Monday, February 28, 2011

AJ Day!

Since AJ will be leaving tomorrow I wanted to go spend some time with him. The temperatures were nice (almost 80!) but the wind was gusting like you wouldn't believe! Because of the wind, it didn't feel nearly as warm as the thermometer said, so I decided to hold off on giving him a bath. I just brushed him and trimmed him a bit with the clippers. He was a little spooky because of the wind, but we managed.

Here are some of the pictures I took of my sweet boy.

I think he's put weight back on nicely!

It was WINDY!  Look at that mane!

Such a handsome boy.

I'm sure going to miss this!!
I'll keep you posted about his journey to Michigan, where they have 12" of snow! Hopefully he still has enough of his winter coat to keep him warm. I'm sending his blankets home, but I'm worried he might be cold. My parents have a really nice barn and my dad feeds a LOT of hay, so hopefully he'll do just fine.

I'm most worried about how he's going to do on the trailer for that long, but at least he'll be with other horses for most of the trip.

I'm sure going to miss him!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

So Far, So Good!

I met M at the barn this morning for a saddle testing trail ride. The weather was beautiful (sunny and 60!) and there wasn't any wind for a change!

Does this mean I have to work today?
I'm still loving the way the saddle fits on Lilly's back. Granted I've only tried the saddle in her green pad, but there's still plenty of room around her withers for a more fluffy show pad. It would be nice if they had those hunt seat number pads in a contoured fit, but since that's what I need, they don't. I'll have to see if I can keep it "tented" in the front so it doesn't put pressure on her withers.

By the way, neither of my girths fit anymore... they're both too long. I have a Wintec girth that is labeled 54" and a leather show girth that is labeled 50" and the leather girth is actually about a 1/2" longer than the Wintec.

Who can figure... regardless, they're both too long.

Anyway, we worked the horses in the arena for a bit first and the saddle still feels good! Lilly was calm and quiet and warmed up well, which was good since my girth was as high as it would go and was still a little loose.

The trail ride went well. Lilly was a very good girl and even rode around for a while on a loose rein. That never happens on a trail ride... is it because she's comfy in her new saddle, or was she just having a good day? I was trying to work her a bit to see how she'd do with the saddle in less than ideal situations so we rode over the stream, up and down hills, and even did some trotting. She never got irritated.

She did get muddy, though... on our way back across the stream she decided she wanted to play in the mud. She got her legs covered and at some point decided to shove her nose to the bottom of the stream and pull up muddy, stinky, dirty, DISGUSTING stream crud and EAT IT.

She ain't right, but I love her just the same. :)

Friday, February 25, 2011

Saddle Pad and Tack Ramblings

I've been pondering saddles and saddle pads for the past few days and I'm not sure what our best option is going to be.

After my saddle fitting I hopped on eBay, very excited to list all three of my saddles. So far it looks promising for my Collegiate Lynn Palm (I hope), hit or miss for my Circle Y, and perhaps a crash and burn is what the future holds for my Circle P synthetic saddle. So far it has had 2 views, and they're both from me. LOL

I actually LOVE the saddle. It is really comfortable and I can ride in that thing all day without any pain in my tookis and minimal pain in my ankles/knees from the stirrups. It's synthetic, so Lilly can stomp and paw in the muddy stream to her heart's content and I could care less! I'm still not thrilled with the length of the skirt, but it isn't rubbing on her hips so it's more of an issue for me than for her.

The saddle fitter, while a self-proclaimed novice western saddle fitter, said she thinks the saddle actually fits Lilly well. She likes how it sits on her withers and shoulders, doesn't think it's too large for her, and doesn't see any reason why I couldn't continue to use that saddle if I so desire. It's got full QH bars, so it's the only saddle I have with a "wide" tree (minus the new Pessoa), but it's actually the saddle that causes me the most grief.

None of this saddle stuff makes any sense. It depends completely on the saddle so it's hard to make any kind of statements or judgments on anything!

The only thing she said that might be a problem is how close it sits to Lilly's spine in spots. She thinks that maybe on the trails it's moving around a bit causing Lilly to get super cautious because she's used to having issues with saddle fit until she just decides she's not happy anymore. I don't know if that's the case, though, because her "get this saddle off my back" dance is the same for all the saddles, so I suspect it's still an issue with her withers/shoulders and not her back.

In either case, the fitter suggested I try a new pad before splurging on a new saddle. She recommended the following:
* a contoured pad so there's less pressure on her withers/shoulders (something I should look for in all my pads for Lilly)
* extra padding across the back to lift the saddle up off her back
* nothing extra around her withers/shoulders to limit the space
* made of something super soft to help cushion
* not gel (since it's so friggin hot here)

I gotta tell ya, that's a tall order!

And there are some UGLY pads out there... good lord!

