Friday, May 22, 2015

Help for Nepal

So in lieu of what I was going to post today, which was angsty and kind of obnoxiously chock-full of first world problems that included me worrying about when I would find time to get to the liquor store (relax, crisis has been averted), I would like to address a much more substantial need and ask for your help.

My friend Beth is living in Nepal, running Giving Asha, which is a non-profit based in Kathmandu, dedicated to improving the quality of life of economically and socially marginalized women and children in Nepal.  

Beth teaching.
Beth is one of those good-to-her-core kind of souls, caring, giving, altruistic, funny and smart. We became friends mostly because we were once in love with the same dog. (The nice thing about dogs is that two people can love them at the same time without ever creating one of those triangular human relationships that turn ugly real quick.)  Anyway, ever since way-back-when in the Sticky days (that was the dog's name, she had ears that stuck up and her paws smelled like fritos and she was the snuggliest creature and had the happiest yip you've ever heard), Beth has been going to Nepal to teach children and help the community in general.  She has been collecting books to bring with her for as long as I've known her (which is now well over ten years).

Beth is afraid of horses.  Which is funny, because many people in her life in the States own horses and she is probably around them a lot more often than most people who are afraid of them.  There was once a small white pony that she "didn't mind" though.  Despite her feelings on equines, however, Beth has reached out to her horse-loving friends to ask that we consider helping out as the community rebuilds after the earthquake.  Since most of the school buildings were destroyed, they desperately need a way to get reading and learning materials to the children, so that at least some parts of these kids' lives can keep on going as normal.  

Enter the humble and noble donkey!  

I think this might be a mule, actually. But you get the idea.
(I told you, I will convince you all to love these creatures as much as I do.)  Donkeys and mules can get to places other vehicles can't, and bring mobile libraries to children in temporary communities. The best part about these mobile libraries is that they are waterproof, which means they can continue to be transported during monsoon season, which I believe is approaching, and as you can imagine will bring a host of other problems to a region where many families are currently living in tents and other temporary shelters.

Last month I made a small donation, but my little contribution went directly to purchase rice for families whose homes and food supplies were destroyed, not just into some amorphous relief fund, which made me feel good.

Sacks of rice packed for transport.
This month, hopefully with your help, we can support a mobile library or two.  These libraries cost $55, so we aren't talking big bucks here.  Please consider skipping a latte or two this month and helping out this cause.  I promise it's worth it.

Donations can be made through Giving Asha's website, using paypal or a credit card.  Thanks guys.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

"I Need a Glass of Wine and a Cupcake"

These were the words I uttered as I started untacking.  After a series of great rides, last night we had kind of a bad one.  It seemed like no matter what I did, Tucker just would not stay off my left rein.  I had moments where my left fingers were actually throbbing.  I tried everything I could think of - leg yields, haunches in, spiral circles, counter-canter. The only thing that seemed to work was the counter-canter (tracking right, holding the left lead), so we did lots of that.  The plus side is that his counter-canter, which I haven't worked on in a while, felt amazing and balanced.

We also had a, um, "moment."  I was trying to work on straightness at the canter, on a circle tracking right.  He did his leaping thing, which doesn't surprise me, but then midway through his leaping he realized two horses were leaving the ring, so decided to mix it up and run backwards/sideways.  You know, variety is the spice of life, and all.  

Wouldn't have been that big a deal except that we have a metal trash can where we store jump cups alongside the ring, and Tucker almost side passed right over top of it.  I had a vision of him knocking it over, scaring the &%*! out of himself, and killing everyone.  All our lives flashed before my eyes. Thankfully I had the good sense at that point to drop the reins, lean forward and cluck.  Not the prettiest move, but sometimes you just have to Hail Mary yourself out of a jam.

So, to review, we had a horse show on the 9th, a lesson the second week of the month, and a horse show this weekend.  It's kind of been all dressage, all the time.  In fairness, we did take the boys to Baldpate and I've done some trail riding at home in between.  But now that I'm looking back, I haven't let him jump around a course since last month.  Which means all my ring work, even though I work on different things each day, has been dressage stuff.  I've basically been feeding him brussels sprouts every meal.  (Sorry, I'm sure some of you love brussels sprouts.  You know what I mean.)  I think he may have just had it up to here last night.  ("Here" is really high when you're a Tucker.)

