Friday, April 26, 2013

In and Out!

The week is flying (has flown?) by. We've been scurrying around like mad things to get ready for the Julie Winkle clinic at the barn this weekend.

It's going to be super classy.

Not only does Cuna have a new matching outfit (craigslist SCORE), he gets to go in the 2'6"-3' group with me. I am excited!! We have a photographer lined up for jump day.

Other big news: we are back in the hills with a vengence. Trot/canter sets ftw!! No tying up, just happy racehorse jigging all the way home.

Did I mention I entered a dressage show next weekend? And a jump show the weekend after? Super fun!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Elbows on Fire!

All of our recent dressage instruction has been with a horsewoman who moonlights as a physical therapist. Well, actually, that's how she makes her living, but she's also excellent at teaching biomechanics on horseback. At any rate, she doesn't just tell me to do something--she explains from an anatomical perspective why I need to change the way I ride.

It's kind of amazing.

Exhibit A: hands flat, elbows locked
For my entire life, I have ridden with my reins too long and my hands flat. I've gotten better in the past couple years about the reins length issue, but I still seem to like them longer than is good for me. The hands flat thing hasn't really changed much at all.

When we started our lesson on Sunday, she explained (I'm abridging: any and all errors mine) that there are two tendons that run through your arm. The larger tendon is attached to your bicep and is very strong. Putting my thumbs up disengages that tendon and allows my hands to follow Cuna's mouth.

Exhibit B: hands flat
According to her, either I can sever that tendon and ride with my hands flat, or I need to pick my thumbs up and give Cuna half a chance. 

Interesting. In our photoshoot the week before, Cuna and I BATTLED over the canter. This shot shows my thumbs up a little bit, and Cuna is responding well, but my flat hands and locked elbows were pissing him off and that is not a good way to do dressage.

Yesterday, I decided to really hone in on that piece of information.  I kept my reins short, my hands UP and my thumbs UP. I focused on following Cuna's mouth no matter what. I kept the connection with the bit by allowing my elbows to work.

It was actually pretty hilarious. Cuna cantered around half the arena acting tight and braced. Then his rhythm slowed, his head dropped, and his weight shifted ever so slightly back. It wasn't a fancy dressage canter (I was half seating in jump tack after all), but it was 100% better than the canter we battled over a week before.

The feel was incredible. My hands were light and connected and my elbows flowed with the horse.

I'm really excited to keep developing this trend. I can be so much more correct and effective as a rider and I know Cuna appreciates it. I feel like I've had yet another breakthrough that will impact every area of my riding. * Dressage isn't the only place to have break throughs--anyone else struggling througn riding issues? Haha, or should I say, "Any one not struggling with riding issues?"

*Oh, AND AND AND we jumped the scary brick wall fence all by our onsies and it was awesome. Old man didn't even blink. <3 him.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Conversation Starter

I did my best today. I got Cuna ready, climbed on, and headed for the arena. I was thinking we do some no stirrups work, some two point, maybe try to hop over a couple of jumps, something like that. The things that good horse people are supposed to do.

We made a few laps around the arena. There was a lesson going on, plus more people showing up.

And I couldn't do it anymore. Cuna and I slipped out the side gate and headed down the road. It really is a good thing that Cuna is the world's safest horse--at one point on the way over, the road went up a hill, the shoulders dropped away into nothing, and pastured horses came galloping straight at us. Fortunately, the cars went slow and all was well.

We are so dramatic
We went to a friend's house and surprised her. Then she surprised me by whipping out her camera and letting us gallop around her field.
The hills are so close

Love this shot. Cuna and I were both thrilled to be out of the arena. He LOVED getting to gallop (sort of) over the grass, and I loved feeling his enthusiasm again. Neither of us thrives on arena work.

There was a stone wall, a ditch, and some jumps... We may have to go back there soon and have a pretend XC school on the cheap. That would be fun.

My wild man
I'm already planning more ways to get us out of the arena. Word is that the dressage barn (just down the ditchbank a mile or so from us) has a sweet trotting track. Cuna babysitting the dresssagers? Yes please.

