Tuesday, February 28, 2012

It's raining...

Actually, it's pouring, and it's (still) February!  If only barely.

I hate this kind of weather when it's just warm enough to rain but cold enough that it really should be snowing.  Every other kind of weather - well, excepting hail - I don't worry about the boys not having a roof to get under.  They have access to good shade, windbreaks no matter which direction the wind blows, and sunny spots to loaf in.  They have thick, fuzzy coats to protect them from dry cold (and almost all snow counts as "dry").

But when it's raining at 34' like it is today... I'd love to have a nice snug barn to tuck them into.  Or somewhere free enough of potential blanket snaggers that I could at least put turnouts on them.

When I checked on them this morning they were snoozing in the upper lot letting the bulk of the house and the thick coniferous wind break shelter them from all but occasional stray gusts.  It wasn't raining yet, and they were all fluffed out and pleased with themselves. 

I'm crossing my fingers that a) someone up there turns the faucet off, or b) the atmosphere cools off enough to snow.   Weather channel says snow, sleet or freezing rain through 8 PM with wind from 15-20 mph.  BLEH!!!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

For your viewing pleasure...

14 seconds of winter, for those of you enjoying a more southern climate...

The boys are tucked down in below the tree grove out of the wind, soaking up some surprisingly warm sunshine and shedding. 

I came home covered in pony hair.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Snowy Day

Pre-mud pretty
We haven't seen much white stuff this winter, so it's easier to appreciate the picture it makes coating everything before it melts into the mud I know the boys are going to be wearing sometime soon. 

The tree grove where Sunny picked up all those burrs earlier this winter - all it needed was a cardinal or two.

Little glops and glitters of snow were just starting to blow off the trees - it was calm when I drove out, but the wind was picking up. 

By the time I headed back into town the trees were shedding their coats like crazy and the ruts in the snow on the road were filling in.  Unless there's more snow than the 4-5" we got, the plows don't run past the farm.  One of the neighbors down the road has a plow, and he clears the mile from his house to the blacktop, but once I turn the corner I just have to cross my fingers that the road hasn't blown in too badly, or that someone's been through before me.

The first couple of winters I lived out here before I bought Sunny, when I was just riding the farm owner's horses, I had a small car with only front wheel drive - there were weeks at a time that I couldn't get out to the farm.  Four-wheel drive is a wonderful thing!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Lesson Day: Dancer, and some new developments

Yesterday was snowy.  In the 30's, but the white stuff started pre-dawn and it just kept coming.  Since the plows cut a swath down our street yet (they tend to leave a foot-high crusty ridge across the end of the driveway) and Eric doesn't plow his driveway, either, when I left for my lesson I elected to drive the big truck which has dependable 4-wheel drive.  On the way over - it's about 12 miles - I was practically the only vehicle on the road.  Visibility wasn't great, but the road had been plowed and salted, so it was sloppy more than slippery.  The wind was just starting to pick up and send runners out across the highway, and as I drove I watched the temperature tick down from mid-30's to upper-20's. 

Eric sent me right out after Dancer.  When I called to him from the gate his ears pricked up and he actually walked over to meet me - of course, when he spotted the halter dangling from my hand he ducked away and trotted back through the other horses.  But he stopped after about 20 feet and turned back towards me, pricked his ears at a firm "whoa" and stood while I walked up and slipped his halter on.

Inside he was much less anxious in the cross ties - he didn't deposit even one pile for me to scoop.  Which compared to five or six times he decorated the floor before our first lesson is pretty indicative of how anxious he was!

He made up for his new-found calm in the indoor, however, as he hadn't seen the plastic sheeting covering the outside door before.  Plastic, even see-through, stationary plastic, eats pintos and must be treated with extreme caution in case it attacks.

But I stuck with him, and by using some gradually increasing circles we eventually managed to use the whole way round rather than riding a big circle with one seriously flat side.  Once he'd settled at the walk in both directions, Eric had me step him into a working trot and we focused on maintaining a consistent level of collection.  I got lots of practice at encouraging elevation without letting him get hollow, and at changing rate without letting him get hollow, and at transitions without letting him get hollow... hmmm - I think I'm seeing a pattern here - LOL!

