Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Trust Me...

The challenge has begun...
She's a natural!
I wanted to wait for some big, dramatic unveiling, but I just can't.  I'm too excited to share the journey!

We have been accepted to compete at Battle of the Breeds at Equifest Kansas in Wichita, KS in February!!

One of the six events is driving.

Guess what Fancy Pony hasn't done yet?

OK, I've ground driven her.  But it isn't the same.
Crupper?  She says, "I will clamp my tail until we get to work!!"
Blinders?  She says, "What the hell!  I can't see you!  I must turn around so I can see you!"

She was taking it all in stride until I asked her to walk off and she swung her butt instead, right into a gate which hit the metal door of the indoor arena.  Oops!

I learned to dance really fast so that when she spun looking for me, I stayed out of her sight.  Once she catches a glimmer of me, it's over.  I'm then left driving the pony from in front of her...  Not so good.

We are now up to trotting figure eights along the shirt side of the outdoor arena!  She seeks my outside rein in order to gauge how far to turn!  She can't see me, but she is trusting that I will not run her into anything!

I've even drug a loud, noisy, clobbering pole around on either side of her as I lead her (you know, from the side - where she can't see me or the pole!).

I think we're ready to learn how to pull!!
I wonder if any minions will be available at the barn tonight to play "dead weight" for me...

Monday, December 30, 2013

Blogger Gift Exchange!

I opened my gift exchange box with mounting excitement... I was ready for some purple horse brushes! I truly love purple. Especially the darker, royal purple shades!
I nearly squealed when I unwrapped this instead...
*****SQUEEEEE!*****
This hose nozzle really I'd the ultimate! We had one st a bath where I worked. It shuts of either direction. The best array of spray options is incredible! And I've had a use for every one of them! This is totally going in my show tote!!

There was a surprise just for the Fancy Pony! Oh, how she loves hrrnsome treats. She practically demands them after our rides. She just stands there, looking at you expectantly...
for the pretty pink pony!
The thing I am most excited to try is a thing I never even knew existed. It hadn't made it to a wish list...
photo bomb!
No, its not the cat. Torqure (aka Mr. Whiskers, aka T) has been around for a while and has a distinct knack for photobombing. Isn't he adorable? He even walks on a leash!
I digress. Back to the gifts!
Holy Cow!  Did you know about these??
Oh, man how awesome this sounds! It will run 6 to 12 hours depending on how much fluid you fill it with. THAT is beyond awesome!
It likely won't help keep my toes warm, but it will definitely help keep the post-ride chills at bay. The jhand warmers that you buy at the store are always so small. They can certainly only warm one hand at a time. I expect this will be like holding a mug of hot chocolate. Does it get any more delightful?

I almost teared up when I read the card. Us Reynaud's sisters are sticking together! Maybe I was feeling a little emotional that day...
Doesn't matter, though! It was a wonderful box of gifts, and I couldn't be more grateful. Now, I just need to work out my secret weapons for sub-30 degree temperatures, and I'll be in business!!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Already? I mean, Merry Christmas!


Time is flying by as I try to balance riding and holiday festivities.
I have been catching up on tack cleaning with all of this too-cold-to-ride weather!  I even got the borrowed saddle cleaned before returning it to it's proper owner!

Asmir, the kitten (just over a year old), has decided the weather is just fine (my app said it was 1 degree outside with a wind chill of -15), so she decided to practice her foxhunting at O-dark-30 as I prepared to leave for that abominable thing called work.  I would much rather be practicing for foxhunting, myself...  Maybe I can try some hilltopping before the season ends...

Tally Ho!
 She just might have a future riding sidesaddle!
I thought I was going to sneak a ride tonight (because yesterday's 19 degrees was not enticing me), but I realized that it is Christmas Eve (How did that sneak up on me so stealthily??) rather than "just Tuesday", and I have somewhere to be by 6:00 pm.  I wonder if I can still swing in a quick ride?
I wonder if the propsed high of 36 degrees will actually come to pass?
Perhaps I am completely delusional!
*sigh*
I probably will be missing my usual Tuesday night ride.  I guarantee I'll be missing my Wednesday ride, as hubby has plans for me to help cook all morning...  Family commitments...  All that jazz... (cue Chicago!)

I still owe you all a post about my blogger gift exchange gift, but I haven't had a chance to even take the pictures!
This winter weather is REALLY cutting into my riding time, and I'm not dealing well.  I suppose I'll just be looking forward to Thursday, and I'll catch up after the holidays!

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Solid at 2'6" - Commit to the mistake!

The first words I heard from my coach as I was warming up were, "Look at that pony's canter!"
Obviously, she was pleased with the gait that we were producing.  I was pleased, too!  We have been practicing, you see.  Because the Fancy Pony wants to go faster rather than wait and balance...  It's not that she is being beligerant, it's just that she doesn't know any better!
So, for the last week, I have been insisting that she balance around the turns.  This involves a concious effort on my part to sit up, sit back, and lift her shoulders with my inside leg.  Now, if we're just flatting, she really thinks, "Geez, lady.  What's the point?"  But, now that we are riding connected lines, she is realizing, "Wow, if I do this it makes my job way easier!"
We actually had some adjustability in our canter in warm-up!

I was feeling pretty darned accomplished, and I only jumped ahead of my horse once (I got excited, what can I say?).  Coach sent me around the course again (Which now included outside lines, diagonal lines, and bending lines!  Woo Hoo!) and said to me, "Remember, you are the decision maker.  If you make a decision, even if it is the wrong one, follow through and support it!  Don't drop her at the base of the fence."

