Monday, October 31, 2011

Rondo updates

It's been a while since I've blogged about Rondo, but that doesn't mean nothing's going on with him.  I haven't been working with him as much, but I've been making plans for bringing him to my barn.  As of right now I'm hoping to bring him up around mid-month, once I've been in my new job a couple of weeks.

I start said job tomorrow, so today I went down to the in-laws' house for one last hurrah.  Since this job will be in the afternoons, it will mean I can't spend the day down there anymore, so I wanted to get a chance to work with Rondo a little.

I didn't end up lunging him, because I realized his feet are quite overdue for a trim.  The angle was already wrong, and I was going to have that fixed once I brought him to my barn, but looking at his feet today I decided sooner would be better.  I called my farrier and scheduled with him for next week.

I was, however, pleased that Rondo didn't run from me or play the "I'm taller than you" game today when I haltered him.  He actually stuck his nose into the halter, which he got lots of praise and scritches for.  He also lifted both back feet with nary a protest — big news, as he usually fusses a bit, like he's testing me to see if he can go back to his old ways.  When I was done grooming him, he even offered his head for a cuddle — something he does that I love (and that Panama does not do).  Dare I think he's missed me lately?

I'm more excited than ever about being able to bring him up to my barn in a couple of weeks.  It will be wonderful to have the opportunity to work with him more often — I'm looking forward to seeing how much faster he learns in such an environment!

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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Lovely Sunday

I had one of those all-around good days.  Not only did I have an awesome ride on Panama in the afternoon, I also met with the family I'm going to start nannying for in the afternoons and discussed scheduling and other important details.  Afterward my husband and I spent some time reading in our local Barnes & Noble's cafe, one of our favorite activities and something we do at least once a week.

But back to today's ride.  The weather was lovely today — probably about 60 degrees, sunny, and calm.  Hard to believe it's supposed to snow again mid-week!  And hubby and I were there during the day for once, so I took advantage of the opportunity to ride outside.

Panama was apparently enjoying the sunny warm weather, too, because he spent most of our ride half-asleep on his feet.  Whereas outdoors he usually tends to rush, today I was having to work to keep him from breaking to a slower gait, both at the trot and the canter.  Don't get me wrong, it was nice to ride a sleepy horse for a change, but it's a different challenge, that's for sure!

We trotted, cantered in both two-point and sitting, and worked on an exercise my trainer says will help me build my core muscles — instead of posting up-down-up-down, I post up-up-down-up-up-down.  It's a hard exercise, especially when I'm focused on not using the reins (and Panama's poor face!) to find my balance, but I noticed that today it was significantly easier than it was during my lesson last week.

Toward the end of the ride, he did start waking up a little, and at that point I had to work a bit on him not speeding up.  Unfortunately I had some time constraints, but I focused on my breathing and remembered to gently "check" him with the reins as we turned the last corner before the straight side of the arena that he likes to rush down — usually a couple of light half-halts or even a twitch of the reins, the instant I know he's thinking of speeding up, serve as a reminder to pace himself.  I made sure we ended on a good note, and called it a day.

Hopefully I can make it out there for at least one more outdoor ride before the nasty weather hits Tuesday night!

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Winterizing

On Monday, knowing that a snowstorm was on the way and I hadn't yet bought Panama a new blanket for this winter, I headed over to my local tack shop.  Panama has two midweight Black Storm blankets that he used last year and the year before, but they started rubbing on his shoulders last year, so I guess he needs more room in the shoulders now.  The length, 68", didn't seem to be the problem — just the shoulder width.

I like the way his 68" Weatherbeeta sheet fits, so I initially bought a midweight winter blanket in the same brand.  Unfortunately, this year Weatherbeeta changed their sizing, so the blanket was a 69".  Whether it was the extra inch or just the cut of the blanket, it didn't fit him — the neck was far too large, and as a result the blanket would slip back so that the shoulder gusset was about 3 or 4 inches behind where it should be — putting a lot of pressure on the front of his shoulders.

I should explain that Panama has a narrow chest and neck, so blankets that are the correct length otherwise typically are a little loose in that area.  Even when he'd grown out of his 64" blankets, and showed way too much behind poking out from under them, the neck still had to be fastened on one of the smallest holes.  But this was too big in the neck even on the smallest hole, so Tuesday after my lesson I took the blanket back.

I found a couple of other midweight blankets that I thought might work — a lavender Saxon 69", and a navy and tan plaid 68" in a brand I can't remember offhand.  Both looked slightly smaller than the Weatherbeeta 69" when laid on top of it on the floor, so I took both out to the barn to try.

Interestingly, both blankets fit similarly, even though the Saxon was visibly smaller than the Weatherbeeta when laid on top of it on the floor.  I think it was probably that the necks fit about the same on both.  The navy plaid was a little longer (top to bottom) though, whereas the Saxon was rather short, making it like a miniskirt in comparison.  The navy plaid was also a nicer blanket — although not quite as heavy, it's much better made, and it also fit Panama better over his back, which I liked.  Both had to be fastened on the smallest holes of the chest straps, and both tend to slip back just a little, but I felt that the navy plaid slipped back less and tended to right itself a little better when he moved, so that's the one I went with.

