Thursday, April 30, 2015

JM 3 - Sit up

I went over to JM's farm to ride one of her horses yesterday, and let me just tell you: green horses are hard, but a lot of that is the adrenaline coursing through your veins as you desperately try to answer the age-old question "will I live or die today?!"

Well-trained horses on the other hand, are tricky because they JUST DO SO MANY THINGS ALL THE TIME.

For example, if I go all hunter/jumper and twist my seat strangely through a turn, preso! A canter I get.

And then, because I'm already perched a hair, and my seat isn't really coordinated, closing my fingers on the reins produces, like MAGIC, a smaller canter. And then I repeat, thinking "please just trot I'm supposed to be practicing my sitting trot" and I get an EVEN SMALLER CANTER.

At this point I had a bit of a peanut gallery and I was feeling thoroughly as if I'd never ridden before.

Egads though this horse was so cool to ride, despite my faint desire to rip my hair out.

The brakes, when I actually used my body like, you know, you're supposed to, were super neat. It sort of reminded me of how, although Tango does in fact do a downward transition when asked, he does not do downward transitions like a PSG horse.

The biggest difference is how well you can feel his back engage as he goes to halt. It's not just a quick halt, even though it is. It's controlled. It's the difference between scrambling to a halt and floating to a halt, even though they happen in the same amount of time.

I've jumped a lot since I last saw JM, and she was pretty displeased with how I was sitting, and kept having me sit more and more back. I swear to god I was so far behind the vertical that my ponytail was going to tickle Placidio's hindquarters.

I wanted to ask JM for a photo, but my abs were in so much pain that I was entirely distracted.
I did ride Tango later, and tried to replicate the feeling I got when I was sitting up the way JM wanted me to, and I've never gotten such great gaits from him. I will try to get photographic evidence to help prove to myself that I'm not just riding like a cowboy and leaning too far back. 
We did some leg-yielding and JM showed me how when I want more crossover, I for some bizarre reason resort to digging my heel into a horse's side, which causes the horse to tense up and get less crossover. So she helped me use my thigh and calf a bit more.

We did a bunch of ten meter circles and I got a very intense schooling on what is and is not a circle (listen kids, you are not the only riders in the world who struggle with this).

I rode a few canter-walk transitions. Apparently I am not asking for enough collection before asking for the downward transition, but admittedly I couldn't feel the difference in my body when I got it right. I'm pretty sure I did nothing different and Placidio guessed for me. Bless his heart.

JM, as I mentioned earlier, was displeased with my perching, and by way of education she got on for me.

God, I want to ride like that. I believe that with enough hard work and after asking enough people for help, I'll be able to get close to that. But she's a beautiful rider, and Placidio simply danced.

I'd kept pushing him forward during the warm up and JM had told me to cut it out, he's got enough shoulder action, but I didn't quite know what she meant until I saw her on him. Gorgeous horse.

And then I got back on, and did my best to ride like her, and I think it was improved. She swore at me a bit less :-P

 I am so lucky to have the trainers that I do. Kat's got a very bright future with these giants standing behind us, pushing me to be a better rider every day.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: Horse ears and dogs

All Tango wants are snuggles

Tango's getting much better about trail riding

This made me laugh

I find this pony adorable from every angle

Even if she is a fairly steadfast trail horse (Skipper, on the other hand, was an EXCITING trail horse)

Danny's adorable

This is my dog. Well, he lives with my sister now, but I love this photo anyways


Ahhhh look at my mare!

Lucy was acting like her life is the worst. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Book Review: Master Dressage

I picked this book up after reading the free chapter he released on  his website, and I have to say that I really quite enjoyed it. I loved the practical tactics surrounding riding more accurate dressage tests, and I like a lot of his philosophy.

Mr. Dove explains that the art of dressage is a progressive training that should flow relatively naturally from one movement to the next, and he outlines the beginnings of his training progression, but the book isn't really focused on that. 

