Squeak, Squeak, Squeak Goes the Diesel Engine

Ike peering from barnDid you hear that horrible squeaking noise on Tuesday afternoon?  The one that sounded like a 50 year old bike being pedaled up a hill?  That would have been Ike and me in our dressage lesson.  Sheesh, it sure doesn’t take long for Ike to get a little stiff and rusty, and seemingly lose all the progress we’ve made towards Second Level.  It takes even less time for my riding to fall to pieces.  I suppose that is what happens when you are down to riding once a week.

Such is the plight of the average rider in the middle of winter.  We are at the mercy of the weather since we have no indoor arena.  Why am I not riding regularly?  Too wet, too cold, too frozen, too windy can all be used to explain why.  People like me are not able to leave our jobs, homes, and family and spend the winter in Florida playing with our horses every day.  We live vicariously through videos posted online; we jealously stew over their short-sleeved shirts and shiny, mud-free horses.

It was probably a good thing that I didn’t ride in the gale force winds on Monday.  Ike had a very busy day applying a mud mask to all exposed parts of his body.  It took me a good hour or so of grooming to get the dried, caked mud from Ike’s head, neck, legs, and tail.  There was even mud under the blanket – I’m not sure how he managed that feat.  I was as dirty as he was just from taking off his blanket.  As you can see from this photo, there was a clear line of demarcation between the land of the blanket and the mud flats.

Line of demarcation

Ike’s neck after 15 minutes with the curry…

While I cursed the blanket for sharing Ike’s mud with me, I also was thankful that it was in place or my task would have been even more daunting.  When I was done, even my teeth felt gritty.  A friend suggested that I get some Orbit gum for my dirty mouth.

Thankfully, Ike did not reapply his mud mask on Tuesday, so grooming was quick work and we could get straight to our lesson.  It. Was. Not.  Pretty.  Ike was stiff; all body parts were moving, but all parts were not moving together.  My fingers were stiff in the cooler weather which meant that my reins kept getting too long and uneven and I was always a half a step too slow for a proper half halt.  Transitions were our saving grace.  It took a good 25-30 minutes, but finally Ike’s body started moving more fluidly.  Ah, he is like a diesel engine – he just needs some time to warm up before getting to work.

Once the engine was humming, our work improved 10 fold.  We starting working on our leg yields to supple Ike even more.  I still have trouble keeping the correct alignment.  All too often, I leave Ike’s hind end playing catch up as I let the shoulders bully their way ahead.  Just half halt that outside rein to stop it they say; I say bully to that.  Once Ike’s shoulders take the lead, it is all I can do to slow them down.  I also have to be careful that I maintain the proper flexion since Ike is more than happy to demonstrate his half pass ability. (which by the way is lovely.)  We tried the new First Level Test 3 movement of leg yielding from K to X and then from X to H.  Make sure you have control of those shoulders well before X – it is way too easy to overshoot X and end up with a very steep line to H.

We then moved on to shoulder in and started introducing the Second Level Test 1 pattern.  Holy moly!  We can actually do it!  I am still in shock.  There is a dim chance that we might actually be ready to try Second Level at a schooling show in April.  Ike and I can finally ride the first 8 movements of the test with some level of success.  We are able to show a change between a collected trot and a “medium-like” trot.  The medium trot is still a work in progress, but work has stalled with the poor footing.  We are really in a correct shoulder in position and don’t just have an over bent giraffe neck.  We can ride smooth square turns onto and off of the rail.  Reinbacks are decent.  Luckily, Ike can already walk and free walk, so movements 7 and 8 feel like bonus points.

But that is where are work ended for the lesson.  The footing was not safe enough to push for medium trots or canter.  Call me a wuss, but I’d rather err on the side of caution then end up with a tendon injury that sidelines any work.  Warmer weather will be here soon enough and we will be back to full speed.  I am still practicing my impatiently patient skills.  They too are a work in progress.

alison

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Digesting What Was Served by Hilda

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Holy Moly.  What an amazing, overwhelming, humbling, inspiring weekend.  I am not even certain where to start to capture all the details.  Amazing to have met one of the legends of dressage.  Overwhelming to have been selected even though Ike and I were the least experienced of the rider group.  Humbling in so far as I realized that I know next to nothing about dressage.  Inspiring to see the upper level riders and their talented mounts.

