Monday, April 20, 2015

Charlotte Dujardin's 94.19% World Cup Winning Freestyle

In case you haven't seen this yet, I want to make sure that all of you do, because it is an incredible piece of riding.  I am mesmerized by this horse.  This one isn't a video of a video, and I am personally quite grateful to the person in the stands with the awesome camera phone who recorded this for us.  

This is basically a place holder post, by the way, because I have to write up a real post about Tucker's show yesterday.  The headline is that it went very well, our scores were 67.4% at First-1 and 69% at First-2 (not exactly world-record breaking, but awesome in my book).  

Quick sneak preview:  The judge said we were "well prepared," and many of her comments on individual movements said he was "well balanced" and "straight."  Which makes me feel like all this work I'm doing is actually paying off.  I'll give you a full run-down tomorrow, but I was way too tired last night to write it all up (and you know, I'm supposed to do the lawyer thing during the day.  I may or may not have my tests in my briefcase for reviewing again while I eat my lunch though). 

Tucker has a well-earned day off today so I promise I'll make time tonight!

Friday, April 17, 2015

April Lesson with Amy, and Video of Charlotte Dujardin at the World Cup

I am tempted to write ONLY about the World Cup because it's so exciting and I wish that I was there... but I've had these notes written about my Wednesday night lesson with Amy Howard and need to get this post out there too. 

To satisfy your World Cup cravings I have posted a link to a bootleg video of Charlotte Dujardin's winning ride on Valegro on Tucker's facebook page, which has been made possible by a kind anonymous FEI tv subscriber.  I'm not going to repost it on the blog because I'm fairly certain the FEI's copyright lawyers will hunt my *ss down, but surely sharing on facebook is less of a crime?

Anyway... go watch Charlotte and lament your seat and hands then come back and I'll tell you about my lesson.

*  *  *

I always come into the lesson with a list of things that need to be addressed.  This month it was: My position, the left lead canter, right lead transition, and free walk.

As for my position, I tried really, really sitting up in one ride last week and when I do that it's the only thing I can do. Seriously.  The rest of me falls apart, my reins get long, my leg comes off, and the horse starts plodding/tripping over himself.  We agreed it's a work in progress and for now I'm going to work on opening my shoulders/chest more as the next step to actually sitting up like I'm supposed to.

I warmed Tucker up like usual, sending him forward on a long rein, encouraging him to stretch down and get his shoulder swinging (he loves this), and then gradually picked up the reins doing little diagonal turns from the rail to the quarter line and back (something Amy taught us over the winter). Amy commented that my hands are much more steady now (!!!) and that he's much more consistent in both reins.  I heard Angels sing an Hallelujah.  Not saying my hands are perfect yet - but at least I no longer have a rhythmical left hand half-halt every time I post, making him look like he's really agreeing with everything.  Mmm hmm, yes human (nods head).  Obviously, I wasn't doing this on purpose.  My left hand needed an exorcism.

Trotting to the right we worked on squaring off the corners like a box, not letting his inside hind get wide, and not letting his withers fall to the inside around the turn, but keeping him straight, on the outside aids, and stepping under himself with his inside hind.  This really helped the leg yield from right to left as well.  As we worked on this Amy said "I bet that's exactly what's happening with your right lead canter transition."  (Spoiler alert:  she's always right.)

After a walk break, I picked up my trot again and pointed out that particularly after a break, he seems to hang on my left rein.  I usually try to fix it with left rein half halts and left leg on at the girth, but it's not terribly effective.  We tried a few different things, small circles left, etc., and then Amy told me to do a haunches-in.  I couldn't make his haunches budge.  "There it is!"  So we worked through that a bit until he gave in his left rib cage and low and behold, he was back in both reins.  Must remember that when it feels like a rein issue, it is almost always a hind end issue.  [Are you seeing a pattern?  His haunches go right in both directions.  Perhaps rider should work on not twisting left?]

As for the left lead canter, getting a better canter from the start is a matter of timing.  I need to give him a reminder kick with my inside leg immediately as he picks up the canter, right after I cue the canter with the outside leg, so that his inside hind leg steps up quicker and with more energy.  I understand this concept, theoretically, but my timing is off.  By an entire stride.  (Two separate cues in the same three-beat canter stride?  What am I a magician?)  I told Amy it's going to take me about three weeks to figure this out, but I'll work it out by the next lesson.

