Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Moving A Green Horse Up the Levels

He is the best at tiny panels
After my super awesome pictures from yesterday, several of the commenters raised an interesting point--Courage obviously has great form over fences and is plenty scopey--how soon do I move him up?

I've thought about it. There are a lot of different answers to that, so I've made a a helpful graph to illustrate the rates of speed at which a horse moves up the levels.
<----Slower         Faster---->

As you may have noticed, I tend not to push horses. Courage came off the track at the end of July last year, and we spent the whole fall putzing around and having fun. We did the ground poles at a local show and a baby cross county clinic (which doesn't count because we only jumped crossrails in an enclosed field). We worked on things like "not doing giraffe impersonations" and "going forward".

No more giraffe
And then he took a couple of months off.

When he came back this spring, I had a whole new horse. His body felt great and his brain had some idea of what to do, so we have progressed in leaps and bounds.

I also think our cross country weekend was really good for him--we got to ride twice a day and figure somethings out and just make pure, unadulterated progress.

My philosophy on training is to increase the pressure, then allow the horse to get comfortable before increasing the pressure again. I realize there's an element of the horse learning to deal with more pressure and running that line more closely, but I am nothing special as a horse trainer, so I prefer to go a little slower and take things easy because I'm the only one who has to pay if I screw up.

So to me, this shot from the other weekend shows a horse that is completely comfortable.

And yeah, so cute
And this shot from Monday shows a horse that is _very_ impressed with a jump.He's still plenty safe, but he's feeling the pressure of new questions.

He's tidy and clever and all is well. Because I want him to end up being a happy, fun, comfortable ammy hose (for me), I want to let him get comfortable with the height and level of fill that we're presenting him with before I move him up again.

So easy
Much like our flat work, it's going to get easier as we go on. It's already "clicked" for him that when I point him at a jump, he is to jump over it. Now I need it to click for him that even if the fill is scary, he's going to be ok.

This jump is actually taller than the panel or the barrels and he's just fine with it. I suspect in another ride or two, he'll be completely over everything we've introduced thus far.

New favorite picture
And then we'll introduce more. Oxers are on the list. Rails over barrels. Jumps in fields. Related distances. Bending lines. Triple bars. 

The list goes on.

Courage has a lot of aptitude for jumping. He's good at it and he enjoys it. He's a wicked smart horse and he tries his little heart out. As his owner/rider, my prerogative is to let him develop without pushing too hard and frying him. 

Good news for him, I am the best at not pushing horses.

He'll move up when he's ready. When we're both ready. I suspect it won't take too terribly long as long as I keep things fun and interesting. So yes, a more competent ammy or good pro could probably move him up a lot faster without frying him. I'm working within my specific knowledge base and set of limitations and everyone's having a good time. Seems like a plan to me.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Top 6 Reasons to Have a Riding Buddy

Redheadlins and I ride together a lot. Here's a list of my 6 favorite things about having a riding buddy.

Yeah, check us out
1. Instant feedback. She's a much better rider than I am, but she doesn't look down on me. Instead she always yells at me to "canter on" and I nearly fall off my horse laughing when she eats Diva's mane over an 18" jump. Noted: she has stopped doing that this year. She needs a new flaw or I'm going to start feeling inadequate.

Diva did it first
2. Peer pressure. Diva and Courage are in pretty similar places in their training. As such, we're constantly having a friendly competition. "Oh, well Diva jumped the bigger jump so now I have to." Obviously, this could be taken too far, but we both want thet best for the hoses, so it just seves to keep us motivated.

Hellz yeah we can jump barrels
3. Course setting. On Sunday, I had some extra time and so I set up a whole new course with inviting little jumps and flowing turns. On Monday, she had some extra time, so she jacked all the jumps up and added a shit ton of fill.


But we did it because Diva did and we all know that Courage is the best at jumping. I swear he's competing with Diva anyways.

Like our second attempt at a gate
4. Extra Bravery. I am hesitant to tackle big, scary issues on my own because I always want to set my horse up for a good experience. Having another set of eyes and a more experienced rider around gives me the courage (ha!) to address things I probably wouldn't otherwise for fear of screwing up my horse.

Because yeah, my face
5. Laughter. This is the first time we did the gate. He started to jump it normally and then was all "OH SHIT WHAT IS THAT MADNESS?" and took a flying deer leap. When she could finally stop laughing, we figured out a new plan and readdressed it.

But I never would have tried that on my own.

