Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Solstice & Christmas Eve Rides

I had one one last chance to ride Halo before leaving town for Louisiana last week. It was solstice, and it seemed to get dark before I even left my house to go to the barn. The moon was low in the sky and bright orange!

Here is Halo in the dark, begging for treats at the tie rail. I just got the box in the mail this week with the brand new pad and girth for her, so I'll be trying those out later this week.

Her expression here says it all. "Mooooooom, stop taking stupid pictures!" I wanted to get a good conformation shot, but she wasn't very keen on standing square while I took pictures. Her condition is looking good to me if a little on the tubby side. I'm especially happy with how her neck is looking, given that when I got her everyone said she had a horrible ewe neck. I didn't have the greatest ride on her this night, but it wasn't awful either. Just a day where she was a little more hyped than usual, and a little less focused.

The ride was a good reminder that Halo is a horse who needs an active rider. I probably had my brain halfway on vacation, and she knew it. Yes, some days are easier than others, but for the most part since she is green, I need to be paying attention. One of my riding instructors used to tell me to imagine that riding the horse was like channeling water. You have to hold the channel together to direct the water, and if you don't, the water starts splashing out all over the place and you lose impulsion and/or direction. Halo reminds me of that often.

While I was out of town, I had the opportunity to ride in Louisiana. I got to ride a big palomino paint named Shadow. He had one blue eye and one blue/brown eye.

We rode out in some of the farm fields neighboring the land where the horses are kept. I think the men I was riding with thought I was a little nuts for taking pictures, but this isn't really something you see near Austin. The fields seemed to go on forever! The fields we ride in out behind the barn in Austin are hillier, and most just grow hay.

Here's me and Shadow alongside a ditch. We rode for a couple of hours around the edges of the fields, mostly just walking. I have to say, I loved the saddle I rode in, which surprised me. It was a saddle made in Monroe, Louisiana, not too far from where we were riding. I hope I have the opportunity to ride again next time we visit!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Saddles and Padding and Hooves, Oh My!

I had another great weekend with Halo this week. On Saturday, I was fortunate that my previous hoof trimmer agreed to come out to my current barn to work on my horse and my friend's horse, who is suffering from contracted heels and the beginnings of navicular. I was long past due for an accountability checkup regarding Halo's feet.

The trimmer said I'd been doing a good job with Halo, and her only comments were to make sure to keep her bars shorter (cut them with the nippers instead of the hoof knife), and be slightly more aggressive with the flares on her front feet. She said her hinds look great. I'm happy to hear that I've been doing decent work on my horse's feet, and even happier to have some tips on how to continue to improve my trims.

I only rode Halo briefly (western) after her trim, but she was a very good girl. The next day, I put on the English saddle with some extra padding in front. I've come to the annoying realization that while the saddle fits her, it is not such a good fit for me. The seat tends to tip me forward and put my weight further over her shoulders than I like. Sigh. The saddle odyssey may never end. Anyway, it may be due to growth, because she is going through another lopsided phase, so for the meantime I tried padding up the front of the saddle with a foam riser pad designed to go between her shoulders and the saddle.

I had a GREAT ride that day. I can't emphasize it enough. I don't know if the padding was putting me in a better position, which helped, or if Halo was just in a good mood, but everything went well. She wasn't a dead head by any means, especially since I didn't longe her before riding, but I liked that I didn't have to fight her for forwardness. I had some trot work with which I was extremely pleased where I felt her starting to really round out and step under herself. The feeling is hard to describe, but it's like her trot goes from feeling like riding a choppy pony to riding a big 16.2h horse. Sometimes I have to remind myself to let her go when she's like that. I want her to have the biggest, stretchiest trot she is comfortable doing for now. There is plenty of time to half-halt her later. She isn't ready for any sort of collection yet.

Remembering the idea I picked up during my last blog post, I made sure to stay centered during her canter transitions. It was much, much easier for me with the saddle padded up in front. She picked up the right lead with no hesitation. The left lead was a little stickier as usual. I could feel her thinking about picking up the wrong lead when I first asked, but when I sat deeper and tipped her nose to the inside in response, she picked up the correct lead. It wasn't a pretty transition, because her trot fell apart in the few strides before canter, but I was still thrilled that she got the correct lead without any false starts. We only did about one lap around the big arena each way at the canter. Right now my main goals are to get her to pick up the correct leads, and also to work on getting a nice, low, stretchy walk and trot.

There are currently some ground poles set up out in the big arena. There are four poles, then a ground pole gymnastic (basically a ground pole set up where each jump would be with a stride in between. Halo and I trotted them a few times. I was reading on a forum I frequent that sometimes the best thing you can do for the horse is to get out of the way. That resonated with me, especially in light of our improved canter departures with me keeping off Halo's forehand. So I gave her the opportunity to figure out the poles on her own without rating her strides. She did very well, and surprised me the second time we went over by trotting the rails, and then breaking into a canter and taking little pseudo-jumps over each of the poles. I'm excited to try some more ground pole grids with her. It really seems to help her rhythm, and it is very, very good for my position. I am reminded each time I go over that I need to look up, keep my heels down, and work on my two-point. I don't have the leg strength right now to maintain it for a long time.

I know every ride is not going to be perfect, but right now I am very pleased with how she is coming along! I hope I can get someone out there to take some pictures or video soon so that you lovely readers aren't forced to endure my ramblings on their own.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Good Ride, and Cantering

I tend to post here when Halo and I do an event, or if I'm having training frustrations. We haven't had much of either lately, so it's time now to write about a good ride. I went out to the barn on Wednesday night. It was already dark when I got there, but there was a group jumping lesson going on, so all the lights were on in the outdoor arena. It was unseasonably warm, which was good because I forgot to bring a sweatshirt. I grabbed Halo out of the pasture, tacked up in English tack, and went up to the arena.

I hadn't ridden since last weekend, so I intended to longe. However, it's difficult to longe in the midst of a jumping lesson, so she only got about 5 minutes of longe line warmup before I got on. She was very mellow, and we did a nice warmup under saddle, mostly walking on a loose rein. As we were warming up, I observed some of the jumping lesson. I was watching a girl do a short course of jumps that included multiple lead changes. When her horse made an incomplete flying change (switched in front, not in back), the instructor reminded the girl to sit back when asking for the change. It was a light bulb moment for me.

Obviously Halo and I are not schooling lead changes. We're still working on getting the correct leads each direction on cue. Halo has a harder time getting her left lead, even though it is my good direction (supposedly). When the instructor told the girl to sit back, my light bulb moment was realizing that I have a tendency to lean forward when asking for the canter. My leaning is caused by two things - 1) leaning forward to indicate "go" and 2) nervousness on my part when I was first starting canter work with Halo.

I was nervous when I first started schooling canter work with Halo, and my body is doing what most human bodies do when nervous - curl up into the fetal position, which on a horse manifests itself as leaning forward. I'm not nervous any longer, but the habit managed to form over the past few months and stick with me. When I was teaching beginners, I would always start out explaining why you need to sit tall - because if you get scared and lean forward, most horses think, "go!" So in one way, it was effective, because Halo was picking up the canter and responding to my cue to go. But on the other hand, leaning forward was forcing her onto the forehand, and causing her to fall into the canter instead of making a strong transition from her hind end.

I decided to try out my new theory, that if I sat back and got out of her way, Halo would pick up the correct lead, and also have a stronger canter depart. What do you know - she nailed her leads the first time. Success! I was very glad for that jumping lesson, and happy to have a great ride on Halo. Hopefully our canter work will continue to improve from here.

Also, Halo is just shy of 15h now!