I've written very little about riding, and that's because I've done very little riding. Rogo has a funny little on and off hitch in his left fore when doing a very slow trot anymor. it still isn't diagnosed. Also, we've had a lot of weather that's been too cold for doing more than walk. Sooo, between that and not having a regular teacher (it's too cold for Joan) that leaves our training pretty much at a stand still.
I enjoy schooling in the walk and we are able to do a bit of work there. I introduced walk pirouettes, and he did it very well right from the beginning to the left. To the right he goes wide. I don't think I have him into the outside rein the way he should be. I don't mean I want a heavy hold on the outside - just that he moves into it easily and lightly.
In schooling I tend to hold the outside more when turning left than when I'm turning right. I've been taught to do this because of a tendency to lose straightnes when turning left. As we begin to school walk pirouettes I see that I've developed greater sensitivity to the outside rein when on the left rein. (Is it just me, or would this sound like complete mumbo jumbo to a non dressage person?) Anyway, the long and short of it is that I was pleasantly surprised by the left walk pirouette and identified a bit of a training hole in the right pirouette - the issue being sensitivity to the outside rein, not the pirouette.
My other pleasant surprise was rein back. We'd not worked on that before, ever. I know it sounds odd, but with the difficulty I've periodically had getting Rogo to go forward, I didn't want to teach him to go backward. Oh, we'd occasionally get into a tight spot and I'd verbally say 'back' while pulling back (releasing when I got it of course), but that was it - no training backward movement. Imagine my delight and surprise when I asked him to back up one day while standing at a halt, and he promptly and correctly took the exact number of steps back that I asked for, stayed perfectly straight, and did it with a light as a feather aid. Where did that come from? Lesson learned for me - use light as air aids for the best response and don't drill movements. This also relates back to my late December lesson with Erin MacQarry where we worked on lighter asks.
The other thing we've worked on at the walk is lengthening and shortening strides and going from slow to fast and back. The results here are mixed. Some days are better than others, but with the sporadic riding perhaps it's all I can expect.
I resolved late last week that I was going to ride a minimum of four to five times a week, even if it was only for fifteen or twenty minutes, so we'll see how it goes.
Here are a few pictures from a Saturday evening I spent in the barn while Doug was home with his broken rib. It felt very peaceful and happy listening to the horses munching their hay (this is my favourite sound in the world).
Sorry about my failed attempt at posting a picture from a photo app. I am trying to learn to blog from my phone and tablet (quick and easy access to pictures and video) and just figuring or what works. Any recommendations on good app's for blogging would be most welcome.
Picking up where I left off, the winter isn't getting better. I just want to get these few stories down so I can look back next year and marvel at how much better things are - ha ha! Okay, story # 1:
A couple of weeks ago one of our three dogs, Max, ran away and our little dog Pepper went with him. Max and Pepper are both rescue dogs and Max has never learned to stay home (it may be because he was tied for three years before we got him). Anyway, he escaped wearing a leash, so we were doubly worried because if the leash got caught on anything he wouldn't be able to come home. It was 10:30 at night, and we looked for an hour, walking and driving up and down the road.
Finally, as we drove along, I pulled over and told Doug to walk in a driveway and look for tracks. Unbelievably, the tracks were there - it was like finding a needle in a haystack. Off we went, across a field and into a woods. I'll cut to the chase - I ended up falling through the ice into a brook we had to cross, and when Doug came back for me he fell in too. It was about -5, our flashlights were dying and we were a good distance from the road and our truck. We had to go back because we were both soaked - not only had I fallen through the ice, I fell down in the stream and then fell down over and over walking out. Gawd. We finally made it back to our cabin where we stay when at the arena site, and somehow Doug found the strength to get dry clothes on, fresh flashlight batteries and a charged phone, and he set out again. He wanted me to stay at the camp in case I needed to call for help, but I think he knew I couldn't go on. He called at midnight that he'd found them. Max's leash was tied round and round some trees and his back legs were tied together. Pepper was curled up at his side and they were both shaking like leaves.
