Friday, 20 September 2019

A Lesson on Straight

OMG I got a lesson!

It was almost all at a walk (or halt) and was just what I needed!

I hadn't had a lesson since last summer. A combination of no spare dollars, the instructor coming to my barn on the day that I usually have to work the evenings so no riding for me, and then she got hurt earlier this summer so wasn't able to teach all meant that lessons weren't happening. But things finally got together this week to make it work for me.
No media from my ride, so enjoy these old gifs of my silly horse.

We rode outside in the 20x40m dressage ring on the grass. I've ridden Cisco many times out in that field, but not in the small ring. The small ring that also has a bunch of gopher holes in it.

I told her that my biggest problem was with Cisco wanting to barge through his right shoulder and that I've been working on some shoulder-fore and that when I ask him to move his shoulders in to the right he just barges through my reins.

So we started off with an exercise to get him to learn to step his inside hind into my outside rein. It was similar to a turn on the forehand, but working towards using just my inside bone to ask him to step under with his inside hind, into my outside rein that kept him very straight and caught the step. In the beginning I would have to use my leg as well, but the ultimate goal is just seat bone.

In the beginning, Cisco was not so agreeable about this plan. He went through his list of options on how to get out of staying straight, which included going forward, going backwards, barging sideways, flipping his head, and standing completely still despite my kicks. He actually figured out pretty quickly what my inside seat bone meant - and this exercise worked really well to straighten him.

So then we moved on to doing squares. Halt in the corner, inside seat bone (and leg if needed) to ask him to step under and across with his inside hind. Walk forward, repeat.

The first problem was getting a straight square halt off my outside rein. And then not allowing him to back up. But again, he started to fuss less and we had some good moments.

And then came the trot.

Same idea, more pressure on my inside seat bone, a ton of inside leg, outside rein solid. She actually had me grab onto my breastplate to keep my hands still and not let them do stupid things like cross over the neck. Deep into the corner, flow out.
Post-ride roll - he almost turtled himself when he tried to flip over.
Cisco was straight. But it was exhausting. Because he actually was straight he had to actually work. Again, he wasn't really on board for this plan. I had to use a whole lotta leg to keep him going, then a whole lotta inside leg in the corners.

However, it worked. He was probably the straightest he's ever been. But omg this is going to take so much work.

Cisco seems to think things over when new things are introduced (he probably just thinks about eating, but I'd like to think differently) so I'm interested to see how quickly he gets on board with the new program on our next ride.

Thursday, 19 September 2019

It Started Out With a Bang

My drive out to the barn on Wednesday started off with a bang - literally. I was rear-ended when I stopped at a light and the girl behind me didn't. My SUV is hurt - the bottom part of my bumper will need to be replaced. So I'll have to spend some time dealing with this over the next couple of days. Blargh.
Poor car. 
Thankfully the ponies were awesome.

I arrived at the barn later than I had hoped to and ended up having to ride during a jump lesson. There was only one person in it so it wasn't too bad.

Cisco was very chill, but was trying very hard for me. Except for the whole going forward thing. When I ride him I have one of two horses under me - if we are alone in the arena, I have a forward, pretty reactive to my leg, but tense horse. If there are other horses in there, I have a super chill, behind my leg horse. This horse is exhausting to ride. Mr. Tappy spends lots of time making his presence known.

I had dropped the bit down a hole to see if he was more comfortable with it a bit lower in his mouth. Phantom hates a high bit, so I thought I'd see if Cisco was the same. I don't know if it made a difference or not, but he definitely didn't dislike it. I have a lesson on Thursday so I'll see if she makes a comment about the bulging cheekpieces.
7.9 for canter regularity! I haven't broken my horse's canter yet!
Our right lead canter was again much better with flexion to the inside around most of the turns. And then I had some lovely soft right bend at a trot on a longer rein. I was hoping to do more canter, but the next jump lesson was ramping up again and there wasn't going to be a lot of space so I decided to end after his nice trot work.

