Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Post Hurricane

The horses ended up staying in the stalls from 4 pm yesterday until almost 8 am this morning.   When I put them in last night they were shivering which is unusual but I think the high winds drove the water past their protective hair barriers.   After a few minutes of munching hay though the shivering stopped.
When I got there this morning they were happy to see me as they had devoured the huge piles of hay I had left for them.   The byproduct of their eating was evident as well because the stalls were a mess.  Definately filled the wheelbarrow!

I went back and forth on whether to leave them out considering the shivering from last night but figured it would be fine since the rain was back to its normal vertical path without the high winds.

Golly went straight to the pile of hay in the run in and was suprisingly calm going out even though he had been locked up for fourteen hours.   He had no interest in going out in the rain.

 Pony (yes... we call her Pony.  Her name is really Sunny but Pony just fits her better), on the other hand ran straight to the oak tree.  I hadn't realized she was eating acorns but she obviously likes them which concerns me since a plethora of them can cause some intestinal issues and even death if they eat too many.  

Its hard to tell in this picture through the rain but she is happily munching acorns in the rain.    You can see in the distance the big tree that came down on the fence.  Luckily I left the gate open and most the tree fell through space rather than crushing the metal gate.

I felt a bit better about the acorns when she only stayed out their a few minutes and was quickly back with Golly under the run in.  Definately need to keep an eye on her acorn consumption though.

Glad the hurricane wasn't nearly as bad as predicted.  I hope your family, pets and horses included, did fine too.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricane Prep

As Hurricane Sandy descends on our area, I am trying to decide the best way to protect my horses.   If you read the "official" advice given, its best to leave your horses outside in an open field with little debris.  With 75+ hour winds projected I think it is impossible to prevent debris coming across their field.  I am worried about the debris hurting them.

On the flip side, high winds have a decent probablility of bringing a barn down with them trapped inside.

The dilemna.  

I think I am going to do a mix of both.  They are outside now but I think after dark I will put them in the barn for the night with the thought that during the night they can't see the debris coming across the field towards them.  In the morning, high winds or not, they will go back out.

At least they are on high ground so I don't have to worry about flooding.   Just in case of electricity outage I have filled buckets, soaked a pile of alfalfa pellets and filled the BIG water trough.

What have you decided to do with your horses?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Bubbles on My Saddle

This post is reaching out for some help.  A few weeks ago I noticed there were some small bubbles on my saddle.  It almost looks like small pimples under the top layer of leather.   I've never seen this before and I'm not sure how to combat it.   I love my sadddle -- a Black Country dressage - it fits Golly exactly right.  I definately want to be sure it lasts as long as possible. 

I did a good cleaning and conditioning on it last week but I'm not sure that is the best move.  If there is moisture under the leather causing this, conditioning may just hold that moisture in further.  Here's a look....

So what your thoughts?  Have you ever seen something like this and how did you combat it?
On a positive note... I want to share how much I LOVE my bridle.  In April I bought a new bridle as my existing one was literally falling apart in places.   I held off as long as I could because I wanted to get a good one and heck... those are expensive!   I found a great company called Five Star Tack (http://www.fivestartack.com) when they made donations to CANTER Mid Atlantic.   Their tack is both high quality and unique.
Golly has a wide forehead and requires a wide browband.  A regular horse size is a bit too small and the oversize is too big.   He's a tough fit.
The great thing about Five Star Tack is that they work with you to find the perfect fit.   After an in depth conversation with them they suggested the regular size should work.   When I mentioned that I liked the star browband, she swapped that browband out with another bridle and essentially created a custom bridle for me.  Even better ..... when the bridle came in and the browband was too small, she swapped out a larger one for it.    That's great customer service!
I love the celtic cross, the leather is supple, its nicely padded and all the hardware works great.  Its nice to purchase something and really love it.  Here is Golly in his bridle after our ride this morning.  Isn't he handsome?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Canter... Simple, Right?

From what I know the horse has three natural gaits -- walk, trot and canter.   I base this assumption on the fact that MOST horses will perform those three gaits naturally while in the field with their friends.   In Golly's case he would tell you "woah" is a gait too since its his favorite but I digress.

In the first couple years I had Golly I never saw him canter in the field.   His pasture mates could be galloping across the field and there Golly would be.... trotting as fast as he could behind them.  For him, canter was not a natural gait.  So its something we have put a lot of effort into and because of this I've put a lot of thought into it as well.    We have a long ways to go before we have a "good" canter but so far here are some things we've learned.

