Great Expectations

or “My Life in Blog Sounds Much Cooler Than It Really Is”

Posts Tagged ‘Dancer’

Dancer’s Photo Shoot…

Posted by mandyhuckins on August 11, 2009

GorgeousA very kind lady at the stables, who also happens to be a very talented photographer, offered to give us 30 minute photo sessions with our horses on Saturday.   I jumped at the chance.  This is a very photographed horse already, but I can’t seem to get enough.  As my husband said, “oh good, now we will finally have a picture of Dancer to frame and hang on the wall.”  This was said with a good measure of sarcasm.  But, it was fun to have a semi-professional photo shoot and I think the results speak for themselves.

Heads and Sky


Walking Towards

Side by Side3

Dancer Hugging Me



Here is the funniest one of the bunch…she had been so well-behaved, standing pretty quietly for all the posing, when we finally turned her loose, she let out a HUGE buck!  The camera caught her on the way down, but look at how much air she still has underneath her – all four feet are off the ground.



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A new horse…

Posted by mandyhuckins on May 28, 2009

No, not for me.  My friend/riding student has found a horse to lease/purchase.  We don’t know much about the horse because he was donated to the riding team at the University a few years ago and unfortunately, they had the wrong paperwork in his file.  What we do know is that he is a Hanoverian (I used my masterful powers of deduction to come up with that when I saw the brand on his left hip.  It is the same as the one Dancer has.  Leads me to believe he might have been bred/born in Germany.)  His name is EisVogel (translated from German to English =Ice Eagle, I believe) and he goes by Eis.

Last week, we went out to ride him.  He is lovely and has a very kind soul.  No horse is perfect – this one has had to have his hocks injected and he is a bit overweight at the moment.  He also has a bit of a club foot on the front right (which had also lost a shoe the morning of the day we went to ride).  We rode him in A’s saddle which was a bit too tight and her bridle which had a different (softer) bit than the one they had been using for him.  It was a very windy day – but, given all of those things, he was really lovely.

Here is a short video of me cantering him.  As you can see, he got a little fussy to the left, but came right back to work when I steadied him and drove him forward.

I don’t think anyone is currently riding him dressage – but, he definitely has had dressage training.  When I asked for some lateral movements, he responded.  I could tell that he knew what he was doing, he was just a bit rusty.  He leg yields beautifully, but fought me a little when I tried half-pass at the trot.  He did offer a pretty nice shoulder-in and responded well when I asked for a lengthened stride.  Unfortunately, we didn’t get any of this exciting stuff on video.  You know how that goes. 

Assuming he vets ok, I think he will be a good horse for A.  After riding some challenging thoroughbreds for the past few years, A deserves to have a nice, easy to ride boy that will do what he is asked to do.  His calm nature and willing attitude will go a long way towards building her confidence and allowing her to move forward in her riding. 

I hope they will be happy together for many long years – developing the kind of perfect partnership I know is possible between a woman and her horse.  I am just sorry I am not going to be around to see it blossom.  Moving sucks.

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A bad eye day…

Posted by mandyhuckins on May 21, 2009

Unfortunately, my beautiful, sweet, lovely, wonderful mare Dancer suffers from a horrible medical problem.  It is called Equine Recurrent Uveitis (ERU).  It is the leading cause of blindness in horses, but is unfortunately not very well understood.  They don’t always know what causes it or why some horses have it and others don’t.  They don’t know if it is hereditary, although there are some breeds that tend to be more susceptible to it than others (appaloosas and warmbloods, for instance).  Basically, it is condition that causes the eye to attack itself.  It also causes the pupil to spasm and contract and that is very painful for the horse.  When there is a build up of white blood cells in the eye – it causes a lot of other problems.  Raised pressure within the eyeball damages the sensitive inner structures located there and can develop into secondary glaucoma.

When I started leasing her 4 years ago, people at the stable started telling me that she had trouble with her eyes.  But, because these people were Germans and I didn’t always understand them, I didn’t really understand what kind of problem this was.  I knew that we had to turn her out with a fly mask on and I knew that her eyes were sensitive, but I leased her for a year without a single tear coming from either of her eyes.  When she came up for sale, my friends, knowing I wanted to buy her, re-doubled their efforts to warn me about her eyes.  I paid more attention and started doing some research.  I learned how devastating ERU is.  I had two separate vets that had treated Dancer in the past come out to look at her eyes and talk to me about the problem.  One vet told me that she didn’t have ERU.  He said that he treated her for an eye infection one time, but it cleared up with medicine and was not ERU.  The other vet said that he had seen her a few years earlier when she definitely did have ERU and he treated her for multiple flare-ups.  What to do?  Who to believe? 

