Wednesday, November 26, 2014

No Riding November...?

Well, so much for No Stirrup November...I think I got about four rides in before the ground froze and the month turned into "No Ride November." So needless to say, things haven't been super exciting lately. Maggie is getting yet another 'vacation.' 'Tis the season I guess.

I'll be renting the use of the indoor arena at the barn next door beginning December 1st though, so I can get back to riding at least a couple times a week over the winter. I toughed it out in the darkness as long as I could, but once the ground gets frozen then there's nothing really to be done. I have been keeping myself busy though - I joined a gym just down the road from the barn and have started running and doing some core and arm work again. So even though I haven't been working Maggie, I am working myself! One of my goals for the winter is to be getting myself back in better shape. Not that I'm terribly out of shape, but I've been more sedentary lately than I've ever been before and that's not cool with me.

This week I'm actually in Oklahoma with my in-laws for Thanksgiving and before I left town on Saturday, I had one thing to attend to: it's that dreaded time of the year where we have to set up the stock tank heaters for our horses.

Evil, evil ice chunks.
Maggie needed a new tank heater and I decided to go with one of these Rubbermaid ones that fit into the drain plug of the tub. Last year we had a few incidents where we found the heater unplugged, out of the tub, and occasionally halfway down the paddock. So I figured one with a less obvious cord with be good. Seems like it's working alright so far (or at least I haven't heard otherwise) but boy, was it annoying to install it without it leaking. 

New heater.

Supervising my work from the comfort of the stall.

Enjoying some pitchfork scratches.
That's pretty sad that that's the most excitement I have for you right now, isn't it? Installing a new stock tank heater.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Friday, November 21, 2014

David O'Connor at The Equine Affaire

As mentioned in my last post, I was lucky enough to sit in on one of David O'Connor's clinics at Equine Affaire. Unfortunately, I did not take any pictures of my own because I am a dingbat so I will suffice to break up my text with a slew of pics from the Google.
David and Custom Made win gold at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Image from:
The theme of the weekend was 'Rider Responsibility' which include direction, speed, rhythm, balance, and timing. I only attended the Sunday afternoon session, though reading those summaries I wish I had been able to make it to one of the flat work sessions as well. I'll expand a little bit on Eventing Nation's article about the Sunday afternoon jumping session. 

First, David had the riders demonstrate three of the four positions that one uses during cross country: the galloping position, the preparation position, and the jumping position (the fourth position is for going down a bank, which he humorously pointed out would be very difficult to demonstrate in the indoor arena we were in.) 

Galloping position: Crotch almost over the pommel of the saddle, knees somewhat straight (I think he said ~160 degree angle). Most of the riders placed their hands just above the horse's withers. Upper body close to the horse's neck. 
An unknown rider with a nice galloping position (because I couldn't find any of David from the side) Image from:
The idea of this position is to stay quiet, so that when you change your position to the preparation position, the horse pays attention and knows that something is going to happen. If you have a "noisy" galloping position - if you're flopping around up there - then the horse isn't going to be able to tell when you're changing your position and won't know to get ready for something to happen. Eventually, you want your horse to seek the jumps him or herself and when the horse feels your position shift, they'll eventually learn that means a jump is coming. 

Preparation position: The upper body sits up taller and the hands come off the horses neck. This should happen about 6 strides away from the jump.
A blurry David' O'Conner and Custom Made preparing for a jump in Sydney. Image from:
Jumping position: Hips come back, leg angle closes, release. Wait for the horse's jump (nothing new here)
David O'Connor and The Native at Fair Hill in 2001. Image from:
David had the demo riders demonstrate these positions over a large oxer, emphasizing that it was the riders responsibility to choose the appropriate speed to come at the jump.

The next exercise emphasized straightness. David set up 4 pairs of flower boxes one stride apart and had be riders canter through them. To make it more difficult, he took away one flower box from each pair (making each little jump only 4 feet wide).

He then showed the audience how he introduces ditches to young horses - with a tarp in place of a liverpool (a black one makes it even more ditch-like!) and a small vertical over the tarp. This helps keep both the horse and the rider's eyes looking up. After once over the small ditch jump, he added a large vertical one stride after the ditch, again helping to keep the horse and rider's eyes up and looking ahead. Finally, he made the series more challenging by adding an additional large vertical one stride before the ditch, to make a three jump combination.
Okay, so this isn't David - It's Karen O'Connor and Teddy of course! Image from: 
The clinic finished up by jumping corners. David made sure to mention to always start small, as there's a lot you can still work on without adding height. One this that he emphasized here was keeping the horse straight after the jump and not allowing the horse to drift to a certain side.

