Monday, March 7, 2011

Our New Favorite Things & More

I finally have an actual reasonable chunk of time to sit in front of my computer and get things done that need getting done. YES. So I should hopefully be able to formulate a decent post. My blogging has kind of fallen by the wayside lately. I've barely had time to document our rides. But today I have time to write, and I have actual images to liven things up! I know, wow.

Firstly, Our New Favorite Things.

B-Goood! (Or B-Gone), our new favorite supplement that keeps hormonal hell at bay. The bucking horse on the label cracks me up. Looks like someone I know…

I officially retired my much-loved synthetic field boots that have been steadily falling apart since last March. I put it off for a long time, partly because those boots fit me perfectly and they didn’t require special care, which rendered them fully awesome in my book. And also, I hate shopping for shoes or boots. It’s difficult to find stuff that fits. It’s ridiculous. But I found some boots I wanted, and my local tack shop was nice enough to order them in a couple sizes for me to try. They’re Mountain Horse non-special winter dress boots, and they’ve been quite nice. They don’t fit quite as perfectly as the synthetic boots, but I didn’t want a super-tight fit as I have been known to forget my riding pants, and have to ride in sweatpants. It happens.

Our most recent purchase was a new girth. I’ve known for a while that Sofa’s 48 inch Wintec girth was a bit long for her, particularly since she’s gotten in better shape. I had been thinking about getting a shorter girth for a while, I liked the idea of a cord girth, and my mom found such a girth on special for $12 in a catalog. So she ordered one, and I tried it out on Sofa. I really like it. It’s comfortable, breathable, and she doesn’t get all sweaty underneath it (that was always an issue with the Wintec girth). The 44 inch length is better for her, and it really seems to be doing a great job of holding the saddle in place. The saddle doesn’t seem to go “off to one side” anymore. It’s staying in place even when we work on circles and I have to use one leg pretty heavily. I know we’re not straight, and it doesn’t affect the saddle. Love it. As a bonus, pretty much everyone who sees it comments on the girth, since it's not exactly a common sight anymore. I'm not sure why cord girths fell out of favor (probably had something to do with all the synthetic/nylon/rayon girths that came on the scene), as they're cheap and they work great. But I have seen pictures of Reiner Klimke on Ahlerich, IN the Olympics, using a cord girth. And if it was good enough for him, then Sofa and I are more than happy to be seen in, ahem, cords.

Sofie has been a sassy, smart little mare. She’s been tearing around the arena during our free schools, bursting with all the energy she doesn’t expend on her own time. It’s fun to watch her play around. She starts out looking somewhat stiff, and then her energy builds and she starts galloping around like a maniac, and doesn’t stop for a while. Then she slows to a trot or a walk and blows, like “Whew! That was good” then goes back to looking like her normal, slightly arthritic self. I really need to get some video of her free schooling antics. I have some on my cell phone, but I have no way of importing it to my computer.

On Thursday Sofie was intermittently off. I felt the same front end thing I’d been feeling during some of our recent rides. She didn’t seem reluctant or uncomfortable, so I kept riding for 45 minutes, sticking to walk and trot work, and she didn’t get any worse. She was a bit inverted and a little reluctant to flex at the poll, so I just worked for small moments of flexion, rewarding when she softened. I wasn’t concerned with her being perfect on that day. It was a good ride, nice and quiet, with some good moments. I was happy that I was able to work within her capabilities, and I finally rode without stirrups for the entire ride! I felt totally comfortable at the trot, both posting and sitting, and I rode out a few silly little Sofa spooks. I’ve only recently gotten back to riding without stirrups after losing my confidence due to my bad saddle, and it feels good to be working on my seat. I’m not yet ready to canter without stirrups, as we don’t yet have a totally confirmed canter depart (in other words, we haven’t quite gotten the bucks out yet!). But it’s definitely a step in the right direction, and I'm proud of myself for working through my initial reluctance.

