Thursday, April 30, 2009

It worked!

The lift pad came yesterday, and today I rode in it for the first time. It worked absolutely perfectly. I actually felt balanced again, instead of weird and off-balance and about to fall. She gave me a bit of rack, which was nice, and a bit of trot, which I posted without that horrible lurching feeling. I kept my hands really soft and just used them to reinforce what I was asking with my legs, and she didn't fight me about the bit at all.

All the barn doors are open all the time now that the weather is nice. Dixie wants to go hang out in the corner where she can see the biggest door. I don't want to close them - it's too pleasant, and it's good for us to scale up the distractions. At one point I asked for some more speed, so she decided to canter in a circle and head for the corner. It was easy to just sit it, wait til she tried to slow up by the corner, and swing her around and keep her moving. This is much more like it.

I got a tiny baby attempt at a shoulder-in to each side, and I was so pleased we quit right there. It seems like everything more advanced than where we are right now - for any discipline - has to introduce the difference between front legs and back legs. Somehow she is supposed to learn that my legs are asking her to move her back legs, and my hands are asking her to move her head/shoulders/front legs. No book has yet explained HOW she's supposed to figure that out, or how I'm supposed to show her, but I think shoulder-in is a good starting point. My legs tell her back legs to go straight, my hands tell her front quarters to bend (well, move to a different parallel track), and the wall is there to help her succeed.

The other way I could think to teach "move your back legs" versus "move your front legs" is with a whip, first on the ground and then in the saddle. I've tried several times to get her to move her hindquarters with a whip (or a stick, or my hand) and it hasn't worked. Either she gets upset and explodes away from the evil whip, or she thinks I want her to NOT get upset and she resolutely ignores the whip tapping on her. And, er, I'm not brave enough to try a whip under saddle again for a while.

I did reach back and touch her hips with my hand a couple times today. She got very nervous and sped up but seemed to realize I wasn't trying to make her bolt or kill her. One day we'll go back to the Evil Dressage Whip and hopefully it won't seem so evil.

Oh, and I trimmed a bit off her feet too. Used the smooth side of the rasp, cause it doesn't "chatter" so badly. I'm sure the vibrations of a rasp feel strange. Anyway, I'm just going to trim a tiny bit off her feet every day for a week, then take pics and see how it's coming.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Go read this >:(

I link to this site on my sidebar, but this is clear enough that all of yall who don't have gaited horses should go read this post about soring. Go to the Sound Horse site and read those interviews. This is why I don't want to be like Dressage in Jeans, and I don't want to reform the show Walkers from inside. They can all go burn in hell. I won't play the game even to try to change it.

Monday, April 27, 2009


She's GROWING. Again. (Surely she's growing, and not just stuck in an awkward weird conformation?)

Downhill Dixie, annotated

Click on the picture for the bigger version, if you can't see the lines. She's not standing square, but even if she was standing square she still wouldn't be balanced. And that's as square as it gets with Miss Impatience.

I've actually suspected it for about a week, and I ordered a front lift pad, which should be here soon. When I saw her standing silhouetted like that today, I realized that she IS downhill. Of course, that made me much more conscious of how the saddle is flinging me forward, which was both worse and easier to ride. I knew what was happening, so I wasn't just puzzled about my lack of balance.

I got the fenders yanked around to where the buckles are down by the stirrups, too. Vetwrapped them in place, and it looks like it should work out.

We had an interesting ride. Dixie really wanted to stand in the corner of the arena where she could look out the open doors at the front of the property. I really wanted her to please go where I said. I think I won this round!

She kept trying to bolt for the viewing corner whenever we'd circle to where she could see it. I just calmly kept her head pointed where I wanted it to go and pushed her forward, in my direction. She was happy with my hands, not fighting the bit at all, just trying to blow through me and go stare at the front pasture horses. I kept my hands very nice and kept insisting we do what I wanted. After she *finally* started listening, it was a really nice ride. Aside from sliding inexorably toward her withers.

She racked, too! Just up and offered a pretty little rack. Yay.

And I put baby sunscreen on her pretty little pink nose. Lordy mercy she hated that, but she didn't come unglued about it. And it really is for her own good - last summer, in Como, her poor face got so sunburned. The BO will keep sunscreen on her nose, which is really cool. I like boarding at a civilized barn!

Saturday, April 25, 2009


I haven't ridden in several days, because I'm waiting for the rub marks on Dixie's ribs to go away and I've been puzzling over them.

Champ used to get rubs all the time, right where the blevins buckles were. He had really round ribs, though, and I figured it was just a combination of my crappy riding + his round ribs. I wrapped the buckles with vetwrap and the problem mostly went away.

Now Dixie is getting them. She's not shaped anything like Champ, and my seat has improved (trust me! it has!) so what's going on? I'm super logical and there's a bunch of different elements at play here, so bear with me.

