Monday, December 30, 2013

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to meeee... Fiiiiive Gold-en Haffiieeeeees!

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to meeee... Fiiiiive Gold-en Haffieeeees!

Well, really, one golden Haffie, five times. I can't even imagine FIVE Haffies... I can barely stand the cuteness of ONE!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to meeee... Four Calling Haffies...

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to meeee... Four Calling Haffies...

Hello, SPCA? Dinner's late. AGAIN.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to meeeee... Three French Haffies...

On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to meeeee.... Three French Haffies:

Because everyone knows that wearing a beret instantaneously makes you French, right?

Two turtle Haffies...
And a Haffieeee in a pear treeeee!

Friday, December 27, 2013

On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to meeeee... Two turtle Haffies...

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to meeee... Two turtle Haffies:

Recipe for Turtle Haffies:

1 large Haffie (if you only have small Haffies, use two)
Pecans from 1 tree
Eleventeen pounds of chocolate
1 teraflop of caramel

Melt caramel over a triple boiler. Add pecans, including shells. Spoon caramel/pecan mixture onto Haffie and drizzle with melted chocolate. Garnish with lamb's quarter, if desired. Bon appetit!

And a Haffie in a pear treeee.

No Haffies to be seen here. Move along.

In other news, hubby and I hauled to a local state park for a trail ride on Christmas Day. Most of the trails are down in gorgeous pecan bottoms with lovely sandy footing, so we had a great time trotting and cantering through the woods. Red was his usual superstar self, and Paddy was quite brave and sensible. He was very ratable on the canters, and is pulling leads consistently when asked. Hooray!

Paddy looks cute at the trailer while Red explains to him about personal space.

Hubby and Red at a 200 year old pecan tree. Impressive tree!

We switched horses halfway through since Red was getting a bit tired and I'm lighter than hubby is. Reddums finished strong and hubby had a great time riding Paddy.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to meeeee... a Haffie in a Pear Treeeeee!

Ok, so technically yesterday (the 25th) was the first day of Christmas, but I'm behind. We've decided to do the 12 days of Christmas with Haffies, since everyone knows that 12 days of Haffies are better than 12 days of pipers piping or calling birds or whatever.

So I give you the first day of Christmas... a Haffie in a Pear Tree!

Note actual pear in pear tree (just in case you thought I might be using some random tree for this). Also, we were somewhat liberal with the definition of "in," since Paddy declined to climb said pear tree. 

We hope everyone had a very Merry Christmas with plenty of family time or horse time or relax time... or all of the above!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Jumping ALL THE (small) THINGS on cross-country

Yesterday, the weather finally cooperated and hubby and I made the two-hour drive to Pine Hill to take Red and Paddington cross-country schooling. It was Paddy's first time out, and I wanted to have a super positive experience. The plan was to jump all the Green-as-Grass (GAG) and Goldilocks fences, and maybe to a Beginner Novice jump or two if they didn't look too scary.

Almost as soon as we unloaded, we were accosted by a lady who had grown up riding a Haffie. Paddy got the requisite "HE'S SOOO CUUUTE!"  exclamation, and we chatted a bit about how awesome Haffies are. Paddy's great at the trailer except he wants to be able to see Red at all times, so he carried on this little one-sided conversation while we were tacking. Red could have cared less about the whole thing, and ate grass on his side of the trailer while pointedly ignoring Paddy.

Eventer Haffie outfit.

Eventer war pony rockin' the plaid.

We started out with a WTC warmup each direction - he was super awesome. Not looky, didn't rush, got the canters both ways with minimal fuss (hooray!). We took a quick walk break, then trotted up to a small log. Paddy hit the brakes right at the base, I clucked to him and smacked him on the shoulder, and he launched over it. We jumped it a few more times, then moved on to the first official fence on the course. Given that he was hesitant about the first jump and I wanted this to be very positive for him, I decided to follow Red over the next few fences. We did a rolltop, a small white coop, then a brush fence. Paddy jumped them all like a pro following Red, then we went back and did each one by ourselves. He was balanced and forward and cracked his back over every one!

