Friday, October 31, 2014

Friday Fun Fotos

October 2013
October 2014
 Conformation a year apart. To me, he looks like a fat racehorse in 2013, but he's turning in to a fancy sporthorse in 2014. :-)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Making It Happen: Yee Haw Edition

Tension ho!
Sometimes, Courage is brilliant and perfect. Sometimes, he's a little less than that. As our partnership develops (geez, who thought I'd still be saying -that- a year in?), I'm getting more comfortable with pushing through the bad parts and riding whatever he throws my way.

I mentioned that I thought Courage would be wild Monday due to having the whole weekend off.

He wasn't.

We had a great ride with lots of quality work.

That mean, horrible happymouth mullen
So obviously, I expected that Tuesday's ride would be fun and easy and popping over little jumps and maybe a little hack around the field.

It wasn't.

I hopped on, Courage meandered around the arena until he saw his "spooky spot", and then his whole body locked on and his brain nearly left his head.

Oh the joys of a freshly-clipped fit horse on a brisk fall day.





Developing some softness in the canter
Instead of cruising around and popping over teeny jumps, we went into full on "re-install the brain" mode. So yeah, lots of transitions and bending and lateral work on ever-expanding figure eights so that by the end of the session, Courage was trotting through his favorite halloween haunt without even thinking about the potential spooks.

And then I was like "Well hell, if he's being this good, he might as well jump anyways".

So we did. We cantered around and did some skinnies and little 2' verticals and I worked on neither pushing nor pulling--just sitting chilly and letting him canter to the base in a good rhythm without jetting off after.

Well that looks good
By the end of our ride, I was really pleased. Courage didn't come out to work today, but I stepped up and insisted. He is rarely really determined to be naughty, and we were able to work through it and end on a good note.

It's not just about this particular ride--it's about him recognizing me as leader in difficult situations. Today, it was in our home arena. Next year? Hopefully we can have the same conversation in a show arena, but it will go even more smoothly because of all the time I've put in doing work like this.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Teach Me Tuesday: Lunging

The stars make it awesome
Here we go with another round of Teach Me Tuesday. I never seem to have trouble finding topics that I literally do not understand and I love seeing what everyone has to say about them. For this week, let's tackle something almost universally applied that I really don't have a solid grasp of.

Lunging.

I've lunged Courage twice in the past week. Once was before our lesson because I thought he might be wild (he was) and the other time before my ride Monday because I thought he might be wild (he wasn't).


mmm sexy
Before that? I don't think I'd lunged him since his forray into lunging over jumps early this summer. As a general rule, I think lunging a horse down only makes them fitter while killing their joints, but when you're riding your fit OTTB twice a week in cold weather, you do what you have to.

That said. There's this whole other world out there that I know nothing about, wherein horses get lunged as a training exercise that theoretically serves to progress their knowledge. Obviously, I used it to great effect over fences. Do you lunge? What do you accomplish? What makes you decide to do it or not? Do you use gadgets or a round pen or just a line?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Lesson Recap: In Which Courage Busts All the Moves

PUMPED
To start, I apologize for my total lack of related media. It wasn't a visually dramatic lesson and it was in fading light and it did require every ounce of my concentration, so pictures weren't so much happening.

Anyways.

S came out last Thursday evening. I hadn't been able to ride Courage since early Monday morning and HO BOY LEAPING AND CRAY CRAY.

I even lunged him first. Then when I got on he was ok to walk, a speedstar in the trot (wtf where is my lazy horse) and freaking unmanageable at the canter. Like we seriously spent 5 or 10 minutes of cantering around at the beginning of the lesson while Courage dolphin leaped and flailed and spooked at absolutely everything. He probably spooked more in 10 minutes then he's spooked in the entire rest of the time I've owned him.

At least I was riding like a total badass.

Unrelated cute dog picture
So after we more or less got through that, we started the lesson. S said that Courage is doing really well in that he's figured out it's his job to always get to the other side of the jump. To this point, we've been setting distances and poles around him. Now it's time for him to learn to fit himself into the poles and do (dun dun dun) FOOTWORK!!

