Saturday, October 18, 2008


No, not the bad kind.

Suspension is a good thing - it means that when Blue is trotting, we sometimes hit these golden moments where he doesn't just put one foot in the track of the other (there's no way I'll ever get him to track up in a phenomenal way, but I've accepted that), but he also gets a bit of hang time in where none of his feet touch the ground. Ya know, LIKE HE'S SUPPOSED TO.

But seriously, I love my goober. He was very good today, and for some reason he was very generous with the euphoric moments. Head down, striding out, suspension...he was even beginning to yield more at the canter instead of charging down the long side like he usually does.

I do feel bad, because I ride the canter oh-so-crappily. I don't know if it's because of Blue or stiff hips, but I have a very hard time having the swivel-hips necessary to follow the motion of his canter. This means when I canter in three-point, I often come up and out of the saddle before coming back in. It's not a thump, but it's noticeable. Or I canter in two-point. But he's noticeably uncomfortable when I sit, not with anyone else. Same saddles, everything. I'm almost sure it's me, I don't want to ruin the horse's back.

So, don't laugh at me, but I practice in the mirror. I just pick a lead and try to simulate the motion. I won't lie - I look ridiculous. But it can't hurt...right?

Yesterday, my boldness got the best of me. We had a loopy, windy course that I was just thrilled about. Being thrilled, I rode semi-aggressively to each fence.

Not good for a loopy, windy course.

It was rough. We both had fun, but there was also that moment after the infamous two-stride in-and-out that Blue let out a "WHOOPEE!" buck that had all of the horse show mothers gasping.

It was fun, but it would have been decidedly less so if I had fallen.

The next time I decided to go for the Add. Because Adds are good for loopy, windy courses. I don't care if it's tight, if he makes it around the next turn (and it's not TOO tight).

MUCH better. We had an awesome tight turn that most people were blowing - I looked around my turn, sat back and everything.

I have a show (most likely the last one of the season) coming up on November 2nd, and I'd like to do the Junior Hunters and Hunter Classic with Blue. It's 2'6" or 3', and I think we'll go for 2'6" because I am pathetically inexperienced over 3' courses and it would be nice to end the season with something that will be easy and fun for both of us. It's a small show, so we could actually pin in the Hunters. If he keeps being as round as he is, he could clean up the flat classes at least. Oh, and the top 6 in the Hunter Classic get a cash prize. I've never competed in a money class in my life, and though the odds are slim that I'll take home any dough, it can't hurt to dream!

My instructor is in absentia for the next week, and Blue gets a week off of jumping. I'm optimistic, because I have so many flatwork ideas and hopefully when she returns we'll have some cool new skills to show off that will translate to our over fences work! Yay!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

If It's Not One Thing...'s another.

Actually, before I have you thinking otherwise, the show went very well. Blue was quite good for his younger rider, and right on par for me. We swept Low Hunter, taking every blue ribbon, division Champion, and year-end Champion. So Blue now has another plate for his collection. ;)

I was a bit disappointed with my equitation. I think I really have to stop working gate the morning of the show because I just get so tired and unmotivated by the time my classes come around that courses wear me out. I do just fine, but I feel I don't compete at my best. But we have another show coming on the 2nd (my 1/2 birthday, coincidentally) and I now have my sights set on that.

We had a rather small lesson on Tuesday, just three of us, and it allowed us some time to really work on things. We first worked on straightness. I never realized how much Blue leans on the rail before now! He really does, and he's the type that likes to dip his shoulder around turns.

Over fences, we did some turning. Ironically, the straightness exercises really helped with turning! We found nice distances to fences each time, sometimes getting a little tight because I felt he needed to collect more to make the turn after the jump, but he changed his leads over fences and felt really responsive around the course. Blue tends to lose his head a bit jumping because he gets overexcited. We had a two-stride in-and-out that Blue kept getting long and flat over at the show, so I rode him to it so he'd get a tighter distance and really have to round over it. When my trainer asked about it, I told her about what I had observed at the show and told me I was really starting to figure Blue out! It really made me feel good, because I really respect her opinion.

Talk to ya later about tomorrow's lesson!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Shades of Gray

Besides being the show name of my friend's horse, shades of gray has begun to take on a new meaning.

I think my initiative to re-sensitize Blue to my aids got off to a rousing start. He seemed much happier than he usually is, and his canter seemed a lot less up-and-down, and he was beginning to show more signs of rounding his back at the canter. That's exciting because although Blue's walk is solid and his trot is coming along nicely, we struggle a lot at the canter. These are some of the first signs of accumulating progress that I hope leads us to a better-quality canter.

