Tuesday, December 10, 2013


School is closed today due to inclement weather.  We are supposed to get a bunch of show later today.  It is not terribly cold, but will be tonight, so I will be driving out to put on Harley's blanket.

How cool is that?

This is the first year that I have a snow-worthy vehicle, the Subaru Crosstrek (in orange).  Previously, I drove a gold Honda Civic, which I loved, but would usually opt to stay home in snow.   I missed seeing my horse play and frolick in the snow, because I couldn't get to the barn until the excitement had passed.  Maybe this year I will get to partake in the new snow beauty.  I also like the idea of not being stranded at home.  However, my husband's work was not closed so he took the Subaru.  I guess I will still have to wait, but that is okay. The snow isn't here yet anyway.

Harley update:
The fill in his legs went away. I can only guess what the cause might have been:
sudden change in activity,
a warm week,
trying to get more visits from his absentee owner?

Thankfully, he did not show any discomfort or changes in behavior (i.e. Looking for treats as usual).  I actually got on his back and went for a walk through the woods on Saturday.  It was absolute bliss.  I didn't dare trot, because it was cold and I was afraid he would cough, but it was wonderful none-the-less.  Harley clearly enjoyed himself.  It had to be a relief to be outside the paddock fence and off the property for once.  I don't care about ring work right now.  Between work, baby, and his health, there is no time for consistency.  If we can trail ride a bit, I will be happy.

Stay warm if you are in winter!  Have fun if you are in the southern hemisphere!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Good News or Bad Luck?

I actually rode my horse on Friday. It was only at the walk, but it was wonderful. There was much snorting of happiness from Harley. The next day, I went out hoping for a little more time in the saddle. As I was reaching for his left hind to clean his foot, I drew back in mild horror. His leg was seriously swollen below the hock.


It was too cold to use the hose, so I decided to walk him and check for lameness. He walked and trotted normally and without hesitation. He has gotten stocked up in the past when stabled overnight. Maybe he stood around a lot the night before? The swelling had no heat and was reduced with walking.

I returned the next day to find him equally comfortable, but again with a filled hind. This time I got out the hose and put some cold water to it. A friend who was taking care of the horses for the week noticed what I was doing and mentioned that my horse had been running a muck and playing with his paddock buddy.


At the next visit, his left was almost normal, but his right hind was filled. I was given a similar report from another friend of a prancing, covorting pony with no signs of injury.

What's the deal, Harley?

Friday, November 29, 2013

The 300th Post

I made it!

Barn Baby

Ready to visit Harley

I made it to Friday.
I made it to six months with my baby.
I made it to the barn before dark.
Or I didn't make it to the barn before dark, but I managed to give my horse his medicine(s), a carrot, and a kiss in thirty minutes flat.

I made it to the time of year when my horse needs his blanket.

I made it to work on time.
I made it to work before 7:30 am even though I got locked out of my car and my house after a really long streak of making it to work on time (sigh).
I made it to bed with almost everything that I needed done, completed.
I made it to the couch at the end of the day with my baby on my lap and my blog reading list waiting for me.
I made it to your blog and read your latest post and, if I had it together, I may have even left a comment!
I made it to 300 posts!

The horse blogging community is such a great place to be.  Without it, I would be a total and complete hermit, instead of just a quasi-hermit.  I have truly appreciated visiting your blogs and reading about your lives with horses as mine has undergone so many changes.  There have been many times when I have been so relieved to have started this blog a few years ago and to have met so many of you at this venue.  It has kept me from feeling totally isolated during some very isolating times, especially this summer.  My real barn time is limited these days and that used to also be my social outlet.  I do not choose many so that cut me back to almost nothing.  I am an introvert by nature, but I still enjoy some adult interaction and if horses are the backdrop, even better.  In that way, this blog and your blogs have been my lifesavers.

Thank you for stopping by, reading, and leaving a comment when your time allows it.  I know that we are all very busy and blogging can easily become just one more thing.  I want you to know that it is much more than that to me.

Monday, November 25, 2013


I do a lot of it these days. Nursing has become my life.

I nurse my baby around the clock and I can honestly say that it is wonderful. The first three days of breastfeeding were painful. I am not going to sugar-coat it.  And the next several weeks were tough because I had to pump and bottle feed after marathon nursing sessions to make sure that she was gaining weight.  Apparently early babies are not quite ready to nurse vigorously, but we stuck with it and now, six months in, it is so EASY.  Going back to work and pumping to provide milk for when we are apart is NOT easy, but I am very proud our accomplishment in making it this far. The achievement is shared with my Mom and husband. I could not have managed without them.  I wish new Moms starting out could get a glimpse of nursing half a year later, because so many struggle and stop.  Breastfeeding rates in this country are astounding low and there are many barriers to success.  I know, because I have been rallying against them from day one.  For example, why on Earth am I getting emails from formula companies?  I sent back a very STRONGLY worded reply when I saw that I was enrolled in some bogus program designed by the company. That is sabotage and not even my own inbox is safe from it.  On a separate note, whenever I see breast cancer awareness campaigns these days I feel like shouting, "Encourage breastfeeding!" out the car window.

Am I becoming a nut?

Maybe, but the truth is that breastfeeding is normal and should be the norm. I see this now and it frustrates me.  I like to think it is passion rather than craziness, and I believe that is also what is keeping me going with Harley.

I am nursing him a lot these days, too.  Daily medication is never easy with an animal.  I know this from having cared for my beloved Rascal cat years ago.  The commitment is even more taxing when your animal is not on your property and more difficult still when you have a baby in tow.

His weight looks ever better than here.  This picture is over a month old.

Rascal.  My smudge cat.

Harley is a very good patient.  I keep worrying that he is going start recenting me for jabbing him with needles and squirting syrup down his throat, but he is ever kind and willing.  I am determined, but utterly exhausted.  We just need to get past this coughing spell.

After years of lamenting about Harley's weight, I almost failed to mention how good he looks this fall. The haystretcher pellets are doing great things for him and his grain was successfully reduced. Score!  At least something is going well for him.

Monday, November 18, 2013

November Health Report

Two years ago this month, Harley started coughing.  He was checked out and received medication, but the coughing didn't go away.

We tested him for allergies and his bloodwork came back with a slew of offending allergens.  I opted for the immunotherapy route, because I wanted to treat the cause not just the symptoms.  There is no cure for allergies, but good management can go a long way.  I remember asking about how long a horse has to have immunotherapy shots.  The answer was three to five years.

At the time I thought, "yikes" that is a long time, but, I don't care, I love my horse and I am going to make the commitment.

Two years later, I am starting to wonder what that three to five year timeline meant...

Harley is coughing again.  I didn't even get him off the first round of meds and we are back at square one starting a new round.  The barn owner has had to text me several times this week, because he keeps having flare ups.  I have stopped putting on my riding pants when I go to the barn.  I don't have time to ride these days anyway, but it doesn't mean that I don't miss it terribly.

Three to five years.