They actually used the word "fashionable" in the description!
Don't worry, they have more colors! Sorry, at $139 I'm going to have to pass.

Which brings me to my next point... the cost of a pad like the one I need to make my Circle P fit will run me $150 - $200, assuming I can find the pad I described, which I haven't found yet. I have the saddle listed on eBay for $175. I'm just not sure that makes good sense, especially since I'm not even sure the saddle pad will fix my issue.

I don't need more tack I can't use and can't seem to get rid of.

You should see my garage... it looks like I'm running a tack shop in there! I have 5 saddles stacked on one saddle stand, saddle pads laying on top of that, leathers and irons on the floor, shims, a helmet, western reins, an english bridle, and a Wintec girth, all in limbo. The Equestrian Exchange isn't until September and I'm not sure I can keep these things around that long...

What do you guys do with tack you can't sell? Hold on to it? Pitch it in the garbage? Take it to a rescue?

It would be nice to have TWO saddles, each with their own accessories, each being show quality, that fit me AND my horse. I'm tired of having a little bit of everything. I only ride one horse for crying out loud. You'd think I'd have her needs figured out by now. :)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

She's Not A Pony, She's A Princess

Lilly had her appointment with the saddle fitter this afternoon. Other than the fact that I managed to lock myself in the trailer with Lilly, it went off without a hitch. A word of advice... always make sure to carry the keys to the pass-through door no matter what! Thank goodness I hadn't shut Lilly's window yet. :)

We got to the fitter at 1 pm, filled out the paperwork, showed our Coggins, and got to work. Doesn't she look happy to be getting a new saddle?

All this for me?!
The saddle fitter was super nice and seemed very knowledgeable. I spoke with her at length on the phone but told her again what I'd been seeing with Lilly. She found the staggering interesting and said she was torn by wanting to see it, but not wanting to see it since Lilly would be uncomfortable. She did some pushing on Lilly's back to see if she had any sore areas but Lilly didn't react at all. She was busy checking out the geldings in the pasture behind the horse trailer.

She said there were indeed a few challenges to fitting a saddle to Lilly. She said she has a really short back, is a bit croup high, and while she has decent withers, she said she's pretty thick on each side of them. We put Lilly's Collegiate saddle on her bare back and she said she didn't see anything glaringly wrong. It fit nicely on her back, didn't rock, was pretty straight, and overall didn't look bad at all.

After much pondering and more discussion, we decided the issue must be with the wider areas around her withers. The way my saddle is padded, it looks like it might sit on them just so, causing her to become uncomfortable after a period of riding. Short rides don't seem to be an issue most of the time, it's when we're showing and I've been riding and sitting on her for a longer period of time.

The way she acts, you'd swear she was in awful pain and the fitter commented that perhaps Lilly isn't very stoic... that perhaps she's a bit of a princess instead. That's my girl!!

It's good to know the saddle didn't fit her as poorly as I was afraid it did, but I was worried that would make finding a saddle that put less pressure on those areas difficult. We tried 6 different saddles and I rode in 4 of them.

The first was a Collegiate Convertible Diploma ($1,000) with a medium-wide tree that seemed to fit her okay, but I hated the way I felt in the saddle. It felt like it was pushing me forward and the seat wasn't comfortable at all.

The next one I tried was a Black Country Ricochet ($2425) with a medium-wide tree and it was amazing. For the first time ever I felt like I was sitting IN the saddle instead of ON the saddle. There was a lot of it, though, and I didn't feel like I had good contact with Lilly. It has a padded flap, knee blocks, and a calf blocks so I had a difficult time asking her for things. Apparently, those saddles are custom made to order.

The next saddle was a Pessoa Gen X XCH (meaning it has an adjustable tree) ($1395), with a medium tree. The fitter felt that this saddle fit her the best of all the saddles and it was okay as far as comfort, but after having sat my behind in the Black Country, it felt a bit stiff. It also had foam flocking instead of wool, which she said wasn't as easy to adjust as wool should we run into an issue later on down the road.

The final saddle was a Pessoa A/O AMS XCH ($2395) with a wide tree. We started out with the medium tree in this one, and then decided to try it with the wide. It was SO comfortable, and while it has molded knee pads (I don't usually like those) and a calf block, I didn't feel as disconnected as I did in the Black Country. This saddle got thumbs up from the saddle fitter, Lilly, and me, so it's the one I brought home.

Sent from angels!
This saddle is a demo, so it's a little beat, but it's also nicely discounted. I'm trying to decide if I want to keep this one or go ahead and splurge for a new one. The prices at this tack store are a bit higher than what I could get it for online (about $250) but there's the benefit of no shipping. Plus, these saddles only come with the medium tree and you have to purchase the wide tree and install it yourself. So for about $350 more I can have a brand new one that will last me forever, or until I get a new horse that inevitably will have a completely different back this saddle won't fit.

