Saturday, October 31, 2009

Next to godliness

I've been with the boy for about two or three years now. We're still going strong, living together and planning on expanding our lives together. He likes the fact I have the horses, and I'm doing something that I genuinely like. I couldn't do much of what I do without him.

But we have a dirty secret.

We're both household messy people.

We let the mail pile up, boxes of ammo hanging around, there's books forming small cities around the couch and a few other things that are out of place and line. There are even boxes that haven't been unpacked for two years and I don't want to look in my closet.

The boy, who has seen me clean a dirt floor barn down to the final detail, shouted in exasperation the other day of how I could care so much about a barn, but not the environment I sleep in. Even my friends, notice the same trend that my horses are often outfitted better than me.

Kind of sad right?

Not really, but I'm not alone.I have friends who at least have an idea what it's like.

My logic behind the selective OCD is two fold. First, the animals don't have a choice. They have to live where I put them and in a particular lifestyle. I can't stand dirty water or food buckets, but I can personally tolerate rinsing and re-using the same glass eighty times. Secondly, when I come home from cleaning what feels like the Agean Stables somedays, I don't want to face my own house. Straw meet camel's back.

I work in a place where I'm partly responsible for Six Sigma, environmental and inventory quality and then I go to the barn where I spend at least another thirty minutes cleaning. I clean, or have some involvement of cleaning, all day.

Sorry, I am my own imported labor.

I'm not complaining about doing my own chores. In fact, I enjoy it. It keeps me involved and gives me a level of information on what's going on with my ponies. It's also therapeutic. Angry, pissed off, upset or just plain aggressive? Grab a your weapon of choice and keep at it until you can't go anymore.

We're getting better about the house, but there's a lot that needs to be done to make it comfortably organized.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Go ahead and jump

The weather had been on and off with Sinari all last week and we were forced, for the most part indoors.

Normally, I don't mind the indoor. It's one of the nicer ones in the area, however, they just re-laid the footing, which is ultra deep for a dressage person.

I don't mind deep footing, but she does. She can't really find purchase on it unless it's wet or just harrowed, she feels like she's swimming instead of striding. Lately, I have to keep an eye on her stifles when working on the surface, the left one seems a little warmer than the right lately and the last thing I want is pulled stifles.

Despite this she's working really well and keeping a fresh attitude towards the task at hand.

We cleaned up the half pass and the shoulder in on the right is coming along. She's confirmed in everything to the left including three more half steps. Her normally strong right side is pushing a little weaker, but when we commit to the line/exercise, she gets the point. We did working turn on the haunches with the neat turn quick two steps and straight exercises. We also went out on a fall hack during the prettiest days.  I really want to gallop out and go conditioning, but I figure walking, when the grass is a little slippery is far better.

In between, we're working on the freestyle stuff. And no, I'm not sharing that until my compilation is complete. And no, there's no Pirates of the Caribbean.

Any event...

This week I want to clean up the straightness and ask for more collection. I would like to clean up more half pass at the canter, and if the weather's clear go on outside. I'm debating about working more in the double bridle, to get the feel of it and to see how she reacts to the different aid.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Knock three times

I played hooky from work on Friday so I could catch some late shut eye and attend to what I needed to attend to. In reality, I accomplished very little, and relaxed much.

I also realized that Dressage Pony has passed it's one year mark yesterday with 14 most cool followers and a bunch of other cool things. We're a front page Google search status for dressage ponies. We've received hits from far away as Australia and close as my town. I have email from all over.

I'm chuffed for all the support, it really means a lot. It's connected me to the world far more than I expected. I enjoy hearing from people who post comments here and their experiences. I love reading their blogs and following their herds as well.

What will the future hold? I don't know. But the ponies and I are going full hilt forward and welcome anyone to come and join or follow the team.

Speaking of relaxation. Sincere is learning to chill out and go forward.

We hit a stumbling block from last week. A left over that quickly manifested due to the quick change in weather.

