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

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Barn = Gym

Ever since we moved from FL, I'd been considering joining a gym since now I don't have all of that stall mucking and hay lifting to keep me fit. I already knew exactly which gym I wanted to join, but was waiting until we had both our cars registered in MD ($$$), and had purchased *some* furniture so we can get these boxes out of the living room (ugh!) before signing up for yet another bill.

Some day I will be a Cross Fitter...if the price of membership ever goes down!
Photo from Physique Nation

This week, however, I was hanging out with Sally and Jessica (the new boarder with the super-handsome OTTB Finnigan), and they were talking about how they needed an exercise rider for both of their horses. Both horses are fairly green with tons of personality, a little pushy on the ground, and both owners feel timid about doing more with them (ex: cantering). Bells went off in my head, as I like both of these girls and their horses, and I'd been considering getting a part-time job that was NOT another tech job. This was it! Sally made it easy-she was telling Jessica, "I just want someone to canter Jezebel!" (she's never cantered under saddle, really) and I guess she must have seen something in my expression because she suddenly looked at me and asked, "Do YOU want to canter her?" My response, "I wouldn't mind trying to canter her for you."

So we scheduled a test ride for the next day. Jezebel is a very nice little mare. She's a bay 5 year old OTTB that Sally has had for exactly 1 year. Yes, she's green, but she has a good heart and she listens. Her canter issue? She doesn't know the cues. Even her trainer has tried to get her to canter, and she has only done it once, on the incorrect lead. She'll typically just trot faster and faster and never get into a canter, and Sally gets scared; she doesn't feel confident enough to be able to push her all the way into the canter. Plus one time in the past, Jezebel spooked and bolted; Sally is afraid she might try that when asked to canter. Sally did say that Jezebel responded to the one-rein stop when that happened, so at least we know the little mare is stoppable.

It felt odd sitting in a close contact saddle with short stirrups again. Sally has a gorgeous Marcel Toulousse with big knee blocks like I like them, padded flaps and a cushy seat.

My kind of jumping saddle. I like a nice-sized knee block. This one is the Prestige Passion, for sale at Mary's Tack
I walked Jezebel around in both directions to get a feel for her attention span, steering and flexibility, and then asked her to trot. She trotted off with no signal at all-like I said above, I thought about it, and she trotted. We did circles and straight lines, then I asked her to come back down to a walk again. Her down-transitions need some work, as it takes her awhile to slow down. Sally wants to get her slowing down more from the seat without having to haul on the reins.

She is a fairly well-balanced mare. There isn't a huge disparity between going left and right at walk and trot as with some OTTBs. She responds just fine to leg pressure to go forward, but not so much for lateral work. She feels a little stiff, and she will get on the forehand, but that will all be resolved over time; she just needs more mileage and to get stronger.

Feeling brave, I asked her to trot again, then lifted out of the saddle in a half seat with a steady contact on the reins, gave her a canter cue with my outside heel, and clucked. She trotted fast. SO fast! She felt like a racing Standardbred. We went half-way around the arena, then, laughing, I brought her back down to a walk to regroup for a few steps, and once Jezebel felt 100% relaxed, asked for another trot, and repeated the same process. At the last second, I gave her her head, and she picked up a canter! We cantered around the arena once, to Sally's delight, then I brought her back down to the trot. No problem whatsoever bringing her back to a trot. I let her walk for a bit, then repeated the process in the same direction to make sure it wasn't a fluke. It wasn't. We changed direction, then I got ready to ask for the canter again and Jezebel already knew what I was going to ask for. I turned her nose slightly to the outside as we came around the corner, to shift her weight onto the right lead, and Jezebel cantered-on the correct lead! We went around a 3rd of the arena, and the little girl came back down to a trot on her own. It is harder for her to continue cantering on the right lead. We repeated it a second time, and same thing. It was a good try nonetheless, and since this was her very first time cantering under saddle and her owner was to ride her next, I stopped there and brought her back to Sally. We chatted for awhile, then she got on and did some w/t around the arena. By then there were 3 other riders and it was getting crowded. Sally swung off and asked if I wanted to ride Jezebel a little bit more. I did. I practiced some walk-halt transitions, just to see how responsive she was. She really was bad about stopping without some significant pulling on the reins. We'll re-visit that later. I did about 10 minutes more of trot work, especially circles and spirals, and Jezebel suddenly softened, coming into the contact and lightening in the front. It was really nice! I cantered her to the right one more time, pushing her through the corner so we could complete a full circle, and then we called it a day.

I've been hired as her exercise rider. :) I had my first official exercise ride on her yesterday, and we did a LOT of walk-trot, walk-halt transitions, and practiced those canter departs some more. Jezebel is already better about going into the canter, and by the end of the session, I could *almost* get her to stop from a walk with no rein contact at all. We'll if she remembers next week.

Last night I also had the opportunity to hop on Finn, the new OTTB. He's a bright bay with a big blaze, and he's a big boy-almost 17 hands, very muscular-he almost looks like he has QH in him- and is also young at 6 years old. His owner had a nasty accident on him after a very unexpected bucking fit, and is having some confidence issues with him. He can be quite pushy if you're timid with him. I had already handled him on the ground and liked him a lot. Everyone says he's a dominant horse, but I'm reading him as more of a big baby Huey with a puppy-dog personality and the attention span of a gnat. He hasn't really been taught ground manners and boundaries, and this is a problem he's had in his relationships with other horses, too. So he just really doesn't have a clue that he's not supposed to step on other living beings' toes. That said, he's not the pushiest horse I've ever met, either, and he's not mean about it. If you keep him moving and vary what you're doing, he's a lot more likely to pay attention. It took only 10 minutes of handling him to get him to stop crowding me, so he is fixable.

