Sunday, April 29, 2012

HorsePower Fun Show Recap

Formerly known as HandiRiders of Sioux Falls, HorsePower, the group putting on yesterday's fun show, provides equestrian therapy and programs for people with physical, emotional and cognitive challenges.  The show is an annual fundraiser for them.  Given the turnout, hopefully they did very well.

Not taking the boys meant that although I was still up before the sun to make it to the show for the opening class, I did have an extra hour or so to sleep.  The rain had mostly stopped by the time I pulled in to the show grounds, and Eric and co. had the six horses he hauled settled already and were starting to bring in tack.  I exchanged good mornings and made myself useful filling water buckets, taking the opportunity to study the turnout as I did. 

Horses and riders of all shapes and sizes were represented - QH, or at least stock-type predominating, which wasn't surprising.  I was surprised to see only one "traditional" still spring-shaggy (and adorable) pony, although there were a couple of really lovely POAs.  There were also appaloosas, a Gypsy Vanner, a number of Arabs and half-Arabs, paints, and I think a couple of Morgans.  Competitors ranged in age from toddlers to gray and somewhat more creaky, but everyone regardless of age had a smile on and seemed to be having a great time.

Classes were full for the most part, with the number of adult riders equaling, possibly even surpassing, the number of kids.  The pace, with only six horses and most of them going western which was later in the afternoon, was more relaxed for Eric's crew, and the there was plenty of time for visiting.  The horses munched hay and dozed, even the one newbie that Eric hauled along strictly for an introduction to the show atmosphere.

The announcer was... let's call him quirky.  He chatted informally over the loudpeaker with the judge, cheerfully mangled names of horses and riders, and had a habit of berating any riders who weren't right on the heels of the previously entering horses in their class.  His chief concern seemed to be pushing forward as fast as possible to the part of the day involving games. I've never been at a show at which the next class was being actually called not just to the gate, but into the ring while the horses from the previous class were still lined up and waiting for placings to be called.

Apparently it's a more common practice at the local open shows, but if the exhibitors and the gate person had paid attention, it would have resulted in some serious traffic jams given the size of the classes.

The judge - well, the ways of judges are baffling and mysterious at the best of times.  And there were some tough classes.

There were a LOT of equitation classes, generally split into at least three age groupings, although which were going to be judged singly and which on the rail was difficult to predict in advance.  Watching the classes that Sunny and I would have been in was interesting and educational - the ring was crowded, with 10+ horses being the norm.  It would certainly have been trial by fire.

The push throughout the day to hurry to judged classes along in order to get to the timed events and games to me, at least, seemed like a case of misreading the turn-out.  Stalls started clearing almost immediately following the first (and most competitive) game, egg and spoon. I'm not sure exactly how many exhibitors stayed around for the speed events, but the number was definitely small, and the spectators had for the most part cleared out, as well.  

All in all, the show organizers did a great job, and I sincerely hope they turned a profit for their cause - if nothing else they certainly succeeded in providing an enjoyable way to spend a Saturday.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Lesson Day: Sunny, Buddy, and best laid plans...


So much for my plans to test the show-ring waters with the boys on Saturday.  Yesterday's lesson with Sunny wasn't exactly a fail so much as a head-scratcher.  After perfectly normal-for Sunny walk-trot work in both directions, Eric had me ask for a left-lead canter departure.  And that's where things started to get sticky. 

Sunny, like most horses, goes more easily in one direction.  But he'll usually take the correct lead when queued without too much drama.  Not yesterday, at least not going left.  I worked and worked and worked, and no matter how well I had him set up, he'd just torque his whole body around until he could get his right shoulder forward.  Out of probably 35 attempts, I got him to take the correct lead a grand total of twice.

Once he was finally in it, he held it easily enough with no apparent bobbles, without breaking and without protest. 

After the second correct effort, Eric had me switch directions and go right - he took that lead easily enough, but kept craning his head to the outside, and he stumbled a couple of times.  Something just didn't feel quite right, although he still didn't seem to be actually favoring anything. 

I'd had the same issue with canter left on Tuesday when I rode - I blamed it on rider error then, because canter departures are still something I struggle with, and the ground is pretty uneven.   But after having me walk and then trot him again in both directions, Eric had me get off, and he tried canter left  to see if he could feel where the problem was any better from on top.  No luck, but Sunny did exactly the same thing with him to the left that he did with me, which definitively rules out rider error.

