Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Dressage Lesson - Take II

So I had another dressage lesson today with Carolyn.  And it was awesome!  I think her strength really lies in that she doesn't try to fix everything at once.  Janna pointed that out to me and I really think she's right.  I watched some of the video (thanks Mom!) and I can definitely see Charlie's haunches swinging out but right now Carolyn wants us to focus on going forward and accepting the contact.  I guess this is why dressage folks are perfectionists and eventers are jacks of all trades!  They master one thing at a time whereas we try to master everything at once.

So we started out at the walk again and I forgot one very important component!  When I pick up the contact, I use the inside rein to establish the bend and stay very soft on the outside rein so he doesn't feel trapped.  Totally a lightbulb moment!  As we moved into the trot, it was really all about using the image of the inchworm (a half-halt) to push Charlie rounder.  Carolyn says the goal of the half-halt is always to push the horse rounder.  And holy crap did it work!  I don't think my mom got the best stuff on video where you can really see the half-halt working it's magic - she got the tail-end of the lesson.  He was pretty good; a little ADHD as we were in a new location but still pretty good once he settled in.  I ran through one of the BN tests just for fun - we were both a little tired and his fun meter was definitely pegged but he tried really hard and that's all that really matters.  Here are the links for the videos - shorter videolonger video, and the test.

Almost forgot!  Our lesson today was at a private backyard farm (backyard meaning it's only the owner's horses) owned by a very nice lady named Julie.  It's actually in the town next door so it's only a 25 minute drive instead of a 50 minute drive.  Very convenient!  It was really great for Charlie to be somewhere new - like I said earlier, he was a little silly in the beginning but he settled right down and got to work.

I'm going to Aiken this weekend - Cherie will be down there showing her 15.2 hh quarter horse stallion (he's not really her's - he belongs to a very nice lady named Bev.  Cherie's just lucky and gets to ride him!) in a mini prix.  This horse is so nice!  You'd never in a million years guess he was a stallion.  He's super athletic - he started out as a reining horse, switched it up to eventing and competed (and placed) at prelim, competed at 3rd level dressage and now does the jumpers with hopes of contesting a grand prix this summer.  What can't this horse do?!?!  

Cherie and Justin this summer.

Cherie and Justin winning a mini prix a couple of years ago.
So the plan is to go cross country schooling at Paradise Farm on Saturday and maybe Full Gallop on Sunday if she has time before her class.  Should be fun!  Maybe I'll actually get a little tour of Aiken since I've never really been there before.  I've only been to Jumping Branch; I've never gone downtown or anywhere else for that matter.

Monday, February 27, 2012


So I slacked today and didn't ride.  No real reason other than I was tired and felt more in the mood to do a beauty day.  What do you call a beauty day when you have a gelding?  Hmmm...I'll have to come up with something so I don't embarrass Charlie by calling it a beauty day!

Saturday was a flat day and he was quite good.  I really have to remember to lean back (that's my visual image) because it makes such a difference in his balance.  Ironically, I find it easier to ride him on a straight line then a circle.  Something is very definitely wrong with that!  I worked a lot on the walk - just keeping him forward and not making a big deal about the contact.  Still needs lots of work but at least he's forward! Really happy about that as he sucked back so badly in Dec/Jan.

Sunday we jumped!  Nothing major, just some footwork exercises.  I set up 4 poles, 9 feet apart to a small vertical.  The exercise is to canter in and let him figure out where his feet are.  I think I helped him too much!  I hate poles on the ground; I just can't figure out how to ride them.  Charlie was pretty good - he ran through it once or twice and then seemed to figure it out.  For the last 2 times through, I made the vertical into a small oxer.  I love the footwork exercises because I feel like I ride much better when I have to think more.  The other thing I have to remember and this is huge when riding a course or cross country is to KEEP HIS HEAD UP!  I've never had a horse that I had to worry about picking their face up so this is totally new to me.  He jumps so much better and his balance is so much better when his head isn't dragging on the ground.  Rocket science, right?  Hehe!

Another dressage lesson with Carolyn tomorrow.  I think I really want to work on trot-walk transitions as when I go to walk after trotting, Charlie thinks it's break time and becomes a 12hh pokey shetland pony.  Very annoying!  I think it's really that I need to 1) sit for 3 steps and prepare for the transition 2) keep my leg on in the transition (hello, downward transitions 101!) and 3) keep my seat active throughout the whole evolution.  Looking forward to it!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Hug your horse EVERYDAY!

