Wednesday, October 31, 2018

In the Spirit of Dressing Up

Halloween, a day best spent dreaming of fair isles and redheaded unicorns...
The end of October seems like the perfect time to officially share these year-old photos taken by Liz Stout. I planned to go back through and tweak my initial editing before sharing. However I must admit I am not going to get to this, after an entire year of not working on them.
Magical moments in the woods.
Originally this was going to be a fully Halloween themed photoshoot, with plans to do a much darker costume. However, time ran short and I grabbed what was available. Instead choosing to dress as a Scottish princess, complete with tiny wolf and wild stallion.
He was a seriously wild stallion this day, too. Mannered, but barely holding on to his need to fidget and gallop.
Liz and I lamented the light, which was much too harsh and hot for a late fall day. Welcome to the DC region, right? Still, we had a blast playing with my sword and long cloak.
Bring it on, winter. This pair is ready for you.
Nothing about this costume is historically accurate. It cracks me up to see Pig's thoroughly modern double bridle alongside the more medieval sword and cloak. But, I love these. They are so fun.
This sword is so heavy. I swear to god my arms hurt for a week after trotting around with this sucker over my head.
We shot at the old therapy barn where Pig was loaned out last year. The facility was perfect, being on top of a huge hill with an amazing view.
Yes, Pig. Everything you can see we have conquered... on a trail ride.
The farm also has a house on the property dating from the late 1860s. It's been abandoned the last few years, so looks the part of a suitable dilapidated country house. Perfect for an All Hallows Eve photoshoot.
Spiderweb windows, missing porches, and badass horses. What more can you ask for? Maybe a sword?
I adore these photos. Pig's expressions are both so sweet and so bored and fed up with me, basically his opinion of me at all times these last few years.
Face cuddles are life. So are hair decorations that match your bradoon.
He wasn't an entirely cooperative partner, however. During part of the shoot, I pulled off his bridle. As I attempted to use a belt as a neck strap, he saw his chance. Without haste, but also with pure deliberation, he began to leave the premises.
So polite with his bit.
I ended up having to jump off and stop him from the ground. Giggling the whole long while as he told me multiple times how he was done with my shenanigans and ready to go back to the barn.
Yes, my dear. I hear you. Your job is finished.
As we turned back toward home, I made sure to thank him for his kindness. For always being there, no matter how hairbrained my idea might be. I appreciate his quiet support, as well as his much-less-quiet opinions.

So, a year later, I'd like to say it again. Thanks, my old friend. You still make me feel like a wild princess every time we're together.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Baby Got Back ... Legs

We are glorious. Worship before our majesty.
(Wtaf tho? What gait even is this?)
October's lesson homework has been focused on quickening Bast's hind end. I feel this is one of the most important building blocks for a dressage horse, and one that is often missed by those who haven't moved past the lower levels. Without a very forward thinking hind end, the connection simply cannot truly exist. Bast's love for being behind the vertical or opening his mouth can be solved in this way.
Ugh. So curled. I need to bump him up and push forward here.
My trainer also believes it's important to engage the hind end engine early. This is especially important for a horse like Bast who likes to pull himself along with his shoulders, and escape his "box" by bulging through the front end. I'm thankful for this, as she is full of ideas to help me develop Bast.
Pictured: A horse bulging right out of his box and forgetting entirely he has hind legs.
So what exercises are we doing to quicken the hind end?

