Friday, April 24, 2015

Jumping Gymnastics

Gosh, this post took me all week to put together .. So much to say , so little time.  I had to get all the photos that help "make " the post  more interesting , off my phone and that was too much of a time intensive task that I just frankly didn't have time for until very late into the night . and well.. finally , here it is.. for what it's worth.

This past weekend, last weekend...we decided to get out of town for a quick trip to our friends place in the Bitteroot Valley.
(This is the same friend who started helping with some jumping lessons over Easter weekend )

The trip was for me to get two days of continued jumping lessons and the hubby was planning to do a practice session with a fellow horseback archer. Deciding to actually go was going to have to be a last minute decision  because of several potential Trip killers  that were pending.

The first ,and most important was that Otto had to NOT be showing any swelling or symptoms of the looming infection from his castration. ( I know, it seems like this has been going on FOREVER... because it has been..)
Based on my last conversation with my vet, we were pretty sure we would be hauling him in for surgery after his 3 week round of antibiotics. Last week  was the  first full  week Otto was completely off of them. All during that week,  I  was  waiting to see if he was going to swell up , indicating his infection didn't resolve,  which ultimately meant we weren't going to be going on any trips anywhere.

By last  Thursday there was no swelling. That was good. I decided however, if we were going to be gone ,  I was taking Otto with me regardless. I just knew if I left him home, and I was gone, his sheath area would explode. (how's that for Murphy's law reasoning?)

Besides, a 3 hour trailer ride for a 2 year old ??? why the hell not. He may as well get used to this long trailer ride business.  Afterall, he made it here from Missouri without incident.  It was time to see how he handled going to a new place as a 2 year old.

The second potential " trip-canceler" ( now I am making up words) was just finding someone to watch the horses at home and the cat. This is ALWAYS such a hassle.. seriously.. For those of you that board your horses, be thankful if for no other reason that you always have someone lined up to keep an eye on your horse ! We have to pay people to do that..and it's hard to find someone when you need them.  As for the dogs, we were taking them with.   (One of the may joys of having a fear aggressive German Shepherd is that you can't just leave her with most people because she won't let anyone in the house or let anyone else near her on her territory)  It further complicates matters for us.

As it turned out my neighbor happily agreed to feed the two remaining horses we were planning to leave home and my parents were willing to come by on Sunday to check the cat.  I  had no excuse not to go.  

Saturday morning, we managed to get ourselves, the horses and the dogs loaded up. Getting this crew packed up and out the door feels like an Act of Congress but we managed and we were on the road by 9 am for our 3 hour trek southward. We arrived in Missoula to take a quick bathroom stop for the dogs and we saw this!

I looked to see if there was an actual tour bus rig parked anywhere that housed said country music start, but if there was, it was well hidden and we had to get down the road.

My husband said, "what were you going to do if you found the tour bus anyways?"

Well duh.. I was going to go march over there ,  knock on the door and ask for a photo and a autograph!!! what else would a girl do???

That conversation morphed into other weird discussions about country music stars , that I will spare you from here ,  that kept me occupied and fully entertained for the hour remaining to reach our destination.

We arrived about 1:00 to our "home away from home"  . The plan was to grab some lunch and spend a few hours that afternoon riding and then off to a BBQ.

Once we arrived, the dogs quickly went about terrorizing the fenced-in Jack Russels, causing all kinds of rucus. They love being at this place because it's a ranch and they can run like wild children, ride in ranch trucks and 4 wheelers,  chase field mice and terrorize the neighborhood without running the risk of getting hit by a vehicle. I love it because I can be a bad dog mom and let them do all those things and no harm no foul.. (exept for one of the resident chickens  ( another story, keep reading)

I unloaded Brego and Tom went to unload Otto.

I gave T specific instructions to back Otto out of the trailer, and he ofcourse gladly obliged like the good hubby he is. I wanted him to back Otto out because he is getting too darn big and can't quite make the turn easily , atleast not without risking him bumping his head.   I thought we had backed Otto out before or I never would have suggested it because this was definitely NOT the time to get into a training opportunity. Well if we had back him out before,  Otto seemed to think this was all new  and awful and he wasn't the least bit interested in being a willing participant in this nonsense.

