Sunday, April 27, 2014

Killer Cat

Had a nice hack on Friday and it was mostly good.  Except for the mountain lion attack.

The crazy barn cat Caramel moseyed up to the outdoor and decided to take a nap on the elevated ledge during our ride.

Predictably, about 15 minutes later as Fawkes cantered by, Caramel freaked and jumped straight up into the air.  Fawkes flew to the left, terrified that we were both about to die a horrible eviscerated death.  He narrowly avoided this fate by freaking out and running us to the other corner of the ring.  You know, where the mountain lions can't go because...sand?

Or because Caramel got distracted by a stray piece of hay and started "killing" it.  Thanks silly cat, my back appreciated all the sudden motion.

A relatively quiet weekend here in general, everyone (i.e. J and Jasper) is still healing and getting bored.  I hiked with Maya yesterday and had a jumping lesson today.  It was another beautiful Saturday followed by a cold Sunday and all the horses were extra up - Fawkes was no exception.  Mostly though he was really good.  For the first time ever, we are starting to be able to land and travel straight after jumping fences on the right lead.  That is the bad way for both of us and getting over our crooked tendencies has been tough.  So while it is small progress, it is huge for me.

Stayed with jumping a gymnastic - 1 stride to 3 stride, and then a single fence on the other side.  Fawkes was very looky, but otherwise not too much of note. A friend saw my lesson after not seeing me ride in the past couple months and said my eq is definitely changing for the better.  Yay for positive reinforcement!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Outtakes and awesomeness

Had another jumping lesson tonight and Fawkes was on fire.  In the good way.  He had a ridiculous warm up, was light and carrying himself in the bridle, and was all ready to get to jumping.

Good thing too because the human half of the duo was not as on her A game.  I rode ok, but made a few dumb mistakes at fences.  On the positive learning front, trainer R saw that when I get concerned about what he is going to do in front of a fence I tense slightly and glance down.  And that makes Fawkes nervous and more likely to quit.  R said it is super subtle and she didn't even notice it until today, but now that she sees it, she thinks getting past that will be a key to getting him (and me) braver.

We clearly had a disagreement on take off for this fence, but holy hell he is so cute.
But even with that, Fawkes clearly really wants to jump these days.  Even when I biffed spots (see pic above)  he just kept moving forward.  The reality is that I need to keep working on riding the horse I have now and not the horse I had 2 years ago.  He has moved on and I must do the same.
We ain't never coming down!  I honestly don't even remember what I did to merit this one
Luckily I wasn't complete crap during the ride and we had some beautiful moments too.

R said her next goal is to get me to keep my chest a little farther off his neck, while releasing a tiny bit more. She said we are working on small changes at this point, which hopefully will be easier (of course they won't).

Monday, April 21, 2014

Jumping Therapy

Our house is still a place of chaos. J is finally feeling better, but Jasper had his surgery and is not thrilled with the exercise restrictions.
Woe is Jasper
He is healing well so far, but multiple weeks of one locked down cattle dog and a second dog who doesn't understand why her buddy can't play is not something to look forward to.  Neither was the unwelcome news that at least 50% of dogs who go through TPLO surgery end up needing it on their other leg.  Super.

Needless to say, on Sunday I was very much looking forward to getting to the barn and doing some jumping.  And Fawkes was supportive, he was great for our ride.  Trainer rode him first as she wants to a) get a feel for how he is under saddle and b) try and help install some of the buttons she wants.  Sounds good to me.

I never get to see anyone else ride him so that was pretty exciting.  And she able to demonstrate how she wants me to ask certain things, which was helpful.  On the other hand, and maybe I am a bad person for saying so, but it was also nice to see that he pulls some of the same crap for the trainer that he does for me. Esp his nose wiggle.  He knows how to steady in the contact but always starts out with the over-exaggerated waggle.

Then it was my turn.  And the worst thing - the thing that makes you want to softly bang your head against a wall while crying - was that he didn't spook at all for her.  But as soon as I got on and asked him to trot, he immediately started spooking in the one corner.  WTF horse!  Or, more realistically, WTF can I possibly be doing to make him spook?!?  Ugh.  At least it was short lived and mild.  Still food for thought.

Jumping was one of the hardest exercises for me, just one single fence on a circle, keeping the same rhythm and getting the same jump.  My brain quickly gets bored, over-analyzes, and makes me do stupid things like start to rush. Luckily, my horse rocks this exercise.

