Friday, February 20, 2015

FMNM Blog Hop: Fear

I've got two stories that come to mind. One:

I was a pretty dumb teenager. I used to go riding on snowmobile trails all the time, or sneak out at night and ride around the country roads (IN WINTERTIME IN NORTHERN MICHIGAN WHAT ON EARTH WAS I THINKING) and throw my non-riding friends on my horses and "teach" them to canter through deep snow because the horses could hardly move... let's just say I'm a better trainer now. Or at least more safety-conscious.

One time I was riding along, mid-February, just trotting along the edge of the road.  My mare spooked sideways for no real reason (actually her specialty) and all of a sudden we were sliding down this hill. In the middle of the road. And then I heard a truck. And I can hear her feet scrambling around and scraping the ice, and hear her breathing, and I'm clutching her mane and hoping to god she either goes down or gets off the road before that truck gets here. I was trying to pull on the reins to steer her but of course we're just sliding down the road and she's totally out of control. Then the truck's lights crest the hill and he's coming down at us and I realize that if he hits the brakes on this ice we might really be done for.

He passed us and she found traction on the edge of the road, but it was a terrifying thirty seconds.


I had this horse in training one time who really liked to buck somewhat randomly and with abandon. He was a nasty dude. His owner was this really sweet 12 year old girl, too...

Anyhow. One time he started to buck, hard, and I pulled him away from the people standing in the arena and felt myself come up out of the saddle, and then I fell underneath him. He trampled me pretty well, and part of the scary moment was that fall, and feeling the first hoof stand on me. I knew I was dead. I could just feel it all throughout my body.

But then I stood up. I was bleeding everywhere and my face just didn't feel attached right and it hurt to be standing and in that moment, I was petrified. I don't know what it was about being able to stand up that was so scary. But when you ask me about scary moments in my equestrian life, that ranks as #1. Getting trampled by a rank horse, and then standing up.

The day they let me out of the hospital.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Bend? What's that?

"The essence of forwardness is that the horse pushes off from the hind legs with long, powerful strides. He moves forward actively, rhythmically, with impulsion and without constraint or a continuous reminder to move on. There should be a feeling of energy flowing through the horse; he should surge forwards with long, ground-covering strides, but not with faster action. He will respond as soon as the rider gives him an aid, but he is not hurried." -Karin Blignault, pg 59 of Successful Schooling
This has been the week of "I'm sorry, what bend?" with Tango. His figure-8s are a challenge right now. Our response to the inside leg is greatly diminished.

I believe it's because he hasn't really had 100% of my attention the past few weeks, what with my focus on Fresno with Bert and Danny.

It's gotten better over the past three rides. I think maybe the lack of work has gotten him a little stiff. He also fell down last week and I can still feel residual stickiness and hard muscles in his hindquarters.

Last night's ride was pretty good, I'm working on helping him balance properly through his trot-canter transitions because right now he says "nose to the ground and then PORPOISE oh wait okay I'll just canter" which isn't exactly my favorite set of maneuvers. He has this magic ability to get worse, and worse, and worse, and then the fourth time be totally perfect in every way. So I was sitting there thinking "jesus, I can't end on THAT but I'm going to get bucked off though if he does that again..." and so I cued for the canter and he sat really deeply and offered me a fairly collected, balanced, impulsed canter.

Ugh horses why do you frustrate me so.

Anyhow. Diva's coming along nicely and last night gave me a beautiful, quiet, cadenced canter. That came around a lot faster than expected! Her bending is also something we're going to have to discuss but she's 4 so she's got an excuse.

I tried really hard to get a picture of the big ol dressage saddle plus the western bridle, but it didn't happen
Also look how cute my bedraggled horse is. I luff him.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

FCHP Part 4: Cross country

The vet re-checked Danny today and says he should be back to normal in 3-5 days, so that's good news! I was pretty worried about him. 

I took Bert for a hefty handwalk before tacking him up today - not because it actually warmed him up but because it made me feel a bit better when he turned into prancy-monster out in the warm up ring. We trotted at an incredibly fast pace for a few laps of the warm up, cantered a bit, and by then he was already frothing with sweat. This horse has a real level of excitement for jumps. However he took everything I pointed him at and the only thing that made him wiggly was a stadium oxer.

Then we went over to the start box, I stuffed him in, and out we trotted. His canter started out really sucked back and hollow, but since he doesn't have experience out in the field I rode with a very strong lower leg and a super tight back. He took off probably a stride and a half out, but hey, he took it!

