Saturday, December 31, 2011

Envision It

I found an interesting article that kind of addresses some of the problems I've been having lately. Maybe it'll be helpful to some of you also.

Riders Learn to Envision What They Want and Make it Happen; Robert Dover

I liked the rubber band exercise he describes. I'm going to have to try that with Ava this weekend.

On the second page, Robert Dover say's, "Be certain of what it is that you're asking for, clear with your aids, and envision the expected result in your mind. See the movie of your most grand vision of yourself—if you envision less than that, that's all you'll get,"

The article caught my eye because my trainer pointed out (several times) how I was blocking Ava during the walk/canter depart. I was expecting her to not respond. This is one of those instances where blind faith in your trainer is required in order to get past a training obstacle (my obstacle, not Ava's). Bern said Ava will canter off a light seat aid, then by golly, Ava will! And you know what... she did. Sometimes the only way we can let go of our hang-ups is to allow someone else's belief in you to override your self-doubt.

On a slightly different note... Bern had me try a different exercise last night in order to work on Ava's degree of collection. The concept was to put the horse on a 20 meter circle, and ask for haunches in but with more bend then you would normally want. Do this for approx. a quarter of the circle, then ask for leg yield for a few steps (straighten the horse first), then ask for the haunches in again with the exaggerated bend. Repeat for a full circle.

We tried this first at the walk so I could learn where to put my weight and aids, and get coordinated. ha. Then we progressed to the trot. The first couple of times were... uh... yeah, not so good. But after a couple of tries (with lots of big "atta girls" to Ava for trying), we smoothly transitioned from haunches in, to leg yield, back to haunches in again.  And when we straightened and trotted off down the long side.. OMG, it was the best feeling trot EVER. I felt like those riders you see in the Grand Prix levels.  The power was intense, and it was super springy, yet soft at the same time. It was really easy to sit, but at the same time I think that was the most intense Ab work out I've ever gotten in my life.  My butt felt glued to the saddle, and my upper body just stayed there all upright and nice. It was an awesome feeling.

I want to mention one last thing that I'm beginning to really understand about dressage (or any discipline)... even though your trainer gives you an exercise to work on during a lesson, do not just keep doing that exercise as it was. Improve on it, break it down and incorporate different parts into other exercises, think about what makes that exercise work, what it's intended purpose is, and extrapolate on it. With Ava, she's incredibly smart, so after doing something twice she is quick to give you the same answer the third time. But by this point, she's also found seven different way's to evade actually using her inside hind while doing the exercise. When you have a horse like this, you have to be creative (and judicious) in applying an exercise that either teaches the horse how to carry herself correctly, or works to build up her strength to carry herself correctly.

Disclaimer: when I say "smoothly transitioned", I mean smooth for us at our level of training. It wasn't even close to flawless. :) But it was a definite improvement!

Ava looking for treats after a job well done!!
I was also utterly impressed with Ava last night. She was very grumpy when I tore her away from her food. She'd been cooped up in a stall all day because of the nasty weather and it was past our normally ride time. Plus, she's in heat. So she was Miss Grumpster!  And yet, that mare gave me her all last night. Even though what I was asking her to do was extremely hard for her, and made her use herself in way's she wasn't used to.... She still tried her hardest even when she didn't understand what I was asking for!  I am so lucky to have Ava!  

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

So Happy

OMG! Ava gave me the BEST canter depart today. I was so thrilled that I stopped her after a few strides, patted her up, and we called it quits for the day. xD

Let me back up a bit though... Last Thursday, Bern taught me how to do the leg yield along the rail to get Ava straighter between the reins/aids. |\ <-- rail = | and horse = \. That started off really bumpy, and it took me a couple days to get my body and mind to cooperate, but it is really helping! It's so easy too (once I quit over complicating it).

Then Friday, my trainer let me ride one of the 3rd level horse's (this one is for sale by the way, and he's a doll). Bern gave me instruction on how to ride the horse correctly so I could feel how it was supposed to feel. At one point Bern tells me to ask for a canter depart from the walk. This horse makes these look smooth in his sleep. He's an old hand at this. So I ask for it, completely did not expect to get it, and ended up bopping him in the mouth the first time. That was quite an eye opener to me. It was shocking how much I was inhibiting the canter in all kinds of bad ways just by mentally being prepared for the wrong answer. When I got the right answer, I was all discombobulated. Thank goodness the gelding I was riding is an absolute saint! Poor guy. But the second attempt went much smother, and less painfully for the horse. I spent a couple seconds after that just trying to mentally "fix" that feeling into my brain so I could apply it to Ava.

So today, I started with a few leg yields along the rail to get Ava a little better between my left and right. Then (after making it very clear she had to get off my right leg), I expected a smooth canter depart from the walk. I sponged the outside rein (which she was now on thanks to the leg yield exercise), and viola! I had a balanced, round, engaged canter. When I asked for the walk again, she was able to carry herself into a smooth transition. It was fantastic! That was one of those moments where you really wish you had someone there so you could cheer together. The main thing that caught me by surprise is that even though I had previously wanted to expect her to canter, I still didn't, and my body said as much. When I was able to let that mental block go, then Ava responded with the correct answer because she could.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Lesson - Nov 22, 2011

I had a lesson last Tuesday, and during the lesson, my instructor (Bernadette Radke) had me canter Ava down the quarter line. Guess what happened?  Yeah... Ava can't hold the canter without the wall holding her up. Doh. I feel so dumb. Here I thought we were doing wonderfully, and BAM... this glaring hole has been revealed.

