Reviving the Blog: Off To Hunterland We Go!

I had a joyful ride last night. You know, the kind that leaves you smiling the entire way home from the stable. The kind of ride that makes you sign up for a hunter jumper schooling show, even though you haven’t been schooling for more than a week.

Last week, an idea occurred to me. I thought I should try to do a weekly vlog of our rides. I filmed a trial video and realized how awkward I am on camera- talk about a candidate for voiceovers. I constantly gesture with my hands and get all shifty-eyed. Why? The arctic tone of the wind bummed me out. It’s about to become the hardest time of year for the local horse-obsessed. Snow will soon be here and avalanches off the arena roof will make scary sounds, it will be freezing and dark, there will be fewer people to ride with, there is less motivation… To combat this, I thought I  could produce videos where I state a goal, show our current state and work towards progress. If you set a goal and put it on the internet, that’s an iron-clad commitment to yourself, isn’t it? ISN’T IT?

Of course, I want the first video to feature us at our current best. This summer was intense. I tore my meniscus and had about 10 weeks out of the saddle. As I improved, I lunged, long-lined and liberty-worked Cello, but it wasn’t enough to keep him in shape. I thought I should put in a few serious rides before beginning. I read a few George Morris articles, I reviewed some Natasha Althoff videos and set out to the barn with determination. Cello and I warmed up before I turned on my iPhone and recorded 5-minute increments of riding. I hopped off, gave my horse a breather, reviewed my video, picked three things per video to work on and hopped back on.

You guys: this worked. I don’t have an instructor nearby and I don’t have mirrors. It’s so easy to develop awful, terrible, embarrassing habits when riding by yourself so much. Since when did I flap my elbows to encourage a forward canter? Gross. I learned that I can self-instruct and that it makes a difference.

I had such a great time with my first few rides that I called a local ranch that’s hosting a schooling show. I sent in my registration this morning. What am I getting into?!?!

Still, off to Crystal Springs Ranch we will go! That’s the point of schooling shows- rack up miles in the saddle, see new things, meet new people and horses. I will kick off my winter training this Saturday!

 

 

 

 

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Props & Bits

I admit to a certain snobbishness that comes with going bitless, at least for me. I like showing up to a group trail ride and talking about it when asked. I really do! But…

I cannot communicate with my hands how I would like to. I want to pursue more than just trail riding. I want to work towards a nice headset, with my horse utilizing his back and stepping up-and-under. I want balance and a truly engaged hind end. I think the only way for me to reach this is with a bit. After the concept is taught, then I can progress back to bitless. I’m also not talking every ride, either! Just the training rides where I want to see some improvement in form. I’ll still trail ride bitless and shoot for doing every third ride bitless.

I contacted Elisa Wallace, who anyone reading this blog should know. She is an amazing up-and-coming eventer who competes regularly on her mustangs (and her Australian thoroughbred Johnny/Simple Priceless among others.) She is riding in her second Rolex this year!

Anyways, I had an idea of what bit I wanted to try and Elisa suggested the Myler Level 1 Dee. Here’s the SmartPak video on the bit:

Of course I ordered it, though I felt bad about going back to a bit. However, it should be noted that bitless options can be detrimental to communication as well. There are well-made arguments for each side. To me, it’s the hands on the reins that make the tools rough or not. If the horse is soft, I think he should be able to go bitless or with a bit with the same amount of trust and respect.

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I put this bit on Cello’s hunter bridle and he took it without question. I let him hang with it for about 10 minutes, then took it out for a while, then put it back in for about 15 minutes. I then rode him bitless, put the bit back on, and rode for a few minutes. He was SOFT; he was RESPONSIVE; I actually felt him ENGAGE HIS BACK. At a walk, for a few steps. He did everything I asked and I hopped off after about 5 minutes.

It almost felt like he was a bit relieved, like the dots connected and he understood what I was asking. I am soft with my hands, very conscious of not pulling on his face or balancing at all with my hands. We seemed to communicate well from the start!

We have worked through a lot of our communication issues bitless, which has been great, but it’s time to ask for more refinement as he matures. I am not moving from a walk to a trot with a bit until the walk is correct and engaged; I am not moving from a trot to a canter until my trot is balanced. If we get super bored with the slow pace, we will go bitless and blow off some steam. The point is to teach and to learn, to move forward and avoid bracing. So far, I am a fan of the Myler!

Eric and my brother, Derek, painted some props for my freestyle this weekend. I love how the colors came out!

