Friday, July 29, 2016

Training Rides and Musings

**some of these pictures are repeats of pictures from earlier this week, but I love them so I don't care, haha ;) sorry if they bore you!**

Now that it’s cooled back off into the high 80s (perspective is a wonderful thing, haha), I’m trying to get back in groove and ride more. Our Tuesday lesson was canceled due to an emergency, so I decided to work both horses. DH wasn’t home yet so I headed out to ride Ruby first. Tuesday was also a banner mail day and I wanted to test out one of my new sunshirts (more about those in a future post). 
It took a ridiculous number of attempts to get this #rootd shot
I headed over and tacked Ruby fairly quickly, then headed to the indoor. I started with a little in-hand work on our TOtF and she was much better than the last time I tried, so after a few good responses I moved on. She also schooled at the walk and trot in an acceptable fashion (especially considering how little actual work she’s had in the two weeks), but the canter was dismal. I’m starting to think it’s just the size of the arena -- she really struggles to make the tight turns and out of frustration she speeds up. I don’t have nearly the same adjustability as I do out in the open fields, or even in my arena at home (which is both wider and a touch longer).

After accepting that nice canter in the arena was not happening, I decided to hack out so I could at least end on a good note. We did a short loop on the trail, cantering up the big hill and in a few of my other favorite flat grassy places, and then just a nice marching walk through the woods. Despite fly spray, she was being hounded by some bugs so we booked it through the woods pretty quickly to get back into the fields. Apparently I must send out some sort of siren call to the area’s wildlife, because I flushed a flock of wild turkeys (last week it was a deer). Thankfully it was right after I had stopped cantering (I can only imagine what she would have done if I had been cantering past all these turkeys when they exploded out of the brush and flew away), and while she was understandably a little concerned, I was able to halt her so she could watch them for a minute. After that we headed back to the barn -- she barely broke a sweat so I didn’t have to hose her down, which got her back to her hay pile in turnout faster (which she considers a win!). 
By the time I finished up with Ruby, DH was home and had the arena dragged and waiting for me to work Cinna. I decided since he was around to take media, this warranted unpackaging one of my previously unused High Point saddle pads in pink! Master level matchy matchy ya’ll. Well, not quite perfect, since the pad and the sun shirt weren’t identical shades, but whatever, I was having fun with it. 
Cinna tacked up like a champ and headed out to the arena. DH settled in a shady corner to take photos -- Cinna already has a problem with that particular corner, so the first few circles were a little dicey until she figured out that he wasn’t going to jump out and get her. On the lunge she was more spooky than she’s been lately, which I found a little frustrating. I love almost every single aspect of her goofy personality, but I do not appreciate spookiness. To be clear, I don’t mind spooking at things that are legitimately new or scary, but when she spooks and blows up over a bench she walks past on a daily basis, I really struggle not to get annoyed (yet another reason I am a terrible baby trainer). I was ready to stop lunging and climb on when for no discernible reason she launched through the air in her biggest spook of the day (leaving giant divots in the arena footing) and took off at a dead run. I asked DH if he saw whatever was bothering her, but he was as baffled as I was. Whatever. Baby horses. 
After a few more laps and a slightly more settled demeanor, I headed over to the mounting block.
The last few times she’s stood like a rock for me to mount, but Tuesday it took a few tries. She kept walking off so I had to circle her on the ground several times for her to calm down enough for me to climb on while she stood quietly. She marched right off when I asked (go forward button only gets sticky when she's tired) and the first few laps were... interesting. I’m sure from the ground it looked normal-ish, but my years with Topaz taught me that while bystanders might not be aware, there is a definite “feeling” when you are sitting on a powder keg that is just waiting to be lit. That’s how Cinna started our last ride, and it got better quickly, so I decided to stick it out. She reverted back to being concerned about DH in his corner, so every time we passed him I had him give her a cookie -- he was much less scary three cookies in. 
My goodness the arena is full of trolls!
Finally I felt like I had her undivided attention (as undivided as her four year old brain could give me) and she felt less explosive, so we got to work. She is not a fan of working in every part of the arena, so we focused on that, as well as moving off my leg both forward and a little laterally (when she would scoot off the rail I would push her back out with leg, not rein). We were able to get some nice trot moments, including our first few attempts at figure eights, and some tempo regulation with my body (not the reins). Overall I was absolutely thrilled with her effort, and I was grinning like a loon most of the ride. 
No reach in the hind end with this one. None at all. Should probably sell her.
One thing that she still needs a lot of work on is her response to contact with her mouth -- she is fine with a soft, following hand (or my best attempt at one anyway), but if I use the rein at all to back up my requests (usually asking her to halt, and only if she is ignoring my seat and verbal cue), she would violently shake her head. The first few times caught me off guard and she either yanked the reins out of my hand or unbalanced me, but by the end of the ride I was ready for her. We did several walk - halt - walk - halt transitions where I firmly let her know that wasn’t an option -- making sure to use my core to keep her from unbalancing me, and holding the reins with enough pressure that she couldn’t pull them from my grasp, but releasing the pressure as soon as she was halted. Didn’t take long for a lightbulb to come on, so after a final quiet halt, I climbed off! 
I do have some video as well as the photos (DH is the best), but I’m hesitant to share. SprinklerBandit had a really good blog earlier this week on Riding vs. Training that really resonated with me, because I can identify with a lot of it -- not the part where she took an OTTB and turned him into a super sexy 1st Level horse (because that is badass), but the part where she talks about how riding a greenie will wreck your position, and how she’s glad that she didn’t necessarily start with an ideal position (so she doesn’t have to bemoan losing it). It’s no secret I am not a pretty rider. Lots of that is lack of formal instruction and just winging it. Some of it is functional -- I spent years riding horses where I was forced to be defensive or risk breaking limbs on the regular. I’ve never in my life owned a “trained” horse of any variety (with the exception of Jasper, but I bought him to rescue him, not because I particularly needed a riding horse).

