Oct 31, 2010

Schooling Show Success!

I suppose success might be a strong word, but it was a success for me! We were not in the ribbons and in fact were recognized as, "oh you were the one on the big grey horse". I guess we made an impression. It could be because we reared, spinned, broke gait, and trotted around with our head straight in the air and barely with any bit of straightness. But we had fun!

We arrived Friday night and unloaded the horses. Rusty traveled with his friend Inky who rode a fantastic 1st level test 4 and an even better 2nd level test 1. We let them settle in for a bit and then I tacked up and headed off to the arena. Rusty was amped up to say the least. I could barely get him to stand still for me to get on. The fairgrounds we were at is sort of your classic fairground arena. Older building, multipurpose with chutes for cows and other stock animals, bleachers and a concession stand. This was all new for Rusty. Overall I was pretty impressed with him. I figured he'd be totally freaked out by the judges stand, but that was the nothing! He was way more obsessed with getting the hell out of there!

The dressage arena was up, but there was a pole down right by the exit for easy access in and out for people who were schooling. Rusty really, really tried to convince me that his best bet was to get out and get out fast. He reared, he spun, he backed up, he ignored me, and generally wrecked havoc. Inky came in for some warm-up time and that immediately calmed Rusty down. He was still pretty tense, but at least wasn't as obsessed with the exit. After time the other horses who were schooling left the arena and even Inky headed back to the barn.

This was when our real schooling started. We worked and worked and worked until finally we had a breakthrough. I got tough, but just tough enough and I gave him his head. I have a tendency to pull back on the reins and expect him to go forward, but not TOO forward. It's a problem. It really makes him crazy. So after we both chilled out a bit things got much better. He also taught be that he really likes to have a nice calm canter to help him relax. Interesting, but whatever I'll take it. So we ended the night on a high note and I was full of good hopes for the next day.

We arrived at the grounds at 6:30am hoping to catch a ride in the dressage ring before the show started. Unfortunately the arena was closed for dragging and wouldn't be available until the first ride. I was bummed, they had said it was going to be open until 7:30. Grrrrr... So we hit the warm up and boy did we hit it hard. He was rearing and bolting and generally attempting to escape back to the barn. Over time with lots of encouragement from Team Rusty (my mom, Inky's owner, and my friends) we managed to settle down into some quality work. Still a bit tense, but at least listening.

I was optomistic heading into the arena. And then we entered for the test and optomism failed me. Rusty was very excited to be trotting in toward "A". For him "A" stood for adjacent to the exit. That set the tone for both our tests. Quality warm up and then instant chaos trotting down the centerline. We managed to eek out both tests without disqualification, but did settle for last in both (just ahead of the disqualified pony who jumped out of the arena!).

I have to say I learned a lot and I'm totally thrilled that we made it through in one piece and we actually had some good work here and there. He felt awesome at moments and I'm really pleased with that. Had we tried this a month ago it would have been much, much worse. We recieved complimentary DVDs of our rides, it was nice to see what the judge was talking about on each element. I definitely will take note of her demand for me to have more soft and yielding hands, even though I am somewhat skeptical of the soft and yielding when the horse is attempting to get out of the arena, but I'll think about it. She also suggested more supportive leg. I knew I was having trouble with that and I could kick myself for not adjusting my stirrups. I usually ride in my paddock boots and half chaps and had switched into the tall boots for the show and didn't adjust my stirrups to match!!! Duh, the paddock boots have a much thicker sole!!! I felt it, but I attributed it to my nervousness. Sure wish I would have shortened them, oh well, lesson learned.

All in all we had fun! Can't wait for the next one!!!

Oct 21, 2010

Flying Dismount

It finally happened. I flew off Rusty tonight in a totally unplanned dismount. We were having a nice ride up to that point. He was trotting along, actually feeling relaxed and more supple than usual and then BAM he was going the other direction and I was on the ground.

