Monday, April 27, 2015

The Expo

I swear this is my favorite event that I get to go to on a regular basis. I usually put the Friday of the expo on my calendar almost a year in advance and go at least two days out of the three that it is held. This event is held at our state fairgrounds and the turnout is amazing! They have great fair food, the first opportunity of the year to get a corndog, and so many vendor booths as well as presentations. They also have the parade of breeds and there is usually a pretty good representation of some fairly rare breeds so that makes it really fun to watch. 

This year I got there right around noon on Friday and after grabbing something to eat I did some shopping! Anymore I have such specialized tack that I rarely need things (or find things) like bridles, bits, girths etc. This event also tends to cater to more western riders so there is just less English tack in general however, they do have a huge used tack sale and that was the first place I headed. I did have a few things on my list including a Micklem bridle, Havana reins, hoof boots, nice brushes, saddle cover (I’d like a nice zip up one to protect my new saddle), and boot bag plus I always love looking at the used books.


I figured out pretty quickly that there wasn’t any chance I was going to find a Micklem, especially not in the correct size, so I moved on to looking at saddle covers. There were a few options but most were pretty worn and/or they were just priced too high for me to not want to get a nice embroidered one at our local tack shop instead. However, they were located right next to the horse blankets and when I saw a Baker poking out of the pile I had to look. It’s not that Katai needs another sheet since she’s got two already but Baker blankets are just so amazing that every time I see one at one of these sales I have to look. Unfortunately they are usually too large and/or too expensive but this time I hit the jackpot and the one I pulled out was a 66” and only $30! I checked to make sure it would fit later when I was at the barn and it is nearly perfect :-)

                  I found this picture to demonstrate but now I really want to get mine monogrammed!


After snatching that up I was in such a good shopping mood that I looked around at everything else but other than three used fiction horse books I didn’t find anything else to spend money on so I moved on to the vendors (after buying a delicious bag of kettle corn). I was again looking for items on my list but I knew they would be tough to find since this even is so western focused. I did find some lovely brushes and got a soft rubber brush like this for her face,

 I also bought one of these.


I got this one since it was cute and the bristle stiffness seemed nice and it is amazing!!!

 And a really, really soft larger brush that isn’t a specific brand. I also tried this one with Katai at the barn on Sunday and it was amazing as well and really made her shine. After that I dropped my purchases off at my car and then went to see some demonstrations. First I watched some of the Parelli demonstration and was again impressed with his horsemanship but his salesmanship annoys the heck out of me so I didn’t stay for the whole thing.

 I also watched some of the parade of breeds and saw the donkeys, American Warmbloods, Miniatures, Dakota horses, Appaloosas, and Arabian crosses. I’m always impressed at how well some of these horses, who I know just got pulled out of a field after winter, handle our huge stadium and loud crowds.

 Finally I went to see the only presenter that I really planned to watch and it was easily the highlight of my day. Jec Aristotle Ballou

I LOVED her presentation, in fact I loved it so much that I paid to get back in again on Sunday so that I could watch another one.

She did a few things so well. One was that she had three very different horse and rider combinations. In the above photo you can see an Icelandic in the background and he happened to be very much like Katai. She also gave a scientific explanation for everything and yet kept it simple enough that it didn't go over anyone's head.

I could rave on and on about her but since this post is long enough already I'll do a review on her book in an upcoming post and share more about what I learned and have tried so far!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Gaining Perspective

Over the last couple of weeks rides with Katai have not been going well. I’ve blamed it on inconsistency, her being in heat, and possibly some body issues since one week she got adjusted and the next week she got the rest of her spring shots. I’ve been trying to ride consistently but because of the weather and giving her time off to recover from her chiro appointment and shots we’ve been averaging less than three rides per week which is just not acceptable at this point.


Because of that, I’ll admit that at first I was dreading my lesson. You see, for the majority of my life (20 years) I’ve taken weekly or twice weekly music lessons from some of the most amazing musicians in the world.  I started with the piano when I was five and the cello when I was twelve and received my bachelors degree in music. It was enforced from a really young age by both my parents and my teachers that I needed to be at my best for lessons and that if I hadn’t worked extremely hard over the week to bring my best I was failing. 