In an effort to tell myself that I have not destroyed our chances of a successful show this weekend, he has today off (which was planned) and on Friday when I go to the Horse Park I'm going to make the ride as pleasant for him as possible, focus on the stuff he's good at, let him do lots of stretching, and just ratchet back what I'm asking for at the canter a little.  Not that I'm going to let him be as crooked as he wants, but I feel like I need to make it a ride he enjoys.

Thankfully, my bad ride notwithstanding, it was a great night, because my barn is awesome.  It was one of our barnmate's birthdays, so this happened.

And we found out that the Riverview Wine and Pony Club's affinity for Sauvignon Blanc extends to some of the ponies, as well.

After all, nothing erases the memory of a not-so-great ride like a glass of wine and a cupcake.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

First Things First, a Donkey Playing Frisbee

I try to make sure that I share cute donkey videos whenever I find them, because it is my goal for all the world to love and cherish mini donks the way that I do.  So, first things first:

Yup, I taught Jethro how to play frisbee! I think he may be part dog...
Posted by The Moody Mare on Friday, October 24, 2014
[Need to be signed in to facebook to view.]

In more Tucker-related news, I've had great rides since my lesson.  The sign of a great teacher, I think, is that you can hear their voice in your head as you work through and try to figure it out.  As I've mentioned, I don't get stuff right away.  I've never been a natural.  At anything.  (Except maybe drinking?  Does that count?)

Last night I wanted to work on that transition from working canter to collected canter, and if that went well, transition from lengthened canter back to working canter.  Overall it was a success.  I warmed up at the trot making my goal "short reins" (despite several protests - Tucker thinks short reins are terrible - they give me way too much control).  Amazingly, when your reins are the right length, your position is better, your horse is straighter, your leg yields are easier, and your transitions are cleaner.  Who knew?

I practiced moving his wither to the inside using my left knee and thigh at the trot, tracking right, and when I felt like I could turn off the rail across the ring using only that aid, without moving my left hand or trying to neck rein him (repeat after me: there's no neck reining in dressage), we moved up to the canter.  I had to work at the canter at using my left thigh without standing in my stirrups, which is harder than it sounds, but overall, straight horse.  I worked on three to four collected canter strides at a time, on the circle.  When that went well, I worked on collected strides on the long side of the ring.  

When I moved the exercise up to doing lengthening/working canter transitions, Tucker decided he would show me how these things are done and did five (yes, five) lead changes down the long side of the arena.  
Lengthening while staying straight is really hard!  Collecting is stupid!  Look what I can do that is so much better than either of the things you want me to do!  This is what dressage horses DO, I've SEEN it!  These are called tempis, just go with it! 
It took some doing, but I convinced him that while I was incredibly impressed, I'm not nearly an advanced enough rider to handle that kind of stuff, so could he please just stay straight and lengthen his canter and then come back to a working canter?  [I held off from telling him he looked absolutely ridiculous, and tempis do not typically involve being able to see a bell boot on either side of one's ear.]  I did lots of more subtle transitions within the canter until I felt like I had control of what lead we were on, and then asked for the full lengthening again, and it went well.  

We worked on our walk pirouettes tracking left to prepare for the left lead canter and I think we are starting to get it, although I really wish I had a mirror to practice in front of.  The left lead canter itself was excellent.  I practiced giving my left rein for a stride to see if we fell apart or whether he was actually straight, and I think it's improving.  And the collected canter strides (only three or four at a time, for now) felt really good, hopefully they looked good too.

All in all, very happy with our ride and I feel ready for our show.  Particularly impressed that first Goose (his bromance) and then Beejay (his turnout buddy) left the ring and Tucker kept right on working.  Like an adult.  Because that's what he is.  That's right.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Away Show Packing List

You guys.  My first USDF show is in three days.  It's the excitement of Christmas and the anxiety of the first day of high school all rolled into one.  I am simultaneously really looking forward to this weekend and panicking that I'm going to embarrass myself, my horse, my boyfriend, my trainer, and possibly my country.

