Wednesday, October 29, 2014

WW: Lily

She loves to climb on the bed and shove her head under the covers, then whine and scratch while you play mouth games through the blanket. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


 Mom came out to take pics.

 She took 53 and then decided that was enough.

(it was - Thanks Mom!!)

 I am deep in thought. Ashke is wondering what the hell is taking so long.

 Sporting the bling

 Walking to warm up.

 Working on our halt, followed by backing up.

 Messing with my reins

 Working the trot


 I love the look on his face.

 Working on 10m trot circles, with the neck reining request

 Ashke's not sure he wants to back up

 He twitches his lips when he concentrates

 Falling asleep at the trot

 I really wish the camera had not focused on the trees behind us. 

 I think we were halting here. 

 Turning around

 Our canter

 Sidepassing over the pole

 Going to his right is always harder.



Aside from the pictures, today was about Ashke and I figuring out the bit. He did pretty good until the end. I couldn't figure out why he was fighting me so much until I got back to the barn. There were two dime sized rubs on either side of his mouth. The curb strap (the only one I had) was leather, with the buckles at each end, and almost 3/4" wide. The leather right at the corner of his mouth was four layers thick and it had no give. It took the skin off.

I feel horrible. It's my responsibility to make sure the tack is working correctly, and although I checked it, it still failed. I washed it well and treated it with triple antibiotic. Then I went  out an bought a new curb strap that is much thinner, with plenty of room to adjust for his small chin, and only one buckle in the middle of the strap (in the back). We will see how that works.

Sunday, October 19, 2014


J and I managed to sneak two rides in: one on Saturday morning and the second on Sunday. We got to the barn about 9:30 on Saturday and decided to ride the mesa. J brought her new bike and I rode in my new pack. Ashke went out in the hackamore. We did a 4.4 mile ride around the edge of the mesa to the parking lot and then back.

Ashke in the hackamore

So, the hackamore was a failure. First, I am not happy with the fit around his nose. Even tightened as much as I feel comfortable with, Ashke could flip it around on his face, which he did with regular abandon. As for how well it worked on the trail . . . well it didn't, unless you think having your horse's nose up between his ears while he is galloping, fighting and rearing down the trail, arguing with your request to slow down and watch where he is putting his feet, is working well. He braced against the request to slow more in the hackamore than he did in the Myler. It was very frustrating to ride.

J and Coyote

This is where the hill begins to get steep. That guy up in front of us totally kicked both of our butts going up the hill. J made it about a third of the way up before we had to stop and let her catch her breath.

The Mesa is almost a mile climb up and this isn't really the steep part. It's a mile climb to get to the road that rolls around the edges of the mesa. 

Taking another quick break. Once we were up the first long hill, J rode the rest of the ride without having to stop. 

One of the only issues we really have with riding together, especially on trails like this, is that I go fast uphill and she goes fast downhill. This does make ongoing conversation difficult as we play hopscotch. We do still find things to talk about when we meet up again.

 The pictures don't do the colors justice. It's been such a beautiful autumn.

When we turned for home, Ashke lost his shit. It didn't help that a lot of the ride home was downhill and J absolutely flew. We were cantering the singletrack where we could but had no hope of keeping up with her. When we hit the main road, Ashke fought and reared and twisted and did everything but turn himself inside out trying to fight out of the hackamore. We almost went off trail three times, twice on fairly steep drops (not fall and die drops, but more like, bash his legs to bits on the rocks drops). We got back safely, but it was tense. 

I went to the consignment shop at the barn and picked out two new bits to try. They were similar in style but one was much heavier and a touch wider, with longer shanks. 

Low, wide port

I tried them both on and both J and I agreed that the shorter shank, lighter bit was a better fit. I think it is a 4.75" and the other one was a 5". I really didn't like the weight of the bigger bit, so I am happy that the shorter shank one fit better. It also fit the medieval bridle that I got for my birthday much better than the hackamore.

