Friday, January 30, 2015

Assessing

One of the reasons I blog is to keep a record of what is happening on any given day, so I can go back and review where we have been, where we are now and what has changed. To that end, I just went back and read all of my posts in January of 2014. It gives me perspective and lets me really evaluate how much or little progress we have made in the past year. I am going to evaluate the differences by the changes in what or how we are doing stuff.

1. Trail Rides
I will make no bones about it: I love to trail ride. My pony loves to trail ride. We both like to ride out on trail more than we like to ride in an arena. During the winter months at the beginning of 2014, our trail riding came to a halt, due to weather and circumstances.

Last year, in January, we rode 6.25 miles on trail, both of those rides up the mesa. This was partly due to a) not having cold weather riding gear, and b) not having anyone to ride out with. I was spending most of my time a year ago riding with N and Cali. They did not venture outside in inclement weather. Ashke and I spent all of our riding time in the indoor arena, and the two brief rides I managed up the mesa were pure luck.

So much has changed this year. We have a horse trailer, which allows us to expand the trails we ride (better chance of finding something dry and doable) and keeps it fresh and exciting. J has accepted her role in trail riding, which I think she really enjoys, and has a bike that can manage any trail Ashke and I might want to ride on. So far in January, I have ridden 28 miles on trail, although I do expect that number to go up after our ride tomorrow. I have invested in cold riding gear in the form of insulated riding boots, Berne insulated bib pants, layers of shirts, a Carhartt Sunstone Rancher coat, winter riding gloves, and a technical material beanie that fits under my helmet. J and I have ridden in mud, snow, some wind and chilly temps. We have also found a trail riding buddy that loves being out for miles/hours in all kinds of weather, with no agenda other than to get her pony safe and savvy on the trail. Additionally, Ashke is much fitter than he was a year ago. We can go farther, faster. Our average pace on trail has gone from 3.4 mph to 3.8 mph in less than ideal conditions. Before the weather changed, our average time was closer to 5 mph over distance. I'm hoping to see that number go up as we continue to ride out this year.

On trail, we are learning to canter for longer periods of time and to do so without racing or without becoming ragged. Ashke is learning to follow another horse at the canter without trying to race past them. I am learning to relax and let him fuss when he needs to while understanding its not going to escalate into something dangerous. We are rock solid with the majority of trail obstacles, although benches and rocks are still something to tilt an ear at when we go past. He loads like a champ and loves it when we are exploring a new trail. He is a great companion horse for those with less experience and can be a very calm leader on trail.

2. Barns
Last year I was boarding at TMR.

This year we are at SQA. I think it is an upgrade from a quality of food perspective. Ashke loves the Barley Fodder and I can already see improvements in his mane and tail quality, plus his feet have smoothed out from his emotional turmoil over the move. He gets to see me on a daily basis, since I stop by every night after work and feed him his mash. Additionally, he has access to his run 24/7, and he is never locked in his stall. We are blanketing him when necessary, and his weight is decent again. His tail, which was always a dirty reddish brown at TMR, has stayed white for all of January, which is directly related to his digestive process.

3. Feet
Ashke's feet have grown and expanded in the last year. They have also toughened to the point where we have begun doing trail rides without boots. A year ago, we couldn't walk across the parking lot at TMR without wincing and flinching. I hope to continue this trend. I will boot when the trail is rocky, but I would really like to see if he can develop the tough kind of hooves necessary for trail riding sans boots. There are several trails where the footing is easy enough we can go out truly barefoot.

4. Gear
January of 2014, I was riding in the Trekkerland by Prestige and beginning to notice issues with Ashke's back. He was not happy with the work and I was beginning to think there was an issue with the saddle. I was riding in the Raised Rockin' S snaffle bit in a dressage bridle with a cavasson noseband.

This year, I am loving my Alta Escuela and it fits Ashke soooo very well. There are no issues with back soreness, even after a fifteen mile ride. I ride in it most frequently with a BOT saddlepad and fleece girth. Ashke is now going in a war bridle, which includes a decorative noseband not designed for keeping his jaw closed. His bit is a low, wide port curb bit and he is happier in this bit than anything we have ever tried and most importantly, it gives me what I need to control him at the canter. We have lots of bling.

5. Indoor Work
We spent a lot of time in January, 2014, riding walk and trot, working on transitions and rhythm. I was taking dressage lessons and already beginning to hate how it was changing my relationship with Ashke, how frustrated I felt, how many rides devolved into a fight because I was trying to force Ashke into a long, low frame. I also had zero control when it came to the canter, which was one of my goals for the winter.

This January, we are working all three gaits, both in the arena and on trail. Ashke is still developing his canter, but we are much more balanced and in control then we were a year ago. He is much better balanced and able to move off his haunches when he is allowed to carry his head a little bit higher than he was when we were focused on modern dressage. He is no longer on the forehand when we canter and he is able to achieve a one stride canter depart from a stand once he is warmed up. 

In the arena, we are also working on rollbacks, turns on both forehand and haunches, simple lead changes, changes of direction at the canter, slowing and collecting our trot and canter (we never slow at the walk - I want a fast, smooth, swinging walk on trail and in the arena). We are working on circles and on straight lines. Additionally, Ashke is learning to slide stop from my seat. We are working poles and barrels for WE in the indoor when there is room. We've even popped over the occasional jump.  We ride mostly one handed and he has learned to neck rein very well. We are currently working on proper bend and turns while neck reining.



Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Controlled Chaos

Yesterday was the day I should have taken off and taken J for a ride. The temps topped out at 72 with clear, bright blue skies and zero wind. Alas, the work schedule did not allow for such funness, so instead I went out after work. It is now light when I hit the barn, with the sun sinking behind the mountains and the light fading fast. I figure another month and I will be able to ride out across the street instead of staying in the indoor, if the weather is nice. Winter is beginning to fade, although we are expecting more snow on Saturday (the only day this week the weather is going to be bad).

Ashke and I in the indoor. His mane is finally long enough it is falling to the side.

I'm beginning to meet the people at this barn and the woman who boards her Connamara mare next to Ashke and I have been talking. She does a little bit of everything: jumps, dressages, trails, and is interested in doing WE. We were talking last night about having a barn play day (the barn owns all of the obstacles we need to put up a small course) for the boarders. She seems interested in trying it out and she was the one that told me all of the things they have we could use. I'm not sure the barn has the facilities to host outside riders, but at least we could do something for the boarders. I'm going to contact the owner and see if it was a possibility. 

