Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Teaching "flying" lead changes

We are mostly ready for third level, except that we are missing flying changes. (OK, we also need better SI, and a real extended trot and canter, a legit TOH instead of a reining spin, and Taran STILL doesn't back, but whatever. Focus on the important stuff here.)

Fun fact - I've been riding almost 30 years, and I've never learned how to do a change. I mean, I know how to do them *in theory*, but I've never actually done one. I can ask for leads over fences, but the closest I've gotten to doing a change on the ground was last summer on a friend's horse, and then I only got the front. Taran doesn't have a clue how to do them either, so together we are obviously going to be awesome at this and get everything the first time. Har har har.

It never ceases to amaze me how many hunters have such amazingly easy, clean, smooth changes even as very young horses. In the dressage world, the thought seems to be that you need to have a really solid counter-canter (it's ALL OVER second level) before you teach a change - in part because horses who know how to change will sometimes flip when asked for counter-canter, because changing is easier. However, I've also heard of folks (ahemCharlotteahem) putting changes on a 5 or 6 year old and then leaving them alone for several years. Regardless, both T and I are way behind the curve here.

There seems to be lots of ways to teach changes. Figure 8 with canter/walk/canter is popular. I watched Alfredo teach them by doing canter/counter canter/canter on a 20 m circle. You can leg yield down centerline and ask for the change right when you make your turn. You can use a pole on the ground. I'm sure there are plenty more, too.

The thing is, Taran has gotten VERY GOOD at counter-canter. Like he can do a 10 m half-circle in cc. To him, a more balanced cc is always the right answer. That made my amateur attempts to try changes rather comical - he had no idea what I was doing flailing around up there, and simply tried his best to do what he thought I wanted. So we did a lot of very very collected counter-canter, and I lamented my lack of knowledge and thought that maybe I'd trained CC a leeetle too much.

Enter the pole. I had tried using it at home, and we'd gotten 3 nice changes over it, but I wanted to wait for my trainer before I did any more. So at our clinic last weekend, on the first day we worked a ton on getting more jump in the canter, and then we got out a pole.

It's probably important to mention that Taran is not much of a jumper. I can count on one hand the number of times he's been over a jump in his 15 years, and none of them were more than logs or crossrails. He's skeptical about jumping at best, and at worst will refuse to cross a downed fence pole that's 6 inches off the ground, despite there being a pasture full of green grass on the other side.

So. As we cantered down (shoulder UP!) to the pole for the first time, I focused on keeping my aids super clear with a tiny bit of shoulder fore, then straightening him and switching my aids, like I was asking for a walk-canter transitions the moment I was over the pole.

I should have known that a pole on the ground apparently needs A Great Deal Of Respect. 

Definitely got the "flying" part of the change. My trainer nearly fell out of her chair laughing, because she's helpful like that.

We got the change despite Taran's overachieving leap, so we made a huge fuss of him and quit for the day on that.

For some reason, day 2 Taran warmed up super spicy. This meant he spooked at EVERYTHING.

HOLY SHIT THERE'S A FLAT SPOT IN THE ARENA. Not even joking, this was where someone had left a few footprints while they were mucking.

He shook his head when I asked him for some leg yield (omg!), and even pretended to buck when I tapped him with the whip to ask for a bigger medium trot.

You should be impressed with how naughty he was.

BUT, his shorter steps (think precursor to half steps) work was SUPER good. He's really getting the hang of sitting down a bit, and I'm getting better at asking for it with my seat/body while keeping my hands light and forward-thinking. Actually feeling collection is kind of an amazing thing, y'all.

We also put in some killer shoulder in to trot half-pass. Ok, our SI on the center line still looks drunk - there are a lot of body parts to keep track of and you can't use the rail for support (not that I would ever do that, of course). But our half pass felt legit! It's so easy to get the haunches leading and/or let him fall over his shoulder, so I'm slowly coming to understand that half pass requires a ton of inside leg. More stuff to work on, but a good start!

Annd then we went on to do changes. Once again, the pole required a healthy dose of respect because it's actually an alligator or something.

