Sunday, January 31, 2010

We lost it!

So this week was pretty much a lost week. Monday is always kind of a no-go for riding because they do jumping lessons that night and because the outdoor arena has been too soppy for jumping for the past, what, month then they ride in the indoor arena until 7:00. So it's packed, just not practical. Tuesday I was helping out a friend, so no riding then, but I have no problem helping a friend out. That's how good of a person I am :) And then Wednesday I had a hair appointment (my hair needed it, my bangs made me look like a sheepdog heehee) and it had been scheduled since my last one six weeks ago, so it wasn't a spur-of-the-moment thing.

Tuesday Greta also had a farrier appointment, and we have good news: the farrier said her barefoot hooves are tough as nails. She has big, dinosaur hide frogs, and she appears to be standing on all of them quite evenly now. Yay!!!!

Thursday I did actually ride because I had a lesson, and Greta was in frame for almost the entire time when she was asked to be, of course she got stretching breaks. I was very proud of her! We did some exercises with rein aids to try and get her to stay in frame, and some more half halt practicing, and it worked. We did all of the practicing on a 20 mete circle (alas! 20-meter circle, we have become quite familiar have we not?) and then tried out our exercises throughout the entire arena, and though she picked up pace a bit, we still stayed in frame. We also did some canter, trot transitions on a bigger circle at the end of the lesson, and by about the fifth time around or so, I'd just think "trot" and she'd go back to a trot without getting grabby with the reins. It was a trot enough to make a Standardbred jealous, but a trot nonetheless! Then, because she had worked up a bit of a sweat, I put her cooler on and got started on pulling her mane! Supposedly after a work their pores are nice and open so it makes mane pulling more comfortable for the horse. I need to work up a sweat and try it on myself to see if that's true haha! But so far, it is much more even, though thinning it out I haven't quite got the concept, so I haven't started with that. Help?

Friday I was out, and then Saturday I fixed feed in the morning and only had time to lunge Greta, because I was going to see Avatar (4 times now!!) with a friend at 2:30 and then I went to go see our school's production of Oklahoma (I didn't realize how talented my school was!) that evening. Today was a very dear family member's birthday, so I fixed feed in the morning and then lunged Greta again. But today, she was interesting.

Another horse was being lunged at the other end of the arena, so Greta was curious about him. While were walking he was cantering, so when I asked her to trot she did a quick trot. It wasn't anything "ugly", she was still in a nice frame (she's been doing of her own accord in a halter! I am very proud of her!) but it was more of a lengthened trot. When I asked to her canter, you would've thought somebody fired a pistol at her feet. All of that pent-up energy that had been dormant within her in her stall, at the grooming area, walking, trotting, released! She leapt up into the air and did something reminiscent of a Lippizaner doing a capriole and then proceeded to bounce about like a pinball in a machine without a glass cover. This also sent the other horse into a fit, and I apologized as I pulled Greta back into the center of our circle. Then we tried walk-trot-canter again. She still did a few bucks that were a bit more powerful than I would've liked, so I brought her back in again. This third time, she did a nice, controlled canter. We went the other way around and no problems. It was cute, but thank goodness I wasn't riding that!

And lastly, I can letter in dressage, or any other discipline for that matter! USEF is offering a varsity jacket lettering program. The qualifications are at least 100 hours of riding by June 15. No problem. The big problem is this other qualification bit: either 2 USEF-recognized shows by June 15 or 5 USDF shows by June 15. That might be a problem.

I could always just try again Senior year, but it would look really good that I did it two years rather than three. I have found 2 USEF recognized Dressage shows, the problem is finding a trailer because my trainer will be doing eventing shows during that time. So all in all, looks like I'll be jacket-less this year. I was just fine with the fact I wasn't going to letter in school because, well, I'm no school representative! I don't want to sing or run or dance or anything of the like, and AP art doesn't count haha. I am in one National Honors club, but that's one letter, right? I'm not buying a jacket for one letter. Really. But this program just sounded super cool! We'll see how everything works out....

