Doing the bounce

I have been longing to do gridwork with Dayo, and have been putting it off in case she’s “just not ready”. Realizing that this may be more rider consternation than Dayo consternation, I’ve decided that today is the day.

In reality, we’ve been working over basic gymnastics for some time with Margie, and on our own. Today’s exercise will follow up on an exercise Dayo and I worked on last week – trot poles to a cross rail to a “bounce” pole.

Today, we’re going to attempt the real thing. Our ultimate goal is this gymnastic:

Simple grid work diagram Slide1

Because this is new for us, I will be building the grid as follows: trot pole to cross rail to bounce pole. One stride to oxer poles, three strides to cross rail poles, one stride to vertical pole. All jumps will be low to start so we can find our balance.

As we master the grid, I will build each fence up. First up will be the bounce, and we will work toward the end of the line. Our goal will be a happy, balanced and calm session, with no lip flapping and no “grand national” attempts. My awesome videographer Emma is not able to attend today, so updates will be on my honour only. Video to come at a later date!

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The suppling of Dayo

For the past few months, Dayo and I have struggled with straightness, particularly to the left. Dayo likes to bulge her shoulder out and resist the bit. When I teach, I teach my students that a horse that the way to correct the bulge is to open across the shoulders, lift the inside shoulder, sponge with the inside hand while keeping the outside rein steady and supporting, and apply the inside leg at the girth. The key to this is the lifted shoulder, which prevents the rider from dropping weight onto the inside leg while applying the inside leg aid. It’s sophisticated, and for riders who do not have an independent seat, difficult to achieve. Dayo falls apart completely to the left, falling to the inside, and because she is not respecting the left leg, I have committed the cardinal sin of applying pressure with the right rein for balance, something she now relies on.

Realizing this is delaying our progress, I enlisted the help of a dressage coach to sort us out. Yesterday was our first session, and it involved walking, trotting, then cantering in a circle. Dayo is exceptional to the right, and an absolute frustration to the left.

We started the lesson by asking Dayo to respond to leg aids by first asking her to turn off the outside leg. This was a new experience for me, and one that required a surprising amount of concentration, particularly to the left (see tendency to balance off the right hand above). To achieve it, I had to take my feet out of the stirrups and really apply my leg until Dayo listened. What was remarkable was how it felt when it started to work. It felt like I could turn her with my knee.

Once we had established a basic respect for leg, we incorporated rein use to encourage her to stop resisting with her neck and give to the bit. First to the outside, then to the inside. Each time, the opposite rein was used as a supporting rein, and I stabilized that hand by holding on to the edge of my saddle pad. When Dayo gave to the rein, pressure was released. A full give meant a full release, a slight give meant a slight release.

As I worked on this, I discovered a lot about my own riding. I realized that I tend to ride almost completely off the right, regardless of direction, and a great deal of Dayo’s weakness to the left is also mine. I tend to balance off my right hand as well, and had a habit of letting the right rein, when it was the supporting rein, slide through my fingers. This was because I had a hard time holding the support to the right – it was so much more work on the left than I was used to.

We worked on circles, small to large, then large to small, largely using the leg to reduce or expand the circle’s circumference. Dayo has mastered several evasive tactics – one of them is a tendency to lean on the reins so they slide through my hands. This is a huge issue for us in the jumper ring, because that slide means I have less control and my hands have difficulty maintaining contact through the release over fences. Attempts to correct it are met with a dramatic and immediate increase in speed, followed by an argument as I try to slow her down. To counter this, I was told to squeeze my hands until they felt “white-knuckled” but to avoid bracing against the bit by making sure my elbows remained elastic. Once Dayo understood that the reins remained elastic and the contact steady, she began to stop leaning on the bit, relaxing into it instead. We ended with a beautiful canter, and the best downward transition we have ever had.

High head, high hands – Dayo is working to accept contact

Video

“I start with hands because they’re so difficult to teach. Are your hands over the horse’s wither? Are your thumbs the highest point of your hands? If a horse resists the bit in any way, I don’t drop my hands. If necessary I shorten the rein. The horse has to accept the hands. That’s why we talk about the straight line from elbow to mouth. With a high head, you have a higher hand. When that horse starts that business, don’t drop your hand.”