Before I sold her, Topaz was well on her way to being the best horse for me to work on my OWN position on. Ruby is getting there, but now I’m starting from scratch again with Cinna. I’m trying not to beat myself up too much about the feeling like I’m taking one step forward, two steps back as far as my own position goes, and just focusing on the journey. Am I going to get there as quickly as someone who is a better rider than me? Nope. Am I still going to learn, have fun, and train my mares and turn them into decent, solid citizens? Yes. Tres and Topaz taught me I could do this, and helped me refine my methods. Cinna and Ruby will continue teaching me things about both riding and training. And someday I’ll be able to watch video of myself without cringing. Someday. Not today. But someday.

However... because I need to get over this hang up of obsessing how badly I ride, I AM going to share some video clips. This was towards the end of the ride -- two feature a little bit of canter. Please excuse the tail swishing, I forgot to fly spray and she was a little annoyed by the flies. Also please excuse all of my deficiencies, but enjoy my baby horse just figuring out this whole work thing.  
Some fairly generic trot. 
In which we forget how to steer to the right.
 Better steering to the right.
I shared these privately with a friend earlier this week (after apologizing profusely and making excuses for some of the more glaring faults), and I wanted to record her responses back to me just so I can read them whenever I’m frustrated. I have great friends :)

That was a fantastic canter! Great support by her trainer too! (I responded that I looked like a drunken monkey) Nah. Too hard on yourself. Supportive leg, driving seat, balanced keeping her upright, hands out of her way, guiding reins.... You're doing a great job! It does always feel like crap on babies, but your doing exactly what you should be. I've seen way too many "trainers" fuck up with babies. BTW. I'm more than a little jealous of your elbows. Mine don't think they need to move. Wow, the pictures show it even better. You're staying basically the same & letting her silly baby antics happen. You're guiding, supporting, but not overreacting or forcing her.
Hanna, thanks for always being there for my training mishaps and offering support on those days where I feel completely useless. I can't wait to hit the trails with you soon!

