Monday, April 27, 2015

One of Those Days

Before I even got on yesterday, we had three things working against us.

1.  I let Tucker touch noses with Libbie, a beautiful mare with whom he is completely enamored.   She did not squeal, but pricked her pretty little ears and batted her doe eyes at him.  And then she left and went back to the barn.  And he was left with two emotions: (1) distraught, and (2) forlorn. Neither of those emotions translate into a horse with a good work ethic.

2.  I tried to pretend I'm a normal person, not a horse person, for three whole days.  One of my favorite people was visiting from out of town, this weekend was Shad Fest, and we had a birthday party to attend.  These events meant Tucker got three consecutive days off, and I was feeling a little tired, a little dehydrated (ahem) and a little drained. 

3.  I got on with a Plan.  Every horse person knows you should never, ever, get on with a Plan.

Sometimes that metaphor kicks you in the metaphorical butt.
So I picked up my trot and tried to stretch him out long and low.  And I got rooting the reins, and dragging his feet, and falling on the forehand.  If that trot could have made a noise, it would have gone "kerplunk."  

I tried to work him out of that, but when I realized it was a lost cause, I picked up my contact.  He started off with a trot that was kind of ho-hum, and I moved on to the next piece of my plan, transitions within the trot, on a circle (the numbers game).  We could go down to two, up to six.  More trot than than that was a negative. When I pushed him forward he cantered.  Since it wasn't a bad transition and a halfway decent canter, I didn't complain too much.  Three days off, he's a little out of it, whatever.  Right?

We did some more trot work and since I was getting nowhere and he was starting to hang on my left rein, I went to work on our haunches-in left (also part of my grand and glorious Plan).  This is when the fun really began.  We were working on the quarter line heading straight toward the in-gate/barn.  My plan was to start straight, then haunches-in, straight, haunches-in again.  Try to loosen him up a bit.  Unfortunately, that meant that Tucker could not bend himself around to the right and stare at the barn, where his lost lady love had gone.  

He planted his feet.  He snaked his neck.  He grabbed the reins out of my hands and yanked me around.  He spun.  He threatened to rear.  He bunny hopped.  He ran backwards.  He almost fell down (twice).  He pretty much did everything except for what I was asking, which was about eight steps of a haunches-in (which of course would have taken much less effort than all of his antics).

If you didn't know Tucker like I do, you'd think the answer to this would be to use that long thing in your hand that people use for motivating horses to go forward (duh), and you'd think you need to keep a firm grip on the reins so he can't yank them out of your hands.  And you'd think you needed to be stern and forceful and make him see things your way. But you'd be wrong, unless your goal was to create a completely unraveled and panicked animal who now needed to be worked until dark.  No idea why he's like that, but he can get himself worked up about something in a nano-second if you don't handle him the right way.

I think I handled it okay, although I wonder if it had happened in a lesson if we would have gotten through it sooner.  I didn't get nervous (most of it was in slow motion anyway) and I didn't get mad.  I was tactful, and kept trying different things to get through to him (small circles, change direction, little figure eights -- all of which looked hideous because he was like an eel on four legs).  I kept my hands soft, I waved my whip when I thought I could get away with it (although tapping him once sent him running sideways so as I thought, that doesn't work).  And when I realized we were just spinning our wheels, I left it alone and did a few trot circles, asking for a left bend with similar aids, and then asked for another haunches-in.  When he basically did it (not perfect, but close) and didn't pitch a fit, I moved on.  We'll work on it another day.

I googled "eel horse."  You're welcome.
The nice thing was that I came out of this and came across the diagonal and I could feel after all the more collected/concentrated work we were doing, he wanted to extend his trot.  Since going more forward wasn't something he'd ever offer voluntarily before, that's a sign of progress in an otherwise not so great ride.

We did some canter work, where I focused on my position and just left him alone for a bit.  His canter was decent and I felt like he loosened up when I did some transitions, so I thought I'd try some leg yields and see if I could get his right hind stepping over that way, since the haunches-in had been such a disaster.  

I have no idea why I thought that.  In fact I bet you all know exactly where this is headed.  We went back to having a hissy fit and almost fell down.  Again.  All I wanted was a leg yield right to left, staying straight on both reins.  Not exactly an overly demanding physical exercise, and something he's able to do well, but apparently incredibly offensive to him yesterday.  Again I kept breathing, tried not to carry any tension in my arms, did small circles and asked again.  He did it eventually. And I resisted the urge to make him do it ten more times.  

All in all, just not the ride I wanted.  I pretty much understand why it wasn't a great ride and I don't think these are permanent or unfixable issues, but it left me feeling even more tired and cranky than I was.  I mentioned to Ethan while I was cooking dinner that Tucker was terrible and he said, "oh so that's why you're acting like this," to which I barked, "LIKE WHAT."  He slowly retreated to the living room and read me the Rolex results.  He is a good man.

