Monday, June 30, 2008


Mares are tricky. They don't just take suggestions like geldings do. Oh, they'll let you ride them, but it's on their terms.
When I was told I was going to ride Mia today, I knew she had a reputation. A bad fall not a week earlier sent one of her riders to the hospital (luckily, it wasn't too bad, and the girl was back to her normal routine the next day). Now, Mia had behaved like an angel ever since, but the precedent was there, and she's not my ideal type, anyway. She's the kind that doesn't need a lot of drive, and she's a Drama Queen. It was actually her show name for awhile, before we found out that a much more successful jumper in the area had already claimed it.
I also thought back to my own previous Mia experiences. There was the scar on my arm, from when I held her when one of my friends was tightening her girth, and I didn't take the warning that she was girthy quite seriously enough. And then, that very morning, when I went to catch her to bring her in for breakfast, she turned her tail and cajoled her pony army to join her in fleeing the intruder.
So, upon receiving the news that I'd be riding the prissy 15.2 hh gray Thoroughbred hellion, I tried to make the best of it. Hey, I thought, maybe we'd click immediately. Maybe we'd be a good pair, and this could be an enjoyable ride.
Then I got to her stall.
Imagine a grey mare with overo markings. Now turn those white markings green, you know, that unique manure shade.
The mare had laid down in the poop in her stall and turned her into a green and gray pinto. I never did curry it all off - I resigned myself to give her a bath after I finished riding.
One grooming session, a girth exchange, and two black polo wraps later, I finally mounted.
Though she's only 1 inch shorter than Blue, She immediately felt smaller. Maybe because she's not as leggy? But what she lacked in size, she made up for in barrel. Unlike my beloved slab-sided gelding, she has well-sprung ribs that accommodate my legs quite nicely.
She started out pokey, but I found that she was quite responsive to the crop. Unfortunately, though I KNOW she's well-versed in the lateral aids, she decided to pretend she wasn't, and made me keep on her to do simple things. My Blue horse, on the other hand, once you get past his little 5-minute "I don't like spurs" temper tantrum, doesn't pull any punches and listens to leg aids like a good boy (I didn't wear spurs with Mia because a] I haven't ridden her before and didn't want to take chances and b] from what I have seen, they would have sent her into the next county).
While she understands the forward aids, the resisting aids, and the aids for half-halt, she can't seem to allow herself to trust me and give me a bit of flexion at the poll. It's perfectly possible that my arms were stiff...I mean, even though I had relaxed a bit knowing she wouldn't take off with me, I was still on my guard more than I would have been. Who knows, maybe I'll ride her tomorrow and we can work farther towards that.
We didn't jump today, since we were trying to make the New Holland Horse Auction before camp ended, but we did do a simple little dressage test in a small dressage arena we built to scale within our actual ring. And I do mean simple, with nothing more challenging than some 20 meter circles and cantering. However, Miss Priss decides that since there isn't really a wall there, she'll fall out around every corner and just, in general, be more difficult to slow down than she had been.
It also bears mentioning that the first time I cantered her was in the little dressage ring, and boy, she is not comfortable, trot or canter. She's got one of those jarring, bounce-your-seat-out-of-the-saddle canters, both directions. I had to sit very deeply and sink my weight way down into my heels to keep from pounding on her poor back.
Overall, it was a decent ride for my first time riding her (or any touchy mare for a very long time), but the true test with Mia will be jumping, especially since all of our jumps are out in the field and invite horseplay. :) Well, I suppose you'll get the play-by-play tomorrow.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Hooray for Bravery!

