Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Channeling My Inner Carly -or- Letting Go -or- What 47 Looks Like...

Day 1 – Friday

Braided, dressed, and tacked, we headed to the warm-up ring. As usual, Psycho Mare didn’t even acknowledge that she was in a new environment. We rode around the ring and determined that it was hot. We did lots of trot-walk-trot transitions to keep her awake and moved on to some canter work. I asked for our first canter…
And got the head-down-shoulder-shake explosion!

We rode our first test, and got this weird headshaking throughout:
--------intro c--------------
It was like she wanted to shake like a dog, but only from her neck forward!

Perhaps it was her braids. They were my first button braids, and they were the first braids that she couldn’t rub out! Maybe it was the heat… Once she started sweating around her ears, the neck shaking got really bad!

We went out for round 2:
This was her worst Training 2 test of the weekend. Our scores got better each day!

Day 2 - Saturday
By day 2, she was warming up nicely until she reached her limit with whatever was bothering her the day before, and the neck-shaking resumed! I knew this wasn’t helping us and she had just been slathered with fly spray, so I started disciplining her with each neck shake. Discipline meant a boot forward into a connection with my hand… By the time we were entering the ring, she was restraining herself when she wanted to shake… However, she was still dropping her back and dropping the connection… She started getting all balled up. She was getting pissy. After 2 tests, I decided I needed a different approach. She knew she wasn’t behaving, but she couldn’t bring herself to stay with me… *sigh*

I gave her 4 inches of additional rein. I tried to send her to a longer connection… She loosened up a little in her back… She still wasn’t happy…

She was convinced that she knew the test!

PM: Oh, we canter in this corner!
ME: No, we don’t. Just relax and trot on.
PM: Oh, we canter as we start this circle!
ME: Nope, not yet.
PM: OH!! We’re on the long diagonal! NOW we canter!
ME: This is not the test you think it is. Trot on up here into my hand.
PM: Fine. But you won’t like it when I *do* canter!

We muddled through T3, and it was marginally better, but nothing special.
EXCEPT! Our canter circles were much improved! I had quit trying to balance her for the entire circle. It was making her mad. I must have just been getting in her way. Instead, I asked her to balance for *1 STRIDE*.

Whether she balanced or not, I released the request and just followed her for 3 strides. Then I asked again for *1 STRIDE*. And followed for the next 3 strides. She wasn’t as balanced, but she was happier. No head twisting, no explosions. A bit quick.

We had one more day to try to get this right.

Day 3 - Sunday
I started day 3 trying to send her to this longer connection. I focused on sitting back and “placing my shoulder blades on her croup.” She was feeling better in warm-up, but she was still not over the neck thing. I ignored the neck thing and pretended it wasn’t even happening. Intro C was down, but Training 2 went up yet again! I was feeling better about this! Back to the barn for our 4-hour break before T3… Just like yesterday…

After the break, she was warming up OK… We had some LOVELY canter transitions with following balanced canter strides! She felt soft and swingy. She was reaching for the bit. We headed to the ring…

Down center line we go, and she started bracing in the halt. It slid downhill from there. Fussy trot, then psycho canter! I could not get her cooperation for the lead! I wanted to smack her upside the head!! She consistently (not always, but consistently) gives me the correct lead. What is your deal mare??

I was so frustrated, I forgot where I was in the test and what came next. The judge dinged me for error of course and had me repeat the canter circle so I could fix the lead thing. She was, if anything, worse for the second attempt!

How to get a 47% at Training Level:
***experiencing technical difficulties***
After our failed canter, I just let go. I just tried to give her room. I just wanted my partner back!

When all was said and done, and I was pulling down braids, she was everywhere with her head and neck as I tried to cut her first and highest braid! She has always been sensitive up there on her neck, so maybe that one braid was just really bugging her all weekend! We’ll try to make it looser next time and see if that helps…


Back in dressage lessons, DQ has been giving me the secrets to regaining our connection once she has dropped it. It has opened up the door to our half-halts going through.

She is a mare.
She is wickedly smart.
As soon as we half-halt, she is second-guessing what I’m going to ask! At which point, I sit quietly, ask for continued connection, and ask for whatever it is on my own terms. Sometimes she throws a hissy fit – throw the head up and go for an upward transition (I don’t follow with my seat) throw the head up and downward transition (I send her back to the gait from which we left) she finally settles into a contact and sits on her butt a little (I ask for the transition) and she gives me something lovely, quiet, and uphill!