Once we got the canter going, we worked on revving the engine without increasing speed.  So creating more canter with the inside leg but keeping it packaged together with half halts on the outside rein.  We actually got a SUPER canter (Amy said so) although right now it definitely takes a lot of managing on my end.  Going back to the ride every stride discussion from last week, right now I have to ride almost every stride to the left. But I'm hopeful that will change with time, one he figures out what I want.  He's already learned to open his gaits up so much, I believe he can learn to hold a better left lead canter on his own too.

Next we worked on the right lead canter transition, which is definitely not as good as it could be because, just like at the trot, his haunches are coming in and he's getting wide behind.  I have been working on using my inside leg to set up the transition (which we discussed in my last lesson) but it hasn't completely fixed it.  Amy checked out the transition from every angle and helped me drill down and figure it out.  I love that she's so thorough.

First, he has to be slightly off the rail, and the turns have to be squared off, so his wither stays up and haunches stay under.  (Did you know that you don't need to be right up against the rail for your test?  You can be slightly away from it and still accurate.  I did not know this.)  This helped, but what really made the difference was when Amy watched the transition from the outside, and told me not to bring my left leg back when I ask for the transition, but keep it right at the girth.  This way I'm not cuing the haunches to go right, which he wants to do anyway.  When I did this he just stepped into a beautiful right lead canter, stayed in both reins, stayed straight.  Success!  

We pretty much ended here, but discussed the free walk a little.  Although the test says I should allow "complete freedom to stretch the neck forward and downward," if I give Tucker "complete freedom," the periscope is going up and we're going full Drama-Llama.  Nobody wants to see that. He needs to stretch out and down, rather than poke his nose straight out/up.  Amy gave me a little trick.  Rather than riding pin straight across the diagonal, very subtly curve left and right.  Not so much that the bend changes or that it's obvious what you're doing, but just enough to keep the horse thinking and focused on you (rather than sight-seeing).  We did this once just as we were cooling out and I think it's really going to make a difference.

We briefly discussed my general plan for the show season, and I'm glad I brought it up.  I told her I planned to start schooling stuff from First-3 in June and then move up to showing First-3 in or around July, and she told me to start working on it now instead.  We have a zig-zag leg yield from the rail to X and back, and shallow serpentines at the canter.  So she said to start working on these now but keep them really shallow, and just gradually increase the angle as it gets easier for us.  (This makes so much sense.  I'm so glad we have her to give us advice like this.)

We have a show this weekend where we'll be doing First-1 and First-2.  Hoping to put a bunch of this into practice!  Maybe I'll just watch videos of Charlotte Dujardin from now until then....

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Guy McLean Injured, but All is Well

So ever since Sunday, Google Analytics has been telling me I'm a top hit for the search "Guy McLean injured."  I suspect it's because I blog about Guy McLean from time to time, and one of my more popular posts from a while ago was titled "McLain Ward injured" (he's all better now too - let's go Team Bongo!), but hey, if the Internet wants me to be The Source for All Things Guy McLean, well then let it be so.

Photo from Guy's facebook page
Part of Guy's awesome Saturday night act features Guy galloping across the arena on Spinabbey to the theme from the Man from Snowy River, cracking his Australian Stockman's whip and then herding his "three wild brumby stallions" around the arena.  It's all very reminiscent of this: 

Except of course that these are the three "wild brumby stallions": 

Positively feral.  
Photo from Guy's facebook page.
Anyway, Guy reported to his facebook fans on Saturday night that the gallop across the diagonal did not go as planned.  As he put it, "I have often felt and even been known to say that 'Spinabbey' would run through a brick wall if I asked, and tonight he proved me correct in the most stunning way possible."  It seems that Spinabbey thought they were turning right, but Guy planned to turn left, and the end result was a high speed turn a little too close to the wall, which resulted in Spinnabey hitting the sideboard and Guy getting pitched over to the other side.  

Thankfully, Spinnabey is completely fine, which is a relief but not surprising given that he's the fittest horse I've ever seen.  Guy is mostly fine, although currently sporting a sling while he heals from a separated shoulder/stretched ACL (ouch!).  

