Sunday, July 28, 2013

Saddle Fitting and Wound Means no Riding

I had a saddle fitting on Friday with Suzy Coffey.   I try to get my saddle fitted every year to year and half just to make sure its just right for him.   I have been riding with a fleece half pad since January when I brought him back to work because my saddle was popping up in the back a little due to his back having lost some muscling.

When I was tacking him I noticed a gash across his back leg and was worried he may be lame.  It didn't look deep and he was sound on the lead so I thought I'd continue on with the saddle fitting.   I hopped on and he was fine at the walk, tried the trot and it was good too.  I was surprised but glad so we could do the saddle fitting.

Suzy was very pleased with how the saddle was fitting with the half pad.  Said there was NO movement and that it looked great.  She was also very pleased with how Golly was moving.   Kept exclaiming that, "you give him parameters and he stays right in them."  "I remember when this horse couldn't turn a corner and now you are turning precisely and with BEND!"   I was tickled with her comments.  I'm proud of my boy.  I think  a lot people (me included sometimes) thought he would never be supple and obedient or let's be honest... steer at all!   He's come a long way even if its taken awhile.

We tried it without the pad and she was glad that we tried it with the pad first as it was good without the pad and she probably would have found it satisfactory and just done a little fluffing of the fill.  Knowing how well it worked with the pad though she wants to keep the saddle just the way it is and continue to use the pad.

We did a few strides of canter just to make sure the saddle was working there too and then I called it quits to preserve his leg.  Even though he was 100% sound, there is a slight bit of swelling so I don't want to cause lameness.

When I got home I cold hosed the leg and scrubbed it clean.  It went through the top layer of hair and skin down to what I very medically correct call the "slimy part under the skin".   Cleaned it well, put a little wound dust and bug spray on, gave him a little bute and sent him out to the pasture.  I plan on continuing the bute, cold hosing and won't ride him again until the swelling is completely down.   I think he will be fine in a few days.
Left leg with the cut three days later/ slightly swollen
Right leg / no swelling / for comparison

Cantering on another Horse

Golly and I are continuing our work on the canter and its coming along.  Most canter departs are without a buck and are  starting to look what I call a "real" depart.  Even the transitions to trot are coming along.    However, I think I am still giving him mixed signals.   "Canter.   But don't canter too much... certainly not enough to buck.   Canter.... or don't.... I mean we can do it next time around if you think it will bring a buck."

Not too good for him.   How can I expect him to believe he can canter well if I don't believe he can?

Picture from Claddagh Equestrian Center
We have been working on this canter for a LONG time.  First he wasn't strong enough.  Then as our training progressed and he should have been able to canter he seemed very unwilling and then eventually started doing massive bucks each time I asked.   I eventually got his hocks injected with the suspicion of being about twelve years old that his hocks could be in the process of fusing.  That was a major turning point.  The bucks started decreasing.    Unfortunately, then MY knees started having issues.   I had a knee replacement last fall and started riding again in mid January slowly.  So we we've had a few setbacks in our cantering but I think we are heading in a good direction.  The problem now is that I have not cantered for so long that we have the situation where a newbie is teaching a newbie.  Not a good situation.

So I visited a local farm to take a lesson on a horse that canters with no issue.  I forgot to take pictures but snagged this photo of the horse I rode, Goodie, from their Facbook page.  Goodie's regular job is a hunt horse and she is quite a gem.    Canters off with no issues and has good brakes too!

This picture is a good example too of what they were trying to teach me -- to stand up in the stirrups (more straight up than in two point) in a balanced position.  In my case, she wanted me to put my hands midway up on the horses neck for balance.   This was hard for me -- both physcially and menally.  Mentally because I felt vulnerable in the event that Goodie was going to buck (she never even hinted at bucking though) and physically because I just wasn't used to that position.  Physically it also pointed out that I wasn't as balanced as I thought I was.

During the lesson I also realized that I was cocking my hands inward rather than having my thumbs up and pointing forward.  A habit I will have to work on  for sure.

I was able to work past the fear though and got Goodie into a good rolling canter multiple times, staying up in my stirrups and remaining pretty balanced.  While I held mane at times, I don't think I ever pulled on her mouth so I was glad of that.

Now just need to keep at it!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Good Horse Barn Design

Editors note:   After I posted this I realized I forgot to say these are all the things I want in my barn if money was no object.   Obviously there is always compromise between cost and dreams.  But one can dream!

I think about good barn design a lot.   I love to tour people's barns and make notes in my head of the parts I like so one day when I have a big equestrian farm, I can build a well though out perfectly designed barn... with no thought to the cost of course!

