Friday, August 29, 2014

Rochester memories & starting at a new barn

After college I took about 4 years off from riding. This was mostly a function of budget (non existent) and riding facilities (I had NO idea where to even go).

But part of the problem was just how happy I had been at my barn in Rochester during the college years. I trusted my trainer there completely. Even when I was scared (which wasn't exactly rare - see blog title lol), I knew that if she told me to do something, it was because she KNEW I was capable. And that alone was enough to inspire confidence in me. And that is also nearly impossible to replicate.

I still visit Rochester regularly, and schedule lessons during those visits. 

Last August, there was a schooling show the weekend I was visiting. But the trust is so strong - I said, 'never mind that I haven't jumped 2'6" in years or ridden any of your current school horses - enter me in the show on a horse and division of your choosing!'

Indy is a very good boy

That was definitely a LOT of fun. My performance was solidly meh - garnering me reserve champion in a class of two lol - but ooh boy did I have fun :)

corners are overrated
(also - this was when I discovered my tall boots didn't fit anymore... oops. but yay for wearing half chaps at schooling shows!)

It was also a perfect opportunity for catching up with all my old barn friends (both the two- and four-legged varieties). 

it's not physically possible to get Lad's whole head in a selfie

Starting at a new barn is always tricky - especially if you don't have your own horse. There's so much more to riding than getting in and out of the saddle, and for the sake of safety, pretty much nobody will just take your word for it that you have a clue. So committing to a new place, a new trainer, and new horses, was really overwhelming for me for a while. 

In fact, the first place I chose ended up being a terrible fit - I got off halfway through my third lesson because I was positive that the horse was going to throw me. Couldn't get the damn thing around a corner without pseudo-bucking and shit fits unless I parked it's nose on the ass of another horse. And the trainer offered the advice - 'he'll go in a frame if you ask him.' Yea. That's super helpful. I can't get him to go around a fucking corner, and you suggest I put him in a frame? Gee, how insightful. 

Anywho, after another few years of no riding, I finally managed to get back into it at a nice hunter barn surprisingly close to my home. And, a year or so after that, I met Isabel.

not exaggerating - Lad has a Very Large Head

But I still miss my Rochester barn... which is why I'm up there this weekend for another visit + lesson!! Happy Labor Day Weekend :)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

warm up routine?

My dressage trainer tells me that the warm up is the most critical part of the ride - particularly if you're warming up for a test at a show. She says that a good warm up sets the stage for the 'meat' of the ride.

Since I only see her every 2-4 weeks, she likes to get up-to-date with our progress by silently watching my latest warm up routine.

This is, uh, a little challenging (perhaps even nerve-wracking?) for me.

does this count as stretching??

I've tried a few different approaches (more or less in the following order):

  • Briefly walk trot canter on loose reins to 'install' forward, then slowly reel in the reins to get a better contact. Then start working at steady contact at the walk, progressing up through trot and eventually to canter. This usually entailed traveling around the arena about 10 feet inside the rail - with the intention of not using the rail as a crutch
  • Get straight to work at the walk after everything is adjusted - usually after a lap or so around the arena. Walk walk walk, with lots of circles and meandering around the arena, perhaps with some changes of direction thrown in. Repeat at the trot, and trot trot trot - constantly seeking steady contact and a swinging, forward trot.
  • Walk + trot on loose-ish reins for a lap or two in each direction before drawing in the contact at the walk. Focus on immediately getting a nice swinging walk, using circles and bend as needed. Start upward and downward transitions - walk to trot, trot to walk, walk to halt... trying not to pick too much at the upward transitions and really organizing and preparing for the downwards. Gradually extend trot sets between downward transitions and focus on swinging, relaxed forward movement with steady contact.

right leg *must* stretch down, & get hands out of lap!!!

Obviously the plan gets more complex with each iteration, but I'm still not really sure what's 'working,' or what success should even look like at this point. Our whole objective for now is to achieve steady contact, rather than just snapping right into it and moving on to other cool movements (or practicing tests, which is actually a decent idea, now that I think about it...). 

