Friday, December 30, 2011

The Year is Ending...

It's been a while again, hasn't it? I was fortunate enough to recently have some of my writing featured on another more prominent horse blog. I hope no one is too offended if my writing here is of a much more casual nature!

So what have Halo and I been up to? Well, it rained most of December, so there hasn't been much opportunity to ride. I did get out and ride her this past Tuesday, and I'm still sore. We had a short little trail ride down the road with the camp kids, and then the barn owner was kind enough to let me ride with them in the indoor arena since the outdoor is still a sloppy mess. I even got to go over a little crossrail a couple of times, and got some good pointers. Mostly I need to push her to the fences more, especially when jumps are set up for larger horses. Halo has to work a little extra hard to make the lines!

November was National Novel Writing Month, so I was busy writing a book as usual. I'm now sitting down to revise last year's NaNo novel, which is something I've never attempted before. Usually just knowing I've written it and tossing it in a drawer is good enough for me, but I feel like these last two books are begging to be made into something great. So I'm going to try. Revising is a lot harder for me than writing,

October was full of insanity at work, but I still made it out to work with Halo most weekend days. I even started getting brave and doing a little jumping in the outdoor arena. Halo is going really well over small fences, and finally starting to get pretty solid on her leads and canter transitions.

Here's a picture of the pony from November, before the rain started. We had a terrible drought this year, and you can see how parched everything looks. The good news about all the rain is that grass is starting to grow again. The forecast isn't looking good for 2012, though - we still need tons more rain to get out of drought mode. Keep your fingers crossed for grass and turnout this spring!

Soon I would like to set some goals for 2012, so I'll be back to do that in the next week or so. Have a Happy New Year!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Baby Picture!

Today I was looking for something in my email and came across this old baby picture of Halo. I don't think I've posted this particular one of her before - it predates my ownership of her. I think she is about six months old here. Wasn't she cute?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Summer Recap in Pictures

After a summer of foot surgery, no showing, a new lessee, and a new saddle, it feels like time for a review of the past several months' progress. Looking at these pictures, I think the positive change in Halo is very apparent. She's developed a lot more muscle, and is learning to use herself correctly. We still have plenty ahead of us, though - the canter and canter transitions need improvement, she is ready to do some low fences, and lateral work needs to come into play. All three of those things have been a focus for both me and Allegra over our last several rides.

Here is where Halo started out at the beginning of the summer in May.

That last picture in particular makes me cringe because of the way I'm popping up out of the saddle. My lower back is very tight, and there is a constant struggle for me to keep it soft enough that I don't hollow my back and perch on the front of my seatbones. If anyone has in-the-saddle exercises to help improve that, please let me know! Next is our first ride post-surgery, at the very end of July (yep, in shorts and sneakers, flame away):

These next pictures are from just a few days ago. I think you can really see that her muscling has changed and improved, and I'm finding that I have less trouble keeping my butt planted in the saddle where it belongs. Unfortunately carrying a whip seems to make me extra prone to piano hands, so I have some work to do on that front.

And here are some pictures of her with Allegra, whom I credit with 90% of these positive changes in Halo. I think a huge part of it is that I've always struggled with focusing on one particular thing with Halo. I couldn't decide what to do, and she's athletic enough to do a variety of things, so I didn't feel compelled to focus strongly on one aspect of riding. Allegra made a point of working consistently on dressage, and it shows in Halo's progression.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Jumping Lesson!

Allegra took a jumping lesson on Halo yesterday! I'm glad she did it, because I'm still a little leery of jumping anything over 12" and I don't want my anxiety about it to be part of Halo's early experiences. I'd rather let Allegra get Halo comfortable with the basics, and hopefully after that I can take a lesson myself. Here are the details from her email.

First she had me do trotting poles, halting towards the end the arena, doing a turn on the haunches and trotting back over. She said to help Halo get her distances - look when we would meet the pole and shorten or lengthen her stride to meet the poles. 

After that we did a line with two small cross rails. The first fence she took big, the rest were pretty small. Stephanie said to make sure Halo is forward and that I rest my hands on her neck so even if she goes big I don't catch her mouth - that it is especially important to give them good experiences starting over fences. Also important is to stop once she gets it totally right so she knows what we are looking for.

We did that line trotting many times, stopping at either end of the arena. then changed to trot in canter out. Results were mixed, but once she figured out what I was asking and I gave her enough leg before taking off on the first one she got it. She did duck out once to the right and tried another once or twice to dodge the second jump, but we went over messy instead.