While I thought he lead well, he has grown smarter and quicker. Not to mention larger. The little colt has quickly learned how to manipulate a situation to his favor and this needed to be nipped in the bud. He has two favorite tactics, the stop and plant; and go backwards.  The go backwards is one of my least favorites.

Leading is a fundamental requirement of any domesticated horse. It's one of my pet peeves when a horse cannot or will not be lead from the shoulder without fuss. So, we (meaning Giacomini and himself) addressed this issue in an effective manner: he learned to go forward through lateral work.

Unusual way to do it, but pulling a horse forward causes them to stop and lock, moving laterally however, allows them to mentally and physically unstick themselves.

From there he worked on a micro lunge session with someone who is far more experienced with foals. While Sincere resisted at first- he relaxed through insistence. When the session was over, he nearly loaded into the trailer, but could independently have his legs tapped and when asked, went yielded to the contact. When I took the shank over, I just lead him around to different points in the paddock.

He had minor blowups, which is to be expected for a baby, but with the new dialog in place, I could quickly resolve issues that cropped up. In between, he was stood up and tapped. He's trusting his relaxation much more now, and finding reward in not being so busy. It was pleasant to be on good grounds with him again.

Because of the messages I've received over Endo Tapping, what it is (not to be confused with Endo Spink's  TAP), what it does and how it relates to young horses, I've send word along to Giacomini, asking to tape sessions with young horses, the methodology behind doing this and what the long term effect with following this kind of scale.

I would like to hear further thoughts on this, especially from those who have bought into the NH/Lyons/Roberts stuff but found unable to apply it to their situations.

Tomorrow is the big day, he's weaned and May leaves. We shall see what happens.

Friday, October 23, 2009

And the small shall inherit the earth

I make no bones that I'm in dressage ponies, it's obviously the subject of this blog and what I heavily promote.

So when USEF announced its pilot Youth Pony Program headed by grand pony-queen, Lendon Gray,  I couldn't be more estatic and a tad envious as well.

If you haven't been on the scene in the last ten years, there is a definite cry for competitive pony schoolmasters for youth to learn effectively and safely on. Concurrently running on the heels of USEF's announcement the most recent issue of Dressage Today (November 09), there is an extensive blurb on how we need these mounts.

Venues such as Dressage at Devon, and upcoming ones like the National Dressage Pony Cup, have started taking up the cause. Even the CDIs and GMOs are starting to award high points for the 148cm and under variety.

Yes, we need venues, and competitive mounts. We need riders, trainers who are willing, financiers who are wanting and organizations to track bloodlines, results and reward those who have participated (my vote goes toward a Pony of the Year award with USDF). It's a huge, Atlas-like undertaking.

But there are a few problems.

First, comparatively, it's not financially lucrative to breed and raise dressage ponies versus the hunter variety. The  pony who can crack it's back over fences on the AA while packing the wee child around and the pony who can do tempi changes, piaffe and still pack the wee child around will command about 30k less than it's hunter counterpart. If it's an eventing pony, well... good luck.  If you think I'm not serious even in this economy, go look.
Adding to the conundrum, the same pony will most likely not be bought by parents for a child, but rather, by an Adult Amateur who is downsizing, wants manageable, has zero international ambition (because FEI rules state they cannot compete in open CDI classes) and has the cash to pay for the pony too.

So stating the obvious, hunters have perfectly created and dominated the pony market. It's made pony ownership not only attractive through specific kid-pony classes, but incredibly lucrative. It's allowed efficent, euro-styled development of a variety of pony jockeys, auction places and bloodline tracking. The sheer scope and industry impact is amazing. 

Also another thought is the venue aspect, every year there is the Pony Finals in Kentucky. This USEF-backed and directly hosted event annually happens with great amounts of patronage and time spent by all getting to it.

Even as a dressage person, I love this event. Aside from getting stuff that actually fits and is well made for the pony, it's well run and executed. It attracts the numbers year after year too. There are some top notch ponies and pony jocks. Dressage ponies don't have a governing body backed event, at least to the scope of Pony Finals, those that are in existence are privately funded and sponsored.

