Thursday, December 31, 2009

ok, I'm ready for summer now.

I brought work home with me last night to do so that I could ride this morning. Lucy was pretty strong but I am not surprised. The last time she was ridden was Saturday, by G (I paid her for a training ride so that Lucy didn't sit the whole time I was in NY). Then on Monday we did our little lunging thing with the crossrail, and yesterday we went on a low-key walk around the neighbourhood. All together, not really a big workout schedule for a former racehorse.

I got some nice trot work out of her, and we practiced coming into the contact and then going on the buckle, then coming back into the contact. She did a nice job with this. We cantered, but it was kind of a disaster. She more or less careened around the ring at mach 3. The paddocks are so hard and icy that I doubt she really moves around at all when she's turned out. I would have liked to let her run around the indoor before getting on, but the barn was buzzing this morning. By the time I finished riding, there were four horses being ridden! It was great having people around at the barn to ride with!

It started snowing while I was riding, and by the time I left the barn, the roads were a collective disaster. On my way home from the barn I witnessed multiple accidents, my car slid right through an intersection even with the anti-lock brakes working overtime (and I was going no more than 15 mph), and I didn't see a single plow. LOVELY!

Here is my friend Devon giving some love to another one of the OTTB mares at the barn, Lexi. Lexi and Lucy came off the track around the same time.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Lucy-related art!

I work full-time as a graphic designer and do pet portraits on the side. I got a new drawing table for Christmas and decided to break it in tonight and do a little drawing of Lucy.

You can read more about my art at my Polar Square Designs blog.

You know it's officially winter when 35 degrees feels warm!

It was 35 degrees today (practically tropical!) and I left work a bit early to get to the barn when it was still light out. I took L for a walk in-hand, just down the street and around the development that is right next to the barn. She was very curious about everything but remained level-headed the whole time. A huge dump truck passed us and she looked at it but didn't seem freaked out. I hope she is as brave when I'm riding her, and not leading her!

I used my yellow polo wraps (which looked fab on her) and I wore my bright orange reflective vest so that cars could see us really well. I like that the barn is in a residential area-all of the cars that passed us today slowed down almost to a crawl while going past. A runner joked "usually you see people walking their dog around here, not a horse!" as he ran by us :)

The ground is really hard right now, as you can see in the photos of the outdoor. Lucy sure uses her brain in situations like that. Usually when I turn her out in the outdoor, she waits patiently until I unclip the leadrope, then happily takes a quick lap around the ring. Today, however, she gingerly tip-toed around the edge, avoiding most of the ice.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

pile of poles

After not seeing her since Wednesday, I went to the barn after work yesterday all excited to see Lucy and ride. Unfortunately no one else was around, so I had to keep it to ground work and a bit of lunging.

After Lucy had warmed up properly in the indoor, I set up some poles to lunge her over. She did great. It took a few times through for her to figure out that she didn't have to do anything special with her feet except trot through them. She tried to adjust her stride at first, and ended up stepping on the poles. Once she relaxed and went through normally, she was fine, because I had already spaced the poles out to match her stride.

She went through at the trot and canter and seemed quite chill about the whole idea, so I decided to set up the teenciest of crossrails for her. Of course that meant I had to set up a jump chute, so I spent 20 minutes lugging standards and poles across the arena, much to Lucy's entertainment. She kind of just stood there and watched me, probably wondering what on earth I was doing!

The crossrail that I set up was literally less than 6" off the ground, but Lucy was quite unsure about it. I led her over both directions. She'd walk up to it beside me and stop just before stepping over it. She'd look at the poles, then look up at me, then look at the poles again, like, "so do I really need to step over this thing?" but then she'd proceed over the poles and immediately come back to me for lots of pats and happy sing-song-voice praise.

I asked her to trot over the x-rail twice, and then she cantered over it once in each direction, and then we were done! I was expecting a giant leap over the "jump" at the canter, but she didn't seem concerned at all, and it was really nothing more than a normal canter stride. What a good horse.

Tonight Kenny is coming with me to the barn, and I think there will be a bunch of other people there because Tuesday is usually quite busy there for some reason. I am hoping to have a couple of really nice canters and maybe get some on video if Kenny is feeling cooperative ;)

Edit-we'll go to the barn another time. It is just way too cold tonight!

Friday, December 25, 2009


Merry Christmas, everyone.

I celebrated Christmas with my own family last weekend, and today I am on Long Island, New York with my fiance to celebrate Christmas with his family. Lucy will be enjoying a lovely Christmas mash for dinner tonight thanks to the wonderful people I do the co-op program with at my barn. All the horses are privately owned, but we feel as though they're all our "babies" and spoil them accordingly. Thank you to all the other boarders at my barn who have welcomed Kenny, Lucy, and I so warmly!

