Saturday, August 23, 2014

Back to Basics Again

I've been very fortunate to have regular lessons with Joan this summer for the first time in years. She's wanted us to review things from the beginning and it's been immeasurably useful. It's been said many times, but you just can't beat good basics.
Doing this has addressed some of the issues we've had for years, such as:
1. Lack of moving away from my leg promptly for lateral work - we did and continue to do turn on the forehand until I can completely control each step - the size of the step, the start and stop of the step, a forward thinking step while keeping the front legs stepping in a tiny circle, doing it in perfect walk steps. I'm still working on getting it as close to perfect as we can.
In keeping with the instructions in Arthur Kottas's first book we mostly turn just 180 degrees, then walk off, to keep the thinking forward.
After Arthur Kottas was here in May Joan got a copy of his book too, so she can teach me using his methods. She was taught mostly the Spanish Riding School method, so it fits with everything she's taught me anyway.

2. Slouchy transitions from trot to walk - I still, after all these years, don't have a good version of this most basic transition. What I want of course is a clear, distinct end to the trot and beginning of a forward, uphill, marching walk. Savanah and I had a great trot walk transition - smooth and seamless, distinct, forward - so I know I can do it. I can't seem to communicate clearly to Rogo what it is that I want. Most of the time it isn't terrible, but it can be much better. He seems to think I want a slow trot when I ask for walk and then he sort of falls into the walk and has to be pushed forward again. I'm working at keeping the energy up through the transition, and asking more 'definitely' if a soft aid isn't clear, then backing off to soft as his response improves. Does anyone else have a weakness with this and if so how have you addressed it?
3. We're doing ALOT of stretchy trot circles. First we do a slower, working trot on a large circle, then I push him into a medium trot and do a unilateral half halt on the inside, as light as possible while still getting a reaction, so he'll seek connection on the outside and also stretch down. When he stretches down I slow the trot again and gather the reins, then repeat.
I have to say, this exercise was an eye opener for me because it is slightly different than I've done it before and at first I found it, well, kind of annoying. Why would I slow his trot down to start the exercise and throughout the exercise?
Coming back from those months off (lame left front) his slow trot was awful - on his forehand and if I wasn't super careful he'd hitch. Yuk. It was great when I'd push him forward - he'd stretch down very nicely and fairly quickly he learned to round and reach into a lovely connection as soon as he felt me ask him to go forward. One day though a light bulb went off regarding why we were varying it with slowing the trot and gathering the reins -  I asked for the slow trot and it was lovely - a slower version of the connected, round trot I was getting when I asked him to go forward and stretch. Yes! He slowed down, but kept his hind quarters under him and bounced along. We were / are slowly developing collected trot and I didn't even see it coming :).
Of course we've slowed down and accelerated the trot, as well as shortening and lengthening the steps for years now, and there are many good exercises for developing collection, but I have to say that this particular exercise is a good one. It also has the benefit of straightening the horse when practised in the direction of the stiff side - the half halt on the inside teaches the horse to reach for the connection on the outside where they tend to avoid it.
All in all a great variation on the stretchy circle.
We've also been brushing up on leg yield and shoulder in, and practicing walk / canter / walk. Lots of basics but we missed a lot of time and this is definitely filling in gaps. It isn't the first time and won't be the last time we've gone back to basics.
One of my biggest goals now is keeping a soft, steady connection through transitions. Again, it isn't terrible but Savanah spoiled me -  she comes on the bit and stays there unwaveringly. This is what we need to achieve. Of course as I write this I see the relationship to the trot walk transition I wrote about earlier - it's all about keeping those hind quarters engaged through the transition isn't it?
I think that's going to be the theme of my next post - keeping engagement and connection through the transitions. I've got some great video clips from our Arthur Kottas clinic that I can use and it will be good for me to review them. He's coming again in October so I need to do my homework! Here are a couple of pictures of him from the May clinic - one doing in hand work with Stacie Saunders and her Andalusian stallion Yovi, and one of Arthur and I. I also threw in a picture of our mare and foal for good measure. They need their own post soon.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Surprise

We're calling our foal Surprise until we know if her father is Sir Gregory or De Niro.
Do you ever get over the wonder of them? Two weeks ago she wasn't here and now she's a vibrant, confident, gorgeous baby. Today she had her first bath with the hose and she was calm and happy.
Right now I'm sitting in the corner of the stall, chilling out with mom and baby.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