Eric flexed him and then had me trot him off, but Sunny trotted off square after that, too.  Whatever we poked, pushed, prodded and manipulated, nothing seemed to bother him, but something is definitely wrong.  This just didn't feel like naughty-horse attitude.  So... we won't be showing on Saturday. 

Eric suggested just doing the schooling walk-trot if I still wanted to take him, but given the footing which I know is really deep, the weather, which is crumby, and the two hour trailer ride... no sense pushing things.  There will be other shows.

Sunny has an appointment at the vet on Tuesday to see if they can determine what/where the problem is, and if they don't find anything specific, I may make an appointment with the chiropractor.  Since Sunny's happy enough running and playing in the pasture, and nothing's sore, warm, swollen or otherwise visibly wrong, he'll get a couple of (more) days completely off until the vet visit, and we'll see what happens. 


After that debacle, it was Buddy's turn.  He nickered at me, flipped his mane and snuffled me with every appearance of being pleased to see me, stuffing his nose readily into his halter.  His new front shoes rang on the concrete barn floor like a regular-sized horse's instead of the Clydesdale he sounded like before - much better! 

I didn't rush grooming, even though he was pretty much clean barring a few flecks of sawdust.  He earned a bit of fussing this past weekend, and he enjoys it so thoroughly, it's hard to resist spending an extra few minutes. 

Tacked and on board, Eric had me working on rate since that's were I had the most issues at last weekend's show.  The familiarity of home is less distracting, but with Buddy rested and refreshed, there was still no shortage of forward to work with.  Slowing him down and then maintaining speed until told to change was just as challenging as usual, but he's holding frame and collection on his own for longer.  I love that light, floaty feeling when he's carrying himself

In the smaller indoor my tendency to let my outside leg drift forward was, as always, more pronounced, but to my great relief canter transitions in both directions were smooth.  It was a good lesson, not least because with back to back rides it was easy to tell where I'm inconsistent, and where I need to be quicker to adjust to each horse's particular quirks and personality.

And that was my ride time for this week.  I'll still go to the show tomorrow and be moral support and an extra pair of hands.  Eric's only taking five horses, so I'm guessing things will be a lot lower key. Definitely less stressful for me, that's for sure!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

April showers

The boys don't generally get baths - I usually let Mother Nature take care of the whole shower deal.  But then, I don't generally show, either.  And between the last bits of winter fuzz, and all of the dust and dirt from the lot...  Let's just say, a bath wouldn't hurt either of them.

I was hoping to hear the weatherman say temps would hold in the 80's all week, and that I'd be able to get them clean on Friday - but it's supposed to start raining and get cold and windy for the next few days, so it was today or not at all.

I pulled the trailer up into the turnaround, armed myself with two in one shampoo/conditioner, detangler, a rubber curry and a scrub brush, two big tubs, two 20 qt buckets, 85' of hose, and an adjustable stream sprayer nozzle, and started setting up.

Unsuspecting victims

The boys were very excited to see the trailer - they whinnied at it almost as enthusiastically as they greeted their hay.  I left them in the lot to eat while I filled the two tubs up about a quarter of the way with hot, very hot, water.  Then ran them the rest of the way full with cold water from the hydrant.  With the hose hooked on, I could just comfortably reach the closest tie position on the trailer (where Sunny's tied).

Then I collected my victims.  I started with Sunny - soaked him down with the hose starting with his front feet and working my way up after he decided getting wet wasn't worth panicking over.  When he was fairly wet on one side, I switched to a bucket of lukewarm water, added shampoo, and used the curry to work the loose hair and dirt off.  He wasn't thrilled, but didn't fuss too much, considering.  Thankfully the sun was warm enough to take the chill off the water in the hose pretty quickly, and with the length of hose I had to work with, I had a few good minutes of warm-ish water for rinsing before it ran really cold and I'd switch back to bucket-water.

We are NOT amused.

Thunder snorted a bit at my occasional overspray, but I had the nozzle on the shower setting with the hose pressure set fairly low, so it wasn't as if he was getting soaked.  Once I had Sunny sluiced off, I spritzed him down with detangler and swapped their places.

Post-bath & trim
Surprisingly, Thunder was far calmer about the whole thing than Sunny - maybe because he had time to watch?  At any rate, he stood patiently with one hip cocked while I lathered, scrubbed and doused him with buckets of water until he didn't suds up any more and the water ran clear, then coated him in detangler.  While he air-dried, I took a clean body brush and went over the now-dry Sunny.

