Friday, April 30, 2010

Lesson Video

Sorry guys, I've been hideously busy trying to get ready for my rating (tomorrow!!) and keep up with my midterms. There are some post ideas kicking around in my head, but I just haven't had time to write them down. I really do feel bad when I don't post often.

Everything is going pretty well. I've had two fantastic lessons on McKinna this week, one jumping and one dressage, and I feel like we're back on the right track. For awhile there I was ready to despair-- I think the main culprit was not going to dressage lessons regularly, because as soon as we went back everything seemed to click again.


To tide you over until I get just a bit more free time, here's a video from our jumping lesson on Monday. I can see now watching the video that it looks like we're positively crawling along. Trying hard to find the balance, I guess! I think I was overcompensating for our trip before the one shown on the video, which was much too forward/strung-out and included her rushing through my hands during a simple change. I had her much more soft and listening this time, which is good - this was my last round, and I think if I did another I would have asked for more forward.

We got in underneath the second vertical (which was 3'3!!) but got out okay and the other two rode fine. Please note that I intentionally drifted out to avoid jumping the oxer the second time! I got such a nice fence...and wanted to land straight instead of turning away...but then I didn't want to jump the I was indecisive and just kind of slooooowly drifted out of the line. McKinna is not much of the run-out type so I don't think I gave her any horrible habits.

I was very glad to have such a positive jumping lesson. This makes two in a row. I think we are back on track with McKinna - not to mention that I *finally* discovered how to actually half-halt McKinna at the canter. I have to add a LOT of calf, mostly to convince her that she can keep going even though my body's asking her to slow down and shift her weight back. I was able to get a few steps, here and there, of a really good canter without her getting all anxious and wound up (the important part). After this realization, our upwards canter transitions are magically better. Soft, forward, she powers up into them. Awesome. We are nowhere near there yet, but we're definitely on the right track.

See you guys soon, hopefully with news of a successful rating!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Further Rally Reports, etc

First off: just so you know, I was quite pleased with Pandora at the rally. Her rider only got the chance to hop on her ONCE before the rally! They had a great schooling session at our barn, hopped over many fences, and in general looked really good. In the competition ring things weren't quite as perfect - rider nerves feed into Pandora nerves which feed into rider nerves! - but then again, neither were McKinna and me, so there you have it. Still, by the final round they were pretty in-tune with each other and had some very positive rides.

I'm very proud of both of them :) Catch-riding a horse is no easy thing, especially when it is a completely different type and size than you're used to. To adjust to a completely different feel, and be able to give a horse a completely different ride than the one you're used to, takes some skill and confidence. For Pandora's part - well, a year and a half ago she got anxious and tense when an unfamiliar rider even sat on her to walk and trot around, and last week she calmly and happily jumped with an unfamiliar rider. I am thrilled.

In other 'Pandora really rocks' news, I had the BEST XC SCHOOL EVER on her the Wednesday before the rally. It was the first XC ride of the season and we went to Make Your Mark Stables. After a couple weeks of torrential rain and cold weather, it was beautiful and sunny and warm out there.

The footing out there is AWESOME. Seriously. It rained all the way up through Tuesday, and there was just one little area where the footing was a LITTLE squishy. Impressive. I would also like to add that even when we cruised through the mushy area, and even when we took a fence for the first time and discovered that the landing area was a bit soft, Pandora kept herself completely together and didn't care. This is Pandora! The mare who hates even walking through mud in a pasture! I was pleasantly surprised .

Anyway, here's the rundown: Pandora was a rock star. We even got used as an example of good galloping form, going forward and collecting back up. I had such a great time and couldn't help feeling like my girl is all grown up! Part of it is the new bit that I talked about here, which gives me just a tad more weight to my opinions; I think the biggest part is all the hard work we've done over the last few months to build strength and enable her to carry herself properly. She finds it much easier now to stay off the forehand, so her gallop is more balanced and it's easier for her to jump from a forward canter.

We started off on a big, loose warm up circle. Devin (my regular jumping trainer, who gave the clinic) told us that when she starts off warming up for XC, it's not much different than her warmup for dressage: she still wants the horse balanced, moving properly back to front, responsive to the leg and seat, and so on. Only after she establishes nice flatwork will she go to open up the stride and gallop a bit. She said this really helps show the horse that just because you're out in a big field doesn't mean you get to ignore the aids and just go for a big gallop.

Then we worked on galloping, which felt wonderful (product of our newfound balance!) and was super fun. Pandora has learned to cruise. I just hang out in my two-point, knuckles on her crest. If I want to go faster, I close my angles, which means I fold closer in my hips and knees. If I want to slow down, I just sit up more. Very cool feeling.

