Friday, October 31, 2008

This and That...

I ordered some winter riding gear from Dover the other day because the plan is to not slow down in regards to Lilly's training. I want to continue to take lessons and ride at least 4 days per week. Being from Michigan and all, you'd think I could handle arctic temperatures like a pro. That's not the case, however. Since moving down to North Carolina the first time, I have turned into a wimp. If it isn't at least 70 degrees (and even then I'm a little chilly) I'm COLD. I ordered these pants and I am in LOVE! I haven't ridden in them yet, but I wore them around the house last night and they're dreamy. They're fleece on the inside and a waterproof type material on the outside and should be wonderful for keeping the wind off my skin. I'm THIS close to ordering another pair... they're at least going on my Christmas list. I'll be able to wear them english or western too. I also got a pair of Mountain Horse boots and some warm gloves, but those aren't as exciting. Bring on the cold temperatures!! NO, WAIT!! I want it to stay warm instead!!

I also bought Lilly a new cooler. After my lesson on Wednesday she was pretty steamy and it was quite cold. A cooler would have been nice to put on her while I walked her around. I've been tossing around the idea of doing a little body clipping too, just so she dries faster, but I've never done it before. Wonder what she'd look like when I was done? Yikes...

I spoke with my trainer via email about my saddle fitting issues and she thinks that my Lynn Palm makes it a little tough on Lilly to balance and might sit a bit too far forward on her shoulders. She said it isn't bad or she would have said something about it when we first met, but she thinks there are some saddles out there that would make my life much easier. I've asked her for some ideas, and then I'll probably head up to M & M for a fitting. I might just have to sell my current two saddles on eBay or something and ride in the new one for a while. It'll just take some extra work keeping it clean and taking good care of it so it looks nice on show days too.

I rode Lilly yesterday for a little while... I didn't want to push her since she had worked pretty hard on Wednesday with my trainer. I did a couple canter departs from the walk and she did really well. Maybe one or two trotting steps was all she took. She also kept her head down almost the entire ride, which is good. She's learning how to travel 'in frame' (since most trainers I know hate the term 'head set'...) and she looks really pretty! She has started chomping on the bit though... I guess she's just nervous. I've been riding with a lot more leg and it kind of drives her crazy. She'll get used to it eventually I hope.

I'll get some pictures of her this weekend. She's really getting dark and her dapples are very prominent. She always looks so pretty with her winter coat. Her tail is starting to grow back in too where she rubbed it off. It looks kind of funny... I'm thinking about wrapping it tomorrow and leaving it until the next show in November. The bugs are gone for the most part, so I think she'd be ok without it. I'm going to try the tip given by Mugwump and see how it works. I'll wash it, condition it, dry it, and then loosely braid it with pieces of bedsheet wrapped around each section of the braid, then wrap it all with vetwrap. I'm hopeful it will work well to keep her tail clean and protected, as Lilly manages to get her tail out of tailbags quite easily.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Wednesday's Lesson

For yesterday's lesson, my trainer came out and rode Lilly for me. I like having her do that once in a while because then she's knows what I'm up against. I also like Lilly to have someone ride her that knows what she's doing. I think it really helps her understand what we're asking her to do. It's nice for me to be able to watch my horse from the ground too. I can see what it looks like when she does "this" and "that" and then watch my trainer correct her and see the difference.

It went pretty well. My trainer was showing me how I need to make Lilly stay consistent in the walk and trot. She needs to stay in the same rhythm, going the same speed, and in frame as much as possible. Serpentines and lots of circles are best for Lilly because she tends to lean or drop her shoulder when she thinks she knows where we're going. She'll also grab the bit and drag us along in her preferred direction. She needs to learn to listen to me and not make her own decisions. She thinks she's smarter than I am!

My trainer also worked on getting Lilly to canter from the walk instead of the trot because she feels that Lilly is just pulling herself into the canter rather than striking off with a bit of 'umph' like she should be. That was a bit of a challenge, and Lilly threw in a couple of small protest bucks and even a kick or two out to the side. She definitely wasn't happy about the encouragement from my trainer's spur!

It's something I'll really have to work on, that's for sure. Among other things.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Saddle Fitting Woes

As you may or may not recall, this year has been hell for me as far as saddle fitting goes. With this post, I'm hoping to organize my thoughts and maybe get some guidance on what I should do.

