Friday, January 31, 2014

Self Carriage (mine)

Since Prair continued to just be a peach, I'm being forced to crawl out from behind all the bad habits my previously more-defensive riding has created.

I suppose some of the bad habits aren't really attributable to being 'defensive,' they are just bad habits all on their own. But regardless of where they came from the fact of the matter is that the more correct Prair is, the more correct I have to be in order to elevate us to the next step.

Currently the two biggest issues that I'm trying to correct are 1) bringing my lower leg forward and 2) raising my hands.

I will say right now that when I first started focusing on these things I felt like I was riding a saddle seat horse. My leg felt waaaaayyyyyy out in front of me, and my hands felt like I could pick my nose without making much of an effort.

Of course, neither of those sensations at all reflect reality and apparently the adjustments were not that dramatic. (I disagree, but I digress).

The leg forward thing stems from a couple issues. The first is Prair is long, and I often move my leg back much farther than necessary to control her haunch. At some point I just decided that "too far back" felt just right and stayed there. It also is a result of my "brace for impact" position whereby I clamp with my thigh and deactivate the lower leg.

The Low Hands thing is hardly new. I have always (since the dawn of pony riding days) held my hands too low. Until recently this was accompanied by reins that were also way too long. I guess I always assumed that when I fixed my rein length my hands would automatically be higher.

Turns out this is not the case. They are still low. The low feels safe, so I think this is also part of my "brace for impact" position.

So, in short I need to unclamp my leg, and sink down and forward in my heel as well as unlock my hands a bit more and raise them.

I need to... carry myself?

I suppose it makes sense. We're spending so much time on Prair and her self carriage, I should probably work on mine as well.

The leg has been easy to adjust. My stirrups went down a hole again (didn't we just raise them???) which makes it much easier for me to relax my hip and sink forward (I shudder to think how many lessons it took to get my leg "back" when I was little..). Also, Prair's increased relaxation means that I'm able to be a ga-zillion times more subtle with my aids and feel effective. It's been a change that's reinforced by Prair's behavior.

The reins are more of a struggle. I understand that lifting them helps take the pressure off Prair's bars, and that it's a softer contact overall... I also recognize that with Prair's low back my hands look even lower than they do on other horses, but my hands feel silly up in front of me. They feel closer to normal when we are jumping - but on the flat I'm really having to establish a new normal.

I do feel more effective when my leg and hand are in a more correct position, but I can feel my bad habits surface when Prair loses her balance, we get a funny distance or I stop constantly thinking about it...

Continuous improvement... so challenging.

Customer Service Saves the Day

I was really, really excited to see my fancy custom trunk cover arrive at the barn earlier this week and had to battle the mental 12 year old in my head that wanted to take it home immediately and try it on my trunk, while the adult in my brain knew it made sense to just leave the cover safe and clean at the barn where it would stay organized until I finally got my trunk to the barn, loaded it up for Thermal and it needed to be covered.

Per usual, the 12 year brain won out, albeit with a relatively mature rationalization of "I really should make sure the dimensions are correct..."

Imagine my disappointment as I unfurled the cover over my trunk and no matter how I pulled or adjusted it, it just didn't seem right.  I could get one of the handles on each side to line up, but then the other was sorta screwy, and in my head I was expecting a tailored, perfect, glove like fit.

I was just resigning myself to a "ho-hum" response when The Boy walked into the garage and declared that the thing didn't even remotely fit.
I had been so preoccupied with trying to line up the holes for the handles that I hadn't stepped back far enough to notice that the cover was nearly 12" short and looked a bit ridiculous.

A quick measurement confirmed that the Height (33") had been swapped with the depth (25") leaving me with a very wide, very short ill fitting cover.

Horrified that I had screwed up the measurements when I submitted them, (or initialed the work order without double checking,) I pulled up my email and confirmed that everything I had submitted was correct.

I quickly fired off a (semi-panicked) email to the owner at The Clothes Horse and politely described what was going on and asked what could be done and what she would like me to do with the cover I had.

I got a very speedy reply that apologized profusely for the mistake (she took total ownership) and told me she would have her shop cut a new cover and get me a replacement out asap.  She thanked me for a polite email alerting her of the issue, and I thanked her for such a quick and generous response.

She even suggested that I fold up the messed up cover (which is heavily quilted) and call it a pretty dog bed.

I should mention that the material and workmanship of the cover is OUTSTANDING.  The fabric is beautiful, the quilting is lovely, and the construction looks very sturdy and well done.
Detail.. though I'm not really sure what I'm trying to show here...
All in all, I was very impressed with her interaction and thought that The Clothes Horse deserved credit for such outstanding customer service.  She assured me that the new cover will still be here in time for Thermal (or she can mail it directly there) and that all would be right in the world.

I love it when small businesses are able to be so accommodating.  I will certainly be looking for excuses to order more items from The Clothes Horse in the future. :)

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Equiband System

Thanks for everyone's kinds words on P.  I definitely have conflicted feelings on selling her, but I know that ultimately its the right thing both for her, and for me in terms of me having less on my plate when this baby shows up!

I wanted to write a quick post about a product that we've started using with Prairie.  It's made by Equicore Concepts, and is sort of a mix between a pilates machine and a pessoa system intended to help engage your horse's core.

Our lameness vet (who is the one treating Prair for her subtle Kissing Spine) has been really impressed with the product and since a couple other horses in the barn have used it with success I'm optimistic about it's potential for Prairie.

Basically it's a saddle pad that allows you to clip two big stretchy bands to it (one band goes under the belly, the other goes behind the haunch).  In theory the belly band encourages lift while the butt band provides resistance and encourages stepping under.  All of this encourages the use of those pesky topline muscles that Prairie likes to avoid.

I will admit that it really doesn't look like much when you hook it all up.  But I was warned by my vet to literally only use the system for 5 minutes when first introducing it.  She has had clients who hopped on and went through their regular 45 min routine only to end up with horses so exhausted and sore that they needed several days off to recover.  Prair makes it very clear after a few minutes that she is working harder than she would like.  When I ask her to walk and reverse direction I get one of those mare looks like "Seriously.  We're still going?? You'll regret this..."

I imagine this is similar to my overconfidence the first time I did a Tracy Anderson video and scoffed at making "little circles" with my arms and 3lb weights.  I thought I could do that all day... turns out 2 minutes had me crying while I brushed my teeth for the rest of the week... oops.

Prair has been getting her 5-10 minutes a day in the bands for about a week now.  So far we just lunge her in them and then remove them prior to mounting, but they are designed to also be used under saddle.  I guess some horses are very agitated by them at first (makes sense), but Prair must have thought they felt like a nice hug as she hasn't ever batted an eye at them.

