Friday, December 21, 2012

Last Lesson of 2012

I was able to squeeze in 1 last lesson before the close of 2012, and was even able to get some video! It was 1 long video and but I managed to pull out a few clips.


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Confessions of a Tack Hoarder Pt 1: Ben's Favorite Things

As Christmas fast approaches, I thought I'd take a moment to review what I'd like to call Ben's Favorite things... aka his tack and equipment used on a daily basis.

I am not one to spend a lot of money on overly expensive gear. In fact, I generally hunt around for quality, but inexpensive things - especially for a young horse who is constantly growing and changing, and more apt to destroy new stuff.

That said, I had to start from ground zero with Ben. I didn't have any tack his size. So finding good deals was very important...but still cost a small fortune to outfit this horse over the course of a year.

#1 Saddle

This has been THE single most important piece of equipment that I had to resolve. Once Ben came out of training, I knew I had to get him a saddle. I opted to get exactly what he was being ridden in - a Wintec Isabell. Hell it was sticky, it fit him alright, and I liked the deep seat. It worked for a few months. But as I increased my time in the saddle, I just kept hitting a proverbial wall of pain. My hips were killing me. The twist was blocking me from allowing my leg to hang right. I was tightening mucles that needs to be more supple - and pissing off Ben in the process.

So,  after several fittings and trials, I narrowed my choice down to an Albion Platinum Ultima w/ Genesis and a Kent and Masters S-Series.  Both leather, but both worlds apart in price - more than $2,000 different. In the end, I just didn't love the Albion enough to justify the cost, and I was scared at all the fitting costs beyond the actual saddle.  It was much easier to justify the $1800 I spent on the Kent and Masters.

And I LOVE it. Seriously, its a fantastic saddle for us. Adjustable tree, adjustable thigh blocks, adjustable billets.... narrow twist - my body completely relaxes when I ride in it. Ben, too, seems quite happy himself.

#2 Bridle

When I set out to get a bridle for the big man, I wanted to find something with a contoured mono or comfort crown. I found Schnieders to have exactly that - at a whopping $80. The only thing I didn't like much about this one was the crank noseband, just out of sheer simplicity. I've recently swapped the noseband out for a basic one I got off a Horze Daily Bridle purchased at half price for $35 as a back up.

#3 Bit

I did actually spend a bit of cash on Ben's bit. When he was in training, he was ridden in a KK loose ring. I had tried to put him in something similar when he got back, but he was all fuss. So I splurged and got him his $130 bit.

#4 Saddle Pad

I started off with basic saddle cloths from Dover - and I really liked them. They are inexpensive and wash up quite nicely. But as the months pressed on, I was noticing white hairs cropping up all over Ben's  back. Because he's such a bouncy/funky mover, I think the saddle was moving around a lot and taking the pad along with it. That was causing friction rubs. So I figured I'd try a sheepskin Numnah and I never looked back. Barn World has great prices - $75 for an Engel numnah is pretty good! I'll admit I bought an all-white one too, but I can't seem to take it out of the packaging to use, LOL. Next year I plan to get another black or navy pad to rotate into the mix.

#5 Stirrups & Irons

I detest bulky stirrups - so therefore all I use is Wintec Webbers One day I'll upgrade to Bates, but for now, it isn't necessary.

Stirrups are also important to me because I tend to have achy hips, knees and ankles. Traditional irons are plain torture, as are jointed irons. I've tried changing out the pads, as well as adding the Super Comfort deals, to no avail. Last year I discovered wide-track composites, and fell back in love. Even more so, has a product called "Reflex" Stirrups, which are wide track composites, but the foot bed has a bit of give to it. Fantastic. Once they come back in stock I'll be buying another set for my other saddle.

#6 Girth

We've tried our fair share of girths this year- all in hopes of stabilizing our saddle. Anatomics (Prestige and Tekna), fuzzies, straights in neoprene, sheepskin, leather, you name it....we finally settled and enjoy the Ovation Airform Girth at a whopping $30. Mind you the anatomics alone sent us well over the $300 mark - but I was able to sell off the Prestige!)

#7 Boots

These are important to Ben. He has a tendency to flail his legs about (less now than earlier this year), so as to prevent injury via knockage, we must boot him up to ride. During a summer sale, I opted to try SmartPak's sports boots  for fronts and hinds. These have been fantastic. They wear well and are so easy to keep clean  - I just pop them in the washer and then let them air dry. They do not crack, peel or anything - which were shortcomings of my Dover brand boots. My only wish would be for these to come in smalls so my friends with tinier horses could also enjoy them!

#8 Blankets, Sheets, and fleeces oh my!

Ben has a lot of hand me downs in this department. We've been lucky enough to have friends with large horses who no longer need their blankets.  And while pushing 16.1, Ben is pretty short bodied and fits comfortably into true 78" 's, of which I have plenty of blankets. Our light weight sheet favorite is the Amigo Lite 600D. Fantastic when the temps are mild but protection from the wet (and subsequent mud) is still needed. Our slightly heavier sheet is a Schnieders Classic StormShield 1200 D. Once he got clipped and the temps dropped even more, we moved to a Pessoa Tundra, and have waiting in the wings a Schnieders StormSheild Body Armor, and a Horsewear high neck.

For riding though, ben also has a fleece quarter sheet we got for a whopping $13 from Horze. It is a lovely color, and though once too big, is now slightly too small since I hemmed it, LOL.

#9 Halter 

Living in the PNW where halters get rained on mercilessly, I wanted to find a classy, yet durable halter for ben. Rope halters get soaked, Nylon gets soaked, and to be honest, I'm not a fan of those. I'm not dumb or rich enough to let leather halters hang out all day outside either. A friend of mine introduced me to beta type halters, and by far, my favorite is one that Big D's sells. In black, you cannot tell this halter is NOT leather. For $30, it is a great buy.

#10 Treats

Enough Said.

So that is really it for Ben. Maybe we inspired a Christmas gift for your special equine, or maybe we just posted a bunch of links for nothing. Next post is all about the rider...

Friday, December 14, 2012

Comfort Zone- Yer Not In It

Ahhh, the joys of having a trainer. On the one hand, my horse and I have made amazing progress over the last 10 months. Progress that would likely be years in the making, or even just a pipe dream if we didn't have her.

On the down side, in order to make said progress, sometimes, said wonderful trainer pushes the envelope a little, knowing full well what horse, and rider, are capable of doing.

Last night's lesson was one of those times.


Everything started out great. Both of us marveling at Ben's new found smooth-ness. Little trot here and there - extend, collect, medium, leg yields, canters, 10 m trot circles- routine.

And then she decided to try to kill me via 15 m  canter circles.

Okay, maybe she didn't want me to die....but I am pretty sure I will die. Apparently I have a great fear of riding a small canter circle. Ben is big...and the distance from me to the ground is significant. And let's be honest, he isn't exactly all that....graceful. All I can picture is his feet coming out from under him and down we go.

But push she did. I whined, I squealed, I cringed.  And in the end, I rode the damn 15 m canter circles, and I am here to tell you about it.

Turns out my horse can do this. Trainer says, at the end "You know, I wouldnt ask you to do these things if I knew he wasn't ready. In fact, when I ride him go smaller."

Shut it, just shut it. LOL

Nah, I do appreciate the prodding. Without her, I'd just want to toddle around all day. Instead, I'm actually getting somewhere. And I must say, I'm pretty damn proud of ME for gettin 'er done.

