Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Lesson! Summary: good hard work, some boneheaded decisions on my behalf, and ultimately some very productive canter work.

Started off with a lot of walk work, and he was much less stiff than I would have expected thanks to Caitlin hacking him out on Monday. He was still clearly a bit tired, though, and a bit muscle-bound. He was also already a bit sweaty - hot day!

So, walk, walk, walk, bend, stretch, off the inside leg, spiral in and out, little bit of leg yield. We're working on shortening the reins and keeping a steadier, more elastic connection, so I concentrated on that. When we picked up the trot I just let him feel his way into it for a minute or so, making sure he wasn't ouchy anywhere - he felt more or less fine, perhaps a bit shorter in the right hind, but nothing major. When I picked him up we started to work with T. on really getting him into the outside rein, pressing him forward and gathering him up with my right hip bone and right hand. It took a while to get him really steady in that new level of contact, but once he did I was really liking the power I had access too. He's not a "light and springy" kind of horse, he's got a much more drafty and solid feel to him.

After working the trot for a while, I decided to work on my sitting trot, which was....ehhhhhh. Not great. I was hitting his back far too much, couldn't quite settle in the rhythm. He wasn't exactly pleased, and the quality of the trot work took an instant nosedive. We worked it out to get closer to where the rising trot work was, and then I asked for a canter.

His first left canter depart? GLORIOUS. In fact, so wonderful I got all caught up in supporting him with my legs and asking for bend around the canter and...had to haul him back to the walk in order not to slam into another rider. I kicked myself up down and sideways for that one. Poor decision, poor ring management, and I ruined a great canter transition. I took myself to the other end of the ring and tried to get the trot back to where it had been before I asked for the canter again. Took a while.

Anyway: canter work was generally really great. I'm starting to solve the long legs/light seat problem, inch by inch, as I work toward a seat that's deep but not heavy, and legs that are long but not propping. Wouldn't you know, the closer I get to that the more jump he can achieve in the canter as I can really support him. So I could really start to dig in with hips-to-hands, half-halts, and leg support to balance the canter, kick him UP off my inside leg to get him straighter and cleaner and not leaning.

One problem that cropped up last night was that he's really starting to go well on the bit in a canter circle, but asking for that same bend, same reach, and same jump on a straight line was reaaaaaalllllly hard for him, and he dropped into the trot, all flustered, when I didn't give him enough support. So that's something to work on for strength!

Back from the canter to a long walk break, then picked him up again to work on the sitting trot again, and T. got involved - which he had been quite a bit all lesson, actually, I don't know if he saw us go XC on Sunday and thought aha! now we're cooking with gas! and decided we need our asses kicked on a more regular basis? Which is both a good and a bad thing! Anyway - T. really cleaned up my position in the sitting trot, and we had a few strides of loooooovely smooth sit for me and reach for him.

Then we worked canter transitions. I worked on staying back and staying deep, keeping my support in the outside rein and the bend in the inside, and T. said that magic thing that always helps us when I've forgotten it, which is to think of the canter transition as a down transition, not as going faster. I like to picture water flowing downhill; there's more energy there, but it's just a natural forward motion, smooth and easy. A few attempts at that and we started getting consistently nicer transitions, and ergo, nicer canters faster. Some of them REALLY nice.

We finished after a good right canter transition and circle, took a short walk outside, and then he got hosed off quite a bit - VERY sweaty boy who'd worked very hard and was pretty pleased with himself.

So, my homework: shorter more elastic reins, longer leg, better support on the outside, canter transitions as down transitions, and recapturing that smooth sitting trot I had so briefly.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Cross-country school at Scarlet Hill Farm!

Short version: WHEEEEEE!