Phantom was slightly less silly than the day before. To the right she was able to give me some soft trot work, but she's been a bit stiff to the left so she wasn't reaching down or giving me flexion that direction. I did a lot of leg-yields and pushing her out around turns, and it got a bit better. Counter-canter seemed to help her left lead - at least until she started to get silly again. Then we lost everything and could barely trot at a decent pace after the canter.
Not where I like to see it, though I definitely don't live by this score. 
Her symmetry score on the Equisense was terrible. She didn't feel bad though, so I think it's because we really didn't spend too much time on a straight line at a trot without me moving her laterally in some way or another. Not that I'm convinced this score means much regarding lameness - the rides where I have the worst scores are generally ones where I'm doing more lateral work.

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Yet Another Week Off and Trying to Ride

Another week off, another week of not managing to get much riding in.

I did my substitute teaching gig both days on the first weekend. Long days, exhausting, but it paid for one horse's board for a month, so totally worth it.

Which meant that Monday was really my first day of vacay. I took it easy, spent some much needed time tidying in the house (ugh, so much more to do), had a lovely nap, and wandered out to the barn in the evening. My plan was mostly just to wash Phantom's brown tail and hope to make it white again, and a bit of quick groundwork/lunge with Cisco. I was successful with Cisco and mostly successful with Phantom.
Cisco had a potential land shark sighting out the back door in the dark. Land sharks no longer are super scary as they once were!
Tuesday morning had me spend far too much time playing Candy Crush before I rolled myself out of bed (got through 20 levels since I had a bunch of boosters - can't let those go to waste). I made it out to the barn around dinnertime to get both horses ridden.

Cisco was nice and relaxed as there were other horses in the arena. Thus he gave me lots of nice work at a trot. I also managed to figure out our right bend problem. When tracking right, if I look backwards over my right shoulder, right bend is easy. Apparently, it's all about the positioning of my body.  So for the next little bit, I'll be getting a crick in my neck and hope not to run into anything when riding Cisco to the right.
Oh, Phantom. Why must you make it difficult? (I'm not complaining that my 16 year old horse is feeling good!)
Phantom was happy to try to work far too hard and forward, as she has been since she got her hocks done. I keep trying to convince her to trot around slowly so that we can work on being soft, but nope, she has other ideas. And she is a very determined woman.

I was happy with both of my rides. I was even happier that I managed to (mostly) stay out of the barn drama that had erupted through the day, I'm just gonna keep my head down and deal with my own horses for the next few days. Might need to take headphones out to give some people the hint that I don't want to talk...

Friday, 13 September 2019

Noisy Noises

Life has been busy. I was transferred for work as of last week. I live on the north end of the city, now I work on the south end of the city, and the ponies live north of where I live.  The drive to or from work starts at 30 minutes and gets worse depending on the time of day. I go past the turnoff to the barn on my way home from work, so last week I planned ahead a couple of days and went straight out to the barn from work. That should save me 25-30 minutes of driving time a day, but it makes for a really long day - leaving the house at 8:20am and not returning until close to 10pm. I'm hoping to do this a couple of days a week until it gets super cold out. I don't know that I'll want to haul all of my cold-weather gear out to the car in the morning before I leave.

Thus I haven't managed as much saddle time over the last couple of weeks as I would have liked. I've made it out to the barn a bunch - mostly to change blankets due to the constantly changing weather. Duty visits instead of recreation visits.
Phantom got ridden again by my lesson kid. This is her waiting while kid is in the bathroom face.
Monday's ride on Cisco was short as I needed to make adjustments to the front Flair bags in my saddle. It was sitting lower than what I was happy with, so I did just enough for him to start to relax and then hopped off. I added more air back in the barn while the saddle was still on him so that it would be ready for the next ride.

Which was Thursday. And it wasn't ready. One side had taken the air, the other side had not. And would not. I was really close to chucking Cisco back out and throwing the saddle in the car to figure out at home, but the air finally went in. I think it had a kink in the tube that wasn't allowing the air to pass. It's happened before.
I have to keep my eyes up while walking through the barn - I keep almost walking into spiders hanging down from the ceiling. Rather big ones (for us up north, at least).
When we got into the arena, I wasn't sure if I was going to get on after all. They are building an apartment over the end that has the washrooms and other rooms at one end of the ring. There was a contractor working up there. Using tools. Tools like a saw, a measuring tape, and an air nailer, which also means a compressor. Cisco no likee. Especially the nail gun.