The fitter said they normally let the saddles stay out on trial for 5 days, but she's going to be sneaky and give me a few more days to try it out. We couldn't get Lilly to show off her "get this saddle off my back" dance so I have no idea if it's because this saddle fits her or if she was just having a good day. The real test will be when we go to a show and I use my beloved number pad.

Not sure what everyone thinks about Pessoa... I know a few people who think they're awful (at least the new ones), but the leather is really soft, the seat is comfortable, and it looks like a quality saddle to me. Most importantly, it seems to fit my mare. I do find it amazing that one style of Pessoa fits Lilly with a medium tree and another style requires a wide tree. How in the heck is anyone supposed to find a saddle that fits without trying them all on first? I guess if you have a "normal" horse there's less issue, but I couldn't believe how many different tree sizes we tried on her.

She offered to take a look at my western saddle as well, although she said she doesn't know much about western saddles. The general principles should be the same on all saddles, so she gave me her educated guess. She thinks the saddle fits Lilly fine... there wasn't the tightness around her withers like there was with my english saddle, so she wasn't sure why Lilly wasn't happy with this one. She thinks that since Lilly acts the same way in all the saddles that it's most likely because of the same reason (wide around the withers) so we talked about different pads I could use to gently lift the saddle off her back a little bit without creating too much padding. She said she wouldn't give up on that saddle just yet.

I still think I want to sell that one and the Circle Y so I can get a new western saddle that I can use for work and show, but I'll ponder it some more. In either case, my western shims must go, along with the wither relief pad I've been using for my english saddle... my new western felt pad needs to go too, not to mention my Collegiate Lynn Palm CC saddle. Any takers? :)

So let's hope I've found a saddle Lilly and I both love!!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

With the Longe Line

I've been paying closer attention to how I interact with Lilly and I've realized that we always do things to the left. I mount her from the left, I lead her from the left, when we're working on showmanship I'm on the left, when I'm standing with her I'm on the left. I've also noticed that I prefer going to the left too, both when I'm riding and when I'm longeing. I have no doubt that we do more to the left than we do to the right, even if I'm not doing it consciously. Do you suppose it's any wonder she moves better to the left?? Oops. Time to fix that too. I'm planning to make sure I'm doing as much to the right as I am to the left, or even more.

So rewinding to Sunday, I went to the barn to try a few of the ideas all of you sent me regarding Lilly in the round pen. I decided to use my longe line so I could keep a connection with her and see how she worked that way. Sure it defeats the purpose of "free longeing", but I wanted to give it a try. I started her to the right (instead of to the left like we always do!), and she did surprisingly well. She walked when I asked her to walk, which is what we have the most trouble with. Even when she was cantering she was doing pretty well. She was still bent to the inside a bit, but not like she was the last time we worked in the round pen.

I asked her to reverse directions and she turned inside instead of outside. I gave her the same cue but it was obviously because I was using the longe line. Our work to the left didn't look nearly as pretty as our work to the right. She wanted to run around and act like a goober and refused to walk. I pushed her into a canter and worked with her using transitions until I was able to convince her to walk. We ended up working for quite a while on the transitions until she finally decided walking sounded pretty good.

Next time we work in the round pen I'm going to work her without the longe line using turns to control her movement and speed and see how does. Lilly is a complicated critter and it usually takes me some time to figure out what the best method is to show her what I'm looking for.

I also learned a few other important things yesterday (thanks, Alex!), but that's for another post I'm working on. One of the most important things relevant for this post, though, was how directing my energy and my body toward Lilly's head could cause her to bend to the outside. I've also been watching the videos SillyPony posted in the comments on my last post, and they mention the same thing. Focusing on her head is seen by her as a predatory action, and if I focus on her hip or her shoulders (her body) instead of her head, it's possible that she'll straighten out or even bend to the inside, feeling less threatened.

When I'm longeing her with a longe line, I'm using it to control her and communicate with her. The line is attached to her head, so it makes sense that I'm focusing my energy toward her head rather than her body. Oops again. So I'm very anxious to try again without the line and see how she does when I'm not constantly looking at her head.

Since she's had so much time off, I almost feel like this is an opportunity to "start over" and fill in some of the holes I may have ignored the first time. I'm excited to be learning as much as she is!

In other news, I have an appointment with the saddle fitter tomorrow. I stopped by the tack shop yesterday to check out the saddles and left another message for her. She called me this morning and wants me to bring Lilly to the shop so we have a better variety of saddles to try. So Lilly gets to go on a field trip tomorrow and hopefully we can get some answers. :)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Free Longeing

I've decided no more riding until I get a new saddle for Lilly (except maybe bareback). The Circle Y is on eBay, the work saddle is on Craigslist, and I'm hoping I can trade in the Collegiate when I purchase my new english saddle.

