Today was a ground work day for Alfie. Let me rephrase that – it was a groundwork day for ME & ALFIE.
My Apple Watch tells me I burned 633 calories today, walked/jogged 4.19 miles, took a total of 9,033 steps. Now, whether or not Alfie burned 633 in our 42 min session, I did. By the time we were done I was sweaty and gross and ready for a shower lol.
We did our usual warmup which was honestly more for my benefit than Alfie since he was ready to trot on our second lap of warmup lol. This to me means that our increased sessions are already benefiting his stamina and strength.
Once I was warmed up it was time to jog. We started out jogging on the straight long sides of the arena, walking the turns and picking up the jog again. There were poles on the ground so guess what – we trotted over them too. Now, you have to picture this image in your head. I’m wearing riding pants and winter boots which are comfy but they don’t have great bend to them when it comes to actually running in them. The other day I wore sneakers in the arena while working with Alfie and ended up with a ton of sand in my shoes so although they were great for running, they weren’t going to work because of the sand. My riding boots are comfy but they are a brand new pair so I’m trying not to run this pair into the ground as fast as my last pair – so that leaves my winter boots. So here I am, running in sand with my horse, with my feet literally flapping the ground like an uncoordinated duck jumping over ground poles. I’m so grateful that my barn is a drama free zone with no judgement because I must have seriously looked like a hot mess express lol – but this isn’t about me and what I look like – it’s all about Alfie.
We ended our session and while I was stretching Alfie’s legs, he let out a sigh. This incredible soul. This soul that gives me 100% effort in everything we do. I am so thankful to be on this truly life changing journey with him. ❤️🐴
Focused and confident – that’s what I was feeling today. Experiencing both of these on the same day is not an every ride occurrence. In fact, it’s more of an anomaly.
A few years ago I realized that my ability to be focused and confident in my riding was tied directly to my – I hate to be such a woman right now – my hormone levels. I know, women and hormones – but I’ve been riding for about 5 years now, long enough to have discovered the pattern. So I accept that some rides are going to be more challenging than others because I’m having an off day, but than there are those days where I feel and show Alfie that confidence and focus, and we are unstoppable – today was that day.
Last week, I kept my promise to Alfie and paid a visit on Wednesday afternoon to continue our ground working sessions. It went very well. When Alfie and I first met, I spent years doing groundwork with him. I admit, I’ve fallen down on the job in the last year or so, and I didn’t realize how much I missed it.
There’s something to be said about working your horse on the ground. Not only does it help bond rider and horse but that bond carries over to when you ride. The first thing I notice when getting Alfie tacked today was the bridle. He usually gives me some sort if issue when it’s time for the bridling but today he did not. He very nicely lowered his head and opened his mouth to take the bit. No head tossing. No evading, he just did as he was asked.
The mounting block – we are back to it being a non issue, in fact, once I’m on he doesn’t even try to walk into the arena until I am ready – this is a huge milestone for us.
I used the new therapeutic sheet on Alfie for about 30 min before we rode today, so it actually only took Alfie about 10 min to be warmed up for our lesson. This sheet is definitely helping loosen him up.
Today’s lesson focused on suppling exercises that we did really well with along with lots of trotting. The new twist was I was not posting or even sitting the trot – I was in a half seat – you know, where your butt is out of the saddle and you are balancing yourself while sort of squatting over the horse. I’ve trotted in a half seat many times on Martini, but not very much with Alfie. At first, he didn’t quite understand what I was asking of him. He would get going at the trot but then when I would raise out of the seat and not sit back down for the post he would break and start walking. Eventually he caught on and we floated around the arena in the most forward trot.
While we were trotting, I imagined us riding in the Kentucky Derby and then I imagined us riding in beautiful fields of grass and wildflowers. No, we weren’t cantering but the trot had such amazing movement it sure felt like we were.
Our lesson ends, I untack Alfie and then work on his leg and body stretches. He unwinds in his stall for a bit before the farrier arrives to give Alfie some new dancing shoes. For those not familiar with how often a horse needs to get his feet and shoes done, it’s every 6 weeks for Alfie. Horses hoofs slow down their growth in the winter, but if Alfie gets a bit overgrown for his shoes, even if just a tad too long, he starts to trip so for Alfie, custom shoes every 6 weeks.
