Thursday, January 29, 2015

Stretching Tall Boots

Being an instructor who doesn't show much, my day-to-day gear revolves mostly around function and long-day survivability.

Oh, and my budget.

Getting ready for the horse trial in Fresno, I was missing some pretty important supplies. I mean, the USEA Rulebook doesn't really state that you need black tall boots...
Boots—black, brown, field, jodhpur or a black or brown full grain smooth leather leg piece and matching leather boots. Chaps and/or half-chaps are not allowed
So my beat up Smartpak Solstices would really function just fine. But I took this as an excuse to buy some affordable tall boots.

I know the truly value-friendly route is to buy used boots because you can buy higher quality boots and all that, but I've been pretty burned by used boots in the past, so I kept trying tall boots for under $300. Thank goodness for returns. That's all I'll say on that.

Anyhow, the Mountain Horse Venice Field Boots were on sale at Riding Warehouse, so I picked them up after some careful measuring. I ordered a 10/Tall and Slim calf.

I don't have slim calves, but for the size of my feet, my lower leg is too tall and the more customizable boots are out of my price range. When I measured, my calf would just barely fit in the slim calf size according to the website.

So they showed up, and they're lovely.

When I stuffed my calves + breeches into these bad boys, I promptly lost all feeling in my toes.

I did some research on do-it-yourself boot stretching and read all sorts of recommendations. "Just keep wearing them!" was the biggest reminder, but seeing as I couldn't feel my feet I really thought that was a bad idea.

Giving my sad calves a rest after trying the whole "just wear them long enough" thing for about two hours in my house
The next most popular idea was to use a hair dryer to heat the leather while you were wearing the shoes, then allow them to cool while still wearing them.

Busting out my trusty (cheap) hair dryer

I was really nervous about this method because there was the chance it wouldn't work and I'd need to send the boots back. If they're cracked or scorched, I really don't think RW would want the boots back. I carefully heated the boot until I could just feel the heat in my calves (the leather is really thick in these boots so it took way longer than I thought it would) and then walked about the house, trying to feel my feet. I repeated this process about three times and then took a phone call.

The phone call really allowed the boots to cool and I realized that I could feel my left foot! Winning! And it didn't hurt as much to walk on my right foot. Fab!

Further internet research recommended spraying isopropyl alcohol and water on the boot and allowing it to dry while wearing it that way. Eeks.

The more time I spent wearing the boots though, the more I liked them.

So I drove off to Walgreens, picked up from alcohol and a spray bottle, came home, and changed back into my breeches.

My supplies

I first sprayed water on the inside of the boot, just enough to moisten the leather. I followed it up by spraying the boots with the isopropyl alcohol, just enough to darken the leather (way less alcohol than you think it'd take). I forced the boot back over my leg and practiced my calve raises and distracted myself with applying boot polish to my sad, beat up Solstices.

Here's the thing about me and boot polish. We really don't understand one another. I have spent years of my horseback riding life thinking that polish didn't polish boots at all, and only contributed to covering scuffs and sort of evening color.

Turns out I'd completely forgotten the whole "buff the polish once it's dry" step.

And, surprisingly enough, it also turns out that boot polish does in fact make boots shinier.

Hanging out waiting for the boots to dry
Originally I started out just on the still too-tight right boot, but it worked so surprisingly well in about fifteen minutes that I did a light dusting of alcohol+water on the left boot to help with the continuing to be too tightness of it.

The alcohol and water procedure worked really, really well. We'll see how the boots dry out 100% but I think it was totally worth the time put into stretching them a bit now so the breaking in process won't kill me as much.

I also bought tan knee patch breeches (believe it or not, I didn't have a single pair in my closet.)

I ordered the "Romfh Lexington Euroseat Kneepatch Breeches" because... well because they were on sale. 

They're a slightly different color in person, but I don't really know how to explain it.

However, I feel like I could survive a nuclear war in these things. The fabric isn't super thick or anything, but it just feels intense and of really high quality. We'll see how they wear, but I'm happy just looking at them so far.

I tried to get a good photo for you so you could see the color weirdness. My only other qualm is that I ordered a size 32 which usually fits me quite well but either I've lost weight or these run large.

But who cares! I got them on sale and they're comfy.

And that's the tale of getting some more show clothes ready for Fresno.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Schooling Shows Close* to Los Gatos in 2015

* And by close I mean within reasonable hauling distance.

There are a TON OF SHOWS in California.

I also wrote this entire post out and lost it due to internet errors. So this will now be a slightly truncated version, which might actually be easier to navigate. There's nothing for January or February because we're almost done with January and I've claimed February as my month.

Of March, we'll be attending the Fox N Horn show at Thorson's arena on the 28th.

In April, I'd like to attend the Spring Flower's combined test at Woodside Horse Park. It's a sly way to get my students to do more dressage.

The following weekend is JK Presents - I really liked how well run that show was. I'll certainly be attending that Sunday, even if it's just me and Tango.

