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

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Barn cats and Wessage

This is Oreo, our new barn kitty.

She has an ear notch from a trap-neuter-return program. However, though initially fearful of people, this one is definetely not feral!
At the barn down the street where I used to board, there was a pride of cats (I guess it would be called a pride?) that would come in the evenings to be fed. There were 7 of them, 6 of which hung around the barn most of the time, and then there was Oreo. She would show up out of the blue only in the evenings and stay on the outskirts of the main group, waiting to be fed. Since I often did the barn evening feedings, I also fed the cats, and I made sure Oreo got some food too. She was one of my favorites, with a little squeaky voice and an adoration for attention once you got her to trust you.
After my horse was taken from me and I was boarding at my current barn, I would see Oreo walking along the arena wall, on her way to the barn down the street. I tried calling her over several times, and convinced the barn manager at the time that we should leave food out for her, but none of these tactics ever worked in stopping her daily pilgrimage to the barn down the street. She actually ran from me when seeing me out of context, so after that I kind of let her be.

As it turns out, after I was gone, Diana was doing most of the evening feedings over there and had also been feeding the barn cats and Oreo. One evening shortly after Diana had moved to our barn, Oreo suddenly showed up at our barn, wailing and looking scruffier than I remembered her.

The timing was perfect. Judy's barn kitty, Smiles, had just been diagnosed with FIV and she had taken her home to become a permanent indoor cat. We still had plenty of cat food at the barn, so I grabbed a handful of food and brought it over to Oreo, calling her name to rein her in before she ran away (she always, always responded with a "Meow!" back) and placing the food on the floor about 6 feet away from her. I stepped back, and Oreo immediately came over to eat. She ate voraciously, so I fed her another handful, and after that she was convinced we were nice people, and allowed us to pet her, which got her talking more than ever and purring up a storm while she followed us up and down the aisle as we finished our chores.

She came back the next night, and after that she has become a permanent resident. In this pic she was kneading the air!

That's one happy kitty. I have to say I love cats about as much as I love horses. I own 3 cats. They're like potato chips-you can't have just one.

On another note, there is finally peace at the barn after Elisabeth left, and after a sit-down with Mark and Dianne, the air has cleared and everyone is friends again. It's nice to actually want to spend time at the barn again and to be able to look people in the eye with a smile.

While waiting for my saddle, we've gotten creative. I have been participating in the sport known as Wessage. Aka dressage in a Western saddle. Dianne now owns my old Wintec All Purpose, but the entire reason why I sold it is because it didn't fit Lily appropriately. I tried Diana's Wintec Close Contact, but it has Cair panels, and she just seemed 100% uncomfortable in it, hollowing her back and inverting her neck. I can't say I was much more comfortable either-for the first time in my life, I was very uncomfortable with short stirrups and felt like I was flopping all over her back at the trot; cantering was out of the question.

On a whim, I asked for permission and tried Diana's synthetic Abetta Western saddle on Lily. It's very light (maybe 15 lbs?) and small, with rounded skirts and a 15" seat. My fear was that having a Western saddle on would make Lily have a flashback to the cowboy days, so I lunged her for a couple of minutes with the saddle before getting on. She had absolutely no reaction, so I got on.

The ride was a huge success. She performed as well as she did in Judy's dressage saddle, giving me her snappy trot, and collecting when asked to. I was thrilled.

Our next ride was actually our first ride with Diana! I have known her for 2 years, and had not yet actually seen her on a horse, not even her own. We went on a trail ride to the park, and had a great time. She's a nice rider, and after 5 years together, her and Bali have an obvious partnership and trust. I love watching pairs like them-it's like they're one entity, a centaur.

Since Diana rode in her Western saddle for the occassion, I borrowed Dianne's black Circle Y Western saddle that she used to use on Pink. It also fit Lily well, and despite being heavier than Diana's (probably just under 17 lbs) Lily still didn't care about it on her back. It was like riding on a sofa-it has a nice cushy memory foam seat, and I actually liked NOT being able to feel every single little thing that Lily was doing underneath me. I remembered why I used to prefer training horses in Western saddles. I'd switch to my old close contact only when I knew I could trust the horse or if it was something gaited, like a Paso Fino.

