Saturday, December 30, 2017

Alta Escuela Saddle

I had a question about the Alta Escuela saddle by Ludomar that I ride in and it’s been years since I wrote about the process I went through with this saddle, so I thought I would answer the questions in a blog post.

One of the things I knew before getting Ashke was that I could not ride in a.western saddle. The angle of the fenders and the weight of holding the stirrups in place put a great deal of pressure on the inside of my knees and after about 30 minutes I’m in incredible pain. However, I wanted something a little more substantial than the leather postage stamp that is an English saddle. Add to that my absolute love of “The Man From Snowy River” and you have the perfect storm of desire for an Aussie saddle. So soon after I was given Ashke, I went out to look at Aussie saddles. There is an Australian saddlery shop here in Denver, son one day we ended up there.

I talked to the woman who was in the shop that day, told her I was getting a SE Arabian, and that he was very skinny, and she directed me to the Master Campdraft saddle. I asked her about the saddle fit, since he had no muscle at the moment and she told me that the saddle fit depended on the bone structure and not the muscle of the horse. Now, mind you, I only had a saddle for a couple of years when I was young. I got it at 16 and it was stolen when I was 18, so I really didn’t know a whole lot about saddles to begin with. I took her at her word and took the Campdraft saddle home. Then a couple of weeks later, I brought Ashke home and began our long process of rehab.

I love Aussie saddles. I love how they look and how deep the seat is, but not a fan of how they fit. By December, it was obvious that the Campdraft didn’t fit Ashke’s back. There was too much rock in the shape of the saddle and it was impacting the soft tissue over his kidneys. I took it back and we tried the Legend, which was too narrow in the withers. That gave way to the Longreach Endurance Saddle, then the Queensland, the Trailmaster and ended up with the Kimberley. I tried every saddle pad they carried including the gel/memory foam pad they suggested. Nothing worked. During this process I educated myself on saddles and saddle fitting. I learned to map my horses back and realized that his left wither was super underdeveloped in comparison to his right. I began to understand that the things I was seeing in his back were being caused by the other issues we were identifying via bodywork and chiropractic care. At the end of the process, I returned all of the Aussie saddles for a full refund and called a local saddle fitter to come out and make suggestions.

We ended up in a Trekkerland by Prestige in April of 2013, exactly one year after I had brought Ashke home. I had also ridden in the Keith Bryan Pathfinder and a Selleria Equipe Emporio Endurance saddle. The Selleria was super tiny and gave no help to the rider at all. I really wanted something with a deep seat and support, where I didn’t feel like there was nothing there to ride in. The Keith Bryan did not feel stable on his back when we tried it and neither of us liked it as well as we did the Trekkerland. The Trekker was modeled on the European cavalry saddle, however, the seat was suspended over the frame of the saddle and it was hard to feel Ashke’s back. It did fit both of us and I was satisfied at the time.

Then I began doing a lot of riding. We did 160+ miles on trail that year in that saddle, and started taking dressage lessons. The muscle in Ashke’s back developed and he gained weight in the right places. By February of 2014, Ashke was back sore again. This time, when I mapped his back and then looked at the underside of the saddle, I recognized the issue. He has a high wither, flat back and sprung ribs. He had gained enough weight that his ribs were pushing the panels on the Trekkerland out (which the saddle is designed to accommodate), however, it was pushing the panels far enough out that the bars of the saddle next to his spine were pushing downward on either side of his backbone. It must have been excruciating to have that happen with me in the saddle.

I began looking again. I tried an Isabelle Bates dressage saddle, an Adam Ellis (fit Ashke - did horrible, painful things to my lower back), four different Wintec saddles, including one with the CAIR system which Ashke bucked under and then refused to move AT ALL, and a specialized, that didn’t fit. That’s seventeen saddles of all makes and models that I tried and could not ride in.

That’s when I decided to try the Alta Escuela. Saiph, from Wait for the Jump had one and raved about it. I mapped Ashke’s back and sent the mapping to Lisa at El Sueno Espanol, who said the medium wide tree would work very well for Ashke. I placed my order and waited for it to arrive.

It has been amazing. I have done 20+ miles of the Colorado Trail with elevation gains and losses of 1800 feet. I’ve ridden in it for 8 hours without being crippled with pain the next day. Mine is wool flocked and I found a wonderful saddle fitter who loves both my horse and my saddle and keeps the two of them happy together. It is close contact in the saddle flaps, with a deep seat, no horn, English stirrup leathers and Ashke and I communicate very well through it. I can’t say enough good things about it. Ashke can’t say enough good things about it. I have since been exposed to many other Portuguese and Spanish saddles and I have to admit that I think the Alta is the best option for what I want: I can ride trail all day, I can do dressage with great results, and we can run a WE EOH or Speed course and I don’t feel like I’m about to fall off.

Also, I think I have fixed the escape artist thing, at least for now (and yes, he has let himself out of his stall or turn out at least eight times in the past week) with a locking carabiner:

Although Amanda thinks he will figure out how to undo the locking mechanism on the carabiner and let himself out by the end of February. 

Friday, December 29, 2017

Social Butterfly

When I got to the barn on Christmas Day, as I stripped the blanket from Ashke, I realized that it was covered with arena dirt. Like he had been let out into the indoor arena and had rolled. I thought that was really strange.

Then in my lesson, Amanda told me he had let himself out of his stall when she was riding her mare and Amanda had to stop to shoo him back into his stall. There was an additional carabiner clip put on his stall door to help keep him in.

Last night when I got to the barn one of the other boarders was leaving and I was greeted with "YOUR HORSE!!!"

That's not a good sign.

I went inside and his stall door was tied shut by using his halter (which he had already managed to remove once) and his lead rope (fastened to the door lower down and tied to his blanket bar).

Guess someone has been bad.

He let himself out of his stall twice during the flatwork lesson going on in the arena that night.

