Monthly Archives: January 2011

Back to reality

Fling has had a few days off. It POURED on Monday and didn’t ride anyone. I rode Faeryn Tuesday but could only walk and trot -just too slippery to risk a canter, and no good dry ground at least 20M around!  I worked on half halting like Debbie said  — don’t expect it to happen in one stride, and don’t give up until I get one. Wednesday night I was able to canter a bit. The halt halts are still not happening very well at the canter, but we’re making progress at the trot. Thursday it was dry enough that I could get a ‘regular’ work out. Her canter is much improved from a month ago. I am now asking her to do very large turns on the haunches -really still almost like haunches-in on a circle. It is one of the exercises Debbie recommended (in addition to the leg yield with head to the wall) to strengthen her right hind. Her trot always feels fabulous these days – if I could just get the canter to even approach the suspension and power of her trot! 

I did a few canter/trot transitions and they really stunk and then I remembered something Marie had told me about Faxx – you need to think about riding _forward_ into the transition. Faeryn was just sort of ‘falling’ into the trot, and then she would pop her butt up on the downward. I need to push her forward into the transition so she just doesn’t go ‘splat.’   She has more of the “Arab” croup than either Faxx or Fling – and since it’s sort of flat and not angled, she, more so than the other two, tends to step backwards instead of underneath herself. It is not noticeable so much in the trot, but really shows up in the canter sometimes.

I also worked on shoulder in, and did our ‘head to the wall’ leg yield to the left, to work on strengthening her right hind.  I did shoulder-in – she’s getting pretty good at that – and for kicks I did some ‘baby’ half pass at the walk, and threw in a few at the trot. Half pass has become my very favorite exercise to do with Fling – because, as Marie says, she does it so well! My goal is to get it even BETTER so we can score 8s on it.

Fling came bombing out to the corner where I was working Faeryn, seming to be almost insulted that Faeryn was getting the attention. She created quite a distraction for Faeryn, who doesn’t quite yet have Fling’s focus. 😉  Well, it would be hard for anyone or anything to focus with 1,000 lbs of exuberant equine bucking and leaping around you! Or maybe instead of jealous, Fling was doing her version of “neener neener neener, you have to work and I don’t!”

At least it is a bit warmer. I just have not been able to make myself ride Faxx, since it entails trekking out to the round pen and riding after dark, under lights. If it’s warm, I am much more likely to do that. I really need some decent weather sometime this weekend to ‘test drive’ him out in the pasture (after locking Faeryn and Fling in the small paddock) to see how he does being ridden in the ‘great outdoors’ of the 10-acre field. Maybe I’ll dig out the eventing crash vest for that venture too, since he’s not been ridden in awhile AND never ridden in our huge field.

Marie is on vacation and Debbie Bowman isn’t coming until late February, so we’re on our own for awhile now. But that’s OK. I’ve learned a lot about ‘feel’ in the past year and that’s really helping me in my training of the two youngsters. Although it is very difficult for me to believe that they are six years old – well, to me they are never 6 until their real birthday rolls around, and for Faeryn that’s not until the end of June. Now I kind of know how parents feel – because she will always be “my baby.”  Even tho she’s older, I still feel the same way about Fling and can’t believe she’ll be 11 in August. I remember the night I spent in the barn on foal watch, and delivering her, like it was just yesterday.


And so now what?

Now that I’ve achieved my biggest long-term horse goal to date – I need to decide where to go from here, at least with Fling.

Even though we earned the Bronze, I have no illusions about being ready to move to the next level. Many people say if you are scoring 60s at one level, it’s time to move up. I do not agree with that.From experience, I think you really need to be scoring mid-60s for the most part before you’ve really ‘mastered’ a level.

So, part of ‘where we go’ is to stay right here – her flying changes need the most work, but her canter needs to be more reliably collected and in self-carriage. She also needs to get more ‘up’ in her medium and extended gaits. Her shoulder-in, half pass and turns on the haunches are good, but with work, could score 8s, offsetting her weaker points, which will always be the extended gaits. Fling is very ‘baroque’ in that collection is her forte.

