Sunday, July 30, 2017

It hurts to try to be something you are not . . .


I wanted to be a cowgirl, I really did. I tried and tried and tried. I tried multiple saddles, and each one failed me. It was not meant to be. I am not a cowgirl.

After almost two years of hip pain, I finally realized that there were two saddles in particular that were contributing to it - my beautiful JJ Maxwell western saddle, and my Heather Moffett Vogue treeless saddle (granted, that isn't a cowgirl saddle, but it did contribute to my problem). I finally gave up on them and sold them. I found a Circle Y trail saddle that had a narrower twist and gave that a try, and that failed me, too. I bartered it and all my western saddle pads, spurs, bridle, chinks, and cinches away. The only thing I have left is my bosal and mecate because those were gifts and I can't get rid of them for sentimental reasons.

And you know what? I am feeling better. Well, getting rid of the saddles and finding an amazing chiropractor who does applied kinesiology are what most did the trick.

But after a gradual transition from my jumping saddle (because it had the narrowest twist and allowed me to comfortably ease back into riding Mac) to my dressage saddle, I am happy to say I am feeling like myself again. And I know it sounds remedial, but I CANTERED MAC YESTERDAY!!!!! I probably hadn't cantered him in a year because that was the gait that caused me the most hip pain and had me contorting myself on the floor to try to stretch or pop my back, sacrum, and hip. But I cantered him, and it was WONDERFUL! He felt so good! HE was so good. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy. No muss, no fuss. Smooth transition, smooth canter, nice circles, and moments of his back coming up underneath me....ahhhh, heaven!

So I am happy to say that I am no longer trying to be something I am not. I am embracing my natural state as a rider whose comfort zone (literally) is doing dressage, and because of that I am happy in my skin, in my saddle, and with my horse.

Lesson learned!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Spring has sprung!

It was a long hard winter, with lots and lots of snow and ice. Many days I couldn't even scoop poop because either the snow was too deep that I couldn't slog out into the paddocks, or because the poop was frozen to the ground. The horses seemed happy enough, although they were confined to their paddocks and not allowed to be out together for fear of accident-inducing shenanigans.

Many days Mac's back looked like this:

Everyone stayed happy and warm with plenty of hay and the covers of their stalls (although no matter the weather they could always be found standing outside).

Toward the end of winter, when much of the snow melted, I let Pony and Paddy out together for lunch in the sacrifice area and kept Mac in his paddock (he'd rotate out at night). One day after I did the rotation, Mac didn't realize I had closed his gate. He tried to run out and join P & P in the sacrifice area and realized too late that his gate was closed. He tried to jump it, but he was too close to the "base" to get over safely, so he hung a leg and flipped over it and then somehow got a hind leg stuck. He then somehow freed himself. Holy shit! It was probably the scariest thing I've ever seen with my own eyes. He got himself up, trotted it out for a second, then I went to get him and put him back. I had to go through Paddy's gate and stall, though, because Mac's gate looked like this afterward:

Amazingly, he only had two scrapes on his forearms. No blood. No broken bones that I could tell, as when I put him back he was standing squarely with weight on all fours. He was very muscle sore, though, because he'd drag his right front leg for a couple days. I gave him a bute protocol for about 5 days, and in less than a week he seemed totally fine. How that is even possible, I don't know.

I hadn't ridden him all winter and had just started Pony back and already had a chiropractor appointment set up for her, so I added Mac to the list. I wasn't going to get on until he got checked out (chiropractor is a vet).

He had his appointment and checked out fine, go figure. So I started him back to work with some walking on our little trails for a couple weeks, then into the arena for some walk-trot work. He actually felt really good - nice and swingy through his back and soft!

A couple weeks ago we headed out on the BLM trails, and I snapped this picture just the other morning:

What a winter! Glad spring has arrived and the days are longer, the weather is better (still too windy for my liking, though).

This is Mac today having lunch in the pasture - he is very happy!

Oh, and I've given up hope of ever being a cowgirl. I sold my beautiful JJ Maxwell saddle. My hips just can't take a western saddle, so I'm riding Mac in my jumping saddle and life is much better. Sigh.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Gussying up the arena

Since I last posted, Mac has not only been put on a diet, but the vet put him on Thyro-L to help him lose some weight. Colin has also started riding him 2 days per week, which takes some pressure off of me and my own schedule (and my hips). And I've been riding exclusively in my dressage saddle. The result of all of these things is that Mac feels like he has more energy, is losing a bit of weight, and my hips aren't bothering me so much so that when I do ride I can now go back to cantering! (For some reason, the canter really bothered my hips so I haven't been doing much of it.) Mac is also feeling really good under saddle.

