Bending Right

Last time I rode Howdy, I noted to myself that standing still was not really his thing.   So today, I sat on him while I taught a lesson.

IMG_9421We stood still a while, then walked in circles a lot and did some more halting and did some bending.  Actually, I wasn’t paying that much attention to him.  I was mostly focusing on Jean and Sammy as they worked on cavaletti and transitions.  This morning I read this very nice blog post about Will Faudree and young horses on the USEA site and it got me to thinking about bending in general and the inside leg to outside rein connection and I was just fooling around with it.

Meanwhile, Jean and Sammy had some nice canter work:

Toward the end of Jean’s lesson, Howdy figured out how to bend right.  All of a sudden he noticed he could shorten the right side of his body and lengthen the left half.  I should mention that I’m actually quite stoked about this.  As you may know, Howdy has a slight club foot on his right front and often horses are not as handy at bending toward their club foot side.  Knowing this, I was prepared for it to be a long, slow process.  Turns out, to get a good start on it, it took about an hour of just playing around and allowing it to happen.  Huh.  There’s a nice surprise.

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Well, its not a right bend, but its kinda cute anyway.

The Cheeky Monkey

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Howdy in a cheeky moment

The Iowa Horse Fair is next weekend and I am going to present several sessions whose topics will be jumping, eventing and foxhunting.  Fun flyer.  I’ve presented jumping seminars before and I’ve learned that while it is interesting for people to watch an example of very good jumping, they are fascinated, entertained and amused if you present them with an imperfect horse and show them how to react to mistakes and how to train the horses.

And so Howdy and Bravado are going to the Horse Fair to learn how to jump, in public.  Both horses were racing at Prairie Meadows last summer and Bravado has started the very basics of jumping.  Here’s his big accomplishment for today:

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Yep, those are 1′ jumps with placing poles.  Wheeeee!

I spent a pleasant hour today helping him to learn how to navigate these jumps in a relaxed manner, and at the end we were both grinning.  Now mind you, plenty left to learn at the Horse Fair.  We never were balanced enough to do two jumps in a row.

Meanwhile, Howdy and I yesterday started with simple poles on the ground between standards.  We started out walking over them and the first few times were actually quite dramatic, with crookedness and a bit of balking and then some over-exuberance.  By the end he was trotting over them in a relaxed manner, about which I was very pleased.  I untacked him and left him loose in the sandy indoor to roll.  I came back from putting his tack away and he was on the other side of the arena.  He was just shaking off from a roll and when he saw me he put his ears up and started cantering to me.  I thought that was charming, of course, anybody would.  But he won my heart, the cheeky thing, when he altered his course so that he would canter right over one of the poles on the ground on his way to me – ears up with a “look what I can do” expression.  This one’s gonna be fun.

Back to our regularly-scheduled Thoroughbred

Howdy had his fourth eye appointment at ISU (wheeeee!) and needed to have more eye treatments, three times a day.  We decided to take him with us to the Flint Hills of Kansas where we were joint meeting with several other Midwest foxhunts.  Foxhunting is always very serious business.

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Um, ok, maybe not always serious…

I rode Bravado on the hunts during the weekend and he was great.

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Jay is riding Annie, the grey horse and I am to his left on Bravado.  Our friends MFH Monte Antisdel and HRH Diane Antisdel are to my left.

Meanwhile, Howdy hung out in his stall while we hunted.  He was completely unfazed by the other horses leaving their stalls and getting on the trailer.  He looked up from his hay, watched the other horses walk away, mumbled, “Have a good day at work, suckers!” and put his head back in the hay.

Much to his surprise, despite the fact that it was snowing when we got home from the hunt, it was his turn to go out for a hack.Howdy

It was a beautiful snow, with huge flakes and no wind.  We went out with our friend Holly Barrett and her horse.  They gave us several leads through creeks and Howdy did fine.  He led, he followed, he left the other horse, he stopped well, he went forward well and just didn’t have much of a problem with anything.  What a fun horse!

Our goal is the RRP in Kentucky in October, but the next outing is the Iowa Horse Fair next weekend.  I’m speaking there and he and Bravado will be demo horses.  Gonna be a good time.

Spring Fling Combined Driving Event

We’re having a little time out from the Howdy blog to cover a trip to Florida for the USEA Instructor Certification Seminar in Ocala Florida.  Since I was coming to Florida on Monday for that, I called my friend Denise Loewe to see if I could hangout with her in her big ol’ camper that is parked near Buck Davidson’s barn in Ocala.  “Absolutely,” she said, “and you should come down a few days early and groom and navigate for me at the Spring Fling Combined Driving Event.”  What fun, I’m in.

So I flew in to Orlando SFB late on Friday night, forgot which rental car agency I made reservations with through the airline, figured it out by playing it cool and just following a lot of other people on my flight to Alamo, (thank you God, that worked), got my luggage and car and drove two hours to Orlando and went straight to sleep when I got there.  (And if you believe that last part, about going straight to bed after seeing my friend again after almost a year hiatus, you are having a silly moment.  We might have stayed up talking and drinking wine until 1.  Might have happened.)

