Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Fall Festival - Saturday

Okay. So Saturday was absolutely batshit crazy. So busy. When I got the dressage times Friday I actually thought I might have a heart attack.

This was only compounded when somehow I neglected to check that ALL the saddles were in the rented truck (love RelayRides) and we showed up at 6:45AM with two saddles (and six horses at the facility). Much gratitude to the Saddle Express who bolted back to Los Gatos, collected the necessary supplies, and sprinted back in time to really save us.

A result of reading and coaching for dressage tests for an hour and a half straight led me to missing the .7m classes with Kat.

Next time, if I have more than three kids coming with me, please tell me that I am INCAPABLE of riding my own horse. Like... please just get that idea out of your head, Kate. Between splitting myself between dressage and hunter warm ups, it was a lot of jogging back and forth.

Enough about the mistakes, let's get to what was WONDERFUL about Saturday.

Alex/Diva - Alex rode his mare beautifully. There was a miscommunication in the warm up where Diva asked if he was serious about jumping it and he replied with a very neutral maybe and she wheeled away and he sorta just swung off and landed on his feet. He was nervous about getting back on, but he didn't lose his nerve entirely and ended up riding super well in the .8m class. He also hopped into the hunter ring because they were ticketed rounds and it's good for Diva to see as many different types of fences as possible, and he went back in because he thought the course was fun. Love it! No refusals in the show ring. For a five year old mare, she's a pretty unbelievable animal.

E/Diva - E rode Diva in Training test 1 and identified a few holes in her training (ie when you get her soft in the bridle she suddenly feels like she's stuck in mud and forgets how to move forward... and when you get her really forward into the bridle she tries to yank your arms out so that needs some work, but...) regardless she rode a pretty excellent 67% to beat me and Kat in Diva's third dressage test ever.

Andy's haul

Andy/His Rider - Andy took a young girl to her very first horse show ever. It was adorable. They rode Intro a, b, and c, and ended up winning the intro b class together. This young rider is focused, dedicated, and thoughtful beyond her years - it's a pleasure to introduce her to the competitive aspect of the sport. Before she left the grounds she was already talking to me about how she wants to work on her geometry to improve her tests. (9 years old!) She also rode her first hunter courses and Andy was a superstar babysitter and she came out with a huge smile on her face. I love it when shows are that easy for the rider, it's such a confidence builder.

Chente/V - Chente came off the trailer sore again.... something about trailering is just really unpleasant for him and seems to compromise his ability to move. That fact notwithstanding, V rode a great first dressage test with him and gave us lots of things to work on at home, and even though Chente announced he was pretty done in the hunter ring, she kept a fantastic attitude, jumped him in the warm up ring until it was nice, and called it a day. She hung out and was super supportive and a great team member for the rest of us throughout the day. 

Dart/A - Dart was trailered over the morning of the show and started his morning out by ripping the lead away from V and galloping away. His attitude didn't exactly change much as the day bore on. He exited the dressage arena in her second test and had a major bug about one jump in the hunter ring. But A's flying changes have never been better! Silver linings everywhere.

GingerPony/M -  Saturday was an excellent schooling day: we got the pony to see all the different filler etc in the ring, we made it a good experience, and they even put in a lovely dressage test. I did sort of do something embarrassing.... they were having a difficult time with a few fences and I transformed into Coach from Nightmares Past wherein in I BELLOWED what I wanted her to do the whole time "SIT UP, USE MORE LEG, SOFTER HANDS, ENGAGE YOUR CORE, TALK TO HER AND PET HER MAKE HER FEEL SO BRAVE" I mean seriously guys I yelled so much. It was embarrassing. I know better. I know other people do it, but it's part of my philosophy that riders, once they're in the show ring, are on their own. This is how I assess my training program, this is how I take a step back and get fresh eyes. And instead I just yelled a lot. Oh well, I got better.