Thank my lucky stars I have such an amazingly, knowledgeable trainer.

The lesson started off with Bern pointing out that Ava has me completely suckered into not keeping contact with the bit. Then, after I gave her plenty of room to wiggly and contort, Ava drags her body around with her inside shoulder. Not a good thing.

We started off with just connecting her back end at the walk. Then moved on to the trot. Ava has been giving me fits about one end of the arena, and of course she had to throw that into high gear during our lesson. Bern had me settle in, bend her poll slightly to the inside, and ride as though I'm riding a shoulder-fore. Then I had to just sit there (which is hard for me since I LOVE to fiddle).  So I sat, and the first time through the corner Ava gave me a bit of attitude, and I deepened my inside seat bone and re-asked for the slight bend. Second time through the corner, was better. And third time through, Ava didn't even care at that point.

The main point was that as long as I stayed consistent with the contact, and kept my hands in one place without moving (other than to follow), then Ava settled right down to business. It was more a matter of saying to Ava, "I am not going away, deal with it". It didn't take any force, no pulling or anything even remotely negative. Just simply stay with her, and don't move my hands all over the place. As soon as I did that, Ava became consistent.

Another thing that Bern brought to my attention was the stiffness in Ava's poll. She locks her poll to compensate for not having the strength to push with her inside hind. If she can brace on that inside shoulder and down through her neck, then she's able to power through corners. So my homework this week is to gently flex Ava's poll to remind her to release her tension. The idea is to flex her to the outside for a few steps, then ask for straightness in her poll for several steps, and repeat the process. Going to the right, I have to do the opposite. Ask her to flex to the inside for a few strides, then straight.

Okay, that was the was the broad overview of the lesson.

Here's a bit of video from the week prior to my lesson. We'll have to do a comparison of this one to next week and see if the canter is more balanced. :) Until then, enjoy.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Work & Riding

My day: 
5:30 AM - Wake up. Slam coffee.
6:30 AM - Auto-pilot to work.
7:00 AM - Get to work, breath a sigh of relief that I made it safely, sit down at cubicle and stare at the screen for 20 minutes w/no brain function.
4:15 PM - Answer the question "can you do this 1 quick thing before you leave" while I'm putting my coat on.
4:30 PM - That "one quick thing" is going to take 3 hours, but boss makes that 'noise' when he see's me start to pack up.
5:00 PM - run screaming from cubicle and peel out of parking lot, laughing manically.
5:30 PM - Get to Barn (heaven) and sit in car for 10 minutes while trying to regain sanity.
5:15 PM - Slowly relax as I groom Ava... .
6:00 PM - ride Ava.
7:30 PM - Realize how late it is, panic... put Ava up. Delay at stall.. pet Ava. delay. One last pat. delay, refill her already full water bucket. delay. 
8:00 PM - sit outside house for 10 minutes while reliving every detail of the ride. Silly grin plastered on face.
9:30 PM -Fall into bed and snore.


I first learned about e-TRAK a few months ago, and honestly... I scoffed at it a bit. Not that I think it's a bad idea, but I figured it'd be the same as every other dressage oriented content where all articles focuse on either the super, baby-green horse, or how to improve the one-tempi changes.  I'm not even close to worrying about Piaffe/Passage, and I may never be at that point. I have more pressing concerns about dressage training on my mind. Like how the heck am I supposed to get a clean canter depart from a walk. While clean canter departs are still a monumental achievement for me, then I can safely say that Piaffe/Passage, flying changes, etc, are still out of my realm of immediate concern.

So I scoffed, dismissed, and wasted time surfing the web on my own. Until this weekend... OMG they have some great PDF's and videos! And a ton of them are for those of us who need more than just the absolute basics, yet aren't ready for the upper levels. It's fantastic! Numerous video's with well known Olympic medalists teaching concepts like correct leg yields, half-halts, lateral supplying exercises, etc. They have in-depth articles, quick studies, etc. etc. etc. I could literally sit for day's sifting through their content and be utterly happy. :)

First things first... You must be a member of USDF in order to access the content.

Here's the link to e-TRAK:

Anyway, I was very impressed with their content and (once I got used to it) the ease of accessing articles/videos. It is definitely on my top ten lists of favorite resources for dressage!

Shoulder-In Exercise

Varying the length of the steps to develop collection.
  1. Keeping the shoulder-in the entire time, trot down the long side and ask for the shoulder in at F. P, make a full transition to walk. At B, resume trot while in shoulder-in. Every other letter make a transition. At M, straighten the horse and trot normal through the corner.
  2. While in shoulder-in, trot down the long side and ask for the shoulder-in at F. At B, shorten the stride for a few steps.There should be more steps because of the shorter stride. Do not go slower, there should be more steps with the shorter stride, but the tempo/rhythm should stay the same. Shorten the strides at every second letter. Then trot on through the corner. Looking for relaxed short steps. If the horse isn't listening to the half halt's, go back to doing the full transitions down the rail. If you're asking for the shortened steps and you feel as though your horse is going to walk, then go back to the normal trot.
  3. After the above two exercises are smooth, ask for longer steps in the shoulder-in.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Great Article on Improving Dressage Scores

The Unwritten Rules of Dressage Test Riding
By Janet Foy

Janet Foy discusses circles, diagonal lines, free walk, transitions, and the movements in the different levels. Very informative!

