Friday, March 27, 2015

Donkey Days This Weekend

These past two weeks, Laura and I have been busy preparing for the events coming up, including Donkey Days, a clinic taught by a donkey expert, which takes place this weekend. Until recently I wasn’t aware people really rode donkeys, but it there will be quite a few people there. I may even get the chance to ride a donkey, which I think will be really awesome! It is going to be really exciting!

 Friday, after some hard work in the blazing sun, Laura and I went for a ride. We were joined by a women who has a donkey. While Laura rode in the arena, the woman on the donkey and I warmed up on the trailsI worked on getting Lucky up in front of my leg as we warmed up. 

 I spent the last few minutes of my ride on the level ground where the dressage arena once was(we had taken it down last week). At the trot, I continued working on getting her forward. She was actually pretty good about moving at a steady tempo and at the speed I wanted. 

 Before cantering, I put her on a circle. Since she is much better to the left, I started her in that direction. Lucky has a really nice, easy to sit canter. On Moe and Chester, I stubble to keep seated in the saddle, but I had no problem on Lucky. I went around and around several times, working on getting my position and moving my hips with her movement. The last few strides felt really great! 
We moved all these panels( and a few more) last week, thing them apart
and then reconstructing them into box stalls for the clinic and then next month's show. 

 We decided to try to see how well Lucky went to right since she had done so good to the left. Going right was more difficult. Lucky doesn't go very well to the right and often leans in. Because of this, I and to really focus on using my inside leg to get her to not lean. Whenever she leaned in, I pointed my toes in, tapping her shoulder with the whip if necessary. Before long I began to feel when she leaned in. All this was done at the trot. I noticed that at one side of the circle, Lucky land in more than the other parts, so I decided to ask for canter a little bit after she passed that side to set her up for success. She had a good transition, but began leaning in and fell out of canter after a few circles. 

 After spending a few minutes getting her ready and not leaning, I again asked for canter. This time was much better! I even felt when she was about to leaned in on my leg again, tapping her inside shoulder before it happened. As she cantered, I let my legs stretch long, lifting my hands to bend my elbows and putting my hands close together. All three are things I need to work on, which is why I focuses on them. What went well: 

  • I had a really great canter on Lucky!

I'll definitely share about the donkey clinic. have a great weekend everyone!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Driving Show Recap

 This weekend, I was navigator at a local driving event with Pistachio the pony and Gretchen, his owner, who just moved up to Preliminary level. It was a small event, but was loads of fun. We brought Pistachio there the day before to allow him time to settle in and save time in the morning. We drove him for a few minutes, and he was very relaxed, which looked promising.

 Like eventing, driving has three phases: dressage, cones(stadium), and marathon(cross country). Saturday morning was dressage. Unfortunately, things didn't go as well as the day before. He was rushing and wasn't quiet in the halt–he was fidgety. However, the judge did like his forward trot and his nice bend. After our go, a bay Hackney went, followed by a dark bay German Sport Horse(the driver said it was a German Riding Pony that got too big) with a white blaze and white socks. Both are driven by very good drivers, and the one with the German horse has competed in Intermediate and Advanced competitions overseas, though not with the same horse. The horses were very good movers, and the Hackney had the high stepping trot. It was neat to see.

Cones course

Pistachio didn't relax any more for the cones course in the afternoon. For cones, there are pairs of cones that you go between, forming gates, with 20  gates on the course. The course was a fun, windy course. Gate two was a serpentine with three cones to wind around. There was even a bridge and deep indent(a downhill followed immediately by an uphill) that is filled with water when it rains, which didn't happened this weekend. Unfortunately, we had a refusal at gate 10, which was heading into the indent.

 For marathon, the driving equivalent of cross country, he was fast and didn't want to relax. Marathon was a long windy, 3.81 kilometer course with 40 gates and two hazards, obstacles you wind around, placed in the course. The hazards had A, B, C, and D parts. They were tricky because had to make several rollbacks and turn around a few time to go through them in the correct direction with the red on the right. Those went pretty well. However, after the first hazard, the strap on his back came undone and the strap that goes behind him fell down to his hocks. He was good about not panicking while I fixed it. This caused us major time faults. We ended up driving the course in 21:19, and OT was 17:35.
Driving through hazard 1.

