Monday, June 29, 2009

Saturday's Ride

It's already Tuesday and I meant to get to this sooner but time escapes me. I hate weekends. Either I can’t manage my time very well or there is just too darn much to do to try to cram into two days. But let me start over. I love weekends that are like this past weekend. Saturday was a splendid day for JB and I.

My weekend started out with an early Saturday morning dressage lesson with my instructor, Nisca. Once a month , she travels to this area and once a month , I meet her for an hour session. The lessons were being held at Herron Park, the same place the Blacktail Mountain Classic endurance ride was last weekend. I mentioned in an earlier post that Herron Park used to be the site of the local eventing club and hosted many 3 day events. Therefore there are two dressage arena’s with decent footing, a cross country course and access to miles of trails. I love having lessons at Herron Park because after the lesson is over , I can take off and go do a few miles of trails to get in some great trail and condition time. Or take a few small jumps. The opportunities are endless!
Hauling over there meant that I had to get up extra early to make sure JB had a full belly before his day of work. The lesson was scheduled for 9:00 a.m but I like to get there about a half hour to an hour early so I have time to warm up before hand. I knew after the lesson, we would take advantage of the trails.
Ofcourse, we werer running later than I wanted and by the time we arrived, , I was feeling a bit rushed. I wrestled on JB’s easy boots , mounted up and headed down to the where the arena was , on the other side of the park. As we made our way , a dog caught sight of us in the distance (the park is frequently used by hikers, bikers and dogwalkers as well) and was now running towards us. Visions of a dog/horse collision ran through my mind and thoughts of the recent situation Tamara of In the Night Farms began to make my heart jump a bit. The owner, far off in the distance was calling the dog back but it was of no use. The dog was far more interested in this large animal coming it’s way. The dog appeared to be a lab cross of some kind and seemed to just be coming to say hi. I continued to stay our course and the dog kept coming. JB and the dog were now locked in on eachother. JB isn’t afraid of dogs but he is not particularly fond of them either. His stallion instincts tend to kick in a bit. He will attack a dog given the right opportunity , even his own dogs. The dog slowed as it approached and JB pinned his ears and swished his tail. The dog made a wide circle around us a few times to try to figure things out. I tried to keep JB on our slated path , towards the arena. The dog continued to stay near, now dashing back and forth in front of us, behind us and around us like a little yellow bullet. JB was , if anything, as irritated as I was at this distraction and ofcourse the dog was now his main focus. I could still hear the owner yelling for the dog and the dog continued to ignore his attempts to retrieve her.

If I was nice, I wouldn’t have ridden over to the owner , delivered the dog, politely informed the dog owner of the risks he creates by allowing his dog to run after livestock, and then go about my way.

I was not feeling nice at the moment.
I was feeling down right irritable.

So instead ; I kept riding right past the owner as the dog followed me....

Ok, I admit, it was a bit defiant.

But , I gave the owner every opportunity to catch his dog and he didn’t. The owner attempted to grab the dog once , yelling at him to come back but the dog had the " ignore owner" trick down to a science.
JB, myself and our new friend now made our way to the arena. Right about then, I thought “ I bet this dog, would follow us if I picked up a nice trot and headed up the trails". Maybe it would teach the dog owner a good lesson, watching helplessly as his dog disappeared into the woods with a stranger. As it was, the owner didn’t seem to be too concerned as he stood at the top of the parking lot and never bothered to actually come retrieve his animal.
I had just about decided to go ahead with my plan when the dog and, moreso the owner, was saved by the bell.
Right about then Nisca arrived and shouted out to me

“ Hello, I see we are tense today!”

“Yep, dog kind of set things in motion for us today” I replied.

Nisca could see that I was struggling to get JB’s mind on the task at hand. Ofcourse, who couldn't see that. He was more concerned about which direction that darn dog was going next. We moved around with his head up high , tense back , kinda like a camel. Needless to say, she caught us in less than a pretty moment! Thankfully, the dog finally hightailed it back to the owner , seemingly satisfied and apparently growing bored with us .

Ofcourse, the remnants the dog left behind would sabotage the first half of my riding lesson. I spent the first 15 minutes of the lesson getting JB to refocus on anything but “where is that dog”.
Once we got back to work mode, Nisca pointed out that she noticed that as JB went around the arena tense, hollowed back, so did I. "Really??? I am surprised you noticed" I said and laughed.

OK- I give..... it was time for a refresher course on my tendency to hollow my lower back in times when JB is already tense.

Have you ever tried breathing into your lower back? Unless your familiar and good at yoga, you might find it as difficult as it sounds. Needless to say, Nisca stood on a step stool next to me while I was in the saddle on JB and we worked on correct breathing.

Boring you say??

Just try it and you might find it one of the most frustrating things you have attempted in a while. The concept sounds simple enought but apparently the tensions of life teach us to only breathe using the tup third of our lungs.

Your probably saying, OK, so what does breathing have to do with tensing my lower back , right?

Wait for it....

When I don’t breathe correctly, I don’t soften my seat correctly. When I don't soften me seat and lower back correctly, I hinder the space he can lift his back into. In order for my horse to soften and lift his back , he has to have a place to lift into. Tensing and hollowing my back get in his way.

This concept isn't anything knew for me but doing it consistently tends to elude me.

So , how do I fix it?