We start off in the trot. Once Bast has a good rhythm going, I slow my posting as if I am going to ask him to walk. The goal is to get him to slow his trot while keeping up the energy with his hind legs. This takes a lot of awareness. The moment he shifts his weight onto his front end, even slightly, I must be ready with the leg or wave of the dressage whip. It doesn't take much to inspire Bast to put in more effort at this time. Once he keeps up his energy behind and starts pushing over his back, I release and ask him to take that energy and trot forward.
Go forward! To victory better balance and impulsion!
Not only is this developing strength for Bast, but also a starter exercise to develop a strong and straight start for the medium gaits.
Note: This trot will not help you make a better medium. No, instead, this trot should be burned off the face of the earth through careful beatings encouragement of the hind legs. Also the rider could not stand up so high while pulling randomly on the left rein.
Another exercise works the, admittedly weak, canter departs. I sit the trot on a circle, ensuring Bast is active behind with the leg/whip waving. As is his tendency, he will often dive onto his right shoulder and barge into my hand. He may also leap into the air or push forward into a downhill gallop. In the case of any of this, I flex him away from the shoulder where his weight is pushing down, while simultaneously adding leg to encourage him to come over his back instead. Once he starts stepping under, a miracle happens and he stops pulling me out of the saddle and actually becomes flexible and nice to ride.
Plz horse. Stop trying to run downhill on level ground and leave your hind legs behind. It's so awkward.
At this point, I'm able to work on slowing his canter while keeping him active enough behind to not break. To the right this is getting easier and easier. Last week we had a breakthrough to the right that resulted in a completely new canter. As my trainer said "Oh! He does have a nice canter in there somewhere!"
See, we can canter appropriately at times... 
To the left, things are more difficult. The canter is getting nicer, but the transition is still very stiff. I tend to lose Bast's right shoulder too easily, which allows him to escape and unload his hind end. He often twists this direction to take the pushing load off his hind right and keep his hind left from having to step very far under. This seems like a weakness issue that should be resolved with more repetitions of this work.
Bast in his best impression of a weasel pretzel. Note to self: the inside rein does not fix this. Just stop pulling on it, mkay?
While these exercises are mentally and physically taxing for Bast, they are really good work to do every day. That said, they are also making it very important we work on proper stretching. With all the compression work, I try to take plenty of breaks in the work to allow him to stretch in the walk. I also try to end every ride with a good amount of stretching trot, without allowing him to fall on the forehand or bulge out through his shoulder.
I'm really happy with how much better he is getting at both things! Hopefully by next week we won't completely embarrass ourselves with my trainer. I hate coming to a lesson without having done adequate homework! Don't you?

Thursday, October 25, 2018

X, Halt, Salute, Scream; A Loch Moy Schooling Show Story

It is was showtime!
The end of September Loch Moy schooling show was another opportunity to get out and introduce Bast to a show atmosphere. The goal was mostly to give him experience while also starting to get a feel for the kind of warm up and brain I might be able to look forward to at a show.

I had originally signed up to do only one test, Training 1. Why? Probably it's a little advanced for where we actually are in our training. However, I want to practice cantering at a show and Intro C is truly the worst test ever. I was originally supposed to only one test, but Emma encouraged me to add a second after my first test went terribly.
Emma is such an amazing horse show friend!
What's that you say? How did my first test go terribly? Well… settle in kids. (Spoiler alert: The terribleness had nothing to do with Bast, who was a total angel. I'm so proud of him.)

