Friday, October 31, 2014

October recap, November goals, general doldrums

Let's face it: this time of year sucks.  The time change hits this weekend.  The days are getting shorter.  Our ride season appears to be over for the year.  It's raining on and off, just enough to get the trails muddy and round pens a terrible mess for a few days a week.

Different pony, same darkness view :(
I've been riding, but with less enthusiasm and drive.  We're not really working towards anything.  Not having concrete goals is hard.. and not having riding partners is hard, too, so I need to work on self-motivating more.

Last winter, we tapered too much and I got myself hurt as a result.  It's easy for me to quit riding much once the time change hits (next week :( ) and the rains come.  More importantly, I feel like I'm then lacking in goals and what's the point?  So, in the spirit of addressing that, some long-term goals for the winter:

1. quit nagging, and reinforce that aids Mean Something.
2. prompter transitions (should follow from #1)
3. continue addressing my canter issues, as weather and footing permits
4. off-side mounting
5. strengthen my lower leg for more stability.  (posting with no stirrups? two-point?)

Thank you for all the comments and suggestions on my last post!  It feels sometimes like I'm the only one with the crazy frustrating horse who just. won't. go, and it's incredibly reassuring to hear that I'm not alone in dealing with that.  I don't think I have a specific goal for "forwards or else", but we'll continue to school that and hopefully get back to that being less of an issue.

October goals were:

- Continue to add canter as comfort allows, making sure it's a polite canter and not a running-away canter.   Accomplished!  That said, it appears that my lower leg is not strong enough and not stable.  Tall boots + dressage saddle masks the issue and "fixes" my canter.. so I'm clearly the limiting factor here and need to address that.
- Rasp hooves weekly to make sure boots fit for our early October ride.  Technically accomplished, even if the end result wasn't as intended, that wasn't a result of my hoof trimming!
- Acquire clippers.  Clip 'Fetti's neck shortly prior to October ride.  Accomplished!  No regrets there.
- School 'standing still while mounting' more.  One step is vaguely tolerable at this point.  More than that, absolutely not.  We have indeed been working on this.  It still needs work.

Totally unrelated: in which I established
that I can use the halter with the add-on bridle
& combination bit, though not very elegantly

November goals need to be a little bit more specific or else I'm never going to get anything done!  So:
- If riding in saddle, mount from right side.
- Try shortening stirrups in Eurolight and work in two-point, working up to a half-mile; aim to do this once weekly as weather permits.
- Continue not nagging and being mindful of what I'm asking. 

I noted two new white splotches on Confetti's back.  Baffling, but she tends to show them mainly when shedding each year.  It finally clicked, however, when I felt the dressage saddle.. there are lumps in the flocking right there.  Clearly, I need to get the saddle re-flocked.  That's on the agenda for November, and has to happen for several reasons.  It's my wet-weather saddle (fleece on the Specialized + rain = sad Fig).  Pony is still working in dressage lessons semi-regularly.  And.. I want to continue riding in it to work on my lower leg strength and cantering.  On one hand, argh!  But on the other hand, I'm so grateful that a cause showed itself quickly.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Hand Gallop Blog Hop: What's in a name?

We're in that post-ride slump of 'not much to write about' due to all my rides being bareback in a halter doing absolutely nothing.. so instead, a blog hop!

What's the origin of your horse's show name and barn name?

Confetti is registered as Confetti DYH.  
- Haflinger fillies must be named with the same first letter as their dam, and colts must keep the same first letter as their sire.  As a result, breeders seem to use suffixes to denote their horses.

DYH is registered to Confetti's breeders up in Washington.  I've actually Facebook-chatted to both the breeder and the sire's then-owner, and I post our major accomplishments on Facebook and the Haflinger page so they can get glimpses of how awesome their pony is doing now. :)  

It's a relatively small Haflinger community out West.  I may not have blogged about it at the time, but after Fireworks last year I posted to the Haflinger group for the first time.  One lady remembered looking at her 8 years prior when she was looking for a Haflinger for herself.  Another asked her breeding and commented that her neighbor was Fetti's breeder, and that she'd asked the breeder about her recently!  Sire's owner chimed in, tagged the breeder, and poof: I have a Haflinger family and a baby photo and everything.  

As a foal, they called her Squiggle, I think for the L-star on her forehead.

