Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Lesson Report #10

Today's lesson was a little disappointing in that Boomer wasn't nearly as super as he had been Monday and Tuesday. I think that he really does best with lots of days off. That is really hard for me because I want to practice a lot, but he doesn't do well riding more than two days in a row and performs best after two days off. I'm thinking about changing our schedule to MWTF so that he has the day off before our lesson and one day of trail riding after the lesson.

That being said, we did have some interesting things to work on. Boomer was a little heavy in my hand and was looking around (we were in the outdoor arena) and bracing against the bit. We did our best to work with that, but he just wasn't coming as light as I know he can. So, that was frustrating to keep having to get him rounder by flexing and doing circles instead of working on more exciting stuff. Grumble grumble grumble. I think that Karin knew that it was just an 'off day' and gave us some new things to work on during the lesson despite Boomer's rudeness. We worked a little on shoulder fore and shoulder in. I got a really good explanation of the difference between those and leg yield, which is clear on paper but less so in action. Boomer travels pretty straight, at the walk but he does have a tendency to travel haunches in at the trot and canter. This is apparently common as it allows the horse to keep from 'loading' his inside hind leg. So, rather than trying to push his haunches straight, Karin had me ride him in shoulder fore. Shoulder fore is basically just a very slight shoulder in. I should be able to see his inside eye lashes and focus on moving his shoulder to the inside just slightly. I was to visualize moving his shoulders over so that his inside hind leg was 'threading the needle' between his front legs. This all sounds simple in theory, but Boomer is very athletic and flexible and tried very hard to get out of doing this. He tried different variations of moving his whole body to the inside, moving his shoulders in and hips outside, moving his shoulders and hips inside, and doing his best impression of a half pass. We also got a flying change at the canter when I asked him to move his shoulders in. Not really sure why that happened, but Karin said that I had too much bend and he wasn't sure what to do, so he swapped. We pretty well had this down at the walk, but the trot and canter were so hard! I will keep trying and I'm sure Boomer will improve, but DANG! I was worn out!

I didn't really feel like this lesson was one full of improvement and wonderful feelings and butterflies. It was hard. We worked hard and didn't make a huge amount of progress. But, we learned some new theory and we will be able to implement it into our future rides and we will get better. If it was all easy and every lesson was full of huge gains, we would all be riding Grand Prix.

Because I have to brag, Karin continues to compliment Boomer on how athletic and flexible he is and said today that he 'really is a nice horse', which is nice to hear about an Arabian in a warmblood filled dressage barn. She also said that it is clear that he is capable of at least 3rd level lateral movements. Made my heart swell with pride! I really have no interest in showing him, but I do have the drive to push him to his potential and let him be the best he can be! I want him to be able to be used to his full capabilities.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Busy with Preparation!

John and I have been doing everything we can to get the trailer ready for the upcoming trip and also plan for our own creature comforts.
First, John replaced the plug in the back of the trailer. It had been damaged by a washing machine shortly after we moved in to our new house and moisture was affecting the wiring. Sometimes my trailer break control would tell me that the trailer was connected even when it wasn't. Notice how the colors on the wires do not match up to the colors etched on the plug. Wire colors are not standard, so you stick with the way the manufacturer sets things up. And take pictures, if you are a smart engineer. Everything works, so I'm not one to argue.

Then we (really, John) adjusted the breaks. I didn't take any pictures of that. Not much to take a picture of. Just John under the trailer for 5 minutes, then we drove around the neighborhood slamming on the breaks, then John went under the trailer again, and we drove around slamming on the breaks. If you are trailer shopping and have the option, go for the self-adjusting breaks!

Another project we have been working on is putting a shelving unit into the trailer! I am super excited about this! Our tack room is small and also doubles as... well... everything. So, it must be functional and organized. A few things I have been wanting are a box to store those items that are rarely used, must haves, that are totally in the way: tools, jiffy jack, ball grease, etc. I also wanted a step to get up into the nose of the trailer easier. The box should double as the step. I also wanted shelves to help utilize the back wall space. It had to be tall enough to allow clearance for my saddle rack/water tank. All of this also had to be free standing because I didn't want to drill into the walls.

After months of searching online and finding nothing quite right, I made up a sketch. After liking the sketch and realizing that no one else would be able to understand my scribbles, I made a 3-d model:

This is where my life gets (even more) awesome. My husband is an engineer AND has a lot of handyman experience. He is a total DIY guy and has a lot of experience building and repairing things. Add that practical knowledge to a trained engineer with a can-do attitude and you get someone who can make things happen in a big way! It was so totally awesome for me to be able to direct this project and tell him exactly what my vision was and have him just make it work! We ended up modifying my original design a little. The big changes were that the box opens down instead of having the lid on top and the dimensions changed very slightly to make the shelves taller.

We started with this pile of wood and a disproving dog to supervise:

John starts the box:

Sanding the box and adding the sides:

Box done, with the door open. Charley demonstrates that it is built to specifications and will be able to hold him up:

Here it is after I painted it. The shelves will come off of the support posts to the left:

Here it is in place with the shelves built:

Here it is painted, with bridle racks installed:

The water tank to the left also holds my saddle. The buckets in the foreground include a water tub, poop tub, food pans, and various other buckets and lids. I guess you could say it is buckets stacked in buckets with buckets on top.

