Sunday, November 30, 2008

Progress at lessons!

I came back to lessons no worse the wear for taking a week off. And my practice is definitely helping! My legs stayed put, in a pretty correct position, nearly all of the time. I managed to use leg aids correctly maybe 70%. Rolling my toes out and heels in to squeeze is a hard habit to break, but I'm getting there.

My hands definitely suck. I'm going to have to do some serious trot work on Champ and work on feeling and following contact. Champ is going to be royally pissed about it, but he'll just have to cope. I'm not going to try to take up normal (light) contact anyway; I'm gonna try for super extra light contact, where I can just barely feel his mouth. He will have to deal with it.

Anyway, Hardy said he was perfectly pleased with where my legs are at this point in my riding. At some point, I'll work on riding with longer stirrups, but not yet.

I got Val into a trot fairly easily, and I managed to get some good bends out of her. And - AND!! - I applied the weird little set of dressage aids and got her to back up! Too cool.

Then we spent the rest of the day visiting with my parents, then visiting with Graham's mom. It was nice but pretty exhausting.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Ahhh, Thanksgiving. Also Guitar Hero.

These are my two excuses for not blogging.

I am making duck for my extended Thanksgiving feast. My husband's not so crazy about duck, so on Thursday we just had homemade rolls, mashed potatoes, tasty gravy, and ham. I also started my enormous duck prep - I took a duck apart, salted the legs and wings for confit, stuck the breast in the fridge, and made some excellent stock with the carcass, rendered all the extra fat. Yesterday I went to work and was way too tired to futz with the breast, so I waited til tonight.

I made this recipe, which was exceptional and highly recommended. I also cooked the confit tonight; I'm going to try to wait a few days before I reheat it. Supposed to be better if you can wait a bit. And the stock? Duck risotto, I guess; I just felt bad about letting Cersei eat such an expensive carcass.

Also, Graham brought the enormous TV and Xbox 360 down here with him. I am now ROCKIN OUT!! on Guitar Hero at night, which cuts into my blogging time. Tonight I unlocked Welcome to the Jungle and Pride and Joy. I WAILED on them. (On easy. Cut me some slack, I've been playing for a week.) Finally, my misspent youth, in which I listened to classic rock nonstop, is paying off. \m/

Aaaaand I took Dixie on a short trail ride today. Kelly rode her daughter's (totally laidback BTDT) Quarter Horse, and a calm buddy was just what Dixie needed. We had a fairly major freakout about a white washing machine at the side of the trail.

I kinda thought she might come unglued, because you know how horses are about Strange White Monsters. She quivered and kept trying to spin to bolt and backing up snorting when I asked her to walk forward, but I just kept her pointed at the Monster. It was kind of a delicate dance between urging her forward when I thought she could do it and reassuring her when I thought she was about to completely flip her lid. It took several minutes, but I eventually got her past the Washing Machine of Death. The far side of it is covered in rust, so coming back was no problem, and then we went past it again and she was fine.

I always wonder if the horse isn't just testing me after something like that, but I don't think that was the case today. She was really terrified of the Maytag zombie. We got through it, though.

We all trooped past the first big lake, down to the second big lake (the skeet shooting lake), and grazed there for a long time. Then we headed back. A very short ride for the horses, but a big one mentally for Dixie.

More horse stuff soon, I promise! I've got a lesson tomorrow, and I feel pretty good about my legs. (I am sure this hubris is going to doom me, but we'll see!)

Housekeeping: Vet came out on 11-25 and pulled Coggins, vaccinated for West Nile.

Monday, November 24, 2008


I like to tell yall the weird "training techniques" I have learned from local horseowners, for a couple of reasons. One, I don't look nearly so bad in comparison, and two, as a kind of sanity check for me. Some things (broken double twisted wire curb bits, and heavy shoes, and "action devices") I have always instinctively known to be cruel and ineffective. But some other stuff didn't seem correct when I first heard about it or saw it, but it didn't immediately strike me as wrong.

I've seen lots of people, who, when starting a young horse, will yank its head up at the trot. Because it's harder for the horse to buck if its head is up. This is counterproductive, right?

Anyway, it does make some part of me vaguely nervous for my horse to walk along with his head level. He's entirely too polite and lazy to actually try to buck me off, but it just looks... abnormal. His head's always been carried high, and all the horses I ride or see ridden carry their heads high. It never occurred to me that this was actually bad riding, although it sure seems blindingly obvious now!

Unwilling to confirm the experiment

No lesson yesterday - I cancelled it so I could sleep in, surrounded by boxes. I was just too tired to really concentrate and learn anything.

