Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Jumping in the Name of Flat Work?

It probably seems like Prairie and I have dropped off the edge of the Dressage Arena and landed squarely in Hunter Land, but I assure you, it's not a total conversion.  (although we are having fun).

I've put two "dressage" rides on the lady since the show which both have gone pretty well.  I'm able to ride the mare much more back to front than I used to and Prairie's new found adjustability makes for much more dynamic flat schools. 

That being said, Wednesday we're hauling out for a lesson with one of S's instructors, Nancy Free at Brass Ring Farm. I really couldn't tell you who the best of the best Hunter trainers are in our area, or even the country, but supposedly she's pretty fantastic and apparently (against my H/J stereotypes) really fun to ride with.  I always love taking lessons from someone new and getting feedback from someone with fresh eyes on our struggles - so it only took about 3 seconds for me to eagerly snag the newly available time slot after S's own lesson.

When I told The Boy about the field trip, he asked if I was ever going to do Dressage again.  After I got over my puzzled look I realized that given the last couple months, it's a valid question.  Here's my response.

Aside from some oddities (like a total lack of impulsion and slowing your horse to a jog for a sitting trot), riding a nice, clean, rhythmic hunter course is essentially everything I'm working on for our current level of "dressage" (just with a few jumps thrown in).  We're still working hard on adjusting our stride without tipping to the forehand, working on getting Prairie up in front of my leg, working on smooth controlled turns from the outside aids and staying light when we string it all together.

I also think that my emphasis on the work over fences has been because I've been feeling that the jumps are precipitating more progress than me nit-picking on the flat without them.  Prairie's learning to find her own balance, adjust her own stride and figuring out that coming back to me is easier than pulling against me.   Most of this is probably because over fences she has to,  whereas on the flat she can just disagree with me (and my own skills leave a lot to be desired in terms of timing and sensitivity if I'm going to teach a horse like Prairie how to carry herself).

Growing up I remember my eventer gelding operating in one of two modes - the first was when we did mostly flat work, and the odd jump school would vastly improve our dressage.  The other was when we'd be focusing on our jump phases and the odd dressage school would vsatly improve our jumping...  Right now I feel like we're getting father over fences and taking more back to our flat work than the other way around.

Maybe it's just that I was indoctrinated with the concept of cross training early, but I've always (eventually) found success with bopping between different disciplines whenever I hit a wall in one. 

Right now I feel that wherever the cross section is on Prairie's training and my riding - course work and gymnastics are getting us farther and building more relaxation and confidence than our straight flat work is. 

I'm sure that at some point in the not so distant future, the teeter-toter will tip and we'll go back to 70% flat work and 30% over fences.  But who's to say when that is.

After my ride this morning I can really feel how balancing for jumps has given Prairie a better sense of "sitting" and collecting than a few months of me banging it into her head had.  We had an amazing ride collecting and lengthening our stride at all gaits, adjusting for our lateral work and switching the bend back and forth at will without losing our balance.  It was a great ride.  I guess right now I feel like we're on a roll (for all of one week) and I'm going to do my damnedest to keep it going!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

(even more) Winter Wardrobing

I was incredibly spoiled when I got Pia, because sorta like Malibu Barbie, she came with a full wardrobe.  And thanks to Supermom's good taste and shrewd sensibility, All of her clothes are cute and still in great shape.

Sadly, P2 came with no clothing and since I was busy with wedding planning and honeymooning when I got her, I just copied her then blanket that worked (Pessoa) and went with it.  She got one Medium Blanket and one Turnout Sheet.  (both matching, duh).

I like having extras for laundry and backup, so we picked up one more Pessoa Medium and one more Pessoa Turnout Sheet on sale (also matching) during the off season.  I've also amassed a fleece cooler that matches Pia's (cute), a nice stable/show sheet for traveling and looking pretty (the Rambo Helix, LOVE), the absurd (but cute) "sweatshirt" and her exercise sheet.

It's a lot of clothing, but she still doesn't have anything in the way of a Heavy Blanket, or layers that would render her medium appropriate for the super cold. 

So I've been hunting.  Prairie seems to fit the Pessoas really well, and so far I've been really happy with how they are wearing in their second season.  I also really like their cute plaids.  But their heavy blanket lacks the option for a higher neck (which I like) and also comes in ugly colors with a giant "P" on it instead of their normal fun colors.  While having a giant P on P2 is sorta entertaining, I've been exploring other options.

Here's what I know:
  • Prairie needs something warmer than just a Medium to get through the winter.
  • I have a tendency to spend more money on "good" brands because I hate when shit breaks.
  • The notion of spending $400 on a Rambo still makes me cringe.
  • Pessoas (and supposedly WeatherBeetas) fit the mare pretty well.
  • I don't like detachable neck covers (and I don't trust our staff to put them on/off well), but I do like higher necks for super cold weather.
  • Realistically, Prairie only needs to get 3-4 weeks out of a Heavy Blanket per year, assuming some of those days she swaps to a Medium for turnout..)
So, in trying to balance my instinct to spend more money on things than I need to, with the fact that realistically, her Heavy blanket won't see the same amount use and abuse her Mediums and Sheets do, I think this is one item that I don't need to write a blank check for.. 

I started looking in the $200ish range.

My two finalists (of the moment) are the WeatherBeeta Freestyle High Neck Turnout

And the SmartPak Deluxe High Neck Turnout.

The WB comes in right at $200, while the SmartPak has a slight edge at $169.

I've have WeatherBeetas for years and they've always worn well, but based on reviews I'm leaning toward the SmartPak.  I've never owned a SmartPak Blanket, so it seems like a bit of a wild card, but it looks like the warranty is pretty decent and I sorta like trying new things. 

Also, the (not insignificant) issue of color is pretty much even.  The WeatherBeeta would be in black with purple trim, while the SmartPak has a very comparable (though sorta boring) black with white/gray trim.

Anyone want to weigh in?  As soon as the visa payment clears (two saddles in one month was a little rough..) I'll be placing an order for Prairie's final (for now) addition to her closet...