My choices of ‘where to go next’ include:

  • Don’t show any more right now and train until she is either ready to kick butt at third level, or move to fourth to get the first scores toward the Silver Medal
  • Work on improving and show again later this year with the aim of qualifying for the championships in November. We only need one more score since we already earned one of the two qualifying scores we need to qualify for both the SWDC Championships and the USDF GAIC championships
  • Keep training and change this year’s goals to just competing at schooling shows to gain proficiency at riding through the tests, and try and qualify for and compete at the HDS Schooling Show championships next December
  • Or some combination of the above

And partly, what I do with Fling also depends on how Faeryn and Faxx are doing and how much showing I want to do with them. I think at this point I would rather focus on training with them both and only do schooling shows this year. However, Faeryn performed so well at the USDF Championships last year, I have it in the back of my mind that I would like to plan on qualifying and showing her at First level. Faxx is the more talented and impressive horse, but Faeryn most definitely handles the pressure of really big shows much better. Faxx performs better in year-long sort of competitions like USDF Horse of the Year, while Faeryn performs well in ‘head to head’ competitions because she is very, very consistent and is not affected by the ‘electric’ atmosphere of big shows like Faxx is. She may spook or spin, but when it’s over, it’s over – and she goes right back to work. 

But for now, it’s rained buckets todayand is still raining. It may be a few days before anyone gets any closer to achieving more 2011 goals. 😉 

Finally — I am a USDF Bronze Medalist!

We earned our second score in our first ride this morning — only a 60.5%, but good enough for Bronze! I really don’t think it has sunk in yet!  And even though I have earned it – since the USDF Awards year does not end until the end of September – and rider Medals are awarded at the USDF Awards Dinner/Convention in December – I won’t actually GET my medal until late December of next January! I used to always say that if I ever actually EARNED the stinking thing, I would go to the Awards Dinner and get it in person. And I still might – it just depends on where it’s behind held!

My trainer, Marie Morgan, came out to school me yesterday, even though I was her only student at the show. Expecting her to come out a second day would just be too much, so I got Richard Howard, a trainer from Austin, to school me this morning. I used to clinic with him on a regular basis and he’s schooled me at some other shows when I did not have a trainer there.

I was really glad I got my score this morning – I considered scratching my second ride, since it was almost 5 hours after my morning ride. But I figured, hey, the pressure is off, and I can use all the experience I can get riding the third level tests in a show situation. Richard needed to leave before my second ride, but that was OK.

During our second ride, the harder Third level Test 3, we totally blew one of our flying changes, and got a 1 on that movement, which really hurt. I also forgot that in the halt/reinback in this test, you trot straight from reinback – and I walked instead – since that’s how it rides in 3/1. She also ‘stuck’ one of her turns on the haunches and that was a 4.  I had several 7s – mostly shoulder-in and half pass. Those are her strongest movements. She also still needs to get lighter and have more self carriage and get better from coming back from my seat. And of course, those flying changes!  We got a 58% but I was fine with that considering the mistakes.

I was so very proud of my little horse. For luck, during our ride, I wore  a bracelet made from tail hair from her mother, Sonnys Mona Lisa+/.  Lisa contributed a lot to our Bronze medal – not only as being Fling’s mom, but also for teaching me a lot about riding and training. I got her trained to Second level but I only showed her twice at Second level but did not manage to earn any scores toward my Bronze at Second with her.

It ‘takes a village’ to get a horse and rider to Third level. I am grateful for the ‘village’ of people who helped Fling and me along the way – in chronological order:

  • My vet Gregg Knape, who was personally responsible for Fling’s creation when I bred Lisa, and was also there (at 4:30 a.m.!) when she was born! And for keeping Fling healthy and sound ever since!
  • Brooke Cramton for starting Fling under saddle and for coaching us to Second level
  • Richard Howard, who I cliniced with on a regular basis for a few years
  • Marta Renilla, who I trained with for about two years and who really helped me “fix” my hands
  • Marie Morgan, my current trainer, and Debbie Bowman, who Marie also trains with, who have both helped me fix my turns on the forehand, and vastly improve her canter, and who I know can help me to the next level

Although we earned our Bronze at Third level I know that we still have a lot of work to do at this level before we can even think about moving to Fourth level. But I know that my little horse has the talent and the heart to get there – and beyond!

Halfway to our USDF Bronze Medal!!

Well, technically,I guess we are a heck of a lot more than HALFWAY to the Bronze, since it’s taken several years to train her to this point. So, maybe the more accurate statement would be “almost” to our Bronze!

