Monday, April 23, 2012

Demo Means Demolition (according to Owen)

So, Saturday we gave a sidesaddle demonstration to a group of 4H kids over on the "other side".  That's the Eastern Shore to you non-bay folks.  I had given Owen a bath the day before, a process he absolutely detests, no matter how hot and sweaty he is, and he routinely gives me his wicked witch melting routine and piaffes on the cross ties.  Once he was squeaky clean I led him out to the field and turned him out still wet since I had places to be, and to keep him clean I drove him away from the dirt around the gate to the grassy area of the field.  Twice he tried to flop down in the dust and twice I shooed him on until he grudgingly rolled in the grass.  But once he got up he gave me what could only be the evil eye back over his shoulder before snaking his neck and charging off to take a bite out of Renegade to make himself feel better.

Of course, I waited until the absolute last minute to pick a habit from the closet (the brown Victorian) and since I had no idea what to expect in the way of facilities, I still hadn't picked my freestyle music until I arrived at the grounds.  Owen was his usual happy traveling self, stomping and carrying on any time I had to slow the trailer and when we pulled through the toll booth on the western side of the bay he started plunging so hard the truck and trailer were bucking in place as I tried to hand the operator my money.  "What HAVE you got in there?" he asked while counting my change.  Had I been quicker on the uptake I would have said, "rhinoceros" or "Spanish fighting bull" but as it was I simply said " a horse." 
"Just ONE?" he sounded incredulous.  "Just Owen," I said.
As we pulled out of the lane I looked back in my side mirror to see the attendant leaning out of his booth, waving at my trailer and calling, "BYE, OWEN!" 

When hauling Owen I often check my mirrors for flashing time the state police pulled me over, not because of my driving but because Owen was so frantically throwing his head around that the officer thought he might be having a seizure.  Bruce, after following behind the trailer on our way to New Jersey one year, said that never again could his nerves stand 200 miles of watching Owen flinging himself around.

Overall, he travelled well enough, but once we arrived he absolutely refused to stand still while tied to the trailer and after digging a substantial hole in the ground and kicking the bumper of my truck, he finally broke free and strolled over to a group of girls that were passing by.  Barb and I had about an hour to get ready before the ride, and Barb gave a lecture on basic form and position with some dispelling of myths while Owen demonstrated his lack of tact by trying to chew the running lights off of the trailer. 

Eventually, Barb and I managed to get me up, Owen practically running her over in the process, and he pranced into the arena.  The freestyle rode pretty well, right up to the point where the biker club roared by on their Harleys, drowning out the music and giving Owen a little extra bounce in his stride.  And then there was the loose horse that ran around the outside of the ring for a little extra color.  But most of the attendees managed to pry their attention away from their texting to watch us for 5 minutes or so, tho' it seemed that they were largely western riders and I'm not sure they were into our moves.

Once finished I discovered to my horror that I'd popped a habit button in a conspicuous humiliating!  We did a little more explaining, and once I'd dismounted Owen was surrounded by teenage girls giving him carrots and generally telling him how handsome he was.  I think that perhaps his prehensile upper lip impressed them more than any of our riding did.

Once untacked I led him back to the arena and its deep sand footing to let him have a nice roll, and once again all eyes were on Owen, who raises rolling to performance art.  Of course, there is the all important venue search, requiring him to stroll along sniffing the ground like a bloodhound, and once the perfect spot is found he minces in place for an impressive period of time before flopping to the ground with a satisfying "umphf!" 

Once he'd finished he leaped up and took off across the arena, reminding every soul on the fairgrounds just How Magnificent He Is, snaking his neck and calling out to the ponies and quarter horses that Owen Was Still in the House!  I let him gallop around a bit, tail flagged over his back, before calling him once; he immediately slid to a halt before calmly walking up to me like something from a Monty Roberts lecture, but it wasn't joining up that he was interested in.  It was the snacks in my pocket.

After all was packed we dropped him off at Crab Alley Farm where Barb keeps her horses before heading out to lunch.  Before we ate ourselves, however, we took several pounds of carrots out to Max and Beau who appreciated the attention but seemed to think that we hadn't brought enough out with us.  It was pressing on dinner time when I finally loaded up and headed for home, making the day a rather long one.  I discovered when I reached the farm that I'd failed to tie Owen for the trip back and he had tried to turn around in the trailer and gotten partially stuck; that's something that has potential for severe injury, but as usual Owen took out his frustration on the trailer and was undamaged himself.

As Barb said, we have a lot of fun doing these little events and we're planning on repeating it in two weeks with another group.  Perhaps this time one of us will remember to bring a camera.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Decisions, Decisions...