You see, I feel like my horse knows better than I do if the long spot or the short spot will be better if we aren't going to arrive at the perfect spot.  So, I have (incorrectly) been giving a stride out and letting her tell me which will be more comfortable.  She doesn't always make the right choice, either, but she always gets us over the fence, and hardly ever knocks a rail.  I think she has had 3 knocked rails in the last year.  Maybe 4.  She is stupendously careful!  Because I have not been commiting to what I see, and leaving it open for discussion, she was feeling a little bit abandoned at the base of the fences.  That one instruction made a huge difference in my next round!  We rode the entire round like a hunter!  Coming to the dinky wall, she wanted the long spot.  She was commiting to it!  I sat up and sucked it in (never touched the reins) and she waited!

The most entertaining part of the ride, however, was the last course we did, where we rode a single fence, diagonal bending line, outside line, diagonal bending line, outside line.  The final outside line was new, and she was convince that we were done after the final bending line.  I bent her toward the final (new) line, and she was sleeping.  She just wanted to cruise (in balance, at least!) around the end and hang on the rail.  This last line comes up fast, especially if you don't come off of the rail at precisely the right moment.  And the first jump in the line is a very solid gate!  It was ugly, but I hauled her off of the rail, putting us on a bit of a diagonal approach to the gate.  I told her, "I don't care how ugly it is.  Get over and put yourself together!"  She zeroed in on the fence, hopped over it on the diagonal line that put us in the middle, landed straight and in line for the second fence, balanced, adjusted for a proper take-off, and jumped quietly and round over the final fence!  She was so with me, at that point, that I rode her around to the end of the ring, did a balanced transition to trot on a half circle, which put me on the centerline.  We trotted about 1/4 of the way down the centerline, and trotted right into a straight halt.  It was so lovely, I saluted like it was a dressage test!

As far as committing to the mistakes, Coach and I discussed some of the choices she would have made differently (as well as the choices that she whole-heartedly agreed with), and she didn't seem to have any issue with the reasoning for the decisions I made differently.

The show this weekend has now been cancelled to to imminent freezing rain and overall crummy weather, so we won't get to show off our newfound hunter skills yet.  On the upside, I recieved my Not-So-Secret Santa Blogger gift, and I will be making a whole seperate post about it because it is over the top, and I need your full attention for the gushing.
On the other up-side, I finally got mine together and packaged and SHIPPED (today, geez, I feel so behind!!), so it should reach its destination next week.  Hopefully before Christmas, but if not, definitely shortly after.  I sure hope she likes it!!

Special Note: I have it on good authority that we will start playing over small corner questions and skinnies and all manner of other fun things like that.  I can't wait to tell you guys what the Fancy Pony thinks about such mind-boggling questions!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Development -or- Can you hear me?

First of all, let me say this:
That Higher Standards soap is incredible!!
I finally got around to trying it out.  I bought the sample kit, so I have 3 small tubs of soap and a small tub of leather balm.  When it arrived, I had *just* finished cleaning a huge chunk of tack with traditional saddle soap and followed up with neatsfoot oil compound.  I didn’t have much to try the new stuff out on.  Then I realized exactly how rough my every day bridle was looking…  So, I brought it home to take it apart and scrub the snot out of it.
My husband decided he liked the smell of the lavender-vanilla the best, so I used that one.  Apparently, it smelled up the entire kitchen, because everyone commented about the nice smell, and all the animals came to check out what I was doing.  In fact, the kitten kept trying to lay down on my work space – never mind that I’m scrubbing leather!
The neatest thing was how clean this gets my leather!  My bridle looked brand new when I got done!  Now, my everyday bridle is the Plymouth bridle from Smart Pak.  It’s not like this is a super high quality bridle, but it isn’t junk, either.  I thought it was beginning to look worn, and I was thinking that I might actually need something else to set aside just for showing…  Yes, I show in the same tack I school in…  But after I finished cleaning with the Higher Standards saddle soap, I realized my bridle has tons of life left in it!  What I thought was wear and tear was just a very thin layer of very stubborn dirt or oil or crud or whatever that just hadn’t been coming off before!  I kept saying to myself: “OMG!  That’s just dirt??”
Since I do use this bridle every single day(which means it takes quite a bit of abuse from dust and dirt and sweat), I figured it would appreciate a little extra love, so I followed up with the leather balm once it was dry.  I love the feel of the leather balm!  I love how it melts and spreads evenly with just a little bit of wiping.  It really feels like chapstick for my leather!

My husband's favorite flavor, so far...

