Tuesday 28 June 2022

This Summer in the Sun

 It's been a few years since I haven't had an indoor arena to ride in. For the first few years that I rode Phantom she went back to her previous owner's place in the summer (she still owned her at that point) and I rode at her acreage from July through September. That meant that riding was somewhat at the whims of the weather - when it rained it took at least a couple of days for the footing to dry out, and when it was hot I had to ride early or late to stay out of the sun and the ground got hard. Not to mention trying to stay away from the mosquitos.

I still try to get outside quite a bit in the summer, but sometimes when it's hot I like to stay inside, under cover, and keep the sun from scorching my pale Irish skin. The arena I've been at for the last five years is a big Cover-All and the temperature stays pretty moderate in summer.

But this summer, the arena is coming down. And until the new one that is going to be built is completed, I'm going to have to ride out in the elements.

Luckily, we're going to be able to ride in the neighbours outdoor arena, which is just on the other side of a row of paddocks from our indoor, so we won't have to travel to do so. And they just put in new sand footing a few weeks ago. That could be good or bad - it shouldn't bake as hard as it used to in the hot sun, but, since it's new footing that hasn't had time to really settle yet, when it rains, it might not drain very well. And it's been raining a lot.

Let's hope we got all the rain in June and that July is much drier (it usually isn't).

The bad thing is that there will be riders from two locations trying to share the space. Last year there were many evenings where there were a whole bunch of riders in that ring at the same time, and they always seemed to working on western gymkhana events. It might turn into a bit of a gong show, especially if the weather isn't going to co-operate and everyone tries to get rides in when things dry out.

I'm planning to purchase a couple more sunshirts to prepare for this summer. And stock up on mosquito spray. Because of all the rain we've had, we're expecting to start seeing swarms of them in about two weeks. I should probably stock up on After Bite too - I get big, itchy welts when I get bit these days.

I must dig this out again, and yes, it does fit over a helmet.

Things should start happening in the next couple of weeks. The old arena comes down and the steel frame is being sold, and then the metal-framed pole barn style arena will be going up. I don't know if the barn owner already has a company hired to start the construction or not, and who knows how long things will take with the delays that seem inevitable these days. I don't think these types of arenas take long to put up though.

It won't be as big as the current arena either, which I will mourn. It's going to be hard to go back to a smaller arena. Especially on lesson nights, which seem to be almost every night these days. Because of the current arena's size it's not uncommon for two different instructors to be teaching at the same time. In the smaller ring, it'll be a little tougher, so maybe we'll have to do a better job of scheduling, so as to avoid nights like the one this week when three lessons were going on at the same time (which was apparently a zoo and thankfully I arrived after it was all done).

The new arena is also going to be heated and insulated. I will happily put up with a couple of months of annoyances if I get to be warm this winter!

I'm kind of looking forward to spending more time outside this summer, I'm just hoping I can find pockets of either time or locations that will allow me to have some decent rides. I'm also very much hoping that we have an indoor location to ride in by mid-September - it gets too dark after work to be able to ride outside by that point. There are so many delays on seemingly everything these days, I don't know if anyone guarantees completion dates anymore.

Hopefully, Cisco will find the new arena not as scary as the old one. Here's hoping there are fewer hiding spots for the horse murderers.

Friday 24 June 2022

The Pad Experiment

 For the first time in a very long time, Cisco was ridden five days in a row this week. We are still BFF's, as on day four he galloped across the paddock to meet me at the gate when I called him. Mind you, he didn't even look at me on day five when I went out to catch him, but I'm pretty sure that was because it was pouring rain and he wasn't inclined to leave the shelter.

On Wednesday night, I had called Pony Grandma (aka my mom) to see if she would be able to come out with me on Thursday and help me with something. I have been wanting to try using the Surefoot Pads with Cisco while under saddle, but there never seems to be anyone around to put the pads under his feet for me while I'm riding. 

At some point on Thursday, this video link popped up somewhere on the interweb for me, and it seemed fate that I had already planned something similar for that night. There's some really good info in this video.

