Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The right tools for the job

I like to think I'm generally a pretty fast learner, but this week I'm feeling like an idiot. I've been struggling for months now with letting the reins slip. I've been using web reins with stops, and try as I might, even when I'm holding a stop in a death grip, Willow manages to pull the reins through my fingers, especially in canter. I've been thinking to myself, somewhat vaguely, "I guess I just need to strengthen my grip," and "Someday Willow will be lighter, and this won't be such a problem." And, of course, holding the reins in a death grip has been doing nothing for relaxation through my arms and hands.

So, late last week, I had the epiphany that you're probably all shouting at me through your screens: rubber reins! I visited Tack N Up and found standard web reins with stops, but they have rubber woven throughout. They're great because there's no added bulk. I also bought some extra-grippy gloves they had.

Five minutes into my first ride with my new equipment was when I realized what an idiot I've been. With no effort at all, I was able to maintain my rein length. After ten minutes Willow realized pulling the reins through my fingers was a no go, and she stopped trying. She was lighter and more put-together at the end of my ride, and my arms and hands were fatigue-free.

Think I'll get a second pair to use with the double bridle.

Friday, December 26, 2008

A little desensitization

Now that it's full-on winter and the horses aren't getting out very reliably, I'm back in lunge-before-I-ride mode. Which means I'm also in full work-in-hand mode. I was starting to get a little frustrated at Willow blowing off my half halts, but I decided she really was getting herself all in a twist about me touching her with the whip. So I've been working on desensitization for the past week. I've been asking Willow to stand, and then touching her all over with the lunge whip. I've gotten to where I can lay the lash across her croup and ask her to walk, and she doesn't go into orbit. I also can now stand her by the wall and touch her with my work-in-hand whip, and I don't get eye-rolling panic. I want her to respect the whip, not fear it. I hope that this work will also lead to a little less mareishness about the whip under saddle.

I've shortened the side reins, and my new mission in life is to keep Willow from leaning on them. It's transitions, transitions, transitions. A few times this week, in the midst of a volley of walk-trot-canter-trot-walk-trot-canter transitions, Willow has offered walk-canter, pretty as a picture.

Due to holiday madness, my next lesson with Leslie won't be until January. I'm looking forward to it.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Picking nits

I'm a publisher/book editor by trade, so publishing mistakes tend to jump out and hit me over the head, even when they're not ones I'm responsible for. I'm irritated out of all proportion by the Solutions page in the latest Dressage Today (the last interior page). On this page, the guest trainer recommends learning how to sit the canter better by imagining you're sitting on a swing and trying to make it go higher. That's a great visual/muscle memory appeal; I'm totally on board. And in the accompanying illustration, the artist helpfully draws a phantom swing under the rider to reinforce the idea. All good. But then she has gone and drawn the horse in trot! Come on, editors! That's is a pretty glaring error! And now your illustration is meaningless, and possibly even harmful, since sitting like that in trot would not be correct.

Oh well, at least it's not my fault.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Welcome to New Siberia

I had three, count 'em, three snow days this week, plus a half day where most of us went home early as freezing rain threatened. Ahem, I moved away from Nebraska precisely because I hate this kind of weather. The horses can't get out, and they've all been put on half rations of grain so they don't knock down their stalls. I lunged Willow Monday, Wednesday, and tonight. I guess if this weather continues (and they're saying it will) I will have to toughen up, put on the ski tights under the breeches, and ride in spite of it all. I dislike riding when my thumbs and toes are frozen and my nose is running like a faucet.

My lungeing this week has focused on spiraling Willow in and out from 20 meters to 8 meters at both trot and canter. I've also been working on very sharp transitions between trot and canter at about 12 meters. Willow has been quite agreeable -- probably just happy to get out and about for a bit.

My dogs are the only ones happy about this weather, because the snow days have kept me at home, and they do like having a human at home all day. I don't believe I've formally introduced my canine companions. Say hello to Marko the vizsla.

I got Marko as a puppy, and he's now twelve years old (a little arthritic, but doing fine otherwise). He loves to give people hugs and lean on them. He also selects and brings me a shoe every morning.

This is Sam the GSP.

Six years ago, I was managing a dressage competition in Nebraska, and Sam came barreling through, much to the displeasure of the judges. I caught him and turned him in to animal control. No one claimed him, so I took him. He was about three at the time, and now is about nine. Sam loves to have his chin and throat rubbed. Squirrels are his nemesis.

And last but not least, here's Abby, the beagle-spaniel (?) mix.

I adopted Abby from a shelter when she was about one, and she's now about eleven. She was terribly timid when I got her but has really come out of her shell. She still goes catatonic when she hears fireworks or thunder, though.

They're all good dogs!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Snow day!

Overnight we had an ice storm followed by five inches of snow. As a Nebraska native, normally I scoff at the "winter" weather in this part of the country, but this weather is the real deal. Plus, we're supposed to have lows in the mid-teens and highs in the upper 20s for a few days--rather hard core for the Willamette Valley. My office was closed, so I stayed in and finally watched the last few episodes of Battlestar Galactica, bringing me up to current on that series (OMG! Earth! What the frack?).

This evening I ever so carefully drove over to the barn, going about 10 mph the whole way. The road was a sheet of ice, but on the plus side I was the only one on it. I just lunged Willow, but I worked her for a good bit. She's back in the snaffle again; I realized I wanted to ride my first lesson in the snaffle, and now I want to apply what I learned without changing variables, so in the snaffle we'll stay for awhile. I rode Saturday and Sunday and feel like I had good success. Willow is more than happy to soften on the right rein, but she really likes to lock on the left in both directions. Something to work on.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A good first lesson

My first lesson with Leslie Thursday night went very well. I told her of my despair re: ever getting Willow soft in front in the snaffle, and she agreed that that was her main priority. Her advice: a short "snap" of the outside rein whenever I feel Willow lean into the bit; basically just a rather stern "Hey! Stop it!" All the time keeping a steady inside rein. Steady hands are the ultimate goal, of course, but for now Willow is using the steadiness against me too much.

Also, we worked on collection in the walk. I need to stop letting Willow amble with her usual giant steps.

Willow's thoroughbred brain short circuited a few times, but we had no overt panicking or bolting. It's good for her to get her cage rattled and get over it.

I'm off to the barn this evening and we'll see how much I remember. I hope we can duplicate the good feeling we had at the end of Thursday's lesson.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The rest of the week

Willow continues to behave herself. I rode Saturday and Sunday in the snaffle, and Monday and Wednesday in the double. I had kind of forgotten about riding in the double regularly; there's nothing like a mad gallop around the arena to make you think, hey, yeah, maybe I'll get that double out again!

Monday Willow didn't want to go forward in the double, so I got off and lunged for a bit, and then she felt super. Wednesday I lunged before I got on, and again she felt really good. I think I'm going to keep her strictly in the double for a couple weeks to get her really accepting it. She's so much lighter in the canter in the double that it's tempting to hang up the snaffle for good, but my goal is always to have a horse that's rideable in the snaffle at any level, so my plan is to keep swapping back and forth. We have to get our scores at first and second level in any case.

I had planned to ride last night, but I forgot about my company Xmas party. And tonight I am just beat. There's a Volker Brommann clinic tomorrow, so I'm going to watch two lessons right before the lunch break and then ride during the break. Same thing on Sunday. My father is visiting starting tomorrow evening, so my riding next week may be a little spotty. Although I really need to try to get out as much as I can, because I have my first lesson with Leslie on Thursday. Wow, I haven't ridden in a lesson since August, 2006.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Back in the saddle

The property was bulldozer-free yesterday, and Willow and I had a successful ride. She was fine, and other than not being able to sit the trot, I was fine. We cantered some, and she was nice and relaxed.

One funny discovery -- as I was tacking up, when I pulled the saddle cover off my saddle, I saw that the stirrups were tied up for lungeing. I asked Sue, who had tacked Willow off for me following the accident, if she had tied them up for some reason. She said, no, that they were already tied up when she took the saddle off. So I guess at some point following my unplanned dismount, before I realized I was just too woozy to get back on, I had decided I was going to lunge Willow. I have no memory of making that decision, or of tying up the stirrups.

