Thursday, April 30, 2015

Training Holes

On Monday (maybe someday I won't be DAYS behind in posting updates), I took Red over to M's for a dressage school. It was really fun because I also put my mom's gaited horse on the trailer and we took a lesson together! We haven't done that in awhile, although we used to all the time. It turned out to be more like two private lessons (she'd take a walk break and M would pick on me, and then vice versa).

Part of the point of the lesson was to get Red off the farm and not jump. A normal horse, you take everywhere and jump everything whenever you can. Red needs to go to all my friends' farms and jump nothing so he becomes more rideable. I'd rather he ask whether we're jumping that day than just start picking out jumps from the minute I swing my leg over.

He's been really, really lovely on the flat at home lately, where he is relaxed. But when we were at M's, I was struggling to just get him onto the contact. He wanted to periscope, change the tempo, drop behind my leg, etc. I, in turn, had to do 65 things at once to get to a respectable trot, which we'd lose pretty fast. I fully appreciate how much this is helping my riding, but I was also like, "Jesus, this horse must have been hard to steer around the high adults." On the other hand, I know who his trainer was and I'm not totally sure that guy cares at all about how broke the horse is as long as it can jump. That's not really how I do things, and Red is my horse now so we have to get this sorted out.

I don't think he's going to be an easy horse to ride correctly when he's at all wound up. That's all fine. But it's become pretty clear that his ability to hold a steady contact while also maintaining the tempo AND doing things like changing direction or gait is... well, kind of lacking. And those are holes I should be able to fill. It'll make him a more pleasant ride and more fun to jump, I think (and putting the jumps up will also make them more fun, because he'll get a bit backed off by them).

I do think he tried for me, and was a bit mentally drained by the end of the lesson. I need six more lessons like that, I think, before he and I really have the concepts we were working on today. And it occurred to me how similar what I'm asking of him is to what I'm asking of Mo: steady contact, letting me pick the tempo. But it's easier on Mo, because I started him from scratch and he is thus being brought along the way I like horses to go. And because he's Mo, the world's cutest ever. But Red was brought up by people who have very different ideas than I do about what is useful in a horse, and so I'm having to go back and fix things. That's harder, man. Especially when the horse is 17 and really just wants to show off his jumping skills.

I'm so lucky to have Red. He's a fabulous horse with a lot to teach me, and I hope that we get to do a lot of fun things together.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

My Latest Tack Ho Moment

Sooooo I've been holding out on one thing over here. Not the fact that I am a tack ho--that should be clear enough by now--but the most recent acquisition(s), which I'm actually pretty excited about.

As you may know, I've been riding with an event trainer for almost a year now. I haven't actually done any eventing at all in that time, but that's mostly because I had to retire Lexi and then I bought a totally unbroke baby horse AND a nearly-starved show jumper, and then winter happened. Mo is now actually entered at his first horse trials (Loch Moy on May 24, for anyone local). I hesitate to call it "eventing" because it's intro level, which means a walk/trot dressage test and tripping hazards in place of jumps, but whatever. There is technically a cross-country phase, so that means the horse has to jump out in the open.

It also means he has to go in a dressage ring. Last summer I rode M's amazing and wicked PSG horse and learned A TON from him. And one of the things I learned is that I don't, actually, totally hate dressage. And that I might be sorta good at it if I decide I want to pursue it. Also, I have two horses who have some potential in the dressage ring. And I'm riding with a USDF silver medalist. So, no time like the present to...

This was like the happiest day of my life, ha.

Pull the trigger on the dressage saddle I've always wanted and didn't know existed. And a Total Saddle Fit dressage girth (which came with a free hat!) because it's hard to find brown dressage girths and why not go with the best?

Anyway, the saddle is a Karl Neidersuss, which is what M uses also, so I've ridden in hers dozens of times and it's like sitting in my favorite lounge chair. I just love it. And I had no idea they made them in brown until I was idly searching for a KN, and there it was. For about $200 less than the market value. CRAZY. I'd sat M's up on Mo before but never ridden him in it, and honestly, the thing fits everything. So I pulled the trigger. And guess what?

Fits the bay one.

Fits the red one.

I know there's more to saddle fit than that, but it really does work well on both of them.

He'd look cute in a burlap sack.
So I'm well pleased, and have been using it for all of my flat rides. It's been great for my position, and also, it'll help extend the life of the Antares, which was old when I got it.

I still can't believe my incredible luck. The tack ho gods were smiling on me for sure.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Growing Pains

So after Mo's glorious debut in the show ring (heh), I was interested to see whether he'd act more like a grown up or if he'd be tense, especially given that our last jump school at home wasn't easy for him.

He made it pretty clear in our first ride: still a bit tense.

