Saturday, June 30, 2012

About Darn Time! (omgomgomg)

While flipping though the latest issue of USDF Connection, aside from learning that the only thing between me and a 80% score at second level is a killer shoulder-in, my gaze landed on a not too flashy, half-page ad:

It might not look like much, but there, at the bottom of the page, was the link I search for (compulsively) every few months:


My German is.... non-existent, and while I can click myself around the English version of the German Site, I hate not being able to understand what it is I'm looking at and it just is not that useful of a web-design.  Particularly because even though I'm pretty sure I wouldn't click "add to cart,"  It annoys me that an option to purchase isn't there just in case I magically found $800 in the couch cushions for a new bridle...

But now we have our own us website!!  With an online store! In Ennnnggggglishhhhhh!  With shipping to the Staaates!.

Mind you, right now you can only purchase London 2012 themed belts (not exactly how I will blow $465), but we are led to believe that come August, they will have a more full offering of OS products.  I find this damn near titillating.

My visa is already recoiling in fear....

Friday, June 29, 2012

"Dressage Lite"

P2 looks embarrassed about her new browband, but I think she looks pretty...
 S often refers to Training Level dressage work as "Dressage Lite" (or as like I to say, Steering Wheel, Gas, Brakes).  Since that's the extent of what I'm working to "show" with, about once a week we have a Dressage Lite lesson and just focus on the basic-basics.  This is especially difficult for P2 if we're outside and working in the terrifyingly scary end of the arena.

But since there seems to be a terrifyingly scary end of the arena at our little schooling show, what a brilliant opportunity to work on having the mare mind her manners, even when being forced to walk/trot/canter past terrifying things.

P2 has been warming up really nicely.  S grabbed a quick clip of our loosey-goosey serpentines, where I just work on switching the bend (lots), and asking Prairie for little increases and decreases in the power and length of her stride.  It seems to really get her dialed in well and sensitive to my aids.

Not too shabby (for us).  I'm keeping my hip angle open, and if I would just look up I might even have my shoulders back and softer...  But low and behold, when I sit taller, the mare ends up lighter and pushes a bit more from behind... who knew.

After working on precision of our transitions, S started putting together mini "Dressage Lite" patterns for us to string together.  Notably making use of the "scary end" and daring to ask for a canter transition at "C" right where Prairie really (really, really) wants to check out and just run away.  This is particularly useful since the First Level 1 test has it's second canter transition at C, right in front of the dreaded horse eating Judge's booth.

The first few times we ran through it, we struggled with getting a clean, crisp transition at C, but after schooling a few extra circles and running through S's pattern 4 times, we ended up with a decent performance.  S grabbed a quick clip of our last run through.  She missed the final canter transition (she must have actually been coaching us), but you can see P2 doing a better job of staying light through her 10m serpentine, a nice, quick right lead transition, a decent downward transition across the diagonal, and a not totally tragic left lead canter at the very end (although it's pretty downhill and heavy). 

I'll get out and school P2 outside again today (if the rain holds off) but then I won't see the mare until the day before our next show.  So who knows!

Hey Girl - Horse People

One of his classics:

Hey Girl - Trailer

Yes, this actually happens.  And when it *does* happen, usually he drags out my mats and pressure washes those separately too.  And wipes the horse snot off the inside of the windows.  Any shop-vacs the tack area...

Gem, right?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

"Hey Girl" in Real Life

There's a fine line between bragging outright and "appreciating what you've got."  I've learned (sometimes not so gracefully) that there are acceptable things to outwardly celebrate "My spouse is loving and supportive!" "My horse is sound!" "I got a promotion!" "It's SUMMER!"

And then there are things that people are less interested in hearing "My four year old horse is schooling is already schooling Fourth Level!" "Man, I'm running out of space for all my fabulous tack!" "Oh this? This is just another prototype CWD sent me, gosh I already have so many of these things..." etc, etc and so on.

I know I'm probably flirting with the line here, but I'm pretty sure that since I am totally-completely-entirely aware of how bass ass my husband is with the horse thing, I might as well share it.

Oh yeah, and we're on vaca this week, so since I'll have no horsey updates (aside from stalking River Grove Farm for a glimpse of Brentina out in pasture...) I leave you with these - A series of my own "Hey Girl" moments with my one and only Boy.  Shamelessly stolen from Marissa's clever Ryan Reynolds , but hopefully with the added twist of... well, being true (mostly).

Don't hate me.  And yes - I will hire him out on a per show basis. :)


Sudden Death

I got an alarming text last night as I was whisking my dad to his surprise birthday party (easier said than done, the man always sleuths out a surprise attempt.. ).  The text said that a horse had died out at the barn.
And it had died rather violently.

I'm thankful I wasn't there, but the basic report is that while bringing horses in, one of our (great) grooms had pulled a horse from a pasture and was closing the gate (to keep the second horse secure), when the horse in hand freaked out, reared, fell over backward and immediately started gushing blood from its nostrils.

Apparently there was nothing "out of the ordinary" that anyone around saw to spook the horse, and (thankfully), the gelding passed quite quickly after the fall.

However, when I arrived at the barn this morning, long after all the commotion ceased, the gravel was stained dark and the horses were decidedly still a bit... off.

***knock on wood***
I've never been around an unexpected death of a horse - and I really hope that I never am.  I remember reading in one of my social psych text books that civil war veterans often had a higher incidence of trauma over the recalled image of fallen horses, than that of their fallen comrades.  There's something mystically powerful about the notion and reality of a big, powerful horse, going down. 

My heart goes out to the owner, who - unfortunately lives on site and will have to gaze at that spot in the gravel drive on a daily basis.  So much heartbreak.

Of course I've run through the "what if that was my horse" scenario and thought process which ultimately ended up with extra carrots and kisses for my mare, but truly I can't help but wonder what the actual explanation behind the death is.  

Horses don't often fall over (unless a rider is doing their best to throw their balance), and it's even more rare for them to fall when unmounted, on footing with good traction no less..

it just. doesn't'. happen.

So what went on?

The quick death combined with the blood from the nose makes me wonder if something physical happened internally and that the horse's rear was a confusion/fear response from the odd sensation? Perhaps an aneurism, or a stroke?

Back in my Pony Club days I remember attending one event where a friend's horse seemingly plowed straight into a Preliminary level stone wall on cross country.  She was catapulted and the horse "died on impact" but a later necropsy showed that in point of fact the horse had suffered an aneurism, likely only a stride or two before the fence (hence a total lack of brakes/evasion/anything).

I was (thankfully) no where near the jump when it happened, but onlookers swore that it appeared as though her big, brave gelding just galloped full tilt into the wall.  Not exactly standard behavior, unless of course, he was physically breaking down in those last few moments and wasn't even able to stop his momentum to protect himself or his rider...

Ghastly for sure, but oddly reassuring for his traumatized owner to know that there was a fluke accident to blame rather than having to live with the thought that somehow she piloted her horse to his death.

It's hard for me to rule out a similar explanation for the poor chestnut who went down yesterday - but the rumor is that his owner is forgoing any necropsy or veterinary examination.  If it were my horse it would be incredibly difficult to say goodbye and never learn what trauma or injury led to such an untimely death - though I also acknowledge that all the diagnoses in the world won't bring her boy back.

Part of the joy of any relationship (be it pet or human) is the unpredictable path that it takes.  The unanticipated highs, the solace in the lows.  It's all part of the bond and the journey together.  But when anything plays out like it did yesterday, my heart breaks for the horse, the owner, and the groom involved at the time.

