Saturday, February 27, 2010


Hi everyone! Everything with the horses has been going very well, and I will post a full update soon. I've been riding the girls in a weekly lesson each, and it's going very well. Plus we're heading toward the end of the term for school, so I'm trying my hardest to stay on top of all my assignments and studying. I have an OChem exam on Wednesday, then a final two weeks after that! Plus final projects due in two other classes. Still, I'm in a position to finish out the term strong.

I went to Quiz Rally today, and - well - you know how I roll ;) Our team got 2nd out of 3, but I got high point for my division! I had an awesome time, learned a lot, and got a chance to show off my knowledge, which you guys know I always enjoy. I also qualified for Championships, which will be held in California this year. So over the summer I get to go to Quiz Champs, which is like Quiz Rally on steroids.

Anyway, off to go do some paper editing. Hope everyone is having a great weekend!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Schooling Show

It was a BEAUTIFUL day yesterday and I did not go out to the barn. Trying to bring two horses along at the same time means hauling twice (sometimes three times) a week and being out at the barn pretty much every day. On top of school, it's been getting to be a bit too much and I am feeling a little bit of burnout.

So, yesterday we agreed that the horses can live with an extra day off. They get turned out every day anyway, so it's not like they're stuck in stalls. I came home early, enjoyed the lovely weather, and got some extra homework done. I get an amazing mental lift when I get home at 3:30 instead of 8pm - it's just so different.

Luckily, the weather will be nice for the next several days, so I didn't waste a gorgeous warm day on staying home.

Our Pony Club hosted a benefit schooling H/J show this Sunday. I took Pandora to hop around a few courses, and she was awesome. Remember last year? This was the first 'real' show I ever took her to, and I wasn't expecting much. We jumped a couple 2'3 courses and I was super proud of her.

Well, this year I am happy to say we've shown some serious improvement. We began with a warmup 2'6 jumper class, where she was a bit rushy and unfocused. Never tries to stop at a jump, though - she was just nervous at being in the ring all by her lonesome in the show atmosphere. First show in quite awhile, you know. But she jumped everything just fine.

Next we bumped up a little to a 2'9 hunter class. It felt a little better, perhaps because of the smoother course pattern, but I also rode better and she was settling down already. I have to remember to ask her to soften, but keep the forward. Then a 2'9 jumper class, where I was going to call it good for the day. She did very well in that class. Everything felt smooth, and I remembered to keep the extra forward through most of the course. (Hey, old habits die hard.) Even the rollbacks, which were pretty tight, rode nicely.

She was so good that I pondered going into a 3' class....and decided oh, what the heck - it's a schooling show, isn't it? Let's do it!

Here is the video of our very first 3' course:

For contrast, if you'd like, the schooling show video from a year ago is in this post.

As you can see, it wasn't 100% smooth. The outside lines both rode a little oddly because we got in short and I had to push for the four. The good news is that she did all of it calmly and obediently! I also have a few things to work on, but for the most part I rode pretty well.

I was very, very pleased with her. When I pushed down the lines, she answered by going forward and she never got fussy or upset.She didn't even blink at the larger fences - I swear, the bigger they get, the better she jumps. Everything felt so smooth and effortless, even when we got a pretty long spot to that oxer on the far line. It all just felt very "together," I guess. Especially since we've really only been in full work for a month and a half.

(Also please notice our AWESOME bright red saddle pad. It was a Valentine's day show.)

I think she did an awesome job, and I am so happy that a 3' course feels just as easy as a 2'6 course on her. I think the fences could have been even 3'3 and she wouldn't have had a problem. We definitely have some practicing to do, but I'm very proud of Pandora and how far we've come.

Friday, February 12, 2010

After-College Plans

Let's talk about what I'm going to do after I graduate from college. It's horse-related, I promise.

I think about the future a lot. As you may have noticed by now, I'm a pretty goal-oriented person. I love the process, I love hanging out with my horses, and I love doing what I'm doing, but I always have an eye to where I'm going next. I want to know where this is leading. I want to know what I'll be working on next week, next month, next year. 

You can imagine that college is extremely frustrating to this "need-to-know-what-the-plan-is" part of me.

Because, frankly, I don't really know what I want to do after I graduate. I think that's pretty common in students my age. 

A few weeks ago, I ended up in an interesting discussion during office hours with a professor who asked me what I was thinking of doing with my degree in Biology. Part of my problem is that I really do like a lot of things. Science is great and I find a lot of my Bio classes really interesting (Organic Chemistry is another story). But I really enjoy the "fuzzy" sciences (history, literature, etc), and some of my Honors College humanities classes have been amazing. But I also love writing--hence blog, and the writing classes I have been taking, and the application I'm working on now to get into a yearlong creative writing class for next year. And I really don't want to launch straight out of college into graduate school and then find out when I'm 30 that I don't want to be a scientist.