Check Your Horse out Medically First
When we first started to attempt the canter we got explosive bucks during the transition.   I just thought he was being a pain and kept at it.  Eventually he developed some light lameness.  I gave him some time off but it did not improve.   After a vet evaluation we decided to inject his hocks and that was the magic trick.    At first he still bucked some in the transition but they gradually decreased.  I think at first he was just anticipating the pain and once he knew it was no longer there, he started to accept the canter more.

If your horse is acting outside his normal character, it may be a medical issue and not a character issue. 

Value of Lunging
Don't underestimate the value of lunging for a horse having trouble picking up the canter.   Both "regular" lunging and free lunging (lunging at liberty in a smaller ring without a lunge line) allow the horse to find his own balance without having to worry about a rider's balance and weight.  Frequent transitions while lunging is very beneficial as the transitions are usually where they are having the most issue.  Mix it up though -- do quick transitions and then let him travel a circle or two without a transition.

Tips & Tricks
For every person you ask you will get a different answer on how to do a canter depart.   Beyond the "how to" which I will leave either for another post (once I completely figure it out) or to others, here are some things that have helped me.

Preparation:  For a horse like Golly that is more on the lazy side, I found that preparing his mind and body in the trot is important.  I spend a decent amount of time making sure the trot depart is with the lightest aid possible.   I don't want to be kicking him into a the trot depart but rather "allowing" it to happen by opening my hips and thinking trot.  My instructor describes it as a "puff of air" pushing him forward. I imagine a sail filling with air and pushing a light sailboat down a river. 

Once the trot departs are working well, the canter depart works the same way.  Think a bigger puff of air and again... allow the canter to happen via opening your hips rather than kicking him into it.

Think the side pass:  Another thing that has helped is that right before the canter depart I think a side pass to the outside rail.  I don't actually do a side pass but I do bend Golly slightly to the inside and get the feeling of a side pass before I ask for the canter.  Its a split second type of feeling.  Kind of like a half halt would be...  it preps him for the canter but is not actually part of the aid for it.

I hope some of what we learned helps you.   I'd love to hear some of your tips for cantering in the comments section and see if we can apply them to our training.  

Friday, October 12, 2012


As the blood ran from my finger and dripped on my newly polished show boots, I thought to myself that the gods were against me from making it into the show ring that day.

The day had started out okay.   Although a dressage rider typically, I am between two levels, so I decided to attend a local hunter show so my horse would remember show rings were not scary.   My classes were in the afternoon so I was able to leisurely hook up my trailer and head to the show grounds.  My only issue was that I had recently torn the cartilage in my knee so getting on my horse was a bit tricky – but I knew I could get some help so I wasn’t too worried.  So hobbling on my crutches, I signed up for my two classes and headed back to the trailer.  

After pulling my trusty horse Golly out of the trailer, I gave him his final beauty treatments and saddled him up.  It was then that I realized I had forgotten my stock tie.   This wouldn’t be a big deal except that with the temperatures hitting the 90’s for the first time that year I had decided to just wear a plain sleeveless t-shirt under my jacket so the stock tie was essential to hide the casual attire.  

Ah well… a quick phone call to my husband solved the problem.   He would run it by the show grounds on his way to another errand.  Day saved!  Or so I thought….

With one problem solved I turned to getting dressed as much as I could while waiting for the stock tie.  I usually have problems getting the zipper up on my boots.   I was pleasantly surprised when they quickly zipped up and didn’t even feel tight!  My glee quickly ended though when I realized the zipper was split wide open to the back!  Not only was the zipper shot, the zip was all the way to the top so I couldn’t get the boot off without somehow jimmying the zipper back down to the bottom.   

That’s when I got the dumb idea to try to use safety pins to hold the back of the boot closed.  While maneuvering the pin into the zipper, I stabbed my finger and must have hit a nice vein.  Blood shot out from the finger and splattered on my shiny black boots.  Safety pins did not seem to be the answer.  After cleaning the blood from my boots, I pried them off my legs and then just sat on the edge of the trailer laughing at my predicament.  Surely I was not meant to enter this show.  I should just go home and consider it “one of those days”.

Nope – my hard head prevailed.   Barefoot and with my crutches I hobbled over to my neighboring trailer, and asked “Hey, you don’t happen to have any black duct tape, do you?”  Looking up from his sandwich with a look of “hey weirdo”… he responded, “Nope.. no duct tape.”