After that we added the purple line, again trotting in and cantering out. I got off around 12:30 and she was barely sweaty even though I was exhausted. I had Stephanie help me make more holes in the stirrups, so they were nice and short and my ankles were feeling it. She did go fine in the dressage saddle and I felt comfortable in that in half seat and two point, so not sure if I'll try the other saddle or not. 

She was great picking up the canter after the first jump and keeping it around the arena. Stephanie said to be very aware of the lead so she doesn't get used to being on the wrong one, and to mix in elements of a real course even if we're just doing one line, to push deep in the corner, have the correct lead - sometimes keep it and sometimes go down to trot, turn as if you are going to another jump - sometimes tightly, sometimes wide. So pretty much how we are preparing her for a dressage test on the flat.

Halo was awesome and I encourage you guys to try it. Once we started doing poles and fences her whole attitude changed from just warming up doing flat work, she was more engaged, picked up gaits more easily after taking a break - when I asked her to canter as a rewarmup after walking she got it much faster. I think she is really going to enjoy mixing this into the routine and it will help her flat work a lot, and I know I'm going to be feeling it tomorrow, so it will be good for my position too!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Contact Is Not the Enemy

Since there are now three of us riding Halo, there is a fun email correspondence going back and forth regularly between us about our rides. I feel like I've been writing so much email that it has allowed me to neglect my blogging duties! And still, despite all the communication there are things that only become clear in person.

Yesterday I met up with Allegra at the barn. She wanted to try applying some ground work exercises with a rider on board to see if we could help clarify some cues for Halo. We set out to work on two things: leg yields and upward transitions from trot to canter.

Halo doesn't quite have leg yields down yet. The main problem is that she will move her front end over and then trail her hind end, not crossing over in the back. We have front wheel drive and need rear wheel drive instead. As I asked for a yield from the quarter line to the rail, Allegra would push on Halo's hip in addition to my cue. What struck me was how very different it felt when Halo was using her hind end. Now I know what the feeling is that we're searching for, which will hopefully make it easier to achieve without help on the ground. I know what to reward.

Another thing that probably added confusion to the mix is that the leg cues I taught Halo are that leg at the girth means move your front end over, and leg further back means move your hindquarters. From talking with Allegra it sounds like she was using opposite cues - so when going from the quarter line to the rail she would move her outside leg back and keep her inside leg forward. That is one of the many challenges when multiple riders are working with a horse - we might all be doing things slightly differently. Oops.

After we spent some time doing the leg yields, we moved to the outdoor arena to work on canter transitions. There was a ring of cones out there with dressage letters on them that provided a helpful guide. We trotted a circle around the cones, and I would call out to Allegra at which letter I was going to ask for canter. As I cued to Halo, she would reinforce the cue with the familiar longe whip cue from the ground. The results weren't perfect every time, but she definitely got a few nice snappy transitions. She was best when I set her up for it properly with a nice forward trot, and then sat back out of the way of her shoulders as I cued. It was a great exercise and I would definitely like to do it again.

Interestingly, the most important takeaway from our ride turned out to be contact. Allegra showed me how much more contact she has been using on Halo. As a rider in general I tend to err on the side of looseness with the reins. It works fine when all I'm asking of her is to get herself around the arena one way or another, or if we are just poking down the trail. I assumed that if I took up more contact, she would suck behind the bit and we would be back to square one. I was wrong. Halo seems to crave a steadier, firmer contact in addition to a strong leg to support her and push her forward. Of course now my legs are good and sore today! I had to shorten my reins several inches from where I had them, and even then Allegra had to keep reminding me to keep them shortened. The improvement in how Halo carried herself was unquestionable. We got a much more consistent trot, and even some nicely rounded canter. Using more contact also meant I had to work harder at keeping my seat deep so that I didn't get pitched forward. My abs are sore today too. It's a good feeling.

The contact issue may seem like a "duh" moment to some of you, but it's amazing the things we don't catch ourselves doing without a set of eyes on the ground. I haven't had consistent lessons in nearly ten years now, so there are plenty of gaping holes in my knowledge and abilities. I'm grateful that Allegra had time to come out with me, and I'm happy to have some equitation homework to do.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Oregon Vacation!

I've been out of touch for a couple of weeks, and with good reason. Casi and I took a much-needed trip to Oregon, managing to escape yet another week of temperatures exceeding 100 degrees. Part of that vacation was paying a visit to see my old horse that I've mentioned before on this blog. He's looking healthy and well, though his owner is having tough financial times and is now on self-care. He has a lovely shaded paddock to spend most of his time in, which is great for his arthritic legs since he can move around. It also keeps him much blacker to be out of the sun!

