Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Cross Training the Dressage Horse

One thing I'm being very conscious of with Courage right now is variety--if he has a solid dressage day, I try very hard not to repeat the same thing the next day. I also don't always feel like riding (or wearing pants), so we find stuff to mix it up with. Toodling. Spa day. Ground work.

Courage is a horse that learns really well from the ground. Now that he's pretty comfortable going W/T/C/ plus halt and back off body cues in the halter, we're started adding a few things. One of them is ground poles--asking Courage to think and place each foot without anxiety or rushing. Some enterprising boarder has a mess of poles set up in the top of the outdoor, so once or twice a week I send Courage through them (from the ground, in a halter, at a walk) and if he calmly walks through, we just go on to something else. With a bit of creativity and a lot of walking, he's even gone successfully over raised cavaletti and started to be ok with it.

Another thing I've added is something Tik talked about when I audited his clinic--creating a vacuum in space essentially to "pull" Courage towards me. I can send him away just fine. Now I want him to come back. 

Courage, with his typical "I'm-the-best-at-this-watch-me", has embraced the concept and it's completely adorable. 

Oh, and the video shows something else we've added back in--jumping.

I'm really enjoying breaking everything down to it's littlest parts and attempting to rebuild it, piece by piece.

Poles caused anxiety and rushing, so we just occasionally throw them in until he understands the question and is comfortable.

Now it's a jump. Because of the groundwork principles that are now in place, I can send him over the jump, and then take a break between each effort and have him come to me for scratches. The jump is a "trick", something he can show off and be the best at, without creating more anxiety.

Courage has always had a stylish, snappy front end, but then his back end. leaves a lot to be desired. It's not really conformational. I mean, it is in that he's short-backed and probably doesn't have the scope for HUGE spreads (think Grand Prix), but it shouldn't be an issue for him at the 3'-3'6"ish level.
really not worried about his scope

I do think part of his problem was his inability to step up underneath himself at the canter and be adjustable, which we've been addressing both on the lunge and now under saddle. He's made HUGE strides.
note inside hind now ahead of parallel with outside fore

So now we've fixed his canter, reduced his anxiety, and made jumping fun (on the line, from the ground).

But how do I show him how to use his back end? If this is going to pan out for him, he needs to not land on all four feet simultaneously, because that is no fun for anyone.

Lest it sound like we're drilling this--we're not. Once a week (or less), I throw him on the line in the halter and we just play a little. And again--Courage is a dressage horse now. I really don't think he wants to be a jumper, BUT this is another way to problem solve and address his back end without drilling dressage concepts over and over. Same principles, different medium.

And I think we've finally had a breakthrough.
demolished jump but HELLZ YEAH BACK END
Courage has always been a very careful jumper, so when he nailed this vertical with his front end, he jumped the hell out of it behind to stay clear. It's a good plan. It's very safe.

And it's the first time EVER I have seen him use his back end like a jumper instead of just sort of dragging it along awkwardly.

What's more, if you watch the video, you can see that while his next few attempts were awkward, he maintained some of that hind end motion.


(Notice: most of my jump media is off the left lead. That is mostly because I'm right handed and trying to lunge, video, keep the horse in the frame, and aim him at the jump with only two hands is wicked difficult.)

In case you're a video-hating curmudgeon (me), here's a still shot:
no demolishing needed

I'm fascinated. Utterly fascinated. Can I continue to teach Courage how to use his body in such a way that jumping under saddle is a potential future option that he would actually enjoy? I don't know. Maybe. The intellectual exercise alone is enough to keep me on track.

What is the compelling factor here? Was it hitting the jump? Is it jumping bare-legged? Is it a combination of learning to use his body and enjoy his job that's allowing him to work through more comfortable ways to do things? Is it just a one-off fluke?

I don't know.

I mean, riding Courage over a jump is not on my immediate radar--some days I'm still not trotting and cantering is definitely a special occasion at this point. Courage seems pretty happy as a dressage horse and I don't think any of this will change that.

There is no wrong answer here-if Courage never jumps with a rider again, I'm no worse off. I don't have expectations or plans. I'm just enjoying the process of puzzling him out, and as long as we're both having fun, what's the harm?

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Next Phase

"In riding as in life" is one of my favorite sayings, because I see the world through horse-shaped glasses and it's strangely accurate.

I used to think I was a good rider. Then I started riding with good riders and realized that no, I really wasn't all that good. But while it was tempting to label myself a bad rider and get down on my abilities, I realized that bad riders aren't the people who are less skilled--they're the ones who won't learn.

