Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Sunday Fun-day Trail Ride

On Sunday, Ethan and I brought Mooch over to Riverview and met up with two of the lovely ladies from my barn, and we went for a sunny trail ride with Goose, Tucker, and Wally, and Mooch.

Four perfect geldings!
New Jersey is not quite green and springlike yet, but it was so, so nice to be out in the open with the horses, feeling the sunshine, smelling the fresh air, and seeing the big expanse of blue sky above.

My favorite view:
Ethan and Mooch through Tucker's ears!
Selfies on horseback are ill-advised....
Sunshine is fine!
The route we take goes through the hay fields on our property, then through a little development behind our farm.  We had to cross a pretty intimidating bridge, it's long and narrow and makes a lot of noise as the horses walk across, and the ravine below is pretty deep.  Tucker was really worried about it at the first crossing and threatened to have a meltdown, so I dismounted and walked him across.  I was so glad I did that, because on the way home he calmly walked right back over like it was no big deal.  Such a super trail horse!

Mooch thinks it is so unfair that they can be walking side-by-side
and Tucker is somehow still beating him.
We also have to cross some roads and bridges and that gets us into Six Mile Run, which is a beautiful part of the D&R Canal State Park, and then through more hay fields.  Regarding the road crossings, I have a quick PSA.  If you are driving a car, and you see someone on horseback, you should approach slowly.  If the riders signal you to stop, you should stop your vehicle and wait, either for the horse to exit the roadway or for the rider to signal you past.  

In fact, New Jersey Statute 39:4-72 mandates that you do this:
When approaching or passing a person riding or driving a horse, a person driving a motor vehicle shall reduce the vehicle's speed to a rate not exceeding 25 miles an hour and proceed with caution. At the request of or upon a signal by putting up the hand or otherwise, from a person riding or driving a horse in the opposite direction, the motor vehicle driver shall cause the motor vehicle to stop and remain stationary so long as may be necessary to allow the horse to pass.
Failure to abide by 39:4-72 warrants a fine of up to $150. 

I'm sad to say that we had more than one encounter with vehicle traffic that made it clear that most New Jersey drivers lack common sense are unaware of the above statute (even though it's on the NJ driving test).  I completely understand that most people don't ride horses and might not realize that we are sitting on 1400 lb flight animals and therefore that flying up behind us or racing past us poses a safety risk.  I don't really understand, though, why drivers do not respond to hand signals or even four riders yelling STOP at the top of their voices.  

We discussed it after our ride and agreed on a protocol for future road crossings to make sure we all get across the roads and bridges safely (which includes getting the license plate numbers for those who do not respond to hand signals and calling local law enforcement), but I hope that any of my non-horsey friends who read this blog will take note of the above.  Please don't put yourself or others at risk, you have nowhere to be on a Sunday afternoon that is SO important that Tucker and I need to fall off a bridge or get run into a road sign.

**Hops off soap box now**

One of the cutest things we discovered on this trail ride is that Wally LOVES Tucker.  Wally and Tucker were turned out together for a bit and he did not seem overly enthused about Tucker's BFF overtures.  On this ride, however, Wally wanted very much to be near, an in fact often touching, the big brown horse. Which, obviously, Tucker loved, because he welcomes all signs of affection whatsoever, from anyone, at any time.  Pretty much adorable.

Wally <3's Tucker!
All in all, it was just a lovely day.  The horses were so happy to be out doing what they do best, and I think the Vitamin D was much needed for all of us!  So happy this particularly harsh winter is behind us.  Amazing what a little sunshine will do!

Home again.

Monday, March 30, 2015

First Show was a Total Success

So!  Our first show went better than expected for some parts, and exactly as expected for others, and then of course I tossed in something embarrassing for good measure, but overall, total success.

My new favorite picture of us.
The Good:

First off, our score at Training-3 was 70.9, and First-1 was 69.4, which I am very proud of.  We also won both classes, although there were only a handful of horses so not really all that impressive. Regardless, I like blue ribbons and will gladly hang them on Tucker's door no matter how we came to acquire them.

