Calm, Forward, Straight

Calm, Forward, Straight

Sunday, April 29, 2012

In the Arena # 119 - We can have high times, if you'll abide...

Change of plans on Friday, just as I was preparing to mount.

Literally. Arena dragged, riding clothes on, Val groomed and tacked up. Who should appear, but a crew of camo outfitted, gun toting teenagers jumping out of a van next door, (picture a circus clown car), itching for a paint ball battle. The guns aren't a problem really, they're rather quiet, but the camo'd up, mask wearing kids crashing through the brush next to our arena... that's more than I can take.

Fallback to ground work. I've got Val moving his hindquarters around and stepping under freely, sort of an in-hand turn on the forehand. Now I'm attempting to get him to move his shoulders around while pivoting on his hindquarters. I've rewarded any lateral motion I get up front, but am unsure how to encourage keeping the back legs still. One step at a time... ;)

Yesterday was absolutely miserable weather-wise. It drizzled non stop, except when it was all out pouring. I spent the day on a major landscaping side job that will help pay for this summer's hay. I got soaked, but it wasn't too bad, and I finished up in time to ride this afternoon, just as the sun came out.

Val was majorly distracted during grooming and tacking up, but we eventually managed to get our minds on our jobs. (and today, we were all about the canter) After warming up, some transitions and big walk, I checked out the go button for trotting. My aids were answered immediately, and occasionally, with a canter depart.

How delightful is that?! I wasn't even planning on working on the canter, but apparently my horse wanted to. Val has a beautiful canter, and I cannot wait until I am able to do him justice in my riding of it.

The other day I paid no attention to whether we had the correct lead or not. Today, I noticed that we got it right all but once. I'm sure that was pure-D luck. My focus was still the depart, and my position, which will without a doubt require me to video myself, as I am so overwhelmed by our new gait I feel like I have no control over my body. I suspect that I need to sit back, or rather, not lean forward.

As a young girl, I studied classical piano, rather rigorously. My teacher entered me in a number of competitions. I was constantly having to memorize long, complicated pieces of music. Lots of pressure. One day, after having recently discovered Scott Joplin, I brought in the sheet music for the Maple Leaf Rag.

"Do you think I could learn this one next?"

"No dear, playing that music is pleasuring yourself at the piano."

This afternoon as I let Val canter around the ring, I felt like I was "pleasuring myself" in the arena.

And I liked it. :)

I'm going to take a picture of us after every ride from now on. 
One day, when I'm old and grey... when I can't haul my ass up into the saddle anymore, 
I will look at these pictures, read these words, and think what a lucky girl I am. :)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

In the Arena # 118 - Cloud nine...

It was bound to happen sometime.

Actually - it has happened, but only on the beach.

Never in the arena.

(Well, once in the arena at my trainer's farm, in two point riding into the corner, but it was really ugly that time.)

Today we cantered. Yep. I had been reticent to work on the canter with the old saddle - I was getting bucks at the trot with that bad fit. And I have so much work to do on the trot. And I worried about generating a whole new set of issues that I would need to correct. And I totally lacked confidence.

Today I thought - what the hell. The footing was superb after our five inches of rain over the weekend. We were having a great ride. My seat felt even, Val was reaching and using his hind end, transitions were sharp... so I slowed to a walk, reached my inside seat bone forward, put my outside leg back, and asked for the canter...

If Val had a thought bubble over his head it would have said - "FOR REAL?!"

He gave me a strung out stride of canter, and I stopped him. Walked a bit, asked again, and got another stride. It wasn't pretty. It was on the forehand. But he was willing. A few more tries, and then I got a fairly balanced step into the canter and we cantered the whole long side. And that was the end of the session.

Look out flying changes - here we come! ❤

Did you want to see my treat face again?

Monday, April 23, 2012

In the Arena #117 - Time keeps on slipping...

Deep into planting season around here - sorry for the sparse posting. I started a few, but just wasn't feeling it. I did manage to get horse time in, thank goodness.

