Wednesday, March 28, 2012

We're Having Bit Fits

I had a short ride on Lilly today because we got started late. The neighbor's mare was lame and I noticed when I was in Lilly's pasture grabbing her for our ride. I made a bunch of phone calls after going out to check on the mare, so by the time that situation was under control, I only had about 30 minutes to spend in the arena with Lilly.

Speaking of arenas, the BO's hubby was in there last night doing some work and it was pretty good today! I was actually able to ride along the rail the whole way around... one spot was still a little squishy, but they're making progress. I had another conversation with her about it today and she said they're working on it. She made the comment that because she doesn't ride in there (her horse is on stall rest) she has no idea what's going on with the footing and she needs us to tell her. So I laid it all out there for her, and we'll see what happens from here. There's also another issue we're discussing, so depending on what she decides about that will most likely determine if I move or not.

I rode Lilly in the spoon bit I've been trying to sell on eBay for years. No one seems to want it, and after today's ride I can say for certain I don't either. It's just way too much bit for Lilly. It has a fairly high port in the spoon style, and it has a roller as well. It's a pretty bit, but it's heavy as sin and Lilly wasn't impressed. She did okay in it considering, but I won't be riding her in it anymore.

Definitely not the right bit for Lilly...
So I'm back on the bit hunt. It's difficult bit shopping when you have no idea what you want. I have a list of things I don't want, but it hasn't narrowed down the list quite enough for the perfect bit to jump off the pages of the interwebz. I've found a couple that peaked my interest, but their price peaked a bit higher than I wanted to spend. I don't want to be stuck with another useless $90 bit.

So here are a couple cheaper models I was considering. This first one is only $26 and is very similar to some of the Mylar style bits, so it might be something to consider. While I do like the snaffle style mouth pieces, there's something to be said for riding my mare in a "big girl bit" and getting her ready to be a finished bridle horse. I hear that's pretty darn cool...

FES bit with 7 1/2" shanks.
It's very similar to the bit I was riding in before the tom thumb, except this bit has a port instead of a mullen mouth. It works the same way, meaning each side moves independent of each other, which is something that comes in handy during training. I also like that the shanks swivel, but they don't flop around and piss off my horse like the spoon bit.

There might be something to be said about the traditional curb with roller bits, though. The shanks are shorter and it isn't complicated, with the only moving part being the roller. I prefer bits with shanks that curve back towards me, which all of these bits do, but these shanks are stationary, which may or may not be a good thing. This one runs a whopping $13.

SS Curb bit with 6 1/2" shanks.
I'll go back to the tom thumb thing I had been riding her in previously until I can find something else to buy. You all gave me some good tips in my last bit post, so I'm keeping that in mind as well. I just need to find something she likes, that I can train and show in, and that doesn't flop around and make her angry. She likes a lot of rein, but the more I give her, the more they flop, and the more it makes the bit move around in her mouth. She's not a fan...

Our lope-stop-back exercises went well today and I can tell we're making progress. I won't be able to ride tomorrow, but I'm hoping to ride every day during my long weekend. I'm excited to see how she progresses, and I might take my shiny new camcorder to the barn with me and get proof of our progress.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Loping Exercises

The arena wasn't much better today than it was yesterday. Actually, it was probably a little worse because it's finally drying and that means things are getting hard. With her bare hooves and no boots, Lilly really needs something soft to work on, and unless the arena is dragged often, it packs really quick.

So as I do almost every time I ride, I picked out the best path to ride and we got to work. She was really good and we had a great ride, but I noticed she was opening her mouth quite a bit today. I'm not sure what to make of it, but I might have to invest in one more bit... maybe something with a small port. I have a spoon bit at home, but I'm pretty sure she wouldn't like that one. Maybe it's worth a try just to see, though.

We worked on quite a bit of jogging today because I wanted to pretend we were showing. I rode her around with one hand and we jogged around a bunch of cones to practice staying slow even when we're on a pattern. She tends to speed up when we're going through obstacles. Before moving on to the lope, we hit the jump a couple times. She always jumps it the first time, but all attempts after that end up being just a giant step over the jump. One of these days I'll take a tape measure out with me and figure out where 18 inches is. The JCHSS shows include a hunter hack class and if I can manage to finish my showmanship class and get ready in time, we're going to try it at the next show.

Our lope going counter clockwise was pretty awesome today. She hit all her leads and was keeping herself nice and round. She's doing a great job of keeping her head down when we transition and I gave her a bunch of "good girl" scratches.

Our lope going clockwise wasn't nearly as nice, but that's her bad way and she makes me work hard to keep her inside shoulder up. She has a tendency to counter bend, and often ends up picking up the wrong lead. She still did quite well, was staying soft, and I could tell she was trying.

She did so well going to the left, that I decided to work on some lope-stop-back exercises next. I want to try and get her in the habit of anticipating the stop at the lope to get her to slow down a bit. It worked so well with her jog, that I can't wait to see how well it works with the lope. She was excellent about not anticipating the lope after the back and because she works totally off my seat, I was able to ride her for quite some time without even touching her mouth. It took us about 3 good trips around the arena doing the exercise before things starting to click with her. I could feel her get a little bit "shorter" after each exercise and I knew she was keeping herself nice and collected, waiting for the stop cue.

The lope-stop-back exercises to the right took a little bit more work and required a few more exercises before she started getting the hang of things. She got most of her leads as long as I kept her straight and I was really impressed with the fact that she didn't anticipate... after a number of exercises she just walked off like it was nothing. I love seeing all this progress!

I still can't decide what to do about moving barns. There are reasons to stay and reasons to go, and I have a fear of the unknown, considering how things turned out last time I moved into a situation I thought was going to be great. I don't know if I should leave well enough alone and just deal with things at my current place, or take a leap of faith and hope all goes well. I just can't get the indoor arena out of my head... and did I mention that there are quite a few boarders at this new barn who show the same circuits I do? It would be a lot of fun to have people to go show with. That's something I really miss.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Riding Again!

I finally got to ride my horse today! We've still been getting quite a bit of rain, but in between storms it's been fairly sunny and warm. The BO got in the arena yesterday and dragged it, so I was determined to ride in there today. The footing wasn't great, but it was tolerable and we were able to work on basic stuff. I'm hoping it'll be better tomorrow and we can really get back to work.

