Monday, October 24, 2016

Lessons Galore

I somehow went from  the "lessons once a quarter or so" schedule to the "four lessons in six days" schedule.

I am ok with that.

It started last Thursday--that's usually a trainer ride day, but I'd missed my usual lesson Tuesday and our trainer was able to squeeze us in, so a lesson it was. 
it was also gameday #winning #movingup
I was thrilled with C. Thrilled. Omg. It was like sitting on a dressage horse. He was loose and forward and OMG rideable and I actually got to work on me. Guess what? When he lets me ride, my position actually doesn't suck that bad. 

So that's super cool. 

We had about 90% of a REALLY good ride and then we went to do right lead canter and Courage had kind of a giant existential crisis about how hard it was mentally which resulted in a giant flail and the only thing between me and a concussion-while-mounted was my beloved standing martingale.
only regret: phone ran out of space so no flail media

We finished with a nice little relaxed trot on a loose rein and I couldn't wipe the smile off my face. I had a peek at the sort of horse Courage is capable of being and omg it's going to be fun. Someday. Haha.

We had a nice toodle on Friday, found out about a last minute dressage clinic with our favorite clinician from last year, and slipped in for Sat/Sun rides.
such class!

There isn't really any media from Saturday beyond my proof-of-outfit shot. We worked on a persistent head twist that Courage has. It's usually subtle, but it always stymies me. Our trainer was able to get rid of it on ride #1, but it kind of comes and goes for me and I'd like to stop getting test comments like "every time he twists his head, a puppy dies" from dressage judges. 

The clinician called it out as an imbalance and gave me a bunch of tools to work through it with. The biggest problem was that I had to address like 7 things at once and my brain wasn't thinking that fast. I also warned her that we could be explosive when cantering, so she had us canter both ways and HOT DAMN C-Rage kept his brain in his head and was lovely. 

I think my best takeaway from this day was simply that when Courage is with me mentally and rideable, I need to actually ride him. Whether or not he is rideable can be hit and miss, but I need to take advantage of the good days.

Then came day two!! Not only did my trainer take (extensive) video for me, but Alyssa came out and nabbed some great pictures. That is no easy task when you're basically trotting 20m circles over and over, so full credit to her.
turquoise day!
We took all the concepts I learned on day one in terms of getting Courage to rebalance without the head tilt and put them together at speed. And by speed, I mean slow trotting. It's hard, ok?

I had to ask Courage to keep his neck low and long. The neck is a counter balance, so I'd take the neck one way in order to tip the body the other way. If he was stuck, we had to go on a small (5-10m) circle to diagnose what was holding while riding forward and engaging the hind end. Oh and if I did all the right things and he still didn't release, that meant I was holding in my body. So. Apparently I do that a lot.
all tip top except that twist

I can't seem to make it sound as hard as it was in the moment. Rest assured, it was super hard. Courage was also super good and stayed with me the whole time.

At this point you're probably like "where is lesson #4" and "wtf you said there was video of clinic day #2" to which I say "lesson #4 is tomorrow I think" and "it's not edited yet ok".

In a lot of ways, this whole year has felt pointless and stagnant to me--we didn't really get out and show, we didn't make a lot of measurable progress, and no one thing makes me go "wow yeah look at that accomplishment". I mean, yeah, objectively, we didn't really get that far.


This is the year Courage needed. To this point, he has more or less gone through the motions, but now he's starting to really understand them. The rides I've had the past few days are rides I could not have had last year, last month, or even last week. He's mentally with me and he's ready to go on.

And as much as I love satin, I love this feeling more.

PS hopefully satin next year. finger crossed.

Thursday, October 20, 2016


Courage has been in my life for more than three years now. I blogged before about how that's the longest I've ever had a horse and he and I are definitely still sorting out our relationship. But if you've read this blog, I venture that you've picked up on the rather-dramatic quality our partnership has entailed. 
bridle shot
Just in the last six months, something has finally clicked for us. He's finally become the one my dreams are made on and the one I can't wait to see.

