Tuesday, November 22, 2016

World's cutest Haflinger strikes again

We were at a medieval reenactment event this last weekend, and I caught Paddy lying down napping. OF COURSE I had to go snuggle with him... how could I not? He's basically a giant teddy bear in Haffie form.

Nappink Haffie

Gotta love that nose resting on the ground

So snuggly!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Show photo selection - I need your help!

Alright, guys, I need some help choosing which pro photos to get from the Region 9 Championships.

Since I'm not one for stealing pics, you'll have to go to this web site to see them: http://jonna.zenfolio.com/p260973474

I'm DEFINITELY getting #10 because HOLY CROSSOVER BATMAN. Taran looks like a legit dressage horse! I only wish I was wearing my coat, but that was the test I almost passed out in, so it's probably a good thing I wasn't.

I'd love to get a picture with my coat too... I think #67 is my fav (lookit that taillll). Are there others? I kiiiinda like #74 but I'm really more for action shots... there are almost too many to choose from!

What are your favorites?

This one is my fav but I took it so I can totally post it here.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Clinic with Alfredo Hernandez: Day 3, half pass (!!!)

Day 3 of the clinic started off with a brief in-hand session, and then we got right in to haunches out on the circle, followed by renvers on the circle. Alfredo really wanted me to push Taran for even more than he had done the previous two days, but Taran was feeling tired and a little stiff. Taran gave it all he had, but when Alfredo asked for more,  things started to spiral downward.

Don't laugh, but this is Taran having an epic meltdown, complete with mini-rears. 

Stiffness became stopping and mini-rears. I got after him, and he tried again for me, but we just couldn't seem to get it right despite repeated requests for "more".  I could feel that Taran was doing all he could but that in that moment, he simply couldn't give me any more (and I wasn't helping him any either). Finally, I told Alfredo I needed a minute and asked Taran to walk. I got yelled at for quitting before we had gotten it right, which made me kind of mad, but I took a deep breath and let it roll off me. I knew my horse needed a short walk break to reset, and I knew I needed one too. Yelling at us wasn't helping, and I needed to advocate for my horse. So we walked.

This is a fine line that we riders have to navigate. I like being pushed to perform - it's how I get better and how my horse gets better. I try really, really hard to do what I'm being asked to do. I'm lucky that Taran also tries really, really hard, even when I'm not sitting right or I've gotten handsy and am not making it easy for him. However, as riders we have to determine just how far past our comfort zones we are OK with being pushed - and we have to be able to say that we (or our horse) has had enough.

Fortunately, a short walk break got Taran and I back on the same page, and we were able to continue on with renvers on a circle and perform it correctly. Which turned out to be super important because it got him all engaged and bendy and then we did this crazy thing and rode a TROT HALF PASS.

No really, we did.

I mean, the half-pass right isn't great, but that side is always a struggle because he's not always solidly into the right rein. But it looks kind of legit!

We did lose some of the bend but CROSSOVER!

And then we went left, which was kind of amazing:

Also, lest you think that Alfredo does nothing but push, you will hear him get on my case for not rewarding Taran IMMEDIATELY with a walk break after he performs the first half pass. He's really just looking for those one or two correct strides and then the horse is rewarded. You just need to be able to produce one or two correct strides!

Like this 

Also like this (do you SEE his abs and butt muscles working?)

We ended the session with a little canter. You can see in places where he's really engaged and the canter is slower and more collected (and I'm like, sitting up and riding it?) and places where he's not. We need more of that slower, collected canter for second level work. It's in there though!

Major take-aways for day 3 include:
  • More bend
  • More bend
  • A little more bend would be good
We probably learned something else, but that's really all that comes to mind right now. Oh and slow down.

So there you have it: the good and the not so good and the really effing amazeballs. Alfredo is a tough guy to ride for, and he's definitely focused on having the horse perform correctly rather than on rider biomechanics. I will absolutely ride with him again next time he's in town, but I'm also looking forward to going back and working with my regular trainer on the things I have learned in the clinic. The good thing is that I've walked away with a new appreciation of Taran's capabilities and how to unlock them, and a better understanding of what I really need to move up to the next level (hellooooo more bend). Such a great experience!

