Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A quick little blip on my craziness and PICTURES!

You know something is wrong with you when...

You get excited because you see a cute shirt that perfectly matches one of your saddle pads. AND it's at WalMart.

Your savings almost never make it to something that is for YOU. Unless you count something for your horse as something for you.

You hear a sweet love song on the radio and instantly think of you and your pony.

You hear a catchy song on the radio and immediately concoct a dressage freestyle in your head to it. I'm pushing for "Bulletproof" by La Roux. Anyone? Maybe some Lady Gaga?

You hear a clever phrase or like a character in a movie and immediately change your horse's show name to that name as soon as you get the chance. BTW Greta now has a permanent, un-tentative show name: Greta Golightly. Do I hear Breakfast at Tiffany's, anyone?

And lastly, you definitely know something is wrong with you when your classmates have to stop somebody from asking you about your horse when they see a picture of you riding your horse in the clear insert of your pencil/crumpled-up bad report card/eraser/pen/junk bag. And I mean stop as in one of your classmates cries out, "DON'T ASK HER ABOUT GRETA!!! She will NEVER stop!!!" and then proceed to shove your pencil bag back into your schoolbag even though you still needed to get a pen out of it, and you stare blankly at them because now you have to inconveniently get the pencil bag out again. THAT's when you know something is wrong with you.

Oh, what a life!

Oh, and Pictures! The first three are from galloping in one of the pasture Sunday. My friend and I just took a quick run once around the pasture and then did some schooling. It was fun!

The last are from earlier Sunday. Greta was very enthusiastic to see me. And then her ears did some funky moves in the last two pictures. Made me laugh!!!

One Year, in paraphrased words....

May 19 was Greta and I's one year anniversary (we're practically married haha). And good Lord, we have come so far! I didn't really know how to blog about it, but after some events last night I can safely say we have come at least 180-degrees on the full circle of things....

Greta came to me a bit on the skinny side, no muscle mass from being out of work for several months, and as high-strung and anxious as a gazelle with a lion in the grass. I knew dressage basics, but being that all my riding life I have ridden placid lessons geldings and only worked with a few high-strung mares on the ground. I knew how to get a horse to go, but not really how to slow down beyond pulling at the reins like a newbie. I knew basic dressage, but not necessarily how to apply it. I had had no need to learn half-halts, or have a consistent outside rein, or to keep my weight in my heels, because no matter what I did, the horse I was on already knew what he was doing! And I won big awards because of Slugger, not really because of me....

I did, however, had experience handling a hot mare on the ground. Of course, Greta was really no where near as hot as Claudia, but you would think that because I had experience with being calm on the ground that it would apply to the saddle, right?


I got cocky. Greta is good at dressage, so I figured that I didn't have to do much work just like before. I figured so, so wrong. I practically forgot everything Claudia had taught me about patience and calm, because I thought, "Well, Greta isn't Claudia, so I don't need to remember what I learned." And who suffered? We both did. I got frustrated and upset, and poor Greta got it, too.

So as you can imagine, this story doesn't look like it'll have a happy ending after all. My family and I all thought that up until several months ago. Greta and I would progress, but I still had the "I can win anything" mentality from the Slugger days. I just got grotesquely cocky. And surely, nothing good will come out of this.

Wrong again.

After the failure of our first show, what had been nagging at me ever since I got my beloved girl hit me like a bullet in the back. Greta could get anxious, and I wasn't helping her any. As wonderful as Greta is at dressage, that doesn't mean she's a push-button horse. I had to work harder. I had to be fairer. I had to love Greta enough to let her have her days and look at the bright side of everything. I had to change. And change I did.

This year with Greta has changed me for the better.