The commentary from the peanut gallery (aka my trainer and my dearest darling husband) is amusing and worth the 18 seconds to hear. But if you don't want to watch the video, here's the important still:

Probably you shouldn't see knees and feet flailing when practicing lead changes.

He was late behind on that change and uh, expressive up front, but you can see how he really gets lighter on his forehand two strides out. Good boy! The next pass through he offered a change (front only) about 3 strides out from the pole, which we gave him a lot of pats for because it's the first time he's tried to change in his entire life. We came over the pole a few more times, and he got the change every time, so we ended on a really good one:

My trainer assures me they won't be so... expressive... without the pole. But still! It's a solid start, and using a pole lets me work on timing my aids, and practicing my two-point. And here I thought my jumping days were a thing of the past!

Monday, December 18, 2017

That time I rode third level

Last weekend was our local dressage group's "ugly sweater" schooling show. At the last minute, I decided to sign Taran up for 3-1. I really wanted to get out and just try it this year,  since we can do everything in that test except the lead changes. So I figured we'd take the 4's for no change, and start getting used to the rest of the test.

T warmed up a little sticky, but it was cold out. We did a lot of small steps/forward/small steps/forward in the trot to get his hind end engaged, and we did a couple of "yee-haws" (as Charlotte likes to call them) at the canter to get him moving. He felt super balanced in the collected canter especially, although a little behind my leg. Still, he felt good to go and I was feeling like we could lay down a good trip.

Unfortunately, the moment we picked up the trot in the sandbox, I knew we were going to have problems. The footing at this facility is a little shallow in the competition arena, and he simply did not feel comfortable in it. When I asked for a medium trot, he did about 3 really good steps and then was just like "nope I can't," and I didn't push it. However, his trot half-passes (new at 3rd) got a 7.5 and 7.0, so I was quite happy with those.

Good crossover, but leading with haunches and needs more bend

We got stuck AGAIN in the stupid walk TOH movement, both ways. Either we're too big or we get stuck for one step - either way, it's a 4, and that's a coefficient movement. We have done super good ones in practice, but for some reason I get in the sandbox and it just falls apart. ARGH! I seriously need to fix this because it's a lot of points.

That's a lot of 4's

Our walk-canter depart got an 8 (ok I know it's a schooling show but who would have guessed that THIS HORSE would get AN EIGHT on a canter movement???) and our right lead canter work was pretty good. Of course we missed the change, and but then I let his shoulders get down and he cross-fired in the extended canter on the left lead. That killed the canter, the transition from extended to collected, and the 10m left canter circle. Whoops. We ended up with a 59.242%, and I've never gotten so many 4's on a test in my life. Good thing it was a schooling show?

At least he was obedient

Overall, the judge was very complimentary of him - she actually made it a point to mention how good our connection was when I was scribing for her later. She mentioned that we need more suspension for this level, and she's right. That's something I just couldn't manufacture in that arena, and I'm pretty sure it was the shallow footing.

When we finished, I went back out to the warmup area and he was 100% fine - gave me a blazing extended trot and had plenty of lift. We also did a little more canter, and MC got this great moment of collection on camera:

We were actually doing a baby canter pirouette step here. He's a little behind my leg, but he's so light in front and you can see how soft he is in the connection. <3 p="">

I'd say it was a good ending to 2017. Flying changes are gonna be the project this winter, so hopefully we can come out at 3rd in the spring, for real. I can't wait!

Friday, December 8, 2017

Wyvern Oaks Winter Wonderland

It's all over social media, but we actually got pretty significant (for us) snow last night! Nothing is prettier than a fresh covering of snow, so I snapped a few pictures this morning as the sun came up.

Back pasture

Kitty tracks!

My attempt at artsy photography lol

 Malamute in his native habitat

Perfect Pyr weather!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Update 3 of 5: All the rest of the critters

Look, a post that's not about Taran!

When I left this blog to its fate, the last post was about finding a name for our new Haffie. I'd like to thank everyone who left suggestions, y'all were really helpful in figuring out what to call him!

