Thursday, February 27, 2014

Touch the Wall

You know how when you try to stand on one leg, if you just put one finger on the wall, you can stabilize yourself?

That's how the outside rein connection is supposed to work. The horse needs the outside rein to balance herself, but that means it has to be steady, like a wall, without being forceful. Walls shouldn't push back most of hte time. And the rider touches the wall, too. Outside rein contact is for both of you. You don't want to reach a finger to the wall and have the wall punch either of you in the face.

This is the wisdom I got from D today. She's helping me a lot by harping on my position but she also comes up with some really good theory.

Lex was positively explosive this afternoon. She cantered around and around on the lunge line before I could get her to trot, and then when D carried the mounting block to the middle of the ring, Lex FREAKED. OUT. She'd gallop away from it over and over again and wrenched my back pretty well at one point. So while I kept her moving and tried to get her to focus on me instead of the mounting block -- which see has seen ten million times before -- Denise scattered all kinds of jump blocks and poles all around the ring and then told me to get on. Lovely, heh.

I mean, I don't blame Lex. It was 15 degrees in the indoor, which is too cold to ride, I think. I couldn't feel my fingers or my toes, and I was wearing two pairs of gloves, heavy wool socks, and my Ice Riders. Lex hadn't been turned out because the winds were 25mph and it was icy and the barn owner made the safe call, which I appreciate. And because I was freezing, I wasn't at my most relaxed.

I miss Florida so much.

Anyway, this lesson was really great because it gave me a chance to ride Lex at her silliest with someone on the ground to remind me to keep her softly forward in front of the leg. When Lex got sucked up behind the leg, I felt like she was gonna explode, so I'd put my leg on her and ask her to step out and she'd relax. We worked a little bit on lateral work today, but it was hard because I just didn't have a lot of Lex's attention.

In spite of the challenges today, we did have some very nice trot work, and our canter work was much better than last week. We started to the right and then went across the diagonal to do a simple change to the left. She got the left lead on the first go-round, and while she's still much speedier to the left, it didn't feel as hell bent for leather as last time. Yay, Lexi!

So all in all, I was happy with how it went, even if my brain was frozen. I need to try to get on some horses who are further along than she is so I can work on some things, but that can wait until it's a bit warmer. D loves Lex and thinks we go together well, which is really good to hear.

Random question: Do any of you feel like all the winter clothes get in the way of your riding? I swear I feel different than I do when it's just breeches, boots, and a polo shirt. I'm not trying to make any excuses for anything, I just feel weird in the saddle and I think that's why.

Anyway, next time I ride, I'm going to be thinking about the wall. We touched it today, from time to time, so we're getting there.
Tracy took this!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Softly Forward in Front of the Leg

Not only did I have a great lesson with D on Sunday, but the excellent Tracy came to hang out, take pictures, and video. I am SO grateful and excited to have some evidence that I actually ride my horse. I also hope we can look back at this in a couple months and feel as though Lex and I have made progress.

Fancy trot!
We started the lesson lunging Lex, just like last time. This time, though, D set up a cross rail for her to trot and then canter over. Lex was pretty good about it, and when she jumped it well, she jumped it really well. That said: she made some baby mistakes. It's all good. She's high strung and doesn't like to mess up, but eventually we got her trotting it nicely and landing on the correct lead. I feel I can calm her down so much better from in the tack than I can on the lunge line, but it's a work in progress for both of us. I expect at our next lesson -- Thursday -- I'll get to jump a little from the saddle. Fingers crossed! I think she's ready.

Lex being BTV; me leaning too far forward.

Then I got on and we spent awhile working on getting Lex to balance on the outside rein and not be so behind the bit. We want her a little ahead of the vertical: she's green, and she's not a dressage horse. If you watch the jumpers, they're not usually perfectly on the vertical at all times. It's not always a desirable frame for that sport.

 D focuses more on my position issues than Chris does, and that's fine. Like him, she also recruits a lot of theory, and they discuss concepts in similar ways. She has me do some things he doesn't do (canter from the walk -- I need to ask her why she likes that exercise) but I think both of them identify the same basic strengths and weaknesses in me and Lex. I'm happy about that.
Much better on both counts!