You have to remember that I was on a path to become a professional musician which only about 2%-5% of people who play music are able to be successful at. Because of that there was a lot of pressure to be at excellent all the time and I spent A LOT of time every day (something like 3-5 hours) practicing my butt off. In school I decided that I just didn’t want to give up everything else to pursue that life and went into a business field as well so that I could afford horses and to have a life outside of my career.


Of course my perspective of riding lessons really was the same as it was with my music lessons. I have always felt, even though I’ve realized from the beginning that I’m doing this for fun, that I need to be at my absolute best in a riding lesson, and that I need to be prepared and great at everything the trainer gave me as homework at the last lesson. Because of this I’ve put a TON of pressure on myself and Katai and that’s not something that Katai takes well. Like me she is an over achiever and as soon as we try something that she doesn’t quite get she gets really frustrated. It was only in the last week or so that I was finally able to start letting that go. On my drive home from the barn one night last week I realized that I’m an adult, I’m choosing to pay someone who is an expert to help me, not to judge me and while I would never want to “waste her time” there’s a big gap between wasting her time and trying to only ever bring my best to every lesson.


Instead of needing to be successful before the lesson I’ve started to change my mindset to trying to do my best during the week but bring the things I’m having issues with to my lesson in a humble way so that I can be successful by the end of the lesson. Even if that success is small and not complete I’m starting to feel like I’ll have won if I’m able to use those lesson to help me and Katai. L is a big part of the solution to this mindset since she is more like a yoga coach than the disciplinarians that I’ve worked within the past. She is so calm and so wonderful at seeing what I’m doing and knowing how and what and when to give me advice.


For example, I warned her at the beginning of my lesson on Sunday that Katai was blowing off my aids and being really rushy and tense. She had been tight and hollow through her back and wouldn’t stop trying to canter all of the time. L told me to go ahead and see what we had and luckily Katai started out just as tense and unhappy as she has been. However, within about 5 minutes L had us right back to where we were a few weeks ago with a nice, slow, pushy trot by just changing a few things I was doing. Beyond that L taught me some more exercises and by the end of our lesson, despite Katai being quite tired thanks to her owner not following a strict enough conditioning program, my pony was using herself amazingly well! We had steady even contact, she was pushing into the bit, asking to stretch down, swinging through her back and on and on with the amazing things.


My main take homes from this lesson were;


-          Use walk/trot transitions when she is blowing through my aids to slow her trot. It’s ok to pull on the reins a bit to reinforce the transition if she isn’t listening to my seat.


-          I need to take up a better contact with my left hand all the time otherwise to the right she pops her shoulder out and to the left she doesn’t take enough of a bend.


-          I need to “lean off the inside of my horse” and step in the inside stirrup to actually be straight and to get Katai to straighten out. This is much tougher for me to the left since it is my weak side.


-          To NOT let Katai get rushy, she needs to listen to my aids and maintain a slow but forward trot.


Sunday, April 19, 2015

Fan Girl

So, I have to admit that I love watching horse vlogs on YouTube.


The same way that my generation is into blogging seems to be how teenagers are currently into vloging and for some reason I find them fun to watch. Something about watching someone else explain what’s in their grooming bag, or what their favorite polo wraps are is both enjoyable and educational and it is how I find a lot of my favorite tack.


Unfortunately most of the vlogs I watch are from people that live in either Europe or Australia so the tack they have available isn’t always available over here and since I love the look of European tack I normally fall in love with something only to realize that I could never afford shipping. Every once in awhile, however, I find something available in the states that I love and so when I found a Schockemohle halter at a tack store last weekend I had to get it for her.


Look at how cute she is!!


My two weaknesses are halters and saddle pads and although I’ve already got a couple of halters I didn’t have a breakaway halter so this will work perfectly to fill that spot. In these pictures I haven't put the leather crownpiece on yet.


