Equus Absentius Holiday-itis

011Equus Absentius Holiday-itis, or EAH, can afflict both humans and their equine partners though symptoms vary depending on the species.  It is especially noted in December and more common in the countries that celebrate the Christmas holiday.

Symptoms in equines can include:

  1. Pinning of ears when their human visits to express their displeasure in the lack of attention given since their human has been distracted by holiday shopping, cooking, visiting, and eating;
  2. Attempting to bite their human when they turn their back to leave the stall;
  3. Attempting, yet again, to bite their human when the girth is tightened;
  4. Walking away from the mounting block to make it impossible for said human to get their butt in the saddle;
  5. Cow kicking, crow hopping, and more ear pinning when asked to move;
  6. Leaning on the reins, bracing against contact, yanking of reins out of human’s hands, giraffing the neck, and avoiding any steady contact; and
  7. Shashaying, dosey-doeing, and generally attempting to have body parts moving forwards, backwards, left and right all at the same time.

Human symptoms include, but are not limited to:

  1. Straining to fit into tight-fitting riding pants after consuming too many cookies, too many rich dinners, and imbibing a bit too frequently;
  2. Getting easily distracted while at the barn and forgetting to remove the mud from one side because you are trying to remember if you took the price tag off the gift you wrapped for your grandmother;
  3. Forgetting to remove shavings and hay from equine’s mane and tail, so the poor animal looks like a scarecrow as you ride;
  4. Trying to fit in a warmup, walk/trot/canter work, circles, loops, halts, lateral work, and cooldown in less than 20 minutes since you have to rush home to bake cookies for the office party, neighborhood cookie exchange, and make food to take to your family dinner.
  5. Straining to half halt correctly and coordinate your aids for a shoulder in since lack of time in the saddle has caused there to be a lack of communication between the brain and extremities;
  6. Huffing and puffing because your are out of shape from lack of time to ride or do any athletic pursuit; and
  7. Deciding that it is okay to not clean your tack since you have 100 presents to get wrapped by Christmas Eve.

The only known cure to EAH is to forego any further holiday activities, throw out any remaining cookies, let the decorations gather dust, and get yourself to the barn as soon as possible.  Pack the tissues (runny noses are not an excuse to stay inside), brave the cold (invest in some winter riding boots and britches), and get your butt in the saddle.  Symptoms should subside quickly and should remain in remission with regularly scheduled barn visits.


Merry Christmas

006Ike and I wanted to wish everyone a Merry Christmas.  May your holiday be filled with the laughter and love of family and friends.

I am truly blessed to have a generous and supportive husband who not only rekindled my love of all things equine in 2004, but who makes sure that Ike, Cigar and I have everything we need for our centerline adventures.  Both boys are getting new halters and their bellies will be full of Uncle Jimmy’s Squeezy Buns.  Ike will be sporting a new saddle pad and girth at our dressage shows next year – our current supply of show pads will never be pure white again and shall be relegated to the daily saddle pad pile.  Ike also finally has a Rambo fleece cooler to ward off a chill after our lessons this winter.

My life is also blessed with amazing family members and friends who also support my horse obsession.  I’m pretty sure some are wondering why I never outgrew the “horse-crazy-girl-phase.”  I tell them it is my husband’s fault.  His gift of riding lessons reminded me of how special our equine partners can be to keep us young at heart, remind us to live in the moment, and find joy in the simplest pleasures.

Merry Christmas!

Alison and Ike

Grooming Pig Boy and His Brother Ike

008I am certain that every writer/blogger has had writer’s block.  I have had it before and it will happen again.  Today I’m not having writer’s block, but title block.  It is hard coming up with a catchy title a couple of times a week that will draw in the readers.  Just glad that I don’t rely on writing to make a living.  It would be a poor existence with the horses living in the trailer in our backyard and eating the weeds that substitute for green grass (who has time to mess with grass seed when you can be riding your horse).