Another awesome new thing for camping is this truck bed tent from John's awesome dad!:

We will be able to set it up with these cots inside of it so that we can sleep a bit more comfortably:

Who is excited to go camping???

Monday, March 29, 2010

Functional riding!

Today was an awesome ride! We started out walking for about 5 minutes on a long rein, then picked up and started doing some circles. I asked for a few leg yields in the circle, then asked for leg yields from the center line. Did some trotting and -BOY- was he moving out! It was incredible! We got that same big trot from the lesson on Thursday. He was light and round and springy! We went back to the walk and did some shoulder-in and leg yield against and away from the wall. Then we did some leg yielding at the trot, which was a little difficult, but he tried and never braced against the bit. We moved on to canter transitions and he did awesome! The trot/canters are solid. He keeps contact and stays round into and through the transition. I tried a few walk/canters because he was doing so awesome and the first two were messy, but he got it down after that! The canter/walk isn't there yet, he takes 4-6 trot strides. Something to work on for sure. I did a few fun simple changes through the diagonal, we cantered around the short side and through the diagonal then did a canter/walk/canter transition. We did like 4-5 of those in a row and he didn't get worked up or excited at all! SO SUPER EXCITED!!!! We did some more trot work after that and worked on turns and serpentines.

The work Karin and I have been doing is really helping to get Boomer 'electric' to my leg aids. She has me bump him with my leg (hard if needed), but hold him in the gait without allowing him to raise his head, THEN come again with my leg in the cue for whatever upward transition. I felt that has really sunk in today as he was responding off of a lighter leg. I started working on asking him to give to the bit/reaffirming he was there, then liven off my leg with either a gentle squeeze or a kick if he didn't react, then come again with my leg and ask for canter and BAM! he gave it up on the first stride every time. I talked to Karin about this and she laughed and said that is basically the half halt and that I got to it before she could introduce it in the next lesson! This is great news to me, because the half halt has always mystified me. Now that I have used it for a real reason, I understand it! Hooray function!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Trail ride and Boot failure

I had the chance today to go for a trail ride with two ladies from the barn! I was really excited to get out and ride! Boomer was pretty good for the most part. He was a little balky, but respected the spurs. He did try to go sideways and backwards a little, but never as bad as before. One of the riders had a tendency to gallop off randomly, so we got to practice being 'left behind'. Boomer actually did better with that than I expected, though he didn't appreciate being rushed upon from behind (neither did I). We mostly rode on the back roads and a little on some private property that we have permission to ride on. I don't think we went more than 5 miles but we took a lot of breaks to stop and chat. I think we were probably out for almost 3 hours! John and I have done the same basic loop in under an hour, but it was really good for us mentally to go through that whole process of riding with others, stopping to be patient, etc.

We were wearing the Renegades all around and they stayed on through mud and a small creek crossing. The only issue we had was at one point when he was throwing a tantrum and tried to back into a ditch, he stepped on his right hind with his left hind and stepped out of his boot. It stayed attached around the pastern, which I expected to really freak him out. He sort of kicked out and acted lame on that leg so I hopped off and he stood still for me to fix it. I was actually really pleased with the situation overall. After that, we had no problems. I need to adjust the velcro and o-rings a little to get maximum hold on the back boots. The velcro wasn't the reason for the boot failure, but I feel like I could adjust it a little to get better hold.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Lesson Report #9

Today's lesson was a huge improvement! Until now, Karin has really been trying to get Boomer to give and flex at the poll while staying forward. Now that he seems to be getting that at all gaits, we can start working on getting him to work off of my legs and lateral aids too!

One of the first things we worked on today was keeping him straight while walking or trotting along the long side of the arena. He tends to push through my inside leg and I feel like I am having to hold him up or else he will drift inside. Karin had me tip his nose inside and then boot him with my inside leg, then go back to neutral. After a few tries at that, he was much more responsive and was staying straighter. He has started getting lighter off of my legs in general, which I found a little surprising as I have been booting him for 'stepping out of line'. Karin has me boot him for pulling the reins out of my hands, leaning on my legs, and before I ask for an upward transition just to make sure that he is light & electric off of my legs. Surprisingly, this has made him more sensitive.

Next thing we worked on was leg yielding on a circle. She had me yield him around my inside leg, pointing his nose to the inside of the circle. She wanted his back legs really crossing over. He would resist this in one of two ways: tossing his head and coming above the bit or pushing his hip through my inside leg (pushing back against my ask). Karin had me walk him forward and on the bit whenever he would resist, then ask again. He did very well and Karin commented that she could see haunches in AND half pass in there! That is so cool to think that he is capable of such complex moves, but with how flexible and athletic he is- I believe it!

After this we worked on the canter. He is doing amazingly well with the canter and I really have no complaints! He is really trying hard and we even did a few canter-trot-canter transitions in a row and he didn't get anxious or excited at all! He even had a number of really nice down transitions where he stayed on the bit and really sat down on his haunches! All of this praise is not to say that there were no issues. He did start to resist when he got tired and he did that by pushing through my inside leg. I found it difficult to push him out on a larger circle and he kept falling in. I tried giving him a few kicks with my inside leg and he responded by trying to break to the trot, then when I kicked him again to stay in the canter he gave a little buck. Karin got a lunge whip and used that to help me push him out and keep him going and that really helped. She didn't have to do anything with the lunge whip except hold it like she was lunging him and he shaped right up.

