Monday, June 30, 2008

Long Reining: Experiment #1

Okay, so instead of writing about tonight's jumping lesson (which involved very little jumping as the mare was a few fruit loops shy of a full bowl), I'll tell you about experiment #1 with long reining. I'll tell you about my lesson once I'm a little more cheerful about the situation. Especially since I just spent a post talking about how wonderful she is and how we're thinking of breeding her. How ironic.

In any case, here's the story of the long reining extravaganza. I just finished reading Philippe Karl's book on long reining, which I highly recommend. It's very concise, easy to understand, and has the aids nicely explained along with beautiful photographs to illustrate. It was a joy to read.

Some minor equipment issues that I was already aware of:
  • Our longeing caveson is too big for her. This is because we bought it for Bailey, who had a Thoroughbred-sized head, and McKinna has pony-sized head. It doesn't slip wildly around, but it's not snug.
  • I don't have long reins. Ideally you want about 5 feet of round cord with snaps at one end, and the other end of the cord tapers out into many many more feet of flat cotton line. I used longe lines, one on each side. They didn't slide very well through the rings on the caveson, but they worked passably.
  • We don't have a surcingle. I borrowed a friend's, so that wasn't too bad.
Said equipment issues should hopefully be fixed soon, since my mom just ordered a nice pony-sized leather caveson. Next item on the list is some nice long reins, and finally a surcingle. Aren't new equestrian ventures fun?

So the pony (who was, unlike her resistant self tonight, quite cheerful that night) stood patiently while I set up a longe line on each side. On the inside, you run the line through the bit and clip to the surcingle; for the outside, you run it over their back, through the surcingle, and clip to the bit. That way the inside line is softer and acts as an opening rein instead of a direct rein, which can cause resistance for the horses that aren't used to it yet.

So up we hooked and away we went!

It was a bit laughable, to tell the truth. We just did walk-trot-canter on a circle, with me trying to coordinate two longe lines and one whip (three hands would have been nice) and her trying to figure out what on EARTH I wanted her to do (hence title: misadventures). Since my saintly horse knows full well what to do on the longe line, she just trucked around trying to listen to the reins. It worked pretty well, though I have a feeling that our communication will vastly improve with proper long reins.

I think I will wait to try again until I have at least a proper caveson. I'll continue just working her on a big circle until I have the right equipment, she's a little more comfortable with it, and I'm more familiar with handling that much stuff at once. After that, we'll switch to direct rein on both sides and start practicing me driving her from different directions, moving to a change of rein at the walk (where she's bent in one direction, then as I cross behind her she switches the bend as she moves in the new direction of travel).

I figure if I can get to where we are proficient at shoulders-in reversed and shoulders-in, that's pretty good. If I can get to the elementary stage of half-pass (which is like shoulders-in reversed, only they are bent to the inside), I will be pleased as punch. Shoulders-in is an immensely beneficial exercise, and I think doing it from the ground will be very, very good for both of us. First, it removes a complication by taking the rider off the horse, making it easier for the horse to balance itself. Second, since for that exercise alignment is crucial, being on the ground lets you very easily see whether your horse is doing it properly. Third, since you don't have seat or leg aids, you need to break it down for your horse and get your horse responding to your voice, body language, and rein cues. All in all, an exercise in thinking hard for both horse and rider -- you can't box your horse up between reins and legs and pretend you're doing it right.

It is, as the French would (probably not) say, très cool.

Breeding Dilemmas


Okay, so I've been giving a lot of thought to this lately. My mom and I have been considering breeding McKinna for quite awhile now, and we're thinking of breeding her sometime in the next three years. Yes, she's a QH/Arab and therefore grade, and my inner Fugly reader is kicking and screaming. But she's also very well put together, has an awesome temperament, and so far everything we've jumped (up to about 3'3") has felt smooth and easy. She also has a lot of sentimental value to us. She is truly a forever, family horse, and I know we'll keep her till she goes.

The reason I think Fugly (probably) wouldn't kill me for this is mainly: she's proven that she's got value. If we ever sold her, she would be an easy sell as an amateur packer due to her sweet, willing attitude and her all-around ability. We are looking for a nice stallion to breed her to, which I'll talk about shortly. Therefore, we can assume that the offspring, while hopefully being exceptional in conformation, would at least not be fugly. Finally, said offspring being a homebred and theoretically my future eventing project, it would receive plenty of training and in the event it was ever sold, would likely go to a happy ending.

