Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Just kidding Tucker, you're the best.

Okay I know I said I was going to tell you about the ducks (and I will, because it's hilarious) but I realized I can't just keep doing posts about my horse being ridiculous.

Because in truth, he's a star.  My past three rides in a row have been absolutely wonderful.  He has started off with a big, stretchy, nose-to-ground, voluntarily forward (!) trot.  Which I love, and would like to ride all day long.  Is there a test that goes:  Enter at A, rising trot, allow horse to stretch forward and downward, circle right at E, rising trot, allow horse to stretch forward and downward, FXH, allow horse to stretch forward and downward, etc.?  Sign me up for that one please.

As I pick up my reins I zig zag from the rail to the quarter line (not leg yields, but little diagonals) using a direct (slightly open) rein to turn to get him taking both reins.  I have finally come to terms with the fact that what feels like a left rein problem is actually a right rein problem. We've apparently been doing everything off our left rein for the past decade or so.  In both directions.  This is obviously wrong, yet we have persisted.  The good news is, it's finally becoming more normal for me to actually do something with my right hand, and I'm finally becoming aware of when there's not enough contact on my right rein, and then working on getting him to take it, rather than uselessly fighting with him on the left.  Now here is a shocker:  if you get the horse to take the right rein, he becomes magically lighter on the left rein.

If the zig zags aren't quite working then we'll add in some shoulder-fore tracking left, and depending on how supple he feels, I usually then play around with other movements, trying to keep him relaxed, taking both reins, and going forward.  If he gets tense I just scrap it and do some forward or stretchy work and come back to it later in the ride.  His lateral work is not perfect, but improving all the time.  Right now we are working on making him straighter in his leg yields.  For a while I was letting him lead with his right shoulder (going left-to-right) so that he'd actually take the right rein during the leg yield, but now that we've gotten better at that, we're making them more correct.

We have made excellent progress with our trot lengthenings.  Once I got out of my own way, and told Tucker that I actually do want him to go that forward ("Are you sure about this?"  "Yes, really, go!"  "OKAY!"), I discovered there is a big, beautiful trot in there.  And most of the time we can organize ourselves in the corner afterward.  I hope the judges like it.  I think he's the best at it.  And since he seems to like it, I incorporate them into every ride.

His canter is very much a work in progress.  In the Fall I had developed what felt like a really great medium canter.  We were still taking way too long to transition back from a medium canter to his working canter (ahem, without breaking to a trot, Tucker).  But, the medium canter itself was big and balanced and coming from behind.  We had to abandon medium canter work for the last couple of months because winter and crazy and Marissa doesn't have a death wish.

Since he's been a little more rideable the past few rides I've been trying to figure out how to open up the canter again, without just running and getting flat and gross (he seems to have forgotten the balanced and coming from behind portion of the exercise). I still haven't quite figured out how to get a good canter right from the start, which I know is the goal.  For now I've been compromising and doing what I call a warm-up canter, which I can keep round but not forward, then going back and doing some more forward trot work, and then cantering again and seeing if I can keep it round and send it forward.

I have a few problems.  First, I really can't sit his canter when I open it up.  I'm not entirely sure how to fix this, other than just get stronger, but we'll get there.  As a hunter princess, I've never really sat on a horse at the canter in my entire life, so I literally have no muscle memory to rely on.  I was thinking about it last night while driving, and I'm wondering if maybe in my effort to sit, I'm getting stiff somewhere and creating some resistance so while I think I'm telling him to go forward, I'm actually preventing it from happening.  So I'm going to try to figure that out in my ride tonight.  If all goes well, I want to do some counter-canter work again too.

Anyway, I feel better now that I've set the record straight.  When he's not pretending to be a dragon, or a deep sea fish, or a unicorn, he's actually quite fun.  (Although even when he's a dragon, I still love him.)

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Riverview Stables, Our New Home

I have little to update on the riding front because it's absolutely freezing in New Jersey right now, so Tucker has been hand-walking and light lunging because even though I will once again have a wild beast on my hands next time I want to ride, I do not believe in torturing either of us and riding in this weather.  But, I can tell you about our new digs, freezing temps or not.

I first moved Tucker closer to home in November, but for a variety of reasons (which I needn't address here) that boarding situation didn't work out, although I met some lovely horse people there along the way. So, as I mentioned last post I moved him again on February 1st, to Riverview Stables.  Wish I had moved there in the first place, but, live and learn as they say.

After two weeks, the new farm already feels like home.  Everyone has been friendly and welcoming and it's generally a laid back place.  The facility is clean and well-run and the care is really personal. Tucker is making new friends....

He's big like me, I like this one.
And reuniting with an old friend, Goose, who boarded with us at our last barn.  The first day we moved in, Tucker was in his stall and started bouncing like a puppy when Goose came in from turnout.  I know him I know him I know him!

