Sweaty Pants

Ike Aug 23 2015

“Can someone please turn down the heat?

So it has been hotter than Hades these past few weeks.  I will admit that I do not function at 100% when the heat index is over 100°F.  I am certain that neither does my horse – there is a certain lack of pep in his step when the temperatures soar.  So what is one to do when it is just too hot to put in any strenuous riding?  One goes on vacation!  Spent a week on the shore with family fishing, horseback riding on the beach, and amusing fellow beach goers with my feeble attempts on a standup paddleboard.  If you think riding takes good balance and a strong core, just try standing on a paddleboard while trying to paddle and steer.

 

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Hatteras Island beach ride

 

And while I had a fabulous time soaking up the sun while floating in the cool ocean waters, Ike stayed home and had some one-on-one time with Ms. C.  He is not good at keeping our secrets and was obviously rather plow horse–like in his work with her since I received the following message:  “Rode the giant, too heavy in everything!!!!! (yes, there were that many exclamation points.) So we had some ‘enlightening’ right away with no leaning on hands, legs or [in] the movement.”

I am now not the only one paying the price for Ike’s actions during my absence.  During my first lesson after vacation, Ms. C first informed me that because of her work with Ike, that unless you are out for a hack and a relaxing ride, all of her students were now expected to actively ask for uphill balance…no more accepting lack of engagement or plodding around on the forehand.  If we accept that during our training rides, then why wouldn’t our horses believe that it is acceptable in competition.  Train like you are in the competition ring with a judge at C.  Train for excellence and not for mediocrity. I have asked Ike to apologize to everyone, but he is rather unrepentant.  So as his mother, I am truly sorry for Ike’s unapologetic behavior and half-assed work for Ms. C.

Achieving real uphill balance, having hind end engagement, sitting on the hind end, picking up the front end, making the forehand lighter, ending the plow horse movement, getting off the forehand.  Whatever you call it, it still means that you will no longer carry your horse’s oversized head yourself.  He is going to have to shoulder that load. It means that he will no longer bully you with his massive shoulder when resistant to the leg aids.  I understand the concepts, but putting those concepts into practice can be challenging.  It is much easier for me to achieve it with a double bridle, but for the time being, that toy has been taken away.  “You need to be able to do this without the double.”  Aaarrggghhh, but it is soooo much HARDER.  But I knuckled under, tacked up with my snaffle, and worked on lightening Ike’s forehand.  Ms. C provided me with a new visual to help drill in the concept of how to half halt effectively to achieve the desired result– Pretend you are pulling on a pair of wet riding pants when you are sweaty.  Now there is an image to haunt your dreams…

But the funny thing is, that the image worked for me.  My first solo ride after my lesson, I actually felt like Ike was sitting on his hind end more and moving like a real Second Level horse – not just a poser who gets lucky with good scores every now and again.  It is that uphill feeling that we will need to make the transition to Third Level; I’m almost certain that plow horses do not achieve high scores at Third.  So the next time you see me making a funny face while I am riding, you will know what is going through my head – “Must. Get. On. These. Sweaty. Pants.”

alison

Equestrians Know It’s Hot When…

Ike in the shade

Can we just hang in the shade?

So there have been numerous articles published in the local newspaper to let us know that the dog days of summer are here.  Oh, really? Someone needed the newspaper to tell them that it is ridiculously hot? Umm, any equestrian could have told you that weeks ago.  We have our own ways of knowing it is hotter than Hades outside with a dose of subtropical humidity to make it more insufferable.

Equestrians know it is sweltering when…

 

You are on your third change of clothes and it is only 10 AM.

The sweatband in your helmet is so saturated that the sweat just runs into your eyes and blinds you. Thankfully your horse is smart enough not to run into your trainer.

They postpone a horse show for the safety of horses and riders.

You sweat through your gloves and can no longer half halt efficiently since the reins are sliding through your fingers.

Your horse is soaking wet even before you start grooming and tacking for your ride.

You dread stopping somewhere on the way home from the barn for fear someone will surreptitiously take a photo of you and mistake you for a Pokémon character.

A bug flies into your face and sticks to the sweat. Hey, at least it didn’t fly into your mouth this time.