Even though he hasn't been my horse for a long time, it's always good to see him. He'll always be my first horse, the first one I trained from the time he was young. He taught me a lot about what to do, and more about what not to do with a young horse. I know I always go on and on about him, but he means a lot to me and always will. I hope that I can get back to Oregon permanently so that I can see him more frequently, even if it's just to pet his nose and tell him he's a good boy.

I also got to go on a ride with my friend Trish. I got to ride a western pleasure bred solid-paint named Romeo. I rode him last year too, and he definitely lives up to his name. His lope was pure pleasure - Trish was laughing at me because I was grinning so much the first time we loped around the polo field we were riding in.

Another fun thing was seeing a bunch of people I haven't seen in nearly 15 years - a random collection of some of the boarders at the barn where I first took riding lessons and boarded my first horse. It was crazy seeing everyone after all these years, but it was tons of fun, and I hope we can do it again! Everyone is so grown up now, including me.

The Sunny Hill Stables crew:

It was a great vacation, and we were far from happy to come back to the awful weather here. It was already 82 degrees when I woke up at 6:30 on Sunday, so Halo got the day off. I'm sure she doesn't mind, but I am itching to ride.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Recovery and Balance

Halo was a bit witchy this week. There's a gelding new to her pasture in whom she has taken an interest - she's a big girl now and wants to flirt with the boys. Unfortunately, that made for a difficult ride for Allegra earlier this week. From what she said, Halo was acting spooky and was very unfocused. She was also somewhat bratty for Lindsey the next day, but not quite as dramatic. I headed into the weekend thinking I was going to have some rough rides ahead of me. Fortunately Halo decided to have mercy on her poor gimpy mom, and I had productive rides Saturday and Sunday.

Both days we started off with a snack. Because the weather has been so atrociously hot, I've been going out very early in the morning, and sometimes the horses haven't been fed yet. I give Halo a small armful of grass hay while I groom her because she often misses part of breakfast.

She certainly isn't complaining!

Anticipating trouble, Saturday I started off with a little round penning to see how Halo's energy level was. She wasn't too impressed with me, but she behaved perfectly. I didn't keep her at it too long since it was already hot, and she was being good. I got on and we did some warmup. The main thing that quickly became apparent is that I am VERY out of shape. It is amazing what a month off, and a month of having a bum foot did to my fitness level.

I noticed it even more last weekend during my first real post-surgery ride, but at the rising trot, I'm having trouble posting evenly. I feel like my left hip is leading, which makes sense, because my right foot is the bad foot, and I still have some swelling in the ball of my foot that makes it hard to put weight in the stirrup. I've also had to ride in sneakers because I still can't get my swollen foot into a boot. All that plus my loss of fitness means that riding is a much harder workout than usual.

Still, I could tell while trotting that Allegra's hard work paid off. As long as I stay steady with my aids, Halo stays much softer and steadier than she used to. She's more consistent about traveling forward into contact. We still have the occasional counterflexion issue to the right, but that's a mystery I think I partly solved this weekend.

The main scenario in which Halo tends to counterflex is when cantering to the right. What's strange about that is that when I first started riding her, the right was her good direction. She never had trouble with that lead. Now she's the opposite. The left lead is easy, and the right lead is always a struggle to get and maintain.

When we worked on cantering this weekend, my lack of leg strength and pain in my foot meant it was extra difficult for me to put weight in my right stirrup. We repeatedly had trouble getting the right lead, even though I was remembering to sit back and get out of the way of her shoulders. It occurred to me then that the main issue was probably that I was sitting crooked altogether. (I am probably lopsided all the time, but I imagine it is much worse post-surgery). As an experiment, I got a good trot, then sat down, dropped as much weight as I could tolerate in my right hip and stirrup, and away we went. Halo got the right lead every time I asked that way.

As usual, most things that go wrong with the horse are rider error. I've always had pain in my right foot, and I've always preferred to canter on the left lead. Poor Halo has been trying to canter with my weight thrown off balance, so I've effectively trained her to prefer the left lead. Oops. She has the same problem with Lindsey and Allegra, who don't share my foot issues. However, I think she's become used to my crookedness over the past year, so to correct the problem, the aids have to be a little more dramatic than usual. I also noted that when I forced myself to drop more weight into my right hip and stirrup she bent around my leg instead of counterflexing. I'll be interested to see if Allegra or Lindsey finds the same result I did for canter transitions.

I ended both rides a little ouchy on my bum foot, but it was worth the price to figure out the right button to push to get that right canter lead. Maybe my recovery will be good for both of us - it forces me to be more reflective as I'm riding, not just once I get home and am turning things over in my brain in front of the computer.