Friday, September 27, 2013

Raising the Sticks

In order to give Courage the best shot at becoming an excellent riding horse, I try to make intelligent choices about his education. I can't just ride him 6 or 7 days a week right now, so I work on a new concept, then give him time off to think it over, then pick it up again a few days later. It works for his mind and body--he is progressing faster that I'd hoped for and I haven't had any problems (yet) with physical soreness or mental resistance.

When I took him to grid night last week, I got the same feedback from the instructor that Redheadlins was giving me anyways--I need to get up out of the saddle and let him learn to use his hind end. To this point, I'd been staying in the tack more than is good because I was steering to the jump. Now that he's got that idea down, it's time for me to step it up.

I rode one day last week and trotted over a few wee things to let us both get a feel for it. In keeping with our training plan, he then got a couple of days off.

Getting out of the tack
This week, I set the jumps up a little so I could ask him some new questions and let him figure out how to respond. There was nothing inherently hard about the jumps--a bigger crossrail, a vertical with flowers, the beginnings of a baby grid... hm. I wanted Courage to have a good experience, and the best way to do that was to put someone in the irons who would give him a solid ride.

Redheadlins stepped on and off they went. As they trotted to the bigger crossrail the first time, you could see the wheels start turning in his head. "wait... this is tall... what do I do?" He slowed in front of it, then launched himself over the wee crossrail in the biggest effort he's given yet. Wish I had a picture of that.

They've got this
She stayed on and kicked forward after the jump. They went on to the next obstacle, the little vertical. Again, he slowed down. You could see him looking for the low spot that he was supposed to jump, but there wasn't one.

Hmm. He hopped over it, then cantered away. The lightbulb was coming on. Next they were able to string together the cross rail to the vertical. It wasn't a related distance per se, but it was the closest together that he's had to do two jumps and he looked great.

Check out that back end!
The more jumps he did, the better he looked. Instead of trotting over, he started using his hind end and landing in balance, then cantering off on a loopy rein.

By the time they did the baby grid (of poles on the ground), he had figured out what she wanted and was just perfect. We set up one crossrail in the grid. He trotted in, took a canter stride, and jumped out, then cantered away softly.

My jaw probably hit the floor. We called it a day and gave him lots of neck scratches. 

As much as I begrudge my insane work schedule right now, it seems to be an advantage to Courage. How many days a week do normal people ride anyways?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Product Review: Smartpak Piper Kneepatch Breeches

Smartpak Piper Breeches
List price: $79.95
What I paid: $65.00ish

Since I have a horse to ride again, I thought it was worth my time to own more than one pair of breeches. I have a pair of Rompf kneepatch breeches that I love, but they run about $100 a pair and my local store was out. Instead of getting more of the same, I decided to try the Pipers because they were so well-reviewed in the blogosphere. It helped that Smartpak was running a 20% off promotion and that I qualified for free shipping by buying two pairs.

What I think:
I've waited to write this review because I like to put products to the test before I say too much about them. I purchased them back in August and have a solid month's abuse on both pairs now, so I think I can talk freely.

For $60, I think they're alright. They fit me well, but I am long waisted, so the higher rise actually suits me perfectly. I absolutely love the sock bottoms (no annoying velcro, huzzah!). Either I have freakishly narrow ankles or the sock bottoms are cut pretty wide, because they're loose on me.

I've gotten plenty of compliments on how they look, especially the tan pair with the teal contrast stitching. The belt loops are wide enough to accommodate a 1" to maybe a 1.5" belt. The material is soft and stretchy. I don't think it holds everything in place as well as my thicker and a bit stiffer Rompfs, but it's still respectable. They probably won't be great cold weather breeches, but they are great for summer.

They have held their shape well, and I don't feel like anything is out of place at the end of another long day in the sun. 


Here's what I don't like:

Cuz that feels really good
The top of the breeches close with two hooks (fine). However, the inside of the loops are inside the breeches, meaning that the metal is cutting into my stomach. That's fine on dress pants, since no one actually does anything in them, but for athletic wear? Ouch. In addition, there is a seam on the outside of the lower leg in both colorways that digs into my skin. My half chaps are pretty loose, but when it's hot, my legs hurt when I take these breeches off, from that seam. That puts them into a tricky weather category--too lightweight of fabric to wear when it's cold, but they take your skin off when it's hot.

