dancing horses

dancing horses

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Steele and I have our First Lesson

I finally managed to arrange for Steel and I to have a lesson. It's not easy in this part of the province to find someone. I can trailer him to a place for a lesson but I'm not sure we're ready for that and I need to get my trailer repaired (bummer) so we're stuck.

However, Steele's breeder, Rachael also teaches and I know she comes this way (she's also the saddle fitter). I contacted her and we worked out a time. I was beyond excited.  I brought him a bit early to give him a good groom. He was quite content to stand in his stall eating hay. Irish was not too impressed (Irish seems to be back to normal, yay) but we both ignored that.

When she came I explained that I was excited and that would probably make me a bit tense. But fortunately Rachael knows me so was prepared for that. She did some minor adjustments to his saddle and then we went to work. He was as good as gold. One issue that we have is bending to the left but she was able to give me some pointers and help us work through. It's so important to have someone on the ground to let you know when you're leaning, or uneven in the contact. We worked on me keeping more consistent contact, - I was giving too much rein and it was making it uneven for him.  I also had to work on making sure that I let my seat move with him. Unless he's going too fast.  She liked how calm he was about everything. I showed her how I can move around and flail my arms about and he just twitches an ear. We worked on some pretty basic stuff. I'm sure that anyone watching would have been completely bored. But I was trying hard to absorb everything and make it stick so I could remember it later and use it.

I had a few 'aha' moments and was reassured that we were on the right track. Steele seemed to be quite pleased to have an 'admirer' in the ring. I think he was showing off a bit. But that's okay. That night when I tucked him in, he gave me a wee nudge with his nose
I was awesome, wasn't I?
yes, dear  you were. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

What a day

Yesterday was my day off. It was also a very rainy day. Which made it perfect for my plans: I decided to have a somewhat relaxing day and while pickling some beets I picked up at the market and to make jam from the raspberries we picked from our bushes.

It seemed like a good plan. After turning the horses out I had my morning coffee and got to work. I had just finished boiling the beets and my kitchen was looking a science lab when I looked out my window and saw Irish galloping around. I realized that this was not a 'happy' gallop, it was frenzied. (I can't tell you what the difference is but it's real.) I headed out to the pasture to see what was up. Steele was grazing quietly while Irish was galloping between him and a point in the fence where our trail starts. I thought that maybe he'd seen a deer and it got him all excited. I watched him gallop back and forth without stopping. I went up to him and he was completely coated in sweat, his breathing was harsh and laboured and he was wild eyed. I realized that I didn't bring a halter so I took off my apron and put it up around his neck to lead him to the barn. He followed along, visibly upset but obedient (which is why all horses should be trained to lead with a rope over their neck). Once I got him back to the barn I put on his halter and took him out to hose him off. He was still tense but not quite as hot. I decided to turn him out into the small paddock out front so I could keep my eye on him. I let him go and he began that frantic running around again. And he started kicking and biting at his belly. He rolled a few times, got up and started it all again. Shit. Colic.

I brought him back in and gave him a shot of bananmine and turned him out to walk around while I went in and called the vet. She called right back and I outlined what was going on. She said to keep on eye on him. That within 30 minutes he should seem normal with the drug. At 3 I called her back. While he was no longer galloping around or rolling he was still not right. She said she was heading right over. I went out to get Irish. I also locked Steele in the barn. Irish was very agitated. When she came she was not happy with his heart rate- it was quite high and his gums were off-colour. She gave him a light sedative and gave him a rectal exam. There was some stool that was pretty normal and she couldn't feel anything. We talked about Irish and his 'issues'. I explained that he colics about once a year but each time it's more serious. There is no pattern to it (like a certain time of year). She left me with some strong stomach medication and instructions and left. As I watched Irish he began to graze and appeared more normal. At supper I gave him very little grain. At my evening check he hadn't really eaten any hay but didn't seem too bad. This morning his hay was gone. I gave him his second oral dose and turned him out. He seemed a bit cramps when he passed manure. Fingers crossed that it's all over. For now. I wish I knew what was up with him.

