Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Blue-arsed fly

What a crazy time of year this is! A horse event every weekend for about three months straight, lots of farm jobs including no less than 4 broody chicken to be looked after, and the downhill stretch to Christmas and holidays! I have no earthly idea how we will survive the rest of the year, but the old adage 'take it one day at a time' seems to help.

Annie is coming along in leaps and bounds (luckily not literally) and is settling into the Dragonwood lifestyle beautifully. She's a very laid-back girl with a friendly attitude and not as much assertiveness as her foster-sister, Rose. The extra hundred kilos Rose has on her might play some part in that!

I've only started riding Annie the past few days as she is now at a weight where I felt it was ok to give her a bit of work. She's on very good pasture at the moment and is down to daily, rather than twice-daily feeds. I've put her on Hygain Tru Gain which is really helping her gain weight but with no fizz. The sunflower seeds are putting a bit of shine in her summer coat which has started to come through very fast. I suppose as she gets healthier her old dead winter coat will be released and that seems to be happening already.

Her feet are holding up very well and she's already comfortable on most surfaces, including our gravel driveway. She's amazing.

My rides have focused mostly on re-training her stop button. As with many horses, Annie had been essentially taught that bit pressure can mean 'head down' as well as 'stop'. So, when I closed my fingers she just dropped her head and pushed through it. I had to be very conscious only to release pressure when she slowed her legs rather than changed the position of her head. She was very, very hollow anyway and very unhappy in the contact.

Once we established what the bit cue was for (ie only for slowing the legs), I started using some indirect turns to straighten her. Pushing the outside rein into the neck after pushing the outside knee into her side, I waited for two steps to see if she would move away, then opened my inside rein quite obviously when she didn't. She was soon moving away from the rein pressure, keeping her neck straight and softening her outline until she was quite round and forward and straight. Awesome!

After two rides, just doing that at the walk and trot, including lots of slow walk and slow trot to help give her time to think and move her legs, I was really pleased with her progress. This morning, we skipped most of the stargazing tension and moved straight into relaxed forward walk. Go Annie. :)

The Manu trick of halting her and giving her a loose rein has really paid dividends I think. She struggled with the concept of not moving her legs for the first two days, thinking that releasing bit pressure meant go forward. But this morning she moved very little and was completely still after the first two goes at it. She is quite active with stretching her neck, shaking her head, chewing and yawning and blowing. After she's finished, she must stand as I re-take rein contact and wait to be asked to move. She's getting a lot better with that too.

Canter.....was messy but improved. She's a big girl with a big stride, so it will take a lot of balance and strength that she simply does not have yet. The pig-rooting into canter was quite funny but she'll quit that in a while, I'm sure.

Half the farm is quite green and lush at the moment and the other half is good but the grasses are obviously of a different species. We're going to pilot a small area of native grass mix in the next few weeks and hopefully develop that grass across the rest of the property. Low in sugars and high in starch, it's perfect for barefoot horses and those prone to laminitis. Just what we need!

Young Timmy is off at Hillydale being started and is going great guns. You can read about him on their facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Hillydale-Equine-Training-and-Sales/704025642964665?fref=ts Some lovely pics too.

Heidi, our broodmare, is about to be AI'd with Contenda semen and I'm very excited about the potential for this little baby. Should be a truly athletic horse and fingers crossed all goes to plan.

Jedi is getting some good piloting from young Maddy Reisner. They had a good showing at the NSW Eventing Champs last weekend. He really excelled in the showjumping rather than either of the other two phases, so we're going to take him out showjumping for a bit and see if someone might buy him as a showjumper. I really want to move him on to his next home as I've essentially stopped riding him now and I've already emotionally separated, if you know what I mean.

So, a lesson on Annie for me and on Jedi for Maddy at Ben Netterfield's this weekend, then it's a bit of judging, bit of showjumping, bit of dressage and then Berrima Horse Trials in just over a month. Good times!

