Thursday, February 25, 2010


Yes, it is a word! Well, I'm pretending it's a word :)

Tonight I lunged Greta before I rode her, did some yielding-the-hindquarters exercieses (which she is an expert at now) and relaxed in the saddle. All this = awesomeness. She was in-frame almost the entire time! We even got a squared halt! Still not entirely sure how we managed it, as when we actually tried to get a square halt one of her shoulders dropped or the silly girl landed with her hip cocked to one side. My fault! I didn't lead her up into it right. I felt she was truly in-frame and that her back was up because when I sat a few strides of the trot to either change diagonals or move into a halt, I could sit it very comfortably and flow with it easier: it wasn't a bone-jarring trot!

I focused a lot more on softening my hands, particularly the inside rein when she yielded to rein pressure, and more on using the rate of my posting to slow her down if needed. The only time I could feel her quicken underneath me was when one of the parents was walking along the side of the arena to get some cones for the instructor, for our halting exercise. Greta was probably thinking "People aren't supposed to be there! When were people allowed to be there? I'm gonna look at them!" I moved my inside hip into her and she got back into frame, but her ears were still perked all the way forward, and I could tell she was eyeing the person still! Silly girl!

All of this was rewarded with a good rub down and grazing, especially since they haven't been out for a few days (but they were out all last week and the weekend thank goodness!) because it snowed here! And when the snow melts, what does it turn into? A big watery mess! But by the looks of how sunny it has been, I'm hoping they'll be out by the end of the week or next week. Greta really liked that grass. So much that still showed a little spunk when I pulled her away from it after about thirty minutes. We walked forward and she trotted a little circle in front of me so she could back to that grass!

So what's the moral of the story? The horse is only as good as the rider!

Oh, and we will be going to that Marsh 28 schooling show. It'll be good for Greta, like putting her in the kiddy pool to see if she likes to splash around, or swim, or try and be the next Micheal Phelps. The latter would be nice haha!!! And a surprise tomorrow or Saturday! Be looking for it!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

High in the Sky

Greta and her pasture buddy to the left. CUTIE!!

Before I go into other issues, Greta has been doing quite well everywhere else lately. She's been super sweet despite being in heat, even trying to eat my hamburger Sunday! Our bond, though tested right now, has seemed to have strengthened and we feel a lot more comfortable around each other. When she acts up, I'm not afraid or angry, I could never be angry at her, but just overall annoyed. She'll follow me around without a lead or halter even, and has improved so much at keeping her attention on me. She even stood still while I put some ground poles down Saturday! She still loves her barn cats, so I need to get pictures of that. God, she's too cute and sweet! But she can be bipolar as well....

On the topic of "electric atmospheres" from a Hubertus Schmidt clinic covered in '20 Tips From a Master' by Beth Baumert in Dressage Today:
"When your horse is good at home but nervous at shows, got to neighboring places. Don't work your horse when he's tense. Make sure he is loose first."
I am definitely taking this to heart. Now that spring is almost around the corner, Greta has had her first heat cycle of the year! Leave to Greta to go into super-crazy-pee-every-ten-seconds-heat early, and at nearly 13 years old now! Is that healthy? That meant the Wolfgang May clinic Sunday was a bust as far as learning something new - excessive transitions and circular patterns still did not deter her from being "high in the sky" as Mr. May put it lol and trotting fast little steps with her head up - but on the very positive side, we did have some very good moments on the A side of the arena and she did a lot better about loading and settling in. We were the first to ride, so she didn't have a chance to settle in before the ride, but after the ride while we were waiting for our trailer mate to finish her lesson, Greta settled in nicely in her waiting stall.

I am dissapointed in myself for not being able to handle the situation nicely: I didn't really master the whole "relax your seat" until the later half of the lesson! Instead I had a vice grip on the reins trying to slow her down. FAIL!

Reading that quote from Dressage Today, along with a very wonderfully timed article in Practical Horseman about preparing and desensitizing your horse to new surroundings, whether it be a show or clinic, has gave me some new ideas to cope with Greta's "spring fever" far better than I did last year! It will also spice up our riding routines, make way for some better out-of-stable experiences, and make for less stressful heat cycles (for both of us haha!)

But first, let me proudly announce a breakthrough in previously stated mission. Greta has a new, well, obsession with one of her pasture mates. I had been told about Saturday morning, but didn't actually see it in action until her pasture mate pulled up in a trailer after her owner took her to jumping clinic. Greta flipped. I have never seen her so obsessed over another horse! I didn't really know what to do, so I just let it slide. Monday, when jumping lessons were going on, my instructor's daughter trailered her horse in as usual. But Greta, likely thinking it was her pasture buddy, flipped out again. I had asked for advice the previous day if there was anything I could do about this (as I realized it could be an early sign of some ridiculous separation anxiety) and was told to take her out and free lunge her, to teach that if she wants to be anxious like that then she will have to work, and if she's calm, then nothing happens!

