Friday, April 3, 2020


Our barn is thankfully small enough that with the minimal number of boarders, we can have some strict visiting policies but still have time to get out to see our ponies. We coordinate through a group chat on Facebook. The barn owner has a rule of only 2 people out at a time. We wipe down cross ties, gate latches and door handles after touching them. I use a completely different halter and lead rope to handle Gwyn that I keep in my tack locker. It seems to be going well.

Last weekend I was able to get out for 2 hours and ride and see if I could replicate the amazing feeling I got after the lesson from weeks ago.

 I could! It seems that how Trainer E phrased things definitely helped me piece things together from a "me" point of view.  I can still feel that the way I'm sitting isn't as deep as I managed to get in the lesson but that's something to work on. For now, I'm consistently getting a non-giraffed horse in the walk and that's fucking miles beyond what we used to be. I'm still super uncoordinated when we start trotting and do better if I'm in sitting trot, so I think that's a strength issue on my end.
 I think she misses me. She was super cuddly and content to just snuggle in the sun.

Boop this, get treatz?
 On tuesday I was doing a hybrid work from home/work on site day. Gwyn was scheduled for a trim, so I planned to ride before, then head into work directly after the trim. Best decision considering it hailed that evening but I got sun for my noontime ride.
 We toodled in the sidepull and I just wanted to aim for stretching and warming up muscles. Corrie, her trimmer, noted that she was having trouble in her hind end when trying to balance on the hoof stand and I was ABOUT to call in my fav body worker when she posted on social media she was voluntarily quarantining (before the state locked down officially)  as she was newly pregnant. Phooey. Good for her, being proactive, I don't resent it in the slightest, just the worst timing ever for me, haha.
 It seems getting her stretching and moving did the trick. She had no issues with her trim and stood quietly without yanking her foot away. It's a good tool to know I need in my pocket. And only reinforces the things Denny Emerson says about walking. Because that's basically all we did. Lots of loops and changes of direction, asking for bend. Some lateral movement and backing up to get her back warm. The tiniest amount of trot.

Instead of fighting to balance, she was falling asleep in the sun.
 And for some non-horsey things.
What I wear during part of my job.

My temperature has been wonky.  But nothing else. I'm beginning to suspect equipment malfunction. I did get tested and was negative at that time while the temp was being weird

One of my favorite artists, Crystal Sully, released lineart for people to color in themselves. I transfered it to watercolor paper and I'm planning to paint it this weekend.

I sewed face masks.

Anyway, I hope you're all doing okay, cooped up or still working. Stay safe, everyone. <3 

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Asking and Listening for Answers

I feel weirdly guilty about this, but I had a lesson with a new trainer last night. With everything going on, I am exhausted by the thought of getting out of work to rush to the barn to load up and drive 40 minutes away for a lesson where Cortney and I can meet centrally. Especially since daylight only recently extended into the evening hours, thanks time change.

I had briefly audited a lesson the previous week to see if I was going to work well with this new person, E. I'm still not sure I prefer her to Jim, but at the moment, she comes to the barn, so my time spent away from my family is minimized, which has become a priority recently.  Ugh, I'm justifying, but also my lessons have been on Fridays, and after this recent fall, my hip and back are utterly worn out by Friday evening with all of the clean room gowning I have to do over and over during the week for my job. That gowning requires balance and lots of bending, very similar muscle groups to riding, so my still healing back just doesn't have the strength.

Anyway. New lesson person E. I got out of work yesterday and got the barn actually quite early. I ended up being able to take my time with my shedding beast, really get all the shavings out of her tail (remnant bedhead), restock her supplement cups in the feed room, lunge and have about 15 minutes to warm up and get my head in the game before E arrived.

It was right before sunset so we had beautiful light and I rode in the outdoor. Gwyn was a little sassy on the lunge line, but showing some decent strength in being willing to canter and not be totally out of control but actually balanced.

In my warm up with her I focused on transitions, mostly. Things that I work on with Jim. When E arrived I introduced myself and Gwyn, told her what our weaknesses were and what I wanted to focus on. She immediately picked up on the weakness Gwyn has stepping under herself with the left hind. I wanted to get Jean out to do bodywork but she's on self quarantine due to pregnancy and announced that RIGHT before I was about to message her. 

