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.