Archive for April, 2009

While you Wait…

Yeah, I’ve been slow on the updates lately- with all the stuff going on and my own horse to get fit at the same time, there hasn’t been much to report on the Klondike front lately, except that he is perfecting his napping skills, and has taken over the run in shed during inclement weather.

So, for some fun while you wait for our next update, take a spin on one of the best racehorses in the country:

🙂

April 20, 2009 at 7:22 pm Leave a comment

Really?

I got to the barn last night with the intention of bringing Mr. K in so he could get a little riding, and also help me out for a video shoot (we’re STARS!!!).  Unfortunately, when I started to groom him, I noticed an enormous swelling at the base of his neck by his withers.  It was the circumference of  a dinner plate, and apparently quite painful as he didn’t want me anywhere near it.  A quick check of the other side showed swelling there too.

I suspect he’s been getting into it with his pasturemates- I caught him at it the other day- rearing and play fighting.  It looks like someone did a little more than “play” though- from the location and marks on it, it looks like someone grabbed him by the neck as hard as they could.

Apparently, someone in that field was bitter from being beaten in a race:

(truth be told, I have no idea what he’s won or not.  He may have actually won something… hehe.  My apologies for shaky video, I was hand grazing my grey beast at the time)

Klon will likely get today off too- will check on his injury and damaged ego, and hopefully he’ll be back in action soon.  I did notice last night, after turning him back out, that he holds his head and neck quite oddly when he’s doing more than walking, so I don’t want to make anything worse.  Boo.

April 16, 2009 at 1:40 pm Leave a comment

Dressage For Dummies

In my quest to not embarrass myself at this event thingy Klondike and I had our first dressage lesson last night.  Before going over it, I have to say that I was really excited this morning, because when I got up, I didn’t feel all that sore.  I thought it was a miracle.  However, one forty minute commute later, and I’m starting to feel it.  My butt muscles are feeling awfully strange, and my legs are not responding to my brain’s commands very quickly.

My dressage lessons in the past have been largely geared towards hunters, since that’s what I wanted to do with my own horse.  To some that might sound weird, but I love dressage and think it can make any horse better for any discipline.  So those lessons concentrated mightily on building the back, getting supple, and establishing a really good rhythm in all gaits.  And even those lessons would leave me a hopeless puddle, unable to straighten my legs and walk properly afterwards.

This was different.  Explaining that our goal is to get through a real dressage test, not just improve a hunter or whatever, Stef modified things a little more to get me in an actual upright seat, and ride like a real… dressage person.  She watched us warm up a little just to get a feel for Klon and how he goes.  I explained that the things we were having issues with largely related to going forward and doing good transitions.  He likes to be lazy and jog around like a western horse, and tends towards not maintaining his rhythm once we establish it.  I also mentioned he can get very “posey” with his head and neck, making you think he’s all round even when he’s not really accepting contact and not really using his back and hind end. 

After watching a little WTC in both directions, with my trying my darnedest to keep my hands soft and steady, and leg on, and everything else, I was already breathing pretty heavily, so I was delighted when Stef asked to get on so she could feel what was going on and give him a little intro to real riding. 

Klondike was almost immediately REALLY annoyed.  Stef is a wonderfully soft and rewarding rider, but she does expect horses to go forward and accept both leg and contact.  Klon put up a pretty good fight when she asked him to simply “give” at the halt, to each side.  Instead, he stuck his head waaaay up in the air and fought and fought and fought.  I’m not sure what he was thinking, since it’s much easier and more rewarding to just… turn the head to the side or accept contact.  He did figure that out eventually, but he didn’t really look happy about it.

Then Stef worked him around a little bit, with lots of half halts and lots of leg, and it’s pretty cool watching him tuck his butt down and use it more.  As he got more forward, he definitely was moving like a rock star.   He was still fighting contact a bit, but was holding himself much better and using his back much more, when Stef stopped and announced it was my turn again.

As much as I know I chose to take this lesson, and know I need to work on these things, it was with a little bit of whiny hesitation that I got back on.  I’ve experienced this pain before, but because we’re preparing to do an actual dressage test, I knew that it was likely to be a more physical and demanding sort of experience.  And of course I wasn’t wrong.

