Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Chia Seeds - for Horses and Humans

Sarah told me during Saturday’s lesson that she would like me to add Chia seed to Grace’s diet. I had to agree with her when she pointed out that Grace is looking a little “waspy”. No ribs are showing and she looks good but she has a waistline. Grace’s coat is also not a shiny as it could be – this happens every spring, the winter coat is almost ready to let go, but not quite. The result is a fluffy washed out coat especially on her neck. Sarah explained that Chia seed are a great source of omega 3 and omega 6 plus they form a gel in the stomach which helps with ulcers. While I don’t have veterinary evidence that Grace has ulcers I do know that spring is the hardest season for her. The weather is warm and sunny one day, cold, wet and nasty the next day. I’ve noticed some of the old symptoms crop back up when I treated Grace for ulcers in the past; gaping her mouth before her morning feeding and more touchy when I first start to brush her. I’ve put her back on Dynamite Miracle Clay last week which has done wonders in the past, chia seeds sound like the perfect addition.

My feeding program was adopted from the woman I bought Grace from and by advice from Sarah. Whenever I take advice from a fellow horseperson I always look at their horse’s first. If I like what I see I am more inclined to consider their advice. When I met Penny’s horses, many of which had not been worked in several years I had to ask her what she was doing. Her horses were beautiful, vibrant, shiny and all seemed to have good muscle tone. She pointed out that it wasn’t what she did as much as what she did not do. She didn’t feed her horses anything that she would not mind eating herself. You know that feeling when you come across a really nice bale of hay – one that is so good and clean that you could eat it yourself? That is what she was talking about. She fed her horses the best quality clean hay (Eastern Washington orchard grass) she could buy, dry C.O.B. (no fillers or molasses to cover it up) and top quality chelated supplements as needed (Dynamite products). I’ve tried feeding Grace locally grown hay from Western Washington and it just never works out. She either leaves most of it behind or starts coughing from the local molds. The local hay looks nice and clean, but it never truly dries out enough like the hay from the East side does. The Eastern Washington hay costs more, but in the end she wastes less, doesn’t cough and looks better. I’ve also fed her dry C.O.B and Dynamite supplements for years now. Just like Penny everything in Grace’s diet is food I wouldn’t mind eating myself.

This brings me back to the chia seeds. After researching the benefits for both humans and equines I decided to try them myself. For the last three days I’ve added a tablespoon to yogurt twice a day. The first result I noticed was an almost instant change in my skin. The skin on my face tends to be very acidic and sensitive to everything. Just looking at makes it red and blotchy. On the first day I could feel my skin loosen up and become softer. With each day it is more hydrated and even smoother. Today I cannot stop touching my hair. It feels like silk, I can feel the oils from the root to the tip and I haven’t changed any of my hair care products. I swear I can breathe better today, which is odd because I had no idea that I wasn’t breathing well. And the BEST part – I’m not hungry at all. I just picked up a green salad for lunch and I’m not sure if I will be able to finish it. My blood sugar levels have never been this steady, I usually crave chocolate and sweets throughout the day especially when I get home. I’ve had zero interest in sweets for the last two days and I seem to actually want to drink water during the day.

I’m now looking for the best price for organic chia seeds online – it looks like if I purchase 25 pounds I can bring my per pound price from over $9.00 closer to $7.00. Grace is eating 2 ounces a day and I seem to be holding steady at 2-3 tablespoons a day. I wonder what else she's eating that I could benefit from?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Things my Trainer Already Knows

I think I am finally starting to figure Grace out under saddle. It’s only taken 10 years but I am starting to finally feel some of the things that Sarah has been telling me all this time. The difference is now that I am getting my body balanced I can “feel” what it is she was talking about. This discovery like any other that I make with this horse brings me back to the chicken and egg question. Are Grace’s issues a direct result of my imbalance? Are my imbalances a result of Grace’s issues? Is it a combination of the two of us feeding off each other’s imbalances? Here are things that I discovered in the last 2 weeks that my trainer has told me countless times in the past:

1.       Grace’s reaction to pressure is to suck back and slow down. She does this when I ask her to move her hip, her shoulder or her ribcage; she does it in upward transitions. If I don’t correct it she drops her back and dumps her shoulder making the upward transition or lateral movement just downright ugly. I’ve spent entire rides in the last week just working to keep her at one steady pace no matter what I was asking of her. I’d like to tell you she is a lazy horse and is doing it to get out of work, but I can’t help but look at the fact that for years anytime I was under pressure in the saddle I froze, locked my body down and didn’t move. Kind of like a human form of sucking back. Coincidence? – I think not. The good news is that it has only taken a few rides to reprogram the two of us. The right shoulder and left hock issues seem to resolve on their own. It is amazing how nice she moves when I keep my body moving.

