Thursday, October 27, 2016

October's 10 Questions

Time for a blog hop, taking some questions from Viva Carlos, just barely before the end of the month.

What do you consider "jumping high" for yourself? 

Right now, a 3' foot course would set me back on my heels a bit.  We're doing 2'6" very consistently but don't do courses at 3' much.  I'd like to get Theo marching around at 3', he'd make a super cute 3' hunter (I'm biased, hush about the reality of his movement and short stride and jumping style).  In the past, a 3'6" course would make me sit up and pay attention.  I doubt I'll go back to that, I like Theo's joints functional and he's not really built for that.

What are your short term goals for riding? Do you think you'll reach them?

My winter goal is to get my First 3 test ready to be competitive.  I'm not saying 60% and done, I want to hit mid-60's and be able to sit the trot throughout my test.  This will also help me with my freestyle debut.  I think we can do it. Theo's got the movement and if we can unlock that leg yield, the pieces should all fall into place.

Long term goals for riding? Do you think you'll reach them?

My Bronze, complete with freestyle bar.  And I want Theo to be the horse that takes me there.  I have every confidence Theo will get me my Bronze.  He popped a very cute, uphill flying change from left to right in my jumping lesson this week.  A lot of walk to canter work has completely changed the way he handles transitions and changes.  He might not be able to manage the Third level freestyle since it's more demanding than the Third 1 test we need for our Bronze, but he's young enough.  We can do it.

How many barns have you been at in your riding career?

Oh my goodness.  My family is military, so we moved a lot.  I think I've ridden at 14 barns in my life.

How many different trainers have you been with in your riding career?

Fourteen.  I've had a different trainer each time I've moved.

Ever worked at a barn? What did you do?

I worked at a fancy dancy h/j barn full time for two years as an assistant/groom/instructor.  I taught lessons, groomed at shows, braided, assisted with getting horses and riders ready for lessons, rode school ponies, fed horses, cleaned, did turn out, all sorts of stuff.  It was long hours and extremely demanding.  I also taught lessons at my eventing barn and would occasionally chip in with mucking or turn out.

Scariest thing that has happened at your barn?

At my current barn?  There was a broken arm, but I wasn't there.  Overall?  Okay, brace yourself if you don't like stories of bad falls (or skip to the next question).  I was helping out with a show at the h/j barn.  A teen was riding her very experienced TB gelding around a jumping course.  He was a bit of a hot tamale and she was going for time.  He was always so good about taking care of his little girl, an 18 year old saint that thought he was 4.  A roll back turn on grass, he slipped, and his little girl came off.  She hit the ground on her head, hard enough to be immediately knocked out.  As sometimes happens, her hands clenched shut while she was unconscious.  She still had the reins and her horse freaked.  She was dragged for a bit before he yanked free.

I called 911 while the trainer ran to her, then I ran down to the street to flag down the ambulance.  She was out for a good two minutes.  She left in an ambulance.  My hubby was the videographer that day and he told me about the EMTs asking to see the recording and playing it for them on slomo so they could check to see if she went under the hooves.  She was out of riding for six weeks.  Helmet saved her life.

Have you ever given a lesson? What level was the rider?

Many, the poor saps.  Ranged from first lesson up down riders to kids competing at Beginner Novice.

What is your opinion on the accuracy of critiquing riders online?

From photos?  Not worth the effort.  A really experienced instructor that knows how to look at a moment in time can help you, but they are few and far between.

 No regrets on sending this photo out for a critique by Heather Blitz

 From video and from an experienced instructor?  Sure, there can be some good insights.  But the key word is 'instructor'.  Many people can ride without explaining what they're doing or seeing it in someone else.  And heavens save me from the armchair experts.  Honestly, if you don't have a current competition record and/or a solid reputation as a clinician?  Leave.  Me.  Alone.

What is the ideal height of a horse for you?

Between 15.2h and 16h seems to work the best for me.  I'm short of leg but not petite in frame, so while I look just fine on a pony, I personally prefer a horse so I don't feel like I'm going to capsize the poor thing.  I think I look smashing on Theo who's 16h but not a particularly wide horse.  He's got long legs for his frame, so we get some height without me looking like a pea on a drum.

We're a good match in more ways than one

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

It looks so easy

The lady that shares my Wednesday night lesson had a bit of a rough ride tonight.  We're having our first cold snap and the school horse she rode wanted nothing to do with the canter.  Just nope, nope, nope.  It's a frustrating situation for someone that's really been focusing on getting strong enough to canter consistently so she can do a two phase next year.  By the end of the lesson she was cantering some poles in four strides as directed, but it was not an easy ride.

I felt bad, since she is paired up with me and while she's working on getting a canter all the way around the ring, Theo and I were working on reliably adjusting our strides to three, four, or five strides between the poles.  It's the same old story, one every rider knows.  You look at the more advanced rider and say 'but it looks so easy'.

