Saturday, December 28, 2013

New Year!!

I'm pretty excited for 2014 with Licorice.  He came out of his last bout of not feeling well pretty quickly.  We wet down his hay for 24 hours and he has been fine since.  We'll be watching him closely to see if we can figure out what triggers it for him.  Also, a few of you were concerned about grains possibly being the cause.  The only grains he gets are from the Succeed, which has oat flour in it.  Since we started him on this after the first colic, it's not likely that this is the problem.  So far, our best guess is that it has to do with weather changes.  Only time will tell.

Licorice has been on limited turnout for a little while for a few reasons.  His turnout buddy injured himself, so they were only getting half days.  Then he colicked so they wanted to keep a closer eye on him.  Unfortunately, the communication wasn't great between the barn and myself and when I showed up to ride yesterday, I had no idea that he hadn't been out.

He was pretty tense in the cross ties, but it had only been two days since I had ridden and I didn't want to give in to my fear so I got on.  He was sluggish and crabby, but we managed okay.  Then we went to canter to the right, which is the hard side for both of us.  He kicked out.  I asked him to go forward and he bucked.  To be fair, it was nothing I couldn't handle physically but from an emotional place I kind of freaked out.  I knew I needed to get through it so that he didn't think it was okay, but my heart was pounding a million miles an hour.

I got off.  I know, I know.  I totally could have ridden him through it, but I was scared.  So I got off and put him on the lunge.  I'm glad I did, because what my sweet boy as trying to tell me was that he needed some time to stretch his back and legs without me pounding on him.  He was fine to the left, but when we turned to the right he took off bucking and snorting and leaping.  Then he cantered and cantered and cantered.

At that moment, one of my trainers wandered by.

"I thought you were already on that horse?"

"I was....but he bucked and I got scared."

"Time to get back on, then."

So I did.  She reminded me to ride with confidence.  Licorice had loosened up his back and was so light and forward.  It was almost a little scary.  Who am I kidding?  It was totally scary, but also totally fun.  Forward makes them so much more adjustable.  It also means that instead of slamming into them with a death grip on my 'oh crap' strap when I want to canter, that all I have to do is think about cantering and voila!  Canter.

I am going to work on visualizing this kind of forward at every ride and remembering that this is safer and better for both of us.  Forward.  Forward.  Forward.  Even with a new horse, this remains my constant mantra, my new year's resolution and my One Big Goal.  Forward.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Walk the Walk

In both of my last two lessons we worked on getting warmed up the right way.  At the walk.  On a loose rein.  For most people this is probably the easiest part of their lesson.  For me, it's one of the hardest.

Riding at a brisk walk on a loose rein on a horse brings up all my fears.  Allowing Licorice to have his head means he can look around.  And boy does he like to look around.  Sometimes he wants to look hard enough that he stops and refuses to go forward.

So we're walking around and I'm trying not to hold on to the grab strap and transmit all of my anxiety through my body into him.  I'm mumbling under my breath and I keep doing these big sighs to let go of the pent up breath I'm holding.  I must look a bit crazy with all the sighing and lifting my legs up off the saddle so I'm not clenching.  But, I'm doing it.  I've had two lessons in the last few days and our walk on the second lesson was already much improved.

I also put spurs back on, which was exciting and nerve wracking.  I was really worried about my leg moving too much and leaving another spur rub.  I'm happy to report that there was no spur rub!  I did see a little darker patch on the right hand side though, so I really need to focus on letting my leg drop down and being still.

After our walk warm up, we worked a lot on getting consistent contact during transitions and in all gaits.  Contact is hard for both of us.  Finding the balance between softness and consistency is tricky and I have a really bad habit of allowing the reins to slide through my fingers.  I even have rubber reins and it doesn't help!

