Wednesday, June 24, 2020

2020 Updates

Hello everyone! Long time no post. I've been suffering burnout from work since sometime late last year, and it hasn't let up this year. I've had zero desire to get on here and write anything after spending my day frustrated and staring at a computer. Put that on top of it being a bit of a dark time mentally for me, then pile on COVID-19 madness, and you don't have a good recipe for blog writing. Plus like... it was mostly low content times.


I hope you and yours are safe and well in this pandemic, and your life hasn't been turned upside down to an unmanageable point. I'm one of the lucky ones- my husband and I are both working at home 100% since mid March (expected through at least September, if not the end of the year) and it's BAU for us. I fall into a few of the health risk categories, so I'm extremely grateful to be able to work from home.

Our barn didn't close, but we did excessive cleaning with social distancing rules. Social distancing is getting easier as the weather warms up. I still feel safe going out there because of all the precautions I take personally and the precautions the staff takes. I wipe down my trunk, locker, and stall front when I arrive and before I leave. I keep a halter and lead rope for my personal use and leave Eli's regular halter and lead for staff to use. I tack up in my stall using a personal set of cross ties so that I don't have to share community cross ties. I wash my hands when I get there, at least once while I'm there, and before I leave. I use paper towels to open doors. Most of the other boarders do something similar.

This set up actually did a fabulous job of teaching him he's ok alone in the barn. I found he was a lot less worried about things when he was in his "safe space." It also taught him to stay in his freaking stall instead of running out!

As a barn, we've been using the TeamUp app to note when each of us will be at the barn so we can spread out throughout the day. There were some minor tweaks I had to make to my barn schedule, but I'm still getting out there 4 to 5 days a week.

I'm also on staff at the barn, so I participate in cleaning high traffic surfaces as well as the gator, pitch forks, wheelbarrows, brooms, and dust pans. The barn lounge was closed almost immediately to discourage loitering, and was staff only up until recently. Knock on wood, staff and boarders have all been healthy so far and we're going out of our way to protect ourselves and everyone else.
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Eli and I have been trucking along, taking everything slowly because I'm mentally struggling (but getting better now). Instead of seeing the good in each ride, I was only seeing what I hadn't done or wasn't doing because of fear. It made horses not fun, and I didn't want to go to the barn or ride. I wanted to sell everything and be done with horses, but I didn't know what I'd do instead.

I took GP trainer's advice back in March and got in contact with the sports psychologist she used several years ago. The program I was using got me in the saddle and going with Eli, but wasn't enough. I'm still in the early phases of the new program, it's hard but it's working.

It took an obscene number of pictures to get one with his ears semi-forward. He was gorging himself on grass and looked unhappy about it. 🤣

I got to have a great virtual lesson with Megan at the end of March! She really helped me to start bringing Eli's hind legs closer together so he engages better, but we also went over the cues for shoulder fore, and teaching a young horse how to respond properly. Breaking it down into attainable steps really helped in other aspects of riding too.

I also figured out back in April that a lot of my trouble with Eli taking over and pulling me out of the saddle came from him physically pulling the bit forward in his mouth and then leaning hard on it. He's gotten his tongue over the bit a bunch of times doing that trick. I wasn't trusting myself to keep my own balance so I was using his mouth for balance (I know, bad!), so this trick was really effective at destabilizing me.

When I ordered his bridle after he came home, I got a plain cavesson and a drop noseband. I swapped out that plain noseband for the drop. What a difference! He fussed with the bit, trying to take it from me, had a slam on the brakes tantrum when he couldn't pull the bit forward, and then settled into really steady work. Steady in tempo and the contact.



I've been able to pick the fights, and win them quickly, over not leaning, giraffing, or rooting. When Eli can't pull the bit forward, he doesn't get his balance lurching around, which means I have core to spare, so I can shake him off my hand and put my leg on and use a seat based half halt to put him back in contact seeking mode.

