Thursday, May 7, 2020

Spring Rides

We're deep into spring here in Missouri. We've even had a taste of some 80+ degree days. The sun is out pretty regularly and sometimes when there is a chance of rain it doesn't actually rain! But, when it does rain, it only takes a couple days of sunshine to be able to ride again. Thank the Lord, because things were getting hard there for a minute. So, both Blue and Mort are getting into more of a routine with riding. I've been getting Blue worked 2-3 days/week and Mort has been ridden 4 days/week the last few weeks. It's still not quite as much as I want, but it is spring and rain will happen. (And my durn arena can't get done until it's really, really dry and the dump trucks can drive out on the grass.) Blue's rides are pretty simple, as they are mostly for fun and fitness. We do a bunch of walk at the beginning. We do some gaiting for a little while with a few short breaks. Then we do some more walk work at the end to cool down. I play with changes of direction and speed within the gait. I collect him up and let him go on a loose rein (as long as he's stretching forward and down). He gets a treat when I bridle, mount, and after I get off so I think he's happy enough to get some fitness in. Mort's rides have been slowly chipping away at the basics to bring us both back into shape. And I'm feeling improvement on both ends. He's getting sharper with my aids and softening up that topline as he gets stronger. It's a slow process, and we won't be back to where we were last fall for a little bit, but I'm still happy. He feels sound and strong and hasn't complained about upping the work load. But in the most exciting news, I think I'm getting better. It's hard to get this old body to try new things, but Mort is the best teacher. We have always struggled with a soft connection in his left jaw. And while we're still far from even, things seem to be shaping up. I'm forcing myself to experiment with different things. We saw good improvement when I stopped staring at my hands. That is a really ingrained habit for me, so it's not fully fixed but I'm trying. Obviously, every instructor ever tells you to look up but I suck. Part two is that in my efforts to weight my left seat bone, because Mort's crookedness throws me off to the other side, I just started leaning that way and collapsing the left side of my body. Weirdly, that was not the answer. Now I focus on it at the walk and maintain it in the upward transition. It's a lot easier for me to feel and keep, rather than try to find again. Of course, I'll want to get better at finding it in case it gets lost, but this is a start to help develop the feel at least. Part three is my darn left hand. It is definitely part of the culprit of Mort's left jaw problems. Though at this point, I'm not really sure which came first--chicken or egg. But, I get stuck in a rut of trying to soften and coerce him to go where I want by opening my left hand (no wrong) and positioning it down (wrong). So I get an almost straight elbow on that side and then just have my hand and wrist to work with. But the really hard part is that it FEELS like my hands are even, in spite of my left hand being lower than my right. I'm not sure why this didn't click earlier in life, but it clicked in yesterday's ride. I basically have to ride in a way that feels like my left hand is an inch or two above my right (it's not, my brain is just dumb). I got some amazing connection to the left after I figured that out. Mort was probably so relieved for me to finally understand. It will take a really long time for that to become habit and feel normal, but hopefully I can keep it up. While I hate that I didn't ride nearly as much this winter as I had hoped, there is always something positive about coming back to the basics. Not only does Mort's training improve because strong basics are the building blocks for everything. But I get to improve by experimenting with myself. Mort lets me know when I finally get it right by making things immediately easier. He would really make a great school horse for a more intermediate/advanced rider. He's as honest as the day is long. He'll tell on you for doing things wrong, but he'll immediately show off when you do things correctly. So for now we have a lot of transitions. Lots of changes of direction. Lots of bend and counter bend. Lots of stretching down. Some leg yields. A little bit of shoulder-in. I'm playing with more lateral work at the walk and I hope that comes back quickly in the other gaits as well. Oh, and we have a lesson scheduled this weekend, weather permitting! FINALLY.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Property Management