My day started at 4am; drove the truck down to the barn, hooked up the trailer (took an embarassingly long time, usually I can hitch it myself in 2-3 tries...) pulled it out and started packing what I hadn't the night before. Tris could tell something was wrong when he didn't go outside with his friends, but bless him, only objected mildly and got on the trailer with a minimum of fuss. Trailered up well, came off the trailer at Mach 10, and I only hung on to the lead rope because of the knot at the end as Tris tried to pull me THROUGH the chest bar. I have some very impressive bruises already coloring in, and I don't typically bruise.

Ah well. Tacked him up while he paced in circles and stared bug-eyed at the world, Hannah made sure his splint boot velcro straps were trimmed to her satisfaction (:P) and off we went - a bit later than the other horses, who were already trotting around when we got there. Tris was high as a kite, so I walked him around for a bit longer, and had a trot in which I asked nothing more than that he start to calm himself. Then we pulled up and T. described an arc for us to gallop. I thought seriously about asking someone to hold Tris so I could go puke in a bush.

Our turn came, and we started trotting, and then I sucked it up and asked for a canter. Did NOT approach gallop, was not going to go there, and that decision paid off when we had a long discussion about turning at the top of the hill to head back down. Muscled through it and jigged to a halt. Then over a warmup fence, which he charged in a bit of a long spot, but which thankfully reassured me a bit that his jumping brain, always good, was still installed. (Every other kind of brain had leaked out his ears at this point, however.)

Next, a short course, and Tristan stomped and cavorted and fidgeted and paced and generally acted like a total jackass while the other horses did it, and oh my God, I spent the whole thing thinking "T. can't possibly ask us to do that on our first XC school in 2 years, can he? Oh my God, he can. Oh my God, I'm going to die." Once again, I contemplated puking in the bushes. T. at least gave me some smaller options, we went.

First couple of jumps okay, and then I got totally lost and panicky up on the hill - couldn't see a line to the logs that the others had jumped, much less the line away from those, so I sort of went around them in a really stupid way and got all up in my head coming toward the next fence, a BN-sized house with a green roof and flopped all over the place and Tristan took his out, cut hard right. Many times. Squirreled and cut and...sigh. After I don't know how many cut-off approaches I finally got good and mad, about the time T. crested the hill and started talking me through it step by step, and we had one prop/deer jump through the middle, circled for it again, and then went, I kid you not, SIDEWAYS over the corner of it. It must have been really interesting to watch.

One more approach, one more cut out, and now I was PISSED; circled again, and we went over it with a huuuuuge flyer, but straight and true, and T. started calling out leetle elementary jumps for us, building a rhythm, not letting me think about it, using my gritted teeth and my anger to build confidence, and bless him, it was perfectly done. Tristan started to find a rhythm, he started to jump them straighter and cleaner, and I could feel him start to widen his brain and take it all in.

Back down to the others, and for the rest of the (two hour) school, though I was not infrequently nervous, especially about galloping way off from the others, I was not scared again.

So, next up: ditch. Scarlet Hill had a neat little ditch complext that was a half-ditch (one side riveted, other side natural), an E ditch and a BN ditch side by side. Tris and I were tasked to trot over the half-ditch, since it was his first ever. And my God, he NAILED IT. Big strong surge of a jump, not a moment's hesitation, a clear enjoyment of launching himself into space. Never even thought about looking at it (though to be fair it wasn't very looky). One of the times over he was so pleased with himself he threw his head down and started bucking, nothing bad, just exuberance. GOOD. BOY.

On to banks next, up and down something I think was a low BN? I'm not great at eyeballing height. We trotted up to it and LAUNCHED into space over it. I am sad to admit I did not grab mane in time and probably caught him pretty good. He didn't especially seem to care. Turn around, trot down, no hesitation at all, just dropped down. Trot up again, and he offered a canter so I took it, and he jumped up much better - more economical, more clean, more straight. Down again was quieter yet, a more true drop instead of a jump off. No hesitation, no spooking, no questioning. GOOD BOY again.

