Thursday, August 29, 2013

I am NOT going into the barn!

Friday, August 23, 2013

I can feel that summer is nearing its end (although officially there is still a month left before the autumn solstice) as I ride in the late afternoon I notice the shadows changing on the arena.  The warm days are followed by chilly evenings and lovely mornings.  Summer has been interesting this year.  We have had our share of heat, but only 2 really bad heat waves.  Regular rain has kept the pastures green and growing.  Typically by August the grass starts to turn a little brownish.  It seems that overall temperatures have been below normal and that is fine with me!
The girls were still in when I arrived at the barn this afternoon, anxiously awaiting turnout.  But we had work to do so turnout was going to have to wait!  Michael and Isaiah were at baseball practice and wouldn't be home until 8:00 so I had 3 glorious hours to spend with the girls!

Nikki was up first, and although the afternoon was warm, humidity was low and the bugs were not too bad. I have been lunging in side reins prior to each ride, which seems to be helping her become more engaged, and loose in the back when I get on.  My goal was to keep the ride simple focusing primarily on transitions within and between the gaits.  After a crazy week at work I felt completely relaxed as I settled into the saddle.  Nikki had good energy and I worked her through serpentines switching between medium and working trot, sometimes adding a walk transition as we crossed the center line.  I added a little collected trot and Nikki responded beautifully.  For canter work I focused on the working gait but shortened and lengthened stride on a 20 meter circle and down the long side of the arena.  I finished with a walk on a long rein, which was peaceful and relaxing in the late afternoon.

I brought Suki out into the arena for a lunge session in a bridle next.  The arena was fully shaded by that time.  Suki worked well too, offering nice, sharp transitions.  She had a minor transgression when the horses in an adjacent field started to run, but I was impressed by how quickly she became re-focused.  Suki always seems quite pleased with herself after she works.  Our walk back to the barn she strides proudly next to me.....

Saturday, August 24, 2013
It was a lovely cool morning for a ride and thankfully the girls came right down to the gate.  Morning is my favorite time of day.  The entire day lies ahead ready for anything.  I stood at the gate smiling as the princesses trotted up to me.  Suki of course turned around to look at Nikki as they approached the gate reminding her with "snake face" to step back and wait her turn.  Aaah the life of an alpha mare!  I am always a bit more in a hurry on Saturdays if Isaiah has a riding lesson because I have to be home by 9:30 the latest.  That gives Isaiah time to put on his paddock boots and hop in the car.  It's a good thing that his helmet and gloves live in my car!
I tacked up Nikki and headed out to the arena with Suki calling after us.  Nikki doesn't always answer, but today she called back.  It was not a panicked voice, but more a low response.
Nikki's canter has been a bit stiff, but I can see it improving on the lunge while she is wearing side reins.  The hind end is becoming more engaged, and while it is not as good when I am in the saddle, it is improving there as well.  Louise is working on it with her so it is nice to have a knowledgeable and capable rider helping me.  Yesterday was transitions, today was lateral work.  I started off on a bit of a loose rein leg yielding back and forth at the trot to keep her loose and responsive.  Pleased with the response I picked her up a bit and moved into sitting trot, again leg yielding back and forth.  Feeling nice engagement behind made me smile.  I brought Nikki down to a walk and wrapped my arms around her neck.  Life is good!
Suki nickered at us when we walked back into the barn, taking her voice up a notch when I spoke to her.  That too, makes me smile.  I finished Nikki's post work care and put her back in a stall and she settled happily into eating her pile of hay.  Suki practically shoved herself out of the stall so we had a discussion about manners.  I think that she just forgets sometimes, in her haste to come out by me.  When I work with her first she is less pushy.  Due to time constraints Suki was just going to have a spa treatment with lunge work held off until Sunday.  There are a couple of areas of skin that are dry and they are interspersed within her hair on her hind end.  The skin across her back that has no hair stays more smooth so I suspect that I am not using enough moisturizer on those spots.  I think that it is because I am trying to not get her hair too oily.

Just as I was finishing a trailer pulled in to deliver a pony belonging to an existing boarder.  It was one that she rode as a child and decided to get him back to live out his retirement in comfort.  Sammy is an adorable little paint and walked into the barn like the old pro that he is.  Suki stretched to the end of the cross ties to see him, ears pricked.  She let out a very soft soft it was almost undetectable except for her nostrils moving.  It's so funny how horses sometimes react to ponies!

Isaiah had a lesson on Louise's new pony Rusty.  He is very cute and seems like a wonderful addition to Corner House Farm.  I finally was able to watch a lesson (Isaiah pays more attention when I don't watch) and he was SO focused during this lesson!  It was great to see.