I have no idea what he spooked at. There was nothing that I could see in that corner of the arena and nothing that Ellen saw either as she happened to be looking right at us when it happened. I hit my side and than my head. Luckily I had my handy dandy helmet on! I felt a little dazed, but also relieved. I've been waiting to fall off that horse since I brought him home. And now it's happened and I'm fine. I have a headache, but it's not bad. I imagine my neck will be a little sore tomorrow, but nothing I haven't felt before. So there ya have it, I can fall off of the big huge horse and be okay. Important lesson to learn!

We rode a little while longer, but I was feeling sort of out of it. Probably the let down after the adrenaline kick from falling. I think Rusty was feeling slightly embarrassed/guilty afterwards because we had some of the best trot work we've had so far right after I remounted. I don't think I'll utilize flying off of him as a training tool, but he did seem a little sorry for his actions.

I've really been working on pushing my hands forward. I suppose that's an exaggeration, but what I mean is not feeling the backward motion in my hands, but instead feeling like they're encouraging forward motion, while still supporting his frame. It's an interesting feeling and it's been hard to cultivate, but I'm liking what it does for his trot. I also had a mini realization tonight that I don't have to use my legs like vice grips, if he doesn't listen I should ask with the aid of the whip and he'll learn to move off lighter pressure. I think I've been feeling like I'm not asking right if I'm not squeezing the heck out of him, but squeezing the heck out of him hasn't gotten us anywhere. Tonight while I was working on suppling him up with some sidepass work I used a little whip reinforcement and surprise he moved right away from light pressure the next time. It's the little things...

I'm up to the barn tomorrow night, probably without Ellen. It'll be nice to have the arena to myself and just take things nice and easy. Saturday we are planning to videotape each others rides and watch them on the computer right afterwards. I'm looking forward to that, it's always great to see what you've improved at and what you still need to work on.

Oct 20, 2010

Barn Night

(Rusty and his bff Inky)

First horse oriented thing I did today was take my disgusting stable blanket and my friend Ellen's stable blanket and turn out to the tack shop to drop off for washing on my lunch break. I don't think the tack shop lady is super impressed with being the drop off spot for these stinky blankets. Her first questions were, "Are they in clean garbage bags? Are they sealed up?". Luckily my answer to both questions was yes! I didn't tell her that I had bought the garbage bags at the dollar store and they may disintegrate from the fumes at any second. So the blankets are on their way for a washing, finally...

Ellen and I headed up to the barn after work today. The first of many proposed car pools to come. Saving gas and having a buddy to ride with are always pluses.

We got the ponies out and started tacking up when I noticed that Rusty had a nice bit of hair missing right at his left hock and a cut below that. His leg was a little hot and a little swollen. Oh great. I decided to go ahead and saddle him up and see if he was favoring it at all. We got out in the arena and did some lunging, he was good to go. The movement helped to take down the small amount of swelling that was there.

With Inky working in the arena we had a little bit more distraction than normal. We were also coming off of a two day break so Rusty was feeling a little fresh, distracted, and tense. All in all we had a nice ride. After we were both done with our work in the arena we hit the trails. It was right at dusk so the trails were a little dark even with the big full moon. The horses were brave little soldiers though and just kept their ears on high alert and headed out into the night. Rusty seems to be enjoying his new trail experiences. He practiced leading more tonight and even did a little leading at the trot! A very tentative trot, but still a trot!

After our ride I attempted to cold hose Rusty's leg, but realized I don't know how to have cold water only in the wash rack. All I could manage was luke warm, which sort of defeated the whole purpose. So I cleaned out his little cut and put some medication on it. I'll have to text the barn trainer/manager/friend of mine to check in on him in the morning. Hopefully it won't look like much and all will be well... Fingers crossed.

Tomorrow we're heading out a little earlier to the barn, probably do the same as today, a little arena work followed by some trails. Sort of the perfect ride...

Oct 19, 2010

Lean on Pete

Tonight the boyfriend and I went to see one of our recent favorite authors speak at a local library. His name is Willy Vlautin and he most recently wrote a book called "Lean on Pete". I would highly suggest picking up that book or one of his others, "Motel Life" or "Northline". He's a sort of down-on-your-luck working class author. I enjoy his books for their brash, realistic look at life for most of us... just holding it together, or maybe not holding it together, but somehow waking up every morning and starting it over again.