Other things of note:

  • David said that your horse should learn to be looking for the fences him or herself. One thing that teaches them to do this is the shifting of your weight from the galloping position to the preparation position. Doing it (correctly) enough times will teach your horse that this change in your position means there's a jump coming up.
  • He also mentioned that when schooling an XC combination he always starts with the second (or last) fence in the series, taking the horse over it a few times before then doing the fence before it. Since the horse is then already familiar with the second fence, he'll be tuned in to it and looking for it after you then go over the first fence in the combination.
  • Another point I thought was interesting was how he handled run outs. Instead of circling the horse to come at the jump again, he had the rider stop the horse as soon as possible and then back up far enough to try the jump again. This happened once during the skinny flower box exercise and another time at the "ditch" to vertical combination. In the case of the combination, the rider backed the horse up as much as she could (which wasn't much, only about a stride length) and David put one side of the vertical down so she could pop the horse over the low end.
So there you have my review! I'm definitely glad I got to watch and I feel like I learned quite a bit. A lot of this info may be old news to many of you that have had formal training much for frequently that myself, but it's always good to hear from the pros!

And by the way, I just claimed by blog on Bloglovin'!
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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Massachusetts Equine Affaire 2014

This past Sunday I had the pleasure of attending Equine Affaire! I had only been once before (in 2011), so it's still kind of novel to me. There are some people out there that seem absolutely obsessed with it - going every single year for multiple days of the event. But for me, it's about having a field trip with my barn friends while we browse the trade show and lust after expensive saddles, gawk at the latest and "greatest" new health and training products, enter ALL THE RAFFLEZ, and maybe do a tiny by of shopping ourselves. But it's generally just fun to walk around and be a total horse geek. 

Horse nerds - unite!
Nothing had caught my eye in the trade show yet until I saw THESE: Scratch n All grooming pads. Their booth caught my eye because they had a video screen showing animals scratching themselves on them - including a goat itching his face. That immediately sold me and I bought two on the spot. I've been casually looking for something like this for my goat, Billy Boomer, and my mini, Zipper. I think they're going to love them and I think Maggie would like them too...

Essentially they're large, interlocking curry combs that you can attach to walls, fence posts, etc.
I'm not going to get around to installing them until this weekend, but after I get them installed, stay tuned for a product review!
They can fold 90 degrees so you can fasten them around corners.
On my shopping list for real was a cooler for Maggie. I currently only have a too-big knit one for her that I don't like, because I don't think they wick the moisture as well as fleece ones. Goodness knows she'll need a real one this winter once we really get working again. I have always had my eye on one of the gorgeous Horseware Newmarket coolers (you know, the one with the stripes)... I was on the lookout for one at Equine Affaire - an affordable one - but alas, it was not to be. If I were going to get one it would be the chocolate one, but I didn't find a chocolate one in a 69". Also, there weren't any for less than $130. Holy no. Nuh-uh. Not paying that much.

So $40 off-brand cooler it is! 

Navy blue with tan trim. Looks pretty decent if I do say so myself. And it also has a double layer of fleece which I think is nice.

Fuzzy pony in a fuzzy blanket.
My other purchase was a saddle pad with pockets for the trail. I already have one (which isn't getting any younger) in this style and it's super handy. I got brown with hunter green trim thinking it would look nice on Maggie - and it does - but now I'm kind of wishing I got a louder color like "Don't Shoot Me Orange" or "Don't Run Me Over Green" . That would have been more practical. Eh :/

In addition to the shopping, many people go to attend/ audit the clinics. When I went in 2011, I remember watching a bit of a jumping demo. I honestly don't remember anything about it (no idea who the clinician was or what discipline exactly), but what I do remember was that one of the horses in the clinic was definitely lame and the clinician was definitely still having the rider continue to jump him, which left me definitely unimpressed.This year was different though. This year there was DAVID O'CONNOR. 

Eventing Nation already posted a quick article summarizing his sessions:

I was able to attend the Sunday afternoon session which covered XC exercises you can do in the ring. I'm gonna give you my take from this clinic in another post because 1.) He's DAVID FREAKING O'CONNOR and he deserves him own post, and 2.) I want to keep you hanging ;)

Thursday, November 13, 2014

No Stirrup November Progress Report #1

NSN Ride 1 (Thursday): I already wrote about my first NSN ride last Thursday. It went quite well, so I wasn't expecting the hot mess that was our second ride...

