Posts tagged: weather


So, once again, bad blogger. A lot’s happened since my last update…

First, I rode in a clinic with David DeWispelaere in April. I really enjoyed it, and intended for a long time to write about it — but less than a week after the clinic, Poe came out of the pasture lame. NOT HAPPY. I’d taken him out back for walking and trotting hill work on Tuesday and had a really nice jumping lesson on Wednesday. He felt a bit sluggish by the end of the lesson, so he got Thursday off. Then Friday, lame. LAME. I called my friend Lennie, who happens to be one of the most knowledgeable horsepeople I know, and she graciously came out to the barn to watch him jog. It was definitely left hind (my eye for lameness is terrible, but this was pronounced enough even I could see it). He didn’t seem to want to place the foot, so Lennie felt it was an abscess brewing, and best thing for it would be chuck him back out in the field and wait.

The next Wednesday he was still about the same, maybe a touch better than that first day. The vet was coming out to float his teeth anyhow, so I called ahead to ask that he watch Poe jog, throw the hoof testers on him, etc before doing his teeth. The vet kindly squeezed it in. He saw the same left hind lameness, but couldn’t find any reactivity with the hoof testers, no heat, no swelling, no difference in pulse between the legs. He didn’t have time for further diagnostics and couldn’t tell anything based on what he’d seen. So I set up an appointment the following Monday (soonest I could get someone), and put him on a couple days of bute.

Monday the second vet watched him jog on and off the lunge, did the hoof testers, and did some flexions. Poe was a total brat about flexing his left stifle. He wasn’t fantastic about his right either, but worse for the left. No real heat or swelling, and no difference in the jog before and after the flexion, but he also wasn’t able to hold it all that long. Inconclusive. We were set to do nerve blocks next, but Poe was a bit fried and refused to have the twitch put on, and reacted rather violently to the vet’s attempt to get the needle in without the twitch, so we scrapped that. He is usually an easy horse to handle so the whole exam was a bit disheartening. Much moreso because we were no closer to an answer than we’d been last week. The vet advised I give it another couple of days, and set another appointment if there was no change, possibly bring him in for x-rays.

By Wednesday there was no difference. I don’t have a truck and trailer, so hauling him up to the clinic was not a great option. A third vet was able to schedule to see him on Saturday. He’s the one who usually handles emergencies so they don’t schedule him, but I was very flexible about when I could see him so he worked me in. He repeated everything we’d done Monday, with a bit better success on the flexions, since Poe was feeling more cooperative. Same result: he flexed fine. Back in the barn the vet pulled out the hoof testers — and voila! Tenderness in the left hind. It was the first time Poe had reacted to them, but there was a definite, repeatable reaction. Probably a stone bruise. And a huge, huge relief. The vet had also brought out the thermography camera, so he had a look at both of Poe’s back legs with that. Really cool little device — and also a relief to see no difference in heat between the legs. The vet felt there was a small amount of swelling in the left stifle, but nothing super alarming.

He prescribed a 3-week course of bute (2gm twice a day for three doses, then 2gm once a day for 10 days, then 1gm once a day for 10 days), and said I should ride him. Nothing super strenuous, stick to large figures, no jumping — but he felt the bute would address any inflammation, and that moving would help him strengthen/loosen whatever he’d tweaked, and things would either improve and be fine or get worse so we might have a clue what else was going on. We discussed other options too — injecting the stifle, taking him in for x-rays — but we both felt this was the best next step. So, after over 2 weeks out of the saddle, I got to climb on the pony-face again! It was a fantastic feeling just to walk and trot him around the arena.

That was mid-May. I honestly feel like we’ve still been getting back into work since then, which is kind of pathetic since it’s been 2 months and he wasn’t out of work that long. I feel like he’s had good days and bad days, though. He’s consistently more comfortable on the footing in the indoor, but sometimes he feels pretty great in the outdoor too. We went back to jumping a month ago. We haven’t done a lot, but he is SO so excited and happy every time we do.

I’m still freaked out that my horse is secretly broken, though. Every tiny bobble and misstep scares me. I’m terrified I’m doing wrong by him somehow, that I will ruin him. So, I’m trying to take things in baby steps. Baby baby steps. I’ve launched Operation: Super-Stifle! and am walking him up and down the hills out back at least once a week. It’s something we can do even in this insane heatwave. (A couple weeks ago we had a heat advisory all week, with temps around 100 and insane humidity — so that was a week of a lot of baths and zero riding, which hasn’t helped the feeling that we’re woefully unprepared for anything right now.) This Sunday we’re going cross-country schooling at Steepleview. I’m prepared to quit the minute he starts feeling tired. I’m also using it to gauge whether or not to sign up for their recognized show over Labor Day weekend. Some moments I feel like it would be the most fun thing ever and we just have to go do it — and other moments I remember how showing leaves me wanting to vomit the entire week beforehand, and pretty much every moment during it that we aren’t running cross-country. Still, if I never show the nerves will never get better.