I contacted the tack shop today about having a saddle fitting done on Lilly but the saddle fitter wasn't available. I'm supposed to hear back from her within the next 24 hours. The website said to bring the horse to their shop, but I guess she'll also come out to your barn and bring a bunch of saddles with her. I'm not sure which option would be better... it would be nice to have her come to me but we would have more options if I went to her.

I decided to try free longeing Lilly in the round pen today. I've been dying for a round pen since I've had horses and I finally have one! I've been a bit slack in the longeing department with Lilly because in a regular arena she ends up dragging me all over the place and we never get much accomplished. In the round pen, she can't jerk me all over and have a good time... she has to maintain the circle and can only go as fast as the small circle will allow. I've never been one to longe before a ride, or longe at the show... I just ride instead, so we haven't done much longeing at all. Now that I'm doing it a bit more, I'm seeing the holes. :)

I thought it might take her a minute to catch on to the fact that we were longeing since there was no line, but she went right out to the rail and started walking. We started out going to the left and true to form she was faster than a speeding bullet. It didn't take her long to realize that it's hard work maintaining that size circle, so before long we had a pretty nice trot.

I've read that horses have a preferred gait. Lilly's preferred gait is definitely the trot and I think she'd trot forever if I let her. Even though I was asking for the walk, she wanted to trot, so each time she started to trot, I pushed her into a canter.

Once I had her responding and listening, I asked her to switch directions. She insisted on turning towards the rail instead of in to me and I'm not sure how to go about fixing that... maybe I should longe her in the round pen but still use a longe line? That way I can pull her in towards me? I'm not sure why she thought that was the proper way to change directions.

Going to the right was not nearly as successful as going to the left. Lilly's strong side is going left, and her weak side is going right. Today that was quite obvious. First, she refused to go right and kept turning into the rail to reverse directions. When I tried to get her turned back around going to the right, she decided to show off in hopes of taking my mind off what was really happening. She started doing beautiful side pass steps and wonderful backs that were very straight!

"Look at me, mom! Isn't this really good?"

It took a lot of work and a lot of help from my little friend the dressage whip poking her in the shoulder to get her turned around and moving forward and to the right. She finally got going in a canter but it was ICKY! She was bent so far to the outside that her nose was hitting the little spaces between the panels. I think once she thought about trying to escape, but then realized that wasn't a good idea. I have a surcingle but I sold my side reins... I wonder if double longeing her would help her bend to the inside? I do have driving lines.

After she had been moving around for a bit and behaving I asked her to stop and stand. Then I wiggled my fingers and told her to come to me. That's her favorite part of longeing and she has that exercise down!

Something I've noticed about Lilly is that she tends to stand a bit parked out. I always wondered if she was standing like that to take pressure off her ligament, or if it was more comfortable for her for another reason. My book has an exercise called "Lifting the Hind Legs" (which is pretty self explanatory) that I've been wanting to try with her because it's supposed to strengthen their hindquarters and help with posture. So while I had her in the round pen with my dressage whip, I decided to give it a try. It starts by teaching her to pick up her leg when I tap it with the whip, and then it progresses to a point where you're asking them to hold the leg up for 10 seconds.

I very rarely ever use whips... in fact, I don't even own a longe whip and only got my dressage whip last week, specifically for this exercise. Spurs are the same way. Anything that encourages forward motion is not needed with Lilly!

So I put her up against one of the panels and rubbed the whip on her leg. I wasn't sure how she'd react to having it touch her legs but she was fine. I started tapping lightly on her leg until she picked it up, then I praised and praised her. I tapped her ankle again and she picked her foot up right away. More praise! This time she turned around and gave me the best look... like she was saying, "Are you kidding me? THAT is what you wanted me to do!" I turned her around and we did the same thing on the right side. After just one tap she picked up her leg. I don't think she was impressed by the exercise.

She was very sweet today. I'm having so much fun working with her again. :)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Random Thoughts About Saddles

No bids on my saddle yet, but I have 10 watchers and I'm convinced someone will start the bidding soon! Isn't it pretty?

I have a love-hate relationship with this saddle.
I've been trying to decide what to get next. Other than needing a saddle that fits Lilly and is comfortable for me, I'm pretty sure I know what I'm looking for, I just don't know where to find it.

She has such a short back that I've decided I don't want a saddle with a skirt length longer than 26". Both of my western saddles are 28" and they are way too long for her. I think that might be part of our problem because I can't really place the saddle where I want on her back because there's only so much room. That wouldn't explain my english saddle issues, of course, but it drives me crazy having a skirt that long. I'm not sure I can get shorter than 26" unless I get a barrel type saddle, which I'm not interested in getting, so I'd like to start out at 26" and see how it fits.

