Oh Starlight, we’re not in Kansas anymore.

We’ve had a long hiatus from horse shows (about 18 months, actually), we’ve moved from Northern to Southern California, and now Star and I finally went back to the show ring.

Our local ‘hood is San Diego, and in San Diego, that means: Del Mar Fairgrounds

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The Del Mar Fairgrounds is a famous racetrack as well as a showground. The weekend that we showed, they were training TBs on the track until 9:30 am, so for the first hour and a half, classes in ring three (which was next to the track) got to enjoy groups of young TBs blowing by at full speed. YEEHAW!!!

Yes, the track really is THAT CLOSE to the arenas. Imagine what it’s like to be asking for an extended canter as the TBs are running by (!) 

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Most entries scratched the morning classes, and the ones who didn’t…wished they did. The rides were dramatic, although the EMTs did NOT have to be called, thank God.

The warm up arenas are IMMENSE and rather exciting! That’s Star looking teeny (she’s actually 16.1 hds, it’s just the other horses are HUGE) with me in the green coat in the foreground.

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I wondered why Star was being difficult in the warmup until I watched a video my husband took. The giant bay horse behind me (not pictured here) was rearing and leaping about 10 feet behind me. No wonder Star was tense! She held it together, but it was distracting. All good training, though. What a good girl.

Below is the indoor arena. It is usually for FEI classes and some day we will be in there. Meanwhile, I enjoy watching the big boys and girls ride their tests. I’ve been watching some of the Master Classes and Freestyles held there recently and it’s been a blast.

Indoor Arena at Del Mar below: check out the Jumbotron hanging from the ceiling and imagine seeing yourself up there (gulp). Better have it together before you try to ride in there…

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P.S. And how did we do at the show? Well, we did o.k., not great. Star was quite tense the first day (tempi changes during the counter canter, really? It was funny), and I was a bit sloppy in my figures (I really should have practiced those 10 m canter circles, I’d forgotten exactly what size they are). Our scores were lower than we usually get but they were good enough, and by the second day of showing, Star was much more relaxed and felt like her normal self. So it was a very successful exercise in getting her used to a very stimulating show grounds, and she ate well, drank well, slept well, was relaxed in the stall and decent in the rings. We hope to return at 3rd level in late April, and in no time she will be an old hand at Del Mar…

A moment of peace…

Polka dotted mare changing out a bleached clipped winter coat for a (briefly) black summer coat. Black until she bleaches it again. The only alternative is never to let her outside. IMG_2952

Hard to believe this is a black mare, not a …what? I call it hyena color at this point. Still beautiful, of course. Always beautiful with that sweet eye and those elegant legs. Funny how the color change starts at the head and sweeps back slowly as she sheds/grows in the new coat.

Enjoying a companionable moment keeping the grass trimmed at her boarding stable. Star tells me this moment is far too short.

Dressage on the Trail! Let’s have some fun here.

A long absence from blogging, although I’ve been back in the saddle since late September.

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My mare, Starlight, had a layup of some months because she kicked the pipe corral fence (very hard, and repeatedly), having objected to her neighbor. Sigh. No more pipe corrals for her. Ever. She is fine, 100% recovered, but it took quite awhile of walking and slow rehab. And it was all just too depressing to write about.

Meanwhile, we moved from the SF Bay Area down to San Diego. We love our new digs; Star especially loves the trails.  We have 60 miles of trails to explore, with hills and flat parts, and there is even just a lovely 10 minute walk called “The Butterfly Loop” that we take daily as a stretch/warm up before ring work. Star has a chance to limber up and listen to the birds, and I have a chance to relax and think about what we might work on.

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The Butterfly Loop.

Even when it rains, these trails stay pretty dry. You can see they put bark down on them. Today, several days after a big rain, our rings were still too wet to work in, so we trotted and cantered out here on the Butterfly Loop.

Dressage on the trail! Fun.

In fact, I’m a big fan of sneaking some dressage into a trail ride. Not enough to make it ruin the fun for the horse, but why not help the horse build good muscles while having fun?

For example, consider these exercises you could do on the trail to build better muscles:

While going up a hill, encourage the horse to reach forward over the back while remaining on the aids. Keep the head low, the neck long and reaching, the back round like a bridge (not hollow). The horse may want to rush or trot up the hill. Discourage this and maintain an even tempo.

