Thursday, 28 January 2016

Sandra Donnelly Clinic - Day 1

We hosted our annual Sandra Donnelly clinic this past weekend. Apparently I'm a sucker for punishment because I signed up to ride both horses (and really who needs money?)

On Saturday I rode Dee first. Since the clinic didn't fill up there were only two of us in my lesson. It was me and Dee and barn-mates Isabel and Martini. They've been showing Training for the past couple of years and are schooling 3'6".

Dee and I had only jumped twice since the Jessica Phoenix clinic in November. Nothing like joining the big guns to up the ante.

As always, Day 1 started with flatwork and flatwork exercises. Sandra hasn't seen Dee and I since July at Herron Park and was very impressed by our improvement on the flat. All that Dressage focus is paying off!

We started with a simple 20 m circle in the center of the arena. We focused on the quality of the gaits. Sandra had me use counter-flexion to encourage Dee to stretch her neck and relax. Keeping a consistent rhythm was also a main topic, reminding me not to just coast along and let Dee pick the pace, but to insist that she keep with me.

We then moved onto the poles exercise. There were two tiny cross rails just over 90' apart. We had to canter down the line(treating the cross rails as canter poles) and count how many strides. Then we had to come from the other direction and get the same number of strides.

Turns our Dee has a bigger step going to the right. It required a much more aggressive half halt to get the 10 stride to the right. After we came through and had to add a stride. To the left it was easy to get the 11. To the right I ended up over correcting and getting a 12. So I got to do it until the 11 was easy.

Next we had to get one less than original. I was apprehensive about it, but turns out once I just softened and opened the step, the 9 was just there. I felt like the 8 was even doable. Considering Dee has really only had two speeds, turtle and zoom, this felt like a huge breakthrough.

We then moved on to jumping the diagonals (blue to brown to blue). Sandra almost always has us schooling angles. The first time through we did both lines in a 4 to a 4. I had to work at pushing Dee out around the corner and not letting her drop her shoulder and motorcycle around the corner. The 4's proved to be easy so we then did a 5 to a 4 on each line. Opening up the stride was not a challenge but it did result in some funky distances while we figured out exactly how much to open it.

Once that was smooth we moved onto doing a 4 to a 5. This is where I really struggled. The closest I ended up getting was a 4 to a 4 1/2. Sandra let us leave it there because I was able to compress her more than she initially believed I'd be able to (Dressage bootcamp for the win).

We finished up with going from the diagonal lines to turning up the center. (Let me tell you, that turn was super hard if Dee was not stood up straight). The last few times through the center the first jump was 2'9" and moved up to the oxer being 3'3".

I barely had an anxiety about the height of the jumps. I think I was too busy trying to put all the pieces together to focus on how terrifying the last oxer was.

Ritchie was in the last group of the day. Our group of 3 included a barrel racer who jumps a few times a year because it's fun and a barn-mate who has been jumping on a regular basis with her mare this winter (but had a wreck in the summer that shook her confidence).

The lesson started the same way. 20m circle with a focus on alignment and gait quality. Sandra had me really focus on Ritchie's uphillness. Apparently he cheats, he gives me a big moving pretty trot that is still on the forehand. He just has so much movement in his back (especially compared to Dee) that he can fake being light in the front by flinging his legs out. She had me focus on bringing the shoulder in and out in order to lift his withers. To successfully lift his withers I needed to lengthen the base of his neck. I once again used counter flexion to help with this.

When we moved onto the canter poles/cross rails Ritchie decided he didn't want to play. He stopped. Since everything was set small enough he could walk over it, I just kept closing all the other doors. Forward was the only option. He deer leaped over it. We came around and he stopped again.

Rinse and repeat. The jerk refused a ton. Now I know he's green over fences but  nothing was bigger than 12" and he's done a ton of cross rails in the lat month. Finally Sandra told me that Ritchie was bullying me. She said he knows the answer and was just testing me to see how determined I was. She told me I needed to be tougher, not meaner, just more black and white.
I don't care that it's blurry. Look at the cute, interested pony!
Two reins in one hand and a good solid crack with the whip in front of the fence resulted in Ritchie leaping over the little vertical we were at. And he didn't refuse another fence all weekend. That one piece of advice made the whole clinic worthwhile.