Sunday, August 25, 2013
I awoke to another beautiful morning, looking forward to my ride.  I love to see tSuki and Nikki in their pasture as I drive down the driveway.  All of the horses look so peaceful....Turning into the driveway I couldn't see the girls right away.  Then I realized that they were not in their pasture!!  Panicked I parked and ran through the barn.  Their lead ropes were hanging on the fence, but I did not see them!  Looking into the pasture next to their usual one I saw them all the way at the top.....John had decided to rest their field.  : )  On the other side of the fence were two ponies, with whom, apparently both Nikki and Suki were enamored with.  Oh yes.... did I mention that they were both in heat?  Squatting up there by the fence?  Needless to say my calls to them went unanswered, so across the field I marched.  Thick with dew I could feel the wetness seeping into my paddock boots.  Delightful!  Suki let me catch her so off we went back to the barn.  Nikki didn't follow immediately, but that is not unusual.  Sometimes she waits until Suki is in, or comes when I call her again.  As we made our way across the field toward the gate, Suki stopped once but moved forward again.  We walked through the gate and I closed it (Nikki had not moved from her post near the ponies).  Into the barn we went...or so I thought!  Suki planted her feet and would NOT go into the barn!  I turned her around and tried again. and again, and again.  I smacked her with the lead rope. Bribed her with carrots.  I kept telling her how ridiculous she was being!  At that early hour No one else was around and my phone was in the car.  I tried to remain patient, but the stubborn red head appeared to be firm in her decision! I stopped and looked Suki in the eye.  And there it was.  The determination.  The stubbornness.  As angry as I was that she would not listen I realized something...THAT stubbornness and determination was the reason Suki survived and recovered from the fire.  At that moment I wanted to laugh and praise her for her chutzpah.  But we we had a task at hand.  After what seemed like hours (but was probably more like 5 minutes) the big girl decided to go into the barn and then her stall. I wrapped my arms around her neck and she hugged me back.  Once in her stall Suki paced and called, presumably to Nikki.  Bucket with some grain in hand, back out to the field I went.  My feet were soaked by this point, but aside from a brief moment of ear pinning (!) Nikki walked with me across the field.  My first thought was "oh yeah, I have a great ride ahead!"
The entire time I groomed and tacked up Nikki, Suki paced.  I guess she had boys on her mind!  Finally she settled and I took Nikki out to the arena.  We had a fabulous session!  In spite of the drama, Nikki was focused o the task at hand.  I kept the ride short because we achieved everything in my plan quickly.  In spite of the morning drama I had time to lunge Suki.  Again I worked on transitions within the gaits and between.  The big girl halted on a dime, and listened well.  Running about 10 minutes behind for my breakfast with Bobbi, I dashed out of the barn.
My very good friend Bobbi and I have been trying to connect for months.  Her horse Whisby was with Suki the night of the fire.  Suki, whose eyes were burned and swollen shut followed the sound of her friend Whisby as they fled the farm.  Bobbi and her husband drove Suki to New Bolton in the middle of the night because I couldn't leave my 3 year old son.  I think that sometimes "thank you" is completely inadequate in expressing just how much you appreciate someone's actions.....

That afternoon I went to Louise's farm to attend a saddle fitting lecture by Karen Porter from Northstar Sporthorse.  She brought the vertebrae of a horse, whose spine had fused to drive home the importance of proper saddle fit.  If we as riders, do not have the right tools how can we expect our horses to do their best?  I would not run a 10k in my Marc Jacobs MaryJanes with the 4 inch heels, right? Each of us brought dessert so we had a "social" and discussion following the talk.  Husband and child were golfing...we all had a good weekend!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Summer days

Often when I write on the weekend I sit at my son's craft table in the family room.  It faces a large window which looks out to the bird feeders and bird bath.  Early mornings I get to see quite a bit of wildlife pass through so it is peaceful and relaxing.  Michael and Isaiah are usually still sleeping and Ripley goes back upstairs.  The cats like to lounge near me after they have breakfast, adding to the mood.  If I am writing in the evening I sit in the same place, or outside on the deck adding a glass of chilled Sauvignon Blanc to the scene.  Still peaceful, but the potential to be interrupted increases.

As I have said on many occasions, the Oley Valley is a beautiful place to live.  We are surrounded by beautiful mountains and although my home is in a small subdivision, less than a minute from my house I am surrounded by dairy farms, corn fields and horses.  While sometimes I mutter under my breath when I find myself stuck behind slow moving farm equipment on a narrow country road, I secretly smile, happy that I live somewhere that such an event is a possibility!  My favorite part is the covered bridge on my way to Oley Valley Feed, where I am a frequent patron.  In fact, after the fire the feed store took a collection for Pink Star Equestrian (and its owner), but the owner decided to give it to me to help with Suki's medical bills instead.  MUCH APPRECIATED!!!
The Oley Bridge

Isaiah always asks me to put the top down on my car so that we can look up at the rafters when we go over it!  I must admit, it does look cool!