Well of course he wears a helmet.
I have fallen back upon the only thing I know that comforts me, which is making lists.  And I started making a list in a note on my ipad, but then realized a blog post is just as good as anyplace to make said list, so just in case, I don't know, you need something to help you fall asleep tonight, or perhaps you'd like to use this as a reference someday, (or perhaps because I'm kind of busy and don't have time to do a real post,) here is my list. 

  • In Tack Trunk:
    • Grooming bucket
      • Brushes/curries
      • Hoof pick
      • Hoof oil
      • Show sheen
      • Braiding spray
      • Fly Spray
      • Alcohol (rubbing, not drinking, although that's coming too)
      • Sore No More
    • Bath bucket
      • Shampoo
      • Quiksilver
      • Sponge
      • Curry
      • Sweat scrape
    • Fly sheet
    • Cooler
    • Stable sheet
    • 3 Saddle pads
    • Bell boots
    • Polos
    • Heidi boots
    • Helmet
      • Gloves
    • In Tray
      • Hairnets
      • Bobby pins
      • Sewing kit
      • Band-aids etc.
      • Sunscreen/lip balm
      • Sticky stuff for boots
    • Tack cleaning stuff
    • Braiding stuff
    • Basic first aid (for horse)
    • Whip 
  • In Trailer
    • Stuff for stall
      • Feed tub
      • 2 water buckets with snaps
      • 6 bags shavings
    • Feed
      • 5 baggies with grain, rice bran, smartpaks
      • 1 baggie with 3 scoops beet pulp (dry)
      • 4 scoops alfalfa cubes (in bucket with lid)
      • 2 hay bales
      • 2 small buckets
    • Racks etc.
      • Blanket rack
      • Bridle rack
      • Saddle rack
      • Halter hook for stall door
      • Extra double end snaps
    • Tack Bags
      • Bridle
      • Girth
      • Saddle
      • Thinline pad
      • Tall boots and spurs
  • On Horse
    • Show halter
    • Shipping wraps
    • Pull-on bell boots
  • In Truck
    • Garment bag
      • 2 sets show clothes
      • Show jacket
      • Belts
    • Duffle Bag
      • Jeans
      • Polos
      • Jackets/fleeces
      • PJs
      • Socks/underwear
      • Wellies
      • Flip flops
    • Boyfriend (on list so I don't forget him - mostly kidding)

Oh yeah folks.  I put underwear on the list.  Because, you know, I might forget to bring it.  And then I'd have to ride in white breeches with NO UNDERWEAR.  Just so you know where my head's at right now.

In related news, this is kind of adorable.

Do you think she'd come over and help me pack on Thursday night?

Friday, May 15, 2015

May Lesson: A Canter Is a Cure for Every Evil

Wednesday night we had our May lesson with Amy Howard and I think it might have been our best one yet.  Much knowledge was dropped upon us.  Which I'm going to spill back out for all of you, so brace yourselves.  (There's really good stuff in here I promise.)

Amy asked for my list and I told her we need to work on shoulder-in and haunches-in to the left, and the downward transition from lengthened to working canter - which became the major focus. Whenever I ask him to come back, I get a downward transition to trot, so in the test I just let him coast back to his working canter.  Which the judges notice (duh), and comment on.  And in my head I'm thinking, "Do you want me to break to trot? Because that's how you get breaks to trot."  

Tucker and I ran through our usual warm up, which Amy said she had no complaints about, that he looked really swingy and the leg yields looked great.  (Nice.)  She watched his canter and concluded I'm not getting that downward transition because he isn't straight.  Also, she explained that the only way to teach him that a canter-trot transition is not what I'm asking for is to let him make the mistake and correct him - and that it won't get fixed by avoiding the problem (there's a life lesson in there too but that's probably a different blog).  