I did drag my ass out to the field and get on Champ for a little while, but I didn't actually ride. My friends Kelly and Taylor were out at the field, and I just got on and let Champ follow them around and mug them for treats. They took "care" of my crew while I was out of town - Kelly fed them lots of dog biscuits and peppermints because they were obviously wasting away without my double handful of sweet feed a day. (They are such horrible beggars!)

Anyway, I did something pretty stupid yesterday. I gave everybody the last of this pelleted senior feed that Kelly'd given me. She gave it to me because the old mare she'd been feeding it to had choked on it. What did my old mare do last year? Choked on pelleted feed. DOH! So yesterday, Silky choked very mildly on it, but managed to clear it on her own. Last time she choked was horrrrible. Did I ever post about it? I think it was before I started blogging.

On to today! Today was not so auspicious. I forgot to put the sweet feed back in my truck, and I had to catch my very angry horse and ride him without any sugary bribes. He got back at me by running my knee into a tree as soon as possible.

I concentrated on riding with my legs in the correct position again. In return, Champ was very relaxed and carried his head level. I think he even engaged his hindquarters on the hills a bit more. I realize that this one-horse experiment isn't actually proven unless I go back to riding the old way and see if he travels with a hollow back and a high head again, but I can't bring myself to do that to him. :(

My stirrups are starting to annoy me. They're hung a bit forward - not nearly as far forward as most "gaited horse saddles," but they still encourage a chair seat. When I got back closer to the truck, I kicked out of the stirrups and rode with balanced legs. (Closer to the truck is very important. I am still not entirely sure I won't just fall off, and if I fall off, my jerk horse is going to walk his happy ass back to the gate to his field, staying just far enough away so that I can't catch him.)

I am thinking about breaking down and buying some riding tights. I am SO TIRED of my jeans ripping out. They fit ok, and they're good jeans, but I just ride more than they can handle. Any recommendations for winter tights? Do I want the ones with the leather on the butt? This is going to be an internet purchase - there's only one overpriced tack store around here that sells "english clothes" and I don't really like shopping there.

Another epic fail!

What's wrong with this picture?


Look, here's a closeup.


Yeah, I kinda shot my truck. But not with a gun, I'm actually very very gun safety conscious! I accidentally shot my truck with an arrow.

I went over to my friend's house and he was like "Look at this bow I just got; it's totally badass!"

Me: "That's awesome!"

Him: "You wanna shoot it?"

Me: "Hell yeah!"

I try to draw it and damn it's hard as hell to draw a 40 lb bow. Waaaay harder than I thought it would be.

Me: "I don't think I can pull this."

Him: "Yes you can! PULL HARDER!"

My tomboy rage boils over and I pull as hard as I can and then slip and THWUNK shoot my truck. I burst out laughing and he was mortified and said he'd pay for the window. I'm not going to let him; I'm the one who a) wanted to shoot the bow and b) carelessly shot my own truck.

After shooting the truck we went off away from everything we cared about and I kept trying til I finally shot a tree. Bows are cool. Don't point them at anything you care about. Hell, don't point them within 45 degrees of anything you care about!

I think the Rangemaster sticker really makes the composition of the photo.

Monday, November 17, 2008

What just happened?

I'm going to Ohio to help Graham move back on Wednesday, so I'm trying to get my "practice" riding in early this week. I took Champ on a big long meandering ride through the woods. We trotted a bit at first, and then I decided I'd concentrate on keeping my legs in the right spot. Heels down, toes straight, legs back.

It still feels totally wrong. Getting my toes pointed straight ahead feels like I'm riding pigeon-toed. Keeping my heels down isn't hard, but keeping them back under my hips makes me feel like I am about to poke my horse in the flanks. But I kept at it - I wrapped my calves gently around Champ and enjoyed the scenery and kept checking heels, toes, legs.

We wandered off into the trees on an old trail we take sometimes, and I wasn't really thinking about much - looking around at all the new stuff I can see now that the leaves are coming down, and watching the dog, and being really happy that I have such a sensible barefoot horse and he doesn't slip. There's a lot of little ravines in the woods, with steep 45-degree slopes. They're all fairly short, maybe 10 feet at the longest, and I just trust my horse. I point him at an obstacle and sit calmly and if he balks, it's cause he can't do it. He didn't balk at all today.

Then I kinda noticed that Champ was doing something odd. He rarely balks at these little hills, but he usually rushes them. He'll start down slow but then speed up on his way down, or he'll want to surge up a hill.

He wasn't doing that.

He was calmly slowly picking his way down the hills, and calmly slowly hauling us up them. There was one little hill that even I wasn't sure about, and he kind of sat back on his haunches and slipped down a few feet then kept walking.