Now she goes by Fetti, as her previous owner called her.  Confetti is too long to yell!  She's also affectionately 'pony' to me.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Pony evasion: backing

While backing surfaced as a major evasion at Quicksilver, it's not a new issue.  I am well aware that this is Confetti's default evasion.  It's not an uncertainty on her part, or a confusion on what she's being asked.  It's simply that she doesn't want to go that way.

I absolutely do want advice and suggestions on how to deal with this the next time it crops up, so please, comment away!  In a perfect world I'd have my trainer come out to work us through it, but it's not an evasion that can be replicated on cue.

Generally, when pointed at a new obstacle that she feels is inappropriate and Does Not Belong, she'll pause, eyeball it, and go backwards if any leg is applied.  Whip cues for forwards are either ignored or result in a (small) buck.  It doesn't matter if I have contact on the reins or totally drop them.  Lateral cues are frequently ignored, though I can sometimes convince her to go straight sideways or back sideways.  I can back her past The Obstacle, generally, but try to avoid doing that as a full solution if possible.  This weekend, I would back her up the (steep) hill a bunch of steps, ask her to turn and face forwards, and immediately she'd begin backing downhill/off the hill again.  I've tried turns on the haunches (doable, as they point her away from whatever she doesn't want to go towards) and turns on the forehand (not very doable, but occasionally we can get that).  When this was an issue heading towards the river, I just waited her out.  When she was quiet and calm, we'd take one step forwards, and then we'd chill for a bit, repeat.  (This is also why I don't start tracking my rides when we leave the barn: it would sometimes take a very, very long time to get to the river.)

If I get off, or if we're following someone else, horse or human, she'll go, not a problem.  It feels less like me winning and more like her getting her way when I'm off.

The same behavior surfaces when she really doesn't want to lead: she backs up to put the other horse in front.  We've mostly worked through that, mostly by copious leg/whip use when she so much as thinks about it now.  Once or twice she did nearly a sliding stop to avoid being in front.  That doesn't work for me.

Previous evasions blogged in July 2014 (bag of stuff, eventually followed hikers), earlier in July (putting her sister in front due to coyotes, waited her out?), even earlier in July (putting her sister in front by campground, got off and led), and on my previous primary blog in August 2012 (twice), end of July 2012, March 2012.. our first trail ride ever was May 2011 and I knew backing was her preferred evasion when I started riding her in August 2010.  There were plenty of incidents that simply didn't get written up.

So: thoughts? Ideas on what I can try the next time this pops up?  Any and all suggestions welcome.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Quicksilver 2014

No one looked at the Haflinger all weekend.  You can see why :)
One of my barn friends has been working towards her first LD for a bunch of months now.  I recommended Quicksilver over Fireworks because of my recollection of QS as a bunch of rolling hills, where Fireworks is steeper stuff and has been difficult for Fetti and I to make time.  Friday, we loaded up both mares in Funder's trailer, and off we went to ridecamp!

We settled in, stuck boots on (hers that she'd been riding in the past few weeks to get her mare accustomed to, mine that I'd just replaced a cable and hadn't ridden in since Fireworks), and vetted in cleanly.  Confetti got a B for impulsion, but pulsed in at 32.  That's my girl!  Unenthusiastic about trotting in straight lines as ever.  I opted to skip any kind of pre-ride; instead, we hand-walked over to the first gate.  Just for the heck of it, on the way back I asked Fetti for a brief lunging trot-circle.  Flounce flounce trot!  That decided it:  I would use the stronger bit in the morning.  Both were packed, my preference remains the snaffle, but I did learn from last year and have no desire to be riding a bolting horse again.

Oh, and somewhere in there we had the neighbor-rancher mention that there was a calf that was in the neighboring field.  We were parked right at the very back of ridecamp.  The calf came over and introduced itself.  My friend's mare thought the calf was awesome.  Fetti wasn't quite convinced.

Suspicious look at calf.  What are YOU and why are you here?!
The next morning dawned early and dark, but thankfully not especially cold.  I woke up around 4 and never quite made it back to sleep, but forced myself to generally stay in the sleeping bag so as not to bother the horses.  The less I fuss with her the morning of a ride, the less chance she has of picking up on my nerves!  We mounted up for a 7am start, walked a few laps around ridecamp, and I generally tried to channel the inner Western Pleasure pony again.  Relax, relax.. when it seemed suitably quiet, we casually walked out onto the trail and past the first gate.  It felt like I was riding a carefully contained firecracker.  She was excellent, though, and she kept walking til we hit the first hill and I told her it was okay to move out now, just to take the edge off.

