Monday, November 30, 2009

Sofie In Slow Motion


Sofie says: "Posing for pictures makes me sleeeeepy...."

On Saturday Sofie and I returned to the Big Field for more fun in the (almost peeking out from behind the clouds) sun. She was in a pretty good mood, cooperative and relaxed. She was not sure she wanted to be caught, but changed her mind when she walked up behind her half-Friesian friend Piper, who decided to kick at her (I swear, that horse kicks more than any horse I've ever seen in my life). Sofie immediately pivoted around to face me, as if to say "You can catch me now." Funny horse.

I warmed her up with a little free-longeing in the indoor arena. I decided to just carry a lead rope and see if I could get her to respond and maintain her gait without me running alongside her with a big whip. She did well...she was not an energizer bunny by any stretch of the imagination, but she mostly responded to my voice cues and maintained her slow trot pretty well, and it was fun to try something different.

She was great for the tacking up process, which makes me think she must be happy with her new-old saddle. Actually, she did something I don't think I've ever seen her do before. I put the Wintec on her back, and she cocked a back leg, dropped her hip, and totally relaxed. Hmm. Nice. She was eager for the bit, once again...she used to be really hard to bridle, throwing her head around like crazy, though she always accepted the bit once I actually was able to get it near her mouth. When I started riding her again post-hoof rehab, we figured out that she would open her mouth for the bit if we just held it below her lips. All her head-flinging was due to her not wanting to have her head handled (something she's pretty much overcome) and maybe also frustration and trying to communicate that she would rather not have a finger stuck in her mouth when she could just open it herself, thank you very much. Anyway, she really likes her bit, and the only time she flings her head now is when her stupid human (me) is too slow to present the bit. Or sometimes she flaps her lips with eagerness...

Out in the Big Field, she was happy, but a little hesitant. She trotted without any complaint, but she didn't move out like I know she can. It felt like she was saying "I like it out here, and I want to trot, but this is as fast as I can go." And that was fine. She was trotting willingly, maintaining her gait and her rhythm, why should I push her to go faster? I know she's capable of "forward", but she had done a lot the previous day, and she was a little sore. I'm actually happy to see her slowing down when she is sore, instead of getting all tense and racing around. So I did a little trot work, until she started to feel reluctant, and then I walked her around the Big Field and the Big Yard, just enjoying the fresh air and sunshine. By the end of the ride she was moving out nicely at the walk, and we had accomplished a lot of stretching (she will stretch down at the walk, but is still learning that she can relax at the trot and canter).

I was also happy with the way I handled things. In the past (as recently as a couple weeks ago) I have gotten very upset when I had a less-good ride after a good ride. I think I have finally figured out that good rides will not continue for all eternity, and that a good ride normally means that the horse uses muscles it doesn't normally use, or works for longer than it normally does, which will naturally result in some stiffness/soreness, hence the less-good rides following good rides. Not exactly rocket science, but the mental aspect of riding has often been my downfall.

Today will be my final ride in the Big Field. Yes, it's sad to see my lovely riding place reclaimed by the jerk geldings. But it also means that the mares will get to reclaim their larger area. Hooray for that.


A BRIEF MESSAGE FROM THE DAMN FREAKING WITHER EATING SADDLE:

Hey, it's me, the Fhoenix Soft Tree dressage saddle. Don't I look gorgeous? Meghan gave me a super special cleaning. It made me feel, like, totally special. She must really love me. Except I thought I heard her muttering something that sounded like "You will never torment my horse again, you damn freaking saddle." Which made me confused. But I'm sure I just misunderstood her. She would never say such a thing about me, because I am an amazing saddle. Everybody knows that.

Oh. Wait. Meghan just handed me a note. Apparently I'm supposed to tell you that I'm looking for a new home? Wait a minute. FOR SALE CHEAP?!!? WHAT IS THAT SUPPOSED TO MEAN????

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Good girl, Sofie!

DISCLAIMER: If this post reads a bit disjointed and frazzled, it's because this writer is a bit disjointed and frazzled due to having come into town in a truck whose brakes failed while going down a hill. Fortunately, this writer's mom is a very good driver, and the traffic was very minimal. But still, I'm a bit shook up.

