Monday, June 29, 2015

Cross Country Schooling at RDLA

I had an extensive write-up planned, but it's been over a week and summer camps are actually killing me. (Not actually - that's called hyperboly). As a result of the endless sun frying my brain, this post is mostly photo spam. I was going to write about my coaching approach when schooling cross country, and instead you get photos of horses jumping little fences.

RDLA is a great, super cute little facility. For $35 we got to play around in a dressage court, examine a stadium course with lovely footing (that we opted to skip then for our horses' stamina) and play around on a fantastic cross country course. Nothing big - I think it maxed out at probably novice. TONS of related distances though which I think drastically ups the challenge in some ways. A talented horse can bail you out of some situations when you ride poorly on an open approach to a jump, but fewer talented horses can rescue you when the distances are all related.

I lost my horse/rider pairs when they went exploring and then these deer came out

One angle of the big field

From the other end of the big field
I had E take a few photos to give you all a sense of the big field we were in - there's lots of jumps scattered about and many that are hard to photograph here. 

 I rode Kat to warm her up and took her over a lot of obstacles before letting Working Student From Michigan play with her. I'm seriously proud of Kat - for being such a one-woman pony she's opening up and trusting the riders I put on her. They're not always having fun with her yet... but they're able to ride her. (Spoiler: WSFM had fun with her)

(I'm not touching this)

 Everything had nice approaches to it for the most part, my biggest challenge was that it was sometimes difficult to ride just one fence all by itself without getting put on a really nice track to another jump.

(I'm not touching this either)
Diva and her owner came out for their first cross country experience and they killed it. It was one of those rides where I really just kept thinking that they're gelling so perfectly.

As far as my coaching went - I talked a lot about good approaches and developing an appropriate pace for what we're jumping. I really didn't want to get in their faces and make them think too much about it for their first time out though, so we approached it like we're jumping in a field. (Because we are, I suppose.) There are a lot of questions we have to learn to answer cross country, but not all on our first outing, I think.

Introducing the hover-oldenburg
 The only time I really came down on anyone was when Diva's rider pointed her at this little baby trakehner they have out there. She kept aimlessly drifting off and avoiding it and I wanted her rider to get serious and hold her straight with his legs and his focus. Like we're talking ride as if it's either over this fence or off an effing cliff. And he got it! It took some reminders about how the aids work as a collective whole, but they totally nailed it. The neatest thing about Diva is that she is fearless.

I feel like I make Kat look tiny sometimes and then I make sadfaces, but then I just pretend I'm channeling my inner william Fox-Pitt
Maybe a little too fearless.

A funny thing about Diva when you're riding her is how bloody LONG she is - but in combination with how handy she is. 

You can totally whip her around on a dime if you're using your aids properly, but if you're not simultaneously putting her together it results in a really strung-out experience. 

 But her rider rides really well - he's learning not only how she responds when you apply aids but also when things don't really go according to plan.

And I guess as a coach that's a super exciting moment - when we start riding really proactively and not so reactively.

I totally forgot where I was going.

I think I just wanted to do a little write-up on how neat this facility is for low-level cross country schooling. Bummer that there isn't any water most of the time - they have a tiny water complex but only fill it up for events/10+ person schooling days.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Full-time training: SUCCESS

 When I arrived for my first lesson at JM's barn with Kat, she said, "our only goal in the next two weeks is to get her on the bit, quietly, at all three gaits."

Sure, sounds like an easy goal, right? Anyone who rides enough dressage will quickly come to realize that not only is "on the bit" a ridiculously nebulous term, but also that a good trainer can take what felt amazing and help you hone in on the three steps right there that could have been different and exactly what needs to happen, but then while she explained all that something else specific has happened and... then you have fifteen new feelages to assimilate into your riding all the other horses and it's weird but exciting because they're all at different levels of accepting the aids and in their training...

Oh wait maybe all of that doesn't apply to everyone.

Anyhow! To recap a small amount of the things I learned while at JM's:

  • Overbending is not, in fact, a tool for connection. (Welcome to mis-interpretationville, I'll be your guide, my name is Kate.) It is an excellent tool for mental suppling, for taking the head&neck away when the horse is being resistant, and testing how much flexibility the horse is willing to give us. The second the horse is willing to give us everything, we have to stop asking for that and start riding the horse primarily off the outside aids.

