Hippoi Athanatoi

Horses

Goodbye

Rode Heddvig today. I got a somewhat better grasp of how to bend her properly and how to ride her into a counter-canter out of a corner. I tried too hard to slow her down when she ended up rushing in the trot, because I felt I needed more time to bend her. But that made it easier for her to just continue with the trot, so I had to demand more in the trot so that the canter felt like an easier option. In the end, we got what we wanted and she even cantered through two (shallow) corners. First time for her, Ulrika said.

But…I also said goodbye to Murphy tonight. On Thursday, he will be put down. I am not sure I have fully grasped it yet even though I was told on Friday evening. Since then, I’ve tried to come up with a solution, but it wasn’t to be. He has been resting for the last 5-6 weeks, but until he went back to the vet last week, they had not realized how bad it was. His hind legs are affected by spavin and his front legs by an arthritic inflammation, and the rest had not improved his front legs at all since even resting he won’t take enough weight off them to give them a chance to heal.

If I have understood the second hand reports from the vet correctly, he would need to work his hind legs regularly to keep them from going to stiff, but he needs to rest his front legs to give them a chance to heal.

I always thought that eventually I would, somehow, end up buying Murphy. He’s been at the stables for seven years and my riding has improved so much thanks to him. He has also improved alongside with me, and he has done this despite physical problems that probably have affected him for a long time. If only he had shown something much earlier, perhaps something could have been done. And now, if only it hadn’t been so bad, I was fully prepared to buy him and sort out the economy of it somehow, even if he would have needed a year’s rest before he could be ridden again and then just for walks in the woods.

Right now, I just keep thinking how I wish I’d noticed something, how I wish I could just get to ride him one more time and that I don’t know what to do next Tuesday. For the last few years, the last thing Elio has told me each Tuesday as I left for my lesson has been “say hello to Murphy”.

And today I had to say “goodbye Murphy”.

Inside Secrets

Late again, I’ve had a lot of work this week with both subtitling and the Westeros website. I am writing this now to get it done and because I need to keep myself occupied anyway, but I am not in the right mood for it. So, just some short thoughts about last week.

Trading Ponies

This week I got to trade in my little black tank for a little white one. Heddvig had done her share of work for the day and so I ended up on Nelson. He’s Murphy’s next-door neighbour in the stables, so I am very familiar with him breathing down my neck when I am grooming Murphy as he is terribly jealous of any attention not directed at him. He is in fact quite the brat.

But, he’s a brat with very good canter who jumps very nicely. It was almost too easy, actually. He has a very round, steady canter. So steady, in fact, that trying to affect it is easier said than done. I found myself a little frustrated during the warm-up once we got into cantering, because once he’s off, he’s off and I wasn’t really able to do much with him.

The jumping did force me to get him a little more responsive to my cues, especially the “hello, no racing around this circle at full speed!” cues, and when we got to the final exercise which involved one curved line between the first two jumps, I got to feel what you can do with an easily placed horse with a good, steady canter. I am usually not very good at judging distances, but with Nelson I seemed to get a feeling for how to adjust the line so it’d be the right distance for him.

So, while I couldn’t actually shorten or lengthen his strides, I was able to place him right because his rhythm was so steady. Compared to Murphy and Heddvig, that was certainly a new experience.

Snow, Olympics & Horse Shows

Almost Tuesday again. Where did the week go? Oh, right. Eaten up by watching the Olympics and by going to the Göteborg Horse Show on Thursday and Sunday. This week will be spent trying to get my sleeping schedule a little back to normal (which still isn’t all that good) and letting my back and legs recover from sitting on those terrible seats at the Scandinavium arena for many, many hours.

But, it was good fun. Saw some exciting show jumping, an interesting clinic, some awe-inspiring dressage at liberty with Honza Bláha, fun mounted games and agility and did lots and lots of drooling over riding clothes at the associated fair. I think I could collect riding coats and jackets and breeches. ;P So much more stylish than other sports wear, and more to my tastes in terms of colours and everything. Though finding breeches that fit me is always an adventure; apparently someone imagines all riders are tall and do not have hips, and certainly not stocky legs.

