Thursday, January 26, 2012

It finally happened...

Well, I've been waiting for this day for awhile now.  I knew it was only a matter of time and in a weird way, was kind of looking forward to it.  I knew it needed to happen for any number of reasons and just hoped I would be laughing after it happened.

I fell off.  And while I wasn't laughing afterwards, I wasn't hurt (well, I reserve the right to whine).  I haven't fallen off in forever - meaning I haven't fallen off in over 10 years.  I hate to fall off; really, really hate to fall off.  While I don't really think anybody enjoys it, I hate it so much I will do just about anything to stay on...anything.  I should probably learn how to bail better as I came really close to Charlie's feet this go around.  Now for the positives - I now know I can fall off and get back on again (more on that later) and I know Charlie is most likely going to stand there looking at me like I'm an idiot instead of running off (definitely a good thing).  I will tell you it's a loooooong way down from a 17.1hh horse

Here's how it happened: things were going pretty well - I was doing our normal figure-8 routine and he seemed happy enough.  I cantered to the right with no problem and then I changed directions and asked for a left-lead canter.  Well, I never got the left lead (at least I don't think I did) - Charlie pretty much launched us into outer-space.  I stayed on for a decent amount of time - I would have hung onto his ear if I thought that would have kept me in the tack.  But in the end, I just couldn't reach his ear (I'm kidding before anybody tells me that's probably not such a brilliant idea) and hit the dirt.  I'm pretty sure my shoulder hit first, then my hip.  I did hit my head so I guess that means I have to suck it up and buy a new hat.  What I'm most proud of though is I got back on.  And not only did I get back on, I made him do several trot-canter to the left and the right.  I finished up with some more trot work - basically, I rode for another 15 minutes or so.

I'm not really sure what set him off.  I have my suspicions and I think most of the blame falls on me (big surprise) although, I don't necessarily agree with his reaction.  I'm not going to over-analyze it here (I've done enough of that in my head).  Let's just say my trip to Southern Pines couldn't come at a better time.

I did ride today and we jumped.  I just tried to make it a fun, fight-free ride.  Basically, he got to run around looking like a giraffe.  I just wanted him forward and off his forehand.  Mission accomplished.  I did some grid work - bounces and bounce to a one-stride.

The trailer is all packed - it's crazy how much junk Charlie has.  Good thing nobody is coming with us.  I leave tomorrow after clinical.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed I get out a little early so I don't get caught in Charlotte traffic!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

And out came the sun...finally!

Can we say sunshine?  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the sun was indeed shining today.  Not only was it shining, it was 64 degrees when I rode.  It was awesome!  Don't worry, I'll be whining up a storm this summer when it's 95 and 100% humidity.  I just need to move to San Diego.

Moving on from my weather soap opera - I spent today's ride once again working primarily in the trot because the ground is so wet.  It's seriously squishy out there.  Like my ride last Wed, I spent the majority of my time riding on a small figure-8.  This exercise really helps me get Charlie supple and forward.  When I go large around the arena, I tend to have him going too forward and he's running.  Because we are constantly doing something - shoulder-in, leg yielding, changing direction - he stays focused and fully engaged in the exercise.  And because I have to pay attention to where we're going, I keep my head up (and therefore my upper body) and and focus more on using my leg instead of my hand.

Today, I really tried to focus on keeping my elbows bent and keeping the contact with my elbow instead of my hand.  I would say I was mildly successful.  I had moments where I really felt like I had a breakthrough - I felt my hand soften and my elbow was what was maintaining the contact.  It was a first for me - kind of sad given how long I've been riding.  Oh well, better late than never! :)  Maybe when I go to Southern Pines, I can get on one of C's horses to get a better idea of what this should really feel like.  I think Charlie will greatly appreciate it if I can figure this out.

I spent the last 10 minutes working on the walk, just staying soft and following with my hand and consistently asking Charlie to move forward.  My biggest downfall is I confuse dropping my hands with being soft.  I can't tell you how hard it's been to break this habit.  I have a fleece pad that's too big for my saddle so it sticks up in front and if my hands hit it, I know they're too low.  Actually, they're too low and my reins are too long but that's another battle.  I did some walk - halt transitions and he was really good about staying soft in the transitions; he even halted squarely about half the time.  Yay!

