Friday, September 30, 2011

Dressage Rundown

One of my goals for this month included changing the way I warmed Izzy up. I got the ideas from an odd amalgamation of sources, really--Cathy (dressage trainer) wanted her relaxed, Susan (backup rider) wanted her moving laterally, and Stephanie (event trainer) wanted her Forward.

All of the methods seemed to have their strong points, but since I'm the one who spends the most time with Izzy, I found a way to put them all together that just works for us.

We start out walking on a long, loose reins. It's no pressure, just easy going. She's forward, but not enough to stress her or make her think about breaking into trot.



Almost immediately, we start leg yielding across the long sides of the arena. Off the right leg, around the corner at a forward walk, off the left leg.

I try to sit squarely in the saddle, use the reins only to keep her straight, and activate my outside (inside?) leg, but reinforce with the whip as needed. If she feels particularly sticky, I'll do a turn on the forehand or haunches to loosen her up.

As this exercise progresses and expands, we start moving gradually more forward and take up a tiny bit more contact.

Then we move into the trot. I keep the reins long and make no attempt to put her together from the front. We just go FORWARD. Big, loose, moving strides, covering a lot of ground. If she starts to run on the forehand a little, I sit up more and ask her to push from behind, but again, keeping it loose.

We start out looking about like this. Forward, ok, nothing special.

We gradually move into this frame as her balance changes and her tempo steadies. She's starting to stretch herself, just a little bit.

Each day I ask her for a little bit more--more from behind, more balance, bigger tempo. This is all seat/leg though--the point is to warm her up and keep the reins loose.

After trotting both directions for a roughly even amount of time, we roll into the canter.

As you can see, the reins are flying in the wind.

I'm staying in a light 3 point seat, really trying to allow her to use her back and reach under herself. The focus remains on forward--big, rolling strides are what I'm looking for.

Gradually, I start to pick up the reins, keeping in mind that before any rein contact, I have to add more leg to avoid just pulling on her mouth. Izzy starts to come up and relax a little bit more.

I develop a good, strong, forward working canter, which is a sign of the end of our warmup and moving into work.

I bring Izzy up in front of my leg, hold a steady contact, and just hold slightly with my seat--and voila! We are trotting.

Because of our methodical warmup, Izzy is now forward into the contact and carrying herself. BOOM.

At this point, I'd say we maybe training-level-schooling-1st, so we don't do anything too complicated, but we work on leg yielding and shoulder in both directions--here's the kicker--without losing any of that lovely forward momentum.

She's definitely sharpening up her leg yields, and when I feel her start to loose steam in the should in, we do a big, forward circle, then come back to it. The quality of the movement is more important than it's duration.

I'm starting to play more with the lengthen/shorten aspect of her gaits to prepare for 1st level, but it's so hard to teach yourself to shorten without altering the contact even a tiny bit. Yikes! We'll get there.

Once I have her established at the trot, we move back into canter, this time to actually work. We don't do a whole lot yet, since I still want to develop our comfort level with bigger, longer, bouncier strides, but I try to throw in the occasional leg yield to remind her that everything is still loose and flexible.

And back to trot again. I absolutely love this picture. At this point, we are so connected that it's ridiculous--I'm finally to the point where I'm starting to feel the difference in my position and how it affects her, not just what it's supposed to look like.

I put a little more leg on, ask her to stay up in front, tighten my core a little...

And we're walking. After she takes a few polite, forward walk strides, we're done. I like to cool her out with a few laps around the arena, then just head out and wander the entire barn area. It's a more interesting view for sure.

So there you go. It's nothing breath-taking or earth-shaking, but it's where we're at and I'm really happy with it.

That said, I would -love- to have a dressage lesson right now. Last time we had one... was maybe April?

Thursday, September 29, 2011


I'll just be honest: I don't really believe in giving horses days off. The way I see it, nothing I ask them to do is all that inherently hard or foreign for them and they spend 22 hours a day eating and sleeping, 1 hour being groomed and petted, and 1 hour actually moving around. Who needs a break from that?