I mean, he didn't put a foot wrong. But he also didn't want to give to the bridle or move off the leg or anything. I think he was worried about what the new rules are in first grade, and that's totally normal. But the answer isn't to go back to kindergarten. He aced kindergarten, and it's time to move on. But like a lot of A students, he struggles when the expectations get harder and he doesn't meet them with 100% accuracy. So instead of saying, "Oh sorry sweetie, we can just trot crossrails for the rest of our lives," I need to be sure he knows that it's okay with me if he makes mistakes, and that it's my job to make EVERYTHING as clear as possible at all times.

So we had a lesson with M on Thursday that was supposed to be a jump school, but he'd really had it with the two of us and our ideas about how he should put his head down and trot in a circle. That would just not do, in his mind. So instead of jumping, we worked on getting him to give to the half-halt.

This involved several steps: 1. I had to be in charge of the tempo, because the first thing he'd do to avoid me was rush; 2. I had to not let go or take my leg off when he whined and complained and threw himself a pity party for having the meanest mommy in the whole wide world; 3. I had to go very soft the very moment he gave.

Sound familiar? It should, because we've had this lesson before. But This time his evasion wasn't a lack of understanding, it was a lack of desire. That's all right, though, because he did eventually figure out that life is more pleasant when he gets deeper and rounder in response to the half halt instead of flinging his head in my face (I miss you, standing martingale) and running sideways or whatever. When he figured out that wasn't going to go away, and that the reward for doing it right was a soft rider and lots of praise, he was good. And when he was good, we let him trot over something. I loved that, because the jumps became a reward instead of the focus of the lesson, and I think that's very good for him.

Once we got him to be reasonable about coming back through transitions and changes of direction, he got to quit, but he was quite lathered up and so was I. It was good for my riding, though--M would tell me that I had three strides to get him back, and while I never really accomplished that, it did kind of light a fire under my tail to get him round again instead of trying to just ride out the baby antics.

Here's how I know it was a successful lesson: in my two subsequent rides, he has OFFERED the deep/round frame immediately, and while he might kinda lose it if something catches his eye or he feels off-balance, he comes right back again. I haven't needed three strides to get him back at all. And furthermore, he seems quite pleased with himself that he is now getting to be an A student in first grade also. We haven't brought jumps back in, although we will this week. I did, however, trot him over some poles on Saturday and he managed to be quite the little gentleman about it even though the deer were having a party and his favorite pony was being ridden at the same time. The canter work still needs some major tuning-up, but that'll come.

So yay for Mo. My only regret is that no one was around to document the temper fits because it was probably really hilarious to watch him roll his eyes at me. The fact that he got through all of that in one ride is a real testament to his brain, I think.

I'm so happy it's spring and I get to actually get things done with my horses again. Yay.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Be the Professional

 Sorry this recap took me so long to get to, but I think it kind of worked out because now I have SHOW PICTURES!!!

Yes, I brought professional pictures from a show in which I trotted 2' jumps. But it was his first show, and he was a freaking genius, and if you didn't have these you'd only have two lousy cell phone pics from me. Plus I have rarely seen my horse jump so I need to tuck these under my pillow for a rainy day.

Everything started out fine--I got him off the trailer and just hand-walked him around to see what kind of mood he was in. He was very chill. He munched on grass, enjoyed seeing the sights, and received several compliments and questions on his breeding (I don't get why people are surprised to hear he's a thoroughbred. He looks like SUCH the classic thoroughbred to me. Maybe it's because he's a fatty). 

Not from the show, but shows off the belly.
So I had decided not to lunge, because the only place to do so was on the side of a hill. I had him all tacked up and was listening to M give me my coaching for the day ("I need you to be the professional. You have done this a million times on a million horses and this is no different") before she scooted off to help the kids, when something spooked him. I heard it too, and before I knew it I was holding onto a flying kite. He reared, bucked, and spun, and then stopped like "WHEW." M quietly handed me my lunging gear and was like "have fun with that!"

I lunged him for a little while, but he didn't do anything. I hand walked him around and then M indicated that I needed to get on in the empty schooling ring (everyone else was warming up in the show ring). I was so relieved that we were in there alone because he wasn't being a perfect gentleman. Nothing too outrageous, and he was actually fine at the walk. But once we started trotting, he wanted to spin out. Cue eight million w/t transitions. Most horses I've ridden are easier to chill out at the trot and might jig or prance around at the walk, but not Mosey. You can walk him on a long rein under most conditions. I find this refreshing, if it's causing me to rethink my warm-up strategies. 

