Friday, May 29, 2015

Catching Up and Show Prep

I've got a little catching up to do in terms of what we've been up to and what's coming - brace yourselves!

Sunday May 27th we were at the Myopia Hunter Pace. I figured since it was relatively physically taxing I'd give her two days off afterwards, so I'd pick up riding again on Wednesday.

Tuesday (19th) the spring vaccines my barnmates and I ordered (we give them ourselves) arrived and we administered the 5-way right away since we were a little behind the game in getting them this year. So since Maggie got her shots Tuesday evening I ended up giving her Wednesday off as well. Me and S let Maggie and Rio run around the arena together for a little while before we gave the shots basically to make ourselves feel better about the ponies getting 3 days off and we tried to get pics of them running with the pretty dogwood in bloom in the background.

Excuse the levitating Mustang in the background...
So Thursday (the 21st) ended up being the first time I rode after the hunter pace. I did what I thought was a fairly easy dressage ride that wasn't too focused. I was just trying to get her back in the groove without being to strenuous. I recall thinking that it was just an 'ok' ride - nothing spectacular. Then I brought Maggie back into the barn to untack, brush her off, etc. Part of my untacking routine is to make Maggie do "carrot stretches" but she wouldn't stretch at all. Normally she is super bendy. Poor pony - apparently she was more sore from the injection than I thought!

Friday (the 22nd) I made Maggie do the carrot stretches before I tacked up and she was a still a tiny bit stiff, but she still eventually reached back all the way on both sides. Much better than the day before. We did a short ~20 mins of riding and we worked on a slightly longer rein and did a lot of figure eights and center line turns. Then we went for a nice hack down the road with S and Rio.

Saturday (the 23rd) I was determined to jump so I tried setting up the cloverleaf exercise from my last lesson to practice. Turns out that our ring (at least in it current partially dug up state - but that's another story for another day) is too small to do this exercise properly, so I just ended up doing the fences singly instead of stringing them together. I also set up the barrels (which to my delight and surprise Maggie did not spook at) and I also set up these pallets which are yet to be turned into brush boxes. Dan scores them from his work for me - total win when your husband can get you crap to make jumps out of! Maggie didn't even blink at them. Good pony!

Sunday (24th) I was going to do a dressage ride. My plan after that was going to be to give Maggie Monday off, ride Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, then give her Friday off, then show (Groton House Farm 2-Phase) Saturday. However, when I was grooming her before tacking her up on Sunday, I noticed that her back seemed a little sore.


Indeed, as I ran my fingers down her back and alongside her spine she dipped it a little bit. Not OK, horse. Not OK. What the heck? My hypothesis - or the only thing I can think of, really - is that maybe when I rode her on Thursday, she over compensated with her back for her sore neck? Maybe? I don't know... But I gave her a liniment bath and no riding.

Monday (I'm not going to specify the date anymore) I felt her back again and it still dipped a little so I decided to give her another liniment bath and the day off again. I also gave her a gram of bute in her dinner just to hopefully help her along. I left her morning grain drug-free so that she'd be clean by Tuesday evening.

Tuesday I had a dressage lesson and I was nervous all day about Maggie's back, but when I got to the barn and tested her she was good. We had a kind of hit or miss dressage lesson; things were great...until we went to run through the actual test (Intro B). We had trouble getting a good walk rhythm coming back from the free walk and before picking up the trot again and after picking up the the trot again she would rush and not settle back down until halfway through the next 20 m circle. Nothing too rough and my instructor that it was good overall, so I know we'll be fine for the show Saturday. It'll be what It'll be.

Wednesday Maggie's back was a little more sore than the day before, but not at bad as it was on Sunday or Monday. Plus she had the mother of all manure stains on her back. I opted not to ride and just hosed her off, gave her another liniment bath, and let her graze. Ah, to be a horse.

That's what I get for not picking her paddock the day before...
Yesterday, Thursday, her back was less sore than the day before so I opted for a quick ride; just 15 minutes. We did the free walk - medium walk - trot transitions, and they were alright. Our centerline turns and halts at X were pretty decent, if I do say so myself. I gave her another gram of bute in her dinner grain.