The main take-home points from D were:

Blurry but illustrative!

1. Keep Lex softly forward in front of the leg at all times. No matter what she does (and at one point she got super spooky, though that's not on the tape), just ask myself how to get her softly in front of the leg. Not only will that put her body where it should be, but her brain will get to work, too.

Lookin cute but I'd like to see her stretch for contact more.

2. Lex is a soft-mouthed horse. She doesn't resist the bend at all. She does, however, curl behind the bit at the drop of a hat. Thus, ride her with very little inside rein, especially once she understands what the outside rein is for.

That is one hideous lower leg but at least she's not BTV!

3. I've fallen back into my old nasty habit of letting my leg slip back. I had this pretty well licked over the summer and fall, so I'm sure I can fix it again. But riding once every couple of weeks (winter is hell, how do you people do this) and only one horse means that I've lost some fitness and some of the position qualities I'd achieved before I came here. There's a nice moment on the tape where D has Tracy walk right up to my leg with the camera so she could talk about proper lower limb position.

I don't look like I've never ridden before and
she looks relaxed. WINNING.

4. Along these same lines, I'm revisiting my former issue of leaning forward a bit too much. I have had this problem forever. I remember my first riding instructor (Kate Gress, for all y'all Hoosiers) telling me to sit up more. This is another thing I fixed pretty well over the summer and am having to struggle with again now. I'll get it. I can feel the difference when it's right.

There's a fancy horse in there somewhere.

5. She's now more balanced to the right than the left and we're struggling with not just getting the left lead canter, but not going splat against the walls when we do get it. The right lead is pretty sweet, though.

Oooookay, here's the video. I wasn't sure if I should put in a bunch of short videos or one long one. I went with this because I didn't want to upload a million short films to YouTube, but I will if that's what y'all prefer. I live to serve.

Thanks again, Tracy!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Supermodel of the World

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Lex has a high opinion of her looks. Watch out, Tyra Banks.

With good reason, if I may say so.

She likes to pose, and she loves to be admired.
It's hard to believe she was thisclose to slaughter, huh?
So when my rad barn owner said she was going to be hosting someone to do a braiding clinic for the Pony Club kids, I figured Lex would enjoy being the center of attention and beautification, and offered her up as the model. Plus her mane is in decent shape, which isn't true of anyone else on the place at the moment (the benefit of having only one horse to care for, not 20ish).

Lex has never had her mane braided before, but I expect she will in the future. Even though I'm planning to show her in the jumpers, she'll show in the hunters for awhile until she learns the ropes. And sometimes, jumpers braid, too -- for money classes especially. So I thought it would be good to see how she handled the process, and if she was the model horse I thought it would be less weird if I eavesdropped on the clinic. I am not a braider. I hate it. But I should probably brush off what little skill I had if I want to save money at shows in the future.

Before I get to the pictures, here are my general thoughts about braiding:
1. Practice a million times at home. If it isn't done well, it looks worse than no braiding at all.
2. Put the rubber bands down. Put. Them. Down. Go get the yarn.
3. If you are showing in dressage or hunters: do it. Even at backyard shows. It shows respect to the judge. I'm southern and I believe in symbolic forms of respect. Call me a formalist if you'd like. I can live with it. I also wear a jacket no matter what the weather in hunter classes, and I live in Florida.
4. If you're showing in a jumper class, you get a pass on braiding, but for the love of mice make sure your horse's mane is neatly pulled, trained to the right side of the neck, and that your turnout is tidy and your saddle pad is white. If you're in a classic, of course, time to haul out the jacket and call the braider.
5. I think the only kinds of braids worth doing are hunter braids. There. I said it.

If Lex was watching me write this, she'd tell me to hurry up and get to the part with her in it.

She was really very good through the whole process. In the very beginning, there was a little skepticism, but the crowd of adorable Pony Club kids and lots of snuggles from me chilled her right out. Before long, we had the floppy-eared chill girl you see before you. I really liked the braider lady a lot -- she was kind to Lex and understood that she'd never had this done before. And she was good at explaining what she was doing. I'm not sure I can replicate it exactly, but now when I have some kind of reference in front of me, I'll at least have seen it done recently. I had to hold her so I couldn't get pics of each step of the process. Braider Lady put in about six hunter braids and then moved on to other styles. I'm dying to see what Lex looks like with a whole neck of hunter braids. I'll have to practice for the walk-trot hunters we'll be doing this spring! Ha!

