Friday, March 31, 2017

Five Year Anniversary

Five years ago today, I loaded Ashke into a friend's trailer and we started the eight hour drive home. At Limon, we pulled over into a vacant lot, unloaded him, offered water, hay, weeds, and about half a loaf of white bread to the beast, then loaded him back into the trailer for the final four hour drive. During that hour hiatus from our travels was when I first recognized the gift I was bringing home. I had a curious-driven horse with excellent ground manners who was sweet and kind to us. It has only gotten better since then.

Happy and Hale

I couldn't be happier with our current trajectory. He is sweet, hard working, a trier, and my sweet boy. The light and joy that radiates from him now is almost blinding. I am greeted with a whicker or full whinny EVERY.SINGLE.TIME. he sees my face, or hears my step, or the slam of my car door. He is every thing I could have wanted and has more than fulfilled my desire for a relationship of affection and mutual admiration with a horse. Together we can do anything. 

Since Ashke choose to let go of the past and move forward into our future, that is my plan too. Today is a celebration of finding each other and relishing the relationship we had created. 

Last night, we had a thirty minute ride, which had some touchy moments in the scary corner, which we addressed by walking past until he no longer cocked an ear sideways (jumps have been moved daily since the barn is trying out a bunch of new hunter/jumper trainers). Then we worked on all of the things we normally work on, ending with some nice figure 8 canter circles with changes through the trot. He was a little sweaty and out of breath when we were done. 

That means we need to trail ride to balance the arena work. I don't want him losing his conditioning due to lack of long riding. J is currently on the equivalent of bed rest for a compressed disc and Colorado's weather is being bipolar:

The forecast is calling for 5 - 8" of snow. Next weekend looks like a two day ride weekend, based on both weather and J's improving status. Especially if it is pretty dry. I can't wait. In the meantime, we continue to work on our canter transitions and stopping from my seat.

I have signed up for a Triple Creek Ranch dressage show. I sent them my Novice B test and will get to ride it for a dressage judge. I'm doing it as a way to work on my nerves when entering the sandbox in front of a judge. And for the experience for both I and Ashke. It will be the first time I have shown for anyone other than Tarrin. There might be other people there that I know as well, so it should be a supportive, relaxing environment. That is the first weekend in May.

Thursday, March 30, 2017


How do we fix that person not willing to take good advice?

This was a question asked on another blog in response to an endurance rider making a bad decision at a ride camp. The blogger had offered a suggestion to the rider, plus materials to help the rider with her horse enclosure system. The rider had blown off the suggestion, leaving the horses in her care in an unsafe situation. The blogger had reported the issue to the Ride Manager and let the authorities take care of it. This was discussed on the blog because of an incident last weekend at an endurance ride where a group of horses broke free of containment and three of them ended up dead.

The blogger asked "how do we fix that person not willing to take good advice?"

There are always newbies around horses, most frequently older women who fell in love with the idea of a horse when they were teenagers (or younger) but because of circumstance were unable to pursue their bliss until they were older. The economic security and ability to make adult decisions has allowed people with little real experience and a lot of romanticized ideals about horses to launch themselves into the horse world. And that's wonderful. Really. It is the life blood of our industry and will be the reason horses continue to thrive in our society.

However, it does mean that there are people handling 1000 lb animals with less knowledge and general experience than might be best for them. Luckily, most of the ones I know have a great relationship with a trainer and are working on educating themselves. Some of them carry forward knowledge from when they were younger and have earlier memories and experiences to draw upon in this new work of horses (like me). But then there are the few that either believe they know it all, have learned all they need to know, or don't know how to take in information and apply it to their situation.

How do we, as equestrians, deal with those type of situations? In the case of the blogger story at ride camp, she was able to appeal to the person in charge and have the authority for the ride take care of it. But what about at the barn or out on the trail or at a show, when someone is acting in an unsafe manner? Americans in general have a very hands off approach to dealing with this kind of issue, whether it is with spouses, children, pets or property. It takes a lot for an individual to intervene, even when what is happening is obviously a situation that would benefit from intervention. However, when you are talking about horses, you are talking about a thousand pounds of reactive, alert animal with the propensity to kill itself. At what point do we intervene for the safety of the horse and the horses around us, because once one goes a bit nuts, they are all likely to follow, setting off a chain event to the detriment of all. And then people end up hurt and the horses end up dead.

How do we fix that person not willing to take good advice?

Monday, March 27, 2017


In looking back, it becomes apparent to me that I met Tracy at just the right time for her therapy to have the greatest effect on Ashke. There were signs that he was ready to let the trauma go and that part of his body and his past be healed. I think addressing the underlying structural issues that were causing pain was as important as his willingness to move on from the past. It's a hard thing, letting go of the things that caused you pain as a child and we are rational creatures that understand cause and effect. Think of how much more difficult it is as an animal, with limited communication (that humans can understand) and the understanding of a child. It took me years of therapy to let go of the things that tied me in a knot as a kid, years of work to understand that shit happens to everyone and it doesn't have to define who you are as an adult. Ashke was able to do so, which is a testament to his huge heart and unbreakable courage.

In my opinion, there has been a huge change in how he is able to move: his right hind leg is swinging forward much straighter, it is not abducting to the inside as much, and he is able to stretch it forward and set it down, rather than dropping it the last four inches. It has been obvious in how he feels under saddle, how he looks when we first start our ride, and the reduced need for a sustained warm up. And his canter transitions have taken a huge jump forward.

However, the treatment didn't happen in a vacuum. I believe that a huge part of our success in both the treatment and his improvement lie with my trainer, Amanda Moore. We have been doing weekly lessons since August of last year, consistently. We had started before that, but because of his degloving injury to his left hind leg, we were pretty inconsistent last summer. But that changed after the September show last year. The regular training lessons have helped Ashke grow in strength, balance and overall ability, mostly because of her approach to our lessons.