Midway through the lesson Eric had me take the horse he was riding for a couple of rounds.  The gelding - a big, lean, snakey-necked chestnut half-Arab with a long narrow head - arrived last week.  He's been shown western pleasure, but for a change of scene is going to go hunt seat this year.  Eric wanted to see how his trot was shaping up under a rider, which was cool.  Although since Eric rides a good two holes longer, posting was kind of a challenge.

Back on Dancer, Eric tortured me with some two-point at a long-rein trot, then collect up and it was on to canter.  The actual canter was great - the first downward transition was kind of ugly.  Hollow-city, because I forgot to maintain leg contact.  I had a couple that were better later, but none of them were stellar.

Eric's always stressing that the cue to collect comes from the rider's inside leg first - you squeeze them up into the bridle by asking them to lift their barrel and step underneath from behind.  I've been doing my best to practice this consistently with Sunny, and I think it's one of the reasons his transitions are getting to be soft and round.  I think I've mention at least once or twice how quickly Dancer gets hollow - my personal goal last night was to see if I could get him to collect that softly.  I think I managed it a couple of times, at least in the upward direction. 

It's probably a sign of how far I've come in terms of being able to focus on and feel what I'm doing that as we rode we actually managed to carry on a conversation around the "shoulders back" and "lift your rib-cage" and "are you remembering to pulse and release your heel?" - I've been watching classes at the Scottsdale Arabian show, and I had some questions.  Some of which I actually remembered.  I know I can always look up the answers, but getting an actual trainer's perspective is fascinating.

Anyway... Eric has mentioned me showing this season a couple of times.  And okay, I'm flattered, but... as he's told me - and after watching the half-Arabian classes at Scottsdale this week, I can't disagree, Sunny plainly isn't built to be a breed-show level show horse.  He's too small, among other things.  Oh, we'll hit some local open shows this summer and I have every intention of enjoying it, but when I think of the clipping, coat, mane and tail maintenance, not to mention the pulling, braiding, banding, etc. required for a polished turnout at a regional breed show ... um... not really in my wheelhouse. 

So when Eric brought the subject up again last night I was (again) pleased that he thinks I've improved enough to make it worth his while to want me to show. (Because clearly, any credit I'd collect would of course reflect back on the trainer - lol!) But Sunny hasn't suddenly shot up two hands worth or equally magically gained 6" of neck length, nor have I gotten any more competitive or desirous of trying to keep his tubby self in anything resembling a svelte show figure. 

But this time Eric accompanied his suggestion that I show with a proposal.... and after pondering it for the remainder of my lesson and Dancer's cool-down and post-ride brushing... I said yes.  Intrigued?  Me, too!  More details coming soon...

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Sun, snow, and mud

Just watching the weather forecast for tomorrow, and it isn't pretty.  Looks like wind and winter weather for the next week or so. Given that it's nearing the end of February and it's been an amazing "winter" thus far, I guess I can't really complain.  It does make me very happy that I got a ride in this afternoon, though, 'cause it looks to be the last one I'll have on Sunny for at least a few days.

Monday brought us 4.5" of heavy, wet snow - yesterday temps crept into the mid-30's, and the bright sun melted it off the sidewalk where I'd shoveled, but it was chillier than I wanted to ride in.  It would have been PERFECT snow for towing a sled behind a horse, but everyone I could have possibly convinced to give it a try was working :( 

Today it was supposed to be windy and rainy, but at 2 PM it was nearly 50', calm, and the only clouds in the sky were a bumpy white and grey line to the south.  It sure didn't look like rain, and I figured even with snow I could do something with Sunny.

Shedding season has started
Sunny, thankfully, wasn't terribly muddy - he must have found a drier spot to lie down, because Thunder was a mud ball - and I had him cleaned up and tacked up in fairly short order.

Other than my tracks across the field from yesterday (G was clearing the driveway with the tractor when I got there, so I parked by the mailbox and cut cross country) our practice field was pristine.  See the dip?  It bisects the field in big L-shape.  When it's dry, I ride right on over it, but when it's wet and sloppy or snowy, I try to stay on the inside of the L to cut down on the slip & trip potential.

I only rode for about 30 minutes - it was sloppy on top, muddy underneath, and although I didn't notice while I was riding, the temp started to drop while I was out there - what I did notice was the snow/mud starting to ball up in Sunny's hooves.  I wasn't pushing things anyway, just some slow work on collection and leg yields, but I didn't want him to come down on a big clump of icy glop and strain something, so I figured we'd quite while we were ahead.  Sunny was listening well and staying nice and light for me, and even though it wasn't a long ride, I was happy with it.

