Thursday, July 31, 2014

Quick Hello

Bonjour!  Hubs and I took a long weekend vacation to beautiful Raleigh, North Carolina this past weekend and I'm getting back into the groove of normal life. Everything is great on the Hemie front - he's been delightful for our 2 rides so far this week, and we've got a jump lesson tonight which I'm looking forward to. I can't believe we're at the end of July already!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

El Sueno Show Recap

The show was really fun all around. I had a great support team there, including my wonderful hubby. The weather was perfect, except for a flash rain (more like a drizzle) randomly for just a few minutes.

Our first ride was Beginner Novice Dressage Test A.  Overall it went well. We had a short warm-up, working on forward and back, adding in more contact as we got Hemie more in front of the leg.

The test went fine. I progressively asked for more and more of Hemie throughout the ride, though our work to the left (first half of test) was still better than our work to the right (second half of test). I felt good about it, and the judge gave us a 40. I'm especially proud of our free walk, which got us 6.5 (x2). I didn't push for bend, was more focused on good connection, relaxation, and steady rhythm.

Our second dressage test was Beginner Novice Test B. Hemie was very distracted at multiple times throughout the test, I think by the chestnut calling out, but who knows. At home, I would have made a turn, or transitioned gait, or asked for lateral movement - something to get his mind off of the distraction and back to our work. But in a dressage test any of that would have led to going off course, so I just kept wiggling the bit in his mouth and made my aids noisier to try and get his attention. It didn't work out too great, and we had movements that really suffered (we couldn't hold our canter, for example). But overall and besides that I thought the test went fine. Generally speaking this is a harder test, but we ended with the same score of 40. Go figure. Oure best part was again the free walk, and our ending halt.

Next was time for our combined stadium and cross-country jumping. There was hardly anyone competing, yet somehow Hemie and I were standing around for over 2 hours waiting for our round. We hung out in the warm-up ring, watching the competitors go and snuggling anyone who stood nearby. I kept dropping my stirrups to give my ankles and break, and my kind husband kept bringing water. Hemie seemed content to hang out there all day, actually.

Overall I felt good about our round, and proud of myself for being more present and proactive during the round. We again had a hiccup at the jump out of the water - not sure what that was about, but besides that all was fine. We even did the large solid round option at jump #8.

We placed 1st in both our classes (don't know how many were in them...I think just 1 other person), so we took home some pretty blue satin...and an extremely random prize of a bottle of lotion.

Friday, July 18, 2014


Wednesday night was dressage practice and overall it was a blah ride. Nothing horrible - no 'incidents', but also little-to-no relaxation and a number of different evasions (faux spook, cross-canter/swapping, head tossing). We rode with a barn-mate we hadn't ridden with in a while, each doing our dressage tests for each other (hers were fab, mine were awful), and she kindly shared thoughts and observations:
  • Ask for more. 
  • Prepare for transitions and turns earlier - it should look clearly like he knows where we are going and what we're doing.
  • Move inside hand way off of his neck, for more even and steady contact but still having main connection with outside rein. (This is a good alternative to the uberstriken I've been doing, especially during a test.)

Thursday at work, I found myself googling things like "how to help my horse enjoy dressage."  I really want it to be fun for both of us. I'd like to get Hemie back to that mental place of thinking dressage is an interesting puzzle to figure out rather than a hard, boring chore. 

I decided to try a new approach to our warm-up before our dressage lesson. Here's what I came up with:

I decided to think hunters instead of dressage.  Still relaxed, still forward, still good connection. But fun and happy rather than pissy and sassy.  When we achieved forward, relaxed flatwork, I rewarded Hemie with a little hop (yes, in my dressage saddle. That's how we eventers do.)  He caught on quick and we had a happy productive warm-up. The strategy really worked! Amazing how much of riding is mental, isn't it?

We also incorporated the circle of doom. AKA the 4 poles exercise. 

It was a really good check of our connection, balance, and rhythm. This combined with the crossrail made for a warm up that was productive and fun.

For our dressage lesson, I handed the test sheets to my trainer and we straightaway went into them, doing each test just once. My focus was on keeping us both happy and relaxed, and it worked! We had pleasant, forward rides with some really good moments, and no issues. I think for now that's exactly what we need, and then maybe later we can up the ante again by asking for more/harder work. For now (and especially for the show tomorrow), we just want relaxed and forward and happy. 

