Monday, July 21, 2014

Because I'm an Amateur

He is the best at dressing up
I've talked a lot on here about being an amateur and how that changes the way I ride, the way I dress, and the decisions I make. I've profiled other fun amateurs and attempted to share the journey for others to participate in.

And then Sunday, I got to demonstrate just exactly what that means.

All of you know that I'm quite a fan of my little bay horse. He is sweet and fun and hardworking and good to be around, and every once in a while, he can be quite a pig. Sunday's flat ride was mostly focused on warming up to jump--loose reins, forward and back, not too worried about contact or anything.






LOVE his outfit. LOVE.
He seemed just a teeeeeeny bit resistant, but I wanted to ride forward through it and not pick at him. (And yes, I guess I was full on ignoring S when she always tells me to pick little fights with him so he gives up the big ones more easily. Oops.)

Anywhoodle.

The jumps were all set up a bit because I wanted to expand on Wednesday's brilliance, but I did start by trotting into a crossrail. He jumped it great with his front end, then just sort of decimated it behind.

DAYUM they look good. No stopping pics.
This from my horse that always jumps clean. Hm. Should have been a clue.

Aimed him at the next crossrail. I didn't give him the best ride ever, but it was no worse and anything else. I mean, I tipped forward at it a little, but it wasn't like I hurled myself up his neck...

BRAKES.

I seriously almost ate it.

This wasn't going well, so we dropped the X down to rails on the ground and the sucker stopped AGAIN.

I. Was. Pissed.

Look who is jumping panels like a normal horse!
I applied a couple of artificial aids and my little bay horse leaped over it, but you could see it in every line of his body. Courage did not come to play today.*

Redheadlins coached us a little and after forward/back work, we jumped the first crossrrail without doing anything stupid. Then I marched him up to her, tossed her the reins, and watched my horse jump around the fun course I'd set.


Bam. Knees. Also jumping across.
I call it amateur privilege. Could I get him around it? Probably. Could redheadlins get some very quality work out of him without damaging my confidence and at the same time build up my horse's?

YES. That my friends, is why we pay professionals. (Ok, well I don't really "pay" her, unless you count tack as a currency.)

So off they went. She looked great, he looked great, and after the first couple of sticky fences, Courage was able to jump a complicated course with inside turns and cool panels and related distances like a total champ.

Admire cute horse. Ignore rider position. Very wtf.
And then I got back on and had a few more successful fences.

It's not a cop out--I'm working to become a better, stronger rider. That said, I believe strongly in giving my horse the best chance possible, whether that's with me (most days) or with a better rider (some days). Taking on a green horse is a huge project and I wouldn't want to go it alone. 



*Noted: Courage being a bit of a pig is a normal occurrence about once a month or so. If he felt in any way off or the behavior persists, I would certainly follow up on the physical side of things. I know this horse well enough to know that sometimes he just needs to remember he's not the alpha.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Adding the Jumps Back In

Reins are for wimps
After what seems like constant stop/go/stop/backup/stop "progress" this year, we're finally starting to put the pieces together under saddle and I am beyond stoked. I finally decided to buckle down in this ridiculous heat (now plus smoke! yay wildfires!) and set a whole honest-to-goodness jump course.

Also my BO was hinting that the jumps needed to be moved since weeds were growing under them and we were starting to look like hillbillies who never rode our perfectly nice horses. Yes, I judge people with weeds in their arena.

He got that figured out today
Anywhoodle. All that to say I went and set up a fun course with related distances and bending lines and straight lines and fill and all that. I intentionally set it low so my brain could handle it without a massive panic (DEER LEAP OF DEATH) response. Besides, we haven't jumped an actual course in like... I don't remember how long. A while.

Neither Courage nor I likes to drill flatwork, so I literally warmed him up with my reins flying in the wind and my hand in the neckstrap. W/t/c both directions, no problem. I'm using that time to get him a little more attuned to my leg so I can use less rein when we jump, but mostly we're just bombing around moving FORWARD.

Grab that neckstrap
I felt a little nervous while we warmed up. It wasn't that sort of gut-clenching fear, but just the buzz of "oooh, haven't done this for a while". Then we headed to our first little jump and the nervousness just disappeared.

This little guy is just so much fun to jump. He's learning his job and he's so freaking honest about it.

He did his first related distance in forever. He was a little wiggly between them the first time we attempted it, but I added leg and counted the next time and he was spot on.









