Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Horse Goodies

The holidays have left me with a few new horse-related possessions. These two are my favorite, proving that it really doesn't take much to keep a horse girl happy! I love fancy gifts as much as the next person, but I will use these constantly for a very long time. It makes me happy to receive gifts like that - I feel like I can fully appreciate them. In fact, all of my horse-related gifts were functional, and I'm thrilled with all of them.


First, the Ultimate Hoof Pick. This is a beast of a hoof pick. It's practically a power tool.

It takes everything good about something like an Oster hoof pick - nice handle design, angled head, pointy - and leaves everything bad, which is mostly the thin metal that has a weird curve in it that leaves you with no leverage whatsoever. I will be surprised if this thing ever dies.

The tip is like a wide flathead screwdriver, so my only complaint is that I have to turn it a little sideways to get all the way down in the clefts on either side of the frog. I think its other values more than make up for that, though. Absolutely excellent for levering huge clods of mud out of the foot! And I imagine it would be very nice for big honking draft feet, though I don't have a horse with big honking draft feet so don't quote me.



Then there's this - Effax LederCombi, or leather cleaner. It's a liquid with a light, pleasant smell. I used it to clean my whole saddle yesterday (aren't you proud of me?) and really liked it. I put some on a wrung-out damp sponge and went to town.

It seems to clean really well. My saddle had a few jockeys (little black spots of greasy-dirt mix...look closely, you probably have some on your tack!) and it did a good job of removing them without too much scrubbing, but it doesn't feel harsh at all. It actually left my saddle with a really nice soft shine. My saddle was grippy but not tacky, clean but not stripped.

For reference, I've previously used Leather Therapy (ugh ugh ugh, sticky and filmy and residue-y and YUCK), Murphy's Oil Soap (slightly lathery, left a nice finish on the leather, but lots of scrub-work to clean any dirt), and plain glycerin saddle soap (same story). I will be sticking with this for awhile, methinks!

In addition to the Effax, people on the Chronicle forums seem to really like MOSS, Tattersall, and Supple for leather cleaners. In general, if a ton of people on COTH agree, I believe them! Maybe next year I will ask for another brand to try.

As far as conditioners go, I use neatsfoot oil to darken and Passier Lederbalsam to soften and condition. I don't need to condition every time because our climate isn't terribly dry for most of the year, so my leather tends to hold its moisture pretty well. According to COTH, a lot of people love a conditioner called Akene - perhaps I'll pick that up when my Passier runs out. I've had it for a year and a half now and it's still almost 1/4 full. I'm not sure if that speaks for the longevity of the conditioner or the infrequency of my tack cleaning...

Anyway, my mom finds it hilarious that I probably would have been satisfied with just the hoof pick. Never mind all the other stuff - that is one freakin' nice hoof pick!


I also had a really nice ride last night. I've been lining out my schedule and goals for the year, and I have my full January conditioning/training schedule printed out and stuck on the tack room wall. (Don't worry - I'm not getting off easy, I have workouts for myself too!)

We went for a quick hack up the road and back. It's a really nice mild hill, levels out, a bigger hill, and then it goes gradually down for a long ways. The uphills felt nice. Pandora walked on a loose rein and it felt like she had good push. Nothing extraordinary, but measured and strong. She was a little sticky on the downhill, so I will be looking for that to improve with conditioning. We also had one little scoot-leap forward when the neighbors fired up their four-wheeler, but thankfully it was fairly controlled. She came back easily and walked on a loose rein the rest of the way.

Then I rode for about an hour in the arena. I've been trying new things lately, namely allowing a lot more variation in where her head and neck are. More specifically, I'm letting her stretch all the way down at the trot at certain times. I'm not entirely sure where it's going, but I think it's going somewhere useful. We seem to be able to get a proper bend easier when she's stretching down, for example, so I did some big looping figure-8s while she was long and low. It's hard to control a smooth bend but I felt like we made some progress. Later in the ride I tended to ride with her neck at normal carriage, ask her to stretch down for a circle, then return to regular carriage again.

It seemed constructive and Pandora does seem to like the chance to stretch.

On a side note, I am FINALLY signed up for dressage lessons! I'll take two in a row, Wednesday the 6th and then the 13th. After that I will go to every other week. The farm is only about a 10 minute drive from our boarding barn, which is also great.

Have I mentioned how excited I am? I am very excited. We can finally get some quality instruction and make some much-needed dressage progress.

I love the end of the year. It's so productive for me! :-)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Tale of Two Horses, + Goal Beginnings

The longer I have horses, the more I begin to notice patterns. Yearly cycles, I guess.

As January draws near, instead of making small resolutions I'll never keep, I start itching to plan out my year for riding and training. Last year in January was when I began systematically logging my rides on Pandora and mapped out a weekly training schedule as well as monthly goals. I haven't sat down to sketch those things out for this year yet, but I will do that this week.

I've been tossing goals around in my head, and I keep running up against something I kind of struggle with. It's a nice problem to have, but still.

I always have a hard time balancing my goals with each horse.

Pandora and McKinna are both very talented and fun to work with. McKinna has been my partner in misadventuring for a few years now - from cows and gaming in OHSET to a last-minute substitution for eventing camp this past summer, she's always been up for whatever I throw at her. And it's not just that she's willing - she's good at it. I took her to the eventing camp with about a week's warning, and it had been a full year since she schooled XC. (The full report is here and here, with lots of pictures, if you missed it!)

She was so much fun that week. Not perfect. A little rushy in stadium, sometimes a little unfocused on XC. But she ate up all the XC fences way more than the year before, also a product of the improvement in my riding. Our instructor had us working off a 3ft bank the first day and McKinna casually sent herself down the drop without a second glance, and we'd never schooled real drops.

You get the idea. She's just a blast, and so willing, and such a cute jumper.

But dressage is more difficult on her, and galloping would be too. She's also somewhere in her mid to late teens. I don't know if that means much, but it means something. I know horses compete into their 20s, but not every horse does. Am I wasting some of her good competing years by not actively riding her? Would I be putting the soundness of her joints in danger by introducing the additional pounding of consistent jump schooling and galloping?

Pandora is younger and generally more shaped for galloping. Not that that means much, at my level. She's level-headed and in general a fantastic horse for a learning kid like me to figure stuff out on. Not perfect, but so far I can muddle through our problems without too much suffering. I'm impressed every day by how cheerful and friendly she is - even more than McKinna, who can get act grumpy sometimes in the winter. She's bay, which is a hell of a lot easier to keep clean! In a year of schooling we've come a long way, especially given all the out-of-whack body issues we had to deal with.

So it's just hard to find time for both of them. The priority goes to Pandora, obviously, since McKinna is my mom's horse. These are just the kinds of things I worry about - I don't want to waste any talent! And I also have a huge loyalty to McKinna, who was my primary mount for a year or so and who has always been there for me when I need a partner for my next intrepid adventure. I just have to tell myself to chill out a little bit, I think. I doubt either of them particularly cares if they explore the extent of their abilities.

I guess I just needed to get that out there a little bit. Like I said, it's certainly not a bad problem to have, and I'm not trying to complain (too much). Just thinking, uh, out loud. In text?



Finally, here's a bit of brainstorming about goals I'd like to take care of this year.

I picked up Practical Eventing, by Sally O'Connor, while I was in Portland. It's a fantastic book. I'm not all the way through with it, but it lays out systematic training systems from a green horse through Preliminary three-days. It also has detailed conditioning schedules for each level.

Over the next few weeks, I'd like to do a similar map for our year, to include the usual monthly goals but also a really broken-down schedule to follow. I always think it's easier if I can look at the calendar and it tells me what I'm supposed to do today, so that might help me keep rolling. My ultimate goal is to master Novice and perhaps begin to school Training by the end of the year. I'd like to compete Novice at Inavale's June HT, but that's more a function of my summer finances than anything!

To get there, I want to take REGULAR dressage lessons, 2 - 4 a month for several months if possible. I've been talking about needing a sustained push to bring us to the next level, and that's what I'll do.

I need to school fences at home more regularly, so I'll make it a goal to do that at least three times a month. Once a week would be better, but I'll settle for an achievable goal and make it more ambitious later if I can.

Pandora has been having some rushing problems on XC lately, but it's not just fence-related. I've talked about this before - she seems very anxious, even when just cantering without jumping any fences, so I've decided the solution is to take her XC schooling a couple times on my own. We haven't had much of that, because every time we're on XC it's in a lesson format. Which is good, but I think we may have fried her little brain a bit. My goal is to take her schooling to at least two different places (probably Make Your Mark and Inavale) to calmly and quietly trot and canter over all kinds of fences until she relaxes. Knowing Pandora as I do, I really think this will solve the majority of our rushing issues and allow her to feel confident about XC.

I want to pass my C2 rating this summer. At this level, most fences are 3'. Your position is expected to be rock-solid at all times, and you should be developing an independent seat (that is, able to influence your horse independently of what he/she is doing); your courses should be very rhythmical and coordinated. You do a little longeing, and all horse management knowledge deepens as usual. I'm not at the C2 level right now, but I think getting there in six months is very achievable for me.

How about goals for myself? I've started taking rider fitness more seriously, ever since I rode in that clinic and was so exhausted from the morning ride that I couldn't hold things together on XC. (I'd also been sick that whole week, but still.) I started running twice a week this term, but next term I'd like to bump that up to working out 3 and then maybe 4 times per week - not necessarily running, but something. I have easy access to the rec center, which is nice. I also have a couple yoga and pilates workout videos, which for me is awesomely convenient.

