Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Back to the Land of the Living

I'm finally wearily raising my head after a rather hellish week battling a not quite the flu illness...I fell ill last Thursday when I was packing to head up to Harrisburg for the PA Horse World Expo to work the ISSO booth.  It was to be my first sidesaddle related outing since Camp Leaping Horn last August and I had really been looking forward to catching up with everyone, not to mention modeling my new leather apron.  But I'd started feeling a bit weak Thursday evening, and by Friday AM it was clear I wasn't going any further than the bathroom.  The weather has been very beautiful, and I've been wasting it more or less passed out in bed (much to the cats' glee...feverish humans make delightful hotwater bottles).  I don't remember too much, except that I tried to drive myself to the doctor's, got disoriented and couldn't remember where I was headed, so Bruce had to come find me and take me himself.  So, now I'm finally propped up, full of antibiotics and cough syrup and surrounded by boxes of tissues and empty throat lozenge wrappers.

But as I was falling ill last Thursday I did manage to squeeze in a ride.  I rode astride so I could really get up off Owen's back for some cross country work, but he still seemed somewhat tense and tight in the back.  I suppose the 40 mph wind gusts might have had something to do with that, but I tuned them out and forced Owen to think about schooling.  Helen had suggested using a shoulder in to renvers back to shoulder in movement in the canter to work on the changes, which didn't help me much with the tempis but it did make a tremendous difference in the canter pirouettes.  It really set Owen back on his hocks without having to resort to using my hands and I was pleased with the result.

Once again we rode 3s and 4s on the circle, with the straight lines being Owen's downfall.  It is not that Owen can't do the changes physically, but after about the 3rd swap he short circuits and starts getting very tense.  Obviously, the answer is a mental one, so I started a new approach to the tempis by riding long canter lines with simple changes through the halt every 3 strides.  I could feel Owen really starting to boil over, and when he tightened his back I just walked a small volte until he relaxed again and sought contact with the bit, at which point I resumed the exercise.  It was emotionally exhausting for Owen, and I was careful not to get after him for any mistakes, and eventually I was able to ride a few 3 tempi flying changes before he snapped.  This was followed by more simple changes and I alternated these with the flying changes and he began to realize that maybe they were no big deal.

I was really looking forward to building on this good work, and I hope that Owen has not forgotten his progress over the past week.

I do have to wonder, tho', do horses suffer cribbing withdraw?  Perhaps Owen needs a Nicoret patch during his transition to a crib-less existence.  I noticed that the underside of his neck is more overdeveloped than it was last year and I suspect he was cribbing more while at Michelle's.  When I'd visited him there he seemed happy and settled in, but my farrier, Liam, who saw Owen far more than I did over the previous 6 months, thought that Owen seemed lonely and even a bit mournful when he stopped by to do his feet.  I suppose tough guy Owen was a bit lonely and made up for it with increased self destructive behavior when humans weren't looking.  When I palpated his strap muscles he threw up his head, and there certainly are some big muscle knots in there.  The new collar is working very well since he doesn't even attempt to crib anymore, but it will probably be some weeks to months before I see any real physical benefit but I'm hoping his teeth and GI tract will also benefit in addition to his training.

In the meantime, I've been having a custom decal made for our horse trailer, one that reflects our interest in sidesaddle, dressage, and musical freestyle.  Here is what the artist came up with:

I'm getting one for each side of the trailer.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

About Helen

Some of you may have seen comments posted on this blog by a lady named Helen, and they have obviously been knowledgeable statements.  Also, some of you have heaped what I consider to be undeserved praise on my exploits and attempts at higher level dressage with Owen.

But if you haven't seen a video of Helen and her TB, Will Powered, ride a dressage test aside you are really missing something.  While I may be messing about with some FEI movements here and there, Helen has really left me in the dust as far as the USDF is concerned, and she deserves recognition.  Last fall she was awarded her silver medal.  I know nothing else about her, where she lives, who she trains with, how long she's been riding aside, etc.  Perhaps she'll fill in the gaps for us.

Here's a link to a lovely 4th level ride elegant and quietly ridden, which to me is the point of both dressage and riding sidesaddle.

I wish Helen had a training blog; we could all learn from it.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Myth Busting

There's some dogma out there that occasionally needs to be challenged.  First is the myth of the bent horse. 