Next we decided to play in the water a bit. Paddy followed Red in the first time, but I don't think I needed to have been concerned about him going in - he was quite happy splashing around in it, and popped in and out with no problems!

Needs rubber duckies.

Other notable highlights included a canter up a steep hill to a small log at the top and then cantering down the hill (no problem, and he was very balanced both up and down the hills), a small ditch which he cleared by 10293472 feet, and a good-sized brush fence that he didn't even blink at. The very last jump on the course was a rolltop that is shared with BN - not huge, but Paddy made a good effort over it.

For his first time out, I could not have asked for more. He was quite balanced and rateable (I rode him in a kimberwicke) and he jumped ALL THE THINGS. We had a few iffy moments at some "scary" fences, but I sat up, closed my leg, and gave him a little smooch or tap, and he went right over.  He's definitely a forward-thinking guy, and that's really what you want in an eventer.

Now we get to go out and do it for real at a schooling show on January 19. Eeep!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

In which Paddy makes his acting debut and Red plays a stunt double

DISCLAIMER: This post contains pictures of myself and others riding without helmets. I am all too aware of the dangers of riding sans-helmet... so much in fact that I literally cannot recall the last time I did it. Yes, we all took a calculated risk. No, I don't recommend ever riding without a helmet. You will also see pictures of things happening that most horses would not tolerate. As jousting horses, our boys are exposed to things that most horses aren't, and tend to be somewhat more tolerant. Again, it was a calculated risk - don't do this stuff at home, folks. I am probably risking The Wrath of the Internet with this post, but for some reason I thought it would be fun to share, because it was a cool experience and we enjoyed doing it. If you feel that one should always wear a helmet no matter what and never do crazy stuff like this, please go read another blog. If, on the other hand, you enjoy a short story about Crazy Stuff We Did This Weekend For A Charity, read on. 

And now, the good stuff:

As if a stellar first-time dressage show wasn't enough for one weekend, on Sunday we took Red and Paddy to help film a holiday commercial for Goodwill. It was a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend situation - someone needed horses and knights in armor, our friend knew just which suckers who to ask. So we showed up bright and early on Sunday with our best jousting caparisons, my matching heraldic dress, and hubby's armor.

The gist of the commercial is that a little boy is dreaming that he's riding with an entourage through a medieval village, and meets the king, who gives him a sword. The scene then cuts to modern-day... and I'm not involved in that part, but it involves donating to your local Goodwill store. 

This was my first experience with film, and let me just say it's not as exciting as it looks. We literally had to do the same walk-down-the-path shoot 30 times, with the cameras in different positions, getting close-ups of each person's face, getting close-ups of each horse, etc. Hubby and I played part of the boy's entourage for this part of things, although we were in the back. 

Paddy practices his medieval warhorse look, while I demonstrate why there is no way I will ever be able to do Hunter Hair under my helmet.

In between takes, we all chatted, while the horses took turns staring and snorting at The Sheepskin Of Doom, which one of the crew had left sitting out.
Big Perch-X mares refuse to get anywhere near the sheepskin. 

Paddy was feeling pretty "meh" about the sheepskin while the two big mares (shown above) snorted and stared at it. I asked him to walk up to it, which he did. Then he reached his nose out to touch it... and apparently the sensation of it tickling his nose surprised him, because he teleported about 15 feet to the left. I was all loose in the saddle and went with him no problem, but everyone thought it was pretty hilarious. Red, of course, marched right up to it, stuck his nose in it, and was all "Feerless War Ponies are not afraid of Sheepskins!" I halfway expected him to pick it up in his teeth and toss it at the mares, just for the sheer fun of seeing them bolt for the hills. Alas, apparently Red doesn't have quite that much of a sense of humor!

Red has the War Pony thing down pat.

After we finished doing the 912348767834 takes of the horses walking down the road, we moved to another site on the grounds to get some shots of riding, from the little boy's perspective. For this, the Steady-cam camera had to be attached to a person in the saddle... and the horse that the little boy was riding was not interested in being part of that. Since Red and the little boy's horse are both chestnuts, we decided that we'd see if Red could handle the camera contraption on his rider and be the "stunt double" for the other horse's ears. We talked to the camera guy about the risks of riding a horse, waved the camera around up over Red's head, had it make whirring noises... Red didn't care. Finally, we carefully got the camera guy on Red, then carefully attached the camera to him... and off we went. Either I led Red while the guy filmed, or Red was led by someone on horseback with me close by, ready to grab the horse and/or the camera guy in case something happened. We needn't have worried, though, as Red was a total rock star and never put a foot wrong.