Listening...
More fun stuff
So, I tacked up the Fancy Pony and we headed down to the arena.  She was chill.  We walked around to warm up and she was stretchy and getting loose, just be-bopping on a long rein…  The horses out in the pasture started kicking it up…  She wanted to party a little, but she continued to walk like I asked…  on a long rein…  And someone working out of their trailer threw something out on the ground, and she used that as a perfect excuse for a sit-and-spin maneuver!  Then went back to walking on the long rein.  *sigh*
The pasture horses were really getting going now, and she desperately wanted to be a crazy beast with them, but she was trying her best to focus on what I was asking.  On a whim, I took advantage of the “want-to-go” in conjunction with the “want-to-please” and asked for trot.  I got the prancy trot.  Her tail was curled over her back, and I was riding the closest thing to passage that I have ridden in 15 years!  I could feel her sitting and pushing with every stride!  With a close of the thigh, she came back to walk.  With a close of the calf, she stepped right back into the collected trot!  Coil the spring, release the spring, coil the spring, release the spring…  I knew this was asking a lot from her, so after 4 or 5 short sets, we walked out a little more, with the relaxation I asked for…  I didn’t think she could maintain the balance if I lengthened that trot too much, but I hope she remembers that feeling when we start to shorten it again!
As a reward, I got off, took her bridle off, and let her party around the arena.  Her paddock just isn’t adequate for her to cut loose like that, and I know she needs to get it out of her system now and again.  I appreciate that she tells me when she needs it in such a constructive manner.  How does your horse communicate with you?
After removing her bridle, she still kept her head facing me, asking for permission, seeking instruction.  I pointed to the far end of the arena, raised my crop toward her hip, and she trotted off.  Then, she realized exactly what was going on, and leapt into a head long gallop, round and round and round the arena she went.  Snorting and blowing and partying…  Change direction, and again, she went round and round and round.  Blowing off steam, she galloped and cantered, and galloped again!  She took a few short trot breaks, then headed off to gallop some more!  She even did the race horse thing, where she switched to the “wrong” lead for the straight away and switched back to the “right” lead for the turns.  She is just so athletic!!
Finally, she had her fill, and she walked back up to me to be bridled and get down to work.  She was breathing pretty heavy, so we went back to our long walk.  When we started work in earnest, I focused on impulsion in the gaits.  When we got to the jumping, I didn’t jump ahead of my horse a single time!  Although I lost my left rein on that same outside line…  I wonder why that keeps happening?  It’s not like I lose the entire rein, I just end up with an extra 4 inches on the landing side of the second jump…  We only had one moment of rushing, but she came back to me little by little.  I think I used a little too much leg on the landing side of the jump before the turn.  Sometimes, I think she just mistakes speed for impulsion.  Perhaps the rushing comes when I lean forward too far on landing…  I’m still tuning in to all of my little undesirable quirks.  I think I also did a better job of keeping my shoulders up and not ducking down.  My internal monologue is coming right along.  Sit up…  Wait with the shoulders… Suck it in… Wait with the shoulders…
Not a bad ride for being a bit sickly!  It was a pretty short one, and we only jumped a little before it got dark enough that I felt we should stop.  All in all, I’m at a point where the size of the jump doesn’t matter to me.  I just point her and go!
Next, I think I want to elasticize our canter a little more…

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

For Want of Spring

While it was flipping cold outside, I was going stir crazy and failing to manage my Raynaud’s.  Now that it is beautiful outside (well, compared to the last couple weeks, anyway), I have a head cold.  Pardon me, while I pout.
***POUT***
we can pretend this is me pouting, right?
I'm going to a show Saturday.  A local hunter.jumper show.  Where we will happily go 2'3" and 2'6" with the intent of jumping bigger courses and absolutely no hope of ribbons.  I'm completely OK with that.  I really want to kick ass at Beginner Novice eventing in 2014.  So, while I really just want to drug up and do this:
seriously, any cat will do...
I will instead drag my happy self out to the barn and do my best to stay out of the Fancy Pony's way while we practice a quick bit of jumping.  Then, I will proceed home for the drugging and kitty-cuddling and general miserable-ality that goes along with being sick.
And my husband will never understand why I don't just stay home and rest...

Friday, December 13, 2013

Yippee! Courses!

You all may have picked up on this fact: I love grids!


Grids let me find my happy place… and stay there!

That also means that I lose a little something when I’m not in a grid, or if I haven’t warmed up in a grid. So, last night, there were no grids. There were courses!

I was trying to remember the last time we rode a course. Hunter Hack at the Fuzzy Show didn’t count, because it was only a line (and I botched it terribly). I’m pretty sure our last real courses were at our Starter schooling in June!


Read the recap of our first Starter event here!

But, we don’t need to practice courses to get better at courses… We just need to practice dressage!!

We have a hunter/jumper schooling show next weekend. (OMG! I can’t believe I still get to show about once a month and it’s the middle of winter!!) So, we got an eventers crash course in hunters. Which is great for me, because I’ve been trying to learn all I can about what makes a top hunter! I also liked that Coach didn’t say, “This is what the judge is looking for!” Instead she said, “This is what I want to see!”

Let’s face it, we’re riding eventers, not hunters. We have to start somewhere, so we must prioritize what we are showing off, here.

Warm-up:

“I want to see focused warm-up. Trot each fence both directions, then if you feel comfortable, start cantering some of them.”

I love warming up by trotting the jumps! Fancy Pony approaches relaxed and confident from the trot. Always. We establish quiet rhythm with trot. She never takes a long spot from the trot. The trot just plain sets us up for success. Kudos to me for already having and using this tool!

I also got the break down on how to show the warm-up circle, as well as how to use it to establish balance, pace, and rhythm.

ROUND 1a:

“I want to see the same rhythm before, after, and in between every fence! I want to see large, sweeping turns that use the entire arena! I want to see straight diagonals!”

Got it. Ride the rhythm. Connect the lines… Well, I needed to make bigger turns. And at the end of our first diagonal line, Fancy Pony wobbled because she wanted to swing around to take the second jump on the rail… This mare loves the jumpers questions! Angles? You bet! Roll back turns? Bring it on! Bending lines? She is all about it. Basic hunter pony courses? BORING!



On the up side, we did a pretty good job maintaining our consistent pace!

ROUND 1b:

outside line… diagonal line… big sweeping turn to my next outside line…. CHARGE!!! LAUNCH the cross-rail!

**Um, excuse me! I don’t care what size the fence is, we are not finishing this line and taking that jump from THIS disrespectful canter!!**

I think she was just excited, but there are more respectful (and safer!) ways to channel that excitement than galloping headlong over the jumps with no adjustability (or no brakes).

We tried that line set up again. This time, I felt like I had to nearly set her on her ass every other stride between the fences on the outside line, but at least she was listening.

ROUND 2a:

My half seat leaves something to be desired. I lean forward. Then, when we jump, I duck even further. If Coach yells at me to sit up, I fix it immediately! This will be an ongoing challenge until the new muscle memory is established. There is also the ongoing problem of my hands being stuck in my lap…



If I ride the entire time with my hands halfway up her neck, my elbows stay close and my hands follow her neck over the fence. I also sit up a little better. However, when I let me hands work between the fences in their normal position, they sometimes get stuck when I get to the jump. Fancy Pony, being the honest soul that she has become, jumps anyway. She just packs me over the fence and waits ever-so-patiently for me to figure it out.