Earlier that night Doug had asked me to put Nola in because the coyotes had been so close. The whole episode left us shaken. Here are some pictures of the dogs at the beach in front of our house.
Max (Yellow Lab) and Nola (Chocolate Lab playing with jolie ball)
Adorable and insanely bad Pepper
Doug getting them ready to go home. He may divorce me for posting this picture of him in his pajama pants.
Story # 2:
A couple of days later, Doug fell off of a ladder while checking the barn roof for snow and ice load (we've had record snow fall). He broke a rib. I'm guessing most of you know how painful this is. Luckily I do, and knowing the pain he was in I decided not to kill him for going up the ladder when there was no one there.
All kidding aside, this was a real blow - our first winter in our facility and suddenly I was on my own as far as keeping things together in record cold and snow, at two places (home and arena site). There isn't much I can say about this. At one point my car battery was dead and I was stranded for days, I worked, I slept a few hours, I worked.
At first I felt a little shaky, but then little by little something great happened. I had wonderful help (a horse crazy teen, Doug's brothers, a woman who boards there who's become a friend, our wonderful daughter and her equally wonderful fiance) and I started to get things organized as I'd wanted to do all along.
Doug was out! I was in! Control was mine!!! :). I got chains on stall doors, set up a feed room, made the lounge loungable, etc. Each night I returned to a crackling fire in the camp and settled in with my dogs and kitten, a hot chocolate and Baileys, and a good book. Life was very good...
Story # 3
Until one of the boarders (another very nice woman - we are blessed) knocked on the cabin door one night to tell me Dan, my sweet Appaloosa, was cast (he's the cutie palomino with blanket in the sidebar).
I'd never had a cast horse before, but again we had a guardian angel. Our boarder knew exactly what to do (all the articles I'd read didn't help, go figure) and we got Dan up within a few minutes. He was a bit trembly at first so we made him comfortable in the arena for the night with hay and water. He came out of it unscathed but I found it very scary. Of course I lay awake most of the night convinced I heard horses kicking walls and at 3:00 am I had to go check everyone to make sure no one else was cast.They were all fine.
Finally, life could start to get back to normal...
Story # 4
Except that when I finally tacked Rogo up for our first good schooling ride in a couple of weeks he was lame! (It had been too cold to ask him to breath hard prior to this, so we just had walking rides.) By this point I'm shell shocked. I called the vet, who came out and did flexion tests and nerve blocks and couldn't diagnose anything. Luckily navicular was ruled out, but we don't know what it is. He appears sound at all times except when doing a very slow trot, when he's short strided in his left front. Ideas? Anyway, he has to go to the vet college in PEI, a 3.5 hour drive away in another province. His appointment is February 4. I could feel myself becoming fearful and very worried but it was also very removed, like I was watching from a distance. And then...
Story # 5
Both the teen and the boarder who help us, who have both become good friends, ended up in emergency this week, both for different reasons unrelated to the barn, but what a worry! Then our daughter had to go to emergency yesterday too. OMG, WTF??? They're all going to be okay, so that's the main thing. Meanwhile, I finally sort of had a melt down and had a great big cry, with my poor mother who is 90 and a rock holding me. That made me realize how unbelievably lucky I am and ashamed for losing it in front of her.
So currently we're in the middle of another blizzard, I'm home in Noel Shore and Doug is at Five Fires. We are very lucky to have such amazing family and friends.
And, I hope my next post will be somewhat dressage training related :).
