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We Are Flying Solo

February 29, 2012

The Photos Are In!

I think I giggled at every single one.  He's just so...earnest!  And he looks so annoyed at the jumps where he didn't get the footwork quite right.  And I think he has more scope than I originally thought!

That is all.

February 27, 2012

It Was A Dark And Windy Night

Well, actually it was a chilly and windy day, but close enough.  I'm short on time, but I'm going to give the rundown of our very, hmm, interesting horse trial on Saturday.

There were some time hiccups and some OMG, the XC course is 47 miles from my trailer and I only have an hour before dressage moments.  But it was the first time this HT has been run, so one expects some speed bumps until the process gets sorted out.  I tried to take deep breaths and everything worked out fine in the end.

Since the HT was situated at a farm where we regularly XC school, I had not bothered to read the direction on the bottom of the omnibus listing.  After all, I've been there heaps of times.  You smell an ominus turn coming in this story, can't you?

Oh yes, I get there, driveway is blocked and sign says go around to the back.  Which means turning the trailer around and going back to a different road and it's a few miles around.  I finally find the correct entrance and it felt so familiar....oh, because we are parking on the Moss Foundation, a massive property where lifehighway and I have ridden many times, as it is managed for longleaf pine habitat and trail riding.  So the XC course IS actually about 47 miles from my trailer.

Uh oh.

I had an hour and a half before my dressage time, so I hiked as quickly as humanly possible to do my course walk.  I was lucky enough to have bribed asked a friend to come help and I must say to her THANK YOU, CINDY, I COULD NOT HAVE DONE IT WITHOUT YOU

I left the trailer at 9:30, leaving her in charge of Encore and told her I planned to be back by 10:00.  At 10:00 I was on jump four of my XC course and I called her and said if I'm not back by 10:10, please tack up my horse.  I actually arrived sweatily (it was hilly!) back to the trailer at 10:20.  My dressage ride time was 10:43 and I still had to put on boots, helmet, gloves, spurs and GET to the dressage ring, which was only 20 miles away, instead of 47.  I was on my horse by 10:32 and I took off at a trot, reins in one hand and eating a Powerbar with the other.  Keep in mind, it was 50 degrees with 15 mph winds.

In brief, we arrived, steward said ring was running 20 minutes late.  After I restrained my from leaping off my horse and hugging her, we warmed up.  Encore was good, I got him round and reaching for the bit and as  supple as I could get in that situation.  My plan was to only walk and trot in warmup so he would not be anticipating the canter in the test.

This was not us.
That was a horrible plan.

He went in the ring and decided to go the confused llama route.  He did not understand the little white chain that made the arena in the grass and he did not understand what his job was supposed to be because it didn't look right.  I think had we been in the other arena (covered with footing) he would have been much better.  At best I would describe the test as....apocalyptic.  You know you're good when you (eventually) halt in the general vicinity of the required location and you salute, then look up to the judge cracking up laughing.

Oh well, I patted him and told him, good try, buddy, but not quite what we were looking for.

Next time, there will be much cantering in warmup to take that edge off!  Note: find a place with a grass dressage arena with chains to practice.

I didn't worry -- I was at the HT primarily for jumping mileage for Encore, so I was satisfied he stayed in the ring and we were on course (approximately).

We then ripped off tack, threw on jumping gear (XC gear too, they were back to back) and Cindy was literally stuffing Powerbar in my mouth as I was buckling my bridle.  Show jumping warmup was small and crowded but Encore warmed up well again, although that wind had him ready to GO!  But he listened when I said whoa and jumped well, so that was good enough.  Result:

You can't really tell, but I am about half in control and Encore is going at a great pace...for Prelim.  I really thought we had that brush box, even though my steering was a wee bit off.  He made it TO the takeoff spot, then did this amazing tango twist around the standard.  We were so close to the jump, I saw top of standard about a foot from my face.  I almost lost it; if my saddle had been slippery, I would have been a goner.  But this situation is why I REQUIRE horses I ride learn the one-rein stop.  Encore's only thought was RUN LIKE THE WIND, AHHHHH!!!!!  I had no stirrups and just kept my body centered and pulled his head right around.  The key was not to rush now, I needed his brain back.  I got my stirrups back, took my time, walked calmly to the edge and resumed our course.

