Wednesday, August 30, 2017


There is a line in one of my favorite movies that I always thinking in my head anytime someone mentions spurs. It is from The Man From Snowy River and it is part of the bunkhouse scene, when Jim is being kicked off the ranch. One of the other ranch hands, Curly, is badgering Jim verbally about breaking in the colt, then suggests that Jim might have broken in the young woman as well. His comment "tell me, did you have to use your spurs?" is what I think every time I think about spurs.

I know, TMI.

So, last night's lesson was stimulating, challenging and exhausting. My legs were sore and wobbly like wet noodles when we were done. I don't know why - it was such an easy lesson.  :)

I put out five cones in the double slalom pattern so we could work with reference points in our ride. Amanda had us start with serpentines at the trot, adding in the transition to the walk after a few minutes, and then adding canter departs once it was obvious Ashke was warmed up enough to canter. I'm still working on not throwing away my hands when asking for the canter, but also making sure I'm not pulling either. It is a fine line between the two and I didn't realize what a very nasty habit throwing my hands forward when moving into a canter I had retained from when I was young. It is probably the hardest thing to relearn that I've been working on. If I throw my hands away, then the contact is inconsistent, but if I don't follow a bit with my hands, Ashke gets claustrophobic and banged in the mouth.

Yeah, I'm that good.

I talked to Amanda about Ashke backing. It's a problem, because of him dragging his feet and although he is so much stronger than he was, he really doesn't understand why he needs to lift them up. The night before I had tried teaching him to back over a ground pole and that wasn't fun. I talked to Saiph about it afterwards and I guess that's the horse equivalent of stuffing a cat in a shoe. Ashke acted like I was trying to kill him. We did get one or two clean backwards steps over the ground pole, but neither of us enjoyed it and I need to find a different way. I shared all of that with Amanda and we talked about a couple of different things I could try. Then Amanda had me work an exercise that is actually prep work for piaffe.

We were to trot forward in shoulder in, halt, back one step and trot off while maintaining the angle and bend. The theory is that the horse has to really step up with his hind feet, snapping them up. We didn't get a clean back step, but we did get a clean, snapping forward step, where he was really have to use his haunches. We only did it three times in each direction of bend, since it was really working his hind end and it was still early in our ride.

After that exercise, we moved to leg yields at the walk. I am really thinking about riding the Intermediate A test for our last WE show, partly because leg yields at the walk suck, and partly because Ashke is really good at changes through the walk (simple change) which is actually easier for us than changes through the trot. We will see. Anyway, he gets really slow at the leg yield, which could be seen as resistant in our test. We moved to more shoulder in after the leg yields.

Then Amanda had us do shoulder in serpentines, which caused thick black smoke to pour from both our ears (mine and Ashke's). The exercise went like this:

The X marks where the change of bend happens.

So, we started with a shoulder in position that would match the bend of the turn at the edge of the arena, as we moved around the corner the shoulder in became a quarter of a ten meter circle, and then we were supposed to transition into a shoulder in in the other direction at the apex of the circle. The first challenge was for me to wrap my head around which direction we should be bending, since I have a tendency to do it backwards. Then I needed to communicate the parameters of that exercise to Ashke. Seriously. Smoke. About the third attempt, Ashke just stopped trying to bend through his body, I asked Amanda to retrieve my spurs. (I bought them awhile ago, but hadn't had to use them yet.) We got them on and tried the exercise again. Amazing how much more clearly Ashke heard my request and made the effort to do the exercise correctly. We were actually achieving counter bend at the apex of our turn, at least for a couple of steps.

Amanda explained that when horses reach the point we are at, sometimes they get muddied in their minds about what we are asking for. Sometimes, the spurs help with clarification on what is being asked. It was certainly the case last night. We moved to haunches in after to see how he responded to my requests with the spurs. I think my ask must have been much more clear to him, because he was able to do that exercise cleaner than he has in the past.

