Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Pyrs can't fetch

If you've ever met a Pyr before, you'll know that their obedience skills are almost nil. Our first Pyr, Anie, didn't sit, come when called, or walk on a leash.  Pyrs are also not known for fetching. Most of them will just stand there and look at you like you're an idiot if you throw something for them, and they most definitely do NOT pick up toys. Basically they're good at guarding, full stop.

However, Pyrs are known to learn behavior from other, older Pyrs. This is why you're supposed to match a young Pyr with a established guardian dog so they can learn the ropes of guarding. Apparently Pyrs also learn from certain Malamutants, because Gus has learned from Elias how to sit, lie down, walk on a leash, and come when called (Gus actually has better recall than Elias, which is a miracle). However, the concept of fetching seems to elude him. Elias LOVES to play fetch, but Gus just bounds after whatever you throw, pounces on it, then comes bounding back to you... without the toy. He squashed it, he killed it, problem solved. Guardian dog logic at its finest.

We've been trying to encourage Gus to actually pick things up when playing fetch, which sort of works... but the concept of bringing it back to the person who threw it is a whole 'nother challenge.

Fetching, Pyr-style.

Hubby and I have learned to start with a big pile of toys, toss them till he fetches them all, then collect them and go again. At least it tires him out when it's raining outside, and it's sort of hilarious to watch a 115-lb dog bounce through the house.

Also, he's awfully cute, if somewhat large and floofy.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Blogger Secret Santa!

Blogger Secret Santa has become one of my favorite things about blogging. I LOVE giving fun things to other bloggers, and it's always fun to get a surprise as well!

This year my Secret Santa is Shelby from EquiNovice. All I can say is that she couldn't possibly have picked more perfect gifts!

First up, the card. BWAHAHAHAH!

Secondly. It does not get more perfect than this. ALL THE CHAI IS MINE ALL MINE!!!! Ahem. I'll share if you want a cup. Maybe.

Finally. I have NO IDEA how Shelby knew how much I wanted a cartoon of Paddy. Seriously, I debated so long about getting one, but I never buy stuff for myself so I didn't. Apparently Shelby reads minds though, because this one is PERFECT! And a big thank-you to Alyssa too for capturing Paddy's perfect Haffie Hair!

Thank you again, Shelby, for a wonderful Christmas surprise! And many thanks to Tracy at Fly On Over for organizing the 3rd annual blogger Secret Santa. Count us in again next year!

Monday, December 21, 2015

2015 Retrospective

Sometimes when I look back on the goals I set at the beginning of the year, I wonder what I was thinking. This year was a huge learning experience and overall very positive, but we didn't end where I thought we would or make nearly as much progress.

Riding goals:
  • Be lighter and more obedient to the aids in dressage. Definitely, although it comes and goes. Paddy still gets bargey, I still get grabby, but I think this will always be a challenge for us. Still, looking from videos from early this year, we've come a long way.
  • Be more consistent on first and second level trot work. Yes! We have a really nice lengthen trot and Paddy can really carry himself at times. There's the beginnings of a medium trot too, as well as more collection. As he gets stronger, he's able to work more over his back for more time, and it's SUCH a great feeling!
  • Canter, canter, canter. Strength, balance, and we need to find some lengthenings and collection in there, along with counter-canter, simple changes, and walk-canter-walk transitions. Canter continues to be our weak spot. We started on counter-canter (shallow serpentines) since it's needed in 1-3, but they suck. We have a very good w-c transition and can do the c-w within 3-4 steps when I'm really on it. Since he's not yet balanced enough to canter normally down the long side, we haven't worked on lengthenings because he just falls apart. So much work to do here.
The Haffie Shuffle