Up early on Saturday to walk the obstacles on marathon.  I was completely overwhelmed, to the point of losing my ability to speak because of these thoughts tangling in my brain:

  • How do people remember all these gates?
  • Do people know that these wooden objects will not move when hit with a carriage/horse/human?
  • And  wait, only time in the obstacles are penalties, the rest of it is basically working trot?

I was with Debbie Egan and Margaret Shenker and Denise walking the course.  Debbie and Margaret are very experienced combined drivers, Denise is moderately experienced, and on Friday I didn’t even know that drivers cantered (for god’s sake!) through the obstacles. Me walking the course with them reminded me of one of my favorite sketches on Sesame Street – one of these things is not like the other.

The learning curve was daunting as a cold, granite cliff face, and I was a babe wandering barefoot and sleeveless in the foothills.  My climb involved many questions after I recovered my ability of speech.  Some frantic Youtube searching, an important sheet of times for each section given to me by the benevolent Margaret, who saw my need before I even knew of its existence, and a little zen time alone with the obstacles completed my ascent to feeling somewhat prepared to navigate marathon for Denise.

The days were happy, long and exhausting  (and I didn’t have access to wifi, horrors!), so I didn’t make a blog entry Saturday and Sunday night, but I did make this video compilation that will give you a good idea of the gist of how the weekend went.  Crazy fun.  If you find an opportunity to go to/volunteer at/groom for/navigate at a combined driving event, do it! So fun!

Looking like a real horse and the Big Trip

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I leave for Florida tomorrow for a week to go to the USEA ICP Seminar, the Young Event Horse Symposium, the Retired Racehorse Project BBQ at the Ocala Jockey Club, to groom and navigate for my friend who is driving her horse in the Florida Spring Fling Driving Competition at the  Florida Horse Park, and to see my nieces who are riding with the big dawgs in Ocala.  This is gonna be fuuuuu-un, and I’ll share the highlights and the inevitable funny things that will happen as I stay with my friend who has a big camper that she parks at Buck Davidson’s winter complex.  Yes, I know.  Ridiculousness.

If you want to catch it all, you can subscribe to this blog by putting your email address in the box on the upper right of this page.

Meanwhile, I put a saddle and a bridle on Howdy who said, “Ho hum, I did this at the track.” I lunged him in loose side-reins and I’ll be darned, he looks like a real horse at times.  Here’s some video with our dogs occasionally barking in the distance.  If you listen carefully, you might hear a coyote howl.  Home on the range in dear old Iowa.  I am not vain enough to think you might be interested to see the whole 7 minutes of this video, but if you scan around a bit you can see all three gaits in both directions.  Should be good for comparison down the road.

Things are looking up

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I had Doc Schaefer out to see Howdy.  She is a DVM who does horse chiropractic.  We started out with her watching him move.  I walked him away from her and then walked him back while she watched.  She had a thoughtful look on her face when I got back to her, which is usually not a good thing.  She asked me to walk him away and back again.  I did, and when I got back she had the same look.

I’ve learned not to ask vets questions when they have this look, and that served me well this day too.  She started working on him and found that one hip was down.  Then she went to the other side and found that it was down too (no, I don’t know how that is possible either, but there it is.)  She started working on the second hip and her quizzical look went away as she figured out what she was seeing when I was walking him.  She said that he wasn’t uneven, but that he wasn’t coming through correctly.  Usually she can see that one side is out.  Howdy, tricky man that he is, came up with a completely novel way to present.

She was able to get that and his right shoulder adjusted.  The club foot is on the right, and maybe that shoulder being out/stuck/whatever it was, will prove not to be a coincidence and part of the club foot problem.

Then she worked on his neck where he had a few minor issues that they worked out.  Doc Schaefer clearly really likes horses and Howdy at least, likes her:

Here is the sheet from the exam.  No, I don’t know how to interpret it entirely, but it is pretty cool and useful.

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Doc Schaefer made it clear to me that now that he was adjusted, he needed to be worked equally to the right and left, rather than focusing on the right with short breaks to the left as I had been doing.

I worked him the day after the adjustment and the result was both encouraging and mystifying.  Encouraging in that he wasn’t so resistant in going to the right; mystifying in that he now couldn’t hold the left lead (or either lead for that matter) for more than three strides without breaking to trot or switching leads in back only.  I thought about it a bit and surmised that he probably simply didn’t have the muscle development to move for very long in the new way that he was allowed to move after the adjustment.  So I did about 10 minutes of walking on the lunge and ended for the day.

img_9098Meanwhile, it was time for his checkup with ISU ophthalmology.  Two DVM ophthalmologists and four DVMs-in-training had a look at the very patient Howdy’s eyes.  That’s Dr. Wehrman in the white coat.  She’s an silken-voiced angel, and Howdy loves her.  Of course sedation was involved, but he was still tolerant above and beyond the call of duty.  The consensus was that they were very pleased with how the eye looks.  The ulcer has healed entirely and the conjunctivitis has improved markedly on the front of the eye (where I am applying the steroids) and has improved on the back of his eye (which the banamine is addressing).  I was sent home with a much less rigorous treatment regimen and a checkup in a month.  We seem to be out of the woods, but we need to stay the course to get it healed all the way.  This is excellent!

