Monday, December 11, 2017

Mystery Lameness

The Saturday before GP Trainer came to town, I pulled Penn out of his stall to ride him after we turned out horses... and found this:

The hind legs had some fill and bow-like looks.
The front of the cannon had a bow on it too, can't seem to find that pic though.
He was also very lame on the left hind.

The left leg was hot hot hot. The right was hot, but not as hot. I had a farrier hoof test him for the world's worst abscess- nothing. Except when he put Penn's hoof down, Penn was positively crippled, just standing in the barn aisle. Penn had tried to jerk the left hind away from the farrier, then lifted it ultra high, which I'm guessing basically acted like a flex test. The horse could barely stand for the first 10 seconds after.

Cold hosing did absolutely nothing to the heat in either leg. I didn't evaluate it as an emergency- everything that should be on the inside was still on the inside, and his eyes and face were fine. If it was a soft tissue injury, stall rest was the answer and he could chill in his stall until the vet came on Tuesday for an already scheduled appointment.

I had to get help to wrap Penn's hind legs- he really wanted nothing touching his legs and kept trying to kick me. I gently wrapped him in his BOT no-bows. I didn't want him naked while he stood in a stall for a few days, but I didn't want to hurt him either.

Panic. I did an OK job keeping the panic to a minimum. I was more panicked about trying to fill my two lesson spots the following weekend, or try to find another horse to ride, than "OMG my horse is going to be sidelined for a while." Probably wrong priorities, but it was the first thought.

I tried the barn's ice compression boots the next day (Sunday), and they did a good job on the swelling.

Penn HATED them. Ugh.

Penn seemed to be a bit better on swelling and touch sensitivity the next day, and he was eating and drinking like a champ. If anything, he was drinking more.

I took him to the indoor to check his soundness and to let him get out of his stall.

The large ball is suspicious when the human is not sitting on the horse.
His barrel is dappled when shaved! (hard to see in this pic)

I ended up spending basically the entire day at the barn on Sunday. The barn has some kind of time warp going on, haha. I was able to monitor the leg swelling all day between the ice compression boots and cold hosing.

Imagine my horror when I went to wrap him up for the night and found ALL of his legs swollen. The hinds were the worst they'd been all weekend. Leg swelling from injury is not contagious from leg to leg- at least not like this. We weren't dealing with a soft tissue injury. Maybe cellulitis? Maybe something tick-borne?

This plus a fever of 101.1 meant we called the emergency vet!

I had seen the vet earlier in the day (she boards with us and came to ride while she was on call), and we chatted about Penn's issues. I sent her a text around 5:00 Sunday afternoon saying "Hey, all of Penn's legs are swelling now and he has a fever. Want to come out to see him now?"

She was out within a half hour. She manipulated and squeezed and poked and prodded, and then we jogged on the lunge line. She asked if I pulled any ticks off of him lately, I told her I've pulled off at least 4 tiny deer ticks in the last few weeks.

She didn't think there was any soft tissue damage, but wanted to run a full course of blood work to check all his organ function and to check for other things.

She pulled blood and left me with a bottle of SMZs and we dosed him with banamine. By this point, he was finally looking lethargic and unhappy. Stupid fevers. She said to turn him out the next day- she wanted to keep him moving. We talked about possible tick-borne illness, and decided against a lyme test for now and we'd see how the other tests came out.

The vet texted Monday morning that everything came back normal, but he had a high inflammatory response. We opted to switch him from SMZs to doxy (without testing for lyme or anything). I went out to the farm Monday morning to bring his new meds, take his temp, and to long line him to wear him down a hair before turnout.

Luckily his fever broke overnight and he was back to his normal 99.7 by the time I got to the farm! He seemed to feel better- he was downright rude to handle. He was a lot sounder too.

His BOT sheet was really gross because he slept in his pee Sunday night, so I washed it and used cables to line dry it, haha!

Poor Penn spent a total of 2.5 days locked in a stall. So of course I videoed his freedom after I long lined him: he rolled, ran a little, mildly terrorized the village, rolled again, and terrorized some more.

Long story short: Ticks are the devil. We think it was some kind of tick borne disease, probably anaplasmosis and we caught the fever as it was going up. The vet looked at him again Tuesday and declared him sound and fit for work, and he's been peachy ever since. It was an expensive 4 days for my wallet!

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Embracing the Suck

Alright, I am trying to get back on the wagon here. My fall was slow for blogging because working on the basics isn't really exciting blog fodder, I haven't had new media (the cats have been featured a lot on the Instagram), and then November was particularly bad because of the stress of organizing GP Rider's clinic (which was this past weekend and was great!) and that time when I thought Penn tore tendons in both hind legs. Good times.

So let's start going over stuff!

The barn had a fall party where we pulled out all the obstacles: cowboy curtain, side pass over a pole, weave through some cones with no reins (or as I did it, hit a ball with a broom and make the ball weave through the cones), walk over a tarp and mat, walk over the bridge, walk over the mattress, drag the sled, push the giant ball.
Penn has taken to walking into, and kicking, the giant ball with glee. He actually seems to enjoy it.
Side note: I found a dressagey barn a few hours from here that holds "Intro to Cattle" clinics. Hehehe.

Embracing the Suck:

I have had a bunch of rides this fall where I have thoughts along the lines of, "I am completely inept, why do I think I can dressage, I need to sell everything horsey and buy a goldfish."

Usually the day's trauma is an inability to canter or Penn is stuck as a 2x4 in one direction. It was inability along the lines of, "How did this horse and rider even compete at First Level this year, let alone Third?"

Through the inept feeling, I've been pushed to really think about my feel and timing. Penn is not at fault here; it is completely rider error. The walk and trot have been bad, the canter horrendous, and then zero bend and a 2x4 feeling in Penn's spine.

That was so frustrating to me- I couldn't get the inside hind stepping up. Penn was just speeding off. Half halts didn't work. He was laying HARD on my left rein, both directions. I let it bother me for a few hours one day a few weeks ago, then resolved to work out an easy way to feel the inside hind because I was thoroughly stuck.