Now I just need to find a way to get my hands on some of these…

More updates about my lesson today will be coming up soon!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Pony Measuring

To continue with my goal of beating my goals :-)  I measured Katai tonight for her new saddle! I’m not sure if anyone reading this blog has ever gone through this process before but I was really surprised at how simple it was. I had done my research and found some really great videos on how to do a saddle tracing and my favorite is this one.


After watching this video I went and purchased the following items;


Flexible Curve

Narrow green painters tape

Permanent marker (ok, this one I already had)

Large portfolio paper

Measuring tape (more to take some measurements of my current saddle than to use for the new saddle)

Lip Balm (because let’s face it, the weather has been dry and I need it for my chapped lips plus for the saddle measurement so I can’t lose  :-) )

I put the above things together and brought them out to the barn. I decided to measure the pony after my ride so that she would be more likely to stand still. I was a little concerned that if her back was tired it wouldn’t be a completely accurate measurement but decided to just do a little shorter ride since standing still is a big thing for her sometimes.


The first thing I did was to find the place for the first piece of tape. Then three fingers back from that another piece of tape that was my first measurement. I formed the flexi curve to her back at this point just like the video instructs and then traced that on the piece of paper.


Next I used the lip balm to find the low point on her back and placed the third piece of tape and second measurement. Again I formed the flexi curve to her back and traced it on the piece of paper.


Finally I found her last rib or T18 and placed a piece of tape there. Then I took the final measurement of the curve of her back, marking where T18 was on the flexi curve and traced that on the piece of paper.


Then it was time for pictures. The first task was to take a picture from the side of where the pieces of tape were placed. I already sent this to the saddler who can verify that I got the tape in the correct places before I mail the packet with the tracings to the UK. 


Then I needed to take a picture from above which I forgot...

Oh well, I'll be back at the barn tomorrow or Friday.



The finished product!


Once I hear back from the saddler that my tape spots were right (or if I need to make changes I will make those and then) I will mail the packet with the tracings and a ghetto picture of the saddle with my changes to Heritage Saddlery.


I’m getting so close!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Badly Needed Update

On Saturday we had a fairly bad ride. I’m usually a glass half full sort of person and some good things came out of it but both Katai and I were feeling weak and floppy and having a tough time concentrating. When one teammate feels that way it’s one thing but when both do it’s a recipe for a bad ride. 


I could tell going into it that we weren’t firing on all cylinders so I kept it short and sweet. I worked on making nice 20 meter circles at the walk and trot and tried to slow her temp down again since it seems like she was getting quick, probably because I didn’t ride her consistently last week L, and by the end had her trot resembling something more dressage-ee. I also worked on her canter in both directions and this made her spaz out. When I’m working her all the time she remembers that canter is just another gait and one that is tiring but when I haven’t worked her in awhile it’s all about the CANTER and she just can’t help herself she wants to canter so bad. That was the pony I was dealing with on Saturday which meant that we had some of our worst transitions to date. I’m really ready for another lesson next Sunday so that L can help me sort this out!


Then on Sunday we did baby’s first real trail ride!! I’m lucky enough to live right down the road from a HUGE trail system but because it is right near a large metro area there are things/people on the trail that horses normally don’t have to deal with. Also, since I hadn’t been on these trails before I really had no idea how to even find them. On Saturday one of the other people who does chores (we’ll call her A) invited me on a trail ride and it was the perfect situation since the other person she was riding with could only walk.


Sunday ended up being really windy and there was a storm rolling in so I almost lost my nerve especially when people at the barn who found out it was going to be her first real trail ride were telling me that there was going to be a record number of bikes/rollerbladers/runners/dog walkers on the trail. However, I really, really, really want Katai to be a good trail pony and eventually I want to be able to go out there and do canter sets by our self. That’s going to take time and miles and since this was the perfect first trail ride opportunity I decided to buck up and do it.