Yesterday I had a lovely ride...the best one in a while. We longed, stretched and warmed up Sofie, then I rode out to the Big Field that is normally occupied by mannerless jerk geldings, but is vacant at the moment. Sofie had been in there a couple times on the longeline, but this was my first time riding in the Big Field. It was very fun.

Sofie definitely has her preferences as to where she likes to be ridden. She does not like the outdoor arena at this barn. She was always crazier in there when her feet were messed up, and she was crankier in there when I put her back to work too abruptly after her hoof rehab and made her sore. Even when I just take her in there to cool down at a walk, she gets tense and is harder to steer for some reason. So I avoid going in there now. She likes indoor arenas okay, but she gets annoyed with them because they are too small and there's nothing to look at. She likes trails, except when there is Something In The Distance that I can't even see, but she can, and she stares at it to make sure it doesn't get us. But she loves Big Fields. At the first barn where I boarded her, there was a tiny little arena with terribly deep footing, and a Big Field. She liked the Big Field a lot, but I got scared because I gave her a leg aid when she was cantering, and she started hand galloping, and then I pulled back on both reins (which of course didn't slow her down) and it felt like she was running away. So after that I was nervous, and I wasted a lot of Big Field riding opportunities.

Yesterday she was wonderful in the Big Field. She trotted without complaint, maintained her gait, and was even reluctant to slow down (part of that was due to her being in her stall all day on Thanksgiving due to crappy weather and overly sympathetic barn help, but hey, I'll take it). We went all over the Big Field, and she wasn't spooky or nervous, and did well on the hills and slopes. The Wintec stayed put (which is more than I can say for my other, way more expensive saddle) and she didn't seem to have any problems with it.

She didn't offer to canter, but I was fine with that because I'd rather not have her overdo it. I was happy to just get some nice trot work from her. I rode around 40 minutes, and finished up with a lovely, soft, willing trot transition (on her bad side, too!), a bit of bending, and a transition back to walk.

To celebrate our good ride (and liven up this colorless post), here is a short video from a very good ride we had earlier this month, showing all three of Sofie's gaits.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Back In The Wintec Again

I got to ride again on Wednesday. Hooray! We discovered that the Wintec gullet gauge (a plastic thingy that you use to measure your horse's withers to see which gullet you should put in your saddle...the Wintecs are adjustable) is completely stupid and wrong, as Sofie measured out as a Medium according to the gullet gauge. And as far as her withers go, that's probably not too far off. She doesn't have terribly wide withers. But the saddle doesn't go on the withers. And Sofie may have Medium withers, but her shoulders are Extra Wide. We threw away the gullet gauge (well, not literally, but we stopped paying attention to it) and put in the Extra Wide gullet, which made the saddle sit more level (before, it was way high in front, which I now know to be a sign of a saddle that is too narrow), and it really helped alleviate some of the pressure on her shoulders. It's still not perfect, but it is a lot better, and she still has wither clearance, and the saddle stays put. So it appears that the Wintec will work until we can find a more ideal saddle for Sofie. I sent off some photos to Kitt Hazelton, a saddle fitter based in Vermont, who has an awesome blog...http://saddlefitter.blogspot.com. I have learned a lot about saddle fitting from this blog, so I am excited to see Sofie evaluated, as we don't have any good saddle fitters up here. We do have a woman who will stick a pressure-testing pad under your saddle and then try to sell you a $300"corrective" pad...been there, done that, it was a disaster, and I ain't goin' there again. But that's a story for another post.



Sofie says: "What's all this fuss about saddle fitting? Just don't ride me. THERE, problem solved."