You remove your clothing off like a banana peel.  Raise your hand if you have had a wrestling match and a few choice words with the sweaty sports bra that really doesn’t want to part ways.

It feels like you are squishing when you walk, but it is just the sweat pooled in your black leather boots.

You sweat so much that your gloves turn your hands a rainbow of colors from the dyes. Another show of hands for those who have gone into the office with this new “accessory.”

You accidentally hit yourself in the face with your horse’s sweaty saddle pad. Bleh, that doesn’t taste so good.

You seriously debate the merits of riding up and down the barn aisle rather than braving the sun.

You place your helmet on your head and sweat from the day before drips onto your head.

Your clothes are wetter going into the washer than when they go into the dryer.

You use the word “moist” a lot in conversation and you have not baked anything since the holidays.

You Google “places with cooler summer temperatures” but then realize that your 18 hand dressage horse will be a bit out-of-place at that dude ranch in Banff, Canada.

Stay cool and safe everyone! This heat wave can’t last forever…

alison

 

 

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

How to (Kind Of) Assemble a Double Bridle

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So this winter means that Ike and I are beginning our introduction to the double bridle. Yep, I have never used one before. It was debated and discussed for a number of months before we decided that it could be helpful. I struggle due to lack of experience with dressage beyond First Level, and I lack the physical strength to half halt effectively in certain situations.  There are also Carpal tunnel in both wrists and my fibromyalgia that can make riding a struggle some days. My drive to learn and to escape the lower levels keeps me going, and the double bridle can hopefully give me just a little bit of extra oomph to teach Ike the skills to progress beyond First Level.  I will still ride in my normal bridle most days, but will use the double bridle during some of my lessons. [read – under the eagle eye of Ms. C so I don’t do anything stupid inappropriate.]

I found a very nice double bridle (it can convert to a snaffle bridle if necessary) and inexpensive bradoon and Weymouth bits through Schneider Saddlery (http://www.sstack.com/English_Bridles/Dress-Conv-Bridle-W-pat-Bead/$%7B(%20%20)#32871%20FS%20BK}) for a very reasonable price. Of course, assembling the pieces was not quite as easy as clicking “purchase” on the website. So, without further ado, I present to you “How to assemble a double bridle.”

  1. Stupidly smile at box when it arrives because it makes you feel like a big kid rather than a beginner.
  2. Open box. Remove the packaging and sniff the new leather.
  3. Lay out the various pieces on the counter to make sure all parts are present and accounted for.bridle on counter
  4. Look in box for some Ikea-style pictogram assembly instructions. Grimace and then mutter expletives when you realize there are none.  my look of horror
  5. Pour a large glass of wine.
  6. Retrieve laptop so that you can find a photo of the assembled bridle on the website.
  7. Attach the bradoon and Weymouth bits and admire your handywork.
  8. Remove the bits when you realize you forgot to attach the browband.
  9. Curse your ineptitude and take a big swig of the wine.
  10. Slide browband into place.
  11. Reattach both bits.
  12. Realize that the headstall is backwards because the throatlatch is in the front.
  13. Mutter more expletives as you remove both bits for the second time and then the browband.
  14. Have another large sip of wine.
  15. Curse the inventor of the double bridle.
  16. Pour more wine.
  17. Yet again study the photo of the assembled bridle and reattach the browband first and then the bits.
  18. Attach the noseband.
  19. Breathe sigh of relief when you realize you finally attached everything correctly.
  20. Attach the reins to the bits.
  21. Call your trainer to confirm each set of reins are attached to the correct bit.
  22. Admire fully assembled bridle.
  23. Find a keeper on the floor. Pick up before it is consumed by a curious canine.
  24. Scratch your head when you realize you cannot figure out where it goes.
  25. Shrug and put it in your wallet just in case you have an epiphany.
  26. Admire your accomplishment again as you envision riding down centerline with your horse wearing the bridle…one day….
  27. Finish the bottle of wine.

I am happy to report that Ms. C gave my efforts a passing grade.  Ike was a sport as we adjusted the fit.  And I have to say (please pardon my proud horse mom moment), that I think my boy looked pretty smart wearing this new bridle.  Wish us luck!

alison

 

Our CBLM Finals Recap – What Would Hilda Think?

