Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy (almost) New Year!

With 2011 winding to a close I find myself on the couch today, curled up with the cats and a headache.  The old year is going out grey, gloomy and chill with a gusty wind that's rattling the branches around.  Maybe if it was shiny and blue outside I'd feel more like mustering up the energy to do, well... much of anything.  But it's not, so my plans involve staying here, on the couch, with a cup of hot tea, a couple of books and three furry bodies snuggled up.  Maybe a nap, if I'm ambitious.  I sincerely doubt I'll be seeing in the New Year at midnight CST, at least not awake!

To all of you, best wishes for a very happy new year - may it bring you health, peace, and prosperity, and most of all, lots of time spent looking at the world between your ponies' ears.

Sunny's ears: my favorite frame!

Friday, December 30, 2011

None the worse for wear...

But very dirty this morning.  Both boys apparently took exception to being wet and rolled in the dirt last night.  Surprisingly, perhaps because he was slightly less damp due to wearing the very absorbent blanket on the way home, Sunny was the less encrusted of the two.  Well, that and he's never been a horse that likes to wallow - which I greatly appreciate!

Breakfast - the most important meal of the day

They were munching away at the bale when I got there, but as soon as I called Sunny whinnied back. 

What's up, mom?  Did you bring food?
They both moseyed over to see if by any chance there was something tasty in the works.  Sorry, boys!  But I take the opportunity to most of the sand brushed off.

Sunny offered his feet without fussing and didn't appear to have any residual stiffness or soreness from yesterday's workout.  His hooves are short, but he really does need a trim - they both do, actually, - to get the edges rounded up and leveled out.  I expect that would probably be a big help to his action, as well.

If you're sure you don't want to feed us....
I left them both contentedly munching back at the bale, but as I closed the gate behind me I was pleased to see them both trot up to the waterer.  Sunny's stride looked as smooth as Thunder's, if shorter due to the comparative length of their legs. 

Lesson Day: Sunny and "I don't want you to panic, but..."

After a good practice session on Wednesday (nearly 50'!) during which Sunny cooperated, and I worked on mounting and dismounting with Thunder, I was pleased to see the weather forecast for Thursday showed a reduced chance for rain, with temps remaining unseasonably warm.  Yowza!  I'd get to take Sunny!

Morning sunshine had retreated into gloomy clouds by the time I loaded the horses, and a chilly wind was beginning to kick up - the promised 50s weren't going to materialize after all.  But it wasn't too cold, I had the trailer hooked up, horses inside, and I was already dressed for hunt seat....

By the time I got to Eric's it was spitting rain.  With the local schools all out for the holidays, the barn was busier than it's been since October, and he was running about half an hour behind on lessons.  Since I routinely arrive early, I took my time brushing both boys and cleaning their feet, then left them to loaf by the trailer while I watched the lesson before mine. 

C was on Pride, working on lead changes.  She's going to be doing reining this summer as well, and she also barrel races, so tuning up her muscle memory for proper flying cues should be beneficial all the way around.  It was really helpful to watch Eric coach her through getting Pride's hips properly engaged and shifted under him, first at the walk, then at the trot, and finally loping.  Being able to see her work through what I need to work on, too, was a lovely perk for arriving early.

I missed the last few minutes of spins, wanting to have Sunny ready to go when Eric finished with C.  The sky was still spitting a bit, but the breeze had died down, and I shed my heavy coat before I headed arena-wards.  Sunny was fresh, and persisted in walking off with me as I mounted.  I finally just swung on anyway.  Stinker!  We'll be working on that little habit more at home.

A few minutes of walk/trot transitions, most of them intentional - good grief, where did my lazy horse go! and we started.  Right into a working trot, since he seemed to have energy to spare.  Eric watched him go round a few times, calling reminders to me for seat and elbows, then, "I don't want to you to panic, but... you do know he's off in front, right?" Crud.

Well... I suspected he was going a little short.  He's felt slightly rougher than normal the last few times I've ridden.  Not to the extent of head bobbing or definite lameness, but the ground I've been practicing on is pasture - not exactly smooth, flat, or worked, so I wasn't positive.  But this is the second time he's been off in front during a lesson.

Sunny's conformation is not exactly perfect.  He's crooked in front, particularly on the right, which is the side he's favoring.  He could have some residual stiffness or soreness from slipping or playing, or he might have a stone bruise, although given the nice, soft arena footing, that would be less likely to show.  Or it could be something else entirely - Eric seems to be leaning toward the cause being more conformation and musculature-related. 

In any case, I have two options - vet him and turn him out and baby him, which will either fix things, or not, or continue to ride him and work on strengthening the muscles on his right side so that he's able to carry himself better.  Since he's not noticeably lame, ever, in the pasture, or even walking under saddle, and nothing seems warm, sore, swollen or otherwise off anywhere, I'm going to go with door number two for now and just keep an eye on things. 

So, with the intent of improving those right-side and back muscles in mind, we finished out the rest of the lesson with an emphasis on encouraging him to carry himself better - in essence, teaching him engage his back, stretch out in front and step under in the rear.  Which in practice meant asking for an inside bend first at the walk, then trotting - once he would lighten and soften into it and stay committed for a few strides, then giving him an opportunity to stretch.    If he popped right back up and hollowed out, he wasn't actually collected  and using his back properly.  At which point I was to go right back to asking him to bend and step under.  If he stretched down instead of popping up, then he got to relax and go forward for a half-circuit or so. 

We also worked some on canter transitions, but only to the left.

On that front at least, my practice paid off - not only did Sunny stay cantering without breaking to a trot much more consistently, but he's also lifting his shoulders more.  Transitions up are still not exactly pretty, but they're coming more readily - and part of the problem is me as much as it is him.  I have a horrible time remembering not to lean forward and collapse my shoulders when I ask.  Downward transitions are getting much, much better, at least when I remember to use my whole body rather than forgetting I have legs.

I suspect he would have been much less soggy post-lesson than after our indoor sessions, but unfortunately it started to pour midway through.  We were both soaked topside by the time quits was called, but his back under the saddle and his belly were dry, so I don't think he was too terribly warm.  I rubbed him down as best I could despite the rain, then blanketed him for the ride home so that he wouldn't get chilled cooling down.

Homework: lots of inside bend, soften, commit, release, to help him build his back muscles, collect, stretch and lighten.  And more of whatever I've been doing that's improved his canter.  Fingers crossed the warm spell lasts, and the exercises help!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Sunny with wind

If it seems like weather is a frequent topic in my posts lately, that's because it feels as if SD has moved south for the season. With the sole exception of today, highs for this week will be in the 50's.   2011 has definitely been an interesting year weather-wise.

Yesterday's high was 54' and I couldn't NOT ride.  I should have gotten an earlier start, though.  When I headed out to the farm at around 1 PM is the clouds were high and gauzy, and there was just enough breeze to ruffle the dust a bit.  Sunny and Thunder were pleased to see me until I collected them both and tied them to the trailer.

By the time I had both of them brushed, 8 hooves cleaned, the breeze was stronger.  Enough to make me glad I'd layered my puffy vest over my sweatshirt.