Amanda helps us work on the things on our test, plus has us doing exercises that make those movements easier. We did really well in our lateral work on our dressage test at Expo. His sidepass through the L obstacle at the final clinic was excellent. And she doesn't get angry or upset at me when she asks me to do the shoulder in or haunches in across the arena and I do it backward (who knew how important the rail is to that exercise). She lets me laugh at my mistakes. She has us work on the stuff that's really hard but helps him with flexibility and strength. And she's always so very positive.

So yesterday we had a rare daytime lesson. I warmed up Ashke as her prior lesson was finishing, and we were doing figure eights at the canter when she finished up her earlier lesson. We worked on serpentines w-t-c, then we narrowed the serpentines to half of the arena and worked between the rail and centerline. Ashke was able to make the turn, switch leads through the trot and canter the next half circle. We were able to do it without a fight and Ashke could make each of the transitions. Then we did shoulder in and haunches in. That went okay until Amanda had us move off of the rail and do it in front of the mirrors across the arena. That's when we realized that I have no idea what I am doing. I don't know the difference between shoulder in and haunches in without the rail next to me.

We ended the lesson doing a teardrop exercise along the rail. We picked up a canter, executed a 15m turn, started back to the rail in a half-pass, move to a leg yield toward the rail, and just as you are changing your bend, doing a c-t-c transition to the other lead. The fourth time we did the change, moving from right to left lead, I asked for the lead change without the transition and we achieved our first flying lead change. I stopped and made a huge deal about the change with Ashke. Amanda said he had a look on his face like "that's what you wanted all this time? Gosh, that's an easy answer."

We ended the ride then, because I wanted him to understand how significant that was.

In my opinion, although the session on Monday was significant, the work we do weekly with Amanda laid the groundwork. If he wasn't already working on flexibility and strengthening exercises, then the change would not have been so obvious. Tracy helped set him free, but Amanda had already taught us how to fly.

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Before I tell you all what happened last night, I need to back up a little and tell you something that happened at Expo. To make that incident make sense, I need to back up a little bit more.

For several years now, the first ten steps after I get on Ashke for the first time are short, stiff and kind of stumpy. Add to the stiffness in his front legs, he also short strides on his right hind. It can take about half an arena to a full arena circle to loosen up his short front legs, or maybe the first five minutes on trail (it happens there as well). His right hind can take up to fifteen minutes of work, and we always do the movements that add stretch to that part of his body when I am in a lesson (lateral work, shoulder in, haunches in). Once he is stretched out and warm, then we move to the more difficult things. The stretching exercises always help with our canter transitions, etc.

Pretty picture to disrupt the text

In addition to the stiffness in his front end, Ashke is also very girthy. He always has been. He maintains a good weight, is wormed on a schedule, and doesn't show any other signs of ulcers, but a month ago I treated for ulcers to see if it made any difference (going to a Total Saddle Fit girth did). There was no difference in his behavior. I was talking to my good friend, CS, and she told me of a fascial release she was shown by a medicine woman that she uses on CO that might help Ashke. We were finally at the same place with our horses at Expo and she showed me the release.

It is behind his elbow on his front legs. You use your hand, with the pads of your fingers toward the horse's body and reach in behind his elbow. Back up in there is a tendon that feels like it runs from the horse's withers, behind the elbow and toward his chest up under his body. Once you find it, pressure is applied (like a trigger point) until the tension in the tendon releases. The tendon on Ashke's left side (where the girth is tightened most frequently, although I do try to alternate between the two) was two and a half fingers thick. The one on the right side was not as bad. Additionally, CS pointed out that the rings on the TSF girth (for side reins) were sticking straight into the soft tissue behind his elbow. J helped out and removed those immediately. I finished saddling him and took him to the warm up arena at Expo. For the first time upon mounting, he was able to step out without trying to pop up in the front or step stiffly off his front end.

It was amazing. I do the release on that tendon on both sides during saddling, then soft stretches with his front legs to make sure the hair and muscle is smooth under the girth. He has been so loose and relaxed stepping out the mounting blocks.

Pretty white unicorn boy

I wasn't sure what to expect when I got Ashke out. He was a little spooky about the saddle and definitely blew out his abdomen while I was girthing (we had an incident on Sunday I will write about soon that has made him convinced his saddle was going to eat him). I finished getting the saddle girthed and stepped on him. 

He was incredible. I could feel the difference in his gait immediately. He felt more relaxed and ready for work than he had in the past after fifteen minutes. Not only that, but he felt light. Bright. Happy. Connected to me with lots of energy. No frustration or pain. He felt like he had been set free. Amanda said he looked like he was traveling straight on the right hind and carrying himself much better for the first steps of a ride. 

We worked on a lot of canter. Transitions. Turns. He was able to give me much better bend in both directions. Had a sticking spot with the right lead canter, although when he started to get upset I verbally reminded him that he did not have to be perfect, we just had to try. He tried very hard for me. We worked on mostly canter for a solid thirty minutes, until I could feel weakness start in the right hind and then we moved onto trot work.

We had just started the extended trot work when the wind picked up outside, throwing waves of sand against the outside wall of the indoor arena. Ashke was very uptight and we opted to end the lesson rather than trying to fight our way through spooky weather (gusts bad enough to blow over semitrucks on the highway). 

I think the work that Tracy did on Ashke had a huge effect. Yes, I was looking for a change, but I was also hesitant to jump the gun until I was actually on him. He felt better. We felt better. He was calmer and less reactive to my aids. Better bend. Overall, a better connection. I think that all of the energy work plus the physical work Tracy did may have completely resolved the issues we were dealing with. He flat out moved better last night.

