Monday, December 19, 2011

Lovely trail ride

Yesterday was a perfect day for a trail ride. The ponies got turned out, then ridden in the arena to make sure they weren't going to be crazy. Spirit was an absolute doll. Don't we live in an amazing area? My heart flutters when I see *green grass* =)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Winter Night Frolick

 It was freezing cold yesterday. We just weren't going to ride - there was no denying it. But there was also no denying that Spirit and Storm needed to get out and stretch their legs. So they got a turnout together in the large upper arena and got to spend some time running, bucking, frolicking, rolling, and cuddling.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Winter = Equitation

Spirit and I have been working hard since coming home from the show. Our lesson schedule has gotten a bit screwed up by the rains, but we're doing fairly good considering, and we are still making progress. The last few lessons in particular have been focusing on me as a rider, rather than on Spirit. My position is improving, and I do feel that I am getting stronger. 

Yesterday we had a fantastic jump lesson, and since we had sunshine and warmth for the first time in a while, I decided to give Spirit a nice soapy bath scrubdown. Of course, even though I put her away with a flake of hay while I went to get some supplies, she took a 30 second break from munching to roll in the shavings. Nice. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Ram Tap HT (belated)

Well, I get an F- for blog technical skills while at a show. I tried blogging from my phone and iPad, but not only did my posts not get published - the drafts aren't even saved! It was pretty disheartening. Next time I will have to figure out a better solution.

Show Recap

Day 0 - Trailer, Set Up, and Practice Ride
The long drive up was pretty uneventful. We had loaded the trailer the night before so the morning was pretty easy going. It was just Spirit and Storm heading up for the show, so it was pretty tight and well organized. Once we got up, we got the horses settled and started unloading. Then the door to the trailer's tack room fell off! Somehow the screws came undone during the trail ride! Luckily it happened after we'd parked and got settled, and a quick drive to a hardware store and some man-power took care of it lickety split. Meanwhile we got the horses out to stretch their legs. Spirit and Storm were absolutely PERFECT for their practice ride. Super show horses who knew they were fancy pantsy.  :)

Ram Tap Power Towers
Excited show horse!
Day 1 - Dressage and Stadium
"Do you want to lunge her, Sarah?" Laurie asks me.
"No, she was great yesterday and she doesn't feel fresh at all."
Famous last words.
The warm up was a little...uh...reary. Spirit really felt that we should go UP instead of FORWARD. Hindsight is 20/20, and of course now I see that the first time she got light in front I should have kicked her @$$. Unfortunately, my immediate response was to take her away from the small kids who were warming up next to me (when you're in BN, you're always surrounded by young people). I think that if I had made a stink the first time, there wouldn't have been a second, third, and fourth attempt for her to rear.  Suffice to say that my dressage test was a success because we got through it with no rearing. Well, no, it was actually not bad at all. It wasn't as great as it *could* have been, if Spirit was actually relaxed and willing, and if I was more relaxed too. But we stayed on course and ultimately tied for 12th (out of 17).

Peaceful morning of braiding
Such a lovely mare
Spirit's sister, Ella, doing dressage
A few hours later, Laurie advises me to lunge Spirit before stadium. Somehow she still had plenty of energy to buck out, so I'm glad I did. I'll be honest - I was pretty nervous for stadium. But our warm up went great and I am happy to report that it was a successful round. We made it over the first fence (WOOHOO), got a square refusal at the second, with a clean second approach, and then made it through the rest just fine. We got plenty of penalty points (4 jump + 19 time), but I was glowing after my round, and not just with sweat - with PRIDE. It felt a little fast and a tad disorganized and a bit "git-R-done" in general, but we got through it.

Sleepy Spirit

Thirsty Spirit
 I love having a horse that is calm at shows - she eats and drinks and sleeps just fine away from home.

Day 2 - Cross Country
After a successful stadium round, I was feeling better about XC. I wouldn't say I was feeling confident, per se; optimistic/hopeful is a better description. I lunged even though I probably didn't need to. Half of me knew that it was for my own peace of mind. But tough-toodles - the rider's peace of mind is worth a lot before XC. Warm up was great. Spirit seemed willing and excited. But then her best friend Storm left to go to the start box. That made her a little nervous nilly. Then it was our turn. She was a pro at the box - a little nervous. The kind steward reminded me to breathe. We left the start box, up the hill to our first jump..and we get a stop. Smack, circle, and another refusal. Smack, circle the other direction, and we get over it. 1 jump down, 2 refusals already racked up. We make it over jump #2, then #3...  it feels like we're going too fast, that we're too disorganized, that I'm using 100% of my strength to pull us together just in the nick of time for each jump. We make it into the water with no problem, and somehow I realize we're already over halfway through the course. Jump #16 we get another refusal. #3. Smack, circle, reapproach - and refusal again. #4. The end. But I don't care. I smack her, and circle again, and damn it we get over that darn little chevron!!! The jump judge at the next jump flags me down (just 2 left to finish the course!), so I have to do the walk of eliminated shame. in that moment I feel pretty defeated. I feel like I let Spirit's owners down, and that I failed my goal when I was so close. But we got through 16 of 18. Farther than ever before.
A few nights later, I had my first detail dream. I'd never had this kind of dream before - where you re-live your life in incredible detail. I had it of our XC course. After re-living the course again, I came to the realization that it actually went quite well. I was a supportive rider and Spirit did her job too.

Watching the Prelim XC - with awesome fanny pack!

All in all, I did not achieve my goal for the HT; however, I did get farther than ever before and at the end of the day I feel that it was a positive, fun experience.

Psyching Up!

(Pre-Ram Tap post....don't know why it didn't go up!...Here it is now)

Seriously, if my stirrup leather hadn't broke at the June Shepherd Ranch HT, I feel pretty certain that I would have made it through XC. And if I had the normal rules for stadium rather than one-refusal-and-you're-out, I would have made it through that too. So why am I nervous about not being able to get through the darn competition?!?!? Sheesh, self - get with it!