Throughout all this excitement Steele was a rock. He let Irish gallop up to him and push him around without protest. He was happy to be in the barn with Irish and happy to go back out again.

And I managed to get my preserves done.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Age is just a Number

Okay, so I know that's a rather worn out and trite phrase. I know that age is also how many years you have been on the earth and as we age we simply are not a nimble as we used to be. However, I know I've been guilty of falling into the trap of expecting certain things based on a person's, dog's or horse's age.

I know that I'm not as nimble or flexible as I used to be but I feel better than I have in years and I've started this 'coach to 5 k' program to keep my heart healthy. I have far more energy than I did last year.

But enough about me.

I've been riding Steele as regularly as weather and my life allow. He's worked about 3-5 days per week and I vary the time. Sometimes it's about 60 mins all together and other times about 30. If we have a breakthrough the ride before the next ride I tend to just check that it's there and finish up. I don't want him to view the training as a grind.

Yesterday was my short work day and our friends were coming out to visit. Cynthia and I were going to ride while Ed and Andrew golfed and we would meet up later for dinner. It was a beautiful summer day. I started, as always with ground work. I do this until I know that he's tuned in then I stop and mount up. Sometimes it takes longer than others. Today was about 10 mins. So I mounted up and then we walked off on a long rein. He stayed nice and steady and I was able to steer and stop with minimal to no rein aids- just by using my seat. We were completely relaxed. Cynthia looked over and asked 'were you riding Irish on a long rein like that at 4?'. 'Nope'. Irish was much more reactive and nervous. For the first few years I could ride him on a 'longish' rein at the beginning but I had to keep a bit short just in case.

We headed into trot work. Our rhythm is getting steadier and more consistent. As we trotted across the diagonal I could feel him thinking of canter. That was the first time so I decided to let him. I put him on the circle, sat up and said 'aaaand CANter' while giving him he leg cue that I eventually want him to know. He picked it up immediately. I stay in a half seat for the canter so he feels he has room- I don't want to come hard on his back. We cantered a full circle for the first time. Up to now I've been doing short bouts of canter.  That was to the right. Going to the left is more difficult for him (Irish is opposite). So after a few canters right and a break (filled with effusive praise) I picked up the trot to the left. I asked for a canter. We spiralled in on the circle. Oops. Back out we go. Ask again. Same thing. hmm. So I refocus on making sure that the circle is good, my weight is not to the inside get a good and forward trot and ask again. Bingo. Got it. We cantered around the circle and I gave him lots of praise. I could feel he was going to break because he's not as balanced so I ask him to trot first so I can tell him he's a good boy.

I should mention that much of this work is done with very little rein contact.

We continue our work. Now Cynthia does not have to steer around us quite as much- we can manage the left-to-left rule for passing.

On the ground I've been introducing the idea of leg yielding and he finds it pretty easy. I decide to try it under saddle at the walk. I get a nice walk down the quarter line and make sure we're straight. Then every time his belly swings away from my inside leg I give a little push and open my outside leg and hand to give him room. He goes sideways. It's a baby leg yield and very shallow and exactly where I wanted it.

I ask Cynthia if she's up for a small hack. She agrees so I take Steele and the dogs down to the barn and put the dogs in the tack room. They are insulted but I don't want them bombing around and creating havoc. I take Steele back out of the barn and mount him just outside. This is the first time I've ever done that. He's confused.
"aren't we done?"
"no not yet."
"I'm sure we're done"
"just one more thing"
"okay but this is weird"
I ride him back up the hill to the ring where Cynthia and Irish are waiting. We trot the last wee bit. Irish, being the older, more experienced horse, is to be the leader so Steele can learn that going out of the ring is fun. We have our property set up so that there's an outside track all the way around the paddocks. This is useful for work with the tractor and for riding. Ed keeps it mowed too. We walk off, Irish leading. Fifteen feet later and Irish spooks (at what? we have no idea). Steele freaks, spins and begins to bolt
run away! flee for your lives! 
WHOA  I say quite strongly. He whoas so hard I'm propelled forward a bit on his neck. Thank heavens for those Andalusian necks- it gives me something to grab. Thank heavens that Royce trained that 'whoa' in. Thank heavens for my saddle which is perfect for my seat. Thank heavens for a horse that is my partner.

