Thursday, December 29, 2011

Lesson 7: Renvers Revisited

Well, renvers is still really hard.  Louie doesn't much care for it, as he really has to work, and he's a bit on the lazy side.  Not only that but counter-bending and renvers is counter intuitive.  Tonight we worked on counter-bending and then renvers.  We didn't make much progress in our single ride since our last lesson (since it was over Christmas), but we did improve the canter depart by maybe a tiny little smidgen. 

We started out working just like always, round, bent, forward, on the bit, etc.  We then fairly quickly jumped into counter bending on a circle.  Julie had us spiral in on the circle, keeping an outside bend while making our circle smaller and smaller, then on the way back out again (circle getting larger), take the correct bend and allow Louie to stretch out and down. 

After a few drills like this we transitioned into working on our renvers at the walk and trot (including the transitions).  Louie didn't much care for this and while we had moments of somewhat decent renvers, it overall just looked like an uphappy horse with a dumb jockey who didn't know what she was doing, so Julie hopped on to see if she could figure out what our issues were.  She discovered a few things:  Louie is pretty patient and tolerant of everything we put him through, renvers is very hard for him, and lastly, he is dull to my aids to transition upward.  Okay, so let me get this out on the table, I'm supposed to be transitioning upward simply by sliding my seat slightly forward (just my inside seat bone for the canter) and just keeping my legs in position, but not using them.  Louie has never transitioned like this, especially into the canter, so before my next lesson, I've got to work on teaching him that his new cue is in my seat bones. 

I got back on and we worked a little bit more on renvers, then changing the bend and cantering.  We had one or two decent transitions tonight, so I felt happy about that.  We also had a few little buck/hops that I can't blame Louie for in the least.  This stuff is really hard. 

Lucky for me, Lisa is great with the video camera so she got a nice video of our lesson.  I have a feeling I'll watch this a few times to try to pick out the differences between the way Julie rode and I rode. 

I think in the next week I'm going to go back a bit to our usual "pre-renvers" riding and try to work on the transitions and get that nice low neck and forward round trot back again.  When we work on renvers this week, I'm going to try it along a straight-away, and I'm only going to ask him for a few strides at a time, as I think I'll be able to teach him better in shorter intervals where we take a break to praise him for his hard work.  I don't think we've back tracked, in fact, I think we're super advanced from where we were at our first lesson, but this lesson unfortunately mostly only shows the frustrated, high-headed pissed off Louie, not the beautiful floaty round Louie that I've become accustomed to seeing in the mirrors. . . I guess that means we'll have to have another video!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Lesson 6: Renvers (Is Hard!)

Our lesson tonight started with continued work on shoulder in, which, it turns out, needs more bend than I was using.  According to Julie, if I have his body too straight, then he's leg yielding, so I need to keep a nice bend to the inside while asking for the shoulders to come in a few inches from the rail.  We started to really do well with this, once I understood the concept of keeping a bend.  During the shoulder in maneuver, I need to continue to sit to the inside, use an inside leg at the girth (inside leg should be ahead of outside leg at all times to be correct), a little wiggle to make sure my outside leg is still there and giving some forward encouragement and catching him if the hindquarters shift too far out, placed back behind the girth.  My inside hand needs to be off of the neck and toward the inside, just wiggling and releasing on occasion to keep a nice bend with very little contact on the inside rein, and the outside hand with light contact, releasing gently once in a while to ask Louie to stretch his neck down deeper, and giving (the important part!) when he does reach down to it. 

Then after Julie was satisfied with our shoulder in (which wasn't new to us thanks to our lessons last winter with Marlene), she had us trot over a few cavelleti (which was SO much better than the first few times we did them!), then learn something completely new-  Renvers. 

So renvers is haunches out.  It is very similar to shoulder in, except the bend is opposite.  Well if we have shoulder in down pretty well, renvers should be no big deal then, right?  Wrong!  The hard thing about renvers (besides the fact that it is nearly impossible to keep correct in my brain!) is that the horse has to be really, really responsive to the legs.  It's a true test to find out if your horse moves away from your legs well, as unlike shoulder in, it takes a LOT of inside leg to keep both the haunches and the head out.  Think of a parachute or a gently curved semi-circle.  It is a lot easier for that semi-circle to travel in the convex direction, with the center of that line leading and the two ends of the semi-circle trailing behind.  This is like shoulder in.  You push the middle of the horse sideways and the head and tail follow.  Renvers means pushing that semi-circle in the opposite direction, in the concave direction, which, to a parachute creates a lot of resistance, and hence slows it down.  So we have to push two ends of the arc forward instead of just pushing the middle and having the rest follow.  So naturally it is challenging, and it's a bit unnatural! 

This is a view from above of a horse in renvers.  You can see the rail at the bottom left of the photo.

We worked on this mostly at the trot.  Julie loves renvers because it forces a horse to use both of their hind legs, rather than just the inside leg.  Well, Louie doesn't love to work, so he resisted, but eventually we had some decently okay looking renvers on a 20 m circle in posting trot.  For the renvers movement, my weight needs to be to the outside, my legs need to switch (inside leg back, outside leg forward), and both of my hands need to come somewhat to the inside.  You use a TON of inside leg (but intermittent, with help from the whip or you'll be a hurting unit) to keep those haunches out, but some outside leg at the girth to keep the bend to the outside and to help control the direction of travel.  Then the outside rein has to work fairly hard here to ask for the bend, as it's not natural for what we've taught the horse nor ourselves 'til now, and the inside (inside of the circle) rein needs contact to receive the horse's movement from the outside leg and not let the horse drift out of the circle. 

Well, it wasn't pretty but we got a little bit of decent renvers, and then we used it as a set up for the canter depart.  Julie had me doing a sitting or posting trot in renvers, then switch my bend (and my legs) and ask for the canter with little to no leg.  My inside seat bone sliding forward (with my legs already in position with the outside leg back) should be the cue for the canter.  After three or four tries, we couldn't pick up the right lead (well, think about this, three months ago, I had to use spurs, seat, lean forward, and kiss in order to get it, now we can do it with just a little leg and seat, but we'll have to shake up the coke bottle a bit more so he is more sensitive to just the inside seat bone sliding forward with the legs in the position of canter (outside leg back, inside leg at the girth).  So that is our homework for the week. 

I figure we'll do a lot of work on renvers and probably also on our trot-canter transitions in the next ride or two that we get in before our next lesson.  I'm hopeful that it will get easier!  Hopefully we'll get more than one ride in with Christmas this weekend!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Time to Think About a Body Clip

While the weather has been unseasonably warm lately, Louie's worked up a pretty decent sweat the past four times I've worked him.  His neck, chest, girth area, belly, thighs, and flanks get pretty sweaty and I've had to use a hair dryer on him in addition to walking him in a cooler to help dry him before putting him back outside again. 

Well that whole procedure is a bit of a pain in the butt (and time consuming!), and while Louie does great and actually loves the warm dryer, I'm thinking I may need to give him a little bit of a body clip to help him cool out quicker.  He's got one of the thickest coats on the farm and several of his pasturemates have at least a partial clip. 

I'm thinking if I do it, we'll start with a very conservative clip like a neck and chest clip (mostly just chest though as Louie doesn't have a hood for his blanket), and if needed, we'll do a low trace clip.  I found a great website with lots of clip patterns:

Anyone have any thoughts, tips or tricks to body clipping?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Lesson 5: Taming the Saddle Bronc

40 mph winds always make for an interesting horse experience.  Tonight during my lesson there was an added element of horse conflict happening right outside the arena door.  Louie was riding along pretty nicely, warming up and doing well when all of a sudden a horse started squealing and kicking (from what I could hear) in the neighboring paddock, and Louie got a little bit upset/excited over it.  I tried to continue asking him to relax and stretch on his nice 20 meter circle, but the stars aligned (too little work, cold windy day, plus horse conflict event) and Louie set off in bronco style.  He only did one little jump/buck thing, but succeeded in un-seating me, though luckily I stayed on.  Needless to say he was a little fresh and we spent a lot of the lesson getting him to pay attention to me and not the ongoings of the weather and scenery.  Everyone could see the Saddlebred come out of him today!