I've been trying to visualize success and get myself mentally psyched up for a positive and productive weekend. This is a two-day event, so I'll have dressage Saturday morning, stadium Saturday afternoon, then cross-country on Sunday afternoon.

Mental buzzwords to meditate on for each section:
  • Calm
  • Uphill
  • Soft
  • Round
  • Fun

  • Forward
  • Slow
  • Rhythm 
  • Fun

Cross Country
  • Forward
  • Forward
  • Forward
  • Fun
I've been

...And We're Back...

Wow. Over a month since my last post. Well, that's embarrassing.

To be honest, all during my Ram Tap HT show I was updating posts and taking photos and making for some great blogging. All with the wonderful smartphone and tablet devices that separate modern society from slightly less modern society. Unfortunately, somehow none of it got posted, and none of it even got SAVED!!! It was pretty disheartening to loose all that effort. And I'll admit - it made me not bother with posting for a bit.

But I have exited the pity party and I'm back to the real world of Eventing in Color! I do this for fun (though sometimes I need to remind myself of that fact)!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Lovely ride in the mists

This evening I had a lovely ride on miss Spirit in the foggy mists after the sunset. It was cool and crisp, and both Spirit and I were calm and relaxed.

Prior to my ride, I did some pre-show chores; cleaning tack, clipping Spirit's whiskers, and sorting items into piles. The trailer has been washed, painted, even vacuumed! I'm so excited to use it.

We got our ride times - dressage is just about 11am Saturday with stadium in the afternoon and XC is at approximately 1pm Sunday.

Tomorrow I'll be packing my gear, grocery shopping and cooking, and reviewing my checklists. Then Thursday is our lesson and packing the trailer. Getting excited!

Friday, October 14, 2011

1 Week Until Ram Tap

The countdown begins. One week from today I will be loading up the trailer and driving on up to Fresno for the Ram Tap Horse Trials. I'm excited. I'm nervous. I'm resolved.

Time to revisit our goals. For this competition, I want to make it through each of the three phases without getting eliminated. I don't care if I come in last place - I just want to get a total score at the end. I know it doesn't sound like too lofty of a goal, but to be honest I am a bit nervous about achieving it! But I just gotta think positive and be a strong, supportive rider for Spirit.

Another goal is to have my "mental reset button" armed and ready and fully functional. "Manure" happens - its a fact of life - and it's pretty much guaranteed at shows. But the important thing is how you respond to it. I don't want to waste a single minute feeling negative, unproductive emotions or getting myself in a bad mental state. If things start to come apart on course, or if I'm stressed, or whatever may come up - I want to be able to not let it drag my attitude down and affect mine or Spirit's enjoyment. Gotta be able to press that mental reset button and move forward in a positive way.

I'm very happy that my best friend Jessica and her horse Storm (Spirit's best bud) will also be showing. We'll be competing against each other at the Beginner Novice division. I hope the schedule is such that we can watch each other, but ultimately we each have to do our own thing and manage our own schedules. Another gal from our barn, Wendy, will be competing also. She came to the last HT and she is a calm presence and a great rider.

This Week's To-Do List:

  • Practice perfect. Focus on Forward.
  • Clean tack.
  • Pack up my gear at home.
  • Pack up my gear at the barn.
  • Make checklists.
  • Bathe, clip, and trim Spirit
  • Go grocery shopping and prep food.

At this show, I plan on being 100% self sufficient and independent. While I greatly appreciated the help that others offered me at the last show, I realized later that I was kindof dependent on it. On my third day, no one was there to help me tack up or get ready, and I was not only way more stressed out, but I was late to the warm up ring. This time, I'm going to plan my days as if I am doing everything 100% on my own, and therefore if people help me out - great - but if not, I'll be fine too.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Goodbye, Gogo

One of the human-horse teams that inspired me to start blogging and which has captured my brain and heart for many months now has suffered the horrible tragedy of losing their best friend. My heart goes out to you, Andrea - you took amazing care of Gogo and she is waiting for you across the rainbow bridge. <3

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Dreamy Dressage

My last few dressage lessons have been absolutely dreamy. Constant contact has now finally been established, leading to overall on-the-bit-ness success and a new level of subtlety. This past Saturday in particular I ran through my dressage test for the first time (2010 Beg Nov Test A). I like the pattern, and we did pretty well.

Note to self, though: if you think your horse is going to be frisky because she wasn't able to get out as much as normal due to random rain, bring weapons! For whatever reason, I thought to myself "I don't need spurs or a whip today because she'll be so bright" - well, I needed those tools precisely because she was bright. Uh, hello, silly! Won't forget next time. We did have our first rear in a few weeks - I quickly kicked her forward and onward. But for sure I wish I could have done more ass kicking than I did.

This is the short dressage court measuring 20'x40'.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Rain. Boo.

This past Wednesday I was planning on doing a dressage ride, in anticipation for my dressage lesson on Thursday. Alas, we got a freak 2 to 3" of rain. Arenas were closed. So I ended up cleaning tack, plumping up Spirit with extra pellets, then getting some cheap chicken wings with friends afterwards.

Thursday the arenas had dried up pretty nicely, but we still decided to call off the lesson - don't want to ask too much of them when it's sloshy footing. "We need to baby them a little bit before shows" my trainer said. Love it. But I still needed to get Spirit out so it was time to longe.

She was antsy at the tie-rail. Rain and lack of exercise does that. I could tell that she was ready to kick up her heels. I made sure she had her boots on.