"Lean on Pete" is a favorite for me because the Pete in the title is a racehorse at our local track, Portland Meadows. The real Lean on Pete was a TB who raced something like 40 times and only made around $37K. When Vlautin first moved to Portland he discovered Meadows as a place that reminded him of his home in Reno, NV. Over time he made connections with trainers, jockeys, handicappers, and just plain gamblers. "Lean on Pete" includes a lot of time on the backside, the darker side of horseracing, and that special moment of love we all feel with that first horse who really gets to us.

Vlautin spoke eloquently and emotionally about the track. He spoke of his love for the horses, the sport, and the jockeys and the pain he felt watching them after he began to know their stories. I was impressed with his understanding of the sport and willingness to expose some of the seedier sides of life at a low end track. And just in case you are thinking, yeah but what's he doing about it, well he's adopted a few horses off the track and they have permanent homes with he and his girlfriend on his property outside of Portland.

Lean on Pete the racehorse was at the track the same years as Rusty. They never raced against each other, they were always a day or two apart, but they were there together. Pete kept racing, I think he raced 4 or 5 seasons. His final season, according to Equibase, he was racing at a track I've never heard of, running claiming races. I really wanted to ask tonight if he's followed up on Pete. Does he know where he is? Has he offered him a retirement home? But for some reason I couldn't. He talked about how he felt that Pete's owner was a "good guy" and that Pete was lucky. I couldn't help but think that he might not be and I really wish I knew where he was.

Oct 17, 2010

Rusty's Still Alive

Big, long break and I'm going to give this bloggin thing another shot...

Here's the update:

Rusty and his friend Inky have moved to a new barn. The new barn is set up for optimal pacific northwest winter time riding and horse happiness. We have a beautiful indoor arena with fantastic footing, trails that have gravel laid down for the winter rains, and sand runs attached to the stalls for the days when the turnouts just can't take the hoof abuse.

Rusty and I have been at the barn since the 1st of October and our riding has dramatically improved! Having an arena to ride in has been miraculous. Not only does it boost my confidence, but it also gives Rusty some boundaries and lessens the distractions that surround him. It was tough to move away from the other barn, the owners are incredibly kind and caring and welcomed us like family, but for Rusty and I it's been the best move we could have made.

The new barn has 13 stalls, 9 have runs attached, an indoor arena that's basically the size of a small dressage court, a huge tack room, lounge area, 50 acres of trails, and great owners. It's another private barn and this is the first winter that they will have boarders. They're really excited to have us there and instantly treated Rusty like one of their own.

Rusty's new stablemates are 4 TB's (3 OTT, 2 mares, 2 geldings), 3 QH mares, a Tennesse Walker mare, an Arabian mare, an adorable little pony, Inky (Arabian/Trakehner Gelding), and soon to be another OTTB gelding and a paint gelding. The barn owners and the trainer/manager are very dedicated to the comfort and happiness of the horses. They spend hours analyzing the best turnout patterns, who gets along with who, and what might make the horse just a little more content. I'm feeling pretty lucky to move from one fantastic barn to the next.

Our riding has improved by leaps and bounds over the past two weeks. We can focus on our work, he with better footing and less outside stimulation and me with the knowledge that we're safely within four walls and I can relax. We have entered a show on Oct 30th, a dressage schooling show, we're signed up for Intro A & B. I'm looking forward to it, we're pretty ready for it and will only be more so by then. It's sort of all falling into place right now. The arena, the trails, the good equine energy is making for one happy Rusty and rider.

We'll see how this bloggin thing goes this time around... Maybe I'll keep it up!

May 13, 2010


Mystery solved.

What my horse needed to move forward without hesitation? A pair of shoes! He was shod last Saturday and after a few days of shoe wearing we're moving forward. In fact, now instead of worrying about how to get a trot out of the guy, I'm wondering how do I make him walk. He's all peppy and ready to go. He'll even canter on cue!

