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

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

FINALLY an Update on the Mares!

 I love when they come to me when I go visit them after work.

Yes, that is Gracie's nostril in close-up.
"Can I eat that??"
No Gracie, it's my phone!
Lately she has been taking priority with me. Since Carlos has proven to be perfectly capable of riding Lily, I've been able to work on Gracie while in company AND moving at speed, a combination that I had never been able to do before. When I rode Gracie, I always rode alone because in company I was always the one on Lily!

The catalyst  for this was that, on a solo outing one day, G-Mare got into a HUGE argument with me over returning to the barn at the walk and I realized that it was time for me to dedicate a significant amount of one-on-one time to her so we could get her brain back in the right place. She has always been the horse I choose to ride when I don't want to have to think, and I wanted to keep her that way!

Ever since the dressage clinic with Stephen Birchall that I audited, I have been working with Gracie on general dressage concepts to get her back to using herself correctly. She is a pretty unique individual in that she is built downhill but naturally and effortlessly moves uphill at walk, gait and canter. The only gait at which she moves downhill is the trot, which is the gait that Carlos has been allowing her to get away with for the longest time. It is in the mare's best interest that she work at her special gaits so as to spare her right front with the ringbone.

So we took it to the arena for a couple of sessions, which she was initially quite pissed off and argumentative about. She did NOT want do as I said in terms of bend, engagement and collection, which resulted in a 10-minute hissy fit. Gracie hissy-fit = violent head tossing, bulging against my leg, moving sideways instead of straight (this part can be scary on trail because she does not pay attention to where she's going when she does this in an argument) and then coming to an abrupt halt. I'll usually let her stand there for a second so she can re-set her brain (if I try to push her to continue too soon it just prolongs the argument) and then verbally ask her to walk. And we start over. Sometimes she'll be willing to listen then, or we'll go through this cycle a couple more times before she realizes it's just easier to do as I say to begin with. It's her way of saying, "This is HARD! I don't wanna!" She gets heavy praise the second she does what I want. Usually once she gives in, she drops the argument entirely.

For our first dressagey ride, there were hissy fits every time I asked her to bend, every time I asked her to flex to loosen up, every time I asked her to sit back on her hocks and collect. She was incredibly stiff through the base of her neck and did not want to lift her withers. We had to go back to the walk and work on moving away from leg, bending and counter-bending, circles, baby leg yields and shoulder-in. We then worked a bit on all of these at the gait. (If anyone ever tries to tell you that gaited horses can't move laterally, they are lying. Just an fyi.) Lots of arguing throughout. But there came a moment when she was finally loose, when she was responsive to my requests, and she was doing gorgeous movements in every direction at her slow rack and I brought her to a halt, patted her profusely, and dismounted. We had worked for exactly 20 minutes.

Our next dressagey ride took place in the girls' field. Lily still had a bandage on her butt and I didn't want her freaking out over being alone in the field so I just rode Gracie in their field. (I personally think horses should be willing to work anywhere. I don't see why the field where they live in should be off limits as a work area. Sometimes you don't have anywhere else to ride or work your horse!) Gracie had two small fits initially over repeating the type of work but when she realized it was the same thing she had done before, she complied and we had a lovely ride. She held a correct, collected gait for a full 30 minutes and while she was covered head-to-toe in sweat, she did not feel tired at all.

After that we took it to the trail. I wasn't going to insist on her working in collection all the time on trail, but I wanted her to only gait (no trotting) and to put her through her spectrum of gait varieties: running walk, slow rack (aka singlefoot in KMS/RM horses), running walk, speed rack. And since a lot of people aren't familiar with those, go to this post I wrote two years ago explaining them all with both photos and video.

Jess then came out and I ultimately had her ride Lily while I rode Gracie and we put in a 10 mile ride where G-Mare only gaited...and I got her to do the speed rack on command for prolonged periods. Jess's jaw dropped. She had never seen Gracie perform this particular gait. The Blonde Beast was FLYING, her mane whipping back like flames. I literally just sat back in the saddle and laughed. Lily had to canter to keep up!

Things have been smoother with every ride, other than Gracie's persistent cross-cantering when on the left lead. My vet was due to come out for fall vaccines anyway so I asked to have G-Mare's hocks injected while we were at it.

Carlos and I had one more ride before the injections, where we hauled out to Little Bennett. It was my first time doing an extended trail ride on Gracie in company in over two years!

