Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Tale of Two Horses, revisited

McKinna at Inavale eventing camp, summer 2009

I have been chewing over a bit of a dilemma for quite some time now.

It has simmered quietly in the back of my mind, bubbling just a little bit louder sometimes-- like when I ended up taking McKinna to the eventing camp. Or when I ended up taking McKinna to my rating. Or when I ended up taking McKinna to the first two dressage lessons . . .

You get the point.

So the simmering question is this: am I wasting my chance for riding McKinna in her best years?

I never got the chance to truly work on McKinna. I rode her for about a year, took her to her first XC schooling sessions, did high school equestrian team, and had a great time. Just after I broke my ankle, I joined Pony Club and bought Pandora. My riding has improved by leaps and bounds since I joined - but I've hardly focused on McKinna since then. I have never turned my new skills, long-term, to riding her.

When I do ride her, it's great. She kicked butt at an eventing camp with pretty much no preparation and I was able to successfully get my D-3 rating on her, also with not much preparation. (Not that she was perfect. But, she was fun.)

Both of them have sort of been booted into gear as I start conditioning again for the season. McKinna took over the first two dressage lessons since Pandora whacked her poll, and they went very very well. So well that my mother has insisted I keep schooling her, and the improvement is awesome.

This is difficult, because riding Pandora is also very fun. She's cheerful - even more cheerful than McKinna, who can be grumpy in the winter. She's incredibly sweet and friendly and always willing to come in from the pasture to say hi.

Pandora comes in for some snuggles, summer 2009

She's also sensible: last night, the trainer was working a young gelding who's been laid off from a cough for awhile. He was really full of beans and at one point got the rope under his leg, and she let him go so he didn't hurt himself. Pandora and I were at the end of the arena, and as he came galloping towards us at full speed, I just settled her into a halt on a light contact and stayed in as secure of a seat as I could. He flew by a few feet from us; Pandora snorted and jumped a bit to the side when his trailing rope nearly hit her, but other than that she was calm and quiet.

She's pretty laid-back about scary fences. Even last spring when we jumped a course of Inavale's brightly decorated fences, including one zebra-painted end fence, she hardly blinked. She's easy to get along with. Sometimes she gets upset about something, but it's so easy to bring her down just by staying calm and giving her a moment to process what's going on.


If you'll recall, I never intended to keep Pandora forever. I wavered back and forth: project horse to sell, or keep for longer? And if you also recall, I decided to keep her for at least another year. I had lots more to learn from her, I decided. (And I did have more to learn, and I have learned a lot.)

At the same time, McKinna has a lot to teach me, and I feel like I should take advantage of this now. My time and effort may be better invested into McKinna: regardless whether I keep my horse for this year, I will sell Pandora before I graduate college. This is because of the way my after-college plans are looking, which I will talk at length about in my next post. I love and care about Pandora, but she is not my "forever horse" and I knew that when I bought her.

After-college plans considered, though, McKinna is my mom's horse, and she will stay with our family for the rest of her (long and happy!) life. Any training I put into her will continue to benefit us in the long run as my mom will still ride her.

There are other advantages and disadvantages, of course. Sharing one horse between us means sharing expenses - all the money I currently spend on Pandora and her upkeep could then go to more lessons, more clinics, and the ability to maybe go to MORE than one recognized event. The mind, it boggles.

On the flip side, sharing one horse means . . . sharing one horse. We did it for awhile, but it usually means less riding time for Mom, and it also means one of us is always stuck not doing much while the other person rides. I think we could handle it, but it could sometimes get frustrating. (That being said, in most cases it's not too hard to find a horse in need of an occasional ride, so riding together wouldn't necessarily be out of the question.)

Then it comes back to Pandora. I think she is an excellent lower-level eventing/PC/do whatever you want horse. She's fun, sweet, laid-back. There are a few things to work out - for example, at my rating, she was rushing quite a bit on XC, and I think I can resolve that with some quiet schooling. She's also a little volatile about trailering lately, which is a bit of a leftover from her accident, but with patience she's already begun to settle down again.

Trotting at a Karen O'Neal clinic, spring 2009

So it's not that she can't do what I want to do. She did well last year at the combined tests and event derbies and schooling shows. At Lily Glen we were schooling Novice XC with great success. I strongly believe that after a few more dressage lessons, I'll start to see a big difference in her too. Last night I was working on some concepts from the first lesson. Since I've only taken one lesson on Pandora with the dressage trainer, I wasn't entirely sure if I was on the right track - but I asked for a canter transition and it was immediate and balanced, so I'm pretty sure I was headed in the right direction.

But maybe it's time for both of us to move on.

I've put a year and a half of training and time and love into her. Consistent sessions with the chiropractor have made an incredible difference in her body and her comfort level. A switch to this barn, where she gets year-round turnout in a pasture as well as mountains of hay, has created a horse who is very happy throughout the year (instead of a head-flipping mess in the winter) and who needs very little grain to maintain good weight.

It's hard to think that anyone will ever take as good care of her as I do. I CAN'T be alone in this. Other people feel this way too, right?! But I also, logically, know that's not true. Somewhere out there is a person looking for a friendly, enjoyable horse to have fun with, someone who will feed her lots of hay and make sure she gets turnout and take excellent care of her.

