Saturday, June 29, 2013

Screamin' hot cross-country school

And when I say that our XC school today was screamin' hot, I mean literally. The high today was 107. We are certifiably insane.

MC and I rolled out this morning at 5:30 to head to Pine Hill to school. It's where I took Reddums this spring to show, and they have a lovely course with lots of teeny-tiny jumps (well, and giant Prelim jumps too) and good footing. We made the two-hour drive safely, unloaded, and tacked up. We'd arranged to meet Toni S., an eventing trainer whom I've worked with before, for a lesson. We were on by 8:30 and headed out to the stadium arena to warm up.

Echo was, per usual, looky but not spooky. Toni was very impressed with how well he held it together and how little the stuff in the arena bothered him. He started off very rushy (understandable, as I have not worked him much this week due to the heat) and she gave me a really good exercise to get him to release his poll/jaw. She made the point that racehorses are taught to pull against the bit, so the last thing I want to do is put even pressure on both reins. I practiced softening him at the walk and trot by moving my outside hand to my inside hip, then immediately giving when he softened. (We also did inside rein to outside hip.) 10 minutes of this and I had a very soft, attentive horse. WOW! So awesome when you find something that works!

We did some trot poles to get going (he was brilliant), trotted an X a few times, then headed out to XC. Toni rode on a Gator, which I thought might be a problem, but Echo never batted an eye at it. Unfortunately, what he DID bat an eye at were the other horses coming near him. In fact, he got downright naughty about Red coming toward him, and another horse cantering within 100 feet of him. Both times he tossed in a few bucks and thought about taking off, but I growled at him and he knocked it off. We really need to work on riding in traffic - I can't keep him away from other horses in a show situation forever, so we're going to have to learn to deal with it.

Our first log was a bit of a flub - came in at a good forward trot and I forgot to ride him all the way OVER the fence, so he sort of petered out in front of it. I smooched to him and kicked and we hopped over it, so no refusal, which was good. We trotted that one a few more times, stopping on a straight line after it. He started to get the idea and we moved on to a tiny brushbox (with no brush). This time we walked up to it, then trotted a few steps out. He was super good over it several times, hopping it and stopping nicely after. Awesome!

Next, we went to a big manmade hill that has some T/P jumps on it. Here we just walked up and down the hill, and he was balanced both ways. We had a momentary fit when Red trotted off up the hill and Echo was "left", but I asked him for some bend and we got back under control quickly. After that we went on a walk through the woods (he neglected to spook at the rabbit that zipped across the path, but we have those at home), and then came up to a small bench. Toni asked if we wanted to jump it and I was a bit nervous, as it was funny-looking and bigger than anything else we'd done. But I put on my big girl panties and trotted up to it - and over he went, cantering away nice and balanced as you please. WOOHOO! What a good Baby Racehorse!

From there we went on to do a teeny bank up/down, and that went so well that we tried the BN bank up/down. Up was super easy and he was very confident, but he took a moment to look at the down option. He stopped about 2 steps out, and I let him take a moment to figure it out. Then I closed my leg, sat up, and let my reins slide - and he stepped off like he'd done it a million times. We did it a few more times, and then we went up the Novice bank! He's now officially a pro at banks.

For our final stop, we headed to the water. Unfortunately, Echo seemed to have forgotten that he loves water and refused to get in. He wasn't even interested in taking a lead from Red, so we were on our own. We stood at the entry for perhaps 10 minutes without making much progress, and finally I turned him around and backed him in. I think he was a bit surprised when he first got in, but then I turned him around and let him stand for a moment and he was fine. We walked around in the water a bit and then trotted through it no problem, but when I went to trot him out he stopped dead and WOULDN'T LEAVE THE WATER! We figured out pretty quickly that he didn't like the change in color of the footing (water was grey-green, sand was reddish where it was wet), but it took several tries to get him to leave the water, at which point he leapt out. We turned around and came back in, and this time trotted and cantered through the water, then went to leave - same problem. He just didn't want to come out! What a conundrum - I didn't want to let him stop in the water (afraid he'd roll) but I was getting tired keeping him moving and he was tiring quickly too. Eventually we managed to make a glorious leap out (eeek!) and then I trotted off to finish on the BN bank up, to end on a super positive note. We ended up cantering up to that one, and he thought about popping his right shoulder, but I smacked him with the bat twice on his shoulder and he went to it straight. We were up and over and called it a day!

