Saturday, May 30, 2015

Well that was fun

Envision this, readers: it's Thursday night. We're headed to a schooling show on Sunday. My student has been riding consistently and well for about three years. Experience in jumping tack.... is limited. We're talking 7-9 lessons over fences.

We're jumping through down a line up the center-line, three jumps set one stride apart. Mare keeps drifting out because she's a bit green and her pilot is mostly focusing on staying with her over fences, so I go and stand on the side of the jump she drifts out over. It works for a while.

Then something goes wrong. She decides she's done jumping through this line, and hits me with her chest, but then changes her mind and decides to jump me. This sudden and Herculean effort unseats her rider, who lands squarely on top of me.

Were there lessons to be learned here? Oh, certainly. But it totally was an incident of guidance.

Friday, May 29, 2015


I have a horse named Indiana in training currently.

He's 10, looks like a Tennessee Walking horse, and has a difficult time maintaining the right lead. But on Monday when I was jumping my other animals, I figured let's just see what happens.

He's surprisingly good over fences! He needs a LOT of support to the fence, and riding him actually feels like you're sliding over the jumps, but the photos turned out really well so he must not be all that bad.

I borrowed Carly's exercise from the other day: a bounce, two strides to an oxer. I put Kat, Tango, and Indiana through it.

Kat was predictably amazing.

Having the photos to look at in between going through the line gave me a lot to think about. I have a serious release issue with Kat, mostly because when we hit the ground we often are going at lightspeed and I think I'm trying to slow her down midair, but... that doesn't work super great.


After looking at this one I got a little better at just trusting her

Just look at her!

This was our last jump, I put it down a bit to end on an easier effort. TOO MUCH RELEASE KATE
And then I took Tango through this, though for him I just had a cavaletti, two strides, jump. He kept taking it in three strides.
ohmygod who is this horse and where did he come from
 He had zero stop in him, he would have jumped anything I pointed him at. The problem came after the fences, when he wanted to put his face very close to the ground and thrash his head around.

So we made the jump bigger. Total solution, right?
If I loosened one rein and held the other against him, it seemed like he was less interested in fighting me, but the best result came from just totally letting the reins slip through my fingers after the fence. He's not bucking, he's not crowhopping, and the saddle doesn't seem to hurt him anywhere. His teeth are good. He has some butt muscle soreness but his back seems good. I'm not sure why he does that, but I'm going to see if we just keep working at it and let him find his own balance if that helps.


Last night while we were practicing our serpentines and leg yields, Kat took a really deep breath. Not unusual, no... But the gaits she offered me as a result felt as if for the first time I had actually put her on the aids. She floated, but she was entirely in my seat. Her transisitions were balanced and without fuss. We worked a few times around the arena with this feeling, all the while I babbled about what a good mare she is, and right before I was going to come out of a canter for a break, a deer came crashing along the hillside.

I gasped because it surprised me. Any guesses what Kat did?

Most nights, she'd bolt a few strides and then come back to me. Last night, as relaxed and listening as she was, she didn't change at all. Not in the bridle, and not in her pace. I was ecstatic!

I will add that I let her walk on the buckle as a reward and the second deer causes a spook but I'll take my successes as they come thank you very much.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Peppertree H/J May 17

Sunday, May 17th I hauled Diva, Danny, and Tango to a hunter show in Livermore. I was riding Danny because he's been so difficult for my kids, I decided it was time for me to actually school through it. Diva's rider was coming along for his first real over-fences show (keeping in mind that the kid seriously has had maybe 10 jumping lessons? He's stupid talented at keeping his lower leg perfectly 100% still though so I figured let's just see what happens) and E was going to ride Tango in the flat classes.

Selfies are really not my forte guys
This show... whew. I was blown away. It was the perfect schooling show. Like seriously, I loved it so much and I wish I could go every weekend.

We rolled out of LGF at o'dark thirty and found our way without much trouble to the grounds, where I dumped Diva and her rider and abandoned them for two and a half hours (sorry, two horse trailer!) while I went to go get Danny and Tango.

So here's a thing. Danny has been hauled all over kingdom come, but mostly in a slant load. I hauled him all the way to Fresno and back in the straight load (~6 hours round trip) without problem, but recently he's started to scramble in my trailer. It started during turns, and now he just does it like whenever he wants. We had moved maybe ten feet and he threw himself against the center divider and scrambles against the side of the trailer.

Tango was pissed and tried to kick/bite him but that was a whole other issue.

We wrap his legs super thoroughly to prevent him cutting himself, but it's nervewracking and dangerous. Anyone have advice on this?

We warmed up nicely (I love freshly polished boots for how sticky they are! I felt like my eq has never been more perfect) and then waited... forever. The first three classes went by so fast that I thought it'd be our turn before noon, but it ended up not being the case. Like... we probably could have shown up a little later than we did. Oh well!