If you read horse blogs long enough you know that sometimes things go bad and the owners write about it and we all cry and then thank our lucky stars that it isn't happening to us.  I do not want to be on the other side of that.  I am really worried though.

We are going to start him on a different medicine.  A bronchial dilator.  I think the immunotherapy is going to sit on the shelf for a while.  Did it help at all?

I just want my horse to feel better and now.

Love you.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

In Awe of Equine Vets

Once upon a time, I wanted to be a veterinarian.  Not for large animals,  but for small.  Long story short,  I never even applied to vet school and chose a different path.  I had the grades, the gumption, and the love,  but I lost my passion for the job.  After shadowing a couple vets at a hospital,  I decided that I didn't want to put animals to sleep,  perform daily neuter and spay operations and to top it off,  my allergies were so horrendous that there may not be enough immunotherapy shots on the planet to have kept them at bay.

More than a decade after graduating college,  I am still happy with my decision and more convinced than ever that I would not have been happy as a vet.   Although I was not going for large animal medicine,  I see what my vet does now and I am consistently amazed.   How does she do it?   I am so thankful that there are individuals out there who can:

  • Work ten to twelve hour days regularly.
  • Explain patiently and with tact the nuances of an animal's medical condition.
  • Be available on weekends, evenings, holidays, and will leave special events to attend a call.
  • Eat on the run for every meal and every day (Seriously.  When does my vet eat?  She is constantly moving from call to call.).
  • Maintain a business from the field.
  • Shake off a nasty kick from a "patient" (I watched my vet get pinned and then kicked by a big pony; she barely took five before continuing with her work.).
  • Stay focused and calm in critical medical situations.
  • Say what needs to be said with an animal's best interest at heart.
  • Maintain composure when transitioning from a tragic call to a new patient and client.
  • Show empathy when a beloved animal is lost (My vet honestly and sincerely cried after putting one of our older horses to sleep.).
  • Give the injection that ends suffering.
I have always admired my vet, but I admire her even more now because I have a baby and am working so hard to juggle everything.  My vet is also a mother.  I just can't fathom how she does it.  She must be a super woman. 

Harley has been doing better with his coughing.  I was inspired to write this post, because no matter how late it is,  whenever I see or speak to my vet,  she is never on her last call of the day.   Equal praise goes to her faithful assistant.  The two of them are my heros.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Autumn Health Report: Haystretcher and Owning a Horse with Special Needs

Autumn has not been a good season for Harley this year.  More than once, I have arrived at the barn to find him coughing.  I also received messages from concerned friends that Harley was having a problem.  With the guidance of my vet, I temporarily stopped his immunotherapy shots (for diagnosed allergies) and gave him medicine to help with the coughing symptoms.

I had to do this in September.

Then in October, he needed a double round.


In September, his trigger was most likely pollen, as the temperature was mild (in the 70's) with glorious sunny, clear days.  No riding for me, though.  We needed rain, too, which did not help.  Dryness is Harley's enemy.  He does extremely well in July and August when everyone else is complaining about the humidity.

By October, the pollen was gone, but Harley's coughing was back with a vengeance.  This time it was not dry (we had a rainy spell) and I was getting scared.  When the usual dosage didn't give him the relief he needed, I had to call my vet and she changed the plan.   Thankfully it worked,  but we are only a few days out from it so I am still worried.   There is no cure for allergies and while this may seem like a small problem in the grand scheme of horse problems,  it is a chronic issue.   In other words,  I have a horse with special needs.   I must remain vigilant,  because timing is very important when treating a respiratory problem.  Thankfully,  there are many people helping me to look out for Harley.   He is the kind of horse that steals people's hearts.   I swear,  he has more friends than I do.   I am Harley's owner,  rather than he being Val's horse.

What do I think was the coughing trigger?   Temperature fluctuations.   We had several warm days followed by cold nights.   This type of pattern caused him a problem in January.    Isn't it always something beyond one's control?

Also on the health-related front,  we are trying a new food item for Harley: Haystretchers.  Have you heard of them?

A couple horses on the farm are doing really well on them and one recovered from a colic with very timely weight gain.   It was the barn owner's idea to try them for my horse since he eats so much grain.   We are replacing a portion of his meal with these hay pellets.   The vet loves them and has given them the thumbs up.

I like that he will be eating more foage and less grain.   I also like that the cost per bag is less than his expensive Ultium.  Harley is gobbling them up, so he seems to approve as well.   It won't take long for us to see how his weight does on the hay pellets.   Winter is coming (Game of Thrones, anyone?) and we need him nice and plump for the cold season.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Horse Mom

Do you use this term?

I never liked it.  When I first became a horse owner people started referring to me as Harley's Mom. For some reason, this made me uncomfortable.  I was not his mother.  His friend, owner, trainer, companion, partner, but not Mommy.  That just seemed weird to me.  After more than six years of not referring to myself as Harley's Mom, I walked up to him the other day and said, "Mommy's here!"


It was definitely a slip from saying this to our daughter when I return from work, but saying it to Harley didn't seem so wrong anymore.  Maybe it was because he had a rough week with his allergies.  Maybe it was because I am a Mommy to a human baby now.  Maybe I have just gone soft.

I take care of my horse.  I make care decisions for him.  I pay for his "daycare".  I set boundaries for his behavior.  I worry when he is not well.  My heart sings when I see him.  I love him even when he is not perfect.

Okay.  I guess Mommy fits after all.  But, eventually, we are going to work again, Harley.

Are you a Horse Mom?

One of our most recent photos together.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Being A Newbie Again

Do you know that feeling when you are completely green at something and nothing is second nature, so you have to think about every step in a process?

This summer,  I realized that I was a newbie again.  I have not been a newbie at anything for quite some time.  The weight of this realization did not dawn on me right away.  My epiphany occurred when I started reading about infant sleep.  I wanted to know if I was doing the right thing for my baby.  Was I putting her to bed at the right time?  Was she getting enough sleep?  How was I supposed to survive nighttime nursing when my baby was hungry every two hours and took forty minutes to eat?

Naturally, I turned to the internet and started reading everything that I could find about infant sleep.   It was so completely overwhelming.  The conflicting advise.  The heated debates.  Experience and tradition verses science-based and natural parenting.

Wait a minute.  Full stop.

There is natural parenting?  Where have I heard this before.  And then I realized it.  I am the new horse owner navigating a conflicting set of care and training philosophies.  Do I put my faith in the experts?  Which experts do I listen to?  How can I tell who is genuine and who is just looking to make a buck?  I had a new appreciation for what newbies in the horse world must feel: vulnerability, anxiety, and even fear of doing wrong by one's horse (baby, in this case).

This was not a parallel between baby care and horse ownership that I had anticipated.  What did I do to escape the sea of conflicting advice and infant-raising practices?  I asked myself, "what would I do in this situation with Harley?"

And then I knew the answer.

I listened to my baby.  I borrowed aspects of philosophies that worked for us.   I also stuck with information that was backed by science over tradition or societal convention.  Even though I love evidence-based information, my gut was still a part of the decision-making process.  I only practiced infant-raising practices that felt right to me.