Of course now I feel horrible. Shoes. It's so simple. In some ways I'm grateful it wasn't figured out quickly. We've made tremendous progress on respect both on the ground and under saddle that all came about because of his nasty mood under saddle.

We had a super fantastic weekend this last week. We went to the vet and got a tube up the nose to see about his potential dorsal displacement or larynx paralysis. He was a total superstar patient, didn't even need a twitch for the second tubing! He does have a partial paralysis on his left side as many TB's do and there is question that when he's put into a working frame and exerting energy that he may experience discomfort from his dorsal not having super strong muscle, but overall we're not going to faint from lack of oxygen and he shouldn't experience anything too upsetting.

After the vet we went on a trail ride! We swung back to the barn, picked up Inky and went on a ride. It was quite relaxing and we CANTERED on the trail. A first for sure. It was thrilling and calm all at the same wonderful time. I was a little nervous that some crazy racehorse urge would overtake him and he'd rush past Inky out of control. But he was happy to lope, yes lope, quietly behind Inky down the trail.

The next day Rusty had his first day trip to an arena. We went to the other side of the island, where we will be soon attending at TB show, to practice our skills in a full size arena. Rusty was pretty snorty and concerned with all doorways and entrances. But seriously, overall he amazed me. He had some beautiful trot work and was very willing to work through his nervousness. We went for a ride across the property where he even led through the scary parts! He was amazing.

We're doing good. Things are looking up and I'm excited for all the incredible adventures that await as the days brighten up and the sun stays out longer...

Mar 13, 2010

One step forward, how many back?

I had a hard time getting out to the barn this week and it showed. Rusty needs constant attention and work, otherwise he just starts backsliding into his pushy self.

Our first task of the day, the riding lesson, went pretty well. It's been raining hard all week and the horses have been in their stalls more than normal, so I arrived a little earlier than normal to let him get some kicks out before the real work started. He did some light round pen work and then I let him settle in with some hay while I tacked him up.

The lesson started out with him dancing around and not wanting to let me put my foot in the stirrup. I think I'm always nervous when our trainer is there that things aren't going to go well and it transfers onto him. Then when something like that happens I get flustered so much more easily. Our trainer said, "Listen, the one thing he's got going for him is that you'll cave. He dances away from the fence so you decide that you'll just get on from the ground, you have to stick with it. I don't care how long it takes." So we did just that and it only took about 3 minutes to get him to settle and stand quietly.

Our ride went pretty smoothly, we worked a lot on suppling him and asking him to accept the rein contact while maintaining the freedom in his gait. We did opening rein, after opening rein, after opening rein. He got it, here and there, sometimes it was frustrating but for the most part he figured it out. It took an immense amount of persistence and precision on my part. He is so sensitive, I can't even feel his mouth in my hand and he reacts as if I'm cranking his head around. Our trainer worked a lot with me again on relaxing and being very deliberate in my requests from him. Make them very small and light. The suppling helped him to open up his gaits and we're hoping after he learns the response of bringing over head, pushing out barrel, and stepping through with the hind end, it will be useful to combat his giraffe head antics.

After the ride we spent some time rubbing his sides. His girth area and directly behind it are often incredibly tense. It is hard, he swishes his tail, he flinches, tries to bite you, and generally hates it. I've been working on brushing and petting that area, but she wanted to get a little bit more intense and actually do some massage in that area. She did some for a few minutes on each side and his muscles felt much softer afterward.

Later in the day I headed back to the barn for Rusty's appointment with the farrier. As we were headed into the barn I was chatting with the other boarder explaining his tight sides and the work we had done earlier. She proceeded to start doing some light touching all over his body and he just totally lost it. He was charging forward, biting, throwing his head around, was able to pull away from me, it was totally ridiculous. He had to go to groundwork boot camp for a good 1/2 hour after that. Then he saw the farrier, than more groundwork boot camp. By the end he was not pleased with it, but he was okay with having his sides touched again.

I'd have to say, it feels pretty damn frustrating to think you're making progress in one direction and than have things go haywire in another. I know this is just the lumps and bumps of the OTTB retraining, but geez...