Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Good Day

Today was a good day. Some presents this morning - everything I needed or wanted, from some new SmartWool socks (love!) to a few pieces of equipment I've been needing like side reins and a cotton longe line.

My favorite part of the day was watching my mom open her presents. From me, a leather halter with a McKinna nameplate on the side; and from my boyfriend, a nine-picture collage frame filled with pictures of McKinna, me, and my mom. Pictures will be up as soon as possible! We did not go out to the barn today, but tomorrow we will bring McKinna some carrots and get some pictures of her in her beautiful new halter.

The rest of the day we spent hanging out with my family in Salem. My family rocks. Going from the quiet of our three-person household to such a wild group is quite an adventure, but it's a good one. All told there were me, the parents, cousins ages 4, 13, 18, and 19 plus assorted boyfriends, my aunt and uncle, and a set of grandparents. Lots of laughing, especially when we got to taking pictures of our folded arms so they looked like butts. We even got grandma to take a picture...what can I say, sometimes life calls for a little immaturity!

But I have to say, the end of the night is one of the best parts. Cat's in the laundry room eating, dog's sacked out on the couch twitching and snoring, Dad's asleep. Just me and my mom sitting on the couch with our laptops and blankets, surfing the 'net and reading about horses.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays to everyone!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Saddle Fitting

Yesterday, Leslie's barn had a saddle fitter out to work on one of their client's horses. I think this is something like the third time she's come out - it has been a very long process for them, but I guess when you're working with six-figure horses and aiming for the top levels of dressage, that saddle better be darn perfect!

Me? I just wanted my jumping saddle reflocked to fit McKinna a little better. It's great, it works, obviously from my last post she is happily jumping in it. But she's always much less willing to round into a steady contact when I'm riding in the jumping saddle. And sweat marks on the saddle pad always had a dry spot (of no contact, because there's no dirt there when she's dirty) towards the front-middle as well as too much pressure at the very front.

Since the saddle fitter they were using is an Albion rep and my jumping saddle is an Albion, I hauled McKinna over for a fitting session. They watched me ride a little bit at the walk and trot, checked the saddle with their hand at the halt and walk, and then took it away to mess with it. Interestingly, the excess pressure at the very front was actually because it was a little too wide through the whole front part. This brought it down too low in front, leading to the excess pressure on the very front as well as the lack of contact through the center.

They added more flocking in the middle and front of the saddle in order to even out the contact and raise the front up. Then they had me saddle up again. At first, Mckinna didn't seem much different than usual - moving around quite a bit in the contact, generally just not as obliging as she usually is in the dressage saddle. After a few minutes, though, she started to really lift her back and reach into the contact. I worked her at the trot and canter in both directions, then popped her over a fence I had set up that was maybe 3'. She jumped with a really nice bascule over the fence. Not that she doesn't normally jump stylishly, just that she felt very round over her back.

So, a definite success. I could definitely feel more saddle up front, but it wasn't such a huge change that it bothered me. The saddle fitter wanted me to try a sheepskin half pad, too, basically explaining that in a jumping saddle sometimes horses are happiest when you can get the points of the tree as far away from their shoulder as possible. Basically, she said, you're dealing with a much more concentrated distribution of weight than in a dressage saddle and you have a much more forward flap too.

I don't know if I am sold on that logic. For so long I have heard that it's best to be closer to the horse, adding more bulk is bad, etc. I will say that I rode with the fleece pad and McKinna seemed very pleased, very round and very solid in my hands, but I'm not convinced that this wasn't just a continuation of her happiness with the new flocking. I've decided that I will test that matter on my own time. I think I will borrow a fleece half pad from someone and ride with and without it - if I see a noticeable difference when I use it, then the horse's opinion wins and I will ride with one. If not, there's no reason to ride with one!

Of course I did not take pictures. When am I going to figure out the whole picture-taking thing? Bah. Maybe next time I get out to the barn we will go for a long ride in the jumping saddle, and I can show you the differences in sweat marks between that saddle pad and one I used pre-flocking.

All told the experience cost me $200. If McKinna's response continues to be so positive, I definitely think it will be worth it. Any change that produces such an instant willingness to use herself more properly is a good change in my book, and my hope is that over time it will just allow our jumping to get even better.

Friday, December 17, 2010

McKinna = Rock Star

Last night I had a jumping lesson with Devin. Remember how I said in my last post that McKinna is jumping really well, and is ready to bump up the height?

Oh yes. I was right. So, so right.

We began with a canter pole exercise. This is literally the ONLY canter pole exercise that has ever been a positive experience for me and my horse. (Again: this is why Devin rocks and she is my trainer.) She started with four canter poles set at 9' distances, then 9' to a cross rail. Canter through on a 9' stride, a nice easy indoor canter for us.

Here's the beauty: even though we biffed the first distance a few times (because really, you have to be pretty accurate to a canter pole), there are enough poles that the horse can fix things before they exit the exercise. Without fail, McKinna was in perfect rhythm and distance by the 2nd or 3rd pole.

Huh. Imagine that. Canter poles that we can ride quietly, rhythmically, and successfully through.

She then rolled them out to 10' distances, which we did a couple times, and then 11'. And it was great! I definitely had to add leg for the 11' poles, but it was absolutely doable, McKinna was confident about the exercise and understood exactly what to do, and she was able to lengthen her stride without rushing or falling on the forehand or getting anxious. It was wonderful.

I am definitely going to keep practicing that exercise. What a simple, positive, effective way to work on developing McKinna's bigger stride.

Then we moved onto the course work. The first round was 2'6ish, easy stuff, McKinna was perfect. So then I told Devin I wanted to play with the big heights, mostly as a progress check for my C3. If I point her at a 3'3 course, what goes wrong and what goes right?

So Devin set up a 3' - 3'3 course for me, including one oxer that was DEFINITELY a solid 3'3 and maybe even a little bigger. True to Devin form, it was a pretty technical one - the first course had a rollback to the monster oxer and one fence on an angle, and the second course had a direct full two strides from an angled vertical to the monster oxer. There was also a triple on the outside that was either a forward two to a waiting three, or a REALLY FORWARD three (because it was off a short turn, vertical to oxer) and then a regular two.

McKinna. was. amazing.

She jumped her heart out for me. Need to leave a little long? Fine. She launches off the ground, pretty much never any hesitation (remember a few months ago we were dealing with her hesitating on takeoff almost every time). Need to add up? Fine. I add leg, sit tall with my upper body, and she turns into a little bouncy ball that pats the ground and arcs over the fence with no problem. The only mistakes were pilot error, and they were pretty minor ones.

We got some serious air time over those bigger fences too, especially the oxer. She was so tidy and good with her knees. The whole course just felt so together - everything I asked for, she gave me 110% without the slightest resistance. Whether we jumped long or short or perfect, from a galloping stride or a collected one, she landed and cantered off like clockwork. If I had to really set her up for a rollback, she sat back and did it. If I had to do ask for some really galloping, long strides to make the horse striding, she did it.

Excuse me for a moment while I squeal in happiness. SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.

The downside, of course, is that I was at the lesson solo and there is no video. It is heartbreaking, but I guess it just means I need to do it again soon! I'm riding in a Pony Club lesson with Devin on January 15, so maybe then, or maybe I'll get a chance to ride with her again before that.

I am still walking on clouds. That was some of the coolest riding ever. The best part is that even the 3'3 fences don't look intimidating - they look big, and real, but not scary and totally within our abilities. McKinna obviously thinks so too. I could not ask for a better performance from her, mentally or physically. She was amazing.

We've come a long way from the little auction pony learning how to jump cross rails!

<3

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Truckin' Along

I think all I ever write about lately is how much fun I am having riding McKinna.

Oh well. I think it's a great problem to have!

We continue to slowly but steadily improve. The jumping clinic with a Pony Club instructor on Saturday was lovely. Every time we jump, I see more payoff from our dressage work. This time McKinna's canter felt so much more powerful than usual once we were on course. We even got a pretty long spot to tall X oxer, and she just launched off the ground with no problem. Not that she never took a long spot if necessary before, she just feels so confident about it these days. The nice thing is that she never gets all excited about a weird distance, just lands and keeps clocking around.

Biggest take-away lesson: I need to make sure I keep enough forward in our jumping rounds. I wasn't holding her back too much, but I had one Good round where we took a rail and had a couple not-quite-perfect distances and one Awesomely Great round where I added a little more "go" and we nailed everything. Food for thought. She's also getting balanced enough to put that forward energy to good use, instead of using it to scramble around like a tarantula on roller skates.

Lately, dressage lessons have been continuing along the same path: more, better, harder. Leslie has me asking McKinna to really lift and bend through the inside in order to fill up my outside aids. There's a sense of yielding, softening the whole inside of the body and as a result really stepping under herself. It's a fine line between needing to get the yield but also really needing to keep the outside from escaping. When I get it right, McKinna is very soft and connected and has very nice transitions.

Sometimes, I can get lovely trot-canter transitions where the head doesn't go straight up in the air and she just steps beautifully under herself. I probably get these maybe one time in four? It's still progress though, and even our "bad" transitions are much better than they used to be.