Pony Grandma (PG) hasn't been out to the barn since last summer. This wasn't the best ride to show her the progress that we've made - I wasn't riding my best, and thus Cisco wasn't really going his best - but she saw a huge difference in his relaxation as we warmed up. 

Cisco was inclined to go in a long, low frame on this day, something that we've often struggled with. The challenge is always keeping his nose out. He was doing pretty good with it though.

After some w/t/c, we started with the pads.

Cisco has done them many times before, so he is very familiar with them, and generally made it very easy for PG to place them under his feet. However, he wasn't as inclined to stand on them as long as he normally would, which I assume is because this time he had the extra weight and balance of his rider. Still, I was able to feel him do some twitches, sways, and little body adjustments while standing on the pads.

Did I notice a difference in him after standing on the pads? An assured yes!

Cisco has always been a high-headed horse. Getting him to stretch his nose down has always been a challenge. 

It didn't take long for him to do so at a walk. And after a while, he let me know that he wasn't wanting to let me bring his head up as when I tried to shorten my reins a bit before picking up a trot he kind of snatched them out of my hand to continue stretching down. 

The trot took a little bit longer for him to relax into, and surprisingly he was more inclined to do it on the left rein versus the right rein. I tried really hard to let him have a loose rein, and then we couldn't seem to steer at all, and when I would have to take a bit of contact to guide him in the direction we needed to go he went behind the bit, but popped his nose out again when I released. He felt soft in his body and light in his step.

Also of interest, was that in the beginning he really tried to take me back to the middle of the circle where the pads were lying on the ground, and where PG was standing. This didn't help our steering issues!

All in all, it was an excellent experiment that I will for sure be repeating. Cisco has been working really well lately but he has a tendency to get a bit stuck and short in his neck. He also still needs to develop the muscles along the top of his neck, especially in front of the withers. They're coming, but slowly.

I just need a person ready to pop the pads under his feet at different times of my ride so that I can use them to release tension through the ride. That should be easy, right?

Tuesday 21 June 2022

Those Pesky Wabbits

 I had an interesting ride on Cisco last night. Not bad, just interesting. 

The quick set-up - one of the trainers at the barn has a working student for the summer who is living in a camper trailer that is set up behind the arena. Of course, behind the scary end of the arena. It hasn't caused any problems for the last couple of weeks, but this evening when we entered the arena, there was a bit of a party going on (not really, I'm sure they were doing something useful). There were lots of voices and noises emanating from the other side of the wall in the scary end. 

Cisco is always wary of that end of the arena when he is in there by himself, but as of late he has a good look on our first lap in each direction and after that is pretty good about it. 

Last night, he was a bit more concerned because of the odd noises, but was going into the end without too much issue. 

And then the rabbits showed up.

Not literally. There are far too many dogs running around this place for rabbits to think it would be a good idea to hop on in. 

Have you ever heard Warwick Schiller's 13 Rabbits story regarding stacking stress?

“I was at a clinic and had a participant say to me, “My horse is completely stupid!”  When I asked why, she said:

‘Well, I went for a ride on my horse the other day and a rabbit jumped out of the grass and it didn’t really bother my horse.  I rode a little farther and another rabbit jumped out of the grass and he looked at it but he didn’t appear bothered.  A little while later, another rabbit jumped out of the grass and again it didn’t bother him.  After about an hour, there must have been a total of 12 rabbits that had jumped out of the bushes and he really didn’t get too excited about them.  THEN!  The 13th rabbit jumped out of the bushes and when it did, my horse exploded!  He freaked out, bucked me off and ran home! He’d seen 12 rabbits already that day, so, he must just be stupid!’

After reassuring the person that her horse was not stupid, Warwick explained it to her this way: What happened was that when the horse saw the 1st rabbit, it caused a little bit of worry and the horse held onto that worry.  When he saw the 2nd rabbit, it caused a little bit more worry and he held on to that as well and so on and so forth.  After the 12th rabbit, the horse had accumulated a lot of worry.  Once that 13th rabbit came out, the horse could handle no more worry and the horse freaked out.  So, this horse could not handle more than 12 rabbits worth of worry!

