Tuesday, March 31, 2015

q1 review and q2 goals

Starting in January I adjusted my goal-setting parameters to a quarterly timeline instead of monthly. The idea was to allow for more scope in the goals - without overwhelming myself.

This first set of goals still ended up being a bit thin for the three month period... but that's ok bc it was the worst of winter and things were unpredictable. 

2015 Q1 Goals:

  • Start working on preliminary show schedules for the year. BOOM. See my events page, updated regularly :) {not that it made any difference in actually making it to the shows we scheduled ... damn winter}
  • Dressage lessons - where art thou? This was a major struggle (and not for lack of trying). I would have counted the Fix-a-Test show as a quasi-lesson... except it didn't happen. We managed a clinic with Grant Schneidman, which was great, tho his recommendation was also: take lessons (I know dude... trust me I know!). 
We got in under the wire by squeezing in a lesson with a new trainer last week, with another scheduled for this weekend. If the program sticks this goal is solidly in hand (fingers crossed!). Otherwise? Back to the drawing board... 
we are NOT Hawley Bennett yet lol
nope. not yet. haha. hahaha.

  • Introduce more ground work (including long lining) when riding becomes impossible due to weather. Eh... we lunged a couple times? Like when Isabel dumped my new saddle in the driveway (rude!), and when it was snowy out. I still want to try long lining tho!

also this happened again bc isabel is a saint

  • Explore alternative schooling arenas if Isabel's ring at home continues to deteriorate. Yep this happened. We aimed for twice weekly schoolings at FV (or wherever was available) from mid-January through March, and weekly lessons at OF. I worried that the frequent travel was a LOT for the horses... Plus it meant an uptick in costs (fuel, arena fees) and time commitments (hour round trip to the arena). BUT the difference in the quality of work was immediately apparent. #worthit
'what, this little oxer? nbd' - isabel

  • New saddle options? YESSS!!!! We got a new-to-us saddle and fit it to Ms Princess and I couldn't be happier! Thanks again to everyone who commented along the way - whether to share your own experiences, give advice, or even just to offer encouragement :) To read all the posts related to the process, click here.
third time's the charm when it comes to trial saddles
(i swear isabel isn't as depressed as she looks - she's just eating hay out of the trailer lol)

  • Get Wick (friend B's leased OTTB) loading/unloading well enough to be deemed road-worthy. Then he and B can start accompanying us to weekly OF lessons!!! This was the first 2015 goal knocked off the list - and was a smashing success! B and Wick are our official eventing partners in crime - and I love it!! 

2015 Q2 goals:

  • Monthly confo shots. Just dooooooo it!
  • Dressage lessons!!!! Would like every other week / twice monthly
  • Another saddle fitting to address squishy panels
  • Isabel's 6month chiro appt
  • More no-stirrups work (dropping outside stirrup on a circle counts). long term goal: independent seat!
  • Improve canter transitions - both up and down
  • Actually, improve all transitions - ride from seat
  • Earn a score < 40% (measuring faults) on a dressage test
  • Finish with a number at our first horse trial
  • Take a lesson with Sally Cousins? 
  • Move up? Go BN at an event (a CT would count, as would a 2'6" division at an h/j show)

Monday, March 30, 2015

Team Flying Solo Challenge: What's your 'can'?

Eventer79 from Team Flying Solo posted last week about how she's evolved in the psychology of her riding and training - and how, despite all the cliches, 'positive thinking' has helped make a difference - and put more 'can' in her canter.

I kinda loved the post - lots of good tidbits in there - but especially at the end when she challenged readers to pick a positive for the next few weeks for our own riding, then check in later to see what happened. 

Never one to resist a good challenge, I decided to use the following for my positive goals:

  • I will sit up tall and straight through my core - with lifted belt buckle and open shoulders

  • Legs (and knees!) will stay long and down - with toes pointing forward
oldie but goodie (esp bc I still do this...)

The real challenge, honestly, will be doing both of these things simultaneously haha. 