The arena is sort of coming apart at the seams, though. On the higher side, it stays fairly dry and the footing is great, but in the lower end, the sand seems to be washing away and the footing (which is nothing but clay) is coming through. There are spots in the arena that I don't feel are necessarily safe because when Lilly walks through there, she sinks down about 3 inches. I've been inquiring about it, and there are supposedly some plans in the works to address some of the issues, but I wasn't seeing any progress being made.

So like I sometimes do, I started looking for other boarding situations. I found a barn that has an indoor arena so I set up an appointment to go check it out over the weekend. I wasn't super impressed by the facilities, but they have everything I'd need, and even though it's a bit farther to drive, the price is about $100 cheaper than where I'm at now. And did I mention they have an indoor? I don't really want to move, but having a horse at a barn that keeps me from riding isn't something I'm thrilled with. The indoor arena is super tempting, even if I just move there for a couple months until things dry up and my current place can get the arena worked on. So Sunday I talked to the BO about it and hinted that I might have to move Lilly out to a barn where I can ride more consistently. That evening they dragged the arena and I see some arena related things on the barn to-do list.

I'm still pondering the move... Lilly is so happy where we are now that I'm afraid to shake things up and leave, but having a horse I can't ride because of facilities is not cool. I've had my fill of being unable to ride, and now that I have a horse I can ride, I really want to!

Our ride today went really well. I'm happy to say that even after not being on Lilly's back for 8 whole days, we picked up right where we left off. I was really proud of how she worked. Regarding fitness, she struggled a bit at the lope and switched her right lead on me a couple times, but each time she switched herself back. She was trying really hard and it felt good to be riding again. It sure would have been nice to show on Saturday... but we have more time to get ready for the next show and I think we'll do really well, especially in the western classes!

After our ride, I took Lilly outside to let her eat some grass. We ended up in the corner where two of the pastures meet, and both pastures belong to geldings. Because one of the horses left on Sunday, and another is being stabled somewhere else for now (because of the arena), there are only 2 other pastured horses, and they each have their own pasture.

The bay, Jack, is missing his buddy and had been following us all morning. The black, Quill, is pastured next to Lilly and clearly thinks she belongs to him. Anytime Jack came near the fence to be close to Lilly, Quill chased him away. As you can see from the pictures, we were pretty far from both horses, but that didn't stop Quill from trying to keep poor Jack from hanging out with Lilly.

"Are they fighting over me?!"
"This is getting ridiculous..."
Lilly tends to like dark horses, so Quill is definitely her man, even though I think right now she's not very particular. On a normal day, though, she loves Quill. They whinny to each other and run clear across their pastures to get to each other.

After I turned Lilly out, Quill ran all the way over to the gate so he could greet her and give her kisses.

She makes funny faces when the boys kiss her.
Aren't they sweet?
I must say, she has good taste as Quill was named Horse of the Year twice before he suffered an injury and was forced to retire. He's a beautiful mover... they'd make pretty babies, although I think he would crush her. :)

In other news, the other show circuit I emailed about joining PAC is going to send in their information to become a PAC approved show! I'm so excited that they agreed because now there are four different shows in the area who will be approved. Now that I know who is approved and who isn't, I can finally comb through all the show dates and choose which shows I want to attend. It's going to be a good year!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Rain Sucks

Well, the show was cancelled for this weekend thanks to the rain. I haven't been able to ride or work my horse in SIX days, so there's nothing to blog about whatsoever. I've been visiting her at the barn and doing lots of grooming, but that's the extent of my horsey adventures over the past couple of days.

I did clean out and de-winterize my horse trailer in preparation for the show, so at least it's ready if we ever get to go anywhere.

In other news, my mare is in heat like I've never seen before. Not that anyone cares, but I don't have anything else to blog about, so therefor you must suffer along with me. Anyway, she's not being mean or nasty, but she is desperate for attention and when any of the boys even looks in her general direction, she pees EVERYWHERE. Maybe it's the early spring that's got her all out of whack, but I don't know how she can possibly pee this much... I feel bad for her!

I hope everyone else is getting in some rides!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Pony Makeover!

Today is the fifth day I have been unable to ride my pony... I can just see the muscle tone slipping away. The rain is supposed to continue, so there's no chance this arena will dry out anytime soon.

Right after I snapped this picture, it starting pouring rain again, and it rained for the next 3 hours. I'm so sick of this rain! I could board at a farm with an indoor for about $600 per month, and that's starting to sound quite nice right about now. I'd even take a covered arena! I just want to ride!

The show on Saturday might be postponed until Sunday. If that happens, I won't be able to go because I'll be working. They'll make the announcement at 6:30pm on Friday evening, so until I hear otherwise, I'm going to plan on going.

Since I couldn't ride today, I figured it would be a good time to get Lilly clipped. I like to clip a few days before the show in case I screw things up and it needs time to "grow out" a bit before the show. This is also the first clip of the season, so there's always a lot more hair to remove and things get a little dicey. I came prepared with a fresh set of clipper blades, though, and that always helps.

I must say, I am so thankful for the time I put into clipper training when Lilly was a baby. Even though she might not enjoy the clippers, she tolerates them completely. I can clip her from muzzle to tail and she stands without complaint, even when I have to go rooting around in her ears to get all those long hairs. I've never even had to use a twitch! She's SO good!

So I started with her face and ears, then moved on to her bridle path. Once that was done, I looked at her mane and started wondering what the heck I was going to do with it. It's manageable near her withers and up close to her bridle path, but right in the middle, it gets really thick. It's impossible to get nice bands for the show with all that mane. She also has that goofy cowlick.

The nightmare...
I've tried a couple different techniques to thin it, but none of them work very well. They're similar to highlights, and why I stopped getting them in my hair: you can't get the same hairs every time! So the hairs I thin last month grow in this month and I end up with a bunch of inch long hairs that stick up all over and ruin my desperate attempt at banding. Pulling, SoloCombs, thinning shears, Nair... it's all the same. The hair grows back!

It got me thinking about a horse I used to show. He had the thickest mane I had ever seen, and he was impossible to band! You can see my quality band jobs in these two pictures.