Saturday, November 12, 2011


A change or passing from one gait to another or from one pace to another pace within a gait or from a gait to a halt.

Ava is getting more fit, so I've been asking her to collect/engage more each ride. Today, I forgot to grab my whip (which I normally ride with). At first, Ava was very unwilling to move forward. In fact, I had to two-leg boot her to get her to walk forward from a halt. I'm not a big fan of doing that. It was good though, it made me think more about how to motivate her without that false sense of power the whip gives me. I'm thinking I might set aside the whip altogether.

I've been stuck on the general concept of transitions. You know... you walk, you halt, you walk. Or you trot, halt, trot, etc.  Ava's smart though, and I'm predictable, so the more I do those, the heavier Ava gets (and less responsive).  Today it felt like a little light bulb finally went off in my head. You know what? There are other gaits and variations within the gate! Why am I so narrowly focused on just 2 of those?  Doh.

I started her off with a bit of trot on big circles and lots of crisscrossing the arena and then immediately asked for the canter to get her thinking forward. And from there, we crossed the diagonal, asked for a trot, back into canter, back to trot, a lengthen down the long side, back to working trot, a few steps of energized walk to trot, canter, walk, trot, lengthen, etc. Within 5 minutes, Ava was attentive, forward, and very responsive to my seat.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Training for Second

Now that Ava's leg is all better, I am so excited to start planning for the upcoming show season. I did find out that one of my goals for 2012 will need to be pushed back to 2013 (or later). I found out that the IFSHA world championships will be in California in 2012, and I can't afford that kind of trip (yet). Hopefully, the following years will be closer to home. I am looking forward to competing at some USDF ranked shows. Not that I don't enjoy the glass-Ed shows here, but I get so discouraged when I go on the USDF website and I have NO scores associated with my name. Not even the ones I earned as a kid show up. I'd like to change that! So this year, we're going to some rated shows and get our name to show on the dang website, at least once! Ha. I have to say though... I'm really intimidated by the quality of the riders competing today. As a kid, the adult amateur classes were, hmmm... how do I say this politely... Well, they weren't hard to win. And the JR/YG classes were tougher than the Open classes. But today, wow, the AA's are kicking butt and taking names! They scare me! I'd almost rather compete against the Open riders because at least you have the chance that they're riding a youngster. These AA's today have quality horses that they've been working with for years, they have quality instructors, and they have money! Luckily, I have an ace up my sleeve (Bern!). I remember doing very well as a kid, and I'm worried that as an adult who had a 20 year layoff from horses, that the best I can hope for is to not thoroughly embarrass myself. However, I want to show to the world, okay just my little section of the world, how great Ava is! So we're going for it!

Saturday Off

I didn't feel well Saturday. For the past month, if I haven't felt well, I've sucked it up and gone to the barn anyway. Ava needed the additional attention at that point. But yesterday... It was so nice to just relax and know that Ava was fine. Absolutely wonderful. Today, I can't wait to get to the barn and ride! :)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Barn Move

Yesterday I moved Ava to a new barn, for (hopefully) the last time in a long time. I have to say... I'm not sure how many of you have attempted to move a horse who's dinner had been delayed for 3 hours, but that was not fun. She was massively cranky. However, she loaded up well. And in fact, stepped out of the trailer beautifully without the ramp attached. That was a nice bonus. After settling Ava in, I hung around the barn. I was impressed with how many people were there. And from talking to another boarder I learned that nearly every horse boarded there gets ridden consistently throughout the week. I was also excited to learn that a few of the boarders are interested in dressage and showed at the local dressage shows this year. Also, the barn includes several amenities that will be very helpful to a person who works long hours. Not only do they fly spray in the summer, but they'll put on/off fly masks, fly sheets, etc. They blanket and unblanket, will apply ointments, give medicine, wrap/unwrap legs if bandages need changing, etc. Mostly, I'm just geeked that other people ride! I can now go to the barn, ride, and not worry about what will happen after I fall off (I'm deathly afraid I'll fall off and no one will find me til morning chores).

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Cool weather

This is the result of cool weather and not enough outdoor time!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Things are looking up!

