Saturday, December 26, 2009

Fun with customer support

Well, darn. I have some new footage of Willow lungeing that I wanted to post here, but when I try to transfer the footage to my computer it comes out black and white and terribly pixelated. It sort of looks like Willow is having an acid trip.

I went to the Sony customer support site and got hooked up with a customer support rep (Natalie) via chat. I typed up my problem in full detail, including the model number of my camcorder, the OS of my computer, and the version of the video capture software I was using. Natalie proceeded to ask me, one by one, all the questions I had just answered in my problem description. I started to wonder if she was a robot, but she misspelled words every so often, so I guess not. She kept trying to get me to connect the camcorder to the computer with a standard A/V cord, and I kept telling her my laptop doesn't have the standard A/V jacks. She sent me a link to a picture of standard A/V jacks, and I confirmed, No, my computer doesn't have those. I don't think she ever was convinced. She also seemed vaguely irritated with me throughout.

I think the problem is with the cord, so I'm going to see if I can order a new one of those.

Willow was good today! We worked on a figure eight with lots of transitions between trot and canter. All the lungeing in the past few weeks has agreed with her.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Much improved!

The ulcer treatment seems to have done the trick. No more stomping, no more cranky antics in the cross ties. I've also taken to keeping the girth as loose as possible for as long as possible, and I think Willow appreciates that as well. She never used to care about girth tightening, but I think she has gotten more sensitive in the past year. All in all, she's a much happier horse than she's been for several weeks.

Willow's aloe vera supplement arrived this evening, so I started her on that. It's called Excel, and it's made by a vet in this neck of the woods. It contains aloe vera juice, slippery elm bark, and vitamin C. For anyone who's interested, in addition to the Excel, Willow's other supplements are: Grand Vite, Mare Magic, and ProBios. The barn I'm at has a forage-only feed option that I have Willow on; it consists of alfalfa, rice bran, and grass hay. The horses are fed four times a day, and I think that is so helpful in keeping them from developing any stall vices. I love my barn!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tummy trouble?

Well, if it's not one thing, it's another. About three weeks ago, Willow started this funny stomping thing in the walk. She'd stomp with her front left, without breaking stride, just as if a fly was biting her fetlock. She'd do it a few times at the start of the ride, and then once she'd trotted and cantered a bit, she'd get back to normal in the walk. She showed not one iota of lameness.

I didn't think too much of it at first, but when it kept cropping up over the course of a week, I decided to switch to lungeing for awhile. Concurrently, Willow started acting very cold-backed in the cross ties, which is not normal for her. Cold-backed to the point of actually freaking out and pulling back in the cross ties on a few different occasions. (I started dropping the cross ties as I was tacking up, so she could freak out safely.) She'd flip out, I'd settle her down, and then she was fine.

Last weekend it occurred to me: did Willow have an ulcer? It might explain both the random stomping and the girthiness. I gave her a course of ulcer treatment, and I do think she's better. The stomping has disappeared, and while she's still acting a little grumpy in the cross ties, the freakouts have stopped. (I'm also going to switch to a girth with elastic to see if she likes that better.) I'm going to get back on her tomorrow and see how she goes. I ordered a digestive supplement that's mainly aloe vera, too. Several people at my barn swear by it.

We also had a horrible cold snap last week, with highs in the twenties and lows in the lower teens. It lasted five days. Crazy weather for this part of the country. Willow had frosty whiskers when I finished lungeing on those cold evenings.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Who's looking for a half lease?

Is anyone out there looking for a dressage half lease in the Eugene area?

I've decided it's time to tighten my belt, financially speaking, so I've decided to seek out someone to half lease Willow. She's boarded at an excellent dressage facility a couple miles south of Creswell. I'm looking for someone who would like to ride three days a week and would be fairly religious about it. The prospective leaser needs to be an experienced, confident rider with a balanced seat.

Interested? Contact me at courtney [dot] burkholder [at] gmail [dot] com

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

O, sadness! How will we ever get to the zoo?

Sesame Street is forty years old! H/t to my friend Erica, whose FaceBook posting reminded me of the Twiddlebugs! I hadn't thought of the Twiddlebugs in at least thirty years. They're a family of bugs that live in Ernie's window-box garden. They're not terribly bright, but they get an "A" for enthusiasm in everything they do.

And the Twiddlebugs then reminded me of the Yip Yip aliens, who always scared the crap out of me. They still creep me out a little.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Durchlässigkeit and Losgelassenheit

Throughness (Durchlässigkeit): the flow of energy through the horse from front to back and back to front. The musculature of the horse is connected, supple, elastic, and unblocked, and the rider’s aids go freely through the horse.

Relaxation (Losgelassenheit): the second level of the pyramid is relaxation (looseness). Signs of looseness in the horse may be seen by an even stride that is swinging through the back and causing the tail to swing like a pendulum, looseness at the poll, a soft chewing of the bit, and a relaxed blowing through the nose. The horse makes smooth transitions, is easy to position from side to side, and willingly reaches down into the contact as the reins are lengthened.

Willow is pretty big, especially for a mare. I think she's very close to 17 hh. Additionally, she has a long back and a long neck. Her favorite thing to do when I first started her was this:

Long and low, baby! We are going to get tens on our stretchy circle! (And fours on everything else.)

Obviously, it took some work to get Willow up in front. And then once I got her to understand "up in front," it took even more work to get her to let me shorten the reins. (Her response? "You can have shorter reins. Or you can have me go forward. You can't have both.")

So, in the past year, we've made a lot of progress. She's more up in front. She allows me to shorten the reins without losing the forward. She's no longer a mullet. But something was missing; something that I've always been able to get in every other horse I've worked with. Relaxation. Throughness. Letting go through the jaw, poll, and ribcage. I was having luck getting her to be softer and less heavy, but it still wasn't the right feeling. She wasn't through.

One afternoon about three weeks ago, I spent about 25 minutes warming Willow up in walk. I did lots of circles and serpentines. Suddenly, she just let go, and I felt it. Throughness. I took her up to trot and the feeling remained. I couldn't believe it. I have no idea what I did to cause it, but the light bulb went off for her. She started responding the way I've wanted her to respond for three years. She was balanced. She was bendy. She was light and soft, but still connected. She halted from my seat. She moved away from my leg. Hey, Willow, you're a dressage horse!

OK, I'll admit we still don't have this feeling in canter. But we have it, reliably, in walk and trot! Canter will come. I'm just so relieved to know she can do it, because I was starting to doubt I was ever going to get that feeling with her. I was saying to myself, well, she's just so big and long -- maybe through for Willow won't feel like through did for the other horses you've ridden. Now I know better. I can't wait to see what happens next!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Something scary for Halloween

A habitual bolter or a habitual rearer: which is scarier? It's a tie as far as I'm concerned. But there's something worse: flippers. Sometimes horses rear, lose their balance (especially if the rider pulls on their face), and fall over backwards. That's not flipping. A true flipper does what this horse does (BTW, pay no attention to the "Man dies!" description. It's perfectly obvious no one is even hurt.):

I'd never actually seen a true flipper in action. You can see from body language that both the groom and the jockey have a pretty good idea of what's coming, although it's interesting that the horse never really lays his ears back. Is it possible to rehab a horse that does something like that?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

A trip to Sisters

My mother visited a couple weeks ago, and we spent a Saturday driving up to the town of Sisters and back. Sisters the town is located near the Three Sisters mountain peaks. We picked a great time to go; the fall foliage was spectacular. I had no idea there were giant lava fields ninety minutes from my house.

I have to admit the whole idea of living somewhere with volcanoes and lava freaks me out a little. Yet, tornadoes don't, so I am just an irrational person.

Mom and I hiked up to Proxy Falls. Everything was so pretty, and the photographers were out in full force to capture the colors.