I replaced the carabiner with a double ended clip that is worked with your thumb, which has been effective in keeping him in turn out (he also let himself out of his turn out paddock and in with DaVinci last week) in the hopes that his midnight wanderings would be curtailed. I also used the chain from a broken leadrope to chain his door lower down where he can't reach it with his mouth.

I texted the BO this morning to see if it had been effective and she said he was safely in his stall this morning. He had already destroyed the carabiner she had put on his stall. She and her daughter had watched him do it.

I guess I need to provide some entertainment in his stall, more secure locks and maybe more work.

My little social butterfly.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Butt Hurt

Ok, I'm laughing just reading the title . . . .

We had a lesson last night, which is good because I swear that's the only way I end up at the barn in December. So far this month, Ashke has had at least three five day breaks. Not that he really needs the work, but I really do. I can feel it in my legs and butt when I'm not riding four days a week.

We rode on Christmas day, after our late lunch, and I was the only one at the barn. We worked on all of the regular stuff, but then I finished off the ride by doing w-t-w transitions asking Ashke to remain on the bit. For the first time, really, he was willing and able to live in that place. We did have some struggles in the southern end of the arena, but I'm just going to have to figure out how to ride through it and insist he continue with the work we are doing.

Last night, I set up the livestock pen for us to play with. Ashke got tense and worried at the south end of the arena, but both Amanda and myself believe he is looking for an excuse. I just need to ride him through it better, rather than getting into a fight with him. It is beyond frustrating to me. And he really only does it at the canter, which is so telling - the corner isn't scary unless we are cantering? Really?

Once Ashke was fairly warmed up, we started playing with the livestock pen. Amanda had me try picking up the canter inside the circle from the trot, but it was impossible. We went back to the walk and I gave him lots of support. I had to figure out how to ride the outside edge of the inside circle, to make the circle as big as possible. Plus, I had to 1) not look down!! (fuck! His shoulder is not going to disappear if I'm not watching it AND we can ride a circle without me staring at the fucking ground), 2) I have got to stop throwing my hands away. Ashke actually has progressed to the point where the connection needs to continue to happen even in the canter or he has no support. 3) I need to stop leaning forward and dumping my weight onto his withers. He cannot bring his shoulders up and around if my weight is over them. Amanda kept saying "sit back onto your pockets". And guess what?!! Once I did that, he was able to canter both directions. An 8 meter circle. It was amazing.

His back and butt were tired after that, so we worked on leg yields from the L4 test (ten meter circle and leg yield to the wall) in both directions. I ended up putting the spurs back on, since I was having to pony kick the leg yield. So undignified. Spurs helped a lot. Then we did some canter work on the rail, with controlling his strides to length the canter and come back to the slower more collected canter. Again, a movement from the L4 test. We definitely need more practice in learning to live in connection at the canter. I have got to stop moving my hands forward when asking for the canter. He can find his comfort level, if I can remain quiet and hold the contact.

Finally, we finished with trot-walk-trot transitions one handed, which means completely off my seat. And letting him figure out where it is comfortable for him to be by not moving my hands during the transitions. I have a tendency to tip forward, trying to be soft in the contact, instead of remaining in the same place and allowing him to figure out how not to bonk himself on the bit. His response to my request for a transition down was to halt, which we will take at this point. It means he is listening and trying. My biggest challenge is to keep my body straight when riding with one hand, so I'm not tipping to the left side or twisting my shoulders.

By that time, Ashke was struggling to maintain a canter lead, and his hips were sore. We ended it on the trot transitions and called it good. I am going to work on the canter-walk-canter transitions on the rail, just like I have been with the trot-walk-trot ones and see if we can get him even stronger in his hind end. If I can maintain a constant contact at the canter through transitions, that will help improve his canter a lot.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

2017 Goals Review

Well, this year didn’t go as I had planned. . . . .

My first goal for 2017 included qualifying for the National Championship by earning a score of 58% combined dressage and EOH. We seemed to be getting farther and farther away from that goal, as my scores dropped with each successive show, rather than showing improvement. Show scores aside, I am very pleased with the progress Ashke and I have made under Amanda’s tutelage. I don’t think it’s easy to find a dressage trainer who has her bronze and silver medals and is two Grand Prix scores away from her gold, who is willing to teach dressage to someone who wants to do Working Equitation. Dressage in general, has been such a huge benefit to Ashke and I. He is sound, although his hind end is still weak sometimes, but we are doing lots to help strengthen that area. His canter is so good. We had just barely attained that canter before our first show at Expo and now we are working on developing the medium canter in addition to the collected canter. I am riding much more correctly, my core has strengthened and my communication with Ashke has improved. Going forward, there should be lots of opportunities for us to play on EOH courses and ride our dressage tests at other facilities, since HCWE has lots of things in the planning stages for this coming year.

My second goal was to explore lots of trails in our area. That was pretty much a bust. I think we rode the Marshall lake trail for the first time with J (had done it with K and Eddy in 2015?) but I didn’t even get to ride the Indian Creek trail this year. It would be good to find a new riding partner to go exploring with in 2018. So, I am sending that wish out into the universe. I have also found that I am really drawn to riding in the arena right now. Ashke is loving it, I am loving it and it is easier. The last time we tried to do a trail ride the wind picked up as we hitched up the trailer. Literally at that moment. I am taking it as a sign.

In retrospect, we did get to ride at Vedauwoo this year. It was a bucket list item and one I hope to do again next year, this time with the dogs. So, I got at least one new trail.

My third goal was horse camping and that didn’t even come close to happening. In fact, we didn’t go camping at all. :(

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Less is More

It’s been a rough month, my dudes. Ashke has had three breaks of at least five days, and one of those was a full week. December is just hard: it takes longer to go anywhere, and although we don’t spend a lot on anyone other than our immediate family, there is some thought and effort that goes into finding just the right gift for our closest friends. On top of that, Star Wars and Pitch Perfect 3 hit theaters in the past two weeks. We saw both on opening night, then went back for a second helping of Star Wars. So, I gave myself a break and took the time off rather than berating myself for not making it to the barn.