Here's some conclusions I came to about timing the aids for a better walk and trot, and thereby better bend and a better inside leg to outside rein connection. I needed to write them down to further cement them in my mind, but I think some readers might like to read what works for me:
  • To find better bend, think about making the inside hind step up even more. The barrel will move to the outside to make room for the inside stifle to come further up. I need to activate the inside hind to do that, which means Penn needs to not move sideways or faster in response to my leg.
  • Walk: the rib cage naturally swings in and out with each side's footfalls. To get better inside hind activation, push the inside leg into the girth as the barrel swings out. The barrel is already swinging out to make room for the inside hind at this moment. A few leg bumps and Penn is bending in like a champ.
  • Trot: This was harder. You post up and down with the outside front, and therefore the inside hind. When I was originally teaching myself to feel my diagonals all those years ago, I found if you relax your hips, they naturally fall right and left as the horse trots. I got the correct diagonal every time by posting on the next step after my outside hip dropped. Therefore, if I stayed sitting instead, the inside hind is stepping forward as my outside hip comes up. Apply inside leg as the outside hip comes up, and inside seatbone sits down. Bam, all of a sudden I had a supple horse in the outside rein instead of a 2x4 from Home Depot that enjoys my left rein all the time. This is probably why my Event Trainer always had me post on the wrong diagonal to help get the inside hind going- I would sit as the inside hind was stepping up, and you apply leg in the sitting step of the posting trot. I think that's why I found First Level so much easier to do in the sitting trot- you really shouldn't post on the wrong diagonal at a show.
  • In lateral movements, like the half pass where Penn wants to not bend and I don't want to sit on the inside seatbone: Same rule applies, apply inside leg when the outside hip comes up. This sits you on the inside seatbone in the half pass. Start the half pass by trotting on the diagonal, then asking for haunches in while keeping the outside shoulder on the diagonal line. I applied alternating inside leg and outside leg (not always outside leg, it just stayed put to remind Penn to keep stepping sideways). This kept me on the inside seatbone, kept my inside rein soft and light, and kept pushing Penn to the outside rein.
  • There is no "just apply the leg all the time" in dressage. Biggest lesson here. Tactful application of leg gets better results (durr, it's the same as lesson horses getting dead to the leg because their riders constantly thump away).

Penn got a fresh clip job too! So shiny. And he's got some dapples!

Some neato things that have happened since I worked this stuff out:
  • More bounce and suspension in the trot.
  • More suppleness everywhere.
  • Better throughness everywhere.
  • Lateral movements in trot are infinitely easier. I can time the inside leg to the inside hind and maintain better bend through the movement. I can even fix it mid movement. Penn positively glides sideways in the trot and canter half passes.
  • Speaking of lateral movements, I've found I am unintentionally gravitating towards sitting on the inside seat bone in all of the movements, just like you're supposed to in order to keep the bend.
  • I was able to take shoulder fore on a 20m circle, half pass it in, and eventually settle in a large trotting pirouette/turn on the haunches. No fuss, no fight, both directions. AND in both trot and canter!
  • I've been able to do the first diagonal in 4-1: medium trot, collected trot over X, medium trot. What we do isn't really a true medium, but it is a true go and come back and go right away again. A few weeks ago, Penn could not do this. He could go, he would struggle to come back, and then we'd fuss for a while before we could go again. This isn't exactly because of the inside hind work, but it is because he's carrying himself more in these last few months.
  • Penn doesn't speed up when I apply the inside leg tactfully. He bends instead.

I'm still struggling with finding the inside hind in the canter- each footfall in the stride happens so fast, by the time I work out what might work, my timing is completely off/rushed or Penn has broken to trot. The best I can come up with is to apply leg directly after the most downhill moment of the canter- that is just before suspension, and in suspension, his inside hind is already off the ground coming forward.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Stress and Things and a Lesson

Modeling his SmartPak clothes... He was featured on their Instagram!

Unfortunately, I spent the last week super sick, and I am super busy with life things (ok, horse things) and the blog is going to suffer for it. Especially since work blocked Blogger (and Centerline Scores by the way, they've labeled it "gambling." Ha. Ha ha ha.), so that means I can't write things at lunch... And I'm not writing on my phone, so you're stuck with what I can write in the rare evening at home, the weekend, or on a Wednesday (when I work from home).

Side note, that's also why I've been a bad reader/commenter. I used to catch up on blogs while I ate breakfast at my desk. I can't do that when they won't load :(

We went for a two hour trail ride a few weeks ago before Mother Nature decided to dump rain on us day after day!

Penn's hoof is healing nicely- he became sound again quickly and has *knock on wood* stayed sound. I started him on SmartHoof Ultra to help the cut and bruise grow out as quickly as possible. I'll keep him on that for 4 or 5 months, then drop it. He has good feet, and doesn't really need a biotin supplement, but I want that to grow down as fast as possible, preferably without an abscess or other weakness. I also ordered bell boots for him and I hate them. Not these in particular, but just bell boots in general. He's developing a scum on his ankles from the amount of wet we're having, and they just hold mud. It was very noticeable after I wasn't able to be at the barn for a week- I take the bell boots off every day and wash them and clean his ankles, and that wasn't done for a week.

These do fit kind of strangely, but they have held up to a very naughty and roughhousing horse at the farm, so I picked them for Penn too.

Penn continues to be great. We have good and bad days, but I'm really excited about the direction he's going. He also has recently taken to pointing out when I'm being a shitty rider. Thanks bud. I guess he's done that before, but now there's some discussion if he thinks I've been unfair.

I decided to really work the canter the other day... I had somehow neglected it like an unwanted step child, and it had become a raging shitstorm of flailing and ugly. I decided to be super picky about the transitions to canter, with GP Trainer's thought of "he's not strong enough to make good canter out of bad canter," so if the transition is crap, the canter itself is going to be crap, and we're going to waste energy. Ensuring the transition itself was good worked really well to develop a nice canter.

