Saturday, October 30, 2010

Houston, We have a Lead Change!

Tucker and I showed today at Sussex and I'll do a more detailed report later this week, but I just have to capture on the blog how over-the-moon-happy I'm feeling right now.  [Consider this fair warning:  I am about to gush uncontrollably.]  My horse was nothing short of perfect today.  He was quiet, and focused, and listening, and best of all he got every single lead change that I asked  him for!  Every single one!  In both directions!  And they were clean, and easy.  We have a lead change!

I continue to be astonished by what an incredible animal he has become.  I would say that I'm proud of him, but proud isn't the word.  I'm amazed.  He is the horse I have wished for my whole life -- he's sensible, smart, athletic, sweet, and affectionate; he's got a great work ethic, he wants to be a good boy, and when I ride well, he wins.

When I took him on as a gangly yearling with a long pencil neck, giant ears, giraffe legs, and an absurdly goofy personality, I had no idea what I'd end up with.  I liked him a lot, and I thought he had potential and he'd probably end up being nice, and maybe I'd be able to sell him to help pay off some student loans.  Little did I know that he would grow up to be the kind of horse that literally makes me feel like my dreams have come true. 

I used to say that I hate horse showing.  I would get so nervous and so anxious about what could possibly go wrong that I couldn't even enjoy myself until it was over.  But Tucker has become so consistent and so well behaved that I don't even get nervous now because I know he'll be good.  I never had a moment today when my heart started pounding or my stomach did a flip or I felt any of those little nervous reactions.  It felt just like jumping a course during a lesson:  I went in and tried to do all the things we've been working on, my head was clear, I stayed relaxed, and had a plan.  Not that I didn't make mistakes!  Of course there were a couple, but they were no big deal, and neither of us overreacted.  And I did a lot more right than I did wrong today, which counts as a Win in my book.

I am so happy right now that, although I'm exhausted, I don't want this day to end.  I knew it was going to be a good day before the sun came up.  I hooked up the trailer in the dark and pulled around to the barn, and when I walked in, he was the only horse in the aisle with his head out of the stall.  He looked so happy to see me.  It seemed like he was looking forward to going wherever we were going.  When I walked him out of the barn, he practically dragged me to the trailer.  Yes, it was definitely going to be a good day.

Forgive me for sounding like a broken record here (writing yet another post about how amazing he is), but this horse just means so much to me and days like this still amaze me.  I never thought I'd have a horse this special.  I thought people like me didn't get to have horses like this.  Maybe to some people, he wouldn't be anything special.  There are plenty horses out there who are fancier than him, and probably some that are easier, and whole herds of horses that win a lot more.  But to me, he's just exactly how a horse should be.  I feel grateful beyond words that he's mine.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

In search of new hardware

Tucker and I are in need of a new bit for our flat work.  We've been using the full cheek rotary bit for over a year (photo here) and it's now not producing the results I like.  We started using it because each side moves independently (the whole bit twists back and forth, hence the "rotary" name), and we used to have major problems with him grabbing the left side of the bit.  That problem seems to be gone now, and I think was fixed in large part due to good chiropractic work and a flash noseband, which keeps him from crossing his jaw. 

The problems I'm having now with that bit are leading me to conclude that it's worn out its use, especially given that his flat work is great in either the hackamore or his jumping bit.  In the rotary, he leans on it at times, especially when he gets tired and doesn't want to keep using his hind end.  He also roots the reins out of my hands in it when he doesn't want to work, or sometimes on landing from the jumps (especially if he's anticipating a lead change).  Lastly, especially when I'm asking him to accept the right rein (as opposed to the left), he doesn't accept the bit well.  Instead of maintaining a steady contact with my hand, he flips his nose up and down a little (not violently or anything, but enough to disrupt whatever we're trying to do), or he'll try to come above my hand.  In short, he used to like this bit, but he seems to have no respect for it anymore.

All these problems go away in the bit we use for jumping and shows, which is a full cheek copper Dr. Bristol with a slow twist.  I know that Dr. Bristols can be harsh when in the wrong hands, because if you yank on the horse you'll dig the narrow side of the center plate into your horse's tongue, but I'm very gentle with my hands.  According to Wikipedia, when used with a full cheek with keepers (as I do), the plate lies flat against the tongue because the bit's position in the mouth is kept stable.  I'm not sure if that's accurate or not though, because I haven't read that elsewhere.  What I do know is that for Tucker, it's the magic bit.  He doesn't lean on it, he never roots the reins out of my hands, he responds immediately when I need him to collect down the lines without much pressure from me, and on the flat I can keep a soft following feel and it rests comfortably in his mouth.  I love the copper mouth, which really seems to make him foam up and accept the bit nicely.  But while I love this bit, I'd really like to use a milder bit to do my flat work, and save that one for jumping lessons and horse shows.

Last night I tried a dee ring copper roller that I have, and he was better -- no nose flipping, and he accepted both reins pretty consistently at the trot.  Unfortunately, there was a lot of leaning.  We did some work cantering over cavaletti and when I'd ask him to collect to add a stride, he leaned on my hand instead of compressing between my hand and leg.  It was also really tough to keep him from bulging through his outside shoulder in this bit because my outside half-halts were mostly ignored, which made me have to use a little stronger half-halt than I normally like.  So, that bit's not quite right.

I think the Dr. Bristol piece in our other bit is what keeps him from leaning or rooting, because if he leans, the plate in the center will increase tongue pressure.  This has the added bonus of me not having to change anything in my hand to stop the leaning, so it's more of a self-correction, which I think makes him learn more quickly.  So, on Friday for my lesson with Alicia, we're going to try a plain full cheek Dr. Bristol (no copper, no slow twist). I wish they made a copper mouth without the slow twist, but I can't find one.

If I'm not happy with the plain Dr. Bristol, I'm going to have to start trying other options.  I know that he doesn't like loose rings, which makes me think he probably doesn't like all the movement a loose ring causes. I also know he hates the Waterford mouthpiece. He goes best in a full cheek with bit keepers, which is a very stable bit (not a lot of movement in the corners of his mouth).  He also goes pretty well in dee ring bits, which are also fairly stable (more so than a loose ring or an egg butt). I definitely want something that either has two breaks in it, or is curved so that the center break doesn't cause pressure on the roof of his mouth.

Here are the ones I've been thinking of trying, though I'm not entirely sure that I want to spend the money on some of the more expensive ones without knowing they're going to work:

OV Curve Full Cheek
OV Curve Dr. Bristol Dee Ring
JP Slow Twist Full Cheek
Ovation Elite Full Cheek
Stubben EZ Control Full Cheek
Sprenger KK Ultra Full Cheek

Maybe if the plain Dr. Bristol works well, I can use that for a while until we've eliminated the leaning/rooting behavior (just like we eliminated the grabbing the left side/jaw crossing with the rotary and flash).  At that point, once he's gotten stronger and he's staying balanced consistently, I can go to something that doesn't apply any tongue pressure, but is a comfortable, ergonomic design, like the last three above.  I'd really like to get him to the point in his flat work where we can use a very simple, gentle bit that he's happy about.  It's possible that we're not quite there yet in our flat work though.  Everything's a work in progress....

Any suggestions or things I haven't thought of?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Renaissance Man

What's the only thing that could possibly be better than your horse returning a loose baby draft horse to his home, spending 2 1/2 hours on the trails wandering through the woods, galloping through hay fields, keeping his trail mate calm and relaxed, and walking home on the buckle, in a hackamore?  That same horse spending the next day in the ring for a lesson, getting down to business doing some serious flat work and jumping around a 3' course.  He is truly a renaissance man.  The kind of man I've always dreamed of, in fact.  Up for anything, dependable, reliable, smart, brave, honest, devastatingly handsome....

On Sunday we went for a lesson at Alicia's farm.  I spent Saturday afternoon body clipping him after our trail ride, so he was looking extra gorgeous, all dark and sleek and shiny (another plug for SmartShine).  Before my lesson we discussed my lesson with Sarah, which was very helpful.  (Note:  This is the mark of a truly great trainer who is not an egomaniac -- something hard to come by in the horse world.  Alicia appreciates the benefit of getting another trainer's perspective and wanted to discuss it with me, as opposed to so many other trainers out there who would completely lose it at the thought of their students ever doing anything so disloyal and sacreligious as taking a lesson elsewhere -- heaven forbid!  Do you know that some trainers don't even let their students take clinics?  Talk about insecure... sheesh.  But I digress.) 