  • Laterals - we have the start, we need to solidify leg yield, shoulder in, and haunches in. Man, I love laterals on this horse. Leg yield is straight, and I can put his shoulders and haunches where I need them. There's even some baby half pass at the walk and trot. 
  • Continue to have fun with Paddy and work on our partnership. I love him more every time I ride him, so really, this is the most important goal! Absolutely. He continues to be the most awesome Haffie ever, even if I did threaten to give him away once or twice (ahem). 
Show goals:
  • Show at USDF recognized shows, at levels we will be competitive. Right now this means Training, I'm hoping later in the year we'll be able to go First. We weren't what I would call competitive at Training, because we're often up against pros on big-moving warmbloods. But we did reasonably well for our first rated season and scores improved throughout the year (mostly).
  • Improve our scores at First level. Wait, we were supposed to show at First? Fail.
  • Get off my lazy ass and send in our scores to the Haffie Registry. Seriously. Just dooo eeet! Hahaha... nope. Also fail. 
Crazy-ass dreams: 
  • Qualify for the Region 9 year end championships, and go if we qualify. Yup, we did this! We also came in second to last with our worst score ever, so, er, better luck next time?
  • Get scores at Training/First toward a USDF rider award. We got our scores for a Training Level Rider award, and also scores for Paddy's performance award. I just submitted to USDF for both of those, so hopefully they'll be here soon.
  • Get scores at First toward a USDF Bronze Medal. Nope. We never showed First this year, although I had planned to do so after Regionals. But with Paddy's lameness issues, that didn't pan out. Boo.
  • Ride 2-1, either at home or at a show. Nope. Right now we're walking exciting straight lines on the road, because that's what you do when you're rehabbing a soft tissue injury. Woohoo.

Accomplishments that were not on my list, but should have been:
  • Forgetting my test at least once at every single show. WTF REALLY BRAIN???? YOU HAD ONE JOB.
In which I have yet another discussion with yet another judge over where I went wrong. 

What I'd change:
  • I need to ride more during the summer. It's hard to be motivated to ride when it's 105 out at 8pm and the ground is harder than a rock. I might need to board Paddy during the summer so that I will feel guilty and go ride him every day after work, but I need to figure something out so that we don't lose the summer months entirely. We were underprepared for the fall season and the Championship show because of it.
  • Remember the fucking dressage tests. It can't possibly be that hard.
  • I need to look at the show schedule further out - I got stuck doing a very last-minute show that was quite a long haul, and I'd rather not do that again.
  • My championship test. It sucks to work so hard and have such a crappy ride. Blarg.
Best moments:
  • Every time someone would comment on how cute Paddy is. Seriously. I may not have the fanciest (or, ahem, best behaved) horse there, but he's really adorable so who cares.
  • Unrelated to dressage, but... hearing a crowd of 3500 people cheering my husband and Paddy on at a joust up in Columbus, Ohio. That was one hell of a road trip, but damn, it was fun!
Picture Perfect Paddington
  • Drinking wine out of the stemless wine glass I won. Wine glasses are the best prizes EVER.
  • Cheering on friends and my trainer at shows. I'm not really a part of a show "family" since I don't ride with a big barn and my trainer doesn't show much, but it's really great to see people you know and cheer them on. 
  • Realizing how lucky I am to have such a wonderful, supportive husband. He's just the BEST!
  • Seeing Paddy's adorable face every day. I'm a total sucker for that face and I luff him to pieces. 
Also the adorable teeny-tiny earz.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Wyvern Oaks Wildlife

I was flipping through my phone the other day and found some random pics I've taken of critters we have residing with us. It's one of the things I love most about this place - the critters change with the seasons and there's always something new. The quiet hour around dawn is the best time to see critters, although sometimes you can catch deer and rabbits near dusk.

This cute little nuthatch flew into the house one morning when I left the doors open to catch the dawn breeze. It took me a while to catch her - she was so small she went right through the holes in our bird net! I returned her safely outside with the rest of the flock that visits our garden every morning for a drink.

A great-horned owl that likes to hang out in our neighbor's snag at dawn. She's one of a pair that nest in another neighbor's oak tree down the street. We also have a pair of red-shouldered hawks and a pair of Caracaras that should arrive for nesting within the next week or two, and the tree ducks arrive in January.

Our two resident rat snakes - and an ex rat nest between them (they had apparently eaten the inhabitants). 

Dawn mist in the greenbelt (no critters in this pic - that I know of)

Mr and Ms Toad. This pair of Gulf Coast toads hide under the barn foundation during the day, but emerge at dusk to spend the night hunting bugs. The big one (on the right) is larger than my hand!

Dawn over the back pasture.

If you squint really hard, there's a deer in the exact middle of the frame. Promise!

Eastern yellow-bellied racer

Do you get critters out at your barn?

Monday, December 14, 2015

(Not really) Straight down the middle

Sometimes riding is like a mystery... you start noticing things that don't seem quite right, and then they start adding up, and you eventually have a eureka moment when you realize what the problem is. Hindsight is ever 20/20 and you wonder how you didn't figure it out sooner because it's just so damn obvious.

