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

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Counter canter!

We had a really good ride last night. Lily's canter is improving literally by leaps and bounds this week!

It has been miserably hot and humid pretty much since August started, and it stays hot until dusk. I've been dragging myself out of the AC of the apartment at 5:00 pm into the sweltering sauna of the outdoors, to get my chores done before riding. By the time I've finished mucking the minnis' and Lily's stalls, and picking the manure in the turnouts, I'll be dripping sweat but it will finally have cooled down reasonably enough to go for a ride. ("Reasonably" being from 92 with a heat index of 107 to 83 that feels like 85...Believe me, 85 feels cool after that whopping humidity)

I tacked up Lily and took her for a quick hack around the park as a warmup. We walked down the street, then picked up a trot at the white trail, most of the way down to the park entrance (she had to slow to a walk to check out some palm fronds on the ground) and then back up to a trot down the powerlines. She was eager to go faster; I had to control my posting to keep her at a nice energetic long trot. If I let her, she'll simply revert to faster, shorter strides.

At the end of the powerlines we made a left, where we had to cross the road. Here Lily came to an abrupt stop and would not move forward. I couldn't understand why-we've crossed this road a million times; it's the park's internal road. But all of a sudden I hear a quiet whirring sound, and a group of about 8 cyclists came flying by, low on their bikes. I'd forgotten that the park holds mock bike races on Wednesday nights in the late summer. Lily quietly watched them go by. As soon as they had passed, she willingly stepped onto the road without a problem. Smart mare! She saved all our butts!

We trotted up and down the slopes next to the park pastures  (she was itching to canter coming off the hills, and tossed her head in annoyance when I didn't allow her to), then made a left again to make our way back, following the park road. Here Lily asked to walk, and I let her. We picked up a trot again about 100 feet later, as we hit the cover of the trees by the side of the road, and continued our trot until we were back at the powerlines. I need to start bringing my camera again... I had to half halt her twice here, because again she wanted to canter! I then dropped the reins and she picked up her big swinging walk back home. One day before we leave I hope to canter her in wide open spaces of the park, but not yesterday, not when she's so eager to go!

We trotted back up the white trail to keep her warmed up, then walked down the road home. The whole hack took us about 20 minutes.

Lily usually pauses by the barn entrance-I had gotten her used to me dismounting here after trail rides, so I had started mixing it up, sometimes getting off in the arena. She must've sensed my purpose, because she walked on into the arena without hesitating by the barn, and after twice around at a walk, I asked her to trot. She was sucking back in the far corner by the open gate, next to her paddock where Willy the mini was turned out. She pinned her ears when I asked her to extend at this point, so I surprised her by asking her to canter instead. She picked up a nice, forward canter, and we went around once in in each direction, with a simple change in the middle. She has really started to nail her simple changes-going from one lead to the other in 3 trot strides or less. After cantering to the right, THEN I asked for the down transition to the trot, and she surged forward, reaching for the bit, and I let her slide the reins out of my hands. She only did a couple of strides of true stretchy trot, then chose to continue in a long hunter frame. We went around the arena twice in each direction in this fashion, allowing her to stretch because I had some more challenging work in store for her.

We did some shoulder-ins and counter-shoulder ins at walk and trot; she was getting frustrated with the counter shoulder-in tracking left at the trot-I had to lightly tap her left shoulder with the whip a couple of times so she would stop popping it out, which elicited some angry head-tossing. But she complied, and after 2 correct steps, I praised her and let her walk on a long rein for a few strides before switching to a different exercise. Since she has no problem with the shoulder-in tracking left, I picked her back up again and at the walk I asked her to first do a shoulder in, then pushed her over to the inside with my outside leg. She did lose some of her bend, but not completely, as she stepped laterally to the inside. She half-passed! A baby half-pass, but a half-pass nonetheless! 3 strides to reach the quarter line, and with the same bend, I asked her to step back to the rail: a leg yield. This is her stronger direction for leg yielding so she had no problem with that. We zig-zagged like this between the rail and quarter line down the long side of the arena, about 3 zig-zags for each since we have a smaller dressage arena, and it wasn't perfect, but I was really impressed with Lily for trying. She can half-pass all day long to the right just fine, but I had stopped working on it because she was so one-sided: she could not do it to the left AT ALL at the time. I know this is a really advanced move, but it was cool to revisit and see how our conditioning is just making everything easier for her. After that, I let her do a large figure 8 on a loose rein with her nose to the ground. She's funny-this is her reward of choice.

I picked her up again, and after I had her at a collected walk and listening, asked her for a left-lead canter. She obliged, going up into the canter in a clean, powerful transition! Good girl! This was our best walk-canter transition ever. Circle once, and, on a whim, I asked her to cross the diagonal still on the left lead. "Good girl, good girl, good girl!" all the way into the corner, still on the left lead. We got one stride of counter canter in the corner and I asked her to walk before she attempted to do a simple lead change on her own. I rewarded her with a couple of strides of walk on a loose rein, then picked her back up and asked for a right lead canter. Down the long side, and as we reached the opposite short side, I focused on sitting up straight and long, and she responded by collecting, collecting, collecting! Good girl! And down the diagonal still on the right lead. Same thing: we made it past the corner for one stride in counter canter, and again, walk on a loose rein before that simple change.