On the longe we started off with a nice long walking warm up. She kept looking at me and tossing her head; I kept a steady flow of sing-songy voice commands to keep the pace and settle her nerves. Then we moved into a nice slow trot. It was pretty darn funny - I could tell that she just wanted to buck and rear and play and run, but she understood that we needed to be calm. She would trot lightly around, then leap into the air and kick out a nice buck, but then immediately resume the light airy trot. She didn't run or slide - she had nice collected gaits with the occasional "woo" fun kick/buck. At one point she got fussy and reared up the highest I'd ever seen her go, so I immediately barked at her and forced her FORWARD. I've decided she is not allowed to rear ever. I guess maybe the possible exception is if she is turned out on her own.

She then waited very nicely while I helped my friend long her horse. I gave some preventative anti-thrush stuff (they make it in dry powder, nowadays!) and plenty of pellets. Gotta take advantage of reduced exercise to plump her up!

We're 2 weeks away from our horse trials, so this Saturday will be dressage test practice.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Galway Downs Schooling

This past Saturday we kicked off the month of October with a schooling down at Galway Downs in Temecula. Finally, finally, finally - a schooling that felt positive as well as productive!

From the moment I showed up at the barn, I really focused on being calm, focused, and happy - and making sure that Spirit felt that way too. I gave her lots of treats and pats. When we got to Galway, again I made sure she was happy - treats, pats, not rushing around like a crazy person. We headed out to the warm up ring and from the first trot I demanded that Spirit be slow, calm, listening. She caught on real quick, and it felt more like dressage than a jumping warm up.

Then it came time for our first fence. It was a solid log out in the field. We left the starting box at a trot, and I had her up and forward, and then she stopped. We were like 10 feet from the jump. She danced to the right, so I pulled her left. Wrong move - my trainer wanted to know why I was pulling her off the line. I thought that it was a refusal - turns out, it wasn't. I needed to kick her on forward and make her jump it. Rest assured, I won't make that mistake twice. We reapproached and jumped fine. We did it the other way too, and did fine. Then we did the next fence, and the next one after. After screwing up on the first approach, I finally "got it" - the feel of how it needs to be. Balanced and not rushed, but still very forward - the feeling of her pulling on the reins, eager for the jump. I need to tap and kick well ahead of time, then keep her together and not let her squirt out. Straight and FORWARD.

Spirit and I both really enjoyed ourselves. It was challenging but rewarding. And most importantly, we both had fun. Time to send in entries for the October 22-23 Ram Tap show.

Meanwhile, I had two barn-mates with me. Jessica and her horse Storm did fantastic - they were bouncy and light and soared over jumps, and they were very straight (something they've been working on). Ashley and Brodie were out-of-this-world fantastic. They are gearing up for the half-star in November, so they did mostly prelim stuff. I looked at the jumps and thought "Surely you aren't jumping that one, right? Oh, you are?! OMG" They did some corners that made my eyes bug out, and they jumped over the duck in the water. Love it!

This past Thursday, I had a dressage lesson and sealed the deal with being on the bit the whole time. =) And let me tell you, it is paying off ten-fold - I can actually fix all my problems now by simply by adding leg and giving a small little squeeze of the rein.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

El Sueno Schooling

This past Saturday we trailered down the road to El Sueno Equestrian Center, where Debbie Rosen has her evening barn. The facility was pretty quiet since most were away at Twin Rivers this weekend.

Well, to cut to the chase, the schooling was definitely a step in the right direction. I had been meditating for several days on riding demandingly (read: more aggressively than normal - remembering Laurie's words to "draw blood"). Imagine my surprise when Laurie tells me, before even the first jump, that I need to not override and to give Spirit the opportunity to jump because she *wants* to, because every horse should want to. This seems to be a 180 from our discussion after Ram Tap, but she is the trainer so of course I did what she said. We had a plan B in case of refusals and rearing.

We started off in the arena doing some stadium, and let Spirit trot jumps. Low-and-behold, she seemed much more game and willing! We did have some refusals, and the response was to immediately turn away from the direction she wanted to go towards, and RUN for a beat or two. The idea is that she has to go FORWARD. There was also to be a smack-down if she reared, and luckily there was not very much of that at all (due to the forward movement emphasis, I think). She got the concept pretty quick, and it translated okay out in the XC field.

So, I felt it was a good schooling. I think that both Spirit and I learned some things, so that is very good. However, in terms of performance (defined by getting over a jump the first time presented), I am not sure that I would say that we improved over the course of the schooling the way that we did at Ram Tap. This Saturday we are going to Galway Downs for a schooling, and that will be the final test before deciding to sign up for the Ram Tap October show.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Oh, so THATS the outside rein

Well, finally something clicked. I figured out the connection to the outside rein. And Spirit's figured it out too. We are both on the same page, and with enough consistency to know it.

I certainly used to *think* that I had contact on the outside rein, but now I realize I did only for chunks of time. Then I'd just give it without realizing. I'd put her on the outside reign in order to get her to bend, or to do transitions, or when half-halting. But behold - keeping her on the rein all the time makes all of those things so much smoother and faster and better quality! Not to mention all the "in between" of just going around in a balanced fashion, with impulsion that is compressed. And now we can WALK! No longer is it the gait of loose reins and lackadaisicalness - it is a true gait.

Ram Tap Schooling

So, last Saturday September 17th, we trucked up to Fresno for a cross country schooling (practice session) since the Horse Trials we had signed up for at The Meadows of Moorpark was cancelled  ='[  <-- sad face. I was pretty excited for the schooling, and was expecting it to go pretty well since our last schooling at the Meadows went so great.

Unfortunately, the day did not go so well. Spirit and I struggled at the schooling, I pissed off my amazing trainer, my best friend and I got into a tiff, I did not feel well during the drive back, and our trailer blew a tire, so we didn't get back to the barn until after dark. Yeah - not the best day.