I'm just having difficulty with both the stallion part and the eventing prospect part. First, I don't know what kind of stallion to breed her to. I'm wavering between Irish Sporthorse or full-blooded TB. Irish Sporthorses are known for being awesome eventers, but they're half TB, and the 3/4 TB 1/4 ISH is also known to be a very good cross. Since an ISH crossed with McKinna would be 1/4 each of Arab, QH, TB, and ISH, I don't know if that's enough TB blood to truly make it up the levels. A full TB would make it half, which means a hotter horse to deal with and train but also more likelihood of making it to higher levels easily. Of course then the question becomes whether I *want* to do the higher levels. I mean, I do. But is it going to be possible on my budget? I don't know yet. I also don't know what my budget will be like in six or seven years.

On the other hand, there are loads of really, REALLY nice eventing prospects out there. Already old enough to ride and greenbroke or further. Already a guaranteed horse with nice conformation and a known temperament. Expensive? Yes. But compared to the cost of breeding and foaling the mare and raising the foal, not so much.

But then I weigh that against the value of having a foal out of McKinna . . .

But then I consider that any horse I buy is going to be very special to me, and if I bought a mare for an eventing prospect, I could always breed her after she retired and theoretically proved to be a very solid competitor. But then I wonder if the prospect I would buy would be a mare at all, because what if it was a gelding?

Then there's also the issue of when to breed her if we do. Do we do it next year, so that by the time I graduate from college it'll be ready to start some long reining and the very tiny beginnings of backing? Do we wait until we have our own place so we can raise the foal at home, or do we do it at the barn we're boarding at so the foal can grow up around other horses? Do I want to put McKinna's at the moment very promising eventing career on hold to breed her? Will I bring her back to eventing after I breed her, or will she just be kind of a pasture pony after that? I'd like to think I'd be able to get her back in shape for eventing, it's not like it's never been done before.

Obviously this matter needs a lot more thought, which is probably a good sign. At least we're not diving into it headlong without considering the options.

....There are worse problems to have, at least. But this one's frustrating me.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Watching The Big Dogs

So yesterday, the whole group of ladies went to Inavale to watch their annual Horse Trials (HT). We went to watch the Intermediate level, which is one step below Advanced (the highest level). For some perspective, here's some of the specifications for the fences on XC:

  • Optimum time should be 550 meters per minute (about 20 mph), so this is their average speed
  • Fixed fences are a maximum of 3'9", brush fences max 4'5"
  • The max depth (like an oxer) of the top of a fence is 5'3"
  • Drops (jumping down off of a ledge) can be max 5'11"
So keep in mind that there's another level higher than this...

It was pretty damn impressive. When we first saw the riders, they were coming out of the woods. On a pretty steep downhill, they jumped three logs/drops in a row (a fence in front of a drop), then made a hard right turn to another fence and into the neighboring field.
We could walk around to see the neighboring field, where they'd jump a few fences, come around, go up a hill, jump two fences on top of the hill, go down, through water, jump up a bank out of the water, over a fence, hard left turn (almost 90 degrees) to a fence that was in front of a drop to the water (so they jump up, and land further down in the water), then out of the water and over a narrow fence and away.

It gave me chills. I think I actually teared up at some points, it was so intense. After they did the water complex and a few other fences, they came galloping past about 10 or 20 feet from us. There is so much power in those horses.

All of the people I ride with were going "Wow, that's amazing...they're crazy."

I was going "Wow, that's amazing...I want to do that."

I know McKinna doesn't have it in her to go Intermediate or probably even Prelim (next level down). But I'll take her as far as we can both go.

And boy, do I have big plans for future horses.


Okay, I admit it: I love fussing over my horse.

I will happily spend hours grooming. I will lovingly curry all over, brush the dust off, curry again, brush again. I will go over the whole body with a slightly damp washcloth. I will cheerfully clip the bridle path, muzzle, and fetlocks. I love pulling manes (though we leave McKinna's long), and I will wash, braid, and bag tails all day long. I will detangle the mane and braid it if it's long. I will get a washcloth and clean eyes, nostrils, whatever.