No one wants their story to end that way - and for that I will think fondly of the big red guy, his owner and be sure to hug my pony every damn day, even if she's stiff, or slow on her transitions or tunes me out.... both of the mares are still magical, wonderful creatures who I am lucky to spend my days with.


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Settling the Spooks

I realized that I haven't followed up much on the P2-bolting issue, but a few little mini-spooks during our ride this am, reminded me that I should.
scared. of. life.
The mare is... still spooky.  I'm pretty sure there are a few confused gerbils up there in her brain that are usually scampering about in the same direction - but every once in a while someone pulls the fire alarm and I picture them just running every which way, bouncing off each other and squeaking in panic.

Or at least, that's what comes to mind when Prairie opts to check out and and freak out over... haynets.  Or..... horses grazing.  Or...... something I can't see but she's certain is death itself.

Anyway, after our field trips where P2 demonstrated a finely tuned ability to gallop away from everything, I started reevaluating how I was responding to her "scoots" since her scoots were becoming less of a two stride shimmy and more of a mile long sprint.  

Additionally, after our first schooling show where Prairie demonstrated a refusal to maintain focus (squirrel! coffee cart! judge's booth! COUGAR!) as well as a refusal to return to focused work after a break - it was clear I needed to focus on increasing her patience and reinforcing the idea that when I ask her to work, it's time to work.

So we've been attacking both those issues.  Right now if she spooks/scoots the mare WORKS.  shoulder in, haunches out, leg yield, crappy half pass, anything.  and if she does it a second time (in the same spot presumably) she gets SAT ON HER ASS.  It's amazing how much she can load those hocks when you really slam her back.  (that should come in handy for those pirouettes that I'm sure we'll be starting any day now..)

That second part I don't love so much, but so far it seems to be reinforcing that it's not OK to eyeball the same thing over and over and over again.  If she must look, she has to work for it... then repeating the trick is not a welcome choice. 

So far it seems to be working for us.  In the past couple weeks I've only had to circle once to contain a spook.  The rest of them have been resolved by a hard lateral school and continuing on our track.  I like this better.  I'm also pretty sure that I'd rather throw in a uncalled for shoulder/haunch in during a test than a whole circle.  At least the first option will just look like we lost our straightness as opposed to a full blown error.

As for the patience, I've been deliberately taking longer walk breaks than normal (to trick her into thinking she's done), then going back to work.  Wash, rinse, repeat...

This pattern clearly annoys her.  She grinds her teeth, grabs the bit and generally is a bit of a snot for the first minute back to work.  She also likes to increase her looky-ness after a long break which gives us more "opportunities" to school them.  I'd like to say this is getting better - but really it's inconsistent.  Some days she's happy to go back to work, other days she's not so thrilled with me, but at least we're pushing that boundary and working through it.

I'll be very curious at our next outing (July 8th) to see if we have any increased focus and control. I guess that's the litmus test. 

Aside from that, things have been awesome.  I'm going to try to video tomorrow, but our canter is much bouncier than a few weeks ago, our trot is a bit more uphill and balanced and our lengthening are definitely more pronounced. 

Aside from increased strength I think that our routine of warming up with lots of shoulder-in to renvers, to leg yield to circles is really helping.  She's starting to bend more through her ribcage and I can feel that inside hind leg stepping up a bit more.

All good things.  At home.  Where we are comfortable.  Can't wait to see if it translates to off property success!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Outside, Outside, Outside LEG!

This week I need to cram as much productive riding in as possible, since Sunday I leave (again) with some friends to go spend the 4th over in Idaho (again). 

It's a lovely looking calendar (full of BBQ's and rodeos), but it does mean that I'll be getting home approximately 42 hours before we go to our second schooling show and won't have much time to "fix" any lingering issues.

As a result, I'm trying to address those issues now and we've been schooling the tweedle out of our canter (both our transitions and also getting a jumpier-bouncier-more-consistent-canter) as well as anything that forces me to really ride my outside aids honestly and consistently. 

Re-balacing the saddle and my new (softer) boots have been hugely helpful in having a more effective leg.  The combo of putting me in the right spot and allowing a better feel of what I'm actually doing is setting me up for much needed improvement. 

As much as I love the stiff support of my dress boots, they leave me a little out of touch with Prairie's sides and trick me into feeling like I have a more supportive leg than I actually do (no bueno).

But, as G.I. Joe says, "knowing is half the battle" and sadly, it seems to be the easier half....  As such S has been working a series of exercises designed to hold me accountable with my outside leg.  My favorite thus far is a nice little warm up piece that makes me work, makes the mare listen and in theory packages us both up nicely. 

Down the long side, haunches in before E/B,
Half circle to the centerline (8ish meters in the indoor.. technically I guess that's a half volte) maintaining the haunches in,
Finish with a leg-yield back to the rail, as straight as possible.  

The haunches-in to start gets the mare reaching underneath her and also sets up my outside leg before I have to use it to support the half-circle.  The haunches-in during the half-circle makes the mare stretch and sit back, lightening her forehand - and for me it means I have to exaggerate my outside leg support.  It also means that I can't collapse my ribcage in to the center of the circle.  because as soon as I do, I lose the haunches.... (All of my best tricks! defeated!!)

Once through the half-circle, P2 is firmly in my outside rein, but I have to work a bit in order to straighten her long, Loch Ness self out before beginning the leg yield.  If she starts to drift laterally before I straighten everything out, It's hard for me to recover any semblance of straightness.

Because the exercise automatically reverses the direction, there's a nice flow between working off the left rein and then the right rein.  Our first couple rides were a little disorganized, but after a few reps I felt like I had Prairie shortened up, sitting down a bit more and very contained in my aids. 

There were a few bobbles here and there, but overall we improved from repetition to repetition and kept both of us thinking.  The exercise is officially filed away for future use... 

We finished the ride schooling some flying changes over a pole in the middle of a figure-eight.  Started in the trot... then moved to the canter, trotting a simple change over the pole - then we maintained the canter, asking for a flying change at the pole.  We got some really nice changes, some sloppy ones, and had more than a few semi-tragic moments.

Moral of the story?  If I keep my outside leg on during the approach, straightened her before the pole and kept her forehand light - well, then we got a clean change. 

But if I dropped my outside leg, let her get strung out or didn't get her straight for the switch - well, then we had a less than pleasing result.

Nothing shocking about that though.

From the ground, S tried to keep it all together chanting along with my canter "outside, outside, outside LEG!"  I think I might need to record that, loop it, and listen to it on repeat during my rides, my commute, and maybe in my sleep....

(I forgot to snap a pic of P2 in her pretty new purple browband, but I love it! and I think she does too...)
We can be so much more uphill than this.. and we will be!

Monday, June 25, 2012

A Weekend in the Country (English Pleasure)

Sorry for the absence.  I escaped town for a few days to gallivant around Idaho and hang out with Supermom while she showed her adorable young arab mare.

I grew up going to a ton of Arab stuff since both my Aunt and my grandmom were firmly planted in arab land (mostly saddle seat) for a good 15 years.  Although it was never my discipline, I always enjoyed following them around at Region Championships and a few times at US Nationals.  It can be argued that a horse show is a horse show is a horse show and that much like the chimp/human link 98% of what us riders do is the same (especially when trying to earn a ribbon), yet in that 2% the atmosphere, tack, personalities and general drama all shifts just a bit.

Having spent most of my show time in Pony Club or Eventing, I'm used to the sleep-in-a-soggy-tent-and-DUCT-TAPE-EVERYTHING mode of showing.  Which makes the sleep-in-a-nice-hotel-and-put-rhinestones-on-everything mode a very welcome change as I am no longer 12 and as such am significantly less enthralled with sleeping in mud next to my horse's ramshackle paddock than I used to be.  But I digress.

