Wednesday, March 26, 2014

And ... the 2nd of the "2 separate posts"!


Haha, I didn't intend for a week to go by before coming out with the second installment of last week's blog post.  I guess fortunately, there wouldn't have been one from this week anyway since it actually decided to RAIN all night long, YAY!  That means Jade gets Wed off from me, and I technically could ride at eventing barn since they have an indoor, but I have a bunch of stuff that needs to get done around here, so I'm actually going to stay home today, oh the horrors!

So after leaving HRH Jade, I made my way 45 mins up the road to the eventing barn.  After our weekly meeting with a facebook rep, I was allowed to saddle up my adorable little fluffy pony again, Puffin!  He is so adorable.  He's actually a fun little booger to ride, as well.  I spent about 20 minutes with the shedding blade, working to remove some of the great "Spring Shed", then led him to the outdoor were I proceeded to mount using the block.  Yep.  I used the mounting block for a pony who's back I tower over.  In my defense, he is extremely fat with no withers to speak of, so it's more of a step over sort of mounting.  Trainer was teaching a lesson while I rode, and didn't have a whole lot to say on the flat with him, which for her is somewhat surprising as she usually can find no less than 5 things at once to correct me on ... while I'm walking!  Lol, but Puffin is a kid's pony, so there's really no need to try and do much more than keep him straight, light, and forward as much as possible.

Then she told me to go jump the tiny 18" vertical.  OK, no problem.  What a cutie!  B/c he is so small, I felt the urge to help him by jumping up his neck, so I definitely got my correction handed to me there.  Trotted over it a few more times, and much better.  I then cantered a pretty tall crossrail; like, the cups were at the equivalent of his belly.  He hopped right over, cute as a button!  Cantered a pretty big vertical, about 2'3, and it was perfect.  His little legs are so short, trainer had to remind me to just wait on him and not get ahead, and I did.  Cantered into a line of crossrails, and I just looped the reins and kicked and he was perfect!

I was pretty content at that point to stop and watch (pony was puffing like a train, anyway.  Did I mention he's fat and hairy?  And it was rapidly approaching 80 degrees?).  I was observing trainer's head groom lessoning on a young, green Morgan/TB named Spellbound.  I'd ridden him a few months ago, and he's super fun.  She was supposed to show him at our schooling show in a few days, so it was jump around time!  They were to trot over the liverpool.  The liverpool is an actual, 4' wide liverpool, that you fill up with water, not just a tarp or something.  There was a tiny amount of water in it, really, it was dry if I'm being completely honest!  While trainer lectured her on using her stick and being effective, I just sat, watched, and patted my pony.  After a few tries, she was able to successfully trot him over the jump, and I turned to leave the ring.

"Ok Jen, now the pony needs to go jump the liverpool!"  Um, are you kidding?  I've never jumped an actual liverpool before, especially not on a 13 hand pony!  I made some comment about me being a "passive observer" as opposed to an "active participant", but I got my crop ready and trotted up after NOT being allowed to show him the jump.  As I expected, he stopped pretty hard core, and ducked left and tried to run off.  Trainer tried to block him with her body, but he was in full on run through mode.  I had my stick out ... but had neglected to use it.  I got yelled at for that, then presented again with another pretty hard stop, but at least this time I used it on his neck, on the left side.  Finally, he leaped over.  Trotted in again, and he jumped after a slight hesitation, then cantered it a few times and he was perfect.  I should have gotten the job done the FIRST time, and not trot in thinking "He's gonna stop".  It's probably self defeating.

My second ride (technically 3rd) of the afternoon was Pluto, trainer's former upper level dressage mount.  He's now her main lesson horse dude, a real steady eddy, and big enough to accommodate most riders.  I hadn't had the chance to ride him yet b/c he normally already has a lesson or 2 scheduled on Wed, but this week I'd gotten lucky.  He's one of those horses that will go around like a schoolie for most people, but you can really ride him correctly and he'll become Mr. Dressage King.  I was armed with my spurs this time, and went back out to the outdoor after covering myself with is white hair.  I spent about 15 minutes trying to figure him out, and was feeling him be really stiff and reluctant to get round for me.

Trainer came out on her horse, and immediately began barking at me to STOP PULLING, and use my legs and seat to get him round.  WAY easier said than done!  I didn't even REALIZE I was pulling.  Nevertheless, she was exactly right and when I put on twice as much leg, and half as much hand, he took a breath, lifted his back, and got on the bit.  Amazing.  Subtle is the way to get results, NOT try to pull him into a frame.  After about 30 minutes, I'd gotten some pretty decent walk/trot.  What was nice is for my canter work, the only correction I got was to lighten my seat a hair because I had him so collected he threw a few tempi changes for me in the beginning.  After that, I was ok enough that trainer focused on her on ride while I finished up.