 What I did really like about the lesson was that E got a concept/trick through to me that Jim has been trying to do for a while. Usually, Jim ends up getting on Gwyn, doing that hard work and then I get on and have a compliant mare. E gave me the toolkit item.

I have a few problems and bad habits:

1.  When applying inside leg/outside rein, I've never given Gwyn time to find the correct answer. I just ask. And ask. And ask. And never stop to listen or wait for a response. To this end, E had me apply inside leg, and ask with a little bit of inside rein for two beats and release and wait.  Then ask again for two beats.

Suddenly I had a horse underneath me who was carrying herself.

2. Throwing her head away. For a while Jim and I were working on getting Gwyn to not have such a high/upside down head set. So we'd ask her to stretch out and down. Trouble is, she's a smart cookie and now she asks for that a LOT and ends up snatching my reins away. So I need to break the habit of letting the reins slip through my fingers. Yes, she can stretch within what I allow ONLY. Solution? Bridge my reins to fix me. And remember that contact with her mouth is not evil. The curse of bad habits from riding alone for years.

3. My seat is not anchoring me well enough so if she does try and stretch, it's pulling me forward. So E had me adjust my pelvis slightly and I became a lot more secure in the saddle.

4. Leg weakness. I can maintain a lot of this at the walk. And I'm going to need to practice it a LOT more so it becomes my new normal because I lost it when we tried it at the trot. Totally fell apart. And she definitely picked up on my asymmetry in strength. Now that Gwyn is strong enough to canter, I keep my left leg on too much, while my right is weak and so when she's hopping like she's in a canter transition it's because of me(hello, there's that ducking right issue we have too). So I need to work on my right leg being stronger in stability.

4a. But also regarding that ducking right, I need to utilize my thigh more as a block, and not just my calf. My thigh connects to the shoulder while calf is the hind, at least that's what it felt like last night. Since Gwyn so helpfully demonstrated that she thought leaving the arena was a grand plan while we were going left, I practiced using my thigh to block that.

I ended the lesson with a horse that was carrying herself while I steered from seat and legs only. She felt AMAZING underneath me and I'm so so excited to get back on and practice this. I woke up super sore this morning, but also motivated to figure out what I can do to strengthen that right leg of mine when I'm off the horse. I think maybe using an exercise ball and being on my side, right leg on the upper side and squeezing in? That should target the right muscles.

I'm signed up for a clinic day with E on Sunday, so I'll be riding again in less than a week.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Trail Riding is Social Distancing

I have had a week.  I haven't really talked about my new job on this blog, but suffice to say that things just went heads over heels this past week and I ended up being at work for 12 hours on Friday and still wasn't able to get everything done on top of the emergency stuff that popped up.

So I was beyond ready to social distance myself in the woods on the back of a horse on Saturday. And that's just what I did.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Moss Lake Adventure

Cortney messaged me part way through last week wondering if I was free on Saturday. Gosh. I was! She was originally planning to do a introductory endurance conditioning ride with someone in the area who was interested in getting into endurance. I was more than happy to join. The new person ended up cancelling (apparently she didn't even have a saddle...?) so it was just Cortney and I after all. 

Saturday, February 22, 2020

WEG Day 4: CROSS COUNTRY HO!!!! (and some homeward bound travel)

And here it is!

This has taken forever to get up, mainly because of photo editing and me waffling on whether I want to include every single rider who passed my fence and that would be... quite a lot.

So here's some of them, with names/countries/horses if I could make out their rider number. For the riders I had the most name recognition on (realizing that I did not have an order of go in front of me) and awareness that they were next, usually thanks to spectators, I tried to get video. That's going to be a different post, I think, as video editing for me takes a LONG time and just focus while on the computer and I don't have that presently.

And actually, this has been sitting in drafts for a year and a half now... Have the pictures I managed to get through and edit. Maybe I'll finish this one day...

Sunday, February 16, 2020

A Tale of Two Judges, Puddles and a Tailbone

Last week I went out to the barn to ride and practice some of my dressage tests for the show this weekend. I want to make sure that I was passingly familiar with them. There was also a grid set up in the outdoor arena and it was so sunny and temptingly nice that after we'd gotten some solid flatwork in (Gwyn's canter is getting progressively stronger!) that we went to play with the very low grid.