In terms of mine and Spirit's performance, our schooling was all too similar to the one we had a Shepherd after the June HT. Approach jump, refusal, spanking, re-approach, jump fine, repeat. Repeat again. Repeat yet again. Why are we still repeating? Sheesh I can't believe we are still repeating! Damn it - repeat again! Plus Spirit added a few rears into the equation as well. Now, after some time we did get our act together and were able to do two mini-courses (6 to 9 jumps) without issue. We also did water, a ditch, and banks no problem.

The analysis is that when we got a refusal, I gave her a naggy little spanking rather than the world-is-coming-to-an-end whooping that I needed to. The root of that issue is my continual assumption that if she refuses, it is because of my bad riding, and therefore I'm not allowed to be upset at and/or punish Spirit severely. That just wouldn't be right. However, it turns out that even if I do everything correct as a rider, she could still refuse. What? What's that? A horse can be naughty?!?! Spirit is normally so good, I don't even really have that concept in my brain. But alas, she was just being naughty and I let her get away with it by not bringing the wrath of hell when she refused. So, for next time, I need to be offended if she stops. I need to be confident that I am riding correctly, and I need to bring the wrath if she refuses. Tools in my belt: forcing to jump from a halt, whip "to draw blood" as Laurie puts it, loose reigns to prevent rearing, galloping/forward motion as response to rearing.

As to the social issues of the day - I offended Laurie during the schooling and I feel bad about that. I love and respect her so it sucks that I pissed her off. Here's what happened: she told me to loosen a rein. I did, a few times, but she kept repeating it, so I dropped the rein from that hand. I guess the action came across more snotty than I meant it, because Laurie flat out told me that if I did that again, she'd drop me as a client. I won't ever do anything even remotely similar to dropping a rein again, no matter how many times she tells me to loosen it!  And as to the tiff with my best friend - as with all tiffs it sounds more stupid than it feels in the moment (it was about sitting in the front seat with our trainer for the ride home). She and I just didn't see eye to eye on what was fairest given everyone's opinions including my trainer's, and given my propensity for carsickness. But ultimately my friend got to sit where she wanted, my trainer got to have the discussion with me that she and I both wanted, and I didn't throw up on anyone (by the way - TWO different gas stations didn't stock ginger ale! I had to have an assortment of other clear sodas instead - but really? Really? No ginger ale? For shame).

Then the fun really started.
15 miles north of Bakersfield we blew a tire. My trainer was cool as a cucumber as she immediately pulled out her AAA card. Luckily the trailer had a spare tire and an awesome metal ramp (yellow thing in the picture), so we didn't have to unload the horses on the side of the road to change a tire - we just had to roll up on the ramp.

Anyways, so we got back to the barn well after dark and well after dinner time. Luckily I packed a huge lunch, but I had to eat it very very slowly since my tummy was not doing great. I did not feel successful at the schooling, and social tensions really have a significant emotional and physical effect on me. I woke up the next morning feeling like crap, and it took a while before it went away. Oh well. Not every day is going to be a great day - just gotta brush yourself off and keep going. We've got two more schoolings coming up before entries for Ram Tap October HT are due.

Friday, September 16, 2011


"Sisters...Sisters...There were never such devoted sisters..." Aaah I love a good nostalgic song from a classic movie. But I digress. Allow me to introduce Spirit's new BFF - her half-sister Ella!
Oh wait, my bad, that is the PIE that her loving mommy baked for her to welcome her to Rancho following a very long trailer trip. 

Ahh, sweet Ella. She is one year older than Spirit, and they share the same sire, Tribal King. Here's daddy-o:

Ain't he handsome? Yeah, well Ella and Spirit lived at the same barn for a while, but they didn't live near each other and I don't think they even interacted with each other. Then Ella moved out of the barn, then moved across the country to where it is lush and green! 

This is Ella's favorite position. It alludes to the degree of *spoiled* that she is. =) And this horse honestly doesn't know how good her life is. I love it - that's how horses should live. 

Well, Ella is now back in California and living in the stall across from Spirit. They are total girlfriends now - they snicker for each other when they leave, really enjoy getting turned out next to each other, etc. 

What is amazing for me to see is how athletic Ella is. She is a breeding stock Paint, but looks like a warmblood. She carries herself so nicely and moves like a pro. She jumps like a dream. She's just a sweet, sensitive, lovely mare.  Not to mention she loves to cuddle. It shows me what Spirit's potential is, and inspires me to ask more of Spirit so she can get to that place as well. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Product Reviews from a Cheapskate

I am a penny-pincher. A cheapskate. A tightwad. I'm stingy. Frugal. You get the drift.

So now that you know my viewpoint, you can rest assured that when I discuss products, it will be with the pocketbook in mind. Please note that I do not receive any compensation -- monetary or in-kind/product/demo -- for these reviews. However, if you own or distribute any products, I'm willing to change that policy. ;)  Also, if you have a product that you think I would like, I welcome your suggestion (preferably along with a free sample). Just kidding. Sorta.

#1. Tipperary Eventer Vest
Official Product Link: Phoenix Performance Products
Typical On-Line Retailer Price: $230 plus shipping
Price I Paid: $200 (including custom color laces - pink) - at Calabasas Saddlery, during a sale, 2009
Overall Impression: One of the best purchases I made.

There aren't a ton of options for safety vests, and the price gap between competing products is fairly narrow (~$40). This vest is on the more expensive side of that spectrum, but it more than makes up for it with comfort. The alternative styles offered by Intec or Charles Owen feel more like the hot orange life/flotation vests you put on in boats - thick, hard. This Tipperary eventer vest contours to the body and has laces up both sides for adjustability. It doesn't get in the way of your arms, whereas other vests have velcro, snaps, or extra padding in that area. I borrowed this model vest from my trainer for my first derby, and I decided to buy the exact same model once I realized I'd be sticking to the sport.
As an aside: I love that eventing has mandated safety gear for riders - it is something that attracted me to the sport as an adult amateur.