Up next, Amanda had us ride the drum pattern around the cones we had set up. The circles were huge, but we were mostly working on keeping his haunches in at the canter on the circle, and the transitions through the walk between the drums. We worked that pattern in both directions which blew the boy's mind again, since he really wasn't sure he had heard me correctly when I asked for the left lead. This is a great example of why you should work both sides and not just ride the drum pattern. Maybe next time, I should ride the barrel race pattern for the cloverleaf, rather than the WE pattern for the drums.

After the drum pattern we did the double slalom in one direction only. Our only issue was our transitions were a little early, although the canter depart was in the correct position. I have to keep riding the canter for one or two more strides before coming down to the walk. That's mostly me getting tired and Ashke anticipating.

The next exercise was working the single slalom in varied patterns. We only had three cones up, so Amanda had us circle the final cone and ride back through the three. Then the next time we did that pattern and then circled at the end and rode through the other two, turning those into a figure 8. He did really well, but I could feel how tired he was beginning to get. Amanda could see it as well.

We finished up with trotting a spiral circle around a cone, starting with haunches in as we spiraled in, then leg yielding back out on the spiral. We did that spiral exercise twice, then added a canter depart as we widened the circle and cantered off in a straight line. We did it moving counter clockwise first, then turned and worked the exercise in the other direction. That time, when we cantered off, I could feel Ashke beginning to struggle. He was wiped out. We transitioned down to a walk and both Amanda and myself said he was done at about the same time.

He wasn't sweaty, except under the saddle pad, but he was tired. We are doing some pretty heavy weight lifting and although the challenge is fun and exciting, we are both pretty exhausted by the end.

Friday, August 25, 2017

That Time When I Busted my Ass


Although, I think the original injury was on June 25th, during the infamous mattress incident. When I came off Ashke I landed on the edge of the boxspring on my butt and the metal edging cut across my right buttock cheek at an angle. I think it compressed/pinched the sacral tuberous ligament into the SI joint on the right side. It has been bothering me ever since, especially when driving, and has been getting progressively worse as we've gone along. On Wednesday, in our lesson, that tendon finally released (I heard a pop) and the tension/pain radiated down my bicep femoris and into my calf muscle. I thought I had ruptured my hamstring (bicep femoris) and had tears in my eyes at the pain. You will see at the end of the Serpentine video the moment it happened.

With that said, here is the lesson recap.

We started with shoulder in to loosen up his hind end. Then we started working on the canter to the right.

We are still figuring out the bit situation. He does gape his mouth a few times in the video, but Amanda said it was happening when he was leaning on my hands.
It got better as he started holding up his end of the deal.

 Canter to the left. 

Serpentines at the trot and then canter

We moved to serpentines at the canter, just getting him to wait on my request and to not anticipate the canter. You can see me grab my ass at the end of these. (We did the tun on the haunches to go to the right because spooky corner.

The pain was pretty much an 8 out of 10 and Amanda suggested I get off and walk it out a little bit. I did so and could feel where the muscles were screaming at me from my lower back to my heel. I went to get back on with a muttered "if I can ride with a kidney stone . . . " while Amanda just shook her head at me. 

We worked on haunches in, wanting to give my butt a break from having to control Ashke at the canter and to assess how I was going to do. We followed that with leg yields at the trot and some shoulder in at the trot.

Then we did slow trot - fast trot - slow trot exercise to help me gain some  control when we do speed in WE without cranking on his mouth. Then we did that exercise at the canter and Ashke went "Wheee". I swear he just wants to be a race horse.

Then we went back to riding quietly - which is much harder than it might seem, given the nature of my boy.

That was the end, pretty much. My buttock and leg was hot and swollen. I unsaddled, rinsed Ashke off and headed home. 

My leg is doing much better by Friday. I have an appointment for next week to have it looked at and in the meantime I am doing gentle stretches and taking lots of ibuphrophen. 

