Friday, November 29, 2013

And Another Lesson!

Courage and Diva
I found out early Wednesday morning that Courage and I could wiggle in to a baby lesson with our fancy eventing trainer that afternoon. It was a group lesson with three other greenie babies, so I figured it was the perfect opportunity for us.

Courage unloaded like a champ, let me tack up, and then spent the next ten minutes or so posing dramatically in various places around the giant arena. He didn't spook at all, but he's the sort of horse that really likes to see everything.

Once I got on, we were put to wok doing some leg yield out on 20 m circles at the walk and trot. The goal was to get the hyped up greenies a bit disengaged (and less zoomy) while getting them focused on us. Because the arena is massive, we all got our own circle to work on.

"Check out my flailing move, Diva."
Then she had us roll right up into canter. I tried to think positive and stay focused and whatever, but it took about half a circle before we were flailing and leaping our way across the diagonal of the giant arena with a certain little blaze face pretty much in my lap. I'm starting to get used to it, so I kept my heels down and leg on and sort of got him combobulated before we ran in to anyone. Just glad none of the other babies decided to go with us, lol.

We got put back on our circle. I did some changes of direction to change his focus a little, and our instructor kept having me pat him with the outside (right) rein. We were able to put in two decent half circles at the canter without leaping, so we called that good enough.

Then we moved on to trotting a pattern of poles. There were a lot of poles in a row, which is something Courage is not the best at. He gets a little overwhelmed when he sees that many things to do. Definitely something to work on. He was pretty funny as he tried SO HARD to figure out what I wanted. We would trot through the first few, then sort of canter and then just LEAP out. Our instructor had me trot in, then halt, then walk or trot out a few times and he started to do better.

He's got this
Well, until we had to canter. We trotted the first set of poles, then were supposed to canter the second set. Courage's flailing isn't so much scary as annoying and bizarre and hilarious, so we picked up the canter, leaped our way through the poles, and took off flailing across the arena.

Our instructor had me keep him forward, but put him on a circle and put him to work. We went through the exercise several times, and while the flailing never quite stopped, it got quite a bit less dramatic and protracted.

Then we added jumps! Now we were trotting over two poles and a crossrail, turning left, jumping another crossrail across the center of the arena, and then cantering on the right lead through the last set of poles. The goal of the exercise was to work on turning and balance. I expected C-rage to be a nutter, but he surprised me. He was totally unimpressed by the trot poles and X, stepped right over the next X, and then I opted to trot the rest.

And then we did it again. He hopped the first X and deer leaped the second one because we added fill. I stayed with him and kicked on and we landed in the most balanced right lead canter that we maintained all the way around the end WITH NO FLAILING!!! WOOHOO!!! He trotted the last poles, but I was happy with him.

Take aways from the lesson:
1) We're on the right track. Courage was comfortable in the group, good in company, and pretty easy to deal with. His good work is very good.
2) It is better to deal with the random forward/flailing thing than to have to kick him constantly.
3) It is important to address the flailing now. Keeping him forward is the right idea, but I also need to change his balance and put him to work IMMEDIATELY so he doesn't get the idea that he can just piss off for a few strides when he's in the mood for it.As our instructor put it, "if he thinks he can do that for 4 or 5 strides and you have a jump in 3, you're in trouble."

Rocking their sexy coolers!
I'm hoping to hop on him today, then I have ANOTHER LESSON on Saturday, this time with S. So many lessons! I love the holidays. Happy late Thanksgiving to everyone!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Wherein We Take a Lesson

AKA "Courage is the best at flailing" AKA "WHO LET THE RACEHORSE OUT?"

When S came out to give us a lesson, it was the second time she had ever seen Courage. The first time, he was just a couple weeks off the track and we hauled to her barn and hacked around for some exposure. We never even trotted.

She watched us walk around for about thirty seconds and honed in on our issues immediately. "He needs to be more responsive to your leg," she said. She talked about being very still in the saddle and using my aids effectively vs nagging him constantly. I think redheadlins wanted to hit me with a bat, since she's pretty much said the same thing every ride. Oops.

Anyways. We started out just doing walk/trot transitions on a circle. Because the little dude is a quick learned, he figured it out in about two circles and was all "OMG LOOK AT ME I AM THE BEST AT GOING FORWARD FROM THE LEG". Yeah, it was pretty cute. I had to focus really hard on keeping my heels down and my leg very, very quiet.

