Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Greener Pastures: Amythyst, Mithras, and Sunday.

If you are like me and you have umpteen horsey friends and acquaintances you will find there are some months full of high moments and others filled with lows.

Circa 2008
It can range from seeing a good friend rack up some serious satin at a big show, or watching as another retires their arthritic old gelding. And I can guarantee you that the second someone has had to make the ultimate decision for their horse, we all instantly seem to know and we all band together to remind each other why we love this sport, regardless of discipline or competition level.

It reminds us to hug our horses every day - for being our four-legged therapist and for being our team mate.
Believe it or not, but Suzie was actually the youngest horse there.
A few days ago I heard that my old 4-H riding coach had put down both of her elderly horses after battling another lengthy founder-episode in her Anglo-Arab mare and a unfortunate case of worsening arthritis in her Hanoverian. These two horses were actually pasture-mates to Suzie when I boarded her at my coach's barn.

Both horses had lived quite a long and fulfilling life - both achieving some serious awards and satin in their days. The Anglo-Arab, Amythyst, was nearing her early 30s and the Hano was not far behind.

It shouldn't have come as a shock, but it is upsetting nontheless.

Not me riding, but Mithras doing the fancy stuff.
He was probably around 15 here.
Circa 2009.
Me and Am at a clinic doing the cloverleaf exercise.
Showing teeny tiny x-rails in 2009.
Same show, a few jumps later... 

Especially when I too have suffered my own loss.

On July 10th, the mare that I had previously blogged about, foaled out a beautiful solid colt who was aptly named "Sunday". I realize that I have flip-flopped over a made horse vs a foal, but as soon as I saw him, I knew I had to have him.

Freshly born, with big floppy ears.
And so, while waiting to hear back from the registry as to whether or not he'd be registered as a Paint or Solid Breeding Stock Paint (color vs solid), I arranged placing a deposit and such with the breeder.

I was feeling like I was on Cloud 9 - my favorite broodie mare foaled out a nice big chestnut colt. Exactly what I was looking for.

His neat tail, which made his full
Paint registration pending.
On the Friday, I was asked to hold off on the deposit, as Sunday was starting to look ill.

I remained optimistic, but it was just not meant to be. July 19th, Sunday was laid to rest with what the vet suspects was a ruptured bladder.

Rest in Peace, sweet Sunday.
I initially wasn't going to blog about Sunday or his loss, but it seems as though he deserves to be mentioned and remembered.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Endurance Days, Cones Courses, and Chiropractors

Since the horse show I had putzed around a bit on Finn, but was holding off on serious riding until he had his chiropractic appointment. I didn't feel like it would be fair to drill anything in to him, especially since it would just end in me getting frustrated and flustered anyways.

So Spud has been pulled out more than usual and we've put in some serious miles this July. We've gone approximately 35km thus far, with many more to be added on! For a pudgy pony, he has some serious endurance.

In addition to the endurance aspect of our drives, I've begun implementing some mock "cones" drills with a bunch of random spare tires that used to be a cross country jump at one point. Spacing out the tires gave me the ability to do some "cones courses" and to work on more refined turns and speed control. I don't have a problem letting Spud choose his pace and such during the endurance stuff, but when it comes to speed + tight turns, there has to be some serious communication going on to prevent any cart tipping or otherwise.

A friend of mine who is pretty interested in Spud and the whole driving thing is up here visiting so I've drug him out to drive me with the last few times and had him try out all his new gears since the last time he visited. It's also super fun to see someone else drive him considering I've been his main driver for a good portion of his career.
Scattered tires = cones? Why not.
I'm gearing up for a show at the end of August, which will be our only show of the year. I have high expectations, but at the same time, I'm not going to put the pressure on him. He's still quite green and this will be the first (of many!) shows in his career.

In Finn news, I trailered him out on Wednesday to see the chiropractor/body worker that Finn's owner normally uses (not the same one who has adjusted Suzie and Spud). The appointment went well and the findings were quite interesting!

Finn's entire pelvis was shifted and his right femur was actually turned and was crooked. His ribs were out in multiple places, as well as his spine.

In all honesty, he was a mess.

