Monday, November 30, 2015

Welcome to Gigi

This pretty mare came in yesterday for training - I've got 4-6 months with her, maybe more if it's going well and the owner thinks it'll be beneficial to see how far she comes. She's a 10 year old Oldenburg mare who has never really been started, so it will be very interesting to see how she comes along. Right now she's very soft everywhere, a stark contrast to Kat who remains absurdly well-muscled

I treat the first backing as a desensitizing exercise like anything else and like to get that out of the way as soon as I can. Today we did some lunging, lots of "this is how we stop like a polite horse with manners," and I hopped on her to scratch her all over and give her pats.

We'll continue with ground manner bootcamp and start introducing a bridle some time this week, ending each session with me just sitting on her and patting her lots. I want my presence to be absolutely no big deal, whether I'm on the ground alongside her or on her back.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Did you know Avicii wrote a song about dressage?

I had a discussion with a client the other day about acquiring feel for things, and I explained that sometimes you just have to feel your way through the darkness for a while.

Feeling my way through the darkness
Guided by a beating heart
That awkward, trying to paste all the pieces back together, 'am I even doing this right?' darkness when you're trying new things with a trainer, trying to determine if you can actually feel what she saw when she said, "there! That was it!" and you sit there thinking that it felt the same. But you try again, feeling toward another 'there', guided by your trainer.

I can't tell where the journey will end
But I know where to start
 Riding is a lifelong journey, but waiting to get the training I need certainly doesn't get me closer to my goals.

They tell me I'm too young to understand
They say I'm caught up in a dream
Well life will pass me by if I don't open up my eyes
Well that's fine by me
 My whole life is riding, training, teaching. I read books about training, I mostly only talk about training, and I spend the bulk of my days in the saddle or teaching people about riding. I have a lot of family who thinks that this monomaniacal focus is going to burn me out, or that I'm missing something important in my life. My best friends are my horses, and learning to serve them better by being a more balanced, more informed rider certainly isn't missing life... not by my measurement.
So wake me up when it's all over
When I'm wiser and I'm older
All this time I was finding myself
And I didn't know I was lost
 As I've embarked on this training journey with JM and Matheo, it's only served to further open my eyes. I've been making incremental progress in my own riding for years, but JM is only serving to show me just how many holes there have been.

I tried carrying the weight of the world
But I only have two hands
I hope I get the chance to travel the world
But I don't have any plans
 Many of my proudest moments have been watching my students get out there and perform to the best of their ability. I'm excited to see how far these talented riders go in their riding career, but mostly I want their education with me to serve as a grounding point for more than just learning how to ride. Also how to set goals, how to lean into discomfort, how to think about problems from many different perspectives, how to lead and how to follow.
I wish that I could stay forever this young
Not afraid to close my eyes
 I'm blessed by so many things - I'm a very lucky woman.
Life's a game made for everyone
And love is the prize

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Introducing horses to bonnets

I generally like to think of myself as a careful trainer, thinking about things from the point of view of the horse, trying to explain new exercises to the horse as carefully as I can...

And then I do things like buy Kat a bonnet in Vegas because I think it would look cute, then putting it on her, waiting about 25 seconds to see how she feels about it, and going for a ride.

She hadn't been actually ridden in almost a week (ugh the failed show) but our walk work was okay... if TENSE. There's been a lot of construction/tractor work going on and Kat was absolutely convinced that the tractor was going to reappear at any moment and eat her alive. Bend through it baby, leg yield into your fear, and just pay attention to me. Ignore the phantom tractor.

The trot was pretty good. It was inconsistent because she was trying to convince me that she had to look at everything, so I'd bend a little and leg yield some and circle and figure - 8 until she came back to me and started reaching into the bit, and then she'd get all, "the muscles in my neck have suddenly melted, please carry my face." And that wasn't really working for me so we'd ride some transitions, then some lengthenings/shortenings, then just work on like your basic half-halt until all of this was relatively round, consistent in the contact, and steady.