Then we did a bit of a course: up the bank, over a series of planters into a field, up over a stone wall out of a field, up a stone wall at the top of a hill, back down, over the same stone wall into the field, down through the field, over a baby coop to get out of the field, down the same bank. Bank up went well, and Tris jumped me right the hell out of the tack over the planters into the field, I gathered just in time to point and boot him over the stone wall, and half-halted hard enough that he trotted up the hill and over the stone wall. Fine by me; these were all easily jump-able from the trot, and I wanted more positive than challenging today. Less of a launch back into the field, and we had a bit of a discussion about hand-galloping down the hill to the coop. Landing was a wee bit spooky, with tall grass a few feet away from where he put his feet down that he didn't want to run through. Bank was a bit more of a launch, but he was quite pleased with himself overall.

Then, water. Oh, Tristan. I knew he'd have issues. He HAAAAAATES water. Luckily, issues were minimal; after a few minutes of planting his feet and spinning around hard, T. had C. and her big bay horse trot past us; I kept kicking; Tris eyeballed the big bay horse and trotted after him. Didn't give me another problem about it after that - we trotted back through a few times and even picked up a canter in the water to come out.

Lastly, a big long course. Down to the banks, up the hill to do the same loop we'd done before, back up to the same loop we'd started with that Tris and I botched so badly. No rosy glow for me; I was as nervous as I'd been, and starting to get very tired to boot. Tris, who'd gotten himself quite wet cantering through water, was shaking like a miserable wet dog (hard enough to jar me out of the saddle) and pawing and generally making his displeasure at his wet state known.

Nothing for it: started off down the hill. Jumps all went much smoother than the first time around, and this time he felt more balanced down the hill; we held the hand-gallop over the baby coop, and down the bank, and up the hill he felt like he had a little more in him, so I opened him up. Something clicked in his brain, and he was ON. Next was a transition pile of logs, tiny, he flew over it out of stride, chaaaaarged up the hill in a fast hard gallop, taking me to the next fence: he wanted it, and he wanted it bad. All of a sudden I had a cross-country horse underneath me, and oh. Oh, that was amazing.

Up the hill, and there were those log piles I'd skipped the first time. I had a brief moment of indecision, then pointed him at the BN one; he checked back in, I said go, and ZOOM. Down the hill, circle around, attacked the little house like he'd never had a problem with it, down over the ditch, then through the water - checked back in again just before we went in, but I responded in the affirmative, and he dug for another gear. Zoomed through it. Pull up, many, many, many pats, and he was done.

He was almost insufferably pleased with himself, prancing and motoring around, ears pricked. T. actually used the word "astounding" to describe how Tris started to eat up the course on the last run. No one could believe that was his first XC school in so long, much less his first ditch, bank, and water. Oh, and have I mentioned that he's 15, and wasn't really ever handled until he was 11?

I. Love. This. Horse.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Not much to say about last night's ride: light, clean, straight, and I felt like I made good decisions all around. Tris came out forward, we warmed up in the walk for a looooooong time - I didn't fuss with the reins or the headset, just focused on his hind end and back, how's that for a revelation - and he moved off well into trot. Canter was malleable both directions, and the left lead is really starting to come along.

We are starting to play with a shoulder-in, too; I can get a solid sort of three track shoulder-in (hind leg on track, diagonal pair even on middle track, front leg off on another track), we just need to open up the angle a little bit more and he'll be there. Which means still more work on my stabilizing outside leg - though that is really starting to come along. Though last night I was really getting it on spiral in and out, keeping the leg there and not letting him trick me by hollowing to the outside as soon as I put it on, pretending he could only move off my leg by flipping the bend. Lies!

It was also lovely to have a leisurely ride, no rush to tack up, ride, untack, and sprint to get back to Boston to study or something. I even wish I had stayed longer, thoughCaitlin tried valiantly to tempt me and I demurred in the moment. Next time, I'm not leaving the barn until the hockey game is over.
Lesson: very good. Tris came out much more limber and willing to walk on, which makes the fourth or fifth ride in a row he's been like that. I am beginning to suspect either that he's turned some kind of fitness corner OR that my redoubled efforts to keep him constantly supplied supplements have paid off. Perhaps some combination of both.