The blues are from dressage and marathon(each class was judged separately) and the yellow
is for the overall placing.

 The classes were judged separately at that event, and we earned two blue ribbons, one for dressage and one for marathon(we were actually the only large pony at Prelim). Overall, we placed third, behind the Hackney and German Sport Horse.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Trot Poles and Show This Weekend

Monday was a very busy day, with preparations for the coming show and donkey clinic underway. Laura and I spent most of the day deconstructing the dressage arena and moving the metal corral fences that aren't being used. A tractor came Wednesday to level the ground, and then we will set up 12X12 and 16X16 stalls with the fences with mules going to the show to stay in. t was a lot of hard work, but I didn't mind it. 

 Tuesday was more of the same thing, but since we had finished most of it the day before, we had time to ride. I worked on riding through a line of trot poles to work on rhythm. The two pairs of cones were there, like last time. I rode in a four leaf clover pattern, trotting over the poles, then going to the outside of either of the cones, make a rollback to go between them, and repeating the pattern. This is also a good exercise to prepare for jumping. When turning around the cone, I need to: 
Make a wide enough
Find a good, straight line to the poles
Keep Lucky moving with enough  impulsion and reaching underneath herself her hind legs
Prepare to make the next turn around the cone

As you can see, a big part of jumping(or going over trot poles in my case) is the preparation before the jump. Starting out, I did not prepare for the turn around the cones in time, my turn wasn't wide enough, and Lucky wasn't moving with enough impulsion and reaching underneath herself with her hind legs. I had to start over several times. After a few times, I began to really focused on preparing and lining Lucky up for the turn. As early as when I was heading over the poles, I looked for the cone I would circled and prepared to go there. 

 I also had trouble making a wide enough turn around the cones, especially to the right, Lucky's hard side. Each time, I started out wide, but made a sharp turn right after the cone. I had to really work on using my inside leg to push Lucky out onto a wider circle. It wasn't until near the end that I managed to get a nice, wide turn to the right.

 What I really had trouble with, though, was getting Lucky to take long enough strides to get over the poles. I have been working a lot on asking Lucky to move forward with light cues. When she didn't respond, I would kick her. I didn't get enough of a response. Since I wasn't getting her to open her stride more, her hind leg didn't quite reach over the second pole, and as a result, she stumbled over it. 

 It wasn't until the end of the lesson that I achieved a nice, rhythmic trot over the poles. Approaching the poles, I squeezed Lucky with my calves to get her get her moving forward. When she didn't respond, I gave her a tap with the whip I had been handed. She responded by lengthening her stride and trotting beautifully over the poles. I headed to the right cone, applying inside leg and flexion to make a nice, wide turn. I made sure to have enough calf on to keep her forward motion. 

 The driving show is this weekend. I can't wait!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Interview with Equine Bodyworker Loni Langdon

This month, I interview equine bodyworker Loni Langdon. Equine bodyworks uses massage and acupressure/acupuncture to relieve tension in a horse, mule, or donkey. I'll give it over to Loni to explain it more in depth.

1. What is equine bodyworks?
To me equine bodywork uses human touch, movement and intention to communicate with an animal to help them feel better on both a physical and emotional level. Equine bodywork involves using feel, timing, intuition, patience and communication. When I work with a horse, mule or donkey it is my goal to relax and/or stimulate muscles and systems in their body that benefit their overall wellbeing and address specific performance issues. Bodywork involves understanding anatomy, biomechanics and different equine disciplines. Being able to recognize patterns that may develop based on each animal’s individual conformation and the jobs they do is essential. In general, there are many techniques and combinations of modalities used by equine bodyworkers. Some examples include but are not limited to: acupuncture/pressure, massage, myofascial release, craniosacral therapy, passive stretching. There are also specific methods developed by folks in the equine industry such as TTouch and the Masterson Method of Integrated Equine Performance BodyworkTM.
2. How does equine bodyworks benefit horses? Bodywork can benefit equines by alleviating soreness, muscle strain and tension creating more comfort for the equine. Additional benefits include improved performance, suppleness, and mobility. Long-term benefits of regular bodywork can help reduce incidents of lameness. When done with the animal, bodywork can help them relax significantly and can create behavioral changes such as better attitude. Many owners say their horses are more willing to do their jobs or are more relaxed or energetic after having bodywork.
Working on the neck/poll
3. How can equine bodyworks help detect and relieve tension in the horse’s body that may be causing problems, such as resistance to the bit, difficulty bending on a circle, or trouble picking up the correct canter lead one way, etc?
I’m going to quote Mr. Jim Masterson here because he sums it up really well… “Repetitive work, pain, lameness, or compensation for any discomfort can cause tension patterns to develop in muscles and connective tissues that can restrict movement in joints and major junctions of the body. This accumulated tension and restricted movement can negatively affect performance and comfort. These tension patterns can themselves eventually contribute to lameness.” The Masterson MethodTM focuses on three key junctions of the body that most affect performance. They are the Poll/neck, shoulders & withers junction/hind-end junction.  