But the beautiful thing about riding Isabel is her incredible sensitivity. When I can get myself properly aligned and riding from a more correct position - she effortlessly follows suit.

So these points need to be at the top of my mind as I trot down the center line to ensure we put in our best possible test. 

This challenge is timely bc our first dressage test of the season is in just less than 2 weeks, and I would love to beat our previous best score (39.0). Hopefully approaching these goals with a positive attitude will set us on the path for success. 

What about you? Did you read that post? Any goals or ideas spring into your mind too?

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Isabel plays by her own rules

We wanted to play with free jumping the horses this week. Isabel wanted to play her own game. Everyone wins!! Lol...

Trainer P suggested a few weeks ago that Wick would probably benefit from free jumping. He has a lot of try and a great brain - but he's so very very uneducated. Running him through a grid with no rider interference would give him the opportunity to sort out his body. 

he did well!

This week the footing was in good enough shape to give it a whirl. Another barn mate also joined us with her TWH Shaggy, who is out of shape and too smart for his own good. We figured that he might do well with this kind of exercise - interesting enough to keep his mind engaged and a good way to get him using his full body.

it's a jumping walking horse!! 

Isabel, tho.... Well Isabel had her own ideas. She only went through the chute once when the grid was still just an X and ground poles. Chaos ensued haha.

She essentially declined capture at the end of the chute. Shaggy and Wick both willingly bee-lined straight to us (and our sugar cubes)... but Izzy? Nope... she went on a little tour of the arena that lasted a few minutes. Taking video didn't immediately occur to me, so I only caught about 30 seconds... but it was quite the show! Highlights below in gif form :)

zoom zooooom

really want to ride this trot!!

she sent herself down the chute!

So yea... no free jumping for this wild child. She got to stand with me in the center while Wick and Shaggy took their turns like polite and sensible ponies. 

I think she had fun tho. It's probably been ages since she could really kick up her heels, given the mud and ice (and the fact that her field is set on a hill)... so I'm glad she got to really stretch out and run lol, even if it wasn't exactly what I expected.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

TOABH - Metamophosis

Another week, another blog hop in anticipation of Archie's big 18th bday!


We've talked about what your horse doesn't like to do, and I don't want to confuse this with that.  I'm not talking about personality quirks or training foibles.  Tell me:  if you could change something (or things) about your horse, what would you?

So. Hm. What would I change in Isabel? (*scratches head...*).

I tend to like bigger horses... but I also actually really like the way I fit Isabel. 

Her feet are solid and she's essentially sound and an easy keeper (knocking on wood!).

I don't know much about conformation, but she seems to be nicely put together and is quite sturdy. Tho perhaps there could be more hind end strength? I worry a little bit about arthritis in her hocks... but past trainers have backed me away from the ledge and said that the best thing for her longevity is to consistently work correctly, rather than intervene medically.

pic from last summer

So. Uh... I really don't know? I generally have a 'love the one you're with' kind of attitude, and Isabel's petty good as she is - even if she's not the type of horse I ever imagined for myself. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

impromptu lesson

I kinda had to pep talk myself into going to the barn Wednesday night, after making the mistake of eating an early dinner and relaxing on the couch for a bit. But it would be ridiculous to not capitalize on good footing and daylight at our own farm after a winter of hauling around all the time, esp when the forecast for the rest of this week is rainy. 

So. Off to the barn!

And I didn't regret that choice at all - turned out Dan was coming for a lesson with two of my barn mates, and I managed to squeeze in. My initial plan was for a night of simple flat work... but whatever. I love me some lessons! 

I've ridden with Dan a handful of times (posts herehere, and here) and he generally has the same goals for us each time: he wants our canter to be teeny tiny and balanced, and we should use smaller and smaller circles to achieve this - always feeling like we can add leg.

Unlike past lessons, he really didn't offer much in the way of feedback for our flat work - mostly he just wanted us all to warm ourselves up while he observed and set fences. His only comments for me and Isabel were to really compress and collect the canter - beyond what we'd even typically want for a dressage test. 