    Honestly that seems a little confusing when I write it out, like you're just suddenly changing the rules on the horse, but the way JM shook it all out Kat was totally chill. We're going to bend, and bend, and bend, and now we're going to go large. And when you: race, brace, resist, spook, charge, drop the back, scoot, etc, we're going to do a circle. And bend. And bend. And bend. And when you're quiet, you get to go large again. 
  • 10-meter circles are my best friend ever right now. If the warm-up goes nicely and we're cruising around the outside of the arena, anytime she either relaxes so much she loses the energy or comes above the bridle and rushes I have to guide her onto a ten meter circle and continue on. Let her work against herself, all that. 
  • Ready for a big one? Don't let the horse change you. You're asking for a little extra bend on a twenty meter circle and your horse throws it's head around like it wants to punch you in the face with it's poll? Whatever! Your core is already engaged and you're already sitting up and in the saddle (Right Kate?!) and so your aids stay EXACTLY THE SAME until you start getting the response you want, at which point you make a big deal of the horse. Ignore the shit and embrace the improvements.

    (Why does so much of this sound familiar? Why do I feel like I've taught that exact lesson?)
  • Sit up. All the time. Seriously. If your core isn't engaged and working properly, you're going to overreact and perch and pick and pick and pick at your horse. Wait, maybe that's just me again. Dammit. 
The results? To be honest, my last session AT JM's was pretty awful. Idk what Kat's problem was but she was DONE. And she'd just had two days off! But today when I went to ride her? 

Holy tamole guys. She was perfect.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Post WRR adventure & pony pics

After we went to White Rock for a quick few classes, I drove up to Davis to pick Danny up. The implant was successfully installed and it was time to bring him home.

When we arrived on campus, it was nearly 100 degrees and just way too hot for me. I was pretty unhappy about it. It was also about 5pm on a Sunday, so we couldn't find anyone. We wandered around for a while before accosting a stranger who said, "oh, just press the emergency help button and they'll send someone from the barn." 
 Oh, right. Duh. Just press the "emergency help button." Totally would have done THAT unprompted. *facepalm*
 So we get the horse after just aimlessly wandering around for maybe 45 minutes. No biggie.
 Walk over to the trailer only to see a gash in the side and a seriously low front tire. Ugh. I call my sister's amazing boyfriend who talks me out of the tree and tells me that if it's holding air, just get to a gas station to suss out how bad the hole really is.
 We get to the gas station and fill it up with air. It's leaking badly, and we cool our overheated selves with the breeze created by the gushing tire. (Only sort of teasing.) After calling: triple a, "Mobile RV Repair", several family members, every tire place in a ten mile radius, several horse farms, and Tractor Supply, an employee at Tractor Supply says that they've got the right size tire and they'll switch it out for us. Phew!

Then my nervous-nelly-self kicks in and I start panicking about hauling this rig any further while loaded. What if the tire blows and I get dragged into traffic? What if I bend the axle or tongue or the floor gives out and I can never haul anywhere ever again? I spend ten minutes considering leaving Danny, two hay nets, and a teenager camped out at a gas station a mile off UC Davis' main campus. 
 After being talked out of the tree (again) I very carefully and slowly drive the six miles to the tractor supply. I hug a few strangers. This amazing old man who pretty much knows everything rolls a tire out, squints at it for a while, and then tells me he doesn't have anything in stock to fit the trailer. Insert many four letter words and perhaps a crying session - don't forget that this was a horse show morning that began at 4am and between this situation and my boss being understandably freaked out, I was under some pressure.
 A lovely woman working at TSC offers a place in her barn overnight, but says somewhat sheepishly that it's 17 miles away over some rough roads. I debate how long it would take to haul the truck & trailer at 10 miles an hour that far. An employee offers to set up some panels in the spare lot for the horse and we can just camp out with him, but also gives us the warning that we'll get a hefty ticket for that maneuver. I ponder why he knows this.

A friend whose horses I was supposed to ride calls and asks if I'm still planning to do it. I explain the situation through laughing tears.

At this point three employees are calling all the barns and friends with horses they have. I've rarely felt so supported by total strangers.
 Boss makes it very clear that I am to be at camp at 9am no matter what it takes. I start to climb the tree again, because I'd been thinking we'd find a place for the horse (maybe Davis again but at $100/night...), get the tire fixed first thing in the morning, find a hotel, and come home in the morning. Not an option.

Friend whose horses I was supposed to ride offers to drive Danny ALL THE WAY HOME. After a few phone calls all around to various people, I get talked out of the tree (a third time?) and friend hooks trailer up to come find me. We hunt down the angelic woman who offered her barn to Danny and ask if the offer still stands. She says yes, and we then add in that he needs medication twice a day. She sighs, and then says yes. I almost start crying again. So tired.