It is fun to watch people's reactions to him when we're just out and about. Pedestrians stop to talk, drivers pull over and wave, and bikers seem to like seeing him. It sort of makes me understand why some cities have mounted police--people love horses and they are a great conversation starter.

My non-horsey friends tune out when I talk about him, but seeing a giant adorable red man in person seems to change the conversation. I love watching kids' faces as they go by, pointing and waving at the horse.

I spend so much time wrapped up in the 'horse world' that I forget there's a whole population out there who have never been up close with a 1200lb animal and don't understand that kind of power, grace, and connection.

Anyone else do meet and greets with the public?

Friday, April 19, 2013


We're going through a cold snap. The wind is gusting around 30-40 mph, and the irrigation canals were just filled this week. I tried to ride in the arena (really, I did) but i just couldn't. Instead, Cuna and i hacked down the busy road and headed out on the ditch bank.

He was so good. His version of 'wild' is to arch his neck a couple of times and take half a quick step. That's good, because the only thing that scares me more than hacking on paved roads is riding by deep running water.

Here's to a better tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Cuna Does Dressage Pictures!

The pictures are in! I got the full set last night and I absolutely love them. Instead of blogging about our crazy trail ride or what we've been working on, here are some of my favorite shots from this weekend.

It was blowing like crazy and Cuna protested being forced to do dressage after a break, but he finally decided to play along.

I had him all decked out in brand new wraps and a borrowed dressage saddle. You might also notice our classy browband.

Our canter work was a little rough, but Cuna was straight and forward. I can always count on him for that.

Check this out!

I know he should be more round, but we're working a little bit on our lengthenings. I sit his working trot, but I definitely post these for now.

I just love his hock articulation. Someone is feeling much better. :)

I am running out of time, so here are some adorable candids to tide you over until I can do a proper write up. And contest wrap up. And talk about my exciting new lesson plan.

Hello cookie person

You are very small
Too many pictures!!

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Cunafish in Spring

It's been a busy weekend and I'm excited to wrap up our photo contest from last week, but first let me share a sneak preview of my new Cuna pictures, courtesy of Ellie.

Check out our sexy trot!

We were totally as graceful as this looks

Headshot. For reals.
Ellie has just started editing, so there is more to come. I can't wait! 

Lots of fun stuff going on, but I feel like I'm running 3 different places at once all day long. Yikes. How is everyone else getting through spring?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Short Post

We had our first jump lesson of the year today. Because our trainer is "ambitious", we did grids. Without reins.

And guess what?

We were amazing. <3 the old man horse.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Photo Contest, Round Two!!

I'd love to do a Cuna update, but aside from a funny picture I took at the vet, we aren't doing much. He just got his hocks done and is on stall rest through today.

That does mean I have time to move on to step two of our exciting 'Tis the Season Photo Contest!! Thank you to all our entrants. I love all the creativity expressed and beautiful pictures that were submitted. After polling our judges, here are the selections for the final round:

Please peruse the top six, pick your favorite, and then (here's the fun part!) vote for your favorite entry in the poll below!!
Photo 1: equine therapy

Photo 2: snowy trail rides

Photo 3: dreaming big
Photo 4: naughtiness
Photo 5: kisses

Photo 6: feel the love

I give you our finalists!! The pictures are ordered randomly, so please don't think they're ranked by anything in particular. These shots captured the moment they were taken and most swayed our judges with composition, drama, and overall cuteness*.

As with the judges, you may vote based on any criteria you see fit. If you want to lobby for a favorite entry in the comments section, go for it. ;) Your votes will determine our final winner unless we are close to a tie, in which case the judges will do a tie breaker.

Many thanks to all our lovely entrants and to our judges, Team Flying Solo and Cedes of Change.

*This criteria may or may not have actually been used. I gave the judges free rein.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Saddle Thoughts

Rocking the navy bonnet

Ok, while the photo contest judges are deliberating, I'm going to do a real, actual Cuna update:

He's been great. Seriously.

