Calm, Forward, Straight

Calm, Forward, Straight

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Out with the old, in with the new...


We started the year treating Val for hay needles - a noxious weed in his hay that lodged in his gums, made eating very uncomfortable. There was some good progress in getting on the bit after a long stretch of bareback rides. And the coldest winter anyone could remember + a (for us) major snowstorm.


We rode - a lot. Made progress in the arena and out... with an eye towards reinstating trail riding. Worked on connection, half halts, and forward. I video-ed us for the first time - how revealing *eye roll*. Loving my horse...


Fine weather = feeling good + lots of rides. We rode bitless for the first time, lots more bareback and several mini trail rides. Got a lesson on a whirlwind hay trip - first in about six months, and one of the last as it turned out. A month full of progress.


A lesson with a different trainer who helped me get my horse forward. Not a dressage lesson, but very helpful. Shedding season, Val likes beer and plays a convincing dead horse. (no connection between beer and dead horse...)


A fall (sort of), more bareback with posting practice + mini trail rides, Val self loads, the farmette gets a garden - I made the raised beds and Val made the dirt. We break ground on the new arena...


The garden grows despite the drought making life difficult.  I find the Shimmy Shack and start making moving plans. I travel to my trainer's farm for what turn out to be my last lessons with her....


Super hot - the arena footing deteriorates. We stay cool with frequent baths and watermelon snacks. The garden starts to bear, and the Shimmy Shack moves in.


Dad and I get the Shimmy Shack hooked up to utilities - and I clean it within an inch of it's life. Val spends much of the month wrapped and on bute due to a mystery swelling and then being stocked up. Sold produce to a farmer's market and a local restaurant until hurricane Irene tears up the island - just when everything was going so well. Found an injured kitten on the side of the road just before the storm - newest member of the household is christened "Seven". He has twenty four toes!


A month I'd rather forget. Trapped on the island with no road off, and about a billion mosquitos. Enough said.

We get the road back. My Dad and I build a kick ass deck around the Shimmy Shack and she's ready to move in, which I spend most of the month accomplishing. Val and I have a few good rides, and find out the break was good for both of us.


We make amazing strides. Val takes contact and works over his back - consistently. I'm having to manage myself less as a rider. I had serious doubts that we would move forward without a trainer. Riding has been an absolute joy. Still getting my living space arranged, but it's coming together.



My farrier gives me trimming lessons. Made contact with a potential new trainer. More great rides, a small step backwards, and then forward again. We end the year on a super high note with our partnership strengthening. High hopes for 2012 - Happy New Year everyone!!!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

In the Arena #97 - Process of elimination...

Val and I worked twice last week, with a focus on the forward that has been lacking. Before Wednesday's ride, I gave him some bute, letting it take effect while grooming and tacking up. Happily, the bute didn't appear to make any difference in the quality of his movement. His desire to move, sadly, was still lacking. Frustration resulted in a mini meltdown (mine) which then led to a much improved ride. Releasing tension always helps.

And a brainstorm...  It occurred to me that there is an element of our training that I hadn't (over) analyzed yet in my last few posts. New boots. In September I ordered Val a pair of SMB VenTech Elite sports boots. Okay, we're certainly not elite, and it's a stretch to call us athletes... but the persistent drought this past summer caused super deep footing in our sand arena, which really concerned me. Horses get bowed tendons here pretty often, if over-worked in deep sand, especially on the beach. I've heard that horses work fifty percent harder when training in sand, and figured Val could use some extra support. I liked that these boots claim to stay cool, comfortable and don't restrict movement.

If you put them on right that is... There are numerous straps that attach with hyper aggressive velcro. I'm questioning the one that runs under the fetlock. I didn't exactly consult any directions about how to put them on, thinking that it should be self explanatory. Famous last words. I've since found some instruction online.

The next day we rode without the boots, without bute, and without a saddle. The ride began with Val heading straight for the gate. He hung his head over and began messing with the latch. I got the hint. No dice on a bareback trail ride though, or on arguing about heading back into the arena. We returned to the mounting block, started again and went on to have fluid, forward ride. What a relief!

