Sunday, July 29, 2012

Spider In Action!

So, last time I had my trainer down for a lesson I got him to take pictures.  Well.... I actually didn't intend for him to take pictures, I was going to ask him to get on Spider for a minute at the end of the ride, so I could get a picture of Spider's head and neck for my living room.  (My living room is decorated with pictures of my children and horses that I've taken over the years.)  But, he saw the camera and said "Oh good!  Let's take pictures of you riding!"

*Gulp*  I hate looking at pictures of myself on a horse.  I always find a million things to pick apart.....

The focus of the day was forward and engaged, so I don't have any pictures of us doing fun things.  Just regular, boring walk-trot-canter.

Let's start with the good pictures:

Nice trot

Transition down from trot to walk.
Nice walk, too bad the rider is slouching and staring at the ground.
Canter is getting there
Medium needs a little more "oomph", but not bad

♫♪ Floating ♬♩
And now let's see what we need to work on...

Definitely need to work on that 

Needs more engagement

Needs more engagement (also less rider yanking on inside rein)
Needs more.... eh, you know the drill
Overall, Spider is consistently on the bit and staying in a nice frame, but he needs to sit down push off more from behind.  He needs to increase his engagement.  This is hard for him, because he's not naturally built that way.  So for now that will be our focus, helping Spider develop the strength necessary to really sit down on his haunches and collect.  I'd much rather be working on fun stuff like half-passes and flying changes, but I know the tricks will be there when I need them because I'm taking the time to lay a solid foundation.

Oh, and at the end of the ride I did get my trainer to hop on so I could get a shot for my living room:

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Coming Soon....

Action shots!

Having my own farm is really, really nice.  I no longer have to deal with the arena hogs, drama queens, and general idiots that populate the boarding barn scene.  I love it!

But, because I'm all alone, I never have anybody to take pictures when I ride.  So, here I am yapping away about my horse's training with absolutely nothing to back it up.  Until today, that is!  Today I got my trainer to take pictures during my lesson!

The entire photo expose on my riding is in the works.  But, for know, here's a sneak preview:

I am in love with this picture!  My little Thoroughbred is a real dressage horse!

Friday, July 20, 2012

"You've Got To Know When To Hold 'Em......."

".....Know when to fold 'em,
  Know when to walk away,
  And know when to run..."
  -Kenny Rogers, The Gambler

I'd like to thank both Kenny Rogers, and Calm, Forward, Straight for inspiring this post.  Kenny Rogers' lyrics are wise, but it was Calm, Forward, Straight who reminded me of this particular song and how good of an analogy it provides for riding a horse.

Since my "levade" incident, I have been working mainly on me: my position, my ever-elusive "feel", and my level of fitness.

I had my trainer out shortly after my unwilling excursion into the haute ecole, and he pointed out a few interesting things.

Interesting Thing 1:  I've developed a tendency to collapse my left shoulder.  A lot.  Which quite effectively blocks my left arm's ability to follow my horse.  And, when my left arm isn't following, it's slamming into my poor horse's mouth.  I'm still working on fixing that, which involves more yoga and more paying attention to my position while riding.

Interesting Thing 2:  I had my knee jammed into the knee roll.  Which was weird, because I never ride like that.  At first I was in denial when he kept pointing it out (kind of stupid, since he's on the ground looking right at me), but I eventually accepted the truth.  Riding with your knee crammed up into the knee roll is a problem because it causes you to grip with your thigh.  Gripping with your thigh is a problem because it restricts the horse's ability to move from his hind end and up into the bit.  Turns out it was an easy fix, though:  Are you ready for this one?  I had forgotten to lower my stirrups back down after the last time I jumped!  *Facepalm*  Once I put them down where they belonged, my position improved immensely (although the left shoulder slouch was still there).

Interesting Thing 3:  In addition to doing more stretching and flexing of myself, I also need to do more stretching and flexing of my horse.  I need to be able to put his head and neck anywhere and everywhere I want it during the ride, up, down, and side to side, all while maintaining the rythm and relaxation.  To get there, I've been riding him in a very stretchy frame, then bringing him back to collection until I feel that I've lost the schwung.  As soon as I lose the schwung, I send him right back to stretchy.  In cases where we fall apart as soon as I ask for the collection, I just go straight back to flexing.  In essence, I need to "know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em..."   Hehe.

