SUBSCRIBE TODAY Smiley face  Get updates via email! 




We Are Flying Solo

Showing posts with label conditioning. Show all posts
Showing posts with label conditioning. Show all posts

December 22, 2014

The Air Of Heaven…A Horse’s Ears…You Know How It Goes

Uh, no, THIS is my sacred duty, mom...
Yesterday, I rode.  Three simple words, yet in the context of the past year, an extraordinary thing.

The time has been there, & I learned (& even mostly followed!) the #1 rule of farm ownership:  ALWAYS RIDE FIRST.  But there have been so many other energy-sapping things… 

With my favourite weather site promising “abundant sunshine,” yesterday I gathered two red geldings & called Amazing Neighbour Vanessa.  I may have magically draining soil, but Encore is still healing from his ass tear (yes, if you missed the brief mention, my talented horse actually strained his gluteus muscle) & even with studs, I worried about him slipping in our saturated fields. 

In addition, because he cannot have me getting complacent, he has knocked the inside of a front leg AGAIN; we’re keeping an eye (& the magic creme) on that one.  I am grateful a thousand times over for Vanessa’s continued generosity with things like all-weather footing.

Solo's first stud tapping...
Those Familiar Motions

Yesterday, I swept brushes over chestnut backs that were definitely missing some tone, picked mud out of under-used hooves, dripped iodine into soggy frogs (just in case).

Yesterday, I smoothed the velcro on ankle boots, cinched girths on saddles & surcingles, wrestled half-chap zippers over fluffy fleece breeches.

Yesterday, all three of us smiled as we made the brief hack down the fenceline in a bright, swinging walk (although only one of us knew that there was only sandbox torture in store).

Two Horses At The Same Time?  
(honk if you get it...)

Vanessa is all about versatility, keeping horses’ minds & bodies fresh & well-rounded, a philosophy that meshes perfectly with my own.  Hence the handy highline at one end of the arena, where I could tether one beast while I worked the other.  A two-for-one deal:  exercise AND great practice at standing tied while your buddy does things at the other end of the arena, which is possibly more fun than the spot under the line.

Duh, mom, TRAIL BIT!
So it was that yesterday, Solo watched as I suppled Encore under saddle with David’s words in my head: “Let the circles be the gymnastic exercise.” 

Encore responded with tongue-lolling annoyance, because “Mommmm, this is the trail bit, NOT the dressage bit.  How am I supposed to work under these conditions??!”  Like many abusers, I was asking him to work in the harshness of a Myler Comfort Snaffle instead of a HS Duo

*insert eyeroll here* 

Nonetheless, yesterday, my chunky Thoroughbred softened with each change in bend as we worked 10-m figure-eights.  As directed, the focus was “slow is ok, be round across his topline as he heals, we’ll bring forward back later.

Yesterday, his left lead canter was back to feeling like a canter, instead of a washing machine, & he stayed soft & quiet as he hopped over a 12” cavaletti in a steady rhythm.

But he can teach you all about vienna reins!
And Mr. Shiny??

Yesterday, after trading places, Solo managed to swallow his anxiety about the long lines (this is the horse who took four years to trust longeing enough to do it normally) & not  only accept the contact of the outside line, but CANTER on the lines.  It may seem tiny, but this is a huge achievement for him, as I trained him primarily in a round pen for that type of work.  The lines are new to him & he remains suspicious of long ropes around his legs.

Yesterday, I led home two horses after they stretched out tight backs, worked out bored energy, & rediscovered the spring in their step.

And you know what?  I was sore this morning, but I think there was a little something extra in my walk today too.
Can we head back towards this?

November 23, 2014

Misleading Marketing Madness: Lesson 1 – Horses Are Not Earthworms

*Disclaimer: you can thank insomnia for this one...and hold it responsible for any level of insanity*
 
That’s right, horse owners & consumers, YOU, are being lied to.

By a myriad of companies who’ve hired scores of marketers with the primary goal, naturally, of maximizing profit, as a proper business should (one of many reasons I work in the still-flawed, but significantly different section of the public sector I do).

I know, fetch your smelling salts & contain your tears of shock:  an advertiser LIED to you?  Say it isn’t so…  *do we have a sarcastic font yet?*

Oooo, Oooo, Who's In Trouble?

So inconvenient...
No names.  And certainly not a blanket indictment of all.  Just basic science & physiological realities that, er, clash with some not-so-realistic ad copy.  Anecdotes, psychosomatic responses, & non-causative results all create bias in our conclusions every day, even if only subconsciously.  Science exists to investigate WITHOUT bias, preferably in a standardized & repeatable fashion, & then to inform & educate. 

GOOD science, though, stands out from its slimier cousin (in our business, the latter is named ‘The Biostitute):  it is unafraid to say, “I was wrong.  Let’s re-examine…”

Which is a perfect place to add:  if I do mis-speak (it could happen…in theory…or even *gasp* reality), I absolutely welcome further education!!

So many haystacks, where to begin?

Encore shows Wyvern Oaks' jenj where things go IN!
How About Hydration?

Here’s a concept whose basics are easily grasped by most sentient adults.  The simple requirement of a mammal (in the instance of our beloved money pits) to somehow replace water lost through sweat/evaporation & urination (& your occasional drooler).  What goes out, must come in.  Fail = die.

Seems a clearcut equation, made even easier by the fact that for most purposes, horses only have one “in” port (we’ll leave out IV fluids) known as the drinking hole, or mouth (no one likes that feeling when water goes down the air hole…).

Well, according to some manufacturers, we can kiss that limitation goodbye!  I can’t decide whether to be aghasted (thank you, COTH) by their clear ignorance or disregard of 8th grade science, or impressed by their sheer audacity in assuming their clientele is either incredibly gullible or incredibly uneducated.