So here's the general idea: I'm just not sure what to do. At this point, selling her this spring or early summer to a really good home sounds like the best idea. I'm not under time pressure, so I will have the leisure to look for a perfect match. Then I can take McKinna to the recognized HT at Inavale, my C-2 rating, and finally just get a chance to make some progress with arguably the coolest little mare ever.

Phew. That was a lot - and like I said, I have been mulling over this for a long time. It is NOT a bad dilemma to have, and I know I'm lucky to have an excess of good horses. But that's what I've been thinking, and I sure wouldn't mind some thoughts from you guys on the whole matter.

Friday, January 29, 2010

ABC Retreat - Part II

So, like I said - John Camlin spoke to us about conditioning the event horse. He had a LOT of really good information for us, including a sample conditioning timetable for a Training 3-Day event.

First off, he said, most people don't ride enough. (Keep in mind we're talking about conditioning for eventing.) He told us we should be riding six days a week, which quite a few of the girls in the group already did. Not me! I usually ride 4-6 days a week, with 5 being a pretty common number. I have started increasing my riding time and have been doing pretty well with lessons, but it's still hovering around 5.

He said that the first thing he does when he walks up to his horse is check the horse's legs. You need to know what they look and feel like normally, what they usually look and feel like after a gallop. If you are this familiar with your horse's legs, you can detect minor problems before they become big issues. I thought this was great advice - for example, Pandora's legs in general but her left hind especially have some lumps and bumps. I know they're there, but I should probably be more familiar with them so I can tell if a new one appears!

On that note, it's also important to know your horse's resting temperature, pulse, and respiration (TPR) and their recovery rates.

Speaking of recovery rates, we talked a lot about interval training. The purpose of intervals is to stress the heart, then let it level, then stress, level, etc. You're working towards a faster recovery rate, conditioning your horse so he's not running on empty by the time you're done with XC. You are also getting familiar with your horse's form of 'normal,' a theme that cropped up again and again. If you are used to doing intervals with your horse, you know when he's starting to get tired on course and you can back off. John told us a story about a horse he was riding who, about a third of the way into the course, just didn't have the gas he should have. John let the horse cruise at a bit of a slower pace for a bit, and after a minute or so, the horse found his second wind and really kicked it into gear.

Gallops are important to do at home - even, and especially, for the horse who gets crazy galloping on course. If the only time he ever gets to gallop is when he's out on course galloping and jumping, of course he's going to be wild! You need to teach the horse to gallop at home. You're teaching the horse how to go fast in a constructive way, building strength. To that end, you can't just let your horse lollop around on the forehand at Mach 10. Gallops should be balanced, and the horse should be willing to respond to aids to slow down.

He said if you don't have room to gallop, you can work on your interval training by trotting up hills. Though your horse does need to learn to gallop, one of the biggest points is to do the interval training by getting the heart rate up. You can get their heart rate up by trotting up hills, too.

One really cool thing he talked to us about, which I'd never heard before, was figuring out your horse's ratio for respiration to pulse. Unless you have a wicked awesome HR monitor like Stacey ;), you need a good way to check pulse while you're conditioning - and hopping off between gallop sets to check recovery time isn't the most efficient. John said if you pay attention and check P/R several times after intervals, you can figure out a general ratio for your horse. So you can measure respiration from the saddle by watching or feeling, then run it through your simple math (R times 2 plus 5 I think is what John said one of his horses usually was?) and get an estimate of pulse.

Very cool.

We also talked a little about reconditioning after time off. He said the biggest mistakes people make are underestimating the power of walking, and beginning to jump too soon.

All of his information was very interesting and practical. I think his lecture was my favorite of the day, probably because it was so closely tied in to eventing. I really like when we get real-world information that I can go home and work into my life. I've been trying to go out for long hacks on the road whenever I can, since it has some nice hills. It's way too soggy out here to even be thinking about gallops yet, but we've just started reconditioning anyway.

That's all for now. I'm working on another post - where I could use some thoughts from you - on something I've been chewing over for awhile now. After that you'll get the next installment of the ABC retreat.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

ABC Retreat - Part I

Last night, Pandora and I went to our first jumping lesson in about three months. Goodness, it's been a long time! She was no worse for the time off, though. In general she was soft and smooth and she certainly hasn't forgotten how to jump.

My position needs quite the refresher, which isn't too surprising. I fell into old habits, popping up on my toes over the fence (ugh) and not being strong in my core to keep my shoulders back. I'm not terribly worried, though. It was a good, quiet reintroduction to jumping and now I know what to work on! I am also sure my dressage lessons will make a big difference.

Without further ado, the beginning of my report from the ABC retreat.

Most of the girls arrived for the ABC retreat on Friday evening. As people filtered in, we'd grab some cookies or cider and start talking about horses (of course!). I got the rare opportunity to talk about horses with girls my own age who have similar interests - we talked about working-student positions, horses in college, moving up the levels in eventing.