Katarina/E - E rode Kat amazingly, especially considering the sub-zero warm up time they got for their first test. I loved watching them go. E has a fantastic view of the training and riding of the horse and this show was LONG overdue for her - a good experience where her skill actually earns her some accolades. I left her alone to warm up for her second test and even though Kat offered the wrong lead she kept a smile on and just rode through it - again a testament to her longer view on training and not just on winning today.

Kat/Kate - I missed the .7m class so I ended up riding her in the .8 and .9s instead of the .7s and .8s. I do have to say that I love this horse. I love her so much. I can't even explain how much I love her. But you readers know - you feel these same things for your horses.

The warmup was good. She waffled in front of the fences but when I sat down she moved up nicely to the fence.

Our first round she was super except for the photographed moment below - she said no and I said yes and the result was a demolition.

I hit the ground after the last fence and we circled and I felt nearly sick - I must have been more nervous than I credited myself with. 

Our second round felt great between the fences, but over the fences we had a few WTF moments:

We went clear that round despite some funky moments. 

Really it all came together for the last round of the day. The course was excellent with a lot of bending lines and tons of options for how to ride it - my favorite sort of jumpers course. Kat had realized what we were doing, she'd started to understand the goal, and for one of the first times since I've been riding her I was able to just enjoy the ride and not worry about whether she was going to take the fence. I knew she'd jump it, I knew she'd keep listening to me and not take over. And it felt like magic.

We didn't go clear in the .9 meters, the last two classes of the day. The first time through I put her into a bad distance and it messed the line up, and the second time through we hung a leg and pulled the second fence in the combination.

Our dressage test (training 1) was nothing to write home about with a score of 64.78. I was pleased with how well she listened to me, was fairly happy with our geometry, and knew leaving the arena what we needed to work on to make it more successful in the future. Score!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

JM - Forward

I picked up the ride on a new horse at Jacky's, which means I'm essentially back in full-time training just not on Kat. It's been awesome! Matheo is a really neat, steady personality who comes from hunterland so we're reshaping him into a "dressage horse".

I think I only rode today for like thirty minutes but they were intense, so I'm writing down my notes for future reference.

1. The walk must be forward. "Nothing hurts so why is he walking like he's 106?" And "get going, I'm sick of watching the grass grow" were notable comments.
2. I am now sitting too far back in the walk, but not yet far enough back in the trot and canter
3. I have a rogue left arm, my left elbow drifts forward and I drop the wrist
4. We did an exercise where I brought the trot down as far as I could and keep him trotting and then asked him to get very supple there, soft on both reins but keeping a good and round outline. As soon as he was supple in the little trot, we lengthened to a nearly extended trot and asked him to STAY forward but also get supple in both reins there. I do a ton of elastic band exercises with my horses but for whatever reason taking a lap or so to get them supple in the big/little trot just wasn't a thing I actually focused on. JM reminded me that the half half needs to soften the horse. (Duh. But these moments are good for me to like... Remember the basics)
4. We did a serpentine at the trot where the goal was to fit as many loops in as possible, mostly aimed at heightening his reactivity to the outside aids. We rode it quarterline to quarterline so that as soon as I'd turned off one outside leg it was time to pass him off the new outside leg. (Also keep forward here...)
5. We lengthened/shortened the canter, focusing on keeping my hands up and even, him soft in the bridle, and using a large circle to help him shorten.
6. We did a few one loop serpentines at the canter, wherein I learned that I shift my weight around too much and need to stay in the middle of the horse.
7. We did a few trot-halt-TROT transitions. I capitalize the second trot because she wanted him essentially leaping into the trot off my aids. I thought about this a lot and I think I'm allowing him to lean forward and shift to the trot rather than pushing from behind into the trot. I also hold too long with my legs.
8. Sitting trot. With the whip behind my back and through my elbows. It left a mark on both my arms:

This horse has an incredible trot. Learning to sit it is the subject of a post all its own.

