Wednesday, March 31, 2010


You know, it isn't specified in any rulebook of equestrianism that in order for one to have an awesome time with their horse they have to kick butt at shows and make it all the way to the top, or even show at all! You don't even have to jump or do a canter pirouette or wear fancy riding clothes or ride in "state of the art" saddles and bridles. (Even when the "old" ones did riders just fine since forever.) You don't even have to own a "nice" horse, bred to excel, with a pedigree that traces back to the war horse that King Henry XIII rode to his wives' executions, not like that's something to be particularly proud of!

That's not to say that you can't do any of that, but that's not to say that you can't ride a horse who might be a quarter horse, maybe a morgan, you can't really tell, nobody's got papers, but it doesn't really matter: he's sound, can walk, trot, and canter, can carry saddle, and has a good work ethic. Even more important: you like him and he likes you! You trail ride for hours at a time (your horse probably has more stamina than a Grand Prix jumper) and look for big fields you can run around in (after you walked them over looking for any holes, hopefully) and shallow, gentle creeks you can swim in. You've taught him how to eat a carrot from your mouth, smile, and hug. He comes when called in from the pasture. He doesn't care that you're not aspiring to be at the top of any riding discipline, or that you don't wear Pikeur or Tailored Sportsman or Ariat (because you don't really need to), or that you don't have a carefully-planned work schedule so you can be at your peak this show season (which is non-existent because you don't need one) or that you don't even ride in an arena (that pasture probably bigger than any arena in existence right now). What he does like is that you groom him, keep him healthy, love him to bits, and that you two have fun together. He likes being your stress-reliever, comforter, and best friend.

This is not to say that you can't be in a happy medium between serious competitor and just-for-fun horse owner. Time with your horse, whether it be riding, grooming, showing, whatever it is should be fun and relaxing! That's why you own/lease/ride the horse in the first place, right? Because you like horses and the horses like you! That special horse in your life is just that: special. And you're probably pretty special to them.

This weekend was a total mess-up as far as Greta and I's riding relationship and having fun. It was all my fault. I practiced for the show expecting perfection, I warmed-up expecting perfection, I rode my introductory level dressage test expecting perfection. What it really turned out to be was me riding tense, immensely frustrated, with my hands in my lap and horse only picking up and reflecting those negative vibes from me, head in the air and a nervous wreck just like me. I didn't relax, I put far too much pressure on me and Greta, I was snappy and rude. This wasn't just "first show jitters" as everyone put it: this was me being downright... well, I don't know what to call it! And the minute I got off my horse after the last test and Greta looked back at me as if to say "I'm sorry, I really tried my best" the guilt shook me like an earthquake, just to say the least. And I'm still having aftershocks, especially as I type this. Greta and I had been doing so well and what I do? I flip out at a show.

The rest of the day, and the days following, so many things I have been told have truly meant something: riding takes time, bonding takes time, and whatever you do having fun with your horse and your horse's well-being come first. It's not all about the ribbons or the show record, what it is about is having fun and being with your horse. And I forgot that because of a stupid schooling show.

Monday afternoon I went out to the stable and just hung out with Greta. I sat on her while she munched on grass and hay, and I napped for a few minutes. She followed me here and there and let me hug her and kiss her, and then she said "okay, I'm grazing now". So I let her graze, and then she came back up wanting more attention. We did this for probably a good hour-and-a-half. It was so much fun and so relaxing.

Yesterday I rode her, and even though we were far from perfect, I focused on the good moments, of which there were a good amount of. I remembered that A) we have really only been doing exceptionally well for about two months, B) she was in a new bit that I'm trying (french link eggbutt) and C) I am totally not used to riding in just paddock boots anymore, I need my tall boots! It was a pretty wonky ride, but the fact that I just blew it off knowing that we'll get better and that we weren't in our usual riding attire felt really good!

Between Monday and Tuesday, I have been reminded of just how much I love my goober girl. Lord knows I talk about her enough, show everyone at school enough pictures of her, put most of my personal spending money into her, drive to the stable far more than any mall, choose her over plenty of boys and other ways to spend my time doing "normal teenage activities," and when I daydream, I dream of Greta. It's pretty pathetic. But I wouldn't have it any other way.