After everyone was there, we received a brief introductory lecture from Nancy, our host. She spoke to us about the need to ask good questions in the horse world, especially as we learned from all the guest speakers over the weekend. Asking all the questions - who, what, when, where, why, how - can help us get a deeper understanding of anything. Nancy then divided us up into a few groups and told us to come up with five questions for each of the topics we'd be covering over the weekend.

Here were the topics: Working With Your Vet, Equine Systems, Conditioning, Starting a Young Horse, Equine Facilities Tour, Long Lining, Suitability, and Structures of the Equine Distal Limb.

I really enjoyed that exercise, actually. It got everyone thinking about what they wanted to know, applying each lecture to their own situation. The discussion was lively, with everyone throwing out ideas. Here is a sampling of the questions my group came up with.

What is one of the most common cases you see in which an owner should have called a vet right away, but didn't?
Do the systems of horses differ by breed? How?
How can you build condition in the winter?
What is the place of road work in conditioning?
How do you decide where to situate the windows and aisles in a barn relative to the prevailing winds or sun in the seasons?
How can you use long lining to improve the training of a trained horse?
How do you pick a suitable off-the-track Thoroughbred?

We got answers to almost all of our questions over the weekend, though I never did run into anyone who knew about how to lay out your barn with regard to prevailing weather conditions.

After our question-brainstorming, we headed out to Nancy's garage for our Vet lecture. The room was stuffed with benches and blankets and rugs - pretty cozy, though it was a bit chilly. Hence the blankets.

We went over the Diseases and Vaccinations information I gave you last year, so I won't type that all up again. We also got a list of things Dr. Hoffman says you should have on hand in your first-aid kit:
- Stethoscope (for pulse, or know how to take it by palpation)
- Thermometer with lubricant
- Bandaging materials: cottons, stable bandages, clean absorbent dressing (diapers work!), antiseptic cream like Nolvasan
- Antiseptic cleaner like Betadine soap
- Pliers (to pull foreign objects out of feet)
- Clippers

She says optional but nice are twitch, bute, ice boots, easy boot, and poultice for hooves.

To that I would probably add Banamine paste to give for colic if your vet says so over the phone. And gloves, latex or nitrile. And I like to have gauze on hand for smaller injuries for which you don't need huge absorbent dressing like diapers. And scissors for cutting the gauze.

Even though I had the first part of this lecture last year, I found it pretty valuable. It refreshed my memory and gave me a good opportunity to ask newer, in-depth questions.

By the time this lecture was over, it was about 9:30, so everyone settled down. Nancy's place is very cool - each room seems to spill into another and the house kind of goes on forever. In the back living room there were enough couches that I think seven of us slept back there, plus she had couches in other rooms and extra bedrooms and the like. It kind of felt like a giant slumber party, which I suppose it was, except we talked about horses instead of boys. (This is my kind of slumber party!)

We rolled out of bed the next morning to a yummy breakfast of fresh cinnamon cake, english muffins, oatmeal, cereal, and several other things I think. I, in my perpetual state of 'Yeah, I'm kinda hungry,' am eternally grateful to Nancy for making food available to us at pretty much all times of the day. Plus lunch was this amazing pot of chicken and rice soup that Nancy made from scratch. It was fantastic.

Anyway, after a nice breakfast, we headed out to the garage again for the day's lectures. Nancy kicked the day off with a discussion of horse systems - digestive, cardiovascular, respiratory, nervous, and the like. We talked about how everything interrelates when you give an aid: you squeeze your legs, which sends an impulse to the brain, which sends the instructions back out to the muscles to move. Then there are all the involuntary processes like heartbeat, breathing, digestion, and so on.

We talked about fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscles and the differing proportion different breeds have. Slow twitch fibers are aerobic, or they need oxygen; they primarily correspond to strength and endurance. Fast twitch are anaerobic and produce bursts of speed, but they can only work for short periods of time. Highly relevant to eventers, who must go at speed over distance and terrain!

The different systems also condition at different rates, as we learned later in the day. For example - you can get a horse's 'wind,' or respiratory system, in condition pretty quickly. Same with muscles. But soft tissue like tendons and hard tissue like bones take much longer to fully condition. This is important when we're talking about conditioning for hard, stressful work like riding cross-country.

After that was conditioning with John Camlin of Caber Farm - an excellent lecture. Further reports to come soon!

Monday, January 18, 2010


The ABC retreat made for a long but very informative weekend. A group of about 15 Pony Clubbers, varying in age and rating but tending towards older and higher-rated, gathered for a full weekend of lectures and demonstrations geared towards a deeper understanding of horse management concepts.

I had a wonderful time. We covered a wide range of topics - the systems of the horse, conditioning for eventing, starting young horses, vaccinations and diseases, longeing and long lining, determining suitability of a horse for rider and career, designing an ideal facility....the list went on. We spent one evening and two full days just soaking up as much information as possible.

Now, you guys know me and how much I love learning new things about horses. This was a great chance to learn in a way that goes above and beyond what I normally get a chance to hear, and with other like-minded girls. In fact, that was the best part. It's not often that I'm able to hang out with girls my own age who are as horse-crazy as I am!

