Wednesday, April 30, 2014

MUST READ - Gem of a Book

One of my best resources!

This is not a large book.  It doesn't look like a bottomless tome of knowledge.

This book took me on a journey!
Do you know the 5 rein aids?  I've read it 6 or 7 times, and I'm still sorting it out!  But, when I do, I'll be a much better rider for it!

Jean Froissard describes the different ways you might apply the rein, weight, or leg aids before going on to break down just about every movement you can think of - and explains exactly which aids to use!  Not to mention which aids remain in neutral... 

My analytical mind ate it up.  I could visualize myself riding each movement.  I could feel my horse filling up my reins or beding around my leg...  It hasn't manifested in reality quite yet, but I keep returning to this book to break down each part of my body and where it should be - what it should be doing - before puttng it back together again.

Just because I apply the aids correctly doesn't mean that the horse will magically do the right thing, though.  My horse must be taught the proper responses.  She must learn the right answers.  The knowledge contained here give me an excellent start to clarifying my questions to my horse and focusing on the primary aspect of the answer I expect to get! 

This is the book your horse wants you to read first!


As of today, we are still at 7% of our goal for the Save the Joy fund to pay for a horse's chemotherapy.  Can you help us spread the word?  Thank you!!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Save the Joy!!

Please help us "Save the Joy!"  Can you spread the word?

Joy is one of the horses on our team, and she was just diagnosed with 'Squamous cell carcinoma of the genetalia'. (It looks like a scab on her girly parts...)  The vet estimated 4 chemotherapy treatments at $250 each to treat it.  If she can get the treatment, her prognosis is quite positive!  Unfortunately, this type of cancer can be very aggressive, so we want to treat it as soon as we can!!

Can you share our fund-raiser page?  You can also read Joy's full story there.

Hannah and Joy

In an attempt to reach as large of audience as possible, I'll be sharing the fund-raiser with each post until we have met our goal!  We have had a fabulous start and, as of today, we are 7% of the way there!!

Thank you!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Levade a la Puddle

The latest in cross-country dressage...
 She was fine with the puddle.  If we walked on a loose rein, she plodden right through it.  If we came to in more collection...
...she jumped it...
                     ........s l o w.......
But, look at that SIT!

She wasn't being naughty.  That was just the only way she could think of to answer the question!  Fancy Pony is so funny!

In sadder news, I just learned that one of our team's horses has cancer and needs chemotherapy.  We have set up a fundraiser to help offset the medical expenses.  If 100 people can each spare $10, we can cover her chemo!  Can you help us?  Can you spread the word?
Joy is the spotted butt in the middle!
Please consider following this link and donating $10 to save Joy!
Double Registered
Triple Awesome!!

Thank you all for your support!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Drop Jump

Is the joke on me, or you?
About halfway through schooling, Coach pointed to the treeline and said, "Go do that drop jump!  The landing is lower than the take-off, so sit up and stay back.  You'll be fine."

Fancy Pony has never done a drop jump.  I have never done a drop jump.  Banks, sure.  But now, there is a fence at the drop!  I gathered, I prepared, and I approached the jump.  I rode it exactly as instructed.

Sassy Pony decided she really wanted to consider it in the last stride.  She popped her shoulder out of line and slowed to a stop in short order.  I was already in the process of smacking the offending shoulder as she stopped...

She straightened in the halt, and I tried to gather my plan for a re-try.  I didn't get the chance to finish my thoughts.
She was so appalled that I had smacked her, she jumped the jump from the base.  From a standstill!

Oh, Pony!  Naughty Pony!  I appreciate your attempt to rectify the situation, but that could get us eliminated in competition!!

We came around and she hopped over it perfectly the second time!  Oh, how brave she is!!

Later, after playing in the water, we cantered a down bank sight unseen!  You know - one that doesn't land in the water...
Suddenly, I was riding a fire breathing dragon!  She took the cordwood jump perfectly on the first try!  So many new jumps that she took without a need for investigation!

I'm pretty sure she knows exactly how cool she really is...

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

XC Pictures!

I don't think there is enough color in our group...
Surely we could be wilder...  Maybe?
What color would you add to this motley crew?