Tucker scored many 8.0's, including on his gaits and impulsion in both classes.  In the training test, both his centerlines and his medium walk were 8.0's. He also got 7.0's on his trot serpentine, both canter circles, his free walk serpentine, and his stretchy trot circle.  In his first level test, he got an 8.0 on his opening centerline, 7.5's on his trot and canter lengthenings and both canter transitions, and 7.0's on his reverse turns, working canters, and medium walk.  Of these, I am most proud of the walk scores.  We've been working so hard on that.

The Judge also had great things to say about Tucker and his lovely gaits, and said we work really nicely together and make a very good team.  She also said his downward transitions, especially trot to walk, are "exactly what we like to see" and that he reaches under himself and steps forward into the walk.  I almost fell off my horse - these transitions used to be pitiful.  Yay!

That tiny horse-shaped dot is me :)
The Bad:

The biggest thing that needs to change is my position.  I will know that it is finally improved when the first thing out of the judge's mouth is something other than, "Are you new to dressage?"  Short story is, I still look like a hunter rider in dressage tack.  When I am thinking about it, I can sit up.  But as soon as I start thinking about anything else, my upper body creeps forward into my old comfortable hunter pose.  Her comments were very good - that if I can learn to bring my body back, that will give him the help he needs to balance himself just a little better and my scores will go "through the roof."

Tucker was a little difficult to bend into the corners of the dressage arena, and seemed a little bit allergic to the tiny white fencing.  But it may have felt worse than it looked, because the judge didn't comment on it.  He was a little pokey in the first test, where I didn't carry my whip (we've been schooling well at home without it so I wasn't sure whether to carry it or not), so his upward transitions weren't as pretty ("slow to develop" and "above the bit").  He was also just a little bit tense in his first test, so the judge said she noticed a few times where he dipped behind the vertical.

I had a hard time getting him to stretch out in the free walk diagonal in his first level test, he just seemed a little unfocused and didn't want to stretch, not sure how to fix that.  We school that pretty well at home, but it was different at the show.  More shows needed, I guess.

We also still need to work on getting him back smoothly from his extended canter to medium canter, which of course I knew still needed work.  We did it, but it wasn't the prettiest.  That's where the whole sitting up and back thing really comes into play too.

He also came back to trot just a little sooner than I had planned in the canter-trot diagonal in the second test, I covered it up as best I could and tried to make it look intentional, but from now on I need to do the the transition farther down the diagonal when I school it.  Or just always mix it up.  He didn't even consider doing a lead change in either test though, so, bonus.  

They say if a boy closes his eyes to kiss you, it's true love.
The Ugly:

This is embarrassing guys.  I forgot where I was going for a hot second in the First Level test.  I had just done the lengthening trot across the diagonal and I totally spaced on what came next.  I didn't really know what the protocol was but I trotted to the judge after she rang her little bell, and by the time I had reached her I remembered it, but then I figured I should check in with her anyway to see where she wanted me to restart the test?  That turns out to be correct. Way to go on the etiquette guess.

Man was I surprised to hear that going off course is really not that big of a deal!  They still give you a score and everything!  It's just a two point deduction for an "error."  I am liking this sport more and more, I tell you what.

The Best Parts:

Overall, Tucker behaved himself WONDERFULLY.  He was very relaxed on the lunge line to start.  I only did ten minutes, but I'll be cutting this out next time and just hand-walking him around before I get on instead.  He warmed up very well, and did not spook, flinch, or put a foot wrong at any point during the day.  He went right to work when I asked him and for his part tried really really hard to listen and do everything I told him.  He gets a perfect 10 from me.

Ethan is the best.  Although Tucker and I are fairly low maintenance there is some stuff that is just ten times easier with another person there to help (like pulling his boots off before I go in the ring, handing me a kleenex, taking photos, etc.)  And he is so encouraging and supportive, and really "gets" the horse thing, which I realize makes me extremely lucky.  I think a lifetime of dating guys who had zero interest in coming to the barn or a horse show was all just setting me up to really appreciate this one.

