Don't judge me. I have four layers on.
However, first I need to tell you about my ride tonight. We had a storm come through Denver and drop just enough snow to make things slick and annoying. Our awesome bosses decided we could leave early, so I headed out from work about 4:30. I stopped and grabbed a burger for dinner and then headed to the barn. Ashke got a good brushing, saddled and then covered with a cooler. About 5:45pm I headed to the indoor arena with a lunge rope and my horse. I was determined to just ride and enjoy myself.
We took it easy and I let him set the tempo at first. He trotted and cantered. When he cross cantered to the left, he immediately broke to a trot and then picked up the correct lead all on his own. He threw a couple of stiff, insincere and half-hearted bucks going to the right, but nothing real serious. When he was warm, I walked him over and swung on.
I had decided to ride with the reins in one hand, to not ask for contact and basically just give him the night off. He reached down looking for me. After a couple of turns around the indoor (we were there alone) I asked him for a trot and he immediately moved himself into a frame, looking for the connection with me. I gathered the reins into both hands and gave him a gentle contact. We transitioned down. When we moved back up to the trot from the walk, I took in a bit more rein and asked. He gave. It was amazing.
When we went to canter I transferred the reins back to one hand, with the shorter rein to the inside, kissed and let him canter. I gave him just enough contact to have a connection to balance on the outside, if he needed it, but for the most part I just let him canter. On the fourth circuit he was beginning to wonder if he should stop and I clucked to him, asking him to keep going. We did six turns around and then slowed into a collected trot. As we slowed to a trot, I transferred the reins to both hands. We went to the right, which was harder and he wanted to gallop faster. Instead of tugging or demanding he slow down, I gave him just enough contact so he could balance and then used my voice to ask him to slow. Two turns around and he stopped trying to gallop, realizing I wasn't going to grab at his mouth. I asked him to slow and he kept cantering, so we went another circuit before he was willing to slow down.
By riding him this way, and holding onto the pommel with my left hand (which goes against everything my internal 12 year old believes) I was able to keep from flopping around in the saddle or bouncing against his back. I kept my hand in the same place on the reins and let him figure it out on his own. I tried to stay out of his way and let my body figure out the rhythm again. Plus, he was able to actually settle into a fairly comfortable lope. WE ARE FIGURING IT OUT!!! Until I can ride the canter without holding onto the saddle (there is a screaming in my head) and be able to be balanced and comfortable, I can't expect to be in a position where I can ask him to lower his head. So, we aren't going to ask. Instead, we are going to canter and see if my body can grow muscle where a baby used to be. (Childbirth completely destroyed any abdominal strength I had left after my appendectomy and 20 years of not being on a horse.)
After cantering for two different sets, I stopped him and asked him to back. He backed. I barely tightened my fingers on the reins and stepped into my outside stirrup and he sidepassed. We went back the other direction, just as easy. He turned on the forehand and then on the haunches. Everything I asked, he did. He was amazeballs tonight!
Not once tonight did I try and force a frame. Not once tonight did I get frustrated. When I didn't get the answer I was looking for, we moved on for a bit and then came back. He got lots of praise and pets and pats and he knew he had done a great job. Tonight was a night when I remembered why I have a horse in the first place. Tonight was a night when I remembered that we were partners and friends. And I asked.
And he gave everything. It was amazing!!
Now onto the rest of this post.
I wanted to highlight the areas where Ashke has made progress since I brought him home. So, in no particular order, a list and grade for all the areas we have worked on or are working on:
It took a couple of hours the Friday we got to Amarillo to get him on the trailer the first time. Once he was on, we gave him hay and cookies and just let him stand there for a bit. Saturday morning he was much more willing to approach the trailer and we were just standing there giving him a chance to think about stepping on when Steve's teenage daughter walked out of the backyard. He took one look at her, looked at me standing in the trailer and leapt onto the trailer. He couldn't wait to be gone. When we stopped at lunch he untrailered with ease, wandered around for an hour, and then went right back on for a couple slices of bread.
He now trailers fairly comfortably. He is more comfortable getting into a three horse by himself, then a two horse, but he has zero issues with following another horse onto the trailer, regardless of the trailer size.
I'm not sure he had really been groomed since he left Arabians Ltd. From the brief conversation with Steve, he was tied up and sprayed with a hose a couple of times a year. In fact, they offered to do that for me before I picked him up. I declined. I don't think they owned more than a shed blade and a stiff brush for brushing off the saddle area before riding. Not only that, but Ashke was covered with bites and sores, his coat was super long and completely matted with mud, shit and weeds when we unloaded him. Thankfully, the first Sunday he was in the stable, the weather was nice enough we could bathe him. It took a couple of months though, before a new coat began to come in and it was comfortable to actually brush him. A friend asked me what I intended to do with him. I told her we were going to begin with grooming. And we did.