We arrived at the show grounds with just enough time to get settled and into the show ring. Unfortunately, the show office was quite backed up, and we had a misunderstanding about my entry forms. (Namely, I didn't read directions well. Ugh. Go me.) By the time I was checked in, I had 10 minutes to bridle Bast and warm up for my test. I left his bell boots on, knowing he tends to overtrack onto his coronets when tight in the back or tense. This being a schooling show, I was certain I could get away with them.
I also realized I had forgotten my helmet, but luckily Emma was on hand and able to secure a loaner from the lovely group of people in the trailer next to me.
I tried to use the whole 6 minutes we had in the warm up ring to the best of my ability. Bast is a horse I can push early in the warmup (unlike His Royal Majesty, Pig the Un-pushable), so I took advantage of this. Still, my warm up was very truncated, and I had yet to canter him or work transitions at all. By the time my time had arrived, I did not feel confident about our test.
Actually wishing I was on this gray horse instead. He was stunning. And also relaxed.
This is where things started to really go downhill. Just as my time was rolling around, the judge in my ring yelled my name out across the warm up ring. She'd done this for the rider before me as well; that rider was a no show. I was already headed her way, simply trying to squeeze as much warm up in as I could. When I came around the ring to her booth, at my time, I verified I was the rider she wanted. She rang the bell. Bast started spooking at her side of the ring, and I asked if we could walk by the booth once before heading into the ring. She said no, and told me to get in the ring.
Ar least we looked good going into the ring...
I rolled my eyes at her brisk treatment and snarky comments about my "being late" and headed around the ring, purposefully taking the whole 45 seconds to enter the ring. Once in, the test went about as well as I could have imagined. Bast wasn't yet fully committed to bending or lifting his back. Because of this, most of the test he went around on one shoulder or the other, and he was woefully unresponsive to the leg. Still, he was a very good boy and listened to my transition requests and put in a test I wasn't too ashamed claim.
There were a lot of these moments, though.
After our test I went back to the warm up for a few minutes, until I got Bast soft and slow in his temp and connection. Once he felt relaxed and forward, we called it quits and headed back to the trailer. When I saw my score of 58%, I wasn't surprised. I did think the comment about the bell boots was funny, as the judge had managed to yell at me about everything but that in the ring.

During this time, Emma had run to the office to have me added to another test slot in the afternoon to ride the same test. With this in mind, I gave Bast time to chill at the trailer, which he did admirably. In fact, I was thoroughly impressed with his behavior at the show grounds all day.
Totally relaxed and chilled out professional standing at the trailer horse.
Time for my second test rolled around in no time, and I tacked back up and headed to the ring. This time I had left myself 20 minutes to warm up. Everything with Bast at a show is an experiment, so I really have no idea how long he actually needs. After the first test, I was determined to give Bast enough time to relax and really start working well. Unfortunately, he really only needed 10 minutes.
Lovely warm up moment.
At 11 minutes into our warm up, and despite copious walk breaks, Bast decided he was done playing the dressage game. In his mind, it was time to go back to the trailer and rest. Bast shows he's done by unloading his hind legs, barging through his shoulders, and using his short neck for evil. I hate the tight wiggling he does to escape "his box", and the leaping canter departs are the least comfortable and controllable things ever.
Do these photos ever get old? 
Resigned to the fate of riding a mentally tired horse into the ring, I simply waited and walked until our time rolled around. Definitely wasn't late this time.
Trying to walk Bast into a better frame of mind.
Our first direction trot work lacked impulsion and included a few nervous neighs. The canter transition was prompt and stiff, but not overly leaping. In fact, the whole canter circle was quite manageable. Bast popped his haunches left significantly on the long side and through the downward transition. I think the camera angle makes it seem worse than it is, but I remember being annoyed by it in the moment. Additionally, I find myself watching the video and feeling again how much the canter needs to slow down in the tempo.
Mostly civilized canter in the first direction.
In the walk work, Bast was not quite relaxed. His rhythm was off a little, and he wanted to sightsee quite badly. The transition to the walk tried to be a canter for a step, then turned into a raging weasel when I suggested we only trot instead. Another tiny neigh punctuates some otherwise uneventful trot work. The second direction canter depart is certainly more exciting than the first and I get seriously left behind. Speaking of behind, Bast also cross canters the first few steps before figuring out his mistake and swapping back. The rest of the canter work itself goes fine, once I manage to get Bast's shoulders under control.
Pictured: Me getting left behind ... maybe in the next county.
The downward transition to trot is one of my most favorite transitions I've ever ridden in my life. Then we turn up the centerline and wiggle our way gently into the most amazing halt and triumphant trumpeting of glory in history. Giggles abound.
Triumphantly singing the songs of our people in our salute.
While Bast was throwing his toys out of the ring some in the transitions, I overall felt this second test was much more rideable than the first. Throughout the trot work, I had a much straighter horse with a more lifted and relaxed back. The judge, apparently, disagreed. She gave me a 56.7%, which seemed pretty low.