I have Dressage at the Gaits in Gilroy on my personal calendar, but mostly because I am wondering if I could pull a normal day of work off around attending a few classes in the morning on Friday. Hahahaha

I prefer shows on Sunday because it doesn't disrupt my lesson schedule on Saturday & gives the kids a lot more packing time. The SMCHA Show on the 10th would do well for that, but I honestly don't know where it will be hosted... so that's a tricky one.

There's a 1-day trial at Twin Rivers the next weekend that I'd like to attend for myself, and then the following weekend is the Woodside Three Day which I've already committed to competing at.

Seeing as the KMT shows are about an hour and a half from my farm, I'd probably skip that one in favor of JK Presents. I repeat, I enjoyed the way that was run.

The Summit Riders Horseman's Association show on the 28th is a must do for us. I won't be charging a training fee & the hauling fee will be minimal. These organizations desperately need more support and this is the little bit I can do to make sure small organizations that are friendly and open can keep on trucking. (It's also like ten minutes from the farm so let's just sing a song for that).

There are two possible events for my students in July. The Woodside Combined Test/Hunter Derby would be so much fun so I'll definitely see who's ready for that. The SRHA show is, again, a must do for us. I'll even bring Tango.

The only viable options for my students in August are the Fox N Horn one and JK Presents. I don't have to make the call on that for a while - I think it'll really depend on how serious we are and if summer camps have killed all of our spirits.

Both SDEC and JK Presents are going on in September, but school will also be starting and we've approached a LOT of activity so far in this year. Some kids thrive on shows and some kids need lots of breaks. But the schooling show heavy schedule should allow us a lot of practice just getting ready and getting out there, regardless of how we do.  I lean in the JK Presents direction because there's dressage as well as jumping.

There's the SRHA Play day in October that once again, I'll be dragging students do. They're fun.

The following weekend is another one day that I'd like to attempt with whoever I've got fit at the moment. That's a long way off and there's summer between here and there though so we'll see.

We did SDEC's last show last year and it was a lot of fun. We'll probably do this one again.

The big, glaring omission to the schooling show list is White Rock Ranch, who evidently doesn't feel it necessary to actually post their schedule. All their shows are on Sunday and their class list is impressive, so I'd like to try to attend at least one, even if I go alone.

I'd also love to venture to Lone Tree Farm but that's a 3.5 hour drive so it'd likely be just two horses going to one of those events. It might be fun, but it'd be pretty tricky to pull off.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Sleepy Horses

I seem to have come across a few tired horses this past week. Let's take a closer look...



No idea who this is


Monday, January 26, 2015


January so far has been riddled with fantastic things. I bought a trailer. Tango's going better than ever. I got to ride a whole lot of new horses at Webb ranch. I'm working with a green horse and there's the prospect of starting a mustang on my horizon. I have new people in my life and a lot of new energy. It's also been riddled with ridiculously hard, painful, and difficult things. I'm lucky because of the support and love I have. I definitely admit to struggling sometimes... but then I get notes like this.

Kinda gives me something to live up to, you know?

Who's been your biggest mentor in your riding career? 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Book Review: Coaching Illustrated

Coaching Illustrated by Mark David is a handful of pretty common sense management techniques distilled to an easy-going and straightforward set of explanations.

I bought the book because one of the women at my farm is running a non-profit based largely off the principles in a different Mark David book (The Self-Manager), but as always, I read the book with an eye for what could best help my students and my horses.

It's amazing how many of these principles are things that we must keep in mind when we're working with horses or their riders.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

TOABH: Sugar Momma

Let's continue pretending that horse poop magically transforms into money instead of the other way.  So money doesn't matter.  If you could buy anything for your horse, what would you buy? 

I think I'd move Tango to Anne's and then buy a turnkey little...

I kid! I'd definitely move him somewhere that he could have daily turnout with another horse. He totally loves his stall (I mean it's actually a little alarming) but he does much better in work when I've allowed him to play. The problem with letting him play is that usually I need to work him right afterwards, when his adrenaline is all up and his heart is pounding and his entire attitude is, "but KAAATE I WANT TO PLAAAYYY". Not exactly dressage-oriented.

I'd also get him a custom fit saddle.

And an unlimited amount of grass hay. Like I'd just install this fancy system above his new stall where it'd scan the stall and the second there wasn't enough hay down there it'd throw him another flake.

Then after two months on said-unlimited-hay, I'd have the saddler totally redo the saddle because Mr. Tango would have packed on the pounds. Exactly the way I want it.

Look at how neglected he is! Full winter coat and shaggy mane and the whole nine yards.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Four things I found on the web

I came across these four things this week and although many of you have surely seen/read them already, I thought I'd post them here on the off-chance that you hadn't seen them.

I read this article on what is really involved with being a riding instructor.  This is a pretty good summary and good food for thought. My job is hard. I do a lot of things and say yes to probably too much sometimes just to make it by - to pay for my horse, to pay for my continued education to make sure I'm bringing the best knowledge I can to my clients, to feed my dog, to keep a roof over my head. I am generally a positive and upbeat person, but there are times that the instability of my career and the indignation with which people treat me at times (as per the "you charge WHAT? For one hour?" argument) gets to me.

