Saturday, August 28, 2010

Horse Safety

John brought home his monthly work newsletter to show me this great comic!  His company is very safety conscious and joked that this was a comprehensive diagram of all safety measures to be implemented next month.  Sorry if it is hard to read, I'm not very good at scanning and uploading and editing images!  

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Lunging with side reins

My newest endeavor with the horse is introducing him to lunging with side reins.  I feel that it is a really useful tool for any horse but just hadn't ever had a reason to try it with Boomer until I got pregnant.  Now I feel that it is a great way for us to still learn and progress without me having to ride on days when I just don't feel up to it.  

Basically, I started Boomer off slowly lunging without the side reins attached to the surcingle.  The I attached them as loose as they go.  I gradually tightened them up a notch each time we changed directions. On the first day, we spent about 40 minutes at the walk and trot just getting used to the reins.  It was uneventful and a good introduction.  I decided to go with solid leather ride reins instead of reins with elastic or rubber inserts as I feel those with too much 'give' encourage a horse to lean on the contact.  I would also like to try balancing or vienna side reins at some point.   

The second day, I walked him without the reins attached, then attached them at about half tightness and worked there for a little bit.  He showed resistance until I had the reins tightened up to a proper setting.  I think he appreciated the contact once he had it, but I couldn't rush giving him that contact for fear of him feeling trapped.  After I got the reins to a good setting, I made sure that the inside reins was about 2 holes tighter to encourage bend.  Once at the level I liked, we spent about 5 minutes trotting in each direction to make the total exercise about 30 minutes.  In the future, the warm up will be shorter and he will accept the contact more readily.  

It was very interesting to see him balancing and figuring out the reins.  I had to watch for very subtle signs that he was using himself correctly with he reins and not bracing against them.  The signs I looked for showing him bracing were: wrinkles at the base of his neck in front of the withers, his under neck bulging out, and tightness in his jaw.  The signs I saw when he was relaxing and working over his back, accepting contact were: the wrinkles at the base of his neck were gone- he was lifting his neck, the under neck was curved up, and he would relax his jaw and lick and chew.  

I have noticed the he has started responding very well to verbal praise.  I give him a long, low GOOOD when he gets it right and he really keeps and ear turned to me at all times trying to figure it out.  

I was really pleased with his progress and am looking forward to seeing how this helps him improve.  We have not started cantering yet, but I have a feeling it will really help his under saddle canter work in the long run.  

One thing I noticed was that going to the right, it is much harder for him to unlock his jaw.  He gives a nice bend, but doesn't bend laterally at the poll.  When tracking right, I should be able to just barely see his forehead.  Instead, he almost cocks his head to the outside and I end up seeing between his jaw bones.  It is very slight, but probably has something to do with the fact that it is almost impossible to get him to foam on the right side of his mouth.  I am going to experiment with having his inside reins shorter going right.  I did some manual flexions of his face to see if there was resistance to flexing right and he didn't resist me at all.    

Long term goals for using side reins include progressing to the canter and lunging over ground poles.  

Monday, August 23, 2010

Weekend excitement!

I really love weekends!  Having John home is amazing and I LOVE getting to do fun stuff with him!  

This weekend was the annual Busker Festival here in Lawrence.  It was Friday-Sunday and ended with the  30th annual Kansas State Pickin' and Fiddlin' championship!  Friday night got rained out, so John and I rented 3 movies and had a marathon movie night with lots of ice cream!  

Saturday,  we walked around downtown and heard lots of folk music, ate cotton candy, watched jugglers, and followed Charley around as he made new friends.  Usually, kids will just run right up to pet him.  Which he loves.  He always goes straight for the slobber face, so we have to shout a quick warning that he gives sloppy kisses!  Most boys don't mind, but I've noticed that girls are more apt to pet him if he rolls over for a belly rub.  Most of the time, if an adult approaches us it is because they either have a Boxer or used to have one.  We can always agree that they are the best, most happy dogs on the planet!  

