Monday, December 27, 2010

Finally Ditched the Fashion Faux Paux

Another boarder and jump/dressage rider at my barn has been teasing me about my riding in tennis shoes and half chaps for months. . . It's really comfortable. . .

Well, when I realized I needed spurs on Louie, I then realized that spurs and tennis shoes just aren't compatible.  So I broke down and got a pair of paddock boots.  These are really comfy, great for my wide and hard to fit feet, and work great with both spurs and half chaps.  I've used them about 3 times so far and. . . okay. . . I love them!  

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Second Dressage Lesson

Well tonight was another good lesson for Louie and me with our new dressage instructor Marlene.  It had been a month since our last lesson, and between working so hard on the scary end of the arena and having a two-week break that seemed to have put us way behind, we actually made some noticeable progress on our homework!  Our bending around our circles has definitely come along, and I was able to hold Louie out on the circles much easier this time.  Of course the addition of spurs really makes that a lot easier. 

So tonight we continued to work on our bending, noticing that Louie, unlike most horses, actually bends to the right much easier than he does to the left.  When circling to the left, he wants to just bend closer to the poll, but not from the base of the neck, so that is something we need to work on.  He also wants to go just a little bit more rushed at the trot to the left than he does to the right, which Marlene thinks is probably a function of discomfort in bending in that direction.

We think we may have discovered a key to getting Louie to downward transition without pulling his head and neck up- and that is to hold him into an exaggerated inside bend while slowly relaxing into the transition.  What Louie wants to do is to snap his neck straight and raise up, but not allowing him to straighten, he doesn't take the opportunity to lift either. 

We showed Marlene our canter for the first time tonight, and while it wasn't Louie's best work- throwing his neck in the air and loading his inside front leg, losing his balance and dragging himself around the circle in the canter.  She said it wasn't a bad canter but I've definitely felt him do better.  We talked a little bit about his reluctance to use his right lead and Marlene recommended I try transitioning him with his haunches shifted to the outside of the circle.  We tried it once and low and behold, it worked!  He took his right lead and was much more balanced that way in the first few strides, whereas usually he takes several strides to put himself together.  So we will keep trying this. 

Another thing that Marlene wanted me to work on is where my hands are.  I have a really bad habit from my earliest learning's of western pleasure, and that is to cross one hand over the mid-line of the neck, in attempt to neck rein.  I have been scolded for this before in my saddle seat lessons, but old habits die hard, especially when they are left alone to their own devices for many years while not taking regular lessons.  One thing that she wanted me to think about was keeping my hands equidistant from Louie's neck, and if anything, keeping the inside hand farther away, toward the middle, like a leading rein.  This is difficult for me to do and will require a lot of work, but we're pretty determined. 

I'm looking forward to our next lesson, in the new year.  But for now, we'll work on our new homework and of course take a few days now to celebrate the holidays.  Merry Christmas! 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

He's a People Person

Today Sandy and I worked on Louie's fear of the far end of the arena.  Sandy stood at the far end of the arena and coached us around the corners, and with a few exceptions like him spooking at a few steamy turds he had left the lap before, Louie did fabulously- almost like there was nothing scary on that end at all.  We walked, trotted, and cantered and felt almost like we were making progress again- almost up to where we left off 3 weeks ago. 

Then Sandy left, and I wanted to work on just a little bit more trotting with Louie.  Within 2 passes after Sandy left, Louie was back to his same usual BS- looking, stiffening, shying, scooting, etc.  I thought about it a bit and it occurred to me that the difference between that time and 5 minutes before was the lack of a human at that end and the talking that was occurring back and forth between Sandy and I.  It was eerily quiet in the barn and you could hear the snow shifting on the roof and the melting drops of water falling from the roof.  So, I started chatting to Louie (I almost never talk when riding unless it is to somebody on the ground) and it seemed to help for a pass or two.  Then the third time, a small piece of snow fell down from the arena ceiling.  Louie planted down on his hind end, did a 180 and took off at a moderate paced canter.  This is his same bolt that he's done with me in the past once or twice, and while disturbing, it doesn't really seem so sincere as he stops quickly after just a few steps. 

I got him stopped and was so filled with rage and frustration, I couldn't help but take out some anger with a swift hand to the neck.  I screamed, then cried.  We sat there and pouted for a while as I tried to think of what to do next.  After I had finished my mental breakdown, we headed back to the same place again at a walk or a trot, I can't remember, and scooted by that end again a few more times making half-circles on that end of the arena.  Another boarder walked in and I still had tears in my eyes, but I hadn't seen her for a few weeks, so naturally we chatted for a little bit while I rode.  Strangely enough, Louie shaped right up, still looked and stiffened a little bit going by that end of the arena, but he felt so much more at ease having another person on that end of the arena.  I get it!  He feels that he needs the reassurance of having a human on the ground by him in this situation (he is just fine when leading him or lunging him on that end)- two conversing humans is even better!  Huh!  How about that? 

Well obviously the scary obstacles at the end of the arena are something he needs to get over, but it has been taking an excessively long amount of time and is honestly starting to wear on my nerves and my confidence.  We are not really making progress on our dressage homework and our next lesson is scheduled for Thursday.  While I am hesitent to stop working on it under saddle for a while for fear of making it a bigger issue than it really is and build my own anticipation more, I really think that we could probably benefit from some more work in long lines for a while. . . While I would love to be driving him right now, there's not a chance in heck that I'm going to hook him to the cart with this kind of behavior.  When we ride, we will probably end up doing most of our dressage work at the "safe" end of the arena so that we can focus and try to progress, and for those trips around the other end, I will probably set up some obstacles like jumps/poles, or barrels on the insides of the corners on the "scary" end to keep his mind occupied and focused away from the wall, and maybe turn on the radio in the arena.  If I have the chance, I may even try to ride him outside a time or two through the snow. 

What do you usually do to help your horse overcome his/her fears?

Friday, December 17, 2010

2 Steps Forward, 10 Steps Back

Ugh.  After coming back from a 2 week hiatus while we were at the Weimaraner National Field Trial with our dogs and our two Walking Horses, Louie seems like he's taken 10 steps backwards in our dressage lessons.  And, he's still pretending to be scared of the far end of the arena. 

I lunged him earlier this week on the scary end of the arena and he hardly blinked going by the scary stuff.  When I rode him last night, he was back to his full "flight mode."  Argh.  This is definitely testing my patience, so Sandy and I plan to do a little working on it this weekend.  There were moments when Louie appeared to have forgotten how to do the simplest things like "go" and "turn."  By the end of a short ride, we were able to make a little bit of progress, pass the scary end without *that* much trouble.  But we still have a very long way to go to catch up to where we left off 2 weeks ago. . .

Monday, November 29, 2010

Still Scary, but Better

I rode Louie again tonight.  It was the first time I had ridden or even worked him since last Tuesday when he was so deathly afraid of one end of the arena.  He was still scared of the barrels, poles, and jump standards at the end of the arena, but I called his bluff when he suddenly became more scared half-way through the ride.  We worked through it, confronted our fears, and while he was never really relaxed on the scary end of the arena, he survived. 

We continued to work on our dressage homework- leg yielding and shifting the ribcage, which is becoming easier for us.  Louie is responding to my leg pressure nicely, and I'm using it intermittently, which is really helpful for both of us.  Once in a while, as we were riding a circle, I would look down at him to see the angle of his body- haunches following along the circle, neck and head bent to the middle, a nice curve going through his back.  I'm sure Marlene will have criticism for us, but I was pretty pleased with some moments of our ride.  Even when I worked figure-8's in two point, Louie responded perfectly by bending his body around my leg immediately when we would change inflection on the figure-8. 

We worked on just a little bit of canter.  Louie took his canter leads and departures really well!  I attempted to do the same basic exercise at the canter, but I had too hard a time staying in the saddle to do that.  We were just about to be done for the night, we were cantering around the "good" side of the arena and I had planned to stop at the far end and proceed with our cool down, but Louie spooked at something from the "good" end, tried to bolt, then broke, then picked up the wrong lead when I asked for the canter again.  Argh.  I brought him back down to the walk and we worked on changing gears from super excited to "settled" for several minutes.  Then we tried again- Louie departed beautifully onto the right lead from the center of the ring- no wall to aid him in getting his lead.  I was happy. 