I started picking at the bend on the 20m circle to the left since Penn wanted to bulge his ribcage in... so I booted him extremely hard with my inside spur. He promptly did a flying change and bucked HARD. Sorry dude, my bad. Good boy for the change to the outside lead on a 20m circle coming back to the wall. Super job. I LOVE that he offered that. Rider error! I got him back together for the canter, then made sure I was in my "rider doing a lunge" position (it keeps my inside seatbone on and I can't shove the haunches in with my outside seatbone), and then asked him to move his inside hind leg forward more, and I magically had sit and bend.

He's getting so foamy these days!

I had a lesson with Megan while she was briefly in town Sunday! Sorry Megan, this recap is no where near as detailed as the last one because being sick/coughing was occupying a lot of my brain and you have so much information to share and well... you'll get to teach me this one again! :-D Can't wait for my SoloShot3 to get here so I can record the audio.
  • First thing Megan did was straighten me out in the saddle by having me sit more to the left (both directions).
  • I'm not crazy, he's better in the walk, and MUCH BETTER in the trot! The connection is much better, and he's getting more suspension in the trot.
  • The canter, while still really not good, is actually much better. It's just awful in a totally different way now, lol. Victory?
  • The rein back is still small, but it's more constructive and is setting him back on his haunches and lightening his front end like it should.
  • The new pressure in my hand is acceptable- we'll always be evaluating if it's leaning, but Megan confirmed that most of the time, the weight I have in my hand is an acceptable contact of him reaching for the bit. He's still seeking a little support, but is spending much more time on his own. She said to look at the overall picture- is he up, forward, and seems like he's reaching? Then the pressure is probably OK and part of an elastic connection.
We got a lot of rain the morning of my lesson. The driveway does have a drain... it was inadequate though.
  • Start asking for shoulder fore on the circle in trot. Keep asking until he can't hold it- that's his balance point where he'll cross his legs or flail or fall out or shift his haunches in or get super flat. Work to stay in the bouncy trot while maintaining as much shoulder fore as I can (it's not much tracking right, it's almost SI tracking left).
  • This is also where she pointed out that he's very free with the use of his body. Meaning, he thinks I'll save him (or I guess not punish him?), so he's willing to try to figure out what I want by hopping or lifting or throwing himself around a little. It's not a bad thing- he's trying hard!
  • If the trot suddenly becomes easy to sit, I've lost the suspension and the trot is crap.
  • Be mindful of the walk- when he tries to collect in the walk, he ends up a bit lateral. His good "collected" walk is somewhere between a medium and collected walk right now. Be sure to follow his neck oscillations with my hand to help encourage the swing and relaxation.
  • Ask for shoulder fore in the canter too. Be mindful of the angle and time spent in shoulder fore since he gets tired quickly and the work is really difficult for him. This exercise will help him on his extra shitty days. I described days where he was a dream to canter and it was great (like three times in the last month or so), and then the rest of the days are like he's never cantered before. She suspects that he is wide behind on the bad days as he gathers tension or gets tired. He widens his base instead of sitting, and then it's super hard to rock him back and sit. I have to keep the hindquarters close behind, which the shoulder fore will help with. I had kind of applied a lateral thought to the canter (haunches in), but Megan pointed out that doing that will eventually come back to bite me in the ass when we work on pirouettes. The inside hind will be in the way of the rest of the body and create a larger pirouette.
  • Overall, keep in mind neck length. He needs to keep stretching towards the bit, especially when I try to apply half steps to the trot. Eventually he'll have to step from piaffe to passage, which to step up and out properly, he has to be reaching out to the bit. I can't be crushing him into it

We had a waterfall off the wall. The water at its deepest was about 6" deep.

The other part of my extremely stressful existence is filling the clinic with GP Trainer when she's here Dec 2-3. Only about half the riders from last time are coming back (for various reasons), so I'm trying to fill 10 spots with outside riders... and the local dressage barn won't come or send riders, period. Even though we go to their clinics... So basically, I am freaking out trying to fill the clinic because cancelling isn't an option, and neither are $200 lessons. Slowly though, things are filling... As of this writing, there are 5 spots left. If you're within a driveable distance to my barn in Western PA and are interested in a lesson, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE send me an email at codexdressage at I can't put you up myself (GP Trainer has my guestroom), but we can probably put up your horse!

I am about to start a 2 week vacation though (counting down the days!). I am very excited about that. I feel very burnt out (work and horses), and I think part of me getting sick last week was burn out and stress from the clinic.

Let's finish with a fun video of Penn running away from me while I was trying to catch him (long story):

Thursday, October 26, 2017

10/21/2017 - Clinic - Half Steps!

To start, Penn's hoof seems to be on the mend. Friday night, I packed it with magic cushion for the heel bruising, covered the cut in corona to protect it from the magic cushion, then wrapped the whole shebang in a diaper, vet wrap, and gorilla tape. My wrap survived the night, morning turnout the next day, and the trailer ride to DT's barn for our lesson with visiting clinician NM. I replaced it with a smaller cover for my lesson- a non-stick gauze pad over the cut and bruise, which was then covered with vet wrap. He's perfectly sound, but I wanted to make sure it stayed clean and was protected.

NM is a Florida based, Puerto Rican FEI rider who has represented her country in several international competitions. She's gotten rave reviews from people at my barn, and 5 of us made our way to DT's barn to participate in the clinic. I had not ridden with her before because she doesn't have GP Trainer's upper level experience, despite participating in international competition. I wanted to see what other people thought first!

