Thursday, April 24, 2014

She's molting!

Remember when she was constantly sweating but refused to shed?  Looks like she's shedding now. 

It was a little hard to take a good photo of it

You can kind of see, but she's all patchy

She kind of looked like an overo with brown spots instead of white.

I was not kidding! She looks just hilarious.  These pictures are actually from the other day, but I was out again this evening and she's all patchy with her smooth summer coat showing on the majority of both her sides, parts of her neck, and most of her face (with the exception of her wispy winter beard and her blaze).  I was just a bit disappointed to see how dark her summer coat looks, though.  I love her to bits, but I was so hoping that she wouldn't get dark this summer like she did last year.  I see now that she is getting darker than ever.  On the bright side, her summer coat is looking nice and shiny and soft!

I will try to remember to take pictures of her next time I'm out of what her new coat looks like.  She was just much too dirty for that today.  I'm eager to be done shedding her out soon; she's been sweating like crazy in even fairly light work, and she rolled in the mud again today to cool off.  I guess it's a sign that spring has finally sprung.  Hopefully it's here to stay.  

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Another amazing Viva Carlos Blog hop!

The most recent installment in the lovely series of Viva Carlos's Magical Blog Hops is called Appreciating what you have, and based on the type of progress (and occasional lack thereof) I've been seeing more recently, I can't think of an idea I like better than pointing out just a little bit of the endless supply of traits and qualities I absolutely adore about my horse.  

"With training it's easy to know the things you need to work on and nitpick nitpick, especially when your goal is to show. I'm particularly bad at this right now, but getting better due to holding Carlos on an eternal pedestal and Ramone on a stool in the corner wearing a dunce cap."

"Lets take a moment to appreciate the Pros of our current ponies, whether you own them or just ride them in lessons."  (all quoted sections directly from Viva Carlos)

What I love about Jazz 
I know far too little about conformation for my liking, but I'm told Jazz has excellent conformation.  
She is so smart! I could teach this horse by accident (which I technically have done a time or two)
She gets so itchy in the spring and makes all kinds of funny faces when I scratch her
She's amazingly soft on her mouth and usually fairly responsive to leg pressure.
As soon as she has a saddle on her, she goes right into work mode.
She's usually very good at picking up her feet.  If she won't pick up one foot, the opposite is almost always packed with mud and a nasty rock or two.
She's mine, all mine.
She has very good ground manners.  On one of her good days, she has excellent ground manners.
She leads very easily.
We've reached a point in our re-start where I can ride essentially every time I work with her.
I cannot even begin to quantify the amount I've learned because of her.
I have met so many amazing people and found so many amazing opportunities because of her. 
As much as she may misbehave, as soon as I find a way to really properly communicate what I'm asking, she progresses like gangbusters.
She's not stubborn (see above)
She doesn't try to get me off her back all the time (I'll probably do a full post about times I've fallen off her at some point, but she does not play fair. They aren't regular bucks and crowhops, they're twisty, up, down, left and right, so I consider myself lucky she's not often determined to use them against me) 
Above everything else, she's just fun.  Even on our worst rides I couldn't keep a smile off my face if I tried.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Catch and Release

Sunday's lesson was, as lessons hopefully should be, a very useful and productive time with my horse.  After a Saturday that was just off and off the rails from the start, it was very nice to have a,, subdued... not quite, sort of farm environment.  Sunday was a gorgeous day, with the sun shining and the flurries from last week melting away, naturally that meant that what felt like all the boarders at my usually ghostly deserted boarding stable were there at once... when I already felt way behind and was concerned about being ready in time for my lesson, but I should backtrack a little bit.  This previous weekend there was a Vaulting show hosted at my local fancy, pristine, I-couldn't-afford-to-board-there-if-my-horse-started-pooping-out-gold-bars, dressage barn.  A group I am involved with was running a concession as a fundraiser.  It was unexpected, to say the least.  The first day we ran out of lunch with some of the competitors yet to eat, so there was a mad scramble to pick up something, anything to feed them and the rest of the spectators.  There were a few other minor hiccups, but most of it can be chalked up to simply having had no idea what to expect.  So, when we agreed to drop off a lunch course en route to my lesson, we wound up sticking around to help just a titch too long for our comfort buffer of time to get Jazz ready for my lesson.  By the time I got to the barn I was getting paranoid about missing half my lesson just getting Jazz brushed out and tacked up, and it wasn't overly helpful that everyone and their dog (in some cases, their literal dogs) had their horses tied in the not-overly-large barn aisle and to the hitching rail outside.  Add all that together and I was trying very hard to keep my stress in check and not let it effect my horsemanship.  Oh, did I mention the owner was driving back and forth in the quad (a sound that to the horses means food), and Jazz's herdmates were running around like ninnies, and the arena was closed for harrowing until exactly when my lesson was supposed to begin, so I had no real space to get either of our feet moving effectively?  Just recounting it all is stressing me out.  So needless to say, I was not off to the best of starts.

