We’ve Been Slimed

This photo was taken at the beginning of my ride, so there is no “drooly slime” on Ike’s mouth.  Ike, however, is very good at producing large quantities of slime in a short amount of time – it makes me think that he might be part Mastiff.  He is also very adept at flinging the pendulous drool at the closest target.  Ms. C was the recipient during our lesson the other day, and I have been the lucky one for my three rides this weekend.  With one flick of his gynormous head, drool flies through the air to land on the saddle, my boots, his own legs and chest, and my chest.  And once our ride is done?  I have to be on guard or “THWACK!”  I am knocked off-balance as Ike decides that now is a good time to wipe his face on my head/arm/back/chest…whatever happens to be the closest.  Not cool.  A klutz like myself is easily toppled with the slightest nudge.  Ike also grazed my face which under normal circumstances would have just irked me, but since at the ripe old age of 43 I had braces put on, became a painful reminder that I need to always pay attention or face a bloody lip again.

Bloody lip aside, I have enjoyed my rides this past week.  Riding is a great way to get away from the hustle and bustle of the start of the holiday season.  In my lesson on Wednesday, Ms. C reinforced the concepts that I worked on at the clinic.  Stop overbending Ike’s neck, establish and keep a better inside leg to outside rein connection, and let go with my inside rein.  The sad part is, I can see when another rider is overbending their horse’s neck and using too much inside rein, but put me on my horse, and all bets are off.  That inside rein is like a crutch that I just can’t let go.  When someone is on the ground reminding me, sure, I can listen and do it.  When riding alone, that inside hand creeps tighter and tighter and next thing you know, Ike’s long neck is curled like the letter C and that outside shoulder is falling where it may.

During my last three rides I have honestly tried to keep Ike straighter and more through.  Throughness can still be tough when Big Boy gets a bit strong in the hand.  Cold and windy days are especially challenging.  Add a tractor, a pickup truck, and a golf cart and throughness is next to impossible.  I persevere and we have fleeting moments.  In between, there is head wagging, nose in the air, and ducking behind vertical.  All normal evasions, but Ms. C reminds me that it is my job to show and teach Ike where I want him to be.  I keep trying and I think there is some success.  I beam with pride when I feel the connection.  Those “Ah-ha” moments are becoming more frequent, and I even smile while covered in slime.

Gobble Gobble (Turkey Speak for Happy Thanksgiving!)

As 2012 winds down and we head into the madness of the holiday season, Thanksgiving is a great day to take stock in all I have to be grateful for during the past 11 months.

I am grateful that my husband reintroduced me to horses for Christmas 2004.  If you had told me then that I’d now own 2 horses along with all their paraphernalia and a horse trailer, I’d have laughed and said you were out of your mind.  Both of my equine buddies are special and deserve all that I am able to do for them.  Don’t believe them when they say that they are neglected and hungry.

It has been said before, but it is worth repeating – I have the best husband.  He is my chauffeur, my boot wiper, the pooper scooper, and my best cheerleader.  He is the test retriever and ribbon presenter.  We try our best to make him proud.  I can only hope the day will come when we can participate in the GAIGs and hopefully be part of the mounted awards ceremony.  I would love to present that ribbon to my husband since it would be just as much his as it would be mine…I would of course hope that he’d let me keep it with the rest of the ribbon collection. 🙂

I can’t say enough about the people I’ve met through my horses.  No matter what are lives are like away from the barn, the love and near insanity our horses bring to our lives binds us together.  Where else can you get sweaty and smelly, get covered in dust, dirt, slime, and god knows what else, but still have a smile on your face.  During our lesson today in fact, Ike flung some mouth slime at Ms. C and it hit her in the face.   She delicately wiped it off and then patted Ike with her now slimy hand and told him what a nice boy he was.  You have got to be a true horsewoman to take that in stride and not miss a beat.

I can only hope that my horses are grateful for their station in life.  They don’t have to worry about running through an auction pen with keen eyes watching their every move.  They need not worry about what happens if no one bids on them…there is no question that there will be a meal to fill their bellies twice a day, good quality hay, and plenty of fresh water in which to dunk that hay.  I am a walking treat dispenser filled with peppermints, carrots and horse treats.  They know they are loved and they are safe for the rest of their lives.

Ike and I would be lost without our lifeline packaged as a 5’3″ dynamo we call Ms. C.  I’ve been to clinics and stared at numerous judges as we head down centerline, but it is Ms. C who has molded us and imparted her wealth of knowledge on us.  Ms. C will patiently explain a concept to us, and explain it again, and again until it finally sinks into this thick skull.  She is selfless and generous and one of my dearest friends.  I am indebted to her and grateful that she is an integral part of my life.

May you all have a blessed and wonderful holiday with your families and friends.