  • I'm riding her a lot more than ever before. I rode her probably 12 days out of the last 15, and before Champ died I was riding her every other day. Not strenuous work - we don't usually break a sweat - but definitely lot more.
  • I'm riding dressage-y, with lots of leg cues.
  • I'm riding dressage-y, trying to keep my toes pointed forward instead of off to the sides like most western riders.
  • The saddle has Cordura fenders and nylon leathers, and maybe they "grab" the hair differently than leather fenders and leather stirrup leathers.
  • I've tied the fenders so they hang about an inch further back, so I'm not constantly fighting the chair seat.
  • I just can't ride. Always a possibility, but I don't think my legs move THAT much at a walk. Not so much that it should sore her!
I've spent two days just thinking about the differences in western versus dressage saddles. I thought about taking off the existing fenders/stirrups and putting English leathers and irons on - I could do it reversably, without ruining my saddle. But I don't think that's the answer.

A dressage saddle has long flaps between the rider's leg and the horse's side. The flaps are smooth leather (or synthetic), and they keep the leathers/leg from rubbing the sides. If I just put leathers on, I wouldn't have that flap in place and I think I'd just rub different wear patterns and eventually sores on her.

I am still tempted to blame the synthetic materials, but the thing that bugs me about that hypothesis is that it's not just the fenders themselves rubbing. It's the BUCKLE. On any western saddle, the buckle's in roughly the same place.

What's changed lately? Most importantly is frequency of riding. She may have never gotten rub marks before because I was riding her 1-3 times a week. My riding has changed too; I've been trying to improve my seat.

Look at these two pictures. This first one is a still from a lesson on 2-14-09 - you can actually see the silver buckle peeping out just below my knee.

Now look at this one, from almost a month ago - right about the time I started riding her every other day.
3-29-09 (a)

My toes are pointed out in the first one. The buckle is also not in contact with her - well, maybe a little, on the inside edge.

On the second picture, my toe is pointed a tiny bit more forward. You can barely see the buckle, because my whole leg is (correctly!) pointed forward, which moves the fender forward and inward, and brings the buckle against her skin.

So am I right? If I'm right, what should I do for an immediate fix? I'm thinking of pulling the fender around so the buckle is lower, down near my ankle. Or I could ride with my toes out. Or I could be totally wrong about all this guessing!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Crucially important photo update

Here she is, from earlier this week. Note the funky yellow-brown tinge to her mane.

Today I washed her mane and tail with Palmolive. (Then conditioner, of course, cause it's pretty harsh - but we needed harsh measures.)

Her tail came out much better too!

I didn't wash her face yet. She is not remotely grateful for small mercies.

She's such a pretty princess!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

By Jove we might have it!

Today we made not one but two perfect circles. Well, not Euclidean-perfect, but definitely Platonically perfect. We also racked once and trotted twice, which somewhat reassures me that I'm not destroying her gait.

I really think Dixie's walk has changed a little, for the better. She used to have the LONGEST stride you could imagine, but it took your seatbones on a transcontinental journey with every stride. Lately, when we get in the groove, she still covers as much ground but it doesn't feel like I'm swinging back and forth as much - like my seatbones are going up a bit more, and backwards/forwards a bit less. Is that the beginnings of collection?

I tried setting up four cones down the centerline today, but that was too hard for us. I need a lot of time to adjust my aids, and she needs a lot of time to decide to follow my aids, and we couldn't comfortably make turns that tight. So I picked up half the cones and just left one at either end - we did figure eights and turns around each cone.

Towards the end, I asked her to speed up one more time for me, and she broke into a lovely trot. We halted at the far wall, turned around, and had started walking back when an army of demons began pounding on the roof with their knives. Or possibly it started raining on the tin roof, but from Dixie's reaction you'd think it was the former. She started to bolt but decided to just trot very fast back to the arena gate. I was proud of both of us - her, for trotting and stopping, and me, for not snatching the reins or getting unbalanced. I got off and led her outside, where she spooked at the rain and danced around like a fool for a couple minutes. Eventually she realized that the scary noise wasn't going to hurt her, so we went back inside, I got back on for one more lap at a walk, and we were done.

We'd both done our best, and we'd made real concrete progress on our own. Yay us!

My quads feel like I have been stabbed. No fuckin cardio today, no way. Lifting weights every other day is obviously a big enough challenge for me, and I don't want to risk being SO sore I can't ride. Maybe next week when I start to get in the swing of this I'll add cardio.

DiJ, Andrea, make a fitness blog and name it "Catchy Title Goes Here" for all I care! ;)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Weights, round two!

I thought about doing cardio yesterday, but I was SO sore from Saturday's weights and I didn't want to make it any harder to do squats today than it needs to be. My new plan is to do cardio the day after my squat days, and obviously not so much that I can't swing a leg up on my horse.