I should add that I use the snot out of breeches. I probably spend the least amount of time in them riding--I run errands, feed horses, clean stalls, buck hay, and scrub water tanks. To their credit, they haven't stained or looked ratty, but I noticed that they take snags a lot easier than makes me comfortable as far as long term use is concerned.

The Final Outcome: 

That said, for the casual rider (or someone who only wears breeches to ride, then changes to do chores), they are a great choice for any budget. 

Noted: I was in no way compensated to write this and I had to buy the breeches on my own. I'm simply sharing information to benefit the blogger community.

Also noted: If you want to compensate me to write something, let's chat.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Training Wheels Come Off

When I first started riding Courage, I was just so thrilled that he was quiet and easy that I didn't get too worked up about his way of going. Then he got his first trainer ride.We decided that he needed to go in a martingale for the foreseeable future. It wasn't a long term solution, but his default was a giraffe impression and he had no concept of giving to the bit. 
So for the past six weeks, we've worked hard on contact. I tend to be lackadaisical about it, but I really do want him to grow a topline, so I'm trying to be better. 
And he looks cute doing it
We've progressed in leaps and bounds--he's actually started to offer some really nice stretch and figure out what I'm looking for. He's also learning to move off my leg and go (sort of) straight. 

Demonstrating a very nice stretch
That said, every time redheadlins watched me ride, she'd tell me to take more contact before releasing--basically, I wasn't giving Courage enough of a difference to understand what the question was. I thought that was weird. It certainly felt different to me. 

And then she hit upon the problem--I like really light contact and I was getting it from the martingale. When I thought I was just holding a little bit, he didn't feel a thing. Oops. 

So today, we took a big step forward. I took the martingale off the breastcollar. It accomplished it's purpose--C-rage no longer carries his head among the clouds and I have the security of knowing that I don't need it's additional leverage to handle him. 

The whole feel was completely different. Don't get me wrong--the martingale served a very useful purpose and I may very well pull it out again if I feel the need, but we've taken another step forward. I had the most purposeful and interesting ride today--I made some progress I am really excited to build on. We even started working on cleaning up our walk/trot transitions, which are something of a hot mess. 

I was going to do more, but our favorite trainer was around and some fun baby jumps were set up and THERE ARE PICTURES, but I need to get them from someone else's phone. Sheesh. Are all baby horses this much fun? 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Fun and Pictures

Ok, first things first. Y'all should go to Riley's blog and enter the amazing sweet contest. If you're poor like me from having two horses, guess what? You can make two entries! I've sent in my first entry, but need a suitable picture for the second. It's super fun and the prizes are incredible. Check it out!!

Adorable rockstar
Second things second: due to it apparently now being fall, Mr Courage debuted his fist blanket since I've owned him.

How can a snuggly warm horse not just make you happy? He was pefectly quiet about the whole thing and not the least bit concerned. I did halter him to put it on, since you just never know.

Now I know. Rockstar. As usual.

I have a list of blog posts to write this week (hello review time), but I just wanted to share some fun shots today.

We are trying out a new saddle and I am practicing jumping with my butt staying out of the saddle on the back side so that he can use his hind end effectively.

What can I say? Defensive habits die hard. Those of you who were around last fall remember that I was working on this same concept with Cuna before... well, the shit storm that was this year.

Why jump when you can trot?
Regardless, we are making progress and the little dude was great.

Also once I got out of the saddle, he got really bored of wee cross rails. He's totally got the idea of jumping now, so there is no funny wiggliness to the fence, but he wasn't impressed enough to do more than trot over them after the first try.

First time over the wee x
Onwards and upwards! This week I plan to move the jumps to new places in the arena and make the crossrails more impressive. Maybe we'll get really crazy and jump some tiny verticals if I can get my position under control and my stirrups short enough.

Sure is fun having things to work towards and seeing actual progress. I feel like we're squeezing as much in as possible before the weather totally nosedives. Everyone else loving fall?

