Termites are to Wood as Ike is to ___?___

001So do you think you have the answer?  Hay?  Grain?  Grass?  Carrots?  All good answers, but all of them are wrong.  It was a trick question.  The correct answer is “wood.”  Let me explain.  I called Ms. C yesterday morning to check in on the boys.  She told me to start saving my money because I was going to have a rather large bill coming due soon.  I scratched my head since I could not recall any large outputs of cash upcoming.  “Well, guess what your horse has done?!?”  I asked which one since they both seem to have it in them to cause mass destruction and chaos.  She then proceeded to inform me that Ike had decided to chew on one of the main support beams for the barn wall.

Umm, oh.  Great.  Baby Huey is now tall enough with a giraffe-like neck to reach the one piece of wood that he really shouldn’t destroy.  I guess we will have to cover the beam with chicken wire to prevent further damage. (A side note:  The commercially available No Chew sprays did nothing to curtail his noshing of the window frames and stall door last winter.)  Before it is all said and done, Ike will be living in a chicken coop.  We already had to strategically place chicken wire over the light switch to curtail his favorite nighttime game of “Lights On, Lights Off.”  That set off a few nights of stall trashing by the other horses until we realized what he was doing.

So enough about Ike’s latest bad barn habit.  Let’s discuss his progress under saddle or lack thereof.  This was another week that kept me out of the saddle for a few days, so I asked Ms. C to ride Ike to assess where we are with only 30 days until our licensed show debut.  Guess who has a lot of work to do?  Correct, the rider.  Always the rider.  The horse can only be as good as the rider makes him.  If you ride the horse to beep bop around the ring with no connection, then that is the horse you will end up with in the show ring.  And that is our issue.  I need to do a better job at attaining and maintaining a steady connection for most of my rides.  Ike is now strong enough to maintain it IF I can get him through and working over his back.  So it was not a surprise that we worked on getting that connection during my lesson today.  My ability to get Ike to that happy place will be the difference between 5.5’s and 6’s for scores or 7’s and 8’s (she says with stars in her eyes).

Ms. C kept me focused for the entire lesson and finally we achieved nirvana.  We had a lovely, fully connected trot and I managed to maintain it for more than a few strides.  Phew!  I am capable of learning.  Will have to let you know if I can achieve it again tomorrow when I’m on my own.   Will also let you know if the barn is still standing…


Snow, Snow, Go Away

IMAG0270This photo about sums up what Ike thinks of this late winter/early spring snow and cold weather.  Pphhtthhbbbttt!  Just when he decided to start shedding his winter coat, Mother Nature decided to unleash the snow flakes.  How are we supposed to prepare for our upcoming shows when we are grounded by the crappy weather and I’m stuck at home shoveling the sidewalk?  I’d even foolishly loaded up the winter blankets to take them to be cleaned.  Guess I will hold onto them for a few more weeks…my poor car will just have to be perfumed with “eau de horse blanket” for a little longer.

The best thing about snow this time of year is that it doesn’t stick around for long.  Hopefully we will be back in the saddle again Tuesday afternoon when the temperatures return to the 50s.  My recent rides have reminded me how much work there is to get done before show season kicks into high gear.  I set high expectations for myself and Ike.  What can I say – I am a perfectionist at heart and it irks me to get a 6.0 or 6.5 when I know we are capable of 7.0’s and higher.  I’m pretty sure that the judge’s at the licensed show aren’t going to be giving away scores just because Ike is cute.

Our centerlines are still rusty.  We are in good shape until it is time to trot on after our halt.  If I’m not careful, Ike likes to giraffe his neck rather than staying soft in my hands.  “Look over there!  I think there is something I need to see.”  Ugh.  Then we wobble and bobble, and our straight line gets wavy.

Trot circles are okay as long as the rider doesn’t overbend Ike’s neck.  Canter circles are stronger than last year, but there are still days I worry that we might knock over a few rails of the arena.  If Ike gets a bit too forward, then it is debatable on whether or not we will down transition in the right place or just in the general vicinity.  If I half halt too loudly, we trot too early.  If my half halt is too quiet, then we bound along like Tigger for a few extra strides.  Either way we get nailed by the judge.  Boo hiss.  I’m still hoping that dressage scoring considers dropping the high and low scores like ice skating before calculating your final percentage.  Don’t think it is going to happen in the next month, so I’d better keep working.

No progress on show season grooming.  Perhaps that is something I can work on while Ike hides in his stall from the snow flakes.

Keep thinking warm spring thoughts!

What a Year It Has Been!

