Friday, February 25, 2011

One step forward, two steps back

I did have a good lesson in dressage. We worked a lot on leg yields and the way that she'll get flustered and move very much sideways or straight ahead without a lot of diagonal in between. She seemed a bit fussy about things, but settled in. I figured it was the changing weather and the fact she had a day off.

However, after inspecting my saddle pads and my saddle, it looks like I have a new problem. My dressage saddle has started to bridge. That's not really something that is going to work out, so it looks like my Wintec is out the door. For now I'll just do everything in my close contact saddle. I have my eye on some other dressage saddles, including a treeless one that looks very interesting, but that will have to wait until we sort out whether or not I'm going to Aiken this year or not.

Tonight I got news that the lady I was shipping down to SC with hurt her knee while skiing and won't be able to make the trip. That leaves me in a bit of a jam with Fiona, since there's not really much point in me going down without her. I'm sure my trainer is looking around for another solution, but I really don't want to pay for a commercial transport and then drive down myself separately. Flying down would be even worse, since I would need to bum rides or rent a car to get to Aiken.

Right now the whole thing is looking pretty bleak. I definitely want to bump up the hunt for a truck and trailer now, but the husband is digging in his heels. He wants to wait until next year. I'll probably have to hold off on a lot of plans until next year.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Get fit

Fitness is all the rage right now in eventing. Eventing Nation is talking about it, COTH is talking about it, the USOC is testing the fancy dancy riders on it, and now even I'm talking about it.

I've been plotting out Fiona's fitness plan. She's a TB that develops muscle and fitness just by breathing and chewing (two activities she excels at), so there isn't much to do for a BN level horse. However, I have my eye on some other activities in her future that will require a good bit of fitness: foxhunting and a LD endurance ride. Maybe not this year, but I am committed to having her try both. This will require her to be fit enough to handle hours of riding without getting tired enough to make a mistake or hurt herself. Anyone that owns a TB will agree that being a touch tired is a lovely thing. That's when the brains turn on.

Along with Fiona's fitness plan came mine. I will come right out and say it. I'm overweight. There, I said it. It's kind of liberating. I have 30 pounds I need to get rid of in order to be the best athlete possible. With that in mind, I have a gym membership. I am getting back into the habit of hitting the weights and taking classes. I lifted weights in high school and when I was doing martial arts, so it's not a hard habit for me to keep up. I'm particularly fond of my Zumba class. Anyone wants a good laugh, go take one of those. There are ladies in there older than my mother learning how to shake their ass. It's amazing. And everyone is laughing too hard to comment that there is plenty of jiggling going on with my own keister.

The yoga class is far less amusing. My feet are too far away. I must have some sort of genetic flaw that makes my feet stay just out of reach no matter what I do. My hamstrings hate me, and the feeling is mutual. It's been good for my posture, though. Each week I get a little closer to being able to lay down with my entire back touching the floor. This should help with my hunter princess perch and maybe get me some better rider position marks. I did find out I'm very good at the balance poses. Go figure.

I'm sitting on my couch, munching an apple and trying to ignore all the little aches and pains by concentrating on that feeling of accomplishment. I have a lesson tonight with the guest instructor for the winter, and I'm looking forward to it. The princess has been making great progress, but she's still a complete handful. Additional opinions are always welcome.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Deep thoughts about dressage

I'm still working on a basic concept. Specifically that dressage is hard.

We need lift! We need loft! We need schwung! And I'm sorry, that last one just sounds dirty when yelled in a place with no context. Don't believe me? Announce that you need some serious schwung loudly at a family restaurant and see what happens. Piaffe is another one that's fun to say out of context.

We had some serious schwung going, so I whipped out my piaffe. She swore she'd never seen anything like it.

Dressage is definitely a thinking sport. And before anyone says that it's not a sport, you can talk to my abs. They are currently complaining about the amount of work needed to keep a still slightly out of balance 16.2h mare from falling on her face. Both of us were working very hard. I'll give her credit, she does try. I had a friend ride her yesterday and the consensus is that she tries really hard to get it right. She's not totally sure how to be right, but she's going to try anyway.

However, I suspect our submission scores will never be a bragging point. The princess will try very hard to work with you, but submit? Ha. If you get heavy handed or demanding, she will simply flip her nose up in the air to make your hands useless and do things however she wants. Which is usually fast and out of balance. It's a delicate balancing act, asking her to give as much as she can without ticking her off. We're still working on that, along with this training pyramid thing. If we can get past the first step (rhythm), I might throw a party.

Music to ride to

Someone started a discussion on music for the start box on cross country. I had an answer for that all ready to go.

Fort Minor - Remember the Name

What can I say, that chorus is directly applicable to horseback riding in just about any discipline, but I find it particularly fitting for an eventer about to tackle cross country. That and I need a slower beat because start boxes freak me out. That countdown sends my pulse through the ceiling. I'll admit, this is the ring tone I assigned to the barn and my trainer so I know not to ignore those calls.

Then I started to think about other times that we need music.