I loved this mare so much, but I felt that it would be stupid to take on a horse that already had a major medical problem with a high likelihood that she would go blind in one or both eyes eventually.  I cried every day.  The owner found some buyers in another country (none of us were sure that they knew about the eye problem).  I cried even harder as I thought about what would happen to Dancer if they didn’t care for her the way she needed to be cared for.  I just felt such a special bond with her and it was killing me.  My husband saw this pain and went to the owner and asked if it was too late for us to buy her and he made arrangements in secret.  Then, he presented me with her as an anniversary gift.  The weekend before I thought the new owners were coming to pick her up.  She was mine!

I read what I could about Uveitis.  I bought a Guardian Mask and used it.  I only road her in the indoor arena when it was at all sunny outside.  I looked into her eyes every day.   In other words, I tried to protect her eyes as much as possible.  We went on blissfully for 18 months.  Then, one fateful February day in 2008, when I came to the stables, I saw a tear-track coming out of Dancer’s right eye.  There was a grey cloudy area inside her eyeball.  I called the vet right away, but it was a Sunday afternoon, so he didn’t come see her until Monday morning.  He gave her a shot and gave me ointment.  After about a week, it looked better.  No more discharge, no more cloudiness.  I called and asked him how long to continue putting the medicine in her eye.  He said for another few days.  A week after I stopped, it came back.  The vet came back.  We started over again with the shot and the ointment.  It didn’t go away.  He said we should put her in total darkness.  So, a friend and I hung sheets over the bars of her stall to keep the natural light from coming in.  She was already in the only stall without a window.  She also lived in her mask.  Everyday, I hoped to come out and see some improvement, but it was always the same.  Dancer got very depressed.  I got very depressed.  A few weeks into it, the vet told me that Dancer’s left eye was already “dead” and “blind” from a previous ERU attack (this was the first time he ever mentioned it to me – even when I hired him to talk with me about her eyes during the pre-purchase phase).  So, he thought that the right eye was her only seeing eye.  I didn’t believe that, but it definitely scared me.  I tried to get him to do something else for her or try a different medicine since what we had wasn’t working.  He didn’t know what else to do.  What I read about Uveitis online made me believe that hitting it hard was necessary, so own my own, I upped the frequency of her medicine.  I tried to get another vet to come out to see her, but there were “politics” involved.  The vet I was using was the brother of the owner of the barn and this was his “territory” the vet from the neighboring town didn’t feel comfortable stealing a patient.

By this point it was late April and we were scheduled to move back to America that summer.  Thanks to a tip from a friend, I discovered North Carolina State University’s equine ophthalmologist – the premier expert in the field of study of Uveitis – Dr. Brian Gilger.  I emailed and called Dr. Gilger and his staff.  They were exceedingly kind to speak to me about Dancer’s problems.  They even had an intern who spoke German call my vet to discuss Dancer’s condition.  We quickly ascertained that Dancer wasn’t getting the best care.  They really needed to have her in North Carolina.  I started making the plans to ship her.  She left Germany on June 1st, spent 3 days in New York in quarantine, was picked up and driven in a sealed trailer to North Carolina, established at NCSU’s quarantine facility and was seen by an ophthalmologist on June 11, 2008.  That is the day I learned that she was not blind in the left eye, but at some point during the treatment of the right eye, she had developed Glaucoma and had permanently lost sight in that eye.  The interocular pressure in that eye was over 50 (normal is around 15 +/-).  We started treating her with Glaucoma medicine to see if we could get the pressure down and make her more comfortable.