Today was a great day. I was focused and confident – believe me, I wish I could be like this all the time. There’s a common thought when it comes to riding – don’t have a plan. What do you mean, don’t have a plan? Horses, like people, have emotions, aches, pains, a tad bit of laziness. You never know what version of your horse you are going to get that day. So, you could have a list of things you want to accomplish with your horse but you realize before you even get through the first goal that accomplishing the rest of the list is not happening. You have to be adaptable to your horse, and to yourself. ❤️🐴
Tonight my lesson was with the beautiful Maestro. I’ve only been on Maestro once before and I will be honest, I was nervous. Tonight, there were no nerves. I watched my trainer briefly ride him before me, just so I could see how he moves. It was now my turn.
I got on him confidently. And as we were warming up around the arena, I realized wow, I can teach this beautiful soul dressage. Maestro is a horse that had a long jumping career so his knowledge of dressage needs a little work. His lateral work is amazing, meaning he leg yields very well and his shoulder exercises come naturally to him.
Maestro reminds me of Alfie. He’s soft and gentle in nature, a bit stubborn to get moving but tries to please his rider. Our lesson tonight was a little bit of everything, a lot of walk, a bit of trotting, and by the end, I was getting Maestro to round his body. We ended on a very positive note.
Oh how far I’ve come with riding. I’m proud of myself. I’m proud of my desire to ride different horses. They are all different, and they all have things to teach us.❤️🐴
In September 2019, Alfie and I competed in our first ever dressage horse show.
It was a huge undertaking for us as we had only been in the world of dressage for less than 6 months. It was a walk/trot competition we entered. I wasn’t sure we were ready, but my trainer had every bit of confidence we would do well. I was so nervous, and there was Alfie, calm cool and collected.
We ended up taking 5th place in the show, before you get excited, there were only 5 of us in that particular class. Yes, we came in last. But I didn’t care. This show for us wasn’t about winning, but about the experience.
During the show, Alfie seemed a little off. When we trotted he felt off balance. I couldn’t place exactly what was wrong but something wasn’t right. Alfie didn’t care, he kept going and did his best, and he seemed to be enjoying the show. After the show, I figured Alfie would be sore for a day or 2 but he wasn’t. He was lame the very next day. The following day he was even worse. The vet was called and it was determined it was either a soft tissue tendon injury or a bad foot bruise. The treatment – poultice foot soaks, banamine for the pain, and stall rest – for at least 6 weeks.
As the weeks went by with only being able to hand walk him, let him graze, groom him, Alfie started to get antsy. He was used to working when I would come and visit. On the outside he was only slightly lame, but as soft tissue injuries go, they heal in stages, and if you don’t allow the proper time for it to heal, it can get aggravated and worse. So after 8 weeks, I slowly returned Alfie to work but had made the decision to dial back his lessons to mostly walk, with very limited trotting. I wanted to keep Alfie rideable and sound for as long as possible. Fast forward to the present day…
Alfie is in amazing shape for his age and the amount of work we do. You know how I tell you that I listen to him, well when he wants to trot that’s a sign that he’s physically able to and wants to. This got me thinking. A few weeks ago I started toying with the idea of perhaps increasing his work load just a bit, and reintroducing the possibility of him cantering under saddle. My barn manager suggest it a few months ago after witnessing how beautiful he moves in his field. So the seed had been planted.
So, I decided, if Alfie has it in him, and wants to do more, ok, I can make that happen, but we are going to do it the right way. My goal – by springtime introduce Alfie to the canter again in ground work, and then by early summer, canter with him. If you are scratching your head wondering what the canter is, it’s a slower version of a gallop. So the horse walks, trots and canters (or “lopes” for my Western riding friends.
Now before doing something you haven’t done a lot of, you have to be strong and balanced, and have stamina. I mean you don’t sign up to run the NYC Marathon without training for it months if not years in advance. If you went from being a slightly active person to running a race, you would fall flat on your butt and most likely hurt yourself in the process. I had a plan in my head about how to get Alfie into stronger shape but I needed some guidance. Who better to ask than the woman who has been treating Alfie monthly with some amazing sports massage therapy. Yes, that’s right, Alfie gets sports massage therapy monthly.
