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We Are Flying Solo

January 11, 2010

In Which Solo Is A Guinea Pig

So we have this electromagnetic blanket sitting around the farm. It's on loan (or in storage?) for a friend of the BO. Now, scientifically, there is little data to suggest that magnetic pulse therapy is significantly effective and anecdotal reports show ceramic heat reflection technology to posses greater efficacy. But what the hell, the thing is sitting there and we've got nothing to lose, so we decided to try it out.

The book promised the horse would immediately take on a "calm, relaxed" demeanor. It did not indicate how you would recognize this if your guinea pig horse is generally calm and relaxed anyway.

It also had a useful Q&A section, covering important issues like: "Will this blanket make my horse a champion?" and offering the answer I hope no one paid money for: "No. Of course not. That would be impossible." Yes, those are direct quotes.

This helpful little manual also suggests you might get better results using the thing twice a day. Again, it did not indicate how one would do this without having an infinite amount of time to sit around and stare at a horse wearing a blanket. So, not so helpful really.

Supposedly, you have to use it at the lowest setting for three days, then you can begin to bump it up. I can't imagine anything more anticlimactic. You unroll all these cords and pieces and plug them into this giant silver box that looks like a 1980-model PC (see photo). There are junction boxes and switches and frequency settings galore. Then, with bated breath, you hit the "start" button. At which point precisely nothing happens. There are no lights. There is no sound. There is no heat from the pads. Your horse stands there staring at you contemplating the possiblity of carrots in your pocket. I was only able to figure out the thing was actually working by holding a magnet under each pad and as the machine pulses, the magnet vibrates in your hand. Thrilling.

So after day 1, I can report that my horse is calm and relaxed. Pretty much just like he was 30 minutes earlier, but it's a fun experiment.

January 8, 2010

Pats On The Back

It's always good when someone validates your hard work. Every so often, we all need someone to pat us on the head and say, "good girl." (Yes, I share that attribute with my geriatric dog)

Last night, we trucked over to the indoor arena across the street -- I would have ridden over there, but BO was horrified at the thought of crossing a road in the dark (hey, MY horse is road safe!) and insisted we ride in the trailer. No doubt the horses are bemused by the literally one-minute trailer ride.

P met me for a dressage lesson. I'd been feeling good about things and I am happy to report that P gave us an A!! Her comments:

Ooo, the canter is now balanced, rhythmic and packaged -- no more strung out horsey!
Solo is consistent in the bridle and lifting his back at the trot.
New farrier is doing good things as he is now tracking up well.

And the biggest impact for me: we should now be thinking and riding like a First Level dressage horse. The biggest change there is that now we need to make the poll the highest point. When we started, the only way to lift the back was to lower the neck as a lever. Now, Solo has learned to lift and use his back (you can even feel the new muscle behind the saddle, it's COOL!), so now he must graduate to traveling in a First Level outline.

Me = excited!

Our assignment:

-Begin to incorporate 15 m canter circles. Do NOT listen when Solo whines about how they are haaaaaaaaaard. I MUST sit up and sit back, visualizing riding an imaginary canter pirouette and staying over that hind leg, no hunter-creeping forward.
-Put in more lateral work: shoulder-in, leg yield, shoulder-fore, to get him lifting and using his shoulders. Remember to keep the inside leg AT the girth, no cheating and moving it back to push haunches out.
-Keep working and increase frequency of work on changes within gaits: compression of the trot in collection and then expanding it out to medium trot. Solo is not strong enough yet, I can feel it, but in a month or two, P says he may be ready to start doing some real lengthening at the trot. SWEET!

January 5, 2010

Patience, Grasshopper

Riding & training are not always a linear, forward progression of learning. In fact, if they are, you should get off your horse & back away slowly because he is obviously not actually a horse & you may well have been sucked into a parallel universe.

Actual training goes like this:

Ok, horsey, this is what we need to do.

Oh, good try, horsey, you've almost got it!

Hullo, horsey, are you still paying attention? Just one more try...

Crap, bad horsey! That is not even close to what I wanted!

Hey! You suck -- why did you just give me the horsey version of the finger??!

OMG, why did I even try this?? I give up, we'd better just do something else because this was obviously a terrible idea.

