Friday, January 22, 2016


I swear I think Tango is a handsome horse, but a recent round of attempted conformation shots has me questioning myself, my ability to photograph anything, and what a horse is even shaped like.

Tango moved to JM's barn in June for a dressage intensive tune-up, then he went up for sale for a while. And then time yawned interminably, and all of a sudden he'd been in training for five months and I needed to bring him home or start living in a cardboard box, so he returned back to my farm December 1st.

When he returned, I immediately noticed a few things. Nine months of riding Kat has made my confidence level skyrocket. Kat regularly moves in ways that can be very unsettling, she overjumps everything like a pogo-sticking leopard, and has more tricks up her sleeve than any horse has a right to. So even though Tango is approximately 15 feet long, I'm not nearly so hesitant about his "where are my feet" moments as I used to be. I used to pause, circle back, reattempt a little slower, whereas now I'm a lot more "haha whatever dude let's push on, this time actually with legs underneath us."

"Listen lady, trail rides are for quarter horses."

Tango has a lot of strength building still to do, and I think most of the 'issues' at this point aren't training issues but rather strength issues. He's a very strong horse in that he doesn't give up easily and will happily trot/canter forever. But when we're talking about the strength to carry himself nicely? Totally different.

I'm taking him to Twin Rivers for his first 3-day in about six weeks here. The dressage will be fine if I can get him calm and stretching enough before we go in the ring, I'm not remotely concerned about stadium, and it's totally fine if he takes a week off after the cross country.

I took him up to RDLA for some cross country schooling when I rented that truck, and he really was quite good. If I let him canter, he'll jump anything. I felt wild and a touch out of control, but the videos reveal less insanity than I felt. I'll take that as a good sign.

I'll also learn to shorten my stirrups when jumping him, because his back is just so springy over these fences. 

Meanwhile, E has been having some spectacular rides with him, the very-fun-to-teach lessons where I can shape the horse through my rider's hands and play with lots of exercises. Her goal is to show him some this year which I am in wholehearted approval of.

"What's happening, why am I on fire?!"
All in all,  he's doing very well. I'm fighting the old ottb battle of please put weight on, but he generally looks quite good.
"Okay people, this work thing is overrated."

Thursday, January 21, 2016

On charging fences

Kat has this tendency to take over the last three strides to a jump, and I have a tendency to let her. I spend a lot of time retraining horses - it's part of my profession. So I have this fear of refusals, as in, I will make it over this jump no matter what happens.

It turns out that this is not precisely the way good performance is built, or something.

Whaaaatever ;)

Anyhow, we've been working on the effectiveness of our half-halts before fences as recommended by RB. If she takes over and ignores the half-halt, bring her to a full halt whether or not her nose touches the jump. (This makes me cringe because I really feel I'm training a horse to refuse.)

However, I've only had to really shut it down a few times and our jumping continues to improve. She is on a very light rein in the canter as long as she maintains the tempo I set, and leg/rein as necessary to regain the tempo. The tempo is to remain the same before and after fences. (I've taught this lesson, I swear I have...)

The result is that I'm consistently picking our distances rather than Kat choosing. I'm learning from the photos that I ask for her to stand off the fence quite a lot. I also need to improve my release a bit, I'm entirely unhappy with the waffle-y nature it seems to have in the above photos.

Always more to learn, right?

Except for Kat. She has nothing to learn. She's perfect, I mean, look at her!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Scratches are the Devil

Literally the devil.

I got a call from one of the ranch hands this morning saying that Diva was refusing to eat breakfast and also refusing to move.

I had never seen a horse react so badly overnight to scratches blowing up, so we called the vet in just to be sure... she got a penicillin injection, her legs shaved, put on bute and SMZs, and lots of various management instructions.

Fingers crossed she's feeling better soon, poor baby.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

When The Internet Wins

Sometimes it's just a losing battle between the random things I can discover on the internet and legitimate projects.

Tonight I lost the battle of working on a very large editing project to pedigree research! This is okay because Denny Emerson condones it... right?

Come on, somebody back me up!

Pass The Glow (aka Tango)

Katarina BSH (aka Kat)

Invest in my Blues (aka Diva)

Zaccheaus (aka Jr)

Interesting things I learned from examining these pedigrees. First: both Diva and Kat have Gold Digger in their bloodlines:

Second: both Tango and Diva have Northern Dancer in their lines:

Third: both Tango and Kat have Raise a Native:

And lastly....