When heading for fences, Devin had us hang out with hands still gently set, but add leg to drive the horse's butt underneath them. I am still learning that even on a forward horse, you STILL have to add leg. I know this logically, but it's hard when most of the time I have all the forward I could ever want!

Overall she was just great. We had one catastrophe going through a one-to-one triple combination of SJ fences out there in the field - I got confused about the distances, Pandora got wiggly, and we oozed over the last fence at the last minute to take it out. I had to really ride her forward to get her through it again because she was quite apprehensive after that! But, even though the screwup was totally my fault, she went through it for me and was a very good girl.

All the XC fences rode wonderfully. She cantered over a ditch beautifully, jumped a skinny log, and was just generally awesome. The only times she didn't go well were when I didn't ride well. You can't ask for better than that! I ride right, she goes right.

It was so much fun.

Speaking of fun, I don't think I mentioned the competition we had at the rally....while we were waiting for scores to be posted, the Chief Horse Management Judge had people bring out quiet/reliable horses of all sizes, from teeny pony to a big 18h guy who I'm pretty sure was a Percheron/TB cross. Then we had a vault-onto-the-horse-bareback competition!

I had issues at first because I was trying to run, jump, land on my belly, and squirm up like everyone else. I couldn't even get on the 13h horse! Then the Chief showed us how to do it (the way I usually had done it in the past, actually!): stand at horse's left shoulder facing the haunches, reach up to grab mane, then just kick up and over with your right leg and get on.

So after that, every try was successful for me. I worked my way from the 13h pony all the way to the 18h guy, where my arms were almost completely extended above me just to hold onto his mane. What a fun thing to do. He was a very sweet horse too, very tolerant of all the leaping and squirming. Nice jumper as well, he was in the 3'3 or the 3'6 class I believe. Not always super careful about the rails, but a kind and willing type it seemed.

Finally, I went to a mock rating with McKinna yesterday for my C-2 and had a great time. I will try to write a full report on that soon because I felt like it was a really valuable experience. Basically, it was wonderful to have a less formal interaction with the examiners, get the chance to ask very specific questions, and I'm feeling a lot more relaxed about my real rating in 2 weeks.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Back Home

The show jumping rally this weekend was as fun as it was exhausting. Friday morning we bathed the horses, packed the equipment and tack, and headed out to meet our trailerpooling buddies at another barn.

I don't think I mentioned this, but another girl in our club borrowed Pandora for her 2'3 division this weekend because her mare was a little bit off. So we took stuff for TWO horses. Lots more to get ready, but it is nice to be able to help out and it was great for Pandora to get the show experience. On the downside, she was essentially catch-riding because she only got to ride Pandora once before the weekend!

The big problem with bringing pasture-buddies to a rally, where the stalls are big and solid with no head-poking-out or views of neighbors, is that they are obsessed about each other. As in, really obnoxious. As in, McKinna whinnied (loudly) about every 30 seconds for all of Friday evening and a good part of Saturday morning. Pandora was quite a bit calmer, but she still got upset when I took McKinna away for my rounds.

So, irritating herdboundedness aside, everything went pretty well. The first round on Saturday was...questionable. At my formal inspection before my ride, McKinna was so incredibly awful that I was apologizing to the judge every few seconds. She refused to hold still, called frequently, and in general had horrible manners. In warmup, she exhibited the most classic stereotype of crazy Ayrab I've ever seen (please note that I don't necessarily believe in this stereotype). Interestingly enough, she settled a bit once we started jumping - I think it gave her something to focus on.

Anyway, we headed into the ring. We took out the rail on our first fence, which I guess got my head in the game, because our team coach told me that after we knocked the rail I visibly relaxed and my riding got way better. McKinna WAY overjumped the second one, a 3' oxer, and my highly accurate air-time estimation makes me think that we cleared more like 3'6. The rest of the course rode pretty well and I was pleased with her, considering how distracted and unfocused she was. She still listened okay, moving up when I asked her to so we could make the distance in the one-stride and the like.

I should mention that my ride on Thursday before the rally was horrible - she was grabbing the bit, running at the fences with neck braced, and generally awful. So at the rally I took off the figure-8 and used a plain caveson, and also changed to a double-jointed Myler with a very slight gag action. Not that I recommend changing things at the last minute, and not that I know if those changes did anything, but at the rally I did have my half-halts back and I really appreciated it.

In our second round, everything felt MUCH better. Our collective eye is starting to get much better. It feels like I don't tell her what distances to pick, but I don't make her decide on her own...we just kind of arrive at the same conclusion, with me offering a little input or support if I think she needs it. Very cool. We hit the rail on the second-to-last fence, and it fell as I looked over my shoulder at it, taking out the panel with it. Bummer. In slow motion, as we jumped clear over the last fence, the panel took out the two standards and the crowd laughed as the whole thing toppled down. Oh well. If you're going to get 4 faults, you might as well take out the whole fence, right?

