Saturday, August 31, 2013

Working Hard / Hardly Working


Yesterday, I left work two hours early to head to the barn to help out with a work day. I had intended to leave much earlier, but that didn't work out. I still put in about four hours of work straightening fenceposts, tamping down new gravel around fenceposts, restringing fence line, and generally hauling heavy stuff where and when asked. We had dinner at the trainer's house afterwards. It was good hard work and a nice way to meet more people at the barn. I am often the last person riding in the evening and have really only met a small fraction of the other boarders and riders.

Said work took us right up until dark, and then we went for dinner, so I did not ride. Ugh. Tonight I'm meant to go to New Hampshire after work but I am putting my foot down and riding first. (Words cannot express my deep desire to simply stay home and ride my horse and maybe possibly relax for a few minutes, but the boyfriend's family expects me in New Hampshire, so off I go.)

Tristan's back feet have been chewed up quite a bit more, and I can't figure out what's going on. I talked for a while with one of the barn workers who raised the specter of white line problems. Greeeeeat. He is not sore, off, tender, you name it, but his feet don't look good. Talked to farrier last night, who was going to take a look today, and stocked up on vinegar with which to apply White Lightning regularly for a while - can't hurt. (And here I'd been kicking myself for buying that bottle back when his front feet were recovering from being in the boots - seems I was just stocking up for the inevitable.)

Friday, August 30, 2013

Spoiled Pony

Tris gets monthly massages from a good friend who also happens to be a brilliant horsewoman and talented massage therapist. She's known him since practically the day I brought him home, and we used to be Pony Club DCs together. 

She works on him for over an hour sometimes and leaves me with a sheet explaining where he was tight or sore, and often with homework to work on one muscle group or another.

It's been a really great way to track his recovery. In early days, he was consistently sore and tight in his right shoulder in all the muscles he was using to protect his foot. More recently, he's tight in muscles that are responding to his new levels of work. Overall, though, she's been working on him for about nine months and has seen a steady improvement. It's always good to have a corroborating opinion from someone who has known him so long.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Mixed Bag

The good:

Very, very good ride last night. We were both tired at the end, in a good way, and Tris is getting more and more responsive to the aids, more willingly forward, and more engaged through his hind end inch by inch. I focused last night in particular on making sure that he himself reached out to the bridle, rather than me stuffing him into it. The trot was particularly good, and there was one glorious stride in the canter when I felt his inside hind reeeeeach, and then we lost it again. Good news also in the canter is that he is picking up his leads waaaaay more consistently than he did before his time off. Not sure if my riding has changed/improved or if his soreness was throwing him off. We had a terrible time picking up the correct lead, particularly left, last year.

I also seem to have unlocked a key, rather embarrassing, problem with my position that R. targeted right away in our last lesson. My hands were moving far too much when I posted, and it was annoying him. Since then, I've been concentrating very hard on getting movement in my elbows and keeping my hands steady and it has paid off with a horse that is dramatically steadier in the contact. Funny how that works!

Finally, so far the Tums regimen seems to be correlated with positive rides, and he is showing zero effect from being pulled off the Previcoxx. I'm cautiously pleased enough to have stepped down his joint supplements to a multivitamin for the fall and we'll keep an eye.

The bad:

He's chipped his hind foot much further and it looks godawful, though at least it's not hurting him in any way. Oh, pony.

I struggled all day with whether I would go to the barn last night, even after three days away for work out of state, and I was just so tired and burned out I couldn't face doing things any more. I got home, made bread, set it to rise, and during the machine kneading and first rising I had a cookie and glass of milk and read a few pages of my current book and by the end of it I was ready to head back out. I'm glad I did, but I hate not wanting to.

The ugly:

As I mentioned, massively stressed out, tired, burned out, you name it. I've had a headache for several days, I'm not sleeping terribly well, and even when I do get sleep it doesn't put a dent in my overall sluggishness. My left eyelid is twitching almost constantly.

So last night I groomed, tacked up, got on, rode my warmup, and while cantering about thought, hmmmmm, why are my bangs flopping against my forehead like that? That's really annoying.

Then realization dawned: oh, shit, I'm not wearing my helmet.

Literally the first time in who knows how many years of riding that I have not worn my helmet on a horse. The first time. EVER. I was not one of those daredevil kids who jumped on bareback and galloped away. I had one of the original ugly white bucket helmets with the snap on visors. (God, that thing was awful.)