Made it out to the barn yesterday dressed to ride, but just could not bring myself to tack up Ike for another cold, wind-blasted ride.  My chapped cheeks were still recovering from my lesson the day before.  Fingers were also stiff from their time spent as numb stumps.  The treat lady shared peppermints with Cigar and Ike and all their barn buddies.  Also decided to groom both boys.  As you can see from Ike’s photo, there was not much work to be done.  He tends to stay relatively clean – I typically only have to brush sawdust off his coat.  And then there is his brother………

Cigar’s level of filth these days makes Pig Pen look like he just had a bath.  He is especially disgusting in the upper neck area and face.  It starts with a base of Uncle Jimmy’s Licky Things Horse Treats (molasses flavor to be exact).  Since Mom insists on hanging the treat where it cannot be pinned, Cigar insists on rolling it all over his coat and getting very sticky, and then topping it with a layer of dirt, sawdust, and hay.  You then add another layer of sticky goodness and more dirt and hay.  It is like building a dirt-laden lasagna.  You then let it set overnight and wait for Mom’s arrival.  The crud has now hardened to the point that no curry comb or brush will set the hair free.  I have tried to use a damp cloth to no avail.  There are then two choices: 1) pull the crud/hair out while avoiding Cigar’s teeth or 2) wait for the hair to shed in the spring.  I attempted to pull some of the crud ridden hair on Saturday at which point Cigar spun away from my hands and trotted off.  After I lured him back with a candy, I attempted to brush him to at least tidy up the rest of his body, but got tired of playing ring around the rosy as I gripped his halter.  Fine, be a dirty fool.

The winds died down today, so I set out to ride.  No attempts at grooming Pig Boy. (Ah, Ta-Da!  The title to this post just came to me!)  Grooming Ike took me all of 5 minutes.  I allowed for a good walk warm up, but Ike was a bit of a crank when I asked for trot.  He even got a bit pissy to my leg.  Hmm, halt please, One rein flex to the left, to the right, please stand patiently without yanking the reins, and try again.  Slight ear pinning, yank on the reins.  No, Ike, that is not acceptable behavior.  Someone must have woken up on the wrong side of the stall.  I then remembered what Ms. C told me the other day.  When having challenging days, either work on quick walk trot transitions or work on your lateral movements and controlling Ike’s shoulders at the walk and trot.  Diffuse what is happening and redirect his attention.  Okay, Ike, let’s get started.  We spent the rest of our ride either transitioning at every letter or leg yielding or attempting shoulder in.  The crankiness never really went away, but at least Ike did try to work with me for 30 minutes.  Thank you Ike, that helped keep you off the naughty list.

Huff and Puff and Blow Your Horse Down


Mother Nature sure was busy blowing today.  I kept hoping she would get out of breath and take a breather, but no, she found her second wind and blew harder.  Phew!  I believe some of the wind gusts were 20-25 mph.  Some of those wind gusts were enough to take your breath away.  It was a bit of a shock to the body since we have been enjoying warmer than normal December temperatures.  This weather does feel more “Christmas-like,” but I am already missing the 55 degree weather.

And of course, this was lesson day, so not only were Ike and I working the wind-swept look, poor Ms. C had to fend off the winter chill plus the wind and try to talk loud enough for me to hear her over the whoosh of the wind in my ears.  Thank goodness for my winter riding pants – wind-proof and warm.  I’ve got both FITS and Kerrits  – don’t have a favorite, just glad that I have them or I’d be hibernating until spring. [Note to self: if we ever lose power this winter, I will be sporting these around the house to stay warm.]

I’m pretty sure Ike was wishing he had something more than his hair to fend off the winds.  When we started, he was very tight through his back and hind end which made for a very short stride and bumpy ride.  Lots of transitions, some time in two point, and ultimately some canter work finally got the blood flowing enough for Ike to relax and normal rhythm to begin.  But then, we are just getting into the middle of my lesson when all the other horses at the farm decide to go bat crap crazy.  There was bucking and snorting and running and jumping and cavorting and body contorting.  So we had to take a time out from the lesson so Ms. C and Mr. D could tuck the banshees safely into their stalls before someone got injured.  Ike looked a bit lost once everyone had left him for the relative peace of the barn.  “Why am I not returning to my stall???”  To his credit, Ike never once took a misstep during the melee or after everyone left him.  I love him for the trust he puts in Ms. C and I to take care of him.