My ride was pretty good. Sofie was obviously feeling better (and she doesn't have a parasite problem; the fecal came back negative) and I enjoyed a nice walk/trot ride. We were in the indoor due to rain (which cleared out as soon as I was DONE riding...) but there was a lesson going on, so Sofie had stuff to look at. She was stiff to the right (only did a bit of trotting on that side), and really wanted to fall in when tracking left (an ongoing issue for her...it helped when I remembered to hold my hands wide apart like you would with a green horse - which she basically is), but she was pretty good. It felt like I built some trust (I lost some faith in her after the bucking incident...I was bucked off a lesson horse years ago, which was a major trauma for me, and it took me years to become confident again), and she seemed to get happier as the ride went on. I was really happy with her. Even though she has aches and pains and stiffness, she still went forward and was responsive (unlike the other horse in the ring who has had tons of dressage training, but is so dull she needs to be kicked so hard it makes an audible "thud"). Yes, I have a good horse. Not a perfect horse, but a good one, and that's all I need.

Here's a short video of me riding Sofie in the Wintec. This was from the day she wasn't feeling so good.

video

Sofie's trim went well, except that Anne said she was a couple weeks overdue (barefoot trimmers want to trim horses before there is any significant growth, which is more natural for the horse. I knew that, but I didn't think there had been any significant growth. Ah well.). Sofie was less of an impatient little beastie than she usually is (it helped that we fed her hay snacks, and there were people wandering around for her to watch). Actually, towards the end of the trim she really relaxed and practically fell asleep.

And we didn't have to hold that beastly gelding, either, as another boarder who likes to help out with stuff like that volunteered to do it so we could get home. So that was great. We got "nice points" for volunteering, but we didn't have to get killed. Booyah.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Another Before & After

Just sent an e-mail off to the manufacturer and US distributor of my wonderful wither-eating saddle (also known as the Damn Freaking Saddle). We'll see what they have to say...I'm hoping for a partial refund, as I really don't want to have to sell it to some other poor unsuspecting person.

I haven't ridden in five days. Sofie's been a little...off. She's been a little stressed by the mares being in a smaller area, and the geldings being close by (a temporary situation during hunting season...'cause it's not open season on mannerless jerk geldings, unfortunately), and she's been gassy (not normal for her) and a little uncomfortable-seeming. Stevie, one of the people involved in Sofie's rehab, did some work on her yesterday and said she was a little uncomfortable in her tummy (just what I want to hear...my mind immediately goes "OMG SLOW ONSET COLIC...wait is there such a thing? I dunno but I'm FREAKING OUT!") and recommended we put her on probiotics (great, another expensive supplement for my cheap horse...don't ever buy a cheap horse, guys!). Fortunately, the barn owner had some left over from her late mare, Penny, so we can put her on them and see if they make a difference. We also took a fecal to our neighbor to check for worms, since it's been abnormally warm and the mares are confined to a smaller area and Sofie's not necessarily smart enough to not eat near manure.

She's getting her feet trimmed today, and we'll see if Anne has any other suggestions/possible causes for uncomfy-ness. We're also bringing in and holding the other horse Anne trims at my barn (well, my mom is. He's a big mannerless JERK, and she's a bit more badass than I am when it comes to dealing with horses on the ground. Me, I'd rather be on their back when they're spazzing/being jerks than where I could possibly get stepped on/trampled).

Sometimes I think, geez, why did I get a horse that was obviously such a project? The rehab game can be frustrating, but I believe in Sofie, and I'm learning a lot. It would be a shame to not learn. Learning is way better than being able to ride with any kind of regularity.

So in honor of the never-ending rehab journey (say it with me: FUN!) I present Sofie's Before & After: Conformation Shots


This was actually taken when the woman who sold Sofie to me first got her. Just add obesity, cracked hooves, and possibly an even bigger bulging underneck muscle.


And this was taken in late October. The difference is pretty remarkable, I think.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Spoke too soon...

So the lesson I was all excited about? Didn't happen. There were too many actual due-paying Pony Clubbers who wanted a lesson, and they couldn't schedule me in. Also, I would've had to pay a major fee due to the fandango being a "mounted meeting" and not a "clinic". Basically, the only difference is that at mounted meetings, non-members have to pay through the nose if they wanna join in. But it was just as well, because the lessons were group lessons, in a small arena, so the instructor was rather limited in what she could have the riders do. Also, the lessons were 1 1/2 hours. Sofie would've been bored out of her mind, and I wouldn't have even been able to ride in the entire lesson. Some other time.

