SUBSCRIBE TODAY Smiley face  Get updates via email! 




We Are Flying Solo

Showing posts with label dressage. Show all posts
Showing posts with label dressage. Show all posts

May 6, 2016

Dressage, Delights, & Drop Fences, Oh My: The 3-Day Photo-ganza!

Sally relaxes to review XC courses
But first, a giant THANKS to the over 400 folks who tuned into to the colourful & educational (a true 2-in-1 package!) dressage commentary from eventing royalty, Sally O'Connor, during all three (Training, Novice, & Beginner Novice) 3DE division tests today!!!  I know it was a treat for me to be able to watch from the stabling office while I attempted tests of how many tabs one can add to a spreadsheet before it collapses.  :D

And no worries if you missed it or are itching to see Sally's review of your ride.  Just like the Judge-A-Test Demo on Thursday, a recorded version will be posted as soon as it's processed.  And the channel will keep rolling tomorrow as our first T3DE horse steps out on Phase A at 9:00 AM EST.  You can also find a link straight from USEA (THANKS!!!!) along with the latest press here.

You've no doubt noticed my attempts at keeping up in our Instagram widget at the top of the homepage, but phenomenal helper, Erica, has been keeping our live Twitter coverage rolling.  Follow the action here. 

You can always hit the left sidebar HOTC logo anytime to access our list of awesome sponsors, event schedule, hotc3day social media channels, article links, live scores & much much more!

That's about all the words left in me at this point, as I'll be stuffing my pockets with radios early tomorrow morning, resuming my annual post as Radio Control for Phases A, B, & C for Endurance Day.  Phase D (the cross-country jumping course itself) will remain in the expert hands of JJ Johnson, Radio Goddess (you can find all our staff, clinician, & official bios in the program here).

So....hey look, shiny pictures!!  (Much more to come, including "I get to meet Nicole, aka Eventing at Midnight, who's joined us as a volunteer/prize helper from VA this weekend!!" & life is revived after I got my Becky Holder hug, snif...)

Prizes:  Beka of The Owls Approve strikes gold again, making mroe perfect bracelets!

Kim & Accolade offer a Training leg yield for clinician critique

Judges Wayne Quarles (headset) & Peter Gray talk through Kim's test with tips for watching riders

I walked the T3DE course with head clinician, Carol Kozlowski (blue, right), while CD Tremaine Cooper, started the N3DE group (white polo, left)

New carvings from chainsaw artist & epic person, Randy Boni, decorate the T log into the Riding Warehouse water complex, ready for action!
Sponsor coordinator represents, thanks to Julie @ RW for the hat & Beka's darling charms for my boys from 2015, all with our fantastic cover shot by Brant Gamma Photography
Priceless prizes:  signed books filled with timeless horsemanship wisdom from God Jim Wofford...

...Doug Payne's brilliantly organized Repair Manual...

...and Sally herself donated a note, charming beyond measure!
Dressage bridles, valued at $250, from our announcer, Charles Pinnell, who also represents Schneider's Saddlery

May 5, 2016

How About Free Dressage Lessons From Sally O'Connor?

She won our T3DE in 2015, too!
*see below for update*

We can do that!

Starting in just a few minutes, our first live commentary stream goes up with a ride from Dr. Kim Keaton & her Intermediare stallion, Accolade.  Our judges & clinicians will have tips on how to get the best from your horse and your test.

Afternoon update:

Sally will be joining us tomorrow, but the recording of the excellent commentary and Q&A session with dressage judges/Ground Jury, Wayne Quarles & Peter Gray is ready for watching at your leisure.

Bonus:  Wayne led the writing of the current tests & had excellent observation from a perspective entirely new to me (with my dressage test writing experience of...zero).

March 5, 2016

How To Get To Good: Be A Better Lab Rat


Encore & I always look like this. Ha.
You get on your horse, warm up & organize your various pieces & parts, & then you begin work.  Ask him to move forward, connect back to front, create suppleness & adjustability, aiming for the best you can create at both of your levels of ability.  Obvious, right?