I saddled Sunny - western - stretched him, buckled on my spurs, and and swapped halter for bridle.  As much as I liked riding with the bitless bridle, it's comforting to see that he's taking the bit easily now that I'm back to riding with contact.  

For warm-up we walked various-sized circles working on bending and haunches in, then trotted large, easy circles on a loose rein, gradually adding contact and spiraling in, then back out.  After that I wanted to work on canter departures (thus the spurs).  Collect, bend on the circle, bump outside leg, kiss, and if he didn't canter off, roll my heel to cue with spur....  Once cantering, my goal was to keep him from falling out of gait for at least three full circles before intentionally asking for a downward transition.

The departures improved dramatically.  Getting him not to break back to a trot... needs more work.  But on the whole, he's getting much more balanced and less heavy on the forehand.  And he's dropping his shoulders and diving around the corners less.  I was doing my best to help him out, keeping my head up, my back soft, my shoulders square, and my weight in my outside seatbone where it was supposed to be.  Riding Alisha the last couple of weeks and feeling how big a difference a simple weight shift can make has really been helpful. I'm less nervous about going faster, so I have more room in my head to think - LOL!

As usual, there were monsters in the cedar trees on the house-edge of the pasture.  Invariably he wants to scoot past that section when we're going left.  About the fourth whoosh forward I had an epiphany:  rather than stiffen up and hold him, I tried softening into the saddle and slowing my hips.  It worked - although I could still feel his stride lengthening somewhat through that section of the circle, rather than fighting him for the next third of the way around, he was rating back to me much more quickly.

We finished up the "work" portion of the ride with some half-passes and a side-pass or two, and some loose rein circles.  For as much cantering as we did, he was barely damp.  But he'd been working - and cooperating - for an hour, and that was enough for the day.

Back at the trailer I untacked and brushed him off, then collected a cone, longe line and whip, and Thunder.  He'd been waiting with less than his usual patience - pawing and the occasional bang of a hoof on the running board punctuated Sunny's ride.  By this point the breeze was a gusty wind, and Thunder let me know he was feeling good with several snorts and some head-flipping.

I made sure I had my gloves on before I sent him out, anticipating a repeat of his run-outs to the right from the other day, but he surprised me - although he was definitely feeling good - more snorting and lots of flying snot - he stayed light on the line in both directions.  He did swing out and try to stop and face me a couple of times to the right, but a step toward his hip and a cluck sent him off again with no hesitation.  "Whoa" worked every time, and he came back to an easy walk when asked even when he was flying around at a pretty good clip. 

By the time I finished currying the now-dried sweaty marks off of Sunny and rubbing Thunder's itchy spots as a reward for good behavior, the wind had increased to the point of swirling grit and leaf-laden dust-devils down the driveway.  Random banging and sheep bouncing and zooming about in their lots had both horses dancing, and with one in each hand, I was grateful yet again that they lead so lightly.  Once back inside the top lot with the gate secured they settled and hung out for a few more scritches around the ears after I took their halters off.  What a marvelous way to spend an afternoon!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Day Ride

I have the urge to make the post title all caps - J, C and I rode 6 miles in bright sunshine.  It was nearly 50'!!!
What a fabulous way to spend Christmas afternoon.  Granted, it was a tad chilly the last two miles into the light breeze, but no one was stupid enough to complain. We'd probably have ridden longer, but unlike Thanksgiving, where the turkey could be trusted to oven-roast itself for a couple of hours, Christmas dinner was lamb, and it had to go in the oven post-ride so as to avoid baking to the consistency of shoe-leather.

Rufus, always listening for monsters overtaking from the rear
In the interest of time, I rode Rufus - he was a pleased to be out as we were, I think.  He stepped out as prettily as he's ever done, not a spook or a tense muscle to be felt although it's been a while since I rode him last.   I didn't take too many pictures, though, as I'd forgotten that Rufus isn't quite as indifferent to shutter noise as Sunny.  Whirring, beeping and clicking make him dance, and while I'm all for getting him used to unfamiliar things, I was enjoying relaxing too much to want to deal with a learning-about-the-camera-session.

We detoured cross country the first mile through a series of rough-harvested corn and close-cropped wheat fields, letting the horses lope through the latter where the footing was good.  He caught his leads promptly and sallied merrily along, in front or not, as easy as pie.  None of the sideways bouncing and diving he pulls on occasion, and he wasn't tripping over his front feet, either.  I think pulling his shoes and giving him a break agreed with him.

Happy faces all around!
 The only bad spot we had, and it was all of us, not just Rufus and me, was unexpectedly encountering a dirt-bike rider.  He gunned it out of a driveway just ahead and came straight at us down the gravel, spitting rocks and popping wheelies.  All three horses spooked and spun.  Given Rufus' penchant for ditch-diving getaways without a glance at what might be underfoot, and the proximity of a nasty old barbwire fence on that side, I hopped off to hold him.  The other two were more confident and kept their seats.

Thankfully, the dirt-biker spotted us after a few seconds and cut his speed and tricks, and headed off road into the cornfield to pass us relatively slowly.  The horses all stared suspiciously, but were willing to stand once he stopped revving and slinging gravel.

Safe back at home we gave them all a good brushing, then hopped on bareback with just halters and leads to ride them the two pastures down to where the rest of the herd was waiting.

Eyore appeared immediately to see what we were up to.
Do those ears not just scream "rub me"?

Rufus - "We're done now, right?"
I ran over to check on the boys - they were enjoying a late afternoon nap in the sun.  We did our annual Christmas ritual in which I attempt to feed them chunks of apple in the spirit of giving and they make faces and accuse me of poisoning them, after which I give up and find them each a handful or so of grain.  Then I left them to their naps and scooted for home to get cleaned up and the oven heating.  C, C and J weren't too far behind me.

In T's honor we did a semi-Mediterranean theme this year - the aforementioned lamb (for which I had to go digging in boxes to locate a meat thermometer), spicy couscous with raisins and sweet peppers, naan (which was fabulously easy and incredibly yummy), and just to muddle things nicely, roasted red potatoes and C's amazing green bean casserole.  Oh, and homemade cranberry relish/salad.  We were too full to even contemplate the pie that was supposed to finish the meal, so they're coming back over to help polish off the leftovers - and hopefully we'll make it to the pie - tonight.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Thunder on the line

The boys haven't had it entirely easy this week.  As I mentioned, I practiced with Sunny, and spent some time working with Thunder, as well.

I so wish I had access to a round pen, as free longeing him would be fantastic.  But since D's is currently occupied by some mules from the sale barn that he acquired recently and is quarantining, I'm out of luck on that front.  So for now I'm making the best of a long line and good footing.

He's steadier to the left than to the right - maybe because from all the ponying, he's used to direction from the left?  At any rate, the only bobbles we had were going right, so I guess we'll be doing more laps in that direction until he gets the hang of things.

As you can see, I lacked a spare set of hands to run the camera - on my wishlist is one of those tripod-thingies that wraps around whatever is handy and sticks there. 

I worked with him for half an hour or so - long enough to reinforce the groundwork laid the other day, and for my fingers to get cold.  And Sunny had his turn at loafing by the trailer, which he didn't mind at all.

