Friday, October 31, 2008


I was thinking about this the other day as I was in the truck on the way to a lesson. After ten minutes of staring out the window contemplating horse things, I promptly fluffed my jacket up as a pillow, contorted my body so my upper half was laying on the seat, and fell asleep in about 5 minutes. Before I fell asleep, my mom commented that I was taking "The usual pre-ride nap."

You know what? She's right!

Before damn near every clinic, lesson, or show, I take a nap. The drive is usually 15+ minutes, or early in the morning, or both; add this to the fact that I've got the ability to fall asleep anywhere at any time in about 5 minutes, and I take a lot of naps during horse-related activities. I also can often be found taking a nap in the truck between rounds at a show, or during the lunch break.

It chills me out. I wake up relaxed and - well, awake, which is sometimes not how I feel when we hit the road!

So what are your rituals, pre-ride or otherwise? Is your horse in on them? Did your horse start them? ;)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Clipstravaganza and Chiro Work

McKinna was decidedly unimpressed with this whole clipping business. I did her left side, then we went on a trail ride (awful, I know! But the weather was so nice), then I did the other side. It's amazing how thick her fur is, especially down her barrel - the line between clipped and unclipped is very definite. On the plus side, her clipped fur is only barely darker than her unclipped fur, so unlike clipping a bay or chestnut, it's actually not super-noticeable.

It is definitely doing its job. I worked her hard in the round pen the night after, and the sweat on her clipped areas was clean and wet and dried within minutes. What sweat got on her long hairs (a little on her shoulders and neck) again took quite awhile to dry out. I did work her very hard though, so that's unlikely to happen often. If it does, I can always expand the clip.

Seriously, though - she produced enough hair for two small cats. Really! Look below, that's what came off her right side alone.

More of a medium-sized cat, maybe.

In other news, the chiropractor came out on Tuesday! Though technically on his sheet he is called an Equine Sports Massage Therapist. Pandora had a lot of stuff out of whack, but he said she was even worse the first time he saw her. Let's see -- left TMJ was pretty out (very cool to see how her teeth lined up correctly side-to-side after he adjusted it), upper neck on the left, lower neck both sides, her shoulders were reeeally bad, elbows also needed work, a little adjustment in her spine, and a lot back in her sacroiliac/pelvis area. Also some stuff in her tail.

Here were his comments: "Jaw - TMJ shift, strong reset. Neck - multiple cramps, released to full range of motion. Significant pelvic (roll?) and tilt, release on extension. Shoulder retraction & lock out, deep release on extension and rotation. Topline lifted, stance balanced, neck restored cervical arch."

The change in her was considerable, and very cool to see. Tension faded, her eyes were softer and more relaxed, her neck looks smoother, her shoulders feel smoother, and after watching her move last night, her motion is definitely smoother and more relaxed. She actually broke out in sweat a little during the work. Every time he made an adjustment that made her recoil (like when working the neck, he uses a strong release to get them back on track), she would jump straight back to him and put her forehead on his chest like she wanted to get in his pocket.

He uses a 1 - 5 system for issues, 5 being "get the vet out for some anti-inflammatories and we'll try working on the horse in a few days," 3 being bad enough to affect performance and behavior. Pandora had a lot of 3s, a 4, and a couple 2s. He said when he first saw her she was in way worse shape, lots of 4s.

It took him an hour and a half to work on her.

Next was McKinna. Minor jaw adjustment, minor upper neck adjustment, and a slightly more intense shoulder adjustment. 2s all around but a 3 on each shoulder. She figured him out pretty quickly (he commented that she's a very intelligent horse -- aww, yay!) and was working with him politely. Comments: "Primary: both shoulders retracted. Dramatic but easy release to full range of motion. Minor cramps in neck, released to full range of motion. Top and bottom line lifted, neck recurved, front stride extended."

McKinna took about 20 minutes. Both were very polite and willing to work with him and both were very cheerful to get turned out.

I love the way he works with them. He carries around a big huge cotton rope that he uses to help them work out their own issues. Some adjustments, like the jaw, do require a big motion from him, but he doesn't go thwacking and thumping on them to get things done. He also spends time working with pressure points to help relax muscles.

