A New Barn, a Lost Shoe, and an SI Injection

This past week has been fairly exciting here. The week started off with us moving to a new barn, and on our way there, we went to the vet’s clinic to get Hope’s sacroiliac joint injected.

The new barn we moved to is about 20 minutes closer to us than the boarding barn we were at, and Hope now has a huge paddock to herself that she has access to 24/7, and also field turnout with other horses (something that Hope hasn’t had in a couple of years).

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This is Hope’s new paddock. It’s ginormous, definitely big enough for her to bounce around in if she wants to.

I decided to get her SI injected because although I noticed a difference with the acupuncture, the effects didn’t last more than a couple of weeks, and the vet had said if that happened then we might want to consider doing an SI injection.

After Hope’s injection on Monday, we carried on to the new barn. In typical Hope fashion she settled in right away and started exploring her new ‘house’ and meeting her neighbours over the fence. As per the vet’s instructions, I gave her three days off and planned to ride her for the first time on Thursday.

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Even though we didn’t ride, Hope still enjoyed daily wither scratching

When I got to the barn on Thursday, Hope had graciously removed one of her shoes for the farrier, even though she wasn’t scheduled to come out for another week.

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I feel like this is relatable.

My farrier was fortunately able to come out on Thursday, but it wouldn’t be until fairly late, making me unable to ride that day. I figured it wasn’t the end of the world as the extra day off would give the injection more time to take effect.

On Friday, with Hope’s complete set of new shoes and four days post SI injection, I was able to ride her. I was hoping that I would be able to notice some difference with the injection, but I figured that there wouldn’t be any earth shattering change as Hope normally takes about a week for any treatments to take full effect.

Our ride was, to my horror, utterly terrible. Hope was tense and looking at everything, and even though I had hand walked her in the arena on previous days, she still found plenty of things to stare at. To add on to this, she felt really stiff and was not at all willing to relax or take the contact, and a couple of times she even stumbled behind. I figured that her stiffness was just because she had a few days off, and the tripping was a result of the injection and she was still figuring out how to use her newly lubricated backend. However, I did feel that we weren’t giving a very favorable first impression to the other people at the barn.

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I wasn’t noticing any positive difference in her, until we started to canter. The canter has always been the hardest gait for Hope, with the left lead being particularly difficult. But her canter felt amazing, the best it’s ever felt, even though she was stiff. I was excited to finally see some positive difference, and figured that I would continue to notice an increasing difference as the days went on.

Saturday’s ride was only marginally better than the previous day. Hope was slightly less tense, but still stiff. Her canter still felt wonderful though.

This morning I decided to lunge her before I rode her so that she could move around freely and hopefully loosen up a little more. She looked really good, and her left lead canter looked the same as her right lead. Normally her left lead canter is a little more off balanced and flailing than her right, so for it to look normal is a huge difference.

In our actual ride she was fantastic. I had never felt her so willing, so supple, and so able to carry herself and go to work. Everything didn’t just feel good, it felt easy.

I’m looking forward to seeing how she is tomorrow, and I have my fingers crossed that today wasn’t just a fluky good day. I really hope that this works for her and that we have finally found the answer to her chronic always-slight-stiffness. For now, I’m crossing all my crossables and waiting for tomorrow.

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The Best Compliment

What is the best compliment that you have ever received in relation to horses? Over the years I’ve spent with horses I have gotten several compliments that stand out in my mind, however, most of them relate to me individually. The compliments have revolved around my riding position, or how I ride, and while I certainly appreciate receiving these praises, I’ve found that compliments about aspects of my horses that were brought about by me are so much more rewarding to get.

These past few weeks have revealed the best compliments that I feel I have ever received.

While I was grooming Hope in the barn’s cross-ties one day, a new boarder stopped to chat. I had known of this person through showing, and also because she breeds warmbloods for dressage, but I had never personally talked to her before.

As we chatted, she commented on how similar Hope apparently looks to one of her Hanoverian mares. She stepped back to better assess Hope and said “Wow, she really does look quite similar, and she has a lovely neck. Beautiful neck.”