Today, Friday, I took the day off of work and I have a full day of vet appointments and show prep planned. I'll start by trailering Zipper over to the vet's to get her teeth done (thus avoiding a farm call) and then I'll have a little time to run some errands before heading to the barn where I plan to do show prep including packing and tack cleaning, plus I really need to clean all the empty shavings bags out of my storage stall. We have a vet appointment (they should show up sometime between 3-5 pm) for the four horses in our Co-Op, including Maggie, to get their teeth floated. Apparently the vet won't do more than 4 floats in a day, thus trailering Zipper to them in the morning. Eh, whatever.

My ride time on Saturday is 2:12 pm and the jumping time is unspecified - it seems like a lot more people registered this year than last year! My division (E) is split in two and the BN division is split in 3. Overall, I'm really excited and looking forward to this show. I love the venue and I'm excited to get back to eventing stuff after doing some "unconventional" (for me) shows earlier this year.

There is a little piece of me though that's nervous that we're going to flub the dressage for some reason. Probably because we've been so hit or miss for the past week and a half. I really want all the hard work we've done over the winter and spring to be evident! But if there's anything that horses (and dogs and every animal really) have taught me, it's that they're unpredictable and whatever happens, happens - you just have to roll with it. I'm ready though - bring on the season!

I just want THIS.
(and if anyone has any though about Maggie's back, let me know! It's weird...she's never had a back problem before, and I do routinely check because I'm a crazy paranoid person like that.)  

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

5 Ways to Be Prepared for a Potentially Disastrous Trail Ride

Dramatic enough for ya?
Now that the weather here in New England can officially be called "nice", the ground is drying up and equestrians, mountain biker, walkers, and runners alike are starting to hit the trails. Between fancy prancing and jumping practice, I like to take the occasional hack through the woods and I am very lucky to have  access to two state forests within walking distance of my barn. 
Trail rides are normally uneventful. I'll be honest and admit that I sometimes find them downright boring (mostly just because we have to walk a ways down the road before we get to the trail head), but it's good for both horse and rider to take breaks from all the arena work. One day last summer however, we had a particularly exciting ride - and not in a good way.
I fell off.
I fell off Maggie in the middle of the woods and she ran away and I had to go chasing after her.
Fortunately, things turned out fine. We both had quite a run through the woods and she had a few little nicks on her legs, but other than that no harm was done. Things could certainly have turned out a lot worse and I'd like to share with you a few things that I think helped us out that day as well as a few things I wish I had done differently:

1. DON’T settle for an ill-fitting girth.

I fell off in the first place because Maggie got spooked by a noise in the woods (just a rustling of leaves as far as I could tell, nothing terribly out of the ordinary) and jumped to the side. I got unbalanced, my saddle slipped, and I couldn't right myself.
I was riding in my Wintec that day and at that point I hadn't had it for very long so I hadn't yet purchased a designated girth for it. I had been borrowing a girth that was really too big and having trouble getting it tight enough. I had tightened it up as much as I could before I got on, but I think once we got to the trail head I could have used to tighten it up another hole or two.
I think that if the saddle hadn't slipped I probably would have been able to ride out the spook and regain my balance, thus preventing further disaster.

2. DO have your cell phone with you and keep it on your person - NOT on the saddle or in a saddle bag.

I hope you've heard this one before. If I'm not wearing a jacket with zip-up pockets where I'm sure my phone won't fall out, then I always stick it in the side of my boot or half chap. I've never had a problem with it staying in place there and personally it never bothers me. If my horse had run away with my cell phone I wouldn't have been able to go running after her like I did. I could have, I guess, but I don’t think it would have been the smartest thing for me to go running through the woods without a way to contact someone. For one thing, I didn't know which direction I was actually headed so it could have been very possible that I would have needed to call someone to come pick me up if I ended up somewhere far away from my barn.
As I was chasing after my horse I was able to call both my husband and a friend of mine, let them know what happened, and get them to help search and call other people. 