The other un-good news is that my saddle has GOT to go. Last weekend I had two rides cut short due to it sliding forward and eating Sofie's withers and shoulders, which pissed her off to the point that she started bucking at the canter. I managed to not get bucked off, because when I fell forward, she stopped. That was very encouraging, since it was a perfect opportunity to get me off if she really wanted to, and obviously she didn't, she just had to communicate her discomfort. I walked her around and even backed her up before getting off, so she didn't get any ideas about being rewarded for bucking.

Then my mom got back, and we tried our damnedest to put that damn saddle in the right place, girthed it up tightly, and my mom put her on the longe line. Within two minutes of longeing, the saddle was eating her withers. And she was bucking at the canter, even without the weight of a rider. My mom took the saddle off, and no more bucking. DAMN FREAKING SADDLE. I am going to write a complaint to the manufacturer, because this saddle is definitely not living up to its promises.

Yesterday I finally got to ride again, as we took my trusty Wintec all-purpose saddle out to the barn. I don't know if it's going to work in the long-term, but she didn't buck at all, the saddle stayed where it was supposed to, and it seems to fit okay. I didn't enjoy the ride as much as I should have, because I was worried about Sofie bucking, and trying to get used to a different saddle, and a different stirrup length (because I can actually LENGTHEN MY STIRRUPS in the Wintec and still be able to RIDE, unlike in that OTHER SADDLE). Sofie did fantastically at the walk, and did well at the trot when she finally relaxed (she's been a little anxious ever since the mares were put in a smaller space and the geldings moved to the front field for hunting season...so they won't get shot, because *cough cough* it would REALLY be a shame to lose any of those FINE equine citizens). I was even able to do some nice trot-walk transitions. It seemed like she could feel my seat better in the Wintec. The canter was a little hairy...Sofie has decided she will only canter in two places in the yard, and is starting to anticipate canter transitions. I'm going to try working her in the back field, now vacated by the geldings, where hopefully she will listen a little better. I just have to remember not to worry, and reassure her when she gets anxious instead of getting annoyed with her.

Soon I will have video from two Sundays ago when she was absolutely brilliant...and possibly pictures/video of us in the Wintec. So stay tuned for more colorful posts.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Warm Weekend, Big News

Early November '09 is being seriously good to me. No snow yet, and temperatures in the 40s and beyond. So I've been able to ride outside, and postpone the inevitable confinement to the indoor arena. Last weekend I rode three days in a row, which I've never done before. But I wasn't about to waste that nice weather!

After our iffy ride on Friday, I went out later on Saturday to watch a lesson, and decided to ride down the road. Sofie was dubious, but once I headed down the driveway she got happier. At first I was a little nervous (I don't normally do things like ride down the road on a "fresh" horse, but the day was warm, so I figured I would be all right) but I had a good ride and rode farther down the road than I ever had before. There was hardly any traffic (even though it was a Saturday afternoon) and the shoulder is nice and wide. However, Sofie would actually rather walk on the pavement than on the nice, wide shoulder. Especially when the shoulder narrows as we get closer to the barn, she tries to drift out onto the pavement. She has always had a pavement fixation, even when she had crap feet. Maybe she likes to hear the "clip-clop" noise as she walks? Damned if I know. But I do know that I prefer not to ride on pavement, since the potential for my horse slipping on the stuff is something I would rather not contend with. So I steer Miss Sofie away from the pavement, and she goes "Hmmph. You're no fun."

After we got back to the yard I wasn't quite ready to get off, so I asked her to trot. She balked and and protested a bit, but I kept my leg on and she trotted off. Then we got to the "scary corner" (there's always a scary corner in any remotely square or rectangular shaped riding area. The huge YARD where I ride Miss Sofie is no exception) and she stared at the trees, trotted faster and then broke into a canter. We cantered through the front yard, then I brought her back to a trot, made her bend in a couple different directions, stopped her, backed her up four steps and then got off.