I also want something that can be a work saddle and a show saddle. We're far from western pleasure, but if I'm buying a pricey, custom saddle, it would be nice to be able to use it in the future for showing as well. So a little silver would be good, but I don't need a bunch of tooling that requires me to get out the toothbrush to clean it up every Sunday.

Not too many requirements, I know. I just want something that fits Lilly, fits me, and looks nice enough to show in. Shouldn't be hard, right?

Most of the equitation style saddles I've found are done up to be show saddles. Roping saddles usually have wrapped horns, cutting saddles have a pretty high horn height, and barrel saddles have a high horn and a high cantle. The all around saddles tend to look like trail saddles, so that really only leaves reining style saddles...

So in my search for a new reining saddle for my non-reining horse, I was pointed in the direction of Rocking R saddles as a good place to start (along with all of your suggestions as well). What really caught my eye and fit the bill was the Rocking R 852 reining saddle.

DROOL
It has a 26" skirt and they do everything custom, so I can have the leather a different color and the seat a different color. It has a fiberglass reinforced wood tree, which means nothing to me at this point in my research, but some of the saddles can be made with a flex-tree, so that might be something I'll need to look into. I have no idea how much it costs (but similar saddles were selling on other sites for around $1400), but I figure I'll have to spend a fair amount of hard earned cash to get a nice saddle.

I've had it in the back of my mind that I also need to get a new english saddle. Because I'm selling my western show saddle I've been focused on replacing that, but I started giving it a bit more thought today.  I should probably get a new english saddle before I replace my western one, you know, since we show english and not western. :)

There's a saddle fitter not far from me, but she only does english saddles. I can haul Lilly up there and they'll find one that fits her, then let me ride in those, and determine which one of those I like best. Too bad they don't sell western saddles!

I mentioned my saddle problems to a friend of mine today and told her I was thinking about replacing my Collegiate with a Pessoa. I saw one for sale at the tack place where I'll take Lilly to be fitted, but she wrinkled her nose at me. She said the new ones aren't made like they used to be and I should look at getting a Tad Coffin or a Hermes.

"Okay," I said. "I'll check those out."

HOLY GEEZE! I can tell she's not spending her money because the Tad Coffin is $4,500 and the Hermes is $6,100! I think I'll look for a nice, used Stubben instead.  Even used those saddles are probably out of my price range.

In any case, the search for a nice western saddle is on hold because right now the english saddle takes priority. My first show is March 5th, so I need someone to buy my Circle Y saddle! :)

Monday, February 14, 2011

I Can't Take It Anymore

My farrier came out yesterday morning to put Lilly's shoe back on. He reminded me to be careful with her until we can get some solid hoof to nail her shoe to. I told him I'm careful with her, but she's not careful with herself... crazy mare!! Hopefully her hoof will grow quick and we can make it through this without issue.  I've been wanting to get a boot so I can have something on hand, but I'm not sure what I should get.  It seems like the reviews are always mixed.

M met me at the barn shortly thereafter and we saddled up our girls. She wanted to take Baby into the arena to get her warmed up and then we ventured out on the trails. We rode for about 30 minutes, but had to keep turning back to avoid the stream that winds through the trails. That thing was everywhere! It was a pretty steep bank, and quite muddy on the opposite side so I didn't want to chance a shoe or ligament.

Lilly was her typical self on the trail... speedy and determined to be in the lead. Luckily Baby didn't care and was just fine lagging behind. The trails are nice and wide, so it was a nice change to be able to ride side by side and chat instead of having to yell backwards.  I think both of our horses enjoyed a nice ride on the trails. I know I did!

We had a good ride but even with my felt riser pad, I could tell Lilly was uncomfortable with her saddle again. So in a fit of frustration, I have put my western show saddle on eBay. It's going and my work saddle is going. Then with the funds from selling those two, I'll buy one saddle that's comfortable for her. I'm done messing with saddles... I might even buy a new hunt seat saddle while I'm at it because she has issues with that one sometimes as well. I have no idea how I'm going to find a new western saddle that fits, or even what I'm looking for, but let the search begin. We're far from showing western pleasure anyway.

The vet came out this morning to give vaccinations, and I needed to get a health certificate for AJ. My new barn uses vets from the practice that employs Lilly's ligament doctor, but it was a different vet today. She was SO nice and I loved how she interacted with my horses. She seemed very genuine and I just really liked her. She gave me her card, and I intend to make her my official vet, although I hope I won't see her again until the fall. :)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Missing Shoe

Because she knew I wanted to ride today, Lilly decided to get rid of one of her shoes. Of course it was the shoe off the bad hoof from the good leg. Luckily she isn't lame, other than being sore walking across the stones. I'm still paranoid, though, so I wonder if her bad leg looks a little swollen to anyone else?