So, my exercise was to keep my knuckles on her neck for the entire ride. Knuckles at the base of her neck as I ride between and around the fences, then slide the knuckles to half-way up her neck for the jump, then slide them back down to the base of her neck for the next flat stretch.



--ASIDE--

This entire lesson, I wasn’t so much focused on the jumps. I was focused on perfection between the jumps. Fancy Pony will jump the jump no matter how well or how poorly I set her up. My ultimate success lies on that 90% of the course that happens between the jumps, and I’ve known that for a while. I think this is part of the reason my hands get stuck in my lap… I’m still riding between the fences…

-- end aside --

So, I didn’t *actually* keep my knuckles in contact the entire time, but the point was well made, and my hands became more mobile at the appropriate times.

ROUND 4a (or something like that):

The fences went up when I wasn’t looking. That’s OK (I told myself), just keep riding your rhythm.

One… Two… One… Two… jump… Oh, crap! I lost 4 inches of my outside rein! …One… *gather, gather* …Two… Why can’t I get my rein together? …One… *tangle, gather* …jump… (never did get that outside rein back) …One… Two… One… finally get my reins together as I sweep around to take the diagonal line …Two… release …One… jump… *sigh* I had jumped ahead.

She could totally have run out on the second fence of the bigger line, but she stayed true and straight, even after the second fence when I still didn’t have my reins back. And the diagonal when I jumped ahead, she could have easily dumped me if she wanted. I can *FEEL* when I’m not right, which is an excellent start, but I really need to get more consistent.

This is where I save my horses legs and continue to visualize, feel, and internalize the memories of our best jumping efforts when I’m between rides or away from the barn.

Over a few of the courses, I had breaks to the trot because I asked her to come back to me with more gusto than I needed. I was cool with that after the galloping charge we had. I rode a few more connected lines, and I could really feel her adjustability between the fences.

And, there was one course where my chosen line took me over a random pole on the ground. My horse (who never acknowledges poles on the ground while also never kicking them) JUMPED the pole on the ground as if it were a 2’ fence!

All in all, I'm thrilled about our ability to work together better and better between the fences.  And I love that I don't actually have to worry about the jumping part!!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Out of the Saddle

You don’t have to be in the saddle to train your riding skills. Don’t get me wrong! Time in the saddle is the biggest part of improving your riding!


What do you do “the rest of the time” to help or hinder your riding?

I think this was November 2011... He was good at getting fuzzy!
I work at a desk in an office setting. I’ve learned that sitting in a traditional style chair that puts my hip angle at 90 degrees causes me constant sciatic pain, so I sit in a kneeling chair. This is great for keeping my hips at a little more open angle (and my hip flexors just a little longer), but I am sure it also shortens my hamstrings and calves as my legs fold under my seat. On the up side, it’s difficult to cross your legs in a kneeling chair! More bonus for my back!


I mouse with my right hand, and I work on 2 monitors. Sometimes, I find myself leaning on my left elbow as I study the screens and mouse around with my right hand… This produces a constant leaning to my left. You wouldn’t think this is such a big deal, but it manifests in my riding when I canter circles to the left. I can *feel* myself leaning into my circle, a constant pull of gravity to my left… But I find that I lack the musculature to straighten up and FIX it! The muscles on my left side slowly shorten at the office, and I must fight it every time I get in the saddle. I try to sit evenly on both seat bones while I work. I can feel them, anyway, which is more than a lot of people who don’t ride…

I read voraciously about riding. I read through an article or chapter to digest the theory. Then, I read through it again, and I visualize myself riding the movement as described. I don’t just visualize it with my eyes, though. I visualize how it feels. Which muscles are activated? Which muscles must be passive? What is my horse’s body doing as a result of each applied aid?
I go out to the barn and try to apply what I've read, then I go back and read again to see if what I felt lines up with what I expected, what was described, or pick up additional details.
A new perspective on Raynaud's...
This is why I will get less in-the-saddle time in the winter.  If I'm at the barn, I am too distracted focused to feel a Raynaud's episode before the toes are numb.  At that point, the damage has already been done.  The best way to manage Raynaud's?  Don't have an episode.  That's pretty helpful advice, huh?
Sometimes, I don't notice that I'm having an episode until I get home (a 20-minute drive from the barn) and get my boots and socks off as I get in the shower.

So, I do a lot more riding in my mind.
This year, my dressage position is coming right along with visualization.  My upper body is getting taller and more vertical.  My legs feel so much longer as they just drop straight down underneath me, and I feel like my feet should be dragging in the dirt!  My next planned improvement it to take the flexion out of my lumbar spine through abdominal muscle support and return my pelvis to a neutral position instead of it's typical anterior tilt...

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Helmet Question

I've been showing primarily dressage and eventing for the last couple of years. As a result, there hasn't been much of s helmet debate in my circles. We ride, therefore, we helmet. The end.
Yes, that *is* blue animal print on my helmet cover...

However, I was introduced to the world of Arabian Sport Horse this year. It seemed a beautiful combination of everything I have always loved most in the realm of horses. 

Now, I have gotten so used to seeing riders in helmets (even Western riders!) that it now jars me to see any rider with a bare head.  My mind can overlook the rider in a cowboy hat, but I feel a tiny bit queasy to see a ring full of riders and no helmets.
There is no real reason that this should bother me. At the places I see this, there is no 'helmet required' rule. Just because I have made the choice to always use my helmet (even in Western classes, even if it is a big-deal show), doesn't mean that everyone else must make the same choice.
Some choices are better than others, right?