It was then straight to cross country from there.  The course would be a bit of a new challenge.  Designed by Gina Fiore, when I walked it, I felt it the BN course was really a Novice course with some smaller logs thrown in.  There were some challenging questions and use of terrain and I felt fortunate that we had jumped many of the complex jumps before (and my horse remembered).

Want to ride it?  5...4...3...2...1...Have a great ride. 

The circle mid-course where we slowed down was where Encore took a flying leap of the house and I had NO brakes anymore (someone is going to meet Mr. Elevator bit for jumping at competitions, we must balance, my dear).  The next line was a hard right turn and down a steep hill to a suspended log and then a hard 90-degree turn to a bank line.  It was not going to happen at Mach 10 on the forehand without a chance of killing us both.  I pulled his head hard around uphill and he quickly broke to trot.  I said, honey, I need your brain back.  We then went downhill at the trot, picked up a much more balanced canter in front of the log, and pulled off a beautiful turn to our bank.

The last three or so years of eventing have taught me, forget the clock, when you lose your horse's brain, you will get in trouble in a big hurry.  Stop everything you are doing and get him back.  You may get a few penalty points, but they are very low and continuing in a crazed fashion will only end with someone getting hurt.  It is critical in this sport to think on your feet and make quick decisions no matter where you are.  It just good safety practice and good horsemanship -- your horse learns nothing bolting around unbalanced, every moment you are on his back, you are teaching him something, even if you don't mean to.

In summary, a crazy day, but very educational for horse and rider.  I learned what young-OTTB-on-a-windy-day feels like.  We achieved our goal of good jumping miles, even the runout taught me something (aim for the middle of the jump, doofus).  We kept the rails up and were completely clear XC.

I've already painted one of our brush boxes at home bright white (yesterday) and Encore will be jumping it until he's sick of it.  Southern Pines HT is in two weeks and I know what I need to work on, so I better get busy getting busy!

February 24, 2012

Whether We Are Ready Or Not!

The night before a horse trial is always a tense one -- did I pack both girths? Is my armband where I think it is?  Did I remember to make a post-dressage snack for Encore?  Are both cameras charged?

Tomorrow's forecast in SoPines is clear and sunny, although windy and since the hosting farm is in the sandhills, footing should be nice -- although you always have to keep an eye on those pine needle patches, they can slip!  If I have any lucky at all, that sun will shine on Encore making his 2012 eventing debut.  He completed one horse trial last year at the Maiden level, so I'll start him at Beginner Novice this spring to build his confidence and begin to teach him the little routines of horse trial day.

But what will make or break our ride tomorrow won't be weather or footing or gear -- it will be whether I have the patience and calm to warm him up correctly.  The KEY is getting the horse supple.  You don't have to do x number of 20 metre circles or 5 perfect leg yields or a set number of gaits in each direction.  You need to produce a supple and attentive horse using whatever means are most effective to get him there

For Encore, this means bend, change the bend, bend back, counter bend, change bend again, leg yield on a spiral, bend again -- all the while my goal is to work him softer in the jaw and balanced beneath my seat.  If I can acheive that, then I will have succeeded. 

We'll be all over the warmup ring -- it's not about staying on the rail or using a common routine, it's about loosening and suppling my horse so he is round and on the aids when it is time for us to go in the ring.  It doesn't matter how we get there as long as we arrive.

I'll trot my horse down centerline at 10:43 am tomorrow and as we turn right to begin our test, everyone will know whether or not I've achieved my goal and that moment of truth will set the tone for the rest of our day.

February 21, 2012

My Precious Is Wounded

It burnsss ussssss....

No, it's not the horse.  But I still love her.

It was a stupid stoplight thing.  We were sitting in line, the light turned green and the guy in front of me went go - NOSTOP and slammed on his brakes.  You just can't stop 7,000 lbs of truck in 1 second so we went bump.  Fortunately, the universe had a little pity and it was another 3/4 ton truck (damn Dodge didn't dodge!!).  I hate to think how long I would have been stuck there had we eaten the back end of a dang Civic, even at all of the 3 mph or so I was moving.

