Monday, May 27, 2013

Stiff Neck After Vaccination

Golly got his annual vaccinations on Friday.   I normally give the day off after the vaccinations just in case they don't feel 100% afterwards.    This week is our last week before our first canter show though so I wanted to keep him going.   As a compromise I lunged him briefly (mostly at the canter) on Saturday.  Besides the fact that he was VERY up, he did very well.  The wind was blowing pretty hard and the temperatures were only in the lower 50's so I figured the weather had more to do with his attitude than anything else.

Today we went to Oak Ridge Park to use the large ring and then go for a trail ride.   We started with our usual walking warm up and he felt fine but a little tight.   Nothing major and nothing out of the usual.  It was when I started the trot that I could tell his neck was definitely stiff and probably sore.   Going to the right he was fine.  Going to the left he wouldn't give to the bit and it almost felt as if he was forming a fist on the left side of his neck that prevented him from flexing to that side.

I wanted to get a canter practice in though so after I massaged his neck we did a canter on his easy side first (going to the right).   Nice easy transition and brought him down to a trot before he decided to break.  Good.

One other transition to the right to canter and this time tried to get him to go a bit further so tapped him with the whip when I felt him slowing.   Little buck but he kept going.   Brought him back down the trot.  Good.

Tried the other side where he has a hard time catching the lead.   He offered the wrong lead and I straightened him with a little pulse on the rein.  He offered again correctly!  Yeah!     Because he was stiff on this side and both wanted to reward him for the great effort and make sure I wasn't punishing him by pushing through some pain, we just did a few strides and then brought it back to the trot.

Nice job Golly!

So proud of this guy for the effort he is making.   I know its hard to get that big body moving and he is trying anyway.

We finished the day with a nice trail ride through the woods with some friends.   When we got back I brought him back into the ring just to see if the trail ride loosened him up but he was still stiff in the same way so we called it a day.

Did some research online regarding the stiffness since it something I haven't experienced before.  Seems like its not a common reaction but more often than rare.   Some suggested giving the shots in the rear rather than the neck if you are having a stiff neck reaction.  Seems like that would just be transferring the stiffness to a different area but maybe the larger muscle mass helps prevent it.    I do know that he will get a gram of bute this evening and for the next few days to hopefully help him with any pain and potential inflammation.

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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Everyone Needs a Cheerleader
I have always attended my shows without a groom or someone to help.   I know lots of people at the shows and enjoy visiting with my horse friends but never saw a reason why you need someone to "attend" to your needs.  My horse ties well to the trailer.  I can dress myself.  I can dress my horse.

I think I'm unusual in that scenario.  Most of my horse friends bring a support crew with them.  Either a trainer that helps warm them up or a spouse who comes for moral support and to take some photos.  Maybe another horse friend who acts as a groom and to do that final wipe of the boots before going in the ring.  Some people even hire a semi-professional groom to help them out on show days, especially if they are showing multiple horses.

I've never minded running solo.   I have only me to answer to during the day.  I can leave right after my class or stay all day to watch the classes.  I get to spend some quality time with my horse and my fellow dressage enthusiasts.  I like to be independent and know that I can do it alone.

But I'm feeling a bit different about this upcoming show.

Golly and I have been working very hard to get this canter thing down and for the first time we are going to attempt a canter test.  I don't anticipate that we are going to win the class or have our best score but I am so immensely proud that we have gotten to the point where we can at least attempt a canter in a class.  But I'm nervous too.

Still its not like we NEED someone there.  I can still dress myself and get us in the ring.  But I WANT someone there to hang out at the entry gate, biting their nails for me and hoping along with me that it goes well.  And let's be really honest... what I really want is my Mom there.... the ultimate cheerleader... the person that no matter what happens will tell me that I did my best and she is proud of me.

This desire makes no logical sense.  I have done plenty of shows without a cheerleader and certainly without my Mom.  I am 42 years old.  I shouldn't need my Mom to tell me I did a good job and she is proud of my effort.  But I do.

My Mom died just over a year ago and I miss her terribly.   I miss calling her each morning to tell her what is going on in my life and hearing her tell me that all will be okay and that she is proud of what I am doing.  That she is proud of my children and the life I have created.  I miss her voice.  I miss the way she looked at me with pride and happiness.  I miss her hugs.   I miss her unconditional love.  I miss my Mom.

Not sure why this show is renewing the feeling of loss but its probably the mixture of pride of accomplishing a major goal and the fear that we may come up short on the goal.   I've heard from other women that they have never stopped missing their mother and I believe them.  Despite it not making logical sense that a full grown accomplished woman needs the ultimate cheerleading of her mother, that is the reality.