McKinna loves straight lines now! Changing rein across the diagonal is a great feeling on her. Very steady in both reins, very even through her shoulders. We continue to work on the lengthening. If I can keep her from getting too excited and hollowing out, I can feel her start to push off the hind end for longer steps.

Leslie has also gotten us started on the first baby steps of haunches in. This is exciting! If I can master haunches in, I can do half pass, because half pass is essentially haunches in across the diagonal. Very exciting. I can tell McKinna is wondering what the hell I'm trying to get her to do, but she is slowly learning that yes, I want the butt IN, and I still want inside bend. She's very compliant, which is nice. Just a little confused!

Have I mentioned how wonderful it is to be on winter break? It's wonderful. I actually really enjoyed going to work today, because I haven't been in all term. And the sleeping in part isn't too shabby either.

Also, it is COLD. Brrr.

Lesson with Devin on Thursday. I'm really excited for this one because McKinna has been doing so well on coursework, and I think it's time to start working over bigger fences. For the C-3 she needs to be comfortable and competent over a 3'3 course, so that's what we'll start working towards.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Mounted Policemen Charge into Rioting Crowd

Saw this video on the COTH forums and I had to share. If you've been looking at the news at all lately, you probably know there have been massive student protests and riots in London over big tuition hikes for Universities. People even attacked the car that Prince Charles and his wife were riding in.

This link has a video of mounted policemen literally charging into a crowd to disperse the people. It's amazing, the way people just get RIGHT out of the way when a a few thousand pounds of horseflesh come cantering towards them!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-11962905

It's incredible, what those horses do. They have face masks, nose guards, and protective boots. I thought it was just horrible that protesters were throwing stuff at the horses, though. Under conditions that would freak out even the most bombproof horse, these guys seem pretty cool, though to a some extent you can see some getting upset. (I would too, if people were screaming and chucking stuff at me!)

I read that none of the horses were injured, but one policeman was pulled off his horse. The saddle slipped to the side and I believe he broke his legs, possibly from the horse stepping on/kicking him as it spooked. I feel very sorry for him and hope he heals up okay.

There's pictures from the whole mess in the next link (some of them are bloody, but none of them are awful).

 http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2010/12/london_tuition_fee_protest.html

I'm not usually a "news" blog, but I had to post that video of the charge. The picture of them moving out (#19 on the second link) gave me goosebumps.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Dooooooone!

Oh thank goodness. After two weeks of basically nonstop studying and assignment-ing, I am freeeee! And I think my grades are pretty solid. We'll see.

So, of course, the first thing I did was go out to the barn tonight. I haven't ridden in about a week and a half! I still didn't ride today, but I will ride tomorrow in a dressage lesson. Tonight, the wonderpony got clipped - again. You can hardly tell she has been clipped at all, which is ridiculous. I swear this horse grows enough winter coat to keep four or five thin-skinned Thoroughbreds warm all winter. As the clippers buzzed along, the spots came out again and she is so cute!

She's just got the same clip as last time - left the head, legs, and a square saddle patch. I left a strip down her belly too, but that's just because I had to wash it and it hadn't dried by the time I finished tonight, so I'll touch that up tomorrow. Thank goodness she is patient for clipping, it took about 2 hours. She was very patient, even when I was leaning over her butt from a mounting block to make the line even, and she didn't mind a bit when I clipped right up to the base of her ears. I think she would let me clip them with no problem, but she lives outside, and I don't want her poor ears getting cold!

Busy horse stuff coming up. Lesson tomorrow, clinic Saturday, thinking about hauling myself over to the Horse Center on Sunday to practice their crazy Mountain Trail course. (Seriously, they basically turn the indoor arena into a trail. Giant ditches dug into the dirt, big huge hills and mounds and log piles, and a bridge, and huge ponds, etc. I've been before and it's a blast to just walk around and check everything out.

Okay, I'm off...I have a very important appointment between my head and my pillow. We haven't spent nearly enough time together lately!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

End of Term....No Love.

Ah, so we come to another piece of that lovely cyclical posting pattern shaped by the school year: finals.

Blargh.

It's dead week. I'm still making it out to ride (and it is wonderful!) but not nearly as much as I would like to. I have three finals (one hard, one moderate, one easy) and a creative portfolio (very hard) between me and three glorious weeks of relaxation. I am not feeling too sorry for myself yet, but ask me again this weekend...

Most of our work lately has been on the dressage front, and I am okay with that. As you may have guessed from the overload of happy squealing lately, McKinna and I have been having lots of fun working in the sand box! She seems to be really enjoying our rides, and she comes out ready and willing to get to work every time - always a good indicator for her, as she's usually pretty reluctant to come work if she is bored or needs a rest.

This week makes two weeks since I have ridden in a dressage lesson, but next week after finals are over I'll be back. In the meantime, I work on things at home, mostly at the walk and trot. We work on keeping an active walk but not too rushed, which involves light kick-kicks or taps of the whip when she gets lazy but not so much that she feels she has to fling herself forward into a fast walk. Lots of figure-8s and changing of the bend, working her into that outside rein, constantly asking myself, "Am I soft enough in my arm muscles? Am I relaxed and following with my elbows? I'm not bracing with my hips again, am I? Dang it, I am!"

It's the little, finicky, quiet work that sometimes gives me the most pleasure. I re-schooled a trot transition a few times on Sunday because she wanted to put her head up into the air or shuffle into it. I realized I was kind of tightening my thighs and hips to push her up into it, so the next time, I kept those soft as I gave the rest of the cue. Voila! Lovely transition. We got to play over some ground poles that day, and I think that kept things interesting for McKinna.

Another exciting thing about that ride was that I really began to feel some moments of good, stretchy walk and trot. All this work on being truly supple and soft with contact has improved our connection, so whether we're walking or trotting I can let the reins feed out and McKinna will actually take them down. Even better, she's starting to develop the ability to keep her back up while she does it. Cool feeling, when she's stretching into a long contact and lifting herself. Huzzah!

Ah, well. I enjoy the rides I have and she doesn't mind her time off. That is one thing McKinna is great about - time off just makes her even better! We do have a Pony Club clinic coming up soon, where I am hoping to get some solid feedback for what I need to work on in terms of jumping 3'3 courses - the required height for my next rating. Haven't had much of that yet.

Over winter break I plan to take a jumping lesson or two with Devin, which will be fun too. She is always very good at pushing us to a new level in a positive way, and she is totally willing to let me test out our limits a little bit. This will be good when working towards the C-3 rating! Fingers crossed that all the dressage work we have done this fall pays off when we get to those lessons. All indications point to yes, since at both the rating prep clinic and the clinic a couple weeks ago McKinna was awesome about her coursework, but I haven't had the chance to do any real height, so there's the test. If McKinna can comfortably and confidently clock around a solid 3' - 3'3 course, I will be feeling pretty good about our progress.

Even though I haven't been commenting much lately, I promise I have been reading. After next week I'll be my usual talkative self.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Snow

I am stuck finishing projects that are due tomorrow. Talk about miles to go before I sleep...bah. I guess you have to pull an all-nighter at least once a term, right? Haven't been out to the barn since Sunday, probably won't go out till Thursday.

Crazy cold weather here in the PNW. All schools in the district had a snow day today - not the UO, of course, because they haven't actually closed due to weather since some ridiculously long time ago, I think 1954. Apparently my dog was outside running around our backyard like an idiot at about 3 AM playing in the snow. Silly kid. Every once in awhile today he'd go outside, run around for awhile, and then come back inside all excited and proud of himself. The cat, who is much smarter, spent almost the entire day inside curled up on my lap or on whatever convenient soft surface I stuck him on when I needed to get up.

My barn owner put this picture up today on Facebook:



I know. I know. It's like half an inch of snow. It's just that we don't really get snow here, so even an inch or two and a little ice and basically the whole city shuts down. There was more in town, though, and roads are supposed to be pretty icy tomorrow because tonight is going to get very cold.

But. Look at McKinna! She is so cute. Look at those fuzzy little ears all pricked forward and excited to go outside. And the puppy running alongside. Can't wait to go out and ride later this week.

Sigh. Back to the grind. Project is due in almost exactly 12 hours.

Hope everyone has a happy Thanksgiving weekend!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Sitting Trot!

Another dressage lesson last night, another fantabulous ride. We spent most of the 45-minute ride in sitting trot, and it didn't feel difficult at all! It's amazing how much easier it is to ride the sitting trot when the horse is properly carrying itself and lifting its back. I felt like I was able to ride normally and focus on things like McKinna's quality of trot and suppleness, rather than "Must stay in saddle, ow, my abs, ow ow ow my thighs!"

McKinna's level of fitness is really impressing me. Her ability to go through a solid workout, maintaining her roundness and power, has drastically improved. She felt as strong at the end of our ride as she did at the beginning. She's also started developing some new gears - at the trot, she was really reaching out and pushing from her hind end at times. Whenever I rode a line, she stayed straight between my reins, stretched over her topline and reached into the bit, and just motored herself right along. Such a beautiful feeling.

