Saturday, November 27, 2010

Fire breathing dragon

Is this the face of trouble?
Why yes, yes it is.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Hackamore? Not so good. She enjoyed it, absolutely. Just left me with limited brakes. She was getting the idea toward the end of the ride, but that's not something to train with a lot of other horses in the ring. It also gave me some clear indication of how much head popping is due to 'get away from my mouth!'. A significant amount. She blew through the 7" English hackamore like it's not even there, but halts dead for the loose ring snaffle. The dentist is coming out next month, and in the mean time, I've ordered her a mullen mouth loose ring snaffle from Happy Mouth to see if her little mouth likes that better. I suspect the nut cracker action of the single joint bit is causing her trouble.

The selection of pony sized bits is pretty thin, leaving me with limited options. What a pain. I loved this oval mouth loose ring with the lozenge center, but it doesn't come in pony sizes. I guess with ponies it's a lot more 'please do not drag the small children' then trying to find the perfect fit.

Saddle fitter is also set for mid-December to check both saddles. I want to rule out any possible physical causes for her overly-energetic moments. She's still a bit sore to the right, and it's the right lead that gets head shaking, so I suspect something is up. It's just a process of elimination to root out the causes.

The princess was dubbed the 'fire breathing dragon' today during our jumping lesson. She locks onto the fences and gets all fired up. These are 12" fences, by the way. We've started having her walk before the fences so she's not just charging them. She has to down shift before the jump, then she's allowed to go. That and a big release from me seems to be taking care of some of her run and jump technique.

I tried taking her out for a hack on her own after the lesson. She was good heading away from the barn, which is lovely. She was up on her toes, but she just walked out. Out to the hayfield and a little walk around, then back to the barn. We got to the barn's driveway and she lost her little pony mind. It was airs above the ground, shaking, half-rearing and piaffe-ing about like a fool. I kicked out of my stirrups and as soon as I could get all four feet on the ground, I bailed. She was perfectly willing to be led back, but she couldn't handle being ridden back. She wanted to bolt, and when she hit the bit, she flipped out.

The puzzle continues to come together, and the complete picture is something that I didn't see coming. Not that I have a problem with the full picture, but it's a good reminder that I should not plan too far into her future just yet. I still don't know her all that well. It takes about a year to really get a solid relationship with a horse, and we're only at 25% of that right now. December should get a couple of important pieces taken care of. If I know she's comfortable, then we can start to really work on things. First dressage clinic is December 3rd. Should be very interesting.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Goal Setting

It must be the season for this kind of thing. My work has started the annual review process which includes a lot of 'did you achieve your goals' and setting the goals for next year. We need SMART goals so that our manager will approve them. And then we'll all forget about them about one quarter into the year, but I digress.

In my last lesson, my trainer asked us what our winter goals were. Alas, the two concepts have blurred. So here are my winter goals:

1. Tack experimentation: Find the combination of tack that works best for Fiona. This should include one rig for jumping and one rig for dressage. This will also include a visit with a saddle fitter to make sure that the saddles I have are appropriate for her. This should be completed by April with an eye toward the start of the competition season. We'll measure this by a decrease in teeth grinding, head popping, and improvement with her sore back. This also includes getting her going in my bareback pad. If the saddles make her sore, that should fix it. And might prove very entertaining for the kids around the barn.

2. Jumping position: For the love of all the little gods, I need to fix my jumping position. What is my lower leg doing? Where are my hips going? I am not doing the chicken dance, so what is with my elbows? Do I call that a release? Of any kind? This is unacceptable. I've seen the photos from the three phase I went to, and I was appalled at what I'm jumping like. I used to be an equitation rider! Sure, that kind of style isn't suited to cross country, but my stadium rides shouldn't look like I'm standing on my stirrups and trying to fall off. Because I'm sure Fiona will be perfectly happy to let me exit the ride if I don't get my upper body under control. If anyone wants to see the damage for yourself, this is the link to the photographer gallery. There is one picture I fell in love with and have a copy of for my office. Who could resist that face cross country?

The plan: No stirrups. At least five minutes every single ride this winter at the posting trot or in a jumping position, and at least one ride a week with no stirrups on my saddle. As in I pop them off and leave them in the barn. Take my stirrups up about two holes when jumping compared to where they are now (which means new stirrup leathers, damn my short legs). Finally, I'm going back to the basics. Get into a jumping position, trot a cross rail, grab some freaking mane. I did that last night and after a couple jumps where I just didn't move? The princess settled down and jumped quieter. Hmmm, gee, I wonder . . .

3. Ride outside: This is harder to do in the winter, but she has her snow shoes on. I'll just have to bundle up and head out on the weekends when the sun is still up. I don't want her to get ring sour, and it will be good for us. I'd like to do it once a week, but I think once every two weeks is more reasonable with New England weather.

4. Dressage clinics: We have monthly dressage clinics offered all winter. I want to do three of them. Fiona needs the specialized attention. She's got a lot of potential, but a lot of tension. I'm working on my patience so I don't rush her. That's probably part of why she's back sore now, too much too fast. Or from her acting a fool in turn out. Or a bit of both.

5. Have some fun: Teach her to ground tie. Introduce her to cap pistols. Do some trail obstacles. Go bareback with her new hackmore. Do not endlessly drill dressage all winter. Not sure how to make this one measurable, but it's definitely one of my goals for the winter.

This should keep me more than occupied all winter. Of course I'm expecting Mother Nature and the nature of horsey things to throw monkey wrenches in everything, but at least there's a plan starting out the year.

