Sunday, February 20, 2011

Little jumps for a little bit

We're continuing with the "jumping what we can find theory". I'm also trying another saddle to see if that helps my "not so helpful" equitation. Still trying to get used to it.

Last weekend Lola was over at my parent's for a pony sleepover after trail riding on Saturday. So before I hauled her home on Sunday I used their pasture to ride around and jump some little logs. Fun to have the chance to jump over such little non threatening things out in the open. Not fun to have her so uber-concerned with where Bear was! Ho-hum...

We worked on a little log with one stride combo. I put it close together because I wanted to trot in, have a small jump, a collected stride, and a small jump... more like canter poles than anything. Like this...

Of course we only got that after several times trotting through, and she even managed to make it a bound once though! Silly mare. She is clearly pretty adjustable for a shorter horse.

We also did some hill trots with a little log pile. She really could use some more hill conditioning, so I think we'll work on getting out to the trails more often.

As you can see in the video she was raring to go, but did stop nicely after. So I made an effort to jump again week after I had a really good ride. I couldn't find the poles, so I kept with the idea of jumping what I could find, and we jumped the cones and the jump blocks instead!
From Drop Box

I started with the blocks flat, then popped them up on their sides to be something to actually jump. I figure if we do lots of this low easy stuff at home, she will think its easy and no big deal and just relax, and I will still be working on my position and thinking its no big deal and just relax!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Possibly the best find ever!!!

So over Christmas I happened past a Kieffer dressage saddle for what seemed to be too good of a deal. One of our local feed stores houses a used tack corner where all tack is donated then sold, and all proceeds benefit a local rescue. You can find some real steals in there some times, and just some great practical things too. So I cast a glance in that direction when I'm in there.

Well it was Christmas so I told myself I shouldn't even think about it. I told myself it was probably broken somewhere, or that it would be gone before I could come back for it, or that it wouldn't fit... and a few other things to convince myself to leave without it. The thing is I had ridden Bear in a borrowed Kieffer about a month before and he suddenly went from an average young horse to what felt like an $100,000 warmblood with olympic potential! I know that a saddle makes a big difference, but being that I've never been able to afford nice tack I don't let myself dwell on "what could be" very often. That borrowed saddle perked my interest in buying a real dressage saddle.

I know that many of the things I've been working on, like opening my hip angle, and swinging my hips forward in front of me at the canter would all be easier with a better saddle. I know that being an amateur, every little thing could help! So tonight I went back in to the store. I was sure it would be gone... so when that beautiful Kieffer was still sitting there the heavens opened up and angels sang. Well, actually that didn't happen until they told me I could take it on a three day trial. Both horses have substantial withers, and this is cut well for that, so fingers crossed that it will be a good enough fit!

So here's the saddle...
From Drop Box

I took it out to try on Lola tonight.
From Drop Box

I mean it is possible the best deal ever, aside from my horses who I think are pretty stinking talented. The saddle was only $350. It goes to a good cause, and I can't find much else worth looking at for that price... but if it doesn't fit, its useless!
From Drop Box

I'll get some better pictures in the day light, and will try it on Bear tomorrow. I'd love to hear what other people think of the fit though.

PLEASE comment on what you see, or what you look for when deciding on saddle fit. More pictures to come..

Oh, and I didn't have the heart to put leathers on it in case I didn't like the fit (I didn't even have a way to know what size it was when I took it) so I rode without irons tonight. It still felt awesome! I sure hope it fits Bear, because I'm in love.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Jumping whatever I can find...

So I knew when I moved barns that I was making a huge sacrifice giving up the jumping arena. I told myself that it was useless anyway with all the rain. Well, its hardly rained since! Ugh.

Now I am at a non jumping barn. I have no jumps. So how do I get past this? Actually it was Martha & Willig over at (Re)Training as an Adult Eventing Rider (sorry don't know how to make that a link) that gave me the idea. She was talking about jumping cones. Mainly because they were scary. So I start thinking, what a good idea for a great way to jump Lola. Really low stuff, but still challenging if its scary! Plus I really don't have much to work with, so it sort of adds to the creativity. I'm envisioning feed buckets, her blanket, tarps, what ever I can find!

