Flying Changes

This little piece has been sitting on my laptop for three weeks now, but because it’s about some major landmarks in our dressage training, I really want to share it with whoever is interested.

 

The other day, while I was picking up manure from our turnout, the ponies came up to me. Chicolina stopped right in front of me and Snoopy to my right. They dropped their heads to my level and then just stood there, breathing on my face. We stayed in what I can only describe as an equine group hug for almost ten minutes. It’s those little moments that make my day. But reaching a big life goal is great, too ;)

 

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A little gem I was able to capture the other day

 

Snoopy loves to do flying changes. So far we were able to do three three-stride changes on either the diagonals or the centerline. I usually prep him by riding some work pirouettes and single changes in a serpentine (when crossing centerline). The original plan was to maybe, hopefully start two stride changes around Christmas. Then in one of our sessions last week, his three stride changes were phenomenal. Balanced, collected, and on the mark. I decided to just go for it and try two strides.

 

The most important lesson that day: I need to act faster. A lot faster. Because I am such a Klutz, we aren’t yet able to do two strides right away (three weeks later: we are now able to do three in a row). Instead, I rode first change-three strides-second change-two strides-third change. I tried twice, and both times it went that way. I am still thrilled, because it is the second to last milestone in our training regarding flying changes.

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The second breakthrough was with the girlie-girl. Chicolina and I are nowhere near starting to work on flying changes, although I could really use them for jumping. If I am completely honest, I was a little worried that maybe she wasn’t going to be able to do them well simply because she rarely does flying changes when she’s running around in the pasture.

 

Last Tuesday, I took her out for a hack. The ground had dried off and I let her gallop on a long straight grass track. Out of nowhere, she decided she did no longer want to lead with her right and she simply changed lead. Just like that. And it was a really good change. United, collected, and it came really easy to her. I was so relieved. We still won’t start to do them in dressage yet, but now I know she is able to do them, and do them well.

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Bad Feet

Chicolina is a great horse, but she has the most horrible hooves. A lot of the issues can be traced back to years of neglect, although some of them she was probably born with.

 

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On the outside, her hooves tend to be very dry. When I first got her, she had tons of cracks in the walls on all four feet. I fed her a supplement for healthy hooves and skin for a couple of months to help from the inside.

Following the advice of a natural health practitioner, I put olive oil on her hooves every day. I massaged it into the top, which is where the new hoof grows down from, to improve circulation and growth. In combination with regular visits from my farrier, we got rid of all cracks except for one that proves to be very persistent.

She has shoes all around to protect her hooves, especially because she goes for hacks at least twice a week.

 

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One of her hooves back in April. They look a lot better now!

On the inside, her hooves are always too moist. I keep her stable clean, clean, clean, but she as much as thinks of mud and her thrush starts to rot. Even in the driest weather in summer, it’s a challenge. And now it’s fall. A warm, rainy fall :(

 

I use Kevin Bacon’s Hoof Ointment for her thrush. It really helps. However, I have to put it on quite a bit more often than they suggest. I also stuff cotton into the middle cleft to keep bacteria out.

 

To make their turnout drier, I am going to order a truckload of sand. And every night, I pray for a cold, dry winter because climate change, among other things, is not good for my mare’s hooves.

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Next Try

I have a really hard time posting regularly because with the ponies, work, and my MA stuff, I hardly have time for anything else. Which is why I am writing this while not paying attention to my seminar on John Steinbeck. Oops!

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I moved to another barn and no longer work at the riding school (things didn’t go well with the owners of the old barn). I still teach, but privately and only one student for now. It’s a young girl with a cutesy but also really naughty gray pony. It’s good fun, and you can achieve so much more one-on-one. Because the horses keep burning through my money, I also work a “normal” job now at the local cinema. It is warm, dry, and I love movies, so it is a good fit. As far as my academic career is concerned, it’s my second to last MA semester and the last one in which I have to attend classes. I’m heading into the home stretch and I am thrilled and terrified by that.

