Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Good Times

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

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

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

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

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

Hello little speckles, I've missed you :)

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

In other news, I ordered some goodies from SmartPak!

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

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

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

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

I also ordered a pair of Super Comfort Stirrup Pads:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Eventing Rally Report Part II

The Eventing Rally Report continues...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wise words!

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

Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven. Six.

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

Five. Four. Three.

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

Two. One. Have a great ride!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was extreeeeeemely excited.

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

I was bummed.

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Eventing Rally - Dressage and Stadium Videos

Before I finish up the story, a video recap!


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

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

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

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


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

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

Monday, September 20, 2010

Eventing Rally Report Part I

On Friday, we gave McKinna a Pony-Club-Quality-Bath (tm), loaded her up onto the trailer, stopped by a nearby barn to pick up her trailer pooling buddy, and set off on our way to Turner for the eventing rally.

We rolled in at 3PM or so and set to work: Bed the corrals. Hang the water buckets. Re-hang the one that fell to the ground and soaked my teammate when the twine broke. Label halters. Hang stall cards. Empty trailer. Re-pack trailer with 4 riders' worth of rally kits, saddles, bridles, helmets, grooming boxes, clothes, hay bales, and grain. Abandon hope of fitting everything inside and decide to leave rally kits out in the rain, since they are packed in plastic tubs. Hang our club banner. Bridle up and remove tail wraps for jogouts. Jog. Re-tail wrap. Put horses in sheets to guard against the never-ending drizzle. Walk the XC course. Go to rally briefing. Scarf down some pizza and corn bread.

Then I go to bed at 9:00 - and by 'bed' I mean 'a sleeping bag and pillow in the back seat of the truck' - because I know my unwelcome alarm will cheerfully ring at 5:45, just in time for me to get dressed and drag myself over to the corrals to feed at the required time of 6:00.

Yuck. Have I ever told you guys that I hate mornings?

Still, tossing breakfast to McKinna always wakes me up pretty quickly. While she contentedly munches on her grain and hay, happily ignoring the constant light rain, I immediately set to work scrubbing at her legs. She managed to get them dirty overnight. I'm thrilled that she's comfortable enough to lay down to sleep, but really. I washed those socks less than 24 hours ago.

That done, it's time for a quick breakfast (hard-boiled eggs fresh from a club member's farm, cinnamon toast crunch cereal, and a few stolen sips of my teammate's hot chocolate) and then time to go get the pony ready for our 8:07 Turnout Inspection. I am the second rider of the day, so my teammates all help me get McKinna ready. This is wonderful, because getting ready for a Turnout involves lots of grooming and wiping and oops you missed a purple spot there and the like, and it's a much lower-stress job when you have several friends helping you out.

Perfectly on time and all tacked up for dressage, I head over to the Inspection area. All of our hard work gets rewarded by a series of glowing comments from the Chief Horse Management Judge, a row of 'Exceeds Standards' on my turnout sheet, and no dropped points. Yes! Go Team!

Then it's off to dressage, where I have a nice long warmup in a small grass field next to the ring. It's less than ideal, the grass being quite wet from the rain, but we make do. She warms up well but the inconsistency of the footing means that she is a bit less willing to give me as much relaxed connection as usual. Still, our test turns out to be fairly willing and steady despite general tension and lack of strong connection. We end up with a 36, which puts us third (in the field of three, ha) but only 4 points or so behind first. Overall I am happy with the test as we're still showing steady improvement.

I grab second breakfast when my dad makes me two eggs and some bacon on the grill over at Parent HQ. Score! Then it's off to wheel my XC course in the warm rain. Not as fun as it sounds, because the warmth precludes wearing a rain jacket for very long so I get pretty damp. But it's worth it, because I get to solidify the course in my mind, get a general feel for my minute markers, and double-check the location of a tricky mandatory crossing that they put in place after removing the water crossing from the course.

It's a pretty straightforward course. A few maxed-out fences, and the only things I plan to ride even a little defensively are two big newly-stained table-type fences. Everything else looks friendly, fun, and not terribly challenging but not too easy. The course has lots of room for long gallops, which should be fun.