 Both mares rocked. There was a small incident with Lily that I'll go into below in her section of this post. Gracie was going through her variety of gaits on command.

"She's moving funny," Carlos said.

"Carlos, this is what it looks like when she GAITS!" I laughed. He'd never really seen her in action on trail because he was always on her.

We did 10 miles in an hour and a half. Gracie didn't even look tired afterwards, even though we maintained a consistent 7 mph pace, mostly gaiting!

Trimming her feet after the ride. She kept resting her nose on my shoulder.
Like so. And yeah: I was too lazy to be bothered to look for my farrier gloves and paid for it in the form of a sliced finger from the coarse side of the rasp. -_-
 The following Monday she had her hocks injected:

"I drool when I'm high." The wet spots on the floor near her lead rope are from her drool!
Starting to wake up a bit post-injections.
She had four days completely off, a day of mostly walking, and then Carlos came out with me to ride.

My ultimate reward? Carlos went to get the horses in the field. Lily let him catch her but G-Mare kept running away from him, staying just out of reach and he finally gave up. I took her rope halter from him as he walked out with Lily, and walked into the field by myself.

"Gray-cieeee!" I called.

She lifted her head, pricked her ears and broke into a GALLOP to come up to me! She came to a stop right in front of me and stood next to me so I could slip the rope halter over her head. I was thrilled that for once, I actually had treats to reward her with for the spectacular display of preference!

I turned around, gloating at Carlos who was over by the hitching post with Lily.

He had seen the whole thing. He gave me the middle finger. I roared with laughter.

Her cross-cantering is diminished since the hock injections, though she still does it occasionally. I plan to have her right front pastern (she has high ringbone in that leg) injected over the winter so I can give her a long break after...they require about 6 weeks of rest when you inject a high-motion joint.

She is gaiting spectacularly though. I've pretty much entirely eliminated her trot, which was my goal. Why no trot? Because gaited horses use themselves so much better when they GAIT. And Gracie is no exception.

This one and the collage below were from an evening bareback ride. GMare was a gaiting machine! She was doing her speed rack in this photo!
Her legs were literally a blur! And I had no trouble sitting her because gaited! :D
A good friend of mine, Shanna, used to ride in her 20s and had to step away from it because $$$, as you guys all know. Since she had some experience, I invited her out and put her on Gracie to re-learn the ropes. They are doing beautifully together so far, and I hope to take her out on the trails soon!

Rack! First ride!
More rack. Second ride.
Speed rack! ZOOM!!
Running walk.
I have been tremendously pleased with Shanna's lessons because they have been proof that Gracie now ONLY gaits. She'll canter, but there is no trot whatsoever, not even for a less experienced rider! Now we'll need to train Carlos to keep this consistent with her...

Lilybird is doing fabulously but I have not ridden her in...a while. Not because I don't want to, but because I've been taking full advantage of the opportunity to work Gracie while someone else rides Lily. I know Lily misses me, as she keeps walking up to me in the field, "Are we riding today?" but my riding schedule has been so weird. Gracie needed the one-on-one time with me, though.

"So...if we're not riding, will you scratch my forehead then?"
Yes, Lily. Anything for you. <3
Jess and Carlos have been riding her and she has done spectacularly for them.

The day Carlos and I hauled to Little Bennet was only his second time riding her off-property. Lily had a weird freak-out when he got on and I'm still not sure why: he didn't touch her rump with his foot as he was swinging his leg over and there was nothing amiss about her tack. But right when she reacted, the clip on her left rein slipped off the bit and Carlos was left with only one rein. Lily was all, "I'm scared! I'm scared!" and doing her absolute best to try to contain herself so as to not unseat Carlos but still sort of going up-and-down. The flapping unclipped rein was not helping matters.

"Lily, ven aca," I said to her calmly. "Ven aca" = "Come here" in Spanish, which she is very responsive to.

I was still surprised when she immediately came over to me, still up-and-down, "Help! Help!" and stood still long enough to let me clip the rein back on and calm her down. Carlos sat all of that beautifully without issue, remaining calm himself. I checked her all over to make sure everything was okay and could not find anything wrong with her tack or Carlos's position, which gave her enough time to calm down.

I was very pleased with the fact that, despite being upset, she still tried to take care of Carlos and despite having another rider on her back, she still responded to me first. This mare has come SO FAR guys!! SO FAR!!!