Navarone, KWPN Stallion

I am very much in love with Jr's sire! How absolutely gorgeous! Be right back, gotta put some years of training on Jr and see what he's capable of...

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Bill Walsh and Attention to Detail

Stewardship: (noun) the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one's care

Bill Walsh, head coach of the 49ers football team. Not exactly the author of a book you'd expect to see me curled up with, but I've been learning so much from it. 

He writes extensively about paying keen attention to details, that pride in one's effort is more important than pride in the results (minding that the effort is intelligently placed), and much more. 

Today I'm going to write about his Standards of Performance. 

Attention to details encourages respect, pride, and stewardship. Having clean horses and tack, riding with a correct basic balanced position, possessing a baseline of fitness and flexibility... these things form the foundation of a 'pretty picture' or a harmonious relationship. (As an aside, I believe that George Morris and Bill Walsh could have a lively conversation about the commonality between their leadership techniques.)

Clean horses and tack: Not only is a clean horse more attractive, but a clean horse is more well-known to the person who groomed him. You can more easily identify when a horse is sore, you can catch fungus or scurf before it gets out of hand, you can know the places your horse loves to be touched and the places he is more sensitive. A thinking rider can easily carry this knowledge to under-saddle work. Clean tack is also well-known tack - this is a basic safety check that takes very little knowledge to implement. 

Riding with a basic balanced position: It takes a great deal of skill to climb the levels of dressage or of jumping, but essentially no skill is required to check in with a basic position. Is my stirrup on the correct place of my foot? Are my reins even? Am I sitting up? Am I looking up and not at my horse? These are elements of a correct position that anyone can master with persistence. 

Possessing a baseline of fitness and flexibility: Related to keeping a clean horse, maintaining a baseline of fitness allows you as a rider to know your own strengths and weaknesses. It allows you to learn more quickly as your body is more accustomed to being shaped. 

I believe it's consistent execution of these basics that leads to performance. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Trust and b.r.a.v.i.n.g pt 2

I posted the element pieces that I've been meditating on yesterday because I needed to think further before writing this second piece.

A big part of trust is self-knowledge and self-trust, I think. As I progressively become a better trainer through the experience I gain, the books I read, the lessons I take, and as time passes - I notice that my horses have come to trust me more. I have become more consistent. I put more faith in the passing of time and the healing power of consistent work for horses. I less often hope for miracles.

I've also been thinking about trust as it relates to the relationship between me and my clients. My clients have to trust that I am both progressing their children adequately and allowing the children time to grow. They trust that I am giving their kids the correct tools and experiences to become better riders.

The riders themselves come to trust that, while sometimes I get quite loud and push for a change to occur, I will not push them beyond what they are capable of. The riders come to trust that I want them to be the best riders that they can be, that I match them with certain horses for a reason, and so on.

Tango is literally crushing me in this selfie 
I admit - sometimes I fail in this. Sometimes, when a kid says, "Harley won't..." or "andy just..." or otherwise blames the horses, I get frustrated. I don't always explain what I want clearly enough. Sometimes I expect understanding when I've explained something once, rather than appreciating and having the patience to see that I need to explain things many times, and allow them to be practiced and absorbed over time. 

And this is where the self-trust comes in. I've learned about myself, over time, that I take accountability for when I fail. I go back and explain things again, I put forward new exercises, I change horses. This is something that I had to learn.

When you do not trust a horse, you cannot make the generous assumptions that are of paramount importance to training him. When you do not trust your horse not only do you create mental tension, but this translates to a tremendous amount of physical tension that cannot allow your horse to perform well, etc, etc.

What it all comes to, I guess, is this: have you ever struggled with trust in your relationship with your horse, your trainer, or your riding friends? Would having the language to discuss it have helped you solve the problem? What solved your problem in this case?

Monday, January 11, 2016

Trust and b.r.a.v.i.n.g.

Brene Brown writes about breaking the elements of trust down so that we have better language around it - instead of saying, "I don't trust you." and ending the conversation there, we should have the ability to discuss the elements of trust. And she proposes the elements thusly:

Boundaries - the ability to set clear boundaries and enforce them
Reliability - that you do what you say you're going to do
Accountability - that you take ownership for your behavior
Vault - the ability to not share experiences when they aren't yours to share
Integrity - that your actions match your words
Non-judgement - being able to ask for what you need without feeling lessened by asking for help
Generosity - being able to make generous assumptions

A lifetime of between the ears shots because I love them
This makes me think about how many moving pieces we have to trust when we're in the arena. We have to trust our horse. Obviously, certain pieces of trust between people don't apply to horses. (Does he respect the boundaries I set for him? Does he respond in a reliable manner, even if it's less than ideal? When he misbehaves, can I extend him a generous assumption; was there something spooky, or do I jump to calling him an a**?)