Second, I read this article regarding how often people complain of cheating at horse shows. I think that it's so easy to blame the judge, the other riders, the weather... rather than just say "hey, this wasn't my best riding today. What a bummer. I'll work hard and next time will be better." I even experienced this in one of my clients at SDEC's winter show - surprising, but not unusual. I like this article's write up of why it's so important to develop good sportsmanship.

Third: I read this absolutely PRICELESS wanted ad on Facebook, and I had to share it with you all. I laughed so hard I nearly cried.
I am looking for a very very quiet, dead broke small "boring" gelding for my daughters first horse. It can be ugly as hell or have a hiccup in it's walk I don't care just as long as it takes care of my daughter. Something that almost hates life if it has to do an extended trot. I want something that sits on the couch in nothing but boxers for 3 days watching Seinfeld reruns covered in Cheetos crumbs and be the happiest thing alive doing it. Perhaps like your lazy ex husband? I want western pleasure useless can't do anything athletic movement. My daughter is 4 years old and WILL encourage speed and naughty things and scare the you know what out of me!! She is very outgoing and has no problem getting after a lazy horse! She has some riding experience and is ready for something dead quiet to carry her around the arena on her own. I DO NOT want a "show pony" I do not care about one upping Mrs. Jane Doe and her daughters imported Cob welsh section blah blah gypsy vanner, Friesian, dressage world class Westphalia.. Whatever... No. We want old scar face that killed a cougar once in his younger days and now has nothing to prove. Must load into a trailer. No set price range, I already stated no show ponies so please don't post any. Don't post anything that "with a bit of training" No. I want something so lazy it doesn't "need training" Lol

Lastly, this rider. Ohmylord this rider is beautiful. The longer stirrup is hardly noticeable through his incredible balance over jumps, and I love watching how he uses his core and back when urging the horse forward.

Friday, January 16, 2015

TOABH: Wish We Could

Let's pretend that financial restrictions don't exist and logistics isn't a nightmare.  If you could do anything with your Ponykins, what would you do?

Well. If financial restrictions don't exist, Tango and I move to Anne's barn for the next six months, campaign until he's totally happy showing, and I sell him to someone who falls in love with his goofy face and proclivity for 2nd level work. To replace him, I start leasing a GP horse and continue to learn from Anne until I earn my Gold medal. After that, I'll be so wise and knowledgeable ( ;) ) that who knows what I'd want to do in dressage!

I also buy a really fancy six year old warmblood TB cross who moves with me to Anne's to polish his dressage before we start eventing. We'll start at training and prepare for trying to earn regional points at Preliminary next year. 

You know. 

OH! And I buy a really nice, turnkey little facility. It's got a full-size dressage court and a covered jumping arena. It's got some fields for cross country jumps, and it's got a room where I can host yoga classes. I hire someone really awesome to run my barn while I'm busy competing my super-star dressage and eventing horses. I bring in cool clinicians a few times a year. I buy both my working students phenomenal horses, which will be great for them and also really good for my lesson program. 

This barn will be located conveniently close to both Anne's and UCSC, where I apply for and get into school to study physical therapy without fear of how stupid-expensive the program is. I'd spend the next three years studying dressage, eventing, physical therapy, and happily teaching a handful of students at my barn. When I graduate from my DPT program, then I'd ramp my lessons and training back up as an equestrian professional. 

Isn't it a nice dream?

I do love to dream....

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Rhythm falls WHERE on the training scale?

Oh yeah, it's totally at the BOTTOM OF THE BLOODY PYRAMID. Priority numero uno.

For christ's sake....

I rode Danny last night and we had a lovely warm up and he was in front of my leg and feeling relatively supple and the whole nine yards. Then I moved to riding the full 'dressage' court we have set up in the middle of our arena (Like 16 meters by 34 meters. It's wonky.) For some things, this 'court' is nice to have. For most anything functional, it's a huge pain. I digress.

I'm trotting along, focusing on the corners and the straightness down the long sides, and then I go to canter. We pick up a nice rhythm, he moves through the short side pretty nicely, then all of a sudden he races down the long side, bulging to the inside and seriously considered swapping leads. We're back to the other short side. And he slows way down to a nice, normal, balanced canter.

I don't even. What? How long has he done this?

And then my thinking cap goes on. He's been doing this to my poor kids for about a month and I just haven't worked on it at all because the BN dressage test doesn't ask for a full side of cantering, so I've just been working on the transition into the canter.

Oi vey. So I remind him what inside leg means and I get him calm down both long sides of the dressage court and I school this in both directions and I get him a little more straight and then even a bit more and I ask him to sit behind so he can carry himself better and then we walk for a while because he's SUPER sweaty after thirty minutes of trot/canter dressage work. Poor pony really needs to be clipped.

