Monday, October 11, 2010

Riding Tips: Sitting the Trot

I recently exchanged lessons with the barn manager where Shorty lives. Jennifer is awesome and takes great care of the ponies at her farm. She teaches beginner level riding lessons and carriage driving, so we thought it would be fun to exchange lessons. She got a more demanding dressage lesson from me, and pretty soon I'll be driving a carriage!

One of the things Jen and I worked on was the sitting trot. Jen rides a Norwegian Fjord named Jerry who adorably pudgy and very sweet. Jerry is a bit of a bouncy ride, so when I asked Jen what sitting his trot felt like, she responded that she indeed had problems moving with her horse. This is pretty common with OTTBs too, who can occasionally feel like jack hammers instead of horses especially when they just come off the track.

I started Jen on the longe line and did some gymnastic exercises to warm her up and get her stretched out. One sufficiently warmed up, I had Jen drop her stirrups, cross them (making sure she pulled down the buckles a bit so they didn't pinch her thigh) and stretch her leg down while still keeping her heels slightly lower than her toes.

From there, I had Jen hook both hands under the gullet of the saddle (the reins were knotted and fastened to the front D ring to ensure they didn't slip or get tangled) and pick up a sitting trot. I instructed her to stay loose through the hips and pelvis and instead draw her abdominal muscles in towards her spine to absorb the shock of Jerry's lumbering trot, all while sending her weight down to her heels.

The first attempt went well, but I noticed she was still pinching a bit in her leg, so I had her stop, shake her legs out and do a few stretches. "This time, " I said, "Keep her your legs relaxed and lightly draped around the horse."

Success! Jen was able to move and follow Jerry using her abs to control her upper body. Once comfortable, I had her take her inside hand off the saddle and place it where her hand would be if she were holding the reins. Finally, she took her other hand off and sat the trot without using her hands as a brace. She started to get a bit "grippy" in her leg, so I had her widen her hip angle and imagine pulling her legs just a tiny, tiny bit away from the horse's side. While this change is not noticeable to a layman standing on the sidelines, this prevents the rider from pinching the horse's side and becoming stiff.

To round the lesson off, I sent Jen out to the rail with her stirrups back and off the longe line. We did a sitting trot one more time. While I noticed significant improvement, and I'm really proud of her, she knows she still has to work and practice to develop her muscles to adapt to this slightly different, more open, method of riding.

To sum it up, Jen said, "I'll be sitting the trot furiously for the next few months."

Riders trying this at home can modify this exercise if they are unable to be on the longe line or don't have a helper. I still suggest tying your reins in a knot and buckling them to the inside front D ring (meaning you have to switch sides when you change directions) just in case you lose your grip on the reins.

Ride on the rail putting your outside hand on the knot in your reins and hook your inside hand under the gullet, pulling up. Pick up the sitting trot, keep reminding yourself to breathe, sit up tall, draw your abs in towards your spine, and relax your legs down long with your heels lower than your toes. Try not to let your toes point in an outward direction, as this will pull your legs away from the horse's side and put you behind the vertical; instead, swivel your ankle a bit so your toes are parallel with the horse's side, giving you maximum connection and surface area with the horse.

Switch your hands when you change directions, so your inside hand holds the saddle and the outside hand keeps the horse on the rail. Don't be too concerned if your horse is a bit confused at first, keep your leg on and use your soft seat, inside leg and plenty of encouragement to get a nice relaxed, rhythmic trot from your horse.

Once you're comfortable (which could take a few sessions) try riding the sitting trot with no stirrups and no hand under the saddle. Then go back to stirrups. You may find that the stirrups feel too short all of the sudden, so it may be prudent to lower your irons a hole on each side to keep that nice long dressage-y leg if that's what you're going for. Hunter riders, jumpers and eventers should probably raise them back up for jumping though!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

When Students Don't Listen

The vet came out to see Shorty today and do his fall vaccines. She felt that he was looking pretty good today. We did flexion tests and he came up with slight lameness, but its much better than what he looked like three months ago.

I picked up extra lessons from another riding instructor who is going out of town for five weeks on overseas ministry. I started teaching her lessons tonight.

Many of the students the instructor, let's call her C (since I've already introduced A and B), have some serious holes. One student has been cantering for three weeks but refuses to put her leg at the girth. She pushes her legs forward onto the horse's shoulder and leans back on the cantle. I asked her to bring her leg back, which she deliberately ignored. Thanks.

