Friday, May 30, 2008


Ick, my ride on McKinna today was just not that fun. Do you ever just get on, intending to have a really nice solid schooling session on the flat, and it just doesn't quite go the way you wanted it to? That's what I had tonight. We were working on our canter, which is still a difficult area for her. Her biggest problem is first keeping herself up and balanced instead of racing on the forehand, and second relaxing and staying calm at the trot afterwards. It's very frustrating for me when she races and panics after the canter, because Bailey did that a lot too. I was working on schooling a pattern my trainer gave me, and it was alright for awhile, but after awhile she just lost it and was rushing around for pretty much the rest of the ride. We fought it out for a pretty long time, then I just let it go and did a bunch of half-turns back to the rail at the trot, which usually help settle her down. At that point we were both frustrated and I'm pretty sure she was confused. A sweaty saddle pad and t-shirt later, I think it was just one of those rides that you have to accept, learn from, and move on. At least we ended well, and at the end of the day she's still an affectionate, sweet little girl!

Now, the promised story.

Chaucer is a 10 year old Hanoverian-TB cross. I don't know enough of his previous story to tell it fairly, but Ellen (my trainer) and her niece, Rose (who owns Loki and Fiona) bought him at the local auction for $250. He's always been a bit of an interesting horse - totally a lover and wants to be a pocket pony, but under saddle he scares himself easily. I've been schooling him over fences for several months now, and he's learned an awful lot about how to know where his feet are at any given time . . . trust me, you should have seen him the first few times I made him walk over an X. He would either launch himself over it or practically fall down at the trot, and I suspected he just didn't understand how to calmly get himself over the fence. So we walked. At first it took an awful lot to convince him he could walk over it, but now he's much better, and we school around 2'. He can jump higher - he has in the past, and lord knows he does when he takes off too long - but our biggest goal is settling down, trusting himself to find his own distances and me when I give him a little input, and so on.

On the plus side, he has a beautiful canter, and the boy and I have reached an understanding. He really doesn't like fussing, so I don't fuss. If he wants to pick a fight, I will get after him pretty hard, using strong half-halts or even a modified pulley rein if we're outside and he wants to go, but the very next stride I let him have his face back. He flips his head when he feels confined, so when he starts that nonsense, I just remind him with a firm half-halt that I'll play nice if he'll play nice, and then I relax and so does he. It works really well, and he really prefers a hacking-type ride, as you can see by my really loose inside rein here. If you'll notice, though, I've got the outside rein snug, and that's the key with him. Over time, especially with Rose's schooling since she focuses on dressage, he's grown to be a lot better about contact.

His gaits remind me of Bailey, because they've got that big smooth powerful quality that darling little McKinna doesn't get naturally. His jumping, when he's got his head square on his shoulders, is so effortless that I can't help but dream of the day when he's completely confident and spookless (for the most part), and we can go galloping about an XC course. Unlikely to happen, as Ellen and Rose are planning on selling him this summer, but I can dream, can't I? In any case, I get to have fun schooling him over fences, and I know it's been very good for my riding. His preference is for a quiet rider, but I have also had to learn how to put in very well-timed aides when he needs guidance. I'll never forget the first time that he threw his head up, panicked, and tried to leave out a stride (a full canter stride, mind you) and I reacted fast enough to keep him on the ground for that extra step, which meant a very quick and pretty strong bump on the reins. It surprised the heck out of him, and it was a turning point: after that fence, he believed me when I told him that I sometimes knew better than him about where to take off, where before he would ignore me and had blown through my half-halts to take off long. That extra little bit of trust has helped us come a lot further, because he finally believes that I will help him out.

Speaking of XC, I am taking both him and McKinna to an Eventing Derby at Inavale next Sunday. It should be fun!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Acquiring McKinna

So as I mentioned before, we bought McKinna at the Woodburn auction for less than you usually pay for a decent used saddle. At the time I still owned Bailey, and we were looking for a horse for my beginner mother. The auction sounds like a great place, right? Right!

No really, we were smarter this time. We took along Ellen, family friend/trainer, and we knew a woman who worked in the auction house: she knew the horse traders, and was pretty darn good at telling the bad from the good when they came through. We didn't really bid on any -- didn't ride through, too big, too old, terrible conformation, and so on. Then they ride this little grey mare through, and our friend gives us the nod. Of course, mother was a bit confused and overwhelmed by the atmosphere, and by the time she realized what was going on, the mare had been sent out with the top bid at over $500, the auctioneer claiming that the price hadn't met reserve. We sighed.

At the very end of the auction, when most of the bidders had left, they led in a little appaloosa that we recognized -- he'd been ridden through before, and also hadn't "met reserve." He sold for less than he'd been bidded on before. Next came that little grey mare, led through, and this time we all had our wits about us! Before we knew it, we were the proud new owners of "McKinna: QH/Arab mare. Crosses water and bridges, been shot from." She loaded up calmly into the trailer, and off we drove.

