Sunday, February 28, 2010

Roughout - it's ok to use sandpaper on your saddle!

After our trail ride in the rain yesterday, my tack was in need of a good cleaning.

A few months ago I bought a used Black Rhino Barrel Saddle.

I love the way this saddle fits Grace and it's wonderful to ride in!

See all that shiny smooth leather? That is supposed to be roughout. It was at some point in its past. This saddle was well used and well loved before I bought it. I have been told by several reputable sources that I can bring back the roughout by using sandpaper on the leather. I hadn't done it before today because the idea of taking sandpaper to a leather saddle just freaks me out!

I did it! Started with one side and then the other. I have no idea what I would have done if I didn't like the way the first side turned out. I really like the lighter color of the leather.

I noticed the difference as soon as swung my leg over. I don't think I could have come out of my saddle today if I wanted to!

Did you see my awesome stirrup hobbles? The saddle arrived with only one original stirrup hobble, with a promise to mail me the other one just as soon as it was retrieved from the previous owners Rottweiler. I went ahead and added my own style to the saddle.

So, if you've been holding off on taking sand paper to your roughout leather, never fear.
Just be sure to wear an old pair of jeans the first time you ride in it. I will spare you that picture!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Happy Girls!

This morning I hauled Grace and my blue heeler "Belle" out for a trail ride. There is 8,000 acres of private forest land about 20 minutes from our house. Even in the middle of our muddy winter, the wide logging roads are very rideable. Every time I get out there, I always say I need to get out there more often.

One winter a friend and I were out there almost every weekend. We would meet early for breakfast and then head out to the parking lot at the trail head. I will always remember one morning looking out the window of the restaurant at the horse trailers in the parking lot. There was rain mixed with snow coming down. I think we were both hoping the other would back out on the trail ride, but neither of us were willing to be the chicken. We ended up having the place all to ourselves, from what I remember once we got out there, it wasn't that bad.

This morning it was raining, but it was a light rain. I put on my best rain gear, loaded up the horse and dog and headed out.

We were early enough to get a good parking spot at the trail head. Getting a good parking spot is easier when its raining.

Belle is saying "Hurry up! Let's go!

Belle and Grace have somewhat of a love/hate relationship. Grace will act like she can't stand the dog, but when Belle gets distracted and falls behind on the ride, Grace will stop and look back for her. I think Grace prefers to have Belle in front, that way if we run into any predators, they will eat Belle first! Grace very rarely spooks at anything. Every once in a while we will come across something that she just can't figure out, so she will stop to look at it before going past. If I want her to keep going all I have to do is send the dog out in front. Grace will then walk past the horse eating bolder, bush or turned over leaf, like "I never had a problem with it, jeez!" She will not be one upped by a mere dog.

Belle never got the memo that she is not a water dog. She loves to wallow in mud puddles like a little pig. Today there were tons of puddles out there for her to play in.

Grace wanted you to see that she had no problem crossing mud puddles either.

Here she is crossing a creek. No hesitation, she jogged up to it the second time we crossed. I had to tell her to slow down.

There's my happy dog in the water again!

Today was Belle's first big trail ride since she went blind a few weeks ago.

She can see today, her vision is 100%. I had paste wormed Grace with Ivermectin and Belle got into it the next morning. I'm still not sure if she got it from eating fresh poop, or if there was a small about of Ivermectin on the ground that I did not see. That afternoon she was blind and was having trouble walking. I rushed her off to the vet. I was told she would regain her vision in a few weeks. It only took 3 days. Even when she couldn't see, she was a happy dog.

"Who's Blog is this??"

Oh, sorry Grace! Back to you!

Grace loves going out on the trails. It's a nice break from all the arena work we do. She has no idea that I actually get some training done while we are out there. I use the wide roads for side passing and moving her shoulders and hips. I use the trails for building her wind up so she can run barrels. Today we took it easy, Grace is pretty fit for February, but Belle is still a little portly.

We did lope a little and as we were coming around a corner we found this:

I fully expect to see areas of cleaning in a private forest land. Grace seemed really surprised. She kept stopping and looking at the piles of brush and trees. She may have been a little disorientated, I know I was. I had to keep checking that we were on the correct trail. The surroundings had completely changed since I was on that same trail last summer.

We found our way out of the cleared land and headed back towards the trailer.
Just in time for the rain to stop and the sun to come out!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

I lost my fear in step class

Sarah has always recommended that I take up running. I hate running! Unless I am being chased by something that is planning to make me its dinner, I have no ambition to run anywhere at anytime! My body issues stem from my left hip. I had a bad fall when I was 11. It never really healed and I reinjured it in a fall when I was 19. Thankfully after that fall I discovered chiropractic. The chiropractor told me that my hip was most likely first put out of place the day I was born. Since I was no longer in pain, I didn’t think my hip could still be an issue. Sarah pointed out that I had been compensating for as long as I had been riding, so I had a twist in my body that my horses had to absorb. Running would help me loosen up the hip and help me get rebalanced. I haven’t taken up running, but what I have done in the last few months is started a step class. I have been working out at a gym on a regular basis for over a year now. I mainly do weight lifting, but have been able to avoid cardio. This step class has changed that!