And now, something weird has started happening to me.
I rarely dream at night and if I do, I don't remember it. The only real exception was with Cuna, the horse who had a profound and ongoing impact on my adult life. After I had to put my old man down, I had vivid nightmares for weeks about him. Horrible things. They're still in my head years later. 

But lately, things with Courage have been good. Almost magical. He and I are in this comfortable place where we know what to expect one another and we trust each other.
It's not the relationship I had with Cuna because Courage isn't Cuna, but it's a new and beautiful thing. I've always said that Cuna brought Courage to me, and I've meant it on multiple levels, some cornier than others. I'm in a rough patch in life right now, but Courage is my constant. My steady eddy, as weird as that sounds. 

Whether we work or toodle or lunge or just hang out, he brings a sense of peace to my life. More days than I'm ok with, I just look at his picture on my phone and don't even make it to the barn. 
kinda like what this pic did for me years ago
Then it happened once. Then again.

The Cuna dreams are back, but in a whole different way. Each time it happens, my old man is still alive and living at my favorite barn. I see him, I ride him bareback, and things are as they always were. He's just waiting for me. 

I know it's not real, but I wake up with a strangely serendipitous feeling that everything is alright. 

That which was meant to be, is. 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Tack Hos Gone Wild

Hellooooooo internet... It's been a while. I'd say I've missed you, but sort been mid-crisis on a lot of things lately, so not so much on the internetting, much less the missing thereof.

Let's just say it's been an expensive few weeks.

Here's why:

One of my awesome browband ladies (I have two. Because ho.) contacted me a while back and offered to ship me a second that she'd made and disliked but didn't want to disassemble. Obviously, I said "yes".
topline leather goodies!!

Or something less professional and with more hearts and sparkles.

The only catch was that it was on brown leather and Courage only sort of has a brown bridle (and the browband on that bridle was purchased from my other browband lady for very specific reasons and I don't fancy taking it apart). Thus, I pressured Lindsey into helping me on the brown bridle 2.0 search well before the browband arrived.
Courage somewhat-compliantly modeled several different brown bridles for me, then we threw on Lindsey's cool new dressage bridle for giggles.
less compliant
By the time we were done, my phone looked like this:
only one of many screens
And we'd definitely established that none of the bridles were quite right.
the pretties!
Then the beautiful browband showed up (love.) and I tried it on the brown bridle I do have. It's supposed to be a Nunn Finer figure eight, but I frankened it out long ago. Sadly, as much as I love my blue noseband with my blue and orange browband, it was uh... less than stunning with pink. 
That started a flurry of searching for the perfect brown bridle at the perfect price, which netted me these things:
ebay steal: smartpak cavesson for $20
ETT-special plaited reins to match otto (wasn't looking, but hey)
invictus half pad because reasons and a coupon
Of those options, the one on top MIGHT solve my problem but apparently it was shipped by mule train. And then the mules went lame. And died. Or cannibalized each other. Probably all those options. Regardless, it's not here yet. 

I tried riding with the figure eight but due to some genius decision making that I'm going to blame on stress, I forgot to bring my running martingale out with it and let's just say that bolty OTTBs in the fall do not go without martingales. Particularly not when they aren't being ridden regularly and a storm is blowing in. See, I sometimes make good decisions, just usually not until a string of bad ones already happened.
Which is to say. I barely saw my horse last week. I have a metric ton (actual figure) of fancy shit for him to play with. I've barely touched any of it. And basically every day is Christmas at my house until all this stuff shows up! 

Because once I got all pumped about bridle searching, I ran across a decent looking knock off of the modern Otto Schumacher bridle I've been drooling on since forever and then I ordered that too!
never had patent before
It obviously won't match the new browband, but I have a bonus black browband at the moment plus it comes with it's own and yeah, really can't explain this one other than to say I deserved it after the week I had. It's also not here yet, but given I ordered through a British tack shop in the wee hours of Sunday morning, I don't expect it til next week anyways.