I'm still working on knowing when to walk away.....

Spider usually let's me know when to run!

In other news:  Just look at that buff beast!  People are going to start thinking he's part Draft.  Well, maybe that's stretching a bit.....

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Riding In The Dark

Spider by arenalight.

Since it's summer now, and hot, I've been riding at night.  I'm actually getting to like it quite a bit.  There's something oddly relaxing about it.

Humans are very visual creatures.  We rely on our eyes for most of our sensory input. In fact, humans are so dependent on our vision that our other sensory organs have actually atrophied.

I know I spend a lot of my time in the saddle looking at things.....  Looking at my horse's head, looking at my hands, looking at the chicken running across the lawn, looking at the neighbor pulling into his driveway, looking at the arena.  Looking, looking, looking, when what I should be doing is feeling.

But at night, I lose my ability to look.  I have arena lights, but they aren't super bright.  I can tack up by them, and I can make out the boundaries of the arena, but not much else.  I've found that when I'm not so busy looking at things, I tend to concentrate much more on riding.  Without visual distractions, I allow myself to melt into the physical experience of riding.  It's really a lot of fun.

Spider takes to it well, also.  His visual system is organized in an entirely different way from mine.  His eye has a higher concentration light receptors than mine, as well as a secondary structure to amplify the light that enters the eye (the tapetum lucidum, humans do not have a tapetum lucidum).  So, while I am functionally blinded, he can see just fine.

But, lets talk about the differences in our visual systems for a moment....

My human eye has less light receptors and no specialized light amplifier, but it has more color receptors, more muscles,  and more overlap between my visual field (better depth perception).

Spider's horse eye has a much higher number of light receptors:  he can see quite well in low light.  He also has a tapetum lucidum to amplify the light that goes into his eye, enabling him to see in almost complete darkness.  Conversely, this adaptation makes it difficult for him to see in bright light.  Just imagine what it would be like to wear night vision goggles during the day, or remember what it's like when you suddenly take your sunglasses off on a sunny summer afternoon after wearing them all day.

His eye lacks a receptor to see the color red, making him essentially red-green color blind.  This is an adaptation common in animals that are active in low light, the long wavelength of the color red makes it the first color to disappear in low light.  Functionally, it means he sees less contrast than we do.  So, while I can clearly see the orange cone in the arena, Spider can not.  To him, the arena and the cone are pretty much the same color, and he is probably wondering why the footing is erupting into a mini-volcano.

Spider's eyes do not have as many muscles as my human eye.  Humans take it for granted that we can easily focus on objects without moving our head.  I just did it, right now, to look from my keyboard to my computer screen.  By only moving my eyes, I was able to go from focusing on something 6 inches from my face, to focusing on something 2 ft from my face.  And I can easily focus on the wall beyond my computer screen, at least 20 ft away, without moving my head.  I can do this because of the muscles in my eye.  Those muscles can change shape of my eyeball, which changes my ability to focus on things near or far.  Spider's eye is more like a magnifying glass:  When using a magnifying glass, you have to move the actual glass around relative to what you're trying to view.  This is why a horse moves his head around when he's looking at something, he's trying to bring the object in focus.  Just for fun, next time your horse spooks at something, note where his head goes relative to the "scary thing".  If it's close by, his head will go down.  If it's far away, his head will go up.  Which brings us to depth perception....

As a prey animal, Spider has a much wider field of vision than mine.  He can see nearly 350 degrees around himself.  But, of that 350 degrees, only about 65 degrees is binocular vision.  His eyes are placed on the sides of his head, but his head is narrow.  Binocular (two eyed) vision is what gives us the ability to judge depth.  That means that he can only judge distance for things that are directly in front of his head. There is an overlap in his visual field in front of his face (the overlap in each eye's visual field is what gives us depth perception.  Try closing one eye and navigating a room if you want to test that).  So, a horse will always try to maneuver his head relative to an object that has caught his interest, both to improve his depth perception and to improve his ability to focus on the object.

