Friday, February 27, 2015

Snow Bunnies

Texas Winter finally decided to show up and put on a game face this week. I basically just gave up on working O and threw my hands in the air. I was literally iced into my house on Monday and Tuesday, then another winter storm came in and snowed on us Wednesday, then it snowed even more on Thursday, and today it has been a nonstop blizzard for 6 hours. I am supposed to be heading down to Austin for the Horse Bloggers Weekend, but I'm snowed solidly in - I barely made it home today with my life. The roads are INSANE - they don't treat them at all here, so everyone just flails around and hopes for the best. I know it's not anything like what the Great White North has gone through this year, but it's pretty sucky for us. I'm not feeling it. And I'm really disappointed that I'm not on my way to Austin!

Pissed off

Not feeling it

I moved down here to get away from the snow, but it follows me down once a year, every year. I need to get a restraining order or something. It's not me snow, it's YOU. 

Yesterday's snow. That all melted by yesterday afternoon. We got 4" today, and counting!

I also caught some pics of O trying to eat my jacket. I can't leave flymasks or blankets on the fence with her around - she plays with them, and destroys them! P won't play with her, so she doesn't tear blankets when they are on (although I've seen her grab her own blanket and yank on it when she wants it off), but I have a feeling that she is going to have a lot of fun with a foal around. I'm willing to bet they'll play like wild animals.

Yes she is playing with my coat. I need to get her a ball or something!

I gave up and decided O could just have the week off. There's nothing to be done about it really - it was too icy most days to go down the road, and it's too wet to use the fields. Instead, I put my time to good use by sleeping in a lot, and trying to make sure I am getting organized for the upcoming show season.

SprinklerBandits just did a post about some of the problems with riding traditions. She's totally got a point about some of the traditional attire we wear... I mean, why in the heck would we wear wool things in the dead of summer? Just because it's traditional? I have no idea. It's a good question.

That said, I think we have made insanely huge leaps and bounds in terms of improving traditional attire. Nobody really wears wool anymore. We have ergonomically shaped bits, and bridles, and girths, and saddles, and saddle pads, and boots. We wear coats that stretch and breathe, boots that zip, breeches that move with us. They *look* traditional - or sometimes they don't! - but it is a far cry from the single joint snaffle, same-tree-for-everything saddle, basic flat pad, wool coats and no-stretchy poofy thigh breeches of the past. But we keep up that look, because it ties us in with our roots. Same reason we keep rituals and other traditions alive - it keeps us in touch with our past, our history. But traditions can be fluid. Think of how many people wear ATSM approved helmets now - no more tophats or hunt caps. We acknowledge our history while improving upon it at the same time.

I think it surprises people, but I happen to be firmly on the traditional side of attire, although I'm not sure why aside from the fact that I had it absolutely burned into my brain as a youngster. When we were younger we had to wear polished tall boots, clean breeches, a belt, a tucked in polo (or form fitting jackets/sweaters/turtlenecks in the winter, nothing baggy), approved helmets, gloves, and a hairnet if we had long enough hair - and it had to be up under our helmet, no ponytails. Our horses had to be thoroughly groomed, our tack had to be clean, and everything had to be neat and workmanlike. If it wasn't, we got kicked out of our lessons and sent back to the barn. At shows it was the same - if we wanted the judges to take us seriously, we dressed for the part, and we made sure our tack and our mounts were shining, spotless, well braided. When actively showing, I am always the one out there still wearing my coat even long after coats have been waived for the day. I want the judge to take me seriously. I want them to know I am here for business. 

The traditional side of me stops there. I'm about as non-traditional a person as you could possibly imagine, in thoughts and appearance, especially for this area. I'm a far cry from the blonde cowgirls that traditionally dominate this area. Hell, I have half my head shaved, and I'm happy to talk your head off about my leftist, feminist, queer, socialist theories all day long. There is nothing about me otherwise that likes to follow the rules.