I discovered that I am mostly what I am calling a "natural" parent.  I breastfeed, I hold my baby a lot, she is cared for by her parents and family when we are away, and her crib gathers dust (i.e. We bed-share.).  My baby has a routine (rather than a schedule) that is based on her cues to eat and sleep, although some clock-watching is involved so that she is ready to nurse when I come home.  And to date, I have only been separated from her for a maximum stretch of four hours (half my work day).  My husband and I work full-time, but my husband has changed his schedule to reduce the number of hours that we are both away from baby.  My Mom takes care of Sweet Pea while we are at work; we are very, very fortunate.  We combine baby-wearing with strollers for long walks.  I am dedicated to nursing, even though this is very difficult while working full-time, and bed-sharing makes nighttime nursing about a thousand times more manageable than getting up and sitting in a rocking chair for an hour three times a night.  I actually feel rested in the morning and I love the closeness that I have with my little one during the night and right into the morning.  I feel that the biological and emotional needs of my baby and myself are being met as we traverse this very new life as Mommy and baby.  Somehow, Harley has influenced that.

My daughter is now four months old, and I am no longer completely green.  I am still learning all the time, but I am happy with my infant care choices thus far and am grateful that my life with horses has given me some invaluable perspective.

My gentle beast, sweet husband (he is taking a photo, too), and baby.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Long Week and Finding Time

This past week was my first full week back to work.  I am floored.

Having a baby and learning to care for that baby is very, very challenging.  I feel like I have accomplished many challenging things in my life and I still think that this is one of the most difficult things I have ever done.  I know that it will also be one of the most rewarding, but right now I am in the field, on the front line, and it is hard.

As you may know from my blog, I am a teacher.  This will afford me certain luxuries as a parent, for example I will have the same vacation days as my child, in theory, and have summers off with them.  I also have shorter work hours (at least it looks that way on the clock), which will mean more time with my little one.  That is wonderful.

But right now, it is hard.

There is no other way to describe it.  I am extremely lucky to have a supportive husband and family.  My parents are going above and beyond.  My Mom is taking care of Sweet Pea during the day and my Dad even comes by to lend his help and go for stroller walks.  I do not think I would have survived this past week without my parents and husband.  Everyone had made sacrifices to make this work (working full-time as a nursing Mom with a three-month old).


Fast forward three weeks and I finally have time to finish this post.   My first Draft did not even include my horse,  which is very telling.   Due to my husband's change in work schedule to accommodate care for our now four-month-old,  I cannot get to Harley after work.   We had just hit a rhythm of visits before work started and now I am worse off than before as far as seeing my horse goes.

I will figure it out.   When it comes to my horse, I always do, but in the mean time, baby has dibs on Mommy.  Harley understands.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Horsey Baby Clothes = Irresistible

Buying cute baby clothes is very enjoyable for many people, family and friends alike.  Buying horse-themed baby clothes for a horse-enthusiast Mama and her little one is even more so.  Several family members and friends have spontaneously purchased cute horse-attire for our little Sweet Pea and I am so glad they did.  I am no exception and also failed to resist temptation at a recent baby clothes sale.  I am new to baby clothes, and everything "baby" really, but apparently you can buy the same or similar outfits in larger sizes so that your little one need not grow out her latest horse-themed onesie until she is 24 months old.

Thank goodness.

Thank you for the present Auntie M!

I may have purchased multiple similar horsey-outfits during a recent school-shopping outing.  Truth be told, I don't regret it.

And I am NOT one of those who likes shopping.  I think that I would be in trouble, if I were.

I have a growing collection, so expect to see some cute horse outfits modeled by Sweet Pea!  I have to dress her up before she grows out of them.  :)

Matching leggings!  (OMG, I sound so much like a "girl".  What has happened to me?)

I have an Ariat shirt on, too.

On the actual horsey front, Harley and I are still having fun together with our short rides.  He hasn't forgotten a thing and although both our fitness levels are not there yet (sitting trot feels like "work" these days), he still offers up his usual goodies like shoulder-in without a hitch, a big, explosive trot down the long side, smooth, smooth canter, and a flying change when I am not paying attention.  Silly boy.  I love every minute!

Friday, August 9, 2013

My Barefoot Horse: A Hoof Post At Last!

August 2013: Doesn't look like much, but these hoof shavings took a lot of work to produce!

Wow!  It has been forever since I wrote a hoof trimming post.  This was not so much due to a lack of trimming as it was a lack of photos.  I continued to maintain Harley's feet while I was expecting our daughter.  Thankfully, this was not as arduous a task as one might expect.  My arms remained reliably strong throughout my pregnancy.  They were perhaps the only part of me that did not transform in some shape or form from day one to the birth day.  Trimming was actually a welcomed activity, especially as my list of activities decreased as the weeks progressed.  It wasn't easy, but it was doable and I believe "relatively" safe under the given circumstances (me trimming Harley).  How did I make the feat (hehe) of trimming my horse while pregnant possible?  Here were my strategies:

  1. Only trim a sane, reliable horse who knows me very well and respects my space and boundaries: check.  Harley was as solid as they get.  He can get fidgety, but he was saintly quiet for all of my "expectant" hoof trims.  Did he know?  
  2. Do not let Harley's feet get away from me.  I was very careful to almost never allow a scheduled trim pass.  I religiously trimmed his feet every three weeks and kept up with the bars diligently.
  3. Only trim a pair of feet on each visit.  This cut my work in half, but required two days of trimming.  Since I couldn't ride my horse in the end, I did not mind the extra time we spent together working on his feet.  In fact, I quite enjoyed it.  I kept the work spaced so that I had a week between front and hind foot trims.  I usually keep this schedule during the summer months anyway, because it is just too darn hot and buggy to trim all four!
  4.  Use the hoof stand.  Enough said.
  5. Use very new, sharp rasps...
  6. And use two rasps!  I had a standard (14"), super sharp rasp for taking down excess hoof wall quickly.  I used my usual shorter (12") Ladies' rasp for the bevel.
  7. Have a back-up plan if I am unable to continue trimming my horse.  I did not make any phone calls, but I am sure that the farrier or trimmer who frequents our barn would have helped me out in a pinch.  It was not my first choice to let someone else trim my horse, because I did not want to worry about a new person affecting my horse's feet (especially with all those worrisome hormones reeking havoc on my sentiments).
  8. Be willing to let his feet grow longer than normal "at the end".
With a little bit of luck, this strategy worked out pretty well.  When our little one arrived early, I was in between front and hind trims, so Harley's hind feet went about six weeks without a trim and his front's only went four or five.  That is not bad at all, especially considering that many shod horses are purposely trimmed at five to six weeks.

There was also an unforeseen benefit to not riding or working my horse for the last two months of my pregnancy: his hoof growth slowed down.  I was really surprised, but he did not have any flaring from excess growth and barely any mechanical separation.  I was shocked about the last part.  I thought for sure that I would have to do some damage control, but, honestly, he was no worse for the wear.  What a relief, because I had plenty to worry about during those first weeks with our daughter.  Not having to worry about the state of my beloved horse's feet was much appreciated.