And, finally, I want to clean my darn tack more often! I have established the habit of cleaning my bit in Pandora's water bucket after every ride, and this summer I was actually wiping down all my tack with a damp rag after I rode (until it got so freaking cold I didn't want to deal with the water). I'm going to bring a sponge out and get back in that habit. And also make it a point to bring everything home at least once a month for a more thorough cleaning.

So there's some outlines. I have other, more specific goals in mind, but this is what's on my mind for now.

Tell me what your goals are! I love hearing about goals.

Monday, December 21, 2009

If I Knew Then...

Sometimes I engage myself in a mostly useless thought experiment.

If I knew back then - when I first got Bailey - what I know now, what would I do differently?

The list is long.

I would do these (different) things as soon as possible, in roughly this order:

Find a barn with year-round, daily pasture turnout for him.
Feed him as much NICE hay as he will eat, plus maybe some alfalfa pellets.
Pull his racing shoes and find a quality, patient farrier.
Have a chiropractor out. Several times.
Start him immediately on a course of ulcer medication. (Gee, do you think my incredibly girthy, grumpy, nipping, hard-keeping ex-racehorse who wouldn't eat enough hay may have had ulcers?)
THEN add small amounts of grain if necessary. Also a hoof supplement.
Spend a month or two on ground manners, in which he was sorely lacking.
Start with a french-link snaffle instead of a single-jointed one.
Start work in-hand, bridled, on relaxing the head down and walking calmly.
Once suitably controllable, start taking him for long walks out in the countryside.
THEN begin riding work. Quietly and calmly. After he gained a couple hundred pounds.
Trail ride. A lot.
Join Pony Club! ;)

There are some things I did right, too. We did not canter until more than six months after he came home with us-- and I am sure he needed that time to build strength. We focused a lot on relaxation in our rides and didn't worry about the head or forcing him to slow down: just lots and lots of ring figures and patience. He received quality dental care and we always gave him free-choice hay.

Eventually, we learned to deal with his behavioral issues. Punishment didn't work, nor did appeasement. What did work was a very big round pen and a simple rule: in the middle, we do what I want to do and you're nice. If you're not nice, you get a big whack on the butt with my whip and you have to run until I say you can come back.

This was something Bailey understood. It was a simple binary: be nice, or work your butt off. His choice. He liked having choices, that's for sure. He hated feeling trapped.

I say the thought experiment is almost pointless because, well, I can't go back. I did the best I could by him and learned a lot, just like we all do. It's interesting to think about how much easier things would have been if I knew what I know now, and how much happier he'd have been early on. (Most of the things on that list eventually happened except lots of trail riding and ulcer treatment.)

But it's not entirely pointless because it puts things in perspective. In another five years, I'll probably feel the same way. "I can't believe how ignorant I was...I wish I knew more back then..."

So it keeps me humble. It sure reminds me to keep learning! And I know that I can do a better job each day with the horse I have. I'm always searching for better, because good isn't good enough: does my saddle fit perfectly? Are the training strategies I'm using working well? Are there other ways to do this that will result in a happier horse or a softer response? Is my horse's diet perfect? Are there holes in our training?

If I could do it over with Bailey, I would. I wish I could have a chance to own him again, even now, though I know that can't happen. But none of that means I regret my lack of knowledge back then-- it just drives me to learn as much as I can so I can do the best for my horses. Another chance with Bailey would be wonderful, but I will have just as many chances with every future horse that comes into my life too.

If you could go "back" to an earlier time with your horses, would you change anything? What would you do differently, knowing what you know now?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Finally....A Ride

So, I rode on Monday night for the first time in about two weeks. About time, eh?

Pandora was, of course, very good. Definitely a bit lacking in the suppleness department, but that is always one of our biggest challenges. This is one of the biggest things I'm hoping to get out of dressage lessons: what can I be doing during my daily rides to help her develop more suppleness? Of course I do lots of bending and looping figures at all gaits, but it just doesn't feel like it's enough. The idea is that a few regular dressage lessons will kick us off this plateau we've been stuck on and get us improving again.

Our canter work is still on the verge of becoming good. She can canter without dragging me out of the saddle, which is nice. She can do smaller circles and not lean on my outside rein. We're starting to work on very very shallow serpentines down the long side: come off the wall maybe a couple meters by E or B, then back to the wall again. Hard but good for her.

I've started practicing trot-canter transitions on a straight line lately, which I suspect will be extremely useful for jumping. Oh, I never wrote about the jumping session I had a few weeks ago!

Basically, I set up an X on the 1/4 line and we schooled over it. For whatever reason - I did not have my head on straight apparently - we jumped to the left first. Now, the left is the lead that Pandora does not land on when jumping. I mean, she will, but not very often and not on a straight line. I almost always have to school the lead change, which as I learned in the Brian Sabo clinic, should be a walk transition then directly up to a canter.

Anyway, we jumped it to the left and of course she got the wrong lead. So I schooled the walk-canter and came again. (We were trotting the fence.) And again. And again. And again...

I tried to stay very patient and consistent in my ride. Even weight in both stirrups, even weight in the reins, I tried my best to get a smooth bend around the corner, and NOT lean for the lead but just cue lightly with my outside leg. Again. And again. And again.

Finally, FINALLY, she got it. I praised like she'd just invented the wheel and let her walk for awhile, trying to think about what she did. (Of course my mom had stopped taking video at this point, because I'd had to school it so many times. But, fear not! I got it again on video the next time I got the lead, and I need to watch it to figure out visually what was going on.)

It felt very different from when she took off and landed on the wrong lead. Almost like she shifted her haunches to the left. But what I suspect actually happened: she didn't shift her haunches to the right. You guys know that we have a consistent, big problem with left bend because she always swings her haunches out. So here is yet another aspect of that! I haven't jumped much since I figured out the left-bend thing, so now I know why she rarely lands on the left lead--she isn't traveling straight in the first place.

So we came again, and it only took maybe 1/3 the reps for us to get the correct lead again. Same feeling: I tried to stay very straight and aligned but keep a strong right leg to remind her not to swing those haunches out. It didn't work the first couple times, but then I felt that weird 'different' jump again and we landed on the left lead. I called it a day with that.

Lots to work on! I suspect this problem will be fixed much more easily by correct dressage work than by jumping schooling, but I will do my best to attack it from all angles.



Speaking of jumping lessons, regular Pony Club lessons start up again next month! I'm actually quite excited. I think I needed the break from Pony Club riding because I put so much work into preparing for my rating, but now I'm ready to start taking some regular jumping lessons again. It will really help Pandora get fitter, too - there's nothing like regular jumping to kick up her fitness levels. I need to do my part and jump more frequently at home, too.

We've got a neat schedule worked out for lessons in PC too. Each month we have one mounted lesson with our regular instructor, one mounted lesson with one of our upper-level members, and two unmounted HM sessions. We also have one clinic with Karen O'Neal each month. I haven't been riding in those lately because she works your tail off (really, SERIOUSLY works), but once both of us are in top shape I will go to those again as well because she gives very very good lessons.

We've also got our Winter Camp coming up this weekend, which is always fun. All the girls get together, we play horse management games like Tornado in the Tack Room (a good way to familiarize everyone with rally kits and what items go where) and Pony Club Catchphrase, which helps develop horse vocabulary. We're also going to inventory our fences to decide what new kinds we want, as well as learn about bits and fence types from other members.

Then, next month, we have the ABC retreat. I am REALLY looking forward to it! I learned so much last year and I love the in-depth knowledge they give us. We also have our annual schooling show on the 24th which I will most likely ride in. Remember that show? It was the first time I ever did a real course with Pandora! I can't wait to have my parents take a video of our round and post the comparisons from last year to this year :-) We did the 2'3 classes last year and she was great. The show is late next month, so it may be pushing it to be comfortable schooling 3' by then - remember I haven't really jumped much since before school started - but we can definitely do the 2'9s, piece of cake.

Plus we will have another schooling show on Valentine's day! It's my goal to do a 3' class or two by then. Ooh, speaking of goals, it's about time for me to work out my goals for the year again....

Then we have Quiz Rally at the end of February (woohoo! I had a great time at Quiz last year) and who knows after that.

I'm excited to get back into this again. If you guys look at my blog post history, it's pretty obvious that fall term is always a really tough time for me, riding-wise. I'm adjusting back to being in school, it's starting to get all cold and dark and awful outside, and it's just hard to ride (and write!) regularly. Starting into winter term, that familiar goal-setting boost of January helps carry me through the last bit of winter. I actually clearly remember that January was when I first started seriously schooling Pandora last year, with goals and everything. Fall term is over and I'm ready to get going.

We've come very far in a year's time and I am looking forward to revving up our engines again. See you in a few days with a goal-post of epic proportions!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Why Barn Owners Hate Winter Too

Finals are DONE! I can't even begin to describe the sense of relief and freedom that washes over me after I am finally finished. It always takes a few hours to settle in. Immediately after my last final, I went to spend some time with a good friend. When we sat down, I was still bummed because I knew I messed up a few problems on the final; by the time we finished our tea, I was having a hard time wiping the grin off my face as I kept remembering-- I'm FREE!