We'll get back to this soon enough.
But I shouldn't be surprised. He hadn't been adjusted in nearly two years (since he was retired) and I had been riding him more than he had been in the last while.

The body worker took about 45 minutes to adjust, re-adjust, and work out knots and such. Finn's back quite literally came up about 2 full inches and the body worker showed me how actually fucked up his hip was (how did I not notice, like rly?).

It also explains our "lameness" on the left rein.

Three days off for Mr. Finn and then we will get back to our regularly scheduled program. Hopefully all of the adjustments help his striding, transitions, and overall work ethic. It's amazing what professionals can find with just one look.

July Schooling Show Recap

Better late than never, I guess?

A, enter working trot.
The little schooling show was to take place with Dressage on the Friday evening and Hunter/Flat classes the following Saturday morning. Instead of turning around and heading home Friday night and then re-hauling back out Saturday, I opted to stay the night with my friend who is housing Suzie. It was a good choice, considering Dressage didn't end until roughly 8:30pm and I would've had an hour drive ahead of me to drop Finn off at the barn.

Friday afternoon went by slowly - I had tons of time to get Finn ready and I decided to try out Austen's fluffy dutch braid tutorial. I figured it was the best time to try it out - first show of the year, first time braiding with yarn, and first time attempting dutch braids.... what could go wrong?

I tried.
You can also see that Finn was soaked through his slinky.
I had practiced with the yarn the evening before and it was a bit difficult, since I have only ever braided with elastics. But the second time around was easier and I felt like they looked better. It'll just get better with practice.

After Finn was clean (I had to hot-towel him since it was absolutely pouring rain outside), braided, and blanketed up, I loaded him and Spud up and hauled out to the grounds to watch another friend of mine ride her mare. I arrived pretty early, and ended up leaving Finn and Spud in the trailer since it was pouring buckets. For the next few hours I drifted between trying to stay dry, letting the horses out to nibble hay, and standing in the indoor arena to keep Finn from getting soaked.

Spud gets to be a show buddy since I didn't
want to leave him home alone for a night.
 As my ride times neared, I peeled Finn's soaking wet blanket and slinky off and saddled him up. A mildly long warm up - mostly walking - felt pretty good, but his right side was a bit hitchy in the sense that he just felt like he wasn't "reaching" as well as he could've. Regardless, he didn't feel "lame" persay.

I rode my first test and had quite a few unfortunate bobbles - I overthought a lot of it and was making myself tense and nervous since Finn's owner was watching and ended up turning right when I should've turned left down centerline (d'oh). The rest of the test was pretty adequate and there was a moment where I went to ride too deep into my corner and nearly left the ring... yikes.

A good moment. Thankfully all the rain stopped during my tests.
I was pretty embarrassed by it all, but apparently it looked pretty good. I don't remember what we scored on that test (I've misplaced the test) but I believe it was a 58% or something? Mostly because of our pilot error and the fact that the judge marked us down quite severely for him being "lame". The judge also did pull me aside after the test and asked me if I thought he was lame - I told her no, that he felt like he was short-striding but not necessarily lame. I asked her if I should scratch and she said no, that if he is an old horse, its something I just may have to deal with.

So off I went to continue warming him up, keeping him moving, and trying to get him to stretch into his gait. I was called for my second test and as I stepped two paces into the ring, the judge rolled down the window and shook her head, calling out, "I'm going to have to scratch you."

It was probably one of the most embarrassing moments of my life. Having all these spectators watching and listening... I know the judge didn't do it to be an ass, but it was just a shitty situation.

Finn's owner didn't feel like it was a huge deal - she also commented that he was a bit sticky on the left rein but certainly wasn't head bobbing lame. She advised me to bute him that evening and see how he was in the morning.

I went to my trailer and cried with a friend of mine who was holding Spud for me while I rode.

We talked a lot about the fact that it isn't really Finn's fault or my fault... it's just his age and it just sucks. But regardless, Finn's owner and I immediately went to book a chiro appointment (details to follow).

That night kinda sucked, as I was feeling more self-pity and embarrassment than anything, but horses will make you humble and sometimes you just have to suck it up and move on.

