Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Goal: mutual enjoyment

I've got a lesson tonight, and I have a twinge of anxiety in my stomach. Maybe because its my first lesson following the "mixed" (a polite term for "frustrating") cross country school at Galway Downs (you can read about it here). Maybe its because KM will be there and we're all going to have a chat about some changes that are coming up. Maybe its because I'm feeling helpless and emotional about my stalled progress with Spirit. Maybe I'm just freaking out because I'm getting married and have a gajillion things to do, and sometimes your brain just takes the stress from one area of your life and somehow transforms it on to another area.

Regardless of the cause, my approach to dealing with the anxiety is to have a clear, straightforward (and hopefully very achievable) goal for the evening. Focus is key for me to feel empowered rather than overwhelmed. My goal is to have a good time, and to do my best to ensure Spirit has a good time too. I hope to achieve this by:

  1. Being calm and relaxed. No matter what. On the ground and on her back.
  2. Lots of treats and praise. For Spirit. No treats for me - I've got a white dress to fit in to!
  3. Have my "mental reset button" charged and ready. If I get frustrated or emotional or negative in any way, I need to take a deep breath, unclench my muscles, and mentally reset.
  4. Smell the figurative roses. Actively remind myself that I'm there to have fun, and that riding is inherently fun, and that Spirit is a fun horse. Fun fun fun. Fun > anxiety. 
I've been reading more of Riding Logic - I'll post about that soon - but one quick point that stuck out to me yesterday is that the horse has to be relaxed before it can be willing. And the horse has to be willing before it can learn. Therefore let me add:

     5. Try to get Spirit relaxed and willing.

Send warm thoughts to us around 6:45 PCT this evening. Hope everyone has a fun evening. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Party Time

This past weekend Spirit got to kick back and relax under the loving care of K.M. while I was out of town for an amazing bachelorette weekend in Las Vegas.  I had a great time, but of course missed the grey girl. Here's some video of her playing around I took after getting back. She was having a sassy day! 

Good, bad, or indifferent - the coming month of March is going to be basically a write off for Spirit and I in terms of any real effort to work on our issues. The first two weeks I'm getting ready for my wedding. I'll still be riding, but realistically not with the same level of zeal or attention as normal. Then I'm gone for two weeks enjoying the honeymoon vacation of a lifetime. I think that Spirit may enjoy a little break from the rigors of our normal schedule, though she'll be getting plenty of exercise from her loving support team. 

Just for fun, here's a picture from the Vegas weekend!  How often do you get to wear a plastic tiara and tulle veil?

Thursday, February 23, 2012


Time to step away from my own situation and spend a quick minute promoting an activity that benefits everyone: volunteering!

If you have not volunteered at a horse show or other event, make the time this year to do it. Not only is it a mitzvah (good deed) that will warm your heart, but it is a way to express your gratitude stronger than words could. Show organizers work very hard, and oftentimes have a thankless job, and depend on volunteer support to make everything go smoothly. 

If you've ever been to a show where you spotted a safety concern, logistical problem, or had other issues, let those experiences motivate you to volunteer: when you are helping out, you can make sure those don't happen! And if you've been to a show that was run really smoothly and every class was on time, let that also motivate you to volunteer: you can help pass that experience on to other riders!

I'm proud to have volunteered at Galway Downs and at Ram Tap. Galway Downs even provides you with gift certificates good for schoolings - a nice bonus!  You can learn a lot from volunteering - just keep your eyes and ears open and you'll be amazing what you learn about the sport, event management, and interesting tid-bits about other competitors and their horses!

In addition to my adventures on horseback, I am a proud member of the Young Leaders Society of Ventura County, which is an affiliated with the United Way. I feel that giving back to the community is something that everyone should commit to - it helps make the world a better place. Not to mention, its a great way to meet wonderful people and have fun! 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A little reflection...

Its amazing what happens when you take a little time to sit and think. I've been doing that a lot in the past few days, in light of the mixed schooling at Galway, and the mixed schooling at Meadows before that, and the mixed Ram Tap horse trials last year. Too many "mixed" experiences...this is my hobby that I do for fun. And in my opinion, Spirit (and all horses) deserve to have a life full of positive experiences.

A year ago, I would have called Spirit a willing, forward, brave mount. Today...I would not. She is an intelligent horse, who I think still does enjoy jumping, but over jumps that look inviting, preferably in a setting she's familiar with.

A year ago I would have said that Spirit loves to learn, enjoys having a job, and likes to please her rider. Today, I would not. Spirit likes to learn when there's treats involves. She likes having a job as long as it is easy for her to do - she does NOT like jobs such as carrying herself, keeping contact, being slow, or working on her hollow side. And I think that she likes to please her rider but not to the same extent she did before - now she sometimes just wants to please herself.

