Friday, December 16, 2016

Seasonal adjustment

I guess I dropped off the face of blogger land.  Forgetting updating here I feel like I will also never catch up on everyone else's blogs!

Jasper is not loving the cold
Things have been fine here with the Odin, although mostly at a stall for multiple reasons.  The weather in CO has been a total roller coaster.  It seems that generally if I can manage to schedule a barn day the predicted weather is something like 1.5 million mile per hour winds, a high around absolute zero, and/or an ice storm.  For example - the predicted high tomorrow is 7F.  Eff that noise.

Sigh.  3F

When the weather hasn't sucked, I have either been sick (I feel like I have been sick off and on for forever now but it really started right in mid November), stuck at work events, or just totally unmotivated.  I believe Seasonal Affected Disorder or something has struck hard. So most of my physical activity is at a much lower rate and my alcohol consumption is at a higher rate.  Hey, that is sort of like having a balance, right?

I do still run on occasion.  It was more fun that I expected to run in the slush
I also discovered an online Lord of the Rings game  - called Lord of the Rings online, oddly enough - and that has how I am spending my downtime.  I am a huge LotR fan and this has been nice to have when the short days and frigid temps have me down.  Plus you can collect horses in the game and "ride" around middle earth.  Of course the first horse I acquired I named Odin.

All of which is to say that I still hang out with my horse and we ride, but we are not really trying to progress much at the moment.  He will likely get thrown back in training in Jan or Feb for a couple months to get ready for spring but unless my life, brain, and the weather get their act together, it might just be a pony bonding winter.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

A jumping weekend

Last weekend we managed to actually get two jumping lessons in, which was great.  On Saturday, we really worked on my position and Odin's straightness.  The horse has a monster stride in there but is content to take the add, which is really nice at this stage of his training.

Trotting into jumps coming away from the gate is a real bitch.  R2 struggles with it as well when she jumps him.  But trainer R keeps making us do it anyways, freaking trainers, always making you do the really hard things.

The issue is that as you turn away from the gate, Odin sucks back behind the leg.  No matter how much leg you add, he keeps losing momentum.  Then he gets to the cross rail and is like, meh, stumble/lazy jump.  I will cheat by cantering up the long side just to wake his ass up, and it usually works.
We get through, it just isn't exactly pretty

One time we did a crap lazy jump into the line and R was like "canter NOW" so I booted him in the ribs.  This was exceedingly offensive to the baby who promptly squealed and cantered sideways out of the line.  We came back around with more focus and he trotted in and cantered out nicely.

For me, this was the key point of the lesson because it exemplified two things with this horse.  One, he doesn't hold a grudge.  Shit goes sideways, you ask him to calm down and re-focus and he says, sure, no problem.
Our game faces are ready for bigger things. 

Two, the absolute hardest part of riding him is that you need to add more leg and more leg and more leg and THAT IS TOO MUCH LEG.  While it is fine in his head for him to ignore you (for example when you are asking for the canter) for awhile, if you escalate the aid just a hair to much, he gets mad.  His being mad is ears pinned with a squeal and often some other minor objection - butt bump, one leg kick, or getting crooked.

I am guessing this is all just tied back to be green and still getting stronger and whatnot, but I had never stopped to think about it before so it is something I will pay more attention to and see if it merits a change in riding technique.

Then on Sunday, I rode with R2 and she was like, let's give the baby a challenge and let him jump something a bit bigger.  And so we did.

I was incredibly proud of him.  He didn't get overly excited, he didn't misbehave, he just went out there and did his job.  The highest we jumped was 2'3" and the first time over that he cracked his back.  After that he was like, oh, this doesn't require that much effort.  I continue to get the feeling he is going to be a horse who you have to jack the height to get the best form, but that is fine.

I look like I have jumped a horse before, hallelujah.
Also, I can promise you that he was enjoying himself, I call those his concentration ears :)

Monday, November 14, 2016

Conformation comparison

Sunday represented one year since I did my test ride on the Odie.  He didn't come home until just before Thanksgiving since he, um, failed his first vetting, but I am calling this the start of our anniversary.  So, our almost one year conformation comparison photos!

