Sunday, November 30, 2014

games with camp kids

Isabel and I have had a few rides now to work on the concepts from our last bio-mechanics lesson. I feel surprisingly good about recreating the magic on my own (that's always the trick lol - it's a cake walk when the trainer is talking me through it, then everything falls to shambles once I'm on my own...).

Plus I recently read a post by Kathryn Little at Incidents of Guidance outlining how a typical training ride might be structured. In short - she wrote that you can break the ride into segments where one segment focuses on a new concept (or problem of the day), then move on to conditioning work, then back to the concept/PotD, then break, etc. 

This approach made sense to me, so I gave it a whirl during our last schooling session. We started with that long low stretchy trot wherein Isabel shifts from lateral imbalance to focusing on front to back balance. Then a quick walk break before some unstructured, easy-going canter (which included popping over a small X for funsies), then back to our trot+balance work. She was GREAT!! I think she really understands what we're doing - so my aids can be a little less clunky lol. 

Meanwhile, the post-Thanksgiving camp was wrapping up around us with some games. The kids were getting ready to play musical stalls - wherein groups of poles are arranged around the arena to form three walls of a stall. Everyone goes around and around at trot or canter until the music stops, then you must get into a stall (only through the open wall - no going over poles!) at the appropriate gait or else be the odd one out. 

formidable opponents: Midnight, Woody, Cheyenne & Caballo
not pictured: Bordick & Milagro

I figured, what the hell - Isabel can play some games right? And it was actually really fun! The ring was pretty crowded (esp bc one end was unusable due to wetness), so cantering around with campers who may or may not fully grasp the concept of steering was a touch dicey at times. And Isabel wanted to RACE some of them lol. 

To my surprise, Isabel was surprisingly ok with getting all juiced up to race into a stall - then halting without accidentally stepping over a pole (and thus vacating the stall). But even so, we were maybe the 3rd team eliminated. Oops. Those darn kids - so competitive and ballsy!! lol 

Isabel was a tad sassy tho (she doesn't like to lose) - so we only played the one round and just hung out in the middle relaxing while the next group took their turn. It felt like a nice change of pace from the very mentally and physically challenging balance work. Hope Izzy enjoyed it too!!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

circus horse!!

So we finally got our first snowfall on Wednesday! Which, uh, was kinda inconvenient bc we were planning a long-expected trip up to PA to pick up my friend's new Akhal Teke, Zeus. And get this - Zeus used to be in the CIRCUS!

not sure when this pic was taken. source

My friend is in love with this breed and already has an unbacked baby, but wanted something that she could start riding now. So obviously we had to go get this awesome horse. Weather be damned. 

roads actually weren't too bad - and the snow was very pretty

The horse's current owner lives pretty far north of us, so we decided to meet halfway - which turned out to be about 45 minutes north of Harrisburg, PA. There was a fairground there that we thought would be convenient for the exchange, but it turned out to be closed. Oops. So we literally parked in some random neighborhood to do the swap. 

The folks out there shoveling their sidewalks must have been so confused lol. Two horse trailers and this exotic looking animal - perhaps they thought we were thieves or the equine black market? Not sure.. and don't care lol. 

Zeus was imported from Russia to perform with a circus troupe. A commercial for the performance, Cirque Avaia, is linked here on Youtube - and it's a little cheesy but still looks pretty neat. Not sure I saw this particular horse in the video, but there are some other good looking Akhal Tekes. 

However the circus eventually declared bankruptcy around 2007 and the troupe was disbanded. Apparently another one of the horses is currently for sale in Texas, if anyone is interested. 

My knowledge of what happened next is a little sketchy - but I think Zeus was donated to a lesson program where he stayed for two years before being purchased by his current owner. However, despite her love for him, he wasn't really her kind of ride, so she wanted to find him a forever home that didn't involve giving lessons.

Here's a Youtube video (compilation of photo stills) from 2010 wherein he works on dressage, stadium jumping and cross country. This is probably during his lesson horse years. My favorite thing about this video is that all of his riders appear to be grinning lol.

Anyway, he's all settled in at home now and appears to be quick buddies with my friend's other Akhal Teke Scooter :)

 not a very flattering pic of Scooter - but he's so wiggly!! that's Zeus in the background

Zeus loving on Scooter

Friday, November 28, 2014

grateful for the bloopers too

Yesterday I shared a video of moments from the past year that make me smile when I watch them. For the most part, they are times when I felt like Isabel and I were operating as one unit at the top of our game. 

Obviously not every moment is like that - and we've certainly had a lot of shit shows learning opportunities over the past year too. 