I had about 25% of my brain on autopilot, checking my heels-toes-legs, and about 25% was just checked out, watching trees and stuff, and the unoccupied part of my brain finally started to wonder if, maybe, my legs were helping him. Maybe even though I felt like my toes were about to jab his ribs and my calves were nestled in his loin, maybe I was actually balanced right and he didn't have to rush us around before we fell?

Then we got out of the really woody part, onto the wide trails in the woods, and I noticed something else really strange.

Champ's head was down. Not rolling peanuts, but definitely... level. He's never carried his head level while I was riding him before. I never thought that was odd, either, he's a TWH (loathe though he is to act like one) and they have high heads, period.

Then we stopped at a (clean) puddle and he dropped his head all the way and drank.

I decided he was about to die. He was in fact just dragging along on his last legs, trying patiently to haul me back to the truck before shuffling off his mortal coil. My horse has NEVER, EVER, stopped to drink on the trail. I always offer, when it's a long ride or a hot day, but he's never wanted to before. Head low + drinking = dying.

He perked his head up, alert but still rather calm, as Cersei came crashing out of the trees. Maybe he's not dying?

We meandered back to the field. He stopped to drink twice more. He walked quietly with his head level, but his ears were perky - not pissed off or hurting. We stopped at his favorite spot to graze (the wide grassy trail where he ran over Cersei) and I let him graze for a long, long time. And I kicked my feet out of the stirrups. And eventually we rode the rest of the way back to the field, and I didn't put my feet back in. It doesn't feel natural to hold my legs like that yet, but it certainly feels right. I felt balanced.

I feel like a kid who finally got her balance on a bicycle and screwed up the nerve to take her hands off the handlebars and didn't fall off and she's flyyyyying.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

My legs hurt, therefore I must be doin' it right. Right?

Oh, Cersei update first. She's fine :) Yesterday she snored on her back til about 11:30 am, then demanded we go play. It sleeted on us on the way to the field but I was undaunted. I cannot disappoint my dog. (It stopped sleeting before we got out there, and it just stayed drizzly while we were there.)

I took Champ on a slow trail ride. Cersei was remarkably more attentive about where the horse was and had a great time.

Today was back to work with Valentine, the paint pony. I'm really enjoying working with her because she's such a challenge in so many ways. It takes a good 10 minutes for me to get her to pay me any attention at all! I have to get my rein aids just perfect, and my leg aids just perfect, and stay balanced, and keep from locking my joints up, and it's HARD. When I get it all right, she'll do what she's supposed to, but she expects at least 95% perfection from me.

My elbows were good at the trot. Not quite automatic, but lots better than last week.

I am another step closer to getting my legs sorted. I've been struggling for weeks now with the act of "putting more leg on" - when I try to squeeze with my calves, my toe rotates out away from the horse. I just knew that was incorrect but I never could figure out how to activate the right muscles. Today I had Hardy show me (again!) "leg" and I kept trying to imitate him til I finally got it.

Then, with the right leg signal, I was able to get Val to trot, and then I was able to post and still keep her going forward and for a brief glorious half-circle I was posting, keeping her impulsion up, keeping her bent with the right rein aids, AND my hands were staying still. It was excruciatingly painful!

(Note: It wasn't "oh I'm ripping my knees apart" pain, it was very clearly "muscles I have never developed before being dragooned into work" pain.)

Anyway, it all fell apart after that half-circle, but I got a couple more trot sets in, and a few more very nice bends, and I have a definite new goal. Get those strange new inner-leg muscles to work for me!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Well hell, now I feel kinda guilty so here's a disclaimer

Daun and dp - I'm not remotely trying to make light of Brego's and Raven's injuries! It's just what I thought of when Cersei got squashed - "well bad things come in threes, so maybe it's over for me and my horse blogging friends!"

Also Cersei does have a tiny scrape on the inside of one leg. I am so very happy that I don't shoe my horses. It would've been a lot worse if a shod horse stepped on her :(

Here's the third injury, now let's knock it off ok??

For the superstitious among us, I am officially calling today's incident the third injury. Brego jacked up his leg last week, then Raven impaled her leg yesterday, and now one of my crew has been injured as well. No more animals need to get hurt for a while, ok?

(How's that for a dramatic lead-in? You like that? Read on for the entire goofy story.)

I have issues being consistent and training the same thing over and over again. My excuse is that I'm not trying to get my horses to memorize things, but rather trust me and respond to my cues. So I got on and off of Dixie twice - one in the ring, then back on outside the ring, then we rode ALLLLL the way to the gate to the trails. Remember how I said there's the horses' field, then another wooded paddock with trails, then the real forest trails? I dismounted at the gate to the paddock and led Dixie through. She was spazzing. Totally ready to bolt flipping her lid at being so so very far away from the herd. (We're talking maybe 200 yards, by the way.) But I had a plan.