Friday, September 20, 2013


This angle makes his face look big
So when I took C-rage to the clinic, the instructor's biggest criticism was that my bridle wasn't fitted properly for a figure 8. I'd just thrown it on in a mad rush with a loose horse galloping by, so I made a note to fix it next time we rode.

Next time just to happened to be at our group lesson, so I took my time putting it on and shortening things up. Then I led him out to the instructor to get feedback on how it was adjusted. She fiddled with it, I fiddled with it.

And the root of the problem is simply that a horse sized bridle is far too big for a wee little Courage face.

It sort of fits. Def cute.

You heard it here folks: I was told by the trainer that I needed a new bridle. YEAH YEAH YEAH!! Do you have any idea how much I love bridle shopping? SO MUCH. Gah. I love bridles. Of course, that means I own six bridles, none of which fit the only rideable horse I own.

So swanky
Cuna gets to keep his bridles--the swanky Mark Todd monocrown and the practical Nunn Finer plain cavesson. That leaves C-rage with 4--the fancy hunter bridle (too big), the no name cheapie bridle (too big), the Ovation monocrown with sparkles (can squeeze it on), and the Nunn Finer figure eight (too big).

Hunter bridle modeled by the one and only Cuna
Soo... If you want any of those, contact me. Otherwise I'll sell online or consign them or something. We'll keep the Ovation since it sort of fits. Sort of.

But that's not the important news. What's more interesting is getting Courage his very own bridle. I mean, I'll have a budget and get to pick something nice out. I love nice things. My dream bridle is (of course) like an Antares figure eight... you have to touch it to believe it. Those things are incredible. However, those are $500 new without reins.

Barring that, here are some of my favorite options:

Gotta love the detail. Stock Dover image.
1) Dover Showmark Deluxe Jumper Bridle
I hate Dover. You know that. However, this is one of their in-house brands. A friend of mine has another model from the same line, and I covet it every time I see it. I love a good padded monocrown, I love the detail stitching on the figure eight, and the fact that it isn't padded gives me a lot more leeway in adjusting it to fit. Of course, given Dover's odd and expensive shipping policies, I wouldn't order anything else to come along with it.

Very old picture. Who remembers Izzy?
2) Rambo Micklem Bridle
I used to have one of these. Yes, I did. I hated the color, loved the crownpiece, and liked the design. I sold it because I thought I had too many bridles and the mare didn't care one way or another, but I wouldn't mind having another. Besides, the one I had would have been huge on the dainty face I'm fitting now.

Plus, I can now get in havana and I think the complicated design would go well on the fancy little face I'm fitting.

 Because I'm antsy and want to BUY ALL THE THINGS, I nearly pulled the trigger yesterday. Instead, I am forcing myself to act like a grownup for now. You know, maybe sell some things before I attempt to spend more money. In the mean time, I am obsessively bridle shopping. I'm all about the single crown piece, love me some bling (rice clinchers, what what?), and am curious about alternative designs. Anything else I should be considering? What are your favorite bridles for cob-size faces?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Only the Best Idea Ever

I'm sure this is news to all of my faithful readers (ha!), but I don't always think things through really well.

From our last trip to the trainer
For example, I thought the best idea after the clinic was to give C-rage a few days off, then bring him back into work Tuesday. Except Tuesday I ended up going on a tour of fancy barns with our BO and not riding.

So then the next best idea was to haul to our trainer's place on Wednesday evening for a group jump night after three days off.

Did I mention the temperature had dropped 20 degrees overnight?


Cuz that sounds like a smart idea.

Life is better with a supermodel girlfriend
Courage ended up hauling over by himself in the trailer and it wasn't his favorite thing ever. He screamed periodically and looked for his beloved girlfriend Diva, but she was nowhere to be found. The other riders thought I was joking when I said it was the wildest he's ever been. He had an adorable little Courage spook (one whole stride) and a funny little leapy/spinny explosion thing, about two strides.

A cute shot from another participant
Otherwise? We walked and trotted around. He looked at stuff. He put his head straight in the air sometimes and experimented with going on the bit sometimes.