Unfortunately, I did not have time to take photos of his feet when I trimmed them in June.  They looked surprisingly good, just long.  I wanted very badly to document them, but I was in whirlwind mode and nothing was stopping me long enough to snap photos.  Plus the bugs were killer that day and Harley was not a happy camper.  By July, I sort of got my photography act together.

July 2013 before his trim: This was the second trim since baby.

July 2013: Self-trimming going on here at four to five weeks (heat wave delayed our trim).  Wowsers.

July 2013: Solar view of left hind.  I tried, but I did not have the patience for nice solar shots.  This was the only one that was not totally blurry and unrecognizable.  This is about four weeks of growth; our trim was pushed back a week due to the insane heat wave.

July 2013: Post-trim hinds

July 2013: Harley looking cute, but also wanting for grass (he is not smiling in this picture).  He was not amused by photo ops on this day, because he was already feeling the effects of baby infringing on his grazing time.

August 2013:  Now we're talking!

2-months old: Pink zebras are almost ponies!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Dusting Off the Gears

Friday (two Friday's ago now!) was a gloriously cool day and, even more miraculously, the insects were taking a break.  Harley-time was on the cards for the afternoon and I was deliriously happy as I pulled up to the barn.  I didn't waste any time getting my grooming supplies out and marching out to Harley's paddock.  Likewise, he met me at the gate.  Good boy!

I consolidated prep work by feeding him some alfalfa cubes and finishing his grooming in his stall.  Then I tacked him up in his stall and he finished the last cubes just before I was ready to put the bridle on.  Score two for team work!

My partner in crime.

Once in the tack, we warmed up with our walk exercises and then proceeded to trot. Harley's energy felt great, uninhibited and free flowing.  He was reaching into the bridle and clearly asking for more, so I started riding to a point in the arena.  We tooled all around the ring with lots of changes of direction and variations in pattern.  I rode from my weight aids and my eyes.  Harley loves that game.

Since it was such a nice temperature, I thought we should work some canter, so I shortened my reins and asked Harley to step into more contact and carry himself.  As he obediently worked the dust off the gears and adjusted himself to a more dressage-y frame, it dawned on me.  I am thinking about working the canter and I have not worked the walk or trot yet!  Talk about running before you can walk.  It was time for some walk-trot transitions.

And boy am I glad that we went there.  Forward is always the first ingredient and this is no different when you are riding transitions.  I had to really encourage Harley to stay through before, during, and after the transition.  Predictably, it was easiest for him to stay forward in the upward transition, but much more difficult in the downward.  He also likes to try to suck back going right: the reins get loopy even though I have not changed their length.  I did my best to keep my elbows at my sides and give him a steady feel.  I also worked hard NOT to pull on the bit.  I let my legs tell him to lengthen his neck and carry himself by stepping more under with his hind legs. 

This was challenging, especially the part where I had to put more leg on during the downward transition.  Interestingly, my outside leg had to do the heaviest lifting.  I can almost initiate the downward transition off my outside leg alone.  I believe this is because he already engages the inside hind nicely, but has a tendency to lean in (hence his motorcycle-inspired name).  My outside leg stands him up and helps him stay balanced laterally, which improves his longitudinal balance.  Neat.

Even though he loves to GO, GO, GO, Harley needs  reminders to keep the impulsion in the downward transition.  Likewise, he needs reminders to relax and not rush in the upward.  I am sure that as we both improve our endurance this will get easier, because I typically do not like to subscribe to the "more leg" camp, but sometimes it does help work the dust free.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Twenty Minutes in the Saddle

I am learning to make the most of twenty minutes these days.  In fact, twenty minutes is a very large chunk of "free time" when you have a hungry Little One on your hands.  Can twenty minutes be worthwhile in the saddle?  I think so, and I am doing my best to relish those precious twenty when they are spent on Harley's back.  I am sure that I am not the only one who is keeping her rides short these days, as the heat of July affects us all (in the northern hemisphere), especially if we are not fortunate enough to have a covered arena!

My last ride on Harley consisted of twenty minutes of walking and five minutes of trotting with a few more minutes walking in the shady yard before hopping off.  I know that adds up to more than twenty, but only twenty of it really consisted of "work", the rest was mounting, dismounting, and getting ourselves situated.  My horse has not been ridden since April and I have had very little physical activity since then, so we are taking it slow for reasons other than the hot, humid climate.  How did I make twenty minutes of walking productive (and fun) you ask?  We focused on the mental rather than the physical game.

As always the first ingredient was "forward".  I asked Harley to march along with some pep in his step, not hurried, but with a clear feeling that he was going to continue marching.  To me this is what forward means in dressage.  I kept the reins long in the beginning and only really shortened them to the fourth-stop.  I wanted him to stretch his frame and move freely to the contact with a long neck.  We alternated between the buckle and the fourth-stop between exercises.

happy, happy, happy

Our exercises were simple.  From the walk I asked him to halt with a little aiding from me as possible.  I always picked a shady spot to halt and I was not fussy about his head and neck position.  I was more interested in if he was listening to my seat.  Before long, he was stopping in response to me drawing up tall, stilling my seat, and pressing into each stirrup as I felt him taking his final steps in walk before the halt.  These light presses in the stirrup really seem to make a difference for us.  With repetition he also started keeping "at attention" ready for the next transition and with his neck straight.

Then I added "rein-backs".  My goal was the same.  Get the backward steps with as little aiding as possible.  These were not quite as good as the halts, as I did have to resist with my hands several times to send the energy back, but they were pretty straight and obedient otherwise.  I cue the rein-back by lightening the back of my seat to "open the door" and cuing him with my legs farther behind the girth than I ask for forward steps.  Usually he moves into my hand and feels the resistance from my position before stepping back.  I like this because he is thinking forward even as we move backward.

Next, we rode some deliberate corner-turns, not at the corners of the riding ring.  I focused on turning from my outside leg and my weight to the inside over my inside stirrup, which I carry at the girth.  I wanted to feel Harley initiating the turn from his outside hind.  This starts to get him carrying his frontend more and usually leads to him bending naturally into the turn.  A little squeeze with my inside ring finger was all that was necessary to encourage inside flexion if he wasn't already there.

After several nice, honest corners in each direction, we went to shoulder-in in walk.  I wanted to see Harley's neck straight even as he carried his inside shoulder on the inside track.  I felt for his inside hind stepping under his weight.  I encouraged gently since he is limbering up after a long vacation.  He is easier to (over)bend left and straighten to the right, so I rode each direction accordingly.  This is still challenging work even if it does not leave my horse sweating buckets.  He felt like butter by the time I asked for trot.