Here is the sequence of events that Nisca took me through to get on the right path...

1. First, position yourself to allow the correct breathing. This means I have to tilt the pelvis back the slightest bit, kind of like tucking your tail bone underneath you a bit so you are on the flat part of your sit bones as opposed to the points of them. This flattens my lower back , gets rid of the hollowness, and engages my abdominals correctly.

2.Breathe into my lower back, using all of my lung capacity instead of just the top half. This fills the lower back with each inhale. This is the correct breathing that naturally occurs when we sleep. Life and stress teaches us how not to breathe apparently. ( the way I see, I should have stopped breathing completely years ago!)

3. Open my chest across my clavicle and bring my shoulders down and back so that the bottom tips of the scapula come to a point, almost like the bottom of a heart shape.

****Warning, don’t just pull shoulders back and down because this will cause your lower back to hollow again. Focus instead on moving the bottom points of the scapulas toward one another.

Sound easy?? Feel free to give it a try and maintain it while you are riding your horse. For me, I have spent the better part of my adult life at a desk on a computer and have developed some bad posture habits. Opening up the clavicle and maintaining it can be very difficult for me.

So for an hour , JB and I walked around and worked on this. We only trotted for a little bit but mostly worked at a walk. What I found was that by the time I ran through my mental check list of …
keep pelvis tilted under and back with abdominal correctly engaged
don’t round shoulders
keep elbows resting quietly at sides
look up, etc, etc ,

I had stopped breathing correctly. Ok- start again at the top of the list… and the process would begin again. Eventually with enough correct practice this should come without a second thought. Atleast that is what I am hoping for !

Once the lesson was done, we decided to head up the trail for a few miles. Ofcourse, the first 2 miles is all up hill . JB, just coming off 12 days of little to no work we took it slow and only trotted on the few flat spots we could find. We rode for about an hour and then turned around, as much as I didn't want to , I could tell that if I went any further, it may have been just a little too much. Round trip it was approx 7 miles.

Back at the park , there is also a cross country course set up year round and luck would have it that this weekend, there was also a Trail Challenge competition scheduled for Sunday. So, there were obstacles set up for it, including a freshly filled water jump. YEE HAA!!

I couldn’t resist the opportunity to cross water and work on a few small jumps with JB. Ofcourse, JB thought the water jump was just a really huge water tank and took a big drink , which was great. The jump has both a jump in/jump out approach of a walk in walk/out approach. We walked through it about 3 times. Then I attempted to canter him through but he put on the brakes and walked gingerly through. He finally caught on to the game and we made a few nice trot throughs without breaking gate. The cool water splashing him as he trotted through kind of weirded him out a bit! He is not a big fan of water but only because I haven’t had much opportunity to expose him to it. Eventually JB got to where he okay with water splashing, no thanks to Tom and Cassidy ,w ho kept galloping through and soaking us !! Laughing as he went by. JB finally figured out he would get less wet if he kept going. After a bit we even got to where he could trot in , trot across the width of the jump (about 12 feet) and then jump up and out of it, about a 2 foot jump out height. We jumped over a few of the lower level jumps like logs and few regular cross rails with regular jump standards. I had a blast and it made me miss my eventing days back when I was a pony clubber. JB seemed to really enjoy the jumping as well. He appears to be cautious jumper and picks his feet up well over the fence.
Saturday was a great day spent on the back of my horse. One of the better days I have had in some time. We did a little bit of everything and JB was a real trooper with each task I asked of him. This little horse continues to impress me with his willingness to try whatever I ask of him and give it his all to the best of his ability. If he never wows the crowd with speed on the endurance trail, I suspect he will make up for it in versatility.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Good Timing : Sharing My Thoughts on Nutrition and Excercise

Tamara over at In the Night Farm has been doing a thought provoking series on endurance rider fitness and nutrition. It’s been fun to read her posts and the responses as well. Her decision to post on this couldn’t have had better timing for me. It’s only been in the last couple of years I had to start reevaluating my own exercise and diet routine. If you havent’ read her recent series, I suggest you do, go there now! She is an excellent writer and always does her research before her fingers hit the keyboard, which I really respect.

I realized that on one of her posts, I commented about how it would be interesting to hear what other folks did for workouts/diets, etc to stay healthy and in shape but then , I never shared my own story. (Tamara, I thought about putting this all in one of your comments but then it just got too lengthy so I hope you don't mind!)

I’ll begin by saying I am not blessed with great athletic abilities or body type for that matter. I have fought it all my life. I am genetically predisposed with slow metabolism. That fact alone has always been my #1 motivator. Pure unequivocal fear.

Most of the family members that share the same genetic pool that I happen to take after, are 250 lbs plus. Damn Italian blood.. Years ago, I promised myself I would never allow myself to get to that point. I haven't broken that promise but it would be really easy to. To add , my parents put a lot of focus on food growing up. Just like so many other people out there, I was taught to finish everything on my plate… Portion control was lost on me from the start.

Given my predisposition, I knew I would always have to stay active in some fashion. As a result, working out regularly since I was in high school allowed me to pretty much eat what I wanted and not worry too much. That had served me well, up until I hit the ripe age of 30. Then, the whole thing started to turn upside down on me. Suddenly I found that my workout routine of 20 minutes on the Eliptical a couple times a week and few weights (light) weren’t working anymore. I found myself packin it on. I suddenly couldn’t cheat like I used to with diet and exercise routine I was keeping.