Luckily he's talented enough to ride one-handed
(Photo from Guy's facebook page)
It is often said (too often for me to even attribute this quote to someone, as it turns out) that the true measure of one's character is not in one's mistakes, but in how one responds to them.  I think we have all seen, in various levels of various disciplines, that cringe-worthy moment where someone (professional, amateur, kid, adult) comes out of the ring after a particularly bad round and blames the horse.  I almost have to avert my eyes when this happens because it's so unseemly.  There's absolutely no way that horse woke up today and thought "Today in the second class if there are pink flowers facing west, I'm going to ruin my rider's day, just because I can."  I'm not saying mistakes are always due to pilot error.  Maybe the horse wasn't on his game that day, or maybe he's overfaced, but again that's not the horse's problem.  Before I get too preachy here though....

Guy, of course, in true great horseman form, did the exact opposite. Immediately following their fall, Guy wrote that Spinnabey is his dearest mate, his hero, his one in a billion, his Super Horse.  He did not chastise his horse for "not listening," but instead marveled at how his horse was actually willing to jump the arena wall because he thought that's where Guy was heading him.  He writes to his horse: "I want you to know that I would lay my life down for you and tonight I felt the same from the boldest heart I have ever known and this evening's actions only make me love and appreciate you more than ever and I cannot wait to hold your noble head in my arms in the morning and tell you how proud I am of the man you've become."  I mean, if that doesn't tug at your heartstrings, I don't know what will.  

Such love.
(Photo from Guy's facebook page)
Ethan found me in tears on Sunday morning reading all of Guy's posts and he tried to assure me that they're both fine, and I managed to whimper over the lump in my throat, "I know but it's just so... I mean Guy loves that horse so..."   (It's probably better you all weren't there to witness that.)  How this man can be so incredibly humble when he gets routine standing ovations, and how having a fall in front of a crowded arena can only make him love and appreciate his horse that much more, is so inspiring to me.  There's no other word for it.

The other night I got to thinking about why on earth Tucker not only lets me climb up on his back and ride him around in circles, but actually listens to me when I make him work harder (he even seems to want to work harder sometimes), when we all know that if left to his own devices, he would gladly stay in his stall with a face full of hay and would not be in an indoor working on sitting down better in his extensions.  It really is a marvel when you think about it, that these spirited, proud animals not just let us do all this but somehow become our willing partners in whatever it is we ask of them.

The lesson to be learned from Guy's recent fall, I think, is (number one) to stay humble, but more than that, to appreciate what your horse is offering to you, even if it's not exactly what you asked for. It's possible he was willing to try even harder than you meant to ask of him.  I don't think any of us take our horses for granted (if you read this blog I'm basically assuming you're well-afflicted with the horse obsession at this point), but it doesn't hurt to take a step back and really appreciate all the gifts they give us.  

I am thankful that Guy is on the mend.  But more importantly, I am grateful that he's around for all that he has to teach us.

*Note:  The photos I used are mostly fan photos. Please contact me for photo credit if it's one of yours!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Can Every Day Be Sunday?

I had one of those incredibly horse-filled weekends that leaves you a little sore, a little sunburned, and a little wishing you did not have to be an adult come Monday morning.

On Friday night I felt like going home and crawling under a blanket/having wine for dinner but I forced myself to go to the barn and ride.  I did not feel motivated to ride whatsoever while sitting in Friday evening traffic, but then I got to the barn and saw this gorgeous face and how could I want to do anything other than hang with him?  

Big schnoz, huge ears, can't lose.  That's how it goes right?
I had a fantastic ride.  Confession time:  when no one else is around, Tucker and I do not listen to our usual country/classic rock stations.  I don't know if it's painfully obvious to all of you yet, but I'm not exactly what you'd call "hip."  I'll be 35 this year, and that means that this is becoming more and more accurate every day:

Even though I cannot name any of the artists (seriously I once went into Best Buy and asked for the new Bull Dog CD.  It was a gift.  Stop laughing), sometimes when no one else is around we find one of the Top 10 overplayed hit music stations and have ourselves a good ol' dance party in the indoor. And we dance like because no one is watching.  It sounds ridiculous, I know, but sometimes you just need a good beat to really get that extended trot going. 

On Saturday, we set up this adorable course in our outdoor ring and Tucker got to jump, which is his favorite thing (although when you are a Tucker, there are a lot of things that are your favorite things). 