I definately think our lessons in dressage will help with our canter work as Louie becomes stronger and learns that he must bear weight on the hind legs properly, reaching underneath himself and supporting his body on a circle.  I almost felt like our canter transitions had improved already, but I think that must be wishful thinking, as we've really only been working on some very basic concepts for a few rides and this was the first time we had cantered since our lesson.  But if I believe it, I'll be motivated to continue, which will be good for both Louie and me. 

Lastly, Louie is now going to have a small vacation from ridden work- we have our National Field Trial to attend next week, so "mean Auntie Sandy" will be helping Louie overcome his fear of the scary arena with some lunging to keep him in shape and desensitized while I'm gone.  We'll have our next dressage lesson soon after I return, so I want Louie to be rarin' to go and ready to focus on dressage when she comes for our lesson! 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Louie Potter and the Deathly Hallows

This was tonight's theme.  Perhaps it was the 17 degree temperature outside, but Louie, along with most every other horse attempting to be worked tonight, was practically mistakable for a very large wild rabbit on a leash tonight. 

There were a few terrifying items in the arena tonight- some new jump standards, in their vertical torturous forms (the wand).  A tarp which wiggled and shook like the veil of a death eater (the cloak).  And some big blue barrels that not only were imposing in their sheer size, but also produced a hollow, eerie sound when touched (the stone).  Gathered together in the "scary" end of the arena, these items made half of the arena nearly impassable. 

After a few passes in the saddle, it was clear that there was no chance we were going to accomplish much of anything productive tonight, so we did a little lunging in the scary part of the arena- complete with leaping, bounding, bucking, kicking, galloping, and that wild eyed look of sheer terror in Louie's face- every time he passed the scary new items. 

He settled down after about 20-30 minutes and some in depth investigation where I searched the suspect items to try to identify the horse-eating monster lurking between them.  No such monster was found.  Louie was so incredibly relieved that he relaxed just a bit, but not even close enough to accomplish anything productive in our lesson tonight.  We did accomplish one thing though.  By the end of the evening, we were able to walk past the deathly hallows with only a slightly increased briskness in our step and one eye turned quite intently, searching for the evil lurking within. 

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Shift the Ribcage

Tonight we practiced some of the skills we learned at our dressage lesson.  I tried to put on spurs, but soon discovered that the spur straps that I had were not long enough to fit around my tennis shoes.  So I grabbed a whip instead.  This definitely woke Louie up and he respected my leg much much more knowing that my whip might bite him if he didn't listen to my leg. 

It took a fair bit of warming up before he would settle in and work, but by the end of the lesson we seemed to have gotten the walking in a circle drill down fairly well.  With an inside bend, with more pressure on the outside rein, better balanced pressure with my legs (and intermittent, not constant), and keeping the hind end in, without me falling off of my saddle.  So that was a very good thing!  I made sure to praise Louie frequently when he was doing the right thing.  I do think a) having the whip, and b) not having a person standing in the center of our circle that Louie wanted to visit made a big difference.  But what made a really big difference was a comment from one of the other riders at my barn saying that she thinks of it this way:  if you push the ribcage to the outside, then the horse should naturally be bent slightly toward the inside.  If you keep your reins the same as they were when you were going straight, there will be less pressure on the inside rein as the horse is bending away from the outside, taking up contact on that rein and lessening the distance on the inside rein.  Aha!  This was a light bulb moment for me!

We also worked on this at the trot, which was pretty decent, but needs more work as Louie seems to still think that one leg at the girth means go faster.  We'll get it, he just needs reminders and me doing it more often. 

We worked on our not-so-good downward transitions.  I found tonight that the going slower slower slower, and if he raises his head up- push him forward method was not working as well as I had hoped.  Louie was actually becoming confused and then just stopped transitioning- he'd just continue at a jog trot with me sitting in the saddle until I pulled him up- at which time he would raise his head.  Ugh. . . I recall Louie used to lift his neck to help him transition into the trot from the walk.  He rarely does this anymore, because I had to work with him to get him to not do it- by gently sea-sawing my reins before asking for the transition, and continuing it as he was changing gaits.  Then re-doing it if he lifted his neck, until he realized he could make the transition without the extra "balancing."  I tried this with the trot-walk transition a few times and it seems to be working fairly well- better than the slow down method.  The only problem is that I think the downward transition cue gets lost in the rein wiggling, so I might have to add some extra cue for a while here- a sigh or something usually works.  So, I think I might try to fix this issue this way instead, and hopefully I can make some progress in the next few weeks, then hopefully we just won't have to worry about it regularly, just like we were able to do with the upward transitions.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Start of a New Journey- Our First Dressage Lesson

Tonight Louie and I took our first lesson with a new dressage instructor- Marlene Schneider.  Marlene is an accomplished USDF judge and rider/trainer, and as it turns out, an excellent instructor.  We are pretty lucky to have the opportunity to take lessons with such a great instructor, and I'm very excited to start on this journey!  Louie, on the other hand, I think saw tonight's lesson as more work, and being the smart horse he is, is already contemplating how to get out of doing more work and get back to his food. 

Introductory lessons are always rather slow, but being that this was my first lesson, I feel like we really left with some good ideas to chew on and a lot to work on in the next few weeks.  We plan on taking lessons every other week or so, but due to holidays/travel, our next lesson will be a month away.  But that is alright, it will give Louie and me plenty of time to work on what we learned tonight. 

One thing we learned tonight is that Marlene has an interesting, and effective way of viewing the amount of pressure used with the seat, leg, and the hands-she grades it on a scale from 1-10 and frequently asks me what number I'm at with each hand or leg, etc.  We then use these numbers as she instructs me to put more weight in my inside seat bone, etc. 

Another analogy that I really liked was one about holding both ends of a whip and pushing them together to make the center of a whip raise up.  This is like using the legs and the hands to bring both ends of the horse together and raise up in the middle- lift the back.  If you let go of your hands or seat, the whip goes flat, as does the horse's back. 

Tonight we worked most on walking in a circle, staying bent to the middle, but with more pressure on the outside rein than the inside, and my inside leg and seat pushing him into the outside rein.  This was very challenging to do, especially with a horse who is new to the concept and a rider who hasn't asked her body to work in this particular way before.  We then worked on this briefly at the trot, which was actually easier as Louie seemed to be more responsive to my legs at the trot.  The moral of the story of tonight's lesson though, I think, is that I need some spurs or my legs are going to break.  Owww, I know I'm going to be sore tomorrow.

There were glimmers of hope and understanding, and moments of frustration and total transparency of my deficits in Louie's training tonight, but Marlene has a really good eye and was able to help me to see these strengths and weaknesses in my own self.  She is also excellent at reading body language and could tell every time Louie gave her the stink eye or told her or me how he felt about his new expectations.  There was actually a moment of laughter and frustration mixed into one as she asked us to trot and Louie, totally dead to my legs squeezing with all my might, plowed right through my right leg into the middle of the circle and would NOT trot.  He walked in a circle to the right, tighter and tighter, going through my right leg as I was shoving it into him with all the strength I had.  Ugh!  I kicked, bounced, did everything I could and he would NOT GO faster.  Finally I walked him back to the rail, caught him off guard, then was finally able to pick up a trot and complete the exercise. 

Marlene also had some good advice for me on my downward transitions.  Currently, Louie feels the need to lift his neck up when we transition from trot to walk.  So, we're going to work on slowing down and lightly working the bit in his mouth to keep him active and on it, and continue to go slower and slower, while maintaining the head position, until we break into a walk.  If he tries to raise his neck up, he has to trot more.  I think this could work.  I've got a few weeks to try it, so I'm hoping that it will work because we really need to work on our downward transitions in a bad bad way. 