We even got an in-depth lesson on the bones, joints, tendons, and ligaments of the horse's lower leg (or "equine distal limb" in science-speak). That was the last session and we got to play with cadaver horse legs and actually see some of the tendons and ligaments and how they work. A bit smelly and slimy but very cool. I'll spare you the pictures I took...

I will write a full report on the experience, of course, but for now I only have one day off to catch up on all that homework I didn't do while I was gone. And I have to go ride my horse while thinking about all the new information I have!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Lesson Report

Have I ever mentioned that I love lessons?

Lately I have been a bit rut-bound with the horses, which is to say that Pandora and I seem to be spinning our wheels without getting anywhere. Between sickness on my part and minor injuries on her part, we have yet to really "get going" again this year. My mind is bursting with ideas, from cool jumping exercises and long rides over terrain to cavaletti and work on getting comfortable in a dressage ring. But the situations haven't quite caught up yet.

So it's difficult, because starting up again always requires more than a little bit of energy just to overcome the inertia of plodding around. I am a goal-driven person and, unless my goal is to simply plod around and enjoy (I have no problems with this!), I need to be going somewhere. So our slow re-beginnings have been dragging on me. I question everything. Sure, she's got the best mind ever, but her movement really kinda sucks. And she's so stiff in terms of bending. And can she really jump that well?

You get the idea.

Thankfully, lessons help kick this worrying habit square in the pants, mostly by virtue of getting me going somewhere. I had a fantastic lesson on McKinna last night, and I'm really hoping that when I take Pandora in two weeks I will start feeling more positive about our rides again. Next week, we have a jumping lesson and then a jumping schooling show, where we will undoubtedly only ride in a few low-key classes. I accept that we're getting off to a slow start.

Anyway. I had a great time riding McKinna last night! Unfortunately no pictures, but I promise I will get some (or have some gotten, really) next time.

We worked more on asking McKinna to soften. I'd been worried that I was just fussing with her mouth, which prompted her to fuss back and tuck behind the vertical. The solution? Shorten my reins and go forward. What was actually happening was that she was bouncing around, trying to find a contact, and slowing down while doing it, thus going behind the vertical (and generally being counterproductive). By keeping my reins shorter, I gave her a steady contact to rely on. She is by no means allowed to lean on the contact, but it needs to be there. And by pushing her forward, I make her "fill up the space I've created" with the softening and suppling, which makes a lot of sense viscerally, feeling it as you're on the horse, but a lot less sense when I write it here. Those things solved the fussing and kept her much steadier.

So we spent most of the lesson working on similar things. The mare learns so fast it's not even funny. First lesson? Had to really use some firm hand squeezes to get her to give, and I had to do it pretty much constantly. Last night, at the walk at least, I can just close my fingers like I'm gently wringing out a sponge and she softens, and she can actually hold it for several strides. Last week, barely any softening at the canter. This week, a couple strides at a time. Then she goes "OOF THAT'S HARD WORK" and either braces against my hand or wants to break to a trot, which is understandable - it is hard work. So we make progress in bits and pieces, a few strides here, a few strides there.

The rule is that she doesn't get to brace by pushing forward with her chest and neck and nose. She can relax, she can stretch down, she can take a break -- she just doesn't get to brace against me and make me hold her up. I got some beautiful stretchy-trot at the end of the lesson. Keep her supple, keep the contact, but soften and allow her more rein: she just chewed the reins right down and stayed balanced, steady. It felt great and I bet she enjoyed it too.

Trotting needs to be faster than I thought. I felt like I was bobbing up and down on a pogo stick at the rate I was posting, but Leslie and my mom both said it looked just right, and when I glanced in the mirrors it looked like a good pace. Interesting how things can look so different than they feel. I had to work a lot harder last night too! It is like a cycle to go through, and by the time I get to the end I've forgotten the things at the beginning - hands low and wide, ask her to soften, keep the contact, steady outside rein, keep the outside shoulder turning, but keep a slight inside bend in the ribcage, don't stick my toes out because we aren't trying to catch chickens, more forward, don't lose the forward, stay straight in the saddle, keep the hands low and wide, ask her to fact, I am so ridiculous that I might actually record myself saying all of this at appropriate intervals and just listen to it while I ride. It's amazing the way you forget to do things that you know you should do, just because there's so much else to concentrate on.

It was a great, positive lesson. I felt much better showing up in my (nice, SOFT!) Thornhill dressage saddle than in my jumping saddle last time! And sitting the canter is definitely easier in a saddle made for doing so. After the lesson we went through the barn and met all the (huge, fancy, all warmblood except for the Anglo Arab) horses. They were all very nice. Quantro, Leslie's horse, who they call Q, is an absolute sweetheart. Very playful.

My mother is of course thrilled because now I'm practically obligated to ride McKinna more. I don't mind, because she is a lot of fun to ride! At the same time, I'm cautiously optimistic for my lesson with Leslie on Pandora. I have gone a long, long time without consistent dressage instruction and I am very ready for that to change. If we can make progress at HALF the rate McKinna's been going, I will be thrilled. I just want to be...going somewhere. I think I will feel much better after I take Pandora to a lesson.

