Monday, November 12, 2018

The Only Gloves I'll Ever Need

Everyone keeps writing about a list of things they spend money on, and things they are willing to keep buying cheap. I wanted to take this in a slightly different direction and do a review of a cheap product I use every day and can't live without.... My gloves.
Yes, I love a lot of the things in this photo. But today we're talking about only the gloves.
I'm cheap and picky about gloves. My fingers are slightly on the short side, so Roeckl's are supremely annoying to me. The fingers in that brand are probably awesome for those of you with elegant long-fingered hands made for playing the piano without struggling. However, on me the fingers have so much excess that I end up with floppy fingertips.

Guys, no one likes floppy fingertips.
No floppy finger tips. #winning
Heritage brand fits me okay, but they wear out absurdly fast. So do SSG. In fact, all other brands I've tried wear through in about 3-5 months of use. That's just not acceptable to me. I hate buying gloves that often. For years I despaired, sure I'd never find the glove holy grail. But then, it happened. The clouds parted and angels sung...
Can you hear the angles? Also, yes. I have tiny #6 hands. Don't judge me.
The Noble Outfitters Ready to Ride Glove is perfection. The glove is appropriately stretchy, fits my fingers perfectly, and only about $25. At that price I figured having to replace them a few months down the line wouldn't be a big deal. Only ...
Surviving and thriving through rides on Pig, and others
(Photo thanks to Liz Stout)
I used the gloves for 2 years.
Including lots of galloping in the double bridle.
(Photo thanks to Liz Stout)
No, seriously. The same pair for two years.
Keeping my grip strong for 30 miles of endurance terrain.
I rode so many times in this pair of gloves I can't even begin to estimate what that $25 works out to in per ride cost.
Even working great while jumping!
(Photo thanks to Liz Stout)
Over the years with these gloves I fell in love with them more and more. They're synthetic, so I sometimes would bathe my horses in them and thus clean them as well. They held up super well to this. They breathe so well I often forgot to take them off while doing chores around the barn. They also work with my touchscreens, which is a super bonus!
Loved them so much, I even bought a pair for showing! (Photo thanks to PVDA.)
I've kept using these gloves since my first pair wore out. I even bought a second pair when I had my horses at two separate barns, knowing I'd always find a use for a spare pair.
Super strong which is perfect with baby racehorses.
With Bast, I quickly appreciated the strength of these gloves. His tendency to bolt was mitigated by these gloves. I found I was able to hold on to reins, even through some of his more absurd antics.
How about we don't, though? Eh, Bast?
Basically, I love these gloves so much. They are the number one thing I recommend to people, and I have found most of those who take my advice also love them.
"I don't love that this post isn't all about me." -- Bast, probably
If you're in the market for great gloves, definitely give these a look. I don't know how the other Noble Outfitters gloves hold up, but for me these are the absolute best gloves out there. I hope they never stop making them.
Praise be to great gloves!

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Pretty and Effective

My trainer brought me a saddle to try last week. I guess she'd finally had enough of trying to teach me while I contort my body like a drunken yogini. Whoops. In my defense, life is hard when you're trying to cram yourself into a slippery saddle made for the exact opposite of your body type.
Seriously. This saddle is kinda the worst for my leg, unless you're into having your knee stick out in front of the thigh block and leg panel.
You see, I have one of the longest hip to knee lengths out there. I'm basically absurdly long there for someone of my otherwise average height. Unfortunately, that means dressage saddles tend to fit me very poorly and compromise my balance. It's really tough to stretch your leg down and put it on at the same time, when your balance gets shoved so far back in the saddle you're sitting on the cantle.
For example, Pig's saddle used to put me so far in the backseat I was always thankful I didn't fall out behind. Putting my leg on used to squeeze me right out the back, because there wasn't enough room for my long thigh. To compensate I was always collapsing in the lower abs and leaning forward. Not great.
Photo by Liz Stout
While the saddle Emma generously lent me has been a godsend as far as fitting Bast, it's been doing me the opposite of favors when it comes to my position. In fact, every time I put my leg on in this saddle, my seatbone had to come off the saddle. This left me twisting frantically to try to make my aids make sense. It also left me struggling to keep my balance.
Note my twisting hips trying to keep my seat somewhat in the saddle while my leg goes on? Also my balance is so compromised my heels are jammed down in an attempt to keep me remotely with the horse. Also not great.
I've started to find the issues with Emma's saddle to be setting Bast's training back. My twisting and flailing in the canter departs couldn't be helped, because otherwise I actually couldn't stay with him. Unfortunately this twisting was very confusing to my green horse trying his hardest.
What happens when you have to choose either holding on with your legs or being able to balance your upper body...
My trainer is built somewhat like me, with a longer hip to thigh ratio. I hoped the saddle she was bringing me would work well for my body type. I also had hopes, because it's a Custom. I've always had very good luck with this brand's deeper seat and more forward flaps.
So far so good... Plus amazing gullet clearance!
Bast had been starting to shift shape and not fit Emma's saddle as well. I think he's getting wider. Somehow, he magically fits the Custom right now. The moment I threw it on him, I was astounded by how nicely it sat on him!
Can't ask for better than that for a blind fitting!
Of course, the saddle wasn't worth springing for if it didn't make riding easier for me. I had pretty high expectations and hopes for this thing when I swung into the saddle.
Leg on. Seat on. Miracles do happen, friends.
Somehow, this saddle does the impossible. It allows me to separate my leg aid from my seat aid without having to rip apart the space time continuum and force me to split into two separate people. In other words, in this saddle, riding correctly is easy.

I am pretty sure Bast breathed out a big sigh of relief as well. His canter departs have stopped being so leapy almost immediately. His movement is more relaxed more quickly into our rides. Plus I'm able to stick with him and make minute adjustments from just my seat, instead of throwing my whole balance to try to put my leg on.
No collapsing in my lower abs. No jammed heels trying to keep my balance. Easily dropped leg that can hug the horse. Magic, I tell you. All magic.
In fact, riding correctly is so much easier that my abs have been horribly sore from my last few rides in this new saddle. I'm treasuring that pain, as it means I'm getting stronger and more able to guide my goofy young horse on his dressage journey.

Anyone out there like me, fighting your saddles for years and years? Anyone else looking at finding something that fits you better? Or maybe you've never considered how much saddle fit can effect the rider? I want to know! I'm especially interested to hear from people with different body construction. How do shorter legs change your saddle fit needs? This is such a universal issue with such different answers, let's talk!
Finally able to do turns on the forehand, now that this saddle gets me out of my own way!

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...