X Halt

IMG_6222We’re days away from moving to the new barn, and I’m trying to enjoy my remaining time at Uulke as much as possible.  The weather has been cooperating, enabling met to get Fred outside – finally!  He’s a different horse when he’s not in the arena, and I think the weekend’s wanderings around the property really helped him, because we had a pretty good ride tonight.

He’s still not as forward as I’d like but we’re getting there, and I’m increasingly confident in my ability to handle this issue.

“Ride like a trainer,” Christy says repeatedly, reminding me to hone my responses, not accept “no” for an answer and to take responsibility.  “When you’re in the saddle, he’s responsive, period,” she insists.

We muddled through Training I tonight, and as you can see, had some nice moments.  We also blew a canter depart and needed three more tries to get it, and had to stop to poop (another issue I will tackle later.) Free walk was solid, stretchy trot needs work, and we wavered between dreadful, competent and pretty good. Fred is strong enough now to work on a 20m circle, so we gave it a whirl.  I’m actually going to re-memorize the Training tests, because the variety and pace of of the tests really is good for Fred.

IMG_6223Tomorrow we’ll just hack around the property. Wednesday and Thursday we’ll work.  Christy and i continue to cobble together our plans but for the near term, these will be our last rides with her, which really bums me out.  We’re good friends, though and this won’t be the last you hear about her.

In the meantime, if you’re not doing so already, keep an eye on her blog – Dressage Fundamentals – lots of good stuff there.

Everything Zen

Loving the increasingly pleasant demeanor Fred is showing as his fitness improves

I’ve been reconnecting with my riding lately in a way that I haven’t for a long time. Life has been busy, and full of distraction. Forcing myself to into my own head, into the Zen of being present with the horse, and really riding – managing every stride, keeping shoulders and haunches straight, maintaining tempo – has been extra challenging lately.  There’s a lot of background noise continually threatening my concentration.

Just like with life, it’s easier to simply be a passenger, but when you pick up the reins, put your leg on and take control, you have a better ride.

At the gym in the morning and at the barn at night, I’ve been making a point of really making myself sweat. No more zoning out on the bike, no more checking out mid-ride. I’m paying attention.

More often than not, since Fred isn’t yet up to strenuous work, I focus on myself. That means keeping my core engaged – continually. Or dropping my stirrups and posting, not sitting, keeping leg pressure on, staying balanced, light on his back and not pinching with my knees. I force myself to work, and to pay attention, not letting my leg dangle, or my core relax. And it’s showing in the ride, because Fred is improving by leaps and bounds, despite not being a leaps and downs sort of guy.  The evidence? A line of new muscle along his top line, and a new eagerness to work.  He feels better, and I’m getting there.

“Ride the trot you want, not the trot you have.” Christy is all over my case, not letting me accept “no” from Fred when I ask for more length in his stride. But instead of going to the whip or nagging him with my spur, she’s requiring us to develop a response from my seat.

Ride the trot you want, not the trot you have. It’s a tidy analogy for life, too. On that note, I have news of an upcoming change involving a tough decision. I’m moving, and am moving the horses with me. We’ll still be in the Chicago area, but both Jag and Derby will be relocating in May to a barn about 20 minutes from where I work. At this point in time, I need my life to be a bit more contained. Getting the ponies closer to work will be a huge step in the right direction.

Moving Fred from Uulke and Jag from my friend Jeff’s place is wrenching – both horses are doing so well, and seem so happy. The place I’ve found has lots to love – a field full of elderly pensioners who are glossy and in good weight, lots of different turnout scenarios, stalls that are spacious and airy, gorgeous hay, bridle paths for out-of-ring hacks — lots of comfort for the creatures. However, this will necessitate a change in trainer, and I’m gutted. Christy and I are hatching some other plans, but for my regular work, I’ll be trying out the trainers operating out of the new place. In the meantime, I’m jamming as many lessons into the schedule with Christy as I can. She’s switching gears on me, determined to make me more self-aware and self-correcting, more responsible. It’s hard, requiring vigilance and attention, but once you start to pay attention, your adjustments start to feel instinctive, reflexive, even, and I’m getting more of that trot I want.

The rIdes of March

Getting a little fancy tonight

Used to be that March was one of my least favorite months to ride.  When you’re riding a flighty Thoroughbred,  Spring rides can be hair-raising, heck, just walking in from the paddock can be an adventure.  Raise your hand if you’ve ever found yourself flying a 1000 lb kite. I know some of you know what I’m talking about.

