Saturday, April 28, 2012

Long Time No Blog

My internet connection has been dodgy of late.  Turns out it's a wiring problem that we'll have to get "creative" to fix. I bet baling twine will be used at some point.



Spider is continuing to plug away at the 2nd and 3rd level work.  His energy and strength are good, now it's just a matter of harnessing that energy and strength to use at my discretion and not his.  It's amazing how quickly a horse can surpass us in those areas.  One day you're fighting to get the impulsion, the next day you're careening around the arena trying to figure out what to do with it!  Ah well, there are certainly worse problems to be had. (Like no internet!)

And now I will post this before I lose the stinking connection again.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Getting "Forward" Back




So, a few weeks ago I had a pretty yucky lesson in which it was pointed out that I had allowed a severe lapse in impulsion.  Well, it wasn't really that yucky, I suppose.  I needed that lack of impulsion pointed out to me and it was fixed by the end of the lesson with the help of my trainer.  Unfortunately, my trainer can't be there every ride to yell at me when I goof up.  So, I had to do a lot of contemplation to figure out what exactly was going wrong and how to fix it by myself.

I had cemented that forward, uphill feeling from my lesson in my mind and set to work recreating it by myself.  And this is where that pesky idea of "feel" comes in.

I hate that word.  What does it even mean?  Nobody really knows (I've asked), or at least they can't give a definition that is good enough for my highly analytical thought process.  That's the problem with "feel".  It's not something that can be defined or broken down to physics or chemistry.  There's no formula for "feel".  It can't be taught, but it has to be learned.  But, I digress.....  We were talking about impulsion:

So, with the feeling of forward fresh in my mind, I began to think about what was happening while I was in the saddle and at what times my horse was forward.  I eventually came up with a Grand Scheme:  Every time I felt like I wanted to fuss with my hands, I just needed to kick my horse.

I know, I know... We're not supposed to fuss with our hands.  I believe it's one of the Ten Commandments of Dressage.  But, I'd be lying if I said that I don't ever have the urge to do it anyway.  It's human nature, we're a very handsy species.  We're genetically programmed to do everything, including riding, with our hands.  Just have a look in the warm up ring of your local dressage show if you want confirmation of that.

Every so often when I ride I get this overwhelming urge to do something with my hands.  With Spider not consistently forward, I was getting that urge more often.  Why?  And then it hit me.  I was trying to get the connection back.

Spider was dropping behind my leg, which broke his connection to my hand.  I wanted to get the connection back.  My instinct is to use my hand to get it back, but that's not right.  The only way to get the connection back is to drive the horse back up to my hand.  Hence: "When I want to do something with my hands, I just kick my horse instead".

And that is feel.  Well, it's feel for me.  Who knows what it's like for everyone else!?




Oh, and there's an epilogue...

My Grand Scheme has worked, for me at least.  Lack of impulsion was not mentioned even once in my most recent lesson.  I was even complimented on Spider's energy and uphill balance.  Now I just have to work on the lateral work...... It never ends, does it?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Jumping (Intentionally)

Now, to be honest, I haven't got much of a "jumping education".  I went straight from western to dressage.  I have had a few jumping lessons, but it is not really my thing.  My last jumping lesson was in 1999.

While my interest has never really been with jumping, for about a year I worked at a barn where the head trainer was a Olympic level eventer.  Employees got a discounted rate on lessons with her, so I jumped on that.  Realistically, at the time, Olympic level eventing dressage was much farther than than I had ever ridden, so she had much to offer as far as my dressage education went.   But, she recognized that my heart wasn't in putting horses over fences.  As a matter of fact, my Olympic level eventer instructor decided after only a few lessons that I would be better off just sticking to dressage.  I took her advice and have never looked back.

But, now I've got a horse who has suddenly decided that he wants to jump again.  And I do think that jumping is a good exercise.  It also breaks up the monotony of arena work.  I'm a firm believer in doing things other than dressage a few days a week to prevent boredom and make a more well-rounded horse.  To this end, I frequently take Spider for trail rides through the woods behind my house and gallops through my neighbor's hay field.  But, if it's been raining, we can't do those things and get stuck back in the arena.  If I could fashion some sort of jump for Spider, we could jump in the arena where the footing is always good.

I started looking around the farm for things to make a jump out of.  Key features would need to be portability, ease of set-up and not too sturdy in case of a wreck.  Not that I was thinking we would wreck, but considering my lack of aptitude, it was certainly a possibility.

The rails were easy, I could just use my cavaletti poles.  But what to use for the upright part? (Standards?  I don't know what they're called.)

And then, in a fit of genius, I had the perfect solution.  Not too tall, stable, and sort of squishy (just in case I fall on them): Rubber feed tubs.

Stop laughing, this is brilliant.  


In spite of the spectacular rednecked-ness of my jump, Spider seems to like it.  I've added it to our schedule once a week.  I am greatly amused by his enthusiasm, and very grateful for his tolerance of my bad jump riding.  He is truly a "packer".

Things I have noticed:

When Spider jumps the jump as it is, I have no problem following him with my hands.  When Spider gets too enthusiastic and jumps my jump like it's a 3'6"er, I bang him in the face.  I have heard people who jump talk about "release", but I really have no concept of that.  I know what release is in dressage, it usually involves giving the one rein and keeping the contact with the other.  But, releasing over a jump?  No clue....  I know when he's going to over-jump, because I can feel him gathering himself up to do it.  When I feel this, I immediately give my reins as though I were riding a horse through a rear.  This is obviously not the right way to do things, because I usually bang him in the face as he's landing.  Any suggestions here would be welcome.  Luckily, he doesn't usually over-jump, and, when he does, he tolerates my ignorance.