The class is very fast paced, the steps change so quickly that I don’t have time to whine about being out of breath and sweaty. It’s as much as a mental workout as it is physical. The first time we had to across the step at speed, a very familiar feeling crept over my body. FEAR! It was the exact same fear I have felt in the saddle every day since my first pony bucked me off. My brain knows that I am not going to die in step class; just like in my mind I know that Grace is not going to hurt me. She is nothing like the rank half wild horses I grew up clinging onto. My body is full of fear; I feel it every time I ask my horse to lope. My body stiffens, my left hip locks, my feet jam down in the stirrups, and there is air between my butt and the saddle. And still I ride, I run barrels, I ride on a rodeo flag team, I just accept that I will not be the prettiest rider in the arena. So here it was, that exact same feeling only this time I was only 6 inches off the ground. I took a deep breath and jumped back up on the step, I kept an eye on the instructor’s feet. I mimicked her movements. At the end of the first class my body and brain were pushed to exhaustion, and I couldn’t wait to do it again.

Within a week of starting step class I could feel things changing in the saddle. Something was missing. I was more relaxed and balanced. My reins were longer, I didn’t seem to need to use my hands as much. Grace was responding to my body and I could feel her subtle movements underneath me. Fear is missing, and I have not missed it at all! Just last week I was riding Grace in the arena closest to the house. As we were loping a big circle on a very long rein, my dog took off across the arena when she heard my husband driving up the driveway. Grace decided she wanted in on some of the excitement, so she leapt up in the air and threw in a few crow hops for good measure. I jammed by left leg down into my stirrup and was immediately aware that my girth was loose. Within the next few seconds I became very grateful for two things. First the very good “Whoa” that was put on my mare when she was first broke. I just said the word and Grace stopped, just in time for me to switch my weight to the right and center my saddle. Second, the decision I made in the last year to start wearing a helmet for every ride. I consider Grace to be a very safe, very broke horse. I have only come off her back twice in the 9 ½ years that I have owned her, but at the end of the day she is a horse, and I am rather attached to my brain. I loped a few more strides after righting myself, I knew that jamming my left leg down was a body fear habit. I was worried that it was back and that my new confidence in the saddle was short lived. My hip relaxed as Grace loped on, within 5 strides I knew I hadn’t lost any ground, and it was time to get off and tighten my girth.

Mirror Image Part 1

My trainer Sarah has been telling me for years that Grace’s body issues directly correspond to my physical issues. In other words, any lameness or stiffness in Grace’s body is because of a stiffness or holding in my body. I have only begun to truly accept this in the last 6 months.

Several years ago Grace started coughing while I was riding her, usually when I would ask her for the left lead. The left lead had always been a challenge for her; actually all of my horses have had trouble with the left lead (clue #1?). I hauled her into the local vet clinic to get the cough diagnosed. Grace would not cough for the vet. We even turned her out in a dusty round pen. When the vet saw her lope in the round pen, he asked my permission to turn the visit into a lameness exam. He was very concerned about her left hind leg. He did a flexion test, x-rayed her left hock and blocked it. I stood behind him when he slapped the x-ray up on the viewer. He flipped the switch for the fluorescent light, stepped back and said “WHOA!” That is never what you want to hear your vet say when looking at an x-ray. He said Grace’s hock was full of arthritis and if he didn’t know better he would have thought it was the hock of a 26 year old horse that had worked hard all its life. She was only 9 at the time. He injected her hock that day.

My head was spinning with questions, none of which the vet really answered. As I hauled Grace home, all I could think of was how she had been in pain for all this time and I had no idea. I felt like the worst horse owner on the planet. When Bailey was lame, he would tell me loud and clear. Grace just keeps trucking on, doing anything she can to make me happy. I called Sarah right away. She has an amazing background in rehabbing horses. She told me that bone is living tissue and it can be remolded. This was no death sentence for my horse, but it would change the way I would ride forever. She offered to take Grace for 90 days, if I would follow her program.

One of the first things Sarah told me was that my imbalance had contributed to Grace’s hock. I did not want to hear that. It also was not the first time she had said it. We were boarding at a reining barn together a few years prior. I had started doing some reining maneuvers on Grace. She loved flying changes, sliding stops and spins. To this day if I start to lope circles on her she anticipates a flying change in the middle of the arena. Sarah told me then that I had a lot of buttons on my horse but needed to go back and put on more foundation. I was having fun running my horse into the ground so I didn’t listen. Now I had to listen. I no longer cared if we competed at anything ever again; I just wanted my mare to be sound. I was ready to learn, again.

90 days turned into 9 months. Not only was Grace sound at the end she was more broke and a real pleasure to ride. Sarah changed the way I rode. I describe Grace to my friends as a high maintenance horse. She is not one to throw an ill fitting saddle on and go for a high headed gallop on, unless I want to pay for it with weeks of lameness. There is a process of warming her up, making sure she is lifting her back and using her hind end. She needs to be supple in her face and using her rib cage in her turns. Grace has helped me change from someone who rides horses into someone who is a horseman. Honestly I think all horses need to be ridden the way I ride Grace. I am lucky in that she is very sensitive. I never get away with cutting corners.

You have been forewarned

I apologize for ignoring this blog for almost 3 months. I read a lot of blogs and the one thing that irritates me is when the blogger doesn't continually write. I started a new job in November and it has sucked the life out of me. While I love the fast pace and enjoy feeling my blood pressure spike several times in an 8 hour day, the creative side of my brain has been on hiatus. I need to write this blog more than you need to read it. So, from here on out it might not make any sense and there will be lots of jumping back and forth from past and present. I didn't know where to go. I wanted to keep telling you the story of when I first met Grace and how our relationship grew to where it is today, but then I would have to wait on sharing with you the things that are burning inside of me right now. You have been forewarned, proceed to read at your own risk!