I was first introduced to Noni VanSon of The Right Touch almost 2 years ago.
I took the day off work so I could observe Alfie’s first treatment. I was so fascinated with his adjustment and was in awe of how much he enjoyed it. This was the start of Alfie’s monthly adjustments. Over the next year his body condition improved and I learned many of the stretches to help make his body, especially his legs feel good. I didn’t realize how much benefit he was getting from these sessions until they briefly stopped because of COVID. When COVID hit New York in late February 2020, our state became known as the first “hot spot” of the entire country – and we were basically in a total lockdown. It would be almost 2 months before Alfie would get adjusted again, and I never was so excited to get the therapist back to him. It was after the lockdown was lifted that I met Brianne Valentino, the newest therapist of The Right Touch.
I remember giving her the lowdown on Alfie, you know, he’s nervous with new people, he might try to bite you because of his nerves. Brianne took it all in stride and by the time the session was done Alfie and Brianne were best friends. I was so happy to see how comfortable he was with her.
I decided to ask Brianne for some guidance on how to properly and safely increase Alfie’s workload. After all, she knows his body condition very well. She was more than happy to offer her knowledge and experience. In a nut shell – Alfie will go from 1 active day, to 3 -4 active days per week. The activity can be riding or working with him in hand and to gradually increase the amount of trot time every time we work together. After a month of this Brianne will evaluate his body to see if he’s handling the increased work well.
So today was the first day of hand working Alfie. I did his leg stretches, wrapped his legs in his polo wraps for tendon support and walked him into the arena. He was confused – there was no saddle. I did our warm up, several laps around the arena, a nice 20 meter circle, we crossed the diagonal, did everything in the other direction. Worked on serpentine exercises and did the intro to dressage level test at a brisk walk with a little bit of trot. So not only is Alfie building up his muscles and stamina but so am I. You all know how hard it is to walk on the beach in the sand? Well, that’s what our arena is like, the beach. After 35 min, I couldn’t feel my feet anymore and my legs were tired. We left the arena and spent about 30 min outside while his little nose poked through the dead grass to find the good grass – yes it’s winter but there’s still grass.
I brought Alfie back to his stall and we spent the afternoon quietly enjoying each other’s company. I stand outside his stall and gently sing to him. Before I knew it, his head was on my shoulder and he fell asleep.❤️
Alfie will get Monday and Tuesday off to recover and I will work again with him on Wednesday. I’m very excited to be able to give Alfie what he wants, to be able to work with him the right way to give his body a chance to adjust – slow and steady really does win the race. ❤️🐴
I had a great day today with my Alfie. Last week, I happened to be reading a fellow horse lovers blog and she was posting her review of a therapeutic sheet to help warm up a horses muscles and joints. The sheet is made of a material that captures the natural heat of the horse and bounces it back to the horse. It can be used before and after a ride, it can also be used to help certain injuries. And it also is beneficial to arthritic horses. After discussing the sheet with my fellow blogger and our barn manager, I sat down and did some research and decided to give the sheet a try. The one I went with is The Mesh Sheet by Back on Track.
Today was the first day I used it on Alfie. After I use it several more times I will let everyone know how it’s working.
While at the barn today, I met a lovely woman who’s child was taking her first ever riding lesson. She was anxious and a bit nervous but she did great. While I was setting up Alfie’s hydro hay, she came over to tell me he is beautiful, so we struck up a conversation about horse ownership. She asked me questions about owning a horse and boarding a horse. Her hope is that her young daughter will fall in love with horses so they can purchase one for her.
Purchasing a horse is not something you do on a whim. It’s not a small dog or cat that can be easily re-homed. It’s a 1000+ pound animal that has needs other than just being fed all the time – from emotional needs to physical activity needs, it’s not an animal you purchase, pay to board somewhere and visit it 4X a year.
The biggest expense of owning a horse is not actually the purchase price you pay for the horse – that’s the cheapest part. The monthly expenses which not only include board, but supplements, horse shoes, massage therapy, tack, supplies and treats for your horse add up to a lot of money each month. Not to mention lessons or training for your horse. And of course, vet visits add up.