I have a book called Grooming To Win that I love. It details every aspect of seriously intense grooming as well as all kinds of braiding and such.

Some of it I've learned to love out of necessity, because McKinna's coat is white. It quickly turns yellow if you don't keep up. Hence, her tail is always braided into a three-tube tail bag. If not, it turns yellow and stays yellow. You'll notice in pictures that her tail is often wavy -- that's why. I probably give more baths to her over the winter Equestrian Team season than Bailey got in his whole three years with me.

But some of it is just fun. I've been trying to tame Chaucer's mane, which involves washing it or getting it wet, brushing it all over to one side, and braiding it down. A few days later when the braids are looking messy, I take them out, brush it out, pull the mane from beneath, then repeat the whole thing. His mane is rather unruly and likes to grow on both sides of his neck, so this is a fun challenge.

The reward is in the beautiful long thick tail, the healthy coat, and the very white horse when we go to shows. The downside is trying to wash an impatient horse's legs and tail in the middle of winter because we're not going to a show with a brown and yellow tail.

I love horses.

On another note, my books arrived on Friday! I've been devouring them, and I've certainly learned some things. While I know that neither I nor my horse has the potential to school piaffe and passage on the long reins, I think it's fairly realistic to expect that I can teach her shoulder-in from the ground using long reining, which I think will be a really fun challenge.

Tonight when I go out to the barn, we're going to start with the first steps, which is just basic navigation using the longe caveson and surcingle and two long reins. I'm quite excited!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Slowing Down

Sometimes I get the best results when I do a lot of thinking about my ride before I actually get on.

Surprise, surprise.

Last night was my weekly flat lesson. First I rode Chaucer, who I am fairly convinced had a (small, low-watted) lightbulb go on in his head at the schooling show last weekend. Now all of a sudden when I school on the flat with him, he's reaching into the contact, bringing his back up, and swinging in a nice, powered-from-the-butt trot. I can literally see the base of his neck getting fatter as he lifts it up instead of poking his nose straight out. Of course this doesn't happen all the time, and I was laughing sometimes because it's so hard to coordinate the forward leg, the bending-into-the-corners leg, the bend-to-the-inside squeeze and release with the inside rein, and the gentle half-halt squeeze with reins and body. Not all at once, of course, but it's a challenge to hold it all together. I keep getting glimpses of it though, and I'm practically drooling.

On McKinna I was talking to my trainer and wanted to try something new regarding her annoyingly persistent canter issue -- she just has a really hard time relaxing and going smoothly, from the transition onwards and even in the trot after. Anyway, the other day I spent a good 20 minutes in nice, relaxed walk warmup, doing gentle bending and a lot of listening to leg, relaxing down into the bit. I then did some trotting to reinforce the same lessons, always emphasizing relaxation. Then I asked her to pick up the canter. Once. It was a beautiful transition and a fairly good canter.
We cantered around the arena once, brought it back to a relaxed trot, brought it back to a relaxed walk, schooled the walk for a bit, and called it good.
Awhile back we tried to muscle through her canter anxiety by just doing it. Warm up, get a nice trot, pick up the canter, back to a trot, get her mostly relaxed, back up to canter, and just keep doing it. Lots of figure-8s and circles and short diagonals.
Well, that worked for getting her the cantering experience, comfortable with leads, and so on. But she was still just anxious about the canter.
So now it's time to take it slow. I realized this because I've been thinking a lot about how much of a sensitive, thinking horse she is, and how much she wants to get things right, so that she only gets more and more anxious about the canter when we keep doing it. I was not setting her up for success by doing it that way, though she did gain some valuable experience. Now I'm going to be showing her that it's not a big deal, and when she does it right, we'll leave it alone.

My lesson on her was fantastic, by the way. I got some of the most beautiful walking I have ever gotten from her and some damn nice trot too. I really feel like we're getting somewhere.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Those Damn Teenagers

A natural consequence of me reading adult people's blogs (Fugly, Mugwump, etc etc) is that I often see mentions in posts and comments about the dumb, reckless stuff kids do with their horses. You know, the stuff your mother and most professional trainers would cringe at. This generally stems from an utter lack of fear (/instinct for self-preservation/common sense, take your pick).