I never quite reached the canter he wanted - but Isabel felt great and was really trying for me. Not sure what the difference is but I'm suddenly starting to believe we have a nice canter somewhere in there!  

isabel's patented tail flick

Dan set up a line measured for what he called a competition 3 strides. So probably about 48'? He had us trot and canter the vertical out jump a couple times to warm up, then canter through the line each way in 4 strides. He wanted it QUIET - but still a very deliberate 4 (no sneaking in a 5th stride, no matter how pretty it looked!).

His reasoning was that we were schooling - not showing. So he wanted us to fit in that extra stride, even if it meant a little ugliness or knocking the rail. He wanted the horses really tuned in and staying with us, not sprawling out when things got iffy. (In fact his general homework for me was to work on transitions and getting everything from just my seat.)

In a way I felt bad bc I can almost *always* stuff in an extra stride, and Isabel is usually happy to acquiesce... but the other two horses were green OTTBs who had a harder time. 

So I initially thought it wasn't really the kind of exercise we need to work on... but after watching the videos and seeing how consistently on pace we were, I changed my mind. One of my biggest problems is pushing Isabel past her distance, then chipping in to the jump. But in this lesson where we really focused on keeping that canter small and organized (but keeping forward impulsion), I found the jump nicely each and every time.

The final exercise looked a lot harder than it actually was, thanks to all that work on establishing the right canter. It was five canter poles set at bounce distances. Tracking right was a ground pole, cavaletti, cavaletti, ground pole, small vertical. (tracking left was obvi just the reverse). Isabel made quick work of it each way (tho only one was caught on video) and we called it a night. 

All in all it was a good lesson. We didn't have as many rounds as the other riders bc Isabel mostly got the answers right on the first try - and the jumps were on the smaller side of what he's had us do in the past. But I'm pleased with the ride and think I'm getting a better understanding of how to continue developing our canter. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

breeding and bloodlines and a small small world

My knowledge of bloodlines and pedigree is limited, to say the least. But it's something that is slowly rising on my horizon - especially after reading about other bloggers' experiences and knowledge (The $900FB Pony recently posted about why bloodlines are important), and reading Denny Emerson's book How Good Riders Get Good. 

who wouldn't want to know more about this face?

Last September I did a little research on Isabel's pedigree and learned that her sire is Admiral Harnly, who is still owned by his breeder Ann McKay. And in fact, Ann is quite famous through the region for producing quality sport horses - Aazrak being her exceptional first stallion. 

Take a look at recent horses from Ann McKay's website if you're interested in seeing Isabel's extended family (and more than a couple doppelgangers!).

but there can ever only be one

So why am I writing about this now? One of Amanda's points in her post linked above was that Americans tend to be a bit uneducated on this subject - much to the detriment of the future of our various sports. But if you go abroad, many horsemen could tell you about any given horse's bloodlines more readily than they could say the horse's name. 

This point was high on my mind when an unassuming gentleman approached me at the schooling show last weekend (his teen daughter was riding). He asked (in what I believe was an Irish accent, but could be wrong), 'Lovely horse - what breed?' 'Ah, Arabian, eh? How old?' and 'Interesting - do you happen to know her breeding?'

Lots of people ask if she's an Arabian (like it's a novelty) - but nobody has ever asked about her breeding. Imagine my surprise when he said - 'Ah yes, Admiral! I thought so. They all look the same - chestnut, socks, blaze down to the lip. Very nice - we have a "G" horse - you know they were named alphabetically by year?' 

So this guy picked Isabel out of a crowd as an Admiral baby, and very gently poked and prodded to see if I knew it myself haha. He even asked to take a picture to send to Ann (!!!!). Obviously I said yes (but silently kicked myself for not cleaning her up better or giving her a nicer running braid... we looked slightly frazzled, to say the least). And unfortunately I failed to get his name, or tell him that we are actually trying to event (rather than putzing around the hunter ring like outcasts). 

Fast forward to the next day when Isabel and I went to the new fancy pants dressage barn for our lesson with trainer C. We arrived a bit later than intended since I missed a turn along the way, and I felt a little harried trying to get everything all set up at the trailer. 

