Monday, July 6, 2015

Tucker's Sunday Best

I had one of the best rides I've had in a while on Sunday.  Although on the surface there appears to be no rhyme or reason as to whether I get to ride my brilliant, talented, eager-to-please horse or one of these giraffes on any given ride,

... I have been trying really hard to pinpoint what it is that makes him flail and throw his extremities around.  In the hopes that we can stop doing that, because I'm getting a really painful knot in my neck from being lurched around. 

So, first off I've really limited how much sitting trot I do in each ride, because I'm bad at it and I think it annoys him when I'm bouncing and gripping and flopping and shifting around like he's some aged and indifferent school master and I've just bought the Introduction To Riding summer lesson package.  (Turns out he would make a terrible school horse.)  The only way it will improve is to work on it, so this will be a balancing act (like the rest of my life).

Second, some of it was just a good old fashioned temper tantrum about being made to go really straight.  I will never understand why horses find going crooked to be preferable, but so it is.  I've been trying to make it as fair to him as possible though, by getting him really between my aids at the walk before I move up to trot or canter.  So after warming up I come back to the walk and get his haunches loosened up and moving  around.  I've been mixing it up between leg yields, square halts, rein back, shoulder-in, haunches-in, renvers, walk pirouettes, whatever feels like it's working that day until he feels straight and like he's not resisting if I ask him to move his haunches or shoulders.

Lastly, I originally thought that he hated me riding with shorter reins (you know, the correct length rather than long enough to hang your laundry).  Driving home from the barn one night this week, it occurred to me that maybe when I shorten my reins and try to carry my hands (i.e. not rest them in my lap politely like I'm having tea), I brace through my arms, and that's what's pissing him off.  So I'm trying to figure out how to be soft with shorter reins.  Amy says to "soften my wrists," which is a helpful image.  I read this really helpful article about keeping your arms at your sides to help anchor and engage your core, so I've been focusing on my arms at my sides, but not braced, for the past few rides.  Sadly I have not yet transformed into Charlotte Dujardin. But I might look a little less like a chicken.

That face.  He melts me.
So with all that in mind, yesterday Tucker and I had a truly excellent ride (which I needed, for personal reasons. Horse = therapist).  We warmed up long and low in all three gaits, then came back to a walk and did some zig-zag leg yields and some halt work in the walk and trot.  I have been very incrementally working on our rein back, and yesterday we had two four-step rein backs where he stayed on the aids and then walked forward without getting stuck. Huge progress.  

His trot work was really forward and consistent in both reins (no head nodding, no dropping the right rein).  After a haunches-in at the trot he stepped right into a lovely left lead canter and we worked on a few steps of collected canter, back to working canter, to lengthening, and so on.  He mildly protested and stiffened against my hand the first time I asked him to collect but he didn't break and didn't leap, and got it the second time.  The upward transitions were beautiful and the downward transitions are coming along.  He did break once going right, but I was able to touch him with my whip without major upset (!) and the next time he got it right.

We took a walk break and then headed out to the hay fields, where I did some more transitions within the gait at the trot and canter.  Lengthened canter is not a problem with a huge stretch of green ahead of you, that's for sure.  He did throw in an unexpected lead change at one point but it was on a slight decline and I think it was a balance issue. His hind end may not be strong enough to hold a working canter downhill just yet, which is fine for now.  So nice to be able to ride out there instead of always being in the ring.  For being by himself, his focus was pretty impressive.  

In case you were wondering, Tucker found this whole thing absolutely exhausting.  This is his post-game face.

Sometimes he seriously looks like a cartoon.
Afterward I treated his feet and then gave him a bath, clipped his nose, cleaned and conditioned my tack, and generally spiffed him up a little because we have a lesson on Wednesday!  I kind of can't wait.  Wednesday is going to be a big day for other reasons too... but I'll get to that later in the week. Stay tuned. :)

Thursday, July 2, 2015

A Heartwarming Tale of an Unlikely Friendship

So you guys remember Wesley?  Well, since Tucker's turnout buddy Beejay moved home, a spot opened up in Tucker's turnout group (which was probably good because Beejay and Tucker had this adorable habit of chewing on each other that was doing wonders for Tucker's coat).  So Wesley was introduced to Tucker's mini herd over the weekend.

Tucker and Mardi are the best of friends:

And obviously Tucker wanted the same from Wesley.  Which meant that the few first times Wes was in the field, Tucker tried desperately and pathetically to make friends while Wesley speed-walked away from him and gave him the leery side eye.  

