Two-fer

As much as I hate to see the end of Summer (hate! really hate!), days like today are easy to enjoy.  The breeze ruffled the horses’ manes and sent fat clouds with white tops and dark grey bellies scudding across the sky, producing a sun-dappled landscape that was lovely.

jag and palsThough the title of the post is “Two-fer” the day started with a visit to my old boy, Jag.  He’s shed his spectacularly faded “bayskin” summer coat and is a rich dappled dark bay once again.  His winter coat is coming in, and right now he feels plushy, like a Gund teddy bear.   He’s missing an eye, his teeth are falling out and his kissing spines render him unridable but I don’t care. I love my goofy old horse!

After putting him back out to enjoy the day with Sam, Splash, Woody and Presley, I headed to my other barn to ride.  I had to knock quite a bit of mud off Derby, but he cleaned up well and we joined Christy on Liam and Natalie on Chaucer (a really fancy OTTB who moved in recently.)  For the last few days, I’ve really been working on my stamina, as I lost a step when I was away from the barn for a week plus.    I’ve also been trying to get my canter back together, so we put in a few laps of that too.

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A very dapper Derby. The bonnet was totally unnecessary, but was too cute to resist. #BarbieHorse #MyLittlePony

It was uneventful until the very end, when I dropped my stirrups for a little self-imposed torture.  Derbs did a spook-n-scoot that left me in a precarious spot.  I grabbed mane, held on and croaked out a “Whoa!”   He whoa-ed, God love him.   I stuck my feet back in the stirrups tout de suite.

After Derby and Liam went back to their paddock, it was time for round two. For the last few days, I’ve been squeezing in extra rides on Austin, now owned by Lindsay who is temporarily grounded, as she’s expecting.  I’m grateful for the extra rides, and Austin is  much different ride than Derby, giving me a thorough test of my skills.  When I rode him first on Thursday, I has a nice ride and was able to get Austin on the bit and stretching.  Today was a different story.

Austin. He's adorable.

Austin. He’s adorable.

It was getting close to dinner time, and Austin is a bit notorious for being a stinker when he’s hungry.  In the past, he’s exited the arena stage left, heading down the aisle with his rider in tow.)   We rode outside today, and I let my guard down for just a second  — and out the gate we went.  In fairly short order (and with some shouted coaching from Christy,) we turned around and went straight back into the ring and got to work.

I redoubled my attention to my inside leg and outside rein, working on an figure 8, practicing change of bend and working on my connection. Then we went back to the rail, and after a couple more passes by the gate, he quit trying.  Victory!   We then practiced patience, hanging out and watching Natalie canter Darco, Chaucer’s brother and an incredibly fancy ex-GP jumper, around the outdoor.   Austin comported himself like a gentleman and got a pile of carrot chunks sprinkled on top of his hay for a treat.  I’m going to take a lesson on him Tuesday  — after he’s fed!

A fitting end?

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To make a long and uninteresting story short, I’ve continued to be plagued by saddle issues, and finally concluded that my Albion, with it’s deeper seat and decent-sized blocks just doesn’t work for me.   I need smaller blocks and a more open seat. to accommodate my decided preference for the shorter stirrups my tight hips and often sore knees demand.

I have a Passier Relevant en route for a test ride, and have a fitter coming to the barn on Friday.  However, in the meantime, I’ve been riding with a friend’s old saddle – a brown Passier Grand Gibert.  I like it and even more importantly, Derby approves too.  Gone is the bracing and resistance, and the exhausting exhortations to MOVE FORWARD.  He’s clearly more comfortable, and I am too.

Working a stretch, something other saddles made impossible.

Working a stretch, something other saddles made impossible.

Derby moves forward more freely in the Passier, and is much more willing to stretch, which really puts  my bad (BAD!) habit of pulling back on display.  In my lesson last night, Christy zeroed in on the fact that when I pull, I also collapse my core, which sets up a host of other problems, in addition to discouraging the horse from doing what I want him to do, which is to stretch into contact.  I’ll be drilling stretch stretch stretch for the next few rides.

Anyway.  The Passier GG isn’t perfect – it’s too wide for Derbs and I’m using a Fleeceworks pads with quite a few shims in the front pockets (two Thinline shims and a Fleeceworks memory foam front shim.)  This set up is comfortable for him and balanced for me, allowing me to be more effective.

I  hope to God we’re getting close to the end of the saddle fitting odyssey.  For the time being, I’m not complaining.  Rides are finally more fun than frustrating, for both me and the Derbinator.

 

So happy to be riding outside!

So happy to be riding outside!

Yep. Saddle fit.