Today's exercises were squats, bench presses, and pull ups. I know that I'm entirely too wussy to attempt a pull-up, so I'm substituting lat pull downs for them til I can pull down about 150.

I started out with some yoga stretches (I should take a couple classes again and re-learn the moves!) and 5 minutes of cardio. Then, on to the weights!

Here's the animated gif of a squat. I also reviewed the helpful little videos at stumptuous. My sets today were 0/15/20, with the 0 weight just holding a broomstick. (Yes, my gym has broomsticks; I was kind of surprised.) You can hurt yourself pretty badly squatting poorly, but it's a great exercise if you do it right! After TWENTY WHOLE POUNDS, my legs were all quivery.

I'm not super at bench presses, either, so I'm sticking with dumb bells for the time being. A full size weight bar weighs 40 or 50 lbs, and you add 10 lbs of weight at a time, so I need to be doing 50/60/70 pretty comfortably before I try the bar. Cause, you know, how embarrassing to drop the bar on my chest and die. The only thing about barbells is that my gym doesn't have 25 lb weights, so I did 40/60/40. Had to drop back to 40 for the last set because I only managed 7 reps at 60 lbs. Whew.

I really pleasantly surprised myself with the lat pull machine. I figured I'd suck, so I tried one rep at 30. Could've done it one-handed. One rep at 40 - still way too easy. Ended up doing my full group at 50/60/70 - and then I squeezed out another 5 reps at 80! Next time I'll definitely do 60/70/80 and it'll be a challenge.

Back on track

Dixie and I are doing pretty good again!

Yesterday, I felt about 80% confident and balanced. And I spent most of the hour working on the reins - she can't snatch them out of my hands every time I pick them up, but she's also snatching because I am too hard and/or yanking. So I worked on holding onto those baby birds, just very gently keeping very light contact and squeezing to cue. She blew me off a couple times, and that's when I pulled. If I have to pay attention to what she's communicating, she has to pay attention right back! By the end of the ride, she had quit yanking entirely and was actually letting me have very light contact.

For our fast work, she... trotted. I was rather confused, and so was she - she was obviously a little worried that I was going to smack her in the head.

Today was another good day, much like yesterday! We rode around for about 20 minutes, coming to an agreement about how much contact would be acceptable. Then I had a Flash of Genius (read: a "D'oh" moment) and set up four cones in a rough 15 meter circle. Well, it was 14 long paces across, so I'm assuming it was between 15-20 meters. See, I'm horrible at circles and so is she, and I figured a visual reference would help both of us. It did. We had some nice bending on a couple of quarter-circles in each direction, and then we got one half-circle of good work to the left. Woo!

I was braver again today, and asked her to speed up three separate times. She gave me a rack the first time, then a trot twice. I am definitely confused.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Spaghetti arms

Short and sweet: I went to the gym. I am a wuss, but I am a wuss with spirit and strength of will.

I'm doing a lifting plan called a Stripped 5x5, except I'm doing the 3x8 variant because for some reason that's more popular with women who are starting out. It's a good solid base for several months at least, then you'll gradually plateau and/or get bored and switch to something else.

If you don't know much about weight lifting, 5x5 means 5 sets of 5 repetitions of each exercise. So a 3x8 is 3 sets of 8 reps - more reps, but fewer total sets. It's 24 total lifts, instead of 25; not a big difference.

You alternate between two groups of three exercises - group A one day, then off a day, then group B, then off, then repeat. For the first set of a given exercise, you start off fairly low, then the second set is harder, then the third set is as hard as you can complete. If you fail on the last set, back down to a lower weight.

I actually started out with a couple yoga stretches, then 5 minutes of low-intensity cardio, then some more stretching.

First, I did a dumb bell bent over row, 25/35/40. That wasn't too bad. In between each set, I'd stretch and let my arms recover a bit. I felt almost badass hauling up the 40 lb dumbbell effortlessly. Rawr!

Next, I moved on to barbell military presses, 30/40/40. I picked up the 50 lb barbell for the last set, thought "oh no way," put it back down, and did another set of 40.

Side note: I'd written down what all I was planning to do - all THREE THINGS - before I left the house. Then I left it in the house. I'd deprived my brain of oxygen or glycogen or something and I couldn't remember what else I was supposed to do, so I just picked something I thought I could perform correctly. Dumbbell bench press, 20/25/failed at 30/25. It's just shocking how much heavier a 30 lb dumbbell got in like 20 minutes. Shocking.

When I got back home, I discovered I'd been meaning to do dumbbell shoulder presses, which are at least vaguely similar. Oh well.

Tomorrow I'm going to ride Dixie first, so I don't completely run out of the will to move. Then I'll do some cardio, probably spinning. Monday is the Group B day - stay tuned for more featherweight lifting results and possibly forgotten exercises! Woop!