We'd been trotting for about two minutes, if that, when I had my first boot mishap.  The velcro really should have been replaced already - oops.  I hopped off, swore, creatively fixed it, and stuck it back on hoping that would hold.  My friend's boots came loose thirty seconds after we were back trotting.  She tightened them up a bit, stuck them back on, eventually found a rock to mount back up.  Within the next two miles, I was off at least twice more for the same damn boot, and I was done: I had no idea why it was failing, it was early, and I was really, really tired of getting on and off the horse.  Sure, she'll be crooked, but we finished Fireworks with just the one boot: it won't kill her or lame her or anything.

Naturally, Fetti took a funny step about 2.5 miles into the ride and informed me her remaining boot was coming off too.  One of the cables had totally come loose.  I suspected this had probably been going on with the first boot, and this second boot was at least not going to be fixable on-trail, so I tied it onto the saddle and hopped back on again.  We were losing time in the best part of the foggy morning.  It wasn't an intentional barefoot decision - was I going to lame my horse riding her at speed through unfamiliar terrain?  Would I have to abandon my friend at the vet check and have her finish her first LD alone?  This was not how things were supposed to work out, and I knew we needed to keep a moderate-brisk pace to the check to have a hope of making time, especially if I was going to have to walk her through anything rough.  Argh!

Not the cow we chased, but note the pony ears.
 'Can I chase this one too?'
And then there were cows.  Cows!  There was a whole herd of cows hanging out right across the trail.  We couldn't exactly sit around and wait for them to meander off, so I paused a second, then asked Confetti to trot directly at the cows.  'Shoo!'  Five calves took off down the trail away from us, and we trotted right by the rest of the herd with no problems.  Fetti seemed very pleased with herself.  I would totally take this horse cow-sorting.  It absolutely made my morning and neither of us got pictures of it, but take my word for it: it was awesome.

We did take a bunch of walk breaks for the mares to recover, which made for some pretty excellent photos.  The fog was absolutely gorgeous and delightful.

Fog bank behind us.  It was amazing.
Originally, my vague timeframes had us at the vet check around 9:30, two and a half hours after start.  We were told it was approximately halfway, 12 miles or so.  By 9:30, I thought we were probably getting close, but we were clearly not there yet.  The mares wanted to walk, so we walked.. some trotting, but mostly walking for most of the mile into the check if not more.  We arrived shortly after 10 and had been made aware by other riders that they had a hose there for us.  Yay!  But what the heck, sure, go ahead and check her pulse just to see what she's at, I'm sure she won't be down.. and she was, easy, 56 and dropping.  I hadn't even scooped water onto her at the check yet.

Miraculously, Fetti vetted sound in the semi-gravelled parking lot.  I parked her by the hay, nibbled on some of my own food, and generally quit worrying.  It was easily the least time-pressured hold I've ever had.  It probably helps we were nearly the only ones there!

Unfortunately, my friend's horse would not pulse down, even after pulling tack and repeated hosing.  All my stress went there instead.  Had I pushed too hard and too fast?  Sure, she wasn't my horse, but I was the one setting the pace for a new rider, and there was definitely some guilt that perhaps I'd done wrong by her somehow.  Confetti and I left the check alone.  There was nothing I could do, the horse wasn't in distress, and it wasn't going to be helpful for me to Rider Option pull.

Not fifteen minutes later, going up a nice steep hill after the vet check, Fetti made it very clear that I was wrong.  We should not be going this way.  The 50s are going the opposite direction.  Our friend is in the opposite direction.  Human, I will back you off the side of the hill but I will not go forwards.  I'll have another post on that later, but in short: this is her preferred evasion and I've never really figured out a way to manage it.  Suggestions are very welcome.  I beat her with the whip; she backed up.  I beat her more; she bucked.  I backed her up the hill - she resisted, I felt guilty because it was an awful hill with lots of rocks; I'd offer to let her go forwards up the hill and she'd go straight to backing down/sideways again.  Emotions went from frustration to anger to despair, and I finally got off and hiked up the damn hill, because at least then she'd go forwards, and she was not going to win that battle.  I got back on once on that hill, and she went straight backwards again, and I swore some more and got off and hiked again.  (I looked at MapMyHike, and it looks like we went up 273 feet in 0.4 miles.  I have no idea how bad that actually is, but it was full sun with lots of rocks and a very obstinate horse.)