Clean and pristine
I hadn't done more than run my fingers through his mane and tail before applying the detangler, so I was really impressed to find that even with just the soft bristled brush his mane was sleek, silky, and completely snag free. Good stuff, whatever's in there!

When they were both dry, which didn't take long given the warm gusty breeze, I trimmed bridlepaths, the worst of the ear tufties, and neatened up their fetlocks.  I'm not going to clip legs, shave muzzles, or even trim ear hair much beyond what I've done - they live outside, and taking away nature's bug and sun protection for a one-day thing wouldn't be kind.

Depending on how my lesson tomorrow with Sunny goes, and how nasty the weather gets (they're predicting rain, wind and 30 degrees colder for the weekend), I may bag the show completely.  If I do end up going, Thunder and I will brave showmanship since they're not offering halter, and Sunny and I will do huntseat equitation on the flat, hunter under saddle, and possibly hunter hack.

My only goal with both of them is to expose them to the atmosphere of the thing.  Thunder certainly isn't groomed to the level of neatness required for showmanship - neither is Sunny, for that matter!  So I'd be stunned to place at all with Thunder.  And I've never shown Sunny under saddle, so there again....

Which really takes the pressure off - if we make it, it will be just for fun and edu-tainment - lol!

Are you sure we can't go out and eat more grass?
When I was done trimming, I let them both eat grass for a bit before I turned them back into the lot.  G's been working on getting the pasture fence all hooked up and zap-capable again, so it shouldn't be too long before they can go be out for the summer.  In the meantime, they're thrilled at the briefest opportunity to crop their way along the driveway.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Spring Show, Day Two

Sunday started early, although not as early as it would have had there been horses in halter.  By 7 a.m. all the horses had fresh water, morning hay, and the ones in the early classes were getting longed and/or groomed.

Buddy and I were the first ones on C's slate of classes - she was riding her horse Trinity shortly after, so the two of us headed out to the main arena to longe the two horses.  Surprisingly, neither of the two wanted to play.  Buddy settled into a workman-like trot, not even bothering to snort at the pinto gelding circling at a brisk lope next to us.

The footing where I ended up was deep, and since he didn't show any signs of wanting to bounce around, I let him stay at a trot.  I didn't have a watch on, but we did somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes in both directions - long enough for him to be warm-ish and not quite puffing.


Back in his stall with a cooler on, he sighed, cocked a hip and went to sleep.  It was a brief nap, however - very quickly it was time for braiding and for tack for him and another quick change for me.

One of the weirdest things about showing with a group?  I didn't get to tack my own horse.  I saddled, unsaddled, wrapped legs, brushed, watered, fluffed tails, distributed hay, and tacked Buddy for Eric's rides, but for my classes someone else saddled him - I was supposed to stay clean.

I can count on one hand the number of times I've had someone else saddle my horse for me since I was tall enough and strong enough to tighten a cinch myself, and I can honestly say the novelty won't grow on me.  While I appreciated the luxury, it was definitely strange.

There was plenty of time to warm up, and Buddy felt smooth and confident under me.  I remember thinking, "I hope he feels this good in the class!"  I suspect he heard me, because he was certainly suspiciously cooperative - until our class was called.

Once again, I entered first, but this time I managed to count how many were in with me.  It was easy enough, since we'd already made most of one lap by the time the other two entered.  Circling, I did my best to keep Buddy rated back, but he wasn't interested in slow.  His nap was a lot more effective than my morning caffeine!

I did manage to keep him in better frame than the night before, I think, but Eric kept signalling me to slow him down.  The best I could do was steady him and try to make my ride look as effortless as it really wasn't.  The first canter transition I didn't get his hip in enough and he caught the wrong lead, but I felt it and was able to bring him back to a trot and ask again with better luck.  Either the judge missed our bobble or one of the other riders did something more unforgivable, because when she called for a line-up I left the ring with another red ribbon. Her only comment to me?  "Fresh this morning, isn't he?"  Yup.

E untacked Buddy and threw a cooler on him while I changed.  Then it was all hands on deck to get the western pleasure horses and the reiners wrapped, tacked and over to the warm-up ring.  C rode and took a blue, but I missed it holding a horse.  Eric was in and out, hopping on to warm up the Country English horses and then changing gears to the more sedate western pleasure.  I went where pointed, held what was handed to me, ran for electrical tape to fasten wraps and forgotten numbers, and just generally had a great time.

