Monthly Archives: March 2010

It’s all about the ‘bend-jamins!”

Ok, excuse the bad pun – I couldn’t resist.

This was my mantra for today when I rode Fling. I’ve discovered “more bend” is often the answer to problems I’ve been encountering. Canter feels funky – just not ‘through?’  More bend, along with inside leg to ‘activate’ her inside hind and sympathetic outside rein to keep her straight. Trot feels flat? More bend to create more activity and a ‘dancier’ trot – and do slight shoulder fore on straight lines.  Medium/extended trot or canter falls flat? Again, create more bend with slight shoulder fore. Half pass falls apart? Yep, more bend – and KEEP the bend with inside leg and rein and resist the temptation to ‘flatten’ her by using too much outside leg.

Fling was not sure she likes this new regime – but she went along with the new program. I realized during my week with Marta that I had not been asking for enough bend in general. I’ve been trying to ask for more – but I did not reallize just how much you often need.  To make it easier on Fling, I’ve been starting out in walk and doing half 10m serpentines in bend, and really insisting that she change the bend fluidly and without resistance. I’ve learned to use my inside leg first when asking for the new direction.

“More bend” has really helped her canter this week. Last week it just did not feel “right” and I couldn’t quite ‘find’ that good canter. When I started asking for more bend, I found the good canter again.

She’s working really well and as usual, is a joy to ride.


Gone with the wind!

It was freaky windy yesterday evening and all day today. We were actually under a wind advisory all day long. That doesn’t happen often here  – I am happy to say! It was also unseasonably COLD. The horses wore their winter blankets last night – the same winter blankets I’d optimistically washed and put away for the season last week!! 

Today was also a schooling show where Faeryn made her first level debut. Impulsion was NOT a problem. She did several small scoots forward when she had to turn with the wind up her tail! She HATES having the wind go up her butt! But, I operated just like I do at home when she bolts a little – I harnessed that energy to create bigger gaits/more impulsion. Faeryn can have super forward/impulsion – or she can run out of gas and go ‘splat.’ I think it’s mostly due to her fitness/strength level at this point. She is not naturally as strong as Fling – and I need to start doing ‘dedicated’ exercises to build energy/fitness.  The perfect one for that, and to also lay foundation for collection, is to do small ‘foward and back’ at trot and canter.

At the show, Faeryn also took issue with the  music in the arena! They were playing music in the arena during open schooling and even tho it was not loud, and it was fairly ‘calm’ music, every time she got near the speakers overhead she was NOT happy. This has happened several times at shows – the music really freaks her out.  No freestyles for her! No loss, tho – I’ve never had the urge to do a freestyle. Too much work putting one together (I’d have to pay someone to do it as I am not the least bit musically inclined) and I have too many horses to try and show in ‘regular’ dressage to worry about adding anyting else to my plate!

I was proud of Faeryn yesterday, tho – there were many people in the warm up, and one clueless person lunging in the big middle of the warm-up, despite the fact there were acres and acres of field to do so. It had also rained just about the entire day on Saturday, so the warmup area and the competition arena had large puddles. In fact, the entire 15/20 meter circle right in front of the judge was just slop. It had a good base on it, tho, so it was not scary – but it was the consistency of pudding! After a little bit of time ‘acclimating’ to the puddles, Faeryn marched through them and was very businesslike when it came our turn in the arena. When we were done she was covered with mud, and so were my boots and girth!

I thought our first test, First 1, was just a tad out of control, and I also got ‘lost’ during the walk since I could not hear what the caller was saying due to the wind! (no matter how well you think you know the test ‘on paper’, it’s a whole ‘nuther thing when you have to ride it the first time at a show!) Her trot and canter lengthenings really aren’t ‘there’ – we’re faking it now. She hasn’t ‘gotten’ the idea of taking longer strides instead of quicker strides – common problem at this stage of training. At some point the ‘lightbulb’ will go off and she’ll get it.  She got a 61 and was 2nd in her class.