I had a friend show up!  When I looked up my times this week I saw that she was showing her horse in the morning, so I messaged her and she dropped her horse off at his barn (which is close by the show) and came back just to watch little old me!  It felt so good to have a friendly face at the in-gate. We will be doing a bunch of the same shows this year so I'm so glad we reconnected.  You can read all about her great day on her blog, the Pony Project.  

He was super not happy about this photo -
I yanked him away from his haynet and then the ribbons smacked him in the face.
Hence the pained look in his eye. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Donkey Agility

Okay so you guys know that I'm kind of obsessed with mini donks right?  Ever since this guy completely stole my heart...

... and kisses.
I have dreamt of a day in the future when an old retired Tucker will live in my back yard and rule over an entire herd of mini donks (I'd like one in every color please).  They are truly the sweetest, gentlest, kindest, smartest little creatures.  There is nothing better.  People who think otherwise just haven't spent enough time around them, I'm convinced. And I want to introduce them to Pancho and change their minds.

And if cute and cuddly doesn't win you over, how about clever?  I give you the cutest thing I've seen all week:  DONKEY AGILITY. (You probably have to be signed in to facebook to view this).

Doing in hand jumping with Naughty Nadia...but WAIT...its not so "IN HAND" with this bold girl. More like agility. Haha
Posted by Kelly Dehnel on Tuesday, July 16, 2013

That little donk is Nadia, of Olympic Miniature Donkeys in Wisconsin.  She was born on 10/10/10 and is named after the Romanian gymnast who scored perfect tens at the 1976 Olympics (hence the farm name, Olympic Miniature Donkeys).  I. am. in. love.  What a good girl!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Tuesdays with Tucker

Tuesdays are fast becoming my favorite night at the barn.  There is usually a good crowd, so I have friends to drink ride with.  I'm thinking of calling it the Riverview Wine and Pony Club, we meet regularly every Tuesday.  Monthly dues include a plastic cup and a corkscrew....

Last night we took Wally, Beejay, Goose, and Tucker for a trail ride around the hay fields as the sun was setting.  It was a tad chilly but we were bundled up, which made for a pleasant ride.  I got there just as everyone was finishing tacking up, so I tacked up quickly and met them in the outdoor ring. Probably for the best that I had no time to decide whether taking my horse on a trail ride when he hasn't left the indoor since November was a good idea.  Because had I thought about it, I would have erred on the side of safety and stayed indoors.  And I would have missed a lovely ride.

When I first got on in the outdoor ring Tucker could not remember how to outside.  He drifted like a magnet to Goose for security ("I need an adult!"), Goose pinned his ears and told him to get a grip, and I could feel Tucker pout.  His lips were twitchy, his eyeballs were huge, and he had that big uncomfortable hump in his back.  (If you've felt this before, you know the queasy feeling it gives you).  

When we headed out for the trail I was still wondering if this was going to be one of those times when I looked back and said, "Yeah... that probably wasn't a great idea."  [On a side note, I think I just drafted my tombstone].  He was still tense and rooting the reins out of my hands (17h pony that he is) but I figured I'd keep him with his mini-herd and maybe he'd eventually settle.  

The moment of truth came when two white tail deer jumped out of the brush and bounded across the hay field.  I tried really hard not to brace myself for impending doom, and it must have worked, because he barely cocked an ear at them. I must have subconsciously decided that everything would be fine then, because right around the same time, he settled down and started enjoying himself.  Not that he didn't give a few suspicious shadows the ol' hairy eyeball, but he was otherwise a perfect gentleman. We walked around a few hay fields, behind a development, past a reservoir, and through some trees.  It was hard to tell who enjoyed the outing more, us or the horses.  It was a little dark by the time we came home, but so nice to be outside on horseback again!

And you know, for all his irrational fears about falling houses and big orange things and aliens, he really is a wonderful trail horse.

Monday, March 23, 2015

It's Hard to be Brave, when You're Only a Very Large Brown Horse

As you may or may not know, Tucker is 3/4 Dutch Warmblood and 1/4 Thoroughbred. Thoroughbreds, in my experience, tend to be fairly intelligent and level-headed. Warmbloods are also quite sensible and workmanlike, until they are not, and then they are just ridiculous. Accordingly, the 1/4 Thoroughbred is generally in charge of Tucker's brain function, while the Warmblood is in charge of things like his floaty extended trot, his big round jump, and engagement of the hind end (brains vs. brawn, if you will). Occasionally, however, the division of labor gets a bit mixed up. Which means that Tucker has, on occasion, in certain circumstances, appeared somewhat ridiculous. Not that I would ever make fun of him for it.