So Monday, when Greta began to flip, I took her out and tried to free lunge her. She would not pay attention at all! So, I clipped the lunge line to her and tried some of the yielding the hindquarters exercises I had been taught until she focused, which was pretty soon. Then I let the line out a bit more and actually lunged her. By the way, the bucking issue is long gone now, yes! The entire session was about ten minutes, so as not to work her hard but just use this as a little reminder, and when she seemed calm I put her back up. She was great until her pasture buddy actually appeared around the corner to join in the lesson. And the ordeal starts all over again. I took her out, did the yielding the hindquarters exercise, lightly lunged her, and put her back up. Now she remained calm! She took the occasional glance to the trailer on once side of her stall, then the arena, but otherwise was very calm. Greta's personality can get her frizzled over some situations, but boy does it make her super smart and a quick learner! Now whether or not her calmness held when I left, I have not heard, but because I have not heard I'm assuming it did. We will keep this up!

So now, the plan:

When we work in the indoor arena, the arena Greta is most familiar with, I'll try to place some unfamiliar things around the side, like her blanket or a jump standard. She's been wary when stuff like that happens, but we're going to make these unfamiliar objects work to our advantage. The outdoor arena, which we haven't been able to ride in much due to either the extreme heat last summer or the constant rain this winter, is fairly unfamiliar to her, so when I can I'm going to try and alternate between the indoor and outdoor arena so she's used to change in her work environments.

Trail rides and hacks: when I can. If there's somebody to go with me, I'll be all for it. There's a large field next to the stables, and I'm sure we can utilize that. But first, we'll try and do some work in the pastures so she can be used to working out in the open and not trying to bolt but instead listening and behaving as if we were in the nice, familiar indoor arena.

Lunging before rides: not necessarily to tire her out, unless she seems to really have a lot of energy that day, but more to get her into focus mode. Greta is very alpha, and according to Hilda Gurney in Dressage Today, "mares, in general, tend to worry more than geldings," so being so distracted is like her way of taking the lead, I guess. I don't want to establish a dictatorship with her - we've all seen what happens to dictators in the history books - but I do want to establish a healthy partnership with me a little bit more on top.

My instructor said jumping would be a great outlet for Greta's energy, and I agree. But we need to get the flatwork down, especially the canter. It's been a year and her canter is still a borderline gallop. If we do any jumping, it probably won't be until next year or even later. And we also need to have a vet check to make sure she's totally clear for jumping, though I'm sure that if she's clear for heavy flatwork, then some small jumps (once again, this would be a fun little activity, not anything competitive) wouldn't hurt. But I've been wrong before.

I know many of y'all have or have had anxious, excitable horses. Beyond overall relaxing myself as I've been instructed, was there anything else you did to bring their focus back into gear at home, shows, and clinics? Greta is awesome at home, but she's something else everywhere else!

I'm considering canceling the March 28 schooling show. Maybe we're not ready for it? I love this girlie so much. I want what would be best for her.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

On the other end...

I have actually been frequenting Greta, well, frequently I just really have not had anything extraordinary to discuss on the blog, but I can give an accumulation of our riding so far.

Greta has been doing absolutely lovely under saddle (she's always lovely on the ground) but let me get straight to the thick of it, our one main problem at the moment that I have not found a solution to yet. I don't know how long it's been since Greta was ridden in frame with a knowledgeable dressage rider, but she is quite rusty. She gets the concept, but I really have to rely a lot more on rein aids than seat aids (I'm still grasping the concept of good seat aids anyway) so thus she seems more like I have to hold her on the bit and far from the spectrum of self-carriage. It's hard to get a good glance at us in the mirror, but from the little I've seen she doesn't look as round as she could be. I don't know if it's just because of her bony butt (small world, Greta:) or we are just not getting round yet. Probably a mixture of both!

I will hopefully be getting some pictures/video/whatever tomorrow, finally! I just have not had the guts to drag a member of mi familia to the stable so they could see me trot around for an hour. I admit it myself, it gets kind of old after a while!

Further progress has been made on Greta's Epic Quest of Focus. Major Focus. Details will follow.

So, due to incessant and unusual rain and icky cold weather and muck that has been persisting for nearly a month now and making central Texas look something of a southern version of Seattle, the horses have been in for quite some time! Greta takes it all very well, until I let her trot on the lunge line. Walking? She continues the facade of "I'm the irresistibly passive and calm horse that everyone wants". But I ask her to trot, and she'll do a Standardbred trot for a few seconds then, without even the courtesy of a canter transition that I ask for, proceeds to buck and kick and do some fantastic leaps into the air, followed by a final rear when I bring her in. It's definitely unnerving when you're at the other end. I'm not really scared to be honest, I am really more frustrated. What is this sudden change from a little pent-up buck among a nice cantering to a bronco impersonation?

She's not doing because she's in pain, nor because she wants to hurt me. Greta is just very excited! She will easily come to me once she's stopped and stand there like nothing happened. No sign of excessive excitement.