Ashke has been keeping himself busy without me. He let himself into DaVinci’s turn out pasture and spent his two hours hanging with his new buddy. BO said she would try them together again next week, since the woman with Destiny is not returning to the barn, so Ashke is in turn out by himself. If DaVinci and he can go out together while maintaining all feet on the ground, that would be a wonderful thing.

My lesson on Wednesday night with Amanda of Amore Equestrian (I love the play on words and am so happy she finally branding herself!!!!) was very good. We did a lot of canter work and I rode without spurs for the first time in months. Ashke had let me know in the ride before our lesson that he understood what I was asking and that I could lose the spurs for a while (I listened, since he doesn’t usually buck). He has been sharp off my leg and tries very hard. 

BTW, I got my holiday gift (we celebrate some strange mix of Solstice, Santa, and Christmas) and tried it for the first time on Wednesday night in my lesson. I ordered the one that I really loved:

Remember this bit? That was the one I ordered on the 15th and when I hadn’t heard from the company that sells the Garcia bits by noon on the 18th, I gave them a call. And a good thing I did. The mouthpiece that Ashke has been riding is not the current Mona Lisa but rather the Salinas mouthpiece. When I called the woman who manages the sales of the bits, we FaceTimed each other so I could see the bits/mouthpieces in real life. The current Mona Lisa has a bar across the bottom of the hood, rather than it being open with the roller being the lowest part of the mouthpiece. The Salinas is designed exactly like the bit we’ve been riding in. So, I told the woman that I wanted the Salinas mouthpiece. So, guess which bit they had in the Salinas mouthpiece in stock?

The exact bit he’s been going in, but with more bling.

The first night riding in it.

Ashke seems to be very happy with the design. He put his mouth all over it when I first showed him. We are still learning to ride in it - the roller is much noisier than the older bit, and he is always busy moving it with his tongue. I also discovered that even thoughI thought Ashke didn’t like tongue pressure, he dislikes bar pressure even more. 

It looks pretty good on him, too.

Ashke being Ashke

Being a sweetie.
I made it out today to ride, with J in tow. I didn’t ride for a long time, but what we did do was good. Mostly, I wanted to check in with him and get a little canter under our belt. His trot work was great and his inclination to spook at the jump standards is decreasing. I’m just ignoring everything and if he gets bulgy, I’m making him do shoulder in at that end of the arena.

Leg Yield

More Leg Yield

Other Side

And Again

Double Slalom
(The second time was better, but we didn’t get video, so you have to take my word for it).

Starting on the other lead

Single slalom.
There was also a second version of this, but J was distracted by barn friends.

Ashke felt lovely today. He just gets better and better and he loves the challenge of the dressage movements we are learning.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017


I have certainly not been riding as much as I would like to, but there have been extenuating circumstances. Star Wars, The Last Jedi, two separate showings, for one. Loved it and may do a blog on it at some point down the road. Lot's of shopping, with an amazing story to share about my Solstice gift, which hopefully will make it here tomorrow (but I can't open it until the 25th, so the story will have to wait). Super busy at work, so hard to find the energy to write when I do have the time, and nothing to share until I'm actually riding again. We are supposed to be in a cold freeze this weekend, so no trail riding and probably limited ride time over my five day weekend. We might get J and T to the slopes this weekend, so that will be fun. Pitch Perfect 3 is on my list, as well as another adventure into the Star Wars Universe. (The Mountain Between Us - great movie BTW).

I did get an opportunity to ride last night and got a short video of our sidepass. One of the comments this summer on one of my tests, was that we needed to be more straight in the sidepass (although I've been told many times to do it in a half pass position at an angle.) In watching this video, I think we need a bit more angle to allow him to cross his hinds, which he's not very good at already. That step over across the other leg is difficult for him. We will keep working the leg yields and half-pass though, because we aren't quitters.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

When Good Horses Go Bad

I rode Monday night after having five days off (freaking December is killing my riding mojo) and although Ashke and I got grumbly at each other (he will stop spooking at the far end of the arena or we will both be grumbly for every ride until it happens) but the ride ended on a good note. Although, I was once again thrown into the "why would I ever want to show again if I can't get my horse to ride past that end of the arena without reacting". He's not even looking at stuff when I hand walk him, nor is he when we are walking or trotting past the obstacles and jump standards. It's when we start cantering that the attitude comes out. He did get smacked on the neck for being an idiot and balking, but then I rode him in a circle back to the spot where he stopped his canter and made him pick it up again. We did canter half circles at that end of the arena until he would do them (because he can do it - that's not the issue) with proper bend, proper cadence and no giraffing. But it left a bad taste in both our mouths.

I do have to say that the arguments we are having now are much less intense, difficult or reactive in comparison to a year ago. A year ago, I would have ended the ride in tears and Ashke would have been tense and distrustful. Monday, it was just grumbly, not an all out fight. And after the open slap on his neck and me telling him to knock it off, he was much better.

Tuesday, we were both warm and affectionate with each other. Kind of like a married couple after bickering about socks. I hand walked him around the arena, passing all of the jump stuff in both directions, and his only reaction was to try and tip the barrel over and eat the plastic flowers out of the jump boxes. We did walk-trot-canter in various combinations and although he did react a bit to the jump standards, a twitch on the rein brought his attention back to me.

One of the other riders at the barn came in while we were riding. Her horse, a QH build like a brick shit house, has been laid up for almost 18 months. He tangled with an electrical fence tape about the same time Ashke degloved his left hind leg. D has been through two surgeries on the injury and his owner, G, is just now getting him back into work. Since I was there and riding, G decided to hop on D and walk a bit around the arena. She had ridden him a week or so prior, and he had been fine, although he gave his trainer a bit of a handful when she was up on him. G thought that all of that had been resolved in the subsequent rides.