We proceeded to school the angle lines and then jumped his very first oxer. We never did get into a good rhythm and he spent most of the lesson deer leaping, but we did end on a very successful note.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Riding in the Dark

Dee and I have been having some less than stellar rides lately. I think we are both sick and tired of going around in circles in the indoor.

Don't get me wrong, spending the last few months focusing on dressage has been great for both of us but lately I haven't been feeling that excited for our rides. So last night when it warmed up to an unseasonably warm -4°C I grabbed my headlamp and quarter sheet and went for a trail ride.

We've got about 2km of trails that loop around the back of the property and lead to a field that we can ride in. I started with my headlmap on but turned it off once we go to the field. There was just a tiny sliver of moon, but it was enough light that I could make out the fence line. Other than that I let Dee figure it out.
On our way to the trails

We had a blast. I did not ask anything of Dee except which gait we were in. No collection, minimal contact, and no circles. It was so nice to just get out and play in the snow. I don't have any idea how long we were out there, or how far we went but I can tell you it was a much needed break.

Ritchie is new and exciting but Dee is still Best Pony. When I got back a couple of other boarders commented on how brave I was to ride in the dark. But I trust Dee so bravery isn't really something I factored in.
I took this at 5:46 and it was pitch black out already

I've forgotten how enjoyable riding in the dark is. Something about it just soothes the soul. There is nothing but you and your horse. It's like hitting the reset.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Dressage Pony Has Skills.... Rider is Mediocre at Best

I only have dressage lessons every other week since my instructor's (let's call her IY) schedule is packed full. My plan is to continue to ride Dee in these lessons since Stressage dressage is our weakest phase. Anytime someone cancels, I have first dibs on their spot to have the occasional lesson with Ritchie.

For the first lesson back after the holiday break I ended up riding Ritchie. I've been struggling with sitting in his saddle and wanted some help. It's got big thigh blocks and my knees keep trying to creep over them. I also wanted to get an outside opinion on some of the crookedness I've been experiencing.
Kentaur Elektra. I find it less than ideal

Unfortunately IY confirmed my suspicions about Ritchie's fancy new saddle (Shimmer-E bought it for him a couple months ago). While it fits him well and is an 18" seat, it is actually too small for me. It's got a fairly deep seat and rides small. I'm obscenely long from my hip to my knee for someone who is only 5'6" (for reference, my jumping saddle is an 18" with a long forward flap and it fits me wonderfully).

For now I will be doing all my riding in my jump saddle (thank goodness it fits both horses). I may struggle to keep my upper body tall while doing dressage in it, at least I actually fit in it.

My other main concern was straightness. With Dee I struggle to ride straight becuase what feels like straight is actually crooked. We've been working on re-training my perceptions and I was concerned this would colour my perceptions of Ritchie.

Thankfully my thoughts about when we were straight and when we were crooked were spot on. Ritchie is stiff to the left, wanting to bulge his ribcage in and drift through the left shoulder (completely opposite of Dee). To the right he's super bendy and I have to be careful to keep solid outside aids to ensure he's maintaining the correct bend.

Random smile photo to break up the text monologue.

IY really liked him though. She told me that he is going to make me a very quiet and effective rider since he is easily offended. She also laid into me harder than she ever has before (and I've been riding with her off-an-on for something like 7 years). She saw me bump him with my inside leg 3 times without getting any response. I know this is how to deaden a horse and I still do it. So she stopped me and had a frank discussion about how I need to be more assertive, ask once and then correct with spur or whip. Basically, I need to rise to the level this guy is capable of, not him sinking to mine.

Every lesson I have with her ends up with me having sore abs. Every. Single. One. Apparently I am lazy about my core without someone reminding me 8-million-times. Now you add in super bouncy, swingy fancy-pants-warmblood and my ab muscles were crying. But he's so sensitive it was really cool to see how much my core control affected his movement.

Basically by better engaging my core I was able to help him achieve more loft and swing in his gaits. It only lasted a few strides before both of our muscles would get tired and wimp out, but those strides were beautiful!!

Also, if anyone is looking for a pretty cool young horse, one of Ritchie's babies is for sale. She's super cute, scored well at her inspection (including an 8 for movement) and super personable. So pass it along if you know anyone looking, the weak Canadian dollar could make her someone's pretty cool bargain. (Also, when she sells, Ritchie and I get a bigger show budget)
Because when you're born on May 4th, you must be Leia

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Ritchie's Visit With the Osteopath

Last night I had my osteopath out to work on Mr.Studly Pants. As a 4-year-old  Ritchie was strong, muscled and had a topline that was drool-worthy. In the last year, all of that has disappeared.