That's me and my inability to sit straight in the saddle.

It started a couple of months ago when I noticed uneven wear marks on my saddle's seat. In the last year I've started wearing full seats more often, so for the first time I get wear marks.

Oddly uneven. Like, REALLY uneven.

Then there's this little matter of leg yields. See, Paddy tends to travel with his hind end to the right, all the time. This makes leg yields right easy, and left hard. Strangely, now that I've been riding Taran and Brego (who both travel straight, btw), I notice that they also struggle with leg yield left but are brilliant to the right. This is especially odd given that going right is usually harder for Taran. 

Finally, I've been watching vids of me and Paddy this year (because you do that when your horse is lame). I look straight from the side view, but from the front or back, I'm clearly not. 

I'm more like the leaning tower of Pisa, actually.

All this evidence adds up to me sitting in the middle of the saddle, but with significantly more weight on my right seatbone and stirrup. And because horses reflect their riders, it's easier for every horse I ride to follow my weight to the right for things like leg yields and such. Paddy's just better at faking it left because he's more used to my unevenness than Taran and Brego. Supposedly, most right-handed people tend to sit left and draw up their right leg, but because I can't do something that normal, I sit right and draw up my left leg. And turn my left toe out too, apparently.

I clearly need to figure out how to address this problem, because it's really affecting my poor horses. Several sites recommend riding without stirrups, which I already do quite a lot. The funny thing is, I can WTC both ways no problem - I've manage to compensate that well. I'm wondering if riding with no stirrup on the right might encourage me to sit more left? Having mirrors when riding would help too, but those aren't a possibility. I'm VERY strongly right-handed, and I've started doing a lot more things with my left hand - everything from opening doors to grabbing my chai to mousing left-handed. The idea is to strengthen the weaker side (my left) and stretch the stronger side (my right). Sounds kind of like what we do to help our horses be more even too, doesn't it? I do think that what will help me most is a constant reminder (like keeping my hands down) to weight left and really focus on that. I just need to practice being even at home in front of a mirror so that I know what even feels like!

Do you struggle with straightness? If so, what helps you sit more evenly?

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Tackwalking! So excited to be doing something so boring.

Paddy got cleared for tackwalking!

He's not 100% sound at the trot (8 m circle, hard ground), but given how much trotting and cantering he's been doing on his own, the vet reassessed him and said he's looking good enough to start getting a bit of exercise.

We went off on a one-mile walk the other night, and man, was it ever good to be up on him again. I'm grateful to be able to ride Taran and Brego, of course, but there's nothing like a Paddy.

Because who doesn't ride their horse who has been off for a month in a halter and lead down the street at dusk? With no stirrups either, because I was too lazy to put them on my saddle. I did wear a helmet though - what do you think I am, crazy?

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Why Paddy struggles so much with the canter (gait analysis)

Shortly after the pro pics came out for the Region 9 Championship show, I was combing through them trying to decide which one(s) I wanted to order. I liked this one (sorry guys, these pics are copyrighted so you'll have to click) because it made us look sort of like we can canter even though we all know what a mess his canter was at that show.

And then I started looking at them a little more closely, because there's something really, REALLY wrong with Paddy in that pic. Can you see it?

It's even more obvious here.

At the moment those pics were taken, Paddy's footfall pattern isn't even recognizable as a canter.

But that's not the only problem. Looking at the pics, it's pretty clear that I've completely given up actually riding him during the canter work. Look at my position in that last one - I've been pulled completely out of the saddle, and I'm standing in my irons.  Here's another one where you can see how much I've lost my position. In this one I pretty much look like I'm hanging on for dear life and praying it will be over soon - which honestly, was not far from the truth.

And just in case you don't want to click through to the show pics, here's what I'm talking about (stills taken from video shot at home the week after the Championships):

See how he's about to land with his LF first instead of the the LF and RH at the same time? 

Here it is again, and here's me being pulled out of the saddle instead of sitting down and back and actually RIDING.

Still uneven, but better - and I'm actually sitting in the saddle trying to help him balance.

After doing some reading up on this (great article from Horse and Hound, Jan 2014, it's a must-read!), a four-beat canter of this type is not terribly uncommon. Apparently horses that land outside front first are doing so to get more support on the shoulder. The opposite of this is a horse who lands inside hind first, which happens when the horse has an extremely uphill canter and is these days considered a desirable trait.  

