Thursday, August 30, 2012

Quick Pre-Steepleview Update

Whew! The past couple of weeks have been madness! It seems like I've been out of the house all day for one reason or another and haven't had much time to blog. But the main objective has been prepping for the Steepleview Horse Trials! A lot of it has been dressage, but we've been able to get some jumping in as well.

But first we had to find the jumps. The field where I had them has become very overgrown, so last Wednesday, my sister and I had to mount a rescue mission in order to find them. It took a little bit of time, but eventually we found everything and brought them all back. We took the stuff I wanted to use and put it in one of the pastures so I could set them up later. The horses were all very interested in these new things.

Intruder Alert!

We've also been doing more braiding, and doubling up on the wires really helped with the stability of a lot of the braids

He looks much more ewe-necked there than he is. But I think the buttons will look good.

Our main dressage goal has been transitions, and he keeps getting better and better. He still has a tendency to shut down when he get confused, but as long as I stay soft, he usually comes out of it well. I figures the key to trot-canter transitions is to really rev up myself and let him figure out the rest. He still gets nervous, but at least he knows the game.

Jumping has also gone well. He still bops over everything, although he can get a but looky. On Wednesday, a big puddle had formed in the field, so we used that as practice for a water obstacle. He alternated between trotting though it and jumping into it, so it was good practice for me. He strolled over everything and we were even able to string a mini-course together. He's on top form and seems really ready for the weekend ahead.

And now it's time for me to keep preparing. I have to polish my boots, get my stock-tie ready, but his bridle back together, pack all my clothes, and so on. Tomorrow I work, then go and walk my x-c course, and then on Saturday, it'll be STEEPLEVIEW TIME! I can hardly wait!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Royal And The Cows

Since Bayfield, I haven't had a lot of time to do stuff with Royal. I started a new job on Tuesday and had a last-minute eye doctor appointment complete with The Drops That Make The Light Hurt And Turn You Into A Vampire. But, we've still had some time to try new things and make some friends of the bovine variety.

The neighbors cows had lived behind the back pasture as long as Royal's been here, but they recently got moved to the pasture across the road. Royal wasn't exactly a fan of cows before, and having to stare them down as we walk down the small side street to get to the road is not his idea of a good time. I think he has a hard time figuring out what they are from a distance and it probably looks like a swirling mass or color.

Once he gets close to them, he seems to remember that they're the same cows he's lived next to since late May and doesn't seem too bothered, although still not exactly happy.

"Yeah, there's Bessy, and Daisy, and Betty. So? Can we go now?"
The other Big Thing is braiding! My arch-nemesis of show turnout. Last year I was able to cobble together a sort-of decent job at Steepleview, but this year I want to do better. But bands are just not doing the job, and yarn seems too complicated. A while back, I discovered Braiding Wire, which seemed to be a reasonable compromise. It arrived on Saturday, so I decided to give it a shot.

It turned out okay, better than I thought. I have a bit of a learning curve with holding the wire and the braids, and Royal's mane is way too long. It probably needs to be able 2 inches shorter and I'll have to double up with wires in the middle of the mane, but at this point, I like it. I was able to do more than 4 braids halfway decently and even the middle braids stayed relatively nice. I'll have to practicing (which I'm sure Royal will be thrilled about), but right now I'm a lot more hopeful than I was with the bands. I think this will work.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The LakeHorse (Bayfield 2012)

Another year, another wonderful week up in the Great North. I was delighted to see the owner of the barn where Royal stays had expanded the cross-country course (she caught the Eventing Bug around the same time I did), and he settled right in. The weather was supposed to be nice all week, so I was hoping to try some new things. It's not really a vacation for us, but I try to keep it fun.

Monday was a basic day. We played OnLine and rode Freestyle in the outdoor arena. Royal was a bit fresh, so we even did some hand-galloping so get all his energy out. We also did some pseudo-bridleless riding at the walk and the trot.

Tuesday, my family went on a boat ride that ended up going an hour and a half later than it was supposed to, so I didn't get out to the farm until the evening. We played a bit more on the Feather line, and he was really good. Very light and connected, after he had a little mini-gallop. I think we'll be able to start playing with flying lead changes OnLine soon. I've tried it before, and he would tend to get very strong and disconnected. But now, he seems to want to keep the connection, so I think we can play with it a bit more.

Wednesday and Thursday were both Game of Contact days. I'm starting to step it up a bit, playing with transitions and changes of direction. On Wednesday, it took him a while to settle in, but he started to keep a more steady and quiet contact. I noticed he has a tendency to lift his head in upward transitions, especially going from trot to canter. It got better on Thursday, but I think it stems from his history of diving into the canter. It took him a while to learn how to canter which his weight on his hind end, instead of scrambling on his front end. He still has a tendency to hold tension along his spine, although the GoC has really helped. It helped when I took a tiny bit more contact before asking for the canter and really asking with my core, but at this point, I think we just need more practice with it. He seems to be getting it really well, and is starting to let himself relax and stretch into the contact.