I think it was a new blog reader from Egypt who made me think again about my surroundings.  When L rides out she passes pyramids and desert.  So different from what I see.  But I started to think about all of my readers/friends all over the world.  We ride.  Our horses are different, our disciplines may be different and our surroundings.  Yet we share this common bond....horses!  Yes we are different, but are we really??  I love to hear about other people's horses, and what they do with them.  We love our horses regardless of their breed or training, because they are ours.  They are a part of who we are. One of the barns I boarded Suki at was a multi -discipline barn.  There were a few of other dressage riders.  I was riding one day with a woman on an adorable paint horse.  She told me that she was so jealous because Suki was so beautiful and all she had was this little paint horse.  I remember telling her how cute he was, and that breeding doesn't matter as long as you love your horse!  She liked to trail ride.  I think that a 17+ hand Oldenburg would be quite inappropriate for that!  We, as horseman can disagree on training methods, best breeds, best discipline, etc.  But the one thing we CAN agree on is that we love our horses.

August 17, 2013
Early morning ride.  Probably not one of the best rides that I have had on Nikki but we did have some highlights.  She seemed a bit unfocused so I did a lot of in and out bend on 20 meter circles, then 15m. There were some improvements, so after a few serpentines I called it a day.  I had promised to take my mom out to Lancaster County to her favorite shops and the Amish grocery store in Honeybrook, so it worked out well.  For Suki that meant some in hand exercises and a spa treatment. My goal with some of the in hand exercises is simply to sharpen her responses.  Attending the Andreas Hausberger clinic made me aware of how sometimes I allowed little misdemeanors for response.

August 18, 2013
Much better ride on Nikki.  She seemed a bit more relaxed so I did a bit more canter work spiraling in and out.  I am not heavy handed anyway, but I did feel like I had a bit more softening.  What would AH think of my riding??
Suki's skin seemed a bit drier today, so I brought out a new exfoliation mitt.  Rite Aid doesn't always have them and it is their own brand!  Suki seemed a bit tired after our lunging session and let me hold her head in my arms.  Nikki always lets me do this, and in fact, expects it, but Suki can be somewhat tentative, so it was a nice moment.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

One year without a bandage! Is riding in our future?

Friday, August 9, 2013
I have been wanting to pull Nikki's mane for quite awhile, but something has always derailed any opportunity.  As a result, her mane was an absolute disgrace.  Tonight I arrived at the barn and as the result of a recent onslaught of new boarders someone was already there tacking up.  Not that I mind riding with others.  But I decided to take care of Suki first so that by the time I got on Nikki the other person would be close to finishing.  Suki's face was very itchy tonight so I just held the exfoliation mitt up to her face and she moved her head up and down, turning it from side to side to hit all of the itchiest places.  The area of Suki's neck that is under her mane typically becomes dry pretty quickly also.  I slathered an extra layer of moisturizer on (getting low, I need to buy another jar!), applied it to her back and added sunscreen to her face.  I think that Suki should be the new face for Banana Boat sunscreen for babies!  A few more treats and back into the stall.

Nikki snuggled up to me as soon as I opened her door!  She quietly stood on cross ties to be groomed, when suddenly a large SUV flew into the parking area.  Parking at an odd angle (and blocking my car) an unfamiliar woman and young girl got out.  They did not come into the barn.  Shortly after that another new boarder and her daughter arrived.  Amidst a lot of chatter they came into the barn armed with books and folders and spread out across the aisle.  The horse was then brought in and they went through a variety of lists for 4H testing.  Another boarder arrived, then the veterinarian.  I decided to pull Nikki's mane instead of dealing with the chaos outside!

Starting at the withers end Nikki was a bit fussy but then relaxed.  She drops her head so low that I am actually able to stand on the ground to do this in spite of her height (17.2)! Every time I told her what a good girl she was Nikki nosed my front pocket to remind me that a sugar cube was to follow.  Because of the length and thickness I was forced to do two passes, and she was cooperative and relaxed the entire time...unlike you-know-who.....
Of course I would rather have ridden, but Nikki had worked all of the other days so it wasn't a big deal.  And the mane pulling is finally finished!!