We have had two productive groundwork sessions and two productive rides. After a ten day break, Val was pretty up and distracted during the first session - boogeymen at the back of the property and all... Head up, barging around, not with me. Luckily I was having one of my more patient days. After a few sharp corrections + letting it go immediately, we got on the same page. I worked on Val moving his shoulders freely - especially turning away from me. By the end we were gelling. Today I had Val from the beginning - we concentrated on his hindquarters and finished with some clicker work. Let me just say, Val is a pro on treat related activities.

Next, a bareback ride. I was hoping to address my crookedness, and stretch out my hip and thigh. Yes, and yes. I did almost the whole ride on the buckle, and Val was moving like a little reining pony. Note to self: watch that you don't block with the reins, your horse maneuvers better when you don't really use them...

On Saturday we saddled up, and had absolutely our best ride ever. Our warm-up went smoothly, transition to contact as well. I took up the most contact ever so far, and my horse snorted out many thank you's throughout the ride. Can someone explain why I resist taking contact when it makes my horse feel so good?! He was relaxed and responsive, swinging his rear end. We've been building up our stamina too - more consecutive trotting, less resting. While our contact basically rocked, energy still has a ways to go, but we did keep it up up through the corners. Transitions were good. My focus in coming rides, will be generating forward without annoying Val with my aids.

Things were going so well that I thought I'd turn on the camera. While documenting rides is super helpful, I seem to lose some steam, and / or get self conscious, less relaxed. Around here, when people ask how the surf is, it's always like, "oh - you should have seen it yesterday." That's how I feel about videoing. The break I take to mess with the camera interrupts the momentum, and I always wish I'd had the camera on for the whole ride, but who wants to wait eight hours to upload? And no one wants to watch all that, including me. That said, I have some stills to share from the video I took Saturday - highlights if you will.


Thanks so much for all of the observations and constructive criticism of the videos I posted recently. I want to respond in general - I have a hip issue (old injury) that contributes heavily to the drawn up right leg / bracing against the iron. The right shoulder is bum too which likely doesn't help. My stirrup leathers are even, I rotate them periodically, and I check that my saddle is centered before I start my ride. I am always more even in the saddle when I ride bareback or drop my stirrups. I need to zone in on what happens when I give a leg aid on my right side - reviewing my videos has been helpful. So have your suggestions - very much so. Again, thank you.

Okay - so I had my first less than kind feedback. It went back and forth between harsh critique of my position and riding skills (repeating what I said in my post, but meaner) and numerous tried and true dressage rules - practically lifted verbatim from one of my favorite dressage master's books. I got the impression that the motivation behind it wasn't sincere helpfulness. Something didn't ring true. The commenter obviously had not bothered to read my post or the many thoughtful comments that preceded theirs, but jumped straight to the video. A click on the commenter's name revealed someone whose only profile information was that they had joined blogger in April, and had no profile views yet. On a whim, I looked up their curious screen name, the definition of which is a pejorative UK slang meaning "foolish incompetence." Welcome to the round file. :)

Monday, April 16, 2012

At the Barn #60 - By the skin of our teeth...

Don't forget the dentals! The natural balance dentist came, all the way from Maryland, and oh do we appreciate it. The horses were very relaxed. They seemed to understand that the poking and scraping is a good thing. It helps that K, our practitioner is so thoughtful and respectful with them. No power tools, and the speculum is released periodically. It's always amazing how cooperative horses can be when we come to them in the spirit of helping.

K tests her work by listening to the horses' jaw while sliding their bite laterally. I could even hear when the bite wasn't quite correct yet. The sound reverberates through the jaw and nasal cavity. The connection between the mouth, the TMJ, and your horse's way of going is facinating. K told me things about Val's and Cowboy's movement just from the condition of their mouths.

I showed K something that I thought might be a melanoma on the underside of Val's dock. She agreed it probably was. The plan is to photograph it so I have a baseline picture. She hasn't met many greys who don't end up with melanomas. Better believe I'll be watching it like a hawk. (This is where OCD tendencies come in handy. If only I could apply them to time management!)

The best part of the day was K's assessment of Val's condition - kind of like a good report card. Weight - 6. Muscling - 6. He looks like he's being worked properly - topline is happening. She thought my ottb was a warmblood. ♥Love♥ those sturdy thoroughbreds - kickin' it old school.