What the barn does have is two pairs of those plastic blocks, and at least four poles. I didn't know where these poles lived, and quite luckily they were out in the arena last night when I showed up. Being a western barn there were set up, I can only guess, as "jog" poles. They were walk poles or "trot every other" poles for Lola! It was funny.

So I used them as trot poles, then let her off the line to free lunge. I little challenging in that size arena, but I made it work. I actually have asked her to change lead through the middle a few times while free lunging which has resulted in some surprisingly successful flying changes! So she was ignoring the little cone jumps that I set up, so I set up a canter line against one wall instead. I spaced out my four poles to canter through, and after letting her canter through the poles themselves a few times, I set the 2nd and 4th on the blocks and set the cones up right behind the 3rd pole. It made for a good line! The blocks also gave me the ability to let her canter over them as raised poles, then gradually bump them up, first raising the inside to give a half cross bar effect then get them upright on both sides.

It was a good workout both metally and physically for Lola. I didn't have much time last night because as soon as I got to the barn I went to grab my phone from my purse to carry with me only to realize I had left it at the office. Not the first office, you know the 50 hr a week job, but the SECOND office, the 10 hours a month job where really I can't say no, but I never have time to go to. I had stopped by on my way to the barn. Office two is on the way from office one to barn. It is NOT on the way from barn to home or from home to office one. So as soon as I got to the barn I knew I was going to have to leave early to go back and get my phone before the fiancé started calling the cops thinking I was dead in the arena. That's the trade off for riding alone late at night. You can NEVER forget your phone. When you do, you're assumed dead.

Anyway, it was a good use of our time together. I hadn't free jumped her through gymnastics for a while, and I just get a kick doing it. I love seeing her figure out where to put her feet. Seeing her come in being silly and rushing and then realizing that didn't feel right and being careful the next time. Seeing her come in a half stride off and seeing how she corrects with the ground pole so she doesn't blow through the three jumps. I love it because she can learn without me hindering her! Jumping will be a process of her learning to save my butt, just as dressage has been a process of her putting up with me riding well about 25% of the time (and still marveling at this great horse underneath me when I do).

When I cleaned up the jumps I was sad that I left my phone at second office... I am so sad to not take pictures of these things now that I have a phone that will do that!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Another sunny day for another positive lesson...

What a great day!

Lola and I had a great lesson today.

She is pretty cute in her furry-fuzzy winter coat, but its a pain in the butt now that we've got sunny days to make her shed out!!! So much hair! Of course just standing in the sun makes her sweat right now... it will be nice when its all shed out, but I've got a feeling that this early spring weather is faking us out and it will probably storm up again.

The lesson was great. Quite a lot of the same work as last, just not as extreme. Now that I've slowed her down in the walk (quickness of step) I can start asking her to step forward (length of step), which of course carries over to the trot, and, logically, the canter. So I'm riding each gait by strongly pushing her forward with my lower legs in rhythm, while keeping a strong steady contact in front. It is SO counter-intuitive to fix a quick choppy stride by pushing forward, but that's it exactly. She still has a rushed canter when she's not sure if she's balanced. I was amazed that when I sat up and drove her forward from both my seat AND my lower legs, that she didn't shoot out from under me, she actually got slower, rounder, and stepped forward into the canter more correctly! Hmm... this is why I take lessons. Sometimes someone else has to convince you it will work before you're willing to try.

After the lesson I took advantage of the sun and washed Lola's tail! It took two washings and a TON of scrubbing to get it clean. Oh what a mess the winter made of it. So its all conditioned and braided now to stay cleaner.

This week has some evening rides planned when I can get out there, and the weekend holds a trail ride with the fiancé. It will be interesting to see how the horses react to seeing each other again after a month apart!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Riding lesson and the ensuing wisdom

So in my last post I mentioned that got a lesson after quite a long time off, two months I think. Funny how when I go that long I find a way to create opposite problem that I had previously worked on!

Here’s the example. My first lesson after being gone for the summer, we worked on me sitting vertical, and keeping my head above my heels. SO basic, right? Except that I have always had a tendency to hover just in front of the center of balance, not sure why, I just have always fallen into that bad habit while spending too long riding alone. Then I wonder why I have a hard time sitting a refusal at a fence! Well, expectedly, I was leaning forward a bit after a summer of no lessons, and letting Lola poke around with all her weight on the forhand because I was trying to reward her for putting her head down and keeping a balanced even trot. At that end of summer lesson we worked on me keeping my center of balance back to keep her balanced. Well since then I’ve managed to work on it SO hard that I created a new problem! I have found the back of the saddle and decided to stay there!