In addition to my forward legged rider, in the same group I had one girl whose head was in la la land, a student who refused to speak and rode very timidly and a girl who would not stop complaining about the horse she was on. This lesson of four girls felt like a train wreck to me. It is very rare that I walk away from a lesson saying, "Damn, I'm glad that's over!"

Typically, I ask my students to walk their horses on a longer rein in circles to start off the warm up. From there, we go into the trot and then slowly gather up the reins. I do a lot of stretching work too, stuff like arm circles and 2 point position. With this group, I asked them to walk circles with their horses and they started running into each other because they weren't looking up. At the trot, the situation got worse. I asked them to do some stretching exercises; arm circles were half hearted and 2 point positions were weak. When I offered some advice to my new students to help them, no effort to change was made.

Finally, I brought everyone back in the center and asked them a question. "Who here is glad to be here?"

Everyone shrugged and looked at me in a dull sort of questioning way.

"Are you sure you guys want to be here?"

In response, I got a few slight nods.

"Okay, well, to be honest with you guys, I feel like I'm teaching a lesson to a group of senior citizens. Where's the energy? Where's the excitment? I'm not getting a whole lot of response from you guys, which makes me think you guys really aren't into riding."

I got a whole bunch of excuses. "I had a test today." "I stayed up late last night." "I rode yesterday." "I don't like the horse I'm on." "Its raining and cold."

I explained to them that a true rider is happy to be in the saddle every time she rides. There's no such thing as a successful fairweather rider. You're in this sport 100% of the time, all in, or you aren't. A true rider gets on the horse even when she has a cold. She gets on even when she pulled an all-nighter studying. She feels like she must ride everyday and spends every second she can at the barn with her horse, even on the days she doesn't ride. She has goals for riding and wants to develop her skills and improve the abilities of the horse she rides.

The lesson was only half an hour, so by the time this conversation had transpired our time was nearly up.

"I'm giving you guys homework. I want you to take a notecard and write down three things you want to learn how to do on horseback and three things you want to be able to do in the barn on your own. For example, your three riding goals may be to learn simple lead changes, jump 12" and perfect your 2-point, and the barn you'd like to saddle up by yourself, take the bridle on and off by yourself and be able to do polo wraps without help."

We shall see what happens next week, but each of my students seemed excited about writing down their goals. I promised them that I would do my best to help each student exceed her goals and help her set new ones along the way. I also told them that jumping through flaming hoops and learning how to ride with the reins in your teeth are probably a bit unrealistic, so I'm hoping I don't get any crazy requests. :)

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Unemployment and Laminitis SUCK

Whoops! It appears I haven't updated in a while.

Well, there are some personal reasons. They are, in this order:
  1. I was laid off from my job as a marketing specialist and administrator at an industrial manufacturer on June 30th
  2. I got a new job at a gourmet cookie company on July 1st- SCORE
  3. I learned quickly that the job sucked, the bosses were unbearable and they decided I would be better suited to "customer service," i.e. data entry, instead of marketing
  4. I took a freelance job writing articles for eHow just to have some creativity in my life, so I've been spending my evenings writing articles for small sums of money and the thrill of it
  5. And then, on September 17th, they laid my off by calling me in the conference room at 5:25 pm (the workday ends at 5:30) and telling me that I'm doing a great job but they're eliminating my position and I have 5 minutes to clear out my desk, turn in my key and say goodbye
  6. And THEN, I was like, "Awww... well, I still have a pony"
Its been a crazy summer and the fall has been a brutal one thus far for me. I'm upset at being laid off for reasons outside my control twice in the past few months, and, of course, there's always that ever-present OMG I'M TOTALLY FREAKING OUT BECAUSE I'M NOT MAKING MONEY RIGHT NOW feeling in the background.

But hey, I'm alive. I've been filling the void in my life the past two weeks by going on interviews, scouring the internet and all of the contacts I have for jobs, working at the barn to pay off my board (my barn manger is a saint and has let me work off all of my board by cleaning stalls 6 days a week, 2 hours a day- which works out to $10 an hour and was really, really nice of her), teaching more riding lessons and stepping up my freelance writing and necklace making activities for the income. I've also increased my baking activities, since I love making things that require copious amounts of sugar, butter and chocolate, hence the cheesecake cupcakes, chocolate chip cookies, frosted brown sugar cookies, brownies and orange slice cookies I've made in the past two weeks. YUM.

