Wednesday, January 23, 2013

On photography, illness and being a dumbhead ...

It's been a long, long week. Early on, I did some digging and discovered that Guinness' mama (GB's Reflection) was actually bred by the Queen of England herself. She was sold to a connection just a few years before my precious little red was born, and was a kinda sucky producer. Guinness was her second most fruitful offspring. Still, I feel this explains the haughty demeanor he can sport around...
My Mama knew the Queen. What's your excuse?
Last Saturday (two Saturday's ago ...) was glorious. Highs in the 60's, gorgeous sunshine, soft and springy footing, and happy horses. It was a good day. Hannah and I took advantage of the lovely weather to scrub mud off hocks and tails, and just play in the sun. The horses seemed to enjoy some playtime too, and we turned them out on the freshly thawed outdoor arena to run like fools.
Note the fools:
Guinness and Teagan acting like the noble thoroughbreds they are (Well, Guinness is, at least).
Pig had lots of fun just being a silly nutter. Including lots of lovely trot work. It was validating, again, to see how well muscled he is getting. His balance and confidence are leaps and bounds above what they were at the start of last season, too.
Don't lie. You're all jealous of that clip job...

After all that fun, we went on our weekly road hack. The weather and our happy moods must have melded together perfectly. The horses were offering such good work. The day was really one to remember. At one point, we raced each other down a fabulously springy clay road. Both of our thoroughbreds trotting more powerfully than we've ever felt. I never thought I'd ride anything more fun than a gallop, but this trot ... oh my god. I just kept sitting up tall, pushing for forward and rebalancing with half halts. And rode what has to be the biggest trot Guinness has. Rode it for a long time. It was memorizing.
THE TROT. This is what I rode later. Seriously amazing stuff. The POWER behind this. 

Listening to the DressageRadioShow (serious horse-nerd alert there), I heard the Olympian competitors explaining what their horses are best at. It might be a surprise, but I've honestly never thought of this before. What a mistake! Obviously identifying your best abilities makes it easier to put emphasis on them during shows and really get the best out of your animal. I can't believe I haven't thought of this before...
Guinness' best movements/abilities? Power for sure. He's not the most graceful mover, but he's certainly impressive when he channels all of his power. Look above for that example. Other abilities? Medium walk. When he's relaxed into it, our medium walk is REALLY good. Seriously good. Swinging back and overtrack good. Now, I just have to figure out how to bring it to shows. I'm getting a hint that our extensions and medium trots might just be awesome too, but just a hint. I've noticed that our trot work is gaining in suspension with every week.

What's your horse good at?

Finally, I read about Katherine Erickson's lovely Ringo being sore and it affecting his ability to stay soft and connected. I immediately realize this might be why Guinness was so reluctant and difficult on the Monday after our trotting fun. After reading that article, I felt like a complete dunce-face (second time this week!) The next few rides, I took it easy and focused on contact and bend. Hard concepts, but easier on the muscles. The fact that I came down with a form of death-plague really helped me keep things low-key. Guinness rewarded all of this with pretty good work, and better focus. Dumb me. Smart horse. So, remember kids, your horses will get sore just like you. Sometimes, they aren't going to complain about it enough. You have to think about it for them!

This Sunday Hannah and I had a lesson with Nancy Kleiner in Indy. The day was long and eventful, so I'll make it it's own post. Needless to say ... we should all commiserate with Hannah over her thoroughbred Mugger's opinionated misbehavior. Here's a hint ...
I promise he fits! (He did not believe me)

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


Guinness! Focus! We've got a lot of work ahead. I'm going to need to to put in extra hours, you know. Maybe work a few weekends ... 

The first of January was certainly "kick my butt into training" time! I spent the last two weeks really working on formulating a plan for the upcoming year, and visualizing the path to achieving my goals. It feels good, and I love having tangible goals to work towards.

This week:

I took a master class on dressage basics from a stirrupless George Morris. Learned a lot about consistency in the hand and not being too active. Guinness responded well ... most of the time. I highly suggest watching the videos (especially the flatwork videos). Dressage riders, eventers AND jumpers all have something to learn here.
Things I picked up?
    • YOU decide your rein length, and the horse has to work with it. He doesn't get to have an opinion here. While I knew this, hearing it just now made a big difference in my riding. I've shortened my reins, asked Guinness to deal and really worked towards making the rest of my position sympathetic and following. BIG difference.
    • Keep your hands up! Hunterland instilled a love for putting my hands in my lap. BAD AUSTEN! I've been working on keeping thumbs up, hands up and elbows back. Nancy will be so proud! I've also been working on the idea of "connecting your elbows to your hips with elastic" or, the idea of following your horse with your elbows, not your hands or arms. YES. It's hard. I tend to shove my elbows where I know they are supposed to be and lock them there. This idea of elastic really helps me follow. Watching George and Ann's elbows and hands move with their horse gave me an example of what I'm looking for. Thanks!
     • Your horse's head is crooked? Don't worry about it. Worry about putting his BODY where you want it, the head will follow eventually. This is something I'm REALLY guilty of. Guinness will tilt his head to avoid taking outside contact. Instead of pushing him over and controlling his haunches, I fiddle with the contact trying to get him to move into it. NO! I'm trying to stop this. Instead, when he tilts his head, I'm doing a haunches in to shoulder in or spiraling on a circle. I'm working on making sure he understands that my legs control his butt. It's slowly sinking in, but I've noticed that he tends to actually straighten his head and neck when I force him to use himself behind. It's not rocket science, but it's just starting to become second nature.
Remember, kids. Watch the videos. Here's the link:

Guinness had his portrait taken. A conformation shot, just to make sure he's on track with muscle development and weight management. You guys are familiar with his weight struggles in the winter. This year, he's kept the weight on, gained muscle and managed to actually put on topline in places he's never had it before. I'm feeling like a proud mama. Those upper butt muscles, flat muscled back and neck are really making me feel pretty good about my training and where we're headed!
Check those nice round butt muscles. Someone's been using himself! (Conformation photos are deceptively hard to take. For example? Guinness has a head the size of a jackhammer in this photo.)