The Goose.  Tucker loves him.  
My favorite things about this place?  One, unlimited hay.  The first time I grabbed him a flake and tossed it in his stall, I felt like a common criminal.  I've never been at a boarding barn where that's okay. Having hay in front of his face all the time makes me seriously, indescribably, irrationally happy.  He's an ulcery horse who loses weight when the wind changes direction.  This is a big deal.

Second, there are no barn hours, so I can ride even if I get stuck at work late.  And since it's literally on my way home from work, I can even stop in just to give him a kiss on the nose and a treat.

Well hello there...
Fancy meeting you here....
Is that a treat in your hand?
Can I have that please?
Om nom nom nom nom
(Just look at those kissable lips!)
And third... the barn at night is quiet, and clean, and warm.  The only sounds are animals munching happily.  There is nothing in this world more soothing.  It's like heaven.

Tucker has only identified one flaw in the whole place:  there are ducks.  Don't ask me why ducks are so suspicious, but Tucker firmly believes they are predatory and dangerous.  Waddling and quacking around like that.  More on this in my next post....

Friday, February 13, 2015

Where the Wild Things Are

So the problem with moving barns in the middle of winter is that it's freezing and your already somewhat fresh horse becomes an overstimulated wild beast who has lost his grip on reality.

I can tell you about this, because I'm now through the worst of it, and have had some better rides (that start out with lunging, obviously).

The first couple of days Tucker was at his new farm I free lunged him, since we're allowed to do that in this indoor.  Since the last few barns where we've boarded don't allow free lunging, Tucker forgot how to do it.  So basically, picture a wild animal that was shot with a blow dart full of amphetamines trapped in a maze with a herd of lions, and that's how Tucker free lunged the first two times.  There was a lot of running full speed, getting stuck facing the corner, then frantically trying to decide whether to go left or right and getting lost (???) in the process.  At one point he ran behind a mound of extra footing, then couldn't figure out how to retrace his steps so just took a flying leap from a standstill over top of it.  These were special moments.  I'll cherish them always.

By Day 3, a giant lightbulb flashed above his head and he remembered to go in a circle, which worked out way better for both of us.  Glad it wasn't a real lightbulb though because he was spooking at EVERYTHING.  Picture trying to do flatwork on the giraffe from Madagascar:

Every noise, every lack of noise, every tangible object that move or doesn't move was highly suspicious.  And then sometimes there'd be nothing to spook at but the Tucker brain would do something like this:  
trotting... trotting... trotting... I think she's saying something with her left leg but I'm not listening... trotting... 
woah... that was crazy... trotting.... trotting... trotting...  what is she saying I can't possibly listen with everything else I have to keep an eye on right now... 
I've described since way back on this blog that Tucker has a very unique way of demonstrating his freshness.  He does this sort of insane head tossing thing where I see his left profile followed by his right and then flings his feet around in stabby motions.  If you've ever seen someone try to catch a marlin, it's exactly like that.

There is a reason those people are strapped to their chairs.
Other times, we just did this:

I freaking love the internet.
On Day 4, I was feeling brave (or possibly I was drunk, I'm not sure), and tried to climb on without lunging first.  That was a mistake.  After he walked around snorting for a bit I thought maybe he'd settle if I let him trot forward.  I don't know if I can adequately describe what he did but I'll do my best.  Picture the most uncoordinated person you know.  Picture that person really drunk, and trying to kick-box.  Now picture that person attempting a roundhouse kick while someone jumped out and yelled BOO!  Whatever you're picturing is what my horse did.

Then he rolled one crazy eyeball back at me and said "You should probably not be up there right now.  Definitely not safe.  Probably gonna get worse."  And I said "Forget all this anthropomorphizing, listen to the talking horse," and swung my leg over and down.  Based on the twitchy lips and saucer eyes he gave me while I ran up the stirrups, and the insta-bolt once I stepped back from him, I'd say he was right, things were gonna get worse.  I climbed back on, and after another hour of trotting he was somewhat rideable.  Somewhat.

Days 5 and 6 we turned a corner.  We lunged in side reins, because it was now safe to tie the beast to itself, and under saddle we focused solely on relaxation (HA!  Look at me using that dressage training scale like I know things!) and thankfully, reasonably achieved that goal.

This week's goal has been relaxation and forward.  (HA!  I did it again!)  He's pretty sure a four-beat canter is appropriate (we don't go forward when we're fresh.  We get stiff and slow and hold our breath), but he's at least coming to the table for negotiations.  And for the most part, he's stopped pretending he's a dragon.  So we'll call that progress.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

*** Transitional Post ***

By popular demand (and by popular, I mean that a dozen people on facebook said they'd read this), I am resuscitating this blog.  I miss writing, and I miss my blogger friends.  And I want to talk about Tucker even more than I already do (which may be a sign of serious mental illness, let's be honest).