What a teacher!  Pluto knows more than I probably EVER will, and taught me so much about how a big guy doesn't need muscle to get the most out of him. He gave me so much awareness of my body, and how light one must be in order to achieve true dressage harmony.

I spent Sunday at the barn volunteering at our first schooling show of the season.  It was a CT, with extra showjumping and dressage tests thrown in.  Super fun!  I spent all day, doing a little score running, some score calculations, and a lot of filming.  SO thankful to have found this barn, I'm learning more now than I have in the last 15 years.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

2 separate posts so as not to turn into a novel ...

You can see how loose I have the draw reins.

I know.  My attention span isn't that great either, but I don't like to be un-detailed because you just never know when you may need to read back through something to get ideas!  So.  I'll start with the mare ...

Rode her Saturday in the ghetto draw reins.  I wanted to give her 2-3 rides with the "gadget" just to help her get her muscles working correctly, then go back naked.  She started out very fresh, very tense, and jiggy.  Every time I asked her to trot, she tried to pop her shoulder and canter off, so I spent some quality time doing w/t transitions until she settled in a little more.  I did lots of circles and changes of direction, and finally she began to settle down into the contact and get a little more steady.

I trotted her over a small crossrail set dead center in the ring, and she was pretty good!  She did try to get a little quick at first, so I worked to stay soft and not pull on her, which would then trigger her to pull on ME.  I only did it a few times, halting in a straight line after.  When I landed and kept cantering after jumping it about 5 times, she was perfect because she thought I was going to halt her, so she cantered nice and slow :)  Went to some more trot work, and she did begin to drag me tracking left a little bit, so I stayed well off the rail and counter-bent her pretty hard core until she went straight, not diagonally right!  Finished up with a right lead canter that was super long.  I just kept going, and going, and going.  The draw reins helped her to stay within the contact, and I half halted pretty dramatically, really making the effort to LET GO, which is crucial to the working of a HALF halt.  She threw about 5 lead changes during that final canter, but I didn't care, I just kept taking nice deep breaths and softening the contact as much and as often as possible.

Today, I had a fantastic horse!  I rode her early in the day, and sans draw reins.  I spent about 15 quality minutes at the walk.  You may think initially that would be me copping out, but she is as hard to walk on contact as Tiki used to be.  She wants to jig, get crooked, root, you name it.  I pushed her on, gently squeezed my ring fingers, sat back, took deep breaths, and FINALLY got some super walk on contact!  I had 3 different jumps set with 2 poles 9' apart.  I then had just a single pole thrown in randomly.  The task was not to jump, the task was to trot poles in perfect rhythm while staying straight.

I picked up the trot, and despite swishing her tail a few times, she was good other than being a little quick.  I did loopy, 15 meterish circles until she forgot to try and bulldoze.  I tried super hard to give my inside rein as much as possible, sit back, and not pull on her.  I kept my hands together and my outside leg on, and felt like I really had a nice horse under me.  That lasted until I asked for the right lead canter, lol.  She THREW that head around, and tried to put her nose between her knees while she leaped in the air.  I went back to trot, walked the poles some more, and asked again for canter.  This time, she was good.  Didn't hold it a super long time, but was VERY pleased by how responsive she was on the downward transitions.

Went back to trot, and she was so ready to walk at the poles, I was able to soften my reins, close my leg, and keep her trotting nice and slow over the poles.  I went right then left and straight, just trying to keep her guessing and listening.  Cantered left, and good girl!  Trotted more poles, nice and slow.  Counter flexed tracking left, and she stayed nice and soft.  Tried a new thing at the end; after cantering both leads on small circles, I kept her going and cantered a pole.  Of COURSE I got there long, and she leaped at it.  I patted her, went back to trot, walked some poles, back to canter off the other lead.  Deep and strong, but manageable.  Back to trot, then canter ONE more time over the pole, and got there long again, but she waited!  Good girl:)  Today, she really felt like she could go just like a "normal" horse where you kick and do nothing with the reins.  I know she'll get there; I've already felt such a big difference in her, I know the warm summer weather will help her to be even better :)

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A collection of rides

Well, it hasn't been TERRIBLY exciting in the land of riding ... CA has actually had RAIN which means that Jade's barn has been out.  Not to mention the fact that my back has been feeling HORRIBLE.  I've needed a chiro ever since I came to CA, but there were several problems with that.  The first being a lack of $$, and the 2nd being the fact that chiros are hard to find.  You have no idea if one will work for you until you try them out, but since they have the ability to seriously mess you up, it tends to scare you off from trying.