Our work wasn't perfect by any means, of course. Bast needed a lot more hind end engagement and push. He's still pulling too much with his shoulders, rather than pushing from the hind end. His back was much looser and more relaxed than in the first test, but still needed to be lengthened and more elastic overall for the level. In addition, the connection was quite unsteady. Still, I am proud of the amount he tried and stayed with me.

After watching the videos, I've realized the connection looks much more stable in the higher-scoring first test, mostly because Bast was stiff and pulling. In the second test, his balance is improved but he's not yet strong enough to hold that and the connection. We have some bad habits in the mouth and in my hand that will make things much better. Bast was still behind the vertical for much of this, partially due to his strength level and partially because it is becoming a comfortable habit for him. We are working on addressing this.
Staying with me and looking fabulous.
Overall I was very pleased with his second test. A lot of the mistakes were actually mine, not due to him being green. His rideability was very close to what he has at home. The final warm up felt just like riding at home, and that gives me hope that Future Bast will be the same horse at a show as at home. That's a truly exciting thing!

Hopefully next year we'll have the basics down and be ready to come out and actually show off, rather than just tried to rack up some experience points. Onward toward a winter of training!
And also giggles...

Monday, October 1, 2018

Living that Matchy-Matchy Life

Guys. I have a problem, an addiction, and a passion... for matching.

It's true! Years of riding Pig, the brightest of copper chestnuts, left me with an awareness of my riding outfits. That gleaming red coat easily clashed and detracted from any photos or video I was able to grab of him. Mostly I stuck to black pads and wraps for Pig, and a few brighter spots of color for myself.

With Bast I've straight up jumped off the deep end.
Bays are so much easier. Everything goes with a bay horse. Things that looked good on a chestnut (like that green set above) absolutely flash on a bay. And things that were absolutely off limits with Pig are amazing on Bast.
Hell yes, burgundy is my favorite.
My favorite part of this matching game is the stuff. A few years ago Jan introduced me to Le Mieux Air Mesh saddle pads. I was in love. Unfortunately at that time, suppliers in the US hadn't started carrying the brand yet. So, we did what any sane people would do. We ordered from Europe.

I ordered this burgundy set, mad with the fact that I now owned a horse that could pull off the color. When I got the pad, it quickly became my favorite. The quality is amazing, and it dries super quickly. I wanted to use it every day, so eventually I saved up and bought a black pad too. At $50-$70 this is not a cheap pad, but I feel like they will hold up to daily use. So far I've been very impressed.
Does teal make him fancier? Yes. Absolutely.
Finally I decided to just give in and replace my too-small teal pad with the turquoise Suede Le Mieux pad. While it's not as quick to dry as the Air Mesh pads, it's still amazing quality. Plus, the color is SPOT ON with my old pad. This means it matches all the other teal things I bought.

Now, for me? I have been lucky enough to find Kastel Denmark shirts in matching colors.
Kastel and Le Mieux are so perfect together.
In the summer I ride almost exclusively in Kastel shirts. I have a whole drawer full, mostly collected during super sales. They are a must have for my extremely pale skin in the hell of Maryland summer. I also find them the next closest thing to wearing nothing.

Kastel has recently been releasing brighter and more fun colors every year, and I've been so happy to see shirts pop up in the color schemes I was collecting.
Or close. Finding anything in bright kelly green is extremely hard. I love this pad and wrap collection so much, though. Even though they aren't Le Mieux.
This summer things finally came together and I have three lovely matching sets to play with. I've had so much fun taking photos with all of our matching gear. While the training still slogs along through the beginner stages, dressing like we are big fancy dressage horses makes the work more fun!
Best color combo ever.
Anyone out there been lusting over some color combos? Feel like sometimes you just have to have fun? This is the most frivolous thing I do with my horses, and it feels so luxurious and also slightly crazy. Don't tell me I'm alone out here!