Friday, December 11, 2015

We Has the Trots

I've been spending quite a bit of time with Ben trying to re-develop his trot transition. Lots of things mulling about in my mind  about why this has turned into such a big pile of crap for him- soundness, saddle fit, tension, rider (me)...among the top few.

I've come to no solid conclusion as of yet, but I can tell you that it has gotten a helluvalot better. Not everything has gotten better, but it seems like we're on our way. Gone are the canter/tranter/hop/skip/jump thing into trot transitions. That alone is great, because let me tell you, it was really not fun to ride. Gone is the pulling, yanking (on ben's part), and ginormous faux-passage.

Here is what would happen, for lack of video: I'd ask Ben to trot. I'd get the aforementioned tranter/hop/skip thing. We'd then go balls to the wall trotting down the long side if he somehow managed to put his gear into trot vs a pace or canter or whatever combination. Then on the short side he'd faux-passage until coming out of the corner at which point he'd throw his head up, rip my right rein away and just go for it -  sucked on to the wall, no steering. Then, if I'd ask him to, oh, perhaps NOT do that, he'd duck behind the contact and appear to rollkur himself into oblivion - eventually getting so tense he'd grind on his bit. and not be able to handle life at all.

Sounds like fun, eh? Jiminey Crickets.

So here is what we've been doing. #1 lots of walk, responsiveness to my leg. I've been focusing on the last month on strengthening my core (off the horse - crunches, blank, leg raises, etc). Free walk on a loose rein to picking up contact with out freaking out. I've had to adjust my seat so that I am sitting way way up (I have myself looking up into the far rafters so I don't collapse the chin), focusing on opening my hips, and holding my hand a bit higher - (feels like grand-prix high but the mirror says otherwise), doing nothing else with them hands. I basically try to get him to walk into that open space I created in front of me. I believe the effect is that he's not driving himself into the ground. Then I can ask him for more forwards, and that hind energy goes level vs down. From there, when I ask for his trot, he has the space to do it. So I ask for a trot, and let him go until I know it is going to fall apart - could be 3 steps, 10 steps, a lap...bring him down, do it again.  Over and over.  Rest breaks galore.

So once I had that going for us, I then had to address the outside rein issue. The thing is, it has been pretty easy once we got the above sorted. He is listening better to both legs, and can connect my inside leg to the outside rein. We still do have minor blips - but in general, it is happening. So much so that I've been able to get him half halting a bit.

So now,  I can get a solid transition, and a respectable trot and even some adjustability in there- I can slow it down, smaller steps, or I can ask for bigger steps or bigger movement and voila- I get it. I can do all shapes of circles. Small trot is the hardest for Ben - it is counter intuitive to his breeding. Small trot requires flexibility, softness, articulation. But with all of the above, we're doing bits of it and I think it is coming along.

The things we continue to struggle with: contact/relaxation. He's good for the first part of the ride. He's got his game face on. However, I'm detecting a pattern here. About mid way through the ride things start to fall apart after that 2nd/3rd walk break.  Tension takes over. His desire to curl behind the contact increases. He begins to grind on his bit. The quality of his work deteriorates, and his focus shifts to being "done" vs working with me. Part of me feels like it is a bit of a habit wrapped up with a physical tiredness. The thing is, it doesn't matter much what we do, it always happens. So, I could do the whole first part of his ride on a loose rein, he will still shut off mid-way. It doesn't matter if he works hard the first half and the second half all I want for him is to walk. Any combination of work does it. I'm not discrediting the idea that there is pain/physical tiredness, but I'm wondering how "mental" the issue is. Case in point, the other day I had some time so I decided to ride through it - however long it takes. I'm not getting off until he's quiet, relaxed, and not grinding. And you know what? We got there. He does stop...eventually. So maybe it is something I just have to "ignore" - aka wait for him to come back 'round and then end our ride on the relaxed note.

More to come on that as I continue to experiment.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Anything to See?

Thankful for this big guy

Hope everyone had a lovely Thanksgiving holiday. Mine afforded me some time with the hubby, who ever so graciously came to the barn one day to video bits of my ride. It was a lovely weekend weather-wise up here in the PNW - cold but several days of sunshine. I made the best of it and tried to get Ben out a few times in our bigger arena.

My goal with the video was to get a bit of a "check in" to see how he is moving, as compared to his earlier video when he was in much better shape, under the careful guidance of our trainer- oh those were the days! The theme I've been experiencing with him lately is a an okay walk-warm up, then crap trot transitions, crap trotting with lots of resistances -above, sideways, behind the bit - all seemingly stemming from the hind end. I've been trying to let him do some canter with me staying out of his way, and then when I get that, then I go back to trot and everything there is generally much better. In watching these videos I can still see the fussing, and I can see that he could be taking better steps behind, generally be a bit more forward. I can tell you as the rider, the trot FEELS much better after his canter.

