Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Paparazzi Magnet

It's official - Paddington is a total camera hog.

Is that a CAMERA?!?!?!?!?!

This picture was taken by our coach Lisa from over 100 feet away. I was chatting with Lauren (who is leaning on the fence) and suddenly noticed that Paddy was VERY FOCUSED on something. I followed his gaze, only to find him staring at Lisa, who was pointing the camera right at him. She caught us just as I was laughing about Paddy's uncanny ability to pose for the camera, regardless of where it might be.

My horse needs to be a model, I swear.

Many thanks to Lisa from Austin Eventing for the pic. :)

Monday, February 24, 2014

Random things you notice in pictures of yourself riding

It's funny what you notice most when you look at pictures of yourself riding. Sometimes it's the horse that you see most - maybe he's rooting or he's hollow or he's perfect - and sometimes it's you. Sometimes it's totally random what you notice. So it's interesting to take note of the things that are weird or out of place, and think about what you can do to fix them. Here's what I see when looking at some of the pics from the dressage show this weekend.

1. I ride with my right leg braced and forward. Also, my chinstrap is loose.

2. He's not carrying his tail to the left anymore.

3. My new reins make black marks on his neck. I also need to take off the running martingale stops.

4. I make really funny expressions when I ride.

5. My new washable Horsewear jacket is too short for dressage.

6. This bridle does not fit him.

7. Paddy needs his own line of hair care products.
I mean seriously...

... don't you want your horse... 

... to have hair like this???

Sunday, February 23, 2014

2/23: Dressage Schooling Show at Silver Hill

ANOTHER show this weekend - this time it was a dressage schooling show at a nearby venue - the same one we went to back in December. This time, we did Intro C, as well as Training 1 and Training 2. Still just w/t/c with 20 meter circles, nothing exciting, but it's a little more advanced from last time.

Paddy warmed up VERY forward, even for him. Our eventing coach, Lisa Bauman of Austin Eventing, was kind enough to come coach for the afternoon and called me over after about 5 minutes to make sure I had a "plan" for warmup - she was probably more than a bit horrified to see us careening around the arena at mach one-Haffie. I explained that after we got the zoomies out, he'd be ready to get to work, so yes, there was a plan, even if it looked a wee bit out of control just then. Teehee!

Even after 10 solid minutes of trotting, Paddy was still super distracted and forward. I spent the next 30 minutes working on walk and trot squares, halts, laterals, ANYTHING to get him focused on me. I was trying to stay super relaxed in my arms too, which is hard when your horses is zooming around and blowing off your half-halts. We had almost a solid 45 minutes of warmup before the first test, and I still felt like we weren't quite prepared, because he was so tense and not listening. Still, we went in  and rode Intro C. It was... eh, ok. We got our canters, although the right lead was unbalanced and counter flexed (yes, this is a Thing. We are Working On It). It was nowhere near as nice as our test at the show last week, but eh - you ride what you have.

Lisa and I did a quick pow-wow to discuss what to work on in the ~10 minutes until my next test. She suggested that I over bend him, because what I thought was over bent was probably actually just about right. She reminded me of the "inside hand up for two steps" trick to more strongly ask for give, and I drilled him really hard on leg yield and shoulder in to make sure he was moving off my leg. We went in for Training 1 in a much better place in terms of obedience, and I rode the HECK out of the test. I mean, I rode every long side and every circle like I was doing shoulder in. I kept him bent to the inside at all times, and corrected him as quickly as I could when we lost it. I also sat the trot where I could, because I find it much easier to influence his movement when I'm not posting. Of course, that makes him less free in his back... oh well, it's all a balance.

I felt super good after Training 1, so we took a little walk break and then got back to work on more laterals and bending. I think we were both tired by this point, so Training 2 wasn't quite as good, with one notable exception. Our right lead canter was AMAZING. So balanced. So soft. Until he started counter flexing and fell apart a bit, but oh well! Half of the circle was great, so the other half will come eventually.

The judge for this show scored HARD - like, USDF recognized show hard. I think some people were really disappointed with their scores, but I'd rather have a real idea of how we're doing than an inflated score. She was super nice and gave a TON of comments though, which I always appreciate. It's like you get a mini-dressage lesson from the comments! Here are the big shockers (harhar) in my tests:
  1. For him - quick tempo, braced, needs relaxation 
  2. For me - braced arms (this was on EVERY test. I think this is what I will be working on every ride for the next 6 months, lol!)
The judge also called Paddy an "adorable pony," and said he was "charming and obedient". I guess even dressage judges aren't immune to Teh Kyoot!