Well, back to our lesson.  Our canter work was surprisingly sane given the weather conditions.  Ike’s transitions no longer shoot us to the moon and he almost always nails the correct lead even without a whip guiding the hind end.  We are now focusing on slowing down the tempo so we have less Marmaduke and more Valegro.  Ms. C says that Ike is also ready for more lateral work.  Last winter, the focus was on straightness – lateral work would have meant losing my knee to the fence.  Now we are actually achieving a correct shoulder in position tracking both directions.  It might only last a few strides, but that is better than no strides.  The other piece of the puzzle that is finally falling into place is my ability to know when I achieve the correct position.  The neck isn’t overbent because of the over use of the inside rein and I’m not tilting the wrong way in the saddle.  I think I even half halted correctly since Ms. C didn’t fuss at me about it.  Trust me, she know when I’ve been slacking on my half halts…she is like Santa in that respect.  You can’t get anything past her.  I guess you could say that Ike isn’t the only one who has made strides in his work this past year.

When We Grow Up…

Ike Dec 2012

Ike and I want to be like Charlotte and Valegro.  They again have blown away the competition in London http://www1.skysports.com/olympics/story/15234/8340462 with a Grand Prix score of 84.447%.  WT…??!!  Amazing.  Simply amazing.  They ride in such harmony with a fluidity in the movement that is like moving poetry.  No herky-jerky Elaine-dancing moments, snotty noses, or awkwardness.  I may be 44 and she is just a babe at 27 years of age, but I feel like a star-struck, gawky teenager when I watch her ride.

My greatest accomplishment in dressage was with Ike’s brother Cigar; we earned a 78% for an Intro Level test.  Pathetic huh?  It is okay to snicker and point.  Ike and I achieved at 70.8% in an Intro Test and then moved on to Training Level and unfortunately didn’t cross the 70th percentile mark at Training Level this year.  I cannot even imagine getting a score sheet back with a number that started with an 8.  I think I would scream like a banshee, scare Ike, and then wreak havoc on the show grounds as Ike cavorted around without his rider who fainted after screaming.

Well we certainly aren’t going to earn an 80% numbers in the show ring with our work the past few days.  We have had flashes of 8’s in our free walk, fleeting moments of 7’s with our medium walk and trot, and solid 6’s with our canter work.  I won’t mention the disobedient moment on Saturday that would have gotten us excused by any judge worth his or her salt.

Our best ride of the past five days was today.  Maybe having yesterday off helped both Ike and I, because today there was no rein yanking, bolting, or sucking back.  Ike was nicely forward, responsive, and to my estimation, about 75-80% through and over his back (that is about as close to an 80% mark we will probably ever come).  Ike’s canter was slower and more rhythmic without any leaning on my inside leg.  It is days like this that I wish I set up the video camera.  You will just have to trust me when I say it was nice.  It was also nice to not have to fight to maintain a trot rhythm.  When Ike sets his mind to it, you could set a metronome to his trot.  Today we floated along effortlessly tracking in either direction.  And yes, he seems to have that power to decide how much or how little I will need to work.  Stinker.

Ike still has a lot of growing to do.  He won’t be 5 until the end of April.  Perhaps I need to plaster the walls of his stall with pictures of Valegro and Ravel, the recent “rock stars” of the dressage world.  They can be his inspiration as we continue on our centerline adventure.

We are Ready to Dance in a Seinfeld Episode


Nine days.  Nine.  N-I-N-E.  That is how many days there were in between my lesson last week and my lesson this week.  Work, New Orleans, and Norovirus keep me out of the saddle on the days sandwiched between my lessons.  Let me just say that I cannot be out of the saddle that long and expect any sort of decent performance.  I felt like Elaine in the Seinfeld episode where she thinks she is dancing well at a party but looks like a hot mess on the dance floor.  My aids were not coordinated, reins were too long, legs were in the wrong place, and my weight seemed to sway from side to side and always be in the wrong place.