Overall, I thought the lesson was great, and I really feel that Marlene is going to be able to help us- not only to learn dressage, but balance and improve our riding, and strengthen and develop the proper muscling for both horse and rider.  Louie and I have much to gain from Marlene's expertise, and I think she is going to be a good fit for us.  I love that she is not critical of the fact that I ride a Saddlebred, or the fact that I really want to work him as a hunter (right now, though that could change at any time) and use the dressage as more of a cross training exercise.  I think she understands the utility in which I'd like to learn dressage, and I love how open minded she is.  Plus she really stays on top of me and pays attention to what I'm doing and how Louie is responding- something that not all trainers seem to have a knack for. 

I'm really excited to begin working on tonight's lessons, and though I'm sure Louie is going to protest, I think these lessons are going to be such a huge benefit to our riding.  We will see how the next few weeks go practicing on our own- I'm sure they're be fraught with frustration, but in the end I know it will be worth it. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Whip Anticipation

Driving in an open bridle is a wonderful thing- with one exception.  Without blinders, a horse can see, and anticipate, the use of your whip as you use it as an aid to turn, move over, or change directions.  The past few drives Louie has definitely been picking up on this and I have to be very careful that he doesn't move away too much.  I do my best to try to keep my whip neutral and work on patterns to keep him responsive, but it's one indication to me that we should start re-introducing the blinders. 

Tonight I long lined Louie and for the first time in many months, added the blinders after a brief warm-up.  We will need to carefully introduce driving with the blinders, but he did great with them on, picked it up again like riding a bike, and it really helped with negating anticipation of my cues. 

After I warmed Louie up in the lines and blinders, he played the role as a "lesson horse" to teach another boarder who wants to learn to long line, and eventually drive her riding horse.  Louie did great as a teacher and was very patient with her for the most part. 

It was interesting as I don't teach regularly and don't really think about how I integrate my body and brain in order to smoothly long line, but breaking it down and thinking about what I do subconsciously was actually rather revealing.  However, I wasn't even able to realize what I do with my body until I was able to see the gaps in communication between Mary and Louie, then I could see what she did compared to what I did and figure out how to help her.  One of the most tricky things was doing circles and keeping Louie appropriately "in" and "out" on the circle and with even tension on the lines.  Mary figured it out after I eventually realised what I was doing with my own hands so that I could put it in words to show her.  Another thing that was a little tricky, but quickly solved was changing directions and changing sides behind the horse, and flipping the reins from one side to the other- just at the right moment. 

Overall, it was a nice lesson- a good re-introduction to the blind bridle and a very nice introductory lesson for a new driver.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Big Weekend

Well, I've been out sick the past 2 days and not really in the best mind to update Louie's blog.  He had a couple of big days last weekend, and we're waiting for a few pictures to post about our happenings.  On Saturday a friend from work brought her 5-year-old daughter out to the barn to ride Louie.  Laney is horse crazy but has never gotten to ride, and Louie did really well giving her a pony ride around the arenas. 

On Sunday, we had the opportunity to go on a trail ride with a few other people from the barn (6 of us all together).  It was hunting season, so we made sure to cover ourselves in blaze orange.  We rode in a regional park where hunting is not allowed, but the park is surrounded by farm land, and people can be stupid, so I wasn't going to take any chances.  Besides, Louie looks a little bit like a big deer with his brown coat and white at either end.  If he had antlers. . . well, here we are all decked out in more blaze orange/bright colors than we thought was possible!  It was fun getting him all dressed up- almost like being on parade! 
In case you can't tell, he had orange yarn in his tail, a few big pieces of fabric that I had left over from a sewing project- I draped one over his hindquarters like a quarter sheet, and tied another around his neck like a scarf.  I don't think there was any chance of missing us in this get up!  He was a really good boy on the ride- and led the way fearlessly.  He was definately happiest and most relaxed in the front of the group, but did well in the back or middle too.  He's probably just used to having to walk so quickly to keep up with Jackson and his walking horse gaits! 

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Few Show Photos To Share

I am so very pleased.  I just received these jpegs from the photographer of both of our shows this summer/fall- Courtney Church. We have an 8x10 of the Octoberfest one (bottom) on the way and the other two are already framed in the house.

The first one was from one of the classes at Washington County.  Louie was afraid of the announcer stand that we were approaching, and scooted past it all day.  Here you can see him getting into his "Saddlebred" gear as we were about to approach the stand.  I look terrible as I'm telling him "whup! easy!" and he is not exactly in a hunter frame here ;) but I think she really caputred his beauty and expression well. 

Of course this one is from our victory lap in the ASB Hunter Country Pleasure class at Washington County back in August.  Not a huge accomplishment to beat one horse in the mud- as my husband says, but it was our first ASB show and it is a great photo. 

Lastly, our photo from Octoberfest in the ASB Hunter Country Pleasure Stake class.  We had 4 classes worth of photos to choose from, but this was my favorite.  She caught him in the right part of the stride and me sitting.  Unfortunately for the sake of my show photos, I always post on the correct diagonal in the show ring so the photos always either catch me on the "up" part of the post or with the wrong front leg forward.  The difference is slight, the chest looks better when it is more open with the outside front leg forward in the photo, but it's okay, this is still a good photo- Louie and I both look like we're doing our jobs well.  This was a really good ride too, so I'm glad to have a photo to remember it! 
No recent riding or training updates.  Today was tack cleaning day and that is a lengthy process!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Hardest Gait

The canter just does not come easily to us.  Some days it is relatively easy, but most days it is wrought with anxiety and frustration.  With that said, Louie has actually been taking both leads fairly well lately and has hardly missed a lead any of the times I asked him in the past ride or two.  I am SO relieved that he is finally taking both leads pretty well under saddle and is no longer favoring his left lead (at least under saddle- he still does on a lunge line).  His biggest issue lately is that he doesn't want to pick up the canter right away when I cue him, but instead he wants to trot 10 or so strides before finally taking the canter from a walk.  And, in that amount of time he's successfully un-done any bit of set-up preparation I've given him to take the correct lead.  We stop and try it again until finally he lunges into it because he is so angry and frustrated, behind the bit, grinding his teeth, jigging, ears back, that he wants to run.  We've got to find a more pleasant way to get into the canter cleanly.  Seeing other horses pick up the canter with ease just frustrates me further.

Tonight we rode and we reached a fair amount of frustration over the canter.  Louie actually took his leads well and by the end of the lesson was doing pretty nice canter departs.  But it was no easy feat for me.  I tried to pay attention to what I was doing with my own body when I was cueing him.  I found myself putting so much weight in my outside stirrup that I had actually shifted my saddle an inch or two to the outside by the time I finished cantering one direction.  I also found myself shifting my whole seat to the outside to cue him- literally not sitting in the middle of the seat.  Third, I caught a glimpse in the mirror and noticed that I had completely let go of any bit contact right at the time when I cued him- something I used to do frequently until Sandy corrected me- and not "throwing him away" during the cue had been really helpful in maintaining enough impulsion to get into the canter. 

Well, I think the mirrors and paying attention to my own position tonight helped to shed some light on my crookedness that I have noticed over the past month or so.  I think I am just riding somewhat sloppily rather than being specifically unbalanced from one side to the other, though I have found myself with my right seat bone sitting outside of the seat more times than the reverse.  I do have some ideas on a few things that may help us. 

First, I need to keep paying attention to my position in the saddle like I did tonight.  Louie has lost a little bit of weight in the past month (intentionally), so I also have to make sure my girth is tight.  I need to try to stay relaxed and loose- deep breaths, this also helps to relax Louie.  I need to keep working on transitions throughout the winter until they are second nature, but I think some work without stirrups, or even just with longer stirrups, or perhaps even in a western saddle may help to keep some weight in my butt and out of my stirrups.  Lastly, I may have to break down and put some spurs on, as part of the reason I find myself sitting with one cheek out of the saddle is because I am contorting my body around so much to gather enough strength to push Louie over with one leg as he sometimes chooses to not be responsive to my leg.  I also re-visited the fact that leaning on the bit does not slow him down any more than having no contact at all, but intermittent contact is far more effective.

