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.