Thursday 30 April 2020

Evening Toodles

I had planned a crazy Friday night for once - meeting a friend at the barn for a ride. I actually got out to the barn really early as I was having a bit of a "woe is me" day where nothing was going right for me. By which I mean that there was a line-up outside at 3 different registry offices (had to renew my car registration), the bulk food store didn't have something I wanted so I tried to order it on Amazon and 2 day shipping turned into 4 week shipping when I went to pay (why even bother with Prime right now?), and then I couldn't find the cord for something that needs this specific cord to recharge it.
A crappy day is a good excuse to eat a horse.
I had plans to hop on Phantom for her first ride in a while so when I arrived at the barn I took a small dish with her Ventipulmin in it out to the field. In her previous paddock, she would generally come to me at the gate and would eat the small amount of food in the dish before the other horses realized that she was eating. I knew that this would not be the case in her current turnout with Cisco and Pete.

I left the dish outside the gate and entered the paddock. Sure enough, Cisco saw me and left where they were all eating to come to me. I met him about halfway, gave him a pat on the nose, and continued on to grab Phantom. Cisco followed me, because, obviously, I was out there to grab him.

And then he walked right next to me when I led Phantom up to the gate. And put himself in the spot to go through the gate.

He was quite put out when I pushed him back to let Phantom go through. And even more put out when she got to eat food right in front of him. Cisco decided his day was sucking too.

My friend texted that she still had to do a couple of work things before coming out so I figured I had time to ride Phantom first. I scraped off a ton of hair which just let all the dirt come to the surface. Whatevs. She's already pooped all over her tail so it needs to be washed again.

It wasn't an exciting ride, which was perfectly fine. It was a bit of an evaluative ride to see how she felt - not too bad. I should be able to get a couple more rides in on her before her required time off after her vaccinations later this week.

My riding companion finally showed up and tacked up Cisco. I proposed that we do a short ride in the arena and then head outside to ride around. She was on her new horse that she's only had for about a month and she doesn't know him all that well yet so she needed a buddy to ride out with. For once the wind had died down and it was an absolutely beautiful April evening - the bugs haven't come out yet.

My only goal for the ride inside was to canter over a couple of poles that I had set up in 2 point. I had put a neck strap on Cisco to help me find my balance.

We only did it a couple of times. To the right, we nailed it. To the left - well, we had a shitty turn out of the scary end of the arena (which he had a good spook at because the wall was on fire ie. sunlight was shining on it) and then he likes to get quick heading towards the gate. The good thing was that I saw my distances, the bad thing was that I knew they were going to be crap and did nothing to fix it. But my 2 point felt slightly better than the previous ride, so that was a positive.
Way behind, didn't care.
Then we went outside. We started off walking around the big field, then down one driveway, along the road in front of the paddocks, and down the second driveway to the neighbors and back. Friend's horse was a perfect gentleman and happy to do it all on a loose rein. Cisco was a bit concerned in the beginning, had a slight scoot when passing the paddocks on the road and a couple of young mares rushed the fence (then one of them took a header and slid on her shoulder in the mud for about 8 feet), and then was perfectly content on a loose rein, walking well behind the other horse. His short legs and relaxed walk couldn't keep up with the tall, forward TB, but he didn't care.
Beautiful sky before the sunset.
It was a lovely evening with us having the barn to ourselves. I only wish that we had stayed out about another 20 minutes to see the sunset - when I took Cisco out there was a lovely lavender coloured tinge to the skyline. Also I wished I had my phone with me. I had forgotten the running belt I wear when I ride to keep my phone in, and other than my bra I didn't have anywhere to keep it on me while riding.  I guess we'll have to do it again to get pictures!

Thursday 23 April 2020

A Better Ride

The second ride this week went much better than the first ride.

Cisco's brain was back in his head. My stirrups were back where they belonged (and now felt too long). The Pixio was all charged up.

The return of Cisco's brain was helped by the presence of other horses in the arena. That always makes a difference for him.

He started out pretty fussy at a trot but I didn't worry about it and just kept riding. We did some work on walk/transitions, and had some decent ones. They were definitely better when I asked for the trot from my seat instead of my legs - I must remember to ask for it that way.