We started off at the walk asking him to do some lateral movements to get him stepping under with his inside hind leg in both directions.  Then we did the beginnings of a turn on the haunches.  We didn't worry too much about maintaining an inside bend (that can come later).  Instead, we started off on a small circle and spiraled it down, focusing on keeping him coming forward as the circle got smaller until I was asking him to turn on his haunches, pushing him off my outside leg.  He got the concept right away and did this really well in both directions.  This was a good exercise to get him engaged behind and coming forward, and light on both reins.

Once Tucker was warmed up at the trot, we worked on some collection and extension exercises.  We would do a small circle in the corner asking him to collect, letting him elevate his frame a little, with a slight shoulder-fore to avoid letting him bulge through his shoulder to avoid collecting.  Then Alicia had me follow with my hands for an extension coming out of the circle (so my hands slid about 4-5 inches toward his ears) and Tucker reached down for the bit and held a longer, more relaxed frame, in front of the vertical and stretching down and out, but he stayed light in front and pushing from behind for the extended trot (we're not talking about the kind of "extension" that I see in dressage tests here, mind you, just a bigger trot than his regular working trot).  For Tucker's conformation and build, this is a great exercise for him.  It really makes him work hard and push from behind, but stay relaxed through his back and swing through his shoulder.

In the canter, we worked on getting a similar carriage out of him on a big circle.  Once we had a good, engaged canter in his normal working frame on the circle, I followed more with my hands and used a lot more leg and seat to push him forward and get him to stay engaged but in a bigger canter and a more relaxed, lower frame.  He did the same thing he did at the trot, when I gave with my hands he followed and reached down for the bit but stayed light (good boy!), though it was hard to hold the canter together and not let him get strung out (my thighs were burning!).  We could tell this was really making him work, because after holding this canter for two circles he broke back to the trot right out from underneath me, which made us laugh ("Um, guys?  This is super hard?  Trot now?  Please?"). 

We re-established our canter and then worked on figure-eighting a set of cavaletti, where we had no trouble getting the left to right change but could not get the right to left.  I had a couple of little break throughs on the lead change issue (or, Alicia did but somehow also managed to get the concepts through to me too).  First, Tucker likes to bend right, so when I go for my right to left change, he's bent right, not straight.  So, when I ask for the change, he just falls in with his left shoulder, swaps in front, swings the hips out and there's no chance we'll get a full change. Second, I sometimes try to ride my 17hh warmblood like he's a 12hh welsh pony.  I stand in my stirrups and lean for the lead change (this doesn't really work with little welsh ponies either, but I think when you weigh 65 lbs it doesn't really matter what you do up there).  I also plant my hands on his neck when he raises his head and gets quick for the change.  This move is also known as RVB:  riding very badly. 

We then carried our cavaletti exercise over to figure-eighting a small jump in the center of the ring, landing and turning right, then landing and turning left.  We worked on the same thing, getting him straight instead of bent right.  When he's bent right coming to the jump, this turns into bulging through the left shoulder, drifting left, landing on the right lead, and missing the right to left change (see how this is all connected?).  When we come to the jump straight, with a little counterbend out of the turn, he stays straight to the fence, the distance works out better, and he's more likely to land his lead in the direction we're going, or get his right to left change.  (Remember that line from Cocktail with Tom Cruise?  "Light dawns on marble head!")

Next we jumped this same fence bending left 5 strides to another small vertical, landing right.  I find these short bending lines exceedingly difficult, even when the jumps are itty bitty.  HP's do bending lines in 10 strides, across the entire diagonal of a huge hunter ring, where you have plenty of room to find your track and get straight for the last few strides.  5 stride bending lines make us nauseous.  You have to count and turn at the same time.  It's madness.  So, the first time we did it in 6 (we got a little, er, lost).  Then I came through the turn to the first fence with more pace (reminder from previous lessons -- jump in with more pace if we want more pace in the line itself) and we got 5, but jumped out huge (I thought there was one more, he didn't).  The next time, Tucker knew where we were going and helped me out a little (this horse is going straight to heaven one day), so we did it a little more directly and the 5 worked out perfectly.

Lastly, we did some course work.  Started out with the bending line in 5, landing right, then long approach to a single 3' oxer on the outside off the right, then the triple (vertical-oxer-vertical) across the diagonal, landing left, and then a forward 6 down the outside line, vertical to oxer.  As opposed to my last couple of lessons, this time we did the triple in a collected four to a forward three, and the last vertical was set at 3'3" (the rest of the line was around 2'6"/2'9").  The first time the bending 5 was great, but the outside oxer was a little tight.  I have a bad habit of taking my leg off when I see the distance, instead of keeping my leg on and stay still.  But, because he backed himself off and I stayed back with my upper body, he jumped it well anyway.  We landed left and missed the change, so I did a small circle (which was part of the plan) and asked for a little counter-bend on the way in to the triple.  We jumped in quietly, put in the four strides neatly, and then I gave him a big release in the air over the oxer, landed sending him forward, kept my arms following and my leg on, and he made it there in three strides easily.  Then, since I knew that the last line was forward and he landed forward, I tried to maintain that pace all the way around the corner and the six was beautiful.  I'm starting to realize that I can actually signal in the air when I want him to land forward through how much of a release I give him:  I can either land with a little feel or land with a following hand and almost no contact at all, and that changes how big his first landing stride is (I think I used to know this, once upon a time, and I'm re-figuring it out).

We did this course twice more and each time it got a little smoother.  I was so pleased with his adjustability.  He had to stay collected for the five stride bending line, then get a good, steady rhythm to the oxer, then collect for the four, move up for the three, and go forward for the six.  I never would have thought he'd be adjustable enough to do a collected four to a forward three in the same line, that was such a huge accomplishment for him.  We finished by doing the oxer just one more time and I changed my track a little to get a slightly better distance, which we did.  He jumped it fabulously, and then we landed left and I remembered to lift my hand when I asked for the lead change and I got it.  Love ending on that note!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Tucker's Big Adventure

Tucker and I got invited to go on a trail ride with one of the boarders at the new farm today.  It was a beautiful fall day, warm and crisp and sunny.  The trees looked like stained glass windows with the light shining through their bright colored leaves.  Perfect day for a lovely quiet ride through the woods.

So off we go, on our merry way, and just as we are about to head onto the trail, I hear a horse whinny.  Must be someone else on the trail.  We come around the bend to a meadow where I see a horse grazing.  Tucker keeps walking toward him as though this is perfectly normal.  I start thinking of how to handle this situation without getting anyone killed.  I tell my friend (who is on a mare that wouldn't take kindly to being approached by a strange horse) to turn around and start walking, as the horse is making his way towards us.  I calmly turn Tucker around and the horse follows.  As he catches up to us and starts walking alongside of Tucker, I can now see that he's a pretty young draft cross, a black and white pinto, and seems fairly good natured.  He has burrs in his forelock that give him the look of a disheveled little kid.

I stop Tucker for a minute while we regroup and try to formulate a plan.  Tucker and the young draft horse start grooming each other like old friends.  The baby is happily licking Tucker's shoulder like a puppy; Tucker is sniffing and nuzzling the horse's forehead and gently blowing in his black and white mane.  I am, at this point, completely superfluous.  It's love at first sight.  [Note:  This story goes in the "don't try this at home" catagory, unless of course you have a Tucker at home, in which case you've just made your horse's day.] 

I figure we need to get this young fellow to his owners, so while Tucker and his new friend are full-on grooming each other's withers, I take off my belt, loop it through the buckle and around the base of the pinto's halter as a makeshift lead rope, and start ponying him.  Tucker's never ponied a horse before, but he took to it like a fish to water, surprise-surprise.