The first order of business was starting from the beginning- the halt.  I admit that the halt is not something I think about very often, besides the act of getting to the halt.  I’ve thought about the quality of it, for sure, but I’ve never tried to get a horse to “hold himself” at the halt.  If they’re standing square and not plowing down with their head, I’m pretty happy.  This time, however, Stef wanted him to accept contact, and also to lift his back and hold himself while standing perfectly still.  This was a new concept to me.  And it involved a LOT of leg.  No hand without leg, ever, right?  A couple times I felt the muscles underneath me engage, and saw the muscle at the base of his neck looking rather large, so I think that’s when we “got it.”  Of course, the massive amount of leg that took already had my legs aching, and we hadn’t even walked yet.

So her next command took me by surprise:  “I want you to T-R-O-T”

Immediately and unconsciously, I sort of loosened up on the reins in preparation and relaxed my upper back. “BAH!” 

oh dear.  That little habit of mine meant another three minutes of work at the halt, before attempting to t-r-o-t again, except this time I was NOT to give up the contact and I was to stay engaged.  We almost succeeded, except to be honest, at that point, I had no idea how to apply more leg than I was already applying.  I somehow managed it, which resulted in a sluggish walk transition instead of the trot I desired.  I was still with it enough to use my tools and got us quickly into a trot.

From there, much of the lesson is a total haze.  There was lots of “you are going forward, NOW!” and me trying desperately to keep my fingers closed and elbows at my sides at all times, to keep the contact consistent regardless of where his head was going. 

Then, it was time to canter, which normally feels pretty easy, but we picked up the wrong lead several times.  Stef gave me some instructions about lightening one of my hips and stretching down with my inside leg.  Unfortunately, my brain and body were having a really hard time processing how to do both at the same time… but we did manage to get a few decent transitions.  “Good! Yes!” is always nice to hear, but I still have no idea if I was lightening my hip properly or if I’d just gotten lucky. Stef is always liberal with praise, but half the time I’m so worn out at that point that I have little clue what I did to deserve it.  I tell myself I am developing a feel and doing the right things totally unconsciously, to make myself feel better about it.

At one point during all this, I found myself stretching really tall, feeling totally balanced with a good amount of contact going on.  I could feel his hind coming up underneath me, and suddenly, all the struggling of the previous thirty minutes was gone and everything felt really easy.  It made the whole thing worth it… but two strides later it was gone, and there was still at least another twenty minutes to the lesson.

When we switched to work in the other direction, I found I really couldn’t use my legs anymore.  They were starting to flop uselessly in the stirrups, and I kept losing those stirrups when I couldn’t keep my heel down anymore.  So I admitted weakness and took a break, pulling my knees up over the pommel to relieve the tension in my hips and outer thigh. 

When we started back up, I just gave up on the stirrups- they were useless to me at that point, and I needed to stretch my leg down more anyway.  We started the same way in this direction- at the halt, asking him to lift his back and accept contact.  Being more and more worn out, everything seemed much more impossible.  At one point, on a twenty meter circle, he bulged outward, wanting to stay on the rail.  “Outside aids!” shouted Stef, along with an incredibly smart-sounding explanation of why they were so important.  OK, I told myself.  Outside aids, outside aids.  With my outside hand and leg firm, I started another circle.  He still bulged outward.  “NOOO! OUTSIDE aids!”

Huh.  I really thought I was using them.  My nerves were tingling from my leg up to my brain saying, “yes, these muscles are in use!” but apparently I was actually sort of numb from the hip down, so my perception of the actual strength of that leg was a little… off.

Later, I was told that I was awfully rigid through my hips, and I needed to follow the motion more with my seat and lower back.  “Leg! But relax the hip and follow!!!”   OK brain… help here.  This means I have to use my leg, hips, and lower back completely independently of each other.  My body did not cooperate.  Keeping leg on and engaged, without tightening through my hips, was an exercise in near- futility, though I eventually managed it with a few tips on how to handle my upper body (which at that point was being neglected, since I was concentrating on my other parts).