A actually boards at the neighboring barn but rode partway out to babysit Katai back to the barn she boards at where the other trail rider was getting ready. Katai got to hang out in a strange place with strange horses and a pile of hay. Everyone fed her treats and she was certainly the center of attention but most importantly she was awesome!!! She never called, she didn’t get prancy, and she stood still and polite while we waited for the other rider to get tacked up and mounted. I climbed off for awhile and then when it was time to mount back up she stood still at a strange mounting block for me.


I was soooo proud!


Then it was time to tackle the trails but we had set it up perfectly for a young horse since A’s horse is a big, calm, experienced babysitter. To her credit Katai dealt with about 100 bikes without ever spooking and although she got a bit up at some rollerbladers and a bike pulling one of those kid trailers she never really had a big spook and certainly never thought of bolting. When we did turn around to head back the other horse we were out with freaked out briefly and she jumped a little but then calmed right back down. I actually rode her on the buckle for a large part of the ride back and she even took the lead briefly when the babysitter horse was concerned about some random branches that were down next to the trail. She really is a brave little toaster :-)


Unfortunately I didn’t get any pictures from our trail ride because I didn’t have any hands free to take pictures and I ended up not having a good place to put my phone. I recently upgraded to the iphone 6 plus and have no clue how I’m going to carry that with on rides. I could attach it to the saddle somewhere but then, of course, if we got separated I would be in trouble. I’m going to have to figure something out before we head out on the trail on our own.


On the way back A walked us to the driveway of our barn and Katai had been a little up, I think she was getting tired and had finally hit the point where all the stimulus was just getting to be too much. Then when we separated and A went back Katai lost it and got really prancy. I just handled it and didn’t get after her at all because she had been such a good girl. I was also proud that in the small tantrum that followed she never once tried to run into me or over me which is HUGE progress from even last year. I led her prancy self back to the barn where she had another small tantrum when I tied her up outside, near another horse. There was no way at that point that I would have trusted her in cross ties. It was tough for me to see her that way again since she used to be like that all the time and the progress that we’ve made just in these last few months has been so, so nice. However, she is still a baby in training if not in years, and I know that she will still have her moments.


I’m also feeling really confident about doing more trail riding with her since she just has such a nice, calm, brave mind. I’m hoping that we can do a few more walk only trail rides before we start going faster so that she doesn’t think it’s all about running.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Bad Blogger and End of March Review

I've been such a bad blogger recently! It is for a good reason though :-) 

One of my main goals for this year, that is both horses related and not, is to get a new job. I've wanted to live in a city for a long, long time and moving to the nearby metro area would mean that I will be much closer to the barn plus I should be able to increase my salary which would mean more ability to show and even small possibility that I could afford a horse trailer!

The reason that I've been quiet is that I've been interviewing both over the phone and in person. I've also been spending time each evening applying for positions which take away a good part of my evenings and it feels like when I'm not doing that I'm riding :-)

Chiro last Friday went really, really well. Katai was a little sweetheart and behaved really well even though I was sort of waiting for her to be a little brat. She only really needed to be adjusted in two or three places and even better, the chiro said her back felt AMAZING! She said she felt strong but soft and she complemented me on how I've been working her. I was really happy because I'm really conscious that not everyone rides smaller horses and want to make sure that my choice isn't negatively effecting my pony. This tells me that at least for now it is not.

I've only had one ride since then and she was good but slightly naughty, probably since she hadn't been ridden in a few days. Then I meant to ride tonight but for some reason it started snowing heavily so I wrote it off since it's a long drive :-(

So, now onto how our goals are going!

