Friday, August 28, 2015

New rules for Kat

Notes from my lesson with the BNT:

1st: Kat must be moving forward. Not flippantly forward, not a bit forward, but forward. Like we're talking jump you out of the saddle trotting forward. Bounding forward. Blasting forward.

2nd: She must move forward AND stay on the bit. (No excuses.)

3rd: She must move forward anywhere I take her, whether it's across the diagonal, on a circle, or through a figure-8. 

I recognize that these are simple, duh-ish things. But once Kat is actually forward (and not hesitatingly so, or sort of forward, or thinking a touch forward...) the spookiness disappears, the contact stabilizes, and she starts to sweat almost immediately so I'm thinking we're actually working when that happens.

(Also I promise I've broken my habit of popping into a half-seat every time Kat does a good transition as pictured above. Why did I do that? I think maybe I was trying to reward her by getting off her back? I DON'T REALLY KNOW but thank god for my trainer)

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Pieces of a peculiar puzzle

I had a lot of thoughts today while trail riding at Henry Cowell (also finally found a loop that doesn't feel like my poor horses are going to DIEEEEE) and so I'm going to process them here.

1. I had a riding lesson with a really BigNameTrainer out here a few weeks ago. It was awesome in many ways: she was complimentary of my riding, Kat behaved incredibly, and she helped shape the ride into one of the best rides I've ever had on Kat. It also broke my heart: she says Kat will never be a 2nd level horse, that I'm a little bit wasting my time as a professional with a horse like this, and that I'm sloppy in my training.
  • I think most horses are capable of at least third level, given enough time and training
  • "as a professional?"
  • As for sloppy in my training, great! Show me how to improve.
So I ruminated on this lesson for a while. My rides with Kat felt blasé, even while E was able to produce some truly brilliant work with her.

2. I showed a friend's horse this weekend, and it was awesome.

Riding at a level above my various horses' capability (at the moment!) for two days was really focusing for me. This road of elementary training wanders, has several steps forward and back, and is ultimately different for every horse. In the same breath, remembering that there is a next level, and a next level, and a next level of performance is important for actually getting down that road.

3. Cappuccino has been going very well, w/t/c. Yesterday, however, she forgot what the aids for trot meant, and rather than staying patient I got a little frustrated and got after her for not moving forward immediately when I asked. It was the first time I've ever gotten after her while under saddle, and she spooked and bucked me off. I was completely fine, but still found myself a few hours later ruminating about backing out of the competition.

4. Fynn's owner re-listed him for sale and hasn't been replying to my texts... so I'm assuming I will be unable to purchase him. For a moment, I feel like railing on about how terrible people are.

5. I'm going through a certain amount of personal-life upheaval. I think it's sort of important background for all of this. 

With all these pieces, what do we see? A turbulent mind and a lot of questions. For a few days, I considered asking JM to help me sell Kat so I could buy something 'worth my time' but every time I focused on that thought I wanted to start crying.

And then today while marching along the trails and babbling to Kat (who was trying to spook at a log on the ground) about what a brave girl she is, something clicked.

I like horses.

I like going into the ring and trying my best, even if it's not to win.

I like Kat.

I feel vulnerable sometimes in the ring, ESPECIALLY on horses I've put most of the training on, but mostly because I'm afraid people will think that due to -insert equine issue of the day- I'm a bad person. There are intermediate steps there but it kinda all piles back to a self-worth thing that's an ongoing issue for me.

It's important to me to have a horse I find funny, that I'm excited to work with, and that I can learn from. Kat is absolutely that horse - at the end of the trail ride we cantered along an easy stretch for about half a mile and the cadence of her underneath me and feeling her breathing and knowing how much she had to trust me to stay that balanced and not in self-preservation-mode... I love Kat. Who cares if it takes us ten years to crest 2nd level (not that I think it's that bad..)

I think feeling bad about owning and training a horse that I adore even if she is a sh** sometimes is a waste of time. And somehow, the past two weeks I haven't seen that.

This is riding: setting goals, overcoming set-backs, embracing humility, exploring our demons, developing focus, and working really hard.

