Monday, December 23, 2013

Thanks for the Video Lisa and Dave!

I have to thank both Lisa Cook and David Frechette for this video. David took all the videos through out the last few seasons, which is so amazing. It is so wonderful to be able to watch the good and the bad (which there are quite a few of too haha). Everyone you video is so grateful Dave, thank you!!

Lisa had made a video like this for her son Andy, who has been a working student for the last few years at Tamarack. She jokingly said it was the least she could do for having me put up with Andy the last few summers haha. (Andy is actually a great working student, but don't tell him I said that!!) Lisa said she had some free time and asked if I would like a video and I said I would love one! I gave her total control of which horse/horses and which clips to use. I couldn't be happier with the result!

Lila commented that watching this video makes you forget all the hard times and difficulties and just shows you how amazing Union is. I couldn't agree more! I absolutely love it!

Thanks you so much Lisa and Dave!!

Intermediate events 2012 and 2013

Winter Work

The fall/beginning of winter, for me, is a good time to focus on skills I want to improve. I often try and pick something I want to focus on that I need to fix. This may be a flaw in my position or something I need to improve in one of my horses. Often there are many things I am always working on, but I have one thing I really put most of my focus into.

After looking at lots of pictures of me doing dressage the thing that bothers me the most is that my elbows are often slightly out. This sort of ruins the pictures for me, I don't often buy pictures of me doing dressage. This is unfortunate because I really love dressage (not as much as jumping obviously haha). Last year I was focusing on keeping my upper body tall, I always had my shoulders forward. Now I need to work on those elbows.

When I am working on something like this I really enjoy riding alone. This allows me to experiment and play with what I am doing and how I am doing it. I don't have to worry that I am doing something wrong or don't look perfect, I can just really concentrate on what I am doing and how it feels. The horses are just coming back into real work so it is a good time to focus on myself. In doing this I realized that something an instructor had been saying to me I had misinterpreted. I was often told, elbows on your sides. I thought this meant my elbows were too far forward and I needed to bring them back to my sides. This would then make me lengthen my reins, then to take up the slack I would stick my elbows out. Now I realize she has meant bring my elbows in from side to side, not front to back. It all makes sense now!

Another problem I have is my reins are often too long (hence the elbows out!). I'm not sure which came first the elbows of the reins, but I have been told to shorten my reins a ton and that hasn't worked for me so elbows it is! While I am bringing my elbows in and actually a little forward, I am having shorter reins and a better connection with the horse. When I do this I can sit up even taller and I feel like I am able to ride more from my center.

Theses elbows out seem to have created all kinds of other problems because while I have been working on it I also realized I think this is part of why I don't release enough when jumping.  My elbows are out so my reins are too long and that means to give a big release I would have to throw my hands up the neck. If my reins are shorter, my elbows are more in front of me then the release is more natural and not such a big move!

So when I am riding I am thinking of letting my elbows brush my sides just in front my my torso. It is feeling less and less weird but I am still at the point where I constantly need to think of it. It has not yet become something I just naturally do. I know it will take awhile but now is the time to fix it and I am lucky to have so many horses to practice on, so I hope to have it corrected sooner rather than later.

I have to say I am pretty excited about all the things I am discovering while I am working on this. I feel like if i can fix this problem a lot of other things will fall into place. Yay for good winter work!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Opening Your Hip Angle

  With riding, everyone is looking for the same basic end result, we want to ride well and have our horses go well. Instructors all teach differently and use different lingo. Sometimes you may hear something from an instructor that really strikes a cord with you. It may be the same basic thing you have heard over and over, but when said in a new/different way it all of a sudden makes sense to you.

I have had this happen many times, often when riding with instructors that have similar backgrounds or common basic riding theories. Sometimes it will happen when you ride with someone with totally different riding experience and knowledge than what you are used to. I think it is best to have a consistent instructor you get along with and who suits your learning style, then you can take the occasional clinic. I think this gets you a solid base to work from and then you can get more skills along the way.

I often have found that when I ride with new people I really focus on what they are telling me try to do what they want, all while forsaking what I know and how I normally ride. This is one reason I don't really like clinics, I don't ride well in them, I am not good at integrating what they are telling me into what I usually do. For me it's kind of all or nothing. However, several days later when I have had time to work on my own, I can incorporate things the instructor had been working on. My light bulb moments come days after the clinic or even after regular lessons, I recently had this experience in Vermont.