Since I started taking some dressage lessons with Pony, I thought it would be good to get the arena gussied up and put some letters down (at least indicate where the letters are) and also get some poles to do more pole work and/or set up a couple jumps if I want.

I went to Wilco and got a bunch of little flower pots and poles, went to Big Lots and got a lot of fake flowers that were 50% off, and set up my "letters" around the arena with the pots of flowers as markers.

In this shot of the arena I had set up an exercise with the poles. The two poles that are parallel to the short side of the arena mark spots for 20-meter circles, so the arena is divided into three sections of 20-meter circles. The two poles that are parallel to the long side of the arena serve two functions: they are set at a trot stride so I can trot through them, and they are also set that they form a "chute" that I can go through on center line and halt at X so I know where I am and can practice halts.

My cavaletti mark A, C, B, and E and are handy in case I want to use them for exercises, too.

With the poles set like this I did a bunch of exercises yesterday. I did 3-circle figure 8s up and down the arena. I practiced turning the corner inside of the pole and up center line. After halting at X, I practiced leg yielding out toward the rail (both directions) and not walking or trotting over the pole. I practiced backing between the two poles. I love poles - there are so many fun things to do! I'll probably keep the arena like this for a week or so so I can do these exercises with Pony, then I'll come up with something else that's fun!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Mac is fat

There, I said it. Yes, he is big-boned, but he is also fat. And I've realized that his fatness makes him uncomfortable for me to ride with my hip issues. After taking three of my saddles to the chiropractor to sit in so that she can look at my position in them and tell me which is best and which is worse, I decided to just not ride in my western saddle anymore. At all. Since the chiropractor told me my jumping saddle was best, I went home and put it on Mac. I never rode him in it - always my dressage or western saddle, but the fit isn't too bad and so I got on, thinking it would magically solve my problems. Nope! Still the SI pain after riding him in it. Since I can ride the pony inn it without issue, I figured that the thing that is different is Mac.

I've not had this problem with him before, and the only thing that is different is that he's out on the grass (even though he wears a grazing muzzle) for 8 hours a day. So this is a management problem that I need to solve tout suite. Poor ponies - they all suffer for his fatness.

1) He needs to move more. I will now leave his paddock gate open overnight so he can wander around the sacrifice dry lot area. In the morning for breakfast, I put them all out there together. Since Mac is the boss (and he's not very nice about it), he will try to move everyone off a pile of hay (I put lots of piles out), so that keeps everyone moving.

2) He needs less grass. Back I go to moving horses multiple times a day! After breakfast I ride, so I like to keep them in the sacrifice area near the barn. After I ride, though, I will now move them to the larger dry lot area behind the house - again, with lots of piles of hay. I do weigh out the hay; it is easier to manage the calories than with grass, since I've had the hay analyzed and know what's in there. They are out in that area for the 8 hours that they would have been on grass.

3) I do want him to have a little grass, though, so remembering when we lived in CA that they would go out for a couple hours (and not blimp up), I now rotate them onto pasture for 2-3 hours before I bring them back to the barn for dinner.

4) A little less for dinner. They all get small-hole hay nets for dinner, but now Mac will just get less hay. Sorry, buddy, that's just the way it goes.

The vet was out yesterday for a dental appointment for him and I had her pull blood to see if there's anything we should be worried about. I'm interested to see the results.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

More Buck Brannaman clinic tidbits

I'm just going to type out some various notes I took over days 2, 3, and 4 at the clinic. Some things might be repeated - guess I thought they were important!

Ack, I just realized that my phone didn't save my day 4 notes! GAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!

Day 2

If you feel like you are starting to lose your timing, get out while you're still good so you don't end up with something bad. When you've got something good, leave it alone and put it in the bank.

Ride the horse where it is every day.

When doing a circle, tempo and lateral flexion have to be constant and the same as you go around the circle. A circle is worthless if there's not a degree of lateral flexion.

Your job is to manage the rectangle.

If they get dull in their feet they'll be dull in your hands.

