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.

Tuesday 20 August 2019

First Day of Vacay

Vacation is finally here. Not that I'm going anywhere - I have two horses so I can't afford to leave the city. Or do anything within the city. Or really leave my house or look on the internet. Staycation it is!

The only equestrian chain store in Canada - Greenhawk - conveniently started their summer sale on my first day of vacation. I had a small list of things to look at so I drove across the city after sleeping in and lazing around all morning. No guilt - I'm on vacation.

I picked up a few things, most of which I didn't really need. I grabbed an Acavallo Sensitive Bit to try for Cisco (which wasn't on sale), a couple of bib style shoulder guards that were on sale for $10, a cheap fly mask for Phantom as I'm not sure that her Cashel one will survive the rest of the summer (I'll try to find some on sale over the winter to replace it for next year), and a pair of boot socks for me. They didn't have the guinea pigs ones that I wanted, so I settled for "Cone of Shame" socks.

It was a bit late to ride by the time I got out to the barn, so I tackled something that I've needed to do for a while - wash tails.

Since Phantom is now wearing her fly sheet that has a tail flap, it means that she poops and pees all over her tail. And her hind legs. So gross.
Forgot to get before pictures. Trust me - it wasn't pretty.
Cisco is much cleaner in general. His tail wasn't so much poo stained as mud-stained. He hates the wash stall - he's pretty sure it's the horse murder stall. So he kept up his idiot dance the whole time and I ended up much wetter than I had hoped.
The bottom of his tail is mostly white now. Sad face. 
I didn't bother to comb tails out as the bugs were bad and they would be swishing their tails all night. The mosquitos were so bad even in the barn that I sprayed Cisco with bug spray, put his blanket on, then drenched his neck in fly spray again because the mosquitos were mocking my earlier attempt. I think it's time to dig out his ill-fated fly sheet neck cover and fix it up and see if he'll keep it on this time. Maybe the third time will be the charm.

Monday 19 August 2019

Lazy Monday (Last Week)

I managed to convince myself to head out to the barn on Monday night last week and get in a ride. I was super unmotivated though. The only reason that I put the effort into tacking up the horse was that I knew I wouldn't be able to get out to the barn again until Thursday and I really needed to get a ride in.

I would have been perfectly happy to just toodle around the yard for 20 minutes. However, the mosquitos are so bad in the evening that doing anything outside meant I would be full of itchy bumps for the next week. So we had to head into the indoor arena.

I got on Cisco and walked around on a loose rein. I was pretty sure that was going to be it for the night.

Then I thought I'd at least try a trot. But on a loose rein. I didn't want to actually work.

This was still a good lesson for Cisco. He had to be responsible for maintaining a regular pace, and if he got a bit quick he was expected to slow down from my body aids. He was responsible for maintaining the track I put him on, and going deep into corners with minimal input from me.
We also popped over this tiny thing like it was no big deal. I mean, it's so tiny it isn't a big deal, but in the past it has been.  
A huge hole showed up though. The whole bulging through the right shoulder at a trot thing that I've been working on and I thought had gotten much better? Yeah no. With no rein contact, going to the right he totally turned his head to the left and fell to the inside of the track. Apparently having a connection masks it. I'm wondering if it might have something to do with my saddle not being balanced, I'll have to have a look at it.

Tuesday 13 August 2019

Almost Break Time

I've had a busy week with not much time for horses. I've had to work 7 days straight, with a payoff of getting a couple of extra days added to my vacation next week. Two more days of work, then I have 11 days to play with the ponies.

On Friday and Saturday, I went straight from work to the barn. On Friday I had great intentions of getting both horses ridden. But Cisco was coughing a bunch in the barn when I brought him in, so I decided to just do some groundwork. He didn't cough at all once we left the barn.

I hopped on Phantom. She felt a little wonky, so I just worked on getting her to come forward and some easy leg yields to get her hind end moving. It got better. I'm not going to stress about it.

That night I got home at 11pm and had to leave at 8:30 the next morning. Again I drove straight to the barn after work to arrive around 6. Since I had to work on Sunday (early) I moved a lesson to Saturday evening.

By the time that finished, I had no gas left in the tank. My horses just got fed and fly sprayed, and I still didn't get home until 10pm. I guess I probably shouldn't have spent that half-hour chatting with people.

So, yeah. Just need to make it through until Thursday.

Thursday 8 August 2019

Top of My Reading List

Well, I guess it's time to finally read the George Morris autobiography that's been sitting around in my house for the last year.
Found this when I searched for George Morris memes. Seemed fitting.
Pretty sure it will be a much more interesting read than it would have been a couple of weeks ago. I'll be looking to read between the lines of every sentence that he approved for publishing.

(If you have been spending a lot of time in the barn lately and haven't heard what's been going on, here's a link.)

Wednesday 7 August 2019

Wordless Wednesday

Someone posted a slo-mo video of their horse eating grass on some social media site that I saw.

I think everyone who owns a horse needs to do this.

Tuesday 6 August 2019


After riding Cisco on Monday I was sweaty, hot and tired. I didn't want to ride again.

I almost talked myself out of hopping on Phantom, but a friend was going for a quick ride so I said I would too. But I didn't want to tack up. Which means riding bareback.

I rode Phantom bareback about a year ago. Before that - maybe 4 or 5 years ago?

