My Love/Hate Relationship With Winter

Ike January 25 2016

Ike expressing his views on winter weather. (This is from last winter.)

 

Well, winter has arrived in the mid-Atlantic states.  The snowbirds have migrated south and the rest of us have opened up the bags of winter clothing and hand warmers to face the colder temperatures.  There are things that I do like about this time of year, but there are also things I truly despise about the season…

Love: Not having sweat pouring down my face and burning my eyes.                                                   Hate: The wind stinging my eyeballs making it look like I am crying. 

Love: Not having to have ninja like reflexes to kill horseflies.                                                                     Hate: Being so padded to stay warm that I move like the StaPuff Marshmallow Man.

Love: Not riding in the atomic dustbowl.                                                                                                  Hate: Frozen footing.

Love: No allergies and random sneezing while I ride.                                                                             Hate: That my nose runs like a faucet in cold weather. 

Love: The energy that my horse has.                                                                                                        Hate: The bat crap crazy energy my horse has on some days.

Love: Pockets in my winter coats.                                                                                                           Hate: My fingers being so frozen that they can grasp nothing in the pockets. 

Love: Not having to clean gooey sweat globs off the bridle.                                                                   Hate: How impossible it is to manipulate cold leather.

Love: Not fearing having a shoe sucked off in the mud.                                                                         Hate: Worrying that my horse with twist a fetlock in the frozen mud holes. 

Love: Not worrying about odd tan lines.                                                                                                  Hate: Wind burn and chapped lips.

Love: Not having to wear a gas mask in the car with the dirty, sweaty saddlepad.                                   Hate: Having to wait for the ice on the windshield to melt.

So what are your favorite and least favorite things about this time of year?

Alison

Extracurricular Activities (or Why Ike Needed to Get Back to Work Sooner Rather Than Later)

"Who wants to play with me?"

“Who wants to play with me?”

The month of February was not a good month for making forward progress to our goal of showing Second Level in April.  We had a solid lesson on February 9th, and then Mother Nature decided to be persnickety and throw every type of frozen precipitation at us for days on end.  I tried riding one other day, but that ended with Ike’s hind end slipping out from under us and me almost sliding off with thoughts of broken bones and torn tendons flashing through my brain. So I hung up our bridle and hunkered down until Mother Nature’s mood improved.  Unfortunately it took her almost 4 weeks to come to her senses as our next lesson just happened today, March 10th .  Grrr, not amused.

Ike on the other hand, took the time off to engage in some extracurricular activities.  The more bored he became, the more the extracurricular activities escalated.  I thought I would share with you some of the activities in case your horse is still out of work and you need some ideas to keep him occupied.

  1. Halter Removal – This game only works when at least one horse is wearing a halter.  The object of the game is to get the noseband of the halter into the mouth of the horse wearing the halter without the halter breaking.  I guess it goes without saying that it is also better if nothing breaks on any of the participants.  Of course, this game is hard on the halter, so buy cheap ones since they will eventually fray and break.
  2. Snow Angel – You try and make the most elaborate snow angel.  This game requires some agility skills and the ability to completely roll over to obtain the full angel wing span.  Ike, sadly, usually made a one-winged angel.  This was his least favorite game and soon fell out of favor.
  3. I’ve Got Your Water – This game involves trying to steal the water from your brother’s paddock.  Each day, repurposed muck buckets of fresh water were set out in the paddocks in the morning.  We came to realize that Mr. Giraffe could grab the handle of his brother’s bucket if it was set too close to the fence.  Ike thought it was great fun to grab it and try to put it in his paddock.  “Ha, ha, I now have two and you have none.”
  4. Play With Me Now – The instigator stands at the fence line and must make mean faces at the other participant until the other participant relents and finally plays with the instigator.  It also helps to stomp the ground and kick out your hind leg in disgust.  Once both participants are engaged, both must show off their rearing skills in the icy footing.  The first one to fall is the loser.
  5. The Tree Removal Game– You find the one and only tree near your paddock and pull on the trunk of the tree to see how much of an angle you can obtain before the tree splits in two.  So far a 30-35 degree angle is the record.  Ike plans to parlay this game into some side work this summer working for a tree company.
  6. Paddock Redesign – This is an advanced game that requires some knowledge of electric fences and how to test whether or not they are working.  Beginners will need help from more advanced players to hone their fence testing skills.  Once the basics are established, the object of the game is to remove a section of the paddock fence to create a “door” into the adjacent paddock.  If the “door” is not fully open, you also test your jumping skills to avoid the “trip wire” still blocking the “door.”  Once in the adjacent paddock, this opens up a whole new array of game opportunities…until of course you get caught by the warden…
  7. Spring Fling – This is a bonus game if you master Paddock Redesign.  It is also a boy/girl game.  The object is to see how long you can play with the girls over their fence line until you get caught by the warden or you piss them off enough that they no longer want to play with you.  Bonus points are given if you can avoid shocking yourself on their hotwire while you engage them in play or if you can create a “door” into their paddocks.

