Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Galway Clinic Recap (lots of photos!)

The clinic at Galway Downs was fabulous. Unfortunately I got sick when I got back and have been down for several days. But I'm back to reasonable health, just in time to get my act together for our show this coming weekend.
I clinic'd with the fabulous Hawley Bennett-Awad, based out of Temecula and rider for the Canadian national team. She and her top horse, Gin & Juice, are a staple on the West Coast eventing scene.  

I longed Hemie several hours before our ride time, and he was quite spirited. It was a busy clinic with over a hundred participants, so it had the exciting vibe of a show. I was nervous that Hemie was going to have a meltdown with shenanigans, so I mentally prepared myself of dealing with him constructively. I also carefully selected my path from the barns to the cross country field and asked a barn-mate to walk near me in case I needed her to grab a rein and "pony" us down there. 

Hemie had a lot of nervous excitement but happily  we were able to deal with it without being ponied or having any shenanigans. I just sent him forward, maintained a zero tolerance for bulging shoulder, and focused on having quality gaits rather than quick steps. It did the trick, though I did have to circle him around at the trot or canter while most of the other horses stood quietly waiting for their turn.

This was my first clinic experience as a rider rather than spectator. Hawley had us do cross-country both days which was great; some other clinicians had their group doing stadium one of the days. There were about 7 riders in our group. I was expecting Hawley to ask each of us about our experience and goals and so forth - nope, she just had us get going out on course!

The jumps are in little clusters around the property. We started off doing one jump, then did a few in a row, and later on graduated to mini-courses of 5+ jumps. 

Hemie was awesome. As soon as we started jumping, his nervous energy morphed into happy excitement. He was totally game, and did not refuse a single jump!

Hawley focused on having me come to our jumps with more speed. Hemie is great at backing himself off of jumps, but apparently I allow him to get too short a stride. Hemie didn't seem to mind me insisting on a more forward canter - in fact I could tell he enjoyed it.  She also didn't want us to trot jumps or break into trot when going downhill. I hadn't insisted on cantering previously - I figured if he wanted more time to look at a jump before going over, that is fine with me.

Interestingly, for the first time ever, we activated racehorse mode! In other words, I got run away with!! Hawley had me come to a jump with more speed, and on the landing I came to find that I was not in control and we were careening away. I did what ever 6 year old is taught to do with their naughty pony - circle. It worked and I regained control, but Hawley jumped on me to not do that in the future, less a turn might cause him to trip. She said next time to just be patient and half-halt with outside rein while trying to avoid hitting people or jumps.

We did lots of different jumps throughout the property, including some I knew to be Novice questions. We did one jump - a large log that looks like a wine bottle on its side - which I had thought might be a Training jump. So I did what all eventing nerds do and looked up videos from their last HT. Turns out we did almost the entire Novice course, and did THREE training jumps!!!!

I had a wonderful fan club there to support me and I could tell by their grins that they were as proud of Hemie and me as I was. It was a wonderful weekend. At the end of the clinic each participant asked Hawley for general feedback and advise. When it was my turn, Hawley said simply "clearly he's the best horse of the group."  SQUEEE!!! Talk about a confidence boost.

Thanks to my cheering section!
So handsome.

Friday, January 17, 2014

In Honor of Cuna

Dear Cuna,

I never met you. But I heard all about you. I am so sad that you are gone. 

I believe that God put you in TSB's life when she needed you most, and then it turned out you needed her too. You had one of those truly special horsey-human relationships, and I am heart broken that you two have parted ways for now.

Thank you for giving her so much. Though you never knew it, you helped teach and inspire me too. I am so grateful to have followed your story.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Playtime at Schranch

What an adorable logo!
This past weekend we had our first outing of 2014 - we trailered over to Scheck Ranch, lovingly referred to as "Schranch." It's only a few minutes down the road, and was a great way to get the horses off the property and have fun visiting friends.

Nestled in the Santa Rosa valley of Ventura county, the facility is just lovely.

Main barn center, turn outs at left, ring below.

I'll be honest - my lesson was a bit frustrating. My trainer and I just weren't on the same wavelength and it took me forever to figure out what we were supposed to be doing.

For example, she had me push my knuckles into his withers. Like so:

Without background context, this was confusing and frustrating for both Hemie and I. Turns out Laurie wanted us to have a few minutes simulating side-reins/bit-up, where Hemie would have 100% consistent rein length. But until she said that, I had no idea what we were doing and thought she was instructing me to use pressure and release on his withers to try and get him more engaged.

Then apparently my releases over the jumps were horrible.

I didn't understand what had changed - I've never had an issue with releases before. At the end of the lesson Laurie explained that Hemie is starting to use his neck more over the jumps. She kept messing with my hand placement, when I've never had to work on that before. I believe I normally do an automatic release but she wanted a long crest release. She also said I'm sitting up and pulling back too quickly after the jumps. Ugh so frustrating (and major self guilt-trip for hitting my pony in the mouth!).  Hemie didn't seem upset, but still.

On the positive side, it sure was a lovely day. Perfect weather. You can't complain too much when the whole country is in a polar vortex and you get this:

Sunshine & t-shirt weather.

