Monthly Archives: March 2011

Fussy Faxx — Fabulous Faeryn and Fling!

Last night I rode Faxx. Since he’d been really ‘chomping’ on the Baucher bit, I tried him again in the Sprenger KK snaffle bit. He did not chomp on it as much as he did the Baucher – held it quietly in his mouth for the most part – but was more reluctant to take contact. I leg yielded, tried shoulder in — I pulled out everything in my ‘bag of tricks — it was very difficult to get him to accept the contact. He also kept wanting to get behind my leg. So far, my choices are, mostly connected and taking contact with the Baucher, but as soon as I walk he drops contact and chomps on the bit almost constantly. Or, with the KK snaffle, no chomping, but no real acceptance of the bit either.  I’ll give him another ride in the snaffle and see if he was justs having a bad day before I switch him bach to the Baucher. I have not had a lesson on him since last fall – we’re overdue and hopefully some professional advice will also help.

I also rode Fling last night. I was looking forward to trying the flying changes on a circle like Debbie had us work on. She warmed up well, and I am getting her ‘lighter’ in my hands. Had some super trot half passes. I quickly moved to canter, where she still wants to ignore my half halts. Then I put her in a counter canter circle to work on flying changes. OMG! What a super exercise. Not only did we get good flying changes – being on the circle made it much more difficult for her to blow off my half halts! AND, being on the circle also discouraged her from doing her usual “wheeeee!” after the flying change. I got good, quiet changes, with a CONTROLLED canter afterwards and was able to do really good canter half pass. . And the best part? Once I got OFF the circle, the quality of her canter was MUCH better. And she was still listening to my half halts. I am thinking this would be a great way to introduce flying changes to Faeryn and Faxx! I will ask Debbie if that’s how she recommends starting them, or if she has a better way. With Fling, we cantered over a rail put at X to start – but I’ve since been told that’s not the best way. Good, good workout!

Today I rode Faeryn and she was a STAR!  I had a few small ‘discussions’ with her about half halting – and then she was very, very good about accepting them. Her trot was really energetic and collected. Her shoulder in is really improving. But her canter – her canter has improved exponentially in the past two months. On a lark, I asked her to do the three loop serpentine (the full width of the arena) that is found in second level. She had absolutely NO trouble with it on the right lead. Perfectly balanced, and no more difficult for her than the shallow loop serpentine from first level. To the left, I had to ‘help’ her a little, and ride her carefully – but it still was not bad at all! We worked on canter lengthenings and trot lengthenings   – those are always difficult for me. I am not a good judge of whether her strides are just ‘quick’ or really longer. I don’t feel yet that there is enough ‘oomph’ in either trot or canter for a true medium yet — but given how much her canter improved in the last few months – that’s probably just around the corner. And the icing on the cake?  I asked her to do canter from walk and she did a huge, upward depart. And, feeling lucky, I asked her to do a downward to walk from canter and she darn near nailed it on both leads. She may have snuck in a half stride of trot — but the downwards were connected and through. She got peppermints and pats and we quit for the night, and I gushed over her and told her how wonderful she was the entire walk back to the barn. 🙂



Great weekend!

Debbie Bowman was in town this weekend. I took Fling and Faeryn on Saturday, and just Fling on Sunday.I was especially anxious to ‘show off’ Faeryn’s much-improved (in my opinion anyway! lol!) canter, and see if Debbie agreed – and also to get confirmation that Fling’s canter is also improving. And I really hoped Fling’s canter would be deemed ‘good enough’ at this point to do some work on flying changes. I have not had any lessons dedicated mostly to working on her flying changes in a long time now -probably more than a year. She’s gotten quite good at most of the third level work, with the exception of the changes.

Fling’s canter is definitely better – and I am almost ‘cured’ of my bad habit of ‘pumping.’  We’ve determined that this is how the canter problem started:  First, I started riding with my reins a little long – and because of that, I started leaning back a bit when I had to half halt her. When I lean back, I press DOWN on her back when I half halt, which pretty much drives her onto her forehand. I also was half halting on the outside rein only, which let her ‘escape’ the bend, and allowed her to pretty much quit using her inside hind. All of this happened over a period of months when I rode on my own. And it happened so gradually I did not link all the causes when I finally woke up and realized her canter had fallen apart.