Seeing this face didn't suck tho <3
I hugged her and cried.
I scratched from the four x-rail classes I had intended to do the next morning, and opted to still do the flat classes (there were 3 of them).

Finn warmed up great and although he still felt minimally sticky, he felt much better and a few girlfriends of mines who came out to compete and watch also commented on how well he looked. The adult class was pretty barren - only three of us were competing in the flat.

Does anyone recognize the gray?
Yep, that's the Andalusian who is pasture-mates
with Suzie.
Finn and I placed second in Pleasure, second in Equitation and first in Road Hack. I was quite pleased with our hack class - his lengthen trot felt spot on!

And since I had pretty consistent placings, I won the adult high point for the flat class division. It was a really good "up" to end my weekend on considering I had felt like a bag of shit the day prior. Still, I had a feeling that Finn needed a good chiro work-up to really pin-point and eradicate some of our issues.

Horse shows can be so enlightening - it certainly wasn't the worst show in history and I'm sure there will be more shows that let me down. But the fact that Finn never changed his amount of try and never wavered just blew me away. Horses are so much more honest than we give them credit for.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Don't Whine, Just Shine

My previous post was quite overdramatic and pessimistic despite the fact that I truly harbor no ill feelings towards Finn - or any of the horses in my life for that matter. Sometimes you just get a kick in the teeth and it feels like the whole world is against you, or pushing you into despair. But beyond the whining and self-pity, I need to focus on the positives.

 I will disclose that the past week has not been easy. In addition to having a somewhat disastrous horse show; a horsey friend of mine lost her beloved father to a tragic accident (this particular news hit me quite hard, as I nearly lost my own father to a brain aneurysm almost a decade ago), another horsey-acquaintance lost her 21 year old ex-show mare, I found out that I did not get accepted for a job I had been interviewed for, and a miscommunication caused Suzie to be trimmed and turned back out barefoot (which in turn made her lame).

So yeah, this last week has sucked some serious ass.

In an effort to focus on the positive vibes I've had going on in my life, I've made a little list to remind myself that when you're going through Hell, just keep going.

1. Beyond anything else, I have a boyfriend, family and friends who are there for me consistently and constantly.

2. I still have the ability to ride, despite my own mare being diagnosed with navicular. Also - Spud is pretty friggen cool to drive.

3. Despite the whole "no job/being poor", I do have a rather successful dog walking program that has really sailed and provides me with the ability to do some "fun" things.

4. I have a huge amount of support from the blogosphere - seriously, you guys rock.

5. My mare is in great hands - she has the ability to roam 20 acres with two other mares. She is healthy and happy. She'll have her shoes back on tonight and be just fine.

6. Finn is doing amazing for his age and due to all of the time off. He has all the buttons and he is SO willing and game for everything I throw at him.

7. I was called this morning to cover a few shifts for another CSO  at the end of the month.

Gotta breathe in positivity...

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

We All Fall {D O W N}

I've been missing from the blogosphere for a few weeks and must admit that it isn't purely coincidental. In truth, I've been avoiding writing down any kind of concrete feelings or ideas simply because I've been sucked into this emotional rollercoaster of sadness, frustration, and depression when it comes to riding.

Perpetual droopy lip.
There is nothing wrong with Finn. He is a good boy, he is simple to ride, and he is certainly well schooled. However, we've run into a "problem" (which in all truthfulness, it isn't really a "problem") that has really put everything to a screeching halt.  So what is the issue? He's old. He's stiff, creaky, and sometimes takes additional time to truly warm up and work out of his stiffness.

Is there anything really wrong with that? No. There isn't any reason to be upset with him or be frustrated, but still, I am. It sounds so petty, but it feels like the whole Suzie situation all over again.

We went to a little dinky schooling show this past weekend and were subsequently scratched from our second Dressage test by the judge for Finn being hitchy in his trot to the right. After a lengthy cry at the trailer for feeling like yet again a failure in keeping an old horse sound, I picked myself up and stayed the night at a friend's house (same friend who is boarding Suz for me, so it was nice to see her after that emotional day). He was buted that evening to help ease out any residual stiffness and in the morning, I rode my flat classes and won High Point which was nice, but I was approached by the secondary judge and told that Finn seemed a bit "sticky" in his hind end.