EDIT: Okay, so that sounded a bit self-interested, so I need to clarify: Greta comes first. Riding is a team effort. I cannot just walk into the ring and say to the judges "Hey, I'm just gonna do this on foot!" Even more important than who can trailer who is do I have a happy, willing horse who is ready for the sights and sounds and pressure of a competitive show? At the moment, probably not haha! The High School Athlete program says you can be a non-competing member, so I really must have a maroon jacket of all things, then that would be our route lol!

Monday, January 25, 2010

More Clinic Pictures

Our pre-lesson cuddle routine.

Warming up

Attempting our first rein-back of the day. She was a bit rusty. It looked better by the end of the day though!

Instructions from Wolfgang. Greta liked to suck up to him when we stopped and she kept getting more and more nuzzly. After about the third stop, she actually nuzzled Wolfgang, just a sweet short one, and he patted her and called her a sweet girl. Greta makes friends wherever she goes!

After our cool down. We stopped and Greta stretched her head.

All in all about ten pictures were taken. I prefer video anyway because you can really see things in action. You may have looked awesome in video but just the wrong second in a snapshot and you can look, well... not awesome.

Thursday night lessons went very well, we did a lot of serpentines and a funky teardrop-shaped routine. The routine was very difficult going to the left because, even though that scary board on the ground was taken away, now there's a HORSEATING RAKE there! It's always been there, but Greta's iffy about that corner. Perhaps it's the scary sheep or compost pile and wheelbarrows just around it. And there used to be a horse in a stall behind that wall that liked to kick with his gigantic Percheron hooves at the pony next to him. But that never bothered Greta. It always startled me though!

Anyway... going to the left meant Greta had to be round in that corner, NOT looking at horse-eating whatever-the-heck's-it-is. That took a lot of effort, which means I did some crappy seat compromising. Instructor kept saying "push her into the corner with your hip!" At the walk, sure can do. At the posting trot, no can do. That probably meant I wasn't really doing it right at the walk either!

At the walk I just needed to apply a bit of inside leg and it worked. I thought Greta got pretty round. At the trot, because she wouldn't listen to just my inside leg, I pushed harder with it, which meant I used my outside hip to try and squeeze my inside leg to her side. That didn't work, so in a desperate attempt to get her round I began to use my inside rein more. Poor Greta was confused, so she kept making this wonky dip away from the corner. I thought it was just her fear of the corner. Once again, the instructor kept saying "use you're inside hip!" And I was now thinking "easier said than done." But little did I realize that I was doing it WRONG! I was moving my seat around, sitting crooked in the saddle. I was not using the entirety of my upper body.

Once she realized that I was NOT figuring this, she explained to me to use my ENTIRE upper body. My seat must stay straight in the saddle, and by using my upper body and abdomen I can manipulate my pelvic bones. We did a run through one more time, and this time we really studied. I just couldn't get the concept of entire upper body down, I stopped using body aids once I hit my abdomen. My instructor told me to shift my outside shoulder in the direction I wanted Greta to follow. This in turn moved my entire upper body while still keeping my seat bones straight but making my inside hip put pressure, and also allowing my outside rein to help Greta better follow where I wanted her to go. We gave this a shot and: beautiful corners! Another major tip in my dressage book.

Oh wait, was I using my inside hip and now I'm using my outside hip? Jeez, that's great that I've forgotten the technicalities! I just remember the shoulder shifting and that puts my body in the position it's supposed to be. My instructor would be ashamed haha!

Yesterday I rode Greta bareback for the first time in a long time. That last time I had just gotten her so she was still a bit ribby and hot (of course that hotness could have also been because she was getting alfalfa twice a day. What I wish I'd known then....) so riding her was like riding a wooden rollercoaster: bumpy, painful, and fast :)

Greta was getting a little ribby again this winter, as I mentioned in some other posts, so we started her on a cup of Empower (a really good rice bran with lots of extra minerals) twice a day.

When I went out yesterday, she saw me from a distance and riased her head with perked ears and watched me as I climbed through the fence, then I waved to her, she let out this long whicker like "hey buddy!" and proceeded to graze, her ears still perked up at me. I was flattered. When I saw her from a distance in the pasture, she looked more fleshy than usual. I felt her to make sure it wasn't just her winter coat, but no, she definitely felt fleshier. Awesome, the Empower is working! She let me ride her bareback up to the gate, and then nuzzled for treats when I got off. Of course I had some.