It was pounding rain, so one of those "ride for fifteen minutes then go stand with T. to get advice and direction for a few minutes" lessons. Which was good for us yesterday. My focus was on fixing the long legs/light seat conundrum (I'm getting small glimpses of the solution, but really wrapping my legs around him still makes my seat feel too light) and on keeping a good, solid, consistent hold of the contact. We've been slipping into a tendency lately where he gives, and I throw the reins at him because I'm so happy he's given more. I'm either too heavy or throwing them away, I guess. But T. worked very hard with us on really setting the bit in his mouth, and then rounding him up TO it, the operative concept being that there has to be something for him to go to. I had to get over my nagging worry of blocking him in front, because with leg support he really can figure it out now - he's over the "but if you have any hold at all I can't moooooooove" phase.

He's also changed tactics in the lazy department: instead of killing the motor when he gets round and bendy, he is, as T. put it, "popping the clutch." He disengages in a very subtle way, then slowly loses energy over the course of the next five minutes. So: rhythm, rhythm, rhythm.

Canter was AWESOME, we're really digging in and working on it. Spent a long time really working on a hips-to-hands balancing to make him SIT DOWN. The left lead transition is really starting to come along, but he still flails all the hell over the place in the right lead. We did a lot of walk-trot, halt-walk transitions, focusing on staying deep and keeping bend, with the hopes that nailing it in those lower gaits will start to translate up the scale.

Before the lesson I was fussing over him and noticed that his right front fetlock was a wee bit swollen and warm. Nothing that would leap out, clearly just above the joint and not tendon-related - all in all it looks like he wrenched it a bit in pasture. He wasn't tender on it at ALL (believe me, I poked and prodded for quite a while, and then T. did as well) and he came out perfectly even and sound. I am mildly worried, but not desperately so. Something to keep an eye on.

I rubbed Sore No More in before and after the lesson, made sure he got a looooooooong walk warmup and cooldown, and mixed him a bran mash with 2 grams of bute paste. (Somehow my bute powder has disappeared from my tack trunk. Not cool.) He was decidedly less than pleased by the bute paste, and made every face you can imagine - twisting his jaw, sticking his tongue straight out the side, shaking his head around, rolling his eyes back in his head. If he could have gagged dramatically he would've.

Ride again tonight - keep an eye on the fetlock - and then Dover Saddlery on Saturday for a big shopping trip (new tall boots, ugh). Cross country clinic on Sunday at Scarlet Hill. I'm going to mail my entry form for the Area 1 Safety Clinic this weekend. I'm also toying with the idea of an Intro to Foxhunting clinic coming up in's the same weekend as Valinor, so that's a tough decision - haul and volunteer, or find a buddy and do the clinic? Both are very appealing. :(

I'm going to see about finding a dressage schooling show in July, then the Flatlands show in August, then in the fall for sure we'll do a hunter pace, another dressage show, and mayyyyyyybe, if the summer goes REALLY well, an off-property schooling horse trial. Fingers crossed!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Aaaand the other piece of Saturday's fun: jump judging.

I understand the principle of jump judging, and I know the rules, but I had never actually done it before Saturday. It was really terrific fun. Well, as much fun as standing in the pouring rain/swarming mosquitoes for 5 hours can be.

I was paired with a very experienced jump judge, who was an old school, very sarcastic horsewoman who smoked like a chimney and luckily declared she liked me. She was kind of hilarious, in a wonderful way; I didn't even mind the cigarette smoke - it kept the mosquitoes away. She also really, clearly knew her stuff; she made small comments after each rider went through that were always spot-on, several of them things I hadn't seen, and I learned a LOT.