Ok, it's been a week since we tried that new thing, let's try it just one time.

Oh, horsey, that was pretty close! Good horsey, I take it back, you don't suck!

Yay, horsey, that was it!

(And here, a wise horsewoman walks away, but most of us try one more time & then return to "Crap!" and repeat many times)

It's so hard to find that balance point between pushing too hard & getting greedy for success & waiting until your horse is really ready & understands what you are asking. Since it is freezing ass cold, I put on 47 layers of clothing & just did some long lining on Sunday.

As you know, Solo can get panicky longeing/lining due to his past but has come a long way. Well, he was having a "bad horsey" day & when I asked for a little canter, he soon cross cantered, freaked himself out, & spun around backing up wide-eyed.

I have perfected the art of cursing at your horse very nicely so that he doesn't know that you are cursing his hide.

But I took a deep breath, got him moving forward at the walk & trot again, tracked him left (non-panicky direction) and slowly & patiently worked him up to canter again there, then went back to the right & finally got a canter without stopping & spinning. And there we were finished.

As P says, "Get to the hard side through the easy side."

Ohhhhhhhhhhh, but it's hard to be that patient. Especially, when you KNOW it's a skill they have done before, but they are having a "regression" day. It is crucial to be able to take that VERY deep breath & muster all available calm & patience to work through the bad moments.

And it is not failure to end on an easy note or a try & have a go again another day. You can't win a physical battle with a horse & he doesn't understand your frustration & chances are he's even MORE frustrated then you.

The recipe for success calls for simple, yet very expensive ingredients:
  • Patience
  • Calm
  • Fairness
  • Patience
  • Patience
  • Thoughtfulness
  • Sympathy
  • Did I mention patience?
And always be prepared for Those Days. You know the ones, where your horse appears to have forgotten all progress & is quite simply & wildly ignorant of your requests? Yup, those.

January 2, 2010

Feeling Frosty

It's cold. Like your-face-puckers-inward-to-avoid-contact-with-the-air cold. Then the wind blows. And I seriously rethink my decision to walk out the door.

But I still rode, dangit! We did some trots and canters up and down the hills in the pastures. Or rather, Solo did his best to maintain some time of crooked bow shape to his body so he could remind me where all the OTHER horses were in the arctic windstorm. At least, until my face gave in to wind chill, then I went back in.

Today I am thankful for:

Barn doors to close everything up nice and cozy
Hot water to wash the mud off of pasterns
Heated buckets to absolve me of water hauling duty
Heated stock tanks in the pasture to spare me soaking gloves from icebreaking
Extension cords for all that stuff

For your entertainment, a couple videos from our jump school on Friday. Notably, the day when it was 50 degrees out instead of the polar gale we seem currently stuck in. Sorry, the camera was stuck on a tripod, so you get only a fixed camera angle.

A little warmup gymnastic, in which I need to give more rein...

This one is a 2'11" (regulation Novice height) oxer that was two strides after a similar sized vertical.

This was our "biggie" -- I always try to set up just one that is at a more challenging height or type so that I know if we come to something that looks crazy big to me on a course, we can handle it! This was a 3'2" vertical on an uphill and as you can see, I made sure I had LOTS of horse under me coming to this thing, it was big!

And if you can stomach my giving in to the temptation of cheesiness, this is just a little montage I put together in a late night fit of boredom. I had never made one before so this was my trial run.

January 1, 2010

I Am A Sheep

I'm not much for "New Year's Resolutions" but in this instance, for the record, I am going to follow the flock and bleat out some goals for 2010.

We will:

-Complete at least two recognized events at the Novice level, one being the Adult Team Challenge this August at Waredaca.

-Get through a dressage test at a competition in such a way that the judge is not left with an obvious impression that both my horse and I have our teeth clenched in distaste.

-Figure out what the heck is going on with Solo's back feet so we can move back to barefoot land back there.

-Gallop and jump through the woods with the wind in our hair and bugs stuck in our respective grins.

-Give thanks every day for the amazing partnership we share (well, I will, Solo probably just gives thanks for carrots and hay) and the incredible gift of Solo and his huge, kind, generous, brave, red heart.

What are YOUR hopes for your 2010 journey??