my SOS strap, but while that would help Ike with a steadier connection, it really doesn’t help me learn to have better hands.  I could try the technique I learned at the last clinic (bridging the reins), but my hands still tend to bob around a bit too much.  If you have any tips for help through this struggle, please share!  I know I can’t be the only one with this problem.

The rest of the lesson went well.  Ike continues to improve his stretch down trot and his canter rhythm.  Rode Test 3 with Ms. C as the judge.  She is a tough one, but spot on with her comments.  The take away message is always Ike can only get better and learn to move correctly if you show him how.  So we muster our strength and live to ride another day.

Ike’s Turn Again

Hello Everyone!  My darling mother has been hogging the blog, so I haven’t had a chance to check in with you in recent months.  She really should be a little more cognizant of my need to share my point of view.  Maybe Santa will bring me a laptop of my very own so I don’t have to hijack Mom’s.  Hmm, guess I’ll have to suggest that WiFi access be installed at the barn as well.  I’m sure Mom will be willing to pay extra for this small convenience.

But I digress.  Mom has been very focused on the “tests” that we perform when we leave the farm.  I sometimes don’t see the point of them.  What fun is it to do the same thing as the horse before you and the horses that go after you.  Bo-ring.  My paddock is sort of shaped like the riding arena and I try to show Mom and Ms. C what I think would be fun to do.  I run really, really fast, kick up my heels and end with a high-stepping trot.  But no, the two fuddy-duddies frown upon my antics.  When I do try to cut loose under saddle, Mom gets a very stern tone to her voice.  She then tries to squelch my creativity and slow me down.  It just makes me want to try harder to impress upon her my thoughts and suggestions.  I’ve got one more chance this coming weekend to break free from the pedestrian walk/trot/canter.  What do you think my chances of success will be??

And speaking of paddocks, I have been granted the privilege of spending time in the BEST paddock at the farm.  Ms. C calls it sanctuary.  I call it heaven.  It is smaller than my normal paddock – more of a square than a rectangle.  I can visit with two pony girls, the chestnut mare that sometimes is kind to me when she thinks no one is looking, and my brother Cigar.  Most of the fences have hot wire, but I’m tall enough that I can just arc over the wire and visit with anyone I want.  The little bay pony likes to squeal at me.  Cigar likes to rough house.  I could stay in this little paddock all the time, but they make me share.  I’m not always good at sharing.  I try but it is hard when I see Mom paying attention to others and giving away my candy.  Hmmph.  She can pet the others, but my candy is mine.  Mine, mine, mine.  I wonder how Santa would feel about this.

I’ve also been told that the scores from the prancing routines have been good enough to qualify for awards.  I think Mom tried to explain them to me, but I was too busy dunking my hay to really pay attention.  I guess they can be a good thing if it means there are more bags of treats or peppermints.  Usually awards mean ribbons.  I tasted one once.  Not worth the effort.  Definitely not as tasty as candy.

I did behave for Mom these past two days.  She is so easily flustered, so I like to be kind to her most of the time.  We worked on the routines we are planning to do this coming weekend.  That Test 3 is a hard one, especially the left lead canter turn onto the long diagonal.  If we’ve got a good clip going, it is even harder.  Thank goodness Mom’s knee is there to buffer me from the fence.

So nice catching up with you!  Come see us at the show and tell Mom to breathe and have fun.

Ike

“What You BS?”

Say what?!?

Me: ” I have no idea what you are asking.”

Former supervisor: ” That is because you blocking.”

Huh? What the ___?

Me: “Blocking what?”  (My smart mouth started at a young age.)

Supervisor: “You BS.”

Imagine a look of bewilderment.

Assistant Supervisor: “What was your college degree?”

Ah.  My Bachelor of Science.  BS.

I share this actual account from my first job after college, because even though it occurred over 20 years ago, I have never forgotten that exchange or the take away message – Clear communication is key if you wish someone to know what you are asking.  The same is true all these years later as I train and ride a young horse.  If I am not clear with my aids, Ike’s response is one of bewilderment as he attempts to fathom what I have asked him to do….Haunches in? Haunches out?  leg yield?  Ball up and get gnarly?  Halt out of frustration?

As we begin to introduce new concepts to Ike, Ms. C keeps me on my toes to make sure I am using my aids appropriately.  And as I’ve admitted before, I’m not always as sharp as I need to be.  I honestly try to time my squeeze/weight shift/leg movement, but as a girl who walked into the bathroom door yesterday (I’m pretty sure it moved on purpose), I sadly admit that I’m not always the most coordinated.  Poor Ike.  He is held back by my spastic appendages.  Luckily, he is a very forgiving fellow since we have shown progress over the past year.

Had an awesome ride today.  A full 45 minutes of solid work.  Since we are just over a week away from our last schooling show of the season, I did ride Training Level Test 3 in its entirety to 1) See if I could remember the sequence and 2) to remind Ike that he must respond at a specific time and place – not just when he wants.  We had more gor-ge-ous canter work.  If only we could have this canter when we are out in public.  We will just keep trying and practicing.  We’ve been nailing our centerlines the past few weeks.  I can almost tell you as we make the turn whether or not we will halt square.  That is a great feeling since it is the final impression we leave with the judge.

Alison

P.S.  My B.S. is in Biochemistry.