Then it's time to walk the stadium course, which is quite balanced. Mostly line-diagonal-line, but a rollback turn after fence 1 and a tight two-stride to four regular strides in one triple line offer a little spice. It's easy to remember, at least! I like the diagonal line best: it's an easy 6 strides and the first fence has a solid wall beneath it. McKinna jumps solid fences really well.

After a general blur of lunchtime, helping with teammate's horses, and doing various tidying-up chores around the stable area, it's time to get tacked up for jumping. Because the rally is crammed into one day, they set up the scheduling so you ride stadium and head immediately over to XC. I like it, because I don't have to save our most challenging phase for last, and stadium functions as a nice thorough warmup for XC.

So, all geared up in XC attire, McKinna and I head over to stadium warmup. This is also on grass, which again makes warmup a little problematic. The area is a bit too narrow to really turn, so most fences involve trotting around the turn and picking up your canter on the approach. McKinna, unsurprisingly, is jumping very forward and bold at the warmup fences, offering to leave long rather than add up when we get a funny distance. Well, we're wearing XC gear and jumping outside on grass, what do you expect?

Despite the forwardness, I discuss with our coach and decide to mostly stick to my plan in the ring, which is: ride quiet, keep her balanced and go for the close spot if necessary, and aim for 2+4 instead of 1+4 in the tight line.

In the ring, McKinna carries her boldness with her. This leads to a bit of discombobulation between the two of us for the first few fences, where I'm expecting her usual quiet, conservative self and she's giving me a bit more of an aggressive style. After we take a rail on the second fence because I try to suggest that she add and she hesitates because she didn't want to, I (wisely) decide to ride the horse I have. The rest of the course is pretty smooth as I go with her, encouraging her to open up her stride and power off the ground from a bit of a longer spot than usual, and we don't take any more rails.

Good pony. Weird pony. I guess we just really need to practice stadium, again and again, at home and at shows. What this is telling me is that we don't have enough experience together at 3' to be totally consistent, and since she's changed so much in the past 9 months in terms of her balance and gait and coordination, we're just not fully in tune. Definitely something to work on this winter, especially since I want to move up next year.

Anyway, I'm quite pleased with my ride. First place jumped clean, didn't see second place go, so as far as I know we're still in third. We head across the creek to the cross-country warmup area, where McKinna gets a bit of a bee in her bonnet and starts jigging around, spooking a bit, and generally preferring to not listen to me. This is fairly uncharacteristic, and I sit up there and hope this is not how our next phase is going to go...

To be continued!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Schooling Show Success (with video!)

On Sunday, we loaded up McKinna and headed about 15 minutes down the road to Triple Crown for a Hunter/Jumper schooling show. (This is one of the reasons our barn is awesome. 12 minutes from one trainer, 15 from the other, 15 from our Pony Club's home base barn, and 15 from this barn. Central location!)

I figured it would be a good check-in before the Eventing Rally next weekend, especially since jumping was our, uh, problem phase at the Horse Trials. Remember the horse-eating piano? Yeah. I'm convinced that little fiasco was a product of McKinna being stuck in a stall for 5 days and her brain just being completely fried. But I digress.

We arrived and got to watch some crossrail and 2' hunters, which is always cute. Love the little kids on saintly ponies who just truck around knowing their job. McKinna just hung out at the trailer, steadily devouring all the hay in her hay bag and generally settling in like she owned the place. This laid-back attitude pretty much continued for the entire show.

The lower-level hunters kind of all cleared out en masse, leaving virtually nobody in the 2'6+ hunters or the jumpers. I, signed up for the 2'6, 2'9, and 3' jumpers, tacked up and wandered over to the nearly empty arena, where McKinna proceeded to stand with a hind leg cocked and relax while I memorized my courses. (I hate doing Course A for one course, then doing Course B for the next, and then having to go back to Course A.)

By the time I actually got on to warm up, there was one other person riding in all my classes with me. Talk about low-pressure show environment!

Our flat warmup was gorgeous. Relaxed. Swingy. Beautiful transitions. I mean, it's the kind of warmup I'd be thrilled to have before a dressage test. And when we started jumping warmup fences, I'm pretty sure angels started singing. Soft, round, beautiful canter. Perfectly steady rhythm to the fence, which she jumped quietly and neatly from a perfect distance, and cantered away just as nicely. That happened TWICE! Then I decided I was done with my warmup and went back out of the ring to wait for the start of the classes.