Tucker seems really upset about it, too.  Here's how he's spending his day today:

Good thing they're pretty.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Canter Work Takes Work

Ok so yesterday we talked about how I'm trying to fix my rising trot position.  Now let's talk about the canter.  And then I promise I'll stop boring you guys.

My seat and the saddle have really never been well acquainted.  They're more like neighbors who wave at each other from their front porches across the street.  For many, many years (long before Tucker was even born), this has been my "sitting" canter:

You'll note that you can see daylight between my butt and the saddle (even though it's a lovely canter and I still adore this photo).

The first time someone told me to keep my seat bones in the saddle, I thought, my seat has bones? but it's so squishy...  Literally in my thirty or so years of riding, no one has said anything to me about seat bones before I started taking dressage lessons.  It was a steep learning curve.  I don't even know if it was a curve.  Think rock climbing.

Studying the videos from my show, I see two things that I want to focus on fixing.  The first is that there is a moment in each stride when I am out of the tack, when his front feet are coming back down. I'm working on not pushing against my stirrups, which Amy explained in this lesson.  The other thing I noticed, of which I was NOT aware, is that I am pumping forward and back with my upper body like a weeble (you're welcome).  I weeble and I wobble but I don't sit down.

It turns out that this is more of a common problem than my "posting is hard?" query, so I found some reading material on this.  This article by Leigh Cochran from Dressage Today advises:
When the horse moves at the walk, trot or canter, your pelvis follows the movements smoothly while your upper body stays quiet, upright and balanced. To maintain this, your abdominal muscles and deep muscles of the lower back have to contract and relax rhythmically. This work only if your back is supple, not tense. Do not grip with your thigh muscles because this lifts you out of the saddle. Relax your leg muscles so that you can sit as deeply as possible in the saddle and follow your horse's movements.
When your horse canters, allow his canter to "roll under" you. Think of how a merry-go-round horse at a fair rises up and down under your seat. If your back stays relaxed and your seat stays deep, you can feel similar movement in your own horse's back. Try to feel it at the walk first, then at the canter. If you find yourself losing your correct position at the canter, return to the walk, reestablish it and try again.
I also think this advice by Heather Blitz about what it means to "bear down" is somewhat related. I did this exercise in a chair and on the horse and it helped me get the idea:
To feel bear down as you sit in a chair, put one hand on your abdominal muscles and the other one on your lower back muscles, then push your hands together. Next, think of using the power of your lower body to push your hands apart. Don’t hold your breath. It shouldn’t make you feel that you press any harder into the chair, just as it wouldn’t make you squash down on your horse’s back.

It’s important to realize how to make your core strong like this without it meaning that you crush your horse’s back down. It’s only a tool to help strengthen your own body’s core, stability and consistency. Bear down is not an aid to stop your horse or make him go. It’s a consistent state of being throughout your ride, from start to finish, that helps give your horse the sense that you are the leader of the dance.
We're a looooong way away from that "consistent state of being," but it's a nice, lofty goal.

All that said, what this really boils down to is that I need some core strength.  I take a Pilates class twice a week, so I'm working on it, but I could should do more.  Essentially, my solution to my cantering problem is an ages-old, timeless tale of self-inflicted torture:

Hang 'em up!
I pulled my stirrups off for the second half of my ride the other night, and have now vowed to do this at least once a week.  It actually really helped.  I wasn't really sore the next day, or at least I thought I wasn't sore, but then Ethan sent me a funny text and I laughed and ow-ow-ow-holy-lower-abs-why-why-why.  Which then made me happy.  Because maybe no stirrups work will not only fix the two bad riding habits I need to work on, but also may reduce the likelihood that I will be confused with one of these in my white breeches:

He looks so happy though.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Posting Trot the Dressage Way

I've never been the kind of person that things just "come naturally" to.  In school I was a great student but not because I'm just one of those smart people (in fact I've always been really envious of those people).  It's because I was a nerd who studied and took notes, and read everything, and revised my outlines and read it again with a different highlighter.  The same goes for my riding.  I have to "study," and practice a lot, and have it explained to me seven different ways, before I can figure it out.  You may be starting to see why dressage appeals to me so much.  There is so much to read!  So much to learn!  (Still a nerd.)

I realized that part of the problem with my posting trot is that I don't know what it's supposed to look like. You don't see upper level dressage riders posting a lot.  They are mostly sitting.  And if you google it, you get LOTS of information about the sitting trot (really looking forward to moving up to Second Level, let me tell you) but nothing on the posting or rising trot.

But then I had an idea.  Surely, some of them must warm up in the rising trot, right?  So off to Youtube I went, and searched Grand Prix Dressage Warm-Up.  Ah-ha!

So, let's break this down.  Once you stop drooling over Ravel's gorgeous stretchy warm-up trot, watch Steffan Peters' posting trot in this video.  His hips move forward and back as he rises to the trot, which is how I was taught to post (bonus, I don't have to change everything).  Now, here's the difference between my posting and his (well apart from the fact that he's a legend and I'm a nobody).

