Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Good Day

Today was a good day. Some presents this morning - everything I needed or wanted, from some new SmartWool socks (love!) to a few pieces of equipment I've been needing like side reins and a cotton longe line.

My favorite part of the day was watching my mom open her presents. From me, a leather halter with a McKinna nameplate on the side; and from my boyfriend, a nine-picture collage frame filled with pictures of McKinna, me, and my mom. Pictures will be up as soon as possible! We did not go out to the barn today, but tomorrow we will bring McKinna some carrots and get some pictures of her in her beautiful new halter.

The rest of the day we spent hanging out with my family in Salem. My family rocks. Going from the quiet of our three-person household to such a wild group is quite an adventure, but it's a good one. All told there were me, the parents, cousins ages 4, 13, 18, and 19 plus assorted boyfriends, my aunt and uncle, and a set of grandparents. Lots of laughing, especially when we got to taking pictures of our folded arms so they looked like butts. We even got grandma to take a picture...what can I say, sometimes life calls for a little immaturity!

But I have to say, the end of the night is one of the best parts. Cat's in the laundry room eating, dog's sacked out on the couch twitching and snoring, Dad's asleep. Just me and my mom sitting on the couch with our laptops and blankets, surfing the 'net and reading about horses.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays to everyone!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Saddle Fitting

Yesterday, Leslie's barn had a saddle fitter out to work on one of their client's horses. I think this is something like the third time she's come out - it has been a very long process for them, but I guess when you're working with six-figure horses and aiming for the top levels of dressage, that saddle better be darn perfect!

Me? I just wanted my jumping saddle reflocked to fit McKinna a little better. It's great, it works, obviously from my last post she is happily jumping in it. But she's always much less willing to round into a steady contact when I'm riding in the jumping saddle. And sweat marks on the saddle pad always had a dry spot (of no contact, because there's no dirt there when she's dirty) towards the front-middle as well as too much pressure at the very front.

Since the saddle fitter they were using is an Albion rep and my jumping saddle is an Albion, I hauled McKinna over for a fitting session. They watched me ride a little bit at the walk and trot, checked the saddle with their hand at the halt and walk, and then took it away to mess with it. Interestingly, the excess pressure at the very front was actually because it was a little too wide through the whole front part. This brought it down too low in front, leading to the excess pressure on the very front as well as the lack of contact through the center.

They added more flocking in the middle and front of the saddle in order to even out the contact and raise the front up. Then they had me saddle up again. At first, Mckinna didn't seem much different than usual - moving around quite a bit in the contact, generally just not as obliging as she usually is in the dressage saddle. After a few minutes, though, she started to really lift her back and reach into the contact. I worked her at the trot and canter in both directions, then popped her over a fence I had set up that was maybe 3'. She jumped with a really nice bascule over the fence. Not that she doesn't normally jump stylishly, just that she felt very round over her back.

So, a definite success. I could definitely feel more saddle up front, but it wasn't such a huge change that it bothered me. The saddle fitter wanted me to try a sheepskin half pad, too, basically explaining that in a jumping saddle sometimes horses are happiest when you can get the points of the tree as far away from their shoulder as possible. Basically, she said, you're dealing with a much more concentrated distribution of weight than in a dressage saddle and you have a much more forward flap too.

I don't know if I am sold on that logic. For so long I have heard that it's best to be closer to the horse, adding more bulk is bad, etc. I will say that I rode with the fleece pad and McKinna seemed very pleased, very round and very solid in my hands, but I'm not convinced that this wasn't just a continuation of her happiness with the new flocking. I've decided that I will test that matter on my own time. I think I will borrow a fleece half pad from someone and ride with and without it - if I see a noticeable difference when I use it, then the horse's opinion wins and I will ride with one. If not, there's no reason to ride with one!

Of course I did not take pictures. When am I going to figure out the whole picture-taking thing? Bah. Maybe next time I get out to the barn we will go for a long ride in the jumping saddle, and I can show you the differences in sweat marks between that saddle pad and one I used pre-flocking.

All told the experience cost me $200. If McKinna's response continues to be so positive, I definitely think it will be worth it. Any change that produces such an instant willingness to use herself more properly is a good change in my book, and my hope is that over time it will just allow our jumping to get even better.

Friday, December 17, 2010

McKinna = Rock Star

Last night I had a jumping lesson with Devin. Remember how I said in my last post that McKinna is jumping really well, and is ready to bump up the height?

