Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Fox Point, Mares and Riding in the time of COVID

 I've been working from home for nearly a year now, and it's been hard to balance the want to pick up blogging again with losing the will to live, feeling really busy, trying to ride while I have the chance, and... life. 

It's hard to pick up again, and figure out how to summarize what's been missed, and it's hard to not feel like people will judge me for being like... well things are about where they were last year.

Here's the highlights of the last year:

- Arya is now on Regumate. It helps. She's still not perfect, but it helps.

- I still have no desire to compete.

- I took Bailey to a clinic with Daryl Kinney (SUPER POSITIVE, JHOMPED BIG THINGS) and felt like I sucked a little less than I remember

-Later in the fall, had my confidence cracked schooling at Otter Creek, our most local horse trial location. I fell off, and probably broke my tail bone, and spent the next few months in a lot of pain. 

- Pre-clinic, my Vision started to not fit. It was brushing Bailey's withers and just wasn't working for me, and I finally gave up the ghost and sold it in the fall. It's been replaced by a British model Stubben Roxane MF (which, I promise, doesn't actually stand for Mother Fucking Big Blocks... but it has them) and I am really in love

- Reading my last post, um. Yes we still stuck at going right. Both horses. It's a work in progress.

The horses continue to bring me joy. This year has been weird, in so many ways, but it's been a bit of a gift, too. For a good part of the summer, I rode a horse nearly every day. It's some thing I've never had the opportunity to do, and taught me a new form of grit when I hit a wall and didn't want to ride, for once. Recovering from breaking my butt and my confidence is probably still ongoing; the stiffness still lingers, and I am sure my jumping position is still fraught with habits picked up when I protectively stopped using my stomach muscles and waited on tenterhooks for things to hurt, randomly. 

As things haven't yet been announced as changing, I've been looking at this coming warm weather as further chances to ride as much as I can, both to get myself fit again (seriously, my core vanished in less than a month, what the hell) and to move Arya towards "broke" and Bailey towards "possibly suitable to take out for lessons". I'm hoping we can achieve that and more, and that I'll have something interesting to write about again. 

Monday, May 18, 2020

Riding, Lately

It's been stunningly beautiful this spring. My memories show me spring snow storms and mud, and other than some temperature drops, the mares have been naked and slowly transitioning onto grass. Trees are leafing out pretty spectacularly, the hay field grew 6 inches after the application of some nitrogen... life is good.

Riding has been happening, except over the weekend when it got very chilly and I just wasn't feeling it.

Bailey has been yawning over the jumps I have set, so it's time to reconfigure the field again, or move jumps into the ring for some variety. Right now I have a two stride combo through the middle, with my warm up barrels (because they're small and boring) on the diagonal, and a weird bending line of skinny metal barrels winding through. It's been fun to ride the accuracy questions with the 2 stride, which is set a bit forward, and also maintain turning. We've had three sessions on it now and Bailey yawned hardcore during our last ride - you know it's time to change your jumps when she's foot perfect through on the first or second attempt.

Dressage has been hard with her, not because she's bad (actually she's been fabulous) but because going right is like... really hard to do properly. I'm not sure where the heck my legs go wrong, or why I over bend her like crazy going right, but I've been putting the focus on it hard, and things are slowly getting better. We've been focusing on not just motorcycling and over bending right, making sure the left is still correct, and prompt transitions. I still am doing a prep and go cue for canter, but I'm trying hard to break that habit. Trot has been improving hugely under the "leg means go" regime - I no longer put my leg on, then harder, then kick. It's refreshing. We also are pulling groundwork back in, because I feel like Bailey has been lacking some personality shine lately. Maybe she's just more fatigued being out 24/7, but I feel like she has feedback that she's internalizing vs showing me and it's making things harder.

Arya has been... suspiciously good. I got on her the day of my last post about her, and she's hardly put a toe out of line since.

You think I'm naughty? The insult!!

It's highly suspicious, and I'm still coming to our sessions with a big stick, but perhaps she's going to start acting her age?? Maybe??

ETA: Yeah, I cursed it. Dingus tried to exit the arena backwards via rearing and scooting backwards with a few reining spin impressions towards the end of our last ride. And then it rained all weekend. So... square one begins again today.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Fox Point Farm: A (long, rambly) 3 Year Anniversary

It just occurred to me that we've been on the farm for three years, and that I should probably talk about that. Because it's been a pretty great, and it's been really hard. Even this week has been a reminder that things can be beautiful and running smoothly, and other days every battery on the farm is randomly dead all at the same time and nothing works. 