Don't get me wrong, I don't disagree. Kids in general and teenagers specifically do indeed do some stupid stuff, though the venues tend to go way beyond horses. I often see mention of the Immortality Complex, i.e., the way kids have no worries for their safety because they basically think they'll live forever.

I'm torn on this subject. On the one hand, as I get older and more experienced with horses, I too lean more towards caution and ditching the Immortality Complex. Yep, it's fun to see them run and buck, but I don't really want them to do it in a space not big enough. Yes, I really want to turn my horse out with new buddies now and know reasonably that they'll work it out, but I'd rather slowly introduce them over the fence. Yes, jumping big jumps is fun, but I don't want to push it before we're comfortable with gentler things. Same goes for flying changes. Yes, I want to be good at dressage right this very instant, but I know the basics are crucial. Yes, ground work can be boring, but I do like my toes. Yes, I can ride out plenty a nasty buck, but I'd rather not have bucking ever be an issue under saddle.


I also want to gallop hell-bent for leather bareback with just a halter, because I trust my horse and my riding ability and in the worst case the softness of the ground. I want to positively roar around a cross-country course, full of "Woo-hoo!"s and "YEAH BABY"s all the way. I want to perfect McKinna's neck reining, set up a big ol' dummy out in the field, and make my poor horse be a charger as I go jousting. I want to jump fences bareback and bridleless just to show off. I want to play tag and race.

And I sure hope that all of that doesn't go away with age. Sure, I'll get older and more careful and undoubtedly way better at riding and training. But I just want to get one thing straight: for me, riding is all about the woohoo's and the yeah baby's. Whether I'm saying WOOHOO about a perfectly smooth trot-canter transition (believe me, I have) or yelling YEAH BABY! after clearing a monstrous fence, I don't care. But that bubbling, powerchord-rockin', yeehaw-ing, can't-keep-the-smile-from-my-face adrenaline-filled rush had always better be there. I'll get it from solid flatwork, I'll get it from jumping, I'll get it from seriously good groundwork, I'll get it from galloping, I'll get it from riding my horse in a full batman costume (though that's a story for another post) -- I so don't care what the specifics are.

As long as it's there, I'll be riding.

So what gives you a serious case of the yeehaws? What really turns your crank and makes you go man, this is the coolest sport ever? What are you secretly dying to do when you've got all that horse underneath you and you're in your groove?
I challenge you to figure it out -- and then do it.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


I've just ordered two new books. I really, *really* love books. I think it's how my horse-crazy self survived for the first twelve years of my life when I didn't have a horse. And probably how I saved my sorry butt once I did get one, because thankfully I knew a lot more than I would have if I didn't read horse books all the time. (Of course, what I did know still wasn't very much).

Anyway, these are the two books I ordered:
Long Reining: The Saumur Method by Philippe Karl
Training the Horse In Hand: The Classical Iberian Principles by Alfons Dietz.

They both look really interesting. I know they go way further than I have the ability to go as far as high-level stuff in-hand -- I just don't have the expertise/experience/instruction -- but I love working from the ground. It slows things down, helps the horse understand what you want without a rider, and makes you REALLY think about everything you do and how it affects your horse.

I'm interested to work more with long reining. I've done a little, and I ground drove Bailey all over the property on days where I didn't feel like riding, but I'd really like to try some more. I think McKinna especially will benefit from it, because she gets anxious when she doesn't understand what I want: she really is a sensitive, thinking horse. Working from the ground I feel gives her more of an intellectual workout, making us both really think about what's going on.

So I'm excited for my books to get here! I will let you know how it goes.

Sunday, June 22, 2008


Hmm. Did I say that camping Friday through Saturday and then going to a schooling show on Sunday wouldn't be tiring?

Ha. Who was I kidding?

The horses were just fine, but I am one tired kid. Yes, you crazy people who get like five hours of sleep per night notwithstanding, I really really need about 8 hours of sleep a night. 9 is ideal, but my body can't handle less than 7 for a few days at a time or I get really cranky and start to get sick. In any case, both camping and the show were quite fun!