That said, I don't think we could have achieved that release in 2013, when I first met Tracy at TMR. I don't think that he trusted me enough to let it go. Plus, I've talked to him a lot about his issues around his gelding, reinforcing my belief that we would not be together if he had not been gelded (his answer to that during our session with Tracy was that he would have found me either way). As important as my work in desensitizing him to touch around his sheath and scrotum and my conversations with him surrounding these issues, I think it even more important that he developed trust in me. The kind of trust bank in him that would allow him to believe that he will be with me forever, that I see him as a radiant, whole being, and that neither of us could ever betray the other. This was that moment in our journey when he was finally ready to move forward (hence all of the articles thrown my way) and when he would actually be receptive to what both Tracy and I offered.

He was almost unbearably light last night. Our dance has truly begun.

Thursday, March 23, 2017


A couple of months ago I ran across a series of articles about gelding scars and the lasting physical effects they can have on geldings on FB. The first article was fairly compelling and I was intrigued. Then another article. Then an article with a video showing how gelding adhesions can cause pain in other muscles. As I read I came across this:

"It’s due to the sheer fact that the testicular chords and fascia have been cut and recoil into the abdominal cavity. Here, the normal bleeding that occurs and the sealing of the free cut end of the deferent duct and chord can result in adhesions. These adhesions can lead to tension as they restrict the normal, free motion of the surrounding structures, particularly in the groin/inguinal ring.

The tension could therefore affect the nearby muscle, fascia and organs. In some cases, due to the normal anatomy of the deferent duct being looped over the ureter, any strain on the deferent duct due to adhesions can put pressure on the ureter and affect the kidney.

Clinically, I tend to find that these geldings will have a lumbo-sacral issue quite comparable to a mare with ovarian issues, initially at L1-3 then spreading from there. The tension in the lumbars often goes hand in hand with a sacral positional change. This can be felt by the rider frequently as an issue going into canter and as a lack of propulsion."
                                                                                                           --The Equine Chronicle

Reading the above made me really wonder if this was something that was going on with Ashke. The canter has always been problematic for us, not the smooth, free gait of past horses. The article planted a seed and then the Universe made it very clear that this was something to pursue by dumping some more articles in my lap. Then I watched the video that showed a necropsy where the deferent duct and chord had adhered to an inner thigh muscle and every time the horse moved it's hind leg, it pulled the muscle strong enough it could be seen from the outside. That pull also occurred every time the horse tightened it's abdomen, which makes raising it's back both difficult and painful.

I am not stupid and when the universe puts something in front of me that many times in that short of a period, I usually pay attention. Some of the effects of a gelding scar include difficulty in the canter, cross-cantering, counter bending, difficulty with transitions. It also includes SI joint issues and stiffness in the haunches. These are all of the things we have been slowing hammering away at as we go along. I knew Ashke is very protective of his rear end, hates the annual "bean" clean we do, and rarely drops out of his sheath. In fact, I've never caught him masturbating the way geldings will do. (Who knew all I needed was to provide a jack mule for him to fantasize about.) Even after all of the proper riding I have been attempting under the Drill Instructor's tutelage, this gait remains our waterloo.

I wondered if the treatment for gelding scars, which involves myofascial release, would help him with some of these issues. I know we have made him so much stronger, but I also believe that if there is anything else that I could be doing to help, I should at least try. The problem seemed to lie in finding someone who was both aware of and effective in helping with these type of issues. The FB ad practically writes itself, as long as you don't care how many animal pervs you attract. During my research into gelding scars there was mention in an article about cranialsacral therapy, which is something I am intrigued by. That was a spark in my mind. I knew someone who comes highly recommended that does cranialsacral therapy. Her name is Tracy Vroom. She's a friend of Dr D and I had met her years ago at TMR. We are facebook friends.

I reached out and asked if she did myofascial release for gelding scars, to which she responded enthusiastically YES! and we set an appoint for a couple of weeks before Expo. On the day of our appointment, it snowed and was super windy, neither of which were conducive for either travel or the kind of work we wanted to do. Working muscle releases in the cold does not sound very enjoyable, especially in a recently clipped horse, and I wanted a positive, open and loving environment for my boy. I decided to not try to fit the rescheduled session in before Expo, since I wanted at least a full week to see what the effect on Ashke would be. So we rescheduled for last night.

I have to tell you, what I experienced with Tracy and Ashke ranks right up there with the most significant moments in my life: my marriage, T's birth. It was incredible. Beyond words. Although I will try.

Ashke was full of himself when I got to the barn. I took him out of his stall on a walkabout, which included much prancing and snorting at all of the things. We had to do a couple of circles out by the oil rig, which suddenly started running while we were out there, but he was both responsive and respectful of my space. I joked and told him he was being very stallion like in his behavior. He was doing the high, floating trot you see in the show arena at a walking pace next to me, with arched neck and blazing eye. I took him to turn out and let him play a bit, only requesting that he not roll, since I had just rinsed urine from his sides and belly. He was drinking the wind when Tracy got there.

Ashke was very interested and engaged when Tracy introduced herself to him. I've been talking to him about letting her help and how it might help him feel better in his body. I have had the reoccurring thought that this was the last piece of the puzzle we might need, to address the old issues he's been dealing with. We decided to work on him in his stall, since he is happy there, it's quiet and a calming place. Tracy and I talked briefly about his background and past and what I knew about him. I told her I thought they had plans to stand him as a breeding stallion (he was gelded late) until he injured his patella and that I felt they hadn't rehabbed it correctly. Ashke wasn't very happy with the sharing, but we both reassured him that she needed to know.

One of the things that Ashke does when he is uncomfortable is bites. He never closes on skin, but he bites at the palm of my hand. It is his distress sign. I think it stems more from anxiety and emotional stress than from physical pain, although physical pain can cause it as well. But they are both ways he expresses himself.It is one of his ways of communicating with me. Another is he paws or stamps with a hoof. He does that when I find a particularly itchy spot when I am grooming. None of that is done in anger or out of a desire to hurt. He is very careful not to get close to the humans around him. But it is how he expresses himself.