She saddled him and stood him by the mounting block for a bit, making him stand still til she was ready to get on. Ashke and I were working the double slalom pattern, although I was changing it up by making him do circles all the way around each pole before doing a transition through the halt to change leads. He was listening well and I really wasn't paying attention to anything other than my communication with him.

G swung up on D and the next thing I know D is bolting across the arena and G is hauling back on her reins trying to get him to stop. Ashke and I halt in place and I add my voice to G's, yelling "D whoa!!!" I could see that G was in trouble. D wasn't listening to her at all, he was in a simple snaffle that gave her no leverage and had a running martingale on. G was trying to do a one rein stop, but the martingale wasn't allowing her to pull his head around to disengage his hind quarters. It also prevented her from pulling his head up, since it was holding his head down. The second turn around the indoor and they almost hit the wall of the arena, and when D circled toward Ashke and I, I really thought he was going to crash into us. The scenes from those driving classes where the horse and cart go careening around the arena crashing other horse and carts flashed through my head, but D dodged at the last moment and missed us.

Ashke didn't move. We were both of the opinion that less movement would not contribute any more energy to the explosiveness that was happening.

On his third circuit, D started adding crowhopping to his resume, and at that point the writing was on the wall. I didn't think it would end well and I think G came to the same decision. Additionally, the saddle was slipping to the outside. G looked for a soft place to land and dropped off  the outside. D managed to get free without stepping on her. G rolled over in the sand and began to crawl out of the arena. She was moving and conscious.

I swung off and grabbed D before he could continue to rampage. He was pretty wild and it took a moment to get him. By that time, G was up and had found her glasses (I do not miss wearing glasses for just that reason) and confirmed verbally that although her back hurt, she was moving and not broken and didn't need an ambulance.

I took Ashke over and put him at the tie rack in his halter, then took a lunge line and D back to the middle of the arena. I removed the martingale, tied his reins around the horn to keep them out of our way, straightened out the saddle and tightened the girth, then ran the lunge line through his bit and up over his head to the other side. Then I asked him to move in a circle. G warned me that he didn't lunge well, but once I got him going in a circle he continued on his own. I just asked him to move until he stopped trying to bolt, his head came down a bit and he was licking and chewing. Then we reversed direction and did it the other way. He choose to travel in a rapid trot for almost 30 minutes before I stopped him because he was short striding on his left hind.

He was pretty sweaty. G walked him for a bit to let him cool and dry. I had thought to have her get back on him, but it was pretty obvious when we went to attempt that, that he was going to explode again. G put him away and we gave him 1g of bute, since he had just done a bunch more exercise than he had in the past 18 months. G agreed to get help from her trainer before trying to ride him again in the form of lunging, ground work and maybe a lead line lesson. And she agreed to wear her helmet next time.

Ashke watched everything calmly from his spot on the hitch rail. He really is such a great horse.

I don't know if it was saddle fit or just flat out bad attitude on the part of D when G swung up, but that was one of the most terrifying things I've witnessed. I feel very thankful that G wasn't hurt (sore muscles the next day seems to be the extent) and that D was fine the next morning. I expect that with some specific training and exercise, he will go back to the horse she had the last time she was able to ride.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Feet in Review

 This last Friday, my farrier came out and did Ashke’s feet. This was the third set of shoes since I treated him with the iodine and hydrogen peroxide for the WLD. I took some pics of his hooves, so I had them for reference, in prep for this post. I’ve been thinking about his feet over the past almost six years and decided to go back and see what the pictures showed. 

When I first brought him home, his feet were in pretty rough shape, although given his overall condition, it was not a surprise. I found a farrier and had him come out to work on Ashke, but was not real happy with the results. There was no break over, Ashke was interfering back to front, and his feet showed signs of bruising (bloody spots in the White Line. When I spoke to my then farrier about the interference and issues with soundness, his response was to unbalance the foot to keep Ashke from clipping. I was not impressed. When I moved to TMR, I was able to get him in with a barefoot farrier who worked with us for almost two years. That started our struggle of barefoot-with-hoof-boots-trying-to-keep-Ashke-sound that would stretch for four long years. 

His LF, which will be the focus of this post.

This pic was taken in December of 2012, when I moved to using a barefoot trimmer at TMR. You can see the White Line issues on either side of his hoof. We have been dealing with this since I brought him home. Michele did a good job with trimming him, however, I think the overall quality of his forage at every barn he was at prior to Morelli’s was contributing to his foot issues. The hay at TMR sucked. And Ashke wouldn’t eat the grass mix hay at all. He was on seven flakes of alfalfa, a half pound of amplify, Smartpak supposed, and equipride during this time. I finally threw out the Purina grain based feed and amplify (he didn’t need that much fat in his diet) and replaced it with TC Senior. I stopped messing with the bran mash, and just used the Senior as my base for wet mashes. 

Michele stopped trimming in August of 2014, and recommended a new farrier. He came out and did a trim on Ashke. Ashke was lame afterward. Lame enough that I called a new farrier to come out and look at him. The new farrier was concerned about the length of his hoof capsule, but suggested magic cushion and to give it some time to grow. I was still very committed to keeping Ashke barefoot, so I did some research and found Dan. Dan was a certified equine podiatrist and spent a year trimming Ashke. During that time, it became more and more difficult to keep Ashke sound. His hoof depth was short and Dan stopped trimming the flares his grows naturally. The WLD got significantly worse. The hollows on the edges of the hoof below were grooves in the WL. 

I got concerned enough about the deep hollows and untreated flares, that I called a new farrier, Kris.