Then we did trot/canter transitions. He's always been pretty good at these, but he cross-applied the principles really well and was quite snappy. We did some nice work on the left lead, then changed directions.

We picked up the right lead nicely once. We came back to trot and re-balanced, all very polite. We picked up the right lead a second time and all of a sudden I had C-rage's head in my lap and legs were going everywhere and his butt had disappeared and I had no idea what was happening. I pointed him at the arena fence to get combobulated since obviously reins were getting me nowhere and S shouts "KICK HIM AND KEEP ON GOING!!"

So I did. He got himself put back together and we carried on. Huh.

After the goofy halt
We chatted for a bit while he stood on a loose rein. Then we were off to do a pattern/quasi dressage test. Courage was all "GOING FORWARD IS SOOOOO FUN LOOK HOW FAST I CAN TROT I AM THE BEST AT FAST". He did the classic green horse halt at x, running forward with his mouth gaping and his nose straight in the air. All I can do is laugh and say "Really. He's never, ever done this before."

We go through the pattern, working on managing his rhythm with my posting and staying completely out of his face so he can focus on forward. All is well (and fast) until we come around the corner and pick up the right lead. He sort of launches forward and flings his legs in all directions and his head is flying and I have no idea what's happening.

As per S, I just keep kicking him forward and stay out of his face. I pick a point and ride to it (giving him direction) and just completely ignore his nutso spaz fit. I still had no idea what he was doing, but he's very balanced while doing in it, so I just stayed in the middle. Every time we hit the longside of the arena by the hay barn, he's scoot off again, but slightly less dramatically than the last time. He even threw in a mini buck, which was strange and sort of hilarious.

First lesson complete
Once we got a little more organized and less spastic, I brought him back to the trot. We did some serpentines to get him balanced and focused, then a little more (spaz free) canter, and ended with big serpentines across the arena to engage his hind end.

And then we walked over to chat with S and he stood on a loose rein like nothing ever happened. Goof head.

Lindsey was a little too busy "watching" and "paying attention" to get video of our more epic flails, but here's some lesson video with his first attempt towards the end.

It was definitely a learning curve for both of us and I'm still laughing about his antics. He got Monday off, but I'm looking forward to putting our lessons to use this week and seeing what we can take away. Many thanks to S for teaching and Linds for videoing and taking pictures! 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Lesson Prep

I last rode Courage on Monday afternoon. He gave me some really great work--I kept him forward and bending through his topline, which resulted in some bomb diggity walk/trot transitions.

Then it poured for two days and I clipped him and life happened the next two days. And then it was Saturday and I hadn't ridden in five days and C-RAGE WAS SCHEDULED FOR A REAL LESSON ON SUNDAY.

I mean, redheadlins gives us good butt kickings from time to time, and that's definitely gotten us to where we are today. That said, this is going to be our first time to have fresh eyes on the ground with the same instructor who turned Cuna and I into dressage stars. She hasn't seen me ride since the dressage show in May, so it will be an interesting check on how I'm doing.

That said. I HAD to ride on Saturday. I really did intend to lunge him, given the temperature drop and the clipping and the time off, but I really hate lunging. I decided to just hop on and pop on the lunge line later if he was going to be naughty.

This rockstar
Guess who wore his awesome pants??

I swear this horse trains himself. Yeah, we worked hard (mentally) on Monday, but he hadn't even seen a piece of tack since them.

I warmed him up on the buckle while chatting and laughing and goofing off.

Almost a real horse tail now
He didn't even fuss about me picking up the reins and putting him on the bit. Omg! Usually he at least fusses the first time to find out if I'm serious. My biggest complaint with his trot work was that it was a little lazy, hence my slightly-less-than-awesome lower leg in this shot.

He's at this phase in his training where he's starting to figure out what I want. We went from having 2 or 3 good trot strides per ride to five or six to half the arena.

And yesterday? Pretty much all his trot work was solid. He's really learning to trust the contact (that I HAVE TO REMEMBER to give him) and go forward while using his back.

We rolled up into the canter. I sent him forward and back a couple of times on both leads (have I mentioned that I am dying to gallop this horse? DYING). He and I are really starting to figure each other out and it is so fun.

Anyways. After the right lead, I dropped him back into trot by just shifting my seat and he gave me the most forward, balanced, connected trot I have ever ridden on him. It was incredible.