Our rounds weren't *as* perfect, but they were still pretty darn good. Probably the best courses we've ever had at a show. We obviously retained a lot of the canter work we did in our last jumping lesson, because our canter during the course was much better than it's been in the past. I think it could have been a little bolder, because we took a lot of short spots, but she also volunteered to take the long spot where appropriate, which impressed me. That means we're moving in the right direction, because she won't take the long spot unless we've got a good canter and she's feeling confident.

In the lower classes, our distances were more accurate. I wonder if this is just a matter of adjusting our collective eye to 3'ish heights? Probably it will improve with practice. The best part is that no matter what distance we got, McKinna calmly jumped out of it. We didn't have any rails at all, though she did get one or two rubs. When she's calmly jumping from any spot, I know we can continue working on jumping at that height over courses and grids until we adjust our eye.

Here is our 3' class:

You can see we ended up chipping in at several fences, and taking a bit of a longer spot on some. I think I need a bit more of a rolling canter - but it's always a work in progress. We've improved the canter to where she can jump out of a weird spot, so now we just need to improve the canter (and experience) to where she can hit a perfect spot almost every time.

Another cool thing? The 3' course all looked easy, even small! This is good news. I don't think we'll push things over the fall, but as we come back into hard work in the late winter and spring, I bet we'll be able to start working up to 3'3 successfully.

We ended up with two firsts and a second - impressive in a class of 2, I know! Still, she jumped clean, and she would have gone plenty fast in the jumpoffs if I cared to ask her. We did pull off one neat little inside turn in the 3' jumpoff, which she handled very well.

Here's the 3' jumpoff, where again we get some funny distances but the last three fences were great:

I couldn't be happier with my rides this Sunday. McKinna had a great attitude and was jumping out of a really nice, balanced canter. The whole thing made me feel a lot better about the upcoming Eventing Rally, where we'll be going Novice. I'll have much more competition there...this time, there will be TWO other riders in my division ;-)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

More Clicker Work!

After our last clicker session, I spent some time thinking. I wasn't sure McKinna fully understood what the click meant, since all we'd done was targeting on a handheld object. After all, I could probably produce the same results by just feeding her treats after she touched the the thing, skipping the clicker entirely.

So I came up with a plan! I decided I'd have her target on a stationary object. I could then move away from it, forcing her to walk away from me to touch the thing to get the click, then return to me upon hearing the click to receive her reward. In my head, I decided this would clarify in her mind (and make it clear to ME when the lightbulb went off for HER) that the click means "Yes, that's right, now you can have your treat."

After a bit of searching, I decided on a convenient wooden stool to use as our target today. She knocked it down first thing, so I left it on the ground like that. About a minute of work showed me that McKinna understood she was supposed to try behaviors on the stool, but that she didn't understand how the clicker both marks and ends the behavior. That is, I'd click and she would continue with what she was doing, not turn to me for a treat.

So I improvised. After I clicked, I stuck a "Good giiiirl!" in there. THAT got her attention, and she swung around for her treat. Success! For the rest of the training session, I used that verbal marker in addition to the clicker. Click, verbal marker. This was because I couldn't decide if I should just use the verbal marker on its own or if I should use it just until she understood that the click was a marker as well.

Anyway, here she is about three minutes into our work today. She's showing a very clear understanding of the marker signal, which you can see when she swings around and returns to me. After her first reward, you can watch as she loses a little focus, but eventually performs the behavior accurately and again shows a clear understanding of the marker.

Shortly after this, we took a quick break and I stuck her in the cross-ties to chill for a bit so she wouldn't totally get bored. When we returned, her focus came back. This is why you do shorter training sessions!

Another step forward in our clicker training. I want to get clicker work involved in our biggest training issues (read: quiet, balanced canter!) as soon as possible, so I'm developing a training plan in my head to get there. My favorite thing about clicker training (or any training at all, really) is how you can plan out your steps to train a behavior and then test it. Today, it worked almost exactly as planned. Such a cool feeling.

Comment issue?

My mother is telling me that my posts are looking a little funky to her. No timestamp, no link to the comments, though it looks normal if she clicks on the post title to go to the individual page of the post.

