Thursday, June 30, 2011

Great Horse Show, and Thumbs Up for SmartGut Paste

Wow... I haven't posted anything in ten days.  Now that I use statcounter, when I don't post anything and see that about 100 people checked the site anyway, I picture all of you, desperate for something to amuse you while you stand in line, iphone in hand, or maybe bored on a slow conference call, or just not ready to get out of bed yet, or fed up with the summer reruns of your favorite tv shows... logging into TTW in the hopes of finding something clever and exciting, and instead, it's the same boring post that was at the top of the page yesterday.  Statcounter gives me anxiety.  Then again, it also makes me laugh, because I get to see that almost every day, some hopeful adopter googles "fluffy gray cat," and finds this.  Classic.

First things first:  if you have a horse that gets an upset tummy for horse shows, trailering, or other events... get yourself some tubes of SmartGut Paste! The stuff is amazing. I gave Tucker one tube about an hour before I put him on the trailer before our horse show last Saturday, and it made a dramatic difference. When I arrive at a horse show and take the ramp down, I am usually greeted with a rather unpleasant site... that generally requires a sponge and bucket to remedy, if you catch my drift. But there was no mess this time -- I was so shocked I had to pick up his tail and check!  And, perhaps even more importantly, he actually ate his hay! So well, in fact, that I had to borrow some more hay for the ride home from a friend. That is a huge change in behavior for him. He usually barely picks on his haynet when he's on the trailer, so I've never thought to bring extra. Guess I need to rethink that now!  If you have a horse that exhibits signs of a belly ache during stressful events, I highly, highly recommend SmartGut Paste.  Truthfully, I was not expecting such a dramatic change.  I have tried ProBios paste, and Pro CMC, and even Pepto Bismol, and none of those worked as well as this stuff does.  (SmartGut is also legal to show on under USEF rules - see this post for details.)

And as for the actual performance, Tucker and I had a fabulous horse show!  Our first one since November and he was a complete rock star, all day long.  He was cool as a cucumber from the moment I pulled him off the trailer (maybe the SmartGut helped with that too?), wanted to graze while trotting on the lunge (I promptly decided we did not need to go for a spin), and warmed up calm and relaxed.  The warm-up ring was absolute soup, so after flatting for a few minutes, Alicia jumped three jumps and we headed up to the ring.  Tucker was great for Alicia's two trips, nice and steady and quiet, and then it was my turn. 

Since he was already looking a little tired, I didn't want to run out of horse, so I trotted and cantered once around in the warmup ring, jumped one vertical and one oxer, and said we were ready.  We headed up to the ring and a miracle happened...  although I didn't realize it until later in the day when I was talking to my favorite horse show mom, while her daughter got ready to show.  I didn't get nervous at all.  I didn't have to psych myself up, or calm myself down, or convince myself relunctantly to go in the ring.  I didn't walk in and quake at the height of the fences, or worry I would forget where I'm going, or pray that Tucker wouldn't try to unload me (seriously, where do I get this stuff from?).  I just had a plan, went into the ring, and for the most part, executed it.  Without hyperventilating or considering becoming a trail rider.  Miracle!

The biggest success of the day, however, was my pace.  I established exactly the rhythm I wanted in my opening circle, and then maintained it.  I didn't crawl backwards to the first fence, which was a diagonal vertical going away from home, off the left lead.  Instead I kept my leg coming out of the corner, then just sat up and waited for the jump to come to me, and Tucker picked a lovely distance right out of stride.  Next was a bending line on the outside, going toward home off the right lead, which was either 10 or 11 strides, give or take.  We got a nice distance coming in so I just waited til I was about 4 strides out, saw that I needed to balance a little, and then -- are you ready for this -- I actually remembered to close my hand and leg, and collected the horse properly, back to front.  Next was a triple away from home, across the other diagonal.  I kept the canter coming forward past the in gate, then waited for my line, rode straight out of the turn, and got a good distance in.  I felt him wanting to drift ever so slightly to the right, so I opened my left rein a little in the first three.  Then the two-stride got a little easy, I remembered to say "woah" in the air over the second jump, and he realized he needed to balance for the two without much extra help from me. 