So, where to go from here? Paddy's displacement is pretty extreme, and it's caused by lack of strength  for him and lack of riding on my part - or too much riding, in the form of me pulling on his face and giving him some place to lean. The good news is that Paddy has a decent walk, so there's hope to fix it - or at least, improve it. For starters, I've got to learn to SIT the canter and not give in to despair! Transitions are always good - I couldn't get screen shots of the video, but usually the first few strides after a transition are very even and uphill. Also, and cantering in more of a "hunter" frame with his head a bit up and very light rein contact seems to encourage him to balance himself more. And my trainer has had us work on getting more "jump" in his hind end in the past, since he seems to get a bit sticky. Other suggestions are welcome!

Oh, and it would help if my horse were sound enough to canter! :) 

Monday, December 7, 2015

Things I do when I’m not riding (aka “hobbies”)

Someone started a blog hop about non-riding hobbies a while ago, but as usual, I'm late to the game. Plus it seems like all of our hobbies are horse-related – foxhunting, jousting, trail riding… so what’s left?

You’d think we wouldn’t have much since there’s only two of us we wouldn’t have much laundry, but the reality is that we go through 2-3 outfits per day. Plus there’s horse laundry and dog laundry (omg how do horses and dogs make SO MUCH LAUNDRY???). I do at least one load per day, and often more. So I’m pretty sure this counts as a hobby.

This was load #4 on Saturday. Note useless dog snoozing in the background.

Manure management
One of the challenges of owning horses on small acreage is what to do with all the manure. I spend a great deal of time mucking, then turning the pile, then spreading the “cooked” manure back on the pastures. At least I stay fit?

When they say steaming, they aren't joking. This pile gets HOT.

Cooking and baking
In the summer we tend to eat a lot of raw foods, just because it’s so hot out and turning on the oven sounds like a horrible idea. But in the winter, I basically want to bake everything and make roasts and soups and stews. I make most of our bread (I cheat with a bread machine), plus pizza crusts, focaccia, kolaches… ALL THE CARBS. I tend to keep ingredients simple and will go out of my way to find a recipe that doesn’t use processed ingredients (do you know how hard it is to find a recipe for caramels that does NOT use corn syrup? Or one for pumpkin pie that does not use condensed milk???). I’m pretty good at substituting when baking too. Not enough eggs? Add more milk. Don’t want to use that much butter, or hate putting oil in?  Use applesauce instead. It's kind of like a chemistry experiment.

This giant pile of basil (from our garden) got turned into five jars of pesto. 

We have two gardening seasons here – spring and fall/winter. Our spring season starts around Feb 15 and I usually pull everything up around June 15 – after that it’s just too hot for everything except peppers, cucumbers, and squash. Oh and okra, which I hate. The fall/winter season is great though – Sept 15 through early February. We watch the weather pretty carefully so we know when to cover the plants, but usually the lows are above freezing so we don't have to worry too much. Right now we have broccoli, lettuce, kale, spinach, and a bunch of herbs. We generally get veggies for 3-4 nights per week out of our garden when it’s growing well.

Broccoli! Did you know the leaves are edible too? You saute them like kale or spinach, with a little oil, garlic, and salt and pepper. Delicious!

I also can our tomatoes (whatever we can't eat fresh), and make jam out of the plums and peaches we get from our fruit trees.

I used to sew a lot for our medieval reenactment and jousting, but now that we’ve got a decent wardrobe, I tend to sew in binges (like when husband needs a third gambeson because we’re going to a week-long joust with no chance to do laundry, or the week before a new nephew is born and I seriously have to get that baby blanket done). I’m pretty good at reverse-engineering something, and typically make my own patterns. Interestingly, I’ve never made anything “mundane” to use or wear – only clothing for medieval reenactment. I’ve never made a quilt (I get that question a lot), and I can’t knit or crochet, only sew.

Scarves for my nephews - I found some pictures of a fox scarf online, and then designed these guys.

Some of my favorite pieces are this saddle pad...

I made this back in 2013 and it still looks new. It's also everyone's favorite pad, so it sees a lot of use.