An hour and  half later, we FINALLY got Otto backed out of the trailer.

So, what took sooooo long???
 Well, the first thing I wanted to say was that I wasn't losing my marbles. Otto had in fact backed out of the trailer before when we took him to the vet the last time . Only during that time, I recalled that he did bang his nose. It wasn't a huge deal at the time. (which is why I probably totally forgot that detail)  He didn't scramble or get stuck or anything terrible and traumatizing.  He just kind of ran into the wall as he made the turn around. All I can figure is that he must have remembered it as not something he wanted to experience again.
Or maybe he figured out that the last time he tried this backing out thing, he came home missing parts of his anatomy:) !!

Anyways, once we started the process of asking him to back out, the wrong thing to have done at this point would have been to quit and just revert to turning him around. All it would have accomplished was teach him that all he has to do is resist and he gets what he wants.

He really really wanted to turn around and I have to tell you , I really really wanted to let him do just that.. to give in more  and be done with the whole damn thing because I knew time ticking..

But, I also knew if I gave in, it would mean more issues next time I asked him to back out.  I was having a huge internal struggle on this  but eventually I knew hanging in there, being persistant and PATIENT would make life easier for him long term.

** A note about training horses here.  FOLLOW THROUGH IS SO DAMN IMPORTANT and this was a good example.  When it comes to training horses , I don't typically want to give unsolicited advice but I will say that it never fails to amaze me how people create problems for their horse when they don't follow through on something. My point is if you start something, you better be prepared to finish it with a postive outcome . You may not always get the exact response your looking for but you need to make it successful for the horse, somehow, someway. Throw away your plans and  your watch and get on horse time. Be there to support your horse because in the end it's will pay back dividends.

We didn't really plan this unloading to be an issue and the tight time schedule certaintly didn't alot for it  ( We were planning to be riding by 3:00 , done by 5:00 and headed to  BBQ) but there we were and we had to follow it through or risk it being a bigger issue later.  The crazy thing is that Otto stepped down atleast 2 times with a hind foot right away, so he knew where the ground was.  He just  couldn't get it sorted out to back his front feet up. He has been backed multiple times in a halter on the level ground but  I suppose it's awkward and scary  for a young uncoordinated horse to manage their front feet while their back feet are at level lower.

 Otto never got to ugly about things. He just locked up.. mentally and physically because he just didn't think he could do what we wanted him to.

He stepped out 1 hind foot, then 2 hind feet , and then he would step  back in.. and this repeated itself multiple times .   He had to sort it out.  Eventually, he did . Timing of praise was huge so he knew when he did what was being asked.

long story short, I was glad it was over and we probably should have loaded him right back in and done it again right then and there but I just felt like he  didn't need any more stress for the day. He did what was asked and left it there.

We finally got saddled and riding by 4:00 .

Saturday evening Day 1
 Goal -Pick up with the trot poles, revisit the 3 fence bounce combination, (which we have spent the last two weeks practicing) and build to 4 fences.

* * The ultimate goal of  gymnastics, or aka grid work,  is to build in rhythm and balance. Bounce combinations help to develop an eye and my jumping position. The fences are kept small in order to keep it low stress so the rider and the horse. 

After staring with 4 trot poles to 3 crossrails, we went through effortlessly 3 times,  Brego  was like
"Yeah, I got this, just get out of my way and let me go" So we moved onto 4 fences .
Looking at the combination from the last fence. The approach was on the other end with 4 trot poles. This is the 4 fence set up. Baby tiny fences at this point because we are building confidence and cadence for both horse and rider.
Brego gets very bold and eager coming into the line over the trot poles. We worked alot on settling him in the approach without over using the inside rein as we approached.

coming in a little fast.. 