Needless to say, I pulled him up immediately and marched us back to the barn aisle to get my helmet. Goooood grief.

Saturday, August 24, 2013


Okay: a few good rides in a row again, though I'm off for a work trip for the next few days out of state, alas.

Thought I'd record for posterity a few small changes to Tristan's routine.

The first is that I'm feeding him 8 Tums (the generic Walmart version) about 15-20 minutes before every ride. I'm only three rides into this. It's an experiment. He's never struck me as an ulcery horse, really - he's pretty chill - but he does get very head-flippy and resistant during warmup. Now, part of this is definitely my lack of riding ability - but part of it is unwillingness. I'm not ready to report back yet, but early indications are a slight positive. (If nothing else, he eats them like candy and that puts him in a good mood...)

I consulted with my vet and took him off Previcoxx. He'd been on it since shortly after his surgery (basically week 2 of rehab, when he stepped down off bute), more as a general anti-inflammatory than in response to anything specific. I was being extra-cautious in keeping him on it daily, and it was inexpensive and provided by the barn (~$20 a month). When I weighed the longterm liver problems of a daily NSAID (eek) with his age (not quite old enough to prioritize comfort over longevity) and the probable benefit he was getting (possibly nil), vet agreed that we should pull it.

He still gets a daily joint supplement - HorseTech's ReitSport Senior - and the vet and I are going to revisit the general support question as he progresses in work off the Previcoxx. I may do a round or two of Adequan/Pentosan with him when they come back on the market. It's not pressing right now, but it's something I'd like to try. If it does make a big difference I'd ratchet back his oral supplement to just a mutlivitamin/probiotic and keep up the injectables regularly.

Finally, a few days ago I caught him eating his manure. Corprophagy, for him, is a very reliable indicator that he needs a salt block. Several months ago he had a biiiiig red one in his stall on the ground and he'd been using that, but it vanished when he shifted stalls and I have been too darn lazy to seek it out again. So I picked a little one up at Tractor Supply, dropped it in his feed bucket, and he has been licking away since, happy as a clam. (Alas, he destroys the wall-mounted holders with distressing regularity, leaving me to panic about screws falling into his bedding and/or projecting metal pieces jabbing his eye.)

So there's that. His weight is inching up again as his grain has been upped - he's getting a whole half quart in his AM and PM feed, the glutton. I toyed with the idea of switching him to a senior feed recently but after reading and comparing labels they didn't address anything he particularly needed - he's not a hard keeper and he's in very good overall health and doesn't need the kind of support they tend to provide. Someday, but not today.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013


Remember how I wrote that I was in a rhythm, that I was getting out regularly and working hard?

Ugh. Three days in a row of massive overtime, and as I write this I am parked at my kitchen table chipping away at a big project that's due Friday. Haven't set foot in the barn since Sunday. Only a few hundred pages to go...

Monday, August 19, 2013

How Horses Helped Cure Diptheria

This is a REALLY cool bit of history from the Smithsonian about the campaign to vaccinate against diptheria, and how horses played an unexpected role. Totally worth the read. (Not if you're squeamish, though, it's got plenty of medical details.)

How Horses Helped Cure Diptheria

When to push, and when to back off

I thrive on rhythms, and I always feel off-kilter until I've settled into a new one. I like the zen, repetitive tasks. Not all the time, but I'm often calmest and happiest when I'm carrying momentum through my day from a simple job well-done. Washing dishes. Kneading bread. Compiling budgets.

I feel like Tris and I have finally settled back into a working rhythm. We're carrying through from a full warmup on to quality work, raising the bar each time. We work a little longer, a little harder, and there are small quality improvements even in our base work. He's getting a titch more forward, I'm coordinating my half-halts slightly better. Even with my job expanding through all areas of my life (3 hours of work on a Sunday night, yay) I'm finally able to capitalize on the proximity of the barn and spend long chunks of time with him each day.

One problem I haven't entirely solved yet, and it's really been an ongoing problem with us from day 1. When do I push him through and when do I back off? I am always keenly aware that he is not a horse who thrives on work; he's not a Thoroughbred who will pace the stalls unless he is ridden hard each day. Nor does he especially enjoy the challenge of dressage. I feel like I start with a shallower reserve of good will and cooperation than many other riders. And that's okay! I adore him, we work together, and he is so many other wonderful things.