The first round was a 2' hunters class. I went in equipped with spurs and my crop, and I rode like I was very, very serious. We had a stop to the first fence and a lot of wiggling, but the rest of the course rode pretty... okay. I can't say it was pretty. There were two whole fences on course that he didn't even try to refuse so I'll accept any victory I can.

The next was an equitation course at 2' that we nabbed a third in for who knows what reason - I'll take it anyway!

Then we rode a handy hunters, another equitation course, and finally a jumpers class. The jumpers class was fun because we went super fast for a little morgan. I have no video of it, unfortunately.

What even is happening to my upper body there

The above photo was our first time over this fence and I really, really, really didn't want him to refuse it, but he disagreed with me. Chip stride much?

Overall I was ecstatic with Danny - his fitness bore us through the day and he got WAY more rideable each time I went into the ring. Don't get me wrong, this has been my student's experience with him as well, but I'm hoping that one more show under me and he'll have some confidence facing new and different sorts of fences.

This one is my favorite
And what about Diva? Her first jumping show ever?

I want to event this horse something fierce. She was SO BRAVE. She didn't hesitate to jump anything she was pointed at, and the only fault she exhibited was some rushing. Her rider had a positive attitude and really rode in the ring. He totally focused on what I asked him to focus on, he didn't have any trouble remembering his courses, and he rode really really well.

I got on to repeat a round after her rider, just to offer her some schooling in the ring.

She was rather unexcited to be held to a quieter pace in the arena, but she felt wonderful despite the photos looking the way they do....

I can't wait to see how she develops in the next six months.

her expression here ahhaha
Love this little mare!
And of course, we cannot forget about Tango.

Tango was very excellent, until he wasn't. There was a moment when everyone was cantering on the rail that a car drove past him. I'm not certain what entered his mind, but I think he felt as if he and his new friends were all galloping about and so he should express his joy. He porpoised, crowhopped, and bolted his away around the arena a few times, and then when they changed direction he did the same thing.

Sassy, sassy animal.

E rode like a boss though and I couldn't be more proud of her.

This show gets an A+ from me and the kids because of how well run it was, how nice everyone was, and the environment as a whole. Definitely not a show to look at if rated shows are on your list anytime soon, but if you're looking to get out and compete a bit, ride courses you wouldn't at home, and gain some exposure, I loved this event.

We'll be back, Livermore!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Three realms

When I teach riding, there are three distinctly separate elements of training I keep in mind.

  1. The physical: how do you move your body, apply your aids, and use your balance?
  2. The mental: how do you think about your riding, do you know why we use the aids in this way, can you analyze the horse's actions and think about it from his point of view?
  3. The more nebulous spiritual side: do you have an intensely personal sense of what it is like for you to ride a horse?

Thursday, May 7, 2015

And the rest of the herd?


This pony is ridiculously adorable and I love her. As for her training? We're installing lighter canter take-offs and attempting to help her understand how to bend with a lighter rider on her back (I have too much influence, really)

The head shaking is greatly reduced, as is camel-mode.

The biggest issue when jumping her - besides the fact that I'm too heavy to jump often with her - is that my position just falls into a total mess when I jump her.

So back to the old stand-by: putting experienced riders on a green horse through a grid. Until she learns distances and pacing and striding... etc.


I'm pretty sure I haven't talked about him yet on the blog.

He's a very sweet 10 year old Dutch Warmblood owned by my farrier's girlfriend. He tore a ligament in his front right five years ago and was told he'd never be sound to ride again. He's come back, but we're fairly certain he'll never be up for heavy work and jumping again. Which is why I'm bringing him along to be a lovely asset to our lesson program.

He is a bit spoiled. He doesn't respect your legs, and he doesn't navigate very well. But his trot his delightfully lofty and his canter feels like its in slow motion.

I've been walking him over poles and doing lots of serpentines to start to regain some flexibility, but I'll have to get video soon.


After being retired from competition at the Fresno County Horse park (after a spectacularly terrible dressage test, let me tell you!) due to a corneal ulcer Danny got nearly a month off. He was getting steroids in his eye twice a day while the ulcer healed up. The vet had said he could come back into work after we stopped putting atropine into the eye (and therefore dilating it) but he was overly spooky and too difficult to manage or communicate with. He eventually came back into light work part way through March.

We pulled him off the steroids and the eye blew up again. I had the vet look at it and after dyeing the eye, we found there were no scratches anywhere, so we put him back on the steroids, with the stern admonition that this is a temporary solution.

In the meantime, he's been working well, although definitely not with the goals I had in mind when I was working him before Fresno. He's lost a lot of fitness & sensitivity, although he has come back from his time off with a remarkable and renewed vigor for jumping.

