Monday, March 28, 2011


We had our first canter today :)

I'd like to say it was lovely and she impressed me beyond my imagination and I've changed my mind about her ability to be my next Grand Prix horse, but that would be a lie.

The transition was rushed and running, she was on her forehand and the wrong lead, and overall incredibly unbalanced. We made it about halfway around the arena.

BUT. She didn't buck. She got the transition, even if it was crappy. And we're getting somewhere. My God, we're actually getting somewhere.

We need to start doing some work on suppleness in her shoulders. She tends to get really locked through there which results in falling in on circles or corners.

But we cantered today, and that's really all that matters to me at the moment. Tomorrow maybe we'll do it to the left as well.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Good rides cure any day

Okay, so it wasn't a terrible day. Just an frustrating one at times. I got to decorate at work today, which is fun, but I always feel massively unproductive since I'm still learning. In that span that it takes me to do a single cake from one of our novelty cake kits, the other decorators can get about 4 cakes done or any sort (except like, wedding cakes, but that's a whole different category.). I just feel so slow and useless, but the experience is good and I'm getting faster.
The frustrating parts were just a few screwed up orders that I had to fix and a joke that's been going around the staff for about a week now that I'm getting really tired of it. I didn't think it was funny at first, and the fact that it's still going now is kind of ticking me off. I'm trying to figure out a way to ask people to quit it without sounding oversensitive and dumb, it's just a topic that I particularly don't want to joke about for reasons that I don't want to explain.

After work I went to Barnes and Nobles to pick up a new Piano book, because mine apparently got eaten by the moving goblins (sad face...) and I've decided I'm going to start trying to learn again. I always stop by the horse section (all two feet of it) to see if they've got any new and interesting titles in, though I can't really afford to buy any at the moment even if they did. One caught my eye, "How Good Riders get Good". I picked it up and scanned the back cover, reading something about how life circumstances might not be as bad as they seem. "Ha" I thought "You have no idea" but I opened it and started thumbing through it regardless.

Bottom line, it ended up making me kind of mad and depressed. The basic message of the first chapter was to stop blaming the fact that you're unsuccessful in the horse world on your lack of trust fund. While that helps, there are choices you could have made that would have set you up for success. Which, in general, I agree with. But the examples that was used for a person who "chose not to be successful" in the horse world was a kid that sounded a lot like me, a "barn rat" who eventually made the choice to turn down a working student job in order to stay closer to her boyfriend. My frustration with this, was that I didn't make that choice. I made the working student decision and... it didn't work out. We'll just leave it at that. The experience was actually so scarring them I spent a few months just sitting in my parents house nursing my physical and emotional wounds. Moving in with my then-boyfriend was, in a way, just a way to escape a continuous loop of bad experiences being employed in the horse world. I just have bad luck, I guess.

So I left the store feeling depressed and mad at my situation again. I was already dressed to ride, but considered going home instead. If I have a really bad day and I'm upset when I leave, I tend not to go to the barn because I haven't been having particularly good rides lately, Indigo has just been in a "Sassy" mood and doesn't really have much interest in my whole schooling idea.

But I did go to the barn. And I had a great conversation with the Barn Owners' son about the principles of dressage and their similarities to what he does in the natural horsemanship world, and how we're not all interested in the crank 'n spank attitude. He ended up watching my ride while I explained the concepts of rhythm, impulsion, contact, etc. He's totally western and has no real interest in dressage, but is interested to learn. We might do some trades in training. He'll teach me some basics of roping, I'll show him the ropes of basic dressage. Awesome.

And my horse? She was awesome. I only lunged her for maybe 5 minutes because she was so responsive and attentive and relaxed. I got on her and it was the same thing. She's starting to stretch over her topline and relax into the bit and I can get her to start stepping into the bridle just a tad. We worked on starting to supple the shoulders a bit, and she's starting to think about engaging her back. Today probably would have been the perfect day to introduce canter work (no, still haven't gotten to that under saddle yet. It's getting better on the lunge, but I've been having such crappy rides lately, I don't want to add another skill while we're already fighting.) but I decided to just end on the good note of suppling through the shoulders.

But man, if I had rides like this every day, I don't think I'd have as much issue with the cold.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Step back

A long time ago, I used to jump.