Turns out, he's a Gryphon, which works great since he's at Wyvern Oaks. He's a fun little guy - a nice mover and he tries really hard, but he doesn't have that same sense of owning the world that Paddy does. He's a bit timid, and really looks to his rider for confidence and guidance. Whether he'll make a jousting horse is still up in the air. But if not, I might steal him as my next dressage horse because he's super adorable and I still want to do a freestyle to Suicide Blonde by INXS.

He does have the Haffie trait of getting into everything

In a rather amusing turn of events, Paddy hates Gryphon - unless, of course, we haul the two of them somewhere together, in which case they are BFFs. In fact, and it's only been in the last month that we've been able to put them out together. Taran takes turns hanging with his Haffies, but you definitely will never catch the Haffies hanging together.

Always keep at least 2 horse widths between your Haflingers

Literally the only picture I have of them not trying to kill each other

Personally, I think Paddy's jealous of Griffy's hair.

Next up, the Padster. He's continued with his on/off RF lameness and fortunately right now he's sound. Our best guess is DDFT - we've rehabbed him three times now per the vet's instructions, and while he always comes back sound, he keeps re-injuring himself, usually while acting like an eediot out in the pasture. We now make sure to only work on even footing, and try to keep the running around to a minimum, but you know how that goes with horses.  His competitive dressage career is over, but he's still adorable and a jousting savant.


Jousting savant

Reddums continues to be the rock of our little herd. The others look to him for guidance and security, and he's king in his role of benevolent dictator - although these days you can sort of tell they're humoring him a bit when he pins his ears and threatens to bite.  He reminds me of someone's crotchety grandfather, waving his cane and yelling "GET OFF MY LAWN" from his rocking chair on the front porch.  Still, he sets a strict schedule and makes sure everyone is where they should be when they should be there. He has a special relationship with Taran - whenever T comes home from a clinic or show, he goes and stands next to Red and you can see T visibly relax. Maybe they tell stories, or he's getting advice? I don't know. Reddums is also Griffy's security blanket - Griffy will slowly sidle up to him, careful not to make direct eye contact, and humbly ask if he can share Red's haynet. Usually Reddums studiously ignores the request until they're sharing the haynet - the herd leader can't be seen as being too lenient, you know.

Sadly, our mutant dog Elias is starting to show his age - he's 15, which is pretty much an antique for a dog his size. The vet found a nodule on his spleen about a month ago, and we've opted not to do any further testing or treatment because of his past history. We're spoiling him rotten (as if he wasn't already) and will for as long as he has. He still helps Gus with guard duties although mostly in a supervisory role.

Excuse me but is that a kolache you're eating?


Only a small difference in size

We also adopted three new barn kitties this summer, since Moo and Artemis have mostly retired to a life as pampered indoor kitties and the neighborhood rodent population was getting a bit out of control. Moo is keeping her hunting skills sharp though, and has learned how to kill scorpions (why she couldn't have discovered this talent years ago, I don't know).

Very majestic. Much huntress.

Anyway let me introduce:



Charlie (because what else do you name a kitteh with a 'stache like that???)

The girls seems to be doing their job well, because although we haven't had any rodents left as presents, we also haven't seen or heard any rats or mice since shortly after we got them. Charlie also alerted us to a smol snek in our back shed, who we relocated to a safer spot where he wouldn't get stuck.

Don't panic, he's a non-venomous rat snek and I was very careful. Hopefully he's off eating lots of rats!

And that's the news from Wyvern Oaks!

Monday, November 27, 2017

Update 4 of 5: Taran's mid-life crises (all of them)

While this year ended on an amazing high, we almost didn't get there - several times. See, Taran has been plagued by one thing or another, and as a result I ate a lot of omeprazole and drank a lot of wine.

After our second-level debut in April, I noticed that he was a bit foot sore. It's been an on-off problem since fall of 2016, as he has flat feet and his right front toe has a tendency to run forward. I had tried glue-on shoes a few times, which he did great in, but he didn't seem to be able to keep them on for more than two weeks. I had my vet out to consult and take radiographs, and we were shocked to find that he had only 4.5 mm of sole depth. I opted to have the hospital farrier out (he made Brego's ginormous shoes) and we put a set of plain shoes on his front feet, with rim pads.