I started with a super soft rubber curry and soft, finishing brush. There were definitely places he did not want to be touched. His belly, back, hips and legs were all off limits. I went slow and talked to him. Pretty soon, he was looking forward to being brushed. He likes to be clean. He lets me know where he is itchy and what feels good. I used Ttouch methods for the areas that he took exception to, and stayed calm and slow.
Now, I can brush every where. He is still a tad sensitive on his belly near his sheath (we are still working on that) but every thing else can be touched, handled, leaned on, fondled, etc.
Steve had someone come out to trim his hooves a couple of days before we got there to pick him up. Whoever did so, didn't even bother to rasp them. They just clipped off the extra hoof and let him be. I could see the clip marks on the underside of his hoof when I first started working with his feet. He was long in the heels, super long toe and his hoof wall showed his malnutrition. I have heard the time frame for growing out a new hoof is a year. We did it in about four months. He had a real problem with his breakover on his fronts and kept clipping himself. I talked to the farrier I was using (a barn farrier) and his professional decision was to unbalance his hoofs so they were longer on the outside. That kept him from clipping himself but didn't help us with anything else.
I knew when I moved from that barn that I wanted to find a new farrier. The farrier I was using didn't impress me, wouldn't return my phone calls, paid no attention to anything I tried to talk to him about and seemed happy when I stopped using him. I found a barefoot farrier and couldn't be happier. He hasn't clipped himself since Michelle started trimming him and although we went through a sensitive sole period earlier this year, all of the signs of laminitis I was concerned about have disappeared. His white line looks great and there is no bruising or abscesses in his hoof.
His feet hadn't been handled much and it took me some time to get him comfortable with having his feet picked up and cleaned. He wasn't impressed with Dan the Farrier at the first barn, but absolutely loves Michelle. He now picks up each hoof when I ask and if I start at the front left, he automatically will pick up the hind left and hold it up for me after I set the front left down. Then the right hind and then the right front. The only time we have an issue is when I am trying to get the backcountry gloves on his feet. He's not as fond of that. I'm hoping the Renegades make it much easier and comfortable for him.
His behavior for the farrier went from him struggling to stand still and hold a foot up in crossties, to being trimmed by Michelle without a halter or a handler.
It only took a year, but we finally have the tack and gear worked out. Mostly.
I ride in a Prestige Trekker Land Saddle: The seat is suspended and floating thanks to an intertwining webbing. On long-distance rides this assures comfortable seating that is cushioned against movement. Ashke loves it and we haven't had any issues with back soreness since I got it. The sweat pattern is even and my weight is equally distributed. It is fitted with a 26" fleece dressage girth. We tried the leather, but it was rubbing him, so fleece it is.
My bridle was bought at Dover. It is Cob sized with a Warmblood brow band I had to buy special. It has a cavesson for his nose and I could fit a flash band on it, but have no need to do so.
My bit is a Raised Rockin' S snaffle bit, size 4.5".
This bit is designed to decrease discomfort at the corners of the horse's mouth. It will not pinch. The extra 3" rings at each end of the mouthpiece float independently to disperse the pressure across the lip and cheek, making the horse more responsive to the rider's cues. The raised snaffle bit offers less tongue pressure and decreases pressure on the palate for better feel at the bars and lips.
I couldn't be happier with it. Ashke couldn't be happier with it.
My current saddle blanket is the BOT 3' x 4' blanket insert. I had no idea when I purchased it that it was designed to go inside a regular blanket (thus saving the blanket owner about $100) and covers hm from withers to butt. I am using it as a saddle blanket and haven't had any issues so far. It seems to have helped him with his sore hip. He is nice and tosty warm when I take it off, but not sweaty the way the earlier neoprene saddle pad was.
The only piece of equipment that I regularly use that I am not 100% satisfied with are the Easyboot Backcountry Gloves. I guess I am the only one having issues with them. Maybe it's just me. However, I am tired of dumping a ton of rock out of them when I go to take them off of his hooves, plus there is the little issue of him bruising his hoof wall from a small pebble stuck in the tread. I'm leaning toward Renegades in the spring. We will see how the BCG work over the winter.
Body Condition: A
I think he's an A now. We started at a 1 and Diane said he was a 6.5 in March. Since then we have adjusted his feed and his average work week. I think he is between a 5.5 and a 6. I will know for sure when we see Diane on the 30th.
Currently, he is fed six flakes of grass hay over four feedings (I love my barn.) He gets two flakes in the am, one at lunch, one at dinner and 2 at 8 pm. He is also getting 2 lbs of Purina Strategy, split between am and dinner feeding, plus the Smart Flex II supplement for his hocks. His ribs are not visible when you look at him, but are easily felt when you run your hands over his ribs. The dressage has thickened his neck, we've added muscle to withers and back, plus he has added bone to his cannon bones and legs. He has a classic Arabian shape and his eyes are always bright.