Secondly, by the time a person has invested not only the cash, but the time creating an FEI-capable pony, usually wants to keep it for herself. This is even after the pony has been on the market for months at a time.

Personally, I know this, not because Sinari is for sale, but because I'm going in to that situation.

Have I been made offers on Sinari? Yep. By a variety of people.

Have I considered them? Yep, I'd be very ignorant not to. But in the end, this is my pony, and of all the horses I've ridden so far, she's the one I look forward to everyday. There's not really ever going to be a price on her. Plus we're only now getting to the fun stuff.

So to say the very least, I want this program to succeed. Future plan-wise, it would mean a ton more support and business for those out there who deal in this kind of market. It would develop the dressage bloodline so it's comparative to the hunter world. It could create the venues, the riders, allow patronage and develop the community far beyond what any individual can do by themselves.

However, this is a step in the right direction and I applaud it. But, there needs to be some fundemental changes in addition to hosting clinics.

Personally, I would like to see a development of pony-only awards, young pony venues (BuCha would be awesome), development and support of pony-only riders and jocks (not just the youth variety).  I would also like to see a cross-cooperation of breeds. All too often, I see the natterings and politics working against the overall goal so that one book can one-up the other or self-stabotage itself. If these can be fudementally met and supported beyond the initial honeymoon stage, then we, as a nation, will be all that much more compeitive in the long run.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Tappa tappa tappa

Sincere's time with May is drawing to a close.

Actually, it has for the most part. I can separate the two for a length of time without the other going off and in the field, they graze on opposite corners, unless he needs a snack.

Working with him has progressed from in the field to outside on his own. Working him alone presents a few challenges.

 Since he draws a lot of his strength on his herd, the challenge there is to get him used to the idea that working alone is not a scary or upsetting thing. It's also kind of an advantage to have a buddy along when the going gets tough. But nine times out of ten, I don't have that.

I also discovered he emotionally eats worse than a teenage girl. Every time he's stressed out, he goes for a drink, or in my case, he goes for the box of sugar cubes. He loves working for food and will do anything for a bite. God love the food motivated horse.

He's also incredibly fidgety. Ants in the pants variety of fidgety. Mentally he needs to slow down and just chill out and I've got a plan for that.

But recapping the weekend:

 Saturday's experience was less than positive. The whole thing was rife with going backwards mentally and physically (he would literally back up ten feet) and probably set me back a few sessions with the wee guy. I feel incredibly bad about the entire matter still, even though Sunday, he regained his training wheel status and a little more faith in me we just went for the basic walk in a figure eight.

 Honestly, it was a classic case of doing too much. I introduced the trailer, we went for a walk, we groomed, we worked through puddles, we did, what was later told to me eight sessions in one day. Go stupid me.

What caused him to get back on the path? I would like to think sheer training ability, but in reality, it was his ability to forgive and my addressing the root cause of relaxation through Endo Tapping.

Endo Tapping is a systematic conditioned response through rhythmical tapping on the horse through stimuli (e.g. whip, hand, strapping rag) to produce endorphins to relax the horse. Think of it as an application of percussive massage. It was discovered in part by Giacomini and a few of his associates and since then has found it's way into a number of hands.

 I started doing this because I want relaxed horses and I saw what it has done for those who have been regularly tapped. I think it's partially the reason why Sinari has come back the way she has (she's tapped on every day prior to work), and I have begun to see a difference in the way May carries herself.

 In this case I use a whip with a small ball at the end and produced some nice initial results after the first session. Sincere, while more clearly relaxed, less agitated, he still wouldn't allow himself to fully mellow out. The first two minutes of starting to mellow out, he would pick himself up again and be on alert. It was like watching an insomniac wake themselves up out of REM cycles. But physically he was better, more chilled than the dancing thing on the end of the rope on Saturday.