First, let me tell you about my 4 saddles... Yup, I have 4 saddles for one horse. Some call it overkill... I call it necessity! The idea behind it was to have a western work saddle, a western show saddle, a huntseat work saddle, and a huntseat show saddle. That way, I didn't have to worry about keeping my work saddles super clean and scratch free for the shows. I'd have separate saddles... one for each purpose. There's no way I could have one western saddle that I use for trail riding and showing. Not with all the water we play in and trees we run through. So I've always had 2 western saddles. Then, this year I started riding more huntseat and decided I wanted to start showing again. So I decided to buy a new huntseat saddle so I'd have a nice one to show in. Afterall, the work saddle I'm using now is about 16 years old, I think. I got it way back when, shortly after AJ was retired. I thought I was due a new one.

So, here they are:


Huntseat Work Saddle
This was taken at one of the first shows of the year, before I got my new huntseat saddle. Notice the number pad I love so dearly. I never had a problem with her being uncomfortable with that saddle and pad. Nor have I ever had problems schooling her with that saddle and any pad. Heck, I used to use a quilted dressage pad on the bottom and a fleece pocket pad on top. So there was a time when I was using two layers of pad and never had a problem. Or maybe there was a problem with the fit but Lilly never 'said' anything about it. This saddle is a Collegiate Lynn Palm CC style saddle with a 17" seat and a medium tree. I love this saddle with everything I have! It is so comfy and I really like the close contact style better than the all purpose style.

First Huntseat Show Saddle
I bought this saddle in April of this year and had plans to use it as my new show only huntseat saddle. It is a Collegiate Connoisseur CC style saddle. I don't consider it CC because it has the knee rolls, but I wanted another Collegiate, so this is what I picked out, and they call it CC. What do I know anyway? I thought with the same style and maker, it would fit Lilly no problem. This saddle has a 17" seat and a medium tree.
I rode in this saddle for the first time in April. You may remember the post from the show... I ended up not being able to show in the huntseat classes because Lilly was stopping, shaking her head, and twitching her withers. I even tried a friend's saddle, but had no luck. After the show, I rode her in the saddle a bit, but without the numbers pad because I didn't want it to get dirty. She seemed fine and I even put the saddle on her without a pad to see how it looked on her. It looked fine to me... all the saddle fitting guides said it should fit her fine. I thought maybe there was just something going on with her that day.
I rode her fine in the saddle at a couple other shows in this saddle with no problems, even with the number pad. After I saw pictures of how my legs looked in it, though, I decided I was on a mission to find a TRUE close contact saddle. The knee rolls were pushing my legs way far back. I wanted one just like my work saddle except newer and less beat up.


Newest Huntseat Show Saddle
So along came this guy. I wrote in a post back in June about how I swapped my new saddle for this one. It's a Collegiate Lynn Palm CC saddle, 17.5" seat with a medium tree. It was a dream come true finding this saddle! It's just like my work saddle, except for color, seat size, and it isn't all beat up!
I rode in this saddle at two shows with my number pad and had no problems with it at all. She seemed to be very comfortable in the saddle. The CMESC show in September was the first time I had an issue with this saddle. I had my number pad on her, and was warming her up in the indoor when she suddenly stopped, started shaking her head, and did the wither twitching thing. I ended up taking her home and riding her in this saddle with the number pad and then my regular quilted work pad. When I had the number pad on she was doing the 'shake'. When I had my quilted pad on, she was fine. It was at this point that I decided the pad must be too thick and bought a new ugly pad that is just quilted with fleece around the outside. I figured the thickness of the pad must have been pinching her withers or shoulders. So why she's fine with it some days and not others I have yet to find out.


Western Show Saddle
I got this saddle back in spring of 2007 sometime when I had high hopes to show last year. It is a used Circle Y I bought off eBay. It was made in 2000, has a seat size of 16, has semi-QH bars, and a gullet of 6 and 3/4. It weighs 32 pounds.
I've been riding in this saddle all year with no problems (until the show on Sunday). I use a 1/2" black flet pad underneath a woven show pad when I ride in this saddle.


Western Work Saddle
I can't remember when I got this saddle but I've had it for a few years now. I think I got it back in 2004 or 2005. It's a Circle P, 15.5" seat, with full QH bars. It weighs 23 pounds and is all synthetic (awesome for trail rides!). I love this saddle. It is so comfy and lightweight, and easy to clean. I ride her in this saddle with a Professional's Choice SMX Air Ride pad and have never had any issues with this saddle at all, and I ride her all over in this saddle.