This coming weekend we're headed to Temecula for the Galway Downs fundraiser clinic. I'm riding with Hawley Bennett-Awad and look forward to reporting back!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Rule Changes

Gingham at Pia & Prarie's Parade just did an interesting post on rule changes in hunter-land. Apparently there is quite an uproar over some of the changes regarding drugging (rather, putting a stop to some of it), but the one that piqued my interest is the new acceptance of running martingales. Previously only standing martingales were accepted, which seemed silly to me.

We in eventer-land have our own set of interesting new rule changes for 2014 season (effective 12/1/2013). Check out a full summary here. But of most interest is the change to section EV141 "Cross County Scoring" which boils down to:

We're allowed to fall off!!

Okay, okay, so it's more technical than that of course.

Specifically, we are discussing rider falls at or relating to presenting the horse to an obstacle. Previously, any rider fall relating to an obstacle was Elimination. But now, for Beginner Novice and Novice levels only, if you fall and land on your feet and remain standing, you get 65 penalty points and may continue on course. Any 2nd fall is Elimination (regardless of landing on feet, etc).

I foresee more flying dismount lessons around the country!  And potentially some complications with activated air vests!

Again, these are falls specifically related to flagged obstacles as part of your course. As before, if you fall off (or dismount) in between jumps, or over a jump that isn't part of your course (yes, you ARE allowed to jump things that aren't part of your course), there is no penalty and you can keep going. Nothing has changed with that.

To brighten your hump day, I leave you with this amazing save by Karen O'Connor (then Lende) at Rolex many years back:

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Dreamy Dressage

If Stephen Colbert can do dressage, then darn it, so can I!
Thank you so much to everyone who commented on my Dressage Question last week. Lots of excellent food for thought.

Unfortunately I had fallen into the trap of over thinking and I lost the forest for the trees. I started questioning myself too much which resulted in some rides that were rather "blah" and didn't accomplish anything.

And then something clicked. Maybe it was from re-reading the comments for the 10th time, or maybe it was something in EventionTv's latest episode "How To Get A Horse On The Bit." Whatever it was, the light bulb came on and I realized that I was spending too much time thinking about my reins and hands and arms, and not enough time focusing on Hemie's hind end engagement. I was doing dressage backwards.

So my next ride I *really* focused on having his hind legs moving forward, tracking well up under himself. Wouldn't you know it, I started to feel progress pretty darn quick. Luckily I had a friend watching me, and her comments made me feel more confident in what I was feeling.

I acknowledge an old saddleseat habit of doing work in first direction (tracking left) before going second direction (tracking right). Second direction is harder for Hemie - he's not great at bending right and tends to start off tense. But by focusing on relaxation while still demanding forward motion from the hind end we got some incredible stretching and he lifted his back at least a full 2 inches.

Sometimes you have to take that step back in order to go forward! Basics for the win!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Q1 Goals

We're one week into 2014 and already I'm starting to feel behind. But I actually have accomplished a lot, so maybe it's just the fact that there's a bunch of half-written blog posts that I need to finish!

This year I'm going to do quarterly goals and check-ins to make sure I'm on track for our 2014 goals. So now through the end of March I'm going to:
  1. Work on improving our free walk. It counts for double in our dressage tests!
  2. Focus on hind end engagement/tracking hind legs up.
  3. Work on making canter cue more subtle (more body and seat, less leg). 

I've signed up for the Galway Downs Annual Fundraiser Clinic in 2 weeks down in Temecula. It will count double towards my annual goals, as it will be XC schooling at a new venue as well as as riding with a clinician: the fabulous Hawley Bennett-Awad, Olympian and west coast eventing superstar. I've heard great things about riding with her so I look forward to our XC and stadium lessons.

I've also sent in my entries for the Galway Downs horse trials the 1st week of February, and am strongly contemplating riding in a local Dr. Christian Schacht clinic at the end of February. So this quarter we'll be well on our way for our 2014 participation goals.

As to my non-horsey goals, this quarter I'll:
  • Put a good dent in garage organizing.
  • Start including weight training regularly in my workouts.
  • When eating out, take half the food home (ie, reduce portion size).
  • Check in on horsey spending at least once per month.
  • Prepare birthday cards at the beginning of each month and make sure all birthdays are on my master calendar.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

14 Photo Challenge

A little something to get your blog posts rolling in the new year...

Must be new photos taken this year. You can do it all in one post, or spread out over many. Have fun!

  1. Your horse's stall.
  2. Favorite saddle pad.
  3. Barn cat? Barn dog? Barn ____?
  4. Favorite area to ride at your facility.
  5. Between-the-ears shot, out on a trail ride.
  6. The bottom of your horse's hoof.
  7. The hay stack at your barn.
  8. Favorite grooming thing.
  9. Your horse's best friend or significant other.
  10. A snapshot from your commute to the barn (be careful).
  11. Between-the-ears shot, at a random location at your facility.
  12. The cutest or most attractive part of your barn.
  13. Favorite piece of tack.
  14. Selfie with your horse.