To that end I did a little ride-a-test schooling thing a few weeks ago at my barn. You could pick any test, ride it once for the judge, get feedback and a mini-lesson about how to improve that test immediately, then ride it again. I had the best score ever, and while I was tense I did not entirely lose my mind when we hit the ring, so it was an improvement. It helps that the judge was Jodi, who I used to train with. And she had some awesome advice for us, and some really concrete specific thing we should be working on. Namely: shoulder-fore at the canter, especially on the right lead. Do not let him trick me into hold his head up with the inside rein to that direction. Use the long walls instead of circles until he’s more balanced. We have not been doing this enough — I know it will help us enormously, and need to start busting it out now that the weather’s broken.

Okay, this was a really rambling catch-all, but I think I hit all the highlights of the last couple months. Oh! Except the saddle! I bought a dressage saddle. Update for another time.

Poe walk, July 2012

Saddle Shopping, mostly

Spring’s come so early this year! Two weeks ago I took Poe out on the road for the first time. He was fantastic: relaxed but engaged, happy to be out, just marching along. Last week we hit the back field. It’s gorgeous out there, all green grass and birdsong. I think that’s a month and a half, maybe two months earlier than we were out there last year. It’s totally dry, even all the low spots that were boggy forever a year ago. He was really lovely, even a little lazy, and went into the water jump straight away. GOOD PONY.

This past Sunday was the start of lock-in for the pasture horses, which sadly means he’s confined to the front two paddocks for at least two weeks while the pasture grass gets a chance to develop. The good news is we’ve had very little rain (knock on wood) so it’s not the mud pit it was last year. The bad news is there’s really not enough room to run and everyone’s been squabbling at the round bale, so every day I’m discovering some new gash. Play nice, boys!

I rode him inside on Monday to try a new dressage saddle(!!). I’ve been talking FOREVER about taking the plunge and getting one. Flatwork in my jumping saddle is honestly a bit torturous. The twist is so narrow that it tends to chafe. NOT GOOD. It also sticks me in a bit of a chair seat, and I just do a lot more fighting with it than I should. I have a very hard time not bracing against it in my downwards transitions, etc. The more I have been really paying attention with a thought toward a new dressage saddle, the more I’ve started wondering if I should be looking for a new jumping saddle as well…

It’s my habit before any major purchase to research, research, research. I’ve done a lot of reading about saddles and fitting and the woes, OH THE WOES, of saddle shopping — but the underlying theme seems to be that you just have to try a lot of saddles. Sit in every different brand and type that you can. The problem is it’s not just effortless to sit in a billion different saddles. I’ve put out some feelers, mentioned to lots of people at my barn that I’m looking for a dressage saddle — and a few people have said in passing that I can try theirs, but the offers never materialize into actual saddles that I can put on my horse and put my butt in. There are lots of online tack shops that will send out demos — to the tune of $40-50 in shipping each direction. The hassle of all of this is compounded by the fact that I haven’t really ridden in a dressage saddle before, so not only do I have no clue what will fit my horse, I have no clue what will fit me. I could easily spend half my saddle budget shipping trial saddles back and forth.

So, a couple weeks ago I coughed up the dough to have the County rep out to fit His Poeness. County keeps its prices a bit of a mystery (and the range of prices I found on used Countys was crazy wide), so I knew that they were expensive but not HOW expensive. The rep has a good reputation in my area, though, and I was up front with her about my budget when I contacted her. I basically said that I didn’t know how much her saddles cost, but I was pretty sure they were out of my budget, and she said she’d leave me more than enough information to help me find something that would work, whether it was a County or something else.

The good news: Poe is very easy to fit. There is nothing funky about his back or shoulders or withers and he is not a princess. Right now he is a perfect M in a County, standard flap. He fits well in their flat panels. Because he’s just 6 (well, nearly), a MW and using some additional padding for now seems like a very smart choice — something he could grow into. The bad news? The model I felt most comfortable in: $5,000. HA. Hahaha. Ha. That is, for some perspective, about what I paid for the horse, and five times the cost of my other saddle. It does not, if you were wondering, also do laundry or give massages.