Shorty is doing alright. I'm sorry to say that we had to go back in shoes after his laminitis returned after pulling his shoes off. I thought at first that he had developed an abscess in his front right, which is not unheard of for a horse that wore shoes for a while and then suddenly went barefoot. I waited a day to see if a soft spot would make itself known somewhere on the sole so I could have the vet come out to drill it, but no spot made itself apparent. While poking around, I noticed sensitivity in the toe, which is a big red flag for laminitis. Given his past history, I called the vet out right away for radiographs.

I was really, really lucky. He had 1 degree of rotation, which should go back to normal as his foot grows out. The radiographs showed Shorty has a very thin sole, like 1 mm thin (a horse should have 3-5 mm of sole). For the time being, he is wearing shoes in front, but he's still barefoot behind. He also wears a thick leather pad and sole pack until his sole grows out. Given how thin his soles were, I say I'm lucky because he could have easily had more rotation, causing his coffin bone to puncture the sole. When that happens, it looks like this and is very painful:

He's been sound, knock on wood, with front shoes, but that feels very false to me in a way. I feel like I covered up the problem and didn't address it, but my first priority in his care is to stabilize the coffin bone to prevent penetration. I will have radiographs done soon to check is progress. Once his sole has grown out, which could take six months or more, I'd like to try barefoot again. I think the springtime would be a good time to try. Ohio ground tends to become solid and unforgiving during the winter months, and it probably isn't the best choice for a sensitive horse to get his bearings without shoes. So, my goals for this fall and winter include improving our ground manners, honing in my basics of equine massage (Shorty is my test pony and he loves it), growing out Shorty's feet and taking small catch rides around the farm when Shorty looks up to the challenge. Oh, and getting a job.

Monday, June 28, 2010

It was totally an accident, but...

We cantered today! For the first time since March, Shorty cantered under saddle.

Granted, my intention was only to walk around the field for fifteen minutes and put him away. He was spooked by one of the other boarders, who happened to walk by carrying a fold-up chair to go sit by the pasture with her horse. Shorty did a neat little rear, buck, bolt combo and cantered off on the right lead- his more difficult side.

So, even though this was an accident, I'm glad he did it. I don't condone spooking, but I'm glad he felt well enough and sound enough to pull such an athletic stunt on his own. I was initially surprised, but the boarder later reported that I had a big smile on my face as Shorty bolted through the pasture. Silly boy!

I did check his legs and hooves just in case he injured himself. All clear! No bumps, bruises, heat or swelling... yet. I rubbed him down with lintiment just to be sure. He was wearing his Easy Boots at the time, so his feet are fine, too.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

We're Barefoot!

I apologize for not blogging for a while. Things at work got crazy, and, long story short, I got laid off (sorta). It's the kind of hot mess that sucks now, but I'll probably laugh about all of the crap that has gone down in the past five months or so in a few years.

But, as for the Short man, he's doing okay.

I made a pretty big decision in April after Shorty took a chunk of his left heel off that was about the size of a silver dollar. I had the vet come out to take a look because I was worried about proud flesh forming and wanted a professional opinion. As I sat outside Shorty's stall, waiting for the vet, I made a decision: Shorty will be a barefoot horse from now on. The poor horse has nicks and scrapes all over his lower legs from his seeming inability to control where his legs go. With a bit of research, I realized that hooves are actually numbed by shoes, which may contribute to part of the clumsy problem- ever try to walk around with your foot asleep? In addition, while the hooves are numb, major problems can continue to progress unchecked until the damage is severe, sometimes irreversible.

Now, we did have an issue in December with laminitis. At first, it was thought to be funky, spoiled grain that caused the issue. The vet has since hypothesized that Shorty actually hemorrhaged the hoof by banging it into the stall wall while rolling. He's a big guy and rolls often in his nice pine bedding, so it is likely he got cast and whacked his hoof while pushing off the wall to get back up. It is still possible that it was the grain after all, but my quirky paranoia when it comes to my horse caused me to call the vet before the laminitis was severe, so the actual cause may never be known.

So, Shorty has been barefoot for about six weeks now. I've gotten to be quite handy with the rasp to keep the edges rounded instead of ragged. Shorty was very, very tender at first but seems happier and more comfortable now. His hooves, particularly the frogs, have expanded a bit, which I take to mean circulation throughout the hoof is increasing. This is a good thing. Thanks to my vigilant rasping, we have no flares, cracks, splits in the hoof. The old nail holes are growing down and nearly gone, and with frequent applications of the hoof hardening product, Keratex, Shorty's hooves are tougher and stronger every day.

