Friday, May 24, 2019

Might as Well Jump

I'm in the busiest time of year at my work, but have been managing to get short rides in most mornings.  The baby just turned 6 months old (!!) and is very much into being bounced.  So we've been listening to songs like Van Halen's Jump and House of Pain's Jump Around as we bounce him around - and perhaps that was my inspiration to do a little jumping myself this morning.  It's been several weeks, since Cupid's foot problems.

We started with some basic flatwork - a long walk off the rail trying to get him forward and straight (he was being a bit lazy and drifting), then some bending, trotting to loosen up.  A quick walk break then more trot, adding some shallow leg yields, then a little canter. 

Then we trotted into the caveletti, starting on the right rein, cantering out and coming to a halt.  Our first halt was definitely right of center, and almost at the wall.  Plus when he halted he swung his haunches, so we backed a few steps.  Back around at the trot, over again coming out much straighter into the halt.  Once more to make sure we had it, then switched to the left.  Cupid wanted to canter, and perhaps I should have insisted on a trot but hey he was on the correct lead and being quiet so I let him.  He met the caveletti in a good spot, we cantered out and halted.  Then we did it once to the left from a trot for good measure.  Then we cantered it going right.  And ended with this little 2 stride combo.  The first jump was a low x-oxer, then to a 2'3" vertical.  Cupid went over quietly, though he was a little playful on landing ducking his head down and dolphining a bit.  This time I made sure he kept cantering until I asked him to trot, and then keep trotting until I asked him to walk.  I had fun jumping and was only nervous for a brief moment before heading down the line :)
Happy with my tracks, straight and centered!
Looks like we're in for some June gloom
Just because I think his little ears are cute!

Friday, May 17, 2019

Doctor's Orders

After following an abscess protocol for about a week (consisting of a combination of soaking in epsom salt, and wrapping with epsom gel or animalintex) Cupid definitely looked more comfortable, but still not 100%.  I know abscesses can take time, and strangely come and go sometimes, so I wasn't overly concerned but I also didn't want to miss anything that might help his comfort.  So I had our lovely vet take a look.  He said Cupid was mildly sensitive to hoof testers near one nail, and though he wasn't sure that was the cause he pulled that nail and advised me to flush the nail hole with betadine solution.  He said he could pull the shoe and prod around, but based on what he saw he didn't think that would give any more answers.  The next day or two he still looked about the same, and then he looked better.

Satisfied, I rode him a few times, just walk/trot and he felt quite good.  The rain is back, and it's an insane week at work, plus I'm home alone with the baby so I haven't had too much time to ride but had a few good, short rides and even two lessons.  The vet watched a few minutes of my lesson yesterday and said he wanted to take another look.  He said he still got some reactivity to the hoof testers, which I was kind of surprised about because Cupid was moving nicely and, more importantly, his attitude about work has been super and he's normally not a very stoic horse!  He pulled another nail on the other side, and recommended I soak with CleanTrax.  But light riding is still fine so hopefully the weather won't be too terrible this weekend!

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Equicube Review

Since we're on a bit of a hiatus, I'm going to write a bit on my new training tool, the Equicube.  I'll just come out and say it - I love it! 

First - just what is it?  It's a hard rubber coated box with handles that weighs 4 pounds. 

What is it for?  Per the manufacturer: "The Equicube assists riders to achieve the correct position while engaging the proper muscles, allowing the rider to sit up, bring their shoulders back, and create the ideal ‘feel’."

Why I like it: It makes doing the right thing easy!  I've struggled with my elbows for years, I have a horrible tendency to keep them stick straight.  I thought the weight of the cube would make it tiring to keep my elbows straight - that I would still try to keep them straight but eventually it would start to hurt and I would force myself to try bending them.  But with the cube it just feels natural to bend them! 

I also have wandering hands.  They float inside into a leading rein on a circle, lift up when I ask for the canter, or go in other random directions.  Holding the block keeps them in place.  (Granted, this one can also be achieved with holding a crop in both hands, which I do frequently)  I do have to be careful though because I sometime still cross my hand over the neck with the cube.

 I also rotate my wrists, especially the right.  Or sometimes just break at the wrist.  When you hold the cube correctly the top should be level, and it's helpful for me to be able to quickly glance down and see.

Not quite correct, but it's hard holding with one hand!
The cube is also helpful with my upper body.  As I've documented, I'm always tipped forward.  I sometimes also collapse sideways in lateral work.  The weight of the cube encourages me to stay upright and centered.