My Training fence was 17a&b, a lovely carved and stained bench, two stride, to a big log that was curved in such a way as to *look* hanging, but actually was stable. They were very straightforward gallopy fences with a relatively clear approach and no spooky elements; perhaps a verrrry slight bending line if you didn't get your approach quite right, but nothing to worry about at all. My big lesson watching those fences was about the balance on approach: I got to see, in minute detail, where exactly each rider chose to half-halt and rebalance and prepare the horse, and to see which ones left it too late and took a bit of a flyer. No stops, no problems at all at our fences.

The Beginner Novice fence was #3; after a bit of a run uphill, riders had to come around a Novice log, and down a shady lane into an open, sunny clearing with a very straightforward log in it. Nothing spooky at all about it, and indeed we had one rider who had stops at fences 1, 2, and 4, but rode ours nicely. So again a very easy one to judge. My lesson for this fence was about rhythm and staying in front of the leg. There was much more variation in the rides to this fence than there had been at Training; BN riders are a much broader variety. Some came in half-halting for all they were worth and choked the horse up; some came in clearly very tentative and dreading the whole thing, and didn't know how or were too afraid to really boot the horse to carry them to the fence. You could tell the move-up riders five strides out; they had an air of confidence and the horse had clearly already settled into the galloping rhythm.

My partner made an excellent metaphor: driving a car down a road filled with potholes. If you go too slow, you're going to dip into every one and jar yourself. Too fast, and you'll skip over the top of them and eventually crash into one when you dip at just the wrong moment. A good in-between rhythm and you'll feel them, but won't skim them. It really sunk in for me how important riding a good galloping rhythm around the course is.

King Oak treats its volunteers faaaaabulously, too: gave us a really thorough briefing, drove us out to our jump, brought bug spray to us when we asked, thanked us over the radio repeatedly, and came around a few more times through the day with extra snacks. All of that was very much appreciated, as the day alternated between cold pouring rain and hot, muggy mosquito swarms. I was either shivering in fine tremors or pacing and swatting away half a dozen bugs at a time.

Looking forward to my next jump judging opportunity. :)

Monday, May 10, 2010

Quick rundown of the trailering, which I was so worried about. It was not without incident, but in general went well.

I trailered two horses, who will be known as Big Mare and Little Paint. I'd been in agonies for weeks beforehand about whether Big Mare would fit in my not-huge trailer, given that Tristan can flip his head and lift his front legs and nearly hit the ceiling, and he is teensy.

Big Mare did indeed fit, just barely. I'm not sure she was wild about it - rolled her eyes and planted her feet a bit when it came time to reload at King Oak - but she was not scraping the ceiling, and we got the butt bar done up. Little Paint jumped right on.

About 40 minutes into the trip, I looked in my rearview mirror - as I do very frequently when trailering; I can see horse's heads and the hay bag through the front window of the trailer - and noticed I couldn't see Little Paint's head. Just withers with some sticky-up mane. Well, okay. "H.," I said, "I can't see your horse's head." H. looked. She was not concerned, and it was entirely possible he was stretching out behind the hay bag, or even snoozing.

20 minutes later, still can't see his head. Call E., Big Mare's owner, who is following us; she doesn't have a good enough view inside the trailer to tell either way. I make the executive decision to pull over, though H. is still unconcerned. We find a Wal-Mart parking lot, jump out, and...Little Paint has somehow put his head UNDER the chest bar. (H. didn't tie him very tightly at all, apparently?)

Bless the Little Paint's brain, because he was just standing, perfectly calmly, waiting for someone to rescue him. So we did - unhooked the chest bar, and he lifted his head and started attacking the hay bag.

Continued on totally without incident (unless you count being behind a big Econo van with literally some person's entire worldly possessions strapped very precariously to the top, and clothes flying off of it with every gust of wind, oh my god) and arrived at King Oak.

