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We Are Flying Solo

July 19, 2013

In Which Apologetic Blogger Is Apologetic Again

Maybe I should rename the blog, ha.  But I am sorry, I have not been able to write much for quite some time.  The process of pulling the farm together has been a road of a million steps, although at least now, much of the legwork for the house construction is done.  The job and the rest of  life, along with trying to keep Encore strong through his back and hind end (success!) during busy season, just eats me alive!

I have so many posts floating around in my head, in draft form, on a list, but it's so hard to get them from that rather scary place to here.  I know that those of you who spend a lot of time writing know what I mean:  in order to write something meaningful, that I believe in and can read without cringing or falling asleep, the vibe has to be right, for lack of a better description.  Energy, time, mojo, and heart have to come together for the creation. 

It feels as if things are coming together on the farm front, although once construction starts, that just a whole new road with its own set of steps!  But I remain hopeful that as we move into fall, I'll be able to get some more writing in and have less crises to deal with. 

Up next though, hang tight for a contest!  You can win your very own Absorbine TryPak to make your very own shiny steed -- I hope to have details up this weekend, so keep an eye out and be a winner!!

July 16, 2013

Absorbine Shine!

I owe the good folks at Absorbine a massive apology, but the climate has just NOT been cooperative.  I think we had something like 30+ straight days of rain, which is unreal for Carolina spring/summer.  

Getting the horses in from the pasture.
But ages ago, Absorbine sent TFS a nifty new product called the TryPak.  In this handy, dandy travel-sized kit is an equine body shampoo/conditioner, a green spot remover, and, naturally, their classic detangler/shine product, Showsheen. 

So I set to work (once it finally took a rain break for about an hour) giving it a go with the ambassador of shine himself.

Mr. Shiny is doing his best to impersonate Mr. Muddy.
Maybe the world's shiniest horse isn't the best demo, but Encore is always clean!
Solo was more than happy to be lavished with the attention as I soaked and scrubbed.  Shampoo first, then the stain remover on his white socks, and I finished by brushing the showsheen over his body and through his tail.

Here, mom, let me adopt my most awkward pose for you!
Now he has serious shine and immaculate white legs!!!
How is that for a clean orange horse?!  All three products worked really well and I was especially impressed with the stain remover, which got his legs amazingly white.  I absolutely recommend you give it a try!  We may even have a contest for you to win some of your own coming up shortly -- I just have to check with Absorbine, who may have disowned me by now for taking so long!

Hopefully, the sun is shining where you are today, we finally have a few moments respite from the clouds peeing on us here!  So I'm heading out to enjoy the blue skies while I can --

July 7, 2013

Cross Country Indoors!

The first sound I heard upon waking for cross country day was the drip of rain on shingles.  My heart sank as my fantasy of finally galloping my horse on Waredaca's turf evaporated.  Much to my surprise, however, the sadness was misplaced.  As we arrived to help set up new jumps in the indoor, I saw that Eric managed to create interesting, challenging questions that taught just as much, if not more due to the horses' lack of distraction, as being out in the field might have!!  That man has some undeniable talent!

There was a different focus for each group.  For ours, it was moving your horse forward in balance, both straight and through turns, and using your rhythm and pace to be competitive with accuracy and planning.  Making it even more educational was our eclectic group of horses.  Beth rode her experienced Prelim TB mare (a fantastic Silver Charm daughter with overflowing enthusiasm), another Adult Rider friend rode her green OTTB gelding, one of Kate Chadderton's young working students rode her spectacular jumper of a pony, and I had Encore, still rough around the edges, but making real strides in consistency and approaching readiness for Training level.

It was hard.

As we warmed up at the trot, we were instructed to look at all the possible lines, approaches and turns for each jump.  Eventing is not about beating each other, it's about beating the course designer.  So we trotted around, looking at everything.

Then we were told we were terrible at it, ha (learning isn't all roses, and I very much liked that, with each passing day, we were held to a higher standard, with no malice, but with a strong sense of accountability).  That wandering around in warmup without riding the lines of the course (when this option is available) is a complete waste of time -- ride the turns, ride the approaches, know what every. single. option. is.