Anyways, on Saturday we had a really, truly, excellent ride.  We worked through the elements of First-1 again and now that I know where I'm going I was able to concentrate on riding a little better. We figured somethings out, like allowing the 15-meter circle to naturally bring him back from extended to working canter, rather than trying to slow him down and then turn.  We corrected the shape of our reverse turns.  We worked on making the stretchy circle less of an oval.  It all went wonderfully and I was super proud of him.

So we were cooling out and I was reflecting on what a truly brilliant animal I own and how incredibly blessed I am that I get to ride him every day, and then it happened.

There was a beam of light that appeared in the corner, stretching across the pile of extra footing.  I tried to explain to Tucker that it was just sunshine streaming in from the top window but he would not be dissuaded.  

Excuse the typo.  The internet is not perfect.
He tried to spin right, but thankfully he lacks the speed of a World Champion Reiner despite his beliefs to the contrary, and I was able to stop him and get him facing forward again.  He froze, took a few steps forward, and froze again. I patted him and told him there was nothing to be scared of, but apparently the closer vantage point only confirmed his worst suspicions.  

At this point we started running backwards, and I remembered something I saw Guy McLean do, so I turned him a little and got his feet moving forward.  We walked even closer this time and I rubbed his neck and told him he was a good boy, and then I sat very still and took deep breaths when he stopped to stare some more.  He was completely rigid underneath me, transfixed by the glowing pile of dirt.

At this point something kind of incredible happened.  I'm not even being sarcastic (for once), I was so, so proud of him for this.  He voluntarily, without any coaxing with my leg or other cue from me, walked toward the terrifying beam of light from outerspace, snorting, but with his head stretched down, and then gave the footing a good sniff.  On his own accord he decided that it actually wasn't scary at all and in fact he had been mistaken about the whole extraterrestrial thing.  Just to be sure, I walked him all the way to the other end of the ring, back to the spot where we first noticed the danger, and he walked all the way toward the corner with his ears up but without any hesitation.  I don't know if I've ever been prouder of him.
"Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear— not absence of fear. Courage is not the lack of fear. It is acting in spite of it."  — Mark Twain
I hopped off and gave him big scratches and pats all over like he had just won Dressage at Devon. He was quite pleased with himself.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Show Time!

Probably because THIS beautiful thing came in the mail this week, I planned a show schedule:

Fourth place year end award - ESDCTA
This year we are dipping our toes into the rated show waters.  I picked about one show per month from March through October, with the goal of shooting for qualifying for a couple of year end awards and/or championships.  I tried to pick shows that have points that will go toward at least two of these at a time, so we can enjoy ourselves this summer too.

No pressure, as always, depending on how things go we may scrap the idea of year end or championships altogether.  I may decide that I need two years at first level and not attempt First-3 at all this year.  But, if things go great, and I'm trying to be positive and assume that they will, here is our plan:

            Requirements for ESDCTA Year End:
·         Five (5) scores from first level as follows:
          Three (3) scores from the highest test of the level from three (3) different judges
          Two (2) additional scores from the same level
          Scores must be from a minimum of four (4) different judges.
          Scores must be from a minimum of three (3) different shows.
          Eight (8) hours of volunteer time per award.

Shows Planned:
·         March 28 (First-1 only)
o   Horse Park of NJ
o   Heidi Lemack-Beck
·         April 19 
o   Horse Park of NJ
o   Jane Cory
·         May 9
o   DVHA
o   Ann Forer, TBA
·         May 23/24
o   Horse Park of NJ (Memorial Day)
o   Ann Gribbons, Dinah Babcock, TBA
·         July 29/30
o   Gladstone
o   Gary Rockwell, Kem Barbosa, Pam Wooding
·         September 12
o   Horse Park of NJ (Championship)
o   Barbara Ebner, Margaret Boyce, Anne Moss
·         October 11/12
o   Horse Park of NJ (Garden State Classic)
o   TBA

            Requirements for ECRDA Year End:
·         Four (4) scores from first level as follows:
·         Three scores from three different judges from three different show dates.
·         One score must be the highest score from the highest test of the level and must be a minimum of 55%.
·         In addition, one more score at or above 55% must be earned at the highest test of the level; this score is not included in the computation of the median.
·         The MEDIAN of these three scores will be used to rank the horse-rider combinations at each level.