Anyhow it was a good lesson and this is a neat horse and I'm sure I'll write more about him in the future.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Holiday adventures at Woodside

Yesterday we took four horses up to Woodside in two trips for some cross country schooling, (universe if you're listening I'd be totally cool with a four-horse trailer being gifted to me), and we had a lot of fun.

Danny is really coming around to this whole, "gallop and jump things" game plan.

We worked a lot on his rider keeping a firm yet soft contact to the fence: not so firm that he thinks it's an excuse to stop, but not so light he thinks he can throw his shoulders around. We also talked about the quality of the canter up and down hills, etc. It was really fun.

Kat was a pill, but I was just grateful that we finished on a really good note. I've realized this horse needs to be a LOT more tired than you'd expect before she starts jumping cross country nicely... which I'm not a fan of due to increased risk of injury etc but it'll just involve me keeping a very close eye on her.

ugh this was such an unpleasant jump but it sort of makes me laugh so you get the fail photo even though it's embarrassing

This photo above I really have to highlight because it totally captures the entire morning's outing. Kat is d-d-d-deer-bounding over the jump in a totally unnecessary way, E's keeping a keen eye on me in case I eat it, and Danny's all, "hey photographer do you have any more apples?"

Then we took the GingerPony and Indiana. First of all, I can only describe Indiana's jumping style as a slither. He just sort of slinks over fences... He'll jump anything he's pointed at (and aggressively kept pointed at in some cases but that's okay) but he has this fun habit of suddenly forgetting how to carry himself and falling sideways after the jumps. I was glad it was me schooling him and not a student because it was not as safe as I wanted him to be. He also tried to rear a lot which was the FUNNIEST THING EVER because he kept lifting his withers way up and trying to figure out how to pick both front feet up but he couldn't quite manage it.

I think his problem is pretty severe separation anxiety... it manifests even at home when we try to tack him up and he can't see another horse, he thinks he's going to die or something.

I am not familiar with this horse at all so while it's not an excuse that's sort of why I look so ridiculous. I'm also in dire need of a trainer shouting at my drifting left leg and peculiar elbows for a few hours.

Ridiculous knees

He actually looks okay over the fences but it felt so weird

Holy what-is-a-distance-or-a-half-halt batman

The GingerPony, on the other hand, was pretty sublime. I. Love. Pony. She's really starting to develop this nice, quality canter, and some serious rideability. She's getting very game about jumping new fences and I just love the antenna ears over some of these fences that she's not totally sure about but is giving a shot anyways.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Late-night jump school

I longed Kat before riding her tonight not because she was squirrelly but because I wanted to watch her move. When she came to my farm we spent a lot of time oohing and ahhing over how pretty she was and then wincing when I nearly got my nose broken, repeatedly.  It's funny how we habituate to things and I wanted to recapture some of that eagerness to reward her for improvements.

I warmed her up on the flat with a lot of leg-yielding at the walk (we're trying to master a 20-meter circle where we leg yield along a portion of the circle and then walk straight for a portion), some loopy bending lines at the trot for a long time while she settled, then we practiced cantering squares. Not necessarily good squares, but I really wanted to focus on bringing the shoulders in front of the hind legs using my outside aids. We did some simple lead changes through the trot (still insanely hollow, horse can drop her back in a trot-canter like you wouldn't believe) and I spent some time checking out my position.

Overall a productive warm-up - she's getting really fit. And this is great, because she's an event horse, and fitness is key. And this it terrible, because our warm-up lasted 35 minutes and at one point would have been a hearty schooling session for her and she hadn't broken a sweat.

So I set up a single jump in the middle of the arena at about 2'6" and we figure-eighted over it for a good bit while I counted, "three, two, one" and argued with my wandering lower leg and practiced sitting up for god's sake before the fence and all those things I'm always after my kids about. Every time Kat felt like she was charging the fence and blasting off afterwards, I'd steeply leg yield her off until the canter got normal then pet and praised and loved on her while we finished our circle to come around again. And when she floated off behind the leg, I did nothing proactive. So there! I just sat and thought, "crap this distance sucks." and I took it! Mwahahahaha....