When I rise on the up-beat, my shoulders are over my hips (although I could stand to bring my shoulder blades together and open my chest more, if we're being picky):

But when I sit, my hips come back and my shoulders stay forward, whereas Steffan's shoulders come back with his hips so he stays upright the whole time:

And that, my friends, is because this is my comfort zone:

Pretty baby hunter Tucker
Although my muscle memory still wants to do that, now at least I have a picture in mind of what I need to change, which is bringing my shoulders back along with my hips on the down-beat.  I concentrated on this in my ride last night and in the glimpses I got in the mirror, I seem to be approximating a dressage rider a bit better this way.

And just because it took me so long to find rising trot videos, here are a couple more I liked out of the few that I found.

Laura Graves warming up Diddy in Palm Beach last month:

And Heather Blitz warming up a young Paragon at Devon in 2010:

And if you really can't get enough, I made a playlist.  Because I'm a nerd.  

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Videos of Our Last Show (First-1 and First-2)

So, I had to watch these about ten times or so before I could make a decision about whether to post them.  Ultimately, I decided to share.  This blog is meant to be a training tool and a log of our progress, and these videos accurately show where we're at right now, so they belong on here.  And you all have been so supportive and encouraging following along on this journey with me, I feel like you won't beat me up too much.  I really do appreciate you guys taking the time to leave me such kind and thoughtful comments, by the way.  

Some things looked better than they felt (which is great) and some parts felt better than they looked (which is... good to know).  The first time I watched these, I found myself leaning back in my chair, willing myself to sit up more.  I did a lot of cringing (sometimes just at the sight of myself in white breeches.  I can't believe I have to be seen in public in those things).  I yelled at myself to shorten my reins FERCHRISSAKES.  And I'm a little disappointed that the halts aren't quite "square," except for the very last one.  I also really wish Tucker didn't feel the need to look the judge in the eye while I'm saluting.

But after a few more views, I started to be a little less harsh on myself.  Our tempo is pretty consistent throughout.  He slows down a little in the first steps of each leg yield in First-2, but I get the rhythm back each time.  His walks are so much better. The right lead canter transitions are really off-balance at the moment, but I know how to fix that, and the right lead canter itself is actually lovely.  Tucker still does some head-bobbing here and there, but there are times where he's pretty steady in the contact as well.  I am still doing wonky things with my left hand, but once I compared it to some older videos, my hands are actually vastly improved.

So now that you see what I mean about me riding like a hunter rider in dressage tack... despite my initial despair, I actually think it's quite fixable.  I did a study last night on how dressage riders post to the trot, and in my next post I'm going to try to break down my posting vs. the rising trot videos I found online from some grand prix warm-up rings.  I'm actually not that far off (on the posting part, not on the GP part, in case that even needed clarification).

Happy viewing!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

April 19 ESDCTA Show at the Horse Park

As promised, our show recap.  Overall, I was very pleased with how it went.  The parts that didn't go perfectly are mostly things that I know we are still working on, so I feel like the tests were for the most part a very accurate representation of where we're at in our training (which, I think, is sort of the whole point of dressage).  

The WORST part of this sport is the head-to-toe white spandex.
But look how cute that pony is.
There were some comments that stood out to me, which left me beaming with pride.  Forgive the small brag, but I have to share some of them:

  • All four halts:  "Straight and square."  And about our first halt in the second test: "Good move off" (we got an 8.0 - good first impression!).  In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit here that we don't always go from trot to halt/halt to trot like you're supposed to at First level. But sometimes we do! And for those times, I am thankful.
  • Regarding our medium walk in the first test:  "active and willing."  Did you read that?  Active and willing!  About the horse who formerly refused to move forward into contact at the walk! I'm still beaming.
  • On our lengthening at the trot in first test: "well balanced," and in the second test, "good power and coming back."  
  • All canter lengthenings got "good energy."  How's that for consistency?
  • Left lead canter transition in the first test:  "nicely on the aids," and in the second test: "prompt off the aids into canter."  Given that this was one of the main focuses of our lesson last week, I'm super psyched about this one.
  • For the diagonal canter-trot transition in the first test:  "nicely forward, very good connection."  Good connection!  I am starting to get it people!  I felt it too, this was a fun moment for me.
  • On the right lead canter 15m circle in the second test: "balanced and active."  This one was an 8.0.  Awesome!
  • The left-to-right leg yield in the second test got a "good alignment and tempo."
We also got a bunch of constructive criticism.  I totally felt what the judge was seeing and I know that these are all things we are still working on.
  • The right lead canter transition was a bit of a weak spot in both tests.  In the first test, we got a "head slightly up" and in the second test, "not well balanced."  (Frowning face.)  Obviously, this transition still needs a bit of work.  But, he did school several lovely right lead transitions in our warm-up, so now it's just a matter of executing that transition all the time. 
  • The right-to-left leg yield is still a little tricky for me, he has to be set up just right for it, and since he was a little distracted watching a tractor go by as we turned up the center line (so focused, he's like a zen master), he turned a little stiff and then I couldn't quite get his haunches where they were supposed to go, so we got a "too much bend in neck" which was a kind way of saying "you are twisting your horse like a pretzel, don't do that." 
  • The stretchy circle in the first test is to the left (our harder direction) and right at the beginning of the test after two reverse turns.  I find it really hard to make him stretch here (why can't they always be at the end of the test?  this feels like a trap), and we got a "good energy but need more downward stretch."  Totally agree, not entirely sure how to create downward stretch on demand (yet).  Can I throw carrots on the ground when I come down the center line?
  • Basically, same thing with both free walks.  Needs more push and downward stretch.  These are getting 6.5 or 7's, which is an improvement over last year, but they can be much better.  I just have to convince a certain big brown horse that this movement is not an intermission in the test when he's given an opportunity to sight-see at his leisure.  
  • The right lead canter lengthening in the first test got a "haunches slightly in."  Ugh.  Kind of annoyed with myself on letting that happen, since I know he does this all the time and should have ridden it better. 
In better news, this Judge did not ask me if I was "new to dressage."  Thank you Jesus.  After the second test, she asked, "have you ridden this test many times?"  And I thought it was coming.  But then when I told her it was our first time showing that test she said "Oh!  Well nice job!"  She seemed surprised.  You know, like she actually thought I was a dressage rider who had shown this test before, and not like she totally knew I was a hunter princess wannabe and this was my sixth dressage show ever.  (She probably knew.  Humor me.)