I'm going to try to repeat her explanation here because it's a good one and you guys will like it.  You ask the horse to collect, and if he breaks you immediately send him forward and be clear that that's not what you wanted.  And you ask again, half halt, and don't support him - trust that he's going to keep cantering, and wait to correct him until he actually makes the mistake.  Eventually, the horse is going to have a choice to make - when you ask him to collect, he has to decide either break to trot, or collect his canter. And the smart ones (which obviously Tucker is, see wunderkind definition) will learn that what you want in that moment is collection, and make the choice to collect.

Just look at that smart cookie.
Before we get there, though, we have to tackle the straightness issue.  I'm about to get hyper-technical here, so if that's not your thing this won't be your favorite post.  So, first we put him on a fifteen to ten meter circle to the left, and worked on the following:
  • Open right (outside) rein
  • Think of my left leg as a pole that the horse turns around
  • My left leg should point down to the ground like an arrow (keep weight in left stirrup)
  • Left leg stays on at the girth asking him to give through his rib cage
  • Use the right leg farther back to ask him to "tuck" his right hind in
  • Envision pushing the horse's tail to the inside - as though his tail is being pulled in on a string
  • Stay centered, not too much weight in the right stirrup, not shifting hips to the outside
  • Look at the horse's outside ear
  • Softer on the left rein, don't let him lean or brace against it
  • Then, for the collection: soft wrists, stretch tall, sit, half halts on outside rein -- firmer than I think they need to be
So that's a whole lot of things to think about all at once, but he did get straight eventually.  He did some leaping - he does this crazy move where he comes way up with his front end and strikes out with his front feet like he's trying to punch someone in the face.  Thankfully, Amy reassured me that [the amazing, beautiful, super talented upper level horse in her barn] does the same thing sometimes. They just get all this energy and don't know what to do with it, and sitting down is really hard so it comes spilling out the front. Which made me feel way better about my giant marlin.

We worked on walk pirouettes without my stirrups next, to get me sitting in the middle of him and using my leg aids without doing weird unhelpful twisty things.  I don't know how to do a walk pirouette so we'll be working on this as well, but it's basically left bend, haunches-in, and then turn the shoulders around the hind end to the inside without losing the haunches-in.  We actually did that a couple of times correctly but, yeah, new skill means much practice is required before it clicks for me. But basically, the feeling I have in the walk pirouette is what I need in the left lead canter.

Then we went back to the right, which is Tucker's easier lead but my harder direction because of the aforementioned weird unhelpful twisty things I do.  So, to the right, I need to do this:

  • Open/direct left rein, hand to hip (no neck reining!)
  • Use left thigh/knee to push him in
  • Concentrate on pushing the horse in from the wither (but with the left leg, not rein)
  • "Counterbend," which will actually get the horse straight because he's overbent to begin with
  • Keep my sternum up/chest open
  • Eyes up - looking out at the horse's outside ear and not staring down at him
  • Right shoulder back
  • Lower his head/neck like there's a carrot on a stick but maintain the rest (this is super hard for him)
  • Collect with half halts, soft wrists, and has to be a moment of release in each stride so it's not just pulling on my outside rein

Tucker thinks this straightness stuff is for the BIRDS and got a little rude and barge-y for a bit - but the key here is to keep him straight so he never actually gets his left shoulder all the way out and braces against my left rein and I have no leverage.  Once I got my left hand out of my belt buckle and actually used my left leg for something and sat UP, things got a whole lot better.

We worked on picking up each lead on the straight line, just inside the track, so I could see in the mirror how straight (or not) we were.  We had some beautiful transitions to the counter-canter.  Just in case that was what we wanted, which it wasn't.  

Then we worked on the straightness and collection on a small circle, lengthening/medium canter down the long side, and back to collection on a small circle again.  The goal was to get the collection back within one circle, which we did not quite accomplish.  We did, however, get some really beautiful canter work out of him when I managed to mostly do all the things in those bulleted lists. Tucker broke to trot many times, and got corrected many times. I'm not sure he had the lightbulb moment we are hoping for yet - but we'll keep working on it.

On a macro level - for the past five months we have been working on opening up his stride, and now it's time for him to learn to compress that energy.  Before, since he had no forward energy, he was behind the bit and stuck.  We've fixed that problem, so now it's time for the next step.