I called it a day. My tack is clean, my horse is ready and I am SUPER PSYCHED for a lesson this afternoon.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Friday Fun Challenges

Trapped inside

If you obsessively stalk my blog, it's possible that you remember the time Courage had a bad day, all because he was completely incapable of stepping over an obstacle that was 12 inches high. Never mind that he doesn't bat an eye when he jumps twice that height--it is completely impossible to be led over a tiny obstacle.

I kept meaning to work on that at home, but it's so ridiculously stupid that I just put it off. I mean, his ground manners are great. I can lead him with just body language and he has no problems going forward. I kept meaning to lunge him over some little stuff and gradually work up to leading him over it (yeah, how backwards is that?), but I just didn't make the time.

And then I wanted to clip him. The BO warned me that closing the roll-down front door of the barn can be pretty spooky for horses already inside the barn, so I closed it before I got him out of the field and then just led him in through a stall.

His cute little face was right by my shoulder as I walked into the stall and then all of a sudden, it wasn't.

I'm standing in the stall. He's still out in the run. There is a HUGE AND TERRIFYING OBSTACLE between us.

Yes, he had to step over a 6" tall board to get into the stall.

Now, we can argue that there is a light/dark change* and it's a new environment and WHATVER, but the fact is that he lives two stalls down in the EXACT SAME BARN. Yeah, his stall is just a step up without a little board to step over, but I'm not buying it.

Of course, I'm dealing with a very athletic and expressive horse. I can't ask the lovely couple taking care of their 26 year old retiree to come over and kick my horse in the rear because if he were to express himself, I wouldn't want them getting hurt. The BO is in the house and very, very sick, so I really don't want to call her either.

It's just me and C-rage. Not going in a stall.

Great. I cannot be both behind him for encouragement and in front of him for guidance. I do know that he would do almost anything for a cookie. I grab a whole hoodie pocket full of cookies and try bribery. I think all four of his feet got within about 12 inches of each other and his whole neck was stretched into the stall, but he didn't care even try to step in.

I tried clucking and pulling. I tried giving him time. I made it very clear that I wanted him in with me. I opened the front stall door so it wasn't claustrophobic. I established that he can stretch his neck out a very long way and that he was trying very hard, but he just. wouldn't. do. it.

Finally, I leaned out of the stall, picked up his left front leg, and set it inside the stall with me. Then I backed up and held out a cookie.

The impossible horse trap
He looked around and walked right in. I praised him, gave him pats and scratches, stuffed him full of cookies, and walked in to the barn aisle.

The little blazed face was suspiciously missing.

Yep. There was another board to step over.

This time, I got him over in about a minute. He was very suspicious of the hoof lifting technique, since the last time I did that, he some how ended up levitating into a magical horse trap.

That said, he really, really wanted the cookies.

He had to think about it, but he finally made the step into the aisle.

Of course, it remains to be seen if he would have gone in at all if he knew that I was about to clip stars on his butt. ;-)

*Also there was no light/dark change when he first pulled this stunt. We were outside on a sunny day with safe footing.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Courage Goes Bald, Round 1

We've had two days of steady rain, making the arena practically useless and then yesterday afternoon was in the low forties with a steady, cold wind blowing in some even colder weather. Ew. It was too cold and yuck for me to want to ride this early in the season, so I decided it was more than time for C-rage to get his first clip as a sporthorse.

He was not sure it was a great idea
The past couple of years, I've had my horse in a very full care situation, so I just did a full body clip (including legs) because that is the easiest to deal with from a riding perspective. This year, however, we're in a more laid-back situation and Courage isn't really working hard enough to sweat much. Couple that with the fact that he doesn't have a ton of hair, and I really had no reason to take it all off.

After reviewing a lot of information, I decided to go with the "chaser" style clip for a couple of reasons. 1) It leaves the horse with plenty of hair to stay warm. 2) It avoids sensitive hind quarters, which reduces the chances I'd get kicked in the face. 3) It isn't quite as ugly as a trace clip. 4) I can always change it later.

Of course, Courage is a very sensitive guy and due to the high winds, I'd closed the front barn door, so the interior of the barn was quite spooky. I'd intentionally chosen a low-traffic time to clip, which meant that there were people buzzing around, dogs barking, and a horse coming back from the vet.

First attempt
Here goes nothing, right?

I was very impressed with the clippers--they were super quiet and cut well. Courage is reasonably clean, but they held their blade nicely and didn't get too hot. I used masking tape to mark off the lines I wanted to follow and clipped away. It was tricky to do the neck, but that's just because someone kept twisting his adorable face around and demanding cookies anytime I was forward of his shoulder.