We often even think of that process as "easy" in that we can say, "Sit up straight, apply leg, maintain steady, elastic rein connection, do that breathing thing."  And if we do all those things properly, our partner will reward us with a round, rhythmic canter, stepping up through his withers & pushing energy out through the bridle.

Stop me now if that works out for you every time.  Anyone?  Buhler?  Yeah, the devil's in the details.

Solo: Master of Subtle Opinions...
On Monday, your horse decides "leg" means "let me show you my best llama impression!"  Wednesday, his response is, "Eh?  Did you say something?"  Thursday, your left elbow is convinced "steady connection" is best achieved by "death grip against my horse's locked jaw."  You're sorted on Saturday, wow, that canter felt great -- so when you have a chance to get on a different horse, you apply the same process...only to enjoy the Trot At Terminal Velocity with as much bend as a 2 x 4.

Fortunately, we have helmets to deal with the subsequent *headdesk* repetitions!  But what gives?

I posted a teaser quote from a current reading project, so now I'm following up on my promise for more.  Mary captures the individual approach horses require from us, even from one ride to the next, with a great analogy:

"Imagine that each horse, in his evasive movement, resembles one entrance to a maze, which has at its center the good movement we are seeking. With every horse we go on a unique journey & initially, in particular, the feelings he gives us & the difficulties he poses may be strikingly different. The knowledge we glean from one journey may only serve to confuse us on the next – at times we may even have to do the exact opposite of something we previously experienced as being a surefire way of getting us to the center."

Y U play hard to get, cheez??
My suspicions are supported:  our horses really do use us as experimental laboratory mice!  I knew I could hear snickering as I blundered about in search of that cheese with perfect bascule...

What I like best about her imagery though, is that it shines the focus on each ride, each journey, as a puzzle (there could be a puzzle-lover bias here, heh) instead of an assumption.  To solve a puzzle, we have to think about the process, breaking it down into progressive steps towards our goal of a nice transition or a balanced circle.

Mentally, this automatically puts me in the moment, listening to my body & feedback from my horse, then trying something different if we aren't at "good" yet.  At the same time, it subconsciously gives me the critically important freedom to do "the exact opposite of something" that I tried before, creating the opportunity to discover, hey, if I let go, my horse really doesn't run away.

BAM.  (extra hunter Solo for Lauren, hee)
Which I have far better luck with than my approach from past years, of "I did all the things, this is still sucking!"  Trapping us in a dead-end, repeatedly walking into the same wall, blindly hoping it will just fall down & present a full cheese platter.

Now I have a cheese craving, dangit.

February 27, 2016

A Singularly Solo (S)Celebration

Can it really have been 10 years??  As I broke Solo's favourite candy canes into his 20th birthday breakfast last Sunday, I couldn't quite believe in a DECADE.

A DECADE - that's encompassed what feels like several lifetimes.  Maybe that's why I fantasize about naps, ha.  While our official 10-year anniversary isn't until Memorial Day weekend, I can't help but feel like we've checked a major milestone.
Beginnings: our trot in Aug 2006
LITERALLY our first jump together (& awesome critique here)
2009: My 30th, his 13th
I don't know Solo's actual birthday.  All I had was the Coggins in the envelope with the bill of sale, taken in January of 2006, describing a 9-yr-old gelding.

When I met him that May, he was advertised as 10, so I decided to give him my own birthday, sitting neatly in the middle & a date I might even remember.
June '07: Ian Stark shows me what my horse can really do!
Given the electric phenomenon of our initial encounter, I suppose I should have known that unimaginable adventures lay ahead of us.  But, well, I was an exuberant 27...and they were unimaginable!
May '07: 1st show (I still thought we were hunters, LOL)
Solo may have been the first horse who was ever my own, but I have had the privilege (some more pleasant than others...) of working with countless others, as far back as my memory can reach.
June '07: That Stark guy suggests he might have some jump (my eyes are closed in terror)
Yet, he remains astonishingly unique, truly his own sphere of being, capable of becoming what BFF once accurately described as "a force of nature," ALWAYS on his own terms.
Solo discovers his calling when Ian takes us XC that summer
But his kindness & fiercely loyal generosity have more than once moved me beyond words.
June '08: Our first XC at BN Foxtrack, making it up as we go
The greatest gift of my life, that chestnut face is also the sole remaining bridge to the person I was & the person I loved before the loss whose story is still trapped inside.
Fall '10:  We've found our stride...literally. Photo purchased from Brant Gamma.