I don't know when I got guts. Now, OK, maybe not eventing or steeplechase guts. But for me, this was guts.
So all of our pretty hunter jumps are out in the field now, which of course brings new challenges.
Like terrain challenges. Now offering uphill (fun!) and downhill (err...not so much), from the people who brought you towards the trees (lots of leg) and towards the barn (hold down the line!).
Like your horse realizing he's back on his turf. "Ooh, I know this place! It's where I buck and run and roll and do things unrelated to being supple around turns and being on the bit and jumping in a sane, collected manner!"
Well, OK, two challenges. But big challenges nonetheless.
I guess, to be fair, we started out in the ring with a nice little Training Level dressage test. So far, so good. We were actually bending today, and even being fairly consistent about maintaining that round, on-the-bit feeling (you know, that one that makes you feel like beaming for the rest of the day? That, in "fun size"). A little wiggly around our makeshift dressage arena, but I know that's an issue that won't be resolved in a day.
We seemed to be sane over the brick warm-up jump in the field, though there was a trotting pole, and God forbid we should trot a pole when it can be cantered. Actually, with a little half-halt to remind Blue that he didn't have to be a freight train to the jump and remind him of our frame from earlier, we resolved that. Yay us!
The course was jumps like a figure eight. There's a neat uphill bending line, from the aforementioned brick to a simple white vertical to a nice yellow gate. Simple. We mix things up with a downhill stone jump (to gently remind us of the perils of terrain) which leads further downhill to the cross country crossrail of horror. Which comes back to a nice level cross country gate. Which goes back to gently sloping stone, and then not-so-gently sloping red vertical, and then the nice, friendly, and fun gate going uphill. None of these are large, but what I lovingly refer to as "confidence builders".
The brick was chipped, from my recollection, and I believe the ground line on the white was on the wrong side, so Blue did a double take and chipped that, too. I growled, "No more chips!" and we jumped the yellow gate nicely. I wisely sat back for the downhill stone, and wasted no time turning to my crop in to aid in picking up the correct lead (darn this horse! flying lead changes are so much less effort, even on his part!) and FLYING downhill to the crossrail of torture. Using a pulsating outside rein to no avail, we get in deep to the crossrail but it's OK because it gives Blue an excuse to lift his knees like I know he can! We had a fun little "stick my neck out and pretend I'm a racehorse" gallop, and I got left behind at the white gate but managed to halfway redeem myself by not smacking his back in mid-air and somehow learning to slip him the reins and not catch him in the mouth. Back to the semi-friendly stone, which goes nicely but we AGAIN pick up the wrong lead and manage to change right before the not-so-friendly red vertical. Getting my weight WAY behind on his hindquarters is now a priority, and it pays off because the vertical goes nicely. And, as a piece d'resistance, we have a spirited hand-gallop to a big, bold last fence, the inviting gate.
My instructor and I managed to have a nice chat over salad wraps this evening, and she says she's been quite impressed with my show of confidence over the last weeks. I tell her I honestly had no idea I had it in me. Oh no! I am turning into one of those typical teenage riders who can ride anything without fear! Must I change the name of the blog???
Let's not go crazy. Let's remember that I'm on Bombproof Jumper Who's Been There, Done That and Bought The T-Shirt who wouldn't pull nearly the shit that a non-comatose horse would, he's being ridden by two other people currently, and when faced with a more flighty mount (as I surely will next week at Summer Camp Where I Don't Have Blue Until Friday) I would surely live up my expectations.
In more disappointing news, even though this lesson was focusing on preparing for the Starter Horse Trials we will attend next month, I don't think I can wrest Blue from the grip of the two other eventing die-hards that ride him. OK, maybe that's an exaggeration, but truth be told I live for the ring and I'm going to save my good karma from bowing out to land my place in one of the summer's coming jumper shows. Whee! Do I truly have what it takes? Guess we'll find out! I'll go groom though, so I'll definitely have a report on how Blue does.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Being Super Busy Doesn't Bode Well For Sanity

So, since I last left you, I grew a pair and jumped three feet. IN THE FIELD! I'm not going to say I got over it the first time, or in textbook, George-Morris-would-be-proud form, but confidence is the first step to being able to cement these things, right?
And in celebration, what did I do today? Go on a trail ride.
OK, first off, I wasn't wussing out. I have another lesson tomorrow, and then I have horse camp starting Monday, where for four days, I have to...*gasp*...ride a different horse. But I was super stressed today, and I needed the break.
So my friend Jenny and I took out our horses. Blue, the 11-year-old who is mainly bold but does like to spook at unusual things, like odd rocks and canoes, and Gibson, the three-year-old who looks but gets over it. Needless to say, both horses weren't really acting their age - Gibson in a good way, Blue in a not-quite-as-good way. (Apparently I like hypens today.)
We rode for two hours, and after some nice galloping sessions and a bit of jumping, interspersed with some silly spooking, fly swishing, heat-complaining and odd observations (I can only get one bar of cell service at the barn, but four in the middle of the woods? What are the odds?) we returned home and took the sweaty horses in the pond for a nice swim. We were joined by Kira and Drummer, who might as well grow gills for the amount of time he spends in the water.
A good time was had by all, and each horse and rider got themselves thoroughly wet. Drummer's a bit sore so Kira probably won't ride tomorrow, and Jenny's out of town, and Caitlin's out of STATE, so I have to...*gulp*...ride without my ever-present support system. Well, except for P.A. :)