Another positive effect is that when we tried some lead changes down the diagonal as we do sometimes and Blue gave me not one, but two clean lead changes! Normally he does a quick step change (note that the vet has checked him out and he is physically capable of doing them, but he seems to just have a mental block about how to shift his balance and his legs with me on top of him), and I think I can count on one hand the number of clean changes I've gotten that weren't over jumps.

After a very chippy course over the lower jumps (we both don't really know what to do with them), I experimented again with pushing my hands forward but ended up being too extreme and charging at jumps with loopy reins. I've noticed that in the course of my habit-fixing I must bounce between extremes a couple of times before I finally settle into a good place. Considering that, the course was pretty good. Blue handled the bending line well, got the right number of strides in the in-and-out, and even got the four where my friend's long-strided, 17 hh Thoroughbred gelding got the five. Granted, it was a short four, but who's counting?

So, as I mentioned I have a horse show on Saturday. It's the series end of our home show series, and I'm in contention for a Year End Champion for Low Hunter! I have another lesson on Friday, but I am thinking there won't be time until after the show to post. Hopefully I'll have some nice pictures to share! On November 2 we plan on going to another small show in the area, and I'm hoping to compete in the Hunter Classic. It's got a cash prize, which would be nice but I really am just looking forward to the challenge. The neat part is theirs is judged equally on Hunter and Equitation, so it would be a test of me and Blue's ability to work together. I'll let you know as it goes. There's a two-week window in there during which I hope to clip Blue for the winter - he gets a very shaggy winter coat early and considering the amount I plan to ride (and hope to show) it's the most fair option for both of us.

Monday, October 6, 2008

You Can't Always Get What You Want...

...but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.

In this case, I needed a bolder, quicker pace to the lines of jumps we were doing. See, Blue has a really short, flat stride...great if you like to sit the trot (he has an awesome trail jog) or the canter but not so much if you like to get the correct distances to jumps. What I wanted was to be able to have that hold on his mouth that makes me feel secure...not a death grip, but enough so that he feels I don't want him to move forward. Combined with my leg, that results in...surprise! Even shorter distances...leading to chips. Yuck.

Lately, I've been trying to compromise between requiring Blue to do what I request and not pissing him off. He's not entirely happy about yielding to a shoulder in or similar lateral movements - it's usually met with tail swishing and neck arching. But if I back off the aids, he cheats and just bends his neck. I've decided to attack this problem twofold. First of all, I need to make sure my aids are clear enough so that I know he understands what I'm asking...if that means taking it step by step, maybe starting a circle and gently "tricking" him into a shoulder in or first just asking for a simple bend and escalating from there. Next, I need to establish the aid I want a response from in the beginning of the ride. If I want to be able to use a feather-light nudge of the heel, I need to be consistent and require that before we start anything. Otherwise he just gets very dull until I have to take my foot out of the stirrup and really thump against him - he's very dead-sided. I might have to pair the spurs with my trusty dressage whip instead of the crop...another problem I've been failing to address is the fact that Blue anticipates the crop and as soon as I remove my hands from the reins, he moves away from that leg and I let him alone, after which he becomes dead-sided again.

So, as you can see, I have quite a few schooling goals I'd like to address. I'm hoping that for a couple of these, if we really improve on one of them the others will begin to fall into place. If not, I've got patience.

Anyway, back to jumping, I learned that I had to release my too-tight hold on his mouth, otherwise he'd never feel comfortable opening up.

Boy, what a difference it made!

Don't get me wrong, I still supported his head and I didn't drop him before the fence, but I did push my hands forward so that there was a LIGHT contact.

The difference was amazing. I felt like I actually had an adjustable horse! We actually hit all the distances I aimed to hit, and doing so put us in good take-off spots. Boy do I love breakthroughs!

Here's a pic from our last lesson. I, regrettably, wasn't completely focused on my position, so I'm gripping with my knee, and because I didn't remember to press my heels down before the fence, my crotch is on top of the pommel and my leg slipped back. Grr. On the other hand, I'm not bracing against my hands nearly so much as I usually do, and my back is arched for once, and I'm closing my hip angle a lot more. I'm also really looking around my cool is that? Best part is, Blue looks happy. That's the most important part. The jump isn't very big, so he's not really using himself as much as he could, but he isn't being lazy either.

I've got show pictures as well (I'm reluctant to post them as at shows I get...well, tense...and my position gets worse) but I'm going to wait until the pictures from the show coming up this Saturday make it to the photographer's website. The lesson pic above was taken by my friend's dad.