I am going to print out the following notes in 64 point type and glue them to the inside of my tack trunk:

  • If all of a sudden it seems that you’ve forgotten how to ride, your saddle is probably out of balance, meaning the fit is also changing.

  • And before things really start to go to Hell in a hand basket and get to the point where you are convinced that you have developed a severe and sudden onset of EA (equestrian Alzheimers’), note that things that once seemed simple automatic will become difficult.  And by things I mean steering.  This is a red flag. Pay attention to it.

  • If, out of the blue, your lower back starts hurting, your horse is going like a green donkey and you find yourself wanting to do incredibly stupid things like cross your left rein over to the withers to the vicinity of your right elbow in order to get. INTO. the. damn corner you might have a saddle fit problem.  In case you missed the point above, these are more red flags.

  • If for the very life of you it is impossible to access the inside hind or even get the horse on the bit, you might have a saddle fit problem.

  • If you ride one horse like a drunken monkey, and then ride another horse quite well on the same day, chances are pretty good you’re fighting an imbalance in the saddle.  Stop crying, it isn’t you.  (And I’m not just saying that.)

  • If you dismount and uncharacteristically want to kick your adorable horse in the shins en route to drowning yourself in a water tank because you SUCK and can’t effectively ride a bar stool much less a quality 20m circle, you might want to look to your saddle.

Vent over.

After a chat with Christy, who is also having an episode of the saddle fit fits, I put the narrowest gullet into one of my Wintecs, and promptly had a ride that restored some hope.   The second I sat in that saddle, I knew I was in business. I could feel my seat bones again!  Praise the Lord!  I was able to put the walk together in about a nanosecond, and got much better trot work too.  We did diagnose the fact that the I need to reinstall some buttons and responsiveness but tonight was a move in the right direction.

 

The culprit?

Looks like it might be saddle fit.  Stay tuned.

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Priceless? I think not.

One enucleation for Jag:   $1000 (including hauling & hospital stay)

Injections all around for Derbs (coffin joints in front, hocks in back):  $Don’tEvenKnowYet

Chiro for Derbs (Thursday): $125

Massage for Derbs (Friday):  $25 (hey, that one was easy)

Critter comfort – priceless?  Clearly not.  But worth it none the less.

 

Go on, then.

Two days, three rides, plus a bonus ride on Friday. I’m keeping the pedal to the metal, and am determined to use this long stretch of not traveling to my best advantage.

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Derby hanging out with his good buddy C. It’s hard to tell who likes who more.

On Friday, I snuck in an extra ride, but not on Derby.  Derbs took a break from me to partner C., a friend of Natalie’s, who also has a penchant for bay TBs.  She recently had surgery on a leg, and her ride on Friday was her first in forever.  It was also the first nice spring day, with temps into the 50’s, and after tooling around in the arena, they took a tour of the farm.   Looks to me like they both enjoyed themselves, if the smiles (and floppy ears) say anything at all.

My ride on Tuck wasn’t the most fantastic.  I struggled with getting him connected, and was having to constantly remind myself to give with my hands.

I planned to ride both on Saturday, but my plans went sideways when I got a call from the fellow who keeps Jag for me.  Jag has uveitis, and the eye was flaring up badly.   I called the vet, who happily was in the area, and Jag was seen within a couple hours.  It was the world’s shortest emergency vet call, however.  Dr. Tully took one look and said that it was time for the eye to come out.  Surgery is scheduled for tomorrow morning.   Fingers crossed for no complications, and a quick return to a comfortable life for my number one boy.

So on Saturday, I rode Derbs, and struggled a bit more with connection, while also working on really upping the trot tempo, with more success on the latter.  But all in all, it was a pretty “meh” ride.  I cut my losses and spent time trucking around in two point.

derbs and c

Field trip! Derby and C. took advantage of the nice spring day on Friday to stroll around the farm.

Today, however, I got my act together.  First and foremost, Derby was again behind my leg and failed to respond with any alacrity to my request to step it up.  So he got a good crack on the hiney, to which he responded by humping his back and then, perhaps thinking better of it, proceeded to step into a canter.  I let him go, urging him forward when he felt like he was flagging.  I need to tune the ‘go forward button.’

We had some better quality work after that canter, but I still wasn’t happy with my connection.  I didn’t feel like I was getting him out to the end of the reins. So I practiced stretchy trot – something I’ve not done enough of, and frankly don’t do well.  Up came his back, and he stretched nicely out and over his top line.  We did a couple laps and then switched direction.  I was pleased.  This was progress.

Once Derbs was cleaned up and enjoying a copious serving of beet pulp, I went and fetched Tuck.  Our ride today was better, as I worked to recreate the out-to-the-end-of-the-reins feeling I had when getting Derby to stretch.  Another productive ride.