 Ashke snorted for the first fifteen minutes. You can't really tell from this video, but he was doing little spooks and shies at the weeds.

 J rode her street bike instead of Coyote, since there was not a lot of difficult terrain to traverse.

We did the Fairmount backwards and as you can tell from Ashke's ears, he wasn't happy.

If you watch, Ashke kept turning his head back and looking back at the barn, plaintively. 
It was driving me crazy. Add to that, he was short striding on the right hind.
Going back to the Smartpak Smart Flex II as soon as I can get it here.

I think this is the first time I can remember in 27 years that we are having an extended autumn.

We climbed to the headland. He kept looking behind us with longing.

 We took the singletrack horse trail from the bottom of the switchback to the top of the headland.
J had taken off earlier from the top of the prior hill (to gain momentum for the climb) and barely beat us to the top.

I told J that when we got the point where Ashke knew where he was in relationship to the barn, that he would get more forward than he had been and maybe he would stop looking behind him. Sure enough, when we capped the top of the plateau Ashke stopped in his tracks and looked around. I could tell when he recognized Tucker lake. Then he turned and looked at Table Mountain. Then he looked back at Tucker lake and J waiting for us. I could feel it when he decided it was shorter to go ahead, then it was to turn around. He picked up a trot on the downhill headed to where J was waiting for us. Stinker.

The pack is freaking awesome. So light weight I don't remember it's there. I have the phone in a pocket on the front designed for a smart phone, that flips down and allows me to access the screen without taking it out of the sleeve. Best thing ever. I am so very happy. 
Next test is to try it on a day when we pack a lunch.

 There was a very large Siberian husky in front of us who was standing on his hind legs in excitement about Ashke.

 Very forward on our way home.

The ride home was the test of the new bit. Ashke was still being very spooky at rocks and grass. And the occasional shadow, so I made him trot this long path. And then we cantered the rest of the way home. There is a singletrack path that Ashke is always allowed to gallop up and he loves to race as fast as he can. I discovered at that point that the curb strap was a bit loose, so I got off and tightened it while we waited for J to catch up to us.

You can see him pop his head up and test the bit a couple of times. Both times he dropped his chin and accepted contact. Much better than with the Myler or the Kimberwick.

Last canter on the way home. Overall, a good ride. 7.8 miles at 5 mph.

Friday, October 17, 2014


I made it out to the barn for the first time since Monday. Tuesday and Weds. were cleaning days, and on Thursday my mom flew in for a week visit. So, today was the first time since my birthday that I could get out. J and I have the week off and she came out to take photos and videos.

We were having a problem with his trot. It felt like right hip issues again.
I switched from Smartpak's Smartflex II, to Vet Flex (recommended by my vet) and I am wondering if the Smart Flex didn't work better for him.

J could see the slight hitch too. It might be the stifle from the much earlier surgery, but I think it is probably the hip.

He felt pretty tense, but listened well in the mechanical hackamore. I tried lunging him first, but he really didn't need it. I would have thought he was sluggish, but every time we turned for the gate he moved better. 

I think I'm going to like the hackamore a lot on trail.

However, if we are going to be competitive in WE, then he has to go in a bit.
I bought a very simple, short shanked curb bit today to see how it works. It has a very low, wide port. I may ride him in it tomorrow to see how he goes.

Not tracking up at the trot. He was being pretty squirrelly, since there were two horses in the parking lot being tacked up and a horse riding around the perimeter of the property that Ashke was very distracted by.

It took a couple of turns around the arena before he really began to feel calm.

Then we tried a canter in both directions. At the end here, Ashke spooked and tried to take off, which is why we abruptly stopped.

So distracted today.

Then, to keep it fresh and real, we worked on some of the WE obstacles.

This was the first try at the poles. The last time we tried it, he moved so smoothly over the pole that all I really had to do was sit there and direct him.

Then we worked on the two barrel obstacle pattern. 
We do the simple lead change in between them.