On a side note, I saw photos of one of the most talented youth riders I know. She was wearing her fanciest western show gear, and a helmet. I don't know how long I looked at the photos before I realized that she was wearing a helmet in place of her cowboy hat. She still looked perfectly put-together and professional. I loved it!
So, the helmet debate still rages in the Arabian Horse Association. Tempers flare on both sides. There is finger-pointing and name calling. This year, a motion to make helmets required for Sport Horse classes was defeated. My initial thought was, "That is a shame."
Understand, I followed the rise of Courtney King-Dye. I told myself for years, 'We are close in age. If she can do it, why can't I?' Her injury also struck close to home. I've had my own riding accidents, and I was lucky I wasn't more severely injured. Concussions are bad enough. Scary, in and of themselves. Traumatic Brain Injury is a very real danger.
I don't see anything wrong with an organization requiring helmet use at shows. However, many people will disagree. I asked someone why they voted against the helmet rule. I was told it was because they didn't feel like it was right to force their opinion on to everyone else.
You know what? I respect that point of view.
Yup, that one is, in fact, sparkly purple!

I advocate helmet use. I love seeing our top riders sporting protective headgear with their tails. I continue to set the example.
And I find myself back on the fence about the requirement of riding helmets.

Monday, December 9, 2013

it was quite a show!

Well, we went to an open schooling show last weekend. It was the first time that we didn’t bring home any ribbons (really, it’s not that big of a deal). And I learned a little more about my partner!


The first thing that really stuck out was the typical Arabian-kid relationship (you know, that mentality of “Takin’ care of the kid. I’m just takin’ care of the kid…”). She would not stay in the warm-up ring for her junior rider. You see, JR (junior rider) doesn’t yet understand how to use her outside rein. She steers with a direct rein and bends Fancy Pony’s head and neck around until the pony can pop her shoulder out and ignore the direct rein. Regardless, Fancy Pony didn’t do anything dirty, and she did everything in her power to take care of the kid. In the warm-up, she allowed JR to steer her around all of the other horses. In the mad chaos, Fancy Pony was the picture of a packer pony – complete with her nose stuck straight out in front of her!

would anyone else like to 'squee' with me?


This was our first chance to show the Fancy Pony at an open show. She has been getting lots of dressage experience… And plenty of jumping… And she has proven perfectly confident and capable on a cross-country course… She needed quite a bit of reassurance as she cantered around with the other 20 horses in the ring, though! She just *knew* they were all ready to come after her! She was only perturbed at the canter, though…

My equitation pattern threw her for a loop. It called for a pretty tight turn in counter-canter. I knew this was asking quite a bit, but she pulled off the counter-canter just fine! It was switching back to regular canter that got us! Oh, and the halt at the end of the canter line. Oops!

I am a firm believer in setting the horse up for success. So, when it came to our hunter hack warm-up round, I trotted to the first fence rather than canter. Sure enough, she went through the line just fine, landed on the correct lead on the far side, and halted quietly. However, when we did it for real, she was on the wrong lead going in (I just could not convince her to switch back!). She took the long spot over the first fence. I was busy looking at the end of my line so that we rode it straight, then jumped ahead of her over the second fence. Instead of the nice 3 stride that we practiced, she needed to add a stride (because, of course, she took the long spot over the first fence). She is so forgiving. She jumped despite my horrible performance, landed on the wrong lead coming out, stayed on the wrong lead around the turn, didn’t halt until we were a horse’s length past our cone… BUT, she backed beautifully! *sigh*

We can blame that entire performance on the rider.

We still got a pretty picture!

eventually, we'll get my hands out of my lap and under my face...
The show ran long and late.  I finally scratched our last three classes and headed home.  I was tired, my pony was tired...  Everyone was ready to be done and it seemed like every class was being divided into multiple groups.  But we did get to try one ride western.  Well, sort of western...  I ran out of time and will to fight with my chaps...
I guess we know how she feels about western, now...
She ain't perfect, but she gives everything she has!  What more can you ask for?



Friday, December 6, 2013

Eventing dressage leg, or classical dressage leg?

Did you know there is a difference? Is there really a difference?

GOD, how I loved this horse!

A couple statements that I recently heard were:
“In dressage, your leg is practically straight down, but in Eventing dressage, they want your leg more forward than that.”
“In dressage, your heel is supposed to be level” (as opposed to below the ball of your foot)

Both of these statements bother me a little bit.
I’ve studied equitation since I was a teen. The conclusion that I have ultimately come to is this:
Good position contributes to effective riding.

I buy into the ideal of the straight line from ear to shoulder to hip to heel, straight line from elbow to bit, and heels down – head up. However, assuming this position and holding it by sheer muscle force detracts from the effectiveness of your riding. Ask me how I know… On the other hand, assuming “trainer’s hunch” and classical position be hanged may not be effective either.

I find that my position may differ depending on the shape of the horse I ride. Or it may be effected by the saddle I’m riding. For example, in my western saddle, my lower leg sits slightly more forward than in my dressage saddle. My heel is still under my hip, but the stirrups are a tad more forward, so my entire leg is slightly more forward. As I get stronger in my core, I’ve been slowly lengthening my dressage leathers. Some days, I bring them back up a hole, other days I drop them again. My goal is to effectively apply my legs without disturbing the rest of my body. If I have to reach with my toes to maintain my stirrups, I’ve lost my secure base and effective leg.

I strive to sit tall in the saddle. In my jumping saddle, with my shorter stirrup, my upper body tilts slightly forward, but I still seek the feeling of stretching up and tall. So, I buy into the ideal, but in my mind, there is some room for flexibility. In my jumping saddle, if I sit super vertical, I feel as if I am digging my seat bones into my horse’s back, and she is less responsive to my requests for round. So, I accept the slight forward tilt of my upper body and adopt a slightly lighter seat and away we go, ready for the gymnastic line or course that may lie ahead of us.

I admire a long, vertical dressage thigh, but it bothers me to see toes lower than the heel. I don’t judge a level foot, but I feel a lower heel offers a better opportunity for shock absorption. I can’t imagine an eventing judge docking points because an eventer’s leg resembles the longer leg of classical dressage in their dressage test.