Practice moving the hindquarters without the reins (I tried to practice this yesterday and it is hard!!).

Offer them less so it doesn't take so much to get them to go. If you need to, make your point and get out. (I watched one person in particular who never made her point. There was lots of nagging with the leg, various equipment changes, but no big kick saying "let's go NOW!" and so the horse completely tuned her out and she didn't look like she got results.)

Between the poll and atlas is the holy grail on the horse. Be smoother when you change flexion from one side to the other.

"The deal" is when the door is open, go through it.

If you use too much leg, you risk taking his mind off the topic.

Supporting rein is a presence on the neck.

Go out and around when taking the head around, otherwise you build in a brace.

Release for the lightness and your horse will be encouraged to be light.

You use ground work to refine a horse, to get him handy, so that when you get on you can DO something.

How slow and accurate can you walk?

Position 3 means to stop. The hands are to prepare.

The release of the horse on the back up is conditional on the soft feel. Don't release on a brace.

Day 3

The only way you release fear is knowledge.

The horse won't stand still until you have dominion over the movement. Standing still is the worst - get them moving.

Never underestimate the stupidity of humans. :-D

Don't attempt to leg yield unless you have a high functioning soft feel. If they are too green to leg yield out on a circle, then do a circle in the opposite direction and then go back to the original circle.

When there's a big rectangle the horse is working in, there's a lot of room for something to go wrong.

As your skills develop, you need more life to do what you do.

Dial it up and dial it down.

Get out while the movement still has quality.

Set things up so the horse can make a good decision.

The only thing the horse ever needs to be motivated is peace.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Some Buck Brannaman clinic notes

Even though I'm not riding in the Buck Brannaman clinic, I am going to audit. Yesterday I took some notes on my phone . . . just as Buck was telling people to not talk on their phones. Of course I wasn't talking, but it probably looked like I was texting. I wanted to jump up and say, "But I'm taking notes! Here are all the things I wrote down so you'll believe me!" But of course I didn't do that.

Anyway, here are some tidbits.

"A horse will fight you to the end of his life to keep his balance."

"It is not disengaging the hind quarters, it is engaging the inside hind leg."

"Knowing where the feet are is everything."

"Be smoother when your horse gets off course."

"The first goal is to have the horse learn about being punctual."

"Pulling harder won't make him give any faster; more is not more."

"Nobody ever fixed a troubled horse by pulling on two reins."

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Clinic update

Well I had signed up to do Horsemanship 2 at the Buck Brannaman clinic this weekend, but I had to withdraw due to my hip problems.

Early in June I took Princess Fancy Pants to a Bryan Neubert clinic and she was great, amazing, awesome, fantastic, superb, and all other good descriptors of perfect ponytude. What I realized, though, was that I'm not currently equipped to be sitting in the saddle for three hours straight. At the pony's clinic, I mostly rode twice a day for maybe 30 minutes each time. I've been trying to find the balance between pushing myself to do more, but not pushing so far that I exacerbate the pain from whatever injury is bothering me at the moment.

I've had all sorts of diagnostics and my problems range from old spinal compression fracture to bursitis and tendonitis in the hip to some sort of soft tissue injury in my foot. They all seem related, as they are all on the left side of my body. Resting makes me feel a little bit better. Sitting in the saddle for a long period of time makes me feel worse. Two sessions of 30 minutes I could do. Three hours, not so much. So I will go audit and watch a friend and live vicariously through the people there. I always learn something from watching, so all is not lost.

In the meantime, I've been keeping up with regular lessons with Mac. I'm learning some cool new stuff both in ground work exercises and use of aids. I've exclaimed a few times "it's like magic!" Mac generally is doing better, but sometimes he reverts to his old ways. Like, for instance, when a friend came to visit with her horses, two of which were mares. She had one mare saddled to ride and put the other three horses (the other mare included) in the pasture while we went for a ride. Boy howdy, Mac sure did put on a show! I forgot how studdish he can be since he and the pony have sorted out their relationship and there isn't really any drama. But a couple new mares show up and the brains go out the window, the neck is arched, the body is prancing, and the brains go out the window. Oh, I think I mentioned that already.

It was not the most relaxing ride I've ever been on, but it gave me an opportunity to work on things that I could only work on in such a situation, so all was not lost. And to think, I ride this horse bareback and drop my reins and just meander through the woods sometimes. Not on that day!