I did the best I could...
And since I don't have much else to blog about, let me take a time out and tell you a little about Jack. He was a lease horse from a friend because my Paint gelding wasn't old enough to ride yet. He came straight out of the pasture, with hardly any training. We kept him at our house and I showed him 4-H for a number of years. He wasn't registered and we had no idea what his breeding was, but he was the best horse ever. I did everything with him! Western pleasure, reining (the first picture is after our reining class), driving, hunt seat, hunter hack, dressage, saddle seat, bareback, and even games. Check us out!

Turnin' and burnin'!
He was so much fun to show and came with zero drama. He wasn't a cuddly, snuggley type horse... he was pleasant to be around, and he tolerated my hugs and kisses, but he wasn't affectionate. He was all business, and he was good at business. He didn't really excel in one particular area, but he was pretty darn good at everything we tried. Well, everything except halter. LOL We never did very well in halter. I won quite a few trophies, countless ribbons, and even some championships. We tried to buy him, but our friend wouldn't sell. She said we could use him as long as we wanted, but when we were done she wanted him back.

Ahh, those were the days!

But back to Lilly's mane... what I ended up doing with Jack's mane is what I decided to do with Lilly's mane today. Essentially, I shaved half of it off! I found the thickest parts of her mane, parted it down the middle, and shaved off the bottom half.

Bye-bye thick mane!
It makes her mane half as thick and way easier to band. The best part is that it'll be really easy for me to keep this area shaved all summer. I'll be able to see the growth coming back in and shave it back off again. You can't even tell half of her mane is missing!

After shaving her mane and shortening it up a bit, I used the clippers on her legs. She was quite hairy, so I'll probably have to touch them up again before Saturday, but for now, she's all ready!

Look at all that hair!
Now if only the weather would cooperate...

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Dressage and PAC

I was rained out again today and from the looks of things, I won't be able to ride tomorrow either because the arena is a soupy mess. Not having an arena to ride in makes me sad... I haven't had a healthy horse for quite some time and now that I finally have one, I don't like being kept from riding just because the arena doesn't drain like it's supposed to.

Since I can't have a riding post yet again, I'll babble on some more about a few other things.

Thank you for all your supplement suggestions yesterday. I looked into cocosoya oil but I can't find it in anything smaller than a gallon size and it would take me forever to use it up. Not to mention, Lilly will get tired of that flavor in about 3 months and I'll have to switch to something else. I read that some people make their own cocosoya oil by using canola oil (or a similar oil) and add a bit of molasses to the mixture. The BO tried straight up canola oil she had on hand this morning, along with a handful of Ultium (bleh...), and Lilly ate it without issue. So that's what the plan is for now. In June I'll have to try something else, which might end up being applesauce.

I've also been looking into the dressage tests and I think I've decided to skip the intro tests and go straight to training level. I used to show training level back in 4-H, so I'm familiar with the movements on the tests, I just haven't done any dressage with Lilly. The reason behind skipping the into test is so that I can get PAC points. APHA approves any show sponsored by the USDF or USEF, and the North Carolina Dressage and Combined Training Association is sponsored by the USEF. APHA does not recognize the into tests, though, so in order to have a chance to get points, I have to do training level.

I might be crazy to think we can get points, but I'd rather ride the tests with the chance of possibly getting some recognition with APHA than not. Intro C involves cantering anyway, so I might as well just go ahead and do training level test 1. Here's how they score the tests:

67.001% - or better.................4 credits
64.001% - 67.000%................3 credits
60.001% - 64.000%................2 credits
55.000% - 60.000%................1 credit

They use this system regardless of the number of entries and regardless of what placing you might receive. The horse must receive a score of at least 55% to get any credit, though. I never saw any of my tests from 4-H, so I have no idea what I used to get, and I have no idea if a 55% is difficult to achieve nor not... but we're going to go for it!

Speaking of PAC, one of my favorite show circuits is no longer in existence this year, so the number of shows in my area that are PAC approved has really dwindled. I'm down to two circuits that are approved by PAC and it stinks. Because I don't get to attend a majority of the shows, it isn't worth my while to have a membership with these circuits because I won't be able to accumulate enough points for year end awards. Some of them even require you attend a certain number of shows just to be eligible, so I it feels like a waste of money sometimes to spend all that money going to the show when I come home with nothing but a ribbon. Granted, it's great practice for me and Lilly, but we show to win stuff just as much as we show for fun, and without year end awards, it's just not as exciting. When the show is PAC approved, I know I have a chance to get points with APHA, and maybe end up in the top ten at the end of the year. I've always wanted to win a belt buckle!

With only two circuits participating in PAC, though, I'm having the same problem. Showing in 4 showmanship classes in 2012 won't get my nearly enough points to be in the top ten with APHA. I need to be able to compete for points at a lot more shows! I did a lot of whining to anyone who would listen, but I didn't know what to do about it.

Then I decided to see what I could do about it. I contacted APHA and spoke with one of their PAC representatives and she explained what I needed to do to get more of the circuits approved with them. It's as simple as filling out a form and mailing it to APHA. The only requirement they have is that the circuit keep accurate records of points and classes in case PAC wants to verify one of my exhibitor reports. Simple!! The PAC lady even mentioned that I could simply take an event approval application with me to the show and beg them to sign it, then send it in with my exhibitor report.

Rather than springing it on them at their show, I decided to email two of the circuits I would be interested in showing with and explained how beneficial it would be to them (and me) if they decided to participate. More members + more people at their shows = more money for them! And all they have to do is sign a form?? I thought for sure they would agree!

So far I've only heard back from one of them, but the show secretary emailed me to say they decided to go ahead and sign up! They hadn't heard about the PAC program and thought it was a fantastic idea. To say thanks, I'm going to become a member and attend as many of their shows as I can. I do hope to hear back from the other show as well since they have a few more classes we could show in, but if not, I'm going to take the event approval application with me when/if I find myself at one of their shows. Maybe if I harass them enough year after year, they'll decide to participate. I don't see a downside to it, so I'm not sure why they would opt not to join...

Our first show is Saturday and it is PAC approved. Yay! I'm also a member and really enjoy these shows. They're very low key, but also fairly competitive and I know several other people who will be going. Lilly's old BFF will be there too, so I hope she doesn't lose her mind when she sees her. I think we're beyond that, but it'll be interesting to see if she remembers her.

Sure would be nice if I could ride before Saturday!!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Supplement Rant

Everyone is posting pictures of their dirty ponies, so I thought I'd post a picture of mine too! Here's Lilly after two days of not being brushed and left to the elements in her pasture.

