Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Bits, bits and more bits

This has been as big a search for comfort for Ashke as my earlier search for a saddle, or trying to figure out the hoof boots vs shoes dichotomy for my sensitive boy. For about a year now, I have been riding in a Spanish bit (because Alta Escuela saddle and Spanish attire). And for the most part, Ashke has been better than any bit I had tried before. However, he gapes his mouth open when I touch the rein and getting him to relax into contact is difficult, even in this bit. So, my search for a new bit is on . . .

Let's review . . . 

We started in a bit like this and it did not go good.
No brakes. Gaping mouth. Not a happy horse.

D-Ring Snaffle
This one had the same issues. He hated the nutcracker action.

This is a Raised Rockin' S snaffle.
Designed by Mark Rashid
It was moderately better, but still a struggle.
And less than zero brakes. 

Dr Cook's bitless bridle
Hated it. Still tossed his head. A lot.
No brakes

I added a running martingale, similar to this but not exactly.
It helped a bit, but was not a long term solution.

English mechanical hackamore.
I went through this phase trying to figure out what he might like that would give me brakes.
He had his head straight up in the air. 
Rubbed sores on the sides of his face and jaw

This one was even worse and caused huge rubs on the sides of his face.
The S did not fit his face at all.
This is a constant struggle.

Happy mouth french link

A not-so-happy, happy mouth bit

Nothing happy here

Myler comfort snaffle - kimberwick style

We then had an incident in the arena at Table Mountain Ranch where Ashke bolted on me and didn't want to stop. We did five full circuits of the arena at a dead run before I finally got him to stop. (Everyone moved to the inside and just let us ride it out.) That was when I decided I needed to figure out how to make him stop, before I worried about anything else.

Known as a grazing bit. Ashke actually was much better in this bit, but still threw his head up.
And no ability to get any kind of lateral bend or movement while riding in this bit.
We did, however, figure out how to stop.

He was not a fan, although it did allow independent movement between the sides.

Not a bad trail bit, but still not relaxing into contact.
Worked better to get lateral movement.

Spanish bit to match my attire.
This was the bit we moved to a year ago, when I was told by a judge that we needed to be in a Spanish bit. It was better. It is the bit I have been riding in lessons with Amanda and on trail (I got tired of changing bridle sets). 

This year, the US Rules for Working Equitation lifted the injunction that stipulated the bit had to match tack and attire,. There are some illegal bits (mechanical hacks, gag bits, elevator bits, high spade bits) but we are no longer held to a dressage legal bit if riding in English attire, or a Western curb when riding western. There is a lot more freedom, which means I could look outside of the spanish curb I had been using. The bit search started again.

We also tried this one.
Not a fan.

Hated this bit and refused to move forward.
Like, rooted to the ground in this bit.

Didn't hate it, but didn't love it.
No lateral flex to the bit.
Wasn't a fan but didn't hate it as much as other bits.
This is the bit my friend C had me try. He liked it pretty well and was more comfortable in the contact. The issue, however, is that the chin strap sits way far up his jaw and we ended up with rub marks two inches up from his chin channel. 
Straight Eqyptian Arabian. Not easy.

I also tried another friend's custom made french-link style bit and he acted like he was gagging. It's not a pretty look. I don't have a picture, but it was kind of like a french link with a frog and roller in the middle that laid on the tongue. He was not excited about it. 

That makes 20 bits, that I can remember, that I have tried on Ashke. He prefers less tongue pressure without gouging the top of his mouth. He also prefers a shank bit, in part because it is diffused pressure. Anything that is a direct rein was a no go. The last one shown is the one he has been the most fond of, until the bit I rode him in last night. The bit we tried last night was a bit Amanda has wanted me to try for months now and it deserves its own post. 

So stay tuned . . .



Monday, August 14, 2017


We did 18 miles along the East-West Regional trail. We almost pushed on to the Redtail Park, but it's just as well we turned around when we did since we were caught in the rain at the trailer.

 It was a beautiful day.