Wait no actually angry Kat-ears are correct and I was not doing the right thing by sitting up there and staring at the damn fence while it came up on a bad distance. So then I made the wise choice to put the fence up six inches so I had to ride or die, and everything came together really nicely. She stuttered behind me, I put leg on, and voila! The whole experience was nice after that.

As I cooled her out I got to thinking about how hard this whole thing is. I've jumped dozens of horses over a cumulative thousands of jumps and I'm STILL not 'good' enough to get the right distance every time. It gets better, I have more tools, a more refined eye, etc... but still I sometimes forget to plug my brain in and my riding hat on. Alas, thankfully my horse can take a joke now instead of being so offended over every little thing.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Thoughts on hard work

I follow Tamarack Hill Farm on Facebook - I know a lot of you blogger friends have talked about Denny's style before, but I wanted to add my own thoughts.

I love his posts. They're take no holds, bull forward, sensible horsemanship. Or life-man-ship really, because the stuff he talks about? It's applicable to any skill.

He writes:
You think it's a fluke? The greatest riders are the most dogged, inveterate practicers.
Thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of jumps later, and, guess what? Suddenly, you are a good jumper rider.
What is it about this simple reality that so many fail to grasp?
And then later today I see:
Brooke Stevens Stebner: "And a large part of those thousands and thousands of jumps is having lots and lots of horses to do them on. Unfortunately not a lot of people have the opportunity to gain that access. I was lucky enough to have people who helped me, but I could never have done it otherwise."
The above is Brooke's reply to a post I wrote about the best riders being the most die hard practicers. Brooke, I am NOT picking on you, but I have to say that your response is typical of those I get when I stress the importance of practice. INVARIABLY someone will reply, as you did, that you can't practice if you don't have horses upon which to sit, and in this you are entirely correct.
Where I take issue is that these responses imply that only the sponsored or the rich get the opportunities.
Over the last 30-40 years, I can't tell you how many barn owners have told me, over and over, that they have BEGGED kids to do extra barn work, in exchange for being allowed to ride more horses, to spell the normal workers, and far more often than not, the kids WILL NOT DO IT.
They have proms or sleepovers or parties or shopping or whatever kids do, and they squander the chances given them to work for rides.
Ask people who have horses they need exercised how many kids will show up in any reliable way.
By the time I hit 21, I figured out a while ago, I had ridden about 60 different horses. And I owned Paint, Bonfire, Lippitt Sandy, Lippitt Raymond and Lighting Magic between the ages of 10 and 21. The others I "begged, borrowed or stole" rides on.
You can take "no" for an answer, or you can buy into that Yiddish saying, "No for an answer I already got."
Meaning if you ask to ride a horse, and the owner says "no", you are no worse off than if you hadn't asked. But so often, when I asked, I got "yes", and it gave me the chance to ride another horse. So, what will it be, give up, or hustle rides? For me, there was never a flicker of doubt.
I rode every school horse at Stoneleigh School when the girls were on vacation. Clyde Taylor let me ride the Smith College School horses. I rode about a dozen Lippitt Morgans when I worked at the Green Mountain Stock Farm. Mac Williamson let me ride some, so did Bob Lamb. Joe Mc Laughlin let me ride lots of the Hitching Post camp horses. Oliver Ferguson, Betty Booth, Lester Welsh, Mrs Hilts, same, same. All of the kids I rode with, we'd swap horses. Any chance, you grab it.
You want it, you go get it.
I am very lucky to have the students I have - they work hard, they listen, they accept coaching gracefully.