Some things are coming full circle, like this is one of my favorite photos from the first month of farm ownership:

And I took these photos a few days ago:

 The farm is beautiful, in every season:

But it's never been without challenges. 

When we moved in to our "turn key" farm, the pastures were overgrown, riddled with gopher mounds and holes, and the paddock was a knee deep mire of standing/flowing water and years of manure that was not managed. The barn had two tiny stalls and a huge swath of empty unused space. The pastures had wandering, random fence lines.

And in three years, we've:

- Tilled under and re-seeded something like 13 acres, and fenced two new growth pastures from that number. 
- Straightened fence lines, completely redoing 99.9% of the fencing (the remaining .1 is the board fencing near the barn and the front paddock gate)
- Installed 1500' of drain tile, give or take, through the paddock, in the back yard and through the riding arena
- With the help of our hay guy (who does a lot of the work, admittedly, but we put up our portion: harvested 3 cuts off of our hay field despite two of the rainiest hay making summers in the history of ever (and yes, miraculously they were put up DRY. Blessed is my hay guy, despite his total lack of communication)
- Tamed the 3 acres of "yard" that we keep relatively mowed and cared for looking (including my jump field)
- Replaced the washer, dryer, kitchen appliances and water softener
- Completely overhauled the barn interior, putting in 5 stalls.
- Doubled the hay storage space off the side of the barn (three sided storage)

Sorry for the list, but I'm super proud of the work we've put in :) 

Gratuitous Arya photo to distract from my bragging

2020 has turned into a busy year in the last few weeks. We purchased a pump and have been using it to drain the small, man-dug pond between the arena and the paddock after heavy rainfall. This makes a huge difference for a lot of things, because the way our property's watershed seems to work is that the pond fills up with water flowing off the hay field, out of the riding arena and from the general area. Once it fills up to a point, it starts to flow across the paddock as it can't hold any more, and this small pond is above the second, larger pond behind the house. This causes the mud/mire/mess to form, and makes life miserable - like, I use a sled to get manure to the pile because the cart wheels sink several inches into the muck and take a Herculean effort to even begin to move. 

Light blue lines illustrating water flow across the property, with bad sketching of new fence lines in green
And yes, someone should shoot the previous owner who built the barn there

So yes, we've been pumping the pond. And the pond kept refilling, even without rain. Where was that coming from. And the hay field wet spot is much less wet. So we've been pumping the pond, and, last weekend, dug a hole in the lowest spot of the hay field (calf high standing water, even after about a week of basically no rain) and pumped that. And the field is drying. And my paddock is dry. 

The only unhappy one is me,sort of, because I have to wash mud off the dogs every day because they like to play in and around the edges of the pond, and the water left behind lots of nasty mud. Feet of it. But a pretty significant drying issue seems to be solved by the application of gas powered pump and lots and lots of hose. 

Breaking up a wall of boring text with non-contextual pretty pictures of the mares...

The other busy thing has been the changing of the guard in the equipment shed. The hay shed has had some standing water issues since... always. I lost the bottom layer of hay on the lower side the first spring, and while we haven't had that particular issue this year, we have had a lot of wet, sometimes standing water wet ground on the left side, in particular. The problem being that the left side is where the round bales live. We have some material on order to hopefully raise the floor up and prevent the water issue, but given the number of times we've had to call the neighbors to bail us out with round bales, we decided it was time to upgrade our hay moving equipment. 

So we own a skid steer now.

The tractor is for sale, and since we are selling that, we decided to sell our riding mower and just get one mid-size zero turn mower to cover the gap losing the 60" mower on the tractor and the 46" riding mower left. Our little hobby farm suddenly has lots of big scary-to-drive pro equipment! The skid in particular is intimidating; it's a track model so it feels to me like a little farm tank. I'm excited through, because that baby probably won't struggle to drop rounds come rain or snow or feet of mud... and that's nice to have, in case our mud control goes off the rails. 

It's bittersweet to think about where we started; I was so sure I didn't want to feed rounds, didn't think we needed a mower that big, didn't anticipate the mud or the work. We survived a trial by mud, and it's been a utter blessing and a total headache. We've learned so much, and also torn our hair out at the intrinsic knowledge that farm raised people seem to have that never makes it to the internet for desperate hobby farmers like us. On the whole, though, I love it here. I love being able to care for my girls the way I want to, and I love watching them enjoy their lives healthy and happy. I love listening to the frogs sing all evening in the spring, and I love looking up at the stars, no matter the season. 

So yeah, we're here, at three years. It's taken some time, but hoping we've finally figured at least some of the basics out?

