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.