Tracy ran her hands over his back, then asked him if he would allow her to use some oil on him. He agreed with a "we can try it and see" attitude, but then seemed to like the oil she had chosen. Tracy began to do energy work on his back. She started on the right side at his withers and mid back. I watched his muzzle tighten, then start to release, with quiver lips and twitching, and then he would yawn or chew or shake his head as a release. He followed the same pattern over and over while she worked on his body. 

She told me that he was supposed to come back as a unicorn this time and instead had chosen to be a hidden unicorn for me. Saiph always tells me he is the Last Unicorn, with those qualities. I guess she was right. Tracy also told me that he wanted me to know that he was both Royal and a Prince of the Blood, which both J and I have said to him over and over. He told Tracy he wanted bright white healing energy when she was working on him and there was Unicorn energy to heal his emotional trauma after Tracy helped him find a release.

Physically, Tracy started at his withers and worked her way along the vertebrae. She said his sacrum was shifted to the left, limiting range of motion in both hind legs in different ways. She got a huge release from that work. She also got a decompression of the A/P phase. She got it to come more in balance, then worked her way back and down his leg. The psoas muscle was very tight, twisted and contracted on the right side. That was the tightest muscle in his body, but there was also tension in the Psoas minor muscles on both sides. She worked over the outside of his leg, finding tension and releases through out that hip. She released the sacrum-point of hip-true hip-stifle-stifle to hock.

His feet were blocked and he was not connected to the earth. She cleared them and reconnected him from his body, down thru his legs to his feet and then to the ground. (Explains why he was floating earlier).

Then we addressed the gelding. I knew ahead of time, there was both physical and emotional trauma. I wasn't prepared for the intensity of what he shared with me.

Tracy started working and then stopped to explain to me. She said Ashke felt he was destined to remain a breeding stallion and that they had been working with him toward that when the accident happened to his patella. After the accident, the breeding manager hadn't given him a real chance to show them how great he could have been. They just gelded him. Ashke felt so betrayed; it was like a huge black wave of despair, anger and disbelief. All of his anger and betrayal has settled in his groin area in a huge ball of dark, negative energy that he has been feeding every time he thought about it. I think he's been dwelling on it every time the scars twinged or pulled in his groin.

Both Tracy and I were crying as we talked about it. He was so emotionally hurt by their actions, and then the fact that he was immediately sold and sent away from his home right after the gelding just sealed the deal for him. Everything was stolen from him. I told him that people suck. We both acknowledged his pain and let him see how deeply his betrayal hurt us as well. Then Tracy acknowledged and apologized for the betrayal and the pain. She asked him if he was ready to let it go. He snapped and bit the air and my palm, then quivered, and told her yes. She brought Unicorn energy (brilliantly white) into the trauma cyst and released it into the earth. Then healed the area with the light. Tracy asked him if he was ready to be truly healed, to let go of the betrayal and to step into the future on a parallel path with me. He made the choice to step forward with me.

Then he pulled me in for a hug with his chin, which I returned as I wiped my tears on his shoulder. He was so brave and so big hearted. I really hope this helps free him up inside.

Then Tracy addressed the gelding scars. I demonstrated what she was going to do to Ashke, where she was going to reach with her hands and asked him to trust us. I told Tracy he was much more comfortable with us standing on his left side. She stood on his left and began her work. For the first time, Ashke allowed someone other than me to touch his scrotum and the deep muscles high up in his groin. Tracy found a fairly significant pull on the left side of his gelding scar. She worked to soften and release the tension (myofascial release) and then worked on the right side. Then she moved to the right side, still working from his left hip, and found that the  muscles high up near the pelvis had been torn at some point, probably during his gelding, and the scar tissue was very tight.

He did, although he did paw a few times and stamp. Tracy said he was allowed to dispell the energy that way as long as it was directed downward and not at either of us. She worked on him from behind his left hip (he was the most comfortable with that) and found the pectineus and adductor muscles had been torn on the right side, when he was gelded. She speculated that the leg was pulled up too high. She said the injury would make traveling correctly on that leg more difficult. She said there were a couple of layers of injury there, with a thick ridge of scar tissue. Ashke lowered his head and rested his nostril against the skin of my arm and breathed me in, slow and soft, finding peace and safety, while Tracy tried to set him free. Tracy also said that the muscles in his right hamstring felt different from the rest, as if they too had been injured.

When we were done with the body work, she asked me if I had any questions for him. I asked him if he enjoyed what we were doing, meaning the Working Equitation and trail riding. His answer was that he was a perfectionist, which I took to mean the WE. I told him that we didn't have to be perfect, that we just had to try and that I wasn't perfect either. I told him that I just want to dance with him and have fun.

Finally, Tracy acknowledged to him that he could have stallion qualities and attributes without having testicles. He could be strong, protective, beautiful and effective just the way he was now. And a very strong and striking partner to me. I haven't ridden him yet, so I am waiting to see how he is tonight in our first lesson since Expo.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Rocky Mountain Horse Expo

The three days of Expo went by pretty quick, although I was really exhausted.

First though:

Reserve Champion in a Class of 2

I rode in a clinic on Friday, Saturday and Sunday with Tarrin.

 Tarrin Warren discussing with a rider

 Double Slalom

 Rider watching

 Riders in one of the clinics

We worked pretty consistently on:

1. Keeping my hands together, so they are working in tandem and my right one isn't off dominating the world.

2. Turning my shoulders in the direction of our turn (gosh this is effective in helping Ashke turn through the obstacles).

