Monday, March 12, 2012

And on that note...

This past Saturday's lesson was my last one for the next several weeks, as I'm getting married on the 17th then going on a 2 week honeymoon! Yay! As far as last-lesson-for-a-while goes, I couldn't have asked for better.

Spirit and I had a productive and fun Saturday afternoon. She warmed up like a dream (I really do credit turning her out the evening before), and she was responsive yet energetic. We had a brief butt-kicking when she decided she'd rather spook at some chairs rather than respect my aids - it involved Laurie taking my whip and using it while I used both hands. LOL - good thing I have a trainer since I don't have 3 arms!

Anyway, we got over that hurdle and I felt better about the clarity of my aids. I was able to put into practice some of the concepts handsome Elton helped me work on: specifically, not asking for connection until she is moving forward and under herself, and trying to get real versus fake connection. Our upwards to canter were improved as well.

The jumping exercise Laurie set up was awesome: 3 jumps, "bounce" distance apart. Jump-Bounce-Bounce. =D We had lovely upward transitions that came from real impulsion rather than speed, and I really focused on my shoulder position especially when circling. She was very forward, so my arms were sore the next day! But all in all, I'm very pleased to end (for a little while) on that note.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Tall, Dark, and Handsome

Meet Elton. 

 I know, its hard to meet him in the dark. He normally isn't so ghostly, but I ride at night and pictures are tough. Let's try again.
Meet Elton.

Photo courtesy of Laurie Canty's Facebook album.
Elton is my trainer's horse. Laurie Canty knows how to pick 'em - this guy is tall (16-3), dark (all black), and very very handsome. He was my mount Wednesday night for a lesson over at Wind Walker Ranch in Somis. It was is his first time being worked at night, and I even had to take him away from his dinner, but he was a dreamboat.

We worked on the normal stuff: inside leg to outside hand, balance, and getting his back legs up under him rather than lagging out behind. It was really awesome to FEEL him change his body - with legs as long as his, the difference was quite noticeable. He was a very willing guy. My three main take-aways from the lesson:

1) Fake connection/headset.
Elton would sometimes toss his head up in the air to evade connection (like a certain grey mare I know..ahem). My first reaction was to hold tight on the outside rein and add leg. WRONG. This instantly achieved a lowered poll and curved neck, but also a strong no-no from Laurie. "Doesn't he feel very light in the connection right now? A little too light?" Well, uh, yes it did. Thank goodness she asked because I would have never even thought about that. Turns out he was faking it - more of a headset than actual connection. Light bulb moment. Need to really think about this with Spirit.

The solution is to add leg and get him really engaged BEFORE asking for connection. If I ask for connection and he head tosses, I had to *lighten* my hold, add leg, then ask again with a small squeeze. The difference was crystal clear once I got it.  Connection with Elton does NOT feel like it does with Spirit the vast majority of the time. Until now, I thought that getting a connection using inside leg and outside hand (as opposed to tug/jiggle the reins, left-right-left-right method) was real. Apparently not. Just because you use the right method doesn't mean you're getting the right results. PLUS I wasn't using the right method correctly. I was jumping the gun with my hand rather than really focusing on his hind end first.

2) Upward transitions to the canter.
Elton will not pick up the canter unless he is collected and under himself. The first few times I asked for it, I ended up with an ugly splayed-out trot. At that point on Spirit, she'd go straight into a (likely ugly, splayed-out) canter. Elton will not. He'll do extended trot all day long. But he wont go upward from it. This is why riding the trainer's horse is amazing - he literally forced me to ask for the upward transition correctly, from a collected but energetic trot with his hind legs well under him. He will not take it from any other position. Wow. Interestingly, with him you use INSIDE leg, and its a squeeze instead of a scrape. With a corresponding squeeze on the outside leg.

3) Impulsion/legs coming under/swinging.
Elton is leggy. And when his hind end comes under himself, I felt myself sitting about 2 inches higher than before. You could really tell when he was using himself and when he wasn't, which was nice. It's not as obvious as on Spirit. In fact, nothing is, except for her mood. Anyway, it was really good to FEEL the impulsion from the back end. I need to somehow create that with Spirit.

Elton was such fun. I do hope I can have some more lessons on him. We even hopped a small jump a few times, but maybe in a jumping saddle it would be easier. =)  I especially want to ride him, then immediately take a lesson on Spirit.  It was nice to confirm that I do know the aids, but also how I might not be applying them correctly.

By the way, only 8 days until my wedding! Yikes!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Horsie Time

After our challenging Galway school, I didn't ride Spirit for over a week. She got turned out 5 times instead. And I think that was a factor in her being a more willing mount for our following rides. Spirit simply likes having her own time to just chill out and be a horse. Maybe I wasn't giving her enough of that before, but for sure I'm going to make sure she gets plenty going forward. 

Yesterday evening I arrived at the barn to see a huge full moon, light enough to let us graze the luscious grass next to the road for a few minutes. 

Then Spirit got to play in the upper arena for a bit. She would trot around a bit, roll, munch on some nearby trees, walk about, then run around again and buck a little, then sniff over here and over there, munch again...

She likes to munch on the pepper trees. And she gets pepper breath. Eww.   Let me tell you, pepper breath can NOT get overpowered by carrots. I gave her like 5 huge handfuls and still she had pepper breath. And yes, I have heard that pepper trees are toxic to horses - but hopefully not in the quantities she can munch in her limited turnout time. If only I owned the horse facilities...there'd be NO toxic plants on the premises at all. Sigh.

