Monday, June 30, 2014

VCBH: The Simple Life

Viva Carlos!

Other than money, what would make your horse life simpler?

The answer that first came to mind would be a shorter commute, because driving to and from the barn sucks up valuable time that I'd rather spend with ponykins instead of on the road.

But reading through the other answers of this blog hop helps me to appreciate (a) that I have a dependable car, (b) that my commute isn't nearly as bad as others', and (c) that there will just never be enough time.

So my final answer to this question is that getting over my hesitation to spend money on horsey things would make my horse life simpler. My husband and I make good livings and we are very fortunate to have financial security. But for some reason I have this mental and emotional block from spending it on horsey things without analyzing the purchase to death first. Its especially burdensome regarding special one-time purchases, like our new Thinline pad which I had to think about for at least a month before buying. 

Its just this weirdness that I have. I don't really know where it comes from or why it persists, but I do think that me feeling more okay with spending money on horsey purchases would make life simpler.

Q2 Review & Q3 Goals

2014 Goals
Q1 Review & Q2 Goals

Q2 Horsey Goals:
  1. Work on my lower leg stability while jumping. Some success. Its improving bit by bit, but needs more work.
  2. Work on better upper body posture for dressage (stop leaning forward!). Marginal success. Needs more work.
  3. Focus on Hemie's flexibility and bending the whole body. Success. We focused on it, and he does supple up when asked.
  4. Add more lateral exercises to rides (shoulder-in, haunches-in, etc). Success. Added in most rides.
  5. Continue working on steadier connection and hind-end engagement. This has taken up most of the time, energy, and effort. 3 steps forward, 2 steps back, a few steps sideways, heeeey macarena!
Q2 Non-Horsey goals:
  1. Continue garage organizing - focusing on my crazy horse pile. Great success. Then my parents started using my garage for storage and it has started going downhill again. So really, moderate success.
  2. Create a more efficient workout schedule and stick to it! Success - I'm doing the "starting strength" program 2 to 3 times per week.
  3. Buy or make birthday cards so I always have a ready supply. Success. They were on sale. Sending them out in a timely manner....not so great.
  4. Track all horse show expenses in my show binder. Meh...didn't do a great job with this, but better than nothing I guess.

July-August-September/Q3 Goals

1. Focus on Hemie's enjoyment of flatwork.
2. Relaxation, relaxation, relaxation.
3. Schedule a clinic OR do an XC school at a new location.

1. Continue with garage organizing.
2. Continue with working out and eating healthfully.
3. Review short, medium, and long-term financial goals with hubby.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

You talkin' to me?

Lately there have been a number of Facebook posts from horse trainers I follow that speak to me. Normally horse riding/training posts are interesting in a general sense, but lately there have been a good number where the topic du jour feels particularly relevant to my situation. Two quick examples:

Denny Emerson's posts about negotiating aids:

"When I was starting out, years back, the situation here, a green, resistant horse, not yet quiet and confident in the connection between the seat, leg, hand----It would have made me nervous, stronger in my hand, stiffer in my arms---

Then, if the situation escalated, as would have been almost inevitable, I`d have gotten more frustrated, would have been thinking things like, "Mare, damn it, do what you`re told", and I`d probably have gotten into at least a strong argument, maybe a fight.

I say this because I see this so often with younger and greener riders and trainers, not knowing how to quietly negotiate, more likely to go to force, even draw reins, standing martingales, stronger bits, the remedies we seek out of ignorance and frustration.

It takes time, plus good direction from a wiser trainer, for the less experienced to simply learn how to softly negotiate, and be willing to take the extra weeks and months to build into the horse trust and strength and understanding of the aids.

Too many riders go all their lives without making the transition from force to finesse, but it doesn`t have to be that way."
June 21

Jane Guzman's post about relaxation:

"I rode Xuxa this morning. She is getting so much stronger in her back and beginning to take a longer stride. Something bothered her during the schooling session. It could have been the noise of a horse in the round pen, could have been an insect bit,could have been the other horse leaving. How knows. It does not really matter what scares a horse - the important thing is how to deal with spooks. I think the only way to truly train any horse is with a consistent, firm, fair program. Relaxation is firstly rider mental relaxation - confidence in your position and aids, next physical relaxation. If you are not physically relaxed the horse will pick up on your tension and never mentally relax. Only when the horse is mentally relaxed and tuned in to the rider can one develop physical relaxation in a horse. One may start a schooling session thinking of specific training exercises - but ride in the moment."

