Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Escaping Horses

Its that time of year when the pasture starts looking a little weak and across the fence there is still lush green fall grass.  Its tempting and I can understand why the horses believe the grass truly is greener on the other side.  Golly has turned out to be the great escape artist.   For three days in a row I showed up to feed and found this...

Yup... this is Golly loose as can be and enjoying the green grass.  The perplexing thing was that the other two horses were still safely ensconced behind the fence.  If he knocked down a fence (and he does that occasionally with his bulldozer body), why didn't the other horses follow?

I wasn't too worried because I let him loose frequently and he never leaves the yard.   In fact, when he saw my truck drive up to the barn, he came trotting up to see what else I could offer his palate.

Since there are three individual paddocks, we shut off the one with the low fence that we thought he may be jumping.  Nope.. next day he was out again.  So began the fence walk.  I found a fence in the back where the lower line had come loose.  Sure enough on the other side were LOTS of footprints.  So many that I think he's been using this route longer than we thought and maybe even returning before we noticed.   He didn't actually knock down the fence but must have been ducking low underneath it somehow.    How sneaky!  Its hard to see in my awful photography the footprints but they are there.


So I fixed the fence and thought I had it.  Nope..... within an hour or two of putting him back in the pasture, he was out AGAIN!!   Well he had ruined the fun for everyone with his antics -- I closed off all the paddocks and confined them to just the sacrifice one.   This seemed to work.  When I showed up to feed all three horses were behind the fence!   I live about a half mile from the barn and as I pulled into my driveway after feeding, my cell phone rang to let me know all three horses were loose!  How could that be?   I was JUST there.  But yup.... the neighbor confirmed that there was a brown one, a black one and a white one running loose. 

I rushed back to find three horses running down the driveway towards another neighbor's horses.  Not mine though.   Yes... the right colors but not mine at all.  After gathering grain and leads to catch the fugitives, I collected them into my neighbors empty paddock and went knocking on doors to find the owners.

Seemed that breaking free was a problem not just in our yard.

I was still perplexed over one thing though.   If Golly was getting out and enjoying the lawn all day, how come there weren't piles of manure scattered around the lawn?   He's a big horse and well....   he has big piles.  I think we'd see them!

Today I found that my horse is either immensely neat or immensely sneaky.   When dumping the stall manure at the compost pile which is set into the woods, I found several piles of manure near but not in the compost pile.  That darn sneaky horse had been walking to the compost pile to hide the evidence of his droppings!  Not sure if I should be annoyed with him or impressed!

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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Oct 20th Chapter Challenge Prep Show Results

The day was a nice cool fall day.  I was the first rider and surprisingly I got him prepped more quickly than I thought and we arrived an hour before my class.  In fact, we were so early that we beat the show staff there.  Not bad idea though.  Golly had a chance to graze next to the trailer and I had a chance to sit in the cool air and sunshine relaxing.   Quite nice actually!
As we waited for everyone to arrive, Golly pondered his
test and was trying to remember did he go left at C or right?
When I was loading him I saw him jerk his foot quickly in the trailer and I realized the very top edge of the ramp had caught his foot.  When I dropped the ramp at the park I saw blood on his heel bulb and my heart fell.   No way was he going to be sound with that blood on his bulb.   I got some wipes and cleaned up the blood to find a small flap of broken skin -- granted in a bad place but it wasn't too big.   I trotted him around and he seemed sound.   So nice to have a sturdy horse!
Warm up went well -- focused on the relaxation and getting him to bend to the right, bend to the left.  Relax the poll.  Relax the back.  I focused myself on sitting back and asking the energy (what little there was) to come from back to front.   Thought about keeping contact with the outside rein and releasing with the inside rein.  Flowing underneath in a straight line.
My trainer and I had decided to choose our battles at this show.  With my current health issue of fatigue, I only had so much breath to give to the effort.  Golly has a wonderful relaxed attitude as long as you don't ask for energy beyond his comfort level.  Since relaxation is the main theme to the Intro tests, we were going for relaxation even if it meant sacrificing a bit of the energy.
First test was good.  Judge remarked that his head was a bit high and wanted it lower and that she wanted me to use spurs rather than kicking to get the energy.   I laughed to myself because while his head was high it was SO much lower than it was a year ago.   But a judge doesn't know where you are coming from.. only where you are at that moment.
As for the spurs I was using this test to "test" a concept.  Wondered if not using the spurs would give me a more relaxed horse as he wouldn't be reacting to the spurs by tightening his back.   Guess that failed!    So off to find my spurs for the second test I went.
Second test was better.  Because she wanted his head lower I decided to sacrifice perfect hand position and went with what I call the wheelbarrow - hands further apart but connected.  It gives you more of an "open rein" and he responds with better connection and a lower head.  Used the spurs occasionally and got a TINY bit more energy.  Not much though as you can see in the video.  He certainly had the RELAXED down!  At times it looks like he may take a nap in the corner.