So my questions for you are: What does your warm-up routine look like? 
-Do you have different game plans when you're schooling v. when you're at a show? 
-Does it change if you are introducing new ideas in the ride v. when you're working on refinement?

Really, any ideas or insights are helpful at this point!!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

SMTT - Happy Things Hop

Lauren over at She Moved to Texas wants us to share things that make us happy! Specifically - the little nooks and crannies in your house that make you smile.

My things are less 'nook' and more 'big funky weird stuff I keep in my apartment,' but they make me happy all the same. Plus, the somewhat match the art-vibe that's been going around (tho I can take no personal credit).

hi. i am not creepy at all.

This large-ish wooden horse presumably started life as a rocking horse (notice the stubs below his hooves? and the hole through his mouth where maybe a bit used to be?). But really, who would paint a children's toy to be so, uh, eccentric looking? 

I was a small child browsing the goods with my family at the Crumpton Auction when we stumbled on this crazy thing. I loved the auction anyways because there were always old saddles there and I always wanted them... but this horse. I NEEDED this horse. 

All the same, though, I was stunned when my father actually bid on it - then re-bid (bc apparently more than one person wanted it?) - and finally shelled out $80 to win it!! That seemed like an awful lot of money, but I was thrilled. (then super confused because he ended up paying $84 for it... and that was the day I learned about sales tax lol). 

Still - 20 years later and I freakin love this crazy wooden horse, and frequently pat his little nose when I pass by.

My other happy thing is the sofa where I spend 90% of my waking time at home. This run-down, beat-up sofa is the best thing in the world, and the whole rest of my combination living / dining room is arranged to be most visually-pleasing when viewed from here.

Notice all the big fluffy pillows, especially the dark green one embroidered in a bird pattern by my mother. 

That painting makes me super duper happy too. It was done by local artist (and close friend of my brother-in-law) Sean Reichert, and I actually bought it right off his own home's wall. I don't know what it is about this guy - he's kinda got a fidel-castro-as-gas-station-attendant vibe going on... but I just really enjoy it. 

But really, the happiest things in my apartment are the kitties. The little gray guy OG actually just moved in with us last week, and my orange tabby Martini took to him immediately. Yay for feline friends!

WW - plz to have??!?

oh hai!!
i, uh, happened to notice you're eatin applz over there

ya know, applz are my favoritest....

plzzzzzz to have ur applz!!!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

night rider

It's getting dark so early now! Sunset is around 7:45... sigh. 

I usually get to the barn around 6:30 after work, and we usually finish by 8ish. But tonight I wanted to ride w a friend who was teaching lessons until 7:30... So we got our first full-dark night ride since last spring. At least there are two big flood lights in the arena!

My goal for tonight's ride was to keep chippin' away at a steady contact. I opted to ride without gloves for the first time in years, thinking they may be a part of my rein slippage problem. I've been clenching with my fists to try and hold onto my reins (which are themselves perpetually loose), and it's probably been introducing a lot of tension into the equation. 

So no gloves. Not sure if that was the deciding factor or if we're just seeing the results of all this practice, but we had some nice moments! 

dramatic lighting is dramatic

Other focal points included:

  • my hands stay in the 'batters box,' as my dressage trainer would say
  • the weight of my arms as they hang from my shoulder should aid in contact, rather than floating my upper arms in front of me and tensing my biceps / locking my elbow
  • open & relaxed shoulders, tucked-in belly button
  • looonng relaxed legs - closing with my calf instead of my heel
  • upright spine & EVEN shoulders - no collapsing/leaning down on one side or the other

If all of these pieces were in place, it became a matter of encouraging Isabel to move out freely forward, exaggerating the inside bend when necessary, and supporting with the outside rein.

Granted, there were only fleeting moments when I was coordinated enough to make that happen... But I'm a very systems-oriented person, so if I can just understand the 'how' behind contact, eventually it will stop being so elusive!