I had set up poles down the centerline of the arena in a zigzag pattern with a couple of exercises in mind.

The first was a simple canter pattern, looping back over in figure 8 style with simple changes. I wanted to do lots of transitions since he's been getting sticky lately with them, and I wanted to work on an approach to the poles in 2 point.

My 2 point is not strong these days. I haven't done very much of it. And Cisco is bouncy - possibly the bounciest canter I've ever ridden. I don't feel it when I'm sitting in the saddle, but in 2 point I feel like I go straight up and down. I haven't figured out if he gets bouncier when I'm in 2 point because of my lack of balance or if that's just his canter.

Thankfully, the video didn't look nearly as bad as it felt. Because it felt like a hot mess. Correction - I felt like a hot mess. Cisco wasn't terrible - he even gave me a flying change. I felt like I was bouncing all over the place at a canter, and flopping all over in the downward transition.

So, yeah. Need to work on that.

The other exercise I wanted to do was one that I found on a Facebook group called Equestrian Pole Club, which has a purpose of posting ideas on pole/jump exercises. There are some good ideas on there, but far too many posts these days since every rider in England seems to be a member of the group and they have a lot of time on their hands at the moment. I totally recommend joining, but you might want to unfollow right away so that you don't end up with your wall full of posts you don't really want to see.

Anyhoo, the exercise uses the same zigzag configuration of poles. At a walk, you step over the first pole, halt, do a turn on the forehand towards the next pole, walk over it, halt, and repeat. Not a tough exercise, but a slow and steady one.

I found it worked really well to emphasize the half halt with the outside rein. You only take about 3 steps of walk before halting again, ideally with the outside rein. Then I'd sit on my inside seat bone to ask for the turn (from a dressage lesson last summer), and Cisco would fill out the outside rein, I'd ask for the halt again, and walk forward.

This is the kind of exercise that I'd return to multi-times through the ride I think. It was a good reminder of the half-halt for the horse and made everything slow down.

The video has one of our canter courses, the turn on the forehand exercise, and some trot towards the end of the ride when it got better. These were about the only highlights of the ride - but it was way better than the day before!

Wednesday 22 April 2020

It Was A Ride

Well, I survived the first ride on Cisco after a month off. That's about the only positive thing I've got to say about it.

I hoped that because it was the first warm day of the year that it would've taken some of the wind out of his sails. Most definitely did not happen.

For some reason, he started to do the idiot dance after grooming when I went to grab my saddle. His dinner dish magically appears from the same location, so I'm not sure if he was actually doing the dinner version of the idiot dance. When dinner didn't arrive he continued his dance. I had to make a flying leap towards him at one point to keep my saddle on his back while trying to get the girth attached.
Cisco had a playdate with Blue the day before. I hoped that it would get rid of some excess energy.
When we got into the arena, Cisco had forgotten how to breathe. I dragged him around the ring while I set up my Pixio in the hopes that he would start to take some deep, slow breaths instead of the short quick ones he was taking, but even when I dragged him back around the ring to take the Pixio down since I hadn't charged it in 6 weeks and the robot was dead, he still wasn't. That didn't bode well.

He actually stood really well when I got on. At which point I discovered that I had put my stirrups on the wrong stirrup bar when I had made some adjustments to the Flair panels and they were now jockey length.  And once I was on, Cisco wasn't going to stand still so that I could adjust them.

I had been overly optimistic and set up a pole exercise down the centerline of the arena. I used that as my warmup to keep Cisco's brain doing useful things with lots of turning and changing direction. The hamster still managed to hop on the wheel, and there were a couple of bigs spooks/splats/scoots because of pigeons, and every time we went over a pole in the direction of the open overhead door it was taken with more enthusiasm than required and an attempt to take off.
Not nearly as filthy as I expected her to be after 24 hours of nekkidness.
I knew that the first 10 minutes of trot were going to be a disaster - there was no way that I was going to head down to the scary end. Again, there were lots of changes of direction to keep his brain occupied. There was also lots of tranter whenever we turned towards the door.

But I also know that I just need to wait him out. He usually tires pretty quickly, and the warmth of the day was probably going to help.