At first, it seemed like it might work.  But, the pressure went back up and it was time to make some hard decisions.  Dr. Gilger explained that horses don’t always respond to Glaucoma medicine (but, it had been worth a try).  I certainly didn’t want her to be in pain forever, so there were two courses of action: 1) I could have the eye removed, which would permanently solve the problem, but had an added risk of putting her under for surgery or 2) I could have the eyeball injected with Gentamicin – which would destroy the inner workings of the eye – preventing it from producing more fluid and hopefully reducing the pressure in that eye.  NCSU was also putting cyclosporin implants in horses’ eyes with some success in staving off and possibly preventing future Uveitis attacks.  Dr. Gilger and I discussed putting one of these implants in Dancer’s left eye.  But, he also told me I had an option there too – a Rapamycin injection – which was new and still experimental, but early results showed it had a similar effect to the implant.  I decided to go with that.  On July 10, 2008, Dancer had the Gentamicin injection in the right eye and the Rapamycin injection in the left eye. 

Unfortunately, the Genatamicin injection wasn’t the perfect cure to our pressure problem.  Working with my ophthalmologist in Alabama, we have found that she still needs twice daily a drop of Cosopt and a strip of Dexamethasone ointment to keep that eye controlled.  I was also continuing one strip of Dex in the left eye as a preventative every other day.  Things seemed to be fine.  Her last check was in February, when we decided that things were good and she didn’t need to be seen until May – right before I would take her to Kansas.

Well….I went out to the stables on Tuesday morning, took off her mask and was greeted with a left eye that was swollen shut, oozing and hot to the touch.  Naturally, I panicked and burst into tears.  Then, I wiped her eye, put Dex in it, and gave her some Banamine.  I put on a clean mask and started trying to call my ophtho.  We gave Dancer another dose of the Dex ointment a few hours later.  That afternoon, when I had her up at Auburn, the eye looked much better.  My ophthalmologist (whom I adore) gave her a good once over.  Her pressures were actually better in both eyes than they ever have been (left 11 and right 15!).  She thinks that my fast action in administering the right meds might have stopped this flare-up in its tracks.  I am going to continue the Dex in the left 4 times a day for a while and then start to taper back down.  One full day has passed and we are halfway into the second day, but the eye looks great.  It is hard to tell there was anything wrong with it two days ago.  I am so relieved!  But, I am still being vigilant and not counting my chickens yet.

Sometimes, I get tired of having to go to the stables twice every day – but now I realize that it is actually a blessing.  Because I am there, I can notice any change immediately and try to get the help she needs.  She was given to me because I truly believe I am the best one to care for her.  Horse ownership is difficult and there are many people out there struggling with horses who colic or dealing with lameness issues.  But, God doesn’t give us something we can’t handle.  And, I thank him every day for giving me Dancer.  She has caused me anxiety and worry and stress – but, the joy she brings me far, far exceeds any of the struggles.

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A good ride…

Posted by mandyhuckins on May 6, 2009

For those of you who are interested in reading about my riding life, here is a post for you (it has been a while).  For those of you that are more interested in my shopping/decorating posts, you can tune this one out. 

I have mentioned before that a very cute 15 year old rider at our stable has a red-dun quarter horse named Jack.  She rode western when she first purchased Jack, but she has decided that she is now interested in the challenge of dressage.  Obviously, these are two very, very different disciplines.  They have asked for my help in re-training Jack.  And, because I only have a little over a month left in Montgomery, we are under a time crunch.  So, I am supposed to be riding him at every possible opportunity.  Last week, I had some nice rides on him – at the walk and trot.  But, things fell apart whenever I tried to canter.   One night, he picked up the canter, but was so unbalanced – it was horrible.  Another night he had a total melt down the minute I would ask him for canter.  I took him to the round pen and had him canter in both directions several times, but he couldn’t maintain the canter for more than one circle around and he just looked off-balance and horrible.  After one canter attempt, when he came back down to trot, I noticed that he looked off.  I stopped him immediately and brought him out.  Sure enough, he was lame.  It looked to me like it was up in his stifle.  When I came to check him the next morning, he looked better – much less stiff.  So, I tried to get on him again that night.  I asked the barn owner, who was out in the ring giving a lesson, to watch him.  He was still short striding (taking a much shorter step) on his left hind leg than his right hind leg.  As luck would have it, the vet was already coming out the next day.  He looked at Jack and pronounced that he was sore in his heels and needed back shoes.  He also had us put him on some pain meds for a few days until the farrier could get there. 

