December 17, 2010

X Halt... Haaaalt, ok I Halt Salute

When I first started working with Dexter I built myself a shabby dressage ring out in a pasture to get me motivated.  Its basically spray painted cinder blocks at the letters, a fence on one side but otherwise no rails or borders.  The blocks have since been knocked over and moved around by the pasture ponies, but they are relatively in the same spot.

I don't work Dexter in the dressage ring very often, for one, when I got him he wasn't good at balancing and going straight so we did a lot of large circles and serpentines that wouldn't have fit in the ring.  Plus, I put it right next to the corn field not aware of the scary monsters that lived in the field (wind and grasshoppers). So Dexter would leg yield and shoulder in all along the one long side, ready to bolt should anything move before telling him.

Anyway, as I plan on showing next season, and Dexter has found his center, I've decided we need to use the arena more.  After schooling in the arena I decided to run through the new Training Level Test 1 to see how we were doing.  Needless to say, I've found that we may need to focus on some precision work and transitions now that he's got his frame.  Below is the test as written followed by our interpretation:

A Working Trot
X Halt Salute
X Halt, walk, halt, walk, HALT

C Track Left
Somewhere between G & C track left, drift out of the arena and come back in around S
E 20 meter Circle
E 15-20 meter egg-shape

A Circle left 20m, developing left lead canter second half of circle
A circle left 20 meters, canter 2 strides break to see if she's serious, pick canter back up
AFB Working Canter
AFB Trot in the corner followed by hand gallop to B

B-E Half circle 20 M
Just past B track left
Between E & K Working Trot
E ask for trot, V ask for trot, extended trot at K

A 20 meter stretch circle
Stretch at extended trot, slow down and relax the second half of the circle, just in time to pick up the reins.

Between A&F Medium Walk
Between A&F halt (now he halts) then proceed at the walk.
FXH Free Walk
FXH free walk - no problem here :)
H-C Medium Walk
H pick up reins, Dexter pull them back out. Pick them back up and grind teeth to C.

C Working Trot
C Working Trot - good boy!

Same as work to the left, egg shape, hand gallop and all.

A Down Centerline
Overshoot A  Find Centerline
X Halt Salute
X Halt Salute - no problems, he knows hes done :)

Like I said, it was good to do because it magnified what I've been letting him get away with.  Nothing big but we definitely have some work to do.  And it's honestly a lot better that it was.  I rode a test with him when I first got him and I don't think we finished.  I decided it could wait when we cantered right out of the arena on our 20(40-50) meter circle. 

And my thought is, if he was perfect, he'd be boring. :)

December 14, 2010

Stop and Smell the Horses

I love the smell of a horse.

I don't think you will find many riders who disagree.  I don't particularly love the smell of my cat, or my dog, or even my husband after a hot day, but I always love the smell of my horse.  It doesn't matter if its after a bath, when he's sweaty, or cold and fuzzy.  I'm not sure why, ask any non-horsey person, its not a very pleasant smell.  It got that dirty, musty, grassy smell with just a hint of ammonia or poo depending on what they rolled in that day.  I don't stick my head in my cats litter box and say "yeah, that's the ticket."  But on my horse nestled in the fur and mane, it's heaven.  Almost therapeutic.  I don't know why, I can only imagine that I now associate that aroma with so many happy memories and moments that my brain automatically reassigned it from "horse smell = poo" to "horse smell = good, safe, & happy."

All I know is that any time I'm stressed over a life event or am in a particularly bad mood, I try to stop by the barn (even if just to feed) and bury my head in Dexter's neck and take a big whiff.  I'm not afraid to admit it, and I know it sounds weird, but it works.  It melts the stress, it calms me down and it just makes me content.  I've always loved the smell of a barn and horses but this habit is a new one.  Maybe it's because I don't always have time to ride and when I go out to feed Dexter I get whatever I can.

The interesting thing is that my husband (a non-horsey person) has started to like the smell.  I'll come home and he'll say:
"You smell like a horse."
me - "I'm sorry."
"It's OK, it smells good." 