I also worked on some kitchen projects this weekend.  First, to John's great amusement, I made butter!  He was convinced that he remembered making butter taking an hour in his 7th grade science class.  I was convinced that the internet would not deceive me in its 'butter in 10 minutes' claims.  As with many of my random ideas, John has the foresight to step back WAY in advance.  As soon as I announced my plans for the 2 quart carton of heavy cream at the store, John made it quite clear that he would do no shaking, no matter how much my arms hurt or how much I begged.  I remained undeterred.  I combined two sets of directions and made the butter my own way.  The internet said to just pour butter into a quart jar and shake it until it was butter and pour off the buttermilk.  The recipe I found in an old bread book called for the cream to be left out for 4-6 hours to sour.  It also described how to pasteurize the cream first, but I skipped that step since my cream was already pasteurized.  It also said that cream needed to be at least a few days old to make butter.  I assumed my cream hadn't seen a cow in at least a few days before I picked it up from the refrigerated section.  Once my cream had soured, I poured it in the quart jar and started shaking.  The old fashioned recipe wanted me to re-chill the cream before shaking, but I'm not that patient.  It only took about 10 minutes to start to form butter! It was yellow!  I poured off the buttermilk and saved it to make pancakes the next morning.  The old fashioned recipe called for you you add cold water and continue shaking.  I did that step, poured the water off, and plopped the butter out into my colander.  After squeezing it with a spoon to get the water out, I put it in a bowl and stirred in some sea salt.  I covered it with plastic and it now resides in the fridge!  I was pleasantly surprised to hear John announce that he thought it was better than regular butter!  It was a fun and cost effective way to make butter.  Two quarts of cream will yield 2 pounds of butter, 2 cups of buttermilk, and costs $3.75.  I I usually pay $3 for 2 pounds of butter, so I think it is a good deal as long as you use the buttermilk.  We generally go through a pound of butter per week and one cup of buttermilk is perfect for sunday morning pancakes!  

My second kitchen adventure is still in progress.  I am working on making a starter for sourdough bread. John and I both love sourdough bread.  I have only made a starter before using yeast and the bread was fine.  I was living alone at the time and couldn't eat the bread fast enough to keep up with the starter growth.  John easily eats a loaf per week and if I want any sandwiches we usually end up buying a second loaf midweek.  So, my sourdough recipe yields 2 loaves and I need to feed the starter weekly, so that should work out well.  This starter is an old fashioned, natural starter.  It started with heating milk and stirring in yogurt.  I sealed that in a quart jar and put it outside (80-100 degrees is optimal) during the day and in a pot of warm water on the stove overnight.  After 12 hours, it had turned to curd and I stirred in flour.  Now, I just wait for 2-5 days for bubbles to appear and for it to smell good and sour.  I should have 1.5 cups of starter and I need only one cup for the bread recipe.  After I use the one cup, I will mix in more warm milk and flour to keep the starter fed.  It can live in the fridge after this whole 'warming' process is over.  Anytime between Tuesday and Friday, I should start to see the starter ripen and be able to make bread!  Yum!  

My Sunday project was VERY exciting for me.  I know nobody else cares, and this seems so mundane. But it is something that made my whole week!  I steam cleaned our carpets!  With my very own steam cleaner!  When John and I lived in Bartlesville, we used to borrow John's sister's steam cleaner every few months.  We hadn't gotten around to buying our own after we moved to Lawrence, which made me sad.  I LOVE to clean the carpets!  Our carpet had started to get pretty dingy and stained.  Spot treating just wasn't getting out the worst of the stains.  The doorway by the garage was dark and dingy.  We bought a rug to cover that patch of carpet.  When I complained of being bored while John mowed the lawn, John suggested I clean the carpets!  We went to Target and he got me their best carpet cleaner!  It felt like christmas!  We ended up with a Bissell ProHeat 2x 9200.  I knew a few features that were important to me, including rotating brushes and the ability to select a rinse cycle.  The cleaner we got has an optional water heater as well.  We got it home and I found it easy to put together.  At first, I was a little frustrated because the hose hanging rack doesn't screw on and kept popping off.  Also, the hose attachment 'spot cleaner' just wouldn't work.  I couldn't figure it out at all and gave up on pre-treating the spots.  Though, I have to say, while the accessories may have been disappointing, the actual cleaning power blew me away!  I was so thrilled with this cleaner!  It was easy to use and worked very well.  The water tank is only a gallon (pretty standard, really) and I had to refill it 6-8 times for the living room/dining room area.  I didn't mind refilling it once I got into the groove of using it.  The cleaner has a great feature that many other cleaners don't, which is being able to select the level of soil on the carpets.  It has high, medium, low, and water rinse.  I did high soil and ended up using a LOT of soap, but my carpets look brand new!  I did a high soil clean and suction, then a water rinse and suction, then a dry suction to get up excess water.  I was AMAZED at how clean the carpets looked!  They look brand new- even the spot in front of the garage door!  