Ashke was fairly settled last night. His spooking and shying at the far end of the arena has ceased, for the most part, and he dealt with the multitude of jumps, the jumping horses, the one year old playing in the dirt, the open garage door and the closing garage door. His only spook was at one of the riders pulling additional jumps out from behind the terrifying green-wall-of-death. I circled him (we were cantering) and let him inspect her work. Then he was fine.

We walked, trotted and cantered. I was doing the square exercise, where I ride the length of the wall to the corner, slow and walk around the corner than canter to the next corner, and Ashke got very up about the canter part. He was wanting to spin and jump into the canter. I stopped him and had him stand still in the corner, then do the exercise at a walk. I talked to C (Connamara mare) about him after our ride and she said you can't see any problems when I am riding. You can, however, hear the slight hesitation in the cadence of his walk. We rode for almost an hour and then put him away. He was a little bit sweaty at the girth area, but cool, so I brushed him for a few more minutes before leaving.

Overall, a decent ride with five other horses and multitude of distractions.

Also, Saiph's suggestion of giving him a little alfalfa while getting him ready has helped his girthing issue a lot. He is much less reactive now than he was two weeks ago.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Obstacles

Are the only thing you can see when you take your eyes off the goal.

Today our high was 63, with little wind and bright blue skies. I had ridden on Friday night (another awesome indoor ride with my ponyboy) but Saturday it was grey and cloudy. Neither J or I felt like riding, so instead we just napped and played on the electronics. Today, however, was a different story.

We were supposed to be at TMR to get K by 10:30. At nine, when we pulled the bike up from downstairs, J found a dozen goatheads in her back tire in place of the air that was supposed to be there. 

These little MF's are the reason J has a slime strip and slime spray in her wheels.
They hurt like a Mofo when you step on them.
They are the bane of the west.

We loaded up and headed to the store where we got the bike. Their online hours said they opened at 10. I called K and told her we were going to be late because we needed a new tube. Patching six holes sounded like it was going to take longer than going to the bike store. We got there and walked up to the door at 10, which is when he saw the Winter Hours posted saying they didn't open until 11. Cussing ensued. I got back online (what did we ever do without cell phones?) and found a bike shop near the barn which opened at ten. We got there at 10:20. At this point I figured we were going to be about 45 minutes late. It took the guy 40 minutes to change the tube. 40 minutes. I was about to rip his head off. And we think he screwed up the bearings in J's back tire, since that was the only thing that happened between this ride and her last one, and her tire did not want to spin freely on our ride. 

We left the bike shop at 11. Drove to the barn, hooked up the trailer, loaded gear and the horse and drove to TMR in 39 minutes. Ashke took three tries to load. He wasn't real sure he wanted to go and I was feeling the pressure of getting him on right away. (The best laid plans of mice and (wo)men). He loaded easily on the third try, although I was thinking about pulling out the come along. K was waiting with her gear in her car (much easier to load from there) and Eddy in the outdoor arena. Eddy started racing up and down the arena when he saw the trailer. Once the gear was loaded, K went to get Eddy. 

Eddy walked onto the trailer with his front feet and then backed away twice. I grabbed the dressage whip to tap on his haunches. He is long enough he can position his head and front feet in the trailer with his hind feet on the ground. By tapping the back of his legs we can usually get him to step on the trailer. This time he threw up his head and backed out. K circled him and headed him toward the trailer. Eddy went sideways with his head, knocked K off balance and then ran over the top of her and broke away. It looked to me like he had clipped her with a couple of hoofs, but missed stepping on her and hadn't knocked her hat off. K told us later that was the second time he pulled away from her this week. Little shit. I went after Eddy, who had ran to the barn, and J went to help K. 

Eddy was eating hay in the aisle when I walked up to him. I said, "Son, that was a really bad idea" as I wrapped the lead rope over the soft part of his nose. His bullying of K is just not okay and she's still putting tools in her tool box (speaking of which, I saw the girl with the little mustang mare I helped out last week and guess what - that little mare is now holding still for her to mount. FTW!) At some point in the past, Eddy was allowed to get away with this behavior and it is his go-to when he doesn't want to do something. When we walked out to go to the trailer, K was coming inside and she was livid. She told me to load him because she couldn't be dispassionate with him. Eddy went with me to the trailer and then pulled back and reared, which wasn't a lot of fun with the rope wrapped over his nose. He popped himself pretty good. He tried to pull away with me and I stopped that before it got started. I made him back up and then turned and he walked on the trailer. He got lots of scritches and good boys and then we headed out. Luckily, K was still up for the ride. Eddy hadn't stepped on her (pure luck in my opinion) and had just brushed the back of her thigh with the back of his hoof.

We went to Spring Gulch, where J discovered that at some point in our carting around her bike today, the brake for her front disc brakes had gotten bumped and closed the disc without the tire inside. That meant she wouldn't be able to ride, since she couldn't get the front tire on. It was the frosting on the cake. J went online (again, with the cell phone) and found a method of opening the disc brakes (Yeah!! my wife is a badass!!). This saved our day. 

The ride was somewhat dry in a lot of places, but where it was wet, it was really wet.

The Castle. The one on the left is about 8000 sq ft. The one on the right could hold a small country. I'm guessing 30,000 sq ft. The MIL house to the right is probably 5000 sq ft.

At the point we turned south and moved off of the crushed gravel and onto singletrack, it got really muddy. We stopped before J could completely brick her bike. The mud did not help with the sluggish movement of J's back tire.

Eddy handled some new obstacles today. He crossed two busy roads, once while being lead, the other while K was riding him. He handled people running up behind him and bikes coming towards him. He even handled a small herd of horses thundering up and down their pasture right next to us. 
Ashke was a rock star.

On our way back we decided to take the trail from our first ride back, to make a loop instead of an out and back ride. 

Ashke was very up when we turned around for home and he suddenly wanted to trot piaffe. We discussed it for a couple of hundred yards (I was only worried because the ground was fairly slick) and then he settled. I recognized for the first time that he doesn't escalate. He gets a little jiggy or a bit bouncy and that's as far as he goes. He doesn't escalate to trying to buck or bolt. He's letting me know he is ready to head home, but he is also willing to listen and calm at my request. Him being bouncy is his way of communicating with me and I have absolute confidence that I can ride anything he decides to throw my way. It's not malice. It's just energy.