Today I weight-taped them both and wormed them.  Amazingly, Thunder tapes heavier than Sunny, for all that he's not as round.  Must be those extra inches of height.  They're definitely taking advantage of free access to the round bale - warmer temps so far this winter mean they're not burning as many calories staying warm, and it's easy to tell!

Lesson Day: Alisha, Take Two

Debated and debated over whether to take Sunny, but ultimately climbed into the Blazer rather than hook the trailer up.  Arrived at Eric's with the sun still shining and no breeze - a balmy 32'.  He asked if I wanted to ride outside.  Glad I threw a heavier jacket in the car!

Alisha again - and this time I got to go collect her myself while Eric finished putting away his previous mount.  She's outside with eight or ten other horses (and a couple of Eyore's cousins) in a big lot.  Okay, first test:  could I find the right horse?  Catching one certainly wouldn't be a problem, as they all collect for their share of rubs and pats as soon as they see you coming - but haltering the right one might be a trick.  I wended my way through, looking for a smallish, chestnut mare with one front stocking, and a blaze face perched on a long, upright neck... amid a corral full of chestnuts, bays and grays.  Well, at least I could rule out the bays, grays, and the donkeys!

I haltered the horse that matched my best recollection of Alisha's build and markings, making sure to check underneath for the proper equipment - bringing in a gelding sure wouldn't get me any points for swiftness!  I was fighting with the gate latch when Eric appeared to check on my progress. Happily for me, I had the right horse.

Saddled, bridled and booted all around, we headed out into the big arena for "show day" practice.  Three small orange cones on the long side divided the arena into thirds - the middle was the center point, and a cone on each end about 10 feet off the short side denoted where I was to pretend the arena stopped.

After a brief warm-up we went straight into an easy left-lead lope, concentrating on cadence.  My goal was to keep her steady and solidly on a big circle encompassing about half the arena - the center being that middle orange cone.  All changes of rate were to happen at the exact center on a straight mid-line. 

After I'd successfully circled the arena several times, being coached on relaxing deep into my seat and not dropping my shoulders, and oh, by the way, she doesn't like the greenhouse at that end, so be sure to work to keep her round... Eric had me collect her up and ask her for fast, large circles.  As we sped around the arena, concentrating on maintaining cadence and circularity (no egg-shapes, please!) he explained the small slow circle that we'd transition to next.

The small slow circle begins on the same imaginary mid-line as the large, fast circle, but it's smaller (duh!).  The goal is to show the largest difference possible between the rate of the large fast and small slow - but cadence, roundness and smoothness trump all. 

When I asked for slow, I unintentionally shifted my weight - and got a huge bounce right - note to self: Alisha changes leads on the fly really(!) fast - as she misinterpreted my seat adjustment as a signal to switch directions.  Oops. Misplaced cues aside, we managed a series of size and rate changes fairly well, although I suspect there was lots of room for improvement.  Still, for a first effort I don't think it was too bad.

Following circles to the left we paused to allow Alisha (and me) to air up again, then repeated the exercise to the right at the other end of the arena.  This time, a clearer ideas of what was expected things went more smoothly, so we didn't work in that direction quite as long. 

Another pause for breathing during which Eric demonstrated flying lead changes.  The smaller indoor doesn't have enough space for practicing those, so although my circles could probably have used more work on roundness and definitely on rate, the daylight was starting to trickle away, taking with it any lingering warmth - we moved on to make the most of the unusual-for-this-time-of-year gift of outdoor space. 

Hopefully this makes sense - it does in my head, but once it's passed through my fingers, all bets are off!  Eric's intent in training is that a horse will maintain it's rate and direction on the circle with the lightest possible guidance from the rider.  Because the horses quickly learn the patterns and to respond to shifts of weight and leg position lightly and promptly (witness Alisha's quick bounce anticipating a lead change when I shifted my hips), it's important to cue them clearly and consistently when a change is actually coming. Well, all the time, actually, but you get the idea. 

So. On a normal circle left with no change planned, my legs should be steady, maintaining light to non-existent support, only bumping if Alisha's rate changes or she moves off the circle.  On a left circle preparing for a change, rounding the curve just prior to the center, I should add right (outside) leg behind the cinch, reinforcing a haunches-in.  At the center I should change to a cue for the right lead.  I should be looking up and to the center of the new circle.  My weight should shift from my right to left hip, and my right leg should move forward to hold her barrel, with my left leg sliding back behind the cinch to move her left hip over, while my right hand lifts to tip her nose in, cuing a bend into the curve of the new circle. 

She should change smoothly, not bolting forward into the new direction - which she had a tendency to do.  But that's mostly a sign that I haven't quite gotten the hang of how much emphasis (not much) I need to cue her.  I'm still shouting, or at least asking loudly; I need to learn to whisper.

A couple of changes in both directions provided plenty of food for thought.  As the daylight was fading more quickly, we finished up with another run at spinning properly.  Lo and behold!  My slow, thoughtful body-part-by-body-part practice on Sunny paid off.  I wouldn't say the spins were fantastic, but they were much better.  And I was able to focus more successfully on Aisha, enough to tell when she was correctly stepping over to the right in front, or incorrectly stepping under.  I'm not sure how big my grin was, but I know I was wearing one! 

We called it a ride with that - a very successful lesson on multiple counts.  I made it through without being uncomfortably nervous at the speed we were traveling much of the time, AND I managed to successfully and intentionally cue for flying changes.  As a bonus, the spins have improved. 

I may feel guilty for cheating on Sunny, but it is nice to have the opportunity to learn without splitting my attention between what I'm doing and what he should  be doing but isn't.  And I was doubly grateful I hadn't brought him when, after walking Alisha mostly cool and brushing her to the point of barely damp, Eric decided that she should spend the night in the barn were it was warmer, rather then going back out into the increasingly chilly night temps.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

In which it's 55'!

Dec. 18th... 7 days until Christmas

What a gift!  An absolutely perfect day for riding.   J, C and I rode a10 mile loop.  The only thing not perfect?  My pony.

 See those ears?  He was feeling good.  And naughty, the stinker.

It might have been two years, rather than two weeks since he's been seriously ridden - he spooked at a pheasant and almost lost me (Thunder, bless his heart, stopped dead when I dropped his lead), decided the railroad tracks were scary, and every lope he wanted to turn into a full out gallop. And he wanted to trot - I thought he'd settle after the first mile, but he was feeling more energetic than I was, apparently. 

J finally took Thunder so I could focus on making Sunny work, and after some bending and flexing he was a bit better, but I can definitely feel my legs and lower back tonight.

The rest of the herd - that's Rufus with the wide blaze behind the donkey and the fencepost.  They haven't been missing any meals, that's for sure.  

I'm loving the weather - but I sure hope we don't pay for it with feet of snow down the way.  Regardless, it was wonderful day to be out and in the saddle.  Hope you all had some of the same!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Lesson Day: Alisha

Thursday afternoon it was again too cold for me to want to haul Sunny. I layered on long underwear under my boots and jeans and headed over to Eric's to see who he'd have me ride.  No choice this time - when I arrived sans-pony, he informed me we were going to work on reinforcing muscle memory from last week. 