Good barn design is like choosing a good spouse.  There are as many opinions about what makes a good barn as there are opinions about what makes a good man.   Ask one of my friends about her hay loft and she will tell you that she loves hers... Ask another friend and she wishes she could move her loft out of her barn.

Here are some of my thoughts and some pictures I took at some local barns.  This is not definitive - some will agree and some will not but its what I would do if I could design a new barn.

I like the hay storage in the barn but not in a loft.  I have terrible knees and climbing a ladder to get to the hay is torture.  Even climbing stairs is no fun so having the hay on the same floor as the stalls is ideal.
Barn with feed and hay room on ground level
Nice ventilation above stalls

This is the barn that I am using now.   The door to the right leads to the hay room and the door to the left leads the tack and feed room.  I like this setup but if I was building my own barn, I would make the tack/feed room smaller and put the feed in the same room as the hay.  The smaller tack room would allow me to possibly heat and do some dehumidifying so tack has less risk of becoming moldy.  Having a room dedicated to tack would also limit the amount of dust and debris.   

When interviewing my friends for this blog, some love their hay lofts primarily for the ample amount of storage it provides and the easy access to stalls if you cut holes in the floor above each stall to drop the hay.

Ventilation and Airflow
Of all the items on the checklist this is probably the most important.   I like barns that have airflow above the stalls -- another reason why I am not a fan of the hay loft (although you will find many people who love them).    Another important item is how you place your barn.   Depending on where you place your stalls, you want to think about if you place your barn North/South or East/West.   The North tends to have more wind flow (good in the summer/bad in the winter).  The South tends to have more sun and may be hotter so if your stalls face the South be sure you have the ability to shut the windows during hot weather.  
There is no right or wrong answer to how you place your barn.  It depends on what you want, where you place "rooms" inside the barn and how you plan around the natural elements.  For example, if you are able to close a door or window against the North winds, then facing your aisleway towards the North may be a good idea so you can get the breeze in the summer and close against the winter winds.

Another element of ventilation is keeping the heat down in stalls in the summer.  I recently visited Charleston, South Carolina and experienced a lovely carriage ride through the city.  When we returned to the barn, I asked the driver (not sure what you call that person... probably there is some fancy name) about the ways they keep the horses cool in such a hot climate.   He said they installed misting fans last year and it dropped the temperature in the barn by ten degrees.   So in addition to the typical fans, if I was designing a perfect barn, I would consider adding misters to drop the temps for both riders and horses.  (Wonder if we could install misters in the riding arena?)

The barn I have at my house is a bank barn and I think that concept works great.   The top level has storage and the bottom is a run in and stalls.  The stalls are so nice and cool, at least ten degrees cooler than the air on the second floor. In the winter they stay warmer as well.  This is all due to them being under ground and using the natural insulation powers of the Earth.

Bank Barn top floor
Bank barn bottom floor
One way of keeping the summer sun from beating in the stalls is putting the run in outside the stalls.  This also allows you to easily put horses in stalls in as each stall has a door to the pasture via the run in.

Nice run in outside stall doors
Flooring and Walls
My girlfriend was building a barn a few years ago and she said she was going to tile the walls.  I thought she was nuts.   I had NEVER seen that before and figured there must be reason.   Turns out it was a good idea.  The barn even a few years into use looks brand new and clean.  She simply hoses the walls off and they look great.

Barn Walls with Tile
For flooring in the stalls, the combination rubber mats over washed gravel cannot be beat.  For flooring in the aisleways I think there are a number of good choices.  I don't know anyone that has done it but the interlocking rubber pavers is one that I would put at the top of my list to consider (if cost wasn't an issue - they are expensive).   Brick looks nice, cleans up nicely , has some grip for the horses, and is durable.  My friend who used brick pavers likes how its held up so far but there are marks from the horses hooves.   Concrete aisles are a good, inexpensive option that also is durable and cleans up well.  If I had the concrete I would put rubber mats where I groomed as I have seen horses slip when startled and hit their knees.

When I asked my friends what they liked, everything from a brushed dirt aisle to blue stone came back as answers.   Again... as many choices for barns as there are for spouses.

Brick barn floor

Other Items
I like an opening to dump feed.  Its great when you have a horse that is a bit greedy for his food and even for the ones that are polite, it saves time to be able to dump through an opening rather than going into the stall.

Feeding opening into stall
Blanket bars outside each stall are helpful in the winter when you have to remove and put on winter blankets and make a handy drying station for dripping pads after riding in the summer.