The silly girl was actually quite hot last night - for her. Meaning that she actually spooked! It was ridiculous. She saw the dogs in the corner and proceeded to go sideways for several steps and cut the corner. That was about it, but still funny considering how quiet she usually is. The hotness came through in our canter work too. It was fast a lot of the time, but a different kind of fast than the unbalanced must-rush style she used to have. It felt more forward in the right way, with more step underneath herself.

Leslie had me really focusing on the soften AFTER my half-halts and reminded me to relax my arms and relax my core. It made a big difference. I have a tendency to ask McKinna to supple and then keep asking until she gives all the way - I want immediate results. This ends up with me kind of hanging on her face, and her either bracing against me or ducking to get away. If I ask (firmly, if necessary) and then SOFTEN, I allow her the space to come to me. This, Leslie says, will need to happen pretty regularly but what we're doing is teaching her to carry herself. Over time, I get to stay soft for longer stretches while McKinna carries herself and holds a light contact with me.

It was awesome. Really. I'm sure you guys get sick of me gushing about dressage, but hot damn, this stuff is great! I was having so much fun that after the lesson ended, I had to go trot around a little more and do one more canter just to absorb the wonderful feeling.

I kind of wanted to go out tonight just to say hi and love on her, but I have a lot of schoolwork to do - just finished week 8, so finals are in 2 weeks - and we'll be busy all day tomorrow at the clinic, so my homework time this weekend is going to be limited. So, I'm at home working on busting out assignments. I'm sure McKinna enjoyed her day of hanging out in the pasture in her cozy blanket and stuffing her face with nice hay. Tomorrow, we work! Gridwork is the theme of the clinic, and it should be a good fun experience for both of us.

Hope everyone else is having a good week with their ponies, and McKinna says to tell you that a few sugar cubes go a LONG way!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ditch Practice = Fail!

 First, here's a couple videos from the assessment.

From flatwork in the morning - you can see she's quite a bit more tense than usual, but not doing too badly as it was towards the end of the ride.



From the switch ride! He was SO. BIG. Such a nice horse to ride.





So, last night, I decided to mess around in our jumping tack. We've been hitting the dressage pretty hard lately, and while it's fun, I figured it would be good for McKinna to just have a relaxed play-around-with-fences day at home.

There's several ways to practice XC ditches when you don't have one. Here's the usual suspects:

- Put two ground poles a little distance apart. Fill the intervening space with sawdust/bark/dirt that's very different from the color of the arena dirt
- Put two ground poles a little distance apart. Fill the intervening space with a dark-colored cooler, tarp, etc.
- Put two ground poles a little distance apart. Put another ground pole diagonally across them (so it's clear that the thing is not supposed to be trot poles).

McKinna, of all horses, needs NO practice schooling ditches. She has casually loped over every single ditch I've pointed her at, anyway. But, hey, it's not like I wanted to fix any problems, I just wanted to have some fun. So why not bring a little XC to the indoor?

I used a combination of methods 1 and 2, scattering some bright orange sawdust on the dark arena floor between two poles and then putting a diagonal pole across the two of them. It looked reasonably like a ditch, sort of.

So I got on, warmed up, trotted her to it. I'm pretty sure she managed to put her feet down in between the poles. Okay...so I canter it. And she doesn't do anything differently. She doesn't put her feet in it, but I don't think her canter stride over it was any different than any other canter stride.

Which is great, and all. I mean sure, that's how you WANT your horse to jump a ditch. But it kind of spoils the fun of practicing it inside when they don't even try to jump a little bit!

Okay, so no ditch. I moved the poles so they were just canter poles, proceeded to have quite the argument with McKinna about cantering in our indoor and over the ground poles, and gave up. She's never liked cantering in there - I think it's just too small. I figured, now that she's got a Real Canter, it would be better. To be fair, it is better in general - she can canter a lot more quietly and capably than before, but she still practically rockets down the long side and she just gets very tense through her back and neck. Blah. So we basically drilled until we got through the canter poles nicely twice in a row, then I gave up. We did a long series of trot - canter for a few strides - trot for a few strides - canter, etc, in hopes of getting her a little more relaxed.

It did work a little, and she settled down and gave me some pretty quiet and prompt transitions. Then I just went to the walk and trot and worked on our regular, contact-y dressage stuff, which got her calm and happy. Then Mom got on and had a nice ride working on dressage stuff too.

Oh well. The rides can't all be perfect. Funny how I had a much better ride when I worked on dressage than when I worked on jumping! I guess I'll just have to relegate my jumping to the outdoor. It's bigger out there, but the footing's a little deep right now...hopefully over the winter it settles a little and we can do some jumping out there. It can get frustrating not being able to practice much at home.

But at least my horse doesn't need any ditch practice!

My SmartPak order gets here today. I bought a jumping girth for her, because the one we have now is a bit long, and I really really like the Lettia Coolmax dressage girth we have so I wanted one of their jumping girths. I ended up buying a SmartPak girth that looks a lot like the Coolmax one, because the Coolmax girth had this kinda bright orange as the brown part and the SmartPak one was a more subtle darker brown.

Also got a tub of Sore No More poultice, so I can put it on and feel good about myself after gallops and the like. AND, I bought a super-duper awesome present for my mom, but she doesn't get to see it till the holidays.

Clinic on gridwork this weekend! Should be fun and exciting and really good for us.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Prep Clinic!

The prep clinic last weekend was a pretty good experience for the two of us. I'm not sure that I took home as much new riding ideas as I usually do from a good clinic, but I did learn a lot more about what's going to be expected of me at the C-3 rating, which is very useful.

We dragged along a non-horsey friend of mine who needed to get out of the house. I think he had a reasonably good time - I did warn him to bring a book, though!

Things started out a little tense. The problem is, I don't take her to shows that often, and she's almost never high-strung at our lessons...so I forget. I forget that when she's really actually tense (and not just a little distracted or unfocused, which is easy to deal with) I can't just put her to work and expect her to come out of it. She needs me to relax first. I learned this at Inavale: when schooling our dressage on Thursday, I couldn't get a decent step out of McKinna until I physically relaxed my hips and abs. It's not that I was nervous or anxious myself, not really; it's just that I tighten things up in response to her, and I forget to let go.

So, the first bit of the clinic was a little frustrating. Once the clinician essentially reminded me what I'd learned from Devin (that is: let go! Relax your hips! Relax your abs!), things got a little better. She wanted us to really follow with a relaxed seat and "feel" the rhythm of the next gait up (or down) with your seat before asking for a transition. This worked fairly well with McKinna. For the first while, we were just on a big circle doing lots of transitions. Unfortunately this is not the kind of work that settles McKinna down - it's just the kind of work that would have calmed my OTTB in the past, but once McKinna's got a modicum of relaxation, she needs to do some more complicated stuff because transitions just don't cut it.

Finally, after working on some exercises to open up my hips (all I can say about that: OW OW OW, and, I really need to start up with some yoga again), the clinician began working with the other rider and left me to my own devices. At last! I started trotting big figure-8s like we practiced in our last lesson, really focusing on using the inside bend to break up resistance in McKinna's neck and pushing her ribcage up and over with my inside leg. At first she wanted to really fall around the turns, schoolbus-style, not willing to change her bend smoothly and push into my new outside rein, but after a few repetitions she really blossomed into her normal, supple, gorgeous self.

Then we went back to the big circle and did some more transitions, way more lovely this time, throwing in a few figure-8s whenever things started to get shaky. It was beautiful! The clinician was very happy with how we were doing, and I explained that this is how she USUALLY is all the time, which is why it's so hard for me to deal with it when she freaks out. The clinician pointed out that this is exactly why I'm doing these prep clinics!

Then we did some canter work, which I was very pleased with. I had to work a little harder than usual to keep it from 4-beating, but as long as I concentrated on following with my hips and RELEASING the tension in my abs after I half-halted, it went pretty well. I got one really lovely transition to the right, too.

And that was about it. I came away with two big notes: if McKinna is actually nervous, shut up and relax yourself before expecting her to go to work; and, keep in mind the warm up that works for US is not the same as the one that works for everyone else, so we should stick to what works.

After a lunch break of delicious soup and sandwiches (this is why my dad is the best horse dad ever), it was time to head back into the ring for jumping. And man, were we solid. Just one of those times where you get on and as soon as you start trotting it just feels right - she was really forward but not quite over the edge of being too fast, I felt like I was just locked and loaded in the saddle, and we were really in sync. The feeling carried straight over into jumping.

We began by trotting a small X and halting. This clinician is pretty big on halting after fences, because it keeps your horse on your aids and prevents him from really getting on a roll and becoming harder and harder to control as you go. McKinna was ace at this, naturally. As long as I half-halt before the fence to let her know what's coming, she almost always comes to a really nice round halt.

Then we jumped a course. I was REALLY pleased with how it went. I basically just chilled out in my two-point, encouraged with leg where necessary to develop a bigger stride and sat up to half-halt where necessary to balance for the turns, and we got to every fence pretty much perfectly. They were around 2'6 to 3'. The only comment I got from the clinician was that I need to be able to adjust my position if necessary - the point being that I'd basically not deviated from a simple two-point, and at some time I might need to gallop forward or sit into the horse. She said it wasn't that I had needed to do that on course...just that I needed to be able to do so. It's good to know, but I also know that I AM capable of changing my position if I need to. It's just that most of the time I don't have to, with McKinna!