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Blowing Hot and Cold - Arya Update

Riding a lot has continued on, with a small break to road trip across the country and move the hubs home, which was... entertaining, given that COVID has made interstate travel a bit of a crapshoot, food and bathroom wise. We even had to call and make sure our hotel was open (it was not, we had to move to a different hotel). But, for all the stress, the solo horse farm experiment is over with. I am more capable and more gritty and slightly better at making lists and getting shit done. 

I mean, I still procrastinate like crazy, but I'm slightly better, at least. 

Before the roadtrip, I brought Arya into work slowly and had some really good rides with her, mixed in with a random swollen knee that has kind of... persisted, in a very mild, not enough to have the vet xray it once I saw my spring shots bill kind of way. My rules with Arya are that she doesn't get to trot unless she can walk relatively obediently, and she doesn't get to canter unless she can trot without shenanigans (at least, without major ones). She tends to get more explosive the faster she's going, and is more likely to unseat me (at least, she was, new update on that below...) so I feel like that's not too much to ask. Walk nicely. Trot nicely. Then you can canter, and please don't canter in a teacup. We had progressed to that, and I was happy to give her time off while I drove for several days. Getting back to it on the other side, I put her back into her lunge, then lunge with tack, then get on routine over the next week or so. She was naughty, and I picked a fight with her over side-passing and poles that ended up with a argumentative ride. And now we are regressing. 


I actually took video of her with my phone (not with my Pivo, just setting it on a fencepost) and I don't know if it's just knowing I have a camera on even if I never have to keep the footage or let it see light of day, I tend to not have good rides when I video. She was very bad - less rearing than her previous badness, but a lot more foot planting. The next ride was almost worse, because, as I babbled to her "I came to a sword fight with a sword this time" (aka I was carrying a whip) and the whip, of course, causes drama when used, and tightness when she does start moving. I got on her several days in a row, trying to end my rides on positive notes, keep the rides short and basic. After our first bad ride, my next ride was (as I suspected a sore back from a bad heat) literally getting on her to walk two circles in each direction without nonsense. This took around 20 minutes, because nonsense of course happened. The next ride, she must have caught some anxiety from me or else she's just a Velociraptor of a mare, and decided to rear, back, and fling herself sideways all the way out of the arena gate, which doesn't have an actual gate on it. And she also tried to back into the fence once, which brought back major nightmares of "what if she rears and loses her balance and kills us".

So she's lost privileges to use that end of the arena. She also went sideways over the mounting block, because #drama. 

I'm pretty burned out and fed up with her, to be honest. She's on the last few paks of that mare supplement I tried out last year, trying to weather this heat out (and decide if it's actually heat related) and I'm giving her more magnesium, which she isn't excited to eat. It's tough to get on and walk and maybe trot, and not even get full circles without her trying to either start shit (I use this term a lot, so starting shit = pushing my leg around with her shoulder, popping her shoulder, going sideways, swinging her barrel and seeing if I react and ask her to fix it, trying to stop or randomly leaping) or actually... pulling shit. I try to hard to be a stone. I don't react to her bad behavior, and praise good behavior like she just ran around Rolex. I'm being unbelievably whiny, and if you made it this far, a gold star to you. 

I don't want to give up on her, but also... she makes me want to tear my hair out.

At least Bailey is being good? 

I plan to keep working with her, and keep trying new things. We'll be moving her down in the arena, and I have a new beating stick that seems to make an impression (and it's all hers, I realized after it arrived it's too long to carry at a show at 31") and I'm still using a breastcollar and oh shit strap to keep me out of her face when she rears. I just want her to be good!!

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Shameless Distractions

With a lot of my coworkers struggling with WFH, which makes doing my job relatively... slow... I have been allowing myself a certain amount of distraction. Distraction is my friend. Distraction keeps the anxiety at bay, and keeps me from thinking about the fact that my diet, habits and general idea of normal has kind of evaporated.

I have been riding.

In my last jump school (snow pictures) I really struggled with bulk under my thigh; this is probably a symptom of the saddle being too small for me. It is a 17" saddle, but has a monstrously forward flap, so it generally works. I like the blocks, I like the balance. I don't like this new awareness that I'm being stabbed in the inner thigh by a wad of nylon lined stirrup leather and buckle. In general on Bailey, I have been struggling with sitting down and putting my leg on her, and keeping it on. I feel like I get tossed loose, or come to the awareness several times during my rides that my thigh or lower leg is off the horse. In the jump saddle, I was taking my thigh off, which robs Bailey of support to the base of the fence. In my dressage saddle, I've been generally noticing a number of things; I feel like I need a different length stirrup for trot than for walk and canter. I feel like I'm constantly pulling my knee and lower thigh back and off the block and resetting behind it. I also felt like I had to reposition myself constantly. I struggled to get myself into a better position and hold it.

