Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Long Day, Late Night (Lather, Rinse, Repeat)

Last night was another killer, as directly after work I rushed out to the barn to be ready for my 5:30 lesson with my trainer, and then had a college lesson to teach at 6:30. I got home earlier than on Monday (around 9 this time instead of 11) but I was still pooped and fell asleep quite easily. Waking up this morning... not so much!

I was nervous getting ready to ride because of Henry's antics on Monday night. Part of it was me being frustrated at the people in the ring, I'm sure, but his mindset of forward = FAST and slow = sideways was getting old fast. I tacked up and got on while the woman before me was still in her lesson, and my trainer told me it would be a little while since this woman's horse was acting up a bit. No problem, we could use the extra warm-up! I did some easy, forward trot circles and worked on that darn right bend, and by the time my lesson started he was feeling great - loose, calm, and listening to me.

We worked on a little bit of the lateral movements, which are getting better every day. His leg-yields are great, especially when I can get myself into the correct position. His half-pass is still coming but my biggest challenge with that and the haunches-in is keeping the bend in the correct direction. After a break we did some canter work, keeping him upright and BENDING. His canter was, as usual, lovely, but for some reason he started to goof around when we got to the corner between H-C. He would pop into the inside and break to the trot, and it seemed like he was giving a half-hearted spook maybe? Nothing tremendous, just a break in concentration that, coupled with my inability to really keep him off my inside leg, caused some trouble. After two or three of these episodes I was able to push him through that corner with a bend, but then he wanted to speed up again. He really likes the uphill canter, I think, but it's definitely hard for him to stay there for long stretches of time.

After another break we worked on some trot-halt-trot transitions, getting him really off my seat and getting him to rock back on his haunches and sort of launch himself into the trot transitions. We also did some trot-canter-trot-walk transitions so that he would start to learn to differentiate between when I was asking for a full stop, a down transition, and just a balancing half-halt (his tendency is to just STOP - think reining horse lol). This is something we will have to keep working on. From there we did a few lengthenings, which are really coming along nicely.

My main homework for this week, since we have most of what we want and are waiting for his muscles to come along to provide the carrying power he needs is as follows:

  • bending, and getting his stomach loose enough to be able to move it when and where I want it
  • keep finessing lateral work
  • get him more steady in his contact, especially with the outside rein (he tends to float in between the reins in a sort of no-mans-land)
  • trot-halt-trot transitions to encourage him to really sit and use his hind end for transitions
"We'll be here for a while" still holding strong with us, for now.

My college lesson went pretty smoothly, with the two Rusty Riders showing up early enough to catch the last few minutes of my lesson. Everyone tacked up and got on easily, and I actually think all my stressing last week about how to run the lesson and what to work on was good, since it gave me a sort of plan of attack for this week.

We worked on getting the schoolies to listen to the least possible amount of aid that was necessary to get a prompt and appropriate reaction. We worked on walk, halt, trot transitions, throwing in circles when they felt comfortable. I really tried to emphasize that you want to use a whisper of an aid first, then escalate if that's not effective, but then the next time you ask start from a whisper again, and we also worked on position - keeping their upper bodies tall with shoulders back was a lot better than last week, but some still need help with heels down, legs back stuff. I told them to imagine the magician's trick of sawing someone in half and to try to separate their bodies from the belly button. Everything above the belly button stretches up, everything below stretches down. We also worked on keeping steady, quiet, forward hands and keeping a straight line from the elbow to the bit by pulling back with the shoulders instead of the hands when going for a "whoa" aid.

After a walk break I had them all line up and do a couple of canters in each direction, and had them concentrate on their position, keeping a hold of the outside rein (the more the schoolie gets to drift in to the middle, the shorter the distance they will have to canter to get back to the end of the line!), and keeping the canter until the RIDER asked for a down transition. Most of them were great. The Ten Rides In girls needed more help, as one was bouncing around a lot, and the other couldn't (or wouldn't) get her pony to canter. Her hands are a big problem, as the minute her pony would pick up a trot and start to go faster, she would flail around and yank on his mouth. When I suggested grabbing a handful of his mane to help her stay balanced her steering went out the window. Maybe next week I will get her on another horse that she feels more stable on and that is more responsive to the aids, but she's going to have to learn to keep her hands a lot quieter.