Hey man wait up!  Where you goin?  I want to come too!
Dude what is your PROBLEM leave me ALONE.
I know how determined Tucker is about making best friends, though, as I've seen him win over even the most grumpiest of equines.  So while it tugged at my heartstrings, I was not terribly surprised when I arrived this week to find this.

Tucker and Wes, BFF's sharing the same patch of grass
Mommy look he likes me now!
As a side note, the fact that Tucker is such a momma's boy and comes to me as soon as he sees me is very endearing but makes him extremely difficult to photograph.  I have more schnoz pics that I know what to do with.  As a side note on this side note, the dorsal fin is looking really strong in the above photo.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Not So Happy Feet

So every summer I have the same trouble with Tucker's feet.  The rest of the year, I am able to keep them together using Keratex Gel (which is on sale at State Line Tack right now, incidentally) a few times a week.  I like Keratex because it seals their feet (it's "hydrophobic" so you can see water bead up on the hooves after applying), so their feet don't get too wet and soft if it's muddy or snowy.  He also gets SmartHoof, which my hoof supplement of choice because I think you get the most bang for your buck.
In summer, however, that doesn't seem to be enough.  I guess it's a combo of night turnout (where sometimes they get hit with a summer shower), dewy morning grass, and fly stomping that pretty much does him in every year.  Last year, since we had practically no rain all summer, his feet held together.  This summer, and all other summers, we've needed to do adhesive patches where his hoof wall basically comes apart around the nails in his front feet.

Not actually Tucker's foot, because I'm dumb and forgot to take a picture.
This is not ideal, of course, because as the hoof expands and contracts, but the resin doesn't, so after a week or so the adhesive patch begins to peel away from the foot, and if that's what the nails are held to... that shoe is not staying put.  

So, I've been using the Keratex gel every time I ride, after he's been standing in the aisle and his feet are as dry as possible, and I have been parking him in front of an industrial fan instead of hosing him off after rides, to avoid getting his feet wet.  But his feet are still soft.  I feel like it's time for me to try to get ahead of this instead of just living with loose shoes and crappy feet all summer.

I asked the COTH forums for some advice on topical products to use.  Once you get past the expected responses of not doing night turnout (not happening), changing his diet (finally have that sorted out, thank you), and barefoot trimming (doesn't work for him), they suggested I try another Keratex product, their Hoof Hardener, which I've ordered (thanks for the discount code Smartpak!).  Here is what Keratex says about it:

Keratex Hoof Hardener strengthens weak, worn and cracked hooves by improving the molecular structure of the horn itself. Equally effective in wet & dry conditions.
Prevents the horn from taking in excess moisture, making it resistant to softening and weakening in wet conditions. This results in a reduction in shoe loss and abscesses.
Keratex Hoof Hardener is not an oil or a resin layer and does not seal the hoof; it will ensure the treated hoof is able to breathe naturally.
Moisture balance is properly maintained.
I've also gotten recommendations to use Vaseline or Corona ointment before a bath, to act as a moisture barrier, but I wonder if this will just add to the softening of his feet?  I'll try it.  Or maybe I'll just keep using the Keratex Gel before baths, and keep baths to a minimum?

Open to ideas here, for topicals and/or supplements.  But please don't tell me not to turn him out overnight.  Or before you do, picture my horse all alone in the barn all night long, bearing in mind that he panics if he can't see another horse for 30 seconds.  And then picture how sad my blog post would be when I have to tell you all that we lost Tucker when he attempted to climb over his wall and/or squeeze through his window.

So bloggers and blog readers, any ideas on this?  Stuff that works?  

Friday, June 26, 2015

Same-Sex Marriage is Protected by 14th Amendment!

I know this is a non-sequitur among my usual equine-related ramblings, but today is SUCH an important day in the law that really if I didn't recognize today's decision here on the blog, I should get my J.D. revoked.  It's sort of amazing that this happened during my legal career.  Law students will be reading this decision for the rest of all time in their Constitutional Law and Family Law classes.

Today, on a beautiful sunny day in June, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which is a case that has made its way through the federal courts.  Petitioners are fourteen same sex couples, challenging laws in Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee that prohibit them from obtaining a marriage license.  The District Courts (the lowest level court) in each of these states held the laws unconstitutional, but the victory was short lived.  The states appealed to the Sixth Circuit (the intermediate court), which consolidated all the cases and upheld the laws.  So the petitioners appealed.

