Saturday, February 28, 2015

Big Changes

Now that I've outted everything on Facebook, it's time to do the same here...


Yep! We're moving to Washington DC sometime early this summer. The details are still being worked out, but I'm open to any ideas you guys have on boarding barns, moving your house and horses with the military (I know some of you out there are military families, and this will be our first military move.), and DC life advice. Feel free to email me, message me on Facebook or send a carrier pigeon.

* I will not be responsible if my dogs eat your carrier pigeon. That's just the risk you take.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

I love Rambo products and I cannot lie...

Many years ago, I splurged and bought a fancy quarter sheet...
My horse looks super good in it.
This year it will be 5 years old. It's one of my oldest and most used pieces of equipment. It's outlasted three saddles, two bridles, and one change of discipline, but it still looks brand new. It hasn't shrunk in the wash, or pilled up, or faded. It still is the brightest thing on winter road hacks, screaming "CAUTION" at passing cars.
"What is dis? We don't do dis any more."
 Unlike other quarter sheets I've used, this one actually fits my horse. It doesn't flap around, and very rarely slips. Best of all? Its thick double-bonded fleece actually works as a cooler, meaning I don't have to remove it when the work starts to heat up. It actually works to wick the moisture off my horse, keeping him dry underneath. It's like a pre-cooler.
Looked good on the first ride...
Still looking good years later...
The longevity and quality of this product alone led me to do something rather stupid this winter... I splurged and bought a fancy blanket.

You see, Pig is King and Destroyer of All The Blankets. He tries to pull them off over his head, grasping them at the trim around his leg and ripping them up and over. Leg straps keep the blanket on most of the time, but he usually ends up annihilating the trim and ripping the blankets at the gussets. He's also turned out on 30 acres of mostly woods. You can imagine how that goes...
Yep. Something like this... (SmartBlue Thinsulate on left. Amigo Mio on right.)
Honestly. At the start of this winter season, the thought of stitching together another destroyed blanket was really starting to get to me. So, I packaged up the destroyed Mio (take it back Horseware!) and sent it back as part of the Rambo Blanket Trade-in program. Smartpak made the whole thing nice and easy, and I even got a deal on my Rambo purchase.

So what did I get? A Rambo Wug medium-weight, and I'm so glad I did.
Perfect fit, right out of the box.
First of all, it fits perfectly. Unlike every other blanket I've tried, the Rambo looked like it was made for my horse. It fits even better than the Dover Northwind (which I also love!).
Sorry for my intruding finger ... and my horse's insanely huge head.
The high neck perfectly clears his withers, without creating rubs in his mane or pressure points on his shoulders. Finally!
So comfortable. Such derp.
Guinness seems to like it, too. He tugs on it less than his other blankets, meaning its trim has held out longer than the others. Maybe that's construction, and maybe it's being treated better. I don't know.
Chronic blanket-abuser right there...
I wanted to wait to write up my review of this blanket until it had seen some true war time. At this point, it's been through over 4 full months of total abuse. Except for it being filthy, I have only two minor complaints.

  1. First, the tail cord broke. The original was about 10x too long, and I'm pretty sure it just got caught on something and snapped. That's an easy fix. Rambo sells replacements in all different sizes. Easy. Or, you could be cheap like me and just tie the cord back in place. That totally works too. For $0. 
  2. The front velcro doesn't seem to want to stick quite as well as when it was brand new. If I took a wire brush to it, it probably would be better. Or, I dunno. Washed the thing. (Who does that?)
If this blanket continues to hold up like it has, I'm totally sold on Rambo products. Well, more sold than I already was.

Now, if only I could win the lottery. I've been drooling over the Newmarket double bonded cooler for years. If it works anything like my quarter sheet, it's worth the large amount of money I'd have to shell out for it. Still, I'm cheap. So if you see a sale on Rambo coolers, you know who to call.

Any of you have an absurd Rambo love affair?

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

It's Showtime! (In 39 days...)

Let's do this!
Show season is going to be very different from normal this year. Usually I show 4-6 times through the year, often at 2 back-to-back full-weekend USDF shows and one or two schooling shows. This year, I'll be doing mainly USDF shows. In fact, I won't be doing any schooling shows to kick the year off. There just aren't any schooling shows happening early enough.
Remember green grass and warm days? Yeah. Me neither.
This is somewhat unfortunate, as I'd really like a chance to school the new 2nd level tests before jumping right in at USDF level. Oh well, those are the breaks. It's not like I have a totally green horse who needs his show manners re-installed...
"Who me? I am the most mannerly and professional of the show horses. Do not deny it!"
... nope. He's pretty much foot perfect at shows, if just more tense in the ring. 
It's a scary world out there.
As you might remember, my goals this year included showing at 2 USDF recognized shows before June, and finish up my 1st and 2nd level scores for my Bronze medal. With those things in mind, I'm aiming at showing three USDF shows over 2 weekends in April and May.

