Friday, May 30, 2008

Do I Dare Say Success?

Actually, I better say all this at a whisper so she doesn't hear me... and knock on wood when I'm done typing! I also better use the word "progress" instead of "success".

But I'm just so excited!! Lilly was such a good girl last night when I rode! I haven't ridden her western since my last lesson (which was a disaster and I'm not sure why I didn't write about that now that I think about it). The idea was to get her back in a snaffle bit to soften her back up and I opted for the english bridle because of the cavesson. When I rode her in the snaffle western, she kept opening her mouth a lot to get away from the bit. Plus, the hunt seat saddle gave me more feel and made it easier to ride her with more leg contact. In just a week's time, we've gone from hard mouth, rushing into transitions, not staying in the requested gait, constantly trying to trot from the walk, excited, and frustrated to soft, supple, and responsive. She's not rushing her transitions, she's walking when I ask her to walk, and she's not anticipating the next gait. After the canter she'll walk on a loose rein as opposed to her super speed walk. She was SO good, that I walked, trotted, and cantered once in each direction and called it a day. I didn't want to push my luck! She's doing so well with my leg cues as well. It is nice being able to steer her with my seat and legs rather than just with the reins.

Here's the thing, though... I'm scared to take her to the next level. I was thinking about working on transitions today but I wonder if I should do a few more days of what I did with her yesterday. You know, not rush her and make sure that she stays relaxed throughout the whole ride before I stress her with transitions. Of course, now I've got the tools and techniques I need to settle her if she does become stressed, so maybe it would be ok to do some transition work with her. I'd just like to start ensuring she knows the difference between speed up, trot, and canter. As far as cues go, I've decided that "tap, tap" with my inside leg means trot and sliding my outside leg behind the girth and squeezing means canter. These are of course subject to change.

Stay tuned!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Not Quite Lilly, But...

I do have more than one horse and it seems fitting that on this Memorial Day, I feature my beloved 22 year old QH gelding. I've had AJ since he was 4 years old and we've made some great memories together. I only got to show him for about a year and a half and we were just getting his training going when we had to stop due to his lameness issues. At age 6 he was retired because X-rays showed he had arthritis in both hocks. When we first found out, we were able to manage it for a while with bute and tried some Adequan shots, but it got to the point where we couldn't keep him show ring sound. I really wonder what kind of a show horse he would have been if he didn't have arthritis. I still wonder how a horse so young could have developed such a severe case at such a young age. He's such a character, though, and it is hard to imagine life without him around. With so much debate going on these days about slaughter, I thank God every day that he is safe and sound with me. We had a few offers over the years from people wanting to use him for one thing or another, but we never wanted him to be in a situation that was out of our control. He will die a safe and humane death in my care. I owe him that much.

Today was all about AJ. I took him for a ride on the trails and then afterwards he had a day at the spa. I trimmed up his ears, his face, his bridle path, and his mane. Then he got a nice bath and enjoyed some super green clover while he dried. Here he is, sporting his tongue as he likes to do after eating a treat or his dinner. Do you think he got lots of treats today? I'll never tell!

He is so much fun to ride. He's just so energetic and spooks at everything. It is just amazing that a creature so large, and so aged is still afraid of everything! I consider him my Cadillac and Lilly is my sports car. His stride is so much different than Lilly's and I enjoy being 16 hands in the air as opposed to 14.3 hands. His neck is so much longer and he is much more smooth with those longs legs of his. I really should make an effort to ride him more often. I think he enjoys getting out and going for a walk. He was quite good on our little walk today and we even jogged and loped a bit on the trail. He thinks he's still a 5 year old when he's out there, and he has been known to kick up his heels a lot in the pasture. I'm glad he feels so young still. I worry about his quality of life sometimes with the arthritis, but it warms my heart to know he's doing just fine.

I just love this picture of his face. Look at those eyes! They look so soft and so kind. It is a great picture that shows his personality. It also shows how nice he looks all clipped up, even at 22 years old!

He is just as regal and handsome as he was 18 years ago when I first saw him. Sure, he has a few gray hairs these days, but he is beautiful. He has a presence about him and a personality about him. He is definitely one in a million and I cherish every bit of time I have with him. I hope he'll be around for many more years to come.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Milestones!

Lilly has been doing great since Wednesday! I've ridden her every day so far and while she stills speeds up now and then, I've been able to get her to slow down and relax by just squeezing my reins two or three times. We've had moments of complete loose rein at the walk and her head was even down as if she was relaxed and taking a break.

She does seem to enjoy working off the rail much more than she does on it. I've been working many serpentines and figure eights with her and she really seems to enjoy it. I have to work hard to keep her focused when she's on the rail. I'm sure as she gets more comfortable with the riding off the rail, the comfort on the rail will come as well.