I do wonder sometimes what draws me in to more traditional-type horse sports. I guess it's just a weird part of who I am. I feel ill when I put my hands on biothane tack, or see ill-fitting equipment, or beasts that are not suitably turned out for whatever show they are partaking in. I love the look of polished metal, and gleaming leather, and shining, healthy horses. I guess driving is really a natural fit for me in this way.... I feel like rolling around in total ecstasy when I see patent leather collars and blinders, gleaming brass, sparkling vehicles, and glowing horses. I guess I'm just really into shiny things, or something. Weirdly enough I am completely non-traditional when it comes to horse care... my beasts, even the show ones, live outside 24/7, eat grass hay 24/7, only have hay pellets and a vit/min supplement as their grainfoods, and are barefoot.Yes, I use bits, and yes I do clip and blanket if they need it, but other than that I just let mine be horses. It has really, really paid off in terms of their sanity and health, and I won't compromise on those things no matter what.

Part of the fun of driving is the tradition of it. In a lot of classes, your attire, your vehicle, your harness, and the whole harmonious picture all get judged. There are certain requirements for ladies and gentlemen - for us, basically a jacket/blazer, brown gloves, an apron, and a hat/helmet - but you can get as crazy with it as you want (within reason). You match your attire to your vehicle, to your horse, and to your particular type of turnout (formal/sporting/etc). And to your particular fashion tastes as well, if you like! In trying to piece together my turnout for the upcoming show season, I decided to stick with a navy/cream theme. My vehicle is navy with baby blue pinstripes - the baby blue is really subtle. I've spent a fair amount of time pouring over pictures of ladies' turnout attire, and looked at the attire of the carriage maker when she was using this cart to show in, and made choices based off of those ideas. I wanted to incorporate the navy in, but lighten it up a bit - black is too dark, and too much navy just makes everything melt together into a blue blob. My horse is bright orange, so she'll be the thing that sticks out most. I decided therefore to go with navy and cream, to brighten things up a bit.

Prepare for the dorkiest thing you have seen all week:

Devil horns for posterity. The only time this hardcore feminist will wear an apron
Oh yes. Thank you Ebay for the cheapo cream jacket and navy scarf (hard to tell in the pictures but it is a nice looking touch in person, I think). The apron is navy/cream and reverses on the other side to navy if I was so inclined , but I think it is a really good balance as it is. Add a dorky hat and a broach, and voila! Dorkfish outfit complete. Both the jacket and apron are a bit too bit for me and definitely have some frumpiness to them, but you won't be able to see that in the ring really. At least I hope not.

Picture it with this:

And add a navy ear bonnet to O with a cream border that matches the jacket (and a gold braid to match the harness brass). I'm fiddling with the cart to change the hardware to brass - adding a brass rein rail, brass whip holder, brass footman's loops, and brass shaft tips. I'd like to do brass hubcaps too, but as the carriage maker is probably still mad at me for not helping out with the games days, I'm not sure that will happen. I can do all the rest myself, but not the hubcaps. 
I'd like to get a better breastcollar and traces for O, but that will have to come when I have a lot of extra cash laying around. Mine is perfectly useable and I don't really have an excuse to get a new one if mine is still totally fine. It's just a flat strap, but there's nothing wrong with it. The breastcollar pad will have to come off for the show ring, but I plan on leaving the saddle pad on. It might dock me a few points in the ring but I'd rather my horse's back be comfortable, especially because I don't have a sliding backband on my saddle. Same goes for the crupper - I have a fleece pad on there, and I don't plan on removing it. I'd rather she be comfortable - especially because without it, she gets the butt-squinches.

So what do you think? Nice looking or totally dorkfish overload?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

You Don't Mess Around With O

There are some things on this planet that you just don't do. 
You don't tug on Superman's cape.
You don't spit into the wind.
You don't pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger.
And you especially, especially don't mess around with O during her warmup.