2a. DON’T have only one person in the group with a cell phone.

It was just me and my friend riding together that day. Thank God we had both brought our phones with us. If we hadn’t both had our phones I would have had no way of communicating with her after Maggie ran off. Since we were able to call each other we decided that the best course of action was for me to go after my horse and for her to take her's back to the barn. And since we both had our phones we were able to waste no time in communicating with one another. We kept talking about our options even after I had gone off after Maggie.

3. DO have some sort of identification on your horse or their tack so that if someone catches them they can contact you.

One of my (many) worries once my horse got loose was that if someone caught her how would they know who to contact? How would I find where she was and get her back? Before my next trail ride, I got a little tag with my name and phone number on it and put it on Maggie's bridle. I just went to my nearest Petco and used the tag maker machine there, because it was the quickest. Another option is to order custom bridle tags from a company like Dover or Smartpak. As an eventer, of course I have multiple bridles so I made sure to eventually get a tag for the bridle that I use for cross-country too.

4. Know the local police station's phone number/ have it programmed in your cell phone.

I didn't have the police station's number in my phone and I was too busy running after my horse to stop and Google it on my phone. I phoned a friend who then called the police and also the local trail association for me and altered them of the situation. If someone finds your horse they are most likely to call the police to report it if you don't have a tag with your phone number on the bridle (as I didn't at the time). If your horse truly goes missing, it's the police who will probably end up helping with the search.

5. DON’T leave your car keys somewhere that your friends can’t get to them and DO have friends that can haul a trailer.

As I was running through the woods, one small comforting thought was that at least I remembered where I left my car keys and that they were accessible to someone if I told them where they were. That way, if my horse and I ended up far enough away from the barn (or tired enough) that we couldn’t walk back I could tell my friend where my keys were and she could grab my truck, hook it up to my trailer, and come pick us up.

By some strange miracle and with the help of some strangers hiking or biking the trail along the way who had seen my horse, I had managed to follow the correct path and find my horse being held by a very helpful girl (in riding apparel no less!) accompanied by two other bystanders who had helped catch her, plus a local police officer who was just driving up as I was jogging in.
With just a few small scratches on my horse's legs, a nice bruise on my hip, and my wounded ego we were able to walk the mile and half along a road back to our barn. We both needed a nice long cool-out anyway.
Do you have any tips for staying safe on the trails?

Friday, May 22, 2015

Myopia Hunt Club Spring Hunter Pace

You guys. This was SO FUN. If you ever get the chance to do a hunter pace I would highly recommend it. 

My friend used the app "Track My Hack" to record our ride.
I went with my friend S and her horse, Rio, and we chose a nice mid-morning start time of 10:30 am - 11:00 am so that we didn't have to get up at the crack of dawn. We actually ended running a tiny bit late and starting at 11:19, but no one seemed to care or mind. If you're looking for a low-key but competitive outing, I'd say a hunter pace is probably your jam. 

There honestly isn't a whole lot to talk about; we walked, we trotted, we cantered, we had a blast. We got to ride on land (both public and private) that I've never ridden on before. There is an urban legend that the town of Hamilton, where the Myopia Hunt Club is based, is the horsiest town in America boasting the highest horse per square acre ratio. Not sure if that's actually true, but I would believe it. It's a very small town with quite a lot of horses and there are some seriously gorgeous and expensive farms. And of course there are miles of trails maintained by the ECTA.

Just a casual, everyday driveway lined by apple trees and green pastures.

It was a pretty warm day out - I think the temperatures reached the high 70's - and the course was almost 6 miles along. Maggie and her mustang barnmate Rio were both total champs and plugged along at a trot for the majority of the course. We walked whenever we were on paved ground (plus in the woods at the end a bit as they started to tire a little) and cantered up the hills be encountered. The horses were pretty sweaty by the end, but rather unfazed. Good conditioning! Neither of us really had to kick on at all - the 'Stangs are a pretty epic trail team!