I so did not appreciate my twenty-year old body when I had it.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Thoughts on Bits

So far, I have had four rides in the Garcia bit . . . one lesson ride the first night we tried it, one trail ride on Saturday and two arena rides on Sunday and Monday. I believe we are in the middle of the Halo effect, as far as the bit goes, with brilliant rainbows and sparkly showers of happiness. I'm almost afraid it is too good to be true.

In order to continue to document this journey, I want to get my thoughts down now about how he is responding to this bit. That way, if things change, I can go back and look at our journey.

First off, a jointed bit of any kind will not work with Ashke. I have tried pretty much all of them, and even though the online bit selector quiz says "myler level 2 comfort snaffle", that is one of the bits we have tried, and short of tying his mouth closed (which I will not do), that bit is too harsh for him.

Second, the width and thickness of this bit seems to be something he is more comfortable with than past bits. The Mona Lisa mouthpiece is wide and heavy. The Spanish bit I have been riding in is heavier than most of the bits I have tried and the Garcia bit is heavier still. The thought behind a thin bit is that it has more bite to it, since the pressure applied is focused across a smaller surface in the horse's mouth. The thicker the bit is, the more surface it covers, and the less pounds per square inch. The thinner the bit, the more pressure on the bars of the mouth and the thicker the bit, the more diffused that pressure is.
  • Ashke seems very comfortable in this bit. He opens his mouth to accept (not always the case in the past, so this is not a given) and immediately begins to play with the roller. When work intensifies, his tongue is quieter as he focuses, but then he plays with the roller while we take walk breaks.
  • Crazy as it may sound, he is so much more responsive to my seat that I'm still a little in shock. Last night we were doing canter-walk transitions without him blowing through my ask and he was listening well to my seat and legs.
  • Lateral work is at least as good as it has been. Backing is better. We are struggling a bit with bend to the right, but I am wondering if the base of his neck is out again. (It seems like every time he plays with his neighbors something happens and he wrenches himself.)
  • He is very responsive to this bit and has yet to throw his head up or brace through the jaw. The weight and feel of this bit encourages him to reach down and seek contact, something that he hasn't been as comfortable doing in the other bits we have tried.
  • I don't think he will ever have a "quiet" mouth. Some of us do not. I have a tendency to stick out my tongue when things get hard, and watching my son play video games tells me he has inherited my trait. I think you are either born with the need to use your tongue to do things (have you ever watched Michael Jordan play ball?) or you aren't. I think horses are the same way. Ashke moves his mouth when he is concentrating. Its usually his lips, and he doesn't do the tongue thrust thing unless he hates the bit, but his mouth moves when he is trying to do what I am asking him to do. (I think this may also be why Nilla sticks her tongue out when she is jumping. Some things are hard and need the extra help.) 
  • Ashke has a very high play drive. During the winter, he drags his empty water trough out from under the fence to bang on it with his feet. He has dog toys in his stall to chew on and squeak. He plays with both geldings on either side of him, playing bitey face through the poles of his pen. He has to have clips on his stall doors that prevent him from opening them, clips on the outside gates of the horse runs so he can't undo them during turn out, and the clips have to be used all the time or the likelihood of finding a loose horse wandering  around inside the barn is very high. He is curious and inquisitive and very agile with his nose. Giving him a bit he can play with has had the same effect as giving an active child a fidget spinner to distract them. I can hear and feel him play with it during our walk breaks.
  • Probably the only downside I have seen so far is that he will not be able to eat on trail in this bit. Or take treats. The food gets crammed into the hood of the bit and the roller will not spin. 
During our ride last night I had an epiphany. I cannot just allow him to fall out of the canter. I need to use my connection to him through the bit to help him remain balanced through the transition. Saying that makes me feel stupid, but for the first time last night I could feel what I was doing wrong. We were doing canter-trot transitions on the serpentine and he sort of locked up his hind end and stumbled down into the trot. He has done this before but I have always kind of blamed his physical issues for the stumble. Last night, I could feel how my position effected his ability to transition and I needed to give him more support through the process. We tried again and this time I held up my end of the deal, giving him the support he needed and we didn't have a cross-firing issue for the rest of the night. Neither of us are ready to do this one handed, which I thought might be softer on his mouth, and he is reaching for the bit when I'm not keeping up my side of the conversation.