After lunging on Wednesday, we drove and did some dressage work on Thursday. It was more than likely our last day to actually do anything before a winter storm showed up - I had to cram every client I could in to Friday, Saturday and this morning, in order to avoid the weather, which is currently happening and might knock us all out for a few days. We're currently under a Winter Storm Warning with a solid 1-2" of ice heading our way. Personally I'd rather take 2' of snow over 2" of ice ANY day - you can still get out and about in the snow, but we're all just sitting ducks in an ice storm. 
Anyway. Thursday we drove out in the neighbor's field. I made a huge mistake in our warmup - I decided I wanted to work on some of G's lateral work, turning in small circles and the like, working our way down to parking a wheel and turning. I didn't trot before I did this, just went from walking to starting our circles. It was too much, too fast - she felt strongly that she wasn't limbered up enough for that kind of work yet, and she let me know right off the bat that she was angry about it. I insisted for a few minutes, and that made her even angrier. She was all in a tizzy, hot and flustered, and I realized in a few minutes that I shouldn't have altered her warmup and thrown her for a loop like that. Usually I only use the lateral work for when she is being resistant, not as a general warmup. I always try to start our work sessions with her being relaxed and lazy, grossly underpowered even if I can get there. You can ALWAYS rev her up if you want, but you can never settle her back down to that relaxed state once you leave it. Once you add a little energy - and you have to add it in small increments - you're got it and you'll stay there. It's like she has kind of a sticky gas pedal - you can start it and move super slow, but the moment you press on it a bit, it sticks down into the next gear and that's the power you have. If you put the pedal to the metal, you better just hang on because you are toast. A million, billion half halts will ensure that you're not out of control, but the pedal is still on the floor in her brain and you'll be working against it for the rest of your drive if you're not tactful. If you really piss her off, you have to pay for it. You reap everything that you sow with this horse. 

I never really got her to settle into a relaxed state. I got some fancy footwork out of her, and she was pretty supple in both directions, but she was HOT to trot. We worked on transitions as well, and had some really nice trot-walk ones. She nearly always has great trot-walk transitions - she'll lower her back end and sit down into them, if you set her up well. You'll see in the video, the times we're traveling to the left - she's wiggling her head around a little but I'm giving her some half-halts and prepping for the walk right out of the camera frame. I'll have to find a better spot for the camera.... there's no really good place for it. 
The walk-trot transitions are kind of a different story, and sometimes the halt-walk ones too. It just depends on how quiet and tactful you are, and I'll admit that I play around with it a lot and haven't quite got the perfect combination of aids that keep her quiet during them. If she is steady, she'll bounce right up into them and all will be well. If not, she'll throw herself into her breastcollar, and throw her head up as well, which slams her mouth against the bit, which throws her head even higher. It's unorthodox, but I've been giving her a pretty slack rein during our transitions and that seems to be helping. I think it helps her when she tries to jerk forward and swing her head up, since she then doesn't have a bit with contact to slam into. Although sometimes I try the opposite, give her several half-halts and then take a firmer contact to keep the head from slinging. Both of these things work about 50% of the time. She is such a weird and complicated animal. She plays by her own rules.

Notice too at the end that she backs up like a perfect lady, although she does lift her head halfway through. That is totally fine with me at this moment in time - she went backwards in a diagonal pair and quietly. If you remember in our lesson, she braced against G and absolutely refused to listen to his backup command. She was just NOT gonna do it. I tested it out and yes, she still knows how to do it just fine! She just knows my command for it and not his, and she's not willing to try and figure out someone else's command.

I never did get her to settle down though. Even when I just wanted her to walk and finish up our session, she kept trying to burst forward into the trot and keep going. I'm pleased that she is fit for that, and always eager to go forward, but seriously mare, we have to stop SOMETIME. Even when we were halting near the gate to exit, she kept trying to bust forward and through it. I even turned her away from home and trotted her up the road half a mile, just to cool her jets about finishing a session. That settled her a bit.... she's not stupid, she knows we're heading away from the barn and she wanted to be done. She walked home like a lady. A powerwalking lady, but a lady nonetheless. 

It sounds stupid, but I have the best success with her when I'm goo gooing and ga gaing over her. She doesn't want to be told "hey, you did the wrong thing so now you really need to do the right thing instead." She wants you to go, "ohhhh goo goo ga ga pretty pretty princess, why did you do this silly thing? You silly lovely darling, you should give this a whirl instead, you can do it because you're so perfect." I'm anthropomorphizing here, but it really feels as though if you try to tell her directly to do something, she'll blow you off and tell you ten ways that you can go to hell. If you sweet talk her and tell her what a pretty pretty princess she is, she'll think about it and go, "why yes, yes I am. And I will do this thing you suggested, because I am so very clever and pretty." In reality it probably has to do with the fact that if I sit there and goo goo and ga ga at her, I am probably way more relaxed and pleasant and non-demanding, and she responds really well to that. And she'll do it with grace and perfection, whatever I am suggesting, if I am a smooth talker. But she will just as quickly fight me to the death if I am too firm with her.