Our second test, First 2, went much better I thought. Her canter work was really good, she had good bending and her leg yields were good too. She stayed connected better – and our scored showed – a 63.6 for first place.

When I left, she had the highest score of all the first level rides so far, but not all had been scored. The show manager, who watched many of the rides, thought the scores were a little low. I didn’t care – Faeryn was a good girl, went in there and did her job and got several 8s on our second ride – mostly for her canter departs and canter circles! It’s improved a lot lately. What hurt her most were her canter lengthenings – as I expected.

Her next show will be in April.

Fling has been working well this week. When I finally started insisting she carry herself and use her rear, she stepped up to the plate. Her half passes are better – both trot and canter. She is consistently getting her changes – every once in a while she’s a tad late behind, but I’m not worried about that. Physically,she’s very fit and very ‘buff.’  She doesn’ have an ounce of fat on her – and today I increased her feed a bit because she’s working really hard. 

Faxx was Mr. Fussy the last time I rode him, but everyone’s entitled to a crabby day. He’ll make his first level debut in April at a schooling show.

Faeryn’s First Level debut

Faeryn is going to a schooling show Sunday – her first this year. She will show First Level Test 1 and First level Test 2. In Test 2 we’ll be ‘winging it’ a bit since her canter lengthenings are definitely a ‘work in progress.’ Her leg yield can be quite good, tho, and her canter is getting better and better.

One thing I have discovered about her canter work – don’t ‘help’ her so much. I guess it’s like raising kids – if you help them too much, they never learn to do it on their own. Same with Faeryn’s canter. I was wearing myself out, trying to support her with all my aids – seat/legs/hand. And then I realized – self carriage means just THAT. She needs to learn to balance and carry herself with little help from me. So I’ve backed off and am trying to just ‘sit’ more – give help here and there to keep her straight, bent correctly and through – but give her lots of chances to carry herself. And she can, and she does. And as a result – she is getting stronger and her canter is getting more correct and she can go longer periods between ‘corrections’ from me. The trot is the same, really, but Faeryn has never needed much help from me at the trot.

Not to be outdone, Faxx will make his first level debut at a schooling show in April.  He is sort of the opposite of Faeryn. He needs more help at the trot than the canter. And I’m trying to make him more ‘independent’ at trot, too.

The white monster…

I have wanted a washing machine for the barn for a long time. Recently I did a bit of remodeling to the barn interior and as a result, now had a spot for a washer. I started out looking at new washers, but decided I really did not want to pay more for a barn washer than I did for the one in our house! So then I searched used ones. I hit the jackpot and found a large capacity GE, fairly new, for $165. I guess it’s a sad commentary on your life when a cheap used washer can send you into nirvana. 😉   I picked it up after work today, and Mike did the ‘heavy lifting’ and I hooked it up. The drain hose conveniently goes out a barn window, into flowerbeds below. Almost giddy, I cranked up the machine for its maiden voyage – a saddle pad. Once it started, I went and got Fling to tack her up for a short ride.

Whereupon I reallized the horses were not going to be as happy about the new washing machine as I was. 😉  First, just the sight of the machine – big, white square – was enough to give Fling pause. It sits about 10 feet from the crossties where I tack the horses up. Just when Fling was getting used to the SIGHT of the thing, it hit the drain cycle and made (to Fling) scary clicks and mechanical noises – and then the coup de grace — the sound of gallons and gallons of water rushing out and hitting the ground outside the barn. That’s when Fling started spinning even faster than the washing machine and I had to put her in her stall for the rest of the wash cycle! LOL!  Most of the time the washer will be in use when they are out in the pasture. But just for good measure, when they came in to eat this evening, I ran another load, just to try and desensitize them to it.

