Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Sunday, December 15, 2013

"Put your left shoulder-in, put your left shoulder-out..."

I'm stuck at home today, as the 5" of wet snow froze overnight, making side roads impassable ice traps. I hope you all are out there riding, so I can live vicariously through you! I hate going a full weekend without seeing my horse!

If only the shoulder-in was as simple as the Hokey Pokey!

As I discussed yesterday, the shoulder-in is an extremely influential and important movement in the development of the dressage horse. But, it's a movement that requires a build up of strength and balance. So, how do we get started introducing the movement to our horses and ourselves?

Hello shoulder-fore! 

Think of the shoulder-fore as a mini shoulder-in. It introduces the idea of the movement to your horse, asks more out of your connection, but doesn't require the dynamic level of hind leg support that a full shoulder-in does. A good way to think about the shoulder-fore, is riding the horse's shoulders just slightly off the rail. Your horse won't be moving on three tracks, but he'll still be starting to flex his abdominal muscles and learning to flex and respond to your inside and outside aids without losing his balance. In addition to helping develop the shoulder-in and collected gaits, the shoulder-fore is an amazing tool to help straighten your horses. This is especially true at the canter!
Lilly and Tessa show a slight shoulder-fore. Note how the shoulders are off the track, and how Tessa is stepping laterally with her inside fore. Tessa's neck is straight, but she has a slight bend to the inside. At this angle, her inside hind is not having to step under her with as much power as required in a full shoulder-in. Click here for a for another look at the full shoulder-in.

The aids for the shoulder-fore are the same as for the shoulder-in, but you will not require the same amount of angle as in the shoulder-in. When learning this movement, it's important to keep your horse fresh. This is hard work, so praise a step or two of correct work and let him rest and think. It's not going to be feasible to achieve more than couple of correct steps in a row at first, and that's totally normal.

Let's break the whole thing down!

To ask for the shoulder-fore/shoulder-in, you want to make sure that your horse first understands the lateral leg aids. Does he move away from your inside leg, and into your outside rein? Can he leg yield and maintain contact through your outside rein to keep himself straight? Can you, as a rider, keep your weight balanced and both legs and reins on during lateral movements? If yes, then you are ready to start. (If no, is your name Austen?)

The easiest way to see and make sense of the shoulder-fore/shoulder-in is along the long straight wall of the schooling arena. Here your horse is helped along in his straightness by the wall, and his angle is easier to judge.

Think of riding the movement the same way you would ride a circle. You want to ride the horse forward, with both legs on. You'll catch the outside shoulder with your rein, and move it off the track, as if you were going to make a 15m circle. Your shoulders should turn slightly with the horse's, allowing you to keep a straight line of communication through the bit. Your abdominal muscles will start to mirror your horse's contracting on the inside and stretching on the outside, as you keep your hips facing forward and asking the horse to move forward and straight along the track. Your eyes and head face forward, looking at your direction of travel.

When starting the movement, I often visualize myself picking up my horse's front end and placing it on the inside track. Meanwhile I keep my hips grounded and sitting, pushing him forward. Be sure to keep your contact light. Pulling back on the outside rein will cause your horse to slow, and the forward momentum is what will keep you from fishtailing all over the place. Keep your leg on and your hands forward and supportive. I often find it helpful to vibrate my outside rein to keep my horse mouthing the bit, instead of leaning into it. Your inside rein should stay passive. You do not want to pull your horse's shoulders over to the inside. That will completely destroy his balance. Instead think of pushing him over with your outside rein against his neck, and supporting him with your seat, thighs and shoulders.

I find it useful to feel my inside thigh lying flat on  the saddle, shifting my inside hipbone forward (as if slamming a drawer when my hands are full -- thanks Nancy!).That hip pressure keeps the horse's hind end straight and pushing forward. The hip movement should follow the movement of the hind leg, encouraging the horse to step forward and under himself. Make sure you do not collapse your inside hip and core, as this will weight the horse's inside hind and keep him from being able to step forward and under.

At first, your horse is going to feel stuck to the wall. This is common. It's so much easier for the horse to go along the straight track with his haunches slightly in and his shoulders sliding along the wall. Coming off the wall is hard for him, so make sure to reward any effort by him to move off your outside aids and bring his shoulders to the inside. If you're getting a really stuck feeling, I find it useful to add more inside leg to push the horse more into the outside rein. You want to be careful that you aren't always riding the movement by pushing the haunches out, as that won't give you the same gymnastic effect as moving the shoulders in. Instead, you'll be disengaging the hind end. However, for a horse that really doesn't get the aid, it can be helpful at first.

I also find it useful to ask a sticky horse to do a 10m circle from the wall, then try to keep the circle's bend for a few steps along the straightaway. Be very aware of how your hips guide the movement here. On the circle, your hips should guide the horse between your arms to move into the angle you set with your shoulders. Once you get back to the wall, you'll want to keep your hips moving straight, against the angle of the shoulders.

Give it a try! Tomorrow we talk about common evasions, and their causes and fixes. Do any of you have anything to add? Anyone use different aids?

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Shouldering the Collected Trot

Second Level dressage is a funny place your first time through. The work is more advanced, and often something you haven't felt before as a rider. The concepts seem ridiculously finicky, and often impossible. It's a difficult dance to figure out what's-what.

Nothing is harder to determine than when you've achieved a "collected" gait, as opposed to a working one. No drastic change can be felt, no one cheers, and absolutely no balloons fall from the sky (thank god, can you imagine?). So, how does a new rider even realize that she's riding a collected gait if she's never truly felt one before?

Enter the shoulder-in. The gloriously elusive training movement, the one everyone thinks they know but most people aren't doing properly. The one I've come to see as the defining pinnacle of Second Level training, summarizing the balance, feel, and strength that Second Level is striving to show off, and the one that can only truly be executed if your horse is capable and showing a collected trot.
Lilly and Darius show off the shoulder-in during a Nancy lesson.
So, let's start off with a definition. The shoulder-in is a movement collecting suppleness, straightness and strength together. It is shown by bringing the horse's shoulders to the inside of the hindquarters' line of travel, so that the horse's footfalls form three "tracks" when viewed from directly in front or behind, with the inside foreleg on one track, the outside foreleg and inside hind leg on the middle track, and the outside hind on the last track. The horse is to bent slightly to the inside, using his abdominal muscles to hold the bend on the inside, but lengthening them to continue moving laterally down the track and maintaining straightness through the neck. The shoulder-in can be shown on either a circle or the straight track, with the circle being easier and the straight track requiring more gymnastic suppleness from the horse.

Whew. Got that? 

In theory, the shoulder-in sounds simple. You just ask the horse to sort of come off the track and keep moving straight. In reality, the movement requires a lot of strength from your horse. Often this means that they will try to evade the movement in a myriad of ways. The rider must stay supportive with the aids and balanced with her weight, or the horse cannot maintain his balance and will not be able to show the movement properly.

In addition, the way the inside hind leg must step under and forward in the full shoulder-in is so dynamic, it is impossible for many horses to maintain without conditioning and work in the collected trot. So, going out and asking your average training level horse to shoulder-in isn't going to go well. I like to compare this to asking an average person to go out and do 10 pull ups. The ability is in the person, but the strength just isn't there. Just like the person, horses must be gradually strengthened and suppled for the exercise to be able to be executed.

The shoulder-in will test your contact, and your horse's response to your outside rein. It will quickly tell on you if you rely on the inside rein, or if you are uneven in your seat or legs. It's a barometer of training like nothing else I've come across, and a foundation for the lateral movements in the upper levels.

