Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Indoor Riding

Okay, so first I just have to mention a little training thing I dealt with the other day.  I'd gone out to Shar's house to take a look at her new saddle with her, and R needed to put a new large bale of hay into the pasture, so I locked up two of the horses into a little paddock and pulled Arya out just to spend a little non-riding time with her.  I tied her up for a bit, while we looked at the saddle. then untied her, picked her feet, and brushed her a bit.  She was moving around a TON in the barn.  She's been in there before, but not a lot, and there were lots of things for her to be curious about, so she kept moving.  She'd get weirded out by the floor mats and start pawing at them, etc.

So after I was done grooming her, I decided to work on standing still.  Shar had Flash back inside the barn, so we stood just outside.  I set Arya up, told her to "stay" and stepped back a couple feet from her, then pretended like I wasn't paying any attention to her, but watched her out of the corner of my eye, waiting for her to move just ONE foot, so I could scold her and put her back where I started, and so on.  She stood stock still for close to FIVE minutes, with me just waiting for her to move so I could teach her how to stand still.  Sheesh!  She couldn't stop moving a few minutes prior, but as soon as I decided to make a lesson out of it, she held perfectly still.  She finally did move a couple times, and I put her back, etc.  Doubt it'll stick much.

Anyway, we had decided to try riding indoors this weekend, in anticipation of the weather not being good enough to want to trail ride, and hoping that the weather WOULD be good enough to trailer (roads not icy).  It turns out the weather actually was quite nice, though cool, but we stuck with our plans to ride indoors anyway.  My friend Julie has a huge indoor arena, plus some good outdoor riding on the property, so I snagged Nathan from his dad's since he hadn't been riding in a while, and we hauled Dalai, Flash, and Arya out there.

We took our time tacking up, as both saddles Shar was using on her horses were new to her and new to the horses, so there were adjustments to be made.  But I had brought my impression pad (basically a plastic pouch filled with colored clay, though a little more technical than that, but you put it between the horse and the saddle while you ride for a bit, then look for thin spots in the clay to check saddle fit), so it was going to basically be a tack-fitting session, with various changes of tack on the horses.

I started out with the impression pad under both the saddle and pad I've been using for a while.  Even when doing 10-mile rides, she's never shown a sign of being sore, so I wanted to check what the impression pad showed with my regular setup and then with a different pad.  And since I was assessing the pad, I had to put the impression pad between the saddle pad and the horse.  It's a vinyl-y plastic, so riding a horse with summer coat for very long probably wouldn't be pleasant for the horse, but I rode Arya for 10-15 minutes per session, and she has a THICK coat of hair, so she didn't sweat a bit.

We warmed up walking for a bit, then alternated trotting and walking for a while.  Heaven forbid that girl trot for more than half a circle at a time.  Ha!  I swear I remember her being a bit gate-sour (i.e. gravitating toward the gate in hopes of being done and leaving the arena) the last time we rode at Julie's, but this time, on one of our first passes past the gate, a black cat was lurking there.  Arya's seen cats around the property at Shar's, but she was very suspicious of this black cat (she must be superstitious--note to self not to ask her to walk under any ladders), and every time we went past the gate after that, she shied away from the gate.

She was fine on our first couple passes past the (closed) roll-up door at one end of the arena, but it must've made a noise one time we passed it, plus I heard woodpeckers outside at some point, with the sound coming from roughly that direction, so she started acting really spooky at that end.

I was SO proud of myself for NOT freaking out at her tiny spooks and shies.  Or her (non-spooky, just stubborn) head-tossing when I asked her to trot.  I mean, I didn't LOVE any of it.  But I never thought to myself "oh sh!t, I'm totally coming off) or anything, just sat deep and kept leg on and made her work through it.  The first time or two, I'd let her shy as far away from the "scary" spot, but then I started asking her to stick with it.  Shar did remind me that I need to remember to either not bother steering her head at all, or actually steer it away from the scary spot and use LEG to ask her to move toward the scary thing, but yeah.  I didn't freak out, and I asked her to work closer and closer to the scary thing.  Yay me!