Feerless War Ponies are also not afraid of dudes with big cameras attached to them. All part of a day's work.

For the final bit of filming, the boy's entourage meets up with the king, who draws his sword and hands it to the boy. The guy playing the king had had some bad horse experiences, and was understandably nervous about being on board again. We put him up on Paddy, who stood like a rock for over an hour while people jangled armor, drew swords, waved boom mikes in his face, and stuck light boxes under his belly.

The final scene, taken from Paddy's back. Cute Haffie earz (bottom center) played by Paddington. Guy in armor (lower right corner) played by Hubby. I'm on the left on Reddums, who appears to be taking a nap. Other friends are in the picture and shall remain nameless to protect their identities. Not shown: all the camera equipment to Paddy's left.

They finish filming this coming weekend, and the commercial should begin to air on Monday the 23rd. It will even be aired during the Superbowl on local stations! I don't know how much Red and Paddington will be visible in it, but I'll post a link as soon as it's available. In the meantime, Paddy and Red are considering a move to Hollywood to pursue their acting careers. After all, Paddy's got that blond surfer boy look... chicks dig that, right? Besides, after the show Saturday, he's getting used to girls rushing up to him squealing, "OMG HE'S SOOO CUUUUTE!"

Monday, December 16, 2013

12/14 Schooling Dressage Show (lots of picture spam)

This Saturday, Paddy and I went to our first schooling show together. But before I get into the details, Paddington and I have the MOST AWESOME entourage ever. Between Fuzzypony, who brought lunch, braided Paddy, and read the tests, MC, who brought extra warm clothes, helped tack and groom, and also took pictures and videotaped the tests, and Lauren, who took Amazing Pictures, I was SO well taken care of and Paddy looked like a million bucks. We couldn't have done it without you guys, and I am forever in your debt!

Dressage Show 12-14-13
A good moment during warmup

 It was a tiny dressage show at a venue I've been to many times - good facilities, nice people, low pressure. I signed us up for Intro A, B, and C, and did a lot of hoping that we'd actually be able to canter on both leads in Intro C.

We arrived at the show early so I could get in my volunteer hours. The day started off warm-ish and sunny, with no wind, but on the drive to the show, a front rolled in, the wind picked up, and the temps dropped 15 degrees. I wasn't really prepared for it, so I spent most of the day pretty cold. I actually ended up riding my test with a turtleneck fleece UNDER my white shirt, which made for a very stiff collar. Oh well, I was warm.

After my volunteer time was done, Fuzzypony showed up with a hot lunch (bless her) and commenced braiding Mr. Paddy-pants while I sat in the car with the heat on full blast and my toes on the heater vents. I kept telling her that she didn't HAVE to braid him in the cold and wind, but she insisted, and he looked FAB. He was the only horse braided at the show, and we got a ton of compliments.

Dressage Show 12-14-13
Haffie butt with awesome holiday braid.

Warmup went OK. He started off very distracted and forward, which is what I expected. We put the energy to good use, doing 10 meter circles, shoulder in, and lots of w/t/halt transitions. We had plenty of time and overall I felt quite prepared when we went in the arena for Intro A.

What I had not counted on is that while Paddy is not a spooky horse, he thought this would be a good time to look at ALL THE THINGS. We only had time to do one lap around the arena before the judge rang the bell to start our first test, so he was very distracted during the test and looked at everything. Including himself.
Dressage Show 12-14-13
OOOOO lookit the cute Haffie in the mirror!

I rode the tests as planned, but things I thought would be a problem (rhythm) really weren't, and things I didn't plan for were a huge issue. He spent a lot of time rooting in the bridle, and he was super escape-y in his shoulders both ways. For whatever reason, we can do a great 10 m circle in sitting trot, but a round 20 m circle in trot rising was just beyond our capabilities.