The trail for the day was wet and muddy intermixed with dry and solid. It made for interesting travel.

Eddy was pretty sweaty, but still full of enough energy to argue with K.
She was being very strict and not allowing him to tug her reins out of her hands in order to eat. (She has allowed this behavior in the past and Eddy was pretty insistent today. 

Being a good trail pony.

On the way back, the trail goes past a small neighborhood park. On this day, there were boys shooting hoops, a mass of children playing on the jungle gym and a bunch of kids with their razor scooters. We heard the normal amount ooooing and aaaahhhing from the girls as we rode by. As we reached the grass at the edge of the soccer field, I could hear a couple of boys starting to chant about chasing the mythical white horse down and capturing it. I could hear the chant strengthening as more boys decided to join. As the boys came streaming out of the park onto the sidewalk behind us on their scooters, Daniel kicked the front tire of the front scooter and sent the boy sprawling. Eddy has spooked when the boys started to chase us and I had tried to alert J to run interference, but she couldn't hear what they were saying, and so I confronted them. I told them they could get a rider killed if the horse spooked back enough and threatened to call the cops if they continued to follow us.

Thank you, Uncle Dan Two Bear. You rock!


We went around the outside of Spring Gulch, which was fun, and found another parking lot I think we can use, so we don't have to fight with the gate to get out and onto the trail.



Once back to the trailer, we untacked while the ponehs ate their mash, and then loaded them up. Both of them walked right on the trailer. 








Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Smartpak

Or . . . Look! I'm stupid!

Months ago when I discovered Ashke had broken his left patella, I figured a good joint supplement would be a great addition to his daily bucket. I talked to Diane and she suggested a product called Vet Flex (by prescription only) and said she could send me some if I wanted. I had already gone online and purchased my first Smartpak in the form of SmartFlex II Support pellet. (I like the cunning little paks they come in, I'll admit.) The price is a little high, but right at what I was willing to spend for joint supplement. It seemed to help and once Ashke was on the supplement, the short striding in his RH disappeared.

Somewhere in the back of my mind was the knowledge that there is a product that Diane recommends that would be about 2/3rds the cost.

I decided back in September to try the Vet Flex via Diane, if only to save a little money right before Xmas. I ordered it, replaced the Smartpak with it and suddenly Ashke was short striding again. At first I thought it had to be the joint supplement and ordered the Smartpak back in, putting Ashke on it as soon as I could. Within two days he was better. I didn't believe it. My brain told me that it had to be something else, like a strain from turn out, or a kick from Cali. I was really happy that he was better.

And then I forgot. Two weeks ago, while getting his bucket set up, I figured I would finish using up the Vet Flex (because I had decided it had to be something else) because I was being frugal. Ha! That will teach me. Within a couple of days, Ashke was short striding on the right hind again. I replaced the Vet Flex with the Smartpak (because I had Smartpak here) and within two days I can tell a huge difference.

Smartpak forever!

Tonight, I got to ride. I have been talking with Saiph about some of the issues with Ashke's feet and she recommended giving him a half flake of alfalfa when I am getting him saddled up. The alfalfa helps with stomach acid and hopefully will make him less girthy. I opened my bale bag and Ashke was right there, very excited about the alfalfa. He munched while I got him ready. He was not reactive when I groomed his right hip and the knots over the hip bone was gone. We did a lot of fast, smooth walking to start.  Then we trotted in both directions and I worked on slowing him down to a smooth rocking trot on a moderately loose rein. We did some cantering in both directions and then worked up and down the wall, stopping in the corner and turning on either the forehand or the haunches. Finally, we did some elongated teardrop figure eights against the short wall of the arena, asking him for bend through the neck as we went around in our circles.

He was amazing. There is no more spooking at the far end of the arena. He worked really well, using the entire arena area. It was a really fun ride. Every time we finished some piece and I told him what a good boy he was, he would snort in agreement. I worked a little of everything, trying to change up what I wanted so he wouldn't get stale or bored. One of the times we were walking around, stretching, I became aware of a 12 or 13 year old girl getting really frustrated with her horse and not wanting any help from her mom.

The girl had been trying to mount her mustang mare for about twenty minutes and every time she would try to get on the mare would back up very slowly, twisting away from the mounting block and preventing the girl from getting on. The woman was venting and said this had been going on for six months and they couldn't figure out how to keep the mare from behaving this way. The girl was alternating between trying to coax the mare into standing still and getting frustrated enough to lash out. I asked if I could help her fix the issue and her mom agreed. I handed over Ashke to the mom to hold, picked up a carriage whip and went to show the girl a couple of things she could try. There were two things I noticed right away: the girl was expecting the horse to move and so was waiting to mount until she did, and two, the horse wasn't clear about what was expected of her to do. The mom told me she didn't behave this way with the trainer or her mom, so it was something the mare was doing with the girl.

The first thing was making the mare work harder if she was unwilling to stand still. I walked the mare up to the mounting block and told the girl to try to mount. She walked up and then kind of stood waiting for the mare to misbehave.  The mare backed up and away from the stool. I sent her out at the end of her rein in a circle around the mounting block. The mare didn't want to work and instead tried to spin in a circle, keeping her shoulder towards me and swinging her butt away. That was corrected with a tap of the carriage whip, which resulted in the mare rearing in protest, but I made her continue to move until she was trotting around me. I asked for a stop and then positioned her next to the mounting block. I told the girl to make her mounting process quick and smooth. It took four or five tries before the mare stood still.

Finally, the girl was able to get on the mare three times in a row, with the mare standing quiet on a loose rein. I turned the mare over to the girl and told her to try. Of course, by herself the mare wouldn't stand, but this time the girl was ready. She made the mare move out at a faster trot and sometimes a canter, before asking her to stand. The mare fussed and reared a couple of times, and threw a buck the third time the girl made her move out, but finally, she stood still and let the girl mount without shifting. The girl made a big deal out of the accomplishment and then went off to ride. I told her mom that she now has a tool in her toolbox to help her work through the issue.

Her mom and I talked a little about some of the things that might help her daughter. I suggested some of the Parelli games, mostly because it might give the girl a little more confidence and break her out of the relationship she has going with the mare at the moment. It will also teach the mare to listen and respond to the girl's authority. She is at that point that we all were at twelve where our relationship with our horse is like our relationship with our first boyfriend, and every little thing can send us into tears. We take it personal when the horse doesn't behave and vacillate between anger and frustration, tears of hurt mingling with tears of frustration. It's sad to me that they have been dealing with this issue for six months and no one had been able to help the girl out.