It's focused on the art of teaching one to think about dressage. To examine each movement in the test and see how it's setting you up to execute the next movement. To really think about where you must position yourself in the arena and how to ask for the most from your horse. 

This is a book talking to people who are new to dressage, certainly, but I really liked how straightforward the writing was. I've adopted a few of his terms into my teaching because he has laid it out so cleanly and with such precise wording. 

One of the sections is on improving your schooling sessions, and he provides a checklist you can ask yourself when watching a video of yourself. It's quite thorough. In the book, he writes that you can find the checklist on his website, but I wasn't able to find it, so I'll post it here. 

This is just one example of concrete advice that he has in the book. It's methodical, which is how he recommends we approach working with our horses. I like it because oftentimes when I video my students, I don't have a lot to tell them to look for specifically because so much of my analysis is just running concurrently in my head. This list is a good way to help kids internalize all the things we need to think about in our training. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

White Rock Ranch April 19

Kat: Must we do this?

White Rock is absolutely beautiful. It's a tiny bit in the middle of nowhere, but the footing in all the arenas is excellent and I found the show staff to be professional and organized.

I had a really interesting weekend with Kat. Saturday night we were allowed to school in the rings, which was excellent for Danny. And for me, except that Kat and I refused a LOT of fences.

Me. I refused the fences, it wasn't her fault.

There's video, but I don't have it. I totally went pony-club and hunched my back and leaned on her neck and halfheartedly added a minuscule amount of leg and then sighed when she stopped.

I've been thinking about what happened, and I think I was nervous about her over jumping.

The warm-up Sunday morning was a mess. She was uptight, rocketing sideways at times and porpoising in place in others. One of those rides where you just sort of sit tight and pull all your tricks out and when none of them work you just hope you don't kill anyone. Or is that just me?

I had a kid struggling pretty hard in another arena, so I hopped off Kat & asked a student to hold her. My warning was, "she's going to dance, so just walk fast away from here and don't get stepped on."

I helped the students through the warm up, then collected Kat from student & realized I had five minutes left in the warm up. It must have been my focus, because we popped over all the fences with no further hysterics. If it's 20 minutes of crazy before any event to get her settled, I'll take it. I can sit a few bucks if she'll come back to me like she did at White Rock.

We had a rail in our first class (I decided WAY too late that I needed to add a stride), but we pulled a third in our second class.

Here's the video of the second class.

So we didn't land a single correct lead, but we jumped all the things and maintained some rideability while we were at it! I'll take it. Overall I'm really glad I took her. I wish I'd added a class in the higher fences, but she was pretty tired out from all the craziness so it's really better that I didn't.

My students rode fabulously. I was so incredibly proud of the grit and teamwork I saw.

Bert was highheaded and scatterbrained (can't say I empathize with that... :-P) but the girls riding him did a really good job managing and tremendous amount of horse. I saw a lot of improvement from the SDEC show and also came home with a game plan for doing even better at our next show.

Harley made his first debut at a hunter/jumper show and although he didn't get uptight, he did have a serious issue with the concept of jumping things. Mad props to C for not getting frustrated and acknowledging the skill she displayed in getting him over fences. She placed quite well in two of her classes - one a flat class with a high density of fancy hunter ponies.

Danny is continuing to improve in terms of not-refusing new fences, but it's not where we need it to be yet. His fitness level has also dropped painfully since he had six weeks off due to his whole eye issue - an upcoming post on that and his scheduled surgery next week. E put in a beautiful first round, but he was tired in the afternoon. The two warm-ups were a bit much for him, I think. He's also still remarkably fluffy. Ugh. However, he ribboned in a hunter class. First time for everything. Credit where credit is due, his rider put in one heck of a ride despite being very tired.

Overall? What a phenomenal show - everyone was friendly, the show was well-run, and I can't wait to head back.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

JM 2 - Ride the freaking circle

I had another dressage lesson with JM on Monday (4.13) and holy cow guys, this woman is spectacular. She takes no sh** and gets it done. I love how hard she pushes me, but I understand that that's not everyone's thing.

