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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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

And after the rains…

The seemingly endless rains of January and February brought lots of green grass to the hills of Northern California.

The trails beckon enticingly, but the hilly terrain means that they are still treacherously slippery in places.

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The view from the top of Starlight’s hill. Makes you want to go explore those trails, doesn’t it? There are COWS in them thar hills, pardner!

We need a few weeks of warm, dry weather before Star and I brave the herds of cows and head out on the trails.

If you look very closely at the picture below, you will see a flock of geese is checking out one of our outdoor arenas. There is a small lake in it from the latest downpour.

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To my surprise today, a large flock of enormous Turkeys blocked the road out of the Ranch today. They went up on the hill as I grabbed my phone. Can you imagine what a horse might make of them? They look small in the picture but they were about three feet tall.

These were huge turkeys (no really!), exclaiming “gobble, gobble, gobble“, just as turkeys should! Wish I could have caught one with the tail fanned.

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Poppies! California poppies. Of course, whenever my husband and I see them, we hark back to the Wizard of Oz and the witch saying, “Poppies…poppies will make them sleep…”

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Meanwhile, Star is happy as a pig in mud – emphasis on “in mud – to bask in the sun. She seems to enjoy applying a light coating of mud.

Right now she is the oddest color I call “Hyena” since she is dappled brown/black/dun. 

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Yes, this used to be a clean blanket…and the horse was clean yesterday when I last saw her.

Soon she will be a gorgeous shiny black…for a few weeks, until her dedication to sunbathing bleaches her to a nice shiny dark bay for the summer.

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Cue the smiles: baby pictures of Starlight

Like any fond parent (“horse mother”) I see the beginnings of greatness in the picture below of Starlight at One Day old, kindly sent to me recently by Janne Rumbough, Starlight’s breeder.

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Look at Starlight cantering already on those long, spidery baby legs. Her momma is pretty gorgeous, too, if you ask me. Here’s a close up of one day old Starlight…IMG_1293.JPG

You can see she from her coat and gangly legs that she’s really just newborn, and yet she already looks like a nice package. It’s amazing how quickly they get up and get running! Essential, of course, because in the wild they might have to run from a predator, but still amazing when you think about how long a human baby has to be carried around.

Below you’ll see Ms. Starlight at Three Years Old. Notice that her mane and forelock are roached, and her dock is trimmed. This is traditional for the presentation of Andalusian PRE mares.  If I were showing her in breed classes I would need to prepare her this way.

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Now she’s looking pretty grown up and elegant, with a lovely reach and an eager expression. That star stands out nicely against her black coat!

The picture below shows her cute backside. She’s almost saying, “excuse me, are you admiring my nicely rounded hindquarters? Humph.”

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Such fun for me to see baby pictures of my big grown up girl, who is now 16.1 hds. The same sweet and interested expression is there, and the same leggy elegance, but now she is filling out and muscling up.

Here is her wise, kind face in July, 2016. I just love to kiss that nose – and she doesn’t seem to mind it.

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