The jump saddle problem was my main concern; I decided, after sitting on the internet for a hot week, to solve it not only with mono leathers, but to give the Total Saddle Fit Slim Stability leathers a try. I really wanted nylon lined, not having much else in my life for a long time, but I am hoping these leathers hold up and resist stretching (several used leathers, mostly Stubben mono leathers without a nylon core, showed strong issues with stretching). The bottoms are nylon lined, but the wide stability part are not.

I excitedly slapped them on my jump saddle and ran outside to try them when they came last weekend, and I was pleased. I didn't feel like I was getting my shit jumped out of the tack on an enthusiastic and forward Bailey, and I also felt very secure in general. I didn't get bounced loose throughout spooks, bounces and some of that delightful teeth induced head tossing.

I rode the next day in my dressage saddle and had, honestly, a really shit ride. I've been using my Myler combo as bolt insurance in the ring (because that gets old SO FAST) but I still had a fussy, disconnected horse, and I felt uneven and unstable and unable to get my leg around my horse. I don't know if I can put a finger on when this started, but I think it's been a problem for some time, and has been highlighted by the new dressage saddle.

So I went out to ride yesterday feeling kind of bad about myself, and my riding. I was out of shape, I was weak. My left leg was going rogue, I was bouncing and making noise on my horse's back, and she was ignoring me, and faking contact, and I started to joke about selling her again. And then I randomly was like, what the heck. And I slapped those new leathers on my dressage saddle.

And promptly had the best ride I've had in some time. I was able to feel and influence inconsistencies in Bailey's body. I could straighten her out, and was able to focus on straightening and softening, vs sitting on her. I didn't find myself inching up my knee blocks, and the minute I got on, I had this great moment of "wow my stirrups must usually be super uneven". And that feeling went away, and my body didn't feel uneven after some time. I didn't feel like my leg was flapping from the knee down. And I felt like my thigh was able to stay on her so much better.

So, um, I am sold. I didn't think they'd make a difference for me, or at least not really much of one. But they are. And they're bringing some much needed light and feelings of competence to my riding.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

On Gratitude

Inspired by Liz @ In Omnia Paratus, I can't help but be extremely grateful for the farm these last few weeks. Despite all the anxiety and worry, I am lucky in a number of ways;

- Both Hubs and I are able to work remote, and are doing so
- My horses live at home, and I don't have to worry about losing access to them
- The dogs are thrilled, and haven't seen their kennels in forever and sleeping on heated blankets all day is the best.

We have all we need, at the moment, and mostly it's just battling sedentary work schedules and dogs who seem to think any time after 1 pm is game for annoying me into playing with them.

Farm wise, everything is wet, with standing water, but we have only the barest areas of snow left in the shady spots. The ring is slowly emerging from being generally unrideable (I swear, it sunk this winter. UGH) due to being wet, but the paddock is a muddy puddly mess. The horses are fine with this (especially Arya) but Bailey has a bit of thrush so we need to be treating that. I've been enjoying my Evo Hoofcare rasps a lot, and feel like I'm making slow, but positive changes to certain things, like hoof balance side to side.

Riding wise, things have been slowly continuing. I'm still struggling with Bailey and her fake connection, which has been something I've been playing with off and on over the last 6 months so far. It's been especially slow when I couldn't video myself over the winter, and Bailey is so short backed it's harder for me to know what I'm seeing and feeling, because she just looks so much more naturally compact. Especially my last few rides, which have been SPOOKY and excitable, it's been frustrating. I wish I could go take lessons, but alas... I will have to continue to struggle on.

Those tires are HAUNTED and the wood pile next to them is the HOME OF SATAN

Arya has been coming back to work with ground work, and now two walking rides. She's the riskier creature to ride when you definitely don't want to fall off and get hurt, but I've been trying to be fair to her as she also has a need to be Not Bored and I'd like for her to progress. So far, the walking has been uneventful. Yesterday's walk was more of a cool out after a Arya-emotion filled line session where she wanted to charge around, challenge authority and blow through my directions to do what she wanted (be a kite). She was sweaty and puffing hard, and once I swung a leg over, I did feel like she wanted to pick at me a little bit, pulling on my inside rein vs giving, occasionally moving her shoulders against what I was asking, jigging a bit. Nothing felt super dangerous, and she defused down, but we'll likely wait for trotting until she can be a bit more obedient and not pick fights.