However, I'm starting to re-evaluate my views a little bit. I feel like Izzy and I are actually starting to advance enough that the things I'm asking her to do are building new muscles and maybe even getting her a little tired. While that's good, it also needs to change our work schedule a little bit.

For example, when I have a really brilliant dressage ride one day, I feel like she's just a little slower and backed off the next day. Not off, not stiff, just a little slower, which would be consistent with her being a bit body sore from moving things that didn't used to move.

At this point, I'm specifically talking about dressage. Obviously, our jumping isn't exactly pushing her yet.

Yesterday we had an absolutely brilliant dressage ride.

Today I didn't know what to do. I'm too tired (long uninteresting story) to set jumps or ride terribly well, and yet I hate to give Fattypants Mare a day off.

We compromised on groundwork--we did a little lunging and some ground driving, which was very fun. Izzy had to work a little mentally, but it also allowed her muscles to relax and heal for a day.

Am I completely off my rocker? Do your horses get (intentional) days off?

PS I took an absolutely adorable picture of Izzy geared up to ground drive, but apparently forgot my camera cable at home. So sorry.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Unlocking the Secret

As I've mentioned before, I'm really working on riding Izzy freely forward, especially in our warmup. It's doing amazing things for her. Last week, after a good solid warm up, I picked up the contact and started asking Izzy to go to work.

All of a sudden, her back end felt different.

OH SH*T!!!! With visions of career-ending injuries racing through my head, I LEAPED off Ms Mare immediately. Of course, there was no one around to help me move or evaluate her at all. I didn't want her to trot, certainly didn't want to lunge her, but I had to know what was going on.

As I lead her to the arena gate, I anxiously watched her hinds legs move...

...and realized that they were not only tracking up, but overstepping by nearly two hoof prints.


What I had felt was not some horrendous and terrifying injury; it was Izzy actually starting to swing her pelvis and really MOVE. Amazing feeling, really.

Of course, after that, we were not able to recapture the sensation. I think it was new enough for Izzy that when I stopped her, she thought it must have been the wrong answer somehow.

Until today.

It was brisk and breezy and Izzy was looky, so after starting with a lot of loose lateral work in walk, we went into a forward trot. Then a more forward trot.

Like this, only in dressage tack.

And then she kicked things into a whole new gear I didn't even know she had. WOW. Whole body swinging, leg pumping, totally and completely engaged. I just kept a nice light contact and stayed in balance with her. We rolled into canter and Izzy practically barreled around the arena, balanced, cadenced, forward.

I have never felt any horse move like that. It's addictive.

This isn't just a pretty moment for us right now. This is starting to be how she works, all the time.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Making Lists

In light of Izzy and I moving in just over a month (gasp!!) to work for our most favorite eventing instructor, we have a shopping list.

Specifically, Izzy will be body clipped for the first time in her entire life, so she needs an appropriate winter wardrobe. I emailed Stephanie about it, and she said that since I already have one medium weight blanket, I need another, plus neck rug, plus stable blanket for extra insulation when it's really cold.

Sounds easy, right?

You realize who you're talking to?

After a thorough scouring of the internet, relevant catalogs, and friend recommendations, I have made progress in the blanket search (stay posted). However, I've also added a few items of my own to the list.

Things Izzy Also Needs:
Black Leather Halter with Nameplate: She's a grown-up pony and merits her grown up halter. I like the fixed chin and white stitching.

Fancy Stitch Hunter Girth: To replace our nasty cheapie fleece girth that scares me.

Rambo Fleece Quarter Sheet: So ponykins doesn't get a cold tukus.

Adorable Fly Bonnet with Rhinestones: Well, duh. Who doesn't need this?

Wouldn't that all look so classy?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Odd Coincidence

On Saturday, I went to watch the Region 6 Dressage Championships with Ellie. She has a post with a ton of photos here, if you're interested.

The coincidence was this:
I found this bumper sticker, which is pretty much perfect for me. I'm stickler for clean tack and horse and proper turnout.

I bought it, but I also hate bumper stickers (they distract from the natural beauty of the car, right?) so I am looking for a magnet to stick on and attach to either my car or refrigerator.