NSN Ride 2 (Saturday): It basically looked like this:

I don't know what the heck happened...maybe I was stiff and wasn't moving with her correctly because there was absolutely no connection at all during any point of that ride. It was all just hollow-backed, head in the air, paso-fino trotting.

Since it was Saturday and therefore I could ride during daylight hours I experimented with videoing my own ride using my phone. I set it up on a fence post and let it roll, but the spot that I picked only got part of the 20 m circle that I was working on. Next time I'll set it up in the CORNER of the ring and then it will get everything. (Genius!) I'm not even going to bother uploading the video because it's so poor (the quality of the video as well as the riding) but I did take some screen grabs (also terrible quality but better than nothing.)

I think maybe I just needed to relax? I think I look quite tense. My leg could use to move back behind the girth more. Also, I noticed from the video that I was hunching forward quite a bit. A definite no-no.

Bonus Ride (Sunday): It's beach season!!! My friend E and I got a pass for my horse trailer and went to Crane Beach. I did ride with stirrups, because that's generally a good idea when off property/outside the arena. But all in all, it was just a nice leisurely stroll and I let Maggie relax. 

Photos by my friend, E.

NSN Ride 4 (Tuesday): Both my husband and I were off work for Veteran's Day. I told him I wanted to go to the barn in the morning to do some no stirrups jumping and he actually volunteered to come and video me! Such kindness! I took him up on the offer, but the ride didn't go exactly as planned...

I warmed Maggie up with stirrups to make sure she was moving ok. She warmed up pretty nicely. I had set up a bounce with two small cross rails and when I pointed her at the jumps she CHARGED. Holy smokes, since when do we rush at jumps? I was gonna cross my stirrups after one time over the bounce to make sure it rode ok, but geez...

So I tried the bounce a couple more times, still with stirrups, and each time I was unable to get her to quiet down and be under control. Geez, horse. I don't really want to yank on your face, but you're not really giving me a choice here...

So after a couple ugly bounces, I declared that it was henceforth dressage time until a certain horse could control herself and listen to mommy before going back to jumping. I then proceeded to get her quite tuckered out on the flat and when I pointed her at the bounce again she fell out of the canter and somewhat clumsily trotted over the second cross rail. Well, at least I got her to stop rushing...

So I threw in the towel on jumping at that point, but I wasn't about to let myself off the hook without doing any no stirrups work. So we flatted a little more and did ok - much improved over the previous no-stirrup ride, actually

Once again, I need to actually consider the fact that I might have to lunge before I ride sometimes. What a novel idea... I need to figure out how to paste the clips of jumping together before I upload them.

NSN Ride 5 (Wednesday): I figured that I'd take advantage of tiring Maggie out the previous day and hopefully have a low key and productive ride on Wednesday. I was really focused on keeping my upper body relaxed and not hunching as well as keeping my lower leg a little further back. The giraffe-pony did not rear it's ugly head, so that in itself was a success. I was able to keep her a little lower and moving a bit better over her back. I'm finding it hard to keep steady and light rein contact without stirrups - something that will hopefully improve with more practice. 

During this ride I tried to work on straightness - holding contact with the outside rein and leg and keeping her straighter on a circle. Something that definitely needs a lot of work.  We did ok I think. It's definitely harder without stirrups!  

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Riding Without Stirrups According to WikiHow

So I was searching the Google the other day for some articles about riding without stirrups from, you know, maybe George Morris or Jimmy Wofford or the likes. Just looking for a little professional advice for No Stirrup November. Instead I found this article on wikiHow called "How to Ride a Horse with No Stirrups." It reminded me of this Horse Nation article: "wikihow: How to Get Free Information About Horses" which was delightfully awkward.  

You can peruse this article at your own leisure so I won't recap each step for you, but I certainly wanted to bring you some of the highlights:

Right off the bat with Step 1, doesn't something look a Yeah, it's probably the baseball cap and shorts. Plus the girth-less western saddle (do western riders ever do no stirrups work? I don't actually know...)

Once we get to Step 4 and our inappropriately dressed computer model begins her no stirrup work, I discovered that she was even more inappropriately dressed than originally thought. Nice high heeled boots! 

I actually had never thought about what order I crossed the stirrups, though (whether the left or right was on top). I guess if you had a really tall horse it might help to more easily get the left stirrup back down in order to remount. I don't think it really matters to me, but it's an interesting consideration. 

I just wanted to include Step 9 here because I'm having a hard time getting over this poor computer horse's non-existent elbow joint and bent-backward right-hind hock. 

I also wanted to include Step 11 because of the lovely "canter gait" being depicted here. At least the horse's joints appear to be back in place.