Now that you've met my saddles, any ideas? I know that horses don't always tell us when they're uncomfortable. They really put up with a lot from us. They don't know how a saddle is suppose to fit either. So it could be possible that even though I think these work saddles fit her, that they really don't. And maybe the show saddles really don't fit, and they hurt her badly enough to make her do the 'shake'.

Then I think back to earlier this year when I had Lilly at the trainer's. He used his own saddle... so maybe that one didn't fit her either and has made her back sore or scarred. Or maybe she's that way already from my ill fitting saddles. I just don't know why she works 'fine' in my work saddles but hates my huntseat saddle with number pad, and why all of a sudden now the western saddle is giving her fits as well.

Should I hold off until the Equimapping vendor is at the November 16th ride and see what it says about my saddle fit? That would only give me one week, though, to fix the problems before the last JCHSS show that following Saturday.

Should I call a massage therapist and have them come out to look at Lilly to see if she has any scar tissue or is really sore in any areas around her spine, shoulders, or back?

Should I just call a saddle fitter and get 4 new saddles that they say will fit my horse?

Or should I do all of the above? Replacing 4 saddles is a bit expensive, for sure, but I'll do whatever I need to make Lilly comfortable. If I have to go back to just 2 saddles for now, then that's what I'll do.

Monday, October 27, 2008

JCHSS Show Number 7!

Due to the rain on Saturday, the show was moved to Sunday, which worked out because Sunday turned out to be a gorgeous day! It was sunny and about 72 with no wind... perfect for a horse show.

Since the show was moved to Sunday, I had no idea how many people were going to be there. I usually leave the barn around 11 to get there by noon and it's always been the perfect time to get ready and not have to wait around forever for my first class. Yesterday, though, I ended up leaving at 9:30 and figured I could just band when I got there if I was way early.

Oh wait... let me back up. Saturday evening I went to the barn to give Lilly a bath because I knew it would be too cold Sunday morning. So I cleaned her up and clipped her ears and muzzle and turned her out hoping that she'd stay clean. So when I got there Sunday morning, I glanced out in the pasture as I drove by and she still looked pretty white. I hooked up the trailer, drove to my parking spot, and grabbed the blanket out of the back of the trailer. As I was walking up to the tack shed to put the blanket down and grab her halter, I saw her start to walk away. Once I was out of view, though, she walked back up to her hay pile. After dropping off the blanket and grabbing the halter, I headed back out to the pasture to get her. It was so funny... she was eyeballing me as she was munching hay and as soon as I got to the little road that leads to the gate, she took off as fast as she could, bucking and kicking the whole way! She got to the bottom of the pasture and turned around to stare at me. The whole time I was walking to get her, she had her head up, ears forward and must have been wishing for me to diappear. Do you think she wanted to stay home and not go to the show? She must know what the trailer means! At least I was able to walk right up to her and put the halter on. She used to run around and make me chase her down. Poor, poor girl. She's so abused. As it turns out, she had just one small spot of dirt on her side that easy brushed off. Woohoo! So I loaded her up and off we went!

As it turns out, I got there quite early. They were just finishing up with class 9 and I was class 20, but it gave me time to get registered and band her mane, so it worked out. Plus, I was concerned about the saddle pad and all that mess from the CMESC show. I gave up on my lovely number pad and had purchased a 'witherback companion pad' that basically has the saddle part cut out of the fleece. So it ends up being just a quilted pad with fleece around the outside. God is it ugly... bleh! Since I've successfully ridden her in the number pad before, I thought I'd try that one first. Before I even got the girth tightened, she started shaking her head. So off it came and on went the ugly one. She seemed fine with the ugly one and I was able to ride her in all of our classes without issue. Hooray for the ugly pad? I suppose... When I was up at the state fair I got this great leather girth too... it's leather but it's got gel in it. It's so soft and squishy. I'm sure Lilly likes it better than my old one. So we were looking good and ready for our huntseat classes!