During our short ride this evening, I mostly worked on canter. At this point in our training, I now have to ‘insist’ that Fling steps up to the plate, listens to my half halts and CARRIES herself. As I wrote yesterday – just being nice to her isn’t going to get us where we want to go at this point. I have to think of myself as her ‘personal trainer.’ A personal trainer makes you do stuff you don’ really want to do at the time, and it’s hard, but it makes you better and you’re happy afterwards that you did it. (Well, as least I did when I was working with a personal trainer.) Fling, I am sure, does not think in such abstract terms, and she certainly doesn’t worry about her fitness level, but she DOES like the peppermints she gets after every ride. 😉

“One does not get to Grand Prix with rubs and pats”

I can’t remember who said that – some famous old dead guy, no doubt. That’s not to say that you don’t always praise the horse when it shows even the least bit of ‘try’ when you ask something of it. But that it takes more than that to make a trained horse. .

Some people would be fairly horrified by this thought, but those are generally the people who really don’t understand horses anyway. Yes, in training, sometimes you have to get a horse to do something it initially does not want to do. Otherwise, you’d really never be able to train a horse at all.  I personally don’t have a problem with that. _I_ have to do things i don’t want to do all the time….like get up at 5:30, drive an hour to work, spend 9 hours a day sitting in an office under flourescent lights, get root canals, cook dinner, etc. etc. etc.  You get the drift. But that does not mean there is someone threatening to BEAT me if I do not do those things. Ditto for the horse.

I think about that quote today because Fling said “NO” to me yesterday when I asked her to do something. It happens so infrequently that I can’t remember the last time it DID happen. I decided to try some ‘full pass’ work to try and help our half pass. In “full pass” you move sideways in the direction of the bend, like in half pass, but you do not go forward at all. It is completely lateral. I tried it at the arena fence…to the left, she did it, haltingly, but did it. To the right, I got an emphatic no. She would not take one step to the right in the half pass bend….she threw her haunches left, backed up, threatened to rear. It sounds dramatic, but Fling threatening to rear means she goes about one inch off he ground.  I tried several times with the same reaction. When I took her away from facing the fence, and just asked her to do it ‘in he open’ she did not object openly, but also did not do it very well.

I was wondering if she might be a little sore. And, it also might be time for some regular Adequan or Legend injections. She’s 10 now, and is working pretty hard.

Today I took her out in our field to work,just to get her out of the arena. I got almost the same, but a little less emphatic, reaction when I asked for full pass to the right at the fence. But, later in our session, when I asked for half pass, it was better than yesterday by quite a bit.I did one in each direction and moved onto something else. (As Jan Brink says,” don’t drill your horses in things they do very well, OR the things they don’t do well.”

And interestingly, when I was grooming them all this evening (something I try to do every night before I go to bed) when I reached Fling’s armpits she had a violent reaction – on both sides.As in, she reached around and bit – not me, but the brush.  Now sometimes they’re just ticklish there – but even after she’d had time to get used to it, she was very reactive.  I put the brush aside and massaged gently with my hand and she was still very irritated, but the longer I worked on her in that area, the better she got.(Think ‘Oh, it hurts so good’ like when you get deep tissue massage on a sore muscle.)  I think she’s sore. It makes sense – when she’s doing lateral work and crossing the front legs, she would have to stretch more, in that very spot. So the question is – is she sore because of the full pass/half pass work – or was she saying “no” to the full pass because she was already sore?  Regardless of the answer to that question, for our next session, we’ll skip the lateral work.

Daylight Savings Time!

Some people look forward to Christmas – I look forward to the start of Daylight Savings Time! Even though I am grateful to have lights to ride under – I detest riding under them. They just seem to alter perception in many ways – depth perception, ‘forward perception. And there’s just something downright depressing about riding under them. I also hate that I cannot see ANYTHING beyond the perimeter of my arena. In my book, they are a ‘necessary evil’ – sort of like covered arenas, which I also dislike. Yes, I am odd! 😉  Now I will have time to ride two horses every evening IN DAYLIGHT!