When I got Greta, we hadn't really developed that bond yet, but it was still apparent from early on that despite our friction under saddle, we were quite compatible personality wise. It was apparent when I first met her for our test ride. Everyone that was there, even her owner at the time, remarked about how good we were together. I still can't find words for "it", our "bond" as I might stereotypically put it, because if I do then it ends up sounding like I'm contradicting myself. But it was just so apparent in things like her to stop grazing and look at me, acknowledge me in a way. Soon, that turned to her occasionally coming up to the fence to greet me. Even after some frustrating rides, she'd still put her head into me and try to use me as a scratching post, or just let me pet her. Lately, she'll doze on my shoulder. And as heavy as her head is, I cannot describe how wonderful that feeling is.

A few months ago, I caught her sneaking in a nap in her stall. She was lying down, head up, just dozing on-and-off. Usually when she sees me, she'll get up. But I still wanted her to sleep. I got down and did some sort of duck-crouch-walk and opened the stall door, and slowly continued that odd, strenuous walk into her stall. She acknowledged me, and she let me sit down before her and just pet her. Soon, she laid all the way down and put her head in my lap. All I can say is that it was magical, and I was on the verge of tears.

Now, I'll be talking to a friend while Greta is in the wash stall, and soon I'll find she has positioned her head on my shoulder, lower lip drooping in her usual way, and her eyes at half-mast.

She'll pin her ears at the other mares once I'm in the pasture, the same mares she was "best buddies with" before I came in. I am HER girl. And she is mine.

The events of the Wolfgang clinic confirmed the my "change" had been working extremely well. Parents, instructor, and Wolfgang himself were impressed. Recently, due to the final exams of my junior year (REJOICE), I have been unable to make a few lessons, though I am still at the barn frequently. I asked one of the girls in my lessons if I had missed anything spectacular.

"Well, V. let's us switch horses at the end to get a feel for something different that our own horses may not have."

"She hasn't done that with Greta in the lesson. I think I know why."

"V. says that only YOU can ride that horse. Even when she gets on, Greta can give her a run for her money."

Wow, what world are we in, "The Black Stallion" or something? Only I can ride her? But you must understand, this makes me feel very good.

I can canter her about in the pastures without having to worry about her taking off. She'll easily walk into trailers. My riding has improved greatly. And last night, the most recent achievement of all:

I rode Greta in the outdoor arena SUCCESSFULLY. No spooking, no excess anxiety: she was overall quite focused. Still a bit iffy, but about near as good as she does in the covered arena.

Greta will always be anxious in new places, but I'm learning to cope with it. She has changed me, both riding and as a person. She is fit with a nice topline going, and I groom her like she'll be going to a big show the next day. Every day. Just for fun. She certainly enjoys it, and it certainly impresses the vet and farrier and other boarders whenever they see her. But one of the things I learned from Greta is to not necessarily always care about what other people think. What matters is what's going on between me and her, as cheezy as that sounds.

This year has been great.

And it will only get better <3

Monday, May 17, 2010

Wolfgang May Clinic 5-16-10

As I said in the last post, Greta was much better at the clinic yesterday. She was still a bit wired at times, but I handled it nicely. I actually asked for help lunging her before we rode, and I'm glad I did. It never hurts to ask for help, especially if you're a bit on the inexperienced side of some aspects of the horse world, like I am, and if the person you asked for help is used to handly a four-year-old Oldernburg mare that can be flightier than your own haha! It's just one of those things you get used to, and I'm glad I'm learning how to handle such things now while I'm young and impressionable and still have a velcro seat!

After the lunging and the 45-minute lesson, she had worked up a sweat, more so than the "a little damp on her neck and behind the elbow and underside of her back legs" that we get sometimes at home. I don't want to work her into such a sweat every time I ride. It's not healthy, I'm sure! So this one time where she really worked up a sweat, and Wolfgang was kind enough to let her retire about ten minutes early, was probably good for her. She's getting two days off!