All in all, we had a great day. He was a really good boy and I think we are really starting to click. However, we have a lot of work to do to be more confident out there. I'd like to shoot for GAG at the October schooling show, and I think we're going to need to school a couple more times for that to be a confident possibility. We've also got to work on the traffic issue - maybe some group jumping lessons? Something. Lots to think about.

Of course I have exactly zero pics of the entire experience. I had my camera on me, but was worried that as soon as I took it out to snap a pic (even an ear pic!) he'd find something to be silly about and it would all be over. So you will have to make do with the one I took after we were done...

Post-ride snacking.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Last place blue ribbons

Let me start by saying that this picture is deceiving - we were the only ones in all three classes at the teeny-tiny hunter schooling show we went to this weekend.

(Yes, I still have vids from the dressage show last weekend. Someday, I might actually catch up on blogging. But not today.)

Yesterday (Sunday), SheMovedToTexas graciously came with me to a local hunter schooling show. She said she was there to groom and take pictures (and HOLY COW did she take some NIIICE pictures, which I am going to spam y'all with), but secretly I think she was there to make sure we didn't do anything stupid and eventer-y. I haven't been to many hunter shows in my life, but I swear I need a secret decoder ring to figure out the classes (seriously, how can you have an "X-rails Under Saddle" class where there actually aren't any x-rails involved?!?) AND some sort of magikal crystal ball to figure out when to get on to warm up. 30 trips around the arena = approximately one hour, unless it's teeny kids doing lead line, and then you have to use some sort of equation where you integrate over a margarita? Apparently I'm spoiled as an eventer - we get our ride times pretty much to the minute.

Anyway. This was possibly the worst-run show I've ever been to. The show bill said that classes would start at 8, with X-rails going first. Yay that's me! We arrived just before 7 and checked in. Echo felt that being left to stand on the trailer was an insult of the greatest magnitude, and proceeded to attempt to paw his way through the trailer floor. He's mostly quit pawing in the trailer when it's not moving, but I DID ask him to stand for like a whole 5 minutes. Poor baby. Anyway, we unloaded and Lauren longed him a little bit both directions while I got my boots on and fixed my hair. No Aimee, I did not do Hunter Hair. Lauren let me live anyway.

We headed down to the Derby field (drool) to warm up. There were several horses in the main arena, and I wanted to keep Echo clear of traffic as much as possible. As usual, we did a lot of walking before we picked up a trot. Also as usual, he was looky and only spooked at things like horses jumping.

Mostly, we looked like this. Whoa, Baby Racehorse!

But we had a few fancy moments.

And a LOT of "yes, we are new to this rodeo" moments. (Please ignore my awful chicken wings as my talented horse jumps me out of the tack over a 12 inch crossrail).

At 8:30, they STILL had not started any of the classes. Lauren went over to talk to the show management, and was informed that they were going to do lead-line and the other beginner classes first, and were NOT going to run the rings simultaneously like it had said on the show bill. Xs would go after the beginner classes, and then the 2' class. We decided I might as well get off Echo, hose him, and let him hang out at the trailer for a while.

Lauren got the MOST AWESOME shots of him being hosed. I just love these:

Such a cool shot.

I love the lighting in this one, especially how it's shining off his rump in the background. Lauren is one amazing photographer!

I call this his Fabio shot. He's even got the wind-swept forelock thing going on, lol!

After his bath, we tortured Echo by tying him to the trailer, while we sat down for a snack and some water. He pawed, and pawed some more. He walked. He pawed a little extra just to let us know how tiresome this was. He looked pathetic. Finally, he gave up and started eating his hay. So, even though standing tied to the trailer was not part of the day's plan, it ended up being an excellent lesson in How To Be Patient.