Fence 1 in among all the others (mine's the yellow flowers)
Fence 2, the green one
The approach around to the second one was a slightly curved line, but it was at this point that Bert first started to sense what was going on. He was already crazy excited, but here he started to stretch out and go for it a little more. We also took this one about a stride too early because of how much I was pushing him forward. I find if you give the horse no room to be silly, they sort of submit to it all and settle in.

I actually managed to sit him back for 3 a little bit, resulting in probably the most appropriately paced jump on course.

Bert thought this jump seemed really big (probably because it was one of the biggest jumps in our course) and so he tried to back off a little, but there wasn't anywhere to go between the fence and the hill.

Now, if you'll glance at the course map, you'll see that there is a strange line between 4 and 5. I basically had to dart right after landing off 4 and then hang a gradual loop back left to hit 5. We were coming down hill and Bert hadn't yet rebalanced for the downhill so my driving aids had to come back into effect. E could apparently hear me growl "NO" at him when he tried to stop cantering.

6 rode really nicely! But this was another one with a horrible line, so immediately after landing I had to turn sharply to the right to approach our first water combo.

When trotting through the water you kinda had to avoid the prelim jump in there, but first I had to get Bert into the water. He sort of skittered sideways into those trees before finally getting into the water, but then he started staring at the big jump as if we needed to take it. He cantered out of the water nicely and popped right over 7.

You had to rollback left to get to 8, and Bert wasn't a fan of the shadows but I doubt you could tell. He was a huge fan of this whole running and jumping thing.

There were two approaches up to 9, one set you up totally straight and square to it and the other was shorter. There was a long canter stretch up to it and by the time I started climbing the hill I knew I wasn't going to have any trouble getting over it even though I had thought the contrast might be slightly spookier for him.

10 was the jump I was most worried about (after the start box, believe it or not) just because I'm almost certain he's never jumped a ditch in his life. But we had zero issues and he got some enthusiastic scratches and "good boy!"s for clearing it. However, as I let go of some rein to scratch him, we did accelerate somewhat alarmingly forward.

11 was pretty skinny, and Bert tried to drift a little to the left but since we were already turning right immediately after it, I had the aids ready to keep him straight.

We stopped before entering the water again to have a brief discussion over whether he really needed to get his hooves wet, but then we went out over 12 really well.

I neglected to photograph fences 13-15, but I did order the video of my ride so I'll post that when I get it.

When I came out over 12, I'd officially jumped everything I was concerned about. 13 had a great approach, and 14 & 15 were just easy to canter up to. It was after fence 12 as I rounded the corner for 13 that I thought, "holy sh** we're going really bloody fast." I thought about trotting a bit, or circling, or something to slow us down, but I also was so focused on just getting both Bert and myself off the course alive that I didn't do either for fear of a refusal if we were at the trot or forgetting where I was if I circled.

So when I crested the hill and started down to 14, it was surprising to see that the rider ahead of me was not that far ahead of me. She and I crossed the finish line very close to one another.

Bert and I jumped clean, although I got 2 time faults for coming in 5 seconds too fast.

Photo of a photo! but look how happy he is

Also here's the zebra jump I promised you a photo of
We finished 7th overall and somehow earned a ribbon! (Oh you 'magnificent' beast)

Saturday, February 14, 2015

FCHP Part 3: Stadium jumping

I had to withdraw Danny from the competition today because he has a corneal ulcer. Usually caused by blunt force trauma, we can only assume he bashed his head on something. Ugh! He'll make a full recovery in about a week.

As a result, E and I had a lot more downtime than expected! We met some really great people today - god, I do love eventers - and watched both the Novice stadium and the CIC** cross country. Whooeeeee those horses are FUN. There was one rider who half-halted with his ENTIRE BODY. His upper body went back, hands went up, and lower leg went way forward. It was pretty funny. I felt he could have been a bit more effective if there was some more stability but hey, I'm not a two star rider so I probably shouldn't say too much.

When we got Bert into the warm up ring (which is turning out to be a mess all on it's own, I'm a little worried about the start box tomorrow...) he was a total maniac. Much like yesterday. There were fewer unexpected lateral movements, which was nice because I had to apologize to other people a little less.

Bert definitely thought about refusing the warm up jumps a few times but between wearing spurs and judicious use of the crop I got him over everything, although when we landed our first oxer in the warm up and he bolted I felt certain we were all going to die. It was just this weird, unreliable, ground-eating canter thing. Bert's inability to actually connect with the bridle made for a strange ride. He doesn't properly take a contact because he's been trained to "be on the bit" and who cares what his back is doing. It'll take time and proper riding to fix that, but I've really only been riding him properly and regularly for a few weeks now.