One of the most interesting things was when he adjusted the shoulders, which both mares needed. He loops the rope just above their heel bulb on a foreleg. He pulls the foreleg gently back, stretching it underneath them, then pulls it out in front of them and down and holds, letting them relax the shoulder and stretch all the way out. After a minute or so of this, he pulls up and out, hard, causing them to resist. They go up (ideally), and as they do, they roll their shoulder back, up, and forward away from the rope, essentially popping it free. The difference in the two mares was remarkable. Pandora, for one, had a lot of interconnected issues that made it hard for her to make the correct motions to release her shoulders, but even when she did, it was stiff and difficult. When he asked McKinna to do it, the first time she wasn't sure, but she got it eventually. The second time, she knew exactly what he was asking; she immediately went up, rolled that shoulder, and came back down. But her body motion! She looked like she was made of rubber. Seriously.

She was bendy and flexible. When she went up, she rocked back on her haunches and hunkered down, and looked like she could poke her nose back between her back legs if she wanted to. Her back rounded. Half the time when he was stretching a foreleg off to the left, she'd curve her head all the way around to the right to look behind her. It was incredible to see how much she could bend her body around, and testament to how physically sound she truly is (outside of the shoulder issues).

He praised her back soundly -- it's short, flat (not swayed), and strong. He said that holds her together so that even if something goes wrong at a corner, like her shoulders, the rest of her body doesn't get thrown out of whack because her spine is so strong and centered. Cool stuff.

I could see the difference in her, too. Her shoulders look wider now that they're not locked back, making her chest not so narrow. Her bottom line truly has tucked up -- her big ol' belly has faded a lot.

All in all I was very pleased with his work, and I'm super glad I got him out to work on Pandora before I really started asking her to work hard. The difference in her is so tangible. He told me to do belly lifts on her a few times before each ride to help her stay adjusted. I'm sure she'll need work again, simply because she was so messed up, but she's on the right track with correct work, nutrition, and turnout.

Oh, and he is coming to speak to Pony Club about horse physiology and the importance of keeping your horse pain-free when you're asking him to work. How cool is that? I'm giving a presentation on rider/horse mechanics and stretching for the rider, so I asked him to give his talk at the end of mine. Should be cool.

Have any of you guys had experiences with chiropractors, good or bad? I know many of you use them. I know it's made a huge difference in the horses I ride, especially ones that come with a history, like Pandora.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Various Updates

Hello all! Just found this old picture of McKinna after a summer bath. Fly sheet, fly neck cover, fly mask, barely-visible-pink-tailbag....It takes a lot to keep a wet white horse clean!

I've got some various updates for you today.

New Saddle
I got a new saddle! We ordered it from Tack of the Day. I don't know if you are familiar with it, but basically they sell quality items at very discounted prices. Previously they sold a jumping saddle whose maker they did not disclose. According to reports, the saddle was pretty nice but the leather sucked. Well they just sold another round, and this time they had it made specifically for them and of higher quality leather. From reports on the COTH forums, it is made on a Collegiate pattern, but not actually by Collegiate.

I like it a lot! It is very soft. A big change from the jumping saddles I'm used to, which are pancake-flat old ones. It's got a soft padded knee roll, it's softer all around, and it has removable knee and thigh blocks which I may or may not remove. It's very comfy to jump in, fits McKinna very well (*almost* perfectly -- it's just a tiny bit snug up by her withers, but it's definitely not pinching). Does not fit Pandora in the slightest, which makes sense since they require two very different types of saddles.

McKinna needs a wide tree saddle that's rather flat in the back; she has a wide, flat, short back with decent withers but a body that narrows pretty quickly as it gets to her girth area. Combined, this makes saddles want to slide forward onto her shoulders.

Pandora is built like an A-frame house right now, haha! She definitely needs some more weight and muscling on her topline. But in any case, her shape is very different. Typical TB back: Pretty curved compared to McKinna's, fairly narrow, shark withers, needs a saddle that fits closely up front but curves enough in the back to hug her body. My older jumping saddles fit her damn near perfectly, minus the fact that they touch her withers when I'm in the saddle :( This I think will be easily fixed as she continues to build weight and muscle.

Friday Lesson
I trailered out to the Friday lesson again this week and had a blast. This time there were two other riders there. McKinna was very well behaved! During warmup she was extremely soft and relaxed for me. Then she started fussing at my right leg and not wanting to bend to the right, so I grabbed a dressage whip for the rest of flatwork and that seemed to fix it.