Saturday, August 10, 2013
An early start was in order as per my usual routine.  Suki followed my car to the gate and was happy to come in.  She was a bit disappointed that breakfast had not yet arrived but started to move her hay pile over to the water buckets for dunking convenience.  Just as I was closing Suki's door I heard Nikki's thundering hooves coming toward the gate.  Suki doesn't really settle into her hay until Nikki is in the barn so she watched as I led Nikki in, and nickered softly to her as we passed.  The day was warm but not bad for an August morning!
Nikki was in one of her cuddly moods, leaning down to nuzzle me as I brushed her legs.  She also likes to grab the brush sometimes....maybe she wants to brush her own legs?
The mounting issue seems to have gone away for now.  She will try the game again in a few weeks as she always does!  I loved that Nikki was filled with good energy and very willing to work.  I worked on serpentines at the trot, trying to maintain a nice steady tempo with good push from behind.  My focus again on not too much driving, I was able to maintain the pace with few adjustments.  Adding walk transitions each time I crossed the centerline added some sharpness to Nikki's focus.  Content with that work we moved on to exercises changing within gaits.  I am starting to feel a nice balance and distinct change as I ask Nikki for collected, working an medium trot.  The canter still needs more work, but she is moving along nicely.....I am glad that I have L riding her a couple of times a week.  That consistency and L's excellent work are definitely paying off (my work too!!)!

For Suki I just did a brief lunge to let her stretch out then worked on leading exercises.  She moved nicely forward so I did not ask for a lot of transitions.  My goal was to simply let her move out. The sun came out a little brighter again, but at least the bugs remained at bay!  That coppery coat shines in the sunshine!  I also tried some in hand turn on the forehand.  Suki did well with it, but I feel as though I was not always in the correct position.  Something to work on.

Sunday, August 11, 2013
Another nice morning to ride.  I left the house just before 7 AM, and with windows down I felt the cool morning air on my face and smiled, looking forward to my ride.  An interesting scenario awaited when I arrived at the barn.  Nikki was lying down and Suki was standing over her.  My initial reaction (of course) was one of concern.  Nikki often lies down in the field, but it was the way Suki was standing over her....On the other side of the fence Dylan was lying down the same way!  Nikki was fine, but the cool morning air meant that neither she nor Suki were overly anxious to be brought in!  I wished that I had brought my phone into the field with me because a photo of that scene would have been priceless!

I worked Nikki more than usual on the lunge prior to my ride.  I had shortened the side reins slightly and wanted her to lift more in her transitions.  The results were as I had hoped and I had an attentive horse under saddle with sharp transitions and nice lift in her back.  Having to get home to take Isaiah to his riding lesson I didn't work Suki, but gave her a spa treatment.  I don't like to work her several days in a row.  My caution is probably unnecessary as I do tend to baby her about over doing anything.  Although that is how I am anyway, even with Nikki, since Suki's meltdown early in her career.

The skin graft area looks great, and we are close to one year without a bandage....sitting on her again seems more and more like a possibility.

I don't think that the light pink area will ever darken in pigment the way the rest of the graft area did, but it seems to be strong skin.  Even after Suki escaped from her clothing and very obviously had a good roll, the skin did not tear.  My original plan was to start Suki with the lunging surcingle in late spring, but I guess I have been a bit nervous about that.  I think we are ready though!  Today I threw the saddle pad from Success Equestrian onto Suki's back and could see the questioning look in her eye as she turned to meet my gaze.  "You look stunning", I told her.  "Ready to take on the world".  Her lips nibbled on my arm, and I kissed her nose.

Late Sunday afternoon I went back to the barn to get the girls ready for turnout.  Miss Suki, impatient as always stomped around her stall anxious to be out.  I sprayed Nikki with fly spray first and put her in the pasture.  She patiently stood while I unclipped the lead rope and gave her a carrot, then snuffled my hair. Nikki is such a snuggler!  She of course then looked to my pocket for a sugar cube! (I didn't give her one that time).  Nikki moved to the water tub while I brought out Suki dressed in a not-so-clean fly sheet (I am constantly washing them).

As I emerged on the other side of the barn to get in my car, Suki looked at me and nickered.  Nikki did the same.  Then I watched as Suki lifted in her back and shoulders floating away in a breathtaking trot.  I am thankful every day that Suki survived the fire and recovered so beautifully.  It warms my heart to see that she is healthy, and so happy to be just who she is.  But there are occasions, like when she floats across the field that I ever so briefly mourn what I have lost.
My beautiful girls

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The magic of sugar cubes and gummy bears ( AND day 3 of Andreas Hausberger clinic, brief overview)

The weather in Berks County finally turned from 90+ degrees with high humidity to lovely cool temperatures.  The mountains are topped by bright green foliage, no longer hidden behind a haze of humid, heavy air.  Regular rain has caused the cornfields to shoot up turning roads into tunnels.  Local corn is fresh, sweet and abundant.  Isaiah and I pass many cornfields on the way to camp and always comment on the height of the stalks!  I purchased beautiful grape and cherry tomatoes at a local farm stand and sauteed them with fresh basil and garlic to toss with pasta.  Fresh produce is definitely the highlight of summer here.