The stars aligned to have only a couple other people in the ring near the end of the open schooling session, so even though I did not have a perfectly relaxed thoroughbred, I took the opportunity to go in and jump everything in the ring. It was a little tense, but Mo jumps what is put in front of him, and the histrionics were minimal. At that point, I knew we'd be able to enter the puddle jumpers and get around, even if it didn't look polished and perfect. We even gave a recalcitrant pony a lead through the two-stride, which a lot of horses stood around in front of instead of jumping because it was next to the judge's stand. Mo don't care 'bout no judges' stand.

Not long after we left the schooling area, the judge was ready to begin. Folks were standing around, no one wanted to start the day. You know what I LOVE doing? Starting the day. So we trotted in and got to work. My plan was to trot everything, but if he had a jump in his sites and was in a reasonable canter, not to mess with him to get the trot. The jumps were small, so he could have walked over them if he'd needed to. Fortunately, the trot/maybe canter worked out just fine and we jumped around the first course clear. A little bit of discussion about steering and pace here and there, but nothing anyone would worry about for a horse like him his first time in the show ring.

I can't stop admiring his neck,
which is the thing I didn't like about him when I bought him.

The second round was power and speed, which I think is the kind of thing he'll like when he's more broke. The course was actually going better than the first one until we pulled the last jump in the power phase. Bummer. It was my fault, kinda--it was a skinny (they have skinnies in puddle jumpers? There was also a liverpool and the above mentioned two-stride). Just like when we schooled them at home the other day, I had to keep him a little under the pace to get him over the middle of it, and he just slid a hoof over it. No big deal. The judge, being kind, didn't whistle us out of the ring until we'd jumped the next one, because pulling up a green horse who has his eye on a jump and is making a genuine effort at it really sucks. And it was a schooling show, so schooling was allowed.

So he'll clearly be fine in the 3', ha!
The third class went great too. He kept relaxing earlier and earlier in the course. I think he really enjoyed himself, too. He got lots of pats and verbal praise from me--who cares if the railbirds laugh at me?--and seemed to get very confident. He definitely graduated to first grade.

I was very proud of his behavior between classes as well. He stood around, relaxed and happy, and LOVED the kisses and pats from the pony club kids. He searched a good many pockets for cookies and found more than one, I'm sure. I'd just hop on him about two rides out, walk a couple circles, and go back in for the next round. This might not be the strategy we carry through his whole career, ha, but at this show it worked out. Riding him back and forth between the now-crowded schooling ring and the show ring was probably going to wind him up. He didn't need to go jump between classes or school at all, he just needed to chillax, and that is what he did.

I thought he was really a superstar and I could not have been more proud of him. He seemed quite pleased with himself, too.

I am Mo, conquerer of puddle jumpers!
And as you well know by now, I'm not going to be concerned with winning the puddle jumpers . Which is good, because we didn't win, but he did manage to pin in every class. Go Mo go!

I mean, I LIKE satin when I get it!

I'm just thrilled to death with him and feeling a lot more confident in getting around whatever we go to this year. Now we just have to get that pesky canter depart done!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Green Horse Days

Ah, baby horses. One day you're all "THIS ONE IS THE SECOND COMING OF CORTES C" and the next day you're like "GLUE FACTORY FOR YOU."

Haha. Kidding.

I'm not actually upset with Mo at all (and if I was, Tracy or Aimee or someone would just come get him, ha). He was just being a normal green horse in our jump school on Friday--his final school before his first show. I am entirely without media evidence, so enjoy review pics of his cutie pie self.

In his previous school, the questions got a lot harder, and he did more than he had ever done. So it would make sense to me that he'd be a little nervous about what we might throw at him in this lesson. He warmed up great--really relaxed and soft in the bridle. Our jump warmup involved trotting a crossrail, halting in a straight line, and then executing a turn on the forehand before heading back to the jump and doing the same thing.

M: You're going to say he doesn't know turn on the forehand.
Me: No I'm not. I know you know he doesn't know how to do turn on the forehand.
M: No time like the present!
Me: Word.

The first one we did off the left leg, because he tends to be more accepting of my left leg in general. He did a pretty good job for his first try! He got some nice crossover steps and then a pretty good transition into the trot. Lots of pats for that effort.

M: The first time I asked [young horse] to do that, he reared straight up.
Me: Nice.

Mo never felt like he was going to rear--he CAN rear (stay tuned), but he's a bit more likely to root down on you instead. It's annoying, but it's safer for all the "I won't ride rearing horses people." (I'm a weirdo--I'll ride a horse who rears, as long as he doesn't flip, which some of them do and some of them don't. And you can kinda tell.) The second time I asked him off my right leg, and he was like, "eff you, lady," so I giggled at him, got one good step, and trotted back over the x. He did a pretty good job, and there's our flat ride homework for the week. I've taught a great many green horses to do a turn on the forehand against the fence--one horse I rode last year was only to do direction-changes via a turn on the forehand--so I'm sure Mo and I can get this down just fine.