Finding the motivation to workout and staying active have never been a problem for me. I love the way I feel when I am done working out. (getting there some days is hard but always worth it in the end) For me, it’s the food/diet thing. Calories in versus calories burned was now becoming a huge factor as my metabolism slows with every passing year . It's really a fact of life but can be controlled. Clearly, I had to rethink the type of foods I was choosing and become more disciplined about my eating habits. I have also had to turn up the volume with my workouts. I’ll admit, It’s been a slow process. I have good days and I have bad days. I have had my share of setbacks too ; like a foot injury, building a house, and other life events have thrown me off course in the past few years. On the other hand, turning 30 also brought me some good things as well, like wisdom. I figured out that I am stress eater and ofcourse, that is my downfall. Sweets are what I reach for in times of stress. Over the last couple of years, I have slowly figured out the mind games I need to play with myself to control those urges. Easy? No. Necessary… yes. So when the office, which is a very “food focused” environment, is celebrating a coworkers birthday with cake and other treats, I can now say no much easier and take great pleasure in watching everyone else eat it, knowing I just saved myself a lot of guilt and grief later on.
That said, with the diet changes that I have needed to make (and still working on ) the hardest part has been meal planning. I have a busy schedule and it’s so easy to grab for unhealthy meals. Incorporating the right mix of lean protein, whole grains and more vegetables into my daily meals can be a challenge. At the same time, trying to keep a husband, who is a meat and potatoes kind of guy fed also complicates matters more for me. Serving him brown rice with grilled chicken and steamed broccoli doesn’t quite do it for his gazelle like metabolism. He could eat bratwurst and beer everynight and not gain an ounce. (maybe a clogged artery or two).
So… I have to make sure meals are satisfying for him but don’t create a train wreck for me.

The answer?

Sometimes I have to cook two different meals. Sometimes, we just compromise. If he wants pasta with meat sauce , I now cook with either brown rice pasta or whole grain pasta and have him hold out part of it from the red sauce and hamburger for me. He eats his pasta with meat sauce and a green salad and I top my pasta with fresh basil, sautéed garlic in olive oil and fresh or sundried tomatoes instead, with a fresh green salad. Problem solved. ( I don't even buy or make gralic bread anymore because that is a temptation I may not have the strenght to resist!)

As far as the workouts, I am at the gym on average 3-4 times a week. I engage in 30-45 minutes of cardio , the time usually split between two machines, the elliptical, the treadmill and/or the bike. I try to stay at a high intensity. When I am on the treadmill, I usually jog for most of it or walk at an incline. Since my foot injury, running has become difficult so my dreams of being a runner may not ever come to fruition. I am not a fast runner but can manage short bursts of speed for interval training and I find that works well for me. Once my cardio is complete I have about a 20 minute strength training routine.

A couple of years ago, I worked with a personal trainer to make sure I was doing all the right things. She helped me figure out what is the best routine for me with weights especially. Turns out, while my genetics predisposes me to struggle with weight, it also predisposes a high level of strength. I can leg press 210 lbs for 3 sets of 15 without breaking a sweat. That also means, unfortunately , that I will never be one of those girls that can get away with 2 sets of 10 bicep curls at 20 lbs. Just doesn’t do it for me. I have to work a lot harder…DARN!!

I have known a lot of people that start a workout routine and do very well, make lots of gains in strength and condition but then they lose motivation and all the hard work was wasted when they return to their old ways. We all have our days when it would be easier to just go home and take a nap. So, how do I stay motivated not to slip into that roller coaster pattern? There are no easy answers but there are simple answers.....

I mentioned earlier that my motivator is the fear of ending up like so many of my family members. There are so many health risks associated with being that heavy and I have lost a few loved ones as a result. Fact is, I don't want to die from a cardiac infarction or stroke. I don't want to develop diabetes. The simple answer is health for me. It's the right thing to do to take care of this one body I was given. Additionally, I have another motivator that nearer and dearer to my heart… literally..

A few years ago, my doctor found that I have a mitral valve prolapse. It scared me at first with all the cardiac family history but with a little research, I realized it’s quite common in people. A prolapse can be mild to severe. The echo revealed that mine is more on the mild to medium side of the scale. It doesn’t cause me too much grief but I was advised that it can worsen with age. It’s not all that uncommon for people with MVP to need a valve replacement at some point. I want to keep in top cardio condition to avoid that. So, I may not have the toned body I want yet, but you can bet that I keep in top cardio health. My resting heart rate is 53-55 beats per minute and that makes me smile.

So, what motivates you to stay on course? What are some of your pearls of wisdom to planning healthy meals with a busy schedule ? I don’t know about all of you, but I can’t wait to hear what a weekly meal plan looks like for Tamara and maybe she can offer some of her time management secrets.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Back to riding, sort of...

This week I was finally able to start riding again after a bit of a hiatus due to a few glitches in the schedule. Weather played a small part for a few of those days when we had thunderstorms but the hiatus from riding was due in part to JB having been on 10 days post surgery rest from his castration. With April, I have been limited to groundwork because a saddle simply hasn’t fit the poor girl. This week, JB has returned to work. He has healed well and the swelling is beginning to diminish. It has been nice to be back to riding him this week. As for April, well, what can I say , the poor girl was about to founder if she even looked at another blade of grass just a few weeks ago. Today, she is approx 65 lbs lighter and can no longer pack a gallon of water down the crease of her back . PROGRESS!!

but we still have a long way to go. ….