A quick overview before I go crash for a nap:

I had a blast where we went. It's a state park in Salem, and they have campsites that fit four horses and two tents (though really there's plenty of room for that and more). Since we had five horses and seven people, we took up two adjacent campsites. McKinna was awesome on the trail - just truckin' along being the lead horse, totally fine with all of it except the occasional downed log in the underbrush. For whatever reason, she really doesn't think that big chunks of wood belong in all the bushes and stuff. Don't ask me why, but without fail, every time we passed big pieces of wood in the brush she'd scoot sideways a little and look at it like it came from the moon. Other than that she was good. The rest of the party had the occasional panic issue, probably because the trail was single-file and a bit windy through the woods. There was some bucking and some all-out meltdowning (at the end one of our riders got off to walk for a bit because her horse just lost it), but the majority of the ride was quite nice.

For me the only unpleasant part was the heat. It was just downright muggy - hot I don't mind, but humid sucks. All the horses were pretty wet by the time we were done (except McKinna, who was only a little sweaty under the saddle pad - do I get to be proud of that?). They all slept cheerfully in the corrals and we went for a short ride the next morning with no issues at all.

We ended up taking only Chaucer and McKinna to this show. I did Intro A and B on Chaucer and A on McKinna, then Mom did B on McKinna. All in all it was a very successful first show! We ended up with some ribbons but those hardly count at schooling shows (especially when they score juniors separate and I was one of very few people under 18!).

The real victories were in the rides, though. My first ride on Chaucer was alright - not bad, not good, but still a definite improvement over past rides. Generally inverted and counterbent, but I'm looking for the right gait and the right general direction, here ;)

My ride on McKinna was . . . stressed. I didn't give myself enough time to warm up. I KNOW better, but I did it anyway. The test itself was actually pretty okay, and I got some nice moments, but I know it would have been way better if I'd taken the time to walk and trot for about twenty minutes before I went in.

The awesome part was in Intro Tests B, though! I went first on Chaucer and I was just blown away by how good he was. His lines were straight! His free walk was stretchy! His trot across the diagonal was downright powerful! Our weak spots were the trot circles, where he lost focus and wanted to go fast. But my goodness, I was so happy with him, as I'm sure you can tell by the exclamation marks ad nauseam! That trot across the diagonal was really something. He reached into the bit, brought his back up, and was dead-on straight. It made me really itch to bring him along further just to feel what his trot lengthenings and extensions would feel like.

Last up was my mom on McKinna, and that little horse was just a saint. For my mom's first dressage test ever, she trotted around relaxed and calm, reaching into the bit, marching along at the walk, and halting perfectly on the centerline. From a horse that normally gets so anxious she trots around at warp speed with her head flung high, that's pretty darn good! My mother, by the way, was also pretty awesome.

So all in all the weekend was a great success, and I am off to bed.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

That New Barn

Well, more and more I like that new barn. Basically, it's got everything I want, and the more I think about it, the more I am excited to move there. It would almost be worth moving there for the trails alone! Thankfully it's got everything else too.

My family and I have basically come to the decision that if Ellen and Rose want to come with us (which is a toughie for them, since it's about twice as far away for them as the current barn), we'll move ASAP. If they don't want to come with us (which is a toughie for us, as I won't get lessons as frequently and we've boarded with them for almost four years now), I believe we will be moving in the middle of August.

Should be fun!

We are off to go camping with the horses tomorrow, which will be a new experience for us all. Hopefully I'll update on Saturday when I get home!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Yesterday's Ride(s)

Yesterday Ellen and I met out at the barn in the morning to exercise all the horses in our collective string. We only ended up riding three out of five, since the remaining two and one of the ridden were being hauled out to a nearby barn to ride.

So first up I rode Fiona. I will get some pictures of her soon -- she's a Haflinger, and while she's cute, she's cute in the sense that a really big furry tank is cute. She's known for being somewhat sweet and also generally irritable under saddle. She hadn't been worked for about a week, so I longed her for a few minutes to work the kinks out. After discouraging initial resistance and watching the bucks fly at every canter transition, I brought her in to walk on a small circle. Oh, what's this? She started thinking, just because I was doing something other than making her go out on the big circle. At first she fought the small circle, but then she relaxed and she really stepped under herself nicely when I slowly fed her back out again. After that little experiment, she was good as gold. My ride on her was nice, though brief as she's quite out of shape. Biggest challenge with her is getting forward (which I got; I am good at getting forward) and keeping her from rooting on the bit. Both goals were duly accomplished and we called it good for her.