Next, she showed us how she does jumper braids. It's essentially the same as hunter braids, but more than twice as thick and she starts the yarn at the beginning, not halfway down, as she does with the hunter braids. She said she hates jumper braids. I do, too. They look less refined. These are also the kinds of braids typically used in dressage. I don't do dressage so I'm not sure why they're the convention there. In the jumper ring, unless they're really perfectly done, these often look like, "I'm not getting judged on my braids and I'm riding in a money class so screw it, big fat braids it is." I'm willing to admit that I might eat my words someday if I have to braid my own horse and run out of time or my horse is being a maniac about braiding, but I just don't like the way these look.

I mean, check these lovely braids out for comparison:

The difference is stark.
Side by side on her neck.

BUT, you do what you want. Seriously. I won't judge you for whatever your braiding style of choice, and even though I can find few things to get excited about in the hunter ring, I love hunter braids. Love.

Then the genius braider lady did her tail. I freaking love a braided tail. I dislike pinwheels - they seem distracting, and if the horse bumps her tail on something it can knock the whole thing off-kilter. Braider Lady, happily, agreed with me on that point also.

I've never quite mastered tails, but she gave us a lot of tips: don't bring in too much hair at once, don't pull the end up too far, be sure to maintain a straight line. 

She told me that the reason Lex's tail is so thin is because she has a tiny little dock and this is just all the tail she's going to grow. BUMMER. She seemed disgusted by the idea of tail extensions, especially weighted ones (agreed on the weighted ones, but sometimes tail extensions have to happen at the A shows, I guess. Beats drugs as the thing everyone's doing these days).

Do I look cuter now?
Lex stood really nicely on the cross ties for more than an hour. My baby girl is growing up. I tacked her up to ride and she was good for that, too. Even though I didn't get to lunge her because there were three other horses in the ring already. Two were being ridden by walk/trot kids who couldn't steer, and the other was a very nice TB gelding whose rider just got him on lease last week. Lex was a little fresh at first (the braider lady stood around to watch the kids for a bit and commented that she was better on the cross ties than under saddle, heh). But she settled in and we did the best we could considering one of the kids just randomly yanked her pony around the ring with no regard for where anyone else was or her pony's mouth. Annoying, but that's what warmup rings are like, too. Tomorrow we have another ride with D, and I'm excited about it. The excellent Tracy is going to come tape it for me! YAY!

Friday, February 21, 2014


Sprinkler Bandit had a good post today about lunging and how seeing Courage move on the line is helping her see why lunging is helpful. As I've said before, I don't enjoy lunging. I just wanna get on and go. But I can see that it's helping Lex a lot, too.

The pattern this week has been: the lunging starts out a little hairy as I have to convince Lex not to cut off half the circle or fall in. I try to help her regulate her rhythm by talking to her or occasionally giving her little half halts on the line. First she stops cutting in, then she regulates her stride, then she starts licking, and then she stretches way down, as she likes to do. Then we do some walk-trot transitions. She's getting a lot better at this - she used to think that any request to slow down meant stop, but now she'll go from trot to walk on the lunge and not try to halt. We're still working on keeping the same circle at the walk that we had at the trot, but Rome wasn't built in a day. Then, direction change, and it's about starting over, although it doesn't always take as long for her to settle down.

Here's the weird thing: she's forgotten the halt signal. I used to be able to just stop walking and kind of look at her hind quarters and she'd halt, but now it doesn't matter what I do, she just keeps walking. I have to reel her in to get her to halt. Not ideal, but it's an honest mistake on her part. She's trying to figure this out.

I don't like lunging as a way to get the bucks out. I don't like tired horses. But it's really helping her improve her balance. She used to be a different horse to the right -- stiffer, not nearly as comfortable. Now, the difference is hardly noticeable. She's learning and getting stronger.

