April 29, 2010

A New Book - The Elements of Dressage

Although I generally describe myself as a hunter/jumper rider, I have a basic foundation in dressage training. I've only ever shown training level, and schooled at 1st level (although at the time I didn't quite understand what that was). My trainer during my college years, CJ Law, primarily shaped me as a rider and it is to her merit that I became the rider that I did in such a short period of time. As part of my training, she was adamant about me having a dressage foundation. Insisting that 90% of jumping is flat-work (something that I wholeheartedly agree with) her flat lessons were often more grueling than the jumping lessons, and that is not to say that those were easy either. I definitely remember jumping with a broom stick behind my back, jumping with my eyes shut, and jumping without stirrups and sometime bareback, just to name a few. Our flat-work exercises were similar, but longer, as there was no time to rest while standing in line as a classmate finished her round. To my twisted brain, the harder the work the more I loved the lesson, and I thrived under CJ's instruction. As such our flat-work exercises were made up of a lot of dressage movements. Through all of this, I learned an appreciation for flat-work, the importance of flat-work to any horse's training and development, and as a added bonus I learned to collect and sit the bounciest of trots on any Arab or other breed you could throw at me!

It has been many years since my last lesson with CJ, and a flat lesson with any trainer. Since I don't want to start working Rose hard under saddle until she's 4, and no real jumping until she's 5, I thought it was about time that I brushed up on my flat-work theology, primarily within dressage. A while back I put myself on the used book wait list at powells.com for K. A. von Ziegner's "The Elements of Dressage: A Guide to Training the Young Horse" and it arrived in the mail a few days ago. I had just finished the last novel in a popular fiction saga I've been reading and really didn't want to study, so the arrival of a new book was the best Saturday afternoon procrastination gift that I could have given myself. I opened the cover and flipped to the first page, and before I knew it I was already on Chapter 3 and have since nearly finished the book!

I am so impressed with this book. Ziegner explains his reasoning for doing things a certain way in the most logical straightforward manner I've ever read, and there is just enough, but not too much historical information to explain his views. My appreciation of the book is certainly helped from the fact that I understand his point of view an happen to agree with the majority of it. As Rose could theoretically go in any direction with her training at this point, I think a good basic dressage foundation will be great for her. She can take her time this first year, really learning to relax, be balanced, and straight. Perhaps I'll even enter her in some training level classes next spring/summer! This book will be a great addition to my library and training arsenal for Rose's first couple years.

April 27, 2010

How it all got started...

Unlike most of my horse friends, I did not grow up riding and showing. I was nevertheless obsessed with horses, and did learn to ride during the 6th grade. A friend of mine at the time, who's name I can no longer remember, owned a couple ponies. We bonded over our love for horses, and often spent our lunch hour in the library drawing pictures of every type of horse breed we could find in the encyclopedias.

That October for my birthday she took me out to her barn to ride. We were just a couple of lower-middle class kids, from the wrong side of the river, and as such her family didn't own any tack other than bridles. Yes, the first time I really rode a horse was bare back. We didn't take it easy either. I can still remember my elation, as I asked my pony for a canter and flew up a big green hill. Nothing I had ever done in my 11-years even compared to the feeling. The adrenaline rush was amazing, the wind blowing past my hair on my non-helmeted head was refreshing and when we rode into the woods down a trail and jumped some downed logs I was in heaven. Unfortunately for my parents, six relentless years of asking for a pony would ensue. Six years of being told no. I knew why I couldn't have a horse and I accepted it for the time being, the relentless begging being mostly in my head. After that first ride, I probably rode a couple times a year, always on a random friend's horse or on a vacation trail ride. By no means did I ever have formal training, I just had natural skill, balance, and apparently no fear. I was just plain lucky.