Loving it
We even took a break, then picked it up again and put another little course together.

Both of our confidence was just building as we went along. We hopped over the blue tube, the blue barrels, a funny looking jump I hadn't built before, whatever. I rode forward and straight and stayed out of his face and he was having a good time, right down to the occasional clean flying change.

Yes, the jumps were tiny. No, we didn't do anything difficult.

Totes loving my kickass position here
But you know what? We had fun. We were ready for more at the end.

I missed this feeling.

So yes, it's been a rocky year with random breaks and lots of half-starts. I'm not regretting a minute of our extensive flatwork right now though. I have a more educated and rideable horse who is back to his usual brave, cocky self. There's lots of work left to be done, but where we're at is a very good place.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Bonding (or "It Doesn't All Happen at Once")

Hacking through the fields

Ever since I met Courage last year, I knew I liked him. I admired his brain and approved of his feet. I spent a while in that crazy limbo of "I want to like you, but don't dare get too attached in case something happens". Then he came home with me.

The poor dude was stuck in this crazy vortex of always playing second fiddle to Cuna and getting the leftovers of time, money and attention. I mean, I still liked him well enough, and I had fun with him, but he just wasn't my priority.










Not the best idea ever
I'm a person who makes emotional connections slowly and takes a long time to recover when they're severed. This year has been hard for me on a lot of levels, but the little man has been my constant. He's so reliable, so dependable, so personable. All the things I wasn't able to be.

And then finally I started getting some closure in the non-horse part of my life and C-rage hit a downward spiral. It sounds weird, but I was so glad he waited until I had the emotional energy to deal with it. I was able to really engage with him and it was ok that he needed time and attention. We could work out training and relationship issues at our own speed.








My little man
I feel so much more connected to him now, even while I'm gaining a better appreciation of his strengths and flaws. His ridiculous deer leaping scared both of us, but the challenge of finding a plan to get both of us past that has really cemented the bond that started when I first brought him home.

I think it's really through this process that Courage has finally become "my horse". Not just the cute little bay face I see every day, but the one who sneaks into my day dreams. The one I can't wait to see.






Love this. So much.
We're both a little cocky, a little lazy, and a lot independent. We're finding out how and where we want to fit into the world.

He'll never replace my old man horse, but he's come into his own.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Let the Good Times Roll

So much exciting pony news and only a little bit of it is mine. 

Bacon over the teeny box. Photo credit: me.
I spent the whole weekend out of town playing at a horse show pretending to be a pro photog. And that's all that happened.

OH UNLESS YOU MEAN THAT ALYSSA AND BACON WERE ALL WHUPASS AT THEIR FIRST OUT OF TOWN SHOW.

So there was that. But yeah, I had oodles of fun crewing for them and totes took a bajillion (actual number) of pictures with her ridiculously fancy camera.


Babysitting ears
And then there's redheadlins' news, which is pretty freaking fantastic as well.

I got back from the clinic and hopped on my little man for the first time in 4 days. He babysat Prisoner for his first in-company arena ride and was a total champ. We even hacked though the fields on the buckle while P-man cantered around and all was well.

<3 my little bay horse.




So much Ogilvy goodness!
The only problem is that redheadlins let us use her Ogilvy baby pad.

WANT

That is all.

Well, that and the fact that I toasted my legs in the sun so badly that I can't put breeches on right now. Look for creative solutions until that situation resolves.

Friday, July 11, 2014

PSA: Loving all Six Legs

Six legs in flight
One of my favorite English teachers in college said, "How can you know what you think until you see what you say?"

And he's right. The great feature of being a regular blogger is that constant stream of information and updates that is easily accessible. I can watch my progress, yes, but I can also observe how I talk about my horse and how I'm feeling. I love my little man and I want him to succeed.






Definitely a horse thing
As a person with a giant eating, pooping pet that I like to dump money in to on a monthly  weekly daily hourly basis, I think it's really important to care for that pet. Love it, even. Horses are such an integral part of our lives because we choose to put them there.

Horses are great teachers of life lessons. We learn about hard work, humility, honesty, fun, safety, and thought processes. We learn to interact with another beautiful, powerful creature in a way that empowers both us and them. It's important to express in my writing that I adore him, instead of tearing him down and propping up my pride by blaming him for the fact that he's a horse and does horse things.