“When tension is released in any of these key junctions, tension is release in muscles and connective tissues in the larger areas of that junction and often in more remote areas of the horse’s body. The most important junction in relation to overall mobility and comfort in the horse is the poll. In my experience, tension, pain or discomfort anywhere in the horse’s body shows up in the poll.”

“The other two main junctions are junctions where the horse’s limbs join the body, so it makes sense that the forces exerted by the horse’s limbs as well as concussion during movement transfer to the body here. And when tension patterns begin to accumulate unilaterally – meaning more to one side than the other – then forces are exerted in an unbalanced manner. And performance problems can become apparent in bending, lead change, and movement.”
4. What kind of issues do client’s horses commonly have? The most common issues I see have to do with unilateral imbalances. For example, many owners say their animal has difficulty picking up or maintaining a lead or is stiffer bending to one side than the other. In these cases, I usually find there is tension in the poll and restricted range of motion through the cervical vertebrae. By working slowly and staying under an animals’ bracing response I can help loosen and relax the connective tissue between the vertebrae and in small increments increase range of motion, which in turn helps with the imbalance.

5. How did you become interested in equine bodyworks? I became interested in equine bodywork in 2013 when I was training and showing my mule Feather. She started developing tenderness in her lumber region. At that time, I had a friend who was studying the Masterson Method so I asked her to come and do some work with Feather. What she discovered was that Feather had a more primary issue in her right hind limb that was creating tension and soreness in her loin. Terry worked with Feather and I saw Feather relax and release tension like I’d never experienced with any equine (my mule being especially skeptical & introverted was challenging!). Terry showed me how to do some range of motion exercises with Feather and also showed me how to help release the tension that Feather carried in her jaw which directly affected other parts of her body. I did the exercises daily with Feather and it really helped improve her range of motion but it also helped create a deeper bond and trust in our relationship. Since then I have been fascinated and intrigued with how equine bodies work and how to help equines via bodywork.
6. How does someone become an equine bodyworks professional? People enter into the equine bodywork profession by a variety of ways. Some are physical therapists or licensed human massage therapists that expand their practice to equines. Some people go to school specifically to study equine anatomy and biomechanics and then work as sports therapists on their own or in conjunction with veterinarians. Others get certified via various programs such as massage schools or through organizations such as Equinology, or The Masterson Method. I also know people who have apprenticed with practitioners, learned from them and then gone out on their own.
For me, I find that the Masterson Method is a great fit for my style of horsemanship and personality. I have attended advanced coursework in the Masterson Method and am currently working on my certification through that program. I started by working on horses at the barn where I keep Feather and then started offered bodywork to friends outside the barn. I have expanded my practice to working on horses, mules and donkeys for other folks while getting paid to do something that I love! Right now my goal is to become a Masterson Method Certified Practitioner and use that knowledge to help my friends in having the best performance with their equine partners that bodywork can support.
Working on the hindquarters
7. What is your favorite thing about doing equine bodyworks? I am excited by what I can learn from all equines through bodywork because it is really a cooperative process. There’s a deep level of trust and communication established when a horse allows you to take their head in your arms and puts all their weight onto your shoulder. I love, love, love it when an animals says “yes! that’s the spot! stay there! or please do more!”. It’s like you are a detective searching for clues that lead you on a path towards knowledge about what’s going on in their bodies. The results can be very profound for the equine and for me it’s one more way to study horsemanship on a deeper level.
