Monday, February 24, 2014

More Time in the Two Rein

This weekend I decided to get back to the two-rein. I have been working on the things my last ride in it identified as weaknesses, and we've also watched a couple more videos about riding in the two-rein, hand position, bit fit and choice, and various other things that have made me feel increasingly confident that the set-up we got is appropriate for Steen. One particularly encouraging snippet came from Martin Black's video on the two-rein, wherein he discusses why he prefers to take a horse directly from the hackamore to the spade (this is different from some progressions where the horse goes into a half-breed before the spade). Martin's take on this is that the spade is  a milder bit than a half-breed because of all the surface area contact, and so if you have the time to spend in the two-rein and make the transition slowly, he sees no benefit to delaying the move to a spade.

With Steen, I've got nothing but time. And after Brian tried Bear in my two-rein set-up earlier in the week, I was curious to experiment with Steen again. On Saturday, I rode him indoors in the hackamore. On Sunday, I rode Laredo first, then brought Steen in for our second ride of the day. I slid the spade into his mouth, and he took it well. He had one initial moment of confusion, but after that, he accepted it. He alternated between standing quietly and rolling the cricket.

The ride that followed was a little interesting because Brian was riding a horse that doesn't belong to us, that we're riding to help keep in shape for a boarder/friend who broke her hip falling on ice. So they were doing their thing, and I was a little distracted. But Steen really took to the two-rein great this time. He never showed any agitation about the bit, and I was confident enough to use my two reins at a more similar length this time, so the spade was moving in his mouth shortly after the bosalita gave him a cue. We walked, trotted, and loped around, and Steen was just fabulous. We had great vertical flexion, smooth lateral movement, and excellent seat/leg control.

So, I'm excited. I think I'll be using the two-rein a little more often in the future.

Horseback Hours YTD: 24:15.

Friday, February 21, 2014

My 2013 Fitness Failure

I've posted a handful of times here about fitness and strength, but I've been mum on the subject for a while.

Here's why: 2013 was an awful year for me in terms of working out.

A lot of it was bad luck. I suffered a series of minor injuries (for the record, none of them were caused by using weights). These were spread evenly throughout the year in such a way as to make it very difficult for me to stay on a workout program.

The culmination of this was my fall with Steen. I had just gotten settled into a really great kettlebell program and was seeing some great gains and feeling excited. And then Steen had his totally inexplicable fall while we were cantering, which left me with a rib injury that is still nowhere close to healed.

My 2013 workout goals were pretty big. I wanted to complete the ROP with the 35lb kettlebell. I also wanted to do multiple consecutive pull-ups.

This didn't happen. It didn't even come close to happening. A year ago, I could press the 35lb bell multiple times on each side and manage one pull-up at a time. Right now I am not convinced I could press the 35lb bell even once. And a pull-up is totally out of the question.

Since falling with Steen, I've been doing a lot of lying around. It would seem I have costochondritis, which is a major bummer because healing time is six months to a year. In some cases it can be chronic. I've been on a cycle where I rest and rest and rest and see a slight improvement in the pain. Then I do one little thing and and all the progress disappears.

Things are better than they were. I can sit in my desk chair for a few hours at a time. Horseback riding causes only a minimal flare up. But I'm really getting sick of sitting around doing nothing. So on Monday I started a kettlebell program (tailor-made for me by my personal-trainer/husband) that is arranged to help me get a workout with minimum aggravation to the inflamed tissue in my ribs. What I'm doing is squats, swings, and get-ups. With the squats, I rack a weight and hold it on my left side. With the swings, I hold the bell in my left hand. With the get-ups, I only do them on the side that doesn't strain my sore ribs. I'm doing all of this with either a single 26lb bell, or no weight at all, depending on the exercise and how I'm feeling.

So, it's a lopsided workout. But it's way better than no workout at all.

My fitness goals for 2014 are, by necessity, rather modest. I want to get healed, and get my basic strength back up to a reasonable level. If I could complete to ROP with the 26lb bell again, that would great.

Also, I have decided referring to my weights by number isn't very fun or inspiring. Meet my bells:

This is my set of 26s, Phil (right) and Paul (left). They are named after the duo of announcers that commentate on many international cycling events. When I'm not injured, I use Phil and Paul for squats (one in each hand), clean and presses (one in each hand), one-handed swings (one at a time), carries (one in each hand), and get-ups (one at a time). I am ridiculously fond of these two little hunks of metal.

Then we have Boris (right) and Natasha (left). I use Natasha for swings and squats, and sometimes pressing. If I ever progress to doing the ROP with a heavier bell, she will be my constant companion throughout that process. Boris mostly belongs to Brian, but I do swing him sometimes.

We also have Vladimir, the 70, and a random selection of other as yet unnamed, heavier weights. I will occasionally use them for weighted carries and swings, but they are mostly Brian's team.

What 2013 Taught Me

A few years ago, I thought of fitness as linear. I thought you'd just get stronger and stronger as you kept working out. I also thought of horse training in a similar way. The more you ride, the better your horse gets, right?

But nothing about life is linear. There will be setbacks, in fitness, in horses, in life. The important thing is to stay flexible, stay focused, and always have a goal. Even if it's a modest one.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Out in the Snow

We were out of town last weekend, so no riding was done. It felt like we hadn't been to the barn in forever. But really it was just eight days.

Still, it was great to get out to see the horses, and even better that we finally had some mild weather. Brian and I took advantage by heading out into the snowy fields.

We had two nice rides out and about. The first, yesterday, was good, except at times Steen got pretty exuberant. He was great walking, but as soon as we started trotting he just wanted to go. He'd do these sneaky shifts into the canter. When I tried to check him, he'd just coil into this collected frame and keep cantering. I wouldn't have minded except for the footing.