So, I have my work cut out for me, and I really think that a dressage trainer could help me to clean up my riding, sitting more straight and balanced, using the proper muscles, cueing without falling off one side of my saddle, and helping Louie to become more responsive.  I am hopeful.  We shall see.  I will continue to work on our cantering as we wait to start working with an instructor on a more regular basis.  I also think that revisiting some canter work in long lines may be helpful as well.  As they always say, "practice makes better!" 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Hello Winter

Brrrr, what happened to those 86 degree days we had a few weeks ago?  Tonight on my way home from the barn my thermometer said 31.  Yikes!  I guess winter is coming.  Why is it always so much harder to adjust to these mid-range temps (30's-50's) in the fall than the spring?

The past few days have been very rainy and windy, and sharply colder than last week.  I am very glad that I got a new turn-out sheet for Louie, this is exactly the kind of weather that it is good for. 

Tuesday it was so windy that the barn was making all kinds of noises.  Louie was spooooo-ky!  Tonight he was back to his normal self so we went for a drive in the indoor ring.  Not a real hard work out, but a little conditioning for him and other than being a little inconsistent, we had a very nice drive. 

We met a dressage trainer tonight that I may take some lessons with over the winter.  She has an excellent reputation, and is certified to judge up to Grand Prix, in which she has competed.  She seems easy to work with and not set on turning me into a purely dressage rider, understanding that I want to continue to drive and show Louie as a hunter in the Saddlebred shows.  I'm excited to give this a try.  Of course all of those credentials come with a pretty price tag, so I'll be lucky if I can afford bi-weekly lessons.  I think I'm going to give it a try, as I think a dressage trainer will be the best way of getting a nice extended trot out of Louie.  We'll see- more adventures!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Crooked Me

I took Louie out for a nice ride in the outdoor arena this afternoon.  He was feeling good so we worked on a few ground poles, a few jumps (like 2 or 3 total, so as not to overdo it), some cantering and hand-galloping.  We had fun and I got a good work out too.  I think I'm going to be sore tomorrow. 

It was my second ride in my brand new stirrup leathers.  I hadn't bought a new pair since purchasing my saddle, so I felt it was time to find some, as all of the ones I had were old and stretched out, uneven, and in order to be close to the same length, I had them on hole 9 on one side and hole 11 on the other.  I had one pair of very nice stitched Beval leathers, but they were the standard 54" length and not long enough with my long legs to fit the end through the keeper on the flap.   It was time for an upgrade.  So, after much thought, I purchased these Nunn Finer nylon cored double stitched leathers in 1" x 60" size in a color that would hopefully match my saddle.  Well, I love them.  They're a bit bulky and not the softest leathers on earth, but they are very strong and should be durable.  Plus the color options are wonderful.  I will be sure to switch my right and left leathers out from time to time, but these really shouldn't stretch too much.
Well, before the stirrup leather purchase, I had occasionally felt crooked in the saddle, especially over the past month or two, so I thought that was what was to blame.  In the past 3 weeks, my horse has been adjusted by a chiropractor, my saddle's flocking has been professionally adjusted to now a perfect fit (it really wasn't bad before, just tiny little adjustments), and I've found these new leathers, which are exactly even.  And, even after all of that, I still managed to find myself crooked by the end of the ride.  I felt like I was going to slide right down off of Louie's right hip, my left hip was higher than my right, and when I got off, my saddle was actually crooked, tilted slightly to the right, so that my right stirrup iron was about an inch lower than my left!  Ugh.  It must be me!  I do have problems with my left sacroiliac joint, and this frequently shifts while riding, but I think it is time for me to commit to a core strengthening pilates/yoga program. 

I know many riders have found themselves in this same situation.  Just imagine the confusion we must be sending to our horses when we are so crooked and unbalanced ourselves.  It is no wonder our horses prefer one lead and one direction of bend.  Tonight, when tracking to the left, Louie had been self-maintaining a bend to the outside, unless I actively worked to keep him bent to the inside.  It makes perfect sense though, by bending to the right, he was helping to try to shift me to the left more, to be centered over him instead of falling out of the right side of my saddle.  Horses are smart, especially Saddlebreds. 

Well, here's to the start of "Leah in the Making" as I attempt to straighten myself out so that we can ride more centered again.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Trail Ride Memory

This morning we went on Louie's first official "trail ride." If you have been following his blog, you may remember that he had been to a field trial a year and a half ago, but no true, real trail rides, so I was a little anxious to see how he would do. My husband and I brought Jackson, our 4-year-old Tennessee Walking Horse, and Louie over to Lake Elmo Park Reserve, about a half hour from home.

We were actually celebrating an anniversary, as 5 years ago yesterday is the day that Bjorn proposed to me, while on a trail ride in this very park. At that time we were riding my old Saddlebred gelding, Social, and our other Walking horse, Cash, so it was an anniversary to share with a new horse of each breed.  Below is a photo from that ride 5 years ago, taken right after the proposal.

Below, Louie and I approaching the exact location where Bjorn and I got engaged.

Below is one last picture of Social, from our ride 5 years ago, heading home on the trail after a wonderful ride.

So back to today, I decided to try riding Louie in Jackson's western saddle, as it was a little bit more geared for trail riding than my show saddle, and Bjorn rode Jackson in Cash's saddle, which is actually starting to fit Jackson pretty well now that he has gained some weight. Jackson's saddle also fit Louie decently too. Not as well as his show saddle, but to ride in for a few hours, it was just fine.

A beautiful perspective- through the ears of a Saddlebred.
We set out down the trail, enjoying the fall colors and encounters with squirrels, bicyclists, benches, dogs, and of course other horseback riders. At one point we came to one of the largest trees I have seen in this area, it even made Louie look small!  Grey Horse, this one is for you!

We were able to snap a few photos more along the way. The trail meandered in and out of the woods, up and down hills, by corn fields, old buildings, and around the lake.  

We just did a short 5 or 6 miles, but we rode for about an hour and a half, and had a really good time.

Both horses were SUPER well behaved, and Louie was a rock star on the trail! He flat walked the whole time, was the brave one to pass scary objects like benches, culverts, and bicyclists, and we even cantered one little stretch down a straight away. He was really a good boy and I think he had fun, I know Bjorn and I did!

Jackson was also very well behaved, he is usually my field trail horse, but we're trying to get Bjorn to be more comfortable with him so that either one of us can ride him in trials. 

 Bjorn focusing on riding Jackson, and how to operate two hands on the reins
  Jackson has a pretty fast walk with his huge overstride, so Louie and I spent a lot of time looking at the world from this view.
   On the way home, we ran into Michelle and Princess, a friend of ours from Louie's barn, blazing the trail on her way out.  Here are Louie and I, stopping to overlook a part of the lake on our way back home.

Eventually we arrived back at the trailer, though I could have ridden a few more hours.  Louie and Jackson stood nicely at the trailer, hardly tired from their short, but refreshing ride.  The horses had a nice time getting out to stretch their legs on a beautiful Saturday morning, and Bjorn and I had fun remembering our first ride in this park, 5 years ago. 

Monday, October 11, 2010

Octoberfest Was a Success!

We had a great show!  We arrived on Friday afternoon, got Louie all settled into his stall, and set up camp for the weekend.  We had some extra time before my first class, so we walked around the arena to check out the scary center display and the sights and sounds around the arena, and got to watch quite a bit of the show before it was time to get ready for our turn to ride.  We had a nice warm-up ride and Louie felt great and sound.  He was moving really freely and had a nice floaty trot.  I'm not sure if it was the farrier or the chiropractor I have to thank for that, but probably both.  :)

My first class Open Hunter Pleasure, and there were 9 horses in it- mostly Morgans, but a few Saddlebreds, Arabians, and even an Appaloosa.  It was a big class with a lot of anxiety potential, but Louie did an outstanding job and handled it all like a seasoned veteran.  He didn't spook at anything, and I tried to ride smart and pay attention to our surroundings and horses around us, which can be a difficult task when riding a green young horse!  We had a nice ride with one exception.  When they called for the right lead canter, I think I may have given Louie a tad much of a cue as he kind of did a flying leap/lead change/jump into the right lead.  The judge caught the end of that transition as I was in the corner of her view at the time.  I wasn't even sure if Louie got his hind feet onto the proper lead, but I didn't care, I figured what the heck, he got into the canter and there are 9 horses in here, I'm not going to place anyhow.  Well, I was just a bit surprised when they called us for 2nd place!  I had been talking to another competitor (the one who shows the gray ASB that I showed against at Washington County- turns out she is a professional, so that's why she didn't show back in HCP that day) and literally said something like "you've got to be kidding me!"  I guess I didn't expect to do so well, but that shows you how much I know about how we look and whether we're competitive or not!  My husband watched the class and told me afterward with full confidence that if Louie hadn't done that hop-jump into the right lead we would have won the class.  Wow, I don't know what to say about that, except that's awesome!  I'm not going to complain about my ride or dwell on Louie's exuberant transition, Louie was a really good boy and handled it really well, especially for not having ridden in 2 weeks. 

