Monday, March 4, 2019

Winter Riding Compendium

Winter is such a hard time to keep the blog updated with our riding goings-on. It is such a hit-or-miss time that is complicated by 6-day work weeks (ski patrol + normal job), turbulent weather, sickness, short daylight hours, and - new this year! - abscesses.

I love to include photos when blog, but sadly this time of year is generally not very photographic as far as riding goes due to: the drudgery of most of the workouts (very basic exercises), the darkness that consumes those workouts due to complete lack of an indoor, and very dirty horses that live outside 24/7 with zero access to a warm-water washrack.

Nonetheless, we HAVE been riding. I've documented those rides in writing in my day-planner, noting time, mileage, and anything else memorable. In a perfect world, I'd like to have Q legged up for a 50 in the middle of April. But considering the complications listed above, it isn't easy!  However, with longer days firmly in the present and DST coming up on March 10 (huzzah!), the future is bright (literally and figuratively) for more riding.

So, to sum up what's been happening in the world of my horses and riding the past three months, I give you my training notes and monthly summaries.

December (12 rides; 4 hours, 47 minutes)

Dec 2018 rides

Q - Following the lesson with Griffin on the 5th, much of the month was spent practicing homework. We successfully learned turns on the haunches, and Q excelled at them! She learned them more quickly than Griffin by a long shot. Additionally, we put in a lot of long, slow hours in the back field climbing the hill again, and again, and again. The ground was wet throughout the month (not a surprise) so marching up and down that hill was a great way to pass the time in a way that benefited her body without worrying about bad footing.

Riding off into the light

Despite the footing and the meager amount of riding, I am still so pleased with the progress Q made this month. All of these small rides are really adding up to build her confidence and trust which makes a world of difference in our relationship. She nickers upon seeing me and meets me before Griffin does at least half the time - something I never would have imagined happening! It's such a good feeling to have this improved relationship with her.

Grif - The lesson was such a great start to the month. We worked on lesson homework all month with the addition of lots of hill climbing. It was very basic work, but it really helped him to begin re-establishing the topline he lost during the late summer/autumn months. His TOH improved greatly, but still lacks the ease that Q can execute it. Regardless, I am grateful to finally HAVE a semblance of TOH on this horse as it was the most basic of things we struggled with for so long. The curse of not having an instructor and eyes on the ground to help me work through things!

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A new-to-us teal pad, thanks to Austen!

Stan - Living the cushy semi-retirement life through the winter, this guy only had to suffer two rides in December. He helped me exercise the dogs and generally just enjoy life.

It's a hard life being a pasture puff, just ask Stan.

His weight was okay, though not as plump as I'd like to see him this early in winter considering how much hay he usually eats. Unfortunately, returning after a summer away did not guarantee he kept his higher status in the herd. In December, especially, he was chased off the hay more than I'd like. Fortunately though, things have seemed to balance out as the season has gone on and he's looking lots better.

January (20 rides; 13 hours, 47 minutes)

Jan 2019 rides

Q - Lots of ponying happened this month as a way to get work in while making the most of the short daylight I have after work. Something is far better than nothing so far as workouts go during the winter! Bonus, we fit in one 12-mile rail trail ride where she led for more than half of the ride.

She was very impatient once we turned for home and became very rushy and then spooky over nothing because I wouldn't acquiesce to her requests to race home. We definitely need some solo miles to work through this.

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Proof that my horses have been clean some this winter.

Overall, I was really pleased with this little horse this month. The ride on the 28th, following several rides that we practiced homework from the January was pivotal. Q was super fussy and anxious the whole time, but she still tried her heart out to listen to what I wanted. There was a lot of bit clanking as she thought about what I was asking. We had some good lateral work at the walk, which worked just as I always dreamed it would by keeping her fussy mind busy focusing on me. This prevented her from spooking or doing other stupid evasion tactics that are not enjoyable to ride through. I'm very hopeful that as we continue to practice and hone her responsiveness to my seat and leg, and her strength and coordination with lateral work improve, I will be able to prevent huge blow ups on trail when she becomes nervous by keeping her mind focused on me/the work.