I also put together a poster for our stall! I can’t believe Cello leaves tomorrow, with my friend Dani, for the show! I will follow in the evening…

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February Horsemanship Challenge

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My February horsemanship challenge was a fail and a win at the same time. I think I ended with 16 rides instead of 20, so I did not meet my time-in-the-saddle goal. I did, however, meet a more positive goal.

If you follow this blog, you know that Cello & I have had our ups and downs. During this month, after the trampling incident, I decided to keep track of how I felt after our training sessions. I read a very interesting article about riding the wrong horse and how a rider sometimes just needs to recognize when a partnership isn’t 100%. You can read that here. I love Cello, but there was uncertainty between us. The uncertainty mostly came from me to him, over his reticence and general lack of emotion.

For most of my rides, my feelings after were positive- we are really making strides together, finally, and I can say that this relationship is a keeper. It takes a lot of honesty for me to note that Cello is not my heart-horse. He has taught me so much and I love him very much, but he just won’t be that horse that greets me at the gate. It’s an accomplishment when he doesn’t literally run away… but we are bonding, slowly and surely, over the years. I really could feel a change this winter.

Under saddle we communicate better now and I can see our relationship growing in a positive direction. He relaxes where once he wouldn’t. He tries where once he would have put up an argument. That’s really all I wanted- for Cello to try, to trust me enough to want to try. It’s really huge.

I feel much more positive than I did in the past. I feel like there’s nothing we can’t accomplish over time, though it may take longer than I’d like. That’s fine; this is a patience lesson, a communication lesson.

So where are we at on a technical note?

Our right lead canter is consistently picked up now; if we cross a pole that he decides he needs to jump, and if he lands on the left lead, he does a flying change when asked for the right lead! Our basics are becoming more and more solid, though still not showing great form.

I think a lot of this has to do with the jumping hackamore I am riding him in, but that is another post.

We actually put together a freestyle for Colorado Mustang Days at the Rocky Mountain Horse Expo! My song is weird, but I love it… and I think it fits our routine, if we execute our routine. We were doing great run-throughs until this past week, when all of a sudden Cello decided he did not want to trot on tempo or straight. He also decided that hand-galloping was better than cantering. He also decided that it’s unnecessary to be concerned with head sets or listening to my leg at the hand-gallop. It’s been fun, though- instead of pushing him forward I’m holding him back. It’s quite a change for a horse that wouldn’t move! When  my husband first saw Cello at the makeover he asked out loud “Can that horse even canter??”

We are also shooting arrows from horseback, and I even shot an arrow or two off of him bridle-less. We will see if he is relaxed enough to do that at the show! I will have all day Thursday to finish the freestyle for Saturday night.

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xoxo

Cello & Dani

 

Getting Ready for Expo & Trampling!

Cello & I have had a lot of fun since starting training for the expo. We’ve also had a few incidents, but overall I’m pretty proud of this little guy. Let’s get into the details!

We started trailering down to the county arena, even though we have a great home arena. We’ve met up with some friends and worked on being brave in new spaces. Remarkably, Cello is calmer at the Eagle Fairgrounds than at home- less spooky. I think part of this has to do with the company in the arena, and part of it has to do with the trailering.

Trailering this year has been… interesting so far, due to ice and snow. The road down to the arena from the ranch is pretty icy in a few spots, I really have had to learn to trust engine braking. My foot still flexes for the brakes, it’s seriously so hard not to touch them! 🙂

The first time or two we went down to the arena, it took two of us to load Cello. Now, he walks right in with just me! I can tie him, close the center divider and leave without him panicking. I think he enjoys seeing new things and going new places.

Our arena work has been going okay. When we don’t add speed, and are just working on walk and trot, he gives at the poll and moves off my leg. We don’t have true collection yet on any level, but his headset is lower and he will give for a few steps at a time. Each ride is softer and softer at the trot… until we canter!

Our left lead canter is becoming more rhythmic and he is moving out more. Our right lead canter is hit and miss- sometimes he just goes into a huge Friesian trot and I have to get really loud with my aids to get him to lift his shoulder and move. The last session was pretty rough, after two decent sessions. I will be utilizing the dressage whip on our next ride!

I should mention how EASILY this horse pops lead changes- one tempes at time, and so smoothly, though of course this isn’t when asked.

I started thinking about a freestyle routine, considering bow and arrow shooting. We worked on that some, and Cello is pretty chill about the bow and arrow from the ground. I don’t think we will get to mounted shooting before the expo, so I might just target shoot from the ground at the very end. If we do a freestyle, maybe we will gear it more towards exercises you would see in working equitation. I’m still not 100% convinced that we will actually have a freestyle put together for the show! I really want to focus on softening in our rides and addressing foundation issues.

