Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Dressage Schooling the Grey Guy

As much as Griffin and I both adore and love jumping, it's on the back burner for awhile, taking second place to dressage work.

Austen asked me a few weeks ago if I'd be interested in riding with Stephen again in December. I checked the weekend, checked my schedule, checked the resort opening date (it is opening weekend, but I can probably take Saturday off), begged the weather gods to cooperate with me, and gave her a tentative "yes" - heavily dependent upon the weather cooperating.

I don't know if they'll let us into the clinic like this. Austen, I'mma need to borrow a wash stall for an hour.
Dirt aside, I see definite improvement in his muscling.

I didn't dream I'd be lessoning again until spring, so given this chance, I decided I had to take it. Having homework to work on through the winter would be a-ma-zing.

Key homework points from my August lesson with Stephen were:
  • Get Grif to accept the contact more 
  • Get him working through his back more
  • Strengthen his body
  • Ride him forward and get him more accepting/reactive to my leg
  • More bend
  • Keep my hands steady and use my abs more
  • Grif needs to understand what my seat is asking
I have been practicing each of these points, and more.

I now have a horse that:
  • Accepts contact more readily and keeps it for nearly our whole riding session (with ample stretching breaks).
  • Swings through his back in the most lovely, comfortable-to-ride way for half or more of our rides.
  • Is obviously stronger and carrying himself better.
  • Moves off my leg into the trot and canter with less asking than ever before on most days (and it is only fair to note that on the day of the clinic it was stupid humid, stupid hot, and Griffin was very uncharacteristically sluggish for him; at home, he's a very eager beaver). On most days, we have a stellar (for us) halt to canter transition and walk to canter transition. Canter is our best gait.
  • BENDS. It isn't perfect all the time, but Houston, we've got bend! We did NOT have this prior. Unfortunately, Griffin sometimes uses his newfound skill to evade, but we'll work through that with time. New issues mean we're making progress.
  • I would like to say that I think this is better, but eyes on the ground are the only thing that will determine for certain, and I'm almost always riding alone. (Though, in the photos below - which I selected solely for how Griffin was performing and not myself - my hands are in about the same position for every hopefully this is the case for my next lesson!)
  • Griffin is more reactive to my seat than before. I have spent a lot of time in the past couple weeks really focusing on the biomechanics of my seat. The absolute best rides I get from Griffin are when I'm bareback, so I've been paying mind to how I'm using myself differently bareback than in my [treeless] saddle. I have definitely pinpointed things and our saddle work is improving as a result!
I'm having a lot of fun, though I do wish I could have eyes on the ground more often and/or the opportunity to have lessons closer at hand. I can't even video myself any more because it's too dark too soon. I don't mind riding in the lack of light, but as far as videoing goes, it sucks.

Griffin Dressage-4
Watching the dogs

At Austen's recommendation, Griffin and I have even begun working through training level tests. The first day, things went SUPER well and Griffin even offered some of the best free walk he's ever offered. He was also riding into the corners nicely at each gait, responding nicely to my leg asking him to bend through them. Our geometry definitely needs some work with our circles though!

Lauren was out one day when I schooled Griffin, and so I had her take some photos for me. She definitely isn't as jazzed about watching me school dressage as she is watching me jump (don't blame her), but she did get some media for which I am grateful. Unfortunately, the Universe being as it is, I had one of the worst rides I'd had on Griffin in weeks the day that the camera was present. To his credit/defense, it was the first week of gun season and we're slam-bam in the middle of a very active hunting area with guns going off pretty constantly.

Griffin Dressage-6
I am intently focusing on my seat and breathing here, hoping Griffin will get with the program.

Griffin Dressage-10
Looking down and talking to Griffin under my breath, begging him to let go of his issues for 10 minutes.

As discussed with Austen, throwing my weight too much to gain this movement, but at
least he's capable of it. I feel confident we'll get it in the correct manner in the near future.
We've definitely done better on other days! But it's important to me to share our baseline -
no matter how abysmal it is!

The above are quite representative of most of our ride. Griffin. Was. Not. Having. It. He braced nearly the entire time, was tense, and generally didn't give a flying fuck about what I wanted from him. Even our tried-and-true rapid-fire transitions involving walk-canter-halt-canter and halt-rein back-canter-walk-canter couldn't garner his attention to me for more than a few brief moments. He still braced and twisted his body to evade.

Despite this though, we did have a few nice moments.