I started by warming Penn up with Megan's homework- halt/walk/halt/walk, then mixing trot in. I felt super stupid doing that- it was silent in the ring as NM watched us warm up. I was like, "OK, stick to the warm up you know works." She understood what I was doing (as I was told she would, having done something similar to BO's daughter M), and then asked me for a little bio and what we're up to and where we want to go. I told her that I've had him for 2 years, got him green broke, and we did "baby third" this year, just 3-1, so the goal is to make that work better for next year and then maybe ride 4-1 at the end of summer. I said we had spent the last month going back over the basics- Penn needed to be light in my hand, stay engaged, and use his hind end. I also said I started schooling half steps on my own, but I really wasn't sure what I was doing. I told her that he knows his changes but I haven't really touched them in a while because I haven't really touched the canter a whole lot in the last month.

She wanted to see the canter next, so I showed her the slight train wreck I have going on (though it was much better than it's been). She immediately pinpointed my perching and gave me solid reminders to sit down and sit up, and not to let Penn pull me out of the saddle when he gets rushy or when his balance changes. She had me add a smidgen more step to the canter too, which I'm not entirely sure he's ready for. I'm kind of neutral to the canter work we did- I think he could use a lot more collection because I could not have asked for a walk out of it and gotten it. However, we did focus more on me sitting properly than him really sitting properly. I needed the reminder badly!

We spent the rest of lesson working on half steps!

NM worked with a whip from the ground tickling Penn's rump to encourage sit (she barely needed to apply any contact), and I was to hold the small walk and encourage the "jig-jog" steps. When he gave the right answer, she'd feed him a sugar cube. She likes feeding horses a sugar cube when someone works them from the ground with a whip so they don't get worried about people holding whips. Basically she wants them to think: People on the ground holding whips while tickling them = BEST THING EVER.

The best one! We asked, he gave right away!
"When to quit and try again" - We trotted out at the end of this one.

NM loved Penn. He caught on so quickly, NM was very happy with his brain and try. She helped me identify when to move on from asking him for half steps (aka it has gone bad and you need to start over), and when to allow him to move forward just a hair more while continuing to ask. She suggested I find a longer, very bendy whip that I could use minimal hand motions to wiggle over his haunches to help me school half steps by myself.

Weee and he's stuck, haha.

We quickly moved on to applying the half steps to make the trot better. We did a lot of trot/halt/trot, focusing on keeping him active and sitting. She identified the right hind as the leg to get after both directions, and to keep my leg slightly more back to encourage sit. I needed to sit and apply leg into the halts, and release him a little out of the halts. She described it as him getting stuck sitting by sitting too much, and he can't get himself out of it.

Going forward
Asking for sit, then going.

Here's a link to all the video I have of us working on the half steps, plus trotting out of them, plus doing the trot/halt/trots. You can hear NM's instruction too. Sorry it's so long, if you click to about the 5 min mark, you'll get more of the trot/halt/trot.

Overall, it was a good, worthwhile lesson. Nothing ground breaking, but I got my "Sit down/Sit up" that I needed, and I got help with the half steps so I can continue messing with those as desired. I was really excited to get help on applying the idea of half steps to the regular trot. My half halts were much more effective in finding sit, and Penn found a new lifted trot gear which was really cool.

NM really liked Penn, and asked about the Oldenburg side of him. I explained that his mom was a registered Oldenburg, but was actually half Thoroughbred and half Dutch Warmblood (Alla Czar), so he's actually 75% Thoroughbred. She was like, "Interesting, I didn't realize they were making them like that again!" She also thought he would do better at higher levels because there will be more things that play to his strengths. We laughed about how I struggled with riding him in 1-3 after riding 3-1 a bunch of times. She seemed to think he'd progress up the levels nicely- he should have a super piaffe and good passage, he's probably good at laterals (yupp), and then the only thing that's left are the changes... which he's probably good at too (getting there!).

Of course while we chatted at the end of lesson, Penn was snuggling with NM and looking for more sugar cubes. She loved his in-your-pocket personality and joked about stealing him and putting him in her carry on home.

I got a few irksome comments from someone (not online) that really took away some of my excitement about my lesson. They praised the ground NM walked on, and how nice Penn looked because of her instruction, but between the lines trashed GP Trainer. In reality, NM told me the same thing about the canter that GP Trainer does, and I have had zero prior instruction on half steps, but I expect GP Trainer would have me do something similar based on watching her GP students. There wasn't anything truly ground breaking here, I just got an excellent idea on how to really apply the half steps to the trot (which is a really good lesson, don't get me wrong). I have to remember the comments come from someone who has only ridden in a handful of schooling shows a long time ago at training level, and basically audits clinics and bebops at home and is content to move at a glacial pace with zero competition goals... which is not really GP Trainer's style. That's ok, that's why there's a bunch of trainers out there! It irks me that I get these undertones that I shouldn't work with GP Trainer because she doesn't work for this person.

I believe next time NM is here, my barn is going to split the clinic time with DT's barn. We'll have NM out for 3-4 days instead of 2, and 1 or 2 of those days will be at our home barn. Either way, I'll ride with her again!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

At Least Show Season is Done?

Penn and I walked up to the gate together Wednesday night.
Took me less than a second to go WTF IS WRONG WITH YOUR HOOF.
Apparently moderate panic levels make me incapable of taking a picture that isn't blurry.
I washed it with microtec, then some other medicated shampoo, then medicated spray to kill any bacteria.
I went to Tractor Supply to buy corona ointment to put on it Thursday.
I didn't notice the heel bruising until I scrubbed up the whole hoof.
He did a super job stepping on himself.
That's a scab in there btw, not dirt.

I fully expect him to blow some abscesses from this incident. He's only mildly lame- he walks fine, trots to the left a bit inconsistent, but trots to the right very mildly lame. I expect him to become sound again and then 3 legged in the next few weeks.

One of the farriers at the barn took a look at it- she wasn't comfortable trimming off the flap. She thought it would help protect the cut on the coronary band. She said to just let it dry out and fall off on it's own.

Of course it's not an "OMG YOU'RE DYING," but it is a "sigh, really?" He was working so well. The clinic is on hold- if he's sound by Saturday he'll go, otherwise... oh well, I'll have to catch her next time!