The only thing I can figure is that his brain is making the same reassignment mine did.  Only for him it is because I'm in a better mood when I come home smelling like a horse (horse smell = happy wife).  I've already shed the stresses from the day and am re-energized.  I doubt he would agree with me if he shoved his head into Dexter's mane and took a big whiff.  But the fact that my horse smell is pleasant to him makes me happy.

So I suggest to those of you who love horses and get excited when you get to the barn and catch a hint of that familiar smell, try just sitting ans smelling your horse.  (Try to stay near the front end, a little too much poo smell can probably spoil the experience.)  It may be helpful being that in the winter months its hard to get a ride in.  I'm not saying its going to be a cathartic or religious experience, it may just smell like a horse to you.  But for me, its one of the sweetest smells I know.

December 8, 2010

Why do I ride?

I ride because:

  • I enjoy being outside.
  • I love animals.
  • I am good at it (I think).
  • I enjoy the challenge of influencing such a huge animal in a positive way.
  • when I'm on a horse, I am not able to think of anything but him and me and what we are doing at that exact moment.
  • it teaches me things about myself I wouldn't have realized otherwise.
  • it humbles me when I need a reality check.
  • it gives me confidence in myself.
  • it makes me think and analyze and use my brain.
  • it is an excellent lesson in patience (something I need more of in my non-horsey world).
  • the sense of harmony is inspiring and special to me.
  • when we both get it right, even for a single stride I get an amazing sense of accomplishment. 
  • I love learning new things and there is always something new to learn.
  • horses smell good.
  • it makes me happy.
  • it makes me whole.
  • every once in a while my horse does something that makes me crack up.
  • my horses often do something that makes me grateful they allow me to share part of their world.
  • it gives me a sense of purpose.
  • the devotion between horse and rider is unique and hard to find anywhere else.
  • somewhere along the way it became who I am.... I ride because I ride.

December 7, 2010

Who Do You Trust?

A few weeks back I let a friend of mine ride Dexter, I realized it was the first time I had let anyone else ride him since I got him 10 months ago.  It wasn't intentional, I just board at a barn with only 3 other riders including the owner and they all ride western so they have no real interest in him.  Anyway, it was the owner of the barn who rode him.  She rides and trains horses for western and trail riding.  Her forte is getting them broke and obedient, she doesn't focus on the finer points of carriage, etc.  Which is probably why she doesn't understand why I'm taking lessons when I can "clearly ride" and my horse is "broke".  Anyway, I respect her as a rider and had no issues with letting her ride him, I've been asking her to for a while.  So we threw a western saddle on him, I made sure he wasn't going to do anything funny with it on, and she hopped on.
I was a mess the entire time.... she immediately cranked his head to his chest (something I've been trying to correct for 10 months).  Was running him in circles swearing he was heaving on the bit.  And cantering him around at more of a hand gallop with his head in the air (the only time it wasn't at his chest).  When she was done she began to tell me all the things I should do to fix him, we won't go into how I felt about that right now.  (Everyone has an opinion and I respect that, but wait until I ask for it.  I don't tell you how to get a better roll-back).  Then said how fun he was to ride.
As she was riding I tried my best to keep as quiet as possible but couldn't help yelling out bits of advise here and there.  Who am I to tell her what to do, she has been riding a lot longer than I have and has been in the training business most of the time.  But the fact of the matter is our way of riding and training is completely different. 
This got me thinking.... how many people do you truly trust with your horse - someone you know will ride exactly the same as you and won't confuse, stress or un-train them.  In my riding career I've ridden and hacked around with a lot of friends.  But how many would I let take Dexter for a month knowing he would come back the same horse? 
Four:  Carol - my old trainer, my current trainer, and Holly and Heather, my friends from childhood.  That's it.
Obviously my trainers, because if you can't trust them with your horse, you probably shouldn't be working with them.  Then Holly and Heather, longtime friends and amazing riders.  And being good riders isn't what it's about(like I said my friend that rode Dexter is a good rider... but very different).   Holly and Heather and I ride very much alike, with the same aides, balance and philosophy.  They live in FL and I am in CO so they haven't met Dexter yet, but as kids we used to trade horses all the time.  And apart from the horses personalities it was like riding my own.  In college Holly was training and exercising horses.  When she needed help I'd go out and ride a few for her.  She knew I wouldn't undo anything she had been working on.   And most recently, when relocating from TX to CO, I couldn't get my thoroughbred sold before my move.  I shipped him to FL so they could train and sell him.  I had no worries, in fact I was excited.  I hadn't jumped him much and knew they would put some good training on him. 
Holly, Heather and I have been friends long before we started riding together (they've been together slightly longer than I have being as they are twins.)  And maybe that's why I trust them so much, or maybe that's why we've stayed so close.  We are friends because we have the same personality and that's also why we ride so similarly. 
Watching my friend ride Dexter the other day made me realize how uniquely tuned in each horse is to their rider, and how special it is to have someone who can share that bond with your horse.  This is why as much as I would love the extra money and the extra training for Dexter I could never lease my horse.  And this is probably why there has been so much discussion as of late as to whether or not the amazing horses that competed in the most recent WEG will perform the same with their new partners. 
How many people would you trust with your horse?