Since I am also grateful for Isabel's willingness to keep working with me through some sketchier rides, I thought it'd be fun to compile some of the, uh, more interesting moments too. Enjoy :)

video outtakes of 2014

Thursday, November 27, 2014

happy thanksgiving!

Hope everyone has a great thanksgiving today! Or at least, a great day of eating :)

My family is quite large and blended, with various branches hosting dinners today. Know what that means for me? MULTIPLE thanksgiving dinners. In one day. Yesssssss.

In the meantime, I put together a short compilation of some riding moments with Isabel from this past year for which I'm grateful. 

video of some happy memories from this year

It's hard to encapsulate every element for which I'm grateful. But essentially, just having Isabel in my life makes me happier than I would be otherwise. So thanks Izzy! 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

bio-mechanics: winter manual

Our last bio-mechanics lesson of the year was great - really really productive. What follows is a brain dump intended to inform a winter's worth of schooling. It's long. Sorry not sorry :)

Tl;dr: must be laterally balanced FIRST before thinking of balancing front to back. front to back balance will then ultimately allow for true engagement and 'push' from the hind end.

Lessons with Kirsten typically involve a fair amount of lecture wherein she digs into the concepts of balance and physiology. She can talk at length about how a horse moves *correctly.* But of course the horse that actually does so is a bit of a white whale. So she also explains how horses compensate for *not* moving correctly. 

This is frequently the point where I think, 'Uh, yep - I know exactly what you're talking about.'

In short - the lectures are great. A barn mate captured this iteration on video, so if the audio turns out and the appropriate permissions are granted, perhaps I can share later. 

The biggie for us was building on last month's concepts of lateral balance. 

Kirsten says that horses balance in two primary dimensions: left to right and front to back. She also says that you can't address both simultaneously - you must assess with EACH step where you are - side to side or front to back? - and use your aids accordingly.

Red is an example of lateral imbalance, among other things lol

The telltale sign for distinguishing between which set of aids is needed? The horse's neck. If they're hollow and inverted, it's lateral balance. If they're stretching down - it's front to back. 

Isabel changes from step to step. And frequently, when she moves from lateral balance to front to back - ie when she stretches way down - it takes her a bit by surprise and she feels quite unstable behind, and reverts immediately to going inverted with lateral compensation.

Side to side balance aids revolve around achieving a level pelvis in the horse. The less active side of the pelvis sits higher than the other. In Isabel, her right hind is tipped higher 95% of the time. Some horses may switch sides tho - either during a single ride or over time. 

Kirsten's method for determining unevenness in the pelvis is to scootch over about 3" left in your saddle and walk for a while like that - really paying attention to each footfall and how your body feels. After a while, scootch 3" right of center. Reassess. Walk for a while. Rinse repeat. It feels weird, but you start noticing things. The idea is to remove the co-dependencies that exist between horse and rider. 

We're used to compensating, and so are they. So by adjusting and readjusting position in the saddle, you're essentially hitting 'reset.' Ultimately, when you figure out which side of the pelvis is tipped higher - you want to 'sit' on that side - circling in that direction with an exaggerated inside bend to get that lazy leg working. 

My method for helping Isabel get her pelvis level is to seriously exaggerate a right bend - to the point of near leg-yield left - regardless of which direction we're going in. She can travel with her nose bent all the way around to the right for a while... but will eventually let go through her neck and stretch straight down.

'this is a sick joke'

The aids for lateral balance are single rein (in our case, typically right - tho this can actually be interchangeable) and little to no leg (cuh-ray-zay, amirite?). The horse dictates pace (tho again, this exercise is best done on a smallish circle - think 10 meters - bc the circle helps control pace and create engagement so you can focus on other things). Of course this also assumes that the rider is soft and even and not introducing further imbalances.

When Isabel starts stretching way down (and it almost looks like a dive at first), she's balancing front to back. But she's not very confident there - and immediately reverts to going hollow. But over time the stretches last longer and longer. 

The aids for front to back balance are consistent contact on both reins, and leg (with care!) to encourage the hind end. I have to be purposeful with leg bc Isabel is quick to think leg = pace, and therefore speeds up and inverts. 

For rein contact, Kirsten showed me a neat trick. I tend to want to hold the same notch on the rein and just give with my arms. But in these exercises, Isabel is going from hollow and inverted (ie high head and short neck) to lowww long neck. My contact is supposed to remain consistent throughout, but my t-rex arms just aren't long enough. 