The first class was huntseat walk trot equitation. There were 5 horses in that class and we got 4th... bummer. I guess I still suck at equitation. I really tried to concentrate on keeping my heels down, but I think I need to shorten my stirrups a hole... the only problem is that I'm out of holes! I had to adjust them at the show because one was longer than the other (isn't it wonderful how they can stretch an entire hole like that?). So on the one side I'm out of holes and on the other I can only go up one more. If I can remember I'll switch sides with them to try and stretch the other one out so they'll be even! Or I might just ask for a new pair of the pre-stretched or the kind with webbing in them to prevent stretching... anyway, I'm rambling.

The next class was huntseat walk trot stock type. This was a pretty big class and I think there were 13 horses. We ended up placing 8th, which isn't bad, but equates to no PAC points. I was hoping for 5th or better, but we got what we got. Now, while I can't see every horse in the class, obviously, I thought we did much better than we placed. Lilly did awesome! She was so consistent at the trot, had her head down, and was moving at the perfect speed. There was even a woman watching the class who approached me afterwards and said she had me pinned 4th. She thought Lilly and I did great. I was so proud of Lilly!

In huntseat walk trot open, we placed 7th out of many of the same horses from the previous class, except this class had about 16 horses in it. Again, Lilly was perfect. She was such a good girl for those riding classes.

The next class was showmanship and there were 5 of us in there. The pattern was as follows: walk from cone A to cone B and jog from cone B to cone C. The cones were set up in the shape of an L. Once we got to the judge we set up for inspection and then had to do a 3/4 degree turn and walk to line. Lilly nailed it. She set up very quickly and did her awesome pivot as usual. I was the first one in so I got to watch the other patterns and none of the other horses pivoted. I thought for sure we won the class. 1st place... not me. 2nd place... not me. We ended up getting 3rd. I just don't get it. Maybe no one down here cares about pivots as much as they did in Michigan. If your horse didn't pivot at the Michigan shows, you could hang it up. You weren't placing. And you certainly wouldn't place over horses that did. The only reason I can come up with is that Lilly is 'dirty' by the time the showmanship class rolls around. Her legs are orangish from the red clay in the arena and she's crapped all over her legs by this point. She's also got sweat and saddle marks from the huntseat classes. I cleaned the manure off her legs and rinsed off her hooves, but I can only do so much in the 30 minutes between huntseat and western. I've got to get changed myself and then try to get her ready for the showmanship class. I also occasionally like to try and grab something to eat at some point during the day. At the end of the class when the judge was looking closely at the horses one last time, she looked very closely at Lilly's legs... like she bent down to take a look... that's what got me to thinking maybe I got marked down for her not being spotless like the top 2 horses that haul in just for western classes.

Halter class went pretty well, though. We got 6th out of 10 horses. Lilly definitely isn't a halter horse, but her conformation is decent, I think. But then again, I'm biased. :-)

Just in time for the western riding classes, the unthinkable happened... I saddled her up, put her bridle on, and walked her out to the make up area. As we were walking, she suddenly stopped in her tracks and started shaking her head. Then she started twitching her withers! WHAT THE HELL!! It's the english saddle problem all over again except it's western this time! So I got off, moved the saddle back slightly and hopped back on. By that time it my class was being called so I had to hurry into the arena. I could tell she was still uncomfortable and kept trying to bite at the girth on the right side. So I planned on scratching my classes but decided to adjust the girth first thinking maybe it was just pinching her or something. I did some more adjusting and dropped the girth a hole and then left it a little bit looser. She seemed to do ok in the second class, but was back to being uncomfortable by the last western class. Since I was preoccupied, I don't remember how many horses were in each class (I'll update it once the results come out) but we got 5th out of 5 in the equitation class, didn't place in the walk jog stock type class, and got 8th in the walk jog open class. She was very fast, but I'm sure it had something to do with the darn saddle.

Now, nothing has changed on my western setup. No new pad, no new girth... nothing. I have no idea why she was uncomfortable. This is getting very upsetting for me, though. If I need to sell both my saddles and buy two new ones, then so be it. I hate that the saddles cause her pain. My work saddles both fit her fine and I've never had any trouble with them, but both of my show saddles are just one headache after another. I've been doing some research and I think what's happening is that the flap of the saddle is restricting her shoulder movement. I found this on a website and is what I think might be happening. It says, "If the saddle is too tight, or the flap points inwards, or the flap is held down too tightly by the billets, then the shoulderblade will not be able to rotate smoothly. Instead, the tip of the shoulderblade "bumps" into the front of the flap. The thin skin above the shoulderblade gets "pinched" between the tip of the shoulderblade and the saddle flap." When Lilly walks, she gets pinched. So she stops abruptly and begins shaking her head and twitching her withers, and doesn't want to move forward. Now, why is the western saddle a problem all of a sudden? Ugh...