With keeping the boys at home comes all of the amazing-ness of 24/7 turnout and not having to feed much hay in the summers. But, as anyone who has kept horses knows, they are hard on pastures. They eat their favorite parts down to nothing while the more mature grasses get tough and ignored. Eventually this leads to the roots of their favorite grasses getting weak and dying. It also leads to weeds. They are heavy and run around tearing up any wet ground. So, in order to combat these issues I have three pastures and a dry lot. I get to control where they eat and give their favorite spots times of rest and re-growth. Of course, there are complications with this as well. Right now, I only have one run-in area for them--and that's in the dry lot. The lot opens to the 1st pasture, so when it's in rotation things are easy. But otherwise, that means I watch the weather like a hawk and move the boys accordingly. I want them on as close to 24/7 turnout and grazing as possible but I also don't want them caught out in a bad storm or tearing up my ground if it's extremely wet. But, I have outlined my basic rotation schedule down below. The 3rd pasture (which isn't even fenced yet, but should be this summer if all goes to plan) will have hay cut off of it before we graze it. That is a very common practice here in Missouri. The hay will go to the farmer who cuts it as he does round bales which I'm not interested in. But, in exchange he fertilized the hay field and my pastures this spring for "free". It's a great system for me as we don't yet have a tractor to do that sort of maintenance that the pastures require. I want the first and last growing months of the year to give the 1st pasture a rest. It's the pasture that they winter in, which means it needs the most TLC. I think next year will bring some inter-seeding in the higher traffic areas and the areas that we cleared on the fence line, but we should still have plenty of grass for the boys this summer. In total, I've got just about 7 acres which is plenty for two horses. January-March: 1st pasture & lot April: Fertilize pastures 2nd pasture Easing into 24/7 grazing as weather allows May: 1st pasture 24/7 turnout for Mort with Blue in the lot at night June: Mow beginning of month 2nd pasture 24/7 turnout as Blue's face allows July: 1st & 2nd pasture Days will be in 1st pasture with access to shed and fan Nights will be in 2nd pasture Days where it is 90+ they will be locked in lot August: Mow beginning/mid-month 1st & 2nd pasture Days will be in 1st pasture with access to shed and fan Nights will be in 2nd pasture Days where it is 90+ they will be locked in lot September: 3rd pasture October: 2nd & 3rd pasture November: 1st & 2nd pasture December: 1st pasture & lot

Monday, May 4, 2020

Down a Rabbit Hole

So, Mort has decided to stop cleaning up his feed. I'm not sure if it's because he's eating so much grass now. I'm not sure if he doesn't like the bug supplement. He's been on it for several summers, but he's on a different feed this summer that may not cover the flavor as much? It could be that he was fighting some gas colic with all the weather changes and lush grass. After going down several rabbit holes and talking with my vet and horse friends (and the internet), I've decided to change up his feed situation. He's shiny and acting normal. I've ridden him. He's active and attentive to life around him. He's pooping and peeing normally (though there was a day where I thought even his peeing was weird). Overall I guess he seems fine. I'd like a teeny bit more weight on him, but he's in no way embarrassing, just not quite dressage horse fit. I never really loved the SafeChoice, but it was available locally and had protein and starch and sugar levels I was happy with. However, I was unhappy with the fat levels so he had rice bran added back in for that. Then over the years his supplement list has gotten longer and longer. He started off with a hoof supplement. Then we had his ulcer issues a couple years ago. Then I had a stifle issue last summer. Over the years we've gotten to where I may need a support group called "supplements anonymous". The new feed has Stride 101 in it which is supposed to support hooves, hindgut and his skin and coat. The feed itself also has pro and prebiotics. That adding to the fact that I should theoretically need to feed a good bit less of it makes me feel good about his tummy and digestion. So I started looking into reducing some of his supplements as well! So here is a breakdown of what Mort is currently on: SafeChoice Special Care 3/4 of a scoop twice a day Protein - 14% Fiber - 17% Starch - 10% Fat - 7% Sugar - 3% Nutrena Empower Boost (rice bran): 1/4 scoop twice a day to add some fat into his diet that the Special Care was missing Protein - 12% Fiber - 8% Starch - 22% Fat - 22% Sugar - 4% SmartCombo Pellets (Skin/coat, hindgut, hooves, joint) G.U.T. (ulcer support) SmartBug-Off (he and Blue are on this April-September) And here is what I'm going to transition Mort to over the next month or so: Bluebonnet Intensify Omega Force: 1/2 scoop twice a day (I will need to weigh it to get a more accurate estimate on what he needs) Protein - 12% Fiber - 12% Starch - 10% Fat - 12% Sugar - 5% No rice bran G.U.T SmartBug-Off Equithrive Original Joint (one of the joint supplements that has scientific research behind it) His feed will go from $19/bag to $34/bag, so we're looking at $.38/lb versus $.68/lb. But I won't be buying rice bran and I'll be able to feed less of the feed itself. So we'll see how the costs shake out in the long run. And I'll also be saving about $20/month on supplements while adding a much nicer joint supplement versus the one he is currently on within the SmartCombo. So, that is a win there. I figured it was as good of a time as any to make some of these changes. We're not travelling or showing in the near future. He's got grass to help with any caloric or GI issues this may cause (hopefully none).