Cisco started seeing a whole bunch of rabbits. And not the soft, fluffy kind. More the Monty Python killer rabbit kind.

He handled the voices and sounds at the beginning of the ride quite well. Then, while we were still walking in our warm-up, as we were heading into the scary end down the center line, there was a different sound - kind of like someone had shaken a blanket and it made that thunky snapping sound. Cisco was very concerned about that sound. He stopped dead, and we had to turn to the right away from that sound to get going again. He was good though, he didn't try to spin or gtfo from that end.

Then one of the trainer's bulldogs came into the arena from that end. Cisco usually doesn't worry about the dogs, but again, he had a bit of extra concern. 

Next, he spooked a bit at the jump blocks that live on the other side of the fence, nowhere near the scary end. This was very out of character for him. 

Throughout this, we kept walking through the scary end, without putting additional pressure on him. And he was very good and kept going without stopping, but would have a good look into the end every time. 

He put up a brave face, so I was a bit surprised when we picked up a trot at how much tension there was in him. He normally starts the trot as a bit of a llama, but this was much more of a drama llama than usual. 

We stayed in the "safe" zone until he started to relax, then started to work towards getting into the scary end. I kept it simple - trot down the long side until I felt him start to worry, then back to walk, walk through the short side, wait until he was settled coming out of the corner, and repeat. We were generally able to get a little further into the end before walking with every pass, but if we changed direction or did a bit of work in the safe end we kind of had to start over again. 

It was just that one corner. When we got out of that corner, he was quickly able to relax and didn't feel the need to gtfo. Out of that corner, he felt quite lovely and fairly relaxed and schooled really, really well. 

What I found really interesting about this ride was that I could really see the rabbits adding up. In the past, when he's been stressed about something he's mostly stayed at the same heightened level for a while and had a hard time letting go of it. On this ride, he didn't outwardly show the amount of concern that he obviously had and was trying really hard to just keep going forward into the corner, but would have a moment of "I'm really worried", gave it a try, and seemed to take that breath after the corner and think "it's okay".

I thought this was a pretty big deal for my very much not-brave horse. The amount of try was huge. Other than the one time when the blanket shaking sound was heard, every other time he took me into the scary end, he might have had a couple of wobbly steps, but he kept going. This is the kind of ride where I realize how far he's come from when I started him.

Hopefully, this ride eased some of his leporiphobia (look it up), and next time it happens he'll see mini lops instead of Giant Flemish's.

Not the kind of rabbit we want to see!

Monday 20 June 2022

Teeth, Tails, and (Possible) Tumors

 What has Phantom been up to lately?

Well, she got her teeth done last month. Now that she's 19 I'll have to get it done every year. She typically was always good at her one-year check for "another 6 months", and then by the time I actually got it done it was usually closer to two years.

With the current price of gas, instead of hauling her over to the vet clinic to be done (which was always a half-day activity) I joined in on a barn appointment with a new-to-me vet who only does teeth. He is a bonafide horse vet, he decided many years ago to specialize in dental work so I believe that is all he does. 

He didn't quite heed my warning that Phantom was not a cheap drunk for this procedure, so before he actually managed to get a float to touch a tooth she required two top-ups from the initial dose of sedation. And even then, she fought through the sedative. He was actually quite impressed by her willpower. 

But, the job got done, and she's good for another year. There were no major issues, just a couple of sharp edges.

The "I've woken up from all my sedation and now I'm angry at being stuck in a stall" mare. If the door is shut she bangs the barn down; the stall guard is our compromise.

Also - did you know that after the age of 25 horses should get their teeth checked every 6 months? As they get older they get spaces between their teeth and food will get stuck in there and cause problems. 

The other issue that we've been dealing with is her fecal water syndrome problem. It wasn't too bad over the winter, but it's come back. I suspect that it's mostly due to a difference in the hay - the hay over the winter was much grassier, the stuff they are on now is a bit coarser.

FWS means regular hosing and cleaning of poop-stained tails and hind legs. Yuck.

The before and after. After lasted a whole two days.