Everyone at the barn said they've started wearing their helmets again :)

Friday, November 28, 2008

OK, guess I'll start wearing my helmet again

About twenty minutes into our schooling session today, Willow bolted, alternating high speed galloping with crowhopping. I stayed aboard for two circuits around the arena, but she finally managed to throw me into the wall. I don't really blame her; not too far away there were two bulldozers lifting dug-up tree stumps and dumping them into a dump truck. It was noisy, with an extra-loud CLANG! every four or five minutes. Willow had been spooking with every clang, but she had also been coming back to me, or so I thought. Sometimes she is very deceptive about just how much tension she is harboring.

I hit the wall first with my hip and right arm, and then with my head (which I was trying really hard to protect, but I just hit too fast). I think I was out for a few seconds, and then I sat up quickly to make sure Willow wasn't galloping straight at me. She wasn't -- just passaging and blowing at the far end of the arena. I was way woozy, so I laid on my back in the dirt for awhile. Then I got up slowly (ow) and made my way to Willow, who seemed relieved to see me, stopped passaging, and walked over to me. I had a strong urge to get back on, but I kept having white-out conditions behind my eyeballs, so I called it quits and we went back to the barn. Luckily some friends were there, so they tacked Willow off and took me to the emergency room. I'm sure that's just what they wanted to do on their day off.

Diagnosis: mild concussion and two spectacular hematomas. Lessons learned: don't overface your young horse with bulldozers and clanging. And, wear your helmet, which I will start doing again, perhaps as soon as tomorrow, as the doc cleared me to ride if I'm able to clamber up into the saddle.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A couple videos

Pretty impressive.

Pretty funny.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Zoot suit riot

I can die happy now. I got to see the Cherry Poppin' Daddies live. I absolutely adored this band during the late 1990s, when the neo-swing movement was at its peak. I was taking ballroom dance lessons at the time, including swing, so we danced to CPD music all the time. I didn't know until after I moved to Eugene that the band is from here!

They played the WOW Hall, another great intimate Eugene venue. The crowd was wild for them. You could really feel the love running both ways. The front man, Steve Perry (no, not that Steve Perry), was born to lead this band. To call him manic doesn't begin to describe his stage presence. They finally had to tape his earpiece to his head to keep it from flying off.

I was lamenting the fact that I didn't have a swing dance partner to bring, but it wouldn't have worked anyway, because there was such a crush of humanity that partner dancing wasn't possible unless you moved into the hall. I enjoyed checking out some of the guys in the audience who were dressed to the nines, fedoras, zoot suits, chains, wingtips, and all. The swing scene is one of the few places where the guys can actually outdress the girls.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The hook brings you back

I saw Blues Traveler live last night. What a great show! They were at the McDonald Theatre, which is a fairly intimate venue. If you don't mind being in the crush, which I didn't, you can get pretty much as close as you want to the stage. John Popper was liberally throwing out harmonicas, and if I'd been willing to get aggressive, I probably could have had me one.

Popper looks like he has slimmed down some, which is so good, because he had heart surgery awhile back. Alas, he still smokes like a chimney. What he's able to do on a harmonica is unreal. Apparently he doesn't need to breathe. The band was tight, tight, tight. I do wish the guitarist would chop off that mullety thing he's got going on.

The crowd was on fire--dancing wildly to anything and everything, even the new stuff no one had heard before. They closed out the main set with "Hook" and just about blew the roof off. (Such an achingly beautiful song musically, with such biting, cynical lyrics.) Popper seemed genuinely gratified by the band's Eugene reception. He must not realize that once the rain starts, we have nothing else to get excited about.

Tonight, I'm off to see the Cherry Poppin' Daddies. Who needs food for Thanksgiving? I have a cornucopia of music instead. My only regret re: tonight is that I know how to swing dance, but I have no dance partner for the show :(

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Glimmers of a grown-up dressage horse

Here's a video of Willow and me from today. I'm ever so pleased. Yes, there's still oodles to work on, but I think we've made a lot of progress in the past couple of months. Willow doesn't look like a training-level horse anymore.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Living here under this rock

OK, so apparently I've been living under a rock, because yesterday was the first time I ever heard of lolcats, aka Icanhazcheezburger? It's a blog containing pictures of cats with captions. The captions are garbled English/chatspeak. I usually think of cats as highly intelligent and sly, so there's something very funny about the unguardedness of the captions.

Of course, if you've got lolcats, ya gotta have loldogs, too, aka IHasAHotdog! I like cats perfectly fine, but at heart I'm a dog person, so I really enjoy loldogs.

Less obviously, if you have lolcats and loldogs, you also have to have lolwalrus lolrus. This picture is the beginning of the saga:

Now, why does that make me laugh every single time I look at it? And the saga continues:

I think I'm going to have a sad dream about that walrus

Nobody has built a good lolhorses site yet. I did find these two examples that I liked:

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Willow's new 'do

This is the first time I've ever had Willow in a cool climate two winters in a row. Last winter she hardly got fuzzy at all. This winter, she has turned into a woolly mammoth. For the past week, after every ride she has ended up drenched and steaming. She soaks her cooler right through and still isn't dry enough to put away.

So today I gave Willow her first clip ever. She was a champion and didn't even blink when I turned the clippers on. Instead, she cocked a leg and dozed. I decided to go with a trace clip since I only have one lightweight blanket for her. I was way out of practice clipping, but it didn't turn out too bad. I'm headed back to the barn this evening to ride. I hope the clip makes a big difference!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

I won't vs. I can't

Isn't that one of the eternal dressage questions? When the horse acts up, is she saying, "I won't," or "I can't"? (Some horses are saying, "Screw you," but I'm lucky that with Willow that's really never the case.)

The last eight weeks have been all about playing with rein length while maintaining straightness and impulsion. (An interesting aside: Impulsion comes before straightness on the training scale, but Wolfgang always questioned the order, because you can't have true impulsion without first having straightness. That is, if the horse is traveling akimbo, any "impulsion" created escapes.) So, in other words, Willow and I have been working on shortening the frame without losing the forward, riding front to back being a cardinal sin.

Some days Willow is quite willing to stay relaxed on a shorter rein, and other days it causes varying levels of tightness and unhappiness. Which brings me back to my original question. This is where having an experienced trainer is so helpful. I'm struggling with figuring out just how hard to push when Willow lodges a complaint. If the complaint translates as "I won't," pushing is the right thing to do. But if she's saying "I can't," pushing is very much the wrong thing to do.

When I bought Willow, I figured I could bring her along to around second level on my own, but then I'd need help. Looks like my prediction was spot on. So, starting in the next couple of weeks, I'll be taking a lesson every other week from Leslie, the assistant trainer at my barn. I'm quite excited to start getting regular feedback again. I'm also excited to get to see someone else ride Willow!

Monday, November 3, 2008

The faucet is now ON

This fall, November 1 was the day the faucet turned on. October was gorgeous, with day after day of sunshine. Beginning November 1, and for the foreseeable, we're looking at rain and then more rain. Now, I'm not a huge fan of rain, and after two years in the valley I still can't get used to monsoon season, but I'm even less of a fan of cold, and in my book 50 degrees is not cold, so I'm not going to complain too much.

Willow has been back in business for three days now, and she's steadily improving and losing the 'tude. The left-side shenanigans of a few weeks ago have now shifted entirely to the right side (traveling haunches-in, or leg yielding wildly out of the circle). Whenever a problem I'm having with a horse flip-flops like that, I count it as progress. And tonight I discovered that, as usual, most of the problem is actually my fault. I realized that as soon as Willow started to travel crooked, I pitched forward ever so slightly. So I focused on sitting back and driving with my seat, and was able to straighten Willow out almost instantly. She's really sensitive, and apparently even the slightest feeling of me leaning forward really confuses her. One more mystery solved.