The next step was to trot a fence coming off the rail on a short diagonal, and then (trotting or cantering) loop around trot a second fence off the rail on a short diagonal the other way--so you'd leave the rail at B, basically, and whichever direction you were going you'd see a vertical. This was meant to be a pretty straightforward effort for him, but he was clearly a bit worried about it, so we just did it over and over again until he found it easy. The verticals were probably 2'3", so he had to pay some attention to his feet but didn't need to be worried.

Then M added two more verticals on the other long side, and I was just supposed to jump them individually as well. We trotted most things, cantered occasionally if we were in a rhythm, but most of my job was to be bossy about pace while also riding relaxation into him. I counted my strides in a soft, soothing tone (which helped my body language be softer and more soothing, and hence relaxed the stripey-faced one). The only trouble we ran into was that he wanted to lurch left after one of them, so M set out two blocks for us to go through. We missed them the first time, but got them every time after that. In fact, I think it made the jump go better and he started looking for the boxes to go through, because he is a clever lad.

After we did those a few times, we added in the skinny cross rail down center line. It was pretty easy for him and we didn't have to worry about pace before or after.

The whole school took a good while, mostly just repeating jumps while I insisted that we stay in a relaxed rhythm. "Be the professional," and "it's your bit so he can't take it" were the things M said that stuck with me. I think maybe the ride looked a little worse than it felt, because M was concerned that I might be worried. I assured her that I was not, and that it just felt like a jump school on a green horse. She agreed, and we were both pleased that there were no stops or run-outs at all (NO MORE RUN-OUTS EVER). Also, on his walk breaks between sets, he was calm and happy to walk around on a loose rein, which a lot of horses won't be when they're a little nervous.

Then the lesson was over and M told me to go for a walk around the fence line because he needs to practice being outside the ring as much as possible over the next month before his first baby horse trials in May (intro level, because we're badass and can only handle tripping hazards out in the open right now I think). So she went to open the gate, and he was wiggling and being really rude, and she sent me to walk back up the long side and halt three times on our way back down to the gate. That took time to sort out because he kept stepping backwards. I didn't touch him with my legs or hands, and if I said "woah" he'd stop. He's so weird. When we finally got him to stand still, I walked out through the gate and turned to start our walk around the outside of the ring. Something told me to loop a finger under the neck strap JUST as he started to take three big leaps forward. We exchanged words over that issue, but when we turned the corner towards the driveway, he was like "FUCK THIS NOISE" and really lost his marbles. Bucking, rearing, running sideways, trying to leap forward. So I got him to the point that I could jump off before I fell off (not that I felt close to falling off--the Antares really is magical).

I led him back to the ring and got back on. We schooled walk/halt transitions for awhile, and by that time M was coming back up with the horse she was going to ride. She was like, "sooooo you're back in the ring?" and I told her about how his brain fell out and rolled down the hill into the woods like a marble. With her eyeballs on me (always makes me feel better to know someone can call 911 immediately), I headed out to try again. This time he was much much better, and I surprised M pleasantly by not just circling the outside of the ring, but going on our whole planned walk. She was like, "Go Jess!" And I was all, "HE IS GOING TO GO ON THIS HACK AND HE IS GOING TO ENJOY HIMSELF GODDAMMIT." But after another minute or so, I was patting his neck and talking to him and generally letting him know that we do not have to stress about being outside of the ring. It can be our happy place, too, and he'll learn to like it.

Saturday I didn't want to stress him out, so I just walked him around in the ring for about 15 minutes. I'm pretty sure he was asleep. I didn't think it would help to do anything he'd find challenging at all, because Sunday was Show Day and the only thing I needed to make the show work was a relaxed horse. To be continued.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Coil the Spring

JUST as I get this written, I'm on the verge of having a show recap for you (if all goes well--I'm writing this on Saturday night), as well as Mo's Friday jump school and a surprise tack ho moment. I'm having a very different problem than what I had over the winter, that's for sure.

Red got to go to M's for a jump school on Wednesday. It was... not the chill ride that I'd had on Mo on Monday, but no one died or left the ring bleeding so all is well.

First of all, everyone who has seen him lately has commented on how great he looks. I'm pretty proud of that. I thought he looked pretty good over the winter, but he is STUNNING now--his coat looks great, he's muscling up, and he's developing a topline. And I think he'll just keep getting better. In other good news, he was in general acting much more civilized at Mary's. Oh, and she had huge puddles in the ring from all the rain the night before. Red does not like to get his tootsies wet, so I led him through one time and then the rest of the ride he had to wtc through them like they weren't there. And really, it was a non-issue. I was pretty stoked about that.

