"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo



Saturday, October 29, 2011

Parkland Horsemen's Association Dressage Show 10/23/11

I must apologize-I've been horrible about posting this last week-our computer was suuuuper slow, and it would take me 5 minutes just to complete 1 sentence here on Blogger. I was trying to upload photos of the show at least, while we had the computer fixed, and just that made the computer crash. I think I managed to fix it in the meantime, so here goes!

The show was this past  Sunday October 23rd. Lily loaded in Judy's step-up trailer like she'd done it every day of her life (Mark's has a ramp.) The show was wonderfully uneventful. It looked like it was going to storm on show day, so we rushed to leave the barn before it rained and were the first ones to arrive at the Parkland Equestrian Center. The overcast sky was a concern, as there is no place to take cover. This series of shows is very inexpensive because there is no barn-you don't have to pay a barn fee. Thankfully, the rain held up and the skies eventually cleared close to noon, and the early arrival gave us plenty of time to settle in. Lily was very "up" when we first unloaded, but after walking her around the grounds, the arenas, and longing her in the red sand warmup arena, she had settled down enough that I felt confident about getting on without her freaking out. From the moment I got on and we started our warmup, the tension completely left both of us. It was like schooling at home. Lily did REALLY well, considering it was her first show ever, and it was my first dressage show ever. We both managed to stay very calm from that point on, even getting decent scores (though I don't agree with the placements we received, but that's a whole other story. There is definetely some favoritism going on at this series of shows, considering the placement vs skill level of some of the other riders in 2 of my 3 classes). I was happy with our scores, however: we got a 63% in Intro A, 62% in Intro B, and a 65% in Intro C!! I was particularly excited about the 65, as I had been convinced C would be our worst class.  One of the comments that was repeated over & over in our tests was "inconsistent contact", which is true. I need to get Lily's teeth done, and Judy is going to let me try one of her Myler snaffles, to see if we can get Lily to reach for the bit and STAY THERE. I probably could've done better about trying to keep that contact during the tests, but I didn't even want to risk being in her face when she was doing so well at staying relaxed, especially since she'd been so jumpy the last couple of days leading up to the show. And our circles could've been more precise, but I kept focusing on where the letters were instead of on the shape of our circles, and I overshot the centerline at the end of each of the 3 tests! Grrrr! Oh well. We had fun and enjoyed ourselves, which was the most important thing. Judy was very happy with our performance too. I loved having her there; it's nice to have somebody who believes in you to guide you, and Judy is so calm and quiet herself that it helps you stay calm too. This show was a big deal all around: this was Judy's first time taking a student to a show since she moved from Michigan to South Florida, and it was my first time taking a horse of my own to a show. I've gone to multiple shows, just never riding a horse that actually belonged to me.
Initial warmup canter in the red arena


Yeah, she's moving downhill and I look like a huntseat rider, but she was nice and relaxed in thsi one. :)

Judy the Wonder Trainer and me with Lily

Ready to go into the arena for Intro B

Warming up in the field next to the dressage arena

Going around the arena for Intro C, while waiting for the bell from the judge

This is the video Charles took of test C, our best of the three. Direct link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yv31XZkasLo



Sunday, October 23, 2011

Practice

Friday morning was even chillier than Thursday. :) Love, love, LOVE this weather!! I wore a long-sleeve thin cotton shirt under one of my microfiber workout shirts that I normally wear to the barn. Elisabeth is out of town for the weekend, and she asked me if could ride Christa Friday for her. My lesson wasn't until that evening, so I tacked up Christa and rode her down to the field.

Christa just went into heat and has been particularly sassy (trying to bite passers-by when she's in her stall), and actually bucked for Elisabeth under saddle Thursday when asked to canter (she never does this for her mom). She's been particularly sensitive to touch on her lumbar back, flanks and belly. So my plan was to just take her down to the field for some walk and trot to exercise her, but not instigate her crankiness/soreness with cantering. Plus I've never ridden her myself outside of the arena, and I wanted to see how she'd behave for me. I know she's an angel for Elisabeth.

Tacking up, she stood with a wrinkled nose, which I thought was funny. Cranky mare. As soon as I stopped what I was doing and approached her head, her nose would relax. So I would pet her and talk to her, and continue what I was doing. Wrinkled nose again. *lol*



Wrinkled nose
 I expected her to be sassy getting on, too, so I tightened the girth, placed the dressage whip in my right hand, and put weight on the stirrup. She whirled her head and swished her tail in protest, but no buck-I figured out she bucks if the saddle shifts when I put weight on the stirrup. I tapped her with the whip on her right hip, and she stopped. I only had to do this 1 more time, and she allowed me to get on. We then walked down to the field. She was a little "up" going down the driveway, and looky, but once on the street she relaxed into her usual easygoing self. I like Christa. She's a good girl, but she's got some personality.

We had a great workout. After a nice relaxed warmup, I asked her for more collection and we worked on shoulder-ins, circles, spirals, and then doing long diagonal and straight lines using the entire field at a good energetic trot while still maintaining a frame. She did excellent! She only complained once while I was asking her to extend even more, but a tap with the whip corrected that. We only worked on walk and trot, as her feet were long and I didn't want her straining anything. As if on cue, when we arrived back at the barn, Elisabeth's farrier had shown up to do another horse and Christa, so she did get a nice pedicure.

My lesson was at 6:30pm. The weather was a little warmer than that morning, but still cool (for us) in the low 70s. I returned to the barn early to set up part of the dressage arena (corners, and a couple of rails on the sides to create an illusion of an arena). I also clipped Lily's legs, face and bridle path, and tacked her up afterwards. I already had show jitters. We were going to practice our tests today.

Judy arrived and I took Lily outside to get on. She became very fidgety at the mounting block, which is highly unusual for her. July held her while I got on, and then Lily tried to walk off before I had my right foot in the stirrup. I'm not really sure what happened next. Apparently Julie quickly reached for the reins to halt Lily, and Lily panicked. She gave 3 enormous and completely unexpected bucks, slamming me to the ground. I jumped back up from the concrete-like footing (after all the rain, the sand in the arena was packed as hard as cement!!), fine but already feeling the ginormous bruise I was going to have on my right thigh. Immediately the entire barn was standing at the arena gate. One of the girls anticipated that I would need the longe line and brought it out for me before I could ask for it. I clipped it on, and proceeded to longe Lily. Calmly, quietly. She was still skittish when approached, and extra-willing to trot out. I had her canter, and then do a balanced,  controlled gallop, but she did not offer to bolt or buck anymore. We changed directions and repeated the same process. She relaxed enough where I felt better about getting on again. Mounting up was uneventful, but Lily was SUPER tense, a stark contrast to the relaxed willing mare I'd ridden the day before! Judy had us walk around the arena, working on some light bending, and then pick up a trot. Her trot was a total reversal to day 1: like riding a pogo stick. I could not get her to push forward and stretch. We tried this for a few minutes, but any leg pressure caused her to jump, a touch on the reins made her pop up her head. And then Judy told me to just stroke her neck. Lily instantly gave a big long snort and dropped her head. The tension in her body was reduced by about 50%. Wow. And duh! I know how well she responds to praise, but I was so tense myself that I wasn't thinking either. Ater that, the lesson improved. With a lot more praise, Lily almost relaxed to where she had consistently been the last few weeks. Then Judy wanted us to canter. I made a face; I didn't feel comfortable. We discussed it. Judy really felt it would help her relax more. I asked if I could do it in 2-point-it's the only way I can safely canter her when she's this jumpy. Judy said this was fine. She also said we didn't need to canter if I didn't feel confident. But after thinking about it for a minute, I felt better about the idea. So we cantered. I brought her into the gait from the walk, and asked her to canter with the verbal cue, "Up." She popped right into the canter, and we did a lovely canter around the entire arena, me in 2-point with a light contact on the reins, stroking her neck, her snorting happily with every stride. It worked: her following trot was a lot more relaxed. We then changed directions and repeated. She was just as good. Afterwards we practiced Intro A & B. Lily didn't  want to bend, but we at least finished the lesson on a good note. By then, night was falling, nad Judy and I ended up agreeing to practice Intro C Saturday morning at 9:00 am.