The few times I’ve told my non-horsey friends how much money I spend on Alfie each month, their reaction is usually something like this:
So how do you know if you can afford to care for this animal for its entire life? You don’t, but you have to be willing to dip into your savings account if need be.
Now I know, you are sitting there thinking if it gets too costly to properly care for the horse, why not just sell it? Selling a horse is not easy, and if it does have some physical issues, selling it is 10X harder. Unfortunately it’s these horses that usually end up being sold to an auction where they will end up in a kill pen being sent out of the country for slaughter.
If owning a horse is a dream you have, before you purchase a horse, my advice is to lease a horse – you have riding privileges and can spend many days a week with that horse bonding with them, but ultimately the costs of owning that horse are not on you.
Horses, just like your family pets, deserve the same amount of love and care. There are no guarantees with the horse you purchase. Love it for who it is, care for it, and remember how blessed you are to have that horse in your life.❤️🐴
You may remember a few weeks ago I lengthened my stirrups with Alfie to assume a more “dressage” seat with a longer leg. It took me a few rides to adjust but I love it now. So tonight, I felt I was ready to lengthen them with Martini.
The first thing I notice, my ankles feel more relaxed. Then I realize that my ouchy hip isn’t so ouchy. We do our warm up while I get the feel of having more of my leg on him. It’s a different sensation for sure but I’m proud of myself for all the hard work I’ve put into this, to progress like this. 😊
So after our warmup, it’s time to trot. Now the first time I trotted with the longer stirrups with Alfie, I felt like my legs were just flapping all over the place. Tonight, they felt a little loose but not like they felt the first time so yay for me for getting stronger! 👍🏻
What I did notice while we were trotting was the leg fatigue I get seemed to come on sooner in the lesson. I know over time my legs will continue to get stronger and I won’t lose steam so quickly.
We switched gears after trotting and went into cantering. Now folks…it’s been several months since I’ve last cantered. It’s not like riding a bike where you always remember what to do, and Martini the amazing lad that he is, took care of me when I asked for the canter but wasn’t 100% sure of myself. The first canter attempt didn’t work. But that’s ok, I tried again. That time we got a few steps but still not successful. The third attempt was really nice, we cantered down the long side of the arena, and after he stopped cantering we went into a nice trot.
Although the canter was good, I was still hesitant. We try it again and Martini takes one step of the canter and I bring him back to the trot. I tell my trainer it’s me, I’m nervous. This happens to me on occasion, where I get into my head and the doubts and fears creep around. So my trainer Kari tells me, one more canter and then we are done cantering. She’s a great trainer and knows how far to push when she really knows I can do it. So I suck it up, put my big girl pants on and bang out a beautiful canter.😊
After that, it’s a few laps around the arena for me to catch my breath, and we attempt the intro to dressage test we’ve been working on. At this point my legs are tired, but I give it a try. We got maybe half the test at a trot the rest at a walk. There were parts that were really nice, and other parts that weren’t but each time I try it I get better.
We end our lesson working on the box exercise followed by turns on the haunch. I did some amazing turns on the haunch, basically where I start to make part of the box but end up turning the horse all the way around, like a little pirouette, Martini is very well trained at this exercise if you know how to ask him for it.
It’s funny – I think back 5 years ago when I started taking riding lessons. So many friends of mine questioned my sanity when I took up a hobby where I could get seriously injured. Tennis and golf were suggested to me because of my age. So when I have those moments where the doubts and fears get into my head, I tell myself that I chose this adventure I’m on to fulfill my childhood dream and that the amount of courage I have is way more than those who’ve played it safe with golf.❤️🐴
As I’ve mentioned many times before, when it comes to Alfie and our lessons, Alfie’s needs, feelings, and fears are all taken into consideration before whatever I would like to learn or accomplish with him. Many might disagree with my approach and that’s ok. My goal with Alfie is to enjoy our riding time together by doing exercises that will help keep him fit, strong and healthy. Our bond is incredibly strong because of these lessons and for that I’m beyond grateful for.
So, because of my approach with him, he dictates most of our lessons. Some days he’s stiff and a bit achy so we don’t do much trot. Other days, he’s bored with walking and wants to move so we do. Today was a moving day lol.