3. Not pulling with the inside rein, which throws out the haunches.

4. Using the outside leg to keep the haunches in.

5. Using the inside leg to ask for bend.

Things I heard from Tarrin:

1. Lift the inside rein, don't pull.

2. Outside leg back to hold the haunches.

3. Point with your index finger toward the inside ear (effectively turns the shoulders).

4. Don't pull.

5. Keep your hands together.

6. Half halt. Half halt.

Plus, she had a lot of positive encouragement for us through out the week.

Here is a video from the last session on Sunday:

And another one:

It was a wonderful week of riding.

Other things that also happened:

Ashke hates Reiki. We tried the energy healing for horses workshop again and he was having nothing to do with it. He bit. Kicked. Snaked his head. Rolled. Did everything he could to say F*ck off. Reared. Acted completely out of sorts. Won't try that again.

Ashke loves jack mules. Loves. Like a stallion loves. I have never seen him so hard or dropped for so long as he was with the jack mule next to him. Totally focused on the mule when we were in the arena together.

I was walking back to the stall with Ashke. And on my way past the Mountain Region Endurance Riders booth one of the guys working there said "Is that Thee Ashke?" I stopped, kind of befuddled and said "Yes." He said, "I follow your blog." He introduced himself but I forgot his name (old age - sorry).

Waves at guy!!!!

That was so cool and unexpected. My Last Unicorn has real life followers. :)

Sunday, March 19, 2017

RMHE & HCWE B-Rated Show: Speed Round

The only rule is there are no rules. Off course is a disqualification.

My only regret is not riding better. Next time I won't be holding on. Ashke would have done better if I had two hands on the reins. We had the second fastest time in the whole show. The only rider who was faster is the Novice B Open rider (trainer).

Saturday, March 18, 2017

RMHE & HCWE B-Rated Show: Ease of Handling


Now, I need to preface the video with some disclaimers.

First, we moved up a level to Novice B. At our only full show last year, we trotted the obstacles and the distance between them. Trotted. This year, we are required to canter between obstacles (for both Novice level - you can only trot at Intro now) and are required to canter the obstacles (Novice A trots the obstacles). There are some obstacles that must be walked, like the bridge, but otherwise, it is a canter.

Second, we haven't actually ridden an Ease of Handling course since September (where we trotted everything). I had planned to do a course the weekend before the show, but then we threw a shoe and that plan went out the window. Amanda and I had worked on a few of the obstacles in our lessons, but we were mostly focused on the triple drums and the double slalom, both of which had to be ridden at the canter, with a change of lead through the trot.

Third, and this played a huge part in my ride, the only time we have ever cantered an EOH course was during the SPEED round.

Back to the Expo.

We pulled the dressage arena on Weds night after the dressage phase was complete. Tarrin gave three group lessons starting at 2 pm. During the final lesson, she allowed the other riders to come into the arena and ride the obstacles. I practiced the approaches I had planned for my course, including angling my jump to put me in position to be on the right lead and bend for the obstacle after the jump. I wasn't able to ride through in one unbroken path, which might have made a difference the next day, but more likely wouldn't have changed anything.

We went to dinner with Tarrin after the clinics and I picked her brain about stress and showing (which surprisingly, she deals with as well). I decided to sing the next day during warm up and try to fool my body into being relaxed in the arena (although EOH is never as stressful as the dressage). We tucked the boy in with a huge hay net filled with alfalfa and headed to bed.

The next morning we learned a great lesson about EOH and shows. We will post a start time, but leave the rest of it blank. The rides weren't taking as long as we had planned and it became really obvious that instead of riding at 1:15, I was riding at 11 am. Amanda and I rushed out and got Ashke ready, then headed to the warm up ring. We did our normal warm up, albeit a bit rushed, stretching out his right hind and getting him loose. He gave me some really nice trot-canter transitions and there was no hint of tension or stress in his body.

We were called into the arena and I felt like I had a solid plan. Then this happened.

I came out of the arena a hot, sweaty, dripping mess. Amanda met me and said, "well, that didn't go like we planned" and I said, "I'll be lucky if I make a  50%" which she didn't disagree with.

The Bad:

I decided when we got  in the arena and Ashke was being a bit spooky, that I would trot through the start-finish line and then cue the canter. The two obstacles I was the most worried about were at the very beginning, where we could get through them first before he was too tired. I was fairly relaxed, since we had been doing a large canter pirouette in warm up off of my seat, so I was expecting a light, responsive horse in the arena. EOH doesn't stress me out like the dressage test does and Ashke enjoys the obstacles, so I was hoping for a good score. We trotted through the start line and I cued for a soft, light canter. Ashke bolted.

I wasn't expecting Ashke to react like a kindergartener released to recess who runs off in all directions waving their hands over their head. He thought "OMG, it's the SPEED round and I have to race as fast as I can." I was not expecting that response (because hind sight is 20/20) and all I knew was that I had a fight on my hands. Every time I loosened the reins the slightest bit, he tried to leap forward, hence all of the head straight up in the air and stiff front legs action. Because we all know how much the judge likes that look.

One of the things that might not be obvious, is Ashke bounced me so hard in the first two feet that I lost my left stirrup (I also hate the paddock boots I am showing in and plan on getting a pair that fit before the next show) and so I was trying to find the stirrup as we were careening toward the double slalom. Ashke dropped his shoulder and spun around the pole just as I found the stirrup  and then it was a real fight. He did not understand why I was making him slow down and change leads through the trot. He wanted to fly.

The drums were bad too. By the time we were half way through, I had given up in my mind and just wanted to make it through the round without falling off or going off course. I wanted to complete. The beautiful round of soft cantering and transitions I had been working toward was a dream for another day. All I wanted was to finish. When we approached the gate, I stopped him early and took a deep breath. I was hoping it would resettle us and calm him down. I knew Tarrin would read it as hesitation, but honestly, I need the respite. After the gate was no better and I felt lucky that I had made it through when we finally finished.