A conversation later that evening with a fellow student of my former trainer put things into perspective. She has two friends, dressage riders, both facing tremendous obstacles at the moment. Not obstacles to accomplishing dressage goals mind you, but obstacles to life. They both have late stage cancer. And one of them also lost her lovely Morgan, who suddenly dropped dead a couple of weeks ago. Getting out of the house, out of bed even, can be a major ordeal for them. As my friend pointed out - they would give anything just to be on their horses these days. (At this point I felt like such a whiner!)

The takeaway... always double check your tack + your attitude. More importantly, every ride is a gift - so cherish them all!


Holiday treats :)

A good time was had by all...

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Twas the night before Christmas...

Merry Christmas to all our blogger friends. We hope that your holiday is filled with as much joy and love as little Grace and her (new) pony Encore...

Best wishes for a healthy, happy New Year to you all!! (((♡♡♡)))

Friday, December 16, 2011

In the Arena #96 - I "rode the horse I have today".. now, may I please have the one I rode yesterday?!

With the glorious weather still hanging in here Thursday, I was compelled to ride. Canceled an appointment, groomed and tacked, and away we went...

Nowhere. No go button at all. We argued about going forward, which direction to not go forward in, and ultimately which spot to refuse to go forward from. My recent strategy of skipping walk work and moving on to the trot was ineffective. Asking for the trot elicited a series of head shaking crow hops, with some dropped shoulder added in for effect. On a good note I stayed put no problem, and managed to run through my mental checklist instead of worrying into a fetal position.

My last few posts probably conveyed the sinister little undermining sense of disbelief I had at how well our rides have been going, for an extended period of time now, without a trainer. I tried to temper my enthusiasm, knowing that the pendulum would ultimately swing back the other way. Self fulfilling prophecy...

Yesterday was a day that I totally needed and missed the help of a better, wiser rider. I got completely frustrated at not being able to resolve the no go situation in a positive way, with a positive attitude. My mind went to that unhelpful place that predicts bad future events instead of being here now:

"If I don't end this ride on a good note, the sky will fall, and the sun will never shine again, and my horse will be broken. Waaaaa."

I dismounted. And quasi free lunged (chased him around waving my arms) for a few minutes, until I got control of my emotions, and he got with the moving forward program. Bingo.

Deep breath. He licked and chewed, I remounted, and we continued the ride. We did some nice big walking - best walk work we've done yet, he was covering ground. Then we moved out at the trot. I dropped my stirrups and rode on the buckle.*Val was super responsive to my aids. We ended on a very good note, as far as the riding part goes.

Now, here's the worrying part. As far the rider is concerned - I know that I struggle with being consistent in my aiding, with being even in my body, with not giving unintentional aids. The last few months suggest to me that I have become a more competent rider...

So what about Val? I believe his saddle fit is good. The sweat marks are always even and the same on both sides. My trainer inspected the fit and okayed it. Val doesn't react negatively to being saddled or to the girth being tightened. His mouth is great according to his natural balance dentist. He takes the bit willingly, and takes his time letting it go when we untack. He has been getting a nice foamy mouth lately, so I don't think there's a bit problem.

Could something be bothering him physically? He seems sound to me. I can certainly see when I'm not in the saddle that he shows no movement issues. Could he just be testing my leadership? Does everyone have day like this where it seems like they're going backwards? Should riding feel this hard - or more precisely, shouldn't it eventually feel easier?

For my own peace of mind, I'm going to give Val some bute before our next ride, which hopefully will eliminate if there is a physical issue that I've missed. And the next ride after that will be bareback. If the problem stems from my riding, I'm pointing my finger at how my tight right hip affects my seat. *I've noticed that when I drop my stirrups and ride on the buckle at the end of our rides, Val is the most responsive and loose that he ever feels.

I'll keep you posted. The dressage journey is nothing if not interesting and mentally engaging - resisting the urge to whine here - even more so when you're learning solo. :)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

In the Arena #95 - ...of mice and men

I've learned to be wary of going into our rides with too much of a plan. I have better results by responding to what goes on in the arena - "ride the horse you have today." However, there is a little strategy I cooked up, and this was the day to try it out.

While we've been improving by leaps and bounds this last couple of months, there is still an unresolved issue. An issue that derails warming up at the walk + steering, and often keeps us from using the whole arena. Recently I've avoided it by moving immediately into trot work, where forward cures steering problems. Bypassing the issue, but not solving it.

Sometimes steering is a monkey on our backs...