And, unfortunately, that was pretty much the extent of it with McKinna. That was the only course we jumped. I was hoping to get a lot more coursework in, as well as jump some stuff up to rating height (3'3), but it was not to be. One girl was having a lot of trouble with her horse, and the clinician spent a lot of time with her while another rider and I swapped horses to practice the switch ride. Her horse is this huge, slow-moving Warmblood. Huuuuuuuuge. I felt like I was posting in slow motion! He was very polite and easy to jump, though of course we had a few small errors in communication that were my fault, as this is really the first time I've done a switch ride over fences. His rider had him in a pelham, but took off the second rein for me since I'd never ridden in one before. So that's good to know - I need to practice riding with two sets of reins in case that happens at my rating.

McKinna was pretty quick with the other girl, not as relaxed as usual but still pretty good. She got one really nice simple change out of McKinna, barely a bump to trot and then the other canter lead, so I'll be trying that out next time we jump!

So, overall, it was a pretty good experience. I took away some good, solid things to work on: relaxing myself, practicing stressful situations, LOTS of switch riding (especially on horses very unlike McKinna). The next prep clinic is in January with a lady who I've heard really, really good things about.

In between then, lots of Pony Club lessons and lessons with Leslie. Things are coming along, slowly but surely.

I've got some video of our flatwork at the clinic and of me on the big WB. I'll get that up tomorrow.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Mud. And mud. And more mud!

There are times I really, really wish I had a bay horse.

 Sigh.

 Really. Even though she's very cute and furry like a teddy bear.

O HAI

These are the things we had tonight:

1. A very, very, very, VERY muddy McKinna. Second-muddiest I've ever seen her, which is pretty muddy. It's all caked on like cement. In her mane, over her eyes, down her back, both sides, everywhere. In her tail. Especially in her tail.

  Yup, other side's just as dirty.

2. A broken hot water wash rack, in which the hose won't stay in the clamp thingy.

3. A limited supply of hot water in the hot water tank.

4. A clinic tomorrow.


*facepalm*

We got the job done. But she's definitely not the cleanest she's ever been. Hopefully the sleazy, sheet, tail bag, and neck cover will keep her relatively clean overnight.

5:00 wakeup time to be on the road by 7. I'm off to bed.

Should be a fun day though! Besides, if being grey with an affinity for mud is her worst flaw, I think I can live with it...

Friday, November 5, 2010

Sleeeeeeeepyyyyyy

I've been more sleep deprived this last week and a half than I prefer to ever want to be. Finished the first wave of midterms with admirable grades and now I'm halfway through the second. After that it's all easy until finals week...right? Right??

Luckily, I'm still having a blast working on dressage with McKinna. This Monday's lesson night started like this:

1. We arrive at the barn and, as we drive past McKinna in the pasture, notice how admirably clean she kept herself despite being turned out without a sheet because it was so warm.
2. Park up at the barn. Change into barn clothes. Look up and notice McKinna rolling in the thick, thick mud just outside the nice dry layer of gravel by the turnout gate.
3. Walk down to turnout and grab her halter. Walk out to get her. Watch as she tosses her head (uh oh), then leads the other two mares on a merry gallop down to the other end of the pasture.
4. Walk halfway down the pasture. Watch as McKinna instigates a gallop back to the other end of the pasture.
5. Repeat step 4 a few times.
6. When McKinna has decided she's done, snag her with a lead rope while she's at the water trough.

We had plenty of time and she was obviously feeling good, so I was more entertained than frustrated by her self-designed workout. She looked great galloping across the field, too.

Then a very quick full bath, to deal with the mud from step 2.

At the lesson, Leslie had us start on some new techniques to get and maintain the topline lift and release in the base of McKinna's neck. I'm still a little hazy on the new stuff, but here's my best approximation of what I did understand:

So far, we've taught her how to release her jaw and not brace in her neck and chest in response to a fairly exaggerated lowering and widening of the hands. This has been useful and necessary in teaching her to let go, lift her back, and carry herself, but obviously we can't go around riding like that all the time. It also tends to make your arms stiff (since they're extended down and out) and pull on the bars of the mouth. With McKinna, it seems to lead to softness but not connection.

So now we're working on lateral suppling. (I think.) It involves keeping my hands much softer and more following with a bend in the elbow, going around a circle at the walk or trot, and insisting that she soften her jaw and neck to the inside. It's not overbending, though. Outside leg to keep her standing up, inside leg to keep her out on the circle, outside rein for connection and half-halts.

We did a lot of figure-8s with this, changing the bend, which was a really good measure of how she was doing. I've noticed in the past that when we change directions across the diagonal or in a figure-8, and I ask her to bend in the new directions, we'll often get sort of a straight fall-around-the-corner for a few strides until I can establish the new bend. With the new work we're doing, I don't feel that loss of control and bend when we change directions; instead, there's a smooth, easy change of bend through her body. (If I do it right.)

Leslie also had us do a shallow canter serpentine. Let's just say, uh, it'll be awhile until we can do a nice counter canter ;) I'm sure we'll keep working on it and manage to do the second part of the shallow serpentine without practically falling over.

Last night we went to a really interesting seminar on the 'new' deworming method, held at a local vet's practice. I took lots of notes and I'll write a post about it. Lots of good information, definitely with some questions still.

I am really excited for this weekend's Upper Level Assessment. I'm riding on Sunday, which means a bath for McKinna tomorrow! She is getting so fuzzy again...it's like we never clipped her at all, except you can see how dang long the fur is under the saddle and on her legs where we DIDN'T clip her. I swear, she grows enough of a coat for three horses. I haven't decided yet when, but she'll definitely be getting another clip...probably once she starts getting too sweaty in our lessons again.

Blargh. Off to take notes in the Bio classes. I'll check in with a clinic report on Monday!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Teeth!

Well, turns out McKinna was just about due for her teeth to be done. Our vet said that if she was just in light work she could probably go another 6 months or so, but since we're doing hard dressage work and asking her to really be on the bit, they needed to be done now. She was just starting to develop some points on the outsides of her molars.

So it was a pretty quick job, maybe half an hour. Poor thing, they always look so pathetic when they're sedated. I brought my laptop and sat in her stall on her big salt block doing homework until she came awake enough to go back outside. She also got her fall 5-way vaccination. (Which has influenza, rhino, EEE, WEE, and tetanus, says the Pony Clubber in me.) Hooray!

Unfortunately, the Mud is officially upon us. I have to hose McKinna's legs off when I bring her in to ride, now. The ground near the gates in the turnouts is beginning to turn to mush. Grumble, grumble, sigh. I hate mud.

I'm giving Mom a lesson on McKinna tonight, so that should be fun. I don't think we'll be out tomorrow because I have a big Evolution exam on Friday, so I'll probably hop on for a little while too, though I was also thinking about riding the big grey TB who boards out at our barn. He's a handsome and sweet guy.

PS, I won't be writing about it much until I've accomplished most of the research - which won't be until next year - but I've found a way to make my Honors College senior thesis have to do with horses. Oh yes. I think it will make the process so much more engaging for me.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Dressage Lessons = Love

As we pulled out of the barn's driveway yesterday evening, trailer and pony in tow, my mom joked that I would have a hard time topping last week's lesson simply because it was so good.

Well, to make a long story short, it DOES get even better!

It's getting to the point these days where the horse I have while warming up gives me big clues about how the lesson is going to go. Last night she felt free, loose, swinging, like the motion that started in her hind end could travel all the way through her spine and up her neck to her poll. Before, it felt like everything stopped at her shoulders. (Funny how you don't realize how much something is restricting your horse until you fix it.) The saddle is staying put and as a result she's willing to reach out with those shoulders and stretch her neck out to meet my contact.

So when Leslie walked in I told her that McKinna was generally being amazing. And, for the entire lesson, she kept it up.

There's several new things we have begun working on. One of them is a slight shoulder-fore in the trot when I head down a long side: outside rein squeeze asks the shoulders to come in off the track, inside leg keeps the bend, outside leg keeps the body straight. Inside rein asks for her to remain soft and supple, and outside rein again supports so she doesn't overbend.

It's difficult and I have to laugh sometimes as I watch us in the mirror and we look quite drunk. I lose the bend and fix it, but then we drift inside so I add more inside leg, but then I lose the haunches and they swing out. Sometimes, when I get it just right, it feels great! It's a very steady, powerful connection that I get when this happens. McKinna is a bit bemused by the whole thing, but pretty willing to go around doing strange things if I ask.

We've also begun working on sitting trot, which mostly involves working on my riding of course. Here I saw a huge improvement even over last week's ride-- last week when I began sitting McKinna seemed a bit put-out, would slow down or speed up and hollow out. Some of it was me not getting my balance right, but I think some of it was just a little confusion as I rarely sit the trot. This week, that was all gone: as long as I was balanced I could keep her coming up into a soft, steady contact, and she was really stepping out.