Monday, October 29, 2012

Almost a Hunter (almost)

I can only summarize the weekend as a big giant, fun success.  Plenty to work on, sure (right lead anyone?) - but overall I was astounded with Prairie's mindset and performance all weekend.  Starting with our schooling ride on Friday and ending with our lazy walk through the fall leaves on Sunday, she really stepped up.

Major failures are limited to:

- a total lack of lead changes from the left lead to our right
- a total lack of blue ribbons (not actually a concern)
- and (sadly) a total lack of pictures.

The Boy did manage some quick video clips, which I'll share, but sadly photographic evidence is limited.

The weekend started off with my best parking job yet of the truck and trailer.  Everyone else seems to tell me that goosenecks are easier to park, but it's still harder for my brain to maneuver than the old bumper pull.  I'm sure I'll figure it out someday, but so far I feel like a moron.

So you can imagine how pleased I was when I backed the rig into a nice little angled park job.  If you could actually see the big muddy ditch on the other side, you might be more impressed.  It's definitely the tightest spot I've managed so far...
Following that success we tacked up the mares and headed to the indoor to school.

(again, I am mystified by the fact that in Hunter Land you are allowed to school in the show ring over the jumps.  Makes no sense to me, but from a teaching/learning perspective I like it).

I opted to pop in the corkscrew D that we used at Octoberfest back in September anticipating a need for brakes, but I'm not actually sure it was necessary.

Prairie was alert but not unrideable.  She didn't flick an eye at the end of the ring with the big, lit up office/lounge that had people milling about in it, instead the only distraction was at the other end where she strongly disliked the sounds of the footing hitting the metal siding of the ring... Other than that, she didn't spook at people walking by open doors, any of the jumps that were set, or strange noises outside the ring.

She warmed up light, forward and responsive to my aids and carried that attitude forward over fences.

All in all, I was probably on her for 90 minutes (lots of standing and watching other horses) which Prairie was oddly willing to do.  No pawing, no snorting, no anxiety in general.  The course was set with 11' strides (TINY!) which was a bit of a struggle for us, but Prairie tried really hard and replicated that nice, balanced, adjustable canter that we've been playing with all week.  Our only sticky points were getting the right lead when necessary - but we opted to not drill that and risk introducing unnecessary stress.  I was way more interested in having an awesome, relaxed school away from home in a new big indoor.

We put the jumps up a bit (2'9"ish) and popped around some courses, figuring out which direction Prairie's natural "home" beacon was pointed and also working some of the possible rollbacks and bending lines we might see in our Eq classes.

By the time we were done I really couldn't have been more pleased with how well Prairie was going and how different she was from our schooling ride at the September show.

We untacked, fed some hay and then scooted off to feed ourselves some margaritas as a reward.

Saturday saw us at the show bright an early since our barnmate was competing for the very first time (YAY!) in the crossrail division.  She did awesome and managed to come away with a reserve champion in both her Hunter and Eq classes and a new found appreciation for why people justify the cost and ungodly wake up times associated with going to shows.
Prairie says that a Venti wasn't big enough...
The upshot of the facility we were at is that all the classes took place inside.  The corresponding downside was that all the warm up took place outside... in what turned out to be nearly 2" of rain.

Since we had such a nice ride Friday I wasn't anticipating needing much warm up, and the rain solidified my intention not to get on before the division before me started their flat classes.  I can assure you that even only planning for 15 minutes of warm up I was the only one in the warm up ring when the time came.

Prairie was a bit more amped up in warm up, but I didn't blame her given a ton of crap to look at, the splashy, muddy footing (she hates that) and a brisk wind blowing all sorts of smells around.  I was thankful for our Rambo Competition Sheet which went a long way toward keeping my legs warm and dry while we slogged around in the slop.

We popped over a few jumps which went well, although my brakes were somewhat diminished from Friday's ride.  Not wanting to haul on her mouth S just had me school some halts after each fence and then we called it good.

As a side note, I opted to warm up without the running martingale, which I'm proud to say we didn't need.  I did put on a standing, but I don't think Prair ever hit it.  Standings always seem like more of an accessory to me than a functional training aid, but that might be the old eventer in me talking...

Before we knew it it was our turn.  There were only three people in my division and since we didn't come home with a champion or res. ch. ribbon you can guess where we finished.   BUT, aside from placing below two bratty, lesson horses, I was over the top thrilled with how Prairie did.  Our first hunter course went pretty well,  I nit picked my distances which resulted in a couple chips, but those are chips that I couldn't have even asked for a month ago.  Also, the 11' strides meant that I had to keep Prairie at a lope in order to fit everything in, and that took me about half the course to really figure out.  But, the bright sides were that Prairie was forward and eager to every fence, didn't spook at anything, and most importantly had zero intention of landing and scooting off or ignoring me in the corners.

Steering and brakes! who knew!!

The second course was a very thrilling variation of line-diagonal-line-diagonal, but we got to start on a diagonal.  wild.

It was quite a bit cleaner, but I still wasn't able to get any of my right lead changes without going through the trot.

Then we started our Eq courses.  The first had some great rollbacks which we are MASTERS of.  We only missed one lead and got all our distances, so when we still placed third after one of the other ponies bucked, and her rider lost a stirrup and bobbled around in a horrid closing circle I was a little confused.

The second Eq course was pretty fun, and I actually have video.  A few bending lines (which we rocked) but you can see our issue with leads and I bobbled a distance or two so again, bottom of the pack.

Clearly not an ideal Hunter round, but look how much quieter and more controlled the big mare is. 

Then we had our two flat classes for the division which went ok.  Prairie managed to stay pretty tuned in and was very mindful of my half halts.

Apparently in our HUS class in my attempt to get her "long and loose," we ended up "long and low" which would have been awesome sauce for our dressage tests, but a little too low for Hunter Land.

We placed second, which was nice.  Although the snarky side of me was a bit confused since the other two horses were above the bit the whole time, not soft or supple and had pretty horrid movement.