Getting ready for the victory lap

Getting ready for the Training Level awards ceremony

Phew!  We are now back to reality after living in Horse Show World for 4 days.  Horse Show World is a world unlike any other that I exist in on a daily basis.  Your entire day revolves around your equine family member.  You drag yourself to the barn in the dark to make sure that your beloved horse eats at his normal time.  You realize that your horse is a rather slovenly stall keeper who likes to watch you mine for the poop piles.  Your hands get chapped from fishing out water-logged hay from the water buckets four or five times a day.  Seriously, Ike, why must you leave so much hay in your buckets?  The day’s activities are predicated on what time you need to begin your grooming/tacking/warm up in order to make it down centerline on time.  If you have two rides, this process might have to be repeated…But wait, you can’t leave the show grounds yet, since then you must wait for the class(es) to end to determine if you must frantically retack your horse to make it to the mandatory mounted awards ceremonies.  Even after you scramble to get there, you have to have your baby situated for the night before you can even consider a shower and a real meal.  And who hasn’t driven back to the show grounds for one last night check?  If aliens are watching us, they must think that our horses are in charge and we are their servants.

Ike and I after our First Level final 10th place finish

Ike and I after our First Level final 10th place finish

I am tickled to say that Ike and I finished out our 2014 show season with placings in both of our finals classes.  Yes, can you believe it?!  Both of them.  If you had asked me what the outcome would be, I would have told you that we might have pinned in one or both of our warm up classes, and had a slightly better than average chance of placing in our Training Level Final, but we’d be lucky to be in the top half of our First Level Final.  There were about 30 horse and rider pairs in each of the final’s classes.  Yikes!  When it was all said and done, we came home with a first place in our Training Level Test 2 warm up class, a 5th place in our Training Level Final, and a 10th place in our First Level Final.  [Shhh, don’t tell, I teared up when I realized I placed in each of my final’s classes.]

Here is video from the First Level Awards Ceremony – it cracks me up that Ike seems to realize that we were announced and that the crowd was cheering for him.  I have to say that I was so proud of Ike marching right into the Coliseum like he had done it before…I feared having to walk around by myself while Ike ran freely around the show grounds: 

It finally felt like validation for all our hard work.  We can do this in spite of all my self doubt and my lack of experience.  We started the season with the Hilda Gurney Clinic in Maryland and I can’t help but wonder what she would think of us now.  We were still trying to find a show worthy canter in April, and I am happy to say that we found it this past weekend.  The season that started off with scores of 5.5 for our canter work, ended with 7’s for both the left and right leads.  And let’s be perfectly honest, I wouldn’t be at this point without a cadre of amazing people who have helped Ike and I to establish our partnership.  Thank you to you all!!  If I try to name them all, I fear that I will inadvertently forget someone.  But I must say a special thanks to my husband who is my greatest cheerleader and supporter – I love you dearly for supporting this crazy horse habit!

alison

Anticipation

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To this day, I can still (poorly) sing along to Carly Simon’s 1971 top twenty song “Anticipation.”  My singing is not fit for public consumption – just ask my husband who is subjected to it in the car…That aside, things are gearing up for our show in two weeks.  Anticipation is building and hopes are high that we will do well.  My riding has come along way the past few years and is finally fit for public viewing.

With the seasonable temperatures, we have been able to ride and not finish looking like drowned rats.  Although the region could use some more rain, I am not complaining that the sun is out more often than not.   We have been able to school 4 or 5 days a week.  Ike had his pedicure last week as well as an acupuncture and chiropractic session.  My extensive packing lists are on my desk as well as the lists of stuff that I need to get done at home and work before we leave.  The dog sitter has been hired.  Ike has attempted to grow back some mane.  We have about 1.5 inches of spikey growth in the “bald zone.”  I am hopeful that there might be enough hair to fake some sort of braid.  Still praying that roached manes will surge into popularity with dressage riders in the next 10 days.