However. After I've strung together three, four, five intensive rides in a row I start to worry about diminishing returns. I skip a day, or I go out and just hack him for 20 minutes. Or in the middle of a ride I feel like he's done well, and I don't want to burn him out, so I cut it shorter than I'd planned. Then I spend the next day castigating myself - how can I expect to get anywhere if I slack off like that? Couldn't I just plan better, or ride better so I don't frustrate him so much, and how will I ever measure up to what I want and hope for if we keep crawling along at this snail's pace?

I'm a high drive person, but I don't have a high drive horse. Besides and beyond that, horses are not like video games, which you can play endlessly and repetitively until you've mastered a skill. They're not books, which are happiest and best when you bury yourselves in them for unmoving hours. 

Somewhere in here there's a balance. There's a combination of intensive work, hacking for fitness and strength, and plain old recovery time, physical and mental, that will give us the gestalt we need. I just wish I could find it instead of feeling I'm constantly playing pinball with it.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

12 Months

This is to say that 12 months ago yesterday, I pulled Tristan up in his lesson because he wasn't feeling quite right. The next day, he was quite unsound on the RF. The day after that, he blew out his abscess, one year ago tomorrow.

Hell of a year.

Tonight we had what might be called our first really solid schooling session since that day. We warmed up, we worked on lesson homework, we worked through rough spots, we improved from start to finish, we took a break, and we picked the work back up and cemented it. He felt fit throughout and tired in a muscle building way at the end - it was the most time he had spent bending and forward and stepping under since last year. SO glad we are on the path forward!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Best Laid Plans

After a weekend out of state visiting family, I had a routine medical procedure Monday morning. It was supposed to take 5 minutes and leave me in mild discomfort; it took 35, was excruciatingly painful, and my body crashed pretty hard afterwards to the point that my doctor drove me home herself on her lunch break. (<3 Vermont)

So I did not ride on Monday. I did not move from the couch until late Monday night. I woke up Tuesday morning feeling waaaaay better, though I slowed down through the day, and planned on a road hack. I got to the barn to find out Tristan had attempted vivisection of his left hind hoof, as seen below.

Luckily the farrier was there and finishing up with another horse and said he'd look at Tris next. Score. While waiting, I watched a lesson and seeing another rider sit the trot made me queasy - no riding for me after all. Farrier cleaned up the foot and declared it ugly but not worrisome. He's mixing up gunk for me to apply until it grows out just to be careful but it already looks way better.

Today I am feeling well enough to for sure go for a hack...and it is pouring. We'll see if it keeps up until I get off from work, but seriously, universe, I would like to ride my horse.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Lesson Notes

Second lesson on Tuesday, and it went really, really well. I think the 30 minute spots are a perfect fit for us right now: I have him warmed up, we zero in on a few specific issues, and then I have homework.

Warmup was a bit rocky on Tuesday, as he was hopping about rather than go forward, so I stood up off his back and urged him into a canter for a few minutes, and focused on staying forward and straight rather than anything he was doing with his head.

When R. came up for the lesson, we started by testing the response to driving aid exercises we'd been drilling and she saw huge improvement. Not perfect, but already much sharper off the aids. So now that we had laid the forward-and-straight foundation back down, we added flexion back ion.

She talked about something I'd never really parsed for myself before. If the inside rein is responsible for flexion, then there are three types of inside rein that can help achieve that flexion. The first is an indirect rein - a subtle lift and shift of the inside rein more toward the outside rein, while brings your elbow back behind your shoulder. Second was direct rein, which is straight back. Third was open rein, bringing the rein away from the horse's neck.

Indirect rein is more for collection, is more subtle, and is a lighter aid. Direct rein is, well, more direct, and in Tristan's case in particular I have to be careful not to kill the motor when I use it. Open rein is more for greenies who are just learning to steer (and also for oh $h!t moments on XC, I should think...).

We worked on a 20m walk circle and re-established flexion. Tris settled in beautifully, thankfully showing R. that instead of the lazy lunatic who slams into walls as in our last lesson, he does have a dressage pony in them. Within a stride or two he flexed beautifully into the inside rein and filled up the outside rein. We're not talking FEI collection, here, but he recognized and executed the concept beautifully. We repeated at the trot, and worked through a rough patch tracking left - he is hollow to the left and over-eager to fling his shoulders to the outside. So we applied a few strides of counterbend, release, inside bend, release, counterbend, release, and he worked through it nicely.