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Meet Annie

Well, it's been a pretty big week for this little duck and the horses at Dragonwood Farm. We've recovered from Canberra Horse Trials and Jedi is now getting ridden by an up and coming junior at Lynton and is working really well with her. They had a fang around the Canberra course yesterday and she was pretty happy with how that went. Jedi may well have landed on his feet! Let's hope he catches someone's eye at Lynton now he's being ridden in a manner more to his liking....

Timmy the Connemara/TB went off to Hillydale Ponies for foundation training (aka breaking in). Cath at Hillydale uses the Equitation Science approach and the Mclean method of training, so Timmy will be in great hands and should be a super little young dude when he comes home in a few weeks. We got lost on the way there and ended up four-wheel driving through the bush out the back of Bungonia and he just stood like a rock in the float. Even when he got out he parked beautifully (made me look great!) and just calmly went into the paddock to eat in his new environment. Really got high hopes for him going to an ambitious young rider or small adult to bring on.

Which brings us to Annie. Annie was a bit of an 'accidental' purchase. I had gone up to look at her as a bit of a curiousity trial with no intention of buying her. She was well over-priced as a rising 5 year old green ISH mare and the photos didn't inspire confidence. She was even worse in person, significantly underweight with a cut mouth and a big saddle sore. She'd just come back from 4 weeks with a well-known professional event rider so I was pretty taken aback at her condition. Clearly, she was not being fed or looked after well at all.

She rode very green, with a hard mouth and no real understanding of roundness or softness. She was forward with a super big trot and lovely canter. I only worked her for 10 mins as the arena we were on was very deep, it was hot and she was just not conditioned to cope with much. She was getting tired.

Still, I walked away really liking her attitude and her work ethic, not to mention her movement. One day, I thought, she'll be a star in the right hands. But given her asking price, those hands were not going to be mine until her price came down!

My mate Jo, the legend that she is to come traipsing up to Bowral with me, and I chatted about her on the way home. We both agreed that was probably the worst presentation of a horse in the price bracket we'd ever seen and we also both agreed Annie was the sweetest horse with quite a bit of talent. We only hoped she'd go to a good home.

That afternoon, I texted the owner to tell her I really liked Annie but couldn't offer her the kind of money she was looking for. After a bit of pushing from the owner to make an offer, I ended up offering half the asking price, which I still thought was probably a bit generous. To my open-mouthed surprise she accepted straight away. Shit, I thought, now what do I do?? Luckily, I have the best husband in the world and he said, just do it, but you can't have your arena until Jedi and Timmy are sold. Deal, says I.

Vet check was a bit of a nailbiter for me - I really didn't think she'd pass in that condition. But the vet was quite happy with her, at least soundness-wise. No issues at flexion, but anaemic, malnourished, with a sore wither and dull coat. Poor Annie.

So, after dropping Timmy off at Hillydale, the intrepid Jo and I headed up to Bowral to pick up Annie. She actually looked worse than the week before. She loaded great (hoeing into her hay with gusto) and we headed home. We never heard a peep out of her.

This is Annie the day after she arrived at Dragonwood Farm:

As you can see, no topline, prominent ribs and hips, dull bleached coat. But she's already looking a little better on 2 modest feeds a day of Micrbeet, lucerne chaff, Hygain Ice and Equilibrium with sunflower seeds. Not to mention spring grass!

Kirsten the wonder trimmer came out yesterday to pull her shoes and we were pleasantly surprised by the health of her hooves and frogs. This could be an easy transition - no thrush or seedy toe found and a big frog to help cushion those sensitive tootsies.

For some reason my pics won't rotate....but that's her off fore.

Off hind. The squared off shoes were used so the farrier could 'dump' the toe to help stop her forging.

Freshly pulled and rasped near hind. The white hoof makes it easy to see what Kirsten did.

Freshly pulled and rasped off fore. A bit pointy at the toe but otherwise suprisingly good.