His truck sat a little higher than mine and had a 4-way hitch on it, so it was not damaged at all (whew!).  He looked a bit worried when he got out and saw I was a girl -- perhaps he feared histrionics?  But I was wearing my wildlife agency uniform jacket and I saw him look at that and appear relieved that I may not dissolve into tears and scream.  We ascertained that both parties were fine, we looked at my bumper, I said, "Meh, I don't care about dents, that's what BUMPers are for," we shook hands, we went about our business.

Actually, the only thought I had getting out of my truck was, OMG, PLEASE DON'T HAVE BENT MY SPECIAL SOLO PLATE!!!  But it was unscathed and I could breathe again.

The dents truly don't bother me, it's just the gaps on the side where the whole bumper is twisted down.  On the plus side, the Precious now does fit in as a true NC truck.  Eventually, I suppose I will go junkyard diving, we have a good one nearby, but it's hardly an essential part.  I crawled under when I got to work and nothing on the front end is bent, tranny cooler is fine, and all is well.

But next time you see the Flying Solo rig, it will just have a bit more...character.

February 15, 2012

Time To Be Ready

The entries are sent in.  The checks are signed.  The Coggins papers are emailed to the appropriate people.  After a single outing at Maiden last fall (during which he thought the XC course was the best present he'd ever gotten in his life), Encore will make his spring debut at Beginner Novice in February and again in March.

I am very tempted to bump him up to Novice in March.  I have taken an informal poll among fellow horse people.  David says if he goes perfectly in February and it's all easy, go for it.  My friend, and my gut, say give him two BN's to build his confidence.

The February event (in two weeks!!!) is at a gorgeous farm in Vass where we school XC regularly, so I know the facility and I know the jumps.  I have not seen the stadium jumps but am well at home in the XC field.  I have no concerns whatsoever.  Dressage may be a bit messy, but I don't care -- I'm there for the horsey mileage and the sooner we can kiss BN goodbye, the better!

But it's complicated.  

Solo competing at CHP at Novice in 2010.  Photo by Pics of You.
Because the March event is at the Carolina Horse Park (CHP), my favourite place to event, but traditionally the courses are maxed out on XC -- that is the jumps are at the maximum heights and sometimes widths for the level.  The show jumping courses are designed to be ridden forward and confident and usually have at least one funky turn.  There is a new XC course designer for the lower levels this year (sniff, I LOVED Jeff Kibbie's courses), so I'm not sure what their approach will be.  Regardless, I hesitate to use this as a move up event as Encore has never been to CHP before and it is big, professional, and the last thing I want to do is overface him.  I want him to believe he is invincible.

So the likely plan is that he will remain entered in the Open Beginner Novice in March (it just doesn't feel sportsmanlike to enter Beginner Novice Rider when I have ridden at Training level, even if I didn't complete the event) and I will move him up to Novice at my very favourite event, Longleaf Pines Horse Trial, also at CHP, in April.

Of course, because I have long since learned my plans are made only to be derailed, I am not telling Encore any of this and I am confident something insane will happen between now and then.

Do you have big spring plans?  Training goals you are shooting for?  Trail mileage you want to rack up?  Dust you want to knock off?  Do share!  I am tired of sad, I WANT HAPPY!

February 11, 2012

Saudade: The Sadness That Is Full Of Laughter

The Portuguese word "saudade" has no direct English translation, but describes a deep longing and love for something that may never return.  It can describe a collection of memories, of cherished moments whose recollection brings joy and allows one to relive past triumphs.

The Armenians have the same word, with a different spelling, the combines the sadness of loss and the nostalgia for times past with laughter, laughter from the unbridled happiness these experiences bring to our lives.  It is called "mall" or "permallje" and it encapsulates a complexity of human emotion in a place where English fails.