We did our TRT Method groundwork, trying to get him to find some relaxation and drop his head. It took a few minutes, but it started to get a little lower. Just a little. Another horse came in to get tacked up, and Cisco took comfort in the company of strangers and started to actually relax.

He was very good when I got on (carefully timed between nail gun bursts) and we were able to walk around on a loose rein. Then his new best friend left for a lesson outside. Cisco no likee.
The new build. I think it's going to be an apartment, but I'm really not sure. 
We had a couple of extra-forward laps at a trot around the ring. Then Cisco was saved by the arrival of another horse. Our ride continued in a pretty regular fashion, except for all of the construction noise. Which didn't really faze either horse.

It was a good educational experience for Cisco. Considering that he started by trying to go through me when the first noises, for us to be able to walk around on a long rein during breaks is a pretty significant improvement. Having another horse in the ring definitely helped, but then he's always more relaxed when he has company.

This is just another day that shows me he is now able to put scary stuff behind him once he realizes that he's not going to die. It's taken a while to get to this point. Hopefully, he continues to move forward and maybe one day I'll have a brave horse. Ideally before he's 18.

Monday, 9 September 2019


Since I've been using Phantom for a beginner rider that I teach, I've been thinking of trying her in a hackamore. She can be really protective of her mouth and doesn't like the reins being pulled back on or being used for balance. The young girl that is riding her is quite well balanced, so pulling on the reins hasn't been an issue yet and Phantom has remained happy. I'm just thinking a bit forward for when she's doing more (which will be a while as this rider needs things to go super slowly).

I own a short shank mechanical hackamore and an english jumping/sidepull noseband. I've used them both on Phantom in the past with no significant issues. But I can't find the english noseband (it's probably sitting right next to the breastplate, stirrup leathers and clippers I own but can't seem to find). So I had to buy another one.
Ignore the very dirty face.

After some research, I decided on the Zilco flower hackamore. It was said to be one that you can ride like it was a regular bit. I ordered it from someone in Britain on eBay, and about a month later it showed up. On Friday night I popped it onto a bridle and took Phantom for a spin with it.

Phantom went around happy as a clam. Forward, relaxed.

And totally on her forehand.

Forging at the trot. Dropped back. God awful canter.

But so happy.

I definitely won't be using it on a regular basis - I've no desire to encourage that way of going. And I don't think I'll use it for the lesson kid - Phantom didn't steer quite as well as I hoped with it. She was fine for me since I don't really use my hands to steer. But for someone who is learning to ride, she just kind of sets her neck straight and doesn't really bend so steering won't be as easy.
I forgot to grab a different bridle - my PS of Sweden bridle was not the best choice for a hackamore. It has a monocrown, so I took the noseband off and had to tuck the straps into the runners on the cheekpieces to keep them from flapping around. It worked, but it wasn't pretty!

Some people can get horses working really well in a hackamore - I'm not one of them. Maybe it's because my legs aren't long enough to wrap under my horse to encourage them to engage their abs, or maybe it's because my horse isn't a purpose-bred dressage horse - stock horses tend to move very levelly. So if anybody has any ideas on how to encourage my horse to lift her back while using a hackamore that doesn't involve me growing an extra 8" of leg, I'm all ears!

Monday, 2 September 2019

Horses In the Mist

Fall is coming.

The leaves are already turning yellow, I've seen geese gathering, the horses are starting to fluff up, and I've turned the thermostat up for the mornings just in case the temperature drops overnight.

However, it's still raining. So when the temperature drops in the evening, we get fog.

On Friday evening, the fog starting coming in well before sunset. I had both horses in, so I decided to try to take advantage of it. I foisted my phone upon a friend and asked her to take some pics of me and my ponies in the fog.

It was a spur of the moment thing, so I wasn't dressed real fancy, my horses weren't groomed, we were using my cell phone instead of my dslr, and my friend is not a photographer. The photos weren't perfect - they are a bit too grainy to be able to enlarge them.