On our first trim, Kris said his hoof was short, there was concern about bar abscesses, and we discovered a 8 mm stone buried deep under the frog, that had been there long enough that it had created its own little hollow in his frog. We were stabling at SQA at that point, flirting with the barley grass they really wanted to feed all of the horses, but every time Ashke went on it, he grew sore footed with ridging in his hoof wall. I was treating his hoof with a plethora of farrier recommended products. Kris wanted mine to treat the bar abscess with betadine and sugar, or No Thrush. I got a huge bottle of No Thrush and within a couple of trim cycles, the thrush was gone. But not the WLD. 

The bottom of his hoof was black from the Magic Cushion.

During all of this time, we wee also struggling with hoof boots. Ashke hated them and I hated how he moved in them. He was toe first and stumbling, stilted and stiff when we rode. I would put the hoof boots on, but we never finished the ride still in them. Even on super rocky trails, he moved better being tender and stiff without boots, then he did while wearing them. I was soooo frustrated with both the tenderness and the issues with his feet we were still.dealing with.

Kris first trim. You can see the little round spot at the top of the frog where the stone was removed.

In December of 2015, we moved to Morelli Ranch. Ashke was put on a diet of four flakes of alfalfa and a couple of flakes of grass hay a day. He gets about a pound of TC Senior and his supplements. His run is well drained and he gets two hours of turn out a day, seven days a week. In a matter of a couple of months, he went from a horse that was a hard keeper to one that has maintained his perfect weight with great muscle gain with no changes to his feed program for more than eighteen months. That was amazing to see happen. We were still dealing with his feet however.

I finally made the decision last September to put shoes on Ashke. I was done dealing with the hoof boots and the constant tenderness. The unexpected happened. Ashke needed the extra support the shoes gave him on his fronts and Dr D was so impressed with how he moved, that she told me to put the shoes on all four feet. In the year, since we made that decision, we went from pads and bell boots, with lots of tripping at about five weeks, to a completely sound and solid horse. The WLD was still there, despite several attempts on my part to get rid of it. My newest farrier, Trey (whom we LOVE), told me we had to stay on it until it was gone. I did two applications of White Lightning. It did nothing. I talked to Amanda and she suggested a mix of iodine and hydrogen peroxide. I did that. Two applications a week apart, even with the shoes on, finally fixed the WLD, 

The same hoof on Friday, after the shoe came off and the trim was done.

This is the third trim/shoe cycle since the treatment that finally knocked out the WLD. There is still some roughness where the deep pitting on the outside edges of the hoof were, but when you touch it, it is hard and dry, not soft and spongy like it had been. I expect on the next trim cycle, even that will be gone. Trey says it is gone. Ashke says his hoofs feel really good. I am really happy that we’ve finally got his feet healthy and happy.

I know that the majority of the heavy lifting in fixing his feet was accomplished by the good food he is getting on the daily. You can not underestimate the importance of great forage and balanced nutrients. 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Necessary Skillz

I just watched the new movie, Out of the Wild, based on the book by Mark Rashid, produced and directed by Mark Rashid and just released on both DVD (Amazon) or electronic (iTunes). It was very, very good and I highly recommend it. I love old cowboys, and horses, and romantic love stories and this movie hit all of the high points. Go buy it and download it on iTunes to watch. Then buy the book and read it (I absolutely loved the book - better than the movie, even).

There was a scene that really resonated with me in the last part of that movie. Henry is leading a string of horses, each of them in a halter with the lead rope tied in a loop around the horse in front of them. Henry was holding the lead rope of the first ponied horse in his hand. He had a string of five or six horses following without issue behind him.

Rope around the horse in front like so, with a non-slip knot
(From the interwebs)

Flash to this morning when I was watching a newscast from southern California, where a news reporter was at a ranch that they were trying to evacuate. There were flames shooting high into the air in the background and you could barely see because of the rolling walls of smoke. I wanted to teleport into the scene, throw a saddle on one of the horses, link five or six behind me and lead them to safety. I wanted to scream at people to start rescuing the horses. (The good news is someone updated that all of the horses were rescued.)

From the interwebs

One of the big issues with any kind of evacuation is that not every horse owner has a rig to move their horse. Barn owners might have a trailer to move their own horses, or to help boarders moving in or out, other boarders might also have personal trailers, but there never seems to be enough trailers or trucks to haul out the trailers that are available. Not only that, but what if the road in and out of a ranch is blocked and impossible to haul a trailer down? It seems to me that grabbing a group and heading out on horseback makes more sense then just turning the horses loose. Part of the problem with turning horses loose is the prevalence of fences and barbed wire. This is why it is also important to carry a pair of wire cutters in your carry bag. 

I've decided to put "ponying multiple horses" on my list of skills to be learned. Ashke needs to know how to do it from both the ponied horse position as well as the being ponied horse position. We have ponied Eddy in the past, but I want to do other horses as well, in order to develop the skillz to handle any group at a time. I think it is an important skill set for both you and your horse to have.

In Colorado, we face flood and fire on a regular basis. It is good to have options to get the horses to safety.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017


The time between Samhain and Winter Solstice always seems to resonate with darkness as we lose day-light savings time and the days get shorter and shorter. The melancholy of the impending turn of the wheel is difficult to shake with the joy of giving to our loved ones that this season symbolizes when it's 80 degrees out. Last night, going to dinner with J, it was cold enough to see my breath in the air. The lights draping the trees seemed brighter, happier in the crispness of the air. Crazy that our Decembers are so warm.

It was just cold enough that even when I made it to the barn, when the opportunity came to let Ashke play with Ardee (TB mare owned by my good friend Ree) in the arena with the big ball, how could I say no. Ardee was very unsure of the whole thing, and I think Ashke was a bit puzzled by why she wasn't willing to joining him in playing. Ardee really likes Ashke and will let him snuffle and sniff, with soft whuffles and touches, with only a little bit of mare-warning in his direction.