Additionally, he did not get as upset last night when we were working on canter work as he has in the past. We did serpentines with canter-walk-canter transitions, then worked on the shallow serpentine, similar to the single slalom, without the poles to guide us around. I was very pleased with all of the canter we did and then we went back to working on the trot (I need to make sure we are not just stopping at the end of the canter work, since he starts expecting to be done and gets a bit pissy when we aren't). I was working on bend to the right through the trot by spiraling in and out on a circle, then went through the shallow serpentine with him again. He offered a canter a couple of times (I need to be really clear with my outside aid as to what I want) but I just laughed and asked for a transition down. Mostly, we worked on connection and communication with the new bit.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Dowdy Draw

 Saturday, J and I headed to Boulder instead of Wyoming because eclipse. I'm so amazed at the number of people who drove north to watch the eclipse while parked in a huge field next to hundreds more people who had done the same thing. And I'm not really surprised at the enterprising capitalism of the hotel and motel owners who tripled their rates for the event. I am very happy that my parents drove to my sister's place in McCall, Idaho to watch it from the comfort of their cabin.

Me? I will watch the shadow over the sun from my desk at work.

Saturday, though, we drove to the Marshall Lake trailhead in Boulder. We grabbed lunch prior to our ride, but didn't pack enough to cold drinks to last the ride (doh!). Ashke felt loose and ready to go when we hit the trail. It was supposed to top out at 90 or so, but it ended up almost 96 on the day. We headed east from the trailhead, then turned back West to ride the canal. Then we started up the hill for Greenland Mesa.

 The hill up . . . it's probably 600 feet of elevation gain.

 J making it look easy.

 From the top of Greenland Mesa looking west.

Ashke loves riding right next to J so he can bump her bag with his nose.
He pins his ears at her when she doesn't give him a peppermint. 
Not in a mean way, but in a "gosh why aren't you paying attention to me" way.

 When we got to the far side of Greenland Mesa, J was struggling with the heat. It was a lot hotter than expected and she was way overheated. She asked about turning back, but when I pointed out that we would have to climb the hill she had just ridden down, she opted to continue on. We crossed the street at Hwy 93 and it was pretty apparent that J was going to have issues if we couldn't get her temp down. She had heat stroke in 2005 and it's still effecting her. I suggested we try the cattle pond just over the hill from where we were. The water isn't drinkable, but Ashke could have some and J could get wet. We got over there and she pulled the packable towel she always carries to wet and drape around her neck. Ashke went in belly deep and splashed water all over, while letting me know he would really rather lay down, which I stymied, the spoilsport I am. Once we were all cooled off, I told J that once we were down the draw, we could head for the river that flowed out of Eldorado Springs, where we could cool off again. That seemed to be a good plan, so off we went.

 Getting closer to the flatirons

Just before we started down the draw, we stopped and shared some sugar cookies, which seemed to help our energy level, then we headed down the draw.

I love this trail, but it is so rocky.

 For the first time on this particular trail, Ashke didn't fight any of my requests to move from one side of the trail to the other, to step slower, to use his butt.

Just after this video, we came across a crashed mountain biker who had stuck her front tire between two rocks and flipped herself over her handlebars. J went into "always be prepared mode", cleaned up the long scrape across the woman's shin, then added a compression wrap with bright blue vet wrap. The injured woman could stand and push her bike up the hill, which is good, since I wasn't too keen about loading her on Ashke to get her out of the canyon. I had dismounted as we approached, since Ashke dances less with me on the ground. And steep hill side to fall down was motivation enough for me. We mounted up and headed down.