           Shows Planned:
·         March 28 (First-1 only)
o   Horse Park of NJ
o   Heidi Lemack-Beck
·         April 19
o   Horse Park of NJ
o   Jane Cory
·         June 27
o   Saddlebrook Ridge Equestrian Center
o   Marilyn Payne
·         October 4 (Championship)
o   Saddlebrook Ridge Equestrian Center
o   TBA

Requirements for USDF Rider Performance Award:
·         Four scores of 60% or higher
·         From two different competitions
·         From four different judges
·         From four different rides
Requirements for USDF/Adequan Adult Amateur Award:
·         Minimum of eight scores:
o   From four different judges
o   From four different USDF competitions
o   Two at 60% or higher from the highest test of the level
o   Median score of 60% or higher to qualify

Shows planned:
·         May 23/24
o   Horse Park of NJ (Memorial Day)
o   Ann Gribbons, Dinah Babcock, TBA
·         June 27
o   Saddlebrook Ridge Equestrian Center
o   Marilyn Payne
·         July 29/30 7/29
o   Gladstone
o   Gary Rockwell, Kem Barbosa, Pam Wooding
·         August 16
o   Bucks County Horse Park
o   Jacqui Richie
·         October 11/12 (Garden State Classic)
o   Horse Park of NJ
o   TBA

            CBLM Championships:
·         Must be member of qualifying GMO (ESDCTA/ECRDA)
·         One qualifying score of 62% or better for First Level
Shows planned:
·         May 23/24
·         July 29/30
·         October 11/12

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

First Attempt at First Level Test 1

That post title is practically binary code.  Sorry about my lack originality.  

So, I'm not very good at reading dressage tests, apparently.  I think I read the first level tests when they were released and had an anxiety attack and thought they all had leg yields in them. Turns out that despite what my panic-induced brain believed, there are no leg yields in Test 1. We are getting better at them, but it's nice to know we don't have to worry about that in our first outing (where I plan to do Training 3 and First 1).

I have been learning First-1 on paper and have walked it out on my horse with cell phone in hand a couple times.  And for the past several months I've been schooling individual pieces of it.  Last night we ran through the whole thing for the first time and it was... uh... a little harried.  Shockingly when you put all the pieces together it gets more difficult.  I tried to do it from memory a couple of times and kept getting lost.  Thankfully, my barn mate Alyssa took pity on me and read it for me off my phone.  I'm going to try to walk you through the test and probably confuse all of us in the process. This should be fun!

It starts with the usual center line (Tucker has got that straight line thing down!) and halt/salute.  Our halts are about 50/50. Sometimes great, sometimes we stop and throw our head in the air like a proud lion surveying his pride across the Savannah.  Tucker thinks it's very regal.  The rest of us, not so much.

First up it's two reverse turns.  So, you head left at C, and half way up the long side at E, turn in toward X and then back to the rail at H to change direction.  Then repeat on the opposite long side at B, ending at M.  Next, our favorite part, the stretchy circle at C.  Tucker is the best at those.  (I thank eight years of hunter hacks).

We shorten our reins back up before C, followed by a lengthening across the diagonal, but they took it easy on us this year and it's a shorter diagonal, so you wait to turn until you're at whatever-that-second-letter-is (also known as "S"), and then down the diagonal to F in the opposite corner.  We're pretty good at lengthening and shortening the trot now.  I'm feeling good about these diagonals.

Then there's a transition to walk at A.  We have been working for roughly five months on our medium walk, really hoping we get something better than a 5 this season.  He is much less "stuck," so fingers crossed.  Then free walk across the other diagonal, again it's a short diagonal, from V to R. Tucker thinks free walk =  leisurely stroll and gaze around at his surroundings.  I occasionally convince him to actually stretch and walk forward.