My first ride was at 8:37 and it was COLD. I was wearing two underarmour-type shirts, silk long johns, and two pairs of socks with chemical foot warmers stuck in the bottom of my riding boots! Marie was very kind and came out just to school me. I was a nervous wreck and was very glad for calming influence! I really didn’t allow enough time for our warm up considering she’d stood in a stall all night AND it was very cold. Her back was still fairly tight when we went in, and she was a little boogery of the raised seating area at one side of the arena. I realized that I had never shown Fling in any arena that was enclosed, or one that had any sort of grandstand adjacent to it. We had a fairly clean ride, but she was a bit stiff and her gaits were not as good as usual. We got a 57 – which was still an improvement over how we did last spring at our previous (and only other) outing at a recognized show at Third.

Our second ride was at 12:25 and it had warmed up enough to be almost pleasant. With Marie’s help I got her bending much better, a bit more forward and I did not have such a bad case of ‘rider mortis’ this time around. We rode Third level test 3, which is a bit tougher than the test we’d ridden earlier in the day. We had another pretty clean test – and actually our flying changes on the centerline were better than the ‘easier’ ones across the diagonal. But, I still had no idea how we’d scored when I finished. I knew it was better than the first test, but had no feel for how it would score.

A friend and I went to lunch after I got Fling cooled of and I’d changed clothes, and they had some of the scores from our class posted, but not ours.  While we were at lunch, Marie called and said, “So you know about your score?” and I said No, I don’t. And she told me we’d scored a 62.8% and were in second place so far. I actually burst into tears! 

We ended up in third place but I did not care at all. I was beyond thrilled that we’d earned one of our scores!

Earning my Bronze medal has been a goal for several years – well, actually I’ve wanted to earn my Bronze (and my Silver too!) for decades, but until I actually started riding Fling, and got her to second level, it really seemed like an unattainable goal.

The Bronze Medal is part of the USDF rider program. To earn it requires two scores of 60% or better from two different judges at first, second and third levels. To get the Silver Medal you have to earn two scores of 60% or better at Fourth and Prix St. Georges. And to earn the Gold you have to earn two scores from Intermediare I or Intermediaire II and two scores from Grand Prix.

Tomorrow my first ride is at 10 – a much more civilized time – and I hope I will be less nervous and able to ride Fling better. My second ride is at 1:55. 

And I hope I can earn that second score tomorrow! But, even if I don’t – I know she’s capable of doing the work and we’re fairly ready for his level!

The advantages of being a horse clothing-a-holic

It turned very cold this afternoon, with even colder weather on the way tonight and tomorrow night. And of course, I had to give Fling a bath in preparation for our show this weekend. By the time I got home, it was blustery and cold – but I figured it would be warmer this evening than tomorrow morning. I do have hot water at the barn – for the first time in my life. But my wash rack is outdoors – on the north side of the barn!

Back to the bath. By the time I had finished rinsing her, Fling was cold, and the warm water was about gone. It takes a long time to properly bathe a pinto. Especially one that had not been bathed in a very long time. I mean a proper bath with soap. I hose her off all the time in the summer after riding her, or anytime she’s gotten sweaty. But I rarely give a real bath with soap to any of my horses. First, I am lazy, and secondly, I think the soap really strips their coats of the natural oils. And thirdly, most dirt can be easily removed by grooming, without water. Except where a pinto is involved.

Since getting a bath is a pretty unusual event for Flling, she knew _something_ was up, and was like a border collie who’s seen a leash and knows it’s going for a walk. Whirling dervish is another way to describe her. Seriously, sometimes I wish she were much less smart. Even tho the trailer was not hitched up, and we NEVER leave for a show in the evening, she KNEW we were going to a show. If not right then, some time! I cannot fool her. It’s uncanny. The weird thing is, as soon as I load her in the trailer, she’s calm as can be. She just gets THAT excited about going to a show.She’s also great when I get to the show grounds. Never has to be lunged, etc.  She just gets super wound up about the idea of going!

So, I piled various items of horse clothing on her to get her warm (by this time she was shivering) while she was, quite literally, spinning in circles. Well, I thought, at least that will help warm her up!

And here’s where my ridiculously large wardrobe of horse clothing came in very handy. (I will explain just how large later.)

It took six, yes SIX different coolers, layered on two at a time, before she finally got dry enough to put her regular stable blanket on her. That was over about a two-hour time frame. So they are now hanging on various vertical services trying to dry. 

I definitely have a touch of obsessive-compulsive disorder when it comes to horse clothing. But, in weather like this, that’s a good thing. It’s also handy that all of my horses wear the same size.