And there I am, cussing under my breath all the way around the ring, my abs aching, panting for air, fighting for every inch and bit of flexion as he lets me know that the cold weather is not conducive to stretching through his stiff side.  I stop for a break, gasp for breath and hold my abs, only to hear 'of course you can do it, it's so easy for you'.  HA.  Are you kidding?  Adjusting Theo's strides is a whole body experience.

Trainer A had to remind her that last winter, she wasn't cantering at all outside of some short sides on specific horses.  Now she's cantering over poles and learning to count strides.  Her horse was sticky today, it happens.  She was able to ride through it and that's where the progress is.  As for Theo and myself?  Last winter, I was sobbing that I couldn't make him fit strides in for our grids.  Now?  Three, four, or five strides can be done.  We're still working on style while doing it, but getting Theo to take a stride out completely is a huge challenge.  He's not built for it.  The fact we got it on our first try speaks volumes.

Sure, I was up in a half seat (in my dressage tack) with the reins completely fed out, goading him into a strung out stride, but it's still insane progress for a horse that always wants to touch the ground one more time.

Incremental progress is tough that way.  Last year, we couldn't adjust his stride without divine intervention.  This year?  Sure, we can do it.  He might brace a bit, but we can do it.  He will also trot around the ring with his nose down around his ankles, swinging through his entire body and stretching out.  He looks like an athlete.  It's so weird.

We've been working on the idea that once he's going, I feed him the reins until he stretches all the way out and powers along under his own power.  Now I'm teaching him to let me bring him up, right now only half way, without bracing or curling or losing the natural forward.  Then he goes back down.  The hope is that one day I'll be able to pick him all the way up without him losing that amazing forward and swing that he's capable of.  He just can't compute going forward on a contact without guarding himself in some way right now.  But we have months to work on this fundamental concept.

I feel a bit ridiculous, since getting Theo to stretch in the trot is something we've been working on since Day 1.  Ages ago.  And yet, here we are, getting him to stretch forward and down in the trot.  On bad days, I feel like we've made no progress.  But the reality is that Theo wasn't strong enough to do it correctly back then.  He inverted and braced or faked an arched neck to get people to leave him alone.  Only now is he strong enough to stretch all the way out while powering along of his own volition.  And while it's the exact same exercise, it couldn't be any more different.

Now, we make it all look so easy.  At least to people that can't hear my profanity.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Blingy Browband Wars

Ladies and gentlemen, the blingy browband wars are over.  And I am the uncontested winner.

Because this?  Is too subtle.

This?  Is not enough.

If you want to win the blingy browband wars, you have to bring something new.  Something exciting.  Something that requires a battery pack.

Yes, that is an LED browband.  My hubby made it for me.  It is fantastic and blinding and the blingiest thing ever seen.  It has four modes and can have a lot more, the hubby did the programming.  It is a limitless palette of colors and brightness.


Sunday, October 16, 2016

Two trick pony

And just when I had everyone convinced we were going to stick to the dressage ring, we escaped to do a bit of jumping.  I did promise Theo that if he was a good boy, he would get to do some jumping at a show.  He definitely qualified as a good boy this season and I like to keep my promises.

Showing in fall does mean a certain amount of hair control.  With Theo, that means body clip number two for the season.  This time we went for a blanket clip.  Hopefully this will hold him for a month or so.  This pony sure knows how to grow hair.  I also did maintenance on his magnificent tail.  A local schooling show after going to Saugerties was incredibly laid back.  I chucked my stuff on the trailer, slapped in nine braids (left his forelock down), and called it show prep.  It was so laid back that my husband had to remind me to go to bed early since it didn't feel like I had a show.

This laid back attitude led to my best dressage performance all season.  27.9 from a recognized judge for our Beginner Novice B test.  Woohoo, dressage pony!  It was soft, willing, and calm.  The only real thing to make that judge happier would be more energy in the trot.  Well, yeah, but I'll probably see that every time Theo goes in a dressage ring.  We got a 9 for our final salute and the judge was beaming at us.  Basically, we had the ride I should have had in Saugerties.  Oh well, next time I'll try not to get stage fright.

As for the jumping?  My goodness did he try for me.  Doing Beginner Novice adds things like combinations and a lot more fill.  He went in with wide eyes.  There were jumps in the ring!  The green and red plank fence got the stink eye every time we went near it.  The first three jumped nicely, but when we turned to four he was so busy stink eye'ing that fence that he didn't see fence four (the combination) until we were on top of it.  We had a stop, but it was calm and very honest.  He just didn't see it until it was too late.  We circled around and he bombed through the two stride like a freight train, then managed the four stride bending line to a vertical where half of my class had a refusal.  When we finally got to fence 8, the green and red plank, he twisted through the whole approach.  He did not want!  But he jumped it on the first try.  We only had the one stop for four penalties.  Still good enough for second!