When going down hill, think about a round back, half halting the horse, keeping him lightly on the aids and asking him to bring his hocks under him. Think round haunches, reaching under, like Piaffe! Try to keep the horse straight. If the horse is sore on one side (sore hock, for example), he may be a bit crablike down the hill, especially if it is steep. You may have to make allowances for an older, stiffer horse, but try to keep him as straight as possible.

Practice shoulder-in, haunches in, and going back and forth between them. Count the steps, if you like: five steps of shoulder-in left, five steps haunches in left, then straight five steps, stretch for 10 steps, collect again, and do it to the right.

Doing this at the walk, with no one watching, gives you plenty of time to think and feel what is going right (and wrong). I try to imagine I am some amazing Olympic rider and channel them: I am Gunther! I am Charlotte! How would they sit? What would their hands look like? How would they handle this evasion? Would they let the horse suck back? No, every problem begins in the hind end! Forward!

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O.k., here I am clearly not channeling anyone at all, just slouching along letting Star stretch although it does look like I might be beginning or finishing a lateral movement (see right hind crossing). And my reins are too long. As usual.

 

 

And of course, sometimes let’s just ride on the buckle and talk with a friend.

Or sing to your horse.

Or muse about problems…pray…plan… notice the scenery…enjoy the moment.

 

 

Sorry honey, it’s good for you

With the sensitive skin of her breed (Andalusian), Star can tend to suffer from skin irritations and fungal infections very easily.

It is important that we keep her and her tack clean and be vigilant about quickly treating anything that gets started.

We’re in the midst of some heat related late summer facial fungal thing that requires constant careful face washing and treatment.

Oh joy.

Star is not enthusiastic about face washing:

“Oh, the indignity! I thought you loved me, mom. Apparently not. This is HORRID. You will have to make this up to me with carrots. Lots of carrots. ICK!!! It’s cold and wet.”

 

After washing daily with a clean washcloth and water, I apply a product with tea tree oil to fight the fungus. This isn’t the exact product, but it is similar: https://www.valleyvet.com/ct_detail.html?pgguid=0d3a67de-c330-43ac-860e-98e0681b63d6

It’s a constant battle and the best cure is prevention: watching to be sure all tack, halters, and blankets are clean and fit properly so that there are no rubs. I’ve learned from experience that fine hair on Andalusians rubs very easily and then you have an entry point for the fungus to start.

Here’s to a beautiful coat and no more fungus!!!

Star just in from turnout with a dusty face and looking like she has mule ears (she doesn’t) …but still so cute!

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Back in the saddle at last

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It has been almost six months since I’ve ridden Star. 

Back in late March, Star decided she did not like her neighbor. Kicking the pipe corral fence separating them seemed like a good plan (to her).

Result: Bad news for us. A significant hematoma (bruise), swelling that would not resolve for many months, a small (fortunately insignificant) lower suspensory branch tear.

Many, many months of icing, walking, wrapping, lasering, ultrasounding the leg to check healing, etc.

The good news is that the prognosis was always excellent (full recovery). The bad news is that it took forever for that swelling to resolve. Horse legs don’t have very good circulation and she really whacked the leg hard (foolish mare). Healing took a long time.

Everything was complicated by us being in the middle of moving from Northern California to San Diego, CA. Star stayed at the rehab center longer than I would have liked, simply because I didn’t want to move her twice and I knew she was safe there.

Two weeks ago, she arrived safe and sound in San Diego. Oh joy! And I rode her two days later. My, she felt much wider than I remembered.

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My daughter visited a few days later and took pictures. Star and I are both out of shape, but we’re getting our groove back on and it feels so good to be back together again.

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Super Organize for Superior Tack Storage!

It started with this convenient rolling cart so I wouldn’t have to carry my heavy saddle.

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Load it up with the Saddle, brushes underneath, hang some things on it, and away you go! Everything in one trip, so efficient. All things in their places.IMG_0457.jpg

I love my personalized “Saddle Mattress” protecting the saddle flocking from nasty hard metal racks, by the way. Every saddle should have one.

So it started with the rolling cart.

