Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Lessons From A Green Horse

 Well, sadly the big red horse wasn't sound for my Saturday lesson. Luckily, he did pop a huge hole open in his heel bulb and was leaving a soggy and pus-tinged footprint with every step. Gross, and a good sign. I’m hoping he’ll be sound enough for a quick ride tonight. Keep your fingers crossed for me!
So, this pretty girl was on deck!
Tori was more than ready to take over for Pig, and I was looking forward to getting Nancy’s opinion on her.  That opinion? She’s awesome. Nancy loved Tori’s naturally collected build, telling me her only weakness appears to be her short/thick neck. Luckily, her neck is tied in really well. If I can keep her supple, she’ll have no problems.
Crappy conformation photo, but the best I have. She's a powerhouse of a little thing!
Nancy also kept going on about the little mare’s brain. She is a smart cookie. I have been starting to work on leg yields, and with Nancy’s help we managed to get those going pretty solidly. I’m looking forward to getting her shoulders more open and really getting down to business with that lateral work!

So, what did I learn? Calves on. Hips loose.

Tori is a forward ride. Upward transitions happen on the seat, but she doesn't yet have much of a half halt understanding. Downward transitions are also a little funky still, with her often tossing her head up and away from any rein pressure and scooting onto her forehand. To help me actually sit through the transitions and show Tori how to calmly step under and stop, Nancy had me focus on keeping my calves on the mare. With my lower leg securely on and back, my hips could relax and unlock. Then, I was able to follow Tori’s movement and stay with her instead of bracing against her movement. Her transitions immediately improved.

Of course, staying loose in the hips is something I always fight. So, this little hint is something I’ll be thinking a lot about!

Nancy also had me lower my hands with every transition. Tori is solid in the contact, and Nancy wanted her to realize the contact isn't going to pressure her in a transition. When I am off balance, I’ll raise my hands. So this challenged me to give her a better ride.

I’m really enjoying this little mare, and am happy to have her to ride while my Guinness is out of commission!

Friday, August 22, 2014


Cute face
With Guinness still gimping around on his abscess-laden foot (though, he is feeling considerably better after it drained some yesterday), it's looking like I'll be having a lesson on the green TB mare I've been putting some miles on. 

You have all met Tori previously, but I didn't tell you much about her. She's a 7 year old TB. Her race history is a mystery to me (haven't tried to read her tattoo). She came to the farm from a local rescue, and it's hard to tell what was done with her between the track and there. She has basically zero training beyond race training, and had pretty sporadic work for the last 2 years she's been hanging out in the pasture at the farm. She's basically a blank slate. 

With more regular work, she's really starting to come together. She's naturally very forward, and can be zoomy. She's easy in contact, and really starting to understand the concept. She's also slowly understanding calm and forward transitions. She's also very brave to fences. They don't faze her in the slightest. The best part is that she is losing a lot of her extremely nervous behavior. She used to flip in crossties, and now stands nicely for me. She used to hold her breath the entire time she was ridden, and now can be heard snorting nicely in time with her rhythm. It's the little things.

Here's a short clip of Tori and I. Please ignore how my legs are trying to crawl over my thighblocks...

Thursday, August 21, 2014


Went to pull Guinness out of the field yesterday, and he was three legged lame. Uh oh... no weight bearing on his right hind (of course!!).

At first I just about freaked out, but I did a quick check and found zero cuts or bangs, minimal swelling, and no response to anything in the leg or stifle. When I made him walk, he would only walk on the toe -- refusing to put weight on the heel.
Only weight on the toe. Otherwise, tubby horse is happily tubby.
Ah. Okay. Deep breath. This is an abscess.

I picked up the foot with no objections from the horse (Good. Not a stifle or hip issue!), and gave his heel a good poke with my finger. He just about flipped over.

Yep. Abscess.

Lucky for me, the thing isn't deep and is actually draining a little. The spot feels weak (it's been raining like crazy here, and I'm sure that's part of the reason he's developed a problem.), and I was able to actually express some of the pus and grossness (sorry!) with just pressure from my thumb. I flushed the whole thing with hydrogen peroxide, gave him some bute, and put him back out.

Frog is sloughing off. Abscess point is just in front of my thumb.
He hobbled slowly up to the grassy top field, where he would put more weight on his heel. I'm hoping the bute will encourage him to put more weight on the foot and get this thing totally popped out and healed up by Saturday's lesson time.

Wishful thinking? Maybe ... sigh.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Lean Out: The Story of Weighting The Lazy Leg

Step up with that back right, horse!
I've talked before about Guinness' lazy right hind and its effect on his straightness, ability to lift his withers, and throughness. At that time, my attempts at fixing the issue were limited to nagging that leg forward with the leg/whip every moment I felt it lag behind, and pointing my right hip forward at all times to creating a welcoming space for the leg to step into.

While those techniques are valid and did work, they had a tendency to make my horse nervous and hot. And, when Captain Nervous gets tense and hot, he stiffens up his entire body and runs through my aids.  Not so awesome.

Enter the lean.

This concept is something my trainer has been trying to get me to understand for the last two months, with little success. It’s not that she wasn't doing a good job, I was just dense and not quite putting the whole technique together. A common failure for me.