Okay, maybe not that long ago. Only a few years. I "quit" when I was about in my second year of college, I believe. My ankles couldn't handle the stress of hanging out in a half-seat for an entire hour-long ride which was the standard idea taught at my school on our geriatric old hunters. I'm sure the horses appreciated never having anyone on their backs, but my joints just couldn't keep up. But that's irrelevant.

When I was in high school, I was pretty serious about the whole jumping thing. Or rather the eventing thing, because I still really liked dressage but I also liked running around on a cross country course and jumping over things. It also helped that most of the girls that I rode with wanted to do nothing but run around a cross country course and jump over things.

One thing I do remember from back in the time of trying to cut down my times in my stadium rounds, is that trying to rush through things didn't help you. At all. Usually if I tried to push our speed too much at best our turns would be too wide and we'd hit awkward spots at each fence and pull some rails. At worst, we'd spin out on said turn and fall. The best way to actually cut your time down? Slow down.

Seriously, it boggled my mind at the time. Why would you slow down to make up time? The key wasn't necessarily to ride slower, but to ride smarter. If you had a longer stretch, let your horse out to a controlled hand gallop for a few strides, but the important part was controlled. Because you wanted to be able to then sit back, collect him back to a balanced canter, and bring your turn in tighter to get to shorter path to the next fence. And, consequently, a better spot. Rushing ahead without thinking just gets you where you don't want to be.

The metaphor works for pretty much everything else related to horses. So often we encounter a problem and we get frustrated trying to push through it. We end up spending a lot of useless time trying to address something that we haven't really even thought about. If you stop for a minute, analyze what the problem is, and then address the root of the issue directly, you'll save a lot of time and your horse will appreciate the direction of the activity. Most horses, especially when they're also frustrated, are just going to get more and more wound up the more you push an issue.

When I got out to the barn yesterday to ride, Indigo was, once again, feeling fresh. I'm wondering if this is going to be the new standard now that the weather is getting nice? I'd be okay if it is, because once we have our head in the right place, her movement is much more animated. I decided not to lunge her today, because really, it doesn't do any good for the problem I'd been having. I don't believe in lunging them until they're worn out in order to control them, and lunging seemed to just rile her up more in the past. So I thought I'd try a different tactic and just do some ground work before getting on.

So we did some simple ground work, she seemed to be starting to focus, so I headed over to the mounting block. She started dancing away from it. "Okay" I thought, we'll just work on some one-rein stops that way once I get on her, I won't get ejected. This went on for... maybe a half hour. No progress. At all. Okay, time to re-evaluate.

My problem wasn't that my horse was too fresh. My problem, at the moment, was also not that my  horse was bucking (although I had a pretty good idea from the hump in her back that the buck wasn't too far away). My problem at the moment was my horse not standing at the mounting block. Okay, back to basics then. Time to re-teach mounting.

So I set the mounting block up next to the wall to create a chute of sorts so that the wiggling would be minimized. We started out just walking straight through, to make sure the chute didn't bother her (some horses get very claustrophobic in that sort of set up). No issues. Then we walked through and halted by the block. She started flipping her head around and getting impatient. I waited until she was still, scratched her on the neck, then walked out. We did this a few times until she figured out that being still got her out of the block faster than fussing. At this point, progress happened faster. I gathered the reins, scratched her neck, walked her out. Walked back in, gathered the reins, stepped on the mounting block, scratched her neck, got back down, walked her out. Walked in, gathered the reins, stepped on the mounting block, patted the saddle a few times, got down, walked her out. Walked in, gathered the reins, stepped on the mounting block, leaned over the saddle, got back down, walked her out. By this point, she was starting to really pay attention. I'm not sure if she was confused as to why we were going through this whole circus, but she was listening, being patient, and standing quietly at the block. Finally, I managed to actually mount.

After that, we had a pretty good ride. Some focus issues, but then again, she's 5 and hasn't had a whole lot of work done with. Overall, I think it was a successful day and reminded me of a very important lesson, to ride the horse that you have in the arena that day, not the one that you're expecting or want. If I come in and she's acting like a 2-year-old who's never seen the mounting block before, there's no point in trying to push past it. We'll get there a lot faster if I slow down and address the problem.