When we go to jump a bit, my heart starts racing and I can feel my legs freezing. I'm sorry, what? I've been jumping danny for a year now. We approach the jump again, he starts to drift, and I barely manage to close that rein to make him go over the jump.

My heart was pounding. I was having a hard time breathing.

I haven't fallen off of Danny. I haven't fallen while jumping in a long time.

'Whatever,' I say to myself. 'Just work through it like you would with a student.'

The jump stayed at 2', and I approached in a trot. I reminded myself to keep my heels down, my eyes up, and my back straight. I placed my hands on his neck, and kept the reins just short enough to make him jump. I focused on my breathing. I trotted him in, and he just hopped over it and cantered away. I did this very pony-club-style approached a few times, then raised the rail 6". And repeated. I reminded myself to take deep breaths, I kept my eyes firmly focused above the jump, and I kept my leg steady by really sinking into my heels.

Then I knocked the jump up a bit higher and repeated the whole process of calming myself down through some pretty focused self-talk. We canter in, and I feel Danny sort of back off. I can hear my trainer-voice echoing through my head, "PUT SOME LEG ON HIM!" and so I ever so slightly close my lower leg and he moves forward and jumps it pretty easily. I keep breathing.

When we finished off he was feeling really good, and I wasn't freaked out over jumping him. He felt 100% sound, so it wasn't like that was a concern. He was sound when I pulled him out today.

I honestly couldn't tell you what was going on. But I'm glad I was patient with myself and equally glad I could coach my way through it.

'I'm a scary Danny, apparently.'

Has anyone else ever experienced that? Completely random choking, even on a familiar horse? Anyone have any ideas what caused it? I'm going to jump again tonight and see if it's still a problem.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The only way

to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance. -Alan Watts
Jimmy is no longer going to be eventing with me. My dreams of racing a chestnut Arabian over hill and dale have crashed at this point - but oh well! Exciting prospects have opened up. I now plan on taking a friend's horse to Fresno instead. I will have approximately 15 rides on him before the event. I will post photos when he arrives. I'm just holding my breath until he actually shows up on the property.

Nervewracking?  A little.

This weekend I took a student and Mr Danny (and Mr. Jimmy) down to Twin Rivers Horse Park to do some cross country schooling. There was a bit of a miscommunication and the cross country course was closed for the combined test. That was really disappointing.

The whole thing went really well considering how absolutely difficult Danny can be sometimes. He kept whinnying and looking around and just not making gait transitions. When his rider asked him to canter in the dressage ring he thought, "sure, I'll jump that cute and tiny little white fence!" and obediently exited the arena. Crap. She got him over the jumps in the jumping ring though and I couldn't have been more proud.

Someday I'll have much better schooled horses for my students to show and to learn how to show on - while I think you learn a lot on difficult horses, I know it's hard to keep your confidence up when things are just that hard, you know?

Camou decided that it's summertime and he doesn't need his winter coat anymore.

I'm involved in horse shopping for a client! I freaking love this part of my job.

California is beautiful

and there aren't any views like THIS in Michigan right now.

Alilbit Spotty - super fun little mare

The only problem was the scary goose at this place. It kept hissing at me. 

I went for a super laid back trail ride with Jimmers this weekend with a few students and I really enjoyed that.

Next week I'm doing some substitute teaching for a trainer at Webb - I like her and her program and I'm really looking forward to the opportunity to help her out while she shows at Thermal.

Tango's been good - no more freaking out at the canter. Our simple changes are improving... my main difficulty remains getting that canter-walk transition down. He can do it, and he understands the aids most of the time. He likes to really fold under and settle into the walk but then IMMEDIATELY START TO JIG. The whole flat footed relaxed walk thing is escaping us. I need to haul him to Anne's for more lessons!

I'm going to buy a trailer. I don't know what sort of trailer yet, but I'm going to buy one. I've emailed a lot of people and I've started mobilizing my forces. It's sort of a necessary expense but one that I'd sort of ignored because I had this perception that I wasn't going anywhere or showing all that much... but then I realize this: August 2014 I brought two horses home, September 2014 I hauled four horses to a show, October 2014 I hauled to the SRHA Play Day, November 2014 I hauled to Graham Hill for schooling, December 2014 I hauled 5 horses to SDEC for a show and hauled out to go trail riding, and January 2015 I've already hauled down to Twin Rivers & I'm looking at hauling a few more times this month alone. Then we've got Fresno & Woodside in May and all the related hauling for training...

Don't use a trailer that much. Pfsh. Get over that imaginary situation, Ms. Kate. I want the freedom to haul once a week to lessons and to go trail riding not-in-the-mountains and to get to shows whenever I want.

And I believe that gets you up to date with my riding world.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Phases of a Jump: The Approach

As you've seen in some of my other posts, I like to dig through a wide variety of material to inform my posts. Not because I don't believe I can write ad nauseum about a variety of equine topics, but because oftentimes experts explain things more precisely than I can. Especially when it's abstract and I'm not explaining things to you and your horse precisely as you need it. 