This all sounds positive, but I have to discuss the negative. Cello is SO GOOD… until he’s not. There’s a photo in that block of Cello standing in knee-deep snow. That was the day he trampled me.  We walked towards the arena like normal, went to pass the tractor like normal. Martin pulled the tractor over and shut everything off to let us pass, as Cello had perked ears and a lifted head. Cello has walked past tractors many times, but he was very interested and tense this time. I circled Cello once, pushed out his shoulder, reminded him I was there and to respect my space… then proceeded forward. He exploded, sideways, into me. I was in the right spot and COULD have pushed myself off his shoulder, had the snowbank not taken out the back of my knees.

I fell into the snow bank, which was easily 4 feet deep with the plowing, and Cello came with me. There were no hoofprints around me when I went back and looked. He stepped on me at least once, on my left shoulder, probably more than once. It happened really quick, but he went over me, all 4 hooves. I realized I needed to further explain this, as at first some people just thought he bumped me or knocked me down. He didn’t knock me down and scare me, he did brush up against me- he went literally over me. The powder and my puffy coat helped me avoid injury, aside from deep bruising.

Well, he took off down the road and I struggled to get up as quick as I could. The ranch manager was running over and I didn’t want him to think I was hurt. Cello was just genuinely scared; he bolted around the corner, then ground tied. I think he tried not to step on me too much… I don’t know. I walked right up to him and picked up the leadline without him moving a muscle. Afterwards, we moved off the road a ways and let the tractor pass. He held it together, but then was super spooky in the arena that whole week.

We worked on desensitizing that whole week, which paid off. On our last ride, crazy snow slides came off the roof. It spooked Cello (and scared me even!) but he just scooted to the side, thought about panicking, and then calmed immediately. I was pretty proud and made sure he knew it.

So right now, that’s where we are at! I’m trying to get 20 rides in the month of February (29 days.) I think I will fall short of my target but hit at least 15 rides, and I’ve worked harder on each ride because of my personal challenge. I’m also recording “vibes” or how I feel at the end of each ride. I want to make sure we are in the right partnership. I absolutely love Cello, but there are some holes in our relationship. I want to make sure we both can be happy together.

xoxo

Cello & Dani

Aussie Love & Lightening Grays

(Medical post still to come)

Cello went for his first real ride since being laid up yesterday. His ground work was impeccable, and we started playing with cavaletti from the ground; for some reason, new objects really get him lately. We introduce things regularly but new things seem to be scarier and scarier instead of him becoming more accepting… if you recall, we were even jumping a little bit the summer I first brought him home!

Anyways, the new cavaletti set that Eric built me was super scary at first. It’s a great introduction to our routine as it really makes Cello focus on where his feet are, pay attention mentally and engage his hind end.

When I first hopped on him, he was really resistant with flexing to the right, had a ton of attitude and didn’t want to move forward. I put an Australian saddle on him (that I thought was still for sale but my friend beat me to it!) and was really strong with him. There’s no way he would be able to buck me out of that thing (and it’s not all that easy to buck me off anyways when I’m really riding and paying attention.) When he realized I meant business yesterday, he really changed his tone. It turned out to be a great ride! So naturally, I am now in search of an Aussie saddle. I think it will be great for his testy days, and then I’ll have my Stubben for jumping days! When we get to that point…

I thought it would be fun to compare how he has changed since I brought him home. Gray horses have a gene that makes them lighten as they age; not all gray horses go white, however, which I frequently have to remind people. It seems like most people either assume all gray horses go white or they aren’t aware that they change at all! Some stop lightening as rapidly and remain dappled, but the majority continue to lighten. You can really see this with looking at Andalusians and Lippis.

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Cello 2012

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Cello 2012

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Cello 2012

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Early 2013

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Late 2013

Winter 2014/2015

Summer & Fall 2015

xoxo

Cello & Dani

Winter 2015

Cello is on the mend! I detail the outline of what happened at the end of the post and will follow up with a photo post of his progress and treatments. The worst part about all this was the timing- the round pen is snowed in and trails aren’t rideable, so we are coming back in the arena, his least favorite (and spookiest) place. C’est la vie!