Leading the pack!

We started the day with a trip around the perimeter.  A brisk trot took us around to the back side.  I was uncertain how the Fancy Pony would behave in the group, so I tried moving her around to different positions; in line, side by side, closer to the front, closer to the back, waiting for others, catching up…
She was cooperative, so I was game when we stepped it up to a canter!  She was, too!  In spite of feeling fresh, she was willing and elastic.  At one point, we were falling behind, so I pushed for more gallop.  She obliged with enthusiasm!  Once we caught up, she was ready to charge on, but when I insisted that she come back to me, she reluctantly complied.  I was ecstatic!  It was time to start jumping!
We reviewed some of the things we learned last time...
I think she likes ditches!

This one always feels easy!

 We reviewed some that weren't so successful last time...

She doesn't seem fond of this particular bench...

But assertive/defensive riding persuaded her...

   And we tried some new stuff, too!


I had to keep reminding myself that this was only her 4th trip over a XC course...

Sometimes we had to investigate a little...
It’s important to instill confidence in your horse before challenging them on the cross-country course.  We started over a baby bench…  Which she ran out on…  Seriously, Pony?  It’s tiny!  What don’t you like about it?  We proceeded to jump it several times to make sure she realized what today’s objective was…

But this Fancy Pony is willing and persistant!
Remember the log we fell into last time?  I told Coach I wanted to do it.  She recommended, “Only if you are sure she will do it…”  I determined several strides out that my pony was not yet focused on the job at hand.  She had not zeroed in on the fence.  So, I circled to establish consistency in my canter, get her between the aids, and realign to the fence.  This time, she locked on to the jump and carried me forward.  She knew she was jumping it.  I knew she was jumping it!  We sailed over it so easily!  And away we went!

We didn't fall into the box, this time!

And I think we had room to spare...
Yup, that's a starter fence...
In facing a new challenge, I established my pace and commitment over something familiar.  Then, we went for the new bench!

We've got this!
We also took this ditch-and-wall on the first try - sight unseen!
No, not the bigger one that Skippy is jumping...  The smaller one behind him!
These horses!
Coach is an inspiration to us all!  Without her guidance, we wouldn't be as successful as we are!
Coach shows us how water is done!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


We interrupt this celebration to bring you deep reflections…
I guess I never realized before how common certain blow actually is…

How often have you been hit in the face while riding? (or falling off?)  Personally, I’m really glad I have brims on my helmets.  I recall one blow that I was certain broke my nose.  I was riding a green horse, who was being very brave for me.  I mean, you have to introduce gates at some point, right?  Well, when I pulled on the bungee cord to free the gate, he spooked at it.  He lifted his head and shoulders to spin.  As he spun, he pretty much punched me in the face with his neck!  OUCH!!  Even though I was wearing a helmet with a brim, my face felt mutilated.

 Of course, I was fine.  I didn’t even end up with visible bruises.  Not even a black eye!  However, I see this happen more and more.  I’m sure it is just that I *notice* it more and more.  I put on a helmet thinking to protect my head against a blow to the ground, or a wall, or a jump standard.  I don’t usually think about protecting my head from a blow to (or from!) the horse!

I was working with another green horse that started flailing his head around.  I was on the ground!  He slammed his head into mine so hard; my glasses flew off my face and landed several feet away!  I was wearing my helmet, but it still rocked my world.

How easy is it to hit your head on your horse?  Especially the front of your face?  You lose your balance on the landing side of a jump.  You’re leaned over, making an adjustment, and your horse suddenly jerks his head up to look over the horizon.  You’re tooling along on an unfamiliar horse who seems to be pretty laid-back, cool, and relaxed before he turns into a rodeo bronco for no discernable reason.  The possibilities are endless, really.

Your helmet may not save you from concussion or brain injury, but it may lessen the damage from a severe blow.  Replacing your helmet can cost less than that emergency room visit.  It will certainly cost less than ongoing treatment for a brain injury!  Invest in a comfortable helmet that fits and wear it!

You never know who may be watching you.  You never know who is looking up to you!  You never know who wants to be Just. Like. You!  I have never finished a ride and thought, “I wish I hadn’t been wearing my helmet.”