Eventually she let me get back on and kick/swat her into a forwards trot, and we went zooming along the trail until a 50 passed us going the opposite direction.  I walked to pass, and that was the end of it.  Backwards towards the side of a steeper cliff.  More swearing.  More hiking.  Less hill!  By now I was pissed and grumpy enough to jog some of the sections.  Alternatively, if we were walking I reinforced that she had to keep up with me.  There was too much cliff and not enough left-side mounting spots for me to dare getting back on and having her back straight off again.. it just wasn't the place for that fight.  Maybe we wouldn't make time - probably we wouldn't make time! - but damnit, we were not turning around.

Finally the very last LD caught up to us, and suddenly life was better!  I knew which direction we were supposed to be going!  We weren't all alone in the wilderness!  So back up on the horse I went, and off we trotted with renewed enthusiasm and slightly reduced pony death threats.

Once Fetti deigned to go forwards, we actually made pretty good time heading home.  I think she would have moved out more on the first half, but felt obligated to make sure her friend was keeping up and still in sight.  No complaints there: it's how we ride with her at home, and it gave me a horse that was polite, relaxed, and content on a loose rein.  With the new last-LD rider's horse, she didn't feel so obligated to make sure he was keeping up.  We rode with her for a bit (the only time all day I saw anyone else for more than thirty seconds!), then eventually left her behind as Fetti kept on trotting down the trail and her horse stayed slower.  I had to remind myself not to feel bad, that we'd both perked up our horses with the riding together, and that there was no reason I had to ride with her into camp, not that she'd even suggested it!  Ride your own ride.  Sometimes that intersects with others' rides, sometimes they wander off and that's okay.

I'm not sure exactly what time we came into the finish, but Fetti pulsed down in under five minutes and that was pretty delightful.  I still had horse left.  I liked my horse again.  We still had a full 30 minutes before we would have been overtime.  Even better: the final LD rider that I left alone on trail finished in time too!  I thanked her profusely again when I saw her at the vetting.

Even without the boots, Fetti vetted out with (almost) all A's.  The vet did suggest shoes if we were looking to continue in the sport, but was understanding when I told her we'd had a Very Bad Boot Day and started out booted.  Fetti doesn't like to trot on sharp gravel - I know that, and I'm okay with that.  The trot lane was the worst footing we had all day.  She did get another B on gut sounds, which worried me not at all.  She was eating and drinking well all day.

Lessons learned:
1. If riding with a friend, I definitely do not need the stronger bit, and I suspect I won't generally need it if riding solo either.
1b. If/when we try a 50, I need a way to easily swap bits at the first hold.
2. Ride with boots at least once within two weeks prior to the actual ride.
2b. Current lesson: replace cable clamp and I think my issues will resolve.
3. Electrolyting alone does not avoid migraines for me.  Suggestions?  (1x Thursday, 3x Friday, 3x Saturday, approx 3-4 hours in between doses)  I need a better handle on that before I can confidently try a warm 50.
4. Fetti reverts to backing when being obstinate (scared, disagrees with trail, whatever).  Suggestions to resolve?  It's not something I can trigger on demand, which makes it difficult to have a trainer work with us to fix it.
5. Switching out Camelbak bladders halfway through worked well, but I should start with the slightly-smaller one for the morning.  I can supplement with a Nalgene bottle for longer rides/loops.
6. I need to replace my HRM watch battery -- it had a display only occasionally throughout the day.  Not the sort of thing you want to discover at 6:45am at a ride.
6b. I can now ride reasonably well without the HRM, but it would still make me feel better to have it coming into checks.  (I did get it on briefly a mile or so out from the vet check. 74 while walking gave me confidence she was doing fine.)
7. Confetti can do a 25 on decent footing totally barefoot with no ill effects.  No panic necessary.

More photos behind the cut.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Q-3 days

It's been hot in California lately.  By hot, I mean it was over 100 this past weekend, several days in a row, and we're weather-wimps and it was therefore too hot to do a real ride.

So the pony is clipped (touch-ups perhaps to come later this week), and I trimmed two and a half hooves this weekend and two tonight.  I got through her front feet, started on her hinds, got a first pass done and was ready to die in 80-degree weather at 7pm.  Instead of finishing hoof #3, I quit and went home.  No regrets!  Yesterday both hinds felt easy enough to do, and she self-trims the hinds somewhat, also helping to make my life easier.

Clipped pony.  I've done better, but they're new clippers and it was hot out.
I still need to fit the Renegades.  The cables got replaced this weekend, though!  In true procrastinator fashion, I anticipate fitting the boots to her hooves sometime Thursday.