It’s a journey.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Tack Review: Saxon SoftMesh Fly Sheets

I’ll admit to being pretty new to the world of fly sheets -- I bought my first one back in 2009 when I rescued Jasper, and it was really only to hide his body condition from the neighbors so that nobody called the Humane Society on me until he recovered a little. Between 2010 and 2015, I usually kept a fly sheet on hand for Jack to wear when horseflies were at their peak -- he is the stereotypical thin-skinned TB and he HATES flies, horseflies in particular. Without a fly sheet, he would literally just race laps of the pasture the 4-5 weeks every summer that horseflies are bad here in MO (losing all the weight I fought so hard to put on him with every grain and/or supplement known to man). The fly sheet I had was the very heavy mesh type with a single belly strap and 2 leg straps. It was pretty hardy in terms of the mesh holding up, but very hot and he tended to rip the straps off with annoying frequency. For a long time our horses were on 24/7 turnout, so using fly sheets was a bit of a chore in the sense that taking them on and off frequently to make sure there were no issues was kind of a pain. 
Couldn't find a pic of the heavy mesh one, but here was Jasper looking cute!
In 2015, when the barn manager at ACS was placing a summer order to replenish fly gear supplies, she asked me if I wanted to buy a fly sheet for Ruby. I thought about it for a bit, then decided why not? By that point, she was in hard work, I was showing a lot, and I was looking for ways I could keep her more comfortable and happy. The brand most frequently used out at our barn is Saxon, and since they were reasonably priced (especially since we bought multiples), I decided to take the plunge. I bought ones for Topaz and Ruby, and started using them. A few weeks in, Ruby ripped a huge gash in hers and I thought to myself “well this was a complete and utter waste of money”. However, I went ahead and had it repaired, and to my surprise, that was the only incident all summer. Both horses were comfortable and happy all through fly season, and the UV protection helped keep Ruby’s coat from bleaching out (although turnout primarily at night helped with that too). 

This year, I purchased two more for the geldings -- a regular one for Trigger, and one with a neck for Jack (since he is more agitated by the flies). I used Topaz’s on Cinna for a bit, but she hasn’t quite grown into it and I lucked into one Cinna’s size dirt cheap at a tack auction so right now Topaz’s old one is my spare. In it’s second year of use, Ruby’s is looking a little rough around the edges, so I plan on replacing it before next summer (potentially patching up the old one to keep on hand as another spare), but I feel like two years of use out of it is a good trade-off for how reasonably priced it was. While you can get these fly sheets from a lot of retailers, I’ve had the best luck ordering from Stateline, especially if you’re ordering multiples, or if you have other things you can order from Stateline. They run 25% off pretty regularly, and often offer free shipping if you reach a certain dollar threshold (which of course is easy to do!). The only one we didn’t get from Stateline is Triggers -- they were backordered in his size and we needed it in a hurry, so the next best deal we found was Smith Brothers

Clearly not the best shot, but you can see Jack in the front.
The pros:
  • Mesh is much more lightweight and breathable than the ones I used previously, although they still do get hot when its 95+ (but I mean what fabric doesn’t at that temp?). I’m not saying it’s the lightest one out there by any means, but I like the weight.
  • Sturdy construction -- my horses aren’t particularly hard on sheets, but aside from that initial tear Ruby made (probably on a fence or tree branch), they have held up pretty well to daily use during the summer. We use them from probably May - September (give or take a week or two).
  • It has as belly band, which offers more coverage.
  • I haven’t experienced any issues with shoulder rubs -- Ruby has a nylon shoulder guard she wears whenever she has on a sheet or blanket (due to some rubs the first winter she was blanketed) but my guys at home don’t have shoulder guards and I haven’t experienced any rubbing with them, so Ruby could probably go without and be okay.
  • I’ve found them to fit pretty true to size -- my horses are mostly in 75/78s, which is the same size blankets most of them wear.  