There were no more problems throughout the rest of the ride. We had a great time, both horses and people!

Lily's happy ears!
Note also: her butt wound is completely healed! Barely a scar left. My vet was very, very impressed.

I think this was one of the rides I was most impressed with, though...it was our first real ride after G-Mare's hock injections so I was taking it easy with her, but I let Carlos do gallop sets with Lily so she at least could get her cardio in.

I mean, holy cow.
And here they are in motion:

Here they are doing hill sprints. 
He said that Lily feels like she has 4-wheel drive when compared to Gracie: he's not used to having to check a horse when galloping uphill! Gracie is a push ride uphill, Lily is a pull ride. She makes it seem effortless. His grin after galloping her was worth a million bucks!

It is SO HARD to believe that he has only been riding for two years and a half! I know experienced riders that would kill for that quiet of a seat and hands! Less than a handful of people have been entrusted with riding Lilybird during the five years I've owned her. It is a huge testament to his skill that he can ride her at all!

Jess and Lily just click. I know I'm Lily's #1, but she is happy with Jess as her plan B.

Hill sprints!
We finally had our first frost this morning, but it rapidly warmed up to the upper 60's by mid-morning. The trees are just starting to change color in Maryland, which I'm thankful for because the later those leaves change color, the longer they will be on the trees! I don't mind winter but I do mind the months and months of naked trees.

And that is kind of it on the equine front at the moment. Lots of other stuff happening too, and I hope at some point to have a new post for y'all about the new surgery adventures, but that might not happen until we're snowed in! ;) 



    Gah, I wish I could still be like Carlos and be calm through things like that. Now I KNOW things can go wrong and so I get nervous expecting it. Stan is already teaching me otherwise and helping me back to my original ways though.

    When you write "Plan B" I can't help but giggle thinking about birth control. "I'm Lily's preferred method, but Jess is great during those "oh shit" morning after moments!" (I'm sure Carlos will appreciate this comment to some extent.)

    Also, there's an old adage about the leaves on the trees... The longer they take to fall, the harder the winter, the earlier they fall, the easier the winter. (This is in reference to SNOW not necessarily temperatures (thank god) as arctic temps are a newer trend and this saying is VERY OLD.) Go figure! Guess we will see! This is the latest I can remember.

    1. I'm fine with snow...the arctic temps can shove it.

      And yeah, in light of recent events with other people (thank God) Plan B now only makes me think of birth control...lol

      Carlos is amazing at the calm. It's one of the things I try to emulate!

  2. Having horses that your not really horsey friends can ride is a special thing and you have two! It is a testament to all your hard work and training. There are only a handful of people I know could ride Gem and not hate me for it. Fall is the only time I miss living up North. You just don't get the same feeling down here even though people are already in sweaters and it is still in the 80s during the day.

    1. Oh Jess is horsey...she was on CSU's intercollegiate polo team! She is a major, MAJOR badass! I wouldn't have dreamed of letting her ride Lily otherwise!

      I do love fall. It's wonderful to finally be one of those people that gets to actually *see* the tree color changes instead of just seeing the decor in stores while it's 80 degrees outside...

  3. It's so nice to have people who can ride your horses well! I have a hard time sharing but I'm learning. Your girls are looking great :)

    1. Thank you KateRose! I've never been one to share, especially when it comes to Lily, but it's definitely easier when you find the right people! :)

  4. Glad to read such a mooshive update and glad both mares are doing so well!

    1. "Mooshive" might be my new favorite word! lol

  5. Loved this update :) I 100% agree with you about dressage helping gaited horses on many, many levels. A speed rack is the best gait! I am sad for people who haven't gotten to experience it. Even though Ozzy was bred to be a trotter, he gaits. I clocked him at 23mph at a rack once. We were flying, and my butt was just sort of vibrating. NO effort on my part. SO much fun! I'm glad Gracie is feeling and moving better after her injections. They make such a difference for so many horses.

    I had a good laugh at Lily bouncing up and down "HELP HELP!" I'm glad Carlos stayed on, no problem. I had an eerily similar moment with my own Lilly last week at a water crossing. Her rein came unclipped and she bounced up and down while I rolled my eyes. And Carlos galloping all out like that makes me smile every time I see it. You'd never know he hadn't been riding his whole life. I love it.

    1. That is crazy eerie re: your Lilly and mine.

      Carlos is amazing. But I think we all knew that already. ;)