Monday, August 24, 2015

So we went to White Rock Ranch instead! (8/5/15)

Since we didn't have any of our horses going on Sunday at Woodside, we took Ginger and Diva to White Rock for some exposure, etc.

My favorite thing about Diva is that she is simply cool as a cucumber under pressure. She may not always know where her legs are, but she will do her best and just casually hop over anything you point her at. As her strength and stamina increase, I'm very excited to start seeing what the edge of her ability is. 

I rode the GingerPony! I love this little mare - and I totally realize that I am ridiculously oversized for her. She's so fun and she's beginning to get really rideable. We had a really disappointing amount of difficulty getting over the fence below. Pony said HECK NO a few times until I finally legged her over it, at which point she said, "sure, fine, that's easy." She needs a few more shows like this - she's getting really honest to the fences and she doesn't have a nasty refusal in her so I think with practice and miles she's going to be a very easy, sweet ride for the kids.

Although eagle-eyed readers might notice the dirt on my arm in this photo.... she did put a HARD stop on me when the fences went up too far, and I sorta slid right over her ears (oops.) The show management was WONDERFUL and lowered the fence and let me jump it a few times before calling it a day. 

I continue to love this show for its schooling environment: if you're having an issue with a fence, they'll let you school it. This is so nice for me and my greenbeans.

Diva is so precious. MORE GRID WORK IS NECESSARY though... she's super brave and she'll jump literally anything but egads those legs what are they doing?

Friday, August 21, 2015

Woodside Summer Event 2015

Well, my friends. I have to say that this event did not go well for us.

We got there Thursday after an uneventful haul over and did our lessons over at Woodside. I think we kept it too short - the goal being to reward them for settling in nicely. Diva was a rockstar and didn't seem to think that there was anything worth worrying over.

Jimmy the eventing Arabian... needs a bit of work before we approach the eventing thing again. He was a total fruitcake. 

It's hard to find any photos that really explain it - my rider rode her heart out and Jimmy just wasn't ready for the whole thing. But I'll get to that.

Friday we throw braids in Diva's mane and get about our warm up - the pair do really well. I'm excited. 

Rider seems calm and not too terribly nervous. Excellent!

Until we checked in with the steward and realized we were in the wrong ring - whoops!

Rider went off-course twice, marvellously sat a somewhat surprising buck, and finished out the test with an excellent attitude despite how unsettled he was by the SPRINT across the woodside horse park to get to the correct arena.

Diva looks less-than-thrilled. 

As for Jimmy the Eventing-Arabian? He was... a pill. He was tense, and refused to move forward, and decided to kick out a lot at leg aids. He was excused part-way through the first canter in BN-B for being dangerous, although I thought it was an unnecessary call as his rider was, in fact, piloting him through the test and he wasn't close to unseating her, just kicking at the aids. But - the judge felt it was unsafe and I have to respect that.

I don't know who this is but I love this photo that I took! Guys I'm learning how to camera!!!

On Saturday we warmed Diva up for stadium and as we came into the first warm-up fence, there was a bit of a miscommunication between horse and rider and Diva dodged out and rider fell. He hurt his hand, and after getting checked out by the EMT decided to get back on - but it was painful and he was having a hard time focusing. We decided to scratch.

So... definitely a disappointing weekend, but we all learned a lot and we'll come back stronger and more prepared next time.

Also, eventing readers - what's easier for you to manage/wrap your head around: The full three-day craziness of a long weekend, or a one-day trial? Can you explain? 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Just like potato chips...

I'd like to welcome Fynn to the farm - 16.2hh 5 year old OTTB purchased entirely as a project for the lesson program. If he takes to the work and likes kids, I'll find a lessor for him and hang on to him. If not, then I'll put weight on him and some polish and resell him!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Concessions to Kiddos

Sometimes I get torn between my desire to not create habits that will require fixing later in life, and a desire to just get through my advanced beginner lessons without undue frustration (on my part or the kids!).

It's a difficult line to walk, especially because even the best and sweetest lesson horses tend to the dull, uninspired side after enough time with kid-butt in saddle.

As an interim for the Ginger-pony, I'm working on consolidating her response to a tap with the crop and a kissing sound for the canter... even though I'd rather the kids learn to sit up and aid her into the canter with their leg and allow the crop to be the primary back-up.