On the 16th of November there's a trail ride I'm going to that benefits the USERL. There's going to be a vendor there with the Equimapping system set up so we can check the fit of our saddles. I'm going to do both my english and western saddles and see what they have to say. I know english saddles can be reflocked, but if my western saddle doesn't fit I'm screwed. Either way, I need to know and I need to find tack that fits my horse. It seems odd that I've had her for 8 years and this is the first year something like this has happened with saddle fit.

On a side note, there was no one there taking pictures of the show. I guess because it was moved to Sunday maybe? And I was there alone so I don't have any pictures. I wore the same outfits, though, and Lilly looks the same, so just look back at some of the pictures from the other shows. :-)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

My Hands! My Hands!

I had my lesson yesterday and things went great! I told my trainer how well Lilly had been doing with the lower hands and the softer but more consistent contact. She always does better when my trainer isn't there, though. Or maybe it's me because I'm riding in front of someone... it's probably me.

We worked on Lilly's upward transitions and did the canter transitions in a smaller circle with her bent a bit more than usual. There were a couple times when Lilly tried to step into the canter but ended up just going back to the trot. It's as if she doesn't think she can do it. I really need to make sure I act la-de-dah about the whole thing so it doesn't seem like a big deal to her. That way she won't second guess herself quite so much. She's also doing great with her head at the canter... she tends to put it down more frequently now, except she also speeds up when she does it. A half halt will slow her down temporarily, but then she speeds up a few strides later. It's coming together, though. I see progress every week.

She was being a bit of a booger, though, and anticipating the canter. She's figured out that I always sit the trot before I ask for the canter. So when I go from a rising trot to a sitting trot, sometimes she'll start cantering on her own! She's so smart! So last night I went from rising trot to sitting trot to rising trot to sitting trot... and then I walked. HA! Figure me out now smarty pants! Darn mares anyway...

My trainer also said my hands looked great!! I was really excited because I've been trying really hard to use them properly. I've found Lilly actually responds better now with the new method, so it's easier to remember to do it right.

I also asked my trainer about the show on Saturday (that is if it doesn't rain like the weather man says it is) and whether she thinks I should try a canter class or not. She suggested I stick with the walk trot since Lilly is still so insecure about the canter and the show ring is even more difficult than at home because of the other horses and the distractions. So I think I'll just plan on cantering next year. The first show of next year is in February, so I really don't have a lot of time until then anyway!

Looks like it's time to break down and buy some winter riding clothes so I can keep up her training all winter long!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Raven Rock *Updated!

Saturday Lilly and I hauled over to Raven Rock State Park. This was the first time I'd ever been there, and I've been missing out! It's only about a 30 minute drive from the barn, so it ranks right up there with Umstead and the Tobacco Trail on my list of day ride locations. There are two different loops, and each one is about 4 miles, so it's a good two and a half hour ride. The terrain is very rocky, though, so shoes on all 4 hooves is a necessity. It's pretty much all woods, which would be nice in the summer, but not so nice when you're hoping for some sunshine to warm you up.

It was quite cold on Saturday. I think it was 52 degrees with overcast skies and everything was damp because it had rained pretty hard Friday night. At least the rain had stopped by morning, although when the wind picked up out on the trail it blew the trees around it felt like it was raining. I had to bust out the winter clothes and I was still a little chilly. I want summer back!

When we got there, Lilly was in a hurry to get out of the trailer as usual. She rides great and will stand inside the trailer all day, but as soon as you open that door and tell her to back up, watch out because she's coming out! (Yeah, I'm working on it...) My riding buddy had already parked and his horse Bubba was out and tied to the trailer. Well, when Lilly came flying out of my trailer, I think she was surprised to see a horse standing there. So she did one of those big sideways looks. You know the kind... where her entire shoulder moves sideways and she has to take a big step with her leg to support all that weight... So she steps sideways right onto my right foot!! And then she stands there, mesmorized by Bubba's presence!! Again, ON MY FOOT! So I'm pushing and yanking and pulling and yelling trying to get her to step anywhere but on my poor foot. Nothing... So finally she decided to step backwards, but she drags her foot off mine. Holy crap did it hurt!! I said a few words and hobbled over to the tie ring to tie Lilly up. My riding buddy came to see if I was ok and we decided it was a good thing we were riding and not hiking. She ended up stepping right on the top of my foot. Like right on the arched part. I'm ok and nothing seems to be broken, it's just very sore.