Sometime later (I have no idea when, I lose track of time in a big way), it was all over- it was time for a long rein and stretching out, which Klon was VERY happy with, and then we were done.  Surprisingly to me, I was actually able to walk when I got off, though it seemed my legs were responding to my commands several seconds after the brain issued them.

I’m thinking positive, after a few more of these lessons, I think it will get much easier.  Right?  Klon earned some good treats, stretches, and then a generous scoop of my horse’s extra-fat feed.  He also seemed to recognize that the lesson was at least as hard on me as it was on him, and wasn’t holding it against me.

Saturday, after my track visit, if the weather’s good, it’s mosey-on-the-trails day.  We both need it!

April 10, 2009 at 9:44 am 2 comments

Who Stole Spring?

For realz, it was snowing when I got to the barn yesterday.  Whirling, swirling, wind-driven snow.  Both Klondike and I find this completely unnacceptable.

In any case, in the pursuit of greatness, my intention yesterday was to do some flatwork, concentrating on all the things we’ve been working on lately:  quiet hands, maintaining contact, and forrrrrward.   Klon tends to start off a little sticky (even with my fabulous roller-ball spurs), and I can’t tell if he’s just stiff and needs a really good warmup, or if he needs shoes. 

Despite the shortness of stride at the beginning of our ride, he was moving forward when asked initially, which was nice.  He’s also maintaining his pace a little better, so I’m not having to nag at him as much to keep the same rhythm.  Yay!  Of course, this could be because of the magic spurs, but I was doing my best to pay attention to how often I really needed to activate their power. 

As usual, my biggest obstacles to achieving quality gaits are me.  I had to use the modified rein-grip that Allie showed me pretty early in the right, else I kept finding my reins had lengthened.  Klon would get fussy with his head, probably in response to the inconsistency, which of course would put us in a spiral of suck pretty quickly, if I hadn’t worked on it. 

A few minutes later I had to lay my crop across my hands too (holding it under my thumbs) to maintain even-ness a little better.

He definitely likes these things, the trick will be for me to learn to keep the same feel without those tricks.  It all sounds so easy in theory… keep your hands steady with fingers closed… yet it’s been a bad habit of mine for years, as much as I know better. 

Fortunately we have a dressage torture session lesson tomorrow, and past experience has taught me that if ANYONE can fix me, it’s Stefany.  She’s a magician.  Of course, the last time I rode with her I could not walk for days, so I’m not sure I should be so excited…

Eventually, last night, we managed a lovely free flowing trot, with real bending and real movement laterally off my leg.  Yay!  And get this, when I sit straighter on a turn, it’s much easier to establish bend with my inside leg!  Crazy, isn’t it?

The one other hiccup in our ride was when Klondike decided one corner of the ring was very scary.  I’m not sure what caused this, we’ve been riding past all the same stuff for weeks.  Perhaps a cat or bird was in there pretending to be a horse-eating monster, I don’t know.  But it took a good fifteen minutes, and lots of forward/spiralling/circling to work it out. 

After our ride I did the same ground stretching routine that I did with Afton.  Klondike REALLY enjoys the cat stretch (the one where you sort of poke a magic spot on their butt and they hump their rear end and the back makes a series of alarming popping noises).  Not only did he stretch admirably, but he also stuck his head way out and made the “Yeeeees! Oh Yeeeees!” face, complete with upper lip stretch.  Carrot stretches and front legs were great, he’s definitely very flexible through the shoulder.  His hind legs seem a little stiffer- he may just have not been relaxed, but it seems like the resistance was much greater there, so I’ll be concentrating more on that in the future, and under saddle, more lateral work to free them up.

I will do my level best to remember my camera tomorrow, so you all can see the kind of greatness our dressage trainer inspires. 🙂  Goals are- fix me (duhhhhr), but also to work heavily on transitions – maintaining balance through them, since we tend to fall apart a little bit through those (particularly the downward ones).

April 8, 2009 at 10:30 am Leave a comment

Claritin and Cross Country

Whee!

Whee!