Monday, April 20, 2015

Charlotte Dujardin's 94.19% World Cup Winning Freestyle

In case you haven't seen this yet, I want to make sure that all of you do, because it is an incredible piece of riding.  I am mesmerized by this horse.  This one isn't a video of a video, and I am personally quite grateful to the person in the stands with the awesome camera phone who recorded this for us.  

This is basically a place holder post, by the way, because I have to write up a real post about Tucker's show yesterday.  The headline is that it went very well, our scores were 67.4% at First-1 and 69% at First-2 (not exactly world-record breaking, but awesome in my book).  

Quick sneak preview:  The judge said we were "well prepared," and many of her comments on individual movements said he was "well balanced" and "straight."  Which makes me feel like all this work I'm doing is actually paying off.  I'll give you a full run-down tomorrow, but I was way too tired last night to write it all up (and you know, I'm supposed to do the lawyer thing during the day.  I may or may not have my tests in my briefcase for reviewing again while I eat my lunch though). 

Tucker has a well-earned day off today so I promise I'll make time tonight!

Friday, April 17, 2015

April Lesson with Amy, and Video of Charlotte Dujardin at the World Cup

I am tempted to write ONLY about the World Cup because it's so exciting and I wish that I was there... but I've had these notes written about my Wednesday night lesson with Amy Howard and need to get this post out there too. 

To satisfy your World Cup cravings I have posted a link to a bootleg video of Charlotte Dujardin's winning ride on Valegro on Tucker's facebook page, which has been made possible by a kind anonymous FEI tv subscriber.  I'm not going to repost it on the blog because I'm fairly certain the FEI's copyright lawyers will hunt my *ss down, but surely sharing on facebook is less of a crime?

Anyway... go watch Charlotte and lament your seat and hands then come back and I'll tell you about my lesson.

*  *  *

I always come into the lesson with a list of things that need to be addressed.  This month it was: My position, the left lead canter, right lead transition, and free walk.

As for my position, I tried really, really sitting up in one ride last week and when I do that it's the only thing I can do. Seriously.  The rest of me falls apart, my reins get long, my leg comes off, and the horse starts plodding/tripping over himself.  We agreed it's a work in progress and for now I'm going to work on opening my shoulders/chest more as the next step to actually sitting up like I'm supposed to.

I warmed Tucker up like usual, sending him forward on a long rein, encouraging him to stretch down and get his shoulder swinging (he loves this), and then gradually picked up the reins doing little diagonal turns from the rail to the quarter line and back (something Amy taught us over the winter). Amy commented that my hands are much more steady now (!!!) and that he's much more consistent in both reins.  I heard Angels sing an Hallelujah.  Not saying my hands are perfect yet - but at least I no longer have a rhythmical left hand half-halt every time I post, making him look like he's really agreeing with everything.  Mmm hmm, yes human (nods head).  Obviously, I wasn't doing this on purpose.  My left hand needed an exorcism.

Trotting to the right we worked on squaring off the corners like a box, not letting his inside hind get wide, and not letting his withers fall to the inside around the turn, but keeping him straight, on the outside aids, and stepping under himself with his inside hind.  This really helped the leg yield from right to left as well.  As we worked on this Amy said "I bet that's exactly what's happening with your right lead canter transition."  (Spoiler alert:  she's always right.)

After a walk break, I picked up my trot again and pointed out that particularly after a break, he seems to hang on my left rein.  I usually try to fix it with left rein half halts and left leg on at the girth, but it's not terribly effective.  We tried a few different things, small circles left, etc., and then Amy told me to do a haunches-in.  I couldn't make his haunches budge.  "There it is!"  So we worked through that a bit until he gave in his left rib cage and low and behold, he was back in both reins.  Must remember that when it feels like a rein issue, it is almost always a hind end issue.  [Are you seeing a pattern?  His haunches go right in both directions.  Perhaps rider should work on not twisting left?]