So.... some take home messages from the Andreas Hausberger clinic.  No constant driving.  I have always been taught this, so I don't think that I am TOO guilty of it, although I do have my moments.  Riding this morning I realized that I have been quite fortunate.  I have never had to "fight" (bad word, I know) with my horses to give softly into the hand.  Whether this is a result of me being fortunate enough to have good horses or good training, I don't know....Not that Nikki doesn't ever get heavy in hand.  I notice that when she becomes tired she gets a little heavy.  "play" with the reins subtly big and small with fingers only.  It is important that the horse respond quickly and also that the rider respond quickly.
At the inn, being guarded by Molly, the red setter

So day 3 of the clinic I witnessed some phenomenal results.  The nervous lady with the Arab showed such tremedous improvement that I texted Beth while it was happening.  The horse which had exhibited bugged out eyes and head in the air was suddenly soft and round!!  The rider displayed more confidence and we applauded her efforts when she had finished.  The horse seemed so much more relaxed as he too, gained confidence in his rider!

The rider on the Lusitano stallion had a question about the flying changes from the day before.  She said that she felt that they were flat because the horse was fatigued, and her typical response was to move to something that he does well and finish the workout.  Was this AH's point yesterday?  Yes.  Rider wanted to be sure that her thought process was the same and that it was okay to do that.  One thing that AH finds frustrating: when you are sitting on your horse speaking with him, please halt, and remain that way until conversation is over.  He had emphasized this each time he asked a rider to tell the audience about her horse.  The situation was never that which the horse was hot after working, so I am not sure how that would have been handled.

The lessons were slated to be 30 minutes in length, but all went over.  In fact, on this, the third day of the clinic we were nearly 2 hours behind!  So clearly AH was not a clock watcher.  I liked that.

Whenever a rider worked the horse in hand with AH as the "driver" and rider at the horse's head to keep him/her on the wall, corrections were expected to be made quickly, effectively and correctly.  Praise as well.  Also emphasized was the all-important half halt during in hand work.  This should be performed not by pulling downward on the reins but slowing momentum in front.  Always best to use a lunging cavesson so there will be no actual pressure on the mouth.  Yes, I know this makes perfect sense, and I am not a snatcher anyway, but well, sometimes we slip.

A new horse on day 3 was a Friesian/thoroughbred gelding.  Quite nice looking.  Bay with lovely black points and just a small amount of feathers on the fetlocks.  The rider had made an 8 hour drive from Maine with two horses to be ridden in days 3-5 of the clinic.  The pair had competed in 4th level the year before, but had to take the harsh Maine winter off due to lack of indoor.  Now they were playing catch up.  How well I know that feeling, as I experienced the same this past winter.  My winter wasn't nearly as harsh, but at age 5 Nikki was not ready for 5 days off, one day of riding.  I plan to be riding through this winter.  But I digress....  AH wanted to work the horse in hand so the rider dismounted and equipment was added.  The rider was at the horse's head and AH explained is plan:  The rider was to do what those before her had done (but I am not certain that she had observed much of this since her arrival the day before) and keep the horse on the rail, using half halts while AH encouraged him forward.  There was a fair amount of miscommunication initially (or misunderstanding and nerves on the rider's part), but once that was straightened out they worked together nicely.  The horse did some nice half steps and a few piaffe steps.  As with the others once the horse lifted his hind legs as requested (this could just be one followed by the other) the horse was halted, praised and rewarded with a sugar cube.  Seriously, by day 3 of the clinic I have visions of a Domino Dots truck unloading crates of sugar cubes in the alleyway of the Spanish Riding School!
AH directed rider to then mount.  FINALLY, a rider who quickly removed equipment and instead of walking to the far end of the arena to use the mounting block she mounted from the ground quickly and was ready to work.  This rider too has a nice seat and AH acknowledged it immediately.  Not that he wasn't without his corrections!  She too, did not respond as quickly as preferred in the saddle and in hand.  They did some very nice work and there was something very appealing about the horse.  I wished that I was going to be there on Wednesday and Thursday to observe the progress.

Next up, was rider with a 6 year old? Oldenburg gelding.  Very cute and talented (as she so informed me the day before).  He was certainly up when she got on, but she worked him through the gaits.  AH then asked about working him in hand, so she dismounted and they added surcingle, side reins, etc.  The horse was not completely accustomed to do this type of work and took a few minutes to grasp the concept.  But then he too, like the others responded well, in small increments.  Once the rider remounted she just began riding, performing lateral work, changes of gait, etc.  AH complimented her on her seat but also said that she was driving a bit too much.  As he asked her to spiral in at the canter the aggressive driving became more evident and AH commented that this could be one of the reasons he is so up.  During a breather in her ride the rider commented that he knew a horse that she used to own and had just seen again during his clinic on the west coast.  AH did indeed know the horse and acknowledged that the horse had been a bit behind the leg when the current rider first purchased him.  As her ride continued it was evident that this horse too was behind the leg which AH pointed out to her was a result of deep seated driving and a heavy hand.  As the exercises continued the horse lightened significantly and finished more relaxed and through in the back than when he had started.