Can we say sun?!?!?!  Taken today after our ride.

I haven't started on my fitness goals yet. :(  I probably should have mentioned how much I hate working out.  It's so boring!  But I know it's really important.  I'm a huge "fairness" person meaning if I expect my horse to be fit, then I too need to be fit.  Off to the gym tomorrow...promise!

Monday, January 23, 2012

I remember my roots...sort of.

As per my last post, it's been raining here - a lot.  And if it's not raining, it's cold.  I've become very thin-skinned and don't like the cold so much anymore (you'd never know I grew up in Connecticut).  Well, Charlie hadn't been ridden since Wed and I decided to suck it up and deal with the weather.

I rode yesterday and it was really cold!  Not really temperature cold but damp cold.  I think that's worse than 20 degrees and sunny but that's just me whining.  The weather here has been nothing compared to what's gone on in the PNW or in the Northeast (hello snowstorm in Oct!) but I digress.  I didn't do a whole lot just because the ground is so saturated with water right now, it's really not safe to do anything other than walk.  To say Charlie was feeling good is an understatement but he managed to keep all 4 feet on the ground.  I focused on staying quiet and soft with my hand and encouraging him to come round from his hind end.  I did lots of shoulder-in and leg yielding across the trail and that really helped him to stay focused on me instead of his imaginary friends playing tag in the woods.  The one thing I have to be really careful about is making sure I allow him to take a few steps straight before I change the bend to the opposite direction.  Riding straight is really hard - I definitely need the bend to help me keep him soft and supple.  By the end of our 30 minute walk, he was pushing off from behind and he was quiet in the bridle (well, as much as 3 days off and cold windy weather will allow!).  He really was good - even when he's being a little silly, I never feel like he's checked his brain at the door.

I really thought we had seen the last of the rain but I was wrong.  It rained all morning - hard.  I put the horses in when I went to feed Charlie this morning because it was 39 and raining pretty hard.  I had to take the horse trailer to the "doctor" today for a check-up.  Nothing is wrong with it but I just want to make sure so it's getting a safety check (can we say Pony Club?).  I finalized my plans to go to Southern Pines and should be leaving Friday afternoon.  I was really hoping to leave Thursday afternoon but I have clinical on Friday AM so I have to leave after that.  I'm not sure when I'm going to come home - I may be up there for the weekend or I may stay for a week.  We'll see.  Either way, I'm excited!  Have lots to do beforehand like ride!  Here's hoping the ground dries up enough for me to jump once or twice before I leave.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Rain, Rain, go away!

The rain thing is getting old but since I went the previous 7 months having only seen rain about 5 times, I'm a little biased.  I didn't get to ride on Thurs because I had to go to the vet to pick up some drugs.  Nothing is wrong with Charlie but I figure if I have banamine and Ace on-hand, there will continue to be nothing wrong with Charlie.  That's my karma logic for the universe.  I thought the rain was going to hold off long enough for me to hack him yesterday but it was a no-go.  The sky started to open up about 3 PM and got progressively worse.

I did ride on Wed (just didn't write about it because I wrote about my super important goals) and he was really good.  **NEWSFLASH** when I ride his hind end, he goes is a lovely frame and stays pretty darn supple.  Who knew?  I did carry a whip and gave him a few taps when he was ignoring my leg and after those reminders, he very politely moved off my leg for some lovely shoulder-ins, and leg yielding.  I was very happy with him.  I kept him in a fairly small space - I did a figure-8 with about 30 meter long sides and 15 to 18 meter short sides.  Sometimes we would change direction in the middle and sometimes I would use the middle long side for shoulder-in and he was very happy.  He was forward without running and he maintained his rhythm going up and down the little hill in the ring.  I only worked on the trot as the ring was pretty wet and I thought cantering would tear it up too much.  I put the walk-trot transitions on the back burner until I can get a lesson.  I'm doing something wrong and need some help figuring out what.

It's supposed to rain pretty much all day today, tomorrow, and Monday morning.  Hopefully I'll be able to ride on Monday afternoon - I won't be able to do much because it will be too wet but I can at least hack around the property.  Until then, he'll have to suffer through some beauty days.  I clipped his whiskers and beard yesterday - unfortunately, he moved a few times so he has a couple of bald spots.  I'm not used to blades being sharp (at least that's my story and I'm sticking to it!).  He's so good - he just stood there, not tied or anything.  I love my horse!