In other lessoning news, the little jump lesson I taught on Monday went very well. We ended up jumping outside, which got a little sketchy for light reasons towards the end, but it worked out okay. The girl rides a cute QH mare, a very sweet and extremely willing horse named Lola.

We started off with some flatwork, but moved pretty quickly into the jumping since she's got a show at the end of the month and she will be doing hunter hack. I set up four trot poles, which she went through perfectly several times. Then I added a small cross-rail a few steps away.

It did not go particularly well. For whatever reason, Lola was not a big fan of trotting that cross-rail. She either wanted to stop - at which point I had the girl just make her walk over it, since pretty much any horse can walk over a crossrail backwards in their sleep - or she wanted to take a big deer-leap, which wasn't particularly dangerous but tends to be pretty uncomfortable.

I dropped the X on one side, which helped, but it just wasn't working. A bell went off in my head: if what you're doing isn't working, change what you're doing!

So I changed what I was doing.

I got rid of the trot poles and used one for a ground line, then I had her canter the fence. With most hotter horses like TBs or McKinna, I wouldn't do this, because adding more speed and less regulation usually doesn't help. But I had a hunch about this one, namely that she would be more comfortable with the added rhythm and impulsion and narrower takeoff option of a canter stride, and that she would figure out the distance thing on her own. (I also double-checked with her rider that they'd cantered fences fine before, which she answered in the affirmative.)

She was great!

It took Lola a few times to get her distances figured out, but I could tell she was way happier with this setup. I had the rider work on these things: a lot of steering by finding a good line early on and staying straight with the outside rein, plus steering straight AWAY from the fence without cutting the corner; finding a steady rhythm by counting out loud (made a visible and immediate improvement); making sure to keep impulsion at the base of the fence by supporting with leg when necessary; and, most importantly, staying OFF the back and OFF the mouth! Once, when Lola rounded the corner after a bit of an overjump, she humped her back and did a couple "dolphin bucks." (Hadn't heard that term before Mugwump used it but it is perfect.) They were tiny things and her rider got her under control pretty much immediately. Then I explained that, in my experience, good horses tend to do that if you hit their back on the way down as a way of showing their displeasure. I reminded her that on the last jump Lola had popped her out of the tack a little bit and she landed hard, so that was probably why she bucked. Not, I said, that it's an excuse to buck - just something to keep in mind.

Over the course of the lesson we gradually worked up to a two-stride line of a cross-rail to a vertical. They were doing really, really well - Lola found her striding perfect and smooth, her rider did a great job staying in a steady two-point and giving plenty of release but still remembering to steer, and everyone was happy. I really enjoyed the experience, especially problem-solving on the fly. I think in the future, if we continue lessons, I'll have to examine that trotting fences issue again. It may have just been uncertainty but I think it's necessary for horses to be willing and able to trot fences.

FINALLY, one more bit of good news! The barn owners are building an INDOOR HOT WATER WASH RACK.

I know this may not be too exciting to some of you (cough, Stacey who lives in Hawaii and can bathe whenever she wants!) but this is awesome news to us. Finally, a way to get our muddy horses clean before lessons or clinics. I love the turnout they get, but bathing McKinna with a cold hose and buckets of warm water from the bathroom gets really old really fast, and she thinks so too. I can't wait until it's finished.

Also, I'm off to the Pony Club ABC retreat this weekend, so expect lots of horse-mangement posts when I get back! I heard a rumor that they were looking for cadaver legs so we could actually look at structures in the leg, how cool is that? Very cool. It should be a ton of fun.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

All Better!

I decided that tonight was the night to try really riding Pandora again. I was able to touch her ears and her poll all over, including rubbing my fingers over the actual scab from the cut on her poll, without her getting fussy.

So I saddled her up (with my new-to-me Thornhill dressage saddle!) and headed into the arena to bridle her.

It was completely uneventful.

So, that done, I hopped on and rode for about a half hour. The ride was about as bad as the bridling was good, unfortunately. The barn owners have been installing automatic waterers, and the aisle on the far side of the arena had been all dug up and re-filled, so it looked very Different over there. In Pandora's book, when things are Different it is cause for much consternation.

So she was spooky and rushy all down that rail. Under normal circumstances I'd work through it as necessary, but I'm sick and tired, I was trying to finish up so I could do stalls, and Pandora's had a bunch of time off so she was understandably way less focused than usual. I tried for a bit, got frustrated, and decided I was better off to just let it go for the day. We went for a short hack up the road and I called that good.

Tomorrow I'm going to give her a solid workout on the longe, then I'll start riding again on Tuesday. I think I'll take McKinna to my lesson again this week so I don't feel like I'm rushing Pandora into it. That way I can have her going consistently again before I take her to a lesson.

I love my saddle. It is soft and comfortable and wonderful. I'm on the fence about fit for Pandora, but I am very particular about saddle fit, so we'll see. It seems to fit very pretty well, though - I'll take some pictures on Tuesday, maybe.

Tomorrow evening I'm giving a jumping lesson to the barn owner's young daughter. They show Quarter Horses, and she does the Hunter Hack. It should be fun! This is the first jumping lesson I've taught, but I think it's a good starting place. She's pretty young and the stuff we'll be doing will be very laid-back.