I graduated high school at age 17, and won a scholarship to Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. Although I did apply based on my desire to be a medical doctor (at the time), I was aware that there was a riding program at the school. It was not my influencing decision to attend MHC, but horses were definitely the icing on the cake. That fall I enrolled in riding to satisfy my PE requirement, and by the spring semester I was on the IHSA equestrian team. I was also wining my classes. I spent my summers in training with my coach, CJ Law, at Forest Acres in Maine. I taught camp kids to ride, and in turn got to ride twice a day one of which was a lesson. I advanced my skills quickly and developed a love of teaching at the same time. At the end of my Sophomore year, I even won the IHSA nationals in the walk-trot division (although I was schooling 2-6' fences by that point). After my win, which also happened to be the first time my parent's saw me ride, I recall my Mom mentioning to my Dad that perhaps they should have gotten me a pony! I continued winning and moving up in the IHSA ranks. By the time I graduated, I was showing in the IHSA novice flat and over fences division, placing 6th over fences my senior year at Nationals, and locally I was showing 3'3" - 3'6" over fences, and schooling up to 4'-6". Following graduation, I decided to follow my passion and tried to forget about my fancy degree. I worked for a while teaching lessons and training at the Lake Oswego Hunt Club and then did a brief stint for a trainer back in Massachusetts before moving on to manage the Greenwich Polo Club for many years.

Many years later, my day job no longer involves horses but I continue spending my spare time pursuing my love of riding, advancing my skills, and endeavoring to become the best rider I can be. A quest that I will no doubt spend the rest of my life trying to achieve!

April 21, 2010

It's a mare thing...I (finally) get it.

When I first got Rose, manners were something that alluded her...along with pretty much everything else. It was hard to decipher when she was acting up because she was a baby, bold, or because she was cycling. Over the winter, her cycle took a break so it was easier to simply focus on discipline and training, and forget all about hormones. Then the end of February rolled around, and hello nightmare-ish cycle mood-swings. Not that I can blame her, I wouldn't exactly want to do half the stuff I'd been asking her to do if I were all crampy. I started her on dried raspberry leaves, which seem to have helped take the edge off things, so I'll keep her on it for now, but she's still a mare and still cycles. Once we start competing in a few years from now I'll probably start her on Depo or some other means to an end in that regard.

What is my point you might ask? Yesterday was a break through for me. At the end of her last cycle, I started to notice that she danced around (now) uncharacteristically as soon as I brought her in from pasture and put her in the cross ties until she couldn't hold it any more and had to pee. A completely panicked look would wash over her as she stood there terrified that she did something bad. Regardless of my attempts to reassure her that it was okay and peeing in the cross ties is certainly nothing to get upset about, she didn't seem to retain that assurance come the next day. I had also noticed on numerous occasions that she would always pee as soon as she was put in her stall for the night. Using this observation, I decided to mix up our routine a bit and throw her in her stall for a few minutes before grooming her. Eureka! She immediately peed and then stood dead quiet in the cross ties.

That was my break through of last month, not yesterday. For the past week Rose has been her nice sweet calm self, until last night. I brought her in from the rain, put her in her stall, let her pee, removed her rain sheet, gave her a nice towel dry/massage on her exposed wet spots, and put her in the cross ties. She was grouchy, fidgety, and dancing all around the place in the cross ties....something that she seems to do once every 3 or 4 weeks....hum. I finally realized that when she's acting that way it's because she's cycling. So what did I do? I brushed her until she finally chilled out, and then let her hang out in her stall and eat her dinner. She's not misbehaving because she's a stinker, she's crampy, and I figure that her training can have a break once a month for her to be a girl.

It may seem like a simple and obvious thing that took me too long to figure out, but it took a while to get her to the point of behaving well enough, often enough, to notice her acting up for no apparent reason. So I finally get it...she's a mare. Now if only it was as easy to deal with people's mood-swings as feeding raspberry leaves and putting them in a stall!

April 19, 2010

This is how weekends should be...

SUN, SUN, SUN! The rain has subsided for at least the past week. I am sure that we will still have a few good rainstorms between now and June, and the paddocks will return to their typical muddy state a few more times before summer arrives, but for now the ground is firm and dry. Thanks to the improved footing, I managed to longe Rose a couple times last week and this weekend.