I was at the barn early Saturday morning to longe Lily before the lesson, and she was back to her normal self. We longed fully tacked with side reins on, and she did very well; the best I've seen her so far on the longe. Judy arrived when I was half-way through, and she was impressed with Lily's movement. After a brief warmup under saddle, we practiced the dreaded C test: I was afraid Lily was going to take off when asked to canter on the circle. She surprised me by keeping her cool, picking up the correct lead and relaxing into the circle within 2 strides. I felt much better about our test. As it turns out, you CAN show in Open and Novice in the same level, in the same show.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Cold front!

So with my strep throat I was in bed for 3 days straight, woke up on Monday to go to work and it started to rain, then on Tuesday I woke up coughing up a lung (still raining), which resolved by Wednesday when a lull in the (continued) rain finally allowed me to exercise my mare. Yup, Lily had a whole 6 days off. Probably a good thing-she had been working hard.

Wednesday I woke up feeling giddy with excitement at the thought of riding again but when I opened the curtains at 7:00 am, it was raining buckets, with thunder, lightning and gusts of wind not unlike those of a tropical storm. I puttered around the house until 10:30 am, when the rain finally stopped and the wind died down a bit.

This is what it looked like outside. Lovely weather, right? *sarcasm* At least it was not hot-around 76 degrees.
It was dreary at the barn-dark and quiet, no one else there, but still not raining, so I kind of threw Lily's bridle, surcingle, boots, and rope halter on her and dragged her out to the arena. Actually, not really "dragged"-she was perky and alert coming out of the barn, walking animatedly beside me. The poor baby was still chewing on a stray piece of hay leftover from her breakfast, but seemed as eager to go out and work as I was.

We started with a short walk on the longe to warm up, no side reins, but Lily was feeling frisky, so I let her begin trotting. Today's session was simply with the purpose of letting her get all excess energy out of her system, if we didn't get to achieve anything else with the weather. I had to smile when she started head-tossing and doing a snappy extended trot that almost had suspension to it. Of course I didn't have my camera on me to capture it-I had left it inside the barn for fear it would get wet if it suddenly decided to rain. Lily picked up a canter, and I allowed her. We then switched directions. I asked for a trot. She trotted for one circle then moved up into a canter. It started to drizzle. Lily cantered faster. All of a sudden, she bucked and took off in a mad gallop away from me, making a beeline in the general direction of the gate. She caught me so by surprise that the longe line escaped from my hands. This was not a problem, as she did come to a stop at the fence between the two gates, and allowed me to catch her. Right at this moment, it started to rain hard. So we had to run back inside. I stopped by the truck to grab my raincoat, then promptly put Lily up in the cross ties to wait out the rain. The minute I had snapped her in, the rain slowed to a sporadic drizzle. I brought her back outside, raincoat on. Back in the arena, I had her walk again, but she was still frisky, so I allowed her to trot and canter. She crowhopped once when asking her for a change of direction, and was acting weird and nervous like when she first arrived at the barn, but I attributed it to the horrible weather, the cooler temperature, and my sense of urgency. We moved across the arena in 30 meter circles, and in the far corner, she decided to take off in another gallop, but this time maintaining the circle around me. I slowed her down, and it started to rain harder. I figured out that Miss Priss doesn't like to get wet! *lol* She kept bolting to run away from the rain! I made her walk under the pelting rain before walking in, just so she'd learn to keep her cool despite a little water, then brought her back into the barn. This time I had actually taken all of her equipment off, when it stopped raining entirely and the ominous darkness of the sky lifted-it wasn't going to rain again for awhile. So again I put all her equipment back on (I have a very tolerant mare; she didn't even make a face at the idea of working again! Dianne had showed up at this point to take care of Pink and she laughed at us-"You're attempting it again?!") and brought her out to the arena a 3rd time. This time I snapped on the side reins, and we started over, walk/trot/canter/trot/walk in both directions. By this time she had settled down entirely and we ended up having a productive session after all.

Warmup walk with side reins. This was our third attempt at a workout session, after she'd settled down.


Yeah, her head. But she was stepping up under herself nicely.

Cool down free walk, sans side reins. I love that she actually will do this too under saddle now.

We worked for maybe 15 minutes in both directions, then I cooled her down, hosed her off, and put her on the cross ties with her ice boots on her hind legs. Reason? I lock her in her stall when it is this rainy, because she'll go out in the walkout and destroy the footing-it gets very deep if the horses are allowed outside when it rains. Her stall is large-14'x14'. But she does stock up a little when cooped up in the stall with no walkout and no turnout, especially after having been exercised. I've found that if I ice her legs after a workout when she's locked in the stall, the fluid buildup in her legs the next morning will be negligible.

It rained and stormed the rest of the day, but that night it cleared up, and a wonderful, beautiful cold front came in! I woke up at 6:00 am Thursday morning just to open the sliding door of the living room and feel the wonderful outdoor cold. It was 62 degrees. In South Florida, cold weather = beautiful weather. I was supposed to work today but had been called the day before requesting me to stay home because there were no patients in hospital. My paycheck is going to majorly suck, between the 2 days I took off due to the strep throat (we get no sick time) and this, but at least I got to ride in this beautiful weather.


The sky this morning. Gorgeous, huh? :)

Lily's legs were minorly stocked up this morning, as expected. I removed the stall chain from the walkout so I wouldn't forget later, and tacked her up. I changed out my awesome Parelli-type rope reins for the more traditional web reins that originally came with my bridle that are still brand new. I have to get used to the feel of them again for the show Sunday.

I longed her for about 10 minutes total, first without side reins to warmup, and then with. Just walk/trot/canter. No signs of the previous day's spazzing out; just relaxed and loose. And for the first time ever, she was holding herself in a frame at the trot with the side reins clipped on, tracking up and her head vertical instead of above the bit. Now I just need her to do this with me on her! :)


Pretty!

Then I got on. We did a long walk warmup for about 15 minutes (I used to be really good about looking at my watch before a ride, but lately I just get lost in the flow of it), first on the buckle, then a collected walk, then some shoulder-ins, haunches-ins and small leg yields. As soon as I asked her to trot, she asked to stretch down! This was a first. The rest of the session was like this-Lily continued to be relaxed, reaching for the bit constantly and holding it for a couple of strides. We had a nice canter to the left, but to the right, she threw her head up, took off at a gallop down the long side of the arena, swapped leads midway, and then I slowed her down carefully before we came to the corner. This happened twice. We did some more trot work to get her relaxed again, then I asked her for the canter again and rose into two-point. Nice, relaxed easy canter. This confirmed that it was me, not something bothering her. I am horrible with the right canter cue and tend to ask for it too strongly from years of riding OTTBs-I was cueing for the lead with my seat, then driving her forward, hence the head in the air and the ensueing gallop.

We trotted a little more to end on a good relaxed note, then I hosed down her neck, legs and hindquarters to take advantage of the cool breeze, and got back on to stroll down to the field. We did a couple of circles at the front end of the field, and returned home, where I gave her a good bath. Every time it rains she starts to get rainrot on the fronts of her hind cannon bones, even if I keep her indoors. So I scrubbed her down with Eqyss Microtek shampoo, left it on for 10 minutes, rinsed, and poured my vet's leave-in antifungal medication over her legs. This usually takes care of it within 24 hours. When I first bought her, she developed the nastiest fungal infection I had seen in a long time-it looked like she had mange. The skin over her hindquarters, gaskins, and around the entire hind cannon bones was crusty and painful. She lost all her hair over these areas. A round of antibiotics and the wonder antifungal medication took care of it within a week. I wish I had "before" pictures.