The last two days Ava has been moving great. No sign of lameness that I can see. She's still slightly swollen in the left pastern area, which concerns me, but the vet said he didn't think it was a big deal. All in all, this little issue cost me $530 ($130 was a loan from the parents). There goes the new winter riding coat I was eyeballing. That also pretty much devastated all of the food money too. Thank goodness this injury wasn't worse. The treatments for tendon injuries cost more for each treatment than our mortgage payment costs. Anyway, I think, I hope, Ava and I will be back into regular training in another couple of weeks (if all goes well). I'm so excited! Yay!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Withdrawal symptoms of the obsessed rider

Waking up holding the bedsheets like reins. Tacking up the dog. Teaching kitty to ride said dog. But only allowing lunge lessons until kitty develops a better seat. Begging others to allow you to just sit on their horse. Convincing self that walking said horse on a long rein cant't hurt. Teaching said horse dressage basics while saddleseat owner cringes in corner. Get ripped off said horse and continue to beg to ride it again. Trade dog for 5 mins of ride time. Rent hubby out for 10 minute riding fix. Selling hubby for 1 hour riding fix. Hubby happier and won't come back.... Trying to sell parents but getting no takers. ;)

Friday, October 14, 2011

Doh, Lame!

I had a great lesson on Tuesday. It was our first lesson in 3 months and I was so nervous. But the lesson went great. Bern seemed happy with our progress (at least we didn't lose too much ground during the hiatus). I'm not a big fan of flying solo with dressage. Mostly because I like that my trainer really challenges me, makes me think about what is working or not, and guides me on how to fix it. Without that, I tend to get stuck in ruts, frustrated, or bored.

So the lesson went great, and Wednesday evening I get to the barn rip roaring to work on what we learned the day before and..... Ava's lame. Thursday she's still lame, although using it a little better. There's no heat, no cuts or scrapes, just swollen and obviously painful to her. She puts weight on it, but is gimpy with it.

Today is Friday... And I'm hoping, without much optimism, that she's made a speedy recovery over night. I had just started planning out our goals for the 2012 show season. Getting all excited because I think, with hard work, we can be quite competitive at second level next summer. Then this happens... I feel like I jinxed myself. I'm going to the barn this evening to check on Ava. Wish me good fortune and a speedy recovery.

Friday, September 23, 2011

USDF Awards

I just learned that I can use my old tests (pre-stupid young adult phase) toward USDF medals. Woo hoo! I was starting to believe I'd be 80 before I'd have enough tests under my belt again to qualify. Although, I get the feeling scores are generally higher now then they were when I was a kid. We used to celebrate big with a high 60 score. Now that seems common place. I even screwed up the test, my horse was braced and flinging her head, off balance in parts, and I still got a 62%. In my younger days, that might have been a high 50's, but definitely not a 60+. Then again... It was a schooling show. I was trying to find information on score averages over the years, but I didn't find anything. I wonder how I could prove/disprove my hypothesis? Hmmm.... Back to work. Ugh!

Time & Horses

It's been a long week, and I've barely ridden at all. Monday the higher up's decided they had super important stuff i had to do 5 minutes before the end of my day. I had to rush to get it done so I could meet the dentist at the barn that evening. Side note: He said her back teeth were pretty sharp, but overall her teeth looked good. That was a relief. Then Tuesday after work we took our yellow lab to the vet for his final check up after his ACL surgery. All healed up and looking good! Wednesday my work had an after work farewell get-together. The evening was beautiful and all day I had dreamed about riding... But in order to get along with coworkers I went to the party (I would've preferred to go riding). Thursday was the first day I've had time to ride since Sunday. How the heck am I going to be a super star if I only ride twice a week? I'm not! And the ride was not very productive. Ava doesn't do well when she's given several days off in a row. Plus, just when I had FINALLY gotten her to relax and stretch into the bit, out from nowhere comes this little bitty dog that was yipping it's fool head off. Which of course seriously distracted Ava. All idea of relaxation went out the window. It was not a good session. :( Tonight, hopefully the rain will hold off for me. It's supposed to thunderstorm off and on all weekend. I cannot wait until we move to the new barn with their big indoor arena. I miss being able to ride no matter what the weather is doing outside.

Friday, September 16, 2011

USDF Shoulder-In Study Guide

I haven't looked at it yet. It won't work on my phone, so I'm sticking the link here to view later.

The Trailer Problem, Again

After our astounding success with Ava loading in the trailer like a pro one time, and backing out of it with no issues, Ava utterly REFUSED to step foot in it again. She would however, jauntily walk into J's trailer (with center divider up and front doors shut, without a second thought. In fact she WANTED in J's trailer. The ignominy of it!! J's husband offered to sell us his wife's trailer ('though I don't think she knew about it) for pennies on the dollar. I don't think he enjoys his wife's passion. ;) My fantastic hubby, brilliant man, built a ramp out of aluminum and matting that fits on the end of our trailer. So last night we pop it on the trailer and ask Ava to load up. She balked at first when the ramp made noises, and after several minutes of giving it the hair eye-ball she walked on in. I was ecstatic!! I was also convinced it was a one time deal. Heck, she'd already gone in once without it and then balked. Why not this time too? Anyway, I backed her out and asked her to load up again. And my God, she did!! Tried it again... Even easier!! Yay! Finally, we are free! No longer bound to one place! I'm so happy. I'm a little disturbed that she won't just step into the trailer without a ramp, but she has to move in less than 2 weeks, so I'll have to work on that problem a little later. So, Yay!! :)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