Monday, April 27, 2020

Well Hello Again

It's been a while. It's also been a long winter and now we're into the most stressful spring I've ever participated in. But here we are. Mort and Blue both wintered well for the most part. Blue got a very light winter, but he seemed to maintain his happy demeanor. He is really just what I was hoping for in a companion/pleasure horse. He's the easiest keeper, he's the same boy day-in and day-out and he was happy to wander around bareback even after some time off. Now that we're coming into spring he's got his grazing muzzle on and we're easing back into more of a routine to get him to some semblance of fitness again. Mort had a slightly more active winter, but only because he does not do well without some regular work. When the footing allowed, we worked on basic skills of relaxing and moving over his topline. When footing didn't allow we worked on his bravery along the gravel roads. Some days were better than others, but we trended longer and longer. Both horses were mostly on 24/7 turnout. I kept them in their stalls just a handful of times when the weather was some combination of wet and cold. When the weather was gross and/or the pastures were soaking wet then the boys hung out in the lot with the run-in. It got pretty muddy in there, but they always have a gravel area to retreat to. I do plan on adding more to that this summer as well so that we're even more prepared for next winter (though it's hopefully less wet!). Mort has had a rough couple of weeks health-wise. He got a severe stone bruise that I had the vet and farrier out for. He was basically three-legged lame for several days. Thankfully, we've recovered from that and he got pads to make sure his hoof heals without further issues. He's comfy and sound. However, he's been semi-off his feed since the incident. I'm not sure if the bute and stress caused ulcers or if it coincided with spring grass and he's going back and forth with fighting a gas colic. His demeanor seems fine and he's active and mostly normal. So, we're monitoring him and limiting grazing to just during the day. I've got a couple tubes of UlcerGard coming to see if that makes him hungry again as well. If it does, then I'll order the full treatment. I have done some light rides on him. I'm sure some wouldn't, but he is a happier horse when ridden regularly. AND he's still galloping around in the pasture and behaving normal other than not quite cleaning up his feed. Our rides have been as you'd expect. I'm taking it slow and easy since we've had such a scattered winter and he's NQR. But he seems content with being back to some semblance of work. And with COVID-19, I am so grateful that my boys are home. I get to feed and care for them every day. I still get to mount up and enjoy their company. Times are tough and stressful in a lot of ways right now, but I try to remember that I have it so much better than so many. On the house front, we're getting close! I'm hoping we can move in within the next couple months, but we'll see how it goes.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Weather Blues

May I just complain about the weather for a minute? Last week we were finally getting dry again and I was able to ride consistently for like a whole week. Mort and I were getting back into the swing of things and feeling great. I even had time to work Blue a couple times. Things felt good if I ignored the extended forecast. Unfortunately, I stopped being able to ignore it when it started dumping buckets of rain. We even had a tornado and flash flood warning last Friday. That never happens in January in Missouri. WTF, weather? After the sky stopped drenching us with water, it changed to ice, followed by an inch or so of snow. For those of you unfamiliar, snow makes the ground even more wet than rain because it soaks in as it melts. It's basically the difference of taking a shower versus a bath--only one of those gives you wrinkly fingers. Thankfully, the snow mostly melted yesterday as it got to about 40 degrees. But the ground is basically just a mud puddle at this point. We're supposed to get more rain tomorrow, followed by more snow on Friday. Then it stays pretty cold for the foreseeable future. We'll have lows in the single digits with highs hitting 40 if we're lucky. So we're basically going to be bouncing back and forth between frozen mud and mud for a long, long time. Here's to hoping that the weatherperson is wrong. My last ride on Mort was 6 days ago. Blue was worked 5 days ago. I'm actually hoping for some frozen ground this weekend so that we can at least do walk rides and the boys can go out in the pasture. I'll ride on the road a little bit as well, but Mort isn't confident out there yet so they're short adventures. I'm sure the boys are going to be tired of being stuck in the lot. I'm going to be tired of not riding. We'll make it through though. Next winter I'll have an arena that should be a little easier to navigate the wet ground with. We'll add even more rock to the lot so the boys have more of an area to stretch their legs without having to deal with mud. Here's to second winter and just taking it day-to-day.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Lesson Recap