So at that point I'm thinking, "great! Nearly a week off and Kat hasn't really tried to kill me yet! Let's canter."

I give her the aid and she offers a LOVELY transition, totally round and quiet AND STRAIGHT (crazyyy). And then... the bonnet flaps on her face. And Kat has a total. meltdown.

The conversation looked like this:

"Kate. Something is hitting me. Let me show you." She proceeds to put her ears very close to my face while cantering (flailing?) in place.

"Uh, it's been there the whole ride. Can you not put your face so close to mine?"

"Oh, right, sorry." She brings her nose down, opens up her stride a little so we're actually going somewhere, and then feels the flapping edge of the bonnet again. "OH MY GOD KATE IT'S BACK WHAT DO I DO? DO I BUCK? I THINK I BUCK."

"No! No! Please don't buck, that's not helpful."

"Just a baby buck?"

"No, not even a baby buck."

"Okay." Kat goes back to cantering along like a normal horse. "OH MY GOD KATE IT HIT ME AGAIN LET'S GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE." And she bolts down the long side, only to run into the dreaded puddle. "AND NOW MY FEET ARE WET."

 Long story short, we worked through it to the point where I got a quiet canter in both directions, both into and out of the canter, and we called it a day. I think I'll longe her in the bonnet a few times before riding her in it again. Jeez. Horses, amiright?

I'm going to have to do a Teach me Tuesday about "matching tack" someday...

Monday, November 16, 2015

Las Vegas Nationals

This is not the exciting news y'all were hoping for. Instead, this is a post about disappointment.

It was a mess.
  1. A tree fell on the shipper's trailer, caving the roof in
  2. The shipper was unable to find a suitable replacement trailer
  3. One of the horses I was supposed to compete pulled up lame
  4. A miscommunication with the office regarding the above transportation issues led to the office assuming we weren't coming at all and completely scratching all 4 horses.
  5. This left me with a rented truck, a week off, and a completely ready-to-compete horse with nowhere to go
The horses stayed home. E & I ventured to Vegas without the horses and collected some really fun stories that I will tell you tomorrow. For now, I'm going to heave a heavy sigh and look ahead to shows in 2016. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

A week of Kat's workouts

Monday: I just lunged Kat because when I was done lunging her I got a phone call from my mom and got very side tracked and ran out of time. Whoops.

Wild pony says, "what? This line isn't to show off my acrobatics?"

Happy rider after a super fun schooling session

Tuesday: Lunged before riding and man I'm glad we did - we had some really crazy pony moments! But the ride itself was a complete delight. I've been working on lengthening and shortening the canter off my seat and she was light, round, and sensitive to my aids. At the end of the session I popped over one fence and left it there because she took it like an old pro hunter - quiet, balanced, almost bored. Hopped off and lots of pets for the pony.

I saw this dog on Instagram (@lor_jagger_kiko) and instantly fell in love with looking up all the #headtilt photos. SO CUTE

Wednesday: We went for an adventure walk that involved a hardcore spook at Brio, prancing past the goats, and straight refusing to walk past the Nature Academy set-up in the woods. The hills were good, she stayed under control, and she broke a sweat. Winning!

Thursday: Off - farrier/vet visit. When the farrier saw Kat he asked, "has she grown?" Apparently her muscling has changed enough for him to make several comments about how good she looks!

Kat adamantly DID NOT WANT me to take a photo of her new sheet

Friday: After a warm up of walk-trot transitions, leg yields, and some counter canter, I rode through a 2-stride set at 2', then changed it to a 1-stride and started raising the rails. We finished at 3'6" with just two airy verticals off both leads and she felt unbelievable. She stayed completely turned in to my seat, connected over her back, quiet through the combination, and quiet after the fences. Totally a steady-eddy. I crossed my stirrups and ran through training test 2 and 3 while practicing my sitting trot (especially in the downward transition from trot to canter, ugh, so hard) and when I took her down to the barn she was barely sweating. Uhm. Horse. Please don't be so fit, it's frightening.