2.         Grace has never been taught to just sit and chill. I really want to compete in trail class with this horse, but I get frustrated when she lifts her head, drops her back and takes over on course. We started to get it at the practice show so I wanted to build on that. When it was time to give her a breather tonight I parked her in between some poles to get ready to side pass them. I asked her just to sit there for a minute or two. You would have thought the world had ended. She lifted her head, I asked her to put it down, she lifted her head, I asked her to put it down, repeat. She pawed at the pole, I asked her to stand. She spooked at something in the woods, I asked her to stand with her head down. She tuned into the horses next door, I asked her to stand with her head down. ONLY when she stood still and relaxed did I even think of side passing the pole. Even then it was a step at a time, correct her head, ask her to stand and continue again. After 10 minutes we went back to work in another part of the arena and started the process all over again when it was time for a breather. It did get easier with time and she started to become a horse I would like to sit on at a show. Guess what we will be doing for the next few weeks?

3.       Everything I do in the saddle affects the movement of my horse. If there was one thing that I took away from our Yoga for Equestrians classes it was using the placement of my belly to establish my center of gravity. When we were learning a new movement we were told to put our bellies in the space first and out bodies would follow. I started playing with this under saddle. These are small movements, almost more of an awareness of where my center is and I am just amazed by how little control I had of it. Turns out most of the time my belly is trying to throw itself at my horse’s ears. This throws all of my weight onto her front end; no wonder I couldn’t get her to free up her right shoulder. I have again spent entire rides in the last week focused on my belly. I visualized it sitting on my horse’s hocks. Big surprise my lower back softens when I do that and my horse starts to sit on her hind end. I can side pass and half pass my horse with ease when I think of leading the movement with my belly.

As much as I appreciate the discovery process and amazing journey I’ve taken with Grace, I really look forward to the day that it all comes together and I have something to show for it. Here’s hoping that it comes sooner than later.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Lessons from a Non-Horse Show Day Two

I climbed off Grace at 8:00pm Saturday night at the show grounds. I had been on her since 5:00pm – 3 hours. We spent most of that time walking, jogging, bending, and staying in our bubble. My goal was to get her on the ground without making her sore. As I wrapped her legs in standing wraps for the night, I had hoped I hadn’t pushed too hard. I have been accused more than once of being too nice to my mare. I still tend to think that she is made of glass and worry that if I ask too much she will break underneath me. I’ve caused her to be lame in the past and carry a certain amount of guilt with me; I’ve always trying to find that line of being too nice and pushing too hard. One thing that has been made very clear to me over the winter; in order to keep Grace sound I MUST insist that she carry herself correctly. This requires me to be less of a passenger and more of an active rider. I had this in mind during my 3 hours in the saddle on Saturday night.

I was up early to feed on Sunday; trail was running from 7:00am – 9:00am so I was sure to be in the barn by 6:00am. Even at that early hour the show grounds were awake with the lunging areas full of activity. I was greeted by a chorus of nickers when I slid open the door to our aisle way.  Grace was covered in shavings which is always a good sign when sleeping away from home. After feeding and cleaning I had just enough time to make sure I ate before tacking up for trail. On the way to the arena Grace was noticeably more on the ground; I was able to keep her on a loose rein; she could care less about the increasing amount of activity around us. During our warm up I found that Grace was right where I had ended our ride the night before, I had control of her body and all the tension I am usually greeted with in a show setting was gone. Sarah said it was the best she had ever seen Grace come out of a stall; she was sound and moving up from behind. When we loped off I was blown away by the quality of the gait, after a few circles I stopped and told Sarah that we should just load up and go home now, it wasn’t going to get any better than that.

We finished our warm up with a few lope overs in each direction before getting in line for the trail course. I reminded myself that this was a practice show – it wasn’t even judged which meant I could and should take my time. I watched the person in front of me reschool obstacles during her run as her trainer instructed her to. This was more confirmation that I needed to take my time and school. The course started with walking through a box of poles with smaller boxes inside of it. I asked Grace to wait and take her time over the poles. The poles lined us up with the first bridge, where I once again asked Grace to take her time. She rewarded me again by looking at the bridge and staying slow over the raised pole and repeating the same performance over the second bridge. Lope overs were next so I stood and gathered myself. The lope wasn’t the same quality that it was in the warm up, but only because I had become tight in my lower back and was sticking my inside leg out. I circled the lope overs until I could get my act together. While I was frustrated at my tension I was pleased that I was finally aware of it. We went onto the jog overs which circled back and became lope overs to the left. We were both a little amped up after the lope so I had Grace stand for a few seconds before proceeding to the gate. The gate was a non-event; I did make a mental note that I want to work asking to keep her head down at home while we work the gate. The course ended with a back through, 360 and then walking out over a raised pole. While we have a long way to go to even look like the breed show caliber teams, this was by far our best trail class to date.