Now, obviously, a large part of re-developing this is just hard work and miles, but i wanted to ensure that Ritchie had the best possible base to start with. So enter the osteopath.

I fully believe in osteopathy but truthfully I mostly zone out as they discuss what's wrong and how to improve the movement. But Ritchie really seemed to enjoy his treatment. He was yawning and chewing right away.

He moved out of the frame as he yawned, but you get the picture
After the initial treatment, they had me saddle and mount. Then they worked on Ritchie under saddle. No matter how many times I see it, it's always fascinating to immediately see the differences. All of a sudden Ritchie was able to just step into a canter, rather than the rushing and falling he was doing before.

The same difference in his trot. All of a sudden we could get the big, powerful trot without me having to drive him into it. He can only hold it for about 3 strides, but as his muscles develop that will also improve.
Oh god, why can't I seem to look up

One of the biggest take-aways was that they felt Ritchie really needed his teeth done. When he yawns, chews or generally shifts his jaw it sounds like he is grinding his teeth. They also think his teeth are uneven, which is putting his jaw out of alignment, and they can't fix it until his teeth are done. He also has a sarcoid we need to get removed so it looks like I'll be hauling to my vet at the end of the month.

Then I got a mini-treatment, while in the saddle. I love these treatments (my osteopath was a human chiropactor for 20 years before transitioning into Equine Osteopathy). I could suddenly use my left seatbone without having to struggle.

Both Ritchie and I are set up to be able to succeed now. Bring on Friday's dressage lesson :)

Monday, 4 January 2016

Seriously, Who Can Have Just One?

So just before the holidays, Britt likened horse to potato chips, asking if it possible to have just one?

For me that answer is apparently no. I've had 2 horses since Sullivan was born. I figured that one senior performance horse and one young horse was the perfect combination.

Then we bought the acreage and in order to bring Sullivan home (and keep Dee boarded at an indoor for the winter) I needed to find a companion horse. I initially had intended to borrow one of my mom's 3 (apparently equine collecting is genetic), but when Mom let me know that Chase was looking for a job after his family had grown up and moved on, I couldn't pass up bringing my old man home.

So that makes 3. One performance horse, one youngster and one senior babysitter who can pack The Boy around. Perfect, right?

Of course, just when you think something is perfect life will throw you a curveball. (This is the absolute best kind though. It's basically a rainbow, glitter covered curveball)

Not long after we moved into our new place conversations were had between me and one of my best friends about her young stallion, LaBamba SE (Ritchie). Ritchie was being leased by a local trainer and Shimmer-E's life is currently in flux. She just started a new job, has a young daughter, her husband is working out of town during the week and it looks like they will be moving sometime this summer (closer to me!!!). With the lease on Ritchie about to expire, it was decided that since I now had a place that could work for a stallion, I would take over the ride on him.

After figuring out some logistical difficulties (I only have one water trough, one round bale slow-feeder net and the stallion pen won't be built until the spring), Ritchie arrived last Sunday.

He's a 2010 16.1 RPSI Stallion, with the sweetest and most cuddly personality.

I've ridden Ritchie a handful of times before he went to his lease, taking him to his very first show when we was a late 3-year-old. I absolutely love this horse. He has the most incredible mind and work ethic. I loved him so much that I bought one of his first foals within hours of him hitting the ground. Yup, Ritchie is Sullivan's sire. Having them both on the property really showcases how much Sullivan looks like his Daddy. I have hope he will eventually outgrow this ugly stage!

His first show, and the terrifying judges table

Ritchie's life so far has been almost exclusively dressage. He's coming 6, has sucessfully shown First level and was starting to school Third at the end of his 4-year-old year. In the last year he hasn't been out and about at all, so that is one of my biggest priorities for him. He's well schooled, but still very green about life outside of his little sandbox.

First time over fences with me.

In the past week he's hauled to the arena 6 times, has jumped x-rails twice and gone on his first trail ride with me (he's been on one or two walks down the road before). I'm really excited to see how he will take to jumping and eventing. Plus, it's really fun to ride a horse who doesn't struggle with dressage.
Brave enough to lead!