Today the Supreme Court (the highest court in our country, which I'm sure most of you know) reversed the Sixth Circuit, and issued a truly landmark decision finding that "the Fourteenth Amendment requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-State."  (And the crowd goes wild!)

I happen to agree with the ruling with all my heart (it brings tears to my eyes), so this is going to be kind of a biased summary of the decision, just a disclaimer.  But I'm going to do my best to put the Court's reasoning into plain English, because that's sort of a lawyer's job, after all, and I think regardless of where you fall in this debate, it's important to understand where the Court was coming from in reaching its decision before you jump into the ring.

So, the Court began by recognizing that marriage, as a social construct, has changed.  Arranged marriages are on the decline, and laws of coverture are gone (which in a nutshell used to say that once a woman is married she's basically livestock with no rights at all).  The Court noted its prior decisions recognizing the rights of interracial couples to marry, and the rights of prisoners to marry, which I expected to be used as cornerstones. The Court also recognized its prior decision in Lawrence v. Texas, which did away with laws making same-sex intimacy a crime.

The Court went through four principles underlying the "right to marry" generally, and found these principles to apply with equal weight to same-sex marriages.  First, marriage is about the right to personal choice and the concept of "individual autonomy."  This was key to the Loving v. Virginia decision regarding interracial marriages.  Second, marriage is a unique, two person, intimate thing (oh stop Justices you're making me blush!).  The Court looked back at its decision is Griswold where they recognized married couples are allowed to use contraception (can you imagine if that was a right you had to fight for?).  Third, marriage is good for children and families. "Without the recognition, stability, and predictability marriage offers, children suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser." Fourth, marriage is important to the social order.  There are all kinds of benefits tied to marriage, and the Court recognized that without being allowed to marry, same-sex couples "are consigned to an instability many opposite-sex couples would find intolerable."

The Court then relied on Equal Protection (makes sense right?  everyone should be equally protected by the law?).  To sum up the Court's somewhat difficult to follow discussion on this point, the Court basically said that sometimes we realize the way we've been doing things is wrong.  New insights  and "societal understandings" reveal inequalities in our laws that we didn't realize before.  So you know, time to fix that.

The Court then discussed liberty rights under the Due Process clause.  Now, liberty rights are a wishy-washy concept that we spent weeks trying to figure out in law school, because they're not express in the Constitution.  There's this "penumbra of rights" concept but essentially the gist of this discussion is that there is a certain fundamental right to "liberty,"  and (my take on it is), part of being "at liberty" is that you should be allowed to marry the person you love, period, end of story.

Lastly, the Court said, essentially, we know technically the legislature makes the laws and we know we are legislating from the bench here, but we don't care.  If you are seeking protection of your fundamental rights (such as the right to marry), you shouldn't have to wait for a law to be passed to get some relief.

My favorite lines in the Opinion are where the Court pre-empted some of the more common arguments against same-sex marriage.  The "it's a states rights issue," argument was cut off by: "Courts must exercise reasoned judgment in identifying interests of the person so fundamental that the State must accord them its respect."  In opposition to the "marriage is about babies" argument that I've actually heard from people I know, the Court was quick to point out:  "Precedent protects the right of a married couple not to procreate, so the right to marry cannot be conditioned on the capacity or commitment to procreate."  So there.

The full text of the decision is here, if you want to read it for yourself. 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

How to Train Your Drama Llama

Of course, following up a weekend of two great rides, the horse universe balanced things out and gave me two very difficult rides. Not bad rides, mind you, because they ended well... but those victories were earned man. All I can say is the scale better reflect all the sweat the next time I step onto it.

Tuesday I rode in the indoor because thunderstorms were passing through and I chalked his behavior up to the fact that indoors in summer are not approved by anyone, especially Tuckers.  He was hanging on my left rein, refusing to bend left tracking left, and bulging hard through his left shoulder tracking right.  After some theatrics, much leaping and throwing his head around... 

... I actually got some beautiful canter work out of him.  He did some leaping but then would settle into a really nice canter, and then panic and leap and protest and then go back to a nice canter.  It was about a billion degrees and 300% humidity on Tuesday so once the leaping decreased in frequency I called it a day.