Nathan also made some progress.  His first couple of passes of trotting were kind of sloppy, so Shar and I gave him some pointers, especially working on independent hands by putting one hand on the pommel of the saddle, and focusing on his posture as well, and he started posting much better almost instantly.  Yay!

So anyway, after 10 minutes or so of work, I pulled the tack off Arya and checked the impression pad.  It looked a little thin in the shoulder/wither area, which is where we've had issues with other saddles, so not surprising.  It wasn't scary thin, like it was pinching, but definitely tighter there than in the rest of the saddle, and the pad I'm using is thick memory foam, so not too surprising that when you put that under a saddle that otherwise fits pretty well, that it would have a tighter fit.  So I swapped that pad out for a thinner fleece pad (no memory foam), with the impression pad under it, and rode in that setup for a while.  It actually looked a lot better on the impression pad, so when finances allow and I find one I like (shape, color, quality), I'll probably switch.  The memory foam tends to retain heat, which will be fine for the winter, but can overheat and even cause heat rash in the summer in a hard-working horse, plus the felt underside is starting to pill, and there's only so much you can do before it just completely wears out.  But I got a good deal on it, and it's working for now, so I'm in no hurry.

So once I was done using the impression pad with my two different setups, it was Shar's turn.  She had new saddles on both horses, actually, but just tried the impression pad with Flash for now.  She was riding him in an SR (same brand I have), but hers has more English-style flaps and a couple other features a bit different.  I think she tried the impression pad with three different thicknesses of pads, and decided the medium one (my pad I'll likely be switching away from, actually) would probably be the best.  The pad she currently has with THICK inserts (inserts plus shims, actually) is a bit too much, but if she gets thinner inserts, the shell of it will work out great.

We were all pretty tired of trotting in circles by this point, so we dismounted, headed outside, and re-mounted to ride the "poop trail."  I've talked about it on here, but Julie's place used to have a cross-country jumping course, complete with pond, drop-off jumps, and large relatively immovable jumps around the property.  They take their well-composted poop (and shavings) and spread it out onto a trail that loops around and through the property.  There a multiple loops, but I think a loop all around the longest configuration is about half a mile.  With the funky weather and peppy horses and slippery footing (still snow and ice in spots, and frozen mud even if it wasn't visibly icy), we stuck to a walk, but it was good to get outside, and it wasn't actually very cold, so it turned out to be a nice little ride.  We went up a hill through a wooded-ish portion of the property, back down the hill, rode BESIDE what would normally be a drop-down jump, but instead was just a small downhill (though Shar had a BAD wreck on a cross country course and mentioned that it was rough on her to be near all these jumps--deep breaths!), back over to the area with more jumps and newer trail course type obstacles, too.  Skipped doing the gate (kind of a hassle for two of us to wait while one person tried it out) and the bridge (risk of it being slippery), but we did cross the ground poles a few times.  A set of four, and even at a pretty sedate walk, Arya managed to step OVER and not ON all four!  Woo hoo!  Maybe she's learning that walking is better than tripping.  We continued on around the property, and then Shar pointed out that we could just shortcut to the trailer, so we did.  Turned out to be a little muddy there, and both Flash and Arya kind of went "eek" at the mud and tried to rush through it (Arya by plowing into Flash's butt, which luckily he doesn't mind), and Dalai didn't even care.  We got back to the trailer and untacked the ponies.  We were about to go say our goodbyes and clean up our poop, when Julie came out and asked if we wanted to take any of the horses in to see the cattle--she's got three steers and a heifer, and brought them in from their muddy pen to the arena for a bit so they could dry off.  (They've installed panels in the configuration of a cattle sorting pen at one end of their HUGE arena--you don't really miss the space for regular riding, and it comes in very handy for them to practice in, since they do sorting.)