She is definitely a very good lesson in patience, and horsemanship, and the idea that you can't force a large animal to do things it doesn't want to do. She still has to do the thing at hand, whatever it may be - it is just in the manner of asking that makes it successful or not. It's kind of like a toddler that doesn't want to eat their green veggies - you can't sit there and physically stuff them down their throat, you need to come up with a clever idea to get them to eat it. You can be a doormat parent and just let them do whatever they want, but that gets you nowhere. You can certainly threaten, bribe and coerce them into it. Or, you can try offering them up in different ways, with dipping sauces or roasted or in their favorite dish, and encourage them to give it a try on their own. The end result is the same: a kid that ate their veggies, but there's a difference in the way you asked, and the way they feel about themselves at the end result. (I don't have kids obviously but I have plenty of friends with toddlers.) The same thing happens with O: the end result is the same, say a nice quiet circle with a good soft contact. But did I make her do it, or did I push the necessary buttons to get her to stretch out and go out to that bit on her own?

If there is one thing this horse - and all my client horses - have taught me is the value of patience. I am naturally hot tempered and am quick to flare up and get angry. Horses are really big animals that sometimes do really stupid things, but really and truly I have found that 99% of the time, there is always a reason for the way they behave and it is nearly always the human's fault. Maybe the human is confusing, or too demanding, or not demanding enough, or too rough, or causing them to have some sort of physical problem (sore backs/hocks/ulcers/whatever). And nearly all of the time, with the exception of a physical problem that needs veterinary attention, you can fix all of it by
just being patient and trying to figure out why the horse is doing whatever they're doing. When you're under them all day every day, you get very aware of their every move and the reasons behind them, seeing as you could very well be squashed in an instant if you're not paying attention. A horse that is being kicky nearly always is doing it because they either are unsure about what you're doing and you haven't give them any reassurance, they are really off balance and you're not helping, or they are sore somewhere and you're putting pressure on whatever is hurting and are not releasing it. And 99% of the time, the horse gets a little swingy with a back foot, just to let you know, but doesn't make any contact (or just a tap). They don't want to hurt you, they just want you to listen to what they are trying to tell you. And if you don't listen - then you get kicked for real. 
If you are patient, and think about it, and go "ok what is going on here? How can I help you?" instead of getting angry right off the bat, most every critter will tell you what is going on. There is absolutely still a time and a place for some well-deserved punishment, if a horse does something really naughty, and I am a severe stickler for good manners, but everyone is happier when there is a conversation instead of a fight.

Speaking of conversations, I had my first real chat with P's baby the other day. Every time I talked to it, it would kick a bit! It's going to be a cheeky one I think.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Catch-Up Post: Driving, Lessons, Vetwork, Kicking Addictions, and More

Let's try to break this massive thing down some, shall we? When I last left you guys, I had a very nice dressage session in the Happy Mouth,  a nice 3 mile light conditioning drive, and an uneventful lunge. That brings us to...

Sunday the 8th:
Another uneventful lunging day. I've pretty much canned the chambon at this point as it is only effective when she is super relaxed. As soon as she gets a little spiced up, she braces against it, and it just doesn't do anything except rub her chest while she zooms around with her head in the air. Kind of the opposite of effective. She was quite quiet today, in no small part thanks to the fact that she went galloping like a wild animal around her pen shortly before I got her out to work her. This usually makes a HUGE difference for her, as otherwise she gets the squealy bucks on the lunge when she canters. Lunging time is work time, not run-like-a-maniac time, so when run-like-a-maniac time happens pre-lunge, it is for the best.

Monday the 9th:
We had an AWESOME drive on Monday. She was just so *there* with her snaffle, and so very pleased by it that she was super ultra mega compliant. She is such a funny case... when she is pleased, she will do ANYTHING you ask, with ease. When something irks her, AKA a bit she doesn't like, she will fuss and fight and be a general hellion nonstop until you do something about it. We only drove for about 20 minutes, because she was just *that good* that I saw no reason to continue. Perfect 40m circles, and 20m circles, and looping serpentines and changes of direction, and lovely quiet transitions. What more can you ask for!