Because of all the rain, I'm on the hunt for some high waterproof boots.  I have really good hiking shoes that are waterproof but the bottom of my pants get wet.  I need something that I can tuck my pants into - today's a good day for internet shopping!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Ok, the title is kind of obnoxious but I couldn't resist!  I really struggle with goal setting - I imagine most people do.  I want them to be realistic and measurable (I know I've spent too much time in school since I'm dying to use SMART) but the measurable part usually trips me up.  If anybody has any suggestions on accomplishing the measurable part, I'm all ears...

Okay, no more stalling!

Yearly goals
1.  Complete 2 beginner novice HT, finishing on my dressage score.
2.  At the above mentioned HT, have a dressage score of 35 or less.
3.  Obtain a score of 6 or better (I'd really like a 7!) on my position.
Now for the goals that are harder to measure...
4a.  Concentrate on carrying my hands - my current MO is to drop my hands and lock my elbows, especially in transitions.  Ride the hind end, not the front end!
4b.  To go along with the above, stay soft in my elbow and hand, keeping an elastic, happy connection to Charlie's mouth.
5.  When jumping, work on the whiplash effect.  I tend to be very, ahem active, with my upper body.  I'm not jumping anything any where near big enough to be that active.  By the end of the year, I will be letting Charlie close my hip angle instead of me folding and then unfolding at dramatic speeds.
6.  On a more personal note, I need to be fitter - less flab, more tone; less jiggle, more strength; less bulk, more lean; you get the picture.  I'm going to either join a gym or start using my crazy collection of workout videos.  I haven't decided which yet (although I'm leaning towards the gym thing) but one way or another, I will be wearing a size 28 (currently in a 30/32) and be comfortable walking into the grocery store in breeches - I am not comfortable stopping anywhere in breeches at the moment although I'd rather be slightly uncomfortable than run out of gas, just saying...

I have some video that I took during the first week of Jan and I'll take some video next Nov/Dec to compare.  If I'm really brave, I'll post it here...

End of Feb Goals
1.  Be comfortable jumping a 2'7" to 2'9" course.
2.  Focus on riding Charlie's hind end, not his face and neck.  Use walk-trot transitions - if I'm doing this correctly, he should stay round in the transition.  This should also help me to work towards staying soft in my hand.  If this goes well, apply to trot-canter transitions.
3.  Find a solution for the walk.
4.  Hold a plank for 1 min; no shaking allowed, staying strong through the whole minute.
5.  Do 50 squats in 1 min and be able to walk for the rest of day with out looking like an old lady.

Ok, so there you go.  I think they're pretty measurable although somewhat subjective.  I reserve the right to add a few things to the year long goal list as I have lot's of stuff to work on - I just happen to have convenient memory loss...


Hmm...maybe she has something more interesting to eat...

...almost there...

Charlie says "Hi! What'd you bring me?"

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Communication is the number one downfall...

...of any organization.  At least that's what one of my old bosses told me.  I was supposed to have a lesson with J today but she thought it was at 2 and I thought it was at 11 so no lesson. :(  But no worries, I still got to ride in J's ring which is very nice and makes things seem so much easier because it's flat.

I guess now's a good time to tell you all about my boarding situation.  It's almost as good as keeping him at home (I grew up with my horses in the backyard so I'm sort of a control freak!) - he lives about 5 miles away on a private farm.  It's just him and the owner's daughter's retired prelim mare.  It's basically rough board as I'm responsible for providing his hay and grain and have to feed him (although the barn owner doesn't mind throwing him food or changing his blankets if I can't make it out for some reason).  He has his own stall if he needs it (but he usually lives out) and they have a nice grass ring with enough jumps to make a pretty complicated grid.  The ring is on a bit of a hill but I figure that's good practice for us.  There are 3 different fields for turnout - .5 acre to about 2 acres and they keep a path mowed around the entire property for trot sets, etc.  It's a pretty amazing deal.