A friend, and former team mate of Denny's, Don Sachey, came up to the farm to visit with Denny. We were showing him the different horses we had and when I brought Union up, Denny suggested I get on so Don could see him. This was right after I had my fall at Plantation and we were trying to figure out how to get Union to be more rideable and more a part of the conversation. (He tends to be a little too bold and can take over).

It wasn't a clinic situation so I felt like we could have more of a conversation about what the problems were and some solutions. There was one small thing Don said that has made a big difference in my riding. When I was coming to a small cross rail, I needed to slightly move up to the distance. Don said when I did that I slightly closed my hip angle and that I shouldn't change my hip angle coming to the fence. I didn't really think of this again during the ride, but a couple days later when I was riding with Denny, he said to think about what Don said about my hip angle. We both agreed that this is something I probably do that we hadn't really noticed.

When you want to move up to the distance, you want the horse to lengthen its stride, but not get on its forehand. The horse needs to stay up and push off more from behind. Also, when you need to shorten coming to the fence you want to sit up and ask the horse to essentially collect its stride, again keeping the balance uphill. The more you move your upper body the more it effects the horses balance, if your shoulders come forward the last few strides, you are changing the horses balance and putting more weight on their front end.

When I really though about this it made a ton of sense to me and I really believe when I was moving up to distances, I closed my hip. It isn't that I leaned or dropped the horse, I just went with the horse too much and this allowed him to get low with his front end and created a harder situation for the horse to jump out of. Instead of thinking, don't close your hip, I would think, open you hip. Not a huge difference, but Andrea Waldo told me it's better to give yourself something to do than to try and tell yourself what not to do. When I started thinking open my hip to move up to the distance, I could feel the horse move up and forward, even over tiny fences! Also, when I wanted to wait, opening my hip put my weight more on the hind end and helped the horse to sit and add. How cool is that? I have been thinking of it even while doing dressage, it is helping me sit up taller and  deeper in the saddle.

 It is so neat how a tiny phrase, that Don probably didn't even think twice about, made such a difference for me. It so often happens that if you aren't really getting something someone has been telling you over and over, when you hear the same thing in a different way it all of a sudden clicks. I usually think shoulders back coming to the fence, I hadn't ever thought about my hip angle when jumping. For whatever reason thinking about my hip angle opening is correcting many of my riding flaws (keeping your shoulders back, sitting tall, sitting deep in the saddle etc).

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Learning From Our Mistakes

The horse I am currently competing Intermediate, Union Station, is a bit of an aggressor. He is bold and confident and will gallop on down over anything.  This makes him a great cross country horse on one hand, on the other, his boldness can occasionally get us into some tricky situations.

At our last event of the season, Plantation Fields, Union and I were having an amazing round, Union was jumping well and tackling the hard fences with ease. Union tends to land from a fence and run, this gets us into trouble in 4 or 5 stride combinations. The 1, 2, and 3 stride lines aren't as much of a problem because the next fence is right there on landing and it usually backs him off. The 4 and 5 stride lines are harder, there is enough room for him to land and surge, I have to get him back right on landing in these combinations. At Plantation, there were several combinations, we were making easy work of them, Union was very rideable and listening. The last combination on the course was a corner five strides to a skinny log, slightly down hill. This was very close to the finish line with only one more fence to go, Union left out a stride at the corner and I didn't get him back enough in the five strides and he hung a leg at the log and I went flying. Thankfully Union didn't fall and galloped off unhurt. 

This was so disappointing, I was one fence from finishing a tough intermediate course and a stupid mistake ruined everything. When I got home Denny and I had a long talk about how dangerous eventing can be and how we need to try and get Union to more a part of the equation. He needs to back off the fences a bit more and think about what is coming next, not just land and run. I also need to ride better, I need to react quicker I needed to really sit him down on landing, especially when I realized he jumped in so big, also the line was separately numbered, I should have realized I couldn't get him back and circled without penalty. All in all we both need work for next season. 