Monday, October 31, 2016

Clinic with Alfredo Hernandez: Day 2, renvers and travers

After watching the videos from Day 1 of the clinic and reading (and re-reading) my notes, I knew that for myself, I really wanted to focus more on keeping my hands down and using more inside leg for Day 2. For T, I wanted to remind him that he MUST move away from my leg when asked. Kicking and refusing is not an option.

I started T off on the ground, doing turns on the forehand and leg yields. Alfredo stepped in and showed me a better way to hold the reins if I'm working without side reins, and also pointed out that I need to be more demanding. I can't accept a half-hearted response from T... I don't need to be mean, but if I ask, he has to respond RIGHT NOW. He's not a hot horse, but he still needs to get his butt moving when it's time to move his butt.

Day 2 of the clinic saw a lot more work on shoulder in and renvers, first on the circle and then on the straight line. Taran was much more off my leg from the beginning after his little bit of ground work, so that helped. When I struggled with the positioning of renvers on the circle, Alfredo pointed out how much easier it would be on a straight line, and of course he was right.


Also, activating the hind end makes for a hella fancy trot.

Eventually we were allowed off the circle and got to do travers/renvers/travers on the quarterline. Taran was SO soft and responsive off my leg, even though I didn't always do a great job riding him through (that whole bend thing). It was amazing to be able to move his body back and forth with so little effort.


Shoulder in

We didn't do a lot of canter - he was pretty tired and a little flat. Alfredo had us try some shoulder in/haunches out at the canter which is pretty much impossible but DAMN it gets the horse engaged and collected, for like those two steps you can both hold it together.

The biggest takeaways from this ride include:
  • Warm up with haunches out on the circle, then move on to renvers once the horse has warmed up, because that's what helps with the collection.
  • When you've done renvers on the circle and gotten really good sideways steps with bend, switch to regular bend and ask for a bigger trot (but not faster). That's when you get the real engagement.
  • If you think you have enough bend, you need twice as much.
  • I tend to lose the throughness (the "round and deep") because I'm pulling and getting handsy. Long time problem, but keeping my hands together and down, with my elbows bent, helps lots.
  • When you ask for a downward transition, ALWAYS keep the bend through the transition. If you're doing shoulder fore/renvers/shoulder in/half pass/leg yield/whatever, KEEP THE BEND. That way the horse steps through with the inside hind into the next gait.
  • Taran is no longer allowed to grab the reins and drag them out of my hands for free walk. He must "take them like a gentleman".
Sorry, just one more pic of the awesome uphill trot. I NEED this in my life!

Friday, October 28, 2016

Clinic with Alfredo Hernandez: Day 1

Back in March, I attended my first ever clinic with Alfredo Hernandez. I learned a TON - apparently being yelled at in a heavy Spanish accent does wonders - and Taran had some amazingly fancy moments. We also struggled with basic things, like I couldn't sit the trot for more than a circle because Taran just couldn't carry me. We've come a long way since then, and I've been eager to ride with Alfredo again.

Don't get me wrong, I love my regular trainer. She's got the attention to detail and is absolutely unwilling to cut corners, which is what makes her so good. However, attending a clinic with the right person can result in a really great leap forward in your riding. The clinician doesn't know (or really care) about your baggage and how your dear little grey pony doesn't like to carry his weight on his right shoulder and falls in with his haunches right and sometimes the canter transitions suck and blah blah blah, they just see the problem and want you to fix it NOW. For whatever reason, that kind of no-nonsense attitude really works for me and pushes me to the next level.

This time, I told Alfredo that we'd finished out the season strongly at first level and were looking to move up. I wanted to work on better engagement, connection, collection, and all those things. We got right to work and he got on my case about Taran being too much on the muscle under his neck. As he puts it, he wants the horse "deep and round". Watching the videos, this has Taran somewhat BTV at times, which I don't like, but I see his point because at that moment he's actually relaxed and giving on the underside of his neck.

Like so.

Oh and I got nailed on keeping my hands together and down and my elbows at my sides. At one point Alfredo actually took a hair tie from a lady who was watching and stuck my thumbs together with it. Suddenly Taran started going great and Alfredo was like "Look, see, I fixed your horse for you!" So uh, yeah. Hands are a problem.