We start walking along toward the nearest farm with young draft horse in tow and Tucker starts in.  "Mom, puh-leeeeease can we keep him??  Please please please please please?  I'll be sooooo good.  I'll take care of him, I'll feed him, I'll walk him, he can stay in my room.  You won't even know he's there.  Pleeeeeeeease mommy?  I won't ask you for another thing as long as I live, I swearPuh-leeeeeeeeeeease????"  If you were the type of kid that was always bringing home a lost kitten/puppy/frog/bunny (and I suspect that most of you were), this should be starting to sound familiar. 

We walked along, making our way to the next farm down the road.  The young draft horse happily bumps along at Tucker's side, occasionally reaching up to groom his shoulder or sniff me, and Tucker and I continue to debate whether this horse could, in fact, be his.  I pointed out that he's wearing a halter and therefore probably belongs to somebody, and maybe has a family that's worried sick about where he's been.  Tucker responded that no one was out looking for him and he looked so lost, and if he ran away he probably wasn't all that happy there to begin with. 

We try Farm #1, no luck, but they think the horse belongs to the next farm just down the road.  Tucker is now CONVINCED this horse is homeless and if we don't take him home and feed him, he'll end up on the streets again, and we'll never be able to live with ourselves.  We mosey along through another field.  Tucker is acting like he does this every day.  Our new boarder friend is now just staring in disbelief.  Tucker has decided this is the greatest trail ride ev-er, he never wants to go anywhere without this young spotty draft at his side, and is now promising to forego allowance for the rest of his life, do all his chores plus his sister's, if only we can keep him.

We reach Farm #2, which has an empty barn full of stalls and a bunch of horses in turnout.  Our boarder friend dismounts, temporarily places her mare in an empty stall with her reins tied up, and then pries the pinto from our side.  Since there's no water in the stalls, we can't just leave him, so she walks up to the house to alert the owners.  Tucker and I stand outside the barn, and Tucker makes one last pitch for keeping his new horse.  He didn't see any children run up with open arms when we brought Max home (Tucker has already named his new friend) and the other horses didn't even seem that happy to see him.  He really needs us.  He worriedly stares into the barn, wondering how long it's going to be until he can be reunited with his instant BFF.

The owner comes out, gives us a nonchalant "yep, he's ours, the electric fence is down," and "yep, looks like he snuck out again."  Tucker is heartbroken, for about five seconds.  Then he sees the mini-donkey come trotting up the fence line.  His eyes grow large, his neck arches, he starts walking toward the mini donkey's paddock.  "Mommy please?  Can we get one?  Please please please please please?  I'll be soooooo good...."  Mini donkey pins his mini giant ears.  He's no one's pet.  (As an aside: I am totally with Tucker on this one.  I want a mini donk sooooo bad.)

We made our way down the farm's driveway and to the trails, and proceeded to have a blast (and Tucker forgot all about being heartbroken).  We crossed streams, trotted up and down hills, even had a nice little gallop or two around the edges of mowed hayfields.  By the end of the ride, we were calling my horse "Zen Master Tucker" due to the calming effect he so clearly had on our new friend's lovely little mare, who followed Tucker's lead and walked home on the buckle, calm as could be (which, from what I understand, is sometimes a challenge for her).  In case you were wondering, it isn't lost on me that I'm incredibly lucky to have a horse who is not only a competitive hunter and a really hard worker, but also an awesome trail pony, and apparently a search and rescue animal as well.

My darling Tucker, I promise you that one day I will get you a pony, or a mini donkey, or maybe a little spotted draft cross to play with.  Until then, you're going to have to go through what all good little children go through before they can have their first pet... and keep falling in love with every stray you see.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Friday Funny... Awesome Jack

JRs are my favorite dogs.  My family has one, named Jackson.  This is what he does whenever I stay over at my grandparents' house, as soon as he knows it's time for bed.  Can you tell I'm the only one in the family that lets him sleep under the covers?

And of course, you all remember Bean, another one of my favorite JRs. 

This video, however, may take first prize as the cutest (and smartest) jack russell I've ever seen.  It makes me really want to get a 9-5 job, take Jackson home to my house, and start teaching him things.  Though he already sorta does stuff like this, it's not exactly helpful.  He takes everything out of your purse, takes all the pillows off the bed, rearranges the throw rugs, unfolds your laundry.  I suppose those tasks could be useful, in some theoretical set of circumstances... but the dog in this video is just slightly more advanced.  Have a look!

Don't you want one?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Best Ride of the Month

I rode Tucker last night and we had our Best Ride of the Month, which is the ride after he gets his acupuncture.  Dr. L came to see him on Monday and said he was great, just some routine adjustments in his neck and back but otherwise he felt really good.  I told her that I'm hoping one of her visits falls on a weekend sometime soon so that I can get a photo series put together for the blog.  I want so badly for you all to see the look of sheer bliss on Tucker's face while Dr. L works on him.  It looks like heaven!

I gave him Monday and Tuesday off for the adjustments and acupuncture to work their magic, since the weather was nice and he's been going out from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (couldn't have planned that schedule better myself!) and has plenty of time to stretch himself out. 

Last night I flatted in the hackamore and pretty much just enjoyed how supple and springy he felt.  We did a lot of transitions, since that seemed to be what needs work based on our lesson over the weekend, and they were significantly better in the hackamore (much less tendency to get stiff and lean on my hands when there's nothing to lean on).  So I worked on my position during the transitions -- stretching taller, weight in my heels, legs closed, sitting deeper and looking ahead.  As I continued to work on my position, they got better and better, to the point where I could pin point exactly where in the ring I wanted the walk to happen (there are these nifty letters on the side of the ring and I have no idea what you DQs use them for but they sure do make nice landmarks for me). 

As we worked on canter transitions and they improved, I added in asking him to countercanter down the long side, and walk in the corner, and back to the inside lead.  Once he was carrying the counterlead well in a straight line, I'd ask him to hold it around the turn, which he did well.  The only minor blip we had was that I was doing canter transitions on a big circle and they were going very nicely, and then I asked him to countercanter as we were approaching the corner and he had a -- system malfunction -- does not compute -- command failed -- moment.  He just did not understand why on earth I'd be asking for the wrong lead around a corner plus he said it would be really hard to do that and didn't seem at all natural or right.  So he kind of bounced up and down a bit and then stopped and waited for further information.  I realized I had inadvertantly blown his mind for a minute (tried not to laugh) and just trotted around the ring once, then walked at the start of the longside, asked for my countercanter, and then he was happy to hold the counterlead around the corner.  Stupid mom moment.

My favorite part of the ride was after I had done canter transitions tracking right and went down the diagonal of the ring at the trot.  I gradually let the reins out of my hands and he took the bit and reached his nose all the way to the ground but kept tracking up and never felt unbalanced, and then we trotted a big left circle, bending left but continuing to stretch down through his neck and back.  Then I gradually reeled him back in and he kept coming forward really freely and stayed nice and soft. We went back to some more canter transitions tracking left and then finished up with some more stretching down at the trot.  Such a nice ride!

I have been having such fabulous rides lately that I went back and thought a little more about last week's not so good ride.  Alicia also rode him the day after that, and she didn't have the best ride either -- he was still pretty resistant and didn't really want to work.  Then it slowly dawned on me... he got his fall shots on Wednesday afternoon.  DUH.  Talk about your dumb mom moments.  I had felt along both sides of his neck for soreness and didn't feel anything so I figured they hadn't bothered him, but I've since remembered that our vet usually gives Tucker his vaccinations in his chest (because he gets sore in his neck).  He was probably feeling really lousy for a couple of days and didn't want to work.  It explains everything, but now I feel really, really bad.  I guess technically it's not like he was suffering with intense pain and he probably should have just dealt with it and done his work... so it wasn't really all that cruel to get after him a little. 

But you'd think with everything this horse does for me I could at least be a little less of an idiot and keep track of things like vaccinations that might leave my horse sore and not wanting to work....  I'm hoping that if I bribe him with treats and take him for a nice long trail ride on Saturday, he'll forgive me.  Or at least, I can keep him from calling his case worker again and requesting that I only be allowed supervised visitation.