Part of me is wondering if there is a lameness issue- a weakness behind yet to be diagnosed. I am interested in getting our new vet to do a work up, but that is going to have to wait until after the holidays. In the mean time, I am going to keep conditioning because I do feel like that will give me more to go on anyway.

Here are the videos - in sequential order. They are intentionally short bits so the files are smaller.

First Trot:

Canter Left
Canter Right
Trot Left after Cantering:
Trot Right after Cantering:

Friday, November 13, 2015

Gain Some (Canter), Lose Some (Trot)

Last week Ben and I finally had our first lesson in ages - well over a year. Our trainer hadn't seen him since before the nose-wiener removal. On the plus side, he was full of it - tons of energy to go go go (YAY for no more breathing problems!) On the downside, he has lost a lot of condition and strength that he had. So all of the suppleness we had worked for was virtually gone, and in its place were new (and old) evasions.

We basically worked on getting clean transitions and a bit more control of the right-side, his weak side. Ben's new thing is to grab the right side of the bit, and GO - especially when rounding the short side of the arena. So step one was to move onto the quarterline as he loves to get sucked onto the wall. Step two was getting him to give us a regular, consistent speed at the walk - no speed up, slow down, chomp chomp chomp on the bit. Third was to give us some flexion on the right - respond to my right leg, respond to my fingers closing on the right rein. OMG total tune-out. "LALALALA I don't hear you!" says Bennifer. Once those things were in place- lets be real - just an exercise to be on my aids, I could then ask him for a trot and get actual real trot steps vs a mish mosh of pace-tranter-to-trot-walk-back to trot.

So yea, that was fun- not. Our homework is, well, transitions. And getting consistent walk. And responding to the aids in turn on haunches, turn on forehand. And more transitions - try to re-establish the transition within the gait, which we were lacking (either TROTTTTTTTTING immediately to the dead-man walk). Oh, and, add in trot-to-canter.

Small list, right? We've been chipping away at it all week...and as it goes some things are great one day while others are sucking, and then the next ride things are swapped the good is now bad and vice versa. For us, it is swapping the quality of gaits - if the trot feels good the canter is crap, and if the canter feels good the trot isn't great. I am hopeful though that one day we'll be able to string it all together and have one amazing ride, LOL.

Now that I think about it, I may know why my canter has gotten better and the trot has gone to the crapper. The past few rides I've gotten on Ben's case about his walk - you know it is so easy to mess up a walk so it is careful going. The problem is that Ben's walk is so lackluster, slow, behind the leg. As if he's asleep. What I am doing, is using a metronome during our warmup. The setting is low, lower than what I'm reading other people use- but my goal is to at least get a consistent rhythm to the walk, and then maybe later see about getting it to be a bit more active. But for now, it is plenty active for where he is at in his fitness level. I'm thinking that since the walk is so closely connected to the canter, that his canter has improved by proxy, LOL. The trot, admittedly, we're working just on transitions- which does improve the overall trot but it isn't like we're staying in trot for huge lengths of time.

And so we go -continuing down the path towards excellence - picking our battles one at a time, and overcoming obstacles in the process. Next week I'd like to start throwing in some cavaletti work but will do so judiciously given his level of fitness. No sense in rushing things - we're in it for the long haul.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Back to this Dressage Thing

Life is never dull when you share it with Ben! I've come to the conclusion that he basically has to have some kind of drama in his life at all times - you know, to break up the monotony of doing actual, real honest to goodness work ;)

So in my last post I mentioned that was back on the job, earning his keep so to speak. Things were going relatively well-  a bit of a saddle fit dilemma but nothing major & easily fixed. Summer eased in to fall and I started riding him more, now with my mare in full training. One week, I started to notice Ben doing something funny when I put him up in his stall for the night. He'd go to the back corner and stretch out as if to pee, but never did he actually pee. He'd stand there, looking at his belly - kind of like the onset of colic. However, it lasted all of a couple of minutes - he'd snap out of it and head to his food waiting for him. So of course I'm thinking he's on the path to death, so I call the vet and explain what is happening. We scheduled an appointment for a few days later, thinking we'd get his annual check up/vaccination/float done and also talk about possible ulcers, as that is what it sounded like, though in my mind I was prepared to be shocked if he had ulcers - as he doesn't seem to fit the "type."

The next day rolls around, and I head up to the barn. On my way up I get a text saying "Ben Colicking, Call Me" I got there and saw that while he was in distress, it wasn't colic, rather, it was choke. However, there was no discharge - just him wheezing and making a donkey-brayish noise. So I called our vet and thank goodness he was about 5 minutes out. We got Ben sedated and got the obstruction cleared. While doing so, we were talking about the behavior that I had been witnessing, and thought that perhaps it was related, in addition to his previous nose wiener issues (does he have damage to his esophagus from a tubing gone wrong?)- the best course of action being getting him scoped to see what is going on in there.

