February has escaped me without posting on here. Judy had commissioned a painting for her niece, whose birthday was in mid-February, and any spare time at the beginning of the month was used to finish a watercolor of the niece's Quarter Horse gelding.
I'd forgotten to post about this, but I've also consistently been riding Rose since January. The goal was to take her to the January Parkland dressage show with Lily, and start her in the Intro classes. But at the beginning of the month, she came in from the paddock dead lame, with a swollen spot on the inside of her right front just under her knee. Judy thought she'd popped a splint. After 3 days of diligent icing, cold hosing and wrapping, the swelling had gone down somewhat but Rose was still favoring the leg, so our vet was called out. He diagnosed a mild suspensory strain due to weak hindquarters and lax stifles, and gave us a workout program to get Rose back on track and strengthen her hind end. Judy started handwalking her for 30 minutes at a time for the first week, then the same amount of time under saddle, and we were to progress slowly into trot from there. Rose's rehab has been pockmarked with setbacks, including Judy catching a stomach virus, injuring a knee (she's still recovering from that one), me getting sick with a chest cold, a week of pouring rain where no one could ride in the flooded arena, and Rose having ups and downs in her ability to progress, including stumbling and falling while I was riding her in a downward transition from trot to walk. It scared me shitless, but thankfully the chiropractor was scheduled to come the next day to adjust Rose. He informed Judy and me that she has several issues going on with her hips, in part from her own conformation and lack of conditioning, that will need to be worked through slowly. We still haven't made it past 10 minutes of trotting, and with Judy temporarily out of the game, I've doggedly continued with her rehab. Anything is better than nothing!
Lily has improved by leaps and bounds. We've finally done proper training rides in the park, working on a forward trot on the bit, and this was a huge success! Whereas before, Lily had to stop and look at things she wasn't sure about, and preferred to walk on the trails, she has discovered how much fun it is to trot in the "wild". Our second conditioning ride stands out because it was the first time the light came on, "This is actually kind of fun!" Lily's ears were pricked the entire time, but still paying attention-she'd flick them back to pay attention to me constantly. The park has expanded the main trails and at one point I was completely lost. So I let her choose the way, and she did so willingly and happily, with her neck arched and pushing from behind. She seemed bummed out when we made it back to the powerlines and I insisted that she walk. She did, and we walked home at an extended walk, her hind end swinging, on a loose rein. It was a lovely ride, and we have been able to repeat it. Lily did way better on the trails than in the arena, so my next goal was to reproduce it at home.
In the attempt to help me do so, Judy injured her knee. Here's the story:
About 2 weeks ago, we had Rose and Lily turned out in adjacent paddocks. They were playing together from opposite sides of the fence, bucking and kicking. We had just decided to bring them in before they hurt themselves, when I see Lily rear up in the air in slow motion and pivot on her hind legs 180 degrees, land facing the opposite direction, then buck and a kick from a standstill. The movement was done with such grace and ease that my jaw dropped. I've watched horses play around in the past and do all sorts of crazy contortions with their bodies, but what got to me about what Lily had just done was the effortlessness with which she did it. 9 months ago, she would not have been able to do a move like that with such ease-it is a result of all the conditioning I've done with her. She never bucked or played in turnout, which I always thought strange in a young horse. She's making up for lost time now!
So later that morning I was riding her in the arena while Judy rode Rose. We had just warmed up and were starting to trot, and Lily was bracing against the contact instead of reaching for it. It wasn't bad, and I was expecting her to warm up out of it as we continued to trot. Judy tried giving me pointers from Rose's back, and suggested me visualizing her doing that same move she'd done in the paddock to imagine her pushing up and forward into the contact. I laughed nervously at the suggestion and made a point of not visualizing that move as I asked her for more energy. Instead of extending, Lily became pogo-sticky and hollowed her back and neck. I slowed her down and sat her trot, and she was thinking about giving, when Judy suggested trading horses. I was thrilled at the idea, as I had always wondered what would Judy be able to do with Lily, and had wanted to watch someone more experienced ride her to see if she'd be better than with me.
I got on Rose and continued to walk her around the arena while Judy rode Lily. She pushed her hard, asking her to extend her trot and reach for the contact. Lily would try to evade, and Judy would ask harder. Lily looked gorgeous when she responded. She'd occassionally try to shoot forward but Judy would hold her in. I watched them for awhile, then decided to trot Rose a little since she was about half way through her 45 minute session. She trotted for 3 steps, feeling slightly off, and I looked down at her. That's when I heard the "thump." I look up, and Judy was on the ground, Lily standing next to her. Everyone from the barn was running towards her. Ines, who'd been watching from the arena gate, had called to everyone else. I leaped off Rose and ran over to her too, Rose trotting behind me.
Her face was contorted in what I thought was pain, and I freaked out. Upon closer inspection, though, Judy was laughing, and we all breathed a collective sigh of relief. She got up, brushed herself off, and turned to me. "I've been teaching you all wrong. This mare can't be ridden the way I was telling you to ride her. That's why it wasn't working. I'm completely changing the format of your lessons from now on."
I asked what had caused the fall. Apparently Lily had reared up in the air and done a 180 turn on her back legs... "Oh boy-she did exactly what you wanted her to!" I said, laughing, referring to Judy's wanting me to visualize that move to get Lily moving forward. Judy opened her eyes wide, and laughed harder. The conclusion was that we weren't going to think about that maneuver any more!