A woman saw us and asked if I needed help. Normally I can get a little prickly at the suggestion that maybe I don't quite have things under control (not very generous of me, I know) - but I got the impression that she was asking for reasons beyond that (esp bc Isabel was standing quietly as always...). So I accepted her offer and wasn't disappointed. 

She held the mare while I tacked and immediately started asking about Isabel and her breeding. Turns out she bred Arabians for years, and had her own Arab stallion until he was 34. So she was quite familiar with Ann's program and horses (and knows a good deal more about it than I do). 

My mind was kinda blown by these two fairly similar back-to-back interactions. And while I was able to answer the most basic of questions about Isabel's pedigree (her sire), it's clear that there's much more to learn. 

We joke about Baltimore being a small town (Smaltimore) - and everyone knows the horse community can be a miniature world unto itself. So it's been really interesting to me that Isabel is actually quite recognizable in her own right. Definitely motivation to learn more about her and the breeding program that produced her sire!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

ding ding dressage winner

I couldn't be happier with the dressage lesson Isabel and I took this past weekend. The trainer C is super down to earth and friendly - but also figured us out pretty damn quick and had the tools to help us. 

It didn't hurt that the facilities are GORGEOUS too! Wow, so pretty.... The barn is shaped like an 'H', and every doorway seemed to hold some scenic vista of the fields in the distance. The indoor is connected to the barn and is 20x60m with lovely footing, clean mirrors and bright windows. The outdoor looked nice too, but apparently is still closed for the season. 

I told C about where we are in our training - and what we're aiming for. Specifically, we talked about my upcoming event in mid-April (entries are in - squee!!) in which I'll ride Intro C. So she put us through all our gaits, with lots of step by step help - exactly what I need. Isabel was her usual phenom self and was very good - she tattled on me when I messed up and rewarded me with going very nicely when I had my ducks in a row.

Then she set up cones to mark a 20x40m arena, since that's what we'll be riding in, and had us run through the test. I already learned it but hadn't yet ridden it. And you know what? It went really well!! The canter work was practically made for us since the up and down transitions have quite a bit of leeway. Plus, the test starts out tracking right (our tougher direction) so I'll be able to face that part immediately, rather than melting down halfway through the test. 

mirror selfie! do you see us???

C gave me a lot to think about, but nothing overwhelming and everything made sense and seemed to mesh quite well with the small foundation we've already laid. Really the only big difference between her instruction and Grant Schneidman's clinic was that she wanted a little less forward - which actually helped improve our balance. I think we'll become more forward later, but just not yet. 

Anyway, here are some tidbits I picked up: 

  • use my outside aids to turn - but stay in line with Isabel's outside ear (ie don't collapse my upper body!)
  • turn toes in to get thighs on the saddle and calves off the horse - this will also keep knees down
  • my hands have a nice softness already - but I need to improve my timing in quieting down when Isabel is going nicely
  • don't need to post as high in a dressage saddle
  • inside rein is for bend, outside rein is for how high/deep Isabel carries her head
  • don't be rigid with outside elbow - soften
  • open inside rein for more bend, then bring hands back together
  • want to see Isabel's inside eyelashes 
  • for a turn down the center line - start preparing the bend down the long side and maintain the bend through the corner to the center line (the right turn is definitely more problematic for us)
  • should have distinct bend on 20m circles
  • push Isabel out - almost like a leg yield - to prepare for canter transition. meaning - use the inside leg to prepare, then bump with outside
  • seek to put Isabel 'in gear' - ask her to go a certain way and then leave her alone. she'll make mistakes and change, and I will need to make corrections... but in the meantime beeee quieettttt. 
  • when going down the center line be careful not to over ride one side of the horse
  • I might aim for a lower headset in Isabel for schooling than I'd typically want for competition just because she has such a strong natural tendency to be high headed

the indoor arena is equally beautiful when viewed from the exterior

So I'm quite pleased with the lesson itself. And on top of that, C's lesson schedule works better with my own schedule than I had even dared to hope. And the farm is an easy 15 minute drive from Isabel's barn. My plan is to aim for a lesson every other week, and we're already in the books for the week before our event. Very exciting!

everyone was super friendly - including the cats!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

another show! (proving why we're not hunters)

Naturally, because we had show plans mother nature decided to dump one or two more inches of snow on us, despite it being officially spring. Nbd tho - show day dawned beautiful with the expectation of sun and highs in the upper 50s. We'll take it! 