She had me be the horse's side of the reins while she held the rider's side. She asked me to take more on my side, and the reins just slipped through her fingers while I felt ZERO difference in the weight of her contact. Yeah. It was kinda cool. That's what she wants - when Isabel stretches down I need to allow the reins to slip while maintaining contact. 

ok, yes isabel - sure that is stretching... but, uh... wrong direction babe

This way Izzy will learn to trust my contact, so that eventually I'll be able to draw it in. More advanced contact will happen over time, but this is ground zero - where we need to be.

Of course the flip side to this is shortening the reins when the horse pops back up again. This will probably be more difficult for me, as I'm already quite famous for letting the reins slip out lol.

Anyways, We worked for a bit at the walk. Riding each step: are we looking at side to side balance? Or forward and back balance? After a while Isabel and I were working on forward and back more often than not. So we moved up to trot. 

Trotting a 10meter circle is, uh, not my happy place. This exercise requires long, soft legs - period. My seat regulates pace, and shoulders are BACK. I could only help Isabel when my own body was balanced and in position. 

relaxed mare is relaxed

I just gotta say - we had some moments at the trot that were phenomenal. Just - amazing. Isabel was just reaching reaching reaching down, with this slow organized little trot. True - she's still very much on the forehand - but by removing her head and neck from the equation, we're allowing her hind end room to operate and start pushing. 

The next steps are ultimately starting to draw in that contact and shorten the frame - allowing for true engagement from behind. But Kirsten said we need a few, uh, MILES here first. This way Isabel will get more comfortable and confident and trusting in this new way of moving. We're asking her to totally change her way of going. She needs to develop strength there. But I feel like I have a really clear sense (and FEEL) for how this will happen through the winter.

Side note:

not perfect but you get my drift

Kirsten gave Isabel a quick once-over before we started. I told her about the ulcer treatment, P's assessment of Isabel's muscle development, and that pic I shared with you all where both of Isabel's front feet were on the ground during trot.

Kirsten pointed out the hollow in Isabel's muscling on the inside of the angle outlined between the point of her hip, her actual hip, and the stifle (above). She said the muscles here are responsible for 'pushing.' And Isabel has very little development there. 

In a horse that's working correctly from the hind end, the muscles will develop so that the area fills out like a beach ball. Not so in Isabel's case. We obviously already knew she wasn't working correctly. But now I have a better idea of what to look for in terms of improvements. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

follow up on position and balance

I'm finding that posting embarrassing pictures of myself frequently prompts very insightful comments, which then help me better understand some murky concepts. So thanks, readers! 

On more than one occasion, I've posted a picture thinking I had all the problems figured out. But nope! Maybe I don't. Still definitely got a lot to learn...

I included this picture in last week's post on optimum balance and wrote that my position was ahead of the horse. My reasoning was because my upper body was tipped ahead of my lower leg, and ahead of that handy dandy red vertical line.

However a reader commented that actually, no - I'm behind the horse's motion here since my shoulders are behind Isabel's. Huh. Never actually thought of it that way before. 

So I went back to the video to get a frame-by-frame sequence. I wanted to see why my impression of my position was the exact opposite of a reader who frankly has significantly more experience than me. 

I'm not particularly fond of my position here (and our distance was a smidgen tight) - but it's a pretty honest representation of where I currently am in my training. #noshame 

I lean back approaching the fence, then apparently make a big effort to bring my upper body forward at take off. Is this what C meant about needing to be STILL at the fence?

It looks like I tip my upper body forward for take off, then quickly sit up and back again after the apex of Isabel's jump, and land practically standing straight up. My lower leg just swings back and forth, with my hands playing too much of a role in balancing. 

So maybe I've been my own worst enemy all along: I make a big effort to 'go with the horse' over the fence, which feels like jumping ahead. So then I sit even farther back to the next fence. Thus starts a vicious cycle...

My assessment for improvement is, I believe, still the same: solidify lower leg and close hip angles so that I have a better base of support for my upper body. But actually looking at the full sequence makes the mechanics clearer.

What do you think - have you ever looked at (or posted??) sequenced pics of your riding? What qualities in your position do you consider to be most important for safe (and clear) jumping rounds?

(also, I'm tagging the posts with super insightful comment threads under 'training tips' - feel free to peruse the previous topics! it actually kinda reminds me a little of the 'teach me tuesdays' that SprinklerBandits does... yay for awesome advice from the blogging community!)

Monday, November 24, 2014

grids - finally!

As previously mentioned, I was expecting to go to a jumpers show saturday instead of our weekly lesson. But things worked out differently, so off to our lesson we went. 

It's probably for the best, since Isabel hadn't done anything in nearly a week (frozen arena footing... boo) and had just started a two week course of gastrogard. 