This is Mt. Washington, a dormant volcano. The helpful signs at the lookout say that it was heavily eroded by glaciers, and that most of the trees are dead due to a 2003 wildfire.

In other news, I've had an honest-to-goodness breakthrough with Willow. So much of dressage is just slogging away day after day, knowing what you're after but recognizing that the horse doesn't have the same understanding. So you just keep repeating the training over and over, keeping the faith, and suddenly a light bulb appears above your pony's pointy little ears, and dressage happens! More on our breakthrough in a future post.

Friday, October 23, 2009

How to jump

Just do the exact opposite of what this guy is doing.

Sorry to have disappeared for so long! October has been a crazy month. Back to our regularly scheduled programming starting this weekend.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Gaslight Anthem in Portland

Last night I was back up in Portland again to see Gaslight Anthem at Berbati's Pan. It was another really great show! Gaslight Anthem is a New Jersey rock/punk band with a clear Springsteen influence. The lead singer has a great, soulful, slightly gravelly voice, and their lyrics are pure rock n roll poetry. Much like Springsteen, their songs tend to tell stories.

Once again, the Portland crowd didn't disappoint, dancing wildly and shouting the lyrics along with the band. There was limited moshing, as Berbati's is pretty small, and I managed to keep myself out of the pit. It was really hot, though. Someday I'll go to a venue in Portland that has discovered air conditioning.

Kind of a frustrating ride on Willow tonight. Oh, well, it never hurts to get a lesson in humility. And tomorrow is another day.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Flogging Molly in Portland

Yesterday a friend and I drove up to Portland to see Flogging Molly at the Roseland Theatre. They're a Celtic punk band with some of the most awesomely danceable music I've ever heard. The Roseland is a pretty intimate venue; the show was sold out, and I'd guess there were about 500-600 people on the main floor. There were two opening acts, and the crowd was appreciative but fairly laid back. My friend and I were in the middle of the crowd, about thirty feet in front of the stage.

Around 10 p.m. Flogging Molly took the stage and launched into their first song. The crowd immediately erupted into a close approximation of a prison riot.

Sometimes, you don't choose to mosh, the mosh chooses you.

My friend and I were at ground zero of a fairly sizable mosh pit, and for the next fifteen minutes I just tried to keep my feet under me. It was insane. I'd fought really hard to get as close to the stage as I was, though, so I wasn't giving up so easily. And, actually, it was pretty fun. I just went with the flow. Band leader Dave King presided gleefully over the mayhem.

After about three songs exhaustion started to set in, and except for a small pit right in front of the stage, most everyone dialed it back a notch -- still a crazily energetic crowd, but with less slamming back and forth. It was incredibly hot and humid. I wondered a few times if I would feel anything before I passed out, or if I would just hit the floor, but happily I never lost consciousness. It was such a great show, and the band played a ton of songs plus one encore.

As the crowd exited the venue, I noticed that everyone was so sweaty we looked like we had all been sprayed with a fire hose. I was actually wringing sweat out of my hair. I know, gross. I am relatively undamaged today -- just some bruises on my arms, ribs, and feet. And if I ever get to see FM again, I will be prepared with:

    Steel-toed boots
    Change of clothes (mine were drenched)

If you ever have the chance to see them, and you can leave your personal space issues at home, go!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Post-lesson notes

I had a super lesson this morning. We didn't do anything fancy--just trot and canter on a twenty-meter circle, but we got Willow as light as she's ever been, and the half-halts were going through all the way. I can tell, because Willow grunts when she receives an effective half-halt. It's cute.

Earlier in the week I had noticed that dye from the saddle was not coloring the full-seat of my new breeches evenly. My right leg was quite dark, and my left not much at all. A clue! Willow tends to want to lock on the left rein when tracking right, and bulge her rib cage when tracking left. Obviously, I'm not using that left leg effectively. I mentioned this to my trainer today, and she was happy I noticed and brought it to her attention. You can't fix something if you don't realize you're doing it.

When Willow is sucking back, she gets incredibly wormy. Leslie variously describes her as an octopus and a blowfish. All her energy starts trying to shoot out in every direction, and she gets very wide with her legs. It used to be a huge problem, but I'm getting better and better at feeling when she tries to suck back and sending her forward.

At the end of the lesson the canter was just super. Willow was actually asking me to shorten the reins, she was so up in front. This is a first! Also, she gets kudos for maintaining focus while a nutty four-year-old kicked up his heels, first on the lunge and then under saddle. Good mare.

One more ride tomorrow, and then she gets Tuesday off while I buzz up to Portland to see Flogging Molly.

Monday, September 7, 2009

What 90% looks like

Edward Gal and Moorlands Totilas

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Christian Kane at Dante's

Last night a friend and I trekked up to Portland to see Christian Kane's last show at Dante's. Christian Kane is an actor currently starring in the TNT show Leverage. I know him better from Joss Whedon's Angel, but I did my homework and watched the first episode of Leverage before I left for the show. Leverage just ended its second season, and last night's show was an unofficial wrap party.

The show films in Portland and also stars Timothy Hutton. All summer, Christian Kane has been performing at Dante's and has developed an avid following. Last night most of the stars of the show were in attendance as well as some of the behind-the-scenes people. I overheard a fellow say he was responsible for planning how to blow things up.

The video below shows one of the stars, Aldis Hodge, playing emcee. I know Hodge best from roles on Supernatural and Friday Night Lights. The sound in the clip is not great (oh, and there's a swear word; don't say I didn't warn you), but he basically announces that Leverage has been picked up for a third season and will continue to film in Portland, meaning that Chris Kane's band will be back at Dante's next summer. Then, Timothy Hutton comes out and gets a big welcome. After the show, Hutton mingled with the crowd and was standing about fifteen feet away for a few minutes. He's quite adorable. We also spotted Richard Kind (Mad About You) standing right behind us.

On September 15 I'll be heading back to Portland to see Flogging Molly, and on September 22 I'll be back again to see Gaslight Anthem. I also just heard that the English Beat is coming back to Eugene this fall. Yay!

I was having some frustrations with Willow Friday night, and Leslie said something that I need to keep in mind. She said, "You know, all the repetitive circle work is boring, but it gets her moving correctly. Too many big horses are ruined by people who aren't patient enough to teach them to move correctly." A good reminder not to push too hard too soon.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The base of the neck

Willow has a really long neck. You'd think, given that nice, long neck, that giving through the whole length of it would be rather easy. It's only those short-necked horses that lock up, right? Ha! Willow just loves to give only at the poll and hold the rest of her neck flat and straight. Or, at least, she used to love to do that. Trainer Leslie has been giving me many training tips on getting Willow to let go at the base of her neck, creating that lovely arch we all seek. As you might imagine, a horse that holds its neck flat and straight by default will travel on its forehand. It needs to give at the base of the neck and lift through the wither to allow the weight to shift back.

In the last month Willow has really changed through the neck. I don't have that flat, locked feeling through the reins anymore. It's a much more rubberbandy feeling now. We did have two weeks where Willow thought she'd try one more time to intimidate me out of this whole giving-through-the-neck thing. She started threatening to rear, and then a few days later threw in some actual rearing. Bad mare! I found that when I felt her gather her rear legs forward underneath herself, if I pitched myself forward and took one rein far down and sideways, pushing with the leg on the same side, I could get her to spin out of it before she went up. "Curses! Foiled again!" Willow thought.

When stuff like that happens, it's so helpful to have a trainer to be eyes on the ground and tell you if your horse can't do what you're asking or is just being a royal beeyotch. With Willow, it was the latter, says Leslie. And here it is two weeks later, things are going great, and no more rearing.

