Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Another schooling show: It could have been worse

Our local GMO is continuing to hold safe, socially-distanced schooling shows, so Leo and I did another one last weekend and rode 2-1 twice. It was a new venue, and based on our lack of warmup at the last show, I planned to leave PLENTY of time for him to get comfortable.

I also needed time to do something with this mop.

And it's a good thing I did. He was totally chill for tacking and grooming at the trailer, and was good for our 10 minute walk in-hand to look at some things. The arena was pretty scary - mirrors at one end, big judge's booth at the other, pallets and hay bales stacked on the uphill side, and it was away from everyone else. He took exception to a giant smoker outside the arena but was otherwise reasonable. A little up, as one might expect of a young horse on a cool morning in a strange place, but nothing bad.

Can we talk about how scary this arena was for a moment?

I hopped on and started walking on the grass outside the teeny warmup space. I had planned to do a lot of walking on a long rein, then gradually pick him up, like we do at home. About two minutes in, he did this very odd squeal-and-strike move which he has never done before. I laughed it off and we kept walking, although my husband said, "Well that was weird" as we walked past him. Shortly after, Leo squealed, hopped and twisted, then kicked out. He has NEVER done anything like that in the two years I've had him, so I took the hint and (heart pounding) got off. 

At least our Pumpkin Spice Haffie outfit worked out!

Luckily there was a round pen on site, so we went over, I stripped off his bridle, then stepped back and told him to "go play." He took off bucking and squealing, which he continued to do both directions for about ten minutes. I haven't had to lunge this horse in probably 18 months, so this was completely out of character for him. In hindsight, I'm SO glad he was polite enough to let me know he needed some time to play instead of just dumping me (because he absolutely could have dumped me), and I'm glad I heeded his warning. Note to self: pack lunge equipment from now on, because he may need a little time on the line at shows.

By the time he was done playing, he was blowing and steaming, and we only had about ten minutes before our ride. I re-bridled him and hopped back on to a much more relaxed-feeling pony. It turned out the rider before us had scratched, so we did our warmup in the actual dressage arena. I crammed in as many transitions as I could, and getting him to focus on me. When the bell finally rang, I felt at least prepared if not completely ready.

Supposed to be shoulder in. Is definitely not shoulder in. Significant amounts of side-eye though.

Annnd we actually put in a focused, mostly mistake-free test? He was not at all collected - between running in the round pen and our lack of warmup, he just wasn't really on my seat the way he is at home, and was heavier in my hand than usual. But he did all the things where he was supposed to more or less how he was supposed to, and did not look at a single thing for the entire ride. Considering how we started the day, I will absolutely take it!

I kept trying to rebalance this medium trot but nope. You can see how much he's on the forehand given his RH is almost off the ground but his weight is still supported by his LF. 

There are so, so many things that need work, and I can't reproduce what we have at home off-site yet. We still don't have the warmup we need to produce quality work, and I have enough problems with my own balance and straightness that I can't help him enough when things go south.

Like this 10 m canter circle which is definitely larger than 10 m.

Probably because of how crooked I get at times. Lawdy.

Still, the test scored a 64.5%, which felt generous. We pulled some 7s for the canter work and walk work, but he just needs more collection and our mediums in all gaits need more ground cover. I feel like this is something that will get better as he gets stronger - I see glimpses of it at home, but sustained power and balance just don't exist yet. And it's not as if he's got ground-covering gaits to begin with!

We did the test a second time, but only had two rides between tests so I kept it to walk work and a few canter transitions.  Honestly, I should have just scratched the second one, as he too tired to put in a better effort. We made our way around, but blew all three canter departs (ugh, like the previous show) and he was even more strung out for this test. We finished with a 60.7%, but it felt like it should have been in the 58% range. Oh well, lesson learned, and that's really what these schooling shows are all about.