Speaking of treats, adorable story for you:  My grandmother wanted to send me home with something for Tucker last weekend and asked me "what does he like?"  I told her apples always go over well, and then she showed me half an apple wrapped in saran wrap and asked if he'd eat that.  As if Tucker's going to notice that the apple's browning a little?  Then she asked "what about carrots?" and proceeded to dig around for some of those in the fridge.  As she carefully tucked them into the giant bag of food she was sending me home with, she said "make sure you tell him they're from me."  Keep in mind, my family members are NOT horse people.  I can count on one hand the times any of them have seen Tucker, collectively.  My grandmother especially is not an animal person, and the fact that she wanted me to say anything to an animal, as though he would understand, is too sweet for words.  Somehow I think I love Tucker so much that I've made her love him too.  She must sense that this is not just any ordinary horse.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Enamored, Part II

So on to the jumping portion of Sunday's lesson....

We started off with two small jumps on the outside, a vertical at the far end and an oxer at the near end.  They were set up as a six-stride line, and the exercise was to pick up my left lead canter in the corner, roll back down the quarter line and jump the vertical on an angle (landing right), then walk in the corner, pick up my canter again, roll back down the quarter line, and jump the oxer on an angle, landing left.  Walk, pick up my canter again, and repeat.  So it looked like this:

Once we did that smoothly (and Tucker was landing his leads), we eliminated the walk transition and kept going back and forth through this figure eight.  The goal was to keep the canter coming forward through the turns, and keep the same forward rhythm all the way to the jump, but still getting a relatively conservative distance since the jumps were small.  Tucker was very good through this exercise, listened well, and picked up on landing his leads very quickly.  I had to work on getting my eye on the next jump right away, keeping my arms soft and the canter moving forward around the turns.  A simple exercise, but challenging to get just right.

Then we did a little course.  It was the above outside line, vertical to oxer, in six strides, then cantering down the other quarter line (to the inside of the other outside line), rolling back through the middle of the ring to a single vertical on the diagonal, landing right, and then back down the outside line off the right lead, oxer to vertical.  Again I had to work on keeping the canter going forward through the left roll back.  The six stride outside line got a little easy for him when I jumped in with a medium distance, so I had to sit up and balance for six, which he did well. 

The next course started with a skinny jump, which was set up catty corner on the quarter line at the far end, turning left to the six stride on the outside, then the diagonal line, a flowing six strides, landing right, then walk, reverse, and back up the six stride diagonal.  The skinny jump was an exercise in straightness, so I got the canter coming forward down the long side of the ring, and then balanced and thought about both hands and both legs, and collected his stride to add a step, which Sarah said was a "good choice."  Then I landed, looked left, and turned to the six stride on the outside.  We jumped in a little quietly so I just softened a little and he rolled right down there in six.  Then to the diagonal line, I saw the long one and just softened my hand, but I needed to close my leg too, because he added another baby step in, and then we landed trotting (mildly embarrassing moment).  So Sarah had me just turn left and come back to it with more pace, and the six worked out just fine.  Then we walked at the end of the ring, reversed, picked up the canter again.  I tried to get the same forward rhythm again but didn't quite get it back, so we jumped in quietly (not a chip, just a little short).  But, since he's got such a big stride, I landed and let go and closed my leg and he made it down the six no problem.

For the next course, we used the other outside line, which had a liverpool in it.  Before we started the course, we made the liverpool tiny and I cantered him over it once.  He barely noticed it was there (such a brave horse!) so we put it back up to normal height and did our next course.  This one started with the skinny jump again, then left lead to the outside six, then the other outside triple off the left, which was a one-stride to a five stride (ending with the liverpool), then the diagonal six left to right, then right lead to the outside six, right lead to the outside triple, five strides to one stride.  The last time we jumped the skinny he went a little right, so I closed my right leg on takeoff and he landed much straighter.  Then we jumped in to the six just right, so I just had to stay tall and keep the canter together.  He got a little bit rushed through the one stride because the first fence, an oxer, had a little red wall under it that he overjumped a bit, but then he was very good through the five stride to the liverpool.  I kept him coming forward and got a much better distance to the six stride on the diagonal, and then the line rode just right for him.  He landed right, and I jumped in a little forward to the outside six so I had to balance a little stronger in the line, but he listened really well and collected his stride beautifully.  Then we went back up the triple, found the first fence right out of stride, although he drifted left slightly in the one stride.  He landed left and I asked him to change, but we missed it and had to catch up.

We walked and let him catch his breath and Sarah pointed out that I was breaking the course up into pieces too much instead of riding it all together.  I would jump a line, regroup/balance (slow down), then have to get my canter back for the next fence.  So, she told me to look for the next jump as soon as I land from the line and ride forward as though I'm going right to it, even if I have a long way to go in between.  I found this really helpful.  So, we did that whole last course again, and I worked on making it all one piece and looking for my next fence right away, which helped me remember to maintain the same rhythm all the way around.  This made everything so much smoother and we found all the jumps just perfectly.  I assume this is because Tucker had an easier time finding the jumps when I took care of the rhythm and didn't let the pace change anywhere (something I've been working towards).  And, he landed from the triple this time and got a really nice left to right change, so we ended on a very good note.

So, all in all, a really fun lesson.  Tucker was great, and behaved himself extremely well in a new place.  He jumped well, he listened, he worked hard, he focused.  All I could ask for from a horse!  I was so pleased with him. I couldn't stop thanking him when we were done, and telling him how happy he made me.  He seemed to know he did something right.  He was looking pretty proud of himself by the time I wrapped him and put him away for the night.  Every time I think I love this horse as much as I possibly could, I find a reason to love him just a little bit more.  He's amazing!

Monday, October 18, 2010


You know those days when your horse totally steps up to the plate and exceeds your expectations?   I love those days.  I was absolutely enamored with my horse (all over again) by the end of the day on Sunday.

Since I'm trying to be financially responsible these days, I have scrapped my plan to try to take a bunch of clinics this fall/winter (though I am very tempted to take the clinic with Chris Kappler coming up next month).  Instead, I've decided to schedule some lessons with a few other local trainers whom I've heard good things about, just here and there to get another perspective on my horse and my riding (with Alicia's blessing, of course).  So on Sunday I took a lesson with Sarah Segal, who trains along side of Chris Kappler.  Tucker was amazing, I learned a lot, and it was a very fun way to spend a beautiful Sunday afternoon.

We started off getting a nice forward trot rhythm to the left, using about 1/3 of their huge ring, and getting him in a little more elevated, and in fact less round, frame so that he was lighter up front and using his hind end more.  Once Tucker got the hang of what I was asking, he happily complied.  Right off the bat we did lots of walk-trot-walk transitions.  I tend to give Tucker as many steps as it takes for him to walk without bracing or losing his hind end during downward transitions, but Sarah pointed out that this is actually making it too easy for him and allowing him to avoid the moment of actually sitting down and using his hind end.  So we worked on making the transitions happen quicker, even if they weren't perfect the first few times, and they did improve as we kept doing them.  (Such a smart horse!)  Then we let him extend his trot to give him a break from all the hard work.

Then we went to a smaller circle, tracking left, and worked on counterbending, then back to an inside bend, and went back and forth between these for a few circles.  Once that became smooth, we increased the aids for the counterbend and did a shoulder-out on the circle, then back to a normal bend, then a shoulder-in on the circle.  He did all of this really well.  I haven't done much shoulder-in while on a circle (I always do them down the long side of the arena), but it really seemed to help him since it became more like just amplifying my aids for a normal inside bend. 

We went back to the full 1/3 of the ring and then changed directions, and did some more transitions, trot-walk-trot.  Once these improved, we went back to the small circle to the right, and did the same exercise in this direction.  I had explained that I struggle with his shoulder-in tracking right because he pops his left shoulder out and overbends instead of using his hind end.  The circle exercise really helped with this and then she had me hold the shoulder-in coming out of the circle, tracking straight across the ring.  He stayed really soft and used his right hind so nicely.  I'll defintely be using this exercise going forward.  It feels more like a logical progression: establish a good trot on the circle, then counterbend, then shoulder-out, inside bend, then shoulder-in.