Leslie had me go back to posting for a moment whenever I got too discombobulated with myself. This gave me a chance to rebalance, reassured McKinna, and then allowed me to go back to sitting with a better trot. It's amazing to me that I can do this. It seems like just a short time ago that we were working, working, working just to get a soft and supple and forward trot - now, it's working to get a better sitting trot, and as soon as I post she snaps back to perfect!

This sitting trot business is allowing us to school much better canter transitions, as well. If I talk too much about her canter I am going to explode into a gooey mass of happiness, so I'll spare you, but basically it is well within real-canter territory at this point. I'm talking soft, quiet, three beats, a definite rolling rhythm, not fast, and beginning to straighten up instead of lean. I even have a half halt most times, and I'm beginning to set some weight to the outside to help her straighten out even more. SO COOL. I make noises of glee frequently in my lessons now.

Anyway, when we canter from the sitting trot I can coordinate my aids much better. If I remember to keep my left arm flexible instead of rigid, and I give her a firm request to supple as I hug with my inside leg and brush my outside leg just a little, I can get this lovely flowing transition. At this point, we're working on consistently getting that softness. Same with the downward transitions: I actually got one last night where, from canter to trot, the connection never wavered and she stretched into my hands immediately at the sitting trot. Hooray!

Finally, we have also kept at the whole trot-lengthening business. We tried some at the end of the lesson last night, and wow is that stuff fun. I can't get it totally right yet, but when we do, it feels amazing. I can actually feel McKinna lifting her withers, stretching her neck forward into a supple steady contact, and powering from behind into these bigger, longer steps.

I think Leslie keeps expecting me to get bored with all the subtler, more finicky stuff we've been working on. Far from it! It's practically the highlight of my week ;)



Teeth check and vaccinations for the wonderpony today. Then we have quite a bit of Pony Club stuff coming up this month: an upper level assessment clinic on Sunday the 7th, with a national PC examiner working with you to identify where you're at in terms of the standards of your next rating; a bandaging/wrap clinic with an upper-level PCer the following Saturday; and then on Saturday the 20th, our club is bringing Anna Carkin down for a flat and jumping clinic.

Lots of fun stuff to look forward to!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Lucky.

On Thursday I got a rare chance to just skip out to the barn for a quick ride on my own. No lessons, no Pony Club, no agenda, just wanted to go ride.

Everything was calm and quiet out there, the horses settled into their dinners, nobody there but me. McKinna is used to the routine and just kept eating her hay as I groomed her and tacked her up. I didn't want anything fancy-- I had a long week and I just wanted to go for one of those rides. You know the kind. A ride that doesn't have any point or any goal other than to enjoy your time with your horse, a ride where you remind yourself how wonderful it is to be able to do this.

So that's what I did. We walked, trotted, and cantered around the outdoor arena as the sunset faded from brilliant orange to a softer pink and then the cool grey-blue of night. No agenda, no goals. I asked for roundness because it's more comfortable and better for both of us, but relatively round and supple is generally McKinna's default state now, so it didn't take much effort or thought. All I heard was the sound of McKinna's hooves going lightly over the sand and our breathing. She seemed to pick up on my mood and just offered a calm, steady pace.

As I was riding these effortless gaits and then putting her away, I kept thinking, "I am so damn lucky." How amazing is it that I get this chance? This mare, this animal that's born to be spooky and skittish and flighty, will happily carry me around the arena, going along in harmony with me without so much as a wayward glance. She'll leap over obstacles, gallop when I ask, halt when I say, tie to anything. Through everything, the training struggles and progress, the stress of school and ratings and everything else, this is the best you can get. Just you and the horse and a quiet, perfect evening...it doesn't get any luckier than this.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Definitely Better.

Methinks I have my wonderpony back! We had a dressage lesson with Leslie on Monday night and, despite being in a seriously raging heat, McKinna was awesome.

I mean really. Raging. As in, suddenly desperately attached to a gelding that she's not even turned out with and calling for him when they get separated. As in, squatting and peeing at everything in sight. As in, snuggling up to the fence next to a different gelding and cheerfully letting him bite her crest.

Ho.

But, despite her apparent wild distraction and inability to hold still, she was a star for the lesson. I was concerned I wouldn't be able to get very good work, since she tends to be very tight and resistant when she's in heat or a few days before - I've always suspected she gets a little sore or something. But nope! She settled right down to work as usual.

These lessons have been so much fun lately. We're slowly but steadily nudging our way into 1st level territory, increasing the connection, asking her to trot in shoulder-fore to strengthen and straighten her, leg yields, fun stuff. Our canter work was *amazing!* I actually said 'woohoo' several times through the lesson. And had several intelligent epiphanies. Sample: "Wow! When she's leaning at the canter, if I ride her from both legs into both reins, she straightens out!"

Regular genius, right here. Yup.

It's a good thing Leslie and I are so perfectly matched. I say stupid things, she says stupid things, sometimes I laugh so hard I run the risk of falling off my horse. Every dressage lesson is kind of like a party with some really good training thrown in.

I tried out a 'new' dressage saddle for the lesson, too. It's 'new' because we've had it for quite some time - I got a screaming deal online, we tried it on her and it appeared to fit her very well, then we sat in it and went "WTF these stirrup bars are WAY too far forward to put you in a decent position" and decided we'd sell it. So I hadn't ridden in it at all, really.

Well, we hadn't got around to selling it yet, so we tried it again and actually rode in it a little. Surprise surprise - the stirrup bar looks super far forward, but it actually doesn't put you in a chair seat. It's an Albion Original Comfort, for the curious. And it appears to work great! Leslie checked out the fit and was really happy with how it works for McKinna - no tightness up front, sits nicely behind, and best of all IT DOESN'T SLIDE FORWARD onto her shoulders while I ride! Hooray.

The saddle also puts me in a pretty good position, ironically. I think my posture was more upright and my hip angle more open, because my hip flexors were feeling awfully stretched-out by the end of the ride - just like when you drop your stirrups and stretch your heel down and do sitting trot and canter for awhile. So, that's good. Once I adjust to the different position it should be good as gold. And Leslie says my leg was stable.

I haven't had a chance to ride since then, as school is kind of kicking my butt and I've been teaching lessons to a couple ladies out at our barn. (Which is really really fun, by the way, and super rewarding to see how they and their horses keep improving every time!) Tonight I'm helping with a Pony Club fundraiser, but I'm thinking about driving out to the barn afterward so I can get a schooling ride in.

So yes. I'm happy to have my happy horse back. She is just so dang much fun to ride, it shouldn't be allowed! There's nothing better than sitting up there and feeling like you and your horse are so much in sync that you could ask for anything and get a happy, willing answer. This is why I love dressage. I'd be bored out of my mind if that's all we ever did, but when you mix it in with the jumping it's so satisfying. I guess that's why I'm an eventer :)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

All Better?

I'm pretty sure that a good gallop is a cure for any evil, just so you know. Per chiropractor's orders, I saddled up on Wednesday and headed for the hay field. McKinna was all kinds of wound up-- head in the air, scooting at movements in the underbrush, general silliness. I had to trot a good three laps around the field before she settled and stretched into my hands a little bit.

So, finally, I let her pick up a canter. We cruised down one side of the field, a good soft hand gallop, nothing exciting, maybe a slow N pace. Balanced around the turn because the grass is getting longer and I was worried it could be a bit slippery. Then we turned onto the straightaway up the long gradual hill and I really let her fly. We were hauling some serious butt! I don't have a perfect feel for pace (times like these I'm jealous of Stacey's supercool heart-rate monitor tech) but I am somewhat experienced with testing out different gears, and I'm pretty sure we were going on at least a very fast Training, or maybe a slow Prelim, pace.

I haven't gone that fast in quite awhile! It was awesome. She didn't even lose any power when the hill got a little steeper, just dug in and blasted up. Definitely NOT the mysterious lack of power I was experiencing a couple weeks ago. Then we came back to a walk, walked down the steep part of the hill, and picked up our right lead. I let her go down the long side again, came up the backside of the hill, and decided to let her canter down the front face of the hill too. I've actually never done that before - it's not STEEP as in unsafe, it's just a pretty good incline and I've never felt like she's been balanced enough to canter it. But she felt great, so I just settled into a light seat and supported with my leg. She cruised down with no problem.

McKinna was a happy camper after that gallop. Warm and a bit sweaty, but ready to go another twenty rounds it felt like. Hosed and scraped her a little, put her in her stall with her hay, and that was that!

She then got Thursday off.

Yesterday was a Pony Club jumping lesson with Devin, which went very well. It was so cool to have other people jumping the same heights as me! One of the girls did lower stuff, but she AND her horse just started jumping a couple months ago and they are already cantering short courses in quiet, steady fashion. Certainly better than I ever started out...

McKinna was a little strung out in her canter during the flat warmup, and Devin had me sit in a little more to get her to step under herself and slow, but it wasn't happening much. I just gave McKinna the benefit of the doubt - she just got adjusted and her only work since then has been a gallop, so it's understandable that she might have a bit of difficulty collecting. As long as she went along politely, I just let her be.