Can't have one without the other
I think it's important because I think this sport is way too damn dangerous to do any other way. I think it's important because if I"m going to spend this much money, I better be having the time of my life.

Most of all, though, I think it's important because I realize that my horse and that way I talk about him is a reflection of myself and the way I talk about me.












The best at snuggling his nose
I love watching other bloggers go through the same processes I do as we train and learn and laugh and cry together. It bothers me when they are negative about their horses, though. Not just because I frequently think it's unfair to the horse, but because I care about my blogger friends and I know it reflects on how they feel about themselves.

I know very few bloggers in person, so all I can see is what they say. Instead of tearing down our horses and disparaging ourselves, let's remember that we all get beat up by day to day life. There's no need to do it to ourselves.

It's time to love all six legs.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

HOLD THE PRESSES COURAGE JUMPED

I know, you're all like "wtf SB, that horse jumps all the time". The answer is yes. And also no. The compelling reason that I am running this hastily-thrown together photo smorgasboard instead of the very thoughtful post I actually wrote is that Ellie is in town (for obvious reasons) and redheadlins came to the barn (for equally obvious reasons) and so I snagged a training ride for Courage and Ellie photographed it!! Alyssa did too, but I don't have those pictures back yet, so there will be more later. Just added them too!!


Anywhoodle.

Commence epic photo smorgasm.
Really loving the new bit on him. Contact, what what?!


Check out that uphill canter!

Lil warm up vertical. 


Oxer!!! Love both their expressions.

Air time
And from Alyssa:

Jumping across!

So grown up

Confident and respectful

We measured the oxer after their session and it's full on novice height, 2'11". That's the biggest jump he's ever done under saddle and he took it like a champ. No deer leaping, no nervousness. (thanks to redheadlins for the fantastic ride, too!)

It's days like these that make me feel good about my approach with the little guy. Yeah, I'm going slow and taking my time. I know so many people would probably get it done quicker, since he's obviously talented enough. You know what? He attacked this jump with total confidence. He believes in himself and he knows what he's doing.

That's worth waiting for.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Weekend Fun: Meet the New Guy

Courage says "HELLOOOO TRACK HORSE"
Those of you who follow me on instagram or facebook have probably noticed a new face started popping up last week. I mean, I always have random cute racehorses, but one was cuter than the others and then he was meeting Courage and going under saddle...














Yep. Dapple bay and all.
A couple of you have asked about him. I mean, it's hard not to. His face is ridiculously adorable and he's built like a champ.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Prisoner, pedigree here.

He's a Kentucky-bred 2007 model TB who we put the OT on last Saturday. He's something less than a stunning success on the track, netting just over $4,000 in four years of racing.

Yes, you read that right.


Looking cute on the back side
As I rule, I stay away from horses for sale on the backside because I want (almost) all of them, but this guy is special. I had my eye on him, and when his trainer said he was available, I immediately started taking crappy pictures of him and sending them to my good friend Ellie. I really can't be doing two boarded horses and a car payment, but this guy needed a soft landing with lots of love and Ellie needed something sweet and fun and pretty.










Because she is brave (and knows us really well), Ellie agreed to buy him even though she'd only ever glimpsed his adorable white nose over the stall for like ten seconds one time this summer.

Prisoner (working on the new name, ok?) moved in to Courage's barn for the next month to get nicely restarted. I think he's looking at much the same schedule Courage had--light riding through the fall, winter off, and then getting going for real next spring.







First ride off the track. HE'S SO FANCY I COULD DIE.
In the mean time, yours truly gets to play with him and take pictures of his cute little face. Redheadlins is doing the heavy lifting in terms of training, but Alyssa and I can do useful things too and of course Ellie will join us as much as her schedule allows.

He's aimed for a dressage/trails/open shows/all around type career and yes, Ellie assures me she will blog about him. Plus she is a kick ass photographer, so expect to be inundated with pro-quality pictures instead of my usual camera-phone business.







ERMEGERD KISS HIS NOSE ALREADY
If I had room in the budget for two, I'd never let this little guy slip away. He and Ellie are going to have so much fun together. I'm glad I got to be a part of his rehoming team and I look forward to their continued adventures together!