Despite all of the manuals out there depicting diagrams of horses bent nose to tail along the circumference of a circle, this is simply not the way it happens.  Horses cannot bend their vertebral columns!  This has been scientifically proven by several studies by folks in the know of all countries, including Deb Bennett, Phillipe Karl, Harry Bolt, and a litany of others.  I have witnessed it first hand myself during equine dissection while in vet school when I had access to a defleshed vertebral column.  Even with several strong students and anatomy professors we were unable to cause any discernible flexion, either laterally or longitudinally.  So, when we talk of a horse raising his back, it is a bit of a misnomer.  The horse can't raise his back, but he can lower his neck and croup, thus causing a relative raising of the back.  (This does not account for the relatively extreme raising of the back in rolkur; see Dr. Gerard Herschmann's writings for more detail.) In such a position the horse must engage his abdominal muscles, therefore using himself better.  The region between the shoulders and the pelvis is largely fixed, with only a degree or two of flexion.  Think of it this way...if the vertebral column was flexible, how could a horse bear our weight?  This is not to say that horses cannot be trained to better use their backs and become stronger and more supple, and when people feel a horse soften around the inside leg it's due to the horse relaxing the overlying musculature on the inside rather than actually bending his body.

We've all seen horses performing amazing gymnastics on their own, such as carefully picking up a hind foot and scratching behind an ear, so how is this possible if the horse doesn't bend his thoracic (back) and dorsal spine?  The neck as we all know is amazingly flexible, in little toads such as Owen it is positively snake like...
Nor can a horse collapse his rib cage, so how is this bend accomplished?  When you have the opportunity to watch a horse fold himself up like a cheeto watch the angle of his body.  By flexing the SI joint, the horse relatively raises his and tilts his back and ribcage to the outside.  If you are adventurous, take a piece of masking tape and run it along his spine from withers to tail; then have someone turn him around sharply in the stall while you stand on a mounting block to get an aerial view.  That tape never moves.

I wish I had some nice illustrations of this, but Deb Bennett has some really good stop action photographs in her books, Principles of Conformation Analysis, which shows this very thing.  The thing is, how does this apply to sidesaddle riding?  For those of you who are interested in dressage aside, this can affect you greatly.  Tack up a horse with a well fitting sidesaddle, being sure to leave the balance girth either unfastened or very loose.  Then turn your horse into a small circle around you and watch the saddle; what do you see?  The saddle tilts to the outside of the circle.

For most aside riders this tilt while on a volte never affects them, since few need to ride such small circles, but for those of us who will insist on beating our heads against the dressage aside wall, it can create a real problem.  During either a volte, pirouette, half pass left I find myself battling not only the centrifugal force to the outside by the movement, but also this saddle tilt.

When riding dressage astride we are told to step into the inside stirrup and weight the inside seat bone during lateral movements to the left, but what has been drilled into our sidesaddle psyche?  DO NOT WEIGHT THE STIRRUP LEST YOU PULL THE SADDLE OVER!  Here we come to myth #2. When riding aside I find myself saying to myself, "I must not weight the left, I must not weight the left..." when in these rare instances, I should be stepping down into the stirrup to counteract that arcing of the saddle to the outside.

This has taken me years to learn, and for some reason it became apparent to me while riding my western sidesaddle at USET.  Owen just wouldn't halfpass left, until for some reason I shifted my weight to the left side and he obligingly stepped over.

Here is an illustrative shot that I cringe to display to the world, but it is educational.  First, I must point out that this saddle was custom made for Owen and gets reflocked regularly twice a year.  But in this zoomed in shot, taken from behind during a steep halfpass you can clearly see the offside tilt of the saddle. 

Owen is rather bent left, and it's tilting
my sidesaddle right; I need to counter
act it by stepping into the stirrup.

While my body appears to be tilted as well, the entire photograph (which I accidentally deleted...grrrr) shows that my spine is straight and perpendicular to the saddle.  What I want to scream at myself is "step into the stirrup and pull the saddle upright!"  But for some reason, there is a mental battle going on inside my head between common sense versus 20+ years of sidesaddle instruction.

But as I mentioned in an earlier post, my lay up has given my plenty of time to analyze my own riding, and when I rode aside for the first time a few days ago I found I was able to break that particular rule.  When I asked for the halfpass and pirouettes left I forced myself to step into the stirrup and weight the saddle to the left.  I must admit, it was a scary if the entire saddle was going to slip under Owen's barrel but the ease of the halfpass was amazing.  It was effortless and did not require my constant niggling at Owen with the stick on the offside to move left.  And, lo! when I straightened him before the corner the saddle magically returned to its centered and level position, not requiring any shifting or tugging on my part.  By allowing my saddle to sit to the right, I was giving Owen conflicting aids.