Our lessons are about 45 min long, and on most days in the winter, a warmup for him could take anywhere from 20-40 min, depending on the temperature and humidity level. Today was a beautiful day, the sun was out and it was in the upper 40s, so Alfie was warmed up in about 20 min. We worked on circles and an exercise called the box. The box is a great tool to have in your arsenal for when your horse doesn’t want to bend. Picture a box, your horse is walking the shape of the box. So there are straight lines, and corner turns. The corner turns are the hard part of the exercise – although sometimes Alfie has issues walking in a straight line – he sometimes walks like a drunken sailor 😂.
The corner turns aren’t just round turns, there’s a pause and the back end of the horse controls the actual turn. Alfie is good at these in one direction and has gotten much better in his stiffer direction. But the exercise is a hard one because the movements have to be controlled. Sometimes Alfie likes to ignore my cues and he turns the box into a wonky circle lol.
After he is warmed up and his back end is loose, it’s time to trot. Just like last weekend, Alfie is rounding at the trot, the sensation of us floating and gliding is there, it really blows my mind how different it feels than before, when he wasn’t using his core and back end to lift himself. He was able to hold himself up longer this time and we trotted in good form just about the entire straight sides of the arena. Even trotting on the turns is getting a little easier for him with his new found strength and control.
Poles. We’ve got poles. The poles are used in jumps as well as ground exercises – horses either walk, trot or canter over them. It takes strength, balance and forward momentum to step over them without having the horses feet hit the pole while going over it. Because of Alfie’s tendon and feet issues, about the only thing we normally do is walk over the poles. Today, every time we trotted, Alfie headed for the poles. So I made a deal with him, if we got through the rest of our lesson with no complaints from the peanut gallery, our last trot of the day would be over a pole. As if he was a child who understood, Alfie focused on the rest of our lesson and did very well. As promised I squeezed him into a trot and he saw that I steered him towards one of the poles and he trotted nicely over it. When we stopped after that, Alfie nodded his head in agreement when my trainer and I told him he was the best boy ever. He was so happy and proud of himself.😊
Listening to your horse and understanding what they are trying to tell you isn’t easy. It’s taken me 4 1/2 years to somewhat understand Alfie. I admit, it’s hard for me at times to distinguish whether his sometimes rude opinions are because something is actually bothering him or if he’s just trying to “play me” into coddling him. I’m working on that distinction. It’s not easy.
Horses can’t tell you what is wrong, or what’s bothering them, or if they are tired, or have a headache or if they would prefer to just be alone eating hay in their stall. Life would be so much easier if they could just tell us instead of us humans literally playing a guessing game until we happen to hit upon it. Today, Alfie told me in his own way, he felt good and strong and wanted to trot over the pole. And I listened to him. Score 1 for the human.❤️🐴
Today, before my lesson, I had the privilege of watching my trainer Kari ride Martini. “Tune up” rides is what she calls it. Martini is a school horse so he is used to working at the levels of the students who ride him. When my trainer got on him, all she could say was “he doesn’t want to move.” After a few minutes Martini realized that his owner was on him and it was time to work. They walked, trotted and cantered perfect circles, and I saw Martini get into that nice amazing dressage frame where he was rounding his body. It was such a joy to see both my trainer Kari and Martini enjoying themselves. It was now my time to ride.
The moment I got on Martini I noticed that his walk was forward. I didn’t have to squeeze him nearly as much to keep him going. But what was truly impressive was how he rounded his body. The little “tune up” ride before my ride had reinforced all that Martini knows, all the buttons. Suddenly all the pieces had come together and it wasn’t such a struggle.
We move on to the trot. Since Martini was nicely rounded in the walk, that frame continued with the trot. It was the first time he was completely round at the trot for me. When the horse is in that frame, the feeling is very different than when they are not. It felt as though we were floating, that with each step he took, he was only touching the ground with the tips of his toes, he was gliding. I was surprised I was able to feel the difference, but I did, and I’m so glad I got a chance to experience that.
