Monday, February 26, 2018

Gryphon the Great

With Taran in full training, I don't get to ride him very much because he's 2.5 hours away. But I go crazy if I don't ride (ask my poor husband), so I've been putting some time in on Griffy in the last couple of weeks.

He's a bit of a tricky ride - he's quite sensitive, but he also has that bull-headed Haflinger streak. So I'll do something like switch my whip hand and he'll simultaneously go "EEEK" and then use it as an excuse to grab left rein and try to take off. I can shut him down pretty quickly, but I do have to be more situationally aware with him than with Paddy or Taran. He also looooves to lean and will happily get into a pulling match if I let him. Maybe this is a Haffie thing because Paddy is a pro at this move.

Getting a leeetle leany here - If I ask for just a titch too much trot, we lose the balance. It's a fine line.

The coolest thing about Griffy is how balanced he can be and how much he will go off my seat. I start every ride with a lot of walk/halt and then walk/trot transitions. He starts off ignoring my seat, but about 5 minutes in he starts listening. The reins become almost unnecessary as he becomes buttery off my leg aids, and I feel like I'm riding a well-tuned little pretzel. Right up until the point where one of us gets a little quick or grabby and then it all falls apart. But at least I know where we can go!

Right now we're mostly working on balance and tempo and me carrying my hands (see above with the pulling). Taran isn't really a leaner or a puller, so I'm having to re-learn how to correctly use my core to resist the Haffie lean. Maybe this time it will stick?

I would like all our trot work to look like this please

But let's be real

Griffy's canter transitions are... interesting. They really feel like nothing, but he's hugely expressive about them, even with a very small ask. And when he's super balanced, his canter feels like riding a cloud. Taran's canter is nice (especially now), but Griffy's is a whole other level.

I barely asked, I swear

In the canter, I have to focus on really following with my seat and sitting UP to sort of hold him to a balanced canter, with just minimal support from my hands. Lots of inside leg helps, but no so much that he's leaning on my leg. Sometimes picking the inside hand up (NOT back) helps get him off the inside rein and gets him to rebalance himself, but doing it while cantering is still tough for both of us. 

Spoiler alert: we're way better to the left 

I'm excited to be riding this guy - he's really a lot of fun, and as always every horse teaches you a lot. I know he's supposed to be hubby's next jousting horse and all, but uhm... maybe he's more cut out for dressage? 

Especially given this on point bouffant .... FAHBULOUS

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Half Pass Professional

At the beginning of the year, I had a long talk with my trainer about how we were going to get changes on Taran. I have no experience with them, and neither does he. Although our first few attempts were successful, I didn't feel like I had the knowledge or confidence to put correct, clean changes on him. So, we decided it would be best to put Taran in full training for a few months to get him going.

Apparently he's doing great with them, but my trainer is kind of terrible with video. I have several videos of her talking her WS through the setup, then T canters out of frame and I hear her squeal "YES! THAT WAS AWESOME!" while I see nothing but arena wall or dirt. So um, yay awesome horse?

Anyway, a side benefit to being in full training is that all his gaits have improved 100%. He's so straight and through and supple and STRONG, it's like I'm riding a whole new horse. And MAN, he loves to do half pass, both at the trot and canter. And riding a move that your horse loves to show off is just pretty amazeballs.

The way half-pass was explained to me was to ride across the diagonal, look at the letter you're going to, and then ask for haunches in. I know there's more to it than that, but for a beginner version it's working for me.

Uhhhnnfortunately, some of us are not as good at half pass as our horses are. The theme here is "let's lean to the outside"...

I do not think my right shoulder should be 4 inches lower than my left.
Nor should my left shoulder be 4 inches lower than my right. At least I'm consistent?

Also whatever my left hand is doing, it's doing without my permission.

Either the camera angle is hiding my flaws, or someone yelled at me to SIT UP. Either way, my horse is a saint for carrying on despite less than perfect working conditions.

Moral of the story: sit UP, weight on your inside seatbone, and for heaven's sakes keep your hands down. Taran will do the half pass with or without me - I just need to position him, ask, and then STAY OUT OF HIS WAY. 

What are your tricks for half pass? 