So my last lesson was all about coming back forward again. I am pendulum swinging! As my trainer said, “A deep seat is not a heavy seat.” In my effort to sit up and get in the center of balance I found the behind the vertical balance point and started to really sit my butt in the back of the saddle. So she really nit-picked my equitation to get me sitting on the front of my pelvis and riding with the front-inside part of my thighs more in contact. Of course to sit more forward in my hips without leaning forward I had to bring my shoulders back more… also a bad habit I’ve had for years. These few simple things made my riding SO much more effective. It was great to actually FEEL the difference in Lola’s trot. By sitting back on her back muscles so much I was actually inhibiting the action and push from the hindquarters and swing through the back that I’m trying to get. Eye opening for sure.

I also had an eye opening lesson about the walk. I try to hard to be generous to Lola when she is being good. So I end up riding on a too-long rein hoping to reward her, when really I’m just providing an unstable connection. I let her walk out as she pleases because she marches along so happily, when really I’m allowing an impure walk that is more quick than marching, and Lola is taking quick choppy steps instead of long swinging steps. These were basically the two things we worked in lesson. Crazy simple. We spent most of the lesson trying to walk as slow as possible with a really short reined contact while doing some circles and halts (all while I tried to remember not to regress to the back of the saddle while turning) then picked up the trot. Because of the walk exercises the trot was 10 times better.

She then had me think about asking Lola to try with her back legs first. To be honest, I still don’t think I fully get how to ask for that or feel for that, but I used it as a mental image and it worked fairly well. I think I want to work more on that later because I have never been great about riding by feel.

Over all, the lesson was great. Lola was sensible and worked hard. I didn’t expect that based on her attitude warming up. She got pretty amped up about being out and about again and was just being distracted and reactive.

One FULL week and two days later, I finally got out to see Lola again. The barn is good about turning her out, but she really does best with regular work. So I was expecting to have a bit of a handful. I let her out in the arena to let some buck out before tacking up; then did my usual lunge with Vienna reins. She was calm and responsive and gave me a great relaxed canter both ways. That’s always a good indicator of a good ride to come, but I still wasn’t expecting much after a full week off. I got on and tried to simply recreate our lesson. She was fantastic! All that same work carried over, and when we got to the canter I could feel a difference there as well!

So the moral of the story: she doesn’t really have a problem with being ridden only once a week, I have a problem getting the most out of her! Good to know… now I can work on it!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Lots of changes... yet again...

Well we didn't survive the winter... all the rains in December proved to be too much for the pen at the boarding place by my work. All of December looked like this...

Yes that is Lola eating hay from the slop. That day when I came out to find that their feeder had been stolen and they were being fed in the mud was the last straw. I was sick of going through this to get into the pen...

I was sick of coming out looking like this...

And as you can tell from her expression...

Lola was sick of having her legs hosed off each time. (At least the water was warm.)

Here tail was literally one solid mud-cicle the day I moved her! So yes, long story short, I moved her. Yet again. I moved her.

Poor thing. I wish the last place could have been the right place. Spring, summer, and fall it was. Winter was just no good. So Lola is in a warm, dry, and cozy stall at another barn MUCH farther from work. We have great indoor arena to work in, and people that are out there late at night like us. So it has so far been a good move. I don't think the box stall is a good idea considering regular excercise and 24 hour turnout is recomended for PSSM, but knee deep much is not really good turnout, and I can't find pasture board with an arena and the right type of hay for her.

So for now, we're making it work. They make sure she gets SOME turnout each day. I try to keep her working often, although I'd love to find a great rider to free lease her half time just to guarantee daily work. She gets her blanket on and off when needed, and she has her supplements feed whether or not I get out there. Its a much better deal for me than having to take the responsibility for some of those daily tasks. The disadvantage is that she's not at the same location as Bear (he's having pasture vacation at grandma and grandpas'). The advantage is that she's not buddy sour any more!

She's been there a whole month now... which is a good reminder to pay board!! YIKES! She's settled in well, and we've even gotten out for a lesson. More on that later, that deserves its own post.