Finally my lesson time rolled around, and my instructor entered in the man door at exactly the same time I brought Jazz through the horse door.  Luckily, my instructor seemed to pick up on the difficulties of the day, and my reference to our off day Saturday, and we started off slow and easy in a way that helped bring me right back into myself.  We lunged to start and get her focus as we usually do, and I bridled her very soon after.  I opted not to use the halter under the bridle this time because I didn't really think it was necessary.  She was responding great from the ground and I mounted up.  We worked on what my trainer calls "follow your nose" circles, which are basically starting from standing in the center of the circle and moving into as small of a circle around the center as possible while staying at a good bend and contact.  Once Jazz was on a good consistent circle with no bubbling out or cutting in, I spiraled her down into the center until she was doing a hind end yield, and she did awesome.  She used to always move her hind end like she couldn't get it out of the way and resting again fast enough, but we've been working on the ground on slow, even, calm, steps, and she was much better than she ever has been historically.  We did that both ways and then worked on backing, halting, and walking in a perfectly straight line away from the wall.  I've been really trying to concentrate on my own position, especially my seat, a lot more, and was very, very pleased with how responsive she was.

Then came my favorite part.  As I've mentioned many-a-time, Jazz has been consistently gaining ground on her shoulders. Just a few weeks ago I was thrilled she was even doing two or three steps crossing over from her shoulders, and now she can do full circles both directions from the ground.  Under saddle, we've been working on rollbacks against the wall, with the idea being creating a physical barrier to encourage her to shift more onto her hindquarters, but her rollbacks against the wall had been relatively consistent for a while in the sense that she had gotten better than when she started, but had kind of stagnated at a sort of half-try.  On one of my rollback attempts, she ended up drifting away from the wall and the outside track before I halted her, and she did a real rollback when I asked.  I could feel her really engage and using herself in a way that felt way better.  I did a few more against the wall and then commented to my trainer that she seemed to do better when I had a little more distance from the wall, and she suggested that I try in the center.  It took a couple of tries for me to figure out how to hold my outside rein, but very soon Jazz was doing it! I could feel her using her shoulders instead of her haunches, and could feel and see in some of the shadows that she was actually getting really close to exactly what I was asking for.

I finally had a free weeknight, so I went yesterday to work her again before my Wednesday lesson (my lesson schedule is pretty weird right now because of my schedule in my second non-horsey life), only to find that the weather (a relatively pleasant air temperature and the lightest of drizzles) had prompted Jazz to firmly believe that coming in with me would be far too disruptive to her day.  Long story short, I spent a good chunk of time trying to catch Jazz to no avail, and then spent a lot of time petting the other horses in Jazz's pasture because Jazz certainly wasn't going to be in petting range, but I was not leaving that pasture without my horse.  Finally, with much effort (and a little bribery in the form of handfuls of hay), I managed to catch her.  I had the rope looped over her neck and lead her by that without putting the halter on.  Poor horse had to walk with me all the way across the pasture and to the gate, where she got sent right back out.  With a workload like that, no wonder she didn't want to be caught.  What a brat!

I finally got around to trying Jazz's new halter on her the other day.  I've been using her rope halter for groundwork, but her blue nylon halter just wasn't fitting her anymore.  Doesn't she look cute in pastels?

I do like the pastels.  Maybe you'd like to be the fabled Easter pony for a while, Jazz?
Okay maybe not. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Back in the Saddle again... plus more history of Jazz

I am long overdue on this post (both in the writing of it and the events it entails), and I don't want to put it off any longer.

As the title suggests, I finally, Finally got back on my horse.  A real ride and everything.  I had a lesson on Sunday, and I told my trainer that I was really wanting to start riding again.  Jazz was ready to start working under saddle again. I intend to keep working on strengthening her groundwork, but not full time. It's time for us to start working back up to regular riding again as an added challenge on top of her ever-improving ground manners.

So, that's exactly what we did! We started with a quick drive/lunge/whatever-I-ought-to-call-it like I've been working on and Jazz was much more attentive right off the bat when I started her.  The last few weeks whenever I've first started with that exercise she's been pretty inattentive and bent away when we start out, with occasional shenanigans and rearing in there to spice things up, but with a few quick reminders from the rope, she found her manners again.  Then the usual quick work through of shoulders and backing straight, and after that we quickly moved on to lateral flexion with both the bridle and the halter to help with linking them.  Then we tied the rope around into reins and I hopped on.  Jazz did awesome!