I did some more pre-show beautification, including a tail bang. I didn't want to go too short, so I took off about 2 inches. I must admit it does look fuller now:

Tonight will be mostly packing the trailer, maybe a turn-out or bareback hack for Mr. Heems. Then show day tomorrow!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Riding Boots & Saddle Pads

Let's talk tack, shall we?

A fun conversation with Karen this past weekend has me curious about others' riding boots and saddle pad collections.

Boots first.

How many pairs of riding boots do you own? free polls 

Do you have riding boots reserved for shows only? free polls 

I have 3 pairs of boots: 2 pairs of tall boots and 1 pair of paddock boots. One pair of tall boots are old Effingham field boots that I've been meaning to donate/give away (size 9, extra wide calf - any takers?).  The other pair are Ariat field boots which formerly were my show boots, but are now my everyday boots. I used to ride in paddock boots and half-chaps, but my half-chaps' stitching came undone (and they've been in my car for like 2 months waiting for me to get them dealt with) and in the meantime the show boots became daily boots.

Saddle Pads

How many saddle pads do you own? free polls 

Do you have saddle pads reserved for shows only? free polls 

I have close to 15 saddle pads, a few of them are dressage pads but most are all-purpose. I reserve 2 pads for shows: a white dressage pad and a black jump pad. All the others go through my normal rotation of use.

I LOVE saddle pads. They're always on my Christmas and birthday list, and I gratefully collect them from friends. I like having a stack of clean ones available at all times. As you can tell from the below stack, I seem to have one from every different manufacturer!

Please share about your boot and saddle pad collections, or whatever other tack you collect!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

To clarify...

Yesterday a friend gave me a reality check. Turns out I've been inadvertently exaggerating my issues with Hemie; namely, by using the "R" word (rear), when what we've been experiencing is better described as getting stuck/nappiness/stalling out/bouncing around/resistance to moving forward/getting light up front. Not actual Black-Stallion-style rearing. For whatever reason, in my head it became bigger than it was. Maybe because it *felt* so dangerous? Anyways, sorry about that. 

Moving on, Monday night Hemie got a longe and bit-up and practice ride. As you know, I'm a master leather worker/cheapskate so I decided to make a flash from an old bridle's throat-latch and add it to our longing bridle.

Hemie was a good sport about it, and salivated more with this bit than normal. Our ride was so-so. It took a while to get our groove. The words of Denny Emerson ("negotiating aids") and Dr. Christian Schacht ("you're dancing, not fighting") floated into my head throughout the ride, which I think is a good sign. 

I've been constantly checking on saddle fit and evenness over the last few weeks. I've decided I'm going to get my jump saddle re-fitted/adjusted, but I think my dressage saddle is just fine.

Saddle fit and evenness check.
Hoping the rest of our rides this week go great since we've got the show this weekend! =)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

VCBH: Stalker

Viva Carlos!
Thad rocks.
From L.:

What Equestrian Blogger out there do you really want to meet? 

(If you have more then 1 I will allow you to list up to 5!)

Only 5?! Um how about my entire blogroll please? To make this easier on myself, I'm only choosing from bloggers outside of California, because hopefully meeting Cali blogger friends is just a matter of time. But still, this was tough, as there's so many I'd like to meet. I stayed true to the blog-hop's name and selected bloggers that I've been following for a quite a while.
  1. Aimee of SprinklerBandits 
  2. Carly of Poor Woman Showing 
  3. Niamh of Life of Riley
  4. Andrea of The Reeling 
  5. Lauren of She Moved to Texas 
While we are only able to share pieces of ourselves through our blogs, I have come to really cherish the community and relationships with fellow equestrian bloggers. I invite all my readers to email me or Facebook me

For my Cali friends (or people visiting!), take note that I'm located in Ventura (halfway between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, on the coast). If you come to my area or are passing through, I would love to meet up!  I've had the privilege to meet Karen of Not-So-Speedy Dressage and Paola of The Aspiring Equestrian and would love to add to that list. =)

Monday, July 14, 2014

Weekend Recap

Friday I wore jeans and my paddock boots to work, hoping I would get out early and have a leisurely Friday night at the barn with a long relaxing bareback hack...but of course there was too much work and I got out of there at 5:30.