Derby’s superpower was levitating while putting no pressure on the lead rope, which, if you think about it, means I’d be walking along,  ignorant of the fact that my horse was floating along somewhere over my head.  Needless to say, with that one, I snapped to pretty quickly and conformed to Pony Club approved methods of handling my horse.

Fred is much, much easier. He’s earthbound and fairly unflappable, which makes him a delightful change of pace during changeable March weather. Not too much concerns him.

We’ll be riding outside soon and I can’t wait.  Part of the fitting up of Fred includes a lot of walking. Purposeful, marching walking to be sure, which lots of lateral work plugged into it, but walking nonetheless.  That will be more fun for both of us when we can play in the sandbox outside, and start to explore the trails.

IMG_5892In the meantime, we’re getting there.  Fred had such a case of the friskies last week that he was cantering off when I put my leg on, looking for a bigger stride at the trot. At this stage, forward is good. I let him go each time. I’ll worry about packaging the power later.

Tonight, he was tight and pissy, so I got off his back and out of his way,  hopping up into a half seat,  and just let him roll at the canter.  He is insisting upon stretching as we walk – really stretching down to the end of the reins, all the way through, and I need to remember to incorporate these stretch breaks throughout the ride, in addition to (or in combination with) the walk breaks. After working the stretch in the trot, I had a much happier horse, and little wonder.  I’ll need to ride him low, comfortable carriage until he works up the strength to carry himself.  Which will hopefully be soon. Fred’s a fun horse to ride, even on a crappy day.



Spring Fever


Neither of us like it when hair gets in our mouths.

I’m a sucker.

I know the string of 60 degree+ days that started in late February and have continued into March won’t last.  The snowblower still has plenty of gas in it, and I’m not putting away my winter gear, because I know what’s going to happen in a couple weeks.  We’re going to get punched in the teeth, because that’s what March does.

Jag is also a sucker, because he picked today to drop about half his winter coat. Since I retired him, he’s grown a winter coat like a yak, and as happy as I am to see all that hair in late fall, it’s exactly zero fun to shed out. I’ve never taken as much hair off a horse as I did today.  Yuck!

Still, between Jag’s shedding and the fact that the bulbs in my garden are all up (some of the narcissus are 5″ high!) I’ve got a bad case of spring fever.  All I want to do is play outside, and I’ve hit that stage where I’m done wearing winter coats. No more black down, please.

Fred is feeling it, too. He’s been giving me rides that are forward and frisky, once we getimg_5770 past the initial mulishness.  The focus is very much fitness and forward, so when he bursts into a crazy trot worthy of a standardbred or takes off in a hand gallop down the long side instead of his usual sedate canter, I just let him roll.  I play him some music, and eventually, he stops pinning his ears, and starts to have fun.  He exhales and snorts, his ears flop and prick and I can feel him anticipating an upward transition.  He’s getting more responsive, and more enthusiastic.

I’m home for a while, so we’re going to ride. Fred is going to get the Couch to 5K treatment, alternating short trot sets (just a couple minutes at the outset) interspersed with walk breaks. We’ll throw in transitions within the gaits, and and some canter, but job one is to put some condition on ol’ Fred.


Stretching might turn into our super power.

I’m being careful to work in plenty of walk, and have been really pleased how with the lengthy stretches I get from Fredders at the end of our rides.  We may be walking, but every stride in this kind of connected stretch is helping put top line back on him too.  I’ll get a “before” pic of him tomorrow, for posterity.

As we walked and stretched today, my playlist (set on “shuffle all”) served up “Ride” by Twenty One Pilots.  Apropos – I’m taking my time on my ride.


I took my time after my ride, too. It was the perfect day for puttering around the barn, so I did.  My saddle, girth and bridle are detailed and ready for our lesson tomorrow, my cabinet is organized and Fred has a full canister of no-suger-added treats.  Good stuff, all around, and another warm day on tap for tomorrow. 🙂


Some words to live by, I think




Unlucky, just for a moment


Never a sight you want to see.  For starters, the shoe is hanging upside down, so the luck can run out.  Another, more obvious problem is the fact that it’s no longer attached to the horse.

God, I was grumpy today. I’ll chalk it up to sleep deprivation and an abrupt return to reality after a blissfully disconnected four-day weekend in the Florida Keys with old friends.  Driving to the barn after work, nothing was making me happy, but I was looking forward to re-starting Fred’s fitness program. I had a great playlist in mind and was looking forward to the ride.

What’s the saying?  Man plans, God laughs?  That’s a little hyperbolic, but when I saw the shoe hanging on Fred’s stall front, I thought I’d pull out my hair.

