31 August 2015

My farrier works miracles (slowly)

   I have to 'post and boast'.

Raven the Beautiful 

     Look at this gorgeous beast. This was taken in July at a local dressage test. Raven was wired to the max. My gosh, he was high voltage. Sue even wondered if she should do the second test on him, he was so much horse. But we encouraged her to do the test and she came out of it with some very high marks indeed.

     I have made some big steps in riding him. I took a lesson from our super trainer and she's helped me a lot. I am even riding him at the trot bareback, having finally been able to make that transition. Literally. 
My hardest part right now is collection. I still don't have that feel for when he's truly up underneath me. As I noted in my last post, he is not an easy horse to ride. He's long backed, which makes it more difficult for him to collect, and I'm not rider enough..yet... to know it when he is.
But when I do it right, and we're trotting, suddenly it's easy to ride him. Those moments are fleeting yet exhilarating when they do come. They keep me motivated.

      Last year at this time he had just settled into his new home at New Barn. In January we realized that his feet were deteriorating so quickly that soon he would be lame. So we changed farriers. Matt, our new farrier, took Raven's feet as a challenge and ...well, here are some photos of then and now.

     I have, in the past, kept a running account of the progress on his feet. I will condense that to the worst of his hind feet, the left hind. This is a picture of his hoof from January 2015, after we'd been dinking around with the feet for six months of the old farrier. I cannot remember if this was taken before his trim or after. I believe, judging from the fuzz on the ground, that it was after. It was also after we'd given up on the epoxy in his feet.
Left hind outside January 2015  
      I still cringe when I look at this. It was so bad. It had white line and, now we know, thrush as well. The crevices were from nail holes that had rotted out. Literally. So we took him out of shoes permanently. Old farrier had steadfastly warned us that "this horse can never be barefoot." With this foot, there was nothing left for a nail to hold onto, as was evidenced in the right hind, which isn't pictured here.

       Now look at this same hoof, 7 months later, after trimming:
Left hind outside post trim August 2015

 To quote an old tv ad.."Isn't that amazing'"

     It IS. We've been feeding him Trifecta, a supplement that contains biotin. We know now that he must have biotin for the rest of his life. Small price to pay for a good hoof. 
We also give most of the praise to Matt, our Wonderful Farrier. He had the courage to take on these ugly feet. We obeyed his 'commands' in dosing the white line, the thrush, and keeping the hoof dry with his concoction of Venice Turpentine/Iodine. 

    What? Yes, it is. It's the same foot. I swear. 

     Matt has done miracles. Notice how he also has slowly improved the angles of the foot to what they're supposed to be. Old farrier had paid so much attention to the 'rotten' parts of the hoof that he trimmed them to the point where there was no heel contact. The heels were contracted. 
     Matt has gently and slowly brought the hoof back into alignment. The heels are opening nicely and in contact with the ground now. He will never go back into shoes. He doesn't need them, and in another few months we hope to take his fores out of shoes, too. The only problem they had was again, Old Farrier had trimmed them to the point where they were beginning to club. 

   Raven is very happy in his new feet. Earlier this month, he was busting around in his paddock with his buddy and tore up the outside. But it was, in my opinion, the very last parts of the old bad hoof. Within days the bent up portion had worn off without damaging the underparts.

   These are new feet. 

    I'm telling you. If and when you find a GOOD farrier, treat him like a king. (well, you know what I mean.) Matt has our business for as long as he wants to keep us. They're minting new veterinarians every year, but I cannot think of more than one young man who is taking on the job of farrier. Every other one is in his early fifties and older. Horseshoeing is part science, part experience, part empathy, and a little bit witchcraft. It uses the same tools as from five hundred years ago. It's archaic. It's also a science, and an art. When you find that man who can do the job right, treat him nicely. You won't regret it. 

30 August 2015

Someone who rides worse than me

   I’ve learned that the reason warmbloods are usually scored higher in dressage tests is NOT because the judges prefer them over ‘home growns’ like Quarter Horses and Arabians. 