So I was a step ahead of where I began. I know to look for MW, and a 17.5″ (maybe 18″) seat. Lo! Behold! Right at my barn, someone selling a MW 17.5″ County Competitor, excellent condition. So I tried it on Monday. We both stood staring at it on him, a bit bewildered. I made the motions I’d seen the saddle fitter make. The tree seems to fit his shoulder well. Concerningly, the back of the panel sweeps up off his back in the last few inches. I don’t know what that means, exactly. Is it something that can be fixed with flocking? Padding? Is it just designed that way? So I stuck it in the back of my mind and girthed up to ride in it. And it felt great! I loved it, especially at the canter. Oh the canter! I felt so with him, so stable. The new Competitors I’d tried when the rep was out seemed to hit my seatbones funny, like they were having a fight with the saddle’s tree. I couldn’t tell if that was just because I hadn’t quite found the sweet spot (your seat in a dressage saddle is WAY different from your seat in a jumping saddle — as my inner thighs reminded me the entire day after the test rides), or because it was the wrong shape for me, or — ? (Should saddles be such a mystery?) This Competitor felt fantastic. No tree prodding at me. So I went home and emailed the rep for her opinion on the fit of new vs old, and I did some more reading.

More sad news: the older models were made with more banana shaped panels (vs the flat panels they now use), which can work well for horses with sway or j-shaped backs, but can otherwise cause rocking. So comfy for me though! I was already lined up to try it in my lesson tonight, so I’m going to ride in it again, and check for rocking, and see what my instructor thinks. I asked the rep if the banana shape was something that could be fixed/altered/mitigated through reflocking, but haven’t heard back. Obviously I am not going to spend all this money on something that doesn’t fit both of us, but it would be really nice if the perfect thing could just land in my lap. I want my comfy dressage miracle!

This post is monstrously long already (must update more often), but quickly — I took him in the back field again on Tuesday. I hemmed and hawed a little about it before going because of the lock-in thing (after my VERY forward dressage ride on Monday I turned him loose in the arena and he ran around like a mad man — even threw in a buck, which he never does), but it was SO NICE out that I went. Probably a mistake since we got nothing done. He was VERY excited. About a minute after we got out there, the horses in the farm behind ours (separated by a line of trees) went galloping in for dinner, and it was all over. I couldn’t get his brain back for more than a moment at a time, and he felt like a powder keg. We walked and walked, changing direction over and over, asking for this bend, that bend, this bend, that bend. It was boring and stressful and not what I wanted to be doing — but you have to ride the horse you have. I always get so in my head in these moments, paralyzed by the thought that I should be doing something else to address this mess. Maybe I should be pushing him on? Let him run it out? I’m afraid if I let him go in those moments we will lose all steering and brakes, and may become a bolting bucking mess. Even though he’s never bucked, and never actually bolted. He has taken off out there a few times, just lost his fool mind and tried to charge off in his own direction. I feel like I should stop that behavior before it starts by not letting him trot when he’s being an idiot. But if I don’t give him a chance to misbehave I can’t correct the misbehavior? But I’m a chicken and I just want him to not misbehave in the first place. BAH. Anyway — we ended up trotting a bit out of view of that field, and through the water (good pony), and I was able to get two short canters out of him. He was difficult to bring back after the canter, though, and kept offering to canter all on his own, so we called it a day after only 30 minutes. I’d really wanted to bring him back there for a long, long trot and some nice cantering to help him get out all that excess energy, and I feel like I failed miserably in that goal. Que sera…


I’ve been really lax about posting, I know. Just not a ton going on. It’s finally spring (YAY) — which means riding outside, but also a lot of mud. And rain. And mud.

I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this before, but this past winter I started giving Poe a treat every time I get him from his paddock. He can be kind of mouthy, and definitely would like to be in your pocket all the time, so I keep pretty strict about when I feed him — which for a long time was only after he was done working. But then I started thinking it would be pretty awesome if he came to meet me at the gate on really cold days. He already did sometimes, because he’s just a friendly, curious guy — but I thought I could improve on that. So I started bringing him a little something. And it has turned into an absolute blessing now that his paddock is a mud pit. Sometimes he thinks about it for a little while before trekking over, but (knock on wood) he comes to me pretty consistently. Good pony!

The back field and both outdoor arenas have mostly been too wet for riding the last couple weeks, so we’ve been doing road work. It’s tough because neither of us wants to be inside right now, but I also worry a lot about his feet and the gravel road. He took a nasty chunk out of one of his back hooves last fall, and while he’s never been off on it he does still have a hairline crack that runs all the way up to the top of the hoof, and another hairline crack in a front hoof, and he’s chipping a little up front. I know standing around in the mud all day is not helping, so mostly we walk up and down the dirt road, mixed in with some trotting and a little cantering. The walking has become boring. Still, I know the harder surface and hill work is good for him. Not so sure about the cantering (though it IS good for his mental health — he was so, so, so happy on Monday after I let him gallop up the hill).