It was all great until the very end when I decided "one more" for the video and we crashed and burned. I fell hard and it hurt SO much. My low back/tailbone was immediately on fire. I could barely bend over to buckle Hazel into her car seat.
Kid hugs
 Anything requiring suspension of my upper body without support from my arms has been impossible. I've been gimpy all this week, which is problematic since I move a LOT for my new job.
She was reasonably amped on this day. And feeling VERY good. 

And warm enough I was in short sleeves. 
 But thankfully all the walking I do at work helped start loosen up what the hell I did to aggravate my body. Plus constant advil/tylenol and liniment. By Friday I was feeling optimistic for the horse show. LOL.
Not me going through, but the gymnastics grid in question. Gwyn went left after botching the bounce and getting flustered and I did not follow...

Then this showed up in my facebook feed and it became my mantra for the week. HAHAHA
 So Friday rolls around and I'm feeling reasonably sure I won't reinjure myself if Gwyn decides to be an ass so I leave work a bit early, pack my things up at home, have dinner with the family, then drive out to the barn to load up. I'd already paid for overnight stalling and just didn't want to be rushed in the morning. Gwyn loaded right up and then it was 90 minutes south to Donida Farm.
Lights make loading in the dark SUPER easy. 
 I dropped her off, thankfully finding our assigned stall in the first barn I looked through with my phone flashlight. Got her set up with hay and water and headed back north to Cortney's. I got there around 11pm and was greeted enthusiastically by her dogs and pretty much crashed immediately in the guest bed. I got up when she did and it was nice to only have to get myself ready because all my stuff was at the show already. Cortney's mom came too and they left together to go pick up a third person.
This is Rio. He was rearing so he could see over the top. It was hilarious. 

 My first dressage test wasn't until 11am, which left me a lot of time to chill. I grabbed breakfast from the cookshack (they let me open a tab with a blank check!) and then headed out to watch Cortney and J ride their first tests.
Cortney and Reign in Intro A
 While Reign is still a baby, she came out with a 'been there done that' sort of attitude. Nothing super phases her, which is good, since Cortney intends for her to be a husband horse! They did really well.

J and Rio in Intro A
 Rio is an 18 year old Arab gelding and this was his very first dressage show. He'd never been in a dressage court before and he did REALLY well when you take all that into account.
 Once they finished, it was time to go back and get me ready to ride!
Horse Trailer Parking was on the racetrack

Gwyn kept stealing hay from her neighbor's hay bag while I tacked her up.
 As I was walking her out to the warm up she was high like a kite and VERY light on her front end. I needed Cortney to hold her so I could mount up. After that the mere suggestion of walking was like a foreign language. My goal was to get her to relax and stretch. I tried incorporating the thing we'd been working on in lessons, like lots of walk/halt/back up transitions. Asking for a back definitely caused front end liftage and I abandoned that until she was a little less sensitive to the aids.
 She was so sensitive, in fact, that we were half-passing every where. Leg pressure definitely was working and I had no spurs!
 To my amazement, she immediately stretched down when we walked through the copious puddles. So that became my plan. Stay in the puddles and reward a relaxed frame and snorts. I did lots of small circles and figure 8s in the puddles and slowly, S L O W L Y her brain rebooted.
 I didn't dare canter her since my low back kept catching when I would stay with her forward movement. The plan pretty much became don't canter in my test (Beg Nov B eventing test) and take the points hit just to have a controllable horse. My main goal, given the past couple of dressage tests I've done, was stay in the court
 So then it was time. Gwyn actually felt pretty focused on me once we entered the arena. She was pretty forward and rather giraffey but we had good moments. Enough so that when the test called for our 20m canter circle, I cued for canter. And you guys... she cantered. And we completed a 20m circle without leaving the court.
Counter canter when it's not called for... but also not blowing through my outside aid.
We continued to have more good moments. Like when I remembered Jim's voice in my head and slowed my posting and breathing and her head dropped and her pace slowed, for just a couple steps. On our second canter circle she counter cantered the whole damn thing but actually did a whole circle again. As we started the stretchy free walk, I did get an error bell, apparently I did my canter circles wrong? I'm gonna need someone to chime in here because I don't understand the judge here.