Most of the horses weren't even warm, but I had them all walk them around the arena to cool out anyway, and one of them (the first horse I ever trained) took a nice long roll. He's such a big chunk of love, and he definitely enjoyed himself :)

Today there is a winter storm warning in effect until 10pm, and I am very tired, so I am skipping the barn tonight. If my friend is free we might hit the gym, but I don't know if I'll be motivated enough to go without her! A nap might be more what the doctor ordered...

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Long Day, Late Night

Oh wow am I tired. Long day at work yesterday, then straight home to eat some leftover pizza while changing into riding attire (which in the depths of bleakest mid-winter) includes pantyhose, thermal shirts, wool sweaters, and my new fleecy vest. Out to the barn to ride Henry, who was uptight and more sideways than forward (but not always in the good way). College lesson with 4 total newbies and a rusty rider who wants to brush up on her skills. Over to my parent's house to pick up the rest of my laundry from their (free) dryer. Home at 11, shower, fall asleep and have weird dreams about puppies (huh?).

When I got Henry out into the ring we started with lots of leg-yields at the walk. Center line to the wall. Quarter line to the wall. Quarter line to the opposite wall. Wall to center line. Quarter line to center line, back to quarter line. It was getting pretty good. Then two people came in to lunge their horses (one after the other, not both at the same time), so I took the far end of the ring (by the open door, not by the barn). We picked up a trot and tried to keep him up in his shoulders and at a reasonable pace, without me tipping forward, and keeping my hands forward. I don't know if it was because of our warm up not being warm enough for him, the other horse in the ring, or what, but he was tense. When Henry is tense he GOES. Despite my best half-halt attempts we never got a consistently nice pace for the whole night.

Every time I tried to slow him down, his shoulders would pop out to the inside or the outside. If I tried to keep a better hold on the reins he would tense up his neck and curl up, or stick his nose in the air. It felt like he was paddling around, so I would try to focus his energy into going forward to the bit without going slower. Did. Not. Work. I did trot-halt and trot-walk transitions to make sure he was listening to my whoa aids. Those were okay, but as soon as we got back into the trot for more than a few strides it felt like he wanted to take off again.

Then there was a lesson of 5 or 6 riders that came into the ring. The instructor (also happened to be the Barn Owner) asked them to stay in the short arena/ not go past F and K. Apparently one of them thought this meant to stay on the OTHER side of F and K, where I was struggling to contain my wild man. Great. She couldn't steer, either. Her horse kept drifting in and out from the track so it was almost impossible to work around her. Then another boarder brought her horse down to the circle I was on with this lesson horse. Yikes. I tried a couple of canters each way, but I knew they wouldn't be pretty. I concentrated on keeping him relatively slow, and responsive when I asked for the walk, and then I got the heck out of that ring! I had just walked him back to his stall when I saw two college-aged kids wandering into the barn, 25 minutes early for their lesson. *Sigh*

I untacked Henry and we all went into the tack room to wait for the rest of the lesson to show up. Got their liability releases signed, etc, went over rules, and learned a little about each of them. There are four guys and one girl. As I said the girl has ridden before and wants to refresh her skills. She also told me who she thought she should ride and that the last time she was at the barn they had switched her around a lot so that they could find the perfect horse for her. She didn't like mares and she couldn't ride one that was too short, because she has long legs (carefully outfitted with the most ridiculous fashion boots I have ever seen). She was a no-show last week because it was a holiday.

The guys seem very nice, if a bit clueless. One is a finance major (looks like a linebacker), one is international relations (forgot to bring gloves), and one is an architecture major (very quiet). The fourth is a piece of work. He wants to know everything there is to know about the practical aspects of riding. He's very interested in medieval history, so obviously becoming an accomplished equestrian is paramount to his learning experience. He was disappointed that we didn't have any Clydesdales, and wants to know if he can take several lessons a week. He also made a point to tell me that he was the captain of the fencing team.

We went over how to act around horses, how to safely maneuver around them in the stall, and grooming. Parts of the saddle and bridle, how to tack up. Then each of them picked a schoolie to groom and tack up. By this point it was already 8:30 (i.e. end of the lesson) and the Medieval Dude and Refresher Rider were more than a little disappointed that they couldn't ride. Hey guys, it's horsie bedtime! They told me they would be sure to get there early next week so that they could have a full hour to ride.

After they left, it was blankie time for Henry, lights out, doors locked, and go. The best (?) part is... I get to do it all again tonight!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Drumroll please...