Quick fun with Paint!

Here is something I was playing around with today.  I decided to make a cartoon of my L.E. (Mostly because she had the biggest head shot.)  Please keep in mind I am not a creative person.  I am a mechanical engineer by training and a manager by profession. 

December 2, 2010

Dexter's First.... Baby?

During the holidays my Brother, his wife and 10 month old daughter visited.  This was the first time a baby had been in our new house and around any of our animals.  The cat hid the entire weekend, if I hadn't dragged her out to prove it, no one would have known we even had a cat.  The dog was thoroughly confused by my niece.  She (Beamer) was curious but wary.  It was super cute.  Beamer would go up and sniff my niece, but the minute the baby started crawling towards her, she'd run away.  How a tiny baby can scare a giant Shepard mix, I don't know.  By the end of the weekend, Beamer would lay by the baby and let her pet her paws and nose, but she had enough when the baby started going for her tail.

I mentioned in the earlier post that they all came out to see Dexter.  I think this was the first time my niece had seen a horse and possibly Dexter's first time seeing a baby.  We didn't put her on Dex or anything but they did get to meet and Dexter was very well behaved when Tabitha petted his nose.  As soon as they walked over he immediately noticed this new little wonder and put his head down to eye level.  He only flinched once when she bopped him with her hand.  And he kept a tentative eye on her while everyone was standing around.  It really was interesting to see how the animals reacted to an infant. 

They all seemed to recognize this was no ordinary human.  Both the dog and the horse were somewhat fascinated, without being pushy (forget the cat, she's a cat).  You notice the same kind of care at Pony Club rallies and little hunter shows.  Doting ponies following their kids around, maybe they are just good bombproof horses, or maybe the lure of childhood innocence crosses specie boundaries.  I like to think the horses feel like they are taking care of their kids in stead of the other way around... who knows.   And maybe the next time Dexter meets my niece, he will get to give her a ride (I think she needs to learn how to walk first, otherwise she will expect a horse to take her everywhere).

To Pull or Not to Pull...

I have been out of the show ring for a very long time... about 12 years so I'm a little behind the times on trends.  Luckily I ride dressage which is cemented in tradition so very little changes, especially at the lower levels... or so I assume. 

But I plan on showing this coming season, so as I dust off my hat and breeches I have one question... what are the standards on braiding these days.  I have a Friesian Cross with a long thick black mane, and it kills me to chop it off and thin it out.  Ignore his head position below, we have since fixed his desire to avoid the bit (I promise I don't practice Rollkur).  This was 8 months ago when I first got him, its grown another 4 inches since. 

I have read that with certain breeds like Friesians and Andalusians, a running braid is acceptable.  But to me he looks more like a Thoroughbred/Warmblood than a Friesian.  So if I show up with a running braid it may be perceived as lazy vs paying tribute to his breed and thick mane.