While I was riding Fifi, Ellen rode Chaucer at walk and trot. I got on to school him a little, but the saddle he had on was Rose's dressage saddle, which doesn't fit me at all. Walk was fine, but trot resulted in me being thrown all over the place and him (understandably) displeased and rushing, so we stopped. Lesson learned: use my own saddle next time.

Finally it was McKinna's turn. We started with a good 15 minutes of walk work: half-turns back to the rail, halt transitions, and generally working on being relaxed and getting a good connection. One of her biggest things is her halt; she can be walking along, merry as can be on a nice gentle contact, and as soon as you ask for the halt, she promptly complies by raising her head, dropping her back, and stopping dead. Sure, I like an immediate halt, especially when I'm chasing cows or about to walk into something I didn't see. Not so much when I want nice, square, and on contact.

So we worked on it by asking her to give a little bit at the halt, which I did by squeezing the inside rein periodically until she softened. As soon as she did, we walked forward into a nice light contact. As she began to understand more, I started gently squeezing the inside rein as we halted, and lo and behold, she stopped square without raising her head and dropping her back! After impressing upon me that this can lead to seesawing and is not to be used with both hands or at any gait above the halt-walk, we moved on to some trot work.

Trot work was fine, relaxed, and nicely on contact; this is what happens when we have a long, relaxed warmup. So we trotted for a bit, then did two canter transitions, neither of which were perfect, but I got her to stretch down a little.

That perfect canter transition still eludes us. Ah, well. We'll just have to keep working on it, mm? In any case, I have a flat lesson on Thursday, and we are leaving Friday morning to to take all of the horses camping. I'm very excited for that! None of us have ever taken the horses camping before, but our little herd (we really are, humans and horses, since we're always working together and almost always go places together) has been on trail rides together, and I wouldn't be surprised if McKinna had been taken camping before we owned her. I do know that she's wonderful for trail riding and loves to be outside.

Then, Sunday, we are all going to a dressage show. Between me and my mother, McKinna is only doing three walk-trot tests, so I don't think it will be too strenuous. It will be quite the busy weekend for us all!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Finding The Perfect Place

I have become utterly convinced that finding The Perfect Place is impossible, when you're boarding at least. We left the very first barn we were at because the fencing was dangerous and falling down/held up with baling twine, they spent money on new siding when the roofing and supports were rotting, and they generally had nasty attitudes. Where we're at now, it started off quite wonderfully: they are wonderful and flexible, let us bring our dog out to play with their dogs, let us undertake our own projects, they love the horses, etc. However, they also don't really like the day-to-day hard work like dragging the arena, fixing the fences (they're safe when they're up, but once they're down, they never seem to come back up), figuring out what's wrong with the well so we don't run out of water down at the barn . . .

Yeah. Not very much turnout (the small paddocks that we set up out of electrical tape is it), a smaller arena than I'd like, a disturbing scarcity of water, and a general attitude of apathy towards improvement projects.

So we went and looked at a new place today. The only downfalls I can see are that we can't bring our dog (which I know better than to expect at any boarding place) and it's about 5 minutes further away. They're actively remodeling the old parts of the barn, adding in beautiful new stalls, building a huge tack room . . . basically revamping everything, and doing it right. They have an all-weather round pen (it's nice to have on occasion!), a bigger arena with footing done well, plenty of turnout, and they're working on building runs for the stalls and a new hot water washrack.

I really like the facilities, and I totally love that they're improving the place. Plus we (that being me, my parents, Ellen, and Rose) are always happy to pitch in labor for a project, which I am sure they will appreciate when it comes to building new runs/the washrack/etc. We are always willing to help out when it means improvements to the barn happen faster. Oh, and they also back up to like 300 miles of trails, they're active with Pony Club and go to all kinds of Eventing stuff, and their neighbor across the road sets up small XC fences and lets boarders ride in her field.

We'll see how this pans out -- we're not really into moving without Rose and Ellen -- but honestly I'm ready to give my 30 days notice tomorrow. Fingers crossed for a better boarding situation!