Um, Steen, we've fallen over enough recently. Let's keep this sedate, please.

Even with his high spirits, though, Steen felt very much with me. On our ride today he was more sedate, and I played with picking a line in the snow and adjusting his trajectory with my legs. I'd set my hand on the horn, bump him on the shoulder with one leg, and he'd tip his nose the way I was asking him to go. I'm not sure I've ever had that level of subtle control out in a wide open environment before.

These last two rides, I started breaking in some new gear. My old wool pad was getting pretty beat up, so I upgraded to a five star.

But the bigger news today was Brian decided to try my two-rein setup on Bear. While Bear didn't seem to love the spade at first, he also didn't mind packing it around the fields for a while. At times, he was very soft and attentive. At others he was a little distracted. But overall I think it was a good experiment. As Brian said, you gotta start somewhere.

We've also gotten several more updates from Zoey's new owners. They are still totally in love with her and thrilled to have her. We couldn't be happier with how that turned out.

Horseback Hours YTD: 21:25

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Down to Three

First, we got word that Zoey made it to her new home safely. Her new parents even posted a series of photos on Facebook that showed her meeting her new pasture mates and being fed apples. It looks like she is settling in quite well.

Today, Brian and I found our normal conversation on the way to the barn about who would ride whom somewhat simplified. With three horses, it's not that tricky. We've decided we want to put a lot of hours on Laredo these next few months. With all the time and energy it took to get Zoey up to speed and rehomed, the kid has been just a little bit on the backburner lately. And you can kind of tell. He's rather on the chunky side, and we've lost a bit of the softness and refinement we had working for us last fall. His loping had degenerated as well. We've been calling him 'rocket horse' lately, because of his explosive departures. Honestly, I think a lot of it is the cold and the pasture conditions. Laredo is a 'park at the bale' kind of guy, and when the weather is bad and there is plenty of food, he seems to remain totally immobile for long periods of time. Between that and the extreme cold we've been dealing with, he gets a little tight in the hocks sometimes, which does not lead to smooth locomotion under saddle.

Today was no exception. In fact, he came in about as wound up as I'd ever seen him. I turned him out in the indoor arena, and he was keen to romp around. Bear wasn't as willing a participant, in spite of Laredo's goading.

After the playing, I started to tack and groom. Chunks of snow kept sliding off the roof and falling past the windows, which would make Laredo raise his head and look concerned. There was also a noisy snowplow working outside, and another boarder chasing her horse around in the arena and clapping her hands. All of this combined into a Laredo brain overload, and he briefly forgot how to hand still. I had to do a little work to get him quieted down and able to stand quietly again.

In the arena, I did a little extra groundwork. I used the flag to push him a little, and he got a bit agitated once or twice, but he was quiet by the time I got on. We then had a mostly nice ride. We worked a lot on cadence and energy. He was lazy at the lope and stiff at the trot, but we got a lot of good stuff done at the walk. He started out not wanting to hold a bend to the left, so we worked on softening and stretching, and by the end of the ride he was feeling looser, and he'd settled in mentally as well.

I'm looking forward to getting Laredo out and about this year. He'll be five in the spring, and the indoor arena has never been his favorite thing. I'm hoping some more variety in setting will hope motivate him (and me) to work on some more advanced stuff.

Ride Time: 1:00
Horseback Hours YTD: 19:15

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Zoey Goes 'Home'

It's been hard to sit on the news for a week, but I didn't want to post this until everything was final. However, as of today, Zoey is no longer our horse. We're just home from loading her into a trailer, and watching it drive away.

Zoey new owners live north of Des Moines, a husband and wife who have a few horses, a lovely acreage, and trail access. He (I'll call him K) was looking for a horse with a willing attitude to finish up and take on the trails.

He called for the first time two weeks ago. He'd seen Zoey's ad, and was impressed by the photos. I chatted with him for quite a while, telling him her story. He sounded curious, but I explained we didn't know how she'd be on the trails as we hadn't had her out much. He said maybe they'd come look at her in the spring. But honestly, I didn't think we'd hear back.

Then, last Saturday, we got home from a ride and I saw I had a voicemail. I listened, and it was this potential buyer, asking if he could and his wife could come meet Zoey.

We said sure, and a short while later were back at the barn. I'd had a nice ride on Zoey earlier that day, so it was no big deal to tack her up again and climb aboard to show K her stuff. I showed stepping the front and hind, bending, circles, walk, trot, lope, and he was ready to get on. I stepped down and he stepped up.

And they had a great ride. Zoey was soft and willing and did everything he asked of her. We'd explained she was sensitive and responsive, and he was having no trouble steering her with his legs will a little backup from the hands.

A few minutes later, he got off. We stood around for awhile, and you could just see him falling in love. Zoey was quiet and sweet and curious, standing around happily as we chatted, even though she was the only horse in the whole barn. Eventually, he made us an offer. We took it.

They left, leaving us with a deposit and the promise to come back for Zoey in a week.

It was a strange week, knowing she was no longer ours. It was also a cold, snowy week. Brian rode her twice, once on Tuesday, and once today before her new owners arrived with the trailer. She was fantastic all week. I even took some video of Brian working on no-handed figure-eights:

Today, after a light ride and lots of pets, she followed Brian right onto the trailer and K snapped the butt bar in place. Her new owners are beyond excited to have her. K's wife, E, confessed K's been so excited he hasn't been sleeping well.

So, she's gone. It's taking a while to sink in. It's hard to imagine a better outcome for her. They are talking about hoping to have her for the next 20 years. We learned so much from her, and she was really a very rewarding horse to work with. So it's a good thing, beyond a doubt. But it's going to be a while before we can walk into the pasture and not feel like something is missing.

Horseback Hours YTD: 18:15

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