The only real downside I've seen is it's hard to adjust the rein length.  But that does have a small upside of getting me to use my legs and seat more!  But for Cupid and me, improving connection is our biggest objective at the moment - and the cube will help with that long term if I ride more correctly.  I use the cube for short periods mid-ride to create the muscle memory.  When I'm not riding with it I still think of that feeling, and pretend I'm holding an imaginary cube!

Monday, May 6, 2019

Not all Gloom & Doom

The weather has returned to cold and foggy, and Cupid's foot isn't completely healed.  But it's not all gloom and doom, he is sound enough for some light work.
Just when I think I can put his blanket away
Cupid had a week off, and was looking okay handwalking and jogging.  So I kept my lesson last week, but when I put him on the lunge line was still looking a bit gimpy, so I asked my trainer if we can do in hand work instead.  I'm still enjoying the in-hand work, even though I'm still not very coordinated my timing is getting a little better.  It's interesting seeing it from the ground, being able to see when to cue his leg.  When I ride I do it intuitively, but I wouldn't say I'm great at feeling what the hind end is doing. 

My trainer is continuing the bit of piaffe training in-hand.  I can't say it's a real piaffe yet, but I'm seeing the progression!  She starts at the halt, using the whip to cue him to pick up each hind leg.  Sometimes I wonder if we did too good a job de-sensitizing Cupid because at first he can ignore the whip!  My trainer said he can (learn to) distinguish between our intention to get a reaction, or non-reaction, based on our body language and response.  Then she gets him moving forward, and uses the whip plus also picks up her own feet higher to encourage him to do the same.  Right now she does it along the rail, with a slight shoulder fore to the inside to make the collection easier.  It's pretty neat to watch! 

Then Cupid got a few more days off (still getting turned out because I feel some movement is good, plus he won't go crazy, plus he doesn't do too much in turnout unless he's been kept in!).  Then I got on him bareback for a walk around the property, which I really enjoyed since I hadn't gotten to ride in a while.  It's rough when 100% of your stable is down for the count! 

We had another lesson this weekend.  I observed Cupid on the lunge and he looked much better at the trot, but still a bit gimpy at the canter, especially going left, so we just did walk-trot.  He was a bit spooky in the outdoor again, but I tried to be more proactive keeping my inside leg on him and we did our circles when I felt him get distracted.  We did a lot of leg yielding out on a circle (18m to 20, and ~8 to 10) to get him into the outside rein.  We ended up practicing a 3 loop serpentine with a bit of leg yielding on the loops, which I think helped improve the roundness and made the change in bend more pronounced.  For Training 3 I will want to get that same feeling in our serpentines, just a bit more subtle.

So even though our riding has been light for the past week plus, we've had some good moments and I've been enjoying just spending quality time with Cupid!


Sunday, April 28, 2019

Sudden Change

Things have been quiet since the weather finally improved and BAM Cupid got an abscess.  It came on very suddenly, mid-ride!  I was finally going to do a jumping lesson, first one in almost a year.  We started warming up and everything seemed normal.  We picked up a canter, it felt good.  Then after about a lap all of the sudden I felt a change.  Subtle at first, Cupid kept going but the balance had changed.  We were on the right lead, and started going down the diagonal to change directions and as we were crossing the centerline and about to do a trot change he just felt clearly lame.  The left front, same as where an abscess burst recently (though he didn't go fully lame then just had some trouble picking up the left lead).

So our lesson ended before we got to jump.  I soaked his feet, and wrapped it with animalintex pads then epson gel for the next week.  He finally seems better, but unfortunately I am out of town on a work trip the next few days.  I am looking forward to riding when I get back!

Friday, April 19, 2019

Training Opportunities

"Training opportunities" abounded in our last few rides - things out of our control I wasn't sure how Cupid would react to.  For instance, on Tuesday I had just gotten on in the covered arena when someone began drilling and working on something behind the mirrors.  Cupid startled a bit, but I asked him to keep walking.  We did some walk work, staying at the other end of the arena and I kept asking him to focus on me.  He was slightly distracted but being good, so we went up in the trot.  We gradually increased the size of our circles/figures to about 3/4 of the arena and I just kept my leg on and asked him to work. 

On Wednesday we were taking what was supposed to be a leisurely walk around the property.  Ahead of us I saw someone taking a horse out from it's pasture, and his buddy who was left behind got upset calling and running around.  I've seen Cupid get pretty excited by this in the past (his tail shoots straight up and he starts prancing!) and I briefly considered hopping off.  But instead I just sat up straight and tried to relax (no clamping with the knees or choking up the reins!), keep my leg on, and continue walking.  No big deal.  It's taken me a while to feel confident doing this, and to switch my thinking from trying to comfort Cupid (patting his neck and telling him it's ok, letting him stop and look) to being the leader and telling him we're just going to keep working. 