Here’s an example: I recently worked on my boyfriend’s mule, Tomas. I’d been working on him for about an hour and a half when I found an area on his sternum that just sent him into distress. It caused him to try to take off my head with his hind foot! I couldn’t even touch that area. So I focused my intention and energy where he could tolerate it and that was about 3 inches from his sternum just between his front legs. If I touched his guard hairs he would brace hard through his whole body. Luckily, he stayed with me and didn’t leave the scene (which is his typical mode of operation when he doesn’t like what’s going on). By focusing my intention and energy with my hand to this area, after about 3 minutes, he let out a big sigh then licked and chewed for about a minute. That was his way of showing me that he had released, so I decided that was a good time to quit him. Tomas walked over to the trough, had a big drink of water then proceeded to yawn repeatedly, over & over for 15 minutes! The next day I was able to palpate his sternum with no signs of tension or a big reaction like the day prior. For me, that’s hitting the jackpot! Very satisfying. My boyfriend Zack, also reported that Tomas has not been sensitive in that area since nor has he shown any signs of pain in any other areas. Considering that he ropes from Tomas regularly, it’s really pretty amazing.
I also really enjoy interacting with equine owners. The session with Tomas really made Zack, my boyfriend a believer in bodywork even though he admits he doesn’t quite get it. When I get to interact with owners who care for their equine and listen to their concerns, I’m offered a great opportunity to be of service. By listening to what the owner is saying and by feeling what an equine presents in their body, I’m able to piece together a picture of the whole horse, mule or donkey. It challenges me to think critically, keeps me wanting to learn more and is very gratifying when there’s a positive outcome. It’s great when the equine shows you they feel better and lovely when an owner gets to see & feel the results of the bodywork. I love it when an owner asks what they can do to help their equine through bodywork.
Loni releasing the sacrum by putting her hand under the tail and just barely moving it up and down.
This is called the sacral float.
8. How do you use equine bodyworks on your own mule? I have a routine each time I go to ride or work with Feather. My routine involves a quick palpation of her body to see where she might be sore or tense. If I find a place that’s very sensitive, I’ll work with her to release it. Before I turn her out to pasture, I usually do some under the tail points that release endorphins and help her relax her hind end. She loves the sacral float and a little massage to her groin. It keeps our relationship predictable and helps maintains connection that goes beyond riding. After all, equines are comfort seekers and if I can offer my mule some comfort, hopefully she’ll continue to seek me out.
9. Anything else? Anyone can learn simple and effective bodywork techniques to support their equine partner’s overall wellbeing. Touch is a language unto it’s own and bodywork can be a very positive and fun experience with your horse, mule or donkey. Who doesn’t enjoy a good massage or hug? The Masterson Method website is a great place to start with lots of video tutorials, resources and examples.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Schooling for Driving Show

 Saturday, I went with Pistachio and his owner, Gretchen to practice for the coming show, which is this coming weekend. Since the facility is nearby, we took Pistachio there to practice. I groomed and lunged him before we began driving.

 We started by driving through the cones course, a course of twenty pairs of cones that you drive between. It is the driving version of stadium jumping. The cones course went well; Pistachio was pretty relaxed throughout the day.

 Next we practiced hazards course, where we wind around wooden poles. Hazards have several "gates" in each one. You go through them in alphabetical order, making sure to keep the red and the right and not go through the wrong one. Sometimes you have to make a turn right after going through one or you will go through another obstacle by accident because one is right after it. The hazards practice also went well.

 After that, we rode on some of the trails that are part of the 4K marathon course. Pistachio was more relaxed this time than he was last time, which is really great. The course cannot be driven at the canter, so it is import an that the horse/pony is relaxed enough not to break into canter. I hope he is that relaxed at the show!
Sweaty after the drive
 We also drove through the dressage test. Driving tests are done in a 40 by 80 arena. The test contains several half circles that go from the wall to centerline or centerline to the wall(like the half ten meter circles in the 2011 dressage First Level), lengthenings
at walk and trot, and rein back. Besides the fact that Pistachio didn't keep his head still at the halt, it went well.