We let him walk and catch his breath and then went to the right lead canter.  Again, lots of canter-walk-canter transitions.  We'd canter about ten strides, walk, then canter right away again.  And repeat.  Then we did some countercanter, another thing I haven't done much of with him, but I was relieved that for the most part, he executed it beautifully.  So we'd canter right, walk, canter left, walk, canter right, walk, canter left, and progressively asked him to hold the counterlead a little longer and around the corners.  Then I did a simple change of direction through the walk, and we did the same exercise to the left.  Lots of transitions, and then we started alternating leads between the left lead and the right lead countercanter.  It was easier for him to hold the right lead countercanter (not surprising, since his right lead is always easier).  I was so impressed with how well he held the counter lead though, since I almost never ask him for it.  I think I'm going to start making it a part of our regular flatwork. 

The jumping portion of the lesson was great as well, and I have lots more to tell you but it's time for bed.... There's a kitty curled up on my lap right now and she's making sleep look very appealing. 

On a different note, I hope everyone will say a little prayer or send good vibes or think positive thoughts for Gennyral.  My thoughts will defintely be with OTB and her beautiful boy while we wait to see what's going on with him.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Friday Funny: Adorable Horseplay

This could quite possibly be the cutest horse video I've ever seen.  I love baby horses in just about any situation, but this one is just priceless.  I am SO glad that someone caught this on camera and had the good sense put it on youtube for the rest of us to enjoy.  The background music really adds to the hilarity, so I recommend shutting your office door and turning on the volume (sorry to those of you in cubeland... maybe your neighbors will enjoy it too?).

I think the funniest part might be the horses standing around in the background ignoring the ridiculous baby horse/staring at him in disbelief.  Can't you just hear them? "Oh brother, there goes Sunshine again with that dang ball."  "Somebody should just take the stupid thing away from him."  "Now Earl, remember what happened when we threw it over the fence?  He started doing that to US.  Be careful what you wish for.  Don't you worry, he'll fall over eventually and we'll have some peace and quiet again."

In case one wasn't enough for you (if it was a particularly dreary week), here's another one.  This one doesn't have music, but it's got a mini foal, which is pretty much the cutest thing ever, with or without a giant ball.  My favorite part is at 1:04.  If you listen carefully, you can even hear the person filming laugh under her breath. 

Okay, okay, one more.  This one reminds me of Mr. Chips and the soccer ball.  I dare you not to laugh.

Hope that brightened your day like it did mine!  Happy Friday!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Mommie Dearest?

I hate having fights with my horse.  As I'm getting after him, I have visions of Joan Crawford.  NO... WIRE... HANGERS!  When I have a ride where I have to discipline him in some form or another, I feel totally remorseful immediately thereafter.  I untack him wondering if he hates me, if he thinks I'm a mean mother, if he's totally confused.  (Though in all likelihood, he's already forgotten about it and is wondering where the treats are.)  I would be the worst parent ever.  I'd send my child to his room, and five minutes later go upstairs to apologize.

So maybe writing about it will help me decide whether I was too hard on him, or whether I got through to him and did the right thing.  And of course your comments are always helpful in helping me regain that ever elusive perspective.  This will probably be a really long post... so either grab a snack and get comfy or wait for the Friday Funny.  I promise it won't be more over-analysis and introspection.  Friday's post will actually make you laugh.

As you know, I've been having some trouble with herd-boundness.  Though it seemed to be getting progressively better with each ride, until tonight.  It was a little chilly this evening so maybe that was making him just fresh enough so that he couldn't focus.  We started out at the walk on a left circle at the top of the ring (farthest from the door).  I got him going forward in a long, low frame, and then started collecting him a little more and asking him to keep stepping forward but into a slightly more elevated frame with a little more contact.  I noticed that every time we hit the point in the circle where he was facing the door, he looked out the door and lost the bend a little, but I was trying to ignore it to start with, figuring it would get better.

Then we moved up to our trot (good upward transition) and as soon as we were headed toward the barn he rooted the reins out of my hands, sped up, and then craned his neck toward the door, head straight up in the air, and 100% tuned me out.  So I went back down to the walk and then did a few walk-trot transitions.  When I got back to the point in the circle facing the door, he rooted the reins again in a downward transition.  So I halted him again, and then asked him to back up.  The backing was very crooked, there was more rooting of the reins, and lots of resistance to my leg.  He did eventually take three steps back in a straight line though, so I patted him and walked on.  We did some more walk-trot-walk-halt-back transitions and I actually had one series of transitions that was very soft and responsive (facing away from the barn).  So I then continued with my trot and worked down the long side of the ring, toward the door. 

When we got to the end of the ring closest to the barn, he was so focused on the door it was almost like he was spooking.  His haunches came totally to the inside, head straight up in the air, staring out the door, trotting sideways.  Since my leg and seat were doing absolutely nothing to get through to him, I picked up a stick.  I tried again to bend him to the inside and ask for a slight shoulder-in as we reached that same corner, but he completely ignored my aids.  So, I smacked him behind my inside leg.  Since that caused him to plant his feet, hop up and down, and shake his head from side to side, I smacked him again and closed my leg to send him forward, which he did.  I then kept him on a left circle down at that end, and each time we reached that point of the circle, for the next 3 circles, I did an exaggerated shoulder-in so he wasn't facing the door and pushed him across the end of the ring with my left leg. Then I did another circle but dialed down my aids, and just asked for a little exaggerated inside bend.  One ear stayed pointed toward the door, but he held the bend and listened to me, so that was progress.  He still felt a little tense, but at least he was responding. 

I then went across the diagonal and started a right hand circle at the far end of the ring.  He was better about the door in this direction (or perhaps he had decided I was psycho-mommy and he better behave), so I tried to just take a deep breath and relax my arms, my back, etc., and soften.  He relaxed a little too, which was good.  I then worked my way down the long side toward the door, but added in a few circles along the way to keep his focus.  Then we circled right at the end closest to the barn and again I did a shoulder-in as we were coming toward the door and around the end of the ring, but didn't exaggerate it.  He managed to do this correctly, despite one ear lasered in on the door.  We did another circle and since he held the inside bend, I didn't push it.  We went back across the diagonal and I put him on a left circle at the top of the ring, and worked on getting his haunches to the inside (he swings them out to the right tracking left).  He responded, and stayed relaxed, and I actually got a really nice trot for a few minutes.

I wanted to give him something else to focus on, so I started going back and forth over a set of trot poles (three in a row, about 9 feet apart) that were set up on the center line.  I had to halt twice going toward the barn because he tried to throw his head up and run after the poles.  The first time he threw his head up in the air and swung his hips left during the halt.  The second time the halt was much softer and straighter.  Then I started figure-eighting over the poles, going away from the door up the center line and turning left, then away from the door up the center line and turning right, etc.  Since the poles were set about 9 feet apart, I asked him to put two steps between the poles and then the next time through, really collect his trot and put three steps in, then two again, and so on.  I've worked on this before and it's really hard for him, but I wanted to challenge him so maybe he'd concentrate.  Tracking right he collected and extended well.  He's stronger in that direction and he's happier to accept my left rein than my right.  Tracking left, we had a little difficulty, he tried to get crooked, his head came up and he sort of bounced off my right rein, so I thought maybe I was blocking his forward motion with my right rein again.  I did it a few more times, being careful to stay as soft as possible with my right rein, and it improved.  So I patted him and let him walk a bit.

After he caught his breath, I picked up my trot again and did some walk-trot transitions, and then went into my right lead canter.  I did one circle at the canter, then one at the trot, back to canter, and so on.  Mixed in there we had some really nice transitions, some not so good (mostly downward transitions headed toward the barn, where he threw his head up and got strung out instead of holding his roundness and stepping through).  I went across the diagonal and changed my direction again, headed toward the barn, and I totally lost his focus.  If it's possible to get run away with at the trot, I did. 