Friday was swimming day, but with a small wrinkle. Thursday was a very windy day, with winds in excess of 30 mph, which made the lake very rough. Like, no one was on the water after about 3pm rough. Friday was a bit calmer, but still with lots of white-caps. So, I trailered Royal down to the Really Really Really Really Really Big Puddle, thinking that if he would go in the lake, any x-c water obstacles would be easy. At first he did his dainty sniffing.

But then he got in and started splashing around.

He seemed confident, so I changed clothes and hopped on. He was a bit unsure, but soon went in, huge waves and all.

We went in and out a few times, and then went back to the barn. I was really proud of him; those white-caps were huge and scary looking, even to me. He was so brave and I was so happy.

Saturday was X-C DAY!!!!! The course was manly show jumps with lots of natural decorations like haybales and mini-tables. He started out very well, apart from a bit of confusion with the white barrels where he wasn't quite focused on them until he was almost on top of them and went "Huh?!" So, redirect and he went over. He went around the rest of the course without many problems. The haybale to table combo was set a bit long, so he had to reach for it, but he was game. He peeked at the bright pink and white cover on one row of bales, and the tube jump, but popped over both. The bank was somewhat overgrown, so he tip-toed up to the edge, but when he found it, he walked off like it was no big deal. It was a fairly sizable bank too, and he also hopped up like it was no big deal either. We quit when we were able to string a mini-course together: carpet-covered-barrels to colored tires to white barrels to tube jump to bright-pink-and-white-haybales, all with no hesitation anywhere.

We then trailered back over to the beach, the wind being much calmer. This time I wanted to see if he would actually swim. He pretty much got right in the way ("The Really Really Really Really Really Big Puddle isn't moving as much anymore! I get to make splashes!"), and I hopped on pretty quickly. It was somewhat hard to navigate beyond the big dock, since there are big rocks and old docks under the water. We ended up having to go kind of around all that and then out. The first time we tried to swim, there was a group of kayakers passing by and they were very confused. "Bob, is that a boat?" "No, it's a... horse?" Poor Royal was also very confused, but he continued on until he couldn't walk anymore. Once we got beyond that point, he sat down on his hind end (talk about engagement) and would push off and paddle for a little bit before pushing off again. We went back and waited a bit before trying again. There were no kayakers this time, and we got a bit further. He still sat back on his hind end and paddled a bit, and I just grabbed mane and hung on. It felt a bit like a carousel horse. We got the furthest out our third time, and he actually paddled for a while before pushing off again. He seemed to enjoy himself, although he still wasn't completely sure about the whole thing. But as always, he was a good spot.

The next day, it was time to go home. He traveled well, and we should have had some love-theme music when he and Gabby were reunited. I'll try to find some local horse-friendly beaches so we don't have to wait another year to go swimming again, but hopefully swimming increased his confidence. After all, he swam in Lake Superior. He can do anything.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Reverse Weight Watchers

Royal and I have quite a bit of fun lately, testing both lightness and concentration. I got a Feather Line at the Tour Stop, and it really is quite different that the regular 22-foot line. I don't think Royal actually felt it at first, since he tried to wander off to a particularly appetizing piece of grass and looking very surprised when he hit the end. He stayed very light for the rest of the session, and never tried to test the rope again. I did have to put him on the regular 22-foot line for an adrenaline management session; the basic idea is that if your horse has temporarily lost their brain, you ask the horse to boogie for a lap, then wait for 3 laps to see if they try to come off the adrenaline and connect with you. If they do, you allow it. If not, ask them to go for a lap again and wait. The point is to help them run the adrenaline out instead of nagging at them to stand still, which usually make the situation worse (ask me how I know). It took Royal 3 repetitions the first time, but he quickly got the idea and would try to connect after a quarter of a circle.

We've also been able to do some trail riding, although now we're mostly sticking to the dirt road. I'd like to ride him to the local bark, but they're working on the bridge so we'd only be able to get to the entrance and have to turn around. So, we have to keep going up the road, and Royal wore his trail bridle for the first time in quite a while. I'm not quite sure what he thought of it.

 It's interesting going trail riding with him because he has two trail riding modes: either he's really into it and really wants to go exploring, or the conversation between us is more like

Luckily, the first mode is more common.

My main focus with him over the past few weeks has been trying to get him to put on weight. Right now, most of the weight problems with horses seem to be that they're too fat, which can lead to all sorts of metabolic issues and health problems such as founder. Not my horse. Instead of being the type of horse who looks at food and gains weight, he's the kind of horse that hears the wind in the trees and loses 5 pounds. He is the only horse I know that can lose weight on an all-you-can-eat buffet. Of course the extreme heat and the temporary drought (which seems to have ended in our Corner of the Universe. Yay!) didn't help. He still looks healthy (bright eyes, shiny coat, good hooves), but on the thin side. So, I started conservatively, putting him on one scoop of SmartGain 4 a day. That didn't seem to help much, so now he's on ADM's HealthyGlo as well to add lots of fat to his diet. Since he hasn't been on grain for a few months, I'm slowing starting him on it and working our way up to a pound a day. He seems to like it so far, although it's very different than the concentrates I've fed before. As he gets up to the full amount, we'll see if it helps.