Eventually, Lauren looked into her Magikal Hunter Time Calculation Crystal Ball and said that I should get back on, so we tacked back up and went back over to the derby field to warm up again. More walking, and I decided we wouldn't trot or jump till just before we went in.

Good thing too, since we ended up waiting almost an HOUR AND A HALF. First, they finished up the ground poles class in the small arena. Then, the 2' folks finished warming up. Then they had to reset the 2' course. Then they had to CHANGE the course, since one of the trainers argued about a short turn off the rail (dude, SUCK IT UP AND GET IT DONE. Sheesh.) Then they had to do the 2' section... all while Lauren and I wondered what the deal was when they said the x rails were going to go first? Echo got another lesson in patience while we stood and watched the 2' riders jump. It was good for him (and probably me too, lol!)

We had a really funny moment when Echo discovered a vinyl sign on the side of the arena. He was suspicious of it, but very curious. He reeeeeached out to touch it... and was like, oooh, no. Not safe. Then he got curious again and got a little closer. Maybe this time? Nope. Danger! He finally screwed up his courage and TOUCHED IT WITH HIS NOSE!!! At this point we were laughing at my "brave" baby racehorse, and then a small gust of wind caught it and made it move. He immediately jerked his nose back and regarded it suspiciously, then apparently decided that discretion was the better part of valor and tried to eat grass instead.

Jumps are not as dangerous as vinyl signs, apparently.

After the 2' class finished up, they reset the course with cross-rails. FINALLY! Then one of the trainers (the same one) argued that the flower boxes under the jumps made them too big for all the beginner riders... so she went to find the show organizer, talked about removing the flowers, then they had to find someone to take the boxes out... As soon as they were done with that, Lauren let me in the arena to wait for the judge to give me the go-ahead. But, apparently they a) had me in the wrong classes, and b) thought the kids were doing the x-rails first. W. T. F. Inwardly I was thinking "I've been on this poor horse for almost TWO HOURS" but I gritted my teeth, smiled, and politely asked if I could go first since the course was the same and the jumps were the same and I was the only one in the adult x-rail division. The judge took pity on me and let us do our thing. About damn time!

As we were doing our opening trot circle to the right, I could feel Echo sucking back under me. He does this when he's tired and he thinks we are done... and after an hour of warmup (the first time), then another TWO hours of standing and waiting, I could not blame him one bit. However, it was our turn to shine and I was going to make the most of it.


The first line he was way behind my leg and I kicked him down the line in a canter. It wasn't pretty, but I just wanted to get him thinking FORWARD. We came around to the second line, and he stopped dead to stare at a rolltop that had been moved to the side of the arena. I booted him over the first fence of the line from a standstill, so it didn't technically count as a refusal, lol! We cantered to the second fence, and that went well. Our second loop around went better, although I still felt very haphazard. My plan had been to come back to a trot between the fences in every line, but with him being so behind, I opted for a more forward ride. It mostly worked.

By the last fence, we almost had our shit together.

We did our second class immediately after. This time it was twice 'round to the left. Left is his better direction, and I figured we'd already had a chance to see the sights, so I was gonna make it count.


Almost looking like we have a clue.

Again, our round didn't feel stellar, but he did it and I lived. And that was really the whole plan.

Lastly, the under saddle class. They were planning to put me in with the kiddos (all 6 of them) but I think the judge figured out I was riding a greenie, she generously asked if I wanted to go by myself. I was thinking, "Why yes, I think that would be the best for everyone's health and welfare," but managed to say a polite, "Yes, thank you, that would be really nice!". Echo and I discovered that he has a relatively decent walk-canter transition to the left (I think he was as surprised as I was), but unfortunately he forgot that he can canter on the right lead. We got it on our third try, and then he fell in so badly that I literally booted him with my right leg - Lauren said she heard him grunt from where she was standing, lol! We managed one lap and then the judge took pity on us before asking us to walk. 

