Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Ride Well Without a Trainer

My fashion sense is spot-on, though
My downward transitions on Courage are abysmal.

Period, full stop.

His upwards are usually decent as long as I keep him moving forward. It's actually a really funny problem for me, because I've just always had horses that sucked at upward transitions and did nice downwards.

I've tried a couple of different things to try to fix them, and while they maaaaybe aren't as bad, they still pretty much suck. Now I realize that this is a green horse thing and nothing is fixed overnight and all that, but usually I can at least feel like I'm making progress.

Here's the thing with green horses--they don't usually know the "right" answer to any given question, especially if they are a race horse who is just learning about this whole sporthorse thing.

So huge
That's why I've been enjoying some recent opportunities to ride nice, broke horses. I can't take lessons right now and I certainly can't put Courage in training, but I can ride and break down what I'm doing. 

Meet Jasper. He is an absolutely huge warmblood of some sort. He's forward and bendy and supple and ridiculously uphill and totally broke. He put up with my pathetic attempts at dressage, and then we did walk/trot transitions until he was beyond bored.

He didn't need the schooling. I did.

I needed to know that I could still ride a good transition. Check.

I needed to know what elements Jasper brought to the equation that made him more balanced. Check.

I needed to know what I was doing that hindered him in the first place. Check.

We are the best at working on stuff
It's not just his general hugeness and brokeness that make Jasper easy to ride, although those help a lot. He is a forward going horse, so I'm able to change his gait without causing all his energy to go crashing into the sand.

It also helps when I focus on you know, RIDING through the transition, instead of just sort of shutting down and inhibiting him. Think about how I'm using my legs and core, what my posting is saying, what my hands are doing. All that.

I'm back in the irons on Courage today and I'm excited to play with these concepts. I have no illusions of turning him in to Jasper overnight, but I can set him up with more good experiences and start tuning him in to the life of a proper sport horse.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The (Forward) Path to Riding Well

I'm doing my best to get my head back in the metaphorical game. Alyssa and Redheadlins came out to play ponies on Sunday, which leaves me with some sweet pictures to share.

all the cool kids hollow the base of their neck and trot backward
We started out lazy and behind my leg. That's the go-to evasion for my wild racehorse. Seriously. Anyways. I haven't been riding great, so he's gotten a little worse about it. 

Between the added pressure of having a fancy camera on hand and the part where Lins was yelling "SMACK HIM WITH THE WHIP", I eventually figured that I should do, well, something.

At least it's uphill, am I right?

So we tried cantering.

My idea was to get him going forward and using his back and having that help us.

That is a really great plan if I had you know, ridden him forward.

When I just flop my reins in the wind and break the line from my elbow to the bit and sort of awkwardly bounce my hands off his mouth, it's not all that useful for anything.

But despite all that, we started to find some rhythm.

I got my reins (slightly) shorter and my hands (slightly) higher. As I started to ride better and expect more, he stepped up and gave more.

Need dis. All of it.
We're definitely a work in progress, but his nice moments are just. So.Nice.

I know he can do it. Now the onus is on me to step up my riding. Demand the forward and/or mix up our routine in a way that encourages us both to go forward.

It all starts there. That's the key to our transitions, our contact, and solid jumping. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Monday Morning Video!!

While we're all recovering from crazy Rolex hangovers (woo woo go eventing! GO WFP!!!), here's a fun video round up from last week:

Yep. This.
The first half is the fun, easy sunny course I set on Sunday. The second half is the brainchild of redheadlins, including my oh-so-hilarious panel fail.

Yeah, just put this up to show my position.

So how badass is my little jumping man??

Friday, April 25, 2014

VCBH: Appreciating What You Have

The shot that completely encapsulates his personality
I'm terrible at blog hops, but this one from Viva Carlos really caught my attention.

Courage and I have been together for a while now, so it's high time I wrote up a list of things I appreciate about him.

1) He is always here to be the best. No matter what it is we're doing on a given day, he tries his hardest and wants to impress me.

Like a boss

Doesn't matter if that means going through the water for the first time...