I can tell that her back is much softer and more engaged when I get on after 5 minutes in the bands, than when .  I know that some horses feel that way if you lunge them normally (or in a bit rig) and then ride, but with Prair she will just slink her back down and invert her way around the lunge circle.. The bands seem to really help smoosh her together and warm up the right muscles.

N swears they saved another horse of hers who suffered from a weak back, so I'm absolutely willing to give it a go.

I bit the bullet and bought Prair her own system today (the visa really is angry with me..) since the one we've been borrowing belongs to another horse in rehab and we'll never be able to travel with it.  I figure this thing is about 1/2 the cost of one set of injections so if it at all helps the cause, it's worth it.

Has anyone else ever used these things?  I will say I'm moderately impressed.  Prair has been using her back so much more in the last month I'm quite hopeful that we are on a good path to building and maintaining the strength she needs to be comfortable.

Already she's much more patient in her jump and much more willing to land softly.  It really is just way too much fun to ride her right now.

Will report back on continued progress with the Equiband process... but so far I'm liking it as part of Prair's routine.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Ye Ole

Hormones are great for so many things.  This whole pregnancy roller coaster has me acting (only slightly) erratically, but really the biggest change I've noticed is that if I decide I need to do something, omg it has to happen right now.  That's helpful for things like.. laundry and vacuuming, but maybe less helpful with financial decisions, or say... anything to do with the horses.

All things considered the horsey aspect of our new "family planning" is going well.  I feel great about where Prairie is, and also about the half lease that will help cover her costs and keep her showing.  Gus has a good short term plan, and likely long term plan of his own.  

P remains the only wildcard.  She continues to be a happy horse up north with my good friend, but it's pushing a year and I'd really rather not wear out my welcome to the point of having the mare dropped on my doorstep in the middle of the night.  

There's been a fairly concerted informal search to find the P a perfect next home, but nothing has borne fruit.  The Boy (bless him) is very, very tolerant of the horse spending and isn't so much putting his foot down as he is making sure that I'm getting all the horsey affairs in order before Baby arrives.  Realistically, at this point that means I need to step up the efforts to find P her next place. 
Pretty Red Mare
Enter - ye ole  I hate officially listing horses.  I pretty much hate any process of trying to summarize anything in 1500 characters or less (You will not be surprised to learn that I am not on Twitter).  While I am the queen of writing other people's resumes or helping fill out online dating profiles (I'd claim that I'm the downright BEST at that) - when it comes to myself (or my own ponies) I find it really, really daunting to smoosh everything down into a reasonably sized nutshell.

Especially with the P.  Her story is so complicated and has so many ups and downs I'm tempted to just link the ad to the blog and be like "here.  Read all of this.  If you still like her, call me."

There are lots of things to consider with P.  For one thing, I think it will be moderately difficult to find her a home where she will be set up to succeed.  That would mean someplace with lots of turnout, not too much time in a stall (but a stall for rainy days!) and the right feed/training philosophy to allow for her... um, quirks.  

I still think that with the right person this mare has a very bright athletic future, but without a perfect match I think a life as a broodmare or trail horse is much more realistic.  

So then, how do I describe that?  "If you're badass this mare will take you flying on XC, but if you're not, just use her to make cute babies?"  That's a terrible ad.  

I figure I'd rather undersell her, than oversell her - but even then I've seen horror stories with people selling beautifully bred mares as "broodmare only."  Someone always seems to think that they might be able to miraculously heal a chronic injury and end up with a fabulous competition horse at a bargain basement price.

Although that's not my precise situation, I still hymmed and hawed over what to list as the mare's "price."  One one very candid hand I would consider giving her away outright to the perfect home, but on another more practical hand I know what kind of crowd comes out of the woodwork for a "free horse" and I'd like to avoid both the total weirdos with unrealistic expectations as well as people who are looking for a "free horse" because they can't actually afford properly caring for one.  

Ultimately I settled on $3,500.  That may not be right, but her breeding is not so bad (Wistar, Wishes & Dreams, Weltmeyer...) plus she's pretty, and sound, and not dead yet.  

So there we have it.  The P is on the market.  I really hope I find the right human for her - she deserves it and I wholeheartedly feel like she has a lot to give.  If I truly thought she wasn't capable, I wouldn't be looking for a home,  However, I do believe in full disclosure and have no qualms about a potential buyer finding this blog.  In fact, it would probably save me the trouble of trying to rehash our travails together.  

Fingers crossed for the right person.

Monday, January 27, 2014

True Costs of Big Shows Part II

As predicted, there are always extra costs that sneak up on you in preparing for larger horse events, so I figure it's time to add those in.  My original post True Costs of Big Shows Part I talked about the anticipated costs for three weeks at Thermal, but left the door open for more expenses...  This is definitely the point where if I weren't blogging, I would deliberately not add up all the expenses and avoid seeing a final tally at all costs.

But in the name of being honest (both with myself and the blog), I'm trying really hard to keep track of our expenses and report them faithfully.  This may result in me never, ever, ever hauling across states for another multi-week show ever again, but who knows.

The additional checks that have been written in anticipation of Thermal fall into two different categories.  One is "new gear" for me and Prair and the other is Medical.

The "new gear" can be argued that it's not a true Thermal cost since it will continue to be used after, but Thermal definitely triggered the purchase, so I'm choosing to include it.

All of the new gear is either because we are at a new barn and I really like to match, or because I'm pregnant and really like things to fit.

I didn't go crazy on the matching Barn Gear, but I did get excited and ordered some stuff - specifically a stable blanket and stable sheet to be embroidered, as well as a trunk cover and coolerette so I feel like a cool kid.

Purchasing these items didn't take significant arm twisting since we all know how I feel about matching - but they still required dollars to come out of my pocket in concurrence with other Thermal costs.

Granted, they are a one time cost (hopefully) - but they still hit the bottom line...

It helps that the barn colors (hunter green/burgundy/beige) are relatively common, so we are able to use SmartPak for the barn blankets, which are an affordable $96 for the blanket, and $79 for the sheet.  Additionally, we send out for our own embroidery, which cut costs a littler further.
Totally Acceptable
The Trunk Cover and Coolerette are both made custom by The Clothes Horse, which is decidedly not the cheapest outfit around, but their products are gorgeous and really well made.  Since we're able to avoid custom costs for the show blankets, I didn't feel quite as bad about forking over the $$ for some nice Clothes Horse Items.

I ordered the Deluxe Trunk Cover in order to match the rest of the barn.  My costs ran a touch higher than listed since my Trunk is an unusual (large) dimension.  The notion of spending $220 on a cover was a little much for me, but I'm not ready to invest in a matching trunk so it seemed like a good compromise.