We walked and trotted through the big grid when it was set as trot poles. The first three poles would eventually become a double bounce. We trotted through when the first crossrail was set up.

Then the next rail went up. Well... why not? I aimed towards it. He went happily forward until the last stride.

The face you make when you're the best
C-rage "Holy $#!+ that is a lot of poles. I think we should stop."

Me: "Go forward."

C-rage: "Eh... front feet, back feet BOING"

Me: "Good boy! That's the idea."

C-rage: "Yeah, did you see that? I am the best at this."

Cocky little bastard. ;-) Gotta love him. We bowed out when they progressed to three bounces, but he spent the rest of the hour walking around and visiting and being admired. By the end, he was standing on the buckle getting scratches from fans.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

XC Clinic Wrapup (super long)

I started the clinic day with two goals: 1) I wanted Courage to have a positive experience and 2) I wanted to ride proactively and make good decisions.

We loaded about a half hour after we meant to, which meant that we literally pulled in to the clinic facility as our group was supposed to start. As we threw tack on, a horse got loose from another trailer and RACED past us. Redheadlins and I breathed a sigh of relief as our horses watched boredly, but then it came around for another pass. Seriously? Of course this happens when it is your OTTB's first ever clinic/xc experience.

Who's afraid of loose horses?
Fortunately, the horse was eventually corralled and Courage seemed to find the whole experience quite uneventful. That's when I realized that neither of us threw in a mounting block, so we were getting on from a 5 gallon bucket. Despite the fact that I quite gracefully fell off the bucket next to Courage, he gave me a second shot at it and stood like a statue. As soon as I was on, I realized that I didn't have my whip and all the spectators were off watching the beginning of my group, so I got back off, and had to utilize the bucket again.

Getting acquainted
Whatever. Courage was having a positive experience, and if I miss the first five minutes of the ground poles group, well, we'll all survive.

We rode over and joined the group. Courage had his head up and was looking, but as we talked with the instructor (and signed releases from horseback, OTTB win), he started to settled in. It was a goup of four and we walked and trotted in a big circle and talked about techniques for riding in large groups safely, from position to etiquette. Courage spent his time figuring out how to balance and stretch. He didn't care at all that the steering of the group members perhaps wasn't what it could be and that the other horses occasionally buzzed him. 

Trotting in a group lesson

The instructor did break us into two groups to canter. I'm pretty sure she thought two green riders on broke horses combined with two recent racehorses was just a bit much to all be running around at once.

Looking like an event horse

Lil' Courage picked up both leads correctly on the first try, and let me practice all three seats at the canter. He wasn't even concerned about the other horse or the changing footing. What a star.

Next we started trotting through some poles, working on our straightness and direction. New poles in a new place? No big. He set the standard for straight lines and I managed not to make a complete ass out of myself, despite the instructor threatening some old-fashioned vigilante justice if I used an indirect inside rein one more time (oops).

Only the cutest horse in the group
The poles went up to a little crossrail. The first rider in our group nearly fell off, then got run off with, none of which Courage really thought was even interesting enough to watch. When it was our turn, he hopped right over and landed in canter. Yeah! I brought him back down to walk to discuss our ride, and accidentally aimed him at a very narrow gap between a jump and the rail. He pricked up his ears and went right through. Impressive.

Heading into the great unknown!
He was one of only two in our group who were sent out to put a course of cross rails together. At this point, the people for the next group had started showing up and unloading their horses. We stopped in the vicinity of the first jump because Courage was so interested in what was going on. Per the instructor, I walked him over the first few crossrails just to get him focused, then was able to trot the last one and canter away. Awesome.

Hello eventing world
Then it was time to head out to the big XC field. Courage boldly led the way past the dressage arena, through the decorations, and beside the canal without so much as blinking. Then we encountered a problem. The ground disappeared right out of in front of him and he was expected to levitate across a dry dip in the ground. I tried to convince him that instead of levitating, we could just walk through on the bottom of the dip.

He thought no. Also, he hasn't been keeping up on yoga and he was embarrassed to try levitating in front of his new friends if he didn't think he could be the best at it. Oh Courage. He finally made it through the little dip with the instructor leading him, but then the other two horses were well ahead of us and Diva had no intention of rushing through a similar meditation.