The other thing that was obvious is that we need to do a thousand trot-canter transitions on the right lead between now and the next show. He is very much left lead dominant and when we are racing, I think he thinks he is faster (and more balanced) on the left lead. We get the right lead probably 95% of the time in lessons and in the arena, but he refused to pick up the right lead several times in the EOH.

Finally, when it became a fight, I gave up on my seat and legs and went to my hands. I need to make sure I don't do that in the future. I need to develop enough confidence and response on his part in my seat and legs that I don't need to fight him with my hands. That's just more riding and training, which I can do. I know that we will continue to improve while I am working with Amanda.

The good:

He has a very nice flying lead change when he wants one. I don't need the flying lead change right now, but it is good to know it is there. There were some obstacles that he did very well. There are a few points we can pick up by working on immobility in the "rounding several obstacles" and the bell corridor. If we can master the square halt every time we stop, that will help too. We either did craptastic on the obstacle (4 or 4.5) or we did well.

We made it through the course, even after riding several obstacles with one hand and whacking him with the pole. After the drums, I was focused on finishing with as little damage as possible. I accomplished that.

Finally, I was realistic in my expectations going into both the dressage phase and the EOH phase. I did not expect to have a fire breathing dragon on my hands, and it wasn't until I was talking to J and Amanda about it that I put it together that Ashke had never tried to canter a course. I was not disappointed in our scores or our performance. I rode the horse I had that day. And stayed on. My 52% was more than I was expecting when I rode out of the arena, so I couldn't complain.

Wrap Up:

I thought about my ride a lot afterwards. I wanted a plan of action in case that ever happened to me again. I talked to Tarrin about options and asked what it would have effected if I had stopped him, backed him up and started the canter again. Since it was between obstacles, the only thing that would have effected was my collective marks and I already had a 4 on them, it couldn't have really hurt me any more than his behavior had. The thing it might have done was reset his brain. It would have given me the opportunity to salvage the first two obstacles and maybe clicked something in his brain telling him this was not the Speed round. (Never practice the speed round.) It will be what I try next time, if we find ourselves in the same position, although I am going to try riding as many EOH courses as I can between now and June. Usually, the trainers tell you to focus on the dressage and apply what you learn to the obstacles, but in our case, we really need to reinforce that you can canter without racing.

I need to ride the obstacles more, either on my own, or working individual obstacles during lessons. I need to perfect my jump and release. I need to make sure I am not bonking him in the mouth when we are jumping. We certainly have plenty to work on.

Friday, March 17, 2017

RMHE & HCWE B-Rated Show - Dressage

I have to say the best thing about the show on Wednesday was Amanda Moore, my trainer. That was the best decision I could have made. She helped me before and after the show with Ashke, she helped me with warm up, she read the test (even though I had it memorized) and was very supportive after our major melt-down in the arena. The only thing I feel badly about is that we didn't do better in the ring, because I wanted our improvement to reflect positively on her training.

We got there early on Wednesday (a bit before eight) and I helped J set up for the show. She is our show secretary, so she is in charge of all of the things. I wasn't showing until after lunch, so I was able to sit and watch some of the other riders. I ate some lunch before heading out to get Ashke ready, with Amanda helping me.

Ashke and I in the warm up ring.

We rode for about 45 minutes in the warm up arena, doing transitions and leg yields, some shoulder in, just working on staying relaxed and responsive. Ashke was so soft and responsive. We were flowing around each other like melted butter. Our canter transitions were smooth and he was so relaxed. And then we were called into the arena and all of that went out the window.

Both Amanda and my friend D said they could see the change in my shoulders as soon as I crossed out of the warm up arena. Ashke felt my tension and immediately got tense. It went downhill from there. 

I rode Novice B Amateur. 

I had my rides professionally video taped. Then I edited them on my Mac and added the scores and comments from the judge, so you can see what we did good on and what needs improvement. As an FYI, a score of 5 is satisfactory and the equivalent of a 6.0 in Competitive Dressage. This is also the first year that half points were awarded. To qualify for the National Championship, a rider must score a 58% or higher. I know you are all in suspense, so I'll let you off the hook: I did not qualify for the NC. Maybe in August at our second show. 

Without further ado:

I had the same issue that I have had in early shows, even if we start off solid we kind of fall apart in the last few movements of our ride. By the time I am on the last few movements I'm like "Gods, aren't we done yet?" My geometry needs help in pretty much all the areas. I need to try to figure out how in the world to get him to halt square. I just want to know what I need to do differently so that becomes a solid answer every time we halt.

But, there were some things we did really well at. I am proud of our leg yields and the turn on the haunches was solid. If we keep working on those things, they will get better and better. I know that we need to work on the canter aid and transition a thousand times between now and our next show. Tarrin's comment of how many transitions we do in an Ease of Handling class really left an impression. For moving up a level, I was not displeased with our performance. I felt the scores were more than fair and we ended up where I expected.

It was the first time we did the leg yield and the half turn on the haunches in a show, which were our strong point, while the canter was, once again, our downfall. 

I talked to Tarrin on Wednesday night at dinner about how to relax before riding the dressage phase. She says she sings to herself, which I can do, a song that gets stuck in her head so she is concentrating on that rather than on her ride. I think as I continue to ride in shows, it should get better. I really wish I could find a way to ride in a show the way we ride together when we aren't in a show. I need to be a better rider for Ashke because I'm not being fair to him. I need to figure out how to dance in the arena with him. That's my job. His job is to do a thousand trot-canter transitions. And to learn how to do a correct and solid haunches in.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

RMHE: Tuesday

Tuesday was the day we moved into the Event Center barn, into a double stall for Ashke and a separate stall for tack and feed. We started the day with a visit to the High School where we had a serious conversation with the boy about school, graduating early, and adulting. He decided graduating early and being expected to adult at seventeen vs taking a cake schedule (he only has one required class and can do two student advisor periods, if he wants) as a senior and still having mom cook breakfast and make lunch for him, he decided the cake schedule and still being a teenager was a much better option. After the meeting, we went home to pack up the stuff we would need for our first day at Expo. Part of that included a quick trip to Joann's for some stretchy elastic to make boot straps for the pants I had finally decided on.