We had an opthamologist come out to look, and she said he needed surgery, and even with the surgery we'd probably only get 3-5 years of vision from the eye. What a blow. I felt terrible, and supremely at fault, even though horses be horses.

Then his owner hauled him up to Davis for the surgery, and the specialist there said, "you know... I'm not sure we need to jump into this. I think this horse is just a very slow-healing sort, and it'll heal up on its own."

Now he's getting drops twice daily to reduce the pressure in the eye so it can heal better, and fingers crossed he won't lose vision in the eye!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Kat & Tango Update


Since the WRR show, Kat's been up to all sorts of things.

We've done a lot of dressage and for the most part, we have bend and forward down.  Her fits are far and few between, and she's getting more and more rideable. We've done some trail riding which is surprisingly boring.

Some jumping, of course, and she's been getting better, and better, and better. Half-halts are something we DEFINITELY need work on, but they're improving.

I'm pleased with her progress. I need to help her get a bit more comfortable trusting me in the canter, but it'll come in time. Remember when all we did was buck? Wasn't that long ago.

Yesterday E and I hauled Kat to Woodside to school cross country out there.

There were groups of riders all over, working on various things, so after a quick hack around the field we ended up at the north water complex.

Honestly, what was I thinking? Tackle the thing I'm most worried about FIRST?

She wouldn't get in the water. She thought about it at one point, but I think I stopped her because I sort of squeezed the reins and said "please don't launch yourself into the water."

I dismounted and hemmed and hawed about having to get into the water because I was wearing my new show boots, but I finally did. I don't have photographic evidence, but it was a rodeo. Small mare LEAPT into the water, then panicked about wet feet, then reared, the leapt around a little more.

I probably shouldn't have gotten out unscathed.

This was the second time. Not good, but much less life-threatening
We walked in and out a lot until it was a bit better...

Then we moved to another spot on the water hole.

I actually love this photo
Basically that photo sums up my day with her.

Nah, not true. She ended up being really good. It was frustrating at first because I'd just spent thirty minutes basically training her to ignore my legs.

E suggested that I try getting on her while we were in the water, so I tried that. We walked around in the water and ended up getting back into the water once.

I'm going to save some of the better jumping photos to populate future posts (can't give everything away at once, can I?) but here's a collection of a few photos to whet your appetite for photos not involving me nearly getting trampled.

She's... uhm... scopey.


Tango's been dressage-ing like crazy with his new Niedersuss saddle (which I love. Yay impromptu eBay purchase). And man oh saint's alive is he coming along.

I don't have nearly enough photos to demonstrate this, especially because photographing a dressage school is much less interesting than photographing my near death a dozen times over.

I've mostly been focused on improving the transitions in and out of the canter. Bending into the canter to prevent him using the bottom of his neck to drag himself into the canter, and then really using my core to set the tempo for the trot before a downward transition.

It's getting SO MUCH better, but he still has a lot of strength to build in it. So we'll keep trucking away, improving the leg yields and the shoulder-in, using our transitions to improve my horse, and seeing where he ends up.

So what I posted this yesterday? It shows a MUCH improved trot.

And look! He's jumping more like a sane horse now.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Posting Trot

Inspired by She Moved To Texas's excellent series on Blogging, I put together an editorial calendar for Incidents of Guidance. I meditated on my title, on my aim as a blogger, and on my favorite blogs to keep up on.

This month I'll be doing a series on the rider at the trot - especially as my trainer has been getting after to me to practice my sitting trot more than I do. I'll be looking around for good off-the-horse exercises and applicable tips for mastering a better trot while riding.

Today I'm writing about the posting trot, or the rising trot, especially as this is a skill we all learn in our first month on horseback and inevitably have to revisit when we're improving our riding.

I'm writing from my own experiences as a trainer, so please keep in mind that at this point, I function largely as an entry-level eventing trainer. My students' posting trot needs to be controlled, effective, needs to match a variety of horses' power levels, and needs to allow them to feel the horse that they're riding.

Let's tear apart that sentence a bit, shall we?

Needs to be controlled

We've all seen those beginners who are absolutely getting launched out of the tack - whether it's their own riding or they are over-horsed, that post is uncontrolled. The first step to gain a controlled post is to practice posting at the walk. And not totally with abandon, I really want my riders to think about the mechanics of posting - to feel the tops of their thighs engage, to feel the tone in their core required to prevent the front of their body from lengthening, and to feel the knees stay in contact with the saddle without pinching.

It's a lot to ask, trust me, I know.

I like to see a thigh rotated inwards so that the adductor can rest gently against the saddle. I do not want to see air between the knee and the saddle, but at the same time I don't want the rider to be gripping for dear life with their knees. As they rise, the lower leg should not move. The rider's hips move forward and draw a small, quarter circle as they rise. I do not want a rider to land heavily in the saddle.