It was a lot of the same consistent transitioning like the last two clinics have been, as a lesson showing me how to keep her focused when she wants to run, but seeing how nicely I was handling it all and seeing how much our leg yields (the angle the camera was at, sadly, you could not tell Greta was doing a shoulder-in) and turns on the forehand had improved, Wolfgang embellished a bit more on my rein contact, something I have big trouble with (as I often have too light of a rein!) and we did some exercises to keep Greta round without her Royal Gooberishness feeling trapped and trying to run right through them. A lot of take and and quickly release, take and quickly release. She got the hang of it after a while. There were times where I had to sit the trot so I control her pace a bit better by the "scoop" of my seat, until she got down a nice working trot and I could do a slow post to keep her there.

All in all, Wolfgang, my instructor, my parents, and myself were impressed with how well the clinic went. I kept remembering what I had read in Dressage Today: if they're hot, they're hot, and it's not necessarily the horse becoming braver or the rider stronger, but the trust to build up over time. In the short-term, keeps your aids consistent and just stick with what you have.

What really helped was what my instructor's daughter, a Novice level eventer herself and the one who was kind enough to be the experienced hand lunging Greta while I watched and learned, told me "Just take what your given and work with it. I know she's freaking awesome at home, but that's not her right now, and you just gotta work with it."

Greta loaded nicely, unloaded surprisingly calm, was a bit ancy but manageable while tacking up, and did just awesome under saddle. I am so proud of her. It makes me so hopeful for the future.

She was able to get turned out today, as the pastures finally dried up (although all the horses had to be left in tonight because we got a downpour of rain right at 6:45 and that has lasted on-and-off through out tonight) so she was able to just relax today. She got a bath when I came out, so now she's sparkly clean... she hasn't had a legitimate bath for almost three months now, I believe. But now that it's warm I don't have to worry about that thick winter coat holding in all that cold moisture! I'm going to get back into giving her a bath every other week. But she got all droopy-lipped and her eyes were at half-mast for most of the bathing. It must've felt amazing, bless her.

All in all, Greta has been brilliant lately, and she is just looking nicer and nicer every day. There where some points in the video where I could see her really shine, and it made me so happy. I love my Goober Girl so much. Have you hugged your horse today?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Riding 5-15-10

So this was from YESTERDAY, and we had a pretty decent clinic today. But that video and talk will be up soon. She has been brilliant lately, under and off saddle. Our one year anniversary is May 19, and as we get closer and closer I always think how fortunate I am to have found such a talented, charismatic, sometimes challenging, and overall good mare to share my life with me. Gee, I sound like we've been married for a year, don't I?

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Greta Vidder 5-8-10

Critique and advice is always appreciated.

Goals for 2010:
  1. Do one nice Intro level test
  2. Training Level schooling goals
  • Develop a nice, controlled canter (getting there, as you can see in the video!)
  • Enough of the wither-riding hands!
  • Maintain a nice, steady trot with consistent aids
  • Calm attitude
  • Work on the halt!!

She has been a total sweetheart lately, always wants to snuggle and check on me in the tack room, and we just keep progressing every ride. We got a comment from our trainer Thursday after seeing her canter, saying, "Wow! And this used to be the horse that used to run for the roses?" We both agree, Greta and I have come quite a ways.

Today I rode her bareback, did a nice trot, and gave cantering a go. First time cantering on her bareback. Ever. Very wonky, but at least I didn't fall off, right?

Not much else to type about. It's been the same old, same old. We will have another Wolfgang Clinic on the 16th. I believe Greta has just come out of a little heat, and if not, then I feel confident I'll handle things well. The one she was in a month ago, when we had to cancel on the last Wolfgang clinic, she was definitely in a breeding heat. The girl wanted to have babies. Don't get ahead of yourself, Greta....

Monday, May 3, 2010

Bony seat bones and playing soccer in dressage?

Yeah, so this is a bunch of stuff you guys probably learned a long time ago, but bear with me, I get excited easily and I just feel so awesome that my girl and I's bond is flourishing! Flourishing!!