Today I took a quick ride through some of my freestyles since I'm still not sure what the plan is for tomorrow's sidesaddle demonstration.  I don't know what to expect from the facility, nor even if there is any sort of sound system so I have to be prepared for anything.  And since I haven't yet decided on the music I haven't committed to a habit either because I like the habit to tie in with the time period and theme.  Most likely it will be my brown Victorian habit, and I'd better decide soon so I can start packing!  But Barb and I are pretty good at winging it, and we manage to have a good time in the process.

I had hoped to keep today's ride short and sweet so Owen will be fresh tomorrow and initially things went according to plan...but as we were hacking back toward the barn along the fields I decided to put Owen into a boisterous canter for some cardiovascular work.  The next thing I knew Owen was hurtling toward the house at a ground breaking pace, snorting fire like a dragon and ignoring all of my aids.  The cool thing was that he was totally out of control I wasn't the slightest bit concerned and as he came thundering toward the driveway I was able to pulley rein him on a nice arc to the left, across the drive, slightly up onto the lawn, and right around into the arena down center line!  As soon as he found himself firstly in the ring, and secondly, headed away from the barn, he sat down on his hocks and resumed his nice collected canter.  We did a few changes and a bit more canter work before I let him canter back toward the barn with him maintaining his collection on a loose rein.  As I said, I'd planned an easy ride but now Owen was lathered up which shows how impossible it is to try to structure your training schedule when your equine partner suffers from both bipolar disorder and a napoleon complex.

I would also like to point out that my slow careful work astride has really paid off in spades when I ride aside.  I can't stress enough how helpful weight aids are aside, and training Owen to pick up his leads or change his bend with just a shift of seat adds a whole new level of delight to my sidesaddle riding.  Given, Owen is an advanced horse, but any horse of any training level in any discipline can be made into a more lovely ride if schooled to accept lighter aids.  There is a lot of talk given to good hands, and I'll never disagree with their importance, but the seat is the foundation for all riding and you can't have good hands if you're jostling around in the saddle.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Case of the Missing Farrier

I'm sure we're all familiar with this mystery, and one has to wonder where they disappear to.  I've still no answer to explain Liam's absence, but Owen is really missing his front shoes and does not care for the hard ground we've had during this drought.  I was hoping that a couple of months of going barefoot would toughen his soles but Owen never has been into roughing it and insists on his hand made designer shoes, (Jeannie refers to him as a metrosexual.) and since I've got some sidesaddle exhibitions planned I can't just wait it out...we need to school.

I dug around in the tack room and found some Cavallo boots that I had bought for Chummie way back when he was tossing his shoes regularly, even tho' in general I'm not a fan of buckle on boots.  In my experience, like most designer jeans, they never really fit well having been constructed with maybe 2% of the equine population in mind.  In my time in equine practice I think I saw maybe one or two pairs of hooves that were that perfectly round.  But I was desperate, so despite Owen having rather longer than wide feet, I velcroed them on and when we set off down the drive the difference was immediate.  Owen was not mincing down the gravel but striding out, albeit occasionally trying to stall while looking whistfully at the other horses still grazing out in the fields. 

The intial hollow clop clop when we picked up the trot startled me at first and I kept looking down at Owen's feet to be sure the Cavallos were still there, but those chunky platform shoes didn't bother Owen in the least.  Well, not until we got to the piaffe.  When moving forward he seemed to be unfazed by them, but when I first asked him to piaffe he took one step and froze with one front leg held up in the air while he flicked his hoof like a cat that has stepped in something wet and sticky.  Eventually he realized that the boots didn't paralyze him in the collected work and we even did 7 three tempi changes down the long side...Owen is really beginning to believe that a balanced canter and changes are nothing to get worked up over.

But I have altered my mind set a little bit when it comes to the canter.  I've really been thinking about the similarities between dressage and saddle seat (some of you are snorting and gufawing right now) but if you've never ridden a good saddle seat horse at the canter you wouldn't understand the connection.  Really well trained saddle seat horses have rocking chair balanced canters that don't rely on the reins to keep their strides short and active, and good saddle seat riders have impecable posture and sit motionless in their saddles...which, by the way, don't prop them in position with thigh blocks. And as I've stated in previous posts, I believe there is something of value to be learned from all types of riding and horsemanship and my dressage can really benefit from it.  When riding the canter I imagine showing in a Classic English Pleasure class and it magically changes my seat, spine, and hands and Owen responds in kind.  When we get that rolling canter the changes and pirouettes come so easily!