With the weight loss she has had so far, she has lost a majority of the fat pockets along her spine and around her shoulders but her neck is still cresty. We have been dry lotting her and limiting her to a small portion of grass hay twice a day. Enough to keep her intestines healthy and moving but not so much that she is gorging herself. For the first few days after she arrived turned her up her nose at the hay , because she had learned with the previous owner that if she held out long enough, he would feel sorry for her and turn her back out on pasture. Fortunate for her,(although she’s not convinced) I might just be a little more stubborn than her.

She is now at the point now that she could benefit from a little more exercise. Last night, I put my very wide western saddle on her that I used to use for a 16.3 hand bulky Thoroughbred. It wasn’t the most ideal fit, but fit well enough so that she was fairly comfortable while being worked for an hour session of walking and trotting.

We began on the ground , like I usually do with all horses before riding, with some lateral lungeing. Lateral lungeing is one of my key pre flight checks I use for every horse, prior to mounting. I find that it is more useful than simply lungeing a horse because it helps to engage their mind, and teach them a level of willingness to follow your guidance. It introduces the idea of following a direct rein. The goal of this exercise is to prepare the horse to willingly move around a circle with a bend, stop, change directions and move through these paces quietly and engaged. It is done in a halter with a 12’ or longer rope. I have found lateral lungeing to be a foundation to help develop softness and lateral flexion from head to tail. It teaches the disengagement of the hind end, which will come handy when /if you ever have a run away on your hands. I will try to explain the steps below but if you have attended or read up on any natural horsemanship trainer, most of them teach it. I apologize if it appears that I am reinventing the wheel. That is not my intention, just to explain how I do it and what I have found to work best for me.

I begin by asking April to move around me at a walk, quietly and relaxed with a bend from nose to tail. Bending for April is relative. She is limited in her flexibility at this point so we define success with a broad range As she worked around me to the right , counter clockwise, I walk in a smaller circle with her, my body quiet and relaxed. I am turned into her so I am watching the shoulder and neck area as I walk along. The lead rope should have slack in it ideally but if this is new the horse , it may take some time. As the horse bends and steps under and through with the inside leg and ‘gets” on a circle, the slack in the rope will come. An important thing to point out with this is how I am holding the rope. As she moves around me clockwise or to the right, I am holding the rope about halfway down the line with my right hand and the left hand has the tail of the rope. You’ll see why shortly. As she moves around me,I am using my right hand to direct her around me, to ask her to follow the rein. When you get to where the horse is moving around you quietly, the next thing to ask is for the stop and disengagement of the hind end in order to change direction. . In order to get April to stop, I reach forward with my left hand, now taking the rope where my right hand was previously (so your switching hands)and put a little squeeze or pressure on the rope in the direction of her right hip. She should stop and disengage her hind quarters to the right or to the outside of the circle you just had her on. My right hand is now at the end of the rope where my left hand previously was. I will be essentially turning April into me and the center of the circle I just had her working on.

As she turns and disengages her hind end, I make sure not to BACK UP TO GET OUT OF HER WAY! This is an easy mistake to make. It will feel like horse and human are crowding eachother and that’s okay. If she is too close in to me, and there doesn’t seem to be room for her to turn, she is going to have to rock back onto her haunches, lighten up the front end in order to reach out to the right with her right foot and come on through and change direction. This is a good thing because it will just help to teach her to engage her hind end that much more. I guarantee you, this will happen when you are first learning or teaching this to a new horse.
As I suspected, April didn’t know what to do because she was too close in to me. So, she did what any beginner will often do and kind of got stuck half way through the turn, not really understanding what I wanted from her. She is now at a stop looking at me and swishing her tail. She is partially facing me. Her head is pointing in the direction of my right shoulder and her hips are at an angle to me and outside of the circle she was working on.

What I want her to do is to step to her left with her hind end , this is the disengaging part, and then step to the right with her front right foot , and then walk out around me to the left, which is the change of direction part. To help her understand what I am after, (remember I now have the lead rope in my left hand as the direct rein) I ask with the left hand on the lead rope, using a gently bump bump out to the direction of the left. So my left arms is extended out and asking to the left. As I am doing that, instead of backing up out of her way to give her room to turn, I walk into her left shoulder while I swing the tail end of the rope with my right hand, in the direction of her shoulder. This is the pressure to move away from. April tried backing up because she didn’t understand that she was to follow the left lead (this is going to help once I am in the saddle with following the rein). That’s fine, I just stayed with her ( we ended up at the other end of the arena the first time I tried this with her) and I keep presenting and walking into that left shoulder. Eventually she figures it out that she has to rock back or even step back once and then rock back to give herself enough room to be able to then step through and go left. When she finally does, I praise her and let her relax . Now April is moving around me in a circle to the left in a walk.
I continue this change of direction repeatedly and work to keep it slow and calm , breaking it down step by step if needed. It’s important that I don’t rush April through this exercise as it will just build a brace in her and that is the oppositive of what I am after. Over time, as April understands this exercise, and can smoothly stop and change direction I will focus more on the bend. As she works around a circle, I will use the end of the rope or sometimes I prefer a dressage whip to touch her hip, asking her to move away from me while applying a little pressure on the lead rope. Often times, I will gently touch the horse as a cue at the rib cage with the dressage whip. When the horse offers a bend by flexing at the jaw and through the rib cage, I cease the cue.
Eventually ,when she gets this down better, I will add a longer lead rope so that I can add trotting in and even a canter.
Obviously, pictures of each step would probably help to better visualize this process but there are probably oodles of websites you could find it on.