The Coolerette is mercifully cheaper ($100) and although it's totally unnecessary, it is kinda fun to have your name displayed in such a classy fashion.  Really makes you feel a part of the team.
Plaid Coolerettes off to the right..
In addition to the new clothes for Prair, I also pulled the trigger on a new huntcoat for myself to accommodate my, um... increasing topline.  So far the belly is a non-issue, but the boobs are not going to cooperate with my current closet of show clothes.  Both Dover and SmartPak have some great, affordable options, and I ordered myself the R.J. Classics Essential Show Coat.

It's not fancy, but for $99 I'm hoping it'll do the trick while I have some baby-induced-weight for Thermal, and just in case it's still hanging around next year when I'm able to show again.

I have never purchased an R.J. Classics coat before, so I'm not sure what to expect, but it is one of the only jackets I was able to find that came in a "long" and stayed under $200.

So, in terms of "new gear" we're look at an additional $600.

More significantly, I must have been feeling extra maternal this weekend as I decided it would probably also be wise/kind to give Prair a round of GastroGard for the big trip.  Her tummy has remained in a bit of distress since moving barns and she's an anxious enough mare (sounds redundant) that I think GastroGard is a good proactive step to take for hauling so far and then being in a show environment for so long.

The 28 Day Pack is another cool $900 out of Prair's piggy bank.  Not nearly as exciting as fun new blankets, but probably more important - and frankly something that gives me peace of mind for the days I'm not able to join the mare in California.

Finally, I think Prairie will likely go on Regumate for the show (and potentially other shows this season).  Our barn is sending almost exclusively mares down south, so I can only imagine what the herd bound drama will be by the time they unload.  Additionally, N always requests to be stabled at the very far end of the barns where there is less hustle and bustle to bother the horses, but exaggerates the terror of leaving your friends and walking (forever) to the show rings.

We know how I feel about hormones, but my biggest goal is to give Prair a good, positive experience, and I am thinking that controlling her raging mare-moments might help that process.

Big bottle of Regumate will run $270, and while that allows for three months of continuous use.  So really, only 1/3 of that cost should be earmarked for "Thermal," but much like everything else, I'm not prorating :)

So medical costs are $1170.  Add that to the $600 of new gear and I've got a total of $1770 to add to my initial estimate of $11,555 for show costs.

New Estimated Cost?



Thursday, January 23, 2014

Pushing Together

The big challenge (both literally and figuratively) with Prair is getting her to lift her back and collect her frame.  Between her long conformation and history of pain associated with really using her back - the mare really prefers to just let everything hang like a hammock and call it good.

But getting that lift through the back and wither is not only necessary for good balance and jumps - it's imperative in keeping Prair strong and sound.

Old photo since I lack any really evidence of recent lessons.

As such, pretty much every aspect of our ride, from warm up to cool down is focused on encouraging the mare to round up, lift her back and use herself.

The first exercise, which I know we've talked about before starts with our walking on a loose rein just ambling around the ring.  I ask for a nice round halt, get Prair soft and very deep in the neck, then rein back as slow and straight as possible asking her to roll her spine up.  Then we halt again, (she usually sighs) and we walk on trying to maintain the same shape and softness.

Eventually this routine works up into the trot and when I've got a fairly responsive, light horse in our transitions we begin focusing on other work.

All our lateral work is done with the emphasis on stretching her over her back and really reaching with whatever hind leg is doing the most work.  Often I'll drop Prair's headset lower than normal in order to emphasize the stretch and to make sure that she's not binding up in her jaw or neck.

We spend a good amount of time alternating every 5-7 strides of asking Prair to move out in more of a medium trot, and then "pushing together" into a short, collected trot.  Inevitably at this point the first few transitions are a bit heavy and on the forehand, but as we go she sits back more, lifts through her wither and becomes more adjustable.

The same exercise is repeated at the canter, along with some very slight lateral work, and then (if all is well) we start working over fences.  In our last couple lessons we have been trying to maintain balance and relaxation at all costs.  So, if while on course I need a circle to get everything 100% where I want it, we circle.  If I need to trot and re-establish our rhythm, we trot.  Whatever we need to keep each jump slow, steady and round.

Yesterday we spent almost all of our time trotting the fences to keep Prair from using her momentum instead of her back.  It was really good for me as well as I had a better chance to keep her straight and balanced and light to the fences.  I was shocked by not only how much I was getting snapped out of the tack, but also by how quickly Prair was willing to roll up her back, balance and come back after each fence.

It felt awesome

Of particular note was in a 4 stride line that we trotted into (planning on getting a quiet 5), I really misjudged our stride length and while I thought we had room to cram a fifth stride in, Prair did not and we launched.  I slipped my reins and let her go which resulted in a terrified, inverted, llama when we landed on the far side.

I braced for impact and got ready to pulley rein her around, but turns out, as I added my leg, Prair pushed together, softened like butter and dropped right back to her round, happy canter. (whaaaaaaa?)

Usually it's not the ugliest fence of the day that you're most proud of, but seeing that response from her was a little magical and really inspiring.

N keeps saying that she never really understood how hard Prair tried to please and how well she responds to praise and reward - but it's becoming really clear that the more we emphasize the rewards, the quicker Prairie is giving us what we want.

The mare is really working hard for both of us in our rides and that just makes everything so damn fun.

Which I suppose is what this silly hobby is supposed to be.

Oh, also - Prair got her feet done for the first time by the new farrier, and aside from freaking out and breaking her halter (ugh), I am extremely happy with his work.  He set her heels nice and wide and each foot looks well balanced.

Welcome Gift (and Gersemi Sale)

One of the fun things about Prair's new barn is that the Trainer's parents live on site and are both very involved and very entertaining.  I'm enjoying the time that I get to spend with them both, either in the ring, or in the lounge.

Last week after one of my lessons N's dad grabbed me and presented me with a gorgeous brush box.  He is quite the craftsman and has made a tradition of making a new, unique wooden brush box for clients "once he thinks they're going to stick for a while."

I must confess that with the smaller locker I've been eyeballing more compact brush box options than my big plastic tote, but I just couldn't pull the trigger on buying one.  So I was thrilled to be given such a beautiful prize!  I also love that everyone has a slightly different design - with different inlays or woods, so that there's no confusion.

What a talent! and what a generous tradition!

Oooooh, Ahhhhhh
Also, I found myself checking out the Gersemi website, as I do every few months to look over their outerwear, which I still think ranks consistently at the top of the heap in terms of both form and fashion for barn wear.  I have never actually purchased anything from them, but I noticed that quite a few pieces were on (significant) sale (and in my size!) so I snapped a couple things up.

I figure that I certainly won't be needed any summer riding clothes this year, but I'll probably be back in the tack next winter... or at least, I might be back in the tack by winter which was justification enough for me.

Also, the cold seems to be sticking around here so they'll probably get some use sooner rather than later...