He lived in a stall when I purchased him and was much less fuzzy.

December 2015
November 2016

Overall, I think his body just looks more mature, with his top line changes being the most notable (and also fairly recent).  And his face!  I feel like we have lost a lot of the baby face.

If any one else has any thoughts, I would love to hear them, even criticisms would be fine.  I am not a conformation guru so I am always interested.

I have to do a write up of our jumping lesson over the weekend, but I will do that later this week.  Tonight, we took a moonlight trail ride to watch the supermoon rise.  At one point I was thinking, huh, is it weird to take a 5 year old OTTB on a trail ride in the dark?  And he did lose his shit a little bit - when the moon got high enough to create some weird shadows - but all he did was bounce and squeal a little.  His trail buddy is unflabbable and I sat there quietly because he is not scary, and he settled back down.  The walk back to the barn was a little tense and quick, but overall I was so proud of him.

Baby horse is growing up.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Giant leap forward for Odin-kind

Last week a funny thing happened.  I was doing our usual evening post work ride and we moved up into the left lead canter and Odin just cantered around, holding his own body weight up, not diving down onto the bit, not speeding up as we went.....he just cantered.  After multiple laps and circles I came back to trot and wasn't huffing and puffing from the workout keeping him together at the canter usually it.
Downhill cantering over the summer

Huh, I thought, that was a bit unexpected.

So we turned the right and went into the canter again.  And again, he just cantered around like a semi trained creature.  He did not lay on my right leg and counterbend.  He did not fall onto his forehand and hope I would be there to save him (don't worry buddy, I still got you).  He just loped.  After about two laps he did start to lean on my right leg a smidge so I went back to trot.

But the canter has been - and will be for quite some time - a work in progress.  Odin is the most willing horse but his body's ability to execute has been so slow to come along.  We have just been trudging along with lots of transitions and very minute progress for nearly a year.  Then all of a sudden we have this?
Not the same point in time, but lighter cantering from last week

I figured it was a fluke.  But then he repeated it on the next ride.  And the next.  And up to last night when we were stuck in the indoor with 6 other horses and he was still great, even when distracted (he tends to feel the need to protect his space a bit more in the indoor, at least based on last winter).

It would appear we just had a big step forward in our development.  Not that the canter is done by any stretch of the imagination.  Loping on a loose rein is a most excellent development but then we will have to learn to use our back in the canter more, get contact going, and one day actually be able to sit down.

There are also changes in his trot.  Not really the quality, but more the rhythm and effort level from the rider.  Suddenly he seems to find it possible to get into this really lovely trot where he is using himself and holding his own head more than before (not always though, you have to keep the human engaged, otherwise life would be boring!).  I have had 5 or 6 people in the last week be like, WOW he looks amazing.

So it would appear that we had a large increase in strength recently.  Maybe he is finally laying down some muscle instead of throwing calories at just getting bigger.  Maybe it is something else entirely, hell if I know.  But hopefully it is here to stay.

And now we can canter in longer stretches and maybe defeat our lead swapping demons.  Trainer R was like, nice job Odie, you have successfully trained your human to not touch her outside rein in canter.  But that is not going to last!  And in more fun news, the canter upgrade has been long awaited in order to start loping more jumps.  This hopefully means there is going to be some more legit jumping in our future.  He has been jumping the snot out of most everything lately, he must have seen the embarrassing photo we took of him last week.
Really embarrassing.  Trotting jumps away from the gate is the hards

This horse, I am so happy that he is mine.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Life and Times

Not many exciting things have been happening lately, but that is a good thing.  Odin continues to work on the same basic flat work and over fences skills and continues to progress slowly but methodically.