Water from a frost free faucet inside the barn and at each outside paddock cannot be underestimated.  The barn I am at now has water in both locations.   At home I don't have that luxury and run a hose from the house.   That means in the winter I have to blow out the hose after each use and even then I sometimes get a frozen hose.

Ample electric outlets are very important to prevent having to use extension cords (dangerous and inconvenient).

And one last thing.  ... I like a barn that has access to the pasture to eliminate the need to walk horses from pasture to barn.  That's not always possible depending on how your barn is situated but its something I will try to do.

I'd love to hear about must have items in YOUR barn design.

Blanket bar on each stall

Water spigot at paddock

Water source in barn

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Frustrations Seven Months after Knee Replacement with my OTHER knee!

Its been seven months since my knee replacement.   I am VERY pleased with how it works.  I have complete flexibility and can even flex side to side some.  The best part is there is very little pain.  I can't say pain free because every once in a while there is a little twinge but its very minor.   As you can see from the picture, the scar has healed well.   The only complaint I have about the operated knee is that there is a click that occurs with each step.  It reminds me of one of those older lawn chairs with the dial on the side that clicked into different positions.  I can feel it more than hear it but it is annoying.   The docs said it is completely normal and it will probably do that forever but that I will eventually get used to it and not notice it.  We will see.

The bad news is that my OTHER knee is painful.   Its not as bad as the first knee was before surgery but it is quickly heading that way.  I limp with each step and have to rest after standing for a bit as it gets too painful. Standing is worse that walking by far but both hurt.   On Sunday I went to ride and decided it was just too painful to get on - not good news.

I am currently trying a pile of remedies to see which will work best including icing, heat, round the clock anti-inflammatories, and stretching.  I have also scheduled a physical therapy appointment to see which exercises will help and which will inflame.   I am also trying two new supplements that have worked for others - circumen and boswellia.  It takes a bit for them to work so I am not sure yet if they are being helpful.

Lastly I am trying to convince myself to use a cane when walking and standing.   This is the hard one.  I know it makes it feel better and it will extend the life of my natural knee but wow... is that a hard one to get over mentally.   I just feel old and decrepit with it and I am positive everyone is staring at me wondering what the heck is wrong with me.  I am typically not a very vain person but this one thing is apparently past my comfort zone.

I've been reading quite a bit about arthritis and the various remedies.  One promising one is using stem cells to regenerate the cartilage and bone.  They take 7 ounces of fat from your belly (a win win in my book!) and inject the stem cells they grow from it into your knee.  They have had some good results from it but I think its far from FDA approval so I am not sure my knee will make it to the date they do approve it.

So I am just immensely frustrated with my body.  I want it to do more than I was structurally set up to do but I am determined to get the most out of what I was given.  One step in front of the other.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Shouldn't Sane be at the Top of our Horse Shopping List?

"She found a horse."  Apologetically, she went on further, "She has a lot going on in her life now so he is a sane calm guy."

I've heard similar conversations to this many times and its something I don't understand.  Why do we have to "apologize" for having a sane horse and why isn't "sane" at the top of our horse shopping list?

Usually when you ask someone who is shopping for a horse they will give you a list a mile long -- a certain breed, height, color, training, etc. but rarely is sane at the top of the list -- if it makes it at all.   And then if they end up purchasing a horse with a little less "pizzazz" and more on the side of sane and calm, the purchaser feels like they have to justify why they compromised on the pizzazz.  "He's not super flashy but in a a few years I will be able to afford something a bit more flashy.  He's what I could afford right now."

I get why a professional dressage rider is going to look for that little extra oomph that is going to give them the extra flash in the ring.  I read something recently (not sure where or what the exact quote was) that a good dressage test is one that is just on the edge of disaster.  That is probably true of the top levels.  

The majority of dressage riders though will never reach the top levels and certainly are not riding them now.   Looking at the results of the last few schooling shows, there were NO riders past second level and a high percentage of riders were at Training Level or below.

Probably most of the riders don't just do dressage. Many of the horses may be family horses who serve roles giving pony rides, trail rides in the woods and sometimes just friends to their humans on a bad day.   Even the ones that are strictly dressage horses are probably ridden by owners who have responsibilities outside the ring -- children, work, elderly parents... well.... life.   These responsibilities and the fact that most of us have to work within the confines of weather prevent us from riding everyday and sometimes mean that we don't ride even every week.  So what should be the most important item on our shopping list?   Sanity!

Not to say the other characteristics aren't important.   Certainly we want flexibility and impulsion.   And there is nothing wrong with liking a bay over a grey or vice versa.  I just think we need to put sanity first.

And for once... I'd love to hear....  "She got a new horse.  Just wait until you see how SANE he is!"