Because I am a miniature human the stirrups on my trainer's saddle were too long even on the shortest hole, so my eq suffered some but I was mostly pretty pleased.  Fawkes was so relaxed that his form was definitely on the lazy side, but I am ok with that right now as relaxation > snappy knees on spooky horse. Plus we can easily tighten him back up, no worries there.

After our lesson he got his first bath of the season.  He still hasn't started shedding but at least the dirt from November is gone!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Delicate Flower Horse

Spring shots were Wednesday and poor Fawkes is still sporting a pretty large hematoma on the right side of neck. Poor little delicate flower.

So that probably means it is ok that I was an absentee horse owner this week dealing with surgery dog, car repairs, and a limping husband, right?

Yeah, glad this week is over.

I did finally squeeze in a short ride tonight at least. Took it easy on him since I am sure his neck hurts, so just tried to practice my equitation.  A few days out of the saddle and my ankles are like "LOL, not stretching."

Although that is irritating, the main thing that has been a problem is that my lower back has not been happy with the changes in my form.  Since my trainer, stability, and horse are all happy, I think I need to find a way to get my back in line.  Either get it stronger or figure out what I am doing wrong that it is sore when I ride.  Put that on the goal list.

The ride was really good.  Fawkes was very obedient and we used pole work to focus on my right leg helping turns and keeping my weight correct over the poles so he landed correctly.  It is awesome to have confirmed lead changes but even better if you can get your act together enough that the horse doesn't have to bother.

Looking forward to a jumping lesson this weekend!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Rough Weekend

Luckily all is well with Fawkes, unluckily I have had a hard time getting out to see him!

The weekend started out auspiciously enough.  J went hiking with crazy Maya, and I went with a friend to the Wild Animal Sanctuary, an awesome predator rescue.
The animals all have huge enclosures and fun enrichment things like this grizzly paddling pool.  Unfortunately, as we were leaving, J called with some bad news - he had fallen during his hike, landed on a rock, and his leg was swelling up pretty badly.  Thankfully he was able to hike out and didn't have to use his emergency beacon, but he was in quite a bit of pain.

So he went off to the ER for x-rays and I scrapped my plan of an afternoon ride and dirty horse bath.  X-rays showed no fractures but the doctors were impressed with the amount of soft tissue damage.  Here is the bruise, just getting started

It is much more purple today, I think is going to be an impressive rainbow.  Then on Sunday the weather went from almost 80 to 20 and snowing.  My trainer canceled my lesson and I opted out of slogging around in the cold.  The pressure drop had made me feel ill, Jon was still limping, and what is the motivation to ride after a 60 degree temperature loss??

To top it all off, we found out Jasper needs $4k surgery to fix his torn ACL (well, cranial cruciate ligament in a dog but same thing).  That is why only Maya got to go hiking Saturday and sad Jasper had to stay home

Why am I so alone and abandoned?
Luckily we have him insured, so hopefully a lot of the cost is covered.  Either way, it needs to happen because he has been limping around and I hate to see him in pain.  He is only 5 (ish...Shelter dog, so only a guess) and loves to hike so fingers crossed the surgery works.

Anyways, long story long, I finally got to the barn tonight.  Fawkes appears to have survived his 2 days without me although the goober did somehow skin his hock.  I am assigning blame for that to the mare in the next pen who is in all sorts of crazy, pee-everywhere heat.

We did a dressage ride and worked on our trainer homework.  He was much more responsive to my leg right off the bat, but we still worked on ask nicely, then ask with correction, then ask nicely again.  We did a "U" pattern where we trotted the "U", and at each tip did a turn on the forehand.  The idea being to get the right leg response the same as the left leg.  We trotted off from the turn to reinforce the idea of being in front of the leg.
2013 snow storm cuteness

There were a few temper tantrums around the right leg, but he did pretty well.  His canter departs were super active and uphill so no problem there.  Then we did a 3-loop serpentine where we cantered loop one trotted loop two, and cantered loop three.  That is not easy! Because we did the transitions at X, Fawkes really had to rely on me for which lead to pick up.

Good news: he was listening closely.  Bad news: When your horse listens closely and you shift your weight around you get LOTS of flying changes.  And a pissy TB.  After two times I either managed to hold still more or he memorized the pattern and saved my butt.  Likely the latter.  Since it is still frickin frigid out I didn't want to overheat him, so I ended relatively quickly and cooled him out bareback.  Practiced just asking him to move away from my leg and he was a good boy.