I did have what is hopefully my last business trip of the year late last week, adding a new state to my list - I think I am at 42, courtesy partially of my love of national parks and mostly because of work.  This trip was to Charleston, SC.  The southeast is not my favorite place, way too much heat and humidity, two things I try to avoid when possible.  But people swear by the beaches near Charleston so I decided to stay an extra day and explore.  The city itself wasn't my favorite although the antebellum mansions are pretty impressive.
Ravenel bridge

However, my day on Seabrook Island was spectacular.  I took an Advanced Beach ride with Seabrook Equestrian center.  They trailer the horses over close to the beach and you take a 15 minute trail ride in.  Then it is trot/canter/gallop up and down the beach.  I was the only one out on the ride with two guides.  My horse was lovely, everything you could want on this type of ride.
Sunny was handsome too

He loped around on a loose rein and was happy to step out when I asked.  It was really fun and then I was allowed to hang out on the beaches after the ride.  I found an area with zero other people (yay private islands) and sat down with a book.  Maybe ten minutes later I heard a splash and looked up.
View from my private beach

A pod of dolphins were splashing around just offshore.  Apparently the dolphins there do strand feeding where they chase fish up on shore and then beach themselves to feed.  I didn't see that but I did get to spend half an hour watching them do dolphin things up close...while sitting on a beach.  So it was very neat.

Hoofprints on the beach
Back here in reality, Odin has been a little more alert lately although it hasn't been any cooler.  His first canter transition has been incredibly lackluster so that will have to go on our goal list.  The transitions after the first time are much improved.  He is still just slowly building strength and has a tendency to lean on your right leg.

One ride last week I really focused on this and spent 20 minutes getting him soft and off that leg with leg yields and spirals.  Then when I asked him to canter he stepped off so nicely and softly.  I probably got 10 good strides before he fell in again.  Another thing to just keep plugging away at.

The lead swapping continues to be a work in progress, not much to note.  He is now landing on both leads after fences, where he used to always always land right.  So that is progress.

His jumping cadence and striding is improving pretty quickly.  Sadly he is getting lazy with his form over these tiny things.  I have a note to talk with R about that, I am guessing she is going to not be worrying about that right now.  His form will likely bounce back quickly when the jumps go up.

He did get clipped this weekend since CO is having round two of summer.  I really miss fall weather.  R2 said he was great for it except a bit twitchy on his back.

And I bought Odin a Halloween present with money I don't really have, but I found a good deal on English Tack Trader.  It is a Corsia monocrown and I put it on for the first time last night, but so far I like it.

He seemed just as content in this as in his usual bridle and he looks so damn adorable.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Best

I haven't had a ton of time to write because I have actually been getting in lots of saddle time in addition to running and core work.  Ah core, I hate you so.  Even running is easier than trying to build core strength.

But Odin, I love him the most.  And even got a few new pictures!

My friend came to meet him, we are so photogenic!

Much better when you remove the stupid human

Ah, indoor lighting, there will be more of you to deal with soon

I love how in this photo he is using his back.  It happens sometimes!

Really trying to get off our forehand and on our butt, but it is hard to adult horse.
He has just been awesome lately.  Or maybe he is just the same awesome horse as always but I have been more appreciative.  Whichever.  Besides a brief day of lameness (him and 4 other horses got unhappy feets after it rained for the first time in months - a round of thrush buster fixed it in a day), we have been in consistent work with plenty of jumping!

We did two jumping lessons last weekend mostly focused on a line and Odin just got better and better.  Definitely starting to jump more out and over the fences.  I hope to get jumping media since I would love to see it myself.

Lead swapping is still a project but the baby crawling steps of progress are happening.  So no complaints here, just happy horse time!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Moments of Brilliance

After months and months (and months) of trudging along slowly, Odin has occasionally been showing moments of true brilliance. Not that anything is changing in our day to day and I expect another year of slowly plodding along, but it has been...motivating I see what we are trying to bring out of that ever changing body.

For example, our canter right has mostly been mediocre at best.  He struggles to hold the lead behind, tends to counter bend and lay on your inside leg, and then just lean on the bit and be downhill as hell. It's pretty attractive.

We have been chipping away at it and making progress, but it hasn't been anything to brag about.  Then randomly, the other day he was doing his usual and I asked him to come back to trot to rebalance.