I'll continue to tap on him.

Today he had his first shots with glowing reviews from the vet. Hopefully not too sore tomorrow.

So training plans for October:

Endo Tap him until he gets a consistent reaction.
Leading, and no resistance while leading.
Learning to go forward.
Bonus: get in the trailer.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Higher and higher

We finally got a break from the rain. It's been deluging non stop with bitter cold wind and unfun fall weather. It kinda made me thankful to clip Sinari when I did, otherwise, I would have a pony-sicle instead of a pony.

We've gone through our first full week of work, and right now, I'm extremely happy with the progress made to get back to form. Normally it would take about two weeks for every week off to get her back into the mental and physical condition that she's showing now. And while, I don't have her physically yet, mentally she's matured.

She also seems less stressed. Possibly because I'm less stressed.

This week's work has been comprised of round and low, lots of stretching and  reintroducing lateral work with a low-key setting. Sessions typically started at fifteen minutes and capped off the week working around 45 minutes with walk breaks in between.

She remembers everything and now, she's doing it far better.

The week went well enough where I asked for single changes again, this time, they were rounder, up hill and more through.

The activities accumulated to this week's lesson, and while it was emphatic on transitions and cleaning up some other things, we got some nice side effects like the super collected canter, three steps of half-steps in piaffe and a few other nifty tricks.

We also thought about the 2010 season that is now in progress. While I would like to actively show her, I think the time would be better suited to gaining reliable self-transportation and investing in the training. Next time I bring her out, I want it to be PSG, not third or fourth.

But right now, she's just freaking fabulous

Monday, October 12, 2009

What's in your bucket?

Every horse person has a grooming kit. It's a really a cross-discipline staple you'd find in any barn. That lovely box or bucket of brushes, rags, ointments, oils, lotions, curries and picks to keep everything straight with your horse and would allow personal sessions.

I remember as a kid I would hoard brushes and stow them away in my then pristine tack trunk for my future horse. They were even cleaned weekly despite never seeing an equine to begin with.

My mother though I was odd, I thought I was well prepared for the occasion.

Grooming is still one of my favorite daily activities, and nothing tells you more about a horse than his personal box of brushes.

Back in the day, kits were assembled per horse, where owners knew what kind of brush the horse would enjoy or in some cases tolerate. My big case in point, is when I evented an Appendix Quarter Horse, the only thing I could use was a soft brush and maybe a curry on his legs. The rest of the time it spent rubbing him down. Thankfully he never really rolled and mud wasn't his favorite thing.

But these days, they come pre-assembled.

For me, it defeats the purpose of selecting the tools you feel most comfortable with. It's also a demarcation of the downshift in general horse grooming knowledge. I still curry and strap my horses with Mineral Oil after a hard work and I still hand pick manes and tails.I kinda wonder what kids are missing out when they can't or won't choose their own brushes to go in their own horses' kits.

But I digress.

I currently have two buckets of brushes.

Sincere's bucket is simple. The blue bucket consists of a dual sided jelly curry, a dandy brush, a flick brush, Cowboy Magic, a few rub rags, his box of treats and a hoof pick.  Plus whatever I happen to be showing him that day. He really doesn't have an opinion about his brushes yet, mostly, they're just fun play things that I have to occasionally yank out of his mouth.

Sinari's bucket, however is a little more complicated. Her black bucket starts off with her pimple curry mitt. I got this mitt for easy use and shedding season. Sinari hates regular curries and prefers her soft mitt and will stand for a few hours to be curried on. This is quickly followed by her her dandy, her flick and her soft brush, rub rags, and hot pink hoof pick (only hoof pick I have had that hasn't wandered off).

Ointments include, hoof oil, MTG (for that current skin funk), FAZO and Mineral Oil for her daily strapping. She also has Cowboy Magic to sort through the long mane and tail of hers. She also has her own set of scrunchie, hair tie things.

If you notice, I don't have a hair brush. I usually spend a few hours sorting tails every few months.