Oh, and yes, I ordered him bell boots already, and he'll start wearing them as soon as this heals enough that it won't get rubbed back open. He's never had a problem before now... but apparently he's going to try damaging all his legs via interference: he cut himself nicely on the right hind, then hooked the inside of his left front when he was freaking out that he was alone in his field. This was the right front that he probably landed on from a twisty buck. Please Penn, you do not need to damage the left hind! I do not want to have the barn bubble wrap your legs again...

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Blankets, Clipping, and Training

First off, I am selling this beautiful Smart Pak Ultimate Turnout. Size 78", heavy weight (360g). Still waterproof, freshly cleaned (it doesn't even smell horsey). $100 negotiable (money vs no money is great, so make me an offer), email codexdressage at gmail if you're interested. I even have the right size shipping box available right now!

There is absolutely nothing wrong with the blanket. It is really super tough and has seen 2 winters with zero exterior damage from a pair of unforgiving baby horses. There is some staining on the outer shell- I promise when it's rinsed, the water runs off clear. There are some rips in the lining, but they're small things as you can see. New, this blanket is $209. Take advantage of my loss!

I wanted the combo version of the blanket because Penn seems to have trouble staying warm when it's truly cold. You all know the lengths I went to to try to fix the shoulder gap issue (plus chewy friends). This one won't gap at the shoulder, and won't drive my BO crazy switching the medium weight hood back and forth between med and heavy blankets. I'll admit, the second reason was a large part of getting it... because it made me crazy too. I did price buying a heavy hood (which seems to be available now!), except for a hair more money, I could buy the combo blanket and not deal with the detachable hood. With the recent sale, (20% + USEF 5%), I was able to nab the blanket for much less than list price, so I jumped on it.

"Mama, why did you wrap me up in a heavy weight blanket when it's 65 degrees out?"
He's so thrilled that he basically has a turtleneck sweater.

Penn got full body clipped this past weekend. With the unseasonably warm fall we're having, I was hosing him down after every ride. He would sweat everywhere like he does an 80 degree day, except it's been in the 60s (with some 70s). I promise I am not working him for hours- that's after 45 min of walk/halt/walk/trot/walk hell. Minimal cantering because we just can't do more or we don't get to it.

Being bathed is exhausting.

I ordered new blades then shaved him last Saturday. I kept him in after breakfast, bathed him (like scrubbed him squeaky clean- I have NEVER done this to clip before), then kept him in while I cleaned stalls. By the time I was done working, he was dry, and I got straight to work on his legs and face, finishing with the body.

It's a mini Penn, made from his own hair!

I was so proud of him! He was antsy about his legs (resulting in me having to touch them up the next day when I saw the wide swaths of hair I missed), but he stood without freaking out about the clippers! I couldn't cross tie him, but he stood ground tied. I was able to cross tie him the next day to do touch ups, which is VERY exciting!

I've always clipped my horse "dirty." Mostly because it's time consuming to wash them and then wait for winter hair to dry, and because I'm not used to having hot water to bathe with, or a warm barn to keep him in while he dries. It worked out perfectly for me to help feed and turnout, bathe, clean stalls while he's drying, then clip. I think I'll be scrubbing Penn down every time from now on to clip. It was soooo easy to clip him. I shampooed and conditioned him with suave that I got on sale from the grocery store, and then sprayed him with an old coat spray that I don't like much anymore. It was a shame to shave off all his beautiful fluffy brown hair- I really love his coat.

His shaved coat turned out MUCH better this year!
Plus fewer lines since he was clean when I shaved him.

It seems the feed combination plus vitamin supplement is really working for him, because his shaved coat this year isn't an ugly mousy color like previous years. We took some new coggins pictures while he was spiffy clean (hence the pretty shot above).

Since I had to clip him so early this year, I'll probably have to touch him up in mid-Dec and then again sometime in early Feb. I won't do his legs or face again, I got most of the hair off those, so they'll grow in more controlled now. Plus I hate shaving the face and legs, it's annoying to get in all the crevices!

We continue to plug away at Megan's homework. We're nearing the end of the 3rd week of walk/halt/walk/trot/walk hell, 3-6 weeks to go before we can start adding in normal work? There were some pretty frustrating days in there, that's for sure. But, we're nearing the end of the first 3 weeks, which according to GP Trainer, is when changes start to settle and things get better... I sure hope so!

Let's ogle the pretty bling on the bright orange hunter safety bonnet, haha.

Things actually are looking up- we've had a couple really good days, and they're starting to happen more than the bad.

Penn started to not want to be on the bit, and I absolutely could not figure out why. "He doesn't want to be on the bit." "Let me get more handsy." "Wait, I'm doing to much. I shouldn't be doing this much." "Wait a second, I'm letting him go from halt to walk by coming off the bit. I'm teaching him that that's acceptable." "Fffffffffffff."

I spent some time redoing the halt/walks. As soon as I set the tone of, "No, coming off the bit is not acceptable" and "No, I will not be helping you stay on the bit," he started being on the bit extremely reliably, and holding it when I released in the walk and trot.

I also started giving him antacid before riding. 5000mg of calcium carbonate. $0.31 a dose
Not pictured: the vitamin E pills I also started giving him (2000 IU to go with the 500 IU in his vitamin)
$0.19 a dose vs $1.07 in Smartpak's vit e supplement.
I just feed him a handful of minty pills with the two vit e pills, and everything gets gobbled down!

Something else Megan helped me with was getting him bendy again- sometimes he comes out one direction like a 2x4 and no amount of inside leg helps move his ribcage. She had me put the outside leg on enough to hold his haunches from stepping out, but then use the inside leg to activate the inside hind. The rib cage has to swing out to allow the stifle to come up. Voila, it's magic. This idea has been particularly helpful when he comes out like a 2x4 or when he wants to look to the outside or when he wants to throw his haunches in. I vary the outside leg with the situation (umm we don't need more when the hips are in, it just needs watched), but thinking about making the inside hind step up instead of moving him around has been soooo helpful.

