Friday, July 25, 2008

A Visit From the Chiropractor

Dr. Means came out to visit Lilly this morning and I told her about the issues I've been having, along with the injury Lilly got when she was a yearling. She decided to do some flex tests to make sure we weren't dealing with any lameness issues. Lilly passed those with flying colors so Dr. Means went to work on the chiropractic part.

Don't ask me to describe what she said in technical doctor terms because I can't even come close! Basically, she said that the left side of Lilly's pelvis didn't have the range of motion that her right side did. She used her two fists to demonstrate so I could get an idea of what she was talking about. She said the left side was up and out of place a bit, thus limiting her range of motion. She said the pelvic issue could certainly be from the injury she had when she was young, because those muscles would have contracted from the pain and pulled stuff out of whack. She said it could be a contributing factor to the lead issues and the stumbling for sure.

So she adjusted her back end and one of her vertebrae, but otherwise she said Lilly was in great shape, so that's good to hear. She's coming back in 3 weeks to do the pelvis again and then we'll go from there.

So Lilly has today and tomorrow off, but Sunday I'll take her out for a trail ride with lots of trotting and stretching.

I'm hoping we can get her pelvis where it needs to be and it will help Lilly feel better!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Lessons Not of Mexican Origin

Since this blog is about Lilly and not what lives in the water in Mexico, I'll talk about how awesome my lesson was last Wednesday! My trainer rode Lilly to get a 'feel for what I was up against' and I'm half proud and half ashamed to say Lilly looked amazing! If only I can learn to ride her like my trainer does, I can make Lilly look amazing too! I wished I had my camera... she looked like a superstar!

My trainer said she was going to ride Lilly with a bit more contact than I do, but for me not to freak out. So while I watched in amazement, I had no problem not freaking out. She really got her collected and moving out nicely, but controlled. She was soft, supple, and round. I was like, "wow! is that MY horse?!"

And then I realized she IS my horse and I've got a lot of work to do.

Too bad getting on a horse right now is out of the question for me.

My trainer says I'm a timid rider... she wants me to toughen up and support Lilly the way she needs to be supported. I guess I'm so focused on 'loose rein, loose rein' in my head that I've lost focus on supporting her.

My lesson for next week is canceled as well, but I'm still going to pay my trainer to come and ride Lilly. I think it will be good for her to have my trainer ride her every so often.

I also got some great tips for cantering Lilly. I told my trainer about the lead issues I was having and she thinks it's more of a muscle/balance issue than a physical problem. So for now, to help Lilly, I'm going to canter her in two-point just to get up off her back until she gets used to carrying my weight. Then slowly I can sit back down on her as we progress.

The vet is still coming out Friday, so I'll get an opinion from her as well, and maybe between the three of us, we can make sure Lilly is comfortable now and that she stays that way.

God Bless the USA

Three things I learned while in Mexico:

1. Resort or no resort, don't drink the water.
2. Always take a laptop to keep up on current events (i.e. peppers tainted with salmonella)
3. Montezuma's Revenge is no joke.

About 1/3 of all employees and family members who traveled to beautiful Cancun got sick early Sunday morning... myself and my boyfriend included. So we spent our two 'extra' days in two places: the bed and the bathroom. I'll spare you further details, but let's just say it wasn't pretty with two sick people and only one toilet. Ok, even that was probably too much information.

But holy crap am I glad to be home. God bless the USA and everything about it. You have my written, er typed, guarantee that I will not be traveling to Mexico ever again.