It occurs to me that I mostly started writing this blog after my last ride on Jazz, so I haven't really talked much about where we are or were at in terms of progress and goals with riding.  Jazz has a solid w/t/c, she's nice and soft on her mouth, and she's fairly responsive to leg and seat aids.  However, she's pretty straight, and has yet to grasp the concept of contact on the bit.  Our lessons up until around mid-November resolved around primarily exercises at the walk and trot to encourage her to bend more, and some walk/trot transition work.  She has an okay canter, but it's not particularly balanced or collected, and she generally can't turn well at the lope, so we did the vast majority of our work at the trot in hopes of eventually fixing that.

You may notice I said mid November, and that's because in late November or so, I started having a bit more trouble with Jazz.  She had long had a habit before of... I'm hesitant to describe it as head tossing, because that really isn't what it was, but head tossing.  She would just start wanting to run, but she wasn't being particularly rude about it.  She'd sort of try to break into a slow lope, but wasn't able to really break forwards because I was usually ready for her, and the result was a fairly up very funny dressage-y sort of lope for about a stride and a half before I could bring her back, and the way she did it always made her head sort of pop.  She just was very excited to run, but generally easy to bring back. She had for the most part gotten past that late last year, and it was never a major or serious issue.

Anyway, in late November, she started actually head tossing.  And trying to turn right pretty abruptly when we were circling left at the wall after the open side of the circle.  We also did a lot of work on spiraling in and out of circles at the trot, and she was getting more and more resistant and head-tossing, especially to the left. As time went on, it seemed to be escalating, to the point were we were doing one rein-stops almost every five minutes, and even those weren't helping really much at all.  The last lesson I had in November I just got off, because even in the one rein stop I felt very close to being separated from my horse at any minute. Her head tossing and evasions were just getting worse and worse, until I started wondering if it wasn't just resistance.

I had her vetted as soon after that as I could arrange, and she had big hooks on her teeth, which were worst on the left side.  I had her floated, and she was an absolute champion (a relatively heavily sedated champion, but a champion nonetheless).  The vet said that she had some lacerations on the inside of her left cheeks, so it would probably heal totally in the next two weeks.  The difference in her after the floating was huge.  She was practically a new horse, almost completely back to her old self.  I had a few good, gentle rides on her at the beginning of December, and then went away over Christmas to see family.  By the time I got back, she was acting out a bit, and I started up on our groundwork re-start.

Back to Sunday, I got back on, using both the reins and the rope-reins.  I did what my trainer calls follow-your-nose circles, which are basically just very tight circles until she really bends nicely around my leg.  Those went really well, and then we worked on yielding her hindquarters, which was a little sticky (which was somewhat expected based on her last experience doing so under saddle), and rollbacks against the wall.  We had been working on those a lot last year, but she just never really had that breakthrough.  Now, since we've been working so much on them from the ground, there was a very modest improvement.  My trainer suggested we might try to get her to use her shoulders by having me in the saddle cuing and someone on the ground cuing at the same time, and I think that might work well for her.  The best part was her backing.  She moved nice and soft and straight! Yay! She used to be very huffy whenever I asked her to back straight, and my trainer told me that she had never worked with any Arab or part-Arab that would back straight without significant work.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Back and better than ever!

...or at least we will be.  The re-start is really paying off in a lot of ways, and even little things are taking leaps and bounds.  It's kind of a strange process because with some of the exercises it takes a little work, but you can really see when Jazz starts to get it (like with moving from her shoulders, which is awesome by the way! she can do full circles to both sides now that she gets it), and with other exercises it takes more time and effort and consistency, but I can see gradual improvement all the time (like with respecting my space, mostly when I'm asking her to change eyes without pushing her shoulder through me), and there are other things that we have essentially done before that she just gets in no time at all.

For example, we've been doing groundwork with Jazz wearing the saddle for the last few lessons, and we do an exercise that involved having the lead rope across the seat of the saddle and working on lateral flexion.  I remember the first time we introduced this exercise, my trainer told me to stand back while she tried it because some horses can get very fussy about it, but Jazz was a superstar!  Once she really had a handle on the flexion, we worked on flexion with a little pressure where the leg goes asking her to move her shoulders, and she was pretty good with that as well.  We also did an exercise with putting the rope around the far side of her body and around the hocks and asking her to calmly turn around to the pressure and come back to face me with no theatrics, just calmly turned back and then waited in her own space.

She's been just awesome for the last while, although not without a few small exceptions.  The occasional warning nip still comes out when she isn't pleased with me, and last week one day and I was working her on the lunge when she started rearing again, but not to worry, I just stuck with her and corrected, and she gave up on it pretty quick and went back to trotting quietly until I was done with her.

But on her good days she has been much better! I've even ridden again a few times, and started up on bridle work again, including breaking at the poll to contact (a noted weak point of hers, but we'll get there).  Just very short rides at a walk, but she seems like she is very nearly back to her old self (with even a few notable improvements to boot).  Onwards and Upwards from here!