So I went back to my figure eights over the poles, since that seemed to get his attention.  He was having none of the collection tracking left, so I stayed on a left circle and tried to work through it.  I tried keeping him straighter, using less hand, more hand, more seat, stretching taller, more leg, but all to no avail.  He kept walking right in front of the poles, then trotting and putting two steps in, and no amount of me keeping my leg closed and driving with my seat was going to change his mind.  Then he planted his feet in front of the first pole and wouldn't walk over it, so I tapped him on the shoulder with my stick.  He spun right, then ran backwards, then did a mini-rear.  I actually said out loud "Seriously?"  But, I wasn't going to be bullied.  I tapped him again with my stick behind my leg, and closed my leg and made him go forward.  He rushed forward and was tense, but it was (sort of) the response I wanted so I made a circle around the poles and gave him a pat, then went back to circling right over the poles until he could do that in a relaxed fashion.  I did it once more to the right asking him to collect for three steps, then went back to the left asking for two, and then stayed left and asked for three.  It wasn't particularly smooth, but he did put three steps in between the poles and didn't break to a walk, so I left the exercise alone for the night and asked him to canter. 

The canter transition was actually lovely (probably because of all the collection), but he rooted the reins out of my hands as soon as we headed toward the barn and took a few huge steps.  So, I got the canter back under control and did a downward transition, and trotted until he relaxed again.  Once we had a more regulated trot, I went back to the canter and this time there was no rooting.  We did two circles and since he stayed relaxed and under control, I went back to the trot.  We trotted once around the whole ring, and on the long side headed away from the barn I let him stretch down, and then walked once we got to the top of the ring.  I walked for a while on a long rein, but asked him to keep stretching down and walking forward, just to try to end on a relaxed positive note.  Then I dropped my reins completely and left him alone while he caught his breath.

So, the patterns that emerge:  he was worse tracking left, and almost all of his little episodes occurred toward the barn.  The fact that everything happened tracking left isn't too surprising, since that's always his weaker and more difficult direction, though I'll have to keep an eye on it in case it's a pain issue.  He's due for an adjustment and acupuncture next week, so I'll know for sure then.  His obsession with the barn isn't too shocking either.  He's never liked to be alone, and he's probably feeling insecure about being in a new place.  I do hope that it's going to improve though.  I ride at night after everyone else is done, always have, probably always will.  So, it's one of those things he just has to get over.

Now that I've written about the ride, I see that it wasn't all bad, which makes me feel a little better.  There were relaxed moments, and he was able to concentrate on a few of the exercises for brief periods.  I could do without the tantrum, and hope he gets over his fixation with the door.  Not sure if getting after him was the right thing to do or not, but it did seem to work.  I'll be interested to see if the next ride is better or worse.  I don't like using the stick, but maybe there are moments when it's necessary to get the point across.  Your thoughts?

A Rising Star

I am pleased to introduce to you the newest up-and-coming equestrian in my family (including me, that makes two of us), my adorable little niece.  From the looks of these photos, she's clearly a natural (she gets that from me).  I already have visions of the leadline class at Devon... Pony Finals... Washington... Harrisburg... Junior Hunter Finals in Lexington... the Maclay... the USET....  Oh, being an Aunt is so fun.  I can't wait to buy this child a pony.

Eyes up and smiling... she'll have no problem winning a leadline class.
Plus, she's a horse whisperer.  The pony's so relaxed that his eyes are closed.

She even has her heels down...  Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum -- look out!
(Note: I sent this photo to George Morris.  His only comment was that the pony should be braided and clipped, but was otherwise highly complimentary of her perfect form.) 

The handsome devil in the background is my wonderful brother (who's also the rising star's beaming dad).  For some reason, he seems a little troubled by my plan to show up on her 5th birthday with a pony in tow, wrapped in a big red bow of course.  But as far as I'm concerned, it's a done deal.  What child wouldn't want a pony for her 5th birthday?  Besides, based on the exceptional natural talent evidenced by these photos, we'd be doing her a major disservice if we didn't get her a pony. 

Okay, in fairness, this plan could -- possibly -- hold some personal interest for me.  I never quite got over the day that I walked into the barn before my riding lesson to see an adorable little gray pony standing on the cross-ties, covered in pink and purple bows.  My mother kindly pointed out that it "wasn't for me," (as if she needed to overstate the obvious, we never could have afforded a pony that cute, let alone pay someone to decorate it with bows and flowers and deliver it to me).  It was one of the few times in my childhood that I was painfully envious.  So I may be living out a childhood dream here.

Second, Tucker loves ponies, and I've promised him that someday I'll get him one of his own.  When we were at HITS, one morning we made our way down to the ring and towered through a sea of cuteness crowded around the in-gate of the pony ring.  He felt like he was going to burst.  His neck arched, his eyes got huge, and he couldn't figure out where to look first.  "Look at that one!  No, look at that one!  OMG!  Look at THAT one!"  I could see his heart pounding in his chest.  He alternated between holding his breath in excitement and huffing and puffing with glee.  We eventually got past the pony ring (relunctantly) and he cast a forlorn look over his shoulder at them one more time... followed by the quietest, sqeakiest whinny he could muster.  Too cute for words. 

Then one day a fellow boarder brought a gorgeous little white pony, who had been at her house babysitting, over to Alicia's farm for a night.  Picture a sweet little pink nose, big welsh eyes, dished face, long bushy pony forelock, perfectly round belly, tiny little legs -- your basic cuteness overload.  He was on his way home (babysitting duties had concluded) and the drop-off was to occur at the horse show that day.  Well, seeing as how the pony was in the stall next to Tucker when I brought him in from turnout that morning, Tucker assumed it was a present, for him.  He took one look at that adorable pink nose peeking out over the top of the stall door and dragged me over there, and proceeded to shove his entire head and neck into the stall with the pony to say "HI!" before I could regain control. The pony recoiled in horror to the back of his stall. 

All in all, I see this as a win-win.  My niece begins her journey toward fame, fortune, and Olympic Gold, I get to live vicariously through her and make my childhood her childhood dreams come true, and Tucker finally gets his pet pony.  What could possibly go wrong?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Fun with Gymnastics and Success with Collection

Sunday was my first day shipping back to Alicia's for a lesson and it went very well.  Since Tucker has lived there for two years, he wasn't at all fresh or nervous.  He was very relaxed and really worked hard for me.  Alicia rode him on Friday night (which always helps), but this time as an extra bonus I was around to see her work with him, which always teaches me a lot.  I got to see how he moves laterally when he's engaged and crossing over with his hind end, how he looks when he's travelling straight, and watch his canter go from forward to collected but stay engaged.  For some reason seeing it makes it easier to replicate, it's like envisioning what I'm asking him to do makes my aids a little clearer.

So, the flat work portion of our Sunday lesson was very good.  He was straight and forward (for the most part) at the trot.  We worked on asking him to straighten off of my outside aids (instead of popping his shoulder) but not letting him counterbend, so that he held a correct inside bend while staying straight, instead of just switching the bend.  We did some shoulder-ins, at the posting trot, and they were very good.  Alicia pointed out that my right hand was blocking his forward movement because I was burying it in his wither as I applied more contact, so I concentrated on keeping my right elbow at my side and my right hand elevated, and the shoulder-ins tracking left got so much better.  I was very pleased to figure this piece out, since I had a hard time with shoulder-ins on my own on Saturday.  His canter in both directions felt wonderful today.  He was forward and engaged and stayed really soft the whole time.  And... we got a clean lead change, left-to-right.  What a good boy!

Then we worked on the above gymnastic, which included Tucker's first time jumping a bounce. (!)  It started out as a ground rail, 9 feet to a 2' vertical, 10 feet to another 2' vertical (the bounce), then 18 feet to another ground rail (which later became the oxer you see in the photo), with a placement rail halfway in between.  The first time through the bounce he rushed a little, but I worked on staying relaxed and getting a slow, collected trot coming in, and it got better and better.  Then the last ground rail became a vertical, and then an oxer (around 3').  The first time through when he saw the new element he sped up, but each time he got better and better about collecting his stride to fit into the 18-foot one stride (which, for those of you who don't jump, is a very collected one stride.  They're typically more like 21-24 feet long).

I love gymnastics because I get to concentrate on my position (plus, they're really fun!).  Alicia had me spread my hands wide in the air, for an automatic release, which forces you to balance on your own without leaning on the horse's neck.  This really helps me -- it gets my weight in my heels and keeps my upper body following the motion instead of getting ahead.  I had to work on keeping my back flat, not rounded.  When I first concentrated on keeping my back flat, I opened my upper body too soon over the oxer, instead of staying in jumping position until he landed from the jump. The next time, I stayed closed, but my back rounded.  Then I finally put them both together and kept my back flat and upper body closed until landing, and could really feel the difference in how he jumped.  Amazing how much our position changes their way of going.