Swollen?
It was slightly warm, but so was her other leg, and I just couldn't make up my mind. It's possible I'm seeing things because I'm constantly obsessing over the size of that ligament.

When I told Lilly that her plan failed and I was going to work her anyway, she seemed unimpressed.

"What?  But mom, I'z missing a shoe!"
She was a pretty good girl considering we had gale force winds again today. What's with the wind anyway? Can't it be sunny and 55 without the wind?

We mostly worked on things relating to backing. I put some ground poles down to practice what I consider to be the "rein-back up a hill" exercise. They say if you don't have a hill, having them step over poles backwards works similar muscles, so that's what we did. I had to put the poles along the fence to keep her from backing every which way but over the poles, but once we got past that, she did a pretty good job. Then I used one of the cavalettis and tipped it on its side so it wasn't completely flat but gave her a bit more to step over. It was a bit more difficult for her, but she eventually got the hang of it.

I debated setting the cavaletti upright, and after a short discussion with Lilly decided to give it a try. She did so well the first time that I decided to do it one more time before calling it a day.

Bad idea. I should have quit while I was ahead, but she made it seem so easy the first time!

She planted her feet and threatened to rear, so we did a few circles around the arena to focus our little pea brains elsewhere, but when we got back to the cavaletti, she decided she was done going backwards. By now I've decided we HAVE to do it, so I had to get after her a little bit.

I invoked the "you better back up right now or you'll get it" technique, which is great in a pinch and always works. She put it into reverse and backed until I told her to stop, then she rested her back leg and licked her lips.

That's right, mommy's got the power!

We went back to the cavaletti and she backed over it without issue. I praised her like crazy and I took her back to the barn for some cookies.

I think she's a horse that lacks confidence and when she struggles with something she loses confidence in herself and gets frustrated. Being determined to finish the exercise was just as much for her as it was for me. I'm hoping that by doing some of these kinds of exercises with her, not only will she get stronger physically, but she'll get stronger mentally and gain more confidence.

I'm also hoping that once she gets stronger, she'll pick her feet up higher and actually step instead of sliding her feet over objects. Then I can start teaching her the word "step". I think it will come in handy with the other issue we have: backing out of the trailer. We'll be able to take things one step at a time and she'll be more confident going backwards.

My wonderful farrier is coming out at 8am tomorrow to put her shoe back on, so I'll work with her again on something not related to backing. Maybe a nice trail ride is in order. :)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Pre-Workout Pictures

I'm still recovering from my beloved Steelers loss to the Green Bay Packers in the Super Bowl. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to recover...

I did drag myself out to the barn to get some shots of my sweet pony who tried desperately to cheer me up. If you can see this face, and not crack a smile, you're probably dead inside.

It's okay, mom... Give me cookies and you'll feel better!
We also played a lot of games, did some longeing, and I worked on some of the stretches mentioned in my book. She will NOT react to anything... no pelvis tucks, no bladder meridian, nothing. I've never been able to get her to do those belly lifts either.  Is she just that tense, or am I doing it completely wrong?

Anyhoo, here are the best shots I could get doing conformation shots alone. She was actually pretty good considering there was grass under her feet.





It sure is hard to see definition with a white horse!  But aren't her dapples pretty?  :)

I tried to get some pictures of her longeing, but she thought it would be more fun to act out since I only had one hand to control her. Bucking and rearing is a lot more fun anyway!

WHEEEEEE!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Book Review and Plan Ideas

I'm really enjoying my new book, Equine Fitness: A Program of Exercises and Routines for Your Horse. The first few chapters go over general fitness, how muscles work within the horse, and schooling vs conditioning. The following chapters go into the exercises and describe how they help the horse. I've been learning a LOT, and I've been learning that I haven't been doing things the right way... uh oh.

But that's why I got this book!

Sometimes when I ride, it feels like I'm just riding aimlessly around the arena. I don't always have goals in mind, or things I want to accomplish. Sure, I'm trying to teach her this or that and hoping she'll pick it up, but I don't always know how to ask her for certain things and I don't always get results when I try. She's so darn sensitive that really pushing her can sometimes have a negative effect on the ride, so she really ends up being the one running the show.

All I did was practice our specific discipline: I need to get her slowed down, I need to get her picking up the correct lead, and I need her to keep her giraffe head down. Over and over. Transitions. Stopping. Backing. She does such a lovely side-pass, let's do those to end on a good note.

I figure, well, at least we're out here getting some exercise and practicing things. The year leading up to Lilly's injury we steadily placed better and better at the shows, so I figured I was doing something right.