There are parts of this trail that get very open to the downhill side and Ashke is usually somewhat spooky about the uphill side, which increases my nervousness. But on Saturday, he was rock solid.

This is the trail down after the one switchback. It was so rocky that J couldn't ride her bike over them.
I asked Ashke to walk very carefully, and slower than normal, behind her without him bracing his jaw, throwing his head up, or jigging down the trail. And he listened, with his head down, a light contact with the bit.

We went to the trail head for Dowdy Draw instead of heading up community ditch, where we crossed the road and headed further west toward the river. It was every bit as beautiful and cold as I remembered. Ashke waded right in and drank deeply, while J shed her socks and shoes, clambered through the shallows and straddled the low branch hanging over the water. Ashke got a good cold soak in the fresh water, while the temp of the water brought down J's core temp. She also refilled her water bottles for pouring over her back and shoulders further down the trail.

 I love these little hidden spots you can still find in the area.

 J's favorite part of the trail, just before we get back to the trailer.

Finishing the ride

11.25 miles with lots of beautiful terrain. It would have been better if it had just been ten degrees cooler, although the heat and the brilliant sunlight were part of what made the river so wonderful.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Garcia Bit

Amanda's mom purchased a Garcia bit in the early 70's and showed in it for years. Amanda has been talking about this bit for a while and I did some research into the bit. I want to share that with you . . .

It started in 1894, when young Guadalupe S Garcia left his home and business in Santa Margarita and moved to Elko, Nevada where he opened G.S. Garcia Harness and Saddlery. He made quality products: beautiful bits and spurs, sought after by working cowboys every where. He and his craftmen build the World's Fair Saddle, using the finest leather, gold, silver and diamonds. It won gold medals at the St Louis World Fair and the Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland, Oregon. No one else in history has ever won both. When he died, he passed his business to his three sons: Les, Henry and Eddie. Eventually the business moved to Reno, NV where it was known as the Garcia Bit and Spur Manufacturing Company. He was also the proprietor of the Elko rodeo grounds, which later became known as the Elko Rodeo or Elko Stampede, the predecessor to today's Silver State Stampede.

In 1978, Doug and Paula Wright, from Elko, bought the Garcia company, merging it with the J.M. Capriola Company in Elko where Guadalupe first started. (Jim Capriola worked for Garcia in the early 1920's before leaving to start his own business that eventually ended up buying the Garcia Bit and Spur Company almost 60 years later.)

Today, Garcia bits continue to be built by carefully trained Mexican craftsmen who proudly continue the tradition of the Garcia name. The same mouthpieces and cheekpiece designs are used that were used in Guadalupe's time, with the addition of a few new, select cheekpiece designs. The bits and spurs are in the Vaquero tradition, which would actually compliment our Spanish attire. They are incredibly well balanced and hang straight in the horse's mouth.

This is the bit I am currently testing on Ashke:

 Two and a half inch Concho bit

 Mona Lisa mouthpiece with copper cricket roller under the hood

How it looks in his mouth.

The rings where the reins attach are fairly small. When we tried the bridle on Tuesday we had bridle chains on the bit to attach the reins and neither Ashke or myself liked them. Any slack in the rein caused the chains to swing and that was a problem. We also didn't have a great way to attach my reins, since the ring the reins were supposed to attach to was too small for the width of the leather. I had ordered a pair of rein connectors to try the pelham bit (which he hated) and suddenly had the item shown below that I am never going to use on a bit.