Ardee, however, wanted nothing to do with the ball. She reared, jumped, bucked and did a bunch of aires above the ground during their 30 minutes of fun. Ashke was focused on his ball, but would leave it to take off racing after her when she exploded. Then he would go back to his ball and Ardee would watch with terrified inquistiveness until it was just to much once again, and then she would race off.

Toward the end, Ashke was trying slowly and carefully to get her to play with him. He would move the ball toward her, like saying "look, its okay". Ree finally had her come up and touch the ball, but Ardee never really understood the point.

I love watching the muscles over his withers ripple as he moves. He has a huge, floating trot now and I made the comment to Ree that it's no wonder his trot has become so difficult to ride in a sitting trot.

I groomed him really well after, then put on a heavier blanket for the night. Tucked him in with a solid feed of TC Senior and some sweet potato treats with marshmallows.

Sixteen more days until the Sun is reborn and the energy of this slow, sleeping, melancholy time is turned into the growing awakening of Spring.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Looking Back

I missed my goal by two letters, since this is the 24th post in November and there are 26 letters in the alphabet. It couldn't be helped. My life right now is cray-cray. Instead of doing an X-Y-Z post for today, I wanted to take a look back at what we were working on in our lessons a year ago, versus what we are doing now.

This was cantering a year ago

We were working primarily on getting the canter down and starting our lateral work. November was the first month where he showed signs of slowing down and being balanced. We were having issues with bend. He was still struggling with some physical issues with both his feet and his haunches, however, he was in consistent work and weekly lessons. 

This was a week ago

We are now working on half pass, shoulder in and haunches in at the trot, the beginnings of flying changes, developing the medium trot vs the collected trot, developing the medium canter vs the collected canter (the video above shows this is a work in progress), trot circle to leg yield. Amanda said in our last lesson that it is amazing how far we've progressed in the past year. 

We have sacrificed a lot of time on trail to developing our skills in the arena. I would have thought we would both be miserable, but I think we both like this. It is amazing to me that a shift in my shoulders by an inch in either direction is the difference between a flowing half pass and a tied up, pretzeled attempt. 

It is hard. Maybe one of the hardest things I've ever worked consistently at. I have a small muscle at the top of my ass that is sprained right now because I am trying to use my legs consistently in ways legs shouldn't be used. But we are getting closer. We are still learning. We are progressing, regardless of what our show scores say.

Ashke and I are no longer arguing about the South end of the arena. If he starts to get silly, a soft pop on the bit reminds him to stay focused, and I am no longer allowing him to derail our conversation. Shoulder in ridden through deeper footing, at the trot is enough to convince him perhaps it is less work to do what I ask then to play silly buggers. 

Our warm ups are easier than a year ago, with walk-trot-canter being available immediately. I am still walking for the first five to ten minutes, doing shoulder in, leg yields and reminding him to stay on the bit at the walk during warm up. The issues of short striding, cross cantering, and feeling rough have evaporated in the past six months, resolved by the myofascial release done by Tracy Vroom. (I can't say enough good about that session and how much has changed under saddle for the two of us because of it). A year ago, cantering was still hit and miss, and he protested the attempts a lot, kicking at my feet frequently because of it. 

In our last lesson, we walked down centerline while I shifted the bend from haunches to the left, the straight and then haunches to the right while keeping the shoulders on the line. I will be working that exercise in a figure eight pattern, using it during our transition at the walk, with a change of lead and canter circles on either side. I need to do this exercise more than he does, so I can build the muscle memory of that movement. I recognized last night that what is keeping us from flying changes is not him, but me. I don't have the muscle memory to make that ask in the .005 of a second I have available to me when we are working on the change. I need to work this exercise until it becomes second nature and I am able to do it in a single walk stride. At that point, I should be able to do it for a flying change. It should also become crystal clear to Ashke which lead we are after. 

I have to laugh that dressage has become so delightful.

Monday, November 27, 2017


T and J at Winter Park for their first trip of the season. The lift lines were very long and the snow was ice.
Not to mention, only about 18” at the base.
T’s helmet is a Ruroc called the Reaper.
It is lit.

J’s ski bike.
I guess it is very swoops.
And Orange.

Saturday, while J and T were skiing, I took Ashke out to the back forty and we did five miles.
I tracked it.
Five times around the perimeter of the property.
He was very bouncy and not listening very well.
This stretch of ground makes a great galloping track, so much so, that we walked and trotted it.

Every time we got to this point, homie wanted to breakneck gallop.
We did half pass instead.
I know, I’m a complete downer.
However, still alive today, so there’s that.

Got some of my lights up this weekend outside, but had to order some new light strings for the front.
What is it with projector lights?
Costco tree perfectly fits the space we have for it. Will let it relax for a day and decorate it tomorrow night.

I have had some excellent rides on Ashke the past couple of days. I have continued handwalking past the end of the arena and it has helped, although he has been spooky the past couple of days, just in general. So have my dogs. And so have all of the other horses. Something in the air, I think. 

We have worked on lateral work, canter transitions through the walk, cantering on the right lead with haunches in, all of our lateral work and last night we did collected to medium trot and back. He did good. 

Saturday, November 25, 2017


In my lifetime I have been around a lot of horses. The majority of them were amazing, loving and safe animals. A couple of them were not. Sham was definitely on the “not safe” side of the coin, and we were all very lucky he didn’t kill someone by the time we sold him. Keile was the second horse that was unsafe. Riding her was an exercise in coming off a horse safey and no amount of distance or wet saddle blankets was enough to make her safe. Keile was a sensitive and over reactive horse. I think it was a product of her breeding and based on her behavior, I think the National Show Horse was a horrible cross. Sham, however, was what I would consider an outlaw and if I had been an adult when I had him, I probably would have had him put down.

So, where is the line to be drawn?