The canter is feeling so great right now. I even got a tossed off "Looks really good!" from the head trainer the other night, and she's not one to pipe up with praise, like, ever. Willow's off my hand, taking the half halts, and starting to develop that lofty feeling in front. Walk-canter-walk is coming right along, as area shoulder-in and travers in canter.

The Ovation wide-calf boots arrived, and fit OK except for being a little gappy at the top. Good enough. I'm still grumpy about having to wear a wide-calf anything.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

On losing a dog

Wil Wheaton's dog died yesterday. He wrote very eloquently about it on his blog today. Of course, now I'm in tears again over Marko. Losing a dog is so hard.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Of twitter, arthritis, and wide calves

The last of my resistance was recently worn away, and I now tweet. The final crack in my armor was finding out that Nathan Fillion tweets. How am I supposed to resist that? And once I had my account set up, it was just so freakin' easy to type 140 characters. And to link it up with my blog. Sigh. I never thought I would tweet.

Sam the German shorthair has arthritis in his gimpy shoulder. I was actually pretty happy to hear that. I was envisioning horrible things like torn ligaments, cartilage chips in the joint, and bone cancer. Arthritis we can deal with. He had a shot of Adequan at the vet, is on a course of anti-inflammatories, and I'm going to start him up on a glucosamine/chondroitin sulfate/MSM supplement ASAP. He's already at least 50% improved. But man, was he stoned when I brought him home from the vet. They sedated him for his x-ray. Around mid-evening I carried him out to the yard and set him down. He stood, eyes closed, gently swaying from side to side. I left him for ten minutes to see if he might snap out of it a bit, but when I returned he was still swaying. I picked him up and plopped him back on the couch.

My current pair of schooling boots is falling apart, so I ordered some Ovation boots with zippers because they were on sale at Dover. Now, I was once a slim-calf-sized person, but I accept the fact that I am no longer that person. That person was ten pounds ago. I am firmly in the regular-calf camp these days. So that's what I ordered. And guess what? The regular calves were too narrow. Ack! I don't think I qualify as wide-calved. Seriously. I'm offended. But the price was too good, so I sent back the regulars and requested the wides, which have not yet arrived. If they turn out to be too wide, I am going to be really grumpy. I can't be dinkin' around getting replacement boots. My current boots have cracked wide open where the stirrup hits the outside of my foot, so I have steel pressing against my foot during every ride, producing a giant, permanent bruise. I'm suffering, here.

Last night Willow felt so good through the neck -- loose and adjustable. I could see her crest clearly flip when I changed directions. She's also much less locked on the left rein than she used to be.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Willow update

Willow and I have been having a blast for the past couple of weeks. She's mostly off my hand, and Leslie's got us schooling most of second level. In Thursday's lesson, we started on walk-canter, and Willow surprised us both by nailing it, both directions, every time. I thought that lifting her big self into canter from walk would be a bugaboo for her. Shows what I know. Ten-meter canter circles are feeling really good now, too. All this work should really help strengthen her hind end. Leslie wants to see her stepping well under behind to free up her shoulders.

I bought myself a pair of Rein Bow rein aids and have been using them every other ride. They're loops that clip to the reins and allow you to effortlessly maintain your rein length. I find that they really help when introducing a shorter rein length. Willow realizes very quickly that yanking the reins through my fingers is a no-go, and she stops trying. I love not having to constantly check my rein length. They are, of course, not legal in dressage competition. If you have a horse that's part freight train, like Willow, they're worth a try.

I also switched Willow's bit to a Sprenger WH Ultra loose ring snaffle. It has a little loose roller in the middle link for her to play with, and she seems to like it.

Sam the German shorthair is lame in his front left shoulder. He can bear weight on the leg, but he's obviously very sore. I'm taking him in to the vet tomorrow. Think happy, non-surgical thoughts for us.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Texas summertime

Trainer Leslie, who also used to live in Texas, forwarded me this. Considering the week we had (highs of 102, 105, and 106), it was especially appropriate.

Dear Diary
June 1 : Just moved to Texas ! Now this is a state that knows how to live!! Beautiful sunny days and warm balmy evenings. It is beautiful. I've finally found my home. I love it here.
June 14th : Really heating up. Got to 100 today . Not a problem. Live in an air-conditioned home, drive an air-conditioned car. What a pleasure to see the sun everyday like this. I'm turning into a sun worshipper.
June 30th : Had the backyard landscaped with western plants today . Lots of cactus and rocks. What a breeze to maintain. No more mowing the lawn for me. Another scorcher today , but I love it here.
July 10th : The temperature hasn't been below 100 all week. How do people get used to this kind of heat? At least, it's kind of windy though. But getting used to the heat is taking longer than I expected.
July 15th : Fell asleep by the community pool. (Got 3rd degree burns over 60% of my body). Missed 3 days of work. What a dumb thing to do. I learned my lesson though. Got to respect the ol' sun in a climate like this.
July 20th : I missed Lomita (my cat) sneaking into the car when I left this morning. By the time I got to the hot car at noon, Lomita had died and swollen up to the size of a shopping bag, then popped like a water balloon. I learned my lesson though. No more pets in this heat. Good ol' Mr. Sun strikes again.
July 25th : The wind sucks. It feels like a giant freaking blow dryer!! And it's hot as fire. The home air-conditioner is on the fritz and the AC repairman charged $200 just to drive by and tell me he needed to order parts.
July 30th : Been sleeping outside on the patio for 3 nights now, $225,000 house and I can't even go inside. Lomita is the lucky one. Why did I ever come here?
Aug. 4th : It's 115 degrees. Finally got the air-conditioner fixed today . It cost $500 and gets the temperature down to 85. I hate this stupid state.
Aug. 8th : If another wise ass cracks, "Hot enough for you today?" I'm going to strangle him. Lots of heat. By the time I get to work, the radiator is boiling over, my clothes are soaking wet, and I smell like baked cat!!
Aug. 9th : Tried to run some errands after work. Wore shorts, and when sat on the seats in the car, I thought I was on fire. My skin melted to the seat. I lost 2 layers of flesh and all the hair on the back of my legs. Now my car smells like burnt hair, fried a**, and baked cat.
Aug 10th : The weather report might as well be a recording. Hot and sunny. Hot and sunny. Hot and sunny. It's been too hot to do anything for 2 long months and the weatherman says it might really warm up next week. Doesn't it ever rain in this state? Water rationing will be next, so my $1700 worth of cactus will just dry up and blow over. Even the cactus can't live in this heat.
Aug. 14th : Welcome to HELL! Temperature got to 115 today . Cactus are dead. Forgot to crack the window and blew the windshield out of the car. The installer came to fix it and guess what he asked me??? "Hot enough for you today?" My sister had to spend $1,500 to bail me out of jail. Freaking Texas. What kind of a sick demented idiot would want to live here?? Will write later to let you know how the trial goes.

Ha! At the barn, we were wailing "Lomita is the lucky one!" at each other all week. The heat wave finally broke yesterday. Tonight Willow wanted to be kinda witchy at first, so I booted her forward in trot and canter for awhile, and then she offered up a super working trot, big and floaty. We have a lesson on Sunday -- maybe trainer Leslie will be impressed!

Monday, July 27, 2009

I wanna be a derby girl

Saturday night I went to my first-ever roller derby. It was fantastic! I knew nothing about roller derby beforehand except vague memories of watching Xanadu when I was little. And I'm not even sure that was roller derby. Anyway, luckily for me they explained the rules beforehand. Basically there's a pack of eight skaters, four from each team, and one jammer from each team coming up behind. The jammers try to get through the pack to earn points. The pack tries to hinder the opposing team's jammer and help their own team's jammer. They all go really fast, slam into each other a lot, and fall down violently every so often.