Meanwhile, my wonderful mother wrote a guest post for you guys while cold was still on the mind. We headed out to the barn last night to visit the girls, who are comfortable and happy as usual. They've been going out every day (no mud when it's this cold!) and seem to be thriving. We managed to pull an entire cylindrical shell of bucket-shaped ice out of one of the water tubs last night, which was actually pretty cool. I broke it after we set it down safely outside, because I was holding a hammer and really what else are you supposed to do when faced with a giant ring of ice?

Anyway, here is my mom, musing about barn owners dealing with the cold.



As I write this it’s 11 degrees F outside. Brrr…. We made our way out to the barn Tuesday evening intending to ride. It was somewhere in the 20s with a promise of lows into the single digits. We didn’t even make it all the way out before we’d decided to just check on the girls and say hi! We got there to find them tucked into their stalls, with the doors out to their paddocks closed, happily munching on huge piles of hay. The barn owner had broken the ice in their buckets. Love our barn owner…

I decided to fish the floating ice out of the water buckets just for good measure. Our horses are in a smaller barn a few yards from the main barn/arena and right now there’s just one other horse in there, a cute paint mare named Summer. I went in and fished ice out of her bucket too. As I tried to shut her stall door when I was done I noticed it wouldn’t close because there was a piece of plastic water pipe hanging down in the way. I moved it out of the way and shut the door, but realized the pipe was full of ice and had broken.

There was a note on the board in the main barn saying the water was off, but the horses had been watered and they’d fix the problem tomorrow. Bummer… Got me to thinking – including this one, we’ve boarded at four barns since owning horses. Every single one has had pipes break in the winter – every single one. Wait, I take that back – at the last one the pipes didn’t break, but they were frozen and they had to haul water from the house.

So each barn owner we’ve known has had to spend the coldest part of the winter hauling water to horses a couple of times a day, not to mention dealing with the broken pipes. Not my idea of a good time, so I’ve been trying to figure out what I would do differently if I had my own barn. Is there really anything you CAN do? Barns here are not heated so is there a way to keep pipes warm enough? And on a related note, does anyone use heated water buckets? I’ve often wondered about those. I guess you’d need an electrical outlet strategically placed in each stall. Seems like a bit of a hazard to me, but maybe not…

What do you guys or your barn owners do?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Why I Hate Winter

Have I ever mentioned that I hate winter?

I really didn't hate winter until we got horses. I have a warm house to come home to. The buildings at school are heated. I would grumble when walking to and fro, but really, it wasn't that bad.

But when you're spending a couple hours out in the cold....

I know. I am a complete and total wimp about cold. It's been in the 20s, but at least we don't get feet and feet of snow or icy rain. My dad is still wearing shorts every day, but he is probably the exception.

I have tall, insulated, winter boots. I love them dearly and if I had the money I would buy a pair for everyone I know. Why? Because my toes are NEVER cold anymore. It's the best thing ever. Add that, a pair of winter breeches (like sweatpants on the inside!), and a coat (or three...), and I can handle the cold.

But I still don't like it. It's dark before I even get out to the barn. There's blankets to constantly be taking on and off, I never feel like moving, you get all sweaty once you start riding and you have to shed layers but then you get chilled when you finish. The horses don't seem to mind - Pandora's got her trace clip, she stays toasty under her blankets and plenty cool when she gets worked.

Speaking of working - she hasn't been worked much at all over the past few weeks.

I have one final tomorrow and one Thursday. The end of this term, unfortunately, has kind of devolved into an unhappy mess of studying and stressing and studying some more. It really shouldn't be THAT bad, but I am a little bit obsessive about my grades. I came to the conclusion last night that it really doesn't matter if I get a B in Organic Chemistry (which is the worst-case scenario, pretty much), but it's still very, very hard for me to relax about it. My motivation has taken a steep nosedive since the weekend, but I always feel like I should be studying more.

I also don't have all of the material 100% mastered, and that's frustrating.

So, I've essentially given up on trying to ride for the past few weeks. It won't make much difference if she has five days off a week or four, which is what things are coming down to. It's been really hard for me to accept this - noticing any parallels between my academics and my riding? - but I know Pandora doesn't care at all. She gets to spend her days eating and hanging out in a field with her buddies, which doesn't sound too bad to me.

I'm going out tonight - ideally to ride, but I might just longe. I only have so much energy, and as soon as I'm back home, it's more last-minute review to ease my mind about my OChem exam tomorrow.

On the bright side, there is light at the end of the tunnel: we can return to your regularly-scheduled programming at the end of this week. After I'm done with my finals, everything should start running smoothly again. I plan to spend a week or two getting back into riding frequently, then FINALLY take some dressage lessons. If it ever warms up outside.

I hope everyone is doing well and staying warm!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Dead Week

I am still around, of course. It is dead week here at the University, which means next week is finals week, which means I have a lot of studying to do if I want to get my As in Organic Chemistry and Biochem/Genetics!

I apologize for my lack of writing. Pandora has been getting less attention too, though I'm sure she's not complaining about her life. It consists of eating breakfast, being turned out to nibble on pasture and roll in mud, and then being brought back in for the evening to eat some more.

I did have a very interesting ride last week. I dragged out a couple standards and hopped over a fence a few times, and got some insights about how our flatwork ties into our jumping, the progress we've made, and what things we need to continue working on.

You can expect a full post on that sometime in the next week or so, but I'm not making any promises! Unfortunately my first loyalties lie with my academics. In about a week and a half, I will be a much less stressed-out person.

In the meantime, I hope everyone is doing well!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Good Rides, Training Thoughts

Hey, what's this? A weekday post!?

(Did you know that a combined question mark/exclamation point is called an interrobang? It is possible that I'm the biggest nerd ever, but I WANT to have a horse whose USEA registered name is Interrobang. Seriously, it would be amazing. Or maybe Ampersand, which is the & symbol.)

I've been getting back into the swing of riding again. It always comes and goes in waves, for me. My time is balanced between several things, mainly consisting of schoolwork, horses, and actually having a personal life. When things get busy, one or the other catches my interest more; I'll focus on schoolwork and ride less, or ride more and spend less time with friends. You get the idea.

Anyway, riding is on the upswing again. School's still a grind, but there's only a few weeks left in the term.

Pandora has been doing very well. Her backing is amazing now. A light touch of the leadrope and she'll march right on backwards as quickly as I like for as long as I like. Straight line or curved. Very neat.

It just goes to show that if I actually work on something...it gets better! What an odd concept. But still it's something that's easy to forget. Her backing sucks, but it's not a huge deal to me so I write it off and figure she just doesn't back up very well. Until my chiropractor recommends I do it, and within a couple weeks she's backing with the best of them.

Longeing is the same way. Her halts on the longe line were just bad. This one was actually a little weird - it's like the command just didn't get through to her. It often took almost a whole circle to get her to stop, and jerking hard on the longe didn't work. Chasing her forward as discipline worked even less. But one day when longeing I decided to work on trot-halt-trot transitions, I'm still not sure why.

To get even an approximation of a prompt halt, I had to do it as she was going into a corner and step way out in front of her. Even then she sometimes shuffled for a quarter of a circle before stopping.

But pretty soon, if I stopped her at the same place every time, she figured it out. She realized she was going to have to pick up a forward trot right from that halt, so maybe she'd better stop pretty balanced. Now, I can politely request a halt, and she just flows into it.

And - strangely enough - her halt from the walk is now spot-on as well.

I was reminded of two interesting things with the backing and the halting.

One: if something's not right, you should probably try to do something about it. Her backing under saddle was even worse - sticky and resistant and just weird. But I still didn't think it was a big deal. It wasn't until I worked hard on backing up (and it only took a few sessions) that I realized we could actually fix the problem.

Two: you can't always fix it by going at it directly. This worked for backing up - I backed her, rewarded free backward motion by allowing her to walk immediately forward, and gradually asked for longer and straighter stretches. But the walk-halt stuff just did not get through to her. For some reason, the more abrupt trot-halt did, and that carried over.

Just some food for thought.


Tonight McKinna also reminded me how important it is to be very clear with your expectations.

She has been just awful lately about cantering, as I mentioned in my last post. Mom has been having a hell of a time just keeping her cantering on the longe. She is reluctant to pick it up, slow when she's in it and almost always on the verge of trotting, and breaks to a trot as soon as you release the pressure.

Not so good. Longeing should be a workout for the horse, not for me.

I finally decided to do something, really DO something, about it. So I established "forward means FORWARD NOW PLEASE" at the very beginning, from walk to trot. I said 'trot,' she didn't pick it up quicklike, so I got after her very enthusiastically and she leaped forward into the trot. I stood calmly and let her race for a half circle or so, then brought her back to the walk. Then I asked again. Presto, a prompt transition!

So I considered that lesson learned. Moving on - no need to school more walk-trots.

Next I asked nicely for the canter. Of course she didn't give it right away. So I yelled "GET UP" in my Drum Major Voice, made a big stomping step towards her hind end, and smacked the whip hard on the ground.

She got up.

Again, I stood calmly and let her race around the circle in a very offended canter for a circle or so, then brought her back to a trot. The next time I asked, I asked politely, leaned a little bit toward her, and lifted the whip a little.

She picked the canter up right away.

And then - most important - I stood there quietly. I turned with her and participated with my body language, but I refused to keep encouraging her forward and reminding her to canter every few strides. I shouldn't have to do that. I put her in the canter, she should stay there until I say otherwise.