But for all the brushes and ointments, the reason why he and she looks so good begins on the inside. I really contribute this to McCauleys Brothers, Glanzen 3, regular worming and nutritional work. Year after year my horses look great because of it.

So for the readers: what's in your bucket?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Double Entendre

I'm going to try something new. I'm going to try to do two separate posts per week. 

Sincere is not really a side note anymore, and letting him be a side note isn't really correct. He's doing just as much as Sinari in regards to training. It's hard enough trying to fit everything into one post so it's coherent, it's time for the split.

Plus he's really filling into his role as a dressage candidate.
After I settled Sinari in to her local digs, I was able to concentrate on Sincere and May, who were in desperate need of grooming and attention.

When I travel on the road to see my horses, certain bits of attention fall by the wayside to accomplish the overall goal of getting things done. May and Sincere, more often than not, find themselves with stretches of just hanging out. Finally I can spend a solid two or three hours grooming and training.

After I finished with May, including picking out burrs, trimming bridle paths and cutting witch's knots out, I started on Sincere who is going through an ADD phase.

Grooming is no issue for the young man, who is going to be fairly metro when it comes to his looks. Minus his socks, which were mud encrusted. I greased him down with liquid show sheen to keep the burrs out and began his leading lesson.

Sincere, for his age, leads and trots in hand pretty well. He ground ties and, for being young, isn't pushy. However stopping and turning not so much. Then there's the issue of the scary barn, or the scary trailer or the pile of wood.Teaching him to be brave is another thing that, while he's good at, could always be improved. I've learned over the months, never take for granted what the child gives you. What may apply one day, may not apply the next.

The problem isn't him, it's me. I want to do and show him so much. He's usually very game for it, and I want to push all the time. Have to keep the sessions short and sweet, sometimes they are and sometimes they are not.

Today we went through most of it, got him to touch the trailer, go around the wood and walk up to the barn. Stopping wasn't an issue today where he did the plant and stare fairly well, but he was easily started up again with a couple of taps from behind.

Tomorrow I'll Endo tap him. Down the road I want to introduce him to the small clippers, get him loaded in the stock trailer and get him towards working on the trailer.

Home Again

Life has officially returned to normal. After an extra two weeks, some rain, transportation bingo and a few other things, Sinari is home.

I was greeted by a dirty, disorganized barn and a loose horse.

The dirt was my fault the loose horse picked his way out of the stall.

I board in a tobacco barn with a dirt floor.

I actually like this place. Aside from the dirt, it's huge and airy. It feels like home. Normally the good fight against dirt, dust and various other things isn't an issue. You keep up with the work and it stays a bay.

But since I wasn't there, it overran itself. Not only that, what I thought I had organized, was messy.

I came home to my clean stall, dusty buckets, dusty trunk, dusty feed bags and dirt-encrusted fan and SmartPak bin. I had dirty pads collecting dirt and mold (how did that happen?), white rags that are brown and my wash kit upside down in the lower barn.

Then came Sinari. Who not only made a Thelwell pony look more turned out, but probably garnered a few WTF looks from fellow boarders whose sleek reining Quarters were just coming back from their futurity runs and mine was coming back from the all-you-can eat buffet.

To make matters worse even the vet said something.

Cue embarrassment.

To tell the truth, she went from a smooth lower 900, to chunk-tastic 1000. The pony is now sporting Jenny Craig as her sponsor and is putting on one hell of a guilt trip.

So I went on a mission. First, I spent the first two days seriously cleaning the barn.

I bought the gallon of bleach and anti bacterial dish soap to prove it.

I took down the summer gear, cleaned and stowed it for the winter. I gathered up the pads, raked, swept and wiped down. I still have to tackle my tack. Earlier I sent out all my blankets (ten plus of them) to the launder and they came back in neat plastic bags for this season and summer.

There's something soulful about an organized barn.

Then I broke out the clippers, the tranquilizers and my mandarin collar jacket and got down to business.