After the lunging sesh, I hop on and walk for awhile. She's already warmed up, but I do a lot of work on changing the bend, circles of various sizes, moving off my leg. Then, finally, trotting. I try to remember to give her breaks, but her trot is getting so fun that I could keep going forever. She's finally starting to get a little better about contact. It isn't perfect yet, but several times this week she's been in a genuine frame. We've been working on spiral circles, which I love for getting a horse supple laterally. She didn't have the balance for this exercise two months ago, so I'm very excited that she's made some progress despite this being The Worst Winter Ever.

Today I introduced a series of walk-trot transitions. She falls apart in downward transitions, so to get the longitudinal strength and suppleness, I like to do a transition every five strides. She did well with this exercise, but I didn't do it for long. She'd been in work for about an hour at that point, including lunging, and she really was good. Even when she starts out being a little silly on the lunge line, the rides this week have really been excellent. I'm so proud of her.

Tomorrow she's being used as a model in a braiding clinic and Sunday we're having a lesson, so hopefully cute pictures and good updates to follow!

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Ice Storm

The whole drive home from the barn today, all I could think about was the Ang Lee movie.

I am not cut out for winter weather, y'all.

I went out to the barn to ride with my barn owner, and I checked the hourly forecast a million times before I left. It wasn't supposed to start precipitating until 9pm. No problem, I'd be home by then. So I tacked Lex up and took her in the ring to lunge, and it started: the ice hitting the roof of the indoor. My ordinarily calm and confident girl turned into a nutcase, and I kept muttering "desensitization" to myself. It took me a long time to get her to calm down - I actually had to stop lunging her and hand-walk her for awhile, which typically soothes her. Then Barn Owner walked into the ring and told me that her boyfriend -- who works for the county and is primarily occupied with driving the salt trucks this time of year -- said the roads were getting really bad. Great.

I pulled the poor mare's tack off, stuffed a treat in her face, threw the blanket on, one more treat for good measure, and then I tossed my tack in the tack room and hightailed it out of there. I'm sure she was bewildered, but I hope the treats made up for it.

The whole drive home ordinarily takes me about 10 minutes, but it took closer to 30 today, and the whole way I was back and forth about whether I wanted to try to get to my house or just park in the Denison garage and walk home. It's only a ten minute walk, but in an ice storm, down two very steep hills, wearing all black and boots without a lot of tread on unlit roads... Still, this was less terrifying than the prospect of driving down the road I live on. If I skidded in either direction, I'd be off the road and down a hill into the woods. Not good. Denison is uphill from town, and that hill is very steep, but I made it up (barely) and parked my car. I made sure to have my phone in easy grabbing reach in case a car came and I had to turn on the flashlight so I could be seen, but because the roads were solid ice and no one else is crazy enough to try that balancing act either, I was fine. I've never felt such relief as when I got to my door. It's going to take a couple glasses of wine to let that go.

Since I don't have any pictures of the ridiculousness today, I'll have to show you the pictures my mom sent me from Rocket's 10 month birthday two days ago (hey, only two days late this time, but I think I skipped her 9th month). The vet came to give her some vaccines today, and sticked her at 14.1hh and said she weighs approximately 700lbs.

Let that sink in: My 10 month old is 14.1hh. She's already almost in a horse-size halter. We're gonna need a bigger trailer.

Serving FACE.

Hay belly realness.

Pro: her David Bowie mane lies on the correct side.

It's gonna be a pain in the ass to pull, though.

But at least she'll stand still for it?
Here's to riding tomorrow, I hope. We're supposed to have bad weather all night, but I'm thinking by the time I can get out of the office, the roads should be fine. Cross your fingers -- I need some saddle time! Gotta do our homework from the lesson!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

A Lesson!

First, apologies for not having pictures or videos from the lesson. I have no excuse. There were a million pony club kids running around and I'm sure I could have given one of them my phone, I just didn't think of it.

Anyway, my barn owner told me last night that her trainer was coming in to give lessons today, and did I want one? YES. OBVIOUSLY.

Even though I have barely ridden my horse in the last month. Even though she was a little bit of a psycho yesterday (no turnout, for reasons I don't understand; dogs running everywhere; a packed ring, including one horse that likes to kick the wall just to be a jerk; etc.). Even though I haven't cleaned my tack and my horse is a mess. Yes, obviously.