New profile pic. Yeah.
6. ALL THE PICTURES. I straight up love pony pictures, so I really don't think I ought to explain much beyond this. For those doubters who are all like "private lives are private", I'll just add that nothing helps me improve quite as much as the ability to look over the highlights of the day and then make adjustments for my next ride.

In the age of technology, this is so easy. We used to trade off phones for pictures, but it's so hard to catch the right moment, plus her camera is better than mine. Now we just take video on her phone and then grab video stills.

This particular round is pretty amazing, but the less amazing ones help us too.

Those are just the top six reasons for having a riding buddy, and I haven't even touched on the shared stories and instant sympathy and mad cooking skills. (Noted: never compromise on these. You have to do something when it's too cold to ride.)

Monday, April 21, 2014

Mental Game Over Fences

So tidy over the tiny flowers
Without writing another downer post to describe the zany turns life is taking right now, let's just agree that I'm not in the best place mentally I've ever been. I set a super fun little jump course this weekend, then decided I would just hand off the reins to Redheadlins to ride it, because I didn't think I could keep it together long enough to have a decent round.

And she said, "You have to at least jump the first three and see where you're at after that."

So we hopped over the tiny cross rail. Courage was just so brave and honest and landed cantering.

I hopped over the next, slightly larger, crossrail.

Again, landed in balance, cantered away happily. 

I just love this shot
And it was on! We trotted and cantered all the little jumps. I even landed cantering from on tiny vertical and held the canter and hopped over the biggest vertical of the year so far--a 2'3"ish vertical.

We even took a break to video Diva having the best round of her life so far. Then we went out and put a fun course together and it was awesome.

Looking forward
There's no reason to struggle to keep it together when the whole ride is just smiles and fun. Courage is really stepping it up and together we're making progress.

And yeah, I'm totally day dreaming about that hunter derby at the end of the summer again. 3' derby course... Can we be ready in time?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Getting Back On My Horse

The color in a washed out world
For non-blogging reasons, the last week has just been a series of increasingly worse crises. Courage has been on break due to the farrier/teeth/ongoing personal shit I'm in the middle of. Yesterday, the stars finally aligned and I got him out. I stuck him on the lunge line and while wild, the little man was oh-so-fancy.

And then I rode him. Not hard--we just did some walk/trot transitions and leg yielding/shoulder fore exercises. I could definitely feel a difference--he was so much steadier in the contact and more willing to work through his whole body.

He is the best at cheering me up
I toodled around and cleaned my tack. For a whole two hours, the world was just me and him and everything was ok.

So yeah. A lot of things suck right now and I'm really inordinately sad about all the fun things I'm missing out on, but at the end of the day, I'm here to enjoy my horse.

And I can still do that.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Never a Dull Moment

Dental day started out kind of fun--I chatted with the vet about the sedatives he was using and then was duly impressed by what a lightweight my little man is. Seriously. He pretty much just sniffed them and was under. His girlfriend took twice the dose he did and she was still quasi awake.

Once his teeth were done, I literally left Courage standing in the stall with the front and back doors open because he was so put of it that I knew he couldn't go anywhere. I mean, his head was about 2" off the ground and he was snoring. Loudly.

I paid the vet, chatted with friends for a bit, then closed the stall doors and rode another horse at the barn while Courage recovered enough to go to his own stall. By the time I got off the other horse, he was sort of clumsily wandering around the stall so I pulled him out. He was all dopy and cuddly. I stuck him in the cross ties and hosed him off to clean up the dust he accumulated in the dry weather.

He didn't like the cold water, but it was 70f and sunny, so I scraped him off and stuck him in his run to dry in the sun while I picked up my stuff.

But he started shivering. His hind end was shaking uncontrollably and his front end was twitching. His skin was ice cold to the touch. I put his halter on and hand walked him in the sunbeam, but he back end was super stiff and he was still shaking.

If that wasn't weird enough, then his nose started bleeding.

Yikes. I put in a call to the vet, let the BO know that he was having some trouble, put a fleece on him, and hand grazed him in the sun for a while. (Noted: at this point, he was awake, just really, really cold.)

Poor little man. :-( It took a crazy long time, but he warmed up slowly wearing both fleece and standing in the sun. The vet got back with me and said that as long as he perked up, it would be ok. By the time I left, Courage was muching his hay, though now wearing his 220gram medium winter blanket in the nearly 60f weather.