 We will be competing at Preliminary Level, the equivalent of eventing Preliminary. It is going to be Pistachio and Gretchen's first event at this level. It is going to be fun! I will also be wearing show clothes this time because this show is a driving trial and not a for fun event. I can't wait!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Two-Point Practice and a Hack

 Thursday was another fun day. Laura taught a lesson to a woman with a gorgeous buckskin Quarter horse named Keystone, so I helped her set up some ground poles for that and also tacked up BB for her to ride and demonstrate if needed. While Laura was teaching, I rode Lucky on my own around the property like I had done last time.

 While riding, I worked mostly on my two pint position. Every time I was riding over flat or uphill ground, I rose into my two-point. I was able to hold it for quite a while and didn't have to sit back down until I reached a downhill slope. Laura was teaching in arena next to the dressage one, so when I rode through it and stood up into my two point, she watched. She said my position looked good! I just needed to bend my elbows and lean more forward, but it was otherwise balanced. I fixed that and held my position through the arena, turning right to pass the round pen and up the steep hill by it. 

Sacrum float on Dyna
 I continued riding until after Laura was done with the lesson and was riding with the woman she had taught out of the arena. Since Laura and Keystone's owner are working on getting him more relaxed, I went to the arena to canter while they trail rode.  I cantered Lucky to the left around the arena, then left the arena and rode around the property one more time. I cantered a bit more, then began cooling Lucky out.
What went well:
  • My two-point position was really good and correct
  • I'm gaining more riding muscles to hold my position longer
 Loni, an friend of Laura's who is and equine bodyworker, was also there, working on the mules to relieve tension in the body. Something that she showed me how to done was the sacrum float. By putting her hand under the tail, right below where it connects to the body, and just barely moving it up and down, she relieved tension in the sacrum. It was really interesting to watch!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

A Fun Trail Ride

 Tuesday, rather than riding in the arena, Laura and I hacked/trail rode together on her property. Where I live, there are lots of hills, making it perfect for conditioning Lucky. It also made it perfect for me to practice changing my position depending on whether the ground was level, downhill, or uphill. In a way I was practicing cross country without the jumps. Laura believes that hacking or riding outside of the arenas beneficially for the horse. It makes their work more interesting, helps them to gain muscles, and can help a slower or less forward horse become more energetic from the excitement of being outside of the arena. The hills also help them to leaner to step underneath themselves. Horses only ridden on the flat have trouble climbing up and down hills for the first time because they need to gain the proper muscles and lean how to place their feet.
The field. In the middle of the picture is the path we cantered up, and to the left ,
by the small building is another field.

 We went all over the property, up and down hills, then around and up a hill with a path that led to the aisle between the paddocks. We turned left here, went through the dressage arena, then around and back past the paddocks and around the property again. The whole time I worked on helping Lucky to balance up and down the hills by leaning slightly back and putting my weight into my heels. Going up hills, I closed my hip angle, leaning slightly forward.

 At first Lucky was a slow and I had trouble staying beside Laura, who was riding BB, so I worked on getting her up to speed. After riding around at the walk several laps, we trotted up one of the hills. At this point, it became clear that Lucky was really enjoying herself. She felt balanced, her back swinging underneath me, and it seemed as if I could post so easily. I was slamming down into the saddle; her movement was pushing me up and then I lightly sat down. It felt so amazing.

 We continued riding, trotting up the hills and walking down. At first we had let Lucky and BB stretch and walk at the dressage arena, but after a bit we trotted through it instead, and I rode in a two-point position until we reached the top of a particularly steep hill, when we returned to trot. As we rode, I worked on getting Lucky round. She came round quite a few times throughout the ride.

 After trotting and walking the hills for a while, we cantered up the hill that led to the paddocks and barn.  On the flat section preceding it, we trotted then asked for canter. Lucky cantered off right away; I just made a kissing sound and listened. It was really exciting and fun to canter her out in the open. We cantered up the hill twice. Both times I lost my stirrup because I wasn't stretching my legs down, something I need to work on at the canter. By the time we had reached the top hill and stopped, Lucky was shaking with excitement and adrenaline.