Friday, April 17, 2009


I guess I should've put this stuff in my post earlier, but I am just a tiny bit scatterbrained. To put it mildly. :)

I have joined a gym. Yes, it only took three weeks of "well crap I'll do it tomorrow" but I finally signed up for the free gym membership I get with this apartment lease. I'm planning on doing weight training 3x a week, and some kind of cardio 2-3x a week. One day totally off per week, no running (jacks up my knees/shins every time I try it), lots of free weights. I have a more detailed plan than this, but I won't bore yall with it unless someone is interested.

Regardless, I will probably post weight training stuff here, to keep track of my progress. Prepare yourselves. And prepare yourself for this post to disappear if it's been two weeks and I haven't been to the gym once ;)

And... I might take lessons with the barn owner. Like everything else horse-expense-related, I'm not going to commit to it until I get Champ's bill settled. But I'd very much like to start weekly or bi-weekly actual lessons again.

Here's the thing. I kind of feel like Dixie is my Precious Snowflake and No One Understands Her But Me. I obsessively criticize myself for my handling of her, and I don't know if I can deal with someone else calling the shots with her, even for an hour a week. Perhaps I should take lessons on a barn horse? But on the other hand, Dixie and I obviously have a ton of issues to work through, and maybe a knowledgeable eye on the ground would really benefit us. The "but what if"s are echoing through my head!

I'll probably take lessons. I'll probably gracefully bow out if it doesn't seem to work. I do not want to fill up the internet with my preconceived notions of the BO's training style, so let's just keep it at this: I think I would respond well to her. I do not know if my Precious Snowflake will respond well to her. We'll see!


Cue air guitar and bad Aerosmith imitation. I had a good ride yesterday, and another good ride today. YAY!

Yesterday the rain finally stopped, so everybody got turned out for the first time in like five days. I knew it was muddy, and I knew Dixie would get to go out, but I was not quite mentally prepared for the quantity of mud on my horse. At least it had dried... but she was about 70% covered in an inch of mud.

Here's another fugly-fodder confession from your favorite redneck: I used the metal currycomb to break up the mud. I've read and heard so many people decrying the metal curry as a tool of torture, but it's really not! It has two functions: it breaks up mud clumps on a horse, and it cleans the loose hair off of your brushes. I'm sure it is torturous to groom your horse with a metal curry, but just running it over her to break up dried mud clumps is acceptable, IMO.

After I turned clods into dust, I brushed as much dust off as I could. Sadly, my once-white horse is now ecru. Another bath is in order, but the wash stall plumbing is under repair. I am rapidly turning into a clean-horse freak. :(

Anyway. We pottered around the arena for a while, very calmly for both of us, and I called it a day.

Today was gorgeous, high of 72 (22) and sunny. I brushed and brushed, but she's still ecru. And the wash rack is still broken. :( Anyway, I mounted up in the arena and we rode around again.

Dixie's still being awful about the bit. I need to decide if I'm going to buy a different bit for her, buy a hackamore, buy a bosal, ride her in a halter, etc. (I looked at the "anybody can borrow" bridles hanging in the arena, but I'm not sure about them. A couple curbs, and a couple of slow-twist snaffles. She wouldn't lean as badly on a twisted snaffle, but I don't think she'd accept the contact too well either.) But! We have come to an understanding about leg aids. She knows what I mean when I steer her with my legs. Sometimes she wants to ignore me, and that's when I pick up the contact with the reins.

Then I got off and we headed outside, to the driveway / front of barn area. I carefully walked her around most of the area, showing her the Scary Monsters. Mainly she wanted to eat the lovely lush grass, but she did spook a bit about the windchimes and a couple sacks of rock salt.

I don't actually play the "touch the goblin" c/t game, but I have been working for over a year on getting her to investigate scary things. She used to see a Monster and try to bolt. Then we progressed to seeing a Monster, snorting, leaping away, and refusing to come closer. Now when she sees Monstrous Windchimes, for example, she'll snort and tense up and veerrrrry slowly stick the tip of her nose out to get a sniff of it. Good progress, I think.

I headed over to my truck and got her to line up with the bumper so I could mount. I've just started adding a verbal cue, "line up." For most of my clicker stuff, I try not to speak at all til she's got the behavior down. Once she'll offer the behavior, I add a verbal cue. She did quite well lining up to the bumper, and up I went.

We just walked around and enjoyed the sunshine. I let her graze most of the time. I just made sure I was the one who decided when we moved, and where we moved - I can't let her completely tote me around or she'll take full advantage. But I wanted today to be a very pleasant memory - it's her first trip "outside" under saddle in Ohio.