I spent the (whole) weekend doing chores - taxes (boo), and finishing setting up my studio. (!) These are chores that I've put off for too long, (I should do a series of posts about procrastinating... maybe one day) so riding was not the priority.

Saturday afternoon I took a break and fly sprayed Val, intending to drag the arena and then get in a ride. After the relief of being bug free set in, Val promptly dropped to the ground, laid out flat and started cutting some serious zzzzz's. I didn't have the heart to fire up the tractor. It was probably for the best. The flies are super bad right now. I'm guessing this is how we pay for June-uary.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

In the Arena # 116 - This will go down on your permanent record...

I've been on a bit of a roll lately. That would be - too much going on + sleeping vs blogging? (sleeping wins) + blogging news build up. Work is crazy busy. There have been lots of visitors to entertain (I've sort of had a social life). As usual I haven't been in a rush to finish up my taxes... and gardening doesn't wait this time of year. I'm really happy that I'm getting rides in (and also frazzled). Hopefully things should calm down in a few weeks.


A new video camera is finally on the way (!), which means I won't have to fool with my little point and shoot much longer. And, I'll be able to take some video lessons. ('cause lord knows I need them) In the meantime, I caught a few minutes worth of Val and I schooling over the weekend. No editing capabilities til the new technology arrives - just sayin'...

Nothing so constructive as watching yourself ride. More accurate than looking at only the best pictures and remembering. ;)

1. While there is a straight line from the bit to my elbow, I need to shorten my reins. I failed to maintain steady contact (although it was better while I warmed up - isn't that always the case). Val is looking for it.

2. Fairly forward on the long sides but bogging down on the short side - overall we need more energy, (and more consistent rhythm). Inside leg to outside rein + more driving aid. It would be good to address this prior to entering the corners, otherwise it's too late.

3. Good circles. I think I can start working on some bend - inside rein (tiny) until I can just see Val's eye.

4. I'm not unhappy about my posting, but I'm way off to the left side of the saddle way too often. Any suggestions on a good exercise to counteract this tendency would be appreciated.

4. The flies were absolutely horrendous in the second video. Loads of the flies that hang around the sheath area. That's why the head tossing and uneven gait. Bug spray was completely ineffective. I cut the session short with some transitions as the insects were super distracting.

5. I need to go for it. There is no reason to be tentative.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

How to walk the walk...

Happy Easter to everyone - hope you are all enjoying the holiday and can fit some horse time in as well.

As I was visiting blogs this morning over coffee, I found a most inspiring story that needed to be shared. (Val and I have some good ride reports and (!) video coming later.)

Jessica over at Spotty Horse News has a fabulous post up about a group she's involved in on the West Coast. They saw a gap in ottb support at No Cal tracks and have stepped in to lend a hand. They are searching for an appropriate facility, but in the meantime they sought out advice from an established organization, Neigh Savers, have formed their team of dedicated horse(wo)men and even have their first rehab horse ready. Most importantly sponsors are needed.

Bravo Jessica and company!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

At the Barn #59 - Feet, a retrospective

Big winds today and yesterday. Big as in 40 mph steady. It seemed like a good afternoon to spend grooming, de-hairing and pampering my special guy. It looks like we are going to get cold rain and a big drop in temperature tonight, so the rain sheet goes on. Who wants to wear a restrictive blanket over top of itchy winter sheddings? Val says not me!

Since it's been damp for a week, I thought I'd pay special attention to his feet, and give his frogs a dose of Veterycin (holy water) to stave off the funk. Despite the tarp canopy framming around wildly, Val patiently remained ground tied. (bragging) He doesn't love it. He eventually tosses his head up and down trying to dislodge and grab the lead rope I lay over his shoulders, but he stays put.

As I cleaned Val's feet, I wondered how they look compared to when I brought him home. It would have been great if I had thought to take pictures back then. My obsession with documenting only started once I began blogging.

I dug around and found a few pictures. The first one was right after the hurricane in September - Val ultimately went ten weeks without a trim, so please ignore the chipping. I trimmed him right after I took this picture. I had just begun using Veterycin, and magnesium, so it's a pretty good benchmark.  The second was taken in December - looks like we needed to get after those bars! And the third was from today. The dark areas by the toe are sand stuck to where I had scraped away some crumbly sole.