The One With the Really Sweaty Horse and Rider

It might be November, but Ike and I managed to get so sweaty (and I’m assuming a bit stinky) at our clinic that on the drive home, my husband insisted that I wait in the truck while he us grabbed something to drink at the local Valero. Hmm, maybe I dressed a bit too warmly for the occasion.  I had forgotten that we’d be working in an indoor arena which effectively blocks the wind and stays a bit warmer than the ambient temperature outdoors.  I wore my FITS winter riding pants, my Mountain Horse winter boots, 3 tops and my Horseware Ireland wool sweater.  (Note to self:  Remember this combination if I need to sweat off a few pounds in record time.)  Ike is not clipped since we ride outdoors in the winter, I don’t want to have to play “guess which blanket to put on the horse” every day, and let’s face it, I’m too lazy to clip.  So yet again, we looked nothing like the winter riders in all the horsey mail order catalogs I regularly receive.

All our sweaty efforts were worth it.  We attended another clinic with Rebecca Langwost-Barlow.  Overall, she is very pleased with Ike’s progress.  Can you guess who needs the most work in our team of two?  Yes, you guessed correctly.  It is me.  Shocking.  I still like to overuse my inside rein which overbends Ike’s neck.  When I do think I’m straightening his neck, I end up throwing away my contact and leave Ike to decide how things are going to go.  It doesn’t matter what gait we are traveling.  I also have a tendency to cross my outside rein over Ike’s neck trying to correct what I’ve done with my inside rein.  Arrrrghhh!  What mayhem I create for myself.  I then get so hung up on what my hands are doing that I forget to effectively use my legs, and my shoulders start to shrug as they tense.  Becky kept after me the entire lesson just as Ms. C does – these ladies know how to drag the best out of Ike and me.  While working on the left lead canter, she even resorted to having me hold my SOS strap with my right hand while she told me when to half halt.  It took a few minutes, but I finally figured it out.  Ike leaned in on my inside leg a lot less and, surprise, surprise, his neck was straight.  I think I actually turned him using my outside rein and leg rather than pulling with my inside rein.  We then achieved similar success with the right lead canter.  Cool.  Nice to find out that the SOS strap can save me in other ways.

This was most likely our last outing for 2012.  The holidays are upon us and I’ll be sweating the details to get everything done on time.  Maybe I should wear my riding attire as I shop, wrap, and bake, and sweat off those extra Christmas cookies…

We Need More Time to Acclimatize

Ike and I are looking for a free ride to somewhere warm.  If possible we will need free boarding, food, and living quarters for the duration of our stay.  My parents have a condo in Florida, but Ike would be a bit cramped in their guest room.  I’m also figuring that the upstairs neighbors would begin to complain after a day or two of Ike in residence.  Where did our nice weather go???  I rode in summer clothes on Monday with a high temperature of 77 degrees.  Yesterday, I had on winter riding pants, winter boots and multiple layers.  48 degrees was the high.  After only 30 minutes, my ears were numb, my nose was running, and eyes were tearing.  Supermodel material…not.

Oh how I wish we could have a gradual transition from summer to fall to winter.  It seems that Virginia weather is bipolar.  It swings from one extreme to the other on a whim.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have a few weeks in the mid-60’s then a gradual drop to more winter-like temperatures.  And the wind could give us a break as well.  It really gets the nose flowing and I routinely forget to stuff tissues in my gloves, so my gloves or shirt become the unwitting recipient of the nasal offerings.  Such a pretty picture don’t you think?  You never see the rider’s in Smartpak or Dover with runny noses.  I’m so jealous.

So let’s just say that I’m a fair-weather loving rider.  I suffer through the summer heat and struggle in the cold of winter.  Half halting is a challenge when your fingers are non-responsive and bloodless.  My Raynaud’s Syndrome can make winter riding challenging.  I’ve lost count of the days that I had to stop what I was doing, and sit in my car holding my hands in front of the vents while waiting for the circulation to return.  Winter gloves do little to help.  It is what it is and I just don’t ride on the coldest days.

While my two rides this week were extremes in the weather, Ike was consistent between the two rides.  He continues to amaze me with his capacity to learn.  His strength, stamina, and balance are ten times what they were this time last year.  My Florida boy has obviously acclimated to his Virginia home.

Quality vs. Quantity

As I’ve progressed through life, as many people before me have also discovered, that it is better to have fewer, but better quality things over lots of cheap crap that won’t last the year.  The better quality stuff also stands the test of time and the rigors of daily barn use.  I tried the “pleather” tall boots about six years ago.  If they had only been used once a week, they would have probably have been just fine and stuck around for a while.  They departed this world and into the bowels of the local landfill after only six months.  What can I say, Bigfoot is hard on her shoes.  Interestingly enough, my pricier Ariat leather tall boots have been with me for over 5 years now and still look fabulous even with regular use.  I am definitely getting my money’s worth out of them.

I’m also learning that the same holds true for training a young horse.  Even with fewer days of work and shorter time spans when working, you can see positive progress IF the time is used wisely.  (Cue the wise old owl.)  And lets face it, most of us have to work full-time to support our equine obsession, and we have families, and a house to take care of, and all the other To-Do’s in our lives.  I can’t spend all day every day with my horses.  My barn time is limited, so I’ve got to make the most of the time I do get in the saddle.  Ms. C also keeps me focused and is always reminding me that Ike will only be as good as I am.  If I space out while riding and paddle around in a half-hearted trot, then we aren’t really accomplishing anything with our training.  If I mount with a game plan in mind, and keep myself focused, then we can accomplish a lot in a 30 minute ride.