As completely ridiculous as the pictures are, this article still (somewhat unexpectedly) points out some good considerations including:
  • Strengthening your core.
  • Warming yourself and your horse up properly first.
  • Having an independent lower leg.
  • Not using your hands to balance.
One thing that confused me and got me thinking was in Step 10:

"Let your hips swing side to side" - Yes.

"...and grip with your thighs." - Not sure...

"Do not grip with your knees," - Correct.

" this will cause uncomfortable pressure points for your horse," - Maybe? I think more the reason is so that you don't pivot at the knees and swing your leg back.

"..and do not grip with your calves as this is the aid the asks the horse to speed up." - Right, but keep your calves in contact with the horses sides. Correct?

What do you guys think? I know we're critiquing wikiHow here so ya gotta take it with a grain of salt (or maybe a whole salt shaker?), but I thought it might be an interesting conversation point. What do you think about gripping with your thighs in particular?

Saturday, November 8, 2014

No Stirrup November - Commence!

This is my first time doing No Stirrups November, but I've always thought riding stirrup-less for a month sounded like a great idea when I saw one of the boarders at my college barn doing it. (It was actually October though...I don't think No Stirrup November was a thing back then.)

So yesterday was the first chance I actually got to ride since October 31st. As I mentioned in my last post, it is now pitch black when I get to the barn after work, but I am not letting that deter me! (At least not until the ground freezes.) 

I had intended to ride on Tuesday, but I got to the barn later than I intended after going to the polls so I opted to lunge instead. Probably a wise decision anyway considering the impending stirrup-less ride. Maggie wasn't as energetic as I was expecting though, just one buck n' squeal the whole time. The darkness wasn't a big issue either, even though it was pretty cloudy that night.

I took the stirrups completely off of my dressage saddle - we're going all out here. 

Yeah, we're hardcore. 
I went to mount up in the ring and immediately looked like a fool because I didn't realize how hard it would be to get my leg over the high cantle of my dressage saddle without my stirrups to assist. I may have gotten a little stuck. And what makes it really embarrassing is the fact that Maggie is only 14 hh (how do you people with real horses even do this?!) Fortunately, thanks to the darkness, no one could see me making a fool of myself...

"What is this, 'No Stirrups'"?
Here are my specific NSN goals:
  • Keep Maggie relatively 'long and low', not hollow backed, to minimize any soreness I might cause bouncing around up there.
  • Focus on keeping my lower leg on her sides and wrapped around her barrel instead/ keep my knees off the saddle. We all know it's very enticing to grip with the knees when riding sans stirrups...
  • Keep my upper body relaxed and tall. I have a tendency (I think it's a pretty common tendency) to hunch forward and get tense in the arms and pull back when I lose my balance. I want to try and keep this from happening by keeping my core engaged, controlling my seat, and not using my hand for balance.

Last night was really nice - around 60 degrees and a clear sky so the moon was really bright. After a little walking to get moving, we started out in a nice stretched out trot. She went long and low right away which was really nice. I was pretty good about keeping my knees off the saddle and my lower leg on and I had to really concentrate of keeping contact with the outside rein. That was a really good thing for me to work on - outside leg and outside rein. Very basic, but very difficult. It was even more difficult tracking  right, which is Maggie's not as good side. She definitely has a harder time using herself correctly in that direction so I really had to focus on keepi her forward and low so didn't hollow her back. 

Today I'm actually not that sore, even though I was definitely feeling the burn while I was riding. Right now I'm just a tiny bit sore in the inner thighs and lower core. Off to a decent start, I think!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Lament of an Indoorless Rider

Let me begin this post by giving you a little background about the barn I board's no state of the art equestrian facility; it's dusty, cobwebby, old, and falling apart in a few places. Full board is not offered - we all do rough board. But even though it's nothing fancy, we all take good care of our horses. They get plenty of food and attention and one of the things I like best about this barn is that all our horses have generously sized in-and-outs attached to their stalls. We also have access to great trails to ride on and we have a decent sized arena (albeit with some sketchy footing in places.) But we don't have an indoor. 

Maggie napping at the end of her paddock. Barn in he background.
This gets to be a pretty big problem right about this time of year, because now that daylight savings is over it's dark by the time I get to the barn after work. We used to have a flood light over the arena, but the bulb burnt out about this time last year and the barn owner STILL hasn't bothered to fix it.

Our arena. A little grassy, a little muddy, a few rocks...but workable.
It's also getting cold out. Sure, I could ride in the dark (on the flat of course) for now, but when the ground freezes it's all over.