 

 

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Snoopy had a streak of bad luck for a while and fell behind in training, but he is fine now and he is slowly getting back to work. For whatever reason he had a fever ten days ago and both his eyes were swollen. I put additional rugs on him, kept him warm and hand-walked him for five days until I felt he was okay again. Before that we had some farrier issues, and just yesterday he decided to roll a little too close to the fence and got stuck. He didn’t injure himself though. Next week I will start jumping him again, and in the next couple of weeks he can do some proper dressage work again, double bridle and all.

 

Chicolina is doing outrageously well. I finally, finally, after over six months of work, got her on the bit one hundred percent of the time. She is jumping regularly now, and I will write some extra posts on that. We have a little bit of an issue with her frogs rotting, but I use a new ointment, which helps a lot. She is getting stronger, and even manages to trot up an entire hill without complaining. I decided to buy Cheeky her very first own bridle. Her other one was assembled from several of Snoopy’s old bridles. She was so proud, or at least that’s what I read into it.

I have a million things I want to write about, and I will do my best to actually put up some new stuff.

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We moved!

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On 1 September, I moved my horses to their new barn. They now share a run-in shed and a big sand turnout. And in contrast to the old barn, I can put them in a big grass turnout for hours upon hours every day, even when the weather is bad. They are getting quite fat, but with Winter coming soon, that is fine with me.

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Chicolina scratches a little bit more than she did when she lived indoors, but on the flip side, she moves a lot better when I ride her because she can stretch her legs 24/7. Snoopy adores her, even though she keeps biting him when he comes back after riding. “How dare you leaving me here alone?!” While it still gets hot during the days, the nights are quite chilly, and Snoopy already looks like a teddy bear. The older he gets, the furrier he gets in the fall. But I am going to try and not clip him for as long as possible.

 

The area is beautiful, a lot less traffic. And it’s wine country, so hills, hills, hills. Snoopy loves uphill conditioning, and as a (former) eventer he is used to it. Cheeky, on the other hand, does not understand the concept of hills yet. She is happy going down hill, but uphill, she’s like “Ugh, woman, let’s just turn around.” I think it will get better as her technique improves. Right now, she keeps dragging herself up with her front legs instead of really pushing with her hind legs. But that’ll come.

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Snoopy and I had our first jumping lesson yesterday. The trainer is really good, both from a professional point of view and chemistry-wise. In a couple of weeks, I’ll start jumping Cheeky, too. That way she should be good to go next season.

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Big-ish announcement

Not big on a global scale, but definitely big on a personal scale. I decided to move my horses to a new barn this fall. The atmosphere at my current barn is outright hostile, and I figured since I invest so much time and money into my horses, I should be able to enjoy the time I spend at the barn. That hasn’t been the case for months now, and I’ve had enough.

 

Along with the shitty atmosphere it is almost impossible to turn out your horses during the winter months, or in bad weather in general. I’m convinced that lots of fresh air and time spent outdoors is the best you can give your horses. I found a barn not too far from where I live that offers all-weather turnouts with run-in sheds for one and two horses. I snatched a double. After the move, Snoopy and Chicolina are going to live together and can decide for themselves whether they want to be inside or outside.

 

The barn is located farther away from the Rhine, which means there will be fewer mosquitos to irritate Chicolina. The area is nice and hilly, and there is a lot less traffic, which means lots of hacking this fall. Yay! And it’s a barn with owners who are very involved and just take great pains to keep everything as healthy for the horses as possible. They produce their own hay, straw, and oats. The arenas get taken care of every single day which means there is much less risk of injury. The indoor arena isn’t quite as big as it is at my current barn, but still 20x40m, which is fine. In addition, they have one big (20x55m) and one small (20x40m) outdoor arena with floodlights, a round pen, a walker, and lots of pastures.

 

I’m sure there are going to be things that tinkle me off at the new barn too, but people seemed very friendly whenever I visited and it is a really good fit for my horses and me.

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Another Update

Sorry for the lack of posts lately. It’s term break and yet I can’t seem to find the time to update the blog regularly. I’ll try to get this thing back on track soon. And there’s going to be a big-ish announcement next week.

I went to a show last Sunday with Snoopy. Cheeky got to stay at home and spent the day in her turnout, lucky girl. It was a rather long drive, almost one and a half hours, but it was a beautiful show and I’ll take both horses next year. The show was jumping only and Snoopy was entered in one style and one speed class. The organizers hadn’t specified what kind of ground the show ring was, so I assumed it was going to be all-weather surface like the majority of shows in this region.