So, instead of giving Union down time right after his last competition we decided to address the problem. Since Union can be so aggressive we have avoided gymnastics with him, they always made him nervous and he would just blindly run down them. We need to get him more aware of his footwork and to land, wait and think not land and run. The first day we did the gymnastics Denny did not want me to help Union at all, just press my knuckles in his neck and let him do what he wants to do. This was very hard when I could feel him accelerating and making mistakes. Instead of me helping him we created a gymnastic line to back him off. We had to make it very complex with V poles, landing rails, lots of bounces and guiding rails. Finally, Union came down the line and paused after each fence accessing what was coming and what he had to do. The change in one jump session was amazing, I had never felt him actually pause to think (in a good way)!

Since that first time we jumped the gymnastic, we haven't had to make the gymnastic as hard for him to come down it quietly, thinking. The gymnastics are making him use his body so much better and it is carrying over to single fences.  The other day I was able to quietly canter down to a 4'6" vertical plank and have him stay absolutely relaxed and really crack his back over it. This has all been done in a snaffle, something I would have never thought possible with Union. It is an amazing feeling to be able to have this usually very aggressive horse, come so quietly so such a big fence and not try to run at it. 

I am so happy with the work we are doing for Union's jumping. I think it is absolutely the right thing for him and that he is going to come away from this falls cmuch better horse.  When we move to Southern Pines in a few weeks Union will then have his down time before we gear up for next season!


So the last couple years I haven't really done anything on Halloween. I am at that age where you obviously don't go trick or treating, so unless you have a party to go to, it's just sort of another day. This is a little sad for me because I really like Halloween, I mean how could I not love a holiday where everything is orange???

This year I received a text from Bekki Read asking if Lila and I were doing anything on Halloween! She asked if we would want to dress up and ride ponies at their Halloween party. Ummm YES!! So I agreed that we would come, after the fact I asked, what exactly will we be doing? Bekki said it was a haunted walk for the kids  and we would dress up and ride around trying to scare the them! When we found that out, we were all in!

So, after work on Halloween, Lila and I drove over to the Reads. They had plenty of costumes, I wound up wearing a funny dress with a cape over my riding clothes and a wig under my helmet, hysterical. Lila wore a knight's cape with some crazy black wig (she had to use a bigger helmet to fit over the hair) and she got to carry a sword! Bekki was dressed up as a princess and her pony, Playboy, was a unicorn! So cute! 

Once we were dressed, Bekki showed us the ponies we would ride. Lila got Pico, a cute little pinto, who was wearing a knight quarter sheet. We went to get my pony, Tilly, and she started running in circles as soon as she saw us haha. Bekki decided maybe it would be a bit much for her, so she said I could ride Misty, she did Halloween last year so she thought she would be good. 

We tacked up and got on, by this time it was very dark out. I can NOT see in the dark, I mean at all, I can't even see my hand a foot in front of my face when it's dark. So, I was hoping that Misty had good night vision! We all rode down to the cross country course where there were red flares, mist, and people stationed in different areas making lots of noise to scare the kids. Put all this together with children walking around and it was enough to worry the bravest of ponies. Bekki said last year they must have gotten on earlier because it wasn't so dark. 

This turned out to be the most hysterical thing I have ever done on a horse, well pony! Misty kept taking off, I was mildly worried about running someone over. She was pretty good if I stuck with the other ponies but occasionally each pony had their own spooking problem which would set her off. We tried to just ride around making noises but since we weren't in excellent control of the ponies we stayed away for the kids. We tried to get a picture of all the ponies and Misty kept dropping her front end and running backwards or half rearing and trying to run away. If it was a big horse I didn't know at all, it would have been nerve racking, but on the little pony it was just funny! We decided they had enough and took them back to the barn. We were laughing so hard! 

We decided next year we would plan ahead! We would figure out our costumes ahead of time and practice on the ponies! Maybe we will even try jousting! All in all it was the most fun Halloween and I can't wait until next year!!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Trek South

        So for the last 6 years, when mid November rolls around I have made the trek to North Carolina for the winter. Usually as soon as November hits I start getting antsy to get out of the cold north and head to the sunny south. There is a lot of work involved but it is always worth it.