What about last week’s lesson, though? Well, thanks to (and I do mean thanks to) too much snow on the arena roof, we had to ride out. I was hesitant at first, since Murphy is the only horse at the stables I’ve dared to ride out on, but at least Heddvig is the right size. And once I got up on her outside, I was calmed immediately. She clearly liked it without being too excited, and the total lack of tension in her body made me settle right in.

Then the fun started. I don’t think I’ve ridden out in winter since a riding holiday some ... 20-22 years ago. To start with, we don’t ride out at the stables during winter, that’s for late spring and early autumn. Plus, we haven’t had this sort of winter for ages. I just hope I get another chance soon, because it was amazing. We rode in deep snow in the wooded area where we have a few trails (its not great around the stables these days, too many new residential areas) and it was quite dark, with just a bit of light reflecting off the snow. Everything looked a bit spooky and magical, almost all in black and grey and white with the dark sky, the trees and the snow. We galloped more than we ever do in summer and we and the horses loved it.

I brought the camera to snap some pictures, but my hands were too cold, so I just managed a few when we got back to the stables. Will try to get one or two of Heddvig up somewhere soon.

On the Right Track

Between being tired from watching the Olympics at insane hours (figure skating between 02.00 and 06.00 is painful) and having too many little jobs to do, I’ve had a scatter-brained week. And of course the riding report fell between the cracks.

I was on Heddvig again, and while the overall result was no more than adequate, I am definitely feeling as if I am getting the handle on how to ride her. That doesn’t mean I am always doing the right thing, but at least I have some ideas for what to do. Not without exception, though. One lingering issue is getting a proper bend to her left; she overbends her neck so easily there, and with her short neck and short body I am finding it difficult to have the right effect on her.

I am also finding it hard to get a feel for when she’s escaping work, especially to the left. I ended up getting a bit of a rude wake-up call, though. After the warm-up, where we had just ridden circles in each corner, we added moving into a shoulder-in down the length of the arena. When I was told she wasn’t really bending right and tried to ask for it…she gave me shoulder-in with bucking.

At least it told me that I was on the right track.

Progress

Riding Heddvig several weeks in a row is definitely giving me more of a handle on how to ride her more effectively. I brought a shorter whip this time, and that certainly helped keep her from rushing ahead too much. Her walk was more settled, and the trot as well, at least initially. Once she’s been working for a while, she gets more keyed up. And then, of course, when she gets tired she’ll run to avoid work as well. But she is certainly a good deal more fit than when she first came to the stables.

We started off just working on riding good corners; just the right amount of bending for the chosen path, good balance, no change in pace or rhythm. Easier said than done, and I was surprised to find it rather more difficult to the left than to the right even though Heddvig’s left side is her softer side. And when we moved onto canter circles (we actually ended up stuck there the rest of the lesson), I found the same oddity there. Most horses with canter issues seem to have an easier time to keep cantering to the side that is stiffer; the canter often feels more awkward, but they can do it for longer. Heddvig, however, had her usual issues cantering to the right, she needed a tap with the whip on her shoulder to start cantering and she couldn’t hold it together for too long. To the left, however, she actually managed without the help of the whip, and it seemed rather more stable too.

Afterwards she was quite steamy, so she’d put in some good work. And tried to kill a few other horses in the process, of course. Oh, and Murphy? Seems to be responding well to his treatment so far, so that’s good news.

Ramblings and a Lesson

The plan was to post about this week’s lesson in a more timely fashion, but I’ll have to start by letting myself be side-tracked for a bit. I have this craving right now to do something more artistic/creative, and I am kicking myself for not doing that ages ago. It feels much too late to pick something up at my age (yes, I am feeling hopelessly old these days :P), because I have this block when it comes to doing something as a hobby. I don’t like doing things I can’t excel at. I am too competitive, to focused on being at the top, to just dabble in something.

The only exception, really, which is why it fits into this post, is riding. I suppose that when I was younger, I figured that one day I’d have my own horse and I’d be competing. Everyone who starts riding probably thinks like that. But eventually it just becomes a purpose in itself, without the need for additional goals like that. I want to improve, of course, and I still hope to one day be able to have a horse, but just riding is enjoyment enough. With other things, I enjoy having completed them, and then it becomes the final result that counts, not the work needed to get there. Working on a subtitling job or on a paper can be a fun challenge, but for the most part its something I like best when I have finished it. So I can’t see myself taking up something if I don’t expect to be doing it quite seriously and producing results that meet my standards.