The first thing we worked on was a lot of bending.  Over-bending for a while, to get him to listen and work harder- it worked.  Then we worked on some 10 meter walk figure 8's.  I tend to use a neck rein in addition to my direct/leading rein, which is a really bad habit, so Julie had me plant my inside hand on my knee, and when leaving the circle to change directions, have two inside hands (2 hands wide and on the knees) for a stride or two until I change the bend start the second circle of the figure-8.  After a few times this clicked.  And, don't forget to shift the entire seat to the inside! 

We carried the exaggerated inside bend along the straight away, and transitioned it into a shoulder in.  We worked on this at the trot and it was probably the first time Louie had really done shoulder in at the trot.  It wasn't beautiful, but using my whip really helped.  Also she pointed out that I'm not to post side to side, but always up/down/front/back. 

Then we worked on a drill, in which we walk along one of the long walls, then half halt (stop with my seat) and if Louie doesn't stop, I turn him into the wall.  Then I ask for a turn on the forehand, 180 degrees, and continue on walking.  We then transitioned this into a leg yield along the wall, haunches in.  I believe we only did this at the walk, but I could be wrong.  I'm pretty sure Louie thought I was asking him to canter when I asked him to shift his haunches.  This will be something we'll have to keep straight. 

We then worked on shifting the haunches out on a 20 meter trot circle.  Shift the haunches out, then once he's moving away nicely sideways, let him relax and stretch down.  He was pretty sure he was supposed to be cantering with this drill too.  And the whip came in handy with this exercise as well. 

As you can imagine, there were several times during our lesson today in which Louie, being excited but restricted, resorted to his usual Saddlebred neck curl.  We actually found several ways to get him out of it.  If he is going slow, speed up and ask for more bend.  If he is going fast, slow the gait down (slow down our posting) and much to my surprise, I was met with an improvement in contact after a short time.  This is part of our homework, to work on encouraging contact and always asking him to relax his neck deeper and lower, before he even anticipates to raise up.  We've had pretty good luck thus far getting him to lower his neck by bending him, applying a little leg (calves), and gently wiggling my inside rein, softening/lengthening the outside arm as he reaches down for the bit, to "give" a little, all while encouraging him to "fill up the bridle" by pushing him from the back and catching him with my hands.  By the way, a little side note, and that is that I only get to use my hands if I use my legs, to catch him or control his rate/bend if needed. 

Finally we actually did work on the canter, and she wanted us to work on keeping that same fullness in the bridle (contact).  Julie wanted us to slow our canter down and choose whether I was going to sit or two point, as I was "posting" in the canter (haha!).  Louie was going a bit fast, which can be hard to sit, so I was doing sort of a half seat.  Julie said, "we all know he can canter slower than that!," but of course being lazy, he broke into a trot when I asked him to slow down.  Eventually we got a very nice relaxed canter in two point.  She said I'm to work on the same way of getting him to relax his neck down in the canter as I do in the trot.  I did notice him doing a little bit more relaxing than he usually does in the canter, probably because by this time, he was pooped! 

One last little note, is that we've struggled a bit with the downward transition from canter to trot, probably because my seat contact is limited in the canter.  But, basically the transition aids should be adding both calves (lightly, and progressively, as it's not intuitive and isn't going to be natural at first until we master it at the slower gaits first), and moving the outside hip bone forward and holding both hip bones forward.  Naturally in the canter, the inside hip bone sits more forward, so stilling the seat (lower abs!) and bringing the seat straight is essentially the cue. 

Our homework is to basically to work on most of the stuff that we worked on today, especially getting him to seek contact, and encouraging him to lower his neck.  Julie did comment that my feet looked a lot better (I pretended like I was riding without stirrups, and my knees more flexed), and she hardly picked on my legs at all today.  So, our 5-10 minutes of no stirrup work that we did on Monday probably paid off. 

For the second time this week I had to walk Louie in a cooler for 10-20 minutes and use the hair dryer on Louie to cool him out and dry all his wet sweaty fur. He doesn't mind the blow dryer, in fact I think he loves it.  So relaxing and warm.  :)  But, we might have to think about a trace clip if we continue to work up a sweat!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Lesson 4: The Bane of Stirrups

Tonight was our 4th lesson with Julie.  We worked on the usual type of stuff and I asked Julie to help us clarify our cues for a downward or upward transition (as they're pretty similar all in all).  I'm not sure I got a clear answer on the difference, but I think throughout our lesson tonight I figured out enough of what I need to understand for now. 

We did a little bit of work with the cavaletti, which Louie once again panicked when he started into them.  This time it was only 3 of them in a row on a circle.  He trotted the first one, then jumped the second two.  LOL.  Oh Louie. . . by the third or fourth time through, we had a respectable trot through them. 

We worked a lot on slowing down using the seat tonight.  I thought we really did a nice job with this.  I do have to be careful to not completely lock my seat and brace into my stirrups as I tend to do this.  Just tighten my lower abs and slow the saddle down, not completely stop it unless I really mean to stop completely. 

We also worked some on half halting, basically slowing my seat, then bumping a little bit with the legs or laying the whip gently on his side.  Louie did manage to do one very nice square halt while we worked on that.

The other thing we worked on was lengthening the neck, by using the seat.  My basic cues to get Louie to lower his neck are: apply just a little bit of light calf, especially the inside leg, tighten my lower abs, make sure my posting is nice and light, and very gently wiggle my reins a little bit (mostly inside, but sometimes the outside leg to get him to take the connection lower).  This also worked really well, and I was impressed with how much I was able to get him to lower just with these simple things, sometimes without even using the hands.  We did, however, discover during this exercise that I use my hands too much at times, and Julie thinks I should try to keep my hands a little more still to give Louie more confidence that he's doing the right thing.  I need to keep my elbows loose to move, and give with the forearm, as that part of my arm "belongs to my horse." 

We worked just a little bit on our walk-trot transitions, and found that these really can be very light and easy, and I really don't need to rev the engine a whole lot.  Just a touch from an active forward walk, slide my pelvis slightly forward, and if he doesn't go off of the seat movement, give him a tap with the whip and try again. 

Finally, probably the biggest thing we worked on tonight was my leg position.  I need to roll my thighs in, so that my knee caps are basically touching the saddle, and my thighs are making more contact with the horse.  When I do this, I also need to turn my feet way in, so that my heels are out, and keep a bend in my knee (light heels), so that my weight isn't braced down into the stirrups.  This bracing is a really bad habit that I have which, lucky for me, gave me a one week sentence of riding without stirrups. . . Argh.  It will be good for me, but I just hope I don't fall off while I'm at it!  It should help me to keep the bend in my knee, use my thighs more (but not vice grip), and NOT brace into my stirrups.

A Cool Farriery Photo

I snapped this photo of my farrier Pat making a set of winter shoes for another horse at the barn with my new iPhone 4s.  I have to say, the camera is amazing. 

Pat was out to pull Louie's shoes, so I'm hoping he's not too tender footed after losing the protection he's had for the past 8 months!  Only time will tell.  If needed, Pat will be out next week to make any changes necessary.  I'm hoping that Louie will be able to stay sound barefoot for a good long while now!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Lesson 3: Shake the Coke Bottle

Tonight was our third lesson.  I got two nice rides in since our last lesson on Sunday, and it seemed to Julie as though they have paid off as Louie was doing great, much more forward, almost "round," and, surprise surprise- neck lower.  I got him to lower his neck with one simple thing- when he did it, I praised him like crazy.  He clearly feeds off of the positive reinforcement quite well.  I did use just a bit of light seasawing as I used to teach him to lower while wearing the Chambon this fall, but just one or two little wiggles on the rein and he seemed to relax. So once I started linking that with bending and praising, it seemed to stick- at least so far.