Judy got back on, despite my protests that I could continue to ride Lily. I was afraid the event would repeat itself, but Judy wanted to finish figuring out my mare. I mounted Rose, and made a point of walking inside the dressage arena, staying somewhere near the middle of the arena when Judy was working at either end. My idea was that if Lily tried another stunt, I'd block her with Rose.
They walked for a long time, Judy getting Lily on the bit. I could see the tension in Lily, though, and when Judy asked her to trot, Lily scooted forward and turned towards the inside of the arena on her own, accelerating. I swung Rose into Lily's path, and Lily stopped. Afterwards, Judy continued to walk, and they ended up just working on a 20 meter circle at one end of the arena, alternating walk and trot.
|Lily on the bit, at the walk|
|Rose standing quietly while I took pics of Lily and Judy with my phone|
I exited the dressage arena and walked Rose on a loose rein when I saw Lily finally relax and understand what Judy wanted, and realize that Judy wasn't going to hurt her. Judy trotted with Lily again, and once she had her consistently on the bit, passed her back to me. By then it was time for Rose's workout to be done. I rode Lily around in a 20 meter circle, first walking, then trotting. I could tell she was relieved to have me back riding her because any tension that had been remaining evaporated. After having Judy work with her, it was twice as easy for me to get her using her body correctly. Judy confirmed what I had already been doing with Lily during our workouts: I should do lots of walk on the bit, then keep her at a slow easy trot to keep her calm while focusing on lowering her head and lifting her back. I was happy-I'd been on the right track.
Judy's knee started to bother her after the final ride on Lily, and despite immediately icing it and taking ibuprofen, it was very hard for her to walk the next day. As it turns out, she had a partial tear to her MCL. I feel awful about it still, but Judy still insists she doesn't care, because it means she can teach me better. Yup-trainers like her are few and far between!
I'm happy to report that after 2 weeks of taking it as easy as possible given her own schedule, her knee is a LOT better, and she is hoping to ride again sometime this week. Phew!
These are some photos from one of our more recent lessons:
|Lily at the walk|
|A very calm trot, on the bit. She was chewing and relaxing her jaw-this is a new event in her progress!|
Compare to how Lily looked here.
And a photo that Judy took of Rose and me during one of her recent rehab sessions.
She says we look good together. :) I don't know what it is about riding Rose-maybe it's her uphill build? But it always feels like my upper body wants to be in the same spot in space as if I were on Lily, while my lower body is a full hand higher in the air (Rose is a big girl!). The result: I usually look like I've been bent into a lump when I'm on her. At least that's how it feels. I have to constantly remind myself to pull up my upper body and stick out my abs-this is what it looks like when I do!
With her, my current goal is to make it to the park by ourselves. It will be great for her rehab to go on those hills! Rose has been out in groups, and has always been a very good girl, but would not step beyond the barn parking lot with me on her. The past 2 days, we have made it down the driveway with no complaints, and off of the property for a short distance. I plan to slowly increase the distance until we make it to the park. We'll see how it goes. In the meantime, we are walking for 45 minutes total, with 10 minutes of trotting spread throughout. I've added stretches before and after our rides-she is incredibly stiff in her entire hind end, and I think eventually this will help. So far, all I can do is hold each hind leg up and out, with stifle and hock at right angles. This is the most she can go right now.
If you've never stretched your horse, you probably should. It does a world of difference in their conditioning, muscle development, and their ability to move correctly. Studies at university veterinary hospitals have been done on their benefits! Some of the leg stretches that I do with Lily and that I have added to Rose's program are included here. Lily has gotten the swing of them and totally gives in to them, releasing her hind legs backwards on her own when I extend her legs back, and leaning her weight into her haunches for a better stretch when I extend her front legs forward. She'll also give a deep sigh during and/or after her stretches, even closing her eyes at times. Pretty cool! She also does better with stretches BEFORE her workout (and after being groomed-currying helps warm up the muscles), especially if I rode her the day before. Post-workout stretches are not as dramatic, and I don't push the envelope if she doesn't want to give. The important thing here is that you stay in tune with your horse, that you don't do too much too soon (expect a horse that is bad for the farrier to be resistant to stretching, and take the necessary precautions when training them to stretch!), and that you don't push your horse on any given day if he doesn't want to give you the ideal stretch or it will be counterproductive. If the horse resists at all, he will be tensing up his muscles instead of relaxing, which defeats the purpose. Also stretching a horse is not necessarily like stretching yourself-we are supposed to hold a stretch for a minimum of 30 seconds. It's nearly impossible to do it for that long with a horse, and you shouldn't try-you must release at the first sign of tension, even if it's only been a couple of seconds, to maximize the benefits of the stretch.
On another front, it has been unseasonably hot pretty much the entire winter. It's the first time since moving to South FL that I've been wearing tank tops in the wintertime. Yeah, it's milder than anywhere else in the country, but we'll have our runs of days in the 50's and 60's, with nights in the 40's. Not this year. We had 2 days where temps dropped below 70, and that was it. :( Which sucks double time, because warm winters usually mean an active hurricane season, since the ocean surface stays hot. We shall see what this summer brings...