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Today was exciting, for me anyways- I filled out the registration form for Colorado Mustang Days! I bailed on the freestyle, the more I thought about it the more anxiety I had. I am confident that he will behave well in a pleasure class. The in-hand portion should be easy for him, and going into the ring with a group makes him more confident. The cow work class I entered purely out of curiosity. We ran into cows on a trail ride this summer, up McKenzie Gulch, and Cello was super interested. His ears perked up, he paid attention but wasn’t about to explode. He was willing to approach them and didn’t panic when the cows moved off down the mountain. Now a lone cow, in an arena, at a show? That might get him, but I’m willing to just ride into the ring and see what he does! We might have 2 minutes of flat-out refusal to move around the cow, or I will have a maniac who WANTS to chase the cows. Based on how he reacted to the cows in the back country, I think I will have one of those two outcomes. Also, sorry to the cows innocently grazing- I couldn’t help it, I wanted to play with them!

 

If you actually read the registration form, you’ll see that I finally landed on a show name for Cello (not that this really matters as we haven’t shown since the year I adopted him!) I guess, being an English girl, his “formal name” is something I’ve thought about a lot, for almost no reason. I kicked around more western sounding names  (Little Mellow Cello) and asked around on forums. I had some good feedback and some weird feedback… I landed on Silver Cello DMN.

Maybe it’s a remnant of my Game of Thrones obsession, but in the books, he refers to Daenerys as Daeny (pronounced like my name) and she has a horse referred to as Daeny’s Silver. Cello is going through a brilliant silver phase this past year, and I began to refer to him as my silver. Just one of those things I croon into his ear when he’s getting his fair share of lovin’. Adding my initials at the end of his name is a little arrogant, but we are working so hard to cement a bond and showing is part of that. Plus, when I worked with Andalusians, I liked how their formal names designated where they came from/their first owners. For instance, we had Favorito KG (for Kay Greenbury) and Favorito De La Parra (from the De La Parra’s.)

Just for fun, here are two pictures of me playing with Favorito De La Parra (called Senior) on a photoshoot day! I was 18 then and working my DREAM job. More blasts from the past, including Friesians, found here.

Time to wrap this up, but my last post was about Cello being our of commission, so I wanted to address that real quick.

I definitely need to do a picture post to discuss Cello’s wounds and care- I can hardly believe it, but he is almost 100% healed up AND without scarring. Here is a quick breakdown:

  • A herd of geldings (detailed below) pummeled him when they were moved as a herd into his pasture, where he was the only horse after the removal of his previous herd mates. Multiple scrapes with a few laceration and tissue inflammation (pictured below.) Treated with a turmeric cream, aloe vera & occassionally Dermagel (when the organic, fresh stuff ran out.)
  • Moved into a new group, with his previous (calm) herd mates. All was well, healing began. The new herd was moved to a smaller pen, where new scrapes on his withers and hindquarters appeared.
  • At first, this round seemed like it was definitely inflicted by other horses. New spots continued to pop up, so Cello was moved to a pen by himself to heal.
  • In the new pen, where he was rolling solo, spots that looked like raw scrapes continued to pop up. Wormed with Zimectrin Gold, utilized tea tree oil sprays and Dermagel. Healed up!

xoxo

Dani & Cello

One Beat Up Horse – Wound Care & Herd Dynamics

I debated posting about this because I didn’t want anyone to take it the wrong way.  So I will start with this:

With horses, you can plan for everything, but what you don’t plan for will happen.

I board where I board because of the extreme attention they give to the horses and the amount of care they provide. I have boarded there for years without incident, and none of the other boarders have ever had an incident. In hind sight, this situation could have been avoided, but like I just said: things happen to the best of us. I was pretty mad and upset and sad all at once, but understanding as well.

I decided to share this because I’ve blogged about my journey with Cello and it wouldn’t be worth anything without honesty, and so that maybe someone could learn from it.

Anyways- Cello has 15 abrasion/laceration combinations on his body from two horses with back shoes beating up on him when pastures were moved. Most of the wounds are scrapes without broken skin, but many of them do have a laceration component, and he did have straight up lacerations on his neck, hind right and hind left coronary band. His right shoulder was very inflamed on day two, and now, on day5, the swelling is down quite a bit.

I was pretty devastated to go out to the pasture and find him in that condition. This summer has been amazing- there has been a snap in our relationship, in a good way. I finally feel like we bonded and ended up in a good place mutually; he perks his ears to see me, doesn’t run from haltering and is a willing partner under saddle. We had an awesome night playing with obstacles the night before, and I couldn’t wait to ride him on Thursday. So my super good mood was crushed when I saw his state. I just love him so much and he means so much to me.