We worked a lot on haunches out on the circle, especially to the right. T likes to not take weight on his right shoulder and he sort of tends to curl around it sometimes, and the right hind doesn't work very hard either. Pushing his haunches out a little made that RH actually come in line with the RF (instead of falling to the inside), and as a result T was straighter and more even in the reins. Note to self. Oh and also when we canter to the right I need more inside leg (I mean duh, I know this, but no really, MORE INSIDE LEG).

This is not enough inside leg.

Annnd then we tried this crazy exercise where we did renvers on the circle at a trot, then transition to walk (in renvers), then a turn on the forehand (in renvers), then walk (in renvers), then transition to trot (in renvers). It's funny going into an exercise where you have no idea how to do it... we were in renvers and he asked for a turn on the forehand and my brain took about 5 seconds to figure out how to do it. We did OK tracking right, but tracking left was just a huge nope that involved head flinging, throwing his haunches left despite me pony-club kicking with my left leg, and running backwards (side note: maybe he'll be able to rein back after this weekend?).

Renvers on a circle. Sort of.

Turn on the forehand in renvers (ignore the lack of bend, this is haaaard)

Alfredo ended up asking him to move from the ground, and we got this absolutely amazing trot as a result:

This horse is so fancy and uphill, where did he come from? And more importantly, how do we get more of this?

At the end of the session, Alfredo had us work on piaffe for a little bit (and by "us" I mean that I sat there like a lump while Alfredo did all the cueing). We were tracking left and T was still in his throwing-haunches-left mode, but Alfredo is a patient guy with an excellent sense of timing and we managed to have some nice moments.

The magic step

Not that Taran is ever going to be a piaffeing machine or anything, but at least it felt really cool and got his haunches super activated. I am SO looking forward to my next two rides!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Second Level take two: Slow. The. Fuck. Down.

Brego's death has cast a bit of a shadow on Wyvern Oaks. You never quite realize how much a presence affects everyone until it has gone. The whole place somehow feels a bit quieter, a bit emptier. Taran is despondent, and Paddy still occasionally calls for his big BFF.

And yet, life goes on without him.

This weekend, we had a schooling show where I did 2-1 and 2-2. Coming into it, I had high hopes that we were much more prepared than we were a few months ago. Taran is more through, better balanced, and has moments where he really shines in the movements. We'd had a lesson Thursday where his w/c/w transitions were really spot on. His counter-canter is stronger, and his transitions from medium to collected canter are actually starting to look like transitions instead of hopes and prayers. I'd even accidentally put on too much outside leg in the canter and he did a few strides of half pass (OMGOMGOMG). Plus, I'm trying out a new saddle that puts my leg in a MUCH better place, and really lets me sit around him.

Naturally, we nailed the warmup and then we both ran out of steam in the tests.

I find that it takes an incredible amount of core strength to ride a collected canter, and Taran doesn't yet the strength to do much collection, so I have to work really hard to help him. You simply cannot hold collection together with your hands, you HAVE to ride it forward and up from your seat and leg, and I just couldn't do it for very long in either test. The sloppier I got, the sloppier and less balanced he got. We had a lot of breaks, and a lot of very poor w/c/w transitions, despite the fact I know we can do those well. I also let him get very quick in the trot for 2-1, in part because I was soooo tense and that caused him to shorten up.

Like this was supposed to be a medium trot. Whoops.

If that canter were any less collected it would be a medium.

One of our more... expressive... walk/canter transitions. At least I know he can rock back on his haunches?

For 2-2, I realized that I didn't have the stamina to ride a tense test, so I made a conscious effort to relax and sit and slow down, and I think it helped. It was still a messy test, but it felt slightly less hurried and rushed.

A better centerline.

It's a shoulder in, can't you tell?

He can really step under himself if I ride him right and let him use his back.

When we were crossing centerline to do our two walk pirouettes, Taran took a HARD look at the shadow made by the covered arena. There's not much you can do when your horse has a moment except smile and kick on. Rather funny but we scored a 6.5 on both pirouettes.


