Journal: Surprise. It’s Still Cold.

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This feels like one of the most inconsistent phases of riding I’ve been through in the three years I’ve had Robbye. For someone who relies, both physically and psychologically, on riding six days a week…I’m struggling.

That said, I have a rule not to ride if it’s 20 degrees or below. It’s only been above 10 degrees approximately four days in the past two and half weeks, and on one of those days we got 6″ of snow. AUGH.

So here’s my very sparse journal which should have nine days of recap and instead has three.

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When I last journaled, I had just had two dressage lessons in the same week. I ended that week inspired and ready to buckle down.

Saturday I combined what I learned from my two lessons for a great ride. We did about a million transitions and yielded across the diagonal and down the wall. I was very please with Robbye’s work effort, and I felt like we successfully replicated some of the work we had in our lessons.

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(That Sunday, Zeke (husband) and I “celebrated” Valentine’s Day by buying beer, chips, and pizza and then not leaving the house or even getting out of our pajamas. We played a ton of World of Warcraft – I’m leveling my druid through the new expansion’s content with Zeke’s warlock. Until this expansion she’s been exclusively a healer, but I switched her to balance – a caster damage type – just to level. I am really enjoying the new way of playing! Her AoE damage is ridiculous and awesome. And even though they’re both casters, she’s way different stylistically than my main character, who is a mage.)

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We also had an Epic Snow Battle. It’s pretty obvious from the state of the snow in our front yard.

Two days off, then we had another ride combining the forward and sideways. Finally, after another million transitions, we got some really nice, round, active trot. After one 20 meter circle maintaining that trot, I called it a day. Progress!

Four days and six inches of snow later, and I decided I really wanted to ride in the outdoor. Robbye was a bit annoyed by the change in routine – “what do you mean, I have to pick my feet up to trot through snow?!” – and she gave me a pretty significant bucking and bolting temper tantrum and the beginning of the ride. But I focused on staying relaxed, sitting deep, and letting her move out instead of holding her back.

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We ended with some great work, and I was pleased that we did something different. Since my silly fall, even something as simple as riding in the snow provokes a lot of fear. With rides like these, I’m working on slowly getting my mojo back!

TOA Blog Hop: Costly

It’s that time of the week again! Love it.

ForBeka

What has been your horse’s most expensive injury to date? Let’s exclude maintenance things, like hock injections and the magical monthly package of MSM. What single episode blew your savings or left you boiling ramen? If you want to get technical about it, time is money, too. 

I have to say, Robbye really does not fit this question well. She does have chronic lymphangitis in one of her legs. However, it’s immediately obvious when she has an infection, the treatment (steroids, painkillers, and lots of hand-walking and cold-hosing) isn’t too bad, and her pain and other symptoms only last for a week or two.

(It is weird that the Wikipedia page says that lymphangitis symptoms include “moderate” pain and swelling. For Robbye, the pain is much more than moderate – she is dead lame when she gets an infection. It’s sad to watch. And the swelling is extreme, and includes the entire quarter of her body from her pastern up to her hindquarters and teats.)

So though it’s scary when it happens, and it’s a pain to go out to the barn twice a day to the mind-numbing boredom that is hosing, it’s not that expensive in either time or money.

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Lots of this. Lots and lots.

One of my kitties, Calvyn, sucks up so much more of my time and worry. A year and a half ago, Calvyn began having difficulty peeing. He’d sit in the litter box for long times, then cry and lick himself, then go back to the litter box.

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This was the first time I ever saw Calvyn. I had been feeding and trying to tame his mother, Tabytha, for a few months as she got more and more pregnant. After disappearing for a few weeks, she finally returned with just one kitten. As soon as he stopped nursing we trapped her and had her spayed, and she ended up never leaving the house again (she immediately took to living inside, once we got her there). He did not handle the weaning well and soon he also became an indoor-only cat. They’re now both extremely tame, if choosy about who they love 🙂

When we took him to the vet, he was diagnosed with urinary crystals, which were blocking his urinary tract. These can be really dangerous – if you can’t pee, your bladder will rupture and kill you. But Calvyn was put on a prescription diet for two weeks and the crystals disappeared, luckily.

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Calvyn and Tabbye on the day Calvyn decided he wanted to live inside. You can see from their expressions that neither of them are entirely comfortable with me at this point.

Well his crystals came back last fall, and they proved much scarier and more resilient. Our vet decided that the food we’re feeding is causing them, and decided to switch Cal to a prescription diet full time. So our four year old cat will now be on $60 food for the rest of his life. There’s a lot of worry involved with Cal, too. Since cats have very high pain tolerance, I’m always stressing about whether he’s hurting or not. I try not to monitor his box habits, but at the same time it’s always relieving (lol) when I see him pee. I spend a lot of energy being afraid for him, and a lot of time and money getting him special food and making sure he doesn’t get the regular food everyone else eats.

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Now, Cal is the most affectionate of our little clowder.

So worth it, though.

FOO Blog Hop: Day in the Life

Have I mentioned I love blog hops? Especially when the average temperature this week is negative a million.

What does your daily routine look like?