Pretending we can canter left.

So, that's the story as to how I ended up with three blue ribbons at our first hunter show. It definitely wasn't due to skill or expertise! But overall it was a very educational outing - Echo got to learn how to stand at the trailer, and stand and wait for hours. Considering how long I was on him, I'd say he was a superstar and a very good boy about the whole thing. And, we made it around both our little jump classes without (much of) a meltdown on anyone's part. Mostly that was due to Lauren's expert show management and grooming techniques - THANK YOU LAUREN!

Good Baby Racehorse!

Next weekend? Cross-country schooling! Poor Echo has to work SOOOO HARD!

*All these gorgeous pics are courtesy of Lauren at SheMovedToTexas. THANK YOUUUUUU!!!

Friday, June 21, 2013

About that dressage show...

So remember the dressage show I'd hinted about signing us up for? Well, it was last weekend (yes, I’m that far behind)…

I’d signed us up to do Intro A and B (walk-trot) at a local schooling dressage show. My goal was to stay in the arena and stay on my horse, anything else was a bonus.

It’s kind of strange to me going to a show just to get miles. When I showed Cash, we were prepared, schooling above the level we were showing at. We were on a mission. I knew we could go out and kick ass and take names. My goal was always to put in the best performance we could on that day, and I have to say I was never disappointed. With Saga it was the same – I knew we were ready, and we were out there to conquer. Even when I showed Red this spring in the horse trials, and I knew we would have a hard time in dressage, I also was confident that we’d eat up the stadium and XC course and have a great time – and we did. But with Echo, my goal was literally to stay on. I had no idea how he’d behave, or what he’d do. It was all uncharted territory.

I had signed up for a stall, and decided to haul out Friday night and leave Echo overnight (oh the horrors, poor Baby Racehorse). Our rides were at 8:14 and 8:32 (have I mentioned how much I love knowing exactly when I’m going to ride?) so I figured staying overnight would not be a bad thing for him. I arrived around 7 pm, got Echo settled, then tacked up for a ride. We did a short longe in their round pen, and then I got on to ride. We spent about an hour, mostly walking, in both the warmup arena and the show arena. It was quiet, and I was the only one riding, which was really nice. Echo was very looky but not spooky. The mirrors in the warmup were not interesting, nor was the judge’s stand, although he did have one moment where some sand hit one of the dressage letters and made a funny sound. Oh well.

The next morning, I repeated our warmup – a short stint in the round pen, followed by almost an hour of walk warmup. Every horse needs a different warmup, and I’m still trying to figure Echo out. Lots and lots of walk seems to work well for him right now – he can look around, we can work on circles and bending and getting his brain into work/focus mode, and he gets a chance to relax.

There were two other horses in the warm-up arena with us, which I was really grateful for. Echo threw in some pretty good spooks. He spooked when the judge stood up in the booth – which was in the arena NEXT TO the warmup. He spooked at the Intermediare horse doing tempi changes (insert eye roll here). He spooked when the baby horse in a nearby paddock stood up. He spooked when he saw another horse (not him) in the mirrors. These were good spooks too – he skittered halfway across the arena, sideways, at the horse doing the tempis. Yes, I was *that woman* on *that horse*. Awesome way to make a reputation at shows. NOT.

Eventually he started to relax and listen to me. We worked on engaging his hindquarters, following my hand, and keeping a steady rhythm. I tossed in some halts here and there to keep his attention, which was still (constantly) wandering. He threw in a few more random spooks, but I stuck with him no problem and we moved on. We didn’t do a whole lot of trot work, just enough to get going, and we had some nice moments. Then, the lady on the I-1 horse did her freestyle (it was awesome) and of course everyone got distracted watching that – including me and Echo. One more ride (and some more attempts at halts) and it was our turn.

Our first test was decidedly meh. We did all the figures in the right places, and all the transitions, but I was riding VERY conservatively. Echo was looky and distracted, so I was just trying for straight lines and circle-like shapes. He mostly listened to me (in his distracted way), and did not spook at the judge’s stand or anything else while we were in the arena. So although we only scored a 55% and change, I had a huge grin on my face coming out of the arena.