I went out to ride yesterday and Licorice was off.  He was kicking up at his belly with a back leg and flaring his nostrils.  So, instead of a work out he got a nice long walk with lots of hand grazing.  He was pooping, eating and drinking fine so we think it was a mild gas colic.  Still, something to keep our eyes on.  It turns out that although my new pony looks a lot sturdier than my princess pony, he's actually a sensitive boy.  I'm contemplating putting him on the Smart Pak Smart Digest Ultra.  He's currently on something called Succeed, but the Smart Pak has something called Colicare where you can get reimbursed for up to $7,500 if your horse needs surgery.

I'm glad I know Licorice well enough to know the signs of him being a little off.  The next step is to see if we can pinpoint why he's off.  Is it weather changes?  Stall changes?  Turnout changes?  We just need to track it.

I finally got a white dressage pad during one of Dover's amazing Christmas deals.  It looks amazing on Licorice.  Now I just need some white polos....and to learn how to properly wrap polos.  :)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Ahhh, December

December seems to get crazier and crazier each year.  Between the holidays, my birthday, various other birthdays, and the fact that I work in marketing now, December ends up being a flurry of desperately trying to check things off my To Do list.  At least on the days that I remember to make a To Do list.  December is also the month of Fighting Off Every Illness Known to Man (or at least known to Elementary School Children).

This December brought with it an unusual few weeks of very cold weather.  Our barn just isn't set up for weeks and weeks of temperatures that don't ever get above freezing.  I know in the grand scheme of things, that's not that cold but we just aren't well equipped for it.

First, the last two months of rain turn our pastures into mud holes.  Add some horses and they churn all that mud up so that it's fetlock deep.  Then, everything froze.  And froze hard.  Which means the turnouts were all skating rinks of pocked mud.  And since it was so cold, all ponies had extra fizzy temperaments.  So, they couldn't get turned out because they would slip and fall and strain or worse, break something.

So, all the horses were being lunged in the arena and turned out in there to blow some steam off.  Until a few days ago when the arena (we just put in sand) finally froze solid.  The cold weather meant the sand was too solid to break up with the tractor and it couldn't be wet down.  So it was dusty and got increasingly packed over the last few weeks.  This week they cancelled lessons until later in the week when the temperatures will have been back to normal (40's) for a few days because the arena is rock hard.  Horses are limited to lungeing and light riding, no free turnout.

And of course, this is coinciding with a giant deadline at work for me and I seem to be 'off' every other day.  I haven't gotten entirely sick, but just that dead tired, sinus aching feeling when you're trying not to get sick.  So, I have only ridden once on Sunday.  Licorice got lunged on Saturday also, but he hasn't been out since.

I will be texting my trainer to see if I can pay someone to lunge Licorice this week.  I have a lesson scheduled for Friday, but I just don't see myself getting the time or the energy to go out there before then.

I'm excited for my lesson on Friday and look forward to more normal, rainy, cold-ish weather where I can resume my regular riding schedule.  Most likely though, this will be in January.  Next year, I may try to remember this and just gift myself the gift of full time training in December.  After all, it is my birthday month!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Learning to Work

Wednesdays lesson had a few themes.  The first was about bending and forward, two things I forget to focus on when it's just me and Licorice.  Plodding around with his head cocked at an angle is not the right way to warm up.  He must stay forward and I must not nag with my leg!

Then there was the outside rein, which I'm prone to just letting go of and Licorice is prone to just ignoring even if I am holding on to it.  Which means we did some really ugly circles with Licorice's head pointing to the middle of the circle while the rest of his body drifted out to the wall and my hands raised up and did something that looked like sign language.  Not pretty.

The overall theme of our lesson was about work.  Licorice isn't used to working like this.  I've now owned him two months.  One month we rode and had progress and learned stuff about each other.  Month two Licorice got sick.  Then he colicked.  Finally, at the beginning of Month Three, we are hoping to start work and keep going!