I peered at her from the other side of Hope. Huh? Hope? A lovely neck? I thought to myself as I stared at Hope. When I first started working with Hope her particularly unattractive and thin neck was one of her defining features.

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One of the first pictures I took of Hope back in 2014. This is not what I’d call an attractive neck…

But as I looked at Hope, I realized that her neck had changed. It no longer had the appearance of a shapeless stick, she had developed defining muscle and a subtle arch. She no longer looked like a scrawny pasture ornament, she looked like a dressage horse.

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Her transformation has been largely brought about by my riding. Knowing that I’m able, with the assistance of my coaches, to train a horse to develop their neck is one of the best compliments I have ever been given, to know that I am able to ride in a way that positively affects my horse’s muscular development.

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The only recent picture I have of Hope’s neck is one of her wearing her birthday hat.

Another compliment that I feel blessed to have received was from a friend who doesn’t hand out compliments lightly. She was watching the tail end of my ride, and as I brought Hope to a walk and came along side her, she said “She’s looks lovely for a horse her age, I never would guess that she’s 20, she doesn’t look a day older than 12! You’re a credit to your horse.”

The phrase “you’re a credit to your horse” filled me with more joy and satisfaction than a hundred first place ribbons ever could. For it to be visibly obvious that I do my best to care for Hope shows that I must be doing something right.

For me, the best compliments I can get when it comes to horses aren’t the ones that praise me for how I look on a horse, they’re the ones about my horses whose changes were brought about by me.

What is the compliment that you have gotten that you hold most dear?

 

No Problems, Only Solutions

Some rides just don’t go as planned, and for me, today’s ride was one of them. Hope has been really good these past few weeks and we’ve been steadily improving without any bad or iffy rides, this seemed to make the ride today even more annoying because we have been doing so well.

I was tired and Hope was tight and somewhat uncooperative. Easy movements and exercises felt like effort, and movements that normally require effort felt impossible. Trot serpentines and downward transitions felt rushed and stilted, transitions to canter were downhill and strung out, and any chance of a flying change or playing around with canter pirouettes went out the window.

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A relaxed trot in a lengthened frame? Not gonna happen.

The more I tried to get Hope to comply with what I wanted her to do, the tighter she got, and the more frustrated I became.

I brought her to a walk and lengthened my reins, allowing us both to have a mental breather. I was thinking about just ending the ride there, nothing was getting better and I doubted it would suddenly start to improve, but I didn’t want to end on such an unpleasant and out of tune note.

As we meandered about the arena, I tried to think of a good way to try and salvage our ride. And then I remembered. I remembered why I even do dressage. I do it because I love it, and because I have fun doing it. Today I wasn’t having any fun.

I picked up my reins and gathered Hope up, thinking of the movements that both of us enjoy: trot and canter extensions.

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Not a stellar extension, but you can see how much Hope and I enjoy it.

I asked Hope to trot and we did a couple of ten meter circles, then I steered her across the diagonal and asked her to lengthen her strides. She plowed forward, rushed and downhill, an unfortunate sensation that doesn’t instill any feeling of fun. I asked her to come back, half-halted and gave with my inside rein, and I then asked her to extend her strides down the longside of the arena. She obliged. She pushed forward and lengthened her strides, her trot becoming larger and cadenced.

I asked her to canter, and at the next longside to once again extend her strides. She thundered forward, her large ears perked forward. We went across the diagonal and I asked her for a flying change. She swapped behind, changed back, and then gave me the full change. Shoddily executed.

I asked her to extend down the next longside, and then brought her towards the short diagonal. I pushed her forward and asked her for shoulder-fore to be straight, and then asked for the change. Bang on.

We went across the next short diagonal and I rode her forward in shoulder-fore, then I asked for the change. She jumped through in the following stride, straight and clean.

I brought her down to a walk and called it a day. I’m so happy that we were able to turn a ride that started out inharmonious into a fun ride. It wasn’t what I had planned, which was to work on our pirouette canter and 1/4 turn canter pirouettes, but we didn’t finish the ride frustrated and annoyed like it had begun.