We had one ride to go until our next ride, and Fuzzypony held Echo while I took a few sips of water. I relaxed a little in the saddle, and decided that in our second ride, I’d actually try to ask more of him. I did a bit of trot in the arena while waiting for the bell to ring, and he actually came round for me for a few steps here and there, and we had a little bit of bend. The test itself went much better, although in places I was concentrating so hard on riding straight and not having him fall to the inside that I got us buried in the corners, oops. It wasn’t a stellar test by any means, but it definitely had some promising moments, much more so than the first test. We scored a 59% and change on that, and I was very pleased to have improved that much between the two rides.

The judge’s comments were as expected – we need more bend and relaxation, and I need to ride better. Real shocker there, lol!

Here are some stills from the test, courtesy of MC. Yes, Echo had his very own cheering section!

Our trot looked mostly like this - above the bridle, with me riding him back-to-front in an attempt to keep a slow, steady rhythm. Oh, and him with his mouth hanging open - he does not approve of me asking for him to give to a half-halt. Work in progress.

Walking. We did a lot of this. I'm kind of amazed that the judge manages to stay awake during the intro tests!

Not sure if you can see the huge grin on my face. :)

Must have a smoochy picture.

I wish we were further along in our training and could have put in better tests, but we are where we are and I keep reminding myself that this is for the experience, not the scores or the ribbons. And as experiences go, it was GREAT! Overall he was a very good boy, and I know what we have to work on.

I have video of both tests, which I will post for a good laugh. That way, in a year from now I'll be able to look back and remember how far we've come!

* All photos courtesy of MC. THANK YOU!!!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Pimp my Tackroom: 1996 Olympic Edition

For those of you youngsters, the Summer Olympics were held in Atlanta in 1996. I was super lucky and got to attend the equestrian events, along with a few other things. I'll never forget:
  • Watching horses gallop cross-country, in places passing so close to the ropes that I could have reached out and touched them.
  • Lendon Grey doing a demo of what's good and bad in a Grand Prix dressage test on her Connemara-cross stallion, who was SO PISSED at her for doing parts of the test wrong. 
  • The 100 Brazilian fans being the loudest of the bunch in a packed stadium of 10,000, watching the Grand Prix showjumping finals.
  • On a sad note, the terrifying bombing of Centennial Olympic Park, where two people were killed and over a hundred injured.
Anyway, I've been doing some spring (summer?) cleaning, and found all of my Olympic memorabilia tucked away in a box.  Since it's only been 17 years in storage (eeek!), I figured it was high time to do something with it. So, I bought a shadow box and assembled my collection:

Fond memories! 

My hat was signed by Bruce Davidson, and I have not washed it since he signed it (don't worry, I stopped wearing it years ago). All the pins were collected and traded for at the Olympics. The shirt was one my mom bought me at the Games, and I wore it to every clinic for like two years after - and boy were they popular. In fact, I remember going to a musical freestyle clinic taught by Terry Ciotti-Gallo, who did Gunter Siedel's choreography, and everyone there either had a shirt like this one or (even more coveted) one that said VOLUNTEER on the back. So cool!

So, now this shadow box is hanging in the tackroom, right underneath my poster of the Games. I really love seeing it every time I walk in, along with pictures of the boys and all our ribbons. It's nice to be able to keep all the horsey stuff together and on display!

I'm curious - does anyone else have any Olympic memorabilia, or any horse memorabilia that's special to you? How do you display it? I know that ribbon pillows/wall hangings are popular - what other ideas do y'all have?

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Part-time weekend job: Snake Wrangler

Every year about this time, we have a 5-6 foot long bull snake show up at Wyvern Oaks. We'll see him a handful of times, and then he disappears for the rest of the year. I've blogged about him before, here.

This year, we've found him in the chicken shed half-a-dozen times, when we put the chickens to bed. He's after the eggs, although I don't think he's managed to get many. See, one of our chickens is broody, and she is NOT happy about a snake in her shed. I've seen her attack him, and the poor snake has all he can do to escape.