Monday, April 21, 2014

Another Successful XC Schooling!

But, I didn't fall off!

First of all, the zipper in my boot gave way before we ever started riding.  Watch for photos with conspicuously striped left boots...
Trend setting, for sure!
EVERY time we jumped into the water, the Fancy Pony went snorkeling...  I'm not exaggerating. She plunged her face into the water up to her eyeballs and drug it through the water as she trotted to the other side.  Can anyone say Snorkel Pony?

LOOK at the commitment!
 Yes, folks.  On her 4th EVER cross-country experience, she commited to cantering off the edge of the world from this huge-looking bank!
Remider to self:
17 months under saddle...

Watch for more success stories and photos from this inspiring day, as I get them all gathered together!  I am in awe of the range of obstacles we negotiated over the weekend. I made a list...

Friday, April 18, 2014

We ARE the Cool Kids

I tacked up in jumping gear…  I was ready for an over fences experience, but I was mourning the fancy new bridle’s fate to hang in my locker for the evening.  (Why should it matter?  It’s not like I can see what is on my pony’s face while I’m riding…)  For fun, let’s review my current jumping get up:
Cotton pad, gel pad, and saddle – nothing out of the ordinary yet…
Double end elastic girth – still not so bad
Purple Biothane breast collar – because it is THE best fitting breast collar we have, and we need to attach to *something*
Running Martingale – we’re going to use this for a while just to see what sort of difference it does or doesn’t make
Brown bridle with be-ribboned brow band and rubber reins – fun, or what?

Then Coach says, “There’s no reason you can’t jump in your dressage bridle.  Grace is doing it, tonight, too.”
Watch me succumb to peer pressure just because I want to…

As if that change didn’t make us cool enough, we got even cooler!  Coach decided we needed to head into the indoor to talk about our dressage tests and to run through them once or twice.  During my first run-through, I forgot my first canter transition.  Oops!

On my second run through, I took my reins by the buckle, and then grasped my breast collar to minimize cheating.  Just for fun.  I rode through my entire test this way…  I picked up my left rein twice:
1) when she decided we should turn right rather than finish the last ¼ of our canter circle.
2) when she gave me the downward transition to trot on the long side, but decided to pick up the canter again just because it was more fun.

Let it be known that Coach’s first comment as we turned down centerline (with effectively no reins!) was, “You’re not quite on centerline…”  Her commentary later suggested that while the geometry left a little to be desired, the test was definitely recognizable, and our rhythm remained consistent.  And that I could definitely ride the pony in a neck rope.
Yes, folks, we really are the cool kids!

We moved outside, where things became pretty freestyle.  I decided today is the day the training wheels would come off of our skinny!  I cantered through the grid several times (which started as just poles on the ground) before attempting our single barrel.  It was flanked by a single standard.  She ran out the first time, so we tried again from the trot.  Sneaky Coach came through and put alternating single cross-rail poles in the grid when we weren’t looking.  I really love it when that happens!   It really makes you think about whether you have the right elements going in rather than assuming you do and relying on the last trip to have kept it all together.

The grid isn’t for the horse.  The grid is for me.  The horse knows how to jump from a balanced place if I can just stay out of her way.  The grid gets by balance down, my shoulders back, my hands un-stuck, and all of my shock-absorbing joints loose.  Once I’m together, my horse is set up for greater success over the next challenge.  I think this is why we have been more successful over the single barrel from the short approach than from the longer approach.  Less time to lose all the parts and pieces!

By the end of the day, I was riding the grid to a line of cross-rail-to-barrel or the grid to the line of barrel-to-cross-rail with equal ease.  There was nothing flanking that lonely barrel.  She could have bailed against all my wishes at any approach.  Instead, the Fancy Pony considered the question with my suggestions for a solution, and answered it willingly.  She played along because I asked her to.
And THAT is the coolest part of it all!

Stay tuned for video of our skinny barrel negotiation…

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Adventures in Saddle Fitting

If you don't have chalk, washable markers will do!
Establishing landmarks
This, in and of itself, was enlightening.  The widest part of Pony's shoulders are way up there!