By the time we had worked through the mare and girl's issues (the girl really had inadvertently taught the mare to back up at the mounting block) Ashke was ready to go back to his stall and I was pretty much done. We unsaddled and blanketed and I headed for home.


Sunday, January 18, 2015

Cacophony

It has been a busy weekend. We started on Friday by taking T out of school for the day and going to the National Western Stockshow.

The NWSS is combination carnival, fair, rodeo and mall. The best time to go is on a day when most people are working, otherwise the crowds overwhelm.

A pink pig grill FTW!!!

We looked at horse trailers, a lot of rhinestone decorated various clothing items in mostly pink, jewelry, boots, toys, and home decor items made of horse shoes and hand grenades. We ate BBQ at our go-to BBQ place and then ended up at the Australian Outback shop where I tried on a couple of dusters. 

So, let me explain my fascination with Aussie dusters. I was deeply influenced by The Man From Snowy River and a couple of years later, by Return to Snowy River. When J agreed to me getting a horse, the very first thing I bought was a Aussie hat (and the second thing I bought was a helmet, so go figure). Those two movies were the primary reason I purchased the Master Campdraft saddle (which started my devolution into saddle woes big time) and I have had a dream of riding my horse in an Aussie saddle, with my hat and my duster. Except the duster I currently own is 18 years old, waist length and can no longer contain my over abundance of chesty goodness I am cursed blessed with. I have the hat, I have a great looking saddle and now I wanted a duster.

I looked awesome in it. All long and dark and sexy like. Except the sleeves were a bit long, but it fit in the chest. Of course, they aren't lined and can be cold as hell in bad weather, but the sexy was the selling point here. J said no. She had a point. We are trying to get out of debt and me buying something just for vanity sake was not a smart choice. J said to do what I wanted, but I could tell she was pissed at hell at me for asking (you can tell these things when you have been together the length of time we have) and I opted to be an adult and walk away. (I was not-so-secretly disappointed, but had to give J the point.) That was our last booth in the mall area, so we wandered around to the horse trailers and then headed home.

After dropping T at the house, we headed to Murdocks. They were offering 20% off one clothing item or 10% off any other items when you showed your NWSS ticket. We got four bales of shavings, a bag of TC Senior and then we started shopping the Carhartt selection. J called me over (I was evaluating the cost of upgrading my bibs to Carhartt) and said there was a nice selection of Carhartt jackets on the clearance rack. That's when I found it: a Sandstone Rancher in black in my size. This is the Carhartt jacket of my dreams.

According to Carhartt:
Our sandstone rancher coat is built to withstand the hard work of ranching and other rugged professions. Constructed of 12-ounce, 100% cotton sandstone duck with Carhartt-strong triple-stitched main seams, it's cut a little longer to ranch coat standards and nylon-quilt lined with midweight insulation for warmth. The full-length center front duel zipper features inner and outer storm flaps and a snap closure to seal out the wind with. Up front, there are two chest pockets as well as two large lower-front pockets that combine top-entry utility and side-entry hand-warmer comfort. The left-chest pocket not only holds a cell phone or media player, but also features a media port to let you string a headphone wire. For added secure storage, the coat also features two interior pockets. To enable riding, the coat is split at the side seams with snap closures. A drawstring waist and inner-sleeve rib-knit storm cuffs also work to seal out the wind and cold. 

This jacket normally retails for $140.00, but because of the end of winter clearance and the NWSS ticket discount, I was able to score it for just about $60. And this time J didn't argue. Cuz Carhartt. And because it has it's own level of sexy. We ran out to feed Ashke, leave the shavings in the trailer and then headed home. It had been a very long day.

 And it looks awesome with the hat. I am all about this coat and so happy I didn't get the Duster.

Saturday morning we dropped T off at the ski bus at 7 and took the pups to the dog park to let them run in the cold and wind. They love the dog park and ran like mad until their paws hurt. Skittle will come to me and flip her nose when she is ready to go home, so home we went. Once there, I packed PB&J sandwiches for lunch and we got mash and the bike ready to go. We were back out to the barn by 10 to meet the farrier. (I'll talk about the farrier visit and hoof issues in my next post). Then we pulled the trailer out and got loaded. We were supposed to ride the East-West Trail with L and K. L had hot water heater issues and was going to be really late, so we opted to trailer out to where she keeps Amaar and ride out from there. She boards right across the street from Barr Lake, which is one of the trails on our list. 

All three horses were very up. L round penned Amaar and then K round penned Eddy before we set out. I walked Ashke around the round pens and let him snort at whatever caught his attention. We mounted up and headed out. Ashke and I opened and closed the gate (Ashke tried to use his teeth like he did the last time we did a gate at Dowdy Draw) and then we headed out.

Access to Barr lake required riding down a county road (which didn't have a lot of traffic, but what traffic there is is flying down the road), 

 crossing a corn field (no real path for J), 

 L handwalked Amaar (very green) down the road and then when she went to remount, Amaar threw a bit of a fit, ending up spinning his butt into L and knocking her down. I thought for sure he would head for the barn, but he ran a big circle around us and then stopped to graze. L was able to walk right up to him and get on.

Eddy was a rock star on the side of the road, although he was a bit up (wind, I think) and K felt more comfortable once Ashke was between them and the road. When we reached the cornfield, K realized she hadn't tightened her girth, so she got off to do so and was on the ground when Amaar lost his shit, which cause Eddy to lose his shit. K was able to keep Eddy from pulling away from her (that could have been really bad) and that was their only issue all day. (Ok, K might argue that Eddy wasn't listening very well on trail, but I think that he did awesome considering the temp and the wind.) 

meandering through knee high grass (again no real path for J),  and traversing a muddy trail, and 

then finally reaching the State Park.

Directly behind the first line of trees is a bridge. It is narrow and arches over a moat (for lack of a better word - it circles the lake) with low rails and black, no slip mats for footing. All three horses marched over it (Ashke in the lead) with J bringing up the rear. The path that circles the lake is flat with excellent footing. I think it would be a great ride, but next time I want to haul into the parking lot. 

I want to wait for spring, when there are leaves on the trees, to come back and ride the whole thing. 