Her coat has pretty much grown back in 2 weeks! Arrgh! Oh well. I'm not body-clipping again before the show; my body-clipping skills are less than stellar at this moment, and I like her coat at its current state-it's just slightly long, and has turned into a deep dark chocolate brown. We'll do some face & leg trimming today or tomorrow, and that will be that.

This photo was taken last week. She's already fuzzier than that! But you can see how her coat has darkened, and the area under her flank looks redder.
After the barn, I ran over to the tack shop to pick up a pair of black gloves, another detail I need for the show. I laughed when I opened the door and the store owner (and show manager) was standing there
waving my show times with a big smile on her face. They were supposed to have been e-mailed the day before, and I had e-mailed her Wednesday night kind of frantic, automatically assuming that there had been a problem with my registration. (Yes, I'm a worrywart). As it turns out, entries had been delayed, so posting of the times had also been delayed. My turn in Intro A Open is at 9:16 am, Intro B Open is at 9:48 am (I go second in both) and Intro C Novice is at 10:36 am. I go first in C, and it's only me and a guy riding a horse named Hansel (Warmblood much?) The one thing here is that I thought I had requested Intro C Open, and apparently there is no such thing; it's not even listed as a class on the show times sheet...so now I have to find out what happens with Intro C, as I thought I couldn't go in a Novice class if I was showing in Open.  If I have to scratch  C I honestly don't mind, because I don't think we are quite ready for that class yet, and it's only $15 down the drain (a much needed $15 right now, but still)...I had been counting on having that extra week I lost due to being sick & rain to practice our canter departs. We'll see what can be done the next 2 days. I have a lesson tonight with Judy, so I will find out. Ahh the ins & outs of showing...Jumpers was so easy! You just show up, have a clear round without time faults, and that's it. *lol*

Friday, October 14, 2011

Sick days

Ugh!!! I haaaate being sick. I'd been feeling really run-down for the last couple of days, which is why I didn't ride Christa this week-I was using all my energy just to keep Lily and myself in training. Wednesday night I woke up at 1:00 am with a raging sore throat. I wasn't able to fall asleep again until 4:00 am...to wake up at 5:00 to go to work. As the day progressed, my throat got worse and my skin started to burn.  Thank God we were slow. By the end of the day, I could barely speak, it hurt so much; swallowing was a mission, and I was moving weird because it felt like my clothes were on fire. I could not sit down because being still made me just want to curl up and fall asleep. It was a very horrible day. I rounded the night techs as quickly as I could and rushed to the truck to get to the doctor's ASAP. I've had strep throat before, and it felt just like that; I needed antibiotics or the pain would keep me up all night again. It felt like I had a branding iron between my ears and throat.

Charles came with me to the doc's. It's a large walk-in clinic about 15 minutes from our house, the only place in our area that is open late and on weekends and holidays. They saw me back on the 4th of July when I broke my toe. A big plus about this place is that it is owned by a human criticalist who actually sees patients himself, and they have an on-site lab, radiology room, and pharmacy. Luckily, there was only 1 person in front of us and the wait was not long. The strep throat was confirmed; I was talking in a whisper at that point. They gave me the antibiotics right there, I took a whopping dose of ibuprofen, and then we went to the barn. Charles picked Lily's stall while I slowly set up her feed, walking like an old lady, then showed him with hand gestures how it is done so he could do it for me tomorrow (today). Setting up her feed is kind of like a small science project with her supplements. (I ended up sending him to the barn today with all the instructions written down and a diagram.*lol*) After that we stopped at Pollo Tropical to pick up some of  their Caribbean Chicken Soup. If you have a Pollo Tropical close to you, you need to try this soup. It's like your hispanic grandmother's homemade chicken soup, with plantains, corn, yuca, pumpkin and chicken so tender it falls apart when you stir the soup with a spoon. This soup always makes me feel better when I'm sick.

Today the throat is better but I'm still febrile. I texted the barn manager last night to let her know my current state of health, and word got around the barn quickly. Dianne was nice enough to do Lily's stall for me this morning. She even sent me a picture of her so I could see her today:

My little babyface :) Isn't she adorable? Thank you Dianne! This made my day.

And here is the video that I was talking about in this post a couple of weeks ago, that Charles took for me. Yes, we still have A LOT of work ahead of us, but one of the main reasons for the existence of this blog is to record Lily's progress. Sure, I could put draw reins or a chambon on her (a trainer in this area has all of her students using chambons for riding. *cringe*) and get her head down 100% of the time, but this will create problems in her back and neck, and cause her to develop her muscles incorrectly from forcing her body into a position it is not ready for. I'm in no hurry; I'm just looking forward to see her develop properly through correct and timely training. And no, I'm not completely dissing the use of artificial aids in the training and development of a horse, as there are people out there that have great success with them (and I've used them myself in the past but couldn't see how this would benefit the horse in the long run-I wouldn't want my head forced down for an entire workout session), but I've seen way too many horses ruined by their incorrect use, or sometimes simply overuse. 

Direct link to the video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G2daVw62PVE


You can see the moments where she drops her head and reaches for the bit, and also how her head swings from side to side when she's happy (but not on the bit). I still have a bad habit of riding with very little contact after so many years of riding hot TBs off the track. We're working on that too.

So that is the end of today's report. I'm going back to bed.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Dressage lesson

Lily and I had our weekly dressage lesson last night. After warm-up spirals, Judy had us working on the circle, and trying out the concept of pointing my outside hip towards Lily's inside ear (to keep her outside shoulder from popping out), while pushing her with my inside leg to my outside rein. Magic! When I got it right, she dropped her head and her back came up. We were doing entire circles with her like this. Judy was smiling from ear-to-ear and extremely impressed. She could tell we'd been doing our homework!

I paid my show entry fees last week and went ahead and purchased the Whinny Widgets for Introductory Level. I started looking at the tests, and was kind of horrified when I saw test C-this is the only one of the 3 Introductory Level tests that includes the canter. I was talking to Judy about it, and all you get to do is one circle in each direction at the canter. This requires major precision. So we worked on that, and it was hard-the first couple of times I "chased" Lily into the canter while trying to get her to pick it up exactly at C, which resulted in a pogo-stick canter with her head in the air that left her nervous and jiggy. So I would bring her back to a walk, let her relax, pick up a trot, get her to relax again, then quietly ask for a canter. Judy counted 3 strides between the canter cue and the actual canter, so I cued her 3 strides before C, and finally got it on the 3rd attempt. It was waaay better! Smooth transition into the canter, and smooth transition back to the trot. Judy has me exhale when I ask for downward transition from canter to trot. I'm not really sure why this works, but it does, and it works well-Lily comes out of the canter into a nice balanced trot. All I have to do is breathe out deliberately.

Under the setting sun afterwards, we worked on shoulder-in, haunches-in, and leg yields at the walk. All of them are looking (and feeling!) better. Judy worked on details of my position so Lily would be able to perform all of these movements more accurately. I know Lily can do anything I want; I just have to know how to ask for it. Dressage is so detail-oriented. So much more detail-oriented than any other of the equestrian sports. I honestly don't understand how some people find it boring, and I still wish I had had a good dressage trainer available when I was learning to jump in Puerto Rico-we had no dressage trainers on the island when I was learning to ride. It just never ceases to surprise me how the tiniest detail can make such an enormous difference in how Lily understands a cue. And then riders complain when a horse doesn't understand or they have training issues-it really, really is all about rider error. If your horse isn't getting it, you absolutely must check what YOU are doing first. Example: during leg yields, Lily's front legs were going faster than her hind. Judy corrected me, and I discovered that just pointing my outside toes up brought my leg and body into position so that Lily was suddenly leg-yielding correctly.