So tonight's lesson we started with some basic bending and riding straight exercises at the walk and trot.  I still am pushing with my seat, but I can't figure out how not to, as Louie pushes me, so I do my best not to resist.  Anyhow, it must have been somewhat better today as I didn't get yetlled at quite so much for it today. 

After some warm up, she sent us through a line of 8 cavaletti on the lowest positions (still about 6 inches off the ground) at a trot.  The first time through was somewhat of a disaster.  Louie rushed the first one, then spent the rest of the time trying to figure out his spacing and where to put his feet in a big hot mess.  I lost control and quit posting, just kindof bobbling along through the uncoordinated jumble.  The second time through was much better.  Julie had me focus on controlling our speed and posting the whole time.  By the third time, Louie went through with just about perfect stride, speed, and foot placement, but he still wasn't truly round.  We changed directions and this time did the same things, focusing on maintaining our speed and rhythm (not too fast), controlling my posting so I don't land on Louie's back like my couch, but this time trying to encourage Louie to go round as he went through them, encouraging him to drop his neck and use his core to hold his back up.  By the third time through the second way, Louie went through "almost round," which I thought was pretty awesome coming from how Julie felt his back was so hollow at our first lesson two weeks ago.  It felt like I must have been riding some big warmblood doing a nice passage- it felt good!  Julie really likes cavaletti because they help to balance a horse, as they have to work both sides equally.  Of course cavalleti also help to strengthen the legs and back (if done properly in a round form), and improve rhythm and judgement for the horse in placing their feet.

Next we worked a little bit on getting Louie to shift his haunches out on a circle.  Louie really had completely forgotten how to shift his hindquarters to the outside, so we needed to refresh the turn on the forehand lesson.  Part of my homework for this week is to work on the turn on the forehand in both directions.  The reason this is important is because when Louie tracks to the right, his "concave" side, he lets his left shoulder fall out too much, so she wants me to work on once in a while asking for haunches out to help keep the shoulder straight and re-define our "pie tin."  Since Louie did know how to do this at one point in the recent past, a quick refresher should be easy.  The one thing that is quite different between how Julie and Marlene teach is that Julie is okay with me moving my inside leg back, whereas Marlene would never let me move my inside leg back, which was my natural reaction, so, I guess back to what feels easy for me! 

The last thing we worked on was a tiny bit of canter work (I mean like half a circle) to the left.  Julie says that the key to a good canter transition in this exercise is a good walk to sitting trot transition a few strides before it.  So, we spent the majority of our time getting a good walk to trot transition- without begging or really using any leg.  The key is to shake up the Coke bottle (rev the engine!) then allow the transition to happen by just "thinking" it.  So, we worked on what I would interpret as half halts, to help re-balance and get the hind end ready to spring into action for what's ahead.  We worked on getting a forward, active (but not fast) walk, and half halt by asking for more go from the hind end with the legs and whip, but at the same time, saying "stay" with a very still seat (stop the saddle from moving) and a little bit of rein pressure if needed to stop forward movement.  When it feels like there is a lot of energy brewing and the bottle is about ready to explode, let him transition into a sitting trot, just by thinking of it and letting the seat slide forward a tiny bit into the trot.  After a few strides, with the inside leg quite forward, weight on the inside hip bone (literally feel the ischium pressing into the saddle) knee bent and heel light, and the outside leg way back (bent at the knee), ask for the canter. 

We had about half a 20 meter circle of nicely balanced canter that Julie liked before he kindof fell apart when I asked him to work harder.  We worked on pushing with the legs while using quite a bit of rein (hands low, wide, and very little following of his movement) to get him to essentially balance himself and be round in the canter. 

Overall it was a good lesson and I'm really glad to know that Julie thinks we've made some good progress!  I'm already looking forward to my next lesson!  My homework for this week:  work on the turn on the forehand and shifting the haunches out, and walk-trot transitions where I "shake the coke bottle" then ask for the trot without really cueing him with my legs.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Lesson 2: Ride from the Core

Well first off, let me just say that my high hopes of Louie's mane being perfectly trained and lying flat are completely gone.  While the binders were still in, Louie looked a bit like a Rasta horse with his hair-do today.  Oh well, bands out and he's just going freestyle now. 

We had another good lesson today with Julie.  We've gotten a lot more "fast" but not necessarily "forward" since our last lesson.  Today we worked on getting Louie more round, raising his back and lowering his neck.  Walking on a circle, we worked on keeping Louie walking with good speed, light contact on both reins, and bending his body with my legs, and perhaps most importantly, holding my dang seat more still!  When Louie relaxes his neck down, I need to give right away with my hands to encourage the reach.  When he ducks back off of the bit, I need to get his back up, so tighten my lower abdominal muscles, and use my legs and whip to push him back up and into the contact. 

We worked a lot on using my core properly to maintain my position (don't let me arms or legs get pulled forward by holding them in with my core) and trying not to "push" with my seat and wow am I sore- deep inside my lower abdomen/pelvis.  I think my illiopsoas muscles hurt.  I'm supposed to use my legs to control my horse's hind legs, use my core to control the saddle and the front of the horse.   

Julie hopped on for a few minutes to work out an issue we were having with getting Louie to stretch down and she figured out that he needs right leg and right hand much more than left, so I need to stay stronger with those aids.  She also got him to piaffe, though, not intentionally.  (I think Julie likes Louie, though she thinks he's a bit lazy, but he's a nice horse and a cute horse).

We also worked on some trot work, and by the end I felt a bit like I was riding a bouncy ball.  I need to practice riding like I don't have a saddle on, and landing my posting very gently (almost not landing) so I'm not sitting on my horse like my couch.  Otherwise, all of the other rules apply that we've already learned.

We worked a little bit as well on counter-bending (Renvers?) on a trotting circle, I think to show me how important it is to keep my horse balanced and straight.  More to come on that next week. She also said something about wrist bracelets for my puppy dog hands. . . uh oh. 

Scattered in the lesson, we also worked on our halting and low and behold we did pretty decent with these.  The main thing I think I learned regarding the halt is that I have to keep a light leg on him through it, don't just take everything off and let him fall into a halt, light heels (so that I don't arch my back), and very gradually use my core to stop the saddle from moving.  We actually got 2 decent halts out of him with this. 

Overall, it's been mostly work on me and my position/aids, and Julie uses Louie to teach me what to do.  It's a little bit hard to learn, this dressage stuff, it's very complicated.  Whew, my head is once again spinning, but this time I think I'm gonna be sore.  Worked up a good sweat today!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Happy Boy

I went up to visit Louie tonight after work because I noticed that 3 of his legs were warm to the touch yesterday when I was out.  Though he didn't look or act sick or injured in the least, so I rode him yesterday, and we got some very nice forward!  Anyhow, I was a bit worried about him, so I went up to visit and he seems fine as usual, all 4 legs felt the same temperature tonight.  Who knows, my horse has been proclaimed "goofy" by more than one vet. 

Louie's mane has been wanting to part right down the middle for the past several months, like an Icelandic.  Maybe that means he's balanced and evenly muscled on both sides (doubtfully), but whatever it means, it looks kinda silly so I banded it on his right side tonight, in hopes to train it a little bit at least. 

He was a happy looking boy standing in the tack up area, though I'm pretty sure he was upset that he wasn't standing next to the round bale any longer.  He's already put on some weight and his hind end is starting to fill in again.  The topline is going to take some time, but it'll come. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Lesson 1: Hold the Gouda

Tonight was our first lesson at Sunborn Stables with Julie Penshorn.  It was great, but I feel as though the thoughts in my head right now are similar to the little white dots on your TV screen when it goes snowy- swimming around in no particular order.  So, I'm still trying to organize all of the things I learned/worked on into a meaningful formed memory.  Our Saddlebred buddy Lisa also came out to watch us tonight, so she was there to help me recall some of what we learned.  We're both looking forward to taking some more lessons!

