Sunday, January 27, 2013

Road Box

Just in time for next week's trip north for his Schleese saddle fitting, Sherm is getting himself a road box-- a truck-bed tack box! Sherm's ride is a 2-horse Brenderup Prestige, and the little Sherm Shuttle has no tack room, nor any real good way of storing tack & sundries for travel. Pulled by an open-bed, regular cab Toyota Tundra, the B'upster is a dream to haul, but leaves much to be desired in terms of luggage compartment.

Enter super hubby, and his recent acquisition of a 4.5' by 2' shipping crate. That sucker fits right across the bed of the Tundra, either in front of the wheel wells, behind the cab, or behind the wells, just fore of the tailgate. All she needs is a latching, locking lid and some waterproofing, and we've got ourselves a road box for buckets, bridles, blankets, and beauty supplies!

Sherm supervises.
Super hubby set to work yesterday to make the marvel. With the last sheet of four 4x8' panels of 3/4" plywood he hauled home from a friend's kitchen remodel in the fall (an acquisition I conceded was practical, but a PITA to unload in the cramped, dark front wood shop room of the barn-- sorry honey, I take back every last grumble!), he made a lid yesterday. Using three hinges and one hasp he salvaged from his dad's workshop last weekend, he set about attaching and latching said lid. We did have to invest $30 in screws and additional hasps for the long lid, but $30 is quite a bargain for such a handy gear box! We'll likely varnish it rather than paint it because I am rather a fan of the industrial shipping stenciling on the outside, and that marine-grade varnish will cost us another $15-20, but still, a great price for a great little travel trunk!

Sherm and Lex watch carefully.

Sherm and Lex get bored.

That's for me!  Fill it with goodies!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Deep Freeze

Like most of the upper Midwest and Northeast, we've been dealing with the Arctic weather. Limiting activities to just the basic necessaries, we've hunkered down and muddled through.

Sherm and the gang have done remarkably well, with only full-day confinement one day this week, the rest of the week's turnout being from 4-6 hours in duration. Not bad for as bitter as it has been. Heated water buckets and plenty of extra hay have kept everything running as smoothly as possible.

This morning's temps and forecast-- high of 18 with no significant windchill!-- are the best we've seen since Sunday.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Puddle Practice

Yesterday brought temperatures a good 20 degrees warmer than forecast, so we took the opportunity to get a little riding in before the arrival of today's 30mph winds, not to mention the plummeting temperatures we're expecting.

I had watched a lesson session at noon, and at that time the arena was still coated in the 2" of snow that fell on Wednesday.  By the time I got there at 1:30 with the BBW, nearly all the snow had melted and pooled in the track just inside the rail all the way around.

Awesome! I thought-- puddle practice!  There is an inevitability to the fact that, if Sherman ever leaves this farm for dressage competition, it will be during or just after a monsoon.  There will be puddles at X, and likely in a number of other locations around the arena.  Having come of saddle age during two serious drought years, Sherm hasn't had much practice working through puddles.

On our first five laps, the BBW decided that it would be best if he kept his precious princely feet out of the puddles, so he demonstrated his amazing balance and motor coordination by working between the puddle (a long trough of puddle, really) and the rail.  On both long sides.

It was pretty impressive, really.  That area is a lot narrower than his wheelbase, and I kept nudging him over, but he managed to keep his balance and stay in the dry spot. I did get some pretty good rubs on the outside of my outside calf.  Glad I wasn't wearing my tall boots-- they'd have gotten reasonably scuffed up.  (Though the added leather may have pushed him in better than my floopy leg did...)

When it became clear that he was warmed up and in complete control of his physical faculties, I began to ask more insistently for leg yield in, and he got very good at ignoring me until the narrowest section of puddle-trough, at which point he yielded very large, and was suddenly to the inside of the trough, again on dry land.  Oh, the Boy has mad skilz.

Cannot take photo and yield horse simultaneously.
At the far end of the arena, the puddle was its widest and deepest, so we began to work in and around that puddle, and Boy-o was ridiculously amusing.  If I dropped the reins and let him sniff and paw, he was delighted to be in the puddle.  If I asked him to walk on through it, well, then it was full of horse-eating snakes, and he bulged out of it.