And yes, the saddle will try to tilt left when I halfpass right, but it's been so ingrained into my head to weight the right seat bone that it is counteracted.

Last year I longlined Owen in the Manorgrove so that I could see for myself this tilting phenomenon while asking for extreme bend with no weight in the saddle.  But while this maybe more demonstrative in dressage, it can have relevance to any sidesaddle discipline.  Despite excellent flocking and fit, it falls ultimately falls to the rider to keep the saddle in its proper position.

Today I was finally able to ride again, since Owen had very considerately removed a shoe and I was waiting for Liam to come and pull the other one.  Owen once again was a candidate for the "free to good home" section of the classified ads since he was not terribly cooperative and was very tight in the back as well as resistant in the lower jaw and neck.  Possible reasons include:

1. It was his first time being ridden barefoot all round for many years, even tho' I was working him on grass.
2. He resented the extra long in hand whip I was using so that I might reach his hocks.
3. He is suffering from cribbing withdraw courtesy of the new cribbing collar I put on him last night.  Boy, does it work like a charm, but he's not happy about it.

Owen belied his advanced training and absolutely refused to canter correctly.  I had been hoping to work on the tempi changes, but if the canter isn't of good quality I'd only be setting him up for failure.  In the past I'd have confronted him head on about it, but today I decided to abandon the canter work (except for the pirouettes, which for some reason came fairly effortlessly) and focus on improving his trot work.  One thing about Owen and tension is that it gives him a fabulous passage so we started working on difficult stuff like shoulder in during the passage (mind blowing to Owen) as well as confirming my new theory about stepping into the stirrup during the left lateral work.  Once again it was confirmed, and I was all too aware when I was sitting too heavily on the right hip; I suppose Rosamund Owen would shudder to hear me talk this way.

What Owen really needs is to do some cross country long and low work at the lengthened trot and canter, but trying to stay forward on my right knee in the sidesaddle for a couple of miles was a bit trying so for the rest of the week I'll work him astride and ride in two point or rising trot (no, I'm not about to ride 3 miles of rising trot aside!).  This should really be good both for his cardiovascular fitness as well as suppling his back.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Falcon has Flown

Dona luckily put out the word on Falcon needing a new home, and a lady who lives in THE VALLEY, a very ritzy area indeed, has taken him on.  She hunts with the Greenspring pack, which means she is a hard woman to hounds and pretty fearless, plus she takes pony clubbers out in the field and teaches them proper etiquette in the field.  This works out well, since Falcon will always be in the company of other horses, plus he'll be surrounded by knowing horse people that don't take no gruff!  Despite his issues, he actually is a fairly nimble and clever jumper, and I hope he is happy there.  Mimi has invited Sis to come down and visit sometime...who knows, maybe she'll get to go out with the hounds herself.

But in the meantime, she is already champing at the bit to acquire another equine and I've been keeping an eye out for her.  I've found a nice quiet QH that I'd like to take a look at...I wouldn't actively seek out a stock horse since we've had bad luck with them in the past, but this one is a genuine old type quarter horse with a huge rump plus he has a very nice neck and shoulder that he naturally carries poked out like a hunter, which also happens to be the correct training level dressage frame. He also happens to be a packer over fences.  I'm hoping to go see him this weekend, but Sis is going to Florida next week for 10 days which gives me time to go out and "triage" some prospects alone; I don't want her falling for an equine until I've given it a chance to bolt with me or throw me off! 

So far, the only thing I don't like about the above QH is that he's grey...and after spending years keeping a grey horse clean I swore I'd never have another.  But keeping him bright and shiney will be Sis's problem not mine, plus grey horses do look lovely aside.  Just a few minutes after watching his video I started wondering if any of my current sidesaddles would fit him!

It's some sort of psychological illness, you see, this looking at any horse and seeing him aside in my mind's eye.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Committed to Change(s)

As usual, the dressage gods have played their tricks on me.  Owen returns after a mild winter, I decide to mount up, and in comes the severe winter weather to freeze the footing and leave a nice layer of snow on top of everything.  Of course, the climate had been very favorable all winter until I decided to resume training.