Trotting by our onsies
Off we went. As we reached the far corner of the field, I realized that my little man was starting to lose it. The bugs were bad, his attention span was used up, and it was hard work for him to keep it together this long. I called out to the two ahead of us to come back and focused on telling him to do something, or "make his world smaller" as the instructor put it.

The horses helped a little bit, but he was still feeling like he wanted to freak out and explode in every direction. I decided that I would help us both out by choosing a direction. I trotted him forward. We half halted just enough to stay in balance, but I wanted that energy to go in a positive direction. We serpentined around and he started to settle even in the big field.

We finished off the lesson by leaving the group and walking over a series of natural obstacles. Courage was awesome once he got the idea. Had it been earlier in the lesson, I would have tried trotting them, but at that point, I thought it was wise to keep things simple.

Baby xc rockstars
When we were done, we hacked back to the trailer (and through the dip of death!) without so much as a tiny baby disobedience.

Diva took exception to loading, so Courage and I had a nice time hanging out with the other members of our group while he ate grass and was generally admired.

All things considered, we definitely achieved our objections. Courage had a very good experience and exceeded my expectations with his good behavior. I am very happy with the decisions I made to keep his feet on the ground.

On a loose rein
That said, it sounds like our next outing needs to be on the trails so we can learn about variations in terrain. Haha. I can live with that.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Help Us Out!

Courage has approved this message
I'm working on my epic clinic wrap up post, but C-rage, Redheadlins, Diva and I are finalists in Eventing Nation and Success Equestrian's photo contest. GO HERE to vote for us to win a cool prize!!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Jumping with Video!!

Because we are overachievers trying to set our horses up for success, yesterday was baby xc day at the barn.

We dragged some cross rails out into the pasture, snagged a couple of competent camera people, and off we went. The biggest thing we wanted to address was just letting the horses figure out the terrain.

They are used to immaculately groomed flat footing at the track, so it can be challenging to learn to look where they're going. No need to worry on this score--Courage and Diva walked, trotted, and cantered all around the fields like total pros and weren't even a little bothered by deep grass and the slight undulations. Win!

With that sorted out, it was time to jump. Again, it was more about introducing them to the idea of jumps being in unusual places on funny footing and that being ok. At this point in the game, I'm not too concerned about height or strides or anything overly technical.

In case you have a lot of time on your hands, there is video!

Our first course was a little rough--we added some decor to the ground poles in the second field and it completely surprised him. What I like about it is that he gave me the same reaction that I got at the show and didn't respond well to. This time, I was able to ride him through it and continue on. The biggest thing was just that I was expecting him to chuck his head and down and start bucking... which he didn't do at all. I rode better, he understood the job better, the video is pretty damn boring. Sorry.

We picked it up and did better the second time. Take away for me--when I know something's going to be new and different, I need to be really sure I have him balanced and then let him take a little look and ride slow and steady to the "fence". He's not unwilling, but everything is very new at this point.

Wild thoroughbreds
Also, in case you have better things to do than watch a big horse jump teeny fences, we jumped our first little vertical! I just pointed at it and he went right over. So proud. 

We hacked around the field to cool out. Our photographers caught some really cute shots.

Also, check out someone's hunky self at not even 7 weeks off the track. He's filling out and putting on weight and looks downright respectable. He was definitely ready to be a sporthorse. Maybe next year he'll even have a tail.

We conquer xc!

Super psyched for our clinic on Saturday! Courage is going really well, and I'm confident we can go and have another positive experience.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Learning the Job

The little man stepped it up and was awesome for our grid night outing and our show outing (and I handwalked him down the road the other day), so I figured it's time to put our big kid pants on and ride in a clinic. On cross country. 

Ok, maybe that was ambitious.

Regardless, since we don't want to get embarrassed out there, Redheadlins and I are buckling down and making sure our horses can at least jump cross rails before we show up. I was going to have her ride him and do some other stuff this week, but she's short on time and I'm having too much fun.

