Monday, September 29, 2008

Are Dressage horses spookier?

Dressage horses, and frankly their riders, have a reputation of being highly strung hot-house tomatoes. To some extent, it seems like their environment reinforces it. The horses are often kept confined for long periods, the sport is subjective, the demanding training means that less time can be spent cross-training.

Armani and I go outside for a short trail ride every day in good weather; we go on hour long rides on weekends. We do a lot of cavaletti. He's turned out to pasture 24-7 in good weather. I try to expose him to scary stimuli, "Oh look, let's go eat supper standing on that tarp." Despite all of our work, he can still be reactive and argumentative when he is uncertain. Our instructor says he's "hot like a Trakehner, but bullheaded like a Morgan".

I stumbled on an interesting study Fear reactions in riding horses : a comparison between dressage and jumping horses (2005). If you'd like the spoiler, the dressage horses scored consistently as more reactive. The study brought up a few interesting points, for which, it's hard to really objectively answer. Is it the training, the riders, the horse-keeping, or the breeding? Or perhaps a combination?

I also found this practical article on how to handle a spooky situation on the trail and this more general article on spooky horses.

Shiftless yet spicy?

Spending the over a year now working with Armani, I've become accustomed to the 5-steps-forward-1-step-back pattern our training has developed. Over time I know we've made real progress, and our supportive friends have been encouraging (more on that in a coming post).

Over the year, I've thought a lot about Armani's personality and how to adjust his training to suit. Armani has more personality than any other horse I've worked with long-term (which is not to say that I'm very experienced). It certainly is hard to try to summarize the personality of a creature that I've spent a lot of time with. But for the sake of a reader who doesn't have the pleasure of knowing him, I'll try. He has a few primary characteristics:

1. Dominant
2. Intelligent
3. Social
4. Lazy
5. Hot

Some of these certainly seem like impossible juxtapositions. But it's these dueling forces that make Armani such an exciting horse to work with. I cannot be certain what Armani will bring each day. On our 1-step backward days, a few of these forces can combine into an explosive mix. However, as a year has gone by, he has matured. I can sense his personality growing and changing.

I've signed him up for training 1 day a week all winter with our instructor. They've had 3 sessions together so far, and already she's raised her expectations for him, and reminded me that I need to do the same.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Huey applies to be a Big Brother

Huey is working on his application to be a Big Brother. He spent the last week leading a couple of youngsters under saddle on trail rides over road and field. As fall rapidly turns toward winter (yes there are flurries by Halloween up here), we've been feeling the urge to do as much outdoor riding as we can. So I've been eagerly volunteering Huey as a "trail buddy" with my instructor and her young training charges.

Huey was unfazed by youthful exuberance. Actually, it was hard to motivate him to wake up and keep up the lead. The most exciting moment was when the instructor's big young gray had trouble figuring out how to walk down hill. He decided he might get on his knees and log-roll. Or it certainly looked like that was his plan. I gave Huey a click and he sleep-walked his way down the hill, sighing - or was that snoring? - as he stumbled along.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

He's not a pet, he's an investment really, Honey.

That's how I originally presented Armani to my husband. That was the day I called my husband from the road, on his birthday, "Hi Honey, Happy Birthday. Can you meet me at the barn? Bring carrots. I bought a horse. " I tried to convince my husband that since he was inexpensive and rather green, that we'd train and show him and I could resell him in a year. "He's an investment."

Of course any horse person knows that horses are bottomless money pits. If money did grow on trees, horses would eat it. My non-horsey husband knew better than to believe me too. I've never let go of any pet I've had. But it's become my standard way of presenting horse related expenses. My saddle that cost 2x my original budget will "hold its value!". Registering Armani with the ATA will "increase his value". Going to dressage shows makes Armani a "marketable show horse". And I told my husband I need a truck and trailer for showing convenience. My instructor will start training Armani once a week this fall. That's just "investing in his training".

"Uh huh, sure. You won't ever sell him. You do what you want." my husband says, "You always do anyway." And he is right of course, on both counts.

So far my investment strategy is working really well, don't you agree? Think I'll be able to retire early?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The hip bone connects to the huh?

Armani and I had a lesson earlier this week. We went back to some basics in order to work on establishing a more consistent "connection". "Connection" in my mind is one of those things that everyone feels is important, but is hard to define. I think it's kind of like the search for the perfectly uphill horse.

I've got the idea that the connection starts somewhere in my erm, butt and thigh region, and is driven forward from my abs towards the bridle. I found a rather scholarly sounding article on it here.

I borrowed this picture from Is it just me or does it look a little bit like a diagram of Armani's and my digestive system in reverse? Seriously, though, during our lesson I could feel a connection happening, even if I have trouble describing it. Our instructor said we looked much more consistent. But after I dismounted I ruefully observed that I was sweating more than he was.

I keep saying I'm going to start doing crunches every day again...

Friday, September 5, 2008

Horseless Friday: Fisherlady of the seven seas

I do a horseless post every Friday. Last week I was invited fishing with two of my lady friends. I'd never been fishing before. But I know I've mentioned before how much I love seafood. And it's always fun to go out with the girls. So what better way for 3 classy young ladies to spend a girls-day-out than on a deep sea fishing boat with a few dozen stinky sailors?

Bright and early, we drove out to Hampton Beach for Al Gouron's fishing tours. It was a lovely, sunny morning. We boarded the good ship "Sea Star" and readied our rods and bait...

Look I caught one! No, that's actually our bait; whole mackerel. Let me tell you those suckers are oily and stinky. I got fish oil all over myself. But that is just a fisherlady manicure.

We trolled around for a while. In a matter of minutes the sky went from sunny to gray. Then it began hailing. Fisherladies do not fear the elements! We pulled on our raincoats undeterred. As the hail turned to a steady rain, the fish began to bite!

The big Bluefish put up a fight worthy of any sporting lady. The kindly sailors on the boat offered to help us haul in our prizes. But I quickly figured out a use for my horse riding muscles: hold the rod between your legs! Although I imagine I may have scandalized even the most sullied pirates, it did save me from being reeled overboard by the fish.

Ah, our booty! The crew filleted our prizes for us with machetes. By the time I got home I was a tired and smelly sailor. But at least I had dinner already planned.

I hear Bluefish is best grilled. But since we don't have a grill, the broiler did fine. Skin side down, I lightly mayonnaised the fillets and seasoned with fresh herbs and lemon juice. Six minutes under the broiler for medium rare and juicy. Delicious fishes!