I must admit, I was skeptical that this would solve our problem.  The farrier came on Monday and I put Jack on the lunge Monday night.  He has been known to exhibit bad behavior on the lunge, but that night, he was excellent.  He listened to my voice and walked, trotted and stopped on command.  He looked pretty good (maybe still a bit stiff on that left hind), so I didn’t want to overdo it.  Last night, I got back in the saddle.  He was great!  He didn’t have any meltdowns.  He sprung right into trot when asked.  He is staying down and round through his transition to trot (the down transition still needs work, but it is getting better too).  We even did a little shoulder-fore at the walk (this is when you ask the horse to bring this front half a little to the inside – it is helpful in getting the horse soft and round).  He did trip a few times when I first started….but, overall, he felt so good that I decided to go for broke and ask for canter.  I did have to chase him into it a little bit, but he stayed calm, did not freak out and toss his head up and we cantered nicely around a circle about three times before I asked him to come back to trot.  The barn owner said it was the best transition to canter she has seen him do.  That is sad…but, I was also very excited.  Poor boy!  His acting out was because he was in pain.  😦  I guess all of the work I have been asking him to do in really using his back end and carrying more of his weight back there was causing his heels to hit the ground more than (or harder than) usual and it was making him sore. 

I also had the chance to ride Dancer.  I have noticed that she has really been ignoring the aids when asked to trot.  So, my goal for yesterday was to sharpen that up.  She was definitely getting better by the end of the ride.  We also had several very nice transitions to and from canter.  And, I introduced a movement called Travers (pronounced like “tra-ver” rhymes with where).  Anyway, this is when you bring the horse’s hind end in.  They must remain bent in the direction of travel and cross their legs as they move down the rail.  (That is probably the worst description of all time!)  I am hoping that using this movement along the rail will help to develop my half-pass.  There are actually some different schools of thought about this – some people like to use Travers and other trainers think it shouldn’t be used because it is encouraging horses to be crooked.  I am of the “all things in moderation” mind – I think it should be fine as long as I don’t overdo it and mix it up with shoulder-in.  I want her to be more in tune with my change in seat bone position and I think that these types of movements will help.

All things considered, it was a nice night at the barn.

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Photo shoot….

Posted by mandyhuckins on April 26, 2009

My friend got a snazzy new camera for her birthday and we decided to use today’s perfect weather as a photo shoot.  From about 400 snaps, we got about 50 good pictures.  Here are some of my favorites:







One of my students helping to cool Dancer down – I never have a shortage of volunteers asking if they can sit on my horse for a few minutes.  So cute! 


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A cancelled lesson…

Posted by mandyhuckins on April 21, 2009

I was sick yesterday, so this post was delayed a day.  I hoped to report on our second lesson with Emma Winter on Sunday, but unfortunately, it was cancelled due to the threat of foul weather that actually didn’t materialize until later in the evening.  Bummer.  But, “A” and I came out to the barn to ride Dancer anyway.  She was difficult for “A” to ride – not badly behaved necessarily, but just in that mood where she wasn’t giving anything up easily.  She didn’t want to relax, she didn’t want to come on the bit, she didn’t want to go forward, she kept popping out at the shoulder.  “A” did a good job of sticking with her and she was able to improve Dancer’s carriage by the end of the ride.  Sometimes, horses are like that.  They just have bad days and you have to ride the horse you have during that particular ride.

When it was my turn to get on, Dancer really let loose on the bad behavior.   Just like earlier in the week,it was asking for canter to the right that brough it on.  Here is a snapshot from the video clip of her acting ugly and trying to run the videographer over. 


I wish I had more on tape, but when you have a 1300 pound horse leaping towards you with her blind eye facing you, you drop the camera and run!

After we worked through this little tantrum, she was actually quite nice.  Here is a still shots of trot and of canter to the right:





I love how her ears are turned out to the sides in these – that means she is listening to me and inwardly focused on the work I am asking her to do instead of paying attention to something off in the distance or pinning them back in frustration.  I like that I am sitting up straight and balanced in both gaits, but I need to keep my thumbs up (instead of turning them to the inside) and I still need to move my heel back under my hip a bit.  I was riding in my student’s saddle, so maybe that is why my stirrup has moved back.  Dancer’s back is up and she appears more “squashed” through the body instead of being strung out.  Progress? 

Compare the trot picture above to this one about a year ago in Germany (sorry for the poor quality – the lighting was bad):


See how much longer she looks here?  It is as if she is just throwing herself around instead of carrying herself on her hind end.  (And, look how I am being popped out of the saddle!)