Take that, you 15 m canter circle bastards.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

You'll Never Believe What Breed He Is!

Ben went to the fairgrounds again last night. Lucky for us, there was no rain, and it wasn't too cold.

He was a good boy. Excited at first to see all the horses sharing 1 pretty scary indoor arena- complete with pretty loud xmas music - lots of bells and ring-a-ding-dinging. But we walked around a couple of laps, and he calmed himself. he was mostly consumed with watching the other horses, and being a bit scared when they zoomed by. Some of these people cut it really close to you. Lots of new sights/sounds for horses- GREAT desensitizing, but not for the faint of heart! LOL

When I climbed (literally) on, he was a good boy.  He had to have a good look around at the horses, the stands, the boards. No shenanigans.

I did feel like something was a bit...uhm, off. Walking, he was fine. But for some reason, he was having a really hard time picking up the trot, and keeping it. Totally new behavior. Almost felt like he was lame in the front, but I couldnt quite place where it was. Then I looked at my friend who was also riding and she said "its the footing." Sure enough, the sand footing was weird- it was slick, kinda wet and clumpy, and balling up in their hooves. This was NOT the normal footing in this arena - i remembered it to be brown dirt...and this was clearly weird sand type stuff.

We took it easy, Ben was clearly having a hard time, and losing a bit of confidence.

This morning I checked the fairgrounds website and sure enough, they are hosting indoor arena motorcross practices. That would explain the change.

So, not sure I'll go out there again with him. While it is great to get him out, its not worth risking an injury, or him losing confidence, when the whole point is to have him gain positive experiences.

On a positive note- we did get compliments again :) One for Ben's neat clip job, and the other for his sheer beauty...errr handsomeness. That gal said "You have a beautiful warmblood there, how old is he?" So when I told her what he really is, she went over to her friend and told her "look at this guy, isnt he gorgeous? You'll never believe what breed he is!"


Monday, December 10, 2012

Smooth as Silk

Very interesting development this week!

I started Ben on Pentosan - he had his first shot last week while I was away. He was ridden twice (Tuesday and Wednesday) and then had a 4 day vacation.

Yesterday marked the end, and we went for a ride. I didn't know what to expect...would he be excitable, having not done much for 4 days - standing around in the cold, wet weather? Would the Pentosan make him excitable? Or would he be grouchy, which is often the case?

I wasn't really looking forward to the ride, I'll admit. My body was a bit sore - fair amount of knee pain from my travels. I figured I'd lengthen my stirrups and just let my legs hang, and if all we did was walk around, so be it.

Turns out, Ben was fine. He was not excitable- not even when the horse sharing the arena with us got all fired up on the longe.  He was as level headed as could be. Love that horse!

And it gets better... after our long warm up walk, I picked him up into a a trot...and immediately something felt...different. Normally, our initial trot work is herky-jerky bouncy until he has a few minutes to lube up. But this time was different... I realized I was hardly moving up there - even with my longer stirrups.  Wait, what?!  Is this the right horse?

It still took him a bit to really warm up, but I was absolutely shocked at how smooth he was. His canter seemed a bit harder to warm up into...but his either in 2 rides he learned how to move completely differently...or the first shot of Pentosan had something to do with it. My money is on the Pentosan.

He's got 3 more weeks of loading dose, then once a month there on out. I'm quite keen to see what happens from here!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Poking the Bear

Ahh the weekend. Friday was Ben's day off  which meant I could plan on riding 2 days in a row.

Saturday was pretty routine. Ben was slow to warm up, and behind the leg. Shocker, I know. I was pulled, pushed, and bounced in the tack (all while trying to resist these very things while pushing him to move forward and carry himself, LOL). He went sideways INTO my leg, bucked, kicked, slowed to a halt...pretty much did everything but go forward nicely. But eventually, about 15 minutes in, we got to where we needed to be. Nothing really to write about, apart from being a little disappointed because I thought we were beyond all that.

Sunday I was ready for round II of getting beat up by my horse. But Ben was really great from the start. He had a quick warm up, and we did pretty nice trot and REALLY nice canter stuff. We're both getting the hang of the transitions, and things are just coming together. Our ride was short.

 But it didn't end there. While I was letting him walk on a loose rein, I decided that I was going to, in about 10 minutes, pick the reins back up to do a quick trot and canter again. What I really wanted to do was school Ben out of his ratty-ness that I KNEW would come out if I asked him to work again after he perceived he was done. It isn't his fault- he is so used to riding for 20-30 minutes and being done. But the times he's had to go back to work after a break, he's shown his, shall we say, displeasure.

I was in the mood to deal with it, so deal with it I did. Our 10 min walk went by and I picked him up, and asked for a trot. Low and behold, I had a ratty gelding who was NOT happy. He started to grind on the bit and scowl at my leg (which wasn't doing much but softly asking him to go), and bounce around in his passage-buck thing he does when he's posturing. I schooled him out of it, and in 2 minutes or so he was back to trotting nice. We did a few canter transitions and got back a nice trot, and then I ended it.

I'm not sure if I did anything effective, but I was proud of myself for not taking the easy road, and instead, begin to fix a bad young horse habit.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Little Nod and Smirk to a Milestone

My lesson last night was quite fun!

Ben started out, surprise surprise, behind the aids. Lazy, sleepy, with his well known "do I have to?" routine.

Trainer had me work on transitions from walk to trot to wake him up, but this time with the added fun of keeping him in my hand. The fun part about Ben is that you KNOW when things go very wrong, or very right - it is quite clear. If he is not on the aids, if he is bracing, when you ask for an up transition he'll want to twirl his head, jump into a pace for a few steps, and then trot. It kinda feels like getting an old jalopy started - spurts, sputters, backfires. However, if you can get him soft - loosen his back, ask for bend, and then apply leg, you'll get a nice unbraced upward transition free of the pace. There really is no grey area with my standardbred!

From there we worked on  even more transitions, circles of various sizes, and then canter.

And then somewhere in there my trainer got me doing transitions from walk to canter, and walk to trot then to canter in a faster sequence. Working on precision, and timing of the aids, keeping him on those aids. Then she had me start counting stides. Ask for canter, down to walk - walk 5, ask for canter, rinse and repeat.

Doesn't seem like a big deal, but this is a big milestone for me. We've moved beyond the "ask when it feels right" stage - which translates to "get your shit together and sometime, in the next century, preferably sometime before A, ask for canter." We're entering the stage where my trainer expects us to stay together for longer than 30 seconds thus allowing us to be a little more accurate in our work. 

 The exercise sounds easy - but its not, especially at this stage. Keeping us together is hard work, nevermind preparing for the next steps, which you need to keep in mind because everything happens so fast. We did it well a few times- but we also sucked a bunch- and it was all on me. Apparently I can't multitask well....yet.

We didn't ride very long at all, but boy were Ben and I a hot sweaty, steamy mess.

During my coolout I had a flashback to a moment in the summer where I was watching my friend school this very same exercise with her gelding. I remember looking on and being completely jealous but also quite certain that it would take Ben and I 2-3 years to get to the point where we'd be capable of doing what she and her horse were doing. Turns out 2-3 years was really 2-3 months  - not too shabby.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Gargamel, Where are You?

I has hate for yous rite now
Poor Ben...or not so poor Ben. Yes, I subjected him to wearing a smurfishly blue cooler while waiting for his masseuse to arrive. The poor dear. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012


Ben had his first body work session today! Our friend Corinne did some work on the young chap. She uses a lot of light touches and gentle releases. It was VERY interesting to see Ben's reaction to this level of work. At first he wanted to scoot away, but soon quieted down, and then got really into it. He looked as if he was falling asleep, but yet had these twitches going on, as if little electrical currents were shooting through his body up to his head and neck.