I just don't have many pictures of me with my horses. I have lots of pics that I've taken - but since I've taken them, I'm not in them. We have someone at the barn who does photoshoots, and I've thought about hiring her, but with two gray horses, getting ready for an evening shoot is an all-day job and I just don't have the desire.

I think this one is my favourite though it's a little eerie.

It kind of looks like we are all crossing over together. Should I ever get into a devastating car crash while hauling both of my horses, this is the picture to use.

I'm going to start throwing my good camera in the car for my evening trips out to the barn. Maybe I'll get lucky and get a second chance at these pictures. Maybe I'll throw some better boots and a jacket in too, just in case.

Thursday, 29 August 2019

She's Back!

I rode Phantom on Wednesday for the first time since her hock injections last week. She was feeling pretty good!

She was pretty forward at a trot right at the beginning - much better than the last couple of rides where she shuffled like a senior citizen pushing a walker. The right lead canter felt fantastic. The trickier left lead got better through the ride.

She's not fit, and she's not strong. I didn't do a ton with her - she was trying hard to do what I asked and kept her brain in her head (shockingly as she hadn't been ridden in a week and a half).
Chill poneh.
Phantom was still a bit stiffer laterally to the left than normal. This was something I've noticed creeping in over the last little bit. I think her left hind was bothering her more than her right. She wasn't her normal self to the left, but better than before getting her hocks done. And it got better through the ride.

We're taking a field trip on Thursday so I had to clean her up a bit. Her tail was yet again a disgusting yellow and brown instead of white. Her hind legs weren't much better. I shampoo'd her tail three times before it was deemed acceptable. I left her fly sheet off for the night - there shouldn't be too many mosquitos out when it's 6 degrees celsius (feels like 4). Winter is coming!

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

Speed Bumps

I finally got my ducks in a row, and took a babysitter (Pony Grandma) out to the barn with me so that I could school Cisco over some jumps.

And by jumps I mean itty bitty crosspoles.
Bigger than this one though!
Since I hadn't jumped Cisco since our last attempt a couple of months ago when I fell off him for the first time and we had to break it right back down to a pole on the ground, getting over itty bitty crosspoles was the goal for the day.
This is what happened last time. 
When I first got on him, I wasn't sure if this was going to be a good day for working over little jumps. He was a bit up - it was quite windy out, and something was flapping in the scary end of the arena, making the end even scarier than normal. The pigeons were being super noisy and flappy. And Cisco was in the arena by himself, which always means he's a bit more forward than normal.

But hey, my jumps were set up, and I had someone with me. Must make the most of it!

We started over the tiniest crosspole I could make - really just a raised trot pole. I had chosen the standards that had the holes that went the lowest, so the cups were maybe about 4" off the ground. I had just set up two singles on each quarter line. The plan was mostly to jump them coming out of the scary end. He sucks back a bit if we are heading into it, and I didn't want to make getting over the jump more difficult at this point.

Cisco was a very good boy. We trotted over each jump a couple of times before bumping it up a notch and I think we ended up on the 4th hole from the bottom. The middle of the crosspole was probably a whole 10" high, but considering how the last session went, I was really happy with him. He hit one of the rails pretty hard with his front feet one time, and I was a bit worried that it would really back him off, but he brushed it off and kept going with no issues.
Not the best pic from a cell phone video, but you get the idea!
The only time that I didn't feel that he took me to the jump was after one of the birds had made a bunch of flapping noises and we were jumping into that end. I felt him hesitate slightly a few strides out, I put my leg on, and he carried on. He trotted over the jump instead of actually jumping it, but that didn't worry me.

Overall, I was very pleased with the ride. I'll try to do another couple of sessions like this before I really up anything. Hopefully I can do it within the next week or so and not wait for a couple of months again!

Monday, 26 August 2019

Thinking Forward

I almost felt like I was cheating this weekend with only one horse to ride. Phantom got a mandated 3 days off after her hock injections (also bute for those days). I spent a bit of time with her each day which she seemed to appreciate, but I didn't have to feel any guilt over not planning to hop on her.
It poured rain yet again on Friday evening. Somehow Phantom ended up with a glop of mud in her forelock, but nowhere else.
Cisco hadn't been ridden since last Saturday. Because he's such a crazy horse, a few days off meant that he was a pain to deal with. A pain in that he was super chill and wouldn't go forward.