Cello was in a pasture with a mare and a mini horse for the last month and a half. They got along great. In the pasture shuffling the mare and mini were moved to another field, leaving Cello solo. Then, one by one, 4 geldings were moved into the pen Cello was in, from the extra-super-large pasture they had been in (together) the last 4 months at least, if not longer. Cello had been with all of these boys before, but this introduction did not go well. The person who moved the horses said they were quiet when watched at first, so they were left to their own devices. The person renting the house that overlooks the pasture said it wasn’t long and two of the biggest geldings, who have back shoes, cornered Cello and pummeled him. She’s not a horse person and didn’t know what to do, so she just watched with sadness.

I showed up not too long after it all ended. Cello was by himself in the far corner, but I didn’t think anything of it at first. When a new horse is introduced to the herd, there’s always infighting to some degree and shuffling. A kick, a bite, a few or combination of each is completely normal. 15 is not.

I highlighted the word introduced for a reason. Here is where I think this all went wrong. If one horse is introduced to a settled herd in that herds’ familiar space, it’s a matter of finding a place on the pecking order, which is figured out with body language. It’s how they communicate.

In this case, a settled herd was moved from their familiar space to a smaller, new space. They ran as a herd to scope it out and there was one lone outsider horse in the pasture. They were excited, they were overstimulated, they were bonded (I use that loosely as herd dynamic shifts frequently.) Bottom line, they beat the crap out of the loner in the pasture.

Cello had been with all these boys before for extended periods. One of them was his best buddy for two years (who stayed out of the fray with the oldest gelding.) Back then, there wasn’t so much as a mark on Cello. The difference was in how the introduction was made- before he was one new horse entering an occupied space; in this case he was the loner with 4 bonded horses claiming a new territory. If he had been introduced to them in the extra-super-large pasture where they were comfortable, the herd dynamic could have been established in a quiet and more confident way. Then it would possibly have gone smoother when they were moved as a group to a new space.

The point of this is hindsight is 50-50. It’s easy to look back and say “well, this is what went wrong and how it could have been avoided.” However, the incident you don’t plan for is the one that will happen, guaranteed. The person who moved him (I’m being vague to avoid blame.. they felt bad and did everything they could to compensate… has a huge heart) didn’t think much of it as the same horses have been there for years and they had all gotten along so well in the recent past.

Regardless, it happened, and I am very sad and heartbroken that my horse looks how he looks (and must be sore though he isn’t showing it.) He isn’t rideable at the moment, either, as many of the abrasions are where the saddle goes, his shoulder is swollen and I want his coronary band 100% healed before working.

The second reason I’m posting this is so I can share before and after pictures and share what care I’m giving him. I want to do everything I can to help him clean up as best he can, avoid scarring and promote hair re-growth. I’ll list below what’s been done so far:

  • Immediate cleaning with very weak Betadine, which is a providone-iodine surgical scrub.
  • Application of Finish Line to all wounds, which is nitrofurazone free. Nitrofurazone is found in many barns but can actually be caustic on wounds, so I would always recommend consulting a vet before using. One of the biggest ways to help minimize scars is to focus on cleanliness and moisturizing. Finish Line was applied the first three days as it was immediately on hand.
  • Daily rinsing of wounds with very weak Betadine solution, careful not to remove scabs that are healing. (All days)
  • Conservative dosage of an anti-inflammatory. This can be done twice a day but it’s only be administered once a day.
  • From day 4 on, after the rinsing with Betadine, I allow the wounds to air out and dry naturally. Then I cut open fresh aloe leaves and apply two coatings of aloe to each wound. This is being done twice a day with help from the awesome owner of the facility.
  • Lavender essential oil rub (all  natural) on his muzzle and chest. The deep sighs and the way he reaches for it is endearing- lavender is clinically proven to relax horses.

I talked to my vet and consulted some other horses people and ordered Derma Gel from Amazon (we live in the mountains, stores are far away.) I also have an all-natural salve coming from my friend Sierra Hawksley, who has an online store selling herbal remedies. You might remember her from the Loveland Extreme Makeover, where she trained Yarrow. She has great before and after pics from an injury her horse suffered (it happens to the best of us) and her remedy actually has many of the same ingredients found in Derma Gel, but fresher! So I will do another post on the Derma Gel & Sierra Concotion very soon.

Pictures below. The tarp photo was just an adorable moment from the night before the incident.

To end on a positive note, we had an arena obstacle day the night before. Cello was super sweet and fun, this was just a cute moment when I became a “tarp monster.” He looked at me like “I knew the tarp was evil! It ate mom!”

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