Then I went out to ride Sunday morning. Due to my ridiculous standards of equine cleanliness, Izzy usually looks like this when I get her:

A tiny bit dusty, but otherwise clean.

Ha! On Sunday, Ms Mare had apparently slept and rolled in the horrid sticky weed of doom and her entire body was COATED in sticky nastiness. Yes, I should have taken a picture, but I was so overwhelmed by the amount of yuck, that I immediately tried to groom it off.

No go. The dust came off and she did some end of summer shedding, but the icky goo stayed put. If I put a saddle pad on this horse, she will gunk it up.


Again, I didn't take a picture, but here's an approximation of what Izzy looked like after the bath:

Unfortunately, Rinsie was not here to help this time, but I got the job done.

Of course, by then it was hot. I rode for about 25 minutes, but a hot wind was blowing in off the desert and it was over 90 and I still had stalls to clean.

It was a short ride, but I am convinced that the estimable GM would approve. You cannot and should not ride if your horse is covered in nasty stickiness.

Friday, September 23, 2011


As mentioned before, Ellie and I planned a grand tour of quality tack establishments in the greater Seattle area.

Our plan flopped massively when we found out Olson's Tack Shop was having a full on fall sale. Conveniently the same weekend we already planned to be in the area, they were having 15% off footwear and fall clothing, plus a tent sale, plus a coupon for 20% off the most expensive item you purchased (saddles and custom items excluded). Oh, and if you showed up early, the first 25 shoppers in the door got a gift bag. AND items in the tent sale were 10% off between 9 and 10am.



We basically went crazy. I have winter coming to prepare for and Ellie has a brand new horse to shop for.

At 8:35 we were in line, numbers 23 and 24.

At 9:01 we were in the door, goodie bags in tow. Yes!! Score #1 for us. We immediately plowed our way through the horde of well dressed ladies to the tent sale. I snagged a Kerrits Cinch Lite jacket (retail $119) for $49, a pair of winter tights that retail for $119 for $49, a pair of Sport Gloves (retail $24) for $12, a pair of over pants (retail $69) for $49, and some Kerrits long underwear (retail $49) for $24.

Plus 20% off the most expensive item and an extra 10% off of everything because we scooted over quickly and got in line right before 10am.

Tent sale FTW!!!

Ok, take a breath. We're halfway there.

Naturally, the smartest thing to do was grab the coupons out of our shopping bags and head back in for round II.

The madness continued... This time I kept waffling on what I wanted. After the first splurge, I needed to be budget conscious, but I also didn't want to pass on something I'd definitely regret later. I oogled a pretty girth, since I really do need a new one for my jump saddle. I touched nice stirrup pads that I wanted. I looked at things that are actually on my list to buy this winter, like blankets for Izzy.

Then it happened.

The kneeling lady in this picture is a brand rep for Equifit, makers of the incredible looking t-foam boots.

She was chatting with some other customers while I browsed the boots selection. I picked some up. I played with them. I swooned a little over how amazing they felt. I put them down. I picked them up again.

Then she asked if I had any questions.


I learned all about the most amazing boots I'd ever felt. Specifically, they are breathable and anti-microbial. The liners can be easily removed and washed in a standard washing machine. They look sharp. They stay on. They absorb impact like crazy, and the material was actually developed to be used by astronauts. She even knew what size to recommend, based on my description of Izzy.

I was torn--they were amazing, but at $95-120 for a pair of open fronts...

Then she mentioned that due to the sale, if I bought them today, they'd also be 20% off.


Here they are once I got them home. So pretty.

I rounded out the trip with a pair of Back on Track socks for my husband and a pair of Super Comfort Stirrup Pads.

Total spent: Don't want to know.
Amount of fun had: Oodles.
Amount of cool stuff brought home: Tons.

I mean, here's the back of Ellie's car by the time we were done:

It was totally worth it.

For example, that super-flattering coat I was wearing yesterday in the jumping pictures? Yeah, totally from the sale.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

More Pictures!!