So, I mentioned that Poe can be kind of a mouthy guy. I’ve always discouraged this; I was taught that you never ever let a horse mouth at you. But last night I was grooming him and he turned and started nuzzling at me (which he always does), and I steeled myself and let him. I have to admit it was hard at first: I kept expecting him to put his teeth on me. Not out of malice, but because our skin is a lot more delicate than horses’ and he just wouldn’t know better. But he didn’t. He just lipped at my shoulder in the most gentle, sweet way while I scratched his chest and neck. It was that kind of bonding moment that makes your inner thirteen-year-old die of happiness, and it made me a little sad that I hadn’t trusted him a lot sooner.

Lesson: April 21

I was off gallivanting around London April 9 – 16, so His Poeness had almost a week and a half off. I got back on him Monday the 18th, and he was awesome. After the usual initial struggle to get his attention, he (more or less) got down to work; he was as solid in the connection as he’s ever been, and trying really hard. Even though we were riding outside (YAY) he listened pretty well, and after some nice trot work, some leg yields, and a little canter, I hopped off him. I put him away feeling really happy that I’d asked my instructor to ride him during my usual Thursday lesson spot while I was out of town — she’s a really nice dressage rider and can always get much better work out of him than I do.

I had roughly the same ride Tuesday. Wednesday he was distracted and I was impatient (worst emotion for riding, I know!), so after a bit of a struggle and some half-hearted work, I put my stirrups up and slipped the reins and asked him to just canter around the rail. He was much happier about that than more boring circles and leg yields, and would quite enthusiastically lengthen down the long side for me. We careened a bit around the short sides and we had to have a serious discussion about one of the corners he insisted on cutting, but it was definitely the right call to give up on strict dressage practice for the day. After we were done cantering I had him trot around on a loopy rein while I worked on my half seat, which is in woefully disrepair. I am definitely out of shape.

So we roll around to Thursday — and I find out that my instructor didn’t ride him while I was gone after all, since we hadn’t touched base about it again before I left. Ha! I guess he just responded really well to his mini vacation. We were outside again, which I am still just ecstatic over — I think the advent of spring makes all Minnesotans a little nuts, as we trip over ourselves at the slightest excuse to get out in any weather above freezing. Spring apparently makes the barn cat nuts as well. Poe and I were warming up along the rail at a nice walk; I was asking him to come into the connection and he was listening quite nicely, and I was feeling quite optimistic about our lesson — and then we were abruptly cantering the other direction. I brought him around quickly, and he stopped like a good boy — and there was the cat, leaping maybe eight or nine feet to cling to the side of a tree, then scurrying down and tearing off. I was just happy that I’d stayed securely in the saddle for the whole thing. (Though I should probably be happy that my horse decided to take me with him when he tried to exit the scene; all things considered it was not hard to sit at all.)

Other than the cat incident, Poe was fabulous for our lesson. We worked on leg yields (still not beautiful but they’re coming along!), then the dreaded canter — except his canter was awesome. The transition into it is still a work in progress; we did a trot spiral in then back out on a circle, and then I concentrated (or tried to) on holding my outside rein while asking him to step into the canter. I think I’ve mentioned, probably a hundred times, my bad habit of chucking him the reins for that transition. The best one we got happened when I consciously held that rein longer than I wanted — he took a couple extra trot steps, but I waited, and then: gorgeous.

The canter itself was gorgeous too — by far the best he’s given me. He was soft and round and really trying. He’s still pretty heavy on his forehand in it, but with time and conditioning he WILL start carrying himself more from behind, and then he will be faaancy. He’s such a good boy! AND all this was in the misting rain. It felt so nice to be riding outside, and it was such a light, fine drizzle that we just stayed there. Happily my instructor’s also an eventer, and we lot aren’t afraid of a little weather.

After our canter work I would’ve happily gotten off him and convinced him he was the cleverest pony in the world, but my instructor is a slave-driver (or at least a lot less lazy than I am), so we went inside to do a bit of jumping. She set a single fence on the short side. It was just a tiny cross-rail at first, which he trotted over, like a cavaletti (cavaletto? whatever the singular of that is). After a couple times around I asked what we were supposed to be doing exactly, and she mentioned he was a bit clumsy/ho-hum about the whole thing, and I said Yeah, he’s not going to jump something that small. So she put it up to a vertical — which he also trotted over. I explained that I do start him over small stuff, part of his baby education and all, but that he just doesn’t use himself and he does look quite lazy and unspectacular. I don’t know how high she ended up raising it, but once it went up a bit he started jumping and things were much prettier from there.

And since then he’s been sitting on his pampered red hiney again; I’ve been busy with life (very important dancing to do, and cleaning, and Easter, and tonight a concert, and there may have been some recuperating-from-dancing somewhere in there too), so it’s back to work tomorrow. At this rate we’re never going to be ready to do anything this summer.

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