Well this post got more lengthy than I had hoped so I didn’t get a chance to move onto how our actually riding session went. I will save that for another day I guess. I will say this. She is very very very very green!!! And for a rather over weight mare, she can be more flexible than one might imagine.!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Blacktail Mountain Classic

I rolled into ride camp long before the chickens were awake Saturday morning to volunteer with the Blacktail Mountain Classic endurance ride. It was cold enough that I had dressed in 3 layers and was clutching a mug of steaming hot coffee. The fog that had blanketed the valley was now lifting and the temperature was dropping as the sun was coming up. The weather predictions were to be 86 degrees today, but it was cold early on and there was no telling what the weather could do. It had rained heavily all day Friday. I wasn't taking any chances and was prepared for a day of standing at the 3500 foot elevation with tempermental weather.

This ride wasthe first AERC sanctioned ride that has been held in this neck of the woods for quite some time. There were approximately 63 riders total that showed up. We were thrilled with the turn out. There were 32 of them scheduled to ride in today's 50

When I drove up at 6:00 a.m., horses and riders were already hustling about, a few last minute vet checks were completing and it was almost time for the 50 mile riders to head out.
The clock struck 7:00 a.m and it was time. The ride manager and all of us volunteers watched them head out at 7:00 a.m and as they left camp, everyone stayed mounted and safe.

As soon as they were out of sight, it was showtime for me and the rest of the volunteers. We all crammed into Sherri’s truck including two vets, with a trailer in tow , with a mountain of supplies and crew bags riders had thrown in and headed up to where we would be posted for the first vet check out on the trail , approx at the half way point of the first 31 mile loop they were to complete. The first loop for the 50 was going to be a challenging ride as the trail is a steady uphill climb that is deceiving.

Within about an hour of getting set up at the vet check, watches synchronized, clip boards and stethoscope in hand, the first riders started trickling in for their first P&R and vet check. Pretty soon the trickle of horses was turning into a full open faucet and they came in drove. We were scrambling to get everyone timed in , pulsed down, vetted through and back out. 4 hours later, all 32 of the riders in the 50 made their first check point successfully and we headed back down to ride camp to finish helping out the other volunteers handling the limited distance riders that were riding a different loop.

The riders , after leaving us at the vet check, had to head back to camp to complete the first 31 mile loop, vet through and then complete two more 10 mile loops. As the riders completed and were getting ready for the second loop, rumors were already going around that a few riders had already been pulled . the weather was cool and couldn’t have been more perfect for a ride so it wasn’t a heat factor. By the time the riders were completing their second loop, there were 6 pulls.Atleast one, I knew for sure, was a rider option. It seemed that riders were falling into the well known trap of the terrain. The majority of the trails that this ride was held on are wide open and appear easy so many riders were moving along quickly , cantering much of the trail going out…but it’s a steady lunch eating climb that will catch up to a horse. And it was …. I stayed and checked in the first 13 riders of the 50 but it was approaching 6:00 p.m and I had to get home to feed my own horses. There were still several riders still out that hadn’t come in but I had to head out and pass my post off to someone else.

This was the first true AERC ride I had volunteered at . We had a great turn out with riders from Oregon, Idaho, Washington, and even Canada. I really enjoyed seeing how different people set their trailers up and taking a peek at the varying gear, tack, etc. Sunday was another 25 and 50 but I was unable to make it , being father’s day and all.

Hopefully we will host the ride again next year and I can ride it instead of volunteering!!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Breaking the Rules...

Meet April.... she is the newest , unplanned addition to our family:

April has found a new home here at Acer Farm. Yes, I am apparently rule breaker. Sometimes you have no choice.
Several years ago , we got rid of all of the mares we had. It was strictly for ease of management purposes, 4 geldings and a stallion was really quite easy. I have long contributed to the idea that, in most cases, I would much rather deal with a stallion than a mare.

I still would but I did say in most cases...

Over the last couple of weeks, April has found a way to say alot to me. She seems to fall into the other category outsided of "most cases". She was supposed to go to Oregon but someone fell in love with her. (I am not mentioning names here) No she isn't a Barb, she is a Lippitt Morgan and has some bloodlines that are pretty hard to find in the Lippitt Morgan world but I don't much care about all that registry , paper thing. I just like her, alot....

She is barely green broke and judging from the two test flight round pen sessions we had last week, we have lots of work to do but she is a quick study and I see some great potential in her as far as endurance.

My future endurance goals have been to have two horses going at the same time. That would allow me a back up horse in case one gets sick or lame and as a bonus, in a couple years, a second horse would allow me the opportunity to do multi days. Rebel, as most of you know was my back up plan but that has recently back fired a bit. Rebel has developed some soreness in his right shoulder. Sometimes he is sound and sometimes he is lame. (I'll save that for another post) As a result, he might not be able to endure the conditioning a 25 or a 50 would require. So coming full circle, that leads me back to April. So there 's that.