Sure enough, after about 8 minutes of trot he was able to come back to walk on a loose rein. We did another 10 minutes or so of trot and he started listening to my leg and improving his turns. Since my ankles were screaming at me from being jammed into too short stirrups, I called it a win and finished the ride.

It was a ride. That was about all I was able to say about it.

Friday 17 April 2020

More Signs of Spring

Up in the Great White North, spring has been taking its time in arriving.

One of the farmer's fields on my way out to the barn on Thursday - still covered in snow.
I think it's finally happening though.

Thursday was a beautiful, sunny day. I arrived at the barn mid-afternoon and had to traverse a row of mud to get to the ponies paddock. Every time that I had to go through the mud again it seemed to have gotten wider and wetter as the snow piles on the other side were melting and draining that direction. I've got to remember to put my Muck Boots that don't have holes in them into the car next time (I left them in the garage - oops).
New barn kitty! She's a feral kitten and absolutely adorable. She won't let us touch her yet, but she's come a long way over the last few weeks - she lets me get within a meter or so before darting away. I might take a couple of cat toys out to see if I can lure her closer. 
It was just another day of scraping hair off the horses. This time we stood out in the sun to do it. Surprisingly, Cisco actually stands really well outside with the lead mostly draped over his neck. Phantom is the pain in the ass one who keeps testing to see if I really mean stay in one place when I tell her to stand. She's pretty sure that "stand" means "go find snacks yourself".

I'm hoping to be able to turn the kids out without blankets as of Sunday. They are currently just wearing rain sheets since we might get a bit of moisture on Friday. 

If you walked past them in their paddock. you might notice two more signs that warm weather is on its way.

First - white tails got let down from their winter braids.

It's not clean yet though.
Well, one tail. Phantom's tail is a bit too poopy to want to touch it at the moment. Hers will get done on either Sunday or Monday when I can wash it.

And the second sign of spring - Phantom is sporting her sunglasses.

That means sunny days are here and warm has to be just around the corner!

Monday 13 April 2020

Spring Sillies and Hair. So Much Hair.

I made it out to the barn a couple of times last week and on Easter Sunday. No riding, just scraping copious amounts of hair off them, changing blankets to suit whatever stupid weather we're getting (cold. Still really cold.) and trying to give them a chance to have a play in the arena.

A wee bit of a sassy hind end.

Phantom prefers left. I was trying to get her to spend some time to the right. She cheated.

I got a Kitchenaid stand mixer for my birthday last week. I've made 3 batches of human cookies and one batch of horse cookies so far. This was my attempt at making a bunny face with the horse cookies in their feed dishes.

Not worried about Cushings now!

The weather is finally looking up - supposed to be double digits by the end of the week - positive double digits! That's almost bath weather!  Well, maybe not full-on body bath, but definitely poopy bum baths (Phantom!).

I was scheduled to take next week off for vacation. I've been back and forth as to whether I take it as scheduled or delay it. I think I'm going to take it. The weather is looking like it's going to be nice (still time to change though) and if I delay it will only be by a couple of weeks. It's not like if I wait a couple of weeks I'll suddenly have options on things to do. So hopefully we don't get put into a full-on lockdown and I can get some saddle time in.

Thursday 9 April 2020

Throwback Thursday - Where It All Started

I went over to my parent's house for birthday cake yesterday and my mom presented me with an old photo album of mine that she had found. In it were pictures of me on the first horse I ever rode!

Way back in 1983, my brother and I went to a week-long, away from home, summer riding camp. I don't remember very much of it, except the horse's names (of course). My pony for the week was Dolly, who was adorable. My brother rode Danny, who was blind in one eye and had a best friend Vinnie who looked out for him by always standing next to him on his bad side.

Although we went back the next year (when I rode a palomino named Pharoah) my brother did not enjoy it. I don't know if he ever touched a horse again after camp. Being quite allergic to everything associated with horses probably didn't help!

This started my horse bug, which my parents finally gave in to in 1986, when I started with weekly lessons and was leasing a pony about 8 months later.

Current me is horrified at the length of the chin strap on my helmet.