After hearing about Megan Moore's The Grasshopper, I'm really glad that I wasn't able to make it back to Pine Top on Saturday.  Hug your horse everyday because who knows what tomorrow holds.

Charlie says "Seriously?"
Good rides yesterday and today.  More tomorrow night.  Now, go hug your pony! :-)

Friday, February 24, 2012

Pine Top and Jump Judging

So I was all excited to go to Pine Top and jump judge but this is what it looked like...

Looking out the front window at the fence I was supposed to judge.

What made it even more of a bummer is this is what it looked like at home, 2 hours northwest of Pine Top - 

A cow field about 1/2 a mile from home.
Oh well.  They rescheduled the Advanced and Intermediate cross country for Saturday but unfortunately I can't go back.  Maybe next year...

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A History Lesson - Part I

I recently read SprinklerBandit's blog entry about coming to the realization that her current mare may not be the right horse for her right now.  And how she's rediscovered how much fun riding is with her current mount, Cuna.  I absolutely understand what she's going through and have a lot of respect for her - it's not easy to come to that realization, never mind voice it out loud.  So here's a little insight into me...

In a land far, far away and a time long past, I had another horse named Fuzzy.  He was beautiful and fancy and an amazing jumper.  He was supposed to be the horse that I did my first prelim on, my first 3-day, my first intermediate, well you get the picture.

Fuzzy at Ledyard in 1994
When I got Fuzzy, I had completed one training level event with my old horse, Cowboy (more on him in another History Lesson).  The thought was we would do one or two novices and move back up to training.  Well, I should have figured that plan was no good after our first cross country school where he proceeded to try and leap the whole water jump.  Keep in mind, said water jump was about 4 strides across - I think he jumped 3 out of the four strides in his leap.  Lets, just say I got a little wet.  Our first event was the fall UNH at novice - we got eliminated at the water.  Go figure.

I spent the winter getting to know him better and that spring we once again made an attempt at novice.  I had ridden the novice there several times and was quite familiar with the track.  It was straightforward and relatively easy.  Or so I thought.  Fuzzy ran away with me and flipped over a table - the same table the fence judge told me was the easiest fence on the course...

I think this was the first time I ever remember not wanting to get back on.  I was knocked out and can still remember coming to and going through the checklist - am I breathing? can I still feel my hands? do my fingers still move? what about my legs? can I move my toes?  Not a fun experience at 14.  Fuzzy apparently had dirt from the tip of his ear to the tip of his tail.  I was covered in dirt and relatively unharmed - concussion, dislocated thumb, and sore but that's it.  Not bad in the grand scheme of things.  But what took the worst beating was my confidence.  I still struggle with it to this day.

I continued to ride Fuzzy and we continued to compete, eventually cantering around prelim.  If I'm brave, I may even post a video in a different history lesson.  My point to this particular history lesson is I rode for the next 2 years after the fall scared.  And it wasn't fun.  I couldn't eat for about 3 days before cross country and wanted to throw-up every time I left the start box.  In Fuzzy's defense, he never did anything that naughty again.  In fact, he was a pretty genuine guy.  Sometimes I wish he'd slammed on the brakes more often and maybe I would have realized it wasn't fun a bit more quickly.  Fuzzy was a great horse, a phenomenal horse even but I hated going cross country.  I was terrified I was going to make a mistake that would end up with him being hurt or me so I rode backwards.  I think I was secretly hoping he'd make the right decision for us.  But he just kept on trucking despite me.

I wish I'd realized sooner that we were not an eventing match made in heaven.  We could have spent some quality time in the jumper ring and had a total blast.  Coulda, woulda, shoulda.  He wasn't the easiest horse to deal with on the ground and dressage was tough to say the least but he saved my butt more times then I like to remember and for that I will always be grateful (and that's the reason he had a home for life - we had to put him down in Jan 2009).

King Oak Training - Spring 1995
The story does have a bit of a happy ending but that's another lesson as well.  This is why I appreciate Charlie so much.  I always leave the barn smiling.  I love going to the barn because I not only get to see Charlie but I get to ride him.  He is such a joy to be around both under saddle and on the ground.  He's never been stupid - excited, yes but stupid, no.  He rarely spooks and when he does it's legitimate and small.  I feel like one of those parents everyone hates because their kid is always the best.  But I can't help it - Charlie just makes me so happy.  I wish this type of horse for everyone - the one that makes them happy always.  That makes you excited to get to the barn to ride them because they are everything you wish for.  For me, that's Charlie.  Maybe it's fate that put me in Cherie's barn that Dec...