Friday, January 26, 2018

Things I wish I had known a year ago

I've been puttering around with this post in my head for a while, and it's still kind of jumbled. But there are some things I've learned in the past year that I wish I'd known at the start of the year.

Stop talking down about yourself, your riding, and your horse. No, I'm not God's gift to riding, and no, Taran is not going to the Olympics. But that doesn't mean I have to be self-deprecating about everything. If someone gave us a compliment, I used to make a snarky negative comment. Now, if someone gives us a compliment, I say something like "Thank you, we've really been working on that and he tries so hard for me". I'm not trying to be a prima donna about it, but I don't need to put us down either, because if you say enough negative things, you start to believe them. Instead, I now tell Taran that he's awesome on the daily, because if he thinks he's awesome, he acts like it (seriously, you should see him puff up!).  Pretty soon, you'll both believe it, and that makes a huge difference in your outlook on life!

Repeat after me: My horse is awesome. My horse is awesome. My horse is awesome. 

Visualize everything. Over the summer, I read "That Winning Feeling". Mostly what it talks about is the power of positive thinking (see above) and the value of visualizing your movements and tests and how you're going to ride them. The more detail you visualize, the more you can trick your body into thinking that you've actually done something over and over again. I practiced a lot of tests in my head, and it really helped. In fact I was in the middle of one test and momentarily blanked on where to go next, but my body knew because I'd visualized it so much, and we had already started the next movement. For the record, I forgot exactly 0 tests in 2017, so sample size of N=1 says visualization really works!
Seriously, go buy this thing - it's worth every penny. Best sports psychology advice I've ever gotten, even if the author's hairstyle is a bit 1980s.

Be honest with yourself and with your trainer about your goals. In my second ride with GP trainer, she asked me what my goals were. I flat-out told her I wanted to ride Grand Prix. She told me that I'd probably need another horse, and I agreed but told her I wanted to see how far we could get with Taran, because he's what I have right now. Knowing my goals, she pushes me harder than she does some of her other students. She makes comments like, "Don't show up again without spurs because you need them for FEI" or "go back and do that transition because that's not going to fly at 4th". She knows where I want to go and that I'm willing to work to get there. Which leads to...

Let's just lay all the cards out on the table, mmkay?

Get the best trainer that you can afford, and that works for you and your horse. When you have a trainer who has ridden at the top, and taken students to the top, that person has more tools in their toolbox than someone who hasn't. They can see the path to get you where you want to go and they understand what it takes to get there. My original trainer is lovely, and taught me a great deal about correct basics, but early last year we both realized that I had outgrown her. I struggled with moving on to someone else, but it was definitely the right thing to do. Having the right person teach you - AND one who believes in your horse - really makes all the difference.

For me having someone with a sense of humor is helpful, because while my horse is awesome, he's not always awesome is the ways I was hoping for. 

Doing second level well takes longer than you think. We got our bronze medal scores our first time out at 2nd, and looking back on those tests, they were cringe-worthy. In hindsight, I feel like we moved up to 2nd and faked our way through 2-1, but there's a year's worth of training and building strength between faking the first test and owning the last test. It takes a HUGE amount of strength, straightness, and balance for a horse to correctly perform movements like canter-walk (not to mention the rider's aids and timing), and I didn't realize just how much until quite late in the year. It didn't help that Taran was (unknowingly) struggling with PPID, but even so, all of our second level movements improved 100% over the course of the year. And there's still A LOT of room for improvement! It's hard not to rush through when you've got all the movements, but patience pays off to make them solid. The step from first to second is REALLY big, so give yourself and your horse time.

April 2017 medium trot - downhill and running

November 2017 medium trot - uphill with suspension

Fitness matters. Dear 2018 self, get yo lazy ass off the couch and get back to jogging and yoga. Seriously, I hate this one the most. I HATE jogging with a burning, fiery passion. I hate going to the gym. But late last summer I was jogging about a mile a day (don't laugh), and doing 20 mins of yoga daily, and it helped my riding so much. I know there are folks out there who run 5 miles every day and do crossfit and all that, and I just cannot understand how you make yourself do it. But I've seen first hand how much being even just a little more fit makes a difference in my riding, so really. This is my advice to me every year: GET OFF YO ASS.