After a summer's worth of hard work, volunteering, and sweating it out, last night Henry and I were announced 2008 Year End Schooling Show Training Level Dressage Champions, with an averaged score of 65.77%!!! We got a lovely ribbon and a custom 8x10 picture frame that I will put up next to my ribbon rack (which my awesome boyfriend made for me last year). Winners of the Recognized Show Year End Awards got gorgeous embroidered coolers, and there were also plaques and crystal prizes for Rider Achievement (cumulative) awards. Maybe this summer I will make it to some recognized shows, but I had better start saving and schooling now!

Anyway, I went to the event early to help set up for the silent auction. There were lots of donations from local trainers, artists, and businesses, and we ended up actually making some money back on it! I bid on and won a fleecy Ariat vest and a custom painted Breyer horse model - soon I will have a miniature Henry! He will probably live on my desk at work :)

The awards dinner was delicious.
I ended up sitting at a table full of people who ride at my barn - both boarders and trailer-in riders, which was neat because we all sort of knew each other. My boyfriend dutifully came with me to the dinner - poor guy, had to eat all that delicious food! It was also great to see everyone get their awards for their achievements. I especially love seeing JR/YRs getting awards, it's great that they are getting involved in our GMO (volunteer hours are a pre-requisite for awards). One of my former trainers and the woman who owned the barn I was at last year won Member of the Year awards, which is awesome. They did a lot of work for the club this year, organizing a weekend Symposium with George Williams that was really cool, educational, and definitely something I could envision myself doing in the future.

I just got an email from the woman who helped coordinate the auction this year, and she will not be able to do it again next year... She asked if I would be interested in the position! I do love volunteering for the GMO, but I am going to take a couple of days to think about it, since it was pretty hectic last night! Hmm...

Back to work tomorrow (weekends are way too short), and hopefully tomorrow night my college lesson will actually show up!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Okay, going to TRY to keep this brief!

Let's see..

Wednesday night, I spent in the gym. Cardio on a killer elliptical, about 45 minutes of strength/ weight training, and then a yoga class. Good times :)

Thursday night, I went out to the barn kind of late, around 7pm, because I had taken my time with dinner lol. Henry was a peach as I lunged first, then got on to work on my homework (yes I did everything on the list!). Then I spent some quality time cleaning his stall, scrubbed out his water bucket and put some warm water in, etc. By the time I left it was 9:30!

Last night I taught another college lesson. Out of four originally expected students, one had dropped the class, and another never showed. This was an ABSOLUTE beginner class, which was easy to tell when the first comment in the barn was "Oh! It smells in here!" They were sweet though. We worked on grooming and learning how to tack up, as well as general rules for the barn and how to act around equines. They suggested at the end of the lesson that they'd like to switch to Wednesday nights, which would be nice so that I could teach M, T, W and then have the rest of the week to myself. I will have to check with the barn owner to make sure that's ok. My boyfriend, who comes home on the weekends from school, decided he wanted to clean Henry's stall (!!!) and so I let him do it while I scrubbed the water bucket. He's a keeper ;)

Today I went to the barn and rode Henry, really working on leg-yields from the wall, quarter lines, and center line, as well as getting that awesome uphill canter more consistently. He got his lead (true or counter) every time except once, and by the end of the ride was holding himself up for longer and longer stretches.

Unfortunately I was witness to some nasty bad-mouthing at the barn today; I hate to even be around that sort of drama but as we all know it is unavoidable. It was a woman who was actually sh*t talking the barn owner! Who is a glorious and wonderful older woman, and deserves to be sainted. I was shocked by this boarder's negative comments, but even more shocked that she would just spout it in the tack room with plenty of people around. That's bold. I left the tack room as quick as I could.

Also unfortunate is that our resident farrier seems to have forgotten about Henry. I have been using his bell boots during rides lately because he's getting pretty long, and I have heard him step on himself more than once. I think the next time I see my trainer I will ask her advice on this. The last thing I want is another episode like I had two years ago, when Henry got a sole bruise because his angles were off. Six weeks of handwalking in the middle of summer is frustrating, but it was worse since that was preventable. Hmmm...

Tonight I am attending and helping out at our GMO's annual Awards Dinner & Silent Auction. Last year I ended up spending about $100 on auction items... I might have to leave the checkbook at home this time! I also won a year-end championship last year, so keep your fingers crossed for a repeat for me and Henry!!!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Where was I? Oh yes, Tuesday night... My BegInterVanced Class!

[Traveling back in time to Tuesday night...]