In honor of the occasion, I gave the blog a face lift (soooo... what do we think?) and a new banner to demonstrate that he is now in fact a bona-fide shiny happy dressage horse, not just a blurry free jumping hunter (whatever, I loved the old banner photo).  And since it's been years (well, a year, two months, and 29 days according to blogger) since I've posted anything, I figure a transitional post is in order.

What's the same, and what's changed:
  • Tucker is still the greatest big brown horse that ever lived.  Although if you ask me he's even more beautiful than ever (see above photo, courtesy of Dom of course.  She's still amazing).
  • I am still practicing law in order to fund my very expensive pony habit (Although what's changed is that I now work with my brother at a small firm, and I actually kind of like it.)
  • Still in love with this guy:

  • ... and Tucker is still in love with this guy, if that's what you call this:


  • We are officially concentrating on dressage, although we still jump as often as we can.  We did our first few dressage shows this past Spring and Summer, and he was his usual fantastic self, amazing me and even the occasional judge.  We finished 3rd at our championship out of 22 horses, and 4th for the year at Training Level for the schooling series we did.  Oh, and my friends are still just the greatest cheerleaders ever:

  • The biggest recent change is that Tucker and I are at a new barn.  After much soul-searching, I realized our lovely farm was just too far away for us, now that I'm working full time again, and have found a two-legged guy with whom I like to eat dinner every night.  So Tucker and I are finally, for the first time ever in the history of me owning this horse, living about fifteen minutes away from each other. And the best part is, he's on the way home from work.  The other day I realized that Tucker and I have lived in several of the same towns, but never at the same time. Goal for 2015:  Simplify our life! More about the new barn in my first "real" post (hint:  we love it so far).
  • I am still completely, and totally, 100% donkey-obsessed. 

Sooo fuzzy.  I want all the donkeys.

It's good to be back!  Stop in, say hello, leave us a comment, put us back on the bookmark bars, baby. We've got stories to tell!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Tucker the Dressage Pony

Some photos and video from my dressage clinic with Pierre St. Jacques at CLR Stables last weekend!

I think Tucker's dressage work is really coming along well, if I do say so myself.  Still lots to work on, mostly me.  But I see signs of progress and I'll take it!

Turns out I stick out my tongue to do leg yields?
One of the lesser known lateral aids?

Love this one of him (don't look at me and my caved-in core).
Look how nicely he's sitting!

Love this canter.  Would really love it if I could actually sit to it...

I know he's getting a little too deep here, but I love this one too.
And I'm mostly sitting up, which is nice.

And now onto the videos....
(they are each quick clips, best stuff is in the first two if you don't feel like watching them all)

Huge THANK YOU to Anita (barn mom/photographer extraordinaire) and Ethan (boyfriend/videographer extraordinaire) for braving the cold and getting up at the crack of dawn on a Sunday to catch all this on film!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Last Hunter Pace of the Season

Yesterday Tucker and I joined some friends from my farm for the Covered Bridge Trail Association hunter pace, which starts at a farm across the street from where Tucker lives (very convenient!).  It turned out to be yet another absolutely perfect day.

Of course, it didn't quite start out perfect.  I picked up our friends Ethan and Gitano in the morning, and somehow ended up running about ten minutes behind schedule.  Then on the drive over to Tucker's farm, the skies were looking gray and rain drops were hitting my windshield.  I was feeling stressed and a bit doubtful that we'd have a good day for riding.  Then we stopped to register all the horses riding out from my farm on our way in, and a stop that I thought would take five minutes took twenty-five.  So for those keeping track, I am now running thirty minutes late.  When we pulled into the farm, everyone else was mounted.  I know you all know that feeling.

I sent the rest of the riders on their way so as not to compound my stress by feeling like I was holding up everyone else's ride, and tried to remind myself that this was supposed to be fun.  By the time I was on my horse and riding across our property, after few deep breaths and a couple of visits with Ethan's trusty flask (oh c'mon, I know it's before noon but it was really cold), I started to relax.  And then the sun started peeking through the clouds, and I got a little more encouraged.

The first part of the ride went as usual, except that Tucker was a bit more "up" than he's been in the past, but it was cold and fall leaves were blowing around so I didn't think much of it.  Then the first time we hit a nice stretch of hay field to have a little canter through, I realized Tucker wasn't so much channeling his inner Seabiscuit, but rather being possessed by one of the demon horses that pulls Hades' chariot.  As the field sloped downward and bent a hard left, and Tucker latched onto the bit and hurtled himself ever faster, I started wondering, Are all my affairs in order? 

