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



Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Collection

Yesterday, I was off from work, and it so happened that Mark, Dianne and Elisabeth all played hookie from their jobs! So in the afternoon, all 4 of us tacked up for a trail ride and rode in the park for about an hour and a half. Another girl from a nearby barn, who is Mark's neighbor, joined us on her little Arabian part of the way.

Lily was feeling fresh after having had Monday off, but was a good girl most of the way. We looped around the outskirts of the park, following the road, and all 5 of us trotted on the straightaway that runs parallel to the highway (there is a fence and grass between the park road and the highway). I held Lily back, trotting right behind the Arabian and Crissy. Lily arched her neck, lightening on the bit, and proceeded to collect beautifully. Mark and Dianne were trotting behind us, and Beau bumped into Lily as they caught up to us. This made Lily jump, and she tried to use it as an excuse to go into a canter. I sat deeper in the saddle and half-halted to keep her at a trot, but she fought me, trotting sideways into the street in a perfect half-pass! I could not keep her straight. I tried bringing her down to a walk, but she was too riled up-she continued to trot sideways to one side or another, until we came around onto the powerlines, when everyone slowed to a walk. She finally responded and relaxed a little, and I brought her to the end of the pack, next to Dianne and Pink. As we moved further down the powerlines, though, both Pink and Lily continued to attempt to trot, practically piaffeing in unison when Dianne and I held them back. You'd think they'd rehearsed it!

The girl on the Arabian took off, cantering away on her own, and we turned around and went into the main trails. It was a nice ride. After about half an hour in the trails, we came back out on the other side of the park and headed back. There is a steep hill on this side of the park, and both Beau and Crissy, in the lead, cantered up it. I was right behind Crissy, and tried to hold Lily back at a trot to make her work harder. Nope. She arched her neck again, not fighting me at all, but I felt her gather herself up like a spring then leaped up the hill in 2 enormous strides, catching about 3 feet of air with each stride. It scared me for a second (my previous horse bucked his way up a hill on 2 separate occassions with me on him and it was a miracle I stayed on-this gave me a momentary flashback) but then I realized that the movement had been so smooth she hadn't unseated me at all. I'd never felt so much power from her. 7 months of conditioning is starting to really show. Going down the hill on the other side was a greater challenge, because Lily wanted to hurry after Beau and Crissy, who were already crossing the street on the other side, and Pink was also giving Dianne a hard time-it was too steep a hill for the 2 mares to be cantering down it safely. I shouted at Elisabeth to wait for us, and both her and Mark turned around and came back to meet us. Pink and Lily immediately settled down and proceeded at a walk.

Back at the barn, I worked Lily at the trot in the arena for another 10 minutes, to see if we could re-create that same trot she'd done for me in the park twice already. I was able to get her into that same smooth collected trot, with her light on the bit and her hind legs stepping underneath her. We did several changes of direction and circles in the arena to see if she'd stay the same going both ways, and it worked-she did. She played with the contact, stretching her head down to get me to loosen the hold on the reins, but this time I didn't allow her to take the reins out of my hands like on our last ride in the arena-I stayed firm, only considerably lightening my touch on the reins when she lightened herself on the the bit. She continues to figure things out; she worked awesome!

Afterwards, I turned her out with her dinner, and when Judy arrived at the barn, I declared that our final goal wasn't Second Level Dressage-it was now Fourth! *lol* Working Equitation, here we come!

Conditioning trail ride

I had a 4-day weekend last week, and took the time to ride. We went out on the trails Thursday and Friday, on Thursday with Charles and Judy (Charles rode Beau), and on Friday with Elisabeth. We were out for almost 2 hours, but it was 2 hours at a walk, windng through the skinny trails at the back of the park.

On Saturday morning, however, Lily was suuuper stiff. She fought me every step of the way in the arena, yanking the reins out of my hands by dropping her head, but never engaging, immediately popping her head back up and hollowing her back. We worked for a long time, longer than I originally intended, close to an hour, as I struggled to find some common ground with her, something that she would do well, that I could choose to end on a good note. It was one of the most frustrating rides I've ever had on her so far, especially given our recent dramatic progress. It didn't matter what I did, from squeezing her forward to massaging the inside rein, to actually see-sawing on the reins, to just leaving her alone-I couldn't get her to give, even in the space of a circle (if she won't give on the long side of the arena, she will give on the circle. Always), and I couldn't understand why, when all we'd done the 2 previous days was ride on the trails, and mostly at the walk. Her trot was pogo-sticky and anything I did with the bit resulted in her throwing her nose in the air. Judy was riding Rose at a walk in the perimeter of the dressage arena, and she shouted out instructions every once in awhile, but nothing worked for more than a few seconds. The only good note I could find to end on was doing a figure 8 at the canter with a simple 4-trot-stride lead change in the middle. She was still inverted while doing this, but picked up her canter and the correct lead immediately when cued. We were both exhausted by that point, and I felt like a horrible rider. I palpated her back and haunches afterwards, trying to figure out what had gone wrong, and that's when discovered afterwards that her left hip was significantly sore-this was her worst side during the session. The right side was also sore, but nowhere near as dramatic-even just brushing her croup on the left side elicited a considerable flinch.