Standing in an open paddock, letting her graze, soaking in the sun, felt really nice. It reminded me a lot of Champ, in a good way. Maybe all the doors didn't close when he died - I'd felt like there was so much that ~only we~ could do together. Maybe Dixie and I can do some of those things too.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A bit more on gaits

I know some of you trotting-horse people are curious about gaited horses. Go read this - especially look at that chart.

The chart might not make sense to you at first, unless you know roughly what those gaits are. A trot is diagonal, right? A pace is lateral - so it's shown opposite a trot. A normal walk is at the very center; it's the most "square" of the gaits - neither pacey nor trotty. Therefore, a running walk (my goal with Dixie!) is also square - smack dab between trot and pace.

A fox trot is, apparently, a huge dressage fault. It's also very comfortable, and proof that DQ's don't actually know everything. ;) In a fox trot, the horse picks up a diagonal pair of feet at the same time, but sets them down separately, hind foot first. So LH and RF pick up, but LH sets down slightly before RF. It's smoother than a hard trot, and not a bad trail gait.

A rack is more similar to a pace than a trot - there's two points in each cycle of a rack where both lateral feet are on the ground at the same time. But there's also two points in each cycle where each diagonal pair is on the ground. This is a pretty good explanation of a rack.

Here's the other gait continuum - you all know that a trot can be collected til the horse is "round." A trot can be all strung out and hollow, but it can also be rounded. A pace (apparently) is always hollow. No matter what. If the horse collects, its footfalls change toward a rack. Collect it more, and the rack becomes a RW, which is done with a neutral spine. Keep collecting, and the RW breaks down into a foxtrot, then a trot.

Pretty neat, huh?

Anyway. This is part of why I'm kind of confused - and kind of impressed! - that Dixie managed to both hard pace and hard trot under saddle in the same week. She could've been doing a hollow trot, that day the BO rode her, but it's still pretty neat that she can trot. She's pretty flexible, both conformationally and mentally.

I'm not sure I agree with the point of the article I linked, though. A Missouri Foxtrotter is, by definition, a gaited horse. When it changes from a walk to a foxtrot, there has to be a clear transition from walk to foxtrot. There's not really an in-between; at some point the horse must break from a 1-2-3-4 walk to a 1-2--3-4 foxtrot. The only breeds that wouldn't noticeably shift gears are those that do a walk, flat walk, and running walk. They just speed up. And I really think smooth "shifting" between types of gaits (like walk to rack, or walk to foxtrot) is mainly a sign of training and muscular development.

I just wanted to show yall that chart. Hope it helps, somewhat!

Finally... presenting Crazy Dixie!


Crazy mare! from Funder on Vimeo.

Isn't she wonderful :D

Also, um, if anybody reading this can't get her damn horse to stand still for mounting, seriously, clicker train. Traditional pressure-release is absolutely wonderful for some stuff, but I find it really fails me when I'm trying to get, ummm, a negative behavior. Like standing still is the lack of movement. Or holding a hoof up is the lack of yanking, pawing, leaning, etc. For me personally, getting the horse to ~not~ do what it wants and stand still for something is best accomplished by c/t.

Today was my third attempt at mounting via clicker. Dixie tried to walk over to the block before I'd even gotten her bridle on - I had to inform her that I am no Stacey Westfall and she's not actually ready to be ridden bridleless. As soon as the bridle was on, she headed straight over to the block. Me looming over her near side still makes her nervous, so I just got on and off of her off side a couple times then I rode.

I still feel really awkward in the saddle. Something isn't quite right yet - I'm tense somewhere, or I'm leaning, or something. I've been thinking about it all afternoon and I still can't figure out what I'm doing wrong. I felt more relaxed, though, and that's a good thing.

I've been reading and thinking a lot about the bit, the bridle, the reins, etc. I got Horse Gaits, Balance and Movement from the library, and it's given me some stuff to think about. It's quite good and apparently it's a classic - I just got it cause it was the only "adult" horse book at my branch, but I really lucked out.

Anyway, she's been PULLING as hard as she can. I tried (last week, some time) just locking my hands and not letting her pull the reins out. That didn't work out - it made her irritable, it made my hands hurt, and it only seemed to make the problem worse. I've been reconsidering - she "should" want contact, right? But she gets mad and yanks the reins. Perhaps my hands are too hard and I'm trying too much too fast.

Today I didn't even try for on-the-bit contact. I let the reins have just a bit of slack, just to where I could squeeze my fingers and she'd feel that hand moving. Whenever she'd try to pull, I'd let her, then as she picked her head back up I'd just quietly pick the reins back up to that same amount of almost-contact. It went much much better; she only pulled a couple of times, and only when I was squeezing too hard.

The next thing I'm wondering - is the horse supposed to curl around your inside leg or move away from it? When I squeeze the reins just enough to get her to turn her head a bit, then give her a little inside leg, she turns inside. Really sharply! I can do, say, 5 meter circles but nothing larger, not without losing the bend.