140Do you know what the significance of today is?  I didn’t until I logged onto my WordPress blog page.  It is the one year anniversary of Ike’s Centerline Adventures!  How far we have come since we started chronically our exploits.  I looked through my photos from this time last year to see if I had a similar one to the one above that I took last week.  As you can see, Ike is sporting a decent winter coat this winter and is beginning to fill out.  Below is the closest I could find for comparison.  015

Poor boy didn’t have any winter coat last year…I think he is starting to lose his baby face and gain more of a topline.  He has grown two inches at the withers and is now just a hair shy of 17 hands.  I know for a fact that he is heavier.  I know this because it hurts a lot more when his hoof and my foot try to occupy the same place on the ground at the same time.  My toes and my Mountain Horse Winter Riding Boots don’t stand a chance against Bigfoot with his steel shoe.  You can clearly see the shoe imprint on my boot.  Luckily, you can not see that same mark on my foot.

After some late season winter weather and work kept me out of the saddle for 3 days, Ike and I finally got back to work with our lesson yesterday.  Ms. C continues to school us in the basics because that is what we need right now.  Our throughness is questionable some days, non-existent on others, and fleeting at best.  I’m getting better at getting Ike to where he needs to be, but I still have miles to go.

I saw a quote on Facebook on My Virtual Eventing Coach’s page the other day that I really liked and sadly, it describes me to a tee, “Keep your hands forward thinking at all times, don’t be ‘stealing’ from the hind legs.”  Yes, I’m a thief.  If I am constantly pulling backwards or overbending Ike’s neck in one direction thanks to my “grabby” left hand, then he will never be able to truly push from behind and stay straight.  Most of our lesson was spent getting Ike through and connected at the walk and trot.  We had to do it at a slower rhythm to help Ike understand, and once we achieve it, we asked for more gas.  But wait Alison, don’t throw him away just because you are going more forward!  Oh, yeah, squeeze those fingers, engage that core, pull your shoulders back and show Ike the way.

Ride every stride.  I should adopt that as my new mantra during yoga rather than om.  I might actually remember it!

Entries are sent for our first two shows of the year.  A new year is getting ready to unfold.  Stick around for year two of our adventures.

Swwwwwiiinnnngggg and Not a Miss

005In case you were wondering how Ike and I did at the ride to music clinic today, I can inform you that I could not be prouder of my big boy.  We came home with three awesome musical selections.  But before I fill you in on the clinic details, I must share that we almost didn’t make it to the clinic.

I arrived at the barn early today since someone decided to take a mud bath yesterday and was too wet and icky to scrub clean.  Great, I love chipping caked on mud out of a winter coat first thing in the morning.  Thank goodness that the luck of the Irish was on my side this morning, because Ike managed to remove most of the mud himself.  He had obviously rolled in his fresh sawdust last night and those lovely chips of wood did a bang up job at removing most of the funk.  After a brief grooming session, we decided to load up early so that we could watch my two friends ride and select their music.  Ike had other ideas, “No, I do not wish to leave the farm today and you can’t make me get on the trailer.”

That is right, someone showed off his mule genes for almost 45 minutes.  I had to dig deep into the recesses of my memory to remember all the lessons that Mr. Revelle taught us last year: do not back away or walk away from the trailer, use the stud chain appropriately, reward any effort, say “load up” as you lightly tap the hind end with the whip (note to self – purchase a longer piaffe whip or have arms stretched to reach the go button on the back-end), remind Ike that the only correct answer is to get on the trailer….I seriously thought that we weren’t going to make it on time if at all.  Finally, Ike sighed and calmly walked on.  Huh?  Why all the fuss???  He would not share his rationale.

Made it in time to see one of my friends ride and select their music.  It is a fascinating process.  Mr. Matson first establishes your beats per minute at the walk, trot, and canter.  He then looks through his 1400+ musical selections and finds music with the correct beat.  The music is played.  Both the rider and the audience give feedback.  No, just not right.  Yes, that works.  No, that overpowers the horse.  The selections are narrowed and the rider gets the ultimate say.  Amazingly, you could tell when the rider and horse liked the music – things flowed easily and beautifully.

Then it was our turn.  I let Mr. Matson know that Ike was young at that we were not always consistent with our rhythm and tempo.  He said not to worry, we would have music.  I’m still thinking that we will get Pan Banging Baby music.  So after our warm up, he had us ride on a circle around him while he used his electronic metronome to establish our beats per minute.  Beep, beep, beep.  Okay, time to pick music.

First up, the trot.  Amazingly enough, the first piece worked and worked well.  Was that really that easy?  Yes, yes it was.  Turns out, Ike likes swing music.  We tried a few other pieces, but the first one was spot on.  The walk was next and finally the canter.  I have to say, I love our canter music.  All three pieces are swing – I guess it is in keeping with his namesake, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was a five-star general during the 1940s when swing music became prominent.

So we came home with our music, now comes the hard part for this non-musical person – editing the pieces and creating the musical freestyle that meets the USDF requirements as well as our limited Training Level abilities.  Stay tuned!


p.s.  Big man walked right on the trailer to go home.  Good thing, I don’t think I had enough energy for another epic battle.