JB is healing up from his castration and that all went very well. I can begin riding him again by the weekend. In the meantime, April and I will be getting to know each other a bit more.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Weekend Dressage Clinic

Getting back to my riding “roots’ these days has been great but also challenging. For the past few years I have ridden mostly in a western saddle. Even though it’s a very well made Western saddle , lets face it, western saddles , simply by the nature of the amount of leather there is , tend to allow a lot of cheating when it comes to riding. It is really easy to become lazy in one’s position and use of effective aids. In preparation for this past weekend clinic , I had hopped back into the English saddle again. Good thing I did.

Over the weekend, I attended a Liz Tukey clinic. She is an instructor/clinician who teaches /coaches and judges various English disciplines. It was a rare opportunity that I was able to ride with a trainer of her caliber. Her teaching is geared more toward 3 day eventing, but she really shines with dressage instruction. I have been working on a lot of basic dressage with JB recently to try teach him to use his body correctly in his gaits, so he’ll be that much better cruising down the trail.

We arrived Saturday midday and my first lesson was scheduled for 3:45. The 3 hour ride to Hamilton included 1 hour of road construction so JB was well “bounced” by the time we arrived. Subsequently, when I pulled him out of the trailer and put him in his corral at the farm that the clinic was being held, he was quiet as a mouse and just wanted a mouthful of hay and something to drink. His “stallion “ alter ego had apparently gotten left behind at home with the mares… thank goodness.

Due to the cold and torrential downpour of rain, the clinic got moved to an indoor arena a few miles from the original clinic location. So at about 3:00, 2 hours after I had arrived , I loaded JB back in the trailer and headed over to the arena. He was a very good sport about it considering. It didn’t take me long to figure out that I was not among the same ilk of folks that regularly attended her clinics. Most of the clinic attendees were dressage riders who competed or rode dressage regularly or evented regularly. Every other rider had a horse 3 times the size of JB. Perfectly groomed horses with enough coat shine to blind a person, perfectly turned out tack with perfectly white dressage saddle pads that would have passed an A rating pony club rally with flying colors. Well trained, well collected horses that were fussed , primped and hairs parted just so by their owners (don’t mean to offend anyone here !!)

........and here I show up

with a 14.2 hand Barb stallion; wild mane and tail and barely brushed below the hocks. My tack is clean and I keep JB pretty well groomed, but nothing compared to these other horses.

No, I can’t be accused of bubble wrapping my horse. I don't even wrap legs for traveling anymore. GASP!

I guess I have become more practical since I got out of the show ring so many years ago. This weekend really made me appreciate the endurance crowd!! Everyone was very nice but it was very obvious I was among a pocket of the horse industry that I have long since forgotten the ways of.

On the other hand, I did get a lot of “He’s so cute” comments. Yeah, well…. what can I say.

Glad to be out of the rain, I warmed JB up for a while and talked to Liz about JB, what we have been working on, what I would like to accomplish over the next couple of days and long term goals. My goals were quite different than the rest of the clinic goers who were 3 day eventers or dressage riders working toward perfect collection or better form over fences.

My goal?

To eventually ride this horse 100 miles in an endurance race.

Why Dressage? To help him learn to use his body correctly on the trail to avoid breaking down later on.

I explained to Liz that JB struggles with moving forward and balanced. She watched us for a while and then we moved right into the lesson. She observed that JB tends to come in at the stifle and out at the hocks , which is causing that unbalanced way of going that I have been experiencing. Apparently this is not an uncommon thing in horses, which was a relief to hear. Now we just had to work on fixing it. She coached me through some different approaches to help him engage his hocks and step underneath himself better which would better align the joints. It was also advantageous that the footing in the arena was deep enough that he had to pick up his feet and actually engage the hock joint more. The exercises she had us working through were requiring me to put a lot of leg on JB, more leg than I was accustomed to using on him and 30 minutes into the lesson I wanted to beg for mercy. I was feeling the burn of riding English again. The sweat was pouring off me! At that moment, I was thinking that I would gladly take a posting trot down the trail for 15 miles any day over what I was experiencing at that moment! 45 minutes working at a sitting trot, getting the engagement to come from behind? That was work. At the end of the lesson, I felt that we had made some good steps towards getting his hocks underneath him better and I had a better idea of what I needed to do with my aid s to help him. It was going to require a lot more work on both of our parts but I now I had some better tools to use. Tom observed that by the end of the lesson, JB was relaxed and moving much better , stepping much deeper underneath him self and interestingly enough, the paddling movement JB often gets in his front end lessened as he relaxed more and more.

I slept like a baby Saturday night. Sunday rolled around and we were to do more of the same even though it was tempting to just bag all that and send him over a few jumps!! Sundays ride was a different animal. I had an inclination when I went to load him into the trailer that we might have a different day ahead of us. JB was reluctant to step up into the trailer. He was likely sore from working so hard. I knew I was!! Between the work and the footing, his whole hindquarter was probably very tired. It’s probably akin to you or I doing 300 squats after running 10 miles in mud.
Sundays ride wasn’t as productive for me, but it may have had a silver lining for JB long term. Liz got to see JB at his worst. He was very rigid in the shoulders and counter bent. It’s not uncommon for him to get like this and when he does , my usual approach is a good half hour of working him through a series of lateral exercises at a walk before I can get anything accomplished. Even then, we don’t always have it sorted out completely.