Our Saturday started out with Hunter Pleasure Novice Horse in the morning session.  There were only 2 horses in the class, I believe my competitor was an Arabian horse, and we both had nice rides (Bjorn said the other horse did well, I wasn't watching it haha).  We had a nice ride, and won the class.  We still had some over-zealous canter transitions, but they weren't quite as exciting as the night before.  Here is a photo from the novice horse class, with me looking kind of silly, but sporting my new pink shirt that I picked up cheap at the tack swap:

In the evening session, we rode in the ASB Hunter Country Pleasure class, and were the only entry.  Bjorn and I were both rather disappointed that there weren't any others in the class, as the hunt seat and sport disciplines frequently seem to be central to debate, and are in need of more support from exhibitors and entries- a large part of the reason Louie and I are finally getting out there to do it.  It would have been nice to have seen a full class of nice hunters and really show the spectators what a Saddlebred can do in a different seat, so I am hopeful that we will have bigger classes to show in next season (based on the size of the classes this summer, we should definitely have bigger classes in the future).  Well, needless to say, we got to do the victory pass again, but really, we had a nice ride.  Louie broke from the canter in the first direction down to a trot for a stride or two- for some odd reason- but the rest of the ride was good.  Strangely, he was more spooky when he was out there by himself than with the group of 10.  I guess maybe because he was alone with no other horses to reassure and comfort him, but he did well, didn't have any major issues and had a nice ride. 

Finally, Sunday afternoon was our ASB Hunter Country Pleasure Stake.  We were the only entry again for this class, but we had a great ride.  I was really able to push Louie in the extended trot and use my legs like I do at home.  We did a nice pivot on the haunches to change directions and sprung out with a nice driving trot the second way.  I asked Louie to bring his head up just a bit higher in this class because I wanted to get a nice photo, and it looked better with the angle that the photographer had been taking pictures.  As we were standing in the line-up, the judge came up to us and had some very nice things to say to us.  She said we did a great job out there, she knows how it can be difficult being the only one in the class, but she can tell that we really work hard at this and are doing a wonderful job.  She commented on how she liked to see that I had Louie bent over his inside shoulder (bent to the inside) the whole time- somewhat surprising to me that a Saddlebred/saddle seat judge would notice such a thing being that so many show horses are bent to the outside in the show ring.  I was very happy to hear such nice compliments from a judge, and it made me feel very proud of how far Louie and I have come in the past 2 years.  Bjorn finally came out to the ring to help with the victory pass photos, I was hopeful to get a good one with the ribbon, but no such luck.  The photographer did, however, get a few very nice ones during my ride.  She got some showing him in extension, which is really the way I prefer a hunter to be photographed.  I really like how Louie looks in this photo- the part of the stride, etc.

But, this one, I think I like better- I like how I look and the background better here, even though I like the part of the stride he is in just a bit better in the other photo.

I am open to suggestions between the two photos!  And I may have her add in a ribbon, just have to decide whether I want it on the bridle or on my boot. 

Overall, it was a great show, we had a great weekend, beautiful weather, and a lot of fun.  We had 4 solid rides, and Louie felt great.  We got a lot of compliments from trainers, other exhibitors, and of course the judge.  I'm pretty sure Louie even made my husband proud (Bjorn really likes a nice saddle seat horse and has always been a little disappointed since I decided to make Louie a hunter), which made me really happy.  I couldn't be more proud of my boy, from the good rides to the tiny little things like standing in cross ties, stall behavior, handling, standing in line-up, entering and exiting the ring, etc.  It was almost like he had done it 100 times.  He was such a good boy- and a trooper! 

I checked on him today and he was feeling pretty good, moving pretty well, just a little heavy on the forehand, but not bad.  I was stiff this morning so I would have to imagine Louie was too.  I took him out to eat some grass and gave him a bucket of soaked alfalfa cubes as a treat.  Here is a picture of him at home in his stall with all of his ribbons (I only put them there momentarily for this photo because Louie would have eaten them all if I left them there).  What a GOOD BOY!! 

Friday, October 8, 2010

Well, Here Goes Nothing!

Well, I rode Louie last night and he was pretty decent.  A friend of mine at the barn had her chiropractor out so I had her give Louie a little rub down and work out some knots, and get some bones back in place.  We'll see if it helps.  Putting Louie's front shoes on seemed to make a big difference, so we'll see!  I need to find a good masseuse, as massage is something that Louie has really benefited from in the past and we could use one more regularly!

The show starts today, and I show in 4 classes- one tonight, two tomorrow, and one on Sunday.  I'll be keeping my fingers crossed that Louie will be feeling okay.  I ordered 4 bags of shavings for his stall (apparently that's how many most people order! Wow, seems like a lot, but okay we'll go with it!), and am getting everything packed this morning.  It has been a long time since I've shown at a multi-day horse show, but I'm looking forward to it!  This MN show crew knows how to have a good time, so we will have fun one way or another.  Let's hope I don't forget anything.  Well, here's goes nothing!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Best Farrier in the World

Well, there could be better farriers out there, but I don't know any better than my farrier Pat.  Pat has been my farrier for the past 4 years, and I think he's wonderful.  He is very accommodating, has a fabulous fun sense of humor, does a great job with my horse's feet, and best of all puts up with me!  He came out this morning to work on Louie's feet.  He watched Louie move, both down the concrete aisle way, then on a lunge line in the arena, and Louie was looking a little better than yesterday- perhaps the 1 gram of bute I gave him last night helped? 

He hoof tested Louie, who wasn't particularly sore, but we opted to put some shoes on to help support his feet, and Pat adjusted them to account for Louie's different angles, placing the left front shoe further under his foot to speed his break-over and support the heel more.  After he finished, I lunged Louie again and he looked a little bit better even than he did before.  He's starting to look more like a normal horse and less stiff and goofy than he did yesterday.

I went out again this evening to see how he was moving, now 24 hours from his last bute dose, and Louie was moving pretty decent, even for being fresh out of his stall.  He's more willing to lower his neck, and moving more freely, and not lame on one foot vs the other.  I'm very happy and starting to gain confidence that the show this weekend is going to be a doable thing for us!  At this point I think we have nothing to lose- he doesn't look lame, has no obvious tenderness or swelling anywhere, so I see nothing to potentially worsen.  We'll just have to be careful and keep an extra eye on him at the show, taking extra precautions to keep him feeling good.  Yippee!!  Thank you Pat!

Pat is a little camera-shy, so here is a picture of Louie in his new shoes, and bell boots to help keep those shoes on!

Monday, October 4, 2010

More Proof

More proof of Louie's show hatred. . . He tries as hard as he possibly can to spoil my fun.  Well, here's the scoop, we've got a show this weekend that we've been planning on doing for the past few months, Octoberfest Horse Show, our state's last ASB show of the year.  We're all ready, up until about a week ago, we've been doing great with our leads, new saddle, cuts healed, etc. 