So I have a lot going on. Anyway-- professor told me about his life immediately after college. He thought he wanted to go to grad school, but wasn't 100% sure. So he headed out into the world, spent years in New York City, worked for all kinds of different people in all kinds of different places. After several years, he found that he really did want to go to grad school. So he went and found that his level of focus and commitment was way above most other grad students', because he'd spent time living out in the world and he KNEW that this was what he wanted to do.

All of this is basically a long way of saying, Don't decide yet; go out and live a little first. I have spent a lot of time thinking about this and discussing it with my parents, trying to figure out ways to go explore what I want to do and what I don't want to do.


I've decided to spend some time as a working student at an eventing barn after I graduate. 

I have two and a half years until I graduate, which should be plenty of time to do some research on the programs I'm interested in, apply early, and save up some money. Basically I need a program that provides a good place to live for me and full board for a horse, plus the obvious coaching/riding/etc. I should be able to save up enough money to feed myself for a year or so - hopefully - but there's no way I'll be able to pay to work on top of that!

It's still pretty up in the air. When you add up food for yourself, any entry fees, any tack or blankets or anything you need, insurance...AND you factor in the zero-income gets a little sketchy for me. This is part of why I want to sell Pandora: with only one horse between the two of us, I can put a lot more of my money into savings.

The other factor will be the money from Pandora's purchase price. I have no idea what I will be asking at this point, so we'll figure that out closer to the time we actually list her. I could use that money to live off of, but there's another part of my plan to be a WS. I would really like to acquire a young, talented, and hopefully inexpensive TB or TB-cross prospect once I am settled in at my WS location. I would be able to use the high volume of really good instruction to bring along the horse without making too many mistakes, which would be quite nice. Now, you can get pretty nice off-the-track Thoroughbreds for pretty cheap, but it would still probably take a few thousand depending on where I ended up.

It is not the only option I'm considering for post-college plans, but it is one of the options I am most excited about. Right now I am researching lots of different programs. There's a fairly local one that I'm checking out-- I'm actually going to speak with the trainer this weekend when she brings some students to our schooling show. The big advantage to this is that she's close enough that trial lessons, riding interviews, etc would only require a bit of a drive, rather than an expensive plane ticket. I could also visit home occasionally, which would be nice! But I'm also looking at plenty of other places.

I'm working on a list of programs that I will call and ask for more information about, especially because many places don't post all the details of their programs on their website (such as oh, by the way, you have to pay $200 a month to be a WS here). West coast is great, but I'm looking at a lot of east coast places too, because HOW COOL would it be to get over there in the heart of eventing country? Very cool.

So that's the plan. Please, please let me know if any of you guys have any ideas or experiences! You're also welcome to send me an email if you'd prefer - my address is on my profile page.

PS: the jumping lessons are still going wonderfully. Update on that/dressage/McKinna/etc in the next post.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Also Returning Is....

McKinna The Wonder-Pony!

(Horse. Technically. But who's counting?)

Last night was McKinna's first jumping lesson since July (which had been her first jumping lesson since the previous August). She reminded me why she's so fun to ride. I wasn't expecting very much, since her canter is still largely a work in progress - we've got way more softness and balance than before, but we still have a ways to go, especially in terms of sloooowing the legs down. You'll see that in the video!

McKinna did very well for herself, though, and I was pleased. We started with a four-leaf clover exercise, where you ride down the quarter lines and do an outside turn in each corner (so you ride down the quarter line tracking left, turn right when you hit the rail and do most of a circle, then go straight across the short side, turn right again, and come off the rail so you're on the other quarter line). It was a very good exercise for suppling and the instructor commented on how much softer McKinna is now. Those dressage lessons have really paid off.

Mom took a video of our last round, which was the first one in which I cantered all the fences. A few bobbles here and there, especially on the second fence in the line, but she figured things out and recovered nicely. The oxer was probably our best fence.

I think it was a very good reintroduction to jumping for her. As for myself - with regular lessons my position is slowly returning to where it used to be. I still end up popping onto my toes over the top of the fence sometimes, and I need to be careful not to jump ahead on McKinna...but we're getting there.

And having fun doing it, which is the important part anyway!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Guess Who's Back?

My kickass jumping horse, that's who's back.

I took Pandora to a jumping lesson this afternoon with a trainer I've never ridden with. I've seen her around at events, and a fellow Pony Clubber rides with her and really likes her, so I decided to give it a shot. If you take a look at one of the sidebars on the right, it shows you that my goals for this year include mastering Novice and beginning to school some Training. To take steps toward accomplishing that, I have decided to focus on taking consistent private lessons with the same trainers over a long period of time.

I feel like this will help me make big improvements. Group lessons and clinics have their place--I learned a TON from them last year--but now is the time to hunker down and get some serious work done. I started bi-weekly dressage lessons with Leslie and I am already seeing huge improvements in both horses (McKinna has gone twice, Pandora once). After a few months of lessons with Leslie and a consistent jumping trainer, I really think we will have made some serious progress.

