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>Pretty Pictures

May 23, 2011 4 comments

>Had a lovely day with Tucker yesterday (we cantered for the first time in two months!), not much time to blog this morning but wanted to share some pretty pictures with you:

All this rain has made the grass shoot up… it’s like horse heaven out there
Munch munch munch
Hi?

Mom?

MOM!

The girls trotted over to say hi when I pulled in and I thought they looked adorable
(that’s Tucker’s girlfriend in the middle, and the lovely mare that tolerated my dressage lesson on the right)
Categories: BCEC, photos, Tucker, turnout

>An HP in DQ Land: My Dressage Lesson

April 18, 2011 8 comments

>Since Tucker is still out of commission (though the vet is coming to check him today — cross your fingers), I have been looking for other rides on the weekend.  I’ve been curious about dressage for a while now, and figured now would be the perfect time, especially since I’m boarding Tucker at a barn run by a dressage instructor (Cindy), who graciously offered to give this hunter princess a dressage lesson. 

I have to admit to a bit of naivety here.  I’ve probably spent a collective 20 minutes in a dressage saddle in my lifetime, occasionally hopping on in someone else’s tack to help a rider get her horse past a spooky corner or something of the sort.  So going into the lesson, I figured how different can it be?  My stirrups will just be longer.  I can adjust. 

Haha.  Haha.  Ha.  About the time I picked up my posting trot, the mare I was on was probably quite confused, and thinking to herself, “You seemed to know your way around tacking up… but… clearly you have never been on a horse before?  Are you okay up there?  Are you having some kind of seizure?  If not, can you please get your feet out of my elbows?”  Cindy had to walk over and put my leg back where it was supposed to be a couple of times.  It didn’t stay there.  In fact, I pretty much lost all communication with the lower half my right leg and couldn’t tell you what it did for the duration of the lesson.

Now, to state the obvious:  Dressage is completely different.  The seat is different, the leg is different, the hands are different, the posture is almost the opposite of how I normally ride.  My hip angle usually stays closed.  My weight is down in my heel.  My hands follow, all the time.  My shoulders are angled a little forward.  I close my leg with the back of my calf.  I send the horse forward by sending my hips forward.  All this: out the window.

I had the hardest time finding my balance.  And quickly learned that the aids I normally use were close to useless.  It sort of felt like I was speaking Spanish, and the horse was speaking French, and occasionally we’d hear a word that sounded similar and be able to communicate for a brief second.  Then we’d lose each other completely again.  But, thankfully, this mare was very tolerant of my complete incompetence and for the most part tried to understand what I was attempting to tell her, in my bumbling, yet earnest, kind of way.  I did have moments at the trot where I “got it,” and they felt lovely.  Brief, but lovely.

Highlights of the lesson:  Upon my first canter depart, I did what I normally do, which is slide my hips forward.  This resulted in ramming a rather sensitive area into the pommel of the dressage saddle, which, er… took my breath away, so to speak.  I then spent the next ten strides or so trying to figure out where the tack had gone and why I was sort of floating and swinging along like a piece of driftwood.  I wondered whether it looked as bad as it felt.  Glance to my left… instructor laughing hysterically.  Excellent.  It looked worse than it felt.  I then tried desperately to find someplace to sit.  Whenever I found it, the mare would break.  I could not for the life of me correct this problem (Cindy explained it was because I was sitting with no strength coming from my chest/core.  Makes sense now).

Then there was the downward transition.  Where I got run away with at the trot.  This is the point at which I realized my position would have been excellent… had there been skis strapped to my feet and a boat in front of me.  Sadly, that was not the sport in which I was participating, and was rather ineffective for the task I was trying to accomplish.  Eventually, the mare got sick of speed-trotting in circles and decided to walk of her own volition, for which I was quite thankful.  Cindy had been trying to get me to move the horse right to left and regain her balance and focus.  I finally accomplished a few steps of this once we had come back down to the walk.  After looking down to verify that my right leg was, in fact, still attached to my body.  Since my brain had apparently completely lost contact with it.

What I learned:  I learned a few things that I can definitely apply toward my hunt seat riding.  First, I tend to twist my torso, so that my right shoulder is always forward.  Cindy advised me to look at the wall whenever this happened (tracking left), and voila – fixed.  Something I am going to continue to do to keep myself sitting straighter.  Second, opening up my chest.  By stretching taller instead of hunching my shoulders, I gain more strength in my core, which gives me more stability and leverage.  I used this on the equitation horse I rode on Sunday and it definitely helped.  This is not a new critique — instructors have been telling me this for years — but I did get the feeling a bit better sitting in that dressage saddle, since I basically lost all control when I hunched forward.  Third, the half halt starts from the shoulder (my shoulder).  I love this.  I haven’t really thought of it this way, but it makes sense, and I think will provide a more subtle way for me to increase a little pressure on the rein for my very sensitive horse, and I’m always trying to find a way to be more subtle with him.  It also keeps me from breaking at the wrist, which is a terrible habit of mine.  Fourth, my hands need to be more still, steady contact, instead of fidgeting with the bit.  Hard habit to break, but something I definitely need to work on, in any discipline.