We saw an immature bald eagle, about a gazillion Canada geese, a great horned owl and a couple of Redtail hawks. It was windy (20 mph winds) and a little chill, but overall the ride was good. We stopped for lunch (Ashke smelled my PBJ and came over to eat whatever he could take out of my hand) and then headed back. It was about 40 minutes out to the barn and we had been riding a little over an hour and a half. We needed to be back to get T, which we didn't manage before unhooking the horse trailer. Our ride back was uneventful and L was able to ride Amaar on the side of the road without him reacting. We loaded up and headed out.

 Ride time is not correct, not sure why, but we rode closer to three hours. And our average speed was more like 3.5 mph.


Thursday, January 15, 2015

Better

Ashke seemed better when I got to the barn last night. The knots in his right hip had gotten smaller and felt similar to the muscle in his left hip. I spent a lot of time grooming and although he wanted me to do extra scratching on his right hip, he didn't want it to last as long as the night before. I took this as a sign that his hip was still sore but better than before.

As I was putting conditioner into his mane and tail, three girls came by and ooo'd and aahhh'd at his beautifulness (their words). He was curious but not really interested in making new friends, although he does like to be admired. Kids just aren't his thing. Something in his past has made him wary of small people. I'm okay with that, unless I am having him tote a three year old princess around on his back, and then he just needs to deal. (BTW, the little princess called and said she wants to come live with Ashke, and would I come and get her please. And she wants to spend more time with her "tall boy".)

We headed for the arena where I had Ashke walk on a long rein (another reason I truly believe he was being prepped for showing before he broke his left patella) down the arena and I could see the slight hitch in his right hip. I got on and within half a circle of the arena at the walk, I could feel it loosen and relax. We walked a lot, then moved to the trot. It was hard to do any actual work since there were 10 horses in the indoor and about ten kids (Pony Club). After trotting in both directions, we tried a canter. He struggled to hold his left lead (pushing off with his right hind), so we went back to the walk. I made him face the scary end of the arena and let him snort and sniff the tarps covered panels. Then we spent some times standing still and trying to relax (didn't ever really relax, but did stand still) with our butt to the really scary part.

I believe getting your horse to just stand still is an important part of training. After we had worked on that, we worked on bending in a circle at the walk. Although I could get Ashke to bend through his neck going to the right, he refused any type of bend to the left. I finally dismounted and positioned him next to the wall, with his right hip close to the panels, and worked to get him to bend his neck to the left. The wall prevented him from turning his hip out, but didn't prevent him from backing away from the request. I moved with him, figuring I would position him in the corner, so he couldn't swing his hip out or back away. He finally realized what I was asking (I had my hand positioned on his nose, not pulling from the bit since he was in a curb) and swung his head around. I could feel where the tightness was and applied a bit of pressure and massage to help ease the muscles. Diane always talks about diagonal tension, which is what I was seeing. His right hip and left shoulder/neck. This has been the other area where Ashke has wanted extra grooming or rubs. Once he was able to move his head around to the left easily, I moved and double checked the right (no problem), then again on the left one more time. When I got back on and asked for a circle to the left, Ashke was able to bend through the neck in that direction.

We started working up and down one wall. Walk down. Stop. Turn on the forehand and walk back. Sometimes we would turn on the haunches. Then moved to the trot and asked for a shoulder in (or haunches out - I'm not sure of the difference) and moved down the wall with hips and shoulders not in the same line. Then we did cantering on the line and allowed him to pick the lead he wanted (mostly right, but an occasional left). I wanted him to move, but didn't want to strain or push his right hip. I finished up with some zig zag leg yield down the arena. We are still working on moving forward and sideways at the same time.

Overall, about an hour on him. Mostly working on technical stuff. He was moving much better for me under saddle. It may just be an issue I am going to have to manage. He will get Thursday and Friday off (with some free time with his ball on Friday) then a trail ride with L and K on Saturday. He got fussed over in his stall and fed his mash. He stuck his nose so far into the bucket it was dripping off his nose like thick mud and he had to snort it out of his nostrils. Yuck.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Hipsters

We have a problem, Houston.

It isn't new. It's the same problem we've had.

Ashke is short striding on his right hind again. I don't think this will ever go away. He stepped wrong yesterday and I felt something, but it didn't show in how he was moving. I think it is also exacerbated by the cold. I know all of my injuries hurt, I can only imagine the cold makes him sore as well. I could feel him shivering in the cold when I first got on.

J and I just rode VB park. I could feel the short striding and J said he was abducting his right hind a little more than he has been. I'm pretty sure the hamstring was very tight. We started slow, just to let the muscles loosen and relax. By the time we hit the gravel trail leading up the small hill to our right, he was moving more easily, but I could still feel the hitch in his stride. (I've been feeling this at one level or another since the weather changed).

We trotted up the gravel rise, his head at about the back tire of J's bike (so we don't run over her). He was moving well and the hitch in his stride is less noticeable at the trot or canter. We went up the trail then turned east and headed back down toward the small wetland area, taking care to cross all of the frozen water areas safely.

As we came up on this pond, J saw a coyote trotting across the ice of the frozen pond. This is the second time we've seen the coyote hunting here and I am pretty sure she has a den close by.


This part of the trail is slightly elevated and as we rode along it, you could see the mice darting from the field to hide under the wooden edge of the path.




We rode out to the soccer fields and the ground on the far side of Ward road was much less icy and beginning to soften when we were there. We had some fun cantering towards the geese, although Ashke was a little concerned when they stopped waddling across the ground and started flying.



We turned around and headed back. Ashke asked to canter, which I agreed to, and then he grabbed at the bit, lifted up through the shoulders, and tried to bolt. Knucklehead. Every time I think I could possibly go back to a snaffle, Ashke shows me exactly why we ride in the bit we do. I rode out his fit, then required him to canter side pass across the soccer field. So we tried to replicate it.



As we crossed the sidewalks and returned to flat ground, Ashke asked to canter again.  I agreed and let him move forward. He moved into the canter and then tried to grab the bit in his mouth and bolt. Again. J reminded me that he was feeling pretty good, was heading home and was still an Arabian.


After the spook, head tossing, temper tantrum, we did some very slow, collected cantering. The rest of the ride was fairly uneventful and Ashke was mostly cool and dry by the time we hit the barn. He got his mash while I untacked him, pulled his exercise boots, then went over him with my hands. There is a nice knot on his right hip, just over his bone (same place as always). I rubbed it some with sore no more and Ashke did the "oh, that hurts so good" shifty feet as I rubbed. I gave him some Bute and blanketed him against the cold. 
I am only going to ride Tuesday night and Friday this week. It's not supposed to be as cold this week. I want to keep him moving. More massage. More sore no more. And I've already purchased a wool waterproof quarter sheet for days like today.