Well, Louie had been off in one of his front legs about a month ago, just slightly, so I gave it some time to heal, and continued to work through it, but it just hasn't really resolved.  He's not head bobbing lame, just really tight through the shoulders and landing a little bit toe-first and short on both fronts- slightly more so on the right.  Our vet came out to take a look last week (I had planned to have her do some chiropractic adjustments in preparation for the show) and diagnosed him with a right front high-mid suspensory ligament strain/sprain, and tender heels on his left front, due to his lower angles on that side and probably compensating for his right front being sore.  She opted not to do chiropractic on him since he is off and will likely not benefit as much from it as he would if his legs/feet were all feeling okay.  So we're on rest- paddock/stall rest for 2+ weeks, DMSO, hand-walking, etc.  Louie hates it.  He hates not being with his buddies, not eating grass, having all kinds of pent-up energy with no outlet to express it, and did I mention he is a weanie for pain?  He HATES the DMSO with a vengeance.  So I have to walk him around and distract him for several minutes to an hour after applying it.  I hate putting it on and causing him pain just as much as he hates having it put on him. 

Our vet is so wonderful and understanding and she knows how much I want to go to this show.  She's not certain he'll be comfortable enough by then, but at least didn't totally shoot it down.  We're having our farrier out on Wednesday morning, and he's going to put some front shoes on Louie to see if they make him just a bit more comfortable.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed, and in the meantime doing the rest, DMSO, hand-walk regimen in hopes that he'll be moving comfortably enough by this weekend to show him. 

I do go back and forth with this debate of whether I might injure him more by taking him to the show, but this is the way I see it.  This injury has been going on for more than a month, and I've been working him through it the entire time up 'til now- and not just babying him along, I'd been doing some pretty substantial work with canter leads, simple changes, driving- speeds and intervals, etc.  It was no worse with all of that work than it was before it.  Not to say 4 classes in a horse show is easier than work at home, but I don't realistically see a huge potential for significantly worsening the injury as long as we're careful.  I've been palpating his suspensory ligaments each day before I apply the DMSO and it really doesn't seem to be tender any longer, and the trace of swelling that he had last week is now gone.  And, after this show, we have nothing on the docket for months.  Perhaps a trail ride for him if he's sound later on this fall, but otherwise he can hang out in stall/paddock and rest until March if he wants/needs to.  All impatience aside, I really do worry about him (excessively), and will be taking this entire show thing, class by class if we even go, very cautiously and playing it by ear. 

The fun of the preparations have begun, dampened only somewhat by Louie's injuries, so let's hope that our farrier can work some magic and get Louie feeling good on Wednesday! 

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Practically Famous!

Turns out, Louie and I are practically famous!  Well, maybe not famous, but this is pretty cool- check out Cordia Pearson's website!  For those of you who do not know who she is, she is one of 15 Society of Master Saddle Fitters certified saddle fitters in the US, who helped us to find our new saddle, a few months back.  She was so pleased with our show photos that she asked to use one on her website.  Thank you to Courtney Church and of course to Cordia for making it possible!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Interval Training

Tonight was a beautiful evening for a drive.  About 60 degrees, sunny, with a slight breeze.  The sun was setting behind the barn and there was hardly a fly around the place.  Great jeans and sweatshirt weather.  So, I harnessed Louie up to enjoy a very nice drive in the outdoor arena.  The heavy rain that we had recently has just finally dried up enough so that the footing was perfect in the large outdoor arena today.  Plus, it was recently dragged, so it was super smooth for my cart. 

We tried a little bit different tactic today while driving, since it was mostly for conditioning, I thought I would pay close attention to how much we were driving in each direction, since most of the time I just kindof willy nilly choose which way I'm going to go and when I'm going to turn, how long we're going to continue, at what speed, etc.  So tonight, we did intervals.  I started with 3 laps of a nice medium trot in each direction.  Then we walked a lap after the warm-up to sort of change gears.  I planned a variable rate work out consisting of 3 speeds of trot in each direction, with no walk in between.  We started off tracking to the right, with a slow jog (think western pleasure, very primpy and floaty) for 1 lap, a medium trot for 1 lap, then a fast trot for 1 lap (I don't say extended because the gait wasn't truly extended- that, along with blinders, is our winter project).  Then we decreased back down to a medium trot, then a jog, then switched directions and completed the same build up-build down type of routine.  I did have to change up my transition point a little bit as we went along as I figured Louie would catch on to that rather quickly, being as smart as he is. 

After our intervals, we walked for a cool out- remember, our outdoor arena is like a football field, or maybe even bigger. Anyhow, it's huge and just those few laps, when I actually counted, really added up to quite a long drive.  Louie wasn't sweaty and was really hardly breathing fast when we finished, but we had a nice drive and got some good conditioning in.  A nice way to work, as his back has been a little bit sore again lately- too much riding and not enough driving. . . bad mom!

I also figured out something else tonight.  We tend to have a problem while driving, in that Louie wants to keep his nose bent to the inside all the time (man, I wish we had that problem when riding!).  It's really better than the opposite, in my mind, but at times it does get a little scary for me, as when I ask him to come in off the rail, he just bends more- and the cart and the rail can get a little close for comfort at times.  So I figured out tonight that when I ask him to turn to the inside, I usually take up the slack with my inside rein and use my whip on the outside of his barrel.  Well, when I do that I totally throw away my contact on the outside rein, allowing him to keep bending and bending and bending.  So, I paid attention to my hands and held contact on the outside rein tonight when I asked him to turn into the middle a little bit and come off of of the rail.  It worked pretty well and for the most part he turned much easier, without excessive bending. Yay!  I hope that method continues to work for us.

All in all, Louie was a very good boy tonight and I really enjoyed spending time with my beautiful horse on such a beautiful evening!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Rain, Rain, Go Away

The cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis are in the midst of a monsoon, huge amounts of rainfall accumulated in the past 24 hours and more to come. . . needless to say this makes life with horses not quite so merry.  I don't think Louie minds so much, he enjoys rolling in the mud and splashing through puddles.  But me?  I don't care much for spending half my ride time cleaning the mud off of his legs and just trying to get him clean enough to work. 

We just had a short ride tonight, all of this rain has made the arena rather wet so not too much work to be done until it dries up some.  We worked on various speeds at the walk and trot, as well as our sitting trot, which is really coming along nicely.  We worked a little bit on some half-passing and full-passing, which Louie is starting to grasp.  I think this will be helpful to keep working on the lateral movements too so that he will truly understand that one leg on his belly means move laterally, not forward faster! 

I was thinking while I was riding that perhaps I would be interested in taking some more formal dressage lessons this winter.  The challenge with this is finding the right person who will understand that I do not want to compete in high level dressage and completely commit to riding a new discipline (at least not right now), but moreso want to incorporate dressage training into Louie's hunter training.  I would think that perhaps a trainer who works with eventers could grasp this concept, even though their riders actually do compete in pure "dressage," but I can't imagine that they ride terribly differently when jumping or hacking.  Anyhow, I am looking forward to possibly persuing this further over the winter, but for now, we have to focus on our next objective:  Octoberfest horse show in 2 weeks!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Free Time!

Louie is enjoying his time hanging out with his buddies while our other 4-year-old, Jackson, is spending a lot of time working at field trials this fall.  Thanks Laura for the fun photo of Louie (above)! 

Jackson, having fun (well I'm not sure if he thought it was so fun, but I sure did!) riding at our trial last weekend, thus giving Louie the weekend off (below):

Sunday, September 5, 2010

A Long-Needed Riding Lesson For Me

This afternoon we had a riding lesson with a new instructor, Julie, who teaches at our barn.  The lesson was rather spur of the moment and we hadn't really worked on much lately with Louie being sore (which, now he seems to have recovered from fully).  I didn't really have anything in particular I was working on or wanted to emphasize, but moreso I wanted to get a fresh set of eyes to watch us and tell us how we were doing and what we can work on to improve.  I hadn't had a formal riding lesson in hunt seat in probably 10 years, which is way too long for any one person to go along not having his or her equitation picked on. 