Our lessons have been intensive.  A lot of discussions about keeping Ike up in his bridle and not letting him dive into the connection.  My whip has been taken away since it not allowed in the championship classes.  I’ve played with a longer spur so that I can speak to the other time zone that is Ike’s hind end.  A few test movements are interspersed in the lessons, but we continue to focus on me understanding when I am connected and through and when Ike’s stride is too short/tight/quick/choppy.  Once the problem is identified (if I am successful at the identification) then we work on what I need to do to fix the problem.  Thankfully, I’m now better able to fix the problems.  Could it be that I might have discovered the secret language of the half halt?!  I’m still waiting to be taught the secret handshake, but that can wait until after the show.

Of course, anticipation can be a bad thing when your horse has ridden the dressage tests enough that he begins to anticipate the next move.  I finally realized that Ike was anticipating the up and down transitions in my Training Level Test 2 rides.  When I sat back and looked at my score sheets from this year, I saw that we quite frequently jig right before our trot transitions.  We also got hit a number of times for trotting before we finished our right lead canter circle.  While practicing my tests at home, sure enough, Ike is jigging and trotting too early.  Hmm.  Guess I need to change up my preparatory methods.  Part of it is that I might be on cruise control myself.  I should know better by now, but some habits are hard to break.

Back in the saddle again tomorrow and then a break on Wednesday.  Thanks for checking in on Ike and I!

alison

One of My Favorite Ways to View the World

Ike at the end of September 2014

A great way to view the world!

So Ike and I took time off last week.  Ike spent his week off just being a horse – no demands of his time except for feeding time.  Rumor has it that he did look for me every time he heard a car come down the driveway.  While he might have missed me, I think he enjoyed living like his brother, the lawn ornament.  I spent the week on Ocracoke Island with my husband and our dear friends imbibing on some adult beverages and engaging in some serious hands of Spades.  While I love to get away from the daily grind, I do miss our dogs and horses while we are gone.  How can you not miss sitting astride your horse and the ease of their power?

We caught the 4:30 a.m. ferry off the island (yes, we are those people) and were home by 10:30.  That meant that there would be some saddle time that afternoon!  What a great greeting I received upon arrival at the barn.  Every horse, except for Ike, nickered as I said hello.  Ike promptly greeted me with a gentle nudge, then gave me his “mean face.”  I suppose that was him admonishing me for leaving him for the week.  He is quick to forgive…after a Stud Muffin or two were procured.  Had a moment of panic when I saw Cigar’s face with what looked like blood splattered on his forehead.  Thankfully, it turned out to be pokeberry juice.  Such a shame that he has to resort to eating pokeberries rather the alfalfa/timothy hay that he is provided.  Enjoyed a short but productive ride with the realization that the CBLMs are only three weeks away.

So much to accomplish in the next few weeks.  The training plan involves mostly pure training rather than test riding.  Training Level Test 2 and First Level Test 2 are good tests for us.  We’ve been consistent with our scores all season, so no need to drill the movements.  We are just going to work on climbing the training pyramid which will only make our tests better.

Ms. C introduced half steps to our training right before our week off; she said that both Ike and I are ready for them. Uh, okay.  I think Ike is picking up on the concept faster than I am.  I have a tendency to get a bit strong with my hands, not use my legs enough, and then forget to release my half halt…that of course creates tension which makes Ike’s back tight which then causes all the dominoes to fall and we end up back at square one.  Phew, we are now well outside my comfort zone with what we are doing.  No more happy-go-lucky Training Level stuff allowed.  I can read books and websites all day and night about half steps and teaching collection to a horse and rider, but there is no comparison to actually sitting on the horse and performing the tasks at hand.  It is much like swimming – the only way to become proficient is to jump in the water and do it.  Yes, it will be hard at first (and you might sink like a rock/get some low scores), but with steady practice and repetition, you will hopefully see improvement.  That is what I’m hoping with our half steps/collection work.  Good thing there is no hurry to get to Second Level.  (Sshhh, don’t tell, I’m also still not proficient with sitting ike’s medium trot either and I think posting is frowned upon.)

It is shaping up to be a busy week with the farrier and vet stopping by, but hopefully there will be plenty of saddle time!

alison