Monday, July 25, 2016

De Colores

The colors of the Odin continue to intrigue me.

Like what is that light brown spot on his neck? This is from about a month ago
Obviously, he is a dark bay.  Which makes sense given his sire:

And his dam:

But his color doesn't seem to stay the same, and I am not just talking about sun fading.

From pretty uniformly dark in winter
To weird dapple-y patches on his butt and now random white roan type hairs showing up
White hairs have come in all over his rump
and his back

The butt dapples are hard to capture but you can see
them to the right of his tail here.

I expected the sun fading, and there has been some of that.  But he lives in a UV protected fly sheet so the sun doesn't entirely explain the changes.  The pictures below are a month after the top picture and he is basically a different color

Parts of him are sort of dun colored, a lot of him is what I can only describe
as brown, and then we have those bright patches
Having only owned chestnuts previously, they had their own weird color things, but this has been a new experience for me.  I thought maybe this was normal for all bays but I get lots of comments on his coloration at the barn from people with bays of various shades so I think he must be somewhat unique.

And here I thought I bought the boringest, plainest colored horse on earth.  

Don't call me boring lady
His name plate says "The Odinpotamus"
because he is a hungry, hungry hippo
So far, I am not sure which of his colors is my favorite but I am enjoying have the horse of many (bay) colors.  

In other news, his various attempts at self destruction have been healing well

The hoof crack on his right hind has started growing out and his knee looks great.

He has been excellent under saddle as well.  Our big takeaway lately has been if the human's shoulders stay back (spoiler alert  - they don't), the horse doesn't drag on the forehand as much.  In general, Odin took a huge leap forward in his canter and jumping work this week.  It will be interesting to see if he stays on that trajectory or plateaus or regresses a bit.

I won't know right away - I leave Wednesday for a week in Europe on a business trip - but I am excited to see where he is at when I get back.

Monday, July 18, 2016

The speed we go

I have seen several posts lately on the speed people bring along a young horse and I thought it might be fun to document the mental process my trainers and I have for Odin.
Somewhat recent conformation shots.  5am rides are not conducive to new photos

Because by almost anyone's definition, we are bringing him along quite slowly. And this has confused plenty of people.

I mean, he is now 5, he is super athletic and scopey and trainer R says, we could bit him up right now and take him in some 5 y.o. jumper classes and he would do everything asked and would likely be competitive.  So why don't we?

The full answer should probably go back to when I bought him.

Odin has been mine for not quite 8 months.  He came off the track around March 2015 after bleeding so badly they had to van him off the track (side note - the vet ultimately thinks the bleeding was that bad due to a lung infection, not exertion, but his connections decided to retire him anyways). After some downtime he moved to CO and began retraining last summer.  They did a great job with him and started him over fences, took him to some shows, but then in late summer he popped a large splint and spent over a month healing.  Maybe closer to two months.

I came out to meet him right when he was going back to work.  The horse I purchased clearly had an amazing brain, all the right parts, and some great basic training but was unfit, couldn't hold a lead in back for ten seconds, could barely pick up his left lead, had a sticky right stifle (connected the two previous issues, no doubt), and was obviously physically immature.
From the day I tried him out.  Silly no neck baby face.

OK, so a lot of that right there might explain part of why we are so slow, but I will continue to explain.

He was also still a smidge lame on the right front.  We thought it was residual from the still tender splint, but it ended up being in the hoof from stepping on himself  - the crack showed up a short time later.

His first month or so was letting him finish healing while we got to know him, having the chiro out, getting his feet done, playing around under saddle, figuring out his personality, etc.

Then while I recovered from surgery, R and R2 started working on building a solid foundation from the walk up.

Perhaps this could have gone faster, but Odin was throwing in growth spurts and every time had to learn to use his body all over again.  We also got him on estrogen for his stifle which was a huge help but then he mentally had to learn that he could hold a lead behind when he was so used to swapping.

During those winter months - this Florida horse's first real winter since being a baby in Kentucky - you could barely touch him with your leg.  He was obedient and never scary, but strong and forward and hard to put together so we didn't want to get him particularly fit.  We popped him over fences from time to time to keep life interesting, but jumping was not our focus.

As R2 said, if you can't canter, you can't really jump.  And while of course Odin could execute the gait, it was a long way from the quality canter you want over fences.
Wheeee canter flail.  Could he be leaning harder on my inside leg?

I joked that by spring, we had just gotten him back to the place where he was when we bought him, a horse you could walk and trot around on quietly.  Except that physically he was a different horse and mentally he had learned quite a lot about his riders and what was expected of him and had a few new tools in his tool box.