Hmmm, that got all nerdy, didn't it?  Sorry!  The message I was trying to convey is this:

Try riding at night!  It's fun, because you have to give up your visual dominance.

Also, when your horse is acting stupid during the day, try to remember that he isn't seeing things the way you are.  Yes, you can see that it's just a plastic bag sitting by the side of the arena without moving your head.  Yes, you can see that it's just a shadow at the door of the indoor arena.  But, your horse can't see that.  Cut him a little slack.  I promise, it won't make him spoiled and it will make your relationship better.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

What Are The Poor Folks Doing?

It is ridiculously hot in NJ today, so I'm posting this because it has nice, cool pictures!

Years ago, before I had a farm and a family (when I had a lot of free time), I used to spend my weekends trail riding with one of my best friends.  Those were fun times.  I miss that.

I'm on the red roan Appaloosa, my friend is on the grey Walking Horse.  Don't be jealous of my sweet camo coveralls.  It was cold!

Back then, I was just a veterinary technician/barn rat trying to get through my bachelor's degree, pay the rent, and still somehow support my horse addiction.  I supported that addiction by working a paying job (vet clinic), working for free for lessons (barn rat), and bumming rides off friends (red roan Appaloosa mare).

My friend was also a vet tech at the same clinic, and we became friends through our shared love of horses.  We were both ridiculously poor, but my friend had two horses, one butt, and not a lot of time.  So, she let me come ride her extra horse, the red roan Appaloosa mare, for her.

That little mare I'm riding in that picture was named Frosty.  She was a barrel horse in her prime.  A good one, too.  I never dared to ride her in an arena with barrels set up, because if she went into an arena with the barrels set up, she would run the pattern whether I stayed on or not!

Frosty had two speeds: trot and runaway.  I rode her in kimberwicke bit, because that was the only way to get her to not be a runaway.  You can even see in that picture that she's not standing still!  But, we had a lot of fun.

He really loved brandy.  It kept us both warm on those winter trail rides.

On those trail rides, so long ago, we used to joke: "What are the poor folks doing?  They're riding their horses!"  It was funny, because we were poor folks.  But we still had all the wealth of horses and nature around us.  Even though we didn't have money, it was enough to just spend a day with friends and horses out on the trail.

We were so poor back then.  But, we were still making it work.  I worked multiple jobs, I slaved away in barns in exchange for board and lessons.  Eventually, I worked my way up from barn rat to working student. Then I worked up to barn manager and assistant trainer.  I got to ride sale horses and client's horses and nicer horses than I would ever have had the opportunity to buy or lease.  And I did it with no money, just sweat, blood and tears.

I don't know if I would have ever made it as a pro.  Unfortunately, I was badly injured in a fall from a horse and that ended my pro days.  But, it didn't end my horse addiction.  I'm too stupid for that!

And so now it's many years later, and I'm still slaving away in a barn to support my habit.  Except that now it's my own barn that I slave away in.  My husband and I were able to buy a little piece of property, and we spent many hours putting in the fencing, barn and arena.  We did it all without a lot of money, but with a lot of blood, sweat and tears.  I suppose we are "horse poor".

Every time I ride my horse, when I mow my pastures, when I strip my stalls or hand-rake in the corners of my arena, when I do every single tedious task on this little farm my husband and I have made, I smile and think to myself, "What are the poor folks doing?".

This "poor folk" is loving every minute of her stall cleaning, hay stacking, pasture mowing, arena maintaining life!

Thursday, July 5, 2012


I've been working a lot on engagement lately.  I had wanted to take Spider to a show on July 1st, and wanted to get everything squared away before then.  So, I spent a week drilling the simple changes, flying changes and lateral work.  In my zeal to get Spider where I wanted him, I made the most common error a rider makes in the saddle:  I pushed too hard, too fast.  Luckily, Spider is not a horse who simply tolerates such shenanigans from a rider.  "Oh", he said, "You want engagement?  Well, here's my levade!".