So we did. She set up two lines of 4 poles each. The poles were set 9' apart. The idea was to trot in and be able to put three trot strides in each 9' section. Given Courage's mental state, we compromised and decided two was good enough for now.

That is to say, he would trot the first one and then leap and flail into the horizon. The tricky part was really finding the balance of letting him figure it out and how much for me to help him. We know he really hates any pulling on his mouth at all, but he also can't be a total pig about it if he also wants to leap and flail.

DOOM
With many theatrics, we finally got the striding right and the ride just so and then S ADDED IN JUMPS. So picture 3 poles 9' apart, then a 2' jump that we still needed to trot to. Courage did alright with the little vertical, but HO BOY he nearly lost all the marbles when she added barrels to his canter poles.

But hey. I kept riding like a very tactful badass and by the end, we could canter through those poles on a 9' stride including the barrels and trot through the grid I neglected to photograph that was the same thing only with a vertical. 


And then I shaved him. Because hair.
It was a fantastic lesson and not just because S went to hang out with some friends from an old barn afterwards and bragged about me (not gonna lie, that felt good). Courage was doing very hard mental work, but instead of checking out, he was very expressively staying with me. I rode great. I was at no point over-horsed or afraid, and we got some new tools to work with as we progress through the winter.

Also. One should not let one's super fit OTTB sit for four days in cold weather and then expect a good ride.

So yeah, guess what he did all weekend?

I'm bringing an 8 second timer to the barn today.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Clipping Shapes for the Non-Crafty

This is for the birds
You know that person in your life who is always making scrap books and home made cookies and probably actually creates pins on pinterest?

I am so not that person.

I don't craft. I don't art. I do respect those people, but I am not them and anytime someone starts talking about crafts, my brain checks out. I mean, my idea of "crafty" is how I have yet to have to host Thanksgiving. Winning.

Anyways. I had a super lesson last night (recap later) and afterwards Courage was hot and sweaty and muddy and gross. Cue clipping time.





He looks like a whole different horse
But you might remember how Courage rocked the stars and a chaser clip last year.

I loved the stars and the clip style worked well for us at the time, but I had a whole new design in mind and Courage is working hard enough that a full clip isn't out of place.

So that's all fine and good. But at this point you're probably asking, "SB, that sounds an awful lot like a craft project. How do you get the stars to go on?"

I will tell you. It's easier than it looks and even I can do it.

Crafters will probably make cooler designs
STEP 1

Herein lies the entire secret.

Make. Stencils.

I drew mine by hand on cardstock, which is what happens when you decide to clip at the very last minute.

Then you just use the masking tape to put them on the horse, and voila! Shapes! 

I don't love them as much as last year.

I body clipped Courage with my set of Andis AGC two speeds. They also did the design work for me.

That's pretty much everything I used.







Wait for it...
So. It was cool out. I clipped Courage' head, neck, shoulders, and mid section. Then I outlined his hip area so I'd know my parameters, threw a cooler over his naked self, and got to work.

I just masking-taped the stars on where I wanted them and clipped over/around them. Once I had the stars defined, I pulled the stencils off and finished cleaning up the area.


It does take longer than just clipping the hip like normal, but the stars make me happy every time I see them. It's worth it.


yup
Ta da!!

I love it.

I'm a very tidy clipper, so I meticulously got all the lines out. In a couple days, it will look really sharp. Obviously, Courage is still growing hair right now, so I'll have to decide what to do next time I clip. I could keep the same design or try something new. :-D




Courage is now all set for fall riding.

PS  You might wonder why I left his legs. I did them last time I clipped him and at the end of it, we both wanted to kill each other. I maintain that unless my horse is going to HITS with a good chance of being division champ in 3' on up, he will just have fuzzy legs because HELL NO.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

In Search of Confidence: Building the Partnership

March or April 2014
One thing that I have found supremely frustrating this year is that Courage and I came out bold and happy this spring--we were jumping 2'-2'6" on a loose rein in a good balance.











Engage Flail Apparatus
And then the shit hit the fan and sort of just spiraled downhill. I've been working through this a bit lately just because it sure feels like we started taking lessons and that prompted the whole mess.