Unfortunately, in one of his bids to escape, he got stuck in the storage part of the shed. It gets pretty hot in there during the day, and I think he may have been in there for a few days. For whatever reason, I decided to clean a few things out of the shed this morning, and I found him curled up limply in the corner.

Poor guy. 

I put a pan of water next to him to see if he would drink. He wasn't moving much, so I got a spray bottle of water and misted him a bit to try to help him hydrate. MC got this pic while I was doing that.

Eventually I figured that he wasn't going to find his way out of the shed unless I picked him up and took him out. So I put on my gloves, took a deep breath, and nabbed him.

Yes, that's me, holding a 5 foot long bull snake.

Isn't he gorgeous?

DISCLAIMER: Don't EVER EVER EVER pick up a snake unless you know FOR CERTAIN that it's non-venomous. Also, don't pick up a wild snake unless know what you're doing. I used to volunteer at the herpetology department at the Louisiana Wildlife center, so while I'm not an expert, I can identify and handle snakes fairly confidently. Any snake can bite, and a snake this big can do some serious damage (I've been bitten by a pet King snake before that was about this size, so take my word for this). I knew I had one chance to grab him properly, and I managed to do it. I likely would not have been able to handle him if he hadn't been suffering from heat and dehydration, because a snake this size is incredibly strong. Basically, I got really lucky.

After MC snapped these pics, I set him down in the saucer of water, right next to the shed. He paused for a moment and then slithered off under the shed.  I left the saucer out today and refilled it tonight, in hopes that he's got the strength to drink something and will recover. I also left out two eggs just under the shed, in case he can eat those.


You're probably thinking that I'm a really weird bleeding heart type, all worried about a snake, and you're probably right. But this guy has been around for a while, helping to keep the rodent population at bay, and I'd hate to be responsible for his death. 

I sure do hope he makes it!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Attack of the fire ants

We've been very lucky this year to have a relatively wet, cool spring in this part of the world. I say "relatively," because just two years ago, by this time we'd already had 10 days over 100 degrees and hadn't seen a drop of rain for over six months. When you're comparing to that sort of drought, highs in the mid-90s, with a weekly or bi-weekly rain, seems quite mild.

While rain is wonderful for our pastures and trees, and I won't complain about a drop of it, it has the unfortunate side effect of bringing the fire ants up to the surface. If you live in a part of the world with no fire ants, count your blessings. They are truly nasty creatures that were imported into the US in the 1930s and have been spreading since. They take over everything, decimating the local population of insects and stinging en masse anything that disturbs their nests. Stings are initially painful and then incredibly itchy. Put it this way - I won't go outside without boots on right now, and I always look where I put my feet.

Unfortunately, poor Echo wasn't as lucky. The boys were turned out in one of the front pastures the other evening, and Echo decided to roll. I watched him do it, and then shortly after noticed him rearing up and double-barrel kicking the air, repeatedly. Our neighbor was riding down the street on his horse at the time, so I thought that perhaps Echo was feeling a bit frisky with the neighbor horse in close proximity. Still, it was odd behavior. Then at night check, I noticed that Echo was behaving really strangely. He and Cash usually come in and share a beet pulp snack while I take off their fly gear and check them over. Echo was interested in the BP, but he'd take a bite, walk around in an agitated manner, sniff the ground, pester Cash, and swish his tail madly. I thought he might be colicking, but he was eating and not rolling. I finally ended up putting Cash in the stall to eat his share of the BP in peace, Echo was pestering him so much!