Danny jumped into friend's trailer, and they head for the woman's home. I drive truck & trailer over to the tire place conveniently located RIGHT NEXT DOOR to TSC. I unhook the trailer. I realize I don't have any paper, so I paint my phone number in large dirt-smears all over the darn thing. (They actually called me the next morning). I race to catch up to Danny, only to find him in absolute heaven at this person's home. He's got the BIGGEST paddock, and a cute neighbor, and this neat streamer toy to play with. And I mean seriously, he's in heaven. I hug another stranger.
 I drive home and get there at 11pm. I sleep. In the morning, I start to worry about how we're going to get the beast home. I offer to drive back up after work to get him, but am told that it'll get handled one way or another and I shouldn't worry any further.

Working Student From Michigan's mom calls and asks, "Do you want me to call in the cavalry?" which only provoked a confused response from me. Turns out that she grew up around here and she has some friends who could go get Danny & trailer and bring them ALL THE WAY HOME.

I panic a little about the number of strangers poor Danny has gone through, but say that if that could work, it'd be incredible.
24 hours later, in comes my favorite morgan and my favorite ugly green (blue?) trailer.

Can you even believe it?

PS What breed do y'all think pony is?

Seriously I want guesses people - I wouldn't have guessed!

Monday, June 15, 2015

WRR June 14th

Tango debuted at his first jumping show! He's been resistant to the whole 'jumping' thing, not because he can't jump but because he forgets how to brake or turn or anything useful like that after he jumps. I decided that his flatwork's been going so well it was time to re-enter jumping boot camp, and it seems to be paying off.

the height difference is delightful
We also took Ginger pony, but in typical blogger fashion, I will save the photos of adorable ginger pony leaping over things for another day. Instead! You get photos of a slightly terrified rider and a very happy thoroughbred.

So happy - so scopey

I seriously felt like we could have jumped ANYTHING (including the arena fence? dear god please don't lock on to that little ottb)

He and I look like we want to go different directions here.

Happy owner! We LIVED! I say that in jest but seriously that dude is fast

This is my new favorite photo of Tango & I ever.

Ah! So cute! Love this horse.

His rider, on the other hand, totally let him down. Four courses & I went off course in three of them. How does that even happen? Who knows. The prescription? Ensure sufficient caffeination for next horse show.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Dubiously motivating comment from trainer

In today's lesson, I wasn't sitting up properly and using my core the way I needed to. JM came over to help a bit and then said, "Don't give in to those old habits. Do you want to ride like a top rider or do you want to ride like a fixer?" She took a breath and added, "great riders can do great things with horses. On some horses you have to go there, but... you know. Sit up."

Anyhow, just another 'what's your excuse?' comment from my totally kick-butt let's-giter-done trainer.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Suppleness in motion

What does suppleness mean to you? I once heard it defined as the state of being so balanced and at ease that you can go in any direction at any speed. The state of "being as the vending machine... When the button is pressed, the soda pops out".

In training with Kat, we're asking for a very different sort of suppleness than I've wanted before. She is often asked for states of extreme bend (sometimes just to see if she'll offer it!), and shifting transitions are used to ferret out resistance.

JM firmly sees all these elements as a cycle & that they play firmly into one another. I'm currently ignoring rhythm for a focus on relaxed connection. (And when I get it, my rhythm is there.)

Kat is being asked to take the outside rein in a supple way through bending of the neck without deviating from the path of travel. I'm using my legs to hold her shoulders up while we ask for bend and softness. And resistance we are a-ferretin. I can't wait to get an updated video of her.

I love this photo! Also, check out this horse!

I really have been riding other horses - just so much has been happening with Kat that it's taken my focus.

Also summer camp started today. I think if you were to define the opposite of suppleness, summer camp would be the answer. Totally the opposite of a lithe, sleek, athletic sensation... Instead it's herding cats in and out of the sun without discernable purpose.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Add more sideways: JM 5

I'm taking a ton of notes from my now-daily lessons with JM and while a lot of the notes are good for me, I am a trainer at heart and I assimilate information best when I am teaching it. To make the most of this, I will try to give you guys the biggest nuggets from my lessons thus far.

1) The horse can only go as well as you ride. This means:
  • Your balance and eq has to be as good as you possibly can get it - if you feel like you could do better, then you really should be striving for that. If you have a consistent problem (my right hand does... really anything it feels like doing and the moment I focus on my right hand behaving appropriately I lean forward) then come up with as many ways to tackle it as possible and experiment.