Something interesting we worked on was a little more 'head control'. I can't believe we have made such a 180* turn after only 2 months. Boomer started out so high headed, resistant, and inverted that we did everything we could to encourage him to soften and round his topline. Now, he goes naturally to this rounded frame and offers to stretch down frequently. At first, we allowed him to stretch whenever he wanted but now we are starting to control that a little more. I am supposed to bump the outside rein when he tries to stretch without 'permission'. Now that I have so much more control of his head and can essentially 'put' his head anywhere I want by lengthening or shortening my reins, we have introduced the 'show frame', which is a more working level. Karin wants me to be able to have him longer to warm up, deeper if I need control, and have this 'show frame' for working gaits.

As I was cooling him out we talked a little bit about where this was all going. Karin was really excited today because she felt like we can start 'having fun' with him. Now that he is forward and giving in the poll and jaw we can start asking more of him and doing lateral work. This ties in directly to some of the issues we had today. Because he has now willingly 'given' his topline, the next way he has of expressing himself when something gets tough is to swing out his hips and push against my leg. So, with introducing more lateral work, we will get him off of my legs and I will be able to control him better through my legs.

I am so amazed with this whole process. I am starting to slowly see how great Karin is for us. She is really a great teacher. She seems to be introducing this all in such a connected way. First, she fixed the inverted, hollow topline by getting him to give at the poll, now she introduces lateral work to gain control of the hips. But it is all so connected. Before, Boomer resisted by throwing his head and bracing against the bit. Now that he has more acceptance of the bit, he resists by pushing through my legs. It amazes me that Karin 'saw this coming' from far enough away that she knows just when to introduce concepts. This is all so exciting to me and it really feels awesome to ride Boomer like this. I can't describe how, exactly, it is different but I feel like today he started giving me a place to sit. I was able to sit up straighter and lift my hands and really push with my legs. I didn't have to struggle to post and I felt like we were really 'moving'. I'm sure that doesn't make sense, but there was just something incredible about or ride today. He felt so energetic and through, like he was really using his back. It was a pleasure to ride. I am almost disappointed that we will have to miss a few lessons when Boomer is having a week or two off after our endurance ride!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Renegade Boots and Fitness

I used a full set of four hoof boots on Boomer yesterday. I was a little leery about putting them on his back feet, wasn't sure how he would react. I decided that the best situation would be to put him in one of the outdoor round pens. The round pens at the barn have solid wood going up about 2 feet at a slant and round wooden logs forming the walls. It is quite sturdy and safe. It has a sand/clay base that is about 8 inches deep. At the moment, it also has a few puddles. I figured it was a perfect scenario for testing out the boots. Luckily, the sand/clay footing doesn't get slick when wet. Boomer didn't slip or slide a single time. I was happy I was able to have him 'loose' in case he flipped out about the back boots, but he was still confined and not a danger to himself or other horses. Turns out, he was fine. Not even a flinch. I put the boots on and sent him around. The wet sand was up past the toe strap on the boot and the puddles went up past his fetlock. This was a true test for the boots, especially since I hadn't been able to get the back boots adjusted quite yet. Amazingly, after an hour of trotting and cantering the boots were still on and hadn't twisted or rubbed at all! The back boots needed to have the cable tightened, which I did at home later. Even with the velcro strap shortened, they stayed put through all of the muck! They seem like they will work out very well!

I was also very pleased with Boomer's fitness. I think the round pen is 70' so he had plenty of room to move. I had him canter a few laps here and there, but mostly I just had him trotting. I really wanted to make sure he got a cardio workout today and I was impressed by his 'go' and fitness. He was barely winded after an hour of trotting in deep, wet sand. I am constantly trying to evaluate his fitness level as the April ride comes closer. We have a little over 2 weeks before the ride and I plan on giving him 3 days off before the ride. In these next two weeks I plan on doing my regular lesson and a long ride each week. Outside of those two events, I want to try to get in one short and one long arena ride and maybe one day of lunging.

Canter improvement

I longed with the elastic rein on today before my ride and was pleasantly surprised by Boomer's left lead canter depart! He kept his neck down and nose in and sort of shuffle, shuffle, cantered in to it without ever raising his head up and bracing! I told him good and kissed to keep him in the canter and he continued around with his head low! This was the first time EVER I have seen that! His right lead was the same as before, but I was thrilled with the left lead and praised him like crazy! I got on and started working and he was very sensible. He didn't pay any attention to the door being open or to the person taking apart jumps.

He has been on Smart B1 for about a month and I am inclined to think that it has made him more focused and less jumpy/looky about everything around him. I'm not sure if his new found sensible nature has more to do with the supplement or the increased training and control/submission that comes with being on the bit. I think it is some of both. Either way, I am thrilled! He fixates less on things and seems less jumpy about noises. He still wants to look out the big door, but focuses and gets over it after one or two circles instead of fighting about it for the whole ride. Big improvements.