But immediately turned himself around to go again.  What fun!  Would I let him play and paw? Or would I insist he behave and walk on through straight?  Could he figure out a way to get ahead of me at just the last instant? He loved this game!

Eventually, however, he tired of his own games and was walking through the puddles with the usual boredom he expresses when he's decided I'm not going to give up on something he thinks is tedious. So we got in our puddle practice.

A post-ride demonstration that he can stand quietly in a puddle.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Snow Again

Only a couple three inches today, but Sherm got the day off due to my schedule. Same tomorrow, unfortunately. But it's pretty out there.

Monday, January 14, 2013

We Have Steering

Got another fun ride in with Sherm today. The arena is finally clear of snow and ice, and so the footing is good enough, and he's had enough work lately, to start asking for some actual work. It took many, many laps to find our groove, but we did finally find it, and I found his steering.

He is clearly so much more comfortable in the new saddle. He nearly dozed off while I was tacking him up, demonstrating that he's not anxious and fearful of the saddle. That's a big change, I am ashamed to admit. And again when I untracked, he was perfectly happy to be brushed on both sides. I realize now how unhappy he was on the right side, where his big shoulder was sore from being pinched.

It's amazing to have him happy, and we haven't even had the saddle fitted to him yet.

Speaking of, we have a date for the big event-- February 4th! It means a road trip to a barn about 2 hours away, with a stop halfway pick up a friend and her horse, so it'll be a full-on adventure.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Cold, Cold Ride

The sun was deceptively pretty this morning, luring us out for a ride before we realized how wickedly windy it was. Sherm didn't seem nearly as bothered by the cold as I was.

The arena is still full of snow drifts, and is now rife with icy patches where some of that snow has melted and frozen overnight. So, still just walk work, with figures dictated by the footing. But it's really, really good to be in the saddle again.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The View from My Desk

Yes, on the days when I'm home, grading papers or prepping Robert Frost, this is what I look at out my window. It's pretty good.

That's the BBW in the distance, left of the grey mare.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Riding Again

Third day in a row where the weather has cooperated with my schedule enough to allow for some light riding. The arena is still a mess of deep, drifted snow, alternating with bare gravel, which makes it less easy to relax and concentrate on feel, but a friend told me recently that teaching Sherm to go in the snow is a different sort of feather in my cap (or tool in the box, I can't remember the exact metaphor) so I guess we'll take credit for that.

The fantastic news is that the new saddle seems to be suitable for The Bay Boy Wideness. It needs to be adjusted further for his kitchen-table back, but the cut-outs for shoulder relief, and the already-wider-than-previous-saddles 5-finger gullet provide him enough room to move and relax. And, of course, it's short enough. it looks a little like a toy saddle sitting there on his back. He's telling me it's not perfect, but his conversation is a bit more like "Mom, these jeans are too tight..." than the "YOU'RE KILLING ME!" I was getting in October, so I think we can get through the next couple of weeks until we can get it fitted to him.

It is too tight in the withers, so the pommel is high, which means it sits a little unbalanced on him at the moment, so I am being tipped back a bit, but taking that (temporary condition) into consideration, I think I like it well enough.

What I really and truly like is that I have my Sherm back... He is relaxed and non-stressed enough to be his old, goofy, gotta-give-him-a-job-every-minute self. Not taxed by pain, or beginning to shut down on me in resignation, the BBW is full of charm once more. Not that he uses it for good, of course. Not yet, anyway.

Today he decided it was most fun to wade into the crazy-deep snow mounds in the arena, where is was up and over his knees. No idea why he would think that's more fun, but that's him. And it's nice to be back with him.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

What, me worry?

The Schleese

Sherm's new saddle arrived today.

Yes, a new saddle. Well, new to us, anyway.  The story is long. The short version is that I finally realized his saddle didn't fit.  It was both too narrow and too long.  It pinched his shoulders and bumped him in the loins.  He couldn't stride with either his front or his hind legs.  The poor dear boy was very good for a very long time in a saddle that didn't fit.

But finally, in the middle of the fall, he said enough was enough.  He just stopped working.  He would not move out.  He would walk, slowly, and would pick up the first few strides of trot, but would quickly come down into a walk.  