Next it's the walk-trot-canter combo.  Pick up the reins by R, trot at M, canter at C.  Tucker nailed his canter transitions last night, I was so proud of him.  Now is our favorite part, we go for it and lengthen the canter from S to V.  Followed immediately by our least favorite part, which is a 15-meter circle at V, in the first half of which we are supposed to fluidly, elegantly, calmly, and smoothly return to a working canter.  Haha.  Ha.  Ha.  I have been practicing this wrong, I thought the circle was at the end of the ring.  Comes up a little sooner than that!  It wasn't too pretty last night.  But we'll work on it.

Then we do what I call the half-and-half diagonal, where you canter the first half, trot the second half, from F to H.  The biggest challenge here for me is subtly keeping enough bend in the canter that he doesn't try to do a lead change without adversely impacting his straightness (last night the "subtle" part eluded me).  The transition itself usually isn't bad, since he's been doing simple changes on the diagonal all his life and he understands these.  

Right lead canter transition right away at C (nailed it!) followed by the lengthening canter/15-meter circle combo in the other direction.  His right lead canter lengthening is awesome.  His right lead return to working canter is the opposite of awesome.  

You still with me?  We're almost done.  Transition back to trot at A, then lengthen trot across the short diagonal from V to M.  Then you head past the judge at C one last time, hang a left at E and come back up the center line, and halt at G.  (I was previously unaware there were letters on the center line.  Is this common knowledge?  Am I ever going to stop sounding like a clueless hunter princess?)

Then we halt, Tucker throws his head in the air and defiantly looks the judge square in the eye, I bow my head in shame which looks exactly like a salute, and give him a big pat anyways and exit the ring stage right.  

Piece of cake, right?  

Monday, March 16, 2015

In which we Jump Something

Tucker and I haven't jumped anything bigger than a cavaletti since November.  I was starting to feel like if I didn't point him at something that would require him to move more than one leg at a time, I'd actually be lying when I tell people "...but we still jump!" after explaining our transition to dressage.  (It wasn't totally our fault.  The last farm we were at kept all their jumps outside the indoor.  And there were lessons all day Saturday and Sunday, which meant I'd have to bring them in and set them up on a weeknight... in the dark... in 20 degree weather... with a big goofy horse in tow.  Not happening.)

So on Sunday, we jumped something!  It wasn't big, it was probably 2'6"?  But Tucker was very, very happy that this would not be yet another day where we try to perfect the art of the 15-meter circle.

Thankfully, Ethan volunteered to be our jump crew and videographer, so I have evidence of this exciting event.  I love my dressage horse, but the feeling of his beautiful floaty hunter canter as I go around in my half seat, and his round, careful jump... there is just nothing like it.  Sigh.

C'mon Spring!  Tucker wants to jump a course outside again!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

March Lesson: A+

So I have always said that I want things to go badly in my lessons so that I can get help dealing with the stuff that goes wrong, but every once in a while isn't it awesome to have a lesson where everything goes right?

I have been taking lessons with Amy Howard lately, about once a month, and she has helped us tremendously.  She really likes Tucker, and says the nicest things about his gaits and his attitude.  So much so that it actually makes me feel silly if I am too self-deprecating.  Admittedly, the first time we arrived at her barn, surrounded by glossy, beautiful, "real" dressage horses, and then me, a wannabe dressage rider and Tucker, who stood on the cross-ties like a giraffe, I was feeling a bit insecure.  But Amy's positive attitude and friendly demeanor put that all to rest immediately.  She makes me feel prouder of my horse than I've ever been.

So last night things went well.  Really well, actually.  We warmed up on a loose rein and right away Tucker picked up a big, swingy trot, and when I pushed him forward his trot got bigger, not faster (!). He is really learning to stretch down and round to the left as well as he does to the right, which is huge. I was watching him in the mirror thinking "is this my horse?"  Amy said it was a lovely trot and commented on how well he was tracking up, and said he looked great (and I tried to force the huge goofy grin off my face).