Our trot work was very, very simple.  Move forward, straight, and in a regular tempo.  I let him chose the length of neck that was comfortable for him and he chose to stretch (Good Boy!).  He was very eager to trot, so forward was not a problem and his tempo erred on the side of too fast, but that is typical Harley, so I just enjoyed it.  He powered down the long side a couple times with some big, beautiful strides.  It felt amazing and those five minutes were up way to soon!

Now if I could just learn to squeeze a hoof trim into twenty minutes...

How do you make the most of twenty minutes?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Heaven on Four Legs

Harley's vacation is officially over!

Sort of...

I finally got to ride him again, and it was twenty minutes of pure bliss at 9:30 am on a Sunday morning in temperatures quickly approaching unacceptably hot.  So I am finally able to ride my horse again and a heat wave hits the east coast.  I made the most of this short ride, but now I am as eager as ever to get back in the saddle and start conditioning Harley (and myself) back to the wonderful level of fitness and dressage oneness we were enjoying last fall.  The flying changes have been put away since I found out that I was expecting, so I am/Harley is excited to take those out again.  Unfortunately, the weather is not cooperating with my fun and getting away to the barn is very difficult.

Please allow me to rephrase that...VERY, VERY, VERY difficult.

I am breastfeeding our daughter who demands sustenance about every two hours, even as we approach the two-month mark.  Of course, feeding is only one element among the myriad of activities that surround our daily lives at the moment.  Exhaustion has become a permanent resident at our house, but that has not made me want to see my horse or ride him any less.  It is the logistics that are a problem.  He lives a mere eight minutes away, but trying to fit anything horse-related into a two-hour window (which has to include me cleaning up when I get home) is next to impossible for me.  It doesn't help that the July climate absolutely requires that Harley have a shower after we work, even if all we do is walk in the shade and trot for five minutes and this leaves almost no time for hand-grazing, about which Harley has already expressed his displeasure.  The summer months usually afford him thirty minutes of grazing after a workout, something that he counts on as part of his "Val-time".

I also have to try and fit other horse-care requirements into my "Harley-time" like replenishing fly spray, detangling his beautiful tail and now-partially-rubbed-out-mane (HARLEY!?!), washing tree-sap out of my horse's coat (a very messy two-step process), and the most-time consuming of all: trimming his feet.  For the first time ever, I wish that I wasn't trimming his feet myself.  It is extremely time-consuming and when all I can think about is a few minutes in the saddle, an upcoming trim becomes a figurative killjoy.  BUT I have made a commitment to my horse's feet.  Just add it to the long list of commitments that I am trying to balance right now and I am not even back at work yet.

Have you ever noticed that every horse chore or activity takes at least ten steps?  What is up with that?

Let's just say that Harley's bridle will remain moldy for the near future.  Thank goodness my saddle has a cover!

In the meantime, I will be banking as much Harley-time as possible, but the deposits have been slow-going so far.  Once or twice a week just ain't cutting it! 

Our first ride in 93 days exactly!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

My Husband Knows Me Very Well

As he should, but here is a great example...

Before Sweet Pea was born, we completed a series of Childbirth Education classes.  They were enormously helpful and still fresh in our minds when she was born, because, little did we know, she would be born just eight days after our last class.  This was almost a month ahead of schedule!

During one of the classes, our teacher was asking us to share our favorite ways to relax.  These strategies could be utilized during labor and delivery as coping techniques.  Many suggestions were made, such as music, massage, and hot or cold compresses.  All of these things seemed like common sense so I nodded in agreement, but didn't really contribute anything and then my husband leaned over and whispered,

"So how can we get Harley into the delivery room?"

Good one, Honey!  He read my mind. 

The horses in my life have always been my number one stress relievers.  Half an hour with Harley, even if I do not have time to ride (or cannot ride due to pregnancy or post-delivery recovery) works like magic to rejuvenate my energy and dedication.  This has also been true in high school, college, and throughout my professional career.  When I cannot see my horse, I feel my energies drain and I lose the patience and endurance required for life's challenges.  Right now I am working for a very demanding (yet adorable) little boss who requires my attention and care 24/7.  I am a very dedicated person, but every person needs down time.  My husband has been wonderful in so many ways throughout my pregnancy and now that Sweet Pea is here.  Just one of those many ways is his understanding that I need to see my horse to maintain my sanity and perspective during a very busy time.  He always made time to bring to me to see Harley at the end of our pregnancy, when I could barely walk, and now he arrives home from work and sends me to the barn for a sweet hour or so to brush, dote, shower, or lunge Harley.  It is pure bliss and better than any full night's sleep.  Seriously!

Thank you to my husband, who knows me very well, indeed, and is proving to be a fantastic father to little Sweet Pea. 
I knew he would be!

P.S. Aren't you wondering how we got Harley into the delivery room? 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Caring for Animals and Baby

It is my strong belief that having animals in one's life is a good preparation for having children.  Before I had a child, I refrained from telling people this, because I had the impression that my opinion about what might prepare someone for children was not appreciated unless I was in the "Mommy Club".  But now that I am an official member, I am going to say it.

"Caring for the animals in my life has helped prepare me for taking care of our daughter."

Nay-sayers eat your heart out.

Please don't take this too literally.

This does not mean that I have stayed up late taking care of my horse...

(Oh wait, yes I have, like the time I drove to the barn in the dark to see if he was eating.  And how many times have I researched his care late into the night or laid awake worrying about my horse's health or a recent affliction?  Or the countless hours spent studying his eating habits and diet and supplements...)

Well then, it doesn't mean that I have had to provide around-the-clock care...

(Oh wait, yes I have, like the time my cat was severely ill and I fed him night and day with an eyedropper.  Or the many times that I nursed his battle wounds from playing too rough with other felines.  And then there was his asthma (yes, I had a respiratory-compromised cat, too).  I had to give him daily inhaler treatments, not to mention teach him to accept an inhaler!  He was a special cat.)

Listen, I can think of countless parallels between caring for my animals and caring for my baby, but one that I did not anticipate is quite literal.

At the moment, I have a hardkeeping baby.

For those who may not be familiar with the term, "hardkeeper" refers to a horse who has trouble maintaining or gaining weight.  Harley has always fallen into this category, although not right now.  He looks absolutely smashing.  His vacation has allowed him to pack on some extra pounds and round out nicely.  That was a great unforeseen benefit.

First post-baby visit!  What a gorgeous pony.  :)
Sweet Pea was born a little early, so she lost a little more weight than is typical and is taking a little longer to gain it back.  She is otherwise fine and wonderful, healthy as a little horse (and eating like one), and feisty as anything that small could possibly be.  Her pediatrician is very much on top of things and we are working diligently to get her extra food in addition to nursing.  So this means that I am not only a 24/7 "breastaurant", but also a dairy-cow facility via Robo-Baby (a breast pump).  This is all very new and not like anything that I have done before, but the sentiments are very, very similar to caring for my horse (My cat at 20+ pounds was not a hardkeeper, by the way.).  I feel the same sense of urgency, which is compounded by the fact that our baby is a growing, developing human and Harley has always been a mature, adult horse since I have cared for him.  We will get there, but right now we are in the thick of it and to say that it is a full-time job is a gross-understatement.