At the end of the lesson, Judy congratulated me. She had been smiling the entire lesson, watching and instructing us. I lost count of how many "Good jobs" we received! She said that any other trainer would've never given Lily a chance, to see the way she used to be when I first started working with her. Judy confessed that even she herself, when she first tried Lily out, thought that she'd only ever be good for the hunter arena; never dressage. To watch Lily today, she admitted that I had most definetely made her change her mind-Lily and I have proven that she is more than capable of being a good dressage horse. Judy said that only I could've done it. This made my week. :)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Day of Atonement

No, I'm not Jewish. Not that that's anything bad-I just happen to know today was the Day of Atonement because a lot of our hospital staff, including the owner, are Jewish. (Peculiar fact: most emergency/specialist veterinary hospital owners in South FL seem to be Jewish). It is supposed to be one of the most important Jewish holidays. So we were surprised when our hospital owner came in to work today as scheduled. He is a criticalist who has played a major role in the evolution of veterinary medicine, and it is always something very special to work with him. He is our very own sensei. My favorite thing about him is his humanity and infinite compassion both for his patients and his clients.

The day started out a wreck and stayed that way. The weather was absolutely horrendous. A tropical depression had formed right above Florida, and outside it looked like a tropical storm-very windy and cloudy, with bands of rain and gusts of wind up to 60 mph. Almost everyone was late to work because South FL drivers do NOT know how to drive in massive rain and wind and continue to drive their fancy sports cars at 90 mph on slick roads. The end result: crashed cars all up and down our highways on nasty days like today, causing the most awful traffic jams.

Then my favorite intern lost all of her discharge letters for the day, and after that we never recovered. All of our patients went home before noon, but we promptly filled the hospital right back up again. We had received 8 emergencies by the time I left at 7pm. 8 emergencies is not bad, especially when spaced out like they were today, but we were just so disorganized. I felt like I was running around like a headless chicken most of the day, and I was not alone. My intern continued to lose any and all paperwork placed in her hands the rest of the day, a source of great frustration for her. We couldn't figure it out-we could not find her papers, despite her never having left the ICU. I firmly believe that we have a prankster fairy in the hospital. Ever since we opened, the most random things have disappeared. I'm pretty sure my intern's papers are sitting next to the missing case of pee pads, the 55 creatinine slides that walked out of the lab fridge 2 weeks ago, and the 2 bags of Royal Canin dog food that were shipped to the hospital by mistake and proceeded to vanish mysteriously before they could get returned. I'm really starting to consider leaving food offerings for this prankster fairy, to see if she'll cut us a break already.

At the end of the day, I found myself connecting an IV extension set to itself instead of to the IV line it was meant for. I took a minute to sit down and laughed and laughed. It was just one of those days, you know?

By the time I left, it was dark outside thanks to the storm, and pitch black by the time I arrived at the barn to clean Lily's stall and set up her morning feed. The wind whipped into me as I walked from the car to the barn. Mark had put up her stall chain for me, and she was cozy and dry in her stall, finishing her timothy dinner. Some rain had blown in, making the shavings damp, and I ended up stripping most of her stall. I then dragged down one of our giant bags of free shavings (they are from a nearby cabinet shop; the shavings are from untreated pine, so are safe to use) to her stall. Lily hates shavings bags. She used to back herself up into a corner of her stall and tremble while I ripped open the bags and spread the shavings around. She then learned to calmly step outside into her walkout and wait for me to finish spreading the bedding before coming back inside. She'll stand at the stall entrance waiting to come back in. Adorable. :) Today she couldn't escape outside, but she did step out of the way and stood next to her stall chain while I emptied the bag. She doesn't tremble anymore. Lily went right back to eating while I spread the shavings around, but blew softly in my face when I touched her neck. It's always peaceful at night at the barn. Everyone was finishing their dinners and staying indoors, even the individuals that didn't have stall guards up. I tossed Lily one more flake of hay to keep her busy tonight, turned off the lights, and headed home. The storm whipped around the trees outside, and around me. It made the palm trees above rustle and whisper. This reminded me of an old quote I used to love:

"When I heard the storm, I made haste to join it, for in storms Nature has always something extra fine to show us." -John Muir.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Transitions

Today was a longer arena workout, as tomorrow I work and thus Lily will have the day off; most of this coming week I will be working alternate days. It is rare that I ride her 4 days in a row, because it is even more rare for me to get that many days off in a row from work, but that is why we alternated harder and easier workouts this week.

We worked on transitions from and to the halt today, the first time we had really focused on this outside of a lesson. Lily did great. Since my abs were sore from yesterday (because I'm a workout fiend, I couldn't just stop at the run/walk session, I also had to hit the free weights at home afterwards) I knew exactly when I was using them! Givng with the inside rein when she engages has also produced wonderful results-it is a much better reward for her, much more appreciated and understood, than just patting her on the withers. It is also easier for me to do without undoing everything we've achieved!

We would trot, working on flexion, then halt, back up, then back into a trot. We also did canter-halt-back up-canter transitions, which produced the most WONDERFUL uphill canter! She had never moved like this before. Probably not perfect to someone watching, but I could feel the difference-it is a big step in the right direction. But I realized today just how much she needs to learn the proper canter cue-she knows which lead to pick up on the circle, but halting in the center of the arena and asking to pick up a specific lead brought some confusion on her part. I had to use my seat firmly to cue her as well. We will have to work on polishing this up some more in the future, but for today, she did wonderful. She is so amazingly sensitive, and not in a bad way-she is always paying attention, and any slight shift or movement on my part will cause a reaction on her part as she tries to understand what I'm asking. I have to say that my mare is a joy to ride. I just have to work on cleaning up the way I communicate with her.

We did long free walks in between the more intense parts of today's session so Lily wouldn't get mentally tired. At one point, I had her stand still, and tried to see if I could get her to move just one hind foot at a time, while the rest of her remained still. I touched her belly with my right heel and shifted my weight to get her to move her left hind to the left. The result was her doing a leg yield to the left and then backing up when I asked her to stand. I love her. She tries so hard! I repeated the cue, but a lot more gently this time, and stayed centered in the saddle so she wouldn't think she was supposed to leg yield. She took 2 steps to the left with her hind legs. I gave the cue again, same gentleness, now to the right, and she took the one step. Lots of pats and a loose rein! Again to the left, and she got it! We also worked on reversing; I wanted her to step back as a result of me just shifting my weight backwards. She had improved significantly on this by the end of the session.

Elisabeth joined me in the arena, and after she worked Christa on transitions, we walked the girls around the perimeter, talking. Every once in a while, Lily would get ahead of Christa. I'd shift my weight back, and she'd shift gears, reverse, and then continue forward when I centered my weight again. I gave her a liniment bath afterwards and turned her out to eat grass with Christa. We did treat stretches for her neck, to both sides, her chest, and between her front legs. I then stretched each leg individually. She has gotten used to this and enjoys it; she always touches her face to mine when I'm stretching her front legs. My girl is just about the sweetest horse on the planet, I think.