The kind of work Licorice is used to do is called 'Going Around The Rail' and 'Jump That'.  He does both of those with no problem.  He is a trotting machine.  Get him on the rail with no contact and he will trot (okay, it's almost a jog) forever.  Point him at a jump and he will keep his sad trot and heave himself over a jump.  Over.  And over.  Which is what makes him a great beginner/husband kind of horse.  He doesn't mind if you're up there flopping around, no rein contact, no leg contact.  In fact, he prefers it.  He spends most of his time looking around.

Oh, there's my buddy from outside.  Hey, are they watering horses out there?  Oooh, is that me in the mirror?  Hi Trainer, are you eating something?  Can I have a bite?  Oops, I'll catch you the next time I come around.  I'm trotting.  There's the goat!  I think I see a car driving in.  Hey, look at the baby horse.  How cute is that?

So Wednesday, when we started asking him to pay attention to me and work, Licorice was a bit confused.  We'd take two gorgeous steps of on the bit and then he'd lift his head up to look around and see what he missed.  Then he'd go back to work for another step.  Then he'd want to look around.

Being that I'm not the world's greatest rider, what was my first answer?  Yep, you got it.  Pull his head down.  I got away with that twice before my trainer stepped in and reminded me that I have legs and that if I would stop mindlessly thumping them against his sides to try and get more trot, I might actually have a chance at communicating with them.

Sometimes it's so hard to see improvement when you have to go back and make sure you're not asking with every stride and that you're riding back to front.  They seem like such basic things.  And yet I have to remind myself constantly.  Of course, my list is miles long and when I ride without my trainer I have huge internal external dialogue (yes, I totally talk under my breath) where I remind myself "Don't nag, don't give away the reins, ride back to front, head up, look through the ears, turn your shoulders and hips, not your head, use your core, shoulders back, look up, heels down, long legs."  The list is endless.

So while Licorice is working on not getting distracted by external things, my goal for myself is to be there with him.  To pick one or two things about myself to focus on and let everything else go.  If I'm working on not nagging with my leg, I'm going to focus on that.  And I will try to let go of the thousands of other things that we need to work on.  It's one of the things I love/hate about dressage.  It's a never ending journey and there's always something to work on.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


December is not usually the coldest part of our winter around here.  December is usually pretty mild.  We get our crazy cold streaks in January and February.  However, this morning it was 24 degrees out and our high is supposed to only reach 33.  Brrrr.

Though it's cold, it's also sunny.  I have been really wanting to get Licorice out on the trails.  Unfortunately, I'm just not ready to go out all by myself and most people are riding in the afternoons and evenings, when there isn't much in the way of sun.  It's important to me that Licorice not get too burned out, so I put the word out to my trainer that if there was anyone wanting to go out on trails, they should take Licorice.

Nothing new on the riding front.  I have a lesson today.  My first one in over three weeks!  Yeah!

Last Sunday I had a super fun ride.  There was a lesson going on with Sarah (a trainer) and her student Ben, who has Autism (I'm not exactly sure that's what he has, but it's probably the easiest way to describe him quickly).  Her student was weaving through the cones.  Sarah then decided to pull a horse out and hop on bareback.  We were then joined by another rider, also riding bareback.  On the spur of the moment we decided to do a little drill team action.

We did figure eights.  Follow the leader.  Weaving the cones.  Threading the needle.  Another boarder was out and saw how much fun we were having and pulled her horse out and hopped on also.  Since Ben was challenged enough with steering and keeping up, we did everything at the walk.  It was so fun to do something different though!  I really wish there was more of that.

I still struggle with the question of what I want in a boarding barn and what my priorities are.  I like laughing a lot, but I also like working hard and progressing.  Dressage fills the need of working hard and progressing, but let's face it, there's not a lot of laughing going on.  Not that we don't have a sense of humor when working on dressage, there are smiles and some laughing but it's usually not flat out fun. It is incredibly satisfying though.

I'm not looking to move barns anytime soon, but the questions are still there.