Today the high never did approach freezing level with wind gusts up to 40 mph, causing the house to shake and bringing down yet more trees.  But unlike most people, I like cold weather tho' I would like it better if we had all weather footing in the arena, and when the wind blows loud enough to deafen me and cause my eyes to water it really enervates me.  After doing the barn chores I tacked up Owen, and with a quarter sheet for him and a balaclava for me we headed out to find suitable footing.  The ring was frozen solid, but I'll school anywhere I can find a suitable 10 meters, so after hacking the farm perimeter I was pleased to find a nice linear stretch at the bottom of the hay field, which had the added benefit of being slightly sheltered from the worst of the wind.

Once again I played cat and mouse with my nemesis, the tempi Moriarity, my Voldemort, and every other literary villain.  In books, the hero eventually conquers the evil despite the odds...but I don't know that that is the ending in store for me and Owen.  I rode Owen astride today, and found that while the changes were better, having a leg on either side did not facilitate them, so riding aside is not what is holding us back.  Owen is sensitive and smart enough to perform the exercise, no matter what saddle I'm in, but for some reason it eludes us.  I tried several methods, including our fall back, the tempis on the circle, as well as schooling them from the medium rather than the collected canter to give Owen more umpfh.  He would manage three or four before diving onto his forehand.  I doubt there is a physical reason for it, but it seems the more changes we do the higher his stress level becomes.  He does find the changes easier after the halfpass, so I was able to canter a good 3/4 of a mile doing halfpasses of about three strides or so before asking for the change and the reverse halfpass.

Still, they aren't getting any easier, and I'm boggled about how to proceed.  I must admit I'm pretty frustrated by it, and I'm sure there's a key to it but I can't find it.  I'm going to consult with Dona about it; we've discussed this situation before, and she believes that sending Owen to a trainer would accomplish nothing, since I understand him better than anyone else and he would resent another trainer.  However, it might be advantageous to see if we can find a "change master", an instructor who can with intensive teaching set us on the right path.

It's odd that he can perform a world class piaffe (some clinicians' words, not mine) but fails in a movement that is more natural to horses.  So many experts state that the changes are not difficult and are actually more difficult for the rider than the horse, but at the moment I'm finding this doesn't reassure me much.

Perhaps that's the I making them more difficult than they need to be?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Aside at Last!

Today was a very full day.

First, I met up with Barb Thelan for lunch and we caught up on all sorts of sidesaddle gossip.  Our goal for the year is to see how many sidesaddle demos we can arrange for some local 4-H and youth groups.  While it was beautiful and sunny when we entered the Tavern, by the time we finished cold grey weather had started moving in.  As I left I gave a brief thought of heading home instead of to the barn, but I told myself that lead changes don't fix themselves so I made myself turn north instead of south on the appropriate road.

When I reached the barn, Cressie was standing around in her loafing shed, so I pounced on her and dragged her to the crossties.  She tried a little hissy stuff as I tacked up, and she was less than thrilled when I fiddled with her martingale.  Cressie needs a martingale for safety's sake, since she has a terrible bucking habit.  Wait a minute, you're thinking...why would you tie down a horse's head for bucking?   Cressie is a conundrum, because just before she bucks she throws her head up and elevates her forehand, as if she were fixing to rear.  So, what does a rider do but ease up on her head and lean forward a which point she leaps up and pulls a buck'n'spin, leaving the rider deposited on the ground.  Fortunately, she has yet to throw me.  So, I adjust the martingale loose enough so that even if she stargazes it won't affect her but if she starts to go up it kicks in.  Once again, I used my beat up wintec to ride in, and she was tolerable.  First I just did some circles in the paddock before heading out to the pasture; I still don't trust her enough to ride in the open yet.  We did some basic work, as well as a little bit of canter on the right lead, which was very nice indeed.  She still won't pick up her left lead except by turning her head to the outside, and since bending left is such a problem for her I don't want to ask for a counter bend for any purpose whatsoever lest I reinforce her behavior.

I was extremely sore when I dismounted...she is appallingly wide, which leaves me feeling as if I'd been trying to do splits.

It still wasn't dark and it was just beginning to snow when I got my hands on Owen.  He managed to somehow get covered in dried clay since yesterday, and I discovered what could have been a potential problem.  He kept pinning his ears, very unlike him, and after some gentle probing I found a cockle burr lodged inside his right ear.  It was extremely difficult to remove, and for a frightening bit I was thinking I might have to sedate him to remove it lest I keep pushing it deeper into his ear canal, him trying to throw his head around the whole time.  In the end I had a bit of an inspiration and donned a pair of knitted wool gloves and reached into his ear; the wool nicely snagged the burrs and I was able to gently extract it.  He is an endless source of trouble.