I learned, much to my chagrin, that my left leg is weaker than my right leg.

This is new. I used to have a weak right leg and an overactive left leg. But here we are. I've quieted the left leg into weakness.

My homework pretty much boils down to sitting the trot a lot more and keeping my elbows WAY closer to my sides than I like. I find it uncomfortable and distracting. I'll get over it.

Tango needs to stay supple through all the transitions, and a fantastic exercise that we worked on for the trot-canter transition was to keep him counterbent all the way into the canter to make him think about himself a little more and stay listening.

With Kat, I need to wait her fits out and keep my legs on her, especially when she throws a fit over me asking her to bend. We need to improve her sensitivity to my leg in terms of asking her to move over/leg yield/enlarge circles.

She did say Tango's looking great, and I could definitely feel it. I'm very pleased with this injection of new things to work on!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Jump courses this weekend

I'm taking a few kids to the White Rock show this Sunday, so I thought I'd write about our Saturday lessons as preparation.

This course will manage to use every piece of equipment for building jumps we have.

One sort of disheartening thing about our farm is that no jump course survives a single day due to the other trainers building a 'dressage court' in the center of the arena using all of our jump poles.

This makes the effort it takes to set a full course a bit more than I really feel up to most days, which results in a lot of grids and various haphazard lines set up.

However, to challenge my riders and properly coach them for shows, I should have courses set up more often. Yes, I am aware that setting this up the day before a show isn't ideal and I take full responsibility.

Okay. So we're going to mimic a show environment and have three course rides posted outside the arena. You have to walk the courses, tell me how many strides to ride things in, and then we'll warm up and ride it. We'll do the courses one at a time, I shan't make them memorize three courses right off the bat!

Anyhow it should be fun.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Kat's first time out!

The cross country schooling with Kat went absolutely spectacularly. As long as I keep focused up, out, and forward, she'll sail over anything I point her at.

She needs to learn to stay a bit more balanced before fences in order to have her hind legs take off together, and I need to ride better, but really she's just amazing.

There's this track at Graham Hill that goes over an irrigation pipe, around to a coop, over a bit to a relatively plain pole-type jump, and then through some trail equipment (think bridges and ramps and whatnot) to repeat. For some reason, navigating amongst the trail equipment made Kat feel incredibly claustrophobic, so I rode this loop quite a few times until she settled into cantering through the stuff on the ground.

Then I pointed her at the bigger coop & we had a pilot-caused refusal because she'd anticipated which coop I'd point her at so strongly! What a smart girl. What a silly rider.

The galloping ground squirrels were a lot for Kat to handle because they'd pop up out of nowhere and then come 'thundering' across our path (her words, not mine). But as soon as I set aside my worry and tried to trust her a little more, she settled in and let my legs stay on her, let me bend her around me, and let me direct her around the field.

It was incredible. I've rarely felt so powerful on horseback.

I wish I had photos of the course because we had so much fun out there. I need to get her out to Woodside to see what we do over some bigger jumps.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Cross country schooling

Last week I took two of my students to Graham Hill's Showgrounds for a little cross country schooling.

We had a pretty fabulous time.

 First of all, having the kids ride in a huge arena is simply delightful. Our arena affords a lot of opportunity for turning and not a lot of room for really developing straightness. This point aside, we did not focus on straightening our horses, we just warmed them up here.

Thanks phone, for putting this together?

Graham Hill has a variety of cross country jumps of a maximum height of probably 2'3", making it perfect for schooling. There's tires and a small bank, various coops and hedges, and lots of logs.

There's something so cool about being confident in my students and horses as they go around the field - I can't wait for the moment in the near future (hint, hint) when I get to let them run their first full cross country course. 

Thanks to E for letting me highlight her experience at Graham hill
All this aside, I'm taking Kat to Graham hill tomorrow for her first ever cross country experience.

Wish me luck.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Mares... amiright?