Cuz he's a rockstar

I'm not really sure how I feel about clipping designs, but the fact is that we never had the option at the show barn. Since he's my horse and we're free to do whatever we want, I decided that we had to try this at least once.

And I have to admit, it is pretty cute.

By the time we were done, he had dropped his head and was falling asleep.

I'm hoping the cold wind dried out the arena enough that I can have a ride around today to see how it goes. After all, there's a chance I'll get a lesson this weekend and I want to be prepared. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Little Man Has Mad Hops

Given the sort of gut wrenching awful that we dealt with last week, I really needed Courage to step it up. I guess the little man knew it. He brought me 110% every ride, even when all I felt up to doing was just walking around the arena. He's so self assured and cocky and adorable. He forces me to pay attention and laugh, even when I don't think I can.

Not actually me riding
We rode at dusk the other night, and he was jumping like a rocket ship. We'd get right under the fences, and then he'd LAUNCH into the air. I had to laugh at him, but for Sunday's ride, I put redheadlins in the tack for the fences. I do enjoy him immensely, but sometimes I think it's useful to let him figure life out with someone who knows a little more what they're doing.

Plus, I haven't actually seen him go since he figured out jumping. Check out his awesome below!!

Redheadlins not only rode him for me, she also made the video. Yay awesome friends!

How cute are they?
In case you're like me and rarely watch videos, here are a couple of stills from the day.

It was so much fun to watch my little guy go around. He feels amazing when I ride him, but I have to say, he looks even more amazing. He is SO.PROUD. of himself for figuring out jumping.

I don't think height is an issue
I do need to probably do more ground poles stuff and get him used to grids and seeing multiple jumps in a row. That said, we're going in to winter and I'm in no particular hurry.

He's a quick learner and a hard worker and with his brain, I'm really not worried about doing anything other than building up a reservoir of positive experiences for him to draw on. We keep it fun and easy and he is thriving.

And frankly, if you think his jumping is coming along, you should see his flatwork. Someday, we will be respectable. We will also jump things more than 2' tall, but hey, he's three months off the track.

PS Check out the fun contest over at Forging Fiction.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Hakuna Matata

He will only leave the barn if I have a cookie
I haven't written about the old man much lately. He's hanging out in his field, taking his time. He likes his life and trucks around with his buddies. I fuss with his blanket and his feed a little, but mostly I'm just letting him be.

Wednesday, his farrier came out for a trim. I was doing my usual "hold the end of the lead rope so I can watch exactly what he's doing and ask annoying questions". My farrier is used to be my now, so if it bothers him, he doesn't let on too much. As he worked away at Cuna's left front, I pointed to a slightly discolored spot in the sole. "Is that a bad thing?" I asked.

"No," he says. But then he points to the white line. "This is bad, though."

As he trims away the excess toe, he leaves behind a white line like I've never seen it before. It's almost an inch wide with blood in places. "You need to call your vet." As he and later the vet explained, the white line gets wider as the internal structures of the hoof start to pull away from the wall.

No more is it/isn't it flirting with laminitis. We're staring at it.

Cuna's been bilaterally uncomfortable up front. The next evening, I took him out to the arena/drylot area at the barn on the lunge line. His walk hasn't looked great to me, but maybe I'm just imagining things.

Nope. The old man was non-trotting. 

I patted his nose and told him the vet would be out tomorrow.

And then I pretty much fell apart. He's happy where he's at for the first time in ages. He likes his life. That means a lot to me. I've seen horses live in chronic pain and I absolutely refuse to do that to him. I love him too much to hang on to him when every day hurts.

Waiting for the vet
I got to the barn about a half hour before the vet. Cuna was even more uncomfortable than the day before. I curried and brushed him all over and combed through his mane and tail. I fed him cookies every time he looked at me and just appreciated what a giant red gentleman he is.

As much as I hate to be overly dramatic about emotions and life, I felt like everything inside me crunched when the vet's truck came around the corner.

He was as friendly as could be, and I explained the process Cuna and I are working through, from the weird stuff this spring to the horrid stuff in May to our current situation. He listened, watched, and dug around in Cuna's feet. I didn't have to tell him why the farrier said to call as he poked around at the white line in both fronts and dug an old abscess out of his sole.

We talked about our options. His first thought was to put shoes on Cuna, but the red man and shoes don't stay together long enough for that to make a difference. There's a reason he's barefoot now. Fortunately, that didn't phase him. He moved right along and told me to get Cuna some hoof boots, keep them as clean and dry as possible, put him on bute for the next week to get him more comfortable, and wait.