I threw the manorgrove on him, and found that somehow during the previous 6 months I had managed to forget how to tack up a sidesaddle.  It took me a little bit to remember about the appropriate girth and balance girth.  I couldn't find my favorite girth to use, so I had to make due with a 50", which is a bit on the large side, but I made it work any how.

I did remember to to stretch before mounting, but I then performed what has to be the most inelegant mount up ever...first the saddle went lurching over to the right side, then I forgot what body part went where and in which sequence.  I also discovered that my newly fused neck won't let me look down as well and I was unable to see my billets when I tightened the girth; this coupled with thick winter gloves made drawing up the girth a challenging and somewhat overlong affair.

Some of the ring had thawed, so I was able to use about 50% and when I strayed into the still white covered areas I could hear Owen's feet crunching through ice.  His canter work was much better today, and while he still tried to avoid carrying his weight correctly he was much lighter in the bridle.  I also remembered to use my crafty rubber stop reins to test them and found they made a tremendous difference in my holding the reins.  Since I was able to hold the reins consistently, Owen was more consistent as well.  We started out with the long and loose stuff and moved on to canter work and flying changes.  I returned to my favorite schooling method of asking for tempi changes on a 15 meter circle.  Owen never missed a change, but they weren't terribly impressive in that he was making them far too quickly and landed out of balance.  I discovered that my hiatus, while miserable for me, has had some real benefits, and one of those is an increased sensitivity to Owen and what he is doing.  It became obvious to me that if the change was too quick and he landed heavily it was because he was swapping front to back rather than vice versa.  So, if at any point he became tense in the canter I halted him and did my little leg yield to the outside trick before moving on.  Very quickly Owen began to associate my inside half halt with a cue to move his haunches out slightly and step under himself, thus lightening the forehand.  Only when Owen was calm did I ask for a change.

I discovered a little trick with him today.  Instead of increasing the intensity of my aids to change leads I prepared him with a few gentle whip taps before asking.  At first these taps confused Owen and caused him to get too strong in the bridle, so I returned to the stop and sidepass exercise.  Eventually he realized that I was alerting him to an upcoming change and he would gather himself on his hocks and spring from behind when I finally asked.  We eventually were able to do changes every four strides on the circle, tho' when I tried to ride them in a straight line he returned to dropping his back and diving in front, so those will have to wait for another day.

I also discovered that all of those positional things we are taught about sidesaddle equitation do not work in every situation.  If I hold my hands low when I ride aside, I end up breaking the essential straight line to the bit downward, which destroys contact.  Owen just holds his head too high for that to work, and I suspect it's the same in other upheaded breeds.  I found that raising them makes him much happier, and that in the piaffe, passage, and extended trot I almost needed to think about riding saddle seat to get him to use his back correctly.  In fact, I discovered that during the passage I would get the most floating steps when I sat with my hands in my lap like some Sunday passenger in the park.

I was working on the piaffe/passage tour from the I-2 test (which oddly enough, is more difficult than the GP test; 90 degree turn in the passage followed by transition to extended walk....are you kidding me?!), when a small herd of deer came crashing out of the woods down the embankment at M, where they gracefully loped across the arena before hopping out at H.  This was too much for Owen, who was headed toward them at X at the time, and he spun like a cat to the left, nearly unseating me and causing me to grab his mane with one hand to keep my position.  But within a few steps I'd once again secured my position and immediately took up the contact and forced him back into the passage, despite the deer watching us from just outside the ring.  I must say, the new passage had a lovely brilliance and expression to it that it had lacked heretofore.

I am cautiously optimistic that this may be the year we smash the glass ceiling that has existed between us and FEI.

I'm sore, but not in the manner you might think because when I returned home I drew a nice hot bath to soak in.  But the second my bare behind hit the water I leaped up from the tub like a  wet seems that years of riding had given me, well, a hard ass and riding today in full seat breeches and a saddle with a grippy suede seat had taken off a small layer of epidermis...and when I touched that hot water, OW!

We all hear about sidesaddles causing galls, but I just didn't expect them on me!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

(Psssst, Don't Tell Bruce)

I have a confession to make.... I rode today.  And it was glorious.

I didn't go out to the farm with the intent to ride, but just to long rein Owen.  But when I arrived there I found the ring to be totally covered in snow, and I didn't fancy trying to keep up with him long reining out in the field.  It was too beautiful a day to not mess with him, so I figured it was worth a try to mount up and dug out my ancient Wintec Aussie saddle with the poleys and Jesus strap that I use for breaking young and/or stupid equines.  It looks like hell but rides well, and I wore a helmet and a neck brace just in case.