If you haven't voted early, make sure you get out and vote tomorrow! Willow gets tomorrow night off while I watch election results. Whichever way things go, history will be made.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Willow comes out of retirement

Today I was finally back in the saddle after almost two weeks of utterly neglecting Willow due to my mom's visit. Willow started off great, but then became increasingly difficult and mareish. I'm sure she had decided I had retired her and really resented having to go back to work. Poor little miss. I waited out her moodiness, got five minutes of decent work, and called it a day. Nobody likes going back to work after a two-week vacation.

If you are a horsey type located in the Eugene/Springfield area, you're in luck! A new tack shop has opened: Tack N Up. It's on the north side of the 700 block of Q Street in Springfield. I visited today and came home with a pair of full-seat breeches and a pair of stubby spurs, which I will be introducing to Willow this month. It's a big store with a good selection representing several disciplines. They also have dog and cat supplies. Plus, there are five very friendly canines serving as greeters. The black lab cross joined me in my dressing room.

The excavation next door continues. They have completely uncovered the truck, and behind it a shed is peeking out, too. I can also now actually see the lawn on the south side of my house. It used to be a complete tangle of overgrowth from the neighbor's rainforest.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Hanging out with rock stars

My best friend in junior high and high school was Jessica, and even though we're now on opposite coasts, we remain great friends. Growing up, Jessica and I spent much time in her basement playing Super Mario Brothers, and her little brother Nate hung out with us sometimes, too, mostly to show us how much better he was at video games.

Nate was always awesomely talented, musically. He played trumpet and piano. While he was still in his mid-teens, he and some friends formed an honest-to-goodness jazz band and got gigs fairly often. During Nate's college years, he took time off to play in the Glenn Miller Orchestra.

Nate is now modestly famous as a member of Bright Eyes and Conor Oberst's latest project, the Mystic Valley Band. The Mystic Valley Band played Portland last night. Jessica flew out from New York to meet me and my friend, and we all went to the show. Nate got us all back-stage passes, so after the show (which was super) we hung out with the band for a few minutes. I felt incredibly old and dorky, but they were all gracious. The drummer regaled us with tales of hanging out with Bill Murray at South by Southwest. Being a huge Bill Murray fan, I was very impressed.

Jessica is winging her way back to New York. It was so fun to see her, and to see Nate, who in my mind is still twelve. How can he be thirty?

Tomorrow my mom and I are headed over to Cape Arago to see the tide pools.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Be the side reins

Mom's visiting for two weeks, so I've been a bad blogger and rider. Willow got four days off in a row this week. I'm sure she was devastated.

Saturday's ride was not bad considering Willow's extended vacation. I did decide that once again I've not got her enough on the outside rein, and that's allowing her to start some small arguments with me that keep me distracted from getting her to step through to the bit with her inside hind. ("She needs to bend in spite of the outside rein," is the Wolfgang advice I'm hearing in my head lately.)

So yesterday my goal was to be the side reins, especially with the outside rein. I stayed playful and cajoling with my inside rein and used it and my inside leg to get the bend in spite of an extremely steady outside rein. At the same time, I concentrated on making sure the whoa and the go were available to me at all times. Willow tried for awhile to convince me she couldn't do all of that at once, but I stopped letting her pick those fights. If the go went away, I booted her forward with both legs and whip. If the whoa went away I used voice and many less-than-ideal half halts to get her attention. Everything came together pretty quickly, and at the end of the ride I got a fantastic sitting trot, and the canter departs were coming within the frame instead of the usual leap forward.

My next-door-neighbors to the south have always had a "hedge" bordering our two properties that probably could be designated a national forest. It consisted of a jumble of trees and various shrubs, plus some gargantuan blackberry bushes, and was perhaps twenty feet wide and twelve feet tall. Two days ago, they hired some fellows to cut it all down. It has taken two days so far and they're still not done. After the first day, I had a funny dream that they had finished cutting everything down and it turned out there was a whole house underneath. Well, maybe I'm a little psychic, because it did turn out there was something unexpected under there:

Friday, October 10, 2008

Videographer a railing this time

Here's another video of Willow, this one from Wednesday night. It's still not very clear, but I think we're a little less itty bitty. It was a cold night, and she'd had two days off, so she was somewhat tense from time to time. Overall, though, her frame is much improved.

There's one lengthening on here that makes my heart glad, and the leg yields at the end are big and rhythmic. You can see that she's a little tense throughout the canter work, but at times she was very much on my seat in canter.

Still gotta work on throughness, but then, who doesn't?

For all of you who have been waiting with bated breath for an update on my carport project, you're in luck! I worked all day on Sunday. As carports go, I think mine is now quite beautiful.



I realized as I was uploading the pictures that Sam the dog is standing in the exact same place in both, at the top of the staircase, peering out between the handrails. Don't worry, he did move about during the 8-hour project.

Friday, October 3, 2008


Two weeks ago I had a nasty cold. Then, three days ago, I endured a (thankfully brief) bout of stomach flu. I am dog tired tonight. But I didn't let that keep me from the barn!

Willow's getting used to working in a shorter, higher frame (thank you, Leslie!) so tonight I started throwing in some first- and second-level stuff just to see how she reacted. It went quite well. The trot leg yields were super, as were shoulder-in and travers in trot. The best part, though, was some simply stupendous trot extensions. I don't know how I'm ever going to be able sit them. I'll worry about that later. Tonight I just said, "Whee!"

Towards the end of the ride I worked on getting Willow to really let go of the bit and be supple through the neck and poll even on the shorter rein. She's starting to get the hang of it. She's always such a good girl, even when I change everything up on her.

Tomorrow I'm going to buy utility shelving for my carport. It's kind of sad how excited I am about this project.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Why, yes . . .

My videographer was a fencepost.

Sorry. I was hoping to get a clear view of Willow's new, improved frame, but we are far and wee in this video. If you blow it up to full-screen-size, it's slightly better.

I think I can make out that Willow's neck is up and rounded, and she is less on her forehand. She felt really good today, and there was very little left-side crookedness.

I'll try to get someone to shoot a better video soon.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The great outdoors, part deux

The construction on the outdoor arena has been done for several weeks, but one thing or another has kept me from using it. Today Willow and I finally schooled in it. To get there, you follow a little path through a woody area. It's very secluded from the rest of the property. Willow had the snorties at first, so I had hand-walked her around the arena a few times until she settled. Then I mounted up, and off we went.

Willow sure does love to work outside. Her gaits were big and bouncy. We're still working our up-and-out-with-the-inside-rein exercises, and she felt great. My web reins have stops, and we're now easily working at a stop I was beginning to think we'd never get to! And I've been sneaking past it, too. To the right, she felt awesome, especially the canter. Y'all will be happy to hear we executed several balanced ten-meter canter circles to the right!

Working on the shorter reins to the left has exposed a lack of straightness on that rein. Once upon a time, I would have found that frustrating, but nowadays I'm always happy to discover the truth, so to speak. What's been happening is Willow doesn't want to step far under herself with the left hind (too hard!), so she tries to either go on the circle in travers, or else she swings her haunches wildly outside and tries to leg yield out of the circle, or else she canters.

After it happened the first few times, I had to stop and think about what was going on. I was pretty sure she was just trying to get out of something that felt hard for her. So, first of all, I kept very aware of how long I was working her on the left, and made sure to give her plenty of breaks. When she'd swing her haunches inside or outside in trot, I'd go to low and even on both reins and push her forward on a twenty-meter circle with almost no bend. If she cantered, I'd push her very forward in canter. I think I'm on the right track with these fixes, because the crookedness is cropping up less and less. Today in the outdoor she only tried her left-side shenanigans twice.

A big benefit to working in the outdoor is the awesome new footing. It's a sand mix, and it does make them work. I could hear Willow puffing more than once.

When we finished, I rinsed her off (for the last time this year? maybe), banged her tail, and went to town on her overgrown mane. I took it down to about three inches, and it looks very nice.