Trying hoof boots on for size
In his opinion, it looks like Cuna is growing out a lot of the crap we went through in May and we're just still dealing with the residual suck. The event line is pretty obvious on his hoof. He wants Cuna's trimming schedule to be a much shorter cycle, but just said that these things take time and we won't even know how far Cuna's going to come back until at minimum another six months.

We're not in the clear yet. I have to order the boots, since apparently no one stocks size 3s. Not even kidding. The old man horse has big feet.

Cuna hasn't given up and until he does, I'm on board. I've never willingly purchased or used hoof boots in my entire life, but I just ordered some with priority shipping and I can't wait for them to get here.

So... hoof boots anyone? Tell me it's unicorns and rainbows from here on out. 

PS I really want to win some cool saddle soap that I can't afford to buy after getting Cuna's hoof boots. Enter Amy's contest for it here!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Finding Relaxation

This face
You know that moment when you're too tired to go on and you've had a long day and there's a massive list of things to do waiting for you at home? You know you should ride, but you're not even wearing breeches and just the walk to the car to get them sounds exhausting.

I can't be the only one. I always wonder about those people with the "my horse is my therapist" stickers. I love my boys, absolutely, but my life would be so much less stressful and complicated without them. I frequently stress about barn time running in to work or home time and I find myself spending rides worrying more about what I need to do at work than what I'm actually working on.

That said, I'm an incredibly fortunate person who somehow ended up with two of the cutest, coolest thoroughbreds that God ever made. This summer, I decided to start making choices that would let horses be fun again instead of just another commitment/addiction. Here's the biggest things that helped me:

1) Getting out of the show environment. I love horse shows, I really do. Cuna and I were at a show barn and it was really fun when we were showing. When that was no longer an option for us, I found it to be so much easier to have him at a low key barn where I didn't feel out of place just because I wasn't going to the next A show.

Takes my breath away
2) Separating work and barn. I suspect that I'm not the only horsey blogger that picks up hours at the barn either to offset costs or as part of a rough board arrangement. This can be a great thing, but it's easy to get caught up in the work/stress part of it and completely miss the fun. My happy place here is cleaning stalls--it's a low stress job that lets me keep an eye on the little guy, but it doesn't follow me home and haunt my subconscious the way being responsible for show horses did.

3) Taking a deep breath. Most of the time, I'm on some sort of crazy rush between work, home, and barn and I don't have time to do everything perfectly. I try to have at least one day a week at a slower pace. Even if it's a short ride and I don't clean my tack, I smile and enjoy the good things about my boys and appreciate the beautiful place I live.

I maintain that horses are way too expensive not to be having the time of your life at least 80% of the time when you're in the saddle. Even with the right horse in a good situation, I find I have to be intentional about enjoying myself or "ride" just becomes another check box in an endless to-do list.

 How does everyone else keep it fun? Any tips for reducing stress for the adult ammies out there?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Feeding the Sporthorse

Probably carrying a little too much weight
When Cuna went horribly lame this year, the vet had me pull him off all his supplements in case there were any additives that might have been aggravating his condition. I've been too paranoid to add anything back in other than an occasional weight builder when the temperature drops.

Once Courage came to join us, I needed to be careful with money. I can afford two, but I spend more time then I used to watching the budget. As such, I decided that Courage would get put on supplements if/when he demonstrated a clear need and not before.

Three months post-track
Cuna lives on grass 24/7 and has free access to clean water, a salt lick, and good quality hay in a slow feeder. Courage is turned out on grass 6-8 hours a day. In his stall, he has essentially free choice hay and salt and he has clean water at all times no matter where he is.

And you know what? I haven't bought a single supplement. Both the boys are healthy and holding weight. Their coats look good, their feet are staying together, and they're as happy as I can expect them to be.

When I ran across this article lately, it all sort of made sense to me, especially when the author says:
"If horses couldn't fill their nutritional needs from good forage, and water, they wouldn't have survived.  There's no way that a biological system thrives since prehistory if it has such a precise requirement for, say, cobalt, that it can’t get it in the stuff it normally eats."

I know that some supplements help some of the time--Cuna can't hold his weight in hard work without a weight builder. That said, I feel even better about my choice to save money for now and let the boys tell me when they need something, instead of buying in to the latest cool advertising.