April Adventure at Majestic Farm
April 4/5
1st & 2nd level

Harmony in the Park I & II (2 separate shows)
May 16/17
2nd level

Of course as the reminder popped up on my phone to finish the entries for the April show, I realized that I haven't even ridden the new 2015 tests yet. Not even once.
Uh. Which way do we turn again?
I'm a little put off riding two brand new tests at a different venue so early in the year. But, dammit, we're going to do it. And we're going to do our best to look good while we do! Here's to gearing up for a spring show season, and letting that momentum carry us through the last bit of winter. After all, April 4th is only 39 days away...
"Only 39 days?! Oh no..."

Friday, February 20, 2015

For those interested in transition work...

It's Friday, it's -10, the forecast is calling for another 5" of snow, and I've officially spent more time digging through moldy books from the 1600's than riding my horse over the last week.
These are not as organized as they look... 
Related: I have developed a vendetta against unqualified archivists. (Losing a rare book? Not okay.)
"Remember, Remember, the dark of the library, the bookshelves, must, and rot.
I know of no reason why the loss of a book should ever be forgot."
... what do you mean that's not how it goes? What do you mean "too much time in photoshop?"
So, let's take a minute to relax with a cup of tea and do some good reading? Yeah? I swear to god this has something to do with horses...
Or read with wine. Whatever. I don't judge.
This article popped up in my feed recently, and I thought now would be a great time to share. It's called The Five Stages of the Transition and it's by Horse Listening, a fantastic training blog.

TIL?

  1. I need to do more half halts. Way more. Before and after.
  2. Some of this stuff comes out of order for different horses. On Pig I need to whisper before I can work on throughness. 
Epic half halt gif. Thanks Wikipedia.
This article was on Horse & Hound, and was geared towards photographers, but actually has some interesting tidbits about gaits themselves. It's called Photographing dressage horses: what to look for.

TIL? 
  1. Advanced horses hit the ground first with the diagonal FRONT leg in the diagonal phase of the canter. To support the lifted shoulder? Now that I look for it, it seems to be totally true. Mind = Blown. I've been thinking that was a fault!
  2. HOLY SHIT Valegro!
Srsly. Wtf. Have you ever seen a hind leg do that?
And finally, 7 Essential Aids for An Epic Canter Transition, also by Horse Listening. (I told you this blog is awesome). This is an incredibly detailed post chronicling every step of a canter transition. 

TIL?
  1. Again. Need moar half haltz.
  2. My inside leg needs to be on more consistently.
  3. Love the "windshield wiper" comparison!
More Wikipedia action. Because, canter.
Okay. Go forth those of you residing in places with weather that is conducive to life. I demand you practice these things. I'll just be here. Watching my huskies complain that the ground is too cold to go into the yard to pee...
"The floor is the extreme opposite of lava!" -- Sonka, dog.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Working on the boring stuff

Pick up contact.

Walk.

Halt.

Walk.

Halt.

Walk.

Halt.

Trot.

Halt.

Trot.

Halt.

Walk.

Trot.

Halt.

Walk.

Canter.

Welcome to our world. It's transition boot camp week. Two days in and I can already feel my horse starting to understand the concept of stepping further under with his hind, and lifting from the withers. I hate to say it, but our transitions are probably our most neglected area of training.

Too bad they can be so mind numbing.

Halting, plus all the flexion exercises!
One thing that is helping? My research into the development of the French school in the 17th century. I started the research as part of a paper for my Baroque art class, but am finding it fascinating as it applies to my horse. He exemplifies that hot temperament found in the early French school, and the training theory I'm reading is clarifying some thoughts for me.
 
Top of all of those thoughts is balance and flexion. Namely making sure the horse is in balance before asking for anything, and not pushing the horse out of balance. Flexion is a big key for me here, as that is one of the big ways I've found to get Pig to lift from his withers and loosen up through the poll and back.
 
During this transition work, my focus on balance has made me very careful to keep the engagement and lift even in the halt. It's paying off with a more responsive, but less stressed horse. Those two things are usually not separated, so I'm thrilled with how this work is going.
 