    To work on the right hand issue, I've been walking on a long rein and holding my hands where I would like them. Then I move my right hand around deliberately. Then I still it again, all while holding my core and sitting very upright (erring on leaning a hair backwards). Then move the hand around until I start to notice the things that happen in my shoulder, my upper arm, and my forearm when I go to swing my right hand around. Once I've got the feeling of a still, supple hand in my shoulder, it's easier to focus on not-perching and also keeping my hands quiet. Just keep my shoulder in place and that way it's one thing to work on, not two. Just my efforts away from Kat to help her improve.
  • Aids must stay consistent. If opening the right rein and applying right leg means bend your body, not fall in on the circle then you cannot move the right rein against her neck the moment she falls in. Bad riding. Both a release and a confusion of cues. (That one might be a little personal.)
  • Riding is a mental process as well, so be sure at any moment you can answer which criteria you're working to improve. If at any time you've got NOTHING at all you're improving and you're not purposefully giving the horse a mental break... you're probably breaking something down. 
2)  Lateral work is your best friend. This has manifested itself like this so far:
  • Kat rushes upon landing off a jump. I execute a steep leg yield, and she slows down. I pet her and praise her. We jump again, and I ask for a bit of leg yield and she sighs and slows down. The third time, she stays at the same tempo and I don't ask her to yield at all. 
  • Tango decides downward transitions mean he gets to hang out on my wrenched-out shoulder sockets. I put inside leg on and yield until he lightens. I'm making him work against himself. 
  • Indiana picks up the wrong lead. I push him sideways until he trots, then immediately ask for the lead again. 
  • Danny throws his head up through transitions and braces in his chest, so I've been doing almost all his transitions in a shoulder-fore. Magic! He begins to use himself. 
  • JM says when their inside hind leg crosses over the centerline of their body they have to engage their core and cannot use their lower neck anymore - not totally sure of the science there but in practice some great things are happening.
3) Don't get frustrated.
  • If it takes 45 minutes to get a quiet canter-trot transition, so be it. It's not your fault entirely, and it's certainly not the horse's fault. If there's a bit of mild confusion while the horse experiments to find the right answer, that's okay. If everyone's pissed and the horse is having a meltdown, then please do change tactics. 
  • When one thing (let's say bending quietly on a 20-meter circle) falls into place in a beautiful, reliable, breathtaking fashion, the next things (ie balanced and quiet transitions?) do not immediately follow. This is a journey people, let's enjoy it. 
Mostly I just need to sit down in the tack properly and enjoy how much I love Kat's ears and how sproingy her trot gets when she actually stretches into me. I will update you all with new or changed most-important-message as they come.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

If you lend Kate a camera...

.... she takes a lot of random photos of things.

I admire good photography so much - the knowledge of the camera and the eye for angles and colors is so impressive!

We have a new arena being put in at our farm (YAYAYAYAY for a standard size dressage court) and it's been super cool watching this work get done! So many trucks and so very much dirt. Can't wait to post photos of the arena when it's all finished.
In a brief equine update: Kat has had two days at JM's and is undergoing a simutaneously incredible transformation and a somewhat displeasing regression. To explain, her gaits and way of carrying herself is already AMAZINGLY different. But the nasty, witchy, evasive behaviors are back. Not as bad as they were at first, but I don't like their reappearance at all.

Indiana is learning how to carry himself - amazing how the work I'm doing with Kat is echoing through my other horses.

Tango's jumping side is developing well enough, I need to do a lot more grids with him for strength and balance.

Danny is going in for surgery tomorrow - we thought we'd thwarted it but I guess he does need the implant now.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Looking back for a moment

Sometimes I worry that I'm not challenging my students enough, and that I'm not providing learning opportunities for them and for myself.

But let's recap 2015 so far...
  • Located new jumping trainer in January
  • Attended combined event at Twin Rivers Horse Park in January
  • Competed at Fresno County Horse Park in February
  • Attended KHM Dressage in March
  • Attended Fox N Horn in March
  • Located new dressage trainer in March
  • Acquired three new horses and a pony for clients/the program
  • Took horses off the property for a trail ride at Calero
  • Took students cross country schooling at Graham Hill
  • Attended White Rock Ranch for a H/J show in April
  • Attended Peppertree Ranch for a H/J show in May
And the list goes on! As we grow and improve I'm sure this list will change. 

Fresno Feb 2015 (what a learning experience!)

New horse

New Pony

KHM March 2015

Trail ride @ Calero

Cross country schooling @ Graham Hill

More photos of the pony
Silly photos at white rock