Mort and I started off the year by taking a short trip to where my instructor teaches. It was our first field trip since the show in August (other than moving him home), and it was our first single day field trip since the last time we took a lesson there at the beginning of August. If you remember, that trip didn't go exactly as planned. He was pretty good for our lesson but it took a LONG time and some drama to get him back on the trailer. So, needless to say, I hoped this trip was a little easier on both of us. Mort and I have been hitting the trailer loading practice hard. I hook up every other week or so. He's gotten so comfortable that he just quietly follows me right up. To add some challenge to that, I've practiced in some less than ideal conditions (think noisy neighbors, high wind, etc.). We've had some set-backs, but overall he's gotten more and more confident. I felt like we were ready for an adventure, and I was certainly ready for a heated indoor arena. We set out Saturday morning. Mort followed me right up like a good boy. He was a bit up when we unloaded, but nothing dramatic or scary. He settled in his stall eating his alfalfa while Steven and I unloaded all his gear. Side bar: it's ridiculous how much stuff one horse needs for a one hour lesson off site. He tacked up quietly and we headed to the arena. He's been to this facility several times now, so he's fairly relaxed as long as it's quiet. Thankfully it was just us in there so we were able to warm-up and let him take in the sites on a loose rein. I slowly started to pick him up and play with suppleness and relaxation. The whole goal right now is to keep him relaxed through everything--especially when we leave home. So when he's happy, relaxed, and on the aids, I get to ask for more. If he stays relaxed, I get to ask for even more, but if he gets tense, we drop back down a level of difficultness. This will be my winter/spring training plan since we don't get to ride as consistently with the weather and footing. So we worked our way up slowly. Mort was overall in a great and learning mood. I actually asked if we could call it quits after some great trot leg yield into canter and my instructor agreed. We ended with some stretchy trot and called it a day. It wasn't my full time allotted for the lesson, but I am really trying to focus on his experience more than the training on these field trips. I can train at home for now and it'll all be there as he gets more and more confident in new places. I'm hoping that I can get out at least once more before our first schooling show of the year. We'll see. Mort happily munched on his alfalfa again as we loaded up the trailer. I started to get a bit nervous. Finally it was time to see how Mort would load for me. I walked up, he hesitated. I gave him a second to think and relax. I asked for a step forward and he gave me a couple. I gave him another second. I asked for more forward and he walked right on. Good boy! I was so, so happy with my boy. I can only hope his happy mood for both our lesson and the loading is a good sign on what we can accomplish this coming year. Blue handled being left home alone like a champ. I did lock him in the lot as I've been using the lot as their "safe space". It's where I lock them when I'm riding the other horse and they seem to handle that well. I also gave him a flake of alfalfa to ease his mind and his tummy if he had any nerves. But he never ran or paced that I saw and ate his hay, so I think he was happy enough. This is great since it's likely he'll be left alone when I take Mort to shows/clinics/etc. I'm not above borrowing a horse if needed, but if Blue continues to handle it well that's even better. A good start to the year. Mort was calm and happy for both our lesson and trailering. Blue wasn't worried about being left alone for several hours. The weather has been as nice as you can ask for in January in Missouri. I've got homework and a plan for the rest of winter and into spring. Here's to keeping it all up.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

2020 Goals

Horse Show Related: Qualify for Regionals at First Level Show at Regionals at First Level A stretch goal. I'd like to if timing and finances work. Show Second Level Establish half-pass in trot and canter Master walking turn-on-haunches Clean up the walk-to-canter and canter-to-walk transitions Attend 3 shows Rider Related: Continue to work on getting a more even seat and hands Have my instructor out for 6 (or more) lessons Attend 2 clinics Horse Related: Finish the arena Fence in the third pasture Haul out for a trail ride Non-Horse Related: Run 1-2 half-marathons Run a marathon Very much a stretch goal depending on the time commitment and how my physical and mental health handle it Finish the house and move in Continue to work-out 3-4 times/week