There were four of us riding and I think everyone had fun.  I had to laugh at myself because every time I picked up my reins to jump a line my heart would start to skip and my stomach would get all butterfly-infested, and then Tucker would basically lope over the little 2'3" vertical and I would realize I am the most ridiculous human being. He was so soft and relaxed and easy to ride though, he is seriously completely push button over fences at this point.  The last line I did was a five stride, and we cantered in to the perfect distance right out of stride, and then I just looped the reins at him and did nothing and he politely cantered out of it.  I love this horse.

Then I went home and got to squeeze in some more horse time because Ethan was riding Mooch, so I got to see my favorite boys in action.

Two tickets to the gun show please
Mooch is getting a seriously fabulous neck
He even let me hop on and ride him a bit.  Needless to say, our horses could not be more different.  I have literally no idea how to ride Mooch, but he doesn't really care.  Such a sweet little horse.

On Sunday I slept in while Ethan took care of the horses at home, had my coffee in bed and then got the trailer prepped for my lesson this week.  Moseyed over the to the barn mid-day, and then we had a lovely school with Goose in the outdoor ring.  Tucker was very happy to go back to some of his dressage work after his jump day, so much so that I'm actually thinking of jumping him the day before my horse show next weekend.  We ran through First Level Test 2 and other than some moments of being distracted by a dog barking and some horses walking by, Tucker was excellent.  The extended canter to working canter transitions in First-2 are in the corner at the end of the long sides, and for some reason this is way easier for him than doing the transition on a 15 meter circle like in Test 1. The whole test seems to ride a little better for us actually.

After we rode we went for a short trail ride around the hay fields with Goose and another one of our fellow boarders and her new mare Libbie.  Libbie was a perfect angel for her first out of the ring ride at her new home.  Such a gorgeous day to be out on a horse!

Also Tucker's favorite thing.
We spent the afternoon giving the boys their first Spring baths in the sunshine, which is my favorite thing about Spring - scrubbing all the winter grime out of his coat is the best feeling ever.  Then we went upstairs to the tack room and had a lovely little wine and tack cleaning party, where we cleaned every piece most of our tack and talked all things horses well into the evening.  Sounds just about perfect right?

And now we're back to the daily grind.  So, like I said, can every day be Sunday?

Thursday, April 9, 2015

How Much Do You Talk to Your Horse?

No, I don't mean the barn aisle cooing you do in that one voice you reserve only for your horse (you know exactly the one I'm talking about), or the conversations you have with him in his stall when you've had a really bad day and you want a pity party but don't want any actual humans to know about it (I can't be the only one that does that right?)...

Who's a good boy?
I'm talking about while you're riding, as in how often do you apply an aid or give a direction?  There seem to be two distinct schools of thought on this.  On the one hand, there's those that believe you should be in constant communication with your horse.  If you aren't giving them some kind of direction at all times, then their minds are wandering, and you'll never get the kind of quality work you're looking for.  You create the canter (or whatever you're working on) that you want, and you maintain it with active aids.  I see this as the "Ride Every Stride" theory.

Then there's the belief that your horse should basically do what you've asked unless and until you tell him otherwise.  For example, you establish the canter you want, and he should hold that canter on his own, with maybe only some supportive aids, until you ask for something different.  Under this theory, you need only apply an aid when he starts to lose the canter you asked for, and then only briefly.  We'll call this the "Set it and Forget it" theory.

I kind of like the idea of leaving Tucker alone and letting him do more work than me, because let's be honest, just trying to figure out how to keep my butt in the saddle with his big rolling beautiful canter has me breaking into a sweat (holy core muscles I never knew I needed).  I intervene when he needs suppling or more forward energy or straightening, but otherwise he's got to do it on his own.  I like the idea that he's thinking for himself a little, and it seems like a form of a "release" if I stop asking anything with my leg or hand if he's holding a good canter/trot/walk what-have-you. 

I've had two rides recently, however, that have me wondering.  On Saturday, I worked him in our new outdoor ring for the first time, and it was a sunny, windy, spooky kind of morning.  As soon as I swung my leg over he started doing that tip-toe walk that has a little extra hop in it and makes me want to swing right back down.  That was most certainly a "Ride Every Stride" kind of day, because when I stopped riding even for half a stride he was finding new and terrifying stuff to worry about (leaves, flags, fence posts, the Earth).  We actually had some really good moments though, where I got a little more lift in his left shoulder than I've felt before and he got a little straighter on his right side and took the right rein more consistently.