So after my pretty good lesson with Henry, I brought him back to his stall to untack and prepare for my college lesson, which I thought would be starting in about 15 minutes. As soon as I got back into the main barn aisle, though, one of the boarders told me my students were already there. Whoops! I saw two girls checking out the horses and figured that must be them, and told them I would be ready as soon as I could. I took of Henry's saddle and bridle and put him back in his stall, and then nervously went over to talk to them.

I cracked a few dumb jokes and to my shock, they laughed! Something about how I had always dreamed of a "tall, dark, and handsome horse" but ended up with "short, chunky, and red", which is true but doesn't make me love my horse any less of course! As much as I told myself what my dream horse would look like the three horses I have spent the longest time riding have all been chestnuts with 'tude! Anyway I gave them a quick tour of the barn, and then we waited in the (gloriously warm) tack room for about ten minutes because there were still three more students we were waiting for. We talked about majors, the weather, and riding experience, and when the rest of the group came in we went over barn rules. The three that came in later (they were on time, the first two were early) had all ridden at our barn last semester. One of them has been riding for a while and is working at Training Level. The other two have ONLY ridden for one semester... about ten rides. The first two girls have ridden for a few years (one dressage, one hunters), but not recently so they are a little rusty. Well, okay then.

The three girls who have ridden at our barn last semester all wanted to stick with the same horses that they had been riding. Fair enough! The other two girls got matched up with an old Morgan mare who makes a lot of faces but who is generally a willing ride, and an old cow horse that was the first horse I ever trained :) He's ADORABLE and a total sweetheart, and also a bit of a chunk. Love that horse. The first test I ever rode on him was at a schooling show at our barn. We entered at A, trotted down the center line, halted at X, and... he started SCREAMING for his friends. Poor little guy! He did the test very well, hollering the whole way, and afterwards the judge commented that I had kept my composure much better than he had.

It took a little while to get everyone tacked up, and I was lucky that the three girls had already ridden at this barn since they knew where everything was and could get ready independantly. I did have to help out with bridling for most of them, which is understandable since schoolies have a knack for getting their heads *just* high enough to be impossible to reach. We got everyone on safely and adjusted stirrups, though it seemed like everyone wanted their stirrups a lot shorter than I would have put them... it's been a while since I taught lessons. Once everyone was walking at a good pace and warming up I blabbed on for a while about position, and how I tend to talk a lot, and how I am happy to answer any questions about anything. I asked what each of the girls had been working on when they rode last.

Girl 1 - Rusty Hunter: "Well I was jumping. And working on my position, and trot diagonals"

Girl 2 - Rusty Dressage: "Sitting well at the trot"

Girl 3 - Ten Rides In: "We were doing some cantering"

Girl 4 - Also Ten Rides In: "Well in trot, we would like, not sit and stand but just stand" Umm... 2-point? "Yeah"

Girl 5 - Obviously, Relatively, Advanced: "Connection, and doing Training Level tests"

Oh boy. Two beginners, two intermediate riders, and one (relatively - relative to her co-students) advanced rider. Now I have to walk the line between keeping things interesting for the more experienced riders, keeping things achievable for the less experienced riders, and keeping everything safe for everyone.

Then I asked them what they wanted to get out of this semester, if there was anything they wanted to learn, any specific goals they wanted to accomplish, etc... Blank stares. Oops, forgot this is supposed to be a fun PE credit! I guess I will alo have to walk the line between keeping things laid back and actually teaching important equestrian skills!

I had them work on circles, showing them the size of a 20 and 10 meter circle at the walk. I had them do a 20 meter figure 8 at the walk, emphasizing the lovely round quality that a circle should have. I had them do a serpentine at the walk, again, trying to tell them that they should keep the half circles rounded. We'll be working on that a lot more, looks like. Then we picked up the trot. Or rather, the Obviously Relatively Advanced girl did. She was awesome. Sort of did her thing, steered away from any impending pile-ups, did circles, worked on getting a nice contact with her horse. Ten Rides In 1 and 2 were bouncing around with heels up, hands either in her lap (1) or up in the air by her face (2). Rusty Hunter and Rusty Dressage were trying to keep the old schoolies on the wall and in a trot, and were a little tipped forward, but no major flaws. Sigh...