June 26

(emphasis in both posts are mine)

Story of my life
From Equestrian Memes

On Thursday's lesson, we really focused on having Hemie connected to the left rein - no matter which direction we were tracking. This involved some counter-bending, blocking the right shoulder from falling out, and being square through turns. But overall it was successful, without any issues from Hemie.

We also focused on really getting him in front of the leg, which was especially hard at our stretchy trot where he was going fast with his neck way down but nose behind the vertical. My inclination was to slow him down first, when Laurie actually had me kick him on to better connect with the reins before slowing down. It took a leap of faith, but worked. That's something that I have a hard time doing on my own in practice rides.

I am starting to really pay attention to my stress level/anxiety/tension when I ride, as a way to address Hemie's. So far, I find that if I take a deep breath and relax, Hemie will do the same within just a few strides. I'm going to continue to be mindful of it because I suspect it holds the keys to better and faster relaxation - for both of us.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Photo Challenge

Time to participate in my own mid-year photo challenge. 
Thanks to those who are participating - everyone is welcome to join!

1. Between-the-ears shot.
Bunnies. Bunnies everywhere.

2. Anything blooming at your barn.

3. A picture of your horse taken from a random/weird/artistic angle.

4. The most attractive horse at your barn other than yours.

5. Bath time photo.
"Uh Mom...what are you doing?"

6. A sweet picture of you and your horse.

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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Week so far

We did a jumping practice ride, channeling our inner hunter: rhythmical, relaxed, using our whole arena. He tripped a few times throughout the ride, including once just 2 strides from a jump, causing me to drop my reins. We made it over just fine anyway, woot woot! I think he was tripping because of needing a hoof trim.

Then I myself almost tripped on a bunny. Seriously they are everywhere right now.

Hooves got trimmed by the fabulous Sabine. Then Hemie got a bit-up and lots of cookies.

Tonight (Thursday) we're getting a dressage lesson, then not sure about Friday but likely a jump lesson on Saturday.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Safety is a choice

I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but I am the lone equestrian in my family. Furthermore, my father knew Christopher Reeve personally. While growing up I was forbidden from doing any jumping; Papa thought it was just too dangerous. So I grew up riding at a saddleseat barn.

Saddle optional. Helmet not!
Coming to eventing as an adult, I get the impression that I'm more safety conscious than lots of other riders, especially as compared to people who grew up in the sport.

Here are some of the choices I make with safety in mind:

- I wear a helmet every ride.

- I wear my impact vest, and typically my air vest as well, while jumping. This includes jumping in lessons, on my own practicing, or at shows. I typically wear my impact vest for trail rides too.

- Last year I chose to do Intro level for our first few outings to help me feel more confident and therefore help ensure safe and positive experiences for both Hemie and myself.

- I listen to my body. If I'm not well enough to ride, I don't. I also listen to my gut instincts. If something isn't feeling right, I take a moment to figure it out instead of just plowing ahead.

- I take regular lessons with a trainer.

- I learn from my mistakes. And with the help of this blog, I don't forget them!

All suited up for SJ

I wasn't always so safety conscious. I rode without a helmet for many years in fact. But a post about Riders4Helmets from Nicku of The Polka Dot Periodical several years back inspired me to strap one on every ride.

I'd like to pay it forward and hopefully inspire someone to think more about safety. July 12, 2014 is the 5th annual International Helmet Awareness Day. Many helmet retailers and tack shops will offer great discounts on new helmets and offer helmet-fitting workshops. If you've been thinking of upgrading your helmet or adding one to your collection, mark your calendar for this date so you can support a great organization's program and give your wallet a little break too.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Watch and Learn

Yesterday I went to Shepherd Ranch Horse Trials in Santa Ynez to watch the stadium jumping rounds and some cross-country schooling following the show. Its the closest HT to my home, and it has a spectacular view. The weather was just perfect.

Love this view!

Walking the stadium course
Brought my pup.