I know I'm anthropomorphizing here but I swear to you when I got on last night he immediately picked a fight with me.  As soon as I picked up the contact - grabbing the left rein, flailing and rearing.  He literally almost smashed his head into one of the telephone poles our ring lights are on. And just in case you think I'm exaggerating, I have video stills for you:

Move #1: Yank left rein out of my hands; swing haunches right.
Move #2:  Panic and twist head skyward. 
Move #3:  Rear/hop, because 1 and 2 are not working.
I mean what in the actual f%#k am I supposed to do with that.  Well I'll tell you what I did last night. I galloped him around the ring a few laps and scared the crap out of him.  And not in a, "oh, the horse is rearing so you should send it forward" organized, methodical, professional kind of way.  Like in a stark raving mad maniac kind of way.  I was angry.  Not my best moment. 

And then I had a slightly terrified Tucker on my hands which is my least favorite kind of Tucker.  So I did lots, and lots, of walk work to try to get him to settle and slowly process what I was asking for, which was simply "listen to my aids, don't throw your body parts around."  There was a lot of flailing - I actually cut my lip when his NECK slammed into my FACE (still annoyed about that one). 

My dance space.  Your dance space.  GET IT TOGETHER HORSE.
It looked hideous, but we did make progress.  In trying to figure out how to get him to step under with his haunches without grabbing the left rein I actually started the beginnings of a half pass (at the walk). I don't know if it looked all that impressive but after much protesting and flailing and insisting that it was impossible to bend left and move left, he actually did it.  He held a left bend and moved off my right leg.  And then he held a right bend and moved off my left leg.  And then he was even in both reins.  So, that was awesome.

We moved up to trot and I thought about the things we worked on in my last lesson.  I kept reminding myself that a left rein issue is a right haunches issue so don't focus on his mouth.  I opened my right rein and kept my right leg back so he couldn't drop the right rein and curl his haunches in tracking right (which caused much flailing) and when the protests ceased, gradually brought that hand closer to his neck, and had a fabulous working trot.  I got some of the most lovely trot lengthenings he's ever given me.  And then he'd flail.  And then he'd be lovely again.

I thought I'd try holding the left counter-lead because sometimes that fixes this without me really "correcting" anything.  He knew what this trick was about and did some extremely theatrical and explosive attempts at lead changes.  But I outsmarted him!  Our ring is surrounded by about a ten meter grass strip on all sides between the footing and the fence, so I just turned left onto the grass and made him circle left every time he tried to throw out a huge lead change.  He did NOT see that coming.  And he gave up and held his left counter lead.

He held it so well, in fact, that I was able to do circles through the middle of the ring and diagonals back and forth while holding the left lead.  Seriously.  I don't think I've ever done that before.  He got himself so worked up that I just sort of channeled the energy for good not evil.  Then in the middle of one long side I did a simple change to the right lead and we had some positively incredible right lead canter work.  Really stepping under and round through his back.  Like a boss.

All in all it was one of our more difficult rides, but man some of it felt amazing (which is why I think this is a training/attitude issue, not a pain or discomfort issue).  I did contact our chiropractor and hope to have her out in the next couple of weeks, just to help him out.  But I have a feeling he just needs to put on his big boy pants.  Or I'll just have to start wearing a mouth guard. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Cowboy Mounted Shooting

The other thing I learned at Paso shows... Cowboy Mounted Shooting.  Yeah, that's a thing.

So first off this is Nola, and all I can say about this lady is that she is BAD ASS.  Nola runs Ro-No Ranch out in PA.  She's a lot of fun.

On my coolest day, I will never be as cool as Big Red,
wearing a gun holster, getting strapped into her custom fringed chaps.
I know it sounds crazy to those of us mere mortals with horses who do not care for explosions and loud noises, but these riders are good friends of mine (they are a mother and son team) and they are very safety conscious about everything. 

Robbie and Cardillo Sin Par, Nola and Calif de Color Sin Par
As you may have guessed, these horses are excellent mounts and their ears are plugged for protection.  The guns are handled safely and handed off after each run and re-loaded with powder, which is what makes the balloons explode.  

Bad Ass, I tell you.
It's kind of amazing in person.  You can see the camera bounce where I jump when shots are fired.  

The videos are only a few seconds long, but rather than embed them all here I just made a playlist on Tucker's youtube channel.  Enjoy!

Also... I am kind of in love with Calif.  He is so smart and so talented.  This stallion is not only sweet as can be....

... but also incredibly versatile.  He rides, he drives, you name it.  He has National Titles in Western Pleasure, Trail, Versatility, Driving, Cowboy Mounted Shooting, Barrels, Pole Bending and more. This guy even performed at the World Equestrian Games and Rolex... which is not something you can say about most horses.  Kind of awesome!

