I got to ride today for the first time in what seems like ages. I picked out two exercises from my “101 Dressage Exercises” book, but didn’t really get to work on either of them because there were other people in the small pasture where I ride. One of the boarders had her 3 kids out there playing around with two of the horses, so I only had a few minutes in the arena by myself. My original goal was to work on 2 things: controlling speed at the trot and halting squarely. I ended up working on halting and bending through the corners.
I wanted to work on speeding up and slowing down, but it was kind of a zoo with three kids out there, so I did slow trot circles around the pasture and practiced halting square. That was kind of boring and so nothing to report. When the mini arena cleared out and I could ride in there alone, Baron was being fussy about trotting on the rail so I slowed to a walk and worked on keeping him straight along the rail instead of drifting to the middle. I also noticed him cutting his corners, so I put a lot of inside leg on him through the corners and he started to bend beautifully around my inside leg. He was curving his whole body through the turns instead of leading with his neck and cheating. Granted, it was just walking, but I was very pleased with the work we did today. I kept him at an even tempo, he lowered his head nicely, and he bent like a real dressage horse!
Then came the second part of our ride where Baron did his impression of a Lipizzan at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. I took him out on the trail with another boarder and her Arab gelding who is an ex-endurance racer. He HAS to be in the front because he thinks trail riding is a race. I don’t know what was going on with Baron, but the horse who 5 minutes ago was walking beautifully and calmly around the arena suddenly turned into a fire-breathing dragon who wanted to RUN. I had to hold him back with every ounce of my upper body strength to keep him at a trot. I absolutely could not slow him to a walk. It wasn’t happening, so I settled for a trot. Since I wouldn’t let him move forward with his energy, he took it UP. He did the most gorgeous trots I’ve ever ridden- big and bouncy with tons of suspension. He arched his neck and curled his nose almost to his chest and lifted his legs higher and higher until I swear we were practically piaffe-ing. I let him canter a little bit but I had him on a tight rein and it was just as beautiful as the trot- neck curled and perfect three beat steps. I would have killed for video of that ride!
By the time we got back to the barn, he was drenched in sweat and I was exhausted. My thighs and biceps were worn out from holding on and holding him back. I un-tacked him, let him out into the pasture and watched him take off like a runaway train, galloping across the pasture to find his buddies.
I have so much to write about, and I’ll begin with the good news. We had a white Christmas in Atlanta, the first one since 1880 according to the Weather Channel. I let Baron have a nice roll in the snow before blanketing him. It was colder than he’s used to though and, after some bucking and snorting, he was ready to come in the barn, have his dinner and warm up.
The other good news is that THIS showed up under my Christmas tree:
I’ve started reading through it and I’m impressed. It follows the German training scale and has different exercises to develop each segment of the scale. The introduction to the book says it’s designed specifically for people working without a trainer and when I read that I knew I asked for the right book for Christmas. The book doesn’t progress sequentially; the exercises aren’t in order from beginner to advanced. They’re organized according to the training scale so, if you want to work on looseness and straightness, you would go to those chapters and pick a couple exercises that your horse can do. I’m pretty stoked about working through the book. I’ve already picked out the first couple exercises to try on my next ride. I’ll take a picture of the pages and post them so everyone can see what kinds of things the book has to offer.
Now, for the bad news. My barn owner, who is 76 years old and not in the best of health, went into the hospital the day after Christmas and is still there. There are a couple different issues and his wife isn’t sure when he will be able to come home. I told her not to worry, that I would take care of the barn and the horses until he comes home. This means I’m at the barn at 6:45 a.m. to feed, back to the barn on my way to work to turn out, and back again after work to turn in, feed and do my chores. There is no one else to do it because one boarder lives too far away, one is 15 and has no driver’s license, and one is in South Africa visiting family for two weeks. I’m adding barn management to a schedule that already includes a full time job, a two year old and a baby, two dogs, and a husband. My days are a bit jam packed already. I’m not complaining though. I’m happy to help out and I love being at the barn. The hamster wheel of my life is simply turning a little faster these days!
My biggest gift this year will be that my horse did not colic despite his attempt to eat every last grain of feed in the barn. Someone commented that he has a strong constitution to match his strong German name. That must be true, because he showed zero ill effects from his binging. He is pooping normally, drinking lots of water, and is very “up” in his disposition.