Unloading was another small piece of excitement...H. did not unhook Little Paint's trailer tie. He very politely told her so, twice, and on the third try shrugged, stepped back, felt resistance, and did what any sensible horse does in that situation, ie panicked. Popped the leather crownpiece of the halter and came flying out. I reached up, put my hand over his nose as he skidded out, turned him toward me and pulled his nose down, and he heaved a big sigh of relief and stood beautifully to get a new halter on. Seriously, what a great brain he has.

Saturday morning we arrived at the showgrounds to find it POURING rain, and I made perhaps my best decision of the weekend: hooked up the truck immediately and pulled it forward from its overnight parking space so that the entire rig was pointing downhill. At the end of the day, we loaded up the horses (neither was wild about getting back on, but they both did quite nicely after lodging a short, polite formal protest) and tried to get out of the field (which was now a muddy pit).

The only, only thing I would change about my truck is to make it a four wheel drive. It's one of my big anxieties about trailering, getting stuck. And yes, King Oak already had the tractor out and ready, anticipating just my situation, but - still. So I built up some momentum, crested the hill with the truck, alllllmost crested with the trailer...and skidded out.

Okay. Back down the hill, then back up the hill so we're pointing downhill again, then more momentum, and this time I'm anticipating the mud even more so I start jigging the steering wheel juuuuuust slightly so we're not going in a straight line, and the truck diiiiiiigs in and there was a split second where everything felt greasy and then, breakthrough. It's a difficult feeling to describe, but I can feel, through the seat and through the gas pedal, when the truck starts to get some bite. And once I felt that, even though we were still wiggling, even though the truck was snarling and spewing smoke, even though we had attracted at least 20 bystanders and no doubt some event organizers a bit peeved about what I was doing to their field - I was no longer worried. We inched up and then made it.

The ride home was totally uneventful, we were all chatty and giddy and happy in the end-of-event exhaustion. When we got back to the barn I pulled the truck up and left it while I rode Tristan. They cleaned my trailer out I think better than I EVER have, and I popped it into a perfect parking space on the second try.

So: trailering anxieties are not disappeared, but they are seriously diminished.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

In lieu of an actual thinky update, a few bullet points:

- Tristan is awesome. No surprise there.

- My left leg is substantially weaker than my right, and now that we're working more and more and more from the seat and the legs it's starting to light up holes in my aids with big neon signs. To wit, spiraling out tracking left is hard, as is spiraling in tracking right. To say the least. Slowly getting better, though, as my aching hips can attest.

- I want a dressage saddle so badly I can taste it. Unfortunately, it's rather low on the financial priority list.

- In talking with L., we're going to set up a weekday soon to take Tristan over a bunch of XC jumps in hand, especially the ditch and the banks, before we introduce them under saddle. He's jumped most everything in a haphazard way, but I want to do it *right.*

- I'm hauling people to King Oak this weekend. We'll see how my trailering anxieties hold up. Fingers crossed no panic attacks. :-/ Only thing for it is to keep doing it, though. And once I'm in the truck and driving I'm usually fine.

- I'm struggling right now with a bit of a dichotomy: when I really get my leg in the stirrup at the canter, I lose my seat. Vice versa. I know the answer here is that I'm not truly deep in my leg, I'm just propping off the stirrup and that's what's lightening my seat, but damn, it's proving to be a long uphill slog to get the same feel in the canter as in the sitting trot or the walk, that plugged-in, legs-as-weights sensation. Tiny, subtle shifts in balance and weight are still missing.

- I'll miss the Flatlands show in July for family time, but I'm eying the XC Safety Clinic at Scarlet Hill in June, and the Flatlands show in August. In the fall, who knows, maybe an off-property dressage schooling show, if we can find one? I'd like a crack at a Training test, especially after we've had all summer to work on our canter.

- Speaking of the canter, the transitions. I'm feeling in a lot of my riding right now like I know where to find the answers, I just have to work harder to get them. I know the feeling I'm looking for in that transition, and I have pieces of what it takes to get Tristan there, but so far a good, uphill, soft, relaxed canter transition is eluding us except for a split second at a time.

- Solutions, as always: ride better.