I spent the majority of my ride focusing on bending in and bending out on a circle and he was quite good.  I kept the rhythm fairly slow so I could really focus on the bend and making sure he was listening to my leg aids.  We also did some leg yielding and shoulder in - he was quite good moving off the left leg and not so responsive to moving off the right leg.  However, I'm wondering if I'm too rigid in my left hand and that leaves him no where to go?  I'm struggling a bit with my canter transitions - I cannot for the life of me figure out what I'm doing wrong.  And how do I know I'm doing something wrong?  Well, Charlie picks up the wrong lead.  Now if we were on a straight line, I could maybe understand.  But we're not.  We're on a circle.  I think there's just too much going on and I'm not strong enough to keep the "noise" to a minimum allowing Charlie to focus on what I'm asking.  So he understandably gets confused.

I've been reading a lot of the summaries of the Area VIII meeting with Mary King and how she stressed working on the same thing over and over until the horse understands what the appropriate response is to the question.  I really like the simplicity of that idea and think that may really help me with my transitions (because the trot-canter transition isn't the only one I struggle with).  When I visualized this, I really thought about what I needed to ask Charlie to do - I wanted him to push off with his hindquarters and come up through his back.  Basically, I needed to stop riding his face and start riding his hind end.  This is going in the goal post.  Longtime bad habit of mine - I worry about what the head and neck is doing when I should be worrying about what's going on behind me.  But I digress.  When I applied Mary King's idea to my walk-trot transitions, I had success.  I also felt like the repetition relaxed Charlie's walk which is something else I've been working on.  Now I just need to get a little stronger in my abs so I can apply it to the trot-canter transitions.

Clinical all day tomorrow so no riding but that means I can no longer avoid "The Goal Post".  That's a huge reason why I started this whole thing!  So tomorrow, my goals for the year and maybe if I'm super motivated, I'll do some 6 week goals for what I want to accomplish by the end of Feb.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Holy Cross Country Horse Batman!

What a blast!  Charlie and I went cross country schooling yesterday at Jumping Branch Farm in Aiken and let me tell you, we had fun!  First and foremost, Jumping Branch is an absolutely lovely facility - beautifully maintained and lots of great schooling questions.  Highly recommend it if you happen to be in the area.  The show jumping looked like lots of fun as well so we'll have to go back and give that a whirl at some point.

Charlie was amazing!  He was very excited to be there and was a bit strong warming up but once we started jumping, he was a total rockstar.  He's very brave and about 5 strides out you can literally feel him say "I got this" and he takes you right to the fence, jumping out of stride.  He does not feel like a horse that has only jumped 2 tadpole courses and 1 beginner novice course - he feels like a horse that has loads more experience.  Everything was just so easy; ditches - no problem; water - sounds like fun, jumping in = even more fun; coffin - cool.  He didn't bat an eyelash at anything except a stone wall and even that, when I said we're going, he went.  No argument.  He gives me tons of confidence which I find very ironic considering I'm supposed to be the more experienced partner.  I just can't believe how much fun he is and how lucky I am to have this amazing horse.

Now to what we need to work on.  I'm very tall in my upper body and I have to be very careful to stay back so Charlie can balance.  He has a tendency to get on his forehand and I can significantly help him by keeping my upper body back.  J was really helpful with this, reminding me to be proactive and not wait until he's already on his forehand before doing something about it.  I also need to remember to ride every stride because they all count.  Rhythm is my friend and I really need to work on keeping a steady rhythm to the jumps.  Charlie is very rhythmic but every once in a while he gets a little too bold and it's my job to remind him to stay in the rhythm.  Counting is pretty helpful so I need to keep working on that.  I'm hoping to go to the Carolina Horsepark at the end of January and school there as well - hopefully, Mother Nature cooperates!

He'll get today off, sort of.  I started pulling his mane the other day and need to finish that up.  Poor guy looks like a rag-a-muffin between his rain rot and half pulled mane.  He also got some new kicks while in Aiken - the farrier is so nice and normal!  A normal farrier, crazy I know.  His wife was there and she was really interesting to talk to - she gallops race horses for Darley America (that's the Arab group that has racing businesses all over the world).

I guess it's back to flat work tomorrow and a lesson with J on Tues...

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Bad Weather! As in Bad Santa...