So my hope is that at the Chapter Challenge, the chaos of the show grounds will give him a bit more energy without me nagging him and we can keep the relaxation.  Something to work on for the next two weeks.
So what were our results?  I think the relaxation worked -- while Golly is not impressed with his placing, I think he looks fabulous in a first place ribbon! 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Show Preparation - Themes I am Keeping in my Head

For the most part, I am not into showing. I like dressage for the effect it has on my horse and I and our riding.   The relaxation and improved effectiveness of my aids.  The way that our aids have become lighter and yet more effective.  I don't like all the primping that goes into the ten minutes that showing allows as I'd rather spend that time actually riding.

Successful Chapter Challenge Show - hope to repeat!
Despite that, I do show occasionally.   One of our upcoming shows is the Chapter Challenge where we compete in a group of four riders whose compiled rides are scored against the other Chapters in our Association.   Since Golly and I haven't shown lately, in preparation we are doing a show tomorrow.

During my lessons this week we have worked on lots of things to get ready but I am trying to focus on just a few of them to make sure the most important ones stay to the forefront.
  • Keep my weight on the back side of the saddle. I have a tendancy (and Golly has a tendancy to push me there) to sit too far forward and start "climbing his shoulders".  When I sit back and open my legs he responds with more energy and freedom. 
  • Relaxation.  Don't give up the relaxation to get more energy.  Golly is NOT energetic and when you ask past the level of energy he is ready for, he loses the relaxation.  The show atmosphere should give us enough extra oomph... don't get greedy and ask for so much that it sacrifices the base of the pyramid -- relaxation.
  • Straightness.   And for us this straightness is going to come from contact on the outside rein.   When I ask for just the feeling of a counterbend (it feels to me like we are really counterbending but my trainer and others on the ground let me know it really is not), I am getting the straightness.  And don't forget to give on the inside - can't take unless I give as well.
  • Accuracy.  Don't make my circles bigger than 20 meters.   I have been making them a bit too large which means that they are actually eggs.  Circles are the same all around.
I am sure lots of other little tidbits from my trainer will be running through my head but focusing on these should get me to a good place.   I'll let you know how it goes.
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Saturday, October 12, 2013

Readjusting my Dressage Goals

If you have been reading along my journey, you know that in the Spring I set a major goal to get the canter well established.   I'd say we have made some decent progress but I have not even come close to meeting my goal.   At the mid summer point, I think we were making decent progress.   The departs were coming without bucks or much anxiety.  The departs had gone from what looked like a cowboy having a seizure (imagine arms flapping while my whip whirled around my body) to something that had at least the semblance of a dressage rider.    I was asking for the canter with light aids instead of demanding it and we were getting a nice response.  Yeah!

Now granted we would get about six strides into it and Golly would start asking to move to trot.  And I'd ask again.  And get a response to stay in canter.  And then two more strides and he asked to slow down.  And I asked to speed up.  You get the idea... he is NOT a forward horse.

But we weren't getting bucks and we were getting a response off a lighter aid.  And we were cantering!

In this case Golly isn't the one who is holding us back.  I think if we had kept down that path we would be cantering well and getting more energy.  He was getting the idea and dare I say... even enjoying his work a bit more.

Its me.

Lately I noticed I have been getting winded quickly.  I know that when you start down the path of asking for canter you better be able to finish the conversation.  If you stop asking for the up transition when he is asking for the down transition... he wins.   And the next time we have the conversation it will be even harder. 

So until I figure out this health issue, I have to revise my goals.

We are still going to work on the canter but it will be in open fields where its easier and I know I can win the conversation.   We will also work on the canter in the ring but in limited efforts that I know I we can achieve and have good results.  And we will do it without the looming goal of achieving the canter in a show.   I have a show at the end of October and we won't be doing the test that requires the canter because I know I can't do the proper warmup to get him to the point where he can do the canter well in the test and if I did do the proper warmup I won't have the energy to get him through the test.

I'm disappointed but I'm trying to tell myself that its okay because I can't control what life throws at you.  You just have to roll with the punches and wait for your turn.  The good news is that I have  horse that is perfectly happy with this plan.  He enjoys his hacks in the woods.

I took him to a hunter pace last weekend and wow!  It feels great to feel the energy and power in Golly when its HIS idea to canter.   When a group of horses passed us and cantered off, there was no way that Golly was going to let them get out of his sight.  As soon as I gave the word that he could speed up, he broke into a very happy and forward hand gallop.  Woopee!!!

I feel so immensely fortunate to have Mr. Golly in my life. He is a bulldozer of a guy and no one will ever say he is light on his feet but we understand and trust one another.    And he is willing (and probably thrilled) to wait until we are both ready to tackle the canter challenge in the ring.

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