By take three, we finally got more aggressive as a group and attacked the arena much more critically, although the Stern Irishman was not exactly impressed.  I could see by their faces that my lesson buddies were determined to kick some butt now too!

An important point about your first warmup jump for cross country:  its purpose is to wake the horse up.  Not to be pretty.  Not to win an eq medal.  Ride that horse forward to the jump and don't do a darn thing.  If he crashes through it like a gorilla, he wasn't awake.  He will be on the next one, unless he's as dumb as a post, in which case you probably should not leave the start box.  And you sure don't want to find that out on the very solid first jump out on course!

We worked both ways through a simple bounce and then added a jump or two following it, keeping the emphasis on riding forward (don't you add that stride!!!) and being quick with your eye to guide your horse to the next jump.

Now it was time for the meat:  turns.  This is where many people lose time and when you are trying to be competitive at Training and above, time matters.  It's also a good thing to practice at all levels.  Truly good cross country riding isn't about who can run the fastest.  We ride racehorses for goodness sake, they're plenty fast.  Good cross country riding is about who has the most finely tuned technical skill, who has laid the best foundation on their horse to be sharp and accurate on course without sacrificing balance or rhythm.  Watch Britain's Fox-Pitt or Germany's Jung and you will quickly see what that means.  Skill, finesse, and a concrete plan A, B, C, D, and Z. 

This is where it got ugly (for us!).  Encore is very capable of sitting on his butt, stepping under himself, and turning beautifully.  However, I had never schooled this skill on such a tight line (it was about a 12 m circle), so we both looked something like AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!! JUMP!!

After Eric got me to stop pulling on the inside rein, though (NOT ALLOWED), and really pushing with my outside leg, Encore quickly began to understand what I was asking of him.  That big crash in the middle is actually not him hitting a rail -- that is me pulling the whole standard down with my toe!  Go big or go home!

Before long we were able to put all this together and even add a constructed corner to finish off in style.

I cannot fully express my gratitude to Beth for not only setting this up, but making it possible for me to participate.  She is amazing!  Thank you too to Sunset Hill and Kate Chadderton for their hospitality and beautiful facility.  Kate is great fun and a lovely, patient rider; look for her and her current *** mount, Collection Pass, as they gallop towards 2014's Rolex!

And of course, thank you to Eric Smiley -- a wealth of experience, knowledge, an incredibly deep and thorough understanding of horsemanship and correct riding and training, generous, hilarious, helpful, gifted, fun yet disciplined, and with that quick eye of an excellent teacher and equestrian.  Thank you for sharing so much and for putting up with the weird girl, haha. 

July 6, 2013

Clinic Videos From Show Jumping Day

Yep, I'm taking the lazy way out for these.  Highlights covering most of the types of exercises Eric used to get the horses rhythmic, straight, and balanced.

Warming the canter up over a pole.  Circle good, corners bad.  While Encore's trot needs to be much more forward at the beginning, I soooo excited about how much more steady he has become in the bridle.

Basic warmup line.  Don't allow your horse to speed up (I did, several times, oops), don't make a bid for the fence, do relax and wait for it to happen in its own time.

A single vertical on the circle (notice a circle trend?).  I'm super proud of Encore in this one, he is such a pro!!!

Of course, right after that triumph, I did this.  But I think it illustrates an excellent point that Eric made often:  YOU are in charge of finding the canter and the line.  Then you pass the torch to your horse and he is in charge of jumping whatever it is you point him at.

And our last course.

July 2, 2013

Learning With An Irish Smile

Quick vid capture from today's jumping warmup
Sorry, I couldn't resist.

Every clinic is different.  Infused with the personality and riding style of the technician, distilled over years of experience and mistakes and triumphs, and hopefully capped with the flourish of their unique teaching style.  Eric Smiley is no different.

It's difficult to accurately convey the details of this one though.  With a quiet humility and a ready smile, he says he's "not one of the big boys," but with accomplishments from 1982's Irish Field Event Rider of the Year to 2012's Belgian Olympic Team Coach, one could certainly insist that there is more than one definition of big.