The other option is to go a head and shorten and pull his mane.  But as I look at the pictures of current button braids they seem to be quite thick.  I'm imagining if I only fit 8-10 braids on his neck they are going to be the size of my fist, without completely thinning it out.  That is something else that seems to have changed.  When I was showing years ago, we had 15-20 individual braids, maybe I've been doing it wrong this whole time.  And where is the white tape?  That seems to have gone away too.  Geez I wonder what else has changed.  Are we still wearing white pants?  I hope so because they are the only ones that still fit :).

So I guess I have some decisions to make:  Do I keep Dexter's mane long even though he doesn't have the Friesian build?  If not how thin do I go?  Is it OK to have more braids?  And do I need more white tape?

Help!? :)

December 1, 2010

I Got One Ride In!

To my delight my family was willing to let me sneak away for a ride.  My brother and his wife brought my 10 month old nice out to meet Dexter then left me to ride.  It was windy and short (30 minutes) but it was just enough to fill my cup.
I would have ridden longer but the cool weather was blowing up the skirts of the horses in the pasture I was riding in.  It’s hard for Dexter to concentrate when 6 horses are galloping past him every 5 minutes.  So we cut our losses and gave Dexter big pats for not joining the herd.  I’ve learned that pushing my luck usually ends up with me on the ground.  And he was very calm in the middle of it all so he deserved a break.

So, I’m glad I got to ride, being that I didn’t expect to at all.  Thanks Family!

Family, Horses, and Turkey…oh my!

I have taken on the task of hosting Thanksgiving this year.  Which means cramming my family in my house, teaching the dog that babies aren’t toys, pretending to learn how to cook a turkey and trying to find time to sneak away to see Dexter.  I love my family, they have always been super supportive of my riding, even when they don’t totally get it.  But they try to stay involved, when they come to visit they say they want to see the horse.  I bring them out and they watch me ride, but I know it can’t be that exciting.  Watching dressage at anything but the highest levels, even to those of us who live and dream it, can be a little boring.  So I imagine watching me go round and round in circles as we try to perfect the shoulder-fore can get a little dry.

So when I notice my dad getting more interested in the geese than the horse I try to wrap it up.   And we end up with a short slightly un-fulfilling ride.  How do I balance?  I want to ride this weekend, in fact I think it would benefit all as it would keep me from completely loosing my mind.  But how do I justify leaving my guests for 2+ hours for some “me” time.  I thought a good balance would be to invite them along, but I see now, that won’t allow me to do what I want/need to.  Which is seriously ride Dexter and work on our progress.  Instead it will be me riding a 20 meter circle stopping ever other circle to say “What?” because people forget when you are on a horse there is constant wind.   I start to feel bad as I imagine people are getting bored so I cut the ride shore before I’ve really re-centered myself.  The time I spend riding ist the time I get re-focused and re-energize.  I use it to erase all the petty thing s that happened that day (which can increase around the holidays) and direct all my energy to my equine partner.  Riding makes me a better, calmer person, but riding distracted, not so much.

I have no children, but imagine once I do this dilemma will be a daily occurrence instead of annually.  My husband is very supportive and honest about my riding.  He has no problem with the time I spend at the barn as long as I don’t drag him out there with me.  And that works for me.

So what do I do?  Seriously?  I know there are busier people out there who handle this kind of time commitment.. .what do I do?

Honestly… I’ll get over it.  I’m just having a moment of self-pity… poor Kelly can’t ride her horse for 4 days.

My parents came out yesterday and I rode as long as I could knowing it was getting colder and while I was  working up a sweat my Floridian parents were freezing. I know I’ll have to bring my brother and his wife out to meet Dexter and probably won’t ride then, just lots of pets and treats for Dexter.    I have the excuse that the barn owner is away so I at least have to come out once a day to check on him and feed him (and just sit and smell him for a minute).  Riding will probably be out, which sucks as I watch the days get shorted and colder knowing I will soon have to go weeks without.  But, I’ll live, Dexter will live and Sunday once everyone is dropped off at the airport me and Dexter have a date.  My husband will probably need a nap anyways.