To make it worse, no one really knows why everyone got sick. There were many restaurants at the resort and different people ate in different places. Was it the tainted peppers? I don't think so because salmonella is nasty. What we had was nasty too, but not that nasty. Maybe we had just a touch of salmonella? I don't know... but what I do know is that I am NOT risking it again. There are plenty of beautiful places in the States.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Quick Update

On Thursday of this week I leave for a 6 day trip to Cancun, Mexico. I've never been to Mexico and I can't wait to go! I absolutely love the beach. The only time I was ever outside of the US was when I was in the Marines and got stationed in Germany for a few months for training. To be honest, I'm a big fan of the US and prefer to stay safely within its borders. However, this trip is free (courtesy of my employer) and we're staying at an all inclusive resort, so I guess I'll tag along. :)

I've been so busy with work and school (trying to get ahead in my studies and my work in time for Cancun) that I haven't been able to ride at all. Tonight is no different. Homework, homework, homework. 3 assignments left to do before tomorrow.

I will be taking my lesson tomorrow, though, but I don't know if I'll be able to update you on that or not. I'll be packing and taking care of last minute stuff most of the night. I'll certainly update you when I get back.

In other Lilly news, she's being seen by a veterinarian on the 25th. The vet is also a chiropractor, so if she needs a vet, we're covered. If she needs a chiropractor, we'll also be covered. I am really anxious to find out if anything is wrong.

I did longe her the other day and she seemed fine going around clockwise. She had a hard time with her lead going counter-clockwise, so that's completely opposite of the problem I have when riding her. Figures... I did longe her over a ground pole, though, to see if it helped her with her leads, and it helped her a few times. Other times, I had to bring her down to a trot and start over. I'll definitely have to incorporate them into my riding time. I'll also make sure to ask my instructor tomorrow how Lilly looks cantering clockwise. Maybe it really is a training issue more than a physical problem and she just needs certain muscles built up to be able to carry me at the canter. We'll see tomorrow and then on the 25th.

Happy riding everyone!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Cross-Cantering

As if I needed something else to add to the mix...

I went to the barn last night, and while I felt very dizzy and just plain yucky, I saddled up and went for a short ride. I worked on some leg yields, bending, trotting on a loose rein, and cantering.

She did very well with the leg yields (she's always more than happy to come off the rail), has the bending down to a science (she often looks up at me like, "really? this again?") and is doing really well jogging on a loose rein. I'm thinking about switching bits AGAIN, though, because the western bit I have for her has loose shanks (swivel freely all the way around both ways till they hit the purchase) and they tend to flop around when we're trotting. I can't help but think that's distracting to her. It's hard for me to be quiet and reward her when the shanks and reins are flopping around. The half circle part in the middle of the shank (very technical term there) also gets in the way of the curb chain, so the shanks can't lay flat like they're supposed to. It sucks because those suckers were about $75 a piece. I got one for working and one for showing. Maybe I can rig my working bit somehow... Vetwrap to the rescue? Then, hopefully she'll be quiet enough in the show ring that the shanks won't flop?

Anyway, back to the riding. Next, I decided to work on her cantering a bit. She canters very well counter-clockwise and nearly always picks up the correct lead. Clockwise, however, is a different story. Now, I've been riding for about 17 years, and I can usually tell when my horse is cross-cantering. It just feels wrong. And, each time we cantered clockwise, it felt wrong. It felt like she was cross-cantering. She was right in the front, but felt wrong in the back. Being out there by myself, though, I couldn't ask anyone to look for me. She's still so new to the canter (under saddle) that I wonder if she's just rough in that direction and unbalanced, or if she's really unbalanced and has a hard time picking up her right hind lead so she only uses her left hind. It was really interesting because I'd ask her for the canter, she'd pick it up (and feel wrong), canter around the arena until we got to a certain spot on the rail (the red circle on my very artistic drawing of the arena), then I'd feel her switch leads behind, she'd be all out of whack for about 3 strides and then break into a trot. I'd work to control her trot until we were ready for another canter and the process would start all over. She switched leads behind in that exact same spot 5 times, before I just decided to call it a day.

Now, I'm trying to remember how she does on the longe line. I know she has trouble with a hind lead there as well, but I can't remember which way she has the problem. I'm fairly certain it's the clockwise direction, but I'll have to longe her again to make sure.