Hopefully the ring dries out more so I can do more jumping, and also ride Bailey NOT next to the scary side of the arena. Today is kind of cool and misty, so not exactly what I was hoping for, but I'm here, I'm able to keep moving forward, and working from home for the foreseeable forever is a gift in these otherwise trying times. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

2020: What we have been up to thus far

Hey, bloggerland. It's been a hot minute, for sure.

I'm not sure if anyone bothers to keep up with this blog anymore, because, well, nothing ever happens. The weather is starting to move towards the first of what is generally many iterations and variations of spring in Minnesota, and I'm starting to think about getting my riding back on track.

Winter has been a surprising lot of this
But mostly this.

I started a new job back at the end of January. I got some riding in over the holidays for sure, but we were also dealing with cold temperatures, so I didn't do quite as much as I wanted. As I mentioned in my last post, S (aka Bailey's mom's mom) came and sorted Arya out, and I definitely made a lot of progress with her. However, when the new job started, my riding has been confined pretty exclusively to weekends, and that schedule really doesn't work with Arya's behavior issues. Until the light comes back and I can ride mid-week safely (because we also gained some sketchy footing over the last few months off and on) I have focused on Bailey, and lunge Arya. She continues to have reminders that she needs to be obedient and wear tack and not be a giant asshole, but getting on her and fighting with her for two subsequent days, and then letting her sit for five isn't productive in my mind - we make progress for ride #2, and then back slide over the week, wash, rinse, repeat.

Jumps, Mahm.

So Bailey has been the focus in 2020 thus far; she has worn mostly dressage tack, and we've worked how we can with the footing melting down and icing down. She's been doing more work in the front field, which generally has been more rideable than the arena ice wise, and has been a shockingly solid citizen. Once we have footing where I can do more (i.e. I don't need to punch down a riding path in the ice topped snow and then stay on it to prevent massive tripping) I am going to put her back into a routine of lateral work on the flat, dressage based focus and hopefully jumping again. We haven't jumped in the new year until last weekend, and it was a delight. Bailey lit up like Christmas to see jumps, and was extremely excited (read: there was lots of zooming) to play with them. I kept this first session pretty short - just my metal barrels and the culvert covered show jump in the front field, and I didn't harp too much on her, other than trying to break her down into some form of vaguely ride-able, adjustable, stoppable type horse.

One of the big wins of this year so far is a great change (at least by feel, it's been too cold for the Pivo and my phone) in Bailey's canter. I feel like she's always looked upright due to her neck and the way it attaches to her body, but she doesn't naturally sit and flex her hocks at the canter, and she naturally seems to move much more daisy-cutter-esque than I really want. Particularly in the new dressage saddle, I'm feeling much more able to really sit her down behind and lift her up in front. We had a particularly magical breakthrough the last time it snowed nicely, and I've been able to recreate a really lovely sitable canter (which, bounce bucket pony isn't always sitable) that feels super and uphill.

We've been nibbling away at other skills, but a second win of 2020 so far is hacking. I've been making a point to hacking out as much as I can after my rides. We tend to ride the same track, but I feel like familiarity is fine at this point, as Bailey still gets very up and wired depending on the day, despite the boring familiarity of the hack path. We go out through the front field, around the pastures and the hay field tree island, and then back up through the house's back-back yard, around the barn to the doors. It's not a massive hack, but Bailey seems to be building confidence I'd like to keep building on out in open spaces. She's been a horrid trail horse or road horse to date, and while I never seem to have problems XC schooling, she has always been a little wild to take down a road or trail and I'd like to improve her abilities there.

So here we are, coming in to spring. Or it feels like it, at least. Arya's mane got roached down over the weekend, and I am starting the (obnoxious) process of shortening Bailey's back into a less feral look. I'm really looking forward to coming opportunities to ride during the week more regularly, and hope that this warm weather stays long enough to melt my riding arena's crust of annoying ice. I like field riding, but that will have to stop if the ground gets soft enough, as I don't want to destroy it for the year with hoof marks. Plus I don't yet trust Arya in the front field, so I'd love to have the time and footing to get her started again.

Oh, and Bailey has developed a love affair with Mrs. Pastures cookies. Unfortunately I am an idiot and left the bag within reach of her overnight, and came in to do AM turnout to a basically brand new 5 lb bag of cookies empty on the shelf, and a very self satisfied BB. She's had no fallout from her cookie pig fest, other than her mom being too indignant to immediately go buy more fancy cookies.

Life is hard at the farm, if you ask her :)