Saturday, July 26, 2014


Working Equitation Style . . .

Yesterday, mid-way up the mountain, I looked down and realized that not only was my saddlepad disappearing, but that the saddle had slid back on Ashke's back and down. There was no longer any real clearance between the gullet of the saddle and the top of his withers. We stopped part way up to let the horses blow (1000 feet in under a half mile is a stiff uphill) and I slid off to reset the saddle. I already had the girth as tight as it would go, so I regirthed it using the forward billet and the back billet (Saiph will understand since she has an Alta), which allowed me to get the saddle a little tighter. I still was not happy with the fit. When we got back to the barn, I evaluated.

I feel awful that I was not paying close enough attention. It took Michelle telling me he was getting too skinny for me to realize we had passed our optimal weight and hit the slide toward emaciation. For a person who is a feeder by nature, I don't think there is anything that I could have done to make myself feel worse.

I think we have gone from 5.5, which I was pretty happy with, to a 4 or 4.25. His shoulder is beginning to show bone, you can see the edges of his ribs, there is no fat deposit over his tail, his spine is sticking up and his hips look boney. I'm so unhappy. I don't know if it's the quality of the hay or the extra amount of work we have added, but he has lost too much weight. Beet  pulp isn't an option, since he can't stand the stuff, so I switched two of his flakes of grass to alfalfa. I may add another flake of grass to his first feeding and switch his lunch meal to alfalfa. That would make three grass and three alfalfa flakes a day. Currently, he is on five flakes of grass hay. He is being worked more consistently and for longer periods of time than he was last year and it may be he will be more of a hard keeper than an easy. Either way, I would rather he be closer to a six than a four.  Also, I would rather add forage than to add grain.

So, I know that part of the saddle fit issue I currently face is due to the loss of weight on his part. It didn't fit like this when I first got it. That was enough of a reason to talk J into going to Dover with me. Once there I found a foam lift for the front of the saddle. I figure he has lost about half an inch on either side, so picked up a lifter that will be just enough to keep the saddle from dropping down on top of his withers. While we were there I tried on some Irideon full seat breeches, which I loved and will get as soon as I can afford them. I want them in graphite and black. Two pair because I am greedy that way. I picked up a tube of Leder Basalm for my saddle, a new bright blue with silver ear bonnet for my boy, and a container of leather conditioner wipes for quick and easy cleaning of saddle, reins, etc. Loaded up, but not having gone overboard, at least by my standards, if not J's, we headed home.

The original plan this weekend was to fore go the horse and do camping instead. But, T had an xbox thing he wanted to do between 3 and 7 today, and neither J or I had managed to wrangle up a part to fix the sink in the pop-up. On top of that, we had some issues going on at the house that we needed to tend to (like three hours of ironing that I had put off for several weeks) and it just felt like too much to try and go. Instead, we talked about going for a trail ride. However, that didn't happen either. N and I were both feeling really low energy. Instead, we took the dogs to the dog park, then went to REI for a bladder for N's hydration pack we gave her (we will try it tomorrow on trail), and then headed for the barn.

The lift worked very nicely, although how lifting the saddle about half an inch makes me feel like I am perched on a platform above Ashke's back for the first three steps is a strange phenomena. He was a little unsure for those three steps and then he walked out, his back swinging and ready for work.

We started at a walk, asking for some bend and then adding a four step leg yield with slight leg pressure to the rail and then back out at the walk. Ashke did that very well.

At one point, J, N and I had a conversation about aids and what works and what doesn't. N has to use a lot of leg to get Cali to move forward. She is not as sluggish at the trot and canter on trail, but in the arena she needs a lot of encouragement. I have to be careful with Ashke, because he can be so sensitive that my shifting weight can throw him off. Sometimes he gets confused by what the question is, and he is so determined to give me the right answer, that if my aid is too strong he will start throwing answers in an attempt to get it right. J is asking questions so that she understands what is expected or what makes sense when she is riding. (Pretty cool, eh? Here is a woman who was terrified of horses and had no desire to ride, taking lessons because she loves me.) 

Ashke working very hard to find the right answer. Tracking up very nicely.

I really need to smile more. I look strange in this photo.
(And I should never wear that shirt again. I may move to flannel in the fall.)

I was very happy with where the lift in the saddle moved my position to, including where my leg was. I think the saddle was tipping me forward, because the front had sank so low. I felt very comfortable and Ashke gave me a great ride.

Our canter to the right was the best he has ever managed to do. It was smooth and rhythmic and felt so easy. I don't know if it's just the amount of cantering we are doing on trail or the mountain work we have added, but either way, his canter to the right has really improved.

Sporting the new bonnet. Very sweet right lead canter.