On Tuesday, we bit the bullet and just used dirty tack instead of getting my stuff out. Oh, and by "dirty tack" I do mean Steph's CWD 2G and an Antares bridle. God I love fancy barns.

There was a lesson going on in the arena and they were making use of quite a lot of space, but Cuna and I found a way to jump. A gymnastic was set up, but the jumps were just far enough apart (and Cuna is super awesome), so we'd just take an angle on each jump and canter over the singles.

I stayed balanced, he had a great rhythm going, and other than the one time where I saw a close distance literally a stride away, then did nothing while he took a long spot and got left way behind, it was great. He was great.

The trouble with riding in the fancy saddle is this: it makes me want one. I know fancy saddles aren't for plebes such as myself. I know that.

I also know that I have to fight my saddle for my position and it was just so refreshing to actually sit in a saddle that let me be in the right place. My leg was stable and I was comfortable. Plus there's the magic 2G tree thing, and if any of you haven't cantered around in these babies, OMG YOU MUST TRY IT.

Or not. Too spendy for me, ever.

I think he could be an Antares guy
Anyways. I'm not sure what to do about the saddle thing. My saddle is lovely, but given my absurd conformation, it puts my leg too far back, so I'm constantly bracing against the stirrups, which hurts my knees. It may be time to explore saddle options. I can't have a 2G, but surely there's something out there that would fit Cuna's monster withers and my shrimp legs with double length femurs.

We'll see. I borrowed his old owner's dressage saddle Wednesday and we did some good ol' fashion dressaging. My sitting trot is coming right along and he's starting to move laterally a little. We're leaving lengthenings alone for now. He likes them WAAAAAY too much. Like, every time we go down the long side, he'll offer them. Gotta love his enthusiasm.

Today we jumped in my saddle. It was ok, but I just didn't feel as solid as Tuesday. I think I'm going to do some research and see if I can't find something that would work better for us. I'm not worried about owning a dressage saddle, but I would like my jump saddle to not hurt me. I would also like it to be affordable and grippy and havana brown and maybe come with matching brown tall boots. Is that really so much to ask for?

Note: we jumped 4 2'6" jumps Tuesday and 8 2'3" jumps today. It's not like I'm pounding him into the ground here.

Also note: Tomorrow is hock injections day!! I'm hoping for more cute pictures at the vet. :D

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

'Tis the Season for Catching Up

Ok, I really, really want to blog about how awesome Cuna was yesterday and how much fun riding in a really cool saddle was, but as SOME OF YOU have been reminding me, I am quite remiss in wrapping up my 'Tis the Season photo contest. Without further ado, I bring you our entrants.

'Tis the season: 
...for my Mom to get over her fear of horses and see where all that board money goes - Jessica
...for equine therapy -Alanna
A note from Alanna: "This photo was taken by my friend Tarra the day after I was diagnosed with breast cancer. There is no better therapist than your horse!" remember the good times we had -Erica 
A note from Erica: "Dillon was my first horse I had ever owned outright.  We had been together for 2 years when we had to move up to northern Alberta.  The move when fine, we had found a farm to board at, plenty of space, everything was perfect.  Living so north, I was very excited about seeing the northern lights.  The first night I saw the lights I got a call from the barn owner in an absolute panic and dread.  The moment I took the phone I knew something was wrong.  Dillon and her stud had gotten out of their fields and had wandered onto the highway and had been hit by a semi.  Luckily both horses had died on impact.  It's been exactly 14 months since I lost my first partner and I still miss him horribly.  I'm extremely fortunate in the fact that I found such a great horse in Koda so soon after losing Dillon." be a pony rider again

...for family photos

...for Santa hats! -Amelia practice clipping patterns - Sarah

...for snowy trail rides -Kate feel the love - Kate

...for comfy cozy -Katie L 

...for decorating horses -Ruth
...for dreaming big -Erica P
A note from Erica: "I'm not wholly sure if this counts, but I thought I'd put in an entry for all of us who are getting our pony fix by reading blogs and dreaming of the day when they can finally get a horse of their own. Someday.... :) 

Please note: I'm roughly 8 months pregnant right now, so my jacket doesn't so much, er..button..or close...or fit...even a little, and tall boots + swollen ankles = never gonna happen  :)  I found the rocking horse at a garage sale for $3 this fall, and seeing as we're having a girl, I pretty much two-wheeled it turning around to go snatch it.  I feel like all she needs now is a viking helmet and a broad sword to go with it, or maybe a polo mallet, hehe."