On Sunday, I took my time grooming her and stretching her. When stretching the left hind backwards, I felt her give, willingly extending her leg into my hands on her own, without me having to pull her leg into position, and was really glad I'd decided to stretch her, because she needed it. This made a big difference later. I threw her on the longe for a few minutes to warm up & watch her move-she was pinning her ears going to the left at anything faster than a walk, but was not lame. Her willingness to trot to the left improved after cantering. I have an old chambon which I pulled out of retirement and tried it on her while longing as an experiment, but decided I definetely prefer the way she works in side reins. I removed chambon, stretched her again, got on, and warmed up at a walk in the arena for about 15 minutes.
I had intended to ride in the arena, but completely changed my mind and took her out on the trail by herself. She was a little skittish walking down the road, as the park train was going (they give rides every 3rd weekend of the month, and it brings crowds of people), but she settled down as soon as we were inside the park. We took the back entrance, where it was much quieter, away from the train and crowds. I nudged her into a slow collected sitting trot on the powerlines, and she responded-in the arena, it is nearly impossible for her to trot that collected. We went up and down the powerlines at this same trot, then turned into the main trails. Her mindset was very different from the times we've gone by ourselves in the past-she has always been timid, preferring to walk so she can look at things, but this time she wanted to trot. So I let Lily choose when to trot, but she had to trot correctly. Whenever she "inverted", I'd massage the reins lightly, and her nose would come back down and she'd arch her neck, her trot becoming smoother as she became a little powerhouse. Really, really cool! Initially when we came to a fork in the trail, I would have her go in the opposite direction she wanted, to take us deeper into the trail system. She was so cute throughout the ride-she'd ask to walk when she felt insecure so she could look at things, but as she became more confident, she stopped needing to slow down, and would just cock her ear at tree trunks and palm fronds on the ground as we trotted past. I could feel her enthuthiasm as she made this discovery-she could have real fun while being ridden by herself. I was smiling like an idiot as I started to post to allow her to extend her trot when she asked to go a little faster. Eventually I had no idea where we were, so I started to let her choose the way, still asking her to work correctly, but letting her decide what she preferred to do in terms of gait. I tried to anticipate when she would need to slow down to look at things next to the trail, but she made me smile by just cocking at ear at these things and continuing to trot. Halfway on the way back however, she actually requested to walk and went for a few minutes with her head down, stretching, then picked up the trot again. We trotted the rest of the way, riding past an exit (she hesitated when I asked her to turn in the opposite direction) to choose the exit that leads to the powerlines (she picked up the pace again when she realized we were still heading out). Once out of the woods, we walked the rest of the way home, Lily with her head head down and back swinging with huge strides. She was such a good girl! It was a really good ride, and a really good bonding experience for us as we worked together on the trail.

Back at the barn, I gave her a liniment bath, and she had Monday off. She more than deserved it!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Breakthrough!

Today the sun rose to a particularly chilly day, with highs in the 60's. The horses love this kind of weather, and Lily tends to be at her silliest.

We had planned a trail ride between Elizabeth, Pink's new leasor, and myself, but I arrived at the barn early to tack up and longe Lily before heading out. She was predictably goofy on the longe, wanting to gallop, bucking and kicking during the warmup without side reins. By the time I clipped the side reins on, she was ready to trot and listen, and she gave me a really good workout. It is the first time I really see her use the correct muscles in her neck on the longe with side reins clipped on, for any length of time. She would stretch into the contact before, but for brief periods. Most of the time she was trotting on the longe today, she was like this:


Note how the muscles on the TOP of her neck are lengthened correctly, with the muscles on the underside of her neck relaxed. Prior to this, she would achieve this same position incorrectly by contracting the muscles on the underside of her neck, contributing to their hypertrophy.
Compare to this photo, taken about 2 weeks ago:


Note how the muscles on the underside of her neck are bulging, despite her overall relaxed attitude about the side reins-this kind of muscle engagement is incorrect, but she needed to go through this intermediate phase before she could do what she did today, in the photo above
After about 20 minutes on the longe, I mounted up. It was as if she had not been longed at all. Lily was dynamite underneath me. She jumped when I tried to adjust my stirrups, so I took her into a trot with my stirrups too long, and ended up having to take her back into the barn to switch out the stirrup leathers entirely so I could have a better grip on her with my legs (I'm still riding in Judy's saddle, and her back is so much better!) I mounted up again, and she was not as reactive, but she was PUMPED when I asked her to trot. She felt like an OTTB. My reaction to her behavior was automatic-having had years of experience riding OTTBs, every time she threw her head up, I instantly gently see-sawed on the reins alternately, and she would immediately drop her head, arch her neck, and lift her back. GORGEOUS!! She has never reacted like this to anything I've ever done before with the reins-I think I've accidentally stumbled upon the key to finally solve her "inverting."