"Stop taking my picture and undress me already - it's nap time!" 

I really wanted to get some video of how beautifully he's collecting, but since I can't be in two places at once... here's one round of cute pony ears, saddle squeak and snow squelch, and absolutely no collection whatsoever. 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

In which Sunny and I cope with anxiety

Saturday:  Sunny and mid-40's.  Both boys were dusty and covered in hay chaff from lie-down naps, but they cleaned up pretty quickly.  Saddled Thunder and after a few minutes of longeing and some bending on the ground in each direction, followed by a quick trip back to the car to retrieve my helmet, I stepped on.  I wasn't sure how he'd be since Sunny was throwing a tantrum on the other side of the trailer - he's used to being the one leaving, not the one left, but Thunder didn't seem to be paying any attention to the noise.  

He stood calmly for me to swing on, and walked off when I clucked and bumped gently.  We've progressed to small circles and figure eights interspersed with "whoa" - Good Boy!  A few head-shaking moments, and he did want to edge his way back over toward the trailer, but on the whole a good session.  Things seem to click a bit better each time, even as sporadic as his under-rider time has been. 

Sunny called and sashayed and fussed and pawed - he couldn't see us from where he was, and he'd worked himself into a sweat by the time I finished with Thunder, not that it did him any good.  We'll be repeating that lesson until he's as copacetic with being left alone as Thunder has gotten.

Sunday: 50s and a LOT of wind.  J called mid-morning to see if I wanted to ride, and since Rufus hasn't had an outing in a while I decided to ride him rather than hooking up the trailer, collecting the boys and hauling over.

Both Rufus and Buddy were pretty fresh.  We walked the first 100 yards or so, then settled into a steady jog for the next couple of miles.  Between the wind and his usual "OMG it's gonna eat me!" outlook on life, Rufus was giving me lots of practice in keeping my seat.  But other than bounding sideways to be sure none of the No Trespassing signs we passed had a clear shot at him, and eying all the snow spots in the ditches with great suspicion, Rufus was actually keeping it together okay.  He was looky, but not overly nervous feeling until we passed a house set back off the road behind some trees. 

We couldn't see anyone, but just as we reached the driveway someone started shooting.  Not toward us, thank goodness, but with something heavy enough that it sounded close.  Rufus was NOT a happy camper.  He was all for beating feet for home and extremely displeased to be held back. 

Okay, I'm spoiled.  Sunny is pretty much gunfire proof, having lived all his life next to the pheasant hunting lodge.  At last Thursday's lesson the neighbors were shooting targets, and he didn't flip an ear.  Of course, I also ride him more, and he trusts me.  Even when Sunny's fussed over something he'll usually settle if I'm not worried.  Rufus and I don't have that kind of rapport. 

Rufus also has a bad habit of throwing his head and popping his front feet off the ground if he wants to go and his rider doesn't let him.  Having had a horse come over on me once, it's a habit I'm not particularly easy with - it makes me nervous.  And what happens when the horse is on edge and the rider is too?  Exactly. 

So as the shooting continued and we'd done some small circles and Rufus just got more and more anxious, I finally swung off and walked next to him for a half-mile or so.  I don't like getting off, but the antsier he got the tighter I got, and my nerves were feeding his which wasn't making anything better.  On the ground I made him walk and just ignored the rest of his antics.  After the gun shots faded into the distance I swung back on. 

He was on his toes and watching for the boogeyman in every bush, but at least his brain was engaged again, and I'd had a chance to take some deep breaths and shake my nerves off, as well.  We had another nice lope and then jogged the remainder of the way home.    Eight miles in about an hour and a half - not bad.  But next time I ride him, I think he'll wear a running martingale - for my peace of mind.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Now streaming live...

Good thing I hadn't planned on riding today - a brisk and chilly north wind made the upper 30's, even with sun, feel pretty darn cold.  I took a bridle along, just in case I was wrong about the wind chill, thinking maybe I'd work with Thunder.  But my ears were protesting after only a few minutes out of the tree grove's shelter, so no-go on that.

Wormed both boys and hung out for a while.  According to the weight tape, both of them weigh what they did in December, give or take a pound or two.  Then headed over to J's and wormed Rufus.  For once even Sunny was fairly cooperative, but it's still good to have that chore out of the way for a while.  Vaccinations are due next month....