It also means trying to get some psyllium into her. Which has been a bit more of a challenge than it was last year as she has not been eating her beet pulp/grain mixture very well. I've completely eliminated giving her the ration balancer she's been eating for the last 4 or 5 years as she was turning her nose up at that and have dropped her down to just some beet pulp. I suspect that it's due to being on Prascend for her Cushings - inappetence is a common side effect. She's eating hay like a champ so I'm not too stressed about it, and Cisco has been excited to keep getting second suppers when he gets to finish off whatever Phantom doesn't eat. I'm mostly concerned that should she lose weight I'll have a hard time getting some extra calories into her. 

At the moment, I've been adding some apple sauce into her beet pulp and psyllium to try to get her to eat it, to somewhat mixed success. She's like a girl with an eating disorder who always leaves something left on the plate - she always leaves something left in her bucket, no matter how much I give her. 

Under saddle, she's been feeling pretty good. I started her on a daily dose of Previcox and she seems to be more comfortable on her hocks. She's still on her forehand much more than she used to be, but she also doesn't get ridden enough to be strong enough to carry herself the way she used to. 

This is most definitely what Phantom would rather be doing these days.

I rode her on Tuesday and she felt amazing - especially her right lead canter. It was uphill and relaxed and I could have ridden it for miles. (Not really - I would have died after the first mile.) Thursday's ride - we couldn't get that feeling again. We just kind of do whatever she is feeling good about doing - some rides we canter, some we don't, and some we barely get out of walk. Since she's been given the regular Previcox dose, she's been feeling good pretty on the regular.

One other possibly not great thing has popped up - I might have found her first melanoma.

A couple of days before she had her teeth done I discovered a pea-sized and shaped lump in her chin groove. I asked the dental vet to have a feel of it and if it is something I need to get investigated. He didn't flat out say it was or it wasn't, more keep an eye on it, if it grows get it checked out, or have my regular vet have a look at it when Phantom sees them next. The good news is that it seems to not be attached to anything except skin. The vet was more at her age and as long as it doesn't start growing quickly, don't stress about it.

Of course, I'll totally stress about it!

(Sorry if the post title is a little click-baity - I was having a hard time thinking of a title and liked the alliteration.)

Friday 17 June 2022

Carl's Words of Wisdom

Since I started using the soundproof ear covers for Cisco last spring, I've had a different horse. He no longer splats every time he hears a sound, and thus no longer spends his time in the arena tensely waiting for it to happen because it happened last week so it's obviously going to happen again and he'd better be ready for it because he needs to make sure that he wasn't going to be the one eaten by the horse murderers that hide in the corners at the end of the arena.

The chances of horse murderers jumping out at you are less when wearing ear covers, but never zero. 

Now, I generally get onto a llama for the first lap around each way, but when the horse murders stay hidden, he stops worrying that death is imminent and releases the tension in his body.

And, it turns out, Cisco is actually quite lazy.

I don't know how to ride a lazy horse. I've always had pretty forward horses.

The theme of the year so far has been to get Cisco thinking forward. We finally have relaxation, now I need to put some energy back into him.

It was a bit of a struggle. We had many rides of transition after transition after transition, insisting on a forward reaction from a light leg. He'd do it, but wouldn't maintain it. It was exhausting to ride.

About a month ago, I had an epiphany. 

I needed to take my legs off the horse.

Huge difference. Yuge.

You've probably heard the mantra "Keep your legs on a hot horse, take your legs off a lazy horse". I've generally always ridden hotter horses, so I've always kept a light feel with my leg. Until recently, I would have said that Cisco was a hot, reactive horse, so he needed my leg on for reassurance. 

But now he's not reactive. And I want him to be hotter. So I have to keep remembering to take my leg off, only use it when I need to apply an aid, then take it off again.

It has helped with the forward immensely. I am much less tired after my ride. And Cisco has started offering much bigger trots with much more impulsion. Two rides ago as soon as we picked up our trot he trotted big and relaxed in his body - he used to always start off forward, but very tense and up and down. This was a trot that was taking me somewhere. It felt great. 

The forward with less tension has also made a big difference in straightness. I can finally ask for flexion and not have him fling his shoulders in that same direction. 