6:30: Alarm goes off! Snooze for thirty minutes and then panic at 7 because I’m supposed to be leaving at 7:15.

7:00: Finally up. Read and eat breakfast, then rush to get all that other morning stuff done. Wish I could read instead of get dressed.

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These guys are a better alarm clock than my phone. (Tabbye, Ruby, Calvyn, and Skitter)

7:30: Leave for work. Only fifteen minutes late, woo!

7:45: Get to work. I usually get 20 minutes of reading done while my computer boots up – Lotus Notes and Visual Studio take forever to boot. Code, go to meetings, do research. Sit in front of my happy light and eat some nuts.

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One of my very favorite possessions.

11:30: Eat lunch! Half an hour of reading my novel and half an hour of reading non-fiction – alternating equestrian and technical.

12:30: Back to work. Code, meetings, research, happy light, snack.

4:30: Head home! Eat dinner and enjoy some quiet time to recharge for 45 minutes. This is generally the only time I get to myself, and I need it.

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Part of my battle station, where I spend most of my home time. THE POST IS INSIDE THE POST!

5:30: Head to the barn.

6:00: Arrive at the barn, clean Rob’s stall and get her groomed and tacked. If I’m by myself I’ll listen to a novel, which I love.

6:30: Riding! Feels goooooood.

7:00: Untack, groom, clean tack, clean the aisle.

8:00: Home for the day. Do a little bit of chores, clean the kitty boxes, eat another snack, shower.

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Three of my favorite ladies. NERD ALERT! I’m really into making characters and get way too attached to mine. These three have sorta morphed into different aspects of me: Fishmeal, the mage, is clever, ambitious, and selfish; Miniwini, the druid (healer) is extremely empathetic and sensitive and loves animals; Traque, the paladin (tank) is a quiet introvert who defends what she believes is right.

8:30: Play World of Warcraft, League of Legends, or Civ. Work on my blog or my pony room, read more, or play board games or card games. The evenings are for nerdiness!

10:30: Get in bed for more…reading!

11:30: Finally try to sleep. Or maybe read just one more chapter 😉

TOA Blog Hop: A Rose

I love blog hops. I think I say that every week. But it really makes me feel connected to the community, even though I’m still a noob ❤

ForBeka A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
Every horse seems to have at least three names: the “real” one, the barn one, and that special one. What are some of your pony’s names?

I think I’m going to buck the trend here: Robbye doesn’t really have that many names.

When I met her, her name was Mae:

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Robbye as a two year old. Still Mae!

Before I even met decided to buy her, I knew I wanted her barn name to be Robbie. I decided to spell it Robbye to match with my name. Dork alert!

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The first time we met.

Because all of my animals need middle names, and because I knew Robbye’s previous owner really loved her, Robbye’s “full” barn name is Robbye Mae. Of course her name gets shortened to Rob, too. But still, those are really her only barn names: Robbye, Robbye Mae, and Rob.

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Rob ❤

I really struggled to make a show name for Robbye. I knew I wanted it to match her barn name, I knew I wanted it to be “dressagey”, and I knew I wanted it to be nerdy or academic of some kind. But I couldn’t come up with anything. Finally, I posted on reddit asking for suggestions, and the top suggestion was Robigo, which is the (feminine version of the) Roman god of wheat rust.

Another dork alert!

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Awkward photo. I look like I’m about 14. ANYWAY, this was Rob’s first outing as “Robigo”.

The name was perfect and I knew it immediately. The fact that the name includes her barn name and is a sophisticated, short, “dressagey” name would have been enough. But to add to the reasons, Robbye’s coat is a gorgeous reddish rust color – and the roman goddess of wheat rust, of all things, is perfectly nerdy and unexpected.

Lesson Recap: Separate Body Parts

Last Friday, I was lucky enough to get a lesson from my normal dressage trainer, Michele. Two lessons in a week! Exhausting but awesome.

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Kitty on shipping boots. Relevant!

Since I still felt like I was digesting Kim’s lesson, I was happy that Michele’s didn’t overlap at all. (I was also happy with the level of response, to both upward and downward transitions, I got from Robbye. She was much more forward and much more responsive, to my delight.)

This lesson was interesting. We started out doing some leg-yielding, which we haven’t worked on in…way too long. But Rob responded to my leg well, and when Michele started to change a few details of the yield, I knew that she was pleased that we had the basic move down.

For now, our biggest issue with the yield (and with bending, as well), is that Robbye likes to use her big strong shoulders for evil. So when I ask for a yield, she dumps all of her weight on her outside shoulder and lets her hind end trail back and out.

This issue was surprisingly easy to fix by closing my outside thigh and rein. Just by slowing the motion of her front half and encouraging the motion of the back half, we were able to accomplish a few very nice, very straight yields. Success!

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Apparently it’s a kitty kind of post.

We next moved onto yield against the wall. I’ve built a nice (giant, spike covered, monster occupied) wall in my mind in regards to this exercise- not only have I not practiced it for six months, but I had also completely forgotten about it.

Probably because I can’t seem to coordinate my silly body for the thing, and that frustrates the hell out of me.

