Friday, June 29, 2012

Carrot Picnic

"Guess how many baby carrots I have in my mouth."

Your guess is as good as mine! 
They disappear too quickly for me to keep track.

What is your horse's favorite picnic?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

My Barefoot Horse: Fun With Paint

Not actual paint.  The old-school computer program "Paint".  My husband and I have both a sentimental and practical appreciation for "Paint".  We have completed many a graphic project, for work or play, using this simple program, which lacks all semblance of bells and whistles.  Can Photoshop do a better job?  Most definitely, but I do not own Photoshop and part of the fun is trying to make things happen within the bare-bones software that existed in nearly the same form on my first family computer.  It was a Gateway.  Remember the box with cow spots?  I had so much fun using "Paint" back then.  My high school teacher even had a mouse-pen tool for drawing.  I have wanted one ever since!

Keep your Photoshop and Gimp, or whatever else you use to make amazing graphic creations.  I enjoy using "Paint" and making it work.  "Paint" does not care about being user-friendly or innovative.

As spoken by the computer program, "Paint":

"Oh did you misplace one of those photos?  Hope you saved the original, because you are going to have to start over."

"Typo?  No problem.  Just create a white box and cover up the original text box and make a new one.  That's right.  Start over."

"Is the color wrong in the image?  Too bad.  Take a better photo next time."

Thankfully, I do not have complicated demands!  Using "Paint" requires a lot of problem-solving.  I think there is some value in that.  Or maybe I just enjoy pushing the limits of my frustration threshold.

So for your viewing pleasure, I present a study of my horse's right front: pre, mid, and post-trim using the simple, yet elegant, "Paint" program.  Eat your heart out iPad!

Check out the evenness of width in Harley's hoof wall, outer and inner, all the way to the heels.  I am very excited about this.  The quarters used to get really thick and wide, while the back of the foot did not have as generous a wall thickness.  He usually rounds the toe a bit himself, so this left his front feet somewhat box-shaped during the fastest growing season.  Of course, I would trim his feet which remedied the unevenness, but this is the first time that I have seen the wall balanced in thickness at the time of the trim.  His left front demonstrated the same thing, but for some reason I forgot to take a mid-trim photo.

Hopefully this change is due to the improvements in my mustang roll and maybe his shorter bars.  I now bevel the edge all the way to the heels, even rounding them a bit, so that there are no sharp edges.  I have been keeping the bars tidy for a year now, as I used to leave them to self-trim.

Left front: Three weeks of growth

Left front: Post-trim

I would love it if my horse could self-trim, but it seems that our environment is not suitable.  Although sand is very abrasive and we have plenty (PLENTY) of rocks mixed in the arena and paddocks, there is also a lot of mud and soft pine needles which do not help very much.  I also do not feel safe riding on our roadways and I am not a fan of lengthy trail rides, especially during tick season (with chigger season just around the corner).  So until I win the lottery and buy my own farm complete with a paddock paradise and pea gravel and other good stuff, it looks like the trimmer's life for me!

Left-hind: Three weeks of growth

Left-hind: Post-trim and ride

Right-hind: Three weeks of growth

Right-hind: Post-trim and ride

The hoof wall is not as even all the way around the hind feet, which were clearly in need of a trim at three weeks.  I just cannot go any longer than that during the summer.  His heels are also not as big as in the fronts.  I try to keep the toe back as best I can, but these hard-working hinds threaten to pull the toe forward, as evidenced by the extra wall at the toe pre-trim.  On the other hand, the concavity of his hinds is enviable, in my opinion.

Worth the effort!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Riding Reflection: Welcome Summer!

Yesterday was a truly glorious day.  Whereas I was rained, make that thunder-stormed out of a ride and gardening on Monday, yesterday was cool, sunny, and clear.  Harley and I had a wonderful ride with lots of variety.   After I got home and ate lunch, I mowed the lawn, whacked some weeds, planted geraniums and marigolds, went running with my husband, AND I made dinner.  I am on a roll.  Hopefully, I can keep it up all summer long!

Best view on Earth.