Corinne was able to do some great stuff on his hind end, but when it came time to address his shoulders and neck, he was less interested in participating. So instead she focused back on relaxing him by addressing the back end again, and then ended the session. Next week we'll try again.

This session was the first of 4 total sessions that will happen on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. From there, we'll see what kind of maintenance schedule is needed.

Friday, November 16, 2012

When Naughty is Nice

Wow, what an interesting lesson last night!

Once again, Ben has changed his game.  I kinda like it! Rather than being sluggish, he's got a lot more pep. Its been much easier for me to relax into the saddle and depend on him to keep going. Previous attempts at stuff like half-halts would bring on a full shut down, but now I can half halt to rebalance and push him- actually getting something somewhat decent.

It could be the cold, the fact that I clipped him, or who knows what. But he's been really fun!

...and naughty.

Last night, after our first break, Ben was a bit of a stinker when I picked him back up and expected him to go back to work. He was posturing, kicking at my left leg, and breaking into canter even though he knew quite well we were trotting. In the canter he was getting bouncy, like he wanted to pop up and down. The key was not to punish him for the forward, but to address his reaction to my leg aid. Trainer had us do trot/halt/trot transitions. They were not crisp at all. Basically, if I wanted us to halt, he wanted to keep going. And if I wanted us to go, he wanted to stay halted. Uhh, work with me here, buddy.

But eventually we got it, and it took his mind of being a cow. Then we went back to canter work and voila- beautiful stuff.

In a way his attempts at naughties were concerning, but I kind of like it in a way- it is easier to ride. In general, it is much easier to ride a moving object than a still one. I can work with energy, regardless of the type.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Otis Lee

Ben got a haircut last night.

I has girlz, but not hairz
The whole time I was laughing to myself, singing this little number in my head:

Friday, November 9, 2012

Are YOU Prepared?

Last night's lesson was brutal - not because of the work we did (which was awesome- our 10m circles are coming along quite well!), but because of the cold! At 7:30 pm, it was 37 degrees.

A couple of months ago, I went into PANIC mode, feeling quite unprepared for the cold wet winter months ahead. And so I went on a bit of a shopping spree.

For me- I purchased 3 different winter breeches. Horze Grand Prix soft shell (at 50% off), Tropical Rider Toasties Lite w/ Clarino, and Kerrits Sit Tight and Warm. I also bought Ariat Bromont winter boots. I didn't stop there. For my hands, I decided to try the Roeckl Winter Chester gloves. I went on a binge at Costco - I bought a box of those hand warmers, merino blend socks, and merino mix under garmets for base layering. For jackets I bought 2 Columbia jackets- an Omni heat soft shell (great for riding), and an Omni Heat winter jacket to wear around the barn while tacking up, etc.

For my horses- a couple new sheets, new fleeces, and quarter sheets.

Overkill, eh? I suspect so. But I absolutely refuse to be cold this winter. You East Coasters will laugh - rarely does it ever dip below 30 - I'd say we get in total about a week or 2 of lower than 30 temps. But that bone chilling rain - man sometimes I think 34 and rain is way worse, even indoors. Everything is damp, and COLD.

I refuse to be cold.


Tuesday, November 6, 2012


Ben and I went with our friends to an open ride night at a local (very local, 10 min from the barn) fairgrounds. I knew I had to get him out again after his little incident on Saturday- whether it was more for me or him. But, dammit, I was determined to not let his BS happen a second time.

So, donned with Stick Tight breeches, out I went to face the music.

Ben loaded up great, hauled great, but once we got to the fairgrounds, he was nervous. He's only worked off a trailer a couple of times now, and never in the dark, and never with so many horses/trailers parked in one spot. He held it together, and within minutes we were walking down to the arena.

Once in the arena he was a bit frightened. There were a bunch of horses in there, and one gal in particular was running some sort of pattern around the horses, and to be honest, cutting it quite close to the riders. Great for desensitization, but kind of rude all the same. Ben did freak out a couple of times, but sure enough, he got over it. Rather than get on prematurely, I just walked him until I felt him relax. It didn't take more than 15 minutes.

Once on, he started out fresh and spooky. He was pulling at the contact and contorting his body to look at whatever spooky thing it was.  I focused on keeping my focus, and my contact should he decide to pull out his newly tried party-trick.

But it never really came. Yes, he was nervous. Yes, he had a couple of big, sideways spooks. But yes, he got over it and got down to work.

The best part is that at the end of the ride we realized we had people watching us. We got a couple of questions and compliments. People wanted to know what breed he is, of course. One person, in particular said "Young lady, your horse is gorgeous, and you make him go very, very well."

Aw, shucks - thanks, mister!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Party Tricks

Savin' my energies for evils

Ben and I had the opportunity to go to a schooling show this weekend. I'll be honest, with the issues we've been having, and the lack of riding I've been doing, going to a show sounded about as fun as cleaning my house.

Alas, the opportunity to bring my horse to a venue, and even possibly school him in bigger spaces was too big of a draw to turn down. So on Friday evening we packed up our things and headed back down to Donida.

 The trip took over 2 hours in traffic. We got there, unpacked, and quickly tacked up to get a ride in the massive indoor arena. Ben was pretty good. The funniest/scariest part of the evening was walking in the dark...apparently my horse is not so good at that. He was tripping and spooky. I guess that is because he never has to walk in the dark - he's always in his stall during night hours.

We had a quick school. It was kind of warm and he sweats very easily - and I didn't want to hold up the group by waiting for him to cool off for an hour afterwards. So I kept it light. Ben helped a few of the horses get over the spooky end of the arena- he's so good, he just stood still and created a funnel for them to ride through. We called it the "Ben Sandwich"  Good boy.

The next day we spend the morning busily preparing the other horses who were actually showing. My plan was to pull Ben out in the afternoon for another quick outdoor school. All I wanted to do was let him open up for some long trots and canters in the big outdoor space Donida offers.

Great plan, right?

Well, Ben had other ideas.

I walked him down to the arenas, all tacked up, and he was great. I walked him around the grounds a bit, and he had a few minor spooks, but nothing that made me really worry about his mental state.

My friend helped me get on him, as he was a bit fresh for mounting. However, once on, he seemed to chill out and we walked around a bit. After about 10-15 minutes of walking, I figured I'd may as well get on with it and ask for some trot. By this time there was maybe 4 horses out there. It was a bit windy, one horse was being longed in the background, and the others were in various stages of trot/canter work. Nothing we haven't encountered before. But the big wide open space overtook him and after about 5 seconds of nice, calm trotting, my little 4yr old's brain popped. Out came the squeal and the "OH BOY"

Thoughts of evil fun took over. He wanted to buck, run, jump, do high-school moves. He started rearing. He started backing and hopping from front and to back end, like a lipizzaner preparing to levade. I tried to settle him, but he was just too wound up. So I picked a good moment to get the heck off, realizing, light bulb moment here, that I was with my TRAINER :)

She offered to get on him after her upcoming tests. So I took the liberty of walking Ben around for the next 30 minutes. He was fresh in hand, but he started to settle. I had half a mind to climb back on myself, but I decided against it because I didn't want to climb down again if he acted up.