I worked him a few more times over the next week, doing a lot of walking and trotting and really not pushing for canter – just letting him get stronger and figure out how his hips/lower back are supposed to work, and then today, I asked him to canter again.  This video, complete with me wearing what looks like a Mr. Rogers sweater but is actually the inner layer of my winter coat, documents his improvement.  The things I really like to see are that in walk, his overstep is quite generous – about 8 inches – whereas before the adjustment, he just barely tracked up; that he can apparently quite easily hold his canter lead (in both directions, but this video only shows right); and that he is somewhat less resistant to the idea of going right in general.  In the beginning of the video and halfway through, you can see where he really doesn’t want me to get on his right side.  This is mild compared to his earlier objections, which makes me very happy.

First cookie and there’s an app for that

Earlier this week, I wrote the MS blog that I’ve been wanting to write for, oh, about five years.  After getting that out, I just sort of went into a writing stupor, and now, dear friends, I am back.

Howdy’s eye continues to improve and the thrice-daily (ooooh, getting Biblical!) treatments continue in earnest.  Though I have ridden him, I am spending a lot of time on lunging because he needs:

  • the help in going to the right
  • more ground work in general
  • to stop overreacting to every cluck or kiss

A little back story I got from his trainer at the track – they sent Howdy to a guy to break and condition him.  The guy was supposed to be galloping him under tack but it turns out that after he broke Howdy, he was just ponying him from another horse for conditioning.  When they raced Howdy, he didn’t have the under-tack fitness to do well and his owner said that it broke the horse’s heart to lose so badly to the other horses.  It was so profound to hear this gentleman say that – so dear to see how much he loved his racehorses.  He said Howdy never made him a dime, but that he also didn’t like to see the horse’s heart broken.  <sniff>

So now Howdy hasn’t had much success in his life, and I think that horses know when they are “successful” by human standards.  They read us better than we read each other. (Have you ever had a horse not like somebody that you thought was just fine and later you found out they were not?)  At any rate, if a horse hasn’t had much of a feeling of success around people, it may take a while to help them understand that the game is fun.

6_pyramid_training-300x169He skitters at a cluck and jumps in the air into a canter depart at a kiss.  Some horses just do this. I’m not blaming anybody, in fact, I don’t think it is all bad.  At least we have forward.  Alois Podhjasky would approve!  But we want him to go forward in relaxation.  Why look, that is near the bottom rung of the dressage training scale.

I have no problem spending the time to get him to settle and to learn that everything we are going to ask of him he can absolutely do.  It may seem like I have been just “chasing a horse around in circles,” doing eye treatments and paying vet, farrier, chiro and feed bills with this horse so far, and I suppose, objectively, that is true.  But just like it is winter forever until one day it is spring, all of this time and attention to detail will put things over the tipping point, and the sun will come out and the birds will sing.

He’s getting there.  Today was the first day he ate a cookie from my hand.  That’s a good sign.  And now he can do big circles to the right in a trot on the lunge.  He even cantered a few times today to the right on a right lead of his own accord.  Yay.

Tomorrow the chiropractor comes out to see if we can get him more comfortable going to the right.  I’ve had some good experiences with having horses adjusted.

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These are my big silly Bravado ears

Meanwhile, two other items of note: Bravado did his second hunt on Sunday and represented himself pretty well most of the time.  There might have been a small anxiety rear once or twice, but he was much better at staying in trot when he should have been (horses new to hunting tend to want to canter rather than trot to get from point A to B, but honestly, most of hunting can be done quite well in trot) and he stood at checks pretty well.

And the other thing is that I found the coolest app and I hope it will be really helpful to me in my meal planning and execution.  Maybe you are looking for something like this too.  It is called  Mealime and basically it provides recipes and the corresponding shopping list for four meals at a time (you can also choose different numbers of meals, but four is what I chose).  Brilliant!  You can choose how many people you are cooking for, whether you want Traditional, Easy on the meat, Vegetarian or a couple of other options.  You can tell it what ingredients not to include in your recipes and you can sync your phone to the online app.

Not having to think every day about what is for supper?  Smashing.  Eating healthy without stressing over it?  Brilliant.  And absolutely horse-related.  Did I mention it is free?  Double bonus technical merit points from the West German judge*. A rider who is not worrying about what is for supper is a happier rider.  Nom, nom, nom.  🙂

*an obscure reference to ice-skating judging in the 70s.  Those West German judges were so cranky!