Instead of trotting, he set back on his butt and offered this lovely, floaty, slow canter.

It lasted for maybe 6ish strides and I am not sure either of us understood what had just happened.  It hasn't happened again to the right, but to the left it pops up now and again.  If that is what his canter will be like once he is all grown up and strong, I will be one lucky horse owner.

Jumping this weekend seemed different too.  While homeboy is a natural leaper and loves to do it, he tends to land in a heap on the far side of the jump and we haven't done much to address it yet since we have been building the canter.  Saturday R2 spent a whole ride just getting him to think forward after a jump and it seemed to click in his brain.

I jumped him some Sunday and Monday and both times he landed in a nice canter instead of whatever term means kind of landing on all 4 hooves simultaneously/awkwardly and then recovering.

We did a 4 stride line with cross rails and he nailed it both directions.  Even better, he got a little bit excited coming out of the lines, but came instantly back to me when I half halted

While nothing is 100% yet, I have definitely noticed a shift towards where he comes back to his rider much faster than he used to.  

In human improvement land, I have initiated my own training program.  We have a gym at work that I never use because I exercise outside, thanks.  But daylight is waning and they offer this core and upper body strength class that fits my work schedule and is free.  I went Monday and learned that the fact I have ignored my core since abdominal surgery last December is something you will pay the piper for.  My upper body actually did ok, but my whole abdomen hurts.  Jon touched my ribs and I nearly punched him.  Guess I need to ease back into that.

Have also started some really slow, lame jogging for cardio.  My running goals are laughable but hopefully between all of it, I see some results.

Monday, October 3, 2016

What plan?

Lately I have been guilty of way overestimating my abilities to execute to a plan and getting increasingly frustrated when I fail.

Actually it is partly that my plan was just poor.  I keep thinking I can somehow stay riding fit and ride 4-5 times a week when I have business trips and work obligations and that is just.  Not.  Reality.

My happy little denial train derailed after we got back from Iceland.  I had a week in town, then a 2 night business trip.  I was prepared to get a bunch of successful riding in.  Except I have been traveling nearly non stop and my riding has suffered accordingly, especially my base fitness and ability to have stamina at Denver's elevation.  

As another memo to future me, when you are away frequently, real life adult things back up in the queue and you spend a good portion of your free time catching up on those, and not playing at the barn like you want to.  

So I have been working on being grateful for the time I do have, EXTRA grateful my horse was in training through the end of September (past me knew this shit would all melt down spectacularly, it appears), and trying to be kind to myself when I can't perform to the level I think I should be at.

Luckily, Odin is a wonderful creature who besides his continuing propensity for self destruction - most recently removing most of the fur and skin from his inner right hind while I was in Iceland - is totally amenable to a changing plan and is happy to work at whatever pace I can manage.  

The trainers have been working on next level basics - getting some lift through the withers, stretching over/using his back, not leaning or bracing, lateral movements.  And we are finally getting a canter to work with too.

Since the horse show, we appeared to have some regression on lead swapping.  He was getting incredibly swap happy  - sometimes just in back, sometimes a full, but could barely canter a circle without one or the other or both.  R2 has been putting a lot of time and effort into this.

It was frustrating for me to watch her canter him around and have him hold a lead and then hop on and get 20 feet with a swap.  The main problem is outside aids.  When I go to use the outside rein to straighten him or balance him - swap.  Every time.  R2 has had trouble explaining everything she does, but it amounts to using more inside rein than outside rein and holding outside leg.  If any other bloggers have tips on helping a horse hold a lead, feel free to throw them my way, sometimes hearing things multiple different ways is very useful.

But what we mostly do is circle, and after a few laps of holding the lead on a 20m circle, let it gradually get bigger.  That is hard as hell, horse still needs a lot of help to maintain a good canter and I have to not fuck it up so he doesn't swap, and this requires plenty of muscle control.  I am usually dying quickly.  Improvement has been hugely noticeable but I wouldn't call it solved and some days are better than others.

Side note-  he has been evaluated by the vet and there are no signs of this being anything beyond balance/strength/baby horse stuff.  