Onto more practical matters - I had a jumping lesson on Wed.  As usual, Charlie was great.  We spent the first half of the lesson working on the flat, applying what we'd learned from Carolyn.  In talking with Janna, she described Carolyn perfectly - she's very, very subtle.  We had some great flatwork - once again, Janna had to remind to keep my upper body back.  As soon as I stretch up, his balance improves significantly.  Especially in the canter.  I practiced that today and could feel a real difference when we went down the hill.  Then we did some grid work starting with a placing rail and a cross rail and ending with a double bounce, one stride to a 3 foot oxer - eek!  Charlie was great and I really worked on trying to keep my upper body quiet, letting him jump up to me.  I had so much fun!  I think Charlie did too as his ears were forward the whole time.  

It was beautiful out yesterday and today - Charlie got to spend both days without a blanket!  Yay!  I always feel bad for their skin in the winter - always covered with a blanket, it never gets to breathe.

Charlie and Sadie enjoying the sunshine and 70 degree weather.
Fence judging at Pine Top tomorrow!  Should be fun!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Dressage Lesson

So today I was finally able to connect with Carolyn, the dressage lady (at least that's what I call her!).  I'd never ridden with her before but have heard nothing but good things about her.  To say I was excited is an understatement.

So the lesson.  I'm a bit confused on how to describe it.  I can't really seem to describe what Carolyn told me but Charlie felt great almost the whole time.  The one thing that's sticking with me is her analogy for getting the horse to step under themselves.  She likens it to an inch worm - basically, you need collect the stride, thinking of lifting the back up (like an inch worm) and then you soften, allowing the horse to stretch down.  She really wanted him to be forward and in front of the leg.  By the end of the lesson, Charlie was forward, very consistent in the bridle, and really stretching through his back.  It's really cool to feel him swing his back when he's strutting his stuff!  I don't know that I've ever really felt that before Charlie.  It was definitely interesting and I'm definitely going to ride with her again.  I really wish Mom could have come to video although Carolyn does the headset thing so not sure the camera would have picked up what she was saying.

Oh!  Almost forgot!  She did help with the walk a bit.  Her theory on why he gets fussy when you first pick up the reins harkens back to his racehorse days.  When someone picks up the contact, that means something is going to happen.  To counter this, when I pick up the reins, I need to think about just taking a light, soft feel of his mouth while maintaining the tempo with my seat and leg.  When Charlie starts to kind of "rest" on the bit, that's when I should ask him to come more round always maintaining the tempo with my leg and seat.  If he gets fussy, I should just reestablish the soft contact and wait for him to "rest" again.  The seemed to work quite well - it almost seemed to calm him down since I wasn't forcing the issue.  I think this is the same idea as what Cherie told me, just a different way of saying it.

Another lesson tomorrow - didn't really plan it that way but that's how it worked out.  Probably good for me to have back-to-back reinforcement. :)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Illness

So I mentioned last time I was sick and I thought I was getting better...well, I did get better on Wed.  But the illness was back with a vengeance on Thursday!  And boy was I cranky!  But I really think I'm on the road to wellness now - 2 good days in a row.  Yay!

I did ride on Wed - we jumped.  Charlie was really good.  I set up a row of 3 verticals on the centerline (each jump was parallel with the long side of the ring) about 24 ft apart.  The original goal was to do a serpentine over them but I didn't leave enough room between them for the loops - I don't think the ring is really long enough.  So we figured-8'ed over them and practiced staying in a rhythm with the same canter stride and getting the correct lead over each fence.  Charlie was great!  He was very collected and responsive - I'll bet he's going to be a blast in the jump-off.  I didn't really think he could be that turny because he's so long but I'll tell you what, the pony can be pretty darn maneuverable when he's paying attention.  And he's only going to get better as he gets stronger on the flat.

Friday was a flat day and he was pretty good - at least I think he was.  One thing I really struggle with is what is the correct amount of weight in the bridle?  How do I know he's not getting on his forehand?  I think I had good weight on Friday because 1) he was still bendable and 2) I felt when I asked for more energy from behind, he didn't get longer in his frame.  I worked on my canter transitions and staying tall and in the center.  I was moderately successful - I love that Charlie tells on me!  I also worked on my sitting trot - still need lots of work but I didn't feel like I was bouncing all over so that made me happy.  Note to self - look up when sitting!  I don't know what it is but for some reason, sitting makes it even more difficult to look up.  What is up with that?!?!