A glitch in the Matrix

Lily and I warmed up in the arena yesterday again, but did a different warmup consisting of walk/trot/canter on a loose rein before even attempting to get busy working. She felt GREAT with front shoes on! What a difference! She was engaging more in both directions; no more significant problems to the left. And then we tried something different: haunches in. She was confused at first as to what I wanted, but she was doing her shoulder-ins so well, that just switching the leg pressure and maintaining the bend, she understood. After another round of w/t/c asking her to be more on the bit, we changed directions to the left at the trot, did a shoulder-in at the trot, then I asked her for the haunches in. She nodded one time as if to say, "Mom, you drive me crazy, but here goes", then the hind legs came in, and she did it, all the way around the corner! I immediately brought her down to a walk on a loose rein with lots of pats-we were done with our arena work; she had done way more than I expected, way faster than expected. My little girl had tried her heart out and she deserved a reward! We had only been in the arena for 15 minutes.

A video demonstrating the differences between shoulder-in, haunches-in, and renvers-our next project! (This video is not mine, it belongs to a Youtube user that goes by the name PrinceElmelund. Their website is http://www.paardenbegrijpen.nl. Prince Elmelund is also the name of the 4-year-old Frederiksborger gelding in the video demonstrating these moves in hand.)

Direct link:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u91N-voqAHo

Elisabeth had arrived at the barn and was tacking up Christa to go out. Lily and I joined them and we left the barn together, walking all the way to the park, then around the park road and through the pretty side trails, where we trotted. Coming back out of the trails, we came face to face with the children. There were school buses of kids at the park. We walked past a large group of them "Oh the horses! Look at the horses!" There were adults with them, so the children didn't even think to come running towards us-my greatest fear. This happened to one of our boarders: a group of campers ran towards her and her horse one day in the park. Just to pet the horsie. This woman was riding bareback with no helmet, and her horse is a very, very nervous old man. Upon seeing the tidal wave of kids heading his way, the horse spooked and bolted, and she ended up in the hospital with a pretty serious head injury.

The children called to us and waved, and we smiled and waved back, like riders in a parade. Christa and Lily walked on like nobody's business. We came onto the smaller field of the park, which has several small rolling hills. There is a small shelter next to it, which was also full of children having a birthday party; a clown was talking loudly and making noises. On the other side of the small field, there was an enormous tractor/lawn mower that looked like something you'd use to cut hay. I'd never seen anything like it, and if filled the air with a deafening noise. Lily's ears flicked every which way, but she remained attentive to me and did not spook or shy. I asked Elisabeth if she wanted to work the mares in this area; I wanted to test Lily to see how much she'd focus. Christa was fine; she's one of the most bombproof horses in the barn. We trotted large circles in one of the little valleys, and I was inmensely surprised when Lily arched her neck and engaged in a very forward and long trot, despite the 3 million and one reasons she could've used to be distracted/nervous/jiggy. Feeling brave, I asked her to canter. She gave me beautiful round canter, better than anything she had done yet at home!  We worked in both directions, then joined Elisabeth and Christa on top of one of the hills. Lily received a lot of pats and thank yous.

We then meandered our way down to the other side of the park, cantered down one of the straightaways, and arrived at the power lines. With a big grin, Elisabeth asked me whether I wanted to trot or canter. We were facing home, and I knew that no matter which gait we chose, the mares would go faster than if we'd been going in the opposite direction. I let Elisabeth choose, and she said that Christa will try to gallop if cantered in this direction, but she thought she could control her. So canter we did. I let Christa go in front and held Lily back so the mares wouldn't think they were racing side-by-side. The wind whistled in our ears; it was a breezy day, and the palm trees were dancing. As we flew past the first electric post, I realized that Lily's stride was getting bigger. I shortened the reins more and sat up straighter. Lily did not slow down. I half-halted her to make her pay attention, and right at that instant, Christa spooked and dove sideways off of the powerline track and onto the grassy drop to the right of the track. Elisabeth flew off. Lily shied at Elisabeth's fall and went in the opposite direction, onto the grass on the left side of the track. I lost both stirrups, and lost my balance but somehow managed to get myself back upright in a nanosecond (I think I grabbed mane), at the same time I called out, "Whoa Lily!" Lily slowed and in 2 strides came to a stop by the bushes next to the grass on the left side of the track. Christa was cantering away, and Elisabeth sat up. Thank God she was okay; I had flashbacks of that student's fall a month or two ago. Lily was now very jumpy; I tried riding her over to Elisabeth but my mare felt like she was about to explode. I had her stop and she was trembling. She had no idea what had just happened; I don't think she'd ever witnessed someone fall from another horse, and on top of that, her friend had just run away in the middle of a very stressful situation. I firmly told her to whoa 3 times before I trusted her to stay still long enough for me to hop off. The minute my feet hit the ground, I saw Christa trotting back to us. Thank God again! I'd been afraid Christa would run all the way out of the park and onto the road to get back to the barn. "Christa!" I called softly, holding my hand out to her. She came to a stop right in front of me and let me grab her reins. Elisabeth was still sitting in the grass. She looked okay, not in pain at all, but she had a bewildered expression. "Are you okay??" I asked her. "Yes." she said, "what happened?" "Christa shied to the side, and you came off. I have no idea what scared her." There had been nothing there-nothing had flown by, there had been no changes in terrain or anything lying on the ground that could frighten her. All I could think was that she had heard something in the wind.

 Elisabeth stood up and came to take Christa's reins. I studied her every move as she walked over and reached for Christa, and she still seemed fine; she was moving and speaking normally. I was still kind of freaking out; Elisabeth is 59 years old. "My goodness, I'm so glad I always wear a helmet!" she said. She had felt her head bounce off the ground. She was lucky she'd dropped on a nice soft patch of grass too; if it had been on the hard track it might've been a different story. After making 100% sure she was okay, I helped her get back on Christa. Lily stood still while I mounted up. "I guess we should do it again?" Elisabeth said, "we can't just end it like that." "I don't think we should canter them, though, " I said. "They are both nervous now and the wind isn't helping." I suggested we do a nice, slow sitting trot down to the park gate, then trot back up the powerlines and leave through the other exit. This way we could reinforce a positive experience as well as not let them think that just because they had had a bad scare, they'd get to go back to the barn right away. Both girls were very good both ways. Afterwards, we made our way across the big field at a walk. Elisabeth was still a little shaken up and nauseous, but I kept her talking to distract her. We made it out of the park okay, but rounding the corner onto our street, she stopped speaking mid sentence and just looked very pale and weak. I brought Lily in closer to Christa, "Are you okay?? Do you need to stop, get off? Please don't faint" I had all the intention of catching her if she started to slide off of Christa. She insisted she was fine; she was just very nauseous, but she didn't want to stop for a break. "Please don't tell me you don't want to ride with me again, " she said. This made me laugh; it caught me so by surprise! "I was going to say the same thing!" I said. I love Elisabeth; she is like a German version of my own mother. She has that same quiet serenity that can make everything okay just with her presence. Every time we hang out together, I feel at home.

After what felt like a thousand years (but was actually just 5 minutes), we made it back to the barn in one piece. Christa spooked again on the driveway, for no apparent reason again. Lily did not react at all. I actually reached over to grab Elisabeth. She just laughed and said, "This is why I keep saying that Christa is the first in this barn that needs to be desensitized!" We had been talking about doing a sort of obstacle course as an exercise for the horses to get them used to scary things/situations.

I helped Elisabeth untack Christa and brought her water. Her hands were shaking; I opened the bottle for her. Around that time, her daughter called on her cell (intuition maybe? The timing was perfect), and Elisabeth sat down in the rocking chair by the barn entrance to talk. She seemed much better sitting down and I didn't want to hover, so I took Lily outside for a bath. When I was finished, I returned to check on Elisabeth and found her lying down on the clubhouse sofa, which frightened me. She opened her eyes when I came in, and assured me she was fine before I could open my mouth to ask. After about 10 minutes, she came back out and finally seemed normal; she got to work mucking Christa's stall. At this point it felt okay to stop watching her obsessively.