It started on the weekend prior to the show.  The first day it was just a bit of popping up in the front, which I wasn't concerned about.  It's not all that uncommon, you just have to fix it and move on.  I laughed it off, we pushed through it and did some really good work.  The next day the popping up became outright rearing.  I became frustrated, and the ride degenerated into a fight.

Now, I know that fighting with a horse is never a good solution.  The horse outweighs me 10 to 1, there's no way I can win.  But, when you're frustrated and pissed off, common sense frequently flies out the window.  I eventually came to my senses, kicked him into a very forward working trot for a few minutes, then got off and cried.

I knew exactly what I had done wrong.  I had been working too much on the changes and collected work and not enough on stretching and lengthening.  I had also likely pushed Spider beyond what his developing muscles could handle as far as collected work went.  And, I lost my temper (probably the biggest mistake of all).

But, a thing like rearing can't just be ignored and brushed off as an "oops", so I had to continue working him.  I just needed a new game plan.  First, I cancelled my plans to go to the show (ended up scribing for it instead).  The next day I rode him like a 3 year old: long, low and very forward.  The most complicated thing we worked on was changing direction.  The day after that we jumped and then took a hack, because he enjoys that and thinks of it as a "break".  Plus, jumping helps with hind end strength issues.  I gave him the next day off, then we returned to the double bridle, but we only worked on mediums.  No changes, no lateral work... just lengthening the frame and then bringing it back.  He seemed happy and content with that.  No rearing.  Then the storm hit, and he had several days off while we scrambled to get the well up and running in 90+ degree weather.

He's been back in work since Tuesday, with no issues.  But, we've made some changes.  First, we're stretching a lot more.  Two of the last three rides were spent just stretching.  Second, we're (me) remembering to have fun.

Spider still thinks dressage is #1!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Upcoming Seminar, "Judging For The Rider"

I don't usually advertise things on here, but since I'm actually involved in the organization of this seminar, I'm going to shamelessly promote it.  Mostly because I think it's a great seminar! (I wouldn't be helping organize it if it weren't!)

Acadia Farm will be holding a "Judging For The Rider" seminar with FEI "I" (4*) judge Gabriel Armando on July 15th, 2012.  This seminar is geared towards riders of all levels who want to learn more about the judging process in order to improve their rides:  The link between the performance and the score, what is needed to get a better score, what is being looked for at different levels, and how to think like a judge.

In this seminar, Gabriel will be presenting a set of unique videos, each showing a series of movements and the scores given.  Movements will be presented multiple times, and the scores will range from good to bad for contrast.  Gabriel will then explain why each score was given, and how it could be improved.

Questions and active discussion from the audience are strongly encouraged!  Lunch and beverages will also be provided.

Gabriel has judged at many International events, including NAJYRC, Pan Am Games, The World Dressage Challenge, and many World Cup qualifiers.  As a trainer, he is an active clinician and currently supervises the training of over 25 riders and horses.  He has also been the National Trainer and Technical advisor to the Puerto Rican Dressage team, as well as a trainer of the Argentinian dressage team.

Acadia Farm is located at 350 Mannington-Yorketown Rd in Pilesgrove, NJ 08098.

The seminar will run from 11am - 4pm on July 15th, 2012 (although, it could go longer if we get a good discussion going!).  The cost is $55, and includes food, beverages and lively, interactive discussion.  You can email me at to reserve your spot, or if you have any questions.  

A Quick Update

Many of you have probably already heard about the freak storm that ripped through the East Coast on Friday night. My area of NJ, Salem County, was one of the hardest hit. It looks like a war zone down here. Trees and power lines are down everywhere, homes were destroyed and two people were killed by falling trees. The damage from this storm was worse than Hurricane Irene. Luckily, we escaped without damage. Our power is out though, and the electric company is saying it won't be back on until Friday at the earliest. We have a generator to run the well, so, while it's inconvenient, we will be OK. Hopefully, we'll resume our regularly scheduled programming (and lives) this weekend.


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