Here is a sequence from yesterday during a period that felt “right” (although we were going to the left – ha, ha!):







Pretty, no?

I still have concerns – I don’t like having to hold her. I don’t like that she is getting fussy.  I don’t like that huge muscle developing under her neck.  But, I am hoping I can have more times like the trot sequence directly above and fewer times like the very first picture in the post. 

We are nothing if not a work in progress.

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My Saturday…

Posted by mandyhuckins on April 19, 2009

Saturday morning dawned bright and early.  I was at the stables around 8:00 am and helped my friends with the morning feeding and turnout.  Then, I groomed Dancer and worked on her mane.  She HATES to have it pulled, so I have to resort to cutting.  It doesn’t give quite the same results, but if I am careful, I can make it look a bit more natural.  I got her tacked up and at 10:00 I gave a balance lesson on the lunge to a lovely young rider.  Dancer was very well behaved, but because she is such a big mover, I am afraid the rider is going to be sore in the morning.  After the lesson, I hopped on and rode her for about 30 minutes.  She wasn’t as silly about cantering, but she was very, very strong – not nearly as balanced and slow as she has been.  So, I either get strong and pulling, or slow, light and crazy.  I really need the lesson with Emma!

The barn group decided to go to Five Guys Burgers & Fries for lunch.  (We eat there quite a bit.)  It is interesting when we invade wearing various articles of horse clothing – all dirty and smelly.  I am surprised the owners haven’t asked us not to visit their establishment in this attire, but then again, we probably are their best customers, so maybe that is why they put up with it.  I felt like I was really getting a lot of looks – I was wearing my Kerrits Sit-Tights.  They are pretty flattering pants, in general, and I was the cleanest of the bunch (except for one of the mothers who had not been riding).  Here is a picture of the back of them (mine are a lighter tan color):


After lunch, one woman did come up to me and tell me that she liked my pants.  So, maybe that was it – maybe everyone just liked them and thought they were a new fashion trend!

I came home, changed into shorts and a tank top and got started on one of my least favorite chores of all time: washing the car.  But, my poor car really, really needed to be washed and I promised my hubby that I would do it this weekend.  He is a self proclaimed car washing expert.  I got started and after I had been scrubbing, scrubbing, scrubbing for about 40 minutes, he came outside to help.  The first thing he said was, “you are still one the first wash?”  {Timeout: 1) a few days ago, my car had been covered in a mist of some type of spray some workers were using on a fence a few houses down – so it really required a lot of elbow grease to get all of that off the paint and windows, 2) “first wash” refers to the plan hubby had outlined for my car wash – first wash with dish washing liquid, next wash with clay bar, third wash with car wash soap, hand dry with towels, apply 2 coats of wax}  The next thing he did was to get a sponge and act like he was going to start washing the car on the side I had already done!  I said, “what are you doing?!?  I already finished that side.”  Hubby (looking sheepish) replied, “oh, sorry, maybe that is just the way your car looks.”  Me: “you better watch it buddy.  I am about to kick you in the nads.”  You don’t need the whole car wash litany – in fact, hubby stepped up and did most of it – the end result, 3 hours later, was a very shiny car.  It allowed me to apply my Charleston Southern sticker (purchased almost a year ago, but never applied because the car was never clean enough – I told you it needed to be washed!)


I love it! 

Next, I showered and got dressed and headed over to the Montgomery Antique Mall.  I have always wanted to check it out, but some a blog posts I read recently about finding treasures really lit my fire.  It was wonderful!  I found some furniture I want: a sleigh bed, a curved-front sideboard for use as a TV holder and an adorable, adorable desk painted in a French style – cream and green.  So cute!  I had a ball walking around and around (you have to make at least two laps).  I bought this:


Isn’t that adorable?  I am considering it a belated Easter present to myself.  And, I thought I might just put it out around Easter, but the more I see it, the more I love it and I am probably going to have to find a permanent place for it.  We saw paintings just like this at the flea market in Tongeren, Belgium and I always wanted to buy one, but we always ran out of money, so I never did.  I was so happy to find this.  I also bought a tie-back tassel in brown and aqua that will look great in my bedroom (exact use to be determined). 

We finished the day by hitting the all-you-can-eat buffett at the casino in Shorter, Alabama with some friends.  Fun company and a few too many crablegs make for a good night.

All in all, it was a good day.