I've got a busy weekend planned, with a sidesaddle demonstration and lecture with Barb Thelan that we're giving to a 4-H group on Saturday, and then Sunday I'm headed back down to Virginia to try PB again.  Who knows?  Maybe there will be a new horse in the barn by May.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Owen Almighty

Owen has really been outdoing himself as of late but I mean this in the nicest possible way.  A couple of rides ago we were able to ride the entire PSG test, including the five three tempis.  Today I threw the Manorgrove on him and he was again able to repeat the three tempis with very little warm up.  We've gotten to the point where part of our canter warm up is a few zig zags and he gets the double canter pirouettes on the first try.  We've also been able to ride the GP canter zig zag, which really was a lot of fun despite the fact that I kept losing count of the strides...4-8-8-8-4 is it?

We had a big breakthrough when he learned that an uber-collected canter is nothing more to worry about than piaffe and I would ask him to collect entirely off of my seat rather than using the reins at all.  Once Owen would canter in collection on a loose rein toward the barn I knew he was ready for the tempis.  True, he still sometimes gets worked up after the 4th change in a row but in general he is managing.

I used to use flat areas on the trails and along the fields to practice passage, but now we do changes.  The other day we were cantering through tall grass in one of the hay fields with a strong 30 mph tail wind, resulting in some pretty hot action on the part of Owen...his legs were going like pistons, his body lurching backwards and forwards like a rocking horse.  Good thing there's no one around who also rides dressage since I would have been mortified should anyone knowlegable see us since Owen was proinging through the grass like a much for Classical Dressage!

As it is, the only people who ever see us ride are the totally non horsey neighbors who are in reality city folk who have moved out to experience the country.  The sight of Owen flinging himself around and snorting like a freight train only fills them with awe..."oh, isn't he gorgeous..." they gasp over the incessant barking of their golden retriever as Owen does his best to stomp his way to China through the turf.

Still, he is far better than he's ever been...and yet, at the moment I have no desire to show whatsoever.  Barb Thelan and I have some demos planned and Jeannie has some plans for us to form an all sidesaddle group to compete in the regional adult team dressage championships later this summer.  But aside from that, I think Owen and I might just be homebodies this year.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Horse Trials

This can mean many things...

Trials as in many sufferings, such as those Owen is subjected to on a regular basis.  Today, that meant being forced to the ignomany of wearing a large pair of fuzzy pink bunny ears attached to his bridle as I rode out as an outrider during an Easter treasure hunt.  He was fairly good natured about it, until I asked him to passage with them on, causing them to flop in time with his gait which annoyed him trememdously.  But this isn't the sort of trial to which I refer.

Nor am I talking about the previous accepted term for eventing.

No, I am thinking about the sort of horse trial in which a certain person who Ought to Know Better drives almost two hours to check out an equine who is on the unemployment list.  This is really the fault of Michelle's friend Lee, whom I referred to in a previous post as a "sidesaddle enabler."  As it turns out, she is a general equine enabler and it was at her urging that I actually followed up on the ad I'd seen on Dream, so if I end up with an additional horsey mouth to feed I'm pretty sure where to apportion some of the blame. 

But the equine in question is a 7 year old morgan gelding that was purchased long distance by his current owner for fox hunting...something he is not readily taking to.  As it turns out, he is a bit on the nervous and/or hot side, a temperament I am very familiar with due to my morgan background; don't let the morgan PR folks deceive you.  Far from being solid family beasts, most morgans have a hot streak in them that can take some managing.  Owen himself used to suffer from this disease, and Chummie as well, so both of them required years of careful work before they were close to reliable and I have no illusions that I can simply hop on this palomino and canter out of the startbox when he arrives.  I did get along with him well, and he has some training but in my opinion he was a victim of his own talent since he he seems to have been pushed along faster than he ought to have been simply due to his jumping ability.  And jump he can...

This horse was eventing at training level by the time he was 5 or 6 and has never incurred a jumping fault or time penelty in stadium or cross country.  Dressage, well, that's another matter.  He doesn't quite know how to interact with the bit (not that his mouth isn't lovely and soft) and he loses his balance in the transitions but I do have a good feeling about him.  He has tremendous potential provided he is given some slow remedial work.

Thing is, he won't be a good mount for Sis for sometime to come, even after months of work with me; I can't guarantee that he ever will be but I'm willing to consider letting her have increased access to Owen in exchange for letting me take the chance.  Of course, as soon as I sat on him I looked down at his withers to see if they would hold a sidesaddle well.

The funny thing is, this horse is stabled literally around the corner from Devon's Cherry Blossom Farm down in Va. where Michelle spent some of her sidesaddle time last week.  Who knows...maybe she saw him out in the field when they were hacking out.  Small world.