Luckily, my trainer’s trainer was hosting a clinic two weeks ago and I was able to drive out and audit. While riding a horse with similar characteristics to mine, the clinician demonstrated leaning as an aid. Somehow, watching him talk about and apply this aid made everything click for me. I was able to go home that evening and immediately put it to work for me.

Here’s how it works:

Imagine Guinness and I are trotting to the left along the long wall. He is reasonably straight and has an equal weight in both reins. As we come to the corner entry of the short side, his back right hip lightens and he drops his left shoulder, despite my best efforts to sit straight and keep weight on my right hip. His neck makes an S-curve, and he drops the contact on the left – often turning his head to the right completely. This is pretty normal for him.

Lifted and trailing back right? Check. Diving in on left shoulder? Check...

Now if I try to straighten him by pulling on the reins, I lose all push from behind and he’ll stop. I’ll have to pony kick him forward; but still being all out of whack, Pig will end up leaping forward and tensing his neck. He’ll take a multitude of tiny short steps in an effort to go faster. In short, poor communication on my part.

If I try to straighten him by encouraging with a loosely swinging right leg/whip and forward outside hip, he will step up with his hind but often misinterpret the aids and try to bend to the right. Going from unbalanced and tight to counter bent will make Captain Nervous upset. He’ll tense more, and we’ll again experience funny short steps and a bad rhythm. Another nope.

Now if I sit up and think about sitting on that back right hip and pushing it down, slightly bulge my upper body weight over that hip to increase the weight on that side, give a slight encouragement with a swinging outside leg aid, and keep my inside leg long and my inside hip forward, we have magic. Guinness will sit with his outside hip, but keep it moving forward. This sitting lets him pick up his inside shoulder and take the inside contact again, straightening his neck. As soon as he does this, I take away the upper body bulge and ride him forward. If he falls onto his shoulder again, I bulge over again.

This is the lean. The lean is magic.

Leaning is a low-key way of showing my horse what I want from him without stressing him out or throwing him off balance. It’s not a punishment, just a reminder. I find I can use it for a whole multitude of exercises, the shoulder-in and leg yield most prominently. Both of these have improved drastically in engagement, forward inclination, and straightness due to my application of the lean. The fact that I can use it without having to touch the reins or fiddle with Guinness’ head means he stays soft in the poll and in my hands. That’s amazing.

Actually turning through the outside of his body. It's a miracle!

Best of all? After using this technique for a couple of weeks, I have noticed less of a need to be so obvious with it. Guinness is far more responsive to my weight shifts. A much more subtle application for only a stride is all it takes to get him to sit and step under. I've also noticed a higher level of engagement in his gaits at all times.

I have a lesson on Saturday, and I am looking so forward to what my trainer has to say about all of this…

Monday, August 18, 2014


"I propose a new word, one that means an obstacle to be overcome eventually, through consistent and diligent application of aids that, while they will absolutely not, under any circumstances, achieve the desired result today, will eventually work, and the rider just needs to have faith and get a grip and keep plugging away at it and, when she's seriously considering quitting and taking up alpaca farming instead, she should remember that the real solution is five-or-so years of this and that there's nothing she can really do to expedite the process anyway." -- Lauren Sprieser

What are you talking about? Of course training me is a game of endurance. You like endurance sports, don't you?
Over this summer, I’ve been learning to play the waiting game and realizing how much of training is passive. This horse of mine is a tense, nervous, ball of try. Ask him to bring his haunches in, and he’ll tie himself in knots trying to do what you asked. Ask for a halt, and he will sit right down and slam on the brakes. However, ask for something too hard or demand too high of a level of perfection, and he will shut down. 

So, for the last two months the pressure has been off. We don’t need the shoulder-in to be perfect. We don’t need to leg yield straight. We don’t need to drill away at the abysmal medium trot issue. All I’ve demanded is a horse more calm, supple, and forward than the day before. Relaxation has been at the top of my mind for every ride. A tight poll or locked neck hasn’t been tolerated, but everything else has been treated as a “work in progress.” 

Instead of becoming frustrated by how tight my horse is, when he was loose and relaxed the ride before, I take a deep breath and work to relax and loosen him. I’ve been able to notice when my own tightness is restricting his trot work, and instead work at the walk and canter for the majority of the ride.

The transition in my horse has been phenomenal. His flexibility has improved dramatically. His response to my aids has become sharper. His mouth is softer, and his confidence in the contact has grown. His tight/nervous issues have been disappearing: his head tilt at the shoulder-in is much less dramatic, his dropped shoulder is less of a block, and he’s even stopped baring his teeth constantly and even begun foaming a little bit. 

Taking away the pressure has also resulted in bigger leaps in our training. We’re no longer barely creating a shoulder-in. It’s much easier to create, and often I’m just refining the bend or asking for more forward. The haunches-in look less like a leg yield with shoulders-on-the-wall, and more like a movement with true bend. Best of all? The more relaxed tenor of our rides means I am finally able to ask for complex movement strings without my horse dissolving into a puddle of nerves.  Haunches-in to shoulder-in? We got this. Leg yield/shoulder-in? No big deal. 