And with that off my chest (well, not really, I never get things off my chest), back to the lesson.

The Little Tank, Again

So, it seems I’ll be riding Heddvig for a while. I have to see if I can drag Elio along to take some pictures of her at some point, because its hard to do the little black tank justice with a description.

Its certainly an interesting experience to ride her instead of Murphy, and its a lot of fun even if its hard to get the same satisfaction as when Murphy does really well simply because Heddvig doesn’t have the training or the strength to respond quite so well. But its still quite satisfying to see her progress.

This week, we work on cantering…and doing so while the others trotted. This was, on the whole, a little too difficult for Heddvig. She did show during the jumping that she can slow her canter down, but when she doesn’t have obstacles to think about her instinct is to run into the canter and then keep running because otherwise she feels she doesn’t have the strength to keep it up. I am sort of wondering if one could improve her canter in general by jumping her quite a lot. Of course, it has improved since she got to the stables, and in particular she’s getting better at taking the cues for canter a little more quickly.

On the whole—apart from the bit where my fingers almost froze off—I enjoyed it, but I do hope that a few weeks of riding Heddvig will let me get a hang on how to get her to run less and work more. She definitely has potential, and a fun attitude. As well as a lot of attitude, sometimes.

Clever Little Girl

Last week fell by the wayside, but we just had a theory lesson discussing jumping technique, with focus on the horses. This week we got to experience some of it from the saddle, and next theory we may get to see a young horse jump on its own to study “raw” technique.

I’ve only been jumping Murphy for quite some time now, since there’s a lack of other horses for me to ride, but this time I got the chance to jump Heddvig. Wow. Who’d think the little black tank could jump like that. She was so good that to start with I was making it more complicated than it had to be because I kept expecting her to have issues with a) getting any sort of canter and b) getting the right leading leg.

I was quite wrong.

Sure, the first time she didn’t get a canter right after the first jump, but a light tap on her shoulder was all it took. And sure, she needed rather wider circles than the rest to manage at a canter. But once we had jumped a couple of times, she had it figured out. She had no problem jumping on a curved line and getting the correct leading leg after each jump, and she was so easy to place right. In fact, jumping actually improved how she cantered; normally she rushes along, since she doesn’t have the strength to carry herself more slowly, but now she had jumps to think about (and think she clearly did) and that helped settle her down.

What a clever, clever girl. Of course, she also wanted to kill any horse that moved in her direction, but that’s just a minor issue. ;)

Cold New Beginnings

Some brief thoughts (because I am exhausted after the dog show today) on this Tuesday’s lesson. It was very cold, but after getting the size sorted on my winter shoes from Mountain Horse, they did a great job of keeping my feet alive. My thighs kind of died a bit, though, and my fingers died several times over. Of course, on a few occasions I found myself with my fingers frozen stiff and Murphy seemingly liking it. I guess I did fiddle a little much with the reins in some exercises, and once that stopped (because my fingers froze ;P) he became more supple and relaxed.

It was just three of us (some were probably on holidays, others stayed at home for the cold), so we got quite the workout. We warmed up working on two circles, and then we moved to an exercise where we turned in as if to ride across the arena, but then went into a tight circle to the left which led into a shoulder in on the line across the arena and which was concluded with another circle to the left. Murphy ended up quite nice and supple, and then went into “look, no spine” mode, so I had to work a lot on not overbending him. He also ended up a little too curled up for a while, but stretched out quite well once asked to, so ob the whole he was a pleasure to ride. The best results in terms of the shoulder in came when I skipped the circles and just went straight into it, so Ulrika suggested that next time we do this, I should ride a less fiddly exercise, especially on Murphy.

Look, No Saddle!

Last week was an interesting experience as I rode bareback for the first time in years and years. Murphy (I wouldn’t do it on anyone else, I think) had a very comfortable walk and trot, though I wasn’t able to canter as much as I would have liked. It was a little too jarring and I didn’t trust myself to stay on if I got too tired. The most amazing part was being reminded of, now that I know more than I did when I last rode bareback, how much contact with the horse that the saddle blocks out. Also, I think riding bareback would be excellent for curing me of my habit of coming over too far to one side.                 