So here he was, galloping about, head in the air, and if I took a firmer contact he'd only contract further, and if I lengthened the reins a bit, put my leg on, asked him to come round, he'd drop his head into "on the bit"-mode. Then I'd try to establish a contact so I could have some control (any control, please?) over our pace, and he'd immediately go camel mode.

It was, to quote a bystander, "a precarious ride".

Then we went into the ring.

Jump 1 we sort of ambled into. My leg was on, and I'd even asked with my spurs, and Bert was all "wait does the leg mean something? Why are we surrounded by jumps? Can I keep trotting?"

So I bapped him with my crop and off we went. Jump 2 was fine, sort of a funny angle for us to take it at even though it should have been very straightforward, jump 3 was fine as well.

Bert looked at jump 4 and said, "Woah, that's an OXER!"

And I said, "Yes it is, and you will not be refusing it." So I sat back a little, applied more leg than usual, and tapped him with the crop.

Mildly offended, Bert replied, "I had no intention of refusing it!" And it resulted in the above photo.

Jump 5 was this really awesome zebra stripe and leopard spot jump, I promise I'll get a photo of it up when I'm home. But it looked really spooky and it was another maximum height oxer so I rode it pretty aggressively. I think maybe Bert was thrown off by my pressure as usually I just let him kinda do his thing and I only talk to him after fences, so when we landed off jump 5 Bert was totally in his own land. We were turning back towards the entrance and I think he legitimately thought we were done.

He was completely counter-bent coming into 6 so I really had to push him over with my leg and use my body to shape his focus because I was certain if he didn't lock on to this jump we were going to crash it in spectacular fashion. Somehow (maybe it was because we were galloping so fast?) we cleared it.

Then the 7a & 7b combination, which rode really nicely, except Bert had already checked out and tried somewhat half-heartedly to drift out of the combination.

And then, as we landed off the back of 7b, I thought to myself, "I feel done. What next?"

I totally forgot where my last jump was.

I kept him straight for a few strides, hoping it would come to me.

Then, of course, I remembered where my last jump was all in a rush, and I pulled him around and let him bomb down to it.

We went double clear, I'm happy to report. Rode the whole thing in 67 seconds.

Friday, February 13, 2015

FCHP Part 2: Dressage

Well, today was interesting.

When I put a saddle on Danny and took him up to the warm-up just to see what we were dealing with, he decided he’d never really been ridden before. Steering? 10%. Brakes? 0%.

We cleared out one of the warm ups pretty thoroughly with our spontaneous explosions upwards, spiral-ways, and sideways.

So after working up a pretty good sweat, a near fall (what the heck Danny, tripping on your own feet!), and a slight overall improvement of behavior, we took him back to the stall.

Then we watched some of the CIC dressage, which is always really fun. I love how lithe event horses are - so often upper level dressage horses look a little bound, a little constrained, but good eventers (and good dressage horses, really!) look so ready to dance or to run or to leap or whatever comes next.

Lucy has been a lovely horse show dog, tolerating being tied to a wall quite well and only occasionally trying to bite Bert’s nose.

The cross country course seems really flowing with a lot of nice, wide approaches, so I’m definitely looking forward to riding it on Sunday!

When I brought Danny out for his test, I focused on trying to get and keep him supple. Between his violent spin/spooks and the constant whinnying, a quiet warm-up was tough. We did okay at the walk and trot but I did not end up cantering him (except when he bolted) because I was really nervous about his explosions and there were so many horses in the arena that I felt certain I’d kill someone if Danny suddenly shot sideways.

The ring steward says there’s almost 300 horses at this event, which seems incredibly substantial for an event.

Danny’s test was awkward. And clumsy. I didn’t get any of my transitions where I wanted them, he was PETRIFIED of the flower boxes, and corners were certainly going to eat him. “Oh well,” I told myself as I was leaving the arena, “that’s the worst dressage test you’ll ever have to ride.”

We did surprisingly okay though, with 40 penalty points. The judge added that he looks tense with his short steps so I shouldn’t be afraid to push him out a bit more. I’ll definitely focus on adding a proper lengthening button to his repertoire.

Bert was a camel. The second I mounted up, his head was a million miles in the air. In fact, I didn’t even know he could put his head that far up. I had to lean a little sideways to see around his giant head. He warmed up okay, with a lot of sudden head-throwing-sideways action. I have to remember that this is really his third show ever. Both his and Dan’s, actually.