But I know that's not it. I even wrote an angsty post about it, but it annoyed me and I never published it.

Really, we were unlocking Courage's body and allowing him to use it in new ways. As a smart, athletic horse, he was exploring what that meant.








Baby steps
I mean, as great as our first picture is, Courage came straight off the track after 7 years of racing. He didn't know how to be a horse. He didn't know how to jump. He didn't trot on the bit and he had no freaking clue how to canter a 20 meter circle without losing his mind and flailing.







Early summer lesson
He tries hard and he loves being the best at things, but even a very talented horse has a learning curve. Despite his ideal conformation and excellent form, Courage had to learn to really power off that fantastic hind end of his so he could clear oxers and carry a balance forward.












Learning about bascule
He's easy to ride in the sense that he flails and dolphin leaps instead of rearing and bucking, but that doesn't mean he understands how to use that gorgeous body of his.

Truthfully, he's very difficult to ride because he is so sensitive, especially when he isn't sure. Our horrific XC experience at least led to time out of the saddle where Courage could figure out his own body.




Ba BAM
And once he got it, Courage REALLY got it. The only limit was how much lunging I wanted to do and how high my standards were.











and LAUNCH
When I started riding over fences again, I had a horse who attacked the jumps but didn't necessarily have the flat work to be solid with a rider. 

The basics were in place, but it was more low jumps and steering so we could be on the same page. It didn't really matter that I had confidence issues, because Courage didn't need big jumps. He needed slow, steady repetition to figure out the rules of this great new game.



Scope much?
That's not to say he didn't jump big jumps--he got to address a few larger fences with a competent rider up. He wasn't (and still really isn't) ready to face down big grids, so we limited his exposure to big fences to simple questions that he understood with generous placing poles.














Mastering demons
Once Courage understood the questions, it was time for me to step up my game. No more crest releases and backseat event riding. Couage is a game and forward horse who uses the hell out of his neck and back and he damn well needs a release.

I'll be honest and say Courage is hands down the best jumper I've ever put time on. He's not just safe--he's talented and sensitive and scopey and if he needs me to ride better, then I owe it to him to step up my game.

Not gonna lie. This part was hard because it forced me to break my mental game down to it's minutest pieces and put it back together in a whole new way.


On the same page, finally
I can't just put leg on and take my brain off. I have to give Courage an educated ride and then he gives me his absolute best.

I have no doubt that Courage and I have lots of adventures and lessons to come. I"m hardly the world's greatest rider and he's still plenty green, but we're in a place where we can learn together and still have a good time.







Back to the calm


So did this summer's crap come from pushing too hard or would I have gotten through it sooner if we just pushed harder? I don't really know. I guess there is no way to know. I'm sue there are other ways to address the problems we had, but our way worked for us.

A big takeaway for me is that handling pressure is a trained response and in order for Courage to thrive, I need to be very in tune with how much pressure he's up to handling on any given day.

Note world's longest running attachment.


Truthfully, I just want to ride competently around 3'-3'3" courses on my fun, safe horse that I also trail ride and play on.

Instead of being frustrated by our set backs, I remind myself of just how far we've come this year. Yeah, the jumps aren't much bigger and we're a far cry from that 3' course, but Courage is stronger, braver, and more educated and I'm riding at a whole new level.

It just takes time. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

That Time of Year Already

He's pretty much like a super model
It seems disproportionately early, but the days are getting drastically shorter, the leaves are changing color, and even Courage is growing in a winter coat. I know I didn't clip him until November last year, but he seems to be adjusting to the Idaho climate (hella colder than California) and his coat is coming in a lot faster this year than last year.

Plus we should still have riding weather for at least another 6 weeks, maybe 8-10 if we're lucky.

That of course brings us to the real question of the day:

WHAT WILL I CLIP ON HIM?


Do love the clean look of a full clip
I know I hemmed and hawed about whether I approved of doing designs last year, but I ended up coming down firmly on the side of fun for the first clip at least.

Aside from the fun factor, I think what tipped the balance for me is that designs and contrast opens up conversations with lots of people, horsey and otherwise, about clipping and horse care and OTTBs and I think all of those things are interesting.