I was hoping for a really easy ride on Friday. When I woke up in the morning I did the full body stretch thing while still in bed and ended up tweaking something in my shoulder. I couldn't use my left arm properly or turn my neck to the left all day. I guess I'm officially old.

I had taken a muscle relaxer mid-afternoon which knocked me out for an hour and a half. So I was a little dopey when I arrived out at the barn after supper. Thus I wanted a nice, easy ride.
Extra time meant that ponies got to graze for a bit.
I was exhausted after 5 minutes of trot. I had to fix that.

Most of the rest of the ride ended up being focused on forward when my leg goes on. Forward and back, forward and back. If I didn't get an immediate reaction from closing my leg, Mr. Tappy made his presence known.

This isn't something new to Cisco. He definitely knows that leg means forward. But he kind of picks and chooses when he decides to act on it. Getting him sharper off my leg is going to be a key focus for the next little while.

He wasn't as good in the connection as he has been of late, but forward has to come first.

On Saturday I set up a small course of poles with the intent of cantering a small course. I've cantered a single pole on him just a couple of times, so I really wasn't sure how throwing a few poles together would go.
Pippa was desperately hoping that Cisco would share. He didn't.
Overall, I was quite happy with him. The lines left a lot to work on regarding straightness, but he didn't worry about the distance that he arrived at. The biggest problem was that Cisco just didn't want to canter towards the scary end. This affected the forward and the amount of wiggle that was present everytime we cantered towards that end.

I decided to push things and canter one more line to see if we could get it a bit straighter. It ended up being only slightly straighter, but on the turn he went super deep and quiet into the scary end. So I was glad I asked for one more (for once - usually that backfires on me).

I really want to try to jump him again, but I have to plan it out. There's never anyone around when I ride so I have to bring a babysitter with me (safety first). My work schedule for this week is kind of wonky - in a good way - so I'm going to make it a goal to try to pop him over some tiny jumps. And an even bigger goal of staying on this time!

Friday, 23 August 2019

Old Lady Joints

When it got cold last fall, I noticed Phantom was looking a little creakier. She's had arthritis in her hocks for a while and generally gets hock injections every 12-15 months. She could have used them last fall, but since I knew I wasn't going to be riding through November and December, and then it was too stupidly cold to ride through January and all of February, I kind of just put them off. Well, there was also that whole needing to breathe thing too - I figured that breathing was more important than stiff joints.

She actually looked quite good all summer. But last week Mother Nature decided to give us another kick in the crotch through the summer that never was and the temperatures plummeted last weekend. It was the middle of August, and I was wearing a merino wool long-sleeved shirt with a light jacket over top to ride.

Apparently Phantom felt the difference in temperatures. She turned into the old lady with the gammy knee. I had two rides where she warmed up really slowly and didn't feel very comfortable. I decided it was time to get her some hock juice.
Road trip! Waiting at the vet clinic to unload because the vet was late (of course!).
On Thursday I hauled her over to the vet clinic to get her hocks injected. Most of the time there was spent cleaning her hocks - apparently, they were really dirty. I looked at them the night before to see if I should clean her legs to reduce the scrubbing time and thought they didn't look too bad. Oops.

When I returned to the barn, I grabbed Cisco. Since the trailer was hooked up, he needed to go for a car ride.
Where are we??
The plan was to unload Phantom, put Cisco on, put Phantom back on, then go for a short drive. Since Cisco loaded so well last time (with Phantom already on) I hoped he would be okay about going on by himself.

He wasn't.

I managed to get him on a few times, but he did the fly backwards right away thing. Then he got the donkey look on his face. I had zero patience at this point in the day, and though I would have loved to spend an hour working on it, I didn't have it in me.