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Celebrated his "gotcha" day at the end of January! He's been in my life since 2012.

Grif - So many hills, and so much homework practice! His topline and overall body condition continued to improve.

At our lesson, I ended up only riding for the first little bit before handing over the reins to LC. It was wonderful to see her work him. I learned so much by watching her, listening to her explanations, and asking clarifying questions of my own. He was a little bit confused at first, but quickly caught on to what she was asking, further proving to me that I am the weak link - which I very strongly suspected and was not the least bit surprised by! In fact, it was really exciting to see him move so well for her because it means if I can fix myself (so much easier without the whole spoken language barrier bit lol), then he will improve.

Since that lesson, I have modified the position of my lower leg a little bit and practiced all of the other homework LC gave me. Griffin and I both are doing so much better.

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Those ribs are officially out of sight now. 

Stan - Just one ride this month to get the dogs out and about for a good evening of exercise. He was very amenable to everything, though very pokey and lazy unless I prodded him forward with lots of enthusiasm. I can't be too upset about this though as it's what makes him such a perfect horse for friends to enjoy.

February (8 rides, 6 hours, 40 minutes)


Q - This was definitely the hardest month so far for riding of any kind. I feel like a lot of the progress I made with Q (and Grif) was setback. I was sick on and off from the end of January through the middle of February three separate times. Couple that with wet weather that prevents crossing the stream to the high pasture to fetch the horses unless you're in hip waders, and it was really a bum month for riding.

Free lunging because it was windy AF

Fortunately though, the final week of February granted us lots of sunshine and NO precipitation. Praise be. I forgot what any semblance of dry ground was like. I'm made up for lost time by getting out more frequently in the longer evening hours.

The biggest wins to date have been our two most recent rides incorporating the cavaletti. She has a tendency to be so very worried they might grab her legs that she always rushes and flings herself over/across them. On the first day, I talked to her and reassured her and praised her endlessly as we walked back and forth over one set to a ground pole. Within a shorter time than I imagined, she sighed and released all of the tension from her body. She was still a bit looky-loo about the surrounding environment but without the tension. She walked over the pole like it wasn't even there and then tackled the 18" high setting with just as much relaxation. The next ride, she wasn't concerned at all. Huge win!

Werkin' it.

Grif - The end of January and the first week+ of February were a down period for Griffin due to an abscess. Ironically, a barnmate's horse had an abscess that lasted about the same amount of time in the same hoof, immediately preceding Griffin's. I monitored the hoof and just waited it out, & by the second week we were back in business.

In general, Grif has been a lazy ass this month. I think it is a combination of warm weather days with his winter coat and being bored with the work we are doing. In years leading up to this, we had a lot more variety in our lives with access to lots of trails and jumps. Until we return to Canaan, we don't really have trails and I only brought my cavaletti and some ground poles down to Elkins because it is such a chore to transport all the jump standards and the XC ramps.

All the same, his strength is building and his body is showing that off little by little. I feel really good about the progress we have made, even if I have had to carry a whip on more rides to encourage his sluggish butt along.

View from the top of the hill I've climbed so many times this winter.

Stan - Just one ride again this month. He was eager at first to have my full attentions - until I started tacking him up! Then his body language was quite indignant toward my ministrations. How dare I deign to do anything more than give him his daily grain ration and release him back to the field?! Tough titty, Stan.

We did a few circuits of the very small trail loop on the property and even did some work over my 18" cavaletti. In true Stanley fashion, he balked at each cavaletti the first time I asked - something he's done since he was 5 years old whenever I want to jump him. Once he gets it out of his system, he's much more willing though, and we proceeded to trot and canter over the cavaletti several times. I had a huge smile plastered across my face as always from riding him.

Mugging me for treats last Wednesday night. 

The only other Staniel-happening of note this month was his first choke. It did resolve on its own after 20-25 minutes but, ugh. It was stressful. I was grateful to have my vet to text with throughout because it was so different from what I'm used to. Q and Grif have had mild chokes many times. They always resolve on their own after a few short minutes, and I feed the sloppiest fucking mashes ever to help prevent it. Stan, in a hold-my-beer fit of glory, managed to choke on a super sloppy mash because he attempted to bolt it down. He developed this bolting habit with his food last fall when he was in with a herd of 20 horses for a month (ugh) and had to compete a little bit for food (double ugh).