All cliches aside, it is absolutely true that this little face makes it all worthwhile.

Too cute for words, but it doesn't stop me from trying.

I write this question completely tongue-in-cheek, but is there any chance that SmartPak could start a SmartBaby line?  How cute would those supplement wells be?

Monday, June 3, 2013


Our June baby turned out to be a May baby!

Our little Sweet Pea is an early birdie.

Looks like Harley's vacation will be ending sooner than expected.
I can't wait for him to meet our Sweet Pea, but at the moment we are very, very busy!

Our last pre-baby visit with Harley a few days before the big event.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Vacation and Dapples

Harley is enjoying his vacation, but I am not.  It is getting close to two months since I have ridden my horse.  This is the longest that I have gone without riding since some of those long winters during college (I graduated over ten years ago.) and at the interim between getting married, moving, and finding a new barn to call my home.  This is definitely the longest since I have owned Harley.  I thought that I would still be able to have fun with my horse from my own two feet, but I have had to give up groundwork now, too.  My center of balance is completely out of whack and I cannot put on any of my barn shoes or boots due to foot and ankle swelling.  It is really gross, but "normal" in the world of pregnancy.  My husband and I went to K-mart and bought men's Wellington-type boots so that I can at least visit my horse in something besides sandals.  I would not be able to reach down to lace up my regular boots even if I could fit into them.  My existence is very strange and foreign to me right now.  I am an active person, but I cannot manage even a short walk without needing to use the restroom and I hobble around like a crippled person on my fat feet.  Needless to say, this has also made my job as a middle school teacher very, very challenging.

On a more positive note, Harley's dapples have arrived!  At least the stunning beauty of my horse's spring coat can lift my spirits.  He is just so gorgeous.  I know that I am biased, but every year his coat transformation is remarkable.  I documented it in detail last year.  Just choose the "buckskin" tag to see some more impressive photos from 2012.  He is pictured below partaking in his favorite vacation pastime.

His tall, dark summer stockings are growing up his legs!  I love those.

Can you see some dapples on his shoulder.  They are not very visible in this light.  This picture doesn't do them justice and was taken in mid-May.  His coloring is even more dramatic now, at the end of the month.

Good Boy, Harley.  He has been cleaning his bowl every though he does not get formal exercise at this time.  Thank goodness for 24/7 turnout and a buddy to pal around with.  Despite his vacation, he remains a perfect gentleman when I retrieve him from the paddock for grooming and carrots.  I really am a lucky horse girl.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

A Rider's Seat Gone and Realized

A competent and effective seat is perhaps a rider's greatest tool in the saddle.  Sometimes the quality of the rider's seat is not obvious until things go awry.  For example, all may be well and good for a relatively well-balanced rider, until the horse spooks, takes-off, and drops a shoulder.  If the rider comes off over the descending shoulder, the seat was not properly installed on the horse.  The seat should be connected to the hind legs, not the shoulder, but this isn't always obvious until after eating dirt.

I have not been on my horse's back for six weeks now.  I miss riding him terribly, but I knew ahead of time that I would not be able to ride him at this point in my pregnancy (We have about a month to go!).  Our last ride was short, but wonderful and we spent most of the time in a smooth, steady canter.  The canter is Harley's favorite gait and it was definitely his idea to spend our last ride that way.  I also thought it totally appropriate that he requested to canter and offered a delightful rocking gait considering that he had a "baby on board".

My official reason for making that ride our last until later this summer was that I no longer fit in the saddle.  That was true, but it was not the only reason, just the easiest one to explain.  Leading up to that day, there were some hints that my saddle days were numbered.

The first hint was how I was using my hands.  As a dressage rider, I take great pride in "using" my hands very little.  Connection, straightness, and balance information are transmitted through the reins between me and my horse.  I do not use the reins for steering and it is rare that I have to truly "pull" on the reins (banish the thought, I know, but it does happen).  However, as my rides approached the first week in April, I started noticing that I was "using" my hands more and more.  I was starting to steer a bit with my hands and slow my horse down with a "squeeze and release" technique that I have taught to beginner riders.  The most dramatic case was in the canter.  I wanted to circle at one end of the arena and realized (with a certain amount of horror) that I had to haul on the inside rein to bring my horse onto the circle.  This was a very rude way to circle a horse who will follow my weight and take direction from my seat and legs.  The crude turn via my hands was an involuntary backup response, because apparently my seat and legs were not behaving as usual.  Harley obliged without a fuss, but I still apologized for my inferior technique.

The second hint was the use of my voice.  This was less noticeable to me as a clue that I would have to abandon the saddle, because I always talk to my horse when I ride.  I use the classic "gait" verbal cues as well as a couple of my own token sounds or sometimes I just talk to him, you know, like in English.  His ears are always back listening to me, which I greatly appreciate.  As our rides progressed with the second trimester, I realized that I was riding almost exclusively off my voice.  Harley would trot or canter from the sound of the word or a cluck or kiss and he came back to trot or walk when I asked him aloud.  This is not really a bad thing and it certainly doesn't hurt my horse or qualify as bad riding, but it was an indication that my physical aids were losing effectiveness.

All of a rider's aids work in concert, but the deal-breaker for me was the loss of my seat.  The seat is the keystone for the rest of the physical aids.  During our last couple rides, I literally could not sit in the saddle except at the walk.  Posting trot was delightful exercise and I stood straight up in my stirrups for the canter.  I have been gifted with excellent balance, so I never felt unsafe, but the writing was on the wall.  I cannot use my seat if it is not in the saddle AND if I did sit to try to rebalance my horse, nothing happened.  I could not engage my core to regulate my horse's pace (hence the "squeeze and release" on the reins), I could not control the shift of my weight to turn (hence my man-handling of the inside rein), and I could not support or initiate a half-halt.  Our last canter was glorious, but it was also all Harley.  He took me for a nice ride.  I was a complete (albeit well-cared for) passenger.  I tried to offer some input at one point and realized exactly how ineffective my seat and aids had become.  My abdominal muscles were so stretched out and without anywhere to go when I needed them to contract and support.  Without my abs, my back muscles were also unsupported and the stability of my torso at risk.  Neutral pelvis started to fade away.  It was not lost on me just how lucky I was to be riding a kind horse who had no intentions what-so-ever of taking advantage of my current short-comings in the saddle.  I was most definitely vulnerable, even if I still felt secure and safe.  I did not want to risk riding into uncertain territory and even the best horse can react unpredictably.  Those of us who have been riding and working with horses for a long time know this truth through and through.

So I patted and hugged Harley.  I thanked him for an outstanding ride and called it quits.  It killed me to do that and it took several weeks to admit definitively that I was no longer riding (I kept telling people that "I thought" I was done riding for now).  I appreciate that no one told me to stop riding before I quit on my own, including my husband.  He waited for me to make the decision and trusted that I would know when to say "when".