DQ always has good things to say about her. DQ tells her how clever she is and what a good mare she is and how talented she is. The jumping trainer said she is ridiculously athletic! Apparently, these things mean I have to work that much harder to get any sort of consistency out of our work.

Things I’m doing right:
- Soft forearms when I anchor my upper arms
- I don’t pull on the reins when I try to establish connection
- Sit quietly through hissy fits and wait patiently for her to come to my connection
- I can *feel* myself leaning to the left, even if I can’t always *do* anything about it…

It may not have been an easy ride last night, but it was moving in the right direction with lots of little things to celebrate!

When I can't decide between the memory of the Old Man and the thrill of shows to come, I just wear both bracelets at the same time!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Progress Is Almost Never Linear

This week has been quite a whirlwind of activity:
Three days of showing, followed by Dressage Lesson Day, followed by Ride With A Jumping Trainer Day, followed by Help With The Family's Horses Day (which also included an episode of What Is This Bump On Psycho Mare And Should I Be Concerned About It).
tiny bump on her withers - was half that size until recently
Vet says:
The bump is likely scar tissue, sarcoid, or cyst.  Nothing to be concerned about for now.  Continue to watch it in case it changes some more.

The Psycho Mare was pushed to her mental limits for the first time.  I'm OK with that.  I'm glad to now have an idea where those limits are.  From here, we can expand them.

Perhaps I reached some of my own mental limits.  I've found myself in little melancholy pockets throughout the day.  I long to take the Old Man and gallop along the trails...  Or just hop over some little jumps while I drill my position...  Or just sit back and enjoy the ride while we canter around the arena with no reins...

I'm missing this feeling, today

I've mostly adjusted, but we were one hell of a team.  I could use an easy ride this week.

Monday, July 22, 2013


I spent several years trying to get any horse to any dressage show so that I could ride a test and get a judge’s feedback. Circumstances failed to work out for multiple years in a row. I determined that I was going to ride the Old Man at our first dressage show whatever it took. The way things worked out, our first dressage show was a USEF/USDF recognized event. Nothing like jumping straight into the deep end, right?

My mom presented me with a charm bracelet at that show. I was delighted! I was 30+ years old and had never had a charm bracelet, and now I had one horse related! I was going to add a charm for every recognized show we attended!! (Because schooling shows would fill it up too fast). However, I lost my friend, and my bracelet has not changed.

I’ve decided to carry my not-quite-started charm tradition over to the Psycho Mare.

This weekend, I took the Psycho Mare to her first recognized horse show. It was her fourth show ever. It is imperative that I keep things in perspective!

Friday, I didn’t show until 11:00, so I braided that morning after we arrived:


I got compliments on these braids ALL weekend!
We rode Intro C, Training 2, and Training 3.  Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Friday's results
Jackets were waived before we ever got there.  Man, was it HOT!

Saturday's results!
Training 2 got better and better every day!
Sunday's results !!
It's important to keep your white pants sparkling white all day...
I got even more compliments on this get up than I did on my braid job!
I took the skirt idea from a few other firls I saw around the show.  It worked PERFECTLY!
Stay tuned for an account of 'Psycho Mare Returns' and how she scored a 47 on Training 3...

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Timing -or- “As you leave, so shall you go”

You can’t fix everything at once. While I know that on an intellectual level, it’s sometimes hard to act on said knowledge.

My biggest focus recently has been to improve the quality of the mare’s canter. A fantastic depart results in a lovely canter, as long as she doesn't fall out of it…

DQ said to me: Ask for the canter when the outside hind leg is in the air!
Jane Savoie says: The horse will pick up the canter lead of the direction his body is bent.

Well, it turns out to be a little more complicated than that! Whisper *usually* picks up the lead for which she is bent… But, once in a while, she picks up the right lead even when she is bent left…

Now, perhaps she only appears to be bent left, but is still actually bent right through her body… However, I think there is a little more going on. She is athletic! She is brave, hard-working, and surprisingly eager to please!