Having Liz’s keenly trained eye to observe him while he was like this was exactly what we needed. We got the hind end figured out, now we had to figure out the front end. Liz observed that instead of relaxing his shoulders and letting them move freely forward and out, he pinches them back almost behind the saddle and pulls himself along. When he does this he also starts traveling with his front legs winging out and landing hard. As a result, he can’t extend his front end and he can’t move freely forward. It was a real “ AHA” moment that Liz got to see this. It was easy to see that this issue was not a result of JB being resistant or purposely difficult, but more related to the fact that he has something physiologically going wrong in his shoulder girdle keeping him from moving comfortably and correctly.
She gave me a few exercises to work on but then suggested I contact Pat Young, who is a reputable equine physical therapist who uses a variety of processes to help both human and animals release deep muscle spasms. Pat has also written a book called Basic Equine Energy Balancing: A Horseman’s Horse Therapy . It just so happens that Pat is from this immediate area and relatively accessible. Here is her link for those of you interested in learning more about what she does.

Liz thought that having Pat work on JB’s shoulders would really help get us moving in the right direction as this could be the root of the forward and balance issue. I sure hope so!

I will keep you posted on his progress and our experience with Pat.Anyone else ever used similar methods ? What was your outcomes with it?

Friday, June 5, 2009

A gift horse...?

It’s been a busy week at Acer Farm. The first three days of the week involved breeding JB to one of the Morgan mares that showed up. That pretty much put any riding out of the question for JB. He’s not exactly willing to focus on arena work. Believe me I tried and sometimes, you just have to choose your battles! The good news is that we are through her cycle and we are done with all that nonsense. Not sure if we caught her in time as she was already in heat when she arrived.

The second mare that arrived, April, was supposed to be bred as well but that was a huge snafu. It’s kind of complicated, but the owner brought her to breed to JB because Tom mentioned a while back that he thought the cross would be interesting. The owner took that to mean we wanted a foal out of the cross and brought April along. It was a small misunderstanding. Needless, to say, April is just on vacation at our place and will not be bred.

………………Tom is eating crow at the moment….

It gets even more interesting. It happens to be that the owner has also offered April to us. She is a well bred Lippitt Morgan. The owner is downsizing his herd as he is getting older. If we don’t take April, she may be headed to Oregon. Big deal , right? Well not so. Here’s the kicker. Tom has a lot of interest because of what April is and her bloodline. Tom used to have a pretty successful Lippitt Morgan breeding program. He is partial to the breed and partial to April because she is a half sister (same sire) to Cassidy, his last remaining horse from his breeding program.To add to the mix, the bloodline from the sire’s side is no longer being bred since he is so old. That is the bloodline that Tom followed in his program. So it’s not just another horse. Believe me, the last thing I want is another horse, especially a mare. With JB getting gelded next week, our herd management is about to get really easy with 5 geldings. I really like that idea.One mare will change all of that. We haven’t made a decision yet, but April is here hanging out until the other mare is bred. We told the owner we would give it some thought.

Since I can’t do much with JB since he is a testosterone loaded , screaming fool and Rebel has a sore shoulder, I figured what the heck, I may as well work with April and see what she is all about. The owner has ridden her but I opted to start at the ground level. The owners horses are notorious for being spoiled and clear boundaries are an unknown. She has spent her entire life out on lush green pasture and as a result, she is about 2-300 pounds overweight, atleast. Even if I wanted to ride her, I couldn’t get a saddle to fit her or stay on for that matter. It would be akin to putting a saddle on a whiskey barrel. I don't even think I have a girth big enough to get around her!! She literally has a table for a back. It’s worse than that, her spine is a low spot with fat pockets along the length of it Poor girl. That is another reason he wants to get rid of her. He doesn’t have a way to dry lot her and she is such an easy keeper she needs to be somewhere with little access to grass.
It will take some time to get the weight off her enough to where she can be ridden but just in the couple of ground work sessions I have had with her, I am seeing some potential For not being exposed to much , she is very calm and very tractable. She is a very quick study and seems to be enjoying the opportunity to learn new things. She needs a lot of work but I think she would come along pretty quickly.
I have had another thought as well. She might possibly make a great second endurance prospect. Second endurance prospect??? Possibly… While Morgans are not as light in the build as an Arab, they are tough and have certainly proved themselves in the endurance sport in the past. Cassidy and Tom did the 25 mile limited distance CTR with me last summer with only one month of actual distance conditioning. ( I know, not exactly what is recommended but Cassidy was being ridden regularly prior to that). It turned out that Cassidy almost won that ride had it not been that he had to wear bell boots for overreaching. The Morgan breed is made to trot. April , even as heavy as she is, has a nice big trot. Her movement is hindered by her weight , obviously but she definitely has some fire. Underneath all that extra weight, there might just be an athlete.

We’ll see what happens. I am trying to keep the emotions in check and make a well thought out decision that includes space, finances, time etc. Tom is leaving the decision up to me because he has already decided he would like to keep her.

This weekend , we are headed to Hamilton with JB . I am riding him in a Liz Tukey clinic . She trains and teaches dressage. Hopefully , JB will be a little less frantic away from home and the mare and we can actually accomplish something. We 'll bring Cassidy along as a Plan B.