I spent most of the day watching stadium jumping. For the most part, each division was run in reverse placing order (last-placed rider going first, first-placed rider going last) so that it created more pressure and excitement for the top placed riders. Generally speaking, this resulted in seeing some of the worst stadium rounds first (less skilled riders, greener horses, etc) and then watching it progressively look safer and smoother. Here were my main takeaways as a spectator:

  • You have 45 seconds from the buzzer to get between the start flags. 45 seconds is longer than you think it is. If you are nervous or your horse is looky-loo, use those 45 seconds to (a) have a gander at the jumps, and (b) develop a quality canter. Almost no one took advantage of the 45 seconds (even with a giant count-down screen nearby).
  • There is simply no substitute for good riding basics. Heels down, chin up, shoulders back. They lead to confidence. Or confidence leads to good riding. Either way, no matter how the horse looked (hot or no, green or no), good riding always outperformed bad riding.
  • Even when you're nervous, you have got to let go of your horse's face at and over the jump. Ride with a jump strap people! If you get nervous and need to hang on, hang on to that and let your poor horse have his head over jumps!  One awkward jump led to an entire round of face-snatching on more than one occasion. 
  • Rhythm and straightness. Always.

After stadium jumping wrapped up, they opened the cross-country course for schooling. I watched several groups of riders do XC.

My friend J.H. brought her handsome 4-year-old horse Danny - it was his first XC schooling and only 3rd time ever jumping! He was a very willing boy.

The fabulous George was there with his new owner, L. They had a fabulous first schooling together, even giving other horses a lead over some giant jumps!

It was a bit crowded with lots of horses schooling as well as spectators. I mostly watched 2 groups of trainers and riders, and it is interesting to compare different approaches.

The main takeaways from watching XC:
  • Ride all the way to the base of the fence. A lot of riders stopped adding leg 3 or 4 strides away.
  • Don't hope it will happen - ride with a purpose to *make* it happen.
  • Safety first! Pay attention to your body and stop jumping if you're feeling weak or tired. XC is dangerous enough as it is.
  • Don't drill one bad/awkward fence over and over; do another fence or two then come back to it.
  • You cant have quality jumps without a quality canter (or trot). Period.

Overall it was a lovely day and I'm so glad I came to watch. I walked the BN cross-country course and can't wait to compete again. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

More on Diatomaceous Earth

Good news: Hemie's follow-up fecal test came back negative. So the dewormer worked and he is parasite free.

But as I mentioned when he tested positive a few weeks back, I've started him on diatomaceous earth as a feed supplement. He gets 1 cup of D.E. with his other feed, 4-6 days a week (when I see him).

It is a very fine white powder. It gets everywhere. So it's not my favorite supplement to deal with. 

But a little bit of mess and the cost of the bag is worth it for me even for the chance that it could help Hemie. We wont know for another 3 months, which is when Hemie will get fecal tested again.

Karen of Not-So-Speedy Dressage graciously sent me an article from Equus about D.E. which underscored the overall gist the information I've been able to find on it: some people swear by D.E. and credit it with dramatic improvements in their horse's health and ability to fight/prevent parasites. But the success is supported only by anecdotal evidence rather than medical/scientific studies, and most vets do not recommend D.E. as an anti-parasitic preventative treatment. They say it wont hurt your horse, but it probably wont help either.

Interestingly, I've been able to find more about human consumption of D.E. and in fact I've started taking it myself just to see. I took a few scoops out of Hemie's feed bag and keep it at home. I've been taking 1 tablespoon per day in my morning breakfast smoothie.

The first day I took it, I had horrible stomach pains. Some people online think this is due to D.E. killing off parasites on your gut (eeek!). Because of this I kept watching for any colic or tummy issues in Hemie during the first week - luckily none presented. Meanwhile I haven't noticed any other side effects.

It tastes like dirt though. Guess the name "earth" should have been a giveaway. Luckily Hemie doesn't seem to mind.

For more information on D.E. here's a good article from the National Pesticide Information Center, which is a cooperative of the US Environmental Protection Agency and Oregon State University. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Catch Up Dump Post

Blogging helps me process whats going on in my horsey life, especially in terms of training and goals. So I get annoyed at myself when I fall into a blogging lapse, with several half-written posts that can't seem to get finished. They stand for halfway processed lessons or concepts. So its no surprise that when I have a blogging lapse, it tends to go along with a riding lurch.

Time to push that truck out of the mud puddle and get on with the trip!