Absolutely filthy...
I know, all this teasing is going to come back to haunt me one day, but I'm going to yuck it up while I can!

I tried to ride my mare today but a nasty storm blew through and I got as far as putting the saddle on her back before I had to abort. They're calling for storms all week, but I hope these afternoon storms aren't the norm. I have so much to do before our show on Saturday!

Since I don't have a riding update, I'll rant about supplements instead. I'm getting quite frustrated and the only way to feel better is to try and garner sympathy from fellow bloggers.

In general I find supplements pretty worthless. I haven't really found any that I thought made a huge difference for Lilly, and I've tried a number of different supplements for a number of different issues. That being said, somehow I spend $96.85 every month on a SmartPak anyway. Because she's not getting any grain at all, I give her a vitamin supplement, which I think she really needs. She also gets a digestive supplement to make me feel less like a horrible horse owner because of her chronic loose stool issues, and now she's getting Cosequin ASU to help with the stiffness she has in her hocks.

The problem is that she doesn't like the Cosequin ASU and is boycotting the little bit of beet pulp she gets at breakfast because that awful white powder is in her bucket. Sometimes she'll snack on her breakfast throughout the day and most of it will be gone by evening, but with these warmer temperatures the beet pulp gets pretty rancid as the day wears on and I don't blame her for not wanting anything to do with it. She has wasted quite a few day's worth of supplements and at $3.20 per day, I'm starting to get a little frustrated.

She's not a very food oriented horse so it's challenging to get her excited about food. She'll get bored with flavors after she eats them for a while. It happened with her pelleted feed, her alfalfa cubes, her alfalfa pellets, and even before the Cosequin was added, she was losing interest in the beet pulp. She LOVES her hay and she loves grass, but grain has always been something she could live without. So even when I tried to swap out the beet pulp for grain, she wasn't interested, which is fine because I don't want to go back to feeding grain anyway. Not to mention we run the risk of a "handful" turning into 2 lbs of feed like it did last year.

I need the Cosequin to come in pellets because she has no qualms about eating pellet supplements... she just really hates powder. My vet highly recommended the Cosequin ASU but it's not doing her any good if she won't eat it, and if she's not eating the Cosequin, then she's not getting her vitamins either.

SmartPak has 104 joint supplements, 31 of them being in pellet form, so it seems like I could find something that is comparable to Cosequin! Any ideas? Or any ideas to make nasty white powder taste like cookies?

Friday, March 16, 2012

She Was So Good (Again!)

We had another excellent ride today! It feels like we make a little more progress each time we're out in the arena and I've been very happy with her lately. She tests me plenty, but back in the day, she would be able to get away with doing it her way, and lately she's being asked to do it my way. She always wants to double check that I'm sure I want her to do it my way, and when the answer is yes, she complies. About half way through our ride she checks again and gets the same answer, but if she didn't ask, it wouldn't be Lilly. She hasn't quite given up control yet.

She's been responding really well to a scratch on the neck when she does something good. Normally I praise with a "good girl!" along with as much of a release as I can give, and maybe it's all in my head, but she seems to "get it" more quickly when she gets that little scratch. She got the scratch on Thursday when she stayed soft through her transitions and they were excellent today. They were so good, in fact, that I practiced just letting her step into the transition without holding her to keep her soft. She stayed soft, but she made sure she was loping in a hurry.

To combat the speed, I kept her slow for a few strides and then let the reins out to see if she'd speed back up. I want to give her the opportunity to figure out what I'm asking for without me holding her in a specific way. The majority of the time she sped right back up, so I slowed her back down. The few times she stayed nice and slow on her own I reached down and gave her a little scratch. By the time we were done with our ride, I had some really nice periods in the lope where she was soft and slow... it was really pretty!!

I rode with a friend of mine at the barn and she was done with her horse quite a bit sooner than I was, so she decided to take her horse back to the barn so I didn't have to wait for the wash stall. They left the arena and Lilly didn't even give them a second thought.

She was such a good girl!

In other news, I recently purchased my very own video camera. I can't believe I didn't already own one, considering what a geek I am. I guess I thought my iPhone would work in a pinch, but it's just not the same. I found a steal online and I couldn't pass it up, so once I actually have time to play around with it, I'll be taking some videos! Maybe I can even take some at the show this weekend. :)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

She Was So Good Today!

It humbles me that I have 76 people who follow along with all the crazy stuff I type about myself and my horse. When I started this blog I never dreamed I would have so many followers, and I appreciate every single one of you!

You're probably going to get tired of reading "she was so good today!", but I write this blog just as much for me as I do for all of you and I love typing "she was so good again today!" (Because that means she was good!) So hopefully I don't lose a bunch of you with my boring babbling about what an awesome horse I am privileged to own. :)

Ummm, so that being said, she was so good today!

Okay, our ride didn't start out so well, but by the time we were finished I was praising her like crazy! Oh, and I rode in a tank top today, so the weather is just the icing on the cake.

I rode in the new bit (I'll call it the tom thumb, bleh...) and she worked really well in it. I'm happy with it for the time being because I feel it's a good transition bit. It's close enough to the snaffle that I can work her in it as I'd work her in the snaffle without feeling bad about being a little more direct with the reins, and I don't have to switch back and forth between bits. It'll be nice to work her in the actual bit we'll be showing in.

She warmed up really well but when we moved into the jogging portion of our ride, she wasn't exactly a willing partner. She was going a bit fast and was really trying to avoid the bit, not to mention she was ignoring me like crazy.

Me: "I need your head down, please. You're not soft!" *bump
Lilly: "La la la... ooh look, Music is rolling in the dirt!"
Me: "Yo! Pay attention!" *BUMP
Lilly: "No thank you, I'm good."

After we had our come to Jesus meeting, she let out a giant sigh and got to work. I was able to keep her focused, slow, and actually got a response when I bumped the inside rein. Amazing! We ended up doing quite a bit of jogging once I had her going as I wanted. I haven't been working on the jog quite as much as I probably should because I'm loving the fact that I have a horse that lopes, so we skim over the jog most days.

It's such a 180 from how our rides used to be... you know, back before we were western pleasure superstars. We would trot all day long in our english saddle and skim over the canter as often as we could. It needed so much work that I didn't even know where to start. We could get by at the shows because we usually only had to canter a couple laps around the arena and I could make it work. If she missed her lead, I'd just hope the judge didn't see and start over. We got by pretty well by doing this, and even managed to win a bunch of ribbons. They were 5th and 6th place ribbons, but we managed. We had showmanship to make ourselves feel good.