So we'll start at the beginning- the saddle.  I rode in my all purpose saddle, but Julie thinks it's too low in front (probably is wider than necessary right now with Louie's body shape) so we added a front riser.  Much to my surprise, the front riser did not make me feel like I was sitting up hill, it still felt balanced. 

I got on and walked for a few minutes and told Julie all about Louie, his training so far, what his bad habits are, his evasions, and how he's generally a very nice, laid back horse.  Julie wanted to feel what I was feeling, so she hopped on Louie for a few minutes and got him walking with much more "motor"- his hind legs and core more activated, using a whip behind her leg to help reinforce what she was asking with her leg, as she quickly learned that Louie is rather dull sided.  She got a super nice active walk and working trot out of him- his neck was relaxed down, he was really using his inside hind leg well (not continuously, but getting the hang of what she was asking him for), and he actually looked like he had impulsion- not lazy, but not "crazy" either- he was still relaxed through his neck and back but was really using himself nicely, much better than I feel that I usually get him to go. 

Then Julie got off and I got on.  We completely changed my posture.  She first had me stretch up through the torso, lift my rib cage, then slowly drop my shoulders down.  Then she had me pull my knees up out of the stirrups and rest them, bent, on his withers.  I was to maintain my pelvis in that position while lowering my legs down to his sides.  My thighs needed to be turned in, but not squeezing with the knees.  So, heels out, but knees loose.  The final posture change of this stage was the ankles- she wants my heels almost "up," and almost no weight in my stirrups so that I'm not bracing my legs down into the stirrup irons.  By raising the heels up, she was asking me to bend my knee, as if I were holding a tennis ball or a piece of Gouda in the back of my knee- hence the title of this post.  Mmmm I like Gouda.

Then we set out into a 10 meter circle at the walk.  She wants me to shift my whole seat to the inside of the circle, and face my head at Louie's outside ear.  She doesn't want me to squeeze with my legs, but rather bump, and actually kindof pester him with my inside calf until he moves away from it.  One thing that I must avoid, however, is begging.  I have to mean it when I bump his side, and if he doesn't move over, I use my whip.  I am to keep a very light rein and not worry too much about him taking a lot of contact, but rewarding him when he seeks it, by backing off my pressure.  She said I need very little backward pressure with this horse since his mouth is like butter.  As for my legs, I should use my outside leg to hold the outside of him in place while I "push the pie crust into the pie tin" with my inside leg (the outside leg is the pie tin).  We got some nice active walking as well, with some help from the whip.  By the way, I took my spurs off of my boots as Julie doesn't really want me using them as it affects the position of the leg (I agree, though I also think the holding a whip affects the position of the hands).  Anyhow, he's become so dull sided that I've become dependent upon the spurs, and I agree, I'm using them way too much when I could enforce my leg perhaps more effectively with the whip. 

After we had a nice active walk going, Julie pointed out that I am pushing much too much with my seat, and that I need to save that for the bedroom (LOL!), and keep my seat more still.  So, while I was no longer working so hard to get Louie to move forward, I was working really hard to keep my seat still, since it's much easier to just follow his stride.  She pointed out that my pushing with my seat is actually just pushing Louie's back down, and it's better to sit quietly "like a little clothes pin that kicks its legs once in a while."

Toward the end of the lesson, we started working on our downward transitions to a slower walk or halt, which need a LOT of work.  The goal is to get Louie to step under himself with his hind legs to stop, instead of just falling out of the gait on the forehand.  Louie still has the tendency to raise his neck up with our downward transitions, so it's going to take some work to get that to stop.  I need to keep him active in the walk with light pressure from both legs, imagining my body is like a soup can that is dented in on the sides (holding all of my guts in firmly), then blow off a little steam and "stop the saddle from moving."  All the while, I need to keep Louie bent, and push slightly more with my inside leg, pushing the pie crust into the tin as I stop the saddle from moving. 

Whew!  That is a LOT to take in for a first lesson. . . at the conclusion Julie said that my homework is to work on getting more forward out of him, so I'll really work on getting this good active walk (like I saw one of the other horses do a few days ago when Julie got on for a training ride as I was finishing working Louie- it's a good thing when the product of your trainer's work is good!).  It seems like she does like Louie as a prospect and thinks we're going to do well.  I'm glad that she is positive because I see no light at the end of the tunnel with all of this snow fuzz in my way. 

Overall I really learned a lot, and learned that I have a LOT to work on- more on me than on Louie at this point.  I like Julie's teaching style, and I really like how much work she puts into teaching, she's not only good at teaching, but she's very passionate about it and motivated/energetic and involved.  I feel that I'm not grasping the whole big picture quite yet, but I'm sure I'll get there. 

In other news, Louie has moved up in the totem pole!  He's in the paddock now with 3 other horses and apparently he's above one other horse there.  What a relief for him to finally not be rock bottom.  He seems to be settling in well and is not looking beat up at all, is enjoying the round bale, and got his light winter blankie tonight (it's brr cold outside!). 

We're looking forward to our next lesson, but have a lot to work on in the mean time! 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Home Sweet Home

Louie moved to his new stable yesterday, and is settling in very well. 

We had our first ride today and Louie felt great.  We rode in our all purpose saddle, and he felt like he was moving really nicely and was relaxed but energetic.  We got some awesome neck stretches at the trot; I don't think I've ever seen him relax his neck down at the trot like this before, with this much regularity. 

The footing in the arena is awesome, I could tell within the first few steps at the trot, as they felt springy and powerful.  Louie felt very balanced and controlled at the canter, and we were even able to practice some "lengthenings" (I put it in quotes as it's not really a true lengthening, but the closest we've come to it so far) at all gaits, and some lateral work at the walk. 

The only thing that was a bit of a challenge for us was the tack-up area, and not because it isn't an awesome set up- it really is (and it's heated, so that's a huge plus in the winter!).  It's a wide walkway with 3 double size tie stalls on one side, where there are cross ties for the horses, used for grooming and tacking.  The challenge was backing into them.  I suppose walking backwards into an enclosed space that you've never been in before is a bit of a high expectation for Louie's first time in the tack-up area.  It took a minute, but he eventually backed in and stood in the cross ties very nicely while we groomed and tacked up.  It will just take some repetition for him to master it, I'm sure. 

We've got our first lesson scheduled for Thursday; I'm super excited!  I'm also a little nervous for it, though, as being new to the stable and the routine, I can't help but worry that we'll stick out like a sore thumb, out of condition, and in need of a lot of work. . . well, as far as sticking out like a sore thumb, that might happen anyhow because I'm pretty sure Louie is the only Saddlebred at the stable.  But hopefully we'll stick out like a pretty painted fingernail instead of a sore thumb, as I liken Saddlebreds closer to that analogy. 

So far, so good.  Louie was turned out today in a big grass pasture with his 3 new pasturemates, and I hear it went well.  For the next few days though, he'll mostly be hanging out in his dry lot by himself until everyone gets adjusted.  He looks pretty happy to me!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Getting Ready for Our Next Adventure!

We've been spending the past week relaxing, doing a little long lining, but mostly just some peaceful grooming and eating buckets of soaked alfalfa cubes (Louie, not me).  We are getting our items together and cleaned for a fresh new start at a new barn, to which we move this weekend.  The fall weather has been perfect, and is just starting to turn cold, so the timing is perfect.