Dressage Show 12-14-13
Houston, we have lost the left shoulder.

Dressage Show 12-14-13
This would be so much more awesome if he weren't behind the vertical and pulling me out of the saddle.

Dressage Show 12-14-13
This is super cute until you realize he's spooking at something outside the arena (we are supposed to be flexed in exactly the opposite direction - not that you can tell from my legs, lol!).

Test B was better than Test A, in that we were less spooky, but he was getting annoyed and tired and was rooting more. He also broke into a trot during the walk, and we did this really awesome leg yield down centerline. Sometimes you just have to laugh...

Dressage Show 12-14-13
Neither of us had any idea where we were going on this centerline. I was voting for straight, he thought left was better. Whatever, smile for the judge!

We survived Intro C, and managed to get both our canter leads without running like maniacs. 

Dressage Show 12-14-13
Of course, the actual canter itself was rather unbalanced, but at least it happened.

We had some really nice moments though.

Dressage Show 12-14-13
Or at least, the pictures made us look good!

Dressage Show 12-14-13

Dressage Show 12-14-13

Overall, I was super happy with how he performed. We got a 65 on Intro A, a 62 on Intro B, and a 63 on Intro C. Not too shabby for a first time out!

Dressage Show 12-14-13
The 63 on Intro C was good enough for a blue ribbon!
We also got a 2nd for Intro A, and a 4th for Intro B.

Dressage Show 12-14-13
Our awesome entourage!

To move up, we need better connection, better stretch down and out, and more relaxation over the topline. It's coming, and he's made a ton of progress since I got him, but we really have a long way to go. In many ways I ride better when we're doing more complicated stuff (like 10 m circles and shoulder ins) and so he's more connected and obedient than when we're just cruising on a 20 meter circle. Unfortunately we have to be able to do the 20 m circle before they let us move up to 10s. And of course, we need to be able canter like a normal horse, instead of like a maniac. There are moments of brilliance in there, now we need to concentrate on making more of them and having them last longer.

Dressage Show 12-14-13
Photogenic Haffie makes me look good!

Still, I could not have asked for a more fantastic end to an otherwise rough year. :)

Friday, December 13, 2013

Riding a dressage test in your mind

We interrupt our usual Friday Haffie Math to bring you my last-minute freak-out about our schooling dressage show tomorrow. I volunteer in the morning but don't ride until mid-afternoon, so Paddy will get to hang out at the trailer with the all-you-can-eat hay buffet for most of the day. I'll be on him for an hour and a half, including warmup and our three tests - this will be our longest ride ever and I'm not sure how he'll be by the time we get around to the last test. I guess it's all a grand experiment, right?

I don't know what the rest of you guys do when you prepare for a ride, but I think about every step in our tests and what I'll be thinking/focusing on while I'm riding each movement. I picture what it will look like from the saddle, and what I expect to feel under me. I think about what it feels like when things are bad, and envision exactly what I'm going to do to correct the problem - hopefully before it escalates. That way I'm hopefully prepared for anything that will happen, and I have a good expectation of how things will go. I also mentally give us a score for each movement and think about what the judge's comments are likely to be - this helps me figure out what I need to focus on in my ride.

So for your entertainment, here's a quick window into my head for Intro B.

Intro B (because let's face it, A puts me to sleep and C has canter in it)