So I've continued riding her Western. I figure it's good practice for the Alta Escuela, which is also heavier in weight than a regular dressage saddle, has a wider twist more like a Western saddle, and also initially feels like you're sitting higher above the horse. She has performed almost as well in Dianne's Western in the arena as in Diana's, so I now have 2 saddles to choose from in the meantime.

Lily goes Western

I took the noseband off, permanently for now. She really doesn't need it, and it's been so hot, I'd rather she have as little stuff on her as possible.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Liberty Work

Can you tell it's raining? I've actually posted 2 days in a row in almost a year! It started raining yesterday, and it has not stopped yet-it's supposed to continue into next week.

I'm less than excited about riding because Judy is selling her dressage saddle that I have been borrowing for the last 4 months while waiting for my Spanish saddle to arrive. My saddle is *supposed* to arrive in about 2 weeks or so. I hope it does. In the meantime I'm borrowing Diana's Wintec All Purpose but it does not really fit Lily, even after changing the gullet, and riding in short stirrups again was a mission. I have a bum knee from work (all that kneeling on tile floors will really kill your knees), and it just hurts to ride at hunter/jumper length nowadays. I rode her in it once, and she was going inverted again, and refusing to relax and extend her trot. It didn't help that I felt like I was flopping around all over the place-the saddle was slippery when combined with my riding jeans, and it felt like it was slipping around on her back as well. Cantering was out of the question. I was in all over pain after 20 minutes of walk and trot. I'm thinking it might be a major setback to ride her in this saddle for any length of time. So I guess we'll be focusing on groundwork.

We have been trying out some of the Hempfling theories from his book, "Dancing with Horses". It seems so simple when you read it, but is actually much harder in practice. Lily and I already have a sort of established language, and I've used the Hempfling book more as a guide than as a rulebook and played with the signals she already understands. The result: I have been working her in one of the paddocks at liberty, cordoning off one section of the paddock with 2 longe lines to turn it into a square, and am now able to get her to transition up and down walk, trot, canter, change directions by turning to the inside, and half halt. The half halts are interesting. If I suddenly crouch, she interprets it as an order to half halt, and she does, very dramatically! She'll practically do a sliding stop, then continue on the next slower gait with barely a pause. It's very impressive. Not what I was intending with that signal, as all I wanted was for her to stop, period, but the half halt is harder when done this way, so I'm pretty happy that she is able to do this. I still haven't really figured out a way to get a clean half from her at liberty. My one big win was that I was finally, FINALLY able to get her to "join up" or come to me of her own volition. She had never done this before.

Recently, I turned her loose in the arena, and tried doing the same. She chose to work around the "track" of sorts outside of the dressage arena perimeter, but I could get her to transition up and down with the same effectiveness as in the square paddock despite the huge distance between us. She would change directions by turning to the outside instead of the inside, but we'll work more on that. She will stand and wait for me, but she won't yet come to me when we are in the arena. We've only done this twice, so I'm hoping this will eventually happen, too. I'm going to look up more Parelli videos and try implementing this in what we're already doing, as I think he breaks it down more effectively than Hempfling, though I do prefer Hempfling's lack of gimmicks.

2 photos of Lily trotting while being worked at liberty in the arena

Friday, June 22, 2012

On Zombies and Drama

This is a big deal that I had not yet mentioned here. My best friend Diana moved over to our barn! She boarded for the last 2 years at the barn/"equine rescue" where I used to keep one of my previous horses. The barn manager there is a true nut case (see "My Equestrian Journey" for the story on what happened to me there...), and karma has paid her back by leaving her with an empty 20-stall facility. Diana and another lady that boarded there gave their notice at the same time-they were the last tenants remaining. It was a stressful, nerve-wracking move, where Diana had to lie about where she was going so the barn manager would let her leave in peace-she has been known for fits of insanity when boarders leave, especially if they are leaving for another barn on the same street.
Bali, a Percheron/Quarter Horse cross, is finally getting the turnout she was lacking at the other property, and I get to see my best friend every day again.

Bali, with room to run for the first time in almost 2 years.