Hemie got a quick turnout in the nice sandy roundpen to roll and walk around while I prepped his beet pulp and got out our tack. But when I looked over, I found him jumping around playfully. Apparently he was a little bright eyed even though he'd been ridden the last several days in a row. Oh, to have a fit, energetic horse! So he got a free longe before I hopped on for a bareback cruise around the facility.

He was a good boy, and he is really learning to love bareback hacks. He knows that they are mellow and relaxing. We tootled around and chatted with barnmates for a bit. Then I rode him in one of the arenas for a few minutes to do some trot work, and I could immediately sense Hemie's displeasure. My gut told me that following Thursday's lesson, he had a low tolerance for "work." He wasn't naughty, but he wasn't happy. I decided to rein in my plans and expectations, and so we did just a few minutes focusing on stretching, straightness, and connection to the outside rein, then called it a night. I always want to end on a good note for both of us.

Then I had a lovely dinner with Karen of Not-So-Speedy Dressage, who was visiting for a dressage show. One of the cool things about hanging out with blogger friends in real life is chatting about all the horsey things you can't blog about for whatever reason. It was really nice.

Saturday we had a jumping lesson. It started off a bit tense. Like on Friday, I could tell that Hemie was on alert for any "work" and was threatening to be upset at me blocking his evasions. We had one rear/run backwards situation. Grrr so frustrating - so unacceptable. We got past it, though, and then had a really nice rest of our ride. We were jumping some extra high jumps and doing courses with water and banks and solid jumps to prep for next weekend's show.

Frustratingly, in hindsight I realize I am repeating past mistakes and relearning the same solutions. If I sense that Hemie is on alert or upset, I need to outsmart the situation rather than get bated into an argument. Arguments become dangerous situations, and I don't think they're good for training. Even if my trainer is yelling at me to do "x" now, I can't let that feed into a frenzy of tension. I need to take a deep breath, relax myself, then re-approach the situation.

After our ride Hemie got a bubble bath and some beautification, then I headed to Somis to watch Karen's afternoon ride. She and Speedy looked great and did a wonderful job.

Active trot, great connection, straight up centerline!

Lovely balanced canter past the judge.
Handsome Speedy!

Karen giving Speedy treats for photo-op.

We hung out and chatted for bit, then watched some upper level riders. I really should watch more dressage shows because they're inspiring. Their amazing work is beautiful to watch, and their challenges or mistakes make me feel like it's okay that Hemie and I have our struggles - that we're human and horse just like everyone else. One of Hilda Gurney's mounts was a bit "up" shall we say, but she rode through it beautifully and he calmed down throughout the test. That was a ride that I could really relate to.

Hilda Gurney on Aleros

Sunday was a fabulous blend of relaxation and productivity. I did quite a bit of garage organizing and then deep cleaned my bridle and jump saddle and other strap goods. I got all my show stuff cleaned and organized too. Plus lots of puppy time and hubby time too!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Helmets and such

Quick public service announcement: International Helmet Awareness Day is TOMORROW July 12th!
Its a great day to buy a new helmet because there will be lots of sales - just check this website for participating stores. 

Such a handsome face :]

At our practice ride on Wednesday, Hemie was super distracted. I knew I needed to keep his focus on me in order for us to have a productive ride, so I really changed up our routine by having TONS of turns, circles, transitions, leg yields, etc. It looked something like this:

I'm noticing that sometimes turning makes us putter out and Hemie gets a little shuffle-y with his legs. Inspired by a recent post at Not-So-Speedy Dressage, I'm going to focus on outside shoulder and maybe try the chute exercise. I think that exercise might help with our faux spook/left rein connection issue too.

Thursday's lesson went from one extreme to another. We had excellent work stretching and connecting, especially with the left rein. Laurie gave me another tool to use for faux spooking - to move his shoulders right while maintaining left rein connection and left (counter) bending. Its like patting my head and rubbing my belly. Hard to do, but effective. 

But Hemie also had some mega tantrums during the lesson (rearing, running backwards, grabbing the right rein and yanking downwards and left). It's been a while since we've had those kinds of outbursts so of course its upsetting.  But on the other hand we had plenty of good work too. So I've got mixed feelings from that ride. What I can say is that my seat has certainly improved, and that I didn't get super panicky about it. We just move forward as soon as possible.

I've noticed that Hemie has gotten more mouthy over the last few weeks - picking up grooming stuff, chewing on the cross ties, yawning, nipping. Not sure if that is a sign of anything? Thoughts?