Aside from not being a fruit loop, our ride was very good! He is very reliably on the bit at the walk and trot on circles or going large around the arena. His canter to the left was great from the depart and he really tried reaching down while in the canter. To the right, the transition was not as good, but he did try a few times to reach down. I was so happy with his canter work today! Even after the canter, he was more relaxed and came on the bit readily. After that I worked with him more on lateral work. I am keeping the lateral work at the walk until we cover it in a lesson. We did some great leg yields from the center line, and also did some really great work on an exercise that I really liked- tracking right, leg yield along the long side facing the rail, at the next long side leg yield facing away from the rail. Revers and repeat. This exercise really builds up their back and yielding along the rail while facing the center of the arena really makes him listen and stay light in my hand so that he doesn't go forward towards the centerline. We also tried a few western spins again. Those are really fun! Boomer was surprisingly fast! I only had him do 1 rotation in each direction. Between each of these exercises we would walk on a loose rein. I was very happy with how easily he went from stretching to picking up and collecting again. Our last exercise was to try the shoulder in. I had tried this before a few months ago, but had no success and ended up with both of us frustrated. This time was very different! I was able to keep him connected and on the bit and move his shoulder over until he was on three tracks! I was able to watch in the mirrors on the short side of the arena and was able to check that we were on three tracks. That was really cool to realize that he is so responsive off my legs!

Our lesson is moved to Thursday this week as Karin is at a clinic this week with her 8 year old Andalusian stallion. He is totally cool. He showed 4th level last year and she is hoping to get him going PSG this year.

I also got a set of 4 renegades in the mail and have been working on fitting and adjusting them. I hope to ride in them this weekend when we go down the road for another conditioning ride.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Vet Visit

Monday was vet day. I had the Vet give Boomer a rabies shot, pull blood for coggins, start the health certificate for the April Endurance ride, and look at the funny skin spot on his neck. Turns out that the spot I have been treating like ringworm for the better part of a year is actually a sarcoid. I opted to treat it as a sarcoid and not do a biopsy which is the only way to be 100% sure. Doing a biopsy can 'anger' a sarcoid and cause it to flare and spread. So, If the topical treatment doesn't work, then we will think about doing a biopsy to find out exactly what is going on. The topical treatment is called XXTERRA and is applied daily for 5-7 days, then left alone. The ointment irritates the sarcoid, it looks much worse before it gets better, then it dries up and falls off. About 20% will return, but retreating a second time is 98% successful. If for any reason the topical fails or the sarcoid spreads, we can surgically excise it. However, as it is right over his jugular, we would like to avoid that.

I rode for a very short ride before the vet came and Boomer did very well. There was snow sliding off the roof and the big door was open, but he did very well. He had one initial spook at someone walking past the big doors where he did a perfect 180 on one back leg. It was so well balanced that I never even felt myself move in the saddle. I was actually more impressed with his ability to sit down and spin than anything else! We mostly just walked since it was only a 20 minute ride. He is doing very well and is really getting the hang of being on the bit and light in my hand. He comes into my hand on his own and is very willing. He seems to have gotten the idea that I will allow him to stretch and he doesn't need to root the reins out of my hands. We worked on some lateral work doing leg yields from the center line and along the rail. I also tried a few western spins and he was surprisingly good! I had introduced the idea last summer but wasn't able to make much progress. Now that he is reliably on the bit, no longer resistant to contact, and coming up over his back, he seems to be able to perform more complicated maneuvers more easily!

I am totally sold on dressage being a great foundation for all sports as well as a great cross training tool!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Preparation-Eagle Ranch Spring Fling

The planned first endurance ride of the season is the Eagle Ranch Spring Fling held April 10-11th. I plan on doing the second day 50 mile ride. I chose the second day because, generally, it has fewer entries and I think we can use fewer distractions at this point!

The vet is scheduled to come out on Monday to pull coggins, give rabies shot, and write up health papers.

I have ordered a full set of Renegades (pair for rear and 2 spares) and plan on doing all of our road rides in them until the race. Until they arrive, I have been tinkering with the pair that I currently have (will be used as fronts) and they seem to be working as far as fit goes.