When I was driving to the barn worried that I would find him ill and rolling, I realized how tragic it would be to lose him. He is the PERFECT horse for me, not necessarily because of size or color or ability (although I like all of those things about him), but because of his personality. I love how cheerful and easy going he is, always ready to play or have a treat. He has a mischievous side, like a giant four-legged elf. But when that saddle goes on, he is all business. Being a racehorse definitely gave him a work ethic that many people I know should imitate. He perfectly fits one of George Morris’ favorite words- “workmanlike.” I am soooooooo glad he is okay. I can’t even imagine what my life would be like if he were suddenly gone. Less busy perhaps, but also less fulfilling.
Yesterday I was itching to ride since it’s probably been a month since my backside has touched a horse. I threw a bridle on him and went a couple times around the pasture bareback. He was so good! I even trotted with him a little and it was a soft, slow trot- so easy to ride, even bareback! I’ve decided to ride bareback more often. I think it will improve my seat and help me to quit relying so much on the stirrups. When I ride bareback, my legs hang down long and it feels more like a dressage position than when I’m in my hunter saddle. I also feel a little like an Indian squaw tooling around the Old West!
Today I was at work minding my own business and who should walk in but my barn owner. He couldn’t get in touch with me by phone, so he came to see me. He is 75 and walks with a cane so it is a big deal that he came. As you can imagine, he did not have good news. Apparently Baron got out of his stall last night and proceeded to sample the contents of all the feed bins. Not sample really, more like gorge himself like a bulimic teenage girl. I am at a self care barn so every stall has a big metal bin full of food right outside the door. Some of the lids are attached with a bungee, most are not. Baron had made a HUGE mess in the barn hallway- hay everywhere, feed bins opened, and piles of horse dumplings everywhere. The worst part by far is that he ate close to at least half of a bag of feed. And you know what that means. There’s a chance he could colic.
Luckily the people I work for are like family to me, so they let me leave work and run to the barn. I called the vet and he said to let him eat hay and drink lots of water to move the grain through his system. Baron was in his stall lying down and my first thought was, “Please God no!!! Tell me he hasn’t been rolling!” Thankfully he hopped right up when he saw me and he did not seem sick at all. His ears were up and he was whinnying to join his friends in the pasture. I handwalked him for a few minutes until he pooped twice and then I let him drink some water. One would think that after consuming that much food, Baron would have a heck of a tummy ache. But he seemed fine. When I was satisfied that he was not going to lay down and die on me, I let him out into the pasture with his friends and he trotted off to join them. I don’t run when I have a belly ache, so I’m guessing Baron wouldn’t either. Pooping is a good sign because it means his body is digesting the food, and drinking water is good because it’s aiding digestion.
The barn owner is going to keep an eye on him and I’m going back after work, so hopefully he stays chipper and healthy! Keep him in your prayers to the horse gods!
I’m almost too embarassed to post this picture, not because my horse is dirty, but because my stall is full of cobwebs! I need to clean!
This is Baron’s preferred state- filthy and covered in mud. George Morris would have a coronary, but I didn’t even brush him after I took this picture. He likes to be dirty so I decided to give him one more day of pigginess. Tonight he will get a thorough grooming!
It was so cold at the barn last night I’m surprised I didn’t see penguins and polar bears. The thermometer read 28 degrees, which is almost unheard of in Atlanta in December. It’s usually still in the 50’s this time of year. The water in Baron’s bucket and the hose were both frozen solid, along with my fingers.
I read a post the other day over at On the Bit’s blog about how to tell if a horse is cold. It’s here if you’re interested: http://onthebit.wordpress.com/2010/12/06/how-do-you-know-if-a-horse-is-warm-enough/ One way is to feel the muzzle and ears and if they’re cool, the horse is too cold. I went to the barn on Sunday and felt Baron’s ears and sure enough, they were chilly. He also had his tail tucked, which is another sign a horse is uncomfortably cool. So out came the blanket and he’s been under it ever since.
I checked his feet to see how they’re holding up without shoes. He seems to be doing fine- no major crumbling or cracking. I’m still going to wait a couple more weeks before trying to ride in case he’s tender, but so far so good with my unshod Thoroughbred!
On a side note, I posted a picture of Baron with his lip curled up in the air. You know that rough spot on a horse’s upper lip? That is Baron’s “sweet spot.” He loves me to scratch right there and when I get it just right, he throws his head in the air and curls his lip. Every time I go see him in his stall, he nuzzles my hand until I scratch his lip. I think I read somewhere that horses have a lot of nerve endings there and, when stimulated, it causes a release of endorphins. That must be true because he is like a crack addict about getting his lip scratched!