The beautiful weather continues, and hopefully in a few months I’ll have made some much-needed arena improvements. I put my arena in about 6 years ago and nothing has been done to it since. It is MAJORLY crowned, which is a good thing for drainage, but very difficult sometimes since you really do sort of ride up and down — especially tough doing lateral work from one side to the other.  Also, my footing is quite dead, and as it has settled, I have some low spots in my base, which make for some deep spots right along the quarterline almost the length of one whole side. So, I had a guy who has done some local arenas come look at it last month, and when it’s a bit drier, he is going to bring in some more base to bring the sides up so it’s not quite so crowned, and also fix my low spots – and then bring in new sand. The most exciting news tho, is it looks like I am finally going to get MIRRORS! I think for now I will go for half of one short side. I need to order one set of mirrors and prop them up and see if they work at all under the lights, since that will impact where I decide to put them. Now I need to call the guy who built our run-in shed and get a bid from him for the framework. The mirrors themselves are not very expensive at all.  Having mirrors will help my riding tremendously!

The horses are all working well. I am still having some on again, off again trouble with half pass to the right with Fling. But her basic trot work is very good, and her canter is getting better. The flying changes are good – my biggest trouble now is I tend to overcue her, which makes her do a huge ‘bucky leaping’ change instead of a more ‘polite’ one. Faxx and Faeryn are working very well. Faeryn is going to a schooling show next weekend for her first level debut – Faxx will make his first level debut at a schooling show in April. Fling will show third level soon. They are all shedding and getting quite shiny! As usual, Faeryn won the shedding race and is sleek, shiny and has that ‘copper penny’ sheen to her coat like her mom, Sonnys Mona Lisa+/ had.  Of the two, Faeryn definitely reminds me most of Lisa. She has her ‘face’ and even some of her little mannerisms. I don’t think I will ever stop missing Lisa – or being grateful to her for giving me Faeryn and Fling. I can see her grave from the arena when I ride.

Finally – beautiful spring weather!

It has been perfectly gorgeous this week. Even the little bit of rain we had earlier was fine with me, since my arena was still rideable!!

 I am riding all three with the goal of showing all of them in recognized shows this year. I am prepping Fling for her third level debut and have been having periodic panic attacks at the prospect! But, as Nike says, sometimes you just gotta “Do it!”  It’s a huge step on our journey – both for me AND Fling! But – it is JUST a STEP.

 The good thing about having had umpteen young horses and training them myself is that I finally do have a clue about what I am doing at Training/First/Second. I need occasional ‘reminders’ (like, more bend, more forward, etc) but I finally know enough to not wander TOO far off track in-between lessons.  Faxx and Faeryn are both pretty ready to show First level at schooling shows. Faxx maybe a little more than Faeryn simply because the trot/canter lengthenings were ‘factory installed’ on him! 😉 

 I have learned from her ‘bolting’ episode in my last post that Faeryn needs to be a little ‘revved up’ to show that good, powerful trot that feels like the beginnings of a second level horse. Withouth bolting first every time to find that, I can ‘create’ the same sort of energy by really bending her, and activating her inside hind to outside rein. And making sure she is FORWARD enough.  She is a lot like her mom, Lisa.  Lisa, with no urging, would go along in a nice, polite trot and look like she was nicely on the bit. It presented a perfectly pleasant picture. But she was not truly ‘connected’ with the energy flowing from her hind end to her front end….but with just a bit of ‘tweaking,’ Lisa could be transformed into a pretty powerful little package. The trick is to not be satisified with the pleasant little trot and always be looking for more. That is the reminder I (and other amateurs) often need. There is such an emotional attachment between my horses and me, that I am usually all too happy to just gratefully accept what they offer. (After all, I am often humbled just by the fact they’re all such honest little worker bees.) But it’s that extra 10-15% you get when you ASK for more that can make ALL the difference between a 60% ride and a 70% ride.

And that ‘asking for more’ is also what builds the strength you need to move up the levels.