So far, since I started tracking his mileage in April, we have ridden 235 miles. He walks at a 3.75 mph rate and can average a 7 mph trot over some distance. We are still working on stamina. His longest ride was over 10 miles in about 3 hours. (Dom rode a fifty in 4 hours and 17 minutes, so we have some ways to go.)
His hip is getting better each day. I don't see as much short striding as I have in the past, however, I wonder if that was part of the issue on Tuesday. He struggles to collect and hold a frame when those muscles are bothering him. Hopefully, that will be less and less of an issue as we continue to ride.
When I first brought Ashke home, he was not broke to ride. When Steve had him, he had been sent to a cowboy trainer, who first dragged him onto a stock trailer, kept him for two weeks and then brought him back very sick. Steve said he almost died. The cowboy said Ashke couldn't be broke. (Some people aren't as smart as my horse.) I believe that during that two weeks two things happened: 1) Ashke had a rope wrapped around his hind legs and he was dropped on his right hip (this is standard training practices for a lot of "cowboy trainers" I have known) and 2) someone jerked the cinch tight as quickly and brutally as they could. Both of these things are still with us today.
Cinching is still an issue when we are in the crossties. Ashke still throws his head and pins his ears, regardless of what I am doing or how I am doing the cinch. I can slip my fingers through the cinch and play with it (not even making it tighter, just running my fingers up and down) and he will pin. However, when I go to tighten it before getting on, he stands comfortably and doesn't protest.
On the trail, Ashke is brave and very forward. He is willing to go into new territory, either in the front or by himself. He actually struggles more when he is second in the group, rather than out in front. His favorite method of spooking is to startle and stop with his legs braced. I've never had a spin or bolt, except when we are chasing Cali. The only gait we need to continue to work on while riding the trail is his canter. I am hoping this will be a non-issue by the time we get to Spring.
Ashke is trying very hard to do dressage the correct way. He tries to get it completely right and lives for the praise. He is very receptive to leg pressure and knows how to move his shoulders, his haunches and to move in a side pass. They all need work, but he is making strides every time we ride.
I hadn't ridden since 1996 when I brought Ashke home. I've had a child and gained a ton of weight since then. Additionally, I stopped doing every thing physical due to my back. No biking, no hiking, no rock climbing, limited camping, no rollerblading. A job where I sit behind a desk all day. You name it, and I stopped. I also tore muscle in my left side, which makes coordination with my left leg more difficult. The physical rehab is hard, but the mental rehad to get past the fear and to accept that some things hurt has been the most difficult. I'm afraid to go back to that level of pain. That fear makes my body stiff, because I am even afraid to try to relax and see how significant the pain level really is. I stop before I really get a chance to test my limits.
That said, I can ride a walk and trot for fifteen miles.
I can ride 10 miles one day and 8 miles the next without destroying myself.
I am no longer exhausted by a five mile ride and riding for an hour in the arena has become the norm.
I can get off and on my horse without a mounting block from the left side. On trail.
One area I need to work on is mounting from the right. It is much more difficult to swing my left leg over and step up with my right, then the other way around. Although, I have stopped dragging that leg and toe, and my limp is much less noticible and only happens when I am physically exhausted.
I am beginning to be able to post for a short time. This tells me that my core strength is getting better. Cassandra says I am straighter in the saddle, rather than tilting to one side to compensate for the torn muscles.
My sitting trot is pretty solid.
Moving with Ashke at the walk is very good. Riding him at the canter is going to take time. I need to stop trying to brace at the canter and let my hips move with him, trusting that the pain will be manageable. That movement (call it the Pelvic Thrust) is the most painful thing I do and it can cause weakness in my lower back the next day. Again, the weakness and pain are getting better, but I have to stop being afraid, mentally. Hopefully, by the end of the Winter I will have gotten to that point.
So there you have it. The world's longest post for my 400th.
Thanks for reading.
And thanks to those women I've met through blogs: Dom, Saiph, Liz, Lauren, Jessica, L Williams. You all make my day and I wish we could sit and drink whiskey or rum or wine, eat plates of amazing food and laugh and share horse stories with each other. I'm pretty sure that would be an amazing meal. I appreciate all that you share and the laughter you bring into my life.
Thanks to J and T for letting me spend lots of money and time playing with Ashke. They are wonderfully supportive of my horse addiction and have no issue with riding their bikes while I ride my horse. They also let me off the hook when dinner is late, the house is dirty and laundry needs to be ironed.
And special thanks to N, who has become one of my best friends, my riding buddy and my dressage mentor. I can't begin to tell you how important you are to me.
Thanks to Cassandra, who has taught me that trainers aren't a bad thing and who has the patience and sense of humor to put up with my theatrics.
And thanks to the Universe for bringing me my heart horse, who is the most loving, smart, beautiful and forgiving animal I have ever had the pleasure to work with. He gives me hope and makes me believe it is possible to be completely healthy and active once again.