I must have been so pleased with myself that I got a little over-confident, cause then I goofed.  I came around to the last line, which was another bending line going toward home, off the left lead.  I saw a distance, thought to myself, "it's right there," closed my leg, and about two strides out, I felt Tucker reconsidering my decision.  "Um, hello?  Haven't we had this conversation like a thousand times before?  If I leave from there... You. Will. Fall. Off.  I am adding.  You are insane."  He was right, of course, there was another stride there and if I had left him alone, it would have worked out just fine.  Instead, it was one of those moments where as you feel your horse twisting himself upside down to work it out, all you can do is say "sorry buddy" and hope he makes it.  Can't you just hear him?  "THIS, by the way, is what LOVE feels like, in case you were wondering!  I SHOULD stop at these things, but I DON'T, because I LOVE you, even though you are CRAZY!"  We landed in a heap, but I didn't panic (in fact I thought "awww man, it was going so well"), closed my leg and we cantered forward to the last fence and found a perfect distance.

Sigh.  So close.  All in all though, I am really happy with our first trip back.  Alicia said it was the first time she saw me select, and maintain, the right pace all the way around the course.  Success!  As for Tucker, he is the Wunderkind.  He did everything I asked him to do, and then some.  I am so proud of how amateur-proof he has become.  I was never sure, when he was a baby, if he would eventually just start accepting it as a fact of life that mom makes mistakes and he has to cover them up.  But he has, and he does.  Worth his weight in gold, I tell you.

Monday, June 20, 2011

More Fine Tuning

I feel like I have been slowly fine tuning what is going on with my hands... and I think in Saturday's lesson we finally stumbled upon the answer. 

In preparation for my lesson on Saturday, when I rode Tucker on Friday night I turned my hands upside down to a driving rein.  Have you ever done this?  Instead of holding your reins normally, where the rein enters between your ring and pinky finger and exits through the top of your fist, beneath your thumb, you turn your hand so that the rein is entering your hand between your thumb and forefinger and exiting through your palm (picture the way someone holds the reins while they are driving a carriage).  It is a great way to prevent yourself from bracing in the wrist/elbow, and generally helps me a lot when I am trying to break a habit somehow related to my hands.  As an added bonus, it also keeps you from tipping over your hands with your upper body, because it changes your posture. 

What I found, in doing this, was that I was holding a much steadier contact on both reins, and my horse was much happier to accept the contact on both sides as a result.  Okay... so now we know I need steadier contact with both sides of his mouth, and we've already learned that I need to "open the door" on the right side so that I don't brace my right hand down and stick my right elbow out.  With me so far?

Before my lesson I asked Alicia to watch my dressage test and tell me what the heck I am doing with my left hand.  (Side note:  This is the sign of a truly dedicated trainer.  "Hey, can you go online in your spare time and read my blog and then watch the video of me competing in another discipline and then help me fix whatever I am doing?"  And she did.  That's a good trainer.)  Before we got started with my lesson, Alicia and I discussed my hands in general.  We agreed that I'm not "playing with the bit" since usually when someone does that, they are wiggling their fingers and generally sliding the bit back and forth in the horse's mouth to get the horse to break at the poll, which I'm not doing.  And we agreed that I've stopped the habit of breaking at the wrist (which I used to do), and now have a straight line hand-to-elbow, for the most part.  Alicia then said she thinks my left hand and right elbow are directly related.  (Which left me with a giant question mark floating just above my Charles Owen.)

So Alicia watched me flat for a minute and asked "what does it feel like you are doing?" and I said "it feels like I am just following with my left hand and feeling the right."  So we started tinkering with this.  Basically, I am holding the right side of his mouth (with my elbow braced) and then trying to compensate by being soft on the left, because I want the contact to be following, so I end up giving too much on the left and not enough on the right.  (Ohhhh, so that's what she meant by they're related.  Question mark fading.) 