Of course, it's been negative temperatures for a few days so my riding time has been short. We'll see how boot camp continues this weekend...

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

TIL: The Florida Chronicles, Part 2

(This is part of series to the blog chronicling the things I learned from my time taking lessons in Florida. This isn't a wide overview series. Instead I'm going to break down some tips and specific problem spots and for me, but I figure a lot of you probably have similar positional issues and might pick up some tips from my learning process. Let me know!)
* Part 1: The Seat

During this freezing week, let’s go back here. Shall we?
The Legs

Yesterday I mentioned an equipment change I recently made, switching to swan neck spurs. This was partly due to all the work my trainer and I did while I was in Florida. I started this series with the seat because that’s the basis of every other change I made, even the big ones. But, the biggest and most immediate change made to my riding during my Florida lessons was probably to my leg position.

See, part of my issue with having too light of seat is that I brace in my leg. To be precise, I tend to shove my heels down, pushing my legs out in front of me and off my horse. Here’s an example …

This is an exaggerated position, but isn’t too far from the place my leg can stray during rides.
 
Now, what you need to understand is that this position feels deep and secure, and that’s probably why I use it. Let’s break it down: My heel down has jammed my upper thigh against my horse, and is cementing me to the saddle. I am not easily unseated in the position, and that is why. My knee is also rotated away from my horse, and my toe is pointing out at about a 60 degree angle. Higher up, we can see that the position of my leg here has closed my hip angle, and popped my seat out of the tack. Instead of my seatbones making contact and my hips and lower back working with the movement, I’m hovering above the saddle. My thighs are pretty much supporting me entirely, and my whole body is pretty rigid trying to maintain my balance.  Whoops.

Okay, so where am I supposed to be?

Well, remember that shoulder/hip/heel alignment thing we’ve been hearing about since we first swung a leg into an English saddle? Let’s go back to that.

Thaaaat’s better.
Note how my my leg is nicely underneath me? Here my hip angle is much more open, and you can tell I’m actually sitting in the saddle and am able to influence my horse with my seat. My whole body also looks much more relaxed, and I can tell you that it feels much more relaxed too! My heel is no longer jammed down, but instead my foot is level with the ground and my foot is nicely resting in my stirrup with a good amount of natural weight.

When I look at this photo, I want to lengthen my stirrups. But I can tell you it’s not possible to lengthen them yet and keep this position. I need the stability of the shorter stirrups while I work on developing the ab strength it’s going to take to support my body with my hips more open. I will say that my pelvis could be tilted more up (think pulling my belt buckle up), but some of that is the illusion of my shirt pulling down in front.

How did I get my legs here? Easy. I bent my knee and picked my heels up.

I know, I know. I can hear you all. “But! Don’t pull up your heels! You should have your heels down for safety and stability!” And you know what, you’re right. Unless you’re me. And you jam your heels down with all the strength you have in you, so when you pick them up, your foot is actually in the right place. It’s an overcorrection that results in a correct placement.


But back to those knees. This is what really floored me.

When my leg is all stuck out in front of me, I have to do something to break the tension in my body. For that my trainer simply asked me to bend my knee and “shake out” my legs. What that means practically is that I bend my knee to loosen my leg and take the intense pressure off my stirrup. This usually pops me back into the saddle and onto my seatbones. Then I gently shake my leg a bit to release the rest of the tension. Just a little leg wiggle. Like a little leg worm.

Now nice and loose, I can put my leg back on. The knees are vital here, too.

To position my legs properly:
1.       I bend my knees, thinking about pointing the front of my knee towards the ground. This lengthens my thigh and opens my hip angle.
2.       With my knee bent and my leg relaxed, I bring my lower leg back underneath me. Here is where I often think “raise the heel.”
3.       With my lower leg back, I feel how nicely my calf sits on the side of my horse. Gently and without pinching. I also feel how open my thigh is.
4.       Finally I think about putting my weight more on my little toe. This points my toes in slightly and keeps my heels from pointing in, which closes my hip angle again and shortens my leg. That also ensures that my calf stays on, and not my heel. That way if I need to apply the spur I simply have to put more weight on my inside toe to turn my heel in.

That’s all there is to it. Changing the position is pretty simple, but learning to make it feel normal and to maintain my upper body position at the same time has been the tough part. Luckily, breaking the tension and re-positioning is so easy that I don’t feel lost even when I end up off balance or out of position.