And probably like many others out there, I do my best riding while under close scrutiny of my trainer.  Am I right?  There is no wasted time during my lesson.  It is most definitely high quality saddle time.  Got my weekly lesson in today since it was a day off for me.  Since show season is over, we’ve stopped schooling the test movements and are focusing on getting Ike through and really using his back.  There is also quite a bit of time spent making me a better rider.  I’ve got to work on the timing of my half halts if I ever hope to progress beyond First Level.  Luckily for me, Ms. C is a patient woman.  She is also generous with her verbal instructions – it is almost like she is riding the horse and performing the aids herself.  If I’m struggling to figure out which aids to use and when, she will call out the sequence as if she was calling a dressage test, “Squeeze outside rein, put you inside leg at the girth, relax your shoulders, look up, half halt, half halt again, remember to release after you half halt (oh, yeah, oops).”  Those verbal instructions plus her saying, “Do you feel that?  Do you feel what you have right now?”  Um, yeah, sure.  “That is your 8 trot.  That trot is through; Ike is coming up and out of his withers and you are recycling the energy.”  Okay, I think I’ve got it.  Then we take a break, and then Ms. C tells me to try to recreate what we had.  Sigh, sometimes I nail it and sometimes I struggle.

Ike’s work was spot on today and I didn’t do too badly either.  Fewer struggles today which always makes me happy, but  almost all days at the barn are days to smile.  Love that quality barn time with my equine partner.

Turn off the Cruise Control

So Ike and I had our weekly lesson yesterday and the take away message for the day: turn off the cruise control and be present with every stride, i.e., get better timing for and be more frequent with my half halts.  Aaargghh!  Those darn half halts will be the end of me, but I do realize that they are what Ike needs to learn to become more balanced and use his topline.  I need to learn how to teach Ike the concept of a half halt.  There are days he does seems to do well with the concept and other days, like yesterday, he steamrolls along, singing, “La, la, la, I can’t hear you.”

Ms. C and I have many discussions about half halts and how I need to execute them.  Subtle finger squeezes are not always the answer when riding a steamroller.  Full body half halts are still commonplace.  I assume that we will eventually move beyond them, but that day seems so very, very far away.  Ms. C always tells me to try the quiet, invisible half halt first, but if Ike ignores it, then I have the right to be a little louder with my request to get the intended response.  Of course that means that we are well into the turn before Ike responds rather than getting the response before we turn or feed off onto a circle.

And I must confess, that once we get going, my mind will wander.  I will gaze at the trees or at the horses in their paddocks until I hear, “where was your half halt?”  Umm, well, ah, I then have no good excuse and must admit my digression.  Ms. C then talks me through what I should have done which is always much different from what I actually did.  Cruise control is great for trail rides, but not for training a four-year old horse dressage concepts.  Her explanations involve half halts every 2-3 strides.  Oh.  Sometimes I’m lucky to do one successfully before the mind wanders and I worry about the sweat dripping in my eyes or trying to sit the trot.

Yesterday we practiced square turns at the trot and attempted them at the canter.  This exercise really made me focus and stay on task…the fear of running into the fence kept me motivated to execute the turns rather than crush the fence.  If we were scored on successful turns at the trot, we’d have been given a 55% at the most.  I’m too late with my half halt to make the proper turn.  Ike can’t bear the blame for my error, but he can take the heat for lack of listening when I do give the correct aids.  I guess equine four-year olds aren’t that different than human four-year olds.  They are starting to develop their own identity and will challenge authority from time to time.  Hopefully Ike’s challenges won’t go much beyond the current level.  I don’t think I could handle a 1,200 pound tantrum.

Vote for Ike

Ike got his presidential campaign started very late this year.  Funds were very limited, so he was unable to mail any flyers or hire a producer and director to record any television advertisements.  He was also unable to get his fellow equines to make phone calls to drum up support.  They claimed that they had better things to do with their time.  Ike thinks he should win just because he was one of the only candidates to not bother you during your family dinner or clog your recycling container with glossy postcards.

Ike is a man of few words, so there would be few news conferences to interrupt your favorite television programming.  He supports a vegetarian society with a diet heavy in grains and raw fruits and vegetables…but candy would also be an important part of the White House menu.  Every visitor would receive a bag of peppermints.  How can you not want more candy in your life?!?  If Ike wins, exercise would be an integral part to everyone’s day.  Nothing better than an early morning romp to get the blood flowing and legs muscles stretched.  Midday naps would be mandated by law or by Constitutional amendment if necessary.  Playtime (call it recess if you like) would also be required to be part of everyone’s day – adults and children alike.  Why should daily fun be confined to your childhood days?

While fun is an integral part of Ike’s philosophy, he also has a very strong work ethic.  Fun is fun, but when it is time to work, Ike believes that you should put forth your best effort whether you are at home or in public.  Try your best every time and no one can criticize your efforts, except maybe your brother who thinks that you are a big suck up.

Ike thanks you for your support.  No matter who you vote for or have voted for, be thankful for the opportunity and privilege.