I got out to the barn a little early, figuring I could sacrifice my fingers to the cold and wipe my tack off, only to discover that my saddle soap was frozen and taking my gloves off for more than a few minutes made my fingers hurt. So I scrapped that plan, figuring I'd just apologize later. Then I went to grab Lex, and she was gross. I think the tail flaps on her blankets (she's been wearing two, both with tail flaps) kept her from lifting her tail enough when she peed, and she somehow managed to get pee all over her tail and back legs. DISGUSTING. So I froze my fingers off again to try to wipe her off, with limited success. So gross.

Anyway, when we finally got to the ring, the trainer (we shall call her D) wanted me to lunge her first since that's what I usually do. I'll be the first to admit that I hate lunging. I understand its use as a training tool and I'm not arguing with that at all. I just don't like holding a lunge line in my hand. I get dizzy quite easily. I just wanna ride, dammit. So Miss Lex has gotten a little spoiled, because I don't make her work that hard on the lunge line. If she seems to have her brain between her ears, and she pretty much always does, I call it quits pretty soon and hop on. D took over the lunging and really made Lex work for it. She threw a few temper fits but got over them and relaxed. The take-away point was that I need to not let her cause us to wander all over the place, and to keep her going forward when she wants to quit. Fair enough.

When I finally did get on, things went well. Lex doesn't really understand contact, and she's still learning about how to not bulge in or fall out on a circle. We spent the lesson on a 20m circle (most of the time was actually spent lunging, not riding), and talking about the various leg-to-rein aids. She quizzed me a lot, and I was happy to answer all of her questions correctly (what are the five natural aids, what are the two indirect inside rein aids, what are the footfalls of the canter - nothing too taxing). But this miraculous thing happened. Having someone standing on the ground and reminding me of the stuff I really should know and do already (I'm out of shape, gimme a break) was enough to get me... pushing the horse into the contact, leg to hand. And Lex didn't even get pissy about it! I carried my reins much shorter than I have been, and when I got that inside-leg-to-outside-rein thing right, she was there, in a frame. Even to the right, which is her bad side.

It's like magic: ride correctly, things happen the way they should. Who'da thunk it.

So now we have homework to do. We just need the weather to cooperate so we can do it!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Catching Up Again, Some More


Moving to a new place, adjusting to a new job, dealing with The Worst Winter Ever, some personal life stuff that's no good, etc. I can make a million excuses, but I'm sorry I haven't kept up with y'all. I've been reading but not commenting much lately. I think there's some seasonal affective disorder stuff going on here, combined with an unexpected loss and not much saddle time because it's been so damn cold.

Among the most fun things that's happened lately is getting to hang out with Tracy from Fly On Over. She wrote about our barn hop weekends and said some very kind things about Lex. Lex really enjoyed meeting her. Tracy is in the People Who Bring Carrots club, and to those people, Lex's loyalty is eternal. I also love getting to see Miles. We're both cranky old guys with good hearts once you get past the crusty exterior. We're also both easily bribed by food. We get along.

 Lex is loving life at her barn. She gets turned out with a sweet school mare named Katy and a mini named Fire. Fire and Katy share a large stall and they're very attached to each other, but apparently Lex has stolen him during turnout. This does not surprise me. Lex gets what she wants.

The snow has been just wretched, but even worse is the cold. Some days I don't ride her, I just turn her out in the indoor. Sometimes there's snow INSIDE.
INSIDE the indoor. Thanks, wind!

Any day it's going to get into the high 20s or over, though, I try to tack up, if the roads are safe (I live on a really terrifying road that doesn't get plowed often; if I can get out of my neighborhood, I'm fine). So I've ridden a handful of times since we got here. Each time, Lex has been really great. She's such a good girl. We're not making the kind of progress I'd hoped for, but that's just the reality of winter. I don't feel like I have to start over each time I get on her, and she's always happy to go to work. I'm so lucky to have such a cool horse.

Let's not forget Rocket! She's ten months old today and just insanely huge. She must have broken 14hh by now. My mom, who lives in Virginia and is thus dealing with Snowmageddon, sent me this video of her playing in the snow with her uncle Teddy. Cuties.

I will do my best to avoid radio silence, both here and on your blogs, I promise!