We did all the same jumps Mo did last time, but he's just a very different ride. Mo needs a little leg just as he sets his shoulder against the fence, but that's it. Keep the arms soft, keep your eye where it belongs, and you'll be fine (plus or minus a couple baby wiggles). Red, on the other hand, coils his spring against your hand, and M had to get me used to dealing with the way he wants to be ridden. The good news is, she has a horse just like him so she's used to it. The bad news is, she doesn't really like that ride, ha!

Here's how it works, basically: if you have a spring, and you want to coil it tighter, you can't just put pressure on it from one end or the other. You have to have some degree of pressure on both ends. So Red needs the leg set to just the right dial, and you HAVE TO keep your rein contact EXACTLY the same until he's in the air. And then land and be ready to ride so he doesn't root the reins out of your hands and run. The waterford will do for now, but I can see us in a running martingale and/or a bigger bit at some point, because he is a ton of horse to put together. On the other hand, I think he'll be easier to ride as the jumps go up. We'll see.

Schooling at home--I'm pleased with his frame here.

We had a bunch of stops, all because of some mistake I made in the degree of pressure on his sides or in his mouth (usually not enough). This kind of thing annoys me, but it's part of learning, and we didn't have any bloody run-outs. Victory. The one thing I'll whine about is that three or four strides out, he takes over, which makes it hard to keep everything exactly the same. I think we'll be able to fix this (and sometimes when the jumps go up it helps). I know he was ridden a little wild before I got him, and he's settled down a lot in general, so we are gonna have to see what happens.

The last thing I needed to fix is that when he started to launch those three strides away, my "don't get ahead of him" instinct led me to lean back, and that worked like bracing against him, so he'd just jump flat across the fence with no bascule and make the landing really gross. It went better if I actually leaned forward the tiniest bit when he did that, so I was just staying with him. Then he could jump around the fence because we were on the same page and he wasn't having to jump against me. If that makes sense. It sounds so obvious now when I'm typing it out, but on a horse I don't know super well when it comes to jumping and who's quite a lot to put together anyway, it felt like calculus.

Still got a ways to go on the same frame in the canter but he'll get there.

I'm not sure M loves Red as much as I do, but I'm hoping we can make a lot of progress this summer. It'll be good for me. And as tricky and sensitive as he is, he isn't dangerous, so I'm more than willing to work this out. Besides, I love the old dummy.

Our homework is mostly on the flat, getting more gears in the canter. But I'm also going to put a jump up at home and fix this problem before I'm getting hollered at about it again, so that next time M sees Red we have new problems instead of the same ones. Right? Right.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Rock and Roll

It must be spring, because the jump schools are coming faster now than I can keep up with writing them. I have an article in the data analysis process, so I'm a little tied up at the times I normally can write (which is rare enough anyway). I'll do my best to stick with it, though, because each lesson feels like a big leap forward right now.

Mo had another jump school on Monday, Red had one on Wednesday, and Mo will have another one on Friday. And then Mo goes to a baby jumper show on Sunday to trot around the puddle jumpers and be the cutest horse on the premises.

Not from the school, but cutest ever.
Also, the Edgewood breastcollar clearly doesn't fit, ha.
I guess Red can have it back.

I'll focus on Mo's lesson today and write a separate post for Red, because they were very different lessons even though the jumps were the same.

This time, only the warmup fence started as a cross rail. After two passes over it, it became a vertical, but two holes lower than pictured below--both verticals went up to what you see after he'd jumped them twice and the oxers stayed the same size the whole time. He started out perfect. I trotted this vertical and the next one a couple of times, and then M had me trot a little course. I was still meant to trot the liverpool (rails down) and the skinny (cross rail). We got through that fine, but I HAVE to be careful about my eye. When it's a vertical, keep your eye on the top rail.

When we schooled last week, I thought to myself, "Gee, maybe next month we'll jump the rocks!!"

Nah. When M is around, there's no dilly dallying. We don't rush horses, but there was no reason Mo couldn't jump the rocks today. Feeling only slightly nauseated, I found the neck strap with my pinky and approached this one. He should have had a stop the first time, but because I occasionally suck a lot, it turned into a run out. Do you want to make M mad? Be me and have a run out. She gets on my case HARD about it. After I got him over the jump (no further problems with stops or run outs the rest of the lesson) and did another set, she said, "I want you to know that that was my grumpy voice." I said, "Oh, I know." I need to ride better. If M let me get away with dumb beginnerish mistakes, I'd never improve. I love her. 

Rock of death
If one rock is bad, you'd think two rocks would be worse, but nope.
Hopped over it the first time, albeit with some baby wiggles.