Sunday's judge was a brisk one, and classes clicked by at a steady rate helped by the fact that the numbers were a bit thinner than on Saturday.  For some, I think the regional show for Region 10 in Saint Paul is a much closer drive than the the one in Lincoln, Nebraska for Region 6, so they didn't stay.

Eric's second ride on Buddy resulted in another blue ribbon.  He made it look effortless.  Back in his stall, I took Buddy's mane down for the second time and turned him loose to eat, drink and nap until it was time to get ready again. In the meantime, the six or seven junior riders scrambled in and out of Country English, costume, show hack and western pleasure garb and back in again, sometimes multiple times.  Parents scurried around, E and C ticked off classes, shuttled horses, and made the whole machine run smoothly. I don't think either of them sat down once all day for longer than 30 seconds at a stretch.

Time flew by - helped out by the decision to cut the supper break to 15 minutes - and it was time for Buddy and I to go out again.  Eric shooed me off to dress, although at least I managed to fly through my change quickly enough to get back in time to at least help get Buddy tacked up.  We didn't do much warm-up, I just walked some easy circles in the hold area outside the ring.  Buddy was alert and paying attention, and when the gate opened, in we trotted, me prepared for a repeat of the morning's tug-o-war.

What I wasn't prepared for was how tired he was.  Our trot was great.  The canter transition was correct, but it felt like the transition to hand gallop wasn't coming and wasn't coming, and he broke to trot in front of the judge before I could catch him.  I sent him right back up, but when he did it again going the other way, I was pretty sure we wouldn't place well.   In fact, we did better than I'd anticipated, ending up with a third place ribbon.

Eric was disappointed, as he'd wanted me to qualify for another class for regionals - I was more than satisfied.  Buddy was tired, I was tired, and he gave it a good effort.  I just wasn't prepared for him to run out of steam, and I didn't help him enough.  Eric saw it too, and although he'd intended to ride him in open hunter pleasure later in the evening, he scratched.  Buddy was done.

Once again, someone else pulled tack.  I rehung my soggy shirt and breeches, played a completely different kind of tug-of-war getting my boots off, stepped into my jeans and yanked my much slobbered upon, very dirty sweatshirt back over my head.  Buddy was standing patiently in his stall, tied and still braided, but it was the work of only a few moments to fingercomb his braids out and resettle him in his blanket.  A clean damp rag to wipe off the shiny eye goop, and I turned him loose so he could relax.

The handful of classes left went by in a more relaxed fashion.  C showed me how to braid and sock tails, and I helped with that, then made the rounds with more clean damp rags to make clean faces.  Parents started trailing by with garment bags full of show clothes.  The girls emerged from the dressing room in jeans and sans glittery hair jewelry.  Horses dozed standing, hips cocked or in a couple cases, flat out in their stalls.  The show was winding down, and with the last of Eric's horses back, suddenly it was time to start packing up.

I stayed to help with the breakdown, both because I hate being one of those people that lets someone else do all the dirty work and because quite frankly I was having a good time.  I wasn't the only one.  Many hands made lighter work, and by nine the first load of horses was well on the way home, tack was packed, and all of the curtains were down, rugs folded, and everyone had a chance to finally sit down for a bit.  With enough hands left to do the final load out, I headed for home, another hour's drive in front of me before I could call it a night.

All in all?  It was an interesting experience.  Everyone was more than kind, and made me feel really welcome. I learned.  A lot.  I'm still pretty sure I'm not cut out for showing on that level, but it was an adrenaline trip I won't forget in a hurry.

I took a Tylenol and fell into bed, waking up this morning to the reality of a ton of dirty laundry, a lawn with knee high dandylions, and two lawn mowers that refuse to start.  Gotta love Mondays. And Sunny, Thunder and I are going to do this again next weekend?  I must be nuts!

Spring Show Day One - Saturday

Buddy (a.k.a Shalisahn)
 This year's spring Arab show ran two days, with a different judge each day.  A first or second in Saturday's show qualified riders to advance to the (larger) Region 10 show.  The Spring Show is an annual one, but while I've attended frequently, I've never participated, so this weekend was an eye-opening experience in more ways than one.  Viewed from the back end, the whole process gets a lot more complex.  Especially given that my last significant showing experience of the non-halter variety was in 4-H, 20+ odd years ago!