This afternoon, I took a few pictures (in a very cold wind!!) of the Main Man with his 2011 Area II smurf awards, for they really are his, not mine.  Solaris, my partner, my soulmeet, the horse whose spark shot to life with the first glimpse of a start box and who showed me a pureness of joy in his gallop, a relishing of the very motion and speed itself, that I had never known before.  I'll never ask him to jump a 3' jump again, but we may yet have a few gallops to share.  And there really is one word that fits what I feel when I look at these pictures:

Saudade, my friend, joy for the journey and sorrow for its end.  Permallje, my mate, for the laughter in those memories and the ones we have yet to create.  You changed my life forever and there isn't a single day that your eyes don't touch my soul.  Thank you. 
I swear to cod, he is smirking...

February 10, 2012

No Day But Today

I'm going to steal that from Johnathan Larson, because there is no better way to put that apt truth.

I know I have hinted, but not explained but some things I just feel are not appropriate or relevant to this blog.  But there are a lot of very bad things going on in my life right now, affecting people that I love very much, and they are things that are impossible for anyone to deal with.  (The horses are fine and I am no more injured than I was a year ago)  I pour everything I have into Encore and Solo, physically and emotionally because right now, that is the only way I can cope.  It is true that, when you boil it down, life is surviving one thing after another, until the thing that kills you.

However, the reason I am writing this sobering post is to tell you with deadly seriousness, from where I am sitting right now, today is all you get.

It's a philosophy I have always lived by, but now it has become very VERY real to me.  In one whispered word, one simple moment, your future, your plans, your hope, anything, can be taken away from you in ways that you never even thought of.  It's like carrying a tray full of promise and then, with no explanation, your hands suddenly stop working and the tray falls to the floor, shattering into a thousand shards of loss.

In no way am I saying that you should live in fear -- nothing lasts forever, we know everything has its end, but we should not dwell in terror of the end.  I am not trying to depress you or worry you.  Rather, I am saying, reminding, relish your today.  And if you have an opportunity, take it.  Because tomorrow, next week, next month, four hours from now, your world can tilt on its axis and change everything.

People often tell me that I am crazy because I'm broke, but I have two horses and I compete (which would not be possible without the help of my amazing mother).  They tell me I should save my money, be more prudent, just wait until later.

But I am taking my opportunity now.  There is one thing, one passion that I know fulfills me and that I want to pursue more than anything.  And I am going to do it every second I have the chance to, to the limit of my abilities.  Because that opportunity may not exist next month or next year or in ten years, for physical reasons, for more reasons I can't dream up.  That's why, even when I have a not-so-great ride, I still untack my horse, pat his face, feed him a treat, and treasure his warm presence that day.

When I took Solo to his first event clinic 3 or 4 years ago, my SO was with us and snapping his usual 500 pictures a day.  I turned to him and said, "You know, you don't really have to take pictures of us just walking around."  A woman I didn't know was riding nearby and she turned to me and said, "You never know which ride is your last one."

Those words hit me like a brick and have stuck with me every time I get on my horse, and recent events have reminded me with crashing force that you can lose your plans in an instant that you never saw coming.  All I am saying is....

Treasure your today with everything you have in you.  Even if it's not the perfect ride you wanted or the score was lower than you shot for or you didn't jump as high as you wanted or even if it is a non-horsey thing....treasure the moments with your partner and treasure the time you spent doing what you love.  Time is yours to waste or use.  Never put that opportunity on a shelf for later, it is yours to make it happen now.

February 6, 2012

The David Intervention: Pt. III

Encore looked at me like I was crazy.  You put me on the trailer, we drive 5 minutes, you take me off.  I run around for a while, you put me back on trailer, drive 5 more minutes, you take me off.  I nap, you want me to get back on trailer?  Does anyone else see how psychotic this woman is? Anyone?  Bueller?

Despite his skepticism, Encore stepped on with a sigh and we trundled back over to David's farm for YAY, JUMPING!  Except before YAY, JUMPING comes OMG, DEATH CIRCLE OF ARM-KILLING WARMUP.

My favourite part is when David said, "Hey, he learned something yesterday!"  I don't think we caught it on the video, as he was trying to save my battery, but I was so proud of my brown pony.  And I had to laugh at his unconscious clucking when I was supposed to apply leg.  As riders, none of us can help ourselves -- we all cluck for horses we are watching.