The Scottsdale Arabian show started yesterday, and it's streaming live on iEquine through Feb. 26th.  So far I've caught portions of junior rider performance classes, but age doesn't have much bearing at all on how impressive the riders are.  Wow.   Fun to see the horses all shined up and glossy, too - although comparing them to my furry yaks is sort of depressing!  Is anyone else watching?  Cheering for someone in particular?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Lesson day: Sunny(!)

Didn't have enough extra time to ride pre-lesson, so that answered the which-horse-shall-I-ride question.  I popped the boys into the trailer and off we went.  Another gorgeous (winter) day in the mid-40's.  Lot's of bright sunshine and a willing horse - what more could anyone ask for!

And Sunny was willing today - he was soft, round and collected, especially at the walk, but his trot got better as we went, and even cantering wasn't as bad as it's been known to be.

I haven't brought Sunny for a lesson since... December, maybe?  Eric declared himself completely - and pleasantly - surprised at how well he's carrying himself considering where we started this fall.  We both still have miles of room for improvement, but still! :-)

We started slow, with about 15 minutes of just walk and bending at various stages of collection.  It was a nice way to warm up, and a nice way to show off a bit, too.  Then up to trot, and Eric gave me our next step, which is working on elevating Sunny's shoulders and lightening his front end more so he can really extend.  For the time being we're to continue working on consistency, but as he gains strength and is able to carry himself for longer periods, I can start asking him to elevate for a few strides at a time, and then letting him stretch.

Sunny was focused and trying hard which meant he was earning his loose-rein walk breaks, and he's starting to figure out that stretching down feels good, which also means he's starting to use his back properly.  Hooray us!  How encouraging to hear that we're making progress in the right direction.

Moving on to canter - very sticky upward transitions, but cantering left was pretty good, or rather Sunny was pretty good, and I was okay.  Since Sunny's canter right was about as good as it's been and he wasn't continually falling out of it, his reward was a loose rein hand-gallop while I attempted to stay balanced in two-point.  And what a pretty picture THAT wasn't.  But at least this time when he stumbled I didn't go over his ears like I did during our first lesson, so I guess my seat's improving, too. 

Another walk break and we changed directions.  Left lead was rocky from the get go for both of us.  I could feel Sunny running out of energy, and I was getting tired, too.  Left isn't his strong direction at the best of times, but I think if I'd been able to keep my lower leg more consistent he'd have been better.  So it was back to basics, with me working on MY form and trying as best I could to keep him from breaking.  At the last we managed to put a few decent circles and a semi-balanced downward transition together - enough to end on a good note.

Even though the lesson didn't end as well as it started, I'm far from unhappy with how it went overall.   I'd suspected we weren't doing too badly, but hearing, "I never would have believed that he could come this far, this fast watching the two of you last fall," was a kick.  And as much collection as Sunny gave me for the first three quarters of the ride, it doesn't surprise me that he was having a hard time toward the end.  We both need to get stronger, and I expect we'll continue to improve as we do.

Total ride time?  An hour and 20 minutes, including cool down - Eric had another lesson after mine, and I was able to catch part of it while I untacked and curried off the sweaty marks.   Pete, the pinto from my saddleseat lesson, with a proper little rider up, looked impressively fired up and floaty speeding around the arena.  Not sure how old M is, but she's tiny, and Pete's not a small horse.  Her legs came about two thirds of the way down his belly, but her cues were practically invisible - it was easy to picture the pair of them in the show ring, flying down the rail.

Tomorrow is worming day, so I probably won't ride - fingers crossed the weather holds for the weekend!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Hairy, but handsome

Rain this morning when I looked out the window, but the forecast said clearing by late morning, and amazingly it actually did.  It warmed up nicely, too - all the way into the low 40's.  Not quite as nice as yesterday, but nothing to sneeze at, especially for February. 

Sunny practically stuffed his head into the halter, which surprised me given yesterday's ride.  But considering he'd had a good roll in the mud at some point during the night he may just have wanted a good brushing.  Thankfully, the mud was pretty much a surface thing and he cleaned up in fairly short order.

Which was good, because I wanted to try his "new" bridle on for size.