For step 3 and 4, then 8 and 9, I originally rode it like the diagram below. I picked up my canter between the center line and E, then did a full circle ending at E and going straight. The judge had me stop and do it the way I have it diagrammed on the right. I didn't argue in the test, I understood what she was asking me to do though I don't agree. 

Can anyone weigh in on how the test reads? I really loved this judge and she was exceedingly kind about the whole thing.
So I repeated the canter circle, getting the correct lead this time though Gwyn thought it was all bullshit so she did end up running through my outside aid on this go round. But... did not leave the arena.  I recovered and we finished and she was very proud. I thanked the judge profusely, who I think was just plain enjoying that it was a schooling show. She scored very generously.
We all took a break for lunch, then it was time to get ready for USDF Intro B. This time Cortney, J and I were all basically riding back to back. This time, Gwyn latched herself onto Reign and was a hot mess unless we were next to Reign. Ugh... Gwyn... if we can't show with friends....
My Intro B test was a hot mess. Gwyn didn't want to do the initial halt/salute and given how light on her front end she was starting to get, I took what I could get and saluted when all four feet were stationary, despite her body being at a 45degree angle off the center line.

One of my trot circles also exhibited a total loss of outside aids but I didn't leave the court (notice a theme?) and we survived. That judge? Super SUPER stingy with points. I got a 49% and we'll thank our stars there's no video of that one.

"Lack of cooperation on steeds part mars today's test"    Thanks? I couldn't tell.... -.-

I had signed up for a third test, Intro C, and it wasn't for another 3 hours. And when I mounted for this second time I super wrenched my back and it took me forever to feel effective as a rider in that warm up. Gwyn still wasn't being polite for mounting. And Cortney and Company were leaving since J had to catch a plane THAT EVENING. I was tired and I couldn't face the idea of having to pack all my stuff up without help on top of trying to get on a horse that was losing her damn mind for a third time AND fully memorize the test (Trudy was reading for us). I just wanted to be home and snuggle with my kids.

So I scratched. Instead of doing the one more, like the day I had fallen off, I decided to just call it there. We had a good day. Even if the only people listed after us were the scratches and no-shows, we accomplished the goal of staying in the dressage court. We even cantered and stayed in and that's a lesson I want to enforce with this mare.

I'd like to think it would have been a different show day if I wasn't protecting my back the whole time. But maybe it was a good day because I was being very careful in the warmup. Because it was raining the whole day (though miraculously never heavily during our ride times).

I got to go show with friends. I got to have a show Mom (I love Trudy). I got to have a horse who cantered without a ton of theatrics (all that work has been paying off!)  I had a horse who listened to my seat aids in the middle of the dressage test and I remembered all those lessons and applied them, even if we couldn't maintain the effect. There is improvement. And for that I am grateful.

This test earned me a 61.25% 

Kind comments are always welcome.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Gymnastics Clinic at Donida Farm

My day started early. Since Cortney couldn't get her trailer down the hill at her house due to slushsnow, she planned to ride down and have her husband drive some of the less easily packed items like a hay bag and bucket. I would meet her at a trailer accessible parking lot 2 miles from her house and we'd load up there. 

From the espresso stand's FB page
So I met her at a bank, after she'd acquired coffee, 4 year old mare Reign in hand. We packed her things up, waited for her husband to come down too (he was held up by someone driving SUPER slowly down the hill)              

Gwyn's hay was decidedly the more delicious of the two, apparently
It was only 45 minutes from pick up to the farm and we arrived perfectly in my expected window.
It's a nice property. And for sale if you have a couple million lying around...
We couldn't show out of the trailer but a stall was included in the clinic cost. So we unloaded the horses and tack, then I parked. And we got checked in and tacked up!
See what I mean by nice?  They have several all weather outdoor rings, and a cross country course and track.

Warm up poles
There were five riders in each session, which was just enough. For the most part we took turns doing each exercise since there were two GIANT warmbloods who dwarfed Gwyn, Gwyn, Reign and a little quarter horse. Striding was not matched at all.