I did mention before that I wanted to use this pace as a little bit of an opportunity to get Maggie over some XC jumps. Even though we were riding the non-jumping division, we could still choose to go over anything we pleased. Silly Maggie gave EVERYTHING the hairy eyeball. Even as I just trotted her past a jump she would bend toward it and give it the stink eye. What gives, horse? I mean, I know you haven't jumped any XC since last October, but still, you HAVE jumped them before!

We crossed the very train tracks that I take in to work everyday.
I waited until we were back in the woods where nobody could see us  before actually attempting any jumping. The first thing I pointed her at was a 2 ft log...which she gave the stink eye and stopped at like she'd never jumped a log before (she has). I circled her and she went over it fine the second time. Then a couple strides away were some rails in a coop shape (not sure if the type of jump has an official name) about 2'3" so I pointed her at those as we sailed over the log. Even right after jumping the log she gave me the big 'Nope!' at the rails. I circled her again and then she went over the second time. Ugh Maggie - this is why I get nervous about XC! More schooling is clearly in order before our first 3 phase of the season (which I just mailed the entry for yesterday!!) A little further along was an actual ditch (we have only ever schooled a faux-ditch before) and there was no way I was going to pass up the opportunity to try Maggie over it. I trotted her to it, she ducked her head to inspect it and slowed way down, but then popped over it and I have her a big pat. First ditch = conquered! Rio (who is not a jumper) even followed us over the ditch at a walk and actually put his foot in it (it was very shallow) and it was adorable. He tries so hard!

[Aside: why are there no fence judges in hunter paces? If you're doing a jumping division then how do they know you did all the jumps? I don't understand.]

Apparently there was something interesting to the left.
We finished in 1:08 and we found out later at the awards banquet (which was hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill at the gorgeous and, I'm sure, very expense Myopia Hunt Club Stables) that the official pace time was 1:14 - which we thought was really pretty good!  They were awarding ribbons through tenth place so we thought maybe we had a chance, but alas, no. I guess it's not too hard to get relatively close to the pace time? The winners of our division were only 7 seconds off! Very impressive. The scores haven't been posted online yet, so I have no idea how far away our placing was.

Apparently we could have gone slower and taken more selfies.
I'm already looking forward to the fall hunter pace put on by this same club which is on November 1st this year. Any experienced hunter pacers out there have any tips for achieving the optimal time? Or is it totally dumb luck?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Finally - A Jumping Lesson!

This past Saturday I trucked Maggie out to a farm about a half hour away for our first jumping lesson with a new trainer. I've been talking about looking for a trainer to jump with (since my trainer at the farm next door is dressage-only) since last year and even made it my number one riding goal for this year. So this was a BIG DEAL to me!
Maggie may not have been as excited as I was.
Let me just talk about this farm for a second before I go into detail about the lesson. The farm is beautiful. I wouldn't say it's beautiful in the modern, brand new, everything is sparkly kind of beautiful - but it's beautiful in very historic New England way; rustic style barn, gigantic old trees lining the driveway, and a view of the forest from the riding ring. It even has some historic roots in the sport of eventing...

These pics are from the fall when I trailered a friend to a show at this farm, but srsly. Gorgeous.
Looking down at the jump ring.
Now about the lesson.

I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I was having daydreams of a groundbreaking lesson and coming away with new insight on getting my lower leg rock solid and my release perfect. Of course though, we went back to basics first. Just like I need to get to know this new trainer and her teaching style, she needs to get to know me and Maggie and see where we're at and what we need to work on first.

We started with some flat work at first and New Trainer (aka Jump Trainer) watched us warm up. I was taking it easy and trying to not do too much, but after just a couple circles at the trot I was asked to shorten my reins and ask Maggie for more contact. Hmm...that was a familiar request. Our main focus of the lesson was on keeping Maggie packaged and getting her to think about the placement of each footfall, not just trotting or cantering around willy-nilly. 