On my way home, I stopped by a friend's acreage. She's out of town for two weeks, and she told me to harvest her vegetable garden as much as I wanted. I think I picked thirty or forty pounds of tomatoes today. I blanched and froze seven quarts, and will take the rest to work to share.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

A new exercise that works

So, after obsessively critiquing both myself and Willow on our latest video, here's what I'm happy about: Willow is forward, relaxed, rhythmic, and mostly straight, and her gaits are pure except when I mess them up. What I'm unhappy about is her frame: still too much like training level. We could probably sneak through first level and maybe even get our scores, although I betcha more than one judge would tell me she's too strung out for first level.

As I've mentioned on more than one occasion, Willow has a very long neck. As long as I continue to let her carry it in a training level frame, she's never going to be able to shift her weight back. My conundrum has been shortening the reins without feeling like I'm riding her front to back. Whenever I've tried to really shorten the reins, Willow channels all her tension into her poll and throatlatch area, and everything falls apart. In my dressage career I've mostly ridden horses who were very light to the bridle, so this has been a new challenge for me.

Leslie, the assistant trainer at the barn, jumped in and saved me this week. She, too, rides a big horse and knows what it's like to break up tension in such a large beast. She advised me to put Willow on a 20-meter trot circle, shorten the reins, and do the following in rising trot: 1) Keep my outside hand very low with a strong connection, 2) Bring my inside hand up and out (not back) and keep a definite, playful, vibrate-y connection, 3) With my inside leg at the girth, continually ask for bend, almost to the point of leg yield, but not quite, and keep her moving very forward on the circle.

I have to say, it was almost like magic. I've used an opening inside rein before, but something about the up and out really got Willow to unlock her poll. Suddenly the shorter reins didn't feel so short, and Willow was up in front with a pretty, arched neck, and an even bend through the spine.

We did the same exercise in canter with a similar result. AND, boom, canter-walk was easy. Next we tried it in walk, and after Leslie pointed out my tendency to get too strong with my leg and seat aids on a shorter rein in walk, we had success there, too. (Must remember: quiet, following seat in walk, even with shorter reins!)

I should mention that even though we had success that first night, there was some unhappiness and resistance from Willow at all three gaits until she realized I wasn't going to drop the connection. Once she got that, she changed her way of going, and voila!

Leslie recommended this exercise for the next two weeks. She said to keep Willow on circles and serpentines and limit my straight lines until this habit of resistance in the poll starts to go away. Today my ride was so much fun. I worked on lots of transitions and could feel Willow not dropping onto her forehand. It was floaty goodness.

In other news, yesterday I went to my small town's annual wiener dog races. Never in my life have I seen so many dachshunds. They must have been coming in from 50 miles in every direction. There seems to be a law of wiener dog races: in each heat, there were five dogs, and every time, two would come flying out and actually race (the sprinters) and the other three would wander out, sniff noses, and visit the audience (the minglers).

A dachshund running flat out is never not funny.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

A new Willow video!

:01 Nice, straight center line. I'm a little disappointed to see that Willow's frame doesn't look all that different from May, even though she feels much different.

:24 Decent travers! Could show a little more bend.

:35 Ugh. I'm still letting her get strung out too much. Half halt!

:41 I like the transition from travers to shoulder in.

1:13 Decent shoulder in.

1:46 Good medium! Just needs a little more elevation.

2:15 Still wishing she was a little more put together.

2:31 Watch the left side of your screen for Lucy the border collie puppy.

2:50 Canter is still big and boundy, but nothing like it was in May!

3:12 Watch our struggles with small canter circles!

3:49 Good simple change through trot.

3:58 Hey! Look at that! Some elevation! Even though she's a little above the bit.

4:27 I think maybe this is an 11-meter circle. Look at my outside leg! Busy.

4:43 I hope the simple changes through trot are this good when we compete.

4:50 Here I spend a little time on quick transitions to get her off my hand. You get to see just how much she likes the whip. And I'm only lightly touching her.

6:30 Some resistance, but I'm happy she's taking it up instead of diving down like she used to.

6:57 That, there, was a 10-meter circle. But the quality of the canter suffered.

7:09 Behold the elevation! Good girl!

7:22 Baby canter half pass. More at 8:00 after a brief argument.

8:28 Some mare-ishness about the whip. Again, just touching her lightly.

8:40 Baby trot half pass. More at 9:00, 9:20, 9:39. Watching this, I hear Wolfgang's voice in my head: "Get the butt! Get the butt!"

OK, everyone tell me if I'm just seeing what I want to see, but I see a more collected horse at the end of the ride than the beginning. Not yet second level material, but there are flashes that look pretty good from time to time. Willow's a big girl--she topped out at 16.3 1/2, with a long neck and back--and I just keep reminding myself that it'll take time for her to build the strength she needs.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Pushing her limits

The three training zones of dressage, from the horse's perspective: 1) No problem; totally got it. 2) Um, I'm not completely sure what you want, and it's making me nervous. 3) Ack! You're freaking me out!

During my last few rides, I've been spending a lot less time in zone 1 and a lot more in zone 2. For one thing, I'm making a conscious effort to use the whip a lot more (a light touch only -- Willow would go into orbit with anything more). Willow has always tended to respond to the whip not by going forward but by sucking back and threatening to buck. That response has conditioned me not to use the whip when I should. So lately I've been using the whip in leg yield at the walk to reinforce the sideways leg aid. That has seemed to loosen her up and let her accept light touches without resentment. It's starting to carry over into trot. In canter, I still expect mighty leaps whenever I use the whip. Hello, rafters.

In warmup I've also been doing a lot of simply shoving Willow's body sideways without worrying about what her head is doing. I go from leg yield to shoulder in to half pass back to leg yield. At first this definitely edged her towards zone 3, but now we're back in zone 2 territory. She can do all these things in zone 1 if I let her lean, but I'm making her do them without leaning, and that is puzzling to her. And when she is puzzled, she points her nose skyward. But after awhile she realizes I'm not going to fight her or pull on her, and drops back onto the bit on her own.

Tonight I loved where we ended up: big trot, on the bit without leaning, collection to medium to collection. And all this in the snaffle! Progress.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Various and sundry

I'm off to the barn in an hour or so and just realized I hadn't posted in a week. Bad blogger.

Yesterday the sweet siren call of the double was just too much, so I rode in it. I think I may switch to a Baucher bit in the snaffle bridle. I'm realizing just how much Willow isn't respecting her current French link snaffle. She's always been a heavy, pull-y girl. In the double, so many new things are possible! Even a couple strides of pirouette canter to the left, although I'm not pushing it because she's really not there yet.

Overall the ride yesterday was most excellent, but Willow did throw one temper tantrum when she tried to blow off a half halt and I really took hold of the curb. I think she may have done a capriole; all I know is I wasn't expecting it and I have a little bit of whiplish halfway up my spine today. But she came back to me quickly, with a new-found respect for the curb bit, and I was actually kind of thrilled with the pure athleticism of her antics. She caught some serious air!

I have another question for all you gardeners out there. What are these?

Lastly, I cannot believe I have neglected to post a picture of the latest bundle of fluff at the barn. This is Lucy the border collie puppy. I think she's about fourteen weeks old now. Specialties: tormenting Rocky, the other barn dog, and making off with wraps and gloves.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Sunday is double bridle day

After a successful week back in the snaffle, today was our day to ride in the double again. The intensive carrot therapy seems to have beaten back the ear phobia, so I had no issues bridling. It's a chilly, windy day, and Willow was very fresh, throwing in many ecstatic bucks during canter. She even switched behind during one buck, and I commented to her that she's halfway to a flying change.

I really do need to introduce spurs now. The only pair I have are fairly long, and they just won't do. I value my life too much. I'm sure Willow will accept the long ones at some point, but I need some short nubby ones to start, and even then I will screw my helmet on. Willow has always been a ticklish girl.