How does everyone else pick their horse's feed? I know I have readers from all over the spectrum and I'm curious how your horse keeping style changes the way you fuel your sport horse.

Monday, November 11, 2013


Air time!
I haven't jumped a horse over a real jump (3' plus) in a year**. Well, probably eleven months. I knew that when Cuna and I had to lay off last fall, that my confidence was going to slip a few notches and that I'd probably lose something in the way of technique. It was even worse when he retired--I hated knowing that I was going to lose all the progress I'd made in my position and with my confidence. Even when I got Courage, I was well aware that green horses are hell on position and then by the time I got him jumping "real" jumps, I'd probably be starting from square one, again.

Here's the funny thing: For the first month or so, yeah, he was just figuring things out and I rode terribly. We got over the fences and that was what mattered. Just in the past couple of weeks, he's really figured out this whole "jumping thing" and you know what?

Maybe 2'3" vertical
I'm working on all the same things I was working on with Cuna. It's kind of hilarious. He's a totally different ride than Cuna, who was long and downhill and heavy in front. Instead of holding him up with my hands, I balance him with my core. He's sensitive like Cuna though, so I have to be still and careful.

I jumped him yesterday. I had to laugh at the whole thing. I started out a little bit nervous. I'll probably always be just a little nervous. He trotted to the first fence, then tried to stop. I said no and he launched. We demolished the whole jump. My lower leg swung back and he started scooting off.

So I jammed my heels down and sent him forward.

Tiny vertical!
He didn't touch a rail after that. I'd set the baby version of the circle of death, and he and I were able to string two jumps together if we cantered and three if we trotted. And yes! That means we cantered our first jumps together! So excited. He hopped over a couple of verticals with no drama whatsoever.

I've been going through the pictures that redheadlins took of us, and they make me smile. I'm working on things like staying forward after the jump to allow him to use his hind end and keeping my seat out of the saddle before the jump so I don't push him forward with my seat. Hold the rhythm. Balance the turn. Keep him steady without picking.

All the same things I used to work on with Cuna. The difference is that I don't need a solid year of dressage just to get a nice quality of canter--he came with that installed.

Scary tube! He's just cantering over it, really.
I'd even set a "scary" jump in the arena--it's this black tube that he absolutely refused to have anything to do with back when he first started jumping. I wasn't sure I wanted to address it, but then Lindsey and Diva jumped it like rock stars. He and I hopped over a couple of jumps and everything felt right, so I pointed him at it. He didn't even peek. I felt him use his body and spring over it and I was so proud of my little man that I almost can't put in into words.

He's got this. I've got this. Somehow, I have this awesome horse who's green, but he builds my confidence and helps my position. I started the ride a little nervous about the jumps, but I finished thinking that the 2'3" vertical seemed a little small.

We're still a long time from the big jumps, but it makes me happy to realize that when we do get there, I won't be completely out of my element. Even now, when I look into Cuna's wise old eyes, I'm so thankful for my time with him. He gave me the courage to try again and he stayed with me until my own Courage decided to come home. Because of all the time I spent on Cuna, I can't wait to see where Courage and I go together.

**Noted: that is a completely subjective definition. We are all in different places in life and riding and what is giant to some is tiny to others. If your "real jump" is defined as an 18" crossrail or a grand prix oxer, I certainly don't look down on you. For me, the line is around 3'. That doesn't mean it's the same for everyone. ;-)

PS Hilary is hosting a sweet giveaway of leather cleaner/conditioner that I want to win. Hope on over to her blog if you think you're luckier than I am.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Learning to Go

Plus I had to wear this cute jacket
After watching the videos and reading the summaries of the William Fox Pitt clinic this week, I decided that the little man and I needed to step things up a notch. My goal is to get him on the lesson calendar and haul him over to the fancy trainer's barn, but before we do that, I thought we needed to address a couple of training holes.

My number one concern has been that I didn't feel like Courage had a solid "go" button. I mean, he's always going somewhere. It's just that I don't feel that I can close my leg and say "now" and have him respond.

So I went the most obvious route and threw redheadlins up on him.

Not only is she braver and a better rider than I am, but she's also spent plenty of time galloping race horses at the track. If anyone can go forward on a Thoroughbred, it's her. They had a lovely warmup and then cantered off.

I did my best to scrape my jaw off the arena sand as she effortlessly opened him up down the long side of the arena and then brought him back to do balanced canter circles in the ends. Hm. Apparently the go button is just fine.