I went out there this morning to take the blanket off again, after 36 hours or so of it being on, and guess what — it was still in place, no loose straps, no hanging off one side or sliding back, and NO shoulder rubs!  So far, so good!

Midweight winter horse blanket

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Chicken or the egg?

Yesterday we rode outside for our lesson, taking advantage of some of the nice weather before it turned.  I haven't ridden Panama outside as much lately as I should have, mainly because I've been going to the barn late in the evening and riding inside well after dark.  He's very easily distracted outside, and tends to speed up a lot, especially down the straight side of the arena heading towards his corral.  We've struggled with this for a long time, and part of it is my own fault for not riding outside more so that he gets used to all the distractions.

My trainer brought up something interesting, though.  She observed that my posture changes as we get to the point where I know he usually speeds up.  I anticipate him speeding up by rounding my back, changing from an "I'm in control of this ride" posture to a "hanging on for dear life" posture.  We also tend to get into a tug-of-war at this point, where I pull on the reins and he pulls back, until we're bracing off of one another.

So which came first?  Probably him speeding up, but that scared me and I started riding defensively when I knew he was likely to do it.  My trainer says he's likely responding to my anticipation now when he speeds up.

It's obviously something we'll need to work on, outside of lessons as well.  My trainer had a few tips — don't change my posture, obviously, but also make sure to follow up with a full halt if he blows through the half-halts.  I inadvertently discovered another way yesterday: Control my breathing better.  I realized I was breathing in time to his steps, but very quickly, only a couple of trot steps per breath.  I purposefully slowed that down, stretching it to 4 or so steps per breath, and he didn't speed up at all when I did so.  I wonder if, in addition to my posture changing, my breathing is also quickening when I know we're getting to the point where he usually speeds up, and he's just automatically matching his pace to my breathing.  It's worth experimenting with!

Unfortunately there will be no experimentation for a little while: It's snowing now.  It's very wet and heavy, and though we haven't gotten as much as the forecasters said we would, it will still be a few days before I can ride outside again!

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Monday, October 24, 2011

I'm not feeling like it, and Panama wonders why!

I had a long, exhausting day today.  Overnight our dog Grace pooped a little bit in her sleep — she's getting older and her hip is interfering with her doing her business when she ought to, so these sorts of accidents are becoming more common.  When she sleeps right next to my side of the bed, though, with her butt under my head, it can be a bit of a rude awakening.

Combined with an early morning (I had to take my husband to work so his car could go into the shop — I needed my sedan and he [wisely] did not want to drive my sports car to work), the accident and the allergy attack (mine) that kept me awake for a good 45 minutes afterward meant that I didn't get much sleep.  I actually managed pretty well for most of the day, until the evening.  I was planning on riding, but by the time we got to the barn I'd run out of steam.

I had a new winter blanket and a new fleece saddle pad to try on Panama, so hubby and I brushed him and played dress-up.  Then I took a look at his two old blankets — the ones he had last year and the year before started rubbing the hair off his shoulders, so I upgraded to a Weatherbeeta, which generally runs a bit bigger and has nicer shoulder gussets than my old brand (Black Storm).  I like to have a backup, though, and I didn't feel like buying two new blankets today, so I chose the nicer of last years' and switched out a leg strap to make sure it had all good hardware.  It'll need a cleaning, but I might be able to get most of it with a hose, and then I can just keep the blanket as a spare.  Panama is wrecking his blankets less frequently than he used to, so hopefully I won't need it often.

I like the saddle pad too — it's a contour fleece one, a nice change from my big quilted pad with pockets.  I think I'll get another one soon.  I don't wash the big one often enough because it's such a pain to wash, so I'm hoping that a couple of easy-to-wash fleece pads will help me be a little better about keeping them clean.

Once we were done playing dress up, I put Panama back.  He stood at the gate and waited for his "goodbye treat" — I always give him a final treat right before I leave, but usually he meets me at the fence a little closer to my car.  I think he stayed at the gate tonight because he wanted a ride, and didn't understand why I had put his saddle on him (to check the pad) and then took it all off again.  He was very vocal about it too — which he often is, but tonight even more than usual.  Poor guy.  It was almost enough to make me change my mind — if only I just weren't so tired!

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Big changes!

This seems to be a year of transitions.

My first was my decision to start working on my novel part-time, and backing off the client work a little bit.  I've felt a bit burnt out with my usual online marketing type of work, so I'm trying to focus more on work I enjoy, such as a few blogging gigs I have.  This decision was also helped a bit by the fact that work has been a little slow over the past year or so — I wasn't marketing or looking for new work regularly, and it was taking its toll.

But of course, I also need income, so I asked the family I babysit for if they could give me more hours.  They had recently changed their nanny's hours to cover the early evenings, when they need help getting their kids back and forth from activities, which had cut down on some of my hours.

Not long after I talked to them about getting more hours, friends of theirs started looking for a new after-school nanny.  They recommended me, I interviewed, and so far it looks like I've got the job, though we have yet to talk about specifics or a start date just yet.