The large ring was still freshly dragged from this weekend, so Harley and I got to make some new tracks in the harrow lines.  I love that.  We warmed up with a nice long walk on the buckle, then I picked up the reins and started walking some small circles.   The circles turned into turn-on-the-hocks corners and finally 180 degree walking pirouettes.  Have I mentioned that I like lateral work?  Harley likes it, too.  I take him around very slowly, feeling his shoulders move and thinking a little haunches-in to keep his hindquarters engaged.  We rode in a clinic last year with an eventing coach from Delaware and he asked us to do a pirouette on a whim.  He looked pretty shocked when Harley marched around without too much trouble.  Since we had never demonstrated that in a lesson before, I was very happy to see that our efforts were not lost to a discerning eye.

Next came our trot warm up. I practiced some of the homework from my last lesson. I tried to find the balance from our lesson going to the left. When I found it, my teacher would say "memorize this feeling". Going right is still way easier. I jiggle the inside hand a little and Harley gets downright gorgeous and light as a feather.  However, every time we changed direction to go left, we lost the connection. He tossed his head up, hollowed and rushed forward. Every inch of me wanted to "fix it" by driving with my legs, lowering my left, inside hand and pulling him into a frame. But I resisted the temptation. It would be one thing if we were in a show and I needed him to look perfect for every step, but this was not a show. This was training. We both need to learn how to find the right balance, not lean on each other or prop each other up. Eventually we found it. I had to keep repeating the homework from my lesson and Harley came round, literally and figuratively. He was also light and slower than before. The power coming from his hindquarters was balancing us instead of just shooting us forward. That was the feeling.

Four trot poles were set up in the middle so we took a break from circle work and trotted over them in both directions.   I kept my eyes up and did not allow Harley to speed up on the approach.   He did not touch a single pole and lifted himself over every one.   It was so much fun.

Finally the canter.  Keeping things consistent, I wanted to strive for the same balance that we had worked toward earlier in the ride.  We schooled trot-walk-trot.  I encouraged him to march into the contact for a few steps of walk before picking up the trot.  Trot to walk is by far the most difficult transition for us.   It is so easy to lose the connection by losing the stretch.  He also likes to anticipate the upward transition and tighten his neck.  Once we incorporated the canter, we were really working.  Walk-trot-canter-trot-walk, repeat.  I tried to feel for his shoulders to come up.  I corrected myself a few times when I started to lean forward.  Let his shoulders come to me.   I used my voice so that my legs could remain relatively passive.  This reduces his need to anticipate and seems to make him wait more.  It just shows that my physical aids need to be smaller still.   Always smaller.  My horse likes to challenge me as much as I like to challenge him.  And it was so cool that he barely broke a sweat.   It was a great ride.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Hearts TRC Open House and Yoga

On Saturday, our farm had an Open House.  I am one of the partners in an LLC.  Our company, Hearts TRC, LLC, offers therapeutic horseback riding and certified instructors, yours truly included.  Although our combined experience in therapeutic horsemanship amounts to decades, our program is in its first year.  We decided to have an Open House to showcase what we offer and bring some prospective clients to the farm.  This required lots and lots of prep work and, corny as it may sound, teamwork.  I also spent several hours the night before baking chocolate chip and blueberry muffins.  My husband wondered what I had done with his not-very-domestic wife, but he liked the baked goods just the same.

At the Open House we offered light refreshments and lesson demonstrations.  Some of the instructors gave short, 15-minute riding lessons, there was a groundwork demonstration, and yoga on horseback!  We are very fortunate, because one of our therapeutic riding instructors is also a certified yoga instructor.  She has adapted some yoga poses to be practiced on the moving horse.  This is where Harley and I got to participate.

Thank you, Husband, for taking all of these lovely photos!

I always use the therapeutic ramp to get on Harley.  Since I do not have to put my foot in the stirrup, there is no bracing in his back or ribcage as I swing my leg over.  This saves his back and my saddle.  He is very used to the ramp, but not so accustomed to having a leader in front of him.  He was a little perplexed at first.

I overheard a little kid say, "Mommy, I want to ride that one," as we walked by.  Me, too, kid.  Me, too!

Harley inspected the people watching at the fence every single time that we walked by them.  He liked all the activity and visitors.  He is such a social guy.

Prayer position.  I had to follow the instructor's directions to breathe into each pose.

Here I am lifting my shoulders to my ears...

...and then dropping my shoulder blades down my back.  This was a really good exercise for me to practice.