Someday we'll have a tail.
Then it was my turn. I got to learn about galloping position, plus shorten my stirrups. We cantered around while I figured life out.

This is probably the most cantering C-rage has done since he came home with me, but in his normal style, he continued trying 110% to do everything we asked.

He is the best at galloping
Finally, I got myself more or less organized in the saddle. We turned up the long side, I adjusted my position, and his stride completely changed. For a moment, I thought he had spooked and was scooting off. Then I realized that I was riding an uphill gallop. I was nowhere near his top gear, and it felt AMAZING.

Oh yes. He has a go button.

I am excited to continue figuring him out--he definitely told me when I hit galloping position and I didn't even have to touch the reins to bring him back. We definitely aren't ready for WFP and we have more work to do before we go to our lesson. That said, THIS HORSE IS AWESOME.

Seriously. I am so excited for what we're going to do together.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Tricks of the the Trade: Writing a Horse-y Blog

Courage is the best at blog tips
Every once in a while, I get an email from a new blogger, introducing themselves. (I love it. Keep sending them!) Not infrequently, they ask me what it takes to write a horse-y blog. It's an interesting topic that Lauren covered here, and it varies from person to person. Definitely read Lauren's post-she covers a lot of important points. Here's what I'd add to her post, though:

Main ideas:

The story of Courage
When I'm browsing a new blog, the #1 thing I'm looking for is a good story. Everyone has a story and I'd venture to say that most people have good ones. I want to see their story conveyed in their writing though. Where are they from? What are they moving towards? Do the characters catch me? It can be a sad story, a happy story, a fun story, or anything in between.

The blogger can battle the clock, the bank account, or their own limitations (or all of them). The story is the glue that sticks all the posts together and differentiates a blog from a training calendar. It's frequently the relationship between the blogger and their horse, but it can be other things.
Bloggers with great stories: Sweet Horse's Breath, Pony Express

The voice of SprinklerBandits
The biggest thing that makes a blog stand out is the voice it's told by. Writing a blog is about more than just good grammar and coherent (SHORT!!) paragraphs. It's about finding your voice in the horse world and learning to speak. This is something to pay particular attention to when you read back over your own posts (unless I'm the only weirdo who does that?).

Everyone has bad days, but if your tone is consistently whiny or entitled or cynical, I'm unlikely to add you in to my daily feed. A strong voice in a blog shows your personality and gives me a character to engage with.
Bloggers with great voice: Pia's Parade, Chasing the Dream

Focus on halters
In order to make a blog readable, it is important for the author to focus. Again, we all have days where everything is so right (or wrong) that we just do a massive brain dump, but in general, readers can track so much better if the blogger picks a topic and sticks with it for a post. Topics can be anything: that funny thing my horse did, how my show/lesson went, something I love (or hate!) about the horse industry or something else entirely. Focus helps the reader identify with the writer's ideas and respond.

A lack of focus makes it very hard for me as a reader to respond--I'm still thinking about the first thing you said and since then you said four other things.

Bloggers who focus: She Moved to TexasWe Are Flying Solo

Being honest about Cuna
Honesty is one thing a blog can't stand without. Horse bloggers are a unique group of hard working individuals. Sometimes it's awesome. Sometimes it's horrible. Instead of glossing over the ups and downs of life on four legs, embracing the raw honesty available on a blog is another way readers can connect with a blog. If you're knee-deep in road apples, you don't have to play it off as rainbows and unicorns. We're all vulnerable and we appreciate people who can admit it.

Bloggers who are honest: Dandyism, Poor Woman Showing

Those are my big must-haves. I read a lot of blogs, but the ones that consistently demonstrate these qualities are going to get my attention first because I've connected with them. Here are a couple other things that are less of a big deal, but still important to me as a reader:


Pictures!!! Pictures pictures pictures!!!! I love good original photographs. They don't have to be pro-quality. Heck, most shots on my blog are from my phone. I grew up with my Mom taking pictures roughly every 30 seconds, which I thought was really annoying. Now I probably take a picture every 15 seconds. I try to only share the best or funniest shots, but adding a picture can really make an entry pop. (Noted: I really can't stand pirated pro photos and random stock shots you didn't take. What is the point.) <-Yes, that could have been a question mark, but I'm not leaving room for discussion. Watch A Collection of Madcap Escapes to see someone who takes more pictures than me and uses a real camera and Suzanne for someone who doesn't steal pro photos.