Posted in Living, Riding, Shopping | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

A new trick and something cute…

Posted by mandyhuckins on April 16, 2009

Tonight, Dancer learned a new (bad) trick.  In response to the collecting and reaching under work I have been asking her to do, which should have the effect of lightening her in the front and having her carry more of her weight on her back end, she started popping up with her front feet.  I HATE that!  And, I don’t want her to be THAT light in the front.

This was happening when I asked for the canter.  In the past, I did have a some trouble with her getting worked up when asked to canter, but I ended up chalking that up to excess energy.  This is just disobedience and evasion (I think).  At one point, she was so nervous and upset, that when I asked for right lead canter, she used the pressure from my left leg as an excuse to go into a pseudo reining spin/canter pirouette.  While it was kind of cool in a way, it was very bad behavior on her part.  I was able to stop her with a strong voice command and then she stood, tense and blowing.  It was like she was saying, “I can’t do it momma – it is hard and I don’t know how.”  So, we went back to calm trotting for a moment to clear our minds and once she was settled and I asked for canter, she gave it to me with no problem. 

At the beginning of my ride, she was so heavy in my hands – she really wanted me to hold her head and neck up for her.  She was also very, very difficult to keep straight.  I kept trying to lighten her and get her to hold the position for herself.  By the end of the ride, we had achieved that – and it was a great feeling.  We also were able to do a few shoulder-ins at the trot.

After my ride, my adult dressage student “A” came for her lesson.  Something has really clicked for her (maybe it is the confidence being able to do a little canter has given her) and I think she had her best ride ever on Tempo.  He was soft, engaged, round and dare I say, using his hind end like a real horse.  It was a beautiful thing.  She did have a nice canter (to the right – his bad side!)  A very experienced rider at our farm took him to an event over the weekend as her horse had hurt his eye.  She really worked him hard on the flat trying to improve his transitions, his straightness, his roundness and his overall relaxation.  She admitted that he can be a very challenging horse to ride in dressage – although he is a push-button jumper.  He really needs consistent work on the flat.  She was there and watched A’s ride and was very impressed.  I wish I would have had my camera – although, given my success in filming lately, it probably wouldn’t have mattered.

In shopping news – look what will soon be arriving from Smartpak:









Aren’t these too cute?  And, for $12.95, who could resist?  I agonized for quite a while about which color/design to order (I was drawn to a pair of pink ones with little horses in blankets called “Preppy Ponies”), but I decided that I couldn’t beat the versatility of black and khaki.  I love flip-flops – yay summer!

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It is good to be back…

Posted by mandyhuckins on April 15, 2009

I finally got to sit on my girl this evening after not riding for nine days.  (Yes, I did get back to Montgomery on Easter Sunday in time for a ride, but I decided not to, so that I could come home and spend some time with my hubby.  That was fun too, and I didn’t regret it, but I was disappointed that it rained and stormed yesterday afternoon so that I couldn’t ride until today.) 

I had some friends ride her while I was gone on my tour of America with the German girls so that she could get out and stretch her legs, but I still wasn’t sure what to expect.  She was pretty great!  She was nice and calm and collected right up when I asked her to.   I probably only rode for about 25 minutes (with plenty of walk breaks), but it was a nice ride and I felt that I didn’t need to push her on my first time back.  However, the British trainer is coming back to our area and I will try to ride with her on Sunday or Monday.  I am very interested to see what she has to say….hopefully nothing insulting about Dancer!  Dancer has started doing and interesting new trick – because I am holding her straight through the neck/shoulders/body, she is now just moving sideways to avoid doing something difficult (like a transition up to canter).  But, I used that later in the ride to get some nice shoulder ins and leg yields.  Cool.

One of my promising little riding students was there tonight riding her pony and she has always wanted to sit on Dancer.  So, after I finished working, I asked her if she wanted to get on and cool Dancer down.  Boy, did she ever!  I think I made her night.  She sure looked cute and little up there on that big horse.  Dancer was so sweet and walked and halted right on cue.  I even clipped on the lunge line and let her try a circle or two of trot.  Dancer was a dream.

Have I mentioned how much I love my mare? 