We had a gorgeous day for our event.  A thunderstorm the night before broke the heat wave and watered the ring for us!

After a little while, Harley got the idea and kept a nice pace behind his leader, who happens to be one of my favorite people in the whole world!

He never got tired of looking at the crowd though.  I cannot imagine how many cell phones snapped his picture.  He is such a ham.

My shoulders were feeling the burn here.  Keeping your arms raised is hard work!

The cat stretch felt nice afterward.

My riding teacher would like this one, because it puts space between my shoulder blades.

The triangle pose is my favorite.  Harley is concerned that I am going to slide off his back.

But then he just accepts the fact that I am a silly human.

This one was fun, too.  A modified warrior pose, maybe?

This pose really showed me the difference between my left and right shoulders.  My left shoulder was nice and loose, which made this pose easy.  My right shoulder (pictured above this photo) was so tight that the motion in Harley's hindquarters actually made it ache, but it felt much better afterward.  The horse's motion has a massaging effect.

Harley and I and our awesome leader participated in a second demonstration later in the day.  We did a few more complicated poses, like a modified downward-facing-dog, cat and cow stretches, and a back bend.  It was fun and really challenging.  I am tempted to sign up for the classes myself.  I think Harley is ready, too.

At the end of the yoga demonstration, I decided to try some of the controlled breathing with canter-trot-canter transitions.  I tried inhaling on the upward transition and exhaling on the downward transition.  After a couple repetitions, all I had to do was breathe a certain way and picture what I wanted and Harley would make the transition.  It was really interesting.  Harley was happy to be moving out, so we did a mini-dressage demonstration complete with his big trot, leg-yields, shoulder-in, and half-pass.  He was foot perfect and strutted his stuff like a true showman.  He even jumped a pole on the ground, demonstrated his big, exciting canter and then came back to a delicate, collected canter when I asked him to.  If only we could have a dressage show at home.  He was electric and happy to perform all of my requests, but with none of the nerves or tension that comes with showing, even though there were people hanging on the fence watching him go.  He basked in the praise and attention that he received afterward.  I was very proud of my pony.

Hearts TRC, LLC has a website thanks to our very talented and attentive webmaster.  You might see Harley here and there.  We also have a Facebook, but since I do not use Facebook, I am not very helpful in that respect.  I think I am supposed to say something to the effect of "please like us on Facebook".  I drew the sketch for the logo and the yoga instructor, who is also a graphic artist, digitized it.  Enjoy!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Mane Dilemma: Haircut

Harley has thick, fairy tale horse hair.  I love long hair and try my best to keep his mane and tail as natural as possible, which includes not cutting a bridle path behind his ears and letting his mane just grow and grow.  I purchase bottles of detangler and conditioner to keep his locks manageable and always try to brush starting at the bottom to prevent breakage.  Even though Harley used to be a rough and tumble horse (i.e. his previous owner was of the male persuasion), he seems to enjoy the primping and preening, which was a cool way to pass the time during our three-day heat wave last week.  He also very clearly appreciates his long mane and forelock when the flies are biting.  They serve as effective fly masks just as nature intended.

Unfortunately, I decided that practicality had to win over vanity last week.  Harley's hair is so thick, that he sweats quite a lot under his mane.  The hair will hold a nice french braid, which I employ for shows, but he dislikes having his mane constantly done up.  I think that it must pull, because he will toss his neck from side to side in an annoyed way.  After a horse show, he always licks and chews when I undo the braid and gives his mane a really good, satisfied shake.

So out came the clippers.  I was hoping clippers would give a rougher cut then scissors.  I did not want to pull his mane as it was just way too long for that, but I also did not want to do the dreaded straight cut.  I really like the way his mane had thinned out at the bottom of the hairs, so I was sad to see that part go, but his health and comfort are more important.

The round pen is a nice touch to the "mustang look" he has going.  The shortest section of his mane by the withers is just catching up with the rest of his mane.  I have not trimmed his mane in over a year.

I love the soft edge of his mane, frayed by hundreds of combings, the sun, and the elements.

The Haircut: I tried to follow the bottom of his neck, remove some bulk, but keep it legitimately long.  I also evened out the shorter section coming from the withers.

Even though I am going through a little bit of regret at losing the edges of his wild mane, I am glad that his pretty neck is no longer completely hidden.  Thankfully, there is much better airflow under there now and with enough mane left to shake off flies.  I am looking forward to the edges softening with time.