This of course is going to mean some big changes for me.  Some will be challenging — I'll be more restricted as to when I go to the barn, and I'll have to work around my afternoon schedule when I blanket Panama.  (In the past, when it snows, I've often blanketed Panama in the late afternoons, so that it's done before the snow starts.)  I'll also have to be a little better about managing my time and not getting distracted (I'm looking at you, Facebook) so that I maximize the time I have available as much as possible.

But here's the payoff: The job should give me enough extra income to bring Rondo up to my barn.  And there's a corral opening right now.  Happy coincidence!  I'm going to wait a few weeks before I bring him up, so I can settle into the job and make sure I like it (and will be there a while) before I take on the responsibility of a second horse.  But I love the family and love the hours, so I'm hoping it'll be a lasting arrangement.

Even if it'll be a bit of a challenge to get used to working regular hours again (babysitting is different!), I'm very much looking forward to being able to work with Rondo more regularly.  Whether I ultimately decide to keep him or just help my mother-in-law find him a home, the opportunity for regular, consistent work has been very much needed!

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Friday, October 7, 2011

I'm actually an INTERMEDIATE rider now?

I finally thought to ask my trainer what she thinks my level of riding is now, and she said intermediate — and the reason I wouldn't be advanced, she said, is because I can't just hop on any horse.  Well, that's fair — I haven't ridden a horse other than Panama in probably close to 4 years — but I was pleasantly surprised.  I still haven't gotten over thinking of myself as a beginner.  Even though I know I've come a long ways since I started taking lessons a few years ago, I still struggle with a lot of insecurity regarding my riding abilities.  There are a number of teenage girls at my barn, and I am so envious of their velcro butts.  Those girls are amazing riders, and I wish I could ride like they do.

But back to my original point: I was pleasantly surprised to hear that my trainer considers me an intermediate rider, and that if I was more comfortable riding other horses I could actually perhaps be considered advanced.  I mean, when I asked that question I was mostly just hoping I was out of beginnerhood!

My trainer and I also talked briefly about how far Panama has come.  It started because we were talking about spurs (which I haven't used so far — more on that later).  She said that in general, the only horses that don't need them are the "crazy" ones — and she said, "Panama isn't like that anymore."  She used that word — anymore — several times, which prompted me to reflect on how far he has come.  She agreed, and said that both of us are exactly where she's want us to be.

This was reassuring, not only because of what it says about my abilities, but also because it validates what I've been thinking about Panama.  I've noticed many times how good he's been lately, how much more grown up and relaxed he seems when we ride, and how we have fewer bad or unfocused days now than we used to.

I'm glad I checked in with my trainer on this — it's good to know that both he and I are progressing as we should be!

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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Emma visits the barn

I haven't blogged much lately because it doesn't seem like there's been much to blog about.  I was a bit disappointed in my lesson last week, not because of my trainer but just because I find it so frustrating that I continue making some of the same mistakes.  Part of it was that I've been practicing bareback so much that I felt a bit rusty in the saddle, though, so obviously I need to make sure to ride in the saddle at least once a week between lessons.

Sunday night my husband and I took our Mastiff mix — Emma, a.k.a. Brown Dog, Biggie Brown, Big E.T. — out to the barn with us for my late-evening bareback ride.  We've taken the dogs with us occasionally, but never when I've ridden.  Emma hung out with us in the cross ties (Michael hooked her to one of the ties in the stall next to Panama), and then came with us into the arena.  When there are other riders around, dogs aren't supposed to be in the arena, but with just us there Michael brought her into the indoor with us — on leash, of course.

Emma looked visibly surprised when I got on Panama's back — Michael said she was probably thinking, You'd better not try that with ME, which I wouldn't doubt!  Michael walked her around the arena, sometimes with us and sometimes keeping his distance, which Panama and I poked around at a walk for a few laps.  Then we started trotting, which Emma found hugely amusing — I think she thought I was messing with her.  She got very interested, and Michael and I were laughing at her, which of course supported her theory that I was playing with her, so she did her little bounce-and-bark play move.

Michael and I both immediately told her NO — we don't want her to think it's okay to bark at horses — but I was really proud of Panama, who appeared unfazed.  She did a couple of other things, too, that I thought would cause him to spook or at least tense up — such as an aborted nose-sniff/play-bow that ended up being more like a lunge-at-Pan-and-run-away move — but he never once startled at anything she did.  When she tried to follow behind us around the arena, he did put his ears back and his head up, listening, but it felt more like he was interested in what she was doing than concerned.

To give credit where credit is due, Emma also did very well, especially considering she has not spent much time around horses.  I used to think Grace, our white shepherd, would be the better barn dog, but I don't think so anymore.  Emma is more laid back, which I think makes all the difference.

Next time we're going to take Grace with us, but as Michael said, it'll be a good experience for her, though not necessarily for anyone else.  I'll probably ride in a saddle when she's there, since I suspect her anxiety and shepherd's instincts could make for a much more... interesting... ride.

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