Now, I'm not just going to sit here and wax rhapsodical about the movement (well, I am today). I think it's important to share the beginnings of the training, and how its progression feels. It's such a difficult movement to truly get, and one that sets the stage for your horse's training further on. So, I'm starting on a series on the shoulder-in. Next up is the shoulder-fore and the aids for both. See you tomorrow?

Snowy Interlude

It's snowing like crazy here, and I'm not sure I'll make it to the barn today. I'm working on a great training post, but I'm not sure it'll get out today. Instead, here are some lovely photos of my morning away from the barn to distract you...
My drive to the gym. So grateful for my car. It's a five-speed, snow-eating, all-wheel-drive, snow machine of a Subaru. 
Who doesn't want to work out more with that gorgeous view to keep you company? Plus, the gym was deserted. Just the way I like it!
Sonka Snow-Face
Lyra Worst-Sled-Dog-Ever

Follow me on Instagram (NorthFuzz) if you like photos of fuzzy snow dogs and red horses. Leave me a link to your Instagram, I'd love to follow you guys.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Who Put the Bomp? (... in the bomp bah bomp bah bomp?)

(well now that song is stuck in your head ...)

I don't know what it is about winter that has brought the spring out of Guinness' step, but I'm loving it. The last few rides, he's been an amazingly uphill and springy mover. His trot is bouncy. Not in a jar-you-outta-the-saddle kind of way, but more of an amazingly flowing and gorgeous way. He feels collected, and light, and connected. His relaxation has been off the charts (for him), and his willingness to tackle hard work is surprising me with every ride.

Who is this horse, and what has he done with my Guinness?

The bad part for me has been trying to learn to ride this newly animated trot. My core strength feels as though it's completely gone away, and I can feel myself collapsing a bit when he really pushes from behind. Must. Stay. Upright. And. Supportive...

One thing that I think has really unlocked this trot is a new warm-up routine I've been using: namely to trot and canter and establish more forward earlier (after just a couple of laps of forward free walk and connected medium walk), then doing a few "brake-checks" or really effective half halts, and finally going back to the walk to establish lateral flexion and obedience. After that, I can launch right into hard work without much of a problem.

Yeah, that's right. After 3 years of serious dressage work, my horse and I are finally settling on a warm up routine that seems to be working for us. We're obviously fast learners.

Tonight I'm debating whether or not to even ride. The temperature was -3 when I rolled out of bed this morning, and it's looking like it will only be in the mid teens by the time I would be getting tacked up tonight. Luckily the weekend looks warmer, but snowier. Cold vs. snow. The eternal winter dilemma!
Double blanketing, or "a Pig in a blanket."

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Five Day Challenge -- Day 5

Last day! This was so much fun, and I loved reading everyone else's answers. It's back to training updates tomorrow, so enjoy the fluff today.

21. Favorite classes to watch
Easy, FEI freestyles! Even in Indiana we get a couple of FEI rides at each show, and occasionally even freestyles. Seeing these from competitors I'm familiar with makes them much more approachable. Plus, the quality of the ride, gaits, and connection are so much more evident in person. It really makes you think about how much work a freestyle or even just FEI (ha, just FEI!) ride really is. It's so far beyond my ability right now, I just get glimpses of how fast a rider has to think and how much they have to hold in their head for each movement. Whew!

22. What’s in your cooler at horse shows?
Well, Jen outted me! I like to pack three things for a horse show.
1) Water, frozen with mint leaves in it. And a lot of it.
2) Wine or beer for celebrating, or commiserating, or just general friend-making.
3) LICORICE! (You guys knew this was coming, right?)
23. One thing about showing (or riding in general) you wish you could change?
I wish more shows were closer. The United States is at such a disadvantage. We are so huge, and our shows are so spread out. It's hard to make it to many without blowing most of your savings on filling up your rig's gas tank. I'd love to go to Europe and experience what it's like to have a show in your backyard almost every weekend. That is so amazing.

24. Your ringside crew:
Always? Me. While I'm lucky to usually have an entourage of supporters (my mom lives just 30 minutes from my main show facility, and I tend to make friends volunteering and from my childhood in the area), I can't always depend on having anyone ringside who can help me out. Having a strict plan on getting ready, and enlisting someone to read for me are my biggest goals. That and chowing down on enough licorice to keep me chugging forward!

25. Best prizes:
Ha, I have to say that some of the prizes at my local and rated shows can be pretty good. However, my favorite show winnings have come from either volunteering or from shows when I was younger. I just retired a dandy brush I won as an 8 year old at a Dan Hobyn Stables schooling show, and I adore my Harmony in the Park baseball hat. A shoulder sling backpack I won at IHSA was another favorite. The day I win cash will be the best day...

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Five Day Challenge -- Day 4

I have some fun updates on training to share with you guys about Guinness, but for today let's continue with the Five Day Challenge!

16. One thing you’d like to change about your horse:
You would think this would be an easy question, I'd take away his advanced fetlock arthritis, right? Well, I don't know. I've learned to manage it, and it's not really detrimental to our riding right now. What actually does seem to be hurting us is Guinness anxiety issues. So, actually, I think I would vote to make him a little less anxious and more comfortable under pressure. When he goes into full nervous breakdown, it's almost impossible to pull him back out.

17. Your horse’s future:
If you'd asked me this two years ago, I would have said that Guinness and I would make it to Second Level, and then I'd be leaving him behind with a friend or retiring him to pasture somewhere. Now? That future seems silly. Sure he's 15 now, but he's sound (SOMEONE PLEASE KNOCK ON WOOD!) and happy with his work. I see no reason that we can't work towards Third in the future. He's not going to to win any championships, but he's my perfect teacher.

18. Your worst show ever:
Hm. There are so many shows that can take this cake ...
I am going to go with the first show of this season, the IDS Schooling Show in May. The weather was gross. My horse was STRESSED. I was behind. Our scores were almost in the 40s. It was bad. Really bad. However, I didn't let it get me down. Instead I came up with a plan of attack for our next show and really buckled down on training. The result was a much more relaxed show season, and scores in the 60s that count towards my USDF Bronze. I guess it can't be all that bad ...
Yeah, that's not tension. Nope, not at all ... oh, god.
19. Favorite horse show venue:
I have to give a shout to the Kentucky Horse Park. I haven't personally shown there, but I've been down there so much for other people's shows, Rolex, and the World Equestrian Games that I feel like I could have. I'd love to show down there in the next year, but I don't think finances will allow it. It's a dream, though.