The Eq class was potentially 45 minutes long.  Which seems unnecessary when you're just watched all three of us jump four rounds and ride a HUS class.  The judge did ask for a good amount of sitting trot as well as some trot/halts and surprised me with a halt/canter which we ROCKED.  We cantered for no joke 10 minutes and Prairie was a very good sport.  I never leave her in one gait that long, but she managed to stay balanced and only started to get irritated with me at the very end. 

Again we pinned 2nd, apparently because I have a tendency to sit at the vertical during my canter work.  It's hard to beat the dressage out of me I guess.  My only grievance with that class was that one girl lost a stirrup and the other broke from her canter like 3 times.  Also, they both were in two point for the canter which I thought was a no-no in equitation classes.  But I did like the halt/canter.  That was fun.

finally we closed out the day with a quick Medals class that was a really fun course.  It started with a pretty wicket rollback, went to an outside line, another right rollback and finished with a bending line (to trot the second fence) and a halt after the final fence.

I think this was our best ride of the day.  Prairie was totally with me on all the broken lines and nailed her leads (except for the first rollback which we jumped from a cross canter).  We barely eeked out the trot for our last fence, but her halt was decently prompt and without fuss.  We got another 2nd.

Here's the video for the medals class. I'm seriously so proud of our trip around this course:

I mean, compare that to this gem of a moment from the last show:
neither of us look like we're enjoying it....
I remember that ride.  That ride sucked.  After that ride I was so frustrated at Prairie for totally tuning me out that I threw her at The Boy and he went off and did groundwork with her while I took deep breaths and tried to coax some feeling back into my gnarled hands.

Thankfully there was no hint of that ride on Saturday.  At the first show, if I half halted lightly, it didn't do anything, if I hauled on Prairie hard enough to get a response, we risked trotting (which we did, to like half of the fences).  But this weekend, the only fence we trotted was the one we were supposed to in the Medal class. (win!).  All of our opening and closing circles were balanced and contained.  And Prairie was adjustable from start to finish on every course.

Yes we need lots of help with our leads, and I could use some better Eq - but holy wow.  What a difference.

After putting in such a nice effort, I promised the mare an easy Sunday.  Usually I'd give her the day off after a show, but it was sunny and since this is Seattle I was going to take advantage of that.  We only stayed in the sandbox for about 15 minutes.  Just enough to loosen up some easy lateral work at the walk and do some long and low work at the trot.  I finished by popping into the canter a few times - and since Prair was totally willing, steady and balanced, I called enough enough and we headed outside for a stroll.

Our barn has a great "outside track" around the property that circles all of the barns, arenas and paddocks.  It's not exactly a trail ride but it's close enough and it takes about 10 minutes per loop.  We did three laps and there was enough mud, branches, small ditches to cross to keep it mildly interesting.  Prair was good for all of it.  She was alert, but relaxed and interested in swinging her giant head around to take it all in.

It was the perfect ending to a really fun, really productive weekend.  Can't complain about that.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Confidence Boosted.

Last night's ride was insanely productive.  If not for Prairie, than definitely for me.  Not only did we canter baby cavaletti like a normal horse, we strung together a full course in the indoor and managed to have a balanced, ground-patting stride the whole way around with lead changes.  It did wonders for my confidence. 

Admittedly the jumps were wee to start with, but by the end when we put them up a bit, I still felt like I had an incredibly balanced, responsive, totally controlled horse under me. 

I'm still fairly certain that Prairie's reasonableness can be attributed to the confines of the indoor - which means it might quickly evaporate in the (much) larger show ring this weekend... but I don't care.  I feel like a functional, capable and not a totally-horrid rider again.  (yay).

So what was our lesson?

We started with reviewing our basics for our flat classes.  Worked through our general transitions, adjusting P2 between her HUS and Eq frames and nitpicking my bad equitation habits (of which there are PLENTY).  Prairie was a bit strong and on her forehand, so I worked on finessing her back without any large tantrums. 

Then, we started working over our cavaletti as a warmup and started putting some courses together.  Here was our ring set up.  Mind you, this is a 20x40m arena (maybe).  Possibly a smidge smaller.  Prairie eats up the long side in about 5 strides.  7 if I try really hard to collect her up.

Once again, you can thank Paint for my incredible visual aids.

What you see here are two red cavalettis (one with CONES under it), a blue plank vertical, a purple vertical with flowers and a skinny white wall. 

What you can't see (because my "drawing" skills are limited) is that both the Wall and the Flower jump had really tight angles either between other jumps or out of the corners.  So to sum up? Prairie was going to have to SLOW DOWN and sit back if we were going to do anything other than charge through all the jumps. 

In turn that meant that I had to sit back and ride instead of just hoping that things went well.

While I keep saying that the confined space was great for Prairie's mind, I think that I have to admit that the looming walls were just a helpful for mine. 

I rode my corners, I gassed the mare in our rollbacks, I support her with my outside aids and low and behold, she did FANTASTICALLY.  Even when the jumps went up, she stayed with me (with the exception of some motorcycle like turns from 3 to 4) and managed to come back from every tight turn in a balanced, controlled package.  I only totally lost it and missed a jump once (#5 - we took a long spot on 4 and had no shot of getting straight in 3 strides..).

It wasn't all glorious, but it was really encouraging.  For one thing it was rad to feel Prairie sit down and wait for the jumps after our last ocuple weeks of what I can only assume are rage blackouts as she approaches a fence/cavaletti/pole.  It was also great to feel Prairie getting some of her leads on her own (both over the fence and in the corners), and when she didn't our simple changes were respectable and less tragic than they have been.

I doubt all of this will stick with us in a larger ring and I know that the quick recovery will be challenging without our new bff (the martingale), but that's ok.  At least I know that in the right circumstances the mare can actually use her brain (a little) and eventually that will happen more often. 

Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Back to Business! (ish)

a giant beak.
I must be having fever dreams, because I could have sworn I wrote this post already.  But apparently I'm just dreaming about writing posts.  Which is a nice departure from my semi-regular action movie dreams, but a tad on the mundane side if you ask me..

Anyway, Prairie and I have gotten back to business.  Like I mentioned, S had some good rides on her while I was busy last weekend and the trend seems to have continued even with me in the irons.  Since we're aiming for a couple 2'6" divisions this weekend (pre-adult, what-what!) I've been eager to leave the ground pole drama behind us and get back to functioning like a real horse and rider.

Monday, I headed out to the barn intending on getting a quick ride in before my vet showed up for some bodywork.  It was pouring down rain, and just when I was starting to tack up, one of the guys popped in and notified me that the indoor was closed.  For painting.  (what?)

Apparently, the ppoooouuuurrrrring down rain, deterred the guys from working outside all day (don't blame them) so instead they put fresh paint on the walls of the indoor arena - not really thinking about the fact that all the boarders would be just as disinterested about riding out in the same rain.  They also overlooked the small fact that one of the trainers has a full teaching schedule Monday nights and might not be thrilled to be in the rain for 5 hours should her clients not all cancel and run away.  (which they did)

(Mind you, I grew up with a (small) outdoor ring with no covered/indoor arena to speak of - which is a brave thing in Seattle.  Yet somehow I survived.  I really don't mind riding in the rain unless I'm paying out the nose for board which presumably includes a functional indoor arena). 

Also, since the rest of you were probably actually suffering from droughts all summer you are well aware how dry the last four months have been.  Even Seattle had a 150 days in a row without rain.  When NO ONE was riding inside.  Not sure why we didn't paint the walls then... 

But I digress.

Anyway, not having a lesson and not really caring, I just fluffed and buffed the mare and waited for our vet.  Who commented that P2 looks the best she's ever seen.  The irregular gait/rein lameness is totally gone, she's driving off her butt more and her poll/topline/shoulders are all opening up and losing the tension she came with.  All good things.

But mostly I was thrilled that there were no obvious pain points and that (so far) neither new saddle is causing damage (yesss). 

Yesterday I had a fun lesson wherein we played with actual cavaletti and worked on me holding myself tall and asking Prair to come up to me instead of me giving/releasing too much over each pole.  This worked pretty well in the trot, and decently well in the canter.  In the canter we also worked on getting her toes deep to the poles and asking her to rock back.   (left lead was rad, right lead was harder).

Today we took that exercise inside and started building up small courses.  Mixing in a few things like sitting the trot to some jumps, adding strides, etc.  I think part of our success was due to the small indoor (which visually backs Prairie off more) but it was the best work we've had over fences in a while. 

For one thing, I'm no longer terrified to go ride some courses at our baby show this weekend, and for another I no longer think that Prairie is totally batshit. :)

I have thrown a running martingale on the beast and I think that's a big ticket to the recent success.  It doesn't inhibit her at all when we're riding nicely, but if she loses her balance and tries to scoot, the extra leverage is just enough to interrupt her pattern and bring her back from outer space. 

Our Tuesday ride was brisk and windy which added a certain amount of.... spunk to the ride.  Additionally horses were being brought in for dinner so everyone was whinnying and bucking and farting around which made Prairie extremely interested in everything but me.  She tried to zoom off a few times when other horses freaked out, but she hit her martingale, dropped her nose back down and settled in nothing more than a few strides. 

It's not a be-all-end-all, but I think that it might help shut down the crazy-scoots before she really amps herself up and becomes convinced that life is scary. 

I know I can't show in it, but I can guarantee we'll be warming up in it come Saturday morning...

One more school at home tomorrow, then we haul out Friday afternoon to get settled in and school at the showground.  Sat we rock the 2'6" world and are hopefully home in time for a glass of wine and a nice soak in the hot tub.

At least, that's the plan.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Shelter Chic

I have officially checked off one big item from the things-that-keep-me-from-the-barn-list.  Which is fabulous.  What's not so fabulous is while I was totally focused on the big-giant-conference-project, I totally ignored pretty much everything else (chores, food shopping, work... etc) which means that I probably still have a few days of catch up before all is normal again.

But no matter - while I was in total couch-vegetable mode on Sunday night (a vain attempt to recover before Monday morning..) I caught a quick spot on some mediocre news magazine show about Jill Rappaport's  "collection" of collars, leashes, halters and leads for rescued animals.  She launched the items earlier this year, but appears to be doing a pre-holiday push for the merch again.

Prior to the little segment, I was fairly aware of her affiliation with the ASPCA and her own rescue operations, but not really much more than that.  Frankly, I'm not sure I really learned anything new except that she has a whole bunch of nylon products with cute sayings on them like "opt to adopt," "smitten with my rescue kitten," or "heart melter from a shelter." 

It's unclear what all is on the horsey items - in fact, it's remarkably hard to even find someplace to purchase the products, but I like the sentiment and the cause.
Jill and one of her horses modeling a halter from the "Rescued Me" collection
Cute right?

On the Prairie front I'll get an update up soon.  The weird, crazy bolts have dissipated again.  I don't think it's a pain issue (I've poked and prodded and swapped saddles and nothing is jumping out in that arena).  But she gets bodywork done today so my vet will be able to give her a once over.

I'll get caught up on those rides shortly....

Friday, October 19, 2012

P1 at Play

I got a couple more video clips of P1 this week and darn it that mare is cute.
Cowboy Man has her working in the canter a lot more and it sounds like most of her grumpiness about her least favorite gait has dissipated as she's figured out that the former pain issues are gone (at least for now).

Here's a baby clip.  She still looks a bit stiff to me, but this is much more willing than she has been in the canter in a long time...

Can't wait for her to get here!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

(more) Winter Wardrobing

While perusing SmartPak during my lunch hour (which, for the record will prevent even the most meager sack lunch from being an "affordable" lunch) I was clicking around, looking at blankets, breeches, boots... my usual window-shopping fare (justified by a need to re-order some U-Guard) When I stumbled into the sale section (not good, I can justify so many more things when they are on "sale") and then into the Blanket sale section... and saw this thing again.