It's a raging internal debate I suppose... but it will become null as the kids grow stronger, taller, and more experienced.

Monday, August 10, 2015

On beginning the posting trot

I've been teaching a lot of beginners how to post the trot lately (one of the blessings of summer camp, there's so many iterations of the same lesson that I get to optimize my teaching methodology). I've also been talking my counselors in training through the process of teaching a beginner how to post the trot and I wanted to write about it here.

Prerequisite: student must be comfortable walking around on the horse without holding on to the saddle. Neither legs nor upper body may swing wildly about at the walk, all in all the student should have a decent basic balanced position.

Step one: figure out how bold the student is by leading the horse for a few steps of sitting trot. If student grins, giggles, asks to do it again, etc, you're dealing with a student of the bold variety. If the student is scared, I will tell them that they don't need to trot now and to tell me when they're feeling ready. We'll do all the walking exercises and practice our mounting/dismounting and steering until the student feels confident enough to trot.

Step two: at the halt, coach student through vertical far (standing totally straight up in the stirrups) and halfseat positions. Student needs to the move from fullseat to vertical far and back again smoothly and without their hands on the saddle for balance.

Step three: Repeat step two at the walk - the student needs to be able to 'post' with basically good mechanics. This should vary between holding vertical far for ten seconds at a time and being able to post on the correct "diagonal" at the walk. Without their hands on the saddle for balance, the lower leg must remain still before moving on to the trot.

Step four: Remind the rider to stand up when you say up and sit gently down when you say down, and then spend a few circles counting off, "up, down, up, down" etc. Don't try to engage too much from the kid - allow them to just feel the trot rhythm and listen to you. They are allowed to hold onto the saddle. Then come to the walk and ask if they could feel the rhythm that you were counting out and if they're ready to work towards posting.

This bit often takes a while. Some variations on this that I've seen include the student bouncing wildly and insisting they're posting (more common than you'd think), sitting/standing too long, losing their lower leg in nearly any direction, fetal crouch coming on suddenly, and becoming afraid again. Guide them through the corrections by coming to the walk/halt if necessary and making sure that they completely understand what you want. (e.g. draw your leg back underneath you... what on Earth does that mean?! or how about heels down? Heels down where? Does the lower leg go forward? How do I know when my heels are down?)

Once the rhythm seems to be established and they're mostly going up and down with the horse....

Step five: Talk to them. If the student can't hold the rhythm and answer questions about their favorite ice cream, meal, movie, color, pet, sibling, etc. then the tempo isn't really in their muscles yet and it's taking up too much of their immediate focus to move on.

Step six: Start an independent upper body by asking them to lift one hand up above their head, then switch. Once they can switch smoothly without loss of posting, I start encouraging them to let go with both hands.

Step seven: Move their arms through a variety of positions. I like: hands totally into the clouds, hands on your head, hands on your hips like you're mad at me, stretching forward as if to touch an ear, leaning back as if to touch the tail, hands behind the back. If the lower leg stays relatively stable during all of this, they're about ready for the reins.

Step eight: Now lots of walk-trot trot-walk transitions. Beginning the posting trot without reverting to holding onto the saddle and without falling forward or backwards is crucial to allowing the rider to post alone. 

Step nine: At the halt, show the rider how their elbows open and close during the action of posting trot, where their hands should be, and why. Have them practice keeping their hands still while posting at the walk.

Step ten: Allow the rider to get the horse to trot on their own, as well as ask the horse to walk again, keeping them on the longe for extra control for a while.

Rider coaches out there, do you have anything to add? Do you teach it differently or think I'm missing anything important? 

Friday, August 7, 2015

Thursday, August 6, 2015

So many updates, so little time

I am feeling very busy and a bit overwhelmed but in short:

Cast is off and finger is healing well
Cappuccino is trotting under saddle now
Bert and Diva were going to event this weekend (with students as the pilots!!) and Bert put a nail through his hoof so now we have a sudden return of Jimmy the eventing Arabian

Hope everyone's week is going well! I'll update everyone soon with the particulars.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Whiteboard dressage

Wait just a hot second here...

I really wasn't under the impression I needed to be good at geometry for this job.