Spring is definitely here.  And with spring in Maryland comes an assortment of ailments – a sudden cough, itchy eyes, itchy throat, and the loss of my voice.  A little Claritin-D seems to be keeping me mobile, so I wasn’t going to let it stop me from tagging along with a group of friends to Frying Pan Park, to get some “real” schooling in over small XC obstacles of the type I’m likely to see at our first real event. 

Klondike has been to FPP before, but at that time, I think we only jumped a few of the smallest things we could find, and we literally had to DRAG him into the water jump. 

But yesterday, we had to actually jump some stuff.  From a canter.  And in footing that was a little wet and deep in places.  And with random assorted livestock, bicycles, children, and tour trolleys in the background.  While he did throw one tantrum, I don’t think Klondike could have been any better.  He warmed up beautifully in the ring- looking around a fair bit, but soft and happy.  We took a few warmup jumps over a little vertical, and those went perfectly as well.  He was cantering on a little shorter stride than I like, but it was relaxed and I waited for the jump, so it worked out 🙂

Out of the ring, he didn’t look at anything (ok, he peeked at one super-tiny little coop, MAYBE a foot high, but he went over).  His tantrum was largely a “moment” in which he wanted to go back towards the trailer, and was trying to pull me in that direction by (yes) rearing and running sideways.  I did need a little encouragement at that point- as I’ve said before, rearing is one of those things that just paralyzes me and turns me into jelly- it’s really hard for me to overcome that and act, so it took a little coaching from Allie to get me through it.  I did manage to go for the crop, and started him to working- some canter circles where we just pushed forward and made him work as properly as possible seemed to iron the issue out, and a few minutes later he was fine (worked up, but fine). 

We even managed to go AWAY from the group with no issues, and also come back to them (away from the trailers).  Though we have some cantering sideways, it worked out:

The interesting thing was, even when he was semi-uncooperative, it felt like I could point him at ANYTHING and he’d jump it.  After only a few jumps my confidence was way up, and I started having serious fun (although I did turn down suggestions to jump a few things that looked a little bigger than I was ready for, though I’m sure Klon could physically do it).

We also jumped down some things:

Wheee! Part deux.

Wheee! Part deux.

And the jump near the cows didn’t really phase him, though he felt a little more forward than I liked (he really took me to this one, and was resenting my attempts to bring him back a little.  Oh well, he’s bold, and as we went on his attitude rubbed off on me):

Suddenly I’m not so worried about the jumping part of this eventing thing 🙂  I need more practice, but I’m getting the feeling he’ll happily do whatever I ask him to.  What a cool horse… doing something new to him AND teaching me in the process.

April 6, 2009 at 9:04 am 1 comment

There’s Riding…

… and then there’s riding

The last few days of riding has been totally different.  Suddenly, with a goal in mind, I’m actually being much more particular, and working much harder.  Up until this point, my main goal has been “happy, relaxed horse who is easy to ride.”  Now, the goals are getting much more specific- if I’m going to go ride around an XC and jumper course, I need a good canter, and a lot of practice.  I admit to not being too worried about the dressage thing- at that level, I’m mostly concerned about not forgetting a test, but at the same time, there is always improvement to be made.

Wednesday, there were some jumps set up in the indoor, so I made a lot of use of them.  After warming up and really concentrating on keeping my elbows at my sides, and holding a consistent contact (the two go directly together in my mind), I began to work over them a little bit.  On one side of the ring, there was a seven stride line set up, that we worked through very easily in both directions.  On the other side of the ring there was just a single vertical, set very conveniently next to the large mirrors.

After trotting everything, and trotting into the line and cantering out, I picked up the canter and started cantering fences.  At first I found myself a little frustrated, we were biffing the jumps almost every time.  Fortunately I was well aware of NOT jumping ahead and gunning for the long spot, so the biffs were mostly of the chip ‘n’ peck variety.  I don’t want it to sound like I’m obsessed with the perfect spot- but to me the biffing is a direct indication that we do not have the right canter.  I kept trying to improve it- leg, half halt, sit up, wait, but it took a while to get rolling.   The jumps are helpful in that it’s hard for me to know when it’s right without some sort of visual aid or test.  What sometimes feels really good when riding on the flat is still not quite right for jumping. 