He seems fine now. My BO checked on him overnight and I'll be out this morning. I've been around plenty of sedated horses before, but I'd never seen a reaction quite like that.

Monday, April 14, 2014

When Real Life Sucks

Still cute
I try not to write too many downer posts in a row, but I balance that with being honest. Here's honest:

Last Wednesday, Courage threw his shoe. No big deal--call the farrier. Find out that he's leaving town and won't be back until mid next week.

I'd just call another farrier, but I didn't have the shoe and since he's due for all four anyways, I don't really want to pay someone else to put one on and make more holes in his foot.

Which means we missed both our lesson and our potential first show.

But all that is less important when my check engine light comes on in my admittedly very old car. I take it to my mechanic, who tells me it's not worth fixing. Unless I am just really attached to my 1989 Dodge Omni, it's time to move on.

Of course, saving for a new car is in the budget for this year, but buying one in April is not. He figured out a way to jerry rig it and buy me some time, but it costs that much more.

And then I lose my debit card.

And the dentist is coming out to do teeth today, which Courage really needs.

And the farrier tomorrow, because I don't want his feet to fall apart.

Not taking this show on the road
So anyways. I realize that I'm lucky. I and those I care about are physically well. I have the ability to pick up more work and make more money.

I'm just tired and stressed out and overwhelmed and sadder than I thought I would be about waving goodbye to my dreams for this show season.

I guess after last year sucked all the joy out of life, I was hoping that this year would redeem it.

And yes, absolutely I realize I sound like a spoiled, whining first world constituent who needs to get over herself. And I will.

I'll train hard and have fun and do (inexpensive/free) stuff with my friends. It'll still be a good year, just not the one I was hoping for.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Missing Him

I haven't talked about Cuna at all on here lately. Every once in a while, I try to type something up and I just can't.

I don't even know how to put into words the enormity of what my old man horse meant to me. He canters through my dreams and when I wake up, I can almost touch him.

But he's still gone.

I know that all the fun I'm having with Courage is only because Cuna carried me through a very rough time in my riding and brought me out on the other side, a stronger and more confident version of myself.

I miss the view between those red ears. I miss all the time we spent puttering around the hills and roads without a care in the world.

There's still a gaping hole in my psyche that's supposed to be filled by a big red horse with big brown eyes who paddles on both front legs. I don't want to sound dramatic or crazy or like I can't let go. It's not that. I understand what happened and while I'll never know why it had to happen to us, the nightmares have mostly subsided.

It's just that he was so quintessentially my horse. My every decision was made in light of what was best for us. Because we were a team. Because those crazy goofy adventures were never just my idea.

After a great ride on Courage, I'm all smiles. I clean up my stuff, get in the car, and drive home with a red horse in my head. I think about him when I'm quiet and alone.

He was the one that would always be quiet and alone with me.

We understood each other.

Maybe someday I'll have that again. I know it was special and not something everyone gets to experience. I know I was lucky to have it once, even for so short a time.

I see flashes of it with Courage every once in a while. He's an old soul, like Cuna. A war horse, like Cuna.

Kind and gentle, yet sensitive, opinionated, and passionate. Noble, but silly.

I miss you, red man.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


After our super kick-ass flat school, it was time to jack my stirrups up and try leaving the ground. Because the photo smorgasm of awesome continues, Redheadlins and Alyssa came out to play as well. C-rage and I did a quick warm up, then headed to our (tiny) fences.

We started with a wee tiny crossrail with placing poles before and after. I like the poles particularly because they give him a very visual reference for what his feet are supposed to be doing. He is a super quick learner and I think his pole-related stress is getting a little better, because he trotted right in...

He's got this
...and then cantered out softly.

So good.

such cute knees
Then we aimed for the slightly larger crossrail with a little fill.

He's still just cantering over the teeny little jumps, but he's so darn cute when he does it. It makes me smile when I can just point and shoot and the two of us feel confident together.

And again, cantering away on a loose rein.

I don't know whether it was the cross country clinic or the improved flatwork or how great his body feels or his (minimal) grid work or what the difference is, but Courage has definitely figured out what his job is.

That makes all the difference. Last year, he would get wiggly going to jumps because he wasn't quite sure what to do. This year? Ears up, brain engaged.

Jump the jumps.

Sometimes he does have wild moments. It's not really a buck and it usually ends in a flying lead change.

I'm not sure what to call it other than kind of silly looking.

The jump standard blocks the view here, but we stuck a rail over the black tube aka "great wall of china" that he couldn't mentally process last year.