Our final round, where you design your own course, was very weird. They were running early, and I was a bit rushed through warmup. I jumped maybe five fences and they felt great - we moved up to gallop over a vertical and then collected to a rollback to jump an oxer, which was an element of my chosen course, and it rode beautifully. I wasn't carrying a crop, which I didn't think anything of because I don't always ride with one and I never use it.

So what does she do at the first fence on course? She stops.

I mean, REALLY. This horse NEVER stops! We didn't get a weird distance or anything. So I kick her forward as we circle, stuff her over the fence, we jump the second fence fine, and she stops at a perfect distance to the third fence. At this point I stop giving her the benefit of the doubt: I circle back, come at the fence riding hard in a defensive seat, and she jumps it just fine. Same with the next three fences, all fairly small turns, and again she's fine (with me in definite XC position). Here is what the center cluster of fences looked like, with all of them pretty close together:

\ /
/ \

For my last two fences, I jumped straight across the two angled fences on top, so my line for each was at about a 45 degree angle, and it was a two stride. Very tricky line. It rode beautifully.

I don't know what her deal was. Was it the lack of crop? Was she tired, or sore? This is a horse who I basically never have to ride defensively, and I gave her a pretty solid ride to them. I'm just chalking it up to a freak thing and not worrying about it, especially because this is the first real show she has been to in a very long time. In any case, the chiropractor is coming out tomorrow because they've both been in hard work for 3-4 months since the last appointment.

So even though we didn't have perfect rounds, I was very pleased with her.

That's all for now - I've got homework to catch up on! Coming soon: report from my XC clinic earlier last week and a bit more Pandora discussion, including rally et ceterae. (Does it make etc a noun if you add an e at the end? Because I just did.)

Edit: Here are a couple pictures taken by one of the PC moms. She is not being super tight with her knees in these...but I think it's because she thinks they're too easy ;) Look at her ears! She's so cute!

 This is us over that angled diagonal I just talked about - I'm grinning because she's handling it perfectly.

Looking ahead to the next fence.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Pandora's up!

Okay, I have video from the Wednesday dressage lesson with Pandora. I can't believe how much she has improved! It was a great feeling. It's especially effective if you go watch the dressage lesson video from February, which you can find here.

Video from Wednesday:

Also, Pandora is officially up on Dreamhorse! For anyone in my general vicinity or if you're just curious, this is her ad. The photo's not fully up yet (you can click on the temporary pic) but it should be soon.

Derby clinic got canceled today because of all the rain, so I am hanging out at home doing homework. Makes for a nice, laid-back day. On the plus side, to make up for it I will be riding in a XC lesson later this week - which means I get to take Pandora out on XC for the first time this year! I'm very excited to see where things stand.

In other news, I jump crewed for the Pony Club lesson last night and had a great time. We had one of those kid sandbox things in the shape of a turtle (very scary) that we stuck next to standards, we had a big table on its side (with a bright poster taped onto it) as a wing, we had blankets and coolers over fences, a little floral-pattern suitcase that was quite hairy-eyeball-inducing, and even just a big square of tissue paper taped to the front rail of an oxer that REALLY caused some looking. I didn't ride because I was supposed to ride in the clinic today, darn it!

The nice thing is that the course will stay up until my jumping lesson with McKinna on Monday, so we will have a chance to practice over all the cool stuff. I think this will be the most prepared we've ever been: two lessons in a row to practice really spooky stuff, take your own line, and more aggressive angles/tight turns. I feel like we're going in with some experience at all the stuff I will be asking her to do. Not that I don't ever prepare, I just think it's a lot more thorough this time. I can't wait! Getting McKinna clean is going to be a pain in the butt, of course. I try not to think about that part.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Pandora Update

Well, on Wednesday I had basically the best dressage ride I have ever had on Pandora - you would already know this if you follow me on Twitter (also see the nifty little sidebar on the right!).

I could tell pretty much from the moment we loaded her on the trailer. She was calm, laid back, but ready to go. I think she has been wanting more consistent work. If she gets more than a day or two off, she seems to be begging to come out and get exercised. She got longed on Tuesday and seemed to really relish the work. I didn't let her just plunk around, either: she really had to step under herself and get good gaits going.

So I was warming her up in Leslie's big, NICE arena before my lesson. Pandora was forward, relaxed, and actually quite supple. My riding is getting better and her gaits are getting better, which is a wonderful combination! Actually, I have learned something about sitting up from schooling my barn owner's daughter's western pleasure horse while they were gone on vacation. She goes best, and roundest, when you really just sit up straight and tall and still. I applied this to Pandora, and it really helps at the canter. I am in a much better position to keep pushing those hind legs further under her, asking her to lift her back.