Isabel puts up with my less-than-stellar selfie attempts. i am smiling internally, i swear lol

I added in lots of transitions, particularly focusing on the downwards transitions. Dan wanted me to really set her up for them in our last lesson - having her on an exaggerated bend and half halting right before I ask. We got a few decent transitions tonight, and at least one from trot to walk where she didn't completely hollow out - yay!! This is cause for celebration since we pretty much can't change anything - direction, gait, you name it - without Isabel popping up above the bit.

Dressage is definitely our weakest phase at the moment, but I'm enjoying working on it, and seeing improvements in our jumping because of it. As my hunter trainers say: jumping is only really flat work with some obstacles thrown in. If you nail the flat work, the jumps take care of themselves. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

barn cats: rules to live by

1. real barn cats eat hay too


2. posing dramatically with horses is par for the course (as is suddenly leaping out of stalls unexpectedly in order to scare said horses half to death)

3. if there is ANYTHING fuzzy lying around in the barn, it becomes bed

4. but really, anything else becomes bed too. sleep > chasing birds

Sunday, August 24, 2014

jump lesson @ OF

Yesterday's forecast was ominous, but we got through our lesson outside without getting too drenched - woo hoo! Otherwise you'd be reading about Isabel's first time in the indoor... That post will certainly come some day, but not today. 

'i don't really 'do' the great indoors' -isabel

We warmed up ok-ish. Our flat work was better last week, and I'm not sure if it's because Izzy is learning to resist more or if I'm just bumbling around in my attempts to get steady contact. In any case, P suggested that we trot with our hands backwards on the reins for a little while. 

I'll try to get photographic representation, but for now just imagine: instead of the rein traveling from bit to the gap between pinky and ring finger, it travels from bit to gap between thumb and index finger. Your hand is oriented about the same, except now you've got more of a slope along the top of your hand - with the index really pointing towards the mouth. 

The idea is to get a different and softer feel of the horse's mouth while removing the ability to lock you wrists / elbows / shoulders etc. It was a neat trick, and helped me soften up a bit (which then got Izzy softening up a bit... go figure). 

Anyways, P also adjusted my noseband - shortened up the strap that goes over the crown by about two holes, then tightened the band itself by one. She didn't really want to crank it down on Izzy or piss her off or anything, but I apparently had it way too loose. 

The we got to jumping. Warm up combo was trotting into a triple - starting with an x, three strides to another x, then three to a small panel vertical. 

the 'caution' design has her thinking, 'hm maybe i should dive left'

After everyone made it through that, all three went up - first two became verticals and caution panels became an oxer. Cantering into this combo makes it two to two, and Isabel pretty much powered down it after our last jump school wherein I had her canter a 10-foot stride. 

Then came a one-stride line, set at an 18' distance. So this definitely called for a quiet and steady rhythm, rather than running hell-for-leather. Lovely Isabel was fine. 

For our final efforts, my friend from last week made another appearance. And this time it was perhaps even more technical. 

in case it didn't look big enough before, let's double the width!!

The rolltop was back in action, this time as a skinny, natch. The two sections were backed up to each other to create one big half circle. 

But lo - this was not our only skinny of the course. Jump one was a simple vertical with a long straight approach to a 'shark's tooth.' This guy is actually quite narrow, and probably called for a more forward ride on my part, rather than the holding I was actually doing.  

all the pretty colors

Then we bent around to a big wooden coop, by which point I had actually let go and allowed Isabel the freedom to move up to it. Shocker - it was a nicer effort. 

I kept this idea of forward freedom through to the rolltop, and it actually went pretty well. Isabel really over-jumps stuff like this, and our first time over it, the saddle actually ended up moving wayyy up onto her shoulders. 

But we fixed the saddle, and did it again. I pretty much rode it exactly the same, and had a little smoother sailing this time.

holdin on to that mane like it's my job

So all in all, it was a good lesson. I started really working on the idea of being quieter with my upper body, and sinking more into my seat over fences. Small steps, but they will eventually add up. 