Then we went to an exercise Amy taught us last lesson (which was our "homework" last time), creating some adjustability in the trot.  I've dubbed this the "Number Game," because Amy described it as taking the trot down to a "2," which is a very, very small trot, and then back to a "4," and then a "6," which is our regular working trot, and then an "8," then a "5," etc., up and down until he moves fluidly between the different trots.  It really helps Tucker loosen up and start giving and using his back a little more.  To the right he executes this brilliantly.  To the left, he cheats a little by swinging his hips to the outside.

So we went to our haunches-in left.  We had a real light bulb moment here and I think this led to the excellent work we had for the rest of the lesson.  She said he needed more curve through his body in this movement, so that his sternum was pointed straight ahead and his haunches came in, rather than having his nose to the rail so much.  This is WAY harder but explains why my haunches-in hasn't really been helping the hips-swinging-to-the-outside problem.  Basically, I need more left leg at the girth, and then his wither has to stay between my hands, hands have to stay on either side of the neck, and haunches have to swing in from my outside leg and seat.  

From here we went up to our left lead canter, and worked on the canter depart as well as my sitting the canter, which as I've mentioned, is something I'm struggling with.  As for the canter departs, really all I need is to compress the trot a bit to set it up (half-halts) and then inside leg at the girth, and finally cue with the outside leg a little back.  I've been working on not pitching my torso forward and dropping the contact during the transition, but I have been missing the inside leg.  

Amy explained the importance of the inside leg to me and it actually makes perfect sense.  Without the inside leg cue, the hind legs go wide before the transition, and then you get a few shuffle steps because the horse has to set himself back up for the canter.  (This is exactly what I've seen happen in the mirror and felt with Tucker, I just didn't know why).  With the inside leg, you tell the inside hind foot to step under more, and then cue with your outside leg to have the horse's outside hind foot strike off for the first beat of the canter stride.  This was a huge revelation for me.  Once I set the transition up this way, our canter departs were much better.  (Could probably still use more "jump," but all in good time).

As for my position, she had me get lighter in my stirrups, bend my knees more, and then find my seat bones and keep them in contact with the saddle.  It seems my seat problem is actually a leg problem. I understand, technically, that dressage riders should have a leg that drapes around the horse.  I just never really understood how to make my body do anything approaching that.  I kind of got it last night.  I need to do some no-stirrups work, I think, even if it's just at the walk.  Anyway, once I thought about not pushing into my stirrups and bending my knee, it was easier to sink down into the saddle, and then follow with my lower back.  And Tucker got rounder and softer.  Then Amy told me to resist a little with my lower back to collect the canter, and I got a downward transition in response.  Not exactly what I wanted, but it shows he was listening and tried to do what I asked.  So we'll work on that.

After the canter work we finished up with the leg yields, the way they are set up in First-1, where you turn from A and leg yield to the rail.  I told her when I turn left to do the left-to-right leg yield, he swings his haunches right and then he's bent the wrong way and the leg yield doesn't work out.  Well, not last night.  He executed four flawless leg yields in both directions, and Amy said, and I quote, "I have no idea what you're talking about.  I can't believe how much better these have gotten!"  (Cue goofy grin.)  I have been working without a mirror for the past month, and although the leg yields have felt better for the past couple weeks, I didn't realize just how much better they had gotten.  I had to remind myself to keep riding because I was staring in the mirror in disbelief.  He was reaching with his outside leading shoulder, crossing over and stepping under, and taking my outside rein.  Go Tucker!  

After a big stretchy trot in each direction we quit on that note.  Our homework for the next few weeks is to be ready to run through First-1 next time.  I have been working on the individual pieces of it but I haven't put it all together yet.  I love that she gives me something to work on between each lesson.  And the best part of all:  She said we got an "A+" for the day.