I know how annoying it can be to hear people complain about winter weather - i.e. we live in Canada, get over it. Too bad. I'm writing about sucky winter weather anyway. If nothing else it will be an antidote to reading one more saccharine Facebook post about a storybook perfect Christmas. (Just to set the record straight, I'm happier than I've ever been in my life, and had a great Christmas - don't want my family to think I'm ungrateful - but enough of that already. Let's trash the weather!) Okay, here goes... I don't remember ever having a December with weather as bad as this year; it usually holds off to January to get this much bad weather, this frequently. It started with days on end of record lows, -20's at night, - teens during the day. Our first year running the new stable + early record lows = frozen pipes, scrambling to find a foal blanket that fits our big foal, and running wires for heated buckets with frozen hands and feet. Yes, but that was a mere blip on the radar. This was quickly followed by multiple snow storms, and then a 24 + hour ice storm. Some people are in their fourth day without power, and we didn't loose power, but why not complain anyway? Here are some of my ice storm incidents:
I needed to bring in wood for the wood stove, but the wheel barrow was frozen to the ground. In trying to wrench it free I broke off one of the handles, so no wheel barrow. I decided to put wood in the back of the truck and bring to the wood box (of course the truck was covered in a thick coating of ice). The wood box is outside and opens into the living room. It had four inches of ice on it and was so heavy I couldn't lift the top. I carried wood to the back door, but this entailed walking over a sheet of glass and up steps that had curved mounds of slick ice on them. Just so you don't think Doug was being lazy letting me do all this, Mom and I are at home in Noel Shore keeping the house warm and he's at the horse facility much of the time. (We go back and forth and stay in the same place at the same time a few nights a week.)
Christmas Eve Mom and I were going to Five Fires (our arena facility) to spend the night in the cabin, so we could all be together. I went to her house to pick up gifts that were left there, and found that her house was surrounded by a sea of ice, all sloping away from the house. Mom waited in the car while I attempted to navigate to the sun porch door. About half way there I realized there wasn't a snow ball's hope in hell I'd make it standing, so gingerly lowered myself to the ground and started crawling to the door on my hands and knees. Looking back, I can see this is kind of funny, but it wasn't funny at the time :). Even that didn't work. I lost my tenuous grasp on the sloping ice and went sliding down the hill away from the house and came to rest on an ice covered snow bank. By turning over onto my full seat breeches I was wearing I was able to sort of crab walk a bit at a time back up the slope until I could grab a corner of the car. From there I launched a reccy at the other door, and somehow gained the doorstep and entry to the house. I won't bother boring you with how I managed to get presents from the house to the car, but suffice to say it included presents dropping and sliding off into the icy darkness.
On Boxing Day some intrepid natural horsemanship people trailered in for schooling with their horses. We thought the driveway, which goes up quite a hill, was fine. Turns out we hadn't factored in the weight of three horses on a trailer. You guessed it - the trailer went through the packed snow onto ice and got stuck. The horses had to be unloaded and we hooked both the tractor and our 3/4 ton truck to the truck and trailer and hauled it up the hill. I'm very impressed with these people though - it was -12 and they were out with their horses! Luckily we have lots of sand and will keep the driveway sanded.
Don't even get me started on dressing for this x%%^$# weather. Currently I'm in double faced wool long johns, with too tight breeches over them (who needs THAT extra layer two days after Christmas?), Mountain Horse winter riding boots with two pairs of socks, fleecy top, hoodie, and getting ready to put on a long down filled coat and lined leather gloves. I'm not sure I'll ever 'feel' my horse again.
That just about brings me up to date. I'm sitting here as snow falls and the road is completely snow covered. We had a snow storm last night and another one forecast for Sunday. I'm heading to Five Fires and will enjoy some riding - I can't forget my riding goals, the first check in being this weekend. Hope everyone had a great Christmas and has a very Happy New Year!
I'm NOT an expert obviously, and I'm not someone who enjoys spending hours reading the latest horse feed research and comparing feed analysis labels. I do consult our equine vet about feed though, and I'll do the analysis comparisons, to make sure the horses are getting good nutrition and that we're getting good value for our money. Also, I want to make clear I'm not advocating sweet feed for easy keepers and horses that could be prone to laminitis - there are some very good reasons to keep them on low sugar diets. What's led me to write this post is the results I've gotten over the past few months in feeding Rogo a product that contains molasses. Since coming back to riding seven years ago I've noticed that no one feeds sweet feed. When I was a teenager decades ago, it was standard procedure where I lived (rural Nova Scotia) that horses got pasture only in summer and hay and sweet feed in winter. There's some logic to this, but I won't go into it here. However the 'no sweet feed' mantra became so quickly ingrained when I got a horse again, that I didn't even think about feeding it. When I struggled with Rogo's lack of energy and forwardness, for years, I was told that's just his natural personality. I consulted the vet about it on several occasions and fed supplements he ordered in for me. I consulted with an equine nutritionist and fed as she directed for awhile, fed a high protein diet, etc. At one point he was on 16 litres of feed a day. Nothing made even the slightest difference in his energy level.