After a few minutes of posting trot, working on diagonals a lot, I asked them to sit the trot for a few minutes. Ten Rides In 1 seemed very confused... "Don't we always post?" We gave the horses a long rein walk break for a few minutes and then when we shortened them up to get them ready for work again, I tried to re-emphasize the aids. How you should use only as much as was necessary, but enough to get what you asked. I tried to re-emphasize position. How you should keep your shoulders back and down, and push your butt into the saddle (by this point, I was FREEZING, despite my pantyhose + breeches + jeans and my t-shirt + 2 long sleeved thermal shirts + sweatshirt).

We picked up some trot again and I asked them to do some 20 meter circles at the trot, either at A or at C. There were some very near traffic incidents, but everyone survived. Then I asked them to all come down to C and do a FULL 20 meter circle at the trot, keeping them going at a nice pace and working on keeping the circles round. ORA did a beautiful circle. TRI 1 & 2 gave some nice efforts. RH and RD couldn't keep their ponies at the trot the whole way around their first couple of tries, but were determined to get it right, and soon did. Then we all cooled out, which took a lot longer than I thought it would. After 20 minutes of trotting two of the horses were sweaty, the furry beasts! We got everyone put up cool and dry and I thanked the girls, they said see you next week, and I finished putting my tack away.

By this point it was about 8:30, and I was exhausted. I didn't pick Henry's stall - I like to clean it at night when I can to make it easier for the barn crew in the morning, and so that he doesn't lay in as much poop; I did get him some nice warm water and his blanket though. After my first BegInterVanced lesson I think I know what we'll work on next week:
  • position- without this foundation, you can't work on anything else; this is also a safety issue (heels down, eyes up, etc)
  • working on the aids to get prompt transitions and keeping your horse listening
  • keeping tabs on the schoolies' temps - no way do I want to get them sweaty again
  • trot diagonals
  • mmmmaybe some cantering, if they're ready and express interest
I actually couldn't sleep Wednesday night because I was planning out what next Tuesday's lesson would consist of, how crazy is that? I did ride Henry last night but I will post about it later. I warned my students that I talk too much sometimes... guess it applies here too!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

2 Lessons in 1 Night = Exhausting!

Well, Tuesday night was more than a little nerve wracking for me. I got to the barn a little before five and got ready for my lesson on Henry. Of course, after so many years of practice it only takes about ten minutes to tack up, so I had some time to kill before my lesson started. I had thought ahead and brought a Kyra Kyrklund book with me to see if it offered any insights on that baffling half-pass that I knew I would be working on in my lesson, but also to see if there was a simple concept I could use to focus the lesson I would be teaching at 6:30. Suffice it to say that my nerves, combined with the vague tone of the book (I loved reading it the first few times but it does have a sort of "you had to be there" feeling) and I ended up blanking out on all the words. Oh well.

I did get a chance to talk to some of the girls who work and ride at the barn who have taught these college lessons before. They suggested some horses to use and some tips, and regaled me with stories about good looking college men (sorry, already taken!) and students who are studying abroad here (most are from Asian countries, for some reason). These stories were too funny because looking back to Monday night, there are four guy names on my list (one girl asked if they had "hot names"... um... WHAT?) and on Friday, all the names in my lesson are distinctly Asian... hopefully there won't be too much of a culture/ language barrier. I'm worried though, it's tough enough to try to explain all the parts of a bridle and a horse's anatomy to someone who is a native English speaker!

I guess I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. Getting back to my lessons, though...

I warmed up with a nice easy walk while I waited for my trainer to finish the lesson before mine. It's so awesome to be able to walk around on the buckle and not worry that my horse will do something spooky or dumb. We started with some leg-yields, and quickly moved into shoulder-in and haunches-in, and from there tried a couple of half-passes. Going to the left, he gave me a really good effort and so we gave him a walk break. After that we tried to get some good ones to the right, but we are finding he has a hard time bending well to the right. It's partially me as well, as I tend to let him work his own way through the corners and don't support his shoulders as much as I should through the bend. That will change!

We went back to the leg-yield to the right to try to work some more on bending, but it will be a long road. This is something that will start to show itself more and more, and so I will need to work on getting him to bend all the way through to the right. Another disconcerting quirk that is showing itself is that when I ask for something challenging, as he is thinking Henry tends to click his teeth together. He's not gnashing them or fighting the contact, just playing with the jaw and click-click-clicking through the movement. It is a sign of tension but I have been assured that it will go away when he becomes more comfortable with what is being asked of him. I purposely keep his noseband one hole looser than most would, because after reading horror stories on COTH and, I want to make sure I am doing what I can to understand the biomechanics of my horse and make him more comfortable. I'm also going to put in a call to the vet to have her come check his teeth and see if there are any shots that need updating.