But things soon got much more complicated when people at the barn said this to me recently…

“Watch out for snakes in the Spring, Summer, and Fall. They sometimes come into the barn and into the tack cubbies. They can get in through the smallest of holes or cracks.

And they climb up and hide in your brush box or hang on the hooks among your bridles and surprise you…”

I shudder even now as I write these words. I have a real and true PHOBIA of snakes. It doesn’t matter that they reassured me that no rattlesnakes had ever been seen, only the “good” kind of snake.

I knew that if I ever found a snake hanging on a hook in my tack cubby, I would never be able to return to the barn.

Seriously. Call me a wimp, but I’ve had mice run out of it and across my feet and I’ve simply yipped a bit and stomped more next time to warn them I’m coming. but snakes?

Snakes are a deal killer for me. I can’t even put a picture of one in this article to illustrate it for you. Nope. I just hate looking at pictures of them. 

Enter my savior, my husband Bill: the Engineer and brilliant Anti-Snake Designer. He prepared to do battle with the warped doors of my tack cubby to seal them against all possible incursions of snakes – and mice, too, while we’re at it.

Fear no more, he said, this would be a SNAKE FREE ZONE. Weatherstripping was applied to every door surface, and a bolt to the outside so that the doors are securely fastened shut. No more holes or cracks for things to slither or crawl (shudder) through.IMG_0464.jpg

Regard the mini tackroom: A door for hanging things (note that beautiful snake proof weather-stripping!), hooks on the wall, and plastic storage boxes keep things dust free, organized, and mouse proof just in case a mouse does chew its way in somehow. The rolling saddle cart fits in the other side, although you have to take the handle off to fit it in. Well, we had certain constraints we had to work around.IMG_0460.jpg

A place for everything, and everything in its place. As you can imagine…I have a lot of other tack that lives in the garage at home. This has room for the daily essentials.

It may be tiny, but it’s my little (tack room) kingdom.

AND NO SNAKES. Not now, not ever.

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Forward into the contact: a continuing journey

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Horses are right or left handed, just as we are. They tend to lean on one rein (usually the left) and to be harder to bend in that direction.  

Starlight and I recently attended a Jane Weatherwax clinic where we worked on riding forward into both reins evenly. While it sounds like a simple concept, it’s one that we’re still working on as we train to show Third Level this year.

How hard could it be to keep the contact even? HA!

Looking at the “bad illustration” below, you can see Star is over bent in her neck (too much inside hand), resistant in her jaw (can you blame her?), a bit braced and hollow in her back and hence her neck is a bit high and braced as well.

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This is not a pretty picture.

Solution? Lower the neck, give with the inside hand, straighten the outside shoulder (don’t let it drift), make sure that inside leg stays at the girth if you are circling right (as I think I might be about to) and use your body to turn, NOT your reins. So simple, right? Oh, if only it were that easy. And ride forward to engage the haunches (engine)!

Star’s desire to lean on the left rein is made worse by my own decades long tendency to be rigid with my left wrist. My whole left side tends to have problems: left leg wants to creep up, hip collapses on that side, head tilts that way sometimes. Oh dear.

Star and I have worked out a co-dependent relationship: she will lean on the left rein and I will carry it for her with my stiff left hand.

Only I really don’t want to do that any more so it’s time to change the rules of this game.

Horses, God bless ’em, have long memories but also plenty of forgiveness (most of them). You can change the rules and stop hanging on that rein and pretty soon, the horse will start to carry himself as he figures out a new balance. Yes, this does actually work, I have felt it!

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Star demonstrates haunches-in. Note the mud-coated left foreleg (from kneeling to reach for tender spring grass under fence). My inside (left) leg should be further forward, on the girth, and my left shoulder could be a tad further back to be perpendicular to the fence.

Use suppling exercises such as:

  • shoulder-in
  • haunches-in
  • 10 or 15 meter circles
  • leg yield to shoulder in
  • shoulder in to half-pass

These are useful exercises for strengthening the horse and teaching balance.

Important: don’t hang on that inside rein!

Giving periodically with the inside rein checks that the horse is not depending on it for balance and remains on the aids.

The problem is remembering to keep the inside rein light along with all the other 2000 things we have to remember. And encourage the horse to move FORWARD (but don’t rush!) into the connection…

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Forward into connection with a nice outside rein connection