Now we lope, and lope, and lope, which has made a huge difference. We lope circles, we lope figure eights with simple changes in the middle, and then we lope some more. Today, though, I decided to dial back our lope work a bit. I was thinking about what I could do to help keep Lilly soft through her transitions so we could attempt a better lead change, and I realized that I might need to work on transitions in general. Instead of asking her to stay soft AND change her lead, I would just ask her to stay soft in her transition from the walk to the lope.

So that's what we worked on today. Walk-stay soft-lope-stop-back, over and over and over again. As I was hoping, she didn't get rushy or start anticipating the lope. We've made so much progress with that! It took many tries to finally get a transition where she didn't want to throw her head up in the air during takeoff, but once she got it, I reached down and scratched her neck, while praising the daylights out of her with my voice. The transitions that followed were fantastic, and she did exactly as I asked. She's in the stage where she's not happy about it, probably because it's easier to pop herself up, but she's doing it because I'm asking her to. As time goes on I know she'll get more comfortable with it and it'll get prettier every time we do it. Once we had it in the one direction we turned around and worked in the other direction. I didn't have to start over, she just picked up where we left off, so after a couple nice, soft transitions, we called it a day.

I was very proud of the way she worked today. She fought me a bit at first but we worked through it and ended up having such a fantastic ride. I'm really looking forward to tomorrow's ride and I hope I can start my post with "she was so good today!"

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Back To Bits

I found another western bit that I've had for a while. I'm not sure why I bought this particular bit, other than it has the french link style mouthpiece, but I'm glad I did because it just might work.

We definitely need to continue to work on staying soft, but I also want to start working her in the bit I have to show her in, at least every couple days or so. Most days I work her in the snaffle and I use two hands, but since we can't do that at the show, we need to practice in the legal bit, with just one hand.

I couldn't find the exact bit I have, but I found something similar. Essentially, it looks like this one:

Similar, although my copper french link isn't copper.
I really hate the Tom Thumb style bits, so I can't think of why in the world I would have purchased this, but if it turns out to be just what Lilly wants, I'll end up replacing it for a bit that looks more like this one:
Less pinchy for the sides of her mouth.
I was only able to ride for about 25 minutes, but she was an angel with this bit. She was really relaxed, she wasn't chomping, and she stayed soft quite a bit on her own. Perhaps our lesson yesterday did have an impact? Soft wasn't necessarily something I was planning to work on today, but since she was doing so well with the bit, I decided to ask her for soft when we were loping. She didn't maintain softness at the lope, but I got it when I asked, which is what she was fighting yesterday.

I'll have more time to ride tomorrow so we'll be able to work on a bit more than we did today. I'll try another ride with this new bit and see how it goes. It's possible that the mullen style mouthpiece just isn't as comfortable for her, and I'm all about a happy horse!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

It's Like A Puzzle

Today I tried putting together the pieces... trying to get control of Lilly's feet, all while keeping her soft. The feet part of the equation seems to be the easiest to achieve because Lilly is fighting quite a bit where the soft is concerned. It's quite unusual for me to have more control over her feet than anything else. Even though it's another challenge, it's more proof that we're making progress!

We had an okay ride today. We worked on soft for quite some time, both at the jog and the lope because she's been wanting to stick her nose out a bit at the jog. We've made so much progress that I feel it's okay to be a bit more picky than normal, and really ask her to start doing things well, but also doing them correctly.

We've been having some really nice weather lately, and Lilly is still covered in goat hair and not shedding nearly as much as her fellow barn buddies. On a "normal" riding day, she's sweaty when we're done riding, but she sweats a lot less than she does on days when we're really working on something specific. I expect that from her, but I look forward to the day when asking for finesse doesn't upset her quite so much.

I took another video of myself so I could go back and watch our ride. I ended up recording the whole thing, so there's quite a bit of video to go through, but it was helpful to be able to watch what she does when I ask her for the lead change, or what it feels like when she's really fighting the soft. Some of it wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be, and other parts had me cringing a little bit.

Even though I was riding her in the snaffle, she was really going to town on the bit. She doesn't do much chomping these days, but she was really upset. After working on it for quite a while, I didn't feel like we made a lot of progress, but it felt like we had come to a good stopping point, so we moved on to cavalettis and ground poles, which is a bit less taxing for her brain.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Dressage Tests In Our Future?

So, I guess I'll keep my hunt seat saddle after all.

I have an interesting, and often annoying, work schedule. I work at least one weekend day each week and the day alternates every month. So in March, for example, I work each Sunday, which leaves me all the Saturdays to show my horse. Next month, I work Saturday, which means we don't get to show unless I can find a show that's held on Sunday. A lot of the shows I want to go to are on days I have to work and only being able to show every other month is a bummer...

In keeping with the theme of trying new things with Lilly so she doesn't get bored, I've been looking for some alternatives to the usual show circuits we frequent. After doing some research and chatting it over with a few friends, I've decided to try some local dressage shows. One of the training barns in the area holds a number of North Carolina Dressage and Combined Training Association (NCDCTA) shows, as well as hunter jumper shows, and they just happen to fall on Sundays during the months I work Saturdays!


While they don't offer any of the western dressage classes, they offer all three intro tests and I'm considering riding Intro C, which is new and not offered by some of the other circuits, but it's the first test with cantering. It looks fairly "simple" and would be something Lilly and I could have fun practicing for. I'm going to try to make it to three of the shows and hopefully see my score improve each time. It'll be nice to have comments from the judge for each movement. That way I know what to work on before the next show.

We don't have a dressage ring at the barn, but I'm thinking about setting up ground poles to mark what would be each corner of the dressage ring, and then I'm looking to get some dressage letters, or maybe cones. I'll need to put a ground pole at each end as well so Lilly and I can practice our center line stuff... she tends to get a bit noodley when she sees the end approaching, anticipating which direction we'll be turning.

I've been so excited about showing western that I packed away all my hunt seat stuff... I pitched my tall boots (they needed to be put to sleep anyway) and didn't plan on taking any of that stuff out until next year, assuming I still felt like showing hunt seat.  I'm thinking now that perhaps I was a bit too hasty.  I've been looking over a few show bills and I think we'll be fine doing hunt seat and western classes.  Originally I was thinking it would be too much, but I think we can make it work.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

What Happened To Soft?