I did get him forward in the past without it, through weeks / months of training with a very experienced, level 3 instructor who pushed us hard three times a week. When Rogo has time off though, we're right back where we started and honestly I just don't think I could go through that building phase on my own. It's completely physically and emotionally draining and I'll tell you that it literally gives me nightmares and leaves me feeling shattered. I've tried every trick in the book - hacking out, cavelleti, treats and positive reinforcement, hill work and it always comes back to the same thing - put the weeks / months into a brutal grind of forcing fitness training or have a horse that lives behind my leg. Neither option was / is palatable to me anymore. Then, .... I rediscovered sweet feed. I might call it life changing, but that
could sound flip. Let me just say I'm in love with it. Rogo is a
different horse when getting it. He isn't hot or spooky, and he still needs to build fitness after time off, but he's there with me - a happy partner going forward in his work. I first tried it this past June and was very impressed - a happy forward horse even though he'd had most of May off and it was getting pretty hot out. Yeah! Okay - I'm going to back up a step and describe the feed - it's a pelleted feed with lots of good ingredients, but it includes molasses. It's billed as a foal, lactating mare and performance horse feed and it claims to be low sugar. I'm here to call the low sugar part bullshit. Molasses is high in the ingredients list (impossible to tell what percentage) and honestly, it's delicious. I could eat it for breakfast with a little yogurt on top. It smells wonderful, is packed with omegas and is a sweet, fatty treat :). Rogo LOVES it and he is much more forward when he gets it. While he was off in the summer / early fall with a stone bruise I switched him to a performance version from the same company, that had almost the same analysis but no molasses, and he was dead again when I brought him back to work. Back to the molasses version and back to a horse much more willing to work. He / we still need to build fitness, so the forward has staying power, and as we build it I may decrease the sweet feed and increase the non-sweet feed, but it's been a great thing for us. Sweet feeds wouldn't be a good option for many horses - most / all readers here know more about feed than I do, so I won't go into too much detail. I'd definitely say proceed with caution and do your research if you think it might be helpful for your horse. It can be associated with increased laminitis risk, i.e. drafts and ponies may be at higher risk. Also, I'm not happy with the idea that it may increase susceptibility to tooth decay (I'm not sure there's proof it does - many horse feeds as well as grass have high sugar levels). I'll conclude with saying we feed a very small amount to our draft cross Savanah (she's one I wouldn't give very much too) and when I posted pictures of her on Facebook recently we got comments that she looks the best she'd ever looked. At fifteen years of age her gaits are the best they've ever been as well - uphill jumping canter, big trot, marching walk. Also, our sweet Appaloosa Dan is back to work after several years off, is also getting a very small amount of sweet feed, and is also going better now than when we stopped work three years ago. I googled sweet feed before writing my post to see what pros and cons I'd come up with, and here's the first thing that came up:Sweet Feed Whiskey. So if you buy it and decide you don't like it, there's no down side. You're all set for a batch of whiskey. There's my anecdotal information on sweet feed. A decent researcher, let alone a scientist, would shoot holes in my conclusions like shooting trout in a demitasse cup, but I'm sold.
Worry will not strip tomorrow of its burdens, it will strip today of its joy.
Rogo's First Show
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This blog is primarily about starting and training Rogo. I want a record of our training that I can refer to and hope to find others doing the same. I came back to riding 5 years ago (dressage 3 years ago), after being away from it for 30 years (yes 30!). I'm also blogging about my husband Doug and his horse Savanah as they pursue dressage and prepare for showing. Thanks for visiting!
I'm keeping a journal of our horse facility development on facebook and Twitter (below) if you're interested...