We're going to be moving to a dressage and eventing stable called Sunborn Stables, to ride with their fabulous trainer and instructors.  The stable is a bit further from home than I'd prefer, but they take great care of the horses, are innovative and possibly more picky about how their facility and horses are maintained than I am.  So, I am expecting the drive will be well worth it as I won't worry about Louie as much as I have in previous situations; he'll be in good hands, and we'll be immersed into a learning environment once again where we can just focus on our training and making progress in a new discipline.  I am really looking forward to being able to ride through the winter, and to learn more dressage, and also improve our jumping skills.  I'm quite confident that we will be able to make some progress at this stable, as they've got an excellent track record, many of their students actively compete all over the country, and they were able to help Louie and me with coaching in just a few minutes between rides at our dressage show last month.  I am very hopeful that we'll be able to get an extended trot out of Louie!

Very excited for the move and looking forward to diving in to dressage head first!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween Hack

Louie and I had a nice hack down the road today, in the crisp fall air.  The leaves were beautiful and the weather couldn't have been more perfect.  Louie was very well behaved, but was clearly waiting for some little goblin to jump out from behind a tree.  If I ever wanted a saddle seat horse, I sure had it today!  Louie would relax his neck down at the walk on occasion, but otherwise was on high alert! 

I managed to snap a few pictures on my phone anyhow. 

Our shadow.

We were going to ride down to the public cross country ski trails that are mowed through 80 acres nearby (about 1-2 miles from the barn), but we realized as we got closer and closer that there was very noisy work happening at the gravel pit adjacent to the park and I didn't think that would be the most enjoyable riding experience, so we turned around and rode back home. 

We rode past the hunting preserve to the South of us, thankfully there was no shooting today.

And this hill looks tiny from here, but it's a good size hill with a decent incline- great butt building work!

Other than being very up headed and alert, Louie was pretty well behaved, and we got some nice walk, trot, and canter (right lead- yay!) work out of him.  I hate to trot and canter much on the hard gravel road, but I'm afraid there's no better option right now. 

I do have two more bits of good news. . . Louie will be moving to Sunborn Stables in two weeks, to be able to ride during the winter, maybe longer!  More to come on the new stable soon, but it is a stable specializing in dressage and eventing; we are very excited.  I also just purchased a used dressage saddle that I think is going to work well for us- more on that later! 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Walk Work

The title of today's post is rather obvious- we worked on improving our worst gait- the walk.  I warmed Louie up in the chambon in long lines, then hooked him to the cart.  The arena was too rough to do much more than some good walk work, so we didn't trot at all, but worked on getting a nice, active walk.  We probably drove for about 20 minutes, aiming for a good active walk with overstride of at least 6 inches the whole time.  I also drove him for the first time, right from the start, in the halter fuzzies, which are almost as good as blinders for us.  He did great, even being cool and windy, he was perfectly comfortable in front of the cart.

I got to thinking while walking along, that the gait I'm looking for is a bit like the dog walk that our Tennessee Walking Horses do- swingy and relaxed with a big overstride, lots of neck movement/headshake, and rounding up through the back with each stride.  While Louie doesn't have the walk that our walkers have, we got some good active walks, using the whole body, that I think were quite nice.  We found that this active walk was especially hard to maintain around turns and when we practiced "loops" or "swerves" as I now call them, following K-X-H in one fluid motion. 

We then worked on some walk-halt-walk transitions.  Louie still can't comprehend halting without raising his neck, but we're getting a good active walk sooner after departing from a halt than we usually get, so I guess that's good.  I'll need to really work on having an active seat to keep this nice walk when riding. 

Louie got a nice big dish of soaked alfalfa cubes and a good grooming after our drive.  I think he looks forward to being worked because he knows there's a reward at the end, and my does he love his alfalfa cubes!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Louie Time

Louie got a little "me time" treat yesterday to relax from his big event on Sunday.  He enjoyed a tasty snack of soaked alfalfa cubes and a nice curry and brushing, and of course, a little time away from the herd (they pick on him).  I think he really enjoyed his "spa day" treat.

And he loves to give kisses after eating alfalfa mash.  Yummy!

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Few Photos

I thought I'd attach a few of my favorite photos from the Hunter's Pace.  These are all in the video too, but I thought they needed a permanent place on the blog here as well.  Enjoy!

By the first corn field:

On our way back from being lost, a beautiful corridor:

Stopping by the beautiful golden shimmering field after the first jump field (none of which we jumped)

Lisa and Buster, our awesome partners!

The bridge we had to cross

Finish line!  Yay!  We made it!

Hunter's Pace

Louie and I participated in the Long Lake Hounds Hunter's Pace in Hamel, MN yesterday, along with Lisa and Buster (another Saddlebred, formerly an Amish driving horse).

The weather was beautiful, a bit crisp and rather windy, but the sun was shining and the leaves were beautiful fall colors.  The course was in great condition and aside from some riding along the road, the footing was great for most of the course.  We traveled along roads, through peoples' farms and multi-million dollar properties, and on a portion of a public trail around a lake.  There were lots of jumps on the course, though we were technically riding the flat course so we decided to skip most of the them.  All of the jumps were coops, which Louie and I have never come close to attempting, but we did find two small "mini-jumps" that fit our abilities in the host's eventing field at the end of the course (one was essentially a down log, the other a small cross rail, neither of which could have been much over 12").  Aside from some small jumps, we also rode through mud, puddles, and over a wooden bridge.

We were given a map of the course, and there were markers with red and blue flags placed strategically along the course to let us know we were in the right place, but despite that we managed to get lost at least twice (the first time we went way off course into a neighboring horse farm, and took quite a while to figure out that we were lost to begin with, so that ate up about 30 minutes of our course time).  Our getting lost and our de-conditioned horses led us to finish quite a bit behind the goal time of 1 hour 14 minutes, but we had a lot of fun to make up for our lack of speed. 

Overall it was a really fun event and I am looking forward to participating in another one in the future!  Another example of how Saddlebreds really can do just about anything!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Windy and Wiggly

We had a nice hack down the road today in the cool and windy fall weather.  The farrier had been out to fix up Louie's feet (Louie pulled a shoe on Monday, so we decided to just put him into plain plates before the hunter's pace on Sunday, to give some protection, yet help the transition to barefoot), so he was in good shape for riding again. 

We set out down the road, riding along side the pavement, then on the gravel road, at a walk, trot, and canter.  Louie did great, while he wanted to ride saddle seat (that Saddlebred comes out when he gets excited), he relaxed down enough to get some nice hunter trots and free walks too. 

What I noticed from time to time, was that Louie wanted to swing his hind quarters around just a little bit to the side and "dog track."  Now of course this is not an efficient way to utilize his energy, as riding straight, with the hind quarters tracking immediately behind the forehand allows all of his energy to be directed forward, rather than having part of the energy directed to the side.  I was able to get him to straighten out most of the time, but soon enough we found ourselves back in the same crooked position, hollowing one side of his body again.  I think he is too used to riding circles and has forgotten how to track straight.  The other factor is that it was quite cool and windy outside which always makes horses antsy and brings out all of that extra energy that they don't know what to do with.

Well, I think that the hunter's pace we are doing this weekend should help him remember to track straight.  Trail riding cures a lot of things, and I'm hopeful that some more regular trail riding should help Louie to realize how much easier life is to trot with the hind feet behind the front feet. 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Dressage Schooling Show

Well, we had a pretty good show!  For our second-ever dressage show, Louie did pretty well; he did every bit as well as I would have expected him to, and at times even better than I expected. 

We got off to a little bit of a late start heading to our first class as we wanted to watch one upper level horse/rider go in Prix St. George, which was about 30 minutes before my first class was slated to start.  Luckily, they waited for us, as I scrambled to saddle Louie, and my friend Lisa did a quick mane braid and put on his bridle. 

Our first class was the training level derby.  This is a group class, intended to be a warm-up for horses and riders.  Louie did well in this class, placing 2nd out of 4 with a score of 72.9%.  Here is the video.
The judge came up to us for a few comments following the class, and said, "He's a Saddlebred, right?"  I was pretty impressed that he knew, as not everybody expects to see Saddlebreds competing in the dressage ring.  He asked how long I had had Louie and how long we've been riding.  He told me that Louie had a great canter, and he was really impressed to see a good, true canter from a Saddlebred.  I was a little bit surprised by that comment as anyone who's followed this blog knows how much we have struggled with the canter. . .