Thirty minutes later, with dirt and hair covering me, I have a fully clipped naked horse with skin funk. Tomorrow she'll get a full bath after going back to work. Promise to post naked pony photos.

I still need to hit up the Home Depot for a number of supplies.

Also- if anyone is in the Lexington area and needs clipping done, I'm game. As my motto goes:
they grow, I mow.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Song sung blue

Nearly three years ago, a bay Arabian mare stumbled off of Chronicle of the Horse Forums and in my life.  A product of too much time on my hands and having sucker written all over me.

She was skinny and malnourished, despite not having a foal at her side for several months. She was skittish, nearly running everyone including me over in her new place. She was injured, with pickling salt in her wounds, and scars across her croup from god knows what. She was proud, opinionated, stubborn and smart.

She went by the name Wench when she stepped off on the clear, humid August morning during Pony Finals, but she became known as May to those who loved her.

I didn't know what I wanted to do with her. Originally, I wanted a young, somewhat broke mare that I could turn around, instead I had received May, career broodmare.

Her old owner thought she wasn't worth the time or effort to feed after she weaned, or, judging from the depth of the wire wounds, not worth even some antiseptic. When I talked to her, she made no qualms about why she didn't like the mare, and quickly made excuses as why there were why scars over her croup.

Truthfully, I was a bit crestfallen when she hopped off that trailer.  

But the mood quickly subsided when she nosed my pockets for sweets.

On that August morning, my first order was to get her to a farrier, clean out the wounds and put antiseptic in them, get her up to date on vaccinations and put some feed in her. Since she didn't fit even my smallest halter (and had shipped in nylon), I went to KBC and purchased a basic leather that would fit her fine-boned features.

I turned her out with a mixed herd on grass, and she gained weight immediately. She was smart to handle and picked up on ground manners quickly enough.

At first, it was a tumultuous relationship between the two of us. If she didn't like what was going on, she would leave the scene. If she didn't like me, she would find a way not to be caught or touched. She lived in her halter 24-7 and was extremely trailer, needle, wormer phobic.

Eventually she moved to Deer Haven, where she became chief babysitter and blossomed into something awesome. The more I handled her, the more I showed her new things, the more she opened up. Eventually she shared all her fun scratchy spots (loves having her tail scratched and will back up to you), learned some tricks and, what was the highlight of time with her, loaded on the trailer. Needles and wormers are another matter.

The same year May arrived, I saw Savant, Sincere's sire, go at Young Horse Nationals. I thought he was a gelding with his fabulous temperament, until I saw his advert in a stallion service auction benefiting Holly Bergay. Eventually, I bid on, and won that breeding for May.

A year later, she was in foal and when the Preakness Stakes were a few hours into the books, a bouncing baby boy was in the world.

I made the decision to breed for a lot of reasons, which were discussed around here and other places, but I doubt I couldn't have had a nicer foal if it weren't for her.

But, after all was said and done, something was nagging me. After a lot of soul searching, I came to understand that May needed someone who can bring her further along and do her a greater service.

You see, my barn right now isn't a breeding and training operation, it's just a training operation. All my horses are in training in one form or another, with the idea that one day, they will go to upper level dressage. May is a great horse and deserves a great home that will take her to the next step, whether it be having another baby, starting and going under saddle or just being nifty out in a paddock with a bunch of babies.

I searched a long time. In my head, I could still do it all, but eventually, a literal forever home came that would offer her a chance to do something worthwhile. Most importantly, it's a home that offers security. After her ordeal, it's vital that she always remain safe, loved and taken care for. The minute that those obligations are not being met, she stays with me.

I wish I could say, she'll live out the rest of her life in my backyard, playing babysitter or surrogate to the various horses, but I can't. She'll be up north, living a good life under fantastic care.

So, a few weeks after Sincere bids his goodbye to his mom, she'll be loaded on a trailer and shipped out with two others from her herd.

I miss her already.