Shortly before being scratched.
I pride myself in taking the utmost care of my horses - especially my senior. It feels like a shot to the gut when things don't go right and it feels so frustrating to be consistently stuck in the same "spot" in my riding. I don't ride as much as I used to, simply because I am afraid of causing excess strain on Finn or doing too much and instead of riding being my stress-reliever, I find myself stressing out about his soundness level or his physical state.

There isn't anything wrong with Finn - he is stiff and old. Age is not on his side and after having over two years off in being a complete pasture puff, I shouldn't be surprised.

So why am I so upset?

I am an overly anxious person by nature, and when something little like "slight stiffness" enters the picture and I get kicked out of a dressage test at a show, I freak the fuck out. I cry, and sob, and want to just throw in the towel for YET AGAIN being disappointed and let down. And it isn't Finn's fault - I KNEW what I was walking into and I knew what the trials and tribulations would be for us.

It sounds like I'm being a big baby, because we did win High Point and he looked fucking fabulous in the ring.

Our first test.
Looking like a sexy beast.
But I just so badly want to enjoy riding again. I want to not have to worry about if today is the day my senior horse is going to be stiff or hitchy in his gait. I don't want to worry about being scratched from a class by a Judge in front of spectators. I feel like I've battled so many lameness issues the last three years that I've just had enough and any kind of issue is sending me into a tailspin.

I did discuss all of my feelings with Finn's owner, and I was willing to return him home after the somewhat disastrous show. But, we've both decided he will stay. He enjoys the light riding and I enjoy getting him out and about. Sure, I'm stuck at Training Level for the 6th year in a row, but for coming out of retirement in May, we've done a heck of a job thus far.

So we've scheduled a chiropractor appointment for Mr. Finnegan since we're both pretty positive he needs some adjustments since he's been retired since 2014 and then ridden by me with no body work in between.

It'll get better - I'll find what makes me want to try and want to have good rides again... I just feel defeated and down-trodden.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Canada Day, 'Eh.

I've been pretty blessed with the fact I live in a small "blink and you'll miss it" town, in the sense that when sad/bad things happen, we band together and come out stronger. Even more than that, when there is celebration to be had, we celebrate and come together as a community!

The last few years, I've been in the Canada Day parade as part of a variety of clubs, but mostly as a member of the Horse Club. Since the club in our area disbanded earlier this year, I wasn't sure if I would enter the parade or not. Thankfully, another horsey club had entered the parade and I asked if I could tag along with Spud.

With it being his first parade, I didn't really prepare him too well other than ponying him off of Finn when I rode two days ago. Although, how can only really prepare a horse for the craziness that are parades?
I went a lil overboard.
Yea right who are we kidding...
Sometimes you have to just jump right into the craziness because you can't replicate the intensity of the parade.

The morning of the parade, it was absolutely pouring. The rain had damaged some of the cart's decorations, but by that point I just wanted to get it all over with. The crepe paper was not the best idea for the shafts.

We all wore hats - Spud wore a party hat.
Spud was good to hook up and he seemed to drive okay to where the other horse's were. My nephew was with me, as he wanted to be in the parade as well and when we got closer to the other horses, Spud threw on the brakes to take a look. My poor nephew was not holding onto the side like I had told him and threw him forwards and off the cart. Thankfully, the kiddo is tough and he didn't really splat on the ground - more or less just tumbled out of his seat. I propped my leg up against his, had his one hand link with mine, and the other hand holding the cart handle - this seemed to work and stopped any other kind of jostle the cart took.

While we waited for the parade to start, Spud started to get amped up. He wasn't necessarily "bad", but would just slam on the brakes and then lurch forwards like a complete asshole. He was also trying to take a look at everything while a million children decided to swarm him and poke/prod all his gear and ask me a billion questions.

Pony is wet and angry.
"Is he a baby?"
"How old is he?"
"Are you sure his feet should be that small?"
"Can he pull you?"
"You don't ride him do you?"
"What does he eat?"
"What's his name?"
"Can I see if his frogs are small too?" (...seriously.)
"Is he a Shetland?"
"Why are you making a baby pull you?"
"Can I ride in the cart too?"
"Did you really buy all this stuff?" (meaning the cart/harness)

Like. Oh my god.