Today was some more jumping over the same exercise.  Charlie was very good!  I got a new saddle when I got back from Kuwait (in all honesty I got 2 and love both!  Best decision ever to trade in the old ones!) and for some reason the saddle pad is slipping back under the flaps.  My typical get-up is a square pad with a fleece half pad and the saddle itself isn't moving.  And the part of the square pad that's under the fleece isn't moving, just the part that's under the flaps.  It doesn't seem to bother Charlie but I think it looks dumb. In an effort to keep the pad under the flaps from slipping, I tried using the non-slip thing you put under a rug and by the end of the ride, it had bunched up under the pad making Charlie somewhat unhappy (he's a little bit of the Prince and the Pea) and the pad still slipped.  Maybe bunched is a better description.  I don't really want to go the Ecogold route as 1) they're pricey and 2) the saddle isn't moving but I'd really like something to keep us from looking like a hot mess (how's that for southern twang?).

Now for a photo montage from today - the weather was beautiful!  65 degrees by 1100.  Can't beat it!

Sadie says "please save me!"

Game on!


This was right before he fell down...

...but don't worry, he was just fine!

Who, me?  Crazy?  Please!

And here's Charlie harassing Sadie into playing with him.

I know I said I was excited to go volunteer at Pine Top but now I'm even more excited since they'll be running both the Advanced and the Intermediate cross country!  Can't wait!  Hopefully, I'll be able to snap a few pictures.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

My horse is in an abusive relationship...

...and he's the abuser!  Charlie is now turned out with Sadie (an older mare who has competed through Prelim as well as having a few babies) and he is so mean to her!  And for some reason, she loves him!  Runs the fence line when I take him out to ride and whinny's when I take him to a lesson.  It's too funny that she knows what the horse trailer is for.

I didn't ride this weekend because 1) I had to go to Atlanta on Saturday AND Sunday (Sunday was not planned) and 2) it was freezing out, literally!  I know I said I was going to be tougher about the whole cold thing but it really was freezing - the wind was ridiculous!  I did ride on Monday, just on the flat.  I worked on transitions and Charlie definitely tells me when I collapse.  I'm pretty good in the walk-trot transitions but not so much during the canter transitions.  I tend to collapse really badly to the right so when I ask for the right lead canter, he picks up the left.  Very good reminder for me.  I think this really stems from my core weakness.

I did ride today but just went for a 20 minute walk as I have a pretty bad cold and was miserable for just about the whole day.  I think I'm on the mend though so keep your fingers crossed.  I joined a gym last week and plan on doing the personal trainer thing.  I honestly need the help/accountability.  Not really excited about spending the money but I think if I can get to where I want to be, I can maintain it.  I'm a pretty healthy eater, I just hate working out!

Jumping of some sort tomorrow!  Oh, almost forgot!  I signed up to volunteer at the Pine Top Advanced Horse Trials in 2 weeks.  I *think* I'll be jump judging an easy fence on the advanced cross country.  Should be lots of fun!

Friday, February 10, 2012

My horse is smarter than...

Me.  I'll bet you thought I was going to say a 5th grader - I really hate that show!  I also hate those bumper stickers that declare some dog is smarter than an honor student.  Although, the sad thing is most dogs probably are smarter than an honor student.

So I had a lesson with Janna today and we did a little bit on the flat and some jumping - yay!  With the flatwork, the focus was once again flexing in and out and on me keeping my upper body back to help him balance.  I have to say the upper body thing is even more frustrating than the hands thing!  I need to record a voice saying stay back and put it on my iPod so I can have it on constant repeat while riding.  Moving on, Charlie was quite good and focusing on a little bit of leg yielding was really helpful.  Janna told me to be proactive with the leg yielding to keep him steady in the bridle at all times.  He's really good and I get complacent and he in turn gets a little fussy.  I think its really more inside leg to outside rein but the mental image of leg yielding is very helpful.

We started the jumping portion with the clock exercise - poles were placed on the ground at 12, 3,6, and 9 on about a 20-25 meter circle.  To begin with, I hate poles on the ground!  I just don't get it so I guess it's a good thing Charlie does.  We started out trotting them and then added a circle over the 12 and 6 rail in the opposite direction.  This was really helpful for me because it gave me something else to focus on besides the rail.  This is where the smarter than me part comes in.  We started cantering and it took him a couple of times with me screwing up the rhythm but he got it in spite of me.  Janna then put 2 of the rails in the cups and we did it this way a few time and finally she put all of the rails in the cups and he was a rockstar!  He set himself up for the jumps and got a steady 6 strides between each fence with ZERO help from me.  I kind of think he almost didn't even need me to steer.  After Charlie mastered the clock exercise (because I'm not sure I did!), we incorporated it into some mini courses.