Following the derby class, I had a couple of minutes to warm up for my first test, and was very happy to get a quick schooling session from Julie Penshorn, the owner and trainer at Sunborn Stables.  She had some very useful things to say.  First of all, she wanted me to take the arch out of my back and ride from my core.  She pointed out that when I arch my back, I pinch my knees, then that causes Louie to raise his neck up.  Well that makes sense.  When I was able to go around with tighter abs, a more relaxed back, and looser knees, Louie did seem to relax more.  We worked a little bit on bending and getting Louie to relax and stretch down into contact.  Julie reminded me that if he backs off of the bit, I need to push him forward and encourage him to reach out for it, but not hold a constant contact on the bit- lighten up once he takes contact to reward him for it, and keep pushing him into it, bending him with my inside leg.  Finally we worked on our trot-canter transitions, as Louie was a little bit sluggish in departing into the canter, and I was begging him with my cues (back story here, in dressage we're not allowed to make noises or verbal cues to the horse, but I've always used a kiss cue to ask Louie to canter, so going without made it more challenging, so that's understandable).  What Julie had me do was kindof cool.  She had me get him really pumped up in the trot a little bit before we planned to canter, by kicking him a bunch of times, but holding him back (uh, I think that's basically like a half halt, right?), then sitting and asking lightly for a canter.  At first it didn't work and Louie just trotted right through my canter cue, but after about 3 times, he got it, and in our next tests, he sprung right into the canter, sometimes even a bit earlier than I had planned. 

Then the whistle blew for my first test- Training Level Test 2. 
We scored a total of 66.8% on Training Test 2.  We scored 8's on our trot circles in both directions, and 7's on our canters and stretchy circle.  His comments for us on the lower scored portions were generally surrounding crookedness, lack of energy, and needing to relax and not be so tense (particularly in the walks and the change of rein trots).  In our collective marks, we scored a 7 on gaits, 7 on impulsion, 6 on submission, 7 on rider's position, 6 on rider's use of the aids, and 7 on harmony between horse and rider.  His further remarks were, "Very nice horse!  I like!  Great gaits!  Walk needs work.  More energy without speed or tension." 

Before my last test, one of the Sunborn instructors, Jill, came out to give me some coaching.  She was also the one reading my tests.  With Jill we worked on the free walk, trying to relax and stretch down, and getting better tempo/energy/submission in the trot.  I don't remember much from this coaching session anymore, as by then, I was sweating pretty good and felt a little bit like I'd been through a whirlwind. 

The whistle again blew for my next test- Training Level Test 3.
We scored a total of 65.2% on Training Test 3.  This time we scored an 8 on our left canter circle.  We scored 7's on most of our transitions, our free walk (yay!  the schooling paid off!), our second trot "loop," and our right canter circle.  We got a low mark of a 5 on our stretchy circle this time, with a comment "shows no desire to stretch."  Most of our criticisms in this test were about being crooked or tense.  I can certainly see the crookedness, especially coming down the center line in this test.  For our collective remarks, we scored a 7 on gaits, 6 on impulsion (maybe we were more tired by this test?), 6 on submission, 7 on rider's position, 6 on rider's use of aids, and 7 on harmony.  Our overall remarks were, "Great canter!  This horse is worth putting time into!  Very nice pair.  Thanks." 

Following our last test, the judge had a few comments for us, which I always find very helpful.  The judge loved Louie's canter, he said it is his most balanced and strongest gait (I'm thinking, what? really? as I've always felt it to be his weakest and least balanced gait- shows you what I know).  He said his trot is okay, and his walk needs some work, as it's very tense, and needs more relaxation and impulsion.  He said that the quality of our walk and trot work would probably hold us back in the 60's for percentages in the lower levels, while our canter could give us higher scores.  He said that Louie would likely be penalized on the technicalities in the lower levels, but may do better in the upper levels, where there isn't so much emphasis on the walk.  (That is, if he can make the upper levels. . . but hey, I like that upper level comment! )  Overall, he said he really liked Louie and he would keep him in his training barn.  I made sure that Bjorn heard that comment, as he sometimes gives Louie a hard time since he didn't turn out to be a saddle seat horse. 

We had a great time at the show, and our fellow Saddlebred mom Lisa came to cheer us on and helped us a ton!  She even brought treats for Bjorn.  If you're reading, thank you Lisa!!  I'm not sure how we placed in our two tests, as Bjorn got antsy to leave before we could see the placements, but I don't think we were in the top 3 or 4, as there were lots of riders in training level today.  Even so, I was SUPER impressed with how well we scored, as scores in the 60's are very respectable, and it's better than two years ago when we scored in the high 50's in intro- we've definitely made progress.  And, I have to say, paying $15 for coaching was an awesome deal, as we basically got two mini lessons from two different instructors at the barn, and our tests read. We don't usually glean that much info from an hour-long lesson, so it was awesome! I will do it again, and in fact I might trailer up there to take some lessons this winter! We didn't end up doing the jumping class today, but that's okay with me, that was enough work for one day (read: we were worn out), and I think both Louie and I are going to sleep well tonight!  Got to gear up for our hunter's pace next weekend!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Chambon

With our dressage schooling show fast approaching, I had a little bit of a panic moment realizing that we have SO much to improve upon- namely bit contact, lowering the neck, transitions, and the stretchy circle.  So, like most of the training level tests.  

I did a little bit of reading and chanced upon a recommendation for the use of a device called the Chambon.  Now, I'm not huge on gadgets, as I believe they tend to be habit forming, but this one is kinda neat because I believe I can utilize it to teach Louie what I'm asking for, then hopefully I won't need it for long. 

So, here is a Chambon, for those who are not familiar. 

The idea of the Chambon is to apply pressure to the poll and the corners of the mouth when the horse raises his head up beyond a certain point.  Since I've been struggling with finding a way to get Louie to relax and stretch down for many months (with the exception of getting him really tired then letting him jaunt along at a free, loose-rein walk), this device will help to teach him what I want, and all I have to do is associate a "cue" with the pressure he feels when the Chambon activates, and voila! 

The thing I love about the Chambon in comparison to any other "gadget" is that not only is it gentle (mine is part elastic) and acts only when needed, but it leaves the horse's nose free to stretch OUT and is pretty much the only device that doesn't pull the bit back to the chest in some way.  With Louie's (and most Saddlebreds) habit of curling his neck up into a circle, this will be most valuable to not create a bad habit. 

So I constructed a home-made variety out of some of my old saddle seat appliances- surgical tubing from a pair of stretchies, and an old rope sidecheck.  I've ridden him twice this week in this set up and so far the results have been fantastic.  Since I've taught him a cue (basically just working the bit in his mouth) that he feels at the same time as the Chambon activates, he's learned that the cue means to lower his poll.  He's now responding pretty easily to the cue and lowering just based on that alone.  I'm very excited as I've fretted over trying to get Louie to relax his Saddlebred neck down for months and have just never had a way to get that message across.  Well now I've got one! 

The other really cool use is during transitions, since Louie likes to raise his poll up several inches for every transition he makes, this will help to just discourage that, and I can focus on the rest.

Our stretchy circle (at least the neck lowering part of it) as improved dramatically in the past 2 rides, and I am hopeful that the message will stick when the Chambon isn't there on Saturday during my show.  I'll be keeping my fingers crossed. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

Fuzzy Louie

You can tell fall is here when you look at the horses.  The highs have been in the 50's-60's, and the horses are feeling the cool fresh air.  Their coats are still short, but they are starting to "fluff up" and right now they have that beautiful soft velvety hair that flattens back down when it gets warm. 

