Thursday, December 22, 2011

'Tis the season!

Three days until Christmas and we're wearing t-shirts and the horses are naked and caked in mud. I love North Carolina. Nothing better than spring weather in the winter...and I know a lot of people that would disagree with me, but I'm happy as a clam.

Pop and I have been having great rides since he got his hocks done, and were really looking forward to a good jump school today, but it turns out he is trying to pop a gravel in his right hind foot. Poor guy! Luckily it's not anything serious...but will call for at least a couple of days off. Luckily, it's the holidays and a little time off won't kill him (or me). I feel like we've made a lot of progress with our basic flatwork in the last two weeks so I'm happy with where we are right now as we gear up for a new year. He's been so happy to do his job and I've been working a lot on my position and how my aids (even the unintentional ones) affect how he performs. For example, I've always sat crookedly to the left, so I've been trying to be very conscious of sitting straight and in the middle of his back with even weight distributed to both stirrups. I've always been working on keeping my shoulders back and my hands out in front of me. My hunter background has stuck with me (and galloping racehorses didn't help!) and I tend to lose my core and crumple my upper body, especially in the canter. Obviously, perching up there leaning forward isn't going to help him stay off his forehand, so I've been trying really hard to remind myself to sit back, on my pockets, and lift my shoulders to encourage him to lift HIS shoulders. I'll have to work on it on other horses for the next few days but it will still be great practice. C and S are going out of town for Christmas so I will have plenty of riding opportunities this weekend!

On that note, I've been working with Bonita and Sassy as much as my schedule will allow. It's hard to get them both ridden more than a couple of times a week but it's better than nothing. Bonita has been more of the focus. She is a horse who has been taught to travel on her forehand and not touch the bit or move away from leg pressure, so I've really been working with her on A) Going forward no matter what, B) Not ducking behind the bit and C) Moving away from my leg, whatever direction I ask. She's honestly been very willing and patient despite virtually having no clue what I'm asking. She is more hollow to the right and stiffer to the left, but she is learning a bit of inside bend both directions and moves away from my inside leg when asked. She goes forward willingly. Right now I'm happiest with her nose poking out a bit and a light contact that she isn't hiding from, but she still likes to duck behind my hands (even the lightest contact) so I just keep asking her to come forward and keep my hands light and soft. I know this is a difficult thing to correct, especially since she's gone Western for so long, but I think she's a smart girl and willing to learn. I plan on switching her bit out to a French Link...and possibly adding a martingale just for those times where she evades any contact by putting her nose perpendicular to the sky (it's lovely, really, haha).

Sassy is the complete opposite of Bo in that she does not understand going FORWARD from the leg, and will hang on the bit or fight with it. Bonita has a pretty good motor but Sas doesn't quite understand the concept. The other day was a struggle to get her from slamming on breaks in one particular spot in the circle, but once we got really going and with lots of praise she was more content to trot along into a light hand. Again, I'm happy with her nose just poking out and accepting the bit rather than leaning down on it or opening her mouth and running through it. She's a pretty fun little horse to ride. She's got 3 good gaits and, like Bonita, is very willing to please.

In other news, I got my beautiful show coat yesterday and am so excited to show in it next season. It's navy and is a soft shell Grand Prix coat with extra long sleeves (for the orangutang arms) and it is PERFECT! No more praying for coats to be waived so I don't have to borrow someone's only to have three inches of my wrists showing! Woo hoo! Thanks so so much to Pop's mommy Diane for her time and effort to get this coat for me!

I will leave you with some video clips of C schooling Pop last week!

Merry Christmas! May yours be blessed :)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Disclaimer: This was written yesterday. Today I had to say goodbye to my wonderful friend and companion, my dog Gretchen. I will never forget the pure joy she brought to my life and how happy she always was with the simple pleasures of life. Be happy, sweet girl. Where you are now you can run and play all day and never grow tired or run out of land.

Written December 6, 2011:

Pop had some maintenance work done on Saturday, so he’s enjoying a blissful few days of vacation while I stay in shape riding a few of the other horses in the barn while the Boss takes a well-deserved vacation. So far we’ve had one very cast horse who miraculously freed himself with only superficial scrapes…praise the Lord…the way he was stuck (front hoof in between stall barrier, suspended from the beam by that one hoof) could’ve been a very ugly situation. Thank goodness he is okay and seemingly has forgotten all about the incident! Otherwise, things have been pretty carefree in the barn (knock on wood! hard!) and I’ve really enjoyed a little “down time” and more time in the saddle. Had a really good flat lesson with H today on Guppy…she really helped me with him and I managed to pin down why my sitting trot is so horrific…it’s because I unintentionally tense my hips and thus can’t move with the horse’s back. No wonder poor Pop got so against the bit in our last test! The problem is, I’m not totally sure how to mind over matter this one…the more I think about it, the more I tense. The less I think about it, the more I flop. Ugh. Going to really keep practicing that this week on different horses.

Learned a lot about saddle fit today with our equine chiropractor and Guppy. Turns out the saddle we thought fit him best actually is the worst fit for him because of where the flocking is. He’s got the HUGEST wither and shoulder and the pressure is actually on the withers which causes problems down into the ribcage and prevents him from A) using his shoulders and B) using his back. We tried a variety of saddle/pad combinations and the only one that didn’t make him pin his ears and snap was my old Kieffer and a foam flocked pad. Going to try that on him tomorrow to see if there’s a good improvement with the added weight of a rider. I knew the Kieffer was the best saddle on Earth *wink*

Sassy has been doing really well. I rode her twice last week and then again today. She is so kind and comes right up to me in the field and walks in quietly. I’ve been just trail riding her and working on a consistent forward gait and light contact with her mouth. She doesn’t get direct aids, she doesn’t get half halts, she doesn’t really understand forward without running in the trot, but she sure does try hard and she’s always listening. Today I worked her in the field (lots of terrain changes and distractions, but good for keeping her interested!) and I really felt good about the ride. She started out behind my leg and sticky but within minutes was taking me forward in a brisk trot and keeping even contact on the reins without getting quick or stuck or rushy or fussy in her mouth. She’s quite out of shape and we only rode about 15 minutes but we did canter both ways (me in a half seat, more of a hand gallop than anything to get her striding out) and then her trot improved immensely and we quit with that. She walked quietly back to the barn and was patient for grooming and turning out despite the two in the paddock next to her bucking and playing like hooligans.

She likes the happy mouth…she accepts it easily each time, and she’s learning that contact doesn’t mean fly backwards or play giraffe. I’m trying to just keep my hands still and keep the contact as steady as possible, and she truly is getting more and more comfortable with it each time. Today, no head tossing or arguments and she listened to an opening rein to turn rather than just going away from it and fighting with me. Good princess!

Pop goes back into work tomorrow; I’m planning just a nice short hack but he’s also supposed to be shod so he may just get another day off depending on how the morning goes. I can’t wait to see how he feels!

Take care! Stay warm! (it’s been 70 for a couple of days and the cold is due to appear again tomorrow!)