Slower is not Sherm's way.

I asked the trainer; the trainer said bit.  Tried three different bits, with no improvement.

I put him in the cheap-o web surcingle that I bought for my own use, and he went like a dream, longeing and ground-driving like nobody's business.  Put the saddle back on to longe and long-line with the surcingle on top-- meltdown.  Put the treed surcingle from the tack room on him-- catastrophic, explosive meltdown.  Put him back in the web surcingle, happy camper.

And this just skims over the top of the misery he expressed while tacking up. With the web surcingle, he calmed down, but any time I came at him with equipment to put on his back-- very unhappy camper.

He was trying, so hard was he trying, to tell me that it wasn't right.

I finally put the saddle on one more time and climbed up.  During our little bit of walk work, I looked down and realized that the points of this saddle were driving down directly into the middle of the muscle of his back.  Yes, he's chunky, and he needs to lose weight, but losing the weight was never going to change that musculature.  Worse, work to improve that musculature would only make the location of the points worse.

So that saddle was too narrow.  So now what to do?  Wider, wider!

But then I saw this video.

And I realized that the damn thing was also too long.  The saddle crept up his neck, and for as long as I've had it, I've struggled to keep it behind his shoulders.  But each stride of his hind leg was pushing it up his back, over and over.

And the thought of what those tree points were doing to the cartilage of his scapula?  I did, quite literally, break down and weep at what I'd been doing to him.

And then I went back and looked at every picture I have of him with me in the saddle.  And it is clear, now that I'm looking, that he has been in pain every minute of our mounted work together.

But he's such a gamer, so, so happy to work, that he kept on working. Until it hurt too much, and it was clear to him that it wasn't going to stop hurting, and I wasn't going to stop asking.  And then he just stopped moving.

And I finally got it.

I wept.  And I gave him time off.  And I despaired. And then he became a restless booger, so I put him to work on the longe and in the long lines. And that was good, and fun, and he did great at it.

And I thought, well, maybe he's a driving horse.  Maybe there's no hope for a saddle that fits, at least not one on my budget.

And I took a good two and a half months to think about this.

Yes, I want him to drive; yes, he'll be amazing at it. But that takes a team, and it takes more specific facilities/spaces to work in.  And it still takes an investment of monies I don't really have at my disposal right now.  And I have to start over from ground zero in my own education. So, yeah, it's an okay second career for us, and I do want to do it, but this isn't what I'd taken on this youngster for.  I want to ride; I can ride by myself every day of the week.  I can take him a bunch of different places to ride.  I can advance as a rider a bit faster because I've already mastered beginner status; I don't have to start over.

So while I was ready to do what I needed to do to make sure he was happy and healthy and sound, I wasn't so happy myself.

And then he gave a ya-ya on a windy Thanksgiving Day when I was longeing him in the wrong gloves, and I got the ring finger of my left hand yanked, but good.  It swelled to twice its size and stayed that way for several weeks.  Eventually, I had it x-rayed, and there is no break or dislocation, but clearly there is soft-tissue damage that may or may not resolve itself.  It's better, but there's still obviously something wrong with it, and I'll need to see about that.

So then I was neither riding, nor capable of longeing/long-lining.

So I really took some time off.  All I could do was read and surf the web and think hard about where we were to go from here.

And I decided that I wanted to ride.  Really, really, wanted to ride.  And I gave Sherm the credit he deserved for being such a good sport about it under such lousy saddle fit, and I realized that, yeah, he wants to do it, too.

So the research began.  That's 10,000 long stories in and of themselves, and this is already longer than I wanted it to be.  Short version-- with the help of a very good veterinarian and a lot of reading, I've invested in a used Schleese dressage saddle.

It arrived today.  

It's 10 degrees outside with the windchill. The arena is 2-4 feet deep in last week's drifted snows.

So we're not going to work today.  Or probably tomorrow.

But we're going back to work.

I'll write more later about finding Schleese, and the 10,000 fitting/research/financing stories.  And I'll write as well about what happens next.

But for today, I'm just glad there is a next.  For many weeks during my despair, I really wasn't sure there would be.

But I think now there will be, and I think it'll be pretty good.