The teams each have a theme. Here are the Andromedolls during introductions, shooting the crowd with their laser guns:

Derby girls get to have rockin' derby girl names, like Reign of Tara, Assista Suicide, Rex Havoc, and Turnin' Trixie. I think my derby girl name would be Auntie Maim. I'd probably need to get some tattoos.

It's really, really, really hot. 100 degrees every day this week, maybe cooling down on Friday. I think I'm going to reschedule my Thursday lesson. I waited until late last night to ride, and it was still over 90. Living in Oregon, the horses aren't really conditioned for this kind of heat (not to mention the riders), so I don't want to overdo it.

So, I've been really happy that Willow is mostly off my hand. But something still seemed to be missing, and I finally figured out that she's still holding the bit, which means she still has tension in the jaw. So I've been working on getting her to let go. At least now it's a lot easier to play and twiddle with my fingers -- it wasn't easy when I had fifty pounds in my hands! The last few rides I've gotten her to start to chew. It's more nervous chomping at the moment, but it's a start.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

best. lesson. yet.

I think even trainer Leslie was a little shocked at how good Willow was tonight. We started off with lots of bendy work in walk, shoulder in to diagonal to shoulder in, shoulder in to travers, etc. Then we worked for awhile on travers on a fifteen-meter circle in walk. Willow seemed really interested in the exercises. Her ears were very flippy-floppy.

Then we worked on trot mediums for a bit, asking for medium halfway down the long side, half halt to collection for a few strides, then medium again for the rest of the long side. I switched to sitting trot, and Leslie commented how much better that was looking.

Next we schooled trot-canter-trot, and the canter departs were effortless. We're starting to focus on really collecting the canter, and the main thing I need to remember is to maintain the quickness in the hind legs. We also did the same medium/half halt/medium exercise in the canter, and while it wasn't bad, it definitely needs work.

Finally, we worked on canter-walk transitions. Leslie had us canter on a twenty-meter circle, then canter a ten-meter circle from the point on the wall, and then ask for walk as we approached the wall on the small circle. Willow nailed the walk the first and third time we tried it, so we fussed over her and quit for the evening. Good mare!

Willow's focus and work ethic are phenomenal lately. It's very encouraging. She gets tomorrow night off as I go see the Cherry Poppin' Daddies play at DaVinci Days in Corvallis. Then it's back to work on Saturday!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Supernatural drinking game

Supernatural has recently catapulted itself into my top five all-time favorite shows. It's in with rarefied company:

1. Firefly
2. The X-Files
3. Buffy
4. Twin Peaks
5. Supernatural
(Um, yes, I'm a bit of a sci fi nut.)

During my last couple of runs, I've been hashing out a Supernatural drinking game. It has kept me occupied (and occasionally giggling) for three miles at a time. Here's what I came up with:

  • Dean or Sam props open the Impala's trunk with a shotgun: drink!
  • Dean and Sam sleep on the floor of Bobby's living room, even though he's got, like, 15 bedrooms: drink!
  • Somebody's cleaning a gun: drink!
  • Somebody calls somebody a "douche": drink!
  • X-Files reference: drink!
  • Car porn: drink!
  • Evidence of John Winchester's general suckiness as a father: chug!
  • You think the writers can't possibly find a way to make Dean feel worse about himself, but then they do: chug!

Willow is doing just super. She's off my hand! Hallelujah! And she's starting to give at the base of her neck instead of mostly just at the poll. I've been really working the carrot stretches with her to loosen up her neck. After each ride, I have her stretch in both directions towards her hip and in both directions down and past the front leg, and I also have her bring her head down and between her front legs, and chin to chest.

Yesterday I tried for some more flying changes, and got her to change in front once. Several strides later she corrected behind as well. Today I introduced shoulder-in in canter, and she did great. We also worked shoulder-in to travers to shoulder-in in trot. All this is so much easier when I'm not holding up her front end.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Creepy neighbor guy

About six weeks ago an older fellow moved into the apartment across the street from my backyard (I'm on a corner lot). Every day, from sunup until well past sundown, he sits in his lawnchair and stares across the street into my backyard. Until this started, I never realized how much I enjoyed my backyard, which used to feel very private. Now, I cringe every time I go out my back door. My carport is in my backyard, so he watches me every time I come and go. I've started leaving out my front door when I go running, because I really don't like him staring at me in my running clothes. I can't believe he doesn't get bored sitting outside with nothing to do but stare for twelve hours a day. He's not doing anything illegal, so I guess I just have to put up with it. But if I go missing, tell the police: creepy neighbor guy did it.

DC would have been a lot of fun if I hadn't been sick the whole time. I had laryngitis the last three days, which makes trying to interact with the public all sorts of fun. I did get to meet Malcolm Gladwell, which was cool, and I acted as bouncer at the insanity that was his 45-minute booksigning. It's amazing just how many people are utterly oblivious to the 500 people in line behind them, and think they'll just stop and chat with the author for a few minutes. Well, not on my watch! (I still had my voice at that point, and used my cool but threatening tone.)

Of course I had to have my picture taken with the cardboard cutouts of the Obamas.

They were very busy cutouts; I swear all 16,000 conference attendees had their pictures taken with them. I did have one actual, real-life celebrity sighting: Debbie Phelps, Michael Phelps's mother. She is, like, three feet shorter than her son.

I've been on Willow twice since I returned. Today's ride went very well. We worked on canter lengthening and counter-canter serpentine. I think at this point we could really rock first level.

Monday, June 22, 2009

I'm a skittle

These two videos make me giggle helplessly every time. Yes, I have the sense of humor of a twelve year old.

I had an awesome lesson on Willow yesterday. We have another tomorrow, and then it's off to D.C.!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Upper Trestle Falls

Last weekend a friend and I hiked to Upper Trestle Falls. To get to it, you have to hike about a mile and a half up the side of a mountain. (The next day, my buns let me know they are not made of steel.) I would have gone three times as far to see these falls, though. They are just gorgeous. Completely secluded, and something about the deep canyon setting made everything feel prehistoric. I kept expecting a brontosaurus to wander by. The first photo (i.e., the good one) was taken by my friend, who had a nice digital SLR and a tripod. The other two are the result of my mediocre point and shoot. As you can see, the trail actually takes you behind the upper part of the falls. Neato!

Thursday's lesson got shifted to this coming Sunday, and then we also have a lesson on Tuesday. Willow's going to think she's at boot camp. (But then I'm off to D.C. for a week, so I think she'll live.) Tonight I believe I got an on-demand flying change. I had thrown in a few attempts randomly during the ride, and got the usual step or two of trot before the change. On my final try, she gave a huge lunge, and by the time I got myself back upright I realized she was on the new lead. And I don't think I felt any trot. In any case, I praised her up and down for the effort and called it a night.

Tomorrow I'm scribing at a local schooling show. Four hours of intro- and training-level tests, here I come!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Ireland watch begins

My friend Lynda and I have decided we're going to visit Ireland next spring. She's been there before; I have not. In 1990 and 1994 I spent a few weeks in Nancy, France, and while there also made short trips to Berlin the first time around and London the second time. My passport has long since expired, so I wrote away to Nebraska and requested my birth certificate, and Lynda and I trooped over to a photography store and had our passport photos taken. All that's left is for me to go to the post office and turn in the application. I needed to renew my passport anyway, because I may be going to Vancouver in February for the Winter Olympics.

Lynda and I are going to sit down in front of the internet tomorrow and start narrowing down where we want to go. We're planning on ten days and two separate locations. Most likely coastal. We're looking at smaller towns, and I'm interested in horseback riding on the beach at least once. Ireland is quite horsey. It's all very exciting.