Spring '10: The joy of flight. By Pics of You.
Many of you know I'm a painfully practical biologist, not prone to anthropomorphize.

However, I also know that "different" is not the same as "lesser;" I have seen animals defy our limitations too many times.

And Solo's ability to look into my core, to lend me his strength, his joie de vivre, to become so intently still when things fall apart & promise me, on a level of communication I can't explain, that he will wait with me & it will be ok...that horse continues to save my life.

It's a worn-out cliché, but a truth nonetheless.

May '07: Our first blues
So, my notoriously shiny, larger-than-life, impossibly endearing, hopelessly optimistic, greatest partner, everything I have & am is yours.

You taught me that trust opens up the sky for soaring, that being patient & fair is often more important than being right.
Apr '10: Owning Novice Longleaf HT. Photo by Pics of You.
You never let your body get in the way of your enormous heart, you gave...simply because I asked.  Even when you shouldn't have.
SJ at 2010 Longleaf HT: Poetic partnership.  By Pics of You.
Oct '10: Steeplechase w Becky Holder
We're both older, each with some busted-up cartilage, joints that predict the weather, & a longing to burst out of that start box together once more.

I can at least give you wide pastures & good friends, for which I'm so grateful.
May '11: Training Level sexy
And we can pause together in the loblolly's shade, watch the heron stalk unwary fish, & relive a thousand memories in every touch.  And if we're lucky, share many more new ones.


From a 2010 indulgence of my inner 12-yr-old, an illustration of...us:


Song by Templeton Thompson, a very talented & kind singer/songwriter/horsewoman I had the pleasure of meeting at an Equine Affaire in Raleigh.

September 2, 2015

Obvious Riding, Obviously


A normal workday-& perfect metaphor for my life
It's been hard to write.  It's been hard to ride.  I'd guess all my fellow horse-bloggers understand the relationship between the two.

Added to the mayhem which is field season at work are repeated spins on the health care roulette wheel.  Only I can't seem to get the ball to land in a winning slot.  :/

We're still gathering data, but there is a glimpse of a silver lining, aka treatable things.  Which would be fantastic, as I'd love to, you know, get back to living my life?

Hence my offering of a consolation prize in the form of the ridiculously dorky photo feed now featured on our homepage.

There Was An Actual Dressage Thing, Though!

I have eked out some rides here & there.  Last weekend, Encore challenged my commitment to "I Will" during a brief dressage school.

As we began a few figures in the 20 x 40, my horse was tuning me out & going llama.  I got emotional:  I got frustrated.  Red flag that things were spiraling downhill.

Letting go:  possible!
But then I let go.

I paused to breathe & regroup my scattered bits of focus.  The trainer in my head firmly repeated, "Ride off your leg, let go of the death grip on your horse's face, BE PATIENT."

We rode centerline & diagonals & I focused on staying soft.  I focused on supporting with my seat & core.  And I waited.

Patience Is The Hardest Part

I just kept riding as correctly as possible & around the third or fourth repetition...I felt Encore start to trust.  He was trusting forward & trusting that I would not suffocate the energy flow with my hand.

As we turned across each successive diagonal, I felt his trot lift & push from behind.  And lo & behold, correct worked.

Maybe I should try that more often.
Never too much Grumpy Cat

March 26, 2015

Put More "Can" In Your Can-ter

The Power Of Positive

Something continues popping up its little head, quietly, back in mind cobwebs where useful things like to hide.  It just makes eye contact & then returns to its burrow, but each time, it reminds me how much I continue to evolve in the psychology of my riding & training.  And how far I have to go.