On another front, it's that time of year again when the crazies start coming out of the woodwork. I swear it's the heat that affects people's brains. One of our previously good boarders was just evicted for stirring up trouble between us-she had the barn literally split down the middle, her side vs Judy's side. I've never seen such a thing in my life. Of course, those of us on Team Judy were snubbed by those on Team Elisabeth. When we were all in the barn at the same time, you could have cut the air with a knife-it was that tense. Our barn is too small for that kind of massive drama. When Elisabeth started deliberately mixing up the way she was setting up her feed and then accussing us of not feeding her mare her grain when we assumed she'd already fed it (Diana, Judy and myself all take turns with the late evening feeding), and started going to the other tennants and telling them outright lies, then proceeded to threaten the barn owner that she was going to call the police on Judy for "animal cruelty" for not feeding her mare her grain, well, it was the last straw. (The grain had been missed 3 times in a month because it had not been set up and we had assumed Elisabeth had fed her mare. Each time, however, the mare had gotten her hay. She was not being starved, and the grain had neither been missed on purpose nor forgotten. If we couldn't find it to feed it, and Elisabeth had been in the barn, we had assumed that she had fed it herself.) This was the last straw: she got the boot from Judy. I've been wanting to write about it, because originally one of the reasons I created this blog was to ridicule the drama that seems to accompany barn life as a necessity in this part of the state-it was going to be my source of venting. This was just too depressing for me to write about, though. This last stint resulted in me losing my 2 best friends at the barn-Dianne and Mark, who were the main members of Team Elisabeth, simply because I was on Team Judy.

The tension in the barn has since dissipated. I don't find myself avoiding the barn as much at times when Team Elisabeth is there. I had almost begged at work to go back to working weekends just so I could avoid the weekend crowd at the barn, and I'm glad I didn't, as it would have ruined the only guaranteed time I have off with Charles. I still wish I'd kept Lily at the Parkland barn, however, and that I'd been successful in convincing Judy to not take over this barn at all. The heartache, the stress, the added expense of boarding at this barn, was not worth the return at all.

I have zero tolerance for drama, and it is one of the main reasons why Charles and I continue to try to leave South FL. 6 years living here is 6 years too many. Neither in Tampa nor in all my years in Puerto Rico did I see so much drama, and it is not just at the barn-it is everywhere. At my previous barn, drama caused me to lose my horse. At work there is a constant war amongst the doctors that has trickled its way down the line to affect even the morale amongst us technicians, and at my previous job one of my co-workers decided she hated me (I still don't understand why, as I really liked the girl and went out of my way to help her) and started spreading false rumors about me to the entire hospital. The bath salts incident has not helped in creating any motivation to stay, either.  One of the girls at work used to live in the apartments right next to where the incident happened. It is the result of a new synthetic drug that is taking the U.S. by storm. Walking Dead, anyone?

I just don't understand why people here seem incapable of just helping each other out and being happy. Everyone has to keep tabs on everything; nothing is ever for free, not even a friend's help sometimes. It's all about what's best for "me" and fuck everybody else; everyone is in a constant hurry on their journey to the next instant; and everyone is always angry. It upsets me when I realize I'm starting to turn into one of these people myself as a defense mechanism. It is easier to live amongst the anger and the rush when you are one of them than it is to exist as a peaceful being. Being peaceful and happy makes you stand out like a beacon, like a light in the darkness, and for some reason creates the need in others to attempt to destroy you and your happiness. I guess the "zombie" attacks are just a reflection of what the world here is turning into. You just get burned over and over and over. Our lease on our apartment ends the first week of November, and Charles and I are already searching as hard as we can for a travel nursing job for him that will take us somewhere else. I wouldn't mind staying in Florida, I'd just like to live in a different part of the state, further north or even on the west coast.

Friday, June 8, 2012

New Look

So to continue the update that I didn't quite finish in the last 2 posts, Lily's body has changed tremendously in the last month. Not only because of the new haircut - after the clinic, we arrived home and I took her mane off. Why? Well, during dinner with Manuel the clinician, the subject of Lusitano mares' traditional roached manes came up.

Iberian-type mare, with the traditional roached mane and shaved tail.
Judy in particular doesn't like this look on mares, but Miguel was saying that you can shape a roached mane to create the ilusion of a false crest.