When I was grooming Hope in the barn after our ride, a friend said, in a conversation completely unrelated to horses, that “there are no problems, only solutions”. I was struck by how true this statement is. It wasn’t a ‘problem’ that Hope and I were having a bad ride, but it was a situation that had to be solved, and we solved it.

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Maremma Mondays

It looks like Maremma Mondays are turning out to be a biweekly thing, so without further ado (what the heck even is an “ado”?), here is the second installment of Maremma Mondays.

Ayla doesn’t fall into the stereotypical category of guard dog. I’m sure that the most common stereotypes that come to mind when you think of a guard dog may be a sleek coated, no-nonsense Doberman, or perhaps a large and steadfast German Shepard, but Ayla is a little bit different.

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Her large and fluffy white appearance has earned her the title of my small polar bear. As she sits in the pasture surveying her domain, she looks far from threatening. The wind fluffs up her fur and she playfully chases after it, or perhaps checks the perimeter for any stray beetles.

Despite her fluffy exterior, she is a ferocious guardian if anything suspicious comes too close to the minis. Even though she does have a very strong guarding instinct, she still finds time to be goofy and she is sure to have a smile ready to appear on her face at any time.

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That’s one of the things I love about her. She always manages to make me smile, if not with her own version then with her antics.

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She always knows when I had an annoying day and tries, and manages, to make me laugh. She knows just what to do to make me smile, whether that’s doing a dance around a beetle, barking at a carrot, or making awkward and silly faces.

I’m sure that Ayla sounds like a lot of other dogs, she might even sound a bit like your own dog. That’s the wonderful thing about dogs, they always seem to be able to make us feel better. I appreciate this gift that dogs appear to universally have so much more now that I have Ayla. She has made me see that even after an annoying day, a smile and a good laugh makes things seem less annoying.

Appreciate your dogs and their efforts to make you smile. We’re so blessed to be able to have these creatures in our lives.

A New Word to our Vocabulary: Uphill

Uphill, what every dressage rider strives towards, for their horse to take more weight on their hindquarters and lighten their front-end while raising their neck upwards. Of course I know what the term ‘uphill’ means, and I have for a significantly long time, but Hope and I have never really successfully implemented it before.

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Hope is not only built downhill, but she also has a lower set neck, which makes getting her to be uphill an extremely difficult task. A horse who is showing third level, as Hope and I are, should definitely be uphill. Hope has not been.

The reason I am showing Hope at third level is so that I can get experience riding some of the more advanced movements in a competitive environment, not so that we can win. Hope can do all the movements, and we are certainly not getting shameful scores at shows, I just don’t expect to win many of our classes. But, things are starting to change.

I honestly never thought that Hope would get much better in the uphill department, after all, she is an older ex-jumper and really isn’t built for dressage. She has been so out of place that people have flat out told me that I need a different horse to do well in dressage. While that may be so, I don’t need a different horse to get experience riding dressage, or to develop my skill set so that when I have the opportunity to ride a horse that is built for dressage, I will know how to ride it.

Despite what people have said, Hope has been steadily proving them wrong. We go out, we do our best, and we get better. I know Hope really well, and I never thought that she would ever prove me wrong, but she just did.

Thus far in our training, my coaches have only focused on me riding Hope more collected and more round, to just reliably stay on the bit and push from behind. In my last lesson however, my coach incorporated a new word into our ride: uphill.

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Hope is finally consistently (more or less) collected, so we can at last start picking away at developing more uphill-ness (I’m saying that’s a word). It’s been a long journey to get to this point, but at twenty years old, Hope is finally able to be ridden more uphill.

I didn’t think we would ever get there, I thought what I had, and what Hope could offer, was all that I was going to get. I never thought that I would like to be proven wrong with something, but this is one thing that I’m happy to be able to say that I misjudged.

Hope has shown me to never give up, and to never settle for what people tell you your limitations are. As long as Hope is willing, we’ll continue to strive to prove people wrong, and maybe, even myself.

No Stranger Thing

Do you ever stop and think what a strange sport this is? I’m not talking about the obsession that dressage entails for riding the perfect circle or developing more collection, there are plenty of other sports and activities that demand that same amount of dedication (at least, I assume there are. I’ve never actually done any myself, but I think there are others out there). I’m referring to riding in general, in fact, just anything that has to do with horses.