Bits are still baffling me.  The combination bit feels like too much bit for our local training rides.  It's a lot of brakes and not much collection ability.  On the flip side, last year she pulled for the whole ride and I have no desire to repeat that.  But we have a friend this year, so maybe it'll be okay?
Round pen work always starts with a good roll.

Ideally, I would have done two good rides this past weekend, then light rides Tuesday and Thursday.  Instead, we had a brisk short ride a week ago Saturday (5 miles), a long day a week ago Sunday (9 miles, then 7 miles), a moseying technical non-speed ride Tuesday, and 6 moderately paced miles on Sunday.  Today?  10 minutes in the round pen, 10 minutes walking around the barn bareback in a rope halter.  It's a really lovely taper, it's just not at all what I'd intended to do prior to this ride.

Still to do: pack car, wash pony (mane and tail only), fit boots, sort out timing details.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

September recap, October goals

Where did September go?!

September goals:
- Continue to add canter as comfort allows, making sure it's a polite canter and not a running-away canter.  Mission accomplished!*
- Rasp hooves weekly to make sure boots fit for our early October ride.  Kinda weekly?  They are getting rasped, though.
- Acquire clippers.  Clip 'Fetti's neck shortly prior to October ride.  Clippers acquired and charged.  I'll wash her neck this weekend and clip that same day, no sense ruining new clippers on a dirty horse.
- School 'standing still while mounting' more.  Still working on that.  It's been better, but not fixed.
Total mileage: 102.1.  We're still comfortably averaging about 25 miles/week and that feels good for now.  This month was a lot of shorter rides (6 rides under 3 miles) with two days of 15+ miles.

I've been pretty awful about progress-blogging lately, despite the fact that things keep happening.  Good news: the non-horse stress is starting to die down some to a manageable level.  That should leave me more able to put (more of) my head here.

*I mentioned earlier in the month about my cantering woes.  I knew I wasn't feeling quite right in the Eurolight.  Pinpointing exactly what was wrong proved difficult.  It wasn't a matter of the saddle tipping forwards/backwards substantially, and trialing with a thinner pad was going to create more headache than I was willing to deal with.  Shortening my stirrups a hole left my knees miserable within half a mile.  Taking the caged stirrups off helped some, but didn't fix it.  Finally, one day I had an epiphany: when I dropped my stirrups to walk around the barn, my feet were behind the stirrups.  Hmm..  so I shifted the stirrups back an inch or two, and poof!  Magic fix.  Magic fix also left me incredibly muscle sore everywhere from suddenly riding correctly.

I do plan to re-try the caged stirrups after Quicksilver to see if they're workable with the new stirrup position, but I'm holding off on that for the moment.

We're getting a real, balanced canter these days.  I no longer feel like she's running through me and balanced on her forehand.  I probably never mentioned it on the blog, but we tried to school the canter on and off during our first year.  It never felt fluid to me, I blamed myself, and I pretty much quit cantering after that.  It's only in the past six months that I've gotten what I call a 'hunter' canter - balanced, fluid, light, not running - and that's been both bareback and under saddle.  Sometime this past month, I mentioned that to one of my riding partners; she commented that her daughter (Fetti's previous rider) always felt strongly on the forehand and wondered if it was a pain issue.  In hindsight, I doubt it was pain.  I think Miss Fetti wasn't worked consistently and correctly enough to build the muscles for a solid canter.  Taking the better part of two years off from cantering and focusing on balanced, correct carriage at the trot?  Probably the best thing I ever did for her canter.

She still objects to cantering when I'm sitting wrong or putting her on her forehand.  That's okay and clearly my problem rather than hers!

Other, un-noted accomplishments:
- Confetti has started to pee at the tie-rail after the ride, and a few times even on the trail.  Cookies were had!  She absolutely expects her cookie reward, but right now, I am totally okay with that.
- Met two unicycles on the trail.  Totally unbothered.
- Stood very politely while a LOT of motorcycles roared by on the road not 30 feet away, even as we were unable to see any of said motorcycles and she wasn't particularly thrilled.
- Multiple bareback trail rides, one of which included a semi-racing Big Canter up a steep hill - and I found it fun and exhilarating rather than terrifying.

October goals:
- Quicksilver LD
- start working in the arena again periodically
- continue schooling 'stand while mounted'
- start schooling cleaner transitions on cue, not just on-anticipation