Since I had the clippers out, his fetlocks also received a trim.

He stands like a champ for this stuff.

I just barely nipped the edges off of his forelock.  He enjoyed the shower as it was in the upper nineties!

Harley got all dolled up, so now he just needed somewhere to go.
Thankfully, we had a special event on Saturday!  More to follow.

Related Post: The (Original) Mane Dilemma

Thursday, June 21, 2012

News Flash: DRESSAGE IS #1!

These are rare times in the United States.  Dressage is in the news!  Sure it is being described with the usual cliches, such as "horse ballet", but at least it is out there for the world to see and be inspired by, or so I would hope.  Unfortunately, all of the press has not been positive for my beloved sport, but then again, I am not in love with the competition end of dressage.  Dressage is being described and identified as "a sport for the wealthy".  A sport for those who have money to burn and are willing to do so on well-bred, monstrous horseflesh, top of the line tack, trailers, trainers, facilities, and international hauling fees.  The exorbitant spending of money that is necessary to compete in dressage at the highest levels can leave a bad taste in one's mouth.  I would be remiss if I did not admit that I, too, feel alienated by those who can afford to indulge in our sport at that level.  Realistically, it does not take much for horse shows and training, for high or low level competition purposes or at home, to become expensive.  I suppose the dress code of top hats and coat tails does not do the sport many favors when beheld by the general public or those who have no established interest in dressage.  Dressage has a European flavor, a sharp contrast to the American cowboy and his ranch horse, which probably gives some the impression that it is downright unpatriotic.

I have sat, shoulder to shoulder, with some dressage enthusiasts to whom I cannot relate.  These were very wealthy people, who had the means to purchase very highly trained, expensive dressage horses.  Such horses were turned out with tack whose price-tag was thousands more than the purchase price of my actual horse, let alone my tack, and, unfortunately, some of those individuals demonstrated that they believed having money equated with having expertise.  I have bit my tongue on more than one occasion when a "purchased expert" tried to speak knowingly about dressage or horses.  I have grimaced and watched the same type of dressage enthusiast punitively wallop her horse for missing a step.  I have also watched a rider hand the reins of her expensive schoolmaster to a trainer for the clinic-ride rather than ride in the lesson herself.  Was the highly-schooled horse who demonstrated piaffe under the trainer really such a lemon that he required professional help?  The rider seemed to think so, as she openly listed and complained about all of the horse's faults throughout the trainer ride.  I would love to have known what the trainer was thinking.  Although this uninspiring display would be invisible to outsiders, I would not fault the public or media for poking fun at that side of my sport.  I am sure that such narcissism is not the norm with professional trainers and riders whose mounts actually canter down the center line and garner the high scores, but someone still must fund the experience.  Someone with deep pockets.  Or several someone's cooperatively owning a very expensive horse.

But what about those of us who pursue this sport on a shoestring?

What I wish for the public, newly introduced to dressage, is the opportunity to see the intangible side, the priceless side, the partnership between horse and rider, established not over 30 days of training, but over years and thousands of hours together.  I wish they could see the physical challenge of balance and strength, as well as the preparedness of the mind.  Dressage requires a thinking athlete of the rider and the horse.  For me this is one of the most appealing aspects of the sport, but unfortunately it is a daunting task to effectively describe the timing and coordination required to execute a nice shoulder-in, so that a non-rider could appreciate the sideways movement of the horse down the long side of the arena.  It all comes down to knowing what you are looking at and knowing how that came to be.  Perspective is everything and perspective takes time and knowledge.  Suggesting this makes the sport sound elitist all over again, so please allow me to bring it back home.

Dressage is much more than a ring with letters and prescribed movements or high price tags.  Dressage is present in every type of riding as long as the riding is concerned with training the horse as a partner.  It is also worth mentioning that equestrian events are the only sports where men and women truly compete on equal footing.  That is something that I have always admired.

Dressage is number one to me, because riding my horse makes me happy.  Communicating with another creature with compassion makes my heart soar.  The motion of the horse gives me a strength and power of which my own body is not capable.  When I ride my horse, I can almost hear him thinking and when he tries to interpret my thoughts it is like nothing in the world.  My horse is the epitome of inspiration and beauty in the flesh.  Riding him allows me to be so close to him that horse and rider literally must move as one.