 The cons: 
  • I like the belly band, but the side with the hooks is heavier, so no matter how many times I straighten the sheet, it always lists to one side because... gravity (see the above shot of Jack)
  • On the subject of the belly band, Trigger always manages to soak his with urine, which is disgusting. However, Jack doesn’t do that, and the other gelding at the barn who has one doesn’t either, so maybe Trigger is just anatomically weird?
  • I’m not a huge fan of the front closure -- it has some velcro and then the typical strap/buckle closure. For whatever reason, the velcro just doesn’t “stick” and so usually there is a gap in the coverage in the front unless you have the buckles done as tight as they will go. Mildly annoying, but not a deal-breaker for me. I’m marginally tempted to stitch the front closed once I have it properly adjusted, but I’m pretty lazy, so no guarantees I’ll get around to that.
  • The neck portion (if you order that style) isn’t detachable. Doesn’t matter much to me, but I convinced my mom to buy one for her horse and she doesn’t like that. 
From the Stateline description:
  • Polyester mesh outer
  • Standard neck
  • Traditional shoulder gusset
  • Adjustable belly band
  • Twin chest straps
  • Tail cord
  • Blocks up to 70% of UV rays 
White with Hunter Trim
Frappe with Blue Trim
From Stateline's website.
The Combo version is the one with the neck, and it also comes in gray with pink trim (that looks more purple to be honest, my barn manager had one).
Also from Stateline's website.
Price: 5/5 (I don’t mind paying around $50 if I know I’m going to get decent use out of it, and so far mine are lasting about 2 summers +/-).
Quality/Durability: 4.5/5 (I feel like 2 summers is a pretty good lifespan for a fly sheet at this price point -- although I wish the front closure was a little better and that it didn’t list to the side so badly)
Color Options: 4/5 (There are a few color options, none of which really
speak to me, but I don’t loathe them, so there’s that)

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Matchy Matchy Baby Rides

Too tired for a real entry. Photos and video commence! I was testing out my new Noble Outfitters sun shirt from Tack of the day, so I worked both Ruby and Cinna. Will write more about the shirt later (and probably more about the rides too haha).

Monday, July 25, 2016

Writer's Block and Shortened Manes

So last week made it clear that for now, two straight weeks is as long as I can come up with content for at a time without hitting a mental block -- good to know, haha. When I started I could only manage 2-3x/week, so I guess that’s improving! Hopefully as time goes on I’ll continue to improve in everything -- not just the riding, but the writing, so by default the writing of the riding!
While the heat is definitely playing a factor in my apathy towards everything at the moment (including blogging), another major factor is just sheer exhaustion. I am burning the candle at both ends with a lot of projects and not enough sleep and it’s definitely catching up to me. I do this to myself several times a year and there is usually a “crash point” where I have to take some time to do nothing but nap and read and Netflix and do the bare minimum horse-wise. These “crash points” have increased in frequency the last two years as DH takes online classes (meaning he has much less time to help around the house/farm), but as he grows ever closer to graduation, I’m hoping that once we pass that milestone I can reduce my stress level a little. 

And yes I say “we”, because it’s definitely a joint effort. I spend lots of time reviewing and editing his papers as well as picking up the slack while he devotes hours to his schoolwork. That’s not a complaint -- I am VERY proud of how he has buckled down to his studies and how hard he works. He is maintaining a near perfect GPA while balancing both a full-time job (plus overtime), work on our farm, and additional part-time work for a farmer on top of his classes. And he still manages his creative projects around the farm (which might be a good topic to break my writer’s block actually) in additional to being my main media man to provide fun images for this blog! However, I am VERY ready for him to be done with school -- hopefully just a few more classes to go! 
Last week's heat wave was hell on my desire to get rides in, but we did some work in hand and managed two late evening trail rides -- on Friday night we flushed a deer and Ruby very kindly didn't put me in the dirt. It cooled off substantially this morning when some storms rolled through, so hopefully I can get at least one decent schooling ride in before my lesson Tuesday. 
The only other interesting update is that Ruby finally looks like a real dressage horse! My friend Hanna joined me at the barn Saturday evening for Ruby's makeover (she's a miracle worker!). Afterwards, we went out for Mexican and margaritas with some girls from the barn -- perfect Saturday evening!
The Quesadilla Girls!
Jack is holding steady -- he's still breathing a little harder than I'd like some times, but he is doing well in front of multiple fans in his stall during the day, and begrudgingly taking his Guiness twice a day. I have to reorder Ruby's supplement next week, so I'm going to add something for Jack to hopefully help increase the sweating. 
First sweat in like 4 days!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Because This is My Life