Sunday's ride was excellent. The weather was absolutely perfecto, and we did more cantering than ever before. Sofie was NOT pleased at the idea of being ridden for the third time in a row, and was a bit of a butthead during the saddling and mounting up process, but once I got on and started riding her around she realized that she had lots of energy and was pretty happy to move out. After her initial "I don't WANNA trot, beyotch" reaction to my initial "Please trot" aid, she was excellent. We cantered several times tracking left, and she kept improving in her relaxation and responsiveness. Then I decided to try to canter her tracking right, as she was quite eager to canter that day. The right is her weak side, probably due to both of her right feet having abscesses in the past. And I've been using the magical, magnetic pull of the barn to encourage her to canter, and there's not quite as much of an inviting, open stretch of yard going towards the barn when we're tracking right. But we had success! The first time I attempted to ask, it didn't happen, but the next two times, she went into the canter with no tail-swishing, balking or any other resistance. And she took the correct lead both times! Hooray! She couldn't hold the canter very long on that side, and it felt a little weak/unbalanced, but I was incredibly pleased that she was willing to canter on her "bad" side, and is starting to take my direction instead of going "No way, beyotch, I'll canter on MY terms, not yours". She's been such a good girl lately.

Now for the BIG NEWS. I'm getting a lesson on Sofie this Saturday. With my all-time favorite trainer, the only trainer I would trust with my little messed-up-but-improving-all-the-time grade Paint mare. DUDE I CAN'T BELIEVE IT. OMG FREAKING OUT.

Let me explain. While I was leasing the little pinto pony gelding, Sue, my all-time favorite trainer in the universe, would occasionally come out to my trainer-at-the-time's barn to teach lessons. Sue can get on any horse, no matter how crappy or crazy or messed up it is, and make it look amazing. She doesn't do what a lot of trainers do, which is pull the horse's head in to make it look like it is "on the bit". She somehow creates a situation with her body and her aids where the horse reaches for the contact, starts using its hind end, and goes on the bit. For real. She can work with and improve any horse, and I've never seen her stress out a horse or push too hard. She works on your position and the way you ride (OMG, does that actually AFFECT your horse? WHO KNEW, right?) and actually explains things, instead of just telling you "Circle left. Now circle right. Pull his head in more, he's not on the bit enough!". She is incredible. But she very rarely teaches at my barn due to insurance requirements. Occasionally the local Pony Club has her out for their mounted meetings, and that is happening this Saturday. And I ran into one of the Pony Club setter-uppers this morning in the Wal-Mart parking lot, and I totally got in on the mounted meeting as a "guest".

I haven't had a lesson on Sofie EVER, and I am so excited for this opportunity. Of course, I am also nervous and imagining all kinds of disaster scenerios, since my mom will be out of town and Sofie might be a little nutty since there will be New Horses there, and there will also be people from Pony Club there that I....do not necessarily get along with. But I have to just make myself look forward to it, and not worry. It will be what it is, and I will make the most of it. I must be positive and visualize Sofie being at her best that day, and Sue loving her.

It will be a good experience.

I will not ruin it for myself with my incessently worrying nature.

Well...I will try.

Friday, November 6, 2009

SURPRISE! Your horse has terrible feet!

My first post-chiro ride on Sofie was a bit difficult. She was a little out of sorts (maybe the sternum adjustment brought on bad feet memories?) and I was a lot out of sorts, pretty much psyching myself out from the beginning. I would have done okay, but I left my breeches at home, and was forced to ride in sweatpants, which were slippery and made me very insecure (in an already slippery and not very supportive saddle). Remember my post where I talked about riding out in high winds? Well, yesterday it was about 50 times windier than that. The kind of wind that knocks you sideways when you're walking. Sofie was fine with that, of course, but I was way insecure in my seat and so I got tense and started taking up on Sofie's mouth a little, which she doesn't like. However, my mom said she was actually breaking at the poll and going on the bit a lot of the time (this is why I need a groundperson, as I always assume I'm riding terribly and ruining my horse). She got a workout, including some cantering, and I got her to back up three steps, softly and without resistance (she had been having issues with that). After I turned her out she got a drink and then walked back up to me so I could pet her. So obviously she doesn't hate me or anything, and I was forgiven my poor riding. I really need to chill. I used to be even worse than I am now, but I still get really upset when I make mistakes.