My First Horse

My first horse was a half Arab named Fellah. I remember when we went to look at him the first time. The owner, a huge man with an enormous belly, let out an ear piercing whistle. I heard the sound of hooves thundering across the earth, and suddenly I saw a gorgeous grey Arabian crest the hill, his mane flowing and his tail streaming behind him like a flag. He galloped toward me with graceful, long strides that flowed like water. Stopping mere inches in front of me as he looked at me through dark, soft eyes. Haha. What did you expect an eleven year old, horse crazy kid, to see when looking at the first horse that was to be her very own!! The reality was... At 16 years old, Fellah already had a pronounced sway back, he was rather plain looking, and he was eerily intelligent. No latches, snaps, or hooks could keep him contained. Our first year with him was spent chasing him for miles and miles and miles. And he had some nasty tricks up his sleeve when he didn't agree with us. He never bit, reared, or bucked... But boy did he know some tricks! The first few years with Fellah were tough. I had had riding lessons before getting him, but I was still very much a noob. One day I went for a ride and all I remember is waking up in the house with my mom holding me and not remembering anything at all. At all...Like that I had a brother, a dad, etc. I guess it was a pretty nasty fall. After that, I was terrified of the horse. I hated him, and refused to ride. My parents hired my cousin to come give me lessons on Fellah at the house. I resented my cousin for agreeing, I resented being forced to ride the horse that hurt me. But over time, and with Lisa slapping me upside the head numerous times, I learned how to control Fellah and started feeling happy about horses again. Fast forward a few years.... We were inseparable! As a trail horse he was unflappable. He never balked, shied, or bolted at anything. And he was FAST! By this time, he was nearing 20 and had the energy of a 4 year old. I had stopped using a saddle with him a few years after we got him. Partly because no saddle ever fit his sway, but mostly because he was so comfortable without one that it was just easier to ride without it. I remember the field behind Gibsons house, with the path through the middle the boys used to ride their 3 wheelers on. That was "our path". As soon as we entered, I'd shorten up the reins and lean forward and Fellah would take off like a shot. He ran so fast that the wind stung my eyes. His mane lashing my face and hands. And we'd streak across that long field like a blur, just the two of us. God I miss that horse.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Last Show of the Season

October 1st is the final show of the season for our local dressage association. Since I have only shown once this year, I am sorely tempted to enter this one last show before a long winter. However, I'm also moving Ava to a new barn the beginning of October and I'm worried about stressing her with too many things at once.

My main concern's are ulcers and colic. I don't want to push her too hard and end up with a big issue (that I can't afford).

On the flip side, Ava has been fantastic lately. Her transition from trot to canter are much smoother and 80% of the time don't involve the flinging head or jumping around problems we were having. She's steadier with contact, more responsive to the aids, and she's better at staying focused on what we're doing. I feel like we could really kick butt!

The downsides are that I haven't had a lesson in 2.5 months. What if I go to the show and they laugh me out of the arena. What if I'm doing it all wrong!?!? I'd be horrified! I would embarrass myself and my trainer. What if Ava cant take the stress of a show and a move? What if... What if...

What do you think? Should I enter the show?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Trailer Update

I've been feeding Ava a bit of grain in the trailer at night to get her comfy with the trailer. Sunday she wouldn't put both feet in for more than 2 seconds. Monday morning I f'ed her breakfast in the trailer and she put both front feet in and stood there the entire time. Tuesday she tried a back foot but couldn't quite get it in. Wednesday she waltzed right in like it was old hat! Back feet included. Then she stood in the trailer til I asked her to back out. Now I have to buy a green bucket. She follows that bucket wherever I put it. Haha. She's such a chow hound! It's raining today, so I think I'll skip the lesson tonight and pick up again tomorrow night. It's one of those cold rains. Yuck!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Trail Riding

A few weeks ago I took Ava out for a trail ride with 3 other people. I felt pretty darn cool when my horse (the fluffy dressage princess) behaved better than all of the seasoned trail veterans. We bent around obstacles, leg yielded past downed trees, half-halted down hills to regain balance. All while the other horses were scrapping their owners up against trees, jumping around, jerking their riders, and overall just being butts. It was just cool to be able to place Ava's body where it needed to be to avoid anything dangerous. Move the haunches, move the shoulders, move the whole body sideways, etc. We could've slinked through the tightest trail without a problem. :) I wish more people could have that feeling. I watch them fighting with their horse, and getting frustrated, when it should be a relaxing and fun time for both horse and rider. And it could be, if they just wanted to learn. But they can't. They fill their heads with "I can't", or some how convince themselves that they shouldn't need help and therefore it's some kind of failure if they ask for help. I know two women who refuse to get outside help for issues that are causing them to not want to ride anymore. Why, when it comes to something that can kill you, would you not be willing to accept assistance, but something mundane like learning Spanish is a no brainer for getting outside help with? How many great riders learned in a vacuum? Yet so many riders appear to believe that any outside influence is a glaring sign of failure. If you read this blog and ride horses, then accept any form of learning you can find. It's a sign of intelligence. :)

Monday, September 5, 2011

Trailer Loading

Ava and I are moving to a new barn October 1st. We had only planned on staying at this barn for 3 months anyway. Boy has the time flown!

My husband and I don't have much money, but my wonderful husband is very handy. He bought a 2 horse bumper pull trailer (no ramp) and fixed it up for us. Where I live a rusted out, nasty, tiny horse trailer normally goes for $1,500. We got ours significantly cheaper than that (if that tells you the shape it was in).