Anyway, I took the plunge, ponied up the money, and got my back all fixed up, so at least that part's taken care of!  Last week, I only rode at eventing barn, and I got to ride my precious Kiara again.  She is the best, I just LOVE her!  If I was in a position to buy something, she would be mine in a heartbeat.  Rode in the dressage tack, and she felt wonderful.  Trainer's assistant was in the ring with me, and she gave me a few tips with her that worked great.  She feels a little bit stiff through the bridle normally, and last week she felt so much more adjustable and soft.  I'm feeling so much better with sitting back and being in a correct dressage seat; trainer's finally rubbing off on me :)

Today I rode Jade first and had made the decision to put her in my ghetto draw reins.   At first I thought she wasn't a good candidate for draw reins because she can get behind the bit when she wants to.  But something I've noticed is eventing trainer has put every single horse in her training program in some type of gadget some of the time.  Often, they're ridden "naked", but often they have SOMETHING to help with head set.  These horses are hands down the most consistent, correct, and pleasant horses I've ever sat on, so the gadgets obviously do some good (when I've ridden, they've all been naked).

Jade hasn't been ridden much in the last few weeks; S went on vacation, my back wimped out, and the rains fell, so I was prepared for battle today.  Good thing, because she was in the mood to pick a fight!  Let me just say ... the draw reins worked GREAT!  As per usual, I kept them on the loose side warming up, but even when I tightened them up slightly, I did NOT use them to 'pull' her head down.  She goes with her head down; the problem I have with her is she will blow through the contact and completely lose her connection.  Today, we kept the connection.  She was quite mareish today, squealing to her friends in protest of work.  I could feel her tenseness, and I KNOW she would have blown up several times.  She tried to violently fling her head and pitch a fit, but I kept my leg on, maintained the contact, and she had to settle in.  A few times she tried to slam on the breaks and not go forward, so I loosened up and pushed her forward.  It only took about 10 minutes for her to actually settle in super :)  She's smart enough to know when she's fighting a losing battle, so she really hunkered down and worked hard.  Yes, she still tried to fling the head.  Yes, she still felt a tad explosive, and she hollered during the entire ride, but I was very pleasantly surprised.

Our biggest issue jumping so far has been keeping straight.  It's worse tracking left; she blows off my right leg and pops that right shoulder and drags me to the rail.  When jumping she will try to pop that right shoulder and drift, so I had set a small crossrail with a takeoff/landing chute set with poles.  It was 100% uneventful!  I trotted her back and forth 4 times and she was absolutely perfect every time, so I left that alone!

I then decided to push my luck and work the canter ... left lead.  I had SEVERAL very good transitions.  She tried to do the violent head fling, but she couldn't, so then she tried to blow my right leg and drag me,so I counter bent her, and then she just STOPPED.  I got after her REALLY good with my right leg and made her move off it.  I then got a great transition and she cantered nicely, so I praised her and reversed.  Cantered off on the right lead and she gave me the nicest, softest, and most perfect canter I've ever gotten from her.  Held it for about half a lap, got a perfect downward transition, and let her be finished.  Good girl!

Today, I rode the smallest pony I've sat on since I was about 17.  I'd be shocked if he's an inch over 13.2; a little chestnut roly-poly thing that's as wide as he is tall named Puffin.  What a sweetie!  He's a former lesson horse from trainer's old Napa barn, and they're looking to sell him as a kid's pony, but apparently he's developed some stinky pony moves.  Maybe I just got lucky, but he was absolutely perfect for me :)  The only thing I noticed about him that's different than every other horse of hers I've ridden is that he was VERY stiff in the neck; totally typical schoolie feel.  I did lots and lots of bends and changes of direction, circles, etc.  He's surprisingly responsive to the leg; I didn't wear spurs and even though I carried my crop, he was great.  He leg yields well, and he did try to bend when I asked him for it.  He has a perfect little canter button, and I had no trouble whatsoever with him.  Yet another great ride at the eventing barn!

So, all is good in horsey land!  There is a combined test schooling show next Sunday I'm volunteering at; maybe the next one I can actually ride in it :)  The spring weather and the time change has been so amazing.  CA has the most perfect weather, I just LOVE it!