I think I'll take this opportunity to go back to early July of this year. I had moved Sofie to my barn of choice, and after going through some major herdbound anxiety, she was doing better. However, she was still rushing at the trot, breaking into the canter a lot and occasionally throwing in a crazy random tight turn. I was mostly riding her in the big outdoor "arena" (actually a square shaped field which is part of the mares' turnout area) and she was so nutty in there that I was afraid to ride her out in the yard, except at a walk. She did the best when I warmed her up in the indoor, then rode her to the outdoor where I did the majority of my work, and then I would cool her down in the yard. That may be why she prefers the yard now...or maybe it's just more interesting.

Some days were better than others, and we were making progress. But something just did not add up. Why was she so good at the walk, yet as soon as I brought her up to the trot she became mildly insane? I thought it was something from her past, or maybe I was setting her off with my nervousness. Or maybe she just liked to go fast? But she wasn't exactly a live wire in the field. She only galloped when the other horses did, and she would lie down more than what seemed normal. Now I look at pictures like the ones below, and I can see that she was in pain.

DSCF0060

DSCF0066

DSCF0069

It kind of hurts me to look at these pictures now. I'm just very, very thankful that I stumbled upon someone who could give me answers, and solutions.

Back in July, we met an equine massage/physical therapist/saddle fitter out at the barn, and had her look at Sofie. She found things wrong with her, of course (it's always wonderful to have an equine professional look over your horse and make you feel guilty for riding them), and she scrutinized her feet. "When was she last trimmed?" She asked, looking critical.
"A couple days ago," my mom said.
"Her toes look too long," said the equine massager/PT. Then she told us about a barefoot trimmer who took care of horsey feet with "the whole horse" in mind. We made an appointment for an evaluation, as we were into the natural hoof care idea, and we figured it couldn't hurt to have her evaluated in the interest of longterm soundness. We knew her feet weren't great, but we figured they were okay and that the examination wouldn't turn up anything major. Ha. Fools.

We met Anne, a little wirey grey-haired woman who looked like she weighed maybe 100 pounds soaking wet, and brought out our horse. Anne picked up one of her front feet and started making noises. Not good noises, either. She checked Sofie's feet with a special heat-testing thing. Then she called my mom over and asked her to feel Sofie's sole. Apparently it was such a pathetic, crappy excuse for a sole that it was actually somewhat pliable. Not good. Not good at all.

Anne's diagnosis was simple. "This horse has no sole." We knew she had flat feet, we knew they didn't look good, but Sofie had never been lame, never appeared footsore. But those terrible, awful feet were the clear reason for her rushing....she was trying to get off her feet. I thought guiltily of all the times I'd trotted and trotted and trotted and cantered and cantered and cantered her, pounding those poor, sorry feet, trying to get her to calm down. Who knew how long she'd had those feet. Did she have flat feet all her life, and wear down her sole during those ten mile trail rides her previous owner took her on? Had she been footsore for months? Years? I was overwhelmed. I thought, in that moment, that my horse was never, ever going to be right. But Anne had a plan.

I was to stop riding for a month, and handwalk Sofie for an hour every day I could get out to the barn. That would be her only exercise, other than wandering around during the day in her pasture. She would get grass and supplemental hay during the day, and two flakes of hay at night, plus a little Nutrena Quik and her supplements (joint supplement, vitamin supplement and PLEASE CALM DOWN ALREADY supplement). And we cast her feet. THAT was a very interesting process. There is an article about hoof casting that can probably explain it better than I can (as you might have surmised by my frequent use of the word "thing" or "thingy", my technical knowledge is lacking). Go to http://hoofrehab.com/hoofcast.htm.

What I remember most vividly about the hoof casting process was how Sofie went from taking off down the aisle, dragging my mom along with her and sending the expensive hoof casting gel stuff flying, to standing with her lead rope on the ground, letting Anne and her assistant pick up her feet, stick stuff on/in them, and giving us a glimpse of the Sofie we know and love today. Previously, we had thought she was not a candidate for ground tying (she had "issues" with standing still. Have I mentioned that before?), but ever since then, we have been dropping her lead rope, and she's been standing. Who knew? But Anne is an amazing horseperson. I have learned more from watching her work with my horse (and one of the *cough cough* mannerless JERK geldings at the barn) than I ever could if I watched a zillion Parelli tapes. She's awesome.