I ended up working her for about half an hour while Elizabeth and Pink's leasor waited. At the trot she was lovely-prancy and goofy, but listening about 90% and engaging beautifully. I asked her to canter to the left and she was perfect, but when we changed directions and cantered to the right, as we approached the far left corner of the arena, she threw her head up, switched leads, and tried to bolt. She proceeded to do this 4 times, no matter what I did prior-trotting, circling, cantering from a walk. Even circling to the right at the canter, she'd still half-pass towards that corner no matter what I did, and proceed to attempt to bolt. I couldn't figure it out. After the 5th attempt, we transitioned straight into a trot, changed directions, and cantered to the left. She was calm, collected, listening. I decided to end it there, trotted one more time around, and announced that we should be able to survive the trail ride now.

It was a great day for a trail ride. The sky was overcast, the temperature was cool, and there was no one else on the trails. We took Pink's leasor through the main trails, down the powerlines, and into the skinny trails. All 3 mares behaved perfectly, even my silly girl, who insisted on being in the lead as soon as we hit the skinny trails.

Christa & Pink lead the way down the main trails. It did not feel nor look as if we were in South FL with today's weather.
Afterwards, we made our way back to the barn, where I decided to take Lily back into the arena and work a little more. I was glad I did, because now that she was calmer and listening, she gave me this:
Stretching into the contact. I needed to push her forward more to get her to lengthen her stride and use herself better. But here we got it:

Accepting, forward, and engaging! And no, I have NOT used draw reins to help achieve this!
It is the best she has ever been. She only "inverted" when I asked Dianne to take these photos! The rest of the time she was consistently working like in the above pictures, or in a lengthened hunter frame. Alternately massaging the reins makes her reach into the contact.

Afterwards, we walked to cool down for a good 10 minutes, during which she was like this:

Nose to the ground, back swinging, overtracking for the entire 10 minutes of our cooldown.
In the end, it was a really good day, with a really good ride, and the greatest breakthrough so far!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Paso Fino adventure

I discovered Lily's back was sore, which is why I think she bucked during that last ride when asking for the right lead canter. I had stopped riding her in my dressage saddle because I could tell she was not comfortable in it-she has a really hard time relaxing in it and working long & low. Plus I knew the fit was mediocre at best-it was fitted to my previous horse, who was a warmblood/TB cross with mutton withers. After Lily was given to me, I had purchased a Wintec All Purpose 500 for next to nothing, and lucked out in that the tree wasn't broken. It fit Lily a little better, but not perfectly, and I think it was making her uncomfortable when riding. Her back had definetely sore.

*sigh*

This will be the 4th time I have to buy a new saddle in a 2 year period. It SUCKS!! But I can't expect her to work properly when I'm riding her and asking her to engage in a piece of equipment that hurts her. Some people do this consciously, and some people just don't know any better. Some horses will develop bad habits from an ill-fitting saddle (spooking, bolting, bucking), while others will stoickally bear it to the point where they end up with terrible chronic issues in their backs like being cold-backed or developing kissing spines. But I do know better, and Lily has been telling me she's sore more and more - popping her head up when I put the saddle (gently) on her back, turning her head to give me a dirty look and wrinkling her nose when I'm tightening the girth. The bucking was not spunk; I knew it was a pain reaction and she confirmed it when I took off the saddle afterwards and put gentle pressure on her back in the area under the saddle, and she flinched. :( I've worked out like a fiend in inadequate equipment (I almost tore an Achilles tendon one time when I continued to run in shoes that were not suited to the way I ran), so I know how it feels. I can't expect her to work properly when she hurts.

I've been considering one of these saddles, even though it's not legal for dressage competition:


It is a Ludomar Ronda. It is a Spanish saddle, the kind that is used on Andalusians and Iberian horses. (Hey, Lily is supposed to be an Iberian horse, right?) These saddles are a wonder to ride in, automatically placing you in the correct position, and they have a flexible tree to allow the horse to use their back and move their shoulders freely. My one concern is that, being made for the rounder Spanish breeds, it will sit too low Lily's withers, even with a regular tree. A sales rep for these saddles is going to be in South FL in 2 weeks, so I'll get to try this one and a couple of other Ludomar models to see if they fit her before trying to come up with money for yet another saddle. Of course, I would sell both my dressage saddle and the Wintec, since they don't fit her. So far I've been able to recover all the money I've spent on each saddle when I've sold it, but it's still a MAJOR pain in the ass to have to cough up the money initially.

For now, I tried Judy's Wintec Pro on Lily. I expected it to fit her the same as my All Purpose, but the fit in the Dressage Pro is actually very different, and she seemed a LOT happier in it than in my Wintec. She even has adequate (2 fingers) wither clearance in it! She worked long and low for me yesterday with barely a complaint. After every canter-trot and canter-walk transition, she would automatically drop her head to stretch her topline. Thanks to this, we did some nice stretchy trot several times during our workout, and her trot was so much better in general-no pogo-stickiness nor "inverting" of her topline. She worked in a long hunter frame for pretty much our entire session, which is a considerable improvement from how she worked before. I cooled her out for 10 minutes, during which she carried her nose almost to the ground the entire time in a prolonged stretch, power walking in a wonderful gait where she was driving from behind to the point where I could FEEL her overtracking. I've noticed her body is changing, too. She has filled out behind her shoulder blades, her withers are less prominent, her lumbar back is rounder, as is her croup-she is getting some really nice muscle development overall.