I have decided to try this ride with boots rather than shoes for a number of reasons.
  • First, Boomer doesn't need shoes for most of what we do. Even walking and trotting down the gravel road doesn't bother him unless the gravel is spread out so thinly that it is one rock per inch of road or more- where most of his hoof is on flat road with just one piece of gravel under it. He is fine going over even fist sized rocks. This is not to say that he can handle 50 miles of trail with unknown conditions, but that he can condition at home without protection.
  • Second, I *hope* to be able to do a ride per month from April-October and I don't want to keep him shod for that long since he really doesn't need it! I don't want to compromise the quality and strength of his hoof by putting so many holes in his hoof wall. From what I understand, putting shoes on for a short period is not going to damage the hoof irreparably. However, wearing shoes for an extended period of time can cause 'changes' that take a while to grow out. I don't want to shoe for half the year and then spend the next half of the year doing 'repair' trims. Plus, I enjoy doing his trims myself and really 'knowing' his hooves.
  • Third, scheduling the farrier is kind of a stressor right now with all of the mud we have. I would want shoes on a minimum of two weeks ahead of the ride to be able to grow out any tender spots, etc. However, horses are pulling shoes left and right out in the pasture right now. The mud is so thick it will literally suck off my boots when I walk out there. Luckily, it is a 24 acre pasture and only the front acre is muddy from heavy traffic and the horses aren't standing in it all day. But, they still have to walk through it to get to the gate and water and other people have been loosing shoes. So, I don't want to pay for a full set of shoes and then lose one right before the race and have to have the farrier back out at late notice or even risk showing up at the ride with a loose shoe.
  • Fourth, and the least important factor is cost. There is no way of knowing how much use I will get per boot, but at $300 for a full set it would only take 3 sets of nail on shoes to offset the cost.
I plan on doing things a little differently this ride and learning from my lessons in the last ride we did.
  • Speed- Of course, we are just shooting for a completion but I would prefer to spend a little less time walking this ride. The Thanksgiving Ride was our first ride and I wanted to stay at a walk for as much of the beginning of the ride as possible to teach Boomer not to race early. Well, I'm not sure that was the best tactic. He had a really hard time being passed over and over again and I think that was hard for him mentally. We walked basically the entire first 17 miles and then again for about 6 miles about 35 miles in. So, we pretty much walked for half of the ride. I think that we could manage our time better by alternating walking and trotting and aiming to walk for 25% of the ride. I think this ride I will go out at a trot as long as he is behaving.
  • Food/water- I want to encourage Boomer to eat and drink more on the trail. I plan on putting carrots in my saddle bag and I want to try to give him one every few miles to keep his guts moving. I also want to work more on finding green grass to graze on in the event he isn't drinking well. He doesn't seem to like drinking out of streams and lakes, so the next best thing is to let him graze on grasses at those water sources. If he is still hesitant to drink at this ride, I will start thinking of carrying a collapsable bucket with a handful of grain in it to entice him to drink.
  • Crew- John and I have been working on a plan to be more efficient at the vet checks. I am going to have him bring a halter and lead rope, cooler, carrots, and small bucket with sponge. I think that if we untack for the checks he will trot out more willingly and get better scores. This is a fine line for me because I am from the school of thought that you never unsaddle a hot horse. So, I will just have to focus on walking in to camp, and getting the cooler on right away. I have a great idea for a sponge and bucket. My most recent SmartHoof supplement came in a bucket that holds about 4 pounds of pellets. It is a rectangular bucket with a hinged, non-removable lid, and a handle. I think it will hold about a half gallon. I plan on clipping a sponge to the handle. It should weigh less than 5 pounds when full of water.
I think all of those tactics will help us complete the ride and get better vet scores.

As far as human camping goes, I have made up some plans and a 3-D diagram (yes, really) of an idea for shelving in the trailer. John and I are going to try to build it next weekend. Last time we went camping we had about one square foot of space to move around or change clothes and John had a space heater stacked about 4 feet off the ground balanced on buckets, boxes, and horse blankets. Not safe or efficient. I want to have a box/step under the nose of the trailer to store the Jiffy Jack and other tire changing items that are large, clunky, and rarely used. Using that as an anchor, I want to build two shelves along the adjoining back wall. They will be four feet wide and 18" deep. The first shelf will be 30" from the ground and the second shelf will be 24" above that. Each shelf will have a 4" lip around it and dividers in it to keep things from moving. I want to bolt a blanket bar to the bottom of the shelf and bridle racks on the support posts. There will be room for my 30 gallon water tank/saddle rack under the shelves. I love being organized and I think this will really help keep things tidy. I have not found anything commercially that will suit my needs or fit perfectly. Part of the beauty of my plan is that everything can be bolted to the floor through the frame of the shelves and box- no drilling holes in the metal walls!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Road trotting!

Thursday was possibly the best weather we have had all year! The sun was shining and the highs were in the 60's! John came home from work an hour early and we headed out to the barn for a ride/run! I used a front set of Renegades and they performed perfectly. He did pick up his legs a little more for the trot, so it is a good thing to get him used to the feel and weight now.

We ended up going about 5 miles and trotted most of the way. John said that we were going about 7.5-8 minute mile pace. We slowed down for the downhills and otherwise kept a steady pace. Basically the whole road is hills. Not sure why everyone thinks Kansas is so flat... Boomer did try to drift to the right a time or two (old bad habit), but was very respectful of my corrections and we never had any problems. He gave to the bit easily for the most part, but there were a few instances where he fixated on something in the distance and had a hard time remembering to give to the bit. In his defense, I think that he was just showing that he is not nearly as confirmed in his connection at the trot. I think that at the walk, I could have gotten him in my hand a lot easier. That being said, he really did a great job and didn't balk at anything, including barking dogs!

He did work up a good sweat and was puffing when we were done. It took about 2-4 minutes of walking for him to stop breathing hard. I hosed him off and hand grazed him with his cooler on until he was almost dry, fed him dinner, and turned him back out! He was actually rather affectionate today and it seemed like he really enjoyed our ride. I'm going to give him a few days off to relax and be a horse and then get back to things on Monday. He really seems to do best when he has 1-2 days off. Riding too many days in a row starts to make him sour and he will walk away when I go up to catch him. So, since we had so much fun today, he gets a few days to relax!