I have a story to share. I know a guy that owns a beautiful gelding, kind of that wonderful mouse grey, with black legs and tiger stripes on his upper limbs and a deep eye. His mane and tail are thick and black, and he has a stripe down his back. He is from old QH stock and is built like a tank, weighing 1150 pounds on a 14.2 frame.This gelding is one of those horses that just absolutely takes your breath away from sheer beauty.

Pros: loves to trail ride, having over a 1000 miles in two years in rocky, desert terrain. He has crossed water, bridges, been around bikes, is sure footed as a mountain goat. He goes barefoot and is a fairly easy keeper. He has started some Western dressage and has been learning quickly. He has over a 1000 hours of round pen/ground manners training. Has shown in Western dressage and some Ranch hand. He has had five solid years of training with various professionals.

Cons: hates to trailer, and can be very difficult to load. Has little regard for people or their space and has no problem running over the top of someone. Is a “dirty” spook and likes to wait until the rider is off balance or not paying attention to pull a spin and buck move. Can not be housed with other horses since he is really food aggressive. He can sunfish with the best of them and is very likely to go after the person who just came off his back as he is to run away. Has been known to bolt on trail. Has been known to rear and strike at his handler. Doesn’t always stand tied and has been responsible for broken lead ropes. Is inconsistent under saddle. After years of training with various professionals, he is still unpredictable.

This horse has already hurt several people. When he goes over the top of someone, he deliberately steps on them. Two riders were left with concussions. One broken leg. A shattered hand. A broken nose. He has unpredicable, aberrant behavior and is more likely to charge over someone when he’s decided he is done then he is to run in the other direction. There is no indication that additional training will resolve the above issues so the owner can house him separately and treat him as a stallion, understanding that riding and handling him involve a lot of risk. 

I was worried when I first brought Ashke home that I was going to have a “broken” horse . . . One with behavioral problems that I was going to have to deal with and I thought about where my line would be drawn. I don’t want a horse that I have to be scared of or cautious around. Ashke was a perfect gentleman from the very beginning. In five and a half years of handling him I have only been stepped on once (he caught the very edge of my boot) and I have long ago stopped being worried that he was trying to get rid of me. Even in tense and scary situations, with loud noises and frightening things around us, he has never come into my space. It was something that was strongly instilled in him when he was a foal and he has never forgotten. I knew two weeks into working with him that he was not mean, not trying to hurt me. I could trust what he was telling me, because he was honest and straightforward. He has continued to be the same way under saddle. And even when I have come off of him - like the incident that happened in June - even with him rearing and panicked above me, all I had to do is say whoa and he stopped. 

It’s not just a question of trust, although there is that, it is also the question of what lies in the heart of your horse. 

My line is if a horse is trying to hurt you deliberately, after training and bonding and creating relationship, then that horse is not to be trusted.  That he is not in pain. Not terrified. But deliberately seeking to harm a human being. One time may be a fluke, but when it has happened numerous times, in many different situations, with different handlers, after years of training, that is an undeniable and unredeemable offense. That horse is a danger and shouldn’t be trusted. 

At what point do you make the decision that the horse is not safe and shouldn’t be handled? Where is the breaking point for you? Do you believe that all horses are good and just need the right handling? Or do you, too, believe that some horses are unredeemable? Would you keep this beautiful QH and handle them like a stud? Would you sell him to the first buyer that offered money? Would you send him to the kill pen, where someone in the public will save him because he is beautiful? Or would you call the vet and have him humanely euthanized? 

What would you do?

Friday, November 24, 2017


For my land sharks, who make me laugh every single day,

For Little Black kittens, who tease the landsharks and curl up in my lap at night when I sit down.

For the honor of being the mother of this bright eyed, sarcastic, sweet, loving young man.
And for his survival to adulthood.

For Family

My mom. Enough said.

For my bestie and her family

For barn friends too numerous to count

For laughter and adventure

And friends brought into my life through my blog

And for my trainer who inspires me every day, who understands Ashke and is willing to push just enough.
Bonus for the orange breeches

And for my lovely, honest, smart, unicorn without whom I would be dying inside.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Simply Fabulous

Every once in a while I have a ride that reminds me of why we keep doing dressage lessons. Ashke was simply fabulous.

To start, I have stopped referring to the “s-p-o-o-k-y” end of the arena that way - instead I am referring to it as the “jump storage” area of the arena, the jump box area and the arena drag area of the arena. I am refusing to fall into his trap of seeing that end as different from the other areas. I’ve also walked him in hand past that end before getting on him so he can inspect the obstacles. He no longer has any real interest in inspecting anything. He did put his teeth on the baby gate around the arena drag, but other than that it was no big deal. That has also been the deal under saddle. If he flicks an ear, he gets a shoulder in and some admonishment “you do not need to be that way with the jump standards” and “do we need to make this harder” or “Theo/Ardee/Laz trots past these spots without even flicking an ear”. Sometimes, shaming is needed. The bonus part of that end of the arena becoming less significant is that we can now use the entire arena, rather than struggling to use 3/4 of the arena. 


We started with walking around the arena in both directions, then went to the trot. I let Ashke really stretch out and open up his trot for a couple of circuits, just asking him to use his back and not travel hollow. We even went between a mare being lunged and the jump boxes without any issues, other than a flicked ear at the mare. Then Amanda arrrived and we started our lesson. Ashke was relaxed and seemed very happy to be working.

We started with leg yields from the wall to x and back to the wall. Then Amanda had us leg yield out to x, execute a turn on the forehand maintaining our bend, then walk off straight. I guess that was one of the exercises they practiced at their clinic last weekend, Wilz had a total meltdown trying that exercise and the clinician ended up schooling him in hand. Ashke nailed it the first time in both directions. We moved onto our serpentines, using the entirety of the arena without having to fight with Ashke, since he was pretty focused for me. We did w-t-w serpentines, with me really focused on keeping him working off my seat. Amanda has me ride it with both hands, and then move to one hand for short time frames, then back if he needs the support. After the w-t-w we moved to t-c-t serpentines and when those were going really good we went to work on the livestock pen I had set up to one side almost in the middle of the arena.