I had another great ride on Louie, working dressage type patterns.  I have been finding that mixing it up so much with circles, figure 8's, rein changes, serpentines, etc, really helps Louie's relaxation.  I've been having him do, for instance, cantering 1/2 of a circle, then trotting, then back onto the rail.  It's keeping him on his toes and helping me to plan my transitions and focus on precision.  He's not as relaxed as he has been through his back, but he's also not curling up behind the vertical as often either.  There's kindof a give and take there.

We're also working some on our lateral work, though I find that he loses forward impulsion after a few steps when I ask him to move laterally.  We need more work on that first, but I'm sure if I had a lesson with Marlene right now she'd bring me back to walking and trotting circles working on getting him to bend, relax, and "hold hands" with my outside hand on the bit.  I'll have to pretend she's there and work on making my circles smaller and larger to help make the lateral work a little easier. 

For now, I'm super excited for the dressage schooling show and the hunter pace I'm hopefully going to do next month.  I think Louie is too!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Show Photo and Future Aspirations

First I wanted to share this very nice photo that Courtney Church took of us from our Midsummerfest Horse Show a couple of months ago- hand galloping in our ASB Hunter Country Pleasure Stake Class- weeee!!

Second, all the hubbub about the Saddlebred Sport Horse Incentive Program has got me thinking.  I had a great ride on Louie on Monday, working on our dressage, and he was patient, relaxed, bending, and not giraffe-like in any way.  I guess our "back to the basics" ride last week where all I did was bend him for about 20 minutes, and focus on proper circles at the walk and trot helped.  We had such a nice ride that we worked on our dressage patterns a little bit.  Of course I couldn't really remember them so I made them up as best as I could guess.  Louie was awesome.  So awesome that I want to take him to a dressage schooling show soon.  Now of course I realized that I could have the same saddle seat wild hand galloping excitement that we had last week, but I can hope!

So, I found a dressage/jumping schooling show coming up in a couple of weeks to take Louie to, if everything goes as planned.  Then as I was browsing the Central States Dressage and Eventing Association calendar, I came across something else that sounded like fun- a Hunter Pace!  They have on the flat courses for beginners (their jumps are as high as 3'3" I think, which is too high for us), so I thought perhaps that would be fun!  Something that I've never done before.  All of these things have got me thinking that I want to take dressage and jumping lessons more than ever!  So I'm looking for options for the winter, as I had planned to either trailer Louie somewhere for lessons or move him to a stable where I could take such lessons for the winter.  Of course it's not winter yet, and I'd like to take him trail riding a few times first, as he's a great trail horse too!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Saddle Seat Jumper

Louie hasn't been much for relaxing and stretching down lately. . . so I've been playing to his desires and working a little bit in saddle seat frame.  I think he might actually have some potential there!  Might have to throw some chains on him and have my husband shoot a few pictures one of these days. 

Well after we got some of the energy out with the saddle seat riding, we did a little bit of jumping, over a pole no more than 12" tall, but enough to get some leaping practice.  The first time over Louie did a rather buck/jump, that was a bit awkward, but he improved the next time and did a great job thereafter, jumping the one lowly pole.  I'm hesitant to do too much jumping with Louie's foot problems and how hard the ground is at the barn, but a little bit of very low, light jumping I figure probably won't hurt anything. 

Louie has been enjoying a semi-vacation, as I've only been working him 1-2 times per week in the past few weeks due to working dogs and fall field trial season in session.  The way I see it, it's probably okay as Louie is in too good of shape right now for me to get much of anything accomplished anyhow.  I'm going to have to put him into a bitting rig to remind him of his hunter frame when we get back to a more regular schedule. . .

Thursday, September 1, 2011

He Wanted To Run. . .

. . . So we ran. 

No doubt there's a change in weather brewing here today, it was 90 degrees and super humid, predicting a low in the 60's and a cool weekend ahead.  As we can guess, that means some strange behavior from the horses. 

Today the farrier was out to re-set Louie's shoes.  He hasn't grown any heel on his left front, so we put a wedge pad back on that foot.  We put a plain thick pad on the right front to balance him and help protect him from rocks.  His feet were in pretty good condition other than the fact that Pat thinks he hasn't grown any heel because it's been so hot.  We put some Magic Cushion hoof packing under his pads, so we'll see how that goes.  We talked about strategies, and he is hoping that Louie will grow some heel this fall/winter once his shoes are pulled.  I sure hope he does because he's very low on that left front heel right now. 

All throughout his re-set, Louie was acting strange- spooky and antsy.  So I decided to take him for a ride in the arena after Pat was finished with him.  I had a completely different horse than I have had the past month.  Today there was no quiet, slow, laid-back Saddlebred; today I had a racehorse under my saddle. 

After a brief walk and trot warm-up, at the fastest pace walks and trots I can imagine, we just got right down to business and I asked Louie up into a canter.  Soon we were hand-galloping, me up in two-point, and cruising around the ring, hoping Louie didn't trip or lose his footing around the corners.  He didn't.  We went probably 5-10 laps in each direction around the ring at a healthy hand-gallop before Louie started showing just subtle signs of relaxing- lowering his neck about 1-2 inches. . .

So we resumed our power walk.  After a while we trotted, but again, it was a harness race-speed trot that I was having trouble balancing and staying centered in the saddle to ride.  We did a few circles, but he just had a fire under his butt today and would not settle down like he usually does, so we cantered some more. . . just a regular canter this time. 

After all of that he was sweating like crazy and breathing really fast, so it was time for a cool down.  Lots of laps of walking, and we got a great stretchy long walk today, and even got a little bit of bending along with it.  I decided we weren't going to accomplish anything other than burning off steam today, so I gave up and got off. 

Here is Louie after his race today, just a bit sweaty. . . note the small dry spot on his hind quarters.

Silly horsie. . .

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Road Ridin'

Louie and I went for a nice ride down the road today.  There is a gravel road that starts about 1/4 mile from the barn that we can ride down, and the shoulders are actually quite nice sandy footing to ride on.  Louie, as it turns out, is a great trail horse, he's much more brave and confident riding out by himself than most horses are. 

Something I found surprising was that Louie didn't seem to be scared of garbage cans or mail boxes like most horses are, but culverts are another story.  He also didn't seem to mind the cars whizzing by him either from in front or behind him, as I had expected he may.  Louie hardly spooked at anything, but sure looked that classic wide-eyed Saddlebred part!

We did a little bit of trotting along with lots of walking.  We got some really nice active, reaching walks that are great for developing each individual leg's muscles.  We also got some nice saddle seat style trots!  Louie definitely livens up when he's out of the arena, or out of his comfort zone in general.  He was sleeping when I tacked him up, but was wide awake and high-headed when he realized we were going someplace new.  I got to work a little bit on my saddle seat equitation with his head up like a saddle seat horse, and it got me thinking I should maybe try showing him as a saddle seat horse at some point, maybe in a WSCA open show.  After all, I already have a saddle suit and a beautiful day coat, along with lots of other saddle seat attire

Perhaps you noticed the two links in the last sentence.  A fellow Saddlebred enthusiast has started a new company that I think deserves a second look.  She sells gorgeous custom saddle seat apparel made by Victor Layne as well as ready to wear suits at very reasonable prices.  They make hunt coats too!  Perhaps when Louie and I need an upgrade, we'll have to check out Blue Ribbon Diva! 

For now, we're taking it easy on the trails and roads, and Louie is loving the simple life.  He and his lady are also finally integrating into the herd, which is a bit of a relief, as he has survived a month in his new home and being a "real horse" with very few marks to show for it! 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Coming Along

The horses seem to be getting along better now.  They're not exactly hanging out with each other, but at least I haven't seen any chasing or bad behavior in the past few days.  I found out why it was maybe so bad, the mare was in heat.  I think she must be out now because she's not quite as attached to Louie and life has settled down a little.  Though, I think Louie's got a new girlfriend in the big pasture across the fence, where he'll be going come fall- a Friesan.  She's pretty, and Louie has historically had good taste in girlfriends, his last one was a warmblood jumper.  Louie and the Friesan have been grooming each other over the fence, and she seems to be fairly protective, keeping her herdmates away from him. All in all, it's pretty cute.