The back story:
- she understands that go means go and do it NOW
- she does prefer the right lead

So, I spent an entire ride trying to sit balanced and put my shoulder blades on her croup, but the thing I REALLY focused on was: Ask for the canter when the outside hind leg is in the air!

I got so many more “uphill” transitions!

And, just once, I asked for the transition when the *inside* hind was in the air (it was an accident, a mistake)… She maintained her left bend, maintained her frame, maintained her balance, and struck off into a right-lead canter. Oops!

So, considering that the canter transition is taken from the trot, I have a 50/50 shot of randomly asking when the correct leg is in the air. What I discovered on my own is that it requires way more finesse than that for a really nice depart.
I've been getting a lot of mileage out of the pictures from this show!

If I ask for the depart after the outside hind has left the ground but it still in the upward part of its swing, THAT is when I got the most glorious, smooth, and cadenced departs (and consequently, the following strides were also glorious, smooth, and cadenced).
Finally, we started getting a little more consistency!  The added magic?  A little trial and error (lots of error resulting in UGLY and unexpected downward collapse transitions to trot) revealed the following secret ingredient to success:
- drive forward into a balancing hand for one stride (and ONLY one stride, even if it doesn't balance her!)
- follow, follow, follow for 3 strides
- repeat from step 1.
just LOOK at the reach from that hind leg!

 Low and behold, if I did this AND maintained my position with my shoulder blades "on her croup", she maintained a more attractive canter as well as re-balanced before the downward transition to trot when *I* wanted it!

From Whence We Came -or- 5 Horses

The 5 horses that reach you.  (Yes, I succumbed.)

1. The Intro Horse.
We each came into horses in our own way, but it was always with a horse leading us. This might have been a friend’s first pony, or perhaps it was a draft horse on a farm you once visited It might have been a real-life meeting, or an imaginary one.

Bo-Jest was a bay Arabian stallion. My mom put me in the saddle, and I held the horn (at perhaps the age of 5?) while she lunged him. I was giddy. I actually remember snippets of the experience. All I wanted was to go faster!
I was also smitten with Misty of Chincoteague.

2. The Experimental Horse
Once you had crossed the line between “Darn, they’re big!” and “Wow! Can I try that?” you found yourself face-to-face with the horse that would suffer through your early attempts at figuring out the whole horse experience … wherever this horse came from, he probably didn’t benefit from the encounter as much as you did…

Sham was a flea-bitten grey Arabian/QH cross off the track. He was a solid lesson horse, and did everything I asked of him. That is, if I bothered to ask him! I would hold the bridle up and say, “Sham, head down!” and he would lower his head to where I could reach it. Some of my lessons were bareback. Some were on the trail. I already knew I wanted to ride English and learn how to jump!

3. The Connected Horse
The first horses we meet don’t really connect with us, nor do we with them. Those are experiences in survival and tests of endurance. The Connected Horse is the first horse you truly bond with. This is the horse that sounds a chord that lives so deep in you that you might never have heard it otherwise…

Beamer. He was a bay gelding. No idea what his breed was. He needed riding and experience. He needed training. He really needed understanding. My coach turned me loose with him. I took him out of a curb and put him in a snaffle. I coaxed him to trust me with his back feet. I entered him in a schooling show. He wasn’t fancy, or even consistent (yet), but he was on his way! I trusted that he was not belligerent. Instead, he was frightened. He started trusting me right back, and as a result began to trust other people as well.

4. The Challenger
Into each horseperson’s life, a little challenge must fall. You’ll have read that one final training book, bought yourself a clicker and heading rope, and there you’ll stand, arms crossed, assessing the situation as if you actually knew what the situation was. It might be difficult to believe, as you are flying down the aisleway on the losing end of a braided cotton line, but you actually need this horse in your life…

Duncan was a Pinto and a National Show Horse. I had been reintroducing him to under-saddle training after he healed from some really bad injuries. He was getting pretty cool, but he had some… issues.
- back feet. Couldn’t pick them. Couldn’t wrap them. Couldn’t boot them. Couldn’t touch them! Can you guess where one of the injuries was?
- injections. If he saw a needle, he completely checked out. Gone. Out of mind. Back in a few hours. He had to get penicillin injections twice a day for MONTHS!