I have a few ideas, though I doubt I'll top the blogger queens of clipping, aka MONICA and ANDREA!!!

Who else is kicking off clipping season?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Jumping Skinny

You might remember two weeks ago when Courage and I tackled our first skinny jump like rockstars. I was pretty proud of him and then there were skinnies set all over the arena on Monday and after two days of flat rides, it was definitely time to try something new.

Definitely.

Note improved pic quality. YAY NEW PHONE.
After a nice warm up in which I reminded myself that my ass goes to the back of the saddle and my heels always only ever go down, WHILE MY HANDS ARE FORWARD AND UP, we trotted in to our first wee jump.

It's teensy, but that's not the point. The point is accuracy. Also the point is that at this time last year, Courage thought this HUGE and MENACING black tube was some sort of devilish apparition that completely blocked all forward motion and I couldn't lead him over it, much less ride.

And yeah, now it's not even worth jumping properly. I call that a win.

Loving my position here. Note ass out of saddle post-jump.
Next we moved on to the little rows of jumps blocks.

He's jumped these before lots of times, but never on a tight bending line and never so few at a time. In order to jump them well, I had to keep my hands really forward and my leg very tight and just stay in balance and wait.

It's harder than it sounds, I swear. Anyways. He jumped them super well and I was proud.



take off!
We cantered around (oh yes I canter skinnies NO FEAR BITCHES THEY ARE TINY) and Courage was being awesome aside from the one time that I pointed him at the narrowest jump we had, then leaned up his neck and took my leg off. Then we detoured because wtf did I even want anyways?

I don't know.

Anyways. I ended by cantering a sort of course, culminating in downhill (my kryptonite other than oxers and tall jumps) over the narrow barrels.



jump!
I was so thrilled with how I rode and how Courage jumped. He was soft and forward and balanced, which makes seeing a distance easy peasy and he's so athletic and brave that he really doesn't care if we're a little close or long.

He knows his job is to jump and I'm figuring out that my job is to steer and not pull on his face, and we're golden.

I dunno. I mean, I realize that thse jumps are not large, even for me, but I'm asking a more difficult question and Courage is emphatically answering "YES I GOT IT".

It's just so ridiculously fun to ride. Seriously.


land!
I really love where the two of us are at right now. Heck, I even pretty much love my position in these pics. I'm finding the balance between giving the big release that Courage requires and keeping myself in balance in the saddle without ducking my upper body or losing my legs.

Maybe it's our classy new five point breastplate (thanks JenJ!) or the pretty boots or Courage showing off for the much-improved phone camera or maybe (dun dun dun)...






It's so very him.
It's that his cookie monster bonnet has finally arrived!!!

I mean, it's that or admitting that this ride has taken over a year of boring, slow, consistent training that only advances as fast as the horse is ready for it, even if that means time off for sore bodies and bad weather.

Nope, definitely the bonnet.

I love it.

So much.

I think I have another bonnet coming. What kind of magic will it produce?

PS We also trotted through 4 poles like a normal horse and didn't try to leap them one single time. That's big for us.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Riding Light

My apologies for the somewhat random absence this past week. I kept trying to do mobile posts and I can only conclude that the blogger mobile app is possibly the most useless thing ever created. It. Doesn't. Work.

So anyways. It was a busy week and lots of things happened, almost none of them horsey.

However, in between trips out of town, I squeezed in a photo session with Ellie. Here are a few of my favorites.

Loving that sunset light
We see you

I really can't pick a favorite
He looks like a stock horse


Always wear a helmet when riding your ottb bareback for the first time
 Not only are they beautiful shots, but I feel like they really capture where Courage and I are right now. We've been together over a year, but it's just now that we're really connecting and learning about each other. I trust him enough to hop on for a quick bareback spin and he trusts me enough to not freak out when I climb on from the fence.

 I was excited about Courage last year, wanting to see how much he could do and how soon, and feeling like some sort of failure if he wasn't doing things unexpectedly early. Now we've settled into a comfortable rhythm together and instead of pushing the limits of his ability, we're just exploring what life together looks like and having a good time.

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