This past week has been eventful. I had prom, an art exhibit premier that one of my works was included in, and Greta and I had a ride that felt the closest to Training Level than I've ever ridden before on her!

Yeah, that was supposed to be a circle....

So, a quick little summary: the last three rides last week (Wednesday, Thursday, Friday) Greta was acting like a little twit going to the right on any circle, no matter how large. She wasn't stiff, she wasn't sore, she was just very looky going to the right and constantly had her eye someplace, completely going out of focus, and just trotting towards whatever it was, and I (quite incorrectly and quite unconsciously) had a very loose outside rein and an inside rein so tight where I was trying to pull her in that my right hand was actually further back than my left. I realized this, and was kicking myself for it. A solution had to be found.

Dusting off ancient books and learning super-cool riding skillz like a scene from the bad spin-off Indiana Jones and the Quest for the Training Pyramid

I went home, dug up my copy of Centered Riding by Sally Swift (The analogies and illustrations make it super easy for a visual learner like myself to understand, and it goes step by step to where it all adds up in the end) and looked through to see if I could figure out what I was doing wrong. What I found, combined with the recent article I put on here by Jennifer and Beth Baumert in Dressage Today, has led to a little crash course in having a far more efficient seat. I think Greta did this on purpose. She was tire of me inadvertently using my hands to steer and less of my seat. Well, so I like to think....

I have heard my instructor drill me about using my seat and legs to support her when she becomes unbalanced and/or wants to go wherever, especially coming down the centerline (oh, the dreaded centerline and halt at X, heck, the halt in general...) but I never really fully grasped the concept. While I am no expert now, I believe I have grasped the concept.


Firstly, I needed to center my seat. I feel quite fortunate to have a non-existent butt and thus little fat to cushion my pelvic bones, which means I can feel my seat bones really well. I noticed as soon as I put even pressure on both seat bones, Greta seemed to come up beneath me and reach for the bit a bit more (no pun intended). Yay, step one down!

Step two: consistent contact with the outside rein, keep it still and don't mess around with it unless the contact becomes loose, and give and release on the inside. I needed to keep my hands evenly apart on either side of her withers. Greta didn't want to comply at first, but after a while she seemed to work her way into taking contact.

And thirdly, using my seat by pretending my abdomen is a flashlight. I needed to point it in the direction I wanted to go but still keep my seat pressure even, even at the posting trot. Along with this, light contact with my legs, which needed to be prepared to "tap" her back into position in conjunction with my seat. It almost seemed like I was dribbling a soccer ball: when she wanted to drift to the left, I lightly pushed her back onto the circle with my left leg and directed my seat left, and if she drifted to the right I corrected her with my right leg, but still kept my seat consistent. I think this crash course will help me indefinitely as far as making good circles and straight lines! Thank you instructor and Sally Swift!!

Greta, could you please direct your attention to the front of the class?

Now, where the Dressage Today article came in was keeping my aids consistent even if Greta became distracted. We may not look perfect, but by keeping my aids consistent I feel like I'm focusing more on the ride instead of whatever is distracting her, and in turn she seems to kind of blow it off because I'm blowing it off. That's not the case every time, but it's been working most of the time.

And the ride Sunday!

Sunday felt like the best ride i have ever had on her. I read and hear that self-carriage feels like just a light weight on the reins, and that's certainly what Greta felt like almost the entire time. My aids stayed consistent, our circles were practically perfect, my hands felt perfect, my seat and legs felt coordinated, she was quite attentive, and we were even able to do a decent (far from perfect, but much better than previous attempts) trot down the centerline, halt, and pick up a trot again. She didn't halt square, but she came to a halt coolly and picked up the trot again without taking off. It was awesome. In fact, they were switching around trailers and bringing in a new horse during most of the ride, did I tell you that?

But of course she does it when there's no video camera or anyone to comfirm her awesomeness. You'll just have to take my word for it this time.

And the super cute picture of her peeking into the tack room...

YAY! The end.