I've been trying to control her speed and not worrying about her head. I figure I can work on that later, but for now I need her to remain calm and relaxed. It would be nice to have her back more round when we're trotting and cantering, though, but hopefully I can start working on the head set pretty soon. I think today I might longe her in the surcingle so she realizes she can travel along nicely with her head level. She's definitely not a horse that naturally carries her head low, so I'll have to convince her that it is a good idea. I had been bitting her with the saddle and running the reins up between her legs, but she's gotten to the point where she just moves her head from side to side to avoid the pressure caused by her legs as she moves. It kind of defeats the purpose of her finding her sweet spot to avoid the pressure on the bit. Hopefully with the surcingle she won't be able to avoid that pressure and will learn to work with her head level.

I've also been using lots of leg on her when doing the serpentines and figure eights. At this point, I can drop the reins and steer her completely with my legs. No more dragging her around by the reins! She got used to my legs on her quite quickly... I thought it would take a while to break that 6 year habit of leg=go fast, but she's always been quite smart and eager to please. And once she gets it, she gets it. She is less startled when I ask for a trot or canter, which makes it much easier to get her into a rhythm and keep her calmer.

I'm very proud of her! Our next show isn't until June 14th, and it is a big one at the fairgrounds, so hopefully we can make some good progress between now and then!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

We Walked!

Since Tuesday brought us wind, rain, hail, and tornadoes, I wasn't able to ride until yesterday. I decided to ride english so I could have a better feel of her. I think I'll ride english from here on out until we make some progress with transitions and her walking issues.

Overall, it was a good ride. She still wanted to speed walk, but I kept my cool and every time she started to speed up, I turned her in a circle until she slowed down, and then I put her back on the rail. She seems to do much better off the rail than on it. She'll plod along in serpentines and around the jumps all day long nice and easy, but as soon as I put her back on the rail she gets antsy and upset and starts her speed walking/trotting deal. So most of our work was done off the rail. I practiced circles and serpentines at the walk and trot using lots of leg. By the end of the ride she was turning with just my leg pressure. It will be nice to get her past the idea of leg=faster. That was my mistake teaching her that, so now we're trying to work out of it. I wanted to work on the canter some too but decided I shouldn't press my luck. After she walked semi-calmly on the rail for about 3/4 of the way around we quit.

I'll be riding again tonight, so we'll see how things go.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Walk... Walk... WALK!!

My biggest training challenge at this point in the game, and it is a big one, is trying to get Lilly to walk, and to walk calmly. I swear she could win a speed walking class against any horse I put her up against. I'm used to horses enjoying the walk, stretching out, putting their head down, and breathing. Not Lilly... she speed walks any time she's on a loose rein, and even when she's not on a loose rein. Now, when I say speed walking, I'm not talking about a fast walk. I'm talking about the fastest walk she can possibly manage without trotting. She's literally on the verge of trotting. She's got her head into it, bobbing it up and down and side to side in tune with her stride to enable the fastest walk she can possibly manage. It isn't very comfortable to try and sit either, because my hips are just going all over the place. It feels like I'm riding a washing machine! Often times, she does break into a trot and I have to bring her back down to the walk... over and over again. If I counted the number of times I say "walk" in a session, you'd be amazed. She just won't relax at the walk. I want to give her that mental break and let her enjoy some "her" time to keep her fresh during training sessions, but she just won't take my offer! It is almost as if she thinks the faster she goes, the faster she gets done.

It is VERY hard for me to remain patient during all of this. I feel like every time I ride her, all I'm doing is working on the walk. I'm of the mindset that if we can't do it at the walk, how the hell are we going to do it at the trot or canter. And what is "it", you ask? ANYTHING! I can't work on shortening her stride, I can't work on transitions, I can't work on controlling her speed with my seat... none of it because I'm too busy asking for a walk. It frustrates me to no end.

Usually, when she's in her "speed racer" gait, she's not even paying attention to me. I'll do a half halt and she almost seems startled. She'll walk a couple strides nicely and then back to speed walking she goes. I just wonder how many times I'll have to half halt before she gets a clue. I've been reading blogs and message boards to see what other people have done in my situation, so I've got some new ideas to try tonight. She was just SO good on Saturday that I expected her to be really good last night when I rode, and that wasn't the case... not even close. So maybe if I go into the session with the attitude that she's going to be bad, I'll have more patience and be happier when she does walk like a normal horse (or close to it, if she ever decides to).

It is especially bad after we canter. She constantly anticipates the canter from there on out and it is impossible to get her to settle into a walk. I'm never going to be able to enter any canter classes at the shows because I could never get her to walk afterwards!