So, in backing up, I tried on outfits on Monday night. Mom had finished the Spanish jacket I had asked her to make for me and I had received it the prior week. The jacket was perfect and both looked and fit really good, especially when I was on the horse (I wanted enough room to move my arms without the jacket pulling tight). All I had to do was find the right shirt and pants. I tried the purple shirt and the new breeches I had purchased.

Not as happy with how it looked as I expected I would be.

After much consultation via texting with Saiph, I ended up with this:

I changed the shirt and the pants and was much happier.
I moved the new carieles to the darker pants, added boot straps to keep the pants down, and we had our outfit.

We loaded all the things into the truck, then drove to Agfinity for shavings and Triple Crown Senior. Then we headed to the barn to hitch the trailer and load the rest of my things. Ashke was very interested in what was happening, being all prancey and arabiany between the stall and the trailer. He loaded pretty quick and we headed for the Expo.

This was the sign outside the Coliseum on the sidewalk at the highway exit ramp. It made me chuckle every time we went past it.

I checked Ashke into the stalling office and confirmed our stalls, then moved in all of the things. 
Hay net filled with hay, a muck bucket filled with water (holds about 30 gallons) and his first feed of TC Senior. We let him spread the shavings throughout his stall, since it is his favorite.

It has only been five months since his last bath. I've been looking forward to washing him with the warm water the Expo has more than anything. Really. The show was just an excuse.

He didn't hate it.

He looks so good!!!

The dressage arena got delivered at about 1:30, so J and I went out and helped set it up. I think I need to devise a laser beam system for setting the walls of the dressage court. It is almost impossible to get a rectangle built that's square. We sectioned off part of the arena nearest the barn for our warm up and set the arena at the other end. We stacked the obstacles against the far wall until Thursday. With a two day show, we did dressage on Weds and EOH + Speed on Thursday.

On Tuesday night, Tarrin did two clinics. Ashke and I rode in the second one. We mostly worked on transitions. Tarrin made a really good point that over a period of four to six minutes we could do 40 to 60 transitions in our EOH phase. Even during a lesson, I'm not doing that many transitions and certainly not that many in that short of time period. If we don't do a lot of transitions, our horses will never be strong enough to do all of the transitions they need to do in a show. I have committed to doing at least a thousand trot-canter or canter-trot transitions between now and my next show. In each direction. Especially to the right. Our right lead was an issue, as was everything, in our EOH phase. I can do transitions on trail, they don't have to all be in the arena. But it is something we really need to work on over the next four months.

Then we each rode our test. I rode the Novice B test and there were some things that Tarrin had me go back and reride, but for the most part there was a lot of good in the practice. Even my geometry was decent. And Ashke was soft, responsive and light for me. Our change of lead across the diagonal was solid and very soft. It's too bad it wasn't that way the next day. It's not riding the test that is a problem, it's the show environment. I get tense as soon as I ride in the arena and that makes Ashke really tense. I'm thinking a hit of pot or a valium might be in order fifteen minutes before my ride. Not enough to make me stoned, just enough to take the edge off.

I was feeling very proud of myself at the end of my clinic with Tarrin and totally ready for the next day.

Tarrin standing outside her promotional booth in the barn area.

After the clinics we celebrated J's bday with cake that C brought. It was yummy and a great way to finish off the day. My WE group is pretty awesome and it was great spending the week with them.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Product Review: Two Horse Tack

Jacke from Two Horse Tack contacted me via my blog and asked if I would do a product review, for which I would be compensated with the product of my choice (that I would review). I happily agreed, in part because I already own a bridle and breastcollar from Two Horse Tack, and in part because who doesn't want free stuff.

I decided on the nose-buckle halter, because I don't need a bridle. I'm not using the one I currently own, not because of the product, but because I was tired of changing the bit from one bridle to the other. Ashke is happier than I have ever seen him in the Spanish bit I am riding him in and I was tired of fighting his unhappiness with another bit. Plus, I'm basically lazy.

I picked the nose-buckle halter, not because I need to put the bridle on over the halter (Ashke is very good at standing still and opening his mouth to the bit) but because I hoped it would be easier to fit to his head. I told Jacke that I needed a small halter that would fit a very refined head and cob sized. And I picked the hunter green color, because it seemed like a good idea at the time. (Sometimes change is good, right?) Two Horse Tack sent it very quickly in the Arab size, which fit extremely well. It was in biothane and very well constructed.

I love the biothane. It takes two minutes and running water to make it look as good as new. Even after three years (how long I've had the bridle). It fit Ashke's face very nicely and made him look even more regal than ever.

The halter also came with a lead, which I am not sold on. I would not want to experience a biothane burn to my hands. That said, I will use the lead with the halter for trail riding, since it packs very small and light weight. I purchased a cotton lead rope that matches the halter exactly for every day use. It was the only halter I used for six days at the Rocky Mountain Horse Expo. It will be my halter of choice going forward, even if it is green. (Because I really should have ordered it in blue.) J laughed at me, shook her head and told me, in no uncertain terms, I was not allowed to matchy-matchy all of the things to the hunter green.

For more information and to sign up for Two Horse Tack's newsletter, visit 

The above link will also get you 20% off any order.

I highly recommend their products.

Monday, March 6, 2017

World's Shortest Trail Ride

We drove for three hours on Saturday, to Soapstone Prairie, to give all of us a trail ride before Expo and the Show this week.