#2. Troxel "Spirit" Helmet
Official Product Link: Troxel Helmets
Typical On-Line Retailer Price: $45 plus shipping
Price I Paid: $49 at Jedlicka's in Santa Barbara, 2009
Overall Impression: It works - its the cheapest helmet that still meets safety standards.

There are many brands and styles of helmets, and this one is widely available in tack stores as the economy model. Some stores carry cheaper ones - but watch out for those ones not being ASTM or SEI certified (American Society for Testing, and Safety Equipment Institute)! As far as helmets go, its not especially attractive; it is thick and round. The back of it looks like a bicycle helmet with the styrofoam. But it doesn't need to look pretty - it needs to fit well and to protect your skull. As to the fit, this model has a great feature: the sizing dial. Rotate clockwise to tighten, counterclockwise to loosen, in small increments. Very handy for lending to a friend, or if you're having a big hair day, or need to tuck your braid under your helmet, etc. In fact, I've decided that all future helmets I get must have the dial, because I've found that I need to adjust my size regularly to get a snug yet comfortable fit, especially at shows when I tuck my extremely thick hair under there. My friend has the pink colored helmet in this model and loves it.

POST-EDIT COMMENTS: I've changed my mind on two points. (1) A helmet may need to look attractive. A friend's dressage test had comments from a judge that her helmet looked unattractive and too big. Obviously that did not help her score. May not *technically* count against you, but turn-out does impact overall judge favorability. (2) I don't need the turn dial. It's nice, but I'd rather have a more snug (and therefore more attractive, theoretically) fit. Hair can just go below helmet it a bun or braid.

MORE POST-EDIT COMMENTS Jan 2013: I've changed my mind again. I do need the turn dial. And I need it to look attractive.  However, I found a product that has the feature and yet is comparable in pricing to the Troxel. Here it is:

#2-B. Ovation Deluxe Schooler Helmet
Official Product Link: OvationRiding
Typical Retailer Price: $55
Price I paid: That price or close enough at Calabasas Saddlery
Overall Impression: Everything I need at the right price, and looks better than the Troxel.

I tried a non-dial helmet and had it professionally fitted, but it simply was not comfortable. I decided to go back to a dial helmet and was happy to see that this one is only a few dollars more than the Troxel helmet, and looks so much nicer! I've been riding in it for some months and it is quite comfortable.

#3. Bitter Yuck
Official Product Link: NaturVet
Typical Retailer Price: $15
Overall Impression: It works. Do NOT use yourself as a lab rat to test this.

My friend purchased this because she thought a neighbor horse was chewing her horse's tail. I was very skeptical of the product: it looks like water and the active ingredient is rosemary. "You got ripped off - this is just rosemary and water. I cook with rosemary - this isn't going to do anything." Famous last words. I took a small taste and instantly was fighting the urge to vomit. For a full half-hour. It was horrible.
As to its effectiveness as a chew deterrent for tails, walls, etc, unfortunately I cannot comment. I don't know if it wears off quickly or if horses are as sensitive to it as I apparently am. However, if I ever have a problem with horse chewing, you can bet I'll be buying this product first. And put gloves on my hands and a mask on my face.

#4. SSG Technical Riding Gloves
Official Product Link:
Typical On-Line Retailer Price: $22 plus shipping
Price I Paid: $10 ($25 less $15 coupon) at Calabasas Saddlery
Overall Impression: Comfortable gloves - their stretchy-ness makes them durable.

Slowly but surely I've been moving away from the el cheapo $6 gloves. I'm now up to these guys and let me tell you - so worth the extra money! They are super comfortable, don't get wet AT ALL even on a hot day, and hold up very well to wear. I will buy these again in the future.

#5. Pleasantly Plump Cakes horse treats
Official Product Link: no website yet, but they have a Facebook page
Typical retailer price: unknown.
Price I paid: Won a Facebook contest, so no charge.
Overall Impression: Good cookie, but can't attest to value until I know pricing.

You can read my full review here but in short, its a chewy cookie with wholesome ingredients that can be halved easily without crumbling. I tried 'em myself and they're pretty darn good.

From Saddleseat to Eventing - Part 2

For a brief history and description of saddleseat riding and training, including controversial practices, click here for Part 1.

So, how did I go from saddleseat into eventing, you ask?  Well, I grew up doing saddleseat rather by chance. I wanted lessons as a kid, and the closest barn happened to teach saddleseat. After several years my parents finally and graciously bought me a horse, Welcome Challenge, barn name Bo. We were both about 12 years old at the time. He was the love of my life until his passing about 10 years later.

Around late 2008, I was ready to start getting back into saddleseat competition. Unfortunately, there were two problems. 1) There are not very many saddleseat trainers/barns around in Southern California.  2) They are all prohibitively expensive.

As my friend and I contemplated the dwindling west coast saddleseat industry (in my opinion, caused by the 2 aforementioned problems) over lunch one day, she mentioned that she'd like to try a new discipline: eventing. We tried it out for a bit, and I came to the realization that eventing was much more affordable and accessible than saddleseat. At that point in my life, I needed those two qualities above all others, so the switch was made to eventing. 

Now, besides the obvious differences of riding style and the horse's desired movements, what differentiates eventing from saddleseat? Quite a few things, actually.

Boarding Options
In eventing, I've found that there is a much wider array of boarding options than one finds at saddleseat barns. You'll find eventing horses in stalls of all sizes, pipe corrals, paddocks, and even pastures, whereas at most saddleseat barns the competition horses are found in box stalls.  Also, in saddleseat barns there is normally at least one full-time groom who readies the horses for rides and keeps them clean. Certainly some eventing barns have this as well, but lots of eventing barns embrace a do-it-yourself approach for the rider to ready their own horses.