She was pretty good for the ride, all things considered. But also not particularly motivated. Not sassy, tho - she said yes to everything I asked and was very workman-like. But it kinda felt like she was just going through the motions - phoning it in, if you will. That's fine tho. 

It provided the perfect opportunity for us to cross off another long-standing goal: GRIDS!!

One fence at a time, P built up a three-fence grid on the outside rail - with the rail on our left side (perfect for our left drift issue!). The fences were 18' apart - a short one stride for us. 

3 fences set 18' apart

The whole objective here was for me to set Isabel up going into the grid so that she could adjust as necessary while I focused on other things - like keeping my legs under me. The short distance had me wanting to mess with our in jump (predictably resulting in chips) or pace through the grid. But when I'd quit trying to micromanage Isabel and just mind my own Ps and Qs, things went quite swimmingly. 

Second exercise was three fences set 30' apart - so 2 strides. Still short-ish, but allowing for a little more forward. 

looking at jumps 1 and 2, before the far green/purple fence was moved into line

Our first time through the two stride combo was a little stilted - had a slightly too-sharp corner and a wonky in jump. Izzy still took care of business, but it wasn't very smooth. 

video of first trip

We went through again and got a pretty heinous in jump (totes 100% my fault) so I actually just circled right out of the line to try it again. P said I should have kept going and done 3 strides... but idk... I wanted to reorganize.  

Third time was the charm, I guess. We rounded our corner off a little more (you can hear P in the video calling out 'now turn!' lol) and that helped our in jump arrive a little nicer. 

video of second, better trip

I think it was a good lesson for Isabel bc it wasn't particularly challenging - just straight lines over short distances. And I mostly just had a loop in my reins as we went around. The real benefit was for me - I tried to stay very very conscious of my lower legs, and envisioned keeping the soles of my shoes facing the jumps. 

P suggested thinking of moving my feet towards my elbows... but that's currently a little beyond my coordination skills, considering my arms aren't in the right place either yet, and there's NO WAY I can focus on two separate body parts simultaneously lol.

still plenty of, uh, 'fun' eq moments tho lol

Sunday, November 23, 2014

sunday snapshot

There was a slight change of plans yesterday when my barn mate backed out of the show last minute with a lame horse - oops. So, uh, yea... we just did our normal saturday lesson. Recap and media to follow later.

spoiler alert - we jumped over some stuff with varying degrees of success

Today's agenda holds the last lesson with our bio-mechanics trainer until next spring... At least I'm slated for a full hour and the weather should be cooperative. 

In fact - the temperatures are supposed to hit the low 70s by Monday, and stay fairly mild through the week (hopefully with limited precipitation). So fingers crossed we'll get more saddle time! Yay!!

'don't look at me like that, i'm not messin with anything!'

'oh, THAT sponge? well, it was in my way. nbd'

Also just realized that Friday was my 100th post. I'm still kinda surprised that I have a blog (don't have facebook, twitter, instagram, or any other social media varietal beyond linkedin for profesh purposes)... but I'm really enjoying it! 

I've said it before, but I'll say it again: this horsey blogging community has been hugely inspiring to me on so many levels. And I am so grateful for all the folks who take time to read and comment. Thank you!!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

show day - no prep required

So I decided to show today, despite not riding since a trail ride last Sunday... Super preparatory, like we do. 

Thanks everyone for chiming in yesterday - definitely gave me a lot to think about! My plan is to give Izzy a small breakfast before we leave (she usually only eats dinner) and keep her nose buried in hay at all times to keep her tummy happy. ALSO - the gastrogard finally arrived yesterday afternoon - so Iz started her 2wk course with last night's dinner!!! phew :)

We did all our clean up and packing last night too, so she won't have to stand around and risk getting all worked up before leaving. She'll just come in - eat - then off we go!

I checked in with my trainer anyway, tho, and she encouraged us to go. She says that the host farm is always a lot of fun, and the show should be very informal and low key. I'm doing the puddle jumpers 2' division, so hopefully we'll be ok after a week off. 

We've never done pure jumpers before, and I'm actually kind of excited, if a bit nervous - esp about the twisty turns and confusing courses. 

hopefully we don't look like this!!

Also, going to try to avoid earning yet another badge of dishonor:

available through cafrepress

Wish us luck!

Friday, November 21, 2014

decisions decisions ... (aka boo winter!)

So this week has kinda been a bust, riding wise. It's no big secret that the freezing temps have descended on most of the country in a big way. We haven't seen real snow yet (knock on wood), but the arena is frozen for the first time this season. 

Our arena's location prevents direct sunlight until the afternoon, and it's also blocked by trees to the west. Combined with poor drainage, the few hours of direct sunlight just aren't enough to counteract overnight lows in the 20s. 