So, Annie has good feet and should transition well to barefoot. I'll keep you posted on her progress. So far she's been a bit sensitive on the gravel road (completely understandably) but otherwise fine on the grass and dirt. She'll keep landing toe-first for a while but will gradually start moving properly as her feet get less sensitive and her body gets used to the different feel.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Canberra Horse Trials 2014

What a big weekend! The sun was out in force and the spring weather was just glorious for the event. We had a long weekend too, so I got to pack even more stuff in!

Here's the rundown....

Judging 20 or so Intro juniors from 8am on the Saturday was a pretty sweet gig. The class was actually of a really high standard, considering half the kids looked about 8! Having a good mate pencil with you certainly makes the day go quicker and I received some lovely feedback later in the day about the positive comments I give to riders. The opposite would be keenly felt by me as the rider later in the day and I was once again really conscious of giving riders constructive and positive feedback, rather than just telling them what they did wrong by way of a cutting one word comment.

Which take me to Jedi's dressage....

Let me first say it was a definite improvement on the last few outings. The warm up was better, though still really tense, especially in the canter. I used the two tools Manu had given me at the clinic - the indirect turn to step the front leg out, and the halt on a loose rein - to good effect and I really think both tools made a dramatic difference. I also concentrated on keeping my seat light and forward which also helped.

He was just a complete prick in the canter. The transitions were actually not bad, but then he would be off pig-rooting with his head so high he was practically hitting me in the face! Grunting, to boot. It was NOT fun or pretty and, while he eventually settled in the warm up, he did exactly the same thing through the WHOLE of the canter movements.

The entry was crooked but he was forward and round. The trot work was actually not bad, I thought. Yes, a little tense, but he was working in a nice frame, forward and supple. He even pulled off some nice lengthening across the diagonal, so I was really pleased with over half the test.

Now, you might expect, as I did, that our marks would reflect this improvement and apparent good work. Not so much. Once again, we scored 50%. An average mark of 5. When I got the test back I was not happy that the good work was not rewarded while the really awful work was not penalised. Why not use the whole scoring scale available?? I would have been giving me 7s for the trot work and 4s for the canter work. Instead, I got 5s and the odd 6 for the trot (with a 7 for the halt), and 5s for the canter. Bizarre. Not to mention disappointing.

Anyway, last again...ho hum.

The showjumping course was a very odd design and very difficult given the level of the class. The jumps were not big, at least they didn't seem to be almost a metre, but the first half of the course was like a snake - jump 1, turn right 180 degrees to jump 2, turn left 180 degrees to 3a and b, turn right 180 degrees to jump 4, turn left up the hill to jump 5....it went on like that. Jedi clobbered the first and got quite upset and dropped 3 more for a cricket score of 16. I was really disappointed for him as I wanted him to have a confidence-building round. The last two jumps were quite good, though, so I'm hoping that's what's stuck with him.

So, after dressage and showjumping we were still last. But still in the game!

The cross country course was great - the National Capital Horse Trials Association had built new fences and mixed it up a bit to create a lovely flowing course with some good questions. I uploaded the course onto the Cross Country App if you have it.

The Sunday dawned pretty hot with a hot wind blowing. It easily made 28 degrees and felt like the first licks of summer. Welcome to eventing, Australian-style!

In short, Jedi was a gun and I was a fat blob. He galloped around that track, jumping everything in sight, including the water, the ditch, the drop - the lot. And I got really tired about halfway around and could do nothing to help him. I don't know what was happening - I have been a bit sick this week so maybe that was the cause, but I was so bad I actually thought I might have to pull up. First time ever. But Jedi looked after me and carried me round. What a champion. We got a few time pens but I don't care. He was great. :)

So, yes, we finished last, but this was a big improvement on Harden and his behaviour in the warm up for both showjumping and cross country was vastly improved.

It was a really great weekend and a wonderfully professional event. The organisers run a friendly, fun event with lots to see and do even when you're not competing. And I'm always well looked-after by the Committee when I'm judging and riding. It makes it a pleasure to give your time and energy.

Bring on Lynton!!