Yes, I wanted to expose Arya to cattle in a somewhat controlled environment!  She'd heard them mooing outside the arena while we were riding, and didn't seem to mind NEARLY as much as she minded the big giant cows on the trail a couple months ago, but yes, exposure to random things (especially things we're actually likely to see while out and about) is a good thing!  So we took her back into the arena.  Poor girl had already thought she was done for the day so many times, with all the un-tacking and dismounting!  But I had one more thing to throw at her.  She looked at them, and they ignored her.  We walked closer to the pen, and her ears were forward and she was curious, but she never seemed too anxious about it.  We stood outside the pen for a bit, then Julie said it was okay to take her in.  I led her in the pen, and was trying to both encourage her forward and keep myself out of her likely path of escape if she freaked out.

Then duh, Julie and/or Shar suggested I just let her loose.  Heh.  So I took the rope off and stepped back and just let her explore.  She'd move closer and closer to a cow, and it would just stand there, then eventually move away.  She'd stop, watch it, then realize that hey, maybe she can MAKE them move by getting closer again.  Sure enough!  She isn't so cowy that she thought this was great fun or anything, but at least she hopefully won't totally freak out next time we see a bovine in or near a trail.  :-)  At one point, she was kind of looking outside the arena at their outdoor pen, and I have no idea what happened, but she totally spooked.  Clearly, she was on edge.  She bucked a couple times, but calmed down quickly and went back to checking out the cows.  At one point, it looked like she was actually going to lay down and roll, but she didn't.  But yeah, the introduction went well.  Might want to give her another session without a rider before trying to ride her in and amongst cows, but she did good.

After all that excitement, we cleaned up our poo piles, loaded up the horses, and hit the road.  Any day spent with horses is a good one, but I think we all felt like we accomplished something and had an especially good day.  :-)

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Dalai, Dalai, Dalai

So, between the cold and dark, we haven't been doing the evening rides we told ourselves we would.  I'm a chicken, and don't really love starting out in the pitch dark.  I mean, it's dark by the time I leave work, let alone drive to Shar's, so we're tacking up in full dark, and setting off in the full dark.  Horses see in the dark, Arya's not that spooky, blah blah blah, but MY nerves don't love it.  So I've taken full advantage of any excuse not to go.  However, when it snowed a foot and a half just prior to the long Thanksgiving weekend, it meant even when my plans to go out of town were canceled due to the dangerous driving conditions, those same driving conditions meant I didn't go visit my horse at all during the long weekend, either.  Bummer.

So I definitely wanted to ride this weekend, even though it still wasn't very warm, because it had been two weeks since I'd ridden.  I think there's only been one other time I've gone that long without riding Arya since I got her.  I got out to Shar's place, and the wind was blowing harder than I'd heard was predicted, but at least it wasn't snowing or raining.  Got my horse out, and her pasture still had some completely ice-covered spots, and I could see her steel-clad feet slipping even with her ginger steps.  Fun!  Luckily, the roads were pretty bare when I'd driven in, so riding should be fine.

I took Arya straight to the arena for a little "round-penning."  (The arena had no snow, whereas the round pen was completely covered.  Plus it's good to change spots once in a while, and I use the rope rather than free lunging anyway.)  Asked her to head out in a circle, and she thought about bucking and snorting, but thought better of it.  Then she kept trying to break back to a walk when I'd asked her to trot, but eventually realized this was gonna happen and she might as well suck it up and do what I asked, and she did so.  After a few circles each direction at a trot, in which she was listening well, halted and re-circled willingly, we headed back to tack up.