Her canter work was WAY better. Still quick, still a little out-of-balance, but slower than last time and way more under control. Circles were easier without her totally dropping her inside shoulder.

Then we did some jumping and McKinna was still quite awesome! We put together a course after awhile. After one fairly sloppy course where I couldn't seem to stay in the right place in the tack and she couldn't seem to find decent distances (coincidence? Think not.), we pulled it back together and had an awesome trip. She is staying steady and relaxed coming up to the fences instead of rushing towards them, picking her own distances, and when I ride her correctly she even stands up through her corners!

What a lovely horse she is, even if she was rotten last weekend.

McKinna is going to get clipped today - a modified trace clip. Normally I just clip the underside of her neck down the front of her chest and leave it at that, but she's quite furry and even with that clip she got very sweaty at last night's lesson. So I'm going to do a clip that goes down the side of her neck, across some shoulder, and some belly in basically a diagonal straight line. Shall take pictures since we finally found the camera!

Plateau and Clicker
I feel like McKinna and I have hit a bit of a plateau. We seem to be a tad bored with each other and what we're doing, though it doesn't show up quite as much at lessons. I know we've been stuck at roughly the same level for awhile, and it doesn't help that I am coming back from that pesky broken ankle so I was out of the training groove for a couple months. I know that I need to start pushing and asking for more, but it's hard.

I've decided that the remedy is lessons and trying new things. Variety is the spice of life, right? Goodness knows McKinna and I have tasted all kinds of different riding styles. Maybe it's time for us to explore other things, at least for a week or so.

I think I'll talk Mom into going on a short ride up the road sometime this week if the weather isn't too bad. There's a really nice big hill that's got packed gravel on it that we think would be nice for walking up and back down.

I'm also contemplating doing some more clicker work with her. I know some of you (cough, mugwump, cough ;) tend to be very against hand-feeding treats at all, let alone treats involved with training. Here's a few reasons why it doesn't bother me:

  • I'm working with McKinna, who is not nippy and never has been. Every time we work, I reinforce that mugging for treats does not produce treats. I do this in two ways: when her muzzle is on me looking for treats, it gets some gentle insistent abuse in the form of vigorous rubbing. Also, I work on targeting, where she gets a click/treat for touching a target with her muzzle. This automatically reinforces that treats come from touching something else, not me.
  • It's fun. It makes me AND my horse think in different ways about what I'm asking her to do. It's an amazing feeling when you're both working towards a goal, the trainer trying to figure out how to break it down and watching to be able to reward the slightest try (hmm, sound familiar?) and the horse thinking hard to figure out what the trainer wants. The 'lightbulb moment' is always a total rush because you realize that your horse is actually figuring out what you want all on their own, just from you rewarding a few baby steps. It's similar to regular training: reward baby steps, get the horse to understand what you want. But it makes you think about it in a way you're not used to.
  • It makes training SOME behaviors very easy. Polite hoof-behavior, for instance. It's incredibly easy for horses to grasp the concept when you click/treat for every time they pick a hoof up, then increase demands to every time they hold it quietly for a second, then two seconds, then four seconds, then add tapping and picking or whatever. All of a sudden, there's something in it for them. After they understand, it's very easy to phase the click/treats almost entirely out, or even completely and just give them a kind word and a rub when they behave politely.
  • It's different. It's a shift from what you normally do, and that makes you and your horse both more interested. It's a challenge for both of you. Remember, variety is the spice of life: it's why I've done everything from team penning to trail courses to makeshift steer-daubing by running round whacking my uncle with a bubble-wrapped white stick from horseback. By focusing on something different, you challenge each other and get to work on training while having fun.
The most important thing for me is that it's simply a different, fun way to try things. If you don't like it, you can leave it. But I enjoy knowing that it's something fun. When the clicker comes out, McKinna perks right up. True, it's probably because she knows that clicker = treats. But if she's going to be my more-than-willing participant in a training exercise, do I care if it's for the treats or just because she loves me? No, not really. Because I know that, as I follow the process, I can phase the clicker and treats out, and I'm left with a solidly learned behavior.