Moo is definitely not helping with the fitness plans.

Don't compare yourself to others. This is hard, because we all look at what our friends or fellow bloggers are doing and lament how much slower we are moving than they are or how much better they did at the last show or whatever. Here's the thing - every horse/rider/trainer/barn/life situation is different. Be happy for your fellow riders who are doing their thing - whatever that thing is. Cheer them on. Tell them they are awesome. They've worked just as hard to get where they are as you have to get where you are. But your journey is your own, and you should revel in it. Constantly compare yourself and you are going to come up short every time. Measure success in your own way instead - and be sure to develop a healthy sense of humor for when things don't work out quite as planned.

I admit, I'm a teeny bit jealous of Jan getting her bronze medal last year. But in reality, she's worked her ass off and I'm so proud of her and excited for her and Penn. Being happy for her successes (and everyone in blogland) doesn't take anything away from me. Instead I get to share your journeys and celebrate with you.

Take omeprazole when you give it to your horse. Seriously, do you have to give yourself ulcers before every show? I do, and I've just had to admit that it's best if I take human omeprazole when I give Taran his. At least that way I don't want to throw up nearly as much.

I've come to the realization I might as well buy it in bulk.

So... what do you wish you had known at the beginning of last year? What advice would you pass on to someone else?

Sunday, January 21, 2018

2017 - what an incredible year!

At the beginning of last year, I made a list of things that I hoped would happen. I set some very reasonable goals for myself and some really far-fetched ones, but even so we accomplished more than I ever thought possible.

Despite all his accomplishments, I still have to hold his ears up for pictures.

My goal of getting my bronze scores at second level was accomplished my first time out, and honestly it felt like a little bit of a cheat. There's so much more to second level than getting a 60% on 2-1, so those scores were the beginning of a much longer journey. By the end of the year we we scoring solidly mid 60s on 2-3, with plenty of room for improvement on pretty much everything (I'm looking at you, TOH).

Our haunches in game was pretty strong, despite my lovely habit of collapsing.

Along the way, we picked up three USDF Dover medals. This award is given to the highest scoring AA at 2-3 at a USDF rated show. It's honestly something that was never on my radar, because let's face it, mid 60's isn't a terribly high score. But we got lucky at several shows where there were only a couple of riders in the class, many were out for the first time, and they weren't on super fancy horses. So while I feel like the stars aligned for us to win those medals, I'm definitely not going to turn them down!

And because we got three of them, we also won a Dover National Merit Award - 37th in the nation, with an average score of 65.122. I even got a trophy - my first ever!

Maybe it's more of a scotch tasting glass than a trophy?

I also signed us up for the National Pony Cup Small Horse awards. We ended up first place at first level AA, third place 2nd level AA, and 5th place freestyle AA. 

And really, I signed up for the satin. I swear this rosette is bigger than my head.

Taran got his USDF 2nd level Performance award, for having 10 scores over 60% at second level (including 4 scores at 2-3). I got my USDF 2nd level Rider award as well. I also ended up getting my 1* rating from, which is kind of cool. I do wish our average scores at 2nd were a little higher - our poor showing at Nationals really brought it down.

Not only did Taran and I qualified for regionals at first level and first level freestyle, we also qualified at second level (although that was a long shot goal for the year). Our placing at regionals on the 1-3 national qualifying test was kind of sad, and I ended up scratching the SWDC championship 1-3 class. However, we were 7th in the national first level freestyle qualifier, and got a wildcard qualifying score. We were also 4th (behind 3 pros) on the SWDC first level freestyle championship, so I am pretty pleased with that. We actually beat all the AAs who beat us in the national qualifier, so it just goes to show that some days everything goes really well. And for the 2nd level national qualifier, my goal was not to come in last. So when we ended up third in a strong field, I was absolutely thrilled. We'd put in the best test of the year for that ride and I just couldn't have asked for more.

It was also eleventy bajillion degrees at regionals, which is why we both look kind of wilted.

As for my first level freestyle at Nationals... well, you know how awesome that turned out. The victory lap around the Alltech Arena at Kentucky Horse Park was pretty much the icing on the top of a fairy tale year.