But instead of riding Pride, who was going to make me work for everything, he put me on Alisha.  Alisha, like many of Eric's horses, has competed successfully on a national level.  In her case, in several disciplines, including saddleseat and reining. A very sweet mare, he described her as an over-achiever.  If I was clear about what I wanted, she'd be spot on - if not, she was going to get anxious.  She has an upright build and a long, elegant neck - instead of having to work on elevation and getting lightness in front like I do with Sunny and had to with Pride, I'd have to work on solid cues and keeping her collected.   

He had me warm up hunt, with trotting transitions (and if that wasn't just a barrel full of monkeys in a western saddle!), haunches in/out and then we worked on walk/lope transitions, stops and rollbacks.  Transitions were MUCH easier - primarily because she's so light and forward that I could almost think her into a lope.  But she'd also happily pick up the wrong lead, so it was pretty clear if I was asking correctly or not.

Stopping was tougher - Alisha doesn't have sliders on, so the effect was a harder stop since all forward motion ceased immediately rather than continuing on into the slide as it did with Pride.  I managed to sit one decent stop - the last one, but overall had a really hard time not automatically bracing my lower back rather than melting down into my seat.  Just like with the spins last week, sitting the stop was much easier if I remembered to look up, rather than down.  Just rocking my head and shoulders back let Alisha lift her front end and tuck her butt properly.  And kept me from imitating a lawn dart.

Spins... still figuring those out.  Alisha has a club foot on the left front. Shorter tendon/ligament?  Eric explained and I didn't retain the technicalities.  Suffice it to say that she's trimmed well, and it doesn't affect her moving, except when she spins - because it's harder for her to go right, if she's not moving slightly forward when she starts, she'll step under rather than over in front. Since she spins like she does everything else - fast, I had trouble keeping up with her to the left.  But to the right because of her conformational defect, she's just a little slower.

From my point of view, that was not a bad thing - it was relatively speaking easier for me to at least try to get all my bits properly organized going right.  I'm almost getting the proper cluck-then-bump rhythm down...almost, but not quite.  But it's coming.

I actually practiced spinning very slowly, bareback, on Sunny yesterday, thinking about getting each of both of our body parts to move when I wanted them to.  Not that he had much of a clue, or that it would have resembled a spin to anyone watching us, but I think it helped me at least, and he's a trooper.  It's going to take some work - this is going to be another one of those maneuvers like the half-pass that should be simple, but where I get my rights and lefts all discombobulated. 

Is that not a patient face?

Friday, December 9, 2011

Riding the Slide

Lesson day yesterday, but it was just too cold to get Sunny all sweaty again.  He'll get his turn this weekend, outside in the sunshine on the trail.

I had my choice when I arrived - since this is a down period for lessons (apparently not too many people are interested in riding in the cold... go figure!) and the wind-up for show season hasn't started yet, the barn is pretty quiet. I could pick: hunt seat, English pleasure, western pleasure, or a reiner.  English pleasure is so far out of my arena that I wouldn't know where to begin - I opted for a reiner.

Eric had me get Pride out.  He's a cute little bay Arab; fine-boned and delicate with a compact build.  Very catty and light on his feet.  And very narrow after Sunny's barrel-shape. 

Tacking up was western, of course.  A simple O-ring snaffle and blue leg wraps.  Eric demonstrated the proper method on the fronts, and had me do the rears.  Something I've always wanted to learn, but have been afraid to try on my own for fear of screwing it up.  Very cool.

From memory, so hopefully right - I'm going to have to practice!

Wrap to the inside. 
The roll should unwrap counterclockwise, 
or the velcro fastener will be backwards when you finish the wrap.  
It should be snug, but not tight, with no wrinkles.  
Start just below the knee on the cannon bone and wrap downwards, 
lapping about halfway down each time.  
At the bottom of the cannon, 
take a wrap down under the bulb of the fetlock, 
around once, and then back down 
under the bulb once more. 
The wrap should have a small V in the middle/front
of the leg if done properly.  
Then wrap back up to the top of the cannon bone again 
to finish the where it started.

Once Pride was dressed, Eric put us through the usual warm-up exercises, which also served as an opportunity to get connected.  Riding a finished horse, it's amazing the difference in balance and cadence - and lightness.  He was a bit fresh to start with, but forward is good, and he was cooperative about it, so no worries there.  Is it comforting, or disheartening to know that I can consistently muck up a sidepass on a horse that actually knows what he's doing?  Sigh... 

So.  Other than the saddle, there are a few definite differences between hunt seat and reining. In a nutshell:

  • Hunt: lots of trotting - sitting and posting
  • Reining: no trotting.  It's either walking, loping or galloping
  • Hunt: seat is centered or forward.
  • Reining: seat is deep and balanced, but never forward.
  • Hunt: stop is round, collected, and legs stay on through the entire downward transition, only coming off when the stop is complete.
  • Reining: stop is round, collected, and the stop comes through your seat - when your leg comes off their sides and forward, the horse stops.  And when you're preparing for a stop, you go faster.
I'm sure there are lots of others that will become clear as time passes.  And for showing, there would be differences in the headstall, as well.  But pretty much all of Eric's horses work in a plain O-ring or D-ring snaffle for day-to-day, so that wasn't any different.  Cues for shoulder-in/out, haunches-in/out, canter/lope, sidepass, halfpass, etc. are the same as what I've been working on with Sunny.  Which sadly didn't necessarily make them any easier to get right.

Oddly, although I struggled as usual with lope departures, stopping that hard felt fairly natural.  Other than forgetting to say "whoa" a couple of times, and getting slightly stiff and rocking forward once, sitting deep, relaxed, and pushing my feet forward into the slide felt fine.  Unlike riding Sunny, where I struggle just to keep him from breaking back to a trot, and whose balance on a circle is still developing, Pride patters neatly around.  Asking him to speed up is as simple as moving your hands forward and driving with your hips, leg and seat.  Want to slow down?  Slow the rate of your hips.  Stop?  Take your legs off and remember to say, "Whoa!"

Loping off was a challenge, though.  Ideally, from a collected walk with the horse bent slightly on the circle, I would cue for the lope by tipping his nose in and sliding my outside leg back, then squeezing with both legs and kissing.  And he should step nicely up into a lope.  Except not... or at least not consistently.  Ultimately, we determined that I was being too busy with my hands and legs in preparing for the transition.  If I kept everything crisp and clear, he'd step up.  If I monkeyed with trying to get him perfectly in frame and moving forward, he was getting so many signals he just ignored me.  I suspect I've been doing the same thing with Sunny.  And believe me, I was making mental notes!

Spinning... Do you get dizzy easily?  Here again, right and left were not my friends, but I managed to successfully coordinate myself to get a couple of decent efforts.  And actually, I learned as much from doing things wrong - I was having a horrible time to the left.  Until I shifted my weight back and suddenly Pride was spinning.  With my weight off his shoulders he was able to rock back on his hindquarters properly.  