First attempt at establishing the "saddle support area"
I did this on both sides.  I think I need more practice.  I'm also getting ideas for halloween.....

Before lunging...
She looks pretty sophistocated without a saddle pad!

After lunging
The offset girth makes a huge difference.  The saddle used to ride up to that first vertical line!!
With the gel pad, before riding...
Oh, the fun!  I hated to cover up the parker art, though...

With the gel pad, after riding...
Her back wasn't as free with the gel pad the way it is with memory foam.  I'm going to have to keep playing with that I have to find the perfect combination of elements.  She seemed perfectly content, though.  Her back did get lovely and loose when we trotted on the trail, so perhaps it is more of a "free in the canter" issue than an issue with the pad.

In other fun, here is our new show bridle that must be properly broken in before storing for special occasions!
Who doesn't love the bling!!
I figured the touch of bling wouldn't be overpowering on top of her loud coloring the way many of the other blinged out bridles would.  She obviously loves it!!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Don't Find Fault. Find a Remedy.

When things start going wrong, the first place I look is to myself.
Did I set the horse up for success?
Did I apply the aids correctly?
Am I asking for something within my horse’s ability?
Did I get in my horse’s way?
Did I fail to apply an aid or cue?

I keep coming back to the jumping session that seemed to come apart at the seams.  You know, the one recently where she barged through all of my half-halts and plowed over the jumps at full steam.
What led me to feel like I had to haul her to a stop in the middle of a grid line?
She ignored my aids.
Why did she ignore my aids?
She gets excited about jumping.
Why is she so excited that she ignores my aids?
My aids aren’t strong enough or she is disrespecting them.
(This is where I should probably start a flow chart)
Why do I need stronger aids?  -or-  Why is she disrespecting them?
I don’t need stronger aids.  She should respond to my minimal aids.  Therefore, I need to train more on an immediate response to any request.  –AND- She is disrespecting the aids because the time before when she ran through my aids, there were no consequences, and she was allowed to charge right on through the grid as she pleased.  Therefore, when she barges through my aids, there need to be clear consequences.

If I had only answered the first question and stopped there, it sounds as if I am merely finding fault.  Sometimes it takes many questions to find a reasonable remedy.  Don’t let that deter you.  Don’t settle for finding fault.  Constantly and unendingly seek the remedy!!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Who Is This Horse?

…and where is the pony I usually ride??

The Fancy Pony had a day off after her explosive performance over the grid and skinny barrel.  Since we were scheduled to school cross-country the following day, I figured I needed to jump one more time just to get a feel for what sort of horse I would be riding:
 - the amenable, but eager, pony that is ready for my instructions…
 - the fire-breathing dragon that is going to charge into and over the jumps regardless of anything I ask…

In her defense, she always gets us over them and never pulls the rails.  But who wants to be dragged over fences?

Coach mentioned about a month ago, “She needs a running martingale.”
Rebelliously, I thought to myself, “No, what she needs is more training.”
You may have picked up that I’m not a fan of additional aids…
During Thursday’s fiasco, she mentioned again (even more casually), “A running martingale would help when she decides to do that.”
“THAT” being ‘barge through my aids’.

So, I pulled out the breastcollar and attached the running martingale (adjusted to the longest setting, which puts the rings solidly in her throatlatch).  I acted like nothing had changed, took her out to the arena, and mounted up.  Away we went to warm up!
I had to reestablish the go button, but that didn’t take very long.  By the time we made our first canter transition, I knew this was not my normal pony.  She was powerful, but reserved.  She was eager to please, but she wasn’t abrupt.  We cantered down the long side in balance!  It felt like I was riding a rocking horse!  But, this wasn’t any rocking horse!  This rocking horse never took me to the front of the rock…  She rocked back, then swung up to center, then smoothly rocked back again…
Where did this collection come from?

After the hard work in our last ride, we had finished with this canter.  I never dreamed we would start exactly where we left!!