The first time she did it it was raining outside, so it was expected. We did about five rounds of that behavior (I'd make her walk, and then we'd try it again) before she either A) got the sillyness out of her system, or B) began to listen to me. Dunno. That was Wednesday.

She did it again Thursday (no lessons).

And Friday, she did it during the day with three other riders in the arena. Embarrassing, yes, but she was in my control the entire time. She has yet to deliberately try and pull out of my grasp. It's weird, but good and I'm knocking on wood! She threw her fit once, then the second time one of the riders, friend of my instructor's, asked if she could show me some advice if I wanted. Of course I wanted!

She gave me her share of lunging tips, then I asked if she would like to demonstrate them. She showed me them on her horse, then I tried on Greta. Whoa! It wasn't lunging, exactly, it was "yielding the hindquarters" I believe. It's a fundamental for lunging, and I've seen it done on Chris Reid and Clinton Anderson and multiple other shows on RFDTV, but I only though that was for young, unbroke horses. Here's a good example of what we're doing essentially (music warning).

We graduated to a larger circle at the trot, though smaller than a large lunging circle, for short periods of time so as not to stress her legs, still yeilding the hindquarters and keeping her attention on me! Then I'd motion strongly to her haunches and stop giving the cue to move forward, and she'd halt and face me. She'll lick her lips, which is apparently a sign of understanding.

Another major dealing we will work on, and this will hopefully reflect under saddle, is to keep her attention on me on the ground when I'm handling her or in her direct presence. Not in a scary dominating sort of way, but just saying her name if looks off at the horsey prancing around the pasture when I'm holding her. She does pay attention to me, I just have to give the cue. Essentially: if I let her get way with it on the ground, why shouldn't she get away with it under saddle? This will hopefully help in the long run!

This is my interpretation: because horses are social creatures, and Greta is a mare-ish mare indeed, they need a leader. If no leader is provided, like me letting her get away with getting distracted under saddle and on the ground and with being silly on the lunge line, then Greta will crown herself leader. There's gotta be a leader somewhere, right?

As horrible and dreadful as though issues sound, they could be FAR worse, and when Greta's not acting like a loon on the lunge line, which is relatively short amount of time in total of all the time I spend with her. Most of the time, the girl is amazingly sweet. I think our bond has grown so much since I got her in May last year. She seems to actually enjoy my company now, even if she does pull some of that stuff like I mentioned earlier. I probably overdramatized, but maybe I didn't. It's just my perception I guess.

Even the rider who helped us commented on how much she's seen us progress since our first lesson at the stable. I will admit myself, we are finally having those rides where I think, "God, I wish there were some judges watching us now!"

And of course I always have those moments following a snuggle where I couldn't think of things any other way.

Now, go over and congratulate Andrea on being the poster child of the USEA awards programs. It's only awesome.

Thursday, February 4, 2010


It has been terribly rainy here lately. I rode Tuesday, but yesterday and today it has been a constant drizzle of rain, which, when totaled, leads to a flooded over bridge on the driveway to the stable. Poor Greta is probably bored out of her mind, though she's never acted that way when I see her, probably because they are very good about keeping a constant supply of hay when the horses are in all day. And she has her mane-man, Jackson the good ole lesson horse, next door, and both are fond of the occasional nuzzle and greeting. Very cute.

But I thought today, concerning the imagined boredom situation, Greta doesn't care much for those little horse toys. She's too sophisticated for those. She does enjoy her gourmet salt lick, sweet Gala apples, organic raspberry leaves from Romania, Black Oil Sunflower Seeds, and imported hay (and in imported I mean from the hay shed. It's a foreign country to her, so it counts as imported). She needs a more grown-up form of entertainment. And then I came across the photo to the left.

Meet Siglavy Angelica II-1, a Lipizzaner stud, and Greta's new pin-up. I figured that she didn't need anything too racy, just something to admire while she is nestled away in her stall. After all, who wouldn't want to sit there and admire him? He's grey, muscular, and foreign. Not to mention the winner of multiple USDF Horse of the Year awards during his career in the 90s. He's like a George Clooney or Sean Connery for Miss Greta of the Stall Manor. I'm sure he is a great entertainer, what with his performances in the ring. Another aspect for Greta to sit and admire over while the rain drizzles away outside, tucked up in her bathrobe on her velveteen couch, munching on delectable delicacies of green hay and reading her issues of Equine Vogue.

And here is another stud for her to gaze upon: Maestoso II Daniela. One of the few horses I've seen that looks stunning in a drop noseband. This adds to his aesthetic quality. Greta, being a connoisseur of what looks good obviously, likes a man who can pull off odd fashion most fashionably. And look at his face! Such gentle eyes. Very easy on Greta's eyes.

Ah, but then the cruel reality hits. This boredom situation is all imagined, all due to the fact that I have not been able to see the beautiful girl for two whole days. The reality is, I am the one who is bored, and Greta only has eyes for the hay box. Sorry studs.