The first week in shoes was terrifying. Normally Taran never slips or trips, but in steel shoes he did both constantly. It was like he didn't know where his feet were. It was nice not to have to boot him to go for trail rides, but other than that, I lived in constant fear that he'd slip and rip a tendon himself, or get his shoe stuck in a haynet, or rip his shoe off and half his foot with it. Those of you have shod horses probably have nightmares about your horse losing a shoe... apparently I have nightmares when my horse is wearing shoes!

But Taran managed not to kill himself, and he was definitely more comfortable in shoes, so I felt like we'd made the right decision.  I put him on Reithoof, a hoof supplement with tons of biotin in it, to hopefully help him grow out some sole (it did). Things were back to normal, so I signed us up for another show in Houston over Memorial Day weekend. And then the week before the show, T started being ever so slightly off on the RF - and it got worse as the days went by. In a panic, I cancelled the show and called my vet for advice.

Shod RF, slightly swollen in the heel and pastern. Pass the omeprazole plz.

Long-time blog readers will remember that Taran stepped on a nail back in 2011, and it went through the navicular bursae and the coffin joint. During rehab, we struggled to keep his toe on that foot short enough so that it didn't put any stress on the damaged joints, and ended up having to reset the hospital plate that covered the surgical site every 4 weeks. My vet looked back at her records, and I looked back at the blog, and T was at exactly 4 weeks when the RF started giving him trouble this time. Bingo. We pulled the shoe, trimmed his toe WAY back, and presto - he was comfortable again.

Unfortunately, T doesn't grow enough foot to have steel shoes reset every 4 weeks, so we simply couldn't keep doing that. We decided to try glue-ons again, this time with a new glue, a couple of wraps of hoof cast over it for extra staying power, and bell boots 24/7. And that seemed to do the trick.

By now, we were into the heat of summer, and the spring show season was over. We focused on strength and fitness, and making him a really solid 2nd level horse. T even went to stay with my trainer while I was gone for 2 weeks, and came back very judgmental of my riding skills. The only thing was, for a horse working at the level he was, he didn't seem to have very much muscle or topline. He also seemed to struggle with the heat more than usual, and his overall fitness level seemed to be decreasing rather than increasing. I also noticed that he was chewing a bit oddly, so on a hunch I had the vet back out to look in his mouth. And guess what - broken tooth. It was so broken the vet literally just reached in an plucked out the broken chunk. Poor Taran! After a week of care he seemed to be eating better, so I figured we had averted another crisis.

Broken molar is in the foreground...

... and here's the piece the vet pulled out.

But despite having his tooth fixed, he never really wanted to eat his Senior feed. I started giving him alfalfa to supplement, which he seemed to prefer. We did a month-long course of omeprazole since we were concerned that the stress of traveling so much might have resulted in ulcers, but it didn't change his attitude or eating habits. T also seemed to be more and more lethargic. I compared his conformation pics from last year with now, and noticed that he was definitely losing muscle.

Then one morning I came out to feed after a short rainstorm, to find him wet and shivering in the barn - only it was 80 degrees.  I threw a fleece and a blanket on him, then jokingly texted his mum a pic with "You know he's a Texas boy when...".

Literally 80 when I took this picture. Not normal.

Still, it was odd. And then he had two very mild colics within 10 days of each other. Once again, I called my vet.

"So I have this long list of weird unrelated things going on with Taran..." I listed them out for her. I'd even sent them in an email since I didn't want to forget anything.

"Ulcers? Hind gut acidosis? Lyme?" I asked. The Internet is a dangerous place if you're an armchair vet looking for a diagnosis.

"Let's test him for PPID," she said.

I laughed. "He's only 15, and he's never had a problem shedding out. There's no way this horse has Cushings!"

A week later, she called me an hour before my first ride at Regionals with the test results. My vet is super optimistic, and I swear you can never tell what kind of news you're going to get from the tone of her voice.

"We got the test results back. The high end of normal is 110... and Taran is 987."

Click to embiggen. My fav part is the "test interpretation" - technical vet speak when what it really should say is GET YOUR HOSS ON PRASCEND STAT.

I sat down hard.