In typical schooling show fashion we spent a lot of time waiting around. Isabel was a total pro tho (shocking exactly nobody) and hung out with me in the arena (dozing, actually) while I spectated and encouraged B through her two divisions: baby green and green horse. For a schooling show these divisions were surprisingly competitive - 12 horses each!! I was sure they would split the classes, but nope. B and Wick held their own tho - three 6th place ribbons and one 5th, all for over fences classes. 

'what's mine is mine and what's yours is mine too' - isabel
(she has her own hay net in the trailer!)

Then came a quick schooling break where I warmed up amid approx. 15 other horses (who all could only track left, apparently? except, of course, when they were jumping this way and that with no warning...) and hopped a couple fences. Isabel was very relaxed and paid zero attention to the traffic and didn't look at anything. I jumped everything, called it a win, and headed back to the trailer to wait out the next two divisions before ours. 

she is her own bridle rack lol

I entered the equitation division because it was the only one where every fence was set at 2'3"... the other options were intro hunter (2'-2'3") and low hunter (2'3"-2'6"). Right now I need to hammer into my brain that 2'3" is nbd. So really we should't be jumping anything less. And 2'6"? Soon. But not yet. Plus I thought that going the equitation route might mitigate any bias against Isabel's decidedly non-hunter way of going.

'mmmm hay.... wait, are you taking pictures?' -isabel

And actually for a couple hot minutes I thought we might be the only ones in the division. I was chatting with other riders warming up in the outdoor while we waited, and none seemed to be doing equitation, except for one ADORABLE girl (in a super chic pale jacket with matching brown CO helmet - snazzy!) and her pony, but she was just going to flat. Can we say champion of a class of one??? Haha... it was a fun thought while it lasted... :)

our two courses

Sadly we ended up having actual competition... tho oddly it was a slightly different set of riders in each class. 

I thought our first course went pretty well. The first few fences came up very nicely in stride, tho Isabel was not playing the lead game very well so we had to do our little simple change song and dance after almost every fence. At least I avoided any cross cantering tho - a common struggle for us.

The lines were measured as either a balanced 5 or a going 4, and I opted to balance. The second line coming home tho I was a little late in my efforts and we had the rail. Then I rode her to a terrible distance at the barrels and we kinda ate it... which bummed me out bc SO MANY horses were spooking and refusing the barrels, and Isabel really gave zero fucks about it and I kinda wanted to show that off... Oops. Instead she just had to bail me out with a fugly jump. Oh well. We took third in that class (of 3).

Next course started at the barrels... and, well, we pretty much ate it again, and fence 2 too for good measure. Ughhhhhh sorry mare!! At least she kinda just tuned me out and took the longer distance when things got hairy (she says, 'hang on emma i got this!'). 

We were at least much better about leads tho. I pretty much figured we were not placing in this class after those first two jumps (esp since our class size had ballooned to 7-8) and commenced chatting w Izzy through the rest of the course, which actually went ok - including the 5 stride line home. 

Then it was time for our flat class. Isabel thought we were jumping again and started a bit braced, and Judge caught us trotting at a moment when she was quite against my hand... but she settled soon and even stretched a bit on a relatively loopy-ish rein. Judge caught us again at the first canter when we misfired after getting run into the wall. Judge did not look at us again throughout the whole class... (trust me I was checking haha). 

yep this about sums it up lol

So I knew we wouldn't pin. For the record tho, Isabel was LOVELY. She has discovered how to stretch at the canter (how long have I been bemoaning our canter woes??) and it just brings the biggest grin to my face. 

we don't need ribbons to know she's a champ :)

I left the ring a little bummed, but reminded myself that this experience was all about mileage - and that my goal of boosting confidence at 2'3" was successful. I checked w B about the placings for course 2 (announced while I was flatting) just in case we maybe pulled out a ribbon. She handed me some 2nd place satin. WHAT?!? 

feel free to chime in if you agree (or disagree) with the judge, and why!