 Looking at this photo finally made me understand why he switches his back lead or uses both legs together when we are riding a small circle to the left. There is a point in the canter where the weight of horse and rider is balanced and moved forward on one hind leg. When we move to the right, it is the left leg that is doing all of the work. When we move on the left lead, the right hind leg has to do all of that. He switches the back lead to protect that hip when it is sore or tired, or if the circle is too tight to ride it the correct way. This is good to know, so I can monitor his physical ability to maintain the left lead in a small circle. I may employ the use of a spiral as a training and conditioning tool as it tightens the circle gradually. That and mountain sprints.

Tracking up on the right.

Tracking up on the left.

After our warm up in the big arena, we moved over to the dressage arena and I approximated my L2 Working equitation test. Unfortunately, I have not measured the arena and made my own markers for a 40 X 20 dressage arena, complete with our numbers (which are different from regular dressage numbers). I plan on printing out the letters on sheets of copy paper, taping them onto my cones, then measuring the arena and marking where my cones go. I will use poles to mark the end of the arena and the opening at A. That way, I can set it up to ride my tests, then move the cones and pole and no one would be the wiser.

So, here is the first test I rode, and my evaluation of what we need to work on:

1. Obviously, we need to work on being straight down the centerline. Ashke has the expectation that we are going to ride on the rail and kept trying to make his way there. We look like a drunken sailor. Unfortunately, I'm not good at straight.

2. Circles. I'm not good at circles either. Never took geometry. I may have to mark out a 20m and a 10m just so I know which is which. 

3. Impulsion without rushing at the trot. He can do it, he just needs to know that's what I want. He stalled out on the 10m circle on our second ride, I stopped to get the dressage whip and we started over. I don't need to do much more than flick the end and he moves forward better.

Then a few minutes later we rode the test again:

Trot-Canter and Canter-Trot transitions still need attention. Although he is much better than he was a month ago.

In this ride, I completely spaced out that I was practicing a test as we crossed the diagonal. That left me way behind the eight ball trying to change the diagonal, pick up a trot and then a canter in what felt like four inches. I swear, dressage ADHD.

He came down the centerline much straighter the final time. 

Overall, I am pretty happy with how well he is doing. I am going to go through my dressage book and see if there are any circle exercises that would help us. I also know that having the length of the arena marked and the letters in their correct position will help with the structure and feel of it in my head.

We have a fun day with the obstacles, a schooling show (all three phases) and a Mark Rashid clinic between now and the show on the 5th of September. Hopefully, I will gain skill and grace and maybe a couple more abdominal muscles between now and then. 

On the way back to the barn we did this:

Tomorrow, N braves the Fairmont trail for the first time since her confrontation with the biatch from hell. I believe we will be carrying dressage whips. :) and T will be riding his new and wonderful bike with us.


  1. OK: I woke up this morning and flew to the computer so I could check out your post on the bigger screen while scarfing my breakfast before the barn:
    This is my first impression: WOW! I love love LOVE that first photo of you and him trotting by yourselves (second photo). He is working evenly throughout his body and you have such a gentle contact. And the canter photos are lovely: he looks so relaxed and soft.
    You two do really really good in the re-do of the dressage test. Of course there are some little snafus but they are minor. I got the impression of a ballet dance watching that test.

    I will post more later as I have to get going, but one more thing:
    I have an idea, and you tell me if this might work for you: what happens if you shorten your stirrups one hole? Just one hole on each side. I know Cassandra told you heels down is overrated and while level feet in the stirrups works for the big-name dressage riders and in some circumstances, *if it doesn't irritate your sciatic nerve* heels down is going to be the best way to protect your back while anchoring you in the saddle. It shifts your weight from your bum to your feet/ankles. You don't have to have your heels hanging to China like the h/j riders do; it's more thinking about shifting your weight into your heels. Or think about standing in the stirrups to get the correct feel. Don't actually stand up in them, just shift your weight into the stirrups as if you were going to stand. That will give you an idea of how it should feel. I had gotten into a level-heeled position for dressage bc of the longer stirrups but I had to shorten them a hole for trails. The importance of heels down started coming true for me while negotiating some of the crazier terrain we've encountered on the trail. It really anchors you in the saddle. Just a suggestion, if it's something that you can try. But just shortening the stirrups a hole might be enough to help anchor you better. It will feel funny for the first 10-15 minutes but ride in them for 20+ minutes and see if it makes a positive difference.

    Regarding the currently wider fit of the Alta, this is what my saddle fitter had recommended doing while Lily built up muscle when we started longer trail rides: (photo of the saddle with a no-bow wrap in front to lift it) This worked beautifully for both of us. Just an alternative; he may need more lift than that, but you can experiment with it. :)

    Regarding the weight loss: is Ashke on a prebiotic/probiotic? If he's not currently on one, I really love Ration Plus and it has worked great with Lily when I wanted her to gain weight and muscle: Helps them get the most out of their feed. Have you had a fecal count done on him?