I trimmed her for the first time in the barn (muzzle, ears, fetlocks, coronary band, jawline, throatlatch, and the back of her hind cannons where she gets this funky strip of hair that likes to stick out behind her like fringes on chaps, it's hard to describe) and she was super about it. I did the whole introducing-her-to-the-clippers routine, but she apparently has been well-aquainted with them. She didn't even lip them when I did her muzzle, but she did feel compelled to smack her jaw a bit like she was chewing on something when I did her jawline! And when I trimmed her right ear, that just felt like the best thing ever because she was lowering her head and trying to push it into me! She was absolutely adorable! I told her that she usually looks beautiful, but now she looked more refined, more beautiful than usual. Greta never looks ugly in my mind :)

Oh yeah, I rode her bareback haha! Just her bridle and wraps and we walked around, did some rein backs and I did my sitting trot. Greta really raised her spine up beneath me and reached for the bit at the trot, I tucked my pelvis in to try and ease the bumpiness, which subsided with the trot improvement. We didn't canter, because my bony butt was still hitting her bony back and, er... prominent withers (btw she did a very abrupt walk-transition once and from the way I landed it felt like I might not be able to ever reproduce! Not like I'm worried about that at my age!) But all in all it was just a fun little workout and she did awesome.

Did I mention I love my horse?

Also, check out these two awesome British Eventers! I can see whatever-the-British-version-of-Young-Riders in their future, heck Rolex or Burghley Horse Trials even! Chloe Hall with Al Pacino aka Pepo (YouTube channel) and Katherine Begley with Bourne Belvedere aka Belvedere (YouTube channel has a link to her website). It's always awesome to see some up-and-coming riders. They might be next generation's Phillipa Grant or David O'Conner or Debbie Macdonald.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Dressage Life: Transitions

Dressage Life: Transitions

It stories like these that make that final dream even more amazing to be fulfilled.

I will actually POST a blog soon. I swear!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Wolfgang May Clinic

So yesterday was the Wolfgang May Clinic! It went very well for it being Greta's first clinic. As you can see in the video, she was very unfocused, hiking her head up to see everything around her, but with the help of Wolfgang (transitions, transitions, transitions!) she began to focus and go into work mode and was a lot better at the later half of the lesson.

Before the lesson

I washed her up Saturday, though I didn't get to pull her mane because I put detangler in it. Oops. I lunged her Sunday morning, and she seemed particularly mellow, so I had my hopes up that she would be super awesome and not crazy in a new situation. My trainer was having a few lessons in the hours before her trailer would arrive, so I hung out with Greta and the other students. Once the trailer pulled up and after I put all of my stuff in there, I threw on Greta's purple cooler (she has been known to break out in a sweat from nervousness when we trailer her, but she's only been trailered twice with us before the clinic, so it's still a new thing I'm hoping to get her used to) and her fly mask (she likes the screen to be down so she can see outside, but we keep the bars up because she also likes to stick her head out as well, yikes! Adrenaline junkie!) and prepared to load her up. She was good about getting near the trailer, sniffing the ramp, and sticking her head in. She just wouldn't actually load. We tried repeatedly to just walk her in, but after a few minutes of refusals, our trainer pulled out the stud chain. I'm a bit iffy on those, but once Greta felt it on her, she knew we actually meant business and she loaded calmly. So it wasn't as stressful as her move to the new barn.

Greta did very well unloading and tacking up. She was fidgety, but she wasn't neighing and trying to break loose. After I took her for a walk around the arena, I lunged her in the arena just to cool her nerves a bit more - I also got some lunging tips from trainer after she realized I was letting Greta counterflex. Oops.

There was a llama in the pasture adjacent to the arena and Greta was absolutely fascinated by it. Once she tried to sniff it - I say "try" because the llama didn't return the favor - her interest waned and it was just another critter nearby. The other horses that trailered in, no problem. The guinea fowl that were squawking all over the place, whatever. Cats, she loves cats - one hopped into my grandmother's lap while she was watching and when I took Greta by after the ride all she wanted to do was nuzzle that kitty! Adorable! I need to get a picture of her with the barn cats.