So what it all gets down to is this: having fun with Greta is far more important than how far we go in the dressage world, "perfection" comes with time and patience and a good bond between horse and rider, and no ribbon or trophy is more important than your horse, even if it means scratching or riding a conservative test or not going to a show at all!

Greta and I still have a long ways to go, and this is not to say that we will never show again - in fact, I'll be ready for the next show or clinic or whatever because the only way you can progress is to go forward - but whether we're showing, or riding at home, or trail riding, or grooming, the goal is to bond and to have fun! Those are my new, undistorted expectations: not to be the next Steffen Peters, but to have so much fun and such a great bond with my horse that it will make him jealous. Okay, maybe not that far... but close!

I'm putting that stormy weekend behind me and looking forward to the sunnier skies of the future, no matter where it brings Greta and I.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The things we do for our horses...

The things we do for our horses, beyond the essential, far more serious items such as vet and farrier, insurance, boarding and feed, etc. These are the frivolous things we do for our horses.

These are the things that some, well, many, may laugh at and we whine to them "But you just don't understand!". The things that a horse might not necessarily need, but we just know they do, and sometimes they are perfectly fine with it: things like the best apples and carrots in the produce section, especially when you give them all in one visit to the stable for no particular reason other than, "You're such a good pony-wony-pudgy-poo!"

Things like the super cute, pink plaid blanket/saddle pad/fly mask/whatever that you think your horse will look absolutely adorable in, especially if he's a gelding. ("Only toughie-woughie boys wear pink right, schnookems?") Besides, you know your horse will feel super confident and absolutely fabulous sporting that I-could-flag-down-an-emergency-plane yellow fly bonnet that looks fantastic against their dark bay coat. Who cares if there has been studies proving that horses are colorblind to most colors save blue and purple, or that Cutie Wootie Baymeister rips whatever fanciful-colored object you put on him the minute you turn your back and walk away from him in the pasture! You just tell yourself that he felt so fabulous and that the other horses were so jealous that he couldn't bear the pressure of being the most fabulous horse in the pasture, thus tearing off the My Little Pony fly mask and neatly leaving it for you to find on the fencepost as you drive in the next day.

Or perhaps more abstract things like giving up your favorite color to that which looks best on your horse. I love blue. Blue is my favorite color. I cannot get enough of anything blue. But put it on Greta, and it just looks far too masculine. This is a frivolous thing I've done for my horse: my new favorite color (besides blue) is pink and purple, because it's a guarantee that any new top will be worn out to the barn, so it has to match Greta's colors or at least look good with it. Colors like yellow or black look nice. But pink and blue don't look go together. Bummer. Poor me.

Oh, the things we do for our horses:

"This Gucci tote would be perfect for carrying brushes and the hoof pick! Pony just loves designer labels! Oh, and there's a matching clutch! Perfect for carrying treats!"

"What do you MEAN they don't have the saddle pad, bell boots, fly bonnet, leg wraps, and rubber reins in the same color as my protective vest, helmet cover, and shirt? That stuff is in robin's egg blue and you say you only have turquoise. What is wrong with you people? Don't you know that my horse looks dreadful in turquoise? It must be robin's egg blue! Surely you can special order it or something. Don't you know how important my horse's looks are to him?"

"Sorry, I can't go shopping with you today. I have some horsey stuff to do. No, it's not a big competition or anything. I haven't ridden her in one whole day! She must be bored out of her mind in the pasture with nothing but a giant hay bale to much on and grazing with the other horses! I just know she misses me so much!"

"What do you mean, "what are all of these pictures all over her stall"? They're pin-ups, duh! She likes looking at those sexy studs. No, she's not totally focused on the hay in her manger, she's just taking a break from admiring her future husbands. It's not like you don't have any pin-ups of Taylor Lautner or Brad Pitt!"

"Oh, hold on, doctor! I don't think he likes that green vet wrap you're putting on him. I have some in burgundy with yellow stars. They're his favorite. No, it couldn't possibly be the stinging wound ointment you're putting on him. He's such a gentleman, he would never get upset over that. Geez, that just doesn't seem to do it. Oh, I know what it is! He needs his Mister Cuddlekins teddy bear! Don't laugh! Didn't you have a favorite toy growing up?"

"She only takes Sweet Gala Apples.... no, she just ate that granny smith you gave her because she was trying to be polite. Such a lady, don't you think?"