Lesson & Training Ride Length
Lessons in saddleseat are 30 minutes. Including warm up.
Lessons in eventing are 45 minutes to 1 hour. Not including warm up.
Of course, these are generalized, for private lessons. Training rides in each discipline tend to be shorter.

Eventing clearly focuses on horses and riders who can perform in 3 recognized disciplines - they need to be able to perform in all parts of the event, and the score is based on all 3 performances. This allows eventers to go to hunter/jumper and dressage competitions and do well.  However, at saddleseat competitions, each class stands alone (with the half-exception of qualifying for championship classes at a given show).  You can enter one class, your horse has a melt down and you're eliminated, and you can go back in the ring in the next class and get first place. In saddleseat, most clients are taught to ride and drive horses, so that can be considered well-roundedness for the rider. Once upon a time, there used to be a horse of the year competition where saddlebreds would have to not only do saddleseat but perform in other disciplines as well, including dressage and jumping. Alas, that is no longer so.

Trailer rates to competitions are presumably the same for the two disciplines, but I have found that saddleseat  competitions generally cost much more than eventing. The lump sum price of an event entry is typically less than the sum of the class fees, drug fees, and other incidentals and fees added up at saddleseat shows. Plus, in eventing you're riding your horse considerably longer (as in, literally more minutes in the saddle, all told). Stabling at horse trials seems to have better rates than at saddleseat shows, though not by a huge degree. Trainers charge day fees in both disciplines, but in saddleseat you can guarantee grooming fees, expected gratuities for trainers and grooms, and other miscellaneous charges that add up. Again, there certainly is no do-it-yourself attitude in saddleseat competitions in terms of horse care the way that there is in eventing. And everything you the rider don't do, you'll be paying someone else nicely to do it.

Qualitative vs Quantitative Judging
In eventing, there are very clear rules that even children can understand. Eventing trainers have their clients read the rules (some suggest doing so before every event!) - they are universal for the entire country and they are pretty crystal clear. And, when you explain the rules to a spectator, they can quickly grasp the competition and understand when a rider is doing well or poorly. Poles are knocked down or left standing, the bell rings if you go off course in dressage. The competition is easy to follow.
For saddleseat, while there is a rulebook, the competition is judged by one judge (sometimes 2 or 3 for big shows). Even though they have to get certified, it is widely recognized that judges have personal preferences and can even be biased. In fact, this fact is used to console clients who don't place as high as they'd like. Some judges don't like colored horses, or prioritize high action over evenness of pace. This is why at big shows there is more than one judge - to eliminate the inherent discrepancies due to personal preferences and interpretation of criteria. Furthermore, while some saddleseat classes specify that scores are based on certain qualities (conformation, quality, presence, etc), it can be difficult to articulate these to newcomers. It is hard to quantify how high knees are lifted, how well the headset is carried - to lay people, lots of the horses look very similar to each other and they can't figure out why one did better than another.

Now, with all this being said, I want to say that I have a special place in my heart for the saddleseat discipline and the American Saddlebred breed. It truly saddens me that the show circuit is getting fewer and fewer participants each year. I wish there were more saddleseat barns around, that more people knew what it even is, and that it was simply more affordable and accessible than it presently is. There's nothing quite like the energy of spectators watching a 5-gaited stake class, shouting "yeah, boy!" and whistling. The rack and slow gait are fun to ride. And saddlebreds are very underutilized for their many qualities - intelligence, presence, beauty, stamina, and willingness. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

We are Hot

We are hot in every sense of the word. I got my hair done so I feel like a million bucks. And Spirit is just always gorgeous. But seriously it felt like an oven this past weekend, so our jumping lesson was short and sweet.

My warm-up consisted of half-arena of trot and canter each direction, because who's-kidding-who? we were well past warm even just tacking up! We did a lovely gymnastics grid which forced Spirit to think about her body and the jumps, and was great practice for me regaining control after a series of jumps going downhill. I could feel Spirit looking at the jumps and thinking about her feet, and it was really awesome. She was waiting and quiet, but really got up and over those jumps.

We sent in our entries for the Meadows of Moorpark Horse Trials September 17-18. I'm pretty darn excited! Already sorting tack and cleaning my boots...

Monday, August 22, 2011

Schooling success

Yesterday we ventured to the Meadows of Moorpark eventing facility for a schooling, and it was quite a wonderful afternoon adventure. Spirit started off a little full of herself - she did not want to stand quietly at the trailer and really felt that galloping was the appropriate warm-up gait. But after a stricter-than-normal warm-up followed by a few jumps, we settled into our groove and got down to business.

The Meadows had a nice selection of Beginner Novice and Novice fences for us to play over. We worked on successfully balancing while going downhill to a jump, spent quite a few minutes on mine and Spirit's bogey - down banks - and did quite well. We even threw in a nice sized ditch, some water, and a jump that is basically a huge box that you jump through with a Meadows sign at the top! We're so pro!

Spirit was fabulous (her new middle name) and seemed to not only enjoy herself immensely, but was very mature and had a down-to-business attitude. She stood quietly while we waiting for Storm and Jessica to take their turns, and she cracked her back over a few of the jumps. I had a few light bulb moments: slowing her feet down before the jump (we were getting a little scuttley), focusing on my positioning and letting her have her head for the down banks (talk about working on TRUST!), and really absorbing the feeling of having her up in front of me, but then still pushing her toward the jump.  All in all it was a fabulous schooling and I can't wait for the HT at the Meadows next month!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Aren't we fancy?