There aren't any more schooling shows this year, but there is a rated show at the same venue in early December with local judges. I'm tempted to go so Leo can experience an overnight show, but we'll see where we are in another few weeks. I'd actually need to like... find my show coat, which hasn't seen the light of day since November 2018, when Taran and I went third level for the first and only time. Sniff... fond memories. 

Video of the first test


Monday, October 5, 2020

A schooling show with Leo

While I know a lot of folks are frustrated at having to put their showing on hold for at least part of this year, I've actually enjoyed having no pressure to do anything other than have fun with ponies. This has made my riding kind of sporadic, but it's also given me the time to really pick apart things and slowly build up our skills. I've spent a lot of time working on my biomechanical issues - which, let's be real, those will be forever a work in progress. While I haven't been at all rushed, Leo's training has come along quickly, which I find kind of surprising given my lack of focus. 

Unfortunately, the lack of focus and show goals has left us with some odd holes in his training. He does a brilliant walk pirouette, but our trot leg yield is sketchy at best. His walk/canter is really coming along (I set him up correctly obvs) but the canter/walk is more like a sliding stop because we've never quite gotten over that "big whoa" that was installed during his first 60 days with a cowboy. 

Anywho, our local GMO has started holding schooling shows again, and I had a bit of an itch to do something, so I signed us up. Due to aforementioned training holes, the question was... which tests? 1-3 was doable (with questionable leg yields), but it has SO MUCH CANTERING in it. Leo isn't in the best of shape, plus he's a hairy yak and I knew it would be in the 90s during the show, so getting through 1-3 seemed like a big ask. We did a fairly respectable rendition of 2-1 the weekend before the show, and it's a much shorter test, so I opted to go with that.

The show was run well as usual (our GMO is AWESOME!), and people mostly followed the mask and distancing mandates. We kept our masks on and showed out of the trailer, so we had no contact with anyone other than waving to a few friends. I gotta say, it was so nice to see folks, even if from a distance. I'm a huge introvert by nature, but apparently after 6 months of mostly staying home, even I am desperate for humans!

Sadly, I didn't give us nearly enough time for warmup before our first ride. Leo's been such a solid guy at home, I keep forgetting he's 6 and doesn't have much travel experience, so the 20 minutes I'd allotted for warmup was just not enough. As a result, we went into the first test with him not at all over his back due to tension, so we really struggled. He tried so hard to do all the things, but just couldn't given his level of tension. I've never had a test with so many mistakes (cantered in the medium trot, bolted in the 10 m canter circle, missed 2/3 leads in the w/c departs), but we corrected each one and moved on. 

I have no idea what caused this bolt, but we got it back together within two strides and finished the 10 meter circle blob.

When your mum does a craptastic job of setting up for the canter depart and you somehow miraculously rearrange your legs to get the correct lead.

Our second medium trot was our best one yet! He needs to be more up in front, but he was really allowing his shoulder to come forward, and he stayed super balanced under me. 

Having got the first test out of the way, we had a few rides to reorganize. I worked on more relaxation and lateral work for uphill balance, then sharpened up our transitions a bit. Unfortunately it was quite warm so we were both running out of steam for the second ride, and it showed in the judge's consistent  comments of "needs better uphill balance".  We were both much more relaxed though, and the test was mistake-free. Of course we need better mediums all around, but he's a pro at coming back to collected canter, so that scored well. He also got an 8.0 on his free walk, which I will 100% take.

Reasonably balanced in the counter-canter. Photo used with purchase.

We were pretty tired by the time we got to the final medium trot (and you can see that my face matches my shirt lol), but we did it! Photo used with purchase.

The judge was extremely generous in our first test, in some cases giving us 5s where a 3 or even a 2 probably would have been more appropriate lol. I feel like it should have scored around 57-58%, but it scored a 62%. Our second test was much more consistent but not as uphill, and scored a 65%, which I still felt was quite high. Still, I will happily take those scores and work on areas where I know we can do better.