And stay off my lawn!
Growing up, I was always SO irritated by all those people who chanted "Think Positive!" & "Say It Like This!"  I thought, yeah right, life's not that simple, don't you think we'd LIKE to?  Your cheerfulness is annoying the crap out of me.  Go.  Away.

Now, I can't say that I still don't want to throttle That Person, because life ISN'T that simple, but I started applying an adapted version of this type of psychology to my riding (if you have the patience & psychiatric fortitude -- hey, don't look at me) & it was a game-changer.

In online seminars, articles, lessons, similar themes kept surfacing & finally, I began to string together these points of mental contact into a little Brain Sub-Toolbox (it's blue, naturally).  I can't decide if it holds just one big tool, a psychological Sawz-all, or if it's more like my box of a zillion drill bits -- all similar, but specialized per application.  But let’s rummage, shall we?

If you'd just listen to me, mom...
Make Your Thoughts & Plans Affirmative


Rumour has it that the brain doesn't recognize the word "don't," so when you say, "Don't hang on the left rein, you dolt," it hears, "Hang onto that rein for all you’re worth, baby."  I'm not sure if I buy the phrasing, but in this case, the means justify the ends:  tell yourself what you ARE going to do, instead of what you AREN'T going to do.

FTW example:  Enter sandbox with following internal monologue:  let's trot forward, make eye contact with the judge, smile like we know we're damn good.  My eyes & shoulders will lead my horse straight as an arrow down centerline & then I will use my leg to feed his forward energy through the bend of the corner.

A bit less of this, perhaps?
Fail example:  Enter Torture Rectangle mentally haranguing self:  don't let his haunches drift, get your head down, dammit!  Don't forget to prepare for the turn, don't get stiff, don't hold your breath, don't let him spook at the judge.  I’d hazard a guess that I’m not alone in my expertise in this approach…

If you keep working FTW, then you've succeeded in avoiding one of our worst habits:

I practice all the time!
Defensive Driving 

Stirring up all the negatives in my brain means that is what my subconscious is focused on as well, which leads to the oft-repeated discovery that clamping down on your horse like a straitjacket does not produce a relaxed, balanced dressage test.  After much practice with this charming technique, I have finally recognized it for what it is: riding for contingencies that have not happened yet.  Which means they are imaginary.

I have plenty of other issues with imaginary things, I could stand to dump one…

Supposedly this helps.  I wouldn't know.
We know well that our horses tend to live up to what the rider's body tells them to expect (note that I said BODY, not INTENTIONS).  If we are going to create self-fulfilling prophecies, why not make them good ones instead?

Because if I keep my brain positively distracted by waving good things in front of it, it (sometimes) remembers to tell my body to do the right things & pay attention to the horse I have underneath me NOW.  This keeps me focused on his energy & attentive to my riding, like a little mini-trainer is standing in my cerebral cortex.  (Hey, explanation for the voices:  BAM!)

Maybe just more of these...
Break It Down, Make It Useable

This goes far beyond just the dressage arena or show day itself; as I wrote about at the beginning of...uh, last year, I want to continue to step up & dial in my riding, sporadic though it may be.
  • That means having a plan for schooling rides…and a backup plan if it's not our day.
  • That means keeping my cool if the horse is frustrated & GETTING OFF if we both get frustrated.
  • That means envisioning each step of each ride as if it were perfect, including the feel of the contact, the rhythm, my posture, weight, balance.
  • That means also being ok when it's NOT perfect, recognizing the effort, letting the negative slip away & resetting the mental plan back to how the next great step will feel.
  • That means after dismounting, I mull over what went RIGHT & what that felt like in my back, in my arms, in my horse.  Each time, this reinforces my muscle memory & increases my ability to replicate that for a few more steps next time.  
You know, no big deal, just a few little mental exercises.  I’ve already TOTALLY mastered them.  *end sarcasm font*  But when I can do it, it WORKS.

Requisite annoyingly positive graphic!
What’s Your CAN?