It sucked to watch him struggle through it because he was so uncomfortable and not stoic about it. He paced and paced and fussed and fussed, and every minute or so his neck would spasm and contract in the worst way. His eyes screamed pain and fear with each spasm. Finally though, right as I was about to have the vet out instead of on stand-by, it passed. He gave me a cold shoulder as if I had caused this horrible thing, then promptly cocked a hind leg and took a nap. Fortunately, he seems to have 'made himself a memory' from it as he hasn't bolted his food since.

: : : : :

My 5 day spring weather preview began with this surprise rainbow in the morning. I very rarely get to enjoy rainbows from the front of my house!

After having a solid taste of spring last week, I felt renewed and ready for the predicted 5 to 10 inches of snow followed by single digit temps forecasted for the weekend and into this week. It's early March, after all, and this weather is fully expected and normal. And honestly, considering the craptastic winter we've had from a snow perspective, I'll gladly welcome the opportunity to ski something more than loose granular and ice for a few days!

The weather will break soon enough and riding will be easier. Still, considering my schedule and all of the things that make this time of year so much more difficult for riding, I'm pleased with my 40 rides and 25+ hours in the saddle! I was feeling pretty down on myself about not riding at all until I looked back at the overview of each month. It's not as bleak as my mind wanted me to believe.

I keep reminding myself that in a few short months my ponies will be in my backyard and I'll see them every single day. It'll be so much easier to fit in rides once my commute drops from 50 minutes to a 200-foot meander! Until then, I'll be making the best of what's around and riding as often as I'm able. 


  1. Great job getting those rides in and working all three horses. Phew! I don't know how you fit them all in like that. Having them home will be a breath of fresh air for you.

    1. I don't know how I do it either. I can't wait to have them closer to make it a bit easier.

  2. winter is the hardest for nailing down a routine but sounds like you've done a pretty awesome job despite it all! so exciting tho to be looking forward to bringing them home!

    1. I'm so psyched to have an even more steady routine in the future!

  3. YOu do well to keep that chart. All I manage is to put it on my calendar in the tack room. And then write about it in the blog, so I guess that's okay. I love that photo of G working it. :)

    1. I just began the chart! I got tired of not having access to things from the past because they were in day planners lol. Need dictates change in this case.

  4. Looks like you got quite a few rides in!!

  5. Wow, you're getting a lot done in the day! Very inspiring :)

    1. Some days... Some days I'm just a lazy garbage human, hahaha.

  6. Way to go! You crushed it! I feel like February was tough for everyone. I’m trying to believe spring is around the corner!

    1. It's in 2 weeks per the calendar, now, whether or not the temps and precip reflect that is a better question!

  7. Being able to pony seems like the best time saving device when you have multiple horses!

    1. It really is. Now if I could just get Q to quit trying to boss Grif around when she's being ponied...

  8. Gosh what is it with horses who eat the SLOPPIEST meals choking?! I went through that in January with Goose who choked on his slop (how I lovingly refer to his soupy mess of a meal). so relieved to hear Stan got through it well and on his own. Watching them convulse in choke is totally gut-wrenching, thinking back to watching Goose still brings tears to my eyes. Glad you've gotten in some good riding time, and PRAISE BE to DST on Sunday!

  9. Ugh - we lost a wonderful older pony to choking a few years back. It's the worst. A couple of largish smooth rocks in the feed pan can slow the bolting down. Also - Grif is looking SOLID. What a handsome fellow he is!

    1. I need to try the rock thing again...with bigger rocks. I tried once and he picked them up and put them on the ground beside the tub 😂😂😂😂

  10. You're beating me on rides last month! This winter has been particularly rough.

    1. It was a lucky month. I'm not doing nearly so well this month.

  11. Your Griffin is more gorgeous every year. And so fit. I wish I could say the same for my 8 year old. I just posted a new side-bar photo on my blog of my horse and my first thought was, "He looks just like Liz's gelding." See if you agree?