It didn't feel as if I worked as hard as I usually do with Sunny, and Pride certainly wasn't as sweaty, but I'm pleasantly sore this morning in some interesting places.  Different muscles at work, quite definitely!  And I'm looking forward to using them again!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The "Broke" Horse, why, how, and where we're going next

Last week at my lesson with Eric as Sunny and I circled the indoor in a collected, properly-bent-on-the-circle, nice, round sitting trot, our combined efforts resulted in Eric's somewhat surprised sounding, "Way to go Sunny, we'll get you broke yet."

Hmmm... In my dictionary, broke is when the horse I'm riding goes where I point it, at something approximating the speed I ask for, stops promptly when signaled, doesn't scrape me off against handy trees and fence posts, doesn't bite, kick, rear or do other uncivil things, and in general respects my space.  Throw in easy to catch, picks up feet on request, loads, and goes down the trail without having a cow when it sees a... well, a cow, and there you have it: a broke horse. 

And by that definition, Sunny already qualifies.
In Eric's dictionary, broke carries a lot more baggage.

So why, if I already have a broke (for me) horse am I taking hunt seat lessons?  From a philosophical perspective, I just plain like learning, especially from a good teacher, and I'm definitely doing that.  And a big part of it's practical.  If you've read this blog for a while, you know that for several years I tried without much success to fix a horse that trotted with his nose in the air and his back hollow.  Not good for him.  Not comfortable for me.   We're finally working through that.  

A second practical issue was just being a better rider in general.  Part three was having more confidence riding.  I'm getting both those places - not always quickly, and not without backsliding occasionally, but I'm getting there.

So do I care if Sunny's "broke" to Eric's standards... er... well... no. Sure, I'd like us to be able to pass muster, I guess.  But it's because ultimately, I want to know how to get the results myself - and because I want Sunny to learn to carry himself properly.  NOT because I'm intending to go tear up the show ring on a push-button mount.  Good thing, too!  Sunny, bless his adorable, fuzzy, square little body, doesn't have the conformation needed to show at the upper levels - something Eric's been (kindly) clear about.  

If I was really interested in showing him, I might actually care that we'll never make a splash in the show ring.  But dressing up to go in circles has never been something I've aspired to.   Oh, we might do a couple of local shows this summer just for fun, since I'll have the time this year.  But if I had to pick something for the two of us to compete at, I'd go with competitive trail or one of those cowboy-challenge-type things - something a bit less circular in nature.

T's Amyra is apparently a different kettle of show-ring fish, though.  As I cooled Sunny out the other night we were talking about her and what we - T and I, that is - intend to do with her. (Show ring, cow horse, trail horse, pasture ornament, brood mare - Okay, so not that last!

One of Eric's questions was how competitive am I (not very), because he thinks she has huge natural potential.  Translated, I think that means he's decided he can show her and win.  My response was that successful showing to me is doing better than I did the time before whether I place accordingly or not - I'm not in it to beat everybody else, because I don't have any control over them.  

Not exactly the answer he was hoping for, I think.  But... it might be fun to see where Amyra can get to.  Still mulling it over, because it's a big commitment.   I hate to admit it, but I'm kind of tempted.... 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Photoshoot - FAIL

Yesterday afternoon despite cold, wind and general weather bleh-ness, I decided to get some Christmas pictures of the boys. I must have been high on sugar from all the cookies.   

Horse-torture by any other name... 
I'm continually amazed at what they put up with.

Antlers, even with jingle bells on were no big deal.  But I kept ending up with one nose or the other plastered to the camera lens.


I finally resorted to haltering them and wrapping their leadropes around the bale feeder (they're not tied fast).  Which worked... sort of.

At least they're both looking in the right direction...
I'd thought - silly me - that the bow, especially the streamers, would catch their attention. Nope.  Not at all. 

Getting both of them looking at me at the same time was so not happening.

Eventually they decided to nap.

Cropped and cleaned up, the best of a bad lot.

Amazingly moose-like

There's a treat in this for me, right?

Are we done yet?
I'll try again another day - 
preferably one with some sun, less wind, 
and more cooperative critters!

Saturday, December 3, 2011


Not the horse kind, either.  Although the day is young yet...

Yesterday I made my annual batch of fruitcake.  Don't hate - my family likes it!  I have an ancient Betty Crocker cookbook I inherited from one of my grandmothers, and it has a whole page of fruitcake recipes.  I always use the base recipe, but depending on what a) sounds good at the moment, and b) what I have handy... I end up with something different every year.

This year I went dark.
In addition to the traditional
citron, candied cherries and pineapple pieces,
walnuts and golden raisins, this year's batch has:
coffee, molasses, dried cranberries,
cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, and cloves, and
for "tart" jelly I used whole-berry cranberry sauce.
It bakes in a slow oven, 
so the house smelled wonderful 
all yesterday afternoon and into the evening.

While the first batch was in the oven I tackled the package of gingerbread marshmallows someone thought I would know what to do with.  I'm not sure what exactly you'd call the result, but they're tasty...
Cinnamon Cereal Ginger-People Bars
1 package gingerbread marshmallow people
2 cups mini-marshmallows
1/4 cup butter
6 cups cinnamon squares ceral
1 cup mini-chocolate chips

Make them as you would Rice Crispie treats, stirring the chocolate chips in with the cereal and pressing them into a 13x9" pan while they're still warm.  They're weirdly addictive.

This morning I managed to ignore the cats bouncing off me until 5:30 - hey, it's the weekend, I can sleep in a little, right? But once I was up and coffee was on, I figured why not get some more of the Christmas baking done.

These macaroons are C's favorites, and they'll be filling an exam care-package shortly.

Almond Joy Macaroons
 1 package shredded coconut
1 can sweetened condensed milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
1/2 package (or so) mini-chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped almonds
350' oven for 8-10 minutes
**The secret to these is parchment paper
and letting them cool on the pan for 1-2 minutes.
make them without parchment paper
unless you LIKE swearing... a lot.

Chocolate chip cookies, just because I like them... well that, and I had all the ingredients.
Milk & dark chocolate chips
with big chunks of walnut - YUM
  I use the recipe off either the Baker's 
or Ghirardelli's chocolate chips. 
This time it was Baker',
but they're both good.
I should probably title this post "Thank you, Sunbeam"
The next ones are for my sister.  I've been sending these to her for Christmas for a number of years now.  Not long after she was married I sent her her traditional tin.  Her husband, who apparently couldn't remember if he'd had them before asked her if he liked them...  

Her answer, "No, you don't." - LOL!

Cookie Jar Ginger Snaps
Pretty, aren't they?  They taste darn good, too!

Now I have to scramble if I want to get everything mailed.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Input needed...

Yesterday's lesson was good.  It was cold and breezy but at least the sun was out.  Riding inside was pretty much a given. I remembered to grab both the girth and Sunny's bridle out of the trailer when I hooked up, so both were nice and warm by the time I pulled in at Eric's.