As we worked on the flat, we focused a lot on turning from the outside aids and getting Maggie really attuned to my outside rein. I've been working on this a good bit (RE: straightness on a circle) with Dressage Trainer, but more at the trot than the canter at this point.

Here are my takeaway points from the flat portion:
  • At the canter, I need a lot more outside leg to get enough impulsion to keep Maggie engaged. Like, way more leg than I thought at first. I had to give her a good boot once or twice.  
  • I might need to put a little more weight in my stirrups at the canter in order to help regulate the rhythm (instead of letting Maggie set the pace). More weight in my stirrups will hep me control the movement of my seat.
  •  Before turning (at any gait) make sure that the new outside rein is engaged and organized. Always have a moment of straightness before the change of direction.
And then we did a little jumping. Just a little bit. Like I said - it was a 'getting to know you' not a 'let's see how high your horse can possibly jump' lesson.

After watching us trot a cross rail a few times, Jump Trainer set us up with an exercise: 4 jumps (very small verticals) in a '+' shape and we were to trot the first, then circle left, trot the next one, circle left, etc. Like this:

There were two main points that this exercise focused on:
  • As before: turn from the outside rein. This keeps Maggie balanced. Better balance approaching the jump = a better jump.
  • Do not change rhythm when approaching the jumps. Jump Trainer said I've done good work teaching Maggie the job of getting from side A to side B (that was validating to hear!) and now the next step is to keep her packaged as we approach the jump. She needs to stay balanced and tuned to my aids as we approach the jump and I had to concentrate on not letting her rush. 
Jump Trainer says that Maggie has the ability to go at least to Novice level at some point (awesome to hear!), that she's a keen horse that tries hard to please (which I knew, of course), and that I'm not too big for her (which was also good to hear, as I'm a little self conscious about that.) What we need to work on is getting her to the jumps correctly and setting her up for success to get over them, since she can't rely on her height once they get bigger.

I really liked working with this new trainer - it sounds like her training philosophy is right on and I understood what she was trying to say during the lesson. Every now and then she would stop and say "So how did that feel?" and I would have to really think about what I aids I just gave. I think I got my self in a really good place over the winter and so far this spring with all the flat work we've been doing because I think it put us in a really good place to get serious about jumping and make the most of these lessons. I'm hoping to do a lesson with this trainer at least once a month - it's a little pricey, but I think totally worth it!

Monday, May 18, 2015

New 'Do

Thanks everyone for the input about Maggie's mane! This happened over the weekend:

No, I did not kill a skunk...I cut the mane! Here's the breakdown of the "votes" you all gave in my informal poll:
  • 12 short mane with button braids 
  • 3 long mane with a different type of braid
  • 1 neither: cobra/Dutch braids instead
Honestly, I think I was ready enough for the change so instead of messing around with different braiding styles again - I just went for it. I do love the look of those Dutch braids though, so maybe I'll still play around with that! If you have nothing better to do for the next two minutes and thirty-eight seconds, here's a time-lapse video:

I really don't like pulling manes - I just think it's sort of cruel - I wouldn't really want someone yanking my hair out by the roots, so I just used a comb and scissors. I combed sections down and then held the bottom and combed the hairs up like I was going to pull it, but then I used scissors to cut the hair in small strokes at a 45 degree angle. It worked pretty well! I actually think that I may need to go back and actually pull some of it though, as much as I don't ant to - the black part of her mane is apparently quite thick. I may have cut it a little on the short side too...but I'm really not sure.

I do think she looks like an adorable little sport pony and I can't wait to put it all up in braids and admire how freaking cute she is, but I'll admit to being a tiny bit said that her long flowing mane is gone...

We'll see if the short mane "grows" on me and I can always let the long mane grow back in if I want. I will say, it is already much easier to make look tidy with minimal grooming. In the meantime, I want to know everybody's braiding secrets!! GIVE ME YOUR KNOWLEDGE! Also, if you've got any tips for touching up her mane right now, lemme know! 

And stay tuned for more posts later this week about our lesson with a new trainer and our first hunter pace! 