On Saturday, she was full of spice and vinegar while on the longe line, gracing me with a couple bucks and deciding to trot/canter when she should have been walking. I realized the last time I longed her that the game she's trying to play is to get our dog to come in the paddock and play with her. Much to her dismay I caught on to her game and the dog was banished to the tack room until longeing ended. So, she got to trot a lot more than she wanted to and when she realized there was no dog to play with she settled down and got to work. Afterward we went through our weekly clipping routine. She stood perfectly quiet while I trimmed her bridle path and feet. It struck me, as I squatted on the ground clipping her hind right sock with my torso more or less under her belly, how far we've come in such a short while. She's become much calmer and more well behaved and I have begun developing quite a bit of trust with her. I couldn't even have fathomed doing such a thing with her back in October, without the certainty of being kicked or stepped on. I worked with her a bit on trimming her ears, which she's still not convinced of, but we are getting there. I'm sure I'll be clipping them by the time summer arrives. After a few good scratches and treats I called it a day, looking forward to the next day's forecast.

Sunday was unseasonably warm! It was sunny and in the 70's. For a moment I felt like it was June, but had to remind myself that it's still the end of the rainy season...after all April showers bring May showers in our part of the world. Regardless, I couldn't wait to get to the barn and enjoy the sunshine. Since I'm on a mission to haul Rose somewhere new and fun at least every other week (I don't want her thinking the trailer is just for the Vet) AR and I decided that we would haul her to a nearby State park that is popular with trail riders and take some new photos. When we got to the barn, she had been running amok in her paddock, and was dripping wet with sweat. So I decided that a quick bath would be in order before loading  her. In the mean time, AR worked on a few things he wanted to fix on the trailer (one of his favorite parts of the whole horse thing...tools, engines, trailers). Soon after she was dry and shiny, we loaded her up and headed off to the park.

Once we opened her drop window on the trailer, she was instantly interested in our location, and I am pretty sure she was smiling when she saw all the cute little trail horses in the parking lot. I wasn't sure what to expect of her her first time in the wide open...so I had taken a stud chain along for some added leverage and security. She unloaded nice and calm and I walked her over to hand graze not far from a group of horses. She was delighted and calm for a while and seemed to settle right in. I was very pleased. So we got her brushed and started taking some photos. That is when some random horse in the parking lot called. UGH! Rose decided that she must answer, and then they kept calling back and forth until the other horse left. Then she was very concerned since there was no response, and increased her calling. After our ears adjusted to her squeals, the whole thing became more humorous than anything else, as it posed some photographic challenges. After a while we decided that we'd gotten a few good photos so we loaded her up and took her home. She was such a good girl, and has started becoming quite photogenic!

April 13, 2010

I've been a bit busy lately...

I find it very frustrating when one of two, if not both, things gets in the way of my barn/horse/training time.

1. Weather
2. Life (ya know, that thing that takes up the other 21-hours of my day)

In a normal year, our area gets 40-60inches of precipitation*. Due to mild temperatures, it is rare that the ground would freeze and snow would accumulate. This means, not only do we have 6-months of grey clouds and rain, but we have 6-months of MUD.

I. Do. Not. Like. Mud.

Having spend the past winter in mud, I have discovered that there are varying degrees of it, and my attitude toward mud seems to change based entirely on it current state of plasticity. October: The rainy season began, and our nice dry arena became unusable and the entryways to all of the paddocks began to resemble play-dough, not firm ground. November - January: It rained so much, so frequently, and with the lack of daylight to dry it up, the mud became a liquid, runny muck that coated the horses legs and all the way up under their turnouts and on their bellies. Daily hosing of feet before snugging up in dry stalls every night was a must. February: The rain let up at long last, enough to dry up the paddocks a bit so that they were usable for something other than a poor man's day spa. March: The rain started up again, proving February to be a tease. The mud at this point though, was no longer runny, just a thick gooey mess. April: It seems that the rain will just continue to come down. I believe we had 3-weeks of rain in a row. This past weekend though (I was told, see below) was mostly dry with just a few showers, so maybe summer will arrive in June as hoped. Maybe not.

*I have begun to question why I moved here...leaving behind my sunny snowy climate and 14-inches of precipitation? Oh, yeah...the recession.

I had a relative pass away recently, which required me to spend a week on the opposite coast. Then immediately following that I had to leave for another 4-days to attend a prep-class for a licensing exam that I am taking in June. In the mean time, my work schedule picked up and I had a bunch of deadlines. Generally speaking, this is "normal" in my world. Thanks to the exam, for the next 8-weeks I must STUDY! This is also one of the main reasons for deciding to send Rose to a trainer for the month of May and the first bit of June. I need to have time to study and not feel guilty about not having as much time for her as I would like.