Santa was very generous this year, and I can't wait to get back to RI to put the new nameplate I got onto Lucy's halter. I also got a gorgeous drawing table that I have been wanting for a while :D, along with some warm clothes and a great book about equine massage.

Never would I have thought this time last year that I'd have my own horse after years of dreaming about it. Here are a few things I am thankful for:

I am so thankful to have an amazing mare. After having Lucy in my life for less than two months, I couldn't ask for a better horse. If you've been reading this blog for a while, you already know I am head over heels for Lucy, but I truly cannot believe how lucky I am to have found her.

I am also thankful to have a family who supports my horse addiction, even if they think I'm nuts! I was so touched that my parents took a whole day to come meet their grandpony.

Kenny, my fiance, has been so amazing and supportive. I feel so complete with him and Lucy, like we're a little family (we'll eventually add human kids to the mix, but not for a while!!). He helps me with the barn when it's my day to do stalls, and I know he adores our pony just as much as I do! To top it all off, he is a pretty good rider!!

I hope everyone has a safe and happy holiday, surrounded by those they love. Give your ponies a kiss for me!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

fences: just a suggestion

Lucy had an absent-brain moment yesterday. I turned her out in the outdoor to let her play in the snow, thinking she'd want to run around because for some reason all the horses were left in yesterday. She galloped around once, then came back to the fence line, and attempted to JUMP over the fence, but without really picking up her front end. She scraped up her front legs above the knee and had some small abrasions, but I just left them alone because everything seemed superficial. She actually scared me big time because after it happened, she stood with her RH leg up in the air, not wanting to put any weight on it, but after I had a thorough inspection, I decided she was just being a loon, and there was absolutely nothing wrong with her hind legs. There wasn't any major damage and she trotted out sound...thank God! I hope that doesn't happen again.

I also hope she doesn't plan on going around a jumper/xc course without picking up her front end in the future!

I had a FABULOUS ride after I made sure she wasn't broken from her battle with the fence. I spent about twenty minutes just at the walk, getting her moving off my leg and asking her to bend just enough that I could see the corner of her inside eye. Then we picked up the trot, and executed some lovely sweeping figure 8's and serpentines. I let her trot on a loose rein first, and she seemed to appreciate the opportunity to move out a bit. She was still very much in control of herself, and there were no theatrics, and I was impressed that she listened to me even on the buckle. After she was moving really nicely through her back and hips, I let her walk for a few minutes and then picked up the contact a bit. We worked through some leg yields and lots of changes of direction, and she got tonnes of positive reinforcement. Every time I felt her relax through her back, I'd say in a sing-song voice, "Good GIRL!!!!!!" and give her a huge pat with my inside hand, and make a big fuss over how wonderful she was being. She is just the cutest thing...whenever she gets praise, she chews on her bit and pricks her ears and just acts so happy. I love this horse!

Once she was going really well at the trot, I asked for the canter. The trick is not to ask for a canter until the trot is exactly what I want it to be, and that way I will get a nice forward but relaxed canter. The first time she picked it up we were going to the left, and she kind of exploded into the canter because she wasn't quite ready for it yet. I asked her to transition back down to the trot and I got her back together, and then we picked up the canter from a much better spot and it was beautiful. We cantered BOTH directions and it was just so amazing. She was fluid, not rushing, collected, happy, and IN CONTROL! WOOHOO!!!!! :D I was totally excited.

Here are some photos of her playing before she decided the fence was in her way. I'm sorry they're a bit dark-the sun was just about to set.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Hello, are you there?

Lucy has progressed so much since I decided to start riding her like she's a horse, not a china tea cup that might crack if I squeeze it. She is learning about contact through my seat, legs, and hands, and she is taking everything in stride.

Here's a video from a few nights ago.

She is starting to be able to maintain a slight bend, and she is learning to give to pressure, whether it be through the bit or off my leg.

The past two weeks have been very hectic with Christmas fast approaching, and deadlines looming for me at work. Last night I was exhausted but I decided I needed to at least have a horsey cuddle, so I went to the barn. No one else was around so I did not ride, but I brushed her while she munched her hay, put her blanket back on, and then sat next to her hay pile in her stall and just enjoyed being next to her. I think she was kind of confused about what I was doing, but at one point maybe she thought I wanted to share her dinner(??) and she took a huge mouthful of hay, moved her head so that it was over my head, and dropped all of the hay right on top of me like "here, mom, have some yummy hay!" I was like, well thank you darling.