So voila, a nice puffy jacket, 50% percent off
oooh, tall collar
And also a cute vest, also 50% percent off, because I love vests.  Favorite riding layer.  I also love the color.

It might have just been the hormones talking, but if I can't look cute in a bikini this summer, then dammit, the least I can do is look cute in puffy layers!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Gus' Fancy Shoe

On the recommendation of both my vet and my farrier I ordered Gussie one (1) fancy shoe to try.

I think I mentioned it in a previous post, but we are seeing what happens when Gus puts on the Denoix Suspensory Support Shoe from grand circuit.  It's not that expensive ($20), so I think it's worth a go.  In theory the shoe is designed to help float the toe a bit and reduce a "stabby" motion on a leg that has reduced range of motion in the lower limb.

oooooh shiny.

I'm not sure it's going to be like Cinderella's slipper and cause princes and birds and fair godmothers to show up, but if it helps him move more comfortably, well then, why the hell not.

Honestly, as much as I've tried to educate myself on hoof care and hoof shape and trimming, I know literally nothing about specialty shoes or how they do what they claim to do.  I'll make it a point to ask my farrier some questions as he's attaching it to Gus' toostie and report back.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Three Horses and Three Barns. Or Two Barns! or three barns...


Bane of my existence.  It's really (really, really) sub-optimal to have three horses with such wildly different needs.  If the pocket book was magical and bottomless I would be buying my farm already, hiring brilliant, loving, smart and capable people to run it and end up with a property that was as horse friendly as it was rich in wonderful amenities (cough cough, wine fridge in the lounge, cough cough).

But alas.  I have neither the farm, nor the check to write for the farm, nor the amazing staff to help my make dream property function like a veritable Disney Land for ponies.

So, instead I have three horses in three different barns.  Prair is at the full training facility with its heated lounge and brass trimmed everything, Gus is at our old facility, but soon to move to a more "retirement friendly" option (read, CHEAPER), and Pia, well Pia is as close to Summer Camp as I can get her.  She's with a friend in a great social environment where she gets to be outside most of the time and has to play well with others.

All told, if I left my house in the morning and went to all three barns before going back, I'd be actually driving for at least 4 hours (hence the description of sub-optimal) plus whatever time I actually wanted to spend with the beasts.  Really, Pia is the one with the short straw.  I see her like.... every few months?  Gus gets attention a couple times a week, and at this point I only see Prairie for my twice a week lessons.

My flight path to get to all the barns.

So many ponies, so little time.

Gus is the next to move.  Since he's no longer paying his bills by being a sometime lesson pony, I cannot justify the $850 in board that he costs ($750 for basic board, $50 for turnout on weekends and another $50 to park my trailer..)  Didn't take me long to do the math and then promptly give my notice for him.  I was hoping to have a perfect home for him all figured out, but of course, that would be too easy.

My top picks for a "retirement-ish" barn are all full until at least March, which would mean that I would be moving him Feb 1 to a facility I wasn't familiar with and then immediately dashing off to Thermal with no great way to check in on him and see how he was doing(/if he was actually being fed).  Therefore the solution (once again) is to impose on my dear friend and send him to her house for a layover of sorts until I'm back in town and can supervise a move to a new, more permanent home.

Tomorrow I'm going to scope out a facility which will *hopefully* be Gus's semi permanent home starting in March/April.  It'd still be 20-30 minutes away, but it would be about 2 miles from M2, which increases the odds that Gus will get more regularly scheduled attention.  Most notably there is a well established therapeutic riding program that is run out of it and they are potentially interested in using Gus a bit with some of the kids.  That part is still up in the air, but if he could be partially leased by the program, it would be great for $$ as well as for Gus.

In terms of Pia.  Well, we'll just see. I'm not sure how much longer there is room for her at her current place and as of now I have zero brilliant backups.  Frankly I don't even have stupid backups.

Prair is staying put where she is for the foreseeable future and helping the cause by getting herself a really nice half-lease person who will not only help cut costs but will also be able to get Prairie around the amateur divisions this summer.

Our situation is "workable."  It's far from ideal, but all the ponies are getting what they need to be happy and healthy, Prair definitely gets a disproportionate piece of the pie, but that's what you get when you're sound and amenable to being stalled and ridden on a regular basis.  :)

Never What You Expect

The Blogosphere is alight with thoughts and love and sympathy for the loss of Mr. Cuna over at SprinkletBandits.

If there's one consistent with horses, it's that they are consistently inconsistent, and while sometimes we can predict our successes or failures, more often it seems that our big, all consuming beasts rarely teach us the lesson we think we need, or take us where we are expecting.

Cuna came to Aimee when she needed something different.  He wasn't what she would have gone shopping for with a blank check, but it turns out he gave her more than just ribbons and goals related to moving up the levels - he showed her how to be confident and enjoy a partnership again.

None of my own horses have ever taught me what I thought they would.  Even looking at the three we have now.

I was certain that Pia would be my ticket back to eventing. I thought that we would learn (or relearn) the ropes together and that we would be zooming around xc in no time.  Instead she taught me about patience.

Patience with my own goals, patience with her needs and patience in exploring new ways to enjoy my horse.  I never saw Summer Camp coming with her, or as much time spent on trails, or even exploring Mountain Trail fun time.  Pia taught me how to trust my gut, and get out of my head with training oriented goals.
Prairie came later.  So I was very much not going to impose "show X level by Y." with her.  I mean, I wrote those goals, but they didn't drive my decision making.  That shift in mindset (thanks Pia), allowed me to exit the dressage court and explore Hunter Land with a shockingly open mind.  When Prair seemed to be happier in that arena, we spent more of our time there.  We still school lots of Dressage, but it's with a very different end in mind.

Prair has also taken me through my first "real" show season since I was a kid.  She has tolerated my nerves, my screw ups, my hangups and my frustrations as I have had to learn how to manage hers.  She has shown me that it is possible for me to deepen a bond with a horse again (without the whiplash of emotions that often accompanies my dealings with Pia) and she has allowed me to focus on my own riding again.

Gus... well Gus came into the group with an entirely different set of expectations.  Gus has been my return to being a pony kid.  Even though Gus is "ours,"  I don't work with him as regularly as Prair, and whenever I go get him I still feel like a nine year old who has shown up for her 4pm lesson after school.  I feel less like Gus is "mine" to train and scold and enforce impeccable ground manners on - and more like Gus belongs to Gus and I'm lucky any day that I get to spend some time with him.  Gus has given me back totally lazy, unstructured days at the barn.
Gus at his finest
Want to go for a 45 min walk? dandy, want to just groom and groom and groom him until he gleams even though no one will notice? fabulous.  Want to ride around upside down, pulling on his tail? he probably won't care.  Gus allows me to just totally geek out on the smell of horses, the enjoyment of interacting with them, and the satisfaction of being the steward of a big, lovely, gentle creature.