Thanks to the supreme efficiency of a mother-daughter team who managed the list of who was in what, wearing what, and when, and juggled tack, riders and horses accordingly, Eric was free to stay near the warm-up area either riding or coaching, dispensing encouragement and displaying an amazing amount of patience, not to mention endurance.  The exact horse count eludes me, but there were between 15 and 20, and of the 80 classes, he was either riding or had horses and riders in well over half of them.  No halter horses, which at least made the mornings a little less early and much less hectic.

Classes ranged between one and six or so entries, so they weren't huge, which was nice.  The judge on Saturday was a bit more leisurely with her pacing than Sunday's.  Even so, Eric's class with Buddy snuck up and bit us in the butt.  Back-to-back classes right before left him no time for warm-up, and a too-loose braid (my fault) on Buddy saw him doing a quick re-braid as they called his class.  Luckily, a gate-hold gave him just enough time to be on and in without too much delay.

Even with a very forward Buddy who was still channeling his inner English Pleasure horse, Eric made earning his blue ribbon look easy.  I made mental notes on the judge's timing for gait transitions, not that it did me much good, as the judges both days were fans of changing up the order.   

I didn't ride until after the supper break, but I kept busy enough during the wait before my class that I didn't have time to be nervous.  Mom and daughter were politely cautious, and properly, cautious of my offer to assist at first, but as I said to both of them, "If there's something you think I can do that needs doing, point me at it.  If I'm in your way, tell me to get out of it - I won't take offense."  And once they determined that I a) meant it, b) knew which bits of a horse to stay out from under, and c) could take direction, they gradually assigned me more responsible tasks.

It seemed like no time at all before Eric was braiding Buddy again while I was off scrambling into breeches and blouse, stabbing myself with the stockpin, and struggling into tall boots.  Why does it seem like if they fit properly, they never want to go on - or come off?!  Helmet, gloves, and Oh, CRAP!  I need a number!  Which was still pinned on Eric's hunt coat and thankfully easy to locate, although getting it  pinned on resulted in more pin pricks.  What felt like no time at all in the warm-up arena, and they were calling my class. 

Buddy and I trotted in first, and with no idea who or how many were following us, (and I'm still not sure if it was 5 or 6!) I simply sent him forward at a working trot, trying to keep my rate even.  The judge called almost immediately for a canter followed by hand gallop, walk, reverse 4 steps, canter, hand gallop, trot and then had us line up.  Rate was a challenge the entire class, and I couldn't quite keep Buddy low enough.  Still, I managed to find all my diagonals correctly, we caught both leads, and hand gallop was definitely a GALLOP.  I mostly remembered to look up and around my corners, and did my best to make it all look effortless.

It felt like no time at all start to finish, although from taping a couple of classes for other riders earlier in the day, I'd guess it took somewhere between 6 and 8 minutes.  I was soaked, Buddy was not.  The announcer called Buddy's number - second! - although I had no idea they meant me until I heard my name, as I'd not even looked at the placard I'd pinned on, and probably wouldn't have retained it if I had.

After a minor altercation in which Buddy wanted to exit the ring slightly more hurriedly than I did, Eric expressed himself mildly surprised at our second - he thought I'd be pinned first, but I was more than satisfied with our first outing.  In the brief few moments before he turned his attention to the next rider going in, we agreed that I needed to work on rate and not let Buddy build speed down the long sides.  Other than that, I was happy, he was pleased, and that was all there was time for.

I'd forgotten to ask anyone to tape my ride, and the light level combined with the dust hanging in the arena made taking pictures of the actual classes pointless (I'd experimented earlier in the day, and I have numerous blurry shots to prove it).  Too bad, too, as it was probably my best ride of the weekend.

Friday Pre-Show Ride

Eric trailered horses over Thursday, and by the time T and I arrived for my pre-show ride on Friday everything was set up and the arena was already bustling.  The show site was the W.H. Lyons Fairgrounds in Sioux Falls.  Big indoor arena and warm-up ring, stalling for a couple hundred horses, bleachers, concessions, etc.  It's a nice space, and I've been there enough for various things that I already knew where everything was, which was helpful.

The standard uniform for horses was blankets and Sleazys.  The standard uniform for the two-footed crowd was blue jeans and sweatshirts.  I felt more than a little overdressed in my breeches and half-chaps, but I still have enough trouble keeping my lower leg where it belongs that I wanted the extra stick-um.  Oh well.