Cross ties - yum.

Pardon the crazy mane - we're working on it!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Faux Spook

Mr. Heems (I have so many names for him) has a little naughty trick that he's been using for months. Faux spooking.

I have to admit - he had me. It took me a long time to recognize it for what it truly is.  My barn friends caught on sooner than I did.... but what can I say? I was in denial. Surely my loveypookiepieponykins would never be naughty. I much prefer to blame my ammy self for all our issues.

But the spooky things (chairs, jumps, whatever) would magically only be spook-worthy when tracking right  and when passing things on his left side.  If we pass things on his right side, or if we are tracking left, they are not spook-worthy.

The faux spook is really an evasion of the left rein, generally involving popping the right shoulder out, uber counter-bending (forcing more right rein contact and loosening left rein), and breaking rhythm and/or gait by either slowing down, speeding up, or -my fav- jumping out to the right. I can normally tell where he will do this - there's a few areas of the arenas that he likes to spook at (habit I guess?) and he is obvious about giving the googly-eye to something.

Focusing on our connection on the left rein (one of our 3rd quarter goals) has really helped me see this, and get past it. The jig is up, Hemie! I have a no-nonsense attitude and I'm not falling for the trick anymore. He can spook all day long, but I'm not giving up on the left rein. When he does "spook" I know to:
  1. Keep the left rein at all times. Period.  Release the right rein if necessary.
  2. Keep the rhythm/pace even. 
  3. Pop that shoulder back in place if starts bulging out.
  4. Move on. Don't immediately return to the scene of the crime.

I'm also figuring out how to release tension that I carry during dressage rides (much more than I'd previously realized) which is REALLY helping.

Our dressage lesson last Thursday started off a bit rough - I was losing patience and getting frustrated.

But it ended up being a great lesson. Laurie was encouraging and helped me to focus on one thing at a time - and with patience, we got lots of nice work done. We did quite a bit of canter, and I must have been using my core more than normal because my lower abs started cramping!

On Saturday we had a jump lesson and Hemie was fabulous. Laurie raised all the jumps, which Hemie loves. We had great flatwork to warm up and throughout the ride, and we even jumped a skinny! A blue barrel on its side, with guide rails. I had to really ride straight, but Hemie picked up pretty quick.

On Sunday we went for a nice hack. It was peaceful and Hemie enjoys them as much as I do. I recently bought some Higher Standards Soap (the special lemon scent in honor of Viva Carlos) so I cleaned a bunch of tack and also got started on Hemie's woefully outgrown mane, because I've got my eye on a local show next weekend.

Friday, July 4, 2014

VCBH: Interested Parties

Have fun, stay safe, and take a moment to think about the history, promise, and potential of America!

Viva Carlos!

What made you interested in your current horse that lead you to buying them in the first place?

Like SprinklerBandit, I've got a roundabout answer because I wasn't interested and didn't buy my horse.  I was riding Spirit at the time, and had just gotten married. I wasn't in the market for a horse.

My first week back after my honeymoon, my trainer pulled in the barn from checking out a group of the Luck horses with another client. She walked straight up to me, looked me in the eye, and said matter-of-factly  "Sarah, you have got to get one of these horses."

I called my husband. We had just paid for a very expensive (but well worth it) honeymoon of our dreams. We agreed that we couldn't afford to buy a horse right then.

Wouldn't you know, the adoption fee for the Luck horses was $0. 

I researched OTTBs - how to evaluate them, retraining tips, etc. I was expecting to check out a couple of horses - test ride them if possible, or trot-out if not.

Nope. Didn't happen.

The adoption center's director, with some input from my trainer, had hand-picked the horse for me. Bohemian had gotten a bath and was in a box-stall waiting for me. We met him in the stall for a few minutes. He was happy to meet us and had a chill vibe. 

We left and went around the corner to check in with the director. I looked back towards the box stall, and Bohemian has stretched his neck up to look out a high side window at me. He had such a kind eye. An interested eye. A hopeful eye.

The adoption center is also a rehab facility, and there was a medical procedure going on right then, so the director spared me about 30 seconds to hand me papers and wish us luck. I signed my name, and Laurie found a lead rope. She led him to the trailer - that was the first time I saw him out of the stall.