I started with splint boots and a single strap of Velcro and eventually got him to a point where I could do whatever I wanted to his legs, including standing wraps.
We bribed him with grain whenever he needed blood pulled or vaccinations.
Then, he had an unfortunate ride. He dumped a rider (probably after the saddle pinched him). I had to start under saddle training all over. Again.
He developed a new quirk. He was a saint until I swung my leg over. He allowed me to sit, but before I could pick up the other stirrup, he would bolt. From a standstill. My farrier watched it once. In a tiny round pen, he cut through the middle and changed directions at top speed. His comment? “Boy, you stick good!” One day, he fell as he was racing around the tiny round pen at top speed. I wasn’t fast enough to get that rein and keep him down there, so up he went and raced away without me. The VERY NEXT DAY, he did it again! He was purposely throwing himself on the ground to get me off! I took him to boot camp. Have you ever worked your horse SO HARD that he sweated himself sparkling clean? NOTHING gets white spots whiter!
After starting him over, yet again, I ended up with a really neat horse! He moved on to be a young girl’s 4H horse! Wow.

5. Your Deepest Heart
There will come a time when you will look at yourself with a cold, appraising eye, and you’ll have to be honest about your continued ability to deal with The Challenger and other difficult horses. At that point, you’ll seek out the horse that will be your soul mate forever… You’ll have bought him the most comfortable, best fitting equipment… Maybe you’ll still go to shows and ride – brilliantly or barely – in the Alzheimer’s class. Maybe you’ll just stay home. Whatever you do, one day you’ll realize that after all the money you spent on animal communicators and trainers, you only had to stop and listen and you would have clearly heard your horse’s thoughts and desires…
always cool!

Opie. The Old Man. HL Open Throttle. Boo. The Pie. My own bay A-rab. He was the first horse I owned. I bought him when he was 7. I showed him. I taught him to jump. He taught me confidence and patience. He taught me so many things. He was not always behaved. Oh, the stories! However, we could read each other’s minds. We started eventing together. He trusted me, and would jump (or at least, attempt to jump) whatever I pointed him at. He loved up to his name and ran open throttle whenever he had the chance. Once he got up to speed, he had no brakes. Seriously. None. Oh, how he loved the XC course!
At age 22, he hadn’t slowed a bit. He would still run through my hands if he felt like partying! The only difference was he came back to zero faster once I brought him back down. We did everything! By the way, everything included:
- herding cows in a sidesaddle (a quirk of circumstances)
- jumping sidesaddle! (little stuff)
- games (barrels, poles, etc – the only thing we ever really won was “down-and-back”)
- trail classes as well as real trail rides
- drill teams
- costumes
One Halloween, we bobbed for apples together! I rode him bareback and bridleless sometimes. He walked into my garage and tried to walk into my kitchen! Talk about that “live in your tent” disposition!!

He ran to the fence when I whistled. He hollered when I pulled in the drive. He is not the only one like him, but he was the first one for me!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Pseriously Psycho

Had an intense lesson with the DQ. Lots to build on from our last “before vacation” lesson. So far, the common themes I’m hearing are:

“She’s an Arabian and a Mare, so she is double smart!”
“She’s small, so you have to be very precise in your riding in order to help her maintain her balance.”
…and my absolute favorite visual…
“You need to put your shoulder blades on her croup!”

Kudos to me for improved position (although it still needs so much work).
Kudos to the mare for working so hard and thinking (almost) the entire time.
DQ seemed to love her free-walk loop!

And, NO-Kudos for The Explosion.

Something in the corner kept distracting her. Or maybe it was something outside the door. Or maybe it was nothing at all. Whatever IT was, she lost her mind.

We were working transitions. Working trot, then come back aaaaalmost to a walk, then canter transition!

After several of these, I was getting some nice, up, balanced canter transitions. Then, I got a lovely canter transition into a duck-bolt-jump-buck-neck-shake-shoulder-bulge-crow-hop – ‘oh, never mind, I’m OK now.’

WTF, Psycho Mare?? I was just singing praises about how fancy and nice you are!
unicorn horn? or DUNCE CAP!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Getting That Feeling!

After ten days out of the saddle (except for my beachside excursion in the ocean!!), I was having some serious withdrawals.