Ike tried testing the waters during our warm up.  “Hmm, Mom has been away for a few days, can I get away with snatching the reins from her hands?”  Ms. C made us stay at walk and stabilize our connection before we were allowed to trot.  On a normal day, Ike and I sync up after just a couple of minutes.  It was 15 minutes and counting and Ike and I were still having discussions…No, Ike, you may not snatch the reins from my hands.  My reflexes were a bit slow, so big boy would get the best of me and Ms. C would fuss that I was a day late and a dollar short.  Grrr.  I hate when I know what I need to do, but for whatever reason, cannot execute appropriately.  Can I blame it on my weakened state from the virus?  Or am I just a goober who can’t get her act together after being out of the saddle for a few days?  Sadly, the goober answer is closest to the truth whether I like it or not.

We also struggled to find our rhythm with the trot.  Again, cue the Elaine video where the movement and the music are nowhere close to being in the same neighborhood, oh heck, they might not even be in the same state.  It didn’t seem to matter if I tried sitting the trot or posting.  I half halted until my carpal started flaring, and we were still a quarter beat off from a solid rhythm.  Ms. C kept telling me to change my posting rhythm and half halt to get Ike to wait for me.  Excellent in theory, usually sufficient in practice, but today we couldn’t even meet expectations.  Another Grrr moment.

Our best work for the day came in our canter work and then in our lateral work.  Go figure.  This is typically where we struggle.  We nailed our canter transitions even without me carrying a whip.  Yea!  Starting to ask for canter with just my seat rather than seat+leg+whip.  Do we always get it?  Nope, but Ike tries and today we succeeded.  It is something we need to master since I don’t want to have to carry the whip as a crutch forever.  We also had success with our leg yield and shoulder in today while tracking in both directions.  Yes, the left is easier than the right, but the right is coming along.  Ike is strong enough and balanced enough to start schooling lateral movements.  This time last year, we would have run into the fence had I asked for a leg yield.

Things are starting to fall into place.  Hoping we come out of winter even stronger as a pair and at least capable of establishing a rhythm.  Patience, Alison, patience.  All in due time, after all, no one masters all the dance steps in a day.

The Big Easy Kicks My Butt

NO Carriage

You might have noticed that there have been no blog updates for a few days…that is because I was in New Orleans (Nawlins according to the locals) with my girlfriend who was receiving her Bronze Medal at the USDF Gala.  Yes, she received her medal; no, I did not make it to the gala to actually see her receive it.  Grr.

Sigh, it was soon after the photo was taken of me, our carriage driver Dave, and his mule Mother-In-Law (best @ss in town he told us during our tour) that I started to feel bad.  [As an aside, if you are ever in NO, look for the purple carriage with the driver wearing the purple suit and the mule wearing the purple flowers.  Dave was quite the story-teller and it was a great way to see the French Quarter.]  Well anyway, I started sweating and feeling dizzy.  My friend and I popped into a local eatery to get something to eat and drink – I was hoping it was just hunger pains…ha, wishful thinking, I was so wrong.  It was the start of a nasty stomach bug.  It sought vengeance against all the fabulous food I had consumed.  ByeBye gooey nachos, goodbye french toast, goodbye delicious dinner at Emeril’s NOLA restaurant;  parting was such agony.  I spent the remainder of the day getting to know the plumbing of the hotel.  I so hoped for a miracle recovery, but it was not to be.  My girlfriend looked stunning in her Calvin Klein dress and Mardi Gras mask.  I was so very sad that I didn’t get to wear my party attire and celebrate my friend’s accomplishment.

By some odd stroke of luck, we flew home without incident.  I feel certain that both air crews and all passengers would be thankful had they known my story. And thank goodness this time when I was away, there were no emergency vet calls.  Ms. C did ride Ike for me two times.  For both rides he was a gentleman – no runaway freight train moments…I guess he saves those for me.  Both times he had to be disciplined for trying to snatch the reins during warmup.  She mentioned that the shoulder in is still awkward but believes that once he learns the concept, his lateral movement is going to be pretty good.  She is pleased with how far we have come in the past year.  Just hope that Ike and I both stay healthy so that we too can someday say we have our USDF Bronze Medal.