Friday, May 15, 2015

5 New Things

I guess I've got a couple things going on right now that I should post an update about...

1. A French Link Baucher

I snagged this bit for $10 at a used tack sale a few weekends ago at the suggestion of my dressage instructor who thought it should encourage her to break at the poll a little better. The French link is because I couldn't find a plain single jointed one in the right size. C'est la vie.

I thought Maggie was impartial to it at first - she was still chomping on it like she does every other bit - but then my instructor thought it was too low in her mouth. She put it up a hole on each side and I then I rode a couple laps and I could feel Maggie really leaning against it and getting tense. Too tight. So, that's bridle doesn't fit my bit... I feel like that really shouldn't have to be an issue. I was just going to give up on the bit and go back to a loose ring snaffle, but my instructor urged me to stick with it for a few more rides and let Maggie get used to it. Ok, I guess that makes sense... The fit of it still bothered me though, however it turned into a non-issue when I found...

2. A Monocrown Crank Noseband Dressage Bridle 

Compare this pic to the one above - can you see how much more room her ears have?
I'm not gonna lie...I had started lusting after the PS of Sweden bridles, rationalizing a potential purchase by telling myself that Maggie NEEDS an anatomical bridle to keep from pinching her giant ears. (I think blogger-envy might be a real and dangerous thing.) In reality, what I actually need is to stop putting stuff on my credit card. We just had spring shots and still have teeth floating coming up. Plus I had to buy myself a new pair of glasses because the ones I have are approximately 10 years old and I should really update my prescription so that I actually feel comfortable driving at night while wearing my glasses. I digress...

So anyway, I went to wander around a local tack shop that recently relocated near me (not adulting - but I needed to look for white spray for Maggie's nasty hocks!) and stumbled across this little beauty of a bridle in their "Barnyard Bargain Basement". They had two: one in cob size and one in full size. It has everything I have ever wanted in a bridle: a monocrown, buckles on the cheek piece ends, adjustable throatlatch on both sides, a crank with a ROLLER BUCKLE. I hemmed and hawed for a minute over my sad bank account, but I bought the cob size and I'm really glad I did because it fits Maggie beautifully. 

I feel like it gives her big mule ears enough room to be comfortable even though the crown isn't contoured. It's also really nice to finally have a bridle where the cheek pieces aren't on the very first or the very last hole. Adjustability is a wonderful thing - I can even get the baucher to sit in the right spot in Maggie's mouth with it. And heck, Maggie seems to be going very well with the baucher now. I'm not sure if it's because I actually gave her enough time to get used to it (a novel idea) or if the bridle really helped the fit of it that much.

Dressageing: Can't stop, won't stop. Still working on that whole 'sitting up straight' thing though.
I have never particularly cared about crank nosebands one way or another, but I have to say, it is wonderfully easy to do up. And I'm just using it loosely on the first hole, so I'm not actually cranking her mouth shut. 

The brand is "Gold Medal" which I have never heard of before. I have no idea if I got a good deal on it, but I don't really care at this point since it fits Maggie so nicely. I'm still curious about it though, because I can't seem to find an obvious webpage for the brand.

Anyone recognize it?
 3. Stubben Dressage Stirrup Leathers

Alright, I admit that this purchase had more to do with aesthetics than my horse's comfort, but LOOK AT THE PRETTY:

It's glorious.
I found these in the same bargain basement as the bridle. The tag said they were used, but they didn't look it at all. I have been wanting, not really needing, new leathers for my dressage saddle because my current ones are really too long for me and starting to crack a bit. I did some quick Googling and found that the leathers in my hands were priced about $70 less than they were anywhere online. Mine.

Yes, my dressage saddle is actually deep brown. Yes, the leathers are black. No, I do not care.

4. Total Saddle Fit Shoulder Relief Girth

You may remember that I had found one of these girth used online and promptly bought it be used I thought it was the right size...but it turned out that I was dumb and measured my horse wrong. I sold it, but at least having seen how one of these girths would at least sit on Maggie well was really good to know. I searched for another used (smaller) one for a while to no avail so I decided to bite the bullet and buy one new at full price. ..and I'm actually quite happy that I did.