There won’t be any riding this week because of the holidays, though we’re starting up next week again. Usually there’s a longer break, with some special lessons and such offered, but that hasn’t worked out so well the last years so instead we get regular lessons more quickly again. Unfortunately, our lesson has been moved an hour and a half later, and I am not sure I’ll be able to stick with that time for very long. But for now, it will still be Tuesday lessons, starting next week.

Eights Again

Just one more lesson left of this semester. The second-to-last was jumping, and it turned out pretty good. I was probably most pleased with the fact that I was able to retain some of those nice canter departures from the dressage. Usually I get too focused on going forward when I jump, but this time around I managed to be much more patient.

The exercise was another figure-of-eight variation, this time with two different diagonal and slightly curved lines. If the distance didn’t quite suit our horses, we were supposed to either shorten or lengthen the canter or, if that didn’t suit our horse, ride the line more or less curved. Given Murphy’s canter, I opted for the latter. The first line didn’t need any adjusting, though, and it felt like it all fit together pretty nicely. The second line we floated out too far the first time because I didn’t have the canter sorted in time, so it took me a couple of tries to a) get the canter sorted in time and b) start the turn in the air so the line ended up straight enough to suit Murphy’s canter.

Each time that we did the left-to-right diagonal, we got the correct (left) canter afterwards, even though that line in itself was harder. Each time we did the right-to-left diagonal, we got the wrong canter, though the line itself flowed nicely. So the main struggle each time was breaking off the canter after that line (Murphy does not do changes except once in a blue moon or so) and getting the new canter established quickly enough. This was complicated by the fact that Murphy likes jumping, so coming back down to a trot wasn’t really something he was very keen on. He also seems to find it easier to pick up a canter from a walk than a trot, at least to the right.

But overall, fun and it felt good to get the timing to work better. And I did bring treats this time.

Trying to Stay Positive

Today is not a good day. It should have been, but I worked a little too much yesterday, accomplished a little too little and have too much to do today. Add the usual end of semester and holiday stress on top of that ... and I am not coping.

So, I am going to think about this week’s lesson for a bit. Because it was fun. Maybe not a huge step forward, but it felt good. I was on Heddvig (that’s our resident North Swedish Horse), and we had cantering to do. Not an easy thing for a pretty untrained horse that a) has been bred primarily for trotting and b) has been spending most of her life until the stable got a hold of her herding cows.

Less Than Stellar

Last week saw a return of less amazing and more regular Murphy. Doing the same kind of canter work as the week before, but predominantly counter clockwise as opposed to clockwise was not a big hit with him. His hoof looked just fine, btw, but he was even more uneven between his left and his right side.

For the most part, Ulrika was pleased with how I rode him, but I could definitely feel the lack of “wow” moments, and the canter certainly lacked lift-off. It might be that its a little connected to when he has stomach issues; he’s apparently got a rather sensitive stomach, and it was a little in uproar last week. I am wondering if its ulcer, since I recently read its very common in horses and most domestic horses have it to some degree or another. Given that he does get unsettled easily, he might have more than most.

Multi Tasking

Where did the week go? Oh, I know, website work and subtitling work swallowed it.

Almost time for a new lesson, so just some shorter musings on last week. Which can be summed up as very good, as Murphy and I put what weeks of counter-cantering had taught us to work on some regular cantering.

It started out a little nervously, though, as I found a small cut on his right back hoof. It turned out to be a scab on top of his old scar, from when his hoof was (somehow) almost split into two parts. He has a lot of scar tissue there, and needs a specially-shaped shoe, but otherwise it doesn’t seem to bother him. Ulrika didn’t think the cut would affect him, so we gave it a try. I think that during the lesson he was possibly a tiny bit less willing to use his right side correctly (he’s always pretty uneven, but it may have been a touch more than usual), but she couldn’t see anything from the ground.

There was certainly nothing wrong with his canter. Much of it was just a notch or two over regular Murphy-standard, but on two occasions I got some lovely lift. The second time I tried to point this out to Ulrika ... and it promptly fell apart. She noted that it seems clear I just can’t talk and ride at the same time, at least not when me and/or the horse is doing much better than usual.