Things that are really sore right now:  The tops of my feet (!), my shoulders, the sides of my torso, and especially, the outside of my hips/thighs.  I really don’t use these muscle groups when I ride.  I suppose, arguably, I do use my shoulders.  But not quite in the way that I used them on Saturday.  And I definitely don’t use the outside of my thighs.  Holy cow.  The first word out of my mouth on Sunday morning was “OW!”  Followed closely by “I’m coming, I’m coming,” as I hobbled slowly toward the cat food.

All in all, definitely learned something, and definitely had fun (despite the pain).  How many of you have taken a lesson outside your discipline, and what did you learn?

_____________________________________________
p.s. — I’m not holding out on you… Julie’s travel plans shifted a little, so she won’t be home until Tuesday night.  I’ll take lots of pictures, promise!

Categories: BCEC, dressage, injury, Julie, lessons, Tucker

>Sorry Tucker…

April 4, 2011 6 comments

>

Ick.  I got a call from Allison on Sunday that Tucker’s cut wasn’t looking very good.  She sent me a picture and it was definitely split back open, and bleeding a little.  Not good.  I had cleaned it out on Saturday and was already concerned that the flap wasn’t adhering, which was allowing tiny debris to get trapped in the cut, a recipe for infection.  But I cleaned it out and slathered with triple antibiotic, as instructed, and hoped for the best.  Apparently at some point on Saturday afternoon/night he must have rolled in just the right way and torn the cut back open again.  Ugh. 

I was with my family celebrating my grandfather’s birthday, so this news was met with a lot of “why is that horse of yours always getting hurt?” and “does this mean you are leaving now?  We haven’t even sat down to dinner yet.” and “what’s this going to cost you?”  Very difficult to hold your tongue in these situations, isn’t it?  You want to snap back something about how your horse actually in the grand scheme of things does not hurt himself too frequently, and we should all just be happy this injury is so minor, and I don’t really care what it costs me as long as he is okay, and yes I very much would like to go take care of him but I know it would only further alienate you all from my horse so I’ll just stay here and stare at my phone all day, okay?  …But then you realize your grandmother is 88, and she’s really very sweet, and she just wants to spend the day with you.  So you hold your tongue, and play nice, and pretend your mind isn’t elsewhere all day.

I texted my vet (who is awesome, and very accessible for these kinds of things), and sent her the picture above, and asked if there was anything we could do, and whether she needed to see him.  She said there wasn’t really anything to be done (we can’t restitch it at this point, since there’s not enough skin to debride), so no need for an emergency Sunday vet call.  But, she wants him in his stall for the week, no turnout, no handwalks, no riding… a little hand grazing if he can stay quiet.  Basically, she wants him to walk as little as possible, because every time he moves his leg, he prevents the cut from closing.  She also wants us to keep it wrapped so it stays clean, but advised that the hock area is very sensitive to tight bandaging, so be sure the bandage is lightly applied. 

So I texted Cindy (my other barn manager), explained our vet’s instructions, and apologized.  My horse is once again going to be the most obnoxious kid in the barn this week, so I promised wine.  Lots of wine.  Then Allison and I talked again, she agreed to take care of the wrapping, and I told her where all the supplies are located in my trunk (triple antibiotic, nonstick gauze, standing wraps).  Despite the frustration of not being able to be there myself, I really was grateful to have someone there who I trusted to take good care of him.  Here is her excellent wrapping job:

Now how is that for service?  Not only takes care of him, but sends you photographic evidence too?  Such peace of mind for a neurotic mother like me. 

Sigh.  I’m really sorry Tucker.  This week is going to suck.  But it’s only a week (hopefully), and although you don’t know it, you could have it much, much worse.  There are horses who have hurt themselves and then ended up stuck in their stalls for months at a time.  Just imagine that (I know you can’t).  And please, please try not to destroy the barn or drive anyone nuts.  I know it won’t be easy… but could you try to remember your manners, for me?

Now, off I go to check out Brooke’s facebook post about 101 Things to Do with Your Stall Bound Horse.