Lucy as a puppy was the CUTEST

Saturday: A flat school where after the warm up I crossed my stirrups and worked a lot on her connection through the transitions. With JM on Matheo I've been doing a LOT of work on turning the transitions into suppling and gymnasticizing exercises rather than just tests of obedience. It's way hard for me, but also very good. Kat likes to suck behind the leg in the halt/trot transition (or even walk/trot, honestly) so it was really good to focus on halting and bringing the hind legs further under her body and then stepping into the trot rather than lurching into it. Really good balance and I definitely felt sore (45 minute no-stirrup ride + a lesson with JM + 7 hours of teaching lessons in one day makes for a tired Kate). Super proud of my mare!

Sunday: This session was all about turning! And bending! And balance, and staying in front of the leg, and all the other pieces I'd been working on. We didn't work for very long, maybe 30 minutes. The only new thing that we hadn't done earlier in the week was a very shallow serpentine up the centerline at the canter. Mostly turning every two strides to get her really attuned to my seat for guiding her shoulders.

I also found this Pomeranian that looks like a fox on Instagram (@quincyfox) and I want to snuggle it

Stay tuned for Las Vegas updates this week - will do my best to keep you posted as to how the adventure is going! I can't wait - my horse has never felt better.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Kathy Kusner

I bought a copy of Hunter Seat Equitation for $1.00 at a local used book store and started flipping through it when I got home and was stopped by this photo of Kathy Kusner:

The focus between her and her horse is absolutely unbelievable. I love looking at this photo and spent a lot of time examining it for things I liked. Jesus, that horse though!

And then I got curious about this rider, and did some research.

Kathy Kusner was born March 21, 1940. Her mother was a teacher, and her father, a member of the air force. They had very little money so she worked as a groom for her riding time - in the 1950's, most grooms were black men at a time when segregation was still enforced. These men she worked alongside couldn't ride the horses in competitions, couldn't get food in diners, and more. This sparked a dislike for discrimination of any sort that has spanned her entire lifetime: she founded an organization called "Horses in the Hood" which sponsors riding lessons for inner city kids who couldn't otherwise afford to ride.

She rode anything that she was allowed or invited to ride, so she ended up riding for horse dealers, trainers, and for people who weren't as talented riders as her. She describes it somewhat casually, "eventually I was riding better horses until I was riding one of the best in the country."

She loved racing horses, and in 1968 successfully sued the Maryland Racing Commission to allow her to become the first female licensed jockey. After receiving her license she traveled the world and raced horses all over - she says, "it was like a freak show, I drew big crowds. That was really fun because I wasn't used to getting decent mounts. As I shouldn't be, as I shouldn't have been getting good mounts, because I wasn't as good as the other jockeys."

Mind you, 1968 was also the year she rode in Mexico at the Olympic Games, so it was a busy year for her. Trailblazing women's rights in horse racing and representing her country as a show jumper.  

Her three best horses were thoroughbreds and came to her with a reputation for being difficult.

She rode Untouchable in two Olympic games and says that he was the best horse she ever rode. Standing only 16.1hh, he had the flight and scope of the best thoroughbreds. But he was hot and temperamental, often jetting sideways before jumps and making it nearly impossible to ride for a planned distance.

When Alberi came to Kathy, he was an inconsistent stopper. By taking him all the way back to the beginning and re-starting him over fences, she was able to quit him of the habit and went on to ride to many championships with him.

I couldn't find the whole story on Unusual but did pull this great quote from the Maker's interviews with her:

"I was just riding for anybody, the most raggedy-rough horses.... So I did develop skills that a normal person riding well-schooled horses wouldn't have needed." She later laughs and says she's glad about growing up not in a privileged family because she was allowed to run free.

The thing to take away from Kusner's success (or at least what I'm going to take away from this) is that you have to develop a sense of what is and is not possible with each horse through lots of experimentation and tact. She developed that horse sense by riding for lots of difficult horses and playing with them, trying to bring out their best.