I should have taken a before picture!  I plan on shampooing the rest of the house this week.  

Having clean carpets makes me feel like the queen of the block!  Woo!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Canter update

While the most pressing issue with our cantering has been the canter-trot transition, there have been other things we are working on as well.  I tend to school the canter on a large circle using only about half of the arena.  I find it helps me focus and keeps a good bend through the horse without confusing him on how to bend at the canter while traveling on a straight line.  Generally, Boomer has a harder time to the right at the canter with his balance and tends to brace through his neck and back.  Today I wanted to to 5 laps n each direction around the whole arena at large.  To the left was very good.  I could tell that he was working hard and trying to listen to my aids asking for softness through his neck and jaw.  To the right he immediately shot his head up and braced against my reins.  I took him on a circle and he just got post legged and stiff, careening around like a motorcycle with his head in the air.  I tried asking him firmly with my inside rein for bend and he replied by ducking his head and shaking, not staying on the circle.  I immediately shut him down and pulled his head to my right knee until he gave though the jaw and neck.  Especially now that I am riding pregnant, I WILL NOT TOLERATE ANY ATTITUDE.  After he gave and flexed softly, we walked off on the same circle.  I asked him to give and drop lower at the walk.  I exaggerated my gives, when he relaxed his jaw and neck, he got a few strides of long rein walk.  After a minute or two of that, I picked him back up and asked for the canter again.  This time, he stayed soft and low and was so uber light in the contact!  We did one circle where he never raised his head up once and was giving to the bit and then I praised him like he was a genius and let him walk on a long rein for the rest of the ride.  

This was the fastest 'learning curve' I have ever had with him in a situation like that.  I was so pleased with how he thought through his options and reacted with exactly what I wanted.  Part of me wonders if it is because of how firmly I reprimanded him and left NO room for error.  I don't like to be harsh with him, but my situation has changed and I can't afford to make mistakes that put me or baby at risk.  Perhaps he responds to one firm correction better than constant nagging.  In the past, I have tended to 'nag' at him asking over and over for the right answer waiting for him to give eventually.  Figuring that once he gives what I want, we can move on.  However, never has that been so effective as the firmness I showed today.  Very interesting situation to think about.  I'm hoping the lesson is one that sticks with him and doesn't need to be repeated!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Since you asked...

It has been brought to my attention (ahem, Shanster) that perhaps rather than playing mum, I should let you all in on the inner workings of my life.  I honestly can't say that I haven't had much to talk about, because I have.  But, until now, I couldn't divulge any information.  

I'll give you a hint:
There are two people in this picture.

Get it?

How about if I show you what John got for his birthday this year?
That should clear things up!

Yup!  John and I are expecting our first child!  We are so excited!  We talked (and argued) and talked (and argued) and talked about this for months before deciding that we were ready.  This has been such an exciting time and it has been so hard to not share the news!  The hardest part for me has been the extreme heat we have been having.  The only time of day that the temperature was bearable for me was in the morning and I haven't exactly been a morning person lately.  So, that is why I haven't really been doing much with the horse lately.  Now that the heat AND my nausea has lifted, my life is back to normal (well, whatever 'normal' is now)!  

As far as my horse life goes, I know many people expect me to stop riding right away.  However, after John and I talked to our midwife extensively about my goals, riding style, and experience we decided that riding was fine.  She even OK'd me to compete through the first trimester before the baby starts to show and is less protected.  After that, I am OK'd to do light pleasure riding in a safe environment- no jumping or galloping.  I plan on riding until I just can't anymore.  After I get to a point where I can't ride anymore, I am going to put Boomer in partial training through until the baby is about 2 months old and I can ride again.  I hope to have him ridden twice a week and then to possibly lunge him in side reins or long line him once a week.  I hope that this will still give me a way to be involved in horse stuff.  Part of the difficulty of deciding when to have our first child was how it would effect my horse goals.  I don't want Boomer to stagnate while he is in the prime years of his life.  I also don't want to be without a 'horse goal'.  So, I see this as a very good compromise to put him in training.  I can still be involved and he will still be improving.  