After my failed attempt at a selfie, I recruited help.

So very proud of my dressage pony.  I got up off his back and he dragged me to the fences.  He was so honest and willing, I couldn't ask for more.

Then I celebrated the start of my off season, aka the schooling show season.

Bring on the jumping!

Friday, October 14, 2016

Fall Festival Pic Spam

I got my pictures from Saugerties!

Theo has opinions on being a show horse.  Doesn't matter how fancy the setting.

Serious business dressage horse!

I might have been praying during this transition to canter, then right into a 15m circle.  On his sticky lead.  But we nailed it!

Job well done pats.

This actually has a story.  Theo was so chill heading out after his last test that I started flapping my reins and acting like I was pony kicking him to get him to walk faster.  Trainer A pointed at the photographer and said 'I hope you got my adult rider acting like that!'.  This is me cracking up when I realized people were actually watching us.  Theo is all about getting to Trainer A.  She has cookies.
 Theo and I's relationship in one picture.  I'm cracking up.  He sees cookies.

The last shot of the 2016 season.  Mi papi, Trainer A, and me heading back to the barn.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

And sometimes we jump

It's kind of important to practice at least once or twice before a show.  Or so people keep telling me.  And riding a jump course is a bit complicated, it takes some practice.  There's a lot going on when you've got to turn and jump them in sequence.  A specific sequence, they frown when you just make the course up.  Believe me, I've tried.  Did you know they have bells in jumping, too?  Or a buzzer.  But unlike dressage, you don't take an error and keep going.  Go off course, your ride is over.

It did dawn on me this week that I haven't jumped a course since . . . last year?  Just some grids and exercises to keep Theo happy as a dressage pony.  I haven't memorized and jumped a course since our three phase last year.  Yikes, that's a lot of rust.

Trainer A is a smart lady.

So today we found this when we went in the indoor.  We warmed up in the outdoor, then marched into the indoor.  One quick canter around and then right through the course.  Trainer A has never heard of a simple straight line in a course, by the way.  Lots of bending lines and short approaches off the wall.  One full fledged roll back.  The fences were all 2'6" or 2'9".  The two stride was set long and we did it in three, but it was an organized three that we rode with intent.  I knew on take off for the first fence that we weren't going to make the distance, so landed thinking 'short'.  After spending all of last winter mastering the short jumping canter, we fit three in quite neatly.

Keep in mind, the indoor is just a bit longer than a small dressage ring.  It's about 22 meters wide and about 50 meters long.

 There were some interesting features to check Theo's courage.  The white thing at the far end of the ring was a folding table set on it's side (propped on a rail so it would fall easily, totally safe).  That gave him something to look at.  Random blanket over fence 1 set the tone right out of the gate.  You can't see fence 3 in the photo, but she piled up the stands used with cavalletti underneath.  Trainer A also busted out the big wings for some fences which Theo and I have never used.  Those big lattice wings startled him when we came in the ring, so they did the job.  He was such a good boy and jumped everything, even if he cranked his head way up for some of it.

I've got to say, it's nice to be back in the jumping saddle.  All of that dressage work has made Theo a very rideable horse.  Turn on a dime?  Sure, no big deal.  Shorten it up?  No problem.  Engage?  Takes a little at the start, but we've got some engine now.  And he's so darn honest that I don't worry about the fences.  I'm back to jumping in a half seat between fences since he's learning to carry himself without my help.  And that big ol' booty can really plant and push.  When we did the course again, I pushed for the long two stride and got it.  He planted and went for the long distance so calmly, it wasn't a big effort for him.  I could see him strolling through a 3' hunter course without flicking an ear.

Assuming we could get him to have a consistent 12' stride, but Trainer A said that would be a good project for the winter.  We installed the short stride, now he needs a long stride.  The canter lengthen practice will help our First 3 and our jumping.

Saturday I'm going out early to do some supervised jump schooling to make sure Theo and I have our groove back enough to get around the course at our schooling show.  Should be a very stress free day.  Beginner Novice dressage and a 2'7" stadium course?  It's like a day at the beach.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016


Theo's wardrobe is outrageous.  No, really, it is.  And it keeps getting worse.

On Sunday I went out to ride in the pouring rain.  Yay, indoor!  So I pulled my shaggy, damp pony in and got him dried off.  His winter coat came right back after Saugerties, so most of the water just rolled off of him.  I gave him a good towel, then threw his cooler on to wick the rest away.

It's hard to be a show horse

Once dry, he was tacked and his rain sheet went on for the walk down.

Can't go wrong with a classic

Hey look, new saddle pad and browband!

Yes, this is my super fancy show yak horse.  Envy me.