I discovered in this research that someone has patented painting the broad side of a jump to look like bricks or stones or flowers in order to accustom a horse to different types of jump. I'm not kidding you. Ridiculous!

Those aren't real bricks, and that jump has been patented.

There are a lot of different levels of horse and rider out there, and I don't intend to attempt to write a post that caters to all of them. I'm going to write primarily about a horse and rider pair who regularly show the working hunter classes and are quite comfortable coursing at 3'. Let's call them Trisha and Bear, so we've got something to work with. Bear is a Dutch Warmblood who 'failed' out of dressage. At least, that's what the lady who sold Bear to Trisha said! Trisha wants to make the switch to the jumpers, but although they can jump a 3'6" course with ease, the moment she asks for more speed, they pull rails and Bear even refuses sometimes!

So let's diagnose this. As a trainer, when someone says 'I add speed...' I immediately start thinking of ways to help them translate this to higher impulsion and collection. Remember that rhythm, suppleness, contact, impulsion, straightness, and collection all play together to help create a powerful jumping horse. Just as "impulsion" isn't something you snap into & voila, you're done! So too does collection play an ever-developing role in the handiness of our horse.

The hind end has to step well underneath the horse and the horse must be balanced. You need to be certain that you have brakes and a gas pedal before you even think about approaching a jump.

Camou, being relatively green, does a lot of halt-trot transitions to help bring himself into balance before jumping. Danny, having a lot more dressage training, will sometimes do a rein-back to canter to fold the hindquarters underneath. Of course, if the horse isn't straight enough for these exercises to provide even power, then you'd warm up with more bending and lateral movements to help straighten the horse out. You want to be sure that you can touch the horse with your legs without him scooting out from under you, but also when you purposefully apply pressure that he GOES with a willing attitude.

When Trisha brings Bear to a halt from a trot, his hindquarters swing sideways and it takes many strides before he really decides to yield to her request for a halt. When we repeat the exercise, keeping her right leg a little more active to hold the hindquarters straight, he just braces his face against her and plows onward.

Trisha needs to do a lot of suppling to be able to keep her horse elastic - both in front of the leg and accepting the bridle.

One of the really neat things about horses is the way their biomechanics work: Wilson's research shows that horses rely on a catapult mechanism to move their forelegs quickly enough to keep up with the cantering or galloping speeds -- their biceps muscle actually behaves the way a hair elastic does. It stores and releases bursts of energy. Grasshoppers and fleas use this same mechanism, but horses are the only large animal that this mechanism has been discovered in.

This powerful transfer of energy relies on a strong, smooth muscle to be sure that the motion doesn't get caught anywhere. This is another argument for incorporating basic massage into your daily routine! Fascial adhesions cause all sorts of nefarious problems... but I'm off-topic, aren't I?

Once our horse is physically balanced and mentally prepared to obey our aids, we can begin to think about approaching a fence. One thing that's very useful for riders to know is how the horse assesses the jump.
"The horse's eyes are located on each side of his head. This enables him to experience a panoramic view, necessary for survival in the wild. He has a blind spot directly behind him, directly in front of him, and directly below his nose. This means that when jumping, the horse loses sight of the fence just before he leaves the ground. The decision the horse makes on the height and width of an obstacle has to be made on the approach to the fence. The horse first determines the takeoff point and then determines the height of the fence. In other words, the horse evaluates the jump from the ground up." -Paraphrased from Pg 7 of Susan D. Tinder's Jump Course Design Manual
 There is a strip of the horse's eye where the cells are most dense called the visual streak. The acuity of the horse is best within this visual streak, which means that at any given time the most clear image the horse sees is a fairly narrow horizontal strip. This is why most horses will raise their heads as they approach a jump: they first assess the base of the jump and raise their heads to clearly see the top of the jump.

Research suggests that jumping horses have more accuracy when determining the height of a fence than determining the depth of the jump - the more poles and filler the fence has, the more likely the horse is to respect the width of the jump.

This would encourage us to allow our young horses significantly more freedom of the head and neck when approaching a fence - throwing the head up may not be a disobedience, but perhaps a lack of experience assessing different types of jumps.

Now that we know a bit more about how our horse is looking at the jump, we can return to Trisha and Bear.

Most of my readers are familiar with my love for McLean's and McGreevy's work. They argue that every advanced movement comes from stopping, starting, turning the forehand, or turning the hindquarters. Jumping is largely a confirmation of the 'go' response because the horse's natural inclination is to stop despite the aids telling the horse to go. If 'go' is trained better than the horse's natural whimsy, then the horse will turn, stop, or otherwise refuse.

I would encourage Trisha to focus on slow movements for an extra-long warm up in order for her to come back to herself and center her riding a bit before jumping. Leg yielding at the walk, easy ten meter circles ridden both off the inside rein and just the outside rein (counter bend), and lots of halt-walk transitions. But these transitions are important: not just meandering into the walk, but promtly and electrically MOVING. The same rules will apply when we move to working on walk-trot transitions.