We started over three ground poles to get our horses focused on their feet and realizing what we were focusing on today. Then we moved on to the first exercise that was built up over time. The goal was to learn where our horses wanted to drift and also to learn if they were going to speed demons *cough* GWYN.

We introduced this exercise at the walk first, then went through at the trot. Then the final pole was raised on one side, then the final two, etc..  Gwyn wanted to rush through this, so in that middling space I really asked her half halt and almost fully halt to keep her from barreling through. The clinician, GB, really wanted us to let the horses stretch down and use their backs through these exercises but I was having a hard time with having Gwyn actually listen to my seat so I could get out of her face. Plus, Gwyn wanted to be with her buddy Reign the whole time.

I want to try these exercises at home to see if I can have her brain in one piece and get some better results. We did end each exercise with improvement in all the horses, so that was really nice though!

Next up was the triangle set up. I really liked this one for teaching bending and flexibility.
This particular set up is extremely versatile. There are SO MANY options and ways to increase difficulty as your horse becomes more balanced and skilled.

We started with guide rails to encourage straightness to start. 

 We started by coming in and just plainly exiting at the tip of the triangle. It's more difficult than it sounds, especially if you're struggling with straightness. Gradually we added in loops. So in on the flat side, out the pointed, turn to come back in. It requires a tight, balanced turn at the trot. Repeat in the opposite direction.
 Next version we did we kept coming in the same direction but our exits changed each time. This mimicked more a bending line. More often than not, Gwyn and I ended up drifting more to the point part of the exit when we had a bending line. This was also the version where Gwyn tossed me the metaphorical middle finger and blew through my outside aid toward Reign. Which Cortney got on video.

Finally we used the channel created by all the parallel poles to work on turn on haunches or forehand, depending on the comfort level. You can do this at walk, trot and canter as your skill increases. And use the inner channel at a trot once you can do the outer channels at a canter. I opted to remain at a walk.
This was Reign's second time at the clinic. She did really well for being 4!

Next up was the Bow Tie exercise.

They called it a bowtie. Drawing it out... it's an axolotl

The outer edges of the poles are raised and the poles were marked in their center, where the average trot stride length would be. You can treat this as a circle and then treat it as a figure 8. The center of our exercise was a skinny pole flanked by two barrels.
This was the exercise where Gwyn FINALLY started using her brain and I was able to metaphorically and literally let go and trust her.

In the video you can see me let go, and Gwyn magically lift her back, drop her head and balance. This wore her out. I'm setting it up at the barn.

Next up was this simple square. We basically did a clover leaf pattern in both directions, at the trot. Also difficult with those tight turns. You need to have a balanced trot.

Finally, we did a pattern with a set of cones on the ground. We very shallowly serpentined at the trot forward through the cones, then halted at the last cone and serpentined backing up. This was DIFFICULT! With Gwyn at least. My aids were likely too strong and she was overswinging her haunches rather than having a mild change.  More things to practice!

I debuted a new running martingale that's MUCH faster to put on since it isn't a 5 point. I really like the gray color! Plus the running attachments clip on rather than buckle so I could theoretically not have to unbuckle my reins every god damn time I untack or lead her around.

We were color coordinated in purple and teal. LOL
Cortney and I hung out and chatted with a friend from WAY back when I first brought Gwyn to Washington. She had been in the first group. It was so nice to see her and catch up. Then we packed up, loaded and cleaned the stalls as requested before heading back to the bank.

Mount Si 
Back to the bank where we unloaded Reign and Gwyn got upset while Reign ignored her.

Cortney's husband drove down to pick up the extra stuff and Cortney hopped up and started her 2 mile ride back home!

Then I headed home to handle my own stuff. Usually our drives home are enough time for Gwyn to dry, then I brush out the sweat marks and out she goes. It makes leaving her fully furry manageable, despite the sweating that occurs.

With my new job, I'm thinking of clipping her like Reign and paying for the blanketing. Especially since the cold doesn't last as long as Michigan and if we continue our 3-4 hour conditioning trail rides, she'll feel better if she can cool down faster while on the trail.