I'm planning on starting with several trot poles, then doing trot-poles X, then trot-poles to X to vertical. Maybe a line of two verticals if all else is going well, since that's what is in an actual hunter hack class. I have the rulebook and have been watching AQHA hunter hack videos for the last half hour, too. Not like that makes me an expert hunter trainer, but I feel like I know enough about jumping and teaching to give a useful jumping lesson under these circumstances.

I would really like to get back in the swing of things. It sure seems like between fall term, me being sick, the holidays, the unloading accident, and now me being sick AGAIN, we've had a really hard time settling back into a rhythm. With luck, I'll be over this cold in a couple days and we can start getting serious again. I would like to finally take Pandora to some lessons and clinics.

Oh well. Tomorrow is a new day! With horses and in life, I try to keep in mind a line from a poem by Ellen Kort, which starts with, "Begin. Keep on beginning."

So tomorrow we will begin, and we will keep on beginning.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Making Lemonade

Well, I couldn't take Pandora to my scheduled dressage lesson on Wednesday because I am letting her poll get all healed up. So where do I turn? To my ever-faithful backup horse, of course!

McKinna was not too thrilled about her pre-lesson bath. Not that I was either. Winter-bathing a white horse with no hot water wash rack is not so much fun. But we got her moderately clean. Presentable for a lesson, at least.

The arena at Leslie's is beautiful. The footing is soft and spongy but not irritatingly deep. It's a very nice size. There's mirrors down one short side, perfect for watching your lateral work as you come down the rail.

I showed up with my mostly-clean grey wooly mammoth QH/Arab mare and a jumping saddle, feeling just the slightest bit like a heathen who just stumbled into a dressage arena from the eventing world. (As you'll recall, we sold our dressage saddle last month, so jumping saddle it was.) But I made sure to dress nicely to make up for it!

Of course it wasn't a big deal at all. Leslie is extremely nice and very funny.

I had a great lesson. Leslie had me working on getting McKinna to soften to the bit and carry herself on her own instead of leaning on my hands with her nose poked out. We spent the whole time on a circle. She had me ride with my hands low and wide, keep her turning off that outside shoulder so she didn't bulge out but also reminding her to bend her body with my inside leg, and then ask her to soften by squeezing one rein. At first I had to be pretty firm to get her to give a little, but McKinna is pretty quick on the uptake, so it wasn't long before she understood what was going on.

We did this at walk and trot both directions. I warned Leslie before too long that McKinna's canter is not particularly fit and she tends to rush, hind legs trailing out behind. So after we go for awhile, she asked me to pick up the canter while keeping my hands low and wide to remind her to stay soft and on a light contact.

I picked up the canter.

"Oh my," said Leslie. "I think that is the fastest little canter I have ever seen."

Well. At least I warned her :-)

That being said, using the same strategy as I had at the walk and trot, I was able to get McKinna to actually soften at the canter. As a result, she starts to stretch over her topline and brings her butt under her. She goes 'Um, that's really hard work,' and slows down. Happens at all three gaits, but quite noticeable at the canter. The softening is a very cool feeling and I'm really looking forward to schooling this on both of the horses.

I wish my mom got some video! Next time. She was super excited, by the way, to watch McKinna working her way back to that cute little dressage horse we know is in there. Next thing you know she'll be wanting me to take McKinna every other week too!

I'm looking forward to taking Pandora for a lesson, hopefully next week - she's a lot less headshy but still seems a bit tender in the poll area, so I'm not sure how constructive bridling would be. We'll see this weekend.

In other news, today we are rich in dressage saddles. My mom ordered a used Kieffer, which arrived after we got home from the lesson. It almost fits McKinna and fits Pandora almost perfectly. It is a beautiful saddle. We didn't ride in it, just tried it on, so the test ride for both of them will come tomorrow. I bought a used Thornhill which just arrived today, so that will also get tested out tomorrow. Maybe the Thornhill will fit McKinna perfectly and I can steal the Kieffer. A girl can hope.

Tonight I'm headed to stand in the center and listen while a Pony Club lesson is being taught. Then in two weeks I'm riding in a Friday jumping lesson and then riding in our club's benefit show on Sunday. I will keep it really low key, probably just 2'6, since I didn't get to ride in the jumping clinic last weekend. Thankfully we have a second show in mid-February and I can push the height a little bit there.

I'm looking forward to what's ahead. As soon as I can bridle my horse, that is.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Quitting While You're Behind

Well. Today kind of sucked.

Let me explain.

We got out to the barn at about 11:30 to load up for the clinic and the weather was perfect. Nice and sunny, actually warm. We brought the girls in from the pasture, loaded my tack into the trailer, and cleaned some mud off of Pandora. She was a little "up," but nothing major, and I tend to get stressed out before clinics anyway, which she picks up on very quickly.

Stuck her in the trailer in our usual configuration: front divider closed, then we tied her in the second spot and left the second divider open. She doesn't fit very well in the dividers, so this is how we usually trailer her - it's like using the last space in a multiple-horse slant, except with a little more space behind her. I clipped her to the quick-release trailer tie and took her lead rope to the tack room as always so it didn't get stepped on.