So what happened? And when?

For dressage, I would say its been noticeable in the last month. Before that, we would have the occasional extra challenging lesson, but by and large she was fine with it and open minded. We knew she didn't especially *like* dressage, but its only been in the last month or so that she has gotten fussy, with her evasion techniques compiling exponentially. Then there's the rearing problem. That's been around for maybe 5 months or so (while I am riding her, that is - she's been light up front in the crossties since before I met her). I feel like the rearing issue is well in hand, but perhaps I didn't see it for the huge red flag it may have been. She didn't want to go forward.          

My friend has mentioned that Spirit has slowly but surely changed ever since we started doing "real" dressage work over a year ago. And she thinks the reason is because Spirit was being forced to actually use herself and work hard, not just be asked to do something she already liked to do anyway. I still need to reflect on that a bit more. Maybe I'm being too short-sighted when looking at our past.

For jumping, we had our first refusal about 9 months ago, and then had another one here and there. At the time it wasn't especially concerning to my trainer (though I remember being shocked and concerned) - the consensus was that Spirit had "smartened up" about the job of the rider, and now needed me to better set her up for the jumps. She was expecting more out of me. Then they came more frequently, but only in cross country. For some of them I chalked it up to the jumps looking intimidating (fear), for some I believed it was rider error (in general I think that most horse problems are based on rider/handler error), but then for some refusals friends would mention that they thought Spirit was being bratty. No. Surely not. My lovely brave Spirit? Naughty? Never.

Based on our last schooling, there is simply no denying it anymore. For some of those jumps, she was naughty. There were some dirty stops that had nothing to do with rider error. Ouch. For some reason it is hard to say. I'm so much more comfortable pointing the finger at myself.

So now what?

First and foremost, Spirit needs to be happy. She can't be expected to learn if she is not enjoying it. I need to figure out how to make the work feel more like a game and less like work. I've been ruminating on some ideas, but please give me suggestions if you have them.

Next, I need to ride other horses. My confidence is slipping, which isn't going to do Spirit or myself any good. I need to reinforce what I know by hopefully being successful on horses that have more training that Spirit.

Lastly, I need to relax more when I ride. I need mentally be calm and serene and have a sense of humor even when she is being you-know-what. I need to let it roll off my back, take it as it comes, and just make the most out of it.

I do think that Spirit is a great horse with lots of potential. I hope I can get her to enjoy this sport a bit more, since I am absolutely hooked. I'll try talking to her about it tonight when I go turn her out. Maybe she can pull a Mr. Ed and tell me what she thinks about all this! Hey, miracles happen.

On a lighter note, here's a funny horse video. I'm going to watch it so it can cheer me up a little.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Galway Downs School (.)

The period is because it happened. We did not end up clinic-ing with Jil Walton, but to be honest my preference was do to a regular schooling with my trainer, so that worked out great. The morning started off on a bit of a stressful note due to a detour to find a Kinkos open early on a Sunday...anyway, we still got down to Temecula in good time so it worked out fine.

There were 5 of us riding total: 4 at the Novice/BN level, and one at Training/Prelim. Its always fun to have a group schooling together - team spirit and all that. Plus I love watching the others go, especially seeing my trainer in action on her green horse. I learn a lot by watching her school her horse.

From Left to Right: Wendy and Waters, Jessica and Storm, Myself and Spirit, Laurie and Elton, and Ashley and Brodie. Two quarter horses, two thoroughbreds, and one paint.  And yes, my bell boots are pink. 

Well, our schooling it went. My optimistic personality pressures me to look on the bright side and say it went well. More honestly, though, it did not. Perhaps a positive/negative chart will help me more honestly describe it:


  • It was a beautiful day.
  • I didn't fall off.
  • We did eventually get over every jump we wanted to.
  • We did great with water.
  • Our down banks were not awkward leaps. 
  • We did a coffin complex.
  • My ability to school Spirit after refusals regarding straightness is improving.


  • We had lots of refusals. Lots.
  • Spirit felt heavy the entire time. 
  • It was obvious that Spirit was not going to help out at all. If I wasn't riding 100% perfect, she simply wasn't going to jump. 
  • Some of the refusals were dirty stops, and I had to reprimand Spirit harshly. It bothers me that she wasn't a willing mount, and it was uncomfortable to punish her. 
  • I don't know if Spirit enjoyed herself. I got mixed vibes from her.
  • I don't know if I enjoyed myself. I do think I learned a lot and hopefully am a step closer to being a better rider, but emotionally it was hard for me to feel like such a failure. 
  • I feel like I disappointed my trainer, and I got the impression that the other riders were resentful that I was taking up the vast majority of Laurie's attention and feedback. I like them all a lot, so I feel bad for negatively impacting their experiences. 
So, there it is. One of the other riders' moms took video, and I should get a link within a week or so hopefully. But there were lots of riders and I'm sure most of the footage of Spirit and I are wince-worthy, so we'll see. 