I have to say, it took some self-control to not cluck and kiss and swish the whip when her canter looked like it was about to break to a trot. But I waited.

The instant she broke to a trot, I repeated my stomp-growl-swish act. Again, a dash forward. She knows what's going on by now, of course - she knew what was going on the moment I got after her to trot when I said trot. This is one of the reasons I love this horse, because she's smart and she thinks.

Now she canters and canters and canters and doesn't try to break to a trot. I let her trot, then walk, and praise. Then we switched directions to the difficult side. She doesn't have to learn most lessons more than a time or two. The instant I asked for the canter, she hopped up into it.

This part got interesting. To the right she finds it difficult to maintain her circle, and at certain points her canter reeeeeeeeeally looked like it was going to break into a trot. But she always kept that canter going, because she knew that was what I expected. Once she broke gait for a step and a half or so, but I waited because I wanted to see what she would do. As soon as she had her balance back (less than two strides), she picked up the canter again, and she didn't break gait the next time.

Cool.

Anyway, I'll keep working on it, but it was really interesting to see how simple it was to completely change her behavior. It just goes to show that you have to set your expectations high to get high-quality performance. McKinna is not the kind of horse who always tests and looks for ways to undercut you, but she is perfectly willing to take the easy way out if you don't tell her otherwise.


In other news, I rode Pandora bareback tonight for the first time in a long time. I don't even remember my last bareback ride on her, but she feels different. In a really good way. For one, her spine doesn't poke into my butt nearly as bad as it used to - increased topline of course. But she just felt....smoother, that's the only word I can think of. The feel of her back and barrel on my thighs and legs, the motion of her walk. It just all felt much more smooth than I remember. Her body has changed so much, it's incredible.

On the other hand, I cantered a little bareback. Boy, is her canter going through a rough phase! We're working very hard on the "carry yourself, you can do it" phase, and she's getting much better at not diving on my hands and dragging herself down the long side, but that also means her canter's gotten quite a bit less easy to ride. We have succeeded in changing 'forward-down' to 'carry.' Which is good. But I think I'll hold off on the bareback cantering until we can progress from 'carry' to 'carry and forward,' which should be a bit smoother!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

I Have My Horse Back

Well, long time no see, again. I seem to have developed a tradition of posting once a week on weekends. This is not a good thing. This is also what happens when it's week 8 of fall term and I'm taking two study-intensive science classes, but that's life. I have learned to stop making promises about when I'll next post, as that is usually a surefire way to NOT write a post that day! But, I can at least post once a week, and maybe more if the homework load is light.

Pandora is over her little bout of hoofsoreness. I was starting to get frustrated, but she seems pretty much 100% sound again. She was always fine over gravel, but she is normal under saddle at w/t/c again, which is nice because I was getting tired of not riding!

We picked up some Durasole at the store and it sure seemed to help. I didn't pay super close attention before, but I am pretty sure that her frogs look WAY better than before I used it, after about 1.5 weeks of almost-daily application. And she's sound again. The bottle was only $13 and you only use a little bit, so it's worth it to me. I think I'll use it once a week or maybe less all winter. Last winter the center of her frog got a little squishy and grooved and I don't like that. With the Durasole, her frog is very smooth.

I've been having some very good rides lately - maybe both of us appreciate getting back into regular work again! Last night was one of those nights where I was just riding around with a big grin on my face. Mom made fun of me as I went by and said "She's so much fun to ride!" and she told me she was going to record that and play it back to me when I get grumpy.

This blog has been so good for appreciating the progress we make. I can look back at the actual things I wrote when we couldn't really hold a canter down the long side of an arena.

Speaking of, I am WOEFULLY behind on my riding/training log for Pandora. It is bad. I should probably just cut my losses and start up again and forget about the mysterious time for which riding logs just won't exist.

I called that dressage trainer and left a message yesterday evening. If she teaches on Saturdays, I want to take my first lesson with her next Saturday. The prospect of consistent, quality dressage lessons is super exciting to me. I am ready to make some progress with someone who knows what I should be doing next.

McKinna is going through a bit of an odd stage right now. She is a bit cranky and dull to the leg in general, not really wanting to move off the leg or canter. On the longe and under saddle she does not want to canter - it's very fast and rushy and strung out and lean-y. Highly unpleasant. I've tried to school it by just doing short pieces of canter, one 20-meter circle and back to trot. It seems to work a bit, but last night was pretty bad. It may be the dressage saddle, which really just doesn't fit her very well, so next time I'll try riding in the jumping saddle.

It also has a lot to do with fitness I think, but still. This summer I could take her and ride her at canter and she was mostly fine, so I'm starting to wonder.

The plan now is that I'll school her a couple times a week for the next few weeks, and if she doesn't get more willing/balanced about the canter, we'll have the chiro out to take a look. It's just unlike her to be so resistant.

That's about all for now, I think. Tonight is the night I feed and muck for the barn owner, so no riding unless I want to get there early. Which I might. I had such a good ride last night that I am eager to repeat it!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Chiro Visit

Things have been very low-key at the barn lately. It has been a little over a week since Pandora had her shoes pulled. She's much better, but not 100%. I longed her last night. Couldn't get much of a canter going because there was one boarder riding and the resident trainer had two horses tied to the rail (one of whom was throwing a fit because she was clipping around a girth sore), but her trot looked way improved over earlier this week. I will probably longe her again today to see how she is at the canter, then ride either tomorrow or Monday.

I have to say I'm a little frustrated with how long it is taking her to adjust, but I probably shouldn't be so impatient. It's just that she was fine last fall barefoot, then we shod her in the winter as a clinician suggested it might help her stride out a little better in front - she thought Pandora looked a little sore. Of course, Pandora has gone through SO many changes since then that it's really hard to tell. We'll just give it some time, I guess.

Pandora got a visit from the chiropractor/massage person/bodyworker guy on Tuesday. It was probably the most productive session we've ever had. There was quite a bit for him to work on, but none of it was "rehab" type things, i.e. fixing problems that have been set for a very long time. Her jaw was out quite a bit (which I noticed about a week ago as I was tacking up and fiddling with her mouth, because I do strange things like poke around in my horse's mouth and look at her teeth on a fairly regular basis). A little to work on in her spine back towards her pelvis, a little in the neck, a little in her tail which is pretty standard for her. The major areas were her right shoulder, which has been a source of consistent work, and quite a bit of the muscles in her back half - gaskin, glutes, and the like.

Strong suspicion that this is related to the big lateral work progress we have made over the past two months. I took her from sort-of capable leg yields and a general understanding of moving away from a leg to forehand turns, haunch turns, forehand turns in motion, proper leg yields (at walk and working towards it at trot), shifting the haunches to the inside or outside of the track, shoulders in, and the like. I noticed that I had to work hard to supple her hips and get her to smoothly cross under herself with those hind legs while still moving forward. I think this probably had a lot to do with the soreness back there. So, a good kind of soreness - a progress kind!

In any case, he was very pleased with Pandora and so was I. She was easier to work with than ever before. She always gets a little dramatic about some of the releases, especially that right shoulder. He uses a big cotton rope to manipulate the legs and essentially allows the horse to do the release themselves; with the shoulder she kind of goes up and rolls the whole shoulder up and forward, but sometimes she goes up a little more forcefully than necessary ;) But this time, she was obviously trying to figure out how to get the releases herself. She was more supple than she's EVER been, which was very obvious as he did various stretches to help her relax before making an adjustment. She was very calm and quiet for most of the session.

She is also looking maaaaaaarvelous. You guys are probably sick of me basking in how filled-out she is getting, but this is not something that I've taken for granted with her! Her topline is smooth! Her spine doesn't poke! Her back runs smoothly into her haunches! Her muscle is developing! Okay, I promise I'll shut up about that for awhile.

At the end of the session she was a very content, relaxed pony, and I was pleased (and I wanted to RIDE the dang horse to feel the difference!). I also received some homework: he wanted me to back her quite a bit for the next couple weeks to help her stretch out and back with the muscles he worked on in the hind legs.

Have I ever mentioned that she sucks at backing up?

She'll do it, but she's sticky and crooked and will go for a few steps then stop and be cranky about it. Anyway, since I haven't been riding, it's been easy to just longe her for a bit, then work on our backing. She is getting better. We're working on the straightness (backing next to a wall helps), and I insist on a few freely 'forward' relaxed steps backward, then she gets to walk immediately forward. The immediate walk forward seems to be clicking in her brain, because I am able to get longer and longer stretches of free backward motion with a very light touch on the lead rope.

Anyway, lots to work on.


I have been riding McKinna more, a convenient side-effect of not riding my own horse much. Her canter has gone downhill again, pun somewhat intended. It's never been perfect, but I know that great show-jumping canter is in there (and she would be a blast to take to the show-jumping rally this spring, she's so tight and quick). So, little by little. If I push it too much she flattens into an awful canter and races around and it's just miserable and frustrating, so I have recalled that once upon a time Pandora had a terrible canter. Do you remember that? I could barely keep her cantering down a long side, never mind that she was jackhammering on the forehand and pulling me out of the saddle. Now I can sit, with a light contact, and she will carry herself straight down the long side! It's great.