Maybe I should just let her go whatever speed she wants for as long as she wants until she's done and chooses to walk on her own? I just think she'd go all day long before she got tired...

Monday, May 19, 2008

JCHSS Show Number 4

My mom and dad were in town this weekend and they went with me to the show. My boyfriend, Mike, also tagged along and took some great pictures of Lilly. She was SO good, too. I was really pleased with her behavior and demeanor. She just seemed really calm. If she was at 40% calm at the last show, she was at 80% calm this time around. She stood at the trailer without pawing and didn't carry on about her buddy Jack leaving the trailer area. She stood patiently in the make up arena for her class and only acted foolish once when we had to stand on the rail in the class while waiting for a tack change. She just didn't seem to care about much. I imagine she'll get better and better the more shows we go to. I just hope she's like this at the June show we're going to at the fairgrounds!

I rode her in my new hunt seat saddle and she seemed fine. She carried on at the last show as if the saddle was pinching or hurting her in some way. I wonder if I just had the saddle too far forward? Either way, I'm glad I got it figured out because now I don't have to sell this one and buy a new one! She looks adorable all dressed up in her hunt seat tack!

The judge at this show was interesting... It seemed like he was taking a really long time with the classes because I didn't ride till after 3. We all arrived around 11:30, so I felt bad that we sat around for 4 hours before I even got to go into a class. He also didn't seem to pay much attention to Lilly. In our first english class, he looked at us once and then never looked again. Guess he didn't like what he saw. That was the tone for the whole show, though, and that gets to be frustrating.


So our first english class was hunt seat w/t equitation adult. We didn't place, and I haven't placed in equitation yet! It might be time to get some lessons to work more on me than on Lilly. I'm starting to wonder if my style is too "old". Back in 4-H, we used to ride slightly forward in english, and most of the girls at these shows are riding and posting straight up. I might need to modify my style... or maybe I just have poor eq these days! Lilly was really good for this class. She was going pretty slow and my mom commented that maybe she was too slow. I can't wait for the day when Lilly is too slow!

Our second english class was hunt seat w/t stock type horse. Again, she did very well in this class even though she was on the verge of breaking from a trot to a walk most of the time. Like I mentioned, she was really relaxed and not super forward for once. It was nice having to urge her forward rather than pulling back to slow her down while passing every horse in the ring at least twice! We got 8th place in this class and I think there were 10 entries. I'm surprised the judge placed us at all just because I don't think he watched me at all during the class!

The last class english was hunt seat w/t open. It was a large class and we didn't place. Lilly did really well, though, and didn't break once. She was traveling very nicely and had a pretty level headset for most of the class. I couldn't have been more proud of her!

I was quite annoyed with the showmanship class. When Lilly and I were doing our pattern, the judge hardly even looked up to watch. My mom said that during Lilly's pivot, he was writing down notes the entire time. Lilly was the only one with a solid pivot and he didn't even see it! She placed 4th out of 9 entries, but she deserved much higher.

Halter was no different... when the judge nodded for me to walk to him, he was busy talking to the ring steward and the gate people. I even hesitated because I thought maybe he really wasn't ready for me yet. It was pretty rude in my book... I deserve his attention when I'm in the ring showing. She ended up placing 5th out of 12 horses, so I was really excited about that, but just the fact that he really didn't watch us show annoyed me. One girl in the class got skipped entirely. He didn't even walk around her horse.


I showed in 3 western riding classes. The first was western horsemanship GAYP adult, and we got 5th place! There was an older gentleman with a pretty nice buckskin horse that won every single class from here on out. I think the old judge was partial to the old rider. Some of the girls that usually place 1st, 2nd, and 3rd were down in the 5th place areas. It was just really weird what the judge was placing. The old guy had horrible equitation and his horse wasn't THAT good. He didn't deserve 1st in every western class. Just makes me wonder...

The second western class we entered was w/j stock type horse and Lilly and I didn't place. I thought she did very well in all of her western classes. Her head set needs some work, but her speed was really good. I was so proud of her. She was very consistent and just plodded along. Such a good girl!

Our final class of the day was w/j open and we took 7th out of 11 horses. I was really excited to have placed and Lilly was glad to be done for the day!

All in all, the day was great! It was so much fun to have my parents there to cheer me on, and to have Mike there to take some lovely pictures. Lilly was a good girl, the weather was gorgeous, and I had a great time.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Our First Hunter Pace!

Lilly and I went on our first hunter pace this past Saturday. I had no clue what a hunter pace was until one of the boarders at the barn mentioned she was going. She told me all about how you ride your horse on a marked trail in groups and they keep time to see how well you keep the specified pace. You don't know how long the course is, so it makes it a bit challenging to come in at the right time. She mentioned that there were a lot of jumps on the trail but that they were optional so Lilly and I could go around them. It sounded like a lot of fun so I decided to give it a try!