I had a super lesson on Willow tonight. She's starting to understand how to keep her weight shifted back without constant reminders. I can't tell you how much my triceps appreciate it when she stops leaning and pulling. Trainer Leslie said we're just about ready to stop focusing so much on the basics and start adding the movements to move us up the levels. Hooray! June is a lesson-packed month: I have another one in a week and then another the following Tuesday. Then I'm off to DC for a week for a conference.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Dog on the roof, aloof

The two little dogs owned by my neighbors across the street have taken to running around on the roof over the porch; they slip out through an open second-story window. Here's the little dachsund-corgi mix.

My mother has been visiting for the past ten days, so Willow's vacation has continued. I made it out to ride last Sunday, and I groomed and hand-grazed her Wednesday. She'll be going back to work starting this evening. The chiropractor said she was a little wonky in her C2 and C3 and adjusted her, so now we should be back in business. The chiro also said she's tight in her base-of-the-neck muscles, so we're going to get more intensive with the carrot stretches, and I'm looking around for a massage therapist.

Mom and I visited Salt Creek Falls yesterday. It's the second-highest waterfall in Oregon -- 286 feet! I had the railing on the observation platform in a death grip. Here's the picture I took with my cell phone:

And here's a much better photo I found on Flickr.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Willo in limbo

I stopped riding Willow last Saturday and called the chiropractor. She wasn't any worse, but she wasn't getting any better either, and if she's ouchy in the poll I want to get that fixed before asking her to hold flexion there. Unfortunately, the chiropractor is totally ignoring me, so I'm casting about for someone else. In the meantime, Willow is enjoying being free-lunged and hand-grazed every day. There's a giant thought bubble over her head that says "I could get used to this."

Friday one of my barn-mates fell off her suddenly freaked-out gelding Bean and got trampled. He stepped on her forearm and lower back. She has some really impressive bruising, but is otherwise fine. Apparently her gelding thought the tiny Welsh cob pony Fishie was attacking him, and that's what set him off. Bean is not known for his bravery.

I've been steadily increasing my distance running, and also steadily increasing the pain in my knees. So today I visited the Eugene Running Company and got expert help in picking out some new shoes--Sauconys. They're supposed to stop my pronation. In my quick experimental jog outside the store I felt no pain in my knees at all, so I hope the new shoes solve the issue. Getting old sucks.

Since my last post I discovered more great running music: Flogging Molly. Celtic punk! I added "If I Ever Leave This World Alive" and "Devil's Dance Floor" to my mix.

Friday, May 15, 2009

My running mix

When I visited Nebraska in April, I found that 90% of my friends there were running the Lincoln half-marathon, and one was running the whole marathon. It made me feel like such a slug. I've been an off-and-on jogger for ten years now, but since moving to Oregon it's been more of the off-again, because I just couldn't bring myself to run in the rain, and I'm not the treadmill type.

For some reason, visiting with those awesomely fit friends flipped a switch in me, and I suddenly have an unreal level of motivation to get myself up to 5 miles. I've been running 5 days a week for almost three weeks now, and I've started looking forward to it rather than dreading it (a first for me). I'm even starting to eye some upcoming Eugene races, although I'm super intimidated, Eugene being Track Town USA and all. I don't want to finish last!

Here's my current running mix. I'm always on the lookout for good songs to add. I've marked with a * those songs that inspire me to accelerate, even when I'm falling-down tired. And I make no apologies for the mullet rock. Embarrassing in most situations, it's good stuff for running.

Arctic Monkeys, Fluorescent Adolescent
Arctic Monkeys, I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor
B-52s, Roam
Big Country, In a Big Country
Boston, More Than a Feeling
*Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run
Cheap Trick, I Want You to Want Me
Cheap Trick, Surrender
Cherry Poppin' Daddies, Hi and Lo
Cherry Poppin' Daddies, Zoot Suit Riot
*Cherry Poppin' Daddies, Drunk Daddy
*Conor Oberst, NYC-Gone, Gone
Counting Crows, Accidentally in Love
*CCR, Bad Moon Rising
CCR, Fortunate Son
Dire Straits, Walk of Life
*Eagles, Already Gone
Elvis Costello, Veronica
Finger Eleven, Paralyzer
Georgia Satellites, Keep Your Hands to Yourself
*Green Day, American Idiot
Green Day, Holiday
Jason Mraz, I'm Yours
Jennifer Lopez, Let's Get Loud (ducking rotten tomatoes . . .)
*Joey Ramone, What a Wonderful World
*John Fogerty, Centerfield
*Kansas, Carry on Wayward Son
Killers, Mr. Brightside
Killers, Somebody Told Me
*Killers, When You Were Young
Matchbox Twenty, Disease
Michael Penn, No Myth
*Nirvana, Smells Like Teen Spirit
OMD, If You Leave
Quiet Riot, Cum on Feel the Noize
*REM, It's the End of the World as We Know It
REM, Stand
Santana, Smooth
*Styx, Renegade
Talking Heads, Burning Down the House
*Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, American Girl
*U2, Vertigo
We the Kings, Check Yes Juliet

Willow is still shaking her head, so I don't think the bit or the bridle is the problem. I bought padding for the crown piece just in case, but I'm also going to get the chiropractor out. In spite of the head shaking, we had a super lesson Thursday. Whatever's going on with her is not affecting her performance, as far as I can tell.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Life goes on

I can't believe it has been ten days since I lost Marko. It still seems very near. But I'm doing much better and am now able to remember the years and years of happy times while dwelling less on the end. I did love that dog fiercely.

Top five things to know about Marko:

1. He gave hugs. He would reach his head around behind your neck and squeeze.
2. He was a 65-lb. lap dog. He loved to drape as much of himself as he could across whatever human was closest. Classic velcro vizsla.
3. He had a nerve deficit in his right eyelid, causing it to droop a bit. I always thought this gave him a debonair expression.
4. He was a spazzy puppy. When he was six months old, he broke my nose.
5. He was the reason I decided to buy a house at the age of 25. "Bouncing off the walls" is not just an expression when you try to raise a vizsla puppy in an apartment.

My other two dogs are doing well. I'm glad they have each other. Sam the German shorthair is probably feeling some newfound freedom. Marko was the alpha, and Sam always had to watch his step. It'll be interesting to see if he shows off some sides to his personality that I haven't really seen.

Willow is testing a new bit and bridle. Lately she had started shaking her head emphatically right before I put her regular bridle on. The strange thing is, she'd let me go ahead and put it on, and once it was on she stopped shaking her head. I have no idea if she's signaling some kind of discomfort or if this is just a new quirk. To be safe, I'm trying out a bridle with a cut-back and padded crown (in case it's an ear thing) as well as a fatter version of her French-link snaffle (in case it's a mouth thing). She had her teeth floated six weeks ago, so it's not that. She hasn't stopped the head-shaking yet, but she definitely likes the fatter bit. Foam city.

Trainer Leslie's new focus is to get Willow up from the wither and stepping more under. So I'm deliberately bumping her up in front and at the same time touching her with the whip to engage the hind end. This is rocking Willow's boat rather wildly, but she's getting so much better about just going with it and not assuming the apocalypse is nigh.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A very sad day

I put my elderly vizsla Marko to sleep this morning. His ongoing wobbliness progressed suddenly to partial paralysis of his hind end, starting yesterday after work. I spent the whole night snuggled up to him, saying goodbye, because I was pretty sure the prognosis wasn't going to be good. And it wasn't. The vet was just wonderful about the whole thing. I was such a wreck.

Marko was in the habit of bringing me a shoe every morning. He brought me a hiking boot this morning despite hardly being able to walk. I guess one positive is that he was still himself, and not in pain, right up to the end.

He was almost thirteen years old. I'd had him since he was a puppy.