BTW, do you know how Santa gets around in the Big Easy?  Sleigh and reindeer?  Heck no, he rides in a pirogue pulled by alligators!


It Is All About the Shoulders

019The lesson of the week?  Control the shoulders to control the horse.  Seems simple enough, but try telling that to Ike’s right shoulder and my aching arms.  Ike’s right shoulder is rather pushy.  It is the shoulder you would want with you while fighting the crowds at Black Friday sale.  It regularly bulldozers through my leg and attempts to direct our movement.  It is responsible for us drifting out while on a circle to the left or causing a death spiral while circling to the right.  Because of this, Ms. C had us work on shoulder control during our lesson this week.

After we worked through Ike’s warm-up crankiness, we began the lesson with trot circles to the left with normal left flexion.  Despite my best effort with my outside rein, that pushy right shoulder kept moving in its own trajectory.  Hmm, I tried shifting my weight to the left.  It was soooo tempting to overuse my inside rein but I resisted temptation.  That right shoulder resisted submission.  Clever Ms. C had me slightly counter flex Ike to the right and really step down into my left stirrup.  We rode 3-4 circles in this counterflexion, easily fed off onto a circle to the right, and then when we circled back to the left, we resumed normal left flexion.  The benefit to this exercise I discovered is that it helped Ike stand up on that right shoulder by shifting his weight to the inside.  And a lightbulb moment for me…my overuse of my inside rein can actually cause Ike to fall onto that right shoulder and exacerbate the problem.  Oh.  Crap, rider error again.

The lesson also included schooling or attempting to school shoulder in tracking to the left and to the right.  The photo with this post is our attempt at shoulder in to the left.  It is actually the easier direction since that right shoulder gets to lead the way.  As you can see, we are nowhere near where we should be, but I think it is an okay attempt for a gangly four-year old horse.  Tracking right is harder and I mean it is exhausting.  That right shoulder does not want to yield, “thanks, but no thanks” it seems to say.  To overcome this struggle, we have found that it sometimes helps to leg yield for three to four steps and then half halt the front end to stop the lateral movement.  Some of our best shoulder in right steps come after this exercise.  You do what you have to do to teach the concept.

We do have our struggles, but compared to where we were at this time last fall, we are succeeding and progressing.  We are seeing less and less Marmaduke; some days we can even make a passable go at being a dressage team.  Any bets on where we will be next December??

Psst, Hey You. Yeah, You.

003Shhh, be very, very quiet.  Mom doesn’t know that I’ve got her laptop or maybe she does know, and I’m going to be in big trouble tomorrow for dribbling water and grain all over the keyboard while I type.  She is a little OCD about those kind of things.  I like having a snack while I share my thoughts on the latest goings on around the barn.  Snacks help get the creative juices flowing.

The “trailer riding” season is supposedly over for the year.  I’m told that when the weather turns cold that Mom and the other people who go to horse shows hibernate for the winter or they go to Florida to prance in the show rings down there.  Pretty sure that we aren’t headed south for the winter, but right now, there really isn’t any reason to leave Virginia.  It has been in the 60s the past few days and today it made it to 70 degrees.  It was really warm with my fuzzy winter coat.  Mom gave me the day off today since I’ve been busy the past 5 days.  I like days like these.  She still comes to the barn to see me and my dirty brother.  She is a walking treat dispenser on non-riding days.  You get snacks for just giving her a little bit of attention.  Cigar and I have her so well trained.  Good Mom.

Everyone tells me that I’m starting to fill out and develop a topline.  Not sure what that means or where it is.  It appears to mean that Mom has permission to bounce on my back while I trot rather than doing that up-and-down thing.  She is doing a better job at bouncing, but still needs to relax her hips a bit more and get a little deeper in the saddle.  I make sure to let her know when she needs to stop bouncing.

Mom and Ms. C have still been fussing at me when I yank on the reins.  Such meanies for not letting me have any fun at all.  I do know that if I am quick enough with my head toss, I can pull Mom off-balance or even pull the reins out of her hands.  She is not amused by these antics.  She continues to also frown on my “extended canters” while we are working.  A boy just needs to blow off steam now and again.  Not sure why I can’t do it with Mom on board.