The horse has to accept the aids. Recently, Dayo has taken to either lowering her head so that she is impossibly on the forehand (dragging my seat out of the saddle to avoid the leg and seat) or has been flipping it up high. After a series of frustrating rides, today I defaulted to the master. I held my hands up, shortened the reins, and worked off my legs and seat. The higher Dayo’s head went, the higher my hands went, not with undue pressure on the reins, with a resistance that was in direct proportion to the amount Dayo was resisting my hands.

The exercise offered several benefits. Because my hands were not lowered, I was able to stay upright, balanced with a light seat, a long leg, and a stable body while Dayo worked through her avoidance of contact. I was able to use my legs more than I ever have, and particularly my inside leg, without Dayo running through the bit, or pulling me downward. And I was able to be appropriate with my contact.  George Morris can produce results in minutes, but it took about half an hour of steady work and patience for Dayo and I. It was worth it. By the end of the ride, I had a happy mare who worked into light contact, was on the leg, balanced, steady and relaxed at both the trot and the canter. Best of all, Dayo, who has recently taken to grinding down on the bit as one of her expressions of rebellion, snorted happily with her ears forward while we circled, serpentined, and rode squares. When we went back to the barn, she had the peaceful look of a horse who has done a good job and knows it.

I suspect this will be a lesson we repeat many times over the course of the next few weeks, hopefully with each session being shorter than the last. I’m lucky to have Dayo – she is certainly training the trainer who is trying to train her, and with every success like today’s, our bond gets stronger and our partnership grows.

Dayo goes to work

This Monday started like many Mondays this summer, an early morning at the barn to avoid the heat of the day to school Chaos in preparation for an upcoming show, and to spend time with Dayo.

Dayo, who had been enjoying some “free time” during the heat wave, also came in for a brushing, to be rinsed, and possibly lunged. This time, the Dayo who came in from the field was different. Usually so well behaved, she danced around Max (who was leading her in), spooked at the white patio chairs by the door, and tried to trample Richard. In the cross-ties, she moved around, pawed, yawned, paced, pushed and pooped. Repeatedly. In the round pen, she spent several minutes busting some pretty impressive moves – half passes, piaffes, a capriole and a ballotade or two… very haute ecole as she was trying to break through the fence before she settled down to be lunged. It turns out that Dayo, the mare who just one month before couldn’t believe she had to spend a night in nature with the mares, had become a little herd bound.

And so, it was officially time to go to work.

So far, one of the great joys of working with Dayo is her absolute calmness in the face of new things. She seems to take everything in stride, and while confidence is an issue for her when she doesn’t know what is expected, she is very trusting with new “ideas”, learns quickly, and does not like to make a mistake. She started the work week with an hour on the cross ties learning to settle down and focus. She was brushed, booted, clipped, polo’ed (several times because someone had rolled the polo bandages up backwards, and bandaging is not one of my core strengths!). Then we took the plunge, and put a saddle on her back.

Of course, the entire adventure was a non-event. The saddle pad went on. Nothing. An Ogilvie pad. Nothing. Saddle. No reaction. Girth came next, with a brief pause for station identification as we tried to figure out sizing (it seems that Evelyn, the consummate Western trainer and rider, has at least one English leather girth in every size from 44″ to 56″!). Dayo stood patiently through it all, resigned to not being with the girls, and interested in watching Evelyn and I sort through the girths. Saddled, Dayo went out to lunge. And she was a pro.

Wednesday, there was a marked improvement in Dayo’s behaviour. She settled right in to the cross ties, was relaxed and calm. We decided to add the bridle. Dayo is track broke, so she has worn one before, but that was five years and a couple of babies ago. Once again, Dayo proved that she is nothing if not reasonable when something is properly presented. She lowered her head, opened her mouth, and voila. We put on some smashing white polos, and took a tacked up and shining mare out for a short photo shoot. Richard very kindly helped her to stand properly (this , I understand, is called showmanship, and apparently I don’t know much about it. I went from “hold your horse” girl to “shake the halter in an interesting way to get the horse to prick up its ears” girl in a matter of seconds!)