My trainer climbed aboard, and yes, he still had some inklings of fresh, evil 4 yr old antics, but dialed down a few notches from my attempt. She got him past it and off they went, trotting and cantering from one end of Donida to the other, practically.

At least he got what we came for. I didn't really feel like riding him after that, I just wanted to cool him out and put him back. I was done with Ben for the day.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Trick or Treat!

Shrek and Donkey
 We took a little break from our very serious (ha) dressage work to party with our barn buds. Everyone had a great time dressing up. Lots of yummy food and drink -tons of laughter- can't go wrong!

Ben says "I deserve a treat for this, you know."

Monday, October 22, 2012

Umm, where did it go'?

I had 2 very interesting rides on Ben this past weekend. The first one was on Friday, and the second on Sunday.

I'm not really sure what is up - unless it is just a little training blip. Or maybe it was tack, or a phase of the moon, or...?

On Friday he seemed quite resistant to everything. Now, i did change the gullet in my saddle because it was sitting too low, and I added a sheepskin saddle pad.

My horse has forgotten how to trot. He will pace. He will canter. Trot? Not so much. When I finally got him to trot (after warming up at canter, I figured I'd use the gait he did have), he was giving me this bouncy passage thing - something he does on occasion. Its really hard to ride, and kind of makes you feel seasick.

On Friday I tried working with what I had. We did transitions, I let him canter, more transitions. I eventually did squeak out a little trot, and the pace went away. He didn't seem particularly nervous- no bit grinding at all. He wasn't angry - no ear pinning, dirty stops, etc.  I kind of left perplexed.

Saturday I gave him the day off while I tended to other matters, and yesterday, decided to ride again. The sun was shining and I had hoped to be able to get him outside, but the footing out there was just way too sloppy to be considered safe. I don't want to spend all winter tending to an injury, so I decided a short ride in the arena would be it.

He started out very much the same way as he did on Friday, but maybe a few notches less. I didn't have to warm him up at canter. But I did have to muddle through the passagey trot, and I kind of just laughed it off and worked on trying to keep my own equitation in order while he did that.

He did work out of it- but in the process went back to his old evasions - ducking behind the bit, feeling a bit lazy. But those I can work with.

The upside of this is that his canter has been awesome- in both directions. I've really enjoyed that!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

And So It Goes

Kitty Massage
Life of Ben continues.

Sunday's ride was okay. He was a bit more resistant to work on Sunday than he was on Saturday, and I could only partially get him out of it. We did poles and he tired quickly.

Ben grinds his teeth when he's tired, nervous, and possibly in pain or sore. He's been pretty quiet the past couple of weeks, but on Sunday the grinding returned a little bit into our ride. I think it was due to being tired, and also we've been having some saddle issues again- friction rubs near the shoulders, and when I got out of the saddle, it seemed to be sitting pommel-low. This seems to happen on and off with any saddle I use on him. And now I'm seeing some white hairs appearing - which is NOT good. But these white hairs are not concentrated on just those areas, but also scattered in clusters in other places - where the pad might touch but not the saddle.

I ended up changing out the gullet to a narrower one, and it looked like a better fit. Our saddle has not yet arrived - still waiting!

I also freaked out and also bought sheepskin pads from - and holy moly, I ordered on Sunday and they arrived on Tuesday. Nice!

So we'll see if that alleviates the problem - as I have yet to try the narrower gullet and the sheepskin.

Trainer texted me last night to say she had a fantastic ride on him that morning, and that she's riding again this morning. No lessons this week- so I'll have some catching up to do over the weekend!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Video Updates

Ben and I had an amazing lesson on Wednesday. Even the trainer said this is the best she has ever seen us. Wowsa, those are some good words!

Thursday he had the day off, but did have to stand for the farrier to put new shoes on him. Friday the trainer rode him early, which means he essentially had another full 30 hours off until our ride today.

Immediately I noticed he was tired and sluggish, but my friend was there to video us before she rode her own horse, so I pushed on. Of course, because of that, I felt pressure to just get on with it and not do what have been doing recently- more transitions. So as a result, I look naggy, my position is off, too. Dammit, when will I learn to just ride the way my horse needs me to.

Despite that, when comparing these videos to the work done in the summer, wow- what a difference! He's stepping under himself much better, has a much stronger (almost too strong) connection - which is so different from where we were just a few months ago- hind legs dragging out behind and him ducking behind the contact. He's able to make smaller circles, change direction all while (mostly) keeping the connection.

As always, we have SO much work to do still, but heck, I'll take this progress!

(and no, I am not working on any fantasy that this horse and I are ready for First level...its kind of an inside joke between my friend and I)

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Why is this so...easy?

Somehow, out of the adversity we just went through, came big change.

I had another few rides on Ben. I'm a little alarmed because things have gotten easier. I know I probably just jinxed myself, but it is true. We are no where near perfect, but all of a sudden I feel like I have a much steadier horse underneath me. One who is accepting and taking contact (most of the time), and listening to much lighter leg aids. I feel like I am working less to achieve better results.

This doesn't go for our canter work, haha. I am getting better at asking for canter, but keeping it is still a struggle. His canter, while MUCH improved, still needs quite a bit of help, especially to the right.  I can't quite relax the body parts that need relaxing, aka my lower half. When I do that, he breaks to trot.  And then we're a jumbled mess, so we have to regroup, ask again. Its tough because i need to get faster at re-asking him, but in order to do that I need to have my shit together, which tends to fall apart when he breaks. We're getting it, but it is still a struggle. I am still working for every stride of the canter I get, both from him and myself.

We'll get there.

But back to the good stuff- man our trot work has gotten much better. As have our transitions (funny how that works, LOL). Just last night I was able to keep him together and change directions in big figure 8's without fishtailing around. I was able to do some 10 m circles without his shoulder flying out the side door.

I love having a nice horse, I hope he sticks around for awhile!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Finally Listened to My Trainer

I don't try to tune my trainer out, really I don't. I think it is more that when I am riding, I'm only kinda listening. I've got so many other things going on - feels like 400+ things to do/keep track of in the saddle (relax left leg, sit up, use abs, look up, don't let him pull you forward...blah blah) that sometimes, I just miss stuff, or hear it and forget it, as it isn't part of what is keeping me alive and upright in the saddle in the moment.

However, having had a boost of confidence this week and a bit of an upswing, I've been able to recall a bit more of my past lessons. One of those things have been transitions. Let me tell you, I've always kind of hated transitions. I know, its a weird thing to hate. But really, I kinda like to put my car/horse in gear and just coast at that speed with very little intervention from me. This is probably why I prefer forward horses, if even a bit hot. Those horses, while really fun to ride, have allowed me to become quite complacent, and I very clearly have holes in my riding abilities because I never really learned how to motivate a horse.

Left to his own devices, Ben is a major quitter. I have tried, and failed to muscle, if even bully him through it. And I'm finally learning that this just doesn't work with a sulky horse. Now that I've been riding in a saddle that helps me keep my position, I'm realizing this. I'm no longer fighting 2 things, now its just him and I.

I don't want to fight my horse, it is just not right. The other day my trainer was telling me about her rides with him the previous couple of days, and how she did about a million transitions with him, and how it helps him get more forward. At first I was like, "huh?" How can transitions, especially downward ones, get him thinking forward? Won't all this stop/start/stop just piss him off?