Outside leg behind the girth works fine, by the way. She calmly moves her hindquarters away from behind-the-girth pressure.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

On Fear

Ok, I will admit it. I got The Fear when Dixie bolted around with me Wednesday. Kids and young adults, who bounce better than us old farts, probably don't "get" this, but those of you who are 30+ know what I'm talking about. That visceral terror that makes your muscles lock up. The kind of stupid adrenaline-fear that brings tears to your eyes, even if you're not actually scared enough to cry.

I am so mad about it, too. I remember like 4 or 5 months ago when I had last beaten The Fear - I was really hoping it was gone for good, that I'd just be normally cautious about my velocity and trajectory re: the ground. Maybe you never beat it. Maybe it's always lurking and you've just got to perpetually fight it. That's ok, too, I suppose.

My old coping mechanism was to just ride Champ. Scared of Silky? Poppy? Dixie? Any random horse? Ride Champ. Scared of school, life, relationships? Ride Champ. I felt as safe on him as I ever feel, and just rolling down the trail on him got my body comfortable with the motions of a horse again. He was awesome in a way that no other horse I've met is awesome. I hope he wasn't a once-in-a-lifetime horse, but maybe he was. Sigh.

So there's no Champ, just Dixie, who really is a sweet girl most of the time. I have to deal with The Fear all on my own. At least I know I can do it, which is a strength many people don't have - I know so many people who "rode a horse one time but I fell off and I'm never getting back on one." I am actually a passable rider now. I intellectually know the right things to do, and my body even does them most of the time.

Anyway. Friday I stayed home. I don't ride seven days a week; Friday was my day off. Saturday I went out knowing I needed to get back on Dixie. I even took videos for yall!

First I wanted to free lunge her again so she'd do the lovely floaty trot thing. Of course she didn't cooperate, but this is still cute. Just trust me that earlier this week she was even more extended and more snorty and cantered a lot too. (Also no laughing at my axe-cent!)

Free trotting in the arena from Funder on Vimeo.

So I tacked her up, filled up my pockets with treats, and started free-shaping nice mounting behavior. I cunningly decided to use her natural horsey one-sidedness to my advantage. She gets nervous about people on her near side mounting, so I started over on her off side. I stood by her off side stirrup, patiently following her around as she backed up and sidestepped, til she stopped, then c/t. After she figured out that's what I wanted, I went and stood on a mounting block. She very quickly figured out that I was only going to give treats when she stood lined up to the block. I cannot believe how easy it was, I really can't.

I got on and froze. So I treated her, got off, calmed down, and did it again. And again, and again, til I didn't feel so spooked about it. She was really absolutely stellar.

Then I untacked her and let her roam around the arena again. I was sitting on the mounting block, holding the camera, when she decided to flop down and roll about 5' away!

Dixie rolling in the arena from Funder on Vimeo.

Doesn't she look happy? And GROSS - man, that arena sand stinks!

Andrea, don't ever get a grey or a paint. You'd have a heart attack.
You sure the black thing isn't edible?!

Today I went back, mounted/dismounted a couple times, then rode around. Well, it's more like I sat on her back while she walked around. I just held the reins near the buckle and concentrated on how my body felt, how my legs wrap around her and my spine moves with her body.

Tomorrow we'll actually work a little, I think.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Lovely day

Ok, yes, I hid at home til 3 pm today. But I have been planning for weeks to hide at home! Today was Equine Dentist day, and it gives me the heebiejeebies. I can't even bring myself to go to the human dentist unless I have a toothache. Yall know that I am a hands-on owner, but there is just no way I could watch somebody filing my horse's teeth down!

I got there shortly after the dentist and his (her?) Horror Show of Tools left. Dixie passed with flying colors, actually. No wolf teeth (I didn't think she had any...) and no retained caps or anything. Yay!

I decided I'd take it easy on myself today. I wanted to go over "whips are not evil" on the ground with her, but I didn't have any other goals. Today was sunny and 50s, but tomorrow is going to be rainy, so we headed outside. The grass is green and growing wildly, and the sky was robin's egg blue with picture perfect fluffy clouds in it. We had fun.

We went in the paddock that contains the round pen first. I unsnapped the lead and let her go explore - I don't think she's ever been IN that paddock. She did her snorty floating trot for a couple laps, then came back over to me. I put the lead rope back on her and started poking and thumping her with the dressage whip.

You would think getting whacked all over with a dressage whip was part of our daily grooming ritual. She did not react at all. Well, I take that back - when I poked her between her back legs, she kicked at the whip like it was a fly tickling her. But that was it. No reaction at all. Welp, mission accomplished, I suppose.