Rock that baucher!! 
In the interest of looking like a legit XC horse, I brought out closed front boots to try that I don't mind galloping through weeds in. I refuse to risk the tboots in cheat grass. I also wanted to try a different bit, since the happy mouth is just flat out too big for him and I didn't want to buy another. Obviously, if you are a tack ho, it is far, far easier to throw the trial bit on a bridle than it is to unhook your current bridle and add the new bit into the mix.

Plus I love how he looks in a figure eight anyways. Also a legit XC thing.

It's almost a tail
He came out really up for some reason, so I hand walked him around the arena. As we passed the hay barn, he had THE MOST GIANT COURAGE SPOOK OF ALL TIME. Seriously. I think he may have gone two strides. Then he stood still and looked sheepish. I hopped on and off we went.

After a nice warmup (in which I didn't ask for anything, oops), we started out working on contact at the walk and trot. I kept him mostly on a circle. Instead of giving in to my desire to just sit around and have a fun ride, I focused on putting him into the contact every time he decided to be a giraffe and then (important) giving EVERY TIME he decided to soften.

Make it obvious. Keep things black and white. He wants to do the right thing, so let him. (Thank you, Lins for pointing that out).

Love this canter
Once he was quiet and steady (ish), we headed off around the arena. He gave me a lovely stretch and then we took a walk break. During that walk break, Diva and Lindsey jumped and cantered and did all kinds of cool things. I was all focused (RIDE THE HORSE) and completely spaced taking pictures. Oops. Bad friend.

When we moved up into the canter, I quit worrying about the contact. I have elbow issues I need to work through and he needs a break. Plus, we are prepping for a CLINIC! Thus, we worked on some forward and back at the canter. I asked him to shorten until he ...almost... broke to trot, then cantered forward down the long side before collecting again.

I tried to stay mostly out of the saddle and go forward from my leg. It was our first attempt, so there wasn't as much difference between the shorter and longer canter as I would prefer, but he seemed to be getting the idea.

And then to jump! At this point, I really want him to figure out that any time he's pointed at a jump, I mean for him to jump it. Looking for the flags, if you will. We set the jumps in places he did not expect, and accordingly, the first time I headed for one, he tried to run out. ("obv she didn't realize the great wall of china is in front of us")

This is where I realized that I had completely squandered my warmup. Instead of meandering and chatting, I need to actively use that time to move him off my legs and get him on the aids. He's not opposed to jumping--he just needs to understand what the desired outcome is.

No one cares about flowers now
I'm working to get myself together, too. The last time I jumped an actual fence was like... April? On Cuna. With Courage, I sometimes forget to ride because he's being green. The result is that I let him get strung out and pick at him and ride from my hands and it's just ugly. Today, I picked one thing I wanted to do better. I decided that I wanted to ride my line after the jump to encourage him to be forward and straight. Magically, that made me ride from my leg instead of pick with my hands and he was much easier to go with.

balance in the corner
I also had to remember to ride around my corners. I'm being really obsessive about not hitting him in the mouth at any point, to the point that I'm not really taking any contact while jumping. Unfortunately, Courage doesn't really know what all that means. He got strung out and unbalanced (for him), then stopped at another crossrail.

To help him, I shortened my reins and was consistent. I let him come in slower with his head up like a giraffe, because that meant he was balanced and looking. My reins were consistent, so if he fell forward, I caught him, but otherwise he just had to hold to the rhythm.

An actual jump! 
It seemed to work. By the end, we were confidently jumping all the Xs on straight lines. Woohoo!!

I realize this is one of those long rambling posts that goes on forever and probably no one reads, but 1) I want to keep track of our progress and 2) I threw in lots of cute pictures, so it can't be that bad, right?

Another ride tomorrow, and then we have to pick out clinic outfits. How exciting!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


I made the call yesterday, and Courage and I wiggled in to a local cross country clinic this coming weekend. We'll be in the teeny baby group doing ground poles or cross rails or something, but I'm pretty excited.


Of course, in order to be properly prepared, Redheadlins and I are planning jump day in the pasture this week sometime. I will attempt to bribe/beg/borrow/steal a camera person so we can get Courage's first XC PICTURES!! Woowoo!!

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