He's a real draft horse

...or dressing up as a Budweiser Clydesdale for the Superbowl...

...or even getting decked out in a fly bonnet and evergreen garland for Christmas pictures!

Racing fit
 2) He is a ridiculously classy looking little horse, whether you're talking about when he was still on the track...

Sporthorse fat

...or just coming back into work this spring.

Back when he could deal with hind boots

3) He's quiet enough that I put stars on his ass the first time I ever clipped him.

4) He is a trotting machine! Here he's a couple weeks (at most) removed from the track...

...practicing at home this spring...

...and showing off his sweet moves after his first grown-up lesson of the year.

5. He's really easy to get along with, whether it's one on one...

Such a ham a group...

...or just hanging out. (Random Jaws incident aside).

6. He loves riding lessons.

Doesn't matter if it's on the flat...

...over the great wall of China in the middle of winter...

...or learning about ditches on a cross country adventure!

7. But at the end of the day, Courage is the one who makes me smile. He reminds me of the past, but is just bursting with hope for the future. Between his cocky self-assurance and his overly kissable nose, he keeps me focused on making it through each day.

I'm lucky to have the little man in my life.

PS Check out Hilary's contest at Equestrian at Hart

Thursday, April 24, 2014

How to be a Happy Boarder

Like many adult amateurs, I don't have my own property and have to rely on care provided by others at least part of the time. I've boarded in a good never of different situations and a variety of barns and I've found a few principles to be consistent.

1) You are your horse's best advocate. 

I don't care whether you're in a backyard-and-barbed-wire situation or the fanciest show barn in your state. Ultimately, your horse is your responsibility and you can't always trust the BO or your trainer or whoever to make the best decisions for your horse. Ask their advice, certainly, but if you're uncomfortable in any way with the care your horse is receiving, it's on you to speak up and address the problem. You have to be willing to be the PITA boarder if the situation requires it. 

That said, if you're having to speak up a lot, the odds are that the situation just isn't going to work for you and you would be advised to move along. 

Self care
2) Good care varies from place to place. 

Just because horses in Florida or Kentucky or Virginia have heated 12x12 stalls and 18 hours of turnouts in grassy fields that never have mud and only ride in a dust-free indoor, well, that doesn't mean it's realistic for you. Instead of worrying about what everyone else has, focus on what's important to you and your horse. My always/only/ever is clean water, good hay, turnout, and shelter. I'm willing to either do my own turnout or have my horse live out with shelter. 

There are other things that I love to have, like trail access, good arena footing, jumps, lights, and an indoor, but I'm willing to let go of those things in pursuit of what's more important. Your list will probably vary--some people insist on having an on-site trainer. Others want stalls. Others hate stalls. It doesn't really matter. Just know what's important to you when you're looking for a barn. 

Living on full care pasture with shelter
3) Pick your favorite crazy people.

Horse people are nuts. It's just part of who we are. That said, different people can deal with different levels of nuts. I will deal with a neat freak BO. I will deal with a BO that only boards one gender of horses. I will deal with a BO that never wants horses to get rained on. 

I will not deal with a BO who always/only/ever insists on one style of horse maintenance or is anything other than a fanatic about clean water. Once you get beyond basic health concerns, this one is all personal preference. I also try to be alert about other boarders--if the BO is great, but all the boarders are nuts, it may not be the right fit for me. 

friends to ride with
4) Know what you want out of a situation. 

Obviously, you're going to get something different out of pasture board/no indoor/no trainer situation than you are out of a full care/show barn/mandatory lessons situation. Both are fine, but know want you want. At this point in my life, I'm a happy ammy. I want good horse care, lots of turnout, and nice people to chat with. 

I looked at a barn with excellent care that I absolutely loved, but it was a very small facility and I would usually be riding alone. I didn't go for it because I like having someone to ride with--that's the big perk of boarding, isn't it? 

different strokes for different folks
5) Be honest with yourself about who you are

One of my favorite boarding situations was at a Morgan breeding farm populated by a mix of natural horsemanship and western folks. There was no on-site trainer, but the people were lovely and we were all just boarders on equal footing. The drawback to a training barn situation is that a trainer is obligated to focus on the clients who put food on their table--if you aren't one of them, you can't be the priority. That's the way life goes.

