Wednesday, January 30, 2013

What Makes Horses Addictive?

I think about this all the time, so wanted to write about it, but every sentence, phrase and word I attempt to write sounds like a tired cliche. The questions, about myself and others, come easily:
  1. What drives us to take on a responsibility that requires us to go into -15 or colder weather, several times a day, sometimes for weeks on end, to feed horses, make warm mashes, and clean stalls, even when we can't ride because of the cold?
  2. Why would a sane person, when so fortunate as to retire at 50 (potentially enjoying many years of riding), risk it all and work like a dog to be able to have even more horses and more horse activities?
  3. Why do young mothers (and fathers) go to the barn night after night -  taking lessons, training horses, spending money that's needed for many other things, tired out after a long day's work, and with many other activities clamouring for their attention?
  4. Why do we (often daily) work to the point of shaking with exhaustion and tie up ALL of our money, for those elusive moments in the saddle when it all clicks?
  5. Why do we keep riding when we go through periods of such fear that even thinking about riding makes us throw up?
  6. Why does a physician ride a gorgeous 17 hand five year old, when her doctor has told her if she falls he won't be able to put her back together?
  7. Why, instead of a relaxing vacation, do we pack up trailers and go to (what can be) the stressful world of a horse show? 
  8. Why do we get back on our horse 3 days after breaking ribs in a fall, barely able to catch a breath because of the pain, when our doctor has told us to wait 4 to 6 weeks?
  9. Why are we smiling as we shovel shit?
It does seem to me that there are similarities to addictions, as we sacrifice so much for our fleeting fix, but I have no idea how this works.
I don't have any answers to the questions I pose, I just have an awareness of a happiness that would be emptiness without the horses. These phrases come to mind when I think about what horses give me:
  • A soaring, transcending joy
  • A deeply, all encompassing, loving peacefulness 
  • A communion with another species that I experience as spiritual
I told you it would sound like tired cliches. I'll keep trying...


Saturday, January 26, 2013

It's Cold, No Really, It's COLD!

For the first time since I came back to riding seven years ago I took the week off from riding. I may have taken a day off here or there from cold, but never a week. I'll ride when it's -20 C. Either I'm getting old or turning into a wimp. Hmmm, maybe both... Just so I don't sound too callous, my -20 rides have been in an arena, bareback and mostly walking.
I don't ever remember this happening before, but Savanah and Dan (our two horses we have at home) won't drink. I know cold reduces horses' desire to drink, but they have heated buckets and they were barely touching them. Doug came up with the idea of pouring a gallon of warm water over just a handful of bran, and the Appaloosa loved it! He hovered that water like a shop vac. Savanah, the draft cross, kept smacking it with her lips and getting frustrated, but now she's learned to drink it down to get to the bran at the bottom. So that's what we're doing four times a day - a gallon of warm water on a handful of bran. So far so good, but I can see why they call this colic weather.
On a completely different topic, our indoor arena frame is up and the roof is on. Here are a few pictures:

Doug, just as the building is getting started. Treeline Project Management from here in Nova Scotia is the contractor. We've managed to use all local companies so far!

And me!

I stood back by the road trying to get it all in - it's 220' long.

I had Mom up to see the arena.

   Okay, now the roof is on and Doug and his brother Greg have taken over. Here's Greg building the kick wall (with his adorable Levi).

Two days ago we had a site meeting with our engineers and it was around -18. We weren't long heading into the work camp, seeking the comforts of the wood stove.

And here's a video on Facebook of putting up trusses.

Back at ya when I have some riding news to report. Stay warm everyone!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Several Firsts

Well I've had a week of wonderful firsts. I'll start with the subject of my blog, and one of my favorite subjects, Rogo.