Luckily, once the jumping started I felt like we had a better canter. Devin set up a monster of a course, lots of possibilities for crazy rollbacks and bending lines and regular lines, so it was pretty fun. McKinna was basically her rock star self. Easy to ride, pretty straightforward. Not a 100% canter but still a pretty darn good one, and it got better as the evening went on. By the end we jumped an 11-fence course with several jumps set on 20m turns, with at least half the course bending or straight lines on related distances, set at 2'9 to 3'ish. Including a line from a swedish oxer to a 3' parallel oxer on an angle. Pretty sweet.

The last round I really focused on building a bigger canter and riding the jumps a little more aggressively, aiming for a slightly longer-than-usual spot because she tends to want the deep ones. It worked out beautifully! She had this wonderful, flowing jump over pretty much all the fences and we absolutely nailed all the tricky lines. We did have a couple bobbles, almost entirely my fault. About halfway through the course, on a turn to a single fence, I started second-guessing the longer-spot strategy and picked to the fence and we got a super deep spot without enough power. Sigh. I went back to my original plan and the next fences rode great.

She also had a weird hesitation at the last fence, I think because I didn't show her soon enough that we were headed for it. What impressed me was two things: first, when she jumped, I stayed mostly in the middle of her and got a bit left behind. That means I'm not jumping ahead pretty much ever anymore! Yay. Second, she hesitated, but then when she took off it was a good clean powerful jump and she cleared the fence with no trouble. That tells me that over the course of the evening we successfully developed that power and confidence in her, to the point that she still had a lovely jump after a quick pause. I just circled around and jumped it again and it was as beautiful as all the rest. Goooood pony.

So I'm very pleased with McKinna right now and feeling optimistic that the chiro work has done some magic. I definitely haven't felt that level of easy strength off the ground from her in awhile. Next test will be the dressage lesson on Monday. This weekend we'll just have some fun, wash her tail, and go for some light rides.

At the end of the lesson, one of the two brothers who just joined our club (seriously! boys! in Pony Club!) said, "Is that your horse?"

"Yes she is," I said. "Well...technically she's my mom's horse."


And that's just how it works.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Return of the Chiropractor

Well, I was going to play some Twilight Princess for awhile on this rainy Sunday morning before settling into my pile of schoolwork for the day, but my Wii remotes are being finicky. So I figured I would write a blog post instead. Lucky you!

I'm about to start Week 3 of classes. So far everything has been on the edge of manageable - I'm not quite ahead, but I'm not quite behind either. Bit of an uncomfortable place to be at in the first few weeks, since it invariably gets worse (Week 4 is when everyone usually starts to get nervous, and by Week 6 the majority of people I talk to in a day declare that they are having the worst week ever). So I'm spending quite a bit of time on my reading and homework and notes and such. Good thing I have no social life!

Gene, the chiropractor, finally came out to work on McKinna yesterday and I am sure glad he did! She had four major issues going on, all directly related to things we have noticed lately: first, a torque back near where the thoracic and lumbar vertebrae meet, complimented by a pelvic rotation. That's where our mysterious loss of "it" was coming from out on the XC course. Her hind end was just way out behind her, and there was no way for her to get up under herself. He said the tweak in the back is pretty common among horses being asked to come up to the next level of collection and lateral work, since there's quite a bit of flexing in that area. Hmm...lately we've been working on more 1st level stuff....

She also had some tight muscles in her hind end from dealing with the skeletal kinks.

Then, she had quite a bit going on in her ribcage, which was the main cause of all her wither grumpiness lately. He worked quite a bit on her withers and ribs from both sides, doing things to have her really stretch out the muscles on each side and something with the ribs to get her to release. She was NOT pleased about the rib adjustment and gave him a really nasty look, which I had to laugh at. She's very guarded about the chiro work, but she's very expressive in her face. It's clear when she hasn't quite released whatever he's working on, because she has this very unimpressed rude look on her face. When it does finally let go, she licks and chews and turns her head towards him. If he's in the middle of an adjustment she doesn't like, she'll turn her head around to him and poke him lightly with her nose. Funny horse.

The last major issue, the biggest one, was in the middle of her neck on the left side. He said he actually had to use manual manipulation on that one, which he only has to use maybe twelve times a year. Usually he uses stretches and holds to get the horse into a position, relaxing the muscles until he releases and when they recoil they make the adjustment themselves. On this one he had to actually do the release himself. Gene said that pretty much the only time he has to do manual manipulation is if he's working on a horse after a severe crash, or if it's a really really old problem. He said this in McKinna's neck felt like an old thing, something she's probably had as long as we've had her.

That, he said, is a big part of why I can never get her to soften and bend as well to the left in her jaw and neck - she wants to tilt her head instead of just turning her face and neck.

She had some small other stuff in her atlas/axis area and lower neck, but those were the major four. It must be because we've begun stepping up the level of work so much, because normally it's just a few pretty minor adjustments and she's on her way. By the end of the session, McKinna was a pretty happy, relaxed girl. Gene actually got a few big yawns and eye-rolls out of her after one adjustment on her neck.

He even said to give her three or four pretty light days, which I've never had him suggest before. He said she needs time to get that hind end all sorted out before we start asking her to collect again with the dressage work or jumping. I asked if a gallop in a few days would help, thinking that it's sort of the exact opposite of collection, and he said that would be ideal. So we're going to go for a little gallop on Tuesday or Wednesday :) Doctor's orders!

So I am glad we finally managed to coordinate our schedules for the appointment. It sure appears that McKinna needed it. We'll give her the prescribed easy few days, go for a gallop on Wednesday, and then ride in a Pony Club jumping lesson on Friday. I'm curious to see what differences I notice when we take work up again.

Alright, that's all for now. I need to go spend some good quality time with physics, ecology, evolution, and creative writing...

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Recalibration!

Weeell, so much for all my super-duper hopes about skipping around all the Training fences at Inavale on Saturday. McKinna just wasn't on her game like usual - it was actually a really similar feeling to the jumping lesson we had a few days before. Nothing major, but when I asked her to power up the energy just wasn't there. She'd gallop when I sent her forward and half-halt when I asked, but "it" just wasn't there. You know, "it". Her usual bold, controlled attack of the fences, that feeling that I can just wind up all that power and let it launch us over any fence.

I know it's not her feet, because at one point we were cantering through an empty water complex (= gravel footing) to jump up a bank, and she was 100% fine. Yay for rock-crunching barefoot feet!

And it's not like she was jumping terribly. She was her usual fantastic self up and down banks, through the water, and over the smaller stuff, jumping everything out of stride as usual. It's just...the bigger stuff she wouldn't give me the strength, didn't want to attack the fence, and wanted to hesitate just a tiny bit on takeoff. We still schooled some rolltops and one Training-level log pile, and it all went fine. To anyone who doesn't know her, nothing would seem out of the ordinary. But I know her really well, and I know that she just wasn't quite on.

So, no big deal. We still had a good, positive schooling session. As for now, I'm guessing she's just feeling a little overworked and maybe a bit sore. I sure felt like hell after a week of trying to adjust to four hard classes while throwing in a dressage, jumping, and XC lesson all two days apart from each other. McKinna confirmed this suspicion by spending Sunday and Monday turning around and walking out into her run every time I came into her stall ;) Sometimes she does that just because, but a lot of times she does it when she's getting worn out.

So this week is a light week. Sunday we finished up her clip and she is officially only hairy on face, legs, and a saddle patch on her back. She's very cute and you can see her little paint spots very clearly! Then Monday was another relaxed day involving a thorough washing of her tail and that's it. Tuesday was another day off, and today Mom and I each took a turn taking a nice relaxed ride. There's a derby coming up that I'm debating going to, and after that just some Pony Club lessons and clinics.

I know that her general stickiness over bigger fences *could* be her hocks, so don't think that we are ignoring that possibility. It seems unlikely given past indications, but we're thinking of doing radiographs of her hocks before I get thoroughly into next eventing season - not because we think there's anything wrong, but because it would be very nice to get a baseline on this super-sound 16something year old mare! Then we can know if Adequan might be a good idea, etc. My money's on her just being tired after a long week, though. The chiro is coming on Saturday, so I'm expecting that after an easy week and an adjustment she'll be good as new.

In other news, my stirrup pads, Nathe bit, and big bodyclipping blade arrived Monday (just in time for me to be done with bodyclipping round 1, of course). Can't wait to put those stirrup pads on my jumping saddle! I tried out the bit tonight. Nothing too conclusive as we were just moseying around, but she certainly didn't object. I'll have to try a dressage lesson in it to see what kind of connection we're going to get - I'm suspecting that the connection will be good but the lateral clarity might suffer a little since it's a straight bar mouthpiece? We'll see.

I hope you all are enjoying the last vestiges of warmish weather. Tonight was lovely at the barn and it was a perfect evening to just relax and enjoy the company of a great horse. It's nice to know that despite all our big competition goals, the constant minutiae of improving dressage and the hours of jumping, one of the best things to do is just go out there on a beautiful evening and spend time with a horse you love. It doesn't get much better than that.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Goals Check-In

The jumping lesson last night was a very interesting mix of good and bad. I've got video of a couple rounds, so I'll be sure to put that up soon. For one, it was HOT and MUGGY - McKinna was warm and almost damp when I unloaded her from the trailer, let alone started working. By the time we were done she actually had tracks down her legs where the sweat had run down. Gross.