The hardest thing about this year was keeping Taran happy, healthy, and sound. We struggled with intermittent soundness issues, ulcers, a broken tooth, and of course the PPID (Cushings) diagnosis. We seem to have found the right combination of sneakers, feed, and doses of Prascend, so hopefully we can continue to check this goal off the list.

Let's not do this again, mmkay?

As for the "crazy" goals I had this year... I did ride 3-1 at a schooling show, even though I didn't have changes. And obviously we didn't get our bronze medal scores at third. But I'm feeling like those things are going to be more than obtainable in 2018, and I'm SO looking forward to it!

Because I have hands down THE BEST pony EVER!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Teaching "flying" lead changes

We are mostly ready for third level, except that we are missing flying changes. (OK, we also need better SI, and a real extended trot and canter, a legit TOH instead of a reining spin, and Taran STILL doesn't back, but whatever. Focus on the important stuff here.)

Fun fact - I've been riding almost 30 years, and I've never learned how to do a change. I mean, I know how to do them *in theory*, but I've never actually done one. I can ask for leads over fences, but the closest I've gotten to doing a change on the ground was last summer on a friend's horse, and then I only got the front. Taran doesn't have a clue how to do them either, so together we are obviously going to be awesome at this and get everything the first time. Har har har.

It never ceases to amaze me how many hunters have such amazingly easy, clean, smooth changes even as very young horses. In the dressage world, the thought seems to be that you need to have a really solid counter-canter (it's ALL OVER second level) before you teach a change - in part because horses who know how to change will sometimes flip when asked for counter-canter, because changing is easier. However, I've also heard of folks (ahemCharlotteahem) putting changes on a 5 or 6 year old and then leaving them alone for several years. Regardless, both T and I are way behind the curve here.

There seems to be lots of ways to teach changes. Figure 8 with canter/walk/canter is popular. I watched Alfredo teach them by doing canter/counter canter/canter on a 20 m circle. You can leg yield down centerline and ask for the change right when you make your turn. You can use a pole on the ground. I'm sure there are plenty more, too.

The thing is, Taran has gotten VERY GOOD at counter-canter. Like he can do a 10 m half-circle in cc. To him, a more balanced cc is always the right answer. That made my amateur attempts to try changes rather comical - he had no idea what I was doing flailing around up there, and simply tried his best to do what he thought I wanted. So we did a lot of very very collected counter-canter, and I lamented my lack of knowledge and thought that maybe I'd trained CC a leeetle too much.

Enter the pole. I had tried using it at home, and we'd gotten 3 nice changes over it, but I wanted to wait for my trainer before I did any more. So at our clinic last weekend, on the first day we worked a ton on getting more jump in the canter, and then we got out a pole.

It's probably important to mention that Taran is not much of a jumper. I can count on one hand the number of times he's been over a jump in his 15 years, and none of them were more than logs or crossrails. He's skeptical about jumping at best, and at worst will refuse to cross a downed fence pole that's 6 inches off the ground, despite there being a pasture full of green grass on the other side.

So. As we cantered down (shoulder UP!) to the pole for the first time, I focused on keeping my aids super clear with a tiny bit of shoulder fore, then straightening him and switching my aids, like I was asking for a walk-canter transitions the moment I was over the pole.

I should have known that a pole on the ground apparently needs A Great Deal Of Respect. 

Definitely got the "flying" part of the change. My trainer nearly fell out of her chair laughing, because she's helpful like that.

We got the change despite Taran's overachieving leap, so we made a huge fuss of him and quit for the day on that.

For some reason, day 2 Taran warmed up super spicy. This meant he spooked at EVERYTHING.

HOLY SHIT THERE'S A FLAT SPOT IN THE ARENA. Not even joking, this was where someone had left a few footprints while they were mucking.

He shook his head when I asked him for some leg yield (omg!), and even pretended to buck when I tapped him with the whip to ask for a bigger medium trot.

You should be impressed with how naughty he was.

BUT, his shorter steps (think precursor to half steps) work was SUPER good. He's really getting the hang of sitting down a bit, and I'm getting better at asking for it with my seat/body while keeping my hands light and forward-thinking. Actually feeling collection is kind of an amazing thing, y'all.