Solo wears the decidedly NOT majykal
The Majykal Hydrating Fabric

One fabric, when sewn into the shape of a $9 ear bonnet, claims to “increase H2O hydration.”  (In this context, is there a type of hydration that DOESN’T involved H2O?  Yes, redundancy bothers me.  I hate repeating things.  See what I did there?  Yeah, I crack myself up)

Simultaneously, this mystical fabric is “breathable,” i.e. capable of releasing not only moisture, but “toxins,” as sweat evaporates.
  1. Commit, oh Majykal Bonnet – you cannot simultaneously inject moisture into Dobbin’s head AND let it out.  That’s like trying to hold water in a bucket made out of a basketball net.
  2. This may surprise you, but horses are not earthworms or amphibians.  They cannot absorb water or breathe through their skin.  Otherwise they’d drown every time it rained, which would result in a massive increase in turnout sheet prices!
  3. Mammalian bodies process “toxins” using three large & valuable organs, the liver & two kidneys.  There is no skin filtering, sorry, & even if there was, what do you even mean?  Are you claiming to suck things out of my horse's head?  Filter "horse brain pollutants" before they harm the ozone?  What purpose would this imaginary power serve?
Hydration’s Relationship With That Cardiovascular Stuff

Further product claims of this type assert that a more hydrated horse will have “increased oxygen levels & rate of circulation,” which we are generally programmed into equating with MOAR BETTER HEALING & PERFORMANCE.  Alas, while I do envy the marketers’ salary, I cannot let sleeping lies…lie?

No sweating here, mom, er...
Performing muscles do require that blood, infused with oxygen by the horse’s massive lungs, is pumped quickly through the body to deliver its precious energy food.  In addition, blood heated by a hard-working horse must circulate faster to small blood vessels close to the surface of the skin, so body core temperature does not reach dangerous levels.

At the same time, that blood loses some of its liquid component to sweat:  a minus because this will reduce the volume of blood & increase its viscosity (thickness, think cold molasses), but a plus in that evaporating sweat will help keep that core temperature out of the red zone during exercise.

Two important changes occur here: 
  1. The horse has had a subtraction from his overall fluid levels, thanks to this evaporation (the well-known road to dehydration).
  2. He also now has thicker blood, which is harder to push through vessels, further complicated by the spleen’s programmed red blood cell (RBC; mixed in stored plasma, just like the glycogen we talked about previously) dump in response to the body’s “HEY! We need some O2 over here!” demand.  
When your human spleen takes a dump (poop jokes never stop being funny), you get about a 10% RBC boost.  Dobbin’s spleen, just like his colon, is a mite bigger than yours, so he gets a 50% boost.  Which sounds great until you put it under your trusty microscope & discover that approximately 75% of that dump consists of old, stiff RBCs (it happens to the best of us).

You guessed it:  that bumps blood viscosity even higher.  That significant human/equine difference is what makes them more susceptible to rapid-onset dehydration complications.  Now you’re stuck in a negative feedback loop where the more blood volume muscles & organs demand, the faster that volume is decreased.

So…Is There ANY Connection Between Hydration & Oxygenation? 

Let’s go back to those claims about oxygen & circulation.  Even if he does snort some water up his nose, the horse still cannot increase oxygen levels in his blood through rehydration.  He can only do that by inhalation (ok for horses, not for US Heads of State, apparently).  His heart can only pump so much blood per minute around his lungs & then out to his body.  You can’t make his heart volume any larger with water either, nor will it make the organ beat any faster.

Therefore, unless someone’s invented an Equine Camelback so he can take a sip mid-gallop, it is impossible for a horse to regain fluids while he’s working.  Even if he could, this would have no impact on the oxygen levels in his blood.

Which bring us to what you already knew:  the critical importance of (a) giving your horse ample opportunities to drink and (b) conditioning him well before asking him to perform at a competition or other maximum level of exertion.

Iz fit.  Bring it.
Dehydration IS related to reductions in available blood plasma, which occurs in part due to fluid loss.  The bucket of clean water is the no-brainer.

Fitness Is More Than Muscle

This is why it is also vital that your training is more thoughtful than 3,000 20-metre circles.

Building your horse’s cardiovascular fitness tends to
  1. Increase the volume of blood his heart can pump with each beat, so fewer beats are required for performance, which means a lower heart rate at peak exertion. 
  2. He can also build more capillaries within muscles &...
  3. More mitochondria (read: energy makers in muscle cells), both of which enable more efficient use of received oxygen.  
As a result, you’ve built a horse who can send more oxygen-rich blood through his entire body, with less cardiac strain, & increased energy production efficiency.

Now THAT, my friends, is how it’s done.  For the total cost of…$0.  I even saved you the effort of Google-typing. 

Drinking filter fabric…puh-lease…

The truth doesn't hurt.  For long.

October 22, 2014

Nutrition Reboot, Pt. III: A Much Updated Refueling Of The Tanks

dr julie n tex
The flying Tex!
Before I continue with our reboot, I must give a shout out to my beloved Waredaca 3DE (it's so cool, even Colleen Rutledge can't resist competing, even though she's already a clinician - thanks for the support, Colleen!)!  Today is opening day AND I AM NOT THERE.  *insert very sad & upset eventer79*  

In summary, despite my attempts to prove to my doctor that horsewomen are, in fact, superhuman, he cruelly (ok, he is actually amazing, but still) prohibited my plan to roll to Maryland at 0630 this morning & work four excruciatingly long days of awesome.  Sadly, my body does not seem to time its failures well & I’ll just say it’s been a long year.  My begging cry of “IT’S ONE OF MY 3DE’S, THEY ARE NOT OPTIONAL!” did not sway him.  

There may be a silver lining, though:  it is always a special year when one of our core Team Waredaca 3DE Staff gets to ride.  This year, it’s our vet box champion, Dr. Julie’s, turn!!  She & her boy, Texas Riddle (Tex), have been on fire this year, so I am fairly certain that since I will miss it, they will definitely score not only that coveted completion ribbon, but piles of prize swag!  May ALL the 2014 riders have a safe & exhilarating journey this week; Solo & I are galloping with you in our hearts.


Carrying on, we are all now experts on equine metabolism, right?  Accordingly, I have updated this part of the series quite a bit!  

We also know that the horse must be fit if he is going to do his job well.  We know that he needs fat & glycogen stores in place in order to power his muscles.  He then will need carbohydrates & fats in his diet in order to restock his larders after a workout.

Running on vapours...
So should we stuff him full of fat & sugar the night before a competition so he will have fuel busting out his ears?  Only if you want him to die of colic & laminitis at the same time.

But I Carb-Load Before My Ultra-Marathons!