Monday, April 27, 2009

I should not ride for nine days more often

I'm back from my trip to Texas and Nebraska. It rained the whole time I was in Texas, so alas, even though I brought my boots, I didn't get to ride. I had to think a bit before deciding whether I could bring my boot pulls through security. I finally decided I probably couldn't and stowed them in my carry-on. A determined terrorist could bring down an airplane by wielding a single boot pull, I'm sure.

To make up for the monsoon weather in Texas, Nebraska was warm and sunny. And then, to make me happy to come back, Portland was warm and sunny! In April!

Usually when Willow gets a few days off, she's stiff as a board when I bring her back into work. Imagine my surprise when I hopped aboard on Saturday, and she gave through the neck and back at all three gaits with no arguments. I couldn't make it out Sunday, but again tonight she was softer than she's ever been, right from the get-go. I kept her in walk for a long time, just marveling at the rubber-band feel in my hand. Did someone come train my horse while I was gone? Or was Willow just practicing her visualization exercises? I can't figure it out. Maybe if I never ride her again she'll be going Grand Prix by June.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Lesson #8

I was totally right about the trot not being forward enough in that last video I posted. Too much time passed between lessons and I got complacent. I keep settling for a "good enough" trot instead of digging down and pulling out what Willow really can do. I thought Willow's trot was feeling just super in my pre-lesson warmup yesterday, but then Leslie came in and was all, "Um, that's just pokey. More forward!" And of course she was right. The cool thing is, when Willow is really engaged, she gets very light in the hand. When she's leaning, of course it's just an indication that she's not engaged behind. Duh.

So we worked on forward in trot, and happily Willow cooperated. Right now our other bugaboo is that Willow wants to bulge her ribcage to the inside when we track left. And she's a big girl, so I have to find ways to finesse getting her to move it over -- there's no way I can muscle her into it. Leslie is very sympathetic about my struggles with this; her gelding is 17.2.

We worked on leg yielding for the last 15 minutes. When I turn down centerline, as soon as I straighten I've been dropping my driving inside leg. So we worked on fixing that, and the leg yields got big and flashy. We also worked on leg yield to small circle to straight to leg yield, in order to emphasize the outside rein.

It was a good lesson. If I can afford it, I might switch to lessons every week. I feel like we're making great progress, but I definitely can use the eyes on the ground.

Today I am doing laundry and mowing in preparation for my week-long trip, first to Texas to visit Wolfgang, Suzanne, and Ted, and then to Nebraska to visit family and friends. Texas promises sunshine and warm temps: hooray! Nebraska could be cold or warm this time of year.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Just call her Bubbles

Today we had sunshine with temps in the low seventies, so Willow had a bath. I swear she was just as happy to be bathed as I was to bathe her. She was stinky. There's nothing like rinsing off five months of winter blech. Willow was sassy when I took her out to dry off and graze! She kept shaking her head and pawing like she was thinking about taking off. Spring fever.

Here's some video from Friday's ride. Willow's still not loose as a goose, but she's somewhat looser than a Mack truck, so I'll count that as progress. When I ride by myself I'm still trying to find the sweet spot that's forward without rushing. In this ride she could have been more forward in trot. And she's still bracing in the canter, but I can see flashes where she gives for a few strides. Our next lesson is Saturday.

So, I mentioned that episode 6 of Dollhouse was much improved. Well, episode 7 was pretty bad again. I haven't watched episode 8 yet. It's only my undying love for Joss Whedon that makes me stick with this show.

Last Tuesday I saw The (English) Beat at the WOW Hall. My friend invited me; she's a connoisseur of 80s music. I recommend the show if you ever get the chance to go. It's fun, danceable ska. And Dave Wakeling is still a cutie.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Go from the leg, give to the hand

Were y'all wondering if the meth heads came back and stole my laptop, too? Sorry I've been such a sucky blogger lately.

Willow was super-duper in lesson #7 Thursday night, and Leslie had nothing but nice things to say. Things like: forward, focused, submissive, bending, soft. Willow even let Leslie walk along beside her in trot and canter, clapping to ask for more forward. Even four weeks ago, that would have freaked Willow out. I'm so proud of my bull-headed mare!

So how'd we get there? Well, for the past two weeks I've been focused on nothing but go from the leg, give to the hand. Working to unlock every locked place from withers to bit. It hasn't been pretty or pleasant. Willow has bucked me up unto her neck more than once, but she really doesn't like it when I land on her neck, so she seems to be giving up on that strategy. I've also been working a lot on just making her stand and give, and that has resulted in marathon backing around the arena, but again Willow realized that that strategy was accomplishing very little and giving her a sore butt, so she has stopped doing it. No matter how mad she's gotten, she hasn't gone up or bolted, so good girl. And slowly but surely, our fight club sessions have gotten shorter, and been replaced by dressage-like activity. Culminating in Thursday's great lesson.

What else? Well, I had planned to give up on Dollhouse after five horrendous episodes, but I kept reading how episode six was the one to watch, so I gave in and watched it, and it was like Fox suddenly realized they should stop crapifying Joss Whedon's project and let Joss do his thing. Episode six was like a completely different show, with interesting characters and an intriguing plot. You know, the stuff Joss is known for. Plus, Tahmoh Penikett wandered around shirtless for a bit.

Sadly, I was not nearly so impressed with Tahmoh's other project, which had its series finale last Friday. Overall, I loved Battlestar Galactica, but other than the mutiny arc, I've felt that season 4.5 has been pretty weak. And I thought the finale was frakkin' awful.

[spoiler alert!]

So many things I just couldn't buy: Why did Cavil kill himself? There's another Earth (Earth II)? Why would Bill fly off and leave Lee forever? On a similar note, these 30,000 people have just been through four years of hell together, and now they're going to scatter to the four corners of the earth (II) and be isolated farmers? For that matter, did everyone agree to destroy all the ships, or did the Adamas just make that decision on behalf of everyone? Whatever. Oh, and Gaius and Six are angels? Starbuck too? Am I an angel? Maybe you're an angel.

If you want to see angels done right, watch Supernatural.

I know the BSG writers had an impossible task, trying to end this epic series in a way that would satisfy its fans, but they had backed themselves into so many corners with decisions they made earlier in the series, that they had nowhere to go. I wish that, like the cylons, the writers had had a plan. Although the cylons didn't appear to have much of a plan, either, despite what the opening credits claimed.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Stupid meth heads

So, last week when my dogs got out of the yard through a mysteriously open gate? Apparently, that was a dry run for two days later, when the gate was open again, and the neighborhood meth heads had stolen my iPod from my car and my bike from the carport. The iPod was a four-year-old nano, and the bike was ten years old, so I'm more irritated than anything. At least I saw the open gate before the dogs got out again, and now it's padlocked. All three of my dogs blissfully slept through the burglary. They're very sweet and completely useless.

My new goal, set forth in lesson #6, is to get Willow loose as a goose in front at all three gates. Willow would much prefer to be tight and pull-y about half the time. In the past I've always ridden horses that wanted to curl behind the bit, which led me to be very soft and inviting with my hands so as not to lose the contact. Trainer Leslie says Willow is completely taking advantage of my soft, Sally-Swift-don't-crush-the-baby-birds hands. It's time to let her know in no uncertain terms that she cannot lean, pull, or snatch at the bit. It has been a major mental adjustment for me, but after a week I think I'm finally on the right track.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Chuckleheads on the loose

Marko and Sam, the pointer brothers, got out of the yard this morning. I realized it as soon as I stepped out of the shower and saw they hadn't come in from outside. They're both total couch potatoes in the morning and never spend more than about two minutes in the yard. I think someone let them out; a gate I never use was standing open. Time to get a padlock.

So I spent 45 minutes wandering the neighborhood with wet hair. Next time I will put a hat on, because I about froze to death. I finally found the boys four blocks down. A nice couple had corralled them in their yard. They said they actually thought Sam was their own German shorthair, so they called him in and were quite surprised when a vizsla accompanied him. Tonight the boys are exhausted from their big adventure.