Anyway, I did manage to understand a little more about what I need to do to accomplish the exercise successfully. For Shoulders of Doom Robbye, it actually takes a lot more outside aids than I expected – same as in the leg yield, I need to close those aids so that she doesn’t barrel through her shoulder. And of course I need to sit up straight but not tense, weight my seat bones, and ask for correct bend – all issues I’ve had with the exercise in the past.

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Charllye is clever enough for board games.

The best part of the lesson was that I got to see some improvements not just of the yield against the wall, but also from the yield against the wall. After spending so much energy moving Robbye’s body parts independently, we were able to achieve a really nice, round trot. In self-carriage. And forward. 

At the end, Michele remarked that she thinks we’re getting back to where we were before Christmas, and I actually am inclined to agree. We all know that working with horses is going to involve losing ground sometimes. It’s happened to me before, and it will again, but this time…I was just so excited about finally getting that frame, about having a forward horse, about maybe finally being competitive again, that when Robbye lost it all, I also lost it all too. Lost my patience, lost my ambition, lost my dedication.

This may be the worst backslide we’ve ever had, and one of the worst timed, but I know that I’ve grown as a rider from it. It was a lesson I needed to learn.

Now that I’ve learned it, though, can I get back to the progress?!

Clinic Recap: Ground Desensitization

The barn where Robbye is boarded is a small, private farm about ten miles outside of the city. I am so lucky to have an incredible facility: indoor and outdoor with great footing , impeccable care, no drama, and a clean and safe environment. But we only have 11 horses total, and my club of three compromises a full half of the boarders.

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So weird to see our indoor fill up!

What I’m trying to get at is that we don’t get the kind of bustle that a big barn does. We had, until last week, only one trainer, who usually comes once a week. We don’t all haul to shows together. Usually there are only one or two of us riding at a time, or even in the barn at a time. And we have never hosted any events.

That made last weekend even more special: my club-mate, Kathy, and our barn owner, Carolyn, organized a clinic at our farm!

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Robbye didn’t participate, so I photographed instead.

We ended up having 11 horses and half dozen or so auditors for a three hour clinic on desensitization. The clinician was a local trainer named Helge (pronounced like “Helga”), who is a trainer popular with the trail riders because of his natural horsemanship-inspired trail rides. He emphasizes confidence above all else while riding, which many re-riders obviously appreciate.

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Lizzie and Kathy tackle a pipe with empty, rattling cans attached.

Other than the bad rap it gets on CotH, this clinic was actually my first experience with natural horsemanship. I have to say: I was very pleased with Helge. Generally his techniques lined up with what I have learned from dog training (I have much more experience training dogs than I do horses), which I found particularly interesting. The parallels between training predator and prey aren’t usually that obvious, in my experience.

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This horse was particularly tolerant.

At one point, he was teaching the clinic how to back their horses. The ask happens in four steps, Helge says:

  1. Hold the lead rope slack in one hand the the training stick in the other. Face the horse’s chest and ask for the back by waving the stick between your hip and chest.
  2. If the horse doesn’t respond, move to tapping the slack portion of the lead rope with the training stick.
  3. If the horse doesn’t respond, move to tapping the metal snap of the lead rope with the training stick.
  4. If the horse doesn’t respond, move to tapping the horse in the nose with the training stick.

If at any point in the process the horse backs, there is an immediate release. And, Helge emphasized, the transitions between the steps have to be abrupt and obvious – he believes that faking out the horse, or failing to commit to an ask, is not fair to the horse.

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“This tarp is NOT scary!”

He also understands that of course no one wants to hit their horse – or even tap him on the nose. His rebuttal is that he’d rather hit the horse once and teach the lesson, never having to do it again, than ask half-assed every single time. One, assertive, dominant ask.

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Horses fail to react while Helge’s assistant shot a gun inside.

Helge used many different “toys” to demonstrate desensitization: a giant ball, a bull whip, balloons and flags, a firing gun, a pipe with empty rattling cans, and more. The approach to familiarization was the same for each toy, however. First of all, the handler must always be calm and confident. Second, if at all possible have the horse follow the scary toy. This makes the toy less intimidating, since it’s not chasing the horse, and also encourages the horse’s curiosity. Finally, a release is always granted immediately after the horse moves toward or accepts the scary situation.

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Hoola hoops aren’t scary either!

I think my main takeaway lesson from this clinic is that horses are a lot less flighty than we expect; in a comfortable environment with a calm, confident handler, even something that we, as humans, expect to be scary to a horse is really…not a big deal. There were zero equine freak outs at this clinic. Several miniscule spooks, a couple of hairy eyeballs, but no drama. Even at the gunshots.

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Scared of the ball, but not being dramatic.

The clinic was an excellent example of a horse taking his behavioral cues from his handler. If these handlers could replicate their demeanors in a saddle and in a strange place, they’d have virtually bomb proof horses. This is a lesson I’ve been trying to learn for three years now, especially since I’m an anxious person with a mare who is particularly sensitive to me. This clinic was incredible proof that the lesson is valid.

(And it was a great party, too – I can’t wait to have another one at “home”!)