But on to a more fun and happy topic, CONGRATULATIONS to Nicku and Pongo of  The Polka Dot Periodical for a fabulous Ram Tap show!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Galway Downs Clinic/School (?)

The question mark signifies my hesitation to write about an upcoming event that isn't fully official yet. I feel like 80% of my horsie events this year have gotten cancelled, so I'm afraid to get excited about them. But here goes anyway. We are going to ride with Jil Walton on Sunday at Galway Downs. Yeah, the Olympian, Jil Walton we were going to clinic with in January.

I'm really excited to get another cross country school in so soon -  our recent xc schooling at the Meadows two weeks ago showed that we still have issues. Still. Gotta freaking get those taken care of ASAP. As Jessica reminded me the other day, why drop $1,000+ on an event if I can't even get through a $60 XC school clean? I dunno...but that's what I was doing last year. Its nice to have intelligent friends to inject healthy doses of rationalism into a crazy, eager-to-get-out-there horsey person mind. Yeah. Clean schooling before an event - really quite a brilliant notion.

So, time to meditate on the following: FORWARD. No stopping, dodging, rearing, getting run away with, etc. Just clean, SLOW, controlled, uphill movement to and over the fences.

I've got a dressage lesson tonight, a jump lesson tomorrow, then the schooling Sunday. Oh and somewhere in there I have to finish all the music and emcee planning for the wedding. =)  We're officially one month away from the big event.

Last but not least, I'm sending my warm thoughts and good luck vibes to Nicku and Pongo of The Polka Dot Periodical as they compete at the Ram Tap Horse Trials this weekend!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Video is worth a thousand words

Here is some video from our jumping lesson this past Saturday. Kathy did an AMAZING job using just my little iPhone camera.

Yeah, I have a lot of work to do. I need to take video more often though - such an important learning tool for what I need to work on!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Haunches In

Yesterday night's lesson was fantastic. After schoolings or shows Spirit is always a very good girl - willing to learn and be obedient, and last night we capitalized and learned something new: haunches in. This is where the front two legs stay on the track while the hind legs move inwards towards the center of the arena. The horse is bent correctly throughout. 

Jessica and Storm circling Laurie and her doggie Zen.
Pretty, fuzzy Spirit!
Spirit was supple and willing and we were able to get it both directions, walk and trot. It led to lovely, soft, uphill canter transitions. We also did some turn-on-the-forehands. This is where the horse's front legs stay in the same place while the rear legs move in a full half-circle so that the horse changes the direction its facing. We've practiced this occasionally in the past, though always on the rail of the arena to help Spirit keep her front legs in the same spot. Last night we did it away from the rails. Laurie laughed and described Spirit's rear legs as lifting super high and careful, like a Spanish walk!

Yes, it normally is this dark for our lessons. At least in winter time.

Also, I decided to try and flavor Spirit's bit this evening. She doesn't like her stainless steel bit half as much as her other one with copper in it, so I put a small dab of mint extract on the french link. She seemed to really like it - no chomping weirdness!

Mint extract.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

XC Schooling at The Meadows

This past weekend we packed up and headed down the road for a cross country schooling at The Meadows of Moorpark. The last time we had done any XC was at Ram Tap last fall, so I was really excited/anxious/nervous/ready to get out there and DO IT.

In sum, I would call it a good school. Spirit was relaxed, happy, but still provided me with ample opportunity to correct our stopping issue. The Meadows has done an amazing job of making their facility really inviting, and they even had some of their jumps decorated with plants and flowers like at a show. The freshly painted stadium rails are really eye-catching.

Photos scrupulously copied from The Meadows' Facebook Page. We jumped all these plus many more.

Imagine this one covered in plants. Because it was.

We started off over a few small stadium jumps, then did a little course with one XC fence thrown in (this cute little cabin!). Once we decided the horses weren't going to be crazy, we did some more ground-covering courses.

Spirit and I confirmed that our old bogey, down-banks, are no longer a bogey whatsoever for us! We did a down bank with zero hesitation and zero weirdness. We also did a ditch - she's always been good with those, if a little more exuberant than strictly necessary.

She halted a few times at some jumps, and I was really proud of myself that I did not turn her towards the direction she dodged out towards. However, Laurie taught me an even better school of basically side-passing when they refuse. It worked a lot better, though I feel that I need more opportunities to practice.