Just before the El Sueno show, I had an aha! moment. We had a great ride where Hemie and I were on the same page and getting great rhythmical, balanced movements in all 3 gaits. At the end of the ride I ran through our dressage test...and it was not pretty. Hemie and I both got tense and our quality of work was nowhere near where it had been just a few minutes prior. This happened two days in a row.

Which led me to realize that in practice sessions and lessons, I only cue for a transition once I feel we are really ready (straight, balanced, soft). Our focus has been on getting quality gaits, leading to quality transitions, since transitions tend to be where we discombobulate. In dressage tests, however, you need to transition at a specific location in the arena - ready or not.

So every ride since then I've been working on that by selecting specific locations to transition, and we're seeing improvement but more is surely needed. 


Our jump rides are basically becoming flatwork rides, with jumps used as a reward for quality flatwork. At this point in our training, we don't really need to work on jump height, stride adjustability, or other jumping-only type things. We really need to focus on our dressage so I'm using our jump rides (every ride, actually) to work on that.


I worry that our progress is limited by my experience level as a dressage rider. After all, the highest level I've competed at is BN for eventing, and Training level in dressage. I know the concepts intellectually and I have good feel. But I simply don't have any experience riding dressage at a higher level and I think that is muddying the waters in Hemie's training. Its hard to get him to a place I've never been before.


Following one particularly challenging lesson, Laurie said I should consider putting Hemie in full training for 1 to 2 months to help move us forward in dressage. Thinking about that option has made me think about a number of things:
  • What is my level of urgency for seeing improvement?
  • How do I want to measure that improvement? 
  • Can I achieve that improvement through different changes to our program? (riding more days, more bit-ups, having Tynan ride him more, getting lessons from other clinicians/trainers, changing my approach and goals for practice rides, etc)
As an adult amateur with limited experience in this discipline, overall I try to not let myself feel rushed in our training or seeing improvement. I'm not made of money and I don't have high expectations for showing. Plus this is a hobby - it needs to be fun for both Hemie and myself.


My plan right now is to participate in the El Sueno Show series and do 1 more horse trial - hopefully at Twin Rivers in Paso Robles in the fall. The El Sueno shows are fun, close, affordable, and well-run. The only thing it lacks is that big-show energy and excitement that I think affects Hemie at horse trials. 


Just because.

Some silk from El Sueno =]

shower cap = bucket cover

pensive pony

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

El Sueno Show Recap

I've been slacking on the blogging front, but to make up for it here's plenty of photos and video.

Hemie and I did the Beginner Novice derby at El Sueno, plus an extra dressage test. Our goal was simply to have a relaxed dressage tests. The jumping part was just for fun - no goals there. =)

This was the first time in a long while that Hemie went on an outing by himself, and he came off the trailer stressed out and sweaty. It was only a 20 minute trailer ride. He calmed down right away, which is good.

We only had a few minutes to warm up before our first test, but it worked out okay and we went in feeling calm and happy. Slowly throughout the test I saw if I could ask a little more from him without upsetting him. We were able to do that more at the second test.  

The jumping was good. Got a little wiggly at parts, and had a random refusal situation at the plainest looking vertical, but no big deal. He did great with a ditch bigger than we'd ever jumped before, and he loved the solid looking fences and was foot perfect for the water. I, however, did not ride my best. Show nerves apparently reduce my riding skills by at least 50% - leg swinging, hunching shoulders, the whole bit. But we got it done and had fun.

He loaded up just fine, but then started wigging out on the trailer, rearing up and tearing down his hay bag with his front legs! Thank goodness I trailer him with a head bumper. I don't think he hit his head, but it made me feel better. Once he seemed to calm down a tad they pulled away and he seemed fine during the trailer ride (I drove right behind and next to him to make sure) and he unloaded just fine. A few more solo outings are in order, I think!

Tied to the trailer

Covered warm up arena

Dressage court next to the main barn

Our first test - BN Test A:

Second test - BN Test B:

Combined stadium and cross country jumping round:

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Mid Year Photo Challenge

Wow. June already. Can you believe that we're half-way through 2014? Time for a photo challenge, I say!  

Must be pics taken recently. Have fun, and link your challenge post(s) below!

  1. A between-the-ears shot.
  2. Anything blooming at your barn.
  3. A picture of your horse taken from a random/weird/artistic angle.
  4. The most attractive horse at your barn other than yours.
  5. Bath time photo.
  6. A sweet picture of you and your horse.

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