Monday, February 27, 2012

Clean Up Weekend

Last Saturday (Feb. 25th) was windy, windy, windy! Big gusts, lots of steady wind, threatening to blow anything not nailed down into the next county! Sunny but windy and cold. Luckily, Buckshot is not bothered by wind so I knew we would be able to ride. I brought him in from his pasture to the main barn for grooming. As usual, I started at his neck, curried him down his neck, down his front leg, on his side, then belly, then his back, then his haunches, then his croup, then down his hamstrings, and whoops! Crusty stuff covered his hamstrings and down his back legs! I couldn’t even curry it off of him. Poor guy, he’d had a lot of diarrhea and it had dribbled. His tail was pretty crusty also. Even though it was a cold day, I decided I would have to clean him up after our ride. I brushed and brushed at his tail, to loosen as much as possible. I used paper towels to rub off some of the “fresher” stuff. It was a big job just to give him a basic grooming. But I got it improved some, and then tacked him up.

We headed out to the arena, wind blowing into our faces, swirling around us unendingly, making loud, chaotic noises. I mounted and we started our twenty minute walking phase one work. We practiced straight lines, and circles. The arena had soft footing, with the occasional puddle. The wind didn't bother us. When we started trotting, Buckshot had a nice energy. We did some extremely nice canters as well.

Only one other rider braved the wind (the BO husband), so we were joined by him and his reining horse. After a few minutes, we went through the woods (after I had carefully listened for any cracking noises of branches in the woods, and hadn’t heard any). The woods were quiet; apparently the wind broke around the woody terrain and didn’t penetrate it. The footing was good, although in a few places the horse in front of us stepped into thick mud and slid forward a few inches. I was vigilant in watching the trail in front of us. Both horses must have enjoyed the walk through the quiet woods. When we exited the trail, into the hay field, both horses started jogging immediately. Not a frantic, worrisome jogging, but a controlled, smoothly energetic jogging. The reining horse jogs (trots) slower than Buckshot does, so I half-halted him, and he settled into a springy, light as a feather, bouncy, controlled trot. I neither sat it nor posted it. Instead I bounced it, as light as a feather! It was wonderful. The sunlight caused our shadow to show on our right side, so I watched myself bounce lightly on his back, using my legs, but bouncing with such a small height that I wasn’t hitting his back. It was magical – I have never experienced such a lovely trot by Buckshot before! Good boy! We bounced along the hay field until we hit a lake of water in one section, at which point I dropped Buckshot back into a walk until we crossed it. Then I let him trot again all the way to the reining arena.

We had a wonderful time at this arena. The footing was good, with just a few muddy sections to avoid. The wind was very slight, probably blocked by the woods. The sun was shining and clouds were running across the sky. Buckshot and I did lots of trotting – using the whole arena, which feels wonderful. We did some very good canters as well. I practiced the right canter lead, followed by careful steering, to get a big circle. Buckshot tried hard and did well, for him. After he worked for a while, I took him to the side of the arena where there is grass, and let him eat. Then back into the arena for a few more minutes of work. After that, the BOH and I walked back through the woods, returned to the barn and I dismounted. A wonderful ride.

After untacking Buckshot and giving him a few treats, I enlisted the help of my sister to clean Buckshot. I put her in charge of his head, holding the lead line, and giving treats, while I took over the back side. We heated up buckets of water with a water heater thing. I added soap, and using lots of paper towels, soaped him up, rubbing with the curry comb, and dipped his tail in a bucket of soapy water. Then, with lots more buckets of warmed water, I rinsed him and rubbed him vigorously to get him as dry as possible. I know it must have made him feel better to not have the crusty stuff pulling on his hairs, and going all the way down his legs. Although I couldn’t really get him squeaky clean (I need a hose for that, and it was too cold for a hose), I got him a lot cleaner, and hopefully, a lot more comfortable. The BO said his diarrhea may be due to the new spring grasses coming up. Anyway, he was a cleaner Buckshot when I left him on Saturday night!

On Sunday, the wind was gone, thankfully. It was a mild day, in the forties, and sunny. We took three horses to the reining trainer’s clinic. Buckshot had an off day. He wasn’t at his best. He was responsive with the trot, but when I asked for the canter, only half of the time did he respond with a canter. That isn’t like him. When we sat at the sidelines while other riders did an exercise, I noticed Buckshot’s sides heaving. I wondered if he was tired, and so let him rest longer, and toned down what we did. After he had rested, and his sides were not heaving, he would turn his muzzle around to touch my foot, which I interpret as, “Let’s do something!” so then we walked or lightly trotted a bit.