When it did, though, it was fantastic.  We jumped the single vertical twice out of a canter I call the “toothpaste” canter.  It’s hard to explain, but it feels like you’re squeezing the horse through your legs and up- it’s more elastic than normal, it feels uphill, and you feel a building of energy without a buildup of speed.  I love that canter, and once we acheived it, found the jump easily enough that I was able to count down the approach from several strides out.  So we quit with that.

Of course, now the challenge is to get that canter all the time, but baby steps 🙂

Last night was super fun, because Allie was there to provide some eyes on the ground.  Also, she speaks my language, having also done a fair amount of hunter type showing.  My warm up was pretty abysmal.  Klondike felt like a slug, and was having none of this “moving forward off the leg” business.  I wanted to really concentrate on keeping consistent contact (elbows at your sides, make the elbows heavy, be that puppet guy from the Sally Swift book), but it was becoming impossible with Klondike barely maintaining forward for more than five strides at a time. 

I was getting exhausted, and frustrated- I hate using my whip for more than taps to indicate small signals, but found myself having flashbacks to the pony I rode in shortstirrup.  I was having to back up my leg constantly, so everything else was suffering.

So we brought out the spurs. 

Klondike was not pleased.  But still, a few times I had to use the crop, even with said spurs.  But once we got going, we had a whole new Klondike.  With forward much more established, suddenly everything was much easier, and I could think about sitting tall, about using more inside leg, and about keeping my hands still and not slipping the reins.

Allie showed me a neat trick that involves sort of weaving the rein through other fingers, so that you maintain a constant rein length and learn what that feels like.  While I would not recommend doing such things regularly, or on a super-green horse or one who pulls, it was enormously helpful for us.  For a while I think we were feeding off each other in the contact department.  He was searching around with his head, which got me busier with my hands, which turned into a small circle of incorrectness.  Not a huge spiral of doom, or anything, but finding ways to keep my hands still and reins perfectly constant makes everything light years better.

Klondike will get today off, and hopefully Saturday he will get to go on a mosey, if I have the time.  Sunday, we will be going schooling at a local riding park that has some nice XC stuff.  I am sure pictures will follow.

April 3, 2009 at 9:11 am 2 comments

I’m baaaaack!

I think I mentioned on the other bl0g that I was going to be away for a bit, but I’m back now.  Thoroughly sunburned, bearing an extra four pounds, but back, and ready to put in some serious riding. 

I’m actually a bit (just a teeny bit) freaked out at all the work I have to do over the next month and a half, because Allie and Lisa have convinced me to try this eventing thing.  And with Klondike, no less.  Essentially, I have a fairly short time frame in which to find and learn to love the “back seat,” while simultaneously breaking off my love affair with the long spot and upper-body-thrust that has defined my riding since I was 12.

I have to develop a good quality canter… in my last few rides it was becoming more and more apparent that Klondike will happily pose at the canter- nose tucked in with no contact, very comfortably feeling like a la-z-boy on springs.  But now it’s time for the real thing, I suppose.  The canter you can actually see distances from, and jump comfortably from even with a less than ideal distance.  We will be cantering lots of circles and serpentines, with me keeping my hands steady.  We will be cantering lots of poles on the ground.  When the ground is good, we will be cantering around the trails so I can learn to go up and down hills without losing the canter.

And then, I am sure, there will be lots of jumping.  The prospect of all this is totally daunting to me- it doesn’t initially sound like much to go out and do beginner novice- I’ve been riding a long time, and despite the swing of my lower leg I’m not totally clueless.  I know I can more or less get around.  But underneath the girls-just-wanna-have-fun exterior, I think I’m a deeply competitive person.  I can’t go into this without at some level also wanting to kick ass and take names, too.

The progress of all this should be pretty entertaining, so I will do my level best to remember my camera more often over the next month.

In other Klondike news, he is now getting his specially designed allergy shots- which means he’s getting an injection pretty much daily.  Super fun!  It will be interesting to see if he gets any hives at all, or anything else, as we move towards summer 🙂

April 1, 2009 at 3:04 pm Leave a comment


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