As for the left lead canter, getting a better canter from the start is a matter of timing.  I need to give him a reminder kick with my inside leg immediately as he picks up the canter, right after I cue the canter with the outside leg, so that his inside hind leg steps up quicker and with more energy.  I understand this concept, theoretically, but my timing is off.  By an entire stride.  (Two separate cues in the same three-beat canter stride?  What am I a magician?)  I told Amy it's going to take me about three weeks to figure this out, but I'll work it out by the next lesson.

Once we got the canter going, we worked on revving the engine without increasing speed.  So creating more canter with the inside leg but keeping it packaged together with half halts on the outside rein.  We actually got a SUPER canter (Amy said so) although right now it definitely takes a lot of managing on my end.  Going back to the ride every stride discussion from last week, right now I have to ride almost every stride to the left. But I'm hopeful that will change with time, one he figures out what I want.  He's already learned to open his gaits up so much, I believe he can learn to hold a better left lead canter on his own too.

Next we worked on the right lead canter transition, which is definitely not as good as it could be because, just like at the trot, his haunches are coming in and he's getting wide behind.  I have been working on using my inside leg to set up the transition (which we discussed in my last lesson) but it hasn't completely fixed it.  Amy checked out the transition from every angle and helped me drill down and figure it out.  I love that she's so thorough.

First, he has to be slightly off the rail, and the turns have to be squared off, so his wither stays up and haunches stay under.  (Did you know that you don't need to be right up against the rail for your test?  You can be slightly away from it and still accurate.  I did not know this.)  This helped, but what really made the difference was when Amy watched the transition from the outside, and told me not to bring my left leg back when I ask for the transition, but keep it right at the girth.  This way I'm not cuing the haunches to go right, which he wants to do anyway.  When I did this he just stepped into a beautiful right lead canter, stayed in both reins, stayed straight.  Success!  

We pretty much ended here, but discussed the free walk a little.  Although the test says I should allow "complete freedom to stretch the neck forward and downward," if I give Tucker "complete freedom," the periscope is going up and we're going full Drama-Llama.  Nobody wants to see that. He needs to stretch out and down, rather than poke his nose straight out/up.  Amy gave me a little trick.  Rather than riding pin straight across the diagonal, very subtly curve left and right.  Not so much that the bend changes or that it's obvious what you're doing, but just enough to keep the horse thinking and focused on you (rather than sight-seeing).  We did this once just as we were cooling out and I think it's really going to make a difference.

We briefly discussed my general plan for the show season, and I'm glad I brought it up.  I told her I planned to start schooling stuff from First-3 in June and then move up to showing First-3 in or around July, and she told me to start working on it now instead.  We have a zig-zag leg yield from the rail to X and back, and shallow serpentines at the canter.  So she said to start working on these now but keep them really shallow, and just gradually increase the angle as it gets easier for us.  (This makes so much sense.  I'm so glad we have her to give us advice like this.)

We have a show this weekend where we'll be doing First-1 and First-2.  Hoping to put a bunch of this into practice!  Maybe I'll just watch videos of Charlotte Dujardin from now until then....

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Guy McLean Injured, but All is Well

So ever since Sunday, Google Analytics has been telling me I'm a top hit for the search "Guy McLean injured."  I suspect it's because I blog about Guy McLean from time to time, and one of my more popular posts from a while ago was titled "McLain Ward injured" (he's all better now too - let's go Team Bongo!), but hey, if the Internet wants me to be The Source for All Things Guy McLean, well then let it be so.

Photo from Guy's facebook page
Part of Guy's awesome Saturday night act features Guy galloping across the arena on Spinabbey to the theme from the Man from Snowy River, cracking his Australian Stockman's whip and then herding his "three wild brumby stallions" around the arena.  It's all very reminiscent of this: 

Except of course that these are the three "wild brumby stallions": 

Positively feral.  
Photo from Guy's facebook page.
Anyway, Guy reported to his facebook fans on Saturday night that the gallop across the diagonal did not go as planned.  As he put it, "I have often felt and even been known to say that 'Spinabbey' would run through a brick wall if I asked, and tonight he proved me correct in the most stunning way possible."  It seems that Spinabbey thought they were turning right, but Guy planned to turn left, and the end result was a high speed turn a little too close to the wall, which resulted in Spinnabey hitting the sideboard and Guy getting pitched over to the other side.  

Thankfully, Spinnabey is completely fine, which is a relief but not surprising given that he's the fittest horse I've ever seen.  Guy is mostly fine, although currently sporting a sling while he heals from a separated shoulder/stretched ACL (ouch!).  