I made a point of hugging Lily and thanking her for having stopped when she did, for listening.

Afterwards, we ended up going to our local tack shop to check out the consignment dressage saddles. Our tack shop is pretty awesome. It has been in the same spot for 25 years, always with the same owner. The owner competes nationally in dressage, and her trainer also works at the store part-time. Thus, there is usually a large selection of good quality consignment dressage saddles. Elisabeth talked to the shop owner about her mare and what she is looking for (the owner is also a certified saddle fitter), and she brought out some of the saddles that might fit Christa for Elisabeth to sit in. She took her time with the more affordable ones (there was one consignment saddle going for $2600! I don't want to know the cost of it new! It was in good condition, however, and had the super cushy seat and giant thigh blocks that are so desirable now) and she finally settled on a beautiful Dominus. It must've been used only a handful of times, it barely had wear marks on it. I knew for a fact that that saddle had been in the store over a year, and explained to Elisabeth that she might be able to talk the owner down on the price based on that alone. That afternoon, we tried it on Christa. (Elisabeth was really and truly fine after all-she was 100% herself when we met again at the barn) It seemed to fit okay. Not perfectly, but not horrible. I explained this to Elisabeth. Behind her shoulders it fits well, and I could not feel any bridging underneath it. I felt that the panels did not follow the contours of Christa's back as nicely as mine, but they did not seem to dig into her back either. There was full clearance of the channel over her back, but the front of the saddle was a good 5 fingers above Christa's withers (she basically has no withers), which is considered excessive. I'm not sure why this is a bad thing, but when she came out to do fittings on my previous horses, the store owner had explained to me that you don't want that much clearance either. I placed my saddle on Christa to show Elisabeth, and also to compare them for myself. There were minuscule details that indicated my saddle was still a much better fit. Not a favoritism issue at all, just a reality. Of course, I'm not a professional fitter either and I could be completely wrong. I'd just like Elisabeth to find something that fits as well as possible-I think this will help Christa tremendously with her back problems. My verdict for Elisabeth was: try the saddle, see how it feels so that she'll have an idea what she likes for herself as well, and then have the store owner come out and take a look at it on Christa before making any offers on the saddle.

Afterwards, I took Lily out to try some of Buck's training on her (I'm totally hooked on that movie right now). I had her walk next to me on the lead rope. I would stop, expecting her to stop next to me. Distracted, she would keep on walking until she was in front of me and then swing around to face me. I corrected her twice with a gentle tug on the lead rope when I stopped, to indicate she was to stop too, and she understood. Afterwards, I just kept a loop in the lead rope with a very light hand. I would then take one step forward and halt. She would do the same, staying next to me. I would walk fast and she would accelerate; I would then stop and so would she. I did a very slow walk, moving my legs in slow motion, and had to laugh when she actually did the same, moving her legs slowly too. I brought her to a stop, stood in front of her, and with one hand pointed the direction I wanted her to go in. She went. But this is something she's already good at-this is how we change directions on the longe; all I need to do is point in the direction I want her to go, and Lily understands.

I would then bring her to a halt facing me, and would walk forward towards her shoulder. She instantly backed up as I stepped forward. It was like a dance, and I was smiling from ear to ear when I took her back to the barn. I don't know if someone trained her this way-to pay attention, or if Lily is just unusually sensitive by nature, but it is really one of my favorite things about her-she is so tuned-in to my body language and emotions it's almost like she can read my mind sometimes. When I broke my toe, right around the time I became Lily's owner, I got around at the barn by hobbling or with crutches. Lily was absolutely amazing at the time. She would walk very slowly and carefully as I clutched a handful of mane with one hand and used her as support when leading her to and from the turnouts or to longe her.

Back home that evening, I decided to go for a jog. I have not done this in a year and a half. At that time, I had a personal trainer and a gym membership, and I worked out like a fiend, hard-core, 6 days a week. I lost 10 lbs and welcomed my 30th birthday the fittest I have ever been in my life. That changed when I got a horse. The money that used to pay the personal trainer went to pay board, and the money that went towards the gym membership became more useful as hay money. Around that time, I also finished tech school and started working full time. Between the job and the barn, I am on my feet up to 16 hours a day, 7 days a week. I make healthy food choices and Charles and I try to cook at home when we have the energy and motivation to do so (not as often as we'd like, but this comes with the territory when we have opposite sleep schedules and we both work crazy 12 hour shifts...). The 10 lbs have stayed off, and my arms are as defined, if not more, than when I had the personal trainer. However, I have not done worthy cardio (running, Spinning, plyometrics, etc) in 1.5 years, and it has been nagging at me. Horseback riding is hard work; it involves a lot of core and leg strength, and while I can post forever at the trot (everyone tells me this is like crazy unusual), I get wiped out after a good canter. I've been thinking about how much better I'd be if I were getting some real cardio in. So I went for a jog. "Jog" by my definition involves intervals of walking and running. I have to work very gradually into steady continuous running, as I hurt one of my Achilles tendons pretty badly a long time ago while training for my first 10K. Go too long too soon, and it will flare up again in a matter of days. So I did 1 minute running, 2 minute walking intervals for 20 minutes. Not a lot, but it was getting dark fast, and I didn't want to overdo it the first day either. I was surprised to discover that cardiovascularly, I had no problem running hard for the 1 minute, and was recovering within a minute of slowing to a walk. Not bad after such a long time without formal cardio! I guess all that walking, lifting and riding has been worth something after all. I did quickly remember muscles that I had forgotten existed. And of course I was sore today, but I was ready to go again for a short run this afternoon after the barn...except it started raining at 4:00 pm and is not supposed to stop until sometime early next week. *sigh*

Yup, welcome to the "Sunshine State." Right.


Christa & Lily enjoying the grass. And the sun, while it was still shining!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Buck

If you are into horses at all and haven't watched this movie, you need to! Buck. A documentary about Buck Branaman. It gave me goosebumps! It is already available on Netflix.



Direct link to the trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IShjmWYuHZ0

I have a new natural horsemanship idol!

Dancing Shoes

I arrived at the barn early today to get a short ride on Lily before the farrier came. I didn't want her to get hot, as I wouldn't be able to hose her down well before the farrier-this would've made her feet soft and mushy.

On the way to the barn, I saw the 3 lady peacocks. These gals come all the way from the park, cross the street, and make their way through each of the barns, stopping at ours. It's pretty funny. We've found them hanging out on the feed room roof, in Lily's walkout, and checking out the view from the arena wall. I got a picture of them as I was driving past.

The 3 lady peacocks. Pardon the crappy picture-I took it with my phone; forgot the camera today.

She sometimes shakes her head when we ride in the park or the field-sometimes because of flies and sometimes because her forelock blowing back in the wind tickles her ears! The other day I was at our local tack shop with Judy, and they had just brought in the cutest ear bonnets, with the microfiber ears and double piping. Judy found a black one with gray and white piping that matched Lily's black saddle pad perfectly! I finally remembered to bring it to the barn today, and tried it on her. Despite being "full" size, it fit her as if it had been custom-made for her. Very cute. :)

Another crappy phone pic, but you can see how she looks like a jumper with her ear bonnet on!

Borrowing an idea from Stacy from when she was training Klein to jump and my copy of 101 Jumping Exercises, I set up this with the cavaletti:



The cavaletti are set in a star pattern for working on circles. I used a lunge line to measure the circle-each cavaletto's outer x was set to be even with the far end of the lunge line. This ended up being very, very useful today!