So... to fix this Alicia tried a variety of images, "be more still in your left elbow," and "hold the left more," and then finally told me to "make sure both arms are doing the same thing, and bring your hands closer together."  Ah-ha!  That worked.  And almost immediately, Tucker started trotting more forward and reaching down into the bridle.  (You could practically hear him sighing in relief.  Or rolling his eyes.  One of the two.)

So when turning right, I need think about "opening the door" on the right side, but my elbows need to be doing the same thing, so that the contact is the same on both sides.  Then I just have to lift my right shoulder open and back, and keep my right leg on, so Tucker keeps bending through his mid-section.  When turning left, I just have to make sure not to twist too much in my torso.  I've actually noticed I ride with my left foot slightly ahead of my right foot, which I think all stems from the upper body twisting.  When I bend my left knee more, my upper body straightens out too.  (Basically, my horse is being piloted by a pretzel, or possibly a bendy straw.  It is amazing he ever manages to go anywhere in a straight line.)

When I put all these pieces together, it seems to be all falling into place (!), possibly for the first time in my riding career.  Alicia jumped Tucker around a little 3' course after I flatted and jumped some smaller jumps on Saturday (and he was fabulous, didn't miss a beat, you'd never know he hasn't jumped 3' since February), so I didn't want to do too much yesterday.  I just went out in the big outdoor ring at my farm for a short hack, and practiced "both elbows the same - hands together - open the door on the right - right shoulder up and back - don't twist left."  Tucker flatted beautifully, and seemed very appreciative of my newly discovered position.  We even got two perfectly clean, back to front, relaxed, uphill lead changes, which left me basically floored.  All I did was concentrate on what my hands were doing and he had no trouble getting them.  Talk about a breakthrough.  Now let's hope we can do that in the show ring on Saturday.

Fingers crossed (wait, no -- I mean -- hands together, elbows the same)....

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Happy Birthday Julie!

The little spotted girl turned three yesterday!*  Hard to believe it's been three years since I was on the phone with the stallion owner, watching her arrival, and saying "two white socks... two white stockings...  two white legs... oh, she's a pinto!" 

If anyone knows of someone looking for a prospect, she is going to be a really, really nice mare.  Brave, sweet, athletic, and very charismatic.  (Sorry for the shameless plug, but you never know who might be reading!)

Happy birthday pretty girl!

Yesterday also marks two years since I started writing TTW.  Thank you very much, to those of you who have been following along since the beginning and to those of you who have recently found us, for all of your support, laughter, encouragement, advice, and applause.  I have learned a lot from all of you, I adore your horses as though they shared a barn aisle with mine, and I am so happy to call many of you friends. The horse blogger community really is a great bunch of people, and I am glad to be a part of it.  Here's hoping you will all keep reading, and I'll keep writing, for a few more years!

*(Sorry I didn't manage to get this posted yesterday little girl, but I had video of your big brother to share.  Nope, mommy doesn't play favorites.) 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Tucker's First Dressage Test

So our dressage test went pretty well, I think (?).  I definitely didn't embarrass anyone, which was my ultimate goal.  I thought Tucker listened pretty well, and I thought the comments were right on point.  I have no idea what the scores mean, but we got all 6's and 7's... for what that is worth.  Our overall score was a 62.8%, which OTB from A Horse and a Half tells me is good?  I have no idea, but I had fun, and I think we put in a good effort. 

The overall comments reflect that Tucker needs to come more forward from the rider's leg, which I think you'll agree with after you view the video.  I also needed more of a stretchy trot -- I wasn't sure how much stretch we should have, so I did our hack class trot, and it looks like I could have gone more long and low.  And as for my riding, well, you'll see all the things I need to work on (right elbow/chicken wing, fidgety left hand, twisted torso, sitting up, etc., etc.).  

All in all though, I think it went quite well, and other than Tucker losing is footing a little in the corner at one point, and anticipating a couple of transitions, I thought he behaved himself wonderfully.  The final halt makes me laugh -- you'll be able to tell that the next horse was on its way to the ring, and Tucker was very excited to have a friend!

So, after all your helpful advice (which I really did my best to follow)... how did we do?  I am nit-picking myself to death, so don't hold back!  Let's hear your constructive criticism.  I for one am going to put jingle bells on my left wrist so that I stop moving my left hand so much!