Sunday, June 15, 2008

How Seemingly Bad Things Contribute to the Greater Good

Also known as the blessing in disguise.
Well, it wasn't overly hot yesterday, but it made up for that in humidity. Blue was quite sweaty by the end, but we beat the heat quite nicely. First, though, the work part.
We warmed up with the exercise we practiced Friday on our hack - walk-to-halt transitions. Simple, right? Wrong. There's a lot behind this transition that people don't stop to consider. My goals with Blue were a smooth transition to a square halt. I adapted the exercise to halt at each dressage letter. For me, this means that I need to build impulsion between letters, half-halt to collect about a fence post before the letter to produce a nice square halt at the letter.
Well, we're getting more square but the transitions are still fairly abrupt. I think I'm half-halting with too much hand. So I need to counter this with more leg pressure to a resistant, not pulling, hand. We'll try again next time.
The flat part of the lesson went pretty well. Blue needs the first fifteen minutes to regulate pace and figure out what the heck I mean by bending, but eventually he gets it and works nicely on the bit. We've both recently discovered the concept that you push first with the legs and receive this energy into a "breathing", sensitive hand. And man, the results are impressive. We even got some flexion at the canter! Look at how far we've come!
My legs are hurting today, so I know my vendetta against my level heels is working.
My other project today was quite related to the walk-halt transition one - we're working on adjustability by lengthening the trot on the long side and collecting it on the short side. This will, hopefully, do wonders for our over fences work.
Speaking of which, did not start well. It was really simple - teeny little 18" vertical off the rail at F, pick up the right lead canter and halt at A.
Only one problem - there were trot poles in front of the crossrail and IT WAS THE RIGHT LEAD!
Don't see the significance? Here's a bit of history on Blue - he dislikes trotting jumps and he equally dislikes picking up the right lead over fences.
The first time went well enough, in that he actually trotted the poles, but unfortunately he didn't get the memo on the lead. I would love to tell you I calmly and quietly asked him for the change and he gave it to me before the corner, but it was more like I opening reined his head to the right and thumped him repeatedly with my outside leg, getting the change in time for a rough halt at A.
Second time was pretty much a repeat of the first, except add in holding his head up and bounding over the trotting poles.
Which warranted a return to the vertical, with a mandate not to canter the poles.
No such luck. Halt and reinback. Running through my left leg is met with a smart smack with my stick.
Turn right and approach again. Make attempt at getting the rogue's head down with half-halts. Does not listen to hand, only leg. My trainer's polite request to "I DON'T CARE IF IT'S A SLIDING STOP, DON'T GO OE STRIDE FURTHER!" is met with an abrupt, seat-bouncing halt. I immediately forget the fact that horse will not settle and pity his long-suffering back.
Turn left and approach again. Halt and rein-back before the poles. Do our best Western jog (which is pretty good) to vertical. Actually trots poles but continues to pick up wrong lead. Rider gets tired of begging, bridges reins and REQUIRES a lead change. Gets it, sort of, but at least it's before the corner. Of course, we're not halting this time, but continuing around the short side of the arena to do the diagonal rolltop. Again, halt after the jump. Blue decides that it's finally OK to start running after the jump again (after all, there's no fence in his way!) My resolve to use more leg in halts backfires, and NOW he decides it's time for a flying change.
Great. At this point, I'm pretty frustrated and I know it's all my fault. I decide the time is ripe for my trainer's favorite request - don't override.
We're adding a rollback from the rolltop to a 2' vertical. It's a tough little turn, but it's a fitting challenge. After another disunited (but prompt) change, I aim Blue to meet the rolltop at an angle, for optimum turn length. I look too late, but we get over the vertical (though we must chip to fit in).
Luckily, my saving grace arrives with another try. Yet another prompt disunited change (we really need to work on this) to an angled rolltop. My eyes are spot on, and a smooth turn puts us in the center of the vertical, which Blue pops over easily. Lands on the correct lead, too...imagine that!
My poor, sweaty, long-suffering boy was rewarded with a bareback swim in the pond afterwards with my friend's visiting gelding, Drummer. He splashes water over all of us and I think all is forgiven.
Well, I've learned an important lesson today - ride quietly, but efficiently. 'Nuff said.

Friday, June 13, 2008

So Why'd I Start This Again?

Well, I guess the idea for a blog came to me today, really.
I have been a long-time reader of the Fugly Horse of the Day blog, the spinoff Training the Very Large Colt, and many of the other associated training blogs, so I figured, hey, what the heck?
Well, there are some other components, too. I have a different story to tell. I am not a re-rider, I am a teenage, longtime rider who doesn't fit the typical mold of the bold young rider. It's just not my personality. I'm very methodical, and Type A about everything, and paired with my timidness it makes me more likely to slow down and master skills individually before pushing to the next level. It is my greatest strength as a rider, but also my greatest weakness.
I half-lease (actually, right now, third lease) a slightly-fugly Appendix/Appaloosa gelding named Blue. I might be biased, but this horse has style to spare paired with a good (albeit lazy) mind and a zany personality. While I love him for who he is, it is my personal goal to make both of us better. I want to be more effective, and I want him to be more forward-thinking and less sticky over fences.
Part of the purpose of this blog is to chronicle our progress. I am by no means naturally talented, but I believe that I can improve by keeping track of where we are in what point of time.
I'll warn you now - I'll post pictures and while I'm striving to reach George Morris's classical seat, I'm not there yet. I welcome CONSTRUCTIVE critique, and thoughts.
Another disadvantage of mine that I hope to overcome with this blog is my inability to ride every day, or ride my own horse. Hopefully this will help me remember how Blue's responding to his training.
Yeah, I know this post is really boring, but the summer's only just begun and with a character like Blue in the barn, there's no doubt it'll be an interesting one.