By the time he turned 5 in May, he had a solid left lead, had stopped getting taller (thank you), could hold a lead in back both directions, and was starting to build muscle in the right places.
Add caption

So logically it seemed like the right time to start asking for more, over fences and in general.  And we have....sort of.  As it got hot, Odie got somewhat sour and behind the leg.  Working through that has taken some time.  Right now, most rides start with the "cranky baby" trot and then you can get him into better work.

R2 has also really been working on his canter and getting him to use his back.  He still finds this very hard.  Ironically, his left lead is now his easier way and that canter is very nice.  Not so much to the right, so we are now working on getting him stronger that way.

He is still building a ton of muscle - no joke people routinely don't recognize him between his constant color changing and musculature changes.  And riding him still doesn't always feel like the same horse each time.

The over fences work has slowed down as we continue to make sure he has all the needed skills on the flat.  We jump him and it is awesome and fun, but it is still secondary to all the rest.  We are just applying the same flatwork principles to a jump and he is trying to figure it all out.

And here we are today.  The goal is still to have him loping small courses by end of summer, but every day we pretty much see where he is and what he can do and take it from there.  Maybe we could be moving faster and everything would be fine, and there are certainly times I have felt a brief urge to push, but logic comes in and says, what's the rush?  We aren't getting him ready for resale, I have no desire to show, and if we do this right, I will have the perfect horse for years and years.

While he has always been pretty mentally mature, he has been much slower physically and I have tried to be careful to balance that.  Keeping him mentally engaged in the game while letting his body figure things out.  I think if we tried to push more now, he would try because he is game but it would ultimately hurt his brain because his body isn't quite capable.  And I don't want to have to undo things later when we can just wait and get there in due time.

And as a disclaimer - I am not judging what anyone else is doing, this is just what is working for us.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Using the time you have

I have no media so enjoy today's word dump!

Last week's rides did not start off the best.  Odin was and is the best, but unfortunately the uncoordinated monkey on his back wasn't helping much.  On Tuesday I felt like I couldn't do anything correctly.  I was letting the reins slip, my shoulders were tilting forward, I couldn't get my core to engage for anything (thanks core, and after I fed you delicious carbs all holiday weekend too), and I couldn't seem to get weight into my left seat bone.

Shockingly, this led to a horse that was happily plowing around on the forehand, leaning on my inside leg and with total crap transitions.

Knowing how chopped up my July is going to be, how hard it is to wake up at 5 am to go ride, how crazy hot it is after work, and how both my trainers were at a horse show I had all the de-motivation in the entire world at my disposal and didn't ride again until Friday.

Then something weird happened.  On Thursday night I got strangely motivated.  I have a fantastic young horse and I have pretty much all the skills I need to ride him effectively, nothing is really stopping us and let's do this!  (whatever this is)

So Friday morning I went out with a game plan.  Step 1 - little spurs.  Sorry Odin, but this new fun trick of laying on the inside leg needs to go and having to pound you with my calf or heel isn't helping me.  Step 2-  shoulders back and fingers tight before anything else.  Step 3 - do some legal jumping (at my barn that means jump the fill without poles over it as the rule is no jumping anything in the cups).

While Odie is fun on the flat he is much happier jumping and incorporating some stuff like that helps him focus and makes him more eager to listen to me.  A perfect example is canter circles.  He likes to bulge and fall through the outside aids when turning at the canter.  Not a big deal and not surprising, but just a thing.  However, if he is turning towards a jump, well then all of a sudden he can turn his shoulders and hold his own body together!

The plan worked better than expected.  He has clearly been ridden in spurs before so that was a non-thing and I should give myself more credit than I do because my leg is pretty educated and I had no problems only engaging the spur when I needed to.  And it worked like a charm in getting him to stop bulging.  I think they also helped keep his front end more lifted and in turn I was able to keep my shoulders in a better position.  All of that then helps me better cue the transitions so our trot to canter is slightly better than a drunken camel's.  Funny how that works.

But leaping obstacles was the best part of all.  We did the small traffic cones and flower boxes, all at the canter.  My job is to get him aimed and as straight as possible in a rhythm, and keep looking up. Odin gets to pick our spot and get us over.  The only part we didn't do great on was the rhythm, and even that wasn't bad.  He still just has to learn that when he moves up to a distance, that doesn't automatically mean land and GO.   His brakes are good though so after a few uncoordinated strides, he rebalances and comes back.

Horse just seems to come alive when going over things and it makes the whole thing so fun.