He did great with the Renegades and didn't have any heat or rubs. They stayed on and didn't seem to twist or cause any problems. I'm not sure I noticed much difference going over the gravel, but it is good to get used to them before we use them at a ride! I had John run behind us a few times to make sure he was trotting even and sound. I also had John watch and see if he was landing heel first. He said it was hard to tell and that it looked like he was landing flat or slightly heel first. I have always thought he landed flat as well. I am going to do some research on trimming for a better heel first landing.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Lesson Report #8

Once again, Boomer showed us that he was really 'getting it' and right away was light and soft in my hand with a giving poll and jaw. We were allowed off of the 20 meter circle and went around the arena at large for the first time in a lesson and Karin walked behind to judge out straightness. What do you know? We are walking straight lines! I never expected it, but she was pleased with us and had only good things to say, even about our corners, which I worked on making them like little squares. Just a few short weeks ago, Boomer couldn't or wouldn't walk straight along the rail. He would wiggle and bend, pushing away from the rail and looking towards the outside. I am amazed at how different he is now that I have him reliably on the bit! Karin complimented his walk and said that his back hooves over-stride his front hoof print by almost 8 inches! Apparently in a dressage test, this is a very good thing! She wants me to really encourage him to have that big walk all of the time.

We worked on more walk/trot transitions and keeping the contact steady without Boomer rising up and resisting. That is getting much better. The downward transition is still difficult.

We worked on the canter also and that is continually improving. To the left, I was able to get him to give his head down for a quarter of a circle a few different times. To the right, we are still working on keeping in the canter when I introduce my inside rein. Karin and I discussed the options I have when he breaks from the canter. I had been bringing him back to the walk until he was back on contact with a relaxed neck, but Karin thinks I should just leave his head alone and thump him hard to get right back into the canter. We worked on getting the canter transition to be more alert and quick. for right now, I am supposed to be trotting around, and test his alertness to my leg by kicking him and making sure he will jump forward. Once I know he is awake to my leg, I can ask him to canter, but I have to thump him and make sure he does it in the stride I ask for. No hesitation allowed. Once he is in it, I have to make sure to thump him again if he starts to slow or drop tot he trot. For now, all of this thumping is ugly, but Karin really wants to drive the point home that being forward and awake to my leg is the key to the gait (any gait) and that it comes first before asking for his head/roundness. As far as the after-canter trot goes, she had me be a little softer with my hand and let him stretch down instead of asking him to be more round. He tends to get behind my leg, so this helped him be more forward. Seemed to work well.

Overall, a very good ride. I want to continue working on roundness through our transitions and asking him to give to the inside rein at the canter.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Canter improvement

Monday's ride was even better than Friday! We started on a long rein to warm up and then I slowly collected my reins and started asking Boomer to connect and give to the bit. I expected resistance and to have to do our halt-flex-walk exercise, but Boomer surprised me! He gave immediately as soon as I took up even the lightest contact! He was soft and light in my hand from the start! After walking a little and neck flexing inside and out on a small circle we started trotting. The trot is coming along really well. I would say that the walk is 100% round and light. (Obviously, I don't mean olympic level 100%... I mean Heather and Boomer level 100%) The trot is 90% round and 80% light. He isn't quite as flexed in the neck and still occasionally braces or inverts, but is mostly awesome! On to the canter, the rhythm is getting better. I don't have to work as hard to keep him in it unless he sneezes or otherwise loses balance. I did ask him to give to the inside rein a little today and he started to give down a few strides at a time! I was very happy with that. One thing we need to work on is the canter to trot transition. I have given him the bad habit of 'relaxing' after every canter, so he wants to walk. I have a hard time getting him to be forward and round at the trot right after the canter. He braces against my hand and sucks back behind my leg.

I was so happy with how quickly he came into my hand today. I felt like we could get started right away instead of fighting for 30 minutes and then finally getting it for the last 30 minutes! What a good feeling to not be frustrated!

Hopefully for our Wednesday lesson we can work on cantering and getting control of the after-canter trot.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Different Bit, Same Game

Sunday was trail ride #2 for the year! I still had some anxiety about it (and probably will for a while) but having John there really helps me! John did a little trailer maintenance while I tacked up and then we headed out along the road.

I use a more 'western' bit for trail riding as I like having the extra control of the leverage and curb chain. I use an argentine snaffle (aka- jointed curb or shanked snaffle) similar to this one. This is what the trail trainer used and Boomer has good control with it. Because it is a mild leverage bit I need to exert less force for him to feel my cue.

For the first 1/4 mile or so, Boomer and I had a little refresher course on flexing and being round and light in my hand. Once he figured out that the rules were the same outdoors and with a different bit, he just dropped his head down and walked along like a champ! At one point he balked and started to back up, testing like he used to and I kicked him hard with my spurs a few times until he jumped forward at a good trot. After that he was a perfect angel for the whole ride! I was so happy with him! He willingly kept his neck flexed and round. I could really feel him using his back and shoulders when we went up and down hills! We went about 4 miles in about 1 hour 20 minutes.

We did take one detour into the state park at an opening by a bridge. Boomer did really well there as well! We came up to a newly constructed bridge that has a concrete base. With a little encouragement, Boomer stepped up on to the raised base (about 8") and stood in front of the bridge. The first section was covered by orange plastic fence so we couldn't cross and get further into the park. I was really proud of Boomer for getting up on the concrete block and checking out the bridge though!

I really had a big confidence boost on this ride because Boomer was so well behaved and relaxed. I was super impressed by his willingness to bring his neck down into a more dressage-y frame and keep it there with only the slightest lift of the rein!