We had fun, though! The Cape Fear River runs through the park and we found a trail to take us right down to the edge of the river. There were waterfalls and streams... beautiful. I didn't take any pictures because it was just dark and damp. Next time, if it's sunny, I'll take some pictures.

** I got a question from Double A Training, who hosted the clinic I attended back in June. It was the clinic that helped me deal with Lilly's herdboundness issues. She wanted to know if Lilly and I got left behind and how Lilly handled it. I can't believe I forgot to mention it!

Actually, we did get left behind! Lilly wanted to go one way over the stream and I wanted her to go the other way. So as she fought to go her way, Bubba got farther and farther away from her. Since Brad and I are good pals, I asked him to stop and wait for me up the trail just out of view so I could take this time to train my beloved Lilly.

After we crossed the stream, she couldn't see Bubba anymore and she started to freak out. She was throwing her head around and starting prancing. I told her to stand as she swung us into the trees, but of course she wouldn't. So I did the one rein stop exercise I learned from Alex at the clinic, and had her circle until she stopped moving her feet. She seemed to remember what the exercise was all about and after about 3 spins, she stopped, and I let her stand. She wasn't happy AT ALL but stood still. When I asked her to walk, she started prancing again, but when I told her to stand she did. So she did much better and didn't rear or completely lose her mind, but she still wouldn't walk back to Bubba cool and calm. She was still very worried about where he was and how long it would take her to catch up.

There was a lot of prancing and stopping, prancing and stopping and she never really walked until we caught back up to Bubba. When I asked her to stop, though, she did. Still not perfect, but MUCH better than how she would have acted in the past!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Bareback!

So the other day I was reading the "Just Saddle Up" blog and saw that Alex had posted about riding her new project bareback. I was inspired! I used to ride bareback often when I was in 4-H and even showed in the bareback equitation classes. We all used to cheat and spray hairspray on our horses to help us stick, but it was a lot of fun! The english bareback classes were brutal, and I think the judges had us trot extra long just for the fun of it, but we all had a good time.

I haven't really ridden bareback since then. Sometimes I ride AJ bareback in the pasture or in the arena, but I'm not really 'riding'. I'm just sitting there spending time with him. And his withers are pretty prominent these days too, so I usually just end up putting the saddle on him instead. Plus he's all over the place... :-)

I rode Lilly bareback once before just because I wondered if she would freak out (I once heard a horror story of someone's horse that couldn't stand to be ridden bareback). She did fine and didn't seem to care in the least.

So yesterday, I decided to ride Lilly bareback again. It was so much fun, and I've decided I need to do it more often! She was really good and did very well considering the amount of contact I needed to have with her in order to stay on. I didn't do any posting because, well, I don't have to, that's why! All sitting trot, and it's a good thing because I'm paying for that today, and probably will be for a couple more days. I wasn't sure if I should try cantering because I didn't know how she would do with all that contact, but I decided I might as well give it a try. What was the worst that could happen? Well, whatever it was, it didn't. Thank goodness. I also practiced what my trainer was saying about my hands and it really helped Lilly soften.

If only they had bareback classes at the JCHSS show!

Wednesday's Lesson

Gosh, I've been so busy lately! And I have so much to write about. I think I'll break my thoughts up into individual posts so I can keep myself organized!

I had another lesson on Wednesday (hence the title of today's post). It went great. Things are starting to come together...

I got Lilly ready about 15 minutes early so I could warm her up a bit and she was all over the place. She was a bit forward, she was being a bit stubborn, and her focus was everywhere except on me. So when my trainer got there, we decided to do some exercises to keep her focused on me and also improve upon Lilly's bending challenges. It's tough to describe the exercises if you haven't seen how the arena is set up, but I basically did a bunch of S shaped serpentines and did some bending in my imaginary rectangle arena (the current arena is oval). Lilly did really well and she was really starting to bend nice. We worked on cantering too, and also on my hands. My trainer showed me what my hands should be doing and for some reason it just made sense this time! I usually keep my hands pretty stationary when I ride and only move them when I need to communicate something to Lilly (and it's usually just with my wrists). She said I needed to be fluid with my whole arm and move in the same motion as Lilly. Instead of just bending my wrists back or down, I need to move my whole arm.