While I still tacked up outside, I led Sunny in with his halter on, leaving my heavy jacket, hat and ear band, along with my heavy gloves in the truck were they'd stay warm.  When my lesson was done, I cross-tied him - yet another new experience - and was able to untack and brush him off and put his cooler on inside where it was warmer.  He's still a bit big-eyed at the indoor experience, especially with horses coming and going in the aisles and calling to one another, but I'm amazed at how calmly he's accepting everything.  Cross-tying, for example - he didn't fuss or fidget at all.

Warm-up was bending and small circles, moving his hip in and out, but on a loose rein.  We moved on to more half-passing.  I think I'm finally getting the hang of it - and when I manage to ask properly, Sunny was responding correctly.  I'm supposed to channel my inner dressage rider (do I have one?), turn my outside toe out and roll my heel up.  And remember that Sunny's nose and hip need to be toward the way we're moving.  So if we're traveling clockwise, and halfpass diagonally across the circle to the right, my right hand is still the inside hand, and my left leg should be asking his left hip to move over while my right leg holds his shoulder.  Says the dyslexic... ai-yi-yi!

From there we moved on to collected trot sitting to rising transitions.  Sunny was just slightly off on his right front - not enough for a head bob, but enough that he felt just slightly uneven.  Nothing was swollen or warm, but he might have either a stone bruise or some soreness somewhere from kiting around the pasture in all the wind we've had.  But he didn't warm up out of it, so we kept the canter work short and only asked him for the direction that would put less stress on that side. 

Even with the easier workout, he was still good and sweaty when we finished, but I walked him until his neck, shoulders and flanks were dry, and curried him afterwards until only his girth-line was damp. Snugged in his cooler, he was 99% dry by the time I unloaded him at the farm.  Still....

Here's where I need some advice...

This is the first winter where I've had the luxury of riding inside.  But the horses live outside - they don't have a nice warm barn to stay in.  I'd like to keep taking Sunny over for lessons as long as the roads stay good, but the temps are getting lower and lower, and he's getting fuzzier.  Always before when I've ridden in the winter it's been outside, and I didn't generally have to worry about a sweaty horse when I finished.  Now I not only have a warm, semi-damp horse, but I'm hauling him 20+ miles home in a drafty trailer.  It was 17' when I parked the truck last night.  I can't blanket him where he is - there're too many tree-branches and what-not for a blanket to get caught on.  And I can't clip him, because without a blanket he'd be cold. 

I didn't sleep very well last night mulling things over, and was up early this morning to drive out and check on them.  They were both fine - Sunny hollered at me as soon as he saw me walking down the alley, and they both came trotting up to meet me at the pasture gate.  No shivers in sight, both of them fully fluffed against the cold.

I know some of you have dealt with this type of winter-riding dilemma, what's your approach?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The neighbors make themselves heard

Sunny was not in a cooperative mood last night.  Happy enough to be caught, he then objected to being tied up at the top of the lot without Thunder (who was quite content to watch us from down by the loafing tree).  He danced his way through brushing, and tried to sashay himself out from under the saddle.  Tough luck, Sunny!  He got brushed and saddled anyway.

Rather than go back down through the lot and out, I walked him around to our normal practicing field by way of the driveway.  Which takes us out of sight of the lot - at which point Thunder stirred himself to whinny and trot down the fenceline.  Sunny pranced along next to me, but quieted down once we were back in sight of his buddy.

I bridled him, ditching his halter in the center of the pasture to use as a spiral in/out marker, checked the girth he's gained weight and hopped on.  He promptly walked off.  Backed up, stepped down and tried that again.  He finally stood still on mount three.

It took probably half an hour of work to get him nice and round - he wanted badly to go over to the north fence by Thunder.  And there was something moving across the tree grove on the south side by the lines of round bales which wasn't helping matters any.  I persevered, and eventually he settled down, although he persisted in wanting to drop his shoulder and dive across the circle on the south side. Occasional banging and engine noise signalled something was going on over there, but I couldn't tell what.  Eventually the what was explained by gunfire - apparently some folks at the pheasant place were sighting in on the range out back.  They must have been setting up new targets, thus the banging.  The shooting triggered the appearance of a little spike-horn buck who trotted out of the trees, bounced over the pasture fence and proceeded on across toward the north tree grove.  He must have been eating/resting in among the hay bales, and decided it was time to move to safer territory.  Although he didn't seem to concerned about a) the noise, b) the horses, or c) me.

At that point the wind kicked up, and between that and the continued shooting and voices from across the way I pretty much lost my horse attention.  I'd been riding for almost an hour at the point anyway and it was starting to get dark, so I finished up with some stationary bending and stretching exercises and called it a night. 

Today was just too chilly to face riding - I have new long-underwear coming, though, and as long as the snow keeps holding off....
Nu-nu thinks it's chilly, too
Made the bed when I got up this morning, and went back in to find Nu-nu had made herself a nest in what remained of my warm spot.  She poked her head out when she heard me come back with the camera, but initially all that was visible was the tip of her tail. I actually was reaching to yank the covers flat again when I realized the rumple in the covers was something under there!

On the plus side, it's soup weather again.  I love soup, but it just isn't warm weather food.

The last of the turkey
No more leftovers - I made turkey soup of the last of Tom today.  The plan was turkey-barley, but I must have used the last of the barley in something else, so I dumped in a half cup of steel cut oats.  Hadn't tried that before, but I didn't think there was any reason it wouldn't work - and the result is pretty tasty

The only bad thing is that I didn't get around to turkey enchiladas this year, and they're one of my favorite leftover turkey meals.  Oh well, maybe Christmas...

Monday, November 28, 2011

The ears have it

After the wind on Saturday, Sunday was cool, bright and still.  Hard to believe it's almost December.  I debated over riding - with sunshine pouring in the south windows on the house it felt deceptively warm - but ultimately decided to wait until the temps climbed back up on Monday.  Checking on the boys in the afternoon I did end up hopping on Sunny for a few circuits around the pasture, though.  He and Thunder were dozing in the sun when I got to the farm, and I just couldn't resist all that warm pony fuzziness.  

He was perfectly content to wander here and there wherever I pointed his nose, and we even showed off (although nobody was watching) with a few sidepasses and a couple of almost perfectly circular 360' turns on the haunches in both directions.  I won't call them spins, but those back feet were definitely staying planted.  Sunny's wonderfully comfortable bareback, smooth and steady - somehow the withers that are completely non-existent under saddle are just perfect for sitting behind.  And he's not so tall that the ground is a worrying distance away, either!

Thunder observed from the top of the hill, content to keep loafing.  When I finished with Sunny, I laid across his back a few times to his complete lack of concern.  They were back to nibbling their way across the pasture as I left.  

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving week re-cap

Sunny: "Hey - did you hear that?"
It was a beautiful week weather-wise, and with C home from college for Thanksgiving break, I actually had company riding.  Tuesday evening we rode an 8 mile loop with Caspar and Buddy.  I'd intended to ride Rufus, but it was later than we'd planned to leave before she was ready.  Fading daylight meant a fast pace to finish before dark. I had the farrier pull Rufus's shoes for the winter already, and barefoot he gets sore feet too easily to make a quick loop something I wanted to do with him. so C volunteered Buddy.   We finished up just as the sun was setting, and by the time we turned them out it was black.