Meanwhile, Shar had gotten Dalai out and was working on fitting a new saddle to her, so I wasn't too far behind them in the process.  I had to pick the ice balls out from Arya's feet.  Horse's feet are concave, so snow and ice normally wants to accumulate there, but if they're barefoot, the hoof flexes enough and the concavity is shallow enough to pop the snowball out every once in a while, usually.  But with steel shoes around the rim of their hoof, now the concavity is deeper and the hoof doesn't flex quite as much, possibly, and the snow and ice are much more likely to build up and get stuck.  People who keep their horses shod throughout the winter usually put on some type of snow pad to deal with it.  Shar put some on Flash.  But for Dalai and Arya, they weren't due for new shoes in time for this big snow storm, so they're still waiting.  (Gonna try barefoot with Arya since she went all last winter barefoot.)  Anyway, so I bent the "blade" part of the hoof pick a bit getting the ice out of her feet.  It gets pretty hard when a 1200 pound beast is standing on it!

We eventually got all tacked up and mounted up and headed out.  As we moseyed down the road away from home, Dalai decided she would prefer to be home.  She spun around, picking both front feet up in the process.  I would have freaked out if the horse I was riding did that, but Shar just calmly said "oh no you don't" and urged her to go in the chosen direction.  Arya stayed pretty calm through Dalai's antics, but someone had pushed up a berm of dirt in front of their driveway, and she (and a lot of horses, actually) have this thing about disturbed dirt being scary, so she kind of shied away from it and gave it a heavy stink-eye, but never fully spooked.  However, she did "ask" a few times if maybe we could just head home, if I didn't mind?  She turned her head toward home, but a tug of the reins and a prod of leg pressure kept her pointed in the right direction--I never had to get the whip out to bonk her with it.

We got to the first corner, and there were a few patches of ice.  Arya ducked and pivoted.  Not sure about what--there was a dog that appeared (silently) across the street, but it really seemed to me that her focus was downward, on the ice.  Regardless, I stayed seated (YAY!) and while I crouched forward in my usual defensive mode, I came to my senses rather quickly and sat up/back, just in time to worry she was going to jump a ditch that was right in front of her.  She didn't.  Deep breaths, everything's okay.  She didn't blink or twitch at the dogs that charged the fence barking like maniacs a few minutes later.  Weirdo.

At the second intersection, Dalai threw a bit more of a fit, and Shar dealt with it admirably.  We continued on.  As we continued down the road, which is a dead end, it had seen less and less traffic, and there was some snow and ice.  I tried letting Arya pick her own path for a while, but she clearly wasn't very good at it, and kept slipping, once slipping with both back feet at once.  Yikes!  So then I steered her toward the melted tire ruts instead of the icy strips in between and on both sides.  Surprisingly, she willingly walked in the rushing torrents, ahem, I mean trickling rivulets, without a single complaint.  We passed a few larger puddles, and I noticed Shar asked Dalai to walk through one, but I didn't want to have to fight her over it on the icy ground, so just didn't even ask Arya to go through the bigger puddles.  I was just proud of her for willingly walking through, across, and diagonally along the little stream.  Good girl!

I did NOT love riding on the ice (fluffy snow is one thing, slippery ice is another!), so was glad when that ended and we hit the trail.  However, it's normally soft dirt there, but of course with the freezing temperatures, now it was patches of hard dirt and patches of soft dirt, all covered in pristine snow.  I'm pretty sure Arya didn't love that footing any more than I did--frustrating and tiring to walk in, never knowing when you foot is going to sink, slip, or actually find good purchase.  Toward the end of that stretch, I had the feeling Arya was now walking on snowballs, she just felt wobbly.  In a different way than our last trail ride.

We got back onto a road, which was thankfully fairly free from ice, and checked each other's horse's feet out.  Hard to see your own horse's feet, but I could clearly see that at least one of Dalai's feet had an iceball, possibly more.  Luckily, I carry a hoof pick in my pommel pack, so we both dismounted.  Arya had three snowballs.  I'm pretty sure I bent this hoofpick, too.  Oh well.  Easily bent back with a vice, I'm sure, and not likely to be an issue except for ice balls in the future.  Time to mount back up.  I tried mounting solo, but pulled the saddle over, so Shar held the other stirrup while I heaved myself into the saddle.  Then she got on Dalai with my help being to block Dalai from moving forward with Arya's body.  We all got safely on, stood for a minute so the horses didn't think they got to rush off toward home, and we set off.