I have a separate 10×12 tack building. I had it built at the farm I owned before I got married. It’s one of those Home Depot ‘built on your site’ buildings. Then my dad and I insulated it, put paneling in, and finished it out with a window a/c and a space heater.  When Mike and I got married and bought a farm together I could not bear to leave it behind, so I found someone to move it for me for a fraction of what it would cost me to build another one. One wall is filled with those tall plastic shelving units and those units are stuffed with every sort of horse clothing imaginable. The only time i was brave enough to actually count everything, I had over 50 items of horse clothing for the four horses I owned at the time. Now, to be fair, the weather in Houston is so unpredictable that you can drive yourself crazy trying to ‘dress’ your horse (much less yourself) for the day. And they also have to have stuff  tough enough for them to wear out in the pasture. And some stuff that’s only made for wearing in the stall. All in a variety of weights and – plus some that are waterproof – also in various weights. Even without being OCD about the clothing, your average pampered horse in Houston probably needs to have a ‘wardrobe’ of 4 different blankets/sheets, minimum.

Once my husband ventured in there, looked around at the stacks of various colored, neatly folded piles, and asked, “Why do you need all this stuff?” My answer: “It’s like dressing Barbies.” 

And I guess that’s the best answer I can come up with. Even tho I may have 5 turnout sheets, when I see one in a color I like that I don’t have – I  just have to buy it.

After recounting that story to friends, one of them dubbed my tack room “the Barbie Dreamhouse” and the name has stuck.

We don’t have bad weather often, but when we do it’s miserable because we’re not used to it. But  I am always prepared – even if my horses come in with their turnout sheets soaking wet – I know I can hang them to dry and I have spares.;)

And tonight I was very glad that I had more dry coolers to put on Fling as I kept peeling off wet ones!


Faxx and Faeryn have won HDS Year End Awards

I got an email from the Houston Dressage Society president informing me of this.

 I do not know “WHAT” they have won – but Faxx has won ‘something’ in the Recognized show division at Training Level and Faeryn has won ‘something’ in the Schooling Show division at First level.

“Something” is either Champion or Reserve Champion.

I guess I’ll have to go to the HDS Awards banquet now. 😉  It’s Feb. 5 at the Sam Houston Race Park. In the meantime, I have been instructed to send photos of them both for use in their slide show.

You’d think as much as I show that I would have some decent pictures of me actually riding my horses, but sadly that is not the case.

Maybe I should send a cute ‘baby picture’ of Faxx and Faeryn together? 😉

Fling and Faeryn lessons today

It was a perfectly miserable day to be trailering horses back and forth. But, trying to be optimistic – at least it was not freezing cold!  It just drizzled all day long and never stopped for more than 30 minutes at a time.  The worst thing, though was lack of a place to properly warm up before our rides. The weather moved the clinic to the very small covered arena, and there was not much room to warm up with another person taking a lesson. Fling really needs her warm up – scrimping on it pretty much guarantees none of the actual movements will be as good. Each time I get on her, it takes a good 15-20 minutes to ‘find’ the third level horse in there. And, in fact, I often hate ‘wasting’ so much time at the beginning of each ride having to do all the exercises, etc. to GET her through, round, supple, etc. 

I mentioned this to Debbie during our ride (part of which had to include getting her warmed up) and she said a 15-minute was perfectly reasonable and EXPECTED for a horse at this level. As she pointed out – Fling is an athlete and needs the warm up.  The problem is, partially, I think, my PANIC every time I go to ride her and think ‘OMG – where’s my third level horse?” and “What if I can’t FIND her this time???”  The rational part of me KNOWS Fling does not trot and canter around the pasture in collected gaits. Since she spends 23 hours a day NOT being collected, it’s perfectly reasonable to expect it’s going to take some time to ‘transition’ between the “pasture potato” Fling and the “third level and aiming for FEI” Fling. And, really, I’m probably not being fair to her for resenting the time we spend doing that. And, as Debbie said, I cannot panic if it doesn’t happen in 15 minutes. She is a living, breathing being, and she is entitled to her “off” days just as much as I am.

And, so, as part of my warm up, in addition to all the lateral movements that we do at walk, and then at trot – leg yield with head to wall, shoulder-in,  and half pass, she suggested I also add stretching exercises to work on her longitudinal suppleness – which is more a problem than her lateral suppleness. She said I should do some work in a longer frame, but only as long as she stretches down and OUT. Do the ‘stretchy trot’ but sit up and ‘be the pillar’ with my core so she doesn’t just get quicker, or try to dive down.

Once Fling was warmed up, we just sort of ran through some of the third level movements so she could ‘check’ our basic work.

