Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

Trick or Treat!

Spider looks thrilled, doesn't he?  I imagine he's thinking, "Why does she dress me up for every single holiday?  She has children to torture!"  *G*

Just tricks from Evil Cat!

Friday, October 28, 2011

My New Toy

I finally stepped up into the present and got myself one of those "smartphones".  Sadly, it's smarter than me.  It took me two days to figure out how to set up my voicemail, another two days to get my email set up, and I still don't really know how to actually make a phone call on it.  I just sort of randomly push buttons until the phone finally takes pity on me and puts the call through. 

I did figure out how to take pictures with it, though.  So now I can share compelling images from my rides with all of you.  Like this:

And this:

Well, perhaps "compelling" was a bit of an over-statement.  Unless you find the back of a horse's head during free walk compelling.  I must say, I am underwhelmed.

In other news, Spider and I continue to plug away.  We're even starting to work on interesting things, rather than just conditioning work.

Stay tuned for more info.... maybe I'll even figure out how to take videos on my phone.*

*Not likely to happen

Friday, October 21, 2011

Warm-ups, Plans and Transitions

The saga of Canter-Walk continues....

I've figured out that the secret is in getting a good canter.  But how do you get a good canter?  Developing a good collected canter is so individual: individual to the horse, individual to the rider, individual to the day.  Some days it just doesn't happen, so we work on something else that day.  Some days it happens, but I haven't got a clue what I did to get it there.  Mostly, this is because it's just so new.  We haven't been working on collected canter long enough for me to establish a warm-up pattern for Spider.

I have many warm-up patterns in my repertoire.  I've developed them over the years based on Spider's personality, his physical strengths and weaknesses and his training level.  For instance, I know lateral work tends to be a weak point with Spider, as he tends to be stiff and rush.  So, if I want to do lateral work I warm him up by doing a lot of turn on the forehand and side pass from the halt.  Side-pass is a Western training maneuver generally frowned upon by the dressage community.  You will occasionally see extremely Classical trainers using it (they call it "full pass"), but most don't use it at all.  As the name suggests, it is a purely sideways movement, no forward steps.  Fore and hind legs cross over.  I like it for Spider, because he can be a bit bullish and try to ignore my leg.  This is the same reason I like turns on the forehand for him, even though some trainers don't like to use them because there is no forward momentum in the exercise.  Forward is not really such a problem with Spider, but listening and relaxation sometimes is.  (Thoroughbreds!)  Those two exercises tend to settle him down and get him listening to my seat and leg, rather than just rushing around and blowing me off. 

When I want to work on trot, we do trot-halt-trot transitions.  These get Spider's butt under him and get him paying attention to my aids.  They also get me off the inside rein, since he won't make the trot-halt transition if I'm hanging off his face.  I tend to hang on the inside rein when he rushes, because he isn't properly bent to the inside.  Are you seeing a pattern here?  Stiffness and rushing!

Stiffness and rushing are Spider's biggest training hurdles.  So, most of the warm-up routines I have for him are focused on transitions and lateral work.  But, I go by what he feels like that day.  If it's hot and he's feeling sluggish, we do a lot of big circles and serpentines at each gait to get him thinking forward. That's not really a usual warm-up routine for us, though. 

So, to develop a good canter, we've been doing lots of transitions and lateral work.  We start with canter-trot-canter transitions.  Lots and lots of canter-trot-canter transitions.  From there, I add a couple leg yields at canter and a bit of shoulder-fore.  Then we move on to counter-canter.  Then, we move up to the really hard exercise:   A figure eight consisting of a 20m counter canter circle, then a ten meter canter circle.  Once we've got that, the collection is (usually) relatively easy and we can begin to work on the canter-walk transitions.  And we're getting more consistent with them.  I'd say I'm getting them from right lead canter nearly every time, and from left lead more often than not. He's doing well. 

We'll get there, eventually.

Monday, October 17, 2011

First Gumbo

My son, enjoying his first gumbo.

We had our first gumbo of the season today, which is sort of a big deal.  Gumbo means that it's really fall.  Fall means that it's time to get to work preparing for next year.

What's gumbo?  Well, where I grew up we eat a stew called gumbo in the fall and winter.  There is no one, real recipe for gumbo.  There are as many recipes for gumbo as there are people cooking it in Louisiana.  There are seafood gumbos, poultry gumbos, meat gumbos and, true to the spirit of the people of Louisiana, gumbos made out of whatever the hell you drug out of the swamp that day.  What makes it gumbo isn't a recipe.  What makes it gumbo is the shared culture of the people of Louisiana.  We are from different ethnicities, different socio-economic groups and different heritages, but we are all tied together with the thread that is gumbo. 

So what makes gumbo gumbo?  Well, it starts with a roux.  A roux is made of flour and oil.  Any kind of flour will do, and any kind of oil will do.  You cook it, very slowly,  until it's the color you want:  blonde is good for seafood, Creoles prefer a roux that's the color of peanut butter and the Cajuns like a roux that's the color of molasses.  I've had all sorts, and they all tasted good. 

Once you've built your roux (a roux is built, it is not just made), you add the Holy Trinity.  In Louisiana cooking, the Holy Trinity is onions, celery and green bell peppers.  Those three things are a constant in every one of our dishes, regardless of who (or what) is cooking. 

And to finish it up, there's okra.  Most people I know outside of Louisiana don't really like okra.  It's a funny sort of thing, and probably an acquired taste.  Disparagers of okra will tell you that the stuff is slimy, really slimy.  It is slimy, I cannot dispute that, but that slime is the glue that holds our gumbos together.  Without okra, gumbo wouldn't have the wondrous, velvety texture that it is famed for.  It just couldn't be gumbo without okra.