Then we added a fourth element, two strides to a 3' vertical (a little hard to see in the photo above because the rails are dark).  The two stride was set about 3 feet shorter than normal (about 33 feet instead of 36), so he had to maintain the same collection he had through the bounce and the one stride.  When that went well, we kept going to the triple on the diagonal (the same one we worked on last week, collected four strides to another collected four strides).  The first time through, I asked him to wait in the first four, and he blew me off and ended up on top of the middle oxer.  He seemed to realize his mistake and wait for further instruction in the second four, where I had to close my leg and tell him to keep going.

Then we went back to the gymnastic and through the triple again a few more times, and each time the triple got progressively better.  The last time through the triple, in the second four, he was so correct with his collection.  He shortened his step without losing impulsion, instead of just slowing down.  I sat a little deeper, closed my leg and hand, and actually felt him compress, but the canter stayed engaged, his front end was light (yay for flatwork paying off!), and the jump was lovely and soft. 

The last three times through the gymnastic though, we had a major left drift between the oxer and the last vertical (common Tucker strategy for giving himself more room).  The drift was actually happening in the air over the oxer, he'd leave from the middle and jump to the left, so we'd land and I'd have to veer him back to the right to get to the vertical.  Alicia pointed out that he was taking advantage of the spread hands and automatic release, so the last time through I kept my hands together and he was perfectly straight (so happy the flatwork is translating to the jumping, finally).  Since I had done all that work with the automatic release, my hands were together but I wasn't leaning on his neck, so my balance was more secure, and he jumped a lot softer and rounder.  I have to remember that feeling for my next few jumping sessions. 

Then we headed back home and I wrapped his legs up for the night with some sore-no-more, cleaned my tack, and put fresh bedding in my trailer.  And took a few more shots of my handsome boy, this time with a real camera, instead of the camera phone (laser beam eyes set to "off"). 

Just a question:  How can you possibly resist this face?  I don't know how anyone could help but fall in love with him.  I certainly can't.  I absolutely melt every time I see him. 

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Tucker Makes Friends with a Big Yellow Horse

Tucker has a new turnout buddy!  I am happy to report that they went out together for the first time this weekend, after meeting over the fence for a few days, and they were instant friends. 

"Tigger" is the alpha, which was clear from the start, and Tucker's just fine with that arrangement.  He's not an alpha by nature, and when he gets put in that position by default (i.e., when he meets a horse even lower on the totem pole than he is), it doesn't work out well for anybody.  My theory is he's not secure enough to really be the leader, so he ends up getting mean and defensive.  If somebody else is willing to kindly keep him in line though, it can be a very pleasant experience for everyone.

So far Tucker hasn't made any attempts to annoy Tigger, and I'm hoping it lasts so that he can continue to have a friend to graze with.  He can go out by himself, if there are other horses in close range, but he's really not happy about it.  If he's turned out alone, he'll eventually settle down and graze, but he does a lot of pacing the fence lines, he calls out frequently, and when he sees another horse coming in, he'll start to run.  So, it gives me (and Tucker) great peace of mind if he's got a friend.  Tigger's been in need of a turnout buddy for a while too, so fingers crossed that the bliss continues with these two adorable horses!

Don't you just love to watch a bunch of horses happily enjoying their turnout on a crisp sunny day?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Off Topic: "In the Wake of Senseless Tragedy"

An off topic piece for this blog, but I just came across this post by Vicky Bell, and I thought it was so poignant that it needed to be shared.  Please give it a read, it actually makes a little bit of sense out of the horrible tragedy that occurred recently at Rutgers, or at least Ms. Bell seems to have figured out a way to deliver a positive message out of all this hurt. 

It's a similar theme to the "It Gets Better" campaign, which from what I've seen is a really, really good thing.  I hope it works, I hope it helps some young people who are feeling desparate and out of options, for whatever reason -- whether it's bullying, or an identity crisis, or problems at home, or some other problem that feels too big to handle.

Kids are always going to pick on each other, that won't change (like three horses in turnout, there will be a pecking order, there will be pinned ears at some point).  I got teased (I was short, and uncoordinated, somehow I always looked disheveled, my backpack was bigger than I was, and I spent most of my time doodling horses in my spiral notebooks), and in turn there were girls that I picked on.  I look back on it and can't believe how cruel I was to some of the other girls in school.  I don't remember the things I said, but I remember the immediate feeling of regret when the mean words left my mouth and I saw the hurt on their faces.  Of course, that feeling of regret was swiftly quashed when that nastiness got a laugh out of the crowd. 

Thankfully, we grew up and grew out of it, and hopefully we all stopped being mean to people for no reason at all.  Thankfully, no one was so mean to any of us that we felt like we couldn't keep going, and we got a chance to grow up and grow out of it.  My hope is all of these tragic stories will teach us something.  Maybe we can all learn to be a little kinder to each other, and maybe we can learn to ignore cruelty when we see it, and not reward it with a laugh.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Excerpts from last night's ride

On Tuesday, I lunged Tucker in the new indoor ring.  I have a terrible head cold and I just wasn't in the mood for any Drama Llama action, so I figured if he was going to bounce around like a circus monkey I'd rather be holding the end of the lunge line instead of on his back.  He was dead quiet of course. 

So this evening was our first ride.  Below are some excerpts of how things went.

Immediately after I got on, Tucker was holding his breath, and bug eyed.

T:  *Snort.* I might spook.
M:  Okay, no problem.
T:  Seriously, hang on, I might explode.
M:  Yup, I'm ready.
T:  Big Sigh. There's nothing really that scary in here.
M:  You want to just get to work then?
T:  Yeah, I guess.

A few minutes into our trot work, Tucker goes racing down the long side toward the barn.

M:  Uh, where ya goin?
T:  I'm herd bound!
M:  Really.
T:  Yes!  Can't be alone!  In a big hurry!
M:  You've known these horses for three days.
T:  Yeah but we've really bonded.  I miss them.
M:  Uh huh.  Well, let's keep going forward then.
T:  Oh. Um. This is getting hard.  I'll slow down.

We spent the rest of the ride staring out the door of the indoor at all possible moments, just in case there was something going on back at the barn that we were missing.

M:  Can you move your haunches left please?  This circle is starting to feel like a rhombus.
T:  What's going on out the door?
M:  Tucker, move you haunches over please.
T:  I think they might be getting more hay.
M:  Tucker, haunches to the left.  NOW.
T:  I wonder if they've noticed I'm gone.
T:  Huh?  What?  Oh were you talking to me?
M:  No, the other horse in the ring.
T:  There's another horse in here?  I don't see another horse.  I don't get it.
M:  Nevermind.  Can you please pay attention?
T:  Did I just hear someone whinny?

We did actually have about three minutes of concentration and worked on our left lead transitions.  They were excellent, for what that's worth.  I suppose I'll have to give him a few more days to settle in.  Or perhaps see if our vet will write him a prescription for Ritalin.  Either way.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

"Finding a Distance"

There is a great thread on COTH right now about how to let the horse find his own distances, though I fear that it may be about to spiral downward into an online cat fight due to a snarky comment or two.  Regardless, there is some great advice there about establishing a good canter and then letting the horse find the distance himself, so ignore the snarkiness and have a look. 

I've been working really hard on this, because I feel like I am on the brink of getting it...  I'm slowly clearing the cobwebs out of my mind...  Starting to get a complete picture of what I'm supposed to be doing rather than watching vague concepts float around in my brain...  Feels as thought it's just slightly out of my reach... but I can almost get a finger tip on it if I stretch up on my tippy toes...