As I lay in bed the other night, I visualized beginning a circle at the top of the arena. Instead of closing the circle, I would drop further down the arena, creating a series of loops - sort of an open slinky shape

This would theoretically accomplish two things: surprise my horse thereby keeping his interest - he's very allergic to predictable - and move me throughout the entire arena at the beginning of the ride, in a roundabout way, without arguments. Holy cow - it worked! Nothing challenges my creativity like dressage.You simply cannot phone it in with a partner like Val.

We proceeded to have a lovely ride focusing on contact, stretchy trot and big walk. Although I struggled with keeping my lower leg on consistently - when I was able, he responded by reaching into the contact. Listen to your horse...


As I prepared for our ride this afternoon, Val surprised me with a new trick. Each time I glanced up from grooming, he was in the midst of untying his quick release knot. First mouthing the loop, loosening it. Next pulling the end to dismantle the knot. Then finally yanking the whole rope back through the tie ring with a flourish as the leadline dangled from his mouth. He cut glances at me throughout the entire process, looking quite proud of himself. I was supremely bummed not to have my camera handy, although I expect I'll have other chances to document this behavior. Good thing we ground tie now.

I recently got a comment asking about how we work on ground tying. It's pretty simple. I halter Val, then lay the lead rope over his back. I begin grooming, picking feet, bug spraying etc. As soon as he moves a step, I (calmly) stop what I'm doing, send him back to where he started with a light hand on his lead, and resume. This process also involves lots of cookies.

Initially, the exercise consisted of moving Val back into place, over and over. Now - he might take a half-hearted step or two, get put back, sigh, politely drop his head and wait. It's good to set yourself up for success, ie choose a nice calm day when your horse is feeling pretty mellow, practice after exercise, and have a wall, fence or some barrier to limit avenues of escape. How do you all do it?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

In the Arena #94 - It's nice to share...

Friday was farrier day. My farrier has kindly agreed to teach me the basics of barefoot trimming my horse, since he may not be able to continue traveling to our island much longer. Several horse owners here skipped out on his appointments with no notice last visit. He drives seven hours round trip to get here... people just blow my mind with their ignorant behavior sometimes.

Anyhow - I did Val's fronts this go round. Will work on the hinds next time. I feel pretty good about knowing what to trim, how much and why... using the tools smoothly, positioning myself and holding Val's feet comfortably and safely are going to take time. (understatement) It went well considering. My farrier is a patient teacher who can put his knowledge into words - lucky for me. My horse has decent feet after two years of being barefoot, so I'm not having to correct any major issues - also lucky.

I tacked Val up for a ride after we trimmed him. Cowboy was already working beyond the far end of our arena. It's been a while since both horses were working at the same time. Val indicated that he'd like to stay at the far end and watch Cowboy work - like he usually does. It took some time and patience to convince him otherwise. After settling our little difference of opinion, we enjoyed a workmanlike ride - the high points being steady contact (foamy mouth), round 15m circles, decent transitions and some stretchy trot at the end of the ride. It was fun to ride with someone else for a change. For one thing, there was room in my tiny breeches pocket for treats since I didn't have to cram my cell phone in there. And it's always nice to have company when doing chores. A really good day at the barn. :)

Last night Val followed me out into his paddock while I picked manure. As per usual, while nosing about, he suddenly needed to munch on some discarded hay that had sat on the floor of his run in all day, until I put it into the manure cart (where it's desirability skyrocketed). I proceeded to jokingly offer him hay, one strand at a time. He politely ate for as long as I offered. After the snack, he rested his chin into the crook of my shoulder, quietly breathing onto my neck, while we watched the sun set behind the trees. *sigh*

Thursday, December 8, 2011

In the Arena #93 - And then rainbows came flying out of our -----

After a brief cool down, we were blessed with another week of unseasonable delightful warmth and sun. Yesterday was likely the end. For real this time.

I cleared my schedule by early afternoon, and got Val ready for our ride. The horses were surprisingly calm considering that tree trimming guys spent half the day clearing my property around the electric lines with power tools, and then disposing of the cuttings in a giant, deafening wood chipper...

Cat crossing property nowhere near arena = horse eating monster
Wood chipper screaming and whining next to arena - not so much...