Oh yes. I was right. So, so right.

We began with a canter pole exercise. This is literally the ONLY canter pole exercise that has ever been a positive experience for me and my horse. (Again: this is why Devin rocks and she is my trainer.) She started with four canter poles set at 9' distances, then 9' to a cross rail. Canter through on a 9' stride, a nice easy indoor canter for us.

Here's the beauty: even though we biffed the first distance a few times (because really, you have to be pretty accurate to a canter pole), there are enough poles that the horse can fix things before they exit the exercise. Without fail, McKinna was in perfect rhythm and distance by the 2nd or 3rd pole.

Huh. Imagine that. Canter poles that we can ride quietly, rhythmically, and successfully through.

She then rolled them out to 10' distances, which we did a couple times, and then 11'. And it was great! I definitely had to add leg for the 11' poles, but it was absolutely doable, McKinna was confident about the exercise and understood exactly what to do, and she was able to lengthen her stride without rushing or falling on the forehand or getting anxious. It was wonderful.

I am definitely going to keep practicing that exercise. What a simple, positive, effective way to work on developing McKinna's bigger stride.

Then we moved onto the course work. The first round was 2'6ish, easy stuff, McKinna was perfect. So then I told Devin I wanted to play with the big heights, mostly as a progress check for my C3. If I point her at a 3'3 course, what goes wrong and what goes right?

So Devin set up a 3' - 3'3 course for me, including one oxer that was DEFINITELY a solid 3'3 and maybe even a little bigger. True to Devin form, it was a pretty technical one - the first course had a rollback to the monster oxer and one fence on an angle, and the second course had a direct full two strides from an angled vertical to the monster oxer. There was also a triple on the outside that was either a forward two to a waiting three, or a REALLY FORWARD three (because it was off a short turn, vertical to oxer) and then a regular two.

McKinna. was. amazing.

She jumped her heart out for me. Need to leave a little long? Fine. She launches off the ground, pretty much never any hesitation (remember a few months ago we were dealing with her hesitating on takeoff almost every time). Need to add up? Fine. I add leg, sit tall with my upper body, and she turns into a little bouncy ball that pats the ground and arcs over the fence with no problem. The only mistakes were pilot error, and they were pretty minor ones.

We got some serious air time over those bigger fences too, especially the oxer. She was so tidy and good with her knees. The whole course just felt so together - everything I asked for, she gave me 110% without the slightest resistance. Whether we jumped long or short or perfect, from a galloping stride or a collected one, she landed and cantered off like clockwork. If I had to really set her up for a rollback, she sat back and did it. If I had to do ask for some really galloping, long strides to make the horse striding, she did it.

Excuse me for a moment while I squeal in happiness. SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.

The downside, of course, is that I was at the lesson solo and there is no video. It is heartbreaking, but I guess it just means I need to do it again soon! I'm riding in a Pony Club lesson with Devin on January 15, so maybe then, or maybe I'll get a chance to ride with her again before that.

I am still walking on clouds. That was some of the coolest riding ever. The best part is that even the 3'3 fences don't look intimidating - they look big, and real, but not scary and totally within our abilities. McKinna obviously thinks so too. I could not ask for a better performance from her, mentally or physically. She was amazing.

We've come a long way from the little auction pony learning how to jump cross rails!


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Truckin' Along

I think all I ever write about lately is how much fun I am having riding McKinna.

Oh well. I think it's a great problem to have!

We continue to slowly but steadily improve. The jumping clinic with a Pony Club instructor on Saturday was lovely. Every time we jump, I see more payoff from our dressage work. This time McKinna's canter felt so much more powerful than usual once we were on course. We even got a pretty long spot to tall X oxer, and she just launched off the ground with no problem. Not that she never took a long spot if necessary before, she just feels so confident about it these days. The nice thing is that she never gets all excited about a weird distance, just lands and keeps clocking around.

Biggest take-away lesson: I need to make sure I keep enough forward in our jumping rounds. I wasn't holding her back too much, but I had one Good round where we took a rail and had a couple not-quite-perfect distances and one Awesomely Great round where I added a little more "go" and we nailed everything. Food for thought. She's also getting balanced enough to put that forward energy to good use, instead of using it to scramble around like a tarantula on roller skates.