Fifteen feet onto trail, as Ashke picked up an extended trot, he pulled his right front shoe. I felt him falter, but when I checked from the saddle it looked like they were both still on.

A mile out, I turned to check on J, A and Iz on their bikes. Iz was just behind me, but J and A were still a ways back. I watched as A over balanced and fell off her bike, and off trail. J turned around and went back. I watched for a moment, then realized that A was hurt.

I turned around and headed back, telling Iz her mom had fallen. We rode back. Ashke was acting really funky, throwing his head up and fighting with me even though we were heading back. When I got to A and J, I got off to see if I could figure out what was happening with him. J was wrapping up A's leg (gashed open her shin), and then helping pick cactus spines out of her butt. I checked Ashke and realized the chin strap was messed up and super tight. No wonder he was so unhappy when I was trying to open the gate. Poor baby.

J looked up and asked if he had thrown a shoe. I looked and sure enough, the right front was gone.

We headed back to the trailer and headed home.

I had Ashke's front feet redone on Sunday. My farrier said pulling the shoe was a blessing in disguise since he has put on a ton of hoof in the past four weeks and both of his fronts needed to be reset. They look much better now.

Tomorrow we head to Expo. Wish me luck with my show.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

SD Bog Hop: Feed

Last week Alaine at Spotted Dressage asked one of the most seemingly simple and yet usually complex questions in the equestrian world:

What Do You Feed & Why?

Ashke gets six flakes of alfalfa and grass hay a day, split between two feedings, fed half and half. He does so much better when he is on the alfalfa and has been able to maintain his weight regardless of our work schedule, number of miles on trail, or the amount of dressage he has done. He has put on muscle over his withers and along the top of his back. He looks fantastic. The two feedings are 7 am and 5 pm, or there about.

He also gets grass hay in the feeder in turn out, which he sometimes picks at, but mostly he spends that time being social with the horses around the turn out. 

At noonish, he gets his bag of supplements mixed into a pound and a half of TC Senior. The supps are his Smartpak, which consists of the Smartflex joint supp, triple amino acid (includes lysine), and MSM. I also add Equipride with diatomaceous earth. 

Every time I ride, he gets an extra bucket of TC Senior and about a pound of carrots. That happens four times a week. He also has access to redmond salt licks and fresh water.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017


I am slowly recovering from this plague. Hopefully, by next week, I will be feeling better. I had a lesson last night with Amanda and it was not as positive as I wanted it to be.

I know that my emotional relationship with Ashke is unique. He and I are very connected and I have no doubt that we are co-beings. I rely on his steady try and work to be a better rider for him. Additionally, as I've expressed here in the past, I am conflict reluctant. I hate fighting. I try and achieve harmony in all of my relationships and work hard to keep the conflict at a minimum, which is why it's so distressing when the other half of said relationship deliberately creates conflict.

Last night when I first got on Ashke he was a bundle of nerves. I was expecting it, since the weather is cray-cray right now. We've had a sixty degree swing in temps over night in the past week and a storm had blown through about an hour before I got to the barn. I'm not sure Ashke got turn out and he was higher than a kite when we started. About fifteen minutes into riding in circles at the walk, I dismounted, got the lunge line and put him on a circle. He cantered and cantered. No cross canter, no fuss after the first five minutes of head tossing and extended trot. Just a nice, soft canter in both directions. His right hind looked fine and he seemed very comfortable.

I got on and we started work. We did leg yields at the walk, then at the trot (quarterline to rail), shoulder in, haunches in, and serpentines. The serpentine work was trot-walk-trot off my seat and then we moved to trot-canter-trot-walk variations, again from my seat. Ashke was soft and accepting, with easy and light transitions. Then Amanda asked for the canter leg yields to help shape his canter. To the right was easy and he felt great. This is an exercise we do pretty much every ride. It is not a difficult question. And he knows the answer to it.

However, when we turned to the left the wheels fell off.

In retrospect, I don't think this was based on his right hind, because he wasn't favoring it earlier. I don't think it really had to do with the "angry" corner, although that did seem to be his excuse. I think he didn't want to do canter work any more. He bounced me from one lead to the other, then threw his head straight up and braced to a halt.

Little fucker.

I took him to the scary corner and we did sidepassing with his butt to the pile, back and forth several times, with me pony club kicking him. Then we started working the edges of the arena with walk-trot transitions. Amanda told me to make him canter regardless of his behavior, until he realized he couldn't stop because of the corner. It was a bit wild and out of control, but I forced him to keep moving forward, despite the cross canter (which he fixed on his own without dropping to a trot) and finally we got a full circle without hims trying his avoidance dance. We went back to the serpentine, because by that time he was upset and angry himself.

It became a brawl in the front. Amanda talked me through anchoring my hands (he had plenty of rein) at the edge of my saddle and doing trot-canter transitions off my seat again. That way, if he threw his head up, he was popping himself in the mouth. (Use my hands as side reins). He did it once, and then finally acquiesced, giving me three really nice transitions from my seat.

It only took fifteen minutes, but I had my horse back.

We finished the lesson by riding through the test twice, stopping to school the transition across the diagonal, until he stopped trying to make the change without waiting for my cue. The last try was a decent test and it ended on a good note.

Afterward, Amanda reassured me that sometimes bad rides happen and you just have to work through them. He was obviously in a mood when I first got on and sometimes he has opinions. He had what amounted to a toddler tantrum, and I am at a point now where I am no longer willing to make excuses. He can have opinions, but at the same time, he has to be obedient and try. It would have been different if it felt like he just couldn't do it, but both myself and Amanda evaluated his gait and that just wasn't the case. He just didn't want to.

I know it's been a month since our last trail ride and I'm thinking he needs a break from the arena work. We will try to fit in a trail ride on Saturday before we head to Expo next week. It will be good for his mental health to get out and explore for a couple of hours.