The first course was clock exercise (which was at one end of the ring), come out of the clock exercise down the long side to a plain white vertical to a swedish oxer with lots and lots of flowers under it.  The clock exercise went fine (because my pony is super smart!) down the long side to the vertical which he took a good hard look at (what?!?! it was just a plain white vertical - what the heck was he looking at?) around the corner to the swedish oxer with lots and lots of flowers which he jumped beautifully, didn't even bat an eyelash.  Funny horse.  I have a feeling I took the vertical for granted and wasn't about to make the same mistake with the oxer.  The second course started out the same but after the oxer, we did the clock exercise again then came down the opposite long side and jumped a vertical with a brick wall under it.  He peeked at the vertical AGAIN! and was great to the oxer, was good at the clock (although I'm pretty sure I wasn't) and took a hard peek at the wall but jumped it.  Again, I just took it for granted that he was going to jump - definitely need to ride a little more on the offensive and stop being such a passenger.  We did the wall again and he peeked again but because I kept my leg on, he pretty much maintained rhythm.  Janna said it's ok to look but he needs to keep the same rhythm and he''s not allowed to drop onto his forehand while looking.  That's a really good mental image for me to think about because it makes total sense to me. Now for your viewing pleasure, our last course courtesy of Mom (she took it on her phone and didn't realize she should have flipped the phone on it's side so that's why the picture is vertical instead of horizontal).  And because I'm still an idiot and can't follow SprinklerBandit's directions that she so kindly left me, here's the link - Charlie - Jumping lesson with Janna

I'm not sure about you all but I have a really hard time remembering to do everything at the same time - sort of like trying to chew gum and walking at the same time.  Like I said earlier, good thing my pony is a smart one.  I think he's a keeper!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Southern Pines - The Finale

So just a small side note - you may remember my rant from Monday's post (Southern Pines - Part II) about the feed store not having Charlie's textured feed; well, I went to the feed store 3 towns over today and not only did they have his food but they had the food he used to eat in PA.  The PA feed got him chubby (no small feat with thoroughbreds) and it's cheaper by $4/bag.  Not only did they have this food, they also had pellets for $7.99/bag which is about $6/bag cheaper than what I get from the more local place.  So for you math wizards, that adds up to about $40/month I'll save going to this place (yup, I had to use a calculator)!  The new feed store is on the way to Janna's (easy on and off the highway) so the plan is to stop on the way there or on the way back - it's less than a 1 mile detour.

Charlie says "It's about time!"

Ok, so feeling much better about my flat work, we jumped on Friday and it was fun!  Now, I used to be a pretty good show jumper if I say so myself but that was a long time ago and on a very different horse.  We started the lesson by doing some flexing in and out and using some easy leg yielding to get Charlie supple and listening.  As Cherie said, everything we do on the flat becomes magnified when jumping.  I like to think of it as a bendy horse will turn, a stiff horse runs through the turn and you miss your fence.  Not recommended.  Anyway, all this flexing helps me too because it seems to help me stay soft in my hand and helps me keep my outside aids on (again, helps with turning - I really need to remember this while I'm on the horse!).

We started the jumping with what I'll call the circle exercise - 2 cavalettis set up one-stride apart on a circle.  It's really an exercise for the rider - you can't get stuck looking at the first cavaletti or you'll forget to steer to the second one (I did this!).  So I had a drive by on the second cavaletti the first time but got it the second time around.  We did this a few times in each direction - for me it was all about maintaining the bend and staying quiet.  For Charlie, it was all about being quick on his feet - which he was because one time I let his stride get a tad long and he bounced it!  Oops!  After this, we moved onto a cross rail exercise where a rail was placed a short 3 strides from a cross rail.  The point is for me to contain his stride enough (and let me tell you, it's a reallllllly looooong stride!) to get the 3.  This is a really good exercise for me because it will (hopefully!) help me get more comfortable with the short spot.  It took about 2 tries before we got it just right - I'm pretty sure we got the 3 stride each time, it just wasn't that pretty.  But the last time we did it, it was really nice!