    It’s because, as I heard a highly ranked judge tell a complaining woman, ‘Warmbloods are not easy to ride.” My god, is that true. Raven is very difficult to ride. He’s not stubborn, but he makes you earn every correct step. Every single time. Whereas your typical mellow Quarter Horse is like a Labrador retriever, always happy to make you happy. Thus, a higher scoring rider of a warmblood EARNED it.

     I’m not going to pretend I know how to ride dressage. I am learning to ride dressage. It’s frustrating, time consuming and at times, so aggravating I sometimes wonder if I should just give up even trying.

    I don’t blame dressage in and of itself for that. I know without a doubt, it’s ME.
Having grown up poor, I didn’t own my own horse until I was grown, although I’d taken every chance I could to get aboard a horse as a kid. Those horses were always wearing a western saddle. It was de rigueur. Only sissies rode "English". Only the bluebloods rode “English”. Only the English rode "English". Thus I came to riding often late in life, long after my body had settled into its muscular routine.

My training in riding a western saddled horse was simple:

1. Get on.
2. Kick the horse’s sides to get him to go.
3. Hang onto the horn.
4. Yank on the reins to stop.

    I don’t say that all Western riders are as poor a rider as I was. Although I must say that Western Equitation (to differentiate it from plain ol’ cowboy Western) appears to be designed to give novice riders a ribbon no matter how they ride.

   I’ve seen western riders; reiners, range riders, barrel racers, ropers, cutters-ride as if they were glued to the saddle. These riders (whom I have much respect for) let their horse travel at a good canter with its head up.  Indeed, my 1965 copy of “Breaking and Training the Stock Horse”, despite its title, could be retitled “Breaking and Training the Dressage Horse in Western Drag.” Charles O. Williamson, a cowboy from the early 1900’s, wrote “when there is work to do or action wanted, it is necessary that (the horse) be collected.”1
     The Western Equitation folks have gone so far from Williamson’s training advice that it may as well be called “Arena Riding.”

    I got back into horses in my forties. By then I’d realized I had no desire to ride western, especially western equitation. The barn I boarded my horses was strictly a hunter/jumper barn. My horses were anachronisms and I was sneered at, but…board money is money. I tried riding in a jumping saddle. No way. I just couldn’t get it, and I don’t jump, something my horses were in full in agreement with. I tried an English saddle and sadly, didn’t care for that, either. Thus I found myself riding bareback…and loved it.  
  I still ride bareback more often than not. Riding bareback has taught me all the basics of balance, rhythm, soft hands, etc., that are so important to riding in general.

     I didn’t like English because the lack of a horn unnerved me. Deep inside I knew one wasn’t supposed to hang on to the horn, but I had no concept of collection, contact, or most importantly, balance. The horn was a crutch, both psychological as well as physical.  

     Western riders didn’t talk of doing the work of carrying oneself. You got on the horse and rode. The more miles you had in the saddle, the more adept you became at staying aboard-but the horse was doing all the work.
One steered the horse by neck reining.
The latter has changed.  Indeed, these days, there seems to be a mindset, at least in the show ring (which again, seems to have been usurped by the Western Equitation folks) that the reins aren’t used at all.

     It wasn’t until much later in life that I first rode a friend’s 4th level dressage horse in a dressage saddle. To say that I was completely unprepared for the exquisite sensitivity and instantaneous response a well-trained 4th level horse provides is putting it mildly. Only because the mare loved me did she even tolerate me aboard her.
    But the saddle-the saddle! gave me the physiological equivalent of an ‘aha’ moment. It felt RIGHT to me. I immediately went out and purchased a used dressage saddle for my horse.

   As for western riders: it appears that the Western Equitation fad is dying out. Thank god. Too many truly Western loving riders were sickened and disgusted by the artificial and (let’s say it out loud) cruel way of forcing a horse to go “western Equitation style”. Horses are meant to move out in a fairly rapid speed with their heads UP, not dragging in the dirt at the pace of a slow turtle.