So much for the ride.  I fumed for a minute, texted the farrier, and then gave Fred a good ear rub before clipping on the lead rope and heading to the arena for a walk, taking minute first to find some some slower-paced music to walk by.

I selected Stop Time, an album by my friend Lara FilipStop Time is classified as alt-folk, and and if you had told me six months ago that a bunch of alt-folk songs would be found at the top of the “favorites” list on my phone, I would have questioned our friendship and mentally accused you of not knowing me well.

However, you would have been prescient, because since downloading Lara’s album, I play it more frequently than anything else.  It’s catchy and quirky and addictive.  The music sticks with you and there’s not a bad song in the collection.

Here’s one favorite:

And another:

Lara, I should mention, is an actress, cancer survivor and fellow equestrian.  She’s a badass, and I love her.  Give her a listen, I bet you will, too. You can find her music on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, Apple Music and pretty much anywhere else you can buy digital music.



Unfit, but nice hind leg, Fred.

It may be time for me to rename this blog, and not just because I’ve branched out from TBs. “The Mystery Lameness Chronicles” or “Venture into Saddle Fit Hell” are both recurring themes that don’t vary from horse to horse. I could also go with “Sometimes a Lady Chases You With a Whip and It’s OK. (You’ll need to keep reading for that story.)

Calculating GHP (Gross Equine Happiness)

I know I’m not alone in these travails or in the frustration they cause, because I see other bloggers wrangling with the same issues, and I have picked up more than one good idea from my coterie of equine digerati over the years.

This story is a bit more of the same, but with a twist.

Getting your horse happy, healthy, sound and outfitted with a well-fitting saddle is an exercise in scenario testing – with a lot of variables. Over the years, I’ve learned a few truths:

  • Horses can communicate but it’s on us to observe their responses, and the subtle variations they display;
  • When you start testing your scenarios, be darn sure you only change one variable at a time, otherwise you will go crazy;
  • Gaping mouths are not bitting problems, they probably stem from the back or the hocks. Or both. Or maybe you’re just really hanging on the horse’s mouth, that’s a distinct possibility.
  • Your own shitty riding is an amplifier, and a highly variable one.


It reminds me a lot of macroeconomics class, and the variables we consider when calculating Gross Domestic Product. GDP is a function of a set of variables, and how they interrelate. It’s the same with our horses.

I’ve spent the last few weeks banging my head against the problem of Fred’s discomfort, driving myself to near-distraction trying combination after combination of shim, gullet and therapeutic pads in an effort to find the combination that worked.

However, I knew – I SWEAR I KNEW – that I wasn’t on the right track. Fred was being resistant but it was different. Instead of being unwilling to go forward and frozen in his shoulders, he was somewhat willing to go forward, OK in his shoulders but fifteen kinds of wonky with his head – gaping his mouth, pinning his ears, and twisting.

While horses can’t verbalize, they can communicate, and Fred’s message was clear – he was NOT comfortable with any of the options I was presenting. Nothing and I mean nothing made any difference. Finally, I called Dr. Nicky and asked for a lameness workup – again. She went over him thoroughly, found bugger all, and even sent video from her eval. Fred looked great.

But put a rider on his back and things just went to hell. I was well and truly stumped, but had a niggling idea that the saddle wasn’t the issue, because Fred was equally uncomfortable going in the ThinLine. This was an important indicator, because previously, when the saddle has been the issue, jumping on bareback is transformative. It wasn’t this time.

I threw up my hands and decided that doing nothing would be a reasonable course of action for a few days while I traveled for work. When I did finally make it out to the barn upon my return, Fred was off on the longe line. I skipped another day.

When I started to work cleaning him up the following day, I got a surprise that almost made me faint. A massive abscess had worked its way out through one of the heel bulbs on his right front. The bulb sported a two-inch long wound, which was probably a combination of the exit point for the infection, and the splitting of his coronet band due to the shocking amount of inflammation present. That hoof bulb was the size of a golf ball and it was hot and the skin showing through the hair was angry and red.

It was revolting, but that didn’t stop me snapping a quick picture and sending it to Dr. Nicky.

“Awesome!!!” was her reply. She also noted that deep abscesses frequently evade detection, and can take weeks to resolve.

Want to see it? Fair warning before you scroll down.

img_4989The abscess resolved in about a week, and last weekend, Fred was good to go. Clearly, that was good news, but it also meant that I’d have to go once more into the breach of saddle fit.