When the class was over, and I dismounted, he ate some grass. When I offered him some cookies as a treat, he took them, but not as enthusiastically as usual. After a few bites, he refused any more. That is not like him at all. So he must have been feeling a bit bad. We trailered them back to the farm. As the BOH lowered the horses windows, I saw him offer each horse a treat, and Buckshot took his. As I walked him back to his pasture, he stopped for grass nibbling, so I think he was feeling better. He rolled in his pasture- a regular, over the top rolling – and later when I went to feed them, he nickered in his usual way, and ate his dinner just fine. So I think he was feeling normal by then. But of course, I hope I didn’t overwork him at the clinic. I’ll just have to see.

So it was a good weekend, and a good time with Buckshot, even if he had an off-day. And he is much cleaner now!! Hope you had a good late winter (if we can call it that!) weekend with your horses!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Finally - Snow!

There’s not a lot to report this week, other than getting snow! The first snowfall of the year! Yesterday, we got about 3-4 inches of it. It is pretty, and I hope Buckshot liked wearing his warm blanket.

But before the snow….. was a mild Saturday, and Buckshot and I had a good time on Saturday. It was sunny and in the fifties, so a lovely winter day to ride. Buckshot and I got started on our walking warm up. He felt good. Then we trotted and he felt great. When we trotted, we both did fantastic – a nice slow controlled canter, with me feeling good control and feeling united with Buckshot. It was wonderful! When we stopped, I laughed with delight for him!! What a good boy!

We walked through the woods for variety, and the woods were lovely- strong dappled sun reached the wood floor, the trees seemed peaceful in their minimal winter garb, the air felt delightful with coolness, but not biting cold. Buckshot listened and although a few times, he had ideas about which way he wanted to go, he went forward at my direction. Halfway through the woods, I turned us around and we headed back to the arena. Our class was mostly free form, with one rider and myself doing simple exercises, while the third student tried a newer horse. Overall, it was a lovely day, and Buckshot did great. I was proud of him.

Sunday was grey and cold, and after spitting rain, trying to sleet, attempting some tiny hail stones, it finally gave way to old fashioned snow. I didn’t stay all day at the barn, opting for returning home and reading a book and making soup. I really miss not having more time with Buckshot. But I haven’t had to give up much time with him this winter, so I shouldn’t complain. But with a sweet, wonderful horse like Buckshot, I hate giving up any time with him!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Weekend Reining Excitement!

Buckshot and I had a very exciting Sunday. It was very cold here in Virginia, but at least it was sunny and no rain or snow fell from the skies! We went to the reining trainer’s farm for a clinic and had a great time! There was a very small group of horses and riders – just five, plus the trainer. And the footing in his arena was perfect- soft and sandy. After getting mounted on Buckshot, Buckshot started out with a purposeful walk as we warmed up. He seemed very happy to be there. We walked and did some small circles and after our twenty minutes of warm up walking, we trotted. He trotted with energy and enthusiasm. Good boy!

For the clinic, the trainer detailed a specific reining pattern that we would each perform. For those who planned to compete, he would be able to see their weaknesses and call out the reasons for various penalties. As a horse and rider performed the pattern, Buckshot and I (and the other horses) stood at the side and watched. I focused on memorizing the pattern, and kept going over it in my mind. I love to do patterns, as we do in our Saturday classes, and reining patterns are even more wonderfully challenging because they are much longer, and we have a much larger arena to use, so there is more space to ride the pattern. I love it and Buckshot loves it.

But I had learned an epiphany several weeks ago when the trainer said, You lose 50% of your training the minute you step in the show pen. He means that nerves and jitters cause everyone to forget things, perhaps even whole segments of the pattern. On Sunday, I remembered that and remembered that I had promised myself to really focus with a vengeance on the pattern details, so that I wouldn’t just let my brain go to mush while waiting, and find that I lost half of my training when my turn came to ride. So, I focused and memorized. After a few minutes I realized I was getting confused because we watchers were facing the rider doing the pattern, so their left lead was moving out to our right. And vice versa. So I stopped watching and focusing, instead I focused on the version of it seen in my head.