So I frantically learned and soaked up knowledge from every angle. If there's a clinic, I'm there auditing. If there's a lesson, I want to watch it. If there's a book, I'm reading it. I've even watched a surprising amount of videos for someone who hates video on principle. Theory. Practice. Application.

And once I started trending towards "competent at the lower levels", I switched horses.

And when I tried to apply all the excellent theories and and techniques I knew that were so ideal and correct, it backfired. Hard.

Because theory is great, but as all the great trainers know, each individual is important.

And no matter how perfect your theory is and how bad you want something and how hard you train for it, if the individual doesn't want it too, it's not going to happen.

So at the time, I tried everything I could think of to make it happen.

And it didn't.

The harder I tried, the worse it got.

I didn't want to admit it. I wanted to power through. If I just did more, tried harder, studied better, got a different teacher, had better facilities, bought different tack, tried a new discipline, surely then I could make it. I could achieve my way into success.

Right?

No.

What I did was piss off my individual horse. A lot.

And he's not really the forgiving sort.

When we landed with my current trainer, we'd take an hour long lesson in which we did like... 10 walk/trot transitions. That was it. Walk and praise him. Give him a pet. Big release. Try again next week or next month or whatever. No rush. Take a deep breath. It's fine.

Of course, given my hellbent plan to achieve and learn and whatever, I couldn't take it. I'd work my ass off between lessons. Study. Push. Try. Bad rides meant bad days and maybe not tears, but definitely feelings of failure and distress, which is a lot of pressure to put on a horse you're already being a jerk to and who again, isn't the most forgiving horse.

And sure, we can talk about whether he's the right horse. The answer is probably not. He's difficult. He's temperamental. He doesn't take jokes.

But he's a fantastic life horse, even if he's never the show phenom I dreamed of.

He's like me. Slow to trust. Quick to react. Good at holding grudges. Sensitive, flamboyant, loyal.

And when my life shit and my accident shit and my horse shit kind of all overflowed on each other, a lot of bad things happened. (Example: spending Christmas on drugs on my couch. Massively shitty.)

But good things have happened too--because I couldn't physically do anything, I didn't. Because I haven't been able to function normally in months, now I can't.

And I don't think the ninja goddess knows it, but my physical therapy has been a lot of emotional therapy too. I always ask her why we do the exercises we do and have the set backs we have. She's very good at explaining. She tells me that recovery is not a linear process. That the most important thing I can do is just a little, tiny exercise, but it will make a huge difference if I'm patient and let it.

That sometimes the harder we try, the worse things get.

That some things just take time.

That sometimes they get worse before they get better.

That I can't overachieve myself out of this corner.

That I need to be patient, but determined.

That goals are good, but flexibility is better.

That just because I can make something happen, doesn't mean I should.


And all those things maybe seem simple and trite. They're nice catch phrases that I could probably spit out this whole time, but it's not about being able to mouth the words. It's about having a bad pain day and actually being okay with sitting on the couch taking drugs instead of achieving. It's about letting go of my need for perfection and validation and admitting that shit happens and it's not okay, but the world keeps on spinning.


It creates this beautiful perspective in which a bad ride is actually a good day, because I felt good enough to try. And if Courage is having a Courage day, I don't take it personally. We'll just try again tomorrow. Or next week. Or whenever.

The change wasn't overnight and yeah, sometimes it was way worse and I wouldn't say it's 100% better now, but instead of being a jerk to my horse and trying to drill him into achieving, things are trending upwards. He's an individual. I'm an individual.

And now, whether or not I used to be a good rider, I'm really not currently. I can't just power through, because I don't have the strength or the reflexes I used to.

In my weakness, I'm learning to listen.

And in riding as in life, that's the first step.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

EVENTING BINGO BITCHES

Cough. I'm not on tramadol. You're on tramadol. And something about your mom. BUT IM BLOGGING BITCHES. Ha!

Without any further ado, here is/are my entry(ies) to Emma's massively confusing but probably super awesome contest that I want to win. So please don't enter. Because this tack ho wants some sweet swag.

BINGO CARD B

I'm using my man C-Rage for this one because he is the ass kickingest jumpering horse I know.
just maybe not with a rider
C-Rage and I rolled in to our first recognized event together like NBD cuz we kick all the asses at all the sports. He unloaded and natural-horsemanshipped himself for a while outside my 4 horse head to head living quarters trailer that I pull with my giant ass semi with a sleeper cab for my driver/groom/pool boy. When C-Rage was good and ready, the pool boy tacked him up and we headed to dressage. I wasn't worrying about my ride time because I told the judge I'd get there when I was good and ready. We came down centerline in perfect and harmonious passage. Judge gave us an 8 on that. Then we did a legit capriole into our halt. I wasn't sure if that part was scored or not so we threw in a few more caprioles and a levade here and there to demonstrate how we'd win the dressage.