Editor's note: Given my tardiness, Erica has already welcomed a small into the world. 

...for horse shows - Karley
Editor's note: Karley is the only contestant who entered two pictures. Given that both pictures were quite cute, I gave her the go ahead.
...for riding -Karley

...for kisses -Nicku

...for exhaustion - Gabriella

...for elfin hats! - Xianleigh

...for being naughty! -Ashley
Ok!! Thank you to everyone who entered and I do apologize for my delay. I will notify my fellow judges, but feel free to weigh in on the comments as to which pictures are your favorites! There are so many fun and creative entries. I don't know how we'll choose! 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Tack Time: Talking About Reins

First off: to reward our contest participants who were not lucky enough to win a Riding Ninja tshirt, the Riding Ninja store is continuing their Easter sale through the end of the week. Buy two, get one free on all items. Just enter the code "Buy2Get1" at the checkout. Store is here.

 Next, let's look at a fun tack topic: Reins!

There are lots of things we can do without, but reins are one thing most every rider has in common. Given that we spend more hands-on time with our reins than any other piece of tack, it's important to have reins you like. With the dizzying selection of reins available to the general public, I went ahead and pow wowed with fellow budget-challenged tack 'ho Monica from Chasing the Dream to make an authoritative list of reins types and uses and our opinions thereon.

Rubber Reins
 Rubber reins are generally leather at the bit attachment and leather at the buckle, with a strip of rubber where the rider's hands go. They are popular with jumpers and eventers, acceptable in the dressage ring, and all wrong for hunters and breed shows. There are many different kinds available.
Soft grip reins. Cute Cuna
-Soft grip-
SB: These are the best reins ever, imho. They have all the grip of rubber with the flexibility of a leather rein and unmatched durability. I oogled them until I could borrow a set, nearly stole the borrowed ones, and now own a set for two of my three bridles. They are easy on the hands, easy to clean, and oh so worth the money. 

thinline reins
-Thin Line-
Monica: I wish I knew what they were. They sound like rubber reins on a diet. Can I go on this diet?
SB: These were very well reviewed online, so I ended up with a couple of pairs. Truth? Although they are soft, I thought there were too slim for my hands to hold well and the thinline material was really, really easy to harm. For example, if you put flyspray on your horse, you can't use them. Problem? I think yes.

Finger tearing reins

-large pimple-
Monica: I had a pair of white ones for XC. After 4 years they got waaaay too sticky (all the cleaning-white gets nasty. And of course I used it for the dirtiest phase) and I had to throw them out. I think I cried actually since they were about $80. I didn't really like them too well either. Too thick, and when wet, they still slipped. Kind of the point of rubber reins. Perhaps tan ones would be better since they shouldnt have to be cleaned with soap, which probably led to the degradation of the rubber so quickly.
SB: These are a mixed bag. I have some nice Nunn Finer ones and they're alright, but the cheaper ones can be downright nasty. I actually had a new pair tear the skin off my fingers from the ridges in the rubber. Ouch! Once they're broken in, they're fine... usually. They are generally pretty inexpensive for rubber reins and the grip is pretty good. I never did use abrasive cleaners and I haven't killed a pair yet, so that's probably good.

-small pimple-
SB: I've actually never had these. Every time I touch them, I just think they're awful. I haven't even run into someone at our barn who has them, so use at your own risk, I guess.

