Hippoi Athanatoi

Murphy

Its done now.

I had more contact with my instructor over the weekend, and she really felt it was a very bad prognosis, especially in terms of Murphy’s discomfort. The spavin in his hind legs had not yet fused, according to the vet it was at a rather painful stage of inflammation. That was why the inflammation in the front legs just kept worsening over the last 5-6 weeks, even with the rest from riding and just hand-walking that was done. He basically couldn’t relieve them enough with his hind legs being at that stage.

It was perhaps not impossible, looking at what I have been told and what I have read over this last week. But it wasn’t certain that it could work out either, and I guess one would want better odds to put a horse through that amount of discomfort and a lengthy rehabilitation process.

My main regret is that I couldn’t give him a few years in a quiet little stable, away from the riding school. He had probably been kept mostly outdoors before he came to Sweden from Ireland (and apparently he came here as a stallion too, at 5 or so) and at first he really disliked being indoors. He settled in with time, but he was always insecure about having lots of people around him when he was indoors. If you came in early in the day, though, as I did for private lessons, he was so much more relaxed and eager to socialize.

He’ll be sorely missed, not just by me. He wasn’t a favourite for a lot of people (which just made me identify more with him), but he was a very safe, solid and dependable horse for the less experienced riders and amazingly willing to work when he liked how you rode him.

Delayed

A while ago I got what I thought would be the text message that my instructor had promised to send after it was done.

But, no. An emergency elsewhere meant a delay until early next week. I am trying to tell myself it doesn’t really matter and that it doesn’t mean anything will change, but of course something is whispering at the back of my mind, telling me to ask more questions, search for more answers on the Internet, and so on.

But I am pretty sure its just fate really, really expressing its dislike of me.

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. ;)

My Dog, Bad Dog

Today was supposed to be the second day of MyDog. Or rather, it still is, but not for us. Yesterday didn’t go all that well, resulting in a Linda with a bad back and lots of added stress. And given that I’ve got a paper on Roman curse tablets due soon, I felt I didn’t need another day like that. Of course, it usually goes better the second day, since Ringo tends to be a little more mellow, but I decided against it anyway. Still kicking myself, of course, and thinking about “what ifs”.

Yesterday actually started off okay, since I had had the smart idea of using the less busy entrance and giving Ringo a little walk outside the arena first. So, he was pretty manageable once inside, not really pulling towards dogs much at all. But once we got settled in around the ring, it was really, really crowded (today would have been better in that regard too, since we would have been in a bigger ring with more space around it), and he got really riled up and just wouldn’t calm down. If he wasn’t barking at us for attention, he barked at other dogs, either to get them to play or out of his usual leash fear/aggression. In some cases, he did settle down about particular dogs so that he could be praised for it (and I rather regret not walking him around more down in the exhibit area, to get more of a chance to reward him), but he never really landed fully. We did have his cage along, and he’d occasionally go in, but after a few minutes he’d bark and want to be let out.

And then we got into the ring, and he and a few other dogs took a dislike to each other. I don’t know who started, I know he growled at one that passed nearby, but then the dog in front of us kept turning around to snarl in his face, so I think they were all to blame. But it got kind of stressful (though no one actually touched anyone else), and for a while I even thought the judge had sent us out because he was really a) disorganized and b) quiet when he tried to split the group into two for running the dogs. By then I had a complete dry mouth and arms and legs that felt so weak I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do the individual evaluation at all. As a result, the individual running was not good. Ringo was a bit tried and I was too exhausted to do a good job. The teeth showing went well since I got to do it myself (the judge said he was tried of wrestling boxers), and then Ringo posed ... okayish while I tried to catch my breath and calm down.

Of course, after all that work, we got a 2. Not a huge surprise at a Kennel Club show, he’s just not that kind of boxer, but I am a bit annoyed anyway. The written critique was actually quite good, save for a note about him being a bit hotheaded in the ring. This means that the judge either wrote a critique that doesn’t really seem to reflect a 2 in terms of his conformation, or the judge gave him the 2 because of his temper. But for temper, if the judge feels it is an issue, it should be a 0 and then a code “A” for fearful or aggressive behaviour. If its not judged to be that much of an issue, then my understanding is that it shouldn’t be reflected in the score at all, unless its highly atypical for the breed. But, I’ve had other 2’s that I am pretty sure came because he was too unruly/bouncy/etc, when he really should have had a KEP (Kan ej prisbelönas = Cannot be judged) instead. So, because judges are reluctant to give what they see as the more serious 0 + A or KEP, you get 2’s that aren’t really 2’s instead. In this case, I guess the judge didn’t feel like handing out a bunch of 0 + A, so he handed out a few 2’s instead.

Of course, the reason for the 2 could also be that the judge isn’t very good at writing a critique that sounds well matched to the score he gives out. I know he’s judged a lot of boxer, but he spent a lot of time measuring the younger boxers and consulting a sheet which appeared to have the boxer standard on it. So it may be that we got a bit of a cookie cutter review with some typical catch-phrases thrown in. But, that’s how it is. Its all subjective, and that has to be accepted. Still, doesn’t mean one can’t sigh a bit about it. ;) Anyway, here’s the critique:

Masculine, excellent nose, a bit too much cheek, good eyes and ears. Short neck, strong back, straight croup, good forechest, good length of chest. Good legs and feet. Moves okay, somewhat hotheaded in the ring towards his competitors.

Don’t know when we will be showing again (possibly not until the local boxer show in May, but that may be too long a wait again), but this spring we really need to make an attempt at getting him ready for a working dog competition, probably tracking. We also want to do the physical & mental evaluation that should be done before age 4. And we’ll probably be booking some private lessons with a trainer to see if we can do anything about his leash aggression.

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.