Which did. Win it. Score under 20. That one 8 on my centerline was the lowest score in the whole damn test.

We were doing training because of how good at eventing we are. I was more concerned with C-Rage practicing his school canter for our PSG debut the next weekend, so we got SO MANY TIME PENALTIES on xc, but they can't eliminate us for that. Foot perfect, they call rounds like mine.

Then stadium. I panicked a little because my pool boy overcooked my lunch and screwed with my pre-ride aroma therapy so I totally didn't ride the smallest fence on course. Ooops! Stop. Good news--I was so far ahead in my division of just me that I still totes won it.
how champions practice

Yeah.

BINGO CARD C

Our second event was less glorious.

Let's just say we jumped out of the dressage ring after the salute, felt our way through stadium but somehow only had one rail, then chipped to the drop into water on xc and I went swimming. Good thing they gave out ribbons for showing up.
#nailedit

Yup. That's bingo. Or at least. I think it is.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Bling It Like You Own It: Custom Sparkle Browbands

I have a thing for sparkle browbands. I have even had existential crises about having more browbands than bridles and which ones to use on more than one occasion. But instead of wallowing in sparkles and indecision, I'm going to put my in-depth knowledge of the browband world to work for you. I'm going to talk about browbands of many different styles and price points, and by the end of this post, your eyes might be seared out of their sockets by all the bling.
just a normal day
There are several price ranges for browbands--the affordable, $0-$65ish, the mid-range $80-$120ish, and then the high end love-it-or-leave-it $150+. I realize that my taste is not the same as everyone else's, but for their opinions, you'll need to read their blogs. Or they can comment below.

Dark Jewel Designs
i like options
First, let's talk affordable. There are lots of options in the >$100 price bracket. My hands-down, no-question, no-competitor favorite here is Dark Jewel Designs. Amelia runs the shop and is freaking amazing at what she does. I've reviewed her work before and in the times I've worked with her since, I've had equally excellent interactions. Per her etsy, a fully custom browband with two interchangeable bead strands will run you around $50 and if you have no taste (like me), she has albums full of finished work you can peruse and copy.
model shot
If you want something simple, changeable, or just want to dip your toe in the sparkle market, this is absolutely where to go. I've had my older browband from her for several years and it still looks fantastic. There are other people who knock off her designs, but they really aren't any cheaper and the service is terrible so I'm confused why that's a thing.
for every occasion!
There are other entrants in the >$100 crowd, but I have yet to be impressed with a single one. They mostly look cheap to me. Amelia hits the balance of affordable and classy, plus you get two great looks for one low price. I'll keep on sending people to her as long as she makes browbands. (And now stock pins and bracelets, I believe).

Browbands with Bling
pretty
If you want a little something more and can commit to a color, my favorite maker in the $85-120 price range is Browbands with Bling. Katharine runs the place in the way only a no-nonsense down-to-earth Jersey girl can. Actual quote: "You said [color] and I threw up in my mouth a little bit". She carries a range of pre-made designs and can customize on the spot.
so cool #puncentral
She's also been around for quite some time and is less likely to just fold it up and disappear like a more fly-by-night operator who comes and goes. I like the designs and the materials for her stuff and my overall impression is very positive.
fabulous
I got my browband from a booth she had at Rebecca Farm, but you can also custom order anything and she's great to work with. I did a custom order for my trainer around Christmas and had the product in my hand within days of finalizing the order. She offers straight, swoops, and v-style browbands. Mine is a V because it looked cool and I wanted it. My trainer loooooves this browband and tends to use it for all C's training rides, so it's gotten a lot of use and still looks fantastic.