We didn't catch the canter work, but it was very good and Encore was able to maintain a slow balance.  The most important point I took from this warmup, especially the trot work, was that right now, we need to gooooo slooowwww.

You can see that Encore really struggled with the trot poles.  This is not because he has never done them -- we have done rows of five poles many times.  But he has never done them ROUND AND CONNECTED.  I could feel that it was very very difficult for him.  We continued to work on them several more times both directions and David assured me not to worry, he just needs to learn to find his feet without sacrificing the roundness and balance.

After this (and me shedding several layers of clothing), we moved on to a massive gymnastic.  Our first attempt:

To complete the sentence, David instructs, "When he lands, encourage him to canter away and move forward after the jump."  This exercise was difficult too.  We've certainly done gymnastics before, but not with an approach in such a slow, round trot.  It took us a few more goes to work that one out too; I had to really focus on softening my hand at the first pole, letting him lift his head to look at the jump, and keeping my shoulders back, not changing my position.  We did finally sort it out....

I felt like I rode this line rather craptastically, but there is more good advice here.  And I'm going to pretend that was one of the dogs belching, LOL.

Completeing the David sentence again:  "He a little bit ran out of distance there, but that is just him being green and figuring out where he needs to be.  Don't worry about it, that's just a matter of getting out and jumping lots of things."

We then did a myriad of courses, which I do have video of but got too impatient to upload them all.  Encore began to work out his footwork.  The oxers seemed to go better for us, but the short turn to the perpendicular vertical was very tough for us both (you will see in video).  I wanted to lean forward in the turn & hold him to the base of the fence.  I think we all know how successful THAT particular technique is.  Yep, I just got a hollow jump with a pulled rail behind, my bad, sorry buddy.  About halfway through, a woman entered & began longeing her horse on the corner -- I always welcome extra challenges, I feel it is good for the horse to learn from, but it made our turn to the diagonal line quite short & added another unexpected level of difficulty!   

This is our final course:

There are many fantastic tips from David in these videos, but I won't retype them all, else this entry would be ten pages long!  Leave it to say that I will be watching these over & over.  And over.  And over.

I can do it, mom!
But that was the end of it.  David & Lauren saw us off & I spent the next 1.5 hours on the way home trying to digest all I had felt & heard.  I turned my hard-working horse back out in his paddock when we made it back to the farm & went home to nurse that post-clinic funk.  Yeah, you know it, when you go, Awww, man, it's over?  But that was so amazing, I wanted it to last forever!  However, I am quite sure my shoulder sockets would have separated, which does put a damper on one's equitation.

So thank you again, Ryan, we couldn't have done it without your help, and THANK YOU, DAVID (although I doubt he reads this unless he googles himself, which doesn't seem quite his style) for an incredible two days of shoving us over a training hump & untangling my ragged mess of a brain.

Bets on how long before I tangle it up again?

So I shall leave you with that.  The red boys saw their vet today for their annual shots & Me Annoying Dr. Brian (Dr. Bob's alternate) With 10,000 Detailed Questions About Everything.  So all are resting and we'll see what we have tomorrow!

February 5, 2012

The David Intervention: Pt. II

I had a lot to think about as I drove....around the corner.  As I mentioned, Ryan had graciously offered Encore and I berth at the little farm where she works, conveniently located 3 miles from David's.  Ok, so it happens to be Charlie Plumb's (quite the family legacy) farm, so this is what you see when you come to the stop sign:

How do you get grass that green in the sandhills in January? 
It's a nice enough place, as you pull into the drive...

They have a little arena with a few jumps scattered here and there...

They even let me park my rig where it would be shaded by trees!

What?  I haven't shown you my traveling rig before?
I tucked Encore into the barn.  I guess it was ok....

Ha, it was, naturally, a lovely place.  I only saw Charlie for about four seconds, as he was busy with a clinic, but he offered a friendly hello (and escaped smurf picture recruitment, dangit).  As dusk settled, Encore devoured his well-earned supper and settled in.