By the way, at the end of the test, there was a rainbow in the sky!  Although the suggestion was made by a certain videographer, I am not taking this as a sign that Tucker should be a dressage pony.  He is very happy in the hunter ring, and thinks this was the weirdest flat class he's ever been in!

Monday, June 13, 2011

I think we're ready....

Tonight I tacked Tucker up (we switched bits to a plain Dr. Bristol, but at least I get to use my flash to show for once) and took him out to the dressage arena on the farm, just after the sun had set, and the moon was just starting to glow but the sky was a really pretty steel blue.  Once I got done sighing over how beautiful an evening it was, and how lucky I was to be out on this lovely horse enjoying it (and how glad I was that I dragged my butt out there after work tonight), we got down to business.  It was actually pretty dark by the time we were done, but Tucker is used to late night rides and crack of dawn warmups, so he didn't mind a bit.

I haven't practiced the whole test more than twice before tonight, because I know Tucker, and I know that he memorizes things very, very quickly.  He almost always lands his leads at the horse show once he's jumped the course once, because he knows which way we're going next, and will always pick up his canter before you ask on the opening circle.  He also anticipates lead changes when you canter across the diagonal (sometimes rather dramatically), starts leg yielding back to the rail the second you finish your leg yield to the quarterline, and comes back to a halt whenever my phone rings.  He's a smart cookie.

Tonight I thought I'd be good doing the test once at the walk, once at the trot, and then twice more all the way through with all the transitions etc.  By the last time through, he totally had it memorized.  Whoops.  The biggest problem I think I'm going to have tomorrow is making sure to keep him in the gate we are in until we get to the spot where we are supposed to transition, since he clearly thinks he knows everything there is to know about dressage already.  Such an over-achiever.

In all seriousness, there are a few things we needed to work on.  For starters, the cavaletti marking the ends of the ring are not to be jumped.  There is a cavaletti placed, for example, at C, marking the end of the ring.  Trotting up the center line, we are headed right for it, and someone had trouble understanding why he was being turned away from it at the last second.  We seem to have conquered this issue after the first few moments of confusion, however.  An easy mistake, I suppose. 

We've been practicing 20-meter circles at the trot and canter, and I think I have the size and shape down.  We have to work on our usual issues:  to the right, he overbends and brings his haunches too far in, and to the left, he pops his right shoulder and grabs the inside rein (this also goes back to me sitting straight, keeping my right arm under control, and following with my left shoulder).  Also, I noticed that when we turn the corner from short side to long side, he had a tendency to swing his hips to the outside, so I have to remember to ride him off my outside aids in the corners. 

The squiggly thingies went well, as far as I could tell, and the change of direction across the diagonal with the canter-trot transition, we nailed just about every time (at least, I think we did).  So it'll be interesting to see how we score on those parts.  The free walk and stretchy trot felt good to me, but I'm curious to know if we are doing it right.  The hardest part of the free walk is getting him to keep walking (and not start trotting) when I shorten my reins back up, and the trickiest part of the stretchy trot is getting him to keep trotting when I shorten my reins back up, since he thinks that stretching down at the trot at the end of the ride means that he's done.  I'm glad we practiced this tonight... things I wouldn't have thought of.

The hardest part of the test for us, from what I can tell, is the last turn, down the longside, and then up the center line.  We overshot it about three times in a row before we got it right.  I have a feeling my left shoulder is the culprit there, so I need to remember to turn with the horse.  The left turn at the start of the test, from the center line to the rail, was much easier, but that's an easier turn for me in terms of my own straightness.  Also, the last turn at the end of the test, he's a little more tired than the first turn at the start of the test.

Once we were done I got all our tack clean, tidied Tucker up a little, and got everything set so I can show up right after work and get going.  I'm excited for tomorrow, looking forward to another set of eyes and a different perspective on my horse.  Hopefully he will behave himself and not do anything too embarrassing!  If he does, don't worry... it will just be fodder for another post tagged "humor." 

Wish us luck!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Calling my dressage ladies, help a hunter princess out....