Then I went shopping and got all sorts of weird looks, and of course when I got home I discovered that I had a giant piece of hay sticking right up out of my hair like Alfalfa in the Little Rascals, when I thought I had gotten all of it off me.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


As a refresher, this is what Lucy looked like when she walked off the shipper's trailer on November 8th with a BCS of 2.5 according to the vet who did the PPE for me:

All of her ribs were visible, her hind quarters were sunken in with her tailhead quite prominent, the fleshy part above her eyes were sunken in, she had no extra fat on her whatsoever, and the bone structure of her shoulders was clearly visible.

After five weeks and two days, this is what she looks like:

I would say she's at a 3.5 or 4. She is starting to build up muscle and fat along her withers and barrel, her top line is rising, her hind quarters are filling out and gaining some muscle definition, and her shoulders are starting to bulk up enough that you can no longer clearly see the bone structure.

She still has a lot of weight to gain, but she is looking MUCH better. I am really happy with her response to the feed plan we developed for her. She is on a fairly high fat but low protein diet, with lots of hay. She eats a complete feed and hay stretcher, and also gets corn oil, which is very high in fat.

Lucy got her feet trimmed and shoes re-set today and everything looks fantastic with them. She actually had some decent growth over the past five weeks. She is on a hoof health supplement and I'm sure that has helped a lot.

Monday, December 14, 2009

baby steps

Having a young, green horse really makes me appreciate the small stuff. Tonight's ride was 75% walk, 20% trot, and 5% halting and I loved every second of it.

Lucy started out with a bit of resistance to my attempts at establishing some form of contact. In order to evade the contact, she tried trotting. She tried wiggling. She tried halting. Eventually she realized it would be easier just to at least try this contact thing out, you know, give it a spin, and that's exactly what she did.

We had a kick ass little bend going, and she had a few really nice moments of really giving through her back. I could feel her top line rising under me when she really accepted the contact and relaxed through her jaw. After fifteen minutes, she was almost looking for it. I would ask her for the contact and go through a few serpentines/changes of direction/etc and then as a reward, she got to walk on a long rein for a few minutes. It got progressively easier to pick her back up and get her "together" (well, as together as you want a horse to be at this point). I asked her to move sideways off my leg, and once she got the idea, we put it together with going across the diagonal, and wah-lah! We had a leg yield. We had attempted that during our lesson with Gina the other night, but our first few tries were pretty unorganized and messy (which was fine!). I was really impressed that she figured it out so quickly, and of course she got lots of praise and stretchy walk on a long rein for a job well done.

I had to continuously run through my position checklist in my head. I started at my eyes and went all the way down to my toes. Was I looking where I wanted to go? Were my shoulders open? Was I sitting tall? Was I posting properly? Was I staying relaxed through my hips and not pinching with my knees? Were my legs underneath me?

This seems like pretty standard stuff, especially for someone who has been riding for a long time like me, but my position has gone off the deep end lately. It turns out that when all my ducks are in a row (i.e. heels, hips, and shoulders), Lucy goes very nicely. If she got fighty and quick, I ran through my checklist and the problem was usually that I was hunched over, or balancing off my knees, or something equally horrendous.

After she was going nicely at the walk, we did some nice stretchy trot work and gradually I asked her to come into the contact at the trot. She did really well!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Indoor = giant playpen

I was not motivated to ride at all last night, so instead I let Lucy play in the indoor. She had a blast! I figured she needed to move a bit since it has been so cold and icy, and the paddocks don't lend themselves to lots of playing.

I think she enjoyed herself, how about you? :)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

happy medium=happy horse=happy rider!

I went to the barn tonight hoping that someone else would be around so that I could ride. I was in luck! I tacked Lucy up and we warmed up. G, the trainer at the barn, was finishing up another lesson, and I mentioned that I really wanted to set up a lesson with her. It turned out that she had time right that instant to teach a lesson!

I looooooooooooooove her teaching style. She is concise, eloquent, doesn't hound you with a million instructions to think about all at once, and builds on skills as the lesson progresses. She has a background in eventing and her style is kind of a cross between dressage and hunt seat. She talked a lot about me getting my pelvis under me instead of sticking my butt out (aka the cursed hunter perch, which I didn't even think I did that badly but after riding tonight I realize it was actually pretty bad!). She let me ride Lucy in a training martingale that she has, which really helped encourage her to travel straight through her shoulders. We started simple, with just walking and asking Lucy to lift her rib cage/spine into my seat, instead of traveling around hollowed out. I had to remember how to use my leg to support, not just as a "speed up" tool. I have also gotten into the terrible habit of hunching through my shoulders and bracing against Lucy. If she got quick, my response has turned into me leaning back, sticking my legs out in front of me, and bracing my entire body, all BIG no-no's! The saddest part about the whole thing is that until G was telling me how I should be sitting, I didn't even realize that I was doing any of that! Sitting properly felt like heaven. My whole upper body and thoracic spine was practically sighing with relief because it could move and not be so tight and rigid all the time!