Right, so. I remembered that when I first worked on Pandora's canter, I had to be in a light seat and we had to do it in small, bite-sized chunks. We worked almost entirely on 20m circles, because going down a long side was a bit too much. And we did short spurts: canter, hold the balance, no really hold it please, okay good girl, now trot. Lather, rinse, repeat.

I tried this last night with McKinna and she was much more agreeable about the whole thing, so back to Canter Therapy 101 for her. On the plus side, her trot is very nice and she's willing to relax into my hands a bit. I think I will take her to some dressage lessons with the nearby trainer as well. I had planned on taking Pandora there around this time for a lesson, actually, but I never made the call because we ran into footsoreness. I'd take McKinna now, but I'd rather put some time into her first and at least get a passable canter.

So, there. Loooong update. This is what happens when I don't write all week - I have so much to tell you! I will try to post more often.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Rating Report, Fitness Thoughts, etc

Okay. So here's the rating report, complete with lots of pictures!


After waking up at 4:45 and hitting the road with trailer in tow by 6:30 and the rally briefing up in Turner at 8:30, it was time to get ready for formal inspection.
To be perfectly honest, I probably put more effort into my first rally cleaning than I did this inspection. I cleaned my tack very well, but I didn't get at all the nooks and crannies with a toothbrush, so there was a bit of dust in the hard-to-reach parts of my saddle, which don't really see the light of day (or a tack-cleaning sponge). This was frowned upon, the only negative remark I got in my formal inspection, so next time a toothbrush and so forth.
But, the horse was clean and the wrap was great.



My group as we prepared to begin flatwork. Notice Pandora standing half-asleep. She was very quiet and obedient all morning, just a little tense and unwilling to work it out. Reminds me of how she was at Lily Glen sometimes - not bad, just not quite happy and relaxed. Still, she behaved herself very well. Examiners wanted more bend, but this is an ongoing issue as you all know. Something to work very hard on before my next rating, though I'd work on it anyway because that's what dressage is for.

(Speaking of dressage, I plan to call a local trainer sometime this week or next week to set up a lesson. Her barn is not too far from our boarding barn and I've heard good things about her, and MAN is it time for us to get some lessons.)


After a break for lunch, it was time for jumping. Pandora warmed up very nicely, calm and forward and controllable. The examiner had me shift my saddle forward a little, because she said I was setting it a little far back. I then shortened my stirrups.
When I got in the saddle, it felt like a dream, but I suspect this is because of shorter stirrups because I love love love the feel of my saddle when my stirrups are jumping length. It feels like I'm glued in, only in a flexible sort of way. So secure, just not the giant-knee-rolls-and-thigh-blocks type.


Jumping! Pandora was very very good, didn't try to rush the grid or anything. Things started out a little sketchy for two very likely reasons: 1. Pandora jumps rather poorly over tiny fences like the little X-rail we started with in the grid, and 2. We hadn't jumped with any regularity for quite awhile.
I didn't realize it until after the rating, but I really do need to jump more consistently. It's not that we can't do what the rating asks us to do, it's just...when you haven't jumped a lot lately, it takes awhile to settle into the groove, and at my next rating level I won't HAVE time to do silly things like weird releases and rounding my back for a few minutes until I get things straightened out.
She is FUN to ride on course. Fun fun fun. Forward and cruising but controllable, and if I ride her right, she waits to the fence. (This 'wait and not run through my hands' is what we don't have 100% of the time on XC. Thankfully we have all winter to work on dressage and stadium jumping, and if all that strengthening and suppling and gymnasticizing and obedience-ing doesn't help by the time XC schooling rolls around in the spring, THEN we will consider a slightly stronger bit or maybe a kineton. At this point I think it is a horse/rider/training issue, not a bitting one, but we'll see.)


Then straight from stadium work to a lovely splosh through the water to the XC course.

Pandora was very Up. I don't know what it is about this XC course, because it seems to be worse here than other places, but she gets Very Excited in a way that she doesn't usually. Not trying to bolt or anything, but that comforting sense of "I know if I give a subtle half-halt I'll get a response" usually goes away.

Mom didn't really get any XC pictures, so here's one my buddy took from the clinic two weeks before the rating. Same course, same horse, same rider.

Happy rider, tired horse after passing the rating :-)




XC is probably our weakest phase right now. She GOES, and she JUMPS, and she's not quite uncontrollable, but we have some serious work to do. She REALLY wants to run through my half-halts and jump terribly flat and awful to the fence. She really doesn't want to listen to me, and steering goes out the window in a way I don't remember it doing before. As in, she'll essentially totally ignore one rein and leg and drift like mad and not bend.

The rushing is what drives me nuts. I do not want my horse to rush to fences, at all, ever. I would rather start with too much forward than not enough, but still, this is very frustrating to me.

I thought we got this mostly killed when I went to the Brian Sabo clinic in September, but apparently not. I even tried his 'forward-back-forward-back' solution after fences, both at the clinic and at the rating, and it didn't seem to do any good. Pandora seems very tense about the whole thing, unwilling to relax and trust me to get us through it, but she's not unwilling to jump.

So here's my plan: over the winter, like I said, we'll work hard on dressage and stadium. This has several benefits. As dressage improves, jumping usually does too, because dressage works on all those awesome things like self-carriage (a DEFINITE must for Pandora to jump even halfway decently, and something she stops doing when she rushes like a madwoman), communication, responses to subtle aids, etc. And the stadium practice will give us, well, jumping practice. Jumping bigger, more complex courses with a forward controlled pace should continue to improve her jumping technique, her understanding of jumping while carrying herself, and waiting for the fence (as well as improve my riding to fences).

THEN, once the weather takes a turn for the better, we'll spend a LOT of time schooling XC fences. We'll trot fences, we'll canter fences, we'll always be calm and relaxed and I will work on waiting for the fence and making her carry herself all the way. I really think she just needs more XC miles to ease her anxiety. I'll take some lessons, maybe get over to Inavale to take a few lessons from Brooke.

Then if we are still having rushing issues, I'll start considering either a kineton ("puller" noseband that transfers some pressure to the nose from the bit) or a slightly stronger bit. The kineton would be a nice option because it's no harsher on her mouth, and I've heard some success stories.

Here's my view on bitting up: I would really prefer my horses went in a snaffle for everything. She's a sensitive horse and a snaffle is plenty of bit for stadium so far. But - I am NOT opposed to bitting up a little. When I did gaming in OHSET with McKinna, I faced the same dilemma. She went in a D-ring french link snaffle, and for the most part she was fine, but I didn't have the control I needed. She'd tune me out, so to get her attention I had to really floss her teeth, which she hated so she'd throw her head and get angry.

I bought a very mild curb and the problem was gone. She knew the bit was there. If she tried to blow through my hands, I had more than enough power to convince her otherwise, especially compared to the snaffle. I didn't have to get rough with her face, and she didn't throw her head, but she respected that bit. I did probably 99% of my riding on very, very loose reins. I could sit up and say "whoa" and barely touch the reins and she'd stop.

So.

If it comes to it, I will see if the psychological power of a stronger bit helps. I suspect I won't even need to go there after a whole winter of hard work. And if I do, I bet I can use it to get the point across (yes you WILL carry yourself all the way to the fence and yes you WILL wait for the fence and NO you will not completely ignore my half-halts), then return to the snaffle.


Anyway. Random thoughts there...


On another note, after that fairly disastrous clinic a few weeks ago, I decided I really need to be more fit for this. Part of the reason the clinic was so frustrating for me was that after 30 minutes of sitting trot/canter with no stirrups, I COULDN'T RIDE anymore. I was shot. I was falling into bad habits, leaning on Pandora's neck in two-point. In the second riding session, XC, everything was awful because my horse was tired and I was tired and she was jumping very poorly because neither of us could hold the other up. She was rushing because she wasn't in self-carriage and I couldn't stop her and it just...sucked. (I had also been sick the whole week before, which may have contributed to the whole worn-out thing.)

Under most circumstances I won't work that hard. But it at least got me thinking about rider fitness, and how I really should be more fit. I do need to build up more self-discipline in terms of spending time in two-point and riding without stirrups (ugh, so hard when there's not an instructor making you do it!), but I also need more cardiovascular fitness. So I started running.

It's not that exciting. Twice a week, after I get to campus but before I go to class. Tuesdays I go to the rec center and run on a treadmill, Fridays I run up and down 4 flights of stairs in the building where I work. I figure I'll work up to more - I practically have to, my mom runs all the time and has done half-marathons, so I'm pretty pathetic compared to her - but it's a good start and it's maintainable. Soon I'll throw in some strength training too. I'm making my horse work hard, so I better be fit too!

I may take a PE class at school this spring. There's all kinds of cool ones. I'm wavering between Yoga, which is relaxing and a hard workout all at once, and some kind of martial art because how cool is it that I can go to class at school and learn to fight? Neat neat neat.

This has been a bit of a long and rambling post, but ye gods, I don't have any riding things to write about! I've ridden twice since the rating but both times only at the walk because her shoes were pulled and she's touchy at the trot. We've been working hard on lateral work, but nothing I haven't talked about before.

She is seriously looking the best I've ever seen her. Her spine BARELY protrudes from her back any more. Her butt is getting round. She's shiny. I love it. The flake of alfalfa we've added has made a huge difference.

Okay. Off to study some more biochemistry if I can talk myself into it, then bedtime. I am so lame for a college student, bed before 10 on a Saturday (on Halloween Saturday, and also "Ducks Just Beat USC By 27 Points And We're #1 In The Pac Ten" night), but you know me.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Preliminary Pictures...