So, as at least one of my readers knows, I am doing a dressage test next Tuesday night.  It's just a schooling show, at our barn, very low key.  I've been asked to do Training Level Test 3.  And I've been promised that beer will follow (sold!).

Being the Type-A personality and good student that I am, I promptly found the test online and started memorizing last Sunday morning.  Of course, I also had to google dressage letters layout because I promptly realized that "HXK" means absolutely nothing to me. 

So here is how I have memorized my test (I had to translate it into terms I could remember):
  1. Enter at trot, halt in the middle, salute thingy, trot forward and turn left at the end.
  2. Squiggly thingy down the longside at the trot.
  3. Trot around short side, canter in the corner.
  4. Canter circle in the middle of the longside (width of arena)
  5. Keep cantering around short side, across diagonal, trot in the middle.
  6. Walk in the middle of the short side (collected walk).
  7. Squiggly thingy up the longside at the walk (long rein).
  8. Trot in the middle of the short side.
  9. Squiggly thingy down the longside at the trot.
  10. Trot around short side, canter in the corner.
  11. Canter circle in the middle of the longside (width of the arena).
  12. Trot in the middle of the short side.
  13. Hunter trot circle in the middle of the long side (shorten reins again before rail).
  14. Trot around corner, up the center line, halt, salute thingy, walk forward on long rein and say thank you to the judge.
Now I realize that's oversimplifying it a bit, and of course I'm going to try to show our best flat work, our most balanced walk, trot, and canter, make my circles as round as I can, and get as close to a good transition everywhere as we can.  Please don't take the above to mean that I'm not taking this seriously.  I am.  Any chance to get some constructive criticism and feedback on my horse and our flat work is not one I am going to throw away.  I just had to throw the letters out the window.  My little hunter princess brain just wouldn't work that way....

So dressage ladies (or gents, I suppose, in case I have a male reader or two)... help a sister out.  Here are the questions I have so far: 
  1. Do I make the turns in the squiggly thingies (I believe you call them "one loop serpentines") rounded, like an "S" curve, or should they be more like a straight line from H to X, and then a straight line from X to K? 
  2. Is there a particular place between A and F that is preferred for the canter transition?  Closer to A?  Closer to F?  Right in between?  Do they want to see you prepare for the transition, or not?  Example:  I'm doing this at the posting trot (obviously) but I would normally sit for three beats and set up the transition with a slight shoulder-fore before I ask for it.  Would that be a positive or a negative?
  3. For the "free walk" and the stretchy trot, I assume I let the reins out gradually as I ask for this?  This should be the best part of our test, so I don't want to screw it up!
  4. Does anyone have any advice for me on getting a square halt?  Tucker finds this whole concept just totally and completely stupid ("You said stop and I stopped.  What the heck is your problem?").  If I make an effort to get his hind end square, he starts running though his back of tricks trying to guess what I want.  Back up?  Turn on the forehand?  Turn on the haunches?  Side pass?  Canter?  No????  I have a feeling it won't happen, but if anyone has a suggestion, it's worth a shot.
What else do I need to know about doing a dressage test?  What giant faux pas are you imagining me committing?  What will make me stand out as a complete and total outsider (that is, other than the hunter tack, the field boots, and the green-biege breeches)?  There's got to be some things I'm not thinking of....

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

In Case You Were Wondering...

... where Tucker gets his fabulous jump from, he gets it from his daddy:

Keizer in the Hunter Derby at HITS Saugerties, June 2011
Beautifully photographed by G. Dunleavy

Is that a beautiful horse or what?  Every time I see a picture of this guy, I audibly gasp, and my heart just melts.  He is just so incredibly gorgeous, he takes my breath away!  Probably also because I know what a kind, lovely, sweet horse he is, it just makes him all the more attractive to me.  The rider in the photo above is Keizer's current owner, who as you can tell takes absolutely great care of him, given that he is still doing a Hunter Derby and he is in his late teens!  I love this picture... he looks so happy to be doing his job (Tucker gets that from his daddy too!).  I can't tell you how happy it makes me to know that this very special horse, for whom I have such deep affection, has such a wonderful home in his later years.