This is a very bad conformation shot, as she is not standing square and the ground is uneven, so Lily appears to be downhill in build. She is actually pretty level. However, the ground by the fence where her front feet are is at a slant from where her hind feet are placed. But at least you can see how her body is starting to change-she's filling out quite nicely, and the shape of her neck, back and hind end are rounder with new muscle.

There is another show on January 22nd, but I think I might sit this one out. I would like her to be doing better consistently before moving up to Training Level like Judy wants me to. They have some really push-button horses at those Parkland dressage shows, and it was frustrating last time to be second to those horses when you could tell the rider wasn't doing anything to keep them that way and the judge favored them anyway. Grrrrrrr! I swear the horses had even memorized the tests!

After feeding lunch to the horses, Judy, Sarah and I took off for Homestead to look at Paso Finos. This is a long story.

A few years ago, Judy had to have back surgery (hemilaminectomy) after being attacked by a stallion on 2 separate occassions. On any given day, her back will hurt while riding Rose, despite her being so comfortable to ride, because of the impact of the trot and canter. Judy has also started developing arthritis in her knees, and they have been bothering her so much when she rides that it will take her a minute to be able to walk off after dismounting. Sarah owns a "Trote-Galope" Colombian Paso. Trote-galope = trot-gallop. These horses are technically gaited, but their gait consists of a very smooth trot and canter where 3 feet are always on the ground. They can collect and lengthen like a Spanish horse, except they have more knee, hock and fetlock action. Very flashy, while still being very smooth. Sarah boards her horse, Romeo, at Judy's old barn across the street, and often comes over to hang out with us on Romeo; we've all gone on trail rides together. Sarah has been trying to convince Judy to purchase a Paso to allow her to continue riding, particularly a Trote-Galope so she could still do some variant of dressage, and she had made arrangements with her farrier, who lives in Kendall and has 3 horses in Homestead, to go with Judy to look at a couple of horses for sale last weekend. I was invited to come along, and I went, since I had not ridden a Paso in 2 years and was itching to ride one again.

I do have a second horse, and he is a Puertorrican Paso, but he is back on the island. He was bred to be an Andadura Horse, but he is a very good quality one, with Paso Fino bloodlines, so he can be collected into a paso corto and paso largo, though he lacks the cherished fino gait. His name is Lucero, which means "star". My grandfather gave him to me as a weanling for me to raise and train myself. He was the first horse I ever trained, and he pretty much taught me how to train horses. I love him; we trusted each other completely, and he played along without complaining with anything I wanted to do (including galloping down a stream bed, water splashing in giant curtains behind us with our speed; endless bareback rides; hiking my stirrups up as high as they would go and pretending I was a jockey with my knees on his withers, while he ambled along in a paso largo up and down the hill that was our property *lol*; and popping over 2-foot jumps). He turns 19 this April and I do miss him; I often wish I could bring him to FL, but the flight to bring him costs a good $3000 plus all the blood testing you have to do to import them. He's never even been on a trailer, and though he's a laid back little guy, I'm afraid of what the stress of a plane flight would do to him. I would consider shipping him by boat, but have not been able to find a company that would ship a horse by sea from PR to FL.


Here Lucero is demonstrating his paso largo gait. This is a really old picture-he was 7 years old at the time.

At his barn in PR. This photo was taken 5 years ago on a visit to the island. He was so fat! They had continued feeding him as if I were riding him 5 times a week. They got a stern talking-to at the barn, and his grain was cut back considerably. Pasos are easy keepers and are prone to laminitis if overfed. He now looks the way he did when I lived in PR.
Galloping up the barn driveway bareback-it wasn't often that he'd do this

We got caught  rain in the rain for this one; we were both drenched!

I miss him.

The drive to Homestead was about an hour and a half. I was glad I didn't ask where we were going beforehand (I hate going within 15 miles of Miami-I went to tech school there, braving 2-hour traffic jams on what should've been a 30 minute drive, 4 days a week for 2 years. I'm still not over it.), or I probably would've never gone, and would have missed out on an awesome day.

We met Cindy's farrier, Edmundo, at his barn in the Redlands. It reminded me of the barn where I keep Lucero at in PR. Edmundo showed us a little 20 month old filly he's training. A very nervous little red dun thing, with a dished face and big doe eyes that reminded me of Lily's.  Edmundo is training her, and it will still be another year before she is ridden. The next horse he showed us was Rosa Linda, a gorgeous dark bay that he raised from a baby. She is now 8 years old. Rosa Linda is a trot-gallop mare. He demonstrated her gaits first in Bellas Formas (the equivalent of long-lining):


He then tacked her up and rode her so we could watch:


Performing a tight turn in the barn yard

Very collected canter down the Fino board


We then each got to try her out. Sarah rode her very well and really got her going. Judy was able to get her collected trot and canter.