Phew, we went back to work just in the nick of time.  I would hate to think what was next in line for equine activities…Trailer Pulling Contests or Hide and Seek anyone?

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

Bye Bye January

Ike November 2014

January 2015 is just about behind us and I am not sad to see it go.  The weather has made riding consistently next to impossible.  I am lucky to ride two or three times a week right now and our work is scaled back significantly.  We have thankfully had more rain than snow, but the frigid temperatures mean slick and frozen footing.  Slick and frozen footing means conservative rides to insure that there is no slipping on slick spots lurking just beneath the surface of the ring.  Had one scary moment last Sunday when Ike lost his hind end at the trot.  Luckily, we stayed upright with no sprains, strains, or lingering injuries.  The footing had appeared acceptable…needless to say that I avoided that end of the arena and kept Ike at a more conservative pace.  No point risking an injury.

Even if I don’t ride, I still worry about injuries.  The paddocks are a muddy mess right now and I fear that Ike will slip during one of his galloping jaunts around his field.  His friend Lady has fallen twice as she cavorts about her paddock.  His brother injured his left hind showing off his black belt board-breaking skills to the mares.  This time last year Ike had just come off stall rest for a lameness issue due to paddock antics.  We do not need any repeats.

We also do not need any repeats of my gymnastic dismounts from Ike.  At my age, my gymnastic skills are pathetic at best.  Truth be told, they were not that great in my younger days either.  My ability to get my feet under me as I flip off my galloping horse to stick the landing is nil/nada/zero.  Luckily for me, there have not been any vultures lurking around the ring.  Fingers are crossed that they have relocated to greener pastures.

And speaking of fingers, let me just say that it is impossible to execute an effective half halt or maintain the proper rein length when your fingers are partially frozen.  When you add thick winter gloves and hand warmers as well, it is like riding with oven mitts.  On the days I have ridden, I usually have a lesson with Ms. C.  Might as well make the most of the ass-in-saddle days.  Even if we cannot canter or work on lengthenings, there is still much we can do.  Rein backs, shoulder in, haunches in, turn on the haunches (currently our worst nemesis), square halts, 10 meter collected trot circles, and of course, my sitting trot, are all on the “things we can do most days” list.

Here’s hoping that warmer days are just around the corner.

Rare CV Blue Whale Spotted

Blue whale in the field

Shhh, be very, very quiet.  A rare Central Virginia Blue Whale has been spotted.  These are solitary and elusive creatures that must be approached with the utmost of care.  They can be very suspicious of your motives, so do not approach unless you are carrying bribes of apples and carrots.  These creatures have been known to run if you approach them carrying tubes of Ivermectin.  Do not run after them as they are fleet of foot, and they will taunt you as they run circles around you with a smug look in their eyes.  If you do earn the trust of one of these creatures, it will be a rewarding partnership.

Yes, dear friends, Ike finally has a new winter blanket that fits his burgeoning body.

I had ordered two blankets to try – an 86 inch and an 88 inch.  The box in which the two blankets were shipped could easily fit all three of my dogs as an inexpensive dog house.  Our UPS man must hate us.  The new blankets come with a warning that they should be tried on carefully to avoid getting them dirty.  Sure, okay, it is so easy to avoid dirt, hay and hair in the barn.  When I removed the blanket from the plastic bag, it was all I could do to keep it from touching the ground.  I’m pretty certain that a family of four could easily camp under it if you added poles.  I finally managed to lift the mass of fabric onto Ike.  Thankfully, the first one fit so that I did not have to remove the other from the plastic.  With a few strap adjustments, Ike was snug in his new blanket.  Thanks to the Schneider’s Big Fellas line, Ike was able to remain a size 86.  They cut the blanket more generously so that it no longer looks like a miniskirt and with the gussets in the shoulder area, the blanket can close in front.

Ike in new blanket

The new blanket arrived just in time for our latest cold spell.  Riding is curtailed because of the frozen ground, so not much to report as far as training progress.  Hopefully warmer temperatures will return soon or I will win the lottery so we can winter in Wellington…stay warm my friends!

alison

 

Can Someone Direct Me To The Bigger & Taller Store?

Ike in his blanket

Hmm, there is something amiss with this blanket

This past weekend, my husband and I watched the movie The Blind Side again.  It is an amazing story, but I mention the movie for one particular scene.  Mrs. Tuohy takes Michael Oher to the Big & Tall store to find some new clothing.  She asks the salesmen what they have available in Michael’s size.  He points to one rack and states, “This is all we have in his size.”  Mrs. Tuohy retorts, “Are you not a big and tall store?”  The salesman laughs and replies, “He needs a bigger and taller store!”  Well that is about where I am with finding Ike a winter blanket.  Yes everyone, that moment has arrived, Ike has outgrown his EIGHTY SIX inch blanket.  As you can see in his photo, we cannot close the front of the blanket – the velcro doesn’t even come close to securing in front.  As my blogger friend Susan noted, “He has massive cleavage spillage like the drunk girl on Saturday night.”  Poor Ike.