J going zoom zoom on the downhill

 Heading into the backcountry

 J waiting for me

 It's such a great ride

 Chasing J up the hill

 One of the largest subdivisions in Denver is just over that rise. But you can't tell from the trail.

 Scrub Oak mini-forest

 Twice I tried to get video but my phone is reaching it's planned obsolescence and did not cooperate.

 Ashke letting me know he would much rather race back to the trailer.

He always knows when it's an out and back trail.

Next Saturday, we are going to Vedauwoo. Probably without the dogs for the day. I'm so excited to be able to ride there, I can barely stand myself.

Monday, August 7, 2017


I think one of the things that I have discovered about Dressage is that when it is done consistently, there is improvement. I got really lucky in my choice of trainers, since she is willing to apply what we learn in the dressage court to the practical application of the Ease of Handling obstacles. And Ashke and I have flourished under her tutelage. One of the big things for me, is remaining relaxed when I go into the arena for our dressage test, so Ashke will remain relaxed as well. In the EOH class, Ashke has had to learn to listen and slow down, as well as work through the obstacles correctly. We are still a work in progress, but I am so pleased with our improvement, I just can't begin to tell you.

I am going to reshare the EOH ride from Expo first and then the ride from Saturday. Then I made a compliation of specific obstacles to compare then to now.

Expo Show where I was actually riding a fire breathing dragon

Ease of Handling on Saturday

So much better. He tried so hard for me. 

Comparison video

First thing of note, he picked up every lead correctly for me. Second, with the exception of the rounding several obstacles obstacle, he didn't throw his head up and brace. He had several moments of spookiness, involving a mule (just before the bridge) and cows (three barrel), but those are things that we can work on as we continue growing together. Overall, he was so much better.

And we kicked ass over the jump. Both times.

I also need to develop a better strategy for our speed round. Amanda and I are starting to work on extending the canter then contracting it again in our lessons. Going forward, I want to extend the canter between obstacles, but then ride the obstacle in speed the same way I would in EOH. It is great reinforcement for Ashke and myself. I think this will also help me find my courage and eliminate the need I seem to feel to hang on to the "oh shit" strap while we do speed. That oh shit strap caused me to DQ this weekend at Speed. Going forward, that needs to end. It will also help with consistency on Ashke's part, since he will be working the obstacles the same way every time.

As we were getting ready to leave, a storm blew in. I was pulling the hay net, water bucket and grain bucket from the trailer while T was fixing up stuff in the back of the truck. I guess T unlocked the trailer door (trying to help) and the wind caught it and blew it open. It swung toward me and Ashke. I put my arm out to try and stop it. Just as my palm hit the door, with my elbow locked to take the weight and keep it from hitting Ashke, Ashke reared and pulled back. The lead rope caught just above my elbow, locked my hand on the trailer, and hyperextended my arm. Almost broke my finger. On the same arm that has the rotator cuff injury from the PVF Show six weeks ago. 

Good thing I have two months to rest and recuperate.

The other thing we will focus on for the next two months is getting out on trail on the weekends. Riding for 25 to 55 minutes in the arena with lots of walk breaks has eroded Ashke's strength, depth of wind and endurance. He was bottomed out at the end of the show, and although I love the submission and obedience, I also want fit and strong. It will be a great mental break for the two of us and hopefully will give me back a horse with limitless bottom. 

I will still be doing weekly lessons with Amanda and practicing our things on the trail. Plus, at least one solo arena ride a week doing our dressagey things.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

First Lesson in Two Weeks

Last night I had my first lesson in two weeks. Amanda had a family reunion last week and then she went to a dressage show at CSU where she rode Intermediate A for the first time.

Amanda in a shadbelly looking very military

Anyway, Ashke and I were able to show off our newly found ability to ride a half pass at the walk for several steps before we lose it. In both directions. Amanda was properly impressed with us and our working on stuff in between lessons. She said she should go away more often, but I told her no.