What are you looking at

Tuesday the 10th:
The mares had a vet appointment at 9am with Dr. H to get their Coggins, Rabies, and fecals done, and to give Pmare the pre-foaling once over. Dr. H took one look at P as she stepped off the trailer and went, "so when is she due? Tomorrow?" She is SO HUGE! We weren't even there for 15 minutes... maybe even more like 10. O got her Rabies, and I took P's home with me to administer with her pre-foaling vax. Both mares had completely clean fecals, so the plan for Pmare is to not deworm her again until the day she foals. I'm a deworming minimalist and only go based on what fecals tell me, plus hitting for tapes and encysted strongyles. O has had a clean fecal for almost 2 years now, and while P had strongyles when I got her back from the bad lessee, we eliminated those quickly and she has had clean fecals for almost a year now. 
The plan for P: give her final Prodigy shot on the 15th (which I did), give her full set of shots early to mid-March, and start watching her. 320 days is March 24th (she'll be officially full term at that point). 340 days is April 13th. She could in theory go all the way to May if she really felt like it but I highly doubt she'll make it that far! She is extremely happy at the moment - very comfortable, totally happy in her job of eating and eating some more, and looks great.

So shiny!
80 degrees.... warm, dirty, and sleepy.
Give me a cookie or the gate gets taken down!

Wednesday the 11th:
Today was another conditioning day - slowly ramping it up to 4 trotting miles today. It's easy work for her, and for Training level HDTs/CDEs we don't need to be terribly fit, but I think it is important to break up dressage-type work and be able to trot down the road on a loose rein. She was a lovely girl, and it was a super nice day, warm with a very light breeze and not much happening out on the road (always a good thing).

Thursday the 12th:
I was going to do a dressage day, but I had signed up to trailer to Denton and take a lesson on Saturday, so I decided I needed to do something lighter and then give her Friday off. We opted for another lunge, which was very short and sweet - she was quiet and amicable, which are my two favorite flavors! No need to do any more than a short lunge, if she was perfect.

I decided I like driving enough that I am actually letting the top of her tail grow out instead of pulling it! She has a horrible tail but I am pretty good as disguising it, being the Tailmasta and all.

Friday the 13th:
O had her day off, which was perfect seeing as I worked all day long and didn't get to the barn to feed until dark. I hadn't even cleaned my harness yet for my lesson in the morning! The evening took a turn for the weird when I tried to leave and go home (to have a nice dinner date with Future Hubs for Valentine's Day) and realized my keys were gone. My phone was dead, it was pitch black out, and my keys were not in their usual place - the spot I always put them so that they don't fall out of my pocket and get lost around the barn. A really frantic and fruitless search led me nowhere for two hours - the keys were just NOWHERE to be found. I was almost out of ideas when suddenly it occurred to me that the neighbor's puppy had stolen my driving cones last week and had hidden them in the neighbor's garage. Could it be possible that the puppy had stolen my keys? Turns out, yep.... the puppy had taken my keys, gone all the way back to her house, and hid them in her garage.
Friday the 13th certainly lived up to its reputation.

Saturday the 14th:
Valentine's Day went awfully well if you ask me! I was up early to clean my harness (finally), let the horses eat breakfast and their alf, loaded up the beast, and headed out. O is silent on the trailer and well behaved, but she never touches so much as a mouthful of food when underway, so I try to stuff her full of hay before and after trailer rides, as well as give Ulcergard and Pro CMC if we're going to be away for any period of time. She'd be eaten from mouth to butthole with ulcers if I didn't stay on top of it, I can tell you that much.... so I tend to be pretty overboard with it. Better safe than sorry I figure.
I've spent an awful lot of time trying to make O a solid citizen, as everyone here has seen, but I sometimes still worry that she'll act like a fool whenever we go somewhere new and do something totally different. I've only ever driven her in *her* cart, and at home, aside from the times we went to WD for those fall shows - and she had been to WD a billion times before. This time, we were going to a brand new indoor, using someone else's cart. Would she be a total idiot? Freak out and spook? Kill us all?
Turns out, I didn't need to be worried at all. She walked in like she owned the place, stood placidly in the crossties for tacking, and waited for us while we chatted. G decided to long line her first, just to see where she was (I told him to treat us like rank beginners!). We started with some softening exercises, getting her to yield and drop her head. She picked it up pretty immediately, and would drop her nose right to the ground and stay there, as you can see:

I long lined her for a few minutes, and G has me shorten and lengthen her stride at the walk, as well as place her in several different spots (lengthened out, at the vertical, behind the vertical, bent left, bent right, etc) to help her learn that she is to go out wherever the bit is and stay there. After this, we took her back in the barn, hooked her up, and took her back into the arena. We both took turns driving her, and worked on moving laterally in both directions, spiraling in and out on circles, trying to achieve parking one wheel and getting her to move the cart around it on a pivot. You guys have actually seen me do this a lot, if you've watched any of our videos over the past few months - it was something I guess I was intuitively doing already. I use it almost every drive, especially to the right - she likes to lock up and be stiffer to the right, so I always make sure to spend time parking my right wheel and pivoting around it. I had to laugh when I realized what we were going to be doing to help her be more supple, and told him I already do it a lot, and that it really does help! As it always does, it suppled her up considerably, and before long she was doing lovely little circles in both directions. He had me stop and back her up, which is something I have worked on in the past but stopped doing recently because she was starting to halt and then automatically back up (do not want!!). I had her go back a few steps, and then gave the reins to him so that he could show me how he wanted it to go more efficiently. That was when O decided to show a little more of her um, personality... which I had warned him about when explaining her quirks. She didn't understand his cues (I just taught them differently, so she knows my cues), and he clucked at her a few times. She is CRAZY sensitive to clucks, and then are a go forward cue to her, so when she felt his backwards pressure on the reins but a forward going cluck, she checked out, did the violent headshake, and tries to bull forward away from the pressure. After that, she would not give him one step backwards to save her life - he could have pulled on her til he tore her mouth off and she would not have given him one step.
G looked at me and went "wow, somebody really did a number on her!" You're telling me G... you're telling me.
We moved back off to do some more circles, and O was decidedly more agitated and a bit jiggy. I told him about how this is kind of the way she is - you push her a little bit, then back off and do something simple, and push her a little bit, and back off and do something simple. If she gets too frazzled or upset, which she does sometimes, I always go back to something she understands and chill her out, otherwise you'll just never get anywhere with her. Escalate and de-escalate. He clapped me on the shoulder and told me I was a good smart horsewoman, and that I had the right idea. We finished on a good note, and I definitely have some homework to work on!

They were awesome enough to take me out to lunch, and we had a great time. Back at the barn, G had me jump in the cart to work with him on a really nice Morgan, on a lot of the same principles - lateral work, suppleness, parking the wheel, lengthening and shortening. The Morgan was like driving a little hot rod - SO forward and strong but so fun. We also took him out into the field behind the property, where there were a number of roundbales set up like a cones course. They looked so narrow to me - how in the heck could we even fit through those?? You had to be accurate and you had to get it right. G taught me about driving the water hook of the saddle, which is the part where the overcheck hooks to, if you were to use an overcheck. That is pretty close to the area where your legs would be if they were on either side of your saddle, so he had me think of that as my legs and to steer that part of the horse instead of just the head and neck. (Oh wait duh, you do that in riding too...) If you steer the horse and you put that water hook right in the center of the two cones/roundbales, you'll clear them every time, even on super tight turns where it seems impossible. And he was right... we were flying around that field whipping between the roundbales, clean on every one. I had my go, and even though I brushed a few whisps of hay on a few bales, I was totally surprised to find that I was dead on almost all of the time, even at speed. It was awesome!

The golden loopy swirly hook in the center of the saddle.... yea, drive that part.
It was a great time, and I have another lesson set up in the near future. And have my homework to work on too!

The temps dropped and the rain came in. O had a few well-deserved days off while I worked and froze my tush off. I got off my habit of trying to do one driving-related thing every day, so I am back on that as of today! P got her final Prodigy shot on Sunday.... now the countdown to her full set of shots begins, and then THE BABY COMES!

