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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Starlight moves to Arriba Vista Ranch

Starlight has moved to a beautiful place of rolling green hills, trails, nice arenas, and she even gets to live next door to her half-brother. How fun is that? Yes, they get along well, no sibling rivalry (yet).

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The view from Starlight’s stall. You can ride those hills, and we will…

There are a lot of PREs (Pura Raza Espanol) horses here and some of them are half-siblings or cousins of Star’s.

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“Could we have lunch now? Or a carrot?”

Wouldn’t you know, we had a major cold snap the day I moved, with rain coming in the day after. Oh joy. Star was very full of herself and more of a handful than usual, but we managed. That chilly air on her freshly clipped skin felt so shivery, it was hard to be well behaved as she usually is…Here she is, wearing her new Rambo blanket.

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Above is the first arena I attempted to ride in today. It was a bit too open and breezy for a horse who was overly frisky today…so we went into the indoor arena. We’ll try outdoors again another day and it will be fine. Below is another arena for another day…So many nice places to ride, and I can’t wait to get out on the trail. Oh what joy! Trails restore my soul and Star likes them, too.

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New sand was going into the smaller covered arena today (yes, there are TWO covered arenas here), and I thought these birds wheeling in the sky looked lovely. IMG_0414.jpg

 

I think we will be happy here.

 

The miraculously relaxing blanket

Back on Track products have been a favorite of mine for a couple of years, ever since a trainer recommended the back brace after I hurt my back. My husband and I both use the back brace whenever we have some back pain and it works like a champ to sooth, ease pain, and provide mild support.

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Starlight trying on her new Back on Track mesh sheet before being tacked up. “Hmm,” she says. “Seems to fit well. Nice and snuggly.”

I put the blanket on her to try it for size, and WOW, instant transformation from suspicious – “what are you dressing me in now?” to “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh, that’s kinda nice…”

Back on Track products are woven with ceramic particles which reflect the body’s own heat, providing soothing and therapeutic benefits of long wave infrared radiation. http://www.backontrackproducts.com/How-Back-on-Track-Products-Work-22.html

IMG_0403.jpgHere are the results of a study done: http://www.backontrackproducts.com//Clinical-Studies-14.html#horses

The products are machine washable (line dry) and the therapeutic properties do not wash or wear out. This product is not only relaxing, but it will actually help her back, shoulder, and hind quarter muscles have better blood flow and thus recover more quickly from exercise

But back to Starlight. Within seconds of putting on the blanket, her eyes half closed, her neck dropped, and she got a far away look…it was the same look I get as I sink into the perfect temperature bubble bath with a pile of favorite magazines at my elbow to flip through desultorily. BLISS.

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“You may leave me now, while I commune with my blanket. I think I’ll just catch 40 winks.”

 

 

 

 

Does a bit of bling make you a dressage diva?

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My mare and I are on the cusp of Third Level. Flying changes come and go – occasionally she does a few easily clean and straight, and other days, it’s, “huh? I have no idea what you’re talking about.” All other third level moves feel fairly easy; the changes will come soon enough. Probably.

So I allowed myself the indulgence of buying a new (admittedly unneeded) show shirt at the Animo Black Friday Sale. 

Admittedly, the shirt above falls in the rather blingy (but oh so fabulous!) category. Does this make me a dressage diva? It is an interesting question.

Such a (negatively) loaded term. I immediately think of a small overweight woman bouncing along on an enormous horse, weighed down with bling everywhere. “NEVER!”quoth I.

Yet one most know oneself. The truth will set you free.

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Know Thyself

Diva definition: “a usually glamorous and successful female performer or personality.”

Having attained a certain age (well over 50), perhaps I’m entitled to enjoy a little glamour here and there. Well made, glittery shirt? Sure.

As for success, well, it comes and goes. Doing what we can to be successful AND have fun.

Dressage Diva: Yes, in the true sense of the word. Bring it. I’m old enough to enjoy the glitter if I want to. That said, let’s try to stay reasonably tasteful. One can go TOO far. As in this:

 

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Coming soon: Starlight embraces her inner dressage diva with her own glittery coronet (aka browband). Just wait until you see her Christmas Present.

 

 

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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Should you go to a clinic?

Star and I have struggled a little with finding a steady connection with the bit. Star’s automatic reflex is to raise her neck and brace herself, especially if she is a bit tense or nervous, becoming quick in her gait and keeping her back hollow. Ick.

Of course I would like to slow her tempo, adding cadence and push from her hindquarters, engaging her back, and getting a nice, steady connection with the bit. It’s a work in progress.

Right now I’m in the midst of a three day clinic with Corinne Dorrepaal, a wise and experienced trainer from Holland who comes to the USA for clinics occasionally. Lucky me!

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Much improved connection, thanks to Corinne’s help at the clinic

Clinics are expensive – each lesson usually  two to four times what you normally spend on a lesson – and I found myself thinking about that cost. Is it worth it?

It depends. In Corinne’s case, Yes! Here’s my metric for deciding whether to spend the money on a clinician:

  1. Is he or she an effective teacher?  Many clinicians offer years of experience, having seen literally thousands of horses and riders of all sorts. They draw on that vast resource of knowledge to quickly solve your riding problems.
  2. Does this person treat the students and horses with respect?  A positive attitude with respect for horse and rider is nonnegotiable. They must not drive the horse into the ground with too much work during the clinic (and if you feel the work is too hard, Speak Up!), or use their authority to abuse horse or rider.
  3. Does this clinician offer something different from my current teacher, but not conflicting with her general methods? If it’s just more of what your teacher offers (without further depth), why bother? If it conflicts with what you do at home…you will have a problem continuing the work and either lose all you gained at the clinic, or have conflict with your trainer. Don’t do it.
  4. Do I finish the lessons with practical exercises to take home and a clear understanding of what I need to do, practice, work on, aim for?