Eddy the Comfy Couch showed me a great time in the surf!
The girls all told me that the Psycho Mare missed me. I could tell by the way she wouldn’t stand for me to mount. :\

I told her, straight out, “If you move it, I’m going to smack it!”

Then, she looked shocked when I did. A few minutes later, she was standing like a champ. *sigh*

The girls said that they probably let her get away with way more than she should have while I was gone. I was just thrilled that they were keeping her legged up for me! =D

We walked down to the pasture with PiC while she caught some horses. A car came up the track leading to the trails. My solid mare suddenly felt more like a deer than a horse. I insisted she stand her ground, so she became all eyeballs and ears. But, she did stand her ground.

PiC then had horses caught so we headed back toward the barn. A car came back from the other direction. It was a ways away, and she must have just barely seen it as it rounded a building, because she nearly dropped to her knees and spun around like a reining horse! (PSYCHO MARE!)

The crazy thing is, it was so balanced, I never felt the slightest bit out of place. When she sat and spun, she carried me right along with her. And, just like that, she got over it. Oh, Psycho Mare, when will you be all grown up?

She pretended that she forgot how to give to the bit. She pretended that she forgot what leg means. But, boy howdy, she sure as heck didn’t forget how to jump! She was all over THAT!

I had intended to work on leg-yield to canter departs, but somehow I was sidetracked into “rubberbanding” the trot…

I’d establish our working trot, then ask her to shorten… shorten… shorten… then l-e-n-g-t-h-e-n!

And oh, holy cow, did she feel fancy!

Yes, she felt fancier than this!!
I would sit for the shortening, and I remained sitting for the lengthening because it was just easier. Like the ocean waves, her lengthening would just lift me up and carry me forward! I could feel the makings of a real extended trot and how to sit it! It was glorious!

The girls all agreed that she looked as fancy as she felt. After that exercise, she was much more balanced for canter transitions, too. She was ready. I mean, we had tangible impulsion! It was the first time I felt impulsion as opposed to speed. The little mare is always happy to go fast, but it has taken some work to explain to her how to ‘go more forward’ without ‘going faster.’

Then something else happened… We got an effortless stretchy trot! It felt long and floaty… I felt her reaching and stretching… I felt her hind legs swinging up underneath her and reaching for groundcover! It was that wonderful feeling of not DOING anything – instead, ALLOWING it all to happen.

After so much time off (for ME, anyway), I never expected to get such quality work right off the bat. Especially considering I had an awful kink in my neck all day!

The mare must have really been enjoying it, too, because she was in quite a jolly mood to hang out with me after we finished!

Ooooooo!  Look at me!  I'm a unicorn!
Yes, that's what happens when you turn teenagers loose at the barn!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Just for Dangerbunny!

I'm off to play at vacation, so this will have to tide you all over for a while.  Enjoy!

1. If you could ride any horse (living or dead) who would you pick?

Blue Hors MatinĂ©e – I want to know what that freestyle feels like to ride!

2. Who are your role models and why?
My mom – countless reasons, but most recently: we have been coaxing my mom to show dressage with us for a few years now. She’s always shown her mare western pleasure and hunter pleasure. It seemed only a logical step, since she’s already riding with dressage principles. She went so far as to buy a dressage saddle and make sure her boots fit… she still has not ridden a dressage test, and she looked at me and said, “I’ve come to the realization that I just prefer a nice western pleasure ride. I don’t want to ride or show any style of English. So, I’m not going to!” It turns out she was just showing hunt for additional experience for her horse. I’m proud of her for considering something outside of her comfort zone before deciding that she wasn’t interested. I admire her resolution to tell her peers like she sees it and to say it without judgment. I admire how she knows what she wants and actively pursues it. I admire her ability to show up and watch me ride a beginner novice eventing course. At the same time I respect that she couldn’t possibly bring herself to watch me ride a Preliminary course (if I ever even get there).

3. if you didn't have animals what would you do with all the extra money?
I have no idea… Vacation in Europe, maybe?

4. what is your favorite flavor of ice cream?
Mint Chocolate Chip

5. What motivates you when you feel like giving up?
Seriously, my mom. I never even realized it before. When I tell her what I want to do, she mulls it over objectively, then she tells me to go for it, because she believes I can do it.