So after wanting to slit my wrists - and screaming at a young girl because she decided to slap her friend REALLY LOUDLY and push him RIGHT BEHIND MY CART - we were ready to go.

Some of the other horses were getting impatient and Spud felt very, very light up front and frustrated. You could almost tell he was getting pissy because he could hear all these horses moving, but he couldn't see them (blinders), and none of them were his friends so he would whinny to them but no one would reply.

We had very lurchy starts and stops, and during the first 10 minutes, he threatened to rear on me twice. I could feel him get super light up front but had no real place to "put him" so I could get him past the lightness-feeling. There were horses in front of us, horses behind us, and people on either side of us. Instead of fighting with him, I remained super quiet on the reins, but had to realllly keep him in check because he wanted to jig the entire time.

He settled down throughout the parade, which was great, but the intermittent sirens, loud music blaring, people throwing candy to the crowds, people jumping up and down, horse's acting up, and people waving their umbrellas around (literally waving them), he was beyond over-loaded. I could just feel how saturated he was and I just spoke softly to him the entire ride and started to treat it as a schooling session vs waving and screaming "Happy Canada Day" back to all the spectators.

My nephew left the cart about 3/4 of the way through the route to go be with his mom again, as we were both SOAKED through our clothes and the poor guy was shivering. I was kind of glad he got out, so I had one less person to worry about. Several times I positioned myself behind a horse so that we had something to make Spud "stop" should he blow through my aids.

I never really felt "out of control", save for at the beginning and had I believed he would run-away or cause an accident, I would have hand-walked him. He just felt very animated, tense, and flighty but not necessarily un-driveable.

So was it a success?

Kind of. He did worse than I thought he would've, but we went out and did it without any major catastrophe, so I call it a win. We'll have to enter more parades in the future though, because the only thing that will make him quieter is going again and again.

Percentage Days/ Clear Rounds

I made a song to help me remember how to make Finn
fancy. It goes "Leg, leg, leg... leg. leg. leg."
Two weekends ago, when I had taken Spud out for the Driving Clinic, I also hauled Finn and took a few lessons from his owner since I felt I was at a sticking point with him. He wasn't really improving much, and I figured I could use some extra eyes on the ground to help.

His owner agreed and we actually pin-pointed where one of my biggest issues is. My legs are very, very short and Finn's belly is quite dropped. With teeny tiny POW spurs, I don't really have the ability to get after him like I could/would with a longer leg. And I'm sorry, but I don't have killer calves and after twenty minutes of riding him for his owner, I wanted to die. My legs felt like jelly and we STILL needed to be more forward.

His owner recommended getting longer/larger spurs. So while I waited for my new spurs to come in, I decided to utilize my blunt rowel spurs that I had used on Suzie. The difference was completely mesmerizing - I was actually able to manipulate him and I didn't have to stick my spur into his gut and grind it there either.

It was quite beneficial to have his owner help me out - she knows his limitations better than anyone and I found that I was more or less tip-toeing around him. When she asked me to show a stretchy trot, I showed her and the first thing out of her mouth was, "He can do more than that." So it's up to me to push him vs letting him just plug along.

And more leg.
Just add leg.
Fast forward to last weekend (I know, I know, I'm behind) when I had dropped Suzie off at my girlfriend's place to head out on pasture, I also hauled Finn out to attend the monthly Percentage Days and Clear Rounds that was being hosted by the city's saddle club. I dropped Suzie off early in the morning before heading over to the fairgrounds where Finn was losing his noodle because, "Where did my girlfriend go?!"

He calmed down once I gave him some hay - there were quite literally only three trailers at the grounds (a lot of clinics were going on and quite a few regular attendees were missing due to that). With there being such a minimal showing for the Dressage (% Days) portion of the day, I was able to take my time tacking up and such.