When we arrived at the clinic site, I opened the back door and went to unclip her and unload. Then I realized I'd forgotten to grab the lead rope, so I stood with a hand on her haunches and asked my dad to bring the lead rope. It took him a minute to find it.

As he walked around the corner to hand it to me, Pandora decided it was time to back out. She ignored me pushing on her haunches and telling her to stop, hit the end of the trailer tie, and promptly freaked out. She pushed me up against the trailer wall in her flailing, but luckily she didn't squish me or step on me. After a few seconds - it felt like longer - the leather breakaway strap on her halter did exactly what it was supposed to and broke, and she went flying backwards out of the trailer. (Thankfully she did not flip over.)

After shooting out backwards, she trotted off, obviously very upset. My dad and I caught her without too much difficulty and re-haltered her with the spare halter we keep in the tack room of the trailer. It's not leather breakaway, but it has a plastic tab attached by velcro that unhooks under pressure. I checked her legs out and everything was fine. She did have a cut on her poll but it looked pretty shallow. I got a wet washcloth and swabbed at it as much as she would let me, which wasn't very much.

I pushed it too much and she pulled back, undoing the velcro tab which doesn't have nearly as much hold as a leather strap. For the second time in about as many minutes, we had to go catch her. I brought her back, clipped the halter to the non-breakaway part, and just looped her lead rope through the tie ring instead of tying it. For one last attempt, I asked my dad to hold the end as I wiped at her poll, but (wisely, it turns out) told him he should go grab a glove.

Well. I'm sure you can see where this is going.

By this point, Pandora was really objecting to me wiping, but I really wanted to get it clean. This time she pulled really hard, pulled the lead rope through my dad's gloved hand, got away AGAIN, and was caught again. At this point I just held her lead rope and tried to get her to relax while I rubbed the washcloth high on her neck.

She settled down a little bit and I just let it go. I'd gotten the cut pretty clean, it looked shallow and wasn't bleeding much, and I obviously wasn't going to get very far by fighting with her.

So now we brought her back to the trailer, hung on to the lead rope looped through the tie ring, and just let her eat from her hay bag. As long as we weren't trying to mess with her poll, she was fine. I decided to try tacking her up - provided I could bridle her - and see how she felt under saddle. If she felt off at all, we'd call it a day and just go home.

While brushing and hoof-picking and saddling, she was fine. We decided to take her into the cross ties in the barn to bridle her, since hopefully that would put her in a calm, working frame of mind. She was calm in the cross ties but was NOT interested in being bridled, even when I undid it and tried to put it on that way.

The clinician, Betsy, who I've ridden with several times before, came out to see what was going on. After hearing the story and taking a look at Pandora, she turned to me and said, "Well...probably best to quit while you're behind."

I agreed. Pandora never has any bridling issues, so if she's sore enough to protest that vehemently, she's obviously sore enough that it's stupid to try to ride. I was disappointed, because Betsy doesn't come over to the Valley more than a few times a year, and it would have been a perfect reintroduction to jumping. But horses are horses, and sometimes things happen.

We put Pandora in a stall with her hay to chill for a couple hours while I watched the clinic. My parents made a quick trip back to our barn to bring back some bute, which from now on will be kept in the trailer. We only have the powdered stuff but when dumped in a clean syringe with some applesauce it goes down pretty easily!

At the end of the day she loaded back up fairly promptly, though she was a little nervous. (We shut the divider this time. A tight fit is better than another episode.) We couldn't get her blanket back on since it was a closed-front, but when we got back to the home barn we put on her other blanket, which unbuckles at the chest. Unloading was also nervous but went off without a hitch.

In all, she seemed to be doing well. Her cut bled a little but not much, she walked and jogged out fine on the road, and I didn't find much if any swelling anywhere. She was bright-eyed and cheerfully dove into her dinner, nickering for her grain as usual. I could touch her pretty much anywhere but her poll and the area just behind her ears. Haltering is a little sketchy - you have to flip the strap over her neck very far back, then slide it forward gently to buckle - but possible.

Tomorrow morning I'm heading out at 9 to administer some more bute and turn the girls out. I'd rather that I'm the only one who handles her tomorrow, since she's pretty headshy and haltering needs to be delicate. I'm betting that by Tuesday she'll be much improved.

I'm not too worried about her remaining headshy. She's a smart, calm horse, and as soon as she's not hurting I'll do any work I need to, but I don't think she'll have any issues.

Needless to say, there are about a million ways I could have prevented the accident today. I don't see much point in listing them all here, because trust me, I've been thinking about them all day.

The fact is that I fell into something I think we all tend to do: I got complacent. We had a routine. Everything went smoothly every time. Pandora was well-behaved and pretty calm about trailering - so I got lax. No matter what, there is no way I should have left that door open with her still clipped to the trailer tie.

With Bailey, that was never an issue because he was so bad at trailering! Every time I loaded him up to go somewhere it was a carefully orchestrated operation, designed to be as safe and efficient as possible, simply because the risks were so high with a horse who wasn't a big fan of riding in a trailer. With McKinna and Pandora, it's easy to let standards slide precisely because most of the time we don't need strict protocol.