In the past 5 years, I've had only "project horses," in which the focus of our work and lessons has always been on improving and training the horse.  Naturally, when training a horse, whether teaching a new skill, breaking, or riding through a difficult situation, a person rides in a functional form of equitation, and you can't expect them to ride in perfect form all the time when training.  Well, 5 years of riding like that and not being reminded to do such things as hold your wrists flexed, fingers closed and keep your toes in will do strange things to a person's form.  So we worked some on that.  For me, none of the things I heard today were things I'd never heard before- toes forward, shoulders back, flex the wrists, look up, etc.  I just need the reminder- over and over and over again at nauseum to get it to sink in.  And I can pretty much guarantee I'll need it again next time as it slips from my brain. . .

We also worked quite a bit on canter transitions, which honestly Louie and I haven't worked on since our show a month ago.  We worked mostly on trot-canter transitions (which we all together stopped doing a few months ago when we had so much trouble with Louie's right lead), and a lot of circles and figure 8's, which was great in getting Louie to take his leads as I asked for them rather than relying on the rail to tell him which lead to take.  He wasn't perfect in his leads, he probably got the correct lead 70% of the time, but he did pretty decent overall and didn't really show a huge preference for one lead vs the other, which made me happy.  We also worked on the sitting trot (which is a fairly new thing for us, though Louie does know how to jog thanks to all of our work on the jog in long lines and in the cart), and I got quite the ab/back workout in sitting the jog!  I think I must have sat the jog alright considering Julie didn't pick on my form that much with that at all.

We also learned one other new skill that I am really excited to keep working on- feeling our diagonals and picking up the correct diagonal without looking.  I can do this now from the walk and the sitting trot, it's a matter of feeling which hind leg is moving underneath you and posting off of that movement.  By the end of the lesson I was getting it probably 90-95% of the time.  Also, picking up the correct diagonal in a downward transition from the canter without looking- this one is a little more challenging, I think because I am never really sure *when* Louie is going to break from the canter to the trot.  But the goal is post on the very first trot stride after the transition.  It worked most of the time, but it is a little tricky sometimes to get this one right.  I think with more practice and getting Louie and I in sync, we'll get the hang of it. 

Overall, it was a pretty good lesson- a nice refresher on some equitation things I need to work on and really a good "change it up" workout for Louie, proving to me that he really CAN canter in a smallish circle and actually has decent balance.  Louie and I got our butts worked and will probably both be sore tomorrow- in a good way.  Julie and I disagreed on a few points such as what a half halt is and where my toes should be facing, but overall I definately gained some new knowledge from her and think I can learn more as she teaches so many different disciplines- next plan will be to hopefully take a jumping lesson- something rather foreign to me (at least jumping in proper form lol).  We shall see- the way I figure, only good things can come from new ideas and things to work on from another set of eyes. 

Monday, August 30, 2010

Easy Peasy Mac And Cheesy

One of my favorite "lines" from a friend at work.  But really, it kindof describes Louie.  Not so much the Mac & Cheese part, but the easy part. 

Louie has been a little sore since our possibly-excessive jumping extravaganza last week, so we're taking it a little bit easy.  Coincidentally enough, Jackson, our 4 y/o walking horse gelding who is at Mel-o-Dee for a month somehow managed to hurt himself too (I think too many rollbacks in the pasture).  So, I've got two sore 4-year-olds who should be getting worked.  Well, Friday my husband and I went out to the barn to visit the horses.  It was a beautiful evening, so instead of letting our mildly lame horses sit in their stalls, we saddled them both up and went for a nice relaxing ride in the outdoor arena, just gentle walking for about 20 minutes.  This was a good chance for them to get out and stretch, and keep their minds mentally engaged in the fact that they are learning young horses, and work is expected of them.  Bjorn rode Jackson and I rode Louie. 

It occurred to me while I basically pony-rode Louie around the outdoor ring that he is SUCH an easy horse, so mellow and even tempered.  He wouldn't hurt a fly- well, unless it landed on his butt within tail's range.  On the rare occasion he spooks at something, but he never really loses his mind or tries to pull the wool over your eyes like some horses.  Really, he's a pretty safe and trustworthy mount- suitable for a child even.  That is a pretty cool trait, in my mind, for a horse to be safe enough for a child to ride.  It makes them so much more enjoyable and easily useable for a variety of people.  I don't think I've really ever had a horse that was child safe, except my husband's walking horse "Cash," and I'm realizing just what a great horse I have in Louie.  :)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Jumping Jimminy!

Louie and I have been doing a little bit of jumping for fun this week.  Two days this week we jumped for our work-out, granted nothing over about 18", but we had a lot of fun!  Bjorn even wanted to come out to watch us on Friday. 

We have started taking our first fences from a canter, which Louie finds to be preferable to trotting them, and we are starting to learn about how to count strides, or at least get a feel for how far each canter stride will take us in relation to the jump.  Tuesday our friend Jordan helped us out and even took Louie over a few fences for me to watch, then Friday, Louie did a really nice job and didn't even knock down any fences! 

We're finding that doing a little bit of jumping is a great way to change up his routine and work on the canter without the stress and anxiety of working on transitions on the rail over and over.  Also, I'm hoping that he will start to associate being in the middle of the ring with doing the work, and walking calmly on the rail as a reward and time to relax.  :) 

Louie is definatetly not a Grand Prix talented jumper, but what I love about him is that he never refuses a jump (knock on wood)- the worst he does is plow through it if we have a communication error.  Otherwise, just aim him at it and he's willing and eagar to go!  Wee!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Spooky Wind!

The hot and humid 90 degree days we had last week have passed and the past two days have been beautiful, 70's with a nice breeze, and very little humidity.  Perfect weather in my opinion.  Apparently Louie liked the cool weather too as he was a little spooky today I drove him outside- first time I've worked him in a week actually (took our other 4 y/o walking horse camping last weekend).  I'm not sure if it was the wind, the cool weather, or if Louie was just feeling fresh from his week off after his show, but he was really spooky today, he jumped a few times at weeds blowing in the wind and at the squeaky gate at the back of the arena, which he has driven by countless times.  There were a few times I thought we might be in for it in the cart, but they were all short lived, a stride or two and then back to his usual self, just a little more wary than usual.  I tried to work him hard, really get him trotting hard and fast, in order to burn off a little extra steam, but his lazy side kicked in and he slowed down to a gentle jog in short order.  Another scary thing that happened today, my reins gave me a little trouble.  They're a tad long, and actually my right rein blew to the side and kindof got hung up in the axel of the cart, by the right wheel.  Luckily, Louie stood perfectly with constant pressure on his right rein while I freed the rein from the axel.  A second time the tip of that same rein blew towards the wheel and this time only made some funny noises as it brushed against the spokes.  Perhaps I should turn Louie's cart into a "motor cart" like we did with a card in the bike spokes as a kid- or perhaps not.  Haha

After we wore the edge off a bit, we worked on some agility, making figure 8's and doing barrel patterns around the jumps in the arena.  Louie's getting really good at turning in the cart, and I can't wait until my trace extenders that I ordered last week get here.  He really needs them- I'm so nervous he's going to hook a rein on the shaft when doing those tight turns.  The trace extenders are supposed to arrive on Thursday, keeping my fingers crossed! 

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Well I Guess He Isn't a Show Hater!

Louie and I went to our first Saddlebred breed show today.  It was a small one, but I wanted to start out small before we went to the bigger (and more expensive) shows. 

The show grounds got about 3 inches of rain last night, so the arena was a giant puddle, but it was okay, Louie rolls in the mud ever day, so he wasn't too worried about it.  It also was very hot, and I've always compared horse shows to exercising in a dress suit on a hot sunny day.  I definitely got a work out!

Now on to the good stuff- Louie was feeling good today, no soreness from his fall yesterday.  His lips were a little tender putting his bridle on, but other than that, it was hardly noticeable.  He is still very green, having only been to 3 shows prior total, only once prior doing a walk-trot-canter class.  He had an issue with the speakers by the announcer stand in the first class- our first pass by it at the trot, he broke into a sideways canter into the center and nearly ran the judge over.  Of course I apologised and off we went to continue along.  Louie really scooted past the announcer stand, and barely so by the end of that class, but other than that, he had a really nice ride.  He had to trot into his left lead canter in the first class, but he did take both leads, and took the right lead beautifully, so I was happy.  He was very consistent in his headset and speed.  We managed to take 2nd place out of 3, even nearly trampling the judge, so she must have liked us.  My husband said that if we hadn't had that blip, we probably would have won the class.  Ah, well, green horses will be that way, and I could have planned better if I wasn't so concerned with noticing my own nervousness.