Griffin Dressage-11
Happy horse loves to canter. In other news, I haven't a notion about what my right hand is doing.

Griffin Dressage-3
Another cantering moment. He wishes that the canter was always the correct answer.

Griffin Dressage
Look! Some semblance of BEND. Didn't have this 3 months ago.

Griffin Dressage-12
His ears tell the story here. Great concern about gun shots and dog movements and general monsters.

I'm sad that we couldn't have one of our more typical (for us) rides while I had the chance to get media, but I can't say I'm all too surprised we had a bad day the first time the camera was present in a long while. However, as I noted above, it is important to me to be able to share the bad times so that our progress means more in the future. Additionally, the issues we are having now are new issues which means PROGRESS is happening!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Quick Q Update


Q's ~60 day ultrasound was yesterday to see where we are with healing of her suspensory.

No huge miracles have occurred, but the suspensory is looking better and showing more organization. It is absolutely NOT worse. Improvement > worsening condition.

All she really needs is time it seems. So, while patience sucks, that's what we are doing! Two months down....ten to go.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

November 10 Questions

How old is the youngest/greenest horse you’ve ridden?  Honestly? Probably 20 - 22 months. I was young and I didn't know much at the time and was choosing to trust the "professional" who told me to get on.

How old is the oldest horse you’ve ridden? Had a person tell me a mare I rode when I was in middle school was 36, but I knew that horse for another 8+ years, so I highly doubt she was that old! Definitely have ridden horses in their mid-20s.

Were you scared of horses when you first started riding? Not in the slightest.

Would you say you’re a more nervous rider or a confident rider? Confident, however certain situations do make me question my confidence!

Biggest pet peeve about non-horse people around horses? If I'm in a public place with my horse and the public is decidedly non-horsey, I HATE being asked if they can ride my horse. Um, no. I do NOT know you and even if I did, probably no.

A time you’ve been scared for your life? (horse related) When I fell off Sip and in his scramble to get back on his feet he used my sternum as a step stool...

Have you ever fallen off at show? What happened? In place of "show" I'm going to have to say "endurance ride", and yes. Q spooked due to a deer in mile ~43 of our 100 miles and down I went. She also spooked due to horses approaching from behind at a ride in April which resulted in me landing flat on my back (but this was more of my fault for riding very loosely at the time as I mistakenly thought we were taking a break!)

What’s a breed of horse you’ve never ridden but would like to ride? You know, I've been around several Gypsy Cobs but haven't ridden one. Paso Fino also tops the list.

Describe the worst behaved horse you’ve ridden? Any horse that has ZERO respect for what I'm doing in the saddle and blows through my requests or totally ignores my every ounce of effort trying to "ask" for something from the animal.

The most frustrating ride you’ve ever had? I can remember a 3-mile ride on Q in 2014 where she literally spooked 30-40 times. It. Was. Horrible.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Art of Being Dirty

Of the list of blogs I read/follow, I've got to say, I'm pretty sure I have the filthiest grey horse around.

Post-ride. The sweat *really* brings out the filth.

But it simply cannot be helped. I don't board at a "facility" and warm water is a foreign concept in the winter months. Additionally, I'm a firm believer in 24/7 turnout; all 3 of my horses are turned out on 28 acres with 5 other horses. Dirt balls. All of 'em. Q and Stan just hide it better.

And he really doesn't look his 15hh in photos. Ever. He's got 3" on Q, but you'd never guess from photos.

I never planned or really wanted a grey horse because I knew their being dirty would drive me a little batty. And the whiter Griffin becomes each year, the more his dirtiness irks me. And to make matters the worst possible, he has a supernatural ability to find the dirtiest, muddiest areas to roll after a ride. Nearly anyone who has ever seen him roll post ride is absolutely appalled and will stammer out shocked words of, "Oh- Oh! He- he's really doing that?! Does he- does he always do this? He's so- he's so DIRTY. Do you see? He's- he's a brown/black horse now! Ugh!"

Yep. He is. But it is what it is. He's happy. He's healthy. He's well taken care of and groomed thoroughly each time I visit. I even use a high powered blower to blast the dust off of him in the winter, believe it or not.

But daggon is he cute!

The mud and grass stains will just have to persist in photos during the winter months. At least it isn't poop?

Who knows, maybe he can win the award for *The Dirtiest Grey* one day?

Tell me about your dirty horse!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Annual Raptor Post

Everyone seems to thoroughly enjoy this post every year, so I keep sharing. If you're someone who's eeked out by birds, you may want to navigate away now. If you're someone who geeks out on birds, enjoy!