Last night's ride was great, I never got to the canter, and it took a half hour to get the trot I wanted, but we got there. And I was able to leave my circle and keep my trot! I started with a long slow torturous walk/halt/walk warm up. It sets the tone for the ride. By the end of the half hour, I had a horse who was absolutely through, light in the hand with elastic contact, and was pushing through his whole topline- I watched the muscles from his poll to his shoulder all bulging evenly. I do a lot of staring at his neck these days. It's really helpful when I don't have mirrors or eyes on the ground to double check me- if I can get the muscle right in front of the shoulder working, I know I'm on the right track.

Overall, super super happy, now to just put the time in to cement that feeling as Penn's default setting. Megan was hopeful on 2-3 months of work, so I'm hoping for that! But if he needs more, then oh well. Plus we'll be constantly revisiting this for the rest of his dressage life anyway. I'm so excited to see what he's like next year, after 6 or more months of building on this base!

Look! Cute floofs in their natural habitat.

This weekend we're going to a clinic at DT's barn. Everyone likes the clinician coming in, so I figured I'd give her a whirl. I signed up at the end of September, before lessons with Megan. I almost wish I hadn't now, because I don't want to mess up the work I've done, but apparently the clinician had M do something similar in her last lesson, so I'm hopeful that it'll mesh well.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Unexpected Lessons

I managed to finagle some lessons from an unexpected source- Megan! She was in town the first week of October so I was like, "Hey, I'm royally sucking at riding, want to come yell at me?"

I described a dead air feeling in the bridle- he wasn't leaning on my hands, but he also didn't feel connected to the bridle, but he also wasn't consistently on or off the forehand, and it felt like a fake connection. The left lead had suddenly turned to scrambled eggs again too.

Megan basically told me, he might be lighter in your hand (not leaning on the bit) but he's leaning on his shoulders instead. That's why he feels on and off the forehand. Oh.

Ok guys, Megan is incredible. She outputs a lot of information at once (I really need audio recorded so I can just play it back during my schooling sessions. Or while I sleep. Either or.), but she is more than happy to reiterate all the things as many times as you need. I was a bit on overload (think computer with not enough RAM for what you're trying to do), but she made everything so much better!

Penn's OMG face is appropriate for what we're learning.

Walk/Halt/Walk/Halt/Walk/Trot/Walk/Halt/Walk/Trot Hell

Or as we'll call it, "Penn's life for the next 3 months".

Megan did something similar with Rico, but it basically amounts to being extremely scrupulous about the hind end engagement and every single transition and every single step. If it's not improving the horse, go back and redo everything.

She talked a lot about changing the rhythm of the horse (ie, walk/trot/canter) without changing the speed of the horse. She had me keep the walk and trot very slow, but active. He could not disengage his hind end for any reason. He could not lean on my hand (something I did an ok job starting before our lessons!). He could not surge forward in upward transitions. He wouldn't flop down in downward transitions. He couldn't flip his head. He had to maintain his engagement (ie, keep bending those hocks dude). I had my own list of things to do: continuously test the connection- brief releases of the reins to make sure he's going to maintain the current rhythm/speed, no hanging on the rein, every cue must come from the seat. Thigh with slightly raised seat to collect, release the thigh to allow forward. The desired result is that I ask for a transition and release into it and he puts himself even more into the connection.

The biggest thing I took away was in Penn's collected/medium/collected trot transitions. He could collect, medium, then somewhere in the medium he'd lose his balance. When I recollected, he would plop on the forehand. Megan stressed making the medium steps not as many (quality over quantity), and trying a pattern of 4 steps medium/4 steps collected. I really found his balance point is not strong enough to maintain a medium trot, simply because he can't come back from a medium trot and be ready to go again (see 4-1's first diagonal). I have to fix the collected trot first, then we can go again. That isn't how it should be done.

She said he's holding his tension at the base of the neck, so everything we do has to be to make that stretch without him leaning on me or his shoulders. She also said this whole exercise is much more difficult on the rider than the horse when the horse is like Penn- they're a bit downhill already, we want to help them, and it's easy to get talked into helping them again.

Bend those hocks!

I need to remember all of the following: (I hope I am remembering these correctly)
  • Think about giving my hands forward in the downward transitions. It must come from the seat.
  • Give my hands forward in the gait briefly to check that Penn will stay at the same rhythm/speed/connection.
  • I can use my hands to remind him he can't put his head in the air, and that he can't lean on the bit (I give the rein a wiggle). But I can't hang.
  • Any resistance in the upward, go back and repeat (resistance = head flip, rushing the first step, diving down to pull himself up, disengaging a single hind leg, anything that isn't stepping semi-politely into the new rhythm at the same speed).
  • Any time he disengages, go back to the previous rhythm (med trot to collected, collected trot to collected walk, walk to halt).
  • Anything that does not improve the horse, go back to prior rhythm and find the hind end again.
  • Transitions, transitions, transitions!
Partway through the walk/trot/walk/halt hell in our first lesson, a switch flipped in Penn's head. He suddenly went from quiet resistance to outright tantrums. I asked for a halt/walk and he reacted by hopping his front end and flipping his head (no real danger of rearing). Megan said he's just testing out new ways out, and to keep going like I was. He tried surging through the first step of the transition to disengage his hocks. He tried being "zoomie." He tried growing roots through his hooves into the sand. Every time, we just asked again. In the second lesson, we added rein back to the halt. Not flying backwards, a very controlled, one step at a time rein back. He had to bend the hocks and not drop his shoulders to use them to push himself backwards. This helped when he would halt and disengage. I could re-engage and then he wouldn't drop out from under me.

By the end of this work in the first lesson, he was much much better in the contact/connection at the trot, and I had my hands further forward than I usually do, but it wasn't a struggle for me to keep them there. He was light in my hand, had a real elastic connection, was stretching his neck forward, and I had contact again. It was great!