Preview of Things to Come

Sooooooo, the past few days have had non-equine activities to occupy my time and wallet.  My SUV decided that it was feeling neglected, so it blew a tire.  I spent Sunday morning having new tires installed – cha-ching.  My poor therapy dog had been nursing a hind leg injury for a few weeks and went three-legged lame Sunday morning.  He spent the day yesterday at the vet’s office.  At his pick-up appointment our vet broke the great news that he blew the ACL and he needed surgery.  We are well versed in doggie knee surgeries since we nursed him back to health two years ago from his first surgery.  Awesome.  We were sent home with Rimadyl and Tramadol and a surgery date.  Sigh.  Just to keep things interesting, my husband’s cold reappeared.  I’m hoping that the cooties don’t make a reappearance for me, but I’m glad that Ike and I had our weekly lesson today in case they come calling.

We started off slowly with absolutely no rhythm, connection or energy.  Ike even decided to pin his ears when I asked for a little more gas.  Multiple transitions later, Ike decided to pass gas.  Ah, so that was the issue.  Now let’s continue our lesson unencumbered.  Ms. C really had me focus on riding a circle – not puttering in a round like shape – riding every stride, looking ahead, planning my half halts, asking for the correct flexion and bend.  To the left, we nailed it with very little effort on my part.  To the right, well, hmm, let’s just say that if I put on the cruise control, Ike doesn’t turn, and Ms. C fusses at me (and rightly so) for not maintaining focus and letting Ike straighten.  Her words, “He is ready to learn this, but it is up to you to help him learn.  You let him leak to the left and You lost that outside shoulder.”  Double sigh.  So much work.  But she is right, so I tried again and we nailed it.

Lateral work is progressing.  We don’t get too greedy and Ike’s tolerance for sit trot is helping our progression.  This rider definitely maintains a better connection from sit trot and has better control of her aids.  A Grand Prix rider I am not.

Our canters today were delightful.  I can’t wait for the day that we can achieve this caliber canter strides in public.  Ike came up and out of his withers and the hind end came up and under that loooong back.  The right lead canter was aaah-maazzz-ingggg.  “Ride that canter!”  I heard as we nailed the transition.  The right lead was collected, rhythmic, and through.  Ooooh.  I want more of that.  But I am riding a four-year-old, and soon Ike said he could give no more.  That is okay, he gave us a preview of what is to come.

Horse Show Rant

Today Ike had a day of rest and reflection (why do we keep trying to take the reins from mom and act like a racehorse?), and I went to a local horse show to support one of my young rider friends.  She has had some unfortunate struggles with her quarter horse, but after almost a year of rehab and steadfast devotion, they are back on track.  No one deserves it more and I was glad to get to see them in action.  Although it was not a rated show, she still took the time to braid, had her horse impeccably groomed, and tack cleaned.  She was also well prepared and collected two blues and a red ribbon while I watched.

So now I must vent about some of the others I saw at the show…I cringed, averted my eyes and had to walk away a few times to keep my mouth from saying something that it shouldn’t.  The sad part is that most of the poor behavior and decisions were by the people who should know better…”adults” and “trainers.”  I will share my observations here because I won’t be able to sleep if I can’t get the images out of my head.

1) Yes, I do understand that it was cold last night so a full bath was not in the cards and that coats are getting shaggy as the winter coat comes in, but is it too much to ask that you at least comb your horse’s mane and tail???  I saw some Bob Marley wannabes, knots that could tie an aircraft carrier to the dock, and a lot of unkempt bridle paths.  Please teach your children and students that having a well-groomed horse to present in the ring demonstrates respect for the judge.

2) Part Two of show ring preparation – Clean your tack, wipe your boots, and tuck in your shirt.  Most everyone who knows me would agree that I’m a stickler for clean tack.  And if I am getting ready to be seen in public?  Extra scrubbing and wiping.  I’m a big fan of disposable boot wipes.  Very portable and do a decent job at removing dust and slobber.  The untucked shirt just looks slovenly.  Period.  Does it need any further explanation?

3) One of my biggest cringe moments came as I watched a “trainer” school a horse.  Can someone please explain to me how constant yanks on the reins while digging the rowels (big ones) of your spurs into the horse’s sides non-stop is supposed to bring out the best in your horse?  I don’t recall reading that particular training method in any of my books or equine periodicals.  Riding is supposed to be a partnership with mutual respect.  Leaving hairless, red spur marks means you are not holding up your end of the deal.

4) Please learn schooling ring etiqutte: pass left shoulder to left shoulder unless one horse is traveling at a faster gait and then yield the rail to them, if you must stop and have a conversation with someone then leave the ring or get off the rail, and the biggie – if you screw up and make a mistake, which we all have, then learn to use the words, “I’m sorry.”  My young rider friend was almost unseated by an adult who could not control her horse and ran into my friend’s horse; the sad part was that this adult said nothing.  Yes, it is sad that basic manners aren’t used.

5) Be a good sport when you don’t win.  The sour pusses of some of the adults were enough to turn your stomach.  The silver lining? It was heartening to watch the younger competitors clap for each other as the class was placed.  There is dim hope.

Now don’t think that this show was all ungroomed, ill-mannered individuals.  There were just as many well turned out pairs with supportive parents and trainers.  It is a true pleasure to watch a youngster on their steadfast, been-there-done-that mount enjoying their time with their horse.  They might not be the flashiest pair, but there is a true partnership and love between the two.  You see it on the child’s face when they pat their horse as they collect their ribbon (never mind what color it is) and that is what this sport is all about.