Wednesday afternoon I tacked up English at the farm, working on my homework with Sunny: collection and transitions, side-passing and bending.  He was the most responsive and willing he's been at home.  Since he was so good, I rewarded him by not making him work for quite as long.  Afterwards I bridled Thunder (no reins) and let him carry the bit while I lunged him. He wasn't thrilled about the bit, but did a lot of chewing which was good.  And he was light and responsive on the line.  Both directions at the walk and trot for about 20 minutes total.  Then I added reins and worked on getting him to drop his nose and give his face. Small steps. 

Thursday after I popped the turkey in the oven I collected the boys and spent a wonderful couple hours riding with C and J.  An absolutely beautiful day -  shirtsleeve temps, lots of sunshine, and just enough breeze to ruffle manes.  So different from last year, when I believe the high for the day was 16'. 

Friday C and I rode again - Rufus finally got his turn.  We started early enough to mosey, and keeping him on the shoulder where the footing was soft worked out well.  He's a kick to ride.  Ears pricked, stride long and forward... I could tell he was happy to be out.  He's very looky and much more the stereotypical Arab than Sunny.  Large rocks, clumps of differently colored grass and weeds, culverts, stumps... potential horse-eaters, all of them, but mostly he just eyes them suspiciously and keeps moving.  Although thanks to some gigantic squirrels (amazing how big dead leaves make them sound) and a few wild turkeys he and Caspar both took a couple of sideways bounces. 

Today, unfortunately, seasonal weather returned.  We have winds gusting to 50+ mph and temps in the 30's.  Not good riding weather, but given the rest of the week I can't complain.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

For all the little things...

For naps...
 My pies are baked, the cranberry relish is set, and the eggs are deviled.
The peels are off the potatoes, and the turkey's lounging in the pan.
I even have most of "work" cleaned off the kitchen table.

and dirt...
And I'm thankful for that.
I'm also thankful for what promises to be a beautiful day...
for riding, and just because...
For the friends who'll be joining me later, 

For country roads...
and for family and friends around the globe,
who are safe and sound
- may they stay that way! -
enjoying their own Thanksgivings.

and sunshine...
For the critters,
even the one that woke me up at 3 a.m. 
to inform me that it would be morning soon,
- if my typing is odd, it's because she's draped over my arm supervising this post -
and for all of the things that I forget to say "thank you" for 
each and every day.

sunrises, and sunsets....
To all of you out there,
may your day be as peaceful or as exciting as you choose,
filled with good food, family, and friends on two feet and four.
 And may you always have plenty to say "thank you" for.

For pony ears... and all the other bits, too!
Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Reining, Cutting and Working Cow @ the Ranch of Cherry Creek

Yesterday was an education.  
In a good way!

Apparently, Eric (who I've been taking lessons from) periodically arranges some sort of field-trip or clinic for his students.  His goal is an opportunity to spend the day learning about an aspect of the horse or show world most of us didn't have much experience with.  Eric's students include a lot of young riders (and a few of their parents), and most of his younger students ride and show hunt seat or English pleasure, so this particular excursion really was a brand new experience for the majority, including me - and it was a huge treat.

Don Ulmer, long-time reining, cutting and working cow-horse trainer and sometime judge generously volunteered his time and expertise (and facility) for a demonstration and hands-on learning opportunity.  Not so much a clinic, exactly, as an introduction to the world of reining, working cow and cutting horse competitions.  

His audience was initially supposed to be about 40 strong, but inclement weather unfortunately - or fortunately, depending on how you look at it - cut the number by about half.  About 10 youth riders of various ages and their parents, and assorted others of us beyond our teens made the trek up to the Ranch of Cherry Creek in spite of blowing snow, wind, and some of the coldest temps we've seen yet this winter. Thankfully, the barn was heated, and the huge - 150'x300' - indoor arena while not exactly warm, was comfortable as long as I was moving or wrapped around my coffee mug. 

The facility itself is gorgeous and practical - a barn runs along the outside of the arena wall down one full side. 30+ (I didn't count) 12'x12' box stalls line both sides of the wide aisle, with offices, a kitchenette, bathrooms and a tack room facing a row of stalls on one end.  It's all very light, airy and open feeling, helped out because the stalls are bars on all sides from about counter-height up.  A couple of us wandered the barn aisle oohing and aahing over the lovely brass plates identifying each resident, the stalls themselves, how comfortable and content all the horses looked, and how clean and neat everything was.  It's not a boarding/lesson barn, it's a one-owner training facility, and it was definitely an impressive operation.

The day started at 10 AM (although since I rode up with Eric and a couple of others and he hauled the horses, it actually started a lot earlier) with Don and his daughter and fellow trainer Elise demonstrating the basics of their warm-up, what the elements of a reining pattern consist of and how they can be combined, riding for training purposes and a couple of "show" patterns, followed by an explanation of how the pattern would be scored.  After that they gave us a cutting demo (on a very fresh pen of cows) and a scoring explanation, and then showed us the after-the-box portion of a working cow horse run, again with an explanation of scoring.

Along the way, Don explained what makes each event different, how they prepare, what makes a good, better, best run, and how and why the horses need to carry themselves the way they're encouraged to.  His explanations were very thorough - we didn't have too many questions, but it was a shade chilly sitting still, so perhaps we were all just slightly frozen....

After lunch (broasted chicken, potatoes, macaroni salad, cookies and lots of hot coffee) the hands on portion of the program started. 

Along the way...
Don's philosophy of training and horsemanship encompasses several things.  I'm going to paraphrase wildly here, since I wasn't taking notes, so these are a few of the statements that stuck with me at least as I interpreted them.
  • It isn't possible to MAKE a horse do anything, at least not productively, for very long.  
  • You need to ride the horse, the horse shouldn't ride you. Elaborating on this point, he explained that every step the horse takes when you're on him should be intentional on your part.
  • Correction isn't about making something painful - horses remember pain and it makes them stiffen up.  A stiff horse isn't a fluid, flexible horse. 
  • Find the job that suits the horse, and your life - and theirs - will be much easier.  
  • What suits the horse isn't necessarily going to be what he/she was bred for.
  • A horse has five parts - head, neck, shoulders, barrel/ribcage and hip.  You have to be able to move them all where you want to when you want to, or you aren't riding the whole horse.
  • You have to ride the whole horse - if you only depend on your reins to control your horse, and your hand is halfway up his neck, you're only riding 10% of him. (And if you can win while riding 10% of the horse, he'll buy him, because when the other 90% of the horse gets involved, he'll be a universe-beater - lol!)
  • At some point you have to trust your horse.  If you can't, you may need to find a horse you can trust.
On to the hands-on portion of the day:
After lunch they saddled six or seven horses along with another two that Eric brought along.  These were their show horses, and not just any old show horses, either - check out the Winner's Circle page.  Current national and reserve national champions Dakota Wolf, RCC Reinman, Quintessa, and Short and Smart, along with past multi-time champion and reserve champions Traddition and a couple of others whose "official" names I didn't catch.  Since not as many of us as originally planned were there, everyone who wanted to got a chance to try cutting one or two cows while Don and Elise turned back and coached.  For the most part, it appeared to be a matter of not overriding.  Those horses knew their jobs, and the riders that sat tight and stayed out of their way did better than the ones that tried to do too much of the thinking.