I read a blog by Lauren Sprieser where she talks about staying cool in training. This reminds me to stop picking fights with Guinness and overracting when he rears the drama llama (Like he did last Wednesday. I overreacted ... oops). Putting this into practice is hard, but I've been pulling from my rides on other horses. It's easy to stay cool when you aren't emotionally invested in the animal you're working with. I've been pulling that feeling over to my rides with Guinness. Just cooling trying different approaches until we hit on what works. It makes the whole ride feel better, and it's easier to get good results. Word to the wise? Stop fighting with your horse. Seriously.

In my dreams this week, I imagined what it would be like to have unlimited funds to purchase every lovely chestnut thoroughbred in the world, just to see how far they'll go. This guy is at the top of my list. Despite being an approved adopter with them, I just don't have the funds for #2 right now. SOMEONE go get this guy, though. He's gorgeous, and I want to watch him!

Weekends are all about time management for me. I spend a lot of time at the barn during the day (what self-respecting horse girl doesn't?), so I like to get an early start. Usually I aim for being at the barn by 9 or so and heading out by 3. Lots of riding, grooming, and chatting are going on. This week I was counting myself lucky for being a morning person. That allowed me to be done at the barn on Sunday just before a huge ice storm rolled through. Yay mornings!
Early weekend morning! Yay?
And finally, I managed to secure a cooler for Guinness. After months of using my (absolutely AMAZING) Rambo quarter sheet as a cooler (using it on the quarters during the ride, then moving it to the sweaty neck afterwards), I'm glad to have a full body sheet. It matches our quarter sheet too! Awesomeness! Nothing looks better on a chestnut than gold Newmarket stripes. I'm convinced. Look how handsome:
Newmarket Stripe for the horse who was bred right down the road! Yay Suffolk-bred Thoroughbreds!

That's all for now, folks!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

It's not how far we've come, it's how far we have to go

It's that time of year. The time where we all look forward and dream of what could be, and all the work we need to put in to get there. It's been a wild 2012, and let's take a look at that first ...

2012 Goals:
• Keep Guinness moving well, sound and happy. Control his arthritis and get his feet capable of handling a heavy workload.

Success! I feel like this year has really been the soundest and best year for Guinness since I've owned him. We had a few setbacks (mainly due to pasture injuries and bad foot trims), but we've managed to keep him motoring happily forward. I'm proud to announce he's now rock crunchingly barefoot (happily doing his winter trot sets on gravel/dirt roads without a 2nd glance) and his arthritis has been so well managed this year he hasn't needed a 2nd set of injections. We're still going strong on the set from May! 
• Complete a full horse show season.
This we totally nailed. We attended 3 Indiana Dressage Society schooling shows, and one other affiliated show. We actually ended up qualifying for the championship ride-offs in Training Level, and received fourth place in the IDS High Percentage Award in the Adult Amateur Training Level division. (See photo at top of post) IDS was a pretty awesome GMO to be a part of, and I also took a lot of weekends to volunteer at recognized horse shows just to get further into the world of USDF. Showing really was lots of fun, and I enjoyed getting to know my fellow Indiana dressage competitors and trainers.
• Finish season with good scores at Training Level and debut at First.
I'm pretty sure we nailed this one too. Our scores at Training Level were solidly in the 60s (except for our first showing, which was admittedly rough). I feel that moving up to First Level was warranted, but we weren't quite ready to show it. Unfortunately, show at First we did ... and it was rather rough. 
• Find a trainer / lesson program.
Success again! While not exactly regular, I've been traveling over to the Indianapolis area to lesson with Nancy Kleiner. I love her. Even with only a few lessons under our belt, she's made a huge difference in the way I ride, and the way I think about riding and approaching problems. I think Guinness has begun to really respond with more activity behind, and more level contact with my hands. I can't wait for this month's lesson.

2013 Goals:
• Keep Guinness sound and happy. Keep his feet rock-crunching and his arthritis as minimal as possible.
• Achieve Bronze Medal scores at First. (Try to do it by spending a minimal amount at Recognized shows) For those unfamiliar, the USDF Bronze Medal scores must be achieved thusly: 2 scores at 60% or above in 2 separate rides by two separate judges. To complete a Bronze you must have scores at 1st, 2nd and 3rd. 
• Keep up with regular lessons (one monthly). Continue to become a more effective and sympathetic rider. 
• Maintain regular blogging, attempting for once a week (3 times a month, minimal). 

Now (for your entertainment!) please enjoy these two videos:

The first? A short clip from my trial ride on Guinness. This was taken three days before I brought him home in November 2009. I hadn't ridden in over a year, and he was in full hunter mode.

The second? A short clip of some trotwork from last month. Any improvements?

More to come soon on our current progress and our work this month. How did everyone fare on their 2012 goals?