We warmed up as usual w/t/c, and she was as bendy and soft as she's been for the last 2 weeks going to the right. She's starting to carry herself more and more in a frame in this direction. We changed directions and went to the left. Again that stiffness. I decided that today we would work through it, we would figure it out. Shoulder-fore was met with resistance, so I pushed her into a canter. She was lovely at the canter, and we went a couple of times around the arena to get her to loosen up. Then back to the trot, and I brought out the bag of tricks to see what would help her get that bend. Shoulder-fore after canter? Nope. Counter-bend on a circle? Nope. Half-halts with the inside rein on a circle? This helped. We did large circles, and she started to drop her head and lift her back a couple of strides at a time. Judy always wants me to pat her with the inside hand but when I do this, she loses the bend. I do turn her body with a firm inside leg at the girth and pushing her body around my inside leg with the outside calf, but she is just learning and still needs that inside rein to maintain the circle. So I rewarded her the natural horsemanship way-I released the pressure on the inside rein each time she dropped her head. This worked really well!! We were circling around the cavaletti star at this point, so I asked her to spiral in to the cavaletti so we were going over the poles. She had to drop her head to look at them the first time around, and then she understood-it was a lot easier for her overall to engage her hind end and lift her back while going over the poles. We circled over them several times, then spiraled out to circle around them again. She maintained the bend, and continued to engage for several strides with half halts and release. We had been working for 25 minutes at this point, and we stopped. Lily had done an excellent job, and I wasn't going to drill her; we ended on a very good note! I sprayed down her shoulders and rump, and took her out for a walk in the field.




We looked at scary things in the field. This is one of the old cross country jumps someone had set up and never maintained. Note the deep hoof prints in the sand before and after this "jump"-they almost look like burrows, they are so deep! I, personally, wouldn't be jumping any horse over this with footing like that. Lily used to be terrified of this one (I guess it looked like a panther crouching in the grass) but today she didn't even look at it; you can tell by the angle of her neck in the photo.
Back at the barn, it was still about half an hour early for the farrier. I got to work on Lily's ears. She won't let me clip, trim or shave them, though she will let me touch them without a problem. So we worked on this, using one of those little mini horse shavers. At first, Lily was extremely reactive, and I couldn't figure out if it was towards the sound of the shaver as it took off her ear hair, the sensation, or both. I took out an old pair of horsey ear plugs I own, and inserted them in her ears (she was fine with me doing this). Back to shaving. Still reactive, but she settled down quickly, and ended up pressing her head to my chest while I finished shaving the inside of her left ear. :) The right ear was a little harder, but I persisted until she relaxed and let me finish. She received a lot of treats to help embed the idea that ear trimming is not a bad thing. Afterwards, I cleaned out her ears with baby wipes. They were very dirty, and it was evident without the hair. I don't think anyone had ever done this before. She was fine with this too. The ear plugs were removed after everything was done.

Around this time, the farrier arrived. After looking at her feet, he determined that the "little foot" is actually the correct foot, and the flared foot is the one that is cause for concern. (I had been concerned about that flare for awhile now, too). Shoes would be the best way to keep this from getting worse given the footing and weather of Florida-it is hard for them to have consistently solid feet when it rains buckets every day 7 months out of the year. She has been 3 months barefoot, and though she is not tender-footed anymore, she is still wearing her feet down to nubs despite daily applications of Venice turpentine to her soles. He evened out her feet considerably and placed front shoes only. Just walking Lily back to her stall I could already tell that she feels more comfortable.


Almost even! My farrier does a beautiful job. Dianne said Lily now has her dancing shoes on.
Afterwards, I locked her out in her walkout while I finished picking her stall. She has a nice big walkout but will still urinate inside the stall as soon as I put her back in. I have seen her go straight outside to the walkout, then turn around and come indoors to pee! (I guess this is better than urinating on the crossties...Christa loves to do that...) So I put her out and kept her out until she urinated outside. I let her in as soon as I saw the puddle behind her back feet. She was so cute, though-she stood at the stall chain, staring in, looking all confused.

"Can I come in already?"

I love her!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Gotta love South Florida

South Floridians are an interesting group. They are made up of a large group of Northeasterners, Caribbean, Central and South Americans, crammed into a small, flat area of mostly swamp land covered in cement, and cooked in the broiling sun about 350 days out of the year. The result: a melange of crazy, nasty, angry people, who drive too fast (ever seen an Argentinean drive in their native country? Ever see how New Yorkers drive in the city? Not much difference. This is the kind of driver that inhabits this part of the state) and have no patience or cordiality toward their fellow human being, despite the entire area being a fascinating cultural melting pot ("melting" is a key word here). They talk about Seasonal Affective Disorder in the North, but somebody needs to do a study on the effect of the heat on people's tempers in densely populated areas. I'm pretty sure they'll find a trend. Maybe we could call it Thermal Affective Disorder, or TAD. Cuz we're all just a TAD bit angry down here: South Florida is known to have one of the meanest group of people, overall, in the country. You can identify non-natives a mile away because they are usually so cheery and polite! "Natives" is a another interesting term in South Florida, as there are very few true "native" South Floridians, whose families were born and raised here for generations prior to the Cuban immigration. You will find the true Floridians further north, often riding around in a red pickup truck with a Confederate flag across the back window. The give new meaning to the term "deep South".

You're considered a native South Floridian after living here for 3 years. That's how little it takes for you to get stuck here, because once you move in, you can't ever afford to move out again. Unless you find a job that pays for your relocation. Like the Army. Almost everybody comes from somewhere else, either recently moved themselves or born here with families who moved in from another country or state. This brings us to the language barrier. Its funny to hear the first experience of, say, a Virginian getting lost in Hialeah. If you've ever been to Hialeah, you know exactly what I'm talking about. If you haven't, well, here's the run-down: Hialeah's streets run around and sideways-not the traditional grid pattern of streets everywhere else in the US. This problem is compounded by street numbers that follow no rational order. The problem is further compounded by the fact that Hialeah is 99% Cuban. Cubans who have lived there since Fidel came into power. Cubans who never bothered to learn English because they never had to: they now own most of the gas stations, convenience stores and grocery stores in the area, and have populated those same confusing streets. However, knowing Spanish doesn't guarantee that you'll have a better chance down here. Don't venture into the heart of Miami without a recently updated GPS, or you could wind up getting lost in the middle of the Haitian ghettos. Why is this bad? #1. It's the ghetto. #2. Haitians don't speak Spanish. They speak Creole, their own French dialect. Good luck with that! My school in downtown Miami was one wrong turn away from the Haitian ghetto. After making that one wrong turn and experiencing a minor panick attack, I invested in a nice Garmin.


A satellite view of a Hialeah residential area

Now, don't get me wrong: I have met some really nice people here. Some of them turned out to have an agenda, but I have made more real friends while living here than anywhere else I've lived before, including Puerto Rico, where I lived for 18 years! However, this brings me to South Floridian horse people. Of all the groups here, I think they are an entire species apart, with some pretty unfathomable possibilities in the realm of crazy. I have met some horsey people here that are worthy of being preserved and placed in a museum as part of the exhibit "Tribute to Insanity". The best time of year to catch these specimens is late summer/early fall when the effects of TAD are at their highest. The heat makes these people have arguments with their barn managers and fellow boarders, getting them evicted or just enticing them to go searching for a new barn to torment. I mean, board at. I swear it's a pattern. At every barn I've been at, the crazies really do seem to come out of the woodwork at this time of year.