We always do a lot of lateral work as part of her warm up – shoulder in, renvers and travers. She’s gotten very good at it all -one thing Debbie told me to do tha was a very good mental image is to think about pushing her inside legs ‘closer’ to her outside legs during shoulder-in. And to always think ‘more impusion’ in addition to the bend/angle to get the best quality SI possible.

Another thing I need to work on is visualize riding her TOWARD the bit – and not ‘pull’ her to the bit. And, to avoid ‘rocking’ at the canter, I need to think about my seat influencing her more and being ‘glued’ to her back, and staying vertical in my upper body.In addition to ‘opening up my chest’ and sitting up straight, I need to keep my reins short (even if I have to move my hands forward) and think about keeping my center of gravity more toward her withers.

On Sunday we worked on half passes in trot and canter. She did great! I had not worked on HP in canter for awhile – she tends to want to get strong and ‘take over’ when we do HP in canter. Debbie had me do ‘semi half pass’ in canter circles first to get her listening – I’d put her in half pass bend, but just stay on the circle. Debbie had me ‘scissor’ my legs to get my seatbones in the right place. You really want the inside hip leading in the half pass and that helps.  I need to work on getting my outside leg further back from the hip socket and not just from the knee. In the HP I also need to remember to just let my inside leg hang loose and not ‘clamp’ it into her. The right HP at canter was much better – we had to work on the one to the left at the canter a few times to get it right. But at the end, Debbie was very impressed with the quality of her HP – she pronounced them a “solid 7 – maybe even an 8.” And then, finally, she was prepped to school some flying changes. Because she also tends to get strong still when schooling flying changes, Debbie had me do a great exercise. I put her in counter canter on a 20m circle, and then when I crossed the center line, I asked for a flying change. It worked great! She was late behind sometimes, and Debbie suggested that she needs to be more ‘back on her haunches’ to fix that. Its a great exercise I can use at home to school flying changes, yet maintain ‘control’ at the canter. 

Faeryn brought her “A” game. With almost no warmup she was doing a powerful trot. I was a bit surprised when Debbie referred to it as ‘collected trot’ during our session, because I guess in my mind she’s still a training level horse – even though she’s schooling a lot of the second level work.  Her shoulder-in has gotten better, and so has her renvers and travers. It’s hard to believe was only about a month ago that she pitched a huge teenage girl whiny fit when I first asked her to do a renvers. She can do it easily now. Debbie reminded me to put her in a slight renvers position in the canter when she pops her outside shoulder out. It made a tremendous difference. She’s ‘standing up’ at the canter better and maintaining good self-carriage and responds to half halts. Her shoulder-in needs to get a little more consistent – she drifts off the rail sometimes. We also did a bit of trot and canter lengthenings. I commented that it was hard for me to imagine her having enough power to do mediums, but Debbie assured me I had plenty of horse. She told me she’s shown much improvement, and should have no trouble being ready to show second level by the end of the year. Our biggest challenge will be the mediums and possibly the canter/walk/canter transitions. She’s doing very connected downwards with just one or two trot steps before walk – she’s not ready to take that extra step to transition directly to walk yet. At the end of the session we worked on turn on the haunches. I’ve been doing it at home, but was having trouble with going to the right – she wants to fall in instead of stay on a larger TOH. Here, too, Debbie had me do a bit of renvers to fix the problem – and then she easily did a fairly small, correct TOH.

When I rode her this evening, I decided it was time to ride her like she WAS a second level horse – meaning, she has to stay connected, and I have to RIDE her through all the transitions, and no more just accepting what she gives me. Time to raise the bar.

I had a few friends watching the clinic, and they all said Faeryn looked (to quote) Freaking Fabulous. She has  a fan club. Don’t tell Fling – don’t want any sibling rivalry!

In the meantime, I’ve been riding Faxx in the pasture and he’s been a very good boy. His main issue – as always, is connection. I had super connection at the trot yesterday – but at the walk, he starts fussing and chomping on the bit. I switched his bit from the baucher to the Sprenger KK Aurigan so next time I ride, I’ll be curious to see if that makes a difference. Faxx is learning shoulder-in and is a pretty quick study. He is, however,  convinced he cannot carry his haunches on a different track than his body. 😉

A milestone for Faxx

My dozer guy is busy with bigger jobs and I have no idea when we’ll get to start on fixing my arena.  It’s becoming apparent that if I want to be ready to show Faxx at all this year – including Arab Regionals in July – I am going to have to bite the bullet and ride him in the field like I do Faeryn and Fling.