   But the cadre of people who learned to ride western via western equitation is legion. Like a pig through a python, it’s going to take a generation of riders to get past the WE style.

   This style, I learned, involved not using the reins whatsoever. Indeed, I wonder why they even had a bridle on the horse, as the rider would stick her hands way out in front of her, the reins drooping like wet rope from her extended fists.
Here are a few pictures of a high ranking WE rider. 

She’s not as bad as some I’ve seen, although she looks as if the reins are hot. I’m a bit pissed at the heavy mascara on the horses. When I was into Arabians, I was under the impression that makeup on horses was illegal. Apparently the show folks worked their way around that. Jesus, look at that grey. He looks like a clown.

   I feel sorry, honestly, for those folks. (although in the above pictures, the horses seem to be happy).  The only thing they can do is ride a slow horse in an arena. It’s like they’re a cult, and can find acceptance and validation only within that cult. The rest of the riding world, to include Western riders, thinks of them as vapid and silly. But it brings in money. And that’s what drives the horse business. 
   I've used this picture in the past, and will add it here, to truly give the sense one gets of the horse in Western Equitation:

    THIS is what disturbs the 'old fashioned' Western rider, and me. THIS is what Western Equitation wants a riding horse to look like.

   In the past two or three years, a new concept has arisen in the Western riding world, and in my opinion, it's way overdue and very welcome.

  It’s called “Western Dressage’. I cannot say for sure, but it seems to involve age old concepts of: collection, contact, and balance. (Concepts used daily by dressage and English riders). They’re learning that making a horse use both sides of his body enables the horse to go further, keeps him supple, and keeps him in better shape. Riding using dressage principles teaches the rider to carry herself in order to lessen the burden on the horse. Dressage is a team effort.

   It’s an admirable concept, a daring departure from the western equitation fad,and I think it’s going to do a world of good for western riders.

  But it's probably come too late for some. At our last dressage test, where a ‘western dressage’ test had been added, I saw a rider who I can (in my own mind..I'm not a boaster)(although a case could be made that is exactly what I'm doing here on my blog.) see someone who rides dressage worse than me. At last, I can look better than someone who probably is a better rider than I’ll ever be, but was, unfortunately, trained to ride Western Equitation. Which means, she’s got a handicap that she’ll be laboring under for a very long time. Old habits are hard to break.Just ask me.

    Look at this. 


I was embarrassed for her. I have no idea what the judges scored her. The judges in my region have proven to me (at least) that a training show is strictly that, so they aren’t savage with their pens. But the judge HAD to have seen this girl riding like this. She did TWO tests like this. She obviously has miles and miles of Western Equitation under her belt. Her horse was very willing, but didn't seem as if he was out of control or going too fast. I don’t know the rules for Western Dressage. There were four other people in her class and they all rode in Western saddles. Maybe one can ride western dressage in a dressage saddle? It’s weird.The thought hit me, maybe she's a dressage rider who wants the score but not the reputation, so she entered a western dressage class? I have no idea.
    I don’t know who, if anyone, is training her, but if so, that trainer should be hammered. Any trainer, who allows a person to do a dressage test like this, who thinks that one’s arms are supposed to be stuck out like that, should be ashamed of herself.
   But then again, perhaps the trainer (again, if there is one) was trained WE as well.

  Whatever, I am very glad that it isn’t me riding like that in front of god and everybody.

Just when I thought I'd found the worst WE image on google, I found even more egregious ones. This is a screamer.  The rider is showing him both english and western, and oh my gosh. It's bad, folks. Really bad, when she gets ribbons for riding like this:
 If that is 'collection', I'll eat my boots. But I will give her this: her arms and hands are down.

1 Breaking and Training the Stock Horse” (5th Ed.), pg. 52.  1965  Williamson, Charles O. , Caxton Printers, Ltd, Caldwell, ID Lib. of Congress number 62-22012
Due to such early printing, no ISBN has been assigned to this edition.