6.What is your favorite equine sport and why?
Why do I have to pick a favorite? They all appeal to me… Each sport has its own charm and its own draws… I can’t even pick a favorite to compete in – how can I pick a favorite overall??
OK, FINE! I can’t resist a galloping XC course!
…but reining looks like fun, too…

7. If money was no object, what would you do differently?
I would quit my job and apprentice to a top trainer – or I would get my own truck and trailer before trying to show… or both?

8. do you think nutrition makes a difference in equine attitude?
Absolutely! It even makes a difference in human attitude!!

9. Favorite horse name?
It really depends on the horse…
Went to a show once where the same Paint won all the western classes. Perhaps it was the way the announcer said his name every time… “Cruuuuuuuuuusin’ on Wet Paint”
Or the Miniature stallion I got to show with a name bigger than he was… “Serenity Acres Ordered a Snowdrift”
and I’ve become pretty fond of “Psycho Mare”, even though it turns out she really isn’t…
But even better is when “RSA Talk ofthe Street” gets on the trailer to go to a show with “Out on the Town”!

10. describe your dream horse
Brave, forward… Expressive movement… Big jumper… delicate face…
Am I already riding this horse?  Bigger-than-pony-size better be on the list, too, then!

11. if you could travel in time, what advice would you give beginner you?
Don’t wait! Do it NOW!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Blessing of Schooling Shows

When I don’t have the money to go to recognized or rated shows (that would be the majority of my life), I have happily loaded up to go to any schooling show I could make it to.  Discipline was not an issue.  We would do western pleasure, hunter pleasure, any and all equitation…  We played at Barrels and Poles, and Keyhole…  My favorite thing ever was the Hangman Race with the Old Man!
(I don’t know if this video will show up or not, so you might have to let me know)

Attending all of these unsanctioned events taught me many things, but the big take-away is:
 - Keep riding and training at home.
 - Travel whenever you can, for any reason.
 - By just showing up and doing it, you keep getting better and better!

I didn’t go to the schooling shows to win (although, sometimes we did just that!). I went to play with my horse. He always played along! I won’t be going to the recognized shows to win, either. I’ll be going to play with my horse. Now, don’t get me wrong! We really want some qualifying scores! But showing up to ride a qualifying score will not get us there.

So, we’re diving right in and heading to some USEF/USDF sanctioned shows this year, after all! We’re not going to win, but we are going to play. It will cost more, but we have to get the miles somewhere, so we might as well start now. After a while, we’ll have our scores. A while after that, sanctioned shows will be just like any other show. We’ll just start showing up and kicking butt!

Monday, July 1, 2013


There is an appaloosa gelding at the barn that everyone thinks looks just like the Psycho Mare.  At first I didn’t see it.  I mean, come on! How does an appaloosa look like a pinto?  Not to mention there is a size difference of 8 inches or more!  No, it has to do with the roaning in their coats.  Well, I’m told The Mare’s coloring is genetically “rabicano” (how do you pronounce that, anyway?), but as far us lay-people are concerned, she looks roan.  And so does Radar!

Have I mentioned how much I love to ride drill?  I think that is part of where my appreciation of accurate geometry in dressage comes from.  When you ride drill, you must not only be accurate in your geometry, but you must also be accurate in your timing.  In order to be accurate in your timing, you must be able to lengthen and compress your horse in accordance with your partner, who happens to be on the other side of the arena as often as they might be right next to you…  You end up focusing on riding through any issues because you have to be ‘right there’ at ‘this moment’ and then get moving to ‘over here’ so you aren’t late for ‘that movement’.  I really love riding drill team!

Can't get enough of it!

Well, it’s hard to find drill teams in my area, and there just doesn’t seem to be enough interest to start one of my own.  Besides, I’m busy training for Dressage, and Eventing… and Hunter/Jumpers!

the whole package
It suddenly occurred to me that Radar’s owner might be a perfect Partner-in-Crime (henceforth referred to as “PiC”). You see, she is a lot like me, in that she is all about riding her horse for fun, and she already does dressage as part of her curriculum for Eventing. I came to her with my Brilliant Idea. She is all in!

We have begun choreography and practice on a Training Level Pas de Deux!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...