Supermom (being super, and also an ex PC'er) is probably the only arab person I know who travels to shows solo.  As in, without a trainer and huge barn to stable with.  I also figured that meant she might want an extra set of hands to hold her horse or hand her sips of water in warm up or whatever.  She did, so I escaped and spent a few days reliving the Arab shows of my youth.

I could go into a massive commentary on how confused I get at breed shows, but dressage is really just as subjective and ridiculous to the untrained eye so I'll skip that particular train of thought and jump straight to the important stuff.

Horse Show Shopping.


Oh yes.  I shopped.  I thought that since I wasn't showing my horse, that perhaps I would escape 5 days of hanging out at a show with my checkbook mostly in tact, but alas.  That's wasn't the case.

The good news is, that like any well trained parent on a "business trip" (I took a couple meetings on Thursday so I could legitimately expense my airfare) I remembered to buy the "kids" (the P's) some goodies while away.

The first find was actually spotted by Supermom, but then promptly scooped up by yours truly in the name of all things sparkly (seriously, my lack of rhinestones was... glaring).  I've been keeping an eye out for a gun browband for the big girl, so the reasonable $40 price tag on this little thingy made it a must buy.
Roxy wasn't thrilled at modeling the browband...

Fun little beads!
Then, while I was just pawing through the racks of breeches thinking "Gee, self.  You could really use a new pair of breeches to show in."  I magically plucked this pair of Pikeurs out of the pile and what would you know... they were in my size.

Being Gray and.... purple.  They sort of didn't fit the ticket for "show clothes" but my wicked little tack ho brain switched gears quickly to "did I say show? I meant to school in. Obviously you're schooling more than you're showing.  you need schooooolllling breeches.  And you need these ones.  See! your size!"

My frugal/ration/good voice of reason was absolutely nowhere to be found, so out flew the visa and away we went. 

Aside from the minor cash hemorrhage, the show was a blast.  I got some much needed sunshine, girl time, and R&R.  Also, Supermom kicked some veritable ass with her mare and they got many of these big fancy neck ribbons.

If there's one thing the Arab scene has down, it's bad ass ribbons.  Man, in eventer-land you have to win a flipping four star to earn one of those things.... Supermom did mention that warmblood crosses are getting very popular in the half-arab world... Maybe P2 could pop out something that would win a few garlands of roses and a neck ribbon or two...  Just sayin'

I popped out to the barn to pat the mare and make her grain baggies.  I didn't have time to ride on my lunch break, but we do have a lesson tomorrow morning, so you can expect pics of P2 with her sparkles then...

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Wherein I Fall in Love (again) with the Prestige

Weekends away with friends are always a welcome break to the routine, but after four days away from the Big Mare and more wine than any normal human should consume, I could hardly wait to get my little wine-addled self out to the barn to ride last night.  I guess technically I didn't wait, since I sort of abandoned my post at work at... ohh... 3pm when I couldn't think of anything I could do that would be more productive than currying 4 days of crap out of Prairie's coat.

I was also anxious to see how well the Mattes correction pad would work and if it might render the Prestige a viable option while I wait for a  mind boggling eternity 12-14 weeks for the new saddle to arrive...

Mondays are usually pretty darn quiet out at the barn, but I was surprised to be the only person out visiting her horse at 4pm.  But with all the horses in and munching their early dinner hay, barns never feel lonely even when everyone else is gone.

Anyway, the Big Mare greeted me with a nicker (a nicker!) and was wondering where all of her treats had been all weekend.  We tacked up, I fussed with the Mattes pad and when I got it where I thought I needed it, we headed for the ring. 

Actually fitting the mare...
 Our ride was AWESOME SAUCE. 

Maybe it was the rebalanced saddle and me sitting upright like a real person.  Maybe it was the addition of the softer field boots and a much steadier leg contact wrapped around the mare's belly.  Maybe it was S's schooling over the weekend that left me with such a soft, happy mare... Whatever it was, it was awesome and I loved it.  Not a single scoot, not a single spook.  Just a forward, steady ride. 

Mostly I lallygagged around enjoying how easily the mare was going, but we did work for a few minutes. 

We worked our canter transitions, which must have been schooled hard since they were pretty darn clean.  If anything, Prairie is getting overly sensitive to the downward half-halt and wants to break to the trot a bit.  But that's a problem I can work with. Especially if I put some spurs on...

After that we played with some leg yields and shoulder-in (both mucho better with me sitting up) and after stringing both of those together with some small 10 meter circles and trot-halt transitions, I let the mare be done.  No need to hammer it home when her first effort on everything was right there with me.

I'm sure that I was riding better and able to use my seat and weight more effectively for the lateral stuff.  I could still use a bit more bend in the shoulder-in's.  Prairie's tendency is to turn them into a baby leg yield on the rain and stay straight... so that's something to be mindful of as we go forward. 

The Mattes pad really did let me alter the balance of the saddle a bit better than my Thinline pad did.  It looked good from the ground, but man - the difference in the tack was huge.  That feeling of being tipped forward was gone, and after a few weeks in S's CWD, it was nice to feel like my leg was stretching down and really around Prairie's sides.  I should have done some work without my stirrups, but I can save that for later in the week... 
She is the sweetest
After our ride since we were literally the only one's on the property, I decided to do some Cowboy Man inspired groundwork and ended up untacking/grooming/etc with Prairie loose in the aisle.  She didn't even try to wander off and responded very immediately to any corrections if she started to lean away or shift her weight away from me, but I opted to give her a little snack just to reinforce that it's fun to stand loose in the aisle while I poke around at her and clean tack...

 I did get nervous that someone was going to show up and admonish me for the naked horse in the aisle, so I eventually put a halter on, but left her untied and happy with her hay.  

This week I only get to ride Mon, Tues and Wed, since Thursday I'm off to Idaho to help out Supermom at a show and hopefully hang out with SprinklerBandit

Big doings.

Oh, also, we entered our schooling show for July.  Same tests- Training 3 and First 1.  This time the goal is finishing both tests...

Monday, June 18, 2012

P1 Playdate

Last Thursday I escaped back to P1's summer camp for a day full of learning and playing with the mare.  I managed to talk S into going with me since she has a few clients who might also be visiting P's second home in the near future. 
P says she's sick of posing like this.  Find a new angle...
Aside from it be over-the-top lovely to have some company for the car and ferry rides, it was really fun to have another rider (as opposed to a non-rider Boy) experience the farm for the first time.  I totally trust S's training methods, mindset and approach.  I also know how extensive her own personal riding education is, which contributes to the value of her opinion and perspective on the whole Summer Camp operation. 

Not too surprising, I think she had a blast.  Since she's looking at the farm from a future client perspective we started with a full tour and explanation of the process which, realistically I haven't observed (or heard) since I took P last year.  I know I've expanded on it before, and it's hard not to sound like a cult-driven-zealot, but it really is so inspiring and fun to listen to Cowboy Man talk about his approach and his successes. 

It's even more fun when we have that chat as we meander through the middle of the herd watching all the individuals and their dynamics within the group. I don't think I will ever tire of standing in the middle of a large group of horses watching their energy shift and move as they float around from grassy spot to grassy spot. 

Anyway, S seemed engaged and interested and CM had fascinating stories to tell.  Then we continued the introduction by grabbing one of the mares and heading back to the barn. 

Our "volunteer" from the herd was China, who is the only horse on the property who was more difficult to integrate socially than Miss Pia herself.  China was bred for dressage, but ended up having a pretty spectacular H/J career before totally shutting down and resorting to going vertical instead of forward.  After two years on the farm she's lively, engaged and totally confident.  It's a pretty cool thing to see. 