She was just a bit sluggish, I think because of the heat, and I could tell she just didn't have as much gas in the tank as usual. So we skipped the usual flatwork, just w/t/c both directions and then straight into jumping, and we didn't jump as long as usual. We started by being completely unable to find a good distance. I couldn't get her to give me a good canter; it was too quick but not powerful, or too slow and still not powerful.

Eventually we got things figured out, I'm not sure how, and McKinna gave me a little more energy to work with. We did some coursework over fences that were pretty much all 3'+, including one vertical that was at least 3'3 and two portable XC fences Devin moved into her arena. I'm pleased to say that we got some beautiful work, including many more perfect distances than in the past. Even our not-so-perfect distances were better, thanks to me slowly learning how to ride properly! I think the lesson would have been even better if it wasn't so dang hot, but you work with what you have, and I was really pleased with McKinna for digging deep and giving me the energy and power we needed even though she was a bit tired. The entire lesson lasted maybe 40 minutes, but it was a good one. Afterward I hosed her down with cool water and she perked right up at the sight of a few sugar cubes.

I think I may make her clip a little bigger tonight to prepare for XC schooling tomorrow. It's supposed to be in the 70s. I think I'll take it higher on her neck and maybe zip most of the long hair off her butt too. The other nice thing is that we're starting around 10 tomorrow, and it's been quite cool in the mornings before heating up in the afternoon - so hopefully we'll avoid the worst of the heat.


On another note, considering it's, um, October, and we're only three months away from the new year...what do you say we check in on the goals?

For your reviewing pleasure, here they are:

1. Pass C-2 rating in Pony Club
2. Master Novice-level eventing
2b. Begin to school some Training-level eventing
3. Clean tack consistently
4. Get a dressage saddle that fits Pandora and me
5. Kill the Judge Stand Monster for Pandora
6. Stick to a fitness schedule for myself
7. Take monthly progress reports


So - number one is ACHIEVED. I passed my C-2 back in May. The Horse Management stuff was a breeze, and McKinna cheerfully skipped around a light XC course despite the fact that she hadn't done any XC since the previous year. Good pony. The take-away message: we need to be able to establish relaxation, free forward movement, and connection more consistently for the next rating. Gridwork was great.

Second: master Novice-level eventing. In hindsight, 'master' isn't the best word, but it's the best I could think of. What I meant was, "feel like we can go out and ride a tough Novice event successfully, with a solid performance in each round that I can feel good about." You can see that 'master' fits a lot better in a list! Ultimately, I think we've achieved this goal. It's not about the scores, though we were doing great at Inavale until our untimely demise by piano. It's about feeling like we could go out and tackle any Novice event and have a good, solid performance in all three phases. The fences, combinations, and questions look friendly and easy to me. The dressage test is completely within our current abilities.

So, I'm calling that one passed.

Goal 2b, begin to school some Training stuff, is definitely in progress. I'm not going to call it finished yet, though. In our dressage lessons, we have slowly but steadily begun to work on leg yield, shoulders-in, more connection at all gaits, and other elements that will come into play at Training level. In my jumping lessons we've begun to push the height, so that now the majority of the fences are set at 3' and we're starting to work with some stuff in the 3'3 range. I haven't had a chance to school very much Training-level XC, but I did a few Training fences and the coffin complex at Inavale at the camp in May, and tomorrow I plan to school a lot of Training questions. So it's safe to say that this goal is well under way.

Goal 3 - fail! I have not been cleaning my tack with any sort of consistency, unless you count really good cleaning right before rallies or shows (which I don't count). So, to get back on track, I'm going to bring a sponge out to the barn. If I can just wipe my stuff off with a damp sponge after every ride with the occasional deeper cleaning and conditioning, I'll be willing to declare victory.

Goal 4 - was achieved! Somewhere along the line I found a Thornhill Pro Trainer dressage saddle that fit her beautifully. It was a pleasure to set that saddle on her back every day. Actually, my TOTD jumping saddle fit her spectacularly too. I sold both of the saddles with her. I was sad to see them go - I like those saddles! But I'd rather she has stuff that fits her.

Goal 5 is not really applicable anymore, since I sold Pandora in early May. I don't think I fully accomplished it by the time I sold her, but I never really had a chance to test it! I will say that her dressage progressed by leaps and bounds, and I think I had enough improvement in my control that the JSM would have been greatly reduced. So, I guess the jury's out on this goal.

Goal 6, stick to a fitness schedule for myself: another spectacular fail. I really haven't done anything. I'm fairly fit because I walk around a lot and I work hard in my lessons, but come on. So, I've weaseled workouts into my regular routine this term and I'm determined to get something done at least 3 days a week. Tuesdays I'll do strength training at home; Wednesday, Thursday, and/or Friday are all days I plan to get to the UO's rec center and play with some cardio machines. And the rock wall. I'll let you know how this one goes...I tend to have so much going on in my life that I let this one slip, but I'd really like to do SOMETHING. If I can consistently work out twice a week, I'm willing to call this goal accomplished.

Goal 7, take monthly progress reports - well. Considering this is the first goals check-in, I think that one is also a fail ;) However, I've been keeping you guys updated on our training progress, so it's not entirely an unmet goal. I don't know if I like this goal anymore, so I may not try to accomplish it between now and January.

So there you have it - an updated goals list! Trust me, my little brain is already chipping away at my goal list for next year. It'll be a good one...

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Good Times

 Seriously. Look at that tail. It's insane and I love it. That's after a QUICK washing.

I've been having so much fun at the barn lately. Now that I've recovered from my crazy summer, I've found that it's really nice to go out to the barn to ride or take lessons or just hang out with McKinna. 

Last night she got a nice trace clip. It's been really, oddly warm here lately, and she already had grown about as much winter coat as a normal horse does over an entire winter. I mean, if I left her alone, by December she'd be ready for winter in North Dakota or something. She's been sweating quite a bit when worked hard lately, she had some dried sweatmarks on her shoulders today (I'm guessing from taking a little gallop around the pasture), and we're going XC schooling at Inavale on Saturday when it' supposed to be almost 80 (!!!), so it was time for a clip.

I ordered one of those nifty T-80 bodyclipping blades to use, but it's not here yet, so I just used our regular clippers. I read on the COTH forums that it makes clipping really easy if you wash your horse, put some glugs of baby oil in a bucket of warm water, sponge your horse off with that, scrape, then let dry and clip. I tried it, except we used that concentrated pink Healthy Haircare stuff that the Arab people use (love it as a conditioning spray, esp on sweat marks or tails).

It worked REALLY well. The fur came off soooo easily. Of course, we're also clipping earlier this year and I have my super-awesome Andis Star clippers. But the clipped fur underneath was so soft, not all dry and flaky!

Hello little speckles, I've missed you :)

This weekend I will probably expand the clip to a hunter clip - just leave the legs, a small saddle patch, and I'm not sure yet about the face hair. Do you usually clip the face? Half the face? I want to take a lot off early while it's still pretty warm. The idea is to clip while it's still early so she grows some coat back by winter....then I will probably do another trace clip. Sigh. She does go out every day, so even though she gets blanketed she needs to have some protection. That's why I'm leaving the hair on her legs.

In other news, I ordered some goodies from SmartPak!

First, I finally gave in and ordered myself a Nathe:


Nathes and Herm Sprenger Duos are basically the only bits like this on the market. They are SOFT rubber, not hard plastic like a Happy Mouth or Korsteel Flexi. (McKinna is in a HM right now and quite likes it.) They're also thin, with a little curve for the tongue; if your horse likes thick bits, you could always get one of those super thick black rubber ones. Luckily, the black rubber type is cheap.

Nathes will run you about $60 from SmartPak or Bit of Britain, but they are extremely soft, gentle bits. As I mentioned before, I'm curious to see if this step along the progression (metal-- Happy Mouth -- Nathe) encourages her to take even more contact and connection, since switching from metal to Happy Mouth did so.

The other thing is that from what I've read about them they are excellent bits to have around for young horses, restarting OTTBs, or anything that's sensitive.


I also ordered a pair of Super Comfort Stirrup Pads:



Devin has these on her jumping saddle and I really like them. Super grippy = good for XC! I've also heard that they are very comfortable because of the slightly wider surface.


I've got a dressage lesson today, a jumping lesson on Thursday, and then Devin's trying to put together a group to go schooling at Inavale on Saturday before they close for the year. I know I keep saying I'm winding down, but stuff keeps coming up! I am actually really excited for this. McKinna has been kicking so much ass on cross-country and I haven't had a chance to school above our level since the camp in May. If it goes the way I think it will, I'm pretty sure McKinna and I will get to school a lot of Training questions - I can't WAIT to try that Training-level trakehner!

I'm teaching a couple lessons on Wednesday night to boarders at our barn, so that should be fun. They are going to an open show at the Oregon Horse Center next month and they're getting ready! Then the chiropractor is coming out to do McKinna on Friday. I don't think she's got anything major wrong, but she's been working hard and lately she has been kinda twitchy and grumpy about her wither area, and she also really appears to hate having the top of her crest rubbed (like when we give her a bath).