What do you think? Ever worked with your leg position like this? Want to ditch the -11 temps and go to Florida? Anyone else like my brown breeches? I’m serious. They’re my favorites.

*Thanks to Karen from Bakersfield Dressage for the lovely pad and white polos modeled by Pig in these photos! They were awesome Secret Santa gifts!

Monday, February 16, 2015

An Equipment Change: Swan Neck Spurs

I've been using spurs on Pig for a couple of years now. I started with a tiny 1/4" knob spur back when we were starting First Level, to help keep Pig from leaning on my leg during lateral work.

At the start, I think these spurs were perfect for me. They are impossible to apply inadvertently, and therefore were friendly additions for my loose and unrefined leg. Pig was very sensitive to them (and still is!), and they worked for the purpose.

As time went on, I'd experimented with longer spurs, up to the 1" straight variety. Those were big no's from Guinness. He was over reactive and very tense from them, and I think I was banging him with them inadvertently. So, we stuck with our wee little nubs and called it good.

Then, while in Florida, I had this conversation with my trainer:

"You lift your leg up so much to put it on. Do you feel like you can't get your spur on without picking up your leg to help your heel make contact?"

"Omg. Yes."

"Huh. You might try swan neck spurs. They might help you keep your leg down."

So, when I got back from Florida, that's what I did. I snapped up this pair of spurs from VTO Saddlery (the cheapest pair I could find...), and started reading up about their use.

My VTO shipment also included another pair of Royal Highness breeches from the clearance section. These are my favorite breeches ever.
Apparently swan neck spurs are the only spur variety sanctioned for USEF competition to be worn pointing upwards. All other varieties must be worn pointing down. (I hope you all knew that, but if not ... spurs point down! Don't get eliminated!) There is no length stipulation for dressage, but there is one in eventing, where your spur must be under 2". The longer length of the swan neck spur can make them difficult to find for eventing, as many are over 2" in length.

The swan neck spur is most often seen at the Spanish Riding School, where the rider's legs are much longer than their little stallion's barrels. The spurs are devised so the riders can apply the spur without shortening their leg. In my reading, I also found that riders with exceptionally long legs, or more wasp waisted horses, also found the spur to be helpful.

Pig isn't especially wasp waisted, nor are my legs abnormally long. However, combined together our conformation can make applying my leg difficult.

When the spurs arrived, I compared them to my normal spurs with some eye opening horror...

Both spurs shown upside down here, but let's just take a look at that length discrepancy!
With these spurs so much longer, I had visions of my horse launching me into outer space the moment my heel came on. But then something funny happened...
Where the spur sits. My toe is turned out here, so they look much closer than they really are.
I didn't get launched. In fact, except for a little more sensitivity to less of a leg aid, Pig didn't care one bit about the change. In fact, our rides were marked by his resistance to my weight aids, which I was able to properly apply because of the ability to put my leg on without picking up my lower leg.

Overall, I'm pleased with this change. Pig has been funky in his canter departs, and this is helping to solve our problem. Namely, he's slow and behind the leg in the transition, and I tend to pick up my inside leg to jam my heel on when he bulges into my inside leg as an evasion. Now I can hold my position strongly upright, keep my inside leg long and deep, and use my spur without moving my leg to keep him from leaning on me during the depart.

Cheers to the swan neck spur, and to longer and more secure legs everywhere!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A quick update to remind you I'm alive...

February is a one hell of a full month.
This is my office. I swear to god. It doesn't normally look like this...
Work is slammed with events, and I'm so busy spinning up the propaganda machine I can't even keep straight which show I'm trying to sell.
David Axelrod? A basketball game? I can't tell anymore ...
Grad school is in full swing. Luckily, it turns out that I am not too old to still write a 6 page historiographical research review in 24 hours. (6 page paper? Easy-peasy. 1 page press release? Hardest thing ever. Dear Brain, why you do dis?)
Dogs don't care how late you stay up researching, so long as you do it in bed...
Unfortunately, it turns out I am too old to successfully manage not to die the next day from lack of sleep and brain power.
"Just gonna stay right here today ..."
Add to that trying to help prepare one horse for a potential client (spoiler, he didn't sell)...
"Why does nobody want me?"
And put my own little red Ferarri back to work...
The epitome of excitement...
And you have a recipe for stress in spades.
"I TOLD you not to ride stressed!"
Nothing so bad a good run can't relieve, if I can find the time.
"Mom! Stop being busy and take me for a run!!"
Sadly, with a to-do list this long, I don't think the end of this month will ever come!
Yep.