We progressed into the trot, and did lots of spirals, both downwards and upwards. I had to concentrate on using my inside hand and outside leg as "walls" on the downward spirals, and my outside hand and inside leg as the walls on the upwards spirals. We did spirals in both directions at both ends of the arena, with periods of relaxed walking on a loose rein between them. I noticed a huge difference after finishing the spirals in the way she traveled down the straight sides of the arena. She felt so loose and swingy and wasn't trying to bulge at all. It was SO NICE!!!

We did some exercises like beginnings of leg yield and shoulder fore to get Lucy used to leg not being the enemy. We worked on an instant reward system: as soon as Lucy did what we were asking, she got one whole lap of long rein and lots of attention and pats. She did her little wiggly maneuvers here and there (and at one point tried to run right out the door to the arena and almost ran over someone who was watching the lesson!) but I was glad she was pulling her usual tricks, because then G was able to walk me through the best way to fix them.

At the end after a lot of really nice work at the walk and trot, we had two very short canters. They both started out strong, but as soon as I stopped looking like I was auditioning for the part of the Hunchback of Notre Dame, got my leg underneath me, and relaxed through my hips, magically the horse was happily cantering around on a soft (but round and in control) contact.

It was amazing to ride Lucy as we were going through these exercises because I was finally speaking her language with G's guidance. My horse absolutely gave 150% effort tonight and just tried her hardest to please, and I couldn't have been happier!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

to leg or not to leg

I have been thinking about trying Lucy in a different bit, and many people whom I spoke with suggested a Waterford. I went to Dover after work yesterday and picked one up. I had great plans to go to the barn, let L zoom around the indoor for a bit, then ride. I got there and there no one else was around, and I have a rule not to ride alone, especially on a horse as green as Lucy. It worked out well, though, because I let her run around the indoor a bit and play, and then I spent half an hour telling her about my day and hugging her and stroking her neck. I had a frustrating day at work, and she stood calmly and snuffed my hair and let me get everything off my chest. I noticed that she kept looking around the ring, almost like the herd leader checks the horizon every few minutes, to protect the members from any danger and alert them to predators. It was comforting to think (even if this is not the case) that I am one of her "herd".

Tonight I am going to ride and I have a few plans brewing. Lately Lucy has been getting fast and strong, now that she's feeling like a new woman. The circle circle circle method worked to slow her down before but it's not as effective lately.

As far as I can tell there are two different theories on retraining OTTB's. Well I'm sure there are lots more than two, but these are the two trains of thought I most often hear and read about:

1. When retraining the OTTB, stay off their face and let them learn balance and straightness through the shoulder/hip by riding them on circles, zig-zags, and various other shapes that are curvy. If they get fast, CIRCLE. If they start leaning, CIRCLE. If they bulge, CIRCLE (and pick up that inside rein!).


2. When retraining the OTTB, start off by teaching contact. So far, the horse has learned to lean against the contact, as if it's a wall that needs to be pushed until it gives way. He now needs to learn that contact is supposed to be a method of communication and support, not a challenge. Teach him to give to the pressure, and from there teach him how to bend.

Since Lucy had several body mechanics issues that needed to be worked on by the chiropractor and massage therapist, I adopted thought process #1, not wanting to start demanding things out of her that were physically painful for her to attempt. For instance, with a lateral displacement of her spine that measured almost 20 degrees, it would have been really difficult for her to give to pressure going to the left. She could barely even go in a circle to the left, and that was moving like a piece of cardboard. Both therapists who came out warned me against putting her in side reins, because she is still so sore through her SI joint that cranking her head down would cause more damage through her back and hips. They said they'd rather see her travel straight and level than adopt a false roundness.

Now that she is feeling much better, she is moving totally different than how she did before her various therapies. She is also getting stronger and with that, comes speed. I have tried doing the circle circle circle and circle some more! thing, but I am not sure that is the right choice for us right now.