We focused on my hands ( have a bad habit of breaking my wrists) and asking him to land on the left lead as he lands from the last fence. This is easier said than done because I have to be looking left and putting just a little more weight in my left stirrup by the time we are going over the 2nd fence.  Brego much prefers his right lead on landing. We ended the session getting 3 really good landings into a left lead canter and transitioned into a relaxed walk on  a loose rein each time. Quiet is the goal.
Jump Brego Jump!

Day 2 
We built from the 4 fence to a 5 fence . Brego is a careful horse and when we came down the line and he saw the 5th fence, he hesitated as if to say..

"what?? I swear there was no fence here before, where did this come from?"

... but he jumped it with an little extra encouragement from my leg and after that first "WTH" moment he had , he was jumping through beautifully.


Then we removed the 4th fence and left a ground pole as a marker creating a 3 fence bounce to a one stride.  We left a ground pole where the 4th cross rail used to be as a marker to help the Brego with the striding.  X = a fence, I = a ground pole

I   I   I   I      X    X    X       I       X

So basically the Rhythm is this:

4 trot poles- jump- jump- jump- one canter stride (18 feet) , jump.
 Land on left lead. Canter away , come down to the walk.. Easy Peasy right??

 We don't always get the correct lead but that is all part of practicing.

That progressed into taking the 2nd cross rail down so now we had a fence, a ground pole, a fence, a ground pole and a fence.

I  I   I    I     X       I      X        I       X

4 trot poles , bounce, canter stride, jump, canter stride, jump...

It was really cool to feel him find a pace, and leave the ground at the exact time he is supposed to.
Eventually the big thing was that we built to a vertical as the final fence.

Here we come. 


I had an absolute blast and Brego is proving to be a pretty good little jumping pony.

Sunday afternoon came too quickly and it was time to load up and go home. One last adventure awaited us.

I was busy getting  everything packed up and thought the dogs were with T.  As I came out of the house, I heard alot of noise coming from the hen house. Someone was either laying the Golden Egg and was really excited,  or something was wrong.  I  saw  black feathers everywhere near the truck and chicken yard. Maybe another Racoon or Fox attack??


I looked up to see Xena exiting the chicken yard as I approached, her tail between her legs and high stepping it for the truck.

Oh no....

Indeed,  Xena  had found some entertainment.
I was a bit shocked a Xena to be honest because she had been to this place so many other times in the past and never paid any attention to the chickens. In fact, I think she was afraid of them.  Apparently , she got curious, or brave , or something.. because she indeed got one.

I ran over to find the victim and the hen was cowered in a corner, but alive.  I must have interrupted just in time but she looked pretty bad.. alot like this..

A little while later, we saw the rooster come out from some hiding place. So much for protecting his flock.. Coward..

It was a tiring weekend. It was about 7 pm by the time we rolled into our driveway.

When we unloaded the horses.. Otto backed out.. He was slow and unsure,  but he did it .. and it only took about 5 minutes!

Guess sticking it out the day before was worth the effort!

I hope to hit the trails a little with Brego this weekend and take a break from the arena. He has done well and hopefully I am good enough to keep him progressing!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Otto Turns Two!

Otto turned two yesterday. He looks older. doesn't he??. He is maturing and has filled out in his body but he has a long ways to go. I really want those legs to put on a lot more bone , but that usually tends to be more noticeable after 3 years old.  He is tall and those canon bones.. good grief... I sure hope he grows into them.  He must be pushing 15.1 hands maybe?? I suppose I should stick him and get an accurate height one of these days. I am a little afraid to know...but I would like him to stop getting taller anytime..

Unfortunately, my plans to celebrate his birthday didn't quite work out like I had hoped. I had grandiose ideas of making some kind of carrot cake for him and and a horse sized birthday hat and taking some photos. The weather was nice enough Saturday morning so instead of being a good horse mom, I chose to be a good dog mom instead. I took advantage of the decent weather window that I knew wouldn't last , and loaded up  the dogs and hubby for a hike. I felt motivated to climb some hills and get an outdoor workout .  All of the Spartan racers were out hill training as well. Been there , done that.. One Spartan race was enough for me!

