Anyway, Ashke greeted me with a brazen whinny and came over to demand carrots and adoration. I gave him kisses and took him to the grooming stall. The stalls were really dirty. It really bugs that N and I are the only ones I see really cleaning. Sometimes people will sweep up their hair, but too often I find fresh piles of dung and lots and lots of mud this time of year. N and I have taken to sweeping out all three bays every time we are done, because it's just not fair to make the barn crew clean up after us. The people who saddle up in the front three stalls, seem to be able to keep the area clean. You'd think those of us who saddle up in the back three could do the same. (I think there are a lot of students who saddle up in the front three who aren't given a choice by their coaches, but however it happens, it seems better in the front.)
Anywho, I started to groom Ashke, who was muddy to the knees. He was being very affectionate and nuzzling at me every chance he got. He was happy to see the saddle and is getting so much better about the girth. I think he's decided there are worse things to have happen then to have the saddle put on his back. I was looking at the muscles developing along his back from the consistent work we've been doing. The Spinals, which run along the withers toward the back, are starting to gain bulk. The Longissimus Dorsi, however, are still weak and under developed. I am pleased with the increased musculature but really want to do whatever I can to help that develop.
[I just googled how to strengthen the Longissimus Dorsi and discovered a website by an equine massage and bodywork practitioner, vet person named Stefanie Reinhold who recommends the following things:
1). Trotting over ground poles
2). Up/Down transitions - walk to trot, walk to canter
3). Lateral work - although she doesn't recommend doing this type of work more than two times per session, because of the boredom factor.
To that she adds low jumps, but that isn't anything Ashke and I are real interested in doing, so we will stay with the trotting over ground poles and not add the jump at the end.
Her final recommendation, however, is trail riding. She says:
"Tip: leave auxiliary reins, ambitions and overcritical companions at home and enjoy!
Walking on the long rein on the trail at a fresh working walk, having the horse step out energetically and allowing him to bob his head as his neck muscles swing the front leg forward, swing his rump from side to side and curiously move forward, is not only the best physical exercise for your horse, but also a refreshing, relaxing way to spend some time in the fresh air. Soon your horse will start snorting and relaxing.
What this does for your horse: The horse uses his two big neck muscles on each side (bracchiocephalicus) to move the front leg forward. Keeping him on a long rein and allowing him to fully execute this movement while being motivated to step forward by the interesting surroundings of the trail environment, will improve range of motion, relax the neck and poll and strengthen the shoulders. Allowing him to bob the head and swing the rump from side to side freely; this relaxes his entire anatomy and strengthens the horse's back. Remember, the long back muscle (longissimus dorsi) is a locomotion muscle and we riders sit ride on top of it! Feel it moving!
Walking up hill, slowly trotting down light slopes. Too many riders practice the opposite and give in to the horse's inclination to rush up a hill in the canter (which is easier for the horse).
What this does for your horse: This will strengthen your horse's hind end and encourage him to step under himself and round his back. Stay in a light seat or two-point seat when trotting down hill (light slopes only) to enable your horse to round his back.
Cantering for 10-15 minutes at a time. This requires a high level of fitness on part of the horse AND rider. Work up to this slowly!!
What this does for the horse: The canter - if practiced over longer stretches - is the best exercise to strengthen the horse's back. In addition it's a phenomenal cardiovascular workout. Again, work up to this slowly! It also requires a high level of fitness on part of the rider."
So, I need to incorporate more trail riding because it will improve the muscle in his back that needs the work. Anyway, the website is pretty informative and follows what Diane has said in regards to building muscle and strengthening his back.
Okay, so we went into the arena and did the walk, trot and canter in a big circle for 20 minutes or so. Ashke is pretty tired of doing the same thing over and over. His canter to the left was amazing. The canter to the right was rough and I had a hard time flowing with it. We only tried once, because I was hoping to ride outside and didn't want him exhausted. N struggled to get Cali to canter to the right, again, and Cali was throwing some pretty good bucks. Margaret, the trainer N works with, walked in and N asked for help. The spent 10 minutes or so working Cali in a big circle at the canter and trot and on the diagonal. I sat in the middle of the arena for a while, but when it turned into a training session, I took Ashke outside. I got my camera, called J and talked for a bit, then waited for N to come out of the arena so we could ride out on the Mesa. I knew it wouldn't be too long because they were hosting a birthday party and we were going to be kicked out of the arena.