Am I Strong Enough To Do This??

011Some days I ask myself that question over and over and over and over again.  Ike can be light as a feather for a few strides, and then moments later, I feel like I’m running around the arena with a 50-pound bag of feed in my arms.  I struggle to maintain my position in the saddle.  I squeeze my fingers until they ache.  My arm muscles cramp.  My abdominal muscles jiggle from the effort.  We down transition and halt.  Ike then tries to yank the reins from my tired fingers.  I don’t let go.  He sighs, I sigh, I ask him to soften in my hands and we try it all over again.  Am I alone in this struggle or does anyone else feel this way?

Even during my weekly lesson with Ms. C with her giving me almost constant instruction and guidance, getting Ike through and using his back is hard.  It isn’t that he is being naughty, he just still doesn’t always understand.  We also think that he hasn’t developed the strength or stamina to maintain a rock steady connection.  His hulking body, while not as gangly as it was this time last year, is still not fully developed.  Ike is starting to “blossom,” but we still have some time before he is done filling out.  Heaven help me once he does…more muscle to use against me.  I’m not sure I can carry a heavier bag of feed.

For the first half of my lesson no matter what gait we were riding, it felt like I was riding two different horses with me in the middle trying to make them work as a team.  Ike’s front end was rolling along at one rhythm and his hind end was dancing to a different tune.  That should make the clinic tomorrow a bit interesting.  We are attending our first musical freestyle clinic.  My local dressage chapter is hosting Michael Matson.  He is a well-known clinician in this area known for helping riders with musical freestyles.  He helps you determine your beats per minute at each of the gaits and then helps select music to enhance them.  Sounds easy enough, but when you have two different rhythms, how do you pick which one to use for the musical selection??  I jest here.  I am well aware that you can’t.  It should make for an interesting ride.  We could very well be the first rider and horse pair to come away from the clinic with no music.  “I’m sorry, but you would be better off riding to a baby banging on some pots and pans.”  Bet that would elicit some interesting comments from the judges.

Will let you know how tomorrow turns out…would anyone like to take a guess at what music Mr. Matson will select?

The Zombie Apocalypse Has Reached the Barn

008Ms. C called me late Sunday afternoon and asked what we did to Ike while she was away teaching.  She said he was a zombie and just wanted to be left alone – completely out of character from his normal demands for all her attention and any treats she might have on her person.  We are hopeful that he will be unable to “infect” any of the other horses while they are sleeping in their stalls, but if things start to get out of hand, I will notify my readers as soon as possible so that you can arm yourselves and shelter in place.

Ike’s catatonic-state was brought about by his busy weekend.  It has been a while since his social calendar was so full.  Our weekly lesson with Ms. C was pushed to Saturday since it took a few days to melt the ten inches of snow that fell at the barn on Wednesday.  We still had to work around some snow piles, but most of the ring was workable enough to have our lesson Saturday morning.  Sunday was Ike’s first off-property event of 2013.  We had a clinic with Rebecca Langwost-Barlow at a local barn…very glad that the snow didn’t stick around and force us to miss the clinic.  Also very glad that Ike remembered his trailering skills from last year and walked on the trailer without too much fuss or protesting.

It is interesting to me that despite the different methods of teaching and explaining the concepts, both Ms. C and Becky had the same message to me that boils down to, “Stop pulling the reins backwards and start riding forward to your hands.”  I don’t mean to pull back and quite honestly don’t realize that I am doing it until an instructor points it out during a lesson.

My over-reliance on my inside rein has been well documented in my blog posts.  [Alison:inside rein :: Linus:security blanket]  It is one of those bad habits that I should have considered giving up for Lent.  I’ve heard “inside leg to outside rein connection” over and over, yet when Ike gets strong, I digress back to my happy place.  And yes, I know that by stifling the neck and shoulder by constantly pulling backward, the hind leg can’t really step up and under Ike’s body.  When others ride, I can easily spot when the rider overuses their inside rein.  I am aware that you straighten the horse off the outside rein.  It doesn’t seem to matter what my brain knows, the pulling is now an involuntary movement.  It is going to take strong measures to stop it.  Maybe I am the zombie and someone needs to whack me in the head?  Who wants to take a swing?

What Do You Have if You Don’t Have the Basics?

011As I watched someone at work hunt and peck at their keyboard today, I started thinking, “How is it that they don’t know the basic skill of typing?”  When I was in high school, I thought it was a silly waste of time to sit at a typewriter (I’m showing my age again) and learn where to put my fingers.  QWERTY was one of those things you memorized in order to pass your typing test, not a really bad computer password that is easily hacked.  Now, I am so very thankful that I spent that time learning to type.  These days, it seems like one of those necessary and basic skills that everyone should know, but I guess I am wrong.