Food is a huge reward for horses. There's plenty of green grass in that paddock. I led Dixie around and let her graze for probably 20 minutes. Didn't try to get on her. I wanted to stay in her comfort zone, at her head. The neighbor's rat terrier would not stop barking but the little bastard stayed on his side of the fence so I couldn't let Dixie squash him. We walked the shortest loop, went back near the gate and grazed, walked away from the gate and grazed, etc. She didn't noticeably calm down, but she was very happy to eat nice fresh green bermuda and baby elm trees and stuff. She forgot where I was at one point and almost spun into me, but I elbowed her butt and she remembered me and led perfectly from then on out.

When I got bored, I led her back to the truck, untacked her, and started hollering for Champ.

Champ's willingness to come when called has skyrocketed since I started feeding them sweet feed. How about that. Anyway, he came dashing right up and I gave him a nibble of feed while I got him tacked up. We still had plenty of light and Cersei needed a good run.

We rode for about an hour. I took a lot of pictures; I'll post the good ones later tonight. On the way back, the injury occurred.

We were trotting briskly down a huuuuuge grassy trail in the paddock, headed for the gate. The damn trail's easily 20 feet wide at that point. I was thinking mostly about my legs and keeping the impulsion up and paying very little attention to steering my horse or watching my dog. Cersei cut in front of us about 20 feet away, but she does this all the time and it didn't even register.

Then, in slow motion, I watched her snort at the grass and start to flop down on her shoulder to roll. Right in front of us. I had just enough time to think this:

Surely she's not gonna roll.
She starts rolling.
Surely Champ is going to jig left or right?
Champ trots straight for the completely oblivious dog.
SHIT SHIT SHIT surely he won't STEP on her?!?!
Dog disappears from my sight, there's a thud and a lot of squalling, and I look back.

Cersei leapt to her feet with the most "oh god what happened I'm so sorry!" look on her and came galloping up to us. I burst out laughing (because she's obviously not dead or seriously injured), lose my form, and fall forward onto Champ's neck with a serious case of the giggles. Champ stopped and pretended he had no idea what was going on while I tried to compose myself.

Anyway, Cersei limped a little right after the squashing. By the time we got back to the truck and got ready to leave, she'd shaken it off. I'm pretty sure she's going to be super sore tomorrow though! I am officially proclaiming Cersei as the third injury. No one else is allowed to have gaping wounds, colic, cats coughing up hairballs on your pillow, or gimpy dogs for a period of one month.

I cannot help but wonder if Champ stepped on Cersei as payback for Cersei running into Champ's head the other day. I wouldn't put it past that horse. "You forget where I am when you're running around? Well I'll just forget where you are too!"

Thursday, November 13, 2008

It's finally coming together, I think!

I think yall have realized that I am not, in fact, a great horse whisperer. But I'm not totally hopeless either, and I'm pretty good about eventually synthesizing everything I learn into a workable whole.

I felt very calm today, so I went to ride Dixie. In general I don't try to do anything with her unless I'm calm, because she's so jump-out-of-her-skin spooky. I'm trying to teach her that humans aren't always trying to scare her. She "performs" just fine freaked out of her mind, but that's not what I want from her. I want an unscared yet lively horse, and I think maybe I'm getting there with her.

Training any mammal is fundamentally the same. (I have never tried to get a reptile or invert to do anything for me, but I have an internet friend who says she's clicker-trained her turtles to do basic tricks. I don't doubt it... but I have no firsthand knowledge either!) You need to learn to "speak" the animal's body language, and you need to break down what you're trying to accomplish, and you need to reward by release of pressure when the animal tries. Right?

I understand horse body language pretty well. So I broke down what I wanted, rewarded the try, and kept at it over and over til I'd gotten on and off of Quiet Calm Dixie five times. GO US!

I got Dixie and her tack in the round pen and let her eat her handful of sweet feed in peace. I got her saddled and bridled, then thought about lunging her first. She didn't really "need" it though - she moved her butt away from the swinging rope but kept her face turned toward me, watching me, very alert. So we skipped the "hey you better pay attention to me cause I can make you move your feet!" part and moved right along.

I started with just expecting Dixie to stand quietly while I stood by the stirrup. She circled nervously for a very long time - several minutes straight - before she paused for just a second and I said "Good" and immediately moved away. The second time also took a while, but after that, she was cool to let me stand by the stirrup for longer and longer periods.

Then I moved on to picking up the reins and putting my other hand on her butt. We did a lot of reps of that, rewarding the quiet moments by taking the pressure off. I took a break and watched Cersei dig up another of those fiendish tree branches. Dixie stood very quietly watching me watch Cersei - she didn't wander off or start nibbling the grass in the round pen.