What I’ll be thinking
What score I expect
A – Enter working trot rising
X – Halt through medium walk. Salute – proceed working trot rising
Please stay straight. Look at the judge’s stand. Straight, think straight. Don’t let him get motoring down center line. Don’t forget to walk a few steps into the halt. Right leg on during halt to keep butt from swinging right. Head up in halt doesn’t matter. Please stay straight into trot transition.
5. Chances of staying straight during center line and halt are slim. There will be a comment about "Haunches R".
C – track left, working trot rising
Bend before C. Inside leg on. Half-halt left rein. Steady rhythm.
7 if I keep us together. Left is our good side.
E – Circle left 20 meters, working trot rising
E – straight ahead
Steady rhythm. 1-2, 1-2. Steady. Right leg in front of girth to keep from drifting toward rail on 2nd and 4th quarters of the circle. Steady rhythm, small posts.
5 if I fail to keep him steady and rhythmic, and forget my right leg. 7 if I keep my shit together.
Between K & A – Medium walk
Don’t let him motor down the long side – steady rhythm. Sit UP in the corner, core engaged for a good downward tx. Keep the bend in the corner.
6. Corner TXs are harder than they should be and it’s unlikely we’ll stay through the bridle on the TX.
F-E – free walk
Ask for stretch down. Don’t forget to go to E! E is over there! Short diagonal! Don’t let the reins get too long. STRAIGHT across the short diagonal. Please don’t choose this time to stare at another horse.
6 if we keep it together – he’s not going to overstride like ever, even if we’re perfect. 5 he’s a llama.
E-H – medium walk
Walk fingers up the reins in an attempt to keep him from llama-ing. If he’s already a llama, shorten reins quickly and ask for right bend and give. Steady rhythm, engage core so he doesn’t trot.
6, unless we break gait, then 5.
Between H&C, working trot rising
KEEP THE RIGHT BEND. Don’t let him anticipate the TX. Engage core on TX to keep TX soft and through. No motoring in trot!
6 if I keep the bend and keep him through.
B – circle right 20 meters, working trot rising
Steady rhythm. 1-2, 1-2. Steady. Left leg to help the turn. Steady rhythm, small posts. Right bend.
5 if he gets rushy and irregular. 7 if I keep my shit together.
A – down center line
X – halt through medium walk. Salute.
Balance before the corner. BEND into the turn to center line - no careening! Don’t overshoot the turn. STRAIGHT! Right leg on in down TX. Smile at last salute. Pat the cute Haffie and tell him he's awesome.
6, unless I miss centerline, we're not straight, and his haunches are out. Then a 5.

So based on my scores, we'll end up between a 55% and 60%, maybe a little better if we have some stellar moments, worse if I really mess things up. Megan, that's p > .01 in case you were wondering. ;)

Does anyone else plan their rides like this? What do you think about when you're on course being judged? I'm curious if I'm the only one, or if this is normal? 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

15 minutes is better than no minutes

We have a dressage schooling show this coming Saturday. I know, I haven't mentioned that, right? I signed us up for Intro A, B, and C, on the theory that we should at least get out and get some miles, even if we've got more things to work on than I can count on all my fingers and toes. I'm hoping to stay in the arena and stay on Paddinton. Gotta start somewhere, right?

To ensure that we don't make complete fools of ourselves, I've been trying to squeeze in as many rides as I can - coming in to work early so I can leave early and ride while it's still light (no arena and no lights make daylight hours precious), sneaking in rides during a (long) lunch hour, whatever. I've been doing pretty well, and the rides have been productive, but last night it just wasn't happening. Work ran late, the boys didn't cooperate with the evening barn chores, and I was rapidly running out of daylight. No problem, I thought, instead of riding, I'll just longe him a little. Then I realized how dark it was and decided we didn't even have time for that. I almost decided not to do anything with him, but then I decided that even a little bit of something was better than nothing at all.

So we worked in-hand for 15 minutes, with a rope halter and a lead. And you know what? It was really productive!

We started off with yielding the haunches, focusing on getting the RH (his stiffer leg) to be more active. Then we worked on moving his shoulder over. As expected, he was sticky moving the RF. We worked on moving his whole body sideways when asked. Then we worked on a little leg-yield in-hand, along with stopping and backing up. I didn't drill on any one thing for more than a few steps - when he got it, I'd ask for something else. After 15 minutes, he was much more responsive moving left, focused on me, and working well. I gave him a pat and a cookie, pulled his halter off, and called it a night.

So even if you only have 15 minutes, or 10 minutes, or even 5 minutes, USE IT. Do something productive. Every little bit you do every day helps. Heck, sometimes I think those short-but-sweet sessions are better than an hour-long ride, precisely because you don't drill-drill-drill. You get in, you look for the positive response, you reward, and you move on.

What do YOU do if you only have a little bit of time to work your horse?

