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?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Increasing expectations

Hey guys, we're here, I promise! Life has been keeping me away from you, but I've been trying to keep up now and then by commenting on everyone's blogs. Whew.

So what's been happening with us?

Look at my horse! My horse is amazing!
When I left off, Pig and I were starting to work towards collection and 2nd level. That's still the plan, and I'm happy to report that things are progressing. The jump from 1st to 2nd is pretty huge, so the going feels slow. The big thing for us has been taking to heart my instructor's advice to "push for more" and "increase your expectations" of Guinness. She was completely right. More push and spring is in my horse, and I need to set the bar higher and push him to a higher level of work. It's so valuable to have a pair of eyes on the ground to help you see that.

As for me, things have been crazy. In addition to my busy full-time job, I'm in the process of starting up a freelance design business that is just eating up all of my free time (the whole 30 minutes of it that existed in the first place). On top of everything work and pony related, my husband is midway through his third year of medical school clinicals. That leaves me with 100% of the household to care for. Life as a twenty-something is pretty freaking busy.

Still, I'm trying hard to keep my priorities and expectations straight. I make it to the barn 4 days a week, religiously. Pig had a break (mainly hacking around and stretchy work at the trot and canter in the ring) for a couple of weeks, but he's back into full hard work. I try to get to the gym a minimum of 2 days a week, and exercise in some form outside of riding 3-4 days a week. According to my phone's GPS data, my dogs and I are averaging about 20 miles weekly on our own feet. So, that's fun. Everything else is just barely hanging on as I try to cram too many projects and necessities into a day. I'm still getting all my sleep, but only because that's a priority, too.

I'll be back in to update you all soon, and hopefully can get a few posts written to keep up. There's a lot of training work that I can't wait to share with you all!

Keep your eyes on the prize, kids. Even if the prize is just surviving the day and managing correct bend to the left. Sometimes, you gotta aim small.