Dayo is dressed up and ready to go Dayo look spectacular

Dayo looked spectacular. And she was – she lunged with the bridle Wednesday and Thursday, and has started reading cues so well she will now transition up and down based almost completely on voice and body language.

Dayo gets into life on the farm…

Dayo is warming up to life at Lone Pines. She is sporting a smashing new rain sheet, and has been enjoying fun in the sun in the paddock next to Chaos and the mares. Chaos, a firm believer that if it’s farm business, it’s HIS business, has spent some time getting to know her. For the rest, the novelty of Dayo has worn off, and she’s just the skinny mare who still smells a little funny in the paddock next door.

Chaos and Dayo getting to know each other over the fence...

Chaos and Dayo getting to know each other over the fence…

Dayo is thoroughly enjoying the ebb and flow of life on the farm. She has a clean stall at night, plenty of water, catered meals, a paddock with her own personal round bale, and plenty of grass and fresh water. She is conveniently located in the thick of the action, with a great view of the big front paddock, the round pen, the main barn, the house, the fields and drives with the machinery, the crazy chickens, Boots the cat, Jacob (formerly Sui Mai) the rabbit, and the sand ring (the only part of the farm she has not shown an interest in!).

Chickens in the dirt     Sand ring

She has gained more than 100 lbs and is a complete bun hound, galloping up at the fence to come in for dinner, and sticking her nose out to frisk the hands and pockets of anyone who enters the barn. Dayo is very well aware there is a large bag of treats conveniently located by the doorway! She seems to be averse to apples, will not eat anything once it has dirt on it, and, after two choking episodes, apparently does not chew her carrots very well.

Her personality is beginning to shine through. She is determined but not bossy, and very much a lady. A lady, it should be noted, with a significant passion for rolling over and over and over again in the mud.  She has also spent some significant energy trying to impress us with her maternal instincts. She gazes longingly at Itchy’s baby, and trumpets maternally whenever Emma’s boy Vegas calls out from the round pen.

We did try to tell her that babies were not in her future, and that she was going to be a “riding” horse. It turns out that Dayo, like all ladies, has “looks”. She looked “beyond” us when she heard the news about babies. So much more sophisticated than Chaos, who is more of a “hoofs over the ears, lalalalalala, I can’t hear you” kind of horse.

She also has a very polite look of wonder. We’ve been working with her on the cross-ties, grooming her with a soft brush and a mitt. The cunning plan? to get her used to as many things as possible while she is in a weakened state 🙂 She has demonstrated a phenomenal patience with all the fussing, and seems to quite enjoy it, but when she’s had enough, or you hit a ‘spot’, she will turn her head slowly and give you that look of wonder (as in, I wonder why you are doing that, and perhaps you could stop?). If the look is not acknowledged, it is reinforced by the polite but undeniably pointed raising of a back hoof.

She has definite opinion about having those back hooves cleaned.

It seems that the repeated doses of lice powder have eliminated the “hitchhikers” on her skin, and the worming has helped with other unfriendlies, and the crunchiness under it. The combination of lice and malnutrition mean that her hair has been coming out in chunks, leaving some pretty spectacular bald spots, and we have discovered that where hair is, scurf is. Lots and lots of scurf. The other day, Evelyn took to the clippers to her, and removed as much hair as possible to help her stay cool in the hotter weather, and to clear up some gunk. A tough job, given the rough landscape of bumps and bones. Dayo looked and felt so much better, she did a little dance on her way back out to the paddock in preparation of a gallop.  Of course, being a lady, she settled as soon as Evelyn told her no, and waited until she was turned loose. Then, as payback, she rolled thoroughly and well in the mud.

Dayo before she came home...

Dayo before she came home…

One month later

One month later

Looking good girl!

Looking good girl!