Hobbling to the trailer on the other side, I asked again, “Hey, you don’t happen to have any black duct tape?”   Success!  While it was not much they had probably just enough to patch my boots back together.   Shoving my foot back into the boot I eagerly starting taping up the back only to find that duct tape does not stick to newly greased boots.  Another setback.

My friendly neighbors, noticing that I was taping up my boots – or at least failing at taping up my boots – came to my rescue again.  “Hey, I think I have an extra pair of boots if you want borrow them.”   Thankful, but not hopeful, I returned, “That would be great but my one calf is huge due to a horse kick so I need a 17” calf.  No chance of you having that!”

“Hah,  you would be surprised.  My calves are even bigger and I had these custom altered – they may work.”  Digging back behind a pile of long unused tack, she pulls out a moldy pair of boots.  “They are dirty but if you are willing to clean them you can give them a try.”

Still not hopeful I headed back to my trailer only to realize that they are going to require boot pulls which I don’t  have.  But I DO have two hoof picks which handily hook into the loops and ease the boots onto my calves.  They fit like they were built for me!   Yes!

Two seconds later my hopes are dashed again as I stand up and realize the sole of the boot is not at all attached to the boot.  But wait!   I still have some duct tape.   A few quick additions of duct tape and I have a nearly custom pair of boots.   Ten minutes later with some saddle soap, which I just happened to have in the trailer, and elbow grease they actually look pretty good! 

I’d love to say that I sailed into the sunset with champion ribbons but that would too good of an ending.  However, I did get into my classes and placed a respectable fourth out of ten horses.  Not bad for a short warmup and shoot.. I didn’t even think I’d make it into the class!  Crutches, missing apparel, split boots, borrowed boots, repaired boots.   I had hit them all.

Later when I got home I realized that it was tenacity that got me through the day.  I could have given up at any point in the day but each time a stumbling block arose I found some way around it.

Much of horse training requires tenacity.   I don’t have the fanciest horse.  I am fairly certain he was an Amish cart horse in his first life.  He was not built to be light on his feet or to dance under a rider.  Despite this I decided to turn him into a dressage horse.  Probably not the best move but with a full-time job and three active kids I needed a horse that I could ride safely whether I rode him every day or two weeks passed.   He fit the bill.

My instructor repeatedly told me that I needed a new horse if I was going to get anywhere with dressage.  This horse was not going to get me there.  I knew however that my horse was going to keep me safe and I just kept plugging at it.  Four years into this dressage experiment, my instructor is singing a different tune.  We both agree he is still not built to do the job I chose for him.  However, he is a pleasant steady horse that understands his job and tries hard and more amateur riders need a good safe horse like him.

Dressage is meant to be a life long pursuit of the pyramid of training.   Its not meant to be a quick rise to the top.   It requires tenacity of both horse and rider.    Steadily plug away at the obstacles put in front of you – whether they are confirmation or equipment obstacles – or whatever personal obstacles you have – keep plugging – tenacity will get you there. 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Putting Together a Quadrille Team

I was recently part of a quadrille team and thought that some of the things we learned when putting it together would be helpful to someone else attempting the same. 

Quadrilles are lots of fun both to do and to watch.   They are essentially four riders syncronizing their riding to music and performng a set pattern.     The most important element is the syncronization and accuracy of your pattern so having a steady tempo and riders who can "watch" out for one another and temper the pace of their horse to match the others is crucial.

Choosing your Team
Its great if you can find four horses who are similar in color and size.    If not, having pairs is helpful -- for example, two greys and two bays.   Or two ponies and two horses.     Even more important is that the horses have similar paces.  

This is not necessarily about choosing the best "movers" unless you have FOUR good movers.  If you have one horse with extravagent lovely gaits and three with average gaits, its not going to work.  If you have one horse who really moves out, that rider is going to spend a lot of effort shutting that horse down to match the others.   What you need are four similiarly moving horses that are steady decent movers.

Its also important to find horses that like to work with others.   Quadrille relies on the horses getting CLOSE and some dressage horses like to be more solitaire than quadrille requires.

Very close to the debut of our quadrille team at a show, one of our team members broke her arm.   We decided to substitute her with a very qualified rider who had a lovely horse.   While the mare was a great dressage horse, she did not like working with other horses and the show was a disaster.  Well, maybe not a disaster because honestly we all had a great time laughing at ourselves.  Even the judge was laughing.   You could tell we had most of the moves down but the horses just did not want to be with eachother.  At one point, my horse did a spin that could qualify for a roping competition and at the end, the mare was so fed up with the situation she bucked across the arena like a dolphin.  Take a look... we don't mind you laughing at all!