Willow was cheerful and willing tonight. I think we've gotten past the crankiness, at least for a little while.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Lesson #5, or Willow is no longer a mullet

I had a good lesson last week. Willow was much softer and didn't throw any fits. The trot is really coming along, and even the canter showed noticeable improvement. And Willow wasn't a steaming wreck when we were through. I think it's a combination of her increasing fitness and her greater mental acceptance that she can actually do what I'm asking.

Trainer Leslie had nice things to say, one of which was "Your mare is no longer a mullet." Meaning, Willow is no longer business in front, party in the back. She's starting to actually use her hind end, instead of letting those hind legs do pretty much anything but carry weight.

This week's triumph was a composed, productive schooling session during a marathon shooting session at the nearby gun range, set to a backdrop of heavy rain with gusty winds. Good girl, Willow.

In television news, I am perhaps the biggest Joss Whedon fan on the planet, but I am finding his latest show Dollhouse to be just dreadful. This is his followup to Firefly? Really? On a happier note, I'm also watching Rome, and I just discovered Supernatural and have become quite the Deangirl.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Proof of medium, and Endospink

I grabbed the above still from the video I took yesterday to show that Willow really was offering a decent medium on the lunge. The girl has the physical talent; now we've just got to get the brain on board.

Speaking of difficult horses . . . on YouTube I subscribe to Endospink's videos. He's an extremely gifted horseman who breaks racehorses in Japan. He's Australian and has a killer sense of humor. At his facility, he's the guy who gets the youngsters that no one else can handle (meaning he's the guy who has to deal with these horses that have already realized how powerful and scary they can be.) In addition to his humor, incredible riding ability, and fearlessness, what I love about him is that he's never a bully. He loves every horse he works with and is on their side 100%.

Best quote: "He's comin' to town and shootin' the town up, and once the dust settles, he realizes there's no one in town." Ha!

There's another awesome video where the horse he's working with lies down whenever anyone gets on. So the horse lies down, Endo jumps off. The horse goes to get up, Endo jumps back on. The horse stands up and realizes the rider is still there. Damn! Repeat about four times, and the horse never lies down in protest again.

His YouTube handle comes from the fact that he sometimes wears pink breeches. Hee. If you watch some of his videos, you'll see he uses a technique called the TAP in certain instances. I don't know enough about the technique to have an opinion. I am Switzerland. But I have to say I don't begrudge Endo whatever techniques he needs to save these problem horses from slaughter.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Flipped-out mare

Willow has been showing me her difficult side for the past week, and it's been exhausting. I've been asking a lot of her since we started lessons, and I think her wee brain is melting down. As predicted, the canter fell apart for several days, with Willow convinced she couldn't possibly keep the forward on a shorter rein. Plus side: we got some pirouette canter. Minus side: said pirouette canter involved Willow's nose pointed to the ceiling.

Other challenges from Willow's bag o' tricks: refusal to do anything but wacky pirouette canter to the left. Charging through the outside rein to the left. Traveling extreme haunches-in to the right. Basically just giving me the equine version of a middle finger all week.

By mid-week I was almost ready to call out the dentist and the chiropractor, but last night and today things were better. Today Willow even offered some nice floaty mediums in trot on the lunge. So I think/hope she has just been testing me and we are getting back on track again. I knew what I was getting into when I bought myself a mare.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Lesson #4

Things to remember:

1. I need to keep more weight in my left stirrup. In both directions, I'm a little shifted to the right.

2. I must establish the outside rein more solidly in walk and trot. When the outside rein is really there, Willow stops her little freak-outs.

3. It's time to shorten the reins in canter to the same length I have them in trot/walk. The canter will likely fall apart for a few weeks, but I'll keep the faith. The trot fell apart and came back together; canter will do the same.

Marko update:

The old guy is doing super! I panicked momentarily when I woke up at 1:00 that first night and he was still stoned. I thought, oh my god, they gave my dog brain damage. But the next morning he was bright eyed and bushy tailed.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Drunk as a skunk

My elderly vizsla Marko went under anesthesia today to have his teeth cleaned and to have a benign skin tumor, which had begun bleeding, removed from his back. He's been on the couch for 45 minutes now in this exact pose:

I keep gently pushing his head and chest to his left so he's resting against the cushion, and he keeps sliding back to the right into a disorganized sprawl. Poor drunk dog.

The bandage on his forearm is pink with purple hearts.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Canter is coming right along

I had some nice work on Willow today. Here's a video of a little right-lead canter.

Not too far in, she breaks to trot for a poop break, because heaven forbid Willow should ever realize she can canter and poop at the same time. The poor dear would not last long in the wild.

Other than that one break, I'm happy with how this looks. She's more elevated, but not bracing against my hand for the most part. She's quite straight. I'm asking for a bit of lengthening on the long sides, and I can see the canter jump get bigger. For my part, I'm remembering to keep my hands low and not to shove my inside leg forward. I think the whole thing looks pretty harmonious.

The trot work was very satisfactory, too. I feel like right now we're making a little progress with every ride.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The bronchitis can go away now

I'm still sick. Actually, about half the people in my office are sick too, but I have the privilege of being the sickest. One colleague stopped by with some Airborne for me, and later someone else dropped off a packet of Theraflu. I'm sure they're all tired of listening to this cough. I did go to the doctor today and got hooked up with some antibiotics, which are coursing through my veins as we speak. Do your thing, antibiotics!

Willow got Sunday and Monday off as I battled the bronchitis, but tonight I worked her in spite of feeling like crud. In the lungeing, Leslie has me focusing on keeping Willow up in front, snapping the lunge line sharply whenever she starts to lean and driving her forward. Willow's starting to get what it is I want. "Oh, you mean I have to hold my own head up?"

Under saddle, similarly, I'm working on getting Willow off my hand without letting the reins slip. As part of this work, I'm touching her with the whip a lot more, and the overreactions are starting to abate.

My a-ha moment tonight came in the canter. Now that I've stopped shoving my inside leg forward in canter I can tell I have a lot more influence over the inside hind. Tonight I asked for a few ten-meter canter circles, and instead of trying to keep Willow from falling over the outside shoulder by using my outside leg, for some reason it occurred to me to try using my inside leg, and voila, suddenly I stopped losing her to the outside. It makes sense that if she wasn't engaging that inside hind, the relative straightness of that leg was probably pushing her to the outside. When she engages it, it carries more weight and lets her balance herself better. Neato.

Willow is in full-on shedding mode. I choose to believe this points to an early spring.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Lesson #3

I've had a nasty cold/flu/bronchitis-y thing for the past three days, but I'm finally feeling better tonight so I went ahead and had my lesson. My nose ran like a faucet through the whole thing, which was very attractive.

We've made progress! Willow did not wig out even once. She only braced for the first five minutes instead of the first ten. The trot got good fairly quickly, so as promised we spent a lot of time on the canter. Leslie had me bring Willow in to a twelve meter circle in trot to get her really engaging the inside hind, and I asked for the canter from there. Two bad habits for me to address: raising my hands during the depart, and pushing my inside leg too far forward. Both really easy to fix; I just need to keep them in the front of my mind for a week or two. Leslie also had had me raise my stirrups a hole, and that helped stabilize my seat and upper body. Willow has a big canter which tends to throw my upper body forward and back. By the end of the lesson the canter departs felt great and the canter itself was softer and more self-contained.