That said, I've been riding a long time and am ok doing most of the training of my horse on my own. I enjoy regular lessons (when I can afford them), but at this point in my life, I prefer being the occasional haul-in. I'd sing a different tune if I had different work obligations or higher show goals or a limitless budget (maybe. I love my barn.). It's just something to be aware of. 

Finding our happy place
Boarding is just such a love/hate situation. It's constantly dealing with a whole set of very passionate people who may or may not see eye to eye with us. It can be a lot of fun, but it's important to have set standards going in and be honest about them. 

These are my favorite principles to stick to and I have epic spreadsheets to prove it. What are some other important concepts to keep in mind when researching boarding barns? 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Moving A Green Horse Up the Levels

He is the best at tiny panels
After my super awesome pictures from yesterday, several of the commenters raised an interesting point--Courage obviously has great form over fences and is plenty scopey--how soon do I move him up?

I've thought about it. There are a lot of different answers to that, so I've made a a helpful graph to illustrate the rates of speed at which a horse moves up the levels.
<----Slower         Faster---->

As you may have noticed, I tend not to push horses. Courage came off the track at the end of July last year, and we spent the whole fall putzing around and having fun. We did the ground poles at a local show and a baby cross county clinic (which doesn't count because we only jumped crossrails in an enclosed field). We worked on things like "not doing giraffe impersonations" and "going forward".

No more giraffe
And then he took a couple of months off.

When he came back this spring, I had a whole new horse. His body felt great and his brain had some idea of what to do, so we have progressed in leaps and bounds.

I also think our cross country weekend was really good for him--we got to ride twice a day and figure somethings out and just make pure, unadulterated progress.

My philosophy on training is to increase the pressure, then allow the horse to get comfortable before increasing the pressure again. I realize there's an element of the horse learning to deal with more pressure and running that line more closely, but I am nothing special as a horse trainer, so I prefer to go a little slower and take things easy because I'm the only one who has to pay if I screw up.

So to me, this shot from the other weekend shows a horse that is completely comfortable.

And yeah, so cute
And this shot from Monday shows a horse that is _very_ impressed with a jump.He's still plenty safe, but he's feeling the pressure of new questions.

He's tidy and clever and all is well. Because I want him to end up being a happy, fun, comfortable ammy hose (for me), I want to let him get comfortable with the height and level of fill that we're presenting him with before I move him up again.

So easy
Much like our flat work, it's going to get easier as we go on. It's already "clicked" for him that when I point him at a jump, he is to jump over it. Now I need it to click for him that even if the fill is scary, he's going to be ok.

This jump is actually taller than the panel or the barrels and he's just fine with it. I suspect in another ride or two, he'll be completely over everything we've introduced thus far.

New favorite picture
And then we'll introduce more. Oxers are on the list. Rails over barrels. Jumps in fields. Related distances. Bending lines. Triple bars. 

The list goes on.

Courage has a lot of aptitude for jumping. He's good at it and he enjoys it. He's a wicked smart horse and he tries his little heart out. As his owner/rider, my prerogative is to let him develop without pushing too hard and frying him. 

Good news for him, I am the best at not pushing horses.

He'll move up when he's ready. When we're both ready. I suspect it won't take too terribly long as long as I keep things fun and interesting. So yes, a more competent ammy or good pro could probably move him up a lot faster without frying him. I'm working within my specific knowledge base and set of limitations and everyone's having a good time. Seems like a plan to me.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Top 6 Reasons to Have a Riding Buddy

Redheadlins and I ride together a lot. Here's a list of my 6 favorite things about having a riding buddy.

Yeah, check us out
1. Instant feedback. She's a much better rider than I am, but she doesn't look down on me. Instead she always yells at me to "canter on" and I nearly fall off my horse laughing when she eats Diva's mane over an 18" jump. Noted: she has stopped doing that this year. She needs a new flaw or I'm going to start feeling inadequate.