Dressage: Apocalyptica - Farewell
Instrumental is the way to go for dressage. I'm one of those that needs to be reminded that it's not a fight, I'm not out to prove something, I'm just supposed to go ride the test and show how well we work together. Soothing music is definitely the way to go for both of us. Honestly, a lot of the instrumental work from Apocalyptica would work just fine. Beautiful, Ruska, and Sacra all come to mind. However, if I ever do a musical freestyle, this is my entrance music: Gaia Queen by Toby "Radiation" Fox. The judges will hate it.

Stadium: Row, Row, Row Your Boat
No, seriously, listen closely when I'm on course. There's a good chance you're going to hear me singing this quietly under my breath to help me keep a rhythm. Counting doesn't keep me as calm as singing, and I've been singing this on course since I was about seven. Of course, warming up and heading into the ring, I'm hearing Crystamanthequins by Erik "Jit" Scheele. Stadium is serious business. I blame my years in the jumper ring for the intense music that goes with stadium. Another song is Time on My Side by Joren "Tensei" de Bruin. At least I don't do jump offs anymore, that music just gets angry.

Out for a gallop in beautiful weather with the fall foliage covering the hills of NH as you come up to the highest point around: Two Steps from Hell - Promise
No explanation needed. You know the exact moment I'm talking about.

Horse themes:
Allen: Right Said Fred - I'm Too Sexy
He liked to think so, anyway. Tall, dark, and handsome. 17h, all muscle, and thought he was a stud. We had to lunge him before a lot of shows, and if another horse was watching? He could put on quite a show. He'd flag his tail and snort and carry on like he thought he was a stallion. When we'd unload him from the trailer he'd look a lot bigger than 17h with the way he'd go up on his toes. He would just deflate when we rolled our eyes and told him to knock it off. Amazing how he'd turn back into a pocket pony after that.

Fiona: Jzabehl - It's All About Me
How could this not be about the princess? Edumacated, complicated, and unique? She has that in spades. I swore I wouldn't get a mare because there wasn't enough room for two b****es in this relationship, but it seems to be working out.

My tastes seem to run from extreme to extreme. I doubt I'm the only one that spends time finding the perfect song for certain occasions. I have iPod play lists set up for changing my mood as needed. There are 'pumped up' songs and 'calm down' songs. Now I just need to figure out how I can listen to my music while I'm actually in the saddle. I don't really want to inflict my taste in music on the masses.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Life outside of the barn

Life outside of horses? Who knew.

Unfortunately my riding had to take the back seat for a bit. Not too long ago I mentioned my two Miniature Pinschers that rule my apartment. I've had these boys for a long time, and they've been with us through a lot. Moving from Wisconsin to Boston, graduating college and getting into the real world, unemployment and long hours and multiple moves, they have been along for the entire journey.

Old age catches up with them eventually. Cruizer (the black and tan) has been dealing with a herniated disc for about two years, which occasionally flares up. It's painful when that happens, but a week or two of rest and some meds and he's back to his usual self. About a month ago he suddenly started to show neurological symptoms, mostly lack of coordination, and the theory was that he had a stroke. He was happy, pain free, and not particularly distressed about anything (okay, he was a bit doofey afterward, but very happy), so we just let him be. At thirteen with a tricky heart and hints of other problems, surgery was never really an option.

This weekend his herniated disc flared up. Not surprising, considering how often he would lose his balance and bump into things. It was a bad episode, and we knew that his condition was degenerative. He couldn't keep his balance in his crate, so he would thrash trying to get comfortable, just making things worse. It really wasn't a hard decision. There was no treatment for his neck outside of surgery that he couldn't handle, and he was in pain.

We put Cruizer down on Monday.

Our other dog (his son) has also started showing neurological symptoms but of a different type. He's pain free, but knuckling over when he walks. It's mostly his left front. It progressed quickly, he was walking with a slight limp last week, this week he has trouble navigating the living room. He's pain free and in very good spirits, but with the speed things are going, the latest theories include a tumor. We're in a holding pattern with him, trying to ensure good quality of life while enjoying as much time as we can. He's getting around on his own and his appetite is fabulous, so he doesn't seem quite ready yet.

Understandably, with all of this going down so suddenly with both of our boys, I haven't been to the barn much. One of the teens has been riding the princess for me. I'm going to go see her tonight and see if she still recognizes me. I think it will do me good to spend some time thinking about something else.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Show and tell

This took a lot less time then I thought it would.

For everyone's entertainment, here is Fiona's dressage lesson from last night. Bring your reading glasses, since no one was manning the camera and it's a big ring, but there are some good shots of Fiona showing how she's changed. Namely not traveling with her hocks in another zip code.

As an added bonus, at the end of my ride, you can see Fiona's infamous boyfriend. The big, handsome warmblood with the gray quarter sheet? That's her neighbor and usual trail ride buddy. He was in the lesson after mine.

Enjoy! The video quality is terrible, but I will still keep it for the sake of posterity.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Asking for more

A face only a mother could love.