It’s going to be an eventful week for all my animals.  On Tuesday, Derby’s vet is going to evaluate him and decide whether it’s time for some joint maintenance.  He’s been feeling stiff, dragging his hind toes, and watching him try to lie down to roll is painful — he lowers his front end, leaving his hind up in the air, and just doesn’t seem able to fold his hocks underneath himself – instead, he collapses awkwardly to the side.

Then, on Thursday. Derby is also getting a chiro treatment.  And on Friday, a massage.  He will feel like a new horse come Saturday!

Friday is also Cat Rodeo day.  All three of the house cats are headed to the vet for shots and a pre-dental check up, so I can schedule teeth-cleaning for all three fuzz butts. Their breath is gnarly. It is time.    Ironically, having about 28 lbs of cats vaccinated, inspected and made pristine will cost more than eye surgery for Jag, or (in all likelihood) joint injections for Derby.    But it’s all part of having pets, and I like taking good care of my critters.

 

 

 

Back to work

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We are officially back to work.  I don’t have any travel for the next month, and, well there are some schooling shows coming up …. but I digress.  We’re back to work, and Christy is approving – our work is consistently more correct, and it’s my fervent hope that we’ll see the results in the form of some more muscle on that skinny neck.

I added a lesson, so we worked with Christy four times this week – we have to keep up this momentum. After our nice ride on Monday, I got a little over-motivated and rode Tucker before my ride on Derbs, after a killer Pilates session.  Needless to say, I was almost out of gas by the time my lesson rolled around, but we had a few nice moments before I pooped out.  Then on Wednesday, it was Derby’s turn – the horses were inside due to pouring rain and wind, and after a few more strenuous rides, standing around in his stall did him no favors.  He felt blah and was really underpowered in his hind end, so we worked on some stretchy trot, and then rode the intro tests for variety.

Two point.  Ow ow ow.

Two point. Ow ow ow.

Today we were both back on form for the most part, so we worked on some canter – which at the outset is going to be focused on conditioning and really getting Derby to move out at the trot.  He still wants to duck behind my leg , which we need to fix.   We’ll be addressing

But we’re putting things together.  The pieces feel like they’re starting to come together.  I’m trying not to be too impatient, so Derby will get a day off tomorrow, and I’ll ride Tuck to keep myself going.

 

 

The Reveal

trot diagonal

I haven’t posted for a long time because frankly I haven’t had anything to post.

Between the weather and my travel schedule, I have not been riding much at all. My time in the saddle has been dreadfully inconsistent: I think, including tonight’s lesson, I’ve ridden twice or three times in the last three weeks.

One thing I have been doing one thing pretty consistently, however, is Pilates. It’s gratifying, because exercises and movements I struggled with at the beginning are becoming easier. In fact, I had a really nice moment last week when one exercise that requires balance and core stability and hip strength [all at once!] was much easier for me –  I was able to execute it without losing balance, and losing control of the equipment.   With that in my mind, I was really interested to see what effect that would have on my riding.

Unfortunately, on Saturday Derby had what I call a “bad air day.” trot left On bad hair days, he has difficulty getting his breath because he flips his palate and then has trouble (I’m surmising) getting it back in place.  These days are characterized by a complete lack of gas in the tank and extreme mouth fussiness.  He can get his tongue over the bit as he works his mouth, trying to rectify the palate problem. It can be really difficult to have a quality ride on that air days, because he doesn’t seem to really work out it.

argyle

New spring duds. Adorbs.

I am patient on these days, and we did have a few nice moments here and there of nicely connected trot, and I was happy with that. You do what you can with what you got on any given day. And we looked cute: we had a new saddle pad and our matching periwinkle polos!

Tonight was a different story. Derby so great, and we are both ready for a lesson.

I’m doing a better job of not immediately going to my hands to correct issues I perceive I’m having with Derby. Instinctively, I’m much more likely now to try to maintain “side reins” with my hands, and use my seat and leg to fix the problem I’m encountering.

Tonight we expanded on that, with Christy asking me to “lengthen” at the walk and trot.  In our current state of fitness, not too much lengthening is happening, but really, the point of her reminder is to tell me to close my legs, engage my core and ride forward.  I also need to remember to swing my hips to my hands, (not vice-versa) – that helps keep my hands steady.

Moving into the trot, things were promising from the get-go,  Derby was breathing and I was managing to put things together.  Some trouble did appear as we started to practice riding deep into the corners on the short sides, and then lengthening down the long side.  As I was approaching the corners, I was tending to collapse. Essentially, I would lose my base of support, collapse through the inside hip, and flail ineffectually with my inside leg trying to get the horse to been through the corner.