Sorry guys - busy week. OChem midterm, another Biochem midterm in three days. But I haven't forgotten about you.

I have hardly ridden all week, either - but Pandora got a trace clip and her shoes pulled for the winter. If she does well with them off, I might just leave them off. The other option of course is just all the way the other direction, because if she can't maintain traction on our awful wet muddy ground during Spring events, I might just shoe all four so we can stud behind. But ugh, that would suck. Prefer barefoot.

Rode last night and she was a bit touchy at the trot but walk was fine, so we did lots of lateral work.

I think all the work I've done getting her haunches OFF my right leg - because she swings her haunches out to the right - has been a little one-sided. All of that work puts her squarely onto my outside (left) rein, but I haven't done as much work pushing her over from the LEFT leg, because she does that too much already.

But.

I realized last night that she really, really just doesn't have a connection with my right rein when it's the outside rein. Pretty much ever. Which is probably a huge contributor to why we have left bend issues, along with all the haunch-swinging etc. So the seesaw swings back in the other direction, as always, and now I'm going to make sure I'm doing a balance of lateral work on both sides, not just the side I need to correct things on.

So, full post later etc - I really probably WILL get it done tonight - but here are some pictures to satisfy your appetite just a little.


Here I am waiting for my formal inspection, with Pandora none too thrilled about the wait. That's my standing wrap on her leg there. It passed the first time :-)


A nice easy walk before flatwork starts.

As a side note, my goodness she is FUZZY in these pictures! She got a trace clip earlier this week. It, um, isn't terrible for my first real clip also considering my clippers aren't really meant for body clipping.

Mom and I got a great comparison conformation shot to the one we took almost exactly a year ago. The differences are still subtle, but you can really tell, especially if you click on them and look at them full size. Her topline in general is smoother, the base of her neck more muscled. She's not standing up as well in the current one, but oh well.

Again, here's the shot from last year:

And here's the one from this week.


And to think that's the GOOD side of the clip...oh well, it keeps her cool, what more can I ask?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Rating

I passed!

I had a GREAT time. The whole thing was just a very positive experience, and everything went very smoothly. Our club had a 100% pass rate today with the three members we sent, too!

Due to some last-minute lameness with a to-be-borrowed horse, a fellow member taking her C-2 ended up borrowing Pandora for a longeing and trailer-loading section of her test. Well, sure, Pandora longes...and loads and unloads....mostly pretty well....for me.

But, thankfully, she was on her best behavior and did great for the other girl. She got an Exceeds Standards on her longeing ;-)

Don't worry - I have LOTS of pictures and will get them up along with a full report ASAP. I'm so happy to finally be a C-level member! Next stop, C-2 in the summer?? We'll see.

Thanks for all the well-wishes. Maybe the collective positive thought gave us some good juju today!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Picture Time!

Well - the rating was moved to next weekend for fear of inclement weather. We'll keep our fingers crossed that it doesn't get nasty next weekend too.

I had a great ride last night. I spent 45 minutes working in the arena. The first 15 minutes or so, we just walked. I have really begun to understand how important warming up is to Pandora. When I first get on, she just doesn't feel ready to work. She'll walk at a good pace if I make her, she'll bend if I make her, but today I just did what felt right. We walked on light contact on big, loopy circles, and gradually we started doing more things, more lateral work, more contact. By the time 15 minutes had gone by I was getting smooth, flowing, energetic walk work. Huh.

We also got some very nice trot and canter work. Her canter is really coming along and I'm seeing a benefit from making an effort to spend more time in the canter. Lots of adjustments: go forward, come back and hold it, circle, light counterflexion (as in stop leaning on my outside rein, please!), very shallow serpentines, and the like. She's definitely building more strength.

After the schooling session, Mom and I headed for a hack up and down the quiet driveway. The weather was beautiful - actually warm in the sunshine. I grabbed some apples from a horse-accessible tree and I can say with perfect honesty that they were the sweetest, juiciest apples I've ever had. The horses enjoyed their little bites too. We took a quick detour into the empty pasture to ride through the fun big ditch, then headed back up the Hill and then to the barn.

Pandora is getting a strip clip today. She's sweating too much with all that fur, and while she dries off nicely, I know it will only get worse. Still, she is looking just fantastic. The flake of alfalfa-orchard we've added to her dinner has made a big difference in her condition and she is building up more muscle. Both the girls seem so happy and cheerful every time we're out - they came up and said hi and were willing to come in from the pasture this morning, and they were just as willing to go out when we put them back outside after our ride.

You guys should see the way Pandora and McKinna interact. It's really cute. There's two other mares in their little "herd," and Pandora is the Boss Mare. McKinna gets to be Almost Bossy since she's buddies with Pandora. Case in point: Today we turned them loose and Pandora walked straight to the water trough, as usual. When released, McKinna took off to get to the water trough first, got in about a half-second of sipping, then Pandora glared at her and made her wait until SHE was done. All the while, Pandora glared at the other mares too. When she was done, she stood there for a minute - as if to remind everyone that if she wanted, she could keep them all away - then wandered away and let McKinna drink. (This from a mare who, when we first put her out with a herd, would go away if anyone looked at her sideways.)

Anyway, I've taken a lot of pictures with my cell phone that I haven't uploaded, so here's a big ol' bunch of them.

Fist, some comparisons:

Pandora in some of the earlier days of our ownership

Another early shot: conformation, last November


Conformation shot last week

Maybe the difference isn't as striking as I think it is, but the biggest thing I notice is her topline! Look at the difference in the base of her neck. And, uh, a way-better fitting halter, that blue one didn't fit too well.
Obviously this latest one is not the best picture, but she was not feeling like standing up politely for me and I didn't have anyone out there to help me.


The lovely standing wrap I did the other day in preparation for my rating!

I had learned to start towards the top of the middle, then wrap up, then down, then back up to middle to finish. I was reading through my PC manual and discovered that they show your wrap starting middle, going down then up then back to middle. So I tried it, and my wraps have never been nicer. Don't know if it's a coincidence, but I'm sticking with it.

The view from the saddle on a beautiful evening last month. This is the field that I went galloping in - I am at the top of a very nice gradual hill.


McKinna getting her teeth done! I love my vet. Also, McKinna is pathetic when she's sedated.


From this summer when we got THE FLY BONNET. I love that thing.

Actually, it does have a use. Pandora really hates flies. If she's all sweaty and they're buzzing around her ears, no matter how much fly spray or SWAT I have, she's still shaking her head and being grumpy. With the fly bonnet, it's a lot less.

Remember this?

Don't panic, that's not on her right now! This is a picture of the big old swelling she developed on the front of her gaskin after the Blanket Incident in the last week of March. I had forgotten how big and ugly it was! It took awhile to go down but it is gone now.


So there you have it. This week, yet again, I will be preparing for the rating...I am glad to have the extra week to clean my tack and study up, though, so you won't catch me complaining.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Clinic Thoughts, etc

Hi guys - as you are probably used to by now, it takes me a few days to digest everything from the clinic before I can make comprehensible posts out of it. This one is no exception.

Parts of my ride were extremely frustrating, and it takes me some time to let it go and be able to write about it without whining. Parts of my ride were very good and enlightening, and it takes me some time to figure out why. So bear with me!

Here's a quick summary: that particular clinician works us extremely hard. In most clinics, there are natural breaks where everyone watches someone else jump, or you stop for instruction. Not in hers. You keep going constantly. We did sitting trot and canter without stirrups (in jumping saddles, mind) for literally 30 minutes straight. On XC, she had us jumping down a very long line of 3 to 4 fences, then galloping forward and collecting back on the whole way back to the start, then jumping again without pause.

It was definitely good for me. It was eye-opening, and it showed me that I should push myself more.

I had also been sick the whole week before and it was just too much. So. Like I said, I just need some time to digest everything, relax, get some perspective. I did get some very valuable things out of it and I'm already working hard to put them into practice.

For example, last night's ride on Pandora (which was overall an excellent ride) was probably the first time I've ever gotten a balanced, strong canter all the way down the long side (sitting) without her asking if she could lean on my hands or fall on the forehand. I know the feeling of that canter now, and I got it from an exercise we did at the clinic. I also practiced my sitting trot without stirrups!

Anyway - full clinic report soon, complete with pictures and video. My buddy from PC took some great pictures of our XC ride, and I'm looking forward to putting them up. My dad also took some pictures, and he has uncanny timing for getting a shot where we're doing something stupid.

I also rode McKinna on Monday, while giving Pandora a very well-deserved day off. I love riding McKinna! She is where it all started, and she is such an awesome horse. It helps that her problems tend to be very opposite from Pandora's - I have worked so, so hard on lateral strengthening with Pandora, and I hopped on McKinna and was able to do much of the very same work it has taken me weeks to develop on Pandora. But, Pandora never ever has a problem stretching into my contact and finding a rhythm at the walk and trot, and McKinna is naturally fairly high-headed. Pandora has a much stronger canter than McKinna at this point, simply because I don't school McKinna's as often.

It is always a refreshing change of pace. The nice thing is, if I maintain both of them at a good level, I get to choose which one to take to different things! For example, the show-jumping rally for Pony Club is going to be in April. McKinna is an extremely tight, catty jumper and very fast. Pandora has a stronger canter and a longer stride and more balanced turns. Each has advantages and I get to work on them both! How exciting is it to have two such capable, athletic horses?