If I see a lethargic response, or one that requires even a cluck, I'll encourage Trisha to repeat the transition within 4-6 steps. That will reinforce to the horse that he really needs to be going.

At the trot we'll reassess steering off both the direct and indirect rein, because these are tools of straightness, not just tools of steering.

At the canter, we'll work on lengthening and shortening to allow the hindquarters to continue coming underneath. Always be sure to focus on keeping the horse balanced as you lengthen - it can be SO easy to give with the hands and lean forward and dump the horse's weight onto the forehand.

In sum:

  • Horses assess jumps from the bottom up and the amount they have to analyze the jump will lessen as they have more experience jumping - which is why jumps at home are so much less scary than jumps at shows. They've seen them all before at home!
  • If refusals are becoming a problem, check first for physical changes. Know your horse, know his shape, check his saddle, and bit, and anything else you think you can check. Second, school your transitions until they are sharp, prompt, and crisp. Third, check your steering. Lack of straightness can be a huge cause of refusals. 
  • As in dressage, the horse's level of engagement and responsiveness will determine what we're actually capable of doing on any given day. 
Lots more to come regarding the takeoff of the jump, including biomechanics of the horse, best practices for the rider, and whatever interesting research I stumble across while writing the post!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Do you know what Tango said?

I had a really nice school with Tango last night wherein we worked on our shoulder-in at the walk and trot, did a ton of really good lengthening/shortening work at the trot, and then I had a totally crazy thought.

It went something like this.

'He's light and balanced in the bridle at the trot, and I've accomplished all my schooling goals at the trot today. Let's see what we've got at the canter.'

So I said, "Hey, Tango, here's a half-halt and we're bending, and here's the weight and leg aid to canter."

And do you know what Tango said?


I was taken aback by this response. I felt we were doing quite well. I thought it logical to start schooling trot-canter transitions, work on the ever-difficult bend to the left... you know. Logical.

I then thought, 'well, let's regroup at the trot and try again once we're organized.' 

I executed that thought by spiraling in on the circle, yielding him out, and then asking for a shoulder-in on the long side.

And do you know what Tango had to say about that?


I replied, "Tango. Don't lean on me. Neither of us enjoy working together when you lean on me. Let's halt, and take a step back, and try this trot again."

We settled back into the trot work pretty well, with only one forehand flop in a lengthening, but he softened up and went back to the nice, powerful trot we'd been developing.

'Better! Let's try that canter again.'

So I organized myself and my horse, warned him with a nice half-halt, and applied the aids.

And do you know what Tango said?


He said nothing.

He ignored the canter aid altogether.

Can someone help me find my horse?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Synovial Fluid

I'm reading Eckhart Meyner's "Horse + Rider = 1" which is pretty great 80 pages in. I'll have to write a review when I'm done.

In a section about warming up properly, she writes, "By warming up, you can improve the nourishment inside the joint cartilafe, and after a while, the cartilage layer in the joints thickens. After moving a joint for five minutes, the cartilage-nourishing synovial fluid increases--a process that is concluded after about 20 minutes. ... The horse should move at the walk for at least 15 minutes before any actual suppling work starts."

Well now. I am a firm believer in warming up because of the mental benefits, but I probably don't ever walk for 15 minutes. Actually, I know I don't. But if there were serious and long-term benefits to doing so for the thickness of my horse's cartilage? Sure. I'd make the change in my habits, both for me and my students. Let's dig into the internet realm of research.

First of all! What the heck is synovial fluid?

Synovial fluid is a non-newtonian fluid* (which makes the physics nerd in me so so so happy - have you ever seen me play with Oobleck?). The two primary functions of synovial fluid are to carry nutrients to cartilage and to reduce friction between pieces of cartilage in synovial joints (basically all the moveable joints are synovial).

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Expert Opinion: Shoulder-in

I have one student currently tackling this movement and a few others who are within a few lessons of learning it. This is an exercise that really is the first one where we just feel our way forward until one 'feelage' really is the right one. Even on a perfectly schooled horse, shoulder-in requires so much tact the first few times, you know? It's like when we learn to post - we use every muscle in our bodies and it's straight up exhausting. But then we refine our ability to post and rely on the horse's motion more until one day we can post for an hour in our lessons.

I promised E some literature on the subject, so here we are.

Shoulder-in was developed (the literature argues, at any rate) on straight lines by a fellow named Gueriniere. Many trainers say that this is a foundational exercise for transforming how horses move. I can attest to that - the strength, feel, and balance developed through this exercise allows for better riding and better movement from the horse. 

Mairinger describes the shoulder-in as 'a sideways motion on two tracks. The forehand is off the track and the hindquarters are on the track. The front legs cross over, the hind legs do not.