Thankfully, our little Paso friend Gitano was slightly less... um... possessed by demons, and was able to return to a walk just in time for the path to bend around another hard right.  While Tucker Orphnaeus was oblivious to my efforts to stop the runaway freight train despite my standing in my stirrups, leaning back and pulling with all my tiny might (my shoulders are still sore from that one), he is not one to leave a buddy, so he returned to something akin to a battle march and snorted ominously, muttering something about the apocalypse and entrances to the netherworld.

The next part of the ride was alongside a road which I used as a good excuse to walk for a bit, repeat the Hail Mary and attempt to get my blood pressure to subside.  For reasons that will only ever be known to Tucker (or perhaps it was just those few more sips of rum), at some point he just took a big deep breath and decided to be his usual perfect-trail-horse self for the remainder of the ride.  And then we had fun.  The views were spectacular, the company was charming, and the horses were happy.  And the rest of our gallops were all intentional.  Always a plus.

Much better.

Beautiful ride!

All smiles... was it the sunshine?  The horses?  The rum?

I was also able to settle a matter that's been troubling me a bit... and am pleased to tell you that Tucker is, in fact, way faster than his little Paso Fino sidekick.  Yes I do realize that he's twice his size and this should not have even been up for debate, but it was, and I'm pleased to report has been resolved in our favor after three separate races.  Do not let anyone convince you that he was "letting us win."  That's nonsense.  My horse may be somewhat lackadaisical about life, but he is in fact quite fast when he wants to be.

When we got back from the ride, I got a chance to sit on my first gaited horse, and have to say it was pretty fun.  I mean I felt completely like a fish out of water and had zero idea what I was doing but Gitano was a pretty good sport about it and luckily for me seems like he's got a pretty good sense of humor.  I think we look pretty cute together to tell you the truth.

Two more pictures to share with you, mostly because I want you to see that for every nice picture I get of my horse and post on the blog, there is at least one where he's in full on derp mode and my face is just full of disdain.  I kind of can't stop laughing at this one.

Note the flared left nostril as he attempts to yank the reins from my hands.

Well at least three of us look happy about this photo.

We met back up with everyone from my farm at the end of the day and I'm glad to say that everyone ended up having a wonderful ride.  All in all I'd say our first CLR Stables hunter pace, and the last hunter pace of my season, was a success!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Gorgeous Boy in Action

On Sunday I trailered Tucker over to Alicia's for a jumping lesson and he was such a good boy.  I had a discussion with a friend recently about cross-training or doing different things with your horse, and we agreed that while you can't have a top level show horse who also trail horse and also a dressage horse, you can do lots of different types of riding and activities and end up with an all-around awesome horse who is fun to ride no matter what you're doing.

It seems like we have Tucker in a great place right now.  He has proven himself to be a completely unflappable trail horse, who will confidently lead or follow, cross water, climb up and down hills, jump whatever I point him at, walk on the buckle through the woods or gallop across a field.  We have had three really successful dressage lessons in a row now, and I measure success by the fact that we accomplished what we set out to work on, Tucker tried really hard and didn't throw any tantrums, and I was able to go back and work on it again in my rides during the week and get similar, if not exactly the same, results.

He has also been so much fun to jump lately, which I feel is sort of a barometer for how he's feeling physically and mentally.  He is stronger from the dressage so his canter is more balanced and consistent, and he is relaxed, I think from all the riding out.  I am also more confident, especially about sending him forward (which I think is both from the hunter paces and the dressage - we are working on a real honest-to-goodness medium canter).

Anyway, we had a great lesson.  He warmed up really well and then we worked on our nine-rail to cross-rail exercise (from this post), and focused on my position, leg at the girth, weight in the heel, flat back.  Then we moved on to a gymnastic, which we gradually built up.

Here he is at 3':

And here he is at 3'6":


I just love him!  I grabbed a couple of stills from the videos above and I realize their blurry as anything, but I can tell that he's jumping really well, swinging through his shoulder and pretty level with his front end.

I still need to get my hands farther up his neck in my release as the jump gets a little bigger but overall my position isn't bad. Next time I want to put a braid in his mane where my hands have to go to train myself to release to there. I think I've gotten into a bad habit of not releasing from jumping lots of little fences maybe? Always a work in progress as we all know.

After working only on the gymnastic I then kept my canter and jumped the gray and red vertical and the black and white oxer that you can see in the videos, on the diagonals.  They looked a little larger than life when Alicia was setting them up, but after she put the gymnastic up they magically returned to their actual size and I was able to actually think about riding my horse rather than ponder my own mortality as I approached them.  (I like Alicia's psychology there - I swear, good trainers could also have PhD's in psychology with all the tricks they have to use to get us weenie Adult Ammie's to get out of our own heads.)

After the lesson was over and Tucker was happily snoozing on crossties in his ice boots, I had the pleasure of riding my favorite pony, Little Man:

And playing with my favorite colt, Bazil:

All in all, Sunday was just a great day from start to finish.