Shorty's current living situation is 22 hours of turnout a day, which is great. Assuming we don't have severe weather, he comes in twice a day to be checked over and fed grain. Once he's done eating, he goes back outside with his friends. He's out on grass or dirt for most of the day, and his stall has a nice deep bed of shavings, just in case he wants to take a nap on a soft bed after eating his grain.

I have invested in Easyboot Gloves, a type of hoof boot with no cables, clamps, or wires. They're tough to fit and sometimes difficult to wrangle on, but I started walking around on Shorty in the nice, soft arena (the footing in there is Equitread- very nice!) for a few minutes at a time under saddle with them on with the vet's blessing. Its a far cry from the trail riding and hunter pace races we went through last year, but given time I'm sure we'll get back to that level. For now, all I can do is work at Shorty's pace and do what he feels comfortable with.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Does This Look Like a Scam?

I received this email in my inbox today:

Hello, I saw your advert as a Private Instructor. My daughter want to learn horse ridning and lots more. Kindly let me know where you are located and also your area of specialization on what you teach. Also give me the price of the lesson per hour.

This feels like a scam to me? It just has a sort of... weird feel. The poorly structured sentences, the spelling errors, and the foreign sounding name are only the beginning.

For one, I never placed an ad as a private instructor. I work for a farm that does their own advertising. However, I am listed on ARIA's website, with my email. ARIA also lists what state I work in and the area of study that I am certified to teach. So, to me, this feels like someone trying to get personal information. I have elected not to answer this email.

Am I crazy and paranoid? Anyone else get this feeling?

In other news, I am leaving tomorrow night to attend the Ohio Equine Affaire. I'm on a mission to watch as many clinics and demos as I can, and stock up on bell boots. Shorty has gone through several pairs in the last few weeks.

I also need new boots, badly. Both my Mountain Horse winter tall boots and my Ariat Terrain summer boots and half chaps have huge holes in them, and I'm tired of picking rocks out my boots before riding and having constantly wet, smelly, muddy socks.

My sister lives very close to the fairgrounds where the event is held. Like, walking distance. I'll be sure to take lots of studious notes, shop 'till I drop, and come home ten pounds heavier after gorging myself on cheesecake with my sister.


Saturday, March 27, 2010

First of all, read this article. Published in the New York Times, it discusses the alarming statistic that racehorses in the United States have a much higher fatality rate than those in Europe.

As for my student, A and her horse T, I did two lessons with her. T is a good boy but a tough saddle fit, and the saddle used on him was too small. In addition, A was using two saddle pads to correct the issue, which actually made it worse. T is similar in size and shape to Shorty, so I let her try out my dressage saddle. Lo and behold, the horse was 85% better than he'd been in the other saddle. During the second lesson he looked 100% better. He was happy and relaxed with a light, forward stride and plenty of impulsion.

Shorty moved to a new barn on February 28th. The whole moving experience was... interesting. I hired a friend to haul Shorty to the new place because it had snowed a great deal the day before (18 inches!) and I'm not totally comfortable with my trailering skills yet. Unfortunately, my friend got stuck in the driveway coming in, and we spent four hours digging him out. Somehow, he busted a brake line in all of this, and I thought that Shorty wouldn't get to move after all.

A friend of a friend offered to drive Shorty over. By then, it was dark, and I wasn't totally sure I was up for it. However, I did really want to get Shorty out of there, and the thought of waiting another week made me feel disappointed. The friend of a friend brought over a teeny, tiny, parallel load, ramp-up trailer. I've only ever hauled him in a huge, roomy, 3 horse, slant load, step up trailer. However, he walked right on, no questions asked. We loaded on the street because the driver was afraid to get stuck in the driveway. Shorty's chest was pressed against the chest bar at the front of the trailer, and his butt was against the door. Thankfully, the ride took five minutes. We unloaded on the road at the new place (backing out was fun but Shorty was good) and walked down the half mile driveway in the dark. He strutted into the new barn like he owned the place and immediately settled in his new stall. A fresh pile of hay was waiting, and he instantly tore into it, sighed once, and looked at me as if to say, "Now what?" What a good boy! OTTB's may be hot under saddle, but when it comes to transport and new places, they rule.

The new place is really cute and the horses are well cared for. It's more of a private facility, although some lessons do take place. There are only seven horses, and they spend most of the day outside. The only major downside is the fact that there is no indoor riding arena, although they are breaking ground on a limestone arena that may, eventually, get a roof. I hope to post pictures soon.