'The best preparation for a shoulder-in, as for almost everything, is a well-ridden corner. The horse is straight, moving with impulsion, and is flexed round the inside leg. After the corner is completed and we have the horse on the long side we take his forehand one more step on the circle to take the forehand off the track. Then the outside rein restricts the forward movement. The outside leg controls the hindquarters from falling out and helps to maintain the impulsion. The inside leg not only keeps him forward but as soon as the shoulder-in position is established there is a little extra pressure from it which says, 'keep going forward and also sideways'. The outside leg maintains the impulsion and this is the only movement where it does this. The tempo, rhythm, and outline must remain unchanged.'

Margaret Caball-Self emphasizes how important the shoulder-in is for flexibility and strength-building, and proceeds to describe what I would consider to be a somewhat remedial method of producing the shoulder-in. Perhaps I'm wrong. Readers, is this more along the lines of how you were taught to shoulder-in?

'The aids employed in the shoulder-in are as follows: When the rider has crossed the short side and has entered the long side of the hall, he uses the inside leading rein to draw the forehand a little off the track and to flex the neck and head to the movement. The inside leg is pressed firmly against the girth to move the horse along the track. The outside leg, a holding leg, is carried a little behind the girth to prevent the haunches from being turned off the track and to flex the horse at the loin around the inside leg. The rider then changes the rein effect from a leading rein to an indirect rein of opposition behind the withers, thus pushing the horse toward his outside or leading shoulder while his inside shoulder is held off the track.'

Horsemastership by Caball-Self

Noel Jackson, author of the absolutely stupendous "Effective Horsemanship", mentions that the 'curve imposed on the horse's spine is that of the arc of a volte, or a circle of a radius equal to a horse's length, usually taken as 3 meters.' Which is an interesting thought, if not particularly handy in helping us find a shoulder-in in the first place. His aids for the shoulder-in are remarkable similar to Margaret's. Perhaps I've been doing it wrong my whole life! Yikes!

Effective Horsemanship by Jackson

Racinet, generally a favorite of mine, goes on at length about various different methods of training shoulder-in. He talks of how Gueriniere developed the shoulder-in and it's purpose, then he bashes Gustav Steinbrecht a little for his 'lack of clarity' on the subject. He claims a well-executed shoulder-in can be accomplished entirely with weighted buttocks, which is fun to write about.

He also recommends moving very slowly, in a counted walk, to start the lateral movement of the shoulder in.

Major Anders Lindgren trains the shoulder-in by first working on concentric 5-meter circles at the walk, allowing the rider to really practice their seat. The inside leg creates the bend and the ouside leg, behind the girth, holds the hindquarters to the circle. The outside rein is on no contact and the inside rein leads the horse around. He allows that sometimes the rider will have to ask the horse to 'look at his hindquarters' in order to correct a falling shoulder. As the horse relaxes and stretches into this very small circle in both directions, the rider advances to doing a figure-8 with two 5-meter circles connected. The change of bend is less for the horse, he says, and more for the rider to practice achieving the correct seat. He emphasizes that you have to think of the outside seat bone being in the middle of the saddle and the very movement of the horse will knock you out of the saddle. Therefore you're constantly adjusting your weight aids. 'Bun management!'

When progressing to the shoulder-in out of a corner, Lindgren recommends a steep angle, nearly a tail-to-wall leg yield. It's easy to decrease the angle, he says, and sometimes very difficult to increase it.

Carl Hester says that shoulder-in is best ridden at an active trot!

Okay, can you just imagine all these masters in a room, just real quick. These amazing masters of training and riding. They're fit, and persnickety, and sometimes a little rude. They're all sitting around, and someone like me says, "what's the best way to teach a kid how to perform a shoulder-in? We're moving up to 2nd level and one of you has to have the best way to pull this off."

Can you imagine the result of that?

Anyhow. Hester says to think of the movement in three parts. 1) A good, round, balanced 10-meter circle. 2) More inside leg to break the circle and continue down the rail. 3) Finish the movement before the next corner by straightening the horse out.

Carl Hester in "Riding Masterclass". Zoom in on this one, it's got some good stuff.

Suzanne Von Dietz (what a great name) suggests practicing the centerline or quarter line in various flexions. Come off the rail in a left flexion, straighten over x, and perform right flexion for the rest of the centerline before turning. She suggests that although it looks simple, it's the foundation of good balance. "How far [can you flex the head and neck] sideways depends on your horse's ability to maintain his balance in motion. If you overdo this exercise and ask too much of your horse, the only thing you will achieve is his supple neck: You lose thrust and impulsion from back to front, as well as proper contact. In the beginning, it is advisable to start with less sideways flexion - moving his head laterally no further than his respective front foot's position."

"Once you are able to ride your horse straight while flexing his poll and neck sideways, you have created the foundation for shoulder-in. From this point ... all you need to do, in addition to the head and neck, is move horse horse's forehand slightly inward. Do not worry about your horse drifting inward a little as this is a lesser mistake: The horse's forehand is still moving in the correct direction. There is a far more common and serious mistake, which happens when you end up with a 'neck-in and hindquarter-out' instead of a shoulder in. ... Only when you succeed in correctly leading your horse's forehand inward, can you loosen your grip on the inside rein. This gives your horse the opportunity to actively and regularly move forward and sideways and use your outside aids to maintain his balance. ... If you do not concentrate on sitting upright during the entire exersice, you will collapse in your side and put strain on your back."  Which hearkens back to 'bun management', hey?