The grid was still set up, so we headed through it both directions.  I kept the entire grid at cross-rails to keep things feeling quiet and low-key.  I had determined that if we could do a quiet grid line, we would try the ‘skinny barrel’ again.  You may recall how we were set up for imminent success by flanking the barrel with standards and guide poles.  Having established at that time that going over it would not be a problem; I chose to drop the guide poles to the ground.  Baby steps to keeping the Honest Fancy Pony honest…

We hopped through the grid a couple more times, then I set myself up.  I rode the grid down the long side, relaxed around the short end of the arena, then took the short approach to our skinny.  She was quiet.  She was straight.  She was a little ball of power just waiting for permission to dole out as much or as little as I wanted…  she just waited for my request…  And she quietly jumped the skinny question as if it were part of a hunter course!
I know... I need more recent photos...

On that note, we left the arena for some perimeter time!  No more jumps for the day!  Could it have been any more perfect?  I don’t think so.
Despite the crazy winds, Pony and her buddy were well behaved on the ‘trails’.  There was a question about a gate in the pond, but some slow walking and snorting seemed to sort it out, and we carried on.  We decided to take two laps just to establish a quiet routine.  Eventually, we will be conditioning around this perimeter, and I don’t want her thinking, “GO-GO-GO!” as soon as we step onto that path!

I don’t know who this super new Fancy Pony is, or where exactly she came from, but I LOVE LOVE LOVE this new canter, this new responsiveness, this incredible cooperation!!
Fancy Pony, did we just take our relationship to the next level?

Friday, April 11, 2014

Attack Mode!

As I was warming up, I saw Coach setting up a grid…
I was giddy!!

…I’ve mentioned before how much I truly love grids, right?

Pony was giving me relaxed trot and canter work, but our transitions were a little rough…  Just a little.  Minor things, like tipping her head or sticking her nose out…

You see, I changed my riding slightly this past week.  When Fancy Pony gets all wonky and bent out of shape, I used to give with my hands, saying, “OMG!  What’s wrong??  How am I hurting you??”
Well, this week, I started leaving everything in my body right where it is (like side reins, right?) and saying, “Package yourself, Pony.  I’m not going anywhere.”  And wouldn’t you know?  She stopped doing most of the weird craziness in her neck.  Instead, her shoulders popped out left, then right, and then left again…  Once I gathered them into the middle (or just juggled them between my thighs) then the haunches started popping out one side or the other.  So, I tried to juggle those with my calves.

Let’s review:
 - steady hands, back, and core
 - juggle the shoulders between thighs
 - juggle the haunches between calves
 - and establish the gait with the butt!

I made sure that the parameters were established before we attempted to take any fences.  We took the grid both directions with ease.  It was a 1-stride – bounce – 1-stride.  Coach had us come again, but I didn’t realize that she had raised the last x-rail to a vertical.  Not that it mattered!
You see, as we approached the grid, Fancy Pony said, “I’ve got this! Let me go!”
…no, wait…
“I want to go!”
“I’m going!”
…I *KNEW* you were going to do that!!

Coach thought I said that to her about the rail when, in fact, I was talking to the Fancy Pony.
Then, Coach set up something else…  A lone barrel sat on its side… Then, it grew guide poles from each side…  THEN, it acquired standards!!  I was excited!  This was going to be fun!!

“OK.  Go trot the skinny!”
I established my trot.  I sent her forward to establish the go.  I balanced for the turn, and then asked for a more collected trot on the approach.  She compressed.  Good Pony!!
She locked onto the jump, and pushed into my hand a little while maintaining the collection.
And 2 strides out, she cantered!  Now, the last thing I want to do is ask her to stop in front of a potentially scary or problematic jump… And, she did continue in the same level of compression in the canter!  So, I let her take it at a canter.

“Umm, that wasn’t a trot!” Coach said.
Yeah, I noticed that… On the upside, she didn’t see any major flaws with on-the-fly determinations.  OK, do it again.  This time, I just assumed the canter from the start, and she was BEAUTIFUL! She compressed the entire way to the jump, and when I said ‘go’, she jumped straight over the middle in a quiet, businesslike manner.
obviously not a skinny!
I’m sure guide poles and standards help with that, but I’m not complaining!!