Pictures to follow!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Magical trails, Poker and Horse Deals

It’s been a while since I have posted much about JB. Mostly, I have been riding him at home in the arena, working on dressage. He is really coming along well and getting his transitions and lateral work better each week. Two weeks ago, I started him over fences. He seems to really be catching on and enjoying it. It's been nice for me as well to get back to jumping a bit, although, I can tell I am rusty!

This past weekend, I took part in a Poker ride with JB. It would be the last ride I got in before JB would have to switch gears to his other job, breeding stallion. Two mares were arriving Saturday evening.
When I pulled in to the parking area for the ride, I was wondering if I had made the right decision in bringing JB. Over the last few years, I have been attending these poker rides regularly to help support the Foys to Blacktail Trail Project but usually, Tom and another familiar horse are along for support. This time, we were flying solo but I was meeting a friend with her horse who was relatively quiet.

These rides have always had a good turnout but this time? I had never seen such a turnout of trailers. There were horses and people running here everywhere you looked. The energy in the air could be cut with a knife. There were trailers from Nevada, California, and even North Carolina. Deep breath.. This is good experience for both of us to deal with in preparation for large endurance ride turnouts, I though to myself. Nothing we can’t handle , right?

I found a parking spot right next to the friend I was meeting and unloaded JB. He let out a few whinnies to see if there were any girls around.. Well, I suppose he IS a stallion and it IS springtime…Guess that is to be expected. Overall, he was more interested with the knee high green grass. I let him graze for a few minutes and then tied him to the trailer so I could saddle him. He was well behaved. The lady I would be riding with was riding a mare but luckily, the mare was just out of her cycle last week! With JB saddled, easy boots strapped on , I finished a bottle of cold water, bug sprayed both JB and myself and headed out. I realized I forgot my camera..again.. so no photos.. (I really have to get better about that)

These annual rides always have their fare share of "yay-hoo’s" attending since they are open to the general public. You never know who will show up. As a result, I always try to find a “ pocket” in the crowd and stay there. Last fall, three people got bucked off before they even made it to the trail head. Elise and I were successful in finding our pocket, but only after having to pass a large crowd first. The first few miles were uphill and JB was feeling full of energy. The first mile of the trail was uphill and rocky but the boots seemed to be doing well for him.

The first couple of card stops were a little tricky as everyone tended to bunch up. With a stallion, the last thing I want is to be crowded around so I always try to hang way back. I have found that generally, one can’t rely on the other riders to keep their own horses safe.
We arrived at the half way point and I was anxious to get off and stretch my legs. I was drawing a bad hand anyways. ( I never have done well in gambling or card playing) I jumped off, loosened the girth and let JB graze for a bit. I chit chatted with a few familiar faces who all inquired as to how JB was doing this year , if we had sorted out his hoof issues and the array of questions about what we did to solve the issues. Lots of questions about the easy boots as there aren't alot of people that use them here. Ofcourse, he also got his usual array of compliments on how well behaved he was and he even managed to sweet talk a few suckers out of a treat or two.

After about a 10 minute break, we mounted up and headed out, another ½ uphill pull. Then a long gradual downhill ride back to the parking lot. Along the way, someone's treat bag or pocket must have had a hole in it because suddenly we were on a magical trail with baby carrots along the way. JB couldn't believe the luck!! JB gobbled them up as we went and now he is wondering when we can go on another ride with a magical trail.

All things were going well. We had one last card stop and this was the only time during the entire ride that we had a bit of an issue. I had gotten my final card and had stepped aside while I waited for Elise to make her way through the pack of riders. As I was waiting, there was another rider who was on a Jenny . We had passed them earlier and ever since, much to my irritation , had been riding right on our tail. The rider would allow his Jenny to get her nose practically right under JB’s tail. I finally turned around and asked him , politely, to give us a little space. JB, bless his heart, never offered to kick, although that would have been my preference at the time! Anyways, I was waiting for Elise, like I said, minding my own business when mule rider shows up again. JB nickered to the mule again and I turned to face him to other way and get after him for talking…For WHATEVER reason, this particular individual on this Jenny decided that it might be cute to let his mule come over and “get to know “ JB . He walked her right over to have her go nose to nose with JB. I was able to veer that off before we had a situation. At this point, I had lost my patience with this rider so I proceeded to say that it was absolutely not ok to do that with a stallion. His response was “oh really, even though it’s a mule?” Apparently he thought it would be ok because it was a mule. I wish someone could explain that one to me!! UUGGGHHHHH!!

So , that once incident aside, we had a great ride. I couldn’t have asked JB to be much better. He walked out very well and had plenty of energy when we finished the ride. (Must have been those baby carrots!) We finished 9 miles of the ride in about an hour and 38 minutes. Better yet, no rubbing with the easy boots.

The mares arrived late Saturday night and ever since JB has switched to his other job. That makes riding him fairly unproductive which makes me a little sour. This particular breeding was a deal that dear husband made, a deal that I wasn't too keen on but sometimes you choose your battles....

Once the mares are bred and settled, hopefully by the end of the this week, JB will be getting gelded. It’s a decision I have been bantering with for some time and have finally decided it’s the right thing to do at this point. Honestly, I can’t wait. The management of our 5 head will become that much easier and better yet, no more husband horse deals… I better go and make that appointment!!