I have always felt less secure on Faxx – partially beause he is so big I can’t really get my legs on him like I can Fling and Faeryn. And secondly, I bought him and did not breed him. It makes a difference. Fling and Faeryn are out of my ‘heart’ horse, Lisa, and I just feel like I “know” them and just trust them.

I recognize that part of my insecurity about Faxx comes from getting dumped by him about a year and a half ago. Even though he was not being naughty  – he’s just cold backed and I did not realize it at the time.

Regardless – it was time to put on my ‘big cowgirl panties’ and get over it. Other than that one incident, Faxx has been a very good boy and my concerns are mostly unjustified.

First I started putting Faeryn and Fling in the small paddock while I rode Faxx – which was time consuming – since I had to move Thor, Mike’s “doesn’t play well with others” horse, into the back paddock first, then corral Faeryn and Fling in the small paddock – which always involved major careening around on Faeryn’s part. Faxx also was then reluctant to get ‘too far’ away from his buddies as I rode him in the field. I’ve gotten less nervous about riding him in general – I think when I had his saddle fitted, it actually made it so the saddle sat ‘down’ on him better, putting ME closer to him, enabling me to get more leg on him. Whatever the cause – I do not feel nearly as ‘perched’ or ‘precarious’ on him as I had before. Or maybe I’ve lost enough weight in my thighs that they drape better. Anyway – that helps a lot.
Last night I took the ‘final step’ and rode Faxx with Faeryn and Fling loose in the field. My only concern about that always is how the horse I am riding will react when the loose horses (invariably) start bombing around if something riles them up. Faxx actually was BETTER with them in the field with him since he was not having any separation anxiety. At one point Faeryn got wound up and took off – but Faxx completely ignored her. What a good boy!  I think that was the the final ‘test’ for me – and I think from now on I’ll be a lot more confident about Faxx – not only riding him in the field – but everywhere. Hopefully, I’m finally over getting dumped by him. It’s never taken me this long to get my confidence back in a horse. But part of it was that I was never as confident on him as I was on the others. I just did not trust him like I did Fling and Faeryn – and weird because Faeryn has dumped me numerous times – although she has not dumped me since Faxx dumped me. And I doubt she will dump me much in the future. Also, I guess because Faeryn dumped me from stupid little spooks when I wasn’t paying attention – that did not bother me as much as getting fairly violently launched during a bucking spree which I could not stick. I am pretty good at riding out bucks – Fling bucked VERY impressively when I was teaching her flying changes – and I just laughed about it. She actually CRACKED MY BACK during one bucking spree. That’s how hard she bucked. But nothing compared to Faxx. He was not trying to be naughty, obviously – but just knowing how big the sucker can buck if he chose to – that’s intimidating. I do lunge him every time before I ride him now – even if I don’t think he really needs it. I did not realize he was cold backed until he dumped me. Since then I’ve noticed he just cringes from the saddle pad sometimes – before the bucking incident, I thought he was just being stupid and SHYING from it. Now I know it’s because he is anticipating it being put on his back. Sometimes he will literally try to run away from the saddle pad. Other times I can toss it right on him and he doesn’t move an inch. I’ve finally realized that when he is ‘shying’ from it – his back is really tight. I’ve started running my hands over his back first when he does that – with just medium pressure – and ALWAYS once I’ve done that – he accepts the saddle pad with no issues. I could probably skip lunging on days he has no issue with the saddle pad – but I won’t for my own self-preservation! Marie had a horse that was so cold backed once, he was even a nightmare to just saddle, she said. So it could be worse. He is basically a very good boy who wants to please.

So, Thursday I rode him out in the field with his half siblings and there was no drama at all. I rode him in huge circles, finally got to do a lot of straight lines and do some leg yielding. It actually felt great riding him out there. And I finally realized that now I am looking forward to riding him in the field – and not thinking it is something I ‘have’ to do.

Now, I need to schedule a lesson on him – it’s been about six months since I’ve had one on him!