But I also recognize that Gus doles out his adoration and cookie loving ways to whoever will pet his big nose.  Prair is a tad more discerning with her trust and interactions and Pia... well.  Pia takes much more wooing.

I am grateful for what each of them has given me though, and I know that all the lessons and time and learning will always impact my relationship with future horses as well.  And for that I am thankful.  Even if it's not what I was expecting to get, or even what I thought I wanted.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Steady On with Mr. Gus

Quick followup to my post on Gus.  He seems to be doing great!  I threw him on the lunge before I hopped on, just to see what I was working with... and all was right with the world.
Surveying his vast swamp-kingdom
Don't get me wrong, this horse is never going to be 100% sound, but I snapped a quick video so you guys can see what "good-ish" Gus looks like.  I realized I so rarely have videos of him I should do a better job of documenting his good vs bad days.

He usually is a bit more forward than this, but he seems to know that when I have one hand on my phone he can slow down and I can't do much about it.

Clever boy....

Glad to see a couple longer rides aren't aggravating anything.  Very encouraging indeed...

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Interesting Rule Changes...

For all that I decidedly do not know about Hunter Land, I have enjoyed geeking out over the rules (like legal and illegal tack, vs conventional and unconventional tack...) as well as diving into the new rules changes.

While a majority of rule changes are not that thrilling and pertain to eliminating outdated languages or practices (like jumps being required to be 20' wide...).  There are always a few changes that speak to the intent of the sport, or a change in mindset.

Most notably, the recent changes in use of injections prior to showing is fairly huge and hopefully a rule update that significantly lessens the use of sedatives in the Hunter Ring.

If you want to read a shit-storm of commentary on the injection rules head over to COTH or your internet forum of choice.  Plenty has been said on them, so I'll steer clear of that particular hot potato and just mention a few of the USHJA rule changes that piqued my interest this year.

HU125.1 - HU125.3 

1. Snaffles, pelhams and full bridles, all with cavesson nose bands, are required. 
               a. Judges may penalize, but may not eliminate, a horse or pony that competes in an unconventional snaffle, pelham, or full bridle. Unconventional snaffles, pelhams, or full bridles  include, but are not limited to, hunter gags, kimberwickes, etc.
               b. Judges must eliminate a horse or pony that competes in bits other than snaffles, pelhams or full bridles, and nosebands other than cavesson nosebands. Illegal bits include, but are not limited to, three rings, gags (other than the hunter gag), et cetera… Illegal nosebands include, but are not limited to, drop, flash and figure eight nosebands.  
2. Horses must return to the ring for conformation or soundness wearing a snaffle, pelham or full bridle with a cavesson noseband.
3. Martingales of any type are prohibited in Under Saddle, hack and tie-breaking classes. Standing and running martingales used in the conventional manner are allowed for all over fences classes. All other martingales are considered illegal. A judge must eliminate a horse or pony that competes in a martingale other than a standing or running martingale used in the 
conventional manner

Things that I think are interesting here:

Kimberwickes are "unconventional" but pelhams with a single rein converter are not, someone please explain that.

Also, Running Martingales are now legal tack.  I can only imagine they are still considered (wildly) unconventional, but it's nice to see that they are no longer banned.  I'm pretty sure they announce that change in a separate section, but I couldn't find it so I'm mentioning it here.

One of my favorite rule changes involves the ponies:

HU110 Pony Hunter 

6. Ponies shown by a junior cannot be shown by an adult at the same competition, except in breeding classes in-hand and in accordance with HU108. 

Much like the recent restriction on injections, I think this rule change will actually impact a lot of general practices.  Granted I don't have a pony (...yet), but from my casual observations it seems like very normal practice for trainers to show ponies (in some cases, a lot) before the little kiddos get on them.  Obviously this happens a lot for the Adult Ammies as well, so it's a bit of a double standard.  But there's something about actually making the kids ride that is appealing to me.  For one thing I think it reduces (but doesn't eliminate) the impact of spending an obscene amount of money on something cute, then paying a trainer to lunge/ride/school the snot out of it so a kid can quietly sit for a couple rounds without falling off.

Frankly, I wouldn't mind seeing a similar rule change for Amateurs, but I don't think it'll ever happen since people want to see their horse shown in Open divisions with Pros and from a logistics perspective those classes often happen while most Ammies are working their 9-5's during the week.

However, good junior riders often become good adult riders, so perhaps starting with the change in the pony division will set the tone (a little).

This next change I find hysterical (on a couple levels)

HU148 Ties 

1. In case of a tie score the Championship and/or Reserve is awarded to the horse that accumulated the most points over fences. If horses have an equal number of points over fences and no points under saddle, the tied horses will be asked to compete in a hack off, or independent under saddle class, to be judged on soundness and performance at the walk, trot and canter.  Competitors may be asked to hand gallop at the discretion of the judge. (Exception: Green Hunters.) 

Any competitor may concede to the other if they choose not to hack off, or if both competitors agree, they may choose to break the tie with a coin toss

First of all, having to compete in a Hack Off may be on my bucket list.  I have never heard of something that sounds so dramatic, and yet so ridiculous at the same time.  Competing head-to-head in any circumstance always involves a bit of bravado and flair, but doing so with polished up, braided show horses at the walk, trot and canter is... well.. not very intimidating.

I have watched one Hack Off, and it was fun! Watching an extra round over fences would more fun, but I get that from a logistics standpoint, a flat class is easier.

Hack Offs aren't actually new, but the addition of the Coin Toss clause is.

A coin toss.

I mean, one can argue that most placings are essentially a coin toss anyway, but seriously, a literal coin toss???

When you consider the cash, time and energy spent to get to a show, let alone be tied for a Championship, I cannot imagine ever thinking "ahhhh shucks, let's just flip for it."

I guess it will never be an issue for me since I will never, ever agree to a coin toss.  I'd prefer to take my cue from Zoolander and go for the Walk, errrr Hack Off.

There are about ga-zillion rule other changes that were approved, most of them having to do with things I don't care about like how divisions get split or combined and measurement cards and whatnot.

Some of the changes were made with the intent of increasing interest in dwindling divisions, or adding prize money to motivate certain awards.  The addition of a rated Thoroughbred Hunter division is pretty cool I think and should very quickly be popular.  

Mostly I have to say that while I don't pay much attention to what the USHJA actually spends time doing, I think the rule changes are definitely reflective of a governing body that is listening to it's populace, trying to stay as relevant as possible, and working to increase the fairness and sportsmanship in an inherently subjective (and expensive) sport.

But a coin toss.... lol.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A Gus Update (The Swamp Thang Returns)

Mr Gus hasn't had much int he way of face time on the blog recently, but never fear! He is sturdy and stout and weathering winter well.