Again, this is a wide price range and there are a lot of options out there, most notably the Equiture and PS of Sweden megabling look. I haven't had Equiture, have had PS and I'll say this: it's very flashy and pretty fun. I prefer a little more complexity to my sparkle looks rather than straight-up I'LL SHOW YOU BLING, but that's 100% a personal thing and ymmv.
the megabling look
Topline Leather
i have a problem
If you're committed to the bling life and want to hit the lux end of things, Topline Leather is where it's at ("lit AF" is the term, I think). A few old school bloggers out there might remember Meghann from when she was one of us, but now she's a supplier to the stars. Like. Legit. I think one of her browbands was at the Olympics? It's pretty awesome.
fancy!
Anyways. She carries nothing in stock and everything is full custom and if you come up with a new design, you get to name it. She also has incredible taste, which is perfect for people like me who never know what the hell we actually want. I gave her super vague guidelines for my first one ("i like sparkles") and she came up with my all-time-favorite browband, which is now called the Absolute Courage and yeah, Hawley Bennett has one for Jollybo. #sparklegameonpoint
#nailedit
The thing I love most about my Topline browbands is that I can ride in my dark indoor at night in the winter and they still catch every possible light and sparkle. LOVE. Need that. Meghann is gonna be annoyed if I don't put this in, so I'll say that she uses real swarovski stuff, not the easily-discolored and -less sparkly Czech crystals, plus everything is hand stitched. Her wait list is INSANE but oh so worth it.

Parting Thoughts

I've had a few other browbands from other makers here and there, but these are the ones I keep coming back to. Quality products. Solid service. Excellent value. Superb sparkle. I have placed more than one paid order with each of them and do not hesitate to recommend them to anyone who asks.

PS and yes, if you're wondering, my hardest choice every day is WHICH SPARKLES GO WITH THIS OUTFIT. So many sparkles. So little time.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Building a Canter: Back in the Saddle

Back in January, I talked about how I was working to build a canter for Courage. It was all on the lunge line, because I wasn't cleared to ride.

If you remember the post, I started working towards creating good moments in the canter itself first.

I'm now back in the saddle (if not riding well) (SOB), and I was fascinated to see how all the lunging would turn out. Our first intentional canter was last Sunday. It wasn't brilliant, but it was quiet and obedient and check out this canter moment:
#perchypotato
Interesting similarity there, wouldn't you say?

Next in the lunging progression was to get the transition into canter more balanced and back-to-front, which took weeks of training to get to and then even more time of careful, thoughtful training to solidify.
it's actually gotten better but screenshotting lunging video makes me want to gouge my own eyes out
Of course, this isn't a perfect 1:1 ratio we're talking about here--I was able to control a lot more variables from the ground and if Courage had some "moments", whatever, my feet were on solid ground. Under saddle, I'm leery of "moments" because they make my body mad. Oh and I can't ride for shit. And get tired in like 4 minutes.

But. In my lesson this week, Courage apparently decided to discard the "be perfect and take care of mom" card and throw the "right lead is haaaaaard" card in the mix instead.
um hellooooooo have we met?
There was definitely no sitting down to play dressage queens and lots and lots and lots of my trainer saying "give. don't brace. give. forward. give." while Courage remembered that cantering right is something he actually can do, thought it's admittedly hella hard with a giant, off-balance #perchypotato inhibiting him.

BUT THAT TRANSITION AMIRIGHT

So we had a lot of this in between:
air time!
giant Courage buck!
And it was good, because I do know that right lead is hard for him so I need to not make it harder by bracing my knees and holding with my hands. Also it was fascinating to ride through in draw reins vs the standing martingale--in the standing, I'd grab the neck strap and get super braced in my shoulders and way too involved with my upper body. With the draw reins, I know he can't 100% flip himself inside out and blast off, plus I have nothing to grab, which means I kinda have to listen to my trainer.

Apparently she has some good ideas, too. Weird.

Anyways. I never actually sat down on him because that was too much pressure for his brain that day (plus who are we kidding I suck at riding the canter right now), but after finally making my body do what trainer was suggesting, we ended on this canter:
this i will take
So I guess the answer to "will the lunging work translate to under saddle, since a lot of things change in that process" is yeah pretty much I'm riding a whole new horse.

I mean. My feel is waaaay off right now, so I naturally told my trainer how those were our BEST TRANSITIONS EVER and she was like "yes, you're very smart, shut up" and then I watched the video and realized that perhaps our left lead transitions were less stunning.
feet on ground does = win
Less stunning still means calm and rideable and ready to move forward, all of which are new since last fall. Plus, when I asked for canter, he cantered vs just sort of thinking about it for 10 strides and then maybe or maybe not bolting.

I have a long ways to go in terms of rehab and after this ride I most definitely went home and laid down and took a lot of drugs.
so thrilled with him
AND I just have to share this trotting picture because I super love good trotting pictures.
right?
It's slow going. It's going to stay slow going. But at least it's slow going towards a light on the horizon now. I'm excited to see what we can do as I get more balanced and able to ride and he gets more confirmed in this new "cantering" business.

PS and yes there is video but due to laying down + drugs, I didn't get it edited last night.
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