I let her loose to run around again. The round pen paddock and the outdoor arena both have sand footing, but there's some grass along the fencelines. Dixie settled down and started grazing, so I went over to the gate to the outdoor. I opened it and looked over - she flagged her tail up and floated over to me. We went through the gate and she did a couple laps around the outdoor, then settled down to graze again.

After she'd trimmed all the grass down, I took her back in. It was really nice, to take a break from pushing myself to Ride Better and Educate The Mare and Don't Freak Out. :) We both still have a long way to go, to get to where we're safe and have fun all the time.. but maybe it doesn't have to happen in April '09.

Dixie's feet look lovely. Not as pretty as Gogo's but she's getting there!

Tomorrow I'm going to work on The Evil Whip Under Saddle. The plan right now is to just touch her all over, climb on, touch her slowly and gently and deliberately all over, then get off, let her decompress, and repeat til we're both laid back about it. Before that, I'll get video of the Floaty Arab Imitation. It's pretty cute, yall will like it!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


Thank you again to everybody who replied about Champ. My husband understands, and my parents know how much it hurts to lose an animal you love, but... most of my real life friends aren't in to horses and they don't understand. It's really nice to know I'm not alone.

So I rode this morning. It was pretty good, then pretty bad, which bummed me out a little. I'll persevere, but I'm kind of discouraged.

I did what Andrea suggested and turned Dixie out in the arena. She trotted out to the middle and looked at me like "Now what?" I waved my arms and clucked and got her going - she had a fantastic time running around like a very substantial Arab. Tail flagged, snorting, alternating between a fantastic floaty extended trot and a bouncy little canter. After she got the snorties out of her system, she came back over to me and we went back to tack up.

She was good for me to mount, pretty good starting off, ended up listening pretty well. Whenever she tried to drop her nose to the ground to yank the reins out of my hands, I gave her a little more leg to make her speed up and pick her head up - that worked pretty well. But I kept my hands extra super soft and light, and she wasn't as "worried" about the reins.

Then some other people came in. I am horrible with names (and faces! lucky me!) so I have no clue what their names are and I don't have to make up acronyms. It's a mother who rides or used to ride, and a maybe 10-12 yo daughter who rides better than me, with a pretty hunter horse. He is spazzy. Dixie is also spazzy. They've ridden together before, but then I did something stupid.

Dixie was so very soft and relaxed and I thought maybe I'd try HOLDING the dressage whip. After a lot of patience on my part, she's gotten used to whips on the ground, but she's still freaky about whips under saddle. So I got off, went and got the whip, got back on - she was fine. We started walking again, and my hand wobbled and the tip of the whip touched her flank and she came unglued. We bolted twice around the arena - and as soon as we started, the other horse spooked and bolted too, so it was a positive feedback loop for them. I did my usual "I am going to die" fetal monkey position. Then I had a moment of clarity where I realized a) I was about to fall off and b) I did not want to fall off. So I sat back, which was amazingly hard, and steered her into her favorite corner.

I should really do something about teaching her a one-rein stop or something, now that she's in a snaffle and it's doable.

Anyway, I figure either she'll stop to keep from running into the wall, or she'll hit the wall FIRST and serves her right silly bat of a horse. I really thought we were going to eat wall today but she slammed on the brakes and slid like a reiner to a halt an inch from the wall.

I got off. I was all shaky and tingly and I'm sure she was too. I apologized profusely to the mom and daughter, who seemed cool about it but I wouldn't be surprised if they're mad, but whatever. Snorty big-eyed mustang mare and I walked around and picked up the whip, which I'd deliberately dropped on our first lap, and my hat, which had come flying off (spooking the other horse even more) on our second lap, and stood quietly for a bit.

I decided I should get back on. I got back on. She stood quietly while I got settled (see?! She does learn stuff! She is getting better!). As soon as I touched her with my leg, she tried to bolt off again. I hauled her head around back to the corner we'd just come out of, she stopped with about 3" to spare, and I got back off for the day.

We stopped in the not-so-scary-anymore wash stall, then I groomed her really well again. Halt Near X pointed out that shedding stones are pretty good manure stain removers, too, and you know what? She's right.

So the obvious answer to my conundrum is "Don't even think about riding with a whip for another 6 months." She needs more time. Sometimes she still thinks I turn into a monster when I'm on her back, and her brain just shuts down when she gets scared. That's what scares me - I can deal with her temper tantrums, but I worry that when she gets really scared she loses her sense of self-preservation and really might kill us both.

But here's the rub. (Groan.) My calves are rubbing the hair off her ribs. She's still got plenty of winter coat, so it's just broken hairs, not an open sore. What am I doing wrong? Are my calves moving around that much, or is it the cordura fenders on my saddle, or WHAT? I think it's not my legs ~flopping~ as much as my leg action asking her to walk, turn, etc. But I'm not sure.