But a board on the ground outside the arena... it was going to eat her. So that was the only thing that she was iffy about. She didn't spook at it, I just really had to push her into that corner and try to keep her from counterflexing as she tried to eye that board. It had her number, she was sure, and it was out to get her. So she had to keep an eye on that dastardly board on the ground :)

I was able to talk a bit to Wolfgang before I tacked Greta up, but Greta did not want me to leave her side for a few minutes - I turned to see my trainer's daughter who is also a student walking Greta around because she wouldn't stand still! - so I introduced myself, shook his hand, and excused myself. Trainer's daughter and I set up a hay bag to keep Greta preoccupied while we groomed her off and tacked her up. It worked very well. I took Greta into the arena and we walked around for a bit while the other lesson was finishing.

The actual lesson

Wolfgang, contrary to the whole strict German clinician stereotype, was very quiet, friendly, and funny. I felt very comfortable riding wit him as I did not feel I had to be amazingly perfect. He allowed for little mistakes especially since my trainer explained to him that this was both Greta and I's first clinic. Ever.

We started off the clinic with some discussing of what our abilities are: walk, trot, canter, rein back, turns on the forehand, leg yields, and stretching circles. From there we proceeded with the lesson. We solved a lot of Greta's "oooooh, what that over there, oh and over there, and ooooooh lemme take a lookie at that!" by doing lots of transitions to keep her focused on my aids and the task at hand. We did lots serpentines where trotted out the curves and walked on the centerline.

Another task was what I called a "bowtie" pattern: you start off at E (or B) go straight and do a half volte at F, just touching the centerline before going back to E, going straight and doing another half volte at (H?) and once again just touching the centerline before going back to E. We got the pattern down by doing it at a trot, then he introduced the real workout: cantering the half volte and trotting everything else. A weighty task indeed since when Greta canters, she wants to gallop. So at first, she wanted to just canter the whole way and it was very hard to slow her up. But after about four tries, I was able to bring her back down to a nice working trot (not a Standardbred race trot!) once we hit the centerline. So now the final pattern went like this: trot at E, do half volte, pick up a canter at E and start half volte. Trot at centerline and trot to E, pick up canter again at E and so on.

By the end of the lesson, Greta's transitions were amazing and she was much more focused, I wasn't resorting to neckreining trying to get her to go deep into the corners (Wolfgang picked up on my barrel racing past!) and my half halts and downward transitions from a canter didn't include sticking my legs forward ("water skiing" as Wolfgang called it) or strictly pulling on the reins. I was starting to use my whole body. It was a 45 minute lesson, and it was totally worth it!

My trainer is hoping to set up a schedule to where Wolfgang May has a clinic for her students every six weeks or so, as long as there are four or more riders. I'm looking forward to it. There's also Sport Horse Versatility clinic that my trainer told me about and is encouraging me to go to, so that might be in place of a Wolfgang May clinic in the future.

After the lesson

My trainer had to go pick up her horse at her place so she missed the lesson, but I did have her daughter who, though she is younger, has shown in eventing for most of her life and is quite capable in the art of horse loading. Beyond just loading, she was a huge help throughout, especially for me, who has never done something like this with Greta before. Greta was better for hauling, but we still needed to show her the stud chain, and she loaded right up and we were on our way. This was a different trailer that we took her home in: a three horse slant with a tack room up front, so Greta was a bit iffy about going through a dark narrow opening. Don't blame her. If I were her I'd be iffy about it too!

She hauled great, she always does, and got a good hosing down once we got back to the stables, and she went for a hearty roll in her stall: there was fresh shavings in there, I don't blame her. She got her carrots and hay and then it was time to go.

All in all, I was very proud of her: she did much better than I had feared she might. The times we went into the center of the arena to talk with Wolfgang she was very sweet and cuddly, enough so to get a "yes, you're a sweet girl" from him. If nothing else, she was social!

So hopefully as we trailer to clinics (and perhaps a show here or there) and other sites more often she'll get better about the whole situation.

Lastly, I learned a lot. If Wolfgang ever comes to an area near you, go to him. He's awesome.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Eureka Via Instructa

I have been missing in action for a while. Probably because all of the action hasn't happened at once thank goodness, but more rather over the course of the past week or so, but it all came to a climax today.