Strangely, though, when I had my lesson, we were only able to work her in the clockwise direction (because of the rain) and my instructor didn't say anything about her being wrong behind. It felt wrong to me at the time, but we were working on so many other things that I never asked if she was right behind. I'll have to make sure I do that next time...

So here's the kicker. Back when Lilly was about a year and a half old, she lived in a stall during the day. The doors were only half doors and the horses could stick their heads out. Well, one evening, when I came home from work, she was half in and half out. She was hanging over the stall door... front feet out, hind feet in. I was able to get her back in her stall (what fun that was...) but she had really done a number on her left hind flank. The vet came out to take a look and said she looked to be fine, but would have that enormous hematoma there for a while and be very sore. She had also rubbed the hair off and had a burn-type wound, so it would need to be kept clean until it healed. She still has a scar there. Well, lately I've noticed her getting "stuck" with that leg. I don't really know how to describe it other than it's like her left hind leg locks up. Kind of like a hitch in her forward motion. It is very noticeable when I'm riding her because it is an obvious 'trip', but doesn't necessarily seem to cause her pain (although it seems like it would). Sometimes it takes 2 or 3 strides for her to 'walk it off'. I'm starting to wonder if her stall incident really did do some damage and now that she's being worked every day it is starting to show.

Maybe she is uncomfortable cantering on her right hind lead... Guess it's time to call the chiropractor. Might have to get the vet out to take some x-rays too.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Back to Normal

Lilly was back to her normal self again last night when I got to the barn. When she saw me coming she did her usual 180 degree turn and walked off about 12 steps, stopped, and looked back to see if I was still coming her way. I said "stop right there, missy" and she waited for me to walk up next to her. I put her halter on and we walked off. When I'm leading her out of the pasture she gets this nasty look on her face. She wrinkles up her nostrils and just looks GRUMPY. I'm like, "damn, girl, is it really THAT bad?" I guess she thinks it is.

After leaving the pasture, though, she perks up. I guess it's like how I feel in the morning when my alarm goes off. I'd like to hit it with a sledge hammer but I know I can't. She'd probably like to kick me square in the face, but she knows she can't. As I'm dragging myself out of bed, I'm grumpy and tired and want to be left alone. She just wants to stand around and eat hay all night long and be left alone. Once I'm up and around, though, enjoying the nice hot water of my shower and my delicious Cookie Crisp cereal, I decide it isn't so bad being one of the living. She realizes she gets cookies and grass and lots of pats on the neck.

So my lesson was short but sweet. The thunderstorm was coming quickly and it was looking really nasty before I could even finish tacking up, so I figured we'd get rained out at some point... and we did. We decided riding in lightening probably wasn't a good idea. I think I got about 25 minutes of my lesson before we had to quit. We worked on trying to get Lilly to slow down a bit at the walk and trot, and then did some canter circles one way. It started lightening before we could go the other way at the canter, but she had some really nice strides in there! I got some really good tips about "sponging" her down and how I need to hold my reins down by my knees for now. It really helped her understand what I was asking, so we'll do more of that until she's more comfortable doing things on her own.

So I'm off to the barn today to ride, assuming I don't get rained out again. I'll let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Do You Ever Get the Feeling...

that something's not quite right?

I haven't ridden in about a week because of 4th of July activities, a Dave Matthews Band concert, and lots of painting in the house.

So yesterday, I was really excited to head out to the barn after work and get in a good ride. I was very anxious to see if Lilly remembered our ride from last week. As I drove through the farm, I passed her pasture on the way to my horse trailer where I usually change clothes. She was standing there eating hay with the other 3 horses and looked up at me as I came through. After changing clothes and parking over by the tack room, I grabbed her halter and headed back toward her pasture. As I got closer, I could see her standing by the gate. I thought, "hmm... that's odd" because she is never waiting for me at the gate like that. The other horses were still out eating hay, but there she was, hind foot rested, head up, ears perked... It was as if she was 'happy' to see me and was waiting for me to take her out. I immediately decided something was wrong because I usually have to chase her down a bit and yell for her to "ho" before I can halter her. She isn't bad about it, but let's just say she lets me know she's not real thrilled to be caught. So for her to be waiting for me... yeah, somethings up.