I also checked Val's foot against one of his old shoes. One difference I can see, is that the shoe hangs past the back of his foot now. I'm thinking this means he has more heel - that he's not crushed in the heel area. The toe looks squarer. I wish I hadn't cut them off in today's photo, because his heels bulbs are more robust now too. His older frog seems bigger, probably because I'd sprayed it up with the holy water, and he recently shed his current frog. The biggest and best change I notice is that the white line issues are negligible anymore. I'll take it!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

At the Barn #58 - Measurements, smeasurements...

In the Arena # 116 - As the world turns...

Rundown on the electric project:

Dug a (200 ft x 8 ") trench. Had a trencher to dig the first three inches - the rest I had to hand shovel. Glued and laid conduit in trench.


 (So - at one point in the planning stages, I had given an estimate of the length of service wire (pricey) needed to get from power pole to studio. I said 200 ft should cover it. A piece of wire of undetermined length arrived.)

"Should we measure the mystery wire? I have a rolling measuring tool!"

"No - we don't want to unroll the wire. That would be stupid."

Ran fish wire through the conduit. Fish wire got bound up a little over half way through. Had to dig out and cut conduit. Had to unroll wire to push it through the conduit. Measured the unrolled wire. (168 ft) measured the length of conduit laid. (172 ft) Add in what runs up the boxes. (10 ft)

I made a few calls and found a scrap piece of service wire just a minute down the road. Had I been forced to drive 1 1/2 hours to the nearest Home Depot and back...

Upshot on the electric project:

I now have properly connected power to my studio, a couple of weatherproof outlets on the outside of the building, a breaker box and an outlet inside my studio. Running wire, fixtures, lighting on the barn and rewiring the tack room will happen at some point in the future.

It was an absolutely exhausting weekend. I learned a lot about rigging up electricity, and cooperation. While I sure don't want to make the connections at the poles and to the breaker boxes, the rest of the job wasn't too difficult. (And the dogs had a blast!!)


Val and I had a beautiful ride today. After reading smazourek's thoughtful post about neck reining and dressage, I headed out to the barn pondering turning, steering, reins - neck and not.

I have been taught "inside leg to outside rein." My best understanding is the inside leg gives the aid to turn (and leg yield), as well as something for the horse to bend around. The outside rein affects balance and carriage (half-halt), and stabilizes the neck. While you don't pull the head around with the inside rein - lead the horse by his nose - neither must you abdicate contact on the inside rein - it balances the outside rein contact - "Keep the neck straight!" and creates bend. 

"The rider must learn to guide (or 'steer', or 'turn') the horse mainly with the seat and legs, driving the horse in the required direction, and with the outside rein. Though both reins are an essential part in the "orchestra" of aiding whilst guiding, they play only a relatively small, passive laterally stabilizing, framing (channeling) role of the horse's neck and shoulders. Erik Herbermann

I have not worked much on bending with the inside rein, as I arrived to dressage with a healthy case of "inside rein-itis," which rears it's ugly head when I get flustered or stop concentrating, though I may be ready to experiment with bending now. So far it has been safer for me to do as little as possible with the reins, other than concentrate on contact.

Speaking of contact - I took much more of it than usual this afternoon, with very good results. Val did some nice reaching, and used his hind legs. We had decent forwardness off of light leg aids as well. Val's response to my leg is improving every ride. I hardly touched my whip. For the first time in months we did multiple whole circuits of the arena at the trot keeping the tempo steady and with fluidity. Val was super willing, and the ride was super fun. Love my horse!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

At the Barn #57 - Whipped (and satisfied)

No horse news, but I have pictures to share and a post to write. My electrician friend got here Friday afternoon. (THANK YOU J.R. !!!!!)

We spent the entire weekend rerunning power to electrifiy the studio, and to connect my tack room + electric fence to the new source, rather than relying on the extension cords which were running across half the property. So classy that was.

Sadly - the git'er done cord rig was much safer and well thought out than the original electrical work that came with the property.


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