Monday, April 29, 2013

How many legs?

I had two really good rides on Aruba over the weekend. We are getting there and last night’s ride was probably one of the best ones so far. If you look at the pic's in the last post of the sweat on her flanks and further back, that was all she was using of her back end and otherwise 'floating along' not really exerting herself too much. Last night after I dismounted, I looked her over and found those tell tale sweat marks- ALL OVER her nice big, bay butt!

So what was different? Well I was still using my western saddle, the same simple bridle with a French link snaffle and still riding with spurs to remind her not to lean on or ignore my leg... We started off with our softening work, bending and stretching both directions, long and low at the walk, easing into it and not rushing or anticipating. Everything was going well enough or so I thought. The walk felt good and solid, the rhythm steady and consistent.

But even at a walk, Aruba was ducking the corners on the north side, trying to navigate the south east one on her own and when we trotted things weren't a whole lot better. All of my signals had been on the inside- inside rein and inside leg. Inside rein to keep her head bent in the direction of travel and inside leg back under me to move her hip over to the outside. If she started falling into our circles, dropping her shoulders, I moved my inside leg forward by the cinch and might have to spur her one to get her attention and move the shoulders over some, but there were times I would and she would hold it a stride or two and fall apart again.

I brought her back down to the walk, thinking to fix it there, then try it at a trot again. That sorta worked and I was running ideas through my mind on the mechanics, the how and why. I remembered one woman saying something about pointing her belly button where she wanted to go. This keeps your hips straight and your legs may slightly change position. In a turn, the outside leg comes forward a little. We picked up a trot and things were a little better. Less ducking corners, me trying to remember to relax into the seat and lower legs, belly button pointing the way... and it was good for a while.

We came back down to the walk because both of us needed a breather. All of the trotting and posting had me breathing just about as hard as my mare because yes, I am out of shape too. It's cool though, I can admit to that and the riding is doing wonders for both of us. Yay! As we were tootling around the arena, it came to me. I drive my corners rather deep. Straight into them as if we were going to crash into the fence or stop- one or the other. Sometimes I need to push the hip to the inside and straighten her out down the rail. What the heck. I can give it a try and see how it goes, right? If it works? Great! If it doesn't? I gave it a try and will move on to something else, no harm no foul.

When we picked up the trot this time, I squeezed with BOTH legs and felt her gather beneath me. I put my inside leg on her, but this time I also kept the outside leg on her too. I pushed her up into the bridle, she found the contact and BINGO!!! She had some serious TROT! going on out there. She was balanced and posting was pretty easy to do again since her big movement was helping it along. She dropped her head down where it belongs, rounded her back and damn if that wasn't an awesome feeling!

She was still dropping her shoulder in the turns when going to the left and we still have some things to deal with on that side, but for the most part- she was doing great. Both of us were finally "Getting IT!" and it was slowly coming together. I realized that I have two legs and I need to use them equally. I had been letting her go on the outside instead of using my leg to push her forward. Baby steps, small victories and A-HA! moments will eventually get us there. It is a learning process. Problem is, with this mare, I tend to hold my breath or at least just not say anything. When I tried to praise her- she stopped. When she stops, her head comes up, back hollows out and it all falls apart. At the walk she is fine with all of the chatter, the praise, singing and any jabbering I choose to do up there, but at a trot- say anything and she stops.

Although I was hoping to take her to the horsepark to try working her there, it didn't happen. I had to go there anyways to meet a woman and pick up some more Dynamite for Mondo, she was working at the Parelli clinic going on there, so she was in the area and it worked out for both of us. It was a good thing I hadn't taken the horse with me since there was a bunch of cars and not much parking in the arena lot. While I was there, I was also thinking to text Nuzzling Muzzles and see if she had made it since one of the people working with her horses is a Parelli student. Just as I hit 'Send', I looked up and who is standing right in front of me??? Yeah. Crazy how that happens.


Friday, April 26, 2013


With horses there is always things to change. Routines and not having routines. Lunging first, not lunging first, focusing on upper level work, relaxing and doing simple, basic work.  Fix one thing and something else needs work or attention.

When I started riding Aruba, she was throwing her head and looking for release as we went to the right. Now she is throwing her head and looking for contact providing her balance and support no matter which direction we are going... 

She was in heat on Saturday so I figured to do some ground driving and stay off of her. Also when I rode her Saturday I had used my close contact saddle. I didn't see any dry spots after getting off of her and untacking, found no soreness in her back when checking after our ride, but while I was on her, I did stick my fingers in under the pommel and there was not much room to be found. I'm not sure that the saddle fits her as best as it could, but it did seem ok. For now I will leave it be and when her back develops more, I will try it again. I don't want to cause her a sore back and since I have both a dressage saddle and a western to use that both fit her well- there's no reason to force the issue and screw things up.

Sunday night I mounted her for the first time in western tack- from the ground. With my stirrups still needing to go up one more hole, they were pretty high up already and dang if I didn't feel like a mountain climber. I had already gotten on her from the step stool, but then a bee kept buzzing around her off side flank. Not wanting to be on her if the bee stung and she went all NFR on me, I dismounted and led her around a little and made sure the bee was gone before climbing back on.

We did our routine of softening work and I pushed her into a jog. She is happy to oblige and is liking the idea of being a western horse, getting to relax and go slow, versus moving out and having to exert herself. But when I took a hold of the reins and rode with contact- totally different story.