Friday, July 5, 2013

Liebster Blog Award

I was nominated for the Liebster Blog Award! Avandarre in Dressage nominated me for the award. One of the benefits of writing a blog is that you spend more time reading and learning from other people's blogs and this is one of them!  This is a favorite because she finds the humor in this crazy discipline we have chosen.

I copy and pasted the “how to accept part”.

HOW TO ACCEPT THE AWARD: The Liebster Blog Award is a way to recognize blogs who have less than 200 followers. Liebster is a German word that means beloved and valued. Here are the rules for accepting the award:
  • Thank the person who nominated you and include a link back to their blog.
  • List 11 random facts about yourself.
  • Answer the 11 questions given to you.
  • Create 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate.
  • Choose 11 bloggers with 200 or fewer followers to nominate and include links to their blogs.
  • Go to each blogger’s page and let them know you have nominated them.
11 Random Facts
  1. I have very short stubby legs -- the kind you don't' want for dressage.
  2. I have a great husband -- who happens to be 6 foot 6.  The height of husband who probably didn't dream of being married to someone with short stubby legs.
  3. I have three kids -- all much taller than me -- but I imagine they are not.
  4. I have chosen a horse that is more like a bulldozer than an ballerina.  But I love him for who he is and he tries hard for me.
  5. I grew up without electricity and running water.
  6. I was born in 1970.. which may surprise you considering #5.
  7. I went to Goucher College in Baltimore.
  8. I met my husband when I was seven at the county fair when we were showing livestock.
  9. We started dating when I was sixteen.
  10. I didn't start riding dressage until my late 30's.
  11. I wish I could quit my job and write articles about interesting people... with no intention of making a living at it.
11 Questions Answered

1. What accomplishments are you most proud of? Why?
This was probably intended to be a horse question but really my best accomplishment is my marriage and the resulting children.  Its the basis for everything else good in my life.

2. What was your biggest challenge? Did you overcome it yet, and if so, how? Or what have you learned from it?
See number 6.   Its the dang canter.  Its been our nemesis for a long time.   I do feel we are at the edge of getting it though.   What I have learned from it is that patience and persistence will get you there eventually.  It think that applies to most things -- dressage and life.

3. When training your horse, how do you (if you do) plan out what to work on for the ride, the week, the month?
I don't.  I wish I did but life gets in the way.  I do have a general plan of goals such as I want to work on cater this month and that will be the theme of each ride.  Its not the only things we do but it is the thing we are keeping as the theme -- for example, we will work on getting more impulsion or quicker transitions with canter as the end goal.

4. What is the most inspirational thing an instructor, mentor, or friend as said to you?
My Mom telling me she loved me.   Nothing more important to a girls self esteem than the unconditional love of her mother.

5. What are your goals for the next year, five years, and lifetime?
Next year...  get a good canter test
Five years.... do a good training level test and at the end of the five years start looking for a horse that has a bit more "ballerina in him"
Lifetime .... hopefully be able to ride into my old age.   My knees are not all that great so I am hoping they keep up with my goals.

6. Tell us about your worst training problem that you’ve overcome (i.e. difficult horse, or some element of training that you or the horse weren’t getting but finally did).
I think we are going through it right now.   We have been working very hard at getting the canter and it has proven to be very difficult.  First because Golly had some confirmation and then hock issues... then because I had some knee issues and now because well... its just hard!   We are starting to get it though and I think once we do then we will have something really good!

7. How do you stay fit for riding?
Ride.  :)   I wish I had more time to do other cross training but other obligations get in the way.   I do yoga, stretching, walking, and cycling when I can.

8. If you work outside of horses, how do you manage fitting horses in?   
Usually its because I get up early before work.  Its a great time to ride .. as the sun is warming the earth.  But before it bakes it.

9.  What is the one thing you want right this moment?

10. What is one life lesson you would want people to know?
Most things are petty and not important.   Friendships and family and love.   Let the rest go.

11. How do you determine how far to take your horse’s training?
As far as he will go with me.  Take it slow and let his abilities and effort guide you.  If you treat him fairly he will do his best for you.

11 Questions For You
1. How do you manage to fit riding into your life?
2. If you could train with anyone for one year, who would it be and why?
3. What is your dream job (horse related or otherwise)?
4. What has been your biggest disappointment when riding?
5. What has been the happiest achievement in your riding?
6. Tell me about your favorite horse.
7. Does your family support your riding and if so, how and if not, how do you deal with it?
8. Tell me about your biggest "aha" moment.
9. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
10. Describe your dream horse (price is no object).
11.  What is your favorite horse items (tack or apparel)?

11 Awesome Blogs (in no particular order)