NOPE! Transitions are KEY. It gets his brain going. It gets him to understand quick pressure with the leg. It gets him balanced and easier to ride between the transitions. I played with this last night. You have no idea how hard it was for me to let go of my own desires to just put him in gear and leave him there. Instead, we played, a lot, with transitions. And as it turns out, little by little, the time spent between the transitions got better! Soon i was able to do what I wanted-  leave him in gait for longer periods of time. And the time spent in gait was quality.

And as it turns out, doing transitions isn't so bad when your body doesn't hurt. I actually found myself enjoying it, thinking, tweaking, and having fun, and not being in pain. I wasn't in my fetal-pre-death position in mind or body.

Definitely something to chew on

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Another Happy Update

Wow, things are suddenly going well again, and a big jump in progress has been made. Funny how that happens.

After our great ride on Sunday, Trainer rode him out on the track 2 days in a row and did about a  bazillion transitions, mostly to canter, on bending lines - shallow serpentines.

As a result, my ride yesterday was awesome. His trot has shown great improvement-  right from the start - no wonky warm up. It was great- upright, balanced, rhythmic, with impulsion and best of all - easy to ride.

Our canter work was alright too. We're getting better. We did work over trot poles and added canter between the sets- it was good.We really have to work on getting better balance at the canter- slow it down without losing the rhythm or impulsion, or breaking to trot. Its a fine line right now, and one I am not very well in control of. Ha!

It felt really good to be on the same page as my horse. Phew.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Attempt #3 at Jumping...

Things are going much better for Ben and I. I have a new focus, a few small wins under my belt that are boosting my confidence.

Sunday is our weekly trot poles/cross rails/ go for a hack outside day with our friend. The last time we rode on Sunday 2 weeks ago, Ben was a complete turd from the start. This time, however, he was on his game. Our flat work was great, and through the trot poles he was awesome.

He still doesn't quite jump  - kinda just pops over at a trot. Maybe we need to make them a bit higher for a little inspiration. He attempted his first was low, but not inspiring enough to jump.

Next week maybe we'll raise the bar.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Self-Help...or Kicking Equestrian-Depression's Ass

I'm sure you've detected a bit of a depressed tone in my more recent blog posts regarding my horse and I.  I have been in a slump, for sure. Ben - well, he's just being a horse, a 4 yr old one at that. He's testing what and where he can, and I haven't been a good enough rider to be a leader in the saddle.

So what can I do - I can moan and complain. Or I can try to fix it. And since I have goals with this horse, I'm electing the "fix it" option.

I've started reading and doing some RiderPilates ( Already, after just a couple tries, I am getting the hang of it, and can say that it has already benefited me in the saddle.

Additionally, I also started reading Janet Foy's book "Dressage for the Less than Perfect Horse." It's been fantastic, and has already given me some little tidbits on what to do with a sluggish horse who wants to fall behind the aids.

And finally, I bought that Kent and Masters saddle. I've been riding now in my friend's for a week, and I can honestly say it has been much easier on my body.

Tonight I was able to take both what I've learned in RiderPilates (doing a pre-ride warm up, and also a breathing technique in the saddle...and focus), as well as some pointers from Janet's book...and lo and behold, I had a great ride.

I can't discount what my trainer also said. Her little voice was nagging in my head...and it was also mixed with Janet's voice...turns out they say the same things, LOL. During my last lesson my trainer told me I was giving Ben too much time between transitions, especially if/when he fell out of work - like dropping tempo at the trot, or dropping out of canter. The problem has been, for me, anyway, that i feel like i need some time to reorganize during these unplanned events. So i'm essentially giving him a break and telling him it is OKAY to stop. Damn. Janet's book said the same thing. So today I worked very hard on keeping him "ON". If we were cantering...we were cantering. If he fell out of it, and he did, several times, he was put right back in no matter how ugly it was.

And it worked, but I worked for it. Its not as if I was suddenly magikal and could just sit there and have this lovely horse flowing underneath me. Not so much. I earned every friggen stride - even the bad ones. He was pulling on me, rushing, slowing down bulging this way and that, and it was up to me to keep him on the task. It got better a few minutes into it- its almost as if he just stopped trying all the BS and got to work. Mr. Asleep was awake and we got not only some great canter but also some lovely trot work. I had a connection, and an outside rein. It was lovely.

Take that, you naughty Depression!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Be Still, My Aching Left Leg

Had an AHA moment last night.  My left leg, for the first time in the history of riding Ben, was able to be still. A combination of a better fitting saddle, and breaking a trainer said "try to keep your left leg from moving so much"...and so I tried to stretch it down. And for some reason, this time, it worked. It felt like a stable, still object.

I was able to repeat the same feeling several times.

Hells yea.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Good Boy

No pictures today...because I was riding! Yahoo!

Ben had 3 days off - it was a good experiment for us to see if he'd return to being naughty after another short break.

This break didn't unleash the grumpy-beast. I used the Kent & Masters saddle I'm borrowing from a fabulous friend, and though it is the smaller seat size, it suits me much better than the Isabell. Ben was pretty nice. I got some good trot work and some good canter work too. I kept it short and sweet because it was getting late and he is being ridden early this morning.

Phew. No telling if this will last, but boy it was sure nice to have a good boy on my hands!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Difference a 1/2" Makes

As luck would have it, the fitter who carries the Kent and Masters line of saddles was up at the barn today, and happened to have on her truck an 18" Kent and Masters S-series. It had the external blocks, but I could overlook that for fitting purposes.

Rather than pull out my dusty, dirty, sometimes naughty gelding (that I had no interest in riding due to extreme soreness on my part after subjecting myself to a 10k race yesterday), I decided I would make a less-naughty horse out of the water barrel and cavelletti blocks. I also lovingly named him Barry the Barrel Horse. He doesn't have much of a wither, and is quite stoic when letting me try saddles on him intended for a horse of a rather different shape.

I am still so amazed at what a difference a half an inch will make. You can see for yourself - angles and such aside, the 18" let me stretch my leg down without my knee jamming into the thigh block, I didn't have to scooch anywhere to find the seat, and best of all, my seat bones weren't screaming. Rather, I was able to just sit, and have the top of my thigh rest parallel to the thigh block, and have my lower leg just hang, with no jamming in any joints - hip, knee, or ankle.

I made it a point to sit in these 2 saddles - back and forth, for over an hour, and each time, I could feel little differences even more. The winner is the 18" Kent and Masters S-series, but with a moveable block. Not too keen on the surface block at all, I like having the ability to velcro the blocks on at different angles as necessary.

I also had the good fortune of picking up a rider pilates DVD and book. Can't wait to get started with that- may be my winter project!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Its About the Journey...Right?

And sometimes the journey sucks when all you really want to do is get to your destination already.

Before I go on - just wanted to update that trainer did ride Ben yesterday, and said he was fine. A little sticky at the walk, but fine afterwards. Her verdict- she thinks he's got growing pains.

I agree with her, but I also think there is more to it. I do think he has soreness. Specifically on the left side of his body. I do think he is growing, too. And I also think he's becoming very particular about his rider- maybe due to soreness/growing. But his tolerance is quite low for an ammy who is less precise, less balanced, and overall less effective. I do not have the ability to make him go well, to show him the light,  he has the ability to then screw around and then get pissy when I try to correct him. I think a lot of it is attitude- in a "you can't make me" kind of way. It's a negative cycle that is not getting better.

So- how do we fix this? I think part of my riding him poorly is pain related on my part. Simply put, I have never been that comfortable on Ben, though when he goes nicely he's much easier to ride and I quite enjoy him. But when he's not going nicely, which is the majority of the time at the moment, I am in a lot of pain, I can't find my balance, and I can't be effective. I need help.