20. Your show day routine:
This is something I've worked really hard on, so I have a super detailed answer. Prepare your boredom meters for overload!
• Get to show grounds at least 2.5 hours before my first ride, if it's a morning ride. I arrive by 7:30 if it's an afternoon ride. I also pray it's a morning ride.
• Feed Guinness and administer Ulcerguard.
• Quick groom while he's eating (He's super clean, and I bathe the night before. Usually he barely needs a brushing.)
• I set up all my tack so it's ready to go, spot clean if necessary.
• After Guinness is done with his grain, I'll take him for a quick walk around the show grounds to stretch his legs.
• Braid.
• Change into my riding clothes 1.5 hours before my ride. I "borrowed" a set of scrubs from friends that I wear over my clothes to keep them clean while I bustle around. They pull right off over my boots, so they're great!
• Run through my test in my head. Then again. Then again. Then ... you get it.
• Remove Pig's standing wraps and Sore-no-more his fetlocks. Check for any inordinate heat. Trot him out or take him for another walk if there's a lot of stocking up or heat.
• 40 minutes before my ride, I tack up.
• 30 minutes before my ride I try to be mounted and at the warm up ring. This is usually delayed by me forgetting a) my whip b) my gloves c) my stock tie d) the bridle number e) all of the above.
• Warm up slowly, focusing on getting Pig's attention, contact, and lateral flexion at the walk before trotting and cantering to warm up the rest of him. Walk breaks are frequent to check mental well being, and maintain a calm pony. Any signs of nerves are an immediate sign to walk and try something easy.
• Head over to the ring for my test just as the horse before me is getting started with their test.
• Try to have a nice relaxing ride, and maintain the same softness I was working on in the warm up.
• After the ride I will either school a movement we had difficulty with for a minute, or head back to the barns to give Pig a quick bath and put him away.
• If it's my last class, I'll start packing and try to be out of the grounds. If not? I'll visit and relax until my next class. Showing is one of my favorite times to catch up with people I only see at horse events!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Five Day Challenge -- Day 3

After a long weekend of baking, making presents, and playing in the snow (Sadly, only at my house. No snow to play in at the barn!), I'm ready to dive back into the Five Day Challenge!

11. Critique your horse’s conformation:
Hm. Conformation critiques, I love these! Anyone familiar with Jen at Cobjockey has seen her fabulous handle on conformation, and she and I love to trade photos of horses (typically racetrack rejects) back and forth and rip them apart. She's way better than me at spotting issues, but I'll do my best!
Nov. 2013. Please excuse the blurry shot, 
Starting at the front, Guinness has a nice and proportional head. It's a very masculine head, and not delicate and typey like some thoroughbreds. That's a look I prefer, so I'm sold. His throatlatch is nice and clean, making him a breathing machine, and easy collection. One small quibble? His mouth is very small. That makes bitting and fitting nosebands difficult. I've also heard that a small mouth (short mouth?) can cause issues with a horse accepting contact. I'm inclined to believe that...
Neck: On the shorter side, but proportional. I like the tie into the shoulder. It's a pretty good angle for an eventer, and honestly high enough to make him quite capable of a decent dressage frame.
Shoulder: The angle could be wider, and his withers could be set back further, but for a race-bred thoroughbred, I'm not complaining about what I have. His range of motion through the shoulder is excellent and highly capable of 3rd level movement. Additionally, his front legs are set on nicely (not too far back), and tie into the shoulder well. No complaints here!
Front legs: I love his short cannon bones, and short pasterns. Racing has left him with quite a bit of jewelry (read: windpuffs and arthritis galore) in the fetlock joint. I'd recommend that anyone looking at OTTBs take a quick glance at the front fetlock joint for any thickening. I'd suggest that any swelling in this area prompt x-rays on a pre-purchase. It's not a deal breaker (knock-on-wood, he's been sound on these almost all year!), but it is an issue that will limit jumping use and takes quite a bit of proactive care and management. I do love how straight his legs are, and how well balanced over them he is. He's slightly tied in behind the knee, but that's not really much of an issue, and looks worse than it really is due to his enlarged fetlocks.
Midsection: Nice flat back, and the withers, while high, do not dip exorbitantly into his back. This keeps saddle fit fairly easy. My biggest problem is how wide his back has become with our training. He needs a bit of a wider saddle for the back, but a narrow to handle his withers. Basically, we're on the hunt for a narrow tree with a wide channel. Anyone seen one? Bah! Also, notice our funky hay belly. This never seems to go away. I'm currently trying to supplement protein to see if I can get it to reduce some. A consistently negative fecal rules out worms, so I'm a bit at a loss.
Haunches: Nice and proportional hind end, and good angles back here. His lumbosacral joint is pretty optimally located (maybe a hair back too far, but that's really picky). His hind legs are just about as nice as his fronts. I'd argue that his canons are a bit longer back here, but not enough to really make much a difference. He's developing windpuffs on his rear fetlocks this year (uh oh ...), but so far those seem to functioning fine. In the picture above he appears camped out, but that's really an illusion. He's a hair out behind, but really pretty functional and steps under himself without a problem.
Overall? He's pretty darned capable. I'd easily take another horse built just like him. His body is a bit front heavy, but proper work is really bulking up his hind end enough to easily take the load.

To expand on this, I'd like to show how a horse can change through muscular development. Here's a photo of Guinness during my pre-purchase exam ...
November 2009
Being a thoroughbred, Guinness is always carrying some sort of muscular development. Once a horse (or person!) is in hard shape (like a career racer is kept in), it's hard to lose that base of muscle development. It comes back much easier, too. I completely advocate fitting up young horses (but not stressing them to the levels that race horses are stressed! Just fitting them up!). I think it helps make their lives easier as sport horses. The 2009 photo shows him in a soft and unworked condition. Here he had basically been in a pasture, and only pulled out for occasional rides. The 2013 photo shows him after 2 weeks of rest and a hard season of showing and dressage training.
The two things I want you to notice? The development of topline (the bulge of muscle in front of his shoulders along the top of his neck), and the rounding of his hindquarters. There are more changes, of course, but these are the ones obvious in a photo. Not shown? The drastic changes to his front feet. Wow.

12. Horse’s favorite riding exercise
Hands down this is galloping with buddies. There is still a little bit of the stakes-level competitor in there! Beyond that, I'd have to say canter work and flying changes.

13. Favorite spa day products
I don't actually use shampoo on my horse unless I'm preparing him for clipping. So, my favorite spa day treatment is a good curry and rub with a rag. Sometimes I'll spray some Vetrolin Shine or Showsheen on the rag, but really only for shows or lessons. He's a very fastidious horse, and naturally keeps himself pretty free of mud and nastiness (this may be my favorite thing about him!).

14. Three best things about your horse
1) See above about the fastidious thing...
2) His lovey personality. He's very much a one person horse, and will follow me around (including escaping his stall at a show and wandering over to hang out with me, instead of running around like a fool). He'll spend an hour licking me and actually seems to enjoy falling asleep with my arms around his head. Silly horse.
3) He's the perfect amateur mount. He's safe and trustworthy, but is still opinionated and spirited enough to be really fun and challenging to ride. His occasional bucks and rears actually make me laugh, and I love knowing that I can take him from full race-gallop to collected canter with a snaffle and my seat.

15. Favorite picture of your horse
This was tough. Here's a few ...

On high alert at a horse show.
My snowy Secretariat-wannabe.

Pretty redhead.
Fancy boy!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Five Day Challenge -- Day 2

Well guys, we've had our first snow of the year! Sadly, it's mostly focused at my house, and not the barn. Still, the snow dogs are enjoying it!

6. Favorite equestrian book and movie
Book? This is really tough. I have a lot of favorites, but the one that I absolutely can't part with and still read is actually a huge compilation of stories, Roger Caras' Treasury of Great Horse Stories ( I was never much of a children's book reader (Exception? Really well done picture books. I still buy those ... for myself.), and preferred stories with engaging story lines that didn't feel like they were written for someone just learning the language. This compilation had great poetry and short stories. All of them absolutely have literary chops, but are delightful reads. Plus? A lot of the poetry and short stories are ones I've never seen in another collection. Looking for a book for your adult horse-loving friend? Seriously check this one out!