I went along with this very unusual adoption procedure because he came with a return/exchange policy - if he didn't work out for me, I could bring him back and try out other horses. Its not that I decided to keep him, per se, so much as there was no reason to return him. We got along great from the first - mostly due to his interested-in-life attitude and laid back personality.

Like Lindsay, it wasn't quite love at first sight, but it was click at first sight. Which blossomed into love not too long later.

And like Tracy, I think it was simply meant to be. Of the 2 horses I've owned, I didn't actually shop for either of them. The universe made the arrangements; I just stayed open to them. Which makes it all the more special in my book.

More on adoption day here.

Loving this hop! Be sure to read the other participants' posts!

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Thursday, July 3, 2014


Sounds so much better than flatwork doesn't it?

On Saturday we had our normal jump lesson, but we kept it short and sweet. Laurie had us come quietly and rhythmically to the jumps, and really focus on relaxation and stretching down in between fences - especially when going by spook-worthy things. Overall it was a good lesson.

Laurie has been telling me that I need to be influencing Hemie more - more often, and more effectively. I am starting to realize that I've been an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" type of rider - mainly addressing issues rather than asking proactively for improved performance. Something for me to think about.

Saturday night I went to my 10 year high school reunion. Which was a fascinating, entertaining, and overall really cool experience. I'm glad I went.

On Sunday we went for a trail ride. It was a lovely day. The horses were a little up for no particular reason, and Hemie spooked and slid down a steep drainage ditch. We hopped up out of it fine and went on our way, but it made me realize that I finally have developed a seat for him - surely I'd have fallen off of him if that happened to us a year ago. Some horses are very comfortable and easy to stay on; Hemie is not.

After the trail ride, the horses were still a bit up, so we turned them out together to run around and play. After much squeals, rears, bucks, and prancing, they had some cute cuddle moments.

Hemie and Levi - BFF

Monday Hemie had off but Tuesday I did a flat ride. After about 20 minutes of solid work, TK joined us and graciously gave me some pointers. Hopefully I can make that a regular occurrence! Here's what we're working on:
  • Continue to focus on connection to the left rein, no matter which direction we're tracking.
  • Lots of transitions, changing direction, circles, zig-zags, random patterns, etc, to change things up.
  • For now, when tracking right, let go of insistence on inside/right bend while connecting to left/outside rein. We're picking our battles here.
  • To work on right bend, let go of outside rein and focus solely on hind end engagement and bending through ribs, not neck.
  • When he gets behind the leg and behind the bit, change something. Do not start a fight by pushing and pulling at the same time. Rather, down transition to walk, or ask for stretch, or focus on relaxation. Figure out what gets relaxation fastest. 
Pointers from TK:
  • Keep Hemie's attention at all times; he gets disengaged when his attention wanders. He needs to be focused on me at all times throughout dressage tests, so I need to be more mindful in practice.
  • Right now my releases to reward him are dramatic (I use uberstriken - inside hand comes forward to pat neck, rein flopping in the wind for a moment), but he needs that right now. Over time they will become more and more discreet until its just a softening of the elbow for a moment. 
  • Squeeze the inside rein, or open the rein, as an alternative to uberstriken.
  • If he gets behind the leg, focus on getting connection - not necessarily stretch or roundness.

Hemie got a turnout before the ride, since he'd had Monday off.

Hack Wednesday, lesson Thursday, then unknown holiday weekend plans.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

DIY: Cell Phone Holder

Most nights a week I'm by myself at the barn. Common sense (and my husband's express request) dictate that I keep my phone on me in case something happens. I normally keep it in a pocket, but getting it back into my pocket if I take it out while riding is challenging. Plus not all my breeches have pockets.

Solution: belt-on phone holder.

While some people are incredibly DIY talented (ahem, $900 FB Pony). I tend to like the *idea* of projects more than I like actually doing them. But this one is so easy - if I can do it, anyone can do it. I present to you a do-it-yourself version of the GoVelope cell phone holder.

  1. Pouch (a sturdy one you probably already have somewhere - mine was a spur case).
  2. Belt
  3. Sharpie
  4. Scissors

  1. Lay belt across back of pouch, and mark dots with sharpie above and below belt on each end.
  2. Using sharp scissors, carefully cut vertical lines from the dots.
  3. Thread the belt through the openings.

Voila! Your cell phone is handy, easy to get out and put away, and you save some $$.