Diva did it first
2. Peer pressure. Diva and Courage are in pretty similar places in their training. As such, we're constantly having a friendly competition. "Oh, well Diva jumped the bigger jump so now I have to." Obviously, this could be taken too far, but we both want thet best for the hoses, so it just seves to keep us motivated.

Hellz yeah we can jump barrels
3. Course setting. On Sunday, I had some extra time and so I set up a whole new course with inviting little jumps and flowing turns. On Monday, she had some extra time, so she jacked all the jumps up and added a shit ton of fill.


But we did it because Diva did and we all know that Courage is the best at jumping. I swear he's competing with Diva anyways.

Like our second attempt at a gate
4. Extra Bravery. I am hesitant to tackle big, scary issues on my own because I always want to set my horse up for a good experience. Having another set of eyes and a more experienced rider around gives me the courage (ha!) to address things I probably wouldn't otherwise for fear of screwing up my horse.

Because yeah, my face
5. Laughter. This is the first time we did the gate. He started to jump it normally and then was all "OH SHIT WHAT IS THAT MADNESS?" and took a flying deer leap. When she could finally stop laughing, we figured out a new plan and readdressed it.

But I never would have tried that on my own.

New profile pic. Yeah.
6. ALL THE PICTURES. I straight up love pony pictures, so I really don't think I ought to explain much beyond this. For those doubters who are all like "private lives are private", I'll just add that nothing helps me improve quite as much as the ability to look over the highlights of the day and then make adjustments for my next ride.

In the age of technology, this is so easy. We used to trade off phones for pictures, but it's so hard to catch the right moment, plus her camera is better than mine. Now we just take video on her phone and then grab video stills.

This particular round is pretty amazing, but the less amazing ones help us too.

Those are just the top six reasons for having a riding buddy, and I haven't even touched on the shared stories and instant sympathy and mad cooking skills. (Noted: never compromise on these. You have to do something when it's too cold to ride.)

Monday, April 21, 2014

Mental Game Over Fences

So tidy over the tiny flowers
Without writing another downer post to describe the zany turns life is taking right now, let's just agree that I'm not in the best place mentally I've ever been. I set a super fun little jump course this weekend, then decided I would just hand off the reins to Redheadlins to ride it, because I didn't think I could keep it together long enough to have a decent round.

And she said, "You have to at least jump the first three and see where you're at after that."

So we hopped over the tiny cross rail. Courage was just so brave and honest and landed cantering.

I hopped over the next, slightly larger, crossrail.

Again, landed in balance, cantered away happily. 

I just love this shot
And it was on! We trotted and cantered all the little jumps. I even landed cantering from on tiny vertical and held the canter and hopped over the biggest vertical of the year so far--a 2'3"ish vertical.

We even took a break to video Diva having the best round of her life so far. Then we went out and put a fun course together and it was awesome.

Looking forward
There's no reason to struggle to keep it together when the whole ride is just smiles and fun. Courage is really stepping it up and together we're making progress.

And yeah, I'm totally day dreaming about that hunter derby at the end of the summer again. 3' derby course... Can we be ready in time?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Getting Back On My Horse

The color in a washed out world
For non-blogging reasons, the last week has just been a series of increasingly worse crises. Courage has been on break due to the farrier/teeth/ongoing personal shit I'm in the middle of. Yesterday, the stars finally aligned and I got him out. I stuck him on the lunge line and while wild, the little man was oh-so-fancy.

And then I rode him. Not hard--we just did some walk/trot transitions and leg yielding/shoulder fore exercises. I could definitely feel a difference--he was so much steadier in the contact and more willing to work through his whole body.

He is the best at cheering me up
I toodled around and cleaned my tack. For a whole two hours, the world was just me and him and everything was ok.

So yeah. A lot of things suck right now and I'm really inordinately sad about all the fun things I'm missing out on, but at the end of the day, I'm here to enjoy my horse.

And I can still do that.
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