Is this happening to any of you guys? I'll go muck around in my settings, if so. If it IS happening to you, you should be able to get to the comments and let me know by clicking on the post title. Or you could shoot me an email - my address is on my profile.


Sunday, September 5, 2010

Awesome Lesson is Awesome

After the pony received an entire bath on Friday just so she would be presentable, McKinna I headed over to Devin's place for a jumping lesson yesterday. This was our first jumping lesson in..well...awhile. I was hoping wonder-pony and myself hadn't forgotten how to jump!

We began with some really nice flat work. Even though we hadn't jumped for awhile, our schooling in the dressage department is clearly paying off. Devin seemed pleased with the degree to which McKinna was willing to give me a nice, light contact. We worked on my riding: not rotating my wrists to the inside was first. All along I thought she'd meant something totally different - I thought she meant I was bending my wrists so that my knuckles were facing each other too much, but what I was actually doing was rotating in a weird way so my first-finger knuckle was kind of pointing down. Anyway, we got that straightened out.

Then Devin instructed me to really keep a steady contact, shortening my reins so that my hands weren't in my lap. "She wants the consistency," said Devin. "Don't let that 'bounce' in the contact happen. I don't want you to cram her into a frame, I want you to keep a steady contact and encourage her to stretch forward on her own." It's the same stuff I was talking about in my last post, just having an elastic feel and not fighting her down but letting her realize that it's easiest to just work with me. After a few minutes schooling this with Devin, I was rewarded by a beautiful, steady, workmanlike horse. No bobbing around in the contact, no poking the head up every three strides, no stickiness in the trot followed by wanting to dive on the forehand. Just steadiness, a new swing in her step, and a willingness to stretch forward into my hands when I added a little leg and asked for it.

Very nice. This is another one of those rides where most of the time I'm just going around grinning like an idiot, just thrilled to pieces with how fun my horse is to ride.

McKinna's canter work also impressed Devin (and, quite frankly, me and my mother too!). Again, our work in the lesson kind of paralleled the things I'd done out in the field over the past few days. Devin had me cantering on a circle, schooling the half-halt: don't force her head into a frame, don't brace against her, just half-halt and release, half-halt and release. "Get your point across, then soften."

I rediscovered the weirdness of our half-halt: I close leg/hand/core, then I do this strange thing where I kind of soften my abs - stop holding with them? - but don't relax my whole core, and focus on following the motion without being too loose in my hips. It's very hard to explain, but it's this feeling that I know. When I do this thing after I half halt, THAT is the moment McKinna relaxes, balances, carries herself, and gets this wonderful light-feeling canter.

Don't ask me why it works, or how it works, or even what 'it' is. I just know that I half halt then do the release-thingy and it works. As we school it more and more, she rebalances herself when I kind of tighten my core and then relax it. Very cool.

Then Devin took me through the same process in a light 3-point seat, just to show me that I don't need to be sitting deep to do an effective half-halt. (Good news, since we ride jumping courses without sitting deep!) By the time we finished, all I had to do was lift my shoulders and close my ring finger on each hand to get a rebalancing lift. It was awesome. THEN, we worked on using half-halt and leg to create a longer step that was still lifted in front and balanced. This is relatively new territory for us.

Developing that adjustability of stride without losing balance is going to make us worlds better on course. McKinna already has a remarkable ability to compress herself and add in a stride (or two) to the horse distance if she wants or the situation calls for it. She can get the horse striding if we're really rolling and it's not a long line, but it's still a stretch. Eventually, she should be able to lengthen and compress easily, thus lending more versatility to the ride.

Anyway. The canter work was great, that's my point.

Then we started jumping, and McKinna was great! She was ready go to from the first warmup fence and brought the same great attitude to the fences as she had to the flat work. Devin talked about keeping my upper body tall, remembering to really use my half-halt, and looking into my landing track as we come over the fence.

Our main issue right now is getting the right canter. Like I mentioned, McKinna can usually add a stride in a horse line, but she can also make the horse striding...which means that sometimes we end up right in between, which is never good. McKinna prefers to add up if she has to, and I need to remember that - but she also needs to get more confident about leaving the ground from a slightly long spot instead of hesitating. And I need to be able to think fast to make a decision about how to ride her!