One thing I have zero'd in on is the saddle. The Isabell does me no favors in this department. And so, I have kicked off The Great Saddle Search for Ben and I.

So far we have been seen by two local fitters. One is a rep for Albion, and she is quite lovely. In that demo I learned a ton about my own needs in a saddle, and how little changes in the seat, thigh blocks, pommel, size can mean huge changes in my own comfort. By the end of the demo, we had zero'd in on the best match for Ben and I that Albion can offer: an 18" platinum ultima Genesis, standard seat. And the price tag for said saddle: $4,000.

If you just threw up a little in your mouth, don't worry, so did I.

However, knowledge is power. I walked away knowing which Albion would work. And also what to look for in any saddle when it comes to finding my own comfort.

On to Option B, potentially C...the Kent & Masters. At $1800, just about half the price of the Albion. Fitter came out and did wonderful tracings, and also identified some sore spots on guessed it- on the left side of his body.

I already own one Kent and Masters dressage saddle- I find it to be quite comfortable, even more so than the Albion I tried. I was hoping that with a quick change of gullet and perhaps a shifting of the flocking, that this saddle would work. As it turns out, it was not meant to be- it just rocks too much on Ben and is quite unstable. Kent and Masters, though, has recently come out with a new line - the S series- which is a bit more low profile. The fit for Ben was good. With some adjustments to flocking, it can be made to work for him. For me, it was quite easy on my hips, but boy that seat is hard, and it seemed to be hitting me a bit funny. All the same, during the ride, I felt like I got over that weird feeling. As it happens, a friend of mine has this saddle and offered to let me borrow it - and so I've been riding in it for the past few days. And my seat bones are sore, though my hips feel great. Shit.

What I'd really like to do to rule it in/out is to find an 18" and sit in it to see if that changes anything. While it appears that a 17.5" in any saddle works for me by looks, I've been finding more comfort in larger saddles.

So - I haven't quite found "the one" just yet. I do, however, have pictures and tracings and so if need be, I can send those off to other saddlery's to start looking at other saddle options. However, I do know that the saddles that could fit us are not exactly cheap - I'd be looking at anything from $2500-3500 and up.

Unfortunately, a cheap fix, even used, is looking less and less likely. Even if I find a used saddle, say an Albion, that fits the specs, it will likely need flocking adjustments and fitting, which will add a couple hundred bucks to the ticket- at which point I am closer to the cost of a new one anyway. It would have to be a really great deal, and these saddles seem to hold their value (which is great if i find myself an Albion owner at the end of all this).

I am trying not to let saddle-fitting anxiety rule my life, but thus far I have been unsuccessful. I just want to find it, and move on. And hopefully not be out $4k in the process. I've been trying to tell myself to enjoy this as a learning experience rather than an obstacle impeding my progress. This is an opportunity to learn and grow, and gain knowledge where its lacking.

But I just want a well fitting saddle, dammit.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The 4 Yr Old Dilemma

You know you have a problem when you thoroughly enjoy riding your aged, gimpy, walk-only mare far more than your fit, athletic 4 yr old.

Ben has had a case of the naughties all week. This started out on Sunday, after a 2 day break, after having a great week prior.

On Sunday he was just not having anything to do with being a riding horse.

On Monday he gave the trainer some lip, but worked out of it.

On Tuesday he gave her more lip, but worked out of it. On Tuesday afternoon he was pretty good for me (more to come on that in a later post- I dont routinely have him be ridden 2x a day)

On Wednesday our lesson was cancelled, but I rode anyway, and he was a jerk for 20 minutes. He never actually worked out of it, but he stopped screwing around but was still nervous.

Today - trainer rides him - we'll see what she gets.

So what to make of all this. My first thought is the P word...Pain. Could it be possible that he is sore - either from work, tack, rider crookedness on my part, or maybe even he did something in turnout? I mean, this has not been a gradual descent into naughtiness- it just showed up on Sunday, BAM.

Could it be that he is being a testy 4 yr old?

Could it be that he is burned out and needs a break?

Could it be that he needs a little Come to Jesus and work a bit harder?

With 4 yr olds, its difficult to diagnose, and therefore also, treat.

My inclination, my gut, tells me there is pain or soreness. Specifically on the left side of his body. I think said pain and soreness may be due to saddle fit, rider crookedness, natural horse crookedness, and the introduction of working smaller circles mixed in with big circles.

What is my evidence?

- I know I am crooked.
- I know from feedback and riding it myself, that smaller circles to the left is much harder for him. 2/3 of the 10-15 m circle he can do..the last 1/3 he drifts and cant do it.
-We've been asking him to take smaller steps, and soften his back. This is the complete opposite to what he was born to do. 
- He is resentful when I carry my whip on the left, and use it on the left.
- Saddle fitter came out on Tuesday (more on this later) and highlighted 2 problem areas on his left right behind his shoulder and 1 higher up, closer to his croup...on the left.
-His body is changing, again.

This doesn't really explain why after 2 days off he's super cranky to get back into work. Or does it? He was off a couple of days, and then the re-introduction to work, aka pain, is too much to bear.

The fact that he works out of it with the trainer also tells me that it could be pain. She is much lighter than I, far more balanced and thus effective. She can get him focused and using his body better, whereas I cannot.

So where does this leave me. I have a hard time believing that my horse is being a prick for the thrill of it. He's not that kind of guy. 

Now what to do about it...

Monday, September 17, 2012


Like a nice owner I am, decided Ben deserved a 2 day break from the action. He's only 4, and his body is still growing and developing, so 2 days of rest sounds like a good thing, right?

Sure, until the day comes for you to get him back to work.

This is a known thing-  Ben is typically a crank-pot to bring back into work after some time off. Not always, but I'd say about 75% of the time.

I went to the barn looking to have a fun little ride. What I got was a lazy horse who really didn't think much of my desire to go. If he wasn't just completely sucking back he was flinging his head and body around, surging forward, being pacy. Any real request was completely shot down by him. I tried to get a long canter hoping it would help - it kinda did...but not really. Going over poles kinda helped...for the 1 second he was over the poles- everything else was pure crap and pure resistance.

At one point, and I'm not proud of it, I got really pissed off at him. I was not asking for anything hard- just go at a normal tempo trot. He would not do it. So I admit, I spanked him with the whip, once. He of course kicked out at my single spank, and then was nervous and grinding on the bit, and STILL resistant. I resolved nothing. I know that getting angry never solves an issue on horseback...and yet...I still allow myself to get angry. Gah.

So, seeing the error of my ways, I just decided to do something else. A gal came into the arena to mount up and promptly left to go ride outside, so we practiced going to the gate and closing it- which has a snap latch so its a bit harder than just a normal gate. That was a good little exercise to get our minds off the bad ride. And it was nice to be able to praise him for something he was trying to do well.

From there, I walked him out and just quit. There was no point in trying to get anything out of us. We'll try again today.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Its the Small Things...

Ben is a pretty laid back guy. For a four year old, he could be spectacularly naughty, but he just isn't. he's a cuddly, fun horse to be with.

Except when you need to dress his hooves.

Seriously, of all the things that could bother a horse- sprays, mane pulling, baths, etc...the one thing Ben has objected to is hoof dressing.

I'm not normally one for foofy things, but I've been experimenting with Keratex hoof hardener this summer in an attempt to see if I can help Ben keep his shoes for the full cycle.