Cynthia tightens up the reins on Irish and off we go. Steele is a bit excited to be behind Irish and I have to slow him up quite a few times. Once I asked Cynthia to stop so we could whoa and get settled. We headed down to the bottom of the hill. Outside their paddock Ed has some railway ties piled. They are new. Irish stops and decides that he's not going by those. Uh-uh. nope. We all think about this and the options. We could push Irish by but if he spooks that's not helpful for Steele. I decide to dismount and lead Steele to the ties. He walks right up, sniffs them and crops grass totally relaxed. Irish comes by with no problem. We start to walk back. Cynthia points to a small wall around my big maple. I lead Steele up to it, he's facing away from Irish but he stands perfectly still while I mount up. and then he leads Irish back to the barn. I tell Cynthia "someone is so clever but I think it's me for deciding to purchase this horse"

So to recap. Yesterday we: cantered, hacked out, mounted, dismounted, mounted all outside the ring, survived a spook and carried on.

I love my horses.
Almost 4 years old

14 years old
Irish will always be a hotheaded red head but Steele at 14 is going to be incredible. I suspect that I will be able to put anyone on him and they'll be fine - as long as he likes them.

We finished up the day but having a wonderful dinner on the deck of restaurant overlooking the bay. I did my share of consuming a bottle of wine but it was a celebration after all.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Bits 'n Pieces

I'm sorry- I've been a bad blogger lately. Life has been very busy. The weather has been so fabulous that I've spending as much time possible outside which means I have only so much energy left when I come home.

However, here's a quick update on Steele.

Or "Mr. Fabulous" as he likes to be known.

oh yeah. I'm all that and a bag of chips
What I've come to realize over the past few years is that training a horse is like building a house. There's the key points like backing and stuff. But in that is all these little things that make it strong and finished.

This post is about those smaller bits that are still important.

1, Steele stands completely still while I mount and dismount. He waits for my signals to move no matter where in the ring or out of the ring I do this.

2. He is not bothered by me waving my arms about. I can reach forward and play with his ears, I can pat him on the rump and I can reach down and tighten his girth. I found this out by accident- I was playing around on moving my hands and realized that his girth was a bit loose and without thinking I tightened it. It was after that I thought "oh right. I probably should have prepared him for that." However, since he didn't care I guess I did.

3. I can ride him up to the gate and slide the board across and down. We walk out of the ring and around the yard, through the paddocks and stuff.

4. He can do a pretty good turn on the forehand both ways.

And, in the interest of true honesty I can be pretty dim. For a few rides Steele was tossing his head quite a bit. I thought that he was having trouble with the rein contact and that I was not being consistent enough in the contact. Easy enough with a super green horse. Then after a few days and some serious thinking the penny dropped. I realized that his bit was too small and probably pinching. I was going to buy a new one but thought I should rummage through my stuff and found this bit:

I decided to give it a try. There was instant improvement. The head tossing has stopped and the steering has markedly improved. Sometimes I need a slap upside the head. I'm not sure what type of bit this is- the sides move but it doesn't bend like a snaffle. I have no idea when or where I bought it. Perhaps it's one of those things that find their way into stuff when you board. Do you know what it's called?

Every ride is better and more consistent. I'm loving the challenge and trying to figure out this wonderful puzzle I bought.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Metaphors and Traps

Hi guys, 
Steele here. 

You know that phrase "Live like someone left the gate open" ?

Turns out that it's a metaphor not an instruction. 

As you know my servant has started putting tack on me and doing what she calls 'riding'. She seems to like it and it's makes her happy so I tolerate it.

Normally when we're in the ring she has the gate closed. Lately she's been dismounting and opening the gate, re-mounting and riding me down to the barn.

Yesterday she opened it from my back. That was new but not too scary. She then proceeded to walk off. We turned back towards the gate and I headed to it but she wanted to go on by.