I think that's enough for this post. Coming soon: Adventures In Handwalking, and more on Sofie's Hoof Rehab Journey.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Sofie Meets The Chiro Lady, and The Post-Purchase Exam

In our ongoing quest to pour more money into our little grade Paint mare, we made an appointment with a local vet who does chiropractic and acupuncture, as we were quite sure that Sofie still had some "issues" (who doesn't?). It was quite an experience, but it turned out to be a very good one.

We went out to the barn a little early to catch, groom and longe Miss Sofie. Then I grazed her on the lawn while we waited for the Chiro Lady. While we were waiting, a big stock trailer containing a mahogany bay Andalusian mare pulled up. Her owner had hauled her to the barn to have blood work done, because her overweight horse with a thick winter coat was sweating occasionally. "See? She's sweating a little right now," the overwrought woman said as her FAT, FUZZY mare stood in the BRIGHT SUNLIGHT. It was a real OMG DEAD HORSE WALKING DIG THE HOLE ALREADY moment, if you know what I mean.

Crazy Andalusian Owner liked Miss Sofie, however. She looked her over and said she was a nice little horse. So then I said, "Well, wanna trade?" No, I didn't really. That would be disloyal to my little grade Paint mare, who is way more interesting than a freaking gorgeous expensive Andalusian.

So Crazy Andalusian Owner took her pretty, pretty mare away, and I led Soapdish (that's one of her nicknames) into the barn so she could be made uncrooked (or de-crookedized? I like making up words). The Chiro Lady asked some questions (age, occupation, history, etc.) and then ran a capped pen all over Sofie, which she tolerated fairly well. She did not like it when Chiro Lady started messing with her head, and got popped in the face when she started throwing her head too close to Chiro Lady's face. "You can throw your head, but you can't throw it into my head. That's rude," said Chiro Lady.

Chiro Lady honed in on Sofie's worst areas, and the first area she worked on was the sternum. I knew she'd had girthiness issues when we first got her, but it turns out that the sternum is an acupressure point for hoof soreness. Sofie had a fit, dragging me around the aisle, biting at the Chiro Lady every chance she got, and generally violently protesting being messed with in that area. Chiro Lady eventually got it adjusted to her satisfaction and moved onto a specific part of Sofie's neck (C7, I believe...whatever that is). More violent biting-and-dragging-me-around reactions. It was way worse than her cranio sacral/myofascial release sessions...and she really, really doesn't care for those.

Then Miss Sofie had an epiphany ("Hey...that feels better now. Huh, maybe they aren't just torturing me for giggles...") and suddenly became calm, sweet and Sofielike again. Chiro Lady dragged her big stepbox over, and Sofie looked at it like "Huh, that's a weird mounting block type thingy. Oh well." Chiro Lady said, "She's not afraid of much, is she?" and climbed onto her big stepbox thingy. The rest of the adjustments were minor and Sofie stood relaxed with a hind leg cocked.

Chiro Lady was very nice, and extremely thorough. She manipulated Sofie's legs, bending them all sorts of ways that I didn't think horse legs could actually bend, did neck stretches and wiggled Sofie's butt around. Basically, we got a post-purchase exam thrown in with our chiro session.

Yes, we never did a pre-purchase on Sofie. She was cheap, we knew she was going to be a project (how much of a project, we had no idea, but hey, we learned a LOT), and in the end, we just didn't want her to fail a pre-purchase, because we really wanted her. In the end, I think that decision was right, despite all the expert opinions that say it's a terrible idea. We would never have bought her if we had known how bad her feet were, because we didn't know they could be fixed in a few short weeks. Sofie was meant to be my horse, and no hoof testers were gonna stand in the way of that.

Chiro Lady had nothing but good things to say about Miss Sofie. She said she was very flexible, her legs were in good shape with no damage from being pounded on pavement and hard ground for ten miles at a crack, and she had no back issues. She will probably need a couple more adjustments, but Chiro Lady said that whatever we are doing is working, and suggested stretching her shoulders and encouraging her to stretch down on a long rein under saddle (which we are already doing and will continue to do). Also, Chiro Lady was pleased with Sofie's weight. All good stuff.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

In honor of Halloween...