Greatest mustache ever. Also came with bonus hat.
I've heard from different sources (fellow bloggers for one) that these girths can really vary in quality and apparently it's very true. The new girth seems to be nice calfskin on the underside and it is a lot squishier than the used one I had, which appeared to be 'plain' leather all around. 

So soft, so squishy.
I never liked the way my cheap Wintec fit so I'm hoping that Maggie will be generally more comfortable with this girth. I haven't had issues with the saddle affecting her movement (at least not that I've realized) but I don't think that anything designed with the horse's anatomy and comfort in mind is a bad investment. Unless, for some reason it just totally doesn't jive with your horse. 

If you're curious (I was) here is how much it gaps at the front point:

Yes, I should probably get new billets put on my saddle...
There definitely is a little more pressure around the back of the girth than the front, but I'm not as concerned about it as I thought I might be. It really doesn't gap in the front all that much and I had to pull it down with a fair amount of force to get it to do what you see in the picture above.

The whole ensemble.

Finally, my last new thing is not tack related:


That's right! I have finally found an eventing trainer in the area that I want to work with (she just got back from wintering in Aiken! So fancy) and I have a lesson scheduled for tomorrow morning! I'm pretty psyched - of all the new things right now I think this is the most exciting :)

This was going to be the weekend that I did the 2-Phase followed by the hunter pace the next day, but I'm opting for the lesson on Saturday instead and then will do the hunter pace on Sunday. Maggie and I are going to be pretty tired come Monday!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Day Late Transformation Tuesday

Because "Transformation Wednesday" just doesn't have the same ring to it.

I bought a print and a Facebook download from the official photographer that was at the RRDC show the other weekend to commemorate our first 2'6" round. Even though I'm making a funny face, Maggie looks fab. Plus 20% of the photo sales goes back to the RRDC to help with the cost of the show - I thought that was pretty cool.

Photo by Nature of Light Photography
I also was emailing back and forth with the MSPCA earlier this week about a random volunteer project and I sent them the above picture just as a little update. They'll actually use it on their Facebook page later this week or next week. They sent back a picture of Maggie from when she first arrived at the farm that I hadn't seen before:

Photo courtesy of the MSPCA Nevin's Farm
The MSPCA staff member who sent me that picture said: "I remember trying to coax her near to me with pieces of apple. She was so afraid of everything back then, and now she soars over fences :)" 

Look at her mane, and her ribs, and that left hind hoof.

Sometimes one of the last things I want to do is crank out a blog post when I'm feeling tired, burnt out, or like I've been neglecting my poor husband. But then I get a reminder like this about the journey that this horse has already been through and it gets me really excited for what's still to come - and really excited to keep documenting it!

Monday, May 11, 2015

And Now Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Programming

After playing in the Hunter Pleasure ring over the weekend, I'm not sure I can adequately express how good it felt to be back in a dressage saddle on the flat.

Trying to hunter so hard, it hurts.
Nope, definitely not switching disciplines anytime soon.

So I had a dressage lesson last Tuesday evening. We let off in our previous lesson by realizing that Maggie can, in fact, work over her back and step underneath herself. (Sidenote: just the other Denny Emerson put up a great post on his Tamarack Hill Farm Facebook page about this concept and it is perhaps the most clear explanation I have ever heard!)

A tricky concept for riders who are unfamiliar with dressage training is "the engagement of the inside hind leg." It can...
Posted by Tamarack Hill Farm on Wednesday, May 6, 2015

What I need to do is be less passive in my riding and not let her evade the contact. When she pops her head up, I keep the contact in the reins by widening my hands and softening when she relaxes down. With the exception of trying to ride like a hunter for a couple days, I've been working on her long and low frame with this method pretty successfully for the past two week. Some days are more successful and consistent than others, but that's just how it goes. 