... and hubby's heraldic trappings, which are based on the trappings of Ulrich von Lichtenstein from the 13th century Manessa Codex. The trappings took over 200 hours to make and were a birthday present one year. I’ve told hubby to take care of them because he’s never ever EVER getting another set like them. EVER.

The solid squares have Gothic letters appliqued on them (it spells out Hold Fast Macleod, and the rein covers also say Hold Fast). The parti-colored squares are pieced together and each one has a wyvern appliqued on it. 

I think there are something like 41 wyverns on that sucker, each of which I traced on black fabric, cut out, ironed on, then appliqued over. NEVER AGAIN.

I’ve always got a book going, although these days the only time I have to read is right before bed, so I’m lucky if I get more than 5 pages in before passing out. I love historical fiction, but occasionally dabble in sci-fi and fantasy because hubby reads those and sometimes I'm desperate for a book. I try not to read anything too exciting because it will keep me up at night. I just finished Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson, which fits into none of those genres but was excellent nonetheless. Currently I’m re-reading Shogun by James Clavell, because it’s Shogun.

Working on the house
We bought this place 6 years ago and I'm embarrassed to say it's still a construction zone. Currently we're working on the trim in the hallway (ok, we've been working on it for like a year, whatever).  At least I have something to do when it's too hot to ride in the summer or too dark to ride in the winter!

That day we decided to replace the vent hood in the kitchen (note the chai in the overhead cabinet).

Complain about the weather
This is a time-honored tradition around here. In the summer, it's too hot. Below 50? Too cold. If it hasn't rained, we're in a drought, and if HAS rained, there's flash flooding. Basically, we can't win, so we just whine instead.
That one time when most of the back pasture was quite literally under water.

Sooo... what do you do when you're not riding? 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Last-ditch plan: Steal BFF's horse

With Paddy and Brego laid up for some unknown amount of time, I considered taking up golf. I mean, I've only ever played mini-golf and I suck at it, but I've gotta do something, right?

(OK, kidding, golf is basically the last sport I'd take up. Like ever. Sorry if you love playing golf.)

Since BFF hasn't been riding much lately, and I'm desperate to get into the saddle, I volunteered to get Taran going again. He's got plenty of training and is generally sensible (when he's not looking at stupid stuff), but he's seriously out of shape.

A bit of a rough customer. The green marks and black mud are where he *fell down* while galloping like a lunatic out in the pasture. Horses, I swear. 

Since it's been wet for a while, rides have been limited to our road. For Taran, the road is a field full of dangerous things that eat horses. See those tar stripes? SO MUCH DANGER.

Also the trash can up ahead. And those little blue reflectors are terrifying. So are mailboxes. Bundles of sticks people have put out for trash day.  But you know what's not even the least bit concerning? The UPS truck driving by at 30 mph.

We've been working mostly at the walk, doing difficult things like keeping the hind end engaged and the shoulders up and not racing around and falling over his front end. I swear, just keeping track of those those things is a full-time job. Keeping his nose between his shoulders is also a challenge, because it's so much easier to just crane your neck left 30 degrees and throw out your right shoulder than it is to go straight.

45 minutes of walking was exhausting. And yes, his topline really is that non-existent.

Riding Taran *correctly* is a challenge, but one that - for the first time in my riding career - I feel able to handle. Thanks to riding Paddy, I have a better feel for keeping a horse straight from nose to tail, and having him truly bend through his body instead of craning his head around and/or breaking at the shoulder. I know what it feels like when Paddy gets quick and falls over his front end at the walk, so I know when that happens with Taran I need to Slow. Way. Down. to let him think about his feet and allow him to find his balance. I know what it's supposed to feel like to have a change of gait that starts at the hind end - so when he flings his front feet up into a trot, it's because I didn't actually have his hind end engaged so he couldn't do it correctly. Conversely in the downward, if it feels like he's stopping his front end first and then his butt catches up, I know I need to work on slowing his hind end FIRST with my core and not pull back even the slightest bit, and so that he must sit down and allow his shoulders to come up into the transition. 

We're making progress, despite Taran's best efforts to get out of work (trust me, he's got a lot of tricks up his sleeve). We've got a lesson soon and I'm looking forward to it. Taran's a fun ride and while he's definitely keeping me on my toes, I feel like I'm really making progress with him and that his evasions are nothing I can't handle.

Extra work means extra foods.

Except the spooking at the tar lines on the road. *That* is starting to drive me nuts!