...Sofie was surrounded by scary, strange things when I went out to ride on Sunday. When I went out to catch her, a pack of sugar-crazed little kids were shrieking and beating an apple tree with sticks. Sofie had her back turned to them and was clearly unconcerned. She even walked up to me and let me halter her without any reluctance.

Usually, no one else is out at the barn when we go to ride, as we tend to go during the hours when normal people who aren't trying to make a living with a sheep farm are in school or at work. This time, however, one of the other boarders came out about the same time we did to ride her BIG, black QH gelding named Bud. Bud is a very, very, VERY mellow western pleasure horse who does not consider himself to be a hot, studly stallion (unlike many of the other geldings at the barn) and Sofie is not a little tart of a mare, so there was no sexual tension between them. However, Sofie did get rather wide-eyed when Bud was led back into the aisle after his ten-minute ride. Either she was thinking "I got totally screwed on the Rider Lottery...I want to be HER horse!" or just "Holy CRAP, that horse is BIG!" Either way she got pretty high-headed, but I realized after the fact that the underside of her neck no longer bulges like some freakish steroid-using bodybuilder's biceps when she raises her head. I really should have gotten a picture of her former neck. Trust me, it was scary.

We got Miss Sofie tacked up, and I did my usual five minutes of wandering aimlessly around the indoor arena as Sofie fell asleep. Then I had my mom open the gate to the great outdoors, and rode out. The neighbor's kids were still whacked out on sugar (and getting louder and more violent by the minute), but Sofie wasn't worried about them. We trotted and cantered around for a while, and during the course of our ride, the scary things mounted up:

-The neighbor with the sugar-crazed kids fired up his tractor
-The neighbor across the street fired up his riding lawnmower
-A horse trailer pulled up, and a New Horse was unloaded (if you've ever boarded a horse, you know how crazy things can get when a New Horse shows up)
-The New Horse, a little POA mare, went out with the mares and proceeded to squeal at the geldings like a little tart, causing the geldings to act like idiots (even more than usual)
-The people who brought the New Horse laid out metal roofing materials so they could work on the barn roof

And this is why I love my horse. Even while all this craziness was going on, she was still doing everything I asked. I asked for the trot in different places (when she was still having her "I don't WANT to trot, dammit, how 'bout I bite you instead?" moments, I would always ask her to trot going toward the barn, which greatly reduced the aforementioned "bite me" reactions), I enjoyed a nice long canter through the front yard, and when she got momentarily worried about all the scary stuff, I got her to walk and then relax.

The only really sticky moment was when I made the mistake of trotting her a little too close to "the fray". She was trotting along just beautifully, and then she saw the horse trailer, which worried her. Then she saw the maurauding children, the guy on the tractor, the New Horse being fought over by the Stupid Geldings, AND a bunch of metal roofing materials laid out by the barn, with people standing by them. Too. Much. She got total sensory overload, all the scary things monopolized her attention, and we lost steering for a moment because she developed Brick Wall Neck and Concrete Mouth. I didn't blame her for being a little overwhelmed at that point; there were just too many scary things for her to lock onto anything and figure out that it was okay. We somehow got turned around, and then I guess I got her down to walk and we wandered around a little bit and relaxed again. I don't really remember the specifics because I was too busy trying to steer a horse that had an acute case of Brick Wall Neck and Concrete Mouth. But she was really very good. She didn't have a violent spooking reaction, or wheel around and bolt. And I got some confidence that I can handle her in weird situations.

I don't know of too many horses I've ridden that I would have trusted enough to ride them outside in the open on a day like that. She got an extra-long grazing session, and then got to go meet the New Horse and eat extra hay that was put out to make the introduction of the New Horse easier.

Next time I will hopefully write about Sofie's hoof rehab and all that good stuff. Wednesday is Sofie's first chiropractic appointment, which I'm looking forward to. Hopefully she will like it better than her cranio sacral/myofascial release sessions (yes, I have to write about that, too...).