Saturday, January 10, 2015

Sunshine on Snow

I have been struggling for several weeks with finding my motivation for riding, or leaving the house or for anything physical. The cold has seemed to settle into my bones and I ache all over. The ride on Weds left me chilled to the bone and completely unmotivated to do anything. J and I had talked about doing a ride this morning, but after getting up at 5:15 to get the boy to the ski bus and then spending two hours at the RV show right after, I wasn't sure I really wanted to leave the house again. I texted K and she was interested in doing a ride, so we told her we would pick her up at noon.

J and I dragged ourselves out of the house and as soon as the sunshine hit, I felt a stir of excitement. I decided I needed to smudge the house when we got back. See if we could clear out the lethargy that is prevalent in the house. By the time we hit the barn, the weather was wonderful and I was running around in bibs and a long sleeve shirt. We loaded gear in record time, and I pulled Ashke out. We stood in the doorway to the barn and he recognized the rig as J pulled it around. It took one try, one backing up across the mudslick barn yard, then he walked onto the trailer at the second try. Once loaded, we headed out to TMR.

At TMR I helped K grab her gear and load it in the trailer. Then she went back for Eddy and I grabbed his bucket of alfalfa pellets and oats. I was behind them by twenty feet or so as she walked Eddy to the trailer and he just walked on. My jaw dropped. That was amazing. To see a horse that balked and struggled to even be willing to get close to the trailer just walk on without a hesitation, was phenominal. Saiph told me they would get more willing as they realized that the trailer took them fun places. She was absolutely right.

We headed for Chatfield.

When we got there it took half an hour or so to groom, pick and tack up. I choose to ride without the boots since I figured the ground was mostly snow covered or fairly soft. Hooves are much stickier than gloves and I wanted to ensure he was as sure footed as possible. I did, however, put on his new exercise boots (BOT) on his front legs. I will also get a pair for the back legs eventually. I figured the front boots were more important to start. I'm pretty sure he clipped himself last week in the indoor arena. Watching him walk when he is warmed up, he is tracking up to the point where his hind feet are overstepping the hoof marks from his front feet. We were working on the slalom poles and he left a patch of white hair on the dirt. I couldn't find where he had hit himself, but I felt it and saw the evidence. Figured the exercise boots were a good idea. Tacked up, we headed out to explore.

There was a lot more snow than we were expecting, but the weather was just as perfect as expected. It hit a high of 59 and turned the waiting snow into a mushy mash of snow, ice and water. It was worse than mud for J. It was taking every thing she had to keep the bike moving forward at our walking pace.


We rode on this sidewalk for fifteen minutes or so and then moved to the road. J rode on the road and K and I rode next to the road. Eddy was a lot more up than K was expecting, and so they spent some time weaving around bushes and trotting his slow trot to keep up with Ashke's walk.


Today marked our fourth trail ride with Eddy. He was a little nervous to start, but by the end of the ride he was letting traffic whiz by without turning his head.


It was such a beautiful day. We had a brief canter on the gravel road leading to the model airplane park, with Eddy cantering comfortably with K. Ashke and I cantered a couple of times through the snow where the ground was level and the snow was fairly thin.


When we were walking through the trees, I was very happy we were traveling slow, since Ashke stepped in a hole that neither of us suspected was there. I was happy he had the extra support on his front legs when that happened. He was fine and didn't seem to notice, but I was really happy we weren't traveling any faster.


We rode out to the Highline Canal. When we got there it became really apparent, very quickly, that it was not good terrain for J. Or the horses. Slick. Muddy. Very wet. We turned around and headed back.


I really prefer to ride a loop, in part because it is more entertaining, but also in part because the horses don't know we are headed back to the trailer. When we turned around Ashke was all business and was just walking, but Eddy was tossing his head, flipping his bit, and fighting with K. He absolutely didn't want to walk. She started making him do serpentines through the brush next to where J and I were riding. I was laughing because Ashke kept looking over at them and almost shaking his head. He was thinking why is that silly horse working so hard when he could be walking calmly.


I was walking along and all of a sudden I heard K call out. She sounded a little stressed. I turned around and Eddy was laying in the snow with K on his back. K was encouraging him to get back up without rolling on her saddle. She stayed on while he heaved himself back on his feet and then shook vigorously. The only thing we could figure is that he was hot from the trotting and wanted to cool off. J said he laid down like a camel. I almost got my camera out in time.


The ride back was uneventful. It was getting more and more wet as we went along. J enjoyed a brief downhill run and then stopped to warn us of two narrow but steep gullies we had to ride around. As we were riding, I slipped my hand in the gullet of the Alta. This is something I do on occasion to check the saddle fit at Ashke's withers. When I first got the Alta, my finger on the right side of the gullet would be slightly pinched between the side of the gullet and his wither as Ashke walked. The finger on the left side would feel no pressure and would slide and move around in the space that was there. I understood that the difference in the fit from one side to the other was due to the movement imbalance that Ashke experienced with his injuries. Today, when I did the same thing, the improvement was marked. The right and left side was pinching my finger pretty close to the same amount as he walked. His left wither has definitely developed over the past ten months. I was pretty tickled to discover this. Additionally, he has put on some weight, because his saddle was one hole looser than last week. 


New Back on Track Exercise Boots. Loved them. Will only ride with them going forward.

When we got back to the barn, we were running late to meet T at the ski bus. I dumped Ashke in his stall with another mash and we got the tack put away. And then we went to park the trailer and almost got it and the truck stuck in the mud. J says it wasn't that close, but it sure felt that way to me. The trailer parking area was a slimy clay mud pit. But, J was a rock star and she and Sully managed the bricked trailer just fine. We unhitched and headed out.

A pretty good day for January.


Our overall average was good and our canter was forward and relaxed without rushing.


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

WW: Diesel

I feel like we need an oil change.