I'm sure you've all seen it.  When I noticed it in the catalog the jock in me was torn between loving it and hating it for being totally cheesy.

A second glance solidified that I was pretty sure it was adorable.

But a third glance made me choke at the $90 price tag - which is just a tad too high for a novelty item (I consider a cotton "cooler" in a stain prone fabric a novelty item).

But, the lunch hour sale-shopping saw that the priced dropped (enough) for me to feel like I could potentially justify it.

And we all know how that turns out with me...  I was torn between getting it in P1's size or P2's (two novelty coolers is still out of the question) when I figured that everyone likes an oversized hoodie, so I grabbed P2's size and figure P1 can always borrow it and rock the baggy "boyfriend" look.  (that's still in, right?)

This might be my most absurd purchase in a while, but I'm feeling ok about it.

Thoughts? Totally dorky? or a fun throwback?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Chutes & Ladders (and those pesky Pyramids)

While I understand that the basic philosophy of the Training Pyramid is to steadily climb up it - often my progression feels a bit more akin to a (crappy) game of Chutes & Ladders than a slow march up a mountain.

I have several instances to reference here, but I'll stick with the most recent incident:

Following our totally bad-ass work with some increased collection and really pushing into our transitions.  Prairie apparently rolled a 3 with her dice and promptly landed on a giant Chute that sent us back to square one.
See that big long slide from square 87 down to 24.  Yeah.  We landed on that.
 Frankly I feel like the good 'ol training pyramid infographic could use an update with some Chutes added on.  I mean, ok, Rhythm and Relaxation, check.  Then, you ask for some connection and uh oh! you lose it all and slide back to the bottom. 
The *new* pyramid
I mean, I know this happens.  Two steps forward, one (two? 5?) steps back... extinction bursts, testing, fatigue.  Whatever you want to call it, I'm pretty used to making progress than being handed a giant piece of humble pie and starting over.

Where we lost it this week was really Relaxation.  Prairie started getting all chompy and antsy and trying to "bust out" of my aids.  Which led to a lack of balance which in turn led to a reappearance of the dreaded scoot.

But this time, instead of just hscooting when all hell breaks loose, she's using it as a semi-regular response to a normal half halt.  Let me paint you a picture:

We're trotting, nicely might I add, but I feel our tempo speed up and the weight shift to the forehand.  So I rebalance with a little half halt, leg-seat-close-the-outside-rein and BLAMO!

Inverted, blastoff!  we race! we scurry! we gallop around the arena.

A'hem.  mare?  Is your brain is still attached. and I just asked for a half halt.

Thinking I must have missed something, I didn't make a big deal and returned to our normal trot.  So we trot, until things start to loose ideal balance and I throw in a half halt

BLAMO! inverted blastoff!  we run, we scoot. I pulley rein, she flies sideways. I run her into a corner, she sidepasses out of it, we gallop in a very terrible circle

Irritating is an understatement. 

Then, on another ride, S sets up two cavaletti at the center of a figure eight so we can criss cross back and forth.  We start by walking over it, which should be cake, but every time we approach the 6" cavaletti, we leap and jump and BLASTOFF!!!!!!

Yeah I dunno.

So we walked over them for a good 20 minutes until we could walk over them without cause for alarm.  Then we trotted, which took another 20 minutes to settle into an easy, even trot without drama at every pole. 

Weird much?  Pretty sure we're at the bottom of the Pyramid as we definitely don't have a Rhythm, and I'm quite certain Relaxation was not a part of the picture... 

Oh mare.

We've had a few schools since then with slightly less drama and more responsiveness to a simple half halt, but WOW.  Talk about square one.

Part of me feels like there must be big chunks of her foundation that are totally missing and every once in a while a giant sink hole opens up and we literally chute back to the bottom.  Hence the freakouts over cavaletti (but 3'6" courses are not cause for alarm) and her ability to sit and her ass and pushing nicely in a walk/canter, but still totally blow through a baby half halt when she tips onto her forehand in the trot..

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

New Tail Product

I am fortunate that Pia is blessed with a plentiful tail.  Even when left to the tangles of Summer Camp, it stays ridiculously thick (though slightly dreaded) and continues to grow at a rate rivaled only by those weird Barbie dolls that pump hair out of their head when you crank their arm. 

Thus her "tail management" and "conditioning" regimen is pretty easy.  Products don't really matter, and I can get by with a bit of basic shampooing and a spritz of show sheen in order to keep her looking thick and luscious.

P2, however lacks a nice god-given tail and in turn requires pretty much constant attention in order to eek out decently full, decently healthy looking locks.

Don't get me wrong, it's not an awful tail, but it takes a lot more love, affection and coaxing to get it looking (and staying) in decent condition.

So far this has resulted in me experimenting with various products and routines.  I know everyone has their theory as to what is best for growth, but I've always erred on the side of "more is better" than the don't-touch-it-all-winter-and-let-it-grow camp.  Plus I just like brushing through a nice, clean tail.  It's fun.  Why would I want to give that up?

But in terms of efficacy, I've noticed that when I don't touch a horse's tail all winter, it gets tangled and covered in gross stuff.   And when it gets tangled and covered in gross stuff - hairs break on their own, or the beast inevitably hooks it on something and rips large chunks of dreaded tail out. 

I will admit that brushing breaks off the odd hair, but I think it's a net gain over the dread alternative.

Recently I've been following Supermom's recommendation of using Infusium 23's leave in conditioner which I really liked.  Especially for a deep conditioning following a bath you can feel a significant difference in the texture of the tail.  I like it. Also, since she has arabians with crazy amounts of hair, I figure she knows what she's talking about.

But we recently ran out of Infusium and S picked up a new conditioner while she was at the feed store.  We've only had it in the barn for a few weeks, so I can't really speak to the long term effectiveness/consequences but so far I love it.

