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:  http://www.courtneychurchphotography.com/ofest2010/class138/pages/OCT_6375.htm

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. 
http://www.courtneychurchphotography.com/ofest2010/class186/pages/OCT_8139.htm

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.  http://www.courtneychurchphotography.com/ofest2010/class186/pages/OCT_8140.htm

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!