We are dealing with one of these specimens right now at our barn. This woman is older (early 60's), has 3 horses, and is built like a bull. She vomits words. You know what I mean-one of these people who literally cannot not tell you something. Every single thought going through her head spills out of her mouth. Add to that a dogged persistence-she will not shut up, but she will not let you walk away either. Then toss in a dash of irresponsability, a sprinkle of thirst for money, and a whopping dose of short fuse, and you have...a monster! This woman has a reputation that has preceded her on our street for over a year, when the first boarder arrived fleeing from her presence. Said woman has been at 3 different barns in the last year, and is trying to make our barn her 4th. Even though she can't afford my barn manager's rates, even though we don't have 3 empty stalls available to begin with! She showed up in person, without an appointment, the first time she came to see our barn, and pretty much ambushed my barn manager as she was getting out of her car. Making my barn manager nervous right off the bat is not a good way to get off on the right foot with her. My barn manager explained the rules at our barn and board rates were discussed. Just from looking down the aisle, you can see that there is only 1 stall available. This woman started to make plans to move in that weekend with her 3 horses! My barn manager had to call her and tell her no, and explain again that we don't have available stalls. The woman sends her friend over a week later to bring my barn manager a deposit check to hold the stalls. Despite there not being 3 stalls available. My barn manager explained the situation again. The friend called my barn manager again the next morning (today) begging a third time. The woman won't call herself; she has her friends do the dirty work. My barn manager is officially feeling harassed, and starting to get angry. We'll see how this plays out. South Floridian barn life always involves some kind of drama.

I rode Lily this morning. We had our make-up lesson this past Saturday, and she was very resistant to bend to the left, to the point where Judy had us only work to the right (this decision was made based on the fact that the farrier is coming out Wednesday to evaluate her). We did a lot of 20 meter circle cantering, where Judy had me sitting back in the saddle and placing more weight into the inside foot, as I now have a tendency to step out in the circle, which prevents Lily from bending correctly. This was a new thing for me-for years I would lean into the turn when riding jumper courses, and my instructors always told me to step out to balance the horse coming into the jump. So I corrected the bad habit, and created a new one for dressage. *lol* You just can't win sometimes. All Judy wanted was for me to have my weight evenly distributed on both feet. This proved to be exceptionally hard, especially when you added in the sitting back in the saddle part. Lily was cantering fast, but her strides were big, which is what you want in dressage. I felt like an ugly mess, but with Judy's encouragement I started to do better. She's very understanding and patient. I <3 my trainer! We practiced halting from the canter, using my abdominals and seat to bring Lily's weight back onto her haunches when stopping. This proved to be hard for Lily, too, but she was a good girl and tried her best-she was giving me 3 short walk strides into the halt, but she was rocking back correctly and her halts were almost square. After the halt, we would back up, and go immediately into the trot, and after achieving balance at the trot again, we would go back into the canter. After the 2nd time of this sequence, Lily was anticipating it, and her trot became faster expecting that canter. I laughed-she's really starting to have fun with our workouts and it was cute to see her looking forward to canter. This was a first! She's also started giving big snorts at the beginning of the session as she starts to warm up, an indication of tension release. She did it for the 2nd time at the beginning of a lesson.

Today I took her into the arena to warm her up. She REALLY wanted to work today, which made me smile! Her warm up walk was long and loose, head down with the reins on the buckle. We worked on bending at the walk, which she did very well today-no signs of stiffness to the left. We did large circles at the trot, cantered in both directions, me trying to focus on sitting back more and get my weight even on both feet. We then trotted more, but instead of being looser, Lily felt more stiff to the left at the trot. I brought her down to the walk and we did some shoulder-in and light leg yields, and she was excellent again. To the right, she was bringing her head down and working nicely. Can't wait for the farrier tomorrow; I'm hoping this will even her out.

Afterwards, I took her to the park. She was so cute going down the driveway-she actually walked FASTER when we reached the street! And this was her first time going out by herself in over a week. No hesitation, no barn sourness! I asked her to trot as soon as we hit the powerlines, and trotted all the way around, down the by the street that leads to the petting zoo. Lily was very "up", but her trot wasn't too choppy, so I pushed her forward, trying to get her to extend, but she moved chest first. Her shadow looked like it belonged to a jumper galloping towards her fences-her head was that high. I could've tried to force her head down, but didn't want to get into a fight with her-it was important to me that she continue to have fun today, so I just shortened my reins and had her continue to go forward. There were cops stopping cars on the highway next to the park, but the flashing lights and sirens didn't faze her. We did some shoulder-fores, but she was too "up" to focus, so we ended up doing some circles in the grass by the road. Her head immediately came down, her back came up, and her hind end engaged. Beautiful. As soon as we went back to working in a straight line however, the head came up and the back hollowed. *sigh* At least she was having fun today. I guess I can't expect too much when this is our first real working outing in the park.

 There is a big light show exhibit held at the park every year between Thanksgiving and New Year's, and the lighted figures were spread out on the grass on both sides of the road further ahead.


Taken at last year's light show exhibit. These reindeer were actually laid out on the grass today when we walked by-Lily had the opportunity to get a good look at them

I had her slow to a walk so she could see the figures. She did her one-eye one-ear head cock at them, but continued on without even a sidestep. Good girl! As we rounded the bend, however, we heard heavy machinery at work. As in knocking down trees types of sounds, with crackling and roaring. We hadn't heard it before because of the wind blowing the sound in the opposite direction. Lily jumped and half spun around. I made her turn back and brought her to a stop. She was not having it, and honestly, from the way the machinery sounded, I didn't really want to try to force her through; I had no idea what we would encounter. I calmed her down, we did a big circle at a walk, and then we slowly turned around and started our way back. More light figures on the grass for her to look at. We trotted back up the powerlines then looped around over the hills, around one of the lakes, and back by the gazebos. I let her canter down the straightaway that goes past the entrance to the main trails, and then we walked all the way down the powerlines and back to the barn. We had ridden for an hour total, including the workout in the arena. It was the perfect day for a long workout, though-very sunny with a clear blue sky, and a tremendous cool breeze blowing-neither of us broke a sweat. Lily got a bath at the barn, and I let her graze in the parking lot while I prepared her lunch. She also got dewormed today! She hates it, but I caught her by surprise, so this time she received her full dose without spitting most of it out!

In the afternoon I returned to ride Christa. I forgot my spurs, but got her to warm up at a nice working trot and rolling canter (no bucking today!) However, I could not get that extra titch of impulsion. Elisabeth was watching, so I had her hold Christa for me while I ran back inside and got my spurs. After that, she was perfect. After one turn around the arena, she was lifting her back and engaging, neck arched, going to the left. Even her tail lifts when she does this! Gorgeous! Going to the left, it took a little longer. Initially she braced, and kept getting distracted at the far end of the arena. There were lessons going on at one of the barns one property over, and she could see the movement between the trees and hear the instructor's voice. She would turn her head to look, so I turned this into a counterbend coming around the corner of the arena, and pushed her with my inside leg into my outside hand. Voila! Her head came down and her inside leg stepped up under herself. After that she stayed engaged to the right. Not as easily as going to the left, but still a huge improvement from earlier. Last week, Elisabeth had told me that Christa would be resistant to go straight when she rode her in the park and would bulge out in one direction. I had tried to explain to do a shoulder-fore in the opposite direction to help straighten her, but knew she didn't understand. I demonstrated a full shoulder-in for her, with her standing in the arena so she could watch Christa's legs performing the 3-track, first at a walk, and then a sitting trot, where I drove her forward with my seat. With the previous correct warm-up, Christa's shoulder-in at the trot was BEAUTIFUL and effortless!! In both directions! Again, I wish I had video! Elisabeth was thrilled. We ended the workout then, after half an hour, simply because Christa had done so good; I didn't want to overdo it.

For those of you who don't know what a shoulder-in is (since this is like the 4th time I've mentioned them), here is a video with Jane Savoie, demonstrating and explaining how it is done, and why it is so important. Jane Savoie has coached numerous US eventers and the Canadian 3-day event team at different Olympics.




Here is also the direct link to the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yPmTqSBM8k0&feature=relmfu