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We Are Flying Solo

January 15, 2012

Encore Furthers His Jumping Education

As projected, Encore and I did indeed meet with David on Saturday; Encore's first stadium jumping lesson and his introduction to David's "death circles" of warmup (they only make the rider want to die, not the horse).  My tired brain will attempt to share it with you.  I offer no guarantees of lucidity.

The wind was icy cold, the high temperature of the day was 42 degrees, and the Canada geese next door splashed in the pond at the end of the arena.  Encore took all this as an invitation to try out his new "I iz STRONG pony" routine on a very tired me.  Thanks, buddy.  Nothing impresses your trainer quite like panting like an asthmatic grandmother on a stairmaster.

Encore's big brother demonstrates bend.
Despite his antics, David seemed to remain thrilled with my little brown boy and reinforced that I had been working in the right direction.  Establishing a steady contact on the outside rein on the warmup circle, we used inside flexion, moving the bit in his mouth to soften his jaw, at which Encore obligingly (at least most of the time) came round at the trot.  If he starts cocking his head, don't forget to use your outside rein to straighten his head on his neck, keeping it all in line, even counterbending a little so that he can't brace against your hand.   

Walk/trot/walk/trot transitions in quick succession, which we have begun to introduce at home recently, making sure he stayed soft through the transition, prepared us for canter.

David made the observation that I really needed to stay off his back at the canter and to focus on working that way for a while, as Encore learns to lift his back at that gait.  He reassured me that it is very normal for the racehorses to remain uneven behind for quite some time, which put my mind at rest a bit on that count.

Once we began jumping, Encore got much stronger than I am accostomed to!  Whether it was weather or excitement or both, my shoulders got tired in a hurry!  But it was gratifying to see my work at home paying off -- he felt comfortable finding his distances on his own and he skipped through a mini gymnastic without a hiccup. 

Because Encore was getting heavy in the bridle, perhaps because his young muscles were beginning to tire, David had me just lift the inside corner of the bit on the long side for one step to lift his shoulder and then half-halt and then lift his poll and release as we turned to the jump.  Result:  immediate shift in balance, bringing him up in front of my leg, where I could then soften and wait for the jump to come to us. 

Both David and I had a smile at the end; there were some lovely sections of rhythm and nice jumps.  Encore came calmly forward to every fence and jumped well up to about 2'9".  He is not as naturally round a jumper as Solo, but he feels already like he will be much more comfortable with height than Mr. Shiny ever was. 

Now, if anyone has suggestions on how to convince Encore that he no longer needs to transition to canter as if he is leaping from the starting gate, I am ALL ears...

January 12, 2012

Mollusks, Musings, and Magazines

Multi-day meetings about mussel ecology and endangered species planning keep me away from my equine musings.  Well, at least from writing about them.

My truck hurtles back north at night, escaping the museum meeting-room in the city as fast as possible in its farm-quest.  Encore and I are working on contact and connection.

He accepts the contact quite willingly and is steady, but I think he is ready to do more.  I ask for more connection, building on what I learned from the video clinic and in our lesson.  The first day I tried it, it was brilliant -- his hocks were underneath him, everything was incredibly connected and through and THERE. a good bit more difficult.

We walk that fine balance between riding forward into the contact (good) and pulling back into the contact (very bad) and it takes a lot of concentration to stay on the correct side of the line, despite the fact that my brain knows good and well what my body SHOULD be doing.

Piled next to my bed in a haphazard pile of paper and cat hair:

--Training the Three Day Event Horse and Rider by Jimmy Wofford (buy it now, I command thee)
--The Principles of Riding by the German National Equestrian Federation, the same yellow paperback that's been on my shelf since the mid-eighties, cheap glue and all
--Two recent issues of Practical Horseman
--Dressage in Harmony by Walter Zettl
--Henry James' Midnight Song by Carol de Chellis Hill (Hey, even a hardcore eventer needs a brain break)

I pick out passages and read and re-read and visualize and read again.  If I can just do this enough times, it will surely stick.

We have a date with David on Saturday for a jumping lesson and a date with UPS on Tuesday for a dressage saddle to try.  Rest assured, you shall hear about both.

January 8, 2012

A Free Lesson For You -- On Your Couch

That's right, it's YOUR turn to giggle in sadistic glee while someone else has to do two-point sans stirrups.

This week was the annual George Morris Horsemastership Training Session down in Florida.  Sans George Morris due to illness, from which he is now on the mend, fortunately.  I confess, I don't usually watch it because George Morris is so fond of, well, George Morris.  But I tuned in this year because his shoes were filled by renowned jumpers Anne Kursinski, Beezie Madden, Kent Farrington, and Mclain Ward and it was generating a lot of chatter over on COTH.  And if Chronicle folks have their knickers in a twist, I just HAVE to check it out.

Go watch it now, particularly the first day.

Anne Kursinski gave a masterclass on flatwork.  Each and every horse in there went better at the end of the session and each and every rider became more effective and more connected to their horse.  In essence, she told them, don't pose up there like a phony equitation zombie, be inside the horse, not just on top of him, breathe with the horse and improve him. 

She got on a horse who was giving his rider quite a bit of trouble, resisting the contact and rearing. I'm a very visual learner, so watching her work through that and seeing the quiet, patient way she taught him to accept the aids with incredible steadiness and fairness to the horse was like an epiphany for me. None of it was terribly new information but for some reason, it brought everything together for me.