Equine digestive systems cannot handle "loading" of substances the way a human system would.  Studies have demonstrated that it takes 24-48 hours for a horse to completely refill his glycogen tanks, so it's best to offer him a meal 60-90 minutes after he's tapped them.  Then, if he has really drained the well, a second meal can be offered about three hours later.

What To Look For In Your Rocket Fuel

My base feed (Triple Crown Complete) is a fixed-formula textured grain with 12% fat and 12% protein.  I have heard stated many times that, for the performance horse, you want to maximize the protein content of his diet.  However, this is another instance where understanding the unique functions of equine physiology will help you build a better plan.  Unlike the human body, your horse’s body cannot store protein & very little can be converted to energy.  Instead, protein is catabolized (broken down) into amino acids, which are then used to build new proteins, such as muscle fibre.  If protein levels exceed what the body can immediately process, it will be converted to urea, increasing urine output & simultaneously increasing rate of dehydration.  So while it is an important component of nutrition, for the your horse, it is far less useful as an energy source than fat.

Love The Fat

Fat supplies 2.5 times more energy pound for pound than starches.  How much needed on a daily basis will depend on your horse.  Given that I am not blessed with easy keepers, I top dress feed during work with Legends Omega Plus, an extruded flaxseed pellet with 25% fat.  That is a recent switch for us; I used their rice bran pellets (18% fat) for quite some time due to reduced cost, but a recent price change made it more practical to bump up to the higher fat content & I’m finding I can also use less with the same result.

Bonus tidbit:  if you supplement a horse's diet with fat, he uses less energy for heat production in his body.  He then has more energy available to do other stuff with.  Like a lot more.  Like up to 60% more. 

Ok, don't love it THAT much
All Things In Moderation

Before you go on a lard spree, though -- if the fat content of the diet gets too high, you can actually inhibit the storage of muscle glycogen (that's that thing we really need for anaerobic activities like galloping & jumping, remember?).  Just like everything else involving a horse, as soon as you find something good, you find several ways for him to damage or kill himself with it.   

It’s just not as much fun when you are kicking your horse's guts out just to stumble through the finish flags & slide off while he gasps in exhaustion.  It's not very satisfying to try to pilot him around a challenging stadium course when he's got no gas in the tank & you wonder if the next set of jump poles might end up in your face.  Hopefully, you are now armed with some new information to consider in the context of your own management program.  If you can prepare your horse’s body to maximize the use of your fuel, then you'll have plenty left for that victory gallop at the end of the day. 

October 18, 2014

Nutrition Reboot, Pt. II: Oxygen Optional

Alas, no credible reports have been filed on the location of eventer79-brain.  Even her horses are beginning to show suspicion.  However, Amy's comment on Tuesday's post provided the perfect segue to the next article in the series.  Updated & edited a bit for (hopefully) improvement.



Do. Not. Want.
We were talking about nutrition. And you've been up for days waiting for the secret to growing that unicorn horn (don't lie, own it).

Too bad.

Here's another, equally as important tidbit, though:  different athletic disciplines make different demands on a horse's body. I know, thank you Captain Obvious, right?

Breaking It Down:  The Two Types Of Equine Metabolism
  1. Aerobic - the muscles use oxygen while generating energy; a slow process
  2. Anaerobic - yes, you guessed it, genius; the muscles generate energy without oxygen; much speedier
Which Is When?

A horse working in a long, steady fashion (think endurance racing or your dressage school) creates energy aerobically.  Fat, the horse's go-to fuel, requires oxygen to complete the conversion to horsepower (just like your fireplace must have a flow of oxygen to burn up your firewood & create heat).  He has an advantage:  this is a much easier & longer-lasting method of energy production.

However, if Dobbin has to work hard & fast (think sprinting or jumping), he cannot get oxygen into his body & burn fat fast enough to meet his increased energy demands.  So his muscles turn to glycogen stores (a carbohydrate stored in the liver & muscles that the body can convert to glucose [muscle fuel]), which can be burned anaerobically.

Life Is Full Of Trade-offs

To complicate matters, glycogen is a finite resource & stores are much smaller than his fat supply.  Burning it also produces lactic acid, which fatigues muscles.  So, you, as pilot, want to save those precious reserves until you really really need it.  Save that hard sprint or gallop for your horse trial or other vital moment.  And once burned, you MUST to take time to replenish the storehouse before you ask again.  

ALL TEH SCIENCE!!
If he gets really desperate, Dobbin can also turn to blood glucose for energy.  This is a critical resource for nervous system function, though, & there isn't much of it (about 1% of the body's fuel supply), so we don't really want to push him this far.

Is your brain fried by science-geekness yet? I could go into ATP & muscle cell pH, so be grateful...

Why Should We Care About All This?

Knowledge is ALWAYS power when it comes to horse management.   If I understand what my horse's body needs to do his job & how it uses what I give him, I am better able to meet those needs & maximize his performance safely.

In addition, understanding all of that helps to understand this, the point of action: the more fit your horse is, the better he is able to utilize his fat stores first.  The unfit horse may have to get up to 40% of his energy from his glycogen reserves during even light exercise.  With conditioning, he can drop that percentage dramatically even during moderate exercise, giving you both more time under saddle & reducing the chances of equine metabolic distress.

So What's The Plan?

Do we then stuff our horses full of lard?  How do we refill his glycogen tanks?  Those answers are up next, along with a brand new addition to the series:  why choosy 'moms' choose...uh...their feed very carefully.

June 21, 2014

Please Press Pause

June Sunset (Small)
Taken from the tractor seat...
Letting the diesel idle, I pause the tractor on a berm in the top pasture.  It’s that quiet intermission when the sky holds its breath as the treetops cradle the last wedge of setting sun.  There’s a marked contrast between east and west; the latter glows in warm orange as the pond reflects a silver version of the same scene and the darkening pines set off the beauty of the painted clouds. 

Off to my left, though, the eastern sky has less placid thoughts.  Bulging piles of pink thunderheads rumble between strobe flashes of cloud lightning.

In between the two – there is me.  Me and two grazing horses, each with an ear cocked to the storm, should it decide to change direction and chase them to shelter.  Tonight, though, the front holds its course, withholding water, but consoling us with a cool wind to dry out the sticky air.  I never want to leave this moment.