I opened the gate, put her halter on, and immediately did a once over. Had she been kicked? Was she injured somewhere? Was she sick? Why is she standing here like this??!! She appeared to be fine, so I led her out and watched for signs of lameness. She walked out fine but didn't immediately thrust her head down to grab some grass while I latched the gate. That was odd as well.

In all my years of horse ownership, I've learned that if my horses ever start acting abnormal, and they don't do the things they usually do, it's a red flag. And Lilly was not acting normal.

I stopped her at some green grass to let her graze and she munched unenthusiastically. She even stopped chewing with a mouthful of grass. Uninterested in grass... not good.

So I led her over to the hitching post and conducted a closer, more detailed inspection of her legs and head. She had some marks on her, as she has fallen to the bottom of the horsey totem pole (which drives me insane... she's the only show horse on the place and she's the one getting marked up all the time) but nothing really bad. I noticed that she was a bit "runny" behind (I'll spare you the details) but she gets that way when she's in heat and it is about that time.

So I decided that since I'm not training for the Olympics, I wouldn't ride. Something wasn't right with her and there was no need to push the issue. So I just gave her a water only bath to get her hind end cleaned up. She's also shedding, which seems to happen around this time of year. It's almost like they shed some of their summer coat, so she has these little hairs all over the place. The bath would help get rid of those too.

As I was bathing her, I found a really nasty bit mark on the top of her but. It's the kind that didn't take all the skin off, so it looks really yellow and gross rather than bloody. So I washed that really well and finished up with her bath.

Next, we walked to the trailer to get some salve for her wound and I let her munch grass along the way. She seemed a bit more interested in the grass, which I thought was great. Once I was done doctoring her up, we headed back to the pasture. I put her fly mask on and turned her out near a pile of hay in hopes that she would eat it. She started munching right away.

On my way back to the tack room, I stopped to play with the baby donkeys. A short time later, the barn owner came out and we got to chatting. She mentioned that she had opened the gate to the back pasture so the horses in Lilly's pasture could go out and eat the grass that had grown. When I told her about Lilly, she exclaimed, "she was probably just full!" So since she had no interest in food, she had an interest in me, I guess. That would also explain why she seemed uninterested in the grass.

Guess I was fooled...

Tonight, though, I have a lesson, and I won't be fooled so easily!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

My Miss Perfect

In case I haven't mentioned it enough, I sure do love my sweet girl, Lilly. Sometimes she just makes me laugh!

The JCHSS show was the last show for us until the end of August. That gives me two whole months to work on the things we are having trouble with. And maybe, just maybe, we can start entering some canter classes at the next show!

So I started working on these things Monday evening. I'm concentrating first on getting her to jog on a loose rein. So I'll ask for a jog, and let her jog around on a loose rein as fast as she wants. As long as she stays in a jog, I let her be, but any time she starts to lope, I either do a one rein stop or I just ask her to whoa and back up. She did really well on Monday both ways. She only broke into a lope once and I did the one rein stop. She was really fast most of the time, but the few times she slowed down, I made sure to tell her she was a good girl and rubbed her withers.

Last night was a bit different. It was actually entertaining just watching this horse work. I've mentioned this a few times on this blog, but it bears mentioning again. She tries SO hard to please! She reminds me of a dog because of how attentive she is. When I'm trying to teach her something, her head is up and her ears are pricked backwards. She listens INTENTLY to every move I make. I have her full attention. 100% of her is focused on me. She's just waiting for some kind of cue, and as soon as she gets one, she immediately does something. I say 'something' because it isn't always what I want her to do, but she instantly tries something.