It's set on the center line of the arena, so he only gets maybe two straight strides to look at in on the approach, but he didn't even hesitate.


At the end, we put a fun little course together.

The jumps look tiny and they are, but it is just so good for both of us to have fun and build confidence together.

It's easy.

It's supposed to be easy. We do this for fun.

We're having fun.

I'm working to find the balance of staying in my comfort zone long enough to build my own confidence, but also stretching it enough that I don't stagnate or regress. Courage is just the man for the job. I'm excited to see where we go together.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014


Dead Sexy
After the stunning success that was grid night, we had a rather lackluster flat school Thursday and then Courage took the day off on Friday. You actually could argue that he pretty much took Thursday off too, but let's not go there.

Anyways. Redheadlins was coming to play with Diva on Saturday and she brought Alyssa (and a camera!) along. I wasn't planning on riding or being photographed, so I didn't exactly dress the part. Oh well. Just look at the cute little bay horse and ignore me.

Usually Courage takes a bit of trotting to get going forward, then we fuss about whether or not he can put his head down, then we fuss about whether or not he can move off my leg, and then we look pretty good for a while.

So fancy
Yeah. Not so much on Saturday. The little man just came out on the go button. I literally picked up my reins and had a soft, rideable horse.

It's probably a good thing that he isn't like this all the time. I would get so lazy. We didn't putz around with shoulder fore and leg yields, because I use those to get him bending and engaged.

Since he was already engaged, they seemed superfluous.

He gave me some nice transitions and lovely forward canter work. I spent more time worrying about correct aids than whether or not he was actually going to do what I asked. So fun! My little man is turning into a broke horse.

I kept it to a flat school since we had a jump date on Sunday. I couldn't stop smiling. It's just so much fun. He's forward and moving through his back and on the aids and happy doing his job.

Plus Friends of Ferdinand tee!
Plus I'm getting totally spoiled by having beautiful weather and photographers on hand for all the awesome going on lately.

One of my favorite features about Courage is that he can lay down that quality work, then just go park in the middle of the arena on a loose rein and watch the world go by. Doesn't matter if Diva is having a hissy fit about Lins' right leg again or if someone's galloping by on a windy day.

At the end of the day, it almost feels surreal. I'm having so much fun with my little man. I didn't think I'd be able to connect and have fun like this for quite a long time. I mean, sure, he has the occasional bad day, but by and large, Courage is possibly the most ammy-friendly green horse I've ever been around. He gets occasional training rides and we've had two (count 'em) lessons this year and he is just coming along beautifully.

;-) And I haven't even told you about his Sunday jump date yet!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Grid Night, Take II

Before the brain came out the first time
I mentioned our less-than-stellar debut at our trainer's weekly grid jumping night. It went badly, didn't improve, and was no fun. Soooo... since my BO was going again this week, I decided to take Courage along this week and give it one more chance. If it didn't improve, then we'd quit pushing and just do lessons until his brain figures out how to handle poles.

We got there. He was semi quiet, so I hopped on and immediately had a serious case of the "I don't want tos". I didn't want to be there, didn't want to ride, didn't want to deal with his (perfectly natural) tension. I also didn't want to address the border collie hiding in the weeds by the arena with a squeaky toy that was making irregular but alarming noises.

We can do contact
I considered just getting off. And then I was like, "Well, you don't have to jump, but dammit you do have to march forward into a contact."

So we did.

And then I started moving him off my legs and changing directions and holding my outside rein, and then I was bored of walking, so we did it at a trot. He was actually feeling quiet good. I swear after one flat lesson last weekend he grew a new muscle in a neck and kicked his training up to a whole new level.

And then the instructor was all, "Does he want to trot through the poles?"

So we did.

In our flat lesson last week, she'd talked about how if I bring him under powered to jumps, then he feels like he has to leap, which changes his balance and causes the flailing as he tries to figure things out. Hm. I intentionally took him more forward with a little loop in the reins and he trotted through like a pro.

She started adding in little crossrails. By the end of the exercise, he would trot to the first jump, then land cantering and canter through the crossrail grid. In balance. With a loop in the rein.


Seriously having some Courage love here. My little man is ready to start doing real horse stuff.

So brave
When we were done, we went and hacked around the property with all the horses in his group and even lead the way back to the trailer, which included boldly marching through an ankle-deep puddle on the road. Guess who is the best at puddles?

PS I attempted to add grid video. Let me know if it works. 
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