Gus grows an insane amount of hair.  Basically this means he has recently pumped out 40lbs of mane that has knotted and matted and thatched itself into a very efficient roof for his neck during the muddy rainy season.

Underneath that Thatched Roof, is a big pile of fluffy fur that has been keeping Gus warm, fat and pretty happy.  Even though the pasture grass is dead and muddy, somehow the creature is... gaining weight?  For all of his old man issues, keeping weight on him certainly isn't one.  I think the guy gets chubby just looking at food.

I went out Sunday for an extended hang with the big guy. He got his legs washed (still fungus free!) and his tail scrubbed (also massive and heavy and in need of a cleaning..) as well as a steam clean on his face where cakes his fur with the green-slimy-goo that grows on the fences

He seemed to enjoy his currying and spa treatments though I didn't really think through the whole "dry time" issue and we ended up riding with wet legs and tail which undid a chunk of the cleaning process.. dammit.

The ride was nice though!  Gus felt pretty good for Gus.  Certainly not as sound as he was last spring when he went to his show, but better than the Summer/Fall '13 lame-a-palooza.

We walked for about 15 minutes, whereby I could feel him stabbing the toe on the RF but he had no head bob and felt very forward and enthusiastic (which is definitely missing when he's uncomfy).

Then we trotted for 5 minutes.  I returned to a walk for the corners/ short side when we were traveling left (and his limp is more pronounced) but he felt pretty good and remarkably even on the straightaways!

Finally I played with a little canter.  Nervous about his RF I stuck mostly to the left lead, and only cantered our long sides, returning to the walk for the corners.  Gus felt good.  He was soft, and round and very willing.  I did canter on the right lead a couple of times, though he was slightly reluctant to pick up the lead so I didn't push it.

Finally we walked on a long rein again for a few minutes, shoved his face full of peppermints and called it a day.

Due to the... extra insulation Gus has acquired, I swapped his medium for a clean sheet and tucked him into his stall for the night.

I'm going out today to see if the ride had any affect at all on his current level of lameness or if he's just as comfy.  Fingers crossed, I'm hoping he's stabilized and okay to stay in some work.

Also, Farrier is out next week and suggested that we try a specialty shoe traditionally used for old suspensory injuries.  Both he and my vet have had good experiences with it for horses with a reduced range of motion (like Gus).  And since his scar tissue all seems to be on that suspensory/annular I'm thinking it may be applicable.

Gotta love a Gus! Man he is cute...

Monday, January 13, 2014

Blog Hop - The New Barn

I posted a couple of pictures of Prair's new place, but I actually remembered to snap a few new ones which I think means I have enough to justify this post.  

I'm still missing lots of fun features, but oh well.  Such is life.

The farm is about 20 acres (I think?) and is concentrated around the main "show barn" with most of the active clients and the indoor, but also has a second barn for some broodmares, ponies and overflow.  Prair snagged a stall in the main barn, so most of my time is spent bopping around in there. 

So here we go:

A view of the barn:
This is as you pull in.  To the left is a nice wide pull through driveway for trailers (and people hauling in for lessons).  Regular parking off to the right and pastures/turnouts beyond that.

The barn is a very efficient structure, with the stalls, tack room, office area, feed and hay storage, indoor and 2 apartments all under one roof.  Well planned for sure.

Prairie's Living Space:

We've seen a couple shots of her aisle and whatnot.  But here's her beak poking out of the stall.  

The horses also get daily turnout in either sand paddocks or pastures, all with really big run in sheds.  So far Prair has been in a smaller turnout which I think is typical of most of the horses in training during the winter, but she seems relaxed and happy which is all I need.

Looking down the lane to turnouts and pastures
The Tack Room:

I like this space.  It's not huge, but it's pretty organized and stays toasty warm which is an excellent feature on wet, soggy days.  Also, the viewing area to the ring isn't huge but it's very functional and seems to be a great social/gathering place before and after lessons.  My last barn had a large lounge/viewing area but it was upstairs and rarely used.... which was too bad.

I have less personal space in this tack room, but that mostly means I can't keep 8 different sets of polos and boots around.  I'm working through that withdrawal.  :) 

Bridles are hung out in the open, then saddles, boots and grooming supplies are kept in individual lockers.  All with nice, clean brass name plates. 
Bridles, sink and tack hook for cleaning

My Locker, more lockers behind me

Beyond the tack area is the office, restroom and the viewing area. 

So toasty warm

Where I Ride:

And of course beyond the viewing area is the Indoor.  Right now there isn't an outdoor, which seems weird to me, but if I had to pick between only an indoor and only an outdoor... I'd go indoor every time with our rain...  It's also a pretty large indoor with plenty of room for full courses (and really nice jumps) and nice footing.  An outdoor would be nice for the summer, and I hear it's on the list of "to-do's" but we'll survive without one.
Shot of the indoor from inside.  It's nice and bright.
My Favorite Feature:

So far I'm fair enamored with the facility in general, but I really enjoy the Eurosizer that gets used daily.  The horses all go for a 30 min walk before turnout which helps them move their legs, stretch and get moving before farting around outside.  I also like that this is available when the ground is frozen, or you have a rehab horse you want to keep confined, but moving... 

Friday, January 10, 2014

Saddle Woes

So, after Prair's little touch-up visit from the vet on Tuesday, I reached out to our new CWD rep since I knew she was paying a visit to the barn but never heard back.  Since our old rep is still listed on the CWD website I finally called Burbank and got New Rep's Cell phone.  By the good graces of horsey karma, I actually called her while she was on the way to our barn, which wasn't so great in terms of me being able to be there... but was fortuitous in terms of Prair actually getting looked at.

The verdict is that the saddle is still (STILL!) sitting too low on her back.  That's causing the weight to not be evenly distributed (read: pushed to the back) which is in turn causing the rub marks toward the back of the panels.  She also though there was some rubbing behind her shoulder, and when she watched her move, thought that her movement makes it tricky to eliminate all friction.

So, she was able to add some shims and lift the back of the saddle (even more).  - Remember the saddle was ordered with extra lift and then sent to Burbank for even more when it arrived.... argh.  Then she said that it was good we were going to Thermal because we needed to go to CWD while we ere there and have them take out the temporary shims and rework the panels.

She also told me to get an Ogilvy Pad asap since that will help even things out and also really help reduce any rubbing.

In the meantime The Mattes Half Pad is back on duty with some rear shims.

Of course, the hunt for an Ogilvy Pad started (and ended) this morning with an impulse buy from Dapple Gray.  Since I have no illusions that I can keep a white pad (that also gets used daily) white for showing, we went with a "greige" body with the new barn colors as our trim - just because we could.
So many fun options
Never fear, I did my usual "thorough" research on COTH and other random sites before reading my Visa number off over the phone (informed consumer over here).