Lately, dressage lessons have been continuing along the same path: more, better, harder. Leslie has me asking McKinna to really lift and bend through the inside in order to fill up my outside aids. There's a sense of yielding, softening the whole inside of the body and as a result really stepping under herself. It's a fine line between needing to get the yield but also really needing to keep the outside from escaping. When I get it right, McKinna is very soft and connected and has very nice transitions.

Sometimes, I can get lovely trot-canter transitions where the head doesn't go straight up in the air and she just steps beautifully under herself. I probably get these maybe one time in four? It's still progress though, and even our "bad" transitions are much better than they used to be.

McKinna loves straight lines now! Changing rein across the diagonal is a great feeling on her. Very steady in both reins, very even through her shoulders. We continue to work on the lengthening. If I can keep her from getting too excited and hollowing out, I can feel her start to push off the hind end for longer steps.

Leslie has also gotten us started on the first baby steps of haunches in. This is exciting! If I can master haunches in, I can do half pass, because half pass is essentially haunches in across the diagonal. Very exciting. I can tell McKinna is wondering what the hell I'm trying to get her to do, but she is slowly learning that yes, I want the butt IN, and I still want inside bend. She's very compliant, which is nice. Just a little confused!

Have I mentioned how wonderful it is to be on winter break? It's wonderful. I actually really enjoyed going to work today, because I haven't been in all term. And the sleeping in part isn't too shabby either.

Also, it is COLD. Brrr.

Lesson with Devin on Thursday. I'm really excited for this one because McKinna has been doing so well on coursework, and I think it's time to start working over bigger fences. For the C-3 she needs to be comfortable and competent over a 3'3 course, so that's what we'll start working towards.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Mounted Policemen Charge into Rioting Crowd

Saw this video on the COTH forums and I had to share. If you've been looking at the news at all lately, you probably know there have been massive student protests and riots in London over big tuition hikes for Universities. People even attacked the car that Prince Charles and his wife were riding in.

This link has a video of mounted policemen literally charging into a crowd to disperse the people. It's amazing, the way people just get RIGHT out of the way when a a few thousand pounds of horseflesh come cantering towards them!

It's incredible, what those horses do. They have face masks, nose guards, and protective boots. I thought it was just horrible that protesters were throwing stuff at the horses, though. Under conditions that would freak out even the most bombproof horse, these guys seem pretty cool, though to a some extent you can see some getting upset. (I would too, if people were screaming and chucking stuff at me!)

I read that none of the horses were injured, but one policeman was pulled off his horse. The saddle slipped to the side and I believe he broke his legs, possibly from the horse stepping on/kicking him as it spooked. I feel very sorry for him and hope he heals up okay.

There's pictures from the whole mess in the next link (some of them are bloody, but none of them are awful).

I'm not usually a "news" blog, but I had to post that video of the charge. The picture of them moving out (#19 on the second link) gave me goosebumps.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Oh thank goodness. After two weeks of basically nonstop studying and assignment-ing, I am freeeee! And I think my grades are pretty solid. We'll see.

So, of course, the first thing I did was go out to the barn tonight. I haven't ridden in about a week and a half! I still didn't ride today, but I will ride tomorrow in a dressage lesson. Tonight, the wonderpony got clipped - again. You can hardly tell she has been clipped at all, which is ridiculous. I swear this horse grows enough winter coat to keep four or five thin-skinned Thoroughbreds warm all winter. As the clippers buzzed along, the spots came out again and she is so cute!

She's just got the same clip as last time - left the head, legs, and a square saddle patch. I left a strip down her belly too, but that's just because I had to wash it and it hadn't dried by the time I finished tonight, so I'll touch that up tomorrow. Thank goodness she is patient for clipping, it took about 2 hours. She was very patient, even when I was leaning over her butt from a mounting block to make the line even, and she didn't mind a bit when I clipped right up to the base of her ears. I think she would let me clip them with no problem, but she lives outside, and I don't want her poor ears getting cold!

Busy horse stuff coming up. Lesson tomorrow, clinic Saturday, thinking about hauling myself over to the Horse Center on Sunday to practice their crazy Mountain Trail course. (Seriously, they basically turn the indoor arena into a trail. Giant ditches dug into the dirt, big huge hills and mounds and log piles, and a bridge, and huge ponds, etc. I've been before and it's a blast to just walk around and check everything out.

Okay, I'm off...I have a very important appointment between my head and my pillow. We haven't spent nearly enough time together lately!
Related Posts with Thumbnails