And there are so many more things we do for our horses. Frivolous things. But goodness knows we only have the horse's best interests in mind. No matter how frivolous, or silly in some cases, it may seem, we do it out of love for our horses. I do believe our horses can sense this, and I do believe they are capable of loving us back just as much as we love them.

Also, everyone, keep Miss Gogo in your thoughts! I do hope she gets better soon!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

SHV Clinic with Janet Manley

Miss Awesomeness struts her stuff around the arena before the real work begins!

Acknowledgment after grazing. "Hey muther! Don't think I can't see you sneaking up on me with that little camera! Oh, eep, that sun is bright...." Look at the shiny coat! I missed that coat!

Sunday Greta and I went to a Sporthorse Versatility clinic with Janet Manley, a British Horse Society Level II Instructor who now works at HyCourt Farm in Austin. Beautiful facility, very knowledgeable staff, very well-kept horses.

The clinic consisted of a ground work portion in the arena, and under saddle portion in the arena, and some application of lessons learned in the arena out on a sporthorse versatility course: an obstacle course. Greta came to clinic very chill, and was content to graze on her hay and slop around her water (I need to get footage of how "neatly" she munches and drinks, we'll just say she takes after me when it comes to eating! She doesn't just eat, she feasts!) while I saddled her up and hung around with her and the other riders and horses.

The arena already had some obstacles set up, not necessarily for desensitizing, but more as a physical embodiment of some more abstract concepts that the rider learns how to help their horse deal with, like anticipating how your horse will approach certain tasks, better control of the feet through the aids (the very beginnings for learning the flying change and then the tempis), utilizing a horse's curiousity about new objects to help them overcome any fear of it, and overall feeling your horse and understanding how they interpret things and want to handle them.

On the ground, when I led Greta through obstacles such as two poles set about two feet apart that you had to walk through (not over; they had several variations of this, all of them had flowers or flags on something of the like on the poles to make the opening seem closed), a tarp, a mattress (yes, that was a doozy, because it felt different under their feet), and other obstacles. Greta went over all of these with flying colors. She was a bit tentative about the mattress, but because I was leading the way, then she figured it couldn't be that bad. She was absolutely amazing.

Under saddle, things were put in a different perspective. Because I wasn't leading, then Greta figured she had a bit more freedom. She didn't have to do it. This was really apparent going over the mattress. She was definitely not afraid of it, she just didn't want to have to handle it head-on, just go around it. Janet said this was a good lesson to help me help Greta take things head-on, not try and avoid them. Greta would let me get right up to it, then she make a very big side-step off to the side and go around it! So I had to be quick and anticipate what she wanted to do. If she planned to dart to the right, I opened my left rein and put her right leg on her, telling her that she definitely cannot go right, but she's not trapped. She was allowed to go some to the left, but if she went too far, then I did the opposite. Eventually, the only way that she didn't encounter resistance was to go forward. It sounds funky, I know. It sounded better when Janet explained it haha! I had to be quick with my aids and not let her push through them, and Janet was quite impressed with how quick Greta was on her feet and how responsive she was, "You can really do something with that footwork!"

Once we figured the mattress out, it was no problem, same with the other obstacles. Out on the outdoor course, the same rules applied. Because we were out of an arena setting, Greta was a bit more alert, so it took some more tries, but eventually we made it through!

Monday was her day off, but I did go out and groom her and graze her, since she was in after a long day of being out to pasture because it was supposed to rain Monday night, which it did! Today we did some good ol' walk-trot-canter work, nothing new! Though I must note how our canterwork has continued to improve!

All and all, Greta still managed to spread her sweetness to all who met her, including Janet Manly, though she did get a bit cranky with some of the geldings she was penned next to. She got over quickly once her hay bag was reloaded, though (like I've said, she only has eyes for the haybag!) I think she's picking up my occasional spastic behavior now, along with the eating habits. What a lovely goob!

Friday, March 12, 2010


Another boring training update. I'll try to have more interesting stuff this week because it's spring break!!! :)

Firstly, I still cannot get over how far Greta and I have come. I cherish every time I hear her nicker when she sees me come down the aisle, how she'll come to me and acknowledge me in the pasture and the stall and on the lunge line (when asked), how much we just seem to enjoy each other. It makes me so happy.