Next up was course work.  We just worked on me staying soft and back with my upper body (I love to collapse forward with the tight spot, grrrr!).  Charlie was great - I kept him a little too quiet, he definitely could have used a little more impulsion to one of the lines.  He just feels like he's trucking along because his stride is so huge.  I need to have a better idea of what pace I need to be going at which means I need to jump more.  But guess what?  I have video of our last course - nothing fancy so don't get too excited.  We were both a little tired so it wasn't our best one but you can see the circle exercise (the third jump is in between it).  I'm an idiot and can't figure out how to imbed it so here's the link - Charlie - Jumping in SP

I forgot to mention that I clipped Charlie while in Southern Pines.  I'd only clipped one other horse before - Prince the day before.  I don't think I butchered him too badly except for maybe his face which is a long story but hopefully it will grow out quickly.  He was really good - no drugs required.  I think he sometimes forgets he's an OTTB.
One last shot of Charlie and Alex - they love each other!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Intermision and progress!

So I'm going to take a little break from talking about what I learned during our Southern Pines adventure and talk about my ride today (which was AWESOME!) and Cherie.

Ride first because it was great!  I'm sure you all are going to get tired of hearing me say how amazing my horse is but he really is.  I swear I can hear him say "look dumbo, could you get your act together so we can do things correctly?" when I do something wrong like grip with my hands or use my heel instead of my leg.  Today, I really worked on what I learned last week.  I started off by gathering up my reins and really using my seat to push his neck down.  He was pretty good, a little pokey maybe, but good.  And like I said yesterday, I'm not going to worry about pokey right now.  We did flex in and out and I used the corners to over bend him in.  I need to be careful with the over bending as I tend to let go of my outside aids when I over bend and then he escapes out the side door.  When I started trotting, I used the corner to help me with the bend and I made sure I could see the corner of Charlie's inside eye.  Again, not perfect but pretty darn good.  I stuck with the plan and flexed in and out on the long sides making sure he was flexed in for the corners.  I used a circle and steered him onto a smaller circle using my outside aids (yay! I remembered how to steer correctly!) and kept him there for about 2 rotations and then leg yielded him out onto a larger circle.  This really helped supple him laterally.  I did some leg yielding down the quarter line and that was really good - Charlie was responsive off my leg and really pushing from behind.  I still can't believe how supple he was!  It was almost like riding Gumby.  I added some canter transitions which were ok - I needed to bend him in more but I was happy because I remembered to hold onto my outside rein so he got his leads the first time.  I gave hime a little break then worked on my walk-trot transitions.  Charlie was good but I really need to focus on using my leg and core to push him up into the trot and use my core/upper body in the downward transitions.  Overall, it was a great ride - Charlie was happy and I felt pretty good about not gripping too much with my hands.  I did ride in my jumping saddle which was a bit of a tactical error since my stirrups were too short and I wasn't smart enough to lower them while riding.

So Cherie.  I have know her since the early 90s - she was my pony club instructor.  She helped me make the leap from BN to Training and from D3 to B in the span of 2 years.  She sold me my last horse, Fuzzy, and she sold me Charlie.  She is, other than my parents, the single greatest influence on my life.  She's an amazing teacher and she loves to teach which makes her that much better.  She's ridden through Advanced, Third or Fourth level dressage and some seriously large jumpers.  Oh yeah, she currently rides a quarter horse stallion, Justin, who at 15.1 or 2 wins mini prixs - he's amazing.  Basically, she's done a little bit of everything, literally.  She's very generous with her time and always lets me ride her horses.  Last week she let me ride Prince, who even though he almost dumped me, is really cute.  He's 4 and hasn't done much but he is super keen, not spooky (usually), and just an all around fun OTTB.  She also let me ride Sequel - an OTTB she has with her for training.  He raced until he was 7 and retired sound.  His owner got him from the New Holland auction most likely on the way to much sadder place.  He was really nice - a little strong but nice!  He's a really nice mover and he's huge!  He almost looks like a warmblood, he's so big.


Riding these guys was really helpful because on Prince, it's really important to stay solid in your outside aids or you'll end up in the next county because he's not turning!  Sequel really helped with the flexing in and out.  I rode him on the trail and I really focused on staying in the center while flexing right for a few steps, then straight for a few steps, and then left for a few steps.  It helped that Cherie was behind me reminding me not to collapse left!