I spent a while cooling her out on a long rein and riding on my own around the property while Laura schooled BB in the dressage ring. Laura had done the harder work outside of the arena so that BB saw the arena as a relaxing place.
What went well:

  • What was really amazing was that I had a light bulb moment when everything went smoothly. Lucky was round and balanced, and as a result I was posting more lightly too. It was really an amazing feeling. 
I really enjoyed hacking out in the open. While I have ridden outside the arena before, around the barns at both Silver Rose and Third Day, this is my first real time riding in the open. I love it!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Pony Practice

 Remember Pistachio the pony? I rode him several times throughout the fall and went to a driving show with him and his owner, Gretchen. Since starting my working student position, I haven't ridden him too much, but I did get the opportunity to ride him a few days ago. When I took him to the round pen to lunge him, I worked on a few of the things I have been learning with Laura. I walked to his hindquarters, and he moved around his forehand. He turned on the haunches when I turned his head and pushed his shoulder.

 Pistachio's walk looked nice when lungeing; he took long strides and his back swung. He wasn't as loose at the fro, but he stretched down his neck a few times. When it was time to changed directions, he came right to me.
The stirrup is long so I can't get very far out of the saddle, and foot has slipped through.

 Under saddle, I worked on circles a lot to help him to bend. I also tried to get his trot relaxed by slowing my posting and controlling my breathing. It worked! He slowed down and became more relaxed. I also tried to use my body to turn him throughout the ride.

 Although I was posting the trot most of the time, I tried to stay in two-point for a little bit at a time throughout the ride. I even held it around the arena. I wasn't in complete balance the whole time, but I tried to do all the things I did on Lucky: my hands forward and onto the neck, my legs underneath me and shoulders back.
Cutie pony and I
 It's really great I can practice on my own as well as with Laura and apply what I learn to other equines. In a couple weeks, I will be going to another driving show with Gretchen and Pistachio. The last one was a fun Halloween one as you may recall. This one is going to have the three phases of driving: dressage, marathon with hazards, and cones. The marathon is similar to cross country in eventing, and cones more similar to stadium jumping on flat. Knocking down cones gives you penalty ints. It's going to be fun and I can't wait!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

I Rode a Mule!

 Tuesday at Laura's, I helped with getting thins ready for spring and the coming show season. Come spring, things will be a lot more busy, with Laura rising as many as five horses/mules per day, so i will help a lot with warming up by lungeing and cooling off by riding.

 Also, I am able to get Dyna to come to me more quickly without much difficulty. When she was close to me, I rewarded her by petting her, letting her know that it feels good to be by me. Laura doesn't reward everything with treats, but because Dyna doesn't get pushy about it, and since it would help her learn more quickly that being with me feels good, she let me use some. She wanted me to encourage Dyna to come even closer. I asked her to come the way I had before, then showed Dyna a treat. Dyna was a bit cautious(remember it takes her a while to get used to strangers), but I got her to take several steps into me space. She was close enough I could touch her if I reached my arm out. The next day, she came a bit closer. We are certainly making progress on getting to know and trust each other.
The cute BB.

 Wednesday, I rode a mule for the first time! I rode Laura's 1st Level mule, a mare named BB! Since BB has a forward, rhythmic walk, where her body swings, Laura let me ride BB to feel what that felt like. I rode her on a loose rein, at the walk. This was also a great time to work on my equitation because I didn't need to worry about getting a forward, balanced walk. I was also riding without stirrups. I focused on getting my leg long, my body tall, my elbows bent, and hands close together. I also let my hips move with the rhythm, counting one-two as her forelegs went forward.
Cone exerciseI can go left or right after the pole.

 To work on turning with my body, I worked on riding straight over a pole, then between two cones set a distance away, turning my shoulders to get BB to turn and applying outside leg. After heading around the cone, I rode along the side of the arena. When reach the cones where I had started at, I turned around then to head over the pole again. I switched up the direction I went after the pole to change things up.

 It took some practice to get smooth. For example, I needed to think more about preparing before the turn to get it smooth, but at the end of the ride I got a nice turn. It was so fun to ride BB, the first mule I have ever ridden.
What went well:

  • I improved at turning using my body, not relying on my hands
I aslo lunged Lucky, again focusing on keeping her bent to the inside. Laura worked with her a bit too, trying to get Lucky to relax and stretch her neck. When Lucky did it well a few times, Laura ended on that good note.