On the happiest note of all, we have been doing little grids and I love feeling him problem solve them.  He is still figuring out how to get through them, but he attacks it every time and continues to build confidence and ability.  It is even more great since it doesn't rely over much on me, I just get to sit chilly and let him figure it out.

It might be a weird decision, but I pulled him from most training for the time being.  This has been planned for awhile and it is probably not the best timing but I think it needed to happen.  Both to give myself a financial break (I need it) and to push myself to ride more and get stronger.  I expect to put him back in training this winter for at least a bit more (or sooner if I panic), but after starting to feel a little better the last few weeks, I think it is time for the human in this duo to step up more.  

Monday, September 19, 2016

Horse Trekking Iceland

Jon and I just returned from a great vacation to Iceland.  All I knew from the beginning of planning this trip was how much I wanted to tolt!  I would happily have done a cross island horse trek but for Jon that wouldn't be so fun.  So we did one ride together and I did, ahem, 3 additional rides solo.
I could have stayed here for days, watching the waves on the rocks.  Iceland is pretty.

Per usual, I like to write up the experience both for future reference and to pass along anything I learned.

My disclaimer for this one is that I haven't done a lot of research, I am just reporting what I was told by the guides and mentioning what I observed during my week there.
I held an iceberg

First, Iceland has A LOT of horses.  I had no idea how many horses were on this island but it felt like everywhere we drove (and we did the ring road so a significant portion of the country) there were horse farms and they all had at least 10 horses.
This guy wants to come live with me

I asked about this and was told that people have horses for pleasure, to move sheep around, for actual transport in some areas, for horse trekking which is insanely popular there so that many people have started a business.  The largest growth area is breeding for export.  Apparently Germany exports many Icelandic horses since that is cheaper than buying one there, much like we do with european warmbloods in the states.  Some people also breed and export for meat.
Adorable babies

Second, the only horse in Iceland is the Icelandic horse.  It is illegal to import horses and if an Icelandic horse leaves the country it may never return.  This was largely marketed as disease control since Icelandic horses do not have immunity to the diseases of other countries.  In fact, bringing riding gear in country wasn't even worth the effort.  Used leather goods like saddles and gloves are flat prohibited, some things require extensive disinfection certified by the government (can you imagine the US government giving you a disinfection cert for your helmet?), at least breeches only required a 40C wash so I was able to use my own.
Dettifoss waterfall, complete with rainbow

On to the riding.  Our first ride was outside the town of Egilsstadir on the northeast portion of the island, at a place called Stori Bakki. A farm that breeds as well as does horse treks.

We had a two hour private ride.  Another fun fact, I did not have one single Icelandic guide, they were all Europeans who took this job to work with Icelandic horses.  My guide here was from Germany, where she exclusively rides Icelandic horses but wanted to up her skills so came to Iceland for a year.

The horses were probably 12ish hands, although I guess they don't measure with hands.  They all took up my leg relatively well, but hell, I am short.  The two horses we rode were incredibly well behaved and had natural tolts.  This will come up more later, but something I had no idea about - not all Icelandic horses will tolt.  Some can be trained, some can't, and some have to be taught to trot.  Our trek horses were natural tolters.

Their hair is amazing
It was a cold but beautiful morning and Jon loved this ride.  His horse (sorry their names were unpronounceable) was 27 and still the fastest guy out there.  His tolt covered huge ground and Jon was like, why don't you own one of these instead of a bouncy Thoroughbred? My guy had a great natural tolt too.  We weren't actually given any instruction because the guide knew these horses would tolt regardless.

It was basically a trail ride through sheep farms with a nice overview of a lake, with plenty of opportunities to test out the tolt at different speeds.  The privacy and solitude were exceptional.