In truth though, if I hadn't already heard so much good stuff about these pads I would have had a hard time dropping the coin on it.  Also, If I wasn't so paranoid about doing everything I can for Prair's back I probably would have mulled it over for a while longer (like maybe a day).

But when my vet says "fix the saddle" and my saddle fitter says "we can fix the saddle, but get a pad."

I get the damn pad.

Plus I love custom shit.  That's not exactly a tough sell for this girl...

Stay tuned for a full report and review!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

My God, This Must Be Heaven???

In my daily internet trolling I stumbled across something remarkable - the greatest store known to man.

I'm not sure if any of you have heard of this or not, and I admittedly I stumbled across it on Jezebel (not exactly know for it's overly "horsey" content...) but holy crap some woman is living my dream.

The Galloping Grape is actual proof that I am not a special snowflake and that there is a whole demographic of people who really want to shop for their horses... and their wine....

Ideally in the same place.

I mean, I find the holiday "shopping party" at our local tack store spectacular enough whereby you meander around the store shopping and sipping on what undoubtedly is the cheapest sparkling wine available.

But an entire store dedicated to saddles and wine!??? Dangerous.  As in, there-goes-my-whole-paycheck-and-sobriety sort of dangerous.

Hats off the proprietor.  I can only wish that this business model gains popularity and someone decides to replicate it out West....

Wednesday, January 8, 2014


Well.  Maybe not everyone.  But The Boy and I recently found out that we're having a girl, which was a relief to him - but for me it really only affects one thing - the odds that this kiddo will like ponies.

I figure now that we know it's a girl and not a boy, the odds of me getting to shop for obscenely cute ponies (and god willing) obscenely cute show gear (have you seen the kid sized shadbellies!?) just increased by about a thousand percent.

Don't get me wrong, I probably would have justified a fat, furry adorable pony to shove a little boy on too, I'm just going with societal norms here, and am embracing the fact that it's more likely that a girl will want all things horsey and wish and wish and wish for a pony of her own.

I fully recognize that karma will probably smite me and deliver a kid that is more interested in affordable and practical hobbies like painting, or soccer, but I'll still hope for horse crazy.

I also fully recognize that none of this will be happening for years, but that doesn't mean we can't daydream (just a little) about potentially adorable ponies.

The current pony name we have on hold is Talleyrand, after the French diplomat who somehow managed to remain relevant (and alive) throughout several regimes during the French Revolution.  His name always stuck with me and became a bit of an inside (nerdy) joke about always landing on your feet.  Wikipedia even refers to him as having "become a synonym for crafty, cynical diplomacy".

If that doesn't sound like a pony, I don't know what does.

Anyway.  That's the revelation for the moment.


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Prair's New Pad

Things continue to go well at the new farm.  Prair has stopped looking like a terrified llama in her turnout, and all else is settling nicely.  I didn't recap our Saturday lesson last week (which was also awesome) but most of the details have already slipping out of my brain.
Peeking out from her (very clean) stall
I know we did more lateral stuff, and kept up with the whole haunches out thing... at the end Prair gave me some of her softest courses (when I didn't totally blow the distance) and I actually had to put spurs on so I wasn't pony-kicking her through the turns.

One tidbit that did stick with me is that Asst to N had me switch from a crest release back to an automatic release and really encourage Prair to break over a bit more during her jump.  It seemed to help a bit and didn't stress her out at all.

OH, and we switched bits.  Asst to N had tried a big (like big, big) chunky KK loose ring and Prair felt like a totally different horse up front.  Way less tension in her jaw, less rooting and overall less weight on her forehand.  It was a bit magical (or a magical bit, har har)- so I hope that doesn't go away.

But before I go spending $$$ on more bits I'm going to let it ride for a couple weeks and make sure we really like the change (and that the change sticks).

What else...

Vet came out to look at lots of horses so I had her reexamine Prair's back.  She's been off the Previcox for about a month and just last week I started to noticed some sensitivity to the curry comb again.  Sure enough, she's sore so we gave her a baby amount of steroids directly in the supporting muscles to loosen them up and Prair will be going back on a maintenance does of the Previcox to help in building up that muscle.  Also, I'm having the saddle fitter out to take a peek since things have been changing.

The rest of the week will be pretty low key - three days off from riding, but turnout, Eurosizer and light lunges to keep her moving, then back on for a lesson on Saturday and we will start back on the Previcox at that point.

I'll also keep snapping pictures, I don't know why I always forget when I'm at the barn, maybe it's because I'm in some sort of stupor from such fun rides.
Aisle and entrance to the indoor

Monday, January 6, 2014

My Odd Compulsion - Polishing Boots

I have sort of addressed my moderate obsession with a well polished boot on this blog before (specifically when I'm proud of my efforts, like I was here) but I'm not sure I've ever fully disclosed how fully obsessed I am with getting a serious shine on my boots.

I'm not 100% sure where this obsession came from.  My first assumption is that it's some bastion of a holdover from Pony Club and the ever present fear of Formal Inspections. Lord knows I've overcome most other PC commandments, so either the boot polishing thing is that last neurosis standing, or it's totally unrelated.  Who knows.

Regardless of why, I just sort of relish obscenely well polished boots.  At shows I notice other people's polish jobs and my reaction ranges from a smug disdain of people who don't clean/polish around their laces, (or both actually buffing to a shine) to full out jealousy of people with a patent like shine radiating from their well worn boots.

At home I have an arsenal of polishes, brushes, clothes and the ever important old pair of pantyhose that contribute to getting my boots as shiny as possible.

Typically I keep whatever my current "show boots" are in pretty tip-top shape, while whatever I'm wearing to school in/stomp around the barn tends to collect sand and mud and splatters galore without getting much in the way of attention.

However, this weekend I got a bee in my bonnet and decided that all boots needed a thorough cleaning and polishing immediately.
All is right with the world.
My only complaint is that I am so out of shape that buffing each pair to a serious shine has left my shoulder screaming in pain.

I am not exaggerating.  I woke up probably 20 times last night because every time I moved my arm it throbbed.  Mind you, this is mostly due to the fact that I have several rotator cuff injuries from college volleyball which flair up from time to time - but pain after swinging and playing hard for hours on end is different form pain after sitting cross legged on the floor polishing boots while watching the NFL playoffs.... Not exactly heroic.

But back to the boots.  What I found moderately fascinating was how differently each pair of boots takes a shine.

Since I wasn't polishing for a show, but rather to condition, seal stitching, etc I went for my "normal" polish job that involves cleaning with a warm wet rag, polishing once with a regular cream ( I use an old rag to apply and initially buff, followed by a real buffing with nylons..) then repeating the process with a regular hard wax polish from Kiwi.