Luckily he's talented enough to ride one-handed
(Photo from Guy's facebook page)
It is often said (too often for me to even attribute this quote to someone, as it turns out) that the true measure of one's character is not in one's mistakes, but in how one responds to them.  I think we have all seen, in various levels of various disciplines, that cringe-worthy moment where someone (professional, amateur, kid, adult) comes out of the ring after a particularly bad round and blames the horse.  I almost have to avert my eyes when this happens because it's so unseemly.  There's absolutely no way that horse woke up today and thought "Today in the second class if there are pink flowers facing west, I'm going to ruin my rider's day, just because I can."  I'm not saying mistakes are always due to pilot error.  Maybe the horse wasn't on his game that day, or maybe he's overfaced, but again that's not the horse's problem.  Before I get too preachy here though....

Guy, of course, in true great horseman form, did the exact opposite. Immediately following their fall, Guy wrote that Spinnabey is his dearest mate, his hero, his one in a billion, his Super Horse.  He did not chastise his horse for "not listening," but instead marveled at how his horse was actually willing to jump the arena wall because he thought that's where Guy was heading him.  He writes to his horse: "I want you to know that I would lay my life down for you and tonight I felt the same from the boldest heart I have ever known and this evening's actions only make me love and appreciate you more than ever and I cannot wait to hold your noble head in my arms in the morning and tell you how proud I am of the man you've become."  I mean, if that doesn't tug at your heartstrings, I don't know what will.  

Such love.
(Photo from Guy's facebook page)
Ethan found me in tears on Sunday morning reading all of Guy's posts and he tried to assure me that they're both fine, and I managed to whimper over the lump in my throat, "I know but it's just so... I mean Guy loves that horse so..."   (It's probably better you all weren't there to witness that.)  How this man can be so incredibly humble when he gets routine standing ovations, and how having a fall in front of a crowded arena can only make him love and appreciate his horse that much more, is so inspiring to me.  There's no other word for it.

The other night I got to thinking about why on earth Tucker not only lets me climb up on his back and ride him around in circles, but actually listens to me when I make him work harder (he even seems to want to work harder sometimes), when we all know that if left to his own devices, he would gladly stay in his stall with a face full of hay and would not be in an indoor working on sitting down better in his extensions.  It really is a marvel when you think about it, that these spirited, proud animals not just let us do all this but somehow become our willing partners in whatever it is we ask of them.

The lesson to be learned from Guy's recent fall, I think, is (number one) to stay humble, but more than that, to appreciate what your horse is offering to you, even if it's not exactly what you asked for. It's possible he was willing to try even harder than you meant to ask of him.  I don't think any of us take our horses for granted (if you read this blog I'm basically assuming you're well-afflicted with the horse obsession at this point), but it doesn't hurt to take a step back and really appreciate all the gifts they give us.  

I am thankful that Guy is on the mend.  But more importantly, I am grateful that he's around for all that he has to teach us.

*Note:  The photos I used are mostly fan photos. Please contact me for photo credit if it's one of yours!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Can Every Day Be Sunday?

I had one of those incredibly horse-filled weekends that leaves you a little sore, a little sunburned, and a little wishing you did not have to be an adult come Monday morning.

On Friday night I felt like going home and crawling under a blanket/having wine for dinner but I forced myself to go to the barn and ride.  I did not feel motivated to ride whatsoever while sitting in Friday evening traffic, but then I got to the barn and saw this gorgeous face and how could I want to do anything other than hang with him?  

Big schnoz, huge ears, can't lose.  That's how it goes right?
I had a fantastic ride.  Confession time:  when no one else is around, Tucker and I do not listen to our usual country/classic rock stations.  I don't know if it's painfully obvious to all of you yet, but I'm not exactly what you'd call "hip."  I'll be 35 this year, and that means that this is becoming more and more accurate every day:

Even though I cannot name any of the artists (seriously I once went into Best Buy and asked for the new Bull Dog CD.  It was a gift.  Stop laughing), sometimes when no one else is around we find one of the Top 10 overplayed hit music stations and have ourselves a good ol' dance party in the indoor. And we dance like because no one is watching.  It sounds ridiculous, I know, but sometimes you just need a good beat to really get that extended trot going. 

On Saturday, we set up this adorable course in our outdoor ring and Tucker got to jump, which is his favorite thing (although when you are a Tucker, there are a lot of things that are your favorite things). 

There were four of us riding and I think everyone had fun.  I had to laugh at myself because every time I picked up my reins to jump a line my heart would start to skip and my stomach would get all butterfly-infested, and then Tucker would basically lope over the little 2'3" vertical and I would realize I am the most ridiculous human being. He was so soft and relaxed and easy to ride though, he is seriously completely push button over fences at this point.  The last line I did was a five stride, and we cantered in to the perfect distance right out of stride, and then I just looped the reins at him and did nothing and he politely cantered out of it.  I love this horse.

Then I went home and got to squeeze in some more horse time because Ethan was riding Mooch, so I got to see my favorite boys in action.

Two tickets to the gun show please
Mooch is getting a seriously fabulous neck
He even let me hop on and ride him a bit.  Needless to say, our horses could not be more different.  I have literally no idea how to ride Mooch, but he doesn't really care.  Such a sweet little horse.