However, a new bad habit showed up - she ran away with me twice! It was a spook + bolt, but she got at least 2 strides of full-on gallop before I was able to bring her to a halt. I'll be keeping an eye out for any continued behavior. And laying the smack-down. Not acceptable.

The overall takeaway from the school is that I have to be very strict about speed. Fast speed = Spirit getting unbalanced. I need to hold the line at the pace that I want, no matter what gate it is.

Oh yeah, we jumped this.   :)

Meanwhile, please allow me to OFFICIALLY introduce Storm and Jessica.

Jessica and I have been friends for over 20 years. Horses brought us together - her parents were my saddleseat instructors starting when I was in 1st grade. Storm and Spirit are best friends via arranged marriage. They've been mentioned here and there in the blog, but it was time for a formal introduction.

Storm and Jess did FANTASTIC at their schooling. They do fantastic all the time, really. Storm is really game, straightforward, and has no particular issues. Sometimes he gets sassy, but I find it so cute! He's still learning the english ropes - his former profession was western pleasure. Jess is doing an amazing job turning him into a little eventer.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

If only horses could read...

Dear Spirit,

Our trainer Laurie had lots of praise for us during last night's lesson, and I agree that we are certainly coming along. You were very calm even when your friend Stormy had his bucking tantrums, and for that I am very proud of you and grateful. 

However, I would like to respectfully request a few behavior modifications for our future rides. Firstly, please respect my half-halts. You are simply not allowed to go faster than I say we can, and you are never allowed to run through my hand. I really hope your mouth hasn't been as sore as my palm muscles have been lately! Secondly, please carry yourself so that I don't have to - the muscles and ligaments in between my shoulder blades would appreciate it. Finally, please do these things for more than three strides at a time. Do them for, say, a half-hour at a time. Or even just 5 minutes. Honestly even just 15 strides would be a real treat. That would be great. 

Of course, I love you no matter how sassy you sometimes can be, and even though you think way too much - and those thoughts seem to be all about how to evade. I promise that I am trying to make things fun and relaxing for you. You're a beautiful and athletic mare, but you've got about 900 pounds on me, so I need your cooperation. Thanks.


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Case of the Missing Carabiners

Once upon a time, several months ago, I arrived at the barn very early on a Saturday morning (say 6 AM or thereabouts) to prepare for going on some sort of trailer adventure with Spirit. I found her outside of her stall, meandering down the aisle-way of the pipe corrals.
I didn't think much of it. Figured that the cleaning crew mistakenly forgot to latch her stall door. She was just helping to "clean up" the small bits of hay in the aisle. But just to be safe, I decided to purchase and use some carabiners to secure the stall door latch. And not just any carabiners - HOT PINK ones.
Several weeks later, I arrived at the barn to find that the carabiner on her stall door was missing. I figured it was removed by the cleaning crew, and accidentally pocketed instead of reattached to the door. No worries, I had bought a couple of them. I tied the second carabiner to the door using some twine, so that it couldn't accidentally got lost.  The next day, the twine had been eaten through. Oh well, it had been worth a shot, but I wasn't going to put up MORE twine for her to eat. The carabiner could just hang there on the latch.  

A month later, the carabiner went missing again. Surely someone must have removed it to enter the stall to clean, and forgot to re-latch. Not a big deal, I put another one on there. But then it happened again. And again. Every few weeks the carabiner goes missing. At some point I run out of pink carabiners, and I start to wonder why the carabiners aren't showing up somewhere. I mean, who needs a half-dozen neon colored carabiners? 

Last weekend, a fabulous barn mate tells me that she arrived early and found Spirit outside of her stall, wandering around the property. Spirit made a run for it and poor Cheri spent her precious horse-time chasing after my feisty mare. That did it. I decided to chain the carabiner to her stall door, and I talked to the barn owners that day. 

"Would you mind talking to your cleaning crew to make sure her stall gets latched? I've gone through several carabiners, and at this point I think Spirit does know how to get out of her stall when it isn't latched." 
"Sure, honey - will do." (They're fabulous barn owners).

A few days later, they show me this:
Broken. Carabiner.
And you-know-who was responsible.  
 (Devilish eyes due to poor lighting conditions - but it is apropro for the topic, don't you think?)

Here is our new solution. Let's see how long this lasts. Our next strategy is to chain around the door post to the stall post.

Note to self - approaching the owners was the best move I made. I should have done it sooner. The cleaning crew knew that Spirit was breaking the carabiners, but apparently didn't mention it to the barn owners - instead just leaving her stall unsecured. If I hadn't asked the owners to talk to their crew, who knows how long this cycle of missing carabiners would have gone on for?