There are many silver-linings here, getting to meet our daughter in a few weeks being the greatest one.  The other is the realization that in losing my seat as a rider, I learned just how much I used it before.  I always hoped that I rode from my seat and that my seat was effective, but it was not until my seat was immobilized that I could be certain of its worth.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Instant Gratification in a Shedding Blade

It doesn't matter how many times I have traversed shedding season, I am always amazed by the amount of hair that falls away from my horse.  A lot of times, I just use a small hard brush to groom hair from the Brillo pad that is his winter coat, systematically removing the hair from the brush and transferring it to the garbage can as I work from his neck to his hindquarters.  But at some point, there is so much hair that my brush becomes stuffed with hair in just a few strokes.

Enter the shedding blade.

I don't know what it is, but the shedding blade is a ridiculously satisfying grooming tool.  Harley enjoys the nice scratching massage that he gets from the small teeth of the blade and the hair flies from his coat like a scene from Edward Scissorhands.

Nothing like a smooth horse!

These pictures were taken a few weeks ago.  Harley has lost a lot more hair since then, revealing some of the short, satiny hair of summer.  I can see lots of reddish hairs mixed in on his neck and shoulders.  Do you know what that means?

The dapples are on their way!

Harley is living the easy life these days: extended grooming sessions, hand-grazing, and carrot-time at the picnic table.  I try to get in an exercise session a couple times a week, but, honestly, he seems to be handling the down-time just fine.  In the six years that I have owned him, he has not had a long vacation and during this time of year I would probably be riding him as close to four times a week as my schedule would allow.  I hope at least one of us is enjoying it, because I am still gazing at his back longingly and wishing I were up there.  Wouldn't it be nice if you could just remove your pregnant belly for a few hours and put it back on later?  My bladder would sure appreciate that.  ;)

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Working in the Lines

Since I am not riding at the moment, Harley and I have been doing most of our work in the lines: one or two.  On afternoons after work I usually lunge him and save the long line sessions for the weekend when I have more time.  Harley has been working like a champ.  Yesterday, I lunged him and he demonstrated his skills for a barn-goer who was interested in the art of lungeing.  Harley did all his transitions from verbal commands and stretched his head to the ground with this lovely springy trot.  He got compliments for being so obedient and relaxed.  Thinking back to how he used to motorcycle around me on the line and could not handle the balance to canter a circle that small, I realized that he has come an amazingly long way.  I never really considered him a model lungeing horse, but I guess he had other plans!

This past weekend we returned to the long lines for the first time since the failed experiment of raising the lines to the upper rings.  Thankfully, the experience had melted away and he had no resentment for the lines now comfortably placed in the middle rings on the surcingle.  We got right to work with some nice walking and stretching into the bridle.  I love how the long lines allow me to warm up my horse with circles and straight lines, just as if I were riding.  I try to turn my hips and shoulders before using my hands to turn my horse.  It is a fun challenge to see how little I can do and Harley understands.

In the walk, most of the changes of direction are relatively easy, but the trot is a whole 'nother thing.  I cannot allow Harley to trot straight ahead for very long, because I am walking with him.  My lines have to be organized and my hands nimble for clear communication.  Most of the mistakes that I make in long lining come from the lines getting too long or too short and trying to manage the whip.  I absolutely hate catching my horse in the mouth, because I didn't manage my lines properly or turn him soon enough to prevent myself from getting left behind.  His expression tells me that he understands that my intent was not to hurt his mouth or turn him rudely, but it still disturbs the flow of his work, which can be very nice.

I am trying to develop some strategies for effective long lining.  This is what I have so far:

  1. Give my hands separate jobs.  Keep excess line draped (not wrapped!) in one hand and the whip in the other.  The whip-hand is also responsible for re-draping extra line or letting more line out.  This is still not easy, because I have small hands and the whip gets heavy.
  2. Keeping the whip in my whip-hand (right), move the whip from one side to the other when we change direction.  This means that the whip is crossed over the lines when we are traveling right.  So far, this seems to be less awkward than trying to transfer the whip to my left hand, which is holding a bunch of line.
  3. Always have excess line available.  This is important if I need to let more line out so my horse has time to turn or so he can stretch.  This is also important if the horse jumps forward suddenly.  Thankfully, that is rare, but it is a possibility.
Long lining reinforces many concepts from riding and I really like how Harley and I can still share a connection through the bridle, but it is definitely a different art and has its own feel.  I am looking forward to finding ways to finesse our practice.

If you have any strategies to add to my list, please let me know!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Funny Face

You are one of a kind, Harley.

Animals are the best stress relievers.  I always felt that way when I lived with my two cats.  There was nothing like running my fingers through their soft fur or feeling my "Big Guy" purr after a bad day.  He had the best purr, loud and continuous.  I did not own a horse until I was married and in my late twenties, but lesson horses fit the bill up until that point.  I love how horses demand your full attention.  They can make you forget yourself.  This is especially true in a lesson or during a challenging ride or training experience.  The value of having something in your life that can truly make your brain stop running circles and just focus on the task at hand is immeasurable.

Considering all the life changes that are on the horizon, I wouldn't say that I am particularly stressed right now.  I can think of many much more stressful times in my life (high school, college, graduate school and student teaching-it was a bear) than the anticipation of our first child.  In fact, this is quite exciting and I feel like we set ourselves up pretty well for starting a family.  We are both employed, we have a house with empty bedrooms, and safe cars including a minivan. 

By the way, there seems to be a lot of resistance toward minivans.  I am not sure why.  They are like a truck and family car all rolled into one with better gas mileage than SUVs and a lower center of gravity.  Family and friends balk at the thought of owning a minivan until the necessity arises to transport a group of people, traveling baggage, or a large item, and then they like the convenience.  Anyway, we have been teased for years for having a van with no kids, so I guess we will finally install a car-seat and ease the confusion of those who have not seen the (minivan) light.  My husband jokes that we should get rid of the van now that we will actually have a child.

Since Harley and I have been a pair for while now, we are not at that stage where we are figuring each other out or tackling the next big training goal.  The boundaries of our horse-human relationship were established a long time ago and we are very comfortable together.  It is our silent companionship that lowers my stress meter and leaves me feeling refreshed after time spent together.  I like to think that my horse feels the same way.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Rider Confessions

The last time that I rode my horse, I was hung-over. 

"Hung-over the saddle" that is and specifically the pommel.  I think that I might actually be hitting the stage where I no longer fit in the saddle.  I am about 31 weeks pregnant, for those who may be wondering what on Earth I am talking about.

I rode Harley on the last day of Spring Break, April 5th.  It was an absolutely gorgeous day and he was blissfully free of coughs.  I rode him for a short time after our (less than stellar) long-lining session and he wanted very badly to canter.  The canter was wonderful, but I chose to stand in my stirrups.  It just didn't feel right to sit anymore.  I could barely stand high enough to keep all of myself out of the saddle and off the pommel.  With dressage length stirrups, this was a challenge.  We returned to posting trot, as Harley offered a lovely stretch and I found that I was having the same trouble in trot.  Sure, I could raise my stirrups a few holes, but raising your center of balance is contrary to a balanced position and security in the saddle.  Obviously, giving up either of those things in not an option, especially when Harley is carrying two of us!