If you want to know what I looked like, feel free to ask any of the 200 auditors.  Yes, 2-0-0.  I have never ridden in front of that many pairs of eyes; not even at the Region 1 championship last year.  I unfortunately cannot publicize the videos of my ride, but suffice to say that Hilda pretty much pegged me after about a minute.  Now, so can the 200 auditors.  They will now have no fear when they see the name spastic rider getting hauled around by her larger than average pony when they are in one of my classes.  “Don’t be afraid to use your hands.” “Relax your back.” “You are not sitting.” “Move your legs back.” “Where were you to help your horse?” “You forgot your corner.”  She said nothing that Ms. C hasn’t told me before, and that I haven’t been working on for the past two years.  I’m back to feeling like a beginner rider entering the arena for the first time.

The nice thing is that I have learned that I’m not alone with my struggles to grasp the intricacies of this sport.  So many of the auditors approached me after my ride to share with me their impressions of my lesson.  Many said that they thought I handled it wonderfully and that it was great to see someone working at their level bravely attempting to follow Hilda’s instructions.  I don’t know the names of these kind souls, but they helped me to rally and do it again on Sunday.  My fabulous friends from my local chapter also gave me a shot in the arm to bolster my confidence to face the crowd for a second day.

Sunrise over Wyndham Oaks Farm.

Sunrise over Wyndham Oaks Farm.

Sunday dawned a gorgeous spring day.  My dear friend Ms. L again made certain that Ike and I were impeccably turned out.  What we lacked in dressage knowledge and skills, we made up for by looking marvelous.  Ike and I were definitely more relaxed – not surprising given that we worked our butts off the day before.  We’d each had a chance to dwell on what we’d learned the day before and hopefully improve our performance.

I think I can confidently say that we showed improvement in our second lesson.  Can I give myself a pat on the back that Hilda complemented me on being a good student?  Awesome!  She was a special education teacher for 14 years, so she knows a thing or two about teaching.  Ike showed clear improvement in his right lead canter – he was kind enough to not lean so much on my inside leg.  I demonstrated better following hands at the walk and canter.  I did some passable sitting trot work.  We even attempted some centerlines and leg yield.  Our turns onto centerline were squirrely, but Ike was supple and responsive in his lateral work.

The videos Ms. L recorded will help me to see for myself my errant ways (eek, what a funny face I make while concentrating and will you please stop doing THAT with your hands!).  They confirmed with Ms. C that we are on the right track and that I need to be a better leader/rider in order for Ike to progress.  The clinic helped me to realize that I should not be afraid to take chances.  Yes, you will make mistakes when you take yourself outside of your comfort zone, but it is at that point that you will grow as a rider and the path up the levels will become just that more clear.

alison

Look Out Hilda, Here Comes Ike

"Don't worry Mom, I'm going to be awesome."

“Don’t worry Mom, I’m going to be awesome.”

Well, the time has finally come; we leave tomorrow for our first outing of the year.  And did we pick a schooling show, a local clinic, or just a ride to another farm?  Heck no, we are headed up to Boyds, Maryland to the scenic Wyndham Oaks Farm for the USDF/Nutrena Region 1 Hilda Gurney clinic.  I must have lost my mind when I sent my application.  I’ve seen the list of other riders.  We are the pair that was selected to represent the beginning of the journey up the training scale.  I can only hope that I make Ms. C, my husband, and my parents proud.  I can only hope that Ike is the gentleman we know he can be rather than the spooky goof who runs from birds.

We had one last tune up with Ms. C today.  She put us through our paces.  We are as healthy as we can be and as fit as we can be after the wretched winter we endured.  We focused on the proper bending on circles; I’m still bad at letting Ike’s outside shoulder head in the opposite direction we are traveling.  Unconsciously my outside hand and rein creep over Ike’s topline to try to fix the problem.  Bad rider, Bad Alison.  I have to constantly remind myself not to do that and to use my outside leg.  My inner thighs are still protesting as I write this. [Note to self – remember to pack the Advil.]