Honest to blog I have a real life update all typed up and waiting for final polish and pictures. And I had such good intentions when I got home last night about prepping it and getting it up today. And then LIFE happened.

My geriatric old man Jack doesn't do well in extreme temperatures. Wednesday night, I noticed his breathing was a little labored, so I chalked it up to our heat wave and texted DH to make sure to bring them in as early as possible (they're on night turnout, and then stalled with fans during the day). DH called me in a panic Thursday morning because when he brought the horses in, Jack was only marginally sweaty while the other two were pretty soaked (and its usually the other way around). He hosed and scraped him and parked him in front of a fan, and then added two additional fans to his normal stall arrangements.

After a crash internet course on possible solutions for anhidrosis, I stopped and grabbed some Guiness Stout on my way home last night. When I added it to his dinner, he turned up his nose at it (because of course he did). I did finally get most of it into him, and he got another cold hose and scrape -- then a mist of rubbing alcohol/water to speed the evaporation and hopefully jump start the cooling. He is eating and drinking (and the resulting pooping and peeing) like normal, not dehydrated, and not running a temp. He already gets salt in his daily ration, but I'm adding some electrolytes. His behavior is fairly unchanged, just the labored breathing.

After obsessing over him for an hour or two last night, I finally just turned him out for the night. He went right to grazing, so obviously he's not at death's door or anything, I'm just paranoid. We'll be stuck in this sweltering weather through Sunday, so he will be obsessively managed for the next few days, but he did seem better this evening so hopefully we're on the right track.

But clearly all of this sapped any energy I had to write anything fun. So here you go. Boring post about me obsessing over my horses' health. Fairly par for the course actually! I guess I can rustle up the energy to find you at least one decent picture.
Jack and Cody, my childhood dog. Also a really interesting red dye job.
Back when I was skinny! haha

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Three C's

As Monday’s post indicated, not much going on in the riding/training areas. It’s been hot, I’ve had a lot going on in the non-horsey side of my life, and really no motivation. I have been going to the gym a little more, so that’s good I guess. We booked a trip to Puerto Rico and I would like to be able to wear a swimsuit without drowning in self-loathing, so there’s some motivation for ya! Monday night was our monthly business meeting for our GMO and Tuesday night we had to unload shavings, so I wasn’t able to get to the barn -- it was grossly hot and humid both nights though, so I’m not too upset about it. I do have some more #TackReviewTuesday posts planned, just trying not to do them all at once in case I run out of tack to review (cue laugh track).