 Note: I think that this is sometimes where peoples' gender biases can come into play. Plenty of people love a curmudgeonly old man coach. Myself included--Chris is definitely a curmudgeon. It makes them feel like they've accomplished something when they get praise from such a person (legit) and it seems to be a rite of passage for a bunch of people, like we're all getting our own version of Jack LeGoff. All of that is fine, but if you like a cranky old guy coach, you should also appreciate a cranky lady coach. M is the most badass person I know, and while she's a very very kind and generous person, she does not let the riders who she knows are serious make stupid mistakes. Adult amateurs who just want to plunk around Novice on their sweet middle-aged packers? She's not going to be snarky at them EVER. But young riders and people like me who are clearly very invested in success are gonna get the "get the hell out there and get it done" lesson. THANK. GOD. As Denny Emerson said, a trainer like that is more valuable to your riding than diamonds and rubies.

The liverpool went up to a crossrail oxer. Speaking of timing and finding your eye, when it was just an open ditch, she told me to look where the horse's feet should land. Once it got bumped up to an oxer, I was to look at the back rail like normal.

Mo could not give two shits about the liverpool.

We trotted and cantered the liverpool each time, but stuck with trotting the skinny just because I didn't want to show him the run out, and we do not yet own the canter. I think the height of the skinny was about the same as the other verticals, but the dead-on accuracy required to jump it on a very green horse made it ride a little bigger, and he rubbed it out of the cups the first time. I just had him under-powered in my attempt to get in the middle of it. I'm unconcerned.

Things I was happy about: We cantered everything except the skinny, and while it took me some circles to get the canter organized at times, we DID get it together eventually; we only had one issue with evasion; the trot work was on point; he had to become a better horse by virtue of making up for a mistake or two on my part; we were relaxed; my arms stayed soft in front of the jumps.

Things I wasn't happy about to work on: letting the damn horse run out CANNOT HAPPEN AGAIN; getting our lines straighter; not letting my concern that he'll spook at the rocks result in him spooking at the rocks; not asking so many questions during the lesson that I drive M crazy (Chris loved it, M hates it).

So all in all, I'm pretty thrilled with Mo yet again. This was basically a beginner novice school. We are in no way ready to go jump around at BN, but having done this will be confidence building for the 18" classes on Sunday for sure. The main takeaway is that I just have to ride like I know what I'm doing and Mo will fill in the rest. I think I rode better than I had in the last lesson, but the day I get to be Bill Steinkraus is the day I hang up my half chaps and end on a high note. There's always another steeple to chase.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Let the Jumps Come to You

Mo and I had our first jump school of the year on Friday, and it really could not have gone better. 

It started out great before he even saw the tack, because he walked right up to me in the field and stood to be haltered. For Mr. Head Shy, this is news. I knocked the worst of the dirt off (oh, Virginia spring, how muddy you are) and headed up to the ring. By the time M got up there, we had a good trot going. Just like last lesson, she was thrilled with his trot work. As I continued warming up using some of our exercises from the last lesson, she set up some cross rails--two regular cross rails, two cross rail oxers, a skinny cross rail, and then she just put rails beside the liverpool. She had me walk across the liverpool a couple times (no problem, this horse does not give two shits about the liverpool) and then trot his first cross rail of the year. 

He was PERFECT. 

I'm going to give myself a little credit here: last fall when we were jumping him, I would sometimes get a little nervous (not fearful, just like, "don't fuck up your baby horse" nerves). But on Friday I was like "oh whatever he's the perfect creature" and we just trotted around all over the ring all chill. Even the skinny was no big deal--once he got his eye on it, he was like "cool guys" and hopped right on over. I stayed calm, he stayed calm, yay for everyone being calm.

As we trotted over stuff, if he landed cantering, M had me school the canter and then go find a jump out of it. Because both Mo and I were thinking more about jumping than cantering, the canter was really great. Far from perfect, certainly not in any kind of frame, but I could steer, and that is good news.

After we had a couple good jumps over everything each way, M popped all the cross rails up to verticals or oxers (except the skinny and the liverpool). We trotted one jump and then cantered everything once each way. I just found the next jump from whatever lead he landed on, there was always something there. I'm sad that I don't have any pictures of the jumping, but I got some of the jumps themselves (surreptitiously, while M was schooling a client horse and the client/friend was standing there watching).

Wee baby verticals, but my horse does not care what's under them.

 Mo really was perfect from start to finish. I, however, did that thing I do when I'm out of practice and chased my eye. When I've got 100 jumps under my belt this spring I'll be okay (and I have THREE jump lessons this week so that'll happen quick). But I don't want to teach him to launch and then jump flat, because if I let him, he jumps great, all round and knees up. I don't have to ask for it, it's just there. But in the meantime, I have to make like a hunter rider and let the jumps come to me. That is hard!