Next I tried standing at the stirrup, hands on, with a knee thumping the stirrup. She did not approve, at all, and it took quite a while for her to chill out about that. I gave her another little break, then tried sticking a toe in the stirrup. Once I got her relaxed about that (DO NOT poke the horse in the ribs with your boot, Funder!) I was able to get on an alert but calm horse.

I started off just barely sitting in the saddle, not even steering, just letting her walk off some of that residual nervousness. When she'd stop I'd rub her neck and wait for that big SIIIIGH-head drop, then I'd get off. Every time I got back on I'd give her a little more pressure - actually using my thighs to hold on, then a tiny bit of rein contact, then a bit of leg to steer. Before I got on the third time, I opened the round pen and we did our last three rides around the field.

I am very happy with her!

After I untacked her, I hung out and watched Cersei play for another 30 minutes or so. Dixie followed me around and let me touch her all over. That makes me feel like I'm doing the right thing, however slowly I'm going about it. Yeah, yeah, she was hoping for more food, but in the past she's begged yet refused to let me touch her flanks!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

My (belated) toast!

So Daun gave me a toast a couple days ago, and I've been thinking about who to pass it on to. Of course drinking with Daun and Stacey and Kacy would RULE, but we need some new faces at the table.

I toast...

dp at Food For Founder, who is my BCBF (Best Canadian Blogging Friend)!

Paige at Malfunction Junction, who is my go-to girl in case I ever get arrested in Illinois.

Dressage in Jeans, who hasn't been posting very long and doesn't post nearly enough. She obviously needs more readers to go nag her to write more.

It's cold and rainy here, so let's have Frangelica and coffee. My toast is the last line of a song I've been listening to for the last couple of days:

"If she had to live it all over again you know she wouldn’t change anything for the world."

Now, a bleg. I read a lot of dressage blogs, and a lot of draft horse blogs. I read blogs by people who board and people who have backyard horses. Breeders, rescuers, and just plain buyers. But I only have one other gaited horse blog in my reader. What's up with that? Recommend me any (good) gaited blogs you know of, please!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

ffffffff blogger ate my post :(

This is version two so it's not nearly as good as version one.

The shorter version is this:

I went to the field, at dusk, in the rain, because my dog needed to get out. Fed horses their sweet-feed treats. Toweled Champ off and saddled up and we headed out.

The saddle was making a weird noise. A popping-clicking kind of noise. I went through the normal horse stages of panic:
1) Oh god my horse is making that noise. He's going to die!
2) Wait he's not limping. Perhaps it's my equipment.
3) Where is that damn noise coming from? Oh god my saddle is going to fall apart!

We headed for home, and Cersei was really cute on the way. We pulled up at a clearing in the trail that had thick lush Bermuda for Champ, and watery deep old ruts for Cersei to play in. She worked on her Ibizan hound impersonation, boinging in and out of the deep brush. She did the crazy lab butt-tuck in and out of the water. She miscalculated a crazy circle and ran into Champ's head at one point, but I am lucky enough to have the world's best horse. He snapped his head up like he couldn't believe what had just happened, then pinned his ears and went right back to grazing. To finish her performance, she managed to roll in some sticky weed seeds and got covered. Truly amazing, because I have never seen anything (other than mud) that managed to stick to a wet Lab coat.

I did not just slouch along in the saddle. I managed to "find" my elbows! I planted my little fingers on the swells of my saddle and kept trotting til I could feel the bending, then trotted a bit more with my hands low but not touching and got the muscle movement in my head.

When we got back to the truck, I curried Cersei (a metal currycomb works great on dog-weeds, btw) then had a FIT at the horses. See, they were hanging around the opposite side of the truck hoping for more of that sweetcrack. Champ decided Dixie was too close to him, so he did his slow-motion exaggerated bite-your-neck thing. She'd had it with his shit so she squealed and spun around and kicked him in the head. I yelled something, put the currycomb in my tack box, turned around, and they were on either side of me, ears pinned, about to start again. I screamed at them to knock that shit off around me and shook my finger at them and generally made a big angry fuss til all three horses were ears-up watching ME.

Horses fight. I'm not going to try to roll back the tide. But horses do not fight where I might possibly get caught in the crossfire. That means I don't get too near strange horses, but it also means MY horses do NOT fight near ME. It's in the same category as biting or running over me. It does not happen.

They're good horses, so they set their disputes aside. I think perhaps sweet feed is too wonderful and I should switch back to oats. :o

I looked over my saddle, and nothing is obviously broken. It was raining and almost dark, so I'll bring it in the house and look at it more closely tomorrow. :(

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Sunday's lesson(s), cats

So I think I've figured out what is so endearing / annoying about cats. That "cat attitude." Cats refuse to believe that any other creature in the world is self-directed.