Greta and have been trudging onwards with our goals of trying to get in frame correctly, staying round, and building a topline for the past few weeks. Three days ago, the weather changed and so did Greta's outlook on riding. It was very exciting now! Everything in the arena was new and she had to veer her head towards all of it and sometimes veer away from it entirely. She trotted around with her head hiked up in the air like she had back pain, though I felt her back and she wasn't sore.

So yesterday, I tried to see if I could calm the goofy girl's nerves by lunging her first. And that was what produced the above video. She was very "meh" about walking and trotting, but cantering? I let her canter? I am her new best friend! Her enthusiasm for energy made me chuckle. Periodically she made one of those cute little bucks like you saw in the video. I was also worried at the same time because of the pace she was going and at such a sharp angle. I told her to whoa after three times around the round pen, but she wanted to go, go, go, and I she was fine afterwards. So I figured if there was ONE thing I could let her get away with today, it was letting her get some energy out. And for me to get some chuckles out as well :)

She was still a bit difficult for the ride, perhaps because now I REALLY had her riled up!

Tonight we had a lesson. This was our first group lesson (if you count having one other rider as a group) and I found I liked it so much better! It made me feel like I wasn't the only frustrated noob on our trainer's team, which is easy for me to feel seeing all of her other students chugging around their lessons beautifully. Greta was hiking her head up again every time I tried to pick up contact, and the other rider's horse was trying to pull the reins out of her hands! So as you can imagine, veins began to pulse and tension began to rise. I don't know about the other rider's horse, but Greta was definitely sensing mine. She speed up her trot into something that would make a Standardbred jealous, my first reaction (and shame on me for this!) was to pull on the reins to try and slow her down, but still kept my posting as fast as her pace. I pulled, tension, she sped up, tension, and so on. All the while the instructor is telling me to "relax and slow my posting! Give her her head" Between Greta's off-to-the-races act and the other horse's "I'll lower my poll, but I'll do it the way I want to do it" and proceed to tug at the reins, it was a mess. I finally manage to bring Greta down to a walk and we joined the other rider in the center of the arena upon our trainer's beckoning.

There was to be received "the speech":

"First of all, calm down. You're doing fine. This is all a part of the process." Dressage is NOT easy. It looks easy at the lower levels, and it's frustrating to see and read how easy it seems, but it is not. It takes patience, and not just for the rider to look good. It is a team effort. Both horse and rider need to take some time and patience to learn each other, build the muscles to perform movements correctly, and to just plain trial-and-error some problems out. It is frustrating to see the other students in their lessons looking awesome while we feel ridiculous (my words) because we can't even get our horses to get in frame, much less listen! It is a process, and she is there to guide us riding-wise, but we're going to have to do most of it on our own by finding the bond with our horse, which takes time!

There was more, but that is essentially what I got out of it. I felt very bad for all the times I got frustrated because we didn't look perfect. We do have good moments, and lots of them lately, but it won't come in a bulk package! It reminded me of drawing a picture. It'll be little things here and there and in the end they'll make something gorgeous. I was very happy that my trainer had that little speech with us. I have GOT to try my hardest to keep it to heart. No, I WILL keep it to heart, hands, seat, and mind. For Greta's sake.

And then to conclude the lesson we cantered our horses around the arena to let them get some energy out, even if it didn't look pretty, which we both expected it wouldn't. The other riders had started warming up, so they were asked into the center of the arena. The other rider in my lessons chose to stay in the center as well. So, it was off to the races for about four laps, no bucking or being silly (she knew I was in the saddle) just a smooth near-gallop with very gentle turns that resembled a bad showjumping pair. But this time I wasn't worry about how icky we looked. We were getting some pent-up energy out. I was grinning the whole time. And I can guarantee Greta liked it too.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


Okay, so we're having an arctic blast down here, and as you can imagine Texans are not used to any weather below thirty! It's amazing to think that not four months ago we had over 32 days straight of 100+ temperatures. But we have a saying down here: if you don't like the weather in Texas, wait five minutes, it'll change.