China's demonstration for us included a liberty walk back to the barn.  Standing free for her snacks, a toe trim and tacking up, then demonstrating her liberty work with obstacles, toys, and mirroring down in the ring.  Finally there was some bridle-less under saddle work that to me is less about trick riding and more about having a horse totally on your side and willing to participate. 

From a distance, all of the tasks are fairly impressive, but when you really watch the process and how every single moment that Cowboy Man is working with a horse he is actively shaping their connection and managing their dynamic.  It's so much damn fun to observe.

Anyway, after China was done demonstrating how adorable she was, we went and grabbed P along with a few other ponies to work with for the day and started tacking up.  P still looks great.  her weight is good, her muscles are healthy and her eyeball looks soft, but mischievous.

We tacked up and opted to head to the back field and do some gait work along the fence line, focusing on each horse working as an individual and trying to rely on our reins as little as possible.  You might recall us having worked this exercise about 6 months ago on another visit. 

Basically, starting at one side of the property we trot off (one at a time) about 100 yards to where we whoa back trying to only use seat/legs/breath and then give the ponies a bite of delicious grain.  Wait patiently for the other horses to catch up, then trot off tot he next bucket of goodies. 

For Wendy, my big girl that I like to ride - the challenge is in waiting for the others to catch up.  For P, it's trying not to explode when trotting off in a big space.  For S's mount it was about tuning in and listening..

We had a lot of fun, Wendy was a good girl and even P made some progress (although the bucks were.... evident). 

Then we moved away from the fence line and took the ponies into the aspen trees and "surfed" them around the trunks - again, trying to steer all from seat and legs and using the reins minimally.  Wendy was a good girl, and I hardly had to touch her face.  S had more of an adventure as her pony hadn't been ridden in a while and the half-halt was all but missing.  But S stayed off the bridle and just worked with the horse she had.  P was.... explosive.  Cowboy Man has mentioned before that typically it's much more difficult for the horses to focus "at home" as opposed to out on the trails since the herd is present and makes it that much harder to keep their attention... I think this is what was happening with P.  She was having a hard time relinquishing her group of friends in favor of focusing on the ride and that led to extra angst and energy when we were galloping about.  CM mentioned that he feels like P is getting uncomfortable again in her withers, and even pointed out that her "nutcracker" muscles (right at the base of her neck) we looking a little hyper developed.  You can see them in the shot of P up above... a bit more definition than has been there, and almost reminiscent of when she arrived at the farm... something to keep an eye on, especially if it indicates P trying to compensate for some discomfort...

After about 45 minutes of playing around we gave the ponies a break and headed back to the barn for some lunch. 
heading in for lunch (P1 is on the right..)
Post lunch we opted for an arena session instead of heading out to the trails.  S and I tacked up for some more work sans-bridles (this time we actually took them off) and P just followed along from the ground.  Prior to mounting up again, Cowboy Man explained the basics of some of his ground work and both S and I practiced a bit with Wendy and Bella before getting on and looking to extend the lesson.  We were allowed to keep the rope halters on (and a lead rope as a emergency brake), but that didn't offer much help in the control department.  Cowboy man supported us from the ground as we asked the mares for increasingly precise work adding some reinback (without reins!) and serpentines across the ring.  P was a gem.  She stayed engaged and attached to CM even while he worked with us showing her curiosity with pretty much everything around.  That mare investigates everything.  While working on a mounting block exercise, P found the bags (unopened) of baby carrots and manged to break into them.  She also removed all the extra tack (saddles, bridles, whips) from the area and spread them evenly around her.  (sort of like a toddler in a playpen).  Rather than get after her for knocking things over and tearing into bags of treats, CM explained that her forward exploration and puzzling should be allowed and even encouraged.  Her confidence with stuff like that is what we're hoping to eventually translate under saddle...
S's reinless-reinback
 We ended by taking everyone out of the ring and working over some bridges, logs and step-up blocks, which is CM's little mini-mountain trail area.  It was a lot of fun and a good tune up for yours truly in terms of getting off the mouth and being responsible for my seat/leg use. 

Finally we ran off to our ferry and gave all the mares plenty of treats and returned them to their group. 

I didn't play with P as much as I usually do, but I also spent more time working on "me" and my contribution more than I usually do, which has an incredible value as well.

S seemed to really enjoy her visit.  We spent the whole car ride talking about how to apply various aspects of CM's approach with less "critical" cases back at the barn.  We also daydreamed about setting up a sort of adult summer camp where we'd have a multi-day clinic with both my vet and CM discussing ground work, hoof care, body work and basically everything else that goes on out at the farm...

S also empathized with why I'm bitter sweet about bringing P home.  I think she could see why I really enjoy going over there on a regular basis and how sad it would be to miss out on those days spent out in the herd/field/woods exercising a totally different side of my horsey-brain. 

All in all, a fabulous day.  P is cute, and we learned lots!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Big Mare J U M P S

It's been a nice post-show-week with the Big Mare.  She got Monday off (aside from a nice currying and smooches on the nose) but we went back to work on Tuesday.  I specifically opted to ride int he evening when she's her most distracted, and I thought that we would practice our patience and ride amidst S's evening lessons with several long standing breaks in between our "work."

My intention wasn't to necessarily get a hard workout in, but rather to focus on getting (and then keeping) the mare's attention regardless of ponies ambling about, tractors zooming by, hay being thrown or having to refocus after a long break.

We started with some walk work and lots of lateral exercises and the mare was a gem. We trotted and she was pretty good.  Then we stopped, stood and stared at the lesson going on.  After 15 minutes, we went back to the trot and the devil started to peek through.  Some head tosses, distracted stares and weight in my reins were all sure signs that P2 was less than enthused about returned to work.  But we did and after 10 minutes of good stuff, back to the middle of the ring where we stopped, stood and stared at the next lesson.  We repeated this cycle about 4 times with varying results.  P2 threw in some lame spooks/distracto moments, but I was a bit firmer with pulling her around into a circle and diffusing it before we trampled kids on ponies.  Only one (man... I saw that like it's a good thing) got away from me, which resulted in us charging down the middle of the arena playing chicken with S trying to figure out which way were were going to turn (whoops!).  Bad mare.

All in all I was on her for about 90 minutes and I felt like each time we had a "work" session, I was able to regain focus and get rid of the silly stuff.  I think this is a patter we'll need to repeat in order to get Prairie as patient as I would like to see her for longer rides/sitting at shows, etc.

Also, I rode in my new field boots which was... interesting.  They are so much softer than my Konig Dressage Boots, that I had a completely different sense of my leg.  Mostly the sense was "holy crap, where's my leg."  I was painfully aware how little I was supporting with my outside leg, but also had a much closer feel of P2's body to guide my corrections.

But I fear that in my Dress Boots it's possible that I've been riding my boots and not my horse.  we'll see what happens with more rides back in the Field Boots and switching back and forth...

On to the fun things... SHE JUMPS
The quality of this photo is reminiscent of "bigfoot sightings" but more evidence below...
 Our Wednesday ride was super-dee-duper fun.  S had talked about playing with some cross rails with the big girl and it sounded like just the sort of variety that could do us both a world of good.  So, on went the field boots, P2 got some open fronts, my stirrups came up and off we went.

We rode at 9am, so I expected Prairie to be more focused than an evening ride, but she felt awesome.  Nice and even in my hand, light to my leg and really sensitive to my half halts.  Plus a shorter stirrup was helping me wrap my legs around her and everything just felt really, really, locked in.