I also found a trainer in my area to take lessons from. She's been around for ages and finished her gold medal last year. We've been lessoning every other week since the end of March. Lessons revolve around self carriage with suppleness for Eli and correct position for me. GP Trainer P is forward into the contact and not pulling the horse into it, and she's been very understanding about my fear issues and Eli being a new partnership. (the video above was from our 3rd lesson, the two below are from our... 5th? on 6/5/2020)



I made a few other tack adjustments in the last 2 months:

Changed the bit from a HS RS Dynamic Loose Ring Lozenge to a Nathe. Eli has never been great about bridling (tall horse becomes a giraffe). In fact, I have to be careful he's still tied to something because sometimes he'll turn and leave as soon as he knows the bridle is coming! Penn was never difficult to bridle, but he gobbled up the Nathe like candy. When I put him in a double to take pictures before he went to his new home, he refused to take the bit the next day until he realized it was the Nathe again. I was at a loss of what to do bit wise for Eli. He had a hard, dead mouth, wasn't thrilled about meeting the contact, and evaded being bridled. I tried a cookie after taking the bit to encourage him to go along with it, which helped at least keep him in place, if not head down. He didn't seem... happy. I was afraid I wouldn't have breaks with the Nathe, but I got so fed up one day I just popped it on and thought, "I can always dismount if he's not listening."

Uh, for the first time ever, I had real direct rein steering. I didn't realize it was missing. He wasn't afraid of the contact, in fact he went right to it. We kept it and haven't looked back! He's been much, much happier in the contact. The amount of BTV curling has also been reduced. Sure it still happens sometimes when I get too heavy handed because I've lost my balance (sorry Eli), but he lives on the vertical for the most part.

First or second ride with a new-to-us saddle!

Put Penn's Hastilow Concept Elevation on consignment with the saddle fitter and found a used Black Country Bellissima. GP Trainer mentioned she first saw Eli that she didn't think the saddle was a good long term fit for Eli, but I didn't get a new one at that time because I figured he'd be changing shape and Penn's fit well enough for now. Fast forward to the end of April. Penn's saddle had been reflocked twice, and I'd widened it once already. Suddenly, the panels weren't sitting right and it was both pinching the very top of the whithers causing pressure bumps while being too wide at the bottom points (meaning it was too wide). Making the tree narrower only made the bumps worse (so it's also the wrong shape). When I stuck my hand into the gullet, I found the left panel under the twist was sitting on Eli's spine ever so slightly. I put Penn's old Stubben 1894 on, which is several CM too small, and Eli preferred to have his back squeezed than whatever was going on with the Hastilow. I suspected that he also disliked the flex-tree in it- he seems to enjoy steady, non-chatterbox tack.

After what seemed an age, (ok not really, 3 weeks and one homemade saddle pad later that relieved the spine interference for the most part), my previously scheduled appointment with the saddle fitter came and we settled on the Black Country Eloquence. I test rode a padded up WXW to see if Eli liked the tree (he loved it) and if I liked the feel (I did not). The main hang up was the saddle I was trying was a half size too small, which made everything feel off. Saddle Fitter did not have an Eloquence in stock in an 18.5 that I could try, and Black Country was still closed from the virus. We talked about having something custom made because I didn't like how the seat felt and we thought I'd enjoy a slightly forward flap dressage saddle (thank you Mary Wanless), but I also wasn't prepared to spend $4500+ on a new saddle. Instead, we did some internet scouring during my fitting and found a few 18.5 MW candidates that allowed trials, and I reached out to them. I took the WXW on trial so I'd have something to ride him in and to make sure he kept liking the tree. I actually found the saddle winner the next morning- a very well used Bellissima. The Bellissima is the same tree and saddle as the Eloquence, but is the luxury model.

From the tack shop's website

I called the tack shop selling it first thing when they opened and it was on its way to me that afternoon! I was super nervous about it not fitting Eli since it looked a little narrow to be a MW, but it fit Eli like it was made for him. It also felt like it was made for my butt! It encourages me to keep my pelvis tilted up, thigh rolled in, core engaged... all those Mary Wanless taught ideas. I still think I'd like more forward flaps, but it will work for now. If/when Eli outgrows this saddle, I'll order a custom Bellissima (because in truth, I love calfskin seats). I just have to save for it!

Eli has felt like he was about to buck for 90% of the rides I'd had on him up to this point. I'd check in with other people riding with me and they'd say, "No, there is no buck in his back." It made me nervous to put leg on or really ask Eli to do things. My friend that rides Eli sometimes didn't register the feeling because her mare feels like that all the time (very high internal pressure mare who does often buck when she feels she's been wronged). That feeling is gone!