"I've seen numbers that high before... once." She laughed a little.

Mad props to her for figuring that out.  Not in a million years would I have guessed!

So. Wonderpony is now on daily Prascend, and looking better every day. His topline is coming back and so is his fitness and muscling. He acts like a normal horse, although I could do with a little less fire-breathing dragon. We've changed his diet (alfalfa pellets, fat supplement, Platinum Performance, and no more hard feed ever) and most days he's happy to slurp down his "soup". He does get cold REALLY easily (refer to his 400g fill blankie from nationals), so I check the weather forecast like 10 times a day and Taran now has a wardrobe that probably surpasses Valegro's.

My biggest takeaway from the whole PPID experience is to pay close attention to anything weird about your horse. Taran's PPID symptoms were not typical, and he's fairly young. I'm super lucky to have an awesome vet, and I'm glad I have this blog to refer to for past health issues. But I'm hoping that we've figured out the RF and the PPID and can keep him comfortably, sound, and happy. After all, we've got flying changes to work on and third level waiting for us!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Upate 5 of 5: A fairytale ending

No, I'm not dead. This blog might as well be, but everything at Wyvern Oaks is kind of awesome.

In case you're wondering where updates 1-4 have gone, I'm writing this in reverse order because I'm months behind. Whatever, you get the most fun stuff first.

If we're friends on Facebook, you know that the big news for me this year is that Taran and I qualified for and went to the US Dressage Finals in Lexington, Kentucky. Not only that, but we came away with something I didn't even dare to really hope for: a gorgeous, big-ass neck ribbon. That's right, T is top 10 in the nation for AA 1st Level Freestyle.

Victory lap in the Alltech arena. I only cried a little.

The entire experience of finals was like nothing I've done before. First off, before you show in the regional qualifiers, you have to "declare" your intent to go to nationals if you qualify for an invitation. There are two ways to qualify - you can either get 1st or 2nd place in your class, or you can get a wildcard score, which for freestyles is over a 66%. We qualified with a wildcard score of a 68.5%, with was 7th place. 

Once you qualify, USDF sends you an email "invitation," whereupon you log into their website and pay the class fee for whatever you were invited for. In our case, this was not only the freestyle, but we were also "in line" to ride in the 2nd Level AA championships, because we were 3rd place at regionals. If 1st or 2nd place had declined the invitation, we would have been allowed to compete (note, this did not happen).

After that it was a matter of signing up for the show. Kentucky Horse Park is a little weird because you get your classes through one site, your RV reservations through another, and stall/shavings/hay through a third. Normally all these are included when I sign up for a show online, so I found it a little challenging the first time round. Luckily, things were all in order when we arrived after a long-ass, two-day drive with an overnight stop in Little Rock (also, hell hath no traffic like I-35 northbound from Austin to Dallas when a semi overturns and closes the Interstate for 2.5 hours). 

Unfortunately, our first ride was at 8:40 a.m. on Friday, only 14 hours after we arrived. It was 30 degrees and quite windy, and poor T and I were both frozen. We had trouble finding the arena (it was a 20 minute walk from the barn and there were no signs) and so our warmup time was cut short. Luckily my trainer (who didn't go to Finals) had put me in touch with a good friend of hers, and he was on hand to help me warm up. Given that it was the first time he'd ever seen me ride (and uh, let's just say I'm pretty sure we didn't make a great impression), he did a great job jumping in and getting the job done. We rode a very stiff, uninspired, inattentive test for a 60.854, which was our lowest score to date. T stayed with me though and tried his best, but between the long haul, lack of warmup, and cold, I really didn't set him up for success. Lesson learned though - we really DO need a day to settle in if we're going to be competitive.

Pretty but completely frozen

After our ride, I noticed that T was not very warm under his 200 gram blanket, BOT sheet, and neck cover. I tried to find him something warmer at the show, but none of the vendors had blankets, so we ended up going to a local tack store and picking up a 400 gram turnout with neck cover and belly wrap. Within a few minutes of bundling him up in that, he toasted right up and started eating and drinking more normally. Note to self: Texas gear is insufficient for Kentucky temps. Also Taran prefers warm water.