Count down is on for our first starter horse trial Sept. 28!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

dressage + transformations

Dressage is very new to me. It's always been a bit of a mystery, actually. I understand and appreciate the value of dressage, and why we should seek a balanced and correct way of going. But it's also always felt unattainable to me. 

This picture was taken a few months into my lease with Izzy - maybe spring a year ago. We had finally figured out how to get a consistent speed in all three gaits, regardless of where we were in the arena. That alone felt like a huge victory for me, so I kinda coasted on that for a while, and didn't ask for much else. 

'this is how i go. period.' -Isabel 
'yea ok that's cool.' -me
(photo credit Shelli Ramos)

But getting into eventing means dressage, so I started bi-monthly lessons this past spring with a trainer MP who travels to us. She is slowly but surely reprogramming my hunter perch into something a little more functional. 

Some of my biggest issues right now:
  • loooong reins. seriously - just shorten them!
  • elasticity and 'give' in my contact - I need to allow my upper arms to just hang down instead of always floating them forward and then gripping with my hands / breaking my wrist
  • more leg in the *right* way. My tendency is to nag nag nag with my heels and get my legs all curled up under me (especially my right side). I need to lengthen the muscles and stretch down to close with my calf. 
  • engage the core muscles .... stop collapsing!
I still have a lot of work to do on my own position - particularly at the canter - before I can start expecting really great results from Isabel. 

'ugh get off my back!' -Isabel

somewhat, uh better...

But I'm finally starting to see real progress at the walk and trot - even when I don't have a trainer out there guiding me through it. It feels good!

Our 'transformation' (great idea, Niamh!) is by no means complete, but it's happening. 

'ooh I feel fancy' -Isabel

And I guess that's what it's all about - I'm developing a 'feel' for it, but it's just going to take some time. Fortunately Isabel is a willing partner who really tries. 

Hopefully we'll get our next dressage lesson scheduled in the next week or two!

Friday, August 22, 2014

lesson re-cap time!

We had our second ride with Dan Clasing last night. Two of the trainers at GE have ridden with him for a few years, so they get him to travel to us for semi-regular lessons. Fun!

His objective for us boils down to: use small circles with INSIDE BEND to get Isabel rounded and supple on the flat, and to create the right canter for jumping. I'm working too hard with my hands, and need to focus instead on pushing forward with my legs and using the bend to encourage her to give. 

He wants us to avoid straight lines for now - and almost exaggerate the inside bend at the walk and trot - to the point of actually leg yielding out, especially during all up and down transitions (big problem areas for us). 

For the jumping, we started by trotting a vertical in both directions, complete with placing poles (which are really distracting for me despite being intended to make things easier lol). 

We struggled to find the right pace, but Isabel put in some nice efforts. (Please excuse the picture quality here - these are all video stills.)

headless (and legless, apparently) rider

We maintained the idea of avoiding straight lines and working off the bend through jumping - he wanted my approaches to approximate tangents off a circle. 

After jumping the single a few times, he added an X  to make it a two stride line when trotting in. 

we luv Xs

The two strides were tricky for us - we actually did 2.5 our first time through... oops. The other horse in our lesson has a MUCH bigger stride than Isabel, so it was kinda a balancing act setting fences that worked for both of us. 

trotting in

So we just cantered in to the line for the rest of our efforts (still in two strides) while the other rider trotted in. Then the focus became getting the right canter early. I had a few moments of jumping in with too much, and then didn't have room for the two strides before the X, which was now an oxer...

omg no touchy the oxer!!!

This resulted in some jumps that can be best described as bone jarring... lol. Isabel gave that oxer a LOT of room!

one day i will learn to release

Dan wanted our canter to be super organized and tiny, with about a ten foot stride length. To achieve this, we did lots of small circles in the corner then maintained the bend in our approach to the jumps. 

she is vurry focused

We were more or less successful in our efforts. 

cantering in

I'm pleased with the lesson regarding strategies for improving Isabel's way of going and creating a consistent pace. But I still have a long way to go, particularly with my position. 