Stretchy trot boss
We started out our lesson last week at the trot in what was a good rhythm, but Maggie was a little pokey and behind my leg. Probably still tired from the show on Sunday. To fix this, my trainer had us do a couple upward trot/canter transitions, which always wakes her up. The timing of my aids for the upward transitions still needs work - must ask during the sitting phase of posting, when her inside hind is coming under. The transitions did get better over the course of the lesson though, as we got more in tune with each other.

From there we did some serpentines and stayed fairly relaxed, but when we were asked to turn down the center line and then leg yield to the track Maggie's head popped right back up and she fell out of balance and stopped stepping under, never mind crossing over. This was especially apparent when leg yielding to the left. 

Clearly crossing over behind here, but still very messy
My trainer brought us to a halt and said that she thinks Maggie now needs to be told where she is allowed to hold her head and neck. She had me shorten my reins to the mark second closest to Maggie's mouth (I have this type of reins) and hold her there at the halt for a minute. My trainer said that with that much rein contact she might try to step sideways or back up, but I should just stay soft in my body, but maintain the same contact with the reins. If she backed up I could correct her with my legs. Maggie was pretty submissive at the halt and didn't try to get out of it, so we proceeded to the walk where I was then actually able to get her really active and engaged. Normally the walk for us has always been super lazy.

Excuse us while we go be fancy
And then she had me pick up a sitting trot for basically the rest of the lesson and my abs proceeded to sing me sad songs. I was to keep my rein length consistent (at the second mark) at not give her any rein at all - my instructor wanted Maggie to find where she needed to hold herself. And when Maggie did find the right spot to hold herself we got a few really nice trot strides before she went back to trying to go under or over the bit. When Maggie got the right spot I was allowed to relax my wrists and forearms a little but I was not allowed to slip my reins at all.

Good except for me leaning
When she holds herself where she sound, my instructor was really happy with how she was stepping under. However, the rest of the time while she's fussing with her face she just inverts:

Or curls up:

I waited a little while to write about this lesson because I really wanted to get some media for it, so these photos are from me riding on my own on Saturday. I brought my fancy camera and tripod, set it up at one end of the ring and let it roll. Here's video of the last bit of our ride if anyone cares to watch. You can see her trademark "nose dive" evasion, but you'll see some decent moments here and there bookended by some ugliness. Nice stretchy trot at the end too:

Maggie has really been fantastic during our last couple lessons and I feel like we're making huge strides (literally?) so then when I go to ride on my own a day or two after our lesson I am always expecting big things then a little disappointed when it doesn't turn out as good as our lesson. I mentioned this to my instructor the other day and she said, "Well that's because you don't have someone yelling at you for the whole ride!" A good point. I'm hoping to get my husband to come film my next lesson in another week or so - I feel like having a recorded lesson would be invaluable!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Friday Feedback: Long Mane vs Short Mane

I have been contemplating whether or not to cut Maggie's mane short. Mainly (pun intended), I think that the shorter mane might be easier to care for and stay put in braids better (and if I'm being completely honest I think it looks more "eventery" too).

The reason I haven't done it yet is because I feel like button braids are more time consuming to do than a running braid. At least that is what I have been telling myself. Then when it came time to braid her mane for this past weekend's show I did a terrible job of it and it looked awful.
Pardon my blindingly white horse

And it looked even more awful by the end of the day:
And yes, I gelled/ quickbraided it when I put it up.
(Also, obligatory post-braid curly hair pic:)
She looks like a poodle.
I am attributing this weekend's abysmal braiding partially to it being the first show of the season and I'm not warmed up yet. I CAN do a better running braid - see header above.

However, I do think button braids in a short mane would stay put better throughout the day than the running braids. So I want to know: long mane or short mane for Maggie? Anyone who has experience with both have a preference for one or the other? Why?

And if it helps, I actually do know what Maggie looks like with a short mane. When she first came to the MSPCA she was a scraggly mess so they cut it off. Here she is after they cleaned her all up and she was almost ready to pop a baby out:

Photo courtesy of MSPCA Nevin's Farm
Cute, no?