Judy performing a more extended trot on Rosa Linda

Judy and Rosa demonstrate the canter or "galope"

Edmundo came over to talk to me while we were watching Judy ride, and that's when he discovered I'm Puertorrican and have ridden Pasos. Then it was my turn. Rosa was lovely to ride, but a new sensation, as I'm used to the super-smooth ride of Paso Finos. Right off the bat, I was able to get her into her super-collected canter, where she was going at the speed of a walk, but with the rhythm of a very comfortable canter. I slowed her further into a collected trot, then put her through her paces. She was incredibly sensitive: if I made my body rigid, she collected like a spring, and if I relaxed and lowered my hands, her gaits extended. I had a blast taking her around the arena and down the Fino board.


Me on Rosa Linda, trotting

An extremely collected canter! Yes, I had a goofy smile on my face :)

Trot down the Fino board. Look at that fetlock action!
When I got off, Edmundo praised me on how well I had ridden Rosa; he was impressed. I explained I had learned to ride on Paso Finos as a kid, and my first horse was a Puertorrican Paso. He told me he was going to bring out a Paso Fino he owns for us to ride, but he warned me, with a wink, that he wasn't selling him. 

The Paso Fino was a gorgeous black stallion named Carabali, whose only white marking was the star on his forehead. Edmundo got on him outside, and rode him up and down the aisle in front of the barn so we could hear the rhythm of his steps, turning him tightly (it was a perfect turn on the haunches) in the corner, and bringing back down the concrete aisle.


Carabali performs the Fino gait down the barn aisle

Carabali got riled up at one point but Edmundo corrected him, and what started out as a half-rear ended up an astounding levade. Judy's and my jaw dropped. "Wooow..." we breathed in unison. Edmundo then took him over to this fabulous covered round pen, and briefly rode the stallion around so we could see his gaits. Then I was up. Carabali was even more sensitive than Rosa, to the point where a series of half-halts with my seat would collect him almost into a piaffe, where his legs were still moving just as quickly in his Fino gait, but there was barely any forward movement. Edmundo explained the different Paso Fino gaits: Paso Fino (a highly refined, collected gait with rapid footfalls and very little forward progression, where 3 feet are always on the ground), Paso Corto (slightly more extended gait, at a speed similar to a Western jog), Paso Largo (smooth lateral gait), and Trocha. In the case of Colombian Pasos, it is basically a very smooth trot at the speed of a canter, and similar in feel to the fox trot, and they can reach speeds up to 35 mph. In Paso Fino competition, it is penalized, but there are some Colombian Pasos bred specifically for their Trocha. Instead of the Trocha, Puertorrican Pasos have a lateral gait similar to a Standardbred's pace called Andadura, in which they can reach speeds up to 40 mph. Andadura races are held in Puerto Rico.



My horse, Lucero, was bred to be an Andadura horse, for racing. He doesn't even have a trace of any gait resembling a trot, and does not like to canter. Instead, he can do his Andadura forever when asked to pick up speed. Anything resembling a trot is unheard of in the pure Puertorrican Paso Fino, and is undesirable-a Paso Fino that trots is not considered show quality. The original Paso Fino breed comes from Puerto Rico, and is a cross of Andalusian, Spanish Jennet, and Barb, created over a span of 500 years. The mix that turned into the Paso Fino started in the time of the Spanish conquistadors. These were originally bred to be comfortable horses that could go all day long with tremendous endurance, to allow hacendados (plantation owners) to check fence lines. The unique gaits developed as an adaptation to the mountainous terrain of the island. The Puertorrican Paso is small, around 13 hands, with a refined, rounded body that reminds you more of a Spanish breed than anything resembling a pony. The Colombian Paso is considered a different strain, and it was created in Colombia in the 1950's (very recent in comparison to the original Paso Fino) and is now the most popular strain in the States. The Colombian Paso is a larger horse (around 14 hands, sometimes reaching 15 hands on rare occassions) due to outbreeding with Morgans and more Andalusians. This is also the reason why the Colombian Paso retains a form of trot in the Trocha, and why you have Colombian Pasos with no "special" gaits at all: the Trote-Galopes. In Paso circles back on the island, there is constant debate over which horse is better, the Colombian Paso or the Puertorrican Paso, with individuals defending one strain or another with the passion used to defend a political party or religion! The fact that the Trote-Galopes don't have special gaits explains why their divisions at shows are usually the last class on the last day of the show: they are frowned upon pretty much everywhere except in Colombia, because by all purist breed standards, a Trote-Galope has ceased to be a Paso. In Colombia, they are considered work horses like Quarter Horses, and were originally developed to work cattle. Trote-Galopes will have roached manes because it prevented that long thick mane from getting tangled in the brush. It is cool that these horses are being recognized and considered special, because they still are. The pleasure calibre Pasos have also found a place at shows-they are easier to handle, having less brio, with less flashy gaits, but are still wonderful to ride, and it is nice to see them get some appreciation too.