Then she tore her ligament.  I still wonder if her level of conditioning had something to do with her tearing it. The book talks about how horses will overly tense certain areas of their body to satisfy our demands and rather than becoming more fit day to day, they become more compromised until something finally gives... like a tendon or ligament. We did a lot of work that year, probably the most we've ever done in her life, but it probably was not the right kind of work. So it's entirely possible that while I thought I was doing a bang up job, I was actually setting her up for an injury.

I'm sure there are a lot of factors involved in what happened to her to cause the injury (original ICL surgery, low heels, etc), but I can't rule out my style of riding/training either. Rather than kicking myself in the ass every day (ok, I might do that anyway), I'm going to do my darnedest to keep it from happening again. Since she's even more compromised now, I want to make sure I'm doing all I can to keep her sound and bring her back to full work in a way that's going to benefit her.

Back to the book...

It contains a fitness timeline. The timeline is based around a horse who is 3 - 15 years old and who has been out of a consistent exercise program for a prolonged period of time, so it's right up our alley! The timeline starts with 2 weeks of exercises that put no weight on the horse's back, i.e. no riding. It suggests calisthenics like pelvis tucks, backing up hills, tail pulls, and stretches, exercises which are explained in the book. Along with lots of turnout, she suggests an "ample program of longeing, round pen work, or ground driving." I'm not sure what that equates to, but I'll figure something out.

So moving on... Wait, what? No riding?! I've waited all this time to start riding again and she's telling me not to ride?

Ok, ok... so 10-15 minutes of this every other day for 2 weeks. Then, after those 2 weeks I can incorporate riding into the routine and start her out at 25 minutes. She doesn't say what I should be doing while I'm riding, but I'm going to assume we are only supposed to walk (especially in Lilly's case). After 10 days of this routine, we are to add 2 of the simpler exercises from the book. Some of the suggested exercises involve trotting, so at that point I'll assume it's safe to start trotting her.

From there, the program is broken down into phases, each one adding intensity and more of the exercises to accomplish a specific fitness goal. I'll go into those more when the time for such fun gets closer.

The book also points out that if you plan to work your horse 4 to 5 days per week, 3 of those days should be spent working on discipline related things, and the other 2 should be working on cardio and strength building only. It is also important to alternate the discipline days with the cardio/fitness days, as well as her days off to give her muscles time to repair themselves.

This brings me to another point... consistency. No matter how hard I try to develop a riding routine, life just seems to get in the way sometimes, as does the weather. Summer is coming and vacations are necessary for sanity, but I'm going to try like the dickens to ride her more consistently than I have in the past. Now that I'm back to regular board I should have more time and energy to dedicate to this process.

One other hurdle I'm going to face is shows... my beloved shows! This fitness building routine could take anywhere from 6 months to a year depending on how Lilly progresses. Am I going to wait until next year to take her to a show? Hells no. I do plan on being very cautious, though, when entering her into classes. If all else fails, showmanship, a couple walk/trot classes, and trail might just have to do. I'm ok with that.

Last thing I want to point out in my long winded post is this: I'm planning on taking side shots of Lilly at least once per month to see how her muscle tone progresses (hopefully). I was originally thinking once per week, but I'm not sure it would be as noticeable as once per month.

I'm very excited to have a plan...  I'm going to enjoy having a set schedule with specific things to work on each day.  Hopefully Lilly really benefits and it works out well for both of us!  We start tomorrow!  :)

Friday, February 4, 2011

Trouble In Paradise

I guess I was expecting too much if I thought everything would be perfect at my new barn! Luckily, it doesn't require a call to the vet!

Earlier in the week I took my freshly shipped SmartPaks to the barn to fill up my bins. AJ's SmartPak has 2 different supplements but they make up a Pak with 5 wells. When I opened AJ's bin I saw an opened SmartPak that had 3 of the 5 wells missing.

"That's strange," I thought. "Maybe they're feeding him half in the morning and half at night." I figured that wasn't correct either, though, because I had specifically stated that they both get 1 SmartPak in the morning.

So I spoke with R, the wife of the BO, and she said it was a mix up and that she was sorry. Her husband, J, usually goes behind her and takes care of the supplements, but something happened, blah, blah, blah. I was still confused as to why AJ would have been given 3 and not 5 wells, but whatever. As long as we're on the same page.

Fast forward to today... I happened to see J (the BO) when I went to the barn to make sure they had left Lilly in as I requested. (I asked that on rainy days she be left inside so she isn't running around on wet grass and possibly slipping, and tearing a ligament.)

Am I checking up on them? YES!

He apologized for the mix up with AJ's supplements. As we were talking more about them, I mentioned that he has 2 different supplements in each Pak and he needs to be getting them both each day. To make a long conversation short, they were feeding him ONE WELL PER DAY instead of the whole SmartPak.

He's like, "Really? The WHOLE thing? I'm glad you told me!"