A couple weeks before the date the horses leave, I start packing. I have to be careful not to start packing too early, I get ahead of myself and end up having to unpack things we need. This year we had a 15 mile ride two weeks before we left and I rode Jumbie at Equine Affaire so the last couple weeks flew by and we needed a lot of stuff. With these rides at the end of our stay, I really couldn't start packing early.  Once the packing begins, the aisle fills with boxes and bags, ready to be loaded onto the van.

I head down to North Carolina a day or two before the horses so I can prepare the farm for their arrival. This year I drove to my college roommate, Michelle Matschke's home the night before the drive. I then left there at 4 am and arrived in Southern Pines around 4 pm. Getting there in the early evening gives me time to clean my apartment and move all my stuff in from the car.

The next two days I set up all the stalls and paddocks for the horses, clean the barn and start cleaning up around the property. It's nice to have the barn clean, so that when all the tack and equipment arrives I can put it away right off the bat. It is always overwhelming when I get to the farm, there is so much that needs to be done. The barn basically sits empty all summer and the dirt and debris that accumulates is always amazing to me. I have to focus on one area at a time or it will drive me crazy.

Lila, Tesla and Liz all finished up the barn in Vermont and loaded the horses and equipment on the van. The horses all get commercially shipped by Michael Bateman, he drives them over night and they usually arrive sometime the next morning. He arrived Wednesday around 8, we got all the horses off and I was pleasantly surprised at how fresh they all were. Each one took off galloping and leaping in their paddocks. This is always a good sign after such a long trip! The all settled in nicely and drank plenty of water throughout the afternoon.

I managed to get everything unpacked but there is still loads of clean up. Tesla was driving down on Wednesday and we have a new working student starting after Thanksgiving. Denny and May won't be down for a few weeks so we have time to get everything cleaned, all the jumps out, and get the horses legged up.

Yay for another winter in the south!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Micklem Bridles

     When it comes to bridles there is an overwhelming number of different options. You can have different nosebands, different bits, and even different types of headstalls now. The number of choices can make some people crazy, feeling like they need to try everything to see which magic combination will make their horse go better. Others stick with a plain nosebands and snaffle feeling like if you can't ride you horse in that, you need to ride better.

     I am not a huge believer in different gadgets, but I am willing to try new things, especially bits when it comes to jumping. For dressage I pretty much ride everyone in an oval link snaffle and a noseband with a flash. I had seen a lot of people using the Micklem bridle but, honestly, thought it was ugly and had no real interest in it until this summer.

     We had a group come in for a week and a lot of the riders were using Micklem bridles. I started asking them why and what benefits they saw using that instead of a regular bridle. They told me that their horses were much softer in the jaw and that it is sort of a self correcting bridle. They said when the horse tries to resist, by opening their mouth excessively, it puts pressured on their nose and encourages them to be more accepting of the bit. I found this very interesting and for the first time I wanted to try one.

     The horse I had in mind to try the Micklem on was Rosie. She is an ottb who can be a bit tight and sometimes to can be a little resistant in her jaw on the flat. She had always done well in dressage but I never felt like she was as soft in her jaw, and subsequently, over her entire topline as she should be. I was very happy to find out that Strafford Saddlery allows you to try out the Micklem and if you do not like it you can return it. This made trying the bridle worry free because it is expensive and you really don't want to drop that much money on something if it doesn't work for you and your horse.

     So I went to Strafford Saddlery and got a black cob sized Micklem to try on Rosie. The very first time I used it on her, I fell in love with it! Rosie was so much more soft and supple in her jaw and I was able to get her to lift her back and swing along much more freely in the trot. The results impressed me so much I decided I may as well try it on all of the horses I am riding.

     Union, the horse I am currently competing Intermediate, is also an ottb and he is very sensitive on the flat. His problems are usually more mental, he physically can perform very well, but often gets a little overwhelmed and becomes anxious. I have had to create a pretty unique way to warm Union up, where I basically trot and canter around on a loose rein, just to get him to relax in his own way. I was totally unsure how he would react to the bridle. As with Rosie, I loved riding Union in it. He felt so much more relaxed and more rideable. I was able to work on more lateral work and put a little more pressure on him without him getting anxious or worried. I can't say enough about how much this bridle has changed my work with Union on the flat.