On Sunday I slept in while Ethan took care of the horses at home, had my coffee in bed and then got the trailer prepped for my lesson this week.  Moseyed over the to the barn mid-day, and then we had a lovely school with Goose in the outdoor ring.  Tucker was very happy to go back to some of his dressage work after his jump day, so much so that I'm actually thinking of jumping him the day before my horse show next weekend.  We ran through First Level Test 2 and other than some moments of being distracted by a dog barking and some horses walking by, Tucker was excellent.  The extended canter to working canter transitions in First-2 are in the corner at the end of the long sides, and for some reason this is way easier for him than doing the transition on a 15 meter circle like in Test 1. The whole test seems to ride a little better for us actually.

After we rode we went for a short trail ride around the hay fields with Goose and another one of our fellow boarders and her new mare Libbie.  Libbie was a perfect angel for her first out of the ring ride at her new home.  Such a gorgeous day to be out on a horse!

Also Tucker's favorite thing.
We spent the afternoon giving the boys their first Spring baths in the sunshine, which is my favorite thing about Spring - scrubbing all the winter grime out of his coat is the best feeling ever.  Then we went upstairs to the tack room and had a lovely little wine and tack cleaning party, where we cleaned every piece most of our tack and talked all things horses well into the evening.  Sounds just about perfect right?

And now we're back to the daily grind.  So, like I said, can every day be Sunday?

Thursday, April 9, 2015

How Much Do You Talk to Your Horse?

No, I don't mean the barn aisle cooing you do in that one voice you reserve only for your horse (you know exactly the one I'm talking about), or the conversations you have with him in his stall when you've had a really bad day and you want a pity party but don't want any actual humans to know about it (I can't be the only one that does that right?)...

Who's a good boy?
I'm talking about while you're riding, as in how often do you apply an aid or give a direction?  There seem to be two distinct schools of thought on this.  On the one hand, there's those that believe you should be in constant communication with your horse.  If you aren't giving them some kind of direction at all times, then their minds are wandering, and you'll never get the kind of quality work you're looking for.  You create the canter (or whatever you're working on) that you want, and you maintain it with active aids.  I see this as the "Ride Every Stride" theory.

Then there's the belief that your horse should basically do what you've asked unless and until you tell him otherwise.  For example, you establish the canter you want, and he should hold that canter on his own, with maybe only some supportive aids, until you ask for something different.  Under this theory, you need only apply an aid when he starts to lose the canter you asked for, and then only briefly.  We'll call this the "Set it and Forget it" theory.

I kind of like the idea of leaving Tucker alone and letting him do more work than me, because let's be honest, just trying to figure out how to keep my butt in the saddle with his big rolling beautiful canter has me breaking into a sweat (holy core muscles I never knew I needed).  I intervene when he needs suppling or more forward energy or straightening, but otherwise he's got to do it on his own.  I like the idea that he's thinking for himself a little, and it seems like a form of a "release" if I stop asking anything with my leg or hand if he's holding a good canter/trot/walk what-have-you. 

I've had two rides recently, however, that have me wondering.  On Saturday, I worked him in our new outdoor ring for the first time, and it was a sunny, windy, spooky kind of morning.  As soon as I swung my leg over he started doing that tip-toe walk that has a little extra hop in it and makes me want to swing right back down.  That was most certainly a "Ride Every Stride" kind of day, because when I stopped riding even for half a stride he was finding new and terrifying stuff to worry about (leaves, flags, fence posts, the Earth).  We actually had some really good moments though, where I got a little more lift in his left shoulder than I've felt before and he got a little straighter on his right side and took the right rein more consistently.

Last night, he came out kind of stiff and generally meh. I don't know if the rain meant no turnout or less turnout, I'm guessing that was it, but I really had to work for it.  I spent the whole ride just trying to get him to carry himself instead of dumping his front end and stretching his hind legs a mile behind us.  I was basically constantly asking him for something:  leg yields, shoulder fore, haunches-in, transitions within and between the gaits, etc., to get him balanced on his hind end and off my hands. It was another "Ride Every Stride" day, because when I tried to leave him be, I didn't like the response.  But maybe I should have kept working him until he was willing to carry himself without my help?  

I was once talking to a friend who told me her trainer said she should be making about sixteen corrections down one long side of the ring.  Sixteen seems like an awful lot to me, but maybe it's not. Where do you fall on this?  When you ride, are you always asking for something so your horse stays focused on you, or do you wait until you have to before you make an adjustment?  I don't think either way is wrong, but I'm curious.  


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

In Case You Were Wondering, Alicia is Still Awesome

Since I'm already in the habit of updating you on some lovely ladies from this blog's past, here's a few recent shots of Alicia Madretzke, who patiently held our hand through the hunters for so many years.  Somehow even though I abandoned her completely for the world of dressage, we are still friends.

I'd go on and on about how amazing she is, but I'll just let these pics and the video speak for itself.