Thoughts?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

New Level --- UNLOCKED!

Photo Credit: Avid Visual Imagery
It’s kind of like playing a video game… Just because your proficiency at a lower level isn’t 100% doesn’t mean you can’t start working on the next level… If you can make it past the multi-negatives, I applaud your ability to keep up with my non-linear thinking!!

Sometimes, it really does feel like you passed through some threshold into the next level.

I warmed up, focusing on relaxation, rhythm, and consistent connection. When the fancy pony was stretching into my hands in a quiet long/low trot, I ceased posting. And we kept the swing! From the longer frame, I quietly gathered my pony back up, and we maintained sitting trot for an entire lap around the large outdoor arena!!

Allow me to focus a moment on how this is different from what I had been doing…
You see, I was trying to sit in my working trot. This caused a couple of problems, that looked something like this:

1) From the working trot, I sit, and the Fancy Pony says, “IT’S CANTER TIME!!!”
When I tell her, “No, in fact, it is sitting trot time” she would reply with the next challenge…

2) “I don’t like you sitting! IT’S THROW MY HEAD IN THE AIR TIME!!”

Now, sometimes, I can transition to sitting trot straight from the walk with better results, but she was still a little fussy. Additionally, while it *is* possible to leg-yield in posting trot, it is much smoother in sitting trot. I recognize that there is a prerequisite strength required before a horse can honestly handle sitting trot. I suspected part of the problem was the way I was sitting, which brings me to the difference between “sitting” and “ceasing to post.” I think it’s a fine line between ‘passively sitting’ and ‘sitting and driving’. I think I was ever-so-slightly driving while I was sitting. Because of the driving, I was losing the swing and relaxation in the trot.

With sitting trot unlocked, I was able to play with a few more fancy moves! We practiced trot-halt-back-trot-halt transitions. It got to the point where I could just breathe my way from one to the next. We’d trot into a square halt. I’d lean back a hair, and she would march backward. I’d sit up tall and close my leg, and she would push right into a trot that I could sit! It was a glorious feeling of harmony!

Once all the go buttons fell into place, we finished up with a reminder of leg-yield. It felt like ballet! Don’t get me wrong. The leg-yields weren’t perfect by any means, but they were definitely leg yields. They were identifiable and purposeful. The shoulders led, she pressed into my outside rein (most of the time), and the crossing of her hind legs was something I could actually feel!
Yeah, I usually have to ask eyes on the ground if we’re actually crossing…

We came down the centerline, leg-yielded to the wall, straightened down the long side, and trotted into a halt. No fuss. Perfect willingness. Complete attention. I stopped right there and got off. We weren’t going to get any better that night!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Pony Trend

Many ‘Adult Amateurs’ are discovering the joys of ponies. The United States Dressage Federation has taken note. There was an article published in USDF Connection (Pony Power) regarding this development!


A junior rider came to meet the Fancy Pony. She was immediately smitten and made remarks like, “She is the perfect size for me!”



She cantered the Fancy Pony around the arena and said, “She’s going really fast!”

Except she wasn’t so much going fast as she was taking long, slow canter strides…



She would not be the first (or last) rider to comment about how big the Fancy Pony moves. So why has it taken so long for Sport Ponies to catch on?

Big movement (but easier to sit than the huge warmbloods), clos(er) to the ground, hardy and sound, and known for longevity… What’s not to love?



How I came to ride a pony:

A friend heard I was looking for a horse to start training up for the inevitable day that I would have to retire the Old Man from eventing. Nevermind that the original plan had me eventing him at least another 2 years, giving me time to train said ‘new ride’ to the same level! She asked me, “What are you looking for in your ideal eventing horse?” I listed off all sorts of things: bravery, confidence, soundness, jumping ability… She came back with, “You didn’t say anything about size or breed… I have this Arabian mare that needs a job…”

I wasn’t looking for a horse that would immediately go Advanced. I was looking for something that might confidently go Novice, maybe work up to Training. Teddy O’Connor was 14.3hh and went all the way to the top! That doesn’t mean I expect every small horse to be that athletic and talented, but I didn’t consider size to be a limiting factor for what **I** wanted to do.

My dressage potential is unlimited. Size is not a factor. My jumping height might be limited, sure. My pony probably will not go Grand Prix Jumpers. But we can still learn our sport over smaller fences. You don’t need to be jumping 5’ (or even 3’) to learn straight lines, bending lines, adjustability between jumps, galloping cross-country, correct and confident combinations…

I don’t need my Advanced level eventing horse today. I’ll take my solid BN/Novice horse and keep learning the ropes. We might even get to try Training one day! We can still practice the big concepts (like skinnies and corners) over smaller obstacles. The way you ride it doesn’t change just because the fence is bigger! When I’m ready to go advanced, THEN I can look for my Advanced horse!

Or Pony! I’m not ruling out the pony!

Monday, November 25, 2013

It's a gift exchange! Wanna play?

Fly On Over is hosting a  Blogger Gift Exchange, and I decided I wanted to join in!
embrace the madness!

Head on over to see how to get in on the action.  It seems like a great follow up after hosting my first contest!


Random, but exciting news:
We're on page 8 of the latest issue of Arabian Sport Horse Magazine!
**drool**

You know I have to brag on this mare that I am so proud of...

Sunday, November 24, 2013

We Have A Winner!


My darling husband pulled a name, and the winner is...
Hillary at Equestrian at Hart!
Congratulations!  You will get to spend $75 at Equi-Spa!

Please e-mail me at equinesnob@gmail.com to claim your prize.

Hillary said:
I'm really interested in the balm. Sounds pretty cool. The cool muscle wash also is intriguing. I will make a post and share when I'm home from the show!

Hillary, I look forward to hearing how you spend your gift certificate and what you think about the products. Assuming you choose to share, of course. 