He doesn't care about the scary rocks next to the jumps either.
 After the ride was great, too. I went on a walk around the property by myself, and he was chill and seemed to really enjoy himself. That's been a tough thing for us, and there's more to do there, paths we haven't taken yet. But he's gonna be a pro at hacking out by the time summer hits.

It's only like 2' but I'm so proud of him that it might as well be 4'.

 I wrote a goals post two months ago, and I think we're getting there. We ditched lunging last week, and after this jump school, we decided it was time to hang up the standing martingale. It could come back, or a running (I hate running martingales, for what they do to the rubber on the reins if nothing else). The canter is coming along, especially in the steering department.

Liverpool schmiverpool.
I know horses who won't go near these things.
So all in all, couldn't be more thrilled with the beast. I was having dinner with M's family on Saturday and her husband asked if I'd ridden Mo that day. "Yup." "Well? How was he?" "Perfect as always." M: "Yup. He's basically perfect." She also said on Friday that I could sell him right now and buy a new car, but who wants a new car when you could have a baby horse who hops over a 2' oxer out of a canter like NBD on his first jump school in months? Not me, yo.

An oxer with a dragon-hiding rock next to it.
He's a genius and I love him. We're really building a great bond.

Upcoming: Our jump school recap from today, my insane but really fun weekend, and Red and Sugar updates (short version: I adore them both).

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Gimme Some Sugar

So I've been seriously holding out on you all and you should definitely not forgive me, except for the fact that I'm about to overwhelm you with cuteness and you will get over your outrage immediately.

As you recall, I have the world's cutest nephew, and he is OBSESSED with horses.

So my mom and I have been thinking about getting him a pony for awhile, but there was absolutely no rush on it. If the right pony came along for the right price and we had a stall, we'd go for it. Otherwise, we could sit chilly. He's only two, after all.

Well, as it turns out, the woman who owns the barn where I boarded Lex in Ohio was doing a fire sale on all of her lesson horses, including one I quite liked when I was there. So--and bonus points for you if you'd already put this together--I sent Tracy over to have one more look at her. (If you aren't already a huge fan of Tracy, I'm questioning your judgment. She's an A+ human being and horsewoman.)

The short version is, Tracy told me everything I needed to know about the pros and cons of the pony, and Mom and I decided we could handle the cons and liked all the pros. So now we have a pony! Sugar arrived last night and is now a happy member of the Clawson family.

In case you haven't read Tracy's adorable post yet, Sugar is a 10 year old POA mare who has been used in a lesson program and for birthday parties since essentially the dawn of time. She has a couple habits that come from being a lesson pony, but we can fix those. She's a good girl.

She hopped right off the trailer and put her head down to eat grass. I let her hang out for a minute before we approached the barn. The other horses were like "whaaaaaaaaat is thaaaaaaaaaaat??!!"

Someone left that one in the dryer too long!

We put her next to Ink, my old man. He was pretty obsessed with her. I have a feeling he nickered at her all night.
"The Easter Bunny brought me the pony I asked for!"

She calmly took in her surroundings, found the water and hay, and clearly laid down to sleep last night as she was covered in shavings this morning.

My brother and his wife brought the kids over to meet her. He brought Logan to the barn straight away, and Logan was all: "She needs more water! She needs more hay! Can she come out? She needs an apple." Then we had to go in and eat dinner. He wolfed his food down and insisted on going right back out. Because the adults hadn't even had a chance to take a bite, we had him draw her a picture while he waited.

Who wouldn't want a purple sword-wielding dragon wearing a crown as a welcome gift?

So we finally let the kid go out and see his pony again (he doesn't know she's his yet and won't for another year or so probably). He noted correctly that she needed to be brushed, but we figured it would be best to let her settle in before we let the kid have at her. 

She was very interested in him, though.

This morning, we let her out with Ink. He pestered her for awhile, and she'd just trot away and eat grass. Eventually he got over it and it's been heads down grazing ever since. 

So now we have a medium pony, who's going to be ridden around bareback by 5'8" me sometimes, by the pony club kids sometimes, by lesson kids sometimes, and by Logan whenever possible. We are just thrilled to have her, and I think she's gonna love being at our house (until the grazing muzzle, which might have to happen until spring is over).

Nothing is more fun than a new pony, so expect a lot of pony obsession over here for awhile.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Color Inside the Lines

Last week I didn't see my horses at all, because I was in Florida moving the rest of my stuff out. It all went fine (except when I thought my cat had run away and I spent two hours sobbing and looking for him and then had a headache the entire next day). I'm sad, though. I loved living there and I hope to move back someday. It's a hard place to keep a horse but if I had a real grownup job with money I could make it work.