We had a great lesson on Thursday.  The outdoor arena was finally open, though it was still a bit wet.  Not slippery, but a bit heavier and perhaps more tiring.  Even though we hadn't been out there in a while, Cupid was great!  We are still focusing on correcting how I maintain contact to increase roundness.  I'm slowly improving, but I still tend to float my inside hand away from the neck, or cross the left hand over the neck when we're tracking right.  I'm working on using my inside leg more for a correct bend, instead of relying on the inside rein.

One of the exercises we did was trot a 5 meter circle, shoulder in when we're back on the rail for several steps, straighten and increase the trot, and repeat.  We also worked on cantering 10 meter circles, which we haven't done in a while and had a little trouble with especially going right.  Cupid felt a bit tired and was drifting out.  My trainer made us repeat, I was starting to feel bad for Cupid and finally pictured a barrel racer.  It wasn't pretty, but good enough that our trainer let us go back down to a trot - for a minute, then we changed direction and did it again the other way which went a little better. 

On Friday I thought we would keep it fairly light - walk around the property for about 10 minutes, then pop into the ring for some trot work.  Unlike the day before, Cupid was spooking at everything around the arena.  These are the same things that are always there - a mounting block, chair, wheel barrow, cavaletti.  Currently it seems like for every 2-3 times he is perfect outside we have one ride when he's just really distracted, though he usually gets over it after about 10-15 minutes.

I made sure my whip was in my inside hand and kept my inside leg on trying to keep him on the rail, and any time he even thought about spooking we did a 5 meter circle.  I could feel Cupid really suck back so I tried to drive him forward.  After about 10 minutes he finally went down the long side calmly, so I gave him a pat and we let him walk, and we finished cooling off walking around outside.

All the scary things


Saturday, April 13, 2019

Redemption!

The nearly two weeks since our last show passed uneventfully, as we prepared for the schooling show which was today.  Cupid saw the chiropractor (actually I did too, I try to go about every month or other month.)  I had a few more rides with the Equicube, which seems to be helping with some of my bad habits - I'll have to write about that more in detail.

Our goals for today were to keep Cupid relaxed, and for me to sit up.  My trainer wanted me to get to the showground early and lunge Cupid, and also get on him a bit earlier.  Luckily this show is only about a half an hour away, and my first ride time was 11:20 so it was a relaxed morning.  When we got there Cupid was a bit more distracted coming off the trailer, looking around and not digging into his hay net like he usually does.  But he well behaved on the lunge line.  I did about 3 minutes walk and trot each direction without side reins, then put them on and did about 5 minutes trot and canter each direction.  Cupid did occasionally pick up a canter when I had only asked him for a trot, but also broke to a walk a few times too, and broke from the canter to trot.

We went back to the trailer and changed to get ready for our test, and met our trainer.  She kept our warm up fairly simple.  Since we had already lunged I only walked for a minute before getting Cupid trotting on a 20m circle.  He was a little quick so I changed my posting diagonal every few steps to settle him.  Then we did some 10m circles then into more of a medium trot.  We cantered on the circle both directions, a bit longer to the right (his stronger side).  He was being good, so we took a walk break around the arena letting Cupid see everything.  Luckily there wasn't really anything he found spooky.  Then a few minutes before our test we went back into the trot and did some shoulder-ins.

The tests themselves were largely uneventful, though we did blow the left lead in our first test.  I'm not sure if Cupid was a bit tired after the longer warm-up, because he sometimes struggles with it when he's a bit tired.  Though he got it perfect every time on the lunge and warm up, and our second test.  I felt pretty good about the accuracy of the tests, and Cupid was far more relaxed this time.  I also felt improvement in my riding, specifically the sitting up straight.  It still falls apart a bit in the canter, but I am happy with the progress.  My tests weren't available yet when I left, I suspect most of the comments are along the lines of "could be rounder."  So that's what we'll continue working towards.

Much more relaxed trot, but yes, "could be rounder"

Ugh my elbows though!
Still leaning forward at the canter and his head and neck come up
Halt not quite square, but right at X

Stepping under nicely even though high-headed
Changing bend in our serpentine

More half seat at the canter
Medium walk
Free walk is our jam

Happy to be home
I didn't intend on wearing sunglasses.  Usually I wear contacts, but I just totally forgot this morning and left the house still wearing my glasses, which have the transition lenses!  So apologies to the judge and show organizers if that is a bit of a faux pas, it was not intentional!