I watched Echo for a few more minutes, pacing constantly, all but wringing his tail, trying to figure it out. Finally he came over to me and put his head in my arms, and as I rubbed his face I noticed how the barn lights were shining against his gleaming, dappled coat... with the HUNDREDS OF WELTS ALL OVER HIS SIDE. I realized immediately that he must have rolled in fire ants, and the antics before were desperate attempts to get them off. Poor guy! I ended up calling my vet to consult about what I could give him to reduce the pain and swelling, since he was so miserable. Turns out that a nice cold hosing, along with 30 mg of Dex, was just the thing, and luckily I have plenty of that on hand for Cash. I stuffed the Dex pills in some carrots (since he was too agitated to eat anything that wasn't hand-fed) and he gobbled them up. Fortunately, by this morning, the welts were gone and Echo seems to be back to normal.

In the meantime, I purchased four containers of fire ant poison and have so far treated over 250 mounds, most of them very small. We had been using the "environmentally friendly" version, but eff that shit. I want those little bastards DEAD, immediately if not sooner.
Especially the fire ants!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The beginnings of an actual dressage horse

For realz. That was us on in our dressage lesson on Sunday.

We had our second dressage lesson on Sunday. I was pleased to report to JD that we'd been working hard on our homework (leg yields and squares, along with longeing in side reins and not falling in to the right) and that I felt like we'd really made some progress. I started off showing her our leg yields (excellent to both sides at the walk) and squares (pretty damn good when I remembered not to over-ask) and we quickly moved on to the trot. I'd also been practicing a bit of a leg yield into the trot transition, and we are getting these amazing upwards transitions. In fact, he's stepping under himself so much that he's throwing me out of the saddle. So the transition is great, but I can't stay with it so I make us fall apart. Fail.

We worked in trot almost the whole time. He was about a million times better than the previous lesson, and there were two major take-aways from this ride.

First of all, I have got to RELAX MY ARMS. This basically means having noodle-arms from the shoulder on down. I am really bad about holding my elbows away from my sides and stiffening in my shoulders, because that's how I type on the keyboard all day. Whenever Echo would brace against me (usually on the left rein), I'd immediately relax my arms and he'd go soft. Well, really what was going on is that I was tensing my arm, he'd brace, then I'd remember to let go and he would too. Poor guy was trying so hard to figure it out, and I wasn't where he needed me to be. Something I have got to work on fixing, ASAFP.

Secondly, in my very first lesson on Echo with Adopted Horse Mom, she told me that I was riding the bend "backward," especially to the right. We didn't have a chance to really break down what that meant, but JD explained it in a way that really made sense. What it comes down to is that when we go to the right, my shoulders and hips move as if we're doing a left bend. My right hip moves toward his left ear, and my shoulders are angled to the outside as well. What really needs to happen is that I need to turn my body to the right, starting with the shoulders. My left shoulder needs to lead slightly, my right needs to come back. My hips will follow my shoulders, and you know what? Damned if Echo didn't move his ENTIRE BODY in line with mine when I did that. We still had a smidge of falling in, but for the most part it was magically fixed. It's amazing how nicely your horse goes when you ride him right, you know?

Here's the video proof. It was at the end of our ride, so he was tired and really wanted to curl up and stop by the mirrors, but it had some good moments here and there. 

So my homework for the next week: turn shoulders and hips (in that order), and keep arms noodly and hands down. I may try to get FuzzyPony to longe me on Taran (he's steady on the longe) with no stirrups so I can work on getting my weight to the right... well, really, getting my weight in the center of the horse. It seems so simple, but it's so hard to keep track of all the body parts at the same time! That's the story of learning to ride, though.

In other news, I may have signed us up to go to a schooling dressage show on the 15th. That's right... Echo's first show! SO excited!!!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Custom saddle pad - made from scratch!

Last week, I did a post on how I dressed up some rather plain saddle pads. Since then, I haven't had much time to sew, but I finally got a few hours this morning to finish up the pad I made from scratch. 

The finished product.

There are a couple of sites out there on how to make pads, but most of them are baby pads that use thin store-bought quilting as the backing. That's great if you want to make cute baby pads - it's pretty quick and easy. However, I was looking for something more sturdy, and fancier. Plus - not gonna lie - I have boxes and boxes of fabric that either need to be sewn up or given away. Might as well sew it up!

