Tuesday, November 30, 2010

End of Term....No Love.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


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

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

My barn owner put this picture up today on Facebook:

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

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

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

Hope everyone has a happy Thanksgiving weekend!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Sitting Trot!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ditch Practice = Fail!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Prep Clinic!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Mud. And mud. And more mud!

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


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


These are the things we had tonight:

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

  Yup, other side's just as dirty.

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

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

4. A clinic tomorrow.


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

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

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

Friday, November 5, 2010


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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