Perfect fit

New to him, that is - Ebay is a marvelous place on occasion.  After pricing quality English bridles new, I did some checking and found this one.  It's used, but in lovely condition - a full-size Crosby XL headstall sans bit & reins.  Not exactly for a song, but for what I would have spent on a mid-quality bridle I have something that's really nice and will last a long time if I take care of it.  The reins were a separate listing, but they're also Crosby, new, and a perfect match.  Although I'm pretty sure they're cob-size, that suits me (and Sunny) just fine because his neck's so short.  Paired with a spare full-cheek bit with keepers that was gathering dust in my tack box, I have a lovely bridle for showing should we actually get that far.

He's really fuzzy, but he's starting to shed.  With his sleek spring coat and a bridle path clipped, I'm thinking he'll look pretty sharp.

Photo-session wrapped, I hopped on and off we went.  Sunny was much less forward than yesterday, walking off rather than bouncing right into a trot first thing. Lower energy level or not, I stuck with the same routine as yesterday - lots of transition work, but since he settled faster we did a few more canter transitions and some two-point as well.  Another solid hour of riding - wheee!

I'm still debating what I want to do tomorrow - it's supposed to be nice again, so I could take Sunny for my lesson, or I could ride him earlier and then go have a lesson on one of Eric's.... On one hand, I'd like feedback on how Sunny's progressing.  But on the other hand riding Dancer has really helped me consistency-wise with feeling where all my body parts need to go and when.  Decisions, decisions...

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

My Fuzzy Valentine

Has it really been two weeks since I've ridden Sunny?  Yikes.... maybe longer than that.

And he let me know it.  50' with a blustery breeze had the trees bobbing and stray leaves blowing hither and yon.  Sunny thought he should go with them.  He hesitated just long enough for me to step on and catch my stirrup, then foraged out into a hollow-backed trot.  Okay, sparky, if that's really how you want to roll, I can work with it.  I kept him moving, gradually asking him to round up.  Competition for his attention was fierce - he tucked his butt and scooted ahead when the loose license plate on the horse trailer banged and had no interest in slowing down.  He even popped forward into a few canter strides, which bless his lazy little heart is practically unheard of.  No hunch or buck, though.

We did big circles, small circles, serpentines and figure-eights, and gradually I could feel him starting to listen. His ears were still flicking back and forth, and he wanted to drop his shoulder and dart away from the sporadically banging license plate, but what the heck - energy is good, right? 

Round as he is and as little exercise as he's gotten, it didn't take too long before he was puffing a bit and wanting to slow down.  Once he'd decided to listen and focus on me, I gave him a breather as a reward, letting him stretch and walk ahead on a loose rein.  Then we worked on transitions.  I wanted to see how consistently I could keep him nice and round from walk to trot and back.  For variety, I threw in some sitting trot/working trot. 

It wasn't always pretty, but I think there were a few really nice ones in there.  A video camera would be HUGE - I want to see what we're doing!   

Walk/canter was harder - we were both getting a bit tired, and I could feel my lower leg starting to get sloppy, but the compressed moments were briefer.  I think part of the issue is that I've been releasing the canter cue before he's actually done anything, instead of holding/increasing the pressure until he does what I'm asking.  Nothing like confusing the heck out of him, but he's doing pretty well for a guinea pig. 

I'd intended to work on two-point, but since he was still tossing the occasional scoot and dive at me, I decided not to try it after all.   I wasn't worried about coming off, but as wobbly as I get even when he's steady under me, I didn't want to risk clipping him in the mouth if (when) he found something to startle at.  The rest of the week is supposed to be just as nice weather-wise, so maybe tomorrow.

Instead, I wrapped up with some trot/halt/back.  It's amazing how well whoa works when your pony's tired!

Sunny cocked a hip and heaved a big sigh when I swung off.  From his expression, you'd have thought I made him run a marathon.   He'd actually worked up a nice sweat though, so I guess he was entitled. 

I can definitely feel my thighs tonight, so he wasn't the only one working, either.

Finished my horse time up with Thunder - cleaned the muck out of his hooves, brushed him off, and tried him with the English saddle.  Hmmm....  I need a longer girth.... Or he needs to go on a diet!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Lesson Day: Dancer, hunt seat

Between work & weather, I haven't ridden since last week's lesson.  Not ideal - visualizing keeping my lower legs quiet and correct only works so well, you know?  Sunny and Thunder don't seem to mind the break - Sunny hollers at me daily as soon as I step out of the car, and they're happy to be fussed over without having to work for their hay.  Gluttons.