Pandora is still doing very well. Her weight-gain has kind of stalled a bit -- grr -- but I think it's because the barn owner ran out of orchard grass and switched to (not the nicest) grass hay. It's a constant battle - that horse could probably put down 3x as much hay as she's getting, and she's getting like 8 flakes a day. I realize the barn owner can't afford to feed her as much as she can eat, which would probably amount to a bale of hay per day. So we added some beet pulp to get some more fiber into her.

At this point I'm considering just buying some of our own hay. Unfortunately that would add up really fast. But if I have to do it, I have to do it. What would be nice is if we could arrange for her and McKinna to be in a paddock (there's a big one out front that's got jumps in it now) with round bales that we pay for, but unfortunately McKinna would probably become a big fatty on that much hay. Not to mention that I think most of the paddocked horses come in during the winter anyway.


I know we can put more weight on by adding more concentrates like grain, or adding alfalfa or oil. But it's very very hard for me to do that when I know that she needs more hay and would put more weight on if she had as much as she could eat.

I should figure out if it would be more cost-effective to feed her lots of beet pulp, or to just buy hay. Is beet pulp comparable to hay in terms of fiber benefits? I know a lot of people feed it as main fiber source to older horses without much in the way of teeth. I could go to hay cubes, but I imagine that would be more expensive than hay itself.

Argh. Okay, maybe I will just talk to the barn owner. I know she will suggest adding more beet pulp, but Pandora finishes her hay within a couple hours of feeding time, and that's just not good enough for me. When she was getting 3 flakes of orchard grass, they were BIG flakes and they took her a long time to work through. Plus it was super nice green stuff.

Okay, massive update over! Thanks for sticking with me through it ;)

Monday, October 20, 2008


Here's some pictures from the show -- and by some, I mean a lot. In no particular order:

Pandora's attitude for the whole day. Relaxed and chilled out.

Hooray blue ribbon!

Not much in the way of action shots, sorry guys!

She's cute when she's not being a terror.

Since I know you all wanted to see it, here's the costume! And McKinna is being very patient as we assemble it.

The finished product. I know, we're pretty awesome.

Pandora's pretty green ribbon.

I'm not pointing at myself, I'm memorizing my course :)

And this pretty much sums up McKinna's attitude for the entire day.

She was nice and calm...during warmup.

Oh McKinna, the things you put up with.

So there you have it!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Well, you win some...

And you lose some.

Today, overall, kind of sucked. Well, until I got home at 4:30 and got to chill in my sweatpants for the rest of the evening.

Went to a schooling show today, which meant leaving the house at 6:30 which is never fun. Add this to staying up late last night to finish the costume.

Pandora, actually, was great. I did two trot-a-pole hunter classes; placed sixth in the first one, first in the second one. The first trip was nervous, bit-chewing, counter-bending, pole-whacking nonsense, but the second trip was fairly relaxed and steady, so I was proud of her. She got to spend the rest of the day eating her hay and then proceeding to eat McKinna's hay.

McKinna, on the other hand, took issue with that arena and would. not. settle. down. For those of you who read Mugwump's stories -- you know how she describes Sonita at shows? A bundle of energy wanting to explode in any direction, so tight she feels like a rubber band about to snap, wide-eyed with nervous energy? Yup. That was McKinna in that arena trying to jump.

The first round at 2' was terrible, and I am usually pretty forgiving of slightly bad rounds. We had a refusal, ended up trotting into almost every fence, I had to haul her to a halt when she tried to take off with me...just badness. Before the 2'6" class we warmed up in the arena and she still wouldn't settle down, even just trying to get her to walk or trot in a relaxed manner. She was running sideways, head as high as it could go, refusing to walk, totally ignoring my aids. So, I told the judge I wanted to just do a schooling round. I went in, jumped a few lines (much more under control than the first round, but still thundering around like a bat outta hell), trotted for a minute, and called it good.

It was weird and extremely out of character for her. She hasn't been that crazy with me in forever! I don't know what was going on, but I just chalked it up to experience and we headed back to the trailer to decompress and get ready for the costume class.

We looked - in my humble opinion - AWESOME.

A face-armor plate, shiny silver, molded perfectly across her head. I had a mask, complete with Batman's sharp ears and frowning eyebrows. The bat symbol blazed on my chest, and below was my silver bat-belt. My cape swooshed with every step. McKinna was swathed in a silver-trimmed black sheet that covered everything but the seat of my saddle, with a giant shining bat-symbol on her haunch.

We were wicked cool.