Dalai was pretty good, and Arya was very good.  Until we saw a big old ribbon blowing in the wind.  She was pretty sure that ribbon had some nasty things on its agenda, involving torturing horses.  She really really wanted to trot past it (that's a bolt, for her), but I kept her to a relatively sane walk, and nothing bad happened.  To either of us.

We got into a bit of bushwhacking, which is always a little sketchy with snow, since you can't see the ground, and of course have the same footing issues we had on the trail.  But Arya was starting to get the hang of it, and did great.  Dalai was faster than us, though, so they waited for us where our path took us back onto a road.  However, Dalai knew we were getting closer to home, and was getting more and more antsy to get going, much to Shar's frustration.  They'd done great (or at least any struggles they had weren't visible to me) on the stretch toward the bushwhacking, but now that we had really turned toward home in earnest, Dalai wanted to trot on home.  Probably at a very fast trot, if she were to get her way.  Even if Shar wanted to trot home (which she doesn't on a good day, but especially in the ice), Dalai wanting to, and trying to MAKE it happen meant that it was very much NOT going to happen.  Shar was trying to deal with it by having her halt, and bending her neck until she gave to the pressure, then releasing the pressure and walking on.  After a few times of that, it seemed it wasn't really working to refocus Dalai at all, and Shar was getting more and more frustrated.  At one point, she got off to lunge Dalai in circles.

Arya had been SO great through all of these shenanigans, not "joining the party" at all.  (That's a phrase I've heard Celena use, more in relation to the riders not joining in the party the horse is trying to throw, but also appropriate for this situation, I think.)  So when Shar hopped off to lunge Dalai, I debated whether to stay on or hop off myself.  We were close to home, so I decided to just hop off, let Arya relax, and that I'd walk home the rest of the way.  So I hopped off, pulled Arya's bridle off, and let her eat.  Her favorite thing!

Shar and Dalai did quite a few circles, both directions, then Shar mounted up again.  Dalai was much more compliant, but still thought she ought to be heading home at her preferred speed.  I recommended that Shar try what Celena had worked on with Arya--circles upon circles upon circles.  That way, the horse gets to keep their feet moving, but not in their preferred direction (for long).  And when their attitude improves, they get rewarded by getting to go in their preferred direction, but that's easily changed back into circles again when their attitude degrades again.  Shar gave it a shot, and it took a few minutes for Dalai's attitude to show improvement, but then it definitely did.  Meanwhile, Arya got to munch away on weeds on the shoulder of the road, where we were well out of the way.  She thought that was a pretty good arrangement.  Eventually Dalai decided that walking calmly was better than doing a bunch of boring circles, and we set off toward home at a sedate pace.  I was now on foot, and wearing snow boots (kept my feet snug and warm while riding, though, much better than the trail running tennies I'd worn on our last cold weather), and couldn't walk very fast because they slop around on my feet and hurt my toes.  So they quickly got ahead of me and Arya, but it was good practice for Dalai, because they stopped and waited a bit, and Dalai did GREAT.  So it took some "discussion," but in the end, Dalai walked home on a loose rein.  And Arya got to practice staying out of my "bubble" while we walked and halted and backed our way back home.  (No trotting, stupid boots.)

When we got home, Arya got to graze the green grass for a little while as a reward for her good behavior.  Dalai did not face any consequences for her naughty behavior, since she had shaped up on the trail, and we put away two pretty happy ponies before settling in for a little movie-watching in the warm cozy house.

So, it was really interesting to have MY horse not being the one acting up, and MY horse not being the one holding up the other rider while we do interminable circles.  It was good to see it from the outside, and watch/help Shar deal with it.  And I was SO proud of Arya for showing me that what WE'VE gone through has been worth it, and that she HAS improved.  I'm sure she'll still try something on our next few solo rides, but she's getting better, and so am I, and that's awesome.  Oh, and my whip stayed holstered this entire ride.  Didn't use it once.  Woo!