I've always liked roached manes, but found it inconvenient when riding jumpers, especially if you rode horses that wanted to fly across the course, making rollbacks and tight turns a feat-sometimes you really need some mane to grab in those instances! However, since we're just doing dressage, I proceeded to take Lily's mane off. This is the result:

The long tuft of hair? Yes, I left it on purpose. It's called an "oh shit handle."
I LOVE the look on her. It makes her look very Spanish, and less Thoroughbred-y. I shaped it so that the highest part of the curve is even with the slight dip in her neck (you can really see what I mean in angle of the second picture above). By the end of the first week of the new haircut, Judy admitted to me that though she hates roached manes, she really does like the look on Lily. She's feminine enough to be able to pull it off.

Her body is rounder, her withers appear higher, and she's developing more muscle in the little triangle between her shoulder blade, withers and beginning of the top of her neck.

The few of you who read this blog will have noticed that I changed the blog banner photo, because I finally have a good enough pic of Lily and me together. That photo was taken 2 weeks ago by Judy, the day after one of our best lessons yet. These are my 2 favorites:

Totally looking like a Spanish horse!

Love this photo. Her left hind is almost even with her girth, and her front end is UP! My butt is out of the saddle, but I promise I was not bouncing. Please see video below.
This video of her in one of her most collected canters so far was taken on the same day:

The head tossing has almost completely disappeared after purchasing a curb chain cover. We're still working on that inside bend on this side-her right lead canter is her weakest point of all. But still, HUUUUGE improvement from just a month ago!

A video of her trot, also that same day:

She does get on the forehand in the corner, and tries to get quick coming down the long side of the arena towards Charles (who was taking the video), but you can see the overall improvement in her carriage, especially when compared to this, taken September of last year.

I think pictures speak louder than words. :) We have been doing more shoulder-ins, practicing the counted walk (she still gets very impatient with this and wants to walk sideways like a crab-it's very hard for her to go straight and slow!) and a lot of circles at a walk using the outside rein only as part of our warm-up and cool-down. She'll also do a turn on the haunches with no reins, which I discovered pretty much by accident, but she'll do it in both directions! Other than that, we've been working on short collected canter sessions with a correct bend, and on really extending her trot for short periods of time. I started all of these exercises initially in her turnout, which is about half the size of the arena, so she wouldn't try to escape the bit by bolting if she became scared with the new cues and equipment. This idea worked-during a 2-week period, she attempted to escape only once, and I was able to bring her to an immediate stop and then continue working as if nothing had happened, thanks to the reduced work space. For the last 3 weeks, we've been back in the arena, and this week I started taking her out again-I don't want her getting ring-sour with too much arena work, and I think working in the park is essential to her conditioning. Plus, it's breezier in the park than in the barn arena.

While it never truly got what I would call "cool" this winter, temperatures were tolerable for the most part if you rode before 10:00 am or after 3pm. As of May, we are officially back to hot, muggy Florida summer weather, with temps already hitting the 90's this week. If you want to ride, you have to do it in the early morning, at 8:00 am or earlier, ideally, or in the late afternoon after 6:00 pm. That is, if it's not pouring. It rained every single day for most of last month-it was starting to feel like we live in the Pacific Northwest... I've said it before, and I'll say it again: whoever called this the Sunshine State definetely did NOT live here year-round! It is normal to get afternoon thunderstorms in the summer, and since summer here starts in April and ends in November, that's pretty much 8 months of rainy season.

The start of Florida monsoon season. "Sunshine State" my @#$...
Despite the warm winter, the experts keep saying it's going to be a less active than usual hurricane season, which has everyone perplexed. See the Accuweather report here. The reader comments at the bottom of the page following the report totally cracked me up, because it was exactly what I was thinking as I read it. What will keep hurricanes from forming if the Atlantic water temps between Africa and the US east coast never went below 80 degrees this winter? We've already had 2 tropical storms form-Alberto and Beryl, both in May. Hurricane season officially started on June 1st, and we're already starting on the letter "C" for storm names... Thankfully, our barn is hurricane-proof up to category 3 or 4, and it doesn't flood; Judy just has to implement a system for boarding up the walkout entrances, and we're good to go. Hopefully that happens within the next month or so.

Ahh...the joys of living in the tropics...