N brought Cali out and we mounted up. We walked up through the barnyard and went out the small gate at the top of the property. The gate was locked, for the first time, and it gave Ashke and I the opportunity to open it for the four of us to go through. He did great. We got the gate open and headed out onto the Mesa.
Just through the gate, in the snow, were these tracks. N was convinced they were Mountain Lion tracks. Although they were big, I was pretty sure they weren't ML. I took a pic and then used J's Tracks App to confirm they were not ML, Bobcat, Lynx, coyote, wolf, fox, wolverine or weasel. Pretty sure they are Canis Enormous tracks. Very wily and elusive animal, the Large Dog.
There is still a lot of snow and mud from our latest storm. Especially on the north side of Table Mountain and in Golden. It's melting, just not quick enough for me.
Everything is so grey right now. Other areas are starting to green up and we saw several Robins running around on the ground. Plus, a Meadowlark serenaded us from the top of a rock. We didn't see a Mountain Lion or any deer, for that matter. We also stayed away from any overhangs or rock ledges. No sense in being stupid when Mountain Lions have been spotted in the area in the past.
Cali was very happy to be out, although the hill left both horses puffing a little bit.
I was very happy to get out.
On our ride, N talked a lot about wanting to push Cali to get her to be a push button horse. She feels like she needs to really focus on her training right now, so that in a year, when N is preggers, Cali will be fully trained and safe to ride. I can completely understand and agree with that philosophy. I can understand and empathize with wanting to be as safe as possible. However, Ashke hates riding in circles. If I want to continue to ride and support N in her training and have her ride with and support me, I need to figure out a different routine for Ashke. Ashke needs new things to challenge him and although I know we need to continue to work on our canter, he will much more interested in trying if we are doing something new that is mentally stimulating.
Cali looking out over the landscape while catching her breath.
On our way back to the barn, he and I closed and locked the gate. I pushed the gate closed and it swung out the other way, so I moved Ashke up next to it and asked him with my leg and the bit to take a step sideways so I could reach the gate. He did. And then he stood stock still, with the reins loose on his neck, while I leaned over and used both hands to lock and bungie the gate in the same manner it was when we rode out. I was very pleased and let him know. It was amazing how calm he was and how willing he was to try something new.
A view of the lakes in the background as we were coming down the mountain.
When we got back to the barn, I got Ashke unsaddled and brushed down. Have I mentioned that I love my saddle? Have I mentioned that Ashke loves it too? I especially like the fact that I don't have to completely squish the shit out of my horse to keep the saddle on his back. It fits so well the girth can be loose and the saddle will still stay on.
Anyway, I put him away and cleaned the grooming bays, just kind of hanging out and waiting for N. She has four leg wraps she has to clean and rewrap, which adds ten minutes or so to her finishing up. When we were done and the grooming bays were clean, N helped me take some of the extraneous tack I have collected (mostly stuff I bought to use with the Aussie saddle) to the consignment shop in the hopes that Franci can sell some of it. I included my spurs from when I was fourteen and had to wear them for the reining class at County Fair. I will never use spurs on Ashke, so there was no reason to keep them. I hope someone will buy them. I told Franci to price the stuff at whatever she thinks they will sell for.
Tonight, J and I went out to Lowe's and bought PVC piping and emergency cones. I made the pipes into 5' lengths and they will fit snuggly into the cones. I just created bending poles. I figure I can use them for parts of the working equitation trial. There are two things I can do:
First, I am going to set up a serpentine weave. In Working Equitation it is called the double weave. The poles are set up in an alternating double line so you turn to the left around the first one, then to the right around the second and so on. In the advanced level they are 24' apart and you execute a flying lead change with each change of direction. We won't start with that, but that will be the ultimate goal.
The second obstacle is a chute with two poles at either end. You canter through and stop between the two poles. You lift a cup from the top of the pole and then back down the chute and place the cup on the top of the other pole.
I can also do the regular pole bending, with a change of lead around each (we will start at the trot), and begin to work on sidepassing over a pole, in both directions.
Hopefully this will give us enough new stuff that Ashke will be challenged while still learning what he needs to learn.