This theory explains why cats KEEP DOING that annoying thing, over and over again. How could there be consequences when nothing else exists but the cat? There's food on the table, so the cat jumps up to eat the food. Something strange happens and the cat's on the floor. What has happened? Who knows, there's food on the table so the cat jumps up. Repeat, over and over, til something really strange happens and the cat is in another room and the door is inexplicably shut.

My cats just got locked in the bedroom while I fixed dinner. That's why they're on my mind. :)

Ok, dressage.

Did I ever tell yall about last week? Shit, I think I forgot. Ok last week I rode Valentine (fat paint pony/horse) in the round pen. It wasn't a true longe lesson, but pretty similar, and it actually addressed what I need to address.

I'd ridden Val once before, and man alive she is tough for me. She knows how to respond to the correct cues, but she is lazy and marish and will not respond to partial cues. Clipper is a sweet old fellow who wants to work, so if he thinks he knows what I want he'll do it. Canter (argh), or bend in a circle, or trot - he tries. That's really nice, because it shows me how the movement is supposed to feel, but it's kinda bad, because I don't have to get it all right. Valentine, on the other hand, will do what you tell her if you ask exactly right.

The first time I rode her (and I didn't post about it? Not sure why not, but I can't find it in my archives) I couldn't even get her to trot. I could not bring my trot aides together enough for her to go "ok, yeah, you are serious about me trotting, I'll do it." I couldn't ride her straight, I couldn't ride her in a circle, I couldn't do anything!! It was very humbling. :o

So last week I rode her in the round pen, with Hardy in the center helping me out / teaching. I did a little leg work, but mainly I tried to get my hands back. WTF my hands! Where did they go? Where did that sense of light contact I thought I had disappear to? Last week we wobbled around in misshapen ovals, til I finally picked up more contact than I thought I needed, remembered the whole inside rein outside rein thing, and got some bend.

This week we were back in the round pen. For my homework, I'd ridden Champ twice and gotten some good practice with my legs at the trot. By "homework" I don't mean actual "you go do this" homework, but more like "I think it would help me improve if I worked on this on my own time." And by "practice" I mean.. teaching muscle memory. I am actually amazingly clumsy and uncoordinated and in general not naturally gifted at physical things. If I can figure out in my head what I'm supposed to do, and then I go practice doing it and think about what I'm doing, I can learn.

Anyway, I was feeling good about my leg position / posting. And my legs were GREAT today! However, I had to fight through that "inside hand does what? how hard? and outside hand does something else? and LEGS TOO YOU'RE KILLING ME" thing again.

It's always something new just when I think I'm getting the hang of this. This Sunday: Elbows. They're not just a pasta shape. They have to move. Hardy had me put my little fingers on the saddle to try to get the feel of moving my elbows, but it was ... almost impossible. With my hands that low and that close to my body, I "felt" constricted in my shoulders and off balance more than I felt my elbows move. I promised to work on elbows this week.

It was one of the weirdest un-feelings in this dressage adventure so far. You know how when your guy friends are like "man it's so hot my balls are sweaty!" and you're just "... yeah that must suck!" I mean, I do have elbows and I know how to move them, but I had never before thought about them while I was riding.

Now that it's Tuesday, I'll go ahead and publish this and finish talking about elbows next post!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

I really *should* know better...

... than to call any horse I plan to ride ever again "bombproof."

Yep, it's Crazyday. There's a day, every fall, where the horses all go NUTS. Either it cools off and a cold storm front moves in, or it just stays calm and gets so cold that all the horses in the area come back to life. Today was that day.

It never hit 60 today and I rode near dusk so I wore my Carhartt coveralls. I hope you northerners all spewed beverages on your keyboard laughing at that, but it's true. :arms crossed glaring:

Anyway, it was a totally fun ride. Champ was downright crazy, snorting a lot and ears going everywhere and very forward. He was clearly trying to warn me about the lions and wolves lurking everywhere. We did not see lions and wolves, but we were trotting quietly along through the pine forest and spooked a doe from about 20 feet away. She jumped and ran away, and Champ levitated sideways. Levitating sideways is a major spook for him!

It was a nice fast fun ride. At the end, in our cooldown loop, I worked on getting any impulsion at all at the walk. I met with mixed success.

It's gonna be a good riding season. Yay for cold clear weather!

Friday, November 7, 2008


So, for complicated yet boring reasons, most of my stuff has been living in my best friend's ministorage unit for almost a year. I go by every couple of months and visit it. Now that I'm somewhat settled into an apartment I like, I'm gonna start getting it out. But after this long, I don't really miss most of it.