Because we were already two hours behind I could not watch the remaining 3 rides because I had to head home.... I was sad to be leaving and missing the last two days of the clinic, the barbecue that night and luncheon the next day.  But I also felt fortunate to have had the opportunity to make the trip as my head spun with everything I had learned and reinforced what I had been taught.

Since I have been home I have been trying to incorporate what I have learned and sharpen my skills with a renewed enthusiasm.  By next week I believe my schedule will finally lighten up for a month or so and I will finally be able to dedicate more time to Suki's work.  My time at the barn usually enables me to ride Nikki, perform Suki's spa treatments and on some days either lunge Suki or work her in hand.  Those days where time runs short after Nikki's ride my main concern is Suki's skin care, so that often leaves little or no time to work her.  I am sometimes able to take her just out behind the barn to do some in-hand work, which has been wonderful for sharpening her responses.  I will soon get to the point where I will need a second pair of hands for that.  My goal in the coming weeks is to lunge Suki three times per week (regularly) then gradually increase it to five times per week.  Fingers crossed!
The girls enjoying a cool evening

For the past several years I have bribed Suki with gummy bears in order to apply moisturizer to her head and ears.    I simply hold my hand low, and as she gradually takes the treat I use the other hand to apply the moisturizer.  Gummy bears have also been successful in getting her to stick her nose and head between her front legs.  Gummy bears, remember, were the key to getting Suki to take her meds when she was in the hospital and at Kelly's for continued rehab.  That girl will do anything for a gummy bear!

Nikki likes the bears as well, but she tries to suck your entire hand into her mouth while taking them.  I don't think she realizes how large her lips are!  I have not done the sugar cube reward in years, and have never used it for Nikki in training.  So I decided to revisit that method after observing AH in the clinic.  Armed with a handful in the front pocket of my breeches (it is quite painful once you are in the saddle so I made need one of those pouch things for my belt), out to the arena we went.  I did a few exercises on the way, and when Nikki responded promptly she received a cube.  I did the same on the lunge line while sharpening her transitions.  They were totally on the mark!  Given our recent mounting block issue I said to Nikki, "if you stand like a rock I will give you a cube." (I know, trying to rationalize with her...).  She stood perfectly so I gave her a cube and made her stand a bit longer.  I praised her again heartily when we moved off. The ride ended up being fairly short because she was extremely responsive and I wanted to reward her for that.  When I dismounted I patted her neck, and before I could reach for a cube she gently turned her head toward me in search of one....Guess I will have to slow down a bit!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Andreas Hausberger clinic Part 2 (and Suki's new fly sheet)

The evening of July 21 I enjoyed a glass of wine, mulling over the days events waiting for Beth to arrive.  I actually even wrote several pages of the Suki book taking advantage of my second wind and relaxed state of mind and body. 

Beth arrived around 9:30 PM and after settling in in jammies we talked and laughed like teenage girls for the next couple of hours.  We have not seen one another for quite a long time though we keep in touch through texting.  In fact, she saw my FaceBook post about the clinic and commented that she wished she had known about it.  I promptly texted her saying that I had a room an a nearby inn and invited her to join me.  She was only able to stay for one day, but I knew that she would enjoy it as much as I had that day.  The early hour of 5:15 would be upon us all too soon, so we forced ourselves to a lights out.

July 22, 2013
Yep, 5:15 came mighty quick but we enjoyed breakfast overlooking the pond in preparation for our day.  Many thanks to Gary and Eileen for getting up so early to put out a lovely breakfast!

Unable to find my written directions (GPS takes a circuitous route) I assured Beth that I knew where I was going, having found Waltzing Horse Farm so easily the day before.  Indeed!  So after several turn arounds (I blame this on the fact that I had not yet been caffeinated) we found the Stewart's near the Farm and ran in for Mt Dew (me) and Diet Coke (Beth).  One more brief misdirection and we arrived at the farm.  The first lesson had already started so we quietly took our places.

I would like to point out that I am not trying to be an arm chair quarterback in these discussions, but simply recording my observations.  I am the first to admit that I have my own bad habits and inconsistencies and am by no means a professional.  It is always easier to sit on the sidelines and critique than it is to be in the saddle trying to improve.  I commend all of the riders for their hard work during these sessions. 

Ride #1: 19 yo Danish Warmblood:  Already he looked more connected than he had the day before.  The spiraling in exercise was used again to prepare for pirouettes and I liked the way it prepared the horse by allowing him to gradually collect on each subsequently smaller circle leading to the result of an almost pirouette.  Once again Andreas tapped the rhythm near the horse's hocks but when he stopped the rider was able to maintain the cadence. Then taking the horse back out on the 20 meter circle and collecting the canter the rider asked for a few half pirouettes then full pirouette.  It was much more correct than it had been the day before.  They again did some work in piaffe, with Andreas encouraging the horse with the whip near his hocks.  The horse definitely understood more quickly and showed some nice steps.