Monty Robert's Dually Halter over the bridle with a second set of reins hooked to the rope nose as a sort of emergency brake.

Eli can also walk downhill under saddle. I started trail riding with a Dually Halter safety net and the idea that simply getting into the woods was a victory, even if I got off and led him. The major problem I had was his inability to sit down to go downhill. He'd flail and try to trot off, stumbling and running into the horse in front of us. With the Bellissima, that is gone. I didn't make some miraculous training adjustment overnight... I changed the saddle and he sat like he's supposed to. He likes it better!


Thanks to the change of saddle, I had this first successes on 5/26/2020, when I just "went for it" and cantered outside because Eli felt safe. Sure, I'm super freaking handsy and using him to balance myself, but to get less handsy in the canter I need to practice the canter.

I made the change official on Memorial Day when I drove to the fitter's office to drop off Penn's saddle for consignment, return the trial saddle, and have them vet the Bellissima for soundness. I took a bunch of pictures of it sitting on Eli and of Eli's back without it so they could evaluate balance and his musculature. The saddle needs to be reflocked, but with a shim it'll do until the fitter can get out again.
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In other news, the beauty of the internet has also led me to some incredible strangers. Through Instagram, I found someone who managed to get SoloShot to replace her arm tag because she was sent a faulty tag. I tried to get a new tag under warranty back in Oct 2018 and got no where with them after a month of pestering. This lovely individual, who was a stranger to me and we had nothing more in common than a love for horses and broken SoloShot3s, used her connections to get my inquiry to the right people at SoloShot. I got a new tag about a month ago, and my Soloshot3 has worked almost flawlessly since! It has had a couple goof ups in tracking where I'm not sure what happened, but it has worked well enough for 95% of my rides because I keep it on medium view instead of tight... so videos on the blog will end up a bit zoomed out, sorry! But the bright side is... I'll have new media regularly!


6/20/2020 We love a super boring canter these days :)
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As for the blog, I'm certainly not closing it. I'm also not going to be updating it as much (heck, I've only managed... 3 times this year?). I'll probably do a bit more updating now that the Soloshot3 is working again!


We started cavaletti Sundays back up this past weekend. We stopped them when Eli started bolting through this same exercise and I had to use the 90 degree turns to trip him up and help him not anticipate. I did a bunch of cavaletti on the long lines to let him figure out cantering trot poles like a wild man was not a safe thing to do. Ever since, knock on wood, he's been good!

Monday, February 3, 2020

The Curious Case of Inappropriate Poop

Horses are not dicks on purpose people. Dogs, cats, horses and animals in general don’t do things out of spite. If they’re mad, they tell you right away, end of story. Then they’re back to themselves, and they might like you less, but it’s a constant dislike. Not plotting. Horse dynamics within the herd are swift and severe, and then it’s over.

I mean, this totally looks like Sophie is going to kill me in my sleep. But alas no, she is simply tolerating my shenanigans.

Around the time we switched to day time turnout, I started getting reports about my horse being an asshole because he was pooping in his water bucket. Then it was his feed bin, NIGHTLY. I was racking my brain to figure out what was wrong.

It all started with Eli pooping in his water, and barn staff complaining they had to dump it every morning. It took me a couple weeks to work out that he was leaning on his buckets while he slept, and then horses are horses, so he pooped where he stood… which happened to be in the water bucket. The staff tried moving it all over his stall, and without fail, every night he’d find it and poop in it. We tried “poop training” him by putting another horse’s poop in the stall where we wanted him to poop (and his too). It worked for one night only.

When he switched stalls due to an unhealthy attachment to a turnout buddy who also lived next to him in the barn, he started pooping in his feed bin. This cause a bit of an uproar. Inexperienced staff wouldn’t check the feed bin before dumping grain (something ALL STAFF should do for EVERY HORSE anyway), he’d eat half his own poop, and I’d have a shit fit come evening when I found poop mashed around in his grain bin. I was not kind. Everyone said my horse was just being a dick. I kept saying he liked to lean on things while he slept and he was simply being a horse, pooping where he stood.

One particularly bad night where he got all 3.
Horse people really like taking pictures of poop don't they? 

The solution was a gate feeder (like for outside horses) for AM feed after the night in the stall. This worked well and my brains stayed in my head. Poop was removed when the stall was cleaned after breakfast, all was well other than Eli was annoying majority of the staff.