And my hackmore literally just arrived. How the heck do I put this thing together? It has pieces! No one said it required assembly!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Before and After

Moving sucks. All of my stuff is in boxes, and I can't figure out what I did with my tablet. This does save everyone from more of my art, but I really wonder where I put that thing.

Aside from my inability to find my belongings, Fiona continues to truck along. She went on a long trail ride with a group, ending with a fun gallop around a polo field. The walking in a group, and being forced to walk at their pace, was not her idea of a good time. Getting to open up into a real gallop? That was much more fun.

This marks three months of work on Project Fiona. I thought a real update was in order. For anyone that's forgotten, this was Fiona the day after I got her:

And three months, many grooming sessions, many hours in the saddle, ten training rides, three farrier visits, two schooling shows, one hunter pace, and several trail rides later, this is Fiona as of today:

You'll notice she's in an indoor now, since we've moved to the winter barn. She took that pretty well. She also got some turn out in a bigger field and promptly gave everyone an exhibition of what a big, athletic girl she is. Go figure, she was sore the next day. Time to introduce shoulder-in and haunches-in so I can help her stretch out after being foolish. Her winter shoes are on and she's ready for the snow.

December will include a visit with the dentist, a saddle fitting (since all that new muscle is proving problematic), and some experimentation with her bitting. I think I'll try her in an English hackamore. She's so fussy with bits, let's see how she does without one at all. If she likes it, I'll save the bit for dressage specific days or dressage lessons. If the saddle fitting doesn't find anything, her next appointment will be with the chiropractor to get that evaluation done. She's come a long, long way from being someone's backyard pony.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Super star

I swear, it's another week, and I have another brag. We're closing in on three months of Project Fiona and I have yet another 'first' to knock off of the check list. Fiona went to her first hunter pace this weekend. I had enough experience with her outside of the ring to feel confident that she could handle it, but it was going to be a new experience for her. If nothing else, it would take care of her once-a-week requirement to do something off of the farm's property.

It was chilly and overcast, which is not a bad thing when spending the day out cantering and jumping on horses that are starting to get their winter coats in. In the case of at least one thoroughbred that was with us, his winter coat was completely in. He looked a bit like a Woolly Mammoth. Fiona was definitely up on her toes when I mounted (because that meant she had to stop eating, when she was eating she didn't care about the scenery at all). I had my customary moment of doubt when she jigged around on our way to warm up, but as soon as she realized the herd was not ditching her, it was right to work. She warmed up in the long, low frame that would place well in a hunter hack class. Everyone commented on how mellow she looked. I'm hopeful that the photographer got some pictures of her.

I went out with a friend and her big warmblood who was also on his first hunters pace. We're not sure how the two green beans ended up going out together, but it was a perfect pairing. They had gone out trail riding together and knew each other pretty well. My friend had taken her boy out at Beginner Novice, so most of the fences were perfectly doable for them. Some of the more inviting fences lured me and Fiona in, so she has hopped over Beginner Novice height fences as well as the baby stuff now. The only time she hesitated was for a bridge over the river. It was the noise of the water moving under the bridge that worried her. I thought I was on a dancing horse for a moment when she tried to look between the boards while following our brave warmblood friend. She tried to keep as few hooves on the bridge as possible, which was a bit alarming from the rider's perspective.

There were two highlights for the trip:

1. When we were trotting side by side with the 18h warmblood and she was able to match his trot. It was a big trot for her and some collection for him, but it was just kind of fun and she really had her motor going to pull that off. I wish the photographer was around for that. They're both liver chestnut and both have blazes. Not that they look a thing a like, but maybe as his mini-me?

2. Cantering over fence 20, a decent sized log, and turning back to fence 21. It was a bending line at a close distance through the trees, probably four strides, a real challenge, and Fiona ate it up. She wanted to know where the next one was. We came rocketing out of the trees and jumped the final hedge heading to the finish line and she felt like a super star. A tired one, but still very impressive.

She has another field trip planned for Friday with an all day trail ride. We also move to the winter barn this weekend, putting us indoors for the winter. I'll have to buy a lot of winter gear and learn how to ride in the snow. I can't imagine the Princess allowing me to ride her in an arena for months on end. She's very good at making her irritation known. My hip is still aching from her comments in our last lesson over gymnastics. The princess does not do bounces, thank you very much.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A hunting we will go

Foxhunting. It always brings up images of men in red coats chasing after their hounds in the early morning. When I was growing up, it was described as dangerous and insane. But then again, so was eventing.

Fiona gets ring sour at the drop of a hat. I don't really blame her, going in circles is boring. The same mare that will happily go out on the trails and trot or canter behind someone can be a handful in the ring. It's hard to get nice jumps out of her at home, but she doesn't seem to have a lot of issue when jumping away from home. Particularly not when she's out in the open. She lights up like it's Christmas and her birthday all at once. She's still not an easy ride, prone to bouncing and shaking her head if she doesn't like what's going on, but she seems happier and more relaxed.

This Friday we're going on a group trail ride out to the land that the Myopia Hunt uses out here near Boston. It got me thinking, what would best suit the princess? Anything that does not involve being in a ring a lot. Of course it's far too late in the season to do anything at this point, and she's still looking about going out and competing in eventing come spring, but next fall . . .

Of course, this is what comes to mind of me in the field. I think I will resemble Hammond, the young man on the paint that is up for sainthood.

There's a reason my mare has a car name.