For anyone who doesn't know - which until yesterday, included me, if you take your hand off your horse's neck when you're cutting a cow, you lose points.  So the idea is to let your horse work the cow, and only provide an miniscule amount of guidance needed with by shifting weight, and using your seat and legs.  Lifting your hand cues your horse that you're done.  Meaning that if the horse doesn't really want to work a cow, you're in deep digested-by-cow-already product.

Then they set up the flag.  On a pulley system strung from one end of the arena to the other across the short end of the arena, it's set up at cow height, and stands in for a cow for practice purposes.  We all had a chance to try that - again, once locked on to the flag, no hand lifting involved, and you always cue the horse with the leg closest to the flag/cow.  So if you want your horse to turn left, you kick with the left heel - which seems counter-intuitive, but that's how they're trained.

Eric had me riding Aslan, one of his horses, an ex-junior reining champion.  Aslan hasn't been finished in the bridle, so he's still in two reins (which I'm fine with) and he's never seen cows.  But he's extremely solid on all of the maneuvers Eric's had me working on with Sunny, so I had an excellent opportunity to practice those.  The arena was so big that those of us waiting our turn still had a normal arena-sized area to ride in while the action was going on on the other end.   We could either watch or ride - I really wanted to watch, but I also didn't want to freeze, since I'd shed my heavy jacket to ride.  So I'd watch until I got chilly, then practice some more with Aslan until I was warm again.

Since Aslan hadn't seen cows before - although he was definitely interested, not spooked - I didn't try cutting.  But I did get to try spinning, which was a lot of fun.  And later on I switched horses and tried chasing the flag, which was absolutely cool on a stick.  For the most part I managed to remember to keep my hand down, and I kept my seat on the catty gelding I was on pretty well.  Remembering (and finding a chance) to breathe was definitely a challenge, though!

What I walked away with:

I can safely say that working cow horse is probably NOT in my future.  I'm not the adrenaline junkie that sport's need-for-speed enthusiasts seem to be.  Reining... there's a lot of speed there, too, but since ease and control are the primary focus, I'm thinking I could maybe work up to that.  Cutting has always looked like fun, and yesterday was no exception.  But I'd need a different horse, as Sunny doesn't seem to have a lot of interest in cows, so for the time being that's probably out.

A better appreciation for why western horses' head carriage is low.  But this is getting long, so more on that later.

Overall it was a fantastic day, and the Ulmers get my whole-hearted thanks for hosting us and sharing their time, horses, and knowledge. 

It didn't feel like I did a whole lot beside listen and absorb, but when I finally got home yesterday evening I heated up a bowl of left-over chilli, and managed a whole half-hour on the couch with the cats before I fell asleep.  I woke up when the program I wasn't watching ended, brushed my teeth, and crawled into bed at 8:35 PM.  Proving yet again that learning IS exhausting - lol!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Lesson Day

Windy and brisk - the sun was trying, but not having much luck.  I think it might have crept into the 40's, just, but it was already dipping into the 30's when I headed for the farm.

Tonight was our first indoor lesson.  I warmed up (relatively speaking) in the outdoor arena, but at lesson time Eric stuck his head out of the barn and asked if I wanted to ride inside.

The indoor arena is about 1/3 the side of the outdoor, and Sunny's been under a roof about three times in his whole life.  He hesitated at the big sliding door of the barn when Eric slid it back for us, but stepped up onto the concrete when I asked him.  We proceeded down the aisle, with him eyeballing the horses in their stalls on either side and waiting for the ceiling to fall on him.  He wasn't any too sure about shadows we cast along the walls in the indoor at first, either, but I walked him once around to check out the corners and he settled right down.

This week we tried something new - haunches in.  And after a few odd fits and starts, we got the hang of it.  Poor Sunny - he tries really hard, but half the time I'm still sending the wrong signals, so things turn into a giant muddle more often than not.  So from haunches in, I was supposed to cue him to canter - which he was supposed to pick up. Sigh... 

You'd think we'd be getting it by now, but what a mess - after several sprawly, ugly departures and dropped-inside-shoulder, corner-cutting circles, Eric found me a dressage whip to tap him on the butt with.  That worked a bit better, but once he was moving I kept worrying about him charging out of the indoor and down the barn aisle - which I don't honestly think he wanted to do, he just wanted to keep looking in that direction in case there was something out there that might attack him - so I kept unintentionally shutting him down. 

It doesn't help that all of the bad habits I'm finally getting fixed at the walk and trot resurface with a vengence as soon as I think about cantering.  I get stiff, forget to breathe, drop my inside shoulder, give away my hands and automatically start leaning forward.  Once I finally managed to sit back, keep my hands quiet, and started trusting him NOT to tear off down the barn aisle, he stopped flattening and leaning so much - go figure.  We stopped on a good effort - by which point in the warmer air Sunny was good and sweaty. 

Wrap-up was more half-pass practice.  I'm still screwing that up as well, but at least I'm finally figuring out where my legs go - now if I could just get them both in the right place at the right time!

All things considered, it wasn't much worse than a few of our outside attempts, but at some point we need to get this canter thing clicking.

It's occasionally discouraging to watch Eric on a horse he's ridden a handful of times that's already sidepassing and loping around in lovely, easy circles - but considering Sunny's learning right along with me, we're making good progress.

By the time I'd walked him for half an hour or so he was starting to dry (and I was getting dizzy).  Outside it was dark, but the temps were holding steady at just south of 40' and the wind had completely died down. I was pleased - no, make that thrilled - to find Thunder a) still tied to the trailer, b) no scuffs on horse or trailer, and c) no big hole from pawing.  In fact, his halter wasn't even pulled tight.  Good boy!  I unsaddled, snugged Sunny into his new cooler, picked out his feet, and loaded them up. 

It was an uneventful haul home this week, at least - and the cooler worked a treat - back at the farm Sunny was dry underneath but for a damp strip behind his front legs where the girth runs.  Rubber curry to rub out the last of the sweaty bits, a good brushing everywhere else, and he was almost back to completely fluffy.  Definitely a good investment.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Dress-up & circles

Too bad it didn't get here earlier in the day yesterday!
Sunny - more fun to dress up than Barbie - lol!
 It was too warm (61'!) to need it today, and I could have used some anti-static spray to keep the zappies down.

Think he has a career as a sports model ahead of him? 
Nah. Still, I think it fits him pretty well.
Dress-up time over, I tacked him up and started working on those big round circles.  Loose rein, nice easy posting trot same as yesterday.  It was breezy and there were hunters wending their blaze-orange pheasant-seeking way through the fields next door and across the road. But in spite of the distractions he did pretty well. One lovely canter transition to the left and a not-so-great one or two to the right. Spiral, spiral, spiral.

All told, about an hour's ride.  I brushed him down, then let him graze under the trees where the grass is still greenish.  No work with Thunder today, but tomorrow it's his turn.