Now I know that servants can be a little dense so I tried to stop and go back but she insisted on going forward. The next time back I did a lovely little leg yield towards the gate so we could go down to the barn and I could get my refreshing shower. But nope. She put her leg on me and I had to walk by.

After a few times of me trying to explain my point of view and her insisting on us going her way I realized that she not only knew that the gate was open but that she expected me to ignore that fact and keep working.

These servants are so complicated.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Gettin' Dirty

Disclaimer: This post is not actually about the horses. However, it is related, albeit in a round about way.

If you follow this blog often you will realize that I am a goal oriented person. I like to set goal, figure out a plan and then work towards it. I can be pretty stubborn determined when I set a goal.

Last year I looked at some photos of myself and realized that I couldn't avoid the realization that I was getting decidedly 'fluffier'. I could not call myself fit or trim. In fact I had definite characteristics of a marshmallow.

Awareness is the first step.

I guess.

I knew I had to take action but how? That was the big question. I have friends who had awesome results from various diets. But let me go on record as saying I hate diets. As soon as I tell myself I can't have something I get all cranky and defiant (my mother is nodding her head at this statement). Jump ahead a few weeks when I met up with a friend to take photos. He had lost a lot of weight and looked fabulous. I commented on it and asked him what he did. I waited for him to tell me about the special paleo/17 day/no gluten diet. But he didn't. Instead he pulled out his iPhone and showed me this app.

It's called 'My Fitness Pal'. As he described it, it seemed perfect for me. First of all it's techie- I love tech. Second it's based on information- I love data. Third- there's not special diet. All you do is put in what you weigh (yikes), your age, gender, lifestyle and your goal. It calculates how many calories you can have per day. However it's 'net calories' not total. This system works for me. I don't like being told I can't have a cookie. I am however willing to negotiate for a cookie (i.e., exercise). I set my goal so that my weight loss would be gradual. I wanted to fool my body into thinking that I was meant to weigh less and didn't want to rebound.

 Initially it was hard. I started exercising more. Snowshoeing burns a lot of calories. When the snow left I discovered Zumba. That's fun and it burns a lot of calories. I lost weight slowly. The problem with losing weight slowly is that no one notices at first. The other problem of using a scale is that my close started to shrink before the scale recognized that I was slimming down. That was discouraging. But I kept at it. At this point I've lost about 30 pounds. I'm back into clothes that were too tight and some of them are loose. I feel great too.

In the winter I heard about this thing called "Mud Hero". It's an obstacle course of 6 kms  for charity. It looked hard. So I decided to set that as goal to do for the spring. A friend signed up with me. This gave me impetus to keep going on the fitness track. The day we were scheduled to do mud hero there was a hurricane. So it was postponed to sunday. My friend was dealing with the damage and power outage from the hurricane so couldn't go. I thought about not going- I hadn't planned on going by myself. But then I decided I had to do this because I had set this goal and I was completing it dammit. 

So I went. I arrived early (like they said) and wandered around a bit. Registration was fast and I got bored so I decided to sneak into an earlier run. Yes. I broke the rules. Me.

the course was set on a ski hill so the first part was going straight up. I started at the very back. Some crazy people started jogging. I just set a walk pace and kept going. I began to pass people. Some people stopped to rest but I knew that would make it harder to get going on such a steep hill so I kept my pace steady and made it to the top. Phew. The path went to the left and through some trees. People passed me jogging but I decided to keep my walk. I'm glad I did because on the other side of the trees was another incline. Yikes. I tried to tell myself that I could walk away anytime i wanted and no one would care. But I realized that I wasn't kidding myself- the only way I would be leaving early was on a stretcher.