A few days later, Ben packed up for the clinic. I cried my eyes out for 2 days straight, convinced I was going to get horrible news of irreparable, life threatening damage. After fasting all night, Ben's appointment was to be that morning, and the clinic said they'd call as soon as it was done. All morning goes by and I heard nothing. They did say they would have to delay if an emergency came up. Still, by noon, I had heard nothing. I finally decided to give them until 1 pm, thinking that maybe they keyed in my phone number incorrectly. When I finally did call, they told me that they had to delay Ben's scope not due to an emergency, or running behind had to delay it till the afternoon because my horse thought he was being starved and ate shavings through the muzzle, and they were waiting for those to pass.

The were finally able to scope him in the afternoon and found...drum roll please... nothing. Absolutely nothing. Zip. Zero. Zilch. Well...they did catch the tail end of the shavings...but no scar tissues, abnormalities, or ulcers. His bloodwork was totally clean. When it comes to his nose, airway, esophagus and stomach - Ben is a picture of health. So the sum of it is-  my horse believes he has to gulp food and eat everything in site. He now lives on his hay and mush wet meals, for life.

That said, after a couple of days off, Ben got back to work. Our trainer finally came down last week for a lesson and gave us LOTS of homework to do that basically all involve some element of suppleness and 1 million transitions between and within gaits. The plan going forward is to lesson once a month. My goal is to be able to finally start crackin' on stabilizing and balancing his canter so that he can keep it for longer. Now wouldn't it be great if next year I could show him at training level again, and maybe even 1st?

Friday, June 5, 2015

Fresh Start for 2015

Christmas 2014 Selfie
Hellooooo Blog-o-sphere! Long time no see! I realize it has been over a year since I gave this space any love at all. I'm about to change that :)

Bennifer had a pretty quiet year of some R&R. We left off in 2014 just having had nose-weener removal surgery. Everything went swimmingly, and Ben was discharged from the horse-pital in a week. He then spent a few months with a good friend of mine at her retirement facility - just chillaxin' and breaking the irrigation spouts...then getting scared of the new fountain of water he created and running back into the barn. Fun times, Ben, fun times.
Welcome home, Bud!

In August he returned to the West Side and we did a lot of tooling around for the rest of the summer due to my crazy personal life situation. I quickly realized, however, that Ben had some "issues" we needed to work out. Stiff, tin-man-without-the-oil like, maybe even a bit hitchy (you may recall that I had suspected something wasn't quite right the winter prior - which we ended up doing nothing about because we found the nose-weener, which needed to be addressed first). Turns out a tincture of time didn't really do much for our boy. So our vet came out gave him his once-over (teeth, vaccs, sheath, and basic lameness eval). Seriously, this is equivalent to your car's 60k tuneup. What we found was that he was equally sore/off in BOTH stifles, and an old/cold/high suspensory injury on the right front. Would totally explain the right-front-short-stride thing that was happening the year prior. Basically, we were thinking that being out of work and under condition - Ben's stifle issues are more visible, and they exacerbate the loading of the front end, which then sets off inflammation on that old injury on the right front. So, the prescription was: bute for the bad days, pentosan, and most importantly: long, slow conditioning - lots of walk, straight trots... you know, strengthen that hind end. The goal was to get his back end strong again, enough to support and alleviate that front end.

So we had our plan for fall/winter. Lots of walking, Small trot sets. More walking. It was slow, and boring.

Then we met a friend - a gal who started taking lessons with a trainer at the barn. She had asked me if I had an extra horse for her to ride, so she could get more saddle time in addition to her lessons. Why yes, yes I do. He's tall, dark, handsome, and safe, and needs more slow rides than I can offer. So with her help, between the two of us, Ben started to get more of the exercise he needed.

New friends :)

The conditioning, combined with the Pentosan, worked wonders. I've had to reach for the bute only a couple of times when we first began. Ben is now doing more and more trot, and even some canter again. His strength is coming back - he feels quite forward (amazing what happens when a horse can breathe), and energetic. He's ridden 3-4 times a week, and is getting lots and lots of turn out. He is even doing some dressage lessons again. Generally, I think we've found the perfect plan for him.

So, what's next? To be honest, I haven't really given it much thought.I didn't want to dream big and make tons of plans only to have my spirits crushed if he didn't/couldn't get sound again. I also have a super busy life outside of horses and the thought of tacking on more is just daunting. So right now I think the plan is to keep on keepin' on. There really is no need to rush anything. To that end, I'm not really sure how active this blog will be, but I hope to post at least a few more updates this year.

I hope all of you out there are having a fabulous 2015!