We worked on serpentines w-t-w and then t-c-t. It took a few minutes but he finally started listening to my seat again. He had been stuck in the stall all day and was feeling a bit forward. Not bad, just energetic.

We did some shoulder in and then worked on pieces of my test to make sure he was listening and where we needed him to be. He did very well. Then we worked on something new, where I asked him to extend his trot and then come back to more controlled trot. Once he was doing that well, we moved to the canter. The theory is that if I can get him to understand that he can have short bursts of speed then come back to a more collected/controlled/slower canter pace, we can apply that training in our EOH/Speed rounds. He figured out the game really quickly.

One of the things I've heard from trainers and judges is that horses can perform better during the speed round because we get out of their way. In EOH we are trying for precision and exactness, but that also means that sometimes we are our own worse frenemy and we get in our horse's way. I know that Ashke and I struggle with him fighting me when we are approaching obstacles. Teaching us both that we can open up a little, then come back to a more precise method of movement will help us communicate better. Hopefully, it will also improve our EOH course. 

Finally, we put up a cavaletti to practice a jump over. It looked like this:

borrowed from the interwebs

In reality it was really more like this:

And measured just under Amanda's knees.

Yes, we are jump wimps. But, we didn't die!!!

Ashke did a great job of finding the jump, figuring out his steps and going over. I did better at staring at the rafters, burying my hands in his mane, and getting my butt out of the saddle going over. I even got a "that looked great" from a bonafide 3.6 jumper (I think she was being kind, but it was much appreciative). Hopefully, if there is a jump in our course this weekend, we will be able to sail over it like an Olympian.

Keep us in your thoughts on Friday and Saturday.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Chasing Bikes

 Saturday was overcast and fairly cool. We had planned on taking the dogs and Ashke to Wyoming, where the dogs could be off leash for our first introductions to riding together. The dogs haven't even been exposed to J on her bike, so it could have been very interesting. However, when we work up that morning there was a 70% chance of heavy rain all day in Vedauwoo, so we opted for Boulder instead. We gathered up A, loaded Ashke and headed for the flatirons.

 It misted for the first couple of hours and kept temps in the low 80's, which is the only way to ride this trail. When we got there and got ready to ride out, A asked if we could be back to the trailer by 3:30 pm so she had time to get home, get showered and dressed for a concert with her son that evening. Of course, we said we would be back before then. I was thinking "12 miles in four hours, piece of cake." Famous last words.

Riding the trails in Boulder will always be a favorite.
Note: slick rock ahead: we went around

End of July and it was still fairly green.

This is part of the trail we have only ridden one time.

Trail was nice enough here that we enjoyed some cantering.

We were coming down into a bit of marsh. The trail is only about two feet wide at this point and the bushes on both sides are almost wither height.
Most of them are thistle.

There was one spot on the beginning of the trail where the path was wide, smooth and uphill. Ashke and I cantered up it with me laughing out loud all of the way. My biggest challenge is always his tendency to move sideways or break to a trot when we are cantering because of the pervasive bush monsters we encounter. I applied a concept I've learned from reading eventing blogs and kept my leg on the entire ride up that hill. He only spooked/broke gait one time and then immediately went back to his canter. It was an awesome part of the ride. He was so full of himself.

A bit of tree and shade where we stopped to snack.
Really should have packed our lunches, since it was lunch time and we were all hungry.
We will plan better next time.

Just about 50 feet up trail from where we stopped for lunch.

A showing Ashke she didn't bring any treats.

We came to a huge uphill and Ashke wanted to race/run/canter. 
There was a guy who had passed us a few moments before by almost riding up Ashke's ass, and got pretty snotty with us about getting out of his way.
I'm the kind of rider that tries to move off trail when I know there are bikes or runners back, but this guy gave us no indication he was there.

I let Ashke go after him.

He panicked a little bit hearing us race up behind him. I slowed Ashke down and gave the guy two switchbacks of trail and then we went after him again. Ashke really opened up that time. When we got up to him, I started hollering WHOA, like Ashke was out of control, but in reality, Ashke slowed as soon as I asked him to. The guy on the bike was standing on his pedals trying to gain speed to stay in front of us.