We started over some poles and me trying to lurch my butt up out of the saddle into something close to a two-point.  S even had me crest release over the poles, which was hard to make my hands do, but really good for P2 and good for my brain too.

Then the poles turned into a baby X, although we had to raise it up a couple times before Prairie was even willing to entertain the thought of jumping and not just trotting over it.  She seemed to enjoy the poles and I was loving that "locked on" feeling when she rounded the corner. 

I haven't jumped in.. a while, so I've missed that sense.  And I've never felt it on P2, so it was really entertaining to watch her brain work, feel her feet pick through the poles and her stride rate as she found her own distances.

Here are our first few passes through the X.  Something flew in her ear and she was totally bother by it.... until she saw her little poles :)  Note how happy she is to come back and balance each time. What a good girl.

After a few times through she started to get it and balanced herself a bit more:

We played around going both directions and ended up making a little bounce to test her balance.  I ran out of space on my phone for video, so I don't have evidence of her "a-ha" moments and final steady rides through, but you get the idea.  She's adorable.

It was a really fun ride.  It was great to feel P2 be responsible for herself and fun to watch how she improved her line each time we rode it.  Also, even though she wanted to land inverted and run away from the scary jumps, she came back nicely and I can see where more gymnastic exercises and maybe small courses could do wonders for her confidence, body awareness and my ability to manage her "inversions."

Another fun thing I noticed was that down our long sides as we looped back to our little baby jumps, Prairie was totally chill, relaxed and tuned in.  The exercise seemed to really help her in that regard.  Which is great because it totally could have spun her up or made her all kerfuffled.  I think she enjoyed having a tangible thing to focus on.


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

We Came, We Saw, We Excused Ourselves..

So the first test of the day (Training 3) went decent.  We had some major bobbles (read: all of the canter work), but Prairie stayed in the arena and we got quite a few 8's when we pulled it together.  All good things.
Pretty pics courtesy of the incomparable Supermom!
But after we walked out of the arena the wheels started to come off the wagon.  P2 was getting cranky, she was sweaty and tired and hot (Seattle managed the first sunny day in weeks and Prairie wasn't sure why we were riding for so much of it..).
With three riders between my tests I wanted to just let P2 doze in the shade then wake her up with a few transitions right before our second ride, but she was having none of it.  She was fussy and pawing and flipping her head around.  To her credit, by the time we went back in the ring for our First Level 1 ride, I had been on her for over an hour (a record I think) and we haven't practiced much "standing around" then returning to work.

Bad Combo.

Prairie wasn't even soothed by pats from The Boy..
At first, P2 was braver about the far end of the arena.  We were able to trot (not fake-passage) past the judge's booth and around the other side.  But, sadly she was totally blowing me off.  It took all of my muscles to get her down to a halt, and I'm not sure that's how it's supposed to work.  I tried desperately to get her up and down in a few transitions, but it was clear that 2 minutes of tune up was not going to get us where we needed to be.

We entered.. nicely.  We halted, well! (aside from needing to pop up and look at the woods).  Our first trot sequence was not so bad - we got closer to the Judge's Booth and deeper into the far corner than in our first test.  And even though Prairie felt waaaaaay out of control, our 10 meter half circle serpentine thingy was actually pretty accurate and supple.  Then we had our first spook (arghhhh) which totally killed our balance and focus for our first diagonal and lengthened trot.  I didn't even both asking because it felt like I already had a running, unbalanced mess under me... then we had spook numero dos.  (terrifying horses on the hillside).  My response to that was to circle (you may note that First 1 doesn't call for a canter circle at that moment).  When we did return to the trot I hardly had a horse capable of her "stretchy" circle in front of the judge.. and she was in gallopy-gallopy-omg-monsters! mode anyway.

But I gave her a reassuring pet, got our walk transition (yay! brakes! they work again!) and free walked shimmied across the short diagonal.  My hope was that the free walk break would be a good "cooling off" moment and let us collect ourselves.  She moved back to the trot decently and our canter transition was strongly on the forehand but not totally discombobulated.  We managed our 15(ish) meter circle, although I thought my arms were going to be removed from their sockets, but then broke back to the trot at the far end again.  You can't really see it on the video, but she pops her head up and goes to the trot to (presumably) slow our entrance to the danger zone..

At that point I thought "damn," but I figured I could get our canter back in the next corner and complete our canter tour.  Mare blew me off, and when she did get her canter I all I felt was "powder keg."

On the video she just looks fussy.  But when you're on her, I swear it feels so big and so loose that I felt like she was about to bolt again hence (another) unplanned canter circle where our lengthened stride should be.

It was then (as I was making yet another error) that I excused myself as we trotted past the judge.  It felt like one calamity after another.  The judge gave me a quizzical look and a "but you're doing ok?" but I just felt like Prairie was winding up and not down - and  I was pretty sure I wasn't going to get a productive "school" out of the rest of it. 

That being said, in watching the video a few times I've realized a couple things -

  1. Aside from me piloting her into a few extra circles, her spooks in the far end were "better" than our first ride even if she wasn't focused enough for a good stretchy circle..
  2. When I excused myself I only had my left lead canter and one more trot lengthening left.  Mind you, it involved a lot of cantering and another transition at the scary end of the ring and an attempt at my second trot lengthening, but still.  I probably could have stuck it out.  In my head I felt like I was at the start of my test... whoops :)
  3. It doesn't look that bad on tape.  I know we weren't going to get high marks for submission or accuracy, but I can't over emphasize how exaggerated everything feels on her relative to how it looks on the ground.  I need to get used to that, and defuse it instead of allowing it to continue.
I suppose "retiring" is less common in the dressage ring than on the cross country course, but it felt like the same situation.  I wasn't handling Prairie well, and she was just reinforcing the idea that omg-everything-is-totally-scary-and-we-have-to-go-now-thanks-bye.   In that situation, I'd rather get out, go back to the warm up ring, get a few productive moments logged, then call it a day.

Anyway, Judge for yourself.  Here's the video of our aborted test.  I particularly enjoy The Boy's comments that "I don't think Prairie is getting any treats after this...."  LOL.  He's so smart..

Because that's not very enjoyable to watch, here's a few more pictures from Supermom.  I love her photos.  Somehow she found some pretty good moments in the midst of the meltdowns.  I would love to know what the hell I'm looking down at the whole ride.  Look up! Look up!!!!!

sit up! (but her forelimbs are so pretty..)

Done with the first ride
(mostly) well deserved pats
Love her photos.  really can't get enough... As always you can see more at Impact Decynes & Photography

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


I know that I am a binge eater, and I'm fairly certain that there have been days where my love for a good Irish Whiskey have placed me in a binge-drinking category... But Saturday I found myself in that oh-so-familiar position of "needing" one thing at the tack store (on sale!) and managing to also walk out with an unplanned impulse buy.

Usually I relegate those impulse purchases to the tack store equivalent of tabloid magazines and a new flavor of gum.  Which I guess would be a bag of fancy looking horsey treats, something useful but small like new bell boots or perhaps even a fun, new, delicious smelling spray for the pony's coat.

However when those "impulse" items creep past $100 or sometimes even past the cost of the initial "planned purchase,"  I think the trip get pushed into binge territory.

I was squarely in binge-land on Saturday morning.

The Boy accompanied me for an early morning trip to get myself a new helmet (Helmet Awareness Day! 20% off!).  For at least a year now, I've stared sadly at my old helmet (circa 2004) and thought to myself "ew."

It's old.  It's mildewy (I know, ew.). The lining has flattened and long since lost any comfort.  And I've taken more than a few tumbles in it.. with more than a few significant smacks to my noggin.