The other odd thing I’ve been fighting is a hock sore on the right hind that just wouldn’t go away. Eli was reopening it every day it seemed, and had been for months. Nothing I did got it to close. After the stall move, a new sore started on the back of his left hock, right on the point of the hock.

Partially healed hock sore that no amount of bedding would stop from reoccurring.

On a completely different (but I promise related note), the Mary Wanless GP trainer I saw in December expressed some concerns about Eli’s hind end. I dutifully got the work ups for lyme and EPM (no spinal tap, just blood, I know it’s not the golden standard), and had a lameness exam and neuro exam. The most we got was he clear on EPM and lyme, was very tight in his lower back, and lazy behind. Both MWGP and my vet suggested chiro work. I had used “adjusters” in the last few months (they aren’t vets and basically did glorified massage and stretches), because I hadn’t heard from my favorite equine vet chiropractor in ages. He is older and travels from Michigan to Western PA to see us, and I assumed he wasn’t making the rounds anymore.

I called his office and got a, “Why yes he’s still coming around! He’ll be in your area next Wednesday!”

Brilliant. Adjustment day came. We joked with Dr W about Eli being a big horse, he’ll need a bigger step to do adjustments. Dr W said, nah he can’t be that big.

First thing Dr W says is, “That is a BIG horse.”

Second thing Dr W says, “This horse’s hind end is a mess.”

Note higher right top of the hip up high in this poor photo.

Basically, Dr W thinks Eli fell at some point in his adult life, most likely before he came to live with me because he's been pretty much the same moving behind since he arrived. He said it wouldn’t take much, since Eli is just so big it’s a lot of mass coming down. His back wasn’t flexible and springy, and what I thought was a small misalignment of the hips (the right sits slightly higher) is actually a bad misalignment.

Eli did not enjoy his hind end adjustment. A friend held his head, I put hands on his left side to keep him from moving, and Dr W adjusted the right side from above (and yes, he thought a 4 step block would have helped!). Eli tried to bite and kick Dr W, all while hitting him with his tail. As soon as the adjustment was made, Eli switched gears and became a sleepy puppy that wanted to snuggle Dr W.

Dr W was super pleased with the adjustment, gave him B12 injections all over his SI and hip areas, as well as the left shoulder since that was also adjusted, and thought we could have it sorted after 3 or 4 more visits (every 8-9 weeks).

Guess what happened?

No, he didn't magically love tarps because of his adjustment. But he doesn't care about tarps anyway.

Eli stopped pooping in his water buckets and feed bin. Sure, he still gets it wrong sometimes. But we have more good nights than bad (I get weekly report cards from the experienced staff and the barn owner). His hock sores are almost healed over, 3 weeks after his adjustment. He also swings better through his back under saddle, but that’s not the point here. Whatever is going on in his hind end meant he wasn’t comfortable sleeping standing up without leaning on something.

You know what else happened? Some of his more neurotic attachment tendencies inexplicably declined. He can be in the barn by himself without having a screaming meltdown. Is he 100% comfortable by himself? Of course not. But he's doing better. It could be that he's getting better quality sleep, which helps his brain function normally, and he doesn't stress as much (I don't see why it would be any different than when humans don't get enough sleep). He's not on any calming stuff anymore, by the way. I pulled that more than a month ago.

I expect it all to get worse again by the mid to end of February when he’s due for another adjustment, and then to be better than now after his next adjustment.

The lesson everyone? HORSES ARE NOT DICKS ON PURPOSE. It just takes some sleuthing to understand what’s wrong. I just happened upon on the correct solution, and you bet I won’t forget it.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

2019 Wrap Up

I'm combining my 2019 goal review and 2019 wrap up into one post, because well, we're out of days in 2019 for me to post them! And I almost missed the last day to post this!

Let's see how we did with the goals:

1. Get Penn settled in his new home.

CHECK! I hear from Penn's new owners multiple times a month and he is fat, hairy and happy. He's also sound again! It took until July, but he's back doing low level dressage with the family's youngest daughter and trail riding with everyone else. He lives out 24/7 now and is doing well. I haven't been able to bring myself to visit him, but I will next year I think.