Why yes my fully clipped Texas horse is bundled up to his eyeballs. Not shown: me also bundled up in my ski pants and parka. It was 23 degrees, don't judge.

Day 2 had us riding 2-3 again at 4 p.m. It was much warmer, and I was own my own for warmup. Well, except for my awesome husband who kept reminding me to let T go forward and turn my thumbs up. I was determined to put in a more forward, uphill, and relaxed test this time, so took plenty of time to warm up and really focused on breathing and staying loose in the tack so T could actually move. We got into the ring and every time I felt him get stuck I let out my breath, relaxed, and put my leg on... and he started moving again. Lesson learned! We had our absolute best mediums to date, and our canter work was SO balanced and round. 

Like, dayum. 

Does anyone remember when we could barely even canter on the left lead?

Uhhhnnnfortunately, we also put in more mistakes than we ever have before. We had a break in the canter, someone fluffed a giant plastic trash bag next to the arena so we bolted in a 10m trot circle, we did a reining spin instead of a TOH, and he was super convinced I wanted to canter down centerline. So our new score was ALSO the lowest ever... 60.061. But we squeaked the 60 and completed his 2nd level performance award, which was why we were riding it. Besides, it was probably the best test quality-wise we've ever done (he also offered 2 piaffe steps in warmup), and I was super stoked about that.

Seriously wish the pro photographer had gotten this one... alas, it's only a blurry screen cap of a zoomed-in video.

Our final ride was the Championships on Sunday morning. We were 4th to last in order of go (they do a draw by computer), so I had a fairly relaxing morning to prep. We had another good warmup (with coaching this time, woohoo!) and there was a scratch so we got to go a bit early. Overall the quality of the ride was not nearly what we had the day before for 2-3, but it wasn't bad either. We had two mistakes - we missed the first change in our line of 3 but managed to make it up, and he spooked at A when a hoof hit the arena wall (driver error, whoops). We got a little behind the music after those mistakes and I had to scramble a bit to catch up, but it worked out mostly OK. It definitely wasn't the super brilliant test I wanted it to be, but we got around and kept it together.

I had my back to the arena and was talking to my coach about how it went when his eyes lit up, and I turned around to see the scoreboard:

Hell yes I will take that. Also judge at B, I love you.

There was much frantic scrambling for phones to check how my score compared with the others (aside... did you know that iphones will brick when it's too cold? Just FYI), and I was sitting in 8th, with 3 riders to go.

And then two.

And then one.

And we managed to hold on for 9th.

I am so proud of this piece of satin it's kind of ridiculous.

I know we had mistakes, and I know it's only 9th place. But that damn ribbon couldn't mean more to me than if it said Champion on it and came with a fancy cooler. I am riding a tiny 15.1 homebred pony cross against warmbloods imported from Germany and holding my own. I've been told more than once that I'd need a fancier horse to be competitive... and yet, here we are. We have come so far in the last two years, and worked so hard for it, and we are not done yet

Taran not care about fancy ribbon. Taran care about friends OVER THERE.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Help a Haffie out - I need a name!

Hi there.

You might remember me - I'm the new Haffie.

My new Mom and Dad are trying to figure out what my name is, but so far they're terrible parents and haven't found one. 

I mean, how hard can it be? I'm gorgeous and adorable.

I came with "Avery" but it's just not me.

They tried "Armani"






Galahad (what a mouthful!)

Lancelot (seriously guys could we get away from the Arthurian theme?)

But they're just... not me.

Help a Haffie out?

(Notes from the humans: H2.0 is shy, but sticks like glue once he gets to know you. Like literally must be touching you with his nose at all times. He's not confident himself but gets his confidence from you. Tries hard to please under saddle but also comes with the requisite Haffie tricks for getting out of work. Unlike Paddy, he's not aware he's adorable. He's probably the most talkative horse I've ever met. He's also crazy athletic.

Name must be something suitable for a dressage and/or jousting horse. Name must also still fit him if that crazy mane happens to be removed. Name must not cause any embarrassment when I yell it across the pasture at 6 am. Bonus points if it's as cute as Paddington Bear.)