Wednesday, May 24, 2017

May Lesson Notes

Lesson notes almost didn't happen for this month because the lesson almost didn't happen because I am a fucking idiot and wrote down the wrong time. Thankfully, my barn manager texts AND I live less than ten minutes from the barn. I was on and warming up only 30 minutes after my planned start time. Sigh.

What we worked on:

1. Forward. Always. Forever. In this lesson we focused hard on quickness and getting his feet hustling, accomplished at least partly by me posting much more quickly, which frustrated him enough to want to match it.

2. Bending through his whole body. He was actually pretty responsive to softening in his jaw right off the bat, but took longer to convince to yield his ribcage and step through with his inside hind, particularly to the left.

3. Lateral work. In particular, we worked hard on sharpening up my aids for the shoulder in: when I was asking for too much bend, when I wasn't signalling clearly enough with my leg aids to keep his hind end moving. It still wasn't bright and quick but it was a damn sight more through than I've ever had him in the shoulder in. We also dabbled in haunches in, even getting a few creditable steps at a time.

4. Canter. For once, we didn't actually school the canter too much because it was pretty darn good! But I finally got the idea hammered into me that I am breaking too much at the wrists in the canter.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

House Post: Library Organizing & Rug

The library has been in fine shape for some time now; once we did the initial renovation, it's functioned nicely as a library/craft room/exercise room. I spend a lot of quality time in there reading and sewing, and a lot of miserable time on the treadmill.

However, an upgrade for the space has been on the back of my mind for some time now, and last weekend that finally happened.

Here's the before; pardon the mess, but it all shifts around on a regular basis as I better organize the books and cut and sew fabric.

We took all the furniture out of the room except the bookshelves, and rolled up the old rug, which led to the sad discovery that in the year or so since we originally pulled up the old rug, there was some bad sun fading to the beautiful hardwood floors.

This room got more direct sunlight than almost any other in the house - definitely more than any other room that has the exposed hardwood. So that's a lesson learned for me, I guess. It's not a problem going forward, though, because after vacuuming and cleaning up a bit, we unrolled a new rug in the space.

It's actually quite an old rug, belonging to my great-great-uncle many years ago and having made its way to me through a chain of family members. The label on the back indicates it actually came from Iran - probably at least 75 years ago. It's still in extraordinary shape and fits the room perfectly. I love it.

With the unrolling of the rug, the treadmill went elsewhere, and I am working hard to organize the books still further. I'm even - gulp - setting aside boxes to donate and/or sell to our local used bookstore.

This room isn't 100% done yet; my longterm goal for this room is to do built-in shelving all the way around. That's a few years off, though. So this is how it will live in the near term!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Weekly Blog Roundup

Let's talk about tack trunks from Hand Gallop
Organization is one of my favorite things to think and talk about, so this post and its comments are great.

Naming Baby M from Equestrian at Hart
I had the distinct pleasure of meeting this stinking cute little colt when he was just a few days old - go help Hillary name him!

My Horse Has EOTRH (What on Earth?) from Saddle Seeks Horse
I had never ever heard of this before, and I consider myself a connoisseur of weird horse diseases.

DIY: How to Make a Trailer Bench for Your Trailer Tack Room from DIY Horse Ownership

Warm Up & Warm Down from Eventing Nation
Tinkering with warm up is one of my endless obsessions, so I liked what this had to say - particularly about long walks and the actual physical readiness component of a warmup for cross country.

Five Pony Club Rules That Are Slightly Impractical from Eventing Connect
I was a Pony Club DC for a number of years. We used to say that there is the Pony Club way, and you will never ever go wrong following it, but there are often other equally smart & safe ways to do things. I still think Pony Club has it down in terms of teaching kids safe and quality ways to interact with horses, but boy are they sticklers.

The sad saga of DJ Trump, Donald Trump's lone foray into horse racing from the Washington Post
It's pretty obvious that the fuckwit-in-chief is a failure as a human being on every count, but did you know he even behaves shittily toward horses? Well, here you go.

Finally, new blog alert; I've known Paula for years and she has a truly extraordinary story to tell, so please check her out & follow along: My Brave Arab Mare

Your non-horsey read for the week: My Family's Slave. This was mind-boggling, heart-wrenching, and extraordinary. Take the time to read it through.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Three things we're working on right now in dressage rides

There's not much that's more boring than a ride recap in which I just write "yep, went pretty well" for a couple of paragraphs. For the first stretch of time in a long time, my rides are going pretty damn well. It's a perfect combination of regular lessons, a horse in great physical condition, my renewed commitment to physical fitness and presence, and a couple of small revelations all clicking together at the same time.

