Equus Absentius Holiday-itis

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

Symptoms in equines can include:

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

Human symptoms include, but are not limited to:

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

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


Grooming Pig Boy and His Brother Ike

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

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

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

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

Huff and Puff and Blow Your Horse Down


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

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

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

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

Psst, Hey You. Yeah, You.

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

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

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

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

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

Hitchcock and His Birds Have Nothing on Us

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

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

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

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

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

We’ve Been Slimed

This photo was taken at the beginning of my ride, so there is no “drooly slime” on Ike’s mouth.  Ike, however, is very good at producing large quantities of slime in a short amount of time – it makes me think that he might be part Mastiff.  He is also very adept at flinging the pendulous drool at the closest target.  Ms. C was the recipient during our lesson the other day, and I have been the lucky one for my three rides this weekend.  With one flick of his gynormous head, drool flies through the air to land on the saddle, my boots, his own legs and chest, and my chest.  And once our ride is done?  I have to be on guard or “THWACK!”  I am knocked off-balance as Ike decides that now is a good time to wipe his face on my head/arm/back/chest…whatever happens to be the closest.  Not cool.  A klutz like myself is easily toppled with the slightest nudge.  Ike also grazed my face which under normal circumstances would have just irked me, but since at the ripe old age of 43 I had braces put on, became a painful reminder that I need to always pay attention or face a bloody lip again.

Bloody lip aside, I have enjoyed my rides this past week.  Riding is a great way to get away from the hustle and bustle of the start of the holiday season.  In my lesson on Wednesday, Ms. C reinforced the concepts that I worked on at the clinic.  Stop overbending Ike’s neck, establish and keep a better inside leg to outside rein connection, and let go with my inside rein.  The sad part is, I can see when another rider is overbending their horse’s neck and using too much inside rein, but put me on my horse, and all bets are off.  That inside rein is like a crutch that I just can’t let go.  When someone is on the ground reminding me, sure, I can listen and do it.  When riding alone, that inside hand creeps tighter and tighter and next thing you know, Ike’s long neck is curled like the letter C and that outside shoulder is falling where it may.

During my last three rides I have honestly tried to keep Ike straighter and more through.  Throughness can still be tough when Big Boy gets a bit strong in the hand.  Cold and windy days are especially challenging.  Add a tractor, a pickup truck, and a golf cart and throughness is next to impossible.  I persevere and we have fleeting moments.  In between, there is head wagging, nose in the air, and ducking behind vertical.  All normal evasions, but Ms. C reminds me that it is my job to show and teach Ike where I want him to be.  I keep trying and I think there is some success.  I beam with pride when I feel the connection.  Those “Ah-ha” moments are becoming more frequent, and I even smile while covered in slime.

The One With the Really Sweaty Horse and Rider

It might be November, but Ike and I managed to get so sweaty (and I’m assuming a bit stinky) at our clinic that on the drive home, my husband insisted that I wait in the truck while he us grabbed something to drink at the local Valero. Hmm, maybe I dressed a bit too warmly for the occasion.  I had forgotten that we’d be working in an indoor arena which effectively blocks the wind and stays a bit warmer than the ambient temperature outdoors.  I wore my FITS winter riding pants, my Mountain Horse winter boots, 3 tops and my Horseware Ireland wool sweater.  (Note to self:  Remember this combination if I need to sweat off a few pounds in record time.)  Ike is not clipped since we ride outdoors in the winter, I don’t want to have to play “guess which blanket to put on the horse” every day, and let’s face it, I’m too lazy to clip.  So yet again, we looked nothing like the winter riders in all the horsey mail order catalogs I regularly receive.

All our sweaty efforts were worth it.  We attended another clinic with Rebecca Langwost-Barlow.  Overall, she is very pleased with Ike’s progress.  Can you guess who needs the most work in our team of two?  Yes, you guessed correctly.  It is me.  Shocking.  I still like to overuse my inside rein which overbends Ike’s neck.  When I do think I’m straightening his neck, I end up throwing away my contact and leave Ike to decide how things are going to go.  It doesn’t matter what gait we are traveling.  I also have a tendency to cross my outside rein over Ike’s neck trying to correct what I’ve done with my inside rein.  Arrrrghhh!  What mayhem I create for myself.  I then get so hung up on what my hands are doing that I forget to effectively use my legs, and my shoulders start to shrug as they tense.  Becky kept after me the entire lesson just as Ms. C does – these ladies know how to drag the best out of Ike and me.  While working on the left lead canter, she even resorted to having me hold my SOS strap with my right hand while she told me when to half halt.  It took a few minutes, but I finally figured it out.  Ike leaned in on my inside leg a lot less and, surprise, surprise, his neck was straight.  I think I actually turned him using my outside rein and leg rather than pulling with my inside rein.  We then achieved similar success with the right lead canter.  Cool.  Nice to find out that the SOS strap can save me in other ways.

This was most likely our last outing for 2012.  The holidays are upon us and I’ll be sweating the details to get everything done on time.  Maybe I should wear my riding attire as I shop, wrap, and bake, and sweat off those extra Christmas cookies…

We Need More Time to Acclimatize

Ike and I are looking for a free ride to somewhere warm.  If possible we will need free boarding, food, and living quarters for the duration of our stay.  My parents have a condo in Florida, but Ike would be a bit cramped in their guest room.  I’m also figuring that the upstairs neighbors would begin to complain after a day or two of Ike in residence.  Where did our nice weather go???  I rode in summer clothes on Monday with a high temperature of 77 degrees.  Yesterday, I had on winter riding pants, winter boots and multiple layers.  48 degrees was the high.  After only 30 minutes, my ears were numb, my nose was running, and eyes were tearing.  Supermodel material…not.

Oh how I wish we could have a gradual transition from summer to fall to winter.  It seems that Virginia weather is bipolar.  It swings from one extreme to the other on a whim.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have a few weeks in the mid-60’s then a gradual drop to more winter-like temperatures.  And the wind could give us a break as well.  It really gets the nose flowing and I routinely forget to stuff tissues in my gloves, so my gloves or shirt become the unwitting recipient of the nasal offerings.  Such a pretty picture don’t you think?  You never see the rider’s in Smartpak or Dover with runny noses.  I’m so jealous.

So let’s just say that I’m a fair-weather loving rider.  I suffer through the summer heat and struggle in the cold of winter.  Half halting is a challenge when your fingers are non-responsive and bloodless.  My Raynaud’s Syndrome can make winter riding challenging.  I’ve lost count of the days that I had to stop what I was doing, and sit in my car holding my hands in front of the vents while waiting for the circulation to return.  Winter gloves do little to help.  It is what it is and I just don’t ride on the coldest days.

While my two rides this week were extremes in the weather, Ike was consistent between the two rides.  He continues to amaze me with his capacity to learn.  His strength, stamina, and balance are ten times what they were this time last year.  My Florida boy has obviously acclimated to his Virginia home.