On Saturday when I arrived another boarder was tacking up her horse for a lesson. I quickly realized I needed to free school my beast, and asked if she could wait for a minute while I ran my horse around. She said yes, so I grabbed Sofie's halter, went out and grabbed Sofie and hustled her into the indoor (with her looking at me like "WTF what's your hurry?"). She trotted around for a minute, looking perfectly calm. Yeah, sure, Sofa. I asked her to canter a few times, and she picked up the canter right away but didn't hold it for long. I still wasn't convinced. I asked her to canter again, using body language (I jog along with her and then do a "canter depart", I'm sure it's quite a sight to see). She looked at me as I popped into the "canter", and she lept into the air, striking out and stomping with her front feet, like "You call THAT a canter depart?! I'LL show you a canter depart!" After that she did not stop cantering for a while, except to do a little crazy-eyed, inverted POWER TROTTING. She also did a couple abrupt stops in the corners, and at one point she did a rollback at top Sofa speed. It was pretty nifty. I think it would be awesome if I could teach her to do a full reining pattern, totally free and just from body language. Wouldn't that be cool?! I actually think I have a better chance of getting her to do a reining pattern that way than with me on her back...

Finally she was able to stop, and I led her into the barn where the other lady was still waiting patiently for us to clear out of the arena...thanks, we appreciated it! It really is imperative that we free school before I ride. Fireball still had energy, but it was not overwhelming and we had a good, productive ride. We worked around the other horse and rider well, once I figured out how to pass left to left (it's hard for some people, namely ME...). I did work without stirrups, though not for the entire ride, and I still felt very comfortable without them, although I haven't yet developed enough strength to be able to half halt effectively without stirrups. I'm hoping this will improve over time. I did have some minor issues with her breaking into the trot, but it wasn't too bad. She responded to a fairly light hand, and I didn't get frustrated.

Sofie was moving better, and I didn't feel her front end issue very much at all until the end. We worked mainly on flexing at the poll and responding to my aids. She isn't coming round consistently yet, and she often doesn't maintain it for too long, but I can definitely feel progress in that area of our work. I've been staying patient and asking lightly, and she is responding. She did go around with her head up and her nose out some of the time, and she did stick her head way up a few times, but there were also times when she responded to my hand and went round, and when I release and praise she tends to seek the contact even more. I'm not concerning myself with trying to force her to stay round, because I figure she's spent almost nine years of her life being inverted and having no clue about using herself and being round. It's going to take time for her to really become comfortable with this new thing I'm asking, and it's going to take time for her to understand it. I'm happy with the moments of improvement. They do count for something! I feel like she's really starting to get it, and that's exciting.

Our right circles were better. She didn't have very much bend going on, but she didn't fall in hardly at all on most of them. And at one point she did a really nice circle to the right. She was bent, and round, and it was just a super nice effort. I did a couple circles in a row because it felt so nice, and then I let the reins out and she stretched confidently, right into the contact.

I had planned to leave the canter alone for a while, but since she was doing so well I decided to do a little bit. Sofa was not particularly happy to go into the canter, and when I first asked for it I got a sizable Sofa buck. I didn't have enough weight in my heels, so I wound up out of the saddle, standing in my stirrups. Fortunately, she stopped at one buck, otherwise I would've stopped at the arena floor...I got her into the canter and did one more depart after that. She threw in another buck at some point, and when I brought her down to the trot the other woman in the arena said "I'll just be over here until you finish cantering." I assured her that I was done. I really wasn't that out of control, but apparently my beast looked like she was. Ah, well, at least we provide the entertainment. It's really amazing to me how I'm able to laugh and enjoy myself while my horse is being a beast when I used to be so afraid. It's so much better this way.

We did a little rein-back for the first time in a few rides, and it was a little sticky but not too bad. And our spin-on-the-forehand to the right is confirmed! I randomly asked for it, and she gave it to me without hesitation. It's so fun to spin around like that. When her hocks fuse, I'll have to see if I can learn how to do a proper reining spin!

I rode for around 45 minutes, and her shoulder issues didn't show up until the very end, when she became kind of gnarly, slow and reluctant in the trot. So I wrapped up the ride. Her legs are fine, and I've been doing front leg stretches with her, as well as massage. It doesn't seem to be getting worse, and I think it's just a typical Sofa overcompensation "thing".

So, anyway. Things are good, and I'm very happy. AND, I finally got a decent conformation shot of the Sofa! She's been looking really good, and I wanted to get an updated conformation shot. We've all seen the results of trying to pose Sofa (and the results are never pretty), so I decided to try to get a shot of her standing in the aisle, where she actually stands naturally and doesn't protest our picture-taking attempts by making herself look like a conformational trainwreck. This new strategy involved me standing in the office and taking the picture through the doorway, but it worked quite well.

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