Anyway, after another break we did some counter-canter-walk-canter transitions. Let me tell you, his canters feel awesome, but it's also tough because I need to be there to keep his shoulders up if he starts to tip in (especially to the right), half-halt before he can flatten out, and push him into the bend, all while staying upright. Someday his balance will be such that I can just sit back and enjoy the gait, but for now I am more than willing to lend a helping hand (and leg, and seat, and upper body...). We finished with some lengthenings at the trot, emphasizing a prompt transition back down to the more collected (not actually collected, more like working) trot, and then a stretchy circle, focusing on encouraging him to stretch down and OUT, not down and towards his chest. He's getting there :)

So homework for this week is:
  • keep plugging away at getting precise control of his shoulders, haunches, and sideways to improve each of the elements of half-pass
  • keep working on getting a deep, through bend to the right
  • leg-yields on center line and from the track to center line so that he's not leaning on the wall as a crutch or anticipating the movement
  • prompt transitions within the trot to lengthening and back down

The tough part is, as my trainer says, "we're going to be here for a while". Henry is such a quick learner and a hard worker, that it sort of feels strange when he struggles with something. I gave him last night off (and spent almost three hours at the gym between cardio, weight training, and a yoga class!) and will work sparingly but diligently on our homework. I really wish the weather was better so that I could give him a trail ride mental break. He's always in work mode, which might be how he likes it, but I do get nervous that he'll resent all the concentrated effort on these tough new moves!

Hmm... think I'll save my tale of the college lesson for the next post. This one's long enough ;)

Monday, January 19, 2009

Half-Pass is umm... hard.

Well, after riding yesterday AND today, I am befuddled. I feel bad that I can't get the hang of half-pass, especially because I could do them pretty well eight or nine years ago! I have totally forgotten the feel of it and as a result, I'm making it confusing for poor Henry! Hopefully in my lesson tomorrow I can get some more clarification on the aids and my position in this tricky move. I concentrated on doing really good leg-yield, haunches-in, and shoulder-in today and didn't work too hard on the half-pass. We also got some awesome trot lengthenings (though for some reason I always want to sit two strides at the beginning and end up on the wrong diagonal), and worked on getting prompt down transitions from trot and canter.

I had the day off today, and I hit the gym for some cardio this afternoon and then had a healthy lunch. It feels GOOD to work out and get my muscles going. I even love the medieval looking ab-crunch machine. I can also tell it is helping my position and my riding, although I bet it would be a lot easier to tell if it weren't so darned cold up here in Siberia, New York. Ugh, and the worst part is, this week feels like t-shirt weather compared to last week, because even though it is only reaching the mid-20s this week, at least we're on the right side of zero!

I was supposed to be teaching a lesson tonight, but none of my five students showed up! I don't know if it was the weather, if they got lost, or if they thought there was no lesson because of the holiday, but I guess we'll just make it up later on. This is one of three lessons a week I will be teaching this semester, a PE class that a local college offers. Should be pretty fun, but I am a bit nervous as I don't want to disappoint anyone! I will be sure to post about those as soon as I get some students!

In sadder news, one of the mares I took many years of lessons on was euthanized yesterday afternoon. She was in her late 20s, probably around 28, and had been losing strength and balance over the past few days. She was born and raised at the barn, never left it, and lived a great life. I know I spoiled her rotten when I rode her, and she was bought by a guy who took really great care of her. She had the most beautiful tail you could imagine, thanks to his careful grooming. She was comfortable up until her final days, thanks to his meticulous feeding and supplements; he even gave her injections for her joints, even though she wasn't being ridden. She got to graze every day (during the warmer months, obvs) and as she passed, he asked her if she could see all the pastures with all the green grass. I know she will be missed.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Ok so the blogging resolution has fallen a bit by the wayside...

I have good reasons though... Last weekend I was in Florida visiting my grandfather. He turns 85 next Wednesday and he is a wonderful guy. Of course, I didn't have internet access at his house. My internet has been wacky at work as well, and I have been super busy pretty much every night. But enough with the excuses!

I rode last Friday, after working with Henry all week on our shoulder-in and haunches-in, and we finished up with some very nice ones in trot! I was so excited for him because he learns so quickly and it's so nice to not have to do things over and over. It also lets me know that he is understanding what I want from him.