Yesterday was a warm, windy day - lately we've had something of a rollercoaster, temp-wise, with highs ranging from teens to low 50's - so I dressed for an outdoor ride in multiple layers, in case we ended up indoors.  Even windy, outside is preferable though.  Have to say, I LOVE the drainage on Eric's arena - not sure what his the base is, but the top is sand and the footing is fabulous: soft, without being deep, and it dries out fast.

This time, since I knew which horse to collect, he sent me after Dancer myself.  He's outside in the big lot, and I had a train of inquisitive critters behind me by the time I got to the bale Dancer was munching.  (Of course I stopped to do some nose-rubbing on the way.)  He poked his nose in the halter and in fairly short order we were maneuvering out the gate - to the displeasure of several of his mates, who wanted to come, too.

I remembered my saddle, so I didn't have to worry about adjusting stirrups, which was nice.  Brushed and tacked up, we headed outside, Eric with Pride - who next to Dancer's height looks even more perfectly petite and Breyer-like.  He's so CUTE.  I'll have to see if I can't locate a picture.

On top, Dancer felt good.  Not quite as if I was riding a different horse, but certainly a much more relaxed one.  Even with the wind whipping around our ears and the dog rattling around in the underbrush outside the arena, he rounded sweetly up to contact and walked - not jigged - off, flexing easily into the slight inside bend I asked for.  It was such a change from the beginning of our previous lesson, I asked Eric if he'd been riding him since last week, but no - I was the last one to ride him.   

And I got a compliment!  Dancer is "sensitive" -  he really doesn't like being grabbed in the mouth (what horse would?) and he gets frustrated easily - which can make him challenging to ride.  It's one of the reasons Eric doesn't use him for lessons as much.  But he's just as quick to relax and cooperate if he clicks with his rider.  We apparently click, because Dancer stayed soft and light for the majority of the lesson.  Eric informed me that I've come a long way since I started last fall.  Happy glow!

That said, perfection 'r' not us!  My downward transitions are still not the picture of melty and soft, my lower leg is inconsistent, and my two point is wobbly.  So if it does get nice enough to ride, Sunny and I have our homework.  I need to work on whoa in the following areas:
  • Soften my spine
  • Close my whole leg down through my ankle
  • Do NOT collapse forward
  • Keep my head/eyes up
  • Remember not to release until my horse is soft (well, my horse should actually stay soft...)
And practice two point.  Trotting (and cantering, if the ground allows), remembering to push down and back into the stirrup, closing my thighs and knees on the saddle and taking the concussion all the way down into my heels.  Oh, and also to look up and ahead, "as if [I'm] going to jump the fence at the end of the arena" - shoulders back!  Scary thought...

I think some of the leg thing is lack of strength and endurance.  I can hold position pretty well for a while, but toward the end of the lesson my legs get tired.  On Dancer, because he's so light, I can maintain it for longer, but on Sunny who's lazy and requires more leg, I get tired a lot faster and sloppy a lot quicker. More riding would help, but I guess in the meantime I need more exercise. 

With the wind-up to show season starting, Eric's starting to toss helpful pointers into the mix.  Like, "You know those parents on the rail whose kids can do no wrong?  Pretend you're one of them when you make a correction - your horse is perfect, the best horse ever, and nothing just happened."  Show poker-face means a proud and happy smile regardless, apparently - LOL!  

Smooth lesson or not, I was beat when we finished.  Fell asleep on the couch after supper, which pleased the cats.  Missed the dresses/runway on Project Runway: All Stars, too :(  Although I did manage to wake up long enough to see who got eliminated.  One great side-benefit of lesson days - I always get a great night's sleep afterwards.

Hopefully the weather will cooperate and I'll have more horsey news to report this week.  In the meantime, off to catch up on what all of you have been up to!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Lesson Day: Dancer, Hunt Seat

I'm full of pizza and there's a warm purring cat on my lap, and another one curled up on the back of the couch by my shoulder.  I'm trying very hard not to fall asleep, so if this gets incoherent, blame it on the cats!

Another day in the high 40's.  Checked the boys around noon, and contemplated the mess I'd need to make to get the trailer hitched up.... Nope, sorry Sunny, no pony ride for you today.  Maybe if it's still warm and the ground is drier next week.

Arrived at Eric's just in time to help wrangle some goats - they'd been inside to get their physicals (health check, shots & what-not) and were not thrilled at the prospect of being stuck back in the horse trailer for a quick jaunt back to their usual location.  Once that was done and only one - temporary - escapee, too! Eric asked  what I felt like working on.  Since show season is coming (gulp) it was time to choose a discipline to focus on.