I've been meaning to buy a new one, but it's just never one of those things I have fun spending money on (unlike say... browbands, or new brushing boots, or dress sheets! or saddle pads!!).  Dropping serious dollars for a new helmet sorta feels like paying property taxes.

Yes, I know they are important, and yes I know they are worth it... but every time you fork over the dollars... it just sorta hurts.

I also recognize that I could save myself the grief by not indulging in absurdly expensive headgear, but I figure of all the things that I actually get my money out of... a good helmet that fits, works well and doesn't make me feel like a goober when I'm wearing it, is actually worth the investment.  Sorta like good jeans! I have no problem spending too much money on jeans because I wear them all the time.  But I digress.

My thinking was that if I had The Boy in tow, the odds of me going on an all out tack binge were reduced.  For one thing, we've been on a budget and he could remind me of that fact.
Out loud.

I also thought that his lack of interest in the store would urge me to not wander aimlessly about touching all sorts of fun new things.  I might actually head straight for what I needed and then straight for the cash register.

Finally, knowing that my helmet options would range from $40 to $650, I figured that he would have a CHANCE at not letting me get carried away. 

Sadly I was mistaken.

Turns out, he hates the budget even more than I do (uh oh.).

He was wildly entertained by the tack store and all of it's tempting goods (UH OH).

And he also decided that the only helmet that "made sense and looked decent" was on the higher end of the price spectrum (total backfire!)

I'm sure somewhere in my subconscious I knew this was a possibility, but really I was fairly shocked to find myself in a fully enabled tack binge.
I'm pretty sure I already look and rider better...
Just as I was swallowing the up-sell on the helmet I noticed a sign over by the tall boots...
"New Konig Field boots, on sale for $299.... Save over $600! limited to stock on hand..)

I was just thinking  about how if I want my (fabulous) Konig dress boots to last (at all). I need to get a cheaper replacement pair that I can wear every day.... but I was stuck trying to decide if I wanted a second set of Dress Boots, or a new pair of Field Boots (my current Fields are 14 years old and while they feel like slippers, they are dying a slow death).

It was like the Tack Gods heard my cry and sent me a message.

"Um, do you by chance have anything close to a ladies 9 with a ridiculously tall and moderately skinny calf?"

(the nice girl emerged with multiple boxes with varying heights and widths...)


I threw a look at The Boy hoping he would shout "THE BUDGET!" or "You're boots are fine for the season" or "NO" or even a "STOP STOP STOP."   But he didn't.
I think his response was something more like:

"That's a crazy deal, weren't you saying you needed new boots?"

I love this man.  But sometimes I worry that he indulges my vices more often than he should. Please don't mistake that for a complaint.  I am NOT complaining.  I didn't see anyone else on at the show on Sunday with their perfectly-willing-to-participate-husband perfectly decked out with a camera around his neck and chocolate/cherry coke zero shoved in his pockets.  I know how good I have it. Trust me.

But back to the tack store.  I bought the boots.  I love the boots.  I am so glad that we found the boots.

And the helmet.

It was a very productive Tack-Binge.  We'll just have to substitute a few nights out for sushi with nights in and ramen.  But I'll eat that ramen in my super-cute-couldn't-afford-not-to boots!

Monday, June 11, 2012

66.6% (!!)

Our first "show" is officially in the books.  We had moments of glory, and moments of not so glory, but all in all it was a bright, sunshiny, fabulous day to spend with the horses and we all had fun.

Oh yeah, and Prairie got this!
I maintain that we probably didn't deserve our score or our ribbon, but we won't argue!
Yup.  When I sent The Boy to go collect our test he came back with a pretty blue ribbon and a carrot as our winnings.  (Prairie was equally interested in snacking on both..)

While it's always fun to have a little something to show for your efforts, the real story of the day was our process and all the little nuggets of information you get when you take a new horse out for the first time.  Sunday was fun, but next time.... next time we will be better.

The morning started with me getting to the barn at the very leisurely time of 10:30, which gave me a couple of hours to get the mare bathed, clipped and "braided."  The quotes justify the fact that I haven't sewn in braids in... ohhh 14 years? but I thought it would be fun to knock the rust off and try.  So I did.

Poor Prairie put up with me trying to get my braid-fingers back quite well.  Add to the fact that I wanted to go for 6-8 bigger plaits, instead of small mini buttons, and it was a bit of a struggle.  Next time I think I'll do slightly smaller braids so that they aren't so big and loose, but they stayed in, so I can't complain too much. (Prairie can though. She was embarrassed)

The Boy met me at the barn with the truck and trailer at 12:45 so we could load up and I just about kissed his face off when I saw that he had also brought sandwiches (yesssss), lots of water (smart boy), raisinettes (delicious) and a big bag of cherries (my favorite this time of year).  Oh, and  fifth of whiskey "just in case."

I can't fault him for his ability to anticipate any of my potential cravings... what a gem.

We arrived at the park at 2pm, which gave me an hour and twenty minutes before my first ride.  I let the mare chill for about 45 minutes while we got checked in and paid for parking before tacking up and heading down to the warm up area.  Prairie was chill to the max.  Totally quiet and calming munching on her hay.  she drank water, flicked ears at passing trailers and horses and stood like an old pro.
 She stayed pretty calm to start in warm up.  But she did have a few spook/scoots in response to other horses emerging from the trail that connects the parking area and the arenas.  She was pretty sure every single one was a cougar, but we managed to hold it together.  In general our warmup was average.  The ring wasn't too crowded so it was easy to just pick a circle and work transitions.  Not our best, but not our worst.  I could tell she was blowing through my half-halts more than usual, but she wasn't completely tuning me out so we worked with it.
Headed to warmup
Watching the other horses in the ring, a bunch of them seemed to be freaking out at the far end of the dressage court.  The main arena is set up so that one side is bordered by the grandstand, the far end has grass where people watch/graze, the other long side has trees and trails that other riders lurk about in and the closest short end butts up to the warm up area.  Having not ridden a dressage test since my last event in.... 2000? 1999? the ring had a bit more atmosphere than the grass field way off yonder where I rode most of my tests for three-days.  But, atmosphere is what we wanted, so the "rational" side of me was glad there was something to test the mare.  The ribbon-hungry side of me was thinking "dammit people, stop standing around down there, you're freaking everyone out!"  But I didn't say that part our loud and no one felt compelled to move.

When it was our turn to head in I could feel Prairie's egg timer going off letting me know that her 20 minutes of focused, good work was pretty much up.  The judge was moving pretty leisurely, so we had a solid two minutes to tour the ring, ride around the judge's booth and explore the wooded side of the arena.  P2 was much more leery of the woods than the grandstand and none too thrilled with the judges booth.

The bell rung with us stuck on the far side which meant we were entering on the right rein, not our strong side, but we just did it.  We were straight, Prairie was listening and all was going well.  Our halt was disjointed and a bit hollow, but at least I had brakes (for the moment).  Having backed P2 up in warm up she mistook "trot on" for "rein back" so we stuttered a bit there but then we were good....

Until we hit C and the booth.  That, we sorta bobbled around and looked at suspiciously, but we got back on track for our shallow loop and pulled out a 7 on the movement.  The first canter transition was... tragic, and although our circle was good, we broke to the trot before we finished it and just stayed at the trot alll around the ring and across the diagonal where we were (in theory) supposed to actually return to the trot.. Oops.  Our walk work was spectacular (relatively speaking) earning 8's across the board.  Spectacular might not be the right word, but it was definitely the most "correct" aspect of our test

The second shallow loop was focused and supple (another 8), with an improved canter transition at the end.  We actually completed our canter circle (yay!) and earned an 8, but broke to trot well before C as Prairie started to drama llama about at the far end.  Our stretchy trot was great by my standards (given her lack of attention) and pulled out a 7.  And our final centerline/halt was another 8.