Tucker is still exhausted.  I am still sore through my entire rib cage, front and back, but I think that's actually a good sign.  

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Who Put That There

As promised, because I have no shame.  I present:



I have  friend who tells me to "be lovely" every time I go in the ring.  How's that for lovely?  I felt like it was best to present it to you on a loop for optimum comedic effect.  It gets better each time for me.  It reminds me a lot of this one (warning, keep scrolling if foul language offends you).

I'm a firm believer that you have to laugh at yourself, because you'd cry your eyes out if you didn't.

In other news, my posting is getting more upright.  You'll recall I did a whole study on it (or it may have bored you so much that you've blocked it out).

Compare the stills on the down-beat:

Noticeably better right?  I think so.  I'm now turning my focus to not twisting left.  Which has been something I've seen myself do in photos since the short stirrup days... so that one's going to take a while.  And in case you haven't had enough media, here's a bonus video of me posting like I'm not headed into a hunter hack class:

Sorry, I don't have a whole video of the test this time to show you.  You guys will just have to wait until after Memorial Day!  I know, the suspense is killing you.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Show Photos: Finding the Positives

So, first things first... look at these amazing people who came to see me horse show!  We had a huge crowd.  I am so very grateful to have such great people in my life, who are willing to give up a couple of hours of precious weekend time to see me trot and canter around in circles.  Seriously, thank you.  You all make me feel so loved.

L to R:  Steve, Dee, Mr. and Mrs. H, Taz, Ethan, Alyssa, Colleen, and Michelle.
Forget the Dallas Cowboys.  I have the best cheer leaders in the world.  
And there is just nothing cuter than hearing your non-horsey friends explaining to other non-horsey friends afterward what "dressage" is and what a "horse show" is like.  (You did a pretty decent job Steve).  Sorry there was no concession stand that day kids.  Next time I'll make sure there's beer in the trailer, at least.

Before I go further, a word about seeing pictures of yourself riding.  I've seen this multiple times over the past week alone: people absolutely recoil in disgust and horror at pictures or videos of themselves riding.  It really doesn't seem to matter whether the person looks great or terrible, the response is the same.  Why is this?  Are we all too hard on ourselves?  Are we all as painfully insecure as teenagers?  Is there just too much to keep track of when we're up there, so we forget about shortening our reins or sitting up straight or that dang right elbow for a bit, and the camera always manages to catch that moment in time?  What gives here?

Who ya gonna call? Weight Watchers!
I'm going to attempt to point out only the things I like about these photos, although the stuff I'd fix is obvious to me, as an exercise in forcing myself not to be so critical.  I am also going to resist the urge to complain about what appears to be a beer gut situation when I don't sit up straight (although I have a new reason to fix my position and it's called VANITY).  

I am further not going to mention a striking resemblance between me and either of these guys. 

This is from our warm-up trot, and he looks nice and relaxed and shows the beginning of a decent stretch tracking left, which is his harder side to stretch down:

This is a nice balanced canter, my shoulders are square and he is between my hands and taking both reins:

Here, I am sitting up and opening my chest, and my seat is in the saddle.  [Urge to critique the rest of it is very strong here, but I am not going to do it.]

Opening center line.  I'm looking up, my shoulders are square, there is a straight line from elbow to bit, and the horse looks straight.

I'm sitting up and looking between his ears, rather than to the inside.  He looks pretty well balanced and straight here as well, with what I think is the right amount of bend for a 15 meter circle.

This is in the canter extension.  He is really sitting down and has a nice jump in his canter here, and I have a good feel of my right rein.

Here, I'm sitting down and I don't seem to have too much weight in my stirrups.  Tucker looks absolutely adorable.

Lastly, this one might be frame-worthy.  Tucker and I are just so in love with this guy.  Where would we be without him?

Thank you very, very much to Ethan's mom for coming to see us, being incredibly supportive of everything we do, and taking such beautiful photos of my boy(s).

[Note:  It was really hard to bite my tongue while writing this and not point out all the stuff I didn't like about my riding in these photos.  But I'm glad I forced myself to find a few things I'm doing right in each of them.  You should try it next time you see a photo or video of your riding!]