It also really means a lot to me to have John join us for the rides. He is the person who builds me up the most and having him with me makes me feel safe. I am so happy spring is here and the days are longer so that John and I can spend more time together in the great outdoors! Being out in the fresh air and sunshine is so good for both of us and spending time outside together really makes me happy! I am so lucky!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Steady Contact

After Wednesday's great lesson I was looking forward to seeing if the progress had 'stuck'. Sure enough, we went through the same warm up, walking on the buckle, then halt and flex the neck until he is deep, round, and light in my hand. From there we walked and trotted with great success. The canter is still just there, cantering along. I was very happy with his progress. I think that Karin is started to really get to know Boomer and figure out what tricks to use for him personally. The halt-flexion-walk seemed to really tap into his submission, which he needs to get a better handle on. I am very excited and happy with his progress at this point!

I cleaned my tack also for the first time in a few months. I almost forgot how nice my stuff could look when clean! I cleaned everything except my western saddle. I just couldn't bring myself to undertake such a task!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Lesson Report #7

Today's lesson was a huge improvement. We started out walking on a loose rein while Karin and I talked about how things have been going. I talked to her about how I feel like we fight for the first 30 minutes of the ride and how it is hard to get him to give to the bit at first. We started the lesson at the halt, asking him to give to the bit and to flex to the inside. We asked him to do this and flex and give deeper until he was soft through his whole neck and light in my hand. After he was soft and round I could ask him to walk. If he braced and came up, we halted and tried again- asking him to go deep and really give until he was light and holding himself. After a few tries he started walking off without bracing. From that point, he was awesome. He never tried to come up at the walk and was light in my hand. We didn't have any tug of war about contact and him being on the bit instead of inverted and bracing. I had a light and giving contact and was able to maintain his roundness with very slight cues from my fingers. We got him to walk out and really reach with his back legs, it was a very nice walk. We walked for probably 30 minutes of the lesson because of how good it felt. We worked on getting that feeling and keeping it. When we moved up to the trot, he started to brace at first, but I brought him back to the walk, then halt to get him round and light again. After that, the trot work was much better. He wasn't as round as at the walk, but he was still light in my hand.

Even though we were asking Boomer for a much more intense stretch at the walk he was capable and was very light. He really gave 100% and Karin was very pleased that he seems to really be confirmed at the walk. At the trot, he is mostly there, but still has moments where he wants to come up. Most of those moments could be fixed at the trot, but some needed us to go back to the walk or halt to fix. As for the canter, we are still working on spending as much time as possible in the canter without breaking to the trot. After I feel that he is alert to my leg at the canter, I can start to take a little inside rein and start to ask for a bend as long as he stays up in the canter.

Also, Boomer didn't really root or pull on the reins today. He seemed to be very willing to stretch forward and down when I allowed him a 'stretch break' every 5-10 minutes.

This was by far some of the best work we have done and I was just so pleased! Of course, everyone loves to receive compliments on their horse and I got two today! Karin commented on how Boomer has a really wonderful walk, which she hadn't expected from a horse his size! Another boarder commented to me how great he looked today and how he looked so light. That really made me feel great!

Monday, March 8, 2010


Finally, the temperatures are staying above freezing overnight and reaching towards 60 in the day! It couldn't have happened soon enough, let me tell you!

Yesterday, John and Charley joined Boomer and I for a 3 mile walk up the gravel road to the trail system. The trails were closed due to wet conditions, but we had a wonderful time staying on the roads and exploring. I was really nervous at first. I had been looking forward to and also dreading this ride for a long time. I feel safe in the arena. I trust Boomer in the arena. Out in the open, on roads- that is another story. But, we did it and Boomer was great! He had one hard look at some deer, then another hard look and a snort at a 'for sale' sign. Other than that, he was perfect! Nary a wrong step!

Today, I rode in the outdoor arena for the first time and had a pretty good ride. Boomer still really braces against the bit and fight for the first half of the ride. Then he will eventually give down and soften. Once that happens, I stay super light and soft with my hands and we walk and trot keeping a nice, soft, round frame. We also cantered a bunch which was fine. I talked to Karin about his bracing and resistance and she said we will continue to work on it in our next lesson but that at some point I am going to have to get firm with him and let him know that I expect him to give to my hand NOW and not fight with me. She said that a good time frame is to give him 10 minutes after lunging and walking on a loose rein and he should be able to round up and give to the bit after 10 minutes.

Tomorrow I am going to try something a little different. He almost always softens after we canter. After we canter we walk circles and flex his neck gently right and left. I am going to try the neck flexing earlier in the ride and see if that helps.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Never doubt the master

In our lesson yesterday we spent a lot of time cantering. Enough to make us both breathe hard. Then we went right, and did even more cantering. It seemed like it would never end. We probably spent twice as much time on the right, which was difficult for me because I like things to be even when I ride. After we were done, Karin commented that because we spent so much time on his 'bad' side I might be surprised to find that his left side would be the 'bad side' tomorrow. I had doubt, as his right lead has always been the bad lead, why would one lesson with excessive haphazard cantering change that? Well, I shouldn't have doubted the master. Today his left lead was a bit unbalanced and difficult to steer. He was really trying to pop out his outside shoulder and making things generally difficult. His right lead? Very nice, round circles, balanced. He even gave his head down a few strides at a time. Don't doubt the master.