Our maiden voyage with the newly fixed up trailer was to the barn to test whether Ava approved of our efforts. An hour and a half later, Ava's verdict was a definite No. We slunk home in a disappointed fog of defeat.

This morning I got up blurry eye'd and fed Ava her breakfast in the trailer. Mmmm... Yummy! She put both front feet in and even attempted a back foot, but wasn't quite comfortable enough to set it in the trailer yet. All in all, a very good session. I'll keep feeding her in it, progressively moving her food forward until she's standing entirely in the trailer. Then I'll work on closing doors around her while she eats and getting her comfortable with being locked in while eating.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Friday's Ride

The flies were terrible. Ava was very unhappy with them and I don't blame her. They were drawing blood! Considering the flies, she did pretty good overall. The trot was a bit under-powered for her, but I'm still learning to sit the trot so I slowed it down. And she wasn't as over her back as I would have like, but it felt like more swing than I saw when I looked a the video. The first canter depart was like usual. She falls on the forehand and launches herself in the canter from the inside front foot (bad). The second canter depart was utterly atrocious (wrong lead, on forehand). But the third one.... Much improved! I was so geeked about it! And the fourth canter depart (left lead) was better too. I think she's starting to get it! Well, that and she's getting much stronger and more balanced everyday.

Friday, September 2, 2011

End of August

I never know what to write. :) I've been working on Ava's tension issues for the past couple of weeks. She has a tendency to stiffen her neck and back... which defeats the whole idea of dressage. So I've been trying different techniques on her that I've learned in lessons and clinics. One of those was when she became strong and inattentive was to bounce the rein (as hard as required to get her to set back). I'm not talking a sharp jerk, just a one second heavy contact and release. Well, I realized that only works if you don't drop her afterward. I was bouncing with a full release afterward. I tried thinking of it more as in a rubber band type of release while still keeping a feel of the bit. The idea of just slightly opening the hand with a reminder from the seat leg to go forward. That really helped! It took about 4 of those at the very start of the ride and she progressively got softer and rounder. She was like butter at the end! It felt so cool. I believe this worked for my mare because she tends to get anxious when she feels like she's falling forward. The combination of maintaining more consistent contact (not dropping her) seems to settle her. While the leg reminds her to keep her weight more balanced toward the rear. On a side note, I was having issues with circles and losing the outside rein control. I don't know why it didn't occur to me until half way through my second 10 meter circle, but suddenly it dawns on me "Counter flex her stupid". And bam, straightened her right out and we finished with a very nice second half. I remember riding as a kid and getting frustrated so very often because I couldn't figure out how to fix something. It just seems like its easier now that I'm an adult. My body makes it harder, but my brain is better. I wish I had it both. Ha!

Sunday, August 14, 2011


Contact - The riders body connecting with ground on walk/canter transition. Almost bit the dust! One rein stop to the rescue.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Issues & tension

I've been having problems with Ava for the last week. I need a lesson so badly! It's so frustrating not being able to fix whatever is wrong. Bern, you're going to be so pissed when I come back in October! We were going so well when we left the barn just a month ago. *sigh* Until then, I have to find a way to fix this. Here's what's going on.... We walk out to the mowed area behind the house at 5:30-6:00. She's fine on the walk out, leg yields softly both ways, calm, relaxed. We step into the mowed area and she turns into a board. She braces against the bit, doesn't really listen to the seat, kicks out at the leg when I put it in, gets really tense. Walk back to the barn and she's relaxed and calm, leg yields easily and softly. She always goes out to pasture after our ride. I'm not sure if she's in pain from the saddle, anxious about being turned free for the night, upset with the footing in the "arena", or if I'm tensing and causing it. Too many possible issues at this point. But it's driving me nuts and I know Ava isn't enjoying our rides right now so I have to figure out what's going on. Any suggestions? Oh... And blogspot has been buggy and won't let me comment lately, so please be patient if I don't reply.

Thursday, August 4, 2011


I'm so sore today. I don't know what happened yesterday, but both my husband and I have serious neck pain today. I know how he got his... I bounce his head like a basketball when I wake him in the mornings.  ha.

All I know is I got off Ava last night, and immediately my shoulder and neck started killing me. It's been non-stop since. But whatever. Real Dressage riders Ride. :)

The ride tonight went okay. I couldn't find my seat to save my life during the warm up. Flopping around like a wet sock up there. My poor pony!  I did finally get it together enough to center myself and we got down to some work, but it wasn't anything eye popping or great.  We did work on our walk/canter transitions. I've dabbled with them a bit previously and they were horrendous. Terrible. It stressed Ava out and made her into a board that refused to relax. So I stowed that one in the closet until today.  I feel she's got the muscle and balance that she can at least begin to work on those. I wasn't asking for perfect, just a relaxed effort on her part.