Catching up; Faeryn’s first show of the year

I took two days off last Thursday and Friday to work on big farm projects. Thursday we put in fiberglass fenceposts for some electric cross-fencing. The actual tape ‘rails’ will go up later. Friday through Sunday my husband and I worked 10 hours + each day installing 1,000 feet of waterline to access the three new paddocks I am building (hence the fencing.)  It was grueling work – digging the trench was actually the easiest part, thanks to this big orange guy:



Laying out the pipe, glueing it together and cutting the sections to go to each stock tank/faucet (five in all) was the hardest, most time-consuming part of it. My knees are bruised!  Getting the 20′ sections of pipe home was interesting too – with the very ends tied in the bed of the truck and the rest tied over the top of the cab, and then tied again to the front bumper!  And we had to buy so much, we made two trips. Good thing Home Depot is only a few miles away! Glad that is finished though! I didn’t even ride Friday and Saturday – and only rode Sunday because Faeryn went to her first schooling show of the year.

This was a new place for Faeryn and she settled in pretty good. She only got about 5 minutes to look at the arena – spooked and gawked a bit, but not bad. It was our first encounter with the new tests at First level. Even though I showed her first level last year, I never showed her the highest test of the level. One of the main reasons I didn’t show her First 4 last year (which is now First 3, since they reduced the number of tests in each level to 3) was that her canter was not balanced enough to handle the shallow loop serpentines OR just the enormous amount of canter in the test. You canter for what seems like forever in this test, and the canter work in the new test is exactly the same as it was in the old test — 10 meter circle, then lengthen down the long side, then shallow loop serpentine down the next long side, then across the diagonal and change leads through trot, then do it all again on the other lead. There’s more canter work in this test than in most of the higher level tests even!

She was very calm when I unloaded her and tied her to the trailer with her hay net. Ho hum!!  The only time she got wound up was when I was on her and they let a horse out into an adjacentpaddock and it went bombing around. she got a little up -b ut I had time to ‘wrestle her into submission’ before our test. She had about 3 minutes in the totally unfamiliar arena and then we were kicked out until our ride time.

In an interesting note, there was a barn worker working IN THE ARENA while I was riding my test. There’s a new one for ya! LOL! He was pulling grass outof the corner. We got a wrong lead at that end and I think the judge gave us some slack for that. Faeryn stopped DEAD in her tracks and then veered to the center when we came to a spot where there was a 4×8 sheet of plywood in one section of the arena fence.
I found out after the fact we’d gotten a 62.4 on that ride  – eh, considering she’d been getting mid 60s at First level most of last year. 
I thought First 3 (the ‘new’ test 4′) went much better. The shallow loop serpentine, which had been so difficult for her just a few months ago, she nailed – both of them. The only thing I thought was not good is a new movement where you come around the corner and have to leg yield from the rail at K to center line, then do a 10m circle left, then circle right, then leg yield from x to wall. You’ve got the horse bent to the inside as you go around the corner, and there’s NO time to straighten, or change your weight, etc. since you have to start at the first letter out of the corner, and it’s JUST right after the corner. I think this movement is the most difficult movement in the entire first level – and wonder why they put it IN first level at all. I’ve practiced it at home over and over again and I haven’t figured out the ‘secret’ to executing it well. She does a great leg yield when I have time to prep for it – but  you’ve got a nano-second in this test.  Anyway, Faeryn got a 61. on 1/3 and I was a bit disappointed in that – 5s on both leg yields, 5s on her trot lengthenings, which I really disagree with -but 7s on all her canter work!  I was the only one in 1/3 and there was one other person in 1/1 and I did not hang around for ribbons or to see placings – I had to get back home and finish up the plumbing job. I’ll have to wait until the results are up on the HDS website to see how that scored relative to the other rides. But I was very proud of her canter work.  She stayed very balanced, and in really good self carriage and was very easy to ride. It was only a few months ago that her canter work was a struggle for both of us! Now it’s easy. The next step is to build strength, work toward more collection in general, and really focus on teaching her to respond better to half halts so we can start working on those canter/walk transitions, and medium gaits.