Compare the photo above with this one.  If you look closely, you'll see that Keizer and Tucker are doing the same thing with their lips!  Amazing how many little quirks like that Tucker has that were genetically passed down from Keizer, even though they never even met.  I think their jumping styles are pretty similar too, don't you?  Now I just have to get brave enough to start jumping bigger jumps so Tucker can get his knees up to where Keizer's are (see banner photo, above)!

Can't wait to get these two beautiful boys together this summer for a father-son photo opp!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Breakthrough? Maybe? Hopefully?

What a wonderful horse-filled weekend!  I am straight up exhausted but at the same time I feel totally recharged.  Elizabeth at She Rides I Pay posted a great statement on facebook this morning:  "Horse shows suck the life out of you, and then stuff it all back in, in a more relaxed and exhausted form."  So true, right?

Saturday I got to play horse show groom again for my friend Kathleen, who once again did a fantastic job and went home with handfuls of ribbons.  Then I headed over to see the Wunderkind and had a really good ride, including a trail ride around the property with a boarder friend, and a surprise visit from OntheBit, who was driving by and saw the most gorgeous bay horse she had ever seen and knew it was me.  Okay, okay, she saw my truck with the busted tail light and knew I was there.  But it could have been the gorgeous bay too...

(thanks OTB for the photo!)

Then on Sunday I trailered Tucker over to Alicia's farm and had a great lesson.  Since Tucker is basically doing exactly what he should be doing (of course), we worked almost exclusively on me.  We worked first on getting me straight in the saddle.  My left shoulder and left hip are back in both directions, which makes him a little crooked and resistant to changing the bend.  It's so deeply ingrained that when I sit straight, I feel crooked.  Once we got that accomplished at the walk and trot, we moved to the canter, where my primary problem is my right arm.

My right arm has a mind of its own.  It does ugly, unproductive things that I do not intend it to do.  It does things that Tucker does not like.  Things that make both of our lives more difficult.  What I want is to have elastic, even contact with both reins, hands elevated and on either side of the neck, and a following, flexible elbow that rests at my side.  What my right arm does is point its knuckles at my horse's whither, brace in the wrist, and stick its elbow out, chicken-dance fashion. 

Alicia has been telling me "right elbow at your side" for the past three years.  Figure about ten times per lesson, about 50 lessons a year, times three years... that's at least 1500 times the poor woman has uttered this phrase, and that's not even counting horse shows and probably a gross underestimate regardless.  One would think that if one heard the same thing 1500 times, it would sink in.  One would think.  

We seem to have stumbled upon something new, however.  Alicia told me to open my right hand like a door.  So, the elbow is the hinge, resting at my side, and my forearm swings open like a door.  For some reason, this image seems to be working.  And Tucker responds to the change immediately when I get it right.  (No wonder he loves to go visit Alicia.)  First we practiced this over some cavaletti and little cross rails, and then we gave Tucker some actual little jumps!

Let me pause here to say that my horse is just adorable.  The first time I pointed him at the little box (which was all of 18 inches) I thought his ears were about to fall off the front of his face.  He suddenly found a reserve of energy where moments before he was barely plugging along.  So cute -- he missed his job!  I don't blame him, either.  The flatwork has been great, and he truly feels better than ever, but MAN was I starting to get bored.  I am surprised I still have any readers!

So although Tucker needed several breaks, we put together a short little course and I concentrated pretty much exclusively on what my right arm was doing.  Amazing that every time I jump something landing right, my instinct is to plant my right hand in his whither upon landing.  I didn't even know I did that!  (Yes, Tucker is a saint.  No, he never complains.)  My restrictive right hand explains why Tucker drifts left, lands left, and why we have trouble maintaining pace as we approach fences off the right.  But with this fixed, he was happily collecting back-to-front, staying straight, landing right, keeping his momentum around the right turns, and softly moving up without diving left. 