Yeah. So fancy. Spirit and I went to a fun, local ETI jumping show on Sunday, and we did pretty well. We were end-of-day champions in two divisions, and won lots of cool prizes including a saddle pad, Ariat backpak, and various grooming supplies and horse treats. Most importantly, we gained an unquantifiable amount of happiness, fun, and experience. :)  We had no refusals, no rails down, never went off course, and did really well in our first ever obedience classes. Plus, it was her first time going anywhere by herself - no trailer mates, and no buddies with her at the show.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

From Saddleseat to Eventing - Part 1

From day 1 in eventing, I have been very aware of my viewpoints, vernacular, and preferences and how they've been shaped by my upbringing in the discipline of saddleseat.

It's even been a point of humor between my friends and I:
"Won't chains on their front feet help them jump higher?" 
"Eventing horses can jump over giant ducks but are afraid of a little firecracker?" 
"Wow what a fantastic headset!"
I've learned enough by now to know how rediculous those sound to most eventing people.

For those who don't know that much about saddleseat, please allow me to give you a brief introduction. I'm not an expert by any means, but I can get you the overall picture.

The saddleseat riding style evolved alongside the breeding of the American Saddlebred in the America's old southern plantations in the early 1800s. Horses were expected to work all day in the fields, but also be nice enough to pull the family carriage to church on Sunday. The smooth slow gait and faster rack was developed at this time (man-made gaits, the difference between the two of these is just speed) to have a comfortable ride while still covering plenty of ground.

Today, the saddleseat style of riding is mostly associated with the following breeds: Saddlebreds, Arabians, Morgans, Hackneys, National Show Horses (Saddlebred X Arab), Fresians, Georgian Grandes (Saddlebred X Draft), and the occasional Icelandic.

In terms of forms and functions of this style of riding, it truly is quite different from eventing. Here's some main differences:

  • High action of the horse's legs are desirable, both front and rear. Horses are expected to at least trot "level", meaning their knees raise high enough to draw a line parallel to the ground from the knee to the shoulder.  
  • Head sets are expected of the horse. Head should be high, neck should be rounded, nose tucked in, but not behind the vertical. 
  • Positioning of the rider is as follows: knees close to the saddle, heels down and away from the saddle, posting in an upward (rather than forward) motion, elbows bent and slightly in front of the body, wrists slightly higher than elbow level, head up and chin up, straight back. 
  • For the show ring, the rider's attire consists of jodhpurs pants, short boots, coat, vest, gloves, and derby (hat). Hair for ladies is done as a bun below the derby. 
  • Judging of saddleseat is similar to all flat classes - the horses that best demonstrate the desired qualities win.
Now, it has been many years since I've done any saddleseat equitation, but this photo of myself showing my friend's lovely mare in 2009 can give you the general idea:

Now, no discussion of saddleseat would be complete without a touch on the controversial training methods. I'm only familiar with them in the Saddlebred show world, not in the other breeds' saddleseat worlds. 

Firstly, there's the long hooves. If you look at the picture of Ladybug, you'll notice her feet are just a tad longer than was we see most of the time in eventing. However, hers were the shortest feet in the class by far. It has become standard practice to have hooves that are several inches (yes, inches) longer than what eventers would consider a proper length. Plates and pads are often added. This helps the horse achieve the higher knee action.

Secondly, there's their tails. Many saddlebreds and some other breeds or crosses have their tails docked for aesthetic purposes. The tendons are snipped, the tail is bent over, put in a tail set, and then they grow back holding the tail in the bent over position. Though now technically disallowed at ASB shows, some people still "ginger" the horse's tail as well. This is rubbing ginger paste under the horse's tail - it is irritating to the horse, so they hold their tails up higher due to the discomfort, and they also act more lively. 

Thirdly, there's the use of firecrackers, fire extinguishers, plastic bags on the ends of longe whips, and other devices used to get the horse riled up. The desired result is better action and a more excited, hotter horse. This is not used at shows - only during training. 

Fourthly, some put chains or rubber stretchies on the horse's feet, to help achieve higher action. This is only used in training - it is not allowed at shows. 

Now, it should go without saying, but I feel the need to state that not all trainers employ these methods, and the trainers who do, use them to varying degrees and with different methods. Each person can decide for themselves the methods they feel are okay to use in the training of their horses. 

Well, it's been a lengthy post. Next time I'll give you a little more insight as to my switch from saddleseat to eventing, and maybe some side-by-side discipline comparison commentary. Fun!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Another lovely ride

I was out of town for a few days - I flew back east for a wedding (111 degrees + killer humidity = I LOVE California!). Spirit got turned out, put on the hot walker, and all sort of treats and loving from her adoring care team.

She hadn't been ridden in a week, but she was a perfect lady for me last night and we had a super fun jumping lesson.  We had good rhythm and balance, and managed to get over a one-stride double jump that I had measured completely wrong (making it 1.5 strides - sorry girl!). We did some jumps doing a fast canter/gallop, and that was a nice challenge. We've decided that Spirit's new middle name is "Fabulous". Spirit Fabulous. Has a nice ring to it.

After the lesson she got her shoes done, and we mapped out the rest of the competition season. Here it is, but I've also updated the Schedule and Goals page.

Sunday August 14th - ETI Show in Simi Valley (Laurie can't be there - she's gonna be at Woodside with some of her other clients). This is just a low-key exercise for Spirit and I to work on (A) jumping over new jumps, first time presented, (B) demonstrate good rhythm and balance even in a new setting [I'm pretty sure hunters classes values this], and (C) have fun. Well, having fun is really #1. You know what I mean.

Sunday August 28 - Camelot H/J Show in Newhall. Another fun little show to build confidence and demonstrate our ability to perform on demand. Laurie's other client(s) will also attend, so it will be a fun barn day.

Sat & Sun September 17 and 18 - Meadows of Moorpark Horse Trials. It's close, it's affordable, and it will be a good preparation show for my next HT.

Sat & Sun October 22 - 23 - Ram Tap Horse Trials in Fresno. Likely my last show of the season.