Tonight, we warmed up in one of the pastures, just on a long rein, to change things up a bit. I love this particular pasture because it is big, it has some nice, gentle, but significant hills, smooth ground, and a little shallow (maybe ankle deep and that's when it's running high) creek running through it! I let Miss Greta walk back and forth through the creek a few times, going from the very narrow part to the wider part, and while she was wary but not too concerned about the creek the first time, it was no problem the next three times. Then onto the arena because it was getting dark.

Greta has always hated one particular corner of the arena, probably because there's either a wheel barrow there or several manure forks or, like there is now, several jump standards and some poles on the ground outside. She has always made a point of trying to really avoid that corner and counter-bending to make sure she can keep and eye and ear on it, making a big dip inwards at first, but now it's just during night when the lights are on that this corner is going to get her! Aw, I love my silly girl! I found tonight that if I sit get Greta into a nice, swinging trot that I can sit without being forced to bouncing, I'll go back to posting and then just sit that corner so I can push my inside hip into her like I do at the walk. So much easier!

And then the canter! We finished off our ride with a canter, first going to the left, which is her better side. We worked on getting into a more controlled canter first by using my seat more than my reins - my trainer has me canter her on a loose rein in a circle so I am forced to use my seat, and she'll canter on a loose rein without speeding up now! - before I go onto using my inside hip to try and get her to distribute her weight more evenly on the circle and not lean so far in like we're being flushed down a toliet bowl! While I'm doing all of this, we're also working on becoming more round at the canter too. Tonight, we worked on this going to the left, and that went fairly well, and then to the right.

She is difficult to pick up the right lead, so we're working on that too, but oddly enough, we had the most success going to the right! She did very well the first time around, but she fell into the trot, which was totally my fault because definitely did not prepare her for a transition! But she did very well at the canter, and despite the transition, she was still round at the trot! I walked her on a loose rein as a reward and then picked her back up again so we give the canter-trot transition one more go. I waited until she didn't lean so far in before we went back down the trot, and after about five times around on a large circle, I felt her back come up and support me more, she reached for the bit a bit more (no pun intended) and we weren't tilting inwards but just a little bit. I made her keep that one time around the circle, and then I prepared her for a trot transition, and this time she has such a smooth transition and retained her roundness at the trot! I trotted her twice around on a long rein, which she does so well at, and then a walk on a long rein and lots of pats!!

It all sounds too good to be true, right? Well, she has been shedding all of her white hair, if that counts as a complaint. (I think it's just one more reason to love spring, because they get that shiny summer coat again!) I try to shed her outside when I can: she gets to graze if she's been in for a while (we've had on and off rain but lots of beautiful, sunny, warm days in between) and the birds love the hair for their nests! Because she's had a blanket on most of the winter, she hasn't developed a really shaggy winter coat, and people ask me if I clipped her, but once they see the clumps of hair coming off, they realize I probably didn't clip her. It makes for a good grooming, and it cracks me up how she licks her lips the entire time. There, that's my complaint.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Lesson and Other Things...

I've been out, but now I'm back in! Lately it's been school, and if not school then homework or riding. Some days it seems like the stable is like a reward for going to school and not the stable! But I wouldn't do that, because I've got this darned old thing called veterinary aspirations I need to maintain! Gee whiz!

I do ride consistently though, almost every day of the week. Greta has been doing very well, and as you can see from the video (if you can see it that well LOL) she is looking GORGEOUS! And, and out canter has improved! We also gave a short bout of sitting the trot on the long side of the arena a go on Thursday, and she really rounded up and I felt that "scoop" seat that my instructor was describing to us when we sit the trot and canter, and the walk too. Instead of bobbing up and down, you gotta go with that circular motion the horse makes, which feels almost like a "scooping" action, so that's where "scoop" came from. But that was, like, once in the lesson. It was still pretty cool. We also did a canter practice, and that went well. Her canter has definitely improved. It's far more collected, and she's starting to get on the bit here and there. It's hard to tell in the video, as she looked really good just when we were going behind the two other riders (I like a having a group of three now btw!)

Greta, as usual, is super sweet, and since we've been doing the yielding the haunches exercises, she has been very focused on the ground and under saddle, and she seems to be a lot sweeter now that she seems to realize she doesn't have to worry about everything. Cute girl.

I will be getting up at 4:30 tomorrow morning to scribe dressage for an eventing show two hours away that several of my instructors students will be riding in. One is up to training now! Go her! I'm excited!