And we tied for fourth (out of four) in the costume class.


We lost to the Great Wall of China (a horse in a sheet with paper plates sewn all to it with a girl dressed in a Chinese outfit -- okay, cool idea, but still) and a rather simple Headless Horseman (who I think got second because it was a little kid on leadline). Okay, really, I don't go into these things to win, I promise. But after putting all that effort into such a badass costume I get last place?

So today was a day to realize that you can't always get what you want, and sometimes everything goes to hell in a handbasket anyway. The funny part is that when I got into that arena on McKinna in her costume, she was totally fine. Completely relaxed as we walked and trotted. Completely smooth, steady, and calm as we cantered big circles to show off the way my cape billows out behind me. Clearly something about jumping was upsetting her, which is strange since she's recently jumped at home and away from home with no problems. Oh well, I've no idea what lit a fire under her tail, but that's the way it goes sometimes.

Pictures will be up ASAP -- I will make a pictures-only post, I promise!

This is Mom and Kuma demonstrating how tired we all were after the schooling show today. Well, the dog didn't come to the show, but he likes to take part in any and all naps...

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Ooh I'm Sore...

I hauled McKinna to take a lesson with a local trainer last night. She gives lessons for Pony Club once a week. Surprisingly I was the only one there last night, but hey, one-on-one instruction is cool! I'm pretty sore today (an hour and a half of riding is a LOT when you've only been back in the saddle for a couple weeks) but it was an awesome lesson.

Poor McKinna was pretty tired by the end, too. Trainer worked us hard!

I took home a lot of things to work on, though. We had a lot of dialogue going on during the whole lesson (thank goodness I can talk and ride at the same time!) and she just gave me a lot of information, which was awesome.

So, my things to work on at home:

1. Asking her to give me more in terms of contact and self-carriage. We are at a bit of a plateau right now where she will relax forward and move in a steady, calm rhythm, but I haven't pushed for that next step. I need to ask when things are going well, work on it for a little while, then move on to something else.

2. Cantering. A lot! It sure was illustrated how weak our canter work was last night. She had us cantering big circles and gradually smaller ones, which I knew I should work on, but I had no idea how much that could help. It really forces her to get her butt under herself, and she was having an awfully hard time holding her canter on those smaller circles. With a few weeks of work on that, I'd bet money that her canter will be astronomically different.

3. Possibly try tiny little spurs. As we jumped a small course at the end of the lesson, the trainer noticed that McKinna way dropped her shoulder to the outside when we came around a corner. She said using little spurs just might help her pick herself up. Once she locks on to the fence she's fine, but she tends to lose it before then. This one I may try, but I think that the canter-strengthening work will help, so we'll see how that works first.

The jumping part went very well. McKinna was steady, smooth, and found her own distances every time. We definitely turned a corner in that regard.

All in all it was a great lesson. It definitely made me realize that I don't work my horses hard enough. I work until we get going well, do a little work at that level, and then call it good. As the trainer pointed out, that's better than the alternative, which is to work and work and work until the horse is fried.

So I've decided to start asking for a little more in my schooling sessions. When it's going well, push for the next step before I back off. When I'm doing canter work with McKinna, do it longer and ask her to work harder before I let her take a break.

Today is a schooling ride on Pandora, but I will try the cantering circles with McKinna tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

All In Due Time

I have been noticing lately that there is a time for everything with horses.

A time to work hard and push for the next level.
A time to return to basics.
A time to challenge your comfort zone.
A time to, well, take time off!
A time to relax and listen to your horse.
A time to tell your horse to shut up and put up.
A time to ride with others or a pair of eyes on the ground;
And a time to ride alone.
A time for long periods of rest due to injury, horse or human.
A time for fun, silly games with or on your horse.
A time to take other people's advice,
And a time to figure it out on your own.
A time to watch, and a time to do.

The last two months, it has been a time for watching, listening, and working on the basics as I healed.

Right now it was about freakin' time I got back over some fences. Tonight, I did.

I can't begin to describe how beautiful it was.

We headed out to a small front paddock, my mom and I, where several fences were set up. I warmed McKinna up at a steady, relaxed trot, then did a few laps of canter in each direction. She was feeling good, balanced, attentive; eager to go, but willing to settle down and listen. The months of walk-trot work had clearly paid off. My ankle was doing okay -- a little inflexible, a little weak in the lower leg, but no pain. It was time to take the girl over some jumps, something neither of us had done since that day I fell off more than two months ago.