When Leslie arrived for the lesson, I told her how great Pandora was tonight. Then we spent the first 10 minutes of the lesson not so spectacularly, of course! I think it is to be expected, though. Leslie pushes me and Pandora a lot harder than I push on my own in warm up. She immediately asks me to do more suppling, a slightly firmer contact, and more forward to get Pandora to step under herself even more. So of course we have a bit of resistance at first, especially laterally because that is hard for Pandora.


Then, we broke through all that resistance. Her trot was the best it's ever been. Her canter was the best it's ever been. Her walk has always been pretty good, but it was very nice too. She was light and steady in the contact and even between both reins. She was pushing from behind and bending her body on the arc of the circle. She lifted the base of her neck and her back. Her canter was rolling forward but controlled and not heavy in my hands. We still had to work a lot (especially to the right) on a bit of straightness and not leaning on my inside leg, but man.

It was cool. I actually have, on video, Leslie telling me that if she were judging me in a dressage test, this would be a very correct trot, moving properly and evenly from the hind end. Woohoo!

We did some leg yields at the trot and canter. I thought the canter leg yields were quite fun. So did Pandora, so next time we need to be more careful about catching all that momentum with the outside rein instead of leaping over to the rail, heehee.

Suffice to say that I am thoroughly pleased with my girl, and Leslie was too. After the lesson we chatted with her for awhile and Pandora just rested her chin on the railing and appeared to take a nap. Such a sweetie.

Okay, so, other updates!

Jumping lessons have been going very well with Pandora too. We jumped a tarp-liverpool at Devin's a few weeks ago with no issues. A couple skinnies went very well too (and I mean, like, 3' face skinnies. They were NARROW). One thing we did try is a new bit, which I am borrowing from Devin, but I will order my own soon. It is this, which I have heard called a Wonder Bit frequently. From what I understand it is basically a quite mild gag. I'm going to order it in this form, which is just double-jointed instead of single-jointed. I think the slight gag effect is enough without the nutcracker action of a single-jointed mouthpiece.

We tried this because while jumping outside, Pandora was getting a bit silly. Nothing major, but when she tried to rush badly and I corrected her hard, it kind of frustrated her. But I had to, because it was just a very gentle french-link snaffle. So far, the new bit appears to do its job. It definitely doesn't back her off because it's fairly mild, but if I half-halt, she listens and I don't have to get very firm with my hands. It works better for both of us.

To tell the truth, I'm not all that concerned about stadium jumping - it's XC that I think this bit will make a huge difference with. I haven't had a chance to take her out yet this year (I REALLY need to!) but I suspect the bit, combined with the huge improvements we've made since last year, will make her quite easy to ride on XC.

At our last jumping lesson we did some fun jumps off of serpentine-type loops, AND a fun accuracy question where you offset three fences in a line. To get over all three in a straight line, you have to jump the left side of the first one, the right side of the second, and the left side of the third.

Instead of | | |, shift the first and third up half a space. See?

So anyway, it's like jumping a series of skinnies. The first time through was a bit wonky, but the second time we held a dead-straight line and it jumped beautifully.

Other updates: we have had several interested people contact us about Pandora after just posting her on some Pony Club websites, but nothing definitive. One lady was going to come look at her for her daughter this weekend, but upon more discussion we came to the conclusion that it wasn't quite a good match. The plan is to put her up on Dreamhorse this weekend. I will certainly let you guys know and link you to the ad so that if you happen to know of anyone within driving distance of Oregon, you can let them know ;-)

If you're curious, here is the website we've set up to show pictures and video. This way we can link to it from our ads and provide more in-depth information. I think the dressage video from Wednesday is going to go up there as soon as we can put it together, and believe me the moment I can get her out schooling XC there's going to be some new video too.

So, in the short-term, we're just going to keep doing what we're doing. Unfortunately I am not taking Pandora to the show-jumping rally, which would be a great place to advertise her, because I'm going for my C-2 rating on McKinna on May 1 and the two of us really need to add some miles at 3' before then. Pandora's still improving by leaps and bounds in lessons, so she'll obviously keep going to those. I will just keep juggling two horses until we get her sold, I guess!

I have a couple free-ish weekends later this month, so perhaps I can make it out to school cross-country soon. I think Pandora is in a fairly unique niche because she's kind, easygoing, young-ish, and capable of doing very well at lower-level stuff (up to 3' for sure), she is nicely between dead-lazy and TB-hot, and she's in a pretty low price range ($5000), and she has the best attitude ever. Hopefully someone looking for a horse in that niche will come across her sooner rather than later.

Alright, off to do some homework. I will put up the video from Wednesday ASAP.
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