For my backing, I decided to use some felted wool I had leftover from a cloak-making project years ago. If you use a wool half-pad, you know how cool wool keeps the horse's back - much more so than most of the foam-filled saddle pads that are on the market today. The felted wool I have is quite thick, but I opted to do two layers of it for additional stability. For the facing layer, I used some very nice brocade I had laying around.

To start, I laid out a dressage pad I like onto my wool, and cut out 4 of those. Next, I laid the wool on the brocade and cut out 2 of those. Be careful to make sure you've got the pattern going the right way if you're using a pattered fabric, and make sure you do a left and a right piece.

Be sure to cut your top fabric a little larger than the bottom - everything will shrink up a bit when you quilt it together, so having extra is a good thing.

One you've got everything cut out, you're going to lay all three layers of one side together, brocade on top. Then, using pins every 3-4 inches, pin all three layers together. Use lots of pins! When you're finished, you should be able to pick up the entire stack of three layers and have them all move together.

For this next step, you need chalk and a ruler. This is a dressmaker's ruler, 2 inches wide. It's a convenient width to make your quilting.

With the chalk, mark diagonal lines every 2 inches all the way across the brocade. 

Next, sew over all the lines, removing your pins as you go. When you're finished going one direction, do the same thing the other direction.

Here's what it looks like after you've quilted it together. Starting to look good!

After you've quilted both halves of your pad, trim off any excess fabric around the edges.

Next, put the brocade sides together. Using a wide zig-zag stitch, sew along the top of the pad, as close to the edge as you can get. 

Here's what it will look like when you're done. This doesn't have to be perfect, as we're going to reinforce and cover this seam in the next few steps.

Cut a strip of your backing fabric about 2 inches wide and the length of the spine of your pad. Lay the strip on the right side of the seam you just sewed, then use a straight stitch to sew it down about 1/2 inch from the edge of the seam. Bonus if you get dog hair on your fabric.

After you've sewn down the first side, fold the loose edge of the fabric under about 1/2 inch... 

Then fold it over the seam you just sewed. See how we covered that seam up?

Pin that sucker down...

And top-stitch it.

Here's what it will look like after you're done.

We did the bottom side first for a good reason... see how ugly the top seam looks, with the stitching on either side? We're going to cover this up in exactly the same way.

Cut a 2.5 inch wide strip of brocade the length of your pad, then sew it about 3/4 of an inch inside your seam.

Fold the loose edge over, then pin in place.

Here's what it looks like after you've topstitched it down.

And here's the back. Now all the ugly seams won't show on the top of our pad!

We're almost done! We just need to put on a binding, some trim, and the billet straps. 

You can purchase bias tape from the fabric store to use as your binding. However, it only comes in cotton fabric, and the number of colors are limited. I also find it to be kinda pricey, lol, so I make my own. It's really, REALLY important to use bias-cut binding instead of ribbon or straight-cut binding.  Here's why: 

Fabric is woven in two directions - the warp and the woof. If you pull your fabric in either of those directions, it doesn't stretch. However, if you pull it across the diagonal (the bias), it stretches quite a bit! You can see that here with the the fabric I used - the diagonal ripples in the fabric show the bias. The stretch in bias tape allows you to go around the curves of the pad without wrinkling the binding.

I used this super-handy-dandy bias tape maker - and my trusty iron - to make my own bias tape in a matching color (again, extra fabric laying around). 

When you're sewing your bias tape down, sew it to the bottom of your pad first.  

Fold it over and around to the top of the pad, then pin it in place. You can see how easily it's curving around the pad, and there are no wrinkles.

All pinned down and just about to sew...

And volia! Looking good.

The second-to-last step... sewing down the trim. The trim is actually the only thing I had to buy at the fabric store, lol! I used silver metallic thread to match, and just zigzagged over it.

And last but not least, billet straps! Be sure to burn the ends of the webbing (to prevent fraying) before you sew it on.

Here's the finished product. I think it looks super classy, and the wool backing gives it a good weight and nice structure. I want to give it a test ride, but I'm also thinking I might save it as a show pad!