-garish colors-
Monica: absolutely just awful. I remember using these when I was a wee child taking lessons, thinking they were the worst things ever invented. Not only were the colors gross, but the leather stops in between just got in the way of my little fingers. The thickness combined with that made it actually hurt my hands.

Laced reins

Popular with hunter riders, breed show people, and those who were raised in the 70s, laced reins are leather and have a section of lacing run through the area where the rider's hands go. I assume it's a throwback to the hunt field in pre-rubber days, but I know that laced rein lovers are as adamant as they are old fashioned.
Monica: I have a pair for my double bridle. They are literally 1/4in wide and IMPOSSIBLE to hold on to. However, with two sets of reins, its almost a necessity. I think that's actually the point of the curb bit rein, to make you forget its their until you absolutely need it! I would never use this for a jump bridle, or even in dressage as I find them too slippery and thin. I like some meat on my reins...but not too much.
Raised laced reins
SB: Ok, I admit it. When the hunter riders have fancy raised bridles and matching fancy raised reins, I get all giddy. I did cave a few years ago and get my own raised, laced reins. Guess what? HATE. That pretty raised part does not bend like a plain rein. I'm sure it's fine if you're used to it, but I am not ok with it. So. Pretty and go for it if you can. I can't.
Monica: Standard for most bridles until maybe 6 years ago I think. Not my favorite things (can you see a trend? Pickiest. rein. person. ever) since brand new ones take ages to break in, they are difficult to clean and sometimes hurt hands if  you have a strong horsey that pulls. Ahem, Mr. Pronto....& Yankee, as a baby.
SB: A nice, old, broken-in pair can be ok, but with the advancements with rubber reins, I just don't see the point. They are IMPOSSIBLE to clean, dirt gets in every crevice, and soap/condition always seems to leave a little bit behind. Ugh.

-rubber lined-
SB: I have always wanted to try these--they're pretty like laced reins, but the rubbed on the inside gives them a lot more grip. I do wonder if they'd hurt my hands, but there's no way to know... 
Monica: would love to try I think! trying to convince the boy that I need them for my bday. Mwah ahahah.

Web Reins
Web reins.
-with stops-
SB: I snagged a pair of these because I was dealing with an annoying tendency to hold my reins at a different length. They're cheap and they did the trick, but I just don't like how they feel in my hands and they are at massive PITA to clean. You can do better. Take it from me.
-with stops & with rubber-
Monica: BEST. FANTABULOUS. LOVE. Like, I would date them if they were a person. I use them for dressage and they are perfect. Perfect grip, width, everything. Even the stops help me keep the reins even in my hands ( blast that cursed inside hand!!) and aren't too bulky. I will never use anything else in my whole life for flatwork.
SB: While Monica makes some good points, they are still hard to clean AND the rubber seems to wear out pretty fast. Maybe I've only been around the cheap versions? Hard to say.

Mystery Reins-
Monica: Not even sure WHAT these bad boys could be called but they are the mother of all perfect rein babies. They are cotton laced leather braided reins, tan. I love love love love love them. Did I mention that I love them? I bought them on a whim last summer after eyeing them for a few months and I have never regretted that $95 (the most I have ever and will ever spend on reins, by the way. I'm a cheap whore)!! I use them for XC and stadium (though I'm still looking for that pair of reins for stadium that is my typical tack whore fashion, I want a set of reins for each bridle, for two reasons. I LOATHE changing reins, esp in winter, and I feel using them for two phases-practice & show, wears them out faster) and they are perfection. Even when wet they are not slippery thanks to the cotton braiding. Also the easiest to change from bit to bit. Expensive leather really is worth it. ABSOLUTELY recommend. trouble is, I've only ever seen them at my local tack store.

Blue nylon roping reins-
Monica: I initially used these for XC since when wet they arent slippery (Yankee sweats like a faucet in summer...and winter), but after Novice,  not practical since you have to slip reins for drops and they were too short. I love the blue color though, they matched :D

There are so many different kinds of reins and they suit all different kinds of people and sports. What do you use? What do you like or want to try? Anything I missed on this list that you think needs to be added? 
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