If only that were possible.  But I can close my eyes and sneak back there in my mind once and a while.  In the meantime, responsibilities await.  Some are fun (build farm stuff!), some are not (read federal register notices!), most lie in between (find vanishing fishes!).

Horse Things Still Happen

Fenceing Sunset
No more poison ivy rubbing!
To my great incredulity, there is progress in some areas (hey, this is rather a feat these days!):  I have finished fencing taping off the main portion of my lower creek pasture so the horses can enjoy it complain that it's itchy out and there are bugs. 

Encore is back in work, errrr, well, let's use that phrase lightly, shall we?  Look, I sweat A LOT, and when it's 80% humidity at 8 pm...  But he's had a couple very nice long-lining sessions (once we were clear that yes, you do have to go forward even though you are in one of your pastures) and the rest of my focus has been on trotting/cantering hills and small obstacles in a balanced rhythm and some bareback lateral/transition work to build his hind end back up.  That butt strength is his critical and most difficult training need, just as aerobic conditioning was for Solo.

I just might give myself permission to take one lesson as a gift to myself in hard times.  Dangit.  Now that I've typed it, Encore is in his paddock right now, looking for something poky or a rock with a usable edge.  Or a stick.  Or a clod of dirt.  *eyeroll*

Are any of you managing to get in some ride time in the burgeoning sweatbox???

April 7, 2014

Carolina International: Video Wrap-Up

I think you gonna need some horse for this one...
Yes, well, several weeks later -- as you all know too well, there is never a dull moment (or a spare one!) with horses.  Or my job in springtime!

However, I wanted to try to sum up several key aspects of the 2014 Carolina International CIC*** and HT that continue to stand out in my mind.  One unpleasant shift that I had feared when FEI decided that the CIC format should run dressage-SJ-XC was confirmed.  Since this schedule no longer requires the traditional Sunday morning horse inspection the day after cross country and the horses no longer have to be "saved" for show jumping, I worried that for some riders, one large incentive to pull up a tiring horse and stop if there was just a second of "NQR" was then removed and those competitors subject to such pressures, would instead keep running for the money since it was "just a few more jumps."

I was not wrong.  If you have never had the pleasure of running at the Carolina Horse Park, it is a HILLY course.  There are long gallops and the ground undulates around every turn.  At no level can you get away with "mostly almost fit."  In the past, I've witnessed more than a few Olympic-level pairs, both at CHP and Rolex, pull up mid-course after a single stop or even in the middle of a field when a horse looked fine to me.  But they felt something and chose to make The Horseman's Decision, putting the best interests of their partner first.

The cardiopulmonary system is a tissue too!
Granted, we've had a BITCH of a winter on the east coast, with very few escaping its wrath.  But if you are competing at the FEI 3* level, by that point, I feel you need to either get the fitness work done or else just wait.  It may be your job, but it's still a horse show and a risky one at that.  So it was with a sinking heart that during the 3*, several horses came through roaring for air, with exhaustion etched on their faces and in the twitch of every muscle...and not a one pulled up.  Don't mistake me, most were well-conditioned (some even a bit overly so!!), but that handful who were pushed home over "just a few more jumps" by riders who had the knowledge and experience to know better confirmed my suspicion that the temptation was too great, only adding to my long-held distaste for the FEI and its seeming disregard for serious and meaningful protection of the welfare of these horses who give us everything they have and then some.

Author's note:  This has nothing, zero, nada to do with the sad losses of Powderhound and Conair at The Fork last weekend, so any internet speculators, bugger off.  I "know" both Will Coleman and Andrew McConnon through one degree of separation and both of them are wonderful, thoughtful, caring, compassionate horsemen who would never for one second do anything to put their beloved partners at risk.  Both geldings were incredibly fit and talented and made their jobs look easy.  Tragedy  has no sense of timing, nor does it have the mercy to always occur in private.  TFS, as noted on FB, sends out a hug and condolences to both teams.

But on to a happier note...  Eventing Nation stated in their summary that Saturday was "all about Marilyn Little."  I couldn't disagree more.

Emily Beshear and a tidy Shame on the Moon
The weekend was all about a huge group of people who came together for the love of the sport and the horses that captivate us and created something special.  The Carolina Horse Park has a long and storied legacy in the Carolina sandhills and its "family" of supporters, competitors, volunteers, students, trainers, officials, neighbours, and veterans brought their hard work and their contributions to the table, ready to bring our beloved facility into the national spotlight.  I can't think of a greater measure of success than the fact that not only were there over 400 entries from T to 3*, but, at least from my folding chair, everyone from the winning FEI riders to nobody smurflet me was treated with respect, gratitude, and taken care of through attention to even the smallest detail.

After much contemplative review, this event was all about the fallen rider, who in each case was swooped up and whose horse was cared for nearly as soon as they met the ground.  It was about that person we don't know who crossed the finish line hollering with glee and hugging her horse because they completed their first FEI event and that other one who got eliminated but slipped her horse a treat anyway and thanked him for his efforts.  It was about illustrating that a cross country course can be big and challenging and shake up placings down to the last rider on course, yet still allow a mistake without lethal punishment.  It was about creating an environment embracing all of the reasons that make eventing great, where an adult amateur can ask questions, observe, converse, and learn from some of the best minds and skillsets we have, from riders to judges to builders to grooms.  It was about sitting in a tent with the legends of our sport, whose shining partners' hoofbeats pounded by a ten-year-old me next to a galloping lane at the Kentucky Horse Park, and realizing that those reasons and that passion is still there, no matter how bumpy the road may be.

CIC*** 17-18AB:  Sharon White and Raffery's Rules present a masterclass on How It's Done:


Buck Davidson and Ballynoecastle RM find the line he wanted after going through earlier with The Apprentice, firmly entrenching he and Reggie in 2nd place:


CIC** 16ABC:  Becky Holder and Frodo of the Shire pop-pop-pop through on their way to 7th place:


This, my friends, is why I drive hours and give up days of my time to volunteer.  And why I staunchly encourage you to jump in there and discover all that is offerred.  It doesn't matter if it's a Gold Cup qualifier or a local schooling show (I did that two days ago, a Walking Horse show at our old boarding facility, no less!), I guarantee that if you keep your eyes and ears open, you will accumulate valuable tidbits to take home and apply to your own riding and training, even if it's "OMG, never do THAT."  Where else do you get to sit next to a top dressage judge and ask what he is looking for at the free walk, or listen to the course designer describe how he uses the terrain to ask different questions at the same type of jump, or watch how the choices of riders from new to veteran affect how their horses' balance and jump right in front of you?