Eric had schooling sessions scheduled straight through the day with all of his riders.  Unlike some of the other trainers who had two or three riders out at once, he was taking his students one at a time, with only a slight overlap during cool down.  T and I were a bit early, but by the time I had my tack hauled in and Buddy polo-wrapped, bell-booted and saddled, he was ready for me. 

Buddy seemed to recall his previous outings as a halter horse and with Eric under saddle, because the bright lights and busy surroundings didn't phase him much.  He did, however, have plenty of energy from standing in his stall most of the day.  Eric hopped on first and made a couple of laps on an obviously fresh horse before he dismounted and sent me back for a longe line. On the line, Buddy hit the gallop button and Eric let him set his own rate and blow off some steam - the arena footing was pretty deep, and it didn't take long before Buddy was ready to slow down.   

With the bouncy edge worn off, Buddy settled in and worked nicely for Eric through all three gaits.  Then it was my turn.  He was a little looky at the far end where some bright orange signs and a yapping dog, combined with all of the usual moving-in activities of another barn were going on, but following the advice to just keep asking fo an inside bend, we made it successfully past.  On down the long side we passed the announcer's table with plenty of additional "interesting" stuff to eyeball without incident. 

Buddy felt good - I felt like I'd forgotten everything I'd learned.  But with a couple of laps under our belts without any real silliness, the butterflies flew away and I could focus.  The hardest part was not so much managing Buddy, but avoiding collisions.  While common sense and ring etiquette would suggest that riders stay on the same direction around the circle, not everyone subscribed.  And with three horses being longed in the middle, what should have been ample space for avoiding disaster became somewhat less generous.

We didn't school overly long.  Just enough to figure out where the potential trouble spots would be.  All three gaits both directions, and the sense that Buddy was listening and paying attention.  I was happy with it.

Then it was back to his stall to untack and a trip to the wash rack for a rinse.  Which was an adventure all in itself.  Clear across on the far side of the building, it's a low-ceilinged, concrete-floored room big enough for six (well-mannered) horses to be washed simultaneously.  Think high school locker room showers, except with tie-rails and hoses. And water that stayed warm for the duration.  It also had foot-wide drain grates running the length and width. 

Buddy was not thrilled about the grates.  And his front shoes made an impressively loud noise on impact with the floor.  But the warm water obviously felt good, and he stood nicely for his rinse.  I basically just sluiced him down and then slicked the drips off with my hand having forgotten to grab a scraper.

Back at his stall again, once Buddy was dry and redressed in his Sleazy and blanket, he tucked into water and hay.  I finished getting my stuff arranged in the tack stall.  My first class wasn't until Saturday after the supper break.  I'd have a chance to watch Eric ride Buddy in the PB Hunter Pleasure Limit Horse class earlier in the day, and I was eager to see him go and get a better sense of how he'd be in an actual class.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Beautification Day

Not that the horses haven't been getting prettified right along, but Wednesday at Eric's place was hard-core pony-spa day.  I arrived at two o'clock (and left at seven) and Eric and crew had been hard at work for hours when I arrived and showed no signs of slowing down when I left.

Eric and I both rode Buddy (he's showing him, too) but it was only about a half hour total - just long enough to get all three gaits in in both directions for both of us, make sure my show tack was properly adjusted, etc.

Then it was bath time for Buddy.  Ham that he is, he strrreeeettchhed and wiggled his nose and just generally enjoyed his scrub.  He wasn't nearly so keen on the vet arriving to draw blood for his health papers.   The others tolerated being stuck with perfect equanimity.  Not Buddy - he had to crane sideways until he almost tipped over.

Meanwhile, the other crossties were occupied by a couple of incredibly patient victims - sorry, horses - getting their final clipping and shaving.  Body clips have been done for a few days, but muzzles and eyebrows get shaved, ears clipped, and diamonds clipped into faces to make their dishes more pronounced.

Once Buddy was shampooed, conditioned, de-tangled, and spritzed with ShowSheen, I got to sort through the large bag of Sleezys (lycra/spandex for horses - better them than me!) and find one that fit him before slipping his blanket back on.

The next to go under the hose was a petite bay mare who sighed when the warm water hit her and leaned into the massage as I worked up a good lather.  She also got the full spa treatment and a Sleezy to finish.