>Tucker’s Big Adventure

October 24, 2010 10 comments

>Tucker and I got invited to go on a trail ride with one of the boarders at the new farm today.  It was a beautiful fall day, warm and crisp and sunny.  The trees looked like stained glass windows with the light shining through their bright colored leaves.  Perfect day for a lovely quiet ride through the woods.

So off we go, on our merry way, and just as we are about to head onto the trail, I hear a horse whinny.  Must be someone else on the trail.  We come around the bend to a meadow where I see a horse grazing.  Tucker keeps walking toward him as though this is perfectly normal.  I start thinking of how to handle this situation without getting anyone killed.  I tell my friend (who is on a mare that wouldn’t take kindly to being approached by a strange horse) to turn around and start walking, as the horse is making his way towards us.  I calmly turn Tucker around and the horse follows.  As he catches up to us and starts walking alongside of Tucker, I can now see that he’s a pretty young draft cross, a black and white pinto, and seems fairly good natured.  He has burrs in his forelock that give him the look of a disheveled little kid.

I stop Tucker for a minute while we regroup and try to formulate a plan.  Tucker and the young draft horse start grooming each other like old friends.  The baby is happily licking Tucker’s shoulder like a puppy; Tucker is sniffing and nuzzling the horse’s forehead and gently blowing in his black and white mane.  I am, at this point, completely superfluous.  It’s love at first sight.  [Note:  This story goes in the “don’t try this at home” catagory, unless of course you have a Tucker at home, in which case you’ve just made your horse’s day.] 

I figure we need to get this young fellow to his owners, so while Tucker and his new friend are full-on grooming each other’s withers, I take off my belt, loop it through the buckle and around the base of the pinto’s halter as a makeshift lead rope, and start ponying him.  Tucker’s never ponied a horse before, but he took to it like a fish to water, surprise-surprise.

We start walking along toward the nearest farm with young draft horse in tow and Tucker starts in.  “Mom, puh-leeeeease can we keep him??  Please please please please please?  I’ll be sooooo good.  I’ll take care of him, I’ll feed him, I’ll walk him, he can stay in my room.  You won’t even know he’s there.  Pleeeeeeeease mommy?  I won’t ask you for another thing as long as I live, I swearPuh-leeeeeeeeeeease????”  If you were the type of kid that was always bringing home a lost kitten/puppy/frog/bunny (and I suspect that most of you were), this should be starting to sound familiar. 

We walked along, making our way to the next farm down the road.  The young draft horse happily bumps along at Tucker’s side, occasionally reaching up to groom his shoulder or sniff me, and Tucker and I continue to debate whether this horse could, in fact, be his.  I pointed out that he’s wearing a halter and therefore probably belongs to somebody, and maybe has a family that’s worried sick about where he’s been.  Tucker responded that no one was out looking for him and he looked so lost, and if he ran away he probably wasn’t all that happy there to begin with. 

We try Farm #1, no luck, but they think the horse belongs to the next farm just down the road.  Tucker is now CONVINCED this horse is homeless and if we don’t take him home and feed him, he’ll end up on the streets again, and we’ll never be able to live with ourselves.  We mosey along through another field.  Tucker is acting like he does this every day.  Our new boarder friend is now just staring in disbelief.  Tucker has decided this is the greatest trail ride ev-er, he never wants to go anywhere without this young spotty draft at his side, and is now promising to forego allowance for the rest of his life, do all his chores plus his sister’s, if only we can keep him.

We reach Farm #2, which has an empty barn full of stalls and a bunch of horses in turnout.  Our boarder friend dismounts, temporarily places her mare in an empty stall with her reins tied up, and then pries the pinto from our side.  Since there’s no water in the stalls, we can’t just leave him, so she walks up to the house to alert the owners.  Tucker and I stand outside the barn, and Tucker makes one last pitch for keeping his new horse.  He didn’t see any children run up with open arms when we brought Max home (Tucker has already named his new friend) and the other horses didn’t even seem that happy to see him.  He really needs us.  He worriedly stares into the barn, wondering how long it’s going to be until he can be reunited with his instant BFF.

The owner comes out, gives us a nonchalant “yep, he’s ours, the electric fence is down,” and “yep, looks like he snuck out again.”  Tucker is heartbroken, for about five seconds.  Then he sees the mini-donkey come trotting up the fence line.  His eyes grow large, his neck arches, he starts walking toward the mini donkey’s paddock.  “Mommy please?  Can we get one?  Please please please please please?  I’ll be soooooo good….”  Mini donkey pins his mini giant ears.  He’s no one’s pet.