A major accomplishment in the last few days: Willow is now capable of pooping at the trot! For the longest time it took all my powers of persuasion just to get her to walk as she pooped. During the last two rides, however, she let loose during trot. Hurray! I choose to believe it speaks to a higher level of focus on her part. Perhaps one day she will realize she can poop during canter as well.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Getting to the fun part

Starting a young horse is a looooong process. I went from riding awesome Aron, the schoolmaster, to riding Willow, a barely-backed four-year-old who didn't stop or steer, and who bucked me off regularly when I was putting the canter in. I also spent a good eighteen months convincing Willow she was able to carry her head somewhat higher than knee level. This past winter I was starting to despair that Willow would ever carry herself in canter, or shorten her canter stride.

This past month, though, we are finally getting to the good stuff! It's so much fun! Today I ran Willow through everything she can do, and I realized the list is getting long! Walk-canter-walk is coming right along. Shoulder-in and travers are confirmed at trot. She's able to maintain a few strides of haunches-in in canter. I can get a respectable half-pass in trot in both directions, although I usually just ask for three or four strides and straighten. Turn on the haunches is not bad. I can get a ten-meter canter circle every so often. Collected canter left is awesome; to the right it's starting to come.

And she felt so good today, I officially started asking for flying changes coming off the diagonal into the corner. I didn't get any today, but I was pleased with how quiet Willow stayed, and I could feel her thinking about the question I was posing. Twice she dropped to trot for two steps and picked up the new lead, so she's got the idea.

On another topic, it's blackberry season. Blackberries are a menace in Oregon. They grow wild and are invasive. I don't actually have any blackberry bushes in my backyard, but my next-door neighbor seems to have an entire backyard full of them, and they've gotten so big they're cascading over the fence into my yard. I went out and picked blackberries for fifteen minutes last weekend so my brother's family and I could have blackberry shortcake for our picnic. Here was my haul, and I wasn't even trying:

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Obama's speech

I'm back from attending a MoveOn.org party at a local market, where we watched Obama's nomination acceptance speech. There was a competing party at the community center, so the get-together I attended was just a handful of people, but we were boisterous and patriotic. Two people brought their dogs, and one lady bought her pet rat, which perched on her shoulder the whole time. It was a fun group.

My dog Sam's lameness turns out to be a strained ligament, so yay, no surgery required. The vet says it may take six weeks to fully heal, and I'm to limit Sam's activity in the meantime. Sam is a German shorthair, so the vet's orders are fairly amusing.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Stable Scoop Radio Show

The Stable Scoop Radio Show has posted its 2nd episode. Stable Scoop is a horse related podcast that I think you will enjoy. You can listen on their site at www.stablescoop.com, subscribe through iTunes or listen right here by clicking the Listen Now button below. Enjoy!

The Stable Scoop Logo

Stable Scoop Radio Show Episode 2: Poop Eating Worms and Other Olympic News:

Equine Olympic coverage is the theme for this week's show, with a few twists thrown in. A couple of fun guests assist us in taking a look at the Olympic results and don't forget those poop eating worms! A couple of the things discussed in this week's episode:

  • Olympic poop eating worms

  • The Olympic results

  • Blog of the Week interview

  • A chat with a Canadian friend about Ian Miller and other goodies

  • This week's news headlines, Stable Scoop style

  • Cool facts about the Budweiser Clydesdales

  • And so much More

Listen or Subscribe to The Stable Scoop Radio Show:

Download to your Computer: Stable Scoop Episode 2 (Right Click and Hit "save target as")

Subscribe in iTunes:

Play Now: (Opens in your default music player):

Friday, August 22, 2008

Back in the snaffle

Willow is spoiling me with all her excellent behavior. We're back in the snaffle, and everything feels spectacular. She's both more elevated and softer. Walk-canter-walk is really starting to come together. Collected canter is now maintainable once around the arena. Ten meter canter circles are happening every so often. And she just feels so content with the work right now, which is the best sign of all.

Tomorrow morning I'm taking Sam the coneflower-eating dog to the vet to have his left shoulder looked at. He's been gimping around on and off for about a week now. He's about nine, so maybe he's getting some arthritis, or maybe he's got the same problem my vizsla had a couple years ago, and has a piece of cartilage broken off and floating in the joint. Oy. It's an expensive surgery, but very effective.

My brother and his family arrive tonight for ten days of fun in the Willamette Valley. They've managed to miss both the heat wave and the chilly rain. Lucky them.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Willow + double = bliss

I didn't make it to the barn last night, but I got out tonight. I popped Willow in the cross ties first thing and reminded her that me touching her ears is a good thing, with many carrot pieces involved. She settled down very quickly. When it came time to put the double on, she accepted it with only the slightest eye roll. SO much better than Sunday. I'm just going to make it a habit to perform carrot therapy before every ride.

I just adore how Willow feels in the double. I was even able to have a little tension on the curb rein this evening from time to time. No big deal. The most noticeable improvement has been in the canter. I can go from collection to extension to collection, and she doesn't lean. Awesome. I also love how still I can keep my hands; just the slightest flexion of my wrist reminds Willow to keep giving at the poll.

It's back to the snaffle for a week starting tomorrow. Will this new-found softness remain? Stay tuned.

My friend Ted in Texas forwarded me this YouTube clip. I imagine y'all can guess what's going to happen, but it's still funny.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

We have liftoff

Success! The double bridle introduction went just fine. Actually, the worst part of it was putting it on. For some reason, Willow's ear phobia reared its ugly head again tonight. I got the bridle over one ear, but it took some convincing to get it over the second ear. Time to do some remedial carrot therapy.

Once it was on, things went swimmingly. I rode for about twenty minutes with just the bridoon reins, and that went so well I went ahead and picked up the curb reins, leaving a big loop. Even with a loop in the reins, I could tell that Willow could feel something different, but she didn't object too much. I was pleased to find that she felt softer, even in a higher frame. She was highly attentive to my half halts. All in all, she felt just super. And my fingers remembered how to manage the reins. We didn't do anything fancy -- just lots of biggish circles and transitions.

I'm going to work her in the double again tomorrow and Tuesday, and then go back to the snaffle for a week.

In other news, I bought three echinacea plants on clearance yesterday. I left the containers on the driveway because it was too hot for digging. A couple hours later, I found that my German shorthair Sam had pretty much eaten all the leaves off them. Perhaps he felt a cold coming on.

We are a go for launch

I'm going to ride Willow in the double this evening. She can voice some pretty serious objections to anything new, so there's a good chance I won't even touch the curb rein for a few rides.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Really, really hot

That'll teach me to complain about the heat in Nebraska. Now it's crazy hot here, too. I think it was over 100 yesterday, and it must have been near 100 today, too. Not the best riding weather!

In spite of the heat, Willow was rambunctious tonight. I usually warm up in walk and trot, but she was just being jiggy and explosive, so I finally sent her into canter to let off some steam. We cantered about 57 times around to the left (OK, kidding, not that many) and a similar amount to the right. As we went round and round, I actually had time to reflect that a year ago, Willow could never have maintained a first-level canter for anywhere near that long. I also thought to myself that I should experiment with warming up in canter in the future. Willow is half TB, after all. I once read that if your horse likes to warm up in canter it's a good thing to do, because canter is the hardest gait for the horse to maintain tension and blockages in.

After that marathon of a warmup, we had a very nice schooling session. We did collected trot to half steps to collected trot and finished with lots and lots of quick trot-canter-trot transitions.

If tomorrow's ride goes well, on Sunday I'm going to introduce the double bridle.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A week off? No problem!

I'm back from Nebraska, where it was 102 with 50% humidity. I used to not mind the heat so much, but Oregon has made me soft.

The week off really agreed with Willow. I've had two super rides since I got back. Now that we've got the counter canter confirmed I'm backing off counter canter, because my friend Jenny in Nebraska, who has been showing second level this summer, told me they've taken most of the counter canter out of second level. That'll teach me to check the tests when they change. Now we're going to focus on walk-canter-walk.

I can feel flying changes simmering right below the surface, too.

If the next couple of rides continue to go so well, I'm going to try the double bridle later this week. My baby is growing up!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Off to Nebraska

Saturday I'm off to Nebraska to visit family and friends for five days. Willow gets to be a lady of leisure for a bit. I rode every night this week, so I'm feeling proud of myself.