The rest of the day included a walk jog pleasure class, horsemanship patterns and western riding. The walk jog class went well; I was able to stay in my bubble in a very full class. There was another break before the horsemanship classes. I like many of the other riders signed up for an all-day fee allowing us to ride each pattern twice. Adding that to the schooling atmosphere made for long waits in between runs. I was stuck between wanting to keep Grace moving and not losing my place in line. After the first go on my second pattern I realized that the standing was not working for Grace, she had become cranky and was starting to act up throughout the pattern. At Sarah’s suggestion we went back to the warm up ring to get her back into her body. She settled right away and gave me control of her hip and shoulder. I could tell she was tired and I had a decision to make. We still had one more pattern run and 2 western riding classes to go. I know I need a fresher horse for Western Riding; I need her on the ground, but ready for lead changes. I also want it to be a class that she enjoys; the last thing I wanted was a bad experience in that class. I talked it over with Sarah and decided to end the day after our last horsemanship pattern, skipping western riding all together. In our horsemanship pattern Grace acted up at the cone when we started so I circled her back around it and loped off from there. The pattern was much better from there; I was able to let the reins out after the lope allowing Grace to settle into the jog. I left the arena incredibly appreciative for the opportunity to school my horse at a show the she didn’t know wasn’t a show.

I left the weekend with a list of lessons. Number one is to take the time to make sure both my horse and I are in the correct body position before proceeding. Sarah and I also discussed the need to get Grace stronger over the next few months. I’ve been riding her 5 -6 days a week over the winter but she still needs to be stronger in her hind end. Sarah has prescribed hill work at the lope and riding twice a day on the weekends. Our rides this week have only gotten better with each one. This is exactly where I want to be in March going into a show season.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Non –Show Horse Show = Great Learning Experience Day One

Grace and I attended a “practice” show put on by a local AQHA affiliate last weekend. I was on the fence about attending the show when Sarah first mentioned it. It was presented as an opportunity to practice patterns in a show environment at a premier facility. Sarah also wanted us to take the time to watch the other riders work their patterns.  That sounded good, but I found myself intimidated at the idea of riding in the same show pen as breed show caliber riders. Which is all the more reason that I needed to attend, this would give me the chance to get over myself in a no pressure setting.  The show offered Trail along with a schooling session the night before. Trail is quickly becoming my favorite class, but I still had no intention of riding it, again in fear that I would embarrass myself in that company.

After settling into the show grounds we walked over to the trail pattern to check it out. Sarah told me that it was the same as the patterns that I’ve been riding all winter, only prettier. It had 2 bridges with a raised pole in between them, 2 sets of lope overs, gate with a pole under it and lots of other poles in various configurations. Still, I was intrigued by the smooth flow of the layout and the two bridges were more than tempting so I signed up to school it that night, still with no intention of riding it the next day.

Grace came out of the barn a little more animated that I like to see her at a show, when we warmed up in the main covered show ring with all the other horses she just wouldn’t connect with me. We’ve been doing a lot of lateral work at home for body control and now I had no body control at all it was like she was on vacation somewhere. Oh wait – I tend to check out in those situations, maybe I was the one on vacation. Sarah suggested that we head over to the trail arena to play on the poles. Grace was more settled in the trail arena and once we started working over poles she started to come back to earth. Oh wait – maybe that was me that finally settled down. When we started to work the bridge Grace stormed over it in her usual fashion. Sarah had me take her back to the beginning and take my time at the bridge. This is something I had wanted to work with her on; I had no clue how to get Grace to drop her head to “look” at the bridge. We stood at the base of the bridge for several minutes. Grace kept placing her front hoof on the bridge anxious to get over it. Sarah had me wait and ask Grace to drop her head, finally she relaxed, took a breath, dropped her head and looked at the bridge! She then walked across it with her head down like she was analyzing each speck of dirt left behind by the other horses. This was the very first time she had ever taken a bridge this nice, it was also the very first time I had ever really taken my time with her at a bridge. I had always just accepted the idea that she went over trail bridges, but had never thought to ask her to actually “work” the obstacle. Onto the lope overs Sarah reminded me that I had to use my legs to control Grace’s body, I had gone back to sticking my inside leg out in front of me at the lope. As soon as I changed my leg position Grace’s lope completely changed underneath me. We then went over the lope overs and what do you know – she hit the timing perfectly. It turns out that I actually have to show up and ride at these things! After we finished schooling trail Sarah had me take Grace back into the main arena with an order to ride her the same way that I did in trail. There was still a lot going on, people working the rail while groups worked patterns in the middle. I focused on staying in my bubble and riding every stride. Maybe for the first time ever Grace looked to me for direction in the pen, or maybe for the first time ever I showed up and decided to be a leader.