Anyway, the damncats* broke my one remaining table lamp the other night. Graham is sure he saw our torchiere lamps in the ministorage when he was here, so I went looking. And I realized that the ministorage is ... kind of bizarre, much like my entire life, so I took pictures to share.

*I am pretty sure the damndog was involved too. They are only adorable little furry friends til they break something, then they're damnpets.

I think Paige will like these pictures. I also think if I met Paige in person the world would end or something. Like a collision of galaxies of strangeness.

These are more crappy phone pictures, so don't bother clicking to make them bigger. Ok, the thing with butterflies is my best friend Stephen's entertainment center. (I don't think he put the butterflies on there; I'm sure it's a handmedown from family.) His mountain bikes are in the bottom left, and in front of them is some kitchen cabinets. Behind the cabinets you can see a piece of art; it's a pretty watercolor my mom painted like 20 years ago. In front of the watercolor is part of an under-sink cabinet Stephen built and installed for a lady, who then sold that condo to her sister, who then had us come back in and rip out the cabinet. You keeping up with all of this so far?
The curvy black corrugated thing is the leafblower. It's sitting on one of my bookcases, which has another bookcase full of boxes balanced on top. Behind the painting and leafblower is one of my pieces of giant antique furniture, the Beige Thing.

Here is another piece of my furniture. This picture also features a cat carrier (not mine, actually), part of a truck bumper, an old fashioned fire extinguisher, and a medicine cabinet.


I could bet yall anything in the world - I could bet you a HORSE - and you'd never guess what this piece of furniture is. It's a loom. It's broken. There's a very long story behind why Stephen has a broken loom in his storage unit. On top of the loom, making a surprise appearance, is two trash bags full of Funder's clothes! Yeehah! I had completely forgotten I even had those clothes. I dragged them home with me.
The loom is upside down on top of an antique dining room table. The empty box collection lives on top of the loom.


Featured in this photo:
A very comfortable chair with footstool. A sink. A trolling motor. The mountain bikes. A antique barber's chair. An exterior door with doorframe.


OOOOH look what I found! It's my scuba equipment - snorkel, wetsuit, flippers, etc. I don't have tanks and a reg yet. There's a box of Stephen's stuff on top, the bag is setting in a box of my stuff, and the entire shebang is balanced on the barber's chair. It's like modern art. Insane modern art.

Always training

I've been kind of annoyed with Champ lately because he is the laziest most bombproof horse I've ever met. I mean, that's good and all because he is so rarely scared or upset by anything. But it's bad because he's sooooo reluctant to go forward. At any speed. With any impulsion.

But ehhh, that's entirely my fault. He is not out of shape or lame (although he acts like both if he thinks it'll help), therefore it's a training issue. And even with the best horse (or dog, or husband, or kid) you're always training reactions by your own actions. I thought back on it and yep, I've definitely been letting him get away with ignoring me or just responding like molasses in winter.

So today, I rode. At my speed, dammit. We walked sedately through the ... fffff, I need to come up with names for the parts of the land. We walked through the first field, which has a nicely groomed double-loop system. There's a gate to the south separating this first field from the field-where-the-horses-live, then a second gate at the north leading off into the woods trails. As soon as we stepped through the half-open north gate, I said "trot" and squeezed. Champ completely ignored me, so I whapped him sharply on the neck with my rein ends. His ears shot back in total surprise and he trotted off with alacrity.

I kept him at a trot til we got to a muddy downward slope, where I let him pick his own speed down the hill. We came out onto another nice grassy trail near the duck lake, and I squeezed and said "trot" again. This time he flicked his ears back, so I waited one whole second then whapped him again. SHOCKING! He trotted right off and stayed in gait til we hit a muddy hill and I let him slow down.

The third time I squeezed and said trot, he damn well trotted right off. I was really pleased. We worked a little on sharpening up his turns - I don't care if he rubbernecks down the path that will lead us home as long as his body goes down the path I choose when I lay a leg on and neckrein him.

There wasn't much to see today besides some beautiful leaves. Before yall all quit your jobs and move down here, I must confess this is one of the most beautiful picture-perfect falls we've ever had. Seriously, it's usually 80s/60s til some time in late November, when that stupid arctic jet stream comes whizzing down like a freight train and all of a sudden it's WINTER. (And by "winter" I mean lows in the 30s, possibly dipping below freezing!) Last year wasn't this nice because the drought was so horrible everything was dead by August.

I took some cell phone pics but they didn't come out very well. Cam phones and horses don't really mix.