I haven't ridden Louie much except to just hop on and toodleoo around a few days ago when Sandy came to visit.  I think we'll go for a nice trail ride down the road this week.  Louie has settled in and is really relaxed and calm, I'm tempted to drive him down the road, but I figure we better master riding before we attempt to drive anywhere!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Sorting It Out- Day Two

Things were more quiet at the barn today.  I think they were all tired and sore from over-exerting themselves yesterday.  I only noticed one chase, which involved Jackson and the mare, while I had Louie out to be groomed.  The mare is seriously attached to Louie, I'm thankful he is not as attached to her, I find it rather annoying the way it is as I have to ward her off every time I get near my horse, they are practically attached at the hip. 

I was a bit surprised to find that two of our three horses were lame today.  Any guesses which two??  I'll give you a hint, much to my surprise, it wasn't the Saddlebred.  That's right, I was sort-of mixed happy-sad to find that (happy that Louie was fine, sad that the other two were sore, but it serves them right, they were the ones doing the unnecessary and very mean chasing!).  I checked all 3 of them over, no obvious leg swelling, heat, tenderness, no rocks in the feet, etc, and it looked like Cash and Jackson were only mildly off.  I'm sure they'll shake it off in no time.  Jackson had a little swelling in his chest, where he had a hematoma earlier this summer, probably got kicked again, but Cash looked pretty clean, other than being due for a re-set on his front shoes.

Louie just had a little cut on his left front leg (from interfering I'm sure), swelling of his right jowel which is probably either from a kick or a bug bite (but no tenderness, no difficulty eating, no difficulty with the bridle, etc), and a rub on his cheek bone from his halter.  Overall, I was pretty impressed that he got out of the first day of introductions relatively unscathed, especially with the way they were running around yesterday! 

I took him out for a nice ride, just an easy ride of mostly walking and trotting, working on extensions too.  He was good.  Still needs a fair amount of reminding to relax, drop his neck, etc, but he's doing a nice job.  Now he'll have a few days off and hopefully he'll continue settling in to his new pasture.  I do have to say, if he was mellow before, he's really mellow now, not spooky or nervous, hardly grinding his teeth anymore, doesn't seem to be girthy anymore- I think this pasture life is a good thing for Louie! 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Pecking Order

This entry could have been named "introductions," but due to the nature of the interactions, I felt the current title more appropriate. . .

Louie and his girlfriend finished their quarantine time and joined the herd today- all four of them (it's a smaller herd in the summer because only a few horses come in to be grained once a day, the rest get enough to sustain themselves on the lush pasture).  Two of the 6 are senior horses, two are our Tennessee Walking Horses (Cash- the Alpha, and Jackson- the Sidekick), and of course Louie and the lady. 

I don't know if it was because there was a mare introduced to the herd or if this is the way Cash always treats newcomers, but I felt bad for poor Louie and the mare.  At first I didn't notice any commotion, just the two of them grazing out away from everybody else, which I thought was pretty normal for new horses in a herd.  Then while I was tacking Louie up to ride I saw Cash and Jackson chasing after the poor mare, running her down back and forth, back and forth.  Then when they felt they had had enough fun, they retreated back to their shelter and left her in a corner separated from the herd.  After a little while they were back at it again. . .

I went and rode Louie, we had a nice ride, the footing was a little slick from all the rain we had yesterday, but not too bad.  We worked on extensions in the walk and trot, and suppleness/roundness in all gaits.  I got a good work out- wore my new heart rate monitor and burned 541 calories in a 35 minute ride!  Wow!  Louie got a good workout too.  As an afterthought, I probably shouldn't have pushed him too hard. 

When I put him back in the pasture all was quiet for a while.  I walked him over to the automatic waterer and pushed down on the floating cover and put some water to his mouth.  I thought maybe he'd want to drink after a hard ride, but instead all he did was scratch his head on the waterer.  You can lead a horse to water. . . I stayed in the pasture for a little bit, watched Louie roll, then he and the lady went off to graze together.  No action from the Alpha, so I walked over to say hi to them and check on them.  I told Cash to be nice.  Unfortunately he didn't listen. 

As I was putting my saddle away I heard commotion and looked to the pasture to see Cash and Jackson chasing Louie and the mare all over the pasture, weaving in and out, tight on their tails.  Louie let fly and clipped Jackson in the face with both hind feet (I don't think he was seriously hurt, just brushed him I think).  Louie led the chase, with the other 3 behind him, like 4-in-line barrel racing.  Luckily Louie is more agile than he looks, he dodged around some trees, cantering like he wasn't all that worried, just fast enough to stay away.  Cash tried to corner him , but Louie protected his lady.  At one point another boarder came up to see the action and pointed out that the two new horses were being chased, so I told her, "the funny thing is that 3 of the 4 horses invoved are mine. . ."  We had to laugh a little.  After a few minutes of action-packed adventure, Cash and Jackson retreated to their shelter, where Cash, the Alpha then proceeded to remind Jackson that he is the boss.  All in all, I think Jackson took the brunt of the battle, he tripped or fell once (all fours in the air), took a kick to the face, and I think got kicked or twisted a hind leg, which he limped on for a few strides, then shook it off and proceeded to try to remind Cash that he was his Sidekick buddy, and they were a team. 

Louie and the lady stayed in the far corner of the pasture for the rest of the time I was there, where one of the senior horses ventured out to say hello, in a much more kind manner.

I am interested in the herd dynamics in this situation.  I am assuming Cash wants Louie's lady, and they're going to have to duke it out and somebody (I'm sure Louie) will have to back down and assume his spot in the pecking order.  It's a matter of how long. . . how long will they continue to work out their differences?  I wonder if it had just been Louie new to the herd how the situation would be different, just adding one gelding versus a gelding and a mare?  At the same time I'm glad Louie has a buddy, I figure two on two is better than two on one!  I'm sure they will sort this all out quickly.  Louie can be a bit of a pest, and Cash doesn't put up with any non-sense.  I had hoped that since they knew each other and lived together for more than 6 months, used to get ponied together (granted it was a couple of years ago), that they would remember and get along.  Apparently not.  I just hope they get it figured out soon and nobody gets hurt too badly in the meantime.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

More on The Stable

I promised more photos of Louie's new home, so here it is.  He has not taken advantage of all of the facilities yet, but in time. . .

The tie stalls, where the horses come in to eat once a day.  I love that they separate them for feeding, which allows each horse to receive a customized feeding plan, and is more than a lot of pasture boarding stables offer.

The indoor "arena," a small lunging space that is protected from the elements, allowing for at least a little bit of work to be done in the cold months of the year.

The other half of the barn, a few box stalls, which Louie will not be utilizing.  Unfortunately I didn't get any of the chickens or cats in this photo, they roam the farm and add a lot of character to the barn, not to mention great desensitization for the horses!

And the best part, acres and acres of grass pasture.

The outdoor arena, good size for riding or driving.

 And of course, friends.  Louie has met Cash, on the right, but has not really met Jackson, other than the show that they travelled to together.

Room to run!

Louie will have to figure out how to use an automatic waterer, but he's pretty smart, I don't expect him to have any trouble.

So here is Louie in his quarantine pen.  Another thing I love about this barn is that they have good quarantine practice.  Every new horse spends 2 weeks here before mingling with the herd, so that any disease that the horse might be carrying has time to incubate and show clinical signs.  So far, so good.

What a cutie!

Complete with new girlfriend.

And he's a happy horse.

Overall, I think Louie is really happy in his new home, but I know he is looking forward to getting out of quarantine and into the main pasture where there is lots of room to roam and grass to eat.  Only 3 days left!