Over the weekend Henry got treats from some friends, and apparently "looked like he missed" me. I bet he wasn't too upset to not have to work all weekend ;)

I came back on Monday night around 7 so there was no way I had enough energy to make it to the barn before they closed up for the night. I went a little early on Tuesday for my lesson, just to make sure he wasn't covered in mud or missing a shoe or anything (he wasn't). It was cold, but the rest of the week has been much colder (as I write it is 7 degrees with a windchill of -11) - quite a difference from 75 and sunny in Florida!

I got on a little early as well, to warm up slowly while the woman whose lesson is before mine was finishing up. I tried to watch what she was doing but had a hard time seeing what my trainer was seeing. As soon as I picked up a trot Henry was amazing - soft, supple, bending through his ribcage, and best of all he stayed in a light contact and not behind the bit! It was a very promising start.

We worked on some shoulder-in and leg-yields both ways, and tried some haunches-in at the trot. He was a little rusty at first, but quickly picked up what I was asking (especially when I made sure my position was correct). I came around the end of the ring where my trainer was sitting at C and she said "and down the next long side you're going to do a half-pass". Just like that. Now, the last time I did a half-pass was probably ten years ago (and I told her so), so we went over the basic mechanics, I asked, and... Henry was AWESOME! He didn't hesitate for a second. I was so amazed! Here is this chunky little 15 hand QH who I never thought would get past training level, DOING A HALF-PASS the first time he is asked. I was in heaven. We did a couple more, though I still need to get clear on the precise aids and what to expect, and gave him a well deserved break. What a guy!

Next we worked on going from counter-canter to walk to canter to walk, repeating all the way around the ring. I got some really great canter and it forced Henry to really come up under himself. He got his leads 90% of the time and his counter-canter is to die for. It's so balanced and light that sometimes I don't want to ask for a down transition! This will definitely improve his canter as well as improving his other gaits. After a few times around the ring both ways we did a trot stretchy circle and I think it was the best one he has given me so far. As long as I regulate his trot with my seat and give my hands forward before I give the reins, he's okay. If I forget to move my hands closer to his mouth before I give the reins, he stretches his neck out beautifully, but ends up with his nose in towards his chest. A simple fix that I definitely need to remember!

After another break we did some lengthenings at the trot, which became much more fluid and easy when my trainer reminded me about the "back door" metaphor. By closing my legs but not moving my hands, I "close his back door", meaning bringing his hind end down and his hind legs up and under. Then, I either half-halt at the front end to collect and get him round, or give him a bit of extra encouragement to go forward, which got me some beautiful lengthenings. I have to engage his hind end first, and then the front does what I ask, bringing the trot either bigger or smaller. After two or three of these, they were great. My trainer commented, "boy, he's smart!"

We quit soon after that. He gives a lot so we are careful not to overwork him. My trainer said, and I quote, that "if he were a man, you'd marry him". Smart, laid back (she had asked earlier if he ever did anything like take off or buck... nope!), gives his all, and learns quickly? Yeah, that does sound like a great guy! "I don't know if I'd call him handsome though... cute definitely, but handsome?" My reply: "maybe if he was a bit taller, then he'd be handsome, but he sure is cute."

On that note I bundled him up in a blanket and a sheet, and took off for the GYM. I went with a friend who I have known since 4th grade. She is definitely the person who has stuck by me through the years, even when we were in college 500 miles apart. We work out at a YMCA that is a little out of the way for us, but is one of the nicest and most affordable gyms I have ever seen. Love it there, except that the awesome yoga instructor is no longer there... We did a half hour on the ellipticals, then I learned how to use a bunch of weight machines, and we finished up with 15 minutes on the treadmill. Nothing too strenuous, but enough to get me on the wagon again. We went Wednesday night as well, but I had to work late last night and she has to work late tonight. Bummer.

I tried to get out to the barn last night after I got out of work; I showed up around 7:30 but no one was there and the door was locked. Guess they thought no one would want to come out in the sub-zero weather! Hopefully I will get out there tonight, even just to clean his stall and bucket and walk him around a bit. I definitely think it's too cold to ride. My baby is keeping his blankies ON! Maybe this weekend will warm up a bit, at least enough to get on and practice those half-passes :D

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Setting the goals is the easy part!

I even used a free calendar to write down what I should do each day to maintain my progress on my 2009 goals. Sundays, ride. Mondays, yoga or pilates. Tuesdays, lesson. Wednesdays, run. Thursdays, yoga or pilates. Fridays, ride. Saturdays, ride AND run. So far, so good. I even did a yoga podcast Monday night in my apartment. We'll see how good it is when I try to motivate myself to get to the gym to run (since it's sleeting/ freezing raining outside)...