Tuesday

I tried MTG on Ashke for the first time. I put some on his mane (from both sides), on his forelock (he thought I was trying to kill him) and on his tail dock (this has been an itchy mess since I got him and stems from the lack of any nutrition prior to my delivering him from the evil of a bare lot.) I added the Omega Max flax about eight months ago in response to his coat being rough and uneven (and not wanting to shed) over his ribs and buttocks. It has helped a lot and overall his coat looks amazing. However, we still have a rub spot on his tail dock from him rubbing his ass on the poles of his run out pen. It is getting better, but since this is going to be the year of amazing hair, I thought I would treat his tail dock (and since every one who using this stuff swears by it) and his mane and forelock. I would suspect worms to be a source of ass itch, but since he is wormed regularly with a variety of worming products (I follow the recommended worming schedule), I don't think that is the issue. I think we have a dry tail dock.

Hence the MTG.

If you own a white or light grey horse and would like them to remain that way, do not use any oil based product.

His mane, the sides of his neck, his forelock and the front of his face, plus his tail and surrounding areas are dark greyish brown and very oily. I could see the little flecks of dirt and other unmentionable materials standing on the edges of his hair, but when I tried to remove them, they fused into a material that could not be removed from the hair. It is not a pretty look. I tried to braid his mane (which has finally started to fall over) but I couldn't separate the hair and do the weave do to the slickness of his mane. I ended up putting it into pigtails, hoping to encourage it to fall in the same direction. Even that was difficult.

So maybe I used a tad bit too much.

His tail was easier, since I could dunk the majority of it into a bucket filled with almost frozen water (damn it was cold) and scrub it with quickly freezing hands until the shit and oil had turned the reddish-brown-yellow tail into almost white again. Then a quick rinse in a clean bucket of water, followed by a hearty application of conditioner that smells of coconut and a tail brush for finally removing all of the snarls. His tail looked really good at the end of that process. His mane, however, may take until it warms in May to wash out.

After all of that beauty, we saddled up and headed to the indoor. We got about 20 minutes of solid work, including some decent cantering without spooking at the tarp covered bears at the end of the arena. Then the jumping lesson started with the four other horses that were in the arena and I took Ashke and I out. We tried the outdoor arena, but it was about four inches deep in mud and water, so we headed through the property to the access road that runs between the paddocks and the fields. We turned back down that access road and rode back to Indiana, across the pavement (which required wading through a puddle that was six or so inches deep) and onto the Van Bibber trail.

Yes, that's right. I rode out on trail, in the pitch dark, without a moon to see by, with a storm blowing in, on my Arabian. He was a rock star. He was a little snorty but not bad, with no major spooks. The only annoying thing was him walking with his head canted back to look back at the way we came, which he doesn't do on our ride home. When we turned home he fussed a little bit about walking and not trotting (we only trot home if we trotted out) but overall it was a wonderful ride. I have no idea how far we actually rode, but we were out for twenty five minutes or so.

I can't wait until it is lighter at night for a longer period of time. I think having the park across the street is going to be amazing, even if horse boy gets bored with it, because I can do a solid six miles without trying and I would much rather do that then ride in the arena.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Trainer

I am currently considering finding a trainer to help me achieve my goals in Working Equitation, especially the dressage test and the precision test (you don't really have to train for the speed test). The cattle handling will work best in the clinic setting, but the dressage and precision part of Working Equitation might progress easier with a qualified WE trainer. I actually have the ability to bring a trainer in where we board now (I should have had the ability at TMR, but was stymied by the trainers there). So, how does one go about picking the right trainer for myself and Ashke?

One of my most admired horse people wrote a blog on this subject just recently, as if he knew I needed some direction. (I love Mark Rashid!! Can't wait to attend his classes at the Horse Expo in March!)

You can read the entire blog here: https://consideringthehorse.wordpress.com/ and I would highly recommend you do. He has some great things to say.

So, in searching for and evaluating a trainer (rather than just using the one you happen across at the barn you are boarding at) I am going to take the following things into consideration.

Mark Rashid says:
"You see, I believe that in order for a student to develop their own individuality and skills in any activity (particularly horsemanship) the instructor’s primary role should be to teach the student how to learn, not just how to do, or worse yet, how to mimic."

This makes sense to me. I am riding a horse that is unique in the world (and I believe most riders feel this way considering how many different horse blogs and experiences there are out there) and I am unique. My horse will experience things differently than a warmblood or a QH because of his physical structure, his physical condition, his personality and his reaction to the training environment. He has a different background and different experiences to pull from. His early foalhood training will impact how he processes and learns things. His nutrition and stable environment will also dictate his comfort level and willingness to try. How I maintain his feet and the fit of his saddle will contribute to his overall comfort level. All of these things are factors in the training environment, so why would we as riders expect our horses to all act, look or ride the same way?

My past riding experiences will effect what I do and how I do it. More than that, my life experiences will also effect how I interact with Ashke and what my approach is at any given point. I want a trainer that understands I will not just throw on a pair of spurs to get my trot-canter transitions. I want real life coaching that teaches me the skill to do all of the elements of a dressage test, which I want to practice while riding on trail. I need a trainer who understands that life teaches more than an hour in an arena and that those lessons should be incorporated into any training session. I need a trainer who is willing to work with us in the bit we have chosen and who isn't so entrenched in their specific process as to expect me to tighten down a cavesson. I want a trainer who is willing to discuss training strategy, explain concepts and terms that I don't know and who will present the information in a way that does not feel like a fight with my horse. I want to be successful while still maintaining the relationship with my horse that I have worked so hard to develop.

Mark Rashid goes on to say:
"When a student understands the art of learning, they are in turn able to see and understand that very little of what they are being taught is ever carved in stone. Every situation becomes a classroom and all those they come in contact with become teachers. They understand that something can be gleaned from every person (or horse) and from every situation regardless of how positive, negative, significant or not that situation appears at the time."

I thought of Gail, from Journey to a 100 Miles, who reflected on the multitude of lessons where her trainer nitpicked at her position. This doesn't advance either the horse or the rider and really is designed to degrade and humiliate the rider. It should be clear to a good trainer when something they are communicating is not clear, since the rider is still not doing what the trainer is asking. The trainer should have the responsibility to try a different approach, or communicate in a different way, to achieve their end goal. However, I truly believe that a large majority of trainers have one way to teach, one particular goal in mind, and work to achieve exactly the same thing from all of their students.

I think students, especially students that are coming to this discipline out of love of the horse without enough experience to cry foul when their trainer crosses over the line, believe that this is the only way to ride. You get a horse and then you get a trainer. You learn to ride your horse because of your trainer. You want to continue to improve and believe that you can only do that via your trainer and so you work hard at achieving what your trainer is coaching you to do. If your trainer spends your hour lesson nitpicking on a single item, or saying the exact same things they said in your last lesson, and the one before that, what exactly will the student learn in that environment?