Between my schedule and spring shots, this week will probably be pretty quiet on the horse front.  Which is cool, I have had enough excitement for the moment!


Friday, April 11, 2014

Enjoying Time Together

Although Fawkes and I have lots of work to do, tonight was just enjoying each other's company.  I like to mess with his little head by sometimes getting on and asking him for....nothing at all.

So we tacked up, wandered around for awhile, watched the bunnies go nuts (ah, bunny mating season so we get more bunnies.  Super), and then I got off and groomed him.

On Wednesday we had another jumping lesson where we continued our work on rhythm and straightness.  Trainer R helped me figure out that starting to apply my right leg earlier helps eliminate the Fawkesian drift.  Slowly but surely, we will get there.  It is funny how it sometimes get worse before it gets better but on the straightness front we are definitely making progress.

Tonight it was just nice to enjoy his company and be amused by his silly personality.  He is one odd little monkey, but at the end of the day, he is my special snowflake.

Also started our Keratex treatment, so we will see if that helps the feet cracks until the Farrier's Formula (hopefully) kicks in.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Getting back to Dressage

Went to the barn yesterday and found this:

Argh. I hate foot damage.
Sent a picture to the farrier who promptly called me back (love my farrier) and assured me that as long as it stays superficial and he is comfortable, I don't need to worry.  Which he knows is a fruitless endeavor but it is cute how he tries to calm my crazy.

Since we got the go ahead to ride we did a quick ride last night and then tonight I had my first dressage lesson at the new barn.  I have been so busy getting my jumping form together that I haven't ridden in my dressage saddle in over a month.  Last night was a reminder of why we need to break out the black tack more often.

Our house is a very stressful environment.

Fawkes was pissy to my leg and kicked out several times.  And he was definitely not very forward.  Tonight was a little better, but not surprisingly the dressage trainer saw our flaws immediately.  I am not going to lie, I was nervous about riding for this trainer.  She is my old trainer's trainer, S judge, gold medalist and a whole bunch of other stuff that I barely even understand being merely a dressage dabbler.  Luckily, my nerves were unfounded; she was gracious, friendly, helpful, and professional.

She loves Thoroughbreds which is always a nice thing, and she liked Fawkes a lot.  Said he is a well put together horse who has nice gaits, rhythm, and a good attitude (HA! Time will show the other side of that temperamental coin).  Even without recent practice she mentioned that he stays relatively on the bit and steady in the contact, but is inherently lazy with his transitions and responsiveness to my leg.  Specifically my right leg.  So our homework there is to get him in front of my leg and moving off my right leg with some degree of urgency.

Seriously stressful
My list of things to work on was a bit longer, but still not terrible.  I need to:

  • Get my dressage seat back.  Crap, it took me way too long tonight to remember how to sit in that thing. 
  • Work while holding a dressage whip on my thigh to keep my right hand quiet.  See how Fawkes and I both struggle with our right sides? Isn't that special?  
  • Engage my core more, especially at canter.
  • Not accept a lackadaisical, when-Fawkes-gets-around to it response from my leg.  Ask nicely, then ask with correction, then ask nicely again the next time.  
  • More transitions.
Dressaging last fall.  Can I make that a verb? Yes, I sure can.

I can't afford to do as many dressage lessons as I would like, but this is really good to get me motivated and keep me honest.  Even if I can only do once or twice a month, lessons will hold me accountable to practice and progress.  And that will benefit both horse and human.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Hiking Day

Fawkes got today off and J and I went hiking with a group of friends.  We have done some small hikes this winter, but today was our first "real" outing.  Did a 6.5 mile hike and realized that riding and skiing all winter did not keep me in great hiking shape!  Luckily, the hiking does seem to help with the riding.  It was a struggle at times, but we made it the whole way and had a fun time.

Plenty of uphill to build strong quads

Plenty of snow to remind me that winter isn't over in the high country

The summit was worth the mile long slog through the snow

Maya doesn't understand lunch breaks and looks sad.
She also carries a pack because hiking alone doesn't tire her out!

Clouds rolled in and out all day but luckily it never rained or snowed.

Certainly looks like it was raining somewhere today!

Poor Jasper has been having some hind leg difficulty and I think it is time for a new vet to try and figure out what is going on.  He loves to hike sooo much, I would hate to have to leave him at home while we went out.
He had so much fun today!