  • In shoulder in, less bend and even less angle than we’ve been doing. Make sure she does not swing her haunches too much to the inside. use more outside rein and inside leg to keep her  haunches in place. Make sure to sit up and use long inside leg and make sure my shoulders are aligned with her shoulders.
  • Half pass – it’s all in the set up. She knows how to do a half pass and does a good half pass – at both trot and canter – as long as I set her up correctly from the start. Ride her deep into the corner to establish bend, and half halt before coming out of the corner since it’s easier to half-halt there than while actually doing the HP.  If the set up is good, the HP takes care of itself, but don’t be afraid to half halt during the HP – just think about doing it on the inside rein too so you don’t lose the bend. She pronounced my trot and canter half pass work ‘good to go.’ — with the caveat of making sure I had Fling properly listening to my canter aids.
  • During canter, to maintain the self-carriage and collection, and to avoid ‘pumping,’ think of sititng up straight and being a pillar’ on her. When doing medium to collected and ext to collected – in the downward, think of ‘dropping’ your weight of your seat on to her to get her to come back with that. she must learn to respond to the seat.
  • Turns on the haunches. Our TOH to the right is actually TOO small for third level (yea, I think!)  She said make it a bit bigger – no need to make it so hard for third level. Our TOH to the left, I am pushing her haunches over too much – just maintain inside bend, SIT to inside, but look to her outside ear, and use outside rein to ‘turn’ her around her haunches – NOT to push haunches over.
  • The flying changes are what they are at this point. No sense in trying to work on them now. She ‘gets’ them when I ask for them, with a varying degree of quality/straightness. Once I get the better canter more confirmed, we’ll tackle the changes. At least I am now at a place with Fling that I actually COULD spend an entire lesson working on nothing but flying changes. It has taken a long time for her to get over being so “excited” about doing them that I could not ask for more than a few each session without her just starting to bounce all over the place whenever we started to canter! My strategy – and both Marie and Debbie agree – is to just continue to make everything else as good as it can be, and the flying changes will be an ongoing project – and hopefully the next time I take a lesson we can work on them exclusively. I think her canter will be good enough by then.

 Faeryn is a much easier ‘warm up’ than Fling because she’s still doing simple work. Her trot work to the right felt fantastic – very energized, with tons of suspension and very fancy, yet soft to the bridle. When I went the opposite direction I could feel that even the trot to the left, while it is _almost_ as good as the trot to the right – was not quite as good. I had talked to Debbie about my continueing problem with Faeryn’s canter – and that for now I thought I had the right lead canter sorted out, but still was not sure why she felt worse to the left.  So I cantered her to the right and got a nice lovely canter and could even do some shallow loop serpentines in the (very) small arena.  Canter to the left still felt odd, but Debbie said I was on the right track by keeping my outside rein soshe could not pop out the shoulder to the outside – and to even see if I could think about slightly counterbending her to the outside when we cantered to the left. I could tell that made the canter better, as it prevented her from ‘cheating’ so much – Debbie says she is not bringing the right hind under as much, and as a result sometimes she gets croup high, which is what makes the canter feel ‘bad’ to me. The same issue is affecting her left trot  — both issues are still related to her weaker right hind. I’ve been doing a lot of  ‘head to the wall’ leg yield, and her ability to do that well has improved a lot in the last month. But a month is not long enough to make up for probably a year of getting away with using her right hind less.  Debbie also prescribed ‘four track’ shoulder in and turns on the haunches in addition to also help strengthen her right hind, and she needs to learn to do those anyway. We worked on large turns on the haunches, because Faeryn was convinced she could NOT do one to the right when I asked. We got that sorted out

Then we worked on getting the half halts to go through. As usual, I am expecting too much from her. Debbie said I have to MAINTAIN the half halt until she responds – and at this stage it may take two or even three strides for her to rebalance her. But if I just do little nagging half halts and don’t maintain them long enough to get a response – nothing is going to change. We worked on that with very good results.

I was proud of Faeryn – it started pouring down rain during out session and she had a momentary fright at the deafening noise on the roof – but immediately regained her composure and just went right back to work!  When we were finished and I led her to the corner to collect her rain sheet and my jacket, she had many admirers from the ‘auditor gallery’ ask me about her, her breeding, her age, etc.  They all said she was so pretty and elegant there was no doubt she was a girl! 

Mike took video of both of my rides, and as soon as I get a chance to watch it and get him to convert some of it so I can upload it, I’ll post it here.