2. Find a new horse.

CHECK. This was a bad year, sorry guys. Finding, then losing, Liam was terrible. I basically horse shopped from January to August with a 3 month break from April to June. That was also terrible. At least I have Eli now! He's such a great boy, and is exactly what I needed.



3. Stay on top of my own health (treat asthma appropriately, de-stress to lower my blood pressure, continue to lose weight or at a minimum don't gain back what I've lost).

Ehhhh... well de-stressing didn't last long, I've been horribly stressed for most of the year and generally unhappy. I've also been plagued with health issues that meant not only did I not ride often, but I also didn't bike. I gained back the 30 pounds I lost last year and spent the last quarter of the year struggling to lose anything. With the weight gain and lack of cardio, my asthma is starting to act up, despite daily medication.


4. Bike from Pittsburgh to DC.

Nope. This got derailed quickly as the group I was going to bike with slowly disbanded and it's not a trek I'm about to make by myself. I also didn't have the vacation time to spend on the trip after Liam's trip to OSU and his death. Hopefully Husband and I will ride the length of the GAP trail next year.
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Next is a month by month run down of the year, because a lot did happen that never made it to the blog.

January

I started horse shopping.

Went to Canada.

Austen came to visit me and took WONDERFUL pictures of me and Penn. Seriously. Love.


Penn went to his new home and settled in beautifully.


February

Back at the end of 2018, Kate and Megan schemed for me to travel to CA for the Mary Wanless Instructor Workshop. That happened at the end of January/ beginning of February and was seriously a huge turning point in how I rode. For the first time in a long time, I felt secure in the saddle. I've always felt pretty laterally secure in my upper body in the saddle, but I struggled with longitudinal security, and I've always struggled to stay plugged in. Megan drove me around and Kate graciously let me borrow horses to ride, and gave me a lesson before I went home that came with a breakdown of everywhere my position was failing. I went home and worked on it! I spent almost a month at the walk at home, running through my check list!


March

I spent most of the end of February and all of March horse shopping. Failed vettings occurred and one sale horse dumped me hard. I got back in touch with Event Trainer to go see Liam.


April

Liam came home and we did all kinds of baby horse stuff like leading, yielding, standing to be groomed.


Husband and I go on a whirlwind Vegas/Phoenix/Grand Canyon adventure for our anniversary.


May

I took Madonna to two Mary Wanless clinics where Mary helped me get my posting trot more effective and my core engaged. I loved my lessons. Madonna did not, she started acting out under saddle and rearing when I tried to get on, then bolting.


June

The veterinary disaster month. Liam was eventually diagnosed with Wobblers and was put down June 27.


July

I started riding a gentle school horse with a good amount of motion in her ocean to get used to riding again, and to canter again for the first time in months. I went to see several more sale horses and then saw Eli. I started biking again.


August

My new horse trailer arrived!


Health issues abound! I gave myself a concussion and my blood pressure was spiking. I had to stop biking after the concussion.


Eli came home! I had my hand held through our first few weeks of riding as I was afraid to even trot him because my body was not responding like it used to. I had a few lessons with the German Dressage Trainer.


September

Husband and I took advantage of the long holiday weekend and went to Canada together: Niagara Falls and Toronto.


Eli and I continued to get to know each other.

I went to Dressage at Devon and finally got to meet Jenj!

October

I spent a lot of October hating my job and extremely stressed about it. I got my crap together and updated my resume and practiced my interview questions. Nothing comes of the brief search and phone interviews, which only added to my stress levels.

November

I signed up for a program to get over my irrational riding fear. Immediately, I was able to stop lunging Eli before riding and able to redirect my anxiety so I could cope long enough to get going under saddle. Still lots to work on, but I was excited to ride again.

The month of lessons! I had a lesson I hated with German Dressage Trainer. My barn hosted a clinic and I had two good rides with that trainer, and even cantered a little.

With some of my nervousness and anxiety handled, I took Eli to see GP Trainer finally. She had freshly broken her hand so she couldn't ride him herself, but her staff gave Eli two very badly needed schools that really set the tone in a way I couldn't because of my fear. I rode too! We worked on small goals that were quite reminiscent of GP Trainer's small goal confidence building methodology for green horses (achieve a small task and send then back to the barn glowing with pride in themselves).