Recent accomplishments:

  • True canter across the diagonal to counter-canter around the end of the arena back to true canter across the diagonal. For the longest time Willow would get claustrophobic on the short side and drop to trot. I finally convinced her she can do it and now she bops around the end no problem.
  • Really letting my weight drop into my heels in sitting trot, leading to that cool "sticky" feeling in my seat where it not only follows Willow's back but actually asks her to bring it up. Excellent shoulder-ins and mediums ensue.
  • Walk to canter, almost. But we're down to one or two trot steps.
  • Fun, fun, fun collected canter, although she can only maintain it for about eight strides.

I love this sport.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Dressage at Devonwood

I spectated at Dressage at Devonwood yesterday, and I thought I'd share some pictures of the partnerships I found to be a joy to watch. Talented riders, happy horses. I didn't have a program, and I'm new to the area, and lazy, so I won't be able to list names.

The Friesian/JYR pair below did a flawless musical freestyle timed perfectly to the music. Fun!

The grey below was absolutely lovely in his I-1 test. Look at the reach in the trot extension!

I do know the pair below: Leslie Chapman and Quantro, from my barn, performing their PSG musical freestyle.

It was a lovely day: partly cloudy with a light breeze, around 80 degrees.

Well, today was supposed to be the day I was going to introduce Willow to the double bridle, but due to circumstances beyond my control, I only got to ride three times this week. I want to get five consistent rides in before the big day. I'm off to Nebraska next Saturday, so it'll probably be mid-August before the stars are in alignment. Good things are worth waiting for!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The sassy side of Willow

Monday was Willow's day off. Tuesday we had, in the midst of weeks of gorgeous, sunny weather, a chilly, drizzly day. Between the chill and the day off, Willow was feeling sassy! I could tell from the moment I got on that our usual warmup in walk was not what she needed. So I immediately sent her into trot and canter with lots of transitions and changes of bend, to try to get her head on straight. She came back to me after about ten minutes, and then I got some spectacular shoulder-in in trot out of her. Best ever.

I also worked on small circles in canter--trying to get her to turn from my seat and not hang into the outside rein. To the left, she's really getting it. To the right, she still falls over the outside shoulder. But I'm feeling glimmers of understanding from her.

At the end of the ride I did several three-loop canter serpentines with simple change through trot. I'm so pleased with how much more crisp her transitions are, and how her canter stride is no longer 20 feet long!

Saturday I'm off to Devonwood to cheer on some of my barn mates.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The great outdoors

Today I rode Willow in a temporary outdoor arena that was set up a few days ago so someone could work on her musical freestyle. The regular outdoor arena has been undergoing construction all summer, so Willow hadn't been in an outdoor in over a year.

She was totally awesome! 100% relaxed and on the aids right from the get go. I didn't expect any real trouble from her, but I thought she'd be a looky-loo for a few minutes. Nope. She was ready to work.

The arena is set up on grass and has proven to be rather slippery, so I schooled only first level movements. Everything felt just lovely. The trot lengthenings were floaty, and the canter departs were immediate and obedient. The stretchy circle was steady and rhythmic. We ran through our entire first level repertoire, and I was so pleased I called it a day. Willow hadn't even broken a sweat, but when things feel so good, I like to simply leave the horse with that happy, confident feeling.

Willow, I remember when I couldn't steer or stop you! You've come a long way, baby.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Something new in canter

Wow. I've had some really great rides the past two nights. What a relief. I should mention that I've been poised to try the double bridle under saddle for the first time, but when Willow started resisting the higher frame to such an extreme, I decided to delay the double until we had worked through the new problems. I don't want the double to mask any throughness issues. My new target date for the double is a week from Sunday, if all continues to go well.

I'm having a bit of puzzlement in the canter--something I've never felt before. Willow is cantering reliably in the new higher frame, and most of the time the canter feels really good. We're reliably achieving 12-meter circles, and half pass is starting to come (Yay! She's really listening to the outside leg!). Sometimes, though, she'll give me a few strides of something that almost feels like a series of little bucks, but not exactly. It's like the canter energy is escaping upwards through her croup, as if sometimes she doesn't know what to do with all her new found springiness, and it escapes before traveling over her back. It's really hard to explain.

It's not a big deal--when I feel it, I just send her forward with a good bump from both legs, and the feeling goes away. But I would like to know exactly what is happening. I'm big on theory! If anyone has felt this and had it explained to them, I'm all ears.

Monday, July 14, 2008

One step back, two steps forward

Saturday Willow was one moody mare. She really let me know that this new "up in front" stuff was not to her liking. There was a little bucking, a little cow kicking, and a whole lotta not going forward. I stayed patient, kept my cool, and kept driving her into a steady connection. It took 45 minutes, but after the extended sour period I got five minutes of nice trot and canter, which I gratefully accepted, offering much praise. And we called it quits.

Sunday I was too sick to ride (rotten summer cold), but I thought a lot about Saturday's ride. Was Willow telling me that I was doing something wrong, or that I was doing something right? I finally decided that her behavior was actually an indication that I was on the right track. I think she was hoping she could convince me to let her revert to long and low, wherein I don't bother her, and she doesn't bother me. Who can blame her? But it's up to me to stick to my guns in the face of an extended protest.

So tonight I steeled myself for another battle of wills. Willow was way sucked back in trot at first, so I gave her a smart pop with the whip. She bucked halfway down the long side. I popped her again, and she cow kicked. I popped her a third time and finally got a nice big trot. Praise and pats ensued. And after that, I had a lovely ride in the new, slightly higher frame. Progress! You just gotta be smarter than the horse -- and it ain't always easy.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Bad habits

I've been training on my own for a year and a half now. It's the first time I've gone so long without lessons, and with a young horse, no less. Every so often I think about participating in a clinic, but then I think, I'll wait until the canter departs are better. Then, I'll wait until the trot lengthening is better. Then, I'll wait until counter canter is in. Then, I'll wait until the changes are in. And then I realize I'm steadily accomplishing these things on my own (well, except for the changes, but they're coming!)

Part of my reluctance to take lessons is financial, but a bigger part is simply that, after fourteen years of training, I was curious to see if I could bring along a young horse on my own. I lucked out with Willow, who is by and large an agreeable girl, and so far I feel like things are going well.

While I was in Texas, I took two short lessons on Sterling with Wolfgang. He pointed out two bad habits I've developed: giving in the canter depart, and letting my left hand cross slightly over the wither when circling to the right. I've ridden Willow twice since getting back, and I really concentrated on fixing these two habits. The canter departs immediately became crisp and uphill, and small circles to the right got much easier. Just goes to show that I can definitely use eyes on the ground every so often!

Wolfgang also watched a video of me on Willow and said, as I knew he would, "It's time to bring her up in front!" So that's the other thing I'm focusing on. Willow's wondering what's going on, but overall she's not protesting too much. She's a little tight in the new frame, but she's always tense about changes. If she's still tight after two weeks I'll re-evaluate, but for now I'm going to stick with the higher frame and work on building the muscles at the base of the neck. The canter feels just super -- collected and adjustable. Ten meter circles, here we come.

Wolfgang and Suzanne gave me a gift: a lovely whip for work in hand. How many of you think TSA will let you bring a four-and-a-half-foot whip through airport security? (Luckily, I expected it might be a problem, so Ted came into the airport with me and took the whip back out with him, to be shipped to me at a later time.)

Sunday, July 6, 2008

All traveled out

I'm tired.

Today I returned home from my travels. My grandmother's funeral in North Dakota was lovely and sad. My mother delivered the eulogy and read some excerpts from some brief autobiographical jottings my grandmother put down a couple years ago. Highlights included descriptions of driving the horses for her father during hay cutting, and bopping a bully on the head with her lunch pail.

Next I was off to San Antonio for a business trip. My coworkers and I put in long hours selling books and ate good food along the riverwalk. I really do like San Antonio.