In lesson 2's halt/walk/trot hell, we attacked a bit of his tension to the right- he sometimes comes out one direction bending like a 2x4. I respond by digging into his rib cage and shoving his haunches in (because he's pressing his rib cage against my inside leg and the haunches trail out). That usually results in haunches in or the inside hind crossing the outside. Megan had me keep the outside leg on to only stop the outside hind from leaving our circle (Penn uses lateral moves to evade sometimes), but then the inside leg asked the inside hind to keep stepping up very actively. In order for the inside hind to keep moving up, the stifle needs to keep moving, and Penn will be forced to shift his rib cage out to make room for the stifle to keep coming forward. It was extremely tricky, but worked extremely well. She said to focus on keeping his hind legs close together since he uses the lateral moves to evade, so it might seem a lot like bouncing his hind end from leg to leg while he figures out the walls.

Playing in water is so much more fun than training.


I described the canter as being irregular again. I wasn't sure how to fix it, it was just bad. The first thing we had to do was get him working again after our little break. I went back to walk/trot/walk/halt hell, and in the first halt, he voiced his displeasure by halting with his head up and parking out. We got that sorted, and off to the canter.

It wasn't nearly as irregular as it has been, but it was irregular. She said the mechanic of the canter has a downward step and no matter what, the horse is going to be downhill. Instead of trying to lift him in that step, lift him even more in the uphill portion of the canter. It's a very fast half halt in the uphill portion, and a quick give in the downhill. Then once the uphill/engagement has been properly established, add energy slowly to improve suspension. Bam, no more irregular canter. I had a canter I could do something out of. He wants to be earth bound in canter because it's easier than bending his hocks. Earth bound = irregular.

Penn was most displeased by these findings- he gave me all the warnings before finally bucking to disengage his hocks. We started over from the walk/halt/walk, and he grumbled about cantering, but we started having much better trot/canter transitions. He pinned his ears very threateningly for the transition, but each time I did less and less fixing the canter immediately after the transition (re-engaging the hocks) before moving on to timing the half halts. By the end I had a canter I would have been happy to try changes or half pass out of. It still needs to be much better though. We talked about how the lack of suspension is why he's hopping so much in the changes. He consistently hops first, so he's trying to create the suspension that allows him to do a clean change.

In our second lesson, he did not want to be on the bit as much as he should be- Megan said this is ok. He can't keep the uphill balance and be fully on the bit. Give him some time.

Excessive hopping to create suspension to get the changes done.

Megan warned me it will get worse before it gets better. The first couple rides are great- he's working out what I want. Then he starts to realize this is hard and he's sore, so he starts looking at ways out. That's when the rides start to go downhill. GP Trainer told me the SAME THING. She likes having horses in for training for 3 days or 3 weeks- the time in between sucks, is frustrating, is difficult, and everything looks pretty bad. I am glad I got to ride once between our two lessons- Megan got to help me through some of the suck that is to come.

Suffice it to say, we've got a seat far away from the door on the struggle bus. Penn has decided being on the bit is terrible. He also oscillates between zero activity and running away. I have to be so much clearer with my seat with what I want- any little drop back sends him gushing forward. We hit a 12/10 on the frustration scale the other night.

So... one week down, 2 to go? And then another month or more? I'm looking forward to the horse I'll have on the other side!

Friday, October 6, 2017

Since Champs

Ok, so what have we been up to since Championships?

More on this below!

I spent the first two weeks after championships trying to resolve all the bad feelings I've had about being able to school myself, while also feeling very lost without a short term goal. I still haven't totally resolved those bad feelings, but I suspect they'll come and go in the next few months. Since we didn't make it to Finals, show season was a wrap, which left me a bit directionless. Though, I think everyone wanted/needed a break.

I decided to take some regularly scheduled lessons with Dressage Trainer while I'm in trailering limbo (can't go see GP Trainer without a functional truck!). Of course this hasn't panned out yet- she's out every other Saturday, but I missed the first Saturday because I was doing a road rally with Husband, and then the next time had to be changed from Saturday to Wednesday, but I had other plans that day too. I need some structure in my riding again, and I miss having lessons every other week like I was used to with Event Trainer. I did get some really great lessons though, from an unexpected source! More on that in the next post. ;)

A week after its hauling disaster, the truck was given a non-diagnosis from the dealership we had it towed to (PISSED). They basically said they could not reproduce the problem and offered us an engine rebuild for $3700, plus the cost of whatever parts they find out are bad. Uh, no. We paid the $122 for their "check" and attempted to drive the handful of miles home. We had to stop halfway through the 10 min drive home because the truck'as oil pressure had dropped to zero. We waited about 20 min, and then drove the rest of the way home (it was back to zero by the time I backed it into it's space). Husband left the dealership a bad review, and they ended up refunding us the entire $122, which is nice since we weren't any further ahead.

Husband did some research, but couldn't fix the problem with what he has available to him at our home garage. He thinks it is a bad oil pump, but we either have to take the engine out (uhh he doesn't have a lift big enough), or he has to drop the suspension and axle to get to the underside (uhh he doesn't have those capabilities at home), so off to a shop it goes. Not back to the one that handled its original "diagnosis." It's going to another shop that told us flat out that they don't repair engines, only replace them. Husband said we didn't want a replacement yet, so they offered to diagnosis for $60. We'll see what they say, but they seem more willing to talk possibilities than the original dealership.

Anyway, on 9/24, I got my mom to come out and video one of my early morning rides because I have had zero feedback for what I'm feeling (no mirrors, eyes, or video). I ran Penn through a bunch of transitions between walk and trot and trot and canter, with the goal of him being lighter in the bridle each time. I lost some of the connection since he's so used to a heavier contact (so he didn't have true connection before). He seemed to remember being lighter from our last ride where I did that (yay!), and then I moved on to the fun stuff:

Trying to teach Penn to piaffe!