I guess y'all can just be glad that I didn't also purchase this amazing critter from the hospital gift shop.
so stylish! such personality!
Trust me, I considered it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

(definitely) Not Meant To Be

I got Courage three years ago with the idea that he would be my jumper. Maybe hunter. We could do hunter derbies if I was REALLY lucky.


In a move that surprises no one familiar with my luck (I have none, ever), that plan didn't pan out. Courage has firmly opted out of any sort of career over obstacles on many occasions. He's a dressage horse now and I'm like oh, 80ish% fine with that. Except every once in a while I either go "OMG MISS JUMPING WAH MUST JUMP" or "OMFG DRESSAGE TOO HARD WILL QUIT AND BE JUMPERS".

That has happened three times this year. The first time was a massive shit show that's best described as "if you want to do something really stupid, at least remember to put your freaking martingale on, dumbass" and the second time was actually pretty great.

The third time was last week. It's possible that I had sort of convinced myself that now we were doing reasonably ok-ish dressage that everything would MAGICALLY click into place and C would be completely perfect and we'd be like "lulz y u waste time on dressazzz when could be world's most perfect hunter move over brunello".
ahahaha or something

I mean, I won't swear that's how it was in my head, but you know. It may have been rattling around back there. Because obviously a little first level dressage is all it takes to turn an anti-jumping OTTB into a six-figure warmblood with 1.5 decades of top level training. Obviously.

I'll pause to let your eyes recover from the stain of that collective roll. It's ok. I could hear it from here.

Anyways. Lindsey brought her magical French saddle out and played jump crew for the day. Now that I don't try to make her ride the beastie, she's actually way more willing to do that. Interesting. It started out great--we walked and trotted over poles and I just focused on keeping his topline loose and his brain engaged. He jumped cute both ways when we put up a tiny crossrail.

Then we did a wee little vertical and again, FABULOUS. Thrilled. So easy. Life happy. Perfect hunter. Daydreams.
ok maybe not "hunter" perfect, but i'll take it

And then we changed directions. Courage sucked behind my leg and got tense. I rode a couple circles and asked for some relaxation. It seemed sort of better so we trotted up to our tiny vertical, made a gorgeous jump over it...

...and landed flailing.


Hard enough that Lindsey completely missed the video because she had serious (if unfounded) concerns for my physical safety. I apologize for the lack of fail-related media. Alas, it (like my horse) was out of my control.

And lest you think I was abusively jumping the legs off an unfit horse, we had trotted in/cantered out over a teeny crossrail and vertical about 10 times. Total.

because i dared to trot him over a pole
Rest assured, I am in no rush to run out and purchase my own magical French saddle. And I guess, I do appreciate Courage's commitment to his cause and willingness to be upfront about his life goals. He's happy as a dressage horse and he's willing to play jumpies maybe once a quarter, but he definitely didn't want me getting any ideas about an alternate career trajectory.

I even compiled a fails video to remind myself of this fact.

So yeah. We dropped everything down to ground poles and slowly worked back up to our tiny vertical and ended on a good note and I actually don't think I broke the steering or the brakes this time, so that's cool.
it keeps his head from going over mine
But when people ask me why I don't jump and why a certain bay someone always goes in a non-dressage-legal standing martingale, well, that's why.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Better Together

Phase one of professional (half) training for Courage was two rides a week with our trainer. I knew he needed an education and I don't have the knowledge base to give it to him and it's freaking impossible to try and teach something when you have no idea what you're doing.
but cute?
That was September. I was able to watch half the rides he got and he made excellent progress.