I won't bore you with all the obstacles but they were fun and working on a the farm is really good training:

  • The spider web obstacle is much like dealing with electric fences. I found it easy to navigate and people began to copy my method
  • the mud bits were gross but I deal with gross often
  • scaling a small wall is very similar to pulling yourself back into the saddle on the trail or climbing onto the back of a truck. 
  • there was a balance beam across a mud pit. I took the one that was the farthest away (and least muddy) set my sets across and kept going. 
Some highlights for me:
  • I actually ended up jogging parts of the course. I was shocked with myself. 
  • I was passed often on the paths between the courses but passed them on the obstacles. 
  • I passed a lot of younger people
  • At about the 4 km mark I was striding along feeling good and I passed this young man (about 18). I smiled at him as I passed and he did a double take. A few minutes later he passed me jogging and his whole being exuded determination that he wasn't being passed by some woman old enough to be his mother! 
  • scaling and repelling walls is fun! 
In the end I finished 37/117 for my age/gender group and in the middle of the field overall. The next day my glutes were sore but otherwise I felt pretty good. 

How does this relate to the horses? Well they have a lighter load to carry. And I find that now that I'm fitter being effective in the saddle is much easier. 

Here are some photos from the day:

I always figure that if you are dirty at the end of the day then it's been a good day. That was a good day. 

Now for my next goal.......

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Book Review: Share and Share Alike by Hannah Hooton

On June 26th I received an email from Hannah hooton. She asked if I would consider reading and reviewing her novel. I was taken aback. No one had ever asked me to do such a thing before. I love to read and I have a fairly eclectic approach to reading. I love the classics but also enjoy mysteries, humour and even a fun romance. I will read almost anything with a few exception. MY worry wasn't about reading Hannah's novel. My worry was what to do if I hated it? I couldn't say I liked a book that I didn't. And I didn't want to hurt her feelings. I've never written a book but I can imagine how vulnerable it would feel to send it out there. In the end I decided to give it a shot.  So I responded that I was honoured and she sent me the link to download.

This was her description of the book:
Share and Share Alike is the third instalment of the Aspen Valley series, which centres on a National Hunt racing yard in rural England. Although part of a series, the books can also be read as stand-alones. They are written to appeal to equine enthusiasts like myself who have outgrown pony books but not outgrown ponies. Share and Share Alike would therefore be suitable for readers aged 16+.
I've never written a book review before so I'm probably going to make a hash of it, but here goes:

My reading 'mood' varies depending on what is going on in the rest of my life. At times I love a book that makes me think and other times I want a book that's an escape. I would put Share & Share Alike in the 'escape' column. It is fast paced and engaging. The central premise was of a diverse group of people who join a racing Syndicate for a Steeplechaser called Ta'Qali. The syndicate is also being filmed for a reality TV show. It is considered an 'equestrian romance' (a new term for me).   I would probably liked a bit more  information about the racing side of things but it wasn't a deal breaker. There are some wonderful heart pounding race scenes and I actually felt like I was there.

 To enjoy a book I need to care about the people. Any book that I've stopped reading it was because the characters annoyed me too much and I didn't want to spend time with them. However, in Share & Share Alike the characters are likeable, even lovable. I enjoyed the authors development of characters, particularly the main character Tessa.

Tessa is a young woman at a cross-roads of her life. Born into the upper crust she struggles with accepting her heritage and maintaining her independence. Both she and Ta'Qali have been hurt by people they trusted and both are reluctant to build close relationships with others. I enjoyed the sublet parallels between Tessa and Ta'Qali and how they grew to trust others and understand their own strengths. The male protagonist, FD Sinclair starts off as a bit of a caricature.  However, he develops over time and becomes less 'brooding' and more interesting. Fortunately, the book is not all about the romance- there is a mystery component and a side plot between Tessa's brother and her friend that was cute. At times I laughed out loud with some scenes and actually found myself in tears at one point (no spoilers, sorry).  It's a romance so the ending is not a complete surprise but Hannah put a bit of unique twist on it so that the reader stays engaged.

If you are looking for a nice summer read that is engaging then you will enjoy this book. I don't think that you even have to be a 'horse person' to enjoy it. Hannah was correct- you can read this book and not feel that you missed anything. However, I am thinking that I would like to read the other two novels.

If you are looking for this book here are some links:

Barnes and Noble

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Happy Canada Day!

Another long day but my daughter is moved and the horses are happy.

Steele wants you all to have a happy and safe Canada Day no matter where you live.