Hello, friend!

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Life has been nutso busy the past few weeks and I’ve been terrible about posting. Will get back on the train this weekend – in the meantime, here’s my new favorite picture of Marley, visiting with my husband’s motorcycle. I rode him around the property on Saturday while my husband was parked at the barn, and each time we walked past the bike Marley was on high alert. Decided to let him investigate post-ride, and the result was this pic. I think they like each other!

Transitions, poles, repeat.

Marley continues to build fitness and is inching closer to what I’d consider “full” flatwork. He’s cantering for close to 10 minutes and trotting 20-30 minutes per ride, and we’re re-introducing basic lateral work.

As he’s able to do more, I’ve been starting to think about how to keep him challenged and interested while working on his rhythm, relaxation, and connection. In addition to getting him out of the arena whenever possible, I’ve been devouring books and and blog posts to get ideas about training exercises.

I’ve amassed a respectable equine library over the years, but recently purchased 101 Dressage Exercises for Horse & Rider and so far have found it a wonderful resource. Very straightforward and easy to read, practical in structure, and of course many exercises that will get you and your horse thinking.

On Saturday we had a lesson and did a lot of canter work, so yesterday my goal was to focus more on the walk and trot, trying to keep a steadier connection and rhythm. Happily, we had the arena to ourselves for most of the ride so I was able to get in a quality ride and even set up some ground poles for a basic exercise at the walk.

Exercise 1: Lots of Walk-Trot

The goal of the first exercise was to help get Marley softer and more relaxed. Super simpleScreen Shot 2016-07-11 at 7.06.51 AM – go around the arena, walk for approximately 10 steps, transition to a slow trot for a few steps, then transition back to a walk. Repeat. Maybe change directions. Pick you spots for the transitions so that they are intentional. Do this for 10-15 minutes.

The diagram at the right (from the book, not mine!) gives you a sense as to how frequent the transitions need to be. I found myself sometimes going a bit longer or shorter depending on how Marley was feeling; he also starts to anticipate things so I wanted to be sure he was always transitioning when I asked him to, not when he thought we were supposed to.

I can’t say that we were in perfect harmony the entire time, but Marley did definitely soften and seem to become more adjustable as we settled into the exercise.

Exercise 2: Walking Poles

Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 7.07.06 AMI’ve been wanting to incorporate poles into our rides because I find that working over them, even at a walk, can really improve how a horse uses his back and hind end. Marley is certainly more fit than he was two months ago, but we still have work to do. I decided to start with a very basic exercise – at left, from the book, not mine! – to ease back into things.

We had some clumsy moments while Marley refreshed his memory about how to navigate things lying on the ground, but overall I was pleased with him. Very straight and focused, and the quality of his walk definitely improved over the course of the exercise.

Progress!

Lessons in Saddle Fitting

Saddle fitting is so interesting to me; I’m always sort of amazed at how little I knew about it as a younger rider. I understood the basics, but sort of merrily went around riding dozens of horses in my same jump saddle for, oh, ten years. Since getting back into the sport two years ago, I’ve learned more than I think I had during my previous 15-year run as an equestrian.

After purchasing Marley, bought a saddle last summer with the help of the awesome Jay from Trumbull Mountain. I’d tried a few different brands on Marley, and was having trouble finding something locally that worked for him. My budget wasn’t enormous – translation: I could definitely not spend $5 or $6K on a custom saddle – and I wanted a high-quality jump saddle that fit him well.

We ended up with a Black Country Ricochet, which seemed to make Marley happy and fit me beautifully. The tree shape and panel structure also worked for his conformation – he has large shoulders, a wide barrel, and a rather short back. Also, withers! Sigh. The saddle is wool flocked, and technically was due for an adjustment or at least fit check six months ago. Given that Marley was not in full work, though, I held off. Over the past month or so I definitely had been noticing that the panels were getting a little flat, and while the wither clearance was still acceptable I could tell that the balance wasn’t as perfect as it was last summer. He has actually maintained his topline and overall muscle tone fairly well, so I decided it was time for an adjustment.

I’ve had a difficult time finding a saddle fitter that is not also a rep for [ insert large and $$$$$ saddle company here ]. After asking around at my barn, I reached out to a woman who came recommended by a few different boarders. She used to be a rep for a specific company, but has always worked across brands and recently became an independent fitter.

Overall the saddle fits Marley well, but the balance was off as the flocking in the front panels had started to settle. We didn’t need a full re-flocking, but an adjustment was definitely in order. I rode yesterday for the first time since the adjustment, and the balance is absolutely improved. Here’s a quick shot of what the saddle looked like post-ride:

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It will take a bit of time for the new flocking to settle, and the panels don’t sit quite as flat as I’d like at the moment. I’ll monitor the fit closely over the next few weeks and re-adjust as necessary. Sweat patterns were very good after our ride, and Marley’s back did not palpate sore at all.

Eventually we’ll need to go through this whole process again for a dressage saddle, but that’s for another day!

Slow and Steady

It’s been a busy month and I’ve been terrible at keeping this updated!

Marley is progressing well. He’s gradually getting more and more work, with a focus on fitness, strength, and balance. He also seems to be relaxing more and more – I’m sure the slow increase in exercise is helping.

 

How to Horse

Marley has been back at our barn for just about two weeks and is slowly settling down and remembering what it’s like to be a horse with a “job” – even if his job right now is not super strenuous.