That combo gets you a pretty good seal, a decent shine and a good base that allows you to just wipe off dirt and whatnot for a couple weeks without having to re-polish.  It's my go to.

So.  This process involved four pairs of boots.

1) The pull-on Effingham Field Boots (circa 1996?)
2) The Konig Dressage Boots (purchase from old trainer for $150)
3) The pull-on Konig Field Boots (Purchased on clearance last year)
4) the Treadstep DaVinci's (Purchased this year as our show/lesson boots, but are now on sale in Dover for like $150 less than I paid - sniff sniff)

The Effinghams are by far my favorite.  They feel like slippers, I can pull them on and off without boot pulls or a jack, and the leather takes a shine beautifully.  They have been dying a slow, painful death, and I just noticed a huge blowout in the ball of my foot, which actually elicited a small squeak of sadness, but I'm hoping a good cobbler can patch it up ok.
Fallen Soldier.
The Konig Dressage Boots also take a shine reeeaaalllllyyy nicely.  Much like the Effinghams, they get to a patent, mirror like shine without too much work.  They haven't been getting much wear recently because they are stiff, stiff stiff and I'd probably break my ankle before I got my heel down or toe out in those things.
But, when I lined them up against all the other boots, they really are a full inch taller and do fit me beautifully should we ever venture back into the Dressage ring...

The relatively new Konig Field Boots are finally starting to get a good shine.  I remember showing in them in June and lamenting the fact that the softer calfskin just wouldn't shine up.  I could get the toe and heel buffed nicely, but the calf refused to really get that patent/wet shine on it.  I finally gave up and paid $20 to have them "professionally" polished at a show and took some solace in the fact that the career boot polisher couldn't do much with them either.  Most people might have felt like it was a waste of $20, but for me - to know the lack of perfect shine wasn't my fault? Money well spent...

However, yesterday I noticed a significant gain in the shine I was able to get on them.  I think the leather is breaking in, and I'm finally sealing the pores with polish and laying the base for a better finished shine.  I'm also really happy with these boots in terms of utility (aside from being slightly too short), they are distinctly grippier when I'm riding than the Treadsteps and I really don't mind the look of a pull on boot (though I know it's a faux pas in the Hunter Ring).

Finally, I polished the new Treadsteps.  Much like when I first got the Konig Fields, the Treadsteps have had me trying all my tricks trying to get the newer leather to shine up.  The foot of the boot is polishing well, but the slightly more textured leather on the calf is a total pain in the ass in terms of polish.  At this point there are small parts of the leather that are smoothing out and shining up more than others which drives me absolutely insane, but hopefully is indicative of what will come with a bit more wear and tear.

In case you think I'm crazy and all boots look the same when polished, here is a comparison of my oldest boots (the Effinghams) and the newest (the Treadsteps) and their appearances after the same application of polish/elbow grease:

The Treadsteps:
Clean, Shiny, but not blow your socks off polished...

And The Effinghams:
This makes my heart happy.
That, my friends is what drives me slowly insane about polishing boots.  I know it's possible to get that patent shine, but it depends on the leather.  It's texture to begin with, how treated it is from the manufacturer, how broken in, how many years of polish are laid down as a base, etc.

My goal in life is for my boots to always look like they are dripping wet patent in the ring.  I just... love that.

In other news, it's a good thing I don't have a lesson for a couple days because I literally cannot lift my right arm from the shoulder.  I am broken.  Lamest "horse related" injury ever.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Haunches Out, out, OUT

Had a really productive lesson on Thursday with the Big Mare.  New head trainer "N" (don't you just love the semi-anonymous initials of the web??) is off on family vacation for a couple weeks, and while I was initially worried about whether or not we'd be productive in her absence -Thursday's lesson put those fears to rest.

Asst. to N thoroughly kicked our butts on the flat and as it turns out - I think we'll be just fine till N gets back.

It's always interesting to lesson with someone for the first time, especially when that someone doesn't know too much about you, or your horse or what's worked in the past or what hasn't....  Sometimes it's a pain in the ass because you spend so much time trying to give background, but other times you get that wildly helpful new perspective with fresh eyes and no hazy filter of past experience.

Our lesson fell in the latter category.  Nothing was radically different.  Much like N, we started with lots of lateral work down the longsides and focused on keeping the mare as relaxed and supple as possible. (sidenote: I'm encouraged that both trainers seem so in sync with their process).

The most productive work came in our canter - though the exercise started in the trot, which was to alternate between smallish (10m) circles and going on a larger circle (maybe 20-30m)  with "squared off" corners.

Prair and I have done lots of Square Turns, she's pretty good at them, and I rely on them lots when we are riding courses to keep her stepping up and not too heavy on the forehand.

But when we were riding them today, Asst to N asked me to think about pushing her haunches out to square the turn, rather then pushing her shoulders over and in.
A bit too much on the forehand.  Trying to lift and lighten a bit more
I had a puzzled face, and couldn't quite get the image of what that looked like, but we set off and I kept scooting Prair's haunches out in our corners and wouldn't you know, magic.

Same concept applied for our smaller circles.  I focused on literally pushing her haunches out (though maintaining inside bend) and all the sudden we were much more uphill, soft and balanced.

Worked the same principle in the canter spiraling our circle in and out and really felt our best steps as we spiraled out and her butt was scooting over.

I'm thinking that Prair is normally collapsed in a bit (especially to the left) which is why focusing on "haunches out" creates some really lovely, balanced steps where she seems much more lifted through the shoulder.

When we went on to some small fences we kept pushing her tushie out and found that it really helped her find a steady pace (and also helped keep her in front of my leg through the turns).

Asst. to N made the additional observation that Prairie's canter seems to get a bit underpowered in the last few strides before a fence, which I found fascinating.

On one hand I was thinking "holy hell, that's rad, it used to be all rushy and frantic" but on the other hand "underpowered" makes a lot of sense for what's plaguing us now.

I know I'm much more comfortable dialing Prair's canter down to a lope as we approach a fence, and that works out alright so long as I get a fairly tight distance.  But if we end up leaving long (even just a smidge long) - and she's got no RPM's in the trunk, then we land discombobulated and end up plowing around the corner trying to put the pieces back together.

I need to really make sure I keep the RPM's up so that when we leave long, there's enough impulsion to land organized and immediately re-balance.  I need energy for that.  So while it's nice that Prair has learned to come back to me before a fence and wait.  Now I think I need to adjust my internal monologue and focus on re-energizing those last few strides - without rushing them.

All in all I'm really happy with our first few rides at the new barn.  The lessons are hard, but productive, Prair is working well and I think we're on a good path.  The mare is herdbound as all get out, but hopefully that will subside a bit as she gets more comfy in her new surroundings and keeps settling in.


Back out on Saturday for another torture session!

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