In other news, work is planned to start on the arena as soon as my dozer guy is done with a few jobs ahead of me. Meanwhile I’ve started riding Faxx in the field because if I want to start serious work on him until my arena is fixed, he probably won’t be ready to show at the May Arab dressage show! He is a little grumpy about having to go back to work – and was definitely not happy about having to leave his buddies to go work ALL BY HIMSELF out in the field – but I just kept insisting and he finally got down to work. I haven’t had any lessons on him in about four months, so we need to get back to those, too. Just not enough time – between Marie being gone, our barn projects, having to help my parents some weekends – I have not been getting really regular lessons on anyone.

Weekend update

It has been more than a year since I last rode Fling in the double bridle. I decided it was time to dust it off and get her reaquainted with it – if nothing else just to make sure she still is OK with it. She was very fussy at first – and really, who can blame her? The two bits alone must weigh 10 lbs! She has such a tiny mouth – I always feel bad ‘stuffing’ those huge hunks of metal in there! I do like the Herm Sprenger bits, though – for years I bought cheap stainless bits. Never again. The HS bits really do seem to be well-balanced, and the aurigan never fails to produce a nice wet mouth. The sugar cubes don’t hurt, either. Ideally, I would have a custom curb bit for her. The HS Conrad KK is the best bit I’ve found for her – but for the size of her mouth, it is stil, I feel, a tad too thick.  I’ve had good rides on Fling the last few times – the canter is getting better. I’m getting better about insisting on more bend – which really is one of the keys to a good canter from her. Bending seems to ensure she uses her inside hind, and it’s the inside hind that is so crucial to creating a better canter for her. Getting her neck just a tad lower – from the withers, not  overflexed at the poll – also gets her back up which also makes a huge difference. Once I got her over the fussiness, she worked well in the double. I don’t use the curb much. I don’t really have to. Just wearing the double seems to make her more ‘up’ in front. My curb rein is usually an inch or two longer than the snaffle rein, so it has minimal effect.

I rode Faeryn both Sat.and Sun. and finally had to ‘draw a line in the sand’ about giving to the rein. I mentioned earlier that she never really learned to half halt – she really half halts more from my seat/body but not the reins. She’s gotten better about responding to a half halt from the reins – but I noticed she would NOT flex her head/neck straight down when I asked her to give. She would give with one or the other rein if I had her neck slightly bent, but would just BRACE against the rein if I had her neck straight when I asked. This had to change. It turned out to be a fairly big battle  – but it was one I needed to address and needed to win. Sometimes dressage is not pretty. But it is really like pulling a band-aid off – best to do it, do it quickly and get it over with. Faeryn turned out to be very stubborn about this issue. On Sat. she spent a fair amount of time backing up and threatening to rear. I asked her to give to the rein, she wouldn’t,  and would back up to get ‘away’ from the pressure, but still refused to yield to it. I tried very hard not to pull BACK, but also not to GIVE just because she was backing up. I looked for the slightest amount of yield – even if it was accidental on her part – and would immediately give the rein. By the end of our ride, she still hadn’t quite ‘gotten’ it – but in the rest of our work was very, very good. The canter is really coming along – she is much more balanced, is standing ‘up’ much better in the canter and responding better to half halts.

Sunday I rode her again and I did shoulder-in and haunches in to warm her up and her trot got very powerful and very ‘big.’  She felt super. The canter was the BEST I have ever gotten from her. Totally balanced, perfectly round and super bending around my leg, and in almost perfect self-carriage. She easily did the shallow canter serpentine from First 3, and I tested her with a ‘deeper’ serpentine – approaching the canter serpentine in Second level and she did well on that too. It was just a marvelous feeling. I then went back to asking her to yield to the rein on a straight line and again had a fairly prolonged battle with her – but finally achieved more definitive progress than the day before! We finished with some large turn on the haunches  – she’s going to be good at this! Super, super ride. One of the best I’ve ever had on her. I love riding her – and it’s really quirky that almost every one of my friends, when they see me ride her, has commented “she is really ‘your’ horse.”  I guess that’s true – some kids came up and down the street with loud four wheelers during our ride and she did impressive spins and attempted bolts each time and really nothing she does ruffles my feathers, scares me or makes me mad!  It’s just part of who she is! LOL! And really, she needs that energy for dressage so I’m actually glad she’s a bit hotter!