Movie? Easy. The Silver Stallion. When I was little I had a preoccupation with palominos (who didn't), and this was like palomino horse porn. (Hm, wonder what google searches will bring traffic here now...) However, my favorite horse in the whole thing isn't even a palomino. It's the chestnut stallion Yarroman. Holy gorgeous! Also seriously gorgeous? Young Russel Crowe as an Australian bushman. Ooooh yeah.
Yarroman. Looks kinda familiar, huh? Turns out I have a thing for pretty redheads...
(Did you really think I was going to put up a picture of Russel Crowe? Click here for those ... )
While searching for a photo from the film, I found that the whole thing is actually on Youtube. What?!

7. Most common riding misconception
"Oh cool, you own horses?! Where does your horse race?" Um, yeah, he doesn't anymore. And, most people don't own racehorses ... I honestly don't know why this one is so prevalent.

And also:
"Dressage? Isn't that expensive and just for rich people?" Well, yeah sort of, but actually about the same cost as any really intensive hobby. I mean, model builders have plenty of costs. People who show dogs have a lot of costs. It's not just for rich people, it's for people who have the drive to make their money work for their happiness.

8. 2 riding strengths and 1 riding weaknesses
Hm, strengths. Well, I would say that one of my biggest strengths when it comes to riding is my drive. I really want to get better at this whole game, and I'm not naturally a great rider. However, I really don't mind putting in the hours and the practice and the boring repetitive work it takes to improve. I actually thrive on that. In fact, that leads into my second biggest strength ...

I'm a good student. I love lessons, and I soak them up. I know that every time my instructor sees me, she can tell I've been working on my homework. Sure, everything isn't always perfect and I may not be ready to move on from the homework she gave me, but I know she can tell that I have been working hard and see improvements. I really work hard to make that the case. In addition, I tend to try to suck the last morsel of information out of my lessons. I like to sit and audit others rides, and I try to write myself a detailed write up of each lesson. I remind myself of key phrases, how my horse responded, what each thing felt like, and more. Each write up is like a moment in time, and going back to read them often reminds me of exercises or position work I could bring to the table to make my rides even better.

I would have to say that my biggest riding weakness is how readily my moods and emotions can take over my rides. Sometimes I find it very hard to release tension from a rough day at work, or anger from something in my personal life, and move forward with riding. This can cause a lot of upset between my sensitive red-head and myself. It's something I've been consciously working towards fixing, and it has been getting better. However, this is probably something I'm going to have to be aware of working on for my whole life.

9. Least favorite thing about horses and/or riding
My least favorite thing about horses and riding right now is the distance from my house and job that my horse is. My barn is 30 minutes north of my town. That's a tough drive to get motivated for, and makes slipping in riding time impossible without planning it in. Those of you with horses in your backyard, or a 10 minute drive away? I envy you. Those with longer commutes? Let's cry about it together ...

10. What do you feed your horse?
Grain: Guinness gets a full scoop of oats and a pellet that I'm pretty sure is Tribute Essential K twice daily. In the evening he'll get a top dressing of a 1/4 cup of raw, whole, flax seed and a SmartPak with a reduced dosage of SmartFlex Senior Herb-Free, a full dose of Mega-Cell multivitamin for horses on high alfalfa diets, and one and half doses of Farrier's Formula Double Strength.
Forage: Pasture (when it's growing and not covered in snow ... like it is right now) and/or a round bale of a grass/alfalfa mix. When brought in for his evening supplement or riding, he gets a flake or two of pure alfalfa.

Just as a side note: I love feeding alfalfa to my high octane thoroughbred. I've never noticed him getting hot from it, and it's great to help him keep on weight. Plus? He loves nibbling on it enough to keep wolfing it down in the trailer and at horse shows. Anything that keeps Captain PickyFace happy and eating is great in my book!

Now, off to my town's Christmas Festival and a night of cuddling with snow puppies!
What I'll be doing tomorrow!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Five Day Challenge -- Day 1

I'm jumping on this bandwagon! I loved reading everyone else's 5 Day Challenge posts, and wanted to join in! Thanks to Tracy at Fly on Over for coming up with this. Check out her blog and join the Christmas Exchange, it's a fun idea. Friday is the last day to join!

1. The person who most influenced your riding?
I couldn't decide between two people, so you get hear about them both! The first is my childhood instructor. I'd been riding for awhile, but Trina is the instructor who pushed me to get serious about getting better. Even though I was just a lesson kid barn rat, and was only able to ride once a week, Trina was tough on me. I still hear her voice yelling at me to close my fingers every time I ride! She wasn't just tough, though. She knew how to push the envelope, and encouraged me to jump things I was scared of and stick with the harder horses. I was a pretty big chicken as a kid, and her pushing kept me from stagnating. I actually ran into Trina a year ago. When I whipped out my phone to show her a picture of Guinness she had two things to say, "I see you still have a thing for chestnuts" and "Your fingers are open." Some things just never change!
My other influence is my current instructor. She's been a huge help in turning me from a generic English rider to a serious dressage rider. I'm not awesome, or anything, but I feel like I can get on any horse and look like I ride dressage. She's taught me a level of awareness I didn't think was possible, and been a fabulous guide in the training and development of my horse. I wouldn't be looking forward to Second Level without her!

2. Piece of tack you’d love to splurge on?
This is easy! I'd love a really nice custom dressage saddle. I'm absolutely in love with the County Fusion, so that's probably where I'd be headed! I'd also love a nice shaped browband, though I don't want anything blingy. Turns out that's impossible to find.
Fusion | County Saddlery
Mmmm ... looks so comfortable!

3. Top 5 riding playlist
There's a radio at the barn that's constantly on when other riders are there, and it drives me nuts. Not that I don't like listening to music while I ride, but radio hosts of top hits stations blathering loudly is one of my number one pet peeves. When riding by myself, I prefer silence or some sort of folky style of music. Guinness has indicated a particular liking of Johnny Flynn, we tend to agree on that.

4. Most important aspect of your barn?
TURNOUT! My horse is on 24/7 turnout in a 30 acre pasture/wooded area. Being out 24/7 has its downsides (Wet horses on rainy days, constantly being coated in mud from the knee down, hiking a mile to get your horse only to realize he's in the other corner and it's pouring... really anything related to rain.), but Guinness' soundness has never been so consistent. He's a happy kid out there, too. Chilling out with his ladies is just about his favorite thing (besides apples).

5. Three winter riding goals
Whoo! I love goals!
1. Get comfortable with all the movements required in Second Level.
2. Go galloping in the snow.
3. Don't lose my boots or fall face first in the mud.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Finding the R gear

When we first talked about training the backing movement, I explained how I had tried to train backing out of Guinness as a response. His aversion to contact and quick flight reflex made him seek release from contact in unasked backing up. I'd mostly succeeded, and Guinness has come to understand that forward is always wanted and that backing is bad, bad, bad.

Of course, I need him to know that backing is okay, but only when asked for. At first, I was pretty intimidated by this whole prospect. How do you teach a horse that one behavior is not okay at some times, but okay at another? My mind, it felt blown.