When we headed back out of the woods, I made Champ trot the entire loop in the first field. From the north gate along the fenceline to the south gate then gasp without stopping back up to the north gate. He sloooowed down a lot as we turned north again but did, in fact, trot away from his field without pitching a fit. Then we walked the loop one more time to cool off and headed back to the truck.

He had a sweaty girth. Yep. Poor horse, all that winter fur, all that horrible trotting, and all he had to show for it was a sweaty girth. My heart is bleeding, can't you tell?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Nothing gold can stay

I know, I spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about my grumpy old mare. But here I am again, worrying.

Cersei really needed to get out of the house, so after I voted I took her out to the field. Oddly I didn't want to ride. Too ... warm? It was like 73 and sunny and lovely, but I just wasn't feeling it. So I brought a book, and some sweet feed, and let Cersei amuse herself while I read and watched my horses.

(Yeah, sweet feed. I am well aware that it's the equivalent of Snickers and Coke for horses, but what the hell. I am feeding #50 about every three months right now, so it's not like it's their diet. And none of them are metabolically challenged.)

Anyway, because I wasn't rushing around brushing and saddling and talking to people, I was really watching them. Champ is absolutely fine. But Silky isn't moving well. She's covered in thick dappled shiny fur, she's at a good weight, and she seems alert and happy. But she moves VERY slowly. I stayed out for about an hour, watching her and gently moving her around, and I think her back legs just hurt.

It's not her hooves. They look ok, and she lands flat when she walks. It's not soft tissue, because she doesn't mind me touching her legs and they're not inflamed. But she pops like bubblewrap when she moves her back legs at all.

I think - I'm not good with lameness, especially not on uneven ground at liberty - but I think she moves her rear legs a little more OUT than a normal horse. Kinda bowlegged in the back. And I am sure that she's careful and deliberate when she shifts her weight around. She'll move a rear leg and set the hoof down, wait a second, then weight the hoof and move another leg. None of the other horses out there, old or young, have that pause before they weight a hoof.

I could've haltered her and taken her to the round pen and done some walk work in either direction. But I don't think I'd have seen the same thing - she gets noticeably fearful very easily if she's handled or confined, and fear -> endorphins -> masking pain.

I'm wondering what to do... or more precisely, when it's time. I'm all for aggressive intervention when there's a good chance of success or even better long term quality of life, but I don't think that's really available here. She's not all that old, I don't think, but CHF isn't really treatable, and bute might fix the leg problems but it's not a long term solution either, and what it really boils down to is that she does not look unhappy. She looks old and tired and achy, but not tense and in horrible pain. Food makes her happy, and sunshine and Champ, and scritches from me.

I guess when she doesn't look fat and shiny and happy, I will call the vet and see what my options are. I hope I have years more of grumbling about my pasture potato, I really do. Stupid old bat.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Fish fear me! Ok well they fear my friend, but whatever.

(With apologies to Se7en)
What's in the box? WHAT'S IN THE BOX!!!
What's in the box?

That's my ominous looking fish cooler. Here's what's inside!
Oh, it's a mess o fish!

11 trout and 2 hybrids! o.O I froze them in serving-size packages. My husband, who is fairly disapproving of this "eat fish you caught yourself" idea, insists I freeze them for a while to kill any parasites. Freezer-ready:
13 fish

One of them was truly a large fish. Imagine it with its head still on!
Big trout

Now, on to the sad truth: I only caught two of them. The second-biggest bass, and a smallish bass. My kid-friend Taylor landed two, I think, and our master baiter Mark caught all the rest. Taylor's mom, Kelly (Poppy's new human) tried her hardest and didn't catch a damn thing. Kelly and Taylor headed home while Mark helped me dispatch the fish... then Mark gave me the whole box of cleaned scaled gutted fish. I suppose when you can just walk out and catch 10 fish in an afternoon you can be so generous!

Our secret bass weapon: Minnows. We had crickets, too, but the bream just weren't biting. I spent about an hour, off and on, fishing the shallows with crickets for bream, but nada. Mark stuck to minnows and the dead-tree-fish-paradise in the middle of the lake and cleaned up.

Yesterday I took some tree and horse pictures. Look, I found COLOR! This is a little sweet gum in front of a little sycamore, and it's about as colorful as we get around here.

Sycamore and sweet gum

And here's mah dawg, cause I never get tired of taking pictures of her.


Mr. Hateful

Fat Old Thing
Fatty - wait, I mean Silky!

None of them get any grain to speak of. Whoever gets ridden - usually Champ, sometimes Dixie - gets about a scoop of oats or alfalfa after the ride, but other than that, they just eat hay. I think I mentioned Silky was kinda congested earlier this week? She seems fine now, YAY.

I had a lesson, too, but I am going to cook dinner and I'll post about that later on.