Willow was a steamy girl when we finished; she's using muscles she didn't know she had. I gave her an extra carrot for trying so hard.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Welcome to my secret lair on Skullcrusher Mountain

I recently subscribed to a Joss Whedon podcast, and they've been closing out each episode with music from Jonathan Coulton. His music is fabulous; very Whedonesque. The two songs I heard on the podcasts were, first, "Re: Your Brains." It's sung from the point of view of the leader of a hungry zombie horde:

All we want to do is eat your brains
We're not unreasonable, I mean, no one's gonna eat your eyes

The next song they used was "Skullcrusher Mountain." This one is the lament of a mad scientist who has kidnapped a woman and wishes she would fall in love with him:

I made this half-pony half-monkey monster to please you
But I get the feeling that you don't like it
What's with all the screaming?
You like monkeys, you like ponies
Maybe you don't like monsters so much
Maybe I used too many monkeys
Isn't it enough to know that I ruined a pony making a gift for you?

I bought those two songs from iTunes, and while I looked at this list of his other music, I saw the title "Tom Cruise Crazy" and just couldn't resist, so I bought that, too:

Tom Cruise is Tom Cruise crazy
Just be glad it's him, not you
If you had Tom Cruise's troubles
You might be Tom Cruise crazy, too
You'd flash your big white shiny smile
And buy expensive shoes
But you'd be the only man on Earth who couldn't enjoy Tom Cruise, oh no
You couldn't enjoy Tom Cruise


I had a good ride today. I videotaped, but it's mostly lots of circles again, so I won't bore y'all to tears. I do enjoy pausing the video and seeing evidence of more thrust behind from Willow. And the other day, as I was leading Willow by, the head trainer said, "Wow, Willow's butt looks great!" Unsolicited butt praise is always nice.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

A horrible creaking noise

I just cruised over to Flying Lilies and saw that she had posted a video of the classic trick wherein, in a very cold climate, you can throw a cup of boiling water in the air and it will vaporize instantly. I come from North Dakota stock and visited that state many times in the winter, and this trick was always a favorite of the local weathermen. In the Flying Lilies video, it's twenty below.

The reason the video really got me was because she films herself walking outside with the cup of boiling water, and you can hear the horrible creak, creak, creak that snow makes underfoot in extreme cold. It sent a shiver down my spine. And to think I was grumpy because it was 36 degrees during my ride today. I used to be a hardy Nebraskan, but no more.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Lesson #2

Willow's toes are back under control, so we were able to have our lesson Thursday night. Someone else was in the arena taking a lesson in how to lunge her gelding, and the gelding was having none of it, bolting and bucking and causing general mayhem (lungeing is not as easy as it looks). I lunged Willow, and she kept it together admirably, but she was definitely tense, and that carried over into the first part of my lesson. We focused on throughness and the quality of the trot. It took about ten minutes for Willow to let go of her tension and stop bracing, and then we had a great session. I was reminded of something I should already know: that when Willow braces against my hand my first reaction should be to boot her forward, rather than trying to fix things with my hands.

We did a little canter at the end, and Leslie wants to spend next week's lesson mostly on canter. That will be great, because I know the canter needs a ton of work. Leslie said Willow is not lifting through the wither in the canter jump.

Willow, for her part, wishes bad things would happen to Leslie because Willow really has to work when she's under Leslie's watchful eye. Poor mare.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Long in the toe

Willow has been barefoot her whole life. When I bought her as a four-year-old, I thought once I had her in full work, I'd probably have to shoe her. She is half TB, after all. But here we are: she's almost eight, and her bare feet are still fabulous. We're in Oregon, where the ground is soft nine months of the year, and the footing in the arena is to die for, so she just doesn't require shoes.

I guess I've been lucky to have always been at barns where the horses that could be barefoot, were barefoot, and the farriers were open to whatever worked for each horse. I definitely don't believe that every horse can go barefoot, but I also think that not every horse needs to be shod. It all depends on the individual horse and his circumstances.

Willow has been on a six-week trim schedule at our current barn, and I've noticed that during the last week before the trim she gets a little stumble-y. This go 'round, she started stumbling two weeks before the trim. Tonight, it was pretty bad (I tried one trot under saddle and she tripped immediately, so we just walked), and we still have a week to go until the scheduled farrier visit. After the cold, snowy spells the second half of December, we've had unseasonably warm and sunny weather in January, and I think Willow thinks it's spring. She's starting to shed, and her feet are growing like crazy. So I'm going to see if I can get her on a four-week schedule. I hope the farrier can come tomorrow or Thursday; if not, I'm going to have to reschedule our Thursday lesson again. If it's not one thing, it's another.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Willow's fully recovered; now I'm sore

Willow was back to her usual energetic, buoyant self today, both on the lunge and under saddle. We just did light work today, but I'm pretty sure she's ready for more, so it's back to full work tomorrow. I rescheduled my lesson for this coming Thursday, and then we have another one the Thursday after that. I'm considering boot camp for Willow once I get my tax refund, with two lessons a week for a month.

I went to a beginning cha cha class with a friend last night. Beginning-level classes aren't terribly engaging for me, because I already know all the beginning-level patterns, so I concentrated on working my Latin hip action. Today my muscles are burning from knee to stomach.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

A couple more days off

Last night Willow's front leg looked back to normal, and the abrasion on her stifle was completely scabbed over with no remaining swelling. I free lunged her at trot for a few minutes and then walked her for twenty minutes. She also got another dose of bute. I had hoped to get back to riding tonight.

I could tell when I hooked up the side reins and pushed her into trot tonight, though, that she's still sore and/or stiff. She was perfectly even, but she just had a reluctant aura about her, and she didn't want to canter and only held the canter for a few strides. Not at all usual for Willow. So I unhooked the side reins and we're back to hand-walking and bute for a couple more days.

I would be sore, too, if I were to run as fast as I could for twenty minutes with no conditioning for cross country!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The fugitive

Yesterday, Willow leaped over the manure cart while her stall was being cleaned and went on a self-guided, high-speed tour of the property. They tell me she did two loops of the whole property at a gallop -- across the hay fields, through the woods, and over the creek (she comes from jumper lines on both sides and put that talent to good use). Her mistake was heading back into the barn to flirt with the geldings -- they were able to corner her in there and catch her.

Thank goodness she didn't fall down. She had her heavy blanket on from the cold night previously, and they said she was lathered from head to toe when they pulled it off. They hosed her down, put on her cooler, and walked her for half an hour to cool her off. When I checked her last night, I found a half-dollar-sized abrasion on her right stifle. It was sticky with blood and ouchy to the touch, but there wasn't any heat or major swelling around it, so I was pretty sure it was just a scrape. I hand-walked her for twenty minutes, gave her bute, and doctored the scrape. Tonight I went back out and noticed that her front right is slightly swollen from fetlock to knee. I hand-walked her some more and asked for a little trot on the lunge in both directions. She doesn't seem off at all. I gave her some more bute and redoctored the scrape, which still looks minor.

So, no lesson this week after all. I think I'll give Willow one more night of bute and hand-walking and then return her to light work on Thursday if the swelling is gone. I'm just glad she's OK!

Monday, January 5, 2009

New Willow videos!

I videotaped Sunday's lungeing and riding. It's always fun, after videotaping, to come home and watch Willow TV for an hour. I'm very pleased with her outline right now. I looked back at video from late summer and she has really changed.

I'm so happy with the lungeing footage. Willow is obedient and is rocking her weight back, leading to twinklings of real expressiveness in her gaits. Gotta love those square halts, too.

In the under-saddle footage, I'm showing warts and all. We're working on shortening the reins, and Willow is still trying to convince me she can't do it. She's especially perturbed at times that she's no longer able to yank the reins through my fingers. Some of the forward in trot has been sacrificed in the service of softness and obedient half halts. Now if we can just get soft, half-halting, and forward simultaneously.

The canter is still a little strung out and against my hand. I'm losing the haunches from time to time. But the departs are nice and obedient, and the tempo is improving.

Next lesson is this Thursday.