The first ride back was in a lesson, and I was grateful for the extra set of eyes. Christy and I decided to start with the Verhan. It’s newly reflocked, and even though it’s not great for me (the knee blocks are all wrong for my long femur, and can act as fulcrums, threatening to pivot me out of the saddle, it’s great) it has worked pretty well for Fred previously.

Fred signaled his improved opinion quickly with deep, relaxing breathing, floppy ears and pleasant demeanor. With all the time off, however, and the fact that he’s no longer keeping himself fit ripping around a pasture with a bunch of loonies, his fitness has taken a dive. We decided that a “Couch to 5K” program was in order, mixing in plenty of walk breaks between trot and light canter work. Importantly, together we concluded that Fred was in fact sound and comfortable. This is an important point, because it gives me the confidence to get after some behavioral issues, some of which can look a lot like resistance related to discomfort. It’s not fair to punish legitimate complaints, and I err on the side of caution in this department.

Sometimes a lady chases you with a whip and it’s okay

Which leads me to my ride last Tuesday night, when I was sharing the arena with Alice, an upper level rider with a gorgeous horse who has been doing all of this much longer than I. Fred and I were chugging around, him on his forehand, me happy that he was just moving. However, apparently the sight of us caused Alice pain, because she finally blurted out “You’ll never get him fit if you let him go around that way,” and then proceeded to channel a German Dressur, following us around, arm raised and brandishing her whip.

She was all over my ass, no other way to put it, but five minutes of following her moment-by-moment instructions (“Leg leg WHIP BEHIND YOUR BOOT THERE GOOD BOY leg leg GET HIM FORWARD WHIP AGAIN There! Good boy give him a pat NO NO DON’T LET HIM DO THAT leg leg leg THERE GOOD”) we had great forward momentum, and when I asked him to canter, he gave me a hand gallop, and I let him roll.

None of this was anything that I’ve not been told by Christy, who has been dying to carry a longe whip during my lessons. Alice, bless her, just isn’t into asking permission.

I grudgingly admitted all of this to Christy, who as much as I love her still scares me when she gets a particular look in her eye which foretells an extended trip outside my comfort zone. Thankfully, no really vigorous riding was required, so alas, Christy will have to wait before she chases me around with a longe whip.

Fred’s feeling pretty good – out of shape, for sure, and I can’t wait for warmer weather so we can get outside. We’re on a trail system, and there’s a nice bridle path around the farm, as well as a lovely outdoor – all of which will be useful in fitting up the redhead.

Not Again. (Yes, Again.)

img_4875We’re two weeks into our sojourn at the new barn, and we’ve had some really fantastic rides – better than I have any right to expect, in fact, given how out of shape Fredders is after his assorted lamenesses.  I mean, look at him.  He looks amazing, despite the monkey on his back hauling on the right rein.

Unfortunately, the quality of our rides plummeted this week, marked by a sour attitude and resistance.

img_4873 He’s not lame – I threw him on the longe on Tuesday and was treated to a display of remarkable athleticism that lasted 45 minutes.  A horse needs to be entirely, wholly sound to pull the crap Fred did on Tuesday.

We worked through the issues last night, and ended up with some decent work, including some very decent trot/canter transitions on a 20M circle.

Tonight we had a lesson, and it was a different story. Fred was clearly uncomfortable, curling behind the bit even on a loopy rein, gaping his mouth and in general registering his unhappiness in every way he cold muster.

img_4874I hopped off, and Christy and I looked at the saddle.  I had been over his back before I tacked up, and found no soreness, but we determined that it was pinching on either side of the wither.  So I slid the ThinLine I use out from underneath it, which would free up quite a bit of space around the head of the saddle, and got back on.  Well, that was a bit too much of an adjustment – the saddle was now sinking in front, and definitely was impinging on his shoulder, especially when I asked him to bend.

“If you got on him without the saddle, that would tell you clearly if that’s what’s bothering him,” Christy ventured.

I’m not a huge fan of riding bareback. Horses are smooth and slippery.  My Thoroughbreds all had prominent withers and spines that I wanted no part of.  But Fred is kind of like a couch.  I got over myself, took off his saddle, and slithered aboard.

bareback-2To give his spine some relief, I stuck the ThinLine under my butt, and off we went.  Fred is actually super comfortable, and I stunned Christy by trotting him a bit.  He was pleasant and willing.

Christy and I agreed that my next step is to break out the gullets and shims and go to work.bareback 1.jpg  I’m going to start with some 8 mm front shims under the panels.  If that doesn’t work I’ll switch gullets, but I think shimming will do the trick.

Oh, and I’m going to buy a bareback pad.