And yes, you can always count on me for Prisoner updates. This is my first time helping out with a resale, and he sort of feels like my little god pony already.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Saddle Shopping II: Well That Was Easy

Want. Can not have.
So last week I mentioned that I was giving it up and actually looking for a saddle that I could ride in that also fit my horse, since I had collected four that didn't work for us. We had a super attractive trial saddle, but it just wasn't quite going to work for us. (Lovely 17.5" adjustable gullet Pessoa with forward flaps, wool flocking, super nice leather, and matching calfskin leathers. Contact Gingham if you're interested!)

I've gone back through the barn and tried on pretty much everything without any great results. C-rage is medium-ish with a pretty average back, but I need something pretty specific and nothing was really working out.

As reference, here are just some of the things we've tried to date:
18" narrow

Lovely Jimmy Wofford Cross Country saddle. Too narrow. Way too narrow for his big ol' shoulders. Not going to work, since I own it.










18" mw
Berney Brothers all purpose-y saddle. Width about right, but is just sits on him funny. Look at how the back of the panels don't touch his back. Flap also does nothing for me.











17" mw
Borrowed custom Stubben saddle. Fits me ok, too wide for him. We can make it work with lots of shims, but hard to find this model online, especially in the width I need and ordering new is not in the works this year.











Because why not? 
I was bummed out and decided to just give it up  completely and buy a western saddle.

And then redheadlins came back from her extended vacation and was like "NO NO NO JUMP SADDLE FIRST". She followed that up by going to our local tack store and telling me I had to come in because there were two that might work for us. I sort of doubted it, but I at least wanted to order a trial of the Ovation monoflap saddle to see if that would work.

Enter local tack store.




17.5" medium? 
I was totally blown away. They had not one, but TWO (!!) forward flap medium tree-ish saddles more or less in my (hypothetical) price range. One was the cross country model of the Berney brothers saddle in a 17" seat and the other was a 17.5 Barnsby Diablo. I wasn't optimistic about the Berney Brothers since I already own one, but the Barsby? Haha. Not only have I run across them when doing research for saddles before, but they came up again last week when chatting with sometime blog reader K (hi K!).

I took both saddles on trial, marched out to the barn, slapped them on C-rage and found...

The Barnsby fits like a glove.

The panels make even contact all along his back. He has plenty of wither clearance. The flaps hang along his side instead of sticking out like would-be Pegasus wings. I even hopped on and rode for a few minutes in the 100f weather on Sunday and it was great. Good balance for me and still looked great with no objections from him.

It's older and needs a little love, but I'm thrilled. This is the easiest saddle shopping round I have ever done.

Because this post needed a cute Courage picture
So... who wants to buy my other saddles? Haha. Guess you'll see me posting those around now.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Weekend Fun: Courage Jumps

He is the best at air time over a tiny X
So much awesome pony stuff happened this weekend! I'm going to break it down by theme. Let's start with jumping, because that was awesome.

Friday morning, Alyssa trekked out to take some pictures. I threw Courage on the lunge line and set a jump. We had a lesson coming up and I wanted him to work through the physical jumping process one more time before I tried to ride him.

When I'm lunging him over jumps, I usually use the jump blocks as the inside standard, so there's nothing for the line to catch on, but I still have tons of adjustability. The drawback is that they tip over easily and don't get very tall. Up til this point, that was ok, but I wanted to push Couage a little and see what happened.

3' baby oxer
So we used barrels.

It was his first time ever seeing jumps that big, much less jumping them. He's definitely got his mojo back, because my brave little man didn't even blink.

I set it up and widened it very gradually. We started with poles on the ground, then an X, then a vertical, then oxer.











Much better than a tantrum
The reason I lunge instead of free jump is that we are specifically addressing HOW he approaches and departs, not really just the jump. Thus when he deer leaped a vertical and landed on all four feet (which is uncomfortable for everyone), he launched forward and started pissing off.

I just reeled him in and made him pay attention while completely skipping the jump until he was ready to approach quietly again.


In the end, I had about a 3'3" face with almost a 4' spread.

He just jog-trotted in, rocked back, and BAM.








Oxer.

Technique-wise, I'm very attentive to the fact that this is hard physical and mental work for him, so I only have him jump each jump once or twice each direction before moving it up. I want jumping to be fun and interesting, not uncomfortable and scary.




Not enormous, but big for us
I'd say it's working--we had a lesson bright and early the next morning. We addressed our biggest under-saddle jump yet.

He was great. He understood how to use his body, and I understood how to let him.

Couldn't be happier with how he's coming along.
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