I might possibly have had a breakthrough.  When I think "open the door" my right hand actually does what it's supposed to do.  I'm not actually opening the right rein, I'm just for once straight through my right forearm and lifting my hand instead of burying it in his neck and giving him something to brace against.  I am cautiously optimistic at this point... my right arm has been so blatantly defiant whenever I've tried to give it directions in the past, and thus far communications inevitably break down and my right arm gets its way and I look like a one-winged chicken on a horse failing his field sobriety test. 

But one can hope.  Maybe this year will be the year that I learn to ride straight? 

Friday, June 3, 2011

Friday Funny: Cats

Haven't done one of these in a while but we definitely all need something to give us a laugh, right?  Been too much sadness and worry going on in our equine community lately. 

So in the hopes of lifting everyone's spirts, I bring you INVISIBLE CATS.  Click the link.  You'll laugh.  I promise.

Now, to be sure that I have a camera ready when my two little idiots felines strike bizarre adorable poses...  Anyone got a caption for this one?  Invisible chaise lounge, perhaps?

(That brown smudge in the grass between her front and back paws would be a mouse. 
Caught immediately after I made fun of her for being too chubby to hunt down anything. 
Do you see the disdain in her eyes?  I stand corrected.)

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Finally... A lesson

Been a while huh?  How did I let a week slip by completely unnoticed?  Don't really know how that happened.  Anyway....

Memorial Day weekend was great for me.  Friday I had a great ride on Tucker, managed to sneak out of work a little early and ride outside before the sun went down, and he felt great.  Saturday I got to relive my glory days as a show groom and groomed for my friend Kathleen, who was champion on both Tuck and Reggie.  The horses were fabulous and she rode them really, really well -- I was very proud of her.  And of course, they were spotlessly clean and beautiful.  There is something just so satisfying about sending a perfectly groomed horse into the show ring, and taking good care of them after a successful day's work.  Old habits die hard. 

Then on Sunday, I trailered Tucker over to Alicia's farm for a lesson, just a half-hour on the flat.  I was curious about how he would be and what Alicia would think of how his flat work has been coming along, and she seemed pleased, which made me happy.  No exaggeration, we haven't had a lesson since February, so I was a little worried that I had been left to my own devices for too long.  There didn't seem to be anything too drastic to fix, which was a relief. 

We worked on getting Tucker to reach down and out a little more at the trot, instead of down and a little behind the verticle.  Alicia also had me half halt the outside and then softly follow when I needed to make a correction, instead of steadily hold the outside, since Tucker was bracing against my outside rein a little and sort of holding himself in place rather than really carrying himself and coming through from behind (especially the right rein, tracking left).  We got some really, really lovely trot work this way and his downward transitions, which I have been working really hard on, were great.  We did some cavaletti work too, and he was excellent - reaching down, balancing himself, and staying round. 

At the canter, I had been feeling like he was swinging his haunches left, but Alicia pointed out that it was really more that he was popping his right shoulder, so we worked on fixing that with little half-halts in the outside rein and my outside leg firmly on his side, and some counterbending, and really got him straight again.  His downward transitions from the canter were also fabulous.  Tracking to the right, I need to be careful that I am sitting just as deep in the tack for the upward transition as I do tracking left.  His right lead is so much easier that I think I tend to slack a little, but it results in a lower quality transition.  We worked on that for a bit, but I definitely have more homework to do.  Once we gave Tucker another break, we did some cavaletti work at the canter, and I was really impressed with how well he carried himself.  He felt really balanced and light and kept a nice shape throughout the exercise.  Such a good boy. 

After the lesson I took him for a nice long trail ride around the property with our friend Brooke and her horse Olly, which was lovely.  The farm where Alicia is training is just so beautiful -- there are big fields, and a pond, and a lovely path around the perimeter that is shaded by the trees.  Tucker very much enjoyed himself, wandering along, taking in the sights, enjoying the breeze.  Once again, I was just amazed at how laid back and rock solid he can be -- Olly spooked at one point and came scooting up behind him and even bumped right into Tucker's butt, and Tucker barely flicked an ear at him.  Such a perfect gentleman.  After a bath, Tucker hung out in Reggie's stall for a while and I took Reggie for a long trail ride too.  Just the perfect way to spend a hot summer afternoon. 

Looking forward to another lesson this weekend!