He even packs around wannabe DQ's from time to time (honestly I have never looked dorkier, in jeans and Ethan's helmet, but I was not about to pass up the opportunity, and even though me and the seven year olds were the only ones in helmets all weekend... you know, safety first). 

So pretty.  They need to make him a Breyer model.
So, I loved riding him (sorry Tucker).  Perfect lateral work and canter-halt-canter transitions all day long.  I absolutely love him.  When I first got on he was calling and ignoring me and then he was all business when I started riding.  There is nothing better in this world than a good stallion.

He totally has that selfie disorder though.  Just can't stop when he gets a smartphone in front of him. 

Can you blame him though?

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

So, What Happens at a Paso Fino Show?

So, since I've been dating Ethan, I've now been to three Paso shows, which basically makes me an expert.  Hahaha.  Except whenever I watch the classes I pick out the ones I like and then watch them get pinned in reverse order.  I have a lot to learn.  But, I can at least tell you what goes down.  

First off, drinking starts at 10 a.m. (or at least, it does if your only responsibilities for the day are to hold the dog and take photos).  So, you know, I'm in.  There was also a legit salsa band playing at night right outside the stalls, which was kind of surreal and kind of awesome.

Red Berry Cider is clearly a breakfast food.
Stop judging me.
Second, they go all out with their stall decorations. And I do mean all out.  No silly little stall drapes around these parts.

What you can't see is that behind these larger than life banners is an AIR CONDITIONED dressing room that they made by enclosing a stall entirely in plastic (they just strung rope across the top to hold the plastic up for the "ceiling." Genius).  Yeah. That happened. And it was AWESOME. The rest of us have no idea what we're doing, clearly.

Classes run all day, into the evening.  The divisions are divided up based upon the gender, age, and type of paso you're showing, as well as the rider's age and status (pro/amateur).  There are three types of horses, generally:  Fino, Performance, and Pleasure.  There are lots of other classes as well, like youth classes where they complete a pattern, Bella Forma where they show babies in hand, and even costume classes. 
So much better than white breeches.
I'll give you my very uneducated, hunter-princess, dressage-queen-in-training understanding of the three types of show horses.

The Pleasure horses show at the paso corto (equivalent of the trot, but it's a four beat lateral gait), paso largo (same foot falls, but covers more ground, and can get as fast as a canter), and a flat walk,. They are usually asked to do the sounding board at the end of the class individually, but not always. These horses are expected to show in light collection, with a light rein. Their gaits are a little more extended than Performance horses, but they still have to look smooth. They are supposed to look easy and fun to ride, with good manners and a nice disposition (not too far off from other pleasure classes). Here, obviously, is the nicest Amateur Pleasure Gelding pair on the face of the earth.

So handsome.
Took me all weekend to finally line up this shot right.
A Performance horse is supposed to show more "brio," which from what I understand is basically more energy and more power.  They have a little more action in their knees and hocks than the Pleasure horses, and their gaits are a little more collected (less forward motion, but with more energy). They show at the Paso Corto, Paso Largo, and collected walk, and they do the sounding board individually at the end. For this class, manners and disposition are a little less important, as these guys are judged on their energy, excitement, movement and the quality of their gait.

I didn't take a photo of a Performance horse.
So here's Mooch doing what he does best. Being adorable.
The Fino horses are, in laypersons' terms, the fancy ones. They show at the Classic Fino (the forward speed is slow, but their feet move unbelievably rapidly, and it's extremely collected).  These horses are judged on their conformation, their "brio," and the rhythm of their gait, which should be rapid and consistent (it's also a four beat lateral gait). They are asked to show at the classic fino and halt in both directions, and at the end each exhibitor does the sounding board.  These guys make piaffe and passage look like child's play.

And speaking of child's play, this little peanut rides at Ethan's barn.
This is a Fino gelding.  She rides better than we do.  NBD.
There are two judges for each class, and they can pin the class differently from each other.  At the end of each class, the horses are asked to line up, the judge checks each one's bit and tack, and they are asked to rein back individually (I think this is at the judge's discretion, but it's usually done).

If you're interested, I filmed Ethan's last class, so you can see exactly how it goes down.  It's pretty fun to watch, and the crowds get into the sounding boards (which explains why Ethan cheers at the end of my tests. I have no intention of stopping him, by the way. It's good to rile up the DQ's occasionally).