Rider and after rider performed the pattern, nearly flawlessly, I thought. Then it was our turn. Buckshot and I walked to the center point, faced the trainer and riders, and began. First a left lead canter from a walk, which we can do just fine. Then canter a large circle, coming around to a specific area at the center of the arena, and back around to the left for another large circle. Before hitting the center point, I looked for the trainer (he was standing at exactly the center line)to steer to the exact center line. Then a smaller circle to the left, then back to the center and stop. I yelled, “Break! Anddd whoa!” and we stopped.

Next were two small circles to the left. We don’t do actual spins, so the trainer allows us to do just a few small circles. We did them fine. Then get a right lead canter from the walk. I exaggerated the aids, raising my right (inside) rein high and tapping with my left leg, and we got the correct canter I think. I steered as best as I could, and came around again to hit the exact center line. And again, around to the right, where Buckshot changed leads on me, so I changed the aids to get the right lead again, and even though we weren’t making nice big circles, I tried to hit the center line and then start him on a small right lead circle. At that point we were trotting, but we came around to the correct place on the center line, and I said “Whoa!”

We then did two small circles to the right, our version of spins. Then stopped.

Next was a big figure eight. We started with a left lead canter from the walk, which we got easily, and we went around a nice big canter circle to the left. Again, we found the center line, and somehow I cued for the right lead and we were off (I don’t really know if we got the correct lead, I was just focused on steering, but the trainer didn’t yell anything so I guess we got it)!

We hit the center line again, broke to a trot and I cued for the left. We got it, and a few strides later, we took an actual left turn, crossed the arena, and another left turn to head down the long side of the arena, off the rail about ten feet. After going halfway down, I yelled “Break aaaaand Whoa!” to give Buckshot a cue to bring him to a stop. We don’t do sliding stops like real reiners do, we just do regular stops. It takes Buckshot several strides to come to a stop from his powerful canter so I try to give him as much advance warning as possible by saying both “break! aaand whoa!” He came to a stop on his tippy toes.

We then did a roll-back and turn around, going immediately into a canter, and canter to the end of the arena, across, and back down the other side, followed by another “Break, anddddd whoa.” Then another rollback and right into the canter, back down, across, and back down the long side again. By this time, we were both dead tired, but I thought “dig deep!” for both Buckshot and I, and we did. He cantered down the last side with full energy. Another stop, and the last maneuver was backing up for a few strides. This is the last thing, I said to him, as we wearily, but successfully backed up.

And we were done.

Wow! We were both spent. Buckshot’s head drooped as we walked back to the crowd, and the trainer whooped out praise to us! And the crowd clapped for us!! I was so, so touched!! It was the best ride and best full reining pattern Buckshot and I had ever done, I knew that. I was enormously proud of him! And I was so proud of both of us.

The fact that the trainer gave us so many compliments was just wonderful. It was a blue ribbon day! We were tired, but filled with the warm glow of having seen a lot of our practice come together, and of both of us digging deep to keep going full out when the pattern turned exhausting. And to get such compliments after it – from mostly riders who have professional reining horses – was just icing on the cake. What a day!! What a ride!! What a wonderful horse Buckshot is!!

No matter what you did with your horse, I hope it was a “blue ribbon ride” also!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Weekend Rides

This weekend, winter weather returned and it was cool, cloudy and damp. But I had good days with Buckshot despite the weather. And, most importantly, my foot didn’t hurt!! More on that in a moment. Saturday was cool and cloudy, threatening to rain. But we got our rides in before the skies opened up. The arenas were newly groomed and fluffy with dense, but soft sand/dirt. Buckshot was in a good mood and we had a great ride.

I started him on an exercise to shorten and lengthen our strides which I read about on a website for Equine Biomechanics. To do the exercise, you pick two points in an arena and walk from A to B, counting normal walking strides. I counted one stride each time my right leg moved down. From A to B, we had 17 strides. To cue Buckshot that I wanted a shorter stride, I made up the following cue: I say “short” and tap him on his withers one time. “Short” and one tap. “Short” and one tap. I then shuffled my feet on his side, in quick little movements, just for a moment. Then we walked from A to B, and he did 18 strides (which meant he had used a shorter stride)! Good boy! We did that several times and he even achieved a 19 stride walk.

To cue him for a longer stride, I say “long” and tap him two times on his withers. “Long” and two taps. “Long” and two taps. Then I stretched out my legs long and rubbed them momentarily on his sides. And we began the walking. We achieved only a reduction of one stride, to 16 strides. But that was progress. We did this three times.