Case in point:
I was trying to get her to transition from a walk to a jog without a lot of drama. Usually she leaps into the jog, head up, ears back... almost like she's pissed. I'm trying to get her to calm down and just jog. It isn't a big deal, but she thinks it is. So my process was this: lay my inside leg on her side as a barrier to keep her from coming over. Then, I'd tap, tap with my outside leg to cue her to jog. Sounds simple, right? If I had to guess what was going on in Lilly's head, I'd guess it sounded like this:

(To be read slightly panicked with lots of breaths)

Oh God! Her left leg is on my side... What do I do??!! Umm... well, even though I'm on the rail already and can't go to the right anymore, maybe she wants me to sidepass anyway... I'll try sidepassing to the left. Oh shit! That's not it... she said no!! Crap... umm... well, maybe she wants me to turn IN to the rail. Yeah! That must be it... I'll try that! No... OH GOD! That was wrong too! Should I stop? Yeah... I'll just stop, maybe the left leg means stop... She's telling me to walk now... WHAT DO I DO??!! Should I take off at a canter? Should I burst into a crazy trot? Someone help me! I've got to get this right!! Now she's holding me back! Guess the canter thing was wrong... And no trot either?? I think I'll just die right here!!!

Now, at this point, we've traveled about 3/4 of the way around the ring just preparing for this jog. I'm trying to teach her the actual cue, so I don't want her to jog before I actually ask for it. It would be lovely if she would not anticipate and just wait for the cue.

So once I've got my leg on her side and she's not trying to do anything but walk calmly, I tap, tap on her side and ask for my jog. She leaps off (as usual) and hauls balls around the arena. She broke into a lope 4 or 5 times during this trip because of all the built up anticipation from the jog preparation (I think). She gets worked up very easily. Each time she broke, she was stopped and backed and asked to jog again. I kept saying "easy, easy... slow down girl" and when she finally decided to slow down on her own I said, "GOOD girl!!" As SOON as I said 'good', she stopped. I'm talking an emergency break type stop. Her feet were planted and she was as still as could be.

I started laughing... what else could I do? That poor girl had been trying to figure out what I wanted for nearly 10 minutes from the first time I put my leg on her side. So as soon as she heard that she had done what I was asking, she just stopped. She couldn't go on! It was as if she was mentally exhausted and just could not bear to go on. Silly, silly pony!

So I said, "no ma'am, we're jogging... now TROT!" She proceeded to jog the most awesome, slowest jog she has ever jogged! Her head was down and we were western pleasure stars! I let her take about 1o strides and then asked her to walk. She was then the recipient of the most praise I have ever given her! She feeds off that kind of stuff... she lives for the moment when I tell her she's done well. I can just see the worry and stress go away as I rub her neck and scratch her withers. We were done with jogging for the day.

Some folks don't think horses work for praise. They say horses work for a release... a time when they're allowed to just rest or get a break from what has been being asked of them. Lilly is living proof that some do. Sure, she gets a release too, and I always make sure she knows when she's done well, but she's not totally relaxed until she gets a pat and a "good girl". Before the "good girl" comes, she's still on edge wondering if she's done it right. Her body goes from stiff and tense, to relaxed and happy after that pat.

Once she figures out what it is you're trying to teach her, she's got it. Hopefully our next ride will contain some of those superstar jog steps again. We'll see!

In other good news, we had a similar situation when I was asking for the canter. It was identical to the jogging departure except I had many more pieces to accomplish before I could actually ask for the lope. Inside leg on her side, nose tipped slightly in, slight tension on the outside rein, sitting deep, and then finally the cue to canter. I have to do each piece separately and wait for her to be comfortable with it before the next part and then the actual cue comes along. Man I hope we only have to do it that way for a short time! But let me tell you, her canter departure was GORGEOUS! Not one single jog step in there! We went from a walk to a half way decent canter! She was on the correct lead and everything! Guess she had all that anxiety built up and it was easy for her to just jump right into the canter. It was phenominal. We were done with cantering for the day.

I can't help but laugh at her. I also can't help but LOVE her. She's truly one of a kind.