A want to send a HUGE Thank-You to Equi-Spa for sponsoring my first-ever contest!
And thank you to ALL of you for making it a success! 

Friday, November 22, 2013

DERP! -or- That 'live in your tent' disposition...


My pony was cuddling up to anyone who would stay near her as I was picking up the "stuff" from our jumping lesson.

So, as I was at the far end of the indoor arena, she decided to follow someone else...
Coach said, "Your pony love me more than she loves you!"

I didn't even bother to look.  I just hollered back, "That's because you are likely going back to the barn!"
Shortly thereafter, I heard the door close, followed by a solid couple of THUNKS that sounded like something fell off of the wall.  That's when I looked...

Understand the layout of our arena:
do you see the corner full of chairs?

That corner is full of plastic chairs.  That door to the outside, the human-sized one, is way wider than that gap to the corner.  **I** have to turn sideways to shoot that gap...

And my pony is looking back forlornly, as the door has been shut in her face.  She is standing amongst the chairs.  Like a bull in a china shop.

And I am here:

do you see how far away I am?
 Now, feeling rejected, the Fancy Pony attempts to turn around... and entangles herself in more chairs...

As if that weren't enough, she then caught a rein on a t-post that holds the panels up that define the viewing area...  Yes, yes, I know exactly how ugly this can get...

As I start to walk that way - oh, so far away! - I say quietly, "whoa, pony."
And she did.  She never got "up" or excited.  She felt the pull from the rein, and you could see her brain start working.  She stood like a statue until I arrived to save her.

Why she though she could (or better yet, should) shoot that tiny gap, we will never know.  The only reasonable exit was through the door she so depserately wanted to leave by in the first place!  She quietly followed me through the human door and up to the barn, where she got millions of cookies for keeping a cool head when it really matters.

Those freaking **CRAZY** Arabians!!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Seriously. What is this?

The Fancy Pony isn't the only horse I get to play with, but she is the only one I get to ride like she's mine...

There is another horse that flirts with me from time to time.  He's a big chestnut Arabian gelding that I've known since he was a baby.  I have watched him grow and mature, but he just isn't taking to Western Pleasure as readily as some people had hoped...

I rode him last week, and we worked through some very obnoxious fascinating discombobulation in the trot.

My answer to everything these days seems to be "send them forward!"  But, hey, when I sent him forward, his hind end synced back up with the front end, he would soften into the bridle, and O-M-G what a lovely trot!

The last time I rode him, he was just a bully who didn't want to go forward and wanted to hang on the reins.  He's winning my heart!  I have high hopes that he can keep learning this stuff and eventually pull himself together to become that nice Western Pleasure horse...

I think if anything is going to hold him back, it will be something else entirely...  You see, he dribbles...

OK.  He pees every 5 minutes or more!  He's been checked out by multuple vets.  He has been declared "fine".  But, he dribbles the entire time he stands to be groomed and tacked up - resulting in this:
Do you see him dribbling?

How can you show your face at a show when you won't even make it through the class without dribbling all over your legs?

He even does it when he's walking!

Have you guys ever encountered anything like this?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Just for fun - because we like to jump

Fancy Pony never feels unsteady to the jump anymore.  She confidently canters rhythmically all the way to the fence.
captured from the video

I didn't realize that we were approaching on the wrong lead.  That was probably due to the practice of some counter-canter earlier in the evening.  I can't wait to take this mare back out on the cross-country course!  We're planning to compete Beginner Novice and school Novice in 2014.


Enjoy the 6 seconds of video!

PS - don't forget to enter the contest: Win a gift certificate to Equi-Spa!

Monday, November 18, 2013

When we stop seeing the breed...

When I started riding Whisper, everyone saw the cute roan Arabian. Emphasis on the ARABIAN.

When we started getting beyond the 'wild Arabian' stage, people would tell me things like:
"I'm not typically a fan of Arabians, but I really like yours!"
or
"She has become so calm and relaxed! She doesn't even act like an Arabian anymore!"

But what does that mean, to "act like an Arabian"?
Shouldn't all horses be expected to act like model citizens? Why should one animals less-than-acceptable behavior be given a pass because 'he is just young' or 'she is a (plug your favorite breed here)'?

One day, my pony ceased to be the 'cute roan Arabian' and just became the 'cute jumper pony' or the 'cute dressage pony' (depending on who you talk to). She had learned her solid basics and how to relax and follow my lead. She is now a model citizen, and we no longer see her breed. Isn't that what we all strive for?

Friday, November 15, 2013

It's a contest!!

Enter to win a $75 gift certificate to Equi-Spa Horse Care Products!



Rules to enter:


1) Visit Equi-Spa’s website and peruse the products – and why not like the Facebook page while you’re at it?

2) Leave a comment on this post telling me which Equi-Spa product you are most interested in trying (I know, it’s tough to decide, isn’t it?) for an entry into the drawing for the gift certificate.

3) Refer your readers to this blog contest in your own blog for an additional entry (don’t forget to tell me you did this!).  Heck, share a link to your Facebook post sharing this contest, and I'll count that, too!

You may comment and/or share to enter from today (November 15, 2013) through midnight on November 22, 2013.

On November 24, 2013, the winner will be drawn from the pool of entries and notified by a post to this blog!



I discovered Equi-Spa early this year. I currently stock the Cool Muscle Wash and the Grapefruit Coat Refresh in my grooming tote and use them almost every day. Fancy Pony melts into her post work-out massage after a few spritzes of the Cool Muscle Wash, and the Grapefruit Coat Refresh allows me to brush off the stubborn dust from lengthening winter hair. These products smell good enough to eat!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Ups and the Downs -OR- It’s Only Normal

To begin with, I received a lovely gift and card from L. Williams over the weekend.