Our second class the announcer stand wasn't quite as much of an issue.  He still scooted past it, but much more controlled.  We got to do more gaits/speeds too, including not only walk, trot, and canter, but also country pleasure horses are asked to halt, back, extend the trot, and hand gallop.  Just after the canter was called for, and Louie had a beautiful canter depart, my stirrup slid off the bar.  Luckily in breed shows, time outs are allowed, so we used ours, Bjorn jumped over the fence into the 4" deep mud and came to help me re-attach my stirrup leather.  Then we continued on, and had another great canter depart.  Then they called for the hand gallop.  That was awesome, I guess I had forgotten that we would be asked to hand gallop in the show ring, but man was it fun! Louie didn't go too terribly fast, but as soon as I got up into two point he picked it up like he knew just what to do. Weeeeeee!!

He was a little antsy going the second way, anticipating the canter, but he waited long enough, they don't ask horses to walk terribly long in the Saddlebred show ring, so it was okay.  Overall, we had a pretty good second ride, enough for first place (out of two).  What a proud moment for an amateur owner trainer, we had 2 good rides, and got some beautiful photos out of it.  To top it off, we won all of our entry fees back with our ribbons (gotta love payback!). 

I am in the decision process as to which photo(s) to purchase, but here are some links to the proofs that I like most:
First Class- trot

I look silly, but Louie looks great here

My husband trying to figure out where to put the ribbon- I explained to the presenter that he has never done this before

Victory Lap- probably my favorite

Overall, it was a fun day.  I could not be more proud of my boy! 

Saturday, August 7, 2010

He's a Show Hater

I swear my horse knows when we have a horse show scheduled, and purposely tries to spoil my plans. . .

Today we had a decent ride, then Louie got his bath.  While he was standing in the crossties drying, he couldn't take the fact that his hind leg was SO itchy, that he took it upon himself to itch it.  He got himself bent into a very nice C shape, really working his abs, then his feet lost traction on the damp concrete and he wiped out.  That's right, he fell while standing in the crossties.  I swear my horse has got to be really talented to accomplish such things. 

Well, he got up and was rather startled, stood still as a statue while I checked him over to assess the damage.  He had a chunk of hair missing off of his knee, but no big cuts under that at least.  He was standing on all 4's, which was good.  But his lips took the brunt of the damage- apparently he broke his fall with his face.  He had big (but thankfully thin) flaps of skin hanging off of his upper and lower lips that he had scraped off, and they were just starting to ooze.  I checked his teeth, which looked alright. I tried to look at the inside of his lips to see how badly he might have cut the inside of the lips (teeth tend to do some bad things to lips when people fall), but he wouldn't let me.  Oh well.  I put some antibiotic ointment on them, finished my work, then led him back to his stall.  He seemed to be walking comfortably, so we'll see if he's real stiff tomorrow.  He went right for his hay once he got in his stall and munched on that happily. 

So I felt better that at least Louie was eating after all of that drama and there was no significant damage.  I just hope that his little lips scab up and look okay for tomorrow.  The good part is that the damage was in a location that probably won't be easily seen by the judge- assuming he stays collected! 

Well, with that being said, horsey tucked in to bed for the night, I am off to get myself ready, including a refreshing shower and a good night's sleep.  We'll see what tomorrow brings!  Wish us luck!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Driving Right Along

Louie and I have been enjoying a nice mix of riding and driving over the past few months.  We haven't worked on too much that is new in our driving adventures, but perhaps we're ready to progress to some new challenges.  Louie is doing very well, even with the flies bugging him, he drove like a champ in the outdoor ring tonight.  With a little work and some additions to his attire (breeching, blinders, probably need a Meadowbrook cart too), I think he could probably make a nice carriage driving horse- as you can see quite clearly that with his headset where it is (low), he will certainly not make a Saddlbred show driving horse without quite a bit of work and risking hurting his back.  So for now we'll keep working this way and work on making a nice sound, bombproof driving horse out of Louie.  As our driving trainer Steve said, why try to change him into something else (ie a country pleasure show driving horse or a CDE maniac horse), when he is so pleasureable to drive the way he is?  Steve sure likes Louie just the way he is, and while he's not really much for breed shows, I don't think Louie's too shabby either.We need to work more on the driveway and potentially progress to the road or trail at some point in time (I think we'll make sure that is good under saddle before tackling it in the cart).  Then add some more desensitization tactics- we still have to drag that sled behind us at some point, and add blinders. . .

Here is a nice photo that Laura snapped of Louie and I driving yesterday in the indoor arena (thank you!!).  Here you'll see him outfitted in his new harness (Schneider's harness with a few Walsh accessories).  There are a few things I wish I could adjust just a bit more (ie I'd love to lower the tug straps about one notch to drop the shafts down a bit more level), and I definately need to pick up some trace extenders, as this harness was clearly not built for a long, big bodied Saddlebred, and we're a little tight, with the shafts a bit far forward on the harness.  Overall though, I think this was a great harness purchase for a used quick hitch!  And, I love driving with real reins instead of my LONG lines. 

Monday, July 26, 2010

Negotiating with a 4-Year-Old

. . . is never a good idea.  Last night we returned home from a small vacation and I worked Louie for the first time in a few days.  I decided he had had a few days of rest and has been moving pretty well since his injury, so I'd try riding him.  Well, he did a pretty good job, he even took his right lead on the first try- and he had just an absolutely perfect canter departure from a walk- collected and steady.  I was so happy and proud of him for getting his right lead, and for doing it so well, as the right lead canter has proved the most challenging and long-standing obstacle in his training thus far.  We finally got it! 

So. . . a little while later I went to canter him on his left lead.  Well, Louie and his toddler way of thinking, decided he is only going to use his right lead from now on. . . .  I pushed and pushed and we tried and tried until he was trotting sideways down the rail, grinding the enamel off of his molars, and doing pseudo roll-backs.  He was pissed off!  As was I.  Why is my horse, who for his entire life has preferred only his left lead, suddenly deciding he can only canter on his right lead?  . . . Just as the fight was escalating to the point where I was certain to lose my temper, and then of course lose the battle, we stopped and sat there and stared at ourselves in the mirror while we thought about it for about 2-3 minutes.  During that time I looked at Louie's handsome, yet anxious expression and patted him. He relaxed.  I relaxed.  Then he told me the answer to my question, "well, Mom, it's because I thought you really wanted me to do my right lead!  By the way you have been riding and what you usually ask me to do, it's quite clear that you prefer that lead."  Hmmm. . . I guess this is true, we have been working so hard on the right lead that I virtually never ask him for his left.  I was just so enamored to have finally gotten the right lead that while I was upset about him not getting the left lead, all that fighting was almost meaningless in comparison to the huge success that we had just had. 

We went along and did some nice walk-trot work, trotting over a few poles, etc to get our minds off of the canter.  It was almost 10:00 pm and both of us were drenched in sweat after that fight, so I thought we should kiss and make up before the ride was over, so we went for a nice walk down the driveway in the moonlight.  Louie chose to do this.  I just gave him the reins and that's where he went.  There was a lot to look at for Louie as his eyesight in the dark is much more keen than mine.  It was refreshing, cool, and a great relaxed opportunity to bond and for me to make it up to Louie.  We'll work on the canter more later.  "For today, let's just enjoy this ride."

Well today we rode in the outdoor, the big day to tackle the canter leads once again.  This time, after some phone coaching from Sandy, I let Louie run into the canter if he needed to, and much to my liking Louie picked up his left lead on the first try.  After a while we cantered the other way, and Louie picked up his right lead on the first try.  Neither transition was as clean as our beautiful canter depart last night, but today was a victory for me, having asked for- and received both canter leads on the first try.  Today's ride was really not a battle, but I think we're making progress toward a victory on the war of canter leads.