That said, my horse still can't really canter on the bit, so obviously it's pretty far from perfect. Here are three things we're working on right now in our dressage schools.

1. Accessing the hind end independent of the front end.

First and foremost, this has implications for lateral work. It's part of getting him to be more supple and responsive. I can do a somewhat acceptable leg yield and shoulders in without fine control of his hind end. I cannot hope to get beyond that. I started playing with haunches in yesterday and it was not pretty.

It's both a frustrating problem and an interesting puzzle to work on. It's a lot of thinking for me, requiring a much higher degree of communication through my seat than I have been used to, as well as more subtlety of aids than I have trained my horse to respond to. That's the tough thing about being 99% responsible for your horse's training: no one to blame but yourself.

So I am struggling to do things like ask him to step through with his inside hind from the saddle, and to do different things with his hind end than his shoulders might be pointing toward. Moving against the bend is a big red flag what is even wrong with you, mom? See also, haunches in. Most of our problems in that can be boiled down to being totally unwilling to step under with his hind end in a new way.

2. Transitions, transitions, transitions

I've been hitting these hard lately, particularly the trot to canter. Halt to walk, walk to trot - not perfect, but I can get them soft and through with some level of consistency. Slowly, slowly the trot to canter is starting to shape up.

I like the longe line for this, particularly with side reins or the chambon. Once I've got him responsive and quick off the aids, I ask for a trot to canter. I praise him for transitions in which he pushes up from his hind end, through his back & withers, even a little bit. Transitions in which his neck goes vertical and he lurches his whole body upward via his shoulders get an instant back to the trot and then another swift try. His reward is thus both loud praise - which he does respond to on the longe - and a brief respite from doing transitions.

I'm also working on downward transitions, specifically not quitting on them. I'm trying to make them true transitions and not just a drop down, carrying over energy and softness, and using a higher gait to invigorate a lower gait. This has been working particularly well in canter to trot, and my most successful strategy has been patience: waiting for the right moment to ask, usually on a long side after a good, deep, bending corner.

3. Bend to straight and back again

Everyone has lessons they're always re-re-re-re-re-learning. Forward is my core one. I've added a new lesson to that list: the phenomenal improvement in Tristan's way of going by focusing on moving between a deeper bend and a true straightness.

The best example of this is coming down to a short stride: I ask him to stay straight and then for a deep bend to make a true, directed corner instead of just shaving off the corner and making a sort of oval. Then I aim for 2-3 strides of a straight, uphill gait on the short side, then another deep corner.

A slightly different variation of it is on a 20m circle. Points of the compass get a stride or two of deeper bend, and curves get more straightness. (Obviously not complete straightness, but more of the dressage definition of straightness.)

If I focus on this hard, really follow up and work those feelings of bend and straightness through his whole body, keep him soft and reaching for the bit through it? 10 minutes of this work is like magic for him. It's like a giant, half-ring-sized half halt that's easier for him to process and makes him ever so much more supple and more willing to respond to what I'm asking going forward.

Are there any things you're particularly picking apart right now?

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Seeking Testers for Equestrian Products

I'm actively trying to sew various things with an eye to at least nailing the patterns down as a personal exercise. If all goes well, I'd like to sell some of them.

I'm seeking testers, at all stages.

Sometimes, I'll ask you to receive a raw thing for free and let me know privately how it worked for you, with an eye to critical feedback. (My intent is not to hide, but rather to get substantive advice and work to improve.)

Sometimes, I'll have things that have gone through a few rounds of testing and I might be ready to give away or sell at a steep discount/at cost if you're interested in reviewing them.

I'll try to be upfront and clarify what the circumstances are around each item. Sometimes there will be an opportunity to customize; sometimes I'll have pictures and you can choose what you get. There will almost never be enough for everyone, so you'll have to get back to me quickly.

It's all a big experiment, and I'm hoping to have fun while I'm doing it, so if you sign up for this it's important to understand that! If it's not fun and interesting, there's no point in doing it.

So, if that all sounds interesting to you: please sign up with the form below! You'll be added to a mailing list and will receive emails when there are things available.

Testing signups are currently closed; they may open again at some point in the future, so keep an eye out!