He did better throughout the warmup although by the time we entered the ring he was absolutely lathered. The test rode okay, even though I couldn’t get him into the corners and our transitions were weebly. We recieved 35.3 penalty points, but the comments from the judge said that he’s a “magnificent, well-balanced horse who tries too hard.”

I’m sorry, what? But I’ll take the not-last-place scores even if I never once thought to myself, “oh, aren’t you magnificent!”

All’s well. Our internet still sucks, and probably will until I get home, so no photos yet.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

FCHP Part 1: Getting there

These posts will be a bit short just because I'm writing them right before bed in order to keep my students/family apprised: I promise a full and more in-depth commentary later! Also this is a media-less post despite my best intentions because the Wi-Fi at this hotel is actually the worst. Because it makes this offering - yes, I will let you use me! And then says "haha actually I'm going to disengage now!"

We had a safe journey to Fresno today despite truck malfunctions (luckily it was all taken care of before we had to hit the road!)

The horses loaded up quite nicely.

Good god, California is breathtaking. We drove through these amazing hills, saw the San Luis Reservoir at what had to be the perfect lighting.

The horses also unloaded nicely, which was especially surprising considering there were firework-noises going on just over the hill and about a hundred strange horses surrounding us. They settled into their stalls pretty well.

I’m looking forward to our dressage tests tomorrow afternoon and of course watching the CIC classes! And also actually laying eyes on the cross country course. We got in a little too late to walk the course. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Wordless Wednesday (sorta)

Pepper being friendly

Lucy dragged the pillow down to be closer to me

Tango put himself in the corner I swear

it's freaking gorgeous in california sometimes

This little mustang has been SO GOOD!

Ah hah hah more rain

I'm seriously going to talk someone into letting me build this jump on our farm

and this too!

I just think my dog is really cute

This is an awesome book and I should write a review about it or something

Tuesday, February 10, 2015


Pepper is doing quite well in my eyes. She's steering much better, she's pretty light off the leg, and she's cantering on both leads. She has a tendency to pop her shoulders out on circles though, so I spent some time this past week introducing the idea of the indirect rein. I'm not trying to get her so light that I can neck-rein, merely giving myself another tool to put her shoulders back on the line.

The trainer I'm partnered with while training Pepper requested that I soften my focus on the indirect rein and instead continue to refine her forward aids, try to soften her ribcage and poll a bit more, and work on an obedient response to the direct rein. Mostly because she believes that the indirect rein is advanced work, so we need to focus on the basics.

I was rankled. "She doesn't respect me!" I thought. "She's being so condescending, ugh!" I thought.

Then the nicer, wiser part of myself says, "hey, would she have picked you to help her out with this project if she didn't respect you?"

To which the peeved side says, "but instead of talking to me about it she just texts me! She doesn't trust my judgement!"

Then the nice part steps in once again and says, "You believe in your methods. She believes in hers."

Ohmygod the nice part of me is so right! How do I open a dialog about this without sounding to her as if I'm trying to ignore her advice, or be disrespectful?

I'd think it'd be as easy as, "hey, I disagree. I think that the indirect rein is half of steering, and steering is pretty basic." But the more I thought about it the more I realized that her messages to me were phrased in a pretty delicate way, all things considered. After all, Pepper is her client's horse, and I'm just kinda helping out. The horse should be trained in the method the trainer wants, as that trainer was the one hired.

Anyhow. Has anyone else noticed this in the horse world? This almost violent defensiveness over weirdly small things? I was thinking that maybe it's because I spend a lot of time explaining my logic to clients and I just don't want to have to defend myself, but maybe it's not. My curiosity is piqued over the whole thing. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Rain and a crooked Danny

This weekend it rained a lot. I taught anyway, of course!

Mad props to my kids for showing up and working hard in their lessons despite being totally soaking wet.

And I really mean soaking wet.

 Then once I drove down into the valley it was all sunshine and rainbows. What. Even.

This morning I worked Danny in a dressage saddle for the first time in a really long time. He was hot off my leg, a bit charge-y, and generally difficult. I schooled about a million transitions mostly enforcing the whole "stay on the bit AND bent while you transition." Silly Morgan.

I'm re-reading the incredible Equestrian Instruction by Jill Hassler-Scoop and gleaning lots of insights for ways to improve my teaching. I've been feeling a bit burnt out (sorry kids) and I'm hoping some of the ideas from the book will reinvigorate me for my teaching.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Bert, Diva, & some Selfie Game

I took a lesson with one of the other resident trainers at LGF on Bert today. She used to own Bert, so I figured she'd know him best and offer the best feedback in terms of connecting with him and actually getting a steady contact. I'm not sure what exactly worked but he did go very well for me. I'm not a huge fan of lessons like that. "Well, it went really great but I have NO IDEA how to recreate these moments..."