I’d ask “who is this horse,” but I think the better question is “who is this rider?”

He's so fancy, I just need to learn to keep up.
Hey guys! My lovely friend Jen at Cobjockey is running an amazing contest to celebrate hitting 100 followers (she's awesome like that!). Enter here; but honestly, I wish you all awful luck, so I can have a chance of winning. ;)

Friday, August 15, 2014

Trader's Point 2014

Last weekend I made the trip to Indianapolis for a day of horse events. In the morning, I audited the last day of a fabulous clinic with my trainer's trainer. In the afternoon, I headed down to the Trader's Point Charity Horse Show to catch the $75,000 Grand Prix of Indianapolis.

Obviously I'm not a show jumper, but I love watching this event. It's so much fun! Plus, lots of these horses look like they could easily make the switch to pure dressage, especially the winner, Aaron Vale's stallion Spirit of Alena. I wouldn't turn him out of my barn!!

Of course I tried to grab some photos for you guys, but accidentally only packed my portrait lens. Oops! Luckily, some of the shots turned out okay...  

(Note: Bannockburn Farm fans, you'll notice some photos of Lisa Goldman and Centurion B!)
Aaron Vale & Spirit of Alena

Aaron Vale & Spirit of Alena

Aaron Vale & Spirit of Alena

Laura Linback & HH Dauphin

Lisa Goldman & Centurion B

Lisa Goldman & Centurion B

Lisa Goldman & Morocco

Margie Engle & Indigo

Margie Engle & Indigo

Megan Moshontz-Bash and Pourkoipa Fontaine

Paulo Santana & Taloubet

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

August Goals | July Analysis

July Goals
1. Take advantage of the truck and trailer being easily accessible this month to ride with Nancy more. 
Success! Pig and I took several trips last month, and one was out to see Nancy. Getting an extra ride in with her monthly is so worth it! 
We also visited Jen and Connor!

2. Fix the crooked horse! Get Guinness really straight and working through, especially engage that right hind!
(I wrote more on this here) It may have taken all month, but I finally feel like I can reliably get Guinness straight. It might take 15 minutes to get him flexible enough, and he might not be able to hold it much longer than another 15 minutes of work, but dammit. We can do it!

3. Fix the crooked rider! Commit weighting the correct seatbone to muscle memory, and increase hip flexibility. 
Ah. Much, much, much better here! Body awareness +. Of course, this means I'm going to have some other amazing way I'm off kilter pointed out in my next lesson. Bring it on!

4. Start asking for more intense movement strings from Pig while keeping thoroughness. 
Unless you count asking for a tiny travers and a few steps of correct shoulder-in on the same long side, no. This is a fail. Getting straight without fights or tension took too long to be able to introduce more stressful training.

5. Fix Floating Leg Syndrome. Try to keep my legs on and back without holding with the thighs or knees. Gotta fix this to 100% separate seat from leg. So close!!
Still close. Not 100%, but much better. I need to stop clamping on my lower leg and expecting something to happen from that.

6. Ride more horses so I can fix my own straightness issues!
Yes! I've been averaging two rides a day (Guinness + a young/green OTTB). Riding an honest green horse has been so helpful for me to feel when I'm doing things all crooked.
Meet Tori! She's adorable!

July Personal Goals
1. Yoga twice a week. Up the ante! (Cue internal groan-fest)
Uh ... no. Once a week? Yes. Regular stretching? Sure. However, that's as far as it has gone.

2. Increase runs back to 15-18 miles a week. Run a 7 miler. 
Yes! Weeks have averaged 18 miles. Last week I ran my first 8 miler in 4 years, and ran a weekly total of 19.5 miles. Yes. It feels so good. (Of course, I did strain something in my foot and will now have a week of almost no runs. Crap.)
Old Black Dog is getting slower as he gets older, but he is still The Best Dog.

3. Achieve daily to-do list of zero nightly, and set up list for next day before bed. 
Uh. Fail. Straight up fail.

4. Get to bed before 10p on the week days. Sleep is important and I need to stop skimping on it.
Partial success. The first part of the month this was really difficult (especially on days I rode two horses after work!). Fortunately, I have been able to get this back on track for the most part and haven't been to bed too late in a couple of weeks.

August Goals1. Keep rides fairly stress free for Pig.
2. Focus on balance and straightness in every ride. Get that before moving on to something else, and reestablish it when it's lost instead of moving on.
3. Start adding in shoulder-in/travers more often.
4. Work on the medium trot again. He is starting to get it now that he's straight. Push for more.
5. Carry over the straightness and balance work into the canter. It's weaker now.
6. Canter departs need more sit. Downwards need more push. Work it.

August Personal Goals
1. Heal foot. Ramp running back up.
2. Don't eat too much peanut butter while off of running. 
This is the peanut butter damage for the last week and a half... My name is Austen. I have an addiction.
2. YOGA. Minimum of 30 min continuous once a week with 3 other sessions of quick stretches.
3. Graduate school ... so that's a thing.

Gratuitous, but gorgeous, photo from our visit to Jen's picturesque barn.