Here' s my biggest requirements for a boarding situation (in vague order of most important to least):
  • Turnout. Safe, preferably daily, preferably large turnout.
  • Arena. Must have a reasonably sized, good-footing-ed, well-maintained indoor (or at least covered outdoor).
  • Attitude. Barn owners must be generally friendly, perfectly willing to do necessary work on the property (yes, if you own a boarding barn, fences will need to be repaired sometimes), and generally flexible about horse care to fit the individual horse.
  • Runs on the stalls. Unless my horse is going out every morning or is out 24/7, I'd prefer that she wasn't stuck in a stall 22.5 hours per day.
  • Washrack. I'm sorry, but I have a grey-white horse, and she needs baths to look presentable for a show.
Things that are wonderful to have and only add to my appreciation:
  • Extra riding space. Trails, fields, whatever - I am SO excited to take McKinna out on those trails that they have. I have a whole summer for riding, and doing trails would be so good for her.
  • A round pen. It's just a nice bonus to have there if you want to use it, though now that I don't have Bailey I'm not quite as reliant on one for groundwork.
  • English-minded owners. Yes, I do very much like it that you have your own standards and cavaletti (though I'll bring mine), and I like that you don't find me strange for riding in such a small scrap of leather masquerading as a saddle.
  • A big tack room. Yes, I can keep my stuff in my trailer, but if I leave leather in the trailer all winter, it will mold. No, I do not want to haul my crap back and forth in the car every day. It's nice to have room for my saddles, bridles, and storage dresser.

I know, I'm not picky at all . . .

What are your big requirements for a boarding barn?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Summer Goals

So here's my plan for this summer, so far. I'll be getting three lessons a week (for the most part), and I'm hoping to do another two days riding and/or doing groundwork.

Mondays, Ellen and I will ride the entire string of horses (four or five, depending on whether Linnny is around). That will be really good for me, since we'll switch off and on horses partway through the rides, discuss what each horse needs to work on, and so on. So it's like one big huge lesson, plus I get to ride the different horses. It'll also be quite good for McKinna to have Ellen ride her a little, since Mom and I are pretty much the only ones that ride her.

Thursdays, I'll get a flat lesson. This is possibly what I'm most excited for, because as I've stated time and again, McKinna needs these hardcore.

Sunday mornings will be jumping lessons, which is always fun, and much better now it's summer. This is because we can use the outdoor arena, which has much more space, and is slightly graded, so they have to work harder on the uphills and downhills.

Other than that, I'll be trying really hard to get McKinna and Chaucer out on trails as much as possible. All of us are going camping with the horses in a couple weeks, which I'm really looking forward to. Then later this summer, I'm planning on going to the coast with a good friend of mine from equestrian team -- we'll load up our horses in her little trailer and camp for the weekend, which will be even more exciting because it absolutely reeks of independence and adulthood ;)

1. Get a solid canter on McKinna by the end of the summer. Solid canter includes related items like a calm, relaxed trot before and after said canter.
2. Have a relaxed w/t/c on Chaucer away from home by the end of the summer. Said relaxation includes being able to hop over small fences without throwing himself over.
3. For me: ride often enough without stirrups that I can tell the difference. I'm not sure what I'm looking for -- trot-sitting also includes my horse being relaxed and swingy, so that's not just me. Jumping comfortably without stirrups is a good goal, I think.

And for a fun goal:
Ride McKinna bridleless and saddleless more often at w/t/c. I can do it easily in the arena, but A. she's not fond of trotting bareback and B. steering is a bit dull. The without stirrups bit should help both of those.

Anyone else have summer goals?

Monday, June 9, 2008

Progress, Progress

I haven't posted in awhile (has anyone ever told you how busy the last two weeks of a high school career are?), but I haven't disappeared! We took both McKinna and Chaucer to an Eventing Derby this weekend. It was pretty fun -- a dressage test, then a big loopy course in the big field on their XC course using both stadium and solid fences.

McKinna's ride times were first, since they went from the top down and I was doing Beginner Novice on her and Intro on him (again: little horse doing bigger stuff than the big horse). The dressage test was not exactly pretty, but I was expecting that. You know all those canter problems we have? It's not like they fix themselves when we go to a show. But the whole point of taking them to the show was to get them out into the big bad world, the more of which McKinna does the calmer she is. Naturally.