We made our way down the farm’s driveway and to the trails, and proceeded to have a blast (and Tucker forgot all about being heartbroken).  We crossed streams, trotted up and down hills, even had a nice little gallop or two around the edges of mowed hayfields.  By the end of the ride, we were calling my horse “Zen Master Tucker” due to the calming effect he so clearly had on our new friend’s lovely little mare, who followed Tucker’s lead and walked home on the buckle, calm as could be (which, from what I understand, is sometimes a challenge for her).  In case you were wondering, it isn’t lost on me that I’m incredibly lucky to have a horse who is not only a competitive hunter and a really hard worker, but also an awesome trail pony, and apparently a search and rescue animal as well.

My darling Tucker, I promise you that one day I will get you a pony, or a mini donkey, or maybe a little spotted draft cross to play with.  Until then, you’re going to have to go through what all good little children go through before they can have their first pet… and keep falling in love with every stray you see.

Categories: autumn, BCEC, humor, trail ride, Tucker

>Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

October 4, 2010 11 comments

>(Cue David Bowie in the background)

So… There have been some big changes in the world of Tucker lately.  Due to some big expenses in my non-horse life, Julie’s impending training fees, and my desire not to live in my horse trailer, I moved Tucker to a new facility this past weekend.  Don’t worry, I’m still going to train with Alicia, who has been very gracious and professional about my decision, and thankfully didn’t disown me as a client.  I’ll be shipping over to her for lessons (the new farm is only 15 minutes away from hers) on the weekends, meeting her at horse shows, and she’s agreed to come and ride Tucker at his new place once a week.  Saving money on board will allow me to keep showing and keep Tucker’s training program the same.  Thankfully, it looks like the situation will work out well for all of us, at least for the moment.

The new place is only ten minutes from my house, so I’ll still be able to ride Tucker as often as I do now.  The boarders there are a mix of dressage riders and some kids who do hunter shows at a local circuit.  The barn manager is great so far, has a great attitude, seems very knowledgeable, and has been very accommodating (for example, she agreed to stock Tucker’s Omelene 400 for me so we didn’t have to switch feeds). 

The facilities are great.  Plenty of room for turnout:

Several nice buildings for housing horses and storage:


Two outdoor rings, one is 100×300 (plenty of room for jumping!), and the other is a regulation dressage ring (in other words…  I have no idea how big that one is):

My favorite part:  the indoor is 110 x 300 with great footing!  I’m pretty excited about riding in this ring all winter.

We also have direct access to the Amwell Valley Trail System, and apparently some of the boarders are avid trail riders, so I expect there will be some beautiful fall foliage trail rides in our future.

(And here comes the obvious transition to photos I took myself rather than pulled off a website)

The stall doors in Tucker’s aisle have v-fronts, just like our old barn, so he can hang his head out like he is used to.  Here he is settling in, making sure his laser beam eyes still function:

The settling in process was totally uneventful.  Once there was hay in front of him (they grow their own and it smelled fabulous), this is the only pose I could get him to strike:

The stalls are nice and big, at least 12×12, maybe a little bigger, so that’s perfect for him. 

Since barn moves are a common theme on the blogs lately (see here, and here, and here), I thought you might be interested in what my criteria were for a new facility.  Though not included in the list, obviously my reason for moving was financial, so a substantial savings was also a must this time around.

MUST HAVES:
1.  Plenty of turnout room, with good grass in the fields
2.  At least 12×12 stalls
3.  Indoor ring and outdoor ring big enough for jumping, with good footing
4.  Permission for another trainer to teach, and/or to ship out for lessons
5.  Good quality feed and hay
6.  Trailer parking
7.  Indoor wash stall

WANTS:
1.  Barn manager or staff living on site
2.  Hot and cold water in the barn
3.  Neat, tidy aisles, feed room, and tack room
4.  Grooming stalls
5.  Storage for extra trunks
6.  Within 20 minutes of my house
7.  Feeding of supplements and occasional blanket changes included in board

CAN’T STANDS:
1.  Unsafe fencing, stalls, barn/aisle, or rings
2.  Turnout with little or no grass
3.  Huge lesson program with lots of little kids running around
4.  Programs that don’t prioritize turnout or don’t use fields in the fall/winter

The new farm has all of my must haves, none of my can’t stands, and is only missing one of my wants:  no hot water in the barn.  I may be investing in a hott wash (or seeing if someone has one that I can borrow).  I think we can live with cold water though.  We do cold water baths at horse shows after all. 

Hopefully things will continue to go well.  I have my first night ride in the indoor tomorrow night, so we shall see how that goes.  Hopefully it won’t be too scary….

Categories: BCEC, boarding, life, Tucker