I think my saddle days are over until after our baby's birthday.  Tomorrow, it will have been two weeks since I rode my horse and I already miss it.  I know that this is for a very good reason, but it still makes me sad to think of not riding him for months.  I am also not sure when I will be able to ride him after the baby is born.  I really, really, really hope that I do not have to have a c-section.  Thankfully, so far there is no reason to suggest that I will.  I need my core muscles in one piece to ride my horse and I cannot imagine not riding for the entire summer.  Now that notion really makes me sad.

I have still been visiting Harley and working him from the ground.  We have had some really nice lungeing sessions.  He has been feeling good and so eager to work that his transitions have been spot on from just my voice.  He has also been stretching his topline and touching his nose to the ground as he trots around me.  He looks so beautiful that it just makes me want to ride him more!

I am really glad that I took the time to teach my horse and myself groundwork exercises long before I ever knew that there would be a time that I couldn't ride my horse.  However, this doesn't change the fact that I long for that swinging motion in the saddle.  Nothing else quite compares.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Towel Use #328

Equine Dust Mask

Cute.  Silly.  Mysterious.  Shy (He is anything but.).  Sneeze guard.  A veil?

Harley's simple, cheap dust mask has been described in many ways, but no matter how you describe it, the bottom line is that it is working!  No coughing during a grooming session means a happy horse and that makes me a happy owner.

Harley is such a good sport.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Long Lining and Allergy Update

Allergy Update:
Harley coughed so little yesterday, that I almost forgot to give him his allergy medicine!  We spent several hours together and he only coughed a few times.  We had a long lining session and I rode him a little bit and he barely coughed at all!  Yay!  Today could be totally different, but I am still going to celebrate yesterday.

I tried something new.  Grooming seems to send him into coughing fits, even if I groom him in the washstall outside, so I decided that he needs a "dust mask", just like I used to wear to clean stalls.  I draped a small towel from the noseband of his halter.  He looked kind of silly, but it actually worked.  No coughing!  I might try an old t-shirt next time, since it will be a lighter material.  He seemed to think that I "forgot" the towel and kept trying to grab it with his mouth.  So his dust mask doubled as a source of amusement.  I fed him some treats to inform him in terms that he can understand that towel = good.  I guess this is just one more use of a towel to add to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy!

Long Lining:
Since I had a week off, there was a long list of things to get done that I normally do not have time to do.  With the baby coming in less than three months, it was more critical than usual that I take advantage of this time off from work to get some work done at home.  Of course, this includes Harley.  I trimmed his front feet and I am happy to say that the preemptive strike worked.  No hoof wall separation or flare developing and the trim was pretty fast and easy.  His hinds will be next time.  Re-introducing Harley to the long lines was also on my "must do" list.  Although I am feeling great, my saddle days are definitely numbered.  I needed a couple days where I did not have to rush to bring out the surcingle and lines so that Harley and I could get reacquainted with long line work, before I feel too much like "Humpty Dumpty". 

Our first shot was on Monday.  Unfortunately, Harley's allergies were not cooperating, but he was still willing and the work was not strenuous, so we were still able to have to some fun and accomplish my goal of re-introduction of the lines.

Harley was just about perfect.  Unfortunately, I cannot take photos while long lining and I did not think to bother someone else to take any, so you will have to take my word for it.  He looked great!  I had power-steering.  He stretched into the lines almost immediately and used his back and topline in some really beautiful ways.  We circled, we went straight ahead, we walked figure eights and even trotted figure eights!  The last time that I tried trotting figure eights we had some trouble maintaining the trot for the direction change (and I had some trouble keeping my lines from tangling), but this time Harley just marched right through the change and I managed to keep my lines in check.  It was too easy.  The grand finale was a little bit of canter.  Cantering in the lines is still new for us, but you wouldn't have guessed it by the easy way he picked up the gait and rounded up into the contact.  I was delighted.  Long lining this spring is going to be fun!

The only thing that did not go excellently was the trot-walk-trot transitions.  For some reason, he preferred to shorten his trot and do this beautiful little collected trot instead of transitioning to walk.  I am not terribly worried about fixing our communication for that one.  I rode him later and realized that I release the reins when I ask for walk.  In the lines I mistakenly increased the contact, which must have told him to stay in gait and collect.  What a problem, right?

Trial and Error with emphasis on Error:
Training a horse involves experience, time, and some trial and error.  I do not like to make training mistakes, but I also think that you have to make some, or you never learn what not to do.  I made a training mistake yesterday.

After Harley's hoof  trim, I decided to take out the lines again and re-test, but this time I got the brilliant idea to put the lines through the top ring on the surcingle.  I normally use the middle ring with him and he likes this very much.  I have tried the top ring before and it was a fail (he balked and felt trapped), but I was tempted to try again.

Why use the top ring?
  • The upper position is closer to my hand position.  Harley likes my hands carried above his withers.  The middle ring seems to pull down on him sometimes, which is contrary to our training MO.  
  • I drape the lines behind his butt and I thought the top ring would make it easier to keep the lines up and out of harms way.
Harley was very tolerant, but it became clear that the upper ring is still wrong for him.  He did not stretch into the lines at all and by the end of our trial period, his back was completely turned off.  There was no swing in his step, although it sort of looked like he had more suspension in his front end.  I think this was false suspension and result of him pulling his forehand up instead of lifting with his abdominal muscles.

Eventually, he sort of went "on the bit", but his neck was short and the bloom of muscle infront of his withers was missing.  My teacher and I have worked diligently to help him release that part of his neck, so that was pretty much a deal-breaker for me.  The look in his eye was unmistakable, too.  He gets this blood-shot looking edge to his eye when he is stressed and unhappy.  His mouth was also barely moist.  He usually has a nice rim of foam.  He did his best to work forward, but eventually started to tune me out and ignore my vocal commands.  I am not opposed to pushing my horse's comfort zone for the purposes of growth and improvement, but that is not what this was. 

The final straw was the line getting stuck up, under his tail!  I cannot believe that he didn't freak.  His tail was clamped down pretty tight, so it was just a matter of time before he gave the lines the "hoof".  I reset the lines to the middle ring after that and chastised myself.

"Never try the top ring again.  Never, never."

Oh well, live and learn.

It took several minutes for Harley to relax and get even close to the wonderful work that he did on Monday.  He stretched his neck and back in relief immediately, but was resentful of the lines.  He showed his resentment by rooting against them aggressively as he walked around.  I gave him as much slack as I could and told him "no", when he rooted.  My power-steering was temporarily gone.  Thankfully, he was mostly back to normal after a few minutes. 

Harley is a forgiving horse, but he did inform me that I owed him a canter under saddle after that.  I obliged and it was a wonderful canter indeed!  That was what finally made him (and me) feel better about the whole thing.  Some happy snorts and stretchy trot were my apology accepted.  Thank goodness!