I watched his mom, Jessica, ride him last night. He's a nice mover, but he was quite irritable and she got nervous when she touched him with her heel to ask him to trot and he suddenly cow-kicked mid stride, which she said he has never, EVER done before. She eventually got him to trot, but there was a lot of head-tossing, teeth gnashing and pinned ears involved. Jess said he felt like he was going to explode. I could see why a rider would be frightened by his behavior, especially in such a big horse, but I wasn't intimidated by what I was seeing and felt that this was either a pain response or a response to his mom's nerves. I wanted to figure it out, so I offered to give him a whirl.

Finn tested me first by bracing HARD against the bit when I picked up the reins at the walk. I pulled gently on the inside rein and he released.  He actually didn't try that again during the rest of the ride. His other evasion however, is arching his neck and getting completely behind the bit. Jess doesn't like the bit he's currently in-a loose ring slow-twist- but it is the bit that her trainer had him in, and she is trying to give him some sort of consistency, and has kept him in the same bit. He's been through A LOT the last few months, including extended stall rest, hospitalization, an antibiotic-induced gastritis, a couple of barn changes, and a lot of routine changes, including a stay at a trainer's facility where he was being worked 6 days a week. I have to commend this horse for being as calm as he is given all of these changes in such quick succession at such a young age. Jess really cares about him and is a stellar owner, and has been trying her damnedest to give him the very best she can and get back to a point where she feels she can trust him.

I asked him to trot, and was met with quite a bit of resistance when I touched Finn with my heel-the same response Jess had had. So this ruled out the possibility that it might be a reaction to her. I urged him into the trot with my seat. He has a nice trot with a powerful stride but you can still sit to it. I trotted him for a bit in both directions, getting a feel for him. He was good about staying on the rail when asked to, his circles are even, and he responds to half-halts from the seat. He was really champing on that bit, though, and coming back behind it.

I honestly felt no reason why I should not attempt to canter him, despite his behavior. He's a big, muscular horse, but after years riding super-hot horses, including my own, he didn't feel like he was going to do anything super stupid. Jess had mentioned that he had not been cantered under saddle in a couple of weeks, but I had seen him playing in the paddock with John (the other gelding he's being turned out with) earlier that day and figured he'd be fine. I cued the canter to the left, and he bounded into it. He has a magnificent canter-his stride is HUUUUGE, and he crossed from one end of the indoor to the other in 4 strides. His balance at the canter on the left lead is not the best-I felt we were careening around the corners of the arena, as the turns felt really tight for him, and he was SO on the forehand. We went around once, then came back down to a trot and changed direction. His trot after cantering actually felt lighter-some of these young TBs get really strung out at the trot after cantering. I asked for the right lead canter. This was much nicer-he didn't feel as heavy in the bridle, and with a small half-halt to organize him, I was able to do a large circle at the far end of the indoor.

We trotted some more, and then I had him walk circles around Jess for awhile while we discussed him. I asked him to trot again, and his complaint about it was much louder than the first time. He did not want to go into a trot, but with a little bit of polite insistence from me, he obliged. We trotted around some more, doing more circles, and asking him for some lateral work-I wanted to see if his complaining was about the walk-trot transition, or a response to leg pressure. It seemed to be more about that specific transition than anything else. He will leg yield to the left, but not so much to the right, however neither time did he even so much as pin his ears. I walked him out and got off. I had a feeling I knew what was going on with him. I stood as close to his shoulder as I could, then reached under his belly as far back as I could, and pressed on his stomach. Big tail swish and stomp. I repeated this on the other side. Big tail swish and cow kick. Jess and I looked at each other. We had just been discussing the possibility of ulcers as the cause of Finn's irritability, and this was pretty much confirming it. He's been exposed to every single cause of ulcers in the book, and he's showing some of the common signs: irritability, restlessness, the new responses on today's ride, including the reluctance to go into a trot, and he's also a cribber. I had mentioned starting him on U-Guard as an experiment, but after seeing this dramatic reaction, I felt that he should just get treated for ulcers, period. Gastro-Guard is expensive, though, and Jess has poured thousands and thousands of dollars into Finn already. I mentioned that BQ had just recently treated Cody for ulcers and she had found a much more affordable generic alternative-I suggested she talk with BQ.

BQ actually showed up right then almost as if on cue, and we discussed all of this with her. She agreed that it sounds very much like Finn is suffering from ulcers, and she went over all of the treatments that she knows about. Jess now has some options in terms of ulcer treatment for Finn and is hoping to start treatment tomorrow. She wants me to continue riding him after he's better, which I'm looking forward to. I think the big boy has potential, and I think he can eventually be what Jess wants.

A big plus about riding these horses? The saddles...it had been such a long time since I'd ridden in h/j saddles. It's nice to really be able to ride in a half-seat and for it to be ok to be a titch in front of the vertical while trotting. This kind of riding is ingrained in me at a cellular level, so dressage riding is a constant battle against what my body wants to do naturally. It's gotten a lot better in the Alta Escuela, but there are still moments when I have to remind myself, "Sit back!" I used to love jumping, but funny enough, I still don't miss that part. Just the saddles. *lol*

Schooling Divot the day before a jumper show in Sumter County, FL
Looks like I'll be getting my workouts at the barn now after all with 3 horses to ride!
(I still want to get some strength training in at a real gym, though...)

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like fun--and a great workout for sure! :)