The sun was low and a perfect fall-evening temperature settled in, cool and crisp, where riding in a sweatshirt is perfect. All I could think of as we trotted up to the fence was how silent we were, her hooves noiseless on the soft dirt. I inhaled, stretched my shoulders up to remember not to throw myself forward, as McKinna pricked her ears at the low fence. Steady, steady, steady; up and over we go, smooth as butter, whisper-quiet.

Somewhere around this point, the grin got stuck on my face and I couldn't get it off.

We worked for maybe five more minutes, adding a short line of fences. Each takeoff was steady and relaxed, no matter what distance we got. For whatever reason, I couldn't stop thinking about how quiet we were as we coursed across the damp ground, each takeoff and landing barely more than a soft scattering of dirt. My face hurt from smiling.

Yup. That "yee-haw" feeling? Still there.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Schooling Show

We went to a dressage schooling show on Sunday and my goodness, did it go well!

We arrived at the show at about 8; my ride time was 9. Perfect. After unloading the horses, taking off their boots, and setting them up with hay bags, we groomed and started tacking up. Pandora was not that fantastically clean, unfortunately -- the whole evening before had been spent washing McKinna to get her white!

Anyway, other than all that dust lurking under her pretty brown coat, Pandora looked fine. "I'm going to head over to the warm up arena to see how she does away from McKinna," I told my parents, and led her away. I mounted up just as the sole other occupant of the warm up arena was leaving. Wonderful, I thought. Not only did I take her away from her buddy, she's going to be all alone in this arena.

Well call me a pessimist, because that dang mare waltzed around the warm up arena like she didn't have a care in the world! After a few relaxed walk laps, we picked up a trot to do some bending and serpentines. No problem. No head-tucking-behind-the-bit, which I just figured out a few days ago (post on that coming soon). She was good as gold.

I was the very first rider and our test was Intro A. So we enter, trot down a fairly squiggly center line, and come to a halt with her leaning on the reins. Lovely.

We walk forward. Well this isn't too bad, I think as we turn neatly past the judge's stand, with nary a twitch from Pandora. We pick up a trot and circle in the center. My geometry isn't that fantastic (I haven't taken it in four years, give me a break!). Her free walk, while lacking in the forward department, certainly involved plenty of stretching down to the ground. Repeat the whole sequence going the other direction, another vaguely straight center line, halt salute.

What a lovely mare. She was totally relaxed and in sync with me the whole time. Definitely lacked some forward -- it was not a brilliant test by any stretch of the imagination! But she was relaxed and steady through the whole ride, something that is very important to me.

Well by the end of the day it turned out that we'd won Intro A and received high point for the Intro level ;) Our score was a 62.5%. Not spectacular but hey, I've been riding the horse for a week and a half!
Cheesy smile, blue ribbon, bored-looking horse? Check.

Mom also rode two nice tests on McKinna. Their communication is getting better and better. In my mother's words: "I'm so used to working on things that when I'm riding a test and it's going well, I'm going 'Oh! Everything's going right! What do I do??'" Don't worry Mom, eventually you will get used to it!

All in all the show was wonderfully successful. Extremely relaxed and low-key, just the way we like it. Time to get working on canter work with both horses so I can start doing some Training level tests (walk-trot-canter instead of simply walk-trot).

I can't wait to tell you about how I figured Pandora out! Our communication has improved a LOT. But that's a story for tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Batman, Revisited

McKinna was awesome on Sunday. Mom rode her a little bit and after watching I decided to hop on -- it is much easier for me to explain things as I'm doing them, rather than as Mom is doing them. Also, I was jealous because McKinna was going so nicely!

It's the first time I've ridden McKinna (well, a real ride anyway) since I broke my ankle. My mom laughs at me for the way I keep telling her that she's done so well with McKinna, but it's true. McKinna stepped forward into a springy, energetic walk, and happily gave me a nice working contact on the bit.