I didn't really get a lot of feedback on that element of my riding, but the videos make it pretty clear that I'm wayyyyy over-riding with my upper body and just need to quiet down and be still. Isabel is so sensitive that I suspect a quieter ride will have huge positive effects on her.  

Maybe some no-stirrup work will force me to sit down, stabilize my core, and lengthen my leg, instead of perching and balancing on my feet?? #foodforthought

the rig - part 2

So I finally have my rig! The trailer dealer gave me a really capital crash course on parking the thing ("when reversing, move the bottom of the steering wheel in the direction you want the trailer to go"). And my truck conveniently has a bumper sticker right smack in the middle of the cap's rear window - which makes hitching up fairly simple. 

together at last!

But how do I get the pony on the damn thing? At this point, it was essentially just a shiny lawn ornament and Isabel was NOT impressed with it. 

Since it was pretty critical to me that the loading/unloading be a sure thing, I decided to get help from a pro. I needed to know that I could get Isabel back onto the trailer in new and unfamiliar settings - and do so by myself. 

We had two sessions with the pro - with him doing the handling and explaining his methods and purpose to me. (he says it normally only takes one session, and I believe that... but we are speshul lol)

installing the buttons

His approach is to simply ask the horse for 'forward.' It isn't about asking the horse to get into the trailer - the trailer is actually just sort of incidentally there, kind of in the way of forward progress.

He uses a dressage whip as an extension of his arm, and rhythmically taps the hindquarters to ask for forward. ANY forward movement - even just a lean - is rewarded. But as soon as the forward movement stops, the tapping starts up again. 

Slowly but surely - Isabel figured it out. 


The trick was really in teaching me how to press the right 'buttons' to get the same effect. He's a pro for a reason - he's got the timing and energy thing down pat. It took a little more effort for me to get the same results, but we got there!

success replicated, sans pro! (she is thrilled, clearly)

But the lesson was learned, and Isabel now hops in and out of the trailer on the first try. 

off the property like it ain't no thang

So we are officially road-worthy and have been hauling out for weekly lessons since May!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

now why would i do that?

I measured Isabel's ears last night. They are apparently a pretty standard horse size, though the rest of her head dimensions call for cob size. 

But what kind of accessory requires fitted ears?? Hmm... idk, it's a mystery ;)

jump of doom

It's not that I doubt Isabel's ability; I'm pretty sure we will eventually get to BN height (fingers crossed!). But the pace of our progress is dictated by my confidence. So it goes slow. I'm just finally feeling super comfortable with 2' again, and 2'3" is doable. 

But I dislike rolltops. They look *big* to me, and I am a wuss. The one at my lesson barn OF is probably 2'3". So it's not entirely outside of our comfort zone. Except I hate it. 

Every week my trainer P asks me if I want to jump it.... and every week I politely decline while the brave 11 yr olds in my group sail over it, no problem.

Last week it was just pushed up against the rail though, and my immediate thought is - thank god, we get one more week without having to jump the monster.

phew - jump of doom is not set up.

This week, though... no such luck. And little did I know that 'against the rail' doesn't necessarily mean 'not set up.'

oh. shit.

Yea... because we are brave little eventers we are jumping *out* of the arena into the adjoining field for a little romp up the hill, then back downhill to a coop into the arena. 

Side note - I'm totally fine with coops, boxes, anything angular, even though I know they're not as easy for the horses as round obstacles like rolltops. It doesn't have to make sense though, that's just how it is in my head.

Anywho. P specifically did NOT ask me if I wanted to do this. She just told me that I was doing it. Honestly I kind of expected that... and was maybe waiting for that moment. The whole trust thing - she won't make me do something unless she's sure I can. So this lesson was the big moment.

She was nice though, and had one of the aforementioned brave 11 year olds pony me through. I just pointed Isabel at the horse in front and she did the rest.

lift off!

video proof (note brave kid leading the way)

It was awesome. 