Then, the game changed again…
Go through the line, and if it’s nice, go to the skinny.

SO.  We head through the line, and she charges the last half of the grid (full of excitement, she has transformed into a fire-breathing dragon)!  So, we came through again, and she waited better for me, so we took the skinny.  She was ready to eat up more jumps!

We had firmly established “ATTACK MODE!”
I don’t know how many times we approached the grid and aborted because she tried to take over.  At one point, (after she had acquiesced to my guidance) we approached in THE. MOST. BEAUTIFUL. CANTER. EVER.
In the last stride, she ignored my half-halt.  She towed me over the first fence and I refused to be taken along for the ride – no matter how handy she was – no matter how easily she could still clear the grid!!  No way!

Against ALL of my prior brainwashing, I hauled her sassy butt to a halt at the second fence in the grid.  That processed started out as, “If you don’t stop, I will kill you.”  But it ended up as, “If you don’t stop, WE ARE BOTH GOING TO DIE!!!”
All of this in a single stride…
And she stopped.
And I took a deep breath.
And we thought about what just happened.
Right there in front of the second fence.
Then we approached it again.

The canter never changed!
She accepted my half-halts all the way through!
She had the easiest and most comfortable trip through the grid that she had had all night!

So, we had to do it one more time, just to make sure it wasn’t an accident! (and to fix that slight right drift)
We quit on perfect tempo, light contact, relaxation, and balance.

What an adventure!!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Just for Fun

I've had the opportunity to do more riding with my dad... 
You see, he came to support me while we competed at the Battle of the Breeds at Equifest, Kansas this year.
...and I concoted an idea...

He thought many of these classes looked like a blast - especially the trail class!  We both know his horse would be game for all of it!  So, I pitched the idea...

Allow me to introduce to you candidates for Team Arabian for Nebraska Horse Expo's Battle of the Breeds 2014!
He even wore a helmet!  So proud of my dad!!
When we get the horses together, there will be more pictures!  I promise!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Offset Girth

I had found a saddle that fit!  I was in love!  The Fancy Pony was in love!
…Six months later, she isn’t in love anymore…  It started to slide forward.  She developed so much more topline in that six months that the saddle was no longer fitting quite right.

I scoured the internet for saddle fitting article and suggestions that have been made for solving the conundrum.  I talked to other Arabian riders.  I picked up a book (I’ll be sure to review it at some point!).  I had a saddle fitter out.  I knew I was dealing with a short back and a forward girth groove.  I knew I was struggling with a developing topline.  I DID NOT know that the angulation of a horse’s shoulders change as they develop and/or lose fitness and strength!!

The saddle fitter adjusted my front billet to work as a point billet.  That helped quite a bit, but her forward girth groove was still causing me some distress as the girth rode almost into her elbows.  I had an offset girth on the way, but there were some delays in the delivery phase of my purchase.  Finally, it arrived and I had the chance to use it!

funny looking, isn't it?

The leather on the outside is very stiff.  It resists being warped out of shape. The padded leather on the inside is soft and smooth.  The elastic ends barely stretch when I cinch it up.  This suggests to me that I’ll have a more consistent level of tightness here.

At the beginning of my ride, the saddle was behind her shoulder. At the end of my ride, the saddle was still behind her shoulder!!  There were no rub marks indicating forward sliding!
I’m a believer.  I love the girth!  Fancy Pony loves the girth!  She had more room for her elbows, but the girth was still firmly and comfortable situated in her girth groove.  I expect this will be a long term solution, especially for the Arabians that I ride!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Fit to be Tied!

Well - fit, anyway...
loving this shot!

I was trying to ride the Fancy Pony sweaty as part of saddle fit evaluation, and it took me three hours to get here:
left side

right side

Pony, I wish you could have kept your neck straight!
 Observations welcome!!

The perks of riding an Arabian, right?
She was tired, but she was game to keep going if I only asked...  I know this trait is not unique to the Arabian breed, but it *is* incredibly prevelant in the breed!

PS - Did you see those Dalmar boots we are sporting? I borrowed them, but I really, really like them!  I want a set all my own for the Fancy Pony!  What a great boot!!


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