You might notice that the larger part of our problem was me and to this point, I haven't really enhanced my own education. I mean, yeah, I audit lessons and clinics and I know a lot of theory and that's nice, but riding is so much more about feel and you can't learn that from a book.
cough obviously
So this week begins phase two of pro (half) training. Courage still gets one pro ride a week, but now our other session is a lesson. We kicked it off this week and even had Alyssa on hand to document! I always love media and I'm super excited to share it with you. (As a rule, I don't share media of my trainer riding because she's not interested in being an internet star.)
will share shots of trainer on the ground
It's hard to write this lesson up in an interesting way. I mean, I don't have any crazy stories or fantastic fail pictures.

Courage kept his brain in his head and tried hard for me the entire ride. That's HUGE for us, but it's kinda normal for most people I think? Not sure. I got really excited when trainer referred to Courage as a second level horse, but of course that was in the context of "he's learning to be a second level horse now" and explaining why we had to step something up, not like "goddamn he's ready to go out at second now". Whatever. Still exciting.
right lead canter with no explosions!!
We made little changes, not big ones. She had me ask for more of everything--more bend, more softness, more forward, more relaxation. I assume this is true with most every horse, but so much of riding Courage is just plain feel. If I become electric and say HORSE GO NAOW because I want forward, he will flip his shit. If I ask him to be more soft and reach more and give when he gives, all of a sudden, I have this super amazing trot that's way, way better than anything I've ridden on him before.
i will take this.
This applies to every aspect of how I ride--give to him more, release more, get his neck longer, and ultimately, he gives me much more. It's all great, it just means relearning how to feel what "correct" is for him right now. I was already able to articulate that I wanted him deeper and lower so he wasn't stuck in a false frame, but I wasn't able to consistently get him to where I wanted him. Now I can.
I call this particular professional intervention "relationship counseling". Courage is finally in a place where he shows up to work and (mostly) says yes ma'am, but now I'm figuring out what exactly I need him to say yes to.
thinking cap on

Monday, October 3, 2016

Help a Sister Out: Half Pad Problems

My guiding principle #1 on half pads is that they are a primarily trendy item and as long as they don't make your saddle fit worse, it doesn't much matter what type you're using. When Courage was scarily attempting jumping, we used an ogilvy half pad, because they're all the rage in that ring and I like being on trend. 
sheep represent
Then we switched over to dressage. DQs are big on dead sheep, so I snagged a mattes correction pad with shims for like $90 and have just rolled with it. Sans rolls. Ha! #halfpadnerdjoke

I have never noticed Courage care AT ALL about what half pad I put on his back, so in keeping with guiding principle #1, I haven't messed with it. Arguably, I could ride him without one and see what happens, but my brain just likes a little something extra in there because I don't trust myself enough as a judge of saddle fit and I feel better knowing there's some margin for error. (Noted: Courage is an EXCELLENT judge of saddle fit and as you would expect, lets me know when things are sub-optimal, so this is probably frivolous. You're just going to have to accept my human frailty on this point.)
so classic
HOWEVER, whilst tacking up the other day, I was futzing (it's a word??? who knew) with my much-used-shimmable-mattes and noticed that one of the shim pockets is creating a ridge of pressure under the panels of my saddle. I tried adjusting the pocket and screwing with the velcro, but it looks like the pad is just old enough that it's not going to cooperate with me. AKA, it's fine if I have shims in it (probably?), but since I don't, it's not quite laying flat, which means it might be causing me problems, which means it's in violation of principle #1.

And see, we're asking Courage to do hard stuff like lift his back and while he does settle in and do it eventually, it's a learning curve, it's going slowly, and my trainer has commented that he doesn't quiiiiiiite want to give in and lift through his withers. That's probably mostly a training thing, but if my half pad was stabbing me in the back, I'd hesitate too.

so. what to do.
hair hair everywhere and it's covered in dust ewwwwww
I rode Courage this past weekend in his jump ogilvy pad under his dressage saddle, which to me is a very non-flattering look. Of course, I'm also anti-winter-fuzzies, so basically this entire picture is just nails on a chalkboard to me.