Here are the things I've pieced together (also known as, the things Alicia has been repeating to me for a couple of years now, that may finally be starting to sink in):
  • Pace is the key.  Establishing a good, forward canter rhythm, and not letting it change on the way to the jump, is really what it's all about.  I've learned that I am a slow poke by nature.  Whenever I think I have a good canter, I need to send him forward.  When he feels like he's going too fast, that's just about right.
  • From a forward rhythm, the horse has plenty of good options.  If he's engaged and moving forward, he can easily extend his stride a hair to make the long one not so long, or he can balance on his hind end if it's going to be a little tight.  Most of the time though, it comes up right out of stride if the pace is good, which to me says that the horse is rating himself and finding his own take off point.  If he's crawling to the jump, it's either the ugly chip, the long-and-weak, or chase the last three strides to get there (which typically sends us into orbit). 
  • Straightness is the second most important issue, if not equally important.  If your horse bows out, drifts to one side, bulges through a shoulder, swings his hips out, etc., that's going to change your track and make the distance that you both saw out of the corner suddenly become miles away.  I know this because it's one of my favorite ways to screw up the long approach to the single diagonal oxer. 
  • The rider needs to support, but not micromanage.  This means neither extreme will work.  The rider can't pick-pick-pick, change her mind, or shout out seven different directions three strides out from the fence.  (That last one typically causes Tucker to roll his eyes at me in disgust.)  On the flipside of that coin, the rider can't sit there and do nothing.  Supporting leg, supporting seat (whether that's a half seat or a deeper seat), and a light contact are still necessary.  Staring up at the treeline, taking your leg off, and leaning forward toward the jump is utterly unhelpful.  Trust me, I know these things.
  • Lastly, the horse needs you to hold your position still.  If you start moving around, it's going to change his rhythm or track.  Plus, a good position will hide a multitude of sins.  When my shoulders are back, my hand is up and following, my knees aren't pinching, and my weight is in my heels, Tucker can pretty much make any distance look okay.  Even if it's a chip, if I hold a good position and stay the heck out of his way, he'll still jump it pretty well.  Conversely, if I climb up his neck, stand on my toes, lean off to one side, and shove my elbows out (picture a drunken chicken trying to peer over a fence), I can almost guarantee that he'll jump badly, knees pointed toward the ground, neck arched, back inverted, instead of swinging through his shoulder with his front end up in front of him.
I've been having better luck practicing these things in the hackamore.  For some reason, I'm much less tempted to take too much contact and slow him down on the way to the jump (maybe because he's so much softer).  We've also been doing a lot of work on making me go forward to the jumps, which makes a world of difference.

In my last lesson, we were jumping a triple across the diagonal (vertical/oxer/vertical), and they were set at a steady four to a steady four.  The first time I tried to get a conservative distance in.  That didn't work though, because then I had to move up for the first four and therefore had too much horse for the second four, which ended up being about a three-and-a-half.  The second time I went forward to the first jump, had to collect in the first four, and then just steady a little for the second four.  The third and fourth time, I got the same forward rhythm going in, and by then Smartypants had figured it out for himself so all I had to do was stretch up tall and support with my leg and seat.  Ohhhh.... I get it. 

Then we kept going to a long approach on the other diagonal to a vertical, which was set at 3'3".  My goal here was not to micromanage, just keep counting the rhythm.  He saw the distance from way back in the corner as we turned off the rail, and I just stayed still, kept counting, and kept my leg on.  Success!  Every time we jumped it, he found it right out of stride from a nice, forward, engaged canter (which of course felt way too fast for me), and he jumped it beautifully.  I'm sure it helped that we spent pretty much the entire first 40 minutes of the lesson getting him straight on the flat, because we didn't have any issues with straightness to the jumps.  Also probably helped a little that I was riding the greatest horse in the world.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Savings with Smartpak

This is a follow-up to Stacey's most recent post on Behind the Bit.  I had done a similar comparison, just for myself, to see whether I really was saving money (in addition to time, aggravation, etc.) by using Smartpaks.  Turns out I am.

As you can see, if I ordered the same supplements from Smartpak, instead of in packs, I'd end up spending more money because of the shipping costs, and because I'd have to make multiple orders (since the buckets are different sizes).  Since U-Gard and Cool Calories are the same size, I could split the shipping on them, but not for the SmartCombo.  (Fyi, SmartCombo has the active ingredients of SmartFlex II Support, SmartShine, SmartDigest, and SmartHoof.)  In Smartpaks, I ship them with the BarnBuddies account for $3.95.
If I tried to get similar supplements from my local Dover store, I'd need to order four different ones, and spend more money, even though I'd be saving on shipping.  So, even without the shipping costs, there's really no savings by buying the supplements myself.   

This isn't a paid endorsement or anything (I wish), just thought it might be helpful to someone else who thinks Smartpaks are too expensive.  They're so much more efficient and come with such peace of mind (I know he's getting exactly what he's supposed to be getting) that I think it would be worth it, even if it were a little more expensive.  But since it's cheaper too... it's a no brainer for me!

Monday, October 4, 2010


(Cue David Bowie in the background)

So... There have been some big changes in the world of Tucker lately.  Due to some big expenses in my non-horse life, Julie's impending training fees, and my desire not to live in my horse trailer, I moved Tucker to a new facility this past weekend.  Don't worry, I'm still going to train with Alicia, who has been very gracious and professional about my decision, and thankfully didn't disown me as a client.  I'll be shipping over to her for lessons (the new farm is only 15 minutes away from hers) on the weekends, meeting her at horse shows, and she's agreed to come and ride Tucker at his new place once a week.  Saving money on board will allow me to keep showing and keep Tucker's training program the same.  Thankfully, it looks like the situation will work out well for all of us, at least for the moment.

The new place is only ten minutes from my house, so I'll still be able to ride Tucker as often as I do now.  The boarders there are a mix of dressage riders and some kids who do hunter shows at a local circuit.  The barn manager is great so far, has a great attitude, seems very knowledgeable, and has been very accommodating (for example, she agreed to stock Tucker's Omelene 400 for me so we didn't have to switch feeds). 

The facilities are great.  Plenty of room for turnout:

Several nice buildings for housing horses and storage:

Two outdoor rings, one is 100x300 (plenty of room for jumping!), and the other is a regulation dressage ring (in other words...  I have no idea how big that one is):

My favorite part:  the indoor is 110 x 300 with great footing!  I'm pretty excited about riding in this ring all winter.

We also have direct access to the Amwell Valley Trail System, and apparently some of the boarders are avid trail riders, so I expect there will be some beautiful fall foliage trail rides in our future.

(And here comes the obvious transition to photos I took myself rather than pulled off a website)

The stall doors in Tucker's aisle have v-fronts, just like our old barn, so he can hang his head out like he is used to.  Here he is settling in, making sure his laser beam eyes still function:

The settling in process was totally uneventful.  Once there was hay in front of him (they grow their own and it smelled fabulous), this is the only pose I could get him to strike:

The stalls are nice and big, at least 12x12, maybe a little bigger, so that's perfect for him. 

Since barn moves are a common theme on the blogs lately (see here, and here, and here), I thought you might be interested in what my criteria were for a new facility.  Though not included in the list, obviously my reason for moving was financial, so a substantial savings was also a must this time around.

1.  Plenty of turnout room, with good grass in the fields
2.  At least 12x12 stalls
3.  Indoor ring and outdoor ring big enough for jumping, with good footing
4.  Permission for another trainer to teach, and/or to ship out for lessons
5.  Good quality feed and hay
6.  Trailer parking
7.  Indoor wash stall

1.  Barn manager or staff living on site
2.  Hot and cold water in the barn
3.  Neat, tidy aisles, feed room, and tack room
4.  Grooming stalls
5.  Storage for extra trunks
6.  Within 20 minutes of my house
7.  Feeding of supplements and occasional blanket changes included in board

1.  Unsafe fencing, stalls, barn/aisle, or rings
2.  Turnout with little or no grass
3.  Huge lesson program with lots of little kids running around
4.  Programs that don't prioritize turnout or don't use fields in the fall/winter

The new farm has all of my must haves, none of my can't stands, and is only missing one of my wants:  no hot water in the barn.  I may be investing in a hott wash (or seeing if someone has one that I can borrow).  I think we can live with cold water though.  We do cold water baths at horse shows after all. 

Hopefully things will continue to go well.  I have my first night ride in the indoor tomorrow night, so we shall see how that goes.  Hopefully it won't be too scary....