Fortunately, I had no need for any safety equipment since Owen went like an old hack.  Once I mounted up I felt an amazing feeling of peace and calm come over me, and we headed down to a flat area in the lower corner of one of our hay fields that I enjoy schooling also has the advantage of not being visible from the house, because I didn't want to get caught!

Those of you are dressage purists may want to avert your eyes...I excavated an ancient set of chains from my saddle seat days and buckled them onto Owen's front feet.  I'm not trying to go for too much artifice, but Owen just doesn't want to use any more energy than is necessary, and he has this annoying habit of tripping over any branch on the trail.  Today he lifted his front feet nicely, but instead tripped with his back end!

I was hoping that the chains would add some expression to his passage, and did not plan to do any canter work in them, but I found they helped marvelously in the pirouettes because they slowed the cadence of his canter and made him carry more weight on his hind end.

Despite our hiatus, our session went very well, and I ended up working him pretty hard.  I found him to be rather heavy when tracking left and someone reluctant to bend.  He would bend if I used enough force with my hand but wouldn't hold it when I released the rein, which makes it fake.  From the ground I suppose it looks fine but it's a fine point that is not acceptable to me.  I insist that my horses bend from my inside leg not hand.  I found a lot of trot halt trot work as well as canter halt canter worked very well.  If he was heavy on the inside rein I made him stop and then leg yielded him to the outside until he was soft, at which point I let him go forward again.  I also stopped him if his canter transitions were not absolutely perfect...and by the time we were finished he would pick up a lovely soft canter just off my squaring my shoulders and weighting the outside seat bone.  For me this is very important in preparing him for his sidesaddle work, since we work mostly off weight aids aside.

I also had to work on the purity of the canter to the left, since he was slamming down his diagonal pair instead of each beat having a similar intensity.  This indicated that he was not using his left hind leg enough and was allowing his fore foot to land slightly ahead of the hind;  by positioning him slightly in a shoulder in I was able to make him step under more with his inside hind and therefore carry himself better.  I was hoping to work on the changes, but although I threw one in here or there, we really shouldn't be attempting them much until the canter quality is improved.

I know that many dressage people seem to think that firm contact is correct contact, and that Hilary Clayton has published studies stating that 5 lbs per hand is ideal, but I like a very soft contact with a bit of droop in the reins, even in the piaffe and passage.  This is partly because of my neurological difficulties, since I have trouble holding the reins, but also because of our sidesaddle aspirations.  You may have a firmer seat aside, but you lack the leg to drive the horse forward into the bit, and this can result in a blocked jaw.  It may look steady, but heaven help you if you need to change the bend or flexion.  If a horse is blocked in the jaw he's likely heavy on the forehand, making graceful aids and transitions difficult.  I like my horses to rely on my weight aids alone whenever possible.  The horse should be reaching for the contact, not have you insist on it by pulling back.

After our schooling session we headed out for a short trail ride, which was rather muddy.  There were a lot more trees down today and I jumped Owen over a fair number ("jumped" is a kind was more like Owen flinging himself over, legs akimbo) but there was one that had a thick vine hanging down over it, making a real horse trap.  I sidepassed Owen up to it, grabbed the vine with both hands and gave it a mighty tug to bring it down from the tree it was wrapped around.  I then coiled it like a lariat and hung it on a low branch, Owen standing quietly all the while.  Then I just pivoted him and he stepped calmly over the now cleared log, and I thought to myself, "I LOVE THIS HORSE!" 

When we reached flat suitable places I worked on piaffe/passage transitions, which got increasingly expressive the closer to the barn we got.  Toward the end I was able to ride the passage with the reins in one hand and my whip held upright, like the old dressage masters.  We were able to do all of this in a plain snaffle bridle with no noseband...and lots of cookies!

Tomorrow, we break out the Manorgrove...

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Bling It On

Yesterday Owen was looking so adorable as he greeted me when I arrived to the barn that I just had to get a picture of his handsome little self.  Unfortunately, he kept following me around, so this is all I could get.  Not terribly flattering, is it?