My opinion, tho? My first round felt smoother than the second, but neither felt particularly competitive. And the first course winner had a nearly identically lovely second course, but was 3rd behind me (in fact the winner of the second course was a new entrant). Huh? Well. Color me confused, I guess. Maybe the judge just missed our first two fences??

In any case we had a really great time. It was a long day and the horses were very happy to be home again after it was all said and done. But I feel like both did a great job for showing in a different discipline, and I always enjoy the occasional return to my roots :) 

Monday, March 23, 2015

hunter bump

Since I started riding Isabel, she has developed a deformity in her back that I've not-very-fondly referred to as a hunter bump. It's not particularly easy to photograph, but essentially there's a raised area over her spine toward the end of her back before the SI region. 

Our chiro was never particularly worried about it when asked - she was more concerned with how peaked Isabel's SI joint was. Our saddle fitter referred to it as squishy edema and said I could try massaging it out. Whatever the case, it's always bothered me. 

the lighting shows a dip between the bump and the SI joint

The above photos were taken when I brought home all those trial saddles in mid-January. My new saddle arrived on trial in the first week of February, and I finalized the purchase with a saddle fitting a few days later. 

So Isabel has been wearing a fitted-to-her saddle for about 6 weeks, with another 3-4 weeks of going in trial saddles that all fit better than the wintec.

And you know what? The bump has gone down. It's still there - but is WAY less prominent. I also suspect that her SI is less peaked. Again, photographic evidence is difficult as the spine's topography is tricky to capture and I'm not exactly skilled at picture taking lol. 

But I think the lesson here is kinda clear, even if the pictures aren't. My impression is that a well-fitting saddle will have more positive ramifications in Isabel's comfort and longevity than any amount of lessons. And I don't think it's at all a coincidence that Isabel's flat work has lately improved in leaps and bounds. 

princess prefers equipment that fits

What about you - have you ever made an equipment change or adjustment that paid instant dividends in your riding or your horse's general way of going?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

dressage training?

One of my 2015 q1 goals is taking regular dressage lessons and it's been more challenging than I anticipated. This is probably due to a combination of weather, unusable outdoor facilities, and early dark.... plus most trainers are already booked during the times I'm free (evenings and weekends are apparently pretty busy, go figure).

We went to a fancy pants clinic just to get a lesson of any kind - even if it meant driving far and paying out the nose. The clinic was AWESOME; we got a TON out of it and continue to chip away at those concepts. 

'omg can we NOT, tho?? that shit is hard!' - isabel

Those concepts, tho... they're not exactly particularly lofty or advanced, and any local trainer worth their salt can help us with them for 1/2 the cost and 1/4 the drive time. The clinician even said as much - what we really need is a regular program.

I obviously can't disagree.. but felt a little despondent anyway. We really CAN dressage - Isabel can do it, and so can I when there's someone on the ground directing my every step. 

But things started looking up when a barn mate shipped out for a dressage lesson with a new trainer last week. The farm is about 15 minutes away and my barn mate LOVED the trainer. 

So I reached out to see if she might be able to fit us in (my barn mate's lesson was in the middle of a weekday - definitely not a time when I'm available...). And it turns out she has a perfect time slot for us already built in to her regular schedule! 

Our first lesson is set for today. We were supposed to ride in an actual dressage show at OF... but I think establishing a proper training routine might be a better use of my time and funds.

Fingers crossed that it works out!! 

Have you ever had trouble finding trainers? How do you normally find them - word of mouth? Or a google search? Stalking people at horse shows?

'best trainer is no trainer' - isabel