By the time we finished our hike and then our errands, it was late afternoon when we finally made it home. We talked about loading up the horses for a quick trail ride since we have not been out once yet this spring,  but with the wind the way it was, we opted against it.  This time of year, there is still a lot of blow-down occurring in the forested trails we ride in. Not worth the risk of a tree coming down on us! So, riding plans went bust.

Sunday came, Otto's big day  and in the end , Otto had to settle for a quick grooming session during the 10 minute window between snow storms when the wind actually settled to 20 mph gusts instead of 35 and the sun sort of popped out for a few moments.  He got a few peppermint snacks and seemed perfectly content with the abbreviated celebration. Mostly he just wanted to be turned out to his pasture. Fine with me.. it was damn cold and miserable out...

During the process of getting him turned out, we had one eventful moment to commemorate his 2 year old birthday.  When my hubby was leading him through a gate ,the wind gusted, jerking it out his hand and sent the gate  swinging so that it smacked Otto right in the butt. Otto let out a big double barrel kick, clearly pissed... Oops.The hubby lead Otto back through the gate a couple of times , to let him see that the gate wasn't going to always do that scary thing from now on, every time he was led through a gate. Otto was fine and walked back through the gate with no issues .  It's the first of many "unplanned" experiences he will have to learn to deal with I guess and I was glad it didn't fluster him.

We spent the rest of the day visiting with my parents who stopped by , which was treat because my mom just got back from Seattle earlier last week. She is healing from her last , and hopefully final surgery.  I just hope that I am half as strong and mentally tough as her , considering what she has been through. It has been hard to see her go through all of this.

Considering the weather was awful, it was a good day to finish up some indoor projects . We decided to use up the remaining elk meat in the freezer to make more fresh sausage. The process took about 6 hours of trimming, mixing, measuring, grinding, stuffing and packaging but in the end , we have over 30 lbs of fresh sausage packed and in the freezer.

It was a full weekend, in spite of no riding. Next weekend.. riding will be priority!

Happy Trails!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Vacation over

This past week absolutely flew by. I can't believe I have to log into my computer tomorrow morning and get back into work mode. Ughh.. The first half of the week , we didn't get much accomplished because the hubby was sick after getting what I had the week before , and I was still recovering.. and .. still still recovering. Will this virus ever give up?

Actually, I think we are mostly back to ourselves , sans an unrelenting cough and some mild congestion. We finally managed to get a few things done  on the "to-do" list starting last Wednesday in spite of Mother Nature having  personality issues. Out to-do list was alot of fits and starts. We did manage to get the paddocks all scraped out with the help of a friends tractor and I was in charge of harrowing the pasture with a 4 wheeler. . It took me two days to get that task done because my hands and toes would get so cold in spite of gloves. I could only go for about an hour and then have to come back in to warm up.

Nonetheless  it got done. The pasture is harrowed and the paddocks are clean and tidy prior to fly season. I even managed to get the north pasture reseeded.

Wednesday I had my second lesson with a new trainer I am trying out for jumping. It  was a group lesson that consisted of a group of 2, me and one other young very green rider so it wasn't really very helpful to me. I haven't decided yet if I will continue to use this trainer. Its a bit early to tell. I like some of the feedback I am getting from her but some of the other feedback she is giving is leaving me scratching my head a bit.  I might give it a few more times before I decide, just to give her a fair shake.

By Friday , friends arrived for the weekend and it was time to spend two days getting some intense instruction from said friend for me and Brego over fences. She spent several years eventing and agreed to come for the weekend for some lessons.  I felt honored to have so much of her time all to myself and all I had to do was feed her for the weekend. I had to ride in some unruly weather , including "gropple" (it's a real weather term.. go ahead look it up) . We did the riding lesson version of "twoadays" , a morning and afternoon session both days. Aside from the fact that my legs are really tired tonight ,  I got more out of those 4 sessions than I have gotten from any trainer I have worked with for the last couple of years.  Not too many good trainers here unfortunately. Brego and I worked on cadence , rhythym at the canter and introduced him to some gymnastics. He did a great job. Its not easy to be bringing along a green horse over fences and also to be working on getting yourself better at the same time , but Brego is being so incredibly good. It's coming together.