Oh, also, how cool is this?  A lady I met very briefly at the dressage show a few weeks ago sent me a letter.  She got my address from the show organizer (which could have been a little scary, but it was all on the up and up).  In the letter she reminds me of the short conversation we had and then encloses an article she photocopied for me from a publication.  The article is about a horse that is completely blind (from Uveitis – the same disease that Dancer has), but that competes at fourth level dressage!  She said that when she saw the article, she thought of me and Dancer and just wanted me to know that if the worst ever does happen to us, our riding career is not over.  I was overwhelmed!  She is a complete stranger to me, but Dancer and I stayed on her mind and she took the time to do this.  People aren’t all bad – there is hope for the world after all.

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A beautiful ride…

Posted by mandyhuckins on April 6, 2009

Because I was going to be away from the stables for a week on my tour of America, I decided to try to squeeze in a lesson with my favorite student on Saturday morning.  She has been riding Dancer on the weekend for the past few weeks in addition to her regular lesson during the week on Tempo.  Poor boy – he tries, but he isn’t the best dressage horse in the world and I thought “A” might like to ride my girl.  I think at first, she was a bit unsure of herself, but this time, she did wonderfully!

Of course, I have been keeping her in the loop about the “new” way I have been riding Dancer and without being asked to do so, she has taken this to heart.  So, she really tried to sit well, hold Dancer up and try to get her round.  There were some very, very nice moments if I do say so myself.  I think Dancer is still trying to figure all of this out too…so sometimes she is confused about what we want and gets hollow, but she also takes advantage of the situation and just stops.  It is kind of funny – annoying, but also funny in an “interesting” (not ha-ha) way.  Horses are so much more intuitive than most of us give them credit for.  I have seen Dancer take advantage of a situation and go faster than I would like, but rarely have I seen her stop, like she loves to do with A.  If A’s attention waivers for a moment at the trot or she becomes the slightest bit unbalanced or she forgets to keep riding – Dancer immediately walks.  It is as if she is saying, “well, I am not going to keep doing all this work if you aren’t!”

On this particular ride, the number of stops were greatly, greatly reduced.  Also, she (the rider) was able to sit the downward transitions (planned and unplanned) with much more balance without allowing her upper body to be tipped forward.  Her sitting trot was also much better for longer periods of time.  There was no head-bobbing.  There was a little bit of a tendency to shorten her leg and thus loose a stirrup (but, who doesn’t?).  And, the biggest news of all, for her and for me, was that she cantered – TWICE!  This is HUGE because she has been letting a mental block keep her from cantering. In trying to dissect  why she was afraid to canter, we came up with a multi-pronged attack – build up the sitting trot so that the transition into and out of the canter wouldn’t unbalance her; develop independent and quite hands; put her on a horse with a nice canter who will canter when asked without running into it through a faster and faster trot.

When I saw how nicely things were going with Dancer on this particular morning, I just knew we had to give it a try.  Plus, Dancer’s canter has been amazing lately.  So, I prepped her and told her what to expect and then she went out and did it!  Dancer cantered about a half a circle and A was sitting just as lovely as you please.  It was smooth and round and controlled and we were both so excited we could hardly stand ourselves…until we realized that I was standing there with the video camera in my hand – not capturing this historic moment for future posterity.  I thought she was going to hop down and brain me.  But, I quickly told her that she just needed to do it one more time for the camera – and she did!  I was actually a little surprised that she agreed to do it, but honestly the first one was so good, she probably could have cantered forever.  Well, ok, not forever.  After one little moment where Dancer tried to do the dreaded speed trot (see how they take advantage!), A was able to get another good half circle of canter and I was able to capture it on camera.  I could not have been more proud or more excited.  And, I sincerely hope this helps to break down that mental block and we can move into the exciting world of cantering more often.

I had told A about the filming disaster from my ride on Friday (Dancer doing so well until the camera was on and then getting a little squirrely), so she convinced  me (yeah, she really had to twist my arm) to hop on and let her film me.  Dancer felt great.  She felt light in the front end and round through the back and not pulling on my hands.  We seriously had the nicest canter (to the left, no less) that I have ever felt on any horse and then the best transition to trot – trotted about 6 or 7 steps and then a lovely transition back to canter.  I was so excited!

Unfortunately, when we got back in the barn and checked the video, we realized that there had been an operator error and the camera was on when we thought it was off and off when we thought it was on – so I don’t have footage to share.  😦

A and I agree that we really need new “peeps.”  We aren’t doing each other any technological favors here.

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