My mare is a weird, weird young lady. This is her 'I'm staaaaarving and dyyyyyying and they never feed me and I'm just gonna waste away if you don't give me another treat' face. Just out of frame, her neighbor (and boyfriend) the warmblood was getting treats after his lesson. The princess did not approve of anyone else getting treats while she had none. Clearly, this girl is not worried about maintaining her figure. If it's not bolted down securely, she'll eat it.

I also caught her working to unlock her door while I had the top half open. Clever clever. You can see the latch in the picture, it's a horse shoe that you lift and slide over to open the door. I came around the corner and she had the horse shoe between her teeth, working on sliding the latch over. You can also see the double ended snap hanging from the horse shoe, which is very useful with certain redheaded mares that are too clever for their own good. I wouldn't put it past her to stage a jail break and to bust out some of her friends.

Guys, were bustin' out of this joint. I know where they keep the good food and she's got a whole jug of those peppermint treats that she's been keeping to herself.

Somehow I envision Fiona as one of those girls that's so sweet and nice, but as soon as your back is turned, she's throwing the mother of all parties her senior year of high school. The kind that end with a car in the swimming pool and cops at the front door. 95% of the time she's the straight A student that everyone likes, but that other 5%? Look out.

Aside from her shenanigans, Fiona had another of our dressage lessons today. I did get some video which I'll be cleaning up and posting for everyone's entertainment. The video quality is . . . non-existent, since I just set the camcorder up on a tripod and hoped for the best, but there are some shots that show our progress.

Today's messages for the lesson were:

- Do not confuse tension with effort, and do not stop asking for effort just because of some tension

- Ask for more, because she has a lot more to give

- This mare hangs out behind my leg more than just about any horse I've ridden before. It's just hard to notice when she's so willing to go forward, but there's a whole other gait there that we managed to unlock today. Poor little mare, now I know better.

Video should be up soon, and just in time for the six month mark of Project Fiona. It's like Project Runway, but less drama and better outfits. For her, anyway, I'm wearing too many layers to be picky.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


Not that I'm asking for a lot these days, but today we had progress! I do love progress.

So, after the ground poles fiasco, I went to the COTH board and asked for advice. I've had a horse that rushed before (Allen, aka The Hellbeast) so I do know some tricks, but I wanted to hear more. The suggestions were varied, but many made sense and I went back to the drawing board. For the past week, when not snowed in due to storms, we have been working on the quality of her canter and getting her very used to ground poles. Days of circling and trotting over poles at random seem to have cemented the idea in her head.

Poles are poles. Not jumps.

Add to that more transitions and half halt work than any one horse should be subjected to, and I thought we were pretty prepped for our lesson. Aside from all of our schooling, we made a couple of other switches. We jumped in the hackamore today, and I gave her some antacids before we went in. I noticed she's been getting girthy. Combine that with the meltdowns during anything that causes tension and I started to wonder if her stomach was bothering her. I can completely sympathize, Tums is practically a food group for me.

I did manage to botch things from a scientific standpoint by adjusting so many variables at once, but damn it, I wanted a good lesson over fences. We're both overdue. Turns out my instructor had a brainstorming session with my trainer the night before and the agenda for us had changed drastically. While the rest of the class worked over the usual type of course work, Fiona and I were set on some special exercises. We had some very steep crossrails set up with poles on the landing side. They were set up in the middle of the ring so we would jump toward a wall.

It gets better.

The instructions were to go over the jump, and the direction we were going to turn would be called out while we were in the air. With about three strides between landing and the wall. Let me tell you, both the princess and I were backing way off after a couple reps. More cross rails were added in, all with landing poles and tight turns before and after, and turning directions being called in the air. The princess backed her own pretty butt off once she figured out what this game was. New goal in life, keep Fiona a bit confused.

As the lesson went on, more poles appeared. By the end, she had a pole in front and behind of each jump and she was going through them like a lady. We were grooving so well toward the end that I didn't even realize I left her in a canter from one fence to the next. It just felt right, so we went for it. That's two steep cross rails set on a 20 meter turn at the canter. Definitely the highlight of our winter so far.

Now, unfortunately, I have to do some investigation work. Will she jump in her Happy Mouth as well as the hackamore so long as we keep her at that point of mild confusion? Brakes and steering do suffer in the hackamore, but she doesn't suck back at all. At this point, I'd almost rather have her fight me than just disappear behind my hands. She has no issue at all with pushing into the hackamore, and we were doing some very tight turns. The cross rails were ten meters from the rail, or less in one case. If we can do that in a hackamore, clearly our steering will hold up in the usual stadium round. I'd just prefer the better handling that comes with the snaffle, so long as she will accept it. If not, hackamore it is. I'm pretty open minded. Whatever makes the princess happy.

We'll keep up the antacids for a bit and see if that helps with her anxiety. If it does, we'll pursue the possibility of ulcers. Not a surprise for a hot tamale of a TB mare.

In the meantime, I will bask in the the glory of a victory. It's been far too long. I'm quite sure the princess was happy to have a lesson end like that as well. Her swagger definitely conveyed a feeling of 'that was fun, can we do it again?'. Now she has to play dressage pony for a couple days to prepare for our next dressage lesson. If we can get some serious work done on those half halts, we might have the makings of an eventer on our hands.