Needless to say, I drove the trailer home with the radio cranked and seat-danced all the way back to my barn.  It was one of those moments where I just felt overwhelmed with gratitude that I get to call this horse mine.  So happy! 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Part Two of the Horse World Expo Series: My Favorite Guys

So, a little update.  Guy McLean not only wrote me a very kind note in response, but also shared my last post on his own facebook page, which meant a big day for the blog.  We've gotten about 7,000 views since then.  His post was shared 100 times, received almost 1,000 likes, and 75 comments. Wow.  How humbling!  Biggest thing to happen on the blog since Equestrian Ryan Reynolds took the internet by storm.

Ethan shared Guy's post on his facebook page, and... brace yourselves... Guy McLean himself left us a comment on Ethan's wall:
Ethan and Marissa, you both are wonderful individuals and a fantastic couple and I am just as happy to have shared time with you as you are. Your kind words and showing of respect and humility is more important to me than you'll ever know and I look forward to seeing you both again in the near future. Kind regards, Guy McLean
I died.

And speaking of wonderful individuals and fantastic couples... the point of this post:  Ethan and Mooch.  

[Warning:  Keep scrolling if you don't give two scoops of manure about my personal life.]  In the interest of truth in journalism (we did once earn an Honest Scrap award), I have to give you the disclaimer that my relationship is not in fact all sunshine and rainbows and pony kisses.  We do, in fact, fight like cats and dogs on occasion.  Even more frequently when, for example, New Jersey has been covered in ice and neither of us have had enough horsey time (unanticipated consequence of dating another equestrian!).  What makes me forgive & forget, and want to stick around forever, though, is that Ethan is just a really amazing human being.

First of all, Ethan loves his horse more than anything (which is obviously my most valued character trait in other humans).  He is incredibly proud of him, with good reason, because Mooch really is wonderful.  He is the most sure-footed, level-headed horse I've ever come across.  I was riding him around at a show last Spring bracing myself for all the spooky stuff we walked by (because Tucker would have rapidly escorted me to safety).  Mooch was like, "Geez lady, would ya relax up there?  I'm a Paso, I don't spook."  He is so relaxed that a couple hours after entering the circus that is the first day of the Expo, he decided it was time for a nap.

Sleepy Mooch - as laid back as his owner.
He is the world's greatest trail horse, and has led Tucker over, under, and through many a wooded path.  (Tucker's life motto:  "You go first.")

He's a jack of all trades, really, and when called upon is more than happy to be super-fancy in the ring, beating pros on other top horses with his fancy footwork.

And of course, he was a complete Rock Star all weekend at the Expo.  Here they are during the opening ceremonies, being adorable:

One of the nicest things about Ethan is that when he has something great, he wants to share it with everyone else.  So he is really a wonderful ambassador for the Paso Fino breed.  Pasos, not unlike Thoroughbreds, sometimes get a bad rap from people who don't know them.  People see them working so hard and moving their feet so quickly that I think onlookers assume they must be "hot," or "crazy," or difficult to handle.  I think all of us know that while that's a stereotype about TB's too, it just isn't true in most cases.  Having been around Pasos for a year and a half now, and having had the pleasure of riding a few, I can tell you that despite their ability to move their feet at lightning speed,  they are some of the most sane animals around.  I can see why people love them as trail horses (they're also super comfy).

So whenever we are at a show, or on a trail, or really anywhere with a horsey audience, Ethan makes a point of not only being his charming, outgoing, fun-loving self, but also trying to educate people about the breed and about his horse.  He also tries to let as many people hop on and ride Mooch as he can, to show them how much fun it is to ride a Paso Fino (something which most of us would not attempt, let's be honest).  And Mooch is 110% reliable to prove it to them.  He will gait right along or give a kid a pony ride, and I have never once worried about the rider's safety.  Just ask Dom!

This is Dom's happy face.
And that, honestly, is my favorite thing about this horse, given that he entrusted with some of the most precious cargo around.  And that cargo is not exactly the most safety-conscious.  

Exhibit A:
At the Expo this weekend.
Exhibit B:
On our first date. 
In my quieter moments with Mooch, sometimes while brushing out the longest mane I've come across since my room was full of My Little Ponies, I have made a point of always telling him how grateful I am to him for keeping my boyfriend safe.  Perhaps more than any other horse I've known, Mooch has certainly earned my trust.  And good thing, because have you seen how adorable my cowboy is?

Love them.