This applies to both Pandora and McKinna. At this point I am focusing on bringing them both along, since right now the plan is to sell Pandora and compete McKinna. Both of those require more training!

For some reason, after every lesson my mom and I wait to talk about it until after we've loaded up the horse and gotten into the truck. Maybe it's because gossip travels fast in the horse world and it's best to keep your opinions quiet? Anyway, after the lesson we loaded up Pandora (which is going very well lately, by the way) and got in the truck. As soon as the doors were closed, I turned to Mom and said, "That was awesome!"

Which it was!

We did some flatwork to get to know each other and she had me doing much of the same things that Leslie is having us do: supple until she softens and carries herself, ask for more forward, half-halt, supple, forward.... which is good. Congruity between trainers is always a good thing. We did some spiral-in and spiral-out on a circle at the trot, which went well other than a quite dramatic loss of forward momentum. I was wishing for a dressage whip instead of a crop, let me tell you.

Then came the canter work, where Devin (the trainer) laid down the idea that served as the foundation for the rest of the lesson: get some more forward in there! Please!

Here's our dilemma. Pandora, like any sane horse that's not built like a superstar, would really rather prefer to plod around on the forehand. If she can't be on her forehand, she would like to go slow. If she has to reach under herself with her hind end, she would prefer to lean on me. And so on.

So at the canter I have spent much time seeking balance. Carry yourself, dammit. Carry yourself. Over time, she has made vast improvements and she can carry herself quite nicely at a slow pace. This IS a valuable skill, and it's one that we needed to put in the time to learn. But now we need to get the engine going a little bit too.

Devin asked me to really send her forward by asking strongly once, not nagging. Forward is hard to balance, remember, so Pandora immediately said "Oh, well I'll just lean on your hands, thank you," to which Devin told me to politely say "Nope, hold yourself up please" by bumping her gently off the bit. (No, really, Pandora is so willing and cooperative that I swear a real conversation would go like this.)

This was really, really effective. Forward, no don't lean on me please, then leave her alone. The idea was to be firm enough in generating the forward motion that I didn't need to ask all the time for more impulsion after I half-halted. It worked very well. Pandora was a little fussy at first, which is to be expected, because carrying herself is very hard and she doesn't want to do things that require hard work. Then again, Pandora's version of "fussy" is a few small head tosses, so there you have it.

At one point, Devin commented on my very loose caveson. I explained that I leave it that loose because she's normally so calm and quiet in the mouth (she chews enough to make foam, but she's very steady) that I really want to know if something's going on enough to make her open her mouth or cross her jaw. Might not work with all horses, but it works very well for us, and Devin was fine with it since Pandora was so quiet.

So we went on to apply our newfound FORWARD and reasonably BALANCED canter to jumping. And, wonder of wonders, it worked! It felt wonderful. Counterintuitively, pushing her into a much more forward canter actually fixed a lot of the rushing. Devin explained that this was probably because she now had enough power to jump easily and make the striding, whereas before she was kind of puttering along and may have felt that she needed to run at the fences to get over them. Whatever Pandora's thought process was, I liked it.

It was actually a very interesting feeling: we nailed almost every distance. When things didn't go right, it was usually because I hadn't generated enough power before the half-halt. Coincidentally (or not), this is the same concept Brian Sabo had us working on at the clinic back in May. Anyway, Pandora felt great: confident, independent, and totally capable of making her own decisions about the distances. When she needed to hold steady the last few strides or even shorten a little, she did. When she needed to lengthen, she saw that from about three strides out and did so.

The interesting part is the control/lack of control I had. When I bumped the reins to remind her not to lean on me and get flat, she listened; but I had the distinct sense that if I had offered my input on the way to a fence, such as asking her to compress her stride a little, she may have totally tuned me out. This wasn't an issue, because she was making all the right decisions on her own, but it was an interesting feeling.

I discussed this with Devin and we agreed that it makes sense for where we're at right now. We just introduced Pandora to this new, more powerful canter; it's bound to take some time for her (and me!) to get used to it. In the meantime, we've given Pandora an excellent new tool that will no doubt increase her confidence. Devin said she likes to do a lot of adjustability exercises, lengthening and compressing, so we will definitely get to that in due time. I can see that as we progress, Pandora will be able to hold that powerful canter without so much effort or input from me, and at that point I will be able to ask her to expand or compress the stride.

In all, it was a great lesson and I really enjoyed myself. The plan is to take Pandora every other week.

Last but not least - a video! It's from my mother's cell phone and not the best quality. I swear one of these days we'll remember the camera. The video is from our last round. It's not perfect, but considering that this is (a) the second jumping session we've had since my rating four months ago and (b) the very last round at the end of the lesson when Pandora was pretty wiped, I think it went quite well. Hope it's at least somewhat visible...

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