It's funny because he's as long as Tango is, but Tango has a lot more flexiblity and sit in him, so turning and whatnot isn't such a crap shoot. I have to very gradually prepare Bert for things (unless we're jumping, in which case whatever, run around like a camel). I think a 1st level test with him with the 10-meter figure-8s would be nigh impossible with Bert at the moment.

But it was a fun lesson regardless.

Next week I'm hauling Danny to White Rock Ranch for a jumping lesson (maybe twice, the poor horse) which I'm super looking forward to because while Danny's going REALLY well at home, I'm nervous about my ability to get him over fences off the property. Eventually he settles in to his job, but it's seriously like he's never jumped before for a little while.

I think that Danny and Connor from Cob Jockey should meet each other. Her post today about her jumping lesson and the progress they've gone through together sounds remarkably similar to Danny's journey.

And then Thursday we leave! Eeek!

Diva has such neat eyes.

I worked with Diva today and she was pretty good. I love how quickly some horses learn. "Oh, when you ask my rib cage to move over, I have to actually bend a little to make that happen." And then she does it the next time. She's going to be so fun once she's a bit more polished. She also has this gigantic, ground covering canter. It'll take a lot of work to teach her to carry herself in a way that allows for a shorter canter, but it seems like it won't take too much. I'd rather have a forward thinking horse than a backward thinking horse anyway.

Skinny girl. (We'll fix that right up.

Tango got mad at the rain while I was riding him today. He kept striking out with his forelegs and twisting his head to chomp at the rain. I think the droplets sliding down his face bothered him, so I turned the foreleg thrashing into some pretty sharp extensions.

Then I tried to work on Tango's selfie game. He... doesn't really have a selfie game.

He's trying his best to get me to scratch him here, but every time I scratch him, he twists his head around and conks me with his skull.

Maybe I'm the one without selfie game. Oh well.

I taught a new student today and had this moment where we were joking around and I was grinning at her. I'm good at winning new people over and for the longest time I've wondered why that is, but today I was thinking that maybe part of it is how willing I am to care for and admire new people. I'm happy to listen and to learn your stories, and maybe that's not as common as I think it is.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Conformation Craze

Several bloggers I follow and respect have done a fairly basic conformation analysis on their horses and so I decided to try it! Check out Breeches and Boat Shoes as I believe it's where the craze originated. 

Length vs Height

Ideal – The length of the horse from the point of the shoulder to the buttock should be equal to the height of the horse from from the top of the withers to the ground. This should create an box around the horse (minus the head and neck) that is a square with equal sides.

 Tango - definitely not a square. Beastie is longer than he is tall. 

Heartgirth vs. Legs

Ideal – The depth of the heartgirth from the top of the withers to the elbow should be equal to the length of the leg from the elbow to the fetlock.

Tango - Huh. He's not even at all. Look at that massive chest.

Topline vs Underline

Ideal – The topline should be level so the point of the croup is at the same height or slightly lower than the top of the withers. The topline from the top of the withers to the point of the hip should be shorter that the underline from the point of the elbow to the stifle.

Tango - this is the one conformational point that Tangoose does pretty well at. 

Forequarter vs. Hindquarter

Ideal – The forequarter of the horse (minus the head and neck) should be equal to the hindquarter of the horse when a line is drawn through the center (near the last rib) of the horse in the box from before.

Tango - at this point, I'm a bit embarrassed to see how poorly my horse is put together by conformational standards. I hadn't done a formal analysis but he looks pretty balanced to my eye when I don't draw lines all over him. 

Shoulder vs. Back vs. Buttock

Ideal – The shoulder, back, and buttock should all be equal in length when lines are drawn from the top of the wither to the ground and the point of the hip to the ground in the box from before.

Tango - well. Tangoose, you have a long back.

Head vs. Body

Ideal – The length of the head should be similar to the lengths from the point of the hock to the ground, the chestnut on a forelimb to the ground, length of heartgirth, and from the stifle to the croup.

Tango - I actively considered skipping this one because of how uneven all the parts are.

Buttock vs. Hip vs. Stifle

Ideal – The lengths from the buttock to the stifle, the stifle to the point of the hip, and the point of hip to the buttock should all be similar.

Tango - an equilateral triangle Tango does not make.