Viva Carlos - 2-point-ober Results

I squeezed into the upper ranks of the 2-point challenge (barely) with my last ditch effort of ten and a half minutes of 2-point. My coach was giving another lesson at the time, and the young girls were in awe of my feat. Coach would periodically glance at me and say, “You’re still at it?” and left me with a final “Your position looks nice and solid!”
The card was lovely! I displayed my prize and card on the kitchen island all weekend! I made my husband read the card. It made my weekend! Thank you so much!!

This would be the most recent of my “ups” (of which there can never be to many). I advise you: Put yourself out there! You will be surprised at how much fortune comes your way!

I’ll let you guys in on a little secret… I didn’t get a chance to take a final time at the very end of the month… I could have gone a little bit longer by then… The stakes have definitely been raised for next year!

Those of you who have been following along may have noticed the constant rise and fall in my rate of progress with the Psycho Mare Fancy Pony.
you want me to do what?

It began with the installation of a work ethic… She didn’t have one. Then she started to develop one!

I think she started to become the Psycho Mare to me when the steering would randomly fail. Not an uncommon thing in the young/green horse. However, it did mean that I had to warn everyone I was riding with… New gait = steering loss. *shrug*

When I introduced her to jumps, she proved herself to be very brave and willing! Once she discovered that jumps come in sets of “more than one”, she really started getting into it!

That was when we hit our first major plateau that would last for months. My enthusiasm tempered as the canter failed to improve. Some days it felt like we were going backwards. I rode with anyone who was available to share their knowledge with me. I tried adjusting my saddle fit. I tried a bunch of different exercises. I tried making her tired first.

Finally, I tried a massage, which proved to be a first step in a better direction!


August

September

October

But this is not intended to be a “year in review” post. What I’m really trying to explore is the emotional roller coaster that goes along with these inevitable challenges. I’ve flipped so many times, it makes my own head spin:

This pony is so fancy! She will be amazing!

This pony is such a challenge! She is ridiculously sensitive.

This pony is so brave! She is made for eventing!

This pony is so athletic! She is made for jumping!

Why can’t this pony balance in the canter? What is wrong with my riding?

This pony is so frustrated. Why can’t we communicate more clearly?

This pony is so relaxed! She is going to be amazing!

This pony is so easy! We are on the right track!

This pony is getting stronger, but we’re not improving. What is wrong with my riding?

This pony will pack kids! She’s so perfect!

This pony will pack me! She is so amazing!
exploring western, too - fuzzy horse show, here we come!

You get the idea. The downs are purely based on perspective and expectations. Expectations are important. I don’t expect the entire learning process to be all rainbows and unicorns! And when I look at it all in retrospect, she has been amazing all along!
I'll take unicorns when I have them, though!

Every little set back, the decreasing daylight hours, the lack of major milestone accomplishments… These things can make us feel like we are not performing, or even like we are failing! The fact is, we are still riding. We are still training. We are still questioning, and we are not settling. That, in itself, is its own kind of progress. The ups and the downs are normal, but with a slight shift in perspective, we can see that there aren’t nearly as many ‘downs’ as we thought.

Yeah.  We did this!


Friday, November 8, 2013

Perhaps I was ambitious... And Fancy Pony is a packer!!

On a side note, I *LOVE* sheepskin!

OMG, it's soooo soft!

So, dropping my stirrups in my jumping saddle really hurts my pony's way of going.  Alas, I must not drop my stirrups if I want to keep improving my pony at this point.

Highlights of my lesson:
 - my leg is nicely solid, I just need to think "heels forward" in the bounces (this is likely due to my current saddle pushing ly leg back because I have a ridiculously long thigh)
 - to fix my arms, I must think about touching my elbows together under my boobs (you might be amazed how well this technique works!)

I ride with another girl.  She's young.  Pre-teen or tween.  She felt like she wasn't performing well enough.  Coach was telling her, "You must remember, they (refering to me and Fancy Pony) have been doing this a lot longer, and Whisper has more jumping experience than your horse.  She is also more straight-forward to ride."  I was inspired.  I asked if she wanted to take Whisper through the line a few times.  After some pondering, she decided to try it!

Have I ever mentioned how much I love playing Musical Ponies?

She takes the Fancy Pony around the arena for a couple laps of trot to get in sync with her.  Then, they head for the grid.

ASIDE:  I love grids.  I can't get enough of grids.  Grids give me the change to build the muscle memory I need over fences.  I love getting an immediate chance to fix whatever I messed up!  And I love the way my pony just goes 'boing-boing-boing-boing' underneath me as we ride through them!!

So, Fancy Pony approaches the grid with a kid.  Her ears perk up, she zeroes in on the line, and maintains a nice, relaxed, forward trot...  She enters the grid and picks up her perfect canter, packing the kid through the line!  She cantered out the other side looking so proud of herself (Whisper, not the kid).  We cheer and say, "Do it again!"

And they did!  And another young girl falls madly in love with the Fancy Pony!  And Fancy Pony shows us that she is going to be a packer for the kids!  She is so damn honest when it comes to the jumping!

I am doubly amazed with this mare because she is still not quite a year under saddle.  She's still green, but she is maturing so much!

I'll stop gushing now.  I'm sure it's getting over the top...

Thursday, November 7, 2013

No Stirrups No-HUH?


Yes, I want to participate.
No, I'm not sure I'm that masochistic...

But part of me was masochistic enough to 2-point until muscle failure...

No Stirrups in my dressage saddle?  No problem!  The Fancy Pony is coming together quite nicely, and I feel like we are better balanced with each other than we have ever been.  But, what about jumping?

I've seen several rule sets for No Stirrup November (and nome very distinct LACK of rule sets), so this is my personal goal:
1) No Stirrups in the Dressage saddle.  Period.
2) Dropped stirrups in the Jumping saddle for flat work and lessons warm-up.
3) Stirrups currently allowed for jumping, but may be dropped for grids in lessons according to coach directions.

Cheating, or setting myself up for success?
...you decide...

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