He has the idea and knows he's supposed to change leads when moving to the other direction.
We just need to get smooth and calm while doing it.

And get a one stride lead change.

Then we worked on the three barrel obstacle.
It's not a clover leaf pattern, like barrel racing. It's circling the right side barrel, looping around the upper barrel on the left lead, and then circling the left barrel on the right lead.

He was doing better toward the end. The difficult part will be getting the one step transition from one lead to the other. I wish I could get him to do a flying change of lead.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Destructo Dog

We have one very, very old boxer who always seems to be on her last breath, and then she finds her fiftieth wind and just keeps chugging on. We also have two Malinios-Boxer mixes. Lily and Skittle. They are sweet and funny, fierce protectors and fraidy cats, expressive and emotive, comical and loving. They are wonderful dogs. Except for the fact they chew. Everything they can get their big mouths around. We kennel Skittle (she actually loves her kennel and go to it willingly) but Lily gets locked in the dining room with Guinness, because she barks non-stop in the kennel (as well as pants and drools saliva all over herself). In an attempt to defuse her anxiety at being left alone, we are leaving her out (and to prevent tickets from our local animal control for a nuisance barking violation).

Today, Lily got on top of the bar and helped herself to a brand new package of tortillas.

This is what happened when I confronted her about it:

I just can't be mad at this face.

PS. Skittle just got totally stressed listening to the video.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

An Answer

J thinks horse people are crazy. Things like the "bucket o' bits" does not make any sense to her. I think she thinks we collect stuff like bits for no reason, but sometimes a bit just isn't a good fit.

Finding the right bit has been a real struggle with Ashke and I, and I have collected a couple of bits in the process.

We started with the eggbutt snaffle in sweet iron, similar to this:

The one I used was thicker though, with a heavier butt, made of sweet iron.

That didn't work very well so then I tried a D-ring snaffle with a copper mouth piece like this:

 He hated this one even more than the first

Then we tried a sweet metal loose ring french link snaffle. Hated it. Wouldn't close his mouth around it.

Then we went to the Raised Rockin' S snaffle, which he was comfortable in but which gave me zero control over his stop:

 I finally decided I needed something I could get him stopped with, so I bought a Myler Level 2 Low Port 5" shank bit. That worked for a while, but I just can't keep using a bit that might make his mouth bleed.

 So, then I got a Myler Level 2 D ring low port comfort snaffle with hooks.
It was a no go.

Tried the Kimberwick recommended by Saiph. 
It worked okay but not great when trying to stop a speeding horse on trail.

Throughout this process, one thing has held true. Ashke is always braced against the bit. You can't achieve softness or lightness when either the horse or rider is braced or moving with tension.

I think part of the problem is that Ashke has a small mouth, with a very low, narrow palette, and big tongue. This is due to his confirmation: petite head with a dished face and small muzzle. He can wear a 4.5" bit and a 5" is way too big for his mouth. He has demonstrated this by lolling his tongue, throwing his head in the air and bracing his jaw against the pressure. I could continue to buy bits and try them (which J would think was insane and considering a lot of bits cost more than $100 each, I am loath to try) or I could figure out a way that would allow me some control on the trail, and keep him from reacting to bit pressure. Even the lightest contact is creating pain and watching him try to flip the bit in his mouth just reinforces that.

Ashke is really sensitive and uses his mouth a lot. He is constantly touching me with his muzzle, lipping at hair, my shirt, licking my hand. It is obvious that one of the ways he interacts with his world and with me is through using his mouth. The barn crew laughs, because he will try to help them pick his stall and lips and pulls at their clothes, stealing small items to carry to his run if they are left out for him to pick up. By the way he acts, his mouth is both sensitive and special to him.

According to Mark Rashid in A Journey to Softness, pressure applied creates pressure back, so if I pull he is going to push, which pretty much sums up what we have been doing. The other thing he said (which he heard from a Aikido Master) was the axiom "Let us practice kindness today".