I recently have been experimenting with reintroducing some on the buckle warm-up work before we move on to the trot - 'cause I'm stubborn like that. Apparently yesterday I crossed the line into tediousness, and Val acted up... refusing to listen to my aids and getting super choosy about where he wanted to work. After a bunch of head tossing, a spin and getting bucky with it, I gave him a stern "NO" and a little smack with my dressage whip. Instant attitude adjustment. It was so awesome! :)

Believe me, I have traveled a long road leading to the point where I can reprimand my horse and feel okay about it. Too often in the past, I let Val get away with this type of behavior. I made excuses for him, and ultimately I was afraid. Afraid of how he would react, and afraid I would lose my cool.

His tack fits, his teeth are good, he's not in pain. He tests my resolve because he can... because I let him get away with it for so long - ie I trained him to do it... because I can be inconsistent and inaccurate with my aiding... because he's smart and easily bored... and because he's conservative with his energy pretty lazy sometimes.

The best thing is that the confidence I got from giving that correction, letting it go immediately and moving forward, will likely help keep me in the frame of mind that heads off this type of situation in the future. Sometimes a little spanking is a good thing...


So on to our ride, post correction. Simply our best yet. We got on the bit quickly, with Val carrying himself so nicely that I could have sat the trot all day - which I didn't, as my posting is coming along but still needs lots of work so I can get to where I don't have to think about it every stride. Besides, sitting the trot right now feels like a sinfully delicious treat, one that I'm not sure I've quite earned yet, or maybe might contain too many calories...

We also did some serpentines, baby leg yields and rode deep into our corners. I focused on using my core, especially for downwards transitions, as well as making sure I banish piano hands, and aiding from my elbows, which stay at my sides. There was some big marching walk after the trot work, and tantrum free on the buckle work as well. We finished up as a cold rain started falling... winter's calling card.


I miss lessons with my trainer... besides the info and supervision, I miss the barn time, companionship and watching lessons with people who are as obsessed with dressage as I am. Nonetheless we are making progress. And ironically this break from instruction is the reason. I have had to accept responsibility for our training.  I stepped up, took responsibility, and found out I'm plenty capable. At least, I'm not going to ruin my horse. Total surprise to me. 

Now I'm contemplating the canter - stay tuned...

Sunday, December 4, 2011

In the Arena #92 - Love me two times baby...

Happily, I have two more rides to report on. We're on a roll :)

On Friday I got done early with my responsibilities, and headed straight home in the midst of a superb day - sunny, in the sixties with no wind. The arena was toasty. Val and I started work right away - grooming and tacking up while he was ground tied. There were a couple of efforts to walk off, and some impatience, (head bobbing + lip flapping), which I patiently corrected, then returned to my grooming tasks. After a big sigh, Val stood still for the remainder of our preparations. He has really made progress with ground tying, and I believe that the benefits of this work also show up under saddle.

Just as I finished tacking Val up, my neighbor cranked up some sort of jack hammer-ish, super loud tool right next door to the arena. Oh goody... It didn't impact the ride at all though, which made me very happy.

We moved right into our trot work, which lasted for over an hour, with a couple of walk breaks thrown in. We alternated posting and two point, focusing on half halts and transitions. Nothing new, but we are refining his movement and my aiding, little by little.

After the ride I hung all my tack out on the arena gate and cleaned it - a super thorough job. I took it apart, saddle soaped and oiled everything.

Val helped too. He pulled the stirrups down, grabbed pieces that I wasn't working on and dropped them in the sand, and groomed me. I finally had to banish him to the far corner of the arena...


Today there was a milestone. Our first (intentional) sitting trot. Val's coming on to the bit, and my confidence in taking up more contact presented me with a lovely lifted back as I sat the first few strides of a trot transition, so I kept it up. It felt great, and Val snorted and motored on pushing from his hind end. This is the first time I've sat the trot where it didn't feel like I was unnecessarily bouncing around on his back, and it didn't take tons of effort to sit in my horse, not on him. Yay - so dressagey!

Next I dropped my stirrups for some posting practice, which followed the sitting trot work quite nicely. To finish up we worked on turns on the forehand. The right handed ones were very sticky - lots of resistance from Val. After the ride I remembered that I had rotated my leathers post cleaning the other day, but neglected to check for stretching. Sure enough, my left leather, formerly right, had stretched and needed to be raised, so I was likely more uneven than usual.

All in all a very satisfying ride. :)


I'm thinking if horses could smoke, or suck their thumbs... or bite their nails, these two would be prime candidates. So orally fixated...

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