The day I took the horses over, we talked about supplements. They said they would only feed one supplement unless they were in SmartPaks... so I assumed they knew how SmartPaks worked. Evidently not. I never would have guessed in a million years that I would need to explain how to feed a SmartPak.

We're also going to have an issue when it comes to grain. Before we moved in, he told us that they only offer Equine Senior or Strategy, but M and I told them that we feed Safe Choice and didn't want our horses on Strategy. He seemed ok with adding another feed to his feed room and had a giant trash can full of Safe Choice when we moved in. Now he's telling us that he doesn't want to keep buying 3 different feeds and in June (when the pastures are at their best), we're going to have to switch over to Strategy.

Umm, no we're not.

I refuse to feed Lilly Strategy and told him that it makes the horses very hot and has a super high NSC content. His solution was to cut back the amount of grain they're getting.

Strategy and Equine Senior aren't exactly all around, all purpose type feeds. If you don't have a senior horse (or a horse with special needs), Senior is off the table, so that only leaves Strategy. I feel like he should offer another type of feed that can be fed to fat ponies like mine.

I'm hoping between now and then I can convince him (or his wife) otherwise because if not, we gots a problem.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Good Ride

We had temperatures in the upper 60's today and it was beautiful! The wind was whipping, but I can't complain too much with temperatures like that!

AJ and the girls have been sorted and placed in their appropriate pastures. AJ has been moved up to the gelding pasture with 4 other geldings and seems to be doing great. When I drove by this afternoon, he was standing with the alpha, so I took that as a good sign. Lilly and Baby are in a pasture with two other mares and they all seem to get along pretty well. I'm not sure, but I think Lilly might either be alpha or number two. I watched for quite a while and didn't see too much interaction between them, but it's either Lilly or the stocky bay QH... that mare is built like a brick turd house, and she's sweet as pie. Her owner has been dealing with a lameness thing too and I noticed her mare's leg was swollen again. Poor girl.

Lilly was much better today about her concerns for Baby. She whinnied a few times but then stood in the cross ties resting her hind leg. I mentioned the wind, and it was blowing so hard that the barn was rattling and making all kinds of noises. She was a little on edge because of that, but surprisingly did much better today.

I noticed while riding her today that some of the issues I had been able to work through earlier in her training have returned, but I'm hoping I can work them out of her pretty quickly. She is determined to walk around the arena with her inside shoulder sticking out. I have to constantly take up the inside rein and bend her back around my leg. That contact in turn makes her nervous and she starts chomping on the bit. We did a lot of circles today because that's the only way I can get her to relax, quit chomping, and stretch down. Once we're back on the rail, though, it starts all over again. She's also back to trucking around the arena at warp speed, so we circle again, over and over.

I tend to think she'll get better once she's more relaxed, used to the environment, and back into real work. Her mind just seems to be elsewhere and I'm unable to keep her attention on me.

I'm just thrilled to back in the saddle! :)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Decision About AJ

But first, I ordered a new book for Lilly and should be getting it in the mail tomorrow:

Equine Fitness: A Program of Exercises and Routines for Your Horse

It got pretty good reviews on Amazon. I read through the pages available with the "Look Inside" feature and it looks like a pretty good book for getting Lilly back into shape. There's a small section on nutrition, a section about muscles and how they work, and then it goes on to explain how to condition the horse, and then keep them at that desired level of fitness. It contains a bunch of different routines and exercises to use to get the horse to the desired level.

Assuming the book is what I think it is, I'm really looking forward to having a reference I can use to set up a routine for Lilly. That way I can get her back into shape without worrying about doing too little or too much.

Regarding AJ, I think I've made a decision. I think I made the decision a few days ago but I don't want to say it out loud because then it becomes real. As much as I'm going to miss him, I think the best decision for everyone involved is to send him up to Michigan to live with my parents and Justus. That way I can make sure he's happy and taken care of to my exact specifications without the hassles of asking the people who are boarding him. If I want him to have more food, he gets more food without a 2 lb limit or any other crazy stipulations that come with boarding. He'll enjoy being with Justus and having a routine that never changes, and Justus will finally have a buddy to keep him company.

I'd like to get him up there before spring grasses start popping up, so I'm looking to move him around the first of March. Even though he's going to Michigan, it's been pretty cold down here too and if he needs it, he can wear his heavier blanket until things warm up.

I think I'm going to have him professionally hauled since the trip from here to there is about 12 hours on a good day without a trailer. I'm not sure I'd want to haul him straight through and I have no idea where I'd layover for the night. So for about $500 I can have him hauled in an air ride trailer with quite a bit more room than my gooseneck has for him, and he can travel with other horses rather than being alone.

I've got a few companies in mind, TDS Transport, SVS Horse Transport, and M & N Horse Transportation, but if anyone has used a good shipper before and you want to recommend them, I'd appreciate the info.