Prairie got herself an 8 for gaits, 7.5 for impulsion, and a 6 for submission (with a big underline on "attention").  I managed a 7 for my seat, a 6.5 for my aids and a 6 for our harmony.

All in all, the judge's notes were very fair and I agreed with all of them.  I was a bit surprised at some of our high scoring 8's, but she also liberally sprinkled some 4's and 5's where we all but missed the movement.  Thanks to some well placed coefficients, we ended up with a 66.6% which put us ahead of the tantrums that everyone else had in the far end.

66.6% still feels like a high score, but really, it doesn't much matter. It's not like we're qualifying for anything and I wouldn't expect to have that many issues and get in the mid 60's from another judge.  Ultimately though, we stayed in the arena (goal! check!) and I stayed on (even better!).

A few nice relaxed moments between our salutes are just icing on a pretty delicious cake.

Here's the video of our test.  When we're lovely, it's pretty lovely.  But when we're not.  It's really... really... not.  You'll notice I'm in S's hunt saddle... which I feel as though I sit up better in, but holy hell, my hip angle is... closed. and my eyeballs are firmly fixed on the ground.  That I should do a better job of controlling.

More pics and our second ride of the day to come....

Friday, June 8, 2012

Morning Lesson (schooling T-3)

I'll never complain about starting off a Friday morning with a ride on one of the mare's and a hand delivered Mocha.  In fact, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't complain about any morning starting out that fashion...
Resident Mini-Donk lurking in the morning drizzle...
I haven't ridden P2 in the morning in just long enough to forget how adorably sleepy and cuddly she is in the am.  Belly full of hay (but not alfalfa pellets... why is she leaving those behind??) she always seems extra content to be curried and loved on.  S met me for a quick lesson so that she can keep me on track for our two tests and harp when I start collapsing in my ribcage, tugging on that inside rein and not putting my transitions together.

P2 warmed up well, though not as soft and awesome as she was earlier in the week.  We worked a few figure-eights in an attempt to get me dialing in that outside rein and P2 limbering up. Then we moved into some sitting trot work and our ever nagging canter transitions.

Whatever magic I had earlier in the week, I lost it.  Things were terrible, but our first several transitions were met with 3 big lengthened trot strides before taking up the canter.  The good news is that P2 wasn't inverting or scooting in the process.  The bad news is that she looks like she's running into them.  Argh.

Setting the mare back on her butt and trying to get three trot/canter/trots per circle got her dialed back in and stepping nicely into her canter, but I am a little frustrated that constant up-down-up-down transitions seem to be our only tool for really getting clean, balanced canter departs.  It works just fine at home, but isn't fantastic for trying to show off a test.  Although, I'm probably not above an "excuse me, I'm just going to take an extra circle here" if I needed it :)

(I mean, that's the beauty of a schooling show, right?)

I don't think I would actually do that.  But who knows.  I am significantly less wrapped up in actually completing tests than I used to be..

Anyway.  So lots of transitions, then S started calling fake tests for us to just whip through.  I felt like I lost Prairie a bit as we started winging around the ring, but then we pulled it together, sat back a bit more and got a little more precise with what we were doing.

Essentially I just need to back my mental process up about 20 meters.  When I'm thinking just ever-so-slightly farther ahead than I normally do I get much better results and I seem to micromanage Prairie less.  Both good things.

We finished the ride with a run-through of Training Level 3 and here's what I got:

Opening Halt/Salute: Crappy halt, good immobility, good salute (yay me!)
Opening Shallow Loop: Great.  Good change in bend, good tempo
First Canter depart: a little rushed but contained
Canter circle/tour: good balance and cadence.
Trot Transition: mediocre but precise
Walk Transition:  not enough leg
Free Walk: RAD (P2's strong suit) but back to Medium Walk is hard...
Second Trot Loop: Great, good bend, good tempo
Second Canter Depart:  our best! (mostly because I was focusing on the other horse in the ring and didn't get in the mare's way)
Canter circle/tour: good, I caved in and dropped my shoulder but P2 held it together
Downward Transition: sloppy and hollow
Stretchy Trot: Awesome, good reach, decent return to working trot
Final Halt/Salute: Better halt, not square, but she stepped up eventually.

All in all, not bad.  Not smashing, but if she can do at least that on Sunday (while keep all toes in the Dressage Court), I'd be thrilled.  That's what I want.  A spook free, legal test.

Seems obtainable!

One more ride tomorrow, then Sunday I'll have time to gussy up the mare in the morning before our afternoon rides.

Full report and video next week!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Three Good Hacks and Blogger Woes

Some of you may have noticed a few (dozen) posts pop up yesterday.  Although it's conceivable that I could have actually regurgitated that much material about my ponies in one day, even I have to do my "real job" sometimes.. plus, let's face it as cute as they are, they aren't that interesting.

What I think happened was that in adding labels to some old posts they "re-posted" as fresh resulting in a nice little time warp back to 2010 and 2011.

Anyway, I think I fixed it, but sorry for spamming your google readers!

P2 has had a great week.  She got a really light hack Monday, which I felt she deserved after her field trip on Saturday and a day of rest on Sunday.  Prairie felt great - and aside from some less than stellar canter transitions (they mirrored the ones in the "test" video from the Park ride, she was really dialed in and pretty light to my aids.  Tuesday - S had the ride, but I had the chance to get out to the barn and watch P2 from the ground.

I find it so informative to watch someone else (particularly a good someone else) ride your horse.  It makes it so easy to really "see" what's going on as well as to observe how someone else schools your horse through sticky points.  S warmed P2 up really fantastically and then focused on her trot/canter transitions for a majority of the ride.  It was great to watch P2 go up and down and UP and down so many times.  It was also great to watch the difference in transitions based on how well S set her up and how tuned in the mare was.  I tried to file away as much info as possible and remember it for my own ride the next day.

Since I didn't actually leg up on Tuesday I thought I'd torture the pony a bit, so I braided her mane over in an attempt to coax it all back over to one side of her neck.. (grrrr).  The mare was tolerant of the beauty shop session, but clearly not impressed.
Poor Mare.  She was not a fan of her "Spring Break Cancun!" look...
Wednesday I was eager to hack on my own and try to apply all the "visual notes" from watching S.  Namely that meant a few more "take 2...3.. give 2...3.." half halts with both reins to steady P2's tempo and throwing in shoulder/haunches-in to realign the mare and capture her shoulder.  Those two little "tune ups" thrown in at irregular intervals seemed really effective in keeping Prairie balanced and steady, which in turn lead to really soft and easy transitions.

I was a bit leery since I arrived at the barn just in time to see horses being brought in and grain fed... Prairie's magic DISTRACTO-BEAST combination.. which I didn't really feel like fighting with.

But, because she's a big, giant, teddy bear, she politely ignored the grain cart as it rumbled past her in the cross ties and held it together for our whole ride.  We warmed up with a bit more tension than she had with S on Tuesday, but all in all very together and lovely.  I started with lots of walk/halts and then trot/walk/trots to get her really light up front and paying attention.

Oh, also I decided to tack up in S's hunt saddle and see if it gave me any advantage in my balance and Prairie's relaxation...It might be the placebo effect, or it might be that my Prestige does such awful things to my balance that I do actually give her a better ride  in something else, but I was feeling really, really well connected to the mare.