Overall I’m pleased with his progress. I’ve ridden him 5 times and I think each has been marginally better and less dramatic. It’s possible that I’m projecting, but I really think he likes feeling as though he’s going to “work”. He just marches so proudly toward the arena when he’s tacked up – it’s fun to see him have a little bit of swagger.

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While I’m pleased with Marley’s progress under saddle and his health overall seems great, I am a bit concerned about his turnout situation. One of the things I love about our barn is that, unlike many places in California, they actually have sizable paddocks and horses are out from 9am until 4 or 5pm. Marley has a small, flat paddock that gives him enough room to stretch his legs and maybe buck a bit, but he can’t really work up a head of steam – which for now is fine. The past few times I’ve arrived at the barn mid-day, though, he’s been extremely agitated in the turnout. All I can figure is that his old pasture mate – another red-headed chestnut TB – is in a nearby paddock and does a lot of running back and forth. I have to believe it’s frustrating for Marley that he can’t join Gio on his romps.

The Plan

Marley has been back home for nearly two weeks, and overall he has settled very well.

For the first week we focused on just getting adjusted to being at a busy barn again. Marley is funny – for a TB, he’s very chill and, particularly when he’s in work, can be almost lazy. He is, however, definitely prone to anxiety and if he’s at all “up” can be a bit spooky.

I’m working with a trainer at our barn to help ensure that Marley gets plenty of time out of his stall and paddock even though he’s not in what I would term full work.

I’ve now ridden Marley twice since bringing him back to the barn, and so far so good. I’ve been careful to ride only when the arena is relatively quiet, both so pony man is not inspired to start cantering by some horse jumping a line next to him and so that we can stick to the long sides of the arena without having to make abrupt turns. Most importantly, Marley seems bright-eyed and healthy and he’s moving well.

 

“Home”

Marley is “home” from camp!

 

After several months of a lot of rest, gradually increasing access to turnout, and a few vet visits, it seemed clear that Marley was ready to do more. His leg was looking perfect and and he was sound.

The barn Marley had been staying at was set up perfectly for turnout and light work, but not equipped for longer work sessions and/or real training. I needed to decide whether to bring him closer to SF so I could start gradually upping his workload, or explore sending him to a training facility elsewhere.

After a lot of research and back-and-forth, I made the decision to bring Marley back to our old barn a few weeks ago. I have him on a waiting list for a shed + paddock, but it will likely take some time for that to become available. In the meantime, he has a stall at night and a private turnout during the day. The barn manager has been wonderful and has was able to give him access to a small and almost perfectly flat paddock – it’s not huge, but it’s definitely big enough for him to stretch his legs in (and not so big that he can really work up a head of steam, even if he does try to bounce around). He was definitely tense and anxious the first few days, but he’s started to settle and selfishly I’m so glad to have him closer to home.

More soon about our adventures and the plan moving forward!

Check-Ups

I’ve been a bit slow to update lately. Marley is settled at “camp”, which mostly means getting rather fat and taking lots of naps in the sun. He’s actually put on a bit more weight than I would like and has a tremendous amount of energy – not uncommon for horses mostly on rest, but we might dial back the rice bran a bit!

 

 

Visitor Day @ Camp

The past few weeks have been extremely busy between work and volunteer commitments and general life stuff, so I hadn’t been to see Marley since he shipped up to the North Bay in late January. I’d gotten regular reports and so knew he was doing fine, but was curious to see him firsthand.

I was of course interested to see how his maybe-injured leg was looking, but I was also curious as to whether he’d be stocked up at all. He’s had a tendency since I got him to stock up when stalled, and the last few days at our old barn his back legs were extremely puffy. Stocking up is generally harmless, but I take it as a sign that all is not completely happy with my guy so don’t love seeing it. At the new barn Marley has a good-sized stall plus a small paddock – extremely level and not so large that he can really run or do any damage, but enough that he definitely moves during the day.

Overall, I was really thrilled with how Marley looked. All 4 legs were tight and cool. He did throw a shoe – ah, winter mud – but we got an Easy Boot on quickly so hopefully we can get that back on sooner rather than later. It was very cold and extremely windy, so all of the horses were, shall we say, enthusiastic – but it was great to spend even a bit of time with him.

Grabbed one or two beauty shots just for fun. Here he is staring with great interest at a nearby carrot:

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Camp

Marley came off the track in 2012 with a bowed left front tendon. Despite the fact that he rehabbed thoroughly with CARMA and CANTER, with his somewhat wonky conformation and a previous injury, that left front will always be weaker and more prone to injury than it would be otherwise.

Unfortunately in early December Marley tweaked something his left front leg. I got to the barn one evening to discover that it was a bit swollen and tender.

We embarked up on few intense days of cold hosing, hand walking, and sweat wrapping. The vet’s initial diagnosis was cellulitis, and we were hopeful that there was no tendon or ligament involvement. Unfortunately, a week later the swelling was down and ultrasounds revealed a possible soft tissue injury. I had more than one vet examine him and the diagnoses were somewhat different, but the core recommendation was pretty much the same: rest for a few weeks, then gradually come back into full work assuming he continues to look good.

Since winter at our “home” barn can be super muddy and it’s in a generally steep location, I made the decision to move him up to a friend’s private barn near Sonoma. He can hang out, get light work, and just be a little bit of a horse for a month or two. Once