Pmare, shedding... and sagging. Big time. That's her entire winter coat right there... that's all she ever grows!

Wednesday the 18th:
O got back to work today with a very nice lunge. We did our suppling exercises pre-work like we did with G on Saturday, and I was pleased to find that she retained all of that and immediately complied. I also went ahead and roached her mane again today - this will give her two months to grow a nice new roach in. It was getting sort of out of control, and a roach only really stays nice for about half a year (with regular trimming of course) before it starts to flop around and look stupid. O's was definitely at that point, so off it went. Poor thing looks like a funny looking orange mule, but it will grow back... hopefully sooner than later.

Meet my new mule!

As a bonus, somewhere mid-week last week:
Sometime last week - can't remember which day it was - I was poking my belly and feeling really irritated with the weight I have gained since I moved to TX. I'm not *fat*, not by any means, but I'm not the tiny little stick that I was when I moved here. I realized some time ago that I was drinking a HUGE amount of soda, every day. Like, a ridiculous amount. I was highly addicted and didn't want to stop, because that's how addiction works. Soda isn't exactly heroin or anything, but you get pretty hooked on it and then make up excuses as to why you don't need to quit it. I don't even know what the last straw was, or if there was a last straw, but I decided I just needed to *stop.* So... I did. I just quit soda, cold turkey. I'm not going to lie, I wanted to just flat out die the first day. I think I must have been living in a state of constant dehydration from all the soda though, because I plowed through almost 2 gallons of water the first day, and the second day as well. My body seems to have leveled off a bit, but I probably looked ridiculous as I stood there chugging my 5L giant bottle of water like a camel at an oasis. I was really goddamn thirsty.
Future Hubs says I look thinner already. I don't know about that, but I feel a little bit better. I'm past the hump of craving soda, and have just been drinking water instead. I'm not going to 100% say no to soda forever - like if I go to the movies, I'm getting a giant bucket of popcorn and a big soda, because MOVIES - but I'm not going to slip back into old habits, because I just don't want to. It really is as simple as that, it's just a mind game. I just decided that I don't drink soda anymore, and voila... I don't drink it anymore.

I'm also working heavily on my bad calf, and I think I have some answers. I first thought it was Achilles tendon, but with more experimentation and stretching, I actually think it is more muscle related instead (which is a relief). I think I just limped on this leg for so long that everything in the calf shortened in response. A LOT of stretching has been helpful, but I have to do it every single day, or else I feel it shorten right back up and lose flexibility. Massage and theraplate has helped as well, but not as much as the stretching. I have some KT tape on it today, and I actually think it has alleviated a fair amount of the pain, although it seems to limit my movement a bit. Next up to try: foam rolling, although I feel like that is going to be hella painful.

Damnit though, I want to ride. I want this to be better. So therefore, I'm going to fix it, because I decided so.

Note angry red interior. And Toy Story PJs.

Phew!! I think I am finally caught up!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Catch-Up Post is Coming!

You ever have SO much to catch up on that you just don't know where to begin, and then you put it off longer and longer as more and more things pile on? That's exactly what I have going on right now. I have A LOT of things to write about! Annnnnnd I'm not writing about them yet, because I still have schedules to set, paperwork to fill out, and a bedtime to try and make. But rest assured, the catch-up post will be filled with fun topics like kicking an addiction, taking a lesson, and seeing the vet. AND MORE!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Work It