Choosing your Pattern
Many times there is already a chosen test or pattern for the show and the easiest thing is to use that established test.  For example, the PVDA uses the United States Dressage Federation tests.  There is a test for Basic (walk/trot), Training, and First through Grand Prix.  You can also come up with your own to match your selected music.  If you decide to design your own, using the movements in the USDF tests in a different order to match your music is a good starting point.

Starting Practice
We spent WAY too many practices learning the test.  Its much harder to learn the test with four riders on horseback -- not only are you learning the test but the riders are distracted by the horses getting used to one another.   For at least the first practice, I suggest leaving the horses at home.   Set up a very small dressage ring (to scale but about a tenth the size) and walk out the test on foot.   A good way of creating a small one is using sidewalk chalk on a driveway.    Then walk it out on foot.   Trot when your horses would be trotting.  Canter when your horses would canter.  You'll feel silly but 1) its much faster to learn it this way and 2) its fun!

Once you have the test down cold, THEN start practicing on horseback.  Once you are mounted, have a person on the ground to let you know if you are lined up correctly and where you are making mistakes.  Its doesn't have to be a person schooled in dressage.  At this point its not about proper bend or collection.  Its about being EXACTLY opposite one another or lined up EXACTLY behind one another when you should.  The more accurate you can get this the better.  When you come down a line behind one another, the judge should only see the front horse if you are doing it correctly.

Choosing your Music
Choosing music is hard -- mainly because there are so many choices.  I started by listening to cd after cd trying to imagine how the horses would look "dancing" to the music.   What I should have done was narrow my choices first by the length of the song.  Sure you can edit the music to be whatever length and tempo you like but if you are like most people this is beyond your capabilities and frankly there is enough good music to choose from that will meet your needs so why work so hard?

However, if you have someone with good computer ediitng skills, the best route would be to meld three different songs -- one for each gait.

So start by choosing which genre you like.  You are going to listen to this music a LOT so you better like it.  If you hate classical music, don't choose it.   If rock is your thing, find a good rock song.   Everyone will give you a different opinion on whether the song should have lyrics or be just instrumental -- decide what's best for your group.

Another important element is the Beat Per Minute (BPM).    You can use a metronome to measure how often your horses foot hits the ground per minute to determine this.   Take the average of all the horses in the group.  Hopefully all four have similar BPMs.

Since most of the test is done at the trot, you should start there.   Let's say that your trot is 76 beats per minute.  You need to find a song that matches that beat.  As an example, the Training level test is 5 minutes and 50 seconds.   If you can find one that is close to 5 minutes 50 seconds you may be able to start there if you want to stick with one song -- especially if it has some slower sections you can use for walk.

A great resourcs is Mike Matson's website --  http://www.equimusic.com.  You can put in the beats per  minute and get a full list of songs.    He also does a great clinic where he brings out his music and plays it for your horse until you get just the right song.   He then burns a cd for you to take home.

Once you have the trot selected, then you need to select a walk and canter that is in the same genre.

Try them out with your horse.  You may find that one song or genre really gets your horse going -- you will be surprised at how much they respond to the music.

Practice and have a Backup
Our team practiced from early Spring until November at least a couple times each month.   It takes a while to get the basics down and then you start perfecting all the little elements.  Its a good idea to have five team members in the event that a horse or rider is injured on the day of competition....  which is of course a high probablity when you are working with horses.    Swap that alternate in each time someone can't make practice and on the days when all four primary members can make it, use the alternate team member as your eyes on the ground so they are as familiar with the test as the primary riders.

Accuracy is the key to a good quadrille.  Perfect circles.   Turning at exactly the same time.  Horses lined up so precisely that the judge can only see the horse closest to them.  Being exactly opposite one another when doing mirroring elements.  Little things like saluting the exact same way and at the exact same time makes a difference.   You can usually wear outfits a bit outside the norm for a quadrille so it may be fun to have costumes that match your music or matching colorful shirts.

Despite our injuries and swapping of horses at the last minute, the practice paid off.  We were the 1st place winners at the Chapter Challenge that year.  A video of the final product is below.   

Quadrille is lots of fun and is a great way to ride together with other members of your riding clubs.  Its particularly good for kids who like the comaradarie of riding together.  Hope our experience helps make your journey in quadrille a little easier!