Ike still has not finished shedding and the temperatures just aren’t quite warm enough for a full bath.  I’ve done my best to make him look more presentable and less like a wooly mammoth.  The bridle path still needs some final prep, but my arms ached from trying to reach the necessary height to get the job completed.  Could someone please tell Ike to stop growing?

The trailer is packed, the tack is clean, and my new boots are polished.  A few hours of work in the morning and then let the adventure begin!!

Monkey See, Monkey Do

"Oh, hello.  Were you hoping to ride today?"

“Oh, hello. Were you hoping to ride today?”

It can be said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery; however, when your role model isn’t exactly clean-cut and at the top of the honor roll, you worry about his influence on a younger generation…yes, I’m talking about the less than stellar guidance that Cigar is providing to Ike.  I worry that Ike has been led astray by his older brother.

Even Ms. C has commented that perhaps putting Ike in the paddock adjacent to his brother wasn’t our best decision.  Ike used to quietly graze or eat hay in his paddock.  If he was startled, the worst he would do was stand at the gate and stare at the house until someone came to rescue him.  Since moving in next door to his brother, he now takes flight around his paddock, bucking like a banshee and sliding up to the gate like a reining horse.  The boys also think it is fun to casually walk to the far end of their paddocks, turn, and gallop to the other end.  It doesn’t seem to matter who wins as the game is repeated over and over and over until it is time to get funky.

Ike used to be a neat horse.  Rarely did I have to remove much dirt and his coat was always shiny and his mane tidy.  Well, those days are O-V-E-R.  As you can see in today’s photo, he has been taking his brother’s advice and spends his time wallowing in the mud.  Today, it took me more than 30 minutes to remove enough dirt to ride without embarrassment.  Once mounted, I found some funk I missed up behind Ike’s ears.  Thankfully, no one but me would notice it at that height.  Now that the temperatures have risen, wearing a blanket is out, so mud removal is a daily activity.  All this dirt makes me miss my polo wraps with the pig faces on them; they’d be quite appropriate these days.

Luckily for me, Cigar has yet to influence Ike as far as his training.  For that, I am eternally grateful.  It took 7 years for Cigar’s “meteoric” rise to First Level.  Ike’s progression has been just a wee bit faster as he has reached First Level after only 2 years.  His work as of late has been stellar.  Perhaps it is the fact that his rider has finally caught a clue coupled with the fact that Ike has gained muscles in all the right places.  We have been working hard to get ourselves ready for our first outing of the year which is now a little over a week away.  Our lessons with Ms. C are very focused.  “Where is your outside shoulder going?”  “Is it going where your horse is going?”  “Half halt!”  “Again!  He didn’t hear you.”  When I ride on my own, I try to replay the lesson in my head to replicate the correct positioning.  Where is my pocket-sized Ms. C to carry with me?

Our riding isn’t the only thing getting prepped for next weekend.  The trailer was inspected, and the short in the braking system was fixed.  I finally replaced my stirrup leathers; the ones I purchased in 2006 were starting to show their age.  New polo wraps have been purchased.  Ike has his stall reservations made and has his health certificate.    My new DerDau’s made their first appearance at the barn.  I still walk like Frankenstein in them, but they were comfortable to ride in from the very first ride.   They have a spiffy new bag to protect them.  My new Ecogold saddle pad (http://ecogold.ca/) arrived.  It is lovely.  I now want a whole stack of them.

The weekend promises to be a nice one.  We can only hope next weekend is as well.

 

 

More From Ike’s World

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Hello Friends!

I’ve decided to not give up control of Mom’s blog.  Still trying to figure out how to change the password so she can’t use the blog, but I guess that would be easier if I knew what a password was.

Do you know that Mom and Dad left me behind again when they went on vacation?  Can you believe that?!  Mom said that they were visiting islands on a boat and that there was no room for me or my brother.  Must have been a very small boat if we couldn’t fit on it.  If that is the case, I doubt that they had a good time.  I know that things here weren’t all sun and fun while they were gone.

While they were on the boat, we had to endure another snow storm.  I again tried to eat it, but this stuff was as bland as the other stuff.  White grass is worthless.  My brother tells me that he is certain that the green grass will be back soon.  The good side of having white grass is that I didn’t have to do any work while it covered the ground.  Word around the barn is that Mom told Ms. C to ride me two or three times while she was away.  As it was, Ms. C did make me do stuff twice, but I did my best to let her know that I wasn’t thrilled with this plan.