Since I'm not made of cash, picking one for which I'm already semi-prepared seemed wise, which left out saddleseat.  And actually, western pleasure, too - I have the basics, but those show outfits are pricey with a capital $$$.  Not to mention, none of the three horses at my disposal are geared for the extreme collection and control of western pleasure.  Not that they're built for saddleseat, either!

Long story short, I went for hunt seat - it's what Sunny and I have been working on, I have the tack, and most of the show stuff - at least for the level I'm going to be at.  And if Sunny's not quite built to be a hunt horse either, at least we can have some fun.

So... Eric pulled Dancer out for me.  Dancer's a TALL bay pinto.  Heavy on the Arab look, but with a high-set neck and upright shoulder and an impressive set of hindquarters.  He had the energy and action to be a Country English horse, but not the throatlatch - too thick - so he ended up being a hunt horse.  He's (like a lot of Eric's stand-bys) rocking an impressive resume, but it's been a few years since he top-ten'd at Scottsdale.   And none of Eric's students did hunt last year, so it's been a while since he's been ridden, too.  "He has all the buttons, but they may be a bit sticky," was how Eric put it.

I practiced my be-calm breathing as I brushed him.  He swayed and sidled back and forth in the cross-ties, watching everything with big eyes.  Well, the goats still inside were a bit loud...  But he picked his feet up politely and dropped his head like a gentleman for the bit, so maybe I wasn't going to die.

Tacked and ready to go, we headed for the outdoor arena.  "He doesn't stand very well when you get on, so just sit deep and turn him in a small circle if he starts to walk off."   Sure, but first I have to get my foot all that way up there!  Sheesh, am I glad I ride a short horse.  And sadly, Dancer's "doesn't stand very well" label could be far more fairly applied to Sunny.  I think Dancer took about two steps all three times I mounted. (Stirrups, girth tightening.... still can't quite get the hang of adjustments from on top.)

I learned two things about Dancer immediately - he's incredibly light-sided, and he'll get hollow at the twitch of a finger.  Which meant I had to be very consistent, very vigilant, and very steady, especially with my legs.   Getting him to relax and stretch into contact at a walk was challenging.  He wanted to get hollow and jig, and if I lost focus at all, he fell apart.  Anticipating the trot and canter would be the same, I wasn't eager to try the faster gaits, but they arrived anyway.

And oddly enough, the walk turned out to be his worst gait.  Trot was much easier to rate although he'd still pop up and get hollow, and he was still quick to speed up if I used too much leg, but at least it wasn't jiggy and rushed.  Canter turned out to be much the same story - in fact, it was easier to keep him round and balanced, even to the right which was his stiffer direction.

I asked about it, because usually going faster doesn't make small issues like rushing disappear - usually it makes them worse.  Apparently, Dancer'd been over-schooled on transitions under a previous rider.  Because the rider's walk/canter transitions weren't the best, he'd practiced and practiced and practiced them, until Dancer was almost leaping into the canter at the slightest hint that he needed to speed up.  It may have improved the rider's transitions, but it didn't do good things for Dancer's walk.  No kidding.  

After we'd worked through the gaits in both directions, Eric had me let him stretch for a few laps, then ask him to step into the trot on a loose rein, then gradually collect him and ask for a canter.  Two-point, maintaining frame, hand-gallop, then sit and back to a more collected canter, and finally to a very collected canter.  Wow.  Like riding a bubble.  Downward transition to walk, loosen reins, stretch, and walk until cool.

It was a challenging lesson for me, partially for my hang-ups.  Initially I had to think very determinedly calm thoughts and not let Dancer's unease in the cross-ties make me nervous, too.   Jigging isn't one of my favorite things, either, especially when I know faster is coming. 

Eric's getting pickier, too - it isn't enough that I do it correctly most of the time, I need to do it correctly, period. And make it look pretty, and easy - LOL!  And he asks me to feel what needs to be fixed.  Seriously, though - I like that he gives me a chance to feel and make adjustments on my own before he tells me what I need to do.  And being pushed a bit means I do it, rather than wimping out like I'd do on my own.

Hopefully I'll get a chance to practice with Sunny tomorrow - the pasture looked better today when I was out.  And if nothing else, even walking there's always something to be worked on.