I am too cute to have to work for a living.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Llama Drama

You've heard the term "drama llama" to describe horse behavior? Well, we have legit drama llama behavior... due to llama drama!

Paddinton's built-in llama detector says that the llama is RIGHT OVER THERE!

Yes, our neighbors across the street have a llama. Fortunately, the drama is usually limited to pricked ears and a snort or two. Unless the llama gets up, in which case a good spook may be necessary. Just FYI.

What's the scariest thing YOUR horse has ever seen?

Monday, December 9, 2013

Lesson with new eventing trainer

It's odd, but there aren't really any eventing trainers in the Austin area. Lots of H/J, lots of dressage. Eventing? Not so much. There was one at the barn I used to board at, but her teaching style didn't work for me, so I've mostly been on my own. This year I have been lessons catch-as-catch can with a H/J trainer and a dressage trainer, and working with a third (non-local) person when going XC schooling. But, there's a new eventing trainer in town, and I wanted to try her out.

(Random aside: we've been trying to get together for a lesson for a year. First, Saga went lame, then she moved to CA. This summer, she moved back to Austin, and then Echo was diagnosed with HS. So after a year, I finally managed to make a lesson with her on Paddy. Persistence pays off!)

We hauled out to the facility she teaches out of, which just so happens to be where FuzzyPony keeps her retired mare, who is Taran's mother (small world eh?).  Paddy came out of the trailer alert but relaxed, so we quickly tacked up and started in the covered arena. We did one walk lap each direction so he could look at the chairs and mirrors and such, then picked up the reins and got to work. He was actually much more relaxed over his back than usual - maybe he was more comfortable in the indoor? Anyway, I explained to the trainer what we'd been working on, and she immediately pointed out that he was stepping a bit short on his RH. Not lame, just that leg was not working as hard. I mentioned that I felt that the saddle was canted to the right most of the time, and that he had a very hard time moving off my right leg. The RH not carrying as much weight explains all of that, no? So we immediately started working on exercises to engage the RH:

  • Shoulder fore to the right at the walk - this was hard for him and hard for me to coordinate. She ended up poking him in the flank to get him to move his RH under himself more, and he got the message. 
  • Counter-flex to the left - especially in the corners. This helps free up the RF, which he tends to carry more weight on since the RH isn't as engaged. This also helps prevent him from falling out on his shoulder when going to the left (oh yes he's a pro at this).
  • Moving my right hand up about 3 inches and half-halting - this seems to remind him to lift his R shoulder. It's immediately followed by a release, and moving my right hand back in place. NO HOLDING ALLOWED!
Following some fabulous trot work where he felt much more even and balanced, we went to the outdoor to get in a bit of jumping. Our less-than-stellar canter departs were met with "Oh, that's not as bad as I thought they'd be," and we went on to cantering poles in a line. Paddy's job was to figure it out, my job was to keep him straight. Unfortunately he got rather barge-y through the middle of the 4 poles, but I ran him into the arena rail stopped him on a straight line each time after, and he came right back.

I learned an early lesson, which is to POINT HIM RIGHT OF CENTER. The second time through on the right lead, he opted to duck out left in front of the second ground pole, and I almost face-planted into a jump standard. Seriously, I was staring that bad boy down thinking about how much it would suck if I actually hit it with my face! Fortunately Paddy has a thick neck and I have a good sense of self-preservation, so I wrapped my left arm around his neck and pulled myself up from falling off his right shoulder. After calling him a few choice names, we came again, I steered and kept my left leg on. Much better. We called it a day after having him go through once each direction with a balanced canter on the approach - through the grid he was still rushy, but was figuring it out on his own. Smart Pony!

So it was an interesting lesson. I really got a lot out of the dressage part of the ride (the tips on getting the RH to engage were GOLD), but the jumping part I'm not so sure about. Yeah, he can run down a line and get over All The Things, but at this point I feel like he needs to learn to slow down and think about things instead of just attacking. Are ground poles the way to go, or are there better tools we can use? This is an interesting question, because the following day I had a lesson with my H/J trainer, who had a completely different approach... stay tuned!

Also, Mom got me up from my nap to do this "lesson" thing. So. Mean.