So -- where are you parking your chair next?

January 2, 2014

Are You Riding Your Horse Or Just Reacting To Him?

Well, everyone has ambitious lists for 2014 and lovely summaries of the past year & I have enjoyed reading each one (although I am going to admit that The Owls Approve is my favourite, pure awesome) -- I hope that horses stay sound & safe & riders get to achieve even more than they thought!

Competition?

I'm not one for goal lists, which is not to say that I am goal-less, but perhaps since my brain has never acquiesced to operating in a linear fashion, it doesn't understand partaking in that process.  My heart still burns for the T3DE jog strip & a little part of me was hoping I could qualify Encore for Southern Eighths in May, but I know that is both fiscally impossible & an unfair level of sudden pressure for my horse.  I know, as part of the event staff, we want people to ENTER ENTER ENTER, & every inch of me wants to fill out that form, but I can't do it alone, I need my partner to be ready too!

There are no guarantees that we will even be able to compete at all this year, as all of my money has fallen into a sinkhole named Flying Solo Farm.  Any of you who have hung around here long enough know that I do not event for the competition, but it IS the only way you get to run a correctly designed, marked, & wonderful cross country course.  Why do you think we put up with all the other craziness, duh?!!

Appalachian mountain high.
I'll Take My Favourite Rides

I hope that we can make it out a little, as I'd like Encore to get some more formal Training Level experience, but honestly, I take just as much delight (well, more, due to lowered stress level!) & education from getting out to lessons & the trail fitness adventures of BFF & I.  Schooling, miles of trots & canters through the woods, fine-tuning skills, those are all things I will be able to do, & for FREE since I can ride out the back gate (all that searching pays off!).

The Big Goal

There is one thing that I want to drill into my body & mind (what's left of it) this year, however.  It may seem small, but the past years of watching & listening oh so carefully have shown me that it defines the effective, thinking rider:

I want to become significantly more aware & more consistent of riding the HORSE & riding the gait/movement/line I want & not riding the horse's behaviour.

Just keep swimming, just keep swimming...
I've improved over time, but I still fall into that trap we all know when your horse spooks or resists or has a 'moment' & you react.  You might kick him or yell at him or smack him with the whip. 

When instead, an effective rider just. keeps. riding.  She does not change her request, her position, or her goal.  She informed the horse, "We are going to trot a 20 metre circle, connected, & forward, & in the shape of an actual circle."  And that's it, she RIDES the circle.

The horse may throw his head or wiggle or be excited or get distracted or do all those things that horses do, but he will come back to find the same set of aids creating the same space & energy for him to move in. 

THAT is what I want to achieve for Encore more often.  It is a big little thing because it is a huge mental challenge to remain that patient & focused & non-reactive (even when I'm not on the horse).

It's even harder when it's 98 degrees & 4500% humidity.

So I suppose that is my goal for 2014:  to ride my horse(s), as simple (and as difficult) as that.

December 3, 2013

That Other Horse Trial That We Mostly Did

You may flog me.  It was almost a month ago!  But hey, on the plus side, perhaps I can actually tell the story concisely now (AHAHHAHAHA!).  I sort of vaguely remember what it feels like to ride my horse...

Huge thanks to Cabin Branch Tack Shop for sponsoring!
If you missed it, Encore & I did our last event of the season in early November at the Carolina Horse Park.  Their Cabin Branch Event Series of schooling events has really taken off & I extend a huge thanks to the organizers & course designers, Marc Donovan and Andrea St. Hilaire-Glenn.

Oh yeah, & I moved Encore up to Training level there.

*insert pause for giddiness*

But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

I did have the same problem I had at FenRidge in October:  our jumping time was 40 minutes after our dressage time.  Sigh.  Serious pitfall of one-day event.  But I resolved to just be as efficient as I could & this time, I was not going to short-change my horse's warmup no matter what.  I certainly couldn't have pulled it all off without the help of once-again awesome crew!

Thank cod I was able drive down the afternoon before to walk the XC course, since I was riding my dressage test at 8:30 in the morning.  I walked it twice before it got dark, decided it looked fun, with great questions, & just right for Encore.  Thank you, Andrea!!!

After a night with good friends & as much sleep time as could be managed, we made our way back to the Park & got ready for dressage.  Warmup was uneventful but not spectacular.  I'd use the same words to describe our test.  Encore got tense at entry & I tried to ride it out but he never let the tension go; his trot work was choppy & tight, but he did give me some canter that I quite liked!  Baby steps.  So our 39 was very fair.



From there it was pretty much a mad dash to change outfits & get back to SJ warmup ASAP.  I was extremely glad I decided to put his studs in before dressage.  It was a bit nervewracking hoping Encore wouldn't step on himself, even though they were only my small road studs, but he was nice enough to keep his feet away from each other & it was a lifesaver.

I kept it short & sweet in the jumping warmup as fitness was my main concern.  He really hadn't been back in work after his feet healed for much more than a month, so I was on high alert for signs of muscle fatigue.  Not that you could tell when he turned into a jump-seeking missile after entering the ring.  His own feet couldn't even keep up.

We did make that crazy time though & only demolished the first one...because I stared at the stupid jump.  Will I never learn?  It was a tight, extremely roll-back-y course that caught us both a bit off guard & Encore has not mastered that technique yet. 

That day I learned I have the most honest, try-ing-est, generous horse ever.  Even though we lost most of our impulsion in the turns & approached some jumps with me squeezing like mad & Encore at nearly a jog, he never ONCE tried to runout, refuse, & he tucked his hoofies up over each one with intense care.  By the second half of the course, he had it figured out!



I was very proud & let him take a long, slow walk to catch his breath before XC.  You can see the pro photos here, thanks to High Time Photography.

After jumping a single wide bench in warmup there, we headed out to the start box in the middle of the steeplechase track.  Encore already had his game face on & practically dragged me to the starter.  The course had a bit of everything & a LOT of terrain, so I was very interested to see what kind of ride I would get.  At the same time, I was prepared to walk off if anything felt off.