Ah hah!! That makes sense! And Lilly really seemed to respond to it. She was much softer and relaxed. I guess it makes sense... If I'm bracing with my hands, she's going to brace back.

Fluidity!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

State Fair 2008

I got to spend some time at the state fair yesterday. I always try to go watch the Paint/Palomino show to keep up on current show trends for the bigger shows and the "higher caliber" horses. Although, as it turns out, there weren't very many horses there. I expected the classes to be bigger but I think the biggest one I saw had 10 horses in it, and that was the Paint western pleasure class.

All in all I had a lot of fun and enjoyed watching the classes. I saw some very cute little kids on some giant horses, and I always enjoy watching the kids ride. The very slow 4 beat lopers weren't placing (one girl didn't even ride in any more classes until the pattern classes started up), which is great. We need to get rid of that trend...

I also saw some showmanship patterns that were, well, um... bad. I was expecting to see some of the best showmanship horses, but I don't think any one of them pivoted the entire 360 degree turn (or even 90 degrees of it). So I was disappointed there. The horsemanship patterns were the same way. Sloppy... where I come from, you had to be DEAD on with your pattern or you weren't placing. It came down to things like flying change vs simple change of lead in the canter. Or, what diagonal you were on when you posted down the middle of the arena; the one toward the judge or away from the judge? I guess it's good to get out there and try and do your best, but I just expected to see more because it was the state fair.

I saw some other stuff I didn't like too, and it made me want to run home and tell Lilly how lucky she is to be my horse! I thought I took some video, but apparently I don't know how to work my own camera. It's probably just as well. I didn't see anything in the show ring, but I did see some stuff in the make-up ring and also during the breaks when the arena was open to schooling. I must say that if I did any of that stuff to Lilly, she'd probably buck my ass off and run me down.

I guess what I was seeing were people 'suppling' their horses. They were doing this by making those horses lope with their noses planted on their rider's boot. Can you imagine trying to lope with your neck completely wrapped around your body like that? These horses still managed to lope in a straight line, somehow, but my word! And even though the horse was holding his neck like that, the rider was still popping the rein on that same side up into the air. I guess to make sure the horse kept his neck there... I saw about three people doing this with their horses.

I also saw one lady who was doing the 'suppling' exercise and also the 'headset' exercise. Her horse had what I considered a decent headset... a bit lower than his withers, but not too low and certainly not too high. She'd be jogging or loping along and all of a sudden POP those reins up to ask the horse to set his head when he already had his head set. She did that over and over again and the horse looked miserable. He was as confused as I was as to why she kept popping him. So when he wasn't being asked to set his head, he was being asked to lope with his head wrapped around his body. Nice...

One of the poor Paints being 'suppled' was worked for over an hour like that, and later I found him tied to the trailer with no hay. Maybe I'm a softee, but when my horse is tied to the trailer, she always has hay. Especially if I work her hard. It's like a reward for her. The only time I take the hay away is when I'm getting ready to put the bridle on her. Otherwise, she has hay to munch on.

Ugh... of course, those are the horses winning the classes. If that's what it takes to win, I might be in the wrong business.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Lessons Again!

I started my lessons back up with my trainer as of yesterday. The lesson was at 6:30 and we had to turn the arena lights on because we were running out of daylight and fast. It was dark just shortly before my lesson was over, so I'm not sure what we're going to do when it's dark at 5:00... The lights are nice, but it isn't like riding in the daytime, that's for sure.

I've heard some people say their horses are a bit spooked when riding under lights. Lilly didn't seem to mind at all last night, so that was nice. I was afraid her shadow might spook her at times, but it didn't (amazing...).

Lilly did really well. I told my trainer how much progress we had made and I was looking forward to her suggesting some other things for us to work on. She had plenty...

I've been riding the same way for about 6 years now. Lilly is my primary horse and I only ride AJ occasionally, so I'm very used to Lilly and I'm very used to the way I ride her. Apparently it's very wrong... :-) It's mostly how I use my hands, but having ridden like that for so long, it's pretty much muscle memory for me at this point, so breaking myself of it has proven to be very difficult. I'm trying to learn and I'm trying to teach Lilly at the same time, so I have to remember to do about 12 things at once. Often times my hands just go back to the position they're used to being in as the rest of my body tries to focus on the 11 other things. So my trainer kept saying, "Your hands!" over and over. I felt as though she was getting a little frustrated with me because at one point she said, "Your hands! Even if you don't want to!" I really want to, but I have to constantly remind myself.