She didn't get much riding time at first, since I focused on Bailey. She was sweet, if a little unsure of what we wanted, but she gradually learned to longe and keep her gaits to something below Mach 5. She got along fantastically with Bailey, who loved to boss her around. And that was all, for about a year; then we sold Bailey. McKinna seemed pretty upset and lethargic for a little while, but soon all was well -- and now she was my main riding horse, so it was time to have some fun.

Our biggest obstacle has been cantering. She had to learn how, really; she wasn't strong enough and must have been quite inexperienced, because she damn near fell on her face if you tried it on the longe. She fell on the forehand, rushed, scrambled, and practically peeled out in the corners. Thankfully she's gotten much better, and if I remember to sit up straight (which feels like leaning back, but hey), we can even get a pretty balanced canter going down a slight slope. Let me tell you, it's made jumping a *lot* easier.

Speaking of jumping, we had our first outdoor-arena jumping lesson of the year last night! It started off a bit frustratingly. I normally jump Chaucer first since he does low fences, then McKinna, but I couldn't ride Chaucer because he'd been all bitten up in turnout. McKinna reverted back to her scrambly, rushing ways -- I think she was a little thrown off by the elevation changes, because our outdoor arena has a bit of a slope. After I remembered to keep my own weight back, though, she settled down and we got some nice fences in.

And here are some pictures from our Inavale schooling session on Sunday!

And, just for good measure, here's a picture of me landing from a jump with Chaucer (forgive my mother's timing with the camera, she's getting better!)

I don't know if you can tell, but he is rather huge compared to McKinna! Next post I will tell you Chaucer's story. He's a fun guy -- about 10 years old, and a bit clumsy. He's getting much better about jumping, but sometimes he still forgets where his legs are. On the plus side, he is a real sweetheart!

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Basics

I'm one of those girls. I played with little plastic horses for years. I have an impressive collection of both the Thoroughbred series and The Saddle Club, as well as various Walter Farley and Marguerite Henry books. Any time we drove past a pasture with horses, I'd gaze longingly as we went by. I begged for a horse and even read my parents the Shel Silverstein poem about the girl who died because she didn't get a pony. I read horse management books, I read pony club manuals. I took lessons for two years when I was about ten -- once every two weeks, which was what we could manage -- and didn't want to wash the clothes I wore, because I still wanted to smell that barn smell. I went to every horse camp we could afford.

The summer before my freshman year of high school began, several things happened in rapid succession: I broke my ankle, couldn't go to a summer horse camp, and my parents bought me half a horse. Half, naturally, because I shared him with someone (I'm sure you know how well sharing a horse worked out). He was, in the seller's terms, "a little bit underweight" and "could be pushy." You all know what that means too. Yes, I was the proud half-owner of a sickeningly skinny, soon-to-be dangerously opinionated, greener-side-of-greenbroke, still-has-his-aluminum-racing-shoes-on ex racehorse. We named him Bailey, as in Bailey's Irish Cream, since his registered name was Boldirish.

That whole adventure is a story for another day, but to sum it up: as the pounds packed on, so too did the attitude; we stumbled around blindly, muddled our way through training, and eventually figured out how to handle the groundwork on our own; we bought the other half of him and got rid of the biting and kicking; after a year or two, with the help of my trainer, we managed to convince him that trotting calmly and slowly was okay; we learned how to jump; and finally, this fall, weighed down by boatloads of schoolwork that kept me from giving him the attention he deserved and needed, we found him an eventing home in Montana. I love him dearly (after all, he's my first horse!), despite all the difficulties we went through. We learned a lot together, and I'm very proud that I was able to turn him into such a sweet, normal horse. Let me tell you, he was neither of those when he stepped off the trailer.

Just that summary itself was long, but it was a long 3 years with him, and that boy and I have a lot of history. Aside from the fact that his new owners never seem to get around to sending me pictures, it seems like he's pretty happy. Still a little unsettled over the pictures thing, though, and I'm working on it. Promise.

The McKinna of the blog title is technically my mother's mare, and our only horse. We bought her at the Woodburn auction for the princely sum of $225, and since then she has become the ultimate all-around horse. I've ridden her in basically every event for High School Equestrian Team, and our latest conquest is my ultimate dream horse sport: Eventing. We're working on it.

The rest of the cast that will eventually show up will include: Loki, another OTTB who our friend bought from the same nice gentleman as Bailey; Fiona, an irascible, belligerent Haflinger-something; Chaucer, a giant doofus of a Warmblood; and Linny, short for Linnaeus, an adorable four-year-old Appendix QH.

Since this is already turning into a novel, I'll go ahead and call it quits for now. Tune in next time for a continuation of McKinna's history up till now.
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