     Now this bridle isn't for every horse, I tried it on a mare I am riding, Jumbie, and she hated it. She was so unsteady and was trying to be very heavy and she kept pulling down. Jumbie isn't as sensitive as the two thoroughbreds so I was pretty suprised that she really didn't like it. I wound up getting off and switching back to her regular bridle after about 20 minutes, I wanted to give it a fair try or I would have switched back sooner than that!

     I have heard some people say they think the Micklem clamps the horses mouth shut and looks really uncomfortable for the horse. I think this is totally false, the horses I have found it work the best on are very sensitive horses who would be much worse if their mouths were being clamped shut, they would be softer in the jaw. The bridle is supposed to be designed to work with the facial nevers and be better anatomically suited for the horses head.

     Overall, I am so happy I decided to put aside my skepticism with the Micklem and try it on a variety of horses. The two thoroughbreds have been doing much better and are moving more freely than ever before. If you have a horse that you think just needs to be a little softer or seems a bit fussy in the bridle, consider trying a Micklem!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Thinking about the Sunny South

The weather is getting colder, it even snowed a little today, the horses are getting fuzzy, it's time to get the h%#^ out of here! Once upon a time I was a hardcore winter girl, I never liked it but it never stopped me from riding. After six (soon to be seven!) winters in North Carolina, I fully admit I am a bit of a winter wimp.

I grew up in Michigan, I worked at the barn seven days a week, I did afternoon chores after school and the rode a couple horses until I had to go home and do homework. I spent all day of the weekends at the barn, I did this all winter long, nothing stopped me. I then moved to RI/MA while in college and basically did the same thing. I am sure I complained about the cold and snow but it was what it was and I just dealt with it. I think when you are outside all winter long you get a little acclimated and the cold doesn't bother you quite so much. I am no longer this person haha.

Don't get me wrong, there are days in Southern Pines that chill you to the bone, they are usually followed by a warm sunny day though. The weather doesn't stay cold for weeks on end, you always get little breaks and so it never seems too bad. When you can jump outside, school cross country and even start competing during the "cold winter months" there isn't much to complain about. I'm not sure  I could handle a real winter again, I'm sure at some point in the future I will have to but it will be with a lot of complaining hahaha.

We are getting ready to leave (about threes weeks), there is a lot to do, to close up the barn, but it usually goes by very quickly. Normally at this point in the year we do not have any "outings" left but this year we have a 15 mile ride we are taking several horses on and I am riding Jumbie in an Irish horse demo at Equine Affaire in Massachusetts. This will make the last weeks fly by and before you know it we will be on our way!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Giving blogging another shot!

So, I am going to try and make myself blog once a week! I am not always good at sitting down and doing it, I do not think I am a great writer but you won't get better if you don't try, right? So bear with me haha.

So the horses are all don't competing for the season, they will get down time when we move to Southern Pines (about a month). Right now we are working on things that get away from us while we are competing. The fall is a great time to take a step back, look at what each horse needs to improve upon and work on it! We are doing a lot of gymnastics with all the horses, it is helping them with their foot work and is making them more responsible when it comes to jumping. We are setting them up so the horse has to do all the work without help from the rider. This allows the horse to make mistakes and learn from them on their own. I can't even explain how much this is helping all of my horses. When you are out competing you make all the decisions and help the horse out as much as you can, it is good to take a step back and make the horse more a part of the equation.

We have mostly been using trotting gymnastics with a combination of one strides and bounces in different orders. I like having the bounces further down the lines, it makes the horses have to be quick and really rock back and come up. If the horses would accelerate down the lines we would put in V poles to help back them off without the rider having to do it. The V's also help keep the horse straight, if a horse is still drifting we would put a placing pole on the ground on the side the horse was drifting to. The horse sees the pole and it helps keep them straight, again without the help of the rider. It is hard as a rider to sit there and do nothing, especially when you know the horse is messing up. It is so important to let the horse to figure it out. Obviously if the horse was really going to get into trouble we would help them but the jumps are small enough and we introduce the jumps gradually enough that they don't often get themselves into trouble.

After doing the gymnastic lines, when we take the horses to single fences, the horses seem to hold themselves off the fences better and pay a little more attention, in case there is another fence coming. I am excited at the progress the horses are making and I think it will make a big difference with them all competing next summer! Yay for good homework!