Key word being 'most.'

Anyway, things could have been a lot worse, and I'm glad they weren't. I feel awful that I wasn't more careful, but I'm glad I got the reminder. From now on I'm returning to full trailer vigilance. I sketched out a design for a fairly simple device to extend the space the divider allows so we can close the divider when we trailer Pandora, and I'll be very careful to keep the door and divider closed until she's safely unclipped from the trailer tie.

Hopefully in a couple days with some rest and bute Pandora will be back to normal.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy 2010!

I'm looking forward to the new year and kicking the horse riding schedule back into shape.

2009 was a good year for us. In late December, I was still focusing on McKinna, riding her in Pony Club lessons and mostly worrying about getting enough weight on Pandora. By early January I rode Pandora in a jumping clinic and was starting to consider that she might be a decent jumping horse ;-)

I didn't really have much in the way of specific goals for the year - I wanted to ride BN or N at Inavale's recognized HT, but that didn't happen because it was just too expensive. I also sort of wanted to sell Pandora over the summer, but see where that went!

But we still made a lot of good progress. In Pony Club, it took me just over a year (September 08 to October 09) to go from unrated to C-1, and I finally took that last rating on my own horse instead of McKinna.

At Lily Glen in May, Pandora and I schooled some solid Novice-level XC fences and it felt great. Later in the summer we ran into some rushing issues, and we still haven't fully resolved those, but I know we will. I wish I could have taken Pandora to the eventing camp at Inavale, but she wound up with a stone bruise or something so I took McKinna.

Still, we came a long way and I'm very pleased with her. I started last January just wanting to get a walk, trot, and canter that wasn't jackhammering on the forehand. We're still working on keeping off the forehand, but at a much higher level!

I'd like to have some more specific goals this year so that next year I can have more measurable standards. As time goes by I know I will add specific monthly goals, but here are some of the big things I'm aiming for this year.

1. Pass my C-2 rating this spring or summer.
I spent a lot of time climbing the beginning of the ratings ladder because it's the key to some opportunities in Pony Club - C versus D camp, the group you're set with in PC clinics, certain levels you can compete in at rallies. Now that I'm finally a C, I feel more comfortable that my rating reflects my actual level. But, I feel that I can reasonably achieve C-2 this year.
Then I'm only one step away from a national rating!

2. Master Novice-level eventing.
This is a bit of a stretch for me to think of right now. We're dealing with big rushing issues on XC and our dressage is fairly sub-par. (Notice I said master Novice, not just 'get around.') But we can make a lot of progress in a year. I think with consistent effort and more lessons, we can do it.

2b. Corollary: start schooling Training-level stuff.
The partner to mastering Novice, of course, is beginning to school Training. That means bigger and more complicated questions on XC and SJ as well as a higher level of dressage. However, I'm definitely not looking to master Training - just start thinking about it and pushing ourselves further. I'm specifically thinking that for this goal I will trailer to Inavale to take some lessons with the trainer there and tell her what I'm looking for. (Obviously this goal happens after I achieve 2, or at least in tandem.)

3. Keep my tack consistently clean.
I've already gotten started on this one by keeping a damp rag sprinkled with leather cleaner in the tack room and wiping down my tack after every ride. It's good for me, good for my tack, and means less time spent scrubbing and scrubbing before rallies or ratings.

4. Get a dressage saddle that fits.
Hopefully well on the way to this one. We sold our Stubben because the only one of us it fit was Pandora, and one out of four isn't good enough! Mom just bought a used Kieffer and will have it fitted to McKinna, and I have my eye on two different saddles, a Collegiate and a Thornhill. I love my jumping saddle and I can't wait to have a dressage saddle that I appreciate just as much.

5. Kill the Judge Stand Monster.
Pandora harbors a deathly fear of the judge's stand in dressage arenas, which is kind of annoying. I mean, she doesn't take off bolting or anything, but she's normally so calm and focused that it's frustrating to have such a tense horse in the actual dressage arena. I think through a combination of schooling creativity at home and taking her out to more shows with dressage portions, I can get rid of this.

6. Stick to a fitness schedule for myself.
If my horse is going to be fit, I need to be fit too. This really shouldn't be too hard. I already got into the habit of running at the rec center on campus a couple times a week, so I'm just going to bump it up to more times per week and add some simple strength training.

7. Take monthly progress reports.
I want to get in the habit of taking conformation shots and a monthly evaluation, on THIS blog, of our progress toward not just our little goals but the big yearlong ones too. I think this will help keep me on track and provide a visual reference for the conditioning progress we make.

To get all that done, there are all the smaller daily and weekly and monthly goals: school fences once a week, take lessons as often as possible, follow a conditioning schedule faithfully, get out to school XC, ride trails, drag myself out for a run even when I don't feel like it, read training books to stay motivated, and all that.

Tomorrow, I'm going to put up some pictures of Pandora to begin satisfying goal number 7 up there. We've got the raw material: she's got a base of fitness, she's in good weight, and we're ready to go. I'm excited to see what the year brings - and happy new year to you all!
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