Alex was out in my neck of the woods today to help my friend with some issues she was having with her horse. Since I have been bragging about Lilly's lope, she wanted me to show her just how much progress we've made since the last time she was out. She had also seen my video from the other day and wanted to offer some suggestions for our lead changes!

I had to go to work that afternoon, so we didn't have as much time as we normally do, but I never turn down help from Alex!

Because of the issues I had with Lilly and the bit on Friday, I switched her back to the snaffle. I don't like training her in the shank bit, so for now I'm going to stick with the snaffle. We started off opening the gate, and then I did some jogging to get Lilly warmed up.

When it was time to lope, Lilly's transitions were excellent, just like they were at the show. She got her leads and loped around nice and collected. Next I started working on some lead changes. Some of them were good, and some of them were not so good, but that's pretty much how they've been going since I started working on them. I'm doing all I can to communicate with Lilly as to what she needs to do for the change, but she was getting a bit rushy and was still bringing her head way up.

After a number of attempts, Alex wanted to hop on and see how things felt. She ended up working mostly on keeping Lilly soft, and never quite made it to the lead changes. She wanted to know why Lilly suddenly had 10-15lbs of weight attached to her front end.

I'm sure I don't know! ;)

She gave me back a really sweaty mare with strict instructions on what I need to do. She said Lilly felt really strong, looked really good, and just continues to make progress, but apparently I've been working so hard on getting the feet, that I lost the softness we had. Now that I've got the feet, I need to bring back the soft and put it all together!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

BCHF Fun Show!

Today was our first show of 2012 and also our first barefoot show!

I've never been to a Black Creek Hill Farm show, so I didn't know what to expect, but I knew it was more low key and fun than my usual shows, so I decided to use it as a schooling show. It didn't start until 10am and there were a bunch of halter classes listed first on the show bill, so I decided to take my time getting there, and we eventually arrived at about 10:15am. When I got there, they were already on class 14, which was the last of the trail classes. After pulling Lilly off the trailer, I decided I didn't want to be rushed trying to get her ready for the clover leaf barrel class, and since we missed trail, that meant we could only sign up for the four western classes. It wasn't all bad, though, because it gave me plenty of time to school before our first class.

My photographer/groom wasn't feeling well, so it was just me and Lilly. Needless to say, I only got a few pictures, and none of them are with me on her back or in a class. I do have this really cute one of her standing at the trailer, though. I just pulled her out of the pasture, brushed her a bit, took out her braid and voila! Not bad, no? :)

Don't hate on my super white pony! :)
If I could sum up this show in one word, it would be awesome. Even though we were parked next to another mare who got really attached to Lilly, she stood at the trailer just as quiet as can be. She never pawed and she never whinnied, even when the neighbor horse was calling for her during our warm-ups. She was super relaxed and I stayed nice and relaxed too.

Well, I was relaxed until we went into our classes. How is it that I can go from being completely relaxed to nothing but butterflies, just from simply walking through the in-gate? Our warm-ups had gone so well, even when I worked her in the arena during the lunch break! Throw a judge in there, though, and it's all over. I worked really hard to relax and took a few deep breaths, but I was nervous. I think it's going to take some time for me to learn to be relaxed. I completely trust Lilly now, and I know what to expect from her in the arena, but it's been so unpredictable for so long, that I'll need a few shows to really start feeling good about things.

I still wanted to "show" today, even though I was going to be schooling. I had decided that when she was doing as I asked, I was going to show, but if she needed correcting, I was going to correct her and then go back to showing. I wasn't going to worry about where the judge was when I made my corrections, I was just going to ride my horse like we were at home.

Considering how nervous I was, Lilly was fantastic, especially in our walk/jog classes. There were only three of us in the first class, and one of the riders is a friend of mine, schooling her green 14 year old mare (just like me!), and the other rider was riding her speed horse in a few of the western classes. If anyone had been taking my picture, I'm sure they would have shown a giant, cheesy grin on my face because Lilly was a superstar. I felt like we could have jogged out of that arena and right into a breed show arena and held our own. She was amazingly slow, held her head perfectly, was consistent, and wasn't looking all over the place. On our second pass, she decided she needed to walk in order to do her business, so I'm pretty sure that's why we only placed second.

In the next walk/jog class, there were only two of us, just me and Lilly, and my friend with her mare. Lilly rocked the class even though the unthinkable happened... I had to really work to keep her going! I could feel her wanting to walk a bit in front and jog behind, so I used lots and lots of leg, and we won first place. I was really excited!

Our third class was a GAYP (go as you please) and even though I knew the other two horses would be jogging, I decided to go ahead and lope. I came to practice and it wasn't going to do me any good to jog another class, especially since she was doing so well. When the call was given, I continued to walk a while to keep Lilly from anticipating, and to keep me from anticipating. I asked for the lope and she took right off, on the correct lead. She was a bit forward, but she wasn't chugging like a freight train, so I worked on collecting her and getting her slowed down. Just as we started to make some progress, it was time to walk. Her downward transitions are awesome, by the way. Then, the next thing I knew, they were asking us to GAYP again, without asking for a change of direction... okay, so here we go again! She picked up the correct lead, but was still a bit forward. She did really well, though, and I was quite proud of her.

After the second lope, the judge had us line up, but then one of the riders asked if we were going to go the other direction. The judge apologized and sent us back out! Lilly was pretty consistent with her lope today and was pretty much a mirror of the other direction. She picked up her lead and I had to work to keep her collected, but we ended up with second place, even though we were the only ones loping.

The second loping class didn't go as well. I had to take hold of her a couple times because she kept trying to reverse directions on me. It was bizarre... we'd be walking along and all of a sudden she'd try to turn to the inside of the arena. Maybe she was anticipating the line-up... she was ready to go home? So I had to really work on that and we did a few circles into the rail, so we ended up with third place. She got both of her leads, though, and I was more than happy with her performance.

After the last class, the judge told me I was brave for loping in a GAYP class. I told her I was just schooling and since there weren't any actual loping classes, I had to do what I had to do.

Here's a picture of our winnings!! It's always fun to see blue in the lineup of ribbons!