I realized when I was posting some photos for Monday’s entry that while I did write a lengthy post about our first four dachshunds, I never followed up with the rest of our motley crew. 
We’ll start with Cooper. Cooper is a Heinz 57 mutt of indiscriminate origins. He came into our lives when DH, upset that all four of the dachshunds loved me best, decided that he wanted a “big dog” to keep him company doing farm chores. As much as I adore the dachshunds, they leave something to be desired in terms of being “barn dogs”. They are selectively deaf, always getting into things, and fully believe they are big enough to take on the horses. While DH and I had abstractly discussed the concept of adopting a bigger dog, he managed to surprise me at work one day with a puppy he picked up from the shelter. 
Baby Cooper was pretty adorbs.
Cooper quickly settled into life with us. Being raised by dachshunds gave him some pretty questionable habits, especially once he hit his mature weight of around 60 lbs. He likes to sleep on the back of the couch, and drape himself over your shoulders if you sit in “his chair” -- we refer to it as “wearing a Cooper scarf”. At night, his preferred sleeping place is curled around the top of my head. Convenient in the winter, not so much in the summer. 
He’s a slightly average barn dog -- he will mostly hang out with you and has a healthy respect for the horses, but occasionally if something catches his interest he will run off and pretend not to hear you calling him back. He has a decent grasp of basic commands - “sit”, “down”, "kiss kiss", and my personal favorite, “crawl” (he actually does a fairly decent army crawl, haha). He’s not the sharpest tool in the shed, but he is genuinely one of the sweetest, silliest dogs I’ve ever met. 
Next up is Cruce -- once it became clear that Cooper also loved me best, DH headed back to the shelter in hopes of finding a dog that would bond with him. He brought home a 30 lb ball of awkward with gigantor paws. After finding out that Cruce had been rescued from a plastic tote thrown in a dumpster (I really hate people), I couldn’t even be upset about adding another (giant) mouth to feed. He matured into 100+ lbs of very vocal goofball. He did develop an angular limb deformity at about a year old, so his outside time at the barn is limited (he just wants to run like a lunatic, which is hard on his leg). He and Cooper are inseparable best buds. He loves swimming, hassling the barn cats, and getting up in the middle of the night when DH gets home from work to snuggle on the couch. 
Our best guess at his origins are that he is some sort of Great Dane/Lab mix. He is such a character -- if the bedroom door isn’t latched, he will go back to bed in the mornings. And good luck getting him up when he’s tired -- it's pretty much identical to this guy. His other favorite trick is to lay down out in the yard and refuse to come in unless you go out and pet him first (yes, he’s got me well trained!). Although I still don’t own a copy (it’s on my wish list), apparently there is an old move called The Very Ugly Dachshund about a Great Dane raised by dachshunds who has no idea how big he is, and that’s pretty much Cruce in a nutshell. If you sit down at our house, he’s going to join you in the chair. No concept of personal space. 
And last but certainly not least, Cici. In case you’re sensing a theme here, you’re correct -- DH brought her home. She was owned by a friend of a friend, and when DH was visiting to pick up some tools, he complimented her and told her owners that we love dachshunds. They offered her to him, because they had just gotten a bigger dog and the bigger dog was picking on her. When he brought her home she was scrawny and introverted. Things got off to a rough start when we introduced her to the rest of the dogs and Cruce decided he was NOT a fan. Luckily he came around (they’re now BFFs), and she eventually gained some weight and came out of her shell. 
I love all of my dogs in different ways -- Hayden is my opinionated blue weiner with a bad case of little dog syndrome. Indigo is my sweet cuddly blue princess with the soulful hazel eyes. Snickers was my simple snuggler who loved EVERYONE (God it still hurts to type was instead of is). Rufus is my mighty hunter who is also so in tune with my every mood. Cooper is my lovable doofus who can always be depended on for a kiss. Cruce is my mischievous scamp who likes to get the dachshunds in trouble by pulling things off the counters and letting the other dogs destroy them (while sitting there with an innocent “who me?” face -- yes Cruce, I’m aware you are the only one who is tall enough to reach the counters!). 
Back when we could all fit in the chair without fear of breaking it.
But Cici? Cici is my baby. I can’t really explain why our bond is different than the love I feel for my other dogs, but she is extra special to me. She follows me everywhere, is first in my lap when I sit down, sleeps in my arms at night, and gives the most ridiculous kisses. She will paw my face if she feels I’m not paying enough attention to her, and “meercat” incessantly when she wants to share my dinner. She has to be coaxed to eat her dog food and bounces around like a gremlin when she gets excited. Sometimes she gets so excited that all you have to do is give her a look and she will start barking and racing around the house, bouncing off the other dogs and generally leaping around like a maniac.
I know people think we’re nuts to have six (well, it was seven until we lost Snickers last December) dogs in the house, but I honestly can’t imagine our lives without them. They enrich our daily routines in so many different ways. 
Tell me about your pets! If I follow your blog and/or your IG, I may have already seen them, but I still want to know -- besides horses, what other four-legged critter holds a piece of your heart?