My C1 rating for PC is on Saturday. It should be fun, and I'm looking forward to getting to show my knowledge. I practiced my standing wraps last night and I got a very nice one, so I'm feeling optimistic about that requirement.

Finally, it is time to clip Pandora. She got ridiculously sweaty at the clinic (possibly understandable, since we worked our tails off) but she also got pretty sweaty from a moderate 45-minute ride last night in reasonable temperatures. She wasn't tired, just sweaty. I'm going to do a little strip clip tonight so she's clipped for the rating this weekend, but I'll probably go to a full trace before long. I hope our sad little clippers can handle it - we might need to buy a new pair!

I have lots of pictures from last night; I was taking conformation shots and analyzing her legs since leg conformation is part of my test. She is actually pretty good, though I think she is a little over at the knee. Forelegs are my weak spot, so I'm not sure!

I will put last night's pictures up tonight when I get home from the barn.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Music

Does anyone out there ride to music?

I've seen some dressage musical freestyles, and I would LOVE to try one sometime. There's, um, only a limited amount you can do at my level - you basically get three tempos! - but at the upper levels it's amazing. If you have never seen the famous freestyle from Blue Hors Matine ridden by Andreas Helgstrand, do yourself a favor and go watch it.

On the other hand, I watched a fellow member of my pony club practicing her Training-level musical freestyle on her big warmblood mare, and it was so cool. You don't have to ride at a super high level to be able to put some really good music to your ride - the girl in my club did a freestyle to music from the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack, and it was awesome. So every once in awhile I go through all my music and think, "Hmm, this would be fun to work into a freestyle...Ooh, and this one too..." But, I've never actually gotten around to doing it.

Sometime in the next few weeks I'm going to bring my mp3 player to the barn and try riding to some of those songs so I can get a sense for what Pandora's tempo is at each gait. Then, who knows - maybe I will put together a simple little freestyle, just for fun! I think it would be enjoyable. Not to mention that extra help with a solid rhythm can never hurt.

I imagine it's quite hard to balance choosing songs that you like and songs that would work well for a freestyle. If you watch the video I linked to, there was a medley of several different songs, none with vocals. I've done similar performances at the band leadership camp I attend every summer - only it's called a specialty, and it's done with conducting, marching, or flagwork. Each year I do a partner specialty with the girl who was my co-drum major, and it's a lot of fun. So far we've done them to AC/DC's "Dirty Deeds," the Prince Ali song from Aladdin, and Bonnie Tyler's "Holding Out for a Hero." I think the Aladdin one was my favorite, as we worked in a lot of funny things.

Words work well for that, since you need some material to act out while working in conducting at the same time. You can't exactly act things out with a horse, though, so maybe it would be better to do a song without lyrics.

There's an instrumental song I love - I think it's the theme from Boondock Saints - but it's rather distinctly Irish and would be definitely more suited to someone riding an Irish Draught or Irish Sport Horse.

Anyway, I'll let you know once I figure out some tempos and good songs to use.

Anyone else ride to music, for performance or just for fun while you're schooling? Do you find it helps you settle into a rhythm? Has anyone performed a musical freestyle before?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Mea Culpa

Hi guys - I'd like to clear the air a bit regarding the comment I wrote in my last post about western riders.

I intended it to be light-hearted and teasing, but it didn't quite come out that way.

I apologize if I offended anyone.

I understand that what I meant in good fun may be construed as me saying that I don't respect western riders, or that I'm a great western rider. This is not the case, and I am sorry that my poor choice of words could imply so.

I dislike condescending riding stereotypes as much as the next person, and I will be much more careful in the future about what I write.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Cows!

After a really, really nice ride last night, I took Pandora out to meet the barn owner's cows. And they are Cows, of the rather large sort, big and red and white. I rode into their big field and took her out to say hi to a little youngster first.

It was cute.

They both stopped and stared at each other. Then the cow jumped, and she jumped. Then they both stared at each other some more.

After that, Pandora was pretty relaxed. Curious, interested, but not scared. We pushed the little one back over to the momma cows, and it ran away, but kept turning back to look at us when we turned away. We went and said hi to the BIG cows, which all went fine, even when one went running past us. So we called it a day and headed in.

No big deal, good fun. I've decided that I'd like to take Pandora to some team penning practices this winter. I had a great time when I did it with McKinna when I was on the high school equestrian team, and I think it would be a fun change of pace. Pandora doesn't really neck rein or do rollbacks or anything, but she steers and stops and goes, which is good enough for me! Don't worry, I promise I'll get pictures. Everyone will laugh at me - I sold my western saddle a year or two ago, so I'd be team penning in my dressage saddle ;-) Still, I can be comfortable working cows...I wonder if the western riders would feel the same if I stuck them on an eventer in a jumping saddle? Kidding. Mostly.

Tonight I finally got the video from the Brian Sabo clinic! It's quite good - you can hear almost all of his comments. I'll see what I can do about taking some good chunks of it and putting it up here.

I haven't ridden as much as normal in the last week or so. First my grandparents were here visiting....then it was the first week of classes, and it does take awhile to adjust....then in the past few days I've been sick with a cold, so I took one day off, had an awesome ride last night, then went with my mom to her lesson tonight to watch her ride. So Pandora's had more days off than I prefer, but she's doing well and I'm sure she doesn't mind spending all day chilling out in the pasture.

Pandora is looking fantastic. Between the extra hay (she's eating 4 flakes of orchard/timothy twice a day, and they're big flakes!) and the flake of alfalfa we've added to her dinner, she's gained some weight and is filling out along her topline more. Her winter coat has started to grow in and she is officially dark bay, a very sudden change from the red bay that she is in the summer. McKinna, too, is growing hairier by the day. She's wonderfully soft in the winter - at our OHSET practices in the winter, all my equestrian team friends used to exclaim about how soft her neck was.

Oh, and I tried that turn-on-the-forehand around a circle thing the other day. Like I suspected, she was much better at it. Not perfect, but better, more responsive, and - most importantly - she showed a better understanding of what I wanted. Good things all around!

I have a clinic this Sunday up in Turner at the same location where my rating is the following week. I am feeling pretty good about it. I haven't jumped much since the clinic in Redmond, but eh. I don't think it's a big deal. I'll probably canter some ground poles tomorrow, and then we'll see how she does this weekend. I have a feeling I won't really need to school any fences before the rating. They only go up to 2'9 anyway.

Sorry for the infrequent updates. Hopefully as I settle into the school routine again, I can keep up a little better!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Tangible Progress

I love it when you can feel that you and your horse are making progress.

The other day I was riding - and I didn't feel much like riding for long, which is usually true after a school day - and I got to have one of those rare, "HOLY COW I CAN FEEL THE IMPROVEMENT" moments. (I ended up riding for longer.)

You know all the lateral work I've been doing? Maybe not. I've been working my (and consequently Pandora's) butt off. Slowly but surely, I've refined my control. Lots of turn on the forehand, both still and in motion. Turn on the haunches. A slowly growing understanding that inside leg back behind the girth plus a restraining outside rein/leg means move just the haunches over. Leg yields, back and forth and all over the place. Overbending, counterbending, regular bending. Spiraling in and out on circles. Transitions on a circle holding the correct bend firmly in place.

Lots of work.

But I have been so, so rewarded for it. Maybe I learn to pay more attention as I spend more time training Pandora and recording it in her training log - maybe it's just that it's the first time in a long time I have put in a concentrated dressage effort on one particular issue. Either way, I've been noticing true improvement, and this week I got a big one.

My leg yields have finally started to go through her back.

It doesn't sound big. But I never noticed just how much she was resisting me in her back and hips until she stopped resisting so much. Everything swings freely, or at least more freely than before. Her hind leg is actually crossing over, her body's remaining aligned (no diving on the outside shoulder), and she's not resisting with her neck either. It feels good.

Even at the trot, she is starting to let go. It's harder for her - she wants to speed up when I make her take big enough steps with that inside hind - but she is starting to get it. Give me another week or two and we'll have swingy, relaxed trot leg-yields too.

I know leg-yields are nowhere near the be-all and end-all of lateral work. They're not. But both the psychological and physical progress I can make with them is extremely valuable. She's learning to be more supple through her hips and back. She's learning that there are specific requests coming from my leg - sometimes I want the haunches over, sometimes the whole body, sometimes the shoulders.

I can move her haunches over with a very light cue now - another thing I have never had before.

It's so nice when you can tell, really tell, in an objective, measurable sense, that you're making progress.

To further test this, I'm going to try the "turn on the forehand in motion" exercise I mentioned very briefly in this post that caused the two of us so much frustration the night I tried it. She could not - or would not - do it. At all.

I bet that when I try it tonight, she'll be successful. I bet you that in the one month since we tried the exercise, we've made enough physical and mental progress to change her response.

I'm curious to find out. If she can do it, I will have an even stronger confirmation that we are on the right track.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Brian Sabo Clinic - Favorite Quotes

As I mentioned, Brian has a great sense of humor. He's so quick that sometimes it's hard to think of something even slightly witty in reply! Once, someone else's clinic report had a collection of her favorite quotes from the clinic, which I thought was an excellent idea. Here's my favorite quotes from Brian.

"Loved your first fence. It was beautiful, absolutely perfect. Your second fence made me want to grab a bottle of Drano and pour it in my eyes. Go do it again."