A gifted instructor, he makes a quick connection with all of us, asking each rider (1) what they like most about their horse and (2) what is one thing they would like to fix THAT DAY.  "People coming to clinics always have a long list of negative things about their horses, but I want to get you to think of what you enjoy about them."  And this is only the first of many questions and insights that strip away all of the fuss and details and noise surrounding How To Ride Your Horse and reach down to the heart of what we are trying to accomplish and polish the gems of wisdom passed down through generations of horsemen.

I'm a visual, logical, process-oriented person; I like to understand why I am doing something and what end I am trying to achieve.  This is probably why I enjoy listening to all of Eric's lessons.  There is no "use outside rein, now more leg, now your left buttcheek, now inhale three times..."  Instead, he challenges us to really think about and engage into each ride, using questions aimed at simplifying and streamlining how you approach riding and training.  These are concepts which you then fill in with details and through this, deepen your understanding.  For example...

What is forward?  The horse should be taking you.  Not you chasing him or tapping him or nudging him.
What is impulsion?  Energy that you can then do something with.  I thought of it this way:  trying to ride without impulsion is like trying to wash a car with an empty bucket.
What does 'through' mean?  There are NO blockages in the flow of energy from your leg to hind leg to hock to stifle to hip to back to neck to poll to jaw to hand.  So, are there?  Examine each of these areas.
How many ways is it possible to jump a fence?  Four -- twice in each direction, one turning left and one turning right.  Know them all for every fence you see.
How do we turn our horse after a fence?  Using the outside aids.  Then the eyes and the inside hand show him where to go.

DON'T RIDE CORNERS!  Yes, that's right.  Why?  Because they are hard.  Try that one at your next lesson, ha!  But in all seriousness, because almost no one rides them correctly.  They lose impulsion and rhythm in the corner, so when schooling your jumps, keep your lines on a curve and your energy flowing forward, stay out of the corners and you won't get stuck in them.  I heard this one alllllll day today, stadium day.

But I already know these things, you protest.  Perhaps, but have you really, really thought about them, the biomechanics and the definitions and the reasons, and applied that directly to practice?

Encore has been, in short, a gem.  On dressage day, I identified my one project as consistency -- in contact, in rhythm, in outline.  I'll be damned if he wasn't solid as anything.  Today, throughout the entire jump school, he remained attentive, balanced, steady as a metronome, and jumped as round and lovely as you could ever want.

Giant breakthroughs?  For us, no (although several other riders have made amazing strides with their mounts, particularly the very green horses).  Well, I was told my lower leg was completely wrong and got my stirrups jacked up two holes, details...  However, the sessions have nonetheless been extremely valuable to me by offering not only a vastly simplified way to think about what and how I want to ask my horse, but perhaps even more noteworthy, how to think about what is NOT working.  You can't fix a problem if you don't understand the cause!

What do you do when your horse is hanging on the bit?  Push his hind leg farther beneath him with your leg.  Why?  Because if he is hanging, there is too much weight on his front legs.  Placing his hind leg farther beneath his body shifts his balance back a bit, weighting his rear through the hocks and lightening his front end.  He is, quite simply, a teeter totter.  Understand this dynamic and you have the power to manipulate it into any variation of balance you desire.

Tomorrow is the best part, naturally, as we head over to Waredaca, just down the road, to school cross country both to ours and our horses' delight.  We've been lucky so far and not really been rained on, as well as having the benefit of Sunset Hill's massive indoor arena.  If the weather will hold until 3 pm, everyone will be home free!

Naturally, a wonderful part of it all, and one of the reasons I love this sport, is the people.  Meeting (and perhaps re-meeting, hey, I have a terrible memory) fellow Adult Riders, spending time with the awesomeness that is friend Beth, soaking up my doggy fix, margaritas by the pool and the best sangria you've ever tasted (hey, these things are important) and basking in the exchange of knowledge and skill between teacher and rider and horse; all of these pieces just make me hungry for more.