Back to the barn: While Edmundo explained each gait, I demonstrated them on the stallion. He was sooo cool to ride! I kept going around and around on him, until Sarah and Judy complained that they wanted a turn too. I have ridden, trained and broken to ride many Paso Finos, but I had never ridden a show-quality one.

For those of you not familiar with the Paso Fino breed, this Wikepedia link explains the breed, its history, qualities, different types (Paso Fino, Trocha Horse, and Trote-Galope), and different gaits very clearly: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paso_Fino

Here is a video of a Paso Fino competition, where you can see the Fino gait and listen to the correct sound of the footfalls:



Compare to this video featuring a Trote-Galope gelding class at a show in Colombia:


The rhythm of the Trote gait appears the same as the Fino, but if you pay close attention, you will see that there is more forward movement in the Trote, and the footfall is diagonal with a 2-beat sound, just like in a regular trot, while the Fino gait is a 4-beat gait with individual footfalls. In this video you can also see the galope gait, which looks and sounds like a very collected canter, as seen in the photos above.

I wish I had gotten a picture of Judy's face when she rode Carabali. She was smiling from ear to ear like a little kid in a candy store. I have never seen her so happy on a horse, and I pointed it out to her. She hadn't even noticed she was grinning. Then it was Sarah's turn. She liked Carabali, but prefers the Trote-Galope horses.

After Edmundo had bathed and put away both horses, he took us to a different nearby barn, where a gray stallion named Cantinero was for sale. Cantinero is a fuera de concurso (out of competition) Trote-Galope horse who won a recent World Championship here in FL. In the Paso world, for a horse to be declared "fuera de concurso", they must have won a minimum of 12 competitions, and it is a coveted title. This horse was originally being sold for $60,000 but when they couldn't get that price out of him, they had reduced it to $25,000.

The horse looked like a petite Andalusian. To a non-horse person, he didn't seem like much: he was small at about 13.2 hands; a stocky, round gray horse turned white. Upon a closer look, however, he had terrific bone on his legs, an uphill build, the short back and powerful hind end of a classic Spanish horse, and a stallion's crested neck, shown off by his roached mane and extra-long dark gray forelock that hung the length of his face. He was very calm out of the stall, not jumpy/skittish like the typical Paso, and stood quietly while Edmundo tacked him up. He didn't even act like a stallion when handled from the ground-he looked like a broke-to-death gelding as he stood calmly at the crossties, untied. Edmundo warned us that he had never ridden this horse before, and he didn't have his bridle with him, as it was being used by the caretaker on another horse out on a trail ride.

Edmundo swung up on Cantinero. The horse suddenly changed, arching his neck proudly and standing at attention for a fraction of a second. It was like he grew before our eyes-this horse had PRESENCE. Edmundo sent him into a trote down the barn aisle, and Cantinero obeyed in a gait that was almost a prance, lifting his knees up to his chest and collecting his hind legs so far under himself that his feet were falling even with his girth! His front end rose almost 2 hands, he could engage his hind end so much! His galope was the same, and Cantinero demonstrated what turned almost into a canter piaffe going back down the barn aisle. His shod hooves slammed on the concrete aisle with the force of a Clydesdale's. If he'd been on natural footing, he would have been carving giant holes in the ground with each step. This horse's athletic capacity and strength was astounding.

Edmundo took the stallion out into the field by the barn parking lot, but Cantinero threw up his head, his front legs churning giant windmills in the air, his hind legs tearing up the earth. Edmundo's expression became one of fear, and he immediately swung the horse back into the barn, cantered him down the aisle, turned him around, and brought him to a stop by aiming him at his stall door. Edmundo quickly got off, brought Cantinero back to the crossties, and untacked him. "THAT was scary." he says. "It takes a lot to make me want to get off a horse, but I thought this one was going to kill me!" He apologized profusely, but Cantinero had snatched the bit and tried to run away with Edmundo. Edmundo had managed him so well that it had just looked like high spirits on the horse's part. For our safety, he wouldn't let us ride him without the stallion's own bit.

Afterwards, we tracked down the trail riders and Cantinero's caretaker. We found them taking a break at a patch of grass between the road and an enormous orange grove.The caretaker was a young Colombian guy riding a gorgeous bay horse, another Trote-Galope stallion (in case you haven't noticed a trend here, yet: these horses are not commonly gelded; they are much more valuable as stallions. It also preserves their spirit or "brio". However, when trained correctly, the fact that they are not castrated makes no difference in their handling) who was also for sale. We took turns riding the horse, who was quite spirited and had been ridden in such a way that he was difficult to stop & slow down. You had to pull alternately on the reins to bring him to a halt. He was the roughest ride of all the horses we rode that day, but he was Sarah's favorite. They were asking $12,000 for him. He made me nervous, though-he could pick up a lot of speed, very quickly, and we were riding right next to the road at dusk.