In Process Goals for Katai:

1. Increase fitness/strength/flexibility
- get chiropractic done at least three times in 2015 – Scheduling one for April 3rd
- get at least three massages in 2015
- start serious fitness training as soon as it's not slippery out to include canter sets
- cross train - add cavaletti by February and small jumps by the end of summer
- add more structured lunging - at least 3-4 times per month

2. Show Pony

- practice with show environments by trailering off property at least five times this year
- show in three dressage schooling shows with at least one at training level
- ride in one two clinics - can be any discipline
- perfect standing tied to the trailer

3. Dressage Skillz

- nicer canter transitions (no more ear pinning and less choppy trotting) by the end of March
- better bend at all gaits to the left
- more understanding of whip cues - not or ignore - by the middle of the year
- understand all three intro tests by the end of April
- begin trying or hoof at training level tests by the end of May

4. Miscellaneous  

- stay still for mounting – This has actually gone downhill
- gain trail riding experience both by ourselves and with others - get outside and ride trails at least 3-4 times per month

In Process Goals for Me:

1. Increase fitness/strength/flexibility

- find a good yoga class and go at least twice per month
- get regular massages to help with physical things
- run in at least one 5K by the end of April (providing I can find one and the weather isn't too horrible), one 10K by the end of June, and Ragnar (total of about 13 miles) again in the late summer
- lose 15 - 20 more pounds

2. Riding Goals

- learn to weight each seat bone as needed - default to even (I sit much more on the right)
- take regular lessons - at least once per month
- learn to keep my lower leg back on a regular basis
- practice a more proper arm position
- regain jumping skills :-)
- gain miles in the saddle
- ride different horses

3. Show Human

- put together at least one set of show clothes (schooling show appropriate)
- determine which schooling shows to attend and get signed up
- memorize intro tests by the end of May
- find transportation to shows

4. Miscellaneous 

- get a new job and move to a metro location (more on this in a future post)
- save up and purchase a saddle that fits both of us better – Picked one out!!
- Order the saddle by the end of June
- take more and better pictures and videos
- read and review a horse book every month – February Success!
- do a better job of journaling my riding in my blog
- make good turnout a habit (pretend I'm getting ready to ride for George Morris everyday lol)

I'm going to follow up on goals at the end of every month and be ready to adjust at that point, either add more or take some away.

Completed Goals

- continue with clipper desensitization
- perfect trailer loading – On this last barn move she hopped right in despite the wind blowing and the trailer being completely different than she's ever ridden in so I'm pretty confident in her trailering skills.
- get used to riding around other horses and busy warm up areas – Still get a little nervous when a horse goes past quickly but really does pretty well.
- listen to outside leg cues – 90% there in February
- get a halt that regularly lasts at least 20 seconds by the end of February
- find someone to take regular lessons with by the end of February
- renew my subscription to Dressage Today and read every article –Subscribed but haven't received any yet
- update the name of this blog (I promise it will be the last time)

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

On Hold

                                          How dressage makes Katai feel

Right now my lessons are on hold because L is in Sweden with a sick family member. While she is gone I’m doing the best I can on my own to continue to build Katai’s strength. We had a really wonderful ride on Saturday where everything just went perfectly. Katai was doing this nice forward, slow tempo, not rushy trot and was really getting the bend figured out. She felt strong, confident and was really understanding everything I asked her for. It was one of those rides where I really feel like she has it in her to be an amazing dressage horse.


Then on Monday we had a not as great ride where she refused to bend to the left and was much more rushy. I had noticed that the undermuscle on the right side of her neck seemed tight and slightly large so I’m wondering if she was bitten by another horse and maybe was a little stiff and sore. I still insisted but was a little more lenient about it than I have been because of that concern about her neck. I’ll see how she is during our ride tonight and if she is still just a stubborn we’ll have a good conversation about it J I know that we will have rides like this as she continues to gain needed strength since it’s hard and sometimes she’s probably sore and doesn’t think she should have to work like this without a good reason. 


On Friday I have chiropractic scheduled for her and I’m anxious to see how that goes. It will be her first time so I’m sure she’s going to be a little touchy about it but I really think it’s important since we are starting to ask so much more of her. My goal is to do this twice per year and then to add, hopefully, more frequent massage since that seems to be almost more important from a maintenance perspective. After her appointment this Friday she’ll get at least 3-4 days completely off and then I’m thinking that I’ll do a lunging day to make sure she is loose and comfortable before I ride again.


With my current decision to move I didn't have to think that long to decide which barn I would move to if I could. The barn I'm movi...