I feel like February is off to a much better start than January. It rained last Saturday on into Sunday, but not a whole lot, and there was just enough time to lunge on Saturday before the weather broke (and it broke just as we were finishing... we got a bit wet.) Things were plenty dry by Monday afternoon, and on Tuesday I went out into the neighbor's field to see if I had enough flat-ish space to measure out a 40m circle, which are called for in driven dressage tests. Sure enough, I *barely* had enough space, but I had enough! Part of the circle dips a bit low on one side, but oh well. Makes for uh, added impulsion? I'll just tell myself that it's good half halting practice, since she likes to go barreling down hills if you let her. I also marked the dead center of the circle, which means I can eye out a 20m circle if I want to use one, and also can accurately change directions. O is notoriously more difficult to ride in circles vs. straight lines (that inertia thing... she likes to drop her shoulder and dirtbike), but when driving on circles she is pretty straightforward. She is, as always, a no-nonsense kind of drive - if you give her a contact and push her out into it, she'll take it and move out, but she has to want to take it herself or else she'll fuss about things, get crooked, counterbend, etc. You give her the option to make that choice, and she'll always make it, but she has to make it of her own accord - you can't just take the reins up and say "ok mare, now you must be perfect and take a contact and off you go." You have to offer it, she has to consider the fairness of it, and then she'll nod her head and say, "Ok, it's time to get working." She is her own union boss, and she has to look the contract over first. If she deems it fair, she'll knuckle down and give you all you want. But if it isn't fair, she'll strike, and she'll fight and resist and raise some general Cain until you tell her, "Okay! Okay. What are the terms. I promise I won't demand anything before you're warmed up. I promise I won't give you a signal without a precursor signal first. I promise I won't make things abrupt. And I swear to god I won't pull backwards on these reins, not for a second." Then she'll nod, you'll sign all the papers, and she'll take a nice buttery contact, push into her breastcollar, and give you all she has. She is absolutely the most difficult, complicated critter I've ever met - and god knows I've been around a LOT of horses, really difficult horses, in my life - but she'll always work for you if you're fair and completely straightforward. She herself is ALWAYS straightforward with her likes and dislikes, and she expects me to be the same. She wants everything to be up front, all the time. I like that about her.

Below is a random video still from Tuesday, and beneath it is a video still from August. Hard to believe that the fat, chunky pair on the bottom is the same pair on the top. (Not that I'm any skinnier, but she is definitely more trim and muscular.)

I also put her back in her eggbutt snaffle. The top above picture was from our last drive, when she was still in the liverpool, and I have to say the snaffle is just completely 100% her thing. She of course has been trying to tell me that all along, but my Hooman Ego thought, "nahhh, this liverpool is the SAME exact mouthpiece as the Happy Mouth, it's just a different flavor plastic, so there's no reason she shouldn't like it." Well, even when you set the liverpool on the snaffle setting, she still doesn't like it. She'll tolerate it for a little while, and then she just, you know, won't anymore. She tolerates it *more* than she does a metal bit, but far less than her Happy Mouth, which puts her in her Happy Place. 

Zen face after her Tuesday drive, AKA phew thank god this idiot put me back in my favorite bit:

Driving really is just like dressage, only via out of body experience. You need to have a quiet, following seat in order to still the bouncing and rocking of a 2-wheel cart. If you don't sit quite right, the cart will put undo pressure on the horse's back, not to mention bounce and vibrate. If you sit just right and find the sweet spot of balance, and maintain it, the cart will self-balance and the shaft pressure on the horse's back will become very light - in my cart, maybe about 10lbs of weight on the saddle. That frees up the horse's back to move and swing. The horse also has to move forward and out to take a contact, just like in dressage - you can't just take the reins and force their head down into a frame. Or well, I suppose you can, but just like in ridden dressage, it's not correct and looks awful, not to mention makes for a very unhappy horse. The horse has to be soft and supple, bend in both directions, turn with fluidity and ease, half-halt, have impulsion and move forward, listen to transitions and balance in them - and that's just all beginner walk-trot stuff. Just like ridden dressage gets increasingly complicated, so does driven dressage - canterwork, collection, lengthenings and mediums (and possibly actual extensions), and even lateral movements are all called for in upper levels. Imagine watching a four in hand doing a shoulder-in as a team. That's some pretty cool stuff right there.

This isn't stuff I was taught... just stuff I've discovered along the way, stuff that makes sense. I can't wait for some further instruction - it will help clear up any muddles.

I've been trying to spend a little time every day organizing and prepping for upcoming things. I've put in time every day getting organized for show season (making lists of stuff I need and suppliers I'll need to order from, or places locally where I can get stuff), measuring out and budgeting for a winch and ramps, and contacting another driving trainer. I refuse to let another month slip by without getting more things organized and set for the upcoming show seeason. Determination plus organization - it makes me a force to be reckoned with.