Today I finally had a break in the weather - only a little breeze and it was almost above freezing! I was eager to take advantage of the day and got most of the horses worked.
Here are some highlights:
Raven and Rizzo the dog went with me to the arena first thing this morning to keep me company while I set fences. We now have three gymnastic lines to work on, but they are set in such a way that I can do coursework using them as well. Raven and Rizzo mostly ran around and played, but Rizzo made sure to jump a few fences while I was arranging poles.
I had a lovely quiet ride with Silver, taking him through angled lines of fences on a loose rein and having him come right back to a balanced frame with steady contact in the bridle as soon as we approached a corner. You know the horse "gets it" when his jump course rides like a dressage test that just happens to have some jumps in it.
Sam is doing so much better on his ulcer medications. In the past month or so when he was expecting his mash and while being tacked up for rides he had started weaving. Traditionally this is considered a vice, a side-to-side rocking motion with the horse shifting his weight from one front foot to the other when anxious. However, in my experience I've found this type of behavior presenting at these particular times to be linked to abdominal discomfort, and generally not a behavioral issue or vice.
Despite free feeding timothy hay, anticipating a meal (called the cephalic stage of digestion) causes the stomach to produce more acid and can make the horse uncomfortable. The anticipation of riding can do the same, especially since the horse isn't eating when he's riding so there's no food going in to buffer the stomach acid during the ride. I was suspicious of ulcers causing Sam's discomfort and consequently his weaving, so we started him on an ulcer medication. I noticed a difference within the first three days, and now that he's been on it over a week he's so much more comfortable! The weaving is almost entirely gone pre-meals, and it's dramatically less pre-ride. He'll be on this medication for a month or two, then I'll switch him to an ulcer preventative as well as continuing to feed him alfalfa with his mash since it contains more calcium than beet pulp and his regular grain, and calcium is a buffer for stomach acid.
Jury (or Lucky as he was called before he started rolling his eyes at me and acting offended when I called him that - hence the name change) has decided I'm a good security blanket. I introduced him to my hay guy, Lyle, who was here today. Jury would sniff Lyle's hand and he took a cookie from him, but that was as close as he would get. I was pleased when I approached Jury and he stood quietly while I haltered him and scratched his shoulder. Jury definitely looked to me for confidence and safety.
I led him out of the paddock and tied him in the barn for grooming so he could practice standing tied with the commotion of Lyle unloading and stacking square bales. You could almost see the hamsters running on the wheels in that horse's head, but once he figured out that Lyle literally drives the food truck, all of a sudden he wasn't so scary.
I took Ferriana to the round pen to do a little free jumping, and I set a series of cavalletti as well as a 3'3" vertical. Pascal, my new puppy who is now about five months old, is convinced that he should be running and playing with the horses while they're working. He's still figuring out his job. So Pascal was on the lead rope at my side, and Ferriana was at liberty in the round pen. She's accustomed to this type of exercise, since I started her jumping this way before I ever rode her. She knows to go inspect the fences and distances, jumps the course, then comes to me in the middle for praise and a cookie.
I'm well aware of the talent this mare has, especially for jumping. However, today Ferriana showed me a new level of athleticism. On two occasions she took the vertical jump at seriously twice the height it at which it was set. Not only did she clear a likely 6' height, but she demonstrated a maneuver that you generally only see in truly elite upper level jumping horses. When her haunches were at the apex of the jump, she would give an extra little kick in the air with her hind feet. This would guarantee that she wouldn't hit the pole (if there actually had been one that high). It's exciting to see her do that, and makes me even more eager to see how she'll come along this spring! I'm anticipating some super fun jump schools and horse shows.
Not to be outdone, lastly I took Highboy to the arena to free jump. He and Pascal ran around together, the small puppy's legs churning as fast as possible in an attempt to keep up with the tallest horse's stride. Once Pascal was tired, Highboy came into the middle of the arena to see what we were going to do. I walked and jogged around a little, with Highboy matching my strides. I then hopped over a crossrail myself, and he followed jumping it exactly how I'd done (left foot first). The next crossrail I jumped with my right foot first, and Highboy did the same. The last one was kind of tall, so I just walked over it taking a huge step with each leg. Highboy waited until I was done clamoring over, then he walked over it in exactly the same way, taking huge steps with one leg at a time.
It's so fun to see Highboy easily recall all the skills he learned with liberty work when he was a youngster. I got him as a four year old, he was a long-term rehab project. We did a TON of ground pole work, cavalletti, clicker training, and in-hand exercise while I waited for him to heal, grow up, and be sound enough to start riding. It was all time well spent. Those years of gradual conditioning and "playing" have preserved his fun personality and taught him how to use his body independently, without me needing to create or hold him in a frame. Plus it's still fun to revisit the liberty jump work now that he's eleven years old and can jump 4' fences out of the walk.