Since Ava has her little quirk about legs behind the girth (it's getting a little better), I've had to train her to canter by using my seat only. I've found this to be something I could not wrap my brain around - the mechanics of the seat motion without interfering or inhibiting her movement. What usually happens is I screw her up, but she's a good girl and gives me a canter anyway (the saint). Not without a lot of head tossing and snarly looks though. ;)  Anyway, the other day I was reading a web site about teaching flying changes, and part of it was talking about the mechanics of the seat and aids when asking for the flying change. To paraphrase: the feeling is the same as if you were taking one big step forward (say your left leg) and brought your left arm up to shoulder level at the same time (before your foot started its journey toward the ground again). That feel in your hip, of going forward is similar to what the aid for the canter should be. So if you're going left - it'd be your left hip; going right - your right hip.

I practiced the weird walk at home so that my neighbors could snicker and point at me (I like to keep them entertained). I tried it on Ava today, and it helped. She was less fussy, and more forward in the initial depart.  Practicing that also prevented me from tossing my upper body around, and keeping my body in alignment. The great news is we actually got several decent walk/canter - canter/walk transitions today!  So we stopped there and went for a short walk down the lane and then home for a full body scrubbing and a roll in the grass.


It was actually nice out on Wednesday! Yay! 

I tacked up Ava, who was very "UP", and we jigged our way out to the field to practice. Man the horse flies were atrocious! Five of those suckers were bombing us on the ride through Pine Tree lane.

The warm up started out poorly with Ava doing her Friesian spook every other stride, interspersed with impatient trot strides.  I worked on leg yields and turn on the forehands and I was very happy with how she settled down to work.

So we've been practicing haunches in at the walk for a few weeks now, trying to get her to calmly accept my leg further behind the girth area. Some days are better than others, but overall she's progressing.  On Wednesday I had decided it was time to work at it in the trot.  I bent her into the corner, got her nicely on the outside rein (going to the left) and gently slid that right leg back behind the girth... AND BAM! Haunches were wrapped around that inside leg like she was born to it.  I about dropped her I was so floored! And thrilled!

Needless to say, going to the right was not very good. I'm still having problems getting her to stay in that outside rein after I slide my left leg back. She'll bend nicely into the corner, fills up the outside (left) rein, and the moment I slide my left leg back she hollows out and drops her inside shoulder.

That's her weak side though, so I expect it to be somewhat less elegant. However, I think I really need to work on my seat and aids a little more at the walk going to the right so that I can help her stand up better.

On a side note... I was very nervous about riding Wednesday. It didn't help that I've been watching The Best of Burghly Horse Trials (3 Day Eventing).  Some of those crashes are just terrifying! So my head was filled with bad horse crashes, broken collar bones, horses flipping, etc. Add in the fact that Ava was jumping and spooking at every little thing in the barn and outside before I climbed on her. I was really starting to rethink my desire to ride that evening. But I did anyway, and I was very glad I didn't let my fear stop me. Ava's a good mare. She's a little excitable at times, but overall she's very safe. I'm lucky to have such a good horse. :)

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Costume Classes

I participated in my very first musical freestyle, anything goes, class in June this year. What a blast! It's also not something I'd do again. It was so much work. And I about died from nerves before starting the test.

First I had to find music that fit Ava, and had some kind of theme to it. I spent hours combing through music and listening to different genre's attempting to find something that would spark an idea for a costume. I finally settled on the "He's a Pirate" theme simply because nothing else seemed do-able at the time. So then I went to work putting the costume togeter. I am not good at sewing. I don't sew. I can barely get one pass through the fabric before the string is in knots and I'm gushing blood.

Every day I sewed, and I sewed. I sewed on my lunch break, I sewed after work. I sewed when I woke in the morning. Did I mention I will never do this again... :)  I made pirate boots out of fake leather, and lined them with padding, with little cut out toe's for the boots that wold hang over Ava's hooves.

I finally had to beg my mother to come help me finish the costume the day before the show. Thank you, Mom!!!

I still hadn't a clue as to what pattern I was going to ride, or even how long it would take to enter at A and ride to X for the halt.  I was completely unprepared!

So the day of the show... we fit the costume on Ava. Strap her little boots on, and snug her vest on her. When my trainer suggests that maybe I should see how Ava will react to all this stuff before I head out of the barn. DOH! Why did I assume my mare would be hunky dory with strange things fluttering and bopping against her in weird places?!?!  Aaarrggghh..  I was going to die a painful death.

In light of this astonding logic (Sorry Bern), we decided to leave the head band off of Ava.  Like just the headband was going to be an issue. hahaha.

Amazingly, Ava did not care at all. She took one look at everything and puffed right up like she was Miss Super Star!  I love my horse!

My husband made us beads to go in Ava's mane and forelock out of stryofoam balls that he painted and tied together with thick string. We banded it into Ava's mane before the class. It looked Awesome! 
Finally we get Ava all dressed up and it's time to enter the ring. I'm hyperventalating at this point. I can feel my heart in ears and my stomach is rolling. I still did not have any idea what to ride when!!  I was screwed!  haha

So I figured... As long as I don't fall off, Ava doesn't get hurt, and we make it out of the ring alive at the end, then we did OK in my book. It was for fun anyways. I just wanted to try it out. I mean, geesh, who doesn't want to ride in a costume to music in front of dozens of people. HA. I'm a glutton for punishment.

Here's "Captain Jack":

Here's Ava's Costume (after our ride):




I wasn't able to get the full test video taped. But you get the idea.