Think about that. Let's practice kindness today. With everyone we meet, with everyone sharing the road today, with our spouse and our children. And with our horse. For Mark, that means that every moment of the day needs to be infused with kindness, in every action, from picking up your first cup of coffee, to interaction with your dog, it all needs to come from a place of kindness. No cussing in your head. No badmouthing your neighbor in your thoughts. Just kindness. It's a difficult path to begin to walk if you have a tendency to be brusque and abrupt in your interactions. I think life has a tendency to wear away at our ability or desire to be kind. However, just holding that thought in the forefront of your mind when you are interacting with the world around you is a start. (I really need to remember it when I am trying to pry T out of bed in the morning. I have been known to be less than kind in that situation.)

With that thought in mind I decided to start by getting out of Ashke's mouth. During the above mentioned trials, I did try a sidepull and discovered that although he may be okay in the arena with it, it would not work on the trail. I have used a mechanical hackamore in the past (Queenie) and that particular device would allow Ashke to graze on the trail if we were riding in an endurance ride, plus it might be strong enough that I might be able to slow or stop him when we are racing after Cali. It was worth a shot.

I purchased this one:

I picked it 1) because it looked small enough to fit Ashke's face, 2) it has a fleece padded noseband (kindness) and short shanks. This kind of hackamore uses leverage on the nose, the poll and under the chin to create pressure. I hoped it would be better than the bits we've been trying.

When I got to the stall yesterday, I held the thought that I wanted to be kind in my mind and walked out to greet Ashke. He came to me with pricked ears and after eating my offering of carrots, seemed pretty happy to follow me to the grooming stall. He was covered in mud, turning my white horse brown. I went over him slowly, but firmly, listening to the response of his body and lightening my touch if he seemed sensitive. I know the stiff brush can be too much on his thin skin, so I made my strokes shorter and lighter. I used the super soft brush to finish him off. Picked his hooves.

Then I went in an loaded up my pockets with peppermints. One of the things that has always caused Ashke to brace is lifting his front legs out in front of him. We've never been able to do stretches or pull the skin smooth under his girth, because trying to lift his leg out in front of him causes him to rear in protest. I started by asking for his foot and waiting until he was ready to give it to me (patience combined with kindness). I waited because he knew something new was happening and needed a moment to adjust to the request. When I lifted it up from the knee instead of the hoof, he pulled back in a half rear. I released and calmly petted him. The second time I just lifted the leg up and held it while telling him what a good boy he was. I set the foot down and gave him a peppermint. He went Oooooo, I'm learning something new. The third time I lifted he allowed me to lift from the knee and stretch his leg out in front of him, hold for a couple of seconds, and then set it down. He got two peppermints for that. When I went to lift the right leg (this one has always sent him into a panic) he readily lifted it for me, stretched it out in front and held. I set it down and gave him peppermints as a treat.

I fitted the hackamore to the medieval bridle and adjusted it on his head, then we went to the indoor arena to test it out. He was so incredibly light and responsive to every thing I asked. He only braced his head once at the very beginning, but when he realized there was no bit to hit against, he relaxed. At the end of a canter all I had to do was think "trot" and he came down into the trot. When I verbally cued him "whoa" he gave me the most balanced, quick stop to date without me having to do more than just touch the reins. He was so much more willing to tip his nose downward when I asked, and was able to maintain a collected headset when doing all of our lateral work, instead of throwing his head straight up into the air. Now we just have to test my ability to control him without him freaking out when on trail with another horse. Every time we stopped and I told him what a good boy he was he would snort in agreement with me. He was very relaxed during our ride.

When I took him back to the grooming stall and removed the bridle, he asked me for rubs. I rubbed the sides of his mouth and scratched his cheeks. As I went to move around him to undo the breast collar and put up his stirrup, he reached out with his chin and hooked my shoulder pulling me into him. I gave him a hug and we stood there for a moment, just enjoying the contact.

I think he was saying thank you.