I told you he was blunt. Heavy on the praise, equally heavy on criticism!

"Good riders ride the approach. Great riders ride the landing."

Similarly, "Good riders ride the front legs. Great riders ride the back legs." (Referring to his mantra that you must worry about keeping the hind legs pushing forward, NOT about when the horse picks up his front legs to jump.)

He told us about how McKinlaigh, Gina Miles' Olympic horse whom she just won Silver on, took more than a year to understand that the correct takeoff spot was NOT 13 feet away from the base of the fence. "He really, truly believed in his heart that this was the right thing to do. It took SEVEN trot poles in front of the fence to teach him how to wait. Once he figured that out, he was unstoppable."

"I'll ask you this question, because you're young and you'll probably answer wrong." (This was directed at me. I answered wrong.)

"She's afraid of the horse in the space suit." (Pandora was wearing her fly sheet, which is a shiny silvery mesh, complete with neck cover. My buddy and I went to stand and watch the last XC lesson of the day, where one girl's Preliminary/Intermediate level mare became very distracted by my terrifying astronaut-horse.)

Of course, my other favorite quotes include when he told me I had an excellent position most of the time, and when he said if he still had a working student program he'd take me on. Who doesn't need a little ego-stroking, anyway? ;-) I try not to let it go to my head.

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I have had good rides the past few nights. Yesterday, I worked hard in the arena and headed out to the field to hack around for a bit. Well, you know how things go - one thing led to another and we ended up galloping for a bit. Faster than I've gone in quite awhile, probably since Lily Glen back in May. I had to pull her up before she got too quick because there are some sketchy areas of footing, fine for cantering but best to not go galloping through.

The sun had just slipped down behind the trees and the breeze was cool, but I was still warm from our workout. We went flying across the field, nothing out there but cold wind in my face and Pandora's muffled hoofbeats in the grass. She didn't want to pull up and I didn't either, and it made me remember why I love galloping.

First day of school tomorrow. Hopefully my long summer has rejuvenated me enough that I do all my reading and homework!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Brian Sabo Clinic Report - Sunday

Much like the previous day, my Sunday wake-up time was a cheerful 6:00. I'd resigned myself to this fact, though, and got up without grumbling too much about internal clocks. I wandered over to say hi to Pandora, toss her some more hay, and refill her water buckets.

I must note that I didn't have to muck her stall all weekend - I guess the stabling fee covered mucking. Score.

We rolled out at about 9:00, much earlier than yesterday, but we wanted to watch everyone else's XC rounds.

Several times over the course of the weekend, if someone was having trouble with leads, Brian said this: "A flying change or a change through the trot does not school them to land on the correct lead, because it's not much more difficult to do. To school for the correct lead, you must bring them to a walk on a straight line, get your correct bend then pick up the canter from the walk." Alternatively, you could walk-halt-reinback-walk-canter, or walk, pirouette away from the inside leg of your desired lead, and then canter. Works remarkably well, from what I saw.

Another common theme was to concentrate on keeping the hind legs moving, not telling the horse to jump. "If you keep the hind legs moving, the horse will figure out when to jump. But if you're telling the horse 'JUMP' whenever you want him to take off, then you can never ever be wrong, because you're not allowing him to learn to figure it out for himself." As long as the hind legs keep pushing, you'll get over the fence eventually.

For this same reason, he prefers several clucks or kisses (to encourage continued forward motion) rather than one big cluck or kiss, or worse yet, a 'HUP!' (which cues the jump). In fact, HUP! is apparently an acronym of a french word that means "I'm a freaking idiot who can't ride."

Did I mention he has a sense of humor? ;-)

While watching the Training-level group, I heard a lot about the 95% rule: if you're jumping a post-and-rail fence followed by a ditch, water, wall, or bank, 95% of the time the horse will come in close to the fence. This affected how you should ride, i.e., don't push your horse for the long spot.

Brian consistently told riders NOT to kick their horse back up into the canter if it drops into a trot on the approach. The legs should say 'keep going,' but you don't want to transition upward. It's part of the whole "maintain" section of the approach that he spoke about before and I explained yesterday. If you keep the trot, you can encourage the hind legs to keep moving in a nice carrying gait - but if you kick them into a canter for the last few strides, they'll be taking long, forehandy strides and it's not a good way to jump a fence.

He also said that he will not move a horse from Training to Prelim until it can canter down a line to a 3'3 square oxer, transition to a trot three strides away, and maintain a perfectly balanced steady trot to and over the fence.

Every time a horse rubbed the fence in front, Brian noted that 85% of front rubs are the rider's fault. (Sometimes I think he made up percentages!) They're caused by riders leaning forward and weighting the front end, thus preventing him from getting his forelegs up in time.


Okay. As for my lesson - it was very good!

From the moment I mounted up, I could tell Pandora had remembered the lessons from the day before. Her canter had a hint of "I want to run away," but not nearly as much as before, and my half-halt was still there. We cantered a big loop around the stadium field, practicing our extension and compression, and she was right there with me. I also worked a bit on my walk-canters on a small circle. It's very hard to get the lightness, but she was trying for me.

Brian began by setting us on a very large circle around the field. First at the trot, then at the canter, he had us practice lengthening and shortening the stride. One lady had been sitting deep in her saddle when trying to compress the canter; he brought us all in to explain why this is a bad idea.

To collect the stride, you need to soften. When jockeys want to slow down at the end of the race, they stand straight up - in other words, a very nearly dressage position, legs straight beneath the body. Sitting deep like that is driving them forward, not lightening.

He then sent us at a small coop for our first fence. He noted that because we weren't practicing over something simple like a cross-rail, this first fence was going to bring out every horse's nature. The carriers would likely drop to a trot, and Pandora would probably want to rush.

Everyone had trouble. Pandora ducked out twice. The first time, I used my crop on the shoulder she ducked out on. Brian promptly informed me that the refusal was my fault for tipping forward, not Pandora's, and he wouldn't let me go on until I used the crop on myself instead!

So, with a few hard taps on my thigh, we came around to try again. I focused very hard on maintaining a tight core, looking up, and keeping my shoulders back. But she ducked out again. It sure didn't seem like it was all my fault - I didn't tip until she pulled me to the side - but I suppose if I would have ridden it perfectly solidly, she wouldn't have been able to duck.

The last time, I rode as firm and strong in my position as I could, and she jumped over it just fine.

We moved on to jumping the "pimple hill" - a little hill with a log at the top. He had us jump a cross-rail about a stride away from the base of the hill, then head up the hill and over. Here, he very strongly emphasized the importance of a solid position. He didn't want us to tip forward at all over the top. As long as we maintained a steady position with supporting leg and did not lean forward, everything would work itself out.

Wonder of wonders, he was right!

It's hard, though. The first time, I concentrated on almost nothing but being strong in my core and keeping my shoulders back.

I still got pulled forward.

After that I must have been extra-sure not to lean, because I didn't end up tipping anymore. I think, to be fair, it's a combination of me and my horse. She tends to pull me forward, even when I am trying my hardest to stay up. That doesn't mean I'm allowed to tip forward - obviously I need to work on it until I never tip. And I will, because it really did make for better fences.

Anyway, she jumped the pimple hill very nicely.

We went on to work on some water stuff and simple logs. We jumped up and down a bank into water, a first for us, but Pandora did it all smooth as butter. Again and again, I found that if I tipped forward, we got a slightly weird jump; if I didn't tip, everything tended to work itself out.

I had started the weekend wanting to jump 'up,' as in more max-sized Novice fences, because I'm tired of jumping tiny stuff. I didn't get that desire at all - most of what we jumped was simple and probably in the 2'3 - 2'9 range, but I realized that it wasn't a big deal. Brian spoke to us a little at the very end, and essentially voiced the same thoughts I was having: "I know some of you wanted to jump big and complicated stuff, and so you might be feeling like you didn't quite get to do what you wanted this weekend. But I promise you that if you take the techniques and things I taught you here and you work on them and apply them to all your riding, it WILL be worth it."

Which is essentially what I came away thinking. No, I didn't get to challenge myself and my horse by jumping big stuff, or trying a big drop into water, or practicing ditches. But I learned how to ride every fence well and was shown again and again how much of a difference it made; I learned how to ride an approach to fences that helps me teach not only come to it in a good stride, but teach my horse how to figure things out; I learned how to school my problems and turn them into strengths.

I would ride with Brian Sabo again in a heartbeat. In fact, I tried to talk him into taking me on as a short-term working student (I was thinking next summer), but unfortunately he doesn't have a permanent barn location - he travels giving clinics. Bummer. Apparently I was about 20 years too late, because once he had a great working student program! Ah, well.

He has a fantastic sense of humor and is extremely educational. He's blunt about it when you screw up, but he's just as quick to praise you when you get something right. He (probably correctly) blames the rider for most of the problems, but if a horse is really acting stupid despite a good ride, he recognizes it immediately.

Overall it was a wonderful weekend, and we told the organizer to give us a call if she has him back again!

I'll make one last post about this with some of my favorite quotes from the clinic.

And, I'm not sure if I mentioned - a friend of the friend I went with brought her video camera and taped our rides. As in, all of them, plus clinician comments, plus interesting moments from other people's rides. I should be getting the video sometime soon, and I am SO excited for it. Of course I will write about all the new insights I get from it!
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