It's very much the blind leading the blind. All I have to go on is GP Trainer saying she teaches it by frustrating them in the walk until they offer piaffe as an answer. I tried to find the rhythm of the walk with my legs, lighten my seat, and tickle his haunches with the whip. I never get more than a good step or two, and nothing so far has been as good as what he offered in the above gif (which is obviously still a baby horse response and it needs more sit in the good steps and less muddled steps). I'm still happy even though he spends a good amount of time taking muddled steps- they're at least in diagonal pairs! He's getting it though. This was my third ride working on it, with basically no feedback whether he was right or not. I need some instruction before I do something wrong though. He started giving me some real sit with attempts to leap into canter towards the end of the practice, and I wasn't quite sure what to make of that, so I stopped there and haven't really revisited it since.

The next thing I worked was his counter canter. I want to do more of it since he's fairly confirmed in his changes (even if they're not always clean), since it'll make his canter better. I want to start making the turns in CC smaller too, so I mirrored the 4-3 pattern a little (10m half circle to 10m cc half circle, down the next wall, flying change halfway, repeat 10m half circle, 10m cc half circle, flying change, corner). I skipped the flying change parts in this ride (I did the middle one the other day), so that I could loop 10m half circles on the same lead, only they aren't 10m, they're more like 15m.

I ended up turning these half circles into a counter canter figure 8. Or rather, I tried to; Penn kept breaking on the left lead cc. I did manage to finish the ride with a figure 8 with straight diagonals, with cc on the round edges and flying changes near X. Super super happy with the work. His canter got much better, and his changes quieted immediately- no hopping. He did one clean one and a bunch of late behind, but it doesn't bother me. He's been clean or late up front in normal changes, so I think it's a footwork/strength problem.

I knew he had talked me into not sitting as much as GP Trainer wants, but I didn't realize how much!! I need to practice cc without perching!

If you're interested, the full 25 min of work is here. The first bit is warm up (walking, transitions), then messing with piaffe, then around the 20min mark we start the canter.

I'm looking forward to more lessons this fall!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

9/17/2017 - Championships, Part 4: The Final Day and Drive Home

No tests on Sunday- of course that doesn't mean I didn't look! I checked out the regular 1-3 test that day and there were scratches and very few entries... so technically I could ride and come home with a ribbon maybe! But nope, Penn and I were done, and happy to be done.

Instead, I headed down to one of the championship rings to watch the First Level Freestyles. Some were good, some were meh, and some were cute as can be (Chincoteague pony riding to Mario music!). The judges absolutely could not agree on these tests though- they had some of the biggest score ranges (72/59% on the same test) of the weekend.

It got too late to do Saturday, so in the morning before we headed home, Karen and I got a pic with the ponies in front of the regional champ sign:

But here's what it really should have looked like:

9th place ribbons with green 6th place middles because we're bad pilots.

Of course their 5 minute interaction made them BEST FRIENDS and Hampton totally took Penn under his wing since Hampton is the guard dog of his turnout.

Husband snagged this one on our way back to stabling.
The white and blue tent had tests and ribbons... and treats.
Karen held our wild stallions while I ducked in and got each of them some peppermints, an apple, and a carrot.
Staring at Husband, ever watchful.
Staring at Husband, ever spooky.
I swear, this is deer in headlight face.

Penn decided to make the morning WAY too exciting. I set him up with a full hay net and went to get smoothies with Karen. Husband stayed behind at the stall. Penn somehow got his head stuck in his hay net, pulled back against it (because that's how he rolls), kicked the walls, then busted out of his stall through the stall guard. In the process of busting out, he opened the net, flung hay everywhere, and managed to connect with the bottle of molasses that I've been using to make him eat his grain. It splattered EVERYWHERE. On the stall fronts, fans, and on the dog sleeping peacefully next to his stall front. Glass, molasses, and hay everywhere. He then trotted out to the space between barns and got distracted by the other people and horses. Husband did great in catching him- some nice horsey strangers helped keep Penn distracted while Husband came over with his halter. He seemed lame on the right hind, but otherwise unscathed. Husband called me to tell me and I came hurrying back and helped clean up- we tossed all of the hay just in case there were pieces of glass that we missed. I checked Penn's hooves for glass and jogged him when I got back, and he seemed fine. He must have just stung himself.

I finally noticed a problem- he managed to twist his right hind shoe enough that it was pulled back on the hoof by a solid inch. At least the clips were still on the outside of the hoof wall and not in the sole. Off we trekked to the show farrier, who promptly pulled the shoe and pounded it flat again, and tacked it back on. I only had one super concerning moment during this, when the farrier picked up the hind leg to take the shoe off, Penn leaped out of his hands like he'd been stung. That made me worry there was other damage to the leg, but Penn settled right after and was a gem. I've only used a show farrier once before- Mikey pulled a shoe in his stall at an event and the farrier tacked it back on. This guy did a good job and charged A LOT to pound the shoe and put it back on... like almost what I pay my farrier when he resets all 4 shoes using the same shoes.

When Penn and I got back to stabling, he and Hampton exchanged loud whinnies. I swear, five minutes together and they were attached!

Penn was SO THRILLED to be wrapped up to go home.

We had a less exciting drive back home (OMG thank goodness for that. I've had enough excitement, thank you very much!). We made it back home with the guidance of our truck pig, G-Force! (named that way because if he moved on the dash, that means there's too much g-force on the trailer and Penn). Barn owner happened to have him in her purse when she brought the truck over, so we were like, let's keep him in the truck and rub him for good luck, lol.

G-Force and some Pittsburgh skyline.

All in all, this trip was wayyyyyy too exciting. Truck dying, spooky Penn, forgetting my test, Penn tweaking his shoe. Did I get all my bad things all in one go? Did it have to pick this particular show?

But there were so many great things- meeting Karen and Hampton and getting to celebrate their ticket to Finals, meeting Cob Jockey, and making a great finish in a large class despite errors and a terrible prep test. We got home safe and sound too, which is both exciting and very good, haha!