Unlike most detangling "polishes" (like Show Sheen, and even some of the non-silicone products..) This stuff leaves no residue on the hair that ends up attracting dirt and eventually giving the hair a sticky, gross texture.

It goes on light (really light), stays light, and totally negates the dirt-slick-layer issue.  On top of that, unlike even a lot of decent conditioners, it really leaves Prairie's tail soft.

Not slick, but soft. 

Then on top of that, I've found that I really only need to put it on once a week.  The bottle claims that it lasts for two weeks, but I've found one week to be about the max before I feel like another spritz is necessary - which is still a longer interval than I've tended to go with anything else.

Finally, it's totally affordable.  Not that I'm a total diva, but given that I spend more on my horses than myself in most regards, I feel like "hair care" is probably one category where perhaps I should still spend more on myself.  And shoes.  I definitely still have the edge on shoes...

Anyway.  I'll keep you posted if prolonged use results in hair loss or rash or something wild, but right now I'm feeling like the Canter Mane & Tail Conditioner is well on it's way to earning a permanent spot in my groombox. 

I know that this is a relatively basic product, which is why I'm fairly surprised that I've never even tried it till now, but whee! I love when cheap, common products are better than their spendier friends.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Winter Wardrobe

I am fully aware that I live in the most weather-moderate area and while we never get hot, hot, hot, or cold, cold, cold - I still relish the seasons changing and get excited to start bundling up for chilly morning rides.

It's still been above freezing at night, but there have been hints of frost and plenty of foggy horsey breath when I get to the barn in the mornings.  As such, I've declared it time to not only dig out my endless layers of barn coats and vests and gloves - but also to get Prairie's cozy snugglies out and ready for winter chills.

This morning was the first time I thought I could justify our cute new Rambo exercise sheet for our ride.  I debated about riding inside again, but while the air was heavy with a misty, wet fog layer; technically it wasn't actually raining so an outside ride was totally doable, especially armed with a snuggly rug.

S and I constantly joke that Prairie is not always in communication with her hindquarters, (in fact we usually insinuate that she needs a tin-can telephone like the progresso commercials, which prompts us to constantly say "ring, ring" whenever P2's butt is on a totally different wavelength than her front half). 

This disconnect is relevant in lateral work, transitions, half halts... oh - and whenever anything brushes over her back while we're riding.  Like say... a jacket you're taking off, or her flappy exercise sheet.

Since I have every intention of riding in some drizzle this winter (I don't do well shoved in an indoor for 9 months, and I can't imagine Prairie would appreciate it either), today seemed like as good a time as any to start getting the mare used to her flappy, swishy, fleecey rug whapping and rustling about while we rode.

Shockingly she was pretty good about it. 

At least, she didn't do much more than roll some big eyeballs when I rubbed all over it and eventually took it off to drape on the fence.  Good first steps.

The rest of the ride was fairly mediocre.  I was in the dressage saddle and did lots of stirrup-less stuff again (really trying to attack the pinching thing) and transitions.  None of it was great work, lots of tension and bracing so I finally sort of gave up and dropped down to the walk for some correct, true lateral work. 

That was a good idea and we ended with some very soft and forward shoulder-ins, leg yields and turn on the haunches.

But then I got off and let Prairie step on (and break) my reins.  Wah.

Some days the best thing about your ride is your color coordinating polos and pad.  Thankfully that's usually enough to keep me happy :)
Cozy Mare.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Pinchy Pinchers

So, I had a lovely lesson this morning (aside from the twinge of a hangover lingering on the right side of my brain due to an evening with Supermom and a few bottles of wine... eesh).  S had us get in the jump tack in order to work on P2 landing on the correct lead after fences.

Since our next little hunter show is two weeks out we both agreed rather than over school changes, we might as well work on just getting our leads in the first place which make changes somewhat irrelevant.

We warmed up with lots of transitions again, asking Prairie to collect and sit, which she is getting pretty good at.  She's also getting really good at anticipating, and doesn't like to stay "on her butt" for long.  So her little dance shuffle as she anticipates the transitions, is less than charming..

Either way, we worked on lots of up and down transitions, some leg yield against the rail for some straightness and some counter flexion to keep everything decently soft.

Prairie was moderately distracted (first time back in the indoor for a while) which resulted in some regular inversions and braced moments that I wasn't as quick to correct as I wished I might have been.  She's also starting rooting (wtf?) like a pony and I feel like a toddler when she yanks me out of the tack and throws her nose on the ground.  It's not very polite and I'm ready for that particular evasion to go away....

Eventually we set up a little vertical and focused on just trotting in (super straight) and cantering out on the correct lead.  P2 did well.

Then we moved the vertical to the centerline so that we could change directions and start to ask for the new lead over the fence.  Starting left, and staying left - no problem.  Starting right and changing to the left lead - no problem.

But starting right and staying right..... that.  That was a problem. Every time we landed P2 took the left lead.

I balanced and sat up - left lead
I lifted and opened my right rein - left lead
I closed the CRAP out of my left leg (to try to trap her haunches) - Still, the left lead.

NOTHING was getting us the right lead.

Finally I asked S if it looked like I was pinching my knees (my lower leg felt rather swingy..) she said no, but I could get more (left) leg on the mare.

Then about 15 minutes later I noticed that my breeches were rubbing the inside of my knee (something they have never done) and about 15 minutes after that I had a full on saddle sore on the inside of my left knee, which I'm pretty sure can only show up if I'm pinching.  Right? you can get a blister if you're not pushing on something and moving it around.

Right knee... totally fine.  But then again, so was my right leg.

Left leg - was absent and letting Prairie skootch her butt over and fall on her left lead.  d'oh.

Finally I gave up and let S try her over the jumps. 

Turns out when balanced, packaged and some exxagerated left leg, P2 will land on the right lead all the time.

Which brings us back to my crookedness and my pinchy knee.  Dammit.

This has never been something I've noticed before, but the blister doesn't lie.