So balanced!
So strong!
Just look at that lower leg!

The horse is Balunito, who is a 2006 17.1 hh Westphalian gelding, by Balou du Rouet.  He competed up to the "m" class in Germany and was imported by Topline Imports (owned by one of Alicia's clients) in mid-February of this year.  And good news - he's for sale!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

An Update on Baby Julie

If you've been reading this blog forever then you'll remember my baby Julie

If you're new to the blog, you don't even know she exists, because her page isn't linked here anymore. The full story is in the link above if you're interested.  The short story is that I bred her while I was working at a big law firm straight out of law school (read: I was too young to be making that much money and made terrible decisions).  At the time, I thought I wanted another baby to bring along, I had the funds to put her in training, and I thought I would enjoy having two horses to ride.  But, then I realized that being a grown up is actually way harder than I thought.  It turns out if you're making that much money, you're working a lot, and barely have time for one horse.  And if you don't want to work that much, you won't have the money for two horses.  This, my friends, is what's called a reality check.

Heart-wrenchingly beautiful.
So after Julie was broke and walk-trot-cantering and ready to do some little x-rails, I made the difficult decision to sell her.  (For a mere fraction of what it cost me to lease a broodmare, breed her, pay board on a mare and foal, and pay training board on a baby.  The exact opposite of a wise investment, but I digress.)  She has always been gorgeous (obviously) and looked like she would be very talented, but she wasn't right for me.  Still, I worked really hard on networking her and finding a great home for her, which of course was most important to me.  I was the first thing she saw when she was born, I saw her take her first steps.  I was pretty attached to her, even if I knew she ultimately wasn't going to be a forever horse for me.  

Remember when cell phone pics looked like this?

She is now all grown up (coming seven!), goes by the name of KC Chloe, and doing really great.  The girl to whom I sold her decided to sell her for financial reasons, so she is now with Kinnity Capall Stables, with Kristy and Ronan Moloney, an eventing barn in New York.  I've spoken to them and they are "delighted" to have her and think she has lots of potential.  They say she is unbelievable on cross country and nothing bothers her.  As Kristy put it, "When she sees the jump, she is going!"

I love everything about this photo.
She just returned from her very first trip to Aiken, like a real grown-up eventing horse.  Although she didn't place at the show she did in Aiken against about 25 other horses, it was her first event ever, and she did great.  Before the show, she had only schooled in a dressage ring a few times, and even though she was a little tense, she never put a foot out of place. She had a couple of rails in stadium, which sounds like it still needs a little bit of fine-tuning, but she was clean and clear in cross country. Hard to imagine my little baby going around a cross-country course, but she's always been super brave so I'm not terribly surprised. 

Still a daisy cutter!
It sounds like she is still not a push-button horse, by any stretch, but I really feel like these guys know what they're doing with her, and are going to be able to help her reach her full athletic potential. She's started out at Beginner Novice, but may move up to Novice depending on how the season goes. She is a resale project, but they are in no rush to sell her just yet. I plan to keep up with her progress (oh the wonders of social media!) so I'll keep you guys up to date as well!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Longines Global Champions Tour: Horse Showing Just Got a Whole Lot Cooler

Are you all aware of what is happening right now?  There is a horse show ON Miami Beach.  When I said it was on my bucket list to ride a horse on the beach (finally got to do this in December, thank you Ethan you make all my dreams come true)... this had never even occurred to me.

Seriously have you SEEN these photos?  This is something made up that you read about in a novel about showjumping, not something that pops up on your newsfeed because it's actually happening. It's so pretty, and so, totally, incredibly cool that I can hardly stand it.  

photo cred: Stefano Grasso, Longines Global Champions Tour
Lisa Ceuman Photography
Global Champions Tour
From Horse&Style Magazine
I want to go to there.

If like me, you can't be there, you can watch the live stream here!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Modified Competition Schedule

I've been doing some soul-searching and realized I'm probably not letting Tucker live up to his full potential.

We've always known he's got a super jump.

And clearly his dressage scores are only getting better.

And he LOVES cross-country.

So, obviously, eventing is a natural fit!  Accordingly, I am totally scrapping the show schedule I posted.

Instead, here's the plan for Spring:

The Fork CIC3*/CIC2*/CIC1* & HT (NC, Area 2) - 04/02/2015
(Seems like a good first event)

Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event (KY, Area 8) - 04/22/2015
(Always wanted to go)

(Gonna be a busy April!)

Jersey Fresh International Three-day Event (NJ, Area 2) - 05/06/2015
(Because he loves the Horse Park)

Virginia Horse CIC2*, CCI1* & Horse Trials (VA, Area 2) - 05/21/2015
(Figure I'll stop by W&M's graduation while I'm there)

Plantation Field International CIC and Horse Trial (PA, Area 2) - 09/18/2015
(Right around my birthday, why not?)

Fair Hill International Three-day Event (MD, Area 2) - 10/14/2015
(It can be our anniversary trip!)

Now... off to google what CIC means.... ;)