As I close this essay, I realize that I, too, have presented a cliche, but I really like that one.  Cliche or not, it is just the truth.  Dressage is, and should be, all for the love of the horse.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

My Barefoot Horse: If Wishes Were Hoof Stands (Advice Requested)

Harley is not impressed by the inedible hoof stand.

The Hoofjack has been long-listed on my wishlist for several years now.  The stand is expensive and not totally necessary, so lots of other things ranked above it on the "must buy" list.  Since I have not come into a large sum of money or won the lottery, how, you ask, did I come into hoof stand ownership?

By co-ownership! 

I own 1/3 of the stand!  That's right.  The barn owner, another boarder who grooms her horse's feet, and myself all chipped in and purchased the real thing.  Split into thirds, that cost is very doable.  My fellow boarder and I were vacillating over a cheaper version in a catalog, but were hesitant to risk using an imitation.  When the barn owner expressed interest in purchasing a stand, we cheered and jumped at the opportunity. 

The Hoofjack is very well-designed, durable, and safe.  The cradle and pillar are very easy to switch between and the height is adjustable.  Can you see the circular magnet on the side of the stand?  Those heave-duty magnets allow me to never put my rasp on the floor.  This is also nice, because I do not have to reach all the way to the ground to pick it up again either.

At first glance, this seems to be a hoof stand match made in barefoot-trimming-heaven.  The only problem is that there seems to be a learning curve involved with using the stand.  The first time that I attempted to use it, I completely gave up and put the stand aside.  When Harley's foot was resting in the cradle, it felt too wobbly as I tried to trim.  I tried pressing his foot into the stand to stabilize it, as I have seen on videos, but the results were not much better.  Harley also seemed less patient with the stand than he is with just me.  He pulled his foot out of it several times.  I found myself feeling kind of annoyed, because I did not want to have to train him to keep his foot in the stand.  It is unusual for me to balk at a training opportunity, but trimming is hard work and I felt an overwhelming need to "just get it done".  My perspective was that the stand was interfering with my work.

It appears that wishes are not without irony.

Since my first attempts, I have used the stand to finish his foot from the top with some success.  The stand is thousands of times better than using brute strength and my back for finishing off the mustang roll and shaving off any remaining flare at the quarters and back of the foot.  However, I am still playing around with the optimum height. 

When I do use the stand, Harley seems to want the stand set very low.  This is not a surprise since the previous stand that I used was, quite literally, my knee.  Actually, I find using my knee comfortable for my back when I am working on the bottom of the foot.  I can keep my back straight, by bending my other knee so that my shin is nearly parallel to the ground.  It is a squatting/kneeling position of sorts, which I have perfected over the past two years.  Now I fear that the stand will not be able to match this comfort or the secure feeling that I have cradling his foot between my hands and knee.

Any advice from those who successfully use and love their hoof stands?

Silly hoof stand.  Carrots are for horses.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

You Know That You Are A Horse Nut...

...if you smile during your horse's shenanigans.

Hey look!  An active hind leg.

Have I mentioned that Harley is a sensitive guy?  I am his only rider and have been for five years and counting.  He knows me very well and I know him.  If something in my riding changes, he notices immediately.  If I override or push too hard or ask for something at the wrong time, he responds accordingly.  Sometimes he tries to do what I am asking.  Sometimes he gives a huge response to match an overzealous aid.  Other times, he is just feeling exuberant and comes up with some shenanigans on his own.  I have ridden a couple mares in the past who displayed the same "particular" nature.  I credit them for preparing me for riding Harley.  He is a sweet, kind horse, but sometimes he needs to express his spirit!

My usual MO is to just keep riding.  I rarely punish, although I will make the work more difficult if he seems under-challenged or isn't committing to the aids.  I also frequently check my own position and my aids.  I strive to be fair.

 Proof that I am a horse nut: I wouldn't have him any other way!

The last photo is the next complete circle following Harley's shenanigans.  My seat is light, so I have risen out of the saddle here, but look how uphill his canter has become.  I believe that the slight changes in my position that I had been practicing from my lesson put more responsibility on his hind legs and he responded by really pushing off and shifting his balance around.  Sometimes he just needs a few jump starts!