I don't remember riding bareback. But I do remember that the next year we went out on a trailride bareback, and I had my first canter (unintentionally), and I fell off and sprained my wrist.

I'm sure that this camp instructor's name was Karen Briggs, and I've always wondered if she is the same Karen Briggs who has written tons of horse articles that have been in many magazines. Also, I would love to have a pony this colour - that flaxen mane is amazing!

My brother on Danny

Each pony had two kids assigned to it for the week. I'm on the left with Dolly, and my brother is on the right with Danny.

Monday 6 April 2020

Turn On to Turn Off

I didn't manage to get out to the barn at all last week. I finished my self-isolation on Wednesday and was back to work on Thursday, to work the next 5 days straight. I've got a crappy 1pm - 9pm shift for a bit, which doesn't leave me much time to do much out of the house in the mornings. I can make it out to the barn if I need to for a farrier or vet appointment, but I generally have to head straight to work and pick up lunch on the way - it makes for a very long day. Thus I tend not to head out to the barn on these days if I don't need to.

I'm off Tuesday and Wednesday this week so I plan to head out on both days. Not sure if I'm going to ride or not - Tuesday's plans include scraping off copious amounts of hair and letting the ponies loose in the arena to have a play. I'm not sure what I'll do on Wednesday with them.

Since I know I'm not going to be getting much saddle time, I decided to clear off my clothes hanger treadmill and start running again. And by running I mean many short slow runs with lots of walking in between. But hey, you gotta start somewhere.
The current temperature as of mid-morning on Monday. I'm staying inside for my exercise.
It's apparently still winter here so I'm staying inside. I bought a new tv that sits on the bookcase in front of the treadmill so that I can watch virtual running Youtube videos while I'm huffing and puffing. I totally got into it on my first attempt, to the point that when a maintenance vehicle came around the corner on the park path I was "running" on I moved my body on the treadmill to dodge it and shouted out. Can't wait to try a run through London!

I've tried to be a runner before. My brain loves it, my body hates it. My lower back gets tight, my right knee gets sore, and omg my IT bands. All similar problems that I get after riding, and ones that certainly don't help in the saddle.

I'm trying to be better about stretching and working out some of the sore bits on a regular basis. I've (mostly) embraced the foam roller and can now just whisper my curses instead of shouting them out.

Stretching and Foam Rolling; My New Strategy

I came across this video last week which made a big difference in my next run. It's got a couple of things to work on biomechanically to help reduce injuries while running. One thing was cadence - the amount of steps that you take per minute. I discovered that I was running way under speed - he started the guy on the treadmill at 8mph and he was still under the desired 180 cadence. I was generally running at just under 5mph. So on my next run I bumped it up to 6mph and as a result I didn't hurt at all afterwards. My back wasn't very tight, my knee started sore on my first couple of slower runs, but it disappeared at the faster speed. So I think that that's going to make a big difference. I'll just work slowly to increase the duration - it was hard!

The best thing I got from this video was a way to stretch your hip flexors. Tight hip flexors are a common complaint amongst riders so this one might have some application to equestrians.

I'm sure we've all done this stretch - you put one knee on the ground, the other foot on the floor in front of you with your knee at 90 degrees, and you try to stretch your hip. When your flexors are tight you feel the burn, right?

This stretch starts the same way. But instead of trying to actively stretch the hip flexor, you engage your glutes for 3 seconds on the side that the knee is on the ground. Then release, then repeat for 10 sets.

The video should be cued up to start at the part about the hip flexors.

Holy crap, it works. You will start to feel your hip flexors release, and every time you finish squeezing your glute the front of your hips will just sink forward. It was amazing.

I think the idea is that you have to turn one on to turn one off. To turn off your hip flexors, you have to turn on your glutes. Because this is being used in a running application the idea is teach your glutes to fire so that they do the work instead of your hamstrings.

For riding, we probably don't want to engage our glutes all that much - tight butts pop you out of the saddle. However, as a way to stretch out those oh so tight hips, I would totally recommend it.

I'm also thinking about how these theories can be applied to horses. Is there an ideal cadence that the horse should be moving at? Is a slow trot harder on joints and muscles? How can I encourage something to turn on to allow something to turn off? Time for some research!