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Every once in a while I find myself shaking my head at this bizarre relationship between humans and horses, between predator and prey.

Isn’t it strange to think that someone, eons ago, randomly decided that driving or riding a horse would be a good idea. Did someone just think one day, Here’s a great idea! Lets take this half-ton animal with a high prey drive and sit on it!

However the thought process of driving and riding horses came about, it is strange. Stranger still is how the different disciplines came about. After starting to use horses as merely work animals and transportation devices, sporting events slowly developed. Events to determine the fastest horse, the horse that can jump the highest, or the horse that can prance about the prettiest.

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Even stranger than humans making sporting events for horses (because humans do some strange things at times, and asking a horse to essentially do ballet in a sandbox might not be one of the weirder ones), is that horses allow us to ride them, to drive them, to even handle them. They allow humans, which are basically odd looking predators, to sit on them, flap around on top of them, hook a giant box with wheels to them, and tell them to do things.

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What started this bizarre spiral of domestication and of horse’s acceptance towards humans?

It is true that a lot of different things that humans do are strange, but riding and driving just seem more peculiar because it involves another being, another being that is not even human. It is one thing for a human to dance and to perfect movements, but another thing entirely for a human to bring another creature into their performance.

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Horses let us handle and work with them, and while some merely tolerate us, others seem to genuinely enjoy human company. There is no odder relationship than that between a horse and his rider. A horse is, after all, ‘just a horse’. As¬†sacrilegious as this sounds, I don’t mean it in a bad way. I just mean that shouldn’t a horse be out in some hundred acre field, moseying about, and not leaping over giant fences or developing more throughness in an arena?

It seems strange to me that horses let us do basically whatever we want with them. They don’t have to let us, a half-ton animal doesn’t have to do anything they don’t want to, but for some odd reason, they do.

I love that they let us ride them, drive them, and just simply be around them. These amazing creatures don’t have to oblige us, but they choose to. Every time I think of this I just gaze at my horses in wonder and thank them for being so generous.

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PC: Cara Grimshaw

Next time you are with your horse, think about what a strange relationship is between you, and be thankful for the amazing opportunity that you have, to share your life with another being.

Maremma Mondays

This is an idea that I got from Patently Bay’s blog which has weekly additions of ‘Weenie Wednesdays’ and features the adventures of her very cute dachshund. ‘Maremma Mondays’ will be focused on my dog, Ayla. Even though she isn’t full maremma (1/4 of her is akbash), it made sense to call this new installment of posts ‘Maremma Mondays’ as there is no day of the week that starts with an ‘A’ (as I’m sure you’ve noticed), and ‘Maremma/ Akbash Mondays’ just didn’t have the same ring to it.

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I don’t know if this will turn into a weekly thing, a biweekly thing, or a once a month thing. I certainly take enough pictures of Ayla for this to be a weekly update, and if that turns out to be the case, there might be just as many posts about her on this blog as there are about horses!

Without further ado, here is the first installment of Ayla’s very own blogging series, Maremma Mondays!

The old saying “April showers brings May flowers” certainly seems to be ringing true around here. All of the blossom trees are in full flower, scattering pale pink and white petals to the wind, and an assortment of little flowers are flashing their bright colours.

Ayla has been loving the flowers, each time a new one pops up she eagerly trots over to it and stuffs her nose in it. My big guard dog likes to smell flowers. For the most part, that’s all she does to them, she just sniffs them. The only time she’ll try to nibble on a flower is if it got decapitated and is already laying on the ground, and after her tentative chew on it she always looks a bit guilty.

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Ayla’s sheepish look when I caught her chewing on a sprig of apple blossoms

Ayla’s loving the blossoming flowers almost as much as the beautiful sunny days that spurred them to bloom. Sometimes she’ll just sit under the fruit trees and stare up at the flowers, with their delicate petals occasionally drifting down towards her.

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She loves to hang out under the trees, every once in a while reaching up to sniff the flowers. I guess that is something we could all try to do, pause to gaze into a mosaic of blossoms on a tree, or simply just stop and smell the flowers.

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