I did get to see Duchess though!
This is an old pic from when I used to ride her.
She looks a little too thin for my taste right now.

Anyway, I got back late Saturday night, and even though I was so tired I just wanted to lie down, I got on both horses on Sunday. Red was his usual good boy self. Mo was a little tense and rushed, but he'd had a week off and it was hella windy so I forgive him. I did have to ride him for quite some time to work him down to earth, but that's not a big deal for a baby TB.

On Monday I took a fabulous flat lesson on Mo. He was just really stellar. No one was around to take any pictures or anything (I never want to ask M--I need her eyes on the moment-to-moment, and she was sitting on a horse anyway). So you'll just have to trust me that he was a total rockstar.

First of all, M kept saying that he looks fabulous, and he really does. His coat is shiny, he's fat ("he can stay fat like that through training level. When you go prelim he'll need to be fitter." Gulp. "But that won't happen for a couple years?" "Ohhhhh you never know." Another gulp. Ha).

Mo's trot work was on point yesterday. He's still a green bean and will be for awhile, and he whined a tiny bit about the contact, but we were able to move beyond just "get him to give to the bit" to "keep that feel and go do something else." So we did lots of changes of direction, lots of w/t transitions (he's not ready to stay on the bit through the transition yet).

And we started properly introducing him to leg yields. I liked this exercise and so did he. We started out on a 12m trot circle ("ride the outside edge of your horse around to make it smaller"). The circle would be too small for him to stay on in balance, but he did have to maintain an energized trot and softness in the bridle. Then when it was time to leg yield, I'd just put a little more in the outside stirrup and a little opening outside rein and just think "make the circle bigger." Any more than that was too much, I found. If I tried to ask for the leg-yield with my inside leg timed as you would on a broke horse, he'd get tense and invert. "No no, that's not it. He has to stay in his shape--he has to color inside the lines." That was a brilliant little phrase, because we got it every single time after that. He was even crossing over, because my stripey-face is a genius.

We had some discussions about bend, but nothing serious. He likes to lean on my right leg a bit when going right, so M said something she used to say a lot when I rode Lex: "Make a place for your inside leg by moving his barrel over." That works pretty well, but I have a right-side problem. I sit off to the right a little, especially when cantering Mo. I hang on the right rein. My right leg is just less useful. I don't know what to do about it other than be aware of when I'm crooked and try to fix it. I don't know what the weakness is in my body that's causing it but I'll figure it out eventually and get to the root of the problem. The good news is, Mo was being so fantastic that we COULD think and talk about my equitation. That's super encouraging.

The canter work was pretty good, too, and I made it harder for him at first. He was galloping around like a racehorse and feeling the tiniest bit frantic--and this was after a few attempts to get the right lead. Mary told me to put his canter "at the edge of walk." For whatever reason, this let me relax and sink down onto his back a little more, and then his canter got really soft and nice. We're getting there with the canter. I think it still stresses us both out, but I think the only way beyond this thicket is through. I don't want him to start worrying about our rides, but we can't avoid the canter forever either. I didn't buy him to be a walk/trot horse. That said, I don't know that we'll canter every day until it's a less stressful experience for him. He's a worrier.

So that was all good, but the best part of the ride for me was the very end, when M insisted that we go for a walk outside the ring. Historically, this has not been Mo's best event. But even if he's going to be a show jumper, he's going to have to be ridden in the open. Those bridle paths in Wellington aren't going to hack down themselves, right? I expected at least a little drama based on the last time we tried this a couple weeks ago, but you know what? He acted like we do this every day, and that it's his favorite part of the ride. I don't know what changed, but it was a totally pleasant and fun experience. There will be lots more hacking out in the future.

I rode him again today and he was just as good as yesterday, though I have this gut instinct that he was worrying about the canter. We did it anyway, and I did my best to stay relaxed and let go. We got about a circle of a canter I quite liked and then called it quits for the day and went for a little walk back to the barn. All in all, it was a success.

I rode Red after work last night and thought he felt a little unlike himself. I decided it was most likely that the footing in my ring at home is pretty hard due to lack of rain, and that I'd see how he felt today if we actually got the forecasted rain. We did, and he DID feel better. Maybe the old man will need front shoes for the summer, we'll see. He's so cool. There are a few things to work on with his flatwork still--he feels a little inconsistent to me in his bend and contact, but all in due time. I'm just thrilled that he's stretching over his topline and engaging. I want him all muscley and ready to jump!

So that's the news with my boys. I have a jump school on the books for Mo on Friday. I CANNOT WAIT. We need to break up the flatwork a little bit and I just miss jumping. Plus I need to see how the Royal Rider stirrups do over fences. I've heard they're no help at all in anchoring the ol' leg and that they make some people go to their knees. We'll see, I guess!