Ride #2: Lipizzaner stallion: The day before this boy's rider had her stirrups taken away to discourage standing on the toes during sitting trot.  I thought she started off much better on this second day, but could see that within 15 minutes the habit resurfaced (Who doesn't know THAT feeling!) so they crossed the stirrups once again.  During her early time with stirrups the horse was more engaged in the beginning of the ride than he had been the day before.  She seemed to have more difficulty keeping him connected which may have been due to her own fatigue and/or the horse's.  Andreas got after her a bit as he too was becoming frustrated with the horse's lack of response.  In some cases the rider was not responding quickly enough to the horse's actions.  It seemed also that the seat was doing more driving but the hands were not allowing the horse to soften in his jaw.  This is likely one of the challenges of riding him!  But she did have some lovely moments as they worked through some of the difficulties of collected, working and medium trot.  During this time Andreas did not become condescending, but he was pushing her hard, which is to be expected.

Ride #3: Arab gelding: This was the rider who had some anxiety due to previous experiences with her horse.  She came into the arena maybe a little more confident than the day before but admitted that she was still a bit nervous.  They started at the walk once again trying to get the horse to soften and without the rider squeezing her legs too much.  She seemed to have a tendency to scrunch up her legs and pinch with the thigh.  The horse continued to try to thrust his head into the air so Andreas stopped her and said that he wanted to "feel" what she was doing with her hands.  He placed his hands over hers and directed her to "play".  Once he was able to feel that, he identified the problem to be what he had suspected: she was locking her wrists and not really using her fingers enough.  AH showed her what he wanted her to do and off they went again at the walk.  She improved at the walk, although the horse still tried to look out the door each time he passed.  Andreas was able to get her to prepare before reaching the door which greatly improved the outcome.   The difficulty resurfaced as horse and rider moved into the trot.  As they continued to work through this by doing transitions, etc the rider stopped and asked if she could drop her stirrups.  I thought this was a huge step forward given her anxiety!  She started off a little bouncy in the saddle and tight in her arms.  Once again through numerous transitions there was a bit more relaxation.  While they were not perfect at the end of the ride there was a definite improvement.  The horse noticeably relaxed when she stopped scrunching and driving.  This once again was a recurring theme for AH's corrections: the riders were driving too much with seat and legs.  So as this rider tried to keep her legs hanging loosely (which improved when she was without stirrups) they returned to the instructions from the day before: soft squeeze.  No response than kick hard.  Yesterday the rider's kicks were not as forceful, but today much improved.  This was apparent as the horse began to respond to just a soft squeeze earlier in that part of the session.

Ride #4: 6 yo Andalusian/Hanoverian: Yesterday AH had the rider show him what type of in hand work they had been doing, so today started by adding equipment.  Lunging cavesson, surcingle and side reins.  Rider was nearby with sugar cubes while AH worked the horse in hand.  They started with the side reins quite long, but they were adjusted as soon as AH evaluated what the correct length should be.  He wanted the horse soft but not curled, while maintaining the ability to move forward with an engaged hind end, into the hand.  Always so much to think about!  Using the whip behind near the hocks the horse was guided gently forward, encouraged to engage the hind end and move softly into the hand.  The horse responded well, but it took a few minutes for him to understand, of course.  Again, patience and constant reward paid off.  AH told the rider to mount.  To me she seemed to move quite slowly removing the equipment and getting ready to mount. The rider does have a lovely seat, which AH pointed out several times, but that came with similar comments from the day before about reaction time....too slow.  He expects a response from the rider immediately, and as the day before this became one of the common themes. The horse is very nice and quite responsive.  Her reaction time does need to be quicker and from my armchair that is apparent. : ) Rider's reaction time did improve by the end of the session and the horse looked really soft in the hand and up in the back by the end.

Ride #5: Lusitano stallion:  This horse definitely starts off tight in the back.  AH desperately wants to work this horse in hand but the rider insists that the horse becomes too focused on the handler by nibbling to really do well.  AH worked some steps in piaffe encouraging the horse from behind.  The steps appeared to be more correct than the day before.  This rider too he complimented on her seat but she too spent a little too much time in driving mode.  This pair too worked on the spiraling in exercise and work in the canter finally showed some relaxation.  He is a real cutie but his tension shows from time to time.  He tries to not focus sometimes by talking but his rider does a reasonably good job of making him pay attention.  This pair had some lovely medium canters finally and the horse finally stopped sticking out his tongue!  Next they worked on the four-tempis.  The horse's single changes were pretty clean and correct with nice lift and engagement behind.  The fours were a bit flat, so AH had them do a few diagonals with single changes in various locations.  They finished on that.