I guess I’d better try to behave since I don’t want to be on the naughty list with Cigar.  I have to say though, for a horse that always seems to be on the naughty list, he does seem to have the life of Riley…he still gets fed really well, he doesn’t have to do any work and spends his days amusing himself in his paddock, and even after he tries to bite Mom while she grooms him, she still gives him a hug and a treat.  Ha, ha, what he doesn’t know is that I get three treats when I do a good job.  Going to try to do a really good job tomorrow at my lesson and go for the whole pocketful. 🙂

Hitchcock and His Birds Have Nothing on Us

001So before we dive into my thoughts on our latest tune up with Ms. C and my other rides this week, I first need to discuss our avian friends who have befriended Ike.  They look like sparrows.  If you ask me to get more specific, I will have to say that they are brown and white sparrows that have decided that my horse makes a great target.  I have checked Ike’s back when I groomed him this week and could not find a bull’s-eye, but I have found copious amounts of bird poo all over his coat.  Ugh.  None of the other horses in Ike’s barn appear to have this problem.  The birds seem to like Ike’s stall – perhaps it is the blend of his food or the fact that he is a slob and tosses grain everywhere…a veritable avian smorgasbord.  It could be worse – at least we aren’t overrun by mice.

I had my own “bird incident” earlier this evening.  I give you permission to laugh now…We have a 3 foot tall white crane carved out of driftwood that stands in our dining room.  Found him at the Ocrafolk Festival on Ocracoke Island in North Carolina.  He usually stands quietly in his corner, but today as I bent over while vacuuming, he “attacked” me.  Got me right in the corner of my left eye.  Pretty sure I will have a black and blue eye in the morning.  Going to be really pretty.

Bird issues aside, Ike and I have had some pretty good rides this week.  As the weather has turned colder, Ike has decided to be a bit cranky to my legs during warm up.  Lots of walk/trot and trot/walk transitions until he settles into the work.  The transitions seem to help him focus.  Yesterday we spent most of our ride working on transitions between walk and trot.  Walk from one letter to the next, ask for trot, trot to the second letter, walk again, change direction and start over.  I did most of the work in sit trot.  Yeah for me – there is a glimmer of hope that I will master that skill.  I also focused on letting go of my inside rein death grip.  I had someone reply to me that when they start to pull on the inside rein, they tell themselves to go to their inside leg.  I decided to test that for myself and it really did seem to help.  I’m going to have to make a conscious effort to let go until it becomes second nature.  Any idea how long that takes?

After a crazy work week and conflicting schedules, Ms. C and I finally fit my weekly tune up in this afternoon.  Ike was a bit frazzled today.  Instead of just walk/trot transitions for warm up, Ms. C had us do trot/walk/almost halt/back up and then trot on.  At first Ike wasn’t quite sure what we were asking, but smart boy that he is quickly caught onto the game.  It is another great tool to have in the tool box when you need to get your horse in front of your leg and focused.  Our walk/trot work was good, but I could still tell Ike was on edge.  Not sure whether it was the kids on the four-wheelers or just because it was one of those days, but we had to abandon the thought of canter pretty quickly.  Ike busted out a canter at the beginning and that just seemed to stoke the fire.  Once we redirected his attention and I half halted until my arms ached, Ike did demonstrate a faaah-buuulll-ous collected trot.  Ms. C told me to remember the feeling – it is where we want to go.  We then worked on shoulder-fore and shoulder in since Ms. C was there to help me with the positioning.  We struggle tracking right.  Ike’s right shoulder is so dominant and it felt like a 50-pound weight in my right rein.  Ms. C came over and offered ground assistance to help me release the “block” in Ike’s neck.  It makes a huge difference when she helps from the ground.  We finally had a few successful moments to the right.  Tracking left was a breeze.  Such a shame that dressage tests want you to be proficient in both directions.

Glad this week is done.  Time to soak my aching muscles in the hot tub.  At least there shouldn’t be any birds out tonight.