Today started out pretty tense as the scary door was open at the end of the arena. From that big door you can see the equipment barn, outdoor arena, and pasture. There was gravel being laid down on all of the walkways around the property today and a lesson was going on in the outdoor, so things were very interesting at that end of the arena. I was nervous at first and Boomer was very forward but not giving his head at all. About 20 minutes into the ride I did a bunch of cantering and then walked around a 20m circle while bending his neck left and right on a light rein. After that, our trot work was hugely improved. However, one bad habit has cropped up- pulling. Boomer has started to root and try to tug the reins anytime I offer anything resembling a loose rein. So, that was annoying to deal with. I kicked him each time he would root, then would bring him back up until he was on the bit, then offer a longer rein until he pulled, then kick and repeat. Towards the end he was much more relaxed and we had a nice soft contact with his neck stretched a little down but still on the bit and did very good trotting around the whole arena- including the scary end. To cool out I had him walk around the rail (he hates staying on the rail) with his neck bent to the inside. He has a tendency to look outside the rail and pop his shoulder to the inside and then start drifting in. Mostly this happens to the left. So I did two laps left with his neck to the inside, then one lap with his neck straight- only correcting when he looked outside, then one lap right with his neck straight. That was a really good exercise and he was really responsive to that. I was surprised how calm he was by the end of the ride. It is sometimes frustrating that he takes so long to warm up, but the last half hour of our ride is always an improvement!

Lesson Report #6

Today our lesson was mostly focused on getting Boomer to 'come down' earlier in the ride and cantering. We did lots of proper halt/walk transitions. By proper, I mean that we halt, I hold contact until he drops, then we walk off. If he inverts or comes up, we halt, etc. Our walk started just being a few baby steps and could gradually grow into a more forward walk. Karin has really started to ask for more forward from us now that Boomer understands how to give with the neck.

On to the canter, she really wanted me to focus on the actual time in the canter and not the transitions. So, I am to get him straight underneath me, then ask for the transition. In the canter, we just go and go and go until I say stop. While we are going, I sit up and "let him canter on and you stay back". I keep my lower leg ready to bump forward if he tries to slow or break gait. Once I feel that he is staying alert to my leg, I can start to 'feel' his mouth and follow him, seeking contact. I can pick up my inside rein and ask for a little inside bend, as he tends to counter bend.

His actual transitions were much better today and we spent a lot more time on the right lead. Karin said that he is pushing through his right shoulder as I set him up for the right lead, trying to block me and letting me know that he would prefer the left lead. So, I need to keep him straight through the transition. He got right in to the canter at every transition and I even felt him really lift up through his shoulders a few times!

Towards the end of the ride we worked on small figure eights, keeping steady connection through the change of rein. He did better from left to right, making me think that while his gaits are better to the left, his connection is better to the right. Karin thinks that will even out and already has some. After that we picked the trot back up and worked a little on the stretchy circle. Boomer tends to go nicely down and then root hard towards the end. He does this any time I give him extra rein. I am supposed to follow and give as he seeks contact down, then boot him if he jerks the reins. I was afraid it would discourage him from seeking down, but it didn't seem to at all. By the time we were walking out at the end he was pretty well done for the day and was walking with his nose almost in the dirt. He always stretches down when we halt before I dismount, but he decided to follow the loose rein and walk stretched all the way down today!

Karin commented that he really has nice gaits and is very athletic, but we just need to work on the roundness and submission.

For our homework, she wants me to spend a lot of time in the canter and not worry about doing a lot of transitions. She wants him forward and listening to my leg and then after that I can add the following hand contact and try to get him to give just a little without dropping to the trot. If he does drop down, I should get him straight between my legs and put him right back into the canter without waiting for the 'right opportunity'. Waiting until he is relaxed and 'ready' will take a long time at this point and encourage him to break gait. I am really glad I have a good trainer so that I don't have to make executive decisions like 'time in canter vs. number of transitions' because I don't know the best tactics at this point!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Happy Birthday Boomer!!!

March 1st was Boomer's 7th birthday! I gave him an extra carrot and told him I expect him to start acting like a big boy now.

The temperature is finally picking up which means the snow is melting and the mud is awful. The barn keeps the catch pen at the top of the pasture plowed, but the alley from pasture to dry lot is really bad. So, Boomer came in with mud caked up to his fetlocks and we got to have a fun bath day. I only hosed his feet, but he was NOT a happy camper. Obviously, he has been hosed off before, but he has only been in the wash racks a handful of times. I have been making a point to adjust the hose (it is on a tall swinging arm) and make sure Boomer is aware that there are scary hoses hanging from the ceiling. He hasn't been concerned by any of it. In fact, he was fine with me hosing his back hooves, but then I started on his fronts, he freaked out and started scrambling and jumping around. I finally had to have another boarder stand at his head and talk to him while I finished hosing him off. After that, I just let him stand in the wash rack for about 10 minutes to calm down and think about the fact that the scary water didn't kill him after all.

After all of that excitement, I tacked up, lunged with the elastic rein, and rode. Boomer is doing very well and I was very happy with his progress. He is getting better about the scary door monster at the A end of the arena (I think Andrea has one of those too!). We did more canter transitions and got 5 left and 3 right. He still gets really high and light afterwards, so it takes a lot of trot work and circles to get him back down and ready for the next transition. Trying to fit in 10 in each direction would take two hours at this point. Perhaps we will get to the point where we can do 20 in an hour someday! It wasn't a particularly exciting ride, but it was successful. Can't ask for much more than that!