Amanda moved one of the cones to allow us to exit the pen on both sides of the cones, just to give us more variety to ride. We started with a canter around the outside of the pen, then rode through the pen to the opening on the far side, making it a 10 m half circle (the outside edge is 10 m). We rode around and reentered the pen from the far side, exiting out the “opening”. Then we rode around the outside, then through the pen at the canter. And he did it easily.

The last time I had tried it at the canter, he lost his hip and scattered cones in every direction. This time he was able to keep himself without knocking over anything. I was so proud.

The purple is the first time through, the blue was the second time through and the green was the final time through.

One of the things that was very apparent to both Amanda and I, was Ashke’s struggle to keep his hip in when cantering on the right lead. That was the same information I had received at my last clinic with Tarrin, but I could feel him struggling on such a small circle. Amanda acknowledged that we had just clearly identified an area that we need to strengthen through exercise during my rides to make this easier for him to do. His pinned ears and pissed off snort every time I asked him to canter that tight of a circle while not letting him flip his hip to the left was fairly amusing to both Amanda and I. She had me canter him around the outside of the pen, in a counter bend, to help him keep the hip in. It will need to be something I work on with each ride. It is a hole that I can work on going forward. 

We did some of the c-w-c transitions on the straight away, to which Amanda had me add the circle around the outside of the pen, before a downward transition at x and a change of lead going straight forward. We used the circle to help Ashke balance for the straight forward canter transition. By that time he was saying he was getting a bit fatigued with all of the canter work. So, Amanda had me move to the shoulder in along the rail in both directions.  We worked a lot on the shoulder in while riding with one hand. 

Then we worked on a new pattern.

The pattern we worked on

Ashke was to trot down centerline, circle the outside of the pen (10m circle) then when we were back at X we leg yielded to the rail, rode the short end of the arena straight, then leg yielded to X from M, circled the pen again and then rode to A with a little shoulder in. It was complicated and required a lot of focus on his part, since there were lots of changes in direction and bend. He did great though. So fabulous.

We ended there. However, I stripped tack and rode him for about fifteen minutes on the buckle bareback, while Amanda rode one of the Friesans at the barn. He looked back at me a couple of times, but I was able to ride without clenching with my butt and thighs. I rode until he was relaxed and cool. I hope that as long as I can continue to practice after our rides (when he’s calm and tired) perhaps I can regain some of both my balance and the confidence I had in spades when I was younger.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017


C and I went on a roadtrip to McCook Nebraska yesterday to check out an arena where we are going to hold a WE show the first of October next year. It will be a Region 3 show, but not a Regional show, since that requires qualifying scores.

 A lot of open prairie land

 Metal Indian silhouette on the horizon

 C and I spent most of the time talking about WE, horses, life experiences and I don't think either of us got at all bored.

 One of two huge freaking arenas.

 Other end of the same arena

 Secretary area complete with speaker system

 Outdoor stalls with RV hookups.

We reviewed the facilities, looked at the second arena, then headed to lunch to talk about specifics and hammer out details. At the end of lunch we returned to talk to the facilities manager and to pick up a contract and grant application for the show.

 Headed home. Stopped for gas and licorice.
Still laughing and talking after several hours of constant company.

 The one part of the drive that wasn't directly into the sun.
Or after dark

Still three hours from Denver

Eight hours in the car. Three hours in McCook. Lots of time with a great friend. Solid plan for our first collaborative show with new friends from Kansas and Nebraska.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Quintessential Ashke

Or . . . the things he is good at.

Trail riding

I honestly think this is what he is the absolute best at. He is relaxed and confident for the most part, although unusual things can catch his attention and occasionally cause a spook, like the flags on recumbent bikes. (And freaking green wrought iron benches). But for the most part, he loves to explore new country. He loves to revisit places we haven't been in a while and lets me know when he is bored with the same section of trail. He is so willing under saddle and we are at our most connected during trail rides.

I am hoping that this attitude and try will carry over to the endurance field without making him unhappy. We can travel distances at the trot, which I will need to work on this winter and spring, and his "big trot" is between 10 and 12 miles per hour. I just need to get stronger and more able to ride MILES rather than feet at that pace. We shall see how it goes.


We are definitely getting better at dressage. Ashke is more willing to maintain contact with me and I am trying to develop the skills to ride better, keep my leg and seat cues subtle and my hands quiet. He loves being in lessons and trying to do the fancy stuff correctly. I like it because it has made him so much stronger and able to use his hind end properly. And no pain in his body, as determined by both how he is moving under saddle and his conversation with the communicator. I intend to continue with taking lessons (we both love it) but also to get him back out onto trail to develop the stamina and endurance I feel like we may be slipping on.

Body Condition

I can't tell you how happy I am at Ashke's condition. He has managed to maintain his weight for the past year without any adjustments in his food. The high quality of the hay fed by Morelli Ranch has helped him stabilize and maintain a healthy weight. If you would have told me how long it would take to come back into balance after his earlier issues, and everything we would have to do to root out and resolve all of his emotional/body problems, I would have laughed. Five and a half years later, I feel like we have finally reached a place where the ghosts of Christmas past have been laid to rest and he is internally at peace. Patience, persistence and flat out refusal to give up have brought us to a quiet shore. Anything is possible.

 Sweet, Affectionate and Playful

He is affectionate and verbal, playful and easily bored. I am really trying to figure out how to get out to ride him five days a week, but can only seem to truly manage four. I know he would love to see me every day, but it just isn't possible. He can be difficult at times when we are riding alone and he certainly knows how to get my goat, but for the most part he is a willing and capable partner. Time will see us develop the skills we need to do whatever we want, which is something that we both need to decide on.