My last bathe-ie was a huge half-Arab palamino gelding.  This will be his first show, too.  Eric's comment as I pulled him out was, "Don't get flat - he's only had a couple baths."  Hmmm...  He does like to joke.  Golden boy didn't twitch an ear.  He even relaxed and unclenched his tail and made oooh-that-feels-so-good-faces while I worked the shampoo in and made sure that all the dust, tangles and shaving-particles were rinsed out.  His bath wasn't completely without incident though.

Unfortunately, the one sideways step he did take resulted in his left front foot catching the edge of his right front shoe...  When he picked the right hoof up... the shoe remained pinned under the left hoof and the right foot landed naked on the floor of the wash rack.  Eric might have been irked about it, but since he was back and forth past us multiple times he'd seen how quietly the gelding was standing.  He just shook his head and said the nails must not have been clinched solidly.  No damage to the hoof - the nails all just pulled straight out, so it should nail back on without too much trouble.

I still have tack to wipe down, but my fleece pads are freshly washed and fluffy and the check marks next to all the items on my list of to-be-packed is slowly growing.

Someone else is finding the packing process a lot more relaxing than I am!

Mabel, that's really NOT a cat bed

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Lesson Day: Buddy - One Down, Two To Go

Pre-lesson last night Buddy and I had three rides left before Saturday's show.  (Today will be Buddy's dress rehearsal.)  T came along to video me, so I could really see what I'm doing when I'm doing things right. And wrong.

Buddy was in a much more cooperative frame of mind, and although his walk still had springs, at least he wasn't resentful about it.  If I can manage to keep his shoulders up and poll level (he has a tendency to forget he's not an English Pleasure horse any more when he gets distracted) we actually look pretty good.  I sing Mary had a little lamb at varying speeds to myself as we circle - to help keep our rhythm steady.  Occasionally it even works.  

In an effort to break the "reverse and normal trot" spin cycle engrained in Buddy's brain, Eric had me practicing reverse, halt and back two steps.  We also did multiple sitting trot/working trot/sitting trot transitions to stop him anticipating a canter sequence every time I stopped posting.  Cuing a transition from walk to working trot is a deliberately soft, slow upward drift through sitting trot - with Buddy, it's always easier to gain speed than it is to shed it.

Canter still has room for improvement, but I did manage to downshift from his immediate surge to hand gallop within only three strides or so, and maintain an only slightly too fast rate in both directions.  And downward transitions aren't taking four laps any longer.

I'm still having trouble keeping my lower leg steady consistently, which probably also accounts for some of Buddy's raciness, and a sound-track playing "shoulders back, tighten your abs!" wouldn't be unwelcome.  But...

When I cued the replay last night I discovered two brief snips of me riding Sunny last fall after my first lesson.  At only a couple of seconds apiece, they still showed rounded back and shoulders, Sunny with his nose in the air... Watching back the 20 minutes of last night's ride before the battery died on the camera, I was pleasantly surprised at just how much my seat and posture have improved.  I know I feel more secure, and that's huge all by itself.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Horizontal rain

Poor ponies!  We really needed the rain, but the hail and wind we could do without.  Driving out, sheets of wet weren't so much beating down as sweeping horizontally southward.  When I got to the farm the boys were tucked in butts to the grain bin for a wind break.  Sunny'd managed to strategically position himself on the concrete pad in front of the waterer so that he could avoid standing in the mud. 

He usually greets me with a token whinny to acknowledge my arrival and inform me of his interest in whatever I might (or rather should) be bringing him.  Today he shrilled four or five times, announcing in no uncertain terms his disgust with the weather - an imperative demand that I do something about it soon.

I fed them, which seemed to satisfy him.  Although they both sort of sidled and backed their way over to the feeder.  I came home covered in hay and soggy from the neck up and thighs down.  At least what was under the raincoat was dry.

According to the weatherman, the thunderstorms are supposed to shift out and the sideways stuff will become just steady rain by late afternoon. As I write this it's nearly 7:30, and it's steady, alright, but still more right to left than straight down.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Lesson Day: Buddy

With a newly-chiropractor-adjusted Buddy sporting freshly-shod hooves and a body clip, half of our equation looked show-spiffy.  After a week of no riding, I wasn't feeling particularly with-it, unfortunately, and only getting four hours of sleep the night before didn't help. 