Instead, I need to mush the two theories together. As someone said to me, "She needs to learn to accept your leg!". So far I've been riding her with zero leg, which makes fixing the leaning around the circle thing difficult. When a normal horse leans around the circle, you're supposed to support with your outside rein and inside leg. The instant I put any kind of leg on Lucy, she is ready to go run the Preakness, and then we have to do ten more circles to get her attention again. Then we come back to the "give to pressure" thing, because if she knew how to give to pressure from the bit, she might better understand what I am asking her to do when I support with my outside rein and inside leg.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Aqua Horse

Here is a cute video of Lucy enjoying running through the puddle in the ring last night:

Lucy and the Puddle

I had planned to ride her on Wednesday, but the horses were all de-wormed so I played it safe and waited until Thursday. She was very happy to be out and about. We had a nasty rain storm here Wednesday night into Thursday so she had some extra energy, but she was still on her best behaviour.

She got quick at one point during the ride but a few circles and a bit of a reminder ("hey, I'm still up here, and this isn't a race!") got her attention again. My favourite part of the video is at the very end, when we are ending with a nice stretchy trot on a loose rein.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Trigger points are not your friend.

Lucy had her massage appt last night. Up until last night, she has been very tolerant of all of the poking and prodding that I have put her through. Last night we saw another side of her, though, and it wasn't very pretty!

The Massage Therapist's name is Meri and she is very nice. As soon as she arrived, she did a quick overview of Lucy and asked me what kinds of issues I had been having with her, and I filled her in on the story so far with her left side and hind end, and told her about the stuff Dr. Katz had done during the chiropractic evaluation and treatment. Within five minutes, Meri had pretty much scoped out L's entire body, and knew exactly where all the trigger points were.

She started on Lucy's left side. At first, Lucy danced around a lot. She was very very sore. Her neck and shoulders weren't too bad, which I was surprised about and so was Meri, given the history with her feet being torn up as badly as they were. She had trigger points all along the top of her rib cage, which Meri said was from the racing saddles they use at the track. She said the tree on a racing saddle is half the length of a regular saddle tree, and it ends about one foot back from the shoulder, and that is exactly where my poor pony was the most sore.

Once she got to the hind end, she found that Lucy's hamstrings were very sore and tight, and she has some scar tissue running along them. I got to feel what she was talking about, and instead of the muscle feeling like regular smooth muscle, it felt like she had guitar strings running up her back legs into her dock area. Meri assured me that with proper care and rehab, the scar tissue would disappear in time.

By the time Meri got to the right side of Lucy's body, the horse was beginning to relax (and dare I say enjoy the massage). Again, her neck and shoulders were pretty good, but once Meri got to her back, Lucy was clearly in a lot of discomfort. Just like humans, horses develop knots in their muscles, and Meri works mostly with direct pressure into the knot, to help release some of the tension. This can be very painful while it's happening, but it will help Lucy feel much better in the long run. Of course I couldn't convey that to her so she thought we were torturing her. She did show some signs of relaxation at times by yawning, taking some deep breaths, and relaxing through her back and neck, but that would only last for a few seconds before she was back to dancing around.

When Meri got to her hind end on the right side, Lucy started to get really annoyed. At this point, Meri had been working on her for almost two hours and I think Lucy had had about enough. She was very sore and very tight through her right hip and SI, and when Meri got to the really really sore spots, Lucy kicked out at her and tried to reach around and bite her with her ears pinned against her head. I was shocked! I hadn't seen this horse make a nasty face at anything up until this point! Meri said a lot of the hind end issues come from the starting gate at the track. When a horse launches all 1,100 lbs of itself into a flat out gallop from a standstill, that obviously takes a huge effort from the hind end, and the wear and tear placed on Lucy was very obvious last night. Thank goodness she came off the track before she sustained any permanent injury. All of the issues Meri found last night are fixable with proper conditioning and stretching.

Speaking of stretches, Meri showed me a few that I can do with Lucy to help her loosen up through her hind end, topline, and shoulders. One is the "carrot stretch", where I coax the horse to turn her neck and head around towards her back end to reach for a carrot. Lucy tried to "cheat" by turning her hind end and basically doing a spin, but we got her to do the real stretch by putting her closer to the aisle wall, so that she couldn't get her back end around all the way. We did that stretch on both sides, and then moved on to stretching her front legs. To do this, I am supposed to pick up one of her front legs and gently pull away from Lucy's body. The idea is that she will kind of pull back, and then give into the pressure, allowing her shoulder and back to get a nice release. Again this was done on both sides of her body, and then she got lots of treats.

So I hope with all this therapy that Lucy will be on the mend soon. I am supposed to give her today off, and then I can start riding her tomorrow and just do some low-key "long and low" work with lots of circles and serpentines. By the end of the week we should be back to the regular wtc workout that we have been doing.