Next weekend Faeryn is going to a schooling show. I’m showing her First 1 and 3. It will be her first time to show the new tests, and although she won Res Champ at First level in the HDS schooling show year end awards – it will also be her first time to show the highest test of the level. Test 3 has a canter tour that ‘goes on forever’ and since Faeryn has had canter issues, we didn’t show it last year. I don’t expect her to have any trouble with it at this point. I’ve ridden the canter portion of the test several times lately with no trouble. I really expect her to be ready to show second level by fall.

Frustration, Fun and Finally!

The frustration:

Since our clinic with Debbie, I have been trying to ‘recreate’ the ‘good’ canter and “all the way to the hind end” half halts I achieved with her coaching – with only marginal success. Fling was still blowing through my half halts. Tuesday I was very discouraged. Dressage is, at best, ‘two steps forward and one step back’ and sometimes it’s “four steps forward, 3.5 steps back.”  It’s at these times that I begin to feel like I put way more into it than I get out of it. And that it’s ceasing to be fun for me – and perhaps even for my horse. Usually these periods occur when other areas of my life are also “blowing up” and I just feel overwhelmed in every aspect.

I voiced my concerns to Marie during our lesson Saturday. I also explained that I am having a devil of a time keeping myself from ‘pumping’ at the canter. I can manage to be still when I am doing nothing but a 20m circle, but the minute I start to do lateral work, or anything else, it seems I revert back. Marie’s theory is that I am ‘rocking’ in rhythm with my half halting. And one solution – and something I need to do anyway – is to ‘hold’ the half halts until they go through – and just sit and ‘anchor’ myself until the half halt goes through.

My lesson, by the way, was like riding in a hurricane! It was a bit windy at home before I left, but not remarkably so – but by the time I was halfway to Marie’s, I could really feel my trailer rocking in the wind on the highway! Fortunately Fling is quite focused and the most challenging part of it was the ability to actually hear what Marie was saying! Or actually, I could hear her fine thanks to her sound systm, but she could not hear me.

Per marie’s coaching, I warmed Fling up with lots of shoulder-in, renvers and travers at the trot. It was quickly apparent that she was overbending and throwing her shoulder out when going to the right. Marie had me fix that by using travers. It worked really well to straighten her. I was not overbending her – but she was actually ‘overbending’ herself to the right. It’s not an issue I’ve ever had with her.  Marie said she was probably a bit sore and was avoiding using some muscles on that side. We have upped the ante on Fling the last few weeks as far as asking her to bend, and to stretch over her back. When we moved to canter, she got good ‘over her back’ departs and Marie coached me through several half halts – focusing on sitting up straight, keeping the bend, half halting with both reins, and holding for several strides and then releasing once Fling responded. I have been just doing short, frequent half halts and not really holding it until she responded. I finally felt the same good canter I got during our clinic and have more insight and tools into how to achieve it on my own!

The fun:

Back in January, I made plans to haul one of my horses to my friend Margaret’s barn in Fulshear. It is a large, high end facility with 80 acres. The plan was to ride in the lovely covered arena with full mirrors on the short side. I would help Margaret, a dressage beginner, with some pointers, and then we’d go for a nice ride around the property. Faeryn was the lucky one to go on this adventure. She actually had been there when she was coming three. I took her to a long lining clinic there, where she was a little star. I doubt she remembers the facility from then, though. but she was very good. I really never have to lunge her before ridiing her anywhere now. It was great to get to study our turn on the haunches in the mirrors – she is doing pretty well at it! In a few months she’ll have that movement nailed! I remember when I was showing Fling at Second level, TOH is one thing (along with renvers) that we just sort of ‘faked’ our way through. Faeryn also is working on a good renvers, too! I finally actually UNDERSTAND the renvers, which helps! 😉  After we rode, Faeryn camped out in Margaret’s horse’s stall, and Margaret and I went to the quaint town of Fulshear and had a great lunch (and cheesecake) at a cute local eatery.

The “Finally!”:

Sunday when I got home with Faeryn I rode Fling and followed the same warm up we’d done in our lesson the day before. Right off the bat I had a great, round canter, with really good bend. And lo and behold, the first time I half halted, Fling rocked back on her haunches so abruptly I was stunned! And the quality of her canter finally felt really good. Finally – two steps forward!