The judge's comments on both tests can be summed up to "Needs balance and collection and SLOW DOWN." Totally, 100% accurate. Sure, we can do certain things really well at home some of the time, but this is a whole new thing for us both and it's upping the game significantly. I feel like the tests were overall better than the one we did in June (really? June? Damn, that was AGES ago) but we scored about the same (57.7 on 2-1 and 58.4 on 2-2). So while certain aspects of our rides are better, we have a long way to go before we can really put in a solid test. Fortunately we have all winter for me to get into shape so I can ride better!

Taran 2-1

Taran 2-2

Thursday, October 20, 2016

In Loving Memory of Brego

We lost a great horse yesterday.

It turned out that the recurring coronary abscess that we've been fighting all this time was actually an infection of P3 (the coffin bone) that ran from the tip of the bone all the way up into the coronet band. Because of the extent of the infection, it was inoperable. There was really only one decision to make.

You're probably wondering how, after all this time, we could have missed something so extensive. My vet has literally taken nearly a hundred xrays of his foot (and the other one for comparison). We have done ultrasounds, a veinogram, and used basically every diagnostic tool we had at our disposal short of a recumbent MRI, because he couldn't have handled the sedation and his ginormous foot wouldn't have fit into a standing MRI. There are four other excellent vets in-house at our clinic, plus my vet consulted with three external vets on his case (including the one who is considered the expert equine podiatrist in the US). There have been a LOT of exceptionally good people involved with this case, and yet somehow Brego managed to stump them all.

You see, there was never any indication on his xrays that there was infection. The bone was solid on every film. He was never lame, except when he was blowing out an abscess.

After his first hoof wall resection back in July, we had high hopes even though we weren't able to find the root cause of the problem. But then the hoof wasn't growing in normally - it grew up instead of down. We did a second, very minor resection in late August to try to correct that problem, and at the same time we dissected the area around the coronet band and halfway up the pastern to try to find the root of the problem. My vet found no tracks, no foreign bodies, nothing. Brego recovered from that surgery just fine, and the new hoof he was laying down grew in straighter, but it had an odd, cracked quality to it.

Then mid September, Brego went very lame immediately after he'd had his shoes reset. Our farrier (who is an amazingly talented man with a piece of metal), made an emergency visit and found an abscess right in the middle of the area where there was no hoof wall, about halfway down his foot. It was quite a puzzle... why was there an abscess there? We took more xrays to try to find where it was coming from, but nothing showed up on the films. We speculated and scratched our heads while Brego begged cookies from the entire clinic staff, but eventually decided to wait and see since we didn't have anything to go on.

Then on Monday, the abscess blew out again, in the same spot. This time, we did a dye study to follow the track of the abscess. The dye showed a shadowed spot at the tip of P3, as well as a number of little "filament" tracks going partway up the front of P3. At this point we knew the news wasn't good, but we decided to go in anyway and at least try to give Brego the best possible chance.

You can see the probe coming in on the left, and ending nearly at the tip of P3 (obscured because of the nails). The little filaments going up the front of P3 are dye tracks, but even these don't show the extent of the infection that they found.

My vet found that the tip of P3 was infected - not badly, she managed to clean it, but then she began following the tracks upward. She still had not found it all when she stopped at the base of the coronet band, almost two inches from the tip of P3 where the infection was based. We discussed options, and what it came down to was that while we could do surgery to remove all the infection, it would have been so extensive that it would have compromised the structural integrity of his foot. In other words, his coffin bone would have had no support, and he would have rotated and foundered. So there really was only one choice to make.

What's really amazing is that the first abscess he had was nearly four years ago, when he was with his previous mum. She's got xrays from that too, and there's nothing to be seen.  So he's been foxhunting, eventing, jousting, and living with an infected bone for literally four years, and we never knew. As my vet put it, Brego never read any of the books on how things are supposed to happen.

Brego leaves an incredible legacy. I know many folks (myself included) who started blogging because of Brego's blog, The Eventing Percheron. He touched the lives of those he met in person as well - from his massive feet to his larger-than-life personality. There was never any question that he owned the universe and everything in it.

And today it's a sadder, smaller place because he's missing from it.

We love you, big guy, and we'll miss you so much.