Three days off (mon, tues, wed) isn't really a huge deal for the Princess right now. It's not ideal, but them's the breaks. 

love those ears <3

We expected the ring to thaw in time for a lesson with C last night... but that didn't happen. In fact, this particular freeze is likely to last through the weekend. 

Which means that riding tonight is also unlikely. So I have a dilemma. 

A barn mate and I planned to go to a fun Jumpers show tomorrow - $50 for three classes in the puddle jumpers 2' division: power & speed, power, and jump off. Sounds like a blast, right??

But given our week off (plus the fact that the gastrogard for treating Isabel's suspected ulcers *still* hasn't arrived....), I'm wondering if the money is better spent on our regular lesson - which is at the same time as the show. 

On the other hand, Isabel is fit enough and sane enough to go out there after a week off without too much issue (again, knocking on wood lol). We've never done a jumpers show before, and this one sounds like a perfect first outing... and it's always fun to show with friends (esp since I usually do my stuff alone). 

But I don't know, I guess I'm trying to assess value here... What would you do? 

the barn cats recommend a double dose of sunshine

Also - in the unlikely event that you don't already follow T Myers at A Filly's Best Friend - make sure to check the awesome contest, facebook silent auction, and other fundraising efforts she and her team are doing to fund their trip to the Midsouth Three Day Challenge

You can contribute directly on their Go Fund Me page HERE.

Best of luck to the Weenie Eventers Event Team!! 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

november's 10 questions

Another set of questions from the prolific and ever diligent L. Williams at Viva Carlos

1. Have you ever owned a horse?
Not yet. But a girl can dream!!

2. What is your favorite aspect of your discipline?

I'm new to eventing. I was drawn to this sport bc it requires horses and riders to be well rounded and versatile, but doesn't get bogged down in style over function. 

fan-girling on Phillip Dutton while jump judging the prelim course at the MCTA Horse Trials at Shawan Downs this summer

3. What pet peeves do you have concerning your discipline?

Again, I'm a too new to have a lot of baggage. I hear frustration from riders in the lower levels who are ready to jump higher, but don't have solid enough dressage to actually move up a level. This isn't something that affects me personally.

At the upper levels, I hear concerns about the safety of horse and rider. That the format of the sport has changed over time so that competing horses aren't actually as fit as they used to need to be. Then combined with incredibly challenging xc courses, the danger becomes very real.

4. Do you do barn chores?

I do the Saturday morning chores (stalls, water, hay, sweeping) and Sunday morning feeding and chores at Isabel's barn. I've always liked working at barns, and find it both mentally and physically rewarding. Plus I like that it creates more interaction and socializing with other barn mates and horses that I might not know otherwise.

'hello, yes, we are hungry. plz feed us.'

5. What is your least favorite barn chore?

If I have slave labor lesson kids helping, I usually foist off the water chores and sweeping first. Dragging around muddy hoses and coiling them up is definitely not my favorite! Tho this is a little cruel to make the kids do in the winter... (plus they're sloppy and splash water everywhere, leading to ice in freezing temps)

ughhhhh. too soon.

6. What do you consider the worst vice in a horse?

Horses that risk bodily injury to themselves in an attempt to evade the rider. Rearing comes to mind here. I also get frustrated with horses that have perfected the art of dumping their rider. Some of them have surgical precision!

7. What saddle brand is your favorite?
My knowledge here is limited. I've had favorites at previous barns, but never knew what they were (almost guaranteed that none were very fancy). Had an HDR of my own for a while and liked it well enough, but sold it since it didn't fit Izzy and was just gathering dust in my trunk. 

8. Do you ride with a quarter sheet in the winter

Nope. Never felt the need (esp bc once the arena freezes we pretty much can't ride anyway). 

9. Does your horse wear boots? What kind?

Isabel wears velcro-on bell boots for the trailer. Under saddle, she has neoprene splint boots up front, and hard shell fetlock boots behind (and has been known to interfere behind when she's due for the farrier). I'm not really satisfied with the current boots, tho, and will hopefully be upgrading this situation before next season! 

boots visible here

10. Full seat or knee patch breeches?

Either or. My show pants are knee patch, but could just as easily be full seat. I'm loving my full seat pipers for this cooler weather, tho I'll eventually switch to my knee patch fleece lined Kerrits for full winter.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

ww - pics from october's schooling show

Finally got my hands on the actual pictures from the fun schooling show in October. I figured it might be nice to get some actual quality photos on here, instead of the video stills we've all come to know and love (or not, your mileage may vary...). Enjoy!

All photographs are credited to Patti Fenwick. 

drop those stirrups!!