We also put in some killer shoulder in to trot half-pass. Ok, our SI on the center line still looks drunk - there are a lot of body parts to keep track of and you can't use the rail for support (not that I would ever do that, of course). But our half pass felt legit! It's so easy to get the haunches leading and/or let him fall over his shoulder, so I'm slowly coming to understand that half pass requires a ton of inside leg. More stuff to work on, but a good start!

Annd then we went on to do changes. Once again, the pole required a healthy dose of respect because it's actually an alligator or something.

The commentary from the peanut gallery (aka my trainer and my dearest darling husband) is amusing and worth the 18 seconds to hear. But if you don't want to watch the video, here's the important still:

Probably you shouldn't see knees and feet flailing when practicing lead changes.

He was late behind on that change and uh, expressive up front, but you can see how he really gets lighter on his forehand two strides out. Good boy! The next pass through he offered a change (front only) about 3 strides out from the pole, which we gave him a lot of pats for because it's the first time he's tried to change in his entire life. We came over the pole a few more times, and he got the change every time, so we ended on a really good one:

My trainer assures me they won't be so... expressive... without the pole. But still! It's a solid start, and using a pole lets me work on timing my aids, and practicing my two-point. And here I thought my jumping days were a thing of the past!

Monday, December 18, 2017

That time I rode third level

Last weekend was our local dressage group's "ugly sweater" schooling show. At the last minute, I decided to sign Taran up for 3-1. I really wanted to get out and just try it this year,  since we can do everything in that test except the lead changes. So I figured we'd take the 4's for no change, and start getting used to the rest of the test.

T warmed up a little sticky, but it was cold out. We did a lot of small steps/forward/small steps/forward in the trot to get his hind end engaged, and we did a couple of "yee-haws" (as Charlotte likes to call them) at the canter to get him moving. He felt super balanced in the collected canter especially, although a little behind my leg. Still, he felt good to go and I was feeling like we could lay down a good trip.

Unfortunately, the moment we picked up the trot in the sandbox, I knew we were going to have problems. The footing at this facility is a little shallow in the competition arena, and he simply did not feel comfortable in it. When I asked for a medium trot, he did about 3 really good steps and then was just like "nope I can't," and I didn't push it. However, his trot half-passes (new at 3rd) got a 7.5 and 7.0, so I was quite happy with those.

Good crossover, but leading with haunches and needs more bend

We got stuck AGAIN in the stupid walk TOH movement, both ways. Either we're too big or we get stuck for one step - either way, it's a 4, and that's a coefficient movement. We have done super good ones in practice, but for some reason I get in the sandbox and it just falls apart. ARGH! I seriously need to fix this because it's a lot of points.

That's a lot of 4's

Our walk-canter depart got an 8 (ok I know it's a schooling show but who would have guessed that THIS HORSE would get AN EIGHT on a canter movement???) and our right lead canter work was pretty good. Of course we missed the change, and but then I let his shoulders get down and he cross-fired in the extended canter on the left lead. That killed the canter, the transition from extended to collected, and the 10m left canter circle. Whoops. We ended up with a 59.242%, and I've never gotten so many 4's on a test in my life. Good thing it was a schooling show?

At least he was obedient

Overall, the judge was very complimentary of him - she actually made it a point to mention how good our connection was when I was scribing for her later. She mentioned that we need more suspension for this level, and she's right. That's something I just couldn't manufacture in that arena, and I'm pretty sure it was the shallow footing.

When we finished, I went back out to the warmup area and he was 100% fine - gave me a blazing extended trot and had plenty of lift. We also did a little more canter, and MC got this great moment of collection on camera:

We were actually doing a baby canter pirouette step here. He's a little behind my leg, but he's so light in front and you can see how soft he is in the connection. <3 p="">

I'd say it was a good ending to 2017. Flying changes are gonna be the project this winter, so hopefully we can come out at 3rd in the spring, for real. I can't wait!

Friday, December 8, 2017

Wyvern Oaks Winter Wonderland

It's all over social media, but we actually got pretty significant (for us) snow last night! Nothing is prettier than a fresh covering of snow, so I snapped a few pictures this morning as the sun came up.

Back pasture

Kitty tracks!

My attempt at artsy photography lol

 Malamute in his native habitat

Perfect Pyr weather!