So I grabbed Phantom and put her on. Only she figured she was done for the day and didn't want to get back on. Grrrr.
Needs extra sedation to do anything with her but then she just wants to sleep it off. 
Eventually, I got her on and secured. Then a longer eventually later, I got Cisco on and secured. We went for an easy drive around the block (10-15 minutes max) and parked at the barn. They were both content to stand in the trailer so they got their grain in there before unloading.
Such a drunk pony. Good thing I was the designated driver!
I hadn't taken Cisco's fly sheet off for the drive so I didn't see how sweaty he got. But I saw sweat drips on his leg, so I have a pretty good idea. He still needs a lot more miles before he's going to be comfortable going for a drive.

Phantom gets a few days off with bute then can start to get ridden again on Monday. I'm hoping to take her on a field trip next week, so fingers crossed she's ready by then!

Thursday, 22 August 2019

Throwback Thursday: Phantom Doesn't Like Bugs

A side effect of Phantom needing to wear a fly mask all summer to prevent sunburn to her eyes and nose is that she is extra sensitive to flies on her face when she is unmasked.

This video is from 6 or 7 years ago. Her reaction hasn't changed much over the years, though now I usually pop a light fly mask on her if I'm going to ride her outside. It just makes all parties involved much happier.

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Acavallo Sensitive Bit

Cisco has been a bit of a challenge to bit. He's a bit fussy in his mouth. It's where he primarily exhibits tension. But I'm pretty sure that's is due to some discomfort. Even when he is reaching forward into contact, and I like the feeling of the connection, he's clacking his teeth together constantly.

Trying different bits can get stupid expensive unless you have some friends that you can borrow from. I don't have said friends. Everyone I ride with has the basic bits that I've already tried. There are one or two places in Canada that offer bit rentals, but shipping back and forth will likely cost $30-$40 plus the cost of the rental. So to try a single bit could be upwards of 25% of the cost of the bit new.

I haven't quite figured out what Cisco wants in a bit. When I started him, he definitely didn't like tongue pressure. I used the Bombers Happy Tongue for about a year because of this. Lately, I've tried a couple of jointed bits, and he's been accepting of the idea. I used a Sprenger Dynamic KK snaffle a couple of times, but decided I liked him in the Happy Tongue better. Then I tried Phantom's Neue Schule baucher. I think I like the connection a little bit better than in the Happy Tongue. However, it hasn't fixed the clacking teeth problem.

So I'm still on the hunt for his bit.

Now, I know that a bit is not a miracle item that will solve all the rider's problems. I'm an amateur rider, and surprise, surprise, I ride like one. My hands are not perfect. They could be more still. But I always try to ride with my hands thinking forward and pushing the bit towards the horse's mouth, not backwards towards me. I try. It doesn't mean I succeed.

But I do think that there is a better bit out there for Cisco.

Last week I picked up one that was on my list to try - the Acavallo Sensitive bit.

It's a flexible mullen mouth. The mouthpiece is quite narrow - I saw some site say that it was about 14mm. But it's kind of oval versus round - the mouthpiece is flatter on the top and bottom.

It doesn't really have any part that is shaped to reduce tongue pressure, but because it is so flexible I was hoping that this would make up for it.

The D-rings on the sides are fixed, with slots for the cheekpieces and reins. There are two options as to where to put your reins - the lower slot would add some poll pressure (I didn't try this one). The middle slot for the reins is fairly generous so that the rein has some room to move before it would activate poll pressure. If you are using your reins in a normal hand position I can't really see it happening. Note that I had to drop my cheekpieces down two holes when I put the bridle on Cisco for this bit - if your bridle is already fitting small, you might end up with a problem fitting it.

The reason I wanted to try this bit was because of the flatter mouthpiece, it was still a mullen mouth, and I was hoping that Cisco would like the flexibility of the bit and be able to hold it more comfortable in his mouth.

He didn't like it.

I only tried it for one ride, so I might give it another chance. But I just didn't like the connection feeling that I had versus the other two bits I've been using. At the beginning of the ride I thought his mouth was quieter than it normally is, but by the end of the ride it was definitely just as active. The only reason I would try it again was because he was a bit up for the ride and took quite a while to settle, so it might not have been the best ride to judge new equipment.

This bit is quite a bit cheaper than the other bits I want to try - I paid $70 CDN for it. Bits are things that every horse has a different opinion about, so I'm not going to say if I recommend it or not. I do think that if you have a fussy horse it's definitely worth trying though.