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.