Then I remembered, he's a horse. This isn't brain surgery, it's training. TRAINING. You know, the systematic and (mostly) logical teaching of an animal. I'm actually pretty good at training animals (I own huskies, if I couldn't train them my life would be way more hectic than it is currently!). It's amazing how easy it is to forget that this is all horse training is, a logical progression of teaching.
Learn! Damn you!
So, I've been approaching teaching the rein back in the same way that I would teach my dogs a skill. I see the rein back as a bit of trick, the same with lead changes. I think that's why they are trained so differently on different horses. These are "tricks" not so much natural progressions of forward like the trot lengthen or the collected canter. Maybe I'm wrong here, but it's working for me. Here's what I've been doing--

Step 1. Teach horse to reliably back with a voice command. 
This I already had done. I insist on ground manners and space from my horses, and learning to back on voice command is a big part of this. It started by teaching him to back by gently pulsing a pressure on his chest until he moved backwards away from it. At the same time, I repeat "Back" verbally. Eventually he associates the word with the action, and voilĂ 

Step 2. Establish a good halt/stand, halt/walk and halt/trot cue and response. 
This was also already done. I'd encountered some resistance to just standing at the halt, as my horse is the King of ADD. Any stray leg movement used to (and still almost will) send him moving off. However, we got it done. He understands to halt and stand in a frame, and halt/walk, and halt/trot and the differences between the cues. This was mostly just repetition and being very consistent with my cuing. 

Step 3. Decide on cues to use for rein back, and understand fully the differences between cues used for halt/walk and halt/trot. 
I've always asked a horse to rein back by leaning slightly forward, moving my legs back when I add leg, and closing my hands. I wanted to be careful not to pull back when training this, so I've tried to stay conscious of not doing that. I know some people do pull back for a rein back, but I don't think it's entirely correct, and mouth pressure is already something that has sent Pig into a tailspin in the past. I think it's best to avoid it and go completely off body cues. 

Step 4. Introduce rein back under saddle, using verbal cue with new physical cues. Eventually, refine this so that the horse understands the physical cues and the verbal cue can be dropped.
This is where I am now. I introduced my cues to Pig, who was very resistant to move backwards. The verbal cue was certainly necessary to avoid getting a panicked response from Pig, who was expecting me to get upset with him when he backed up. The first few steps were really panicky and crooked. Instead of trying to correct him, I just sat up straight and asked for a halt. Then I praised him. I wanted him to associate those cues with backing, and I figured the panicky stuff could be cleaned up later. 

So far, things are going well. I practice this movement every few days, and each time Pig is getting more confident in his response to my physical and verbal cues. He's stopped freaking out and paddling backwards, instead taking slow and measured steps. We're still a little crooked, but I want him to gain more confidence in going backwards steadily before I add straightening aids. We're almost to the point where I think I can drop the verbal cue. 

It's been a journey, but it feels good to make measured progress! How do you guys train the rein back? Am alone out here in treating it a little bit like a trick?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Saddle fitting! For the rider, not the horse...

I've been stressing over saddle fit. It's driving me crazy. I've been cruising ebay, checking craigslist, and sniffing around on Facebook.

Why this sudden focus on saddle fit? Mainly, it's because my current saddle doesn't fit me. As my riding gets better and I'm working harder, I've noticed that I'm fighting my saddle more and more to hold the right position. Not to mention the startling discovery I made while deep cleaning the damn thing last week; my 17.5" saddle is actually a 17" seat. Dear saddle, it's not your fault. We're just not made to be together. It's not you, it's me (or, actually, my long legs and not-inconspicuous behind).

To be completely fair, the saddle isn't 100% of a good fit for my horse, either. It's the oldest County saddle I (or my County rep!) have ever seen. All the identifying marks have pretty much rubbed off on it, so we really can't identify it. The fit over Guinness' withers and shoulders is the best I've seen, as is the clearance down his spine. However, it's extremely curvy, and doesn't follow the flatness of his back very well. That means it rocks slightly. A fluffy pad helps keep it stable, and neither myself nor my County rep have actually found any issues on Pig from the rocking. Interesting, no?

During my last lesson with Nancy, we talked a little bit about saddle fit and my position. She suggested buying foam and fashioning a makeshift thighblock, gluing it in place on my saddle. That sounds a little extreme, so instead I've been borrowing my barn owner's medium/narrow County Competitor. It's a newer model, with a bigger seat and hefty thighblocks. It also doesn't rock.

Check out the differences:
My (old-as-dirt) County saddle.
Newer County Saddle (borrowed)

Close up of borrowed County's fairly substantial thigh blocks.
Slightly awkward comparison photo, showing how my County has almost no thigh block to speak of.
Riding in the newer saddle hasn't made my position better overnight, and I actually find myself trying to creep my leg over the thigh block in an attempt to get back to the fetal position. However, the reminder to keep my leg down is helping, and having a thigh block to stabilize my leg allows me a little more freedom. Basically, I'm not fighting the saddle, and that makes everything just a touch easier.

Now if only I could unload the Xtra-wide County that's sitting in my dining room to finance my own saddle! (Anyone out there trying to find a saddle for a wider horse? This one is FABULOUS.)

** I've made a discovery in the last few weeks. Mainly, my horse is developing a real topline. Seriously, look at that lovely chunk of muscle just in front of his winsome withers (right where the reins drape over his neck). His shoulders no longer seem so outrageously huge, as his neck and back muscles have bulked up to make him look more proportional. I must be getting something right!
Omg! Topline! (Compare to photo above, which is from two years ago!)

Friday, November 22, 2013

Replacing what you've taken out

"It's not that horses don’t carry baggage. They do, because they learn quickly (and Thoroughbreds especially so) and they have prodigious memories. Horses bring stuff to the table for sure. That’s why training them can be like playing cards. If you want to have the upper hand, you need to keep track of which cards have been played and figure out where the remaining cards are likely to be. Don’t be tricked by the fact that horses live and act in the moment. Remember they have trump cards from past experiences that may be played at any given time. As a trainer, it is your job, to get the horse to lay those cards down when you want to see them, and not the other way around." -- Makers Mark Secretariat Center blog

Guinness isn't an easy horse to train. He raced for a long time (until he was 6!), competed in hunters/jumpers for a long time (another 5 years!), and is just starting to really understand and enjoy dressage work (after 3 years!). He certainly has a lot of training baggage, and has several "trump cards" in his deck.

His favorite trump card is backing. I'm sure we all remember this beauty of a disobedience. (Side note. Re-watching this video slapped me in the face with the realization of how far Pig and I have both come this summer/fall. Training, muscling, understanding. Wow. Just, wow.) Back in the day, Guinness would use backing as the ultimate evasion. Gleefully, he'd flip me the horsey bird, and stomp backwards with reckless  (and honestly, quite sophomoric) abandon. Sometimes he'd get so involved that we would stomp backwards through fences, across entire arenas, or in circles at the trot (with every 3rd step being a mini-rear, my favorite!). The only way to stop his crazed backwards march was to let go of the reins completely, and even then the ride was often over. Once he was in backing mode, any amount of stress sent him reeling backwards.

When we started to really get down to the gritty parts of training the basics, I started to dread backing. I would never ask for it. Any motion to back by Pig was greeted by a quick forward boot, and a clarification of aids. Backing, I made it clear, was no longer allowed.

He got the message. Things went on, we've stopped having such dramatic arguments, preferring to disagree in a slightly less flamboyant manner (*ahem*). In fact, he hasn't had a backing episode in months, and I forgot about backing completely. Until—
Oh shit.
How do you reinstall a button you've removed? More later ...

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Mo' weather, mo' problems

Well guys, it's officially Western Indiana Wintertime over here. Being on the extreme western edge of eastern  standard time (Seriously, my barn is 3 miles from central time. THREE MILES. I ride my horse further than that on an average hack!), we have to deal with some craziness when wintertime hits. Here's my favorite list of wintertime blues:

1. Official sunset is somewhere around 5:30pm from most of November through January. By 6:30 it's usually pitch black. That means that if I'm headed up to ride later in the evening, I have to either hope my barn owner kept my horse in the barn for me or hike through 30 acres of wooded pasture listening closely for horsey noises. Buh.