I made the mistake of basically giving Kat three days off last week (good god am I an idiot or what?) and simultaneously pulling her off VitaCalm which I hadn't really thought was doing much but the moment she went back on it she settled down. I don't care if it's the placebo effect. I'll take it.

We hauled her and Danny down to WRR for a lesson. Danny was pretty good, all things considered.

But since I didn't ride him, I'm here to focus on my mare.

She warmed up beautifully, and I distinctly remember thinking "wow, she can handle time off like a champ!"

And then we started jumping, and she was refusing things. Like what why are you doing this?

And she had ZERO respect for my leg whatsoever.

And I didn't have brakes.

Basically I was riding a bucking maniac with zero control and I just sort of hoped for the best. It was kind of a bummer of a lesson, really.

 I really need to help her to understand and accept my legs holding her a little more, and I especially need to keep them on and forget about half-halting sometimes. If I keep my focus up and around and really forward, we get long spots but I'd rather do that than get refusals at this point.

So I'm disappointed in myself for letting her have so long off, but also disappointed in the drastic retrograde.

CM said that this was a totally mare than the one I brought to him the week before. 

However! I'm super excited about the lovely photos one of my students took. (Thanks!!)

She's so pretty!

And careful. Rather careful.

And what am I even doing here?

This is my FAVORITE photo because it TOTALLY highlights what I do when I get tired. "PONY, CARRY ME!"
And for some reason, in this moment, Kat's like "sure man, whatever."

Love this photo!

Haha she's so grumpy about all the things

I'm taking a few students down to WRR this weekend for a show and I'm still deciding whether I'm going to take her. She's not exactly ready for a show, but I also know that I'd like to find out how she behaves in that environment sooner rather than later. Especially if Woodside is still in my sights.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Jumping lesson at WRR

I had the best jumping lesson in the world last week. I hauled Kat down to White Rock Ranch and took a jumping lesson down there. Keep in mind, crew, that this little mare of mine has NOT been jumping for very long.

Kat briefly forgot how to get into trailers

At all.

Bless her little pinto heart.

We warmed up first with a figure eight on about ten meters at the trot. The catch was that the change of bend happened with her facing the judges box outside the arena, and Kat had determined that this building was GOING TO EAT HER. She'd keep moving if I allowed her to just bend any which way and not really conform to the circle, but CM wasn't cool with that. We must ride correctly! He said. So Kat would stop and tremble the second I took my inside leg off to switch legs and get the new bend. CM coached me through keeping my outside leg on in a way that encouraged Kat forward through the final stretch of the circle to facing the scary barn, and then using my knee and thigh to get the new bend. Not in a "this is how we should ride all the time" sort of way, but more in a "this is a tool to use if you really want to take this flighty animal cross country some day."

Then we worked over trot poles. You'd think trot poles are fairly simple, but they're not when the entire goal is to have the horse balanced and relaxed in the turn and then you have to ride very, very quietly over the poles. The horse has to make the mistake and learn to come back underneath you for the poles.

Meanwhile, my dressage coach's voice is ringing through my head "an effective half-halt is cheap! They're free! Use them all the time!"

Ack. So we worked coming to the poles both off the short turn and the long turn, and coming off the short turn was definitely easier for me to just go silent in the aids department.

so sweaty. so gross.

Then we worked on applying our "get balance and rhythm and keep it over fences" philosophy to the following exercise. (I apologize for my inability to create diagrams.)

The first exercise was to ride off the corner over the two stride combination, then loop around to do the other two stride so that you came out of the corner for both sets. The more advanced version is to ride directly from one two stride off to the other, but Kat wasn't quite ready for that. We worked on getting our leads. We worked on me trusting that a balanced 12-foot stride would take us where we needed to go. We worked on using the first fence to set us up for the second. We worked on me actually riding the two strides between the jumps. 

It was a big arena, there were dogs running around outside, there were cars everywhere. And the longer we cantered, and the more I actually applied my aids and rode, the better Kat went. She just kept getting better, and calmer, and more rideable. It was an incredible feeling. I had to think about me and about my riding but there wasn't a lot of thought about her as being entirely separate because when I got it right, she was there and she did it with me. She didn't make a single mistake, it was all me. 