We have to trust our trainer. (Are the goals clear and the path toward the goal explained? Is the trainer reliable? When there's a miscommunication, can the trainer own their responsibility? Is there a 'vault', can you trust the trainer to keep your stories your own? Does the trainer ride like she teaches? Does the trainer respond empathetically to requests for help or does she get impatient and judgemental? Does the trainer remain generous in her assumptions as you struggle forward?)

We have to trust our riding partners.

My best friend riding Chente!

And our horses have to trust us. 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Many Lessons: One Post

I took four lessons the week of 12/14, two with JM, one with a jumping trainer (RB), and one with a flat trainer (NC).

First, the JM lessons: JM just got back from a week with her trainer, and it had totally given her some new insight, a bit of invigorated focus, and a pile of new exercises. We worked on about ten million 10-meter circles and changes of direction at the trot, keeping him supple and quiet through my aids, not letting him fall side to side with his hindquarters, etc. Really great lessons, but difficult to recap in any form of briefness. (As an aside, that was the last week I'll be riding that horse with regularity - I'm going to miss all my intense dressage lessoning!)

Then, Tuesday, I rode with NC. She wanted to see Kat move around the round pen untacked. So I brushed and booted her up and we headed to the round pen when NC arrived. Kat was a pill. She was hella spooky on the walk down to the arena and once in the round pen started doing this super fun thing where she crazy trots halfway around, slides to a stop, rears to spin, and then crazy trots halfway around. Wash and repeat. Eventually she gave up and started weaving like a maniac at the gate.

Great impression, mare.

Obviously not the mare but it is a VERY dirty Tango who somehow still manages to look handsome
NC suggests that we focus on spending some time in the round-pen, rewarding her only when she settles the f*** down. Ignore, ignore, ignore, but the moment she settles down give her lots of scratches and love. NC thinks that Kat has little confidence in herself, but that allowing her to feel rewarded for demonstrating confidence would be a good thing. 

Not as dirty as Tango, but a good look at her muscling/weight. I think she looks good.
Then I tacked her up (where she dragged me all over the barn while bridling her. Uggghhh horses why) and I got a little bit of a talking to about ground manners. On the lunge line Kat was a perfect lady, and once I mounted up she was pretty well behaved. Of note under saddle:
  • ask for a more forward walk
  • practice trot/walk transitions more from my breath and seat
  • trot around without much rein contact and let her figure herself out
  • practice half-halting with my seat in the canter and stop laughing at her when she bucks

This video also includes footage from the jumping lesson, which I will recap below.

This was hands down one of the best jumping lessons I've ever had. We didn't even jump all that much, just a sort of figure eight with  a centerline (I wasn't going to share my sad attempt at a diagram but then looking at it again made me laugh so what the heck)

but we really dug in to what it means to really ride the canter and approach fences in softness and balance. Basically if she starts taking over in the few strides before the fence, I ride a complete halt. Even if her nose ends up pressed against the fence. Because no matter how big the jump, there is no reason for her to ignore a half-halt. Unless, and this was important for me to remember, I forgot to really let go of her after a half-halt. The moment my aids became unreliable or I held her down too much, we reverted immediately back to leaning on one another and charging the jumps. But if I rode with the expectation of complete lightness, that's the horse I rode.

It was amazing.


She felt so good. It's an impossible thing to adequately explain, but believe me when I say that I'm not sure I've ever had more fun just cantering around over 2' fences.

Anyhow, it was a good week for lessons.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

And sometimes you get overwhelmed

I haven't written a coherent post for this blog in nearly a month... and now I'm like, where do I start with all the crap I have to write about?!

So I'll break it down into smaller chunks, as we blogggers are wont to do.

Tango finally came home from training which is several posts in and of itself because I have many thoughts and don't know how to parse them out correctly

I bought a new saddle for Kat and am already questioning the fit (facepalm)

A client bought a new horse and I love him but he's slightly gaited and therefore an interesting challenge

Gigi has learned how to trot/canter under a rider

Christmas occurred 

My best friend flew in from Michigan and we jumped in the ocean Christmas day

I rented a truck for a week

And took many adventures which I will write about soon, but CHECK OUT MY BRAVE MARE not even spooking at people or dogs or the waves or the motorcycles hanging out way far below us