2. Temperatures in Indiana can vary crazily. This week for example? Sunday it was 70 degrees and windy. Yesterday, the temps were in the mid 50's and the sun was gorgeous. This morning, it was 28 degrees and it's only going to get colder from here on out! Sometimes, we can go from 60 degree highs to lows in the teens on the same day. How do you even dress for that? How do you dress your horse? Horse people in Indiana are crazy weather watchers; we have to be!

3. Long warm ups, stiff ponies (and riders!), and long cool downs rule your riding days. Pig's movement isn't really fluid until after his first canter in the winter. Plus, he's often sluggish and not much for working. I can relate, 20 meter circles in the indoor ring get pretty old after awhile.

4. My exercise-induced asthma turns into a management nightmare. I often have to stop cantering due to shortness of breath. It turns out that my breathing problems are triggered by coming and going from warm to cold temperatures. Let's just say that I keep my emergency inhalers pretty close in the winter.

5. Cold rain. 'Nuff said. I'd much rather have a blizzard than a freezing cold rain. Brrrr!

Besides this list of awful things about winter, I have to say there are things about the season I enjoy. Riding ponies down snow-covered lanes, comes to mind. So does finding myself sleepy at 9:30, rather than fighting the sun to get to bed at a reasonable hour. Oh, and sweaters. And pumpkin pie. And the crisp way the sun shines on a cold day.

Okay, you caught me. I actually love winter. Now, if only I could find a way to get my shoulders to relax and drop when I'm chilled...

Anyone else looking forward to this?

Friday, November 15, 2013

Swift Like the Wind

"Hey, there's a wolf in your field..."
One of the benefits to living in part America's corn and soybean growing capital is having a lot of manicured space to ride in during the winter. Sure the summer is full of hacks through cooling forests, long trot sets through grassy field byways, and dodging horseflies the size of your helmet, but in the winter the fields open up and allow you freedom.

The picture above is from last Saturday. The morning was a just a touch chilly (40 degrees), but bright and clear. The bean field a half mile north of the barn was begging for Pig and I to go play. It's a long vista of clear and level footing. The field runs alongside the road, making it fairly safe from the deer hunters (out in force right now). I threw on Pig's tack, grabbed a sweater, and loosed the dogs.

What I love about this field is how easy it is to practice and fiddle. We started out the ride with some loosening stretchy trot, then I took more contact and asked for power and lengthening. Finally, we worked in a straight line, changing our bend without falling in to either side.

But Saturdays in the bean field aren't really all about dressage, and my whole crew knows it...

We leapt forward into a canter, and I crept up to hover low over Pig's withers. He tossed his head and changed leads, surging into a quicker pace. The dog's happy faces were bordered by ears slicked back with speed. Their eyes were slits against the wind. We were flying now.

I ran my hands another inch up Pig's neck, and closed my legs. He obliged my request with another blast of speed. The wind was whipping his mane into my eyes, and the dogs were starting to fall behind. A couple of snorts from Pig, and we passed them easily. Their frantic strides no match for his thoroughbred speed.

A tug on my little dog's leash pulled me out of my trance. It's so easy to get swept up in the speed and joy of a galloping ex-stakes horse. Another tug reminded me I still needed to slow the big red train chugging along beneath me; before long we'd be dragging the poor puppy.

I stood in the stirrups, and felt Pig start to slacken. Slowly we came back to a more reasonable pace. I sat, letting his stride pull me deep in the saddle, and asked for more jump and less speed. "Remember, you're a dressage horse now." I muttered.

He snorted derisively, but was obedient. He knows we'll gallop again soon.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Don't pull!

It's not groundbreaking news that Guinness and I struggle with proper contact. Not only is he extremely picky and just beginning to gain confidence in my hands, but I am still learning the proper way to hold contact and communicate through it.

Dressage is an intricate language, ya'll. You can't even listen to pronunciation tapes to learn how to communicate more clearly, either. For the most part, it's trial-and-error learning.

One thing that is being beaten into my head as I work on collection is "NO PULLING!" Let's take a look at why this is so important, and a few tips and techniques I've been using to improve contact and eradicate pulling. 

The first thing to consider is that the use of contact in dressage is unique to the sport. The idea is not to stop the horse, but instead to lightly hold and package him so that his abdominal muscles are engaged, his back is rounded, his neck is stretching upward through his shoulders, and his hindquarters are bent and accepting more weight. The part that's most important here is the "neck is stretching part."

When we take contact, we want the horse to be stretching into it. We are all familiar with the idea that the energy for contact should come from behind, activated by our forward aids and driven by the horse's increased forward activity. Here's where we have a bit of a mind puzzle. We want to feel the pressure of the horse pushing into the contact. We do not want to pull against that pressure.

I'll say that again. We don't want to pull against the pressure, or to try to create the pressure. Instead, we want to hold the contact, and absorb and follow the horse's push. Any backwards pull should be actively discouraged.

Why? Well, think about that stretching neck. When the horse is pushing into your hands, his neck is stretching forward and upward. His spine is lengthening, and he's better able to step underneath himself and develop that "swing" we're all craving. The moment the rider pulls against that push, the horse's neck is shortened. Think about it. You pull the horse's head, his neck has to compress. Right? A compressed neck can't stretch out of the withers, and it doesn't allow the forehand to lighten.

So, how do we hold the contact and not pull? That's the extremely tough part, and what I'm working on. I'm finding the key is to have a solid seat and upper body, and to remember to have bend in the the elbows. Otherwise, you can't help but pull against the push. 
Still from the other day's video clip. See how I'm slightly leaning back? Bad me! It's easy to get into a pulling match when you're in a water-skiing position! (Also note the broken line through my wrist. Yay! New position issue!)
In my lesson last weekend, Nancy got after me pretty hard about pulling. The phrase she used to help me hold the contact, and not pull was to think about "touching the corners of the mouth with the bit." This helped me to raise my hands (they are chronically in my lap!), which caused my elbows to bend more. A bend in the elbow allows for an elastic connection, one that moves with the horse's pushing and the motion of his gait. It's a forgiving hold. Along with bending the elbow, the rider must have the shoulders back and down. The down is key.

All of this positioning must be maintained in a relaxed and balanced fashion. Tension in the arms or shoulder will stop the gentle following that the bend in the elbow allows, and cause pull. A loss of upper body balance (especially backwards, as in getting left behind the movement) will force pull as well.

This relaxed balance is still something I'm working really hard to get. Right now, I still pull a lot. I find myself pulling backwards to try to force the "following" feeling I would get from more elbow bend or relaxed shoulders. Or, I lose my balance and end up pulling backwards in an attempt to stay with my horse. None of these are good, but I do notice them happening less often and with less severity.

Contact is certainly a helluva delicate dance, and I get the feeling it's only going to get more difficult as I get better at it!

Now, the one thing that I haven't taken into consideration with this post is a horse that is heavy in the contact. This is mainly because Guinness is extremely light in the contact, and always has been (after all, it's been a fight to just get him to let me touch his mouth!). I know that some of you out there have horses that are heavy on your hands. How do you adapt your contact to deal with that? Chime in!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

November Lesson Time

Just on cue, last Saturday was lesson time with Nancy. I mentioned at the start of the ride that I was working hard on my position, but fighting on the losing side of a chair seat battle. She agreed, and we ended up spending most of the ride focused on opening up my hip flexors and sitting deep and connected in the saddle. 