I'm very sad the photographers did not capture any of the first four jumps.  They were all single fly jumps, including a table whose width the horse did not see until they were very close & a tall bench, which I personally hate.  Aside from a very small dip, they were all on a pretty level stretch.

I can jump whatevs, mom, no worries
Fly is exactly what Encore did.  He jumped each one perfectly out of stride, rocking himself back before the jump & clearing it like child's play.  It felt amazing.

Then we went downhill to approach the little coffin at 5, which you can see in the photos.  From the elephant at the end of my reins, I gathered that his butt muscles were beginning to tire.  I did an interesting tree-maze-dance to bring him back to a trot & rebalance before turning to the first coffin element.

He peeked, but with encouragement, he jumped through & then we picked our way down the steep hill to the GINORMOUSLY MASSIVE trakehener at 6.  I don't generally have a problem riding them & have never had an issue in competition.  At a schooling, sometimes I forget I'm supposed to use my legs, but on course, I'm generally good.  This thing was big, though.  BIG.

I  kept my eye up, applied all my aids, but Encore skidded to stop.  It didn't feel like a scared stop though, & he's jumped large ones before, it felt like an "wow, that is a really big effort & I'm not sure I've got that much in the tank" stop.  My red flag waved, but I decided to let him have one more try.  We gave it a big, positive ride, but he stopped exactly the same way.

I raised The Hand & walked off.  I was 100% certain he could do the rest of the jumps on the course without a problem; he had already shown me he had the heart & scope & we had previously practiced all the questions & then some.

But it was long & it was hilly & my game, VERY professional worker-bee of a horse told me loud & clear that his muscles were not up to it.  I may have been able to stuff him over the trakehener & continue, but to what end?  I really did not want to meet the EMT's that day, nor did I want to scare or possibly injure my horse.  They don't call me Safety Nazi for nothing.

Big picture:  I thought it was a great place to end his year.  We weren't able to meet the conditioning demands in the time we had, but that is easy to fix & a good winter project.  The skills are there, now we just finesse.  If I ever have any money to compete again!

So we'll spend our cold months in the woods, trotting up & down hills & enjoying the trails, after both our bodies & brains get a good break.  I don't know if we'll get to run any horse trials next year or not, but I still get to spend the winter with my TRAINING horse & that is, as longtime readers know, a pretty big damn deal.

October 25, 2013

Waredaca On!

My spot for the day -- sun!  At Waredaca!!  Shock!!
Endurance day:  check!  Even though it was cool outside, I hope a lot of riders learned more about getting your horse physically fit.  I saw a lot of heavier-type horses and by the end of phase D, several were definitely DONE.  Remember folks, get OUT, do your road work and if you have a heavier WB or draft type horse -- THIS IS NOT JUST A HORSE TRIAL.  This, the long format, is true eventing and there is a reason, as much as I love my Solo, that TB's excel at this sport.  Aerobic fitness and endurance are critical, as is making sure your horse's legs and body have been exposed to all types of conditions and footings so you can literally be ready for anything!
 

A day in the finish timer's office
I also saw some truly LOVELY horses still raring to go when they crossed the finish flags, including a darling pony of Chincoteague ancestry and more than a few bright-eyed racehorses.  No rider injuries in either level, although we did pull 3 horses due to injury/veterinary issues, had one minor rider fall on steeplechase, and three Technical Eliminations. 

I've got to coordinate Stadium Jumping tomorrow, but most of the legwork got done this afternoon and we were able to organize most of our massive prize pile.  Now we've just got to get those riders through the ingate on time, out the other side safely, and decked out with loot so I can begin the long drive home.

It will be a close rumble for that blue neck ribbon tomorrow at both levels, but there are lots of great prizes all the way to 10th place!  Everything from gift cards to saddle pads to free electrolytes, ulcer products, ThinLine stirrup pads, and more.  Everyone gets my most coveted item (as long as they finish with a number score):  the 3DE completion ribbon.  We also have plenty of special awards, including Best Conditioned, Best Dressed for Jog, Highest Placing Adult Amateur, gorgeous engraved silver plates from MidAtlantic Horse Rescue for the highest place TB, and awesome tri-colour ribbons and duffel bags for each division's TIP winner (highest place OTTB).

SOMEDAY I SHALL BE ON A HORSE.  SOMEDAY...

Hey, there's a 71 year old lady with an adorable mini Solo, so I've still got time....

May 24, 2013

Climb Every Mountain

Neighbouring Grayson Highlands SP has feral ponies.
With fuel prices up, bills to pay, time at a premium, and my bestest riding buddy with a schedule perhaps even more difficult than mine, it's been a long time since I've been able to hit the road and enjoy the woods with a pony.  These trips are also an important part of our conditioning regime; 20 miles of walking up and down mountains is an unparalleled way to strengthen your partner's hind end (and wear out yours!)

I shall wait no more!  BFF and I share a farrier, whose wonderfulness you can find on the team page; he and his family go to Mt Rogers National Recreation Area every year, which is part of George Washington National Forest.  This year, we actually scored an invitation, which sent me on a hunt for the perfect campground, as I require that my horse have a safe and comfortable place to rest after carting my butt up clifffs for 8 hours!  Bonus:  if my horse loses a shoe, I won't have to go far for a repair.

Reservations are now made and we will be off shortly to explore new vistas of Appalachian beauty and relax with good friends and a good beer.  Hopefully I will even remember to take pictures.

Team Flying Solo wishes everyone a safe and wonderful holiday weekend.  Share your horse riding/hugging/dreaming stories for Memorial Day!

Mt Rogers NRA - I can't wait to be back on the trail!

May 18, 2013

There And Back Again

It feels like we’ve been away.  Lost in some nebulous pocket of time where we’ve been bouncing in circles, up and down the emotional roller coaster for so many hills, I've lost count.

He's sound!  Not sound.  Oh wait, yes, he's...oh, maybe not.  No, he'll be great!  Or perhaps...no?  Yes?

It's exhausting  to contemplate.

I scrambled madly, struggling to pick up pieces of Encore falling apart and stick them back in proper order, all while trying to be five other people at once.  There were thoughts coming at me from all directions, tugging me back and forth between hope and despair.

Everyone should own a horse.  It makes so many of life's other aspects seem so easy!!