So, between the weather and my life, Rose hasn't been worked in the past few weeks. After I got off my flight and back into town yesterday, I picked up our dog and drove straight out to the barn. To my relief, it was sunny and in the mid 60's! After arriving at the barn I did a quick assessment and found that Rose managed to stay in one piece for a change and was in a generally pleasant state of mind and happy to see me. Capitalizing on the sunny weather and mostly okay footing, I gave the dog a quick bath and decided that I should longe Rose for a few minutes. Given that she'd had over two weeks off from any sort of work, she was a pretty good girl. She still tried to pull some rude baby bolts on the longeline, to no avail, but that's to be expected. Overall she was a good girl and I'm happy to be home with no airplane trips in my foreseeable future!

So far today we had a bit of a sprinkle this morning, but the ground outside my office window looks dry, so hopefully the footing will still be okay and we can do a bit more walking and trotting on the longe (well and cantering when she gets too excited and until I can get her to transition back down).

Wish me luck good weather and no overtime!

April 5, 2010

Its official, she's on the books!

Rose had her bi-annual trip to the Vet for vaccinations this past Saturday. She was a super star about loading, and the trip was quick and painless for all involved. There was a recent strangles outbreak in the area, so I decided to have her vaccinated for that along with the usual rounds of flu/rhino, west nile, etc. We also pulled her coggins so that I can haul her into shows this summer (just for the experience, we won't be showing just yet), which brings me to the most exciting news. I have decided to preserve my health insurance premium rate and send Rose to a trainer for her first 30 (really 40ish) days! After talking with a couple of different trainers I decided to meet with one that a good friend of mine referred me too. Her daughter also trains with her, and they are very pleased with her personality and training methods, plus she has a ton of experience starting babies.

So, after the vet visit we dropped off Rose at home and drove out to the trainer's barn. After a bit of an interview and a tour of her facilities, we arranged to have Rose move to the trainer's barn on May 1st. This date is great for several reasons, and a little disappointing for a couple of others. First, I have to study solidly for my licensing exam for the next two months until June 8th. Having her at the trainer's full care facility will certainly relieve a lot of time and work that I currently must spend at the barn, although it will hurt the pocket book quite a bit and I'm bound to go through massive Rose withdrawals. Once I pass that exam though, it will be worth every dime and moment missed. Second, I am not a teenager anymore. I'm not even in my care-free twenties anymore. These days I need to be able to work to pay my bills, and I have enough of those without unnecessary extra medical bills. Thirdly, I've never started a horse and have no idea what I'm doing. I try to do as much research as possible, but when it comes down to sitting on her for the first time, and then the next month after that, I think it is best left to a professional or until I can become financially independent and work for a trainer again whom I can learn from. That being said, I am not a teenager anymore and I'm not financially independent. Aside from Rose, I'm not quite sure that I will ever try starting a horse again, so why risk getting seriously hurt? Finally, I want her to get started right. Once she's got the basics down, I can confidently take it from there, and I'm really excited about that phase in our partnership. The only disappointing part of the May 1st date is that there are two local shows (one jumper and one dressage) that I wanted to haul her too that weekend, but I don't want to put that much stress on her. Moving to a new barn will be stressful enough without being dragged to her first horse shows.

So, that was my exciting weekend in a nut-shell. Now that I've shook on the deal and know that she'll be under-saddle this time next month I simply cannot wait for May to come! The past six months have been a long rewarding learning experience and we are definitely both ready to take the next step.

April 2, 2010

Yearling & Two-year Old videos

It's been rainy and windy here all week, which means that I haven't be able to do much more with Rose other than keep her clean, but even just grooming her and tacking her up for a hand walk seems to put a smile on my face. I'm looking forward to the footing drying up so that we can lunge again. Luckily she seems to retain what she learns, so that we don't start over from scratch if we are forced to take a break. In the mean time, I thought I'd share links to her old sale videos on YouTube. Once I have some free time from studying and wedding planning I will get my hands on a good digital video camera to post new videos of her (hopefully under saddle), but for now this is all I got. Enjoy.


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