It was an amazing feeling. 

Then we opened up to riding the bending line out of the combination. 

He let Kat smell the wall and the planks before having us jump them out of the trot which I really appreciated. She really hasn't seen a lot of styles of fence, so it was wonderful to jump some other stuff away from the farm, but it was also a bit intimidating because of how keenly aware I am of her green-ness.

And so away we went, with the whole tight turn, keep your balance thing. We worked on almost leg yielding through the bending line to be certain we ended up perpendicular to the wall/plank.

She did so superbly well I can't even begin to describe it.

The only whoops that happened was one time we came through the corner towards the first combination and Kat sat down, stretched over her topline, and relaxed into the rhythm. I stayed in my light seat and she came down the line perfectly straight. I turned my head to look at the wall. She stayed super light in my hands, totally balanced. And I stared at the wall. She locked on, ears up. I kept my legs against her sides and also kept staring at the wall. She started to open out to it and I gave her a little half-halt to try to keep our rhythm steady. I also kept staring at the ground right in front of the wall.

All the aids were perfectly in place, and Kat floated to an excellent, square halt right in front of the wall.


All in all, I desperately wish I'd had someone to videotape us for me. We felt totally unstoppable. (unless of course I stare at the ground for too terribly long.)

Notes for myself:
  • Keeping a steady rhythm with legs against horse
  • using outside aids to turn to help balance over the hindquarters
  • Keep eyes up or horse refuses
  • Shoulders back
  • If the pace stays the same then distances will come
  • Look at the jump well in advance
  • Think about leg yielding onto lines when looking at bending lines
  • Use thoughtful exercises to help defuse scary objects (figure-8)
Horse and trailer in the rearview and the ocean out to the side. (Holy cow, I am lucky!)

Thursday, April 2, 2015

100th post! What should the next 100 be like?

I've never stuck with a blog this long, so I figure it's worth celebrating!

I've blogged a little about my thought process while training horses, and I've blogged a bit less about the thought process with teaching students, even though I do a lot of that too.

I've compiled expert opinions on halting, leg-yielding, and shoulder-in.

I started a series on the phases of the jump (which I totally intend to finish!) Part 1, part 2.

I've written about Tango's development from where we started to showing 1st level.

I've documented my own and my students horse shows here, herehere, here, here, and here. (I'm probably missing some there!)

I've ranted a little bit about a variety of things.

While this blog's focus is certainly upon horses, the scope has wandered a bit, which is why I'm now asking you, my readers: what has your favorite post been thus far? What sorts of things bring you to read my blog, and what would you like more focus upon?

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Not very Wordless Wednesday

I had several really difficult rides today. Not because my horses were bad... oh no. They were in fact very, very, very good. Kat accepted the bending and leg-yielding walk right from the get go and Tango figured out how to carry himself a little better. But I couldn't seem to get my head in the game, which showed up when I got on Danny.

I got mad at him.

For pretty much no reason.

I was expecting... I don't even know what, but when I didn't get it I felt myself kind of get angry and then I had to get off and sit on the mounting block while Danny tried to eat my boot and think about it.

I couldn't figure it out so I decided to be done for the day. I think I haven't been riding him enough and so a lot of his sensitivity is gone, which normally I would be very patient with. Perhaps I'd used all my mental focus for Tango and Kat earlier.

I turned Kat and Tango out together which was greatly entertaining because Tango really wants Kat to love him. She's not so certain about him though.

Hi guys! I look ridiculous from this angle!
Look how beautiful and dirty I am!

I'm just trotting around, showing off for Kat

These next few are of Tango being "playful"


"but kat why don't you love me?"

Tango's bringing all the moves

I love this mare's neck. 

"I'm tired."

I adore the expression on Kat's face

I'm legitimately frightened of that goat.

This is a photo of Kat being afraid of said goat.