Then we worked on layering in a half-halt for more collection into that outside rein, once he'd filled it up. R. doesn't like to use the term half-halt when teaching because she feels it places too much emphasis on the "halt" - it's more of a half-go, or as she calls it a connecting aid. I've always thought of a half-halt as that guy in the old phone commercials - "Can you hear me now? Good!"

So we broke the half-halt down into its component parts: forward energy, inside flexion, outside rein, and release. In the perfect, imperceptible half-halt these all happen practically simultaneously. I've never been that coordinated and in the past my half-halts have been an approximation of this but I'd like to take this opportunity to really nail them. So then we worked half-halts on the 20m circle at the trot.

One of the most useful concepts R. gave me while we were working the half-halts was about recycling energy. That's essentially what a half-halt does: if you feel like your energy/collection level is at, say, a 2, then your next half-halt should be at a 2.5, and think about loading the hind legs, increasing the collection, etc., up to that 2.5. Then go for a 3 on your next half-halt. The idea being you're always asking for a bit more with each half-halt and that you aren't "leaking"" energy in between (or at least hopefully not). I am thinking of them a bit like a catalyst, too - you're checking in, you're putting a finger on the connection, and when you're asking for more dressage collection you use it to recharge the battery, but if you use a half-halt out on XC or in the jump ring, you're asking for a re-orient - "here, the jump is here, let's touch base, let's re-form ourselves to tackle what's next."

Tris was a bit tired even after that short lesson, as he used his back and hind end waaaaay more than he has. Our prescription is 10-15 minutes of this work a day for the next stretch and then we'll check in again and take the next step. We'll also make sure we get plenty of road hacks in there, too. :)

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Trail Pony

I've been focusing on ring work with Tristan, doing our homework from our lesson: responsive to driving aids, maintaining tempo, putting him forward into the bridle rather than riding backwards. We've been trying to get forward-without-fast in the canter in particular.

Sunday I went down to GMHA to volunteer again for P&Rs for the 25/25/50 CTR ride that Hannah wrote about here. Gorgeous, perfect day, wonderful horses, and I got very wistful about being out and about. I think Tris would be a great CTR horse. I'd like to be less homebound now that he's back to 100%. I've been dragging my heels on this more than a bit - I haven't re-registered my trailer in Vermont (10 months later...) and it needs a check/inspection. My savings still haven't quite recovered from his surgery and vet bills, but I hope soon - maybe September - to get up to that. There are some GMHA rides coming up that we could swing.

On that note, last night I got to the barn after a full day of work on my day off and pulled out our jump saddle and we hit the roads. We did mostly walking, some trotting on flattish sections, and all in all spent about 45 minutes doing about 3 miles. Probably 85% of it was some kind of grade, some of it quite steep indeed. On the flat and lightly sloping sections where we trotted, he really settled into a nice big road trot, and while I took a firm grip on the reins he never offered to canter; he was just motoring along.

We finished with a bit of a hand gallop up our favorite hayfield hill, and one benefit of riding in the jump saddle was that I could do a proper gallop position and bridge my reins which seemed to give him a flashback to conditioning for events last summer. ZOOM. For the first time, too, I had to pull him back when we cleared the pasture instead of urging him forward until we cleared the fenceline.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Small Victories

Lip update: sloooowly getting better. Swelling almost all the way gone, but still stiff and bruised. Now looks about 95% normal. Pain level is about comparable with the most painful zit you've ever had on your lip, and I still can't drink normally which means I have now dripped iced coffee on three different pairs of pants this week. Which I'm sure is information you all needed to have.

I've been doing barn chores for the primary reason of earning lesson credits, but my secondary reason was to continue getting back in shape. I had 11 months off, too, and the stress of moving and starting a challenging new job meant that I have been consuming way more than my fair share of carbohydrates. I've been baking too much bread and then eating it all, is the real problem here.

So I was very pleased to discover yesterday, while carrying heavy book boxes around at work, that lifting them was far easier than it was a month ago. I'm also marginally stronger while doing chores, and while my legs were a bit sore when we started cantering they're not now, and I'm incorporating more two-point work for my own fitness.

I am still struggling with adding in additional exercise - we have a recumbent bike at home that I was using regularly for a while, but not so much now - but it's good to feel the little work I've been able to manage making a difference.