What is with the weather?  Doesn't Mother Nature know I have plans and she's wreaking havoc on them!

It seems it's been either raining or freezing cold with a nice day or two thrown in between the two.  And it seems I'm not able to ride on the nice days for whatever reason.  Guess I'm going to have to suck it up and start riding in the cold...

Moving on or should I say getting back to the horse and the ride.  I did indeed get a chance to ride today - yay!  Charlie was pretty good although very heavy on the left rein.  I'm thinking that translates into not enough left leg from me.  Unfortunately by the time I figured out he was really heavy, my left arm was done.  I think I lost feeling in my left fingers...just kidding!  Well, sort of.  Even though I'm left handed, I tend to be weaker on my left side and do all sorts of funny things to compensate like collapse through my ribcage (what I think this is going to accomplish, I have no idea) and shorten my left leg (again, what's this supposed to do?).  I really need to focus on lengthening my leg and using all of it, not just my heel digging annoyingly into his side - he doesn't like this, go figure! This should help encourage him to step under himself and be better balanced going to the left.  I also need to really focus on staying in the center and not collapsing - this just throws him off balance and makes it even harder for him to do the right thing.

It was pretty wet in the ring because of all the recent rain so I only rode for about 25 minutes and then we went on a 15 minute walkabout the property.  Charlie doesn't really like to walk in a frame - he gets short and fussy in his face so I use the walkabouts to try to encourage him to walk in a frame.  Because he's outside of the ring, he's more relaxed and starts to stretch down to the bit.  His walk is his weakest gait and that mystifies me - I think the walk should be the easiest!  Hoping to get a dressage lesson in the near future to see what else I can do help him relax and maintain a frame.  More on that later!

Cross country schooling at Jumping Branch on Saturday - yay!  Going to Aiken with my regular coach, J.  Should be fun - hopefully I'll live to tell about it!  I'm a bit embarrassed to bring Charlie out in public as his right bum looks like this

I hate rain rot!  Poor Charlie has had more MTG baths than I can count!  I think it's a bit bizarre to have a horse that smells like bacon grease but it seems to be working.  He only got caught out in the rain once because his raincoat was no longer rain proof and this is what happens.  If someone had told me how sensitive chestnuts were...

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Please forgive me...

I'm going to apologize in advance - I'm probably going to be one of those people who is constantly changing the design of their blog.  I'm going to blame it on my secret desire to be an artist; too bad I can't even draw a decent stick figure...

Monday, January 9, 2012

I feel better!

I was pretty frustrated after my last ride - obviously!  And I was even more frustrated that I wouldn't be able to ride again until today.  Well today is here and the ride was great!

Let me back up to yesterday and my conversation with C.  If you'll recall from my last post, I sent a video to C to get her input on what was going wrong.  On my way home from GA yesterday, I had a long conversation with her about what I needed to be working on.  Believe it or not, she didn't think the video looked that bad.  In fact, she thought it looked pretty good.  She told me a couple of things:

- use more figures and don't be afraid to use a 10 or 15 meter circle to ensure he's paying attention to me
- lateral work, lateral work, lateral work, and then some more lateral work
- transitions within the gaits to shorten him from nose to tail
- lateral work
- upward and downward transitions and really focus on him using his push muscles (his behind), not his pulling muscles (front end)
- lateral work

Did I mention lateral work?  Basically, he really needs to be more supple and I need to be more aggressive in asking him to bend.  He gets a little annoyed when he's asked to work and I just need to keep quietly insisting he do what I ask.

So that brings me back to today.  I really focused on bending him in and leg yielding out on a circle, bending him out and leg yielding onto a smaller circle, shoulder in down the long side, and using smaller figures to keep him focused and supple.  And you know what?  It worked!  He was forward, responsive to my leg and I think I ride better when I have to think more.  Constantly mixing things up keeps me on my toes too!

School all day tomorrow - boo!  It's supposed to be nice tomorrow too so double boo!  I was supposed to go to Aiken on Wed for cross country schooling but I don't think that's going to happen as the weather is supposed to be yucky.  Maybe next week.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Where to start?