Buddy had had the previous week off for post-vetting, chiropractor and shoes, and he was feeling good.  Since the slow, cadenced walk is a challenge, we worked on that for a while, then moved to trot, which was, as usual, better.  Didn't spend too much time there before Eric asked for a trot-canter transition.  Correct lead!  Hooray!  But rate was way too fast.  Close legs, shoulders back, seat deep, half-halt... and it worked.  We slowed down.

And I could definitely tell that between the adjustment, new shoes, and time off Buddy was moving a lot more freely through his back and having an easier time staying collected.  (And since T's brother-in-law adjusted my back while we were in KS over Easter, I can testify to the benefits of getting everything realigned properly!!)

Rather than coach me on everything, Eric spent a lot of the lesson asking for a transition and then pausing before he mentioned anything that should be changed to see if I could correct it myself.  I did pretty well, although I still have that collapsing-forward habit, and I need to be quicker to rate Buddy back after his canter transitions.  Downward transitions are decent, but again I have a tendency to collapse at the waist - I have to consciously remind myself to breathe and lean back.  And I forget.  A lot.

We'll practice again on Saturday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and then on Friday at the show grounds.  Time sure flies!

And in other good news, we finally have RAIN!!!  I can't even bring myself to cringe over the fact that they're forecasting a chance of snow for Monday.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Lesson Day: Sunny and "Wow! Look at his topline!"

Eric had the show farrier, glowing forge and all, hard at work in the barn, and had just finished body-clipping some poor unsuspecting critter when I got there.  (Buddy'd already had his turn under the sheers, and looks quite elegant with the last of his winter coat buzzed off.)

I had the arena all to my self warming Sunny up while I waited for Eric to get a horse ready.  I moved his hips back and forth, asked him to shoulder in, and did circles and figure-eights of various sizes.  Just walking - I had a feeling Eric was going to make us both work, so I thought we'd both appreciate the energy conservation by the time the lesson was over.

Sunny looked cute in his black polo wraps (I figured what the heck, why not - I need the practice, and it couldn't hurt, right?) and mostly-slick summer coat.  As Eric headed our way with a big palomino half-Arab  gelding in tow, I closed my legs around Sunny and asked him to collect. 

We marched around the perimeter 1-2-3-4.  Sunny was perfectly light in my hands and round underneath me, carrying himself.  It was fantastic.  We got high marks on walk, including the "Wow!  Look at his topline!" comment, and more compliments at the trot - he's picking his knees up, tooWheee!  I honestly don't think Eric expected us to have made that much progress. (Of course, the pictures from the other day were a surprise to me, too, so I can't blame him.) 

The first fly in the works was the downward transition from working trot to collected walk - ack!  I'm leaning forward again.  And unfortunately, it wasn't a one-time fluke.  Homework: Lots of downward transitions - I need to think "lean back and exhale" so that I don't fold up.  I fold up and Sunny gets hollow.

Then we worked on canter departures.  Three wrong lead take-offs, and I managed to organize my hands, shoulders, legs and seat, and Sunny, and bam!  Correct lead.   A bit bracey and uncoordinated - both of us - but at least he didn't break until I asked him to trot.

We worked on canter 4-5 laps at a time, with Eric asking me to get him to collect more and more each time, and to concentrate on my downward transitions in between.  We're getting better incrementally - most of Sunny's problems derive directly from me.  When I get myself coordinated, he has an easier time staying balanced.  By the last pass I'd slowed him down and collected him up into something approximating a real canter rather than a flat-sided hand gallop, which is definitely progress.

Sunny was tired by the end of the lesson.  Not terribly sweaty - he's mostly lost his winter coat - but he was definitely working hard.  And he was SO good - even when the horse Eric was on spooked big at something right behind us, he didn't do more than speed up slightly.    At the walk and trot he's really soft and light - and canter will come. 

Eric offered the use of the arena if I want to go practice, and I think I'll take him up on that - the footing is far and away better than the pasture, and we won't even mention the concrete the gravel roads have turned into - we really need rain.  

The Handi-Riders' show is April 28th, and I'd like to have canter down a bit better by then. 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Satisfaction on a Sunday

You know what they say about pictures...

They're worth a lot, sometimes

Still lots of room for improvement...

But we're making progress.

Not too shabby for a short-necked stocky little guy!
Happy me!
It's enough of a change to put a big smile on my face.

~Happy Ponies~
Sunny would much rather have grass.