The first time was before the storm.  Ms. C put me on a really long lead rope and made me go in circles around her.  Hmm, just because my legs are longer than hers, why do I have to do all the work?  She also had a really long stick with a rope attached.  I tried to ignore what she was saying and do whatever I wanted, but that made her shake that stick at me.  If I ignored the stick, she would shake the stick so the rope wiggled like a snake.  Meanie.  I showed her by taking off so fast that she dropped the rope.  I ran to the far end of the arena, but thought I saw that scary bird hiding in the bushes, so I ran back to Ms. C.  She was less scary than the prehistoric bird.  Along with learning what a password is, I’m planning to learn how to use that stick thing.

Then right before Mom came home, Ms. C put on my saddle to ride me.  I am usually tacked in my stall, so I cleverly walked too close to the stall door and managed to pull the stirrup away from the saddle.  Ms. C couldn’t get it reattached.  Yea!  Awesome, I thought, no work for me!  But she then put her saddle on my back.  Wait a minute, how uncool is this.  Did she really think that I was going to wear a strange saddle?  No way.  I let her know right away that I thought her saddle was a bad idea.  She mumbled something about a fairy tale called The Princess and the Pea, but I’m still not clear how that relates to me and her saddle.

The highlight of my week was the warm weather on Saturday which meant that my blanket had to come off.  Heehee.  When all the white snow went away, it left behind some gooey mud.  My brother has shared with me his mud application techniques to get full body coverage.  You first need to work the mud with your hooves to make sure that there are no dry spots that would keep parts of your body mud-free.  One also must make sure that your rolling method allows you to get full coverage on your sides as well as where the saddle goes.  Cigar says that the saddle area is the most important, but also make every effort to coat your neck and face as well.

I think I did a good job because I stopped Mom in her tracks when she came to the barn on Sunday.  I’m pretty sure she almost gave up the thought of riding, but then a determined look swept over her face and she pulled out the curry.  I made her chase me around my stall a few times too, but she stuck with it.  She worked hard enough to clean off the saddle, girth and bridle spots, but she did leave a significant amount of mud on my legs, my butt, and in my mane and tail.  She won’t win any grooming contests anytime soon.

Even though I was mad at her for leaving me, I was glad to see her especially since she brought juicy apples from her travels.  At least I’d like to think she brought them home from vacation.  It is the least she could do.  We had a good time on Sunday and a lesson with Ms. C on Monday.  They gave me a lot of praise and Stud Muffins.  Guess I will try to be good under saddle since I like getting treats.  Can’t make any promises about staying clean.

Ike

Things We Equestrians Know for Certain

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Mark Twain is credited with stating that the only things that are certain in life are death and taxes.  Well, no disrespect to Mr. Twain, but we equestrians know that when you own and ride horses, that there are other things that we know for certain:

1)      Your horse will lose a shoe right after the farrier leaves or the day before your big show.

2)      The worst injuries and emergencies always occur on holidays, over the weekend, or after 10:00 at night.

3)      The more expensive the medication, the more likely you are to wear it.

4)      You will fall off…so don’t be too proud or arrogant and wear a helmet.  Your head will thank you.

5)      Your foot will eventually meet the underside of your horse’s hoof, so always wear the appropriate footwear at the barn.  Flip flops are never appropriate.

6)      Nothing from your first horse will fit your next horse.  I speak from experience.

7)      Admire your new white pad or breeches at home because as soon as they arrive at the barn, they will never look that clean ever again.

8)      You will not die if you eat your lunch right after mucking stalls even if you do not wash your hands first.  Sorry Mom.

9)      Your horse will always manage to find the one loose nail on the fence in the paddock; you will never find it.

10)   You will be pooped on at some point.

11)   Training horses is two steps forward and three steps back.

12)   Shortcuts in your training will only get you so far.  Take the time to do things correctly.

13)   Horses can count and do fractions.  Ike knows when he only gets half his grain or when I only give him three of the four treats in my pocket.