Last year, when I stepped over Phantom at our tall mounting block she went flying backwards - "where the hell did you come from??" and I slid off. I then had to school being able to put my leg over a couple of times before getting back on, at which point she was super worried and it took a solid 5 minutes of walking before she relaxed and took longer steps.

So I didn't have high expectations for this ride. Not to mention the fact that last year I had to grab mane at a walk because my balance was so bad.

This year, I took my time making sure Phantom was ready for me to get on. She was much better about walking forward(ish) right away.

Sadly, my balance did not improve. I still had to grab mane at a walk. It was actually better if I rode with one hand on the reins and my other hand resting on my thigh. It just seemed to make me sit more evenly on her back.

I tried a short trot. Phantom took pity on me and gave me the slowest trot she's ever given me. Which was good because that was all I could manage.

I didn't stay on for very long - I could feel the stretch in my psoas. And not in a good way.

I'd like to be able to ride bareback much better, which means I have to practice it. We'll see.

Monday 5 August 2019

Different Bit Attempt #2

Friday night I got home from work, put in my contact lenses, and got changed into breeches. I planned to ride Phantom since I hadn't managed to get her done the day previous.

Then I checked the weather forecast one last time before heading out the door.

Severe thunderstorm warning. And a tornado watch.

I stayed home.

I got the thunder and rain at my house, but thankfully didn't get the golf ball-sized hail that hit many other areas of the city. Lots of pictures of car windshields with big holes in them all over Facebook. The storm also hit the barn so I had to check out my trailer - no damage to the roof vent was noted.

So I didn't get back out to the barn until Sunday.

Phantom was ridden second. She had her typical easy ride. She was actually quite laid back considering that she hadn't been ridden in a week. I actually had to kick her forward for our first trot transition.
I did my best to patch up some of the larger holes on Phantom's Rambo flysheet. Mesh is hard to patch!
I changed up Cisco's bit again. An ad popped up somewhere for the Acavallo Sensitive bit, which I would like to try, but I don't think he'll like it because there isn't any room for his tongue. So I started thinking and researching other options, and decided that I'd try Phantom's Neue Schule Tranz-Angled Lozenge Baucher.

I didn't necessarily pick the best ride to test the new bit - Cisco's girlfriend had been in the arena when we went over, but left right away. So they both had to scream at each other for the next 25 minutes until Cisco started to get to work.

After that, he felt pretty good. He wasn't as fussy in the baucher as he was in the Herm Sprenger I tried a couple of weeks ago and I think I like the feeling a wee bit better than the Happy Tongue he's been going in. A very small bit better.
Cisco modelling Phantom's baucher.
Cisco was sharper off my leg this ride than he has been. We had some nice leg yields, and a very relaxed canter (although the transitions still sucked). We also managed to do our 3 minutes of canter goal (well, 2:52 - close enough).

I'll definitely try this bit again. If it works out as a better option I'll have to decide what to do - do I buy a second of a bit I already own so that each horse has one, do I set up a bridle that I can use on both horses (they're really close in size), or do I just change the bit onto the bridle of the horse I'm riding each time? Decisions, decisions!

Thursday 1 August 2019

Another Good Ride, With Proof

I didn't time things very well for my ride on Thursday. When I arrived at the barn, there was only one horse being ridden by the western trainer and no one else around. I dropped all the jumps down to raised trotting poles after changing into breeches and went and got tacked up.

By the time I got into the arena, there was one person riding on a circle at one end in a dressage lesson, one person staying on a 15m circle at E,  a beginner lunge line lesson, and the western trainer was showing a different horse to a potential new owner.

I mean, it's a big arena, but with everyone staying in their own little spot it made trying to ride around them and the course of jumps that were set up a little difficult.

Cisco and I managed, but I didn't get as nice a ride as we had on Monday. Thankfully, our right bend mostly stayed away for a second ride. And our canter transitions were improved over the last ride - they were all quite prompt.

Our forward kinda sucked. So that was the focus of the day.

It's pretty typical of Cisco - things start happening around him and he sucks back to look. It really shows up in our walk/trot transitions. There was a lot of retesting the transition, often with the assistance of Mr. Tappy. They generally got better - the test will be to see if they stay that way for our next ride.

My goal for the ride was to do a total of 3 minutes of canter. I need to up my game at this gait to get both of us fitter and stronger.

We made it to 2:43 over about four canters. I had no gas left in my tank to do the extra 17 seconds. It wasn't overly hot out, but with all the rain we've had the humidity is pretty high. I don't deal well with heat and humidity.

The arena had mostly cleared out by this time so I took Cisco around the raised trot pole course that I had set up instead. He cantered the first line, then trotted pretty nicely around the rest. There was a line that was set as a 1 stride to a 1 stride at a canter - I had to redo that line as he really bulged to the right as we trotted through. The second time through I just opened my left rein with a little bit of right leg into the first one, and he stayed nice and straight on a mostly loose rein through the rest.

I'm pretty happy with what I see in the video. On Cisco's part at least - I need to shorten my reins, get my thumbs on top and have more elasticity in my elbows. For him, this wasn't the best ride we've had lately, but there is definite improvement over the last couple of months.

(If you listen to the video with the sound on, it sounds like we were getting dive-bombed by a plane. They are crop spraying in the area and must have been doing one of the fields across from the barn. They fly really low - it's very disconcerting when you are driving down the road!)