What else? Pony Club is kind of kicking into gear in terms of mounted lessons right now, which is great. Devin's going to come teach a lesson in October and we've also got Robin, who is a local instructor and friend of ours. She's a schoolteacher - no wonder she's so great with the kids! I'm also working on scheduling a couple clinics in November/December with some Pony Club examiners.

Classes started for me yesterday. It will be an interesting term. I think my favorite classes are going to be Physics, which has an engaging and very organized professor, and the Kidd Tutorial, which is this big long intense creative writing course. My other two classes are Ecology and Evolution. On the plus side, the Evolution professor is into horses, so we might be able to connect there. On the minus side, I'm not too sure about the organization level and lecture-interest level for those two classes, so we'll see.

It should be a manageable term as long as I don't let the work and reading get ahead of me. And as long as I don't spend every lecture daydreaming about what I'm going to work on in my next ride!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Eventing Rally Report Part II

The Eventing Rally Report continues...


So here I am, sitting on my normally quite calm horse as she jigs around warmup and dances sideways around some perfectly innocuous piles of brush. As far as I know I am still in third place, because the rider ahead of me jumped clean and I didn't see the rider after me, while I took a rail.

The rider ahead of me is walking around the start box, almost ready to go in. McKinna's head is up, her ears are swiveling, and she's pretty much tuning me out.

Great way to start a cross-country ride, don't you think?

So I decide to revise my warmup plan. Instead of walking around on a loose rein until it is my turn, I ask a nearby coach to watch me as I trot McKinna over a big crossrail made of logs.

This is a Pony Club thing - at rallies, you can warm up on the flat by yourself, but you have to have a coach (any coach, not just your team's) watching you whenever you jump. I think it's a pretty smart safety measure, actually, when you think about how many kids are out there on sometimes not-too-controllable ponies, and emotions are often running high.

Anyway, the coach agrees and comes over to watch. McKinna settles down a little as I point her at the fence, takes a big leap over. I bring her back to the trot and come again and we have a brief but firm discussion about the fact that the outside rein does, in fact, mean she can't drift way out with that right shoulder. After she quits fussing and agrees, we pop over the fence again.

Now she's calmer, cantering quietly away from the fence instead of head-up and choppy. We canter the fence a few times and she takes me to it in her normal aggressive XC style, but without getting tense and rushy. I bring her back to a walk and call it good.

"She looks like she really calms down when she has a job to do," remarks the coach who had been watching us.

Wise words!

So now, with the first rider setting out on course, we walk over (on a loose rein!) to the start box. I take deep breaths and walk circles through the start box, front to back. I glance at my watch and remember I have to start it during the countdown.

Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven. Six.

I flick through my minute markers - just after the tiger trap, by the bridge along the creek, and before the last fence - reminding myself that I ended up wheeling the course much tighter than they indicated and that I should aim to be a little behind on all my markers.

Five. Four. Three.

I start my watch and stop in the box, facing forward to the course. I shorten my reins.

Two. One. Have a great ride!

A little cheer goes up as I get up in two-point and send McKinna forward. She's cantering well, a little unfocused, but the first two fences are not long after the start box and they're simple. We pop over the first, no problem. By the second, McKinna is jumping out of stride and I stop worrying, knowing that she's settled into the job.

We sail over three, the big downed tree - did I ever think that thing was big and imposing? - and make a tight left to four, the tiger trap in the woods. Then a short gallop to five, the first Real Fence, a pretty big and newly-stained rolltop. McKinna nails the perfect spot and jumps neatly over the rolltop.

We land and I look up ahead to the bank, where we will canter up straight and make a pretty hard right turn to jump the down bank. As we canter up, I say hi to a friend who is jump judging there. (Sometimes you get weird moments of slowwww clarity on course. Hey, I was relaxed!) We make the right-hand turn, McKinna does her characteristic easy canter stride down the bank, and we take a hard left to aim for fence seven, a nice wide fence with a little pine tree growing in front of the center. It is appropriately named the squeeze.

We jump the right side, hugging the tree, and then drift over to get a straight line to a moderately-sized rock oxer. No problems-- we're on our game now and all I need to do is enjoy the ride. We hop over the next few fences: a fairly big log brush in the trees, a rollback to a skinny-ish coop, a tight turn to trot through a set of mandatory flags.



Now we are on the home stretch, a looong gallop around the last corner of the field with four more fences to go. They all go smoothly, even the big new rolltop at the very corner - later, the matching BN fence over there will elicit a lot of stops - and, perfectly on time, we clear the last fence and head for the finish.

I stop at the vet box and dismount, quietly telling McKinna she is the best pony EVER while trying to make her quit dancing sideways away from the vet's stethoscope. After a bit they get a reading on her pulse and respiration and send me to cool out for five minutes. I think coming in her pulse was 100 and her resp was 80, but I have no idea if that's right.

I loosen girth and noseband and walk her in big circles, patting her neck every two seconds or so and telling her how amazing and wonderful she is. At some point my Stable Manager manages to make it over, and she grabs my saddle and pads to take back to the barn. (Stable managers had a hard job this weekend with the one-day rally...too many places to be at once. But mine did an awesome job!) Shortly after that they call me in, check her pulse and respiration (which has dropped I think to 80 and 60? Clearly this is something I need to study a bit...TPR at work and good recovery rates) and tell me she's recovering well. So off I go, practically skipping with joy, to take her back to the stable area and finish cooling her out. It's drizzling, but I don't care. My horse rocks!

I hear over the radio on the way back that the rider after me had a stop on XC, so that moves me up to second place. Back at the stable area, I strip the rest of McKinna's tack and her boots, then proceed to sponge and scrape (despite much protesting on her part) until she's pretty cool. The cooler goes on, she gets a bunch of carrots, and after I deal with a brief post-adrenaline-rush stomachache, I change into warm(!) and dry (!!) clothes. I'm done for the day and it feels awesome - all I have to do now is take care of my rockstar pony and start packing up and organizing my stuff.

Somewhere along the way, the coach who helped me in warmup stops me and compliments me on how nice the two of us looked out there. She says that McKinna seems to really settle into a comfortable, smooth gallop once she's out there on course.

This kind of thing means a lot to me to hear. I know that McKinna is an amazing horse and I have always known it, but I don't think it has always been clear to bystanders. It's really nice to hear unprompted outside validation every once in awhile, and it is the frosting on the cake of our awesome ride.



So, how did rockstar pony and I do? Well...

It turns out, the first place person - the rider who went ahead of me all day on a very sweet-looking QH/Shire mare - had a slew of time penalties in stadium and XC. (Stadium is understandable - McKinna and I actually had a time penalty. Seriously? We had a time penalty. At Novice. They must have wheeled that course TIGHT!) Ultimately, with my double-clear XC round, it was enough to move me and McKinna up to first place! Barely. By less than a point. But still! McKinna! Me! Winning!

I was extreeeeeemely excited.

To make a long story short, the scoring was all kinds of crazy, there were a lot of inconsistencies, and though my score and the other girl's score did not change over the course of the inquiry process, there was a mistake in the final (handwritten) scores. Her score did not change but mine somehow jumped up a few points, enough to put me in second place.

I was bummed.

I checked with them afterward, because I'd added up my score (dressage score of 36 plus 4 faults plus 1 time penalty does NOT equal 44!). They couldn't do anything then as our TD had left, but the next day an email got sent out with corrected scores. I guess there had been a little confusion amongst other divisions too.

Anyway, in the correction email, it listed me as first place. And so I was happy.

I know winning isn't everything, but dang, every once in awhile I like to get recognition for me and my pony and the hard work we've put in! So I was satisfied, and McKinna is amazing and super fun on XC as always, and other than the scoring mistakes it was a really well-run rally.

By the end of the day I was wiped out, but I was warm and dry and I had plenty of time to pack up all my stuff before awards. My teammates also did awesome, and overall our team ended up with 3rd place in Horse Management and 3rd place riding. Go team!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Eventing Rally - Dressage and Stadium Videos

Before I finish up the story, a video recap!

Dressage:



You can see that the first part of the test is pretty reasonable, the second fairly tense (especially after the canters). I think the biggest culprit is our lack of good connection. It's something that we're just beginning to develop consistently in our lessons, so I know that a better connection and thus a better test will come with time.

I also noticed (and the judge commented on) how she tilts her head to the side, especially in the trot. Seems to be an evasion, and it's another symptom of no connection. If I don't have a steady contact, I can't ride her through the crookedness to be straight between my reins and legs.

But it's a work in progress and I was pleased with her. And we got an 8 on our halt! And her canters look kind of like normal horse canters now, instead of crazy shuffle-y pony who has never cantered before ever! And we're starting to develop an actual noticeable stretch in the free walk!

(PS, the random whistling you hear throughout is birds, not the judge ;)

Stadium:



Pretty much as I described it. A little hairy while we got each other figured out, rail on fence 2 that was my fault, then it went pretty smoothly and she was jumping well.




The rest will be up tonight - I need to transfer the videos to my mom's laptop so I can cut the XC videos into one piece. It will be worth the wait to see the wonderpony go dashing across your screen on lovely green fields, I promise!
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