 

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Unfortunately, the show ring was grass. Snoopy doesn’t have stud holes in his shoes simply because you don’t normally need them here in jumping classes and I no longer event. At first I didn’t want to ride at all because sweet mister is a big old sissy when it comes to slippery ground. But my dad, who came with me to help me out with the warm-up, was like “I drove all this way, no way you’re not riding.” The style class was first and after some discussion, I agreed to ride it and just go very slowly and take big turns.

 

I made sure to warm up Snoopy properly to minimize risk of injury. I was one of the first riders to go. The first overall got a straight 8 (out of 10) and ended up winning the class. I went round as slowly as I could (Snoopy usually prefers to jump with a lot more “zoom”). He slipped in at least half the turns anyway*, but he was kind enough to still jump a clear round. It felt horrible, but apparently it looked all right. We scored 7.7 and got second place. After that, I decided to not ride the speed class. The fences were a lot bigger and there was no use risking a fall or a stop after he had done such a wonderful job in the style class.

 

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When we got back home, I turned him out with Cheeky for an hour while I tidied up. I like doing this as a treat and so that he can unwind after traveling, even though he doesn’t get nervous anymore. I like to think that it keeps them even more motivated to perform at their best. When I have classes later in the day, I even turn them out before the show.

 

*Snoopy has customized shoes on his hind legs because his legs rotate a little to the outside with each step. The outer part of the shoe is extra wide to prevent that and it looks almost like the sliding shoes reining horses wear. Which doesn’t help on wet, slippery grass when you need grip.

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Heat

A question that comes up every summer is “How do horses deal with heat?” Most (European) riders are anxious, and I used to be one of them. But after spending time in Australia, I’m a lot more relaxed.

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Page, a polo pony I met in Australia

 

As a general rule, horses deal with heat better than people do. Dry heat is no problem at all, if anything, humidity is. In a European context, weather should not be an issue for healthy horses.

 

Of course there are things you can do when it gets hot. Either make sure there is shade on the pasture to give your horses the option to seek shelter from the sun, or don’t leave them out too long. If you have the chance, turn them out over night. Make sure they have access to water at all times. Don’t put boots on. It gets crazy hot underneath and the risk of damage to the tissues is bigger than a potential injury.

 

We had a very hot day earlier this week and it was actually hotter in the stable than it was outside, so I turned my horses out all afternoon even though there was no shade. At least outside there was some wind, while the stable was stuffy and the air was horrible. The fact that the horses that can access a paddock from their stables chose to stand outside in the sun (Snoopy was one of them), instead of staying inside, was a good indicator regarding what to do.

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Chicolina waiting for her shower

 

 

You can still work your horse when it’s hot, you simply adjust to the conditions. Work them early or late when it’s cool. Or don’t work them as long as you usually do, maybe half an hour instead of a full hour. Include lots of rest phases where you work them in walk. Another option is to simply do something less intense, like go for a slow hack or lunge them. Give them a good shower afterward until they have cooled down.

 

 

Overall, don’t obsess too much. As I’ve said earlier, horses deal with extreme weather conditions a lot better than humans do.

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Socializing

One of the perks of having two horses is that you can turn them out together. There were some concerns about letting Chicolina loose on Snoopy because she is a very dominant mare, and he’s a little idiot who doesn’t even defend himself. However, in March I decided to take a chance and put them together in a medium sized all-weather turnout (pastures were still closed at that time). I stayed with them the whole time for a couple of weeks to be safe.

chicdeckeThe first time, nothing happened. They said hi, then went about their business, getting together for mutual scratching every so often. It was on the second and third day that I had to step in and set down some ground rules. I doubt that Chicolina was ever socialized properly, at least not as an adult horse. On the second day she thought it was a great idea to chase Snoopy round and round. Little fool that he is, instead of just kicking her (which I’m sure would have put an end to it), he let her. It got dangerous when she then went on to corner him and bite and kick him.

 

I tried just stepping in and separating them for a couple of times, but that meant I had to stay in the turnout the whole time, standing between the two as a physical barrier. Since the idea was to turn them out and be able to do something else while they’re outside, this wasn’t a long-term solution.