J and A were both laughing to hard to ride.

That big building in the back ground was the turn in the switchback.
Ashke had a nice little run.

When we hit Coal Creek Trailhead we were about half way through the ride and it was almost 2 pm. A was beginning to panic a bit about getting back in time. I told J to go, since waiting for Ashke and I was what was slowing them down. The trail from Coal Creek is a solid uphill for almost three miles. Ashke and beat them up that, by once we were on top of the mesa, they caught up.

Passing us.

On top of the mesa.

The last I saw of them.

I called J to tell her how to get back to the trailer. They had reached the hwy by that time and opted to take the road, which probably saved them 30 minutes. I told J to leave the trailer with the cooler and my lunch in the parking lot and take A home. I figured I was almost an hour away from the parking lot at that point and no longer had a need to hurry. We just walked the rest of the way, taking time to stop and drink from the cattle waterhole just off the trail. 

When I got to the trailer, I unsaddled, got Ashke set up with his hay bag, his bucket and water, then pulled out my chair and sat down to eat my tuna salad for lunch. I didn't even have time to open the salad when J was back.

We managed 16 miles in about four and a half hours, which included a number of breaks.

Sunday, July 23, 2017


When last we left our intrepid hero, he was off on the right front and right hind, with the chronic issue of swinging his right hind in, instead of swinging the leg straight forward, like he has been doing since we started riding with Amanda. Amanda saw it during our lesson on Tuesday and I texted Dr D for an appointment for the weekend after our show. We weren't able to show because he was off on Sunday morning of last weekend.

Saturday morning, J and I got up early to take Ashke to see Dr D. We were at the barn by 7:30, had him loaded (after cold hosing the tear in his skin across his chest - which we have no idea how he managed to tear himself open there) by 8, and arrived at Dr D's early, like a little after 8:30 instead of 9 am. We pulled up and I unloaded him, figuring I could move him around in the mowed field until Dr D came out. When he got off the trailer he dropped his head and I saw it. There was a vertebrae that was out of place in the middle of his back. Sliding my fingers along his spine highlighted the subluxation. We hung out in the field for a few, then I took him to the round pen to play.

Dr D came out to start her evaluation after Ashke was fairly warmed up. He was floaty trotting and then finally gave me a slow, easy canter on the correct lead (rather than the cross lead he likes to do in the round pen). She didn't see anything wrong on the circle. I gave Dr D a run down of the past four weeks (mattress escapade and sparring with the other gelding), what Amanda had seen in the arena during our lesson, and what I thought was going on. I also showed her where I could see the bump along his spine. We moved to the side of the barn where I walked him out and back, then trotted out and back. She said she could see how his right hind was moving incorrectly and he seemed tight in the neck.

She did her accupuncture evaluation and I could see that Ashke's back was super tender where the bump along his spine was, and from that point all the way back to his SI area. When I asked her about it (while she was working on him) she said it was probably from tightening muscles against the pain. The ribs on both sides that connected to that vertebrae (the T16) were sore on both sides of his body. When she looked at his frogs, the right front and left rear (opposite pair of what it usually is) were being used less evenly, probably due to the bone bruise on the inside of his right front. She did something with his front legs and could tell he was shifted out at the C6 and C7 to the left. And his SI joint was a mess.

Dr D pulled blood and got some vitamin B in syringes and began to set the needles. It's pretty cool to watch the needles either push their way out of his body (where there isn't as much restriction) or suck in tight (where he needs the help). We sat and waited while the needles and his body did their work. She couldn't adjust him until the needles had freed up the energy enough to allow the muscles to release their hold. Pretty soon the needles were hitting the stall mats like falling rain. Dr D climbed up on her step and began to move his spine and SI joint.