If you separate out how I felt about the dust+hair combo (SO GROSS MUST CLIP OMG), I actually had a really superb ride. Which is interesting.

This brings us to options.

1) The mattes problem is all in my head. Carry on with what we have and assume it won't cripple the princess. This is obviously a stupid idea and is pre-discarded. I'm just listing it here so you know I considered it.

2) Use jump ogilvy. Carry on like it's not aesthetic hell. This is obviously a temporary idea. It needs to end. The sooner, the better.

3) Acquire an non-shimmable, non-corrective mattes pad. This eliminates the pressure ridge problem by not having pockets. We stay on-trend for the dressage ring. The major drawback is that this is the $230 answer to the $90 question. Or the $210 answer, if we go without rear trim. Thoughts on rear trim?
hmmmm rolls
4) Be enough of a nerd to know that Blueberry (yes, THE Blueberry) has actually eschewed sheepskin in favor of space age gel. His particular model is lined with sheepskin, which is $ more and seems hard to clean, but there's also an option that's cheaper and simple to clean that would just disappear under my saddle. In addition, the non-sheepskin option would potentially be the $100 answer to the $90 problem, so that's something. There's even a $50 knockoff I could almost justify instead, but if I'm changing brands, I want to get the nicest thing and evaluate it on it's own merits, not sort of half ass it and then be pissed it doesn't work.
it's definitely a look.
5) Explore other options. I mean, I'm actually really interested in the Invictus half pad innovations--if the rumors are true (and I've handled one, so I believe them), the pad essentially eliminates pressure points by distributing weight, which is basically what we're trying to do anyways. I'd buy one RIGHTNOW, but this is the $280 answer to the $90 problem. If you're keeping track, that's by far the most expensive option we've considered so far. It's also not particularly attractive, but I guess that's neither here nor there if it actually does what it claims.
the sadly unattractive invictus
6) Go ogilvy/ecogold/equifit routes. This is another one I'm just listing for your benefit. I've had the first two and handled the third. I kinda lump them all in the same heap. They're fine, but they're not on-trend enough in my ring to satisfy guiding principle #1 and I'm not excited about them.
equifit pretties
Ideally, someone will pipe up and say "hey give me $100 and I will give you this invictus half pad", but that seems like wildly unrealistic speculation at this juncture. Talk to me blog land--what are your half pad solutions/opinions/ideas? What else should I be considering? Do you deeply hate one of the options listed?

Thursday, September 29, 2016

On Learning

Part the First

Following the Tik Maynard clinic, I've been doing groundwork with Courage a couple times a week. It's nothing earth shattering. The first few days he was rock solid, then we tried it on a cool, windy, definitely-fall sort of day and he was HYPER reactive and just sort of edgy.
obv need  polos for groundwork
It was really interesting--he presented a lot of the same issues I see under saddle, complete with flailing, leaping, and checking out. We took lots of breaks. He gave lots of releases. By the time I was ready to hop on, I had a calm, focused horse and a very excellent ride.

Part the Second

I'm taking a pilates class. It's all about controlled movement and engaged core muscles. We've started doing some harder exercises lately, which is interesting. In the last session, the teacher asked me to hold my balance with my core and move one limb without shifting weight/balance to compensate for it. I understood what she said and I watched other students do it fairly easily.

And I couldn't.


judgmental corgi not impressed
The teacher came over to help me with it and even showed me which muscles needed to contract to make the move happen, and academically, I knew what she was saying. I just. Lacked the capacity to make my body do that thing on that day. We finally settled for me doing a lesser version of the exercise with the idea that I'll practice a lot at home.


I love when things are connected, so it was really fantastic to experience that. (Still haven't mastered it. Give me time).
half foamy. i'll take it.
Sure was nice that the teacher was kind, understanding, and clear in her instructions. It would have sucked if she got mad and tried to punish me for trying, huh?

Learning is a fascinating thing.

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