Once the rider has a bit more control over their body in their posting trot, I'll introduce the dancing trot. The dancing trot is also known as 'two ups, one down', or sometimes double posting. Instead of posting up and down with the 1-2 rhythm, you will stay up an extra beat. up-up-down-up-up-down. If your lower leg isn't secure underneath you or your legs are too stiff to act as springs, you will either fall forward or backward, revealing to you where your leg needs to be.

This exercise generally produces a too-forward angle in my rider's upper body, but I'll leave that alone for a little while as we increase the security of our legs. Next I have my riders practice the 7-7-7 (seven strides sitting, seven strides posting, seven strides half-seat), which allows us a lot of mobility in and around the saddle, all while securing our lower leg in place.

Once these exercises are easy, I can be reasonably certain the posting trot is controlled.

Danke Tumblr for filling in for my lack of photos

Needs to be effective

Ah - effectiveness. What makes a posting trot ineffective? A posting trot is ineffective when the upper body and hands are unable to produce a half-halt, when pausing at the bottom of your rise fails to slow the horse, and when the horse is simply totally in control of the pace.

This pretty much comes down to engaging your core and having positive tension in your upper body.

Four major ways to increase the tone in your core loud enough for your instructor to hear? Cough, clear your throat, growl, or hiss. Try it now, at home. It's only a little as silly as you think it is, but it works.

Imagine pushing a broom. You naturally engage your core when you sweep. The problem about riding is that we don't generally naturally rely on supporting our upper body with our core, so we have to think about adding positive tension all the time because it leaks out of us.

When your upper body is stable, a half halt can be as easy as pausing in the saddle and closing your fingers for a moment. Heck yes, your horse has to know what that means, but even if he's green having a stronger core means that you actually can affect the way he's moving. No more pulling fights! This is, in my experience, the #2 reason a trainer can get on your horse and they instantly go differently. (#1 being that they have more experience with the nebulous feel, so they know what they're looking for and the path it takes to get there because they've traveled the path a LOT more than you have.)

Found on Tumblr, and holy dapples batman! Could totally be Tango.... if he weren't a thoroughbred...
Once you are controlled and effective at posting the trot, I'll throw you onto another horse, and this one has a freaking gigantic trot and we go through the whole thing again. This leads us to...

Needs to match different equine power levels

As a rider, your mechanic has to be so controlled that within a few beats of the trot you can match the power output of the horse you're riding. There are a few elements here: the tone in your thighs, your core (dammit, that again?), and the height of your post.

If you don't have enough tone in your thigh, then you're relying on gravity to help you post. When you only have tone on the up and then your thigh goes slack, you are not matching the power of your horse. On a small-moving horse, this doesn't matter at all (well it does really but I'm not getting into it here). On a bigger-moving horse, this lack of tone becomes immediately evident.

An exercise I'll do to help with the feel of this: while keeping your tempo precisely the same, how small can you post? Then how big can you post? The tempo must remain the same, meaning that you have to find a way to use your thigh as a lever and get control of your pelvis all the way to the top of your rise and all the way to the bottom.

A big part of learning to ride different horses and match them is keeping your torso even. No twisting through the ribcage as you rise or sit, and ESPECIALLY no lengthening the front of your body as you rise. You must keep the bottom of your ribcage down and your pelvis oriented with seatbones down, else you'll lose that very important core engagement. Another benefit of developing a stable, still upper body is that you clear the lines of communication with your horse. There's much less static, allowing your aids to be more effective and more easily understood. 

Ultimately, the best way to match different horse's power output is to ride a lot of different horses, but if I've taught the mechanics well, generally riders can adapt well to all sorts of horses.

Needs to allow a sense of feel with the horse

 This one takes more time to develop. But if you've really mastered the posting trot, you need to have an ever-expanding sense of feel with the horse. This means your thighs must rest against the horse without pinching - how else can you feel if your horse is breathing between your legs, or if his shoulder is about to move in an unexpected direction, or if he's nervous? This means that you settle softly into the saddle for a moment, allowing your seat bones to detect if your horse's back is up underneath you or if you are falling into the man-hole that develops from a hollow horse.

This also means your elbows are soft so that your shoulders can receive information about the horse's neck through his jaw. This also means that your position, while unyielding in its correctness, is soft and balanced and inviting to the horse's back. He can trust you, and you can influence him.

In conclusion

I could go on at length about the myriad asymmetries and unique variations I see on posting the trot, but I think I've covered the "basics" above. For a neat dressage posting vs hunter posting check out this blog post here, while I will add that balance is balance and when your stirrups are shorter, your upper body tends to incline forward, while when your stirrups are longer, you have to really fight to sit upright. Please let me know if there are any questions!

Oh wait sorry were we talking about trotting? I wanted to give you a preview of the AMAZING photos E took of Kat & I yesterday...