We have moved beyond the normal horse-sized blankets.  Most brands of blankets have a maximum size of 84 inches with some venturing into the 86 inch range.  When you start looking for sizes bigger than that, your choices are very limited.  I suppose most companies assume when you are that big, you don’t get cold.  When you type “88 inch horse blanket” into a search engine, you get about 5 websites with a limited selection of turnout blankets and stable blankets.  Cute colors/plaids/patterns?  Forget about it.  Color choices?  Typically one color choice – take it or leave it.  The best selection appears to be at Schneider’s Tack (the same place I found Ike’s double bridle) with a brand called Big Fella Blankets marketed “For Drafts, Large Warmbloods, & Wide Bodied Conformations.” Color choices are grey so we can look like a walrus or navy for the look of a blue whale.

But before I purchase a new blanket, I need to measure Mr. Wide Body to attempt to get an accurate measurement.  Pulled out my measuring tape only to find that Ike has also far exceeded the measuring capability of my tape.  Super.

So, to date, my dearest boy has outgrown our last horse trailer, two bridles, a girth, a multitude of bits, his 82 inch blankets, his 84 inch blankets, and now his 86 inch blankets.  Heaven help us if he outgrows his stall.  I will be footing the bill for a new wing of the barn…

Stay warm everyone!  Ike will do his best until the new blanket arrives.

alison

Back to Work – Hilda and the First Show of the Season Await!

141

This has been one of those winters – one of those that the cold seems colder, the sky more grey than blue, and riding seems like a distant dream.  Mother Nature dropped another 6 inches of snow on the region yesterday.  The only upside is that when it snows in March in the mid-Atlantic region, it usually doesn’t stick around for long.  In fact, by Friday, temperatures should be in the 60s – much more spring like.  Given the fact that spring starts on Thursday, I’d say that we are due some 60 degree days.  The boys would agree – they are tired of eating hay and would like some lush spring grass for grazing.

I did luck out last week and managed to ride FIVE times with two of them being excellent lessons with Ms. C.  I haven’t ridden that many times in a week since last December.  It felt good to mount up and begin to re-establish our rhythm.  It is amazing how rusty you become.  It takes forever to find the training sweet spot and yet within a few weeks, you lose months and months of stamina and training.

Ms. C asked me an interesting question at the start of one of my lessons, “If you are asked at the clinic with Hilda what you need her to help you with, what will you tell her?”  [Insert sound of crickets chirping.]  Umm, well, ah, yeah, I dunno…guess I need to give that some thought.  Perhaps I need to refer back to George Morris’ commandments and just pick one of those.  Ms. C suggested that I let her know that we are beginning our first year of showing First Level, so perhaps we should tell her that we need help becoming a First Level team.  No more plodding around on the forehand or racing around like Scooby Doo.  No longer is Ike allowed to ride a circle with a stiff and straight body; a circle needs to be more of a circle than a decagon.  Guess whose job it is to make sure that he moves correctly?  No more cruise control for this girl…one must ride every stride and plan for the movements to come.  I suppose that means that my half halt timing will be closely scrutinized.  And if my two lessons last week are any indication, my timing definitely still needs improvement!

And speaking of close scrutiny, I have to admit, that while I am thrilled at the opportunity to be a demonstration rider at the Hilda Gurney clinic, I’m also a bit nervous.  I am imagining hundreds of auditor eyeballs staring at my every move and looking for any and every mistake.  That is more attention than I had at the regional finals!  Yikes!  “How did she get selected for this?  Did you see her blow that half halt?!  Look at her hand position!  Ike’s head is so big and the ears belong on a mule.  That poor horse could be great if his rider was more talented.”  Yes, this is what loops through my head when I’m not busy with work or other tasks.  I know that I need to stop the madness, but that is easier said than done.

The money has been sent for our first show of the season as well.  Our first show will be the first weekend of May.  While there are shows in March and April, I knew that there was no way we were going to enter them.  It is no wonder they call the show at the end of the month March Madness.  You have got to be darn near insane to enter it since ride time has been steady practically nonexistent this winter.  There is also an outlay of cash for the April clinic, so since there are not unlimited funds, the first show needed to wait.  Call me insane, but I signed up for a couple of First Level tests.  I guess if the one on Saturday is a complete disaster, I can always scratch my Sunday ride.  I also signed up for a couple of Training Level tests just so that we have two rides that we can feel confident about as we head down centerline.

Fingers crossed for great things for our third show season!  Hope you stick around for the ride,

Alison and Ike