I sought to digest some of what I had learned that day and fought to retain David's advice and instructions (although I still giggle every time in the video where he yells, "Work it!  Keeping working it!"):

-The Duo bit we are dressaging in now is great to introduce babies to contact and great for a finished horse who is light.  But we might want to try something a step up for the sake of my jello arms, which will encourage Encore to soften faster and more readily.  As he gets stronger and is able to be lighter, then perhaps we can go back to rubber finger bit.

-Keep the pace slow and NO RUSHING ALLOWED.  In order for Encore to stay balanced at the stage he is in, he must stay slow and resist the urge to run off his feet and get tense.  As he feels more comfortable in his balance, you can gradually ask for more trot.  But you have to have that balance before you can have forward.

The journey with Solo and now this new endeavour with Encore has, I think, taught me, more than anything, about what real contact is.  We are always told, "Don't pull on his mouth, stay out of his face."  That is, to an extent, true.  But real, working contact is not a feathery light touch until your horse actually has the balance, muscle, and training to carry himself completely.  That doesn't happen at the beginning.  Unless you have a freak horse that I just don't want to hear about. 

When you see me riding in those videos, none of that is easy.  My upper arms are screaming and when David asks us to reverse direction for the last time time, after I comment that I have noodle arms, my brain cries, "Dear cod, NOOOO!"  Contact is CONTACT -- you are asking your horse to push power from his hind legs through his body into the bridle and until he learns how to do that on his own, he needs your help at times and the reminders are constant.

As I said before, it's not locked, it's not a pull, it's just a steady, almost a resting feeling against the bit.  But it's alive and I am asking half halt with the outside rein, just little bit rounder with the inside rein, just a little bit straighter with that outside rein again.  And when he complies, I do not "release" as we normally think of it, not in a physics sort of way.  Rather, I go passive -- my resting contact is still there, but my forearm muscles soften and my hands are quiet, saying thank you, proceed as you are.  The horse's mouth can feel this subtle difference in energy.  The hard part is for the rider to regulate exactly the right amount at the exact right time.  I figure I'll have that worked out in about 60 years.

But for now, it was time for both horse and rider to sprawl out and rest for the day to come.   

Charlie might have escaped, but his lawn jockey didn't....

The David Intervention: Pt. I

I needed an intervention.  I was getting all tangled up in my head.  Encore would warm up lovely and soft and compliant and rhythmic and then we would take a walk break and then he would be rushy and stiff and hollow and blah.  His back didn't hurt.  His legs didn't hurt.  His saddle didn't hurt.  I was very frustrated.
Encore is a poser with Ryan and our smurf.

So I invented Brena's Personal David Clinic, Februrary 2012.  I packed up all our excessive crap gear and drove down to Vass on Friday afternoon.  As luck would have it, Ryan from the Insanity in the Middle blog works for another trainer at a (lovely) farm three miles from David and she generously offered to allow Encore and I to have a sleep-over there.  Ryan rules.  Check it on the left.  Sadly, her horse, Pop Star, was already turned out, so he missed out on his smurf photo opportunity.

I wanted to do flatwork on Friday afternoon and then jump on Saturday morning.  Encore did not get a vote.  I also wanted David to sit on Encore and tell me which parts were Encore's problems and which parts were my idiocies problems.

It's about a 1.5 hour haul from the farm to Vass so I had plenty of time to convince myself that (a) David would sit on horse and pronouce him lame, (b) I would not be fit enough to do what I needed to do since there is crazy shit going on in my life and sleep is hard to come by, or (c) I would pee myself with nervousness because even though I love David and he is the kindest person imaginable and we have ridden with him for perhaps two years now, I am still intimidated as heck by his accomplishments and the fact that he is so generous with his knowledge with Nobody Me.

But we made it unscathed, although I did have to pee because I had worked very hard to mega-hydrate myself all the way down (it makes a HUGE difference in your fatigure level in your lesson, try it), slurping down a liter of water even when I didn't want any more.

I will try to let the videos speak for themselves.  Not only is David cool enough to pose with a smurf, he is also awesome enough to videotape for me while he taught.