Overall, it was a really good learning experience for both of us, and a nice low-key way to get back into the show ring. There's another show in October at a different venue, so I hope to go to that as well to get Leo more experience, and to get myself back into the rhythm of competing.  He's a good kid, we just need miles!

Friday, September 18, 2020

Yellowstone National Park photos

Geez, it's been a while. Feels like years, and maybe it has been. We're all fine here, I hope you are too, and have found ways to work within the craziness that is 2020.

I keep writing blog posts in my head while doing horse chores; it's a great time to solve life's problems. The thing is, I never manage to write them down. Maybe this post means I'll get back to blogging, maybe not. No promises.

In August, after not leaving the house for anything more than groceries since March, we decided to head to Yellowstone National Park. We took our truck camper and everything we needed for the 10 day trip, which meant we only had to stop for gas. In fact, the only time we went inside a building the entire 10 days was to get some t-shirts at Yellowstone and some craft beer that hubby wanted. So as far as socially-distanced holidays go, it worked well. It was also SUPER nice to just get away from our house for a while and do something different.

So without further ado, have some pictures from Yellowstone National Park and the surrounding area.

Our first night in Wyoming, we parked in a friend's driveway near Dubois and had this amazing view.

Jade Lake and wildflowers

Grand Tetons from near Dubois

There were SO MANY geysers and pools in Yellowstone, all of which have names, but I don't remember them.


We were really roughing it in the wilds of Wyoming hahaha.

Looks like it's from another planet, doesn't it?

This one looks bottomless

The different color rings are formed by different bacteria that live in the scalding waters.

The blue/white pools are the hottest, near boiling.

The dissolved silica sometimes builds a little "rim" around the pools

Geophysicist hubby watching geophysics happen

Grand Prismatic Spring 

Another "rough" meal - including fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies - after a long day of hiking 

Also yes we did see some buffalo rather up close and personal (sorry about the bug splats on the windshield, I was not about to get out of the truck to get a better picture)

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

More Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

The one and only Old Faithful

Sunrise over Lake Yellowstone. The lighting was incredible

Really wish I'd had a better camera

Tiny geyser on the shores of Lake Yellowstone, with grebes paddling by

Grand Tetons

A carefully-timed and -placed picture to make it look like we were the only ones at Grand Tetons (we weren't, but honestly none of the parks were very crowded)

Dillon Reservoir outside Frisco, CO (on our way home)

I hope this blog finds you and yours well. Please know that I still read y'all's blogs and keep up, even if I'm not posting or commenting much.

Also... HI MOM!!! ;)

PS. Maybe next time I'll write something about the horses.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Sometimes massive research projects start with a single Google image (the story of a 16th c. book on fighting from horseback)

Sometime in late summer 2019, I was looking at Google images of medieval horses, and came across a sketch that I hadn’t seen before.

16th c. guy on a horse? I'm intrigued.

A little digging led me to the source, Regole di molti cavagliereschi essercitii, by Frederico Ghislierio, published in 1587 (online facsimile available from BNF Gallica). Although primarily a manual on Bolognese fencing, there were three chapters in the back that had to do with horses - and while the text was in Italian, I could pick out enough words to know that I really wanted to read it.

Naturally, I couldn’t find an English translation of the book. However, I know a bit of Italian, and I’d recently spent some time translating a couple of medieval French texts, so I figured I’d give it a shot. I’d “translate” a sentence, check it against Google translate, and look up anything weird on Wiktionary. Some sentences were pretty clear, but without a true understanding of Italian or fencing moves, some sentences were barely discernible. I also had a terrible problem with determining whether “he” referred to the rider, the horse, the rider’s weapon, the rider’s opponent, the opponent's weapon, or the opponent’s horse. Clearly, I needed help.