Fortunately though, it's not a completely hopeless situation. The barn I board at is actually right next to another horse farm. One that does have an indoor. And the owner of that barn is nice enough to let us poor folk next door rent the use of her indoor for a monthly fee. 

Last year I gave Maggie November and December almost completely off. I rode after work occasionally through November as long as I had enough light, but then in December only mostly on the weekends in the daylight hours (if at all.) Then in January I rented the indoor and started working her again and taking dressage lessons as often as possible, preparing for the upcoming show season. This past  summer was our first "real" show season.  The year prior to that I had only just taken her to her first show in the fall!

Playing around with ground driving Maggie last winter - the indoor and the neighboring barn are in the background.
So here I am at the beginning of November trying to decide if I'm going to rent the indoor right away and keep her in some sort of work throughout the winter, or if I should just give her November and December off like last year and kick it in to gear at the beginning of 2015. Decisions, decisions...

Here are some factors to consider:

  • My goals for next season are to start at elementary level again and hopefully do a recognized BN event at the end of the season.
  • The indoor costs $120 per month to rent.
So is there anything else I should be factoring into this decision? Anyone have any opinions? What do you do with your horses in the "off season"?

Monday, November 3, 2014

Quick Recap of the Past Week

I haven't worked Maggie a whole lot since our last show in Mid-October. I intentionally wanted to give her a little break until I got back from Puerto Rico, then when I got back the weather was crappy and rainy that whole week, so I didn't really get a chance to ride her until we went to the MSPCA beach ride. So she got close to two weeks off essentially! Lucky pony.

Last week I rode on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday. On Tuesday I figured I'd take advantage of some nice bounces that were already set up in the ring so I threw on the Wintec and we jumped around for a little while. One of my friends at the barn hung out with me on the ground while I rode and convinced me to take Maggie over the pseudo-ditch we had set up. And by 'pseudo ditch' I mean that we put some ground poles on either side of a puddle that ALWAYS forms in this one spot in the ring. Hilarity ensued. I actually have video of a couple passes over the ditch that I wanted to string together before I posted, but for now you can enjoy this still, which [believe it or not] actually makes the jump look way better than it actually went.

Wednesday I had the vet come back out to pull blood for another thyroid panel. This is just a checkup to make sure her hormone levels have gone back to normal since her surgery. We'll have the results back sometime this week. After the vet left, I put the dressage saddle on for a short half hour or so ride and I just worked her pretty lightly and tried to get her to stretch out a little. She was good!

Friday I intended to do dressage again, but let's just say we would have benefited from some pre-ride lunging. I should have known by the way she was trying to walk everywhere while I was bridling her and while I was tightening her girth that she was going to be a crazy face. She was raring to go, so I spent the ride trying to get her to settle down without a lot of success, frankly. At one point she heard a car door slam and took the opportunity to crow-hop. Very exciting. I did finally get her into a mostly relaxed trot after a while and then ended the ride on that.

We were supposed to go to a hunter pace Sunday, but it was postponed because the weather was so bad (even though they said it would run rain or shine. I guess they didn't say rain, shine, or SNOW.)

View from Maggie's stall doorway.

" thanks."
My plan for this week is to ride at least Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday again in addition to Saturday and Sunday hopefully. It all depends on the weather though...

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Halloween Flashback Friday

I used to be a super nerd. (No wait, I still am...) so back when I was taking lessons in high school when I heard my barn was doing a Halloween ride I obviously jumped on the chance to dress up my favorite school horse, a black Arabian named Shadow, as a Nazgul horse from Lord of the Rings. Special thanks to my dad for digging these pics up.


My mom made me a sweet black cloak and I made the faceplate out of some craft leather which I spray painted silver. I also got a pair of discarded/ cheap used reins (I can't remember where they came from, honestly) which I cut up and then pieced back together with metal rings from the hardware store using a leather tooling kit that I got from a craft store. Not gonna lie, I was pretty proud of my handy work.

Yep, we fit right in with these guys:

Then when I went to college and brought my mini to the school's barn we got to participate in their annual Halloween Barn, a fundraising/ community event where all the horse barn girls would dress their horses up and kids from the community came and trick or treated at each stall.

2007: Zipper as a tiger and her TB friend, Callie, as a Zebra:

  2008: Zipper as a piƱata:

2009: Zipper as a rockstar and me as her  stage manager. Long live the pink hair dye from Walmart...

I miss that event! It was really a lot of fun. I heard they got 700 people there this year, which is ridiculous!

I've never dressed Maggie up for Halloween before, but I'm sure there will come a day...