Then came the purely vacational part of my travels: visiting Wolfgang, Suzanne, and Ted at their new ranch and training facility south of Blanco, Texas. They had literally just moved in, and the house is still undergoing renovations. The property had been vacant for a couple of years, so there's lots of mowing and watering to be done. But it's a really cool place. The Texas hill country is just gorgeous. Go see Devil's Backbone if you're ever in the area.

Ted generously allowed me to ride his draft cross, Sterling, twice. I just adore getting on different horses. I love the first ten minutes--posing a series of questions to the horse and seeing how he answers. Sterling was the first draft I've ever ridden. I expected him to be heavy and stiff, but he was just the opposite: very light to the bridle and amazingly supple and lateral. I overrode him the first day but had a blast on the second day, once I'd figured him out.

Sterling! In all his glory.

Feeling him out. The arena is under construction so we rode in the front yard, among the crepe myrtle.

I hadn't ridden with Wolfgang in almost two years! It's always a privilege to have a lesson with him.

Happy Fourth of July! We are a patriotic duo.

Asking for a bit of lengthening.

Half pass.

Obviously, I had some trouble keeping the connection in the canter.

Good boy, Sterling!

Sterling actually reminded me quite a bit of a Lipizzan stallion I once got to ride (in feel, not in size :) ) He was naturally quite collected, and his canter was very self-contained and lofty.

On my last day, we invited people over to see the place. My friend Kathy, whom I knew from my Lubbock days, came by. I hadn't seen her in almost two years. She, her boyfriend Justin, Ted, and I all trooped down to a couple of the fig trees on the property and picked figs. I'd never had one before. Yummy! I think we picked about five pounds. See the bucket on the table?

Ted, me, Suzanne, and Wolfgang.

I picked up the dogs at the kennel on my way back from the airport. They are happy to be back in the land of sofas.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Meanwhile, back at the ranch

Wolfgang and Suzanne closed on the ranch! I'm sitting in the living room of their awesome new house. They've got new flooring coming in next week. My friend Ted, who'll be working with them, trailered his two draft crosses, Belle and Sterling, over today and turned them loose on thirty acres. They are in horse heaven. The ranch is near Blanco, Texas, and Wolf and Sue will be ready to start accepting clients sometime this fall.

Tomorrow I get to ride Sterling. I believe he's solid second level and starting to work on changes. Should be fun.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Counter canter conundrum

Sunday afternoon as I was schooling a couple shallow counter-canter loops in each direction, Willow volunteered a lovely, balanced flying change from right to left at X. I cantered in the new lead for three strides, halted, gave her many pats, and let her walk on a long rein for a bit. It was her first flying change where she didn't leap three feet into the air.

The second-level conundrum: how hard to school the counter canter? Of course, we all know you never punish a flying change, no matter what the circumstances, but the question is how much do you reward it when you're trying to confirm the counter canter? I'm of the school of thought that says: reward like crazy. Unfortunately, most people in this school of thought already have their bronze medals :) I, on the other hand, still have to slog through second level before getting to the fun stuff.

I've read advice that says, just school counter canter and flying changes concurrently! Easier said than done, IMO. Second-level counter canter is pretty darn challenging for the horse, and once they discover--hey, I can just switch!--it's hard to unbake the cake.

This conundrum falls into the category of "good problem to have." If nothing else, it's a sign that Willow's balance in the canter has, indeed, improved. I do wish there was some way to provide an allowance for accidental changes during second level.

I'm currently sitting in the Denver airport waiting to board my plane to Bismarck, North Dakota. It turns out my brother is bringing along the whole clan to the funeral, so I'm going to get to meet my six-month-old niece, Chloe, for the first time tomorrow. I'll also get to see how much my two-and-a-half-year-old niece, Julia, has changed since last Labor Day.

After the funeral, I'm off to San Antonio for a conference, and then I'm hanging out with former clinician Wolfgang, his wife Suzanne, and friend Ted (whom Willow dumped in February) for a few days. Ted said I could get on his part-draft gelding Sterling. Perhaps Sterling will dump me in revenge.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Goodbye, Grandma R.

My Grandma R. passed away yesterday afternoon at the age of almost 92. Her health had been failing for two months, during which she wasn't very responsive, so the sad event is tempered by relief that she didn't linger in twilight for months and months. She was my last living grandparent.

Grandma R. was a great lady. She was tough as nails but had a great sense of humor. She was a farmer's wife--not an easy thing to be--but she managed all the hard work and never complained. Having lived through the Great Depression, she knew what really tough times were.

On a couple different occasions as a child, I spent part of my summer vacation with her and grandpa on their North Dakota farm. They had a little gray pony named Sparky, so these visits were pretty awesome. Grandma R. was an excellent cook, and always served up a huge farmer's "dinner" at lunchtime, consisting of wonderful stuff like fried chicken, creamed peas with real cream, lefse, and strawberry-rhubarb pie. It's a good thing I had a fast metabolism as a child.

I'm off to North Dakota on Wednesday for the funeral on Friday. North Dakota in late June is absolutely gorgeous, and I'm looking forward to seeing family members I haven't seen in years. Funerals are for the living, so they say.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Out standing in her field

I had a call from the assistant trainer at the barn tonight, letting me know that Willow's leather halter had broken and fallen off in turnout, and nobody could catch her to put another halter on and bring her in. She always wears a leather halter in turnout for just this reason. She's fine with anyone clipping a lead under her chin, but trying to put a halter on her in the pasture is pretty futile for anyone but me (that darn ear phobia!).

So I threw on my breeches and hurried out to the barn. I grabbed an extra halter and headed out to the pasture. Willow happily trotted over to me and let me put the halter on. I have to admit, I find this very sweet. I popped her in the cross ties because I planned to ride, but in picking her hooves I discovered a small gouge just above the coronet band on her right front. Eek. Perfect for causing an abscess. I doctored it up and said a prayer. We'll see how it looks tomorrow.

Remember my rant about the Cindy Sydnor article advising us all to stop being poor if we want to get good at dressage? It's still generating letters to Dressage Today. In the latest issue a woman writes to agree with Sydnor's advice to forego a fancy car, noting "I deliberately chose not to get a Mercedes because I am saving for an upper-level dressage horse." I had to wipe a tear away, thinking of this poor, Mercedes-less woman. Then I got in my eleven-year-old Honda and drove to work.

I know, I know -- I chose a rich person's sport, and I need to get over it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A momentous occasion

My double bridle arrived today (a Theo Sommer on closeout at Dressage Extensions), so I took it along to the barn tonight for a preliminary fitting. My first time introducing the double bridle, and my first time attempting to fit one from scratch! It was a big night!

I rummaged through the drawer of extra bits in the tack room until I found a simple loose-ring bradoon that looked to be about a quarter-inch wider than my snaffle. Then I found a low-port curb bit with curb chain attached. I attached the two bits to the bridle, and then hung it side-by-side with my snaffle bridle. I adjusted the bridle so the bradoon appeared to hang even with the snaffle bit on the other bridle. I adjusted the curb bit to the highest hole, but I could tell it was still going to be too low in Willow's mouth. I need to seek out a leather punch tomorrow night. I decided to try the bridle sans reins for my first attempt.

All this time Willow was dozing in the cross ties (I think she would happily stand in cross ties for, possibly, weeks at a time). I unsnapped the cross ties and moved the halter down her neck. Then I carefully balanced the bradoon bit on top of the curb and asked Willow to open her mouth, wondering if the clanking metal would bother her at all. Nope. She let me bridle her like she's been in the double for years. (Thank goodness her ear phobia is a thing of the past).

The curb was obviously too low in her mouth, but the bradoon hung just about right. I attached the curb chain, and Willow went right to messing with the bits, chomping them and shoving them around with her tongue. I gave her some sugar and she started to drip saliva everywhere (Rocky the barn dog loves sugary horse saliva. Eesh.) I let Willow get used to the feel of the bridle for five minutes, then took it off. No big deal. Hurray! Once I get a couple more holes punched so the curb can ride higher, I'll attach the reins and start lungeing her in the bridle once a week. I eventually need to buy my own bits, too, but I hope I can continue to borrow these for awhile.