Trying to paint this horse's hooves has been ridiculously difficult.

And finally, a couple of days ago, he just let it go, and has been fine ever since.


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Adding a Little Color

Yes, I've reduced myself to the equivalent of equestrian kindergarten= rainbow reins. $3 worth of colorful electric tape and I got myself a training aid.

And you kmow what, it bloody works. I TOTALLY ride with my left rein shorter than my right. And when I can straighten out my left side- origination in the hip, that rein feels equal to my right. Funny how that works...or not, because it means I have quite the issue to sort out.

After a rather horrible, deflating ride on Saturday (turns out taking 2 weeks off doesn't actually miraculously make one a better rider...quite the opposite in fact), today my friend and I decided to mix it up and do something fun. So out came the poles and cavelletti blocks.

Ben got his first taste of jumping!

Now lets not get ahead of ourselves- our cross rail was quite, ehm, low, and the majority of them he just trotted right over. But the important thing is that we had fun. I laughed and smiled and felt really lucky to have such a willing guy. He really liked it too - if allowed, he'd go over every time. He does that with trot poles too- he makes a beeline for them every.single.time.

And as if by magic, popping over the cross rails  and through the poles put a little pep in his step, and softened his back and our resulting canter and trot work was awesome.

It was just what we needed.

I'm not sure how much of this I will do with him - I am very wary of pushing it with a 4 yr old, but on the flip side it seemed to make the flat work better, so I think dabbling with this might be a good thing.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

When You Want to Quit...

It's been 12 days since I've last ridden my horse. What started as giving him a couple days off to recover from our totally awesome beach camping adventure turned into a friend-crisis which called me away from my horse habit for a few days. Not that I had the time to get to the barn - with the Evergreen State Fair traffic clogging up 522 & US2, not to mention the really annoying road closure just before our barn, I also didn't feel much like riding anyway.

Never fear, though, my fabulous trainer is still putting rides on Ben. She rode him 3 times last week, and 2 so far this week. Last night I heard that he's been absolutely FABULOUS. She's been doing so much with him, and even working on sitting trot. He's just fantastic.

Yay - right? Well, sorta. It totally guts me to hear how wonderful these rides are going because....I haven't ridden him! She's not having to repair constant damage I put on my horse when I ride him. Its very clear that my problem with my horse is...well... ME.

This doesn't exactly inspire me to climb back on because now I feel terrible. I'm confusing my wonderfully good natured 4 yr old. He'd be better off just having someone with a clue, aka the trainer, ride him.

Maybe I should just not ever ride him again and sell him to someone who can ride better than me. Doesn't he deserve that kindness?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Beach Trip 2012

What a great time we had at the beach this weekend! The trip down was a long one, thanks to tons of traffic. But we made it before sunset - set up camp, and had nice warm chili and a roaring fire thanks to our friends! The horses settled in just fine in their beach paddocks. Sun up/sun down brought with it horrible stinging/biting knats - the horses were covered with them. Thankfully we all remembered fly masks and Deep Woods OFF kept the knats away. And, as it turns out, Ben accepts the aresol type spray far better than the spray-bottle spray. Go figure.

beach bum - yer doin it rite

Saturday morning we woke up at 6 am thanks to our noisy camping neighbors - I'd be annoyed but they were seriously the funniest people to listen to - kinda like sitting around the dinner table with the Klumps - so they got that nickname for the entire trip. Nevertheless, we enjoyed our coffee and the warm sun, then decided to take the horses out to the beach for the first time.

what is that?

Ben was a champ -it was a beautiful day so it was pretty busy - lots of people, dogs, kites, and horses. tons of horses. One huge barn, Miari stables, came down to school on the beach with about 25 horses. THAT was very exciting for Ben, he wanted to be part of their herd.

Never the less we got our beach ride in - got our toes wet and even managed to snap a couple of pictures in the process.

After a couple of hours, we called it good and went back to camp for lunch, with the intent of having a sunset beach ride. That ride was a bit more, uhm, exciting. As it turns out, Ben is not such a huge fan of high tide. The larger waves, rushing water, lack of compact sand, it was a bit too much. He was still a very good boy, but very overwhelmed, and had some half hearted attempts at showing his displeasure. But, we survived and still managed to enjoy the beautiful sunset!

The next morning, the clouds had rolled in, and the wind picked up. I was not feeling great, and didn't really want to ride at all. Luckily for our group, though, there were 4 riders and 3 horses, so my friend rode Ben. The tide was out again, and the horses were much calmer. It was cold, windy, and at the very end it started to rain- but still quite fun!

We got back to camp pretty quickly after that ride and decided to pack up and go home, knowing the weather was only going to get worse. We had a long drive back with a few pockets of traffic, but otherwise uneventful.

We're happy to be back home but even more grateful for having the opportunity to go beach riding with our wonderful friends!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Stage Fright

"If I show my 4 year old neon green horse training level, and he behaves like he is 4 - I will get a crappy score."  From one of my favorite bloggers, The Dressage Curmudgeon, in a recent post. So, so true, and exactly what happened to Ben and I this weekend.

Now, don't get me wrong. The whole show wasn't a bust. In fact, it was a really great experience, and we had quite a few accomplishments to account for. So, lets go through those first.

+1 for loading well both at home to go to the show, and to go home from the show.
+1 for not freaking out upon arrival at the show grounds
+1 for dealing with immediately being tacked up and going to the warm up without time to soak it all in
+1 for being pretty chill throughout the entire day
+1 for having decent warm ups, despite the crazy busy arena
+1 for having generally clean tests- no bells rang, and the rider stayed on. 

Oh shoot - have I remembered my test? LOL Love the look on my face!

And now, lets review the opportunities...

-1 refusing to bend left
-1 growing roots when scared, and having that carry on throughout the entire test, no amount of urging via leg nor whip effective at all.
-1 once scared, spooking at random shit like dirt hitting the dressage rails, and making ourselves scared all over again, and then avoiding being close to the rail all together.
-1 for being an ass during the second warm up before our second test. Apparently he does not like having a break in between tests.

See? Not so bad - more plusses than minuses. Ben's biggest thing was that the scary corner with the loud gravel was, well, scary. When he gets scared, he starts grinding on his bit, and gets very sticky - which means irregular, gaity- gaits and a lot of work on the part of his rider to keep him going. When he's sticky he's also on the forhand and not straight so we also resemble more of a fish swimming upstream than a horse going down the centerline.

We had 1 score of 4, and that was when he broke his canter and we could not show our down transition from canter to trot. Otherwise we were in a sea of 5 - 6.5's.  Not bad, not good- just right down the middle. I can't recall the exact scores - but I think they were 57.6% and 58. something% Not terrible, not great but not good enough for ribbons - I think we were 7th both times, and there were 8 or so in the classes.

Am I disappointed? In a way, yes, because I thought we had had some good breakthroughs over the past month and I was hoping that would have improved our scores. Then again, I have to remember, this year was not about getting great scores. This year was about getting our feet wet. And so far, so good.

Speaking of wet feet...on Friday we leave for a beach trip.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

What Is A Great Ride?

Smiling at the SAFE Show 8/5/2012 -Photo by Karen Wegehenkel

Rode in a lesson last night. Afterwards, one of the girls at the barn asked me how it went, and I shrugged my shoulders and said "It was okay" while at the same time my trainer said "She had a great ride!"

Huh? A great ride? I did? Are you sure you are talking about what took place in the arena about 10 minutes ago on a certain bay standardbred?