Through perfect distances and less-perfect ones, McKinna was willing and cheerful, willing to save our collective bacon if the spot got ugly and jumping with textbook-perfect form over everything else. We were able to get 6 or 7 in the 6-stride, 2 or 3 in the 2-stride, and 4 or 5 in the 5-stride without too much effort - though the 2 in the 2-stride required a very forward, confident ride! I am really pleased with McKinna's growing ability to open up her stride without ending up running on her forehand. She still gets to spinning her wheels a little bit on landing, but not nearly as bad.

Unfortunately, a little technological malfunction means I don't have video of our last round, which was practically perfect and included a big, solid 3' hogsback XC-type fence that came in from Devin's field. In that last round, I was really able to apply the lessons I learned about revving up McKinna's stride without losing the balance, but still recognizing her desire (and ability) to take the short spot if we come in on a half-stride.

But, I do have video of the round before. You get to see the ugly shuffle-step into the 2-stride line (where we get 3), and the big long spot in the 4-stride line - a result of a reasonable jump in, but me not realizing I needed to make a decision about changing the stride length in order to add or come forward for the 4. Remember how I said she saved our collective bacon? If you look, you can see me petting her neck after that ugly one, going "Thanks for bailing us out!" You then get to see us come all the way around and jump it again, this time with me adding a little leg to get a better distance.

So, overall, I am pleased as punch with the little grey mare. We're really coming along and I think she's glad to be back to jumping after a bit of a break. I'm not worried about the distances, especially since we had a practically foot-perfect last round where I rode on a bit of a larger step the whole way around. I know it's just the next step in our education. I could tell through the whole lesson that McKinna was happy and willing, and that's really all I need!

Such a good girl.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Out Riding in the Field

I am starting to feel the slow pull of fall, even though the weather's still mostly summer-like. The regular routine of classes and weekends begins to sound appealing, after a summer spent running around like crazy. The idea of constant lessons, schooling shows, and shows makes me want to go crawl in bed and take a nap. It's not that I'm getting tired of riding - not at all! It's just, well, it's been a long summer.

I have a schooling H/J show next Sunday and then a Pony Club eventing rally the following Friday and Saturday. After that, I think we'll be pretty much set for the season. Then we'll follow the usual pattern: light riding and lessons through the fall, kick it up again after winter break, maybe a few schooling shows, and be ready to swing into full work by spring. It works for me.

So, because of my growing desire to slip into autumn, I have had three great low-key rides this week out in the big hay field. McKinna had some pretty intense dressage training rides while I was gone in Taipei (they went quite well!), and it seemed to me that she was asking for some chill-time. The weather has been just gorgeous in the evenings - cool but with a warm breeze, quiet, lovely sunsets. So we headed out for some calm hack-type rides, just wandering on a loose rein, maybe trotting or cantering up the long hill a couple times, then ending with work on a big circle asking for a relaxed but proper working trot. A little canter work, still asking her to just chill out, relax, no big deal.

Last night I used the jumping tack and we did a little more fitness work, trotting up the long hill twice and then cantering twice in each direction. Mixed that in with good doses of easy long-rein walk. One funny little spook-bolt where she actually took off with her head in the air for three or four strides...silly mare. I still have no idea what she spooked at. She settled back down, though. Then we ended the ride with some more work on the big circle. It took a little more finesse last night to get her to settle down into a quiet working trot, but she eventually gave it to me.

I find that lately, when it's time to get the working trot, I end up looking at myself rather than her to figure out what I should change to get the relaxation. Usually if I am less busy with my aids, a little more patient to give her time to come to me, a little steadier and more elastic in my contact rather than working against her, she comes to it much easier.

Bath day today for her. She is ridiculously dirty. Also, is anyone else's horse already shedding summer coat to reveal the longer, fuzzier beginnings of winter fur? This is not okay with me! Eurgh!

Jumping lesson with Devin tomorrow, our first in quite awhile. I'll ask her to take it easy on us. I have a call in to the chiro, because McKinna's been a little grouchy about the saddle and when you adjust the saddle pad lately, so I'm thinking it may be time for another adjustment. She made weird faces at me when I poked around in the area (not literally - I was using the heels of my hands). One rude face as if it hurt, but then she made happy faces and leaned into me when I pressed and massaged one area, so I'm not sure what she was trying to tell me. We'll see.

Hope everyone else is having a lovely end-of-summer.
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