In the middle of a stretchy walk.
Unfortunately, the day seemed to be tainted by pony-tude, as a young rider was struck on the top of her head with a hoof when they tried to cut the naughty pony's bridlepath. I was in the back of my trailer changing when I heard one of the mom's yelling for me and asking if I had any napkins - I yanked on my breeches and boots and jogged out to meet her by my truck. I didn't have any napkins, but I handed her one of the towels I have in my truck for my dog. I followed her around my trailer to the one parked next to me where the young girl stood, blood literally pouring down her face.

Thankfully, it was all quite superficial, as head wounds tend to bleed like a mother-trucker. The girl's mother took her to the hospital where she received 4 stitches to the top of her scalp. She joined us for the jumping (Clear Round) portion of the day later that afternoon.

Improvement in the canter, finally.
Thank you, spurs.
 After all of that excitement, I headed to the arena armed with my spurs and hoping for some clean tests. Lately, our trot - canter transitions (both up and down) have been a disaster (head flips up) and I've been experimenting with what helps Finn vs what just pisses him off.

We headed into the arena for TL1 and I stupidly turned right instead of left like I was supposed to (never watch someone else ahead of you, folks... >_<). So after that mix-up, I kinda fell apart during the test. I could feel Finn hollow against me and get bracy in the transitions and instead of riding him, I just ended up being a passenger. We earned a very generous 65.2% for that test.

I'm sorry, I can't find page 2... the tests
seem to have grown legs. >_>
I was determined to fix my mistakes and ride better in TL2, and I felt that that test was much more rideable. We earned a 66.7%. I also found out what helped Finn in the transition from trot - canter, and it helped piece things together a bit more. He prefers when I continue to post, vs sit the trot when I ask for the transition. I'm assuming this is because I lean or perhaps knock him off balance? Regardless, we'll revisit this later.

The interesting thing about these two tests is that (even spectators agreed), TL1 was MUCH worse than my TL2 test, yet they are only 1.5% of a difference. The rideability, the transitions, the circles... everything was MUCH better (plus I didn't... yanno, go off course). Ah well, it's not like it was a under a showing circumstance, and the individual who sat in to judge the tests is not a recognized judge (she is a local Dressage enthusiast who was kind enough to play judge).

Pretty sure this is my favorite flat photo of us.
Readers may also note how fucked up my position is in that saddle. Yep, it's pretty wonky right now. Altho, a lot of that can be attributed to the fact that Finn has quite a big swayback. I'm experimenting with half-pads and such to help bring up the seat of the saddle without making the gullet narrow and pinching his shoulders. Despite the wonkiness of my position, we seem pretty effective, which is a bonus.

For those wondering - no I will not be purchasing a new saddle and no, I will not be selling my saddle. It may look weird and it may not be "just right", but Finn is a lease and I don't intend to find a saddle that is perfect for him and I because he isn't staying.

With two tests completed, I headed back to the trailer to untack and wait around for an hour and a half until the jumps would start to go up for the Clear Round portion of the day.

I helped set up jumps with the rest of the riders - I swear, like 15 people showed up just for the jumping stuff while there were only three of us who did the dressage part. Once Finn was all tacked up and ready to go, we headed to the ring to practice over a few cross-rails before the rounds started.

I hadn't jumped Finn since I began leasing him, mostly because the jumps at our Fairgrounds in town are locked away and I don't have a key, as well as, I am completely lazy and don't want to drag them out of the shipping container over to the ring and back again.  In addition to this, I hadn't jumped a course since I took Suzie to the Fall Show last year... and before that... I hadn't jumped in about three years. So yay for being prepared...

If that's not a happy horse, I don't know what is!
I only had my tiny POW spurs on, mostly because I didn't want to accidentally poke him with my rowels on and because I knew Finn had an affinity for jumping from his younger years. I was right to select the tamer spurs, as Finn came alive beneath me after we hopped over the first cross rail.

He was still maneuverable and malleable in my hands, but he was definitely more awake. We only did four rounds, as I didn't want to push it, and despite my own handicaps during the ride he never argued. He just rolled along in a dopey canter and raced down the lines quietly - he didn't even object when I threw him some wonky distances.
How about "Just Let Your Horse Figure It Out Himself"

We didn't do much more than x-rails, but it felt good to get acquainted with "Jumping Finn" vs "Dressage Finn". The two are so different, yet so much the same.