Now that I've gotten the mushy stuff over with, onto important things like fashion and accessories.  I splurged and got a saddle pad from Kate over at The Adventures of Lucy.  Charlie's show name, Come About, is a sailing command to change the direction of the boat - since I bought Charlie with money I earned in the Navy, I thought he should have a nautical name (and there was no way I was keeping his JC name of Cosmic Rae!).  So in honor of his show name, Kate created this for Charlie.  I think it came out great!  Kate was awesome to work with and I highly recommend her work - the picture doesn't do it justice!

Charlie says "all dressed up and nowhere to go!"

Monday, February 6, 2012

Southern Pines - Part II

Just a side note - I went to the feed store today to get Charlie's food and they are out of his textured feed.  I think okay, no big deal as I have a couple of days left on the current bag.  I ask when they expect to get more in...not until next Monday!  A whole week?!?!  What the heck?  Unfortunately, they are the only game in town so to speak so it's not like I can drive 5 miles the other way and use the other feed store.  I now have to go on a driving odyssey 3 towns over to another feed store to get his food.  Keep your fingers crossed they have it...

Now back to our regularly scheduled blogging...

So Tuesday and Wednesday were flat days and I think they were highly successful.  I really wanted a strategy for keeping my arms/hands soft and to demystify the walk.  The first thing Cherie had me do was use 2 fingers to grip the reins (the rein was between my middle finger and ring finger instead of my ring finger and little finger) - this really helped me keep a lighter feel because I couldn't use a "death grip" like I usually do.  At the walk, she had me focus on pushing the base of his neck lower with my seat.  It was really important that I carry my upper body and tilt my hips forward on order for this to work.  I need to use alternating legs to keep him forward and constantly keep the bit moving in his mouth.  To keep his attention, I need to flex him in and out - this will also help loosen his neck up.  A lightbulb definitely went off and I feel like I have a much better handle on the walk - I need to use my seat more; not to make him more forward but to push his neck lower.

As we started working on the trot, Cherie told me to make sure I could see the corner of Charlie's inside eye during the transition so I would know I had enough bend.  In order to keep him round, I need to think of leg yielding him into the new gait.  Then we worked on flexing in and out on the long side ensuring Charlie was flexed in for the corners.  This exercise helps Charlie begin to soften in his neck while I focus on keeping his hind end straight.  As Cherie put it, I need to make sure I "don't live on the circle and learn to love going large."  Between each change of flex, I should have at least 1 or 2 straight strides so he can change his balance.  When I do circle, I need to keep my outside aids solid; 1) so he has something guiding him around the circle and 2) because he loves to swing his haunches out, I need to think haunches in to keep his hind end behind the front end.  As he becomes more bungee, I can add some leg yielding to help supple his rib cage.  The next thing is huge for me: I've been obsessing over his forwardness.  I felt like he was either behind my leg or totally strung out but Cherie told me because he's so long, he needs to be supple both head-to-tail and side-to-side before I can ask for more power.  I could really feel this - as Charlie became more bungee-like, I could ask him to really push off behind, the energy coming up from his hocks, through his back, into his neck, and finally into the bridle.  The key is being soft and steady in hand so I can capture it correctly.

The canter was awesome because he was so supple!  I really need to work on staying strong in my core and keeping my upper body back and hips forward.  I should also use the flex-in/flex-out in the canter, basically I always need to be asking him to stay soft and supple.

Cherie also had me use some smaller circles and leg yield out onto bigger circles and well as some over bending in on circles and in the corners.  The big thing to remember with over bending is to never hold the bend for more than a stride or two before softening.

A few things for me and only me to work on include:
- when going to the right, I need to make sure my inside shoulder is back and my outside shoulder is forward
- my left leg should touch the horse, not my just my left heel
- carry myself in transitions - no collapsing side-to-side or front-to-back

I can tell my plank exercises are going to be even more important than I originally thought!  I'm really looking forward to riding tomorrow so I can practice everything I learned while it's still somewhat fresh in my brain.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Southern Pines - Part I

Apologies for the silence.  I wasn't pouting - promise!  I was in Southern Pines, NC and there was no internet connection where I was staying.  And since I can barely type on a regular keyboard, I didn't think blogging from my phone was such a hot idea.

Oh my goodness!  Where to start?  I left Friday afternoon immediately after clinical and got to Southern Pines about 6:30 PM.  The drive was relatively uneventful - the first 2 hours are all highway but once you hit Charlotte, you have to take Hwy 74 which has a speed limit of 55 with traffic lights.  Fun.  Anyhoo, 74 wasn't too bad even though I hit it at approx 4:30 on a Friday afternoon.  Once I got to Mile Away Farm (more on that later), I put Charlie in a stall across from his best buddy Alex, tucked him in for the night and headed back to Cherie's apartment to eat and sleep.  We discussed my launch into outer space over dinner and she was pretty mystified as that's very abnormal behavior for him.  Since cross country schooling was planned for Sunday, I wanted to jump on Saturday.