She had been tugging on the reins and stopping at will, leaning on my leg to the point of wearing spurs a couple of times to put a stop to that and hubby said there was something funky going on with her back end. She had a weird sort of hop to it and it was out of control. She wasn't moving correctly and balanced as she should have been. Me? I didn't feel it. I tell this mare at least once or twice during every ride- "This is not all about you ya know. There are things I need to work on too."   

When I tool a hold of the reins and had contact- that all changed for the better and in a big way. Suddenly she had her rear end under her where it needed to be. She was pushing from behind, light in the front end, moving off my leg (with no spurs on because I hadn't really planned on riding) and  does Momma got TROT!

I am hoping to take her to the horsepark this weekend and ride her there. There is a schooling show there on the 11th and I am shooting for it. Maybe we will have a decent chance at bringing home a ribbon or two? If nothing else it will be a learning experience for her, so that in itself is a win.

Monday, April 15, 2013

It's all about the sweat

Part of making your horse look their best is having them in shape. When your horse is in condition and working, they will look a whole lot better than they do when they come in out of the pasture after having several months or longer off. They will have muscle where they previously had little to none and their body shape will change as their muscle tone is re-established. 

When your horse is working either on the lunge line, in long lines, in harness or under saddle, how do you tell when the horse is moving properly, besides being able to see it or feel it? Simple really- the muscles that are working will be the ones that sweat. If your horse is heavy on the forehand, their neck and shoulders will be sweating while their flank areas, hip/butt and between the back legs- not so much. When the horse rocks back on their hind end, using it underneath them to push off with impulsion, the muscles will sweat.  The sweat on your horse will be close to the amount of balance they use carrying themselves properly. 

Sweat marks evenly on both front and back ends show she was working in a balanced frame.

What I have found while training my pony to drive is that once he learned to rock back on the rear end, which frees up his shoulders and creates incredibly forward and bold movement- he not only moves this way when working, but it carries over to when he is loose. He runs around with that same free flowing, beautiful movement in turnout.

Since my pony is getting the summer off for the most part, I have shifted my focus to a couple of the other horses in the barn. I have started riding my WB mare Aruba and between us, we are learning a lot. First off, I had to stop leaning forward into the movement when asking her to trot. A little is good, but what I was doing was pretty much forcing her to drop everything back down on the forehand and she stopped.  I would ask her to go forward again, lean into the movement and she would stop as it all dumped onto the forehand again.

Last weekend I rode her last Saturday and the weekend before I rode both days. The main thing I focused on going in- Sit up straight and look where you want her to go. The results? We did a lot of lovely trot work and she didn't so much 'quit' on me, stopping when she felt like it. Last Saturday when I rode her, I tacked up western because the weekend before while I was riding, my right boot suddenly had a cool breeze coming in under my foot. Where the sole and the boot meet- it split along the outside.

Aruba was funny starting out in the western tack. It is bulkier and a lot more constricting in her opinion. She didn't think she could bend her body around under it. Going through the gate into the arena, she rubbed the stirrup on the gate and scooted forward because of it. On the lunge line she finally figured out that she could still stretch out and move, it wasn't the same, but she could do it. She even moved out in a bit of an extended trot for me. Riding was a little different too I have to say.

My stirrups were all the way up, but still a tad too long for me. My hole punch set will fix that, but I figured we would do a lot more walking work. Aruba got bored with that pretty quick though and we moved into trotting anyways. I could keep my stirrups, but couldn't put a whole lot of weight into them or keep my heels down. I used my legs a lot more, that was for sure and on Sunday I was feeling the effects of that. But it was all good because I need to use those muscles and get in shape myself.

This weekend, I punched the holes and raised my stirrups. Sad to say- They need to still go up a little more, but they are better. They are still a tad long, but with the length, it encourages me to relax into my leg, reach down and let the lower leg hang loosely unless I am cueing for something. For anyone who has seen me ride from long ago- western? My legs stuck waaaaay out to the sides as I braced against the stirrups.

Did I mention this mare is 16.2? With the stirrups up where they belong and where I need them to be- It is a stretch to get on her without the help of my handy mounting block. After tearing the pirifomis in my left hip back in January, it ain't happening for me yet.

After our ride...  She's really getting into the whole thing about being a western horse. She is liking just jogging along instead of having to trot with energy and enthusiasm. LOL! Now I just need to find her another French link snaffle so I am not switching it back and forth between bridles.  

Friday, April 5, 2013

Body clipping

It's that time of year again. At least for us and likely soon enough for everyone else. Spring has sprung and the horses are shedding their coats in preparation for the heat wave to come.

Berry was a willing, or maybe not so willing subject for me this time around. I swear this mare is growing longer hair in the winter and sporting more mats as it starts to fall off... I had her up under the shop and grabbed my clippers. In about 2 hours she went from a wooly yak to looking like a horse again. And for as much attitude as this mare has, for an old fart, she did really good and even let me clip her ears- inside and out- without even so much as me telling her to 'Knock it OFF' once.

She went from this on the right side-

To this on the left side in about an hour-

and then hit the wash rack for a quick rinse and she was dry again in no time.

Betsy in the background

It was a little chilly out so she got to wear a sheet that belonged to Tess for the night. She seems happier now.

And when it was all over-

I had just about enough hair to make another horse. And after I swept it all up, I was ready for a shower too. One down- no more to do for now.