Enter Mattia C., a wonderful scholar - and native Italian - who I met in July 2019 at the International Medieval Congress. I reached out and asked him if he’d be willing to help with the translation, and he agreed. Over the course of the next several weeks, we met online and, line by line, refined the translation. Luckily, Mattia is an Historical Martial Arts practitioner and has a deep understanding of the fencing moves in the text, so he was able to fill in many gaps. We were also able to piece together the somewhat awkward descriptions of riding maneuvers such as turn-on-the-forehand and turn-on-the-haunches and how they were used in combat.

Notice what the horse on the left is doing with his hind feet, and note the circle inscribed on the ground by his front feet.

Several sections of the text included measurements for things like the length of the jousting lane and countertilt, the length of jousting lances, and the height of the ring for practicing targeting. Measurements were given in feet and inches, but exactly how big was a Bolognese “foot” in 1587?  Apparently, different city-states in Italy had different units of measurement into the 19th century when the metric system was adopted, and did you know there are medieval and renaissance measuring stones built into Bolognese buildings? All interesting, but not particularly useful for solving my measuring problem.

Somewhere along the way, I obtained a copy of a 1572 Bolognese fencing manual by Giovanni dall’Agocchie (original Italian version is available through the Internet Archive). Luckily, dall’Agocchie’s work has been translated to English by W.J. Swanger (you can purchase a copy here), which is how I learned that Ghisliero’s chapter on jousting is nearly an exact copy from dall'Agocchie's book... which means that the measurements in the two books should be the same. And, on page 66, dall'Agocchie includes a lovely a diagram of a “half foot,” complete with dividers for inches. All I needed to do was measure the diagram!

A beautiful diagram! Less helpful than one might imagine.

Alas, measuring the diagram was easier said than done. At first I thought I might be able to deduce the measurements based on the size of the original book, but none of the online facsimiles included the page size of the original, so that option was out. I tried to schedule a field trip to see the book in person, but the nearest copy is over five hours’ drive from me, and they wouldn’t allow me into the collection anyway. In desperation, I reached out to an equine scholar friend, who put me in touch with Kathryn R., whose university has a copy of the original 1572 dall’Agocchie print. She was able to make an appointment to see it and measure the diagram. It's a bit hard to know whether we are supposed to measure the distance between the lines for an "inch" or to include the lines, but overall the "six inches" is 188 mm, making an "inch" about 31 mm. Therefore a "foot" is 37.6 cm or 14.8 inches!

FINALLY! Photo and measuring expertise courtesy of Kathryn R.

Apply these newfound measurements to Ghisliero's text, we get:

Regarding where to locate the ring to practice tilting at the ring:
…you will put therefore put the Ring away from the line of the carriera three feet (1.13 m, 44.4 in) of measure, and to the left hand of the Knight that will run [the carriera]. Moreover, raise it [the ring] above the ground six feet (2.26 m, 88.8 in, 7ft 5in).
Regarding the length of the lance:
A lance will have to be long in all ten feet (3.76 m, or 12 ft 4 in), at the base up to the handle will be made one foot long (37.6 cm, 14.8 in), and a fourth (94 mm, 3.7 in): so that he is comfortable. Finally the base [of the lance] will be made so big, so that its circumference around the handle is six inches (18.8 cm or 7.4 in).
Regarding how to set up a tilt and counter-tilt for jousting:
For this exercise of quintain one will have to plant the list: which will be made two hundred feet long (75.2 m, 246 ft 6 in), and five high (1.88 m, 6 ft 2 in): you will also make the counterlist, which will be made one hundred and fifty feet long (56.4 m, 185 ft); and two [feet] high from the ground, and a half (for a total of 94 cm, 37 in); and it will turn in towards the list: so that one does not strike one’s self on it [the counterlist], when the legs spread out, to strike the horse; that is; it will be done, that the distance above is three feet, a half (1.32 m, 52 in); and below is four (1.5 m, 59 in).
Thus brings to a close my months-long (and rather long-winded) quest to figure out the modern measurements used for 16th century jousting. There is still lots of information to analyze on fighting technique and horse footwork, but that is for another day. As always, more research is needed!