We repeated this exercise a couple of times, until we had a couple of strides of counter canter in each direction, and then we just cantered, with some shoulder-ins thrown in. I have to say, her canter work almost feels better than her trot work at this point.

Afterwards, we did some more trot lengthening in a more upright frame to let her stretch out, where she felt powerful and FORWARD, and we ended it at that. It was a beautiful ride where, as usual, there were no witnesses.

This was HUGE, HUGE progress! I'm guessing it was Lily's first owner who trained her like this-she was a hunter prospect originally-but she has always had those auto simple changes. She can't STAND to canter on the wrong lead, and would do simple changes even without asking. I had attempted the counter canter half-heartedly a couple of times back when she was flightier under saddle, but had not pressed the issue for fear she would freak out, and she would always do that simple change the minute we crossed the diagonal at a canter. This time she was trusting me, listening. I really did have to say "Good girl" with every stride to KEEP her in the counter canter, though!

She got a nice long bath in front of the fan, and I put her ice boots on her back legs to help her cool down even more afterwards. She was sweaty to the touch after the ride, but I think her sweating is starting to slow down with the  muggier weather and hotter nights. We've made it a month and a half longer this year, though-last year I wasn't aware she had a sweating issue until she was mine, at the very beginning of July, and by the time I realized it, she had almost completely stopped sweating! At the time, I scrambled to start her on One AC and do the round of Guinness in her beet pulp, but once the problem has started, it's hard to reverse it until the weather cools down-her sweating was patchy at best, limited to under the saddle and along her mane. I think I wrote about this, but I was hosing her off before and during our rides (at the time, there was a hose by the arena fence) as well as after, and carrying a spray bottle of 50/50 rubbing alchohol mixed with water to spritz her with during our rides and longe sessions.

This year, I kept her on One AC all the way through. Our feed room gets hot and muggy (we never order more than a week or 2 supply of hay at a time), so as the temperatures have been rising, my Smartpaks were getting increasingly yucky before the next round of them was due, especially the One AC-I was starting to wonder at its effectiveness. The price of the supplement through Smartpak also went up around that time to almost $30 for the 28 day supply, whereas I can buy a jar of it (~30 day supply) for $23 at the warehouse...so I cancelled the Smartpaks of this supplement, and am keeping the jar in the feed room fridge. I think it really has made a difference in her sweating. Fingers crossed that she continues to sweat until October, when the nights start to get cooler.

In a year, Lily has gone from being a lanky TB-type, to a dressagey-looking beast, to little fatty...she has a nice little fat pad now at the base of her tail and is starting to show traces of fat pads behind her shoulder blades; I really stepped back and looked at her this week. I don't want her to lose a lot-maybe keep her the same or ever so slightly slimmer. I started cutting out her rice bran oil, and have her down to 2oz a day from 8oz (she has been a hard keeper up until now-I don't think I've stressed here how HARD it was to get weight on her!). I don't want to cut the oil out completely because it has contributed to her butt dapples that I adore. :) I might cut back on her dinner beet pulp next-she gets 3 quarts of plain, unmolassed beet pulp, mixed with 1 quart of Triple Crown Low Starch, and 2 quarts of Ontario Dehy Timothy Balanced Hay Cubes, all soaked together in a giant rubber feeder. Breakfast is 3 quarts of the same beet pulp with 1 quart of grain (no hay cubes-she's not crazy about them. I originally wanted to D/C the beet pulp because of the inverted calcium:phosphorus ratio, and keep her on the hay cubes with the grain, but she wouldn't finish her meals) also soaked. I started this up over the winter when I was concerned about her water intake. I've never been satisfied with the amount of water she drinks, so this is one way of making sure she stays hydrated.

Lily is also the only horse in the barn to have the luxury of pretty much free-choice hay: she gets a big haynet with 1 or 2 flakes of 3-wire timothy for breakfast in the morning (I go by weight-probably about 8-10 lbs), a large flake (about 5 lbs) of T&A (75% timothy) for lunch), a small flake (about 3 lbs) of the same T&A for her early dinner along with her beet pulp/grain/hay cube mix, and another big haynet with a flake of 3-wire timothy, a flake of T&A, and a small flake of coastal hay as a filler (this net will be heavy! Probably between 10-15 lbs). I'll be cutting out the coastal after this bale is out-too scary. I didn't dare feed it by itself, especially with her water intake issue. Have I mentioned she can be a picky eater? She can be terrible!!! Especially when she's in heat-she'll leave half of her beet pulp dinner when she's in heat, no matter what I do. She's also a big social eater-she eats better now that Bali is in the stall next door (actually finishing one round of hay before the next meal is due), and the only way I could get her to finish her dinner haynet was by putting little Willy the mini out with her...(of course he helps her, too, which is why the haynet is so heavy now.) We tried turning her out with the other horses, but since Lily is so submissive, they would bully her and steal her hay.

With this crazy amount of food, any other horse would've looked like a whale at this point. I'd definetely give her a solid 6 on the body condition score system, which would define her as "Moderately fleshy":
" May have slight crease down back; fat over ribs is fleshy/spongy-ribs still palpable; fat around tailhead soft; fat beginning to be deposited along sides of withers, behind shoulders, and along sides of neck. "

My fleshy little girl.
Bad conformation shot and you can't see her dapples in this pic, but love her soft expression here. :)

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