When I said Charlie makes me smile everyday, he really does.  He's just so sweet, especially when compared to my last OTTB, Fuzzy.  Now don't get me wrong, Fuzzy was awesome in many ways but easy to deal with is not how I would have described him.  He was unpleasant to put it mildly when in his stall and acted like a bull in a china shop 90% of the time when being led.  However, he was an amazing athlete and kept me alive and for that I'll always remember him fondly.  Charlie is the polar opposite - he is kind of like the stereotypical golden retriever.  It's such a novelty for me that I tend to let him off the hook at times.  I often get told in lessons "he'll do pleasant all day long, it's up to you to make him brilliant!"

So this leads me to my ride yesterday.  I was frustrated.  Mostly I think in me because I've been out of the saddle for 7 months and my body doesn't respond as quickly or consistently.  I'm a little frustrated in him but mostly because he's not the same horse I had 7 months ago.  He's better educated and is much stronger and therefore doesn't understand my muddled "communication".  At least that's what I tell myself and that frustrates me to no end.  I know, I know, I should give myself a bit of a break seeing as I've ridden probably a grand total 15 times since I've been back.  But gosh darn it, I want to be where I was when I left!

Then I question myself - am I at fault and letting him off the hook?  Meaning I'm not pushing him through the resistance or does he really not understand what I'm asking?  He's super long from head to tail (pretty sure his head is in California and his tail is somewhere in Maryland) which makes it tough for him to shorten and step under himself from behind.  My friend, C, who had him for the last 7 months told me he'll have a bit of a temper tantrum and then he'll go to work.  But maybe he's resisting because he doesn't understand what I'm telling him.  I just don't know and that's what frustrates me the most.

So where do I go from here?  Well, I taped yesterday's ride (as painful as that was for me) and made myself watch it (did I say painful?  I meant excruciatingly painful!).  Then I sent it to C - she's known me forever and I trust her advice over anyone else's.  We'll see what she has to say.  Unfortunately, I have reserves this weekend so I won't be able to ride again until Monday but after that I should be able to ride as much as I want.  I'm kind of dreading what C has to say because she will tell it exactly like it is.  On the flip side, I'm really looking forward to what she has to say because then I will hopefully be able to formulate a plan of attack for both myself and Charlie.

Keep your fingers crossed for me!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

A brief intro...

I guess this is necessary!  I mean it's the first thing I look for whenever I find a new blog to read...

I grew up with horses always in the backyard and am pretty sure I learned how to ride before I knew how to walk.  I was one of those lucky kids that always had my own horse and parents that supported my riding.  I blame my mother (just kidding!) - she grew up riding as well and is the reason there was always a horse around when I was little.

Super cute QHx - Dino!
I'm a former Pony Clubber and really wish they had Pony Club for old people!  I evented through Prelim while in high school and dabbled in the jumpers while in college.  Once I graduated from college, I took about a 10 year break from riding.  After getting my priorities straight, I quit my financially lucrative job in the oil industry, moved back home, and started nursing school.

I picked up the reins again in Aug of 2010 and began leasing a super cute QHx.  I told myself I wasn't going to be in the market for a horse until at the earliest 2013 (I'm kind of a long range planner, haha!).  Well, you know what they say about plans.  I went to visit a very good friend of mine during a training trip (did I mention I was in the Navy Reserves?) who just happens to be a professional and who just happens to have access to really nice OTTBs (honestly, is there any other kind?).  It turns out I just couldn't leave him behind.  So in Dec 2010 (Merry Christmas to me!), Charlie came to live with me in SC.  He's a 2005 model, 17hh+ chestnut gelding and he couldn't be more perfect for me!  Just came a few years earlier than planned.  Oh well!

That's me on the left with my friend Sarah!
I just got back from having spent 7 months in Kuwait and a few other "exotic" locales for the reserves.  Charlie got to spend this time with my friend who sold him to me learning how to be a proper event horse.  I have a lot of goals for this year - I'm really great at having goals in my head but don't always do so well in seeing them come to fruition.  This is the reason for the blog...well part of the reason.  I also think it will help to write down my successes as well as my challenges (and let's face it, there are lots of challenges!).  Coming back to riding has been great but frustrating as well because things that used to be so easy for me are now much more difficult.  I love my horse and I really want to be the best jockey I can for him.  So this is our journey!