I hate training alone so it was really nice to have someone there to help me with some things I was struggling with .  As far as the saddle issue, I think I mostly resolved it , surprisingly with a wither relief pad , which was a total fluke. I thought I would just try to switch out and add the wither relief pad under my saddle to see if it helped, not really thinking it would. Well, it worked. It gave the back of the saddle just enough lift to balance it out.I rode in it and it really made a big difference but I still felt like it was harder than it should be to stay in position. Likely, that would correct with more time in the saddle practicing without stirrups. Maybe. The question of whether a new saddle would help the issue was still a real possibility.

Fortunately, my friend brought along her old eventing saddle which is an AP saddle,  just to try out and give me something to compare to. It has ALOT more leg support, and a deeper seat than I am used to riding in over fences but I thought it couldn't hurt to try it. To my surprise, it fit Brego relatively well with enough shoulder room which is his biggest issue.   Right away, it was amazing how much more secure I felt in it and suddenly, I wasn't fighting my leg position. I felt really solid in it and Brego didn't seem to be having any trouble in it . In fact, he was almost feeling like he was better because I was more balanced. My friend was nice enough to leave it with me for the time being so I can use it for now.

Just for comparison, here are a couple of random photos of the two saddles, my Close Contact Collegiate (top photo) and the County Eventer AP (bottom ) I am now trying out for a while.  It probably makes sense to find a saddle that I feel more secure in. The close contact has no knee rolls and the seat itself is pretty narrow and flat  but darn,  I still love that classic look of the CC.

I thought the AP was going to make it harder for me to get into jump position because of the deeper seat, but it didn't. It literally put me right where I needed to be. Can't deny that.  

Let the saddle hunt begin. (sigh)

I will keep my eye out for a used one  like the one I am tryng but they can tend to be pretty pricey. I might need some time to save up enough to get one, even used. I ran across a Duett jumping saddle online for a really great price. I already own one Duett Companion Trail saddle and it is by far my favorite saddle I have ever owned. I can only assume that their jumping saddle model is just as nice. I am considering it.

If anyone wants to twist my arm, the Collegiate is probably going to go up for sale. (insert sad face) Contact me via email for details if anyone is interested. It's  really a nice saddle but just not the right fit for me. I am 5'5 but the length is too short for even my short legs. My thigh is 21" inches long, if that gives any frame of reference.

Progress that we made over fences this weekend.

The big thing was cantering to a fence. We had previously only trotted into a fence and could not seem to get enough impulsion to land and canter off, to approach the next fence.

  • Ground poles to cross rail to canter depart out of fence, on the correct lead- I have to remember to weight up the stirrup a  little more to the side I want the lead for, as well as put a little feel on that rein as well. If I want to come out of the fence on a left lead, then left stirrup and left rein. Seems simple but I was so focused on staying balanced I would forget this. It got a lot easier once I was in a more supportive saddle and I wasn't working quite so hard to stay balanced. 
  • Canter to a combination and maintain a steady rhythm. So once I land and the correct lead, to get Brego to canter at a steady pace coming into the next fence. He did really good at this, once we got out lead figured out. 
  • Ground poles to a bounce- This is one of my favorite exercise to do over fences because it teaches the horse and the rider when to leave the ground and how to maintain a rhythm. We worked up to a three fence bounce, which I never thought we would be able to do.  Brego fumbled only slightly the first time through , and then after that, he had it figured out and went through like he had been doing it for years. 
It seems we are off to a pretty good start over fences. Brego is better than I thought and I am getting more confident in him and and myself each time. 

So what about Endurance???? I haven't forgotten. It's just that trails aren't really clear yet.  I would like to attend an LD ride in September with Brego. I think I should be able to have him ready for something like that in between jumping. I was invited by a friend to ride her horse in a June ride. I am planning to do it,  It would be my first 50. I didn't really see my first 50 being on someone else's horse but honestly, just being  able to experience a 50 is worth it. It's been a long time goal. 

Back to work tomorrow. Signing off for some sleep.