Mid morning break and once again a lovely spread of cheeses, bread and fruit.  The arena was groomed and everyone settled in for a few more hours of education.

The POA mare from yesterday started off much better today.  The rider had more understanding of what was expected.  There was still some resistant, but the trot was much more consistent and it carried over to the canter.  There was a lot of work on upward and downward transitions as well as within the gaits.  As before, medium means medium not working gait!  The rider was able to get the pony to show some nice differences between working and medium trot with several of those transitions keeping the pony soft.  AH continued to remind her to play "big" or "small" and to have the response ready quickly.

The 10 year old girl on her pony also started off better today.  She had some very nice trot work.  The canter was still a bit rushed, but transitions helped this as well.

Connemara Stallion: Long reins today.  This little guy had never been long-reined so AH hooked him up and had the rider walk near his head until he understood.  This did not take very long, so AH was able to work him fully around the arena.  At the walk he began to ask for bending in and out.  The horse was trying very hard and responded nicely.  The inward and outward bending was followed by some trot work doing the same.  Then some bend across the diagonal and finally some half pass.  The long whip slightly encouraging from behind, stronger when the response was not quick enough.  AH marched along behind quietly and patiently guiding the horse in more lateral work.  Once he kicked  out and AH softly said "oh, stop that".  I'm not sure I would have been so calm with hind feet so close to my head!

Beyond the open back door of the arena (gate across) I could see several Lipizzaner mares grazing with the mountains behind them.  Had I just been transported to the Austrian Alps?

Connemara mare, related to the stallion, ridden by same rider on POA.  Cute mare.  AH was surprised tat she was all Connemara because she was fairly tall.  This rider has a nice seat.  Young girl, with good basics.  She didn't understand half pass so AH did a great job of explaining how to achieve it.  They did it at the walk, then moved to the shoulder in across the diagonal so she could feel the appropriate bend. Once in the trot they were able to achieve some reasonably good half pass.  She too was reprimanded for reaction time not quite quick enough.  At the canter in a circle around AH he laid out the tempo with his whip.  The "playing" with the reins needs to be timed correctly so AH talked her through it.  telling her when to play big or small and when to stop, all the while tapping out  the tempo.

At the end of the day Beth and I went into town and had a late lunch before heading back to the inn so she could collect her belongings and make the long drive home.  I was glad that she felt the long trip was worthwhile.  After she left I showered and headed out to the porch for a glass of wine and to do some writing.  One of the owner's friends was there so she sat out as well.  We were joined a short time later by another Beth who was also staying at the inn.  She had dropped off her horse at Waltzing Horse Farm.  Beth was lucky enough to secure a spot in the clinic for the next three days.  It started to rain so we had the gentle humming of rain on the porch roof, wine, and four women talking horses and life.  The beauty and peacefulness of my surroundings and pleasant conversation made me realize just how much I had needed to decompress!  I plan on going back to The Shamrock and Thistle in October for a couple days to write and enjoy the fall foliage.

August 2nd: When I returned home I planned to implement what I had learned.  One thing I noticed immediately was that I had become a little sloppy about transitions when Nikki was being lunged.  When I ask for walk from trot it was taking Nikki maybe 3 or 4 strides to actually complete the transition...YIKES!  We worked on that immediately.  I extended my usual lunging time to work on this.  We had a definite improvement by the end of the first session.  So today the transitions were much sharper on the lunge.  Riding I have been thinking a lot about "over driving" trying to be sure that I am not.  I feel like I only do that occasionally, but I did catch myself a couple of times.  I have always been taught to expect sharpness off the aids.
 Before I left for the clinic I had given my fabulous blanket lady a more open mesh fly sheet for Suki.  This type of sheet would keep Suki cooler but I was concerned that the openness of the mesh would offer too much sun exposure to the skin on her back.  Sewing a piece of fabric to that area across the top should solve that problem so I traced out the area in need and Donna selected an appropriate breathable fabric.  She decided to use linen which would be soft against the skin and breathable enough to keep sweating.  Friday night I put it on Suki for the first time.  I thought it seemed a little large, but Suki is very good with her clothing so I was not overly concerned.

August 3rd:  Arriving at the barn at 7:30 AM I drove down the driveway.  The girls were happily grazing.  But wait.....something was wrong!
 Yep.  Suki was naked!!  I brought her and Nikki in then went back into the field in the drizzle to retrieve the sheet.
Upon close inspection the leg straps were still clipped and surcingle fastened.  Suki had somehow unbuckled the chest buckle (which I always completely close) and wiggled out of the sheet.  I am certain that she had several rolls after that!  The graft area looked fine with the exeption of one small rub, so all is fine!  Fortunately the day was over cast so the skin was not exposed to direct sunlightT  Clever girl!