So she'd been having some issues with rushing in her trot circles. She would be fine for the first 1/4, then drop her inside shoulder and rush the next half, then straighten up the last 1/4. To fix it, I did this:

Prepare her several strides out with a firm half-halt: gently but firmly close hands and legs and sit deep for a brief instant, all to "check" her and let her know I need her to do something. I begin turning my head to look ahead on my circle; as we near our point of departure from the arena wall, I keep the contact of my outside rein firm (as this is what defines and holds the size/shape of your circle). At the same time, I open with my inside rein and squeeze with my inside leg, while my outside leg rests passive slightly behind the girth, ready to squeeze if she wants to swing her haunches out.

Positioned like this, we go into the turn. The moment she wants to start rushing (maybe 1/8th of the way through, or halfway through the first 1/4), I half-halt again. I'm not shy about it -- if your horse has no reaction to your half-halts, then you need to make your half-halts as strong as necessary to get a reaction. Since McK's been worked so consistently at the walk and trot, it didn't take much.

Here's the key: during these half-halts, I never let her off the circle I wanted to be on. Between my outside rein and my inside leg, she simply could not avoid my path. I checked her several times, each time doing so before she fell apart and started rushing. To clarify, by 'check' I don't mean a quick bump on the reins. I mean a measured whole-body pause, where I squeeze my reins and close my legs and sit up tall and deep. It's a smooth movement, but brief.

While this gave me a bit of a lumpy tempo (steady, speed up, check back/slow down, etc) and her head was a bit raised in response to my very firm insistent outside rein, it also gave us a smooth path and made it extremely clear to McK what I wanted. She tries to deviate from the circle, I force her to stay on it with my aids. She wants to rush, I half-halt and stop her. These two go hand-in-hand, since rushing often leads to dropping the inside or outside shoulder and thus losing a smooth path.

In the last quarter of the circle, she gave me what I wanted. She relaxed her head down, accepted a contact with my hands, and started truly pushing from behind. This was a very, very tangible change; I felt it immediately as her cadence steadied, her back rose, and the "air time" between her steps felt longer. My mom saw it instantly.

When this happened, I quit messing with her. Yes, she started going a little faster as this happened, but that was because she was using her hind end to push. The increased speed still had a steady rhythm, her back was still lifted, and she was still relaxed in my hands. My very steady hands, accompanied by a steady seat and steady leg. This is key. When she gave me what I wanted, I didn't need to half-halt, to hold her on the circle with my outside rein, or to constantly remind her to bend to the inside with my leg. She held the path. She held the bend. She kept her rhythm. All I did was give her soft, supporting hands, a supporting inside leg, and a LOT of verbal praise. You'd think she just painted the Mona Lisa, the way I carried on.

The next time we circled, it only took her half the circle to give me that feeling.

It's an amazing, amazing experience, let me tell you. To feel her suddenly shift her entire body, using it correctly, and moving in perfect communication with me, like a steady quiet dialogue was going on between the reins and my seat -- that was cool.

It's happened before, but never that easily.

So after I explained all this to Mom, she got back on and was able to reproduce that same sequence of events: prepare for the circle, hold her to the path, half-halt as often as necessary, and when she responds, go with her. It was really lovely to watch.

I'm very proud of the progress McKinna has made in this. It's truly wonderful to ride that feeling.

That being said, what is with the title of this post, you may ask?

I'm so glad you asked!

There's a Halloween schooling show at a local barn this month and one of the classes is a COSTUME CLASS. I bet you can guess where this one's going...

Yes, that's right, I am going to drag the Batman outfit (see post here) out of the closet. In fact, McKinna, as the Bathorse (did he ever have a horse? Don't think so, but oh well) will get costumed as well. Here are the details we've thought of so far:

A black sheet to go over her main body (like picture below). I want to put the Batman logo on the haunches.

Black dressage saddle and bridle, obviously.

"Warhorse" armor, made out of tinfoil that is painted black. Probably much the same pieces as on this horse from Warwick Castle:

i.e., a forehead-down-the-nose plate (probably not going all the way down the cheeks and all), scallops over the crest, and possibly a shoulder guard. It all depends on how difficult it is to make all of that!

The other option, of course, is to make her a My Little Pony. She is white and cute and would look phenomenal with pink [mane, tail, hooves] and glitter all over with glittered hooves and the like. Mom wants me to go with this outfit (and I can't deny that she would be unbearably cute, especially with wavy mane/tail) but I really can't decide. To be badass, or to take the perfect excuse for getting her all girly and pink? Either way I'll figure it out soon and I am excited to get all dressed up!
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