 

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When she started chasing him again, I picked up a big lump of dirt and threw it at her hindquarters. For once in my life, I hit my goal. The little whack on the bum threw her off and she left Snoopy alone for the rest of the day. On the third day, while I was still in the turnout, she went after him again. This time I was close enough to interfere directly. When Snoopy galloped past me with Cheeky at his heels, I jumped in between the two and chased the mare off in the other direction, yelling and making a fuss. Turned out this was the magic formula, as that was the last time she chased him.

 

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We had a little relapse this week when she cornered him and bit him because she wanted to be the first at the gate, but generally, they are super happy together and enjoy each other’s company. Snoopy is still extremely submissive, but she no longer takes advantage of that.

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Quick Show Update

I took Snoopy to a show this Sunday and we did two jumper classes.

 

One was a style class. He jumped a clear round. It wasn’t perfectly smooth from start to finish, but a good round nonetheless. We ended up placing 6th (again!) with a score of 7.3 out of ten. The winner scored 7.7, so we weren’t far off either.

 

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The second class was a normal jumper class (time and faults), and it was pretty massive for the category/level. Unfortunately, they hadn’t designed the course very well in the sense that there were only two situations where you were able to try a shorter route to save time. Apart from those two instances, it was all long ways so you had to make time by the sheer speed of galloping. I went only moderately fast, simply because I didn’t want to risk Snoopy having a rail because I was going too fast.

 

He went clear, like he did in the first class, and it was a really smooth round. We always got the right distance and he was cool as a cat. In this class, we placed tenth, and I am perfectly happy with him. He seemed to enjoy himself, and not once did I have the feeling I had to push him. He was always pulling toward the fences, he had a perfect rhythm and jumping the bigger oxers, he let himself fly beautifully.

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Sweet Itch

Chicolina suffers from Sweet Itch, which is not too common for horses of her breed and size. In her case, it is probably connected to emotional distress. For a long time, she wasn’t really looked after and during that time, she scratched off her mane and tail. She looked bad. As soon as I started working with her, the scratching got less and less and her hair grew back. Looking at her now, you can’t tell she has the disease. But it takes a lot of effort to keep it that way.

 

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Cheeky before I got her

First of all, as soon as it got warm and the flies and mosquitos made their appearance, I put a special rug on her that also covers her belly, neck, and tail. It’s a super light, but tight mesh material and can stay on all the time. She wears it inside and outside 24/7. We had a couple of very hot days recently with 35°C+, and because she was sweating so much, I left the rug off when she was inside (she scratched a little, but not too bad). But generally speaking, during the summer months, she is rugged all the time.

 

When I turn her out, I put a special face mask on that connects with the rug so the insects can’t get in her ears and mane. This really helps and she can enjoy the outside this way, instead of running around the whole time. I usually turn her out in the morning, and when it’s not too bad insect-wise, she sometimes goes out in the afternoon as well. I also try to keep her stable as clean as possible to not attract flies.

 

 

I can ride her in the outdoor arena or go for a hack as long as she’s got a bonnet on. She tends to headshake when it’s hot and there are lots of flies, so when I have the option, I ride her outside on days when there is cloud cover, and it’s not too warm. I’m thinking about trying to use a net over her nostrils to improve the headshaking situation.

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Chicolina (background) fully rugged

 

Still, every couple of days or so, the urge to itch will come up again. For these instances, I have a soothing shampoo that I wash her with, and then I put on an Anti-Itch Spray, which also helps. Sometimes, like at the moment, all of that will help a little, but not enough. For those times, I have a homeopathic drug (Berberis D6, not sure if it’s got a different name in English) that I feed her and that helps with the hypersensitivity.

 

Hypersensitivity is actually what it all comes down to with Chicolina. She is hyper sensitive to touch and kinesthetic stimulation, in addition to the obvious allergy to mosquito saliva. In the beginning, she’d wince as if you’d put a Taser on her every time you touched her nose. This is not a problem anymore, and I hope that with time, her symptoms will get better and better.

 

There are other treatments for Sweet Itch out there as well, like fungus vaccinations and blood therapy, but since my more conservative approach has worked out well for her, I’m saving those options in case there is a turn for the worse.

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