We got up on Saturday and headed to the barn to take care of her 7 horses and Charlie.  After getting everybody in and fed, Cherie had to go ride a horse for some longtime clients.  Once she was back, we took 2 of her horses out for a hack in the Foundation (basically a land conservancy that's huge and pretty much for horse and rider) and I almost had my second fall in the space of 3 days!  Prince (the horse I was on) spooked and spun right - I was so far off the side of him, I'm pretty sure I was parallel with the ground. Somehow I managed to save it - even Cherie was impressed!  The rest of the ride was uneventful because Prince really is a prince (more on him later!).  After getting back from our hack, it was time to ride Charlie.

Cherie is a big believer in keeping the horse on his or her toes and uses lots of rail and cavaletti exercises to achieve this.  While warming up, she helped my on the flat and breaking Charlie up laterally.  She had me focus on flexing him in and out, with a few straight steps in between.  Flexing is really about loosening the neck while keeping the hind end on a straight track.  As he becomes looser in his neck, I need to ride his neck lower.  I'm going to go into these concepts in more depth when I talk about my dressage lessons because they are borderline revolutionary for us.  After doing some flexing, we trotted over a pole pattern which consisted of 2 trot poles, one stride apart, to a four stride (don't quote me on this - I'll get the true distance next time I talk to her) bending line to a pile of poles, circle around a jump and come to the final pile of poles in the pattern.  I've explained this poorly but the point is you can trot or canter the pattern and because it is somewhat random, the horse needs to pay attention to his feet and the rider needs to pay attention to the line they are riding.

After the poles, we moved onto jumping some jumps.  We kept everything easy per my request as I wanted a positive, fun school for both of us before going cross country schooling at the Carolina Horse Park.  I'm not sure if I mentioned this before, but Charlie has taken to occasionally porpoising after a jump.  Cherie figured out he doesn't appreciate me leaning on his neck after the jump so I need to think about landing with my hands wide (and not on his neck).  I also figured out how to get each lead over the fence - meaning he lands on the lead I want.  He's so easy once you figure out what he prefers - all Charlie wants is for me to keep contact on the outside rein, preventing his shoulder from bulging out and he'll land on either lead, no questions asked.  He's so smart!  Now, he just needs a smart jockey!

On Sunday, we went cross country schooling at the Carolina Horse Park.  Charlie was really good and it was a really great experience for him because there was so much going on!  There were tons of horses all over the place.  He was great at the trailer to tack up and was a little excited walking out to cross country.  Cherie brought Alex, her prelim horse, with us.  We went to the water first and he was great!  Trotted and cantered through on the first go around.  He's definitely not a horse horse yet!  He does not like to stand around - as long as he has a job, he's fine but the minute he's supposed to stand and watch Alex do big horse stuff, he got antsy.  I think the big things I took away from the schooling were 1) keep his head up - he likes to lean on the bit and gets heavy on his forehand, especially when he's tired 2) count and keep counting! and 3) it's ok to get the short one and at this stage of the game, it's preferred.  I hate the short spot but I have to trust that Charlie is athletic enough to handle it (and newsflash, he is!).

Monday, we hacked Charlie and Alex because they had done a lot on Sunday.  So they enjoyed a nice leisurely stroll through the woods.

Charlie's on the left and Alex is on the right.

Charlie and Alex really are best buds - they are too funny together.  They lived together this summer while Charlie was with Cherie and picked right back-up where they left off.  Alex is crazy fancy both on the flat and over fences so hopefully he passed some wisdom onto Charlie during their midnight chats.  Ironically, Charlie is 2 months older than Alex but Alex only raced 2 or 3 times as a 3 yr old whereas Charlie didn't start racing until he was 4 and raced about 10 times between 2009 and 2010.  He raced his last race on 10 Oct 2010.

Okay, that's it for tonight - I'm beat.  Spending time with Cherie always wears me out.  The woman is amazing; like the energizer bunny.  I have a feeling this will end up being a 3 or 4 part post because I learned so much this week - it's crazy!

Charlie and Alex's field at sunset.
PS Apologies for any typos as I just can't muster the energy to proofread tonight! :-)