So Dressage was rushed and hollow and above-the-bit, but on the plus side, she also had a few moments of nice walk, a few steps of nice trot where she thought about relaxing (right before the canter, unfortunately), and she went where I wanted her to go. At this stage, with a horse who's done maybe three dressage tests in her life and is still having a midlife crisis about cantering and rounding in general, that's all I'm expecting. I've talked it over with Ellen, and I'm going to get once-weekly flat lessons (probably twice-weekly this summer if I can swing it), so before she knows what's hit her, McKinna will have the muscle and the mental capacity to canter beautifully. Once you start working in earnest on something, it doesn't take her long to figure it out.

Jumping was...a little disappointing at first. Of all the fences out there, she spooked hardcore at the little stadium ones. You know, pretty painted post-and-rail fences that she may glance at, but never ever really tries to stop. Well we had several refusals (hooray for schooling shows), and then at fence four: I could feel her wanting to stop. She was squirrely, she was sucking back, she was spooky, and I put my leg on as solidly as I could and drove with my seat. No dice. She planted her forelegs and sliiiiiiiiiiiiid to a stop on the grass, dumping me neatly off her shoulder as she lowered her head for balance. Nice. I landed on my butt, too.


So I haul my sorry self back up in the saddle, check with the judge-person (is there a technical name for that?) to make sure I can keep going, then leg her over it and away. She has one more stop at 5A (another stadium fence), but then we truck around the rest of the course with no problem. Except that I couldn't find fence 6. Don't ask me where it went. I knew where it was SUPPOSED to be from the map. I saw a fence 6 in black on white, which was not my colors (I was black on yellow). But I did not see a fence 6 in my colors. After pulling up and looking around hopelessly for a minute, I gathered up my frustrated self and went from fence 7 through the end without issue. She had no problem with the solid XC fences that just a couple weeks ago were still making her wobble and stop, so there was a small victory for the day. At any rate, she jumped everything eventually, just not always on the first try -- and it was a good learning experience for her, since I could feel her getting more brave as we went around. Really it's only her third time on an XC course, so she gets a little slack.

Chaucer actually impressed me very much with his dressage test, incidentally the same one as McKinna's (up until the morning of, I mistakenly thought we were doing a walk-trot test. Which also shows you how far ahead I plan things like memorizing my test). I told the judge we were there for schooling and I didn't expect to be able to finish the test, but we actually did it, with some really nice canter strides and everything. Chaucer's weakness is definitely NOT cantering -- it's beautiful, I tell you. It was a terrible test at any rate, but the point is that for him, it's wonderful that he completed the whole thing without A. frying his brain and stopping dead, or B. tuning me out completely.

Anyway, we took him out to jumping warmup, and he was just too tense. Trying to leap over things and the like. I ended up walking up to little crossrails and picking up the trot a few strides out, which kept him fairly manageable. We did a little cantering around the field, he got acquainted with Mr. Pulley-Rein when he wanted to take off, and then Ellen and I agreed that taking him out on the course would be an unnecessary stressful experience for him. We had enough jumping in the warmup field, and if he wasn't doing it calmly out there, why would he do it calmly in the bigger, scarier field? So we called it a day and headed home.

I was really, really tired anyway!

I'm learning a lot about handling Chaucer. It's been very good for me, because while some of McKinna's problems are similar to Bailey's and thus old frustrating problems, the challenges that Chaucer offers me are new. It's interesting to think through how I am going to handle him or what I should do next.

I did some groundwork the other day and had him walk through a series of oddly-spaced scattered poles. He was very, very careful about the placement of his feet, leading me to believe that he's not stupid about his feet, he just likes to be slow about it. Which could explain a lot about his jumping-terrors: he gets overwhelmed and since he doesn't have time to think about where to put his feet, he just trusts brute strength and throws himself over. Something to ponder. He's definitely a horse that needs to be taken along slowly.

I also think lots of miles on trails would help him out. Nothing too challenging, just moseying along for a couple hours over varying terrain and through water and such. I think it would really improve his confidence and his sense of balance.

Any thoughts on working with this type of horse? I'm thinking gridwork would be a good idea.

(Pictures soon, I have to get them on my other computer!)
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