Western pleasure pony proof!
I do wish there had been more horses at the show, just to get a better idea as to how we're doing, but the smaller class size was also nice because it felt more like a schooling ride. I also didn't feel bad about loping in a class where everyone else was jogging. Normally there just isn't enough room if no one else is loping.

A cute side story that I thought I'd share involved Lilly and a little boy. When I was warming her up, there was a family walking around looking at horses and they were in love with Lilly. I told them they could come over and pet her if they wanted to and they were all smiles. Their little boy, who was probably about three years old, was SO excited to pet her. They had to keep telling him to walk so he didn't scare her. Then, right as they were almost in reach, Lilly turned her head towards them and sneezed all over everyone! You should have seen that poor little boy's face... he's probably traumatized for life. His mom kept telling him that she had to sneeze, just like people do, but he wanted absolutely nothing to do with her. I apologized to them and told Lilly she was not being a good ambassador!

All in all, it was a day to remember. The weather was amazing and we had a fantastic show. It was a great way to start the show season and I'm super proud of my girl!!

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Dreaded Shank Bit

It was a busy Friday for a number of reasons, but I still wanted to get out to the barn and ride Lilly. Since I haven't actually ridden in the shank bit in quite some time, I figured I probably should since we'll be showing in it tomorrow. So I made time for a quick ride, anticipating my girl to be a perfect angel.

Well, that wasn't what I got. That's what happens when I don't give myself all the time in the world to ride... I had a specific time I needed to leave the barn and I cut it way too close.

The ride started out well and we made it through our warm-ups without issue. We moved on to jogging, pretending we were in a class, and I rode with one hand, since I'll also be doing that tomorrow. She fought me a bit on the neck reining, but I reminded her that it was something she already knew, and she suddenly remembered.

Once we moved on to the loping part of our session, I had a horse who wanted to rush and evade the bit. It's a delicate balance between staying out of her face (which I need to do with this bit) and being able to take hold of her when she's being a booger. We ended up doing a lot of circles and she wasn't with me in the least. After many, many circles, I wanted to lope some straight lines, which is something I often do with the snaffle as well. I want to make sure she's listening to my cue, and not just loping on the left lead because we happen to be going counter clockwise. Every time I asked for the lope, she would take one lope step, then another, then another, in super slow motion. I couldn't get her to actual go into the lope without a lot of effort. I figured I was doing something wrong, so I made sure she had plenty of rein and that I wasn't pulling on her face at all during the transition cue. No matter what I tried, it took us about 6 or 7 lope steps to actually get going into a lope.

I'm not sure if she really just doesn't like this bit, or if she just doesn't like anything but her snaffle. Hopefully I don't have any issues with her at the show tomorrow, or I'll have to figure out something else to do as far as bits are concerned. I have another one I can try her in, but I really want her to like this one!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Countdown to Showtime! (And a Video)

The weather forecast for Saturday looks quite lovely. They're calling for bright sunshine and a high of 57 degrees, with a zero percent chance of rain. That means we'll be going to our first show of 2012!

It's a fun show, so I won't really be "showing", but we're heading up to get in some riding time away from the barn. I'm really looking forward to it and might even dabble in a few non-traditional classes. :)

I'm thinking about doing a trail class, but I want to see what the pattern is going to be before I commit to that. I also might find myself signing up for cloverleaf barrels! That's right, Lilly and I might "run" barrels on Saturday! Ok, we're really just going to use the class to practice our figure eights, lead changes, and get her in the arena all by herself, but I might see if she can "get it" on the way home!

Other than that, we're going to enter four western classes. The first two are walk/jog only, but the following two are GAYP (go as you please), and while everyone else will be jogging, I'm thinking about loping in at least one of them. I want to see how she'll do with her leads and the only way to do that is to lope!

With any luck my friend will be tagging along and I'll bribe her into taking pictures for me. We won't be dressed up in fancy show clothes, but hopefully we'll look really good out there!

In other news, I got my loping video edited and decided to go ahead and post it. It's a bit long, and quiet, but hopefully you enjoy it. :)

Here's a direct link to the video just in case you can't watch it embedded:

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Those Dang Nerves!

I rode my sweet mare today and we had a fabulous ride. I swear I could lope her for hours and never get tired of it!

A certain someone has been harassing me for a loping video. I finally figured out how to manage it since there's never anyone to video for me, and I set out to accomplish it today. The video didn't turn out as well as I had hoped because the sun was shining at the camera lens and I had to position it pretty far away to get most of the arena in view. The problem with "most of the arena" was that all the good stuff happened outside of the camera's view. I still might post it, but I might end up trying again, and hope for better results.

I noticed something about myself when I was recording our little loping session, though. I got nervous! Thinking about how many people might watch, and perhaps criticize, made me nervous and no doubt changed the way I rode my horse. This had an impact on Lilly as well, and I found her a bit more forward than she usually is and a couple times she jumped the gun and tried to lope without my requesting it. She hasn't done that in weeks!

After I was done recording and the camera was turned off, I went back out and loped some more, where I found her much more relaxed and we settled into a rhythm. We had a much better ride, and I wish that part of my ride would have been recorded on video instead of the footage I now have.

It makes me think about past shows and even the shows I plan on attending this year. How much of her nerves are really just a reflection of my nerves? How much better would we do in the show ring if I could forget about it all and ride the way I do at home, when it's just the two of us in that arena? Why does it have to change just because I have an audience?

We have a show on Saturday that isn't PAC approved, but it's at my favorite place so I'm planning to use it as a schooling show. I wanted to see how well we'd do in a western class before the actual show season starts, and this seemed like the perfect show. I'm not wearing show clothes and I have been planning all along to just ride.

That might be more difficult than I originally thought if I can't even stay relaxed when I'm recording myself...

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

So Relaxed!

Before I get to today's ride, I wanted to talk a bit more about Lilly's bars. I decided to take a picture of her right hoof today to compare it to what I ended up with yesterday. I haven't been keeping track of her bars with pictures, but I decided perhaps I should. I love having a photo record of how things progress, so better late than never!

Her hoof yesterday after I was done trimming...
Her hoof as I found it today.
JenJ asked me if I notice a difference in her on concrete before and after I do the bar trimming, so today I took her out to the driveway and jogged her a bit before trimming anything. She's actually quite sound on the concrete these days, even on her right hoof. It's more on the rocks that she has issues. I brought her back in the barn and trimmed up the medial side bar just a smidge and left the lateral side alone since there wasn't as much on that side. Then I took her back outside and jogged her again. I didn't really notice a difference. I may have to wait a week or so, leave the bars alone, and try again when there would be a more noticeable difference after the trim.