We did another focused school in the ovenlike heat Saturday morning.  I left the spurs off just to feel the difference and he had retained his lessons from Friday so he was sharp and good.  We did a lot of circles of different size and tear drops and serpentines at trot to test moving off the leg and changing bend while keeping our rhythm and not falling on our forehand.  At canter I let him mostly lope on a loose rein with bigger circles.

Those two rides gave me a solid feeling that he is maturing and as long as I pay attention and ride, I can get him where he needs to be.

We had one more quick hack this morning before I fly out to destinations unknown (aka Florida) for a work trip tomorrow.   Riding at dawn is still an adjustment for me, as i desperately want to be asleep at that time.  So it took me a good ten seconds to realize when I put his bridle on that it was almost choking him.  Luckily he made plenty of faces to express his displeasure. I had to drop it a hole on both sides to get it into a reasonable position!

The wear marks were normal so I know someone didn't borrow/change it, therefore I guess his head grew?  At 5?  In 48 hours? I guess that is possible.

We just had a quick flat session before I had to go to work.  I was focusing on what to do when he does go to drop his head down now that I am not slipping the reins and reinforcing bad decisions.  If my timing is on point and I stay really strong in my core, I can add a bit of leg with a slight outside rein bump and that seems to work.  If my timing slips a little or he pulls me forward some, I just go the halt and back up a couple steps, then trot off again.  This is TEDIOUS stuff but it seemed to get him to a place where he carried his own self around for awhile.

Of course in true green horse fashion he then gets crooked or leans or something else so my ride really just kept being about those micro adjustments in my position to help him be better.  I honestly think I could have done most of the session blind folded because it was all about feeling him and changing me.  This is about a million percent less fun than jumping but I do like the sense of accomplishment when he gets it all together for a few strides and I know it was because I helped out.
We are very much all about celebrating the small victories!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Knee crisis averted

The great news is that my horse is healing well and he is sound!  We did wake up to some swelling and lameness on Friday which isn't surprising but I decided to have the vet out then instead of getting an expensive emergency fee over the holiday.  My vet practice just hired a new woman and I liked her a lot.  She gave us some bute and antibiotics and said it wasn't too deep and he was probably fine but to look for signs of infection.

By Sunday he was sound again and we did a light ride yesterday and a moderate ride this morning. He feels great so we will go back into normal work.  I left it unwrapped today as it is looking scabbed over now too.  Knee bandages suck so that will be a relief.

The not as good news is that I think July is mostly going to be a bust.  R and R2 are at a horse show until Sunday, then I have a business trip next week, then at the end of the month R2 goes on vacation and I have another work trip to Europe.  

I can't see us getting into any kind of rhythm with that schedule and there will definitely be minimal jumping since we aren't allowed to jump outside of lessons (this drives me nuts so I complain about it often here, sorry) and R2 does his jumping training rides.  

This isn't great for my confidence over fences, I am the kind of person who needs to be jumping a couple times a week in order to feel good and actually ride reasonably well and clearly that isn't happening.  Not much I can do besides try to get on a better lesson schedule in August but I hate to "lose" a whole month of summer.  I will have to be creative and think of ways to still make some progress.

Odin has been doing pretty well with his rides although he isn't always the most fun horse at the moment.  He continues to vacillate between no forward and trying to haul around on his forehand.  I would like to say there has been some improvement, but I don't think there consistently has yet.  He has also added laying on your inside leg to his fun bag of tricks.  One day we were cantering right and he wouldn't move off my right leg and I finally booted him with it hard. I got a perfect lead change.  

Not quite the point, but hey, I guess at least we are getting our changes down? Lateral work is also progressing.  And his body is changing immensely, he is finally throwing down some body bulk and getting a bigger booty.  It is just a patience game of plugging along and being constistent.  Luckily he is still entertaining and fun to be around the rest of the time.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Playing too rough

I am literally behind on everything in my entire life, because I have spent most of the last week traveling.  I was really excited to have a long weekend in town to ride my horse a bunch.

What is that?

Oh shit

At least R2 is a professional knee wrapper.  And he "helped" so much
he almost got his nose taped to his knee.
Odin gets turned out with a very very VERY tolerant horse which was deliberate because he is mercilessly annoying.  He just plays so hard and Trapper generally seems to enjoy it but I guess yesterday he finally had enough.  And unluckily, the kick landed on the knee.

I haven't even been able to get out to the barn yet, but R2 cleaned it out and said she didn't think the vet was needed.  He was apparently sound but we will see how it looks today.  We will call the vet out to have a look if it swelled or looks worse or he is lame on it.  Otherwise, looks like a quiet weekend of walking.  And beer.  Lots of beer.