There were only two people in the class (including me), and I placed second. Ironically, I got a 70.something percent on it.


I just bought a dressage saddle for $50 bucks. Haha. The lady said it was a 1998 Stateline saddle. I've never heard of that manufacturer before (that's not saying much). If it fits Ava, maybe it'll be my backup saddle. If it doesn't, I'm sure my trainer wouldn't mind a free schooling saddle for her kids.

I wish I had the money to buy a good, newer saddle. I love my County (it's from 1992), but it seems built for a much taller person. No matter how much I work on heel, hip, shoulder alignment, my thighs always slide forward. There's a nice groove in the flap that is perfect for a taller woman's thigh to sit in. My thighs (to sit correctly) lay against a buldge in the flap. My trainer, who is much taller than me, loves my saddle. However, I am always in chair position with that saddle... no matter what I do.

Interesting article on saddle fitting:

Friday, July 29, 2011


I rode yesterday, even though it was pretty dang hot. The more I avoid working her in hot weather, the more unfit she gets. So we bit the bullet and rode anyway.

Ava was STIFF. Usually with Ava, this is a result of not being straight. She was popping her right shoulder out on me. So I put her in a small counter flexion, and did a couple decreasing circles to the left while leg yielding. It seemed to help, and I had more connection with the outside rein.

On a side note: Ava is convinced that if she throws her body out of the ring that I'll HAVE to stop working her and go for a trail ride. She stated this very bluntly when I asked for the left canter lead near the opening. She's enjoying her new roll as a trail pony a tad too much I think. ;)

I felt like (even though she's out of shape) that Ava was more engaged during the ride. At least during portions of it. This was something I was working on at my previous barn, but had issues motivating her to work harder.

I'm going riding again tonight. Hopefully the bombers are kinder than they were last night. Ugh! Although, Ava stood quietly as I fiercely attempt to protect her. I thought, "trying to slap horse flies on various parts of a horses body, while astride, is a good way of increasing balance and flexibility". Then I thought... "I've never smacked Ava on the butt really hard before... Maybe I should hold on to the reins!!"

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Rain, Bombers, & Holes

I take back everything I said about the backyard rider. I didn't know! I've been so ignorant. :) I remember an idealized childhood of riding everyday at my parents home. It's HARD to ride consistently without good footing or a covered arena. I much prefer both of those options. I've almost admitted defeat of my 3 month outdoor riding goal. We are 23 days into it and I'm dreaming of dry, covered arenas. I had hoped this trial would help Ava mentally, and help me overcome my fear of riding outdoors. I must admit, we've grown a lot as a pair. The first trail ride I took on Ava at the beginning of the month was a half hour of stress and tension (on my part, not Ava's). We've been gradually improving. Even taking the lead at times. And we venture out into the field out back with semi-confidence. The large, hidden, bird helped me. It flapped and squaked when we trotted past. Ava jumped five feet sideways and slammed the brakes on. I was jerked sideways, but I stayed on!! Not falling off really helps with the whole confidence/fear issues I have . ;) Anyway, riding outdoors without an area with good footing is not recommended for dressage training. I'm just hoping she doesn't lose every bit of muscle we worked so hard to develop the past 6 months. It's hard to ride when it's pouring rain, the grass is slick, and the flies are horrendous. Kudos to those who do it on a regular basis. You have my admiration.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Training Level Test 1

June 4th 2011

Placed second out of 5. It was a schooling show


I'm boarding my horse at a friends house for a few months in order to take advantage of her beautiful, plentiful, trails. But... It's presenting a problem with my dressage training. I was finally able to mow down a section of the field way out behind the house (actually, my husband mowed it).
So after 20+ days of really not doing anything, we've started our training again. Monday was horrible. I had to work her in the round pen for several minutes. I should preface this with an explanation.....

I rode as a kid. From 11 to about 20 years old I rode everything and anything. I trained (with the immense help of Bernadette Radke) my half Arab to third level, broke out two horses which went on to be successful well behaved riding horses. I had no fear, and was very successful in my showing career.

Fast forward 16 years. I hadn't ridden since I was 20 and the first horse I buy bucks me off every other ride.
A few years ago I compression fractured 3 vertebrae to the point that I lost half an inch in height. Falling hurts now! I'm stiff in ways I never knew I could be. I am petrified of getting hurt again. I was scared to death of that little horse, but every day I went out and rode praying nothing too serious would occur. I finally admitted defeat and sold him, and purchased Ava. A cute little friesian/paint cross mare. She's a little fiery at times, but over all very safe. However, I'm still petrified of being bucked off, or having a horse rear and flip over on me. Anything else doesn't bother me. But the "what if's" kill me.

So, back to Monday... Ava was so determined she wasn't going to bend, turn, stop, or stand. We worked in the round pen for a bit until I felt she was listening a little. Then braved the wide open field. I put my right leg on for a leg yield, and nothing. I bump her... Nothing. I whack her with the whip, and she kicks out. This is the mare that would effortlessly leg yield across an entire arena with a soft shift of weight. I hate starting at square one again!

By the end of the short ride, she was moving away from my leg. Not straight, and not with any real ambition to trot out, but she was at least moving away. So we stopped there and went for a walk.