My precious angel was such a good girl! Such a difference between this trip and the one to Whippoorwill! I still don't know what her problem was that weekend. On of my friends suggested that maybe it was because she didn't know any of the horses there. For this hunter pace she was with her pasture mate, so it was a horse she knew and was comfortable with. The trail ride consisted of horses she didn't know. Hard to say, but I might stick with that excuse.

Anyway, Lilly was a very good girl. I rode her in my hunt seat saddle so I was hoping she wouldn't get all crazy on me and throw me somewhere on the trail. She went through the water, across the rocks, through the trees, and past a cemetery gathering (which was very odd to see people having a bar-b-q on Saturday in the cemetery). She even had to be the big girl a couple times and go past things her buddy wouldn't pass. I couldn't have asked for her to be better!

The horse I rode with is a TB/Percheron cross... so, um, to say she's HUGE is an understatement. Her owner hadn't sticked her in a while, but I'd put her at 16.3 at the very least. So, picture this... my little 15 hand (on a good day with shoes and on a small hill) horse trotting next to her 16.3 (at least) monster mare with a huge stride. It took Lilly about 3 strides to keep up with one of Summer Berry's. At one point, we were cantering alongside them and going the exact speed they were, and Summer Berry wasn't even going fast! She was just trotting along.

So here's me posting: Up/Down/Up/Down/Up/Down
Here's Leah posting: Up...... Down ...... Up ...... Down ..... Up ...... Down

I've never posted so fast in my life. Good thing I rode hunt seat! Posting isn't easy western!

So rumor has it that Leah and I took 5th place out of 17 teams! Not bad considering we got a bit turned around when we first started out. I'll confirm our placing when I see official results. I had so much fun, and I think Lilly enjoyed the day as well, even if she was pooped by the end of the ~9 mile trek. We'll definitely be going back for the next one at the end of the month!

**Update: We did indeed get 5th place! The course was 8.7 miles and the ideal time was 1 hour and 27 minutes. Our time was 1 hour 41 minutes, so we were only 14 minutes off the ideal time. Woohoo!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Colic!

Last night, Lilly and I had a great ride. It was pretty productive and she did rather well. Our routine was normal. Nothing out of the ordinary. After riding her, I untacked her, let her munch some grass, and then I turned her back out in the pasture. She seemed fine and even nickered at me a couple times when I was untacking her as if to say, "Hurry up! It is time for grass!"

I was about half way home when my cell phone rang. It was one of the boarders telling me that I should probably come back because Lilly keeps laying down. Lilly is a pretty clean girl, and isn't one to roll around in the dirt much, so the fact that she kept laying down had me concerned. I turned around and headed back to the barn. When I got there, she was standing in the lean-to all stretched out, so I haltered her and took her back up to the barn. She kept pawing and trying to lay down, so I decided I should probably just call the vet. She had no appetite and had no interest in grazing. When they don't eat, you know there's trouble. Tracy said she was about 30 minutes out and would stop by.

The waiting was awful... my poor girl was in obvious pain. She kept looking back at her sides, swishing her tail, and stomping her back feet. I tried to keep her up and walking but I could tell she was just miserable, so we all decided it would be okay to let her lay down as long as we kept her from rolling around too much. So down she went, and she just laid there, all sprawled out, the entire time. She was breathing really hard and groaning. It brought me to tears... I've never seen her like that before and hope I never do again.

When Tracy finally arrived, Lilly got up and stood there not wanting to move. Tracy took her vitals and said her temperature was normal, but her respiratory and heart rates were up and she couldn't hear gut sounds. After the evaluation, she gave Lilly some Banamine and a small dose of a tranquilizer. She did a rectal palpation and didn't find any obstructions, thus concluding that it was a bad case of gas colic. I was very surprised that she stood so well for the palpation. It was her first! Next, she wanted to tube her to make sure nothing was blocking the passage from her stomach to her intestines. Lilly wasn't fond of the tube but stood there like a good girl. She kept trying to sneeze it out, but that's about it. Once the tube was in, there was quite a bit of air and grass that came out. If she wasn't drugged, I imagine at that very point she felt some serious relief. Tracy poured some water through the tube and then followed it with a gallon of mineral oil. By the time it was all over, Lilly seemed to be a bit more alert and feeling MUCH better. We decided to keep her in the stall over night to monitor her and as I was walking her down, she was trying to grab some grass.

She seemed okay this morning when I went to visit her before work. She whinnied, was alert, and acted like she wanted out o the stall. Thank goodness!

Tracy said she didn't know what caused the colic... could have been any number of things or a combination of things. I'm hoping she never colics again! I still don't know why God made these magnificent creatures with such a restrictive system.