I've got to fix this lower leg.  and quickly. Humph.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Ow.  Just... ow.  After an entire lesson sans stirrups my legs are screaming at me - and just about the only comfort am taking is the fact that I'm pretty sure Prairie is just as (if not more) sore from the ride as well.

I finally busted out to the barn Tuesday afternoon determined to not only get a ride in but also actually sit in the new saddle for more than 5 minutes.  I shuddered a bit when S suggested that we were going to do transitions, and nothing but transitions. without our stirrups. for the entire lesson.

My whiny brains started down the path of but, this saddle isn't broken in yet!  But, I don't know how my balance is in it!  But, but, but!

But then the smarter, more rational side took over saying.  Who cares.  You're not gonna fall off, and frankly, if you do, you probably need more time without your stirrups, not less.  Touche smarter self... touche....

Now, I'm a huge proponent of riding without stirrups, although I think that like a lot of people, it's easy to let your stirrup-less ride quickly convert from challenging your weak spots, to reinforcing bad habits.  I've seen plenty of people (me included) nobly bopping around the ring without their stirrups with every intention of lengthening their leg and solidifying their seat, but really then end up more crooked and clamped than when they started.  One of my first dressage trainers (who lacked any sort of charm in her bedside manner) had a MASSIVE mural down one wall of her indoor that declared


Yeah, yeah, it's a truism, I get it.  But it's not what your 10 year old self wants to be staring at while you're struggling to get some good connected canter transitions on your pony. 

However intimidating it was at the time, that damn mural drilled itself into some permanent part of my brain and is always there lingering when I feel myself cheating an exercise, or hitting a wall with my riding. 

It's also always there when I see someone with the best intentions slowly turning themselves into a pretzel as they attempt to (mostly) stay over the middle of their horse's back. 

That's why I prefer to do my stirrupless work with someone on the ground.  So S can remind me when I start sucking my hips up, or twisting to the left, or (somehow) totally removing my right leg from the situation. 

Left to my own devices I only reinforce the crookedness that I'm trying to correct. (oops)

But I digress.

So there I was, in my new (slippery as shit) saddle, irons crossed and awaiting torture. 

S announced that we were going to work on getting P2 as collected as humanly possible and getting her butt to drop 2" for both upward and downward transitions.  Some people might say "like a real dressage horse,"  but I prefer to think of it sorta like a fancy military statue.
you know.  like this.
I was skeptical.  For one thing, this has never (ever) happened when I ride Prairie, and for another, I was doubtful of my position, seat and effectiveness.

But never fear! S had schooled the tweedle out of Prairie in my absence and the new saddle does wonders for my balance.  At no point in the lesson did I feel like taking my stirrups back would improve my riding or effectiveness.  My hips stayed mostly loose and I stayed mostly upright. 

We started at the halt (hooray! I can do this).  Half halting and just getting tuned in with trying to shift P2's weight onto her hind end without letting her move her feet.  Then we took it to the walk.  walk/halt/walk, reinforcing both up and down transitions coming from behind.  This is hard with Prairie's Loch Ness Monster back, and hard for me to be accountable with.  But we got it

Then we moved to some walk/trot/walk.  Asking for as active a trot as we could muster while really trying to keep it collected.  I was shocked at how well Prairie was stepping up and engaging her butt.  Dare I say that when I added leg I felt some half-steps. 

The trick is for me to keep her straight and hold her accountable alllllll the way through the transition.  I like to bundle her up, ask for the transition then throw it away in the last stride or half stride.  This is disappointing, because in my head, I'm doing it all totally amazingly. :)

I also noticed that in asking for Prair to collect-collect-collect I am not giving her enough support, as evidenced by her big caboose swinging wildly at 45 degree variance from"straight."  I was getting the motor going, and asking her to stay tight, but then not really keeping her between my aids.  Remember that elusive right leg of mine which (when tracking left) likes to just float off into space?  Not helping.  

When I actually threw my leg on and held her straight, we were back to a very uphill (for us), very collected (for us), very active trot, with a few hippity-hoppity half steps which I'm pretty sure was Prairie telling me that her engine was on and primed and ready to do something already.

So we did.  We started going from a collected trot to a collected canter ONLY accepting the transition if it came from a big *sit and push* instead of from her pulling into it up front.

I need to work on my management of her body (all of it), because again, if my leg dropped off or I wasn't vigilant in my timing of half halts, bend, leg, seat, etc.  We sorta wiggled all over the place.  But when I had her locked and loaded it felt like we were walking around on her hind legs and had the engine to push into anything we wanted. 

It was so cool.  so cool.

It wasn't necessarily perfectly pretty, but I felt so connected to her, and she felt so light and engaged I was giddy. 

We worked on the same qualities for dropping back into our collected trot which was not quite as magical feeling, but just as difficult and probably even more necessary. 

It was a rad ride.  I feel like I got a glimpse of things to come when we start putting all the pieces together...

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Latch Key Kids...

Man I hate when life gets in the way of the fun stuff... My poor ponies have been woefully ignored the last month or so, and while there's a light at the end of the tunnel - it feels far enough away that it's not worth looking at yet.

Between weddings (whee!) and work (boo) and lawsuits and retreats and everything that seems to fill my day, I feel like I haven't been getting nearly enough horse time.

I hardly see P1 anyway, but I miss my semi-regularly scheduled trips out to see her.  And having watched week after week after week of gorgeous sunshine slip by I'm even more sorry not to have squashed in more opportunities to hit the trail. 

P2 should be easier to stay in touch with, but I feel like I've even been missing on my time with her.  I've officially only ridden in my new jump saddle twice, and the new dressage saddle once.  The notion of having new tack that's not being played with is slaying my nine year old self.
I do take comfort in the fact that S is keeping P2 in almost full time work, so she's not just languishing - but she's definitely missing out her toe trims, tail brushings and obsessive nose kissing.

I'm hoping that after next week my work load will lighten significantly... the big international conference I'm helping to chair will be done and I'm hoping that will give me back my sanity.

Plus it's only 31 days until Pia comes back! I guess it's a good thing that I delayed her return (again).  I'd be feeling much much worse if I dragged her back from Camp only to ignore her..