Jane Savoie, self-proclaimed "ridiculously-tiny steps" trainer, often has very clarifying input on most topics.

The aids for left shoulder-in are as follows:

1. Seat: weight on left seat bone
2. Left leg: on the girst for the horse to bend around as well as to ask for engagement of the inside hind leg.
3. Right leg: behind the girst to help bend the horse around the inside leg.
4. Left rein: vibrate for inside flexion
5. Right rein: steady and supporting to prevent too much bent in the neck
6. Both hands: stay low and move to the left. They should stay equidistant from your body and move sideways on the same plane. Be sure that your inside hand (left) does not get drawn closer to the saddle and that your outside hand (right) does not cross over the withers. Move both hands enough to the left to lead your horse's shoulders so that you place his outside front leg in front of his inside hind leg.

Always ask for bend before you ask for angle.

I love Savoie's image of lining your outside knee to a point at the end of the ring and feel it being drawn to that point as if by an invisibile fisherman, reeling you in.

Museler recommends practicing leg-yielding from a 10-meter circle to a 20-meter circle until the student gets very good at controlling the movement of the shoulders before moving to practicing shoulders in.

I often review turns on the hindquarters before moving into the shoulder in, which I think serves a similar purpose.

Beth Baumert in her delightful 'When Two Spines Align' says:

"Directions: In shoulder-in, you'll need to retain the 10-meter bend while going on a straight line.

Step 1 Confirm your horse's bend by doing a 10-meter circle in walk at the corner letter. When your circle is correct, every step will be the same. If retaining the bend is difficult on a circle, you won't be able to retain it while going straight in shoulder-in, so spend time with this if you need to. Before you make yourself dizzy and your horse tired, make some straight lines and repeat your circle in different places and in different directions. When you can walk the circle comfortable, do it in trot. Then go on to step 2.

Step 2 Before going straight in shoulder-in, do a half-halt in the shape of a 10-meter bend with a deep inside seat and leg and an outside guarding leg. This half-halt says, Wait a second. Pay attention to these bending aids. Here's what we're going to do now.

Step 3 Now go straight down the long side retaining the 10-meter bend. The inside rein leds the shoulders to the inside, and the outside rein allows the shoulders to go in. The hindquarters follow the track in straightness. You should feel the connection between your inside leg and outside rein.

Step 4 Go only 12 meters and then straighten. You should feel a better trot.

Step 5 Then circle 10 meters again to reconfirm the bend and repeat the shoulder-in.

Do this exercise in both directions."

That strikes me as quite enough information about the shoulder-in! I've definitely rediscovered some good exercises to help with developing the rider towards shoulder-in.

This is what my couch looks like after combing through all these books. 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Not knowing when the dawn will come...

I open every door. 

This week was honestly really rocky. I was sick. Really sick. I have very messy things going on in my life. I'm frustrated, tired, and burned out even though I literally just went on a vacation.

And then, like a shock to the heart, a new opportunity has appeared. It will require some exploration and maybe a gigantic leap of faith - but stay tuned. I will write more about that when the time comes.

For now, let me tell you about progress towards my first event on the west coast!

Camou pretty much took himself out of the running when he cut himself in the trailer. The two weeks off + the slow recovery means that little thoroughbred will not be in fighting shape by mid-Februrary.



I'm getting perilous close to the event.

Like, I should have printed out my entry forms and mailed them in already. I'll do that Monday.

I felt sort of silly only taking one horse. It's three days off and a whole lot of hassle just to drive around with an empty spot in the trailer.

E set up a jump course and I figured I'd just play around with the available horses. I might be a bit laissez-faire this way, but as long as we can jump all the things and I don't get kicked out of the dressage court, I'm feeling pretttyyyy good about this. I'm certainly NOT going to Fresno to be competitive. I'm going to play!

So Jimmy - first up on the list to experiment with for trying out eventing - pretty much blew me out of the water.

I know he's fun to jump, but I guess I'd forgotten how fun?

Not my best riding... Forgive me, as I was still feeling pretty stinking nauseated while riding.

Jimmers and I had a real discussion over who got to pick which lead to land on. He basically thought I was just 'suggesting' leads. We'll work on that. We also have no (and I seriously mean zero) longitudinal or lateral flexion.

Do you need those things for dressage? Who knows. We'll find out in five weeks!

Then we moved on to Danny, who has long been a planned ride for this event.

He was awful.

Like... crash and burn everyone is going to DIE awful.

If you listen closely enough you can actually hear me yell at him when he refuses the one 2'9" jump on the course.

So that's disappointing. It'll get better, I hope.

Danny is getting a TON of course work and a diet until the event, and Jimmy is going through dressage 101.