After the boot debacle two weeks ago, I tried to muster the motivation to ride, but with the holidays and general craziness I did not get on Henry until last Friday. I rode Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and had a lesson last night. He wasn't too bad, considering his time off. We worked on keeping him forward even in halts and down transitions, and using this forward momentum to keep his withers higher than his butt, so that he doesn't fall apart on the down transition. These are UGLY exercises, but they will help build his strength so that he can carry himself through all the time, not just when we're going along at a constant pace.

We also worked more on shoulder-in, leg-yield, and haunches-in. These weren't great, but as long as I keep my upper body UP and maintain my half-halt (while remembering to keep my hands closer to his mouth than to my belly) he gets that I'm asking him to move his body around, not GOGOGO! My trainer says I need to be much more picky about these movements if I want them to be useful, and I definitely agree. I had some success last week doing them down center line so that there was no wall to tempt him, so I will try that again this week.

  • Canter-walk transitions, keeping him forward and UP in the shoulder/wither/neck area
  • Meticulous practice of leg-yield, shoulder-in, and haunches-in, holding my half-halt position to help keep him slow and focused
  • Trot lengthenings keeping his front end UP so as to avoid sprawling
  • Halts with clucking (yes, clucking him into a halt) to keep his forward momentum and trot promptly out of the halt (should work as long as he was forward into the halt!)

We also got a delivery from Dover, which included new bell boots (so I could throw out the three on his stall - the green without any velcro straps, the red with only one velcro strap, and the black that was thisclose to being torn in two), Thrush Buster, Healthy Hair Care moisturizer, and a brand new BRIGHT YELLOW bucket. I love this bucket. My boyfriend thinks this is HILARIOUS. He has never heard anyone be so excited about a bucket in his life. I think it's great. The color makes it easy to see when Henry's water is gross (although it is a pretty safe bet that it will be disgusting at any given time, as he is a "dunker"), it is actually still bucket shaped, and it's sturdy. LOVE this bucket.

And I still get to shop Dover for another generous $25 thanks to Stacey of Behind the Bit! I'm not sure what I'll get yet, but I will be sure to post when I figure it out.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year, New Goals!


There are many people who started off this year with resolutions. I tend to think that resolutions are too tough to keep because they aren't specific enough. "I want to be a better rider" for example, is vague and unaccomplishable, because there's no way to measure your success - how do you determine when you've become a better rider? I have found that in order to be successful, you need to have something concrete to work towards. I like to have goals, not resolutions. That way I can have a measurable achievement in mind, and I can break it down into smaller steps to help me towards success! It has been thoroughly documented that in making your goals measurable and realistic (i.e. no matter how much I'd love to earn all my USDF medals before age 30, I sincerely doubt that's realistic) you can increase the chances that you will accomplish them.

That said, I wanted to give a shout-out to a woman who has just started blogging, with a measurable goal in mind. Her name is Christie and her goal is to lose 100 pounds and start riding dressage again. Check out her blog here. I first read about her goal on COTH and I think she's doing great so far. I know I will be following along with her journey and wishing her the best of luck.

As for myself, I have about 20 goals for various parts of my life, including running at least 2 5K races this year, creating a $1,000 emergency savings fund, paying off at least 50% of my credit card debt, and keeping track of everyone's birthdays. I want to make sure my resume is updated every 3 months, deep clean my apartment once a month and keep it tidy and uncluttered all the time, and take some business classes. The ones that are more pertinent here, though, are as follows:
  • I want to maintain and improve this blog, by posting at least 2 times a week and by expanding my posting topics
  • I want to be at the barn at least 3 times a week, riding each time unless the weather or some other serious circumstance prevents me (knocking on lots of wood right now)
  • I want to show at First Level and take Henry to at least one recognized show this year (and compete, not just watch!)
  • I want to continue taking regular lessons (which means making and putting away the money for it!)
  • I want to create a musical freestyle (probably only for fun at a schooling show since I don't have the scores to do one at a recognized show)
It looks like a lot, now that I've written it out, but goals are supposed to be aspirational, after all! I can also break these down into smaller goals and work towards them a little each day. I am a visual learner, so I will probably be creating posters with those little thermometers on them that people use for fundraisers so that I can mark off my progress as I go! I will post them around the apartment for motivation :)

Good luck to all of you on your 2009 goals!