Since our field season at work is well and truly underway, I won't have a regular schedule for quite some time.  As a result, once I decided to rest Encore a bit more post-Longleaf, I did mostly long lining and slow, brief schools during the sporadic intervals when I could squeeze him in.

April and early May, with their many trips and the whirlwind of Southern Eighths 3DE, came and went and finally, I had a couple weekends to myself and the resolve to nudge my horse back into some real work again.

What I found when I picked up my reins was a horse who had not only processed and finally accepted the contact thanks to the lines (go figure, that Holder lady was right), but one who felt like a horse again, instead of cobbled together parts, when he was doing it!  I was too tired to jump up and down, but when I'm not riding like an idiot, I get off my horse with a smile these days.

Because Away Again is away again again again again again.  Hmmm, I might have left out an again or two?

In the post-game analysis, I can see that his back and hind end were not strong enough yet for the intense work he did at Becky's.  We were so close, but as hard as I worked to bring him back after my knee surgery, I fell just a bit short.  Hence his back flare-up, causing soreness, which I can tell you from my own experience, just begets more soreness!  I am glad I made the decision to re-inject when I did and very glad I was able to pull up the blog archives from last year to remind myself of the healing timeline.

Which brings me back to now.  Given the aforementioned time pocket in which I had plenty of time to think.....mmm, just about everything to death, I did manage to clarify our path forward, armed with a much-beefed-up understanding of what Encore's body needs to be great.

Returning soon to theatres.  Except with even sexier neck.
We focus now on building topline and hind end strength and lateral suppleness.  I ride bareback and spiral and leg yield and pivot and bend and unbend and re-bend to get the closest possible feel of my horse's back and feet beneath me.  We powerwalk hills, stretching forward and down while moving the hind feet up up up.  I continue work on the lines, which become a more and more sophisticated tool as I get more practice.  With trial and error, I've gotten the right feel and better body control and been able to graduate from asking him to step into contact to teaching him to lift and bend the base of his neck and his whole spine (REALLY REALLY haaardddd, says he!).  I'm still playing with the best rein setup for that and he has only mastered a few steps at the walk that were truly great, but it's an excellent start.

Encore has had a year and a half now to mature mentally to his new life and job, as well as giving his rider time to clamber up the learning curve, complete with spectacular backslides.  It seems like such a long time ago and it seems like such a short time ago that I was explaining that poles were for going over and necks were for flexing and there was indeed a gait between trot and gallop!  So it feels pretty damn spectacular to be discussing fine-tuning transition accuracy and lifting that back to the next level.

Oh, and it should amuse you to know that it took me until I was done writing this entire post before I got my own unintended pun in the title.  *facepalm*

April 16, 2013

Look, It's Hard Being Six People At The Same Time

So many posts that need writing, so little brainpower available to throw at them.  But there are exciting things coming up, I swear, including a contest.  Like, with actual prizes!

Monday, I sat down with Dr. Bob at the clinic to talk about short- and long-term management options and possibilities for dear little Encore.  As many of you know, last spring, with the help of the amazing orthopedic department at NC State University's Vet School, we were able to pinpoint Encore's hind end subtle quirks and pain to arthritic changes in his vertebral processes between T12-L1.  He was injected at the vet school (although a resident told me this process would never have to be repeated, which seemed highly biologically improbable at the time and later, I learned my instincts were right) and over the process of three weeks, returned to comfort and full work.  Of course, he then promptly slipped and pulled his SI ligament at Five Points HT that August.  *headdesk*
Being a star at Holder Event Team's Windhaven Farm.

When we returned from our magical fantasy time with Becky, out of nowhere, his back flared up and it was as if someone had flipped a switch, turning my strong, balanced horse into the stumbling, rushing, anxious kid of a year ago.  I was caught so completely off guard, I admit to full-on panic, frantic weekend emails to NCSU (which were actually answered, bless them) and whirling confusion as to what this all meant.

Dr. Bob was able to reinject his back with no issues after consulting with the Vet School, with the clocking ticking down to Longleaf Pines HT.  I did not want to push a sore horse, so I deeply hoped he would feel better quickly and not make me eat $220 of entry fees.

Long story short, it was bumpy, but he began to make positive progress this past weekend and it looks as if he will ok to head to my favourite horse trial on Saturday.  But I had some things to think about and some questions to ask.

Would managing his back spiral into insanity, leaving both of us in a constant state of anxiety and frustration?

Would Encore even be able to make it in eventing -- all I want is Training Level and he can jump that from a standstill.

Should I consider surgery?

Head spinning, quite exorcist-like, I crashed through the clinic doorway and assaulted our poor, wonderful vet with all of it.  In his trademark practical, calm delivery, he allayed many of my concerns and quieted the howling confusion and uncertainty yet again.

As his imagery shows, Encore's vertebral changes are low-grade, a 1 out of 4.  He does not show bone loss or fusion and still has joint space, even though it is reduced.  By keeping his topline strong, continuing to teach him to use his body in a round outline, and keeping the inflammation at bay with periodic injections, he should not have a problem achieving the goals I have set for us.

So I decided to start breathing again.  That is reasonable management and that I can do.  I am well aware by now that a horse in training and competition WILL need management of some kind.  As soon as you begin to challenge their body, unless you are just insanely lucky (and I sort of hate you), you will have to support that body, just as you would any athlete's, through diet, medical care, physical therapy, and all those other details.  Be it injecting hocks or padding feet or supplying Adequan or calming ulcers or building up stifles or unlocking a weak joint or muscle, once you enter the sporthorse game, those cards will land on your table.

The decision we must make, then, includes defining what is reasonable for both horse and human.  If it's a joint injection and muscle building, well heck, half of that I need to do anyway and the other half is pretty straightforward and low on the "things that help our horses" totem pole, so I'm ok with that.  Solo needed his hocks done every six months when he was in work.  Encore needing the same for his back every 8-10 months (pretty much the same price) is fine.  In fact, it may be less than that -- doing ten days of very intensive training in a row, in my reality, is not something that is going to happen again any time in the foreseeable future, so that level of body stress for a prolonged period of time will be rare (thank goodness for BOTH of us).

For today then, Encore and I will continue to be a matched pair, with a bit of crunch in our backs that, with a little helping hand, doesn't diminish our enthusiasm for the road ahead.  Hopefully, it will stay that way.