For the rest of it, well that's up to the cook.  It can be whatever you want it to be.  Gumbo draws on all the cultures of Louisiana:  French, Spanish, African, Native American, and just straight up United States.  It's a melting pot of influences, with no influence being "right" or "wrong".

Honestly, I cannot think of a better analogy for horsemanship than gumbo.  Rhythm and relaxation are our roux.  Our seat, hand and leg are our Holy Trinity.  And our passion is okra. 

Every discipline, no matter it's final goal, is looking for rhythm and relaxation.  We all seek that perfect balance between hand, seat and leg.  That's the "Holy Trinity" we are all looking for.  And, okra?  Well, you cannot deny that there is a certain slime that is holding all of us who are interested in horses together.  That slime is both celebrated and abhorred, but it is there (and probably an acquired taste!). 

I look at the people of my home, and I see a reflection of many disparate heritages, but we are all drawn together by a spirit of culture that goes back hundreds of years.  We, as the people of Louisiana, are drawn together by a land that we all call our own.  It's a difficult land, and we have all done our best in it.  Despite our differences (African, French, Spanish, Native American, and everything else!),   we have created a common culture, outside of the societal norms, because we are united in a common interest:  Our beloved land, Louisiana.

I look at my fellow horsemen, and I don't see a culture that goes back hundreds of years.  Our culture goes back thousands of years, to the dawn of humanity.  Horses are our okra.  Horsemanship crosses countries, ethnicities, and cultures.  Horses are the slime that binds humanity together. 

Because of that history that spans thousands of generations and lifestyles, there are more ways to ride a horse than there are ways for me to count them, and there is nothing wrong with that.  We are tied together by our roux and our Holy Trinity, and our okra.  None of our recipes are necessarily right or wrong, they just are.  Through our gumbo, our love of horses, our shared culture, we are tied together in a way that most people never understand. 

And, through our gumbo, our love of horses, our shared culture, I hope that we can be more accepting of each other. 

Because most times, although the recipe is different, the gumbo still tastes good.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


I rarely take lessons anymore.  Not because I think I'm so good that I don't need them.  Everyone needs lessons, that's why even the Olympic teams have a coach!  Lessons are invaluable no matter what level you're riding at. 

But, I have time constraints, in the form of a farm to run and two young children to wrangle.  Plus, I've been having problems with my back and neck this year.  And so I fall behind in my lessons, much to my poor trainer's chagrin.  Luckily, he is also a good friend and thus tolerates my shenanigans. 

I think I've only had three or four lessons this year, which is a much lower number than it should be.  I know my riding would be much better and Spider would be further in his training if I had taken more lessons. 
Back in the day (pre-injuries, pre-children and farm of my own) I took a lot of lessons.  It was actually a part of my pay.  Despite the freakishly inflated prices in the dressage industry, the actual net income for a professional is pretty low.  So, if you're working for a trainer, you can pretty much expect that part of your pay will be in lessons.  Trainer's time in exchange for your time.  Which actually works out pretty well.  Knowledge is priceless.

But still, I am not really a "lesson a week" type of student.  I like to work things out on my own.  Actually, I have to work things out on my own, because I suffer from a ridiculous inability to do anything in a lesson.  I listen, I comprehend, I absorb, then I stall out.

I'm not exaggerating...  I completely freeze up in lessons.  I become utterly inept, unable to do anything but be a passenger on my horse.  I feel completely stupid after the fact, because that drooling idiot in the saddle was not really me.  I know how to ride effectively, I know how to get the most from my horse.  And yet all that knowledge flies out the window the second my trainer shows up.  I become a zombie, waiting for my trainer to tell me what to do.
In some ways it's good, because my being a passenger allows the training I have put on my horse to shine through.  As I sit there passively allowing my horse to his thing all by himself, it is obvious that he has gained more strength and self carriage.  He displays himself well, in spite of his rider's sudden coma. 

In most ways my lesson-induced catatonic state is bad, though.  My poor trainer spends the majority of our lesson yelling at me to "Do SOMETHING!" , and we never really get to the fun stuff.  I know this is frustrating for him.  He sees that there is always improvement in the horse since the last time he came, he knows I'm the only one who rides him, so therefore I obviously do know how to ride.  I just don't do it when he's around. 

Poor trainer.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Progress In Pictures

Spider,  August 2010

Spider, October 2011

Taking good comparison pictures of horses is a real pain.  I never can get it just right.  The stance is slightly different, the lighting is off.  Plus, Spider has a rather annoying habit of changing color completely between summer and winter.  It looks like two completely different horses up there.  

But, I did the best I could matching up two pictures so you could see the difference a year of work has made in Spider.  He's really beefed up.  I can see a significant difference in his neck and shoulder from last year, all that collected work we've been doing is showing.  

The first picture from last year shows a long, lean horse.  He's well muscled and in good shape, but not like the second picture.  The second picture shows a real dressage horse!  His neck and back even look shorter from the muscle he's developed.  Overall, it gives him a sort of "compressed" look.  Like he's collected even while just standing there. 

I'm pretty impressed with my little Thoroughbred.  As an aside, he's also barefoot and grain-free.  Now, I know that lifestyle isn't feasible for every horse, but I hear a lot of people say that it can't be done with competitive horses at all. Well, there's at least one barefoot, grain-free, competitive Thoroughbred out there who's just as beefy as the Warmbloods.  So I guess it can be done.  


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