14)   Your horse will always know when the hot wire is not working.  Cigar is a master hot wire tester.

15)   Most scary things are invisible.

16)   Bailing twine is as handy as duct tape.

17)   Vet bills are never under $100.  If yours are, could you please share your vet’s phone number?

18)   Your horse will mysteriously go lame the day after the show closes and there are no refunds given.

19)   Horses are the best at keeping your secrets – like how much that saddle really cost or where you hid grandma’s silver.

20)   Nothing improves a bad day like the sound of a nicker or the smell of the barn.

Alison

p.s.  I also know for certain that I am so ready for spring.  This latest round of snow needs to melt quickly!

Reasons to Hate Winter and Be a Snow Bird in Welliworld

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In case you have been wondering why things have been so silent about Ike’s adventures, it is because we have not had any saddle time since January 1.  Yes, that is right, the 1st.  “But why Alison, why have you been so unproductive?  You have to master the Ten Commandments According to George before show season.”

Well, let me fill you in on the past nine days…which will clearly explain why I hate winter and why I need to win the lottery so that I can afford to flee to Welliworld and warmer temperatures. [In case you aren’t aware, Wellington, Florida is like Disney World for dressage lovers in the winter.]

Ike had his teeth floated on January 2nd.  They had last been done in May 2012.  Now before you accuse me of being negligent, he had not needed them done until now.  Yes, I got lucky with a horse who does not need dental work every 6 months.  That same day, since he was sedated, he also got his sheath cleaned…he frowns upon any attempts at touching the area without the help of drugs.  I gave him the rest of the day off to chill since I know how my mouth feels after the hygienist has been scraping and probing around my gumline.

Anyhoo, January 3rd brought snow and ice to the mid-Atlantic region – not any appreciable snow amounts, but enough to send Virginians into a blind panic to buy bread and milk and toilet paper in large quantities (those in the north must get a good chuckle out of us.).  Those of us without indoor arenas stare out the window and frown.  January 4th and 5th were saddle-free days because the chilly temperatures froze the arena to the hardness of concrete and prevented any snow melt.  January 5th also brought in some more rain.  Why not?!  More insult to injury.

January 6th dawned with another morning of rain.  Seriously??  Luckily by afternoon when I was done working, the rain had stopped.  Finally, I thought, I can hop on Ike for a ride.  Even if the footing was a little sloppy, I could at least do walk and some trot….or so I thought.  Got Ike tacked up quickly and headed to the arena while there was still daylight.  We started walking to warm up and all felt fine.  I knew something was off as soon as Ike made half a stride of trot.  Almost felt like he hopped with the hind end, like a runner pulling up with a strained hamstring.  Luckily, Ms. C was jin the barn and she came out to watch.  There were some good strides tracking right, but left was definitely off.  Ike went back in his stall where he had some Surpass rubbed on his hamstring and some Bute added to dinner.  Since Ike was sound on January 1st for my last ride, that leaves cavorting with his brother as the number one suspected reason that he was off.  Rumor has it that they can cause quite the commotion when they start the gelding play over the hotwire fencing.  I perish to think about the damage to themselves and the farm that they could cause if they were to share a paddock.

Well since Ike was having some rest time, I wasn’t too upset about the whole Polar Vortex/record-setting cold that settled into the area January 7th and 8th and re-froze the ground  It also turned my hands into white, bloodless extremities.  Can’t really half halt, groom, secure buckles, or pick hooves efficiently when you can’t move or feel your fingers.  It was definitely cold here, but after seeing some of the negative temperature values around the country, I don’t feel that we have too much to complain about.

January 9th – Ike was still not quite right.  Vet has been called and scheduled.  Thankfully he just had his routine adjustment, so we have an excellent baseline for reference.  So much for my goal of saving some cash; we can start next month.

January 10th – freezing rain in the morning followed by more rain in the afternoon.  Small pools have formed in the far end of the arena.  I managed to find the only patch of ice in the area and had the sidewalk viciously attacked my knee.  My knee is a wimp.  Tylenol is a good thing.  Where is the leftover ice melt?

Looks like more rain for tomorrow the 11th.  We can start working next week.

Wish me luck with the lottery.  I just know that my numbers are going to come in!