The next morning, I got on Encore, I translated what I had seen into the feel of my body and we crashed through our dressage roadblock like a runaway transfer truck.

I guarantee there is information in there for you too. Anne does two groups (I only watched the first, about 1.5 hours) then Beezie does a demo ride with a new horse of hers (the last hour of the 3 hour session of day 1). Beezie explains that the horse has been showing 1.5 m (4.9') jumpers but is very green to flatwork, which baffled my mind, but ok, I'm not Beezie Madden.

There are still two more days to watch; I've checked out the farrier session, picked up a few handy tips, finessed my gymnastic work with Kent, and introduced a horse to the big water with Mclain.  All for $0, exactly in my price range.  I've included the link to the channel on USEF Network above, but in case you missed it: click here.

January 6, 2012

Solo's New Relationship With An Old Friend

With three horses to ride (our BFF, lifeshighway, is out for 5 months following rotator cuff surgery, so I am teaching Pete the coarser points of dressage, which he is phenomenally cute at), I am blessedly busy, but with the irritating requirement of actually showing up at work every day, there are just not enough hours to give them all the time they need.

Solo at his last event, last May. 
I have been trying to keep Solo doing SOMEthing at least twice a week. He still has good days and bad days; the good days are magical, the bad days are disheartening. I have his Adequan lined up and ready to inject once I have a clear time window. I can't keep up with his hay belly, though, and his hopeful eyes torment me.

I'd been working on a friend to ride him, but alas, she did not jump at the chance to absorb free Solo karma. Fortune finally saw fit to give me a moment of epiphany, however, and I sent a text message to a young girl who used to ride the BO's enormous Oldenburg mare prior to her sale:

"Would you like to ride Solo?"

Within ten minutes, I got back, "Yes, I would love to!"

I was thrilled -- Charlotte is a high schooler who catch-rides 3' to 3'6" hunters for an area trainer on our local C circuit. Not only is she the most selfless, kind, and well-mannered teenager that I think I have ever met, she is a lovely, quiet, soft rider who can win a hack class like you would not believe. I would not have to worry about Solo for a second and she would be the perfect match, a light ride for his temperamental back.

We met at the farm last night so I could show her Solo's quirks and brief her on the type of ride he needed these days. She has ridden him before, back when he was fit and muscley (sigh) so I tossed her up and proceeded to show her where his buttons were.

Keep in mind, Solo has rider-trust issues. He's been beaten with whips and generally, when anyone except me rides him, he watches me with a white, wide eye of worry. He behaves, but pathetic, concerned face with wrinkly nose and unsure ears betrays him. As a result, I have to be very careful when faced with a choosing a person who will ride him without my supervision. 90% of the time, he will offer no problems, but if he has a strong opinion, he can turn into a lot of horse and he can spin faster than anything I've ever sat on.

So my heart was happy when Charlotte asked him to trot and he stepped out in a lovely, swinging hunter trot with a relaxed neck and a bright and perky expression. I told her that she should feel very special, as she is the only one I have ever seen given the Solo "seal of approval." He was happy.

I could tell from his energetic and easy trot that he was having a good day, so I warned Charlotte that when she asked for canter, she'd better sit up tall and be ready. Sure enough, Solo leaped into the air and gave an enthusiastic buck of joy as he struck off in his favourite gait. As I laughed, I was so grateful for Charlotte and what she could offer to my very special guy.

I hope that she can continue to ride him at least once a week for me. It's a wonderful gift that she is giving and I so hope that this works out for a while. I would like for spring to find him a bit fitter and slimmer than his current state and he certainly needs to keep moving, both for his physical and mental wellbeing. I will continue to ride him lightly as well, but with much less pressure on time now that the responsiblity of keeping Mr Shiny going can be shared with someone else who loves his wonderful red hide too.

January 3, 2012

You Are Not Forgotten

Sometimes it is just very hard to write.  I try not to let my personal life (well, the non-horsey parts) bleed into the blog.  I don't think it's relevant or very useful for you or even very entertaining for the most part.  But when the universe kicks you in the teeth -- and then follows up with some kidney punches -- and then takes a bat to your kneecaps -- and then runs over your prone body for good measure -- it can be difficult to compartmentalize, despite that being my speciality.

I will keep trying, though. I cannot promise overflowing humour for a bit but I will try to avoid strangling noises, that doesn't make for very fun reading.

I am back home and back to my red boys. Solo insists on tormenting me with loving cuteness, following me around the pasture with big eyes, begging me to put a halter on him so we can go play.

Encore is very irritated with my attempts to play saddle fitter and find a dressage shaped something for him. We tried out a Verhan Odyssey, a Passier Nicole, and a Prestige 2000D today -- I only rode in the Verhan, but set the other two on him, along with a Baines endurance saddle, just to eyeball the tree. No winners yet, but I took lots of pictures and made a lot of faces. I still want to try an Albion on him, a County, and perhaps a Stubben, but haven't found a demo yet.

It's cold, with a 30 mph gust of ice-wind cutting through you, so it's hard to focus on your work. Winter has finally wandered in and I'm holding my breath hoping it wanders right back out very soon.