Earlier this year I read this lovely post on working students:
10 Tips for working students:
By Kimberly Bench, Benchmark Dressage
Hudsonville, MI
1. Never get caught doing nothing. If you think you have “nothing” to do, pick up a broom and start sweeping or de-cobwebbing
2. Always pay attention. If you see something that needs to be done, don’t wait for someone to ask, just do it.
3. Be indispensable. If you want to be kept around for a long time and given opportunities, make yourself a “can’t live without her” asset. Once you know your trainers routine and how he/she likes things done, always try to be 2 steps ahead. Have that horse ready BEFORE she has to wait while you finish tacking. If you notice he/she walked to the arena without their gloves, bring them out before they even notice they are missing them!
4. Open ears, closed mouth. You will learn a LOT by listening and observing. Even just being around the barn while chores are done can be a learning experience. From bandaging to emergency care to a specific way to clean a stall…you’ll constantly be learning. You are not there to show us how much you already know, you are there to learn MORE. And if you are lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, you may even get to cool out that top horse!
5. Be reliable. Be on time – no – be early! Show up every day ready to work and plan on being there for your entire shift. Things at the barn almost always run long…. Sticking around until the work is done shows commitment. Commitment shows dedication. Dedication earns respect and respect earns you opportunities.
6. Go above and beyond. If you are asked to clean tack, clean it like it’s going on freakin’ Steffan Peter’s next Olympic horse! Always do better than expected. Those who stick out as the best of the best are the ones who are given more responsibility (read: the FUN stuff).
7. Be patient. Becoming a top trainer does not happen overnight. Be prepared to do the grunt work for a long time. You aren’t going to be riding the nicest horses in the barn by week or even month 2. Heck, even after you are a “trainer” you will still have to clean stalls sweep aisles.
8. Take advantage of EVERY opportunity. That little stinky, grumpy-ass pony? Ride it if given the chance!! Great riders aren’t made on the backs of easy horses. EVERY horse will teach you something. Sit on EVERY. SINGLE. HORSE. you can get your butt on. Watch your trainer ride and give lessons, you will pick up a lot observing from the corner of the arena.
9. Pay attention to detail. If you are asked to groom a horse, groom him till he SHINES! Prepare that horse like he’s going to a show, even if he’s just going to be lunged. Be thorough; check over every inch of his body from nose to tail to hoof. If you notice something out of the ordinary make sure you let the barn manager or trainer know. Notice a gate that needs attention? Say something. A water bucket is low? Fill it. A fly sheet has a strap hanging? Buckle it.
10. Be grateful. Very few trainers got where they were the easy way. We all started out shoveling poop and hauling hay. Don’t act like you are miserable, under-appreciated or above the hard work. We’ve all been there. It’s called paying your dues. Smile and keep sweeping.
 This is all just a reminder to myself that work is hard and to improve requires fighting for every increment. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Greys for Days and a bareback ride

After Fynn fell through I was feeling a little bummed about such a fun guy slipping through my fingers, but then I saw an ad for this guy:

And I thought well hey, he's not a thoroughbred, but he's cute. And it's a short drive. And I've got nothing else to do tonight... so I'll go check him out. 

Anyhow, he's super fun and has a bunch of totally random buttons (like his shoulder-in is better than Kat's? What?!) and so he's going to learn about dressage in a way where you actually have to take a contact and teach kids about riding.

First jumps! ;)
I read SprinklerBandit's post about multi-discipline riding and started writing this super gung-ho response about dedication and scheduling and finding the similarities in all the disciplines in order to improve the fundamentals... and then I had a brief flashback to about two hours ago. I was sitting on the mounting block with my Kindle, drinking coffee, watching Kat race my dog along the fenceline and toss some bucks in here and there. After about five minutes Kat decided she was all done and came over to play with me instead - she tried to knock me off the mounting block and then attempted to bite the Kindle. So I put my helmet on and climbed on her bareback. We trotted around for a while and I laughed about how bad our steering is with just a halter and lead rope. We trotted over the trot poles and then I decided against cantering because I didn't have any brakes.

And then I put her away.

With that in mind I opted not to write about dedication and planning re: multi-disciplinary riding hah-hah-hah.