After that, we drove with Edmundo to a winery that was out in the middle of nowhere (literally in the middle of nowhere-there was nothing else in sight other than flat fields and sky for miles on end). It was obviously the only hangout in the area, because it was packed full. The winery sold local Floridian wines. We were going to sign up for a wine tasting and food, but when we reached the register, we almost fainted when we were told the price for one person. All 4 of us turned around and went back outside. The trail riders were arriving at the winery parking lot at this time (this was their final destination) and were all riding in the parking lot. Edmundo spoke to a couple of them, Sarah rode the bay stallion one more time, and then we said our good-byes. We were starving! Edmundo took us to a local BBQ place for dinner. It was a small little restaurant on the corner of an intersection, also surrounded by crop fields, where almost everyone spoke Spanish, but the food was very good. Edmundo footed the bill for all of us, despite our protests. Judy and I had been talking all along about using him as the new barn farrier, but that just did it for us. He was hired; he was very sweet, quiet and personable, and very gentle with the horses. We left Homestead at 8:30 pm for the long drive back home.

So that was our Paso adventure last weekend. We had been placing bets on which horses Judy would like best-the Paso Finos or the Trote Galopes, and I won when she declared that her favorite horse had been Carabali, the black Paso Fino stallion. :)









Monday, January 2, 2012

One cold day a year...

So I was attacked by a massive throat infection during the week between Christmas and New Year's, and ended up spending 3 days straight in bed, weak, feverish, and barely able to swallow. After dragging myself to the doctor's office a second time when I wasn't getting better, the doctor changed my antibiotics and within 2 days, I was feeling alive again. It was scary there for a minute-I felt so awful I thought Charles was going to have to take me to the hospital.

This, of course, meant no riding for almost a week, during which a lot of changes ocurred at the barn, including Rose's arrival. After colicking 3 times in a month at the Parkland barn, Judy decided to bring Rose over to the ranch to have her closer to home. This was wonderful news for Lily, who immediately remembered her paddock buddy. Rose and Lily started to stand next to each other for hours on end, separated only by the fence between walkouts.

I was finally able to work with Lily on Saturday. I could already tell she was "up" before taking her out of her stall. Judy was working with Christa on trailer loading (Christa is very stubborn, and had a very bad trailer loading experience when she was younger, in which she flipped over backwards) and so far none of us had been able to get her to load in Mark's trailer. Elizabeth is dying to take Christa to a dressage show or to one of the horse parks in Davie with us, but both things require trailering. Judy was bent on getting Christa on that trailer, and had already been working with her for a week using only natural horsemanship methods and lots of patience.

I took Lily to the yard in front of the house to longe her, away from Christa so she wouldn't be distracted, and also to take her away from Rose for the first time in a week. Lily was explosive initially, then settled into a long canter at the end of the longe line. She cantered endlessly, it seemed, in both directions, and I allowed her to get all of that extra energy out. She eventually settled into a nice, long, extended trot, and when she was finally asking to slow down to a walk, I took her back to the barn, tacked her up, and took her into the arena for a ride.

Walking around the arena, my position felt strange. A good kind of strange, but unfamiliar nonetheless. I looked down at my leg, and realized my ankle, hip and shoulder were all in a perfect line.


Kind of like this. You could've drawn a straight line from my shoulder to hip to heel.
I rode Paso Finos for such a long time, that even when I used to hike my stirrups up to the last hole for the jumper arena, I tended to sit in more of a chair seat, with my lower leg further forward. This automatically forced me to lean forwards to balance. Which is common in the hunter/jumpers, but is unheard of in dressage. I have been fighting with this bad habit for the last year! But all of a sudden on Saturday, everything suddenly fell into place. I felt like I was standing straight in my stirrups, all my weight evenly distributed in both heels (I realized recently that I have a tendency to sit to the right, which is why Lily was having such a hard time relaxing when we went to the left!), and Lily between my knees. I focused on staying in this position the rest of the ride, whether it be posting, walking or cantering. It was wonderful! Lily responded fabulously to this new, balanced seat, relaxing over her topline and reaching for the bit. It is amazing how well our horses respond when we're not constantly getting in their way!

By the time we were done, Judy had finished the session with Christa (both front feet in the trailer, but Christa had been completely relaxed!) and I asked Mark if he wanted to go for a ride. We all ended up going: Elizabeth, Judy, Mark, and myself. I led the way through the trails on Lily, giving Judy the tour, as she had not been on the trails often. We had a great time, and the horses did great! Lily and Rose each only startled once (they are the same age and almost equally green); it was a very good ride.