Spider has a beautiful canter after the jump.  Forward, round, perfect. He would really like to canter over my jump, too.  But, my jumping lessons never progressed to cantering over fences, so I have not allowed Spider to do that.

I own 7 saddles.  None of them are jumping saddles.  Five of them are dressage saddles, one is a children's pony leadline saddle and one is a western saddle.  Spider's saddle is a Custom Saddlery Wolfgang Solo, with the short knee roll (not pictured, but you get the idea).  It's a good saddle, it fits Spider very well.  But, it is impossible to get out of.  So, I can't really two point over the jump.  I pretty much just do my best to get out of the way, and let Spider do his thing.  Like I said, my boy is a packer.

It's times like these when I wish I knew more about his life before he came to me.  This horse is so amazing, I can't imagine how I ever ended up with him.  You'd have to be insane to sell a horse like Spider.


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Jumping (Not Intentionally)

Raised cavaletti grid


Regulars of this blog may remember that Spider came to me as a "soured" jumper.  His sourness was confirmed the first winter I owned him, when we had to share an indoor with a Hunter trainer.  She would set up jumps in the indoor once a week, and Spider would come unglued anytime we had to work around them.  As soon as he saw the jumps his entire body would tense.  If we got too close to them he would begin balking and spinning.  It was clear that he wanted nothing to do with the jumps.

Over the years, I've occasionally tried to put him over a jump, always with the same result, a complete refusal.  I never pushed it, seeing as he's a dressage horse now and I don't really know how to jump anyway.

A few months ago he surprised me by jumping over a log while on the trail.  Since then, I've been letting him jump the log whenever we go on trail rides.  There's no pressure, no arena, and he seems to enjoy it.

So, a few weeks ago I had set up my raised cavaletti grid for Spider to trot through.  He decided to jump them instead.  Annoyed, I put him back through the grid, and he jumped through again.    I put him through several more times and he jumped through every single time.  He also got more and more enthusiastic about it every time.

Now, he has always had a slight tendency to jump cavaletti, but usually we work it out and he trots through like he's supposed to.  It's not like they're that high, even though he jumps like they are.  Plus, I have a tendency to accidentally bang him in the face with the bit when he jumps unexpectedly, which usually is a good hint that maybe I don't really want him to jump.  But on this particular day, he was not taking my hints.

Finally, I just gave up on trying to get him to trot nicely through.  I figured the main point of cavaletti work is to get the horse to pick up its feet, and Spider was certainly doing that!  I also noticed that his canter was quite nice after all the jumping.  And then I got an idea.

But, first I needed to make a jump........

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Hoppy Easter!



Spider and I jumped today.  Intentionally.  Over a real jump set up in the arena.

Well, Spider jumped.  I just held on and tried to stay out of the way.  But we still had fun.

Me, I can't think of a better way to spend an Easter Sunday.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Happy Anniversary, Spider!

On this very day in 2006 I signed the paperwork that made a little bay Thoroughbred named Spider officially my horse.  It has only been six years, but it seems like a lifetime.

Spider about six months after I purchased him.


It's amazing how much my life has changed since that day.  When I signed that paper, I was the manager of a training/sales barn.  Now, I'm an amateur... and I have my own farm and two kids to raise.  If you'd asked me six years ago what I thought my life would be like in 2012, my guess wouldn't have even been close to this!

Spider at his first dressage show in 2007.   Please ignore the slouching cretin in the saddle. 

While my life has changed so radically, Spider has been constant.

Spider in 2008, just a few weeks after my oldest child was born.

He has weathered all the changes in my life and kept his good nature through it all.

How many dressage horses can double as a chicken roost?


In just six years, he has gone from jumper, to dressage horse, to backyard farm horse, to little kids' pet and pony. And he's done it with the grace and style of a true gentleman.

Best Schoolmaster Ever



Happy anniversary, buddy.

My favorite view

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Hooray For Technology!

I have a computer again!


Funny, just a few years ago it wouldn't have bothered me at all to not have one, but now I feel deprived without it.  I suppose we truly live in a digital world, if even a technologically challenged person such as myself has become dependent!


As I posted previously, my hard drive self-destructed.  I was annoyed, as the computer was only 3 years old and a Mac.  I was rather under the impression that Macs were hardier and longer-lived than PCs.  I guess not.  Well, to be fair....  It was a hardware issue, not software, which I suppose isn't so much an Mac versus PC issue. I'm pretty sure all the hardware is made by the same company somewhere in east Asia ;).   But still, I didn't expect a hard drive to fail so catastrophically in such a short amount of time.

Moral:  Back up your files, especially pictures.  We lost a lot of pictures.  We have an external hard drive for pictures, but had been negligent in actually putting the them onto the external hard drive.  Luckily, we're also not that great about deleting things off the camera after we download them, so we were able to recover some there.  Plus, we were able to recover everything we had uploaded to the internet.  So, not a total loss.

Now I just have to start writing out all the thoughts I've had in the past 2 weeks in a coherent way.  Ha!

Gate Pests

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