Courage and Diva approve this message
Layout/readability/ease of use: If I go to your blog and your font/background color combo is completely unreadable or I have to click something to see the full post or your organization is super kitsch and doesn't make sense to me, the odds are that I'm not going to stay on your page. If that's your personal style, good for you. I like things simple and accessible.

Pages: If you have multiple horses or make frequent references to characters I can't remember or are drawing on a backstory I don't have any way of knowing, it is really helpful if you have some tabs I can click on to find out that information. Solid writing probably makes this a non-issue, but who doesn't want more places to put up cute horse pictures? I vote yes to tabs.

In Conclusion

At the end of the day, we read for ourselves. These are just my standards. The great thing about the blogging platform is that you can make it your own and express yourself any way you want to. I can't be the only one who's thought about this--what did I miss? What one thing keeps you reading?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Dream Horse Studios' WINNER!!!

Drum roll, please!! After an awesome turnout of 126 unique contest entries (compile that!), I am pleased to announce that our winner is:
Wait for it

So cool
CONTESTANT #71, SANDY-RA of ORS DRESSAGE!!! Sandy, please contact me so I can get you hooked up with your prize. :-)

Thank you to all of the participants! I don't even know a bunch of you, so I look forward to exploring new blogs and meeting new faces throughout the next couple of weeks. Feel free to step up and introduce yourself--I always love new faces.

For those of us who didn't win, Dream Horse Studios is running a sweet kickstarter project to try and further expand their product line. The rewards are awesome--You are basically just buying your product, but at the same time helping them get going. My Calypso boots are priced at $145 on the website not including shipping, but for $150 on the kickstarter, I can get them and free shipping. There are support options at all levels and for all budgets, starting at a dollar. I love my dream horse boots and I want to see this super cool company get rolling!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Get Your Entries In!!

You know you want these!
Just a quick reminder that the Dream Horse Studios contest ends at midnight tonight, so get your entries in while you still can!

One entry for a comment on the contest post, a second entry is you show me a link to where you shared it online.

I'll announce the winner on Tuesday! :-D 
Courage loves his boots

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Wherein Courage Has a Bad Day

Courage reared and spun as Lindsey tumbled to the ground. I grabbed for his reins, but his brain was already checked out. He leaped away from me, his body taught from his ears to his tail. I swear his feet never touched the ground as he trotted through the parking lot, straight toward the road.

"He'll come back," I said as I speed walked after him.

"I've got to keep Diva moving," said a now-dusted-off Lindsey. "Let's hope she keeps it together."

Then Courage stepped through the reins. His mouth got a violent jerk every time his right front hit the ground. He spun and started running backwards to the road.

I moved as fast as I could, but I didn't want to scare him any more than he already was.

He slammed on the brakes and threw his head straight up in the air.

I stopped, hardly daring to breathe. "Whoa, buddy."

He looked at me expectantly. The reins were caught in his boot, and he needed someone to get that mess sorted out.

Oh Courage.

It was a bit of a procedure to get in the gate. Lindsey had been holding the reins from the ground while I encouraged him to go from behind, so nothing was injured but our pride. Even the reins survived, somehow.

Can't beat a sunset trail ride
A new arrival came to our rescue and gave us the combination to get in the locked gate without having to step over the latest permutation of the great wall of China. Somehow, despite all the commotion, my little man was completely unrattled. He stood quietly while I got on, then he and Diva marched off side by side, down the trail.

Just he and Diva. That's right. Our first ever unassisted trail ride with only OTTBs along. It was the second time for each of them to be out in the hills.

Through the brush
We chose to take them down a new trail. We met other riders, hikers with loose dogs, and saw some deer. Courage was sure to pose dramatically for each and every encounter, but there was nary a spook between them.

As we wound through the sagebrush behind Diva, Courage got a little bit twitchy. The pokey branches were touching his delicate hide. Our only concession to his greeness was to make Diva stop every once in a while so that he could catch up without feeling like he needed to jig.

He finally gets Diva to look at something.
Despite our misadventure at the beginning, Courage (and Diva!) were total rock stars.

I am absolutely dying to do some trot and canter out there and I CANNOT WAIT to gallop the little dude, but we're taking it slow. I want him to learn that it's low key, fun, and easy so I can always ride him on the buckle if I want to. We'll make it more fun once he more thoroughly understands what it is that we're doing.

As we loaded up to head home, I couldn't wipe the stupid grin off my face.


This horse is SO MUCH FUN.

Also he needs to learn to walk over things behind me. There is definitely some groundwork in our very near future.
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