Inspired by Karen's Whip Work and also some articles on stretching on the USEA website, I've been working on some ground games with Spirit. I stand next to her hip and have her bend her head and neck to me to get a treat, then walk around to her other hip and do that as well. We work on backing up, crossing rear legs in a pivot, and do longe whip desensitization too. Spirit thinks its great because she gets carrots. =) Win win. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Saddlebreds as Sport Horses

Having grown up showing American Saddlebreds in the discipline of saddleseat, my transition to eventing definitely has been an adjustment! (Part me is still sure that chains and bungees could benefit dressage and jumping...but I digress). Especially in southern California, I have been sad although not surprised by the utter lack of American Saddlebreds out in the eventing field. I haven't run across even one, though I've run into a few look-alikes and asked the owners if their horses are full or part saddlebred. They laugh at me and say they are thoroughbreds. Ha ha. 

I think that American Saddlebreds have many amazing qualities and could be very suitable in all the sport horse disciplines. There are several successful sporthorse Saddlebreds out there to prove it - Harry Callahan is the most well known, competing in Dressage at Grand Prix level. Unfortunately there aren't very many out in California, at least not that I've come across (and believe me, I'm always on the look out). 

Harry Callahan - the first American Saddlebred to grace the cover of USDF Connection  magazine.
I'd like to applaud a program that just completed its inaugural year - the American Saddlebred Registry's Sport Horse Incentive Program recognizing and rewarding full or half Saddlebred horses competing in the FEI disciplines (Distance, Dressage, Driving, Eventing, Hunter/Jumper, In-Hand). Congratulations to the first batch of winners, found here!  The only thing I dislike about the program is that it requires the horses to be registered, meaning that non-papered horses such as rescues are excluded. For example: Mikey, the rescue who went on to compete at some east coast HTs after recovering from serious neglect and malnutrition. 

Mikey at his first Horse Trials.
A special shout out to the only Eventer on the winner's list - Ms. Lisa Bauman on her full American Saddlebred named Arvo (Giving You The Business). I've watched videos of them on YouTube before, and I look forward to following her adventures at her blog, Austin Eventing, which she just recently started. Here's a link to their  Video Page as well. CONGRATS! Here's a video of them competing Training level:

Why do I think Saddlebreds are good sport horses? Well if the above photo and video evidence doesn't convince you (after all - that's only 3 horses representing an entire breed here), let me list the top 5 qualities of American Saddlebreds (yes, these are generalizations) that lend well to Eventing and other sport horse disciplines:
  1. Intelligence
  2. Eagerness to please
  3. Grace
  4. Upward build + neck extending up (not out) from chest
  5. Athleticism
So those are my reasons. There's exceptions of course, but most Saddlebreds I've met have these qualities. 

Another discussion I will have to save for a different day is a comparison of the off-the-track Thoroughbred (OTTB) programs against the currently non-existent off-the-saddleseat-show-circuit Saddlebred programs. Not to mention how Saddlebred breeding has been going in a certain direction in the last few decades - one that does not focus on sport horse suitability. This is strongly tied to the emerging cross breeding phenomenon: Georgian Grandes, National Show Horses, and the pretty recent Warmblood crossing. Pretty fascinating to the Cultural Anthropology researcher in me. =) 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Another willing ride

Its a lovely sunny Sunday, and even though I didn't get Spirit out as much as I'd have liked this week, Spirit proved to be a very willing girl.  =)

Our lesson today consisted of one jump element, which started as a series of ground poles, later turning into a jump surrounded by poles. We focused on straightness and balance. Later, I worked on changing the stride to influence feet placement (before versus after a placing pole). Spirit cracked her back many times and was very respectful of my half-halts, even when it was windy and there were all sorts of spookworthy noises and piles of jumps in the arena. I am very pleased and proud of her. 

The day was hot, so Spirit got a nice bath. Here's some pictures. I love her coloring when she's wet!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Moving On (UPDATED w/ Video!)

Our lesson last night was good. I think we reached our goal of Spirit and myself both having an enjoyable time. It was hard to be calm when she was rearing and got away from me while trying to longe. Then ran around the arena like a banshee with all my tack on. >.<  (I found humor when I was forced to yell "Loose Horse!" a la SmartPak's Stuff Riders Say videos. Here's a link:)

But we had ourselves under control by the time Laurie arrived and we proceeded to have a good, productive lesson. We worked on stretching at the walk, but not letting her jerk the reins from me. We worked on slowness at the trot and canter, and very clear half-halts. We did some leg yielding on the rail and down the centerline. All in all, a good lesson. On a scale of 1 to 10, Spirit's willingness was about an 8. Much improved from our last few rides.


In other news, we are moving boarding facilities! Laurie moved her training operation to a facility that is comparable in pricing, and has asked us to move our horses so that she doesn't have to drive out of her way just for 2 riders. Overall I am looking forward to this change - I love the community feeling and support of being part of a training barn, and I learn a lot by watching others ride. Its a little tough to leave fabulous Rancho Linda Mio, but sometimes that's just the way things go. Storm is moving today, and Spirit is moving sometime during my wedding or honeymoon. KM and Laurie are taking care of it, so I'm trying to just relax and go with the flow.