I have to tell you, my horse understands English and everything I say to him. Dr D needed him to move his left foot back about a half step. We both told Ashke what we needed,  and he moved that foot back half a step. Then I asked him to stand up on his left hind, so he did, but rested his right hind. We all laughed and told him to stand up square and homeboy did. Dr D moved the base of his neck, after talking him into lowering his head so she could do it in the correct position. I heard it pop when it went into place. Next, Dr D used the accuator to move the vertebrae down his spine, then adjusted the SI area so that both hips moved freely. Finally, she ran two plastic needle covers down over the back of his haunches. Before she did so, I told Ashke he needed to lift his back all the way through his withers. He did so and we could hear everything snap back into place. Dr D double checked her work, but everything was back where it needed to be.

I know there are a lot of people who scoff at both accupuncture and chiro. I have used both on my own body to help heal a ruptured disc at my L5. I know that it helps Ashke. He trusts Dr D and will share information with her that he might hide from me because he doesn't want me to be disappointed. However, as our relationship has progressed, I am more and more aware of what is going on with him. I missed the T16. But I knew there was something wrong. He was happy and moving well when we were done.

Dr D said it was a good thing I didn't try to ride him. The vertebrae that was tied up (restricted) was one that would have caused him to buck. And his back was super sore, so I'm just as glad I didn't try to force the issue. She is pretty sure that the reason he was out at the T16 was due to the mattress escapade (as she put it): when I came off I held onto the rein, which is a continuous loop, and he kept rearing. The combination of those two things was enough to twist his back out of whack. So, lesson learned: no more monkeys jumping on the bed.

We loaded up and headed to the barn. I dropped him off, talked to Amanda about what Dr D found, then J and I headed home. We changed, got lunch and then headed for Colorado Springs to pick up a Thule cargo rack for Antiope. (Costco car buying program gave us a coupon for 50% off one accessory up to $400). As we were getting ready to go, Skittle begged to be allowed to go with us, so we decided to try out the car with the dogs. When we got south of Castle Rock the traffic slowed to a standstill and I decided we would not be taking I-25 home.

We forgot to put a blanket or bed in the back for the dogs to lay on.
Skittle insists on sitting on J's lap.

When we got to the dealership, we brought the dogs inside and waited while they processed our order. I had called ahead and asked about the rack, being told that they could install it while we waited, but we discovered that wasn't the truth. It was in a box and they weren't real excited about putting it together for us. We opted to take the rack home in the box, but that kind of crapped our dogs' style.

 So hard to share.

I opted to drive home through the mountains, taking 24 to Woodland Park, then turning north toward Deckers. It was much cooler, being about 71 rather than the 95 we had been driving in, and the mountain road was awesome to test out the handling of Antiope. And let me tell you, I was pretty freaking impressed. She handled the winding roads very well and had plenty of acceleration. 

A few miles out of Woodland Park, I took a turn off with National Forest access. We drove back away from the road, got out and let the dogs run. J and I hiked up the trail with them about fifteen minutes.

 Running dogs.

 Exploring dogs.

Big rocks in the distance

These were so cool.

There were a bunch of logs laid up against an opening in the rock.
J climbed up to look.

The huge rocks formed a ring around this space.
I feel almost an obsession to go back in climbing shoes and get into that space.
It feels sacred.

We hiked around the outside of the rocks and finally came to a spot I thought would get us inside. J climbed through and ended up next the to leaning logs. Climbing the logs was the only way to get in. Well, or free climbing the rocks around the outside, which we didn't have the gear for. We didn't go inside because we weren't sure how we would get out.

Berkendorks were not the best choice.

Walking around the outside.

There was more than one reason why I was drawn to these rocks.

On the way back, through the winding canyon into and out of Deckers, Skittle sat in the front seat. It was so funny to both J and I when we realized that she was leaning in advance of the curves in the road. She was watching the road and would brace herself depending on which direction the road was curving. Very smart doggo.

 She loves looking out the front window.

And sticking her head out.

Being Co-copilot doggo

It was a great way to spend the day with J and the pupperinos.