If you remember, I injured my hip flexors this spring when starting up running again. I have chronically weak and shortened flexors, and have to spend an inordinate amount of my life stretching and coddling them to make sure I can use them at all. As you can imagine, this lesson was painful. I am happy to say that I came out of it with more stretched out hip flexors, but no injuries or chronic pain. I call that success!

As we started off trotting, Nancy stopped me to explain how she wanted me to use my hips. She explained that she wanted me to lengthen my hips and drop my thighs. "Think push your knee down," she said. I don't think that's absolutely correct, but it's a phrase that clicked with me. Use at your own discretion! The feeling of lengthening my hip flexors and "hugging" my horse with my hips and lower legs was an interesting feeling. I was lying the upper part of my inner thigh against the saddle and felt like I was using an upward "draw" of my abs to direct my horse's energy. (Try that on for size. Remember how dressage is hard? It's hard to explain, too!)

In this position, I found myself incredibly conscious of my balance in regard to Guinness. Every stride, I could feel the adjustments I needed to make in my core to stay with his movement, and keep me from falling behind. Unfortunately, I ended up tiring quickly and often falling behind. This level of engagement is going to take a lot of work from me to be able to hold it for longer periods of time. We ended up taking a lot of breaks, and I found myself sighing gratefully at each one!

Here's a short clip of Guinness and I working on collecting the trot, with me focusing on lengthening my hip flexors:
We did the same work at the canter. For some reason, I find my seat much more secure at the canter, and my seat is naturally deeper. I think this might be due to all the work we've been doing at the counter canter. (Or, it could be because my horse is more comfortable than a stuffed rocking horse. You all are so jealous, I know ...) See a video clip below:
I love that I can see how far Pig and I have come in a few short months. While I wouldn't say that we are working in a true "collected" gait, I can tell that we are close! He's much more consistent in the contact, my position is more stable, and he is more readily taking weight on his hind end. And, I can actually see his pelvis starting to rotate, can't you? I'm also very proud of how nicely and happily he's stepping up and under himself. What a good boy!

After working hard on my position and collection, Nancy had us work on some lateral movements. Here, she refined the work on my hips by having me ask for the lateral work from the hip instead of the leg. This was really helping me stay balanced and straight over Pig, while keeping both legs on. The impetuous for moving sideways came from "pointing" or "pressing" with my hip. I would think "forward and stretch" with my left hip flexor, for example, and we would start leg yielding left. This made things so easy, and Guinness was so ready to move off that little shift. It's amazing to me how responsive he has become! I need to work on leg yielding this way a lot more, but I think we are going to get much straighter and more correct.

With the last few minutes of my lesson, we worked on lengthenings and rising trot. I've been avoiding the rising trot for awhile now, as I find it much harder to stay in balance with Pig. Nancy and I tried to figure out why this is, and came up with two theories. First, I tend to try to dictate the rhythm when I post the trot, rather than working with Pig. That's easily solved by developing more of a following seat, and paying more attention. The second issue is that I tend to let my legs swing, and get left behind. A quick refresher of where my leg's should be against my horse, and a reminder to keep my body coming forward and between my arms helped immensely. We never did really get good lengthening work done, but I think I have some nice homework for the upcoming month.

Monday, November 11, 2013

La-Z Boy Syndrome

Everyone has seen it, most of you are guilty of it, and I'm the queen of it. What is it, you ask? Why, the dreaded chair seat of course!
Is it just me? Or could we replace Pig with a barstool here?
My whole life I fought the chair seat. Honestly. If you ever run into my old eventing instructor, you can ask her about me. She'll immediately begin chuckling and mention something about being unable to keep my fingers closed on the reins, and propping my feet out in front of me like I'm lounging around watching tv on top of my horse. Chronic problem should be my middle name(s). 

Luckily, I've been getting much better about keeping the chair seat in check, but I can't seem to eradicate it completely. I seem to  take special enjoyment in it when asking for a lengthening, riding in front of others (read, at EVERY SINGLE SHOW), or when I've gone 2 months without a lesson.

Guys. It's been 2 months without a lesson, and I'm working on lengthenings.


Let's just say that though I have been feeling really good about Pig's progress recently, (Full 20 meter circles of counter canter! Can I get a "Whoohoo!"?) some recent video of my riding brought the chair seat back into my attention. Guys. My position was so bad in that video that I couldn't even bring myself to watch that video a second time. I deleted it almost immediately.

While seeing my horrible riding was initially a shock, it's not surprising, and I've tried not to let it get me down. Instead, over the last week, I've made some neat discoveries that have helped me keep my position. Two discoveries, to be specific... my seatbones.

Now, I know this is a strange statement to come from a rider working on 2nd level. However, I'm reasonably certain that I've never knowingly been able to point out exactly what sitting on my seatbones felt like, or how to get back to them. I've approximated the feeling with leaning, or shoving my legs back. This week, though, I felt what it was like to balance on them and let my legs drape.

So. What does sitting on my seatbones feel like? To be somewhat indelicate, it feels like rolling forward onto my pubic bone and thinking about sinking into my heels, like I would for a crisp downward transition. I'm not actually that far forward, but the idea of sitting more forward than my tailbone is completely foreign to me at this point so I'm really exaggerating the feeling.

Interestingly, sitting this forward has allowed me to slide my shoulder blades down further, bring my elbows in more, and keep my hands up higher. I also find it easier to stay in balance with my horse, and not get left behind (dur!). However, my abs are even more engaged to keep my body straight. I have a tendency to tilt backwards with my upper body, getting left behind. I think this comes from my background riding hunters, and trying to lose the "hunter hunch." I can actually feel my abdominal muscles stretching me up straight, which is a neat way to be sure I'm on the right path. I do have to admit that holding this position is really difficult for long periods of time. I'm clearly not accustomed to it, and easily tire.

More work ahead!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Clipping, it's like temporary tattoos for ponies!

Fall clipping is quite a process for me. First there's decided what kind of clip to do. Then, I have to try to figure out when I should clip. Finally, I have to get all my tools in working order and together. Here's how I solved all my issues this year: 

What kind of clip?
Not clipping really isn't an option for me. Winter is when Guinness and I do a large portion of our training, and with cold temperatures and late, dark nights plaguing me the whole time, clipping is 100% necessary to keep Pig comfortable and dry. However, Guinness does live outside 24/7 and temperatures in central Indiana can get pretty cold, so a full body clip is a little extreme. With all of this in mind, I decided to stick with a trace clip this year. Last year's clip was a huge success, so I wanted something pretty similar.
(I did decide to stick to a more traditional trace clip silhouette, as opposed to last year's crazy outline. This was mainly due to Pig not shedding out until literally DAYS before our first show in early May, and me losing sleep over showing up in the show ring with that freak show of a clip job.)

In order to keep my creative side happy, I decided that I would clip into Pig's flank a fun little version of the Guinness beer harp logo. This was really pretty fun, but difficult to manage the delicate bits with only a hefty set of 2" blades to try to do it with. I ended up getting carried away, and shaved off the whole inside, forgetting to try to leave "strings" on the harp. Whoops! Here's a close up of the result: 
I like to think of this as my "Art Deco" interpretation of the logo. I've been calling it "Pig's temporary tattoo."
When to clip? 
This is probably the toughest part of clipping for me. I'm looking for perfection, and in an Indiana autumn that is a near impossibility. First, I like to wait until late fall when Pig's coat is starting to really get fluffy. I don't want to clip too early and have to repeat more than once in winter. Once I feel like his coat is ready, I start the search for perfection. I'm looking for:
1. A warm enough day to do a full bath without risking a severe chill for either myself or Guinness.
2. A day when I can take off from work, so most of the bathing can be done early while the sun is up. This also saves me from being at the barn until after 10pm.