    I will comment more on the photos and videos tonight, but I wanted to get something out to you now. :)

    1. Be safe on the Fairmont today! Glad you're both taking whips!

    2. Ok.

      I shortened my stirrups. I ride heel down naturally (left over from my youth) and with my toes pointed forward. Riding the way Cassandra wanted me to was a struggle for me and it shouldn't take too long for me to feel more secure with my heels down.

      The lift I chose looks like this: I hope that he puts weight on and we get some muscle there. I feel bad about the weight loss. :( The lift is about 1/2 inch on either side and allowed me to tighten the girth snuggly, without risking my saddle blanket. The sweat pattern looked even and there was no sign or indication of back pain. I think it will be effective until he puts on some weight, and then we can go back to the saddle pad.

      He is on Equipride, which has a prebiotic and a probiotic, plus Omega Max. He has been consistently wormed since I got him, the last time the first of June. We will be changing his worming schedule this fall, but that shouldn't have any effect on his weight right now. He had his teeth done a month ago, plus he's eating well and not showing any distress, so I don't think that is a factor. I think our biggest issue is that he is being ridden at the trot and canter five time more than he was before, and he's not getting enough groceries to keep up his weight. He is now on six flakes (split three and three) and I am going to get a bucket of Amplify on Friday. He will get a pound of that a day for 30 days and we will see if that has any effect. I know he needs the extra fat and it worked the first time around.

    3. They can lose weight so gradually that we don't notice it until they're too thin. It was my problem with Lily this early spring. :( I know you take excellent care of him; I was just wondering about the fecal because there is a lot of wormer resistance nowadays and it varies by region. It was honestly the only other thing I could think of. The added alfalfa and fat with the Amplify should really help.

  2. WOW! Your second test was really lovely! Lots of nice moments - you two are really coming along!

    All of my comments are of the technical nature - the "how to ride a test" nature. Your first halt is very nice, good centerline, but you want to prevent him from swinging his butt after you salute. You've said he's very sensitive to your weight shift, so maybe if you take a smidge more time with your salute, he won't think you're asking him to move?

    Your first 10 m circle was lovely! Great shape and size. When you change directions for your second circle, ride straight toward C for 2-3 steps, down centerline, before you start your new circle. This will give you both a moment of straightness and give you time to change direction to your new bend. Also, be sure to look at B as you are making the turn so that you don't hit the letter too early or too late. You only want to "touch the rail" at the letter when you're circling, never ride down the rail. Of course, horses want to go down the rail so it's easy to get sucked in!

    Be sure to go all the way to the letter and all the way deep into your corners.

    Your halt and rein back are LOVELY! And he had such a nice square halt after the rein back. :)

    For your serpentine, make sure to go all the way to the centerline (X). It helps me to imagine riding three half-circles instead of a V - that way when you change bend at X, it's a little less abrupt, if that makes sense. Your final centerline looks very nice too, and a great final halt! Looks like you have a really solid base for your upcoming WE competition! :)

    1. Thanks so much for the feedback. I really appreciate it.

      I will practice the serpentines in the dressage arena, making sure we are moving to X and then back to the rail, and I will try to ride all the way to the rail and into the corners. That is totally my bad. I get kind of tweeked when we get close to the rail. I was also going to practice the ten meter circles, but I guess I also need to practice the change. I will add that in for our change of direction.

      Thanks for the encouragement. It brought tears to my eyes when I read your feedback. I think we must look like a landed fish . . . it's good to know that we actually look like we might belong out there.

  3. Drat! I'm on the iPad, so I can't see the videos. But the stills look very nice.
    Alfalfa sounds like a great idea. It's nutritious and delicious. I wish we could feed some, but Paj is allergic to alfalfa. And tons of other stuff.

    1. I hear such bad things about alfalfa. I don't know why people don't like to feed it. I figure Ashke loves it, so . . .

      And watch the videos on the computer instead. Or go to my YouTube channel on your ipad (if you have the app downloaded). or search for Karen Burch or Thee Ashke

  4. I'm so far behind on your blog but I'm trying to get caught up. You guys look great!!!!! I love the videos.

    As far as the weight goes, don't beat yourself up about it. When we are around them everyday it's easy to not notice stuff like that. Have you tried taking a weekly or monthly picture of him without tack so you can compare it? Or measuring his weight every week? I take a lot of pictures because photography is one of my hobbies, but I notice the most changes in Chrome when I'm uploading the pictures to my computer, not when I'm standing there looking at him lol. It makes it fairly easy to keep an eye on his weight. It might not work for Ashke though because it seems like gray horses might be harder to see weight loss on... or to me it seems that way. I never would have guessed Ashke had lost that much weight. I was also going to suggest a fat supplement but I saw in one comment that you are going to feed Amplify. I love that stuff. I recently switched to Empower Boost because it's easier to get here but I think I'll like it too. :)