Work has been really tough lately, since I've been seeing a lot morbidly sick pets.  I have three coming back in tomorrow for radiographs under sedation...all double booked with my regular appointments.  I haven't actually had a lunch break in several months, but what are you going to do with sick pets?  Tell them to come back when it's convenient?  The hard thing is that I have a sneaking suspicion that two of them are going to have fatal cancers and one is going to need several thousand dollars of orthopedic surgery if she is ever going to walk normally...breaking bad news to devastated owners is the worst part of the job. 

So, when I get home I really need to do something satisfying, and as of late that's been sewing.  I've had some more ideas about western outfits that I'd like to sew, and I'm afraid this making garments is getting to be a bit of an obsession, especially since I don't even have a western horse!  Owen may have to start showing in western pleasure this summer just so I have a chance to wear it all.  But he's gotten so lazy that may not be much of a stretch.  The lambskin came yesterday for the appliques.

First I sketched a curlicue and cut it out of cardboard.  Here is the template on the apron corner:

Then I cut the shape out of crocodile embossed lambskin and lightly glued it down so it would stay in place when I started sewing:

Sewing down the appliques was a real pain...I wish I'd been a little less ambitious, since turning a couple lbs of leather in the machine was very tough!  But here it's sewn down, with a bunch of crystals painstakingly hand placed.  The glue's not quite dry, so that's why there are some whitish areas; the glue will eventually dry clear.

I don't think this apron is ever going to be finished.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Ruff'n It

I've had a couple of comments from ladies that also enjoy sewing sidesaddle attire, so I thought I'd show you a casual sidesaddle turnout that I have admired for many years, and which inspired me to attempt a leather apron.

These pictures are of a trail riding apron made by my friend and long time sidesaddle enthusiast Barb Thelan.  Barb is one of those riders about whom you tend to hear little, because she dedicates her sidesaddle time to the trails.  It's ladies such as Barb that I think we really need to trumpet about because, while you'll never see her picture in a horse show magazine, she quietly promotes riding aside by the sheer numbers of people she interacts with on the trail.  She rides out with the cowboyz in their tough astride saddles...and she keeps up over very tough country.  She literally spends hours in the saddle at a time, so if there is any sort of fit or comfort problem, she'll know about it.

Here's the apron sitting on a stand.  I'm pretty sure it's cowhide...tho' it may be deerskin.  She didn't have a big enough hide to get the entire primary pattern on and had to piece.  While I added a seam down the front thigh dart, Barb ran a vertical seam about 6 inches from the back edge.  Like me, she used handcut fringe.

Barb looking sportin' in her cowboy hat and leather apron.  You can see her Steele sidesaddle on her horse, Beau, in the background.

However...Barb values her cranial contents more than her appearance, so she wears a helmet once mounted.  Her apron is fastened with a velcro strip, allowing for infinite adjustment.

Barb also has this cool matching suede jacket with Native American style beading to go with her apron.  She's all geared up to hit the trail with matching saddle bags, etc..

Barb has had this apron for many years and it has held up beautifully.  Given the rough type of riding she does, there is no way a fabric apron would have lasted as long.  When they take a break out on the trail for lunch, Barb just pulls off her apron and spreads it on the ground to use as a picnic blanket!  She says that she has little trouble cleaning her apron...the dirt and mud brush off the leather once dry.

Truly a multipurpose garment.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Happy (early) Valentine's Day to Me

My thoughtful husband asked me last night what I would like for Valentine's Day.  He is well aware that I have no use for jewelry, etc., and that I cherish useful things.  My first responses were joking: a new gooseneck trailer with living quarters, a new horse...but in the end he bought me this new sewing machine.  Imagine...a machine with a motor that does buttonholes.

I know at least two of you (Jeannie and Jessica) like me, sew re-enactment clothing, and to be accurate we sew our buttonholes by hand.  Oh, they're hardcore alright, but they don't look so polished on modern attire.  In response, I've had to limit any modern sewing to garments that did not need buttonholes.  But this machine is heavy duty, can handle sewing leather, denim, and multiple layers of melton, and for people like me who still use a hand crank machine, this model brings me into the 20th century.  I'm not in the 21st yet as far as sewing goes, but I feel ready to start tackling more modern attire.  Perhaps I'll even attempt a shadbelly, and I've had some requests to sew garments for others; perhaps I could even bring in a little extra $$$ to pay for some shows or clinics.