So I am starting to understand why my fellow riders bring their support crew to shows.  Its not about having someone dress you or your horse.  Its about having someone share the fear and anxiety and also hopefully the joy of accomplishment.  Cheerleaders play an important role at a show.   Whether its your trainer who plays a professional role and help you show to your best ability or a friend who knows nothing about dressage but is just excited to be there with you.  I get why that support crew is so important.  


Sunday, May 19, 2013

Do Nothing

In my schooling ride earlier this week and my clinic lesson today there was a common theme.   Do nothing.

Its something that all dressage students know and it should be the easiest thing in the world.  I mean how hard can it be to do NOTHING?

Its hard.

As I was working Golly I was trying to get more roundness using the outside rein.  He would give it for a bit and then push back and jut his jaw out.  I'd repeat the aid and he's comply for half a circle or so and then the jaw would jut out and I'd repeat the aid again.   This part was okay.

What I realized I was doing though was once he gave me the roundness and jaw I was asking for, I never let him just "be".   As soon as I got it, I moved onto more impulsion or more inside leg or a change of gait.  I wiggled the rein for just a bit MORE roundness.    How was he supposed to know that he had done a good job if I didn't let him revel in a job well done for a minute or two?  The reason he may have repeated jutting his jaw out could have been because I never gave him the reward of doing nothing.

What I should have done was give the aid and once he complied, then do nothing.  Now let me define what "doing nothing" means to me.  It doesn't mean that you stop riding altogether and sit up there like a sack of potatoes.   It does mean you continue to ride the same way you were before the aid but stop correcting or giving the strong aid.

Your horse deserves and needs this reward of nothing.  He doesn't have the ease of understanding our spoken language and doing nothing is how we tell him he has understood and succeeded in answering the aid.

Photo by Dorothy Anderson
For the most part, I have a problem with "doing nothing" in my general life as well.  I set goals (finish a proposal, hire an employee, clean my house, plant a garden), but rarely sit back and enjoy the "doing nothing" part of life.   What is the use of succeeding at the goal, if we don't take the time to enjoy and recognize the success?  But doing nothing is hard for me.  I finish that proposal and immediately start thinking of the next one I should be writing rather than taking some time to congratulate myself on the success of finishing it.  I need to give myself and Golly the joy of doing nothing.

Its hard sometimes too to congratulate ourselves on where we have come in our riding.  It gets frustrating that we are STILL struggling with the canter.  (Although we have made some good progress this month -- I'll fill you in on that later.)    It helps when I remember that at one time, the trot was difficult.  Our trot circles were more like triangles and there was a time when I was worried that we would trot out of the dressage ring because we couldn't make a decent turn.    Now we struggle with the same thing at canter -- circles are more like free form scribbles and making a turn feels a bit like turning a bulldozer at full speed.  BUT.... like the trot circles, practice makes perfect and we will get there.

We have to keep practicing the cantering so it gets better but also allow ourselves to feel good about what we have accomplished thus far -- and
those trot circles are GOOD!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Teaching Cantering through our Trail Ride

Golly has a tendency to get worried when we work on something hard for too long.  When he does, he starts to shut down and while he continue to learn, the progress slows.  For that reason, I try to mix up his training with some trail rides and other fun days.   

So last week we went on a trail ride with a friend and her lovely Percheron stallion.   The weather was great and the facility, Maxwell Hall in Benedict, has great footing and varied terrains ranging from wooded hills to wide paths surrounding fields.   It also has has a nice beach entry where you can take your horse into the river.   

Golly LOVES the river and as soon as he sees it, runs in up to his belly.   He would go further but I turn him so my saddle doesn't get soaked.  Of course, he also uses his massive hooves to splash so we end up getting at least partially wet anyway.  I enjoy watching his joy in playing in the water.
We were able to throw in a couple trotting and cantering sets and he did well.  No bucking at the canter transition.  Good relaxed canter and was able to vary his speed at the canter when needed.

His endurance was good too.   Some light sweating but no "shaving cream marks" and no heavy breathing.   Also never really asked to break his gaits to the lower one.  

This is all good news as one of my fears is that he will not be able to maintain his soundness while learning the  canter.  With him its a fine grey line between working him enough to keep the lesson fresh in his head and not working him so much that he loses it mentally or physically.    With my volunteer and work commitments though, we usually err strongly on the side of not enough work.

So some good progress.....  I need to set up some lessons this month so we can continue this canter work.  I'm determined to get this.