Izzy jumped conservatively, but didn't really back off it. If anything, I'm holding too much. But we did it like it was no big deal. 

I am really loving that Isabel is in a place now where she can help me out - like 'just hang on, I totes got this."

So the jump of doom -- conquered!! Woo hoo! 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

winning with the GoPro

No I don't have a GoPro of my own... though I LOVE watching footage from those of you who do. 

But seriously - if it's not videos from you all galloping about or rocking it on xc or running barrels/poles (looking at YOU Carly & Bobby) ... it might as well be videos of marmots. because duh. 

plz to enjoy this video, discovered via Grist

the rig

This past winter wasn't super harsh in my region, but our non-winterized sand arena was still frozen solid for about three months. Furthermore, all the fields and trails were slippery, wretched mud. This amounted to no riding at all, except for going around and around the barn on a little gravel path. #boring

this sums up our winter activities...

We survived, however, mostly thanks to the amazing blogging community. Seriously - you guys kept me motivated and inspired even when I couldn't actually do anything fun with my horse. 

In fact - you got me thinking about my priorities. Why do I ride? Why do I ride Isabel? What are we doing with ourselves tinkering around in the arena? At this point, I had never taken a lesson with Isabel - she was still just my ride between lessons at the fancy pants hunter barn. 
pretty much the opposite of fancy pants lessons (but ooh so fun!)

It's unlikely that I'll ever have a similar lease situation with a horse like this for the price tag again. So I decided capitalize on her - really see how far we can go. 

This decision - combined with a *very* modest inheritance ten years delayed - led me to start thinking about getting into a regular training program. Lessons WITH Isabel. But not just any lessons - I wanted to EVENT.  

Figuring out the trainer and barn was actually the easy part, thanks to recommendations, and I spent a month or two riding their school horses before I figured out how to get Isabel there. 

hi Jasper!

The answer was clearly a truck and trailer. I was determined to use JUST the inheritance money for this, and it turned out to be way harder than I anticipated. Who woulda thunk that a used V8 4wd chevy would be such a hot commodity? (...probably anybody who knows anything about trucks - ie, not me). 

I looked at lots and lots of trucks. There really wasn't anything in my price range that didn't have some major issues, and the trucks just above my price range sold in days flat. All I wanted to do was hand over my small little stack-o-cash and drive away in a truck. Why was this so difficult?

somebody plz to transform this into trucky truck!!

But all hope was not lost. A dealer I had previously contacted (about a truck that was sold by the time I called... whomp whomp) took note of what I wanted, and called me when he found a match. 

well hello there.

The truck had just under 200k miles on it and an oil leak. But the price was right and my family's mechanic gave it his blessing (more or less). Yay trucky truck!!! 

I drove it around for two weeks to get really comfortable with it before parking it at it's new home - the barn. As a city girl who has only ever driven small sedans, I wanted to make sure I could handle the truck first before even attempting to tow anything.

it parallel parks!!

Next came the trailer. I had planned to buy used, but this again turned out to be more difficult than expected. 

I asked my new trainer to keep an eye out for me, and she told me that one of the boarders actually has a trailer business. After some back and forth with them, I decided to go for it. It meant financing instead of paying outright... but it's a manageable monthly payment (and I can rationalize anything). And now I have this:

this will do nicely

It took over two months to make this dream a reality. But I finally have the shiny objects with which I will tow my pony around town!! That is, if I can get said pony INSIDE the trailer...

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

re-post from eventing nation: "Sally Cousins’ Weekly Training Tip: Mental Strength"

Eventing Nation recently started posting weekly training tips from Sally Cousins. I'm always interested to read what the pros have to say about staying at the top of their game, but this particular tip is super relevant to me. 

She speaks about the importance of mental strength - it's not just the fancy horse or most expensive equipment, it's being there 100% mentally. 

It's insights exactly like this, from one of the top riders in this sport, that help reassure me about my plan to take it as slowly as needed in order to feel truly confident with Isabel.

Visit Eventing Nation for the article.

pretty girl