My second ride was at the Skjaldarvik guest house, where we spent a night.  This ride was my personal favorite because it was like a combination of a trail ride and a lesson in riding Icelandic horses.  A fairly small group went out but they quickly split us into two groups - beginners and experienced.  Only two of us were on the experienced group and our guide was from the Netherlands.
Just terrible scenery for riding

My horse was a lovely mare named Svala who I want to steal and bring home and snuggle forever.  She had a great tolt.  Our guide explained the gaits in far more detail.  Icelandic horses can have up to 5 gaits: Walk, trot, tolt, pace, and canter/gallop which are considered one gait.

The flying pace is used for racing so it can be sought after but she said if you want to buy one of these horses for the tolt she would recommend getting a 4 gaiter.  Because the problem with gaited horses is how they will switch between the gaits so when you have trot, pace, and tolt, it can be harder to get the one you want.  And pacing often seems preferred so if you get a horse with a natural tolt and no pace, the tolt is very easy to get and keep.
An iceberg lagoon to break up the text wall

Trotting is necessary for muscle building but of course trotting on small horses (don't call them ponies there) sucks.

The instructions for tolting correctly seemed very dressagey, here is what I was told: lift your hands so they lift their head, maintain contact but don't pull, and then massage the reins alternatingly.  The horse really needs to step under themself to tolt correctly so keep your weight back (also weight forward means trot) and use your leg to encourage them to use their butt.

Svala tolted no matter what but when I did it right she hit a whole different gear, fast and smooth.  It was amazing.  We also did a slow tolt which is pretty tough for them but feels great on the lower back.  I tried to go back and forth between tolt and trot but I was not that skilled and she stumbled once and I figured, ok, we will just tolt
I so need her

We were also able to gallop some and that was also incredibly fun on these guys.  Svala was probably only 11 hands tall, I should have tried to put her in my suitcase.  LOVE.

The final place I rode was outside Reykjavik and is a HUGE hack stable called IsHestar.  So I had lower expectations and my two rides there were a mixed bag but overall my concerns of being stuck in a huge group of beginners were unfounded.  I signed up for the Viking ride which was really a morning ride, then back to the barn, then an afternoon ride.
I called him the ewok

The morning ride was a giant group but they broke it into 3: walk only, people who wanted to try trot/tolt, and advanced.  The advanced group only had 3 of us and man, our guide let them run.  She was German and her English wasn't great so she didn't talk much but then again we were blazing around the area so we couldn't have spoken much.  My gelding had a fantastic tolt and a real turn of speed so I wasn't complaining but I actually felt a little bad for him by the end.  Icelandic horses are tough and supposedly have incredible endurance but mine was super sweaty compared to the others when we got back to the barn. I don't think he was ridden again that day (I saw him in a field the rest of the day) so it probably wasn't a big deal.  And I think he was more worked up because the guide horse pranced instead of walking during breaks.  Still, crazy fun to tolt and gallop all over.
Poor sweaty guy

The last ride was my only real disappointment of the trip.  The original horse I was supposed to ride ended up having pulled a shoe (actually had the clip embedded in his foot and wasn't even showing lameness.  They really are tough).  So they had to pull another horse out for me last minute.  Dyrmee was a little chestnut guy, sweet and obedient.  But just one problem - he didn't tolt.  So I spent a 3 hour ride getting my lower back beat up by the tiny trot.  Whenever we could I had him canter, he did have a great canter.  But cantering is faster than most tolting so I was stuck with a lot of trotting.  My back is still killing me.

The ride itself up to an extinct volcano was pretty and really fun.  And it was no one's fault that they had to replace my horse last minute.  The guide said it is possible he had a tolt at one point, but after years of being a trek horse, some lose it.  And some just never have it.  So if you ever go to Iceland, make sure you request a tolting horse!

Icelandic horses are supposed to be known for their friendly dispositions and every one I
encountered met this description.  Snuggly and letting me play with their faces and manes
I was in 12 year old heaven!

Overall, these horse treks were incredibly fun, worth the money, and informative.  I think my next horse might need to be an Icelandic - tough, close to the ground, and good for back pain.  I would be concerned about buying one in the US and in theory would probably import.  But then would have concerns about who to go to for training if we needed to work on our tolt.  But since Odin is only 5, I hopefully have a long time to work through those details!