Owen moved back to Woodwind yesterday but there was no drama associated with his return.  He just settled in, apparently very bored with the whole process and like the 'tudinous teenager he is, was too chill to express any interest at all.  He certainly has turned into a rather laid back sort.  Today I returned him to work in the long reins since I'm not supposed to ride for another 3 weeks...we'll see how long that lasts.  I just might find myself remounted by the end of the week, since I'm so weak willed.  I will allow that he hasn't been long lined in something like 7-8 months, but really,  did he have to be quite so lazy?  He strode out beautifully toward the arena, but once there he had to pop his eyes and snort as if it were totally new.  He's in very good condition, but he is so very lazy and doesn't want to burn one calorie more than necessary so I had to really get after him to encourage him to move out.  I emphasized moving out at a medium trot on the 20m circle, followed by some trot half passes.  His half pass left was very nice, but to the right he kept letting his haunches fall behind.  I had to give him a swat or two with the whip to get him engaged, but once he was really moving well I was so exhausted I couldn't keep up, so we had to take multiple breaks.

I rather optimistically has hoped to work on canter pirouettes, and had set up barriers in each corner.  My plan was to canter him on the diagonal toward the corner, and then allow the chest height barriers back to him off on to his hocks for the pirouette.  But my optimism was ill placed, because when asked for the pirouette all he did was drift into a ho hum halt and turn around and give me silly looks.

I realized my plans were a little too ambitious, so instead I put him back out onto the 20m circle at the canter with occasional transitions into the super collected pirouetted canter for a few strides before rewarding him by letting him really go forward again.  This was met with some snorts and grunts of his lack of appreciation.  We finished up with piaffe-passage-medium trot and back again transitions, and I was pleased that he would come back to a well balanced and energetic piaffe from 20 meters away with just a voice aid.

I think I'd better inject his hocks before we get too far into the season.  One amazing thing is that last year, in a desperate effort to improve his use of his hocks, we pulled his hind shoes and he has been much happier since.  When he came to us he had some issues with his feet since someone had tried to make a saddle seat horse out of him and grew out his hooves very long and boxy.  It took several years of patient shoeing to get his feet back to a normal shape, and perhaps he's ready to have the front ones pulled.  Sure would save some $$ every 4-6 weeks.

After all that long lining I am exhausted, and may fall asleep during Downton Abbey.  That would be a travesty.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Nothing Important

We're hoping to have Falcon placed in a new home before too long.  The lady we bought him from has a friend that just adored him when he was still at home in PA.  It might be a good fit, and we are far more concerned about finding him a good home than trying to get any $$$ for him.

But in the mean time, Sis says she knows the horse she wants...and it's Owen!  Take a number.  Perhaps I can build a genetics lab in the basement of the new house and start cloning.  After all, I do have experience in DNA replication, and there are several people who'd like an Owen.  Maybe we can edit out the cribbing problem in Owen.2.0.  But certainly she can take some lessons on him to regain confidence while she looks for the next equine addition.

I found this really cool trailer decal that I must have to trick out Owen's ride...

Here's Owen...

And here's the decal:

What are the odds that I could find a trailer decal that depicts a sidesaddle rider performing piaffe?  Check out her website...she has lots of other cool decals.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Even Steven

So, I lost my cherished new shadbelly to moths and I've been trying to work out how I could replace it.  Then I found a used Borso D' Este (the Italian version of Pikeur) on ebay for the whopping sum of $89.00 with Buy it Now last week.  So, without hesitation I pounced.  The shad is black, which is not my first choice, but since these coats go for $700-800 new, I'm willing to put up with a ho hum color.  This is one of those times when I not only replaced my damaged garment for a song, I was able to substitute it with one of the premier shads in the world with the same tune.  The coat arrived, laden with grey hairs and some dried horse slobber on one sleeve, so it's headed to the dry cleaners tomorrow.

At least it will be easier to match the black at a fabric store than trying to match other colors, so I'll pick up a few yards of suitable wool and make myself yet another black apron...hopefully it will be easier to sew than leather! 

And speaking of that leather apron, it is technically finished but I found some beautiful crocodile embossed black lambskin that I plan to make a couple of appliques out of to put on the left corner.  It will add detailing but not too much contrast.  I hope that I find an obvious stopping point with this garment, since like doing an oil painting or sculpture, it's important to know when to stop lest you "overwork" it.

But the most important thing...Owen is coming home this Saturday!  Happy Dance!  My life has been so empty without his cheerful visage, and tho' I can't ride for another month I can at least long line him and work him in hand.  The question burning in my mind is whether riding aside or astride will be more painful...and I fully expect to be very sore come March.

But a certain amount of daily Owen exposure is necessary for my health.