Okay, there's a second downside... MUD! There's lots of it here in Ohio, especially in the spring when we get torrential rainfall.

Monday, January 4, 2010


My first online query! Oh Goody! This one comes from a former student who left my instruction to purchase her own horse and keep him at home. Due to travel time and my busy schedule, I decided not to teach her at her new facility.

The other day, she sent me this message (reprinted with permission with contact information removed):

patty im seriously going to rip my damn hair out. haha. T's head is so high and his trot is so sparatic and unevenly paced because some times he'll to this really fast, choppy trot that is so hidious it would make you throw up if you saw it and then some times he'll go really slow and if i ask him to extend he just does the fast choppy shit and while doing all this he still has his head touching the sky. i just want to rip his head off. and then when we canter he bolts right into it and picks up the wrong lead going to the right and then when i ask him to trot after canter he wjust wont settle to a normal moving trot. and then once i walk him after we canter he will just raise his head and start down that really sucky trot again. im starting to not even like riding him anymore because its always such a fight and not enjoyable at all. he is truly the most frustrating horse i personally have ever ridden in my life. do you think its possible that you could come over to ride him and see whats going on? patty i really really need you to help me on this one. i cant understand any of this and i hate not enjoying riding any more. please?

My response:

I have a few ideas on what it could be. Honestly, there are so many variables! For example, some geldings get cold backed when their sheaths are dirty and itchy. Many horses toss their heads if their teeth are rubbing the insides of their cheeks because they haven't been floated in a while. A lot of times, its the saddle fit. I found with Shorty that using a special pad called a Supracor pad, even with a saddle flocked for him, really helped out his sensitive back.

One other thing that helped Shorty was having a chiropractor come out. A lot of times, racehorses have old injuries in their backs and necks that can put their spines out of alignment. Although it isn't a cure all, it can be a big help in the long run. I also do some light tissue massage on Shorty on days where he looks stiff (which is usually any time is is below freezing outside) before I put the saddle on to warm up his muscles. Applying liniment to sore and stiff joints doesn't hurt either. On days where he looks uncomfortable, I skip the tack altogether and handwalk. During our walk, I do lots of stretches with him to help alleviate his stiff areas.

You should know that typically racehorses aren't cantered to the right on the track. As a result, they become very smooth to the left and usually barely canter at all to the right. Every singe OTTB I've seen had trouble cantering to the right. He bolts because he is off balance, and that's why he doesn't settle into the trot after the canter.

At this stage in his life, he needs a lot of support and understanding from you to learn what his job is. Retraining a racehorse means undoing all of the things he learned early in life, and that's very hard. Its like telling you to write with your left hand after you've used your right for several years. I don't think that T is intentionally acting up to frustrate you, and I can tell you that traveling with his head in the air probably doesn't feel good to him either. He is most likely just as frustrated as you are.

I will call you tomorrow to set up a time.

As for you readers, I'll keep you updated on this horse's progress. I am excited for the challenge. Although I didn't mention this in my response to my former student, sometimes attitude has a lot to do with it. It sounds as though she expects her horse to behave this way, so she's getting in the saddle with a biased opinion of the ride. When that happens, it is easy to fly off the handle at every little mistake. There have been days where I've felt like I was at the end of my rope, and on those days I don't ride or do a light trail ride with friends. Just like our horses find things to spook at, we find things to be angry about. One of the things that I'd like to work on with her is a concept I learned from a wise instructor: half halting your mind. Just like an off-balance horse runs on the forehand, sometimes we get our priorities out of whack and spread ourselves too thin. A wise rider recognizes when this happens and puts herself back in perspective and back in the moment with the horse by focusing on positive feelings rather than negative emotions.

Being pissed off at your boss is a negative emotion. Frustration, anger, discomfort and similar empotions are all negative. Achieving that lightness in the bridle from a horse who is on the bit is a positive feeling. Riding a well-executed shoulder in is a positive feeling. I tell my riders to develop positive feelings and shut out negative emotions.

Like I said, I'll keep you updated!

In other news, Shorty's recent radiographs look perfect. Thankfully, no rotation occured and his hooves aren't even sore anymore. The vet used hoof testers again, and this time he showed no sore spots. He is cleared to go back on turnout, but only on soft ground for now as a precaution. I can also have is shoes put back on. I'd love to keep him barefoot, but it wouldn't work out for him. With his joints as unstable as they are, Dr. Genovese, an expert on OTTBs, recommended that Shorty stay in shoes to support his weak joints and weakening tendons. But that is a blog for another day entirely.