He hopped right on and this is where it began and lasted for about 20 minutes.  While you are watching, you notice that he moves the bit A LOT in Encore's mouth.  As he explains, which I know I caught in later videos, racehorses are taught to lean into the hand and rely on it for their balance.  They HAVE to re-learn how to carry themselves without you holding them up.  And if you are tempted to get judge-y and feel that David is being too harsh, remember that Encore is wearing a HS Duo bit (right), which is basically a soft, rubber finger.

Sometimes, it does take a little tough love to retrain a horse how to use his entire body.  Training is certainly not always pretty butterflies.  The key is knowing what your horse's mind can handle, fairness and immediately letting the horse know when he has offered you the right thing!  David points out that because Encore is stable-minded and has raced for three years, he is tough and sensible and won't lose his shit when you have to make a point.  He often prefers the OTTB's for this reason, and says it's a completely different approach than with a horse who has been started gently only a longe line with side reins and knows only quiet paddocks and arenas, who can be a bit of a "delicate flower" without the mental and physical toughness of a horse who has known the ups and downs of track life and didn't break down.

I do want to know how come I get in trouble for riding with long reins!  But without further ado -- the beginning:

Then we move to canter.  David emphasized afterwards that balance is very hard for Encore right now.  He focused on straightness above all else and would give up everything, not caring where his head was, cross-firing, whatever, as long as he maintained straightness and then balance.

Right lead came first, Encore's easier side.  You can see at the end the canter work has already improved the trot work from when he started.

Then we move to left lead.  This is VERY difficult for Encore to do while maintaining his balance.  But David maintained, that if he breaks, fine, if he cross-fires, fine, but he MUST stay straight.

I was enthralled, but apparently, I was expected to remount my horse and replicate what I had just watched. Encore is a fast learner, but you will hear David talk about how hard the new balance is for him. Not to mention for my arms. Ouch. The contact I have here is a very firm, but elastic one. I am not locked against his mouth. When I soften, it is a subtle softening of the arm and elbow -- you CAN'T throw the contact away, he has to have something to step into.

Then we have the left lead with what arms I have left.  Thank cod for all that hydration!

Compare those canters with the one we were playing with in October.  He's getting stronger and we are learning together.

Up next.....Saturday, JUMPING day!  Will my arms stay attached to my shoulders?  Will my horse decide this roundness business is for the birds?  Will I throw myself at David's feet and beg to move into an extra bedroom?  Anything could happen....

February 4, 2012

Do You Know Why David O'Brien Is Awesome?

Yeah, he rode around Fair Hill and Rolex and those little events overseas.

Yeah, he coached some Young Riders teams to gold and silver medals in 2009.

Yeah, he and his wife, Lauren have brought home a bit of loot in eventing's upper echelons.

But you know why he is really awesome?  (Aside from putting up with me and my desperate efforts to do everything right at once)

Because he has Smurf love.  And yes, that is the official Area II Indian Smurf, who is entrusted to my custody this year.

Encore has his eyes closed in the presence of greatness.

February 1, 2012

Watch Carefully

I was directed by an acquaintence to a video that is part of the Retired Racehorse Training Challenge that I posted about here.  By the way and completely unrelated, if you've observed how clean, attractive and awesome the RRTP website it, it was designed by a friend of ours who is a fellow member of the Area II Adult Riders.  So if you are looking for some kick-ass graphic design, you need to go check out Wow!

Back to my original topic.  The video shows Eric Dierks, a trainer here in NC who was chosen for the challenge.  He grew up with dressage, Pony Club, and eventing all the way to Rolex.  Here, he talks you through the fourth ride on the challenge mare he chose, a striking grey named Brazilian Wedding.  Watch it, I command thee!   Hopefully, he won't hate me for sharing his video.

It is a 34-minute master class in a working a green horse, a young horse, or warming up any horse.  Pay attention to his softness and patience.  He doesn't make a big deal out of anything (I need this reminder printed on my horse's browband).  He doesn't demand more than the horse is able to give.  He doesn't worry about where her head is.  After 30 minutes, barely off the track, she is supple, confident, and happy.

And what struck me about halfway through is that its basic exercises are very similar to David's death circles that he inflicts upon me.  Well, dang, I'm doing something right after all.  

I know who I am going to be trying to emulate next time I sit on Encore's back.