April 2012 - Twin Rivers HT in Paso Robles. =)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Another dressage day

Isn't she gorgeous? Miss Spirit was a little saucy for our dressage lesson this evening, but we still managed to make some great progress on our connection with the outside rein and our up transitions to the canter.

Monday, July 25, 2011

St. Jude Charity Trail Ride

This past Saturday Spirit and I had the pleasure of riding in the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital charity trail ride put together by the Greater LA Paint Horse Club and very kindly hosted by R&R Ranch in Moorpark, CA.

If you're interested in learning more about St. Jude, click here.

It was a very special day, for a few reasons.

Firstly, Spirit got to meet her dam for the first time after getting weaned. Kathy and Bob, Spirit's owners, came and rode their horses, Lucy (Spirit's dam) and Bud. We made sure Lucy and Spirit wore matching colors, and of course we took photos of mamma and daughter. A part of me wanted Lucy and Spirit to be instantly friends. I didn't expect them to know that they were related, but I guess I was hoping they'd have some inexplicable (to them) connection of souls. They didn't. They treated each other as they would any other horse - Lucy was clingy to her best friend Bud, and Spirit was just friendly with everybody. Oh well, we humans knew and got a kick out of it.
Lucy on the left, Spirit on the right

Spirit on the left, Lucy on the right

Secondly, it was the first time the six of us went out as a horsey family: Kathy on Lucy, Bob on Bud, and myself on Spirit - all together and having fun. It was really nice to hang out together. The trail ride itself was very nice. It was a hot day but with a refreshing breeze wafting up smells of dust and sage and wildflowers. The horses all loaded well, stood tied to the trailer in the hot sun very nicely, drank water when presented to them, and overall just behaved like solid troopers. Meanwhile us three humans got to hang out and have some great conversation, good BBQ, and a fun raffle for charity (Kathy had the audaciously good luck to win practically half the raffle prizes! And was kind to share some of her winnings with me).

Thirdly, this was our first time trailering out for an event that wasn't a competition (or emergency evacuation) and Spirit just blew me away with her behavior. In a good way. Again. I didn't have any particular expectations about her behavior, and certainly no concerns; I took it for granted that she'd be fine. And yet she wowed me. She was perfect loading. Perfect standing next to the trailer (sans hay bag) for getting tacked up. Perfect meeting all sorts of strange horses and new humans. She was incredible on the trail. There was a part at the beginning and end of the trail that involved fairly steep slopes filled with rocks, on a narrow path on the side of a hill. I told Spirit I wanted her to carry herself up and stay at a walk rather than able up and down the hill - this forced her to use her hind end and be a careful mount. She did not put up one iota of resistance, though this was quite a lot of physical exertion to ask of her. During the flat parts (most of the ride), she was patient and listened well, wasn't spooky in the least even when we saw a coyote (okay, maybe she didn't notice it), she even dropped her head down and I felt her entire body just relax - somehow she knew that that was the point of the ride, and I think she really enjoyed herself. She was able to walk, trot, and canter on the trail very nicely. And she was neither herd-bound nor barn-sour, even when we made a U-turn on the trail. When we got back, she stood nicely, drank water whenever I presented it to her, was calm and easygoing when we explored the facility to find a washrack, and then stood nicely at the trailer while we humans went and had a BBQ. Simply put, she could not have been any more perfect. I am so blessed to have this wonderful, mature young horse!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Shepherd Photos

Jump 4. My right leather broke on the landing of this jump.

Right iron is now gone. I am deciding whether to continue or to stop.

Jump 5. Sans right iron. We had refused this at schooling, so I was sure to RIDE this one.
Jump 6. Love us soaring over this ditch. You can see my right boot hanging down where it shouldn't be. Isn't my horse awesome?

Bareback - round 2

I had another bareback halter ride on Spirit last night, and we both had a wonderful time. I still used the trusty polo wrap around her neck. We did a lot more trot work this time - I think it helps me with my dressage sitting trot since I need to soften my back and move more rhythmically with Spirit's motion. Of course, we did plenty of canter and worked on neck-reigning, slowing and speeding up and the canter (going on and getting off the forehand), and maintaining a slow, even trot for extended periods of time. Spirit likes to TROT, so we worked on trot. Its getting lovely.

I was surprised to find myself looking over at the jumps and daydream about taking a (very) small crossrail. The rational part of my brain says I need a few more than 2 bareback rides before I attempt it though. And maybe I should actually wear my helmet and safety vest. We trotted over poles and worked on side passes to get my mind off it.

I have a lesson on Thursday which I am looking forward to. I look forward to every lesson, actually. Such a nice feeling. :)  And this weekend we have the St. Jude's Trail Ride with our Paint Club. However, we still haven't gotten trailering 100% worked out so we'll see. We also have the option to school at Twin Rivers with my barn, but I already committed to St. Jude's so I don't know quite yet.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Perfect horse

I know that everyone in the world thinks that their horse is something special and perfect and no other could possibly compare. Well, in my case, its true! Spirit is just blowing me away, week after week.

Since my last post, we've been up to quite a bit. Firstly, we did a small hunter jumper show down in Newhall/Valencia area. We did a "blue/red schooling" class - in fact, we did it twice at two levels: 4 classes total. Even though it was a schooling class, it was judged (as a hunter class, I gather) and depending on if your score falls within the highest points level range, you get a blue ribbon, or the second highest points level range, a red ribbon. Or you can score below and get neither. I walked away with a red ribbon and felt rather pleased. Especially since we're not hunters. I don't really even know what the judging criterea area. In any case, we certainly did what we set out to do: jump boldly over new courses first time presented.

1'6" class
2'6" class

2'6" class

Additionally, we've done great at our lessons. I'm feeling more secure in my position, and Spirit is just as willing as can be. :) Love my perfect horse.