(For those of you who may want to know, I bend my wrists a lot. Rather than shortening my reins when I need to take up slack, I bend my wrists inward towards my body to take up that 2" of slack in the reins. Sometimes I even have to pull my bent wrists inward towards my body if I need more than 2". I've been accused of looking like Tyranosaurus Rex... I know it must look horrible, but that bend gives my just the right amount of tension in the reins to slow her down or set her head, and once she does it, my wrists go back straight. It's just a quick fix I use... Very quick, very simple, but apparently very ugly. And it is VERY tough to avoid doing it.)

My trainer also says that bending my wrists like that changes my body position as well and drives Lilly forward so it ends up being counter productive. I wish I had been taking lessons all along. Old habits are hard to break.

Another thing we worked on was getting Lilly to bend. I really need to work on that. She either wants to counter bend or do a leg yeild. So it's challenging getting her to wrap around me to do a nice circle when she wants to just sidestep to the rail. Lots of circles are in our future.

The night ended on a stellar note when one of us (probably me) figured out how to do a canter transition. I usually do a sitting trot before asking for a canter, and usually when I ask her, she shoots off like a rocket. Not very pretty. So my trainer had me work on half halts and bringing Lilly down to a near walk and then asking for the canter. Being a mare, Lilly thinks she knows what I want even before I do (she is telepathic you know) so it's a challenge to get her to focus and pay attention to what I want. I think that's part of the reason for her canter transitions. She already knows what I want and when I finally ask her she just can't help but LEAP into the canter. Like, "I know!! Let me do it!!" So between the half halts, the leg cues, and envisioning what I wanted the departure to look like (it actually works sometimes!) I asked very softly and very slow motion-y for a canter. Instead of leaping and taking off like a bat out of hell, she stepped into it. It was controlled, it was pretty, and it was much easier to sit. It was beautiful! The circles following the transition were also nice. We had a comfy, collected, 3 beat canter.

I look forward to practicing these things all week. I'll have another lesson next Wednesday and I hope to not have to hear, "Your hands!!" I might put popsicle sticks inside my gloves so I can't bend my wrists... It might just work!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Road Riding

First, guess what came in the mail on Saturday? Coggins! Woohoo!

I decided yesterday to take Lilly for a ride down the road. I figured she could use a break from the arena and didn't feel like taking her down to the trails. What an exciting event it turned out to be.

I tacked her up western just in case she got crazy (I'm a wimp, I know). She started out very relaxed and was doing really well with the bridle and bit. I haven't ridden her western in a very long time, so I was surprised that when I lifted the reins she put her head down. As soon as we got out of familiar territory, though, her head came up and she got very nervous. She didn't spook at mailboxes, garbage cans, or cars. Nope. She spooked at PONIES. That's right folks. She was scared to death of the pony living only a short distance from her. When she saw them she stopped dead in her tracks. I could literally feel her heart pounding beneath her skin. It was ridiculous. When I finally decided she was done looking and asked her to walk forward, she scooted as quickly as she could. That's my girl!

I'm going to have to take her out alone more often. She's ok in the arena and also on the trails for the most part, but evidently the road is a terrifying place. She's not very brave. It might also be a good idea for us to road ride so I can show her it's ok to trust me even when she's not sure.

Friday, October 3, 2008

No Coggins...

I have not received my coggins papers in the mail yet. I got the bill, though!!

So without that paper, Lilly and I cannot go to the show this weekend. I'm certainly going to take a look at the TWHA shows next year, though. Their shows look like fun and most of them are not too far for me to go.

I've been trying to get ahold of my trainer too, to start taking some more lessons. I've called her a couple times and am waiting to hear back from her. I feel that Lilly and I are actually in a place where we're ready for lessons now. Before, we struggled so much with a lot of the basic stuff that I thought the lessons were almost a waste of her time. We're ready now, though! Our transitions are much better and Lilly's speed is actually under control.

The next show on October 25th is getting closer and closer! Do I canter there? I'm sure going to try, so that's what I'll be working on!