It's ridiculous.  He has four browbands, who knows how many saddle pads (I guess 10), four sets of polos, two sets of boots, a full wardrobe of turn out blankets (heavy, medium, light, and neck rugs), fly sheet and masks, plus his Baker collection (cooler, antisweat, rainsheet, turnout sheet) for when he's going out in public and his big square cooler for the dead of winter.

The loft of my garage is dedicated to Theo's off season wardrobe, since Trainer R isn't interested in hosting that level of stuff.  As the seasons change, Theo's clothes get moved between my garage and the barn. Nothing says pampered pony like a car that reeks of dirty turnout blankets.

And this weekend he needs to be clipped again.  He looks like a goat.  Why do I live in New Hampshire and own a horse?  It's hard to remember as I look down the gauntlet of the cold season.  I pulled my thermals out of storage since it got down to 34* last night.  I'll be needing them for the barn soon.  Why do I have a show this weekend?

The look of a horse that has just realized the dressage tack is on for the first time in two weeks.  Back to work, papi!

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Off season: Doin' it wrong

I fail at taking vacations and now I fail at the off season.

I mean, I've done some things right.  My horse is a hairy, hairy beast and his next clip (probably tomorrow) will be a trace clip.  He's been on the trails three times in the past week.  We have done one serious dressage school in the past week.  But as for having an off season?  Whoops.

On the 16th we're zipping out to a local two phase.  Three phase for most of the kids, but Theo and I are there to relax.  Getting around cross country is not relaxing for either of us.  We'll do the Beginner Novice dressage and show jumping.  It should be fun and get us some miles over fences with actual fill under them. Oh, scary!

It really has been this long since we jumped away from home

Then November 20th is an indoor H/J schooling show.  2'6" hunters and eq courses?  Sure, why not!  Good to diversify.  On November 27th is a dressage schooling show.  Might be a good idea to do one more run through of First 2 and 3 before we go into hibernation.  I probably won't even braid, wear my show apparel, or in any other way stress myself out.  My horse will be looking a bit like a goat, what's the point in trying to braid?  And with late November, it's going to be about doing the miles and getting back on the trailer.  Clinic attire seems more appropriate.  And easier to keep warm.

But Theo is a horse that does better with regular trips off the property to remind him that the world is a big place.  These are super small scale and casual.  Should be fun.  Next year looks to include some H/J outings, so might as well see if we can convince him to jump scary things on the first try.  I'm hopeful.  He's gotten very brave about things like liverpools, tarps, and traffic cones thrown in a random pile under a jump.  We've just never asked him to do any of that away from home.  It's always been plain rails.  Even when we moved up to 2'6" in a two phase, the show was only using plain rails.  Theo and I have never seen real fill at a show.

The king of plain rails.  And I hate this picture so much.  Thank goodness for a jump saddle and getting back into shape.

But he does love to jump things and can be quite brave once he knows what game is being played.  And with hunters/eq stuff, there's warm up courses!

My poor horse.  His mom is a workaholic.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Riding a Freestyle: Part 1

There was some curiosity on how I'm getting my music together for next year's freestyle.  So I'm going to do some updates as I go with how it's happening.

First step was to submit my video of my First 3 test to to get the tempos of Theo's gaits.  Here's what I got back:

walk - free walk is 53 and medium is pretty close to that.
trot - I see quite a bit of fluctuation in the trot from 74-78. I would be inclined to record at 76. You might get away with 75, but could only get away with 77 if you maintain the tempo in lateral work.
canter - Canter started a little slower, but stabilized at 99.

Okay, great, step one complete.  Step two is to pick out some pre-edited music, since I want to keep this as simple as possible for my first freestyle.

Theo's rhythms are on the fast side, so it cuts down on my selections.

This one is very close, but the trot only goes up to 75.  It will be a hair slow, and Theo's trot leans more toward 78 when he's powering along.  But I really like it and it suits him.

This one is also latin style, correct for his trot, and just a hair slow for the canter.

This one is too slow in the canter by a couple beats per minute, but I'm tempted to do it any way.  It's the Hunger Games!  Such epic entry music.

This one is only one beat too slow in the canter and would thrill my dad.  And I can't say that I dislike a bit of jazz, but it's kind of dull.   This one is the same, but with swing.  Both are rhythm appropriate, but don't really sell me as anything I'd be excited to use.

Phantom Menace is too fast in the trot and comes off frantic with him.  I was disappointed.

I'm currently thinking that I'll use either Tango in Ebony or Hunger Games.  Both appeal to me, sound good when I'm watching him go, and are very close to the rhythms he needs.  I wish I wasn't so picky on music.  I really can't get behind the instrumental version of a lot of popular music.

I'm open to suggestions on other pieces, I haven't listened to everything in his tempo range.  I've still got some time.