It also seems that in riding, as in the rest of life, people sometimes bypass the basics in order to rush up the levels to learn the “tricks.”  I mean, who doesn’t want to ride one tempis on the long diagonal or a canter pirouette at X?  But without the basic skills for you and your horse, don’t you really miss the point of dressage?  Where is the harmony between rider and horse if you are constantly butting heads to maintain a trot or canter rhythm?  The classic dressage training scale (the one below was published by USDF) is pretty clear where we need to start.


Without good rhythm and relaxation, can you really find a steady connection?  If you are riding your horse front to back instead of developing the thrust from behind, do you really have impulsion?  I am still a dressage neophyte, but even I know that without the basic skills, you are going to have holes in your education that will come back to bite you later.  A tense rider leads to a tense horse which translates to short, choppy strides and a hard back.  And depending on your skill set and your horse’s age/talent/mental state/physical limitations, some might take a bit longer to establish those basic skills.

Ms. C and I spend hours working on the basics with Ike.  She stresses that we need to teach him to use his back correctly, maintain contact, and develop the push from the hind end.  She is always asking me what I think of Ike’s rhythm in each gait and expects that I will use my half halts effectively to adjust when Ike gets too quick and rushed.  “Why aren’t you half halting?” “Um, I don’t know.”  Yes, yes, the newbie’s mistake of going on cruise control instead of constantly monitoring the situation and making minor adjustments to establish a better rhythm with a steadier connection.

As with every young horse and clueless rider, some days are better than others.  Some days we seem to click and all flows.  Other days we struggle horribly and I go home exhausted and demoralized after fighting with Ike to establish a steady connection.  He likes to hang on the bit sometimes and it takes all my strength to half halt loudly enough for him to pick himself up.  Ike also likes to snatch the reins from my hands rather than accepting contact.  We are all over the place while cantering: big boy runs through the contact one day and then canters like a First Level horse the next.  It is this inconsistency that forces us to remain at Training Level for now and basically, I am okay with that.

Well Played Ike, Well Played

003So who isn’t busy these days!?  I keep constant lists of things that need to be done at work, at home, and in the yard.  List of gifts to buy and people to call.  I have shopping lists and menu plans to use the food that I purchased before it goes bad.  I have lists of show dates and the dates that entries open.  I keep a small notebook in my purse at all times so that I can jot down something at any time – sort of old-fashioned that way – I’ve tried some of the phone apps, but none are as convenient as my little notebook with its tattered edges.  The lists help keep me focused and efficient.  It is the only way I can manage to fit everything in and still get some sleep so I can function and do it all over tomorrow.

Between a full-time job, three dogs, family time, housework, yard work and all the other activities of a middle-aged woman, I try as best I can to fit in my barn time.  Barn time is a precious commodity.  Some weeks I manage to make it to the barn five or six days and ride four or five of them.  Other weeks, life intervenes and I only ride two or three times.  Some would say that isn’t enough time to progress; I say to them, we will progress, just at a slower pace.  Think of the proverbial race between the tortoise and the hare…

Since barn time is limited, I try to keep my tack organized and my grooming routine as short as possible to maximize saddle time.  That is my game plan.  My horse however likes to derail those plans from time to time to remind me that I cannot control everything though I try and try.

Temperatures have started a warming trend which means that since Ike is not clipped, he can’t wear his winter sheets and blankets.  That leaves a very large mass exposed to the elements….and by elements…..I mean the M-U-D.  Yes, that is right, mud season has already started in the mid-Atlantic region.  Ike decided that he should partake of this early spring mud to “condition” his coat.  Except for the front of his head and his ears, almost every square inch of his hulking body was covered with caked, dried mud.  So much for more saddle time.  By the time he was clean enough to ride, I was dirty enough to not want to ride.  Well played Ike.

While my time in the saddle was going to be limited, I was going to get in the saddle.  Lucked out that the four-wheeling children were not out terrorizing the neighborhood, so Ike and I had a productive 30 minutes.  Started out long and low at the walk and trot to really get Ike to stretch over and use his back.  I then picked him up and worked on our square turns, circles, shallow loops and centerline turns.  Hmm, those centerlines are a bit wavy right now.  Need to start practicing them more to get back into show shape.  If I am going to fork over almost $180 for two tests at a licensed show ($40/test+drug fee+office fee+GAIG fee+haul in/stall fee), we’d better bring our A-game.  Our circles are good since we use them regularly, but our shallow loops are too abrupt rather than flowing.  Will add those to the list of things to practice.  And speaking of practice, Ike and I finished our ride by practicing Training Level Test 1.   Overall, I’d say we gave a 63-65% effort.  I think I remembered it from last year which is one less thing to add to my list.

Fingers crossed that tomorrow is more time in the saddle and less grit in my mouth.