I have been noticing a difference in her after I ride. When we're in the arena, her hooves tend to pack with sand and when I walk her out of the arena onto the concrete driveway, she walks very gingerly. Once the sand is out of her hooves she's fine, but those first five or so steps cause her some discomfort. Today after our ride, I noticed she wasn't quite as cautious and tender footed as she normally is.

I also took a look at the bars on her hinds, and wow! They've grown a ton since the clinic, so I went to work on those guys too. They were really folded over, and I could pick them up with my hoof knife. I don't pay as much attention to her hinds as I probably should... they always behave and never cause issues.

Now onto riding news... I didn't have a lot of time today because of some errands I had to run, but I wanted to get her out and ride. I contemplated riding bareback, but I thought shoppers at the grocery store I was stopping at on my way home might object to the layer of white hair that would no doubt be left on my butt and legs. So I grabbed the saddle and off we went.

I had one of the best rides ever! She was SO relaxed today!! I've dreamed of the day I would say "quit being so lazy" when I was riding my mare... I love it!! And she's not being lazy in a bad way because she still responds when I ask her to, but she just doesn't have that crazy get up and go button like she used to. She waits for me to ask and when I want a lope, I cue, and off we go. No drama and no booking it around the arena. I could actually feel each footfall... 1-2-3, 1-2-3. Normally I couldn't count them if I tried!

I'm loving this western stuff so much that I'm fighting with myself about selling my Pessoa. I have had zero desire to ride english and don't really anticipate having a desire in the near future. I've been waiting for SO long to be able to ride Lilly western that all I want to do is ride in my western saddle! I don't know that I want to get rid of my english stuff all together, but it seems silly to have such an expensive saddle sitting around collecting dust. Maybe I can find an english version of my western saddle... one that fits and one that is a super good deal!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Mysterious Bars

Thanks to the weather we've been having lately, I wasn't able to ride my horse again today. I went out to visit her anyway and decided to work on her hooves. I haven't done much with them since the clinic on the 19th, so it's been a little over two weeks.

I've been keeping a close eye on her bars. After learning more about them at the clinic, and reading up on them on my own, I'm convinced they're trying to tell me something. Just what that is, I'm not sure yet, but I intend to find out.

Her bars were adequately trimmed at the clinic on Sunday, February 19th, and then when I finally got around to photographing them the following Tuesday, they looked as though they hadn't been trimmed. So, I trimmed them after I took pictures.

When I looked at her hooves again on that following Friday, there were those bars again! So I grabbed my hoof knives and trimmed them.

This past Thursday I looked at her hooves before I rode and guess who I saw? THE BARS! Again, I grabbed my knives and trimmed.

Today at the barn, this is what I found:

More bars!!
By now I'm sure you know what I did. I grabbed my knives and went to town. I ended up trimming the bars on both hooves, as well as brought the heels back a bit and shaped up the hoof wall. These pictures are of her right hoof, but this is what I had when I was done.

Bye bye bars... at least for now.
I have trimmed the bars four times in two weeks... so, what the heck is going on here?! Is the hoof trying to tell me it needs those bars, or is it trying to get rid of excess bar? Perhaps they're impacted?

The teachings of Pete Ramey tell me that "if horse puts out 'excess' growth it is trying to recover from something...", possibly a trim, but my trims are always quite conservative and I don't feel like I'm taking off too much of anything. The bars have been trimmed only slightly since her shoes came off 6 months ago, although I have noticed more bar growth since I started removing a bit more bar than I normally do.

He also states that bars cannot become impacted in a horse's hoof because dissections and monitoring of live horses have proved that theory incorrect. He also says he thought "bar pressure caused heel contraction and sensitivity, but the horses taught me otherwise years ago." He says he realized it was just a habit to trim the bars to sole height.

Then there's the other side of the argument... bars can and do become impacted. This side also has dissections and live horses to prove its theory. They say that when the bars are jammed up higher inside the hoof capsule than they should be, the result is heel pain. Heel pain leads to all kinds of things, most of which my horse exhibited, except for navicular, which I fear was the next phase for her if we left her in shoes.

This is why impacted bars often come down much faster than the rest of the hoof, so for a while the bars may need to be trimmed more often than the rest of the hoof.

So which theory is correct? Could they both correct? Maybe it depends on the horse, and maybe it depends if they're in a period of transition?

Here are a few interesting tidbits about Lilly's hooves to make this all more complicated...
  • The bars on her right hoof have been growing like crazy, while the bars on her left hoof have not changed nearly as much. This tells me something is different about that right hoof.
  • The right hoof is her "trouble hoof", the hoof that causes her the most discomfort, and the hoof we had x-rayed for just that reason.
  • I can work on her right hoof all day long without issue, but if I need to trim her left hoof, we have issues. She has to stand on her right hoof while I'm trimming her left and she becomes very uncomfortable and will walk her hind legs up underneath herself to support the weight on her right front.
For now I'm going to continue to trim the bars conservatively until they stop growing so quickly, all the while monitoring her reaction and comfort level. Once they stop growing faster than the rest of the hoof wall, I'll be able to tell if she's more comfortable or still the same. I think this is the only way to find out if the bars are impacted and if trimming them helps my horse.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

We're Back!

I've been missing from the blogosphere for quite a while, but it's for a good cause... I've been working on wedding stuff! My mom came down for a visit this past week and we visited the wedding location, tasted cake, tried on dresses, and looked at flowers. There's still so much to do, but I feel like I'm finally moving forward with plans.

We've been getting a ton of rain too, so there hasn't been a lot of riding going on. We did have one beautiful day during my mom's visit that wasn't already booked with wedding appointments, so we went to the barn to see Lilly. I took her out for a ride and my mom graciously took photos for me.

Lilly was pretty good but it was really windy and the horses in the pasture bordering the arena were feeling quite fresh. They were running around, bucking, and generally having a good time, which made it difficult for Lilly to concentrate. I worked her extra hard when she wanted to watch the show, and we ended up having a pretty decent ride.

I'm really behind on all of your blogs as well, but things are officially "back to normal", so I should be caught up soon!