I did ride her Sunday and Monday, and she looked awesome. We really seem to be getting the "in the frame" down, though I need some pictures or video so I can see is her hips are actually down and she's not being pulled into the bit. It's hard to tell when you're going in a circle by the little mirror: I need to see where I'm going! I could probably actually braid up her mane so I can see how her neck looks like from the saddle. When they're truly "on the bit," from what I've been told, the base will be thicker than the poll. With her butch but mane flopping all over the place, it's hard to tell! But when we halted at the very end, she actually stopped on all four and she was in frame. I started freaking out and patted her all over the neck and went "OMG GOOD GIRL GOOD GIRL!". I need to remember to give Miss Greta more frequent breaks on a long rein, because she will get out of frame after a while, afterall she is using some previously dormant muscles! Her new nickname will be Pompeii :)

Today, and likely tomorrow as well, I went out to say howdy to miss Greta, groomed her, treated, cleaned out her stall, and hand-walked her, the whole time thinking "It's too cold!"

Now, long story on how I ended up on this page, but turns out this particular photographer got shots at a Polocrosse championships in 2008. That's what Greta used to do, so I went to peek just out of curiosity, and found this:


The horse has the same face, same black shading on the face and around the eyes: it's just a spitting image.

And then I saw the album title: USPC Polocrosse CH 2008. USPC is the US Pony Club, right? Or perhaps it's US Polocrosse? I don't really know. But goodness that horse looks just like Greta. The team was called the Scorpions, and her rider was #2, and I scanned the other albums, and it was the same horse and it still looked a lot like Greta. What do y'all think?

I'm still geeking out :)

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Twenty Ten

It's amazing. I've lived through my first decade! Ten years ago I was legitimately riding a horse for the first time. A little Shetland pony mare named Jiffy, more because of her peanut-butter coloring than her actual speed (if she was to be named for her speed, she would likely be called "Molasses".) My very first lesson not only did I walk and trot, I also cantered, just to see how much gutsy I had and how sticky my seat was, more than likely. From then on, I did five years of western lessons and some competitive barrel racing. I phased out of that, and for a while was on the brink of taking hunter lessons, which I wish I had done some English lessons sooner, then perhaps I wouldn't feel like a Training level lifetime member right now. But as fate would have it, I learned some far more important lessons in the years after chasing cans: horse rescue and rehab. It was these "lessons" that paved the way to fulfilling the dream of having a horse of my own, and later hopefully going into equine medicine as a career.

It's one thing to learn how to ride. It seems like that's the simple aspect of horse ownership, because one can do that with or without a horse of their own. The hard part is caring for the horse, and it should be. What to feed? Does she need this or that? Hay or alfalfa? What are the effects of this on her (i.e. all that protein in the alfalfa makes her, well, crazy to put it simply)? What helps them gain weight? What helps them lose it? What does a healthy horse look like? Too skinny? Obese? How do I get her in shape? All of these things and more, so much more.

In this past year, well starting in late April, I fell like I've entered a new phase in my horse life. I phased out of horse rescue, and into actually owning a horse. Since April, Greta and I have actually come quite a ways, though it may not seem like that to me. We have learned each other. She has calmed. I have become far more patient, though not saintly. Dwelling on the past, though, does no good. I am very eager for this year. It will be a fresh start.

As far as horse goals, I want to be at first level by the end of the year. I want to show. I want to move forward. I want to build Greta's muscles, most importantly, as well as my own. Once we get dressage down, I want to give Greta something fun to do and try jumping. Nothing huge and definitely nothing competitive, but just to say "yes, we can jump." At least want to master two-point so Greta can gallop comfortably in something other than an arena.

Thursday, last time I rode her (a friend from Portugal has been hanging out with me the rest of this weekend) Greta was actually "in frame" for a good majority of the riding session. A good sign, I suppose :)

This past year was like the prologue, and want this coming year to be the first chapter to what is hopefully a very long and happy book.

Cheers to Greta and all of the other equestrians which I am so fortunate to have come to know! Here's to 2010!

On another note, for those of you who have not seen Avatar yet, do it. I command you. It's not just another cute little sci-fi movie (one of my least favorite genres, by the way) but it is truly a work of art with a very profound and deep meaning. Also, the visual aspects of the movie are beautiful and amazingly realistic, just as groundbreaking as critics claim them to be. If you haven't seen the movie, it will be a great way to start off the new year, even if science fiction is not your calling, because it certainly isn't mine!