Prairie did have a few big looks out the gates when we would trot by, but aside from rushing a bit, she didn't let it derail her much.  If the "take 2...3...give..2..3..." half halts didn't rebalanced her, I just pushed her into a (tight) 3 loop serpentine to back her off and lighten the shoulder.  That proved to be a really helpful tool for me in getting her back without getting duped into letting her hang on my hand.  (Something I filed away to test again since it's proof of success relies on n = 1...)

After about 20 minutes I started our canter work and got the smoothest transitions ever out of P2 that I've had to date.  No rushing, no inverting, nothing.  I could probably add "no impulsion" to that list, but right now I'll accept a little sluggish and balanced over "expressive" and scooting.  I got to the point were we would Canter, 2, 3, 4, Trot, 2, 3, 4, Canter, 2, 3, 4, Trot, 2, 3, 4.. with no break in rhythm or balance.

I almost peed my pants.

After that I started throwing in a whole bunch of "test like" movements to see if I still had her transitions in my pocket when she was thinking about other stuff.. we lost a bit of the polish that we had, but in reality, we were still light years ahead of how I was riding the same transitions a week ago. I think that's rad.

I finished with a few square halts, a big pat and that really calm feeling after an easy, productive ride.

Love that.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Mattes FTW? (I hope?)

Okay, so I don't TOTALLY want to jinx this, but P1 sorta needs a correction/shin pad and right now with the terrible-awful fit of the Prestige on P2... so does P2.  Sadly I have only one shim-shimmy half pad.  In theory this would be just fine if my two horses were anywhere near each other.  But hiring a bike messenger to constantly ferry (literally) my shim pad to and from the mare's respective homes is, well.. cost prohibitive. 

So I took to the interwebs. 

I love my Thinline Saddle Fitter Pad.  It works great for what I want, and even though it doesn't have full sheepskin trim, since I use it on a daily basis, I don't mind.  I think less fuzz helps keep the thing a bit cleaner..
Thinline Saddle Fitter Pad
 Anyway. It does the trick and at $159(ish) it's a helluva lot cheaper than the Mattes (ooooh ahhhhhh) version at $290(ish).

As such my search started with for the Thinline pad, which is (sadly) out of stock most places, either it's gotten wildly popular, or I'm guessing they've discontinued it.  I did find a few Saddle Fitter pads lingering in random off name tack websites, but it's absence at the mainstays (or eBay) meant that people are getting their shim pad needs met with another product...

I think that product is the Mattes version.
Mattes Correction Pad
 It looks almost identical, but instead of thinline shims, they have their own foam/rubber/whatever bits to stack in the pockets.  Brilliant.  But I'm not paying $300 for it.

Then I stumbled onto a random website that had the Mattes pad listed at $209.  Interesting.  Maybe worth it for comparison? Wouldn't be horrible to have one Thinline and one Mattes... maybe they'd fit slightly different.. or at the very least it would satisfy the comparison-shopping-tack-whore part of my brain.  But I wasn't sure I could swallow a $50 premium just in the name of curiosity...

I popped the Mattes pad into my cart while I got distracted in other areas of the site. Show coats... fun normal pads... ooooh.  Then because I was also trying to get some work done, and because I have the attention span of  a confused hamster I wandered off and did something. 

When I came back I noticed at the top of the page it said "your cart contains one item: $164.96"

Having clicked on, ohhhh about thirty different tack sites, I had sorta forgotten who had what pad for what price, but I assumed I must have added the Thinline pad to my cart before I got distracted. 

The practical "get-something-done-today" me told myself to just buy the damn pad and stop wasting time.  If it's not on eBay for cheaper, stop looking. 

So I did.  But imagine my surprise when my order confirmation showed the $290 Mattes pad bought and paid for not at the already awesome price of $209, but the ridiculous, unlisted price of $164.96. 

Oh yeah, and FREE SHIPPING.

So, through the magic of delusion and mind games I have now totally flipping succeeded in getting P1 her own shim pad, and feel that (even though I spent a few dollars more than I would have for the Thinline) I somehow magically made $125.04 (plus S&H) in the process.

Mattes Pad.  FTW.

Comparison review to follow shortly.  (Assuming this is a legit purchase and not some unfortunate internet scam...because there's a 20% chance this is a scam..)

For those interested, the site I ended up purchasing at is Borne Saddlery. I'm not familiar with the name, but they appear to primarily be a custom saddle shop (with some very happy customers) with some closeout-super-deal stuff on the side.  I was tempted by their dressage coats, but sizing was really limited and not.. um... busty? enough for this girl.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Pulling the E-Brake

I wanted to say thanks to everyone for taking the time to comment on our awesome little "breezing" video yesterday.  I've watched it probably no less than 50 times, mostly because I keep thinking I'll get some insight into what I was *thinking* during the process.

I had totally forgot about using a Pulley Rein.  (it's been 15 years since the Pony was able to get away with taking off.. once I passed 5'8" I had the upper hand... and I haven't really had a true "bolt" since her). I hadn't forgotten about opening my rein (this worked well with P1 to help spin her out of bucking fits), but everyone's right - I certainly didn't open (or lift) my reins at all.  Mostly I was in clamp-and-hold mode, which clearly doesn't encourage any sort of deescalation.  In fact there are points where you see Prairie start to slow and come back, and then I increase rein pressure thinking "yahoo, she's done!" only to freak her out and have her shoot off again.
The vast expanse or boltable-space....
I know for a fact that my mental mindset was somewhere between blind-panic and thoughtful-control.  From the start I felt secure in the fact that I wasn't coming off nor was the mare wasn't going to intentionally pitch me off... but I didn't have enough clarity to really think through much other than staying in the middle of her.

My stirrups were long - another accurate observation.  And while the massive knee blocks on the Prestige prevent me from hiking up my leg too much, they were up two holes for a first ride as a defense, but I cheekily dropped them for the second ride anticipating a calmer outing and the chance to ride my tests...

Maybe if I had shorter stirrups I would have felt less "flappy" and my brain would have worked slightly quicker, but the fact of the matter is that I stayed on, stayed (sorta) balanced, and really not much else.

I did feel that toward the end of our little jaunt, I started to have the wherewithal to consider my next move.  P2 feels so damn unbalanced in those moments that I have a genuine concern for cornering her too hard or going too soon to a tight circle.  I think I erred on the side of caution on Saturday, and perhaps a bit more aggressive "surfing" her down would be helpful (as would an open rein in the process).

The fact of the matter is on our Friday spook/bolt at home, we ended up careening into a corner of the ring and the mare managed to sit and balance just fine on her own, so I'm guessing the fear of her slipping out from under me is more my own crap, than her actual capability.

The good news is that having ridden through two recent bolt-spooks, I am feeling progressively more confident that I have a pretty good idea of what P2 is doing when she goes off.  The first few times a new horse "does something" my brain instantly thinks "oh shit," assumes the worst and wonders what hellish roller coaster I'm about to go on.  With P1 I figured out her pattern of bucks and (except for that last time) stayed on and got comfortable bringing her out of it.  P2's scoot/spooks feel so much bigger that I keep anticipating more malice than she has in her but have learned how to correct her out of it.  The Bolt thing is a slightly different beast, but twice now she's done it and twice it's been nothing more than a tour of the available space.  No crashing through fences, no massive twisting bucks, no dirty stops... just a helter-skelter flight response that I haven't defused.

So, my hope is to internalize your thoughtful observations, think through my steering next time (assuming I don't catch it early enough again) and try for a faster recovery.  Also, I think we'll be looking into a running martingale for field trips to help with the extreme drama llama-ing and see what happens...

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