I suppose my options are: Try harder to improve my legs. Take the stirrups off and replace them with English leathers or maybe leather western stirrups. Buy a (cheap) English saddle, assuming that the flaps will protect her coat. What should I do?

Quick update

OSU just called. It was most likely cancer, and I definitely made the right decision. His liver was "very abnormal" and there was "only a small amount of normal liver left." The abnormal part (the tumor, I suppose, but we won't know for sure til the path people look at it) was what ruptured and caused the internal bleeding.

My poor Champ. I hope he wasn't miserable for years; he always seemed like a happy laid back horse. I feel ever so slightly better about things.

I rode Dixie today, but I'll write up a post on that later.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The worst day of my entire life.

Champ is dead.

Yesterday he was off his feed - hadn't finished his hay, which is really unusual. But the weather was wonky so we decided to just watch him. I left right about the time they fed for the night. This morning I got a call that he hadn't eaten his grain or touched his hay overnight, just drank some water. Actually I got several calls, because I am a dumbass and left my phone in the living room overnight. Anyway. The barn owners called the vet and I dashed out about 9 to find a very sick looking horse.

They gave him some banamine, because it looked like a colic. And they put him in the arena to walk around if he wanted, and he'd pooped a little before I got there, so we were hoping it wasn't serious. He looked miserable, kind of shaky. His gums were very pale. He had gut sounds when I first there, but by noon they'd stopped. The vet was at the human doctor and promised to come out as soon as he done, but he didn't get out there til noon.

The vet was my first clue that things were going really horribly. He came out, did a fairly brief examination, tried to palpate, and told me to take him to OSU vet school immediately. He said Champ was somewhat impacted but I think he knew there was something Very Bad happening.

I didn't have the right trailer brake hookup thing on my truck, and the barn owner was in Indiana with her truck, so I called Graham and he came out with the F-150. We hooked up the BO's 2 horse slant, loaded Champ, and headed off. I guess we got to the hospital about 3? It took a while, between the vet exam, calling OSU, calling Graham, etc.

When we walked in the door with Champ a huge swarm of incredibly capable vets and students descended on us. The surgery team started with us, assuming it was colic, but they passed us on to the medical team pretty quickly. I stood at his head petting him and telling him he could bite people as soon as he felt better.

They did blood work, several times. Gave him NG and IV fluids, which perked him up a tiny bit. Shaved all over and did three separate ultrasounds, which is when I started to realize it was Really Very Seriously Bad. He had a lot of internal bleeding, and he had something terribly wrong with his liver. The RBC and WBC counts were extremely low, and his liver enzymes were wrong too - I can't remember if they were high or low. And his liver was not right. The ultrasound of it didn't look to them at all like a liver, so either there was a huge clot obscuring it, there was a huge tumor in its place and it was pushed behind his lungs, or it was really diseased.

We moved him to a stall in ICU while they waited for some tests to come back and thought about what to tell me. He ate three straws of his bedding and one small bite of some gorgeous green alfalfa and just stood there, wobbling.

Finally two of the medical vets came and talked to me. Whatever happened is pretty rare. They'd found a journal article about, umm, 80 or so horses that had presented with similar internal bleeding in about a decade (late 90s to 2004). Only 50% of them had survived to discharge, and there wasn't a great breakdown of the statistics - more than half of the horses in the article had obvious causes for their bleeding, either being kicked, colicking, or uterine artery rupture. The vet said they could try a few things to stabilize him overnight, see if they could stop the bleeding, but they had no idea what was wrong with his liver or really what kind of quality of life he'd have.

They left us alone for a while to decide, and I cried and cried and thought it all through. It wasn't trauma; he hadn't been out with Dixie (or at all) for four or five days, just some light riding. It wasn't poisoning; no other horse had any symptoms from possible bad hay and there's no trees or weeds in his paddock. There was something terribly wrong with him, and from the very quiet murmurs during the repeated ultrasounds and liver biopsies they didn't think it was minor. HIs quality of life is the most important thing, and none of us thought there was a good chance of it improving.

Telling them to put him to sleep was the hardest thing I've ever said in my entire life.

They are going to necropsy him tomorrow; they'll call and tell me what they see. If they don't see anything obvious, they'll do lab work that will take up to a month. They're going to mail me some mane and tail hair and a cast of a hoof. And a bill; I have no clue how much this cost. I don't really care.

Then we had to return the empty trailer. I was going to hide in the truck and cry, but I made myself go in and tell the BO and family what all happened. The BO, like the vets, agreed that I'd done the right thing. And the BO told me that I must come ride tomorrow... and I agree. It would be so easy to walk away, let somebody sell Dixie, not even think about horses again. I'm just fucking flattened. But I felt the same way when I put my old Lab to sleep, and then I ended up with Cersei who is the World's Best Dog Ever. I won't give up on falling in love with creatures I outlive.