After our trot work, it was time to work on me. So my trainer being the wise woman she is, took away my stirrups. No big deal, I’ve ridden with no stirrups before, this is a piece of cake. But I was wrong. She didn’t want me to just walk around with not stirrups…she wanted me to practice posting with no stirrups.😮
So how do you post with no stirrups you ask? Well, it’s all about controlling your lower leg. I’ve got great control of my thighs, but my lower legs, although strong, aren’t nearly as strong as they should be. She has me first try to post while we are standing still. Ok, not bad, I did 2 of them. Then she has me try it at a walk…ok, now this is hard. I managed to get 5 in before I said my legs were tired. She was pleased with the 5. Then, as if my legs hadn’t endured enough punishment yet – let’s try the half seat without stirrups.😮
Now my half seat is beautiful. It’s so well balanced I don’t have to hold on for dear life to the horses mane, my hands are just on their mane because there’s no other place to put them. Now, doing it without stirrups means you have to raise yourself up out of the saddle with just the strength of your legs and core. I did 3 of those.
At this point my chubby legs are slightly burning and feel a bit weak, but the best is yet to come. My trainer asks me to sit trot – a sit trot is where the horse is trotting but the rider doesn’t post they just sit. It’s harder than it sounds because you don’t want to bounce on the horses back. My sit trot is really good – with stirrups. Without stirrups, it wasn’t bad but it could use a lot of improvement. I think at this point my torturous leg session is over when my trainer says to me – now, canter without stirrups.😱 I wish someone had taken a picture of my face when I looked at her in complete shock. She couldn’t possibly be serious – could she? She was serious, she knew I would be able to sit the few steps of the canter just fine – but I said nah, another time we can try that – after all I still had to get the strength in my legs to get off of Martini when our ride was done.
After we worked on leg yielding in both directions, I asked her, no I actually begged her to give me my stirrups back. I know that today’s lesson was physically challenging for me, but the benefit of doing all those things without stirrups is only going to improve my leg strength, and stamina.❤️🐴
Wow! It’s a Sunday diary entry!! It does happen but it’s rare.😊
Sunday’s. My day to relax with Alfie. In the summer – it’s a trail riding day. In the winter, it’s a clean tack kind of day. But today, I wanted to ride my boy.
I got up, put on my now fitting size Large fleeced lined breeches, my 3 shirts, heavy socks plus toe warmers, my boots and I was off.
The weather today – sunny, cold but with less wind so it was a bit more pleasant than yesterday. Although I won’t lie, my fingers are a bit frozen right now while I type this lol.🥶
I get Alfie from his field, he has his hydro hay, and it’s off to the grooming stall to get tacked. The radio playing in the barn today was tuned to a country music station. Alfie likes country music. While I was tacking him up, I could see him relax, and his eyes got heavy – he was starting to fall asleep. I put the bridle on him, gently woke him up and to the mounting block we go.
Alfie stands perfect for me, he doesn’t rush to go into the arena, he patiently waits for me to squeeze him forward. We enter the arena and Alfie sees his field mate Ziggy and decides I must get close to him lol. No Alfie, we are not gonna hang with Ziggy. We have our own stuff to do.
Solo rides with Alfie can go one of two ways. Either he’s obstinate but gives in or he’s obstinate followed by downright rude followed by a hissy fit. Today, he was just obstinate. He tried locking his legs so he wouldn’t move forward. He tried some head tossing which didn’t last long. He then broke out the sideward shuffle as if to scare me – ha – jokes on you Alfie, it didn’t scare me lol. After that, he was ok. We worked on circles, leg yielding and a little bit of trotting but he was stiff in the hind end so I nixed the trotting. By this time, Ziggy had left the arena and it was just us. But we weren’t alone for long. My friend Heidi and her horse Cayman entered the arena.
One of Alfie’s most favorite thing to do is follow the leader. So we followed Cayman around the arena, which was great because I didn’t have to keep him walking, I was able to practice my rein work and leg work. Our ride ended and I couldn’t be more proud of myself.
Alfie’s complaints and mild obstinate behavior are just that, they are mild as compared to most horses. But they are still obstacles I have to overcome. They can still be a bit scary, or nerve wracking for me, but I overcame that today. Today, it was just me and Alfie, and together as team, we did good.❤️🐴