January 30, 2013

I Have No Words

So you'll just have to read it yourself.

You see, we have been busy.  Physical therapy is momentarily taking over my life, but I've been doing my best to squeeze in Encore wherever and whenever we can build strength. 

Although the dork went and kicked himself in the front fetlock sometime yesterday, so that was nice and hot and swollen, sigh.  Please be just a knock, please be just a knock, please be just a knock....

It's been a bit of an opportunity to reboot things, though, and one that I've found has offered a chance to elevate the sophistication of our training.  The details are very, very difficult to elucidate, so much of it is feel and reaction and less contact and more contact and energy direction and waiting and very careful thought.  The basics are the same simple paradigms of correct training:  ride the back end of the horse and ride the horse straight.  But as we all know, there is NOTHING simple about that and as George Morris quite correctly stated in his training session this year, it only takes about 30 years to learn how to do it.

Thus, probably disappointingly, I give you my reading material of late, which has led to just a few tiny adjustments which in turn caused a big change in my horse, letting go of the tension, saying goodbye to wrestling, and although it requires MUCH more patience, is creating a much more solid foundation this time around.

Via arr.de -- which is also well worth reading.
Watch Deb Bennett's lectures, selectable from the sidebar.  Yes, they are a bit over-wordy, I confess to skipping through sections, as they could have been reduced to about 30 minutes and still been effective.  And of course, watch George and Anne teach, especially when riding -- I still learn every year, new skills and new layers to add to my toolbox.

Read the three articles in the right sidebar.  The biomechanics of straightness and the freedom it gives your horse, with some excellent mental images for your contact, really resonated with me for some reason.

A large part of what I've taken away thus far is that I need to do MORE engaging of the inside hind through lateral exercises as THIS is what creates straightness and impulsion in my horse.  I was rarely able to truly engage Solo over his back successfully; now I can and think I am finally on the track as to why.

Wow, life would be simpler if I just had money to buy lessons every week.  But then, I wonder if I would really dig as deeply if I did. 

January 11, 2013

Silly People Pay To Traipse Through Mud; I Get That Pleasure For Free

Yeah, I never did get that whole "yay, let me pay you so I can roll in the mud and ice and get really dirty AND we can call it a race!!!" thing.

It's hard to wax poetic between mud-wrestling my way up the hill in the dark to sweep-search a paddock for equines and holding work meetings at night (horrors - I do NOT get paid enough for that).  I am DETERMINED that both Encore and I will scrape every last ounce of time out for PT in order to arrive in spring ready to run.  Logically, I know that we have to work hard now and put in the time so we can have fun later, but it takes every ounce of stubborn willpower I have not to collapse home on the couch after work.  It would be much appreciated, atmosphere, if you would at least stop peeing on us.

Of the three of us, Solo is doing the best of all -- his weight is fantastic, his feet are, well, nevermind, they are as good as they can be, and he is so much more settled and content now that Amber has given him a job to do.  I have been trying to find time to ride him during the week, as he stares quite pointedly at me over the gate, but I have so far been thwarted.

This weekend will bring us two sunny, 74-degree days (just for the record, CLIMATE CHANGE I HATE YOU, and I know this is very bad in the long run....but I am going to enjoy my two January days of not-rain).  Sunday will find us hopefully cross-training with our BFF and her endurance racing cohorts.  Except they go around the jumps.  We...might not, heh heh heh.

I  know I'm not the only one picking mud out of my hair after a longeing session -- are you managing to squeak in a ride or two in the dark?

September 21, 2012

Rocky Mountain High

If you don't know by now, I think the worst thing you can do to your sporthorse is make it an arena baby (edited to add:  ok, obviously not the worst thing.  I mean, you could beat it with sticks and never feed it.  But that would just be uncool.).  Biologically, physiologically (I have the degrees to back it up, go ahead, check me!) to make a tissue or system strong, you have to challenge it.  Obviously, the equation of equine soundness is one of multiple confounding variables, but I think a powerful influence is the lack of "off-roading" and far too much arena grooming, track prettifying, and grass fondling, which only leads to weakening soft tissues and bones.

What do I do about it?  GET OUT THERE.  It was Encore's first time in the Uwharrie National Forest and it took him a couple of hours to sort it out, but by the end of day one, he could power walk through a rock field without tripping even once.  Lessons: balance, agility, strength, decision-making, and focus.

A commenter asked me if I thought it would really make a difference in his training and I said yes.  Because it's not a walk in the park:



UwharriesSeptember2012004Small_zpsde5db84d

UwharriesSeptember2012014Small_zpsb32cabe7
This face always makes my heart skip a beat.

Photobucket
Pete and lifeshighway share a moment.  Or perhaps Pete wonders absently when dinner is.

UwharriesSeptember2012019Small_zps2d7ad683
It was a short trail with a simple name...

Turns out, it really was that simple:



We even saw a wild sponge.  Which was odd; I rarely find them outside their normal aquatic habitats...

UwharriesSeptember2012025Small_zpsd0f70e00

But at the end of the day, it was all about team building and enjoying a beautiful weekend with friends.  And yes, my horse is tied by his reins when I am standing next to him.  Sue me.  ;P





August 31, 2012

An Anniversary? Seriously?

It's hard to believe but nearly a year ago, magic happened and a classy chestnut gelding found his way from Delaware to Southern Pines to me.

It's taken me almost that long to learn how to ride him properly; he is so different from my burly Appendix boy.  He has made me a better rider and I hope that I have made him a stronger, more comfortable horse.  As we tackle Five Points next weekend, he will be back in the sandhills where the fabulous Suzanne and Allie of CANTER MA got him restarted, only now, baby's got a whole new look.

After 12 months of conditioning and training and trying and failing and trying again and oh there was that whole bone scan thing and then there is the ever present rider handicap, one OTTB went from sexy to S.E.X.Y. 

September 8, 2011 -- Away Again steps off my trailer into a new life:


October 16, 2011 -- One month later, bathed clean and ready to learn:

April 28, 2012 -- It's springtime, don't make fun of my weird shedding, mom!  The first day at the new farm:


August 31, 2012 -- I'm too sexy for dressage, check out mah neck (and I have not learned to pose yet from my brother and my mom is terrible at this when trying to hold the rope and her cell phone at the same time):