I went home from that weekend with GP Trainer with my hair on fire and SO MUCH more confidence than before.


December

I kept working Eli and became increasingly frustrated that my half halt didn't work and I couldn't seem to get him off the left rein. He constantly looked right (both directions) and I'm aware of my pulling left hand, so I had no idea what to do to fix it that didn't involve pulling my left rein. He'd look left and pull/run through my half halts.

I went to see Cob Jockey's GP Trainer (who I'll call JT), who we met in May when she hosted Mary Wanless. She rode Eli and went over a ton that I want to write another post about. Hopefully I can get that out first thing in the new year! We did two lessons that started with her riding and then a short lesson for me. She helped me feel like I was in more control as I gained more influence over Eli. At the end of my second lesson, I cantered a full 20m circle in some semblance of control and structure, something I haven't done since I tried him in July (and that was like cantering a freight train).


I've had very good rides since I've been home and I'm slowly using the entire indoor at home (even the scary area by the back door). And we've ventured to the outdoor on the handful of warm December days!
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And lastly, I want to thank everyone for sticking around and coming by to read and comment on my ramblings. It means a lot that you're coming back to read my sporadic posts this year. I started this blog in May 2014 and it certainly chronicled an exciting part of my life. For the longest time, I wrote to myself, but slowly picked up the greatest friends I have now. The people I've met and talked to through the blogosphere have greatly influenced my life.

Remember when we were kids and our parents told us "Don't talk to strangers on the internet?" I'm so glad to have ignored that.


Here's to a healthy and happy 2020 for all!

Monday, December 30, 2019

2010s In Photos

I'm jumping on the bandwagon for this challenge! Thank goodness for Facebook and this blog to find the old photos. I know I'm supposed to keep to one picture a year... but for a couple of the years I just couldn't help it.

2010
I started eventing again after a 6 year break.

2011
Mikey and I did a lot of hunters and jumpers in prep for our first recognized horse trials. While there are other pictures that more adequately show what we did, this is my favorite picture from 2011. My in laws had a drawing of this picture commissioned after Mikey's death, and I still tear up looking at it.

2012
The highlight of the year was doing the long format beginner novice at Full Moon Farm. A great place with incredible people and I had an incredible time.

2012 (again)
Couldn't help adding a second picture. This is from my first novice, that I rode with a sprained ankle (visible side).

2013
This was the year I started showing dressage only. That's not the highlight from the year though. Husband took a series of silhouettes one evening, and they're still among my favorite pictures.

2014
Mikey and I kept showing dressage, riding 2nd and 3rd level as I tried to clean up his changes enough to finish my bronze.

2015
Mikey had surgery for a fracture bed in his hock. He recovered, we showed 3rd level again, and a month later he died. Our 11 year relationship ended in a flash.

2015 (again)
Penn entered my life shortly after Mikey's death and provided a healing balm.

2016
A year showing at recognized first level. And a hug for Penn at the end of our championship test.

2017
Penn helped me finish my bronze medal!

2018
A tragic year for Penn's soundness, we did one major fun thing and checked off an item off my bucket list... sorting cows!

2019
PC Austen
I realized I couldn't manage Penn's rehab and gave him to a friend who could. Austen was so generous in coming to take beautiful winter photos of us.

2019 (again)
Beefcake Liam came and went from my life in the blink of an eye.

2019 (again again)
Eli came into my life and reminded me that horses are fun, and riding is fun too.

May the 2020s have as much fun and joy as the 2010s, but please, with a lot more soundness and good health for all.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Hoof Update

Since Eli has come home, we've had 4 trims at some odd intervals because he's lost a front shoe (or both) before his next appointment. Despite how bad that sounds, he is keeping his shoes on much better than the original set he came with. All of his list shoes revolved around him doing something dumb outside at the 4ish week mark in the cycle. We're aiming to do his fronts on 4 week cycles to keep the shoes on, and his hinds on 5 to 6 week cycles because they seem to be in better condition.



Dirty because these pics were actually taken 2 days after his trim. 



The visible changes aren't as drastic anymore, but we still have plenty to do. We're still dealing with the shape of his hooves at the very bottom, which is from when his toes were allowed to grow way too long so the angle is messed up.

Hooves are a long road, but we're getting there. It'll be interesting to look at these with a year's worth of pictures!