Here’s where I open it up to you:  pick a positive for the next few weeks of your own riding.  Leave it in a comment here & let that be your goal (remember, they all move in baby steps, occasionally even forwards!).  If you have your own blog, I’ll even issue a friendly challenge to share it there in the spirit of mental commitment.  Then we’ll check back a bit later & see what happened!

Bonus:  you get to call me out on mine!  Although a certain genius horse has sprained his stifles while inventing pasture games in mud (a post for later *headdesk*), at least the therapy involves riding.  In doing so, I WILL ride from my leg & core while my arms remain evenly soft on the contact.

If it makes you feel better, it was excruciatingly difficult to write that without any negative clauses!

December 22, 2014

The Air Of Heaven…A Horse’s Ears…You Know How It Goes

Uh, no, THIS is my sacred duty, mom...
Yesterday, I rode.  Three simple words, yet in the context of the past year, an extraordinary thing.

The time has been there, & I learned (& even mostly followed!) the #1 rule of farm ownership:  ALWAYS RIDE FIRST.  But there have been so many other energy-sapping things… 

With my favourite weather site promising “abundant sunshine,” yesterday I gathered two red geldings & called Amazing Neighbour Vanessa.  I may have magically draining soil, but Encore is still healing from his ass tear (yes, if you missed the brief mention, my talented horse actually strained his gluteus muscle) & even with studs, I worried about him slipping in our saturated fields. 

In addition, because he cannot have me getting complacent, he has knocked the inside of a front leg AGAIN; we’re keeping an eye (& the magic creme) on that one.  I am grateful a thousand times over for Vanessa’s continued generosity with things like all-weather footing.

Solo's first stud tapping...
Those Familiar Motions

Yesterday, I swept brushes over chestnut backs that were definitely missing some tone, picked mud out of under-used hooves, dripped iodine into soggy frogs (just in case).

Yesterday, I smoothed the velcro on ankle boots, cinched girths on saddles & surcingles, wrestled half-chap zippers over fluffy fleece breeches.

Yesterday, all three of us smiled as we made the brief hack down the fenceline in a bright, swinging walk (although only one of us knew that there was only sandbox torture in store).

Two Horses At The Same Time?  
(honk if you get it...)

Vanessa is all about versatility, keeping horses’ minds & bodies fresh & well-rounded, a philosophy that meshes perfectly with my own.  Hence the handy highline at one end of the arena, where I could tether one beast while I worked the other.  A two-for-one deal:  exercise AND great practice at standing tied while your buddy does things at the other end of the arena, which is possibly more fun than the spot under the line.

Duh, mom, TRAIL BIT!
So it was that yesterday, Solo watched as I suppled Encore under saddle with David’s words in my head: “Let the circles be the gymnastic exercise.” 

Encore responded with tongue-lolling annoyance, because “Mommmm, this is the trail bit, NOT the dressage bit.  How am I supposed to work under these conditions??!”  Like many abusers, I was asking him to work in the harshness of a Myler Comfort Snaffle instead of a HS Duo

*insert eyeroll here* 

Nonetheless, yesterday, my chunky Thoroughbred softened with each change in bend as we worked 10-m figure-eights.  As directed, the focus was “slow is ok, be round across his topline as he heals, we’ll bring forward back later.

Yesterday, his left lead canter was back to feeling like a canter, instead of a washing machine, & he stayed soft & quiet as he hopped over a 12” cavaletti in a steady rhythm.

But he can teach you all about vienna reins!
And Mr. Shiny??

Yesterday, after trading places, Solo managed to swallow his anxiety about the long lines (this is the horse who took four years to trust longeing enough to do it normally) & not  only accept the contact of the outside line, but CANTER on the lines.  It may seem tiny, but this is a huge achievement for him, as I trained him primarily in a round pen for that type of work.  The lines are new to him & he remains suspicious of long ropes around his legs.

Yesterday, I led home two horses after they stretched out tight backs, worked out bored energy, & rediscovered the spring in their step.

And you know what?  I was sore this morning, but I think there was a little something extra in my walk today too.
Can we head back towards this?