It remains pony picture extravaganza week! I was so thrilled to have those amazing Izzy dressage pictures that Ellie took. I mean, they look great, Izzy looks great, I look ok, what's not to love?

Oh, and then she offered to come out and take jumping pictures this week. How did I live before I had blogger friends in my area? Seriously. Between Rinsie and Ellie, I'm pretty much set (until Ellie moves away to be with her pony. Poo).

So, here's today:

We started early. Izzy kind of looks like a skinny adorable baby horse here, but I like how cute we are together.

Oh, and this is a touch narcissistic, but can I just say I'm so much happier with how I look in stretchy pants? I still have work to do, but apparently eating well and running my ass off have done wonders.

Also note my new Kerrits coat, a total score from the Olson's Tack Shop sale we attended this past weekend.

This is just us getting ready, but I love how noble Izzy looks here. My goofy pony is getting all grown up.

Fortunately, she's growing up just in time to go be a fabulous eventing-working-student pony, which is useful.

I'm sure the more tack-whorish among you have already noticed Izzy's new boots. Why yes, I also scored a pair of open front Equifit tboots (valcro closure) for $70. Uh huh. That amazing. They are so freaking cool and I may be biased, but I think they look fab on Miss Izzy. It's official: they're cooler than my Romas. I'll probably have to do a post on why I love them...

And we're off! I've been really focusing on letting Izzy go forward on a loose rein in our warmups and and wow, is she responding.

Yeah, I just like looking at this picture. So pretty.

Are there words for how much I like this picture?

Izzy is balanced. I'm comfortable and over my feet (mostly). I'm looking up and focused and she's quiet and responsive. Honestly, I think this is the counterpart to my most favorite dressage picture of us of all time.

Yeah, this one. Amazing.

And jump!! For some reason, I was ridiculously nervous about jumping today. Not sure if it was the colder weather, the giant camera, or the fact that my coat reminded me of being at a show, but it took me forever to settle in and just ride.

Regardless, I think we look pretty great here.

The lighting was not as absolutely perfect as it was last week, so of course, we're going to try this again sometime soon.

So Ellie claims this one is blurry and unacceptable, but I'm all like "OMG PONY JUMP PICTURE", so here you go.

I guess this post is getting long, so we'll close with a super nice headshot of my pony mare. So pretty. So peaceful. So foamy.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Progression in Trot

Here's Izzy a month or so after I got her. She's 5, fat, and never had any muscle tone to speak of. This picture is sans tack and rider because she hadn't yet learned to carry any of those things.

Six months later, she was sort of going under saddle.

That fall (October 2009) she was going reasonably well under saddle. Steering was sketchy on a good day.

May of 2010 Izzy and I tried out XC for the first time. She's shiny and well behaved, but we aren't really jumping anything.

September 2010. Izzy is a lean, mean racing machine, sporting ulcers and a crazy brain. She's fast and flighty, but not so fun to ride. She's also lost all her baby fat.

October 2010. We moved, medicated, and tack-changed as necessary to facilitate a quiet pony brain.

March 2011. After an uneventful winter, we're riding outside.

June 2011. Lots of work and elbow grease later, Izzy is looking muscular and fit. She's about to get a long layoff, though.

September 2011. I've been back in the saddle for just over a month and correct work is doing wonders for both of us. She doesn't even look like the same horse, does she?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Thursday, September 15, 2011


The lovely and talented new horse owner Ellie came out and took pictures of us today. True to form, they are fabulous.

I'm posting a couple of favorites today, but I'm sure I'll have more (and analysis!) later on.

Izzy in her pasture. Love her cute face peeking at us.

Pony Mare's grown up face.

She sure wears that bridle well.

Leg yielding at the walk. Look, we have some crossover! Plus, my rear is squarely in the saddle, not leaning off to some ridiculous place.

Warming up at the trot on a loose rein.

Warm up continued. Love the backdrop here, too. Trees are pretty.

Speaking of pretty... A little swoon her.

Ok, that's all for now, folks. Look for more Izzy by Ellie loveliness later.
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