We've also started to work with the counter-canter. And whoo-boy, does that make him work. We're going to be doing a whole bunch of that!

We're finally at the point where I feel I can really school my horse. I don't really think I've changed a whole lot on my end (other than taking my legs off), it's just that Cisco is finally relaxed enough that I am not fighting negative tension for most of a ride. 

Thank god - it's only taken five years!!


Sunday 12 June 2022

Cisco Sans Selle

 Oops. I kinda fell off the blogging wagon.

Mostly because I've been so darn busy, which is mostly because of the horses. But in a good way. 

So I'll attempt to catch you up.

In this episode of Gray Flannel Horses, I tell you about how Heather has put on her big girl panties and has been riding her horse sans saddle.

I used to ride bareback all the time. You know, when I was young, fit, skinny, and had a horse that spooked once every couple of years (mostly at cows). If I could do it in a saddle, I could probably do it bareback (well, maybe the jumps were smaller).

Then I didn't ride for a few years, got older, fatter, and less fit. My balance on a horse (and on the ground at times) is not what it was when I was younger.

Between 2009 and this summer, I've hopped on Phantom bareback a grand total of four times.  And it felt awful.

Looking back now, I think that Phantom, aka Miss Sensitive, was always trying to adjust her balance to stay with my balance, which made keeping my balance much more difficult. She was kind enough to do a tiny little walk, and the slowest jog she's ever done, but anything more than that was too much movement for her and she didn't like it. I do recall cantering once on her, during which I almost slid off  over her left shoulder about three times over 2/3's of a 20m circle. 

So riding bareback on her just wasn't fun.

I hadn't attempted bareback on Cisco prior to this year for a variety of reasons, including my short legs and his very wide barrel, his level of spookiness, and, well, my age (much closer to 50 than 40 these days).

One of things I always liked about hopping on bareback was the speed in which I could get ready - a quick brush, pop on my helmet and a bridle, and pretty well good to go. And lately, I've been looking for a way to sometimes have a quick toodle ride.

There's also been a big change in Cisco this year. He's become quite reliable. And for the most part, quite chill.

So, a few weeks ago, I bit the bullet and slid a leg over without a stirrup to place it in. 

And he was super!

He quickly figured it out and wasn't phased by me sliding around on his back. I'll totally admit that I held onto mane for most of the ride, including at a walk, but we did some trot before calling it a day. 

Since that ride went so well, I decided to try it again on Mother's Day when I was in a bit of a rush to something done with the horses before family dinner. This time, it was super windy out, and Cisco was in the arena by himself. What could go wrong?

Potted fake plants in the doorway could blow over. That's what could go wrong.

I mean, he gave me fair warning while I set up the Pivo that he was going to be a bit on edge. Staring into the scary end while doing that loud blowing snort (you know the one) does not bode well for a quiet ride. But he kept his shit together other than when he was almost killed by the fake plants and we were able to do some trot (most definitely holding mane) - but only in the safe end of the arena. I did have a dinner to attend, and my brother is quite a good cook.

On our next bareback attempt, the goal was to rely a little less on the mane for my balance. Cisco is helping me in my task by rubbing his mane out like he does every summer due to trying to eat the grass on the other side of the fence (it is greener, after all). There isn't much left in the grab mane zone to grab.

On the fourth ride, we cantered. On purpose even!

As I suspected, getting the canter was the hard part. He wasn't quite confident that I was really asking for it. But once we got it he cantered quietly and gave me a soft downward transition back to walk. 

My balance is definitely starting to feel better. I can let go of the mane and stay in the middle of my horse, but I need to relax and allow my body to follow the movement more. I'm pretty tense in my back and not sitting on my seat bones enough. There are also some moments when I realize that I'm sitting a bit more to the left than I should be and am at risk of sliding off his left shoulder. Thankfully, Cisco has been very kind to me and hasn't taken that second step that does me in. 

I'm excited to continue this over the summer months. Sometimes, in the heat, you just want a quick ride, and it's just so easy to convince myself to actually do it when I don't have to go through all the effort of tacking up.