I am very lucky to live in such a beautiful place and to have great people to enjoy the outdoors with. All the humans enjoyed a post hike beer and the dogs are blissfully passed out...and filthy.  Baths to come!  

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Getting our Hunter On

Fawkes and I had a great jumping lesson this morning.  The weather was perfect, which always makes me happier, and Fawkes was in a good mood.  He kept trying to eat everything as I tacked him up.  The cross-ties, the brushes, me, his saddle pad, all was fair game.
Pretty pony

Had a really good warm up and then did some low, slow courses.  The whole name of the game was for me to keep him straight and keep the arch in my back and for him to stay calm and relaxed.

Game faces. 
Fawkes was foot perfect.  Interested, but totally doing his hunter thing and keeping a nice rhythm.  We were crashing a beginner jumper's lesson since I can't ride at my normal time tomorrow, so we mostly just stayed with cross rails which helped maintain the calm.  Fawkes didn't even mind the jackets decorating the standards.
Holy crap, I am not doing anything obviously stupid over this jump.
Probably time to retire.

I (mostly) managed to remember to use my outside aids and it is just flat miraculous how much that helps maintain straightness.  We did a few 2' verticals as well, but J got very distracted by the Evil Puppy and stopped paying attention to us.  

Puppy is loads of suicidal - broke free twice and chased horses.
Learn fast pup, learn fast.

However, my trainer's daughter agreed to show off a little for us, and that certainly got the photographer's attention


J commented how much easier it is for him to take good pictures when the jumps are bigger, and why can't Fawkes and I just do that?   Trainer R said Fawkes will be there before we know it, I just subtly willed Fawkes to kick J in the leg (traitorous horse didn't listen.  Figures).

Finished off with a quick stroll up the street and Fawkes was a wonderous trail horse.  Yay for good riding days!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Ups and Downs

Fawkes and I seem to be on a bit of a roller coaster lately.  Not a big roller coaster, or even that really annoying Wild Mouse ride, but more like the little kid's mini roller coaster.
Lady, get to a point already or we will be here all night

The many faces of Fawkes
When I take a step back I feel confident we are moving in the right direction, but the last few rides have definitely been a mix of good and bad.  On the plus side, our flat work is coming along nicely.  My position and eq have been getting more consistent, and besides our inevitable first bad canter transition, we seem to have found a happy place at all gaits.

Over fences is where the inconsistency is still getting us.  Sunday he jumped everything but was spooking and bucking.  Today he seemed a lot more relaxed but had two stops.  We were working on a really simple exercise: 5 stride line on one side and single fence on the other side.

We warmed up over the single fence one way fine, when we turned around to go the other way he stopped in front of it the first time.  Then daintily stepped over (it was a tiny cross rail).  Next time around jumped it, but was definitely worried.

Even Fawkes can take a bad picture
Then we went into the line.  He jumped into the line at a trot fine, but was immediately worried about the second fence.  I spent the whole 5 strides trying to get him straight.  I could feel him sliding right so I applied strong right aids and he ran out left.  Damn.  Second time: he stayed straight but sucked back in front and then launched over. Third time: tried to run through.  Fourth time on: golden.  So we can definitely get there, it just takes time.  More time than is probably reasonable after two years.  Sigh.

 By the end of the lesson we were able to get some lovely runs through the line, followed by the single vertical.  R kept the entry into the line at a cross rail and the other two fences were about 2'3" (Side note, I just write down the heights so I can look back and see what we were working on.  Realistically, we will spend most of our time schooling in the 2'3" to 2'9" range, a little higher if I decide to pursue the 3' hunters.  I am not pushing for additional height right now).

We have also seen great improvements in being straight after the fence, something Fawkes and I have both found elusive historically.  I am pretty proud of that, small though it seems.  I just wish I could figure out what I need to do to make him a little less reactive the first time he sees a fence.  Eventually he needs to be able to consistently jump a fence the first time he sees it.  Or at least, that would be ideal!

But mostly so handsome.  I need to find an unwitting volunteer
to help me with that mane.
On a funny note, there was a puppy (leashed) in the ring during my lesson.  After Fawkes landed from one jump the puppy randomly leaped to the end of the leash, barking.  Fawkes took that as a personal affront and had a little hissy fit - half hearted buck, snort, bolt, flail event.  I don't think he was scared, he was mad at the little guy.  Silly horse.