: : : : :

We had an outstanding week banding raptors in Cape May for the Cape May Raptor Banding Project this year. (FYI, this is NOT something I do because of my job. I actually take a vacation to volunteer with this project.) More birds in our short time there than we've ever had before. Monday we had 53 birds through the blind! Talk about ringin' (banding) and slingin' (releasing)! A dozen birds were in the blind at one point. I was the one processing that day. It was beautiful chaos. So many Accipiters (sharp-shinned and Cooper's hawks)!

Notable birds banded throughout the week were: red-tailed hawks (RTHA), northern harriers (my spirit bird)(NOHA), merlins, a red-shouldered hawk, sharp-shinned hawks (SSHA), Coopers hawks (COHA), a northern goshawk (NOGO). Of these, we had a wealth of adults, which was a thrill. Usually, we're dealing with hatch year birds.

Birds seen but not banded: golden eagles, bald eagles, kestrels, peregrine falcons. Of these, we had some pretty close calls with the latter three. Peregrines are always an absolute BLAST to watch hunting with their acrobatic diving at top speeds. We even had a juvenile bald eagle come into the station for a serious look, but he ended up swooping off to perch in a nearby snag. An adult bald also looked like it would come in, but dropped last minute into the marsh (to never be seen again).

Acronyms to keep in mind: HY = hatch year, SY = second year, and ASY = after second year.

Without further ado, have a photo dump of birds of prey!

Cape May 2016-2
Cape May 2016-16
With our "Well, this is hawkward" shirts holding SSHAs
Mandy is the reason these trips happen every year <3
Cape May 2016-146
Sunrise over the marsh; the view from our blind
Cape May 2016-29
Cape May 2016-45
Cape May 2016-49
Cape May 2016-148
HY male NOHA; sorry in advance for the wealth of harrier photos, I love them
Cape May 2016-151
ASY COHA - look at that eye!!
Cape May 2016-152
ASY COHA after release
Cape May 2016-153
HY female NOHA
Cape May 2016-158
HY female NOHA
Cape May 2016-159
Adult feathers coming in on the HY female NOHA's tail (center)
Cape May 2016-163
HY RTHA - with the most beautiful tail for a HY bird! 
Cape May 2016-162
They don't turn red until they're adults, but this one had a jump on it. Gorgeous red in the banding.
Cape May 2016-66
Cape May 2016-76
Thrilled to death with this harrier in hand. I got photos with *every* harrier this year.
May share the collage of "Liz with Harriers" at a later date lol
HY female NOHA
Cape May 2016-165
HY female NOHA
Cape May 2016-80
You can see her adult vs. hatch year tail feathers once again (most every HY harrier we saw had this)
Cape May 2016-89
HY female NOHA
Cape May 2016-94
SY male NOHA - male NOHA's turn a beautiful grey in their adult years and are called "grey ghosts"
Their eyes are also a goregous, striking yellow.
Cape May 2016-103
Sunset lighting on our marsh.
Cape May 2016-109
HY male NOHA; you can see how his light colored eyes will eventually trend to yellow like the above bird
Cape May 2016-118
Cape May 2016-122
Cape May 2016-123
Cape May 2016-124
ASY male MERL, also known as "blue jacks" for their dark blueish plummage
Cape May 2016-127
Cape May 2016-139
HY male NOGO; the noisiest bird you'll ever meet!
They also will ATTACK you if you're within ~500 feet of their nests when the nest is active.
Cape May 2016-140
HY male NOGO

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Appalachian Autumn

This year was definitely lacking in color compared to last year. Regardless, I still tried my best to capture some of the autumn splendor that did emerge.

10102016_roaring_plains (7 of 7)
Roaring Plains
10102016_roaring_plains (1 of 7)
Roaring Plains
10102016_roaring_plains (2 of 7)
Roaring Plains
10102016_roaring_plains (6 of 7)
Tree pose on the Roaring Plains promontory
10102016_roaring_plains (1 of 1)
My momma posing at the Roaring Plains promontory
Bickles Knob and the Monongahela Nat'l Forest
Bickles Knob and the Monongahela Nat'l Forest
Bickles Knob and the Monongahela Nat'l Forest

And don't forget, if you're able to donate to help the Lakota who are standing up to DAPL, please email me at estout18 (at) gmail (dot) com and I'll let you know how to direct the payment.

Happy weekend to you and yours!