Judy behind me on Rose, and Mark and Elizabeth bringing up the rear on Beau and Christa respectively.
On Sunday, I rode Lily again, and again, it was easy for me to maintain this new seat. Judy rode Rose in the arena with me. I felt like I kept getting in their way, and since Judy only gets to ride Rose about twice a week due to her work schedule and early nightfall, I ended up taking Lily out of the arena and riding her in the "track" around the dressage arena, working on transitions. I've started reading "The Natural Rider" by Mary Wanless, and in one of the sections in the book, she describes creating impulsion by placing your legs in such a position as to allow the horse's front end to bulge out in front of them. I understood what she meant: if I sat with this in mind, Lily's front end would lift and she would engage her hind end better, especially at the canter. It was a very good ride, and after about a half hour of work, I took Lily on our first solo ride to the park since October. The only thing she spooked at were the sprinklers on the street on the way to the park, and tried to whirl around to return to the barn once. But I was able to get her through the sprinklers without having to get off and lead her, and afterwards, we were home free. We did one trotting lap around the park, slowing to a walk a couple of times so Lily could look at scary things (such as the picnic area BBQ grills covered with plastic trash bags), and she made me proud by walking up to these things that she wasn't sure of all by herself, to have a closer look.  Eventually we came out at the power lines. We trotted towards the horse gate, all the way down, then turned around and and cantered back up. Lily gave me a nice easy canter, and then we turned around again and power-walked all the way home. I was soooo happy to have her back to her normal self! It was a great first day of the new year!

I worked Monday. The high temperature for the day was 81. Overnight, it dropped down to 38 degrees...a 42 degree drop in less than 12 hours. Lily was blanketed with her Thermo Manager stable blanket, and her Weatherbeata turnout sheet on top. It had been cloudy all day, so all the horses stayed in their stalls to have access to cover if it rained.

Tuesday morning, the sun rose to a bright, cold and very windy day. The high temperature for the day was 55. We only get 1 day like this out of the entire year, and I took complete advantage of it.

When I arrived at the barn, the wind was tearing at the trees and lifting up clouds of dust. All of the horses were running in and out of their stalls into their walkouts. I turned out Christa, Pink and Bo, all still in their sheets, then took Lily's blankets off, put her rope halter on, and took her out to the arena, where I set her free and had her run around to get all of the excitement and excess energy out before expecting her to settle down and pay attention. She had a grand ole time galloping around the arena like a racehorse.

She was flagging her tail the entire time. :)


Her fabulous floaty trot. It has been improving at liberty; now I just need her to do it under saddle!
After letting her run around, I put her on the longe, and had her work at mostly trot and canter for 20 minutes. I let her walk to cool down, and since the wind was still whipping through the treetops, I put her back in her stall with her cooler, and brought Rose out to longe her.

Judy had been concerned during her last ride with her that Rose was having issues with her right hind, as she was reluctant to pick up the right lead canter. I had her do a long walk warmup, then a nice loose trot, and then I clipped the side reins on and put her to really work. We did up and down transitions at walk and trot, and also trot-halt, and halt-trot transitions, all on the longe. Rose did wonderfully! No silliness, no challenging authority, very attentive the entire time. I noticed that unlike in the past, however, she never once offered to canter. I did not push her.

That afternoon it was considerably less windy, though still in the low 50's and dropping. I tacked up Lily and rode. She was very spunky and was giving me a great workout, with a relaxed trot, and a wonderful left lead canter, up until the moment we changed directions and I asked for the right lead canter. She took off and bucked, leaping over the dressage arena rail in one bound and scaring me shitless. I had NOT expected that! She was very "up" after that, inverting her neck and getting above the bit with her pogo-stick trot. I sighed. 2 more turns around the arena and Lily had relaxed again. Left lead canter-fine. Then right lead canter. I rose into 3-point this time, staying off her back with hands quiet. Fine. She was so forward I decided to do some canter-halt transitions. This was new for her, but after attempting it twice, she handled the canter-halt transitions fairly well. We tried halt-canter transitions, with a change of direction after each halt. She was dominating this surprisingly well, with only 2 or 3 trot strides before picking up the canter. Then, going to the right, she exploded again. I think she spooked at some people loading up a truck on the other side of the fence, but God knows; this happens all the time and it's never bothered her before. I stopped her before she could go over the rail again.

We finished the exercise by cantering to the right for a good 5 minutes. I was exhausted by then, but Lily's energy was never-ending. It's amazing what a little cold weather can do for a horse's endurance!

I walked her out for a long time before putting her back in her stall with her cooler. This morning I was sore. My lower back has been bothering me when I ride, and today it was flaring up considerably. I rode Rose first, mostly walk and trot, and saw what Judy meant when cantering to the right-Rose's entire hind end swung and dropped to the right. Her right hind hitched once while trotting in that direction, too. I think it's her stifles, which makes sense, since she has not had much work at all for the last 2 years. She has very little muscle development in her haunches and she toes out considerably while standing-2 signs of weak stifles. I rode her like you would a stifle horse-lots of straight lines at a trot, with up and down transitions, getting her to engage from behind, and only doing large circles occassionally. She did beautifully and was a very good girl.

I only walked and trotted Lily. After yesterday, she was very relaxed today, trotting around with neck extended like a hunter, which is progress for her! We did not canter, because I wasn't in the mood to be bucked around again, what with my sore back. I did call the chiropractor when I got home; I'm hoping to go sometime next week. It sucks-I had NEVER had this issue before; I've always had a really strong core, but with my job and the barn, it is very hard to find time to exercise while still getting time to rest the body.