As you might suspect, that doesn’t work very well at all.

The memory device we use the corners is “pirouette seat” — obviously, we’re nowhere near during the doing pirouettes in any way, shape or form, but we use the phase as as sort of mnemonic device, as a reminder to maintain strength through my hip and leg, attaching it to my core, given the horse something to bend around. Anyway, it might sound silly but it works for me. And I actually do have a mental image of a Grand Prix rider sitting deep and leading with a hip in a perfect pirouette in my mind whenever I hear Christy’s  reminder,  In fact, now that I think about it, there’s a half off in there too, isn’t there.

So we have some video of the work tonight and I’m sharing it with you here.   It doesn’t look like much, but what it reveals is much better work on my part, especially in maintaining some connection and engaging the horse’s hind.  It certainly felt good, and when Christie had me doing some circles and diagonals, they would ride really easily. The degree of control I have is significantly greater, and I feel like I can be so much more precise and make communication of course Christie made a comment with much the same sentiment: telling me that it was clear I had access to my body parts and could control them in order to give the horse clear aids. It was an enormously gratifying lesson.

Derby on 3/17.  He's looking pretty out of shape.

Derby on 3/17. He’s looking pretty out of shape.  That’s what 4 months of woefully inconsistent work and limited turnout will do to a boy.

Before I got on, I also snapped a picture of Himself.  Where has our neck gone? Ugh.  I’m glad this winter is about over (and no, I’m not capitalizing it because I don’t want to give it any sort of respect) and we can do some consistent work!

Light at the end of the tunnel

It’s been hideously, relentlessly, impossibly cold for the last several weeks, but we’re in the final throes of this cripplingly cold weather.   Thought the thermometer reads -8 right now, we’re heading to a high in the low 20’s today, and frankly, that is going to feel GREAT after the sub-zero deep freeze in which we’ve been mired recently.  And it gets better – we’re going to actually be above freezing – as in the mid-30’s this weekend! Hopefully the arena footing – which is frozen solid right now – will thaw and we’ll *really* be able to ride.

Horsicles

Horsicles

My barn-mates and I have been doing all we can to keep the horses comfortable while they’ve been confined this week.  We’ve been doing small-group turnout in the indoor, allowing the horses to play and socialize as long as we can stand the cold.  And we’ve been feeding copious amounts of soaked beet pulp and hay cubes, and filling buckets with warm water, to help keep everyone hydrated.

That said, between the horrific weather and my holiday travel, I’ve only been able to snatch a ride here and there.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the quality of these few rides, especially on Derby.   I’m continuing to ride him on really cold days, without a quarter sheet, and we’re doing well.  There have been no giant, teleporting spooks or other cold-weather induced silliness (**touches wood**) which is probably due in part to the fact that I’m providing leadership from the saddle via improved contact and keeping him on the aids.   I’m not abdicating the ride and the decision-making to the horse.

Ready to root for the Packers

Ready to root for the Packers

I was rewarded on my last ride (eh, let’s see, five days ago) with a very round and pleasant horse.  I was able to keep Derby packaged together and connected for most of the ride.  He’s a lot harder for me to put together than Tucker is, but by paying attention to lateral work – incorporating leg yields in corners and on circles, and yielding down the long sides here and there – and changing his flexion (a little shoulder fore here, counter bend there) I was able to keep him on the aids and compliant.

I’m getting better at recognizing when he’s not responding to my leg, and am doing a better job of issuing corrections. He’s more responsive off my leg than he was a few months ago, so this is progress.

modeling our cute new polos (and other matching gear) - thanks Natalie!

modeling our cute new polos (and other matching gear) – thanks Natalie!

However, I have let him get behind my leg again, so the next thing I really need to focus upon is recognizing when he’s stalling out, and keeping him forward.  Maintaining forward is my biggest problem and this is the next thing I need to fix.

In other news, I’ve been doing work out of the saddle too.  I’ve been taking Pilates classes, using the Reformer and other equipment.  On days when I have a class, riding is difficult, because certain muscles (such as the entire assembly supporting my hips!) are very tired.  In a lesson later in the day after my first Pilates class, Christy was confused by my serious wonkiness in the saddle.  Though I didn’t feel tired in a cardio sense, we figured out that some of my key stability muscles and core were pretty tired.  I’ve changed my Pilates classes to non-riding lesson days, but I’m not letting up.  I can already feel myself getting stronger, and am looking forward to observing the effects in the saddle!

Four degrees

ImageFour degrees. 

 

Good ride.

 

‘Nuff said!