The leather is fairly narrow and fit the ring on the bit very well. I attached the narrower leather strap to the bit ring, then cut the second piece of leather off the center ring, then attached my reins to the ring. I had snap clips I could have used, but I really don't want to ride out on trail in snap clips. All it takes is a rub against his leg or an object and my rein is no longer attached. They can also effect how the rein hangs off the bit. Using the rein connectors meant the reins were attached, the weight on each rein was the same, and the drape of the reins was really good. I also like the look, plus any change of reins will be simple.
My thoughts on the Garcia bit:

1. It is a very well balance bit that hangs straight in Ashke's mouth. The bit has some weight to it and I think it is the weight that encourages him to relax at the poll.

2. Ashke loves the cricket roller. He plays with it a lot when we are walking or standing still. In our lesson on Tuesday, he would stop playing with it when we were working on the things that were more complicated, but when we were stationary or just walking you could hear it clicking in his mouth.

3. It causes a lot of saliva. Not so much when we are just walking, but when we are working, the slobber was dripping from his mouth and from the slobber bar.

4. Something about this bit allows me to be really light with the reins. He listens and pays attention to my seat and legs much better than in the other bit. The contact between my hands and his mouth is consistent and soft, and he reaches down for the bit. Even on our eleven mile ride today, Ashke and I had contact the entire way. The one attempted bolt was stymied by the lightest touch of the reins.

5. We rode down Dowdy Draw and the last time we rode down the Draw Ashke fought me the entire way. It has always been a struggle to get him to pay attention to where his feet are and he hates to be asked to go slow. That fight always included his throwing his head straight up in the air and bracing his jaw against my hand. Today, he minced his way carefully down the trail, on the bit, at the pace that J could walk her bike down due to the rocks. Not once did he toss his head up. Not once did he brace against the bit.

6. For the first time, when we were trotting and I lifted him with my heels, his head came down, rather than him inverting and rushing forward.

7. No rubs, pinches, or other problems after four hours of riding. I am going to have to keep him from eating on trail unless I put the halter on him, since the food packs into the hood and keeps the roller from moving. 

I have been given permission to ride in this bit for a couple of months. I will probably continue to ride and train in this bit until after my final show on October 14th. If Ashke is still responding to the bit this well at that point, I will purchase one of my own. Nothing like a fancy, special bit to match his handmade, ordered from Spain just for him, saddle.

This is the bit I think I want to order, if we get this far:

And I am leaning toward either the blue inlay or the silver overlay . . . . I really like both. I could also do black inlay, but it would push my cost up by $25. I think I am partial to the silver, honestly.

I will stay with the Mona Lisa mouthpiece in the same width as the bit we are riding in.

Now we just need to see if he likes the bit in three weeks, the way he does now.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Bits, bits and more bits

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

Let's review . . . 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy mouth french link

A not-so-happy, happy mouth bit

Nothing happy here

Myler comfort snaffle - kimberwick style

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

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

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

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

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

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

We also tried this one.
Not a fan.

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

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

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

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

So stay tuned . . .



Monday, August 14, 2017


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

 It was a beautiful day.

J going zoom zoom on the downhill

 Heading into the backcountry

 J waiting for me

 It's such a great ride

 Chasing J up the hill

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

 Scrub Oak mini-forest

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 7, 2017


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

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

Expo Show where I was actually riding a fire breathing dragon

Ease of Handling on Saturday

So much better. He tried so hard for me. 

Comparison video

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

And we kicked ass over the jump. Both times.

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

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

Good thing I have two months to rest and recuperate.

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

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

Thursday, August 3, 2017

First Lesson in Two Weeks

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

Amanda in a shadbelly looking very military

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

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

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

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

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

borrowed from the interwebs

In reality it was really more like this:

And measured just under Amanda's knees.

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

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

Keep us in your thoughts on Friday and Saturday.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Chasing Bikes

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

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

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

End of July and it was still fairly green.

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

Trail was nice enough here that we enjoyed some cantering.

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

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

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

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

A showing Ashke she didn't bring any treats.

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

I let Ashke go after him.

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

J and A were both laughing to hard to ride.

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

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

Passing us.

On top of the mesa.

The last I saw of them.

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

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

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