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    Starlight in a nice uphill collected canter. She can’t maintain this very long yet, just a few strides and then we let her go bigger for a few strides, then collect again..

  5. Is the clinician open to questions and discussion when I need more clarification?
  6. How did I feel about the lesson(s)? I always try to have my clinics videotaped, as many of the sessions as I can. I’m a visual learner, not auditory, so watching video helps me understand what happened and reinforces what I felt. It also helps me decide if it is worth going back to the clinician because the real question is…
  7. Does this clinician make a positive difference in my horse and me quickly and effectively? 

Day one of the Corinne Dorrepaal clinic, within 15 minutes she had my horse looking so much better! Of course, in my lessons at home, this happens too. A little warmup and some coaching does a lot of good. But I felt we made some important strides forward in the area of getting a good connection over the top.

What I took away from my first day:

  • The gray areas matter: always pay attention to the little things, don’t be sloppy. Every transition, every moment.
  • Keep asking Star to lower her neck (from the base of the neck) all the time. Be wary because she starts to bring it back up and you don’t realize it. Especially in the transitions, lower the neck, it improves them and also makes her stronger.
  • Slow the tempo down in trot and canter. Keep the energy through frequent transitions within the gait (“almost walk, trot on”), but keep the tempo fairly slow.

More insights in a few days! And here is a small portion of the lesson video, focusing on collecting for a few strides, then lengthening for a few strides exercise, all while keeping the neck low to engage the back. We begin with a little walk work and proceed to trot.

 

 

 

Take care of your equipment

Horse equipment is EXPENSIVE.

Most likely, if you own or care for a horse, I don’t need to tell YOU that. As my husband has long said, “it’s not the buying (of the horse), it’s the keeping.”

How then should we care for this expensive equipment so it lasts as long as possible and functions as it should?

First, Store it Properly.

Saddles generally run in the thousands of dollars, and while they can last for decades if properly maintained, they need to be stored carefully. Whether that saddle fits you or the horse for decades is unlikely, but hey, there’s always resale value.

Best way to store a saddle? Like this:

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This saddle is on a “Saddle Mattress” (yes, nicely personalized) so that the rack underneath will not damage the wool flocking of the saddle (http://www.saddlemattress.com). The padded saddle mattress can be made in almost any color with custom piping and name or initials, and it slips over the saddle rack to protect your saddle. You can also easily take it with you if you move to another tack room.

If I store a saddle on a tubular metal saddle rack with no padding, the metal will compress the flocking that I have paid a saddle fitter to adjust to my horse and the saddle will become lumpy and uncomfortable for my horse; the rack may also stretch the leather, compromising the saddle.

Wooden racks that are curved and shaped to fit saddles with no hard edges can be fine if you can find them. They are usually quite expensive but they are an elegant solution; however, you cannot easily take them with you so I prefer the portable saddle mattress.

Bridles should be hung on rounded bridle hooks, NEVER ON NAILS, which will weaken the leather. Here’s a lovely example:

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Note that these bridles are hung on proper hooks, but many of the saddles in this backroom are right on the metal racks. Alas. Some saddles have covers but others have the sweaty pad placed over them to dry. Even upside down, that pad will get some dampness on the saddle, not good (see below).

Second, Cover Your Saddle. If your saddle did not come with a dust cover, buy one. All tack rooms are dusty (barns are dusty!). A dust cover helps reduce the dust on your saddle. NEVER store your sweaty, damp girth directly on top of the saddle. Preferably wipe it clean after use (o.k., I admit I don’t always do this), and then place it on top of the dust cover so the dampness does not contact the seat of the saddle. A dust cover also protects your saddle from UV rays if the tack room has a window. UV (sunlight) will fade and dry out tack badly. We’ve all seen those formerly black saddles, now blotchy brown…

Damp and sweat are the enemies of leather: remember that. Metal saddle racks are bad, too.

Third, Clean and Condition Your Tack regularly. I did not grow up in Pony Club and I’m not British so I do not do this daily. God bless you if you do. But when it gets dry and crusty it is uncomfortable for the horse and bad for the tack. Don’t go there.

Find a schedule you can live with and make it work. I get it done by simplifying it this way:

  1. Don’t try to do all the tack on the same day. Too tiring. Don’t take bridles apart except maybe once or twice a year. Otherwise the task becomes overwhelming (especially when you have a double bridle!).
  2. Use warm water only to clean the tack and remove dust and sweat. Most experts believe that soap just adds gunk and is another thing to get off.
  3. Allow tack to dry slightly, then condition well with a good conditioner like Passier Lederbalsam or Effax Lederbalsam. Apply generously with a small tack sponge. Let soak in while you are finishing the rest of the tack.
  4. Take a cleanish dry towel (small one) and wipe the excess off, polishing the tack.
  5. Wash the bit off every single day. I just run it under the faucet quickly. If you don’t have running water, dunk it in the horse’s water bucket or wipe it with a cloth. Leaving it with spit or chewed carrot on it will make it crusty and uncomfortable for  20160708_Edie and Starlight__DSC7539.jpghim to put in his mouth. Keep it clean.
  6. Voila! Clean, soft, beautiful tack. Not my bridle at right, but a nice one.