Special thanks to Mattia and Kathryn for all their help. Without them, I could not have assembled all the pieces!

Friday, January 31, 2020

Suspensory injury: How not to start off 2020

When I picked up riding Griffy again in late October 2019, I noticed that he'd occasionally take a weird step here and there. Sometimes he wouldn't do it for several rides, sometimes he'd take a few funny steps in a row. Most often it occurred when tracking left.

I had the vet out, and she saw something very subtle in the RF. He was slightly positive to hoof testers (we've been struggling with thrush), but only came partially sound when we blocked the foot. Flexions didn't make him worse, but radiographs showed a very thin sole (5-8mm), so we decided to start with the easy stuff and throw sneakers on and start him on hoof supplements.

The sneakers improved his foot comfort and landing tremendously, and let him use his shoulder more - but there were still some funny steps.

Tracking left, apparently OK for the moment.

Fast forward to our clinic last weekend, and I could definitely feel it at times going left. My trainer agreed. I called the clinic Monday, and Griffy went in for diagnostics on Wednesday. Here's what my vet had to say:
His blocking pattern today, combined with ultrasound findings yesterday result in very high confidence that we are dealing with a primary suspensory issue.  It is hard to say whether the small lytic area in the 4th carpal bone is real or artifact and if it is directly associated with the proximal suspensory issue.  We would only know if this is playing a role by doing MRI and/or monitoring it radiographically during his rehab period.  If it is clinically causing an issue it should change radiographically.  If it is not it will stay static.  If it is an artifact, it won't be seen consistently on follow-up radiographs.
Basically, he has chronic damage to his RF suspensory, high up behind his knee. There aren't any lesions, but the suspensory is enlarged, and there's a lot of scar tissue. We suspect he got it either whilst playing with Leo (he likes to rear up and put his legs over Leo's back, often getting one leg stuck for several seconds), or in one of his patented rear-and-put-your-front-legs-over-the-stall-door moves. He's rarely stalled, but it happens occasionally when we travel, and he gets anxious if he can't see his traveling companion.

Right on right, left on left.

Unfortunately, chronic injuries are more challenging to treat than acute ones, and have a lesser chance of recovery. Treatment options include:
  • Shockwave therapy - The mainstay for treating PSL, but it works best in the acute phase of injury.
  • Laser therapy - Uses a high-powered Class 4 laser, better for chronic injuries. Some very promising research (you can read up on it here) and my clinic has had good success with it.
  • Stem cell therapy and PRP therapy - less useful for chronic injuries, and injecting the site can cause additional inflammation.
We opted to go with laser therapy since it seemed like the best options for his type of injury. We started today, and will be doing a month of treatments three times per week, and then reevaluate. 

Safety glasses are required during laser treatments.

Hopefully this is magic.

The prognosis is guarded, and we're looking at about a 6 month recovery period. Still, I've got everything crossed that this little guy will come back. He reminds me so much of Taran, and we've made so much progress in such a short time. 

Like this one tiny pretend step of canter pirouette.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Apparently I'm running a B&B for Leo

And by B&B, I mean "Breakfast in Bed."

The Haffies keep a strict schedule around here. Breakfast is served at 6:30, then everyone snacks on hay until about 8:30, when they pause for morning naptime. Bitey face is from 9:30-10:30, then the hay is polished off, and by 1 or so it's afternoon naptime. After naptime there's browsing for leftover snacks, then more bitey-face from 3-4:30 or so, then everyone waits in the barn for me to serve dinner between 5 and 5:30.

But Leo has added a special step during morning naptime, when eating hay whilst standing becomes too exhausting. So he lays down for a bit of breakfast in bed.

Eating or napping? Why do one when you could do both? 

Sometimes the neighbor's donkeys join him.

But sometimes you just gotta stay in your plaid jammies and have breakfast in bed.

 Anybody else have one that does the eating and napping thing?