So, now you know the big news!  We are so excited to add to our family!  This is just one more huge perk to getting to stay in Lawrence!  We are so thrilled to raise a family in this community and the school districts are incredible here!  Yay!  

John has given me strict instructions that I must not do ANY pony shopping until after we own our own land.  Please don't tell him that I have dreamhorse open in another window right now... :)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A break in the heat!

Wow!  The last 3-4 weeks has been SO hot!  Every single day has gotten to at least 95 degrees with at least 5 days getting above 100!  We also have high humidity, of course.  At first I felt guilty about not riding much (or at all!) but it didn't take long for me to just relax and be happy to give Boomer a little vacation until the heat wave ended.  

This weekend was the first time I have been able to go outside without immediately breaking a sweat and I (and everyone else in the midwest) breathed in a huge sigh of relief!  

Looking back at my training log, I rode Boomer exactly 3 times since our last endurance ride a month ago.  I half expected him to look neglected and in poor condition from the month off.  I couldn't have been more wrong!  That pony got FAT!  He looks great!  His coat is sleek and shiny, his mane and tail grew!  The first time I went out to get him from the pasture he snorted at the halter and acted half wild while I groomed him.  I just pulled his shoes that day and didn't work him.  It was still hot that day.  

Yesterday, I was able to ride him and John came out to hang out with us also!  Boomer was pretty good, but I was a little tense as I hadn't ridden in two weeks.  I wasn't sure how he would react but he really did fine.  

Today I rode him again.  I couldn't resist, it rained all morning and the high today was 77!!!  Boomer greeted me cheerfully and was a prince the whole day.  The ride was actually VERY good and I was so happy with him!  I expected to lose ground as far as our training goes, but he continually surprises me with his smarts.  Boomer went right back into our training mindset and was great.  His fitness is a little less than it was,but the effort was there.  

We worked on the canter-trot transition quite a bit.  That is probably our biggest issue.  The trot after the canter is just not where I want it to be.  He tries to drop inside and I have to keep a strong inside leg on him as well as a lifted inside rein to keep him from diving in towards the inside of the circle.  He also simultaneously anticipates walking and the next canter depart.  If I squeeze him forward he wants to jump into canter, but if I don't stay on him he wants to hollow his back and wiggle-worm into the trot.  Now, from the outside, it doesn't really look that bad.  This is not a huge issue, just what we are trying to improve on.  We did a number of transitions today and he was very much improved by the end.  We also did a few walk-trot-walk transitions to test his acceptance of the rein contact (would he raise his head?) and he did very well!  I am so pleased with my little pony!  

Hopefully my blogging will return to normal since the weather is much more conducive to riding this week!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Relaxing the hip

This has been a subject that I have been thinking about for a while and I recently read a post from another blogger who has been struggling with a similar 'relaxation' issue. 

I think the single most useful tip I have learned recently that has improved my canter is the phrase "let the horse canter on and you get left behind".  It helps to repeat it in my head "you go on, I stay back" in rhythm with the canter stride.  What I started to notice was that while I tend to lean forward in a more 'hunt' seat, the leaning wasn't the root of the problem.  The root of them problem was in my pinching hip.  It was  like trying to pry open a rusty hinge to get me to lean back.  As I would lean back, I would feel the tension in my hip/groin area.  Finally, I relaxed my hip angle open and all of a sudden I was more connected to the stride and felt more independent and secure.  I felt like my upper body could stay stationary while my hips rocked with the motion of the stride.  

The more I have thought about it, the more sense it makes.  In hunt seat equitation, you want your hip angle closed and you keep your stirrups shorter (we are comparing to dressage here, by the way).  The hip angle is smaller.  Its more of an acute triangle.  In dressage, you want that hip angle open more like an obtuse angle.  The more open the angle, the further back the body leans (or more upright, however you want to think about it), the more 'seat area' you have available to work with.  The goal of dressage is to use the seat more effectively, thus a more open hip angle provides a more effective seat.   

This more effective seat is also known as an independent seat.  Having an independent seat means that you can further flex and relax the rest of your body at will.  So, if you have a tendency to have floppy legs or heels that refuse to stay down, think about your hip angle.  These problems are impossible to correct without an open, relaxed hip angle.