This weekend, if the weather actually warms up, Dayo will have another bath as the war against scurf begins in earnest.  Her coat is so short, and there are so many bald spots, that she is covered in vitamin e cream, and will get some super rose oil conditioner to keep her skin moist and healthy while her hair grows back.

Dayo goes mano a mano with the lice…

Yesterday, the vet was out, and Dayo had her shots. Two things transpired. Her teeth need to be done (which admittedly was a bit of a given), and she has some “hard, crunchy stuff” under her skin, which the vet discovered when he could not insert the needle. Disconcerting, but something that did not seem to bother him. The consensus he and Evelyn reached was “dead nasties”. And so, Dayo is on an accelerated worming schedule to rid her body of the crunchy nasties.

Last night, she was particularly sensitive, and made some lovely snake faces at me when I tried to brush her. Today, with Evelyn, she was, of course, a dream. In preparation of deworming, Dayo was tied up and groomed. Evelyn figured that, by the time grooming was done, her mouth would be empty, and she would not be able to use food to spit the Bimectrin out.

Evelyn started with an old clipper blade on her neck (we’ve been using this to help shed her out). She was fine, but the lumpy part, presumably home to the crunchy nasties, was obvious.

Evelyn then decided to start at her poll, and work her way toward the tail. Remember the earlier post about lice? We hadn’t found any in the usual spots, and have been looking and looking. Today? Shazam! Evelyn hit the mother lode of nits – they were at her poll and along her mane line.  She combed and combed them out, put the hair in a bucket, and will burn it. It seems nothing was crawling.

Dayo and the powder...

Dayo and the powder…

Dayo then had a thorough grooming.  The hair on her belly and udder is coming out in handfuls, and she is developing some more, and significant bald spots. Her wiggling chin and loose lip tell us that hair removal is a good thing. She’s been an itchy girl! The skin underneath looks healthy, and the hair will grow back.  Every inch of her was groomed to the max, and MDG was applied to the bald spots to keep them soft while hair grows back.  I am happy to report that, in spite of the fact that I was on the receiving end of many snake faces last night, she was absolutely perfect for Evelyn.

Dayo 2 May 8 2013

Her poll, neck and spine were dusted with delousing powder again, and she was sprayed with insecticide. Then she was dewormed with Bimectrin.

Dayo weighed 903 lbs when she arrived at the farm a week and a half ago. Today, she was tape weighed again, and she weighs 969 lbs. Her energy levels are still incredibly low, but she is looking brighter and happier.

Dayo on May 8 2013

In spite of the snake faces! 😀

Dayo’s first week

Image

This past week, Dayo has been eating, eating, eating. And drinking pails of water. Tuesday, she had a “mani / pedi” and was an absolute dream for the farrier. Wednesday, she had her first dose of wormer, and was de-loused. We haven’t seen anything living on her, but we decided to err on the side of caution.

Thursday, she finally started to shed. Big clumps of hair, some of it right off the skin, leaving bald patches. Luckily, not too many, and the skin underneath looks healthy.

Saturday, she had a bath. In fact, two baths, back to back. There was dirt caked in places dirt should never be.  And her tail was just a tragedy. Sunday was a grooming day, and we took a short stroll around the farm to see the sights.

Dayo dealing with one rogue fly

Dayo dealing with one rogue fly…

She was so tired after that short walk, she flaked right out on her hay!

Dayo has been turned out in a small paddock by the barn. It’s relatively exclusive, and the ponies Simon and Anna have been turned out next to her. Yesterday, they were moved to the pipe paddock.

Checking out new friends Anna and Simon

Anna and Simon tucking in to the round bale in the pipe paddock

Anna and Simon tucking in to the round bale in the pipe paddock

We could hear Dayo calling to them, and moved her over to see her friends. Today, she is out in the small paddock next to Chaos and the mares. Eventually, she’ll be turned out with them, but for now, she’ll get to know them over the fence.

In the small front paddock...

In the small front paddock… you can look at her topline and see that just rehydrating has made a difference 🙂