She's Here

Diotima had her foal the middle of Sunday afternoon. I was checking every hour to an hour and a half and I completely missed it. She went from calmly eating hay at 1:00 to lying in her stall with a foal lying beside her at 2:30. I was awed, shocked and over whelmed.
It was reverent in the barn when I entered at 2:30. All of the horses had been brought in at noon (including Diotima) because of the heat and flies. They all had their heads out in the aisle and were being completely still and silent.
Savanah, who's the lead mare, had pushed her stall wall off of its base a few days before the birth and moved herself into the empty  stall by Diotima's foaling stall. We let Savanah put herself in from turn out (she's the only horse we do this with and she goes right in to her own stall), but she started going into the stall by Di and just standing there, even though there was no bedding, hay or water (that was waiting on her stall). Maybe it's a coincidence but I like to think she was standing watch for Di. Do you think this is possible?
I'm so glad the foal is here and both mom and baby are healthy. We won't know who the sire is until DNA testing is done (Di was bred to two different stallions last summer, three weeks apart, and confirmed not in foal). Using 340 days she's a week late for De Niro and two weeks early for Sir Gregory, but there can be quite a large variation of :normal. '.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

A Wonderful Surprise

We had the most amazing, wonderful surprise in April. We'd bred our sweet Hanoverian mare EM Diotima three times last summer and she was confirmed not in foal after being ultrasounded last September. I thought I'd try breeding her one more time before giving up, and I had the vet come in April to check her to make sure she was healthy and ready for breeding.
Our vet always talks as he works on our horses, explaining what he's doing, but on this occasion he went very quiet as he ultrasounded her. I thought the worst -  that he saw something bad, and not able to contain myself any longer I asked what was wrong. He told me nothing was wrong but that she was carrying a big, healthy foal!
I couldn't speak, except to say oh my god over and over, and then call for Doug. We were giddy with excitement! We assume she's in foal to Sir Gregory since he was the final breeding, but I guess we won't know for sure until the foal's DNA is checked at the time of registration. The other stallion she was bred to was De Niro (sire of five of the horses at the London 2012 Olympics).
Anyway the third breeding was July 31 last year so 240 days puts her at about a week from now. Normal gestation for mares is anywhere from 320 - 360 days though, so you don't really get a due date.
Last night she started to drip a little bit of milk and she has tiny beads of 'wax'  on the ends of her nipples although you can't see them in the picture of her udder. You can also see that she has hollows on either side of her tail head. This happens as the muscles relax in preparation for giving birth.
I'm hoping to have happy, healthy mare and foal photos to post soon!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Rogo's Massage

Rogo got a massage yesterday from Brittany Cameron REMT. He loved it - stretching, yawning, trying to groom her :). Thanks Brittany!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Stopping to Smell the Roses

Or waking up to smell the coffee, or something like that...
If you're reading you may have noticed that we haven't had the easiest time since opening the doors to our horse facility last fall (although there have been lots of good things). There was a crazy cold, record breaking winter with blizzards every few days, Doug's broken rib, my shingles, living in a camp (much of the time) heated by a wood stove, without running water (away from our beautiful old farm house where Mom at 90 was holding down the fort), etc.
We looked forward to spring, because there were so many great little events booked (we are an events facility) -  we felt so lucky that things were working out. Then... a strangles outbreak hit Nova Scotia, the worst in many years, and barns went into lock down. No one, and rightfully so, was going anywhere.
We cancelled almost all of our events as a precautionary step and for the first time, slowly but surely, I began to have doubts about the future. I didn't sit and worry, it was more like a dawning awareness that nothing was going as planned. I began to feel very low, a failure, and lost confidence in my ability to plan.
So here's the link back to the title - I'd been too crazy busy to enjoy this place. It dawned on me that although things hadn't gone as planned, this could be one of the best summers of my life. Financially it's tight but we'll manage to get by, and in the meantime I have a magnificent in door, a sound horse, regular lessons with my beloved Joan, time to play with my sweet ponies. Maybe this is what was supposed to happen at this point? Maybe this is the best thing ever, if I just recognize it before it's gone?