Sometimes, like in Gail's instance, you realize what is happening and ride down your trainer with your giant ass horse and a dressage whip. Other times you spend your lesson trying to absorb the information and your practice rides in tears until you finally realize that what you are working on is not your goal; it's your trainer's goal. Other times, you give up and sell your horse and find a new hobby, or a new horse, not because you can't be a good partner for your horse, but because your trainer is not able to think outside the box they teach in.

A trainer should be able to see where you are struggling and reach out to break through that difficulty, not just continue to say the same thing over and over. And perhaps I expect too much, but I would expect a trainer to be able to tell when you are frustrated or struggling with a concept and present it in a different way to further understanding. Or move past that movement and onto something else that does further your riding ability.

I think Karen, at Not-So-Speedy Dressage, has the right set-up in that she works with more than one trainer. She learns different things from each of them and yet is able to apply those concepts within her lessons. She is also open and able to share the experiences and insights with both of the trainers she works with, without either of them becoming adamant that their way is the only way. Any trainer worth their salt should not be offended or butt-hurt by enlightenment from another source.

Mark goes on to make the point:
"However, a student’s skills, thoughts and abilities can become severely diminished when an instructor intentionally, or even unintentionally, teaches a student how to simply mimic the instructor’s actions, movement, words or ideas. . . .While it’s true that some trainers these days consciously encourage their students to mimic them, thus ultimately hindering the student’s individuality and overall skills, others cause a students’ mimicry unconsciously by using the same phrases, terms and even ideas over and over with very little variation. Eventually the student becomes so immersed in these phrases, terms and ideas that there seem to be no other viable options for them, and they begin to repeat them almost without thinking."

I think this happens a lot. I think that often a trainer knows one way to achieve a goal and teaches to that goal, using the same language over and over again. I've listened to several trainers working with multiple students and some of them use the same words and phrases over and over regardless of the level of the student, the training level of the horse, or what they are trying to do. I think there are a lot of "catch phrases" in the dressage world, similar and different "catch phrases" in the world of hunters and jumper, and "catch phrases" in the world of western riders as well. A seriously good trainer will be able to teach without using those phrases. 

Going forward, I will watch any trainer I would consider taking lessons from teach other students. I would expect to see differing approaches based on the student in front of them, new verbage, different communication styles. I am also looking for problem solving on the part of the trainer, because there is nothing so frustrating as doing the same thing over and over expecting different results. I don't want to be the carbon copy of my teacher. I want to be myself. I want Ashke to be the most Ashke he can be. And I want us to be flawless in our interaction with each other. Those are the things that are of importance to me, not how well we can shape a 20 m circle. The rest of it is just execution, which is a product of practice.

Mark goes on:
"Other trainers inadvertently hinder individuality by not allowing the student to do the work that is necessary for both the horse and student to progress together. In these cases, when a problem arises with a horse (or rider) these trainers simply take the horse from the student, do whatever work is necessary, and then give the horse back."

Mark is pretty committed at this point in his career to not riding client horses during clinics. His philosophy is that it doesn't progress understanding or ability between the rider and the horse. Any trainer worth their salt is going to be able to get on your horse and get them to do whatever they are asking for, within the horse's ability. For a student that is struggling, it becomes a vicious cycle: it is nice to see that your horse can do what is being asked, but also frustrating that as the rider one can not achieve the same goal. 

I want a trainer that is willing to work with me (not do it for me) to achieve our goals. I don't want to share Ashke with anyone else. I regret the two people, other than myself, who have ridden him in the past. Thinking of letting someone else ride Ashke, now, feels like letting someone else sleep with my spouse. It certainly didn't progress my relationship with Ashke (and I wouldn't expect letting someone sleep with my spouse would progress my relationship with her, either). I didn't suddenly learn something I didn't know before and he didn't suddenly acquire great skill or ability that he could then share with me. All it did was make him feel uncomfortable and uneasy. I would much rather take more time to learn a particular skill than to have someone else demonstrate it on my horse. I don't share well (horse or wife, thankyouverymuch.) And for the record, I don't want to ride anyone else's horse either. I have one horse that I am building a relationship with and that is the only one I am interested in riding.

Finally, Mark says,
"It can be argued that a trainer or instructor who takes the time to help a student figure out how to deal with an issue instead of just fixing it themselves is, as another old saying goes, teaching the student how to fish instead of simply giving them a fish."

I need coaching on how to execute some of the movements and obstacles in Working Equitation. I want a trainer who is invested in helping Ashke and I figure out how to be better. I expect a trainer who can change their approach to best suit the situation, on any given day, because a different approach may yield unbelievable results. And I want it to be fun. I want both Ashke and myself to enjoy the ride, while still gaining skill and ability.
Is that too much to ask?

Saturday, January 3, 2015

TOABH: Fave

Fave.

What is your horse's absolute favorite thing? Outside of riding! Are there treats that instantly convert your pony into an addict or liniments that leave him yawning and chewing? What does your horse just love to have?

Before I answer this question I need to discuss my newest feed issue with Ashke.

Ashke has lost a little weight since the cold snap last week. It was enough that I noticed it when putting the saddle on last night for our ride. I can also see his ribs beginning to hint through his winter coat. When he was at TMR, I had him on four flakes of grass and two flakes of alfalfa. When we moved to SQA, I put him on four flakes of grass and the barley fodder. After thinking about what I think he needs, I did two things: I upped his grass to six flakes (fed twice a day) plus the barley fodder. Additionally, I went out and got a bag of Amplify to add to his daily mash.

Amplify is a erudited pellet feed that has 14% protein and 30% fat. I have fed it before and Ashke likes it, will eat it dry if necessary, and it will not make him more hyper. I'm hoping that the combination of a little more grass and the additional fat will help us get through the winter without losing any more weight. It might also help him generate body heat during his adjustment to outdoor living. So his mash will now consist of two pounds of Triple Crown Senior, one pound of Amplify, equipride, omega max, lysine and joint supplement.

Now, back to the blog hop, where Beka asks, what is your horse's favorite thing. . . . Ashke has a toss up between his mash and the giant ball. He blisses out with the mash, but absolutely loves playing with the big ball. On Weds, we get to learn to play horse soccer at SQA, something I think Ashke will excel at.