Last night, he came out kind of stiff and generally meh. I don't know if the rain meant no turnout or less turnout, I'm guessing that was it, but I really had to work for it.  I spent the whole ride just trying to get him to carry himself instead of dumping his front end and stretching his hind legs a mile behind us.  I was basically constantly asking him for something:  leg yields, shoulder fore, haunches-in, transitions within and between the gaits, etc., to get him balanced on his hind end and off my hands. It was another "Ride Every Stride" day, because when I tried to leave him be, I didn't like the response.  But maybe I should have kept working him until he was willing to carry himself without my help?  

I was once talking to a friend who told me her trainer said she should be making about sixteen corrections down one long side of the ring.  Sixteen seems like an awful lot to me, but maybe it's not. Where do you fall on this?  When you ride, are you always asking for something so your horse stays focused on you, or do you wait until you have to before you make an adjustment?  I don't think either way is wrong, but I'm curious.  


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

In Case You Were Wondering, Alicia is Still Awesome

Since I'm already in the habit of updating you on some lovely ladies from this blog's past, here's a few recent shots of Alicia Madretzke, who patiently held our hand through the hunters for so many years.  Somehow even though I abandoned her completely for the world of dressage, we are still friends.

I'd go on and on about how amazing she is, but I'll just let these pics and the video speak for itself.

So balanced!
So strong!
Just look at that lower leg!

The horse is Balunito, who is a 2006 17.1 hh Westphalian gelding, by Balou du Rouet.  He competed up to the "m" class in Germany and was imported by Topline Imports (owned by one of Alicia's clients) in mid-February of this year.  And good news - he's for sale!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

An Update on Baby Julie

If you've been reading this blog forever then you'll remember my baby Julie

If you're new to the blog, you don't even know she exists, because her page isn't linked here anymore. The full story is in the link above if you're interested.  The short story is that I bred her while I was working at a big law firm straight out of law school (read: I was too young to be making that much money and made terrible decisions).  At the time, I thought I wanted another baby to bring along, I had the funds to put her in training, and I thought I would enjoy having two horses to ride.  But, then I realized that being a grown up is actually way harder than I thought.  It turns out if you're making that much money, you're working a lot, and barely have time for one horse.  And if you don't want to work that much, you won't have the money for two horses.  This, my friends, is what's called a reality check.

Heart-wrenchingly beautiful.
So after Julie was broke and walk-trot-cantering and ready to do some little x-rails, I made the difficult decision to sell her.  (For a mere fraction of what it cost me to lease a broodmare, breed her, pay board on a mare and foal, and pay training board on a baby.  The exact opposite of a wise investment, but I digress.)  She has always been gorgeous (obviously) and looked like she would be very talented, but she wasn't right for me.  Still, I worked really hard on networking her and finding a great home for her, which of course was most important to me.  I was the first thing she saw when she was born, I saw her take her first steps.  I was pretty attached to her, even if I knew she ultimately wasn't going to be a forever horse for me.  

Remember when cell phone pics looked like this?

She is now all grown up (coming seven!), goes by the name of KC Chloe, and doing really great.  The girl to whom I sold her decided to sell her for financial reasons, so she is now with Kinnity Capall Stables, with Kristy and Ronan Moloney, an eventing barn in New York.  I've spoken to them and they are "delighted" to have her and think she has lots of potential.  They say she is unbelievable on cross country and nothing bothers her.  As Kristy put it, "When she sees the jump, she is going!"

I love everything about this photo.
She just returned from her very first trip to Aiken, like a real grown-up eventing horse.  Although she didn't place at the show she did in Aiken against about 25 other horses, it was her first event ever, and she did great.  Before the show, she had only schooled in a dressage ring a few times, and even though she was a little tense, she never put a foot out of place. She had a couple of rails in stadium, which sounds like it still needs a little bit of fine-tuning, but she was clean and clear in cross country. Hard to imagine my little baby going around a cross-country course, but she's always been super brave so I'm not terribly surprised. 

Still a daisy cutter!
It sounds like she is still not a push-button horse, by any stretch, but I really feel like these guys know what they're doing with her, and are going to be able to help her reach her full athletic potential. She's started out at Beginner Novice, but may move up to Novice depending on how the season goes. She is a resale project, but they are in no rush to sell her just yet. I plan to keep up with her progress (oh the wonders of social media!) so I'll keep you guys up to date as well!