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Saddle, Saddle, Saddle, HEY!

A mere 161 days later, it's HERE

My saddle.  Thank god.

I was worried that I would hate it.  Mostly because whenever I buy a new outfit for an event too far in advance, by the time the event actually shows up I'm over the outfit and onto something new. 

Having learned this I try not to buy anything more than 2 months before I need it.  161 days grossly exceeds this expectation.  Which led to feelings of dread, worry and general buyer's remorse since my current Prestige is fitting better and better as the big mare fills out. 

But the saddle was bought and paid for, nothing to do but cross my fingers and hope I still thought it was a worthy investment.

And I'm happy to say - I think it was.

It definitely fits the mare better than the Prestige, and when I finally got up in the irons I felt much more balanced and like my leg was a bit easier to wrap around the beast. (both good things for me).

I'd write more if I wasn't running off to a meeting due to the fact that I'm totally behind schedule due to the fact that I spent 2 hours at the barn getting the new saddle (squee!), but I'll leave you with a picture.

Jury is out if I still think the gold piping was a great idea, but I guess I'll have to love it!
Big huge BOO for leaving town tomorrow and not getting to play with it until Monday...

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Progress with P2

It's a mixed blessing when you leave you horse for a week and come back to see them tuned up and tuned in.  On one hand, progress is progress is progress is progress... but on the other there's always that twinge of d'oh! at not being the one to bring it about... But that's what we have trainers for right? To right our wrongs, to be straight when we're crooked and to interrupt patterns we unknowingly create..

I was so excited to race out to the barn after a week of no pony time, but the onset of a super gross cold kept me away Monday, and kept me grounded Tuesday too.  I did get out though, and at least I groomed, and patted and smooched and got to watch S put a light ride on her.

One of the things I love so much about horses is watching them grow, learn, muscle up and figure things out.  If you recall, the last couple jump schools I had on the big lady prior to leaving for LA were over the top fantastico.  She was soft in the mouth, even to the jumps and there was no sign of scooting to or from the fences, even when headed home.  When I think about the same ride two months ago, we were unbalanced, I was practically choking Prairie back and we had more of a "lurch" than a true "jump."

And if I think back a few months before that, we were struggling with canter departs and staying off our forehand.  Walk/Canters were 50/50 and Trot/Canters were "there" but not always packaged and great.

Now, I'm shocked if she doesn't strike off quickly and balanced (from the walk or trot).  We can do all our transitions on a loose rein and Prairie balances herself in the canter for endless loops around the arena.  She jumps tidily (assuming the jumps are big enough), and she's learning to find her own distance to fences.

Changes are still iffy.  If she's balanced and packaged she gets them, but being as big and long as she is, that's no easy task (and significantly harder for me than for S).  She has figured out how to change her lead over a fence and she's pretty good at that move now.  The big success is that she seems to understand the question.  She knows she's supposed to change, but somethings it just doesn't quite get there.

As I was watching S and Prairie lope around yesterday I just had one of those moments where I was so proud of how far she's come and what a good flipping girl she is.  She's responded well to everything we've thrown at her and seems to be eager for more.  I just think the polish will come with time as she continued to strengthen her back and sit back more and more....

S's ride yesterday was light.  Lots of long and low in both the trot and canter, followed by some figure eights over small crossrails with some simple changes, and a few flying.  Even when Prairie lost her balance at times, S could keep a super light rein while bringing her back, which is probably the biggest change from two months ago.  The freight train has slowed it's roll.  And for that, I am grateful. :)

Here's a quick video of the two of them yesterday.  Nothing fancy.  Just happy, relaxed, cantering and a couple cross rails...

Hopefully I get back in the tack today...

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Pia Plays with a Gymnastic

I am so grateful to be working with people who keep me in the loop with my horses when I'm absent.  S is completely proactive and sends a quick update of each ride (or lazy day off) complete with a picture of a cute muzzle now and again.  I know everyone has been away from their furry children, and it's just so reassuring to hear that they are warm and dry and being fed treats... (or working on flying changes, or some such thing).

I'm also grateful that my vet and Cowboy Man keep me pretty informed with Miss P when my schedule keeps me from visiting.  Usually it's just an email here or there, but last week I got a series of videos showing my cute red mare bouncing through a (small) grid.

My vet is really liking how it's making her use her body and it seems to be accelerating the loosening of her shoulder, which is the last body issue still standing.  They haven't been jumping her much, but P seems to enjoy it and loads herself right in the line.

This first video is the first time through and P is just trying to figure it out.  She adds a stride and throws herself over her shoulder which is a move I distinctly remember from the few times I played with her over cavaletti.  The second clip was her fourth time through on the first day and she's using herself a bit more.

I'm a hop, skip and a jump away from having two jumpers!  Which is weird, since I'm pretty sure I bought two Dressage prospects.... :)

Monday, October 1, 2012

You can take the girl out of the barn....

But you can't quite take the barn out of the girl..

Finally back from a fabulously fun (though not exactly restful) trip to LA and San Luis Obispo to watch The Boy's best friend in life get married.  Everything was fabulous aside from the distinct lack of horses, which was remedied by our "unique" accommodations for the wedding.
some of the decor from our "sweepstakes" themed room
 It was a thoughtful touch from him, only slightly diminished by the... um... shall we say... age? of all the upholstered surfaces.  As much as I love a horsey themed comforter, I avoid most textiles from the 60's.  (no offense). 

For those of you who haven't stayed at the Madonna Inn before, it's a road trip must if you're ever heading up the 101 or 1 in California.  Pretty fun. 

We've stayed there before in one of the "rock rooms" which is super bizarre, but I determined a potential liability if I'm teetering around in heels. 
Not a good place to slip and fall...

Other highlights include taking over the dance floor and tearing it up until (literally) my feet fell off. 
The Main Dining Room and Dance Hall

But now it's back to the real ponies, and *gasp* new saddles!!!!!!

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