For me that day turned out to be the last Thursday in October. In the forecast, it looked like it would be a nice day with temperatures in the mid to upper 60s, with temperatures falling that night. Work wasn't slammed, so I went ahead and scheduled a day off!

Of course, no amount of planning can make anything perfect. That day ended up filled with heavy rain from morning until night and hovering around 58 degrees. Guinness thought I was completely crazy for even trying to get him more wet while it was raining. We got it done without chills or sickness, though. Hooray layering! 

How to gather all the tools?
For the average horse owner, this isn't too tough. Make sure all your clipper blades are sharpened and in good shape and you have shampoo and show sheen. BOOM. Done. But, let me remind you of this little flinging incident from last year. That changed my tool list for this year:
• Clippers, sharp blades, cooling/lubricating spray
• Shampoo, conditioner or showsheen
• Sharpie (for drawing on my clipping pattern)
• Cooler (for helping Pig to stay warm and dry faster)
• A change of clothes for me (especially important because of the downpours)
• Drugs 

I only ran into a couple of snags getting all this together. First of all, after last year's clip jobs, my clipper blade wouldn't snap all the way into place, and the lever that makes the blade move wouldn't seat in. That made my clippers a whirring, but pointless, machine. Uh oh!

After taking a whole Saturday afternoon to figure out what was going on, I finally got to the base of the problem. It turns out that during his ticklish fits last year, Guinness managed to mess up the seats for the screws that hold the blade hinge to the clippers. It was an easy (if frustrating!) fix, and everything was good to go on that end. 

Finally to keep my clippers (and my legs!) from getting damaged this year, I decided to drug Guinness a bit. My vet dropped the drugs on the week before I decided to clip. We used Dormosedan gel. It was really easy, inexpensive, and super effective. If anyone out there needs to drug their horse, I'd highly recommend this stuff. I can't tell you how much I appreciated clipping a stationary horse after last year!

 Overall, the experience was much easier than last year. Here's the result:

A funky stance, but the only photo I managed to get 100% in focus. Oops ... 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Sunshine Award

Better late than never, right?

Thanks to Karen over at Bakersfield Dressage, Guinness on Tap was nominated for the Sunshine Award! This award is for those who "positively and creatively inspire others in the blogosphere." Since Karen regularly inspires me to keep working on progressing Pig through her write ups of her own training progress with Speedy and Sydney, I'm completely thrilled that she considered me for this award.

Now, according to the award rules, those nominated are supposed to:
• Thank those who nominated them (Thanks, Karen!!)
• Nominate 10 other bloggers
• Answer the ten questions below
• Post the Sunshine Award button to her blog
Who to nominate?
-- Well, I'm a little late to the party so most everyone has been nominated already. But, here's a list of my favorite reads that you should totally check out.
Dressage Different (Just read this article and tell me that you aren't hooked. She sure makes me think!)
Greybrook Eventing (her photos of Oxford are making me swoon!)
Contact (Karen's awesome, and her lovely all-round all-star Hampton is pretty rockin' too)
Princess Diva Diaries (Kelly's an old Indiana show friend, and now that she's in KY she and Diva up to even more adventures!)
Bakersfield Dressage (Of course! No one is more thorough with their dressage journals than Karen. And just look at how clean she keeps her white horse. I'm impressed, seriously.)
The Reeling (Andrea is up to new adventures with two fabulously talented mares. Love her!)

Now on to the questions!

Mares or Geldings? I don't have a preference. I've worked with mares, geldings and stallions and I find them all to be pretty unique. Honestly, I am more picky about a horses' personality and level of "try" than their sex. After all, my gelding is much moodier than most of the mares in the barn. You never can really judge!

English or Western? I'm 100% an English rider. I've never been drawn to Western riding or culture, and I even find the saddles uncomfortable. That said, cutting is easily one of the coolest sports out there. I absolutely am positive that I would fall right off if I tried to do that!

Do you prefer "younger" or "older" horses? I prefer a horse that's been started and is through most of it's "terrible twos." As most of my good friends know, I'm not much for babies. That includes baby people, baby dogs, baby cats, AND baby horses. I just prefer a touch of adult rationalism, what can I say? Kudos to those of you willing to put up with a youngster's shenanigans. Someone has to do it (and it won't be me)!

Do you prefer riding or groundwork? I prefer riding. That said, I do think groundwork has it's place. It's essential for establishing a trusting relationship with your horse, and for teaching manners and basics. However, given a chance? Riding all the way!

Have you trained a horse from ground zero? Nope, unless starting over counts! I've taken a handful of horses back to step one, but I've never actually started a completely green horse before. That's totally okay with me. I don't mind taking the ones with most of the initial kinks worked out!

Do you board your horse or keep it at home? I've always boarded my horse, though I would love to keep my horses at home someday. That said, some of my boarding situations have been more of a self-care places, and I love putting in all the work for Pig. The facility maintenance is a whole lot to keep up on, though. Right now, it's so much nicer to be able to take a broken fence board or sticky gate to the barn owner to fix, than trying to schedule that in!

Do you do all natural stuff or just commercial stuff? I do whatever is the most economical. Have you ever put a spouse through medical school? While I'd like to stay away from some of the carcinogens present in some horse stuff, a lot of it really doesn't work as well. Organic fly spray? Ha! Anything but Keratex for hardening hooves? DOUBLE HA! Oh well, my husband is thinking about oncology anyway, right? (Doctor's humor is dark. Really dark. Honestly, it's like we're joking in a closet during a power outage...)

All tacked up or bareback? BOTH! I absolutely LOVE training my horse and nitpicking my position, but sometimes nothing can beat an old fashioned bareback ride. Plus, there's just something about riding bareback with friends that turns you into a giggle factory. It's a great stress reliever.

Equestrian model? Oh boy. I actually have two, and neither are from the dressage world. First of all, I really respect William Fox-Pitt. His riding is all about impeccable balance, timing and horsemanship. I think striving to be half the horse person that he is can get me to a pretty good place. Just read up on the clinic he's doing right now (thanks in part to the amazing Kelly of Dressage Pony, another great blog to check out!). Second, I look up to Allison Springer, a lot. Her perseverance with her old 4* partner Arthur is something I love. He's a difficult horse, but her belief in their partnership and his abilities has really worked out. I can't wait to see what's in store for this pair next year; I get the feeling that she is aiming high. I also really like Allison because of  her amazing flatwork. I feel like she and I have a similar build, and so I like watch how she rides to see how her position affects her horse and her balance. She's incredibly effective on the flat!
Allison Springer and Arthur. Photo by Eventing Nation
What's your one main goal while being in the horse world? This is an interesting question. I'd have to say that my one main goal is to be competitive at the FEI levels someday. (Cue nervous breath holding) I'm not saying that I want to be an Olympic rider (let's be realistic here, kids), but I want to be able to put in a solid score and compete at the local or regional level.  Moreover, I'd like to be able to compete at Grand Prix, and know how to train a horse to it. Eventually, I'd like to feel confident in the ability to take a horse from Training level to FEI.

Wow. Big goals coming out here, guys. I don't know if I've ever publicly admitted those goals, and they are kind of scary to think about (especially as I look at video of my riding from the other day. Yetch!) What do you guys think? Do I have any goals or role models in common with any of you?