1. Rogo - first time forward AND light
This happened in my lesson last Thur., Jan. 3. You may recall I struggled with Rogo from age 4 to 6 to get him forward, before achieving it last winter in my lessons with Sue Fraser. She rightly pointed out we had to get that and contact before we could do anything else. When we did get forward, it often came at the expense of control :), with Rogo sometimes taking off and generaling blowing through my aids. I'd have to use a lot of strength and innumerable half halts to steer him when he was forward.
He lost the forward again in the spring when his shoeing got off and he was off work, followed by the summer heat. We're just getting it back now. Will we keep it through the summer this time? Time will tell.
There was an amazing new development with it last Thur. though - he was sooo forward, but light as a feather. What a wonderful feeling! I've always had to really push him to do his 10 m canter canter circles, but that day he soared around them. I had to fight the urge to grab hold of him to steer, and concentrated on just steering with my seat and legs, with a little bit of rein.What an incredible feeling to have all that energized power springing under you, yet responding to your lightest aid. I was laughing and calling out to Sue how incredible it felt. I couldn't stop going over it in my head for hours, woke up in the night thinking about it and generally felt euphoric for at least a couple of days. I guess this means he's become a grown up? At seven it's time :)

2. First time doing my whole lesson in sitting trot
I did sitting trot with Savanah, but it was much easier with her. She was consistently round and her stride isn't as powerful. I find it so much easier to ride properly, time/ give aids, etc. sitting, but with Rogo it's been a struggle to sit. We do a few minutes at the end of each lesson, but on the forward but light day :) I sat all the trot work except a couple of long side mediums. His shoulder in and travers came more easily, but that was no doubt part of the forward but light phenomena as well.
When I rode the next day we did some good work, but the lightness wasn't what it was the day before. I know it's there now though. He showed me what to work towards.
The issues we need to focus on currently are the left bend and listening to my left leg, and also to keep his shoulder from leaning out on the right rein. We're doing lots of circles and serpentines, and lots of bending. I'm going to return to and keep lots of bending in the walk warm up. It seems to be the right thing for him.

3. First Piaffe
Yes, you read right - piaffe. It happened today, but not with Rogo. I was riding Doug's wonderful draft cross mare Savanah. I lover her SO much. She hadn't been ridden since the fall, with all of the other things we have going on, but I couldn't resist today. There's about 6 inches of snow on the ground and big flakes were floating down through the sunshine. I put her bridle on and off we went for a bareback ride. I love riding her bareback - she's wide and comfortable, and I feel very safe with her. Today she was very happy to be out for a hack - her snorting was so continuous that it sounded like a gigantic cat purring. As we headed for the woods and I realized how excited and energized she was I began to question the wisdom of no saddle :). I trust her though, and tried to come up with some exercises we could do to keep her busy.
It occurred to me that conditions were perfect to ask for piaffe. She passages frequently in the field, so I thought she could do it. I wanted contained energy, so this was a perfect plan :). I've never piaffed, but thought I'd try clucking while holding with my seat and lightly on / off with my hands to match the rhythm I wanted. The first time I asked she did a couple of steps and I was amazed. I asked again and she shook her head - it didn't male sense to her to be asked to go forward but stay in one place, but she tried a couple of steps again. I lavishly praised each try. The third time, a light bulb had come on with her. She knew what I wanted. She tucked her hind quarters, elevated her forehand and swayed from side to side in slow, rhythmical trot steps. Wow! She did eight steps and then I asked for walk. I was so happy and excited! I came home and Mom came out on the steps and said she'd been watching out the window and that Savanah looked like a Lipizzan stallion. Mind you Mom is biased, but not crazy, so I have a witness :) I'm going to see if she'll do it again so I can get some video. 
Doug and I are talking about breeding her and jokingly arguing over which one of us gets her foal. She just upped the ante on that argument :)
Here are a coupld of pictures of her from today, looking decidedly UNlike a Lipizzan stallion:

 I'd like to enter the above in the hairiest chin contest. Can anyone beat it?

My adorably hairy girl. Don't worry Savanah, I don't like shaving my legs in the winter either.

4. First truss up on our arena - here comes Five Fires Equestrian Centre.
 The first truss went up on Jan. 3. I'm pretty excited.

Happy New Year Everyone!