And then that got me thinking about it- why is it that I felt like my ride was so-so, meh, and my trainer thought it was great? I certainly didn't feel great, nor did I feel like I accomplished anything or made any huge breakthroughs.

But upon thinking about it, maybe I did. And maybe a great ride doesn't always feel great.

When I envision a great ride- I have a soft, active, forward, supple moving horse that feels effortless to ride. I hear comments such as "great," " super," " beautiful," and " that's it!" from my trainer. All three of us are on the same page.

This was not my recollection of last night's ride. So what exactly did happen?

We started off with a long walk. I was telling my trainer about what we did during the past week, and that I realized that I, as a rider, am much better off if I figure out my position first and then bring the horse into it, vs trying to make the horse perfect then correct my position. Basically, my own equitation is great until I pick up the reins and attempt to have contact.

And so I showed her. And then slowly I picked up the contact, and life was better. So we changed things up. When Ben flipped his head at me, we worked on something else. Basically, she said - if what you are attempting isnt working, do something else, and here are things you can do. And so it went - we went through a series of exercises to use. 

So instead of resisting his face with my body, I just quietly held my reins and practiced booting him up. Sure, he was above the bit, a lot. It wasn't pretty. But man, it is much easier to ride him. I could fix my upper body. And a couple of times, we broke into canter. And the canter was easier to sit. Last week my seat at the canter was so tight, I had gotten the order that I had to work on loosening my lower half and strengthening the upper- because I have been doing the exact opposite.

From there we added poles to trot through and then pick up the canter.

It felt ugly a lot of the time, but I felt like a more solid rider. My canter seat was much much better than last week.

This morning, I was talking to a friend about it, and she also said my ride looked GREAT. WTF, why didn't I feel great, then? I guess it is because I expect progress to be linear - one thing develops off the next, and you never look back. Reality is, progress is a tangled web. You get better at one thing and something else goes to hell, at least temporarily. Over time, though, you move forward. But ride to ride, week to week, you may feel like you take steps backward, or no steps forward, or things that were going well suddenly aren't. And sometimes a great ride means you worked through some of this - a great ride may not be a pretty, feel good ride at all.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Day 2 - Hunters

Photo by Karen Wegehenkel
I've been putting off writing this post in hopes of having some photos to accompany my tale, alas, still waiting for those.  And at this point, if I continue to wait, the rest of our journey will also get backlogged. Onward we go.

Where was I...oh yes, the SAFE show. Day 2. Hunters. I havent ridden a hunter course in a good 10+ years. Probably closer to 13 or 15 if I want to be honest. Nevertheless, that did not stop Ben and I from trying it out.

Our first 2 classes were on the flat - but in the ring with all the jumps. It was a cool intro for him - he's never been in a full flat class with other horses, nevermind one with obstacles to avoid. We took 4th in our Hunter class - and promptly got called over by the judge. He was very nice- said I have an adorable horse and that I'd place a lot higher than 4th if I lost my dressage stuff - specifically my bridle and whip. LOL. I knew going into it that I was using verboten tack, but I had also checked with the show organizer and she said it would be fine. Judges rule, however is final. Not much I could do, and in our second class, equitation, we came in at reserve, which I pretty much expected after the warning, plus...hunter eq in a dressage saddle isn't gonna happen. No matter, it wasn't about winning, it was about playing around in an arena w/ jumps.

About an hour later, it was time to do our trot poles course. By then it was 11 am, and heating up. Ben was sweaty, flies were coming out to annoy us, and he was getting very antsy and also tired standing in the heat waiting for our turn. Finally, though, we got in there. It was really fun - he was a champ. We managed a 4th place.

After that run, I decided to scratch out of the eq class - one because I'd have to memorize another course, 2 because we werent going to place well in it anyway, and 3 because we were both ridiculously hot, sweaty, and tired. Rather than push it and sour us both to the experience, we ended on our 4th place note.

So there you have it. A successful long weekend full of 4th places! LOL Not bad considering how large each of the classes were. We had our neon-green-bean moments, but we also had some really nice milestones and lots of good times.

Looking forward, we still have a few events on the calendar. This weekend we're going to yet another dressage show to ride Training 2 and 3 again. The weekend afterwards we'll be dipping our tootsies in the Pacific Ocean on a 3 day camping trip to the beach =) Should be loads of fun!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Bio Break

I promise, I will finish writing about the show. Honestly at this point I'm just waiting for pictures.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Day 1- Dressage Highs and Lows

Saturday brought a different can of worms. As the show was getting under way in the morning, I thought it would be good for Ben to see a bit of it- before it was in full swing.  This time I grabbed the halter and lead rope and walked him down. All of the people, tents, sights, sounds, especially the announcer over the microphone - it was a lot for him to take in and he was spooky. He held it together, but I didn't feel like he was very safe to be in the company of others, as it was getting crowded and free space becoming an issue. So we went back to the barn.

I didn't know what to expect for our rides, given how uneasy he was about the crowd- but I figured I'd get out there and try - the worst that could happen is that I'd have to scratch. Saddled and bridled, we headed back down. He was much, much better. I headed for the warm up arena, and once in there, he was fine. So I got on, warmed up, and felt like he was going really well. Still a little looky- but nothing dangerous.

Our first test, Training 2, went great.  A few bobbles here and there, but generally speaking, it was quite good! We went from a 55% (at our first show on June 30th)  to a 64%. I felt like we used the arena much better - our geometry was better, his canter was awesome. He got 8's on his canters!!! HUGE improvement there! Our score was enough to land us in 4th place out of 10. I love the overall comment "Attractive and capable pair" YAY!!

After our first test we headed back to the barn for water and shade and to get recharged. An hour or so later, it was time to tack up again and head on back. This time-things were different. Ben was fine until we got to the warm up area- the arenas had gotten too dusty and so the big water truck had to come through and spray down everything- including the walking aisle-way, and apparently the people/horses in it. The tractor came not too far behind him. Ben's butt was to the water truck when the dude blasted the water- it was poor timing - and I had no idea he was going to do that...actually all of us, even the spectators were a little spooked! LOL. That wasn't good for Ben - he was very jumpy for the 15 minutes it took to water and grate the arena- and there was no where else to go. So at this point we had about 15 minutes to warm up after the crew left, Ben was a spooky hot sweaty mess - and we just had to use what time we had left.

His warm up was less than stellar. His mind wasn't all there- he was tired and cranky and wanted to buck into his canter transitions, he was behind my aids- and there wasnt much I could do about it, except stay on and keep trying to get him back to being relaxed and forward thinking. Part of me really wanted to just school the heck out of him, but the other, more sensible part of me realized it was over 90 degrees, and that my young horse was acting, well, young. A hard schooling right before our test was a risk I wasn't going to take this day.

how are we not falling down? hehe
At least I'm looking where I am going...I think?

Still, I figured I'd give the test a try - at least we'd have our first T3 score and we could improve upon that at another show. I had never ridden it either- so we needed to start somewhere.  So onward we went. The whole ride was a struggle. He had run out of gas, his mind was in other places, and I was just trying to get through it without forgetting the test, not get bucked off, and be done, LOL.

We got a 56.7% - which is still higher than our June 30th scores- and we still got an 8 on our left canter. Comments were all things I knew "behind the aids, horse is sluggish today" Yep - we got what we deserved!

Well, I was glad we did it, but also really glad we were done for the day. So back to the barn we went to untack, cold hose, water, and have some lunch. The next day would be a totally new experience - the hunter arena!