After that mini-triumph, I rode as usual in the snaffle. I really feel like things are clicking these days. We're down to solid 15-meter canter circles. Next stop, 12 meters. I'm able to do counter-canter approaching what's asked for at second level. Tonight my only frustration was simple change through trot, right to left. When I asked for the left lead, Willow said, "How about a trot extension instead?" Three times in a row. On the third try, I got a little irritated and replied, "Trot extension? OK! Three times around the arena!" Willow was huffing and puffing after that. I let her walk for a bit and tried the simple change again. Bingo. Willow's no dummy.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The incredible lightness of Willow

I had a lovely ride on Willow tonight. She was giving me a light but totally connected feeling through the bridle. I hope that's a sign that my focus on getting her to lighten her forehand is starting to show some results. We worked on canter lengthenings, and toward the end I was starting to be able to collect her using mainly my seat to half halt. That's a big change from the giant, galumphing, heavy canter of six months ago. Sitting trot felt nice and light as well, and we had two huge lengthenings with that cool slow-motion feeling. All we've got left for solid second level are walk-canter transitions, ten-meter canter circles, and more work on counter canter.

A frisky cat scared Willow into a flying change tonight.

So, a month ago I ordered a double bridle from Dressage Extensions. I got an email saying the bridle was on backorder. Today I emailed to get an ETA on the backorder. Three more months, I was told. (Dressage Extensions, I love you, but four months on a backorder sucks.) I cancelled the order and am now trying to decide how much more I can afford to spend.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Canter extraordinaire

Tonight I spent about ten minutes at both trot and canter actively asking Willow to carry herself higher in front. I sent her around the arena at both gaits with short reins and my hands held quite high, half halting and driving. The trot was very good, but, oh my, what a canter! The half halts were coming through to where I could feel Willow bouncing up off the ground and catching all sorts of air. Whee! Now, I know high hands are not classical, so I'll only be doing this for short stretches at a time, but I'm going to keep doing it in future rides for the time being. Willow loves long and low so much -- I have to be pretty assertive to get her to understand what I want. Gotta build up those base-of-the-neck muscles.

Sam is doing much better. His pretty brown peeper is once again visible, and the eyelid looks very nice. He's also back to eating crunchy food with his pearly-white teeth.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Eyelid surgery ain't for wimps

My German shorthair Sam went in yesterday to have his teeth cleaned and to have a small tumor removed from his right eyelid. They cut a pie-shaped piece of his eyelid clean off and sewed the two sides back together. It actually looks really good, except for the massive swelling. Poor little man! It looks like he was in a bar fight. I'm supposed to be putting ointment on his eyeball, but the eye is swollen shut so I'm just smooshing it on the outside for now.

The teeth cleaning was almost as involved as the surgery. I knew Sam needed his teeth cleaned, and then last week he started chattering his teeth randomly. They called from the vet yesterday to let me know that he had a piece of a plastic butter tub lid jammed between two of his back teeth. I have no idea how he got hold of a butter tub lid. This is the same dog that dug up an onion-flavored allium bulb and ate it. I feel bad that he went a week with a big piece of plastic stuck back there.

Willow was a good girl tonight. We had company in the arena -- the assistant trainer was working with a 14-hand pony named Fishie. Willow wasn't quite sure what to make of Fishie; she's more used to giant-sized horses than tiny ponies. Anyway, once she got her mind off Fishie and on me, things went well. I'm finally starting to get in sync with her big new trot (the result of the new, better-fitting saddle). I really liked how the sitting trot felt tonight -- the half halts were coming through. I also worked on simple change through trot, and after four or five changes, Willow decided to cut out the extra work and threw in a flying change. Yay, Willow! We ended on that note.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Minor meltdown

Volker Bromman is giving a clinic at my barn this weekend, so there are several new horses on the premises temporarily. Additionally, the south doors of the indoor arena were opened for the first time today, giving a full view of the stalls housing the intruders. Luckily I had already planned to lunge, because upon entering the arena and taking in the various new stimuli, Willow had an extended thoroughbred moment. She started vibrating right away, and I was just able to get the side reins hooked up before she started a grand passage in stallion fashion, tail straight up and nostrils flaring. She then attempted a hysterical canter. I started some serious transition work to get her mind on me. It took about five minutes to talk her down from the ledge.

Happily, sustained hysteria really isn't Willow's thing. She can definitely let fly with some crazy antics from time to time, but she comes back to earth fairly quickly. Before long I had her long and low with a nice, stretchy, rubber-band style trot and a quiet canter. My ride was quite productive, although I kept it short because I suspect Willow's going to regret all that passage in the morning. I did have better luck shrinking the left canter circle tonight--I tried giving her a good hard bump with my right leg rather than just a subtle pulsation, and I saw the light bulb appear above her ears. Don't know why I didn't try that sooner. Tomorrow I'm going to try bumping her into canter half pass and see how that goes.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Jenny kicks butt

Congratulations to my long-time friend Jenny in Nebraska for rocking the house at a recent show. Jenny is bringing along her own young mare, Nicolodeon, and they scored a 72 at second level. Don't they look awesome? I love the engagement behind.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Puissance jumping

Have y'all ever actually seen puissance jumping? I've heard about it, but I never realized just how freakin' high the puissance wall is. In this clip the wall is 2.2 meters, or about 7.2 feet. There's so much about this feat that is unbelievable, but the hardest thing for me to imagine is the view on the way down, and how the rider and the horse absorb the shock of coming down that far. I guess you'd want to make sure your stirrup leathers were in good shape.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A Willow clip a day, part 3

Here's the last of the Willow clips. I was mostly focusing on first level, with a little bit of second. And still trying to get Willow to realize she can carry herself higher in front. Overall, I'm happy with where she is. My goal is to have her solid at third before she turns eight next spring. I don't have my bronze yet and I'd love for the two of us to earn it together.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A Willow clip a day, part 2

In this clip I was focusing more on keeping Willow up in front, with better results. We did trot lengthenings, shoulder-in, travers, stretching down, walk half pass, and shallow counter canter.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A Willow clip a day

My dad filmed three of my rides while he was visiting. When I watched this first clip, I realized I still am not getting Willow up in front the way she needs to be. On the plus side, I love how forward the trot is, and the canter has definitely improved in the past couple of months. A little bonus at the end shows Willow's talent for turn on the haunches -- she's been able to do it ever since she figured out the outside rein. I wish small canter circles came as easily :)

Mystery solved

My not-daffodils are indeed alliums:

"Allium siculum (reclassified as Nectaroscordium siculum) (Koenders unofficially calls them Hanging Bells) – Not a globe shape, looks like an umbrella, bell shaped florets hang down in colors of mauve, purple, green and white in one floret, strongest onion smell (good to deter critters), 2 ½ - 3’ tall, 3-4” pretty flower."

Thanks to the Dave's Garden blog.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Dad's visit

My dad's here visiting from Nebraska. I had all sorts of home improvement projects lined up for when he came. The biggest one was helping me install laminate flooring in the living room. I had already ripped out almost all the carpeting before he came. He helped me rip out the rest and pull up tack strips and staples. Here are a couple before pictures. The flooring underneath the carpet was apparently the 1950s version of laminate. It was sort of like wallpaper with a wood print on it. Very cheesy.

The flooring project took us about nine hours total. I think it looks gorgeous! So much more practical with three dogs running around.

My awesome friend Erica, the Inch-by-Inch Gardener, says she thinks my mystery plants may be alliums, which actually are members of the onion family, but look like Dr. Seuss flowers. Here's what the blooms look like today:

They're sort of like little upside-down tulips. Does anyone know if these are indeed alliums and will eventually puff out in Dr. Seuss fashion?

Coming soon: new videos of Willow! My dad has agreed to serve as videographer. I was hoping, for his visit, that we would have some sunny weather, but holy cow! It's hot! We're going to wait and go to the barn this evening. I'm sure Willow would agree that's a good plan.