The reason for the counting is that you can determine the progress without someone having to watch you from the ground. That is very practical. You might ask why I made up new cues, and how effective can tapping and a word actually be. I didn’t want to just use rein cues – shortening or lengthening my reins- because we do so much else with reins. I didn’t want to confuse him. I think that horses are very smart and are possibly capable of a much larger vocabulary than we think, and possibly, of a much larger cue vocabulary than we think. So I wanted to try a word and an unusual touch for this. I’m hoping that when we get to shortening and lengthening at the trot and canter, I can use the word alone, without any tapping, and he will understand what I am asking for. So, for now, the tapping is serving as a reinforcement, almost making the cue more exaggerated, until he learns it. I’ll keep you posted on my never-been-tried-before cues! LOL!

We had a great ride on Saturday, and with wonderful footing, we practiced a lot of trotting and cantering. Buckshot did very well, even some good cantering patterns in the smaller arena. I am amazed at how challenging a seemingly simple figure-8 pattern is, with trot at certain sections, and canter at other sections. It is a real study in my focus and being about to steer and cue him with precision. He did great at the pattern. I look forward to practicing it more.

On Sunday, the rains had turned the arenas into mud pits, so we rode on the trail and around the perimeter of the large hay field. Although the day was very cloudy and gloomy, riding Buckshot lit everything up for me! He stayed calm and responsive as we explored areas we had never ridden in before. We were with the BO and BOH and their horses.

The cooler temperatures seemed to give the horses an extra helping of energy. The few times and places that we could trot, Buckshot took off like a rocket. On one section of grass, with us bringing up the rear, as we trotted, we were going much faster than the horses in front of us. I thought I heard Buckshot think: Those horses are trotting? Going that slow? Let me show them what trotting really looks like!! But, alas, there wasn’t room or footing to really let him run like he wanted to, so I calmly slowed him down. LOL! (And this from a horse who is twenty-five or so years old!!)

After our wonderful ride, I decided to clean his rear end of the cruddy, dried, yucky stuff stuck to him. I don’t yet have the process for getting the cleaning gear set up, so I improvised. I got a bucket of water heating up (I wanted warm water for the job), and as it heated, I walked him over to some grass to graze. After a few minutes, I walked him back to the wash stall, tied him up, checked the water, then untied him and took him back to the grass. We did this a couple of times as the water heated up.

When it was ready, I tied him at the wash stall, put some grain in a bucket for him to eat, and washed him. He apparently got impatient with all the time this took, and pawed at the bucket, and when I turned around from putting something on the ground, his foot was caught in the bucket! It was between the plastic bucket and the metal holder and he couldn’t get it out. I went over and immediately, without panicking, pulled his foot this way and that and finally got it out of the bucket. Phew! Problem averted. I’m glad he didn’t panic about it. But what was he thinking!!?!! I’m sure we all have said that about our horses at some time, right? LOL!

Now, onto the most wonderful part of the weekend – my foot didn’t hurt!! I am so glad to report that I did the following things and the result was: no pain in my ball of foot while riding (or anytime during the weekend). I bought and have used three things from The Walking Company, a specialty comfort shoe store (they have stores and a website and they do ship in the US and to Canada): two pairs of orthotics called The Walking Company Premium Customizing Orthotics TWC1205 for my size 8. They are about $70 per pair (I know, it’s pricey, but they are wonderful) and they have special metatarsal support.

I also bought a pair of Dansko Professional XP shoes. The new XP model has a removable/exchangable footbed and the clerk installed a set of Dansko metastarsal support footbeds in the shoes. I wear the Danskos to work and they feel great.

Here is what I have done with the orthotics. I put one set in a pair of work shoes that lace up – it’s a pair of Munro shoe booties that lace up the front. The special orthotics won’t fit in just any shoe, since they take up some room (even when I remove the shoe’s original footbed), but the orthotics will fit in these lace up shoes that I then lace up looser than normal.

I put the second set of orthotics in my Ariat horse boots, which are lace up as well. I removed the original Ariat footbed. I didn’t have to loosen the laces on my boots; there was plenty of room in them for the new orthotic and my foot. While riding, with my foot in the stirrup, the orthotic gave such support that I didn’t feel any discomfort, nor any pain at all. I credit my results with also wearing the new Dansko shoes and the other orthotic during the week at work, as both steps protect my foot from the condition I have (metatarsalgia).

I highly recommend these orthotics and these particular Dansko shoes with the orthotic footbed inserted.

Lastly, I still wear a little callous cushion on the bottom of my foot. It is the type shaped like a donut. I hope it is helpful to report all of this.

I hope you had a great weekend with your horses!