Also, Lauren was out taking pics of us and got some real gems. She makes Paddy look SO FANCY! Plus I have lots of picture spam to share. Thank you, Lauren!

Naturally, this was during warmup and not in front of the judge. But he looks fancy-schmancy!

And relaxed! 

With bend!

Lisa and I planning world domination... or at least, in the dressage arena!

A nice moment where we have it all together... in front of the judge.

But not gonna like, we had a lot of gaping-with-mouth-open moments too. Work in progress.

But we had a canter that looks like a canter, and not a train wreck (notice left spur sticking him in the side to keep him properly bent)

And sort of a stretchy trot. Needs work, obviously, but a month ago we couldn't do this.

More fancy-looking trot, with prehensile nose out.

A RIGHT LEAD CANTER! I know, I know, it needs work, but we did it and we didn't die.

And a straight centerline to a mostly square halt!

Oh yeah, I almost forgot, scores. We got a 60.000% on Intro C, for 3rd place, a 59.583 on Training 1, for 3rd place, and a 58.393 on Training 2, for 2nd place. We also got 3 8s on our centerline/halts - our first 8s! But we couldn't have done it without Lisa, who really came to our rescue after the first test. But overall it was a great show, and a good indication of where we are and what we have to work on. Onward and forward!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Greetings from Antarctica!

Hubby is a professor of marine geophysics at the local Big University. A lot of his work involves going to earthquake-prone areas on a big research ship, then using various mapping techniques to create detailed images of the ocean floor and sub-surface. These images allow scientists like him to better understand how the earth's plates move, with the end goal being better models and predictions of events like earthquakes. He's done research all over the world - went to Sumatra after the Christmas quake in 2006, Haiti after the quake in 2010, and has been to Japan, Patagonia, Alaska, and everywhere in between. He gets a lot of frequent flyer miles!

Recently, his research has led him Antarctica. He and a bunch of other scientists are currently on an icebreaker ship, studying several of the big ice shelves that are melting at an alarming rate. [Note: He is NOT on either of the icebreakers that were stuck earlier this year. Just FYI.] They are looking at the sea floor and water column for any clues as to what is causing the ice to melt so quickly - it will take months to analyze the data they are collecting, so no answers yet! But what I do have are some really incredibly cool pictures to share.

Hubby in an ice field

Ice shelf (I think the Totten).


Hubby looking slightly scruffy


The scruffiness continues. Note the "Lysts on the Lake" jousting shirt he's sporting. JOUSTING IN ANTARCTICA, FTW!!!!


These are all Adele's penguins.

They look cold!

So incredibly beautiful.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Pro photos from 2/1 schooling hunter show (Paddy pic spam!)

The pro photographer who was taking pictures at the 2/1 schooling hunter show posted her pics online. Apparently she thought Paddy was super cute, because like half of the pics are of him. Anyway, here they are, with bonus snarky commentary:

I should get bonus style points for the coat flip. Paddy should get bonus style points 'cause he's cute.

I have no idea what I'm doing with my upper body in this picture, but it looks really uncomfortable.

Jumping... with a weird twist.

Slightly more normal.

Are you tired of seeing this fence yet? I know I am.

Excellent pic of him cross-cantering after him landing on the right lead. Still trying to figure out why he does this.

You can tell how fast we're going not only by the fact that I'm saying "Hoooo," but also by his most excellent forelock, which does the Fabio hair thing over speeds of mach one-Haffie.

Look, his ears aren't forward!!!

Professional poser.

All photos courtesy of Gorgeous Equine Photography.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Paddington's Debut Event! Starter Novice @ Pine Hill

Yesterday was Paddy's first-ever event! We went Starter Novice (also called "Goldilocks" down here), which is Beginner Novice Dressage Test A, with 2'3 jumps in stadium and cross-country. I'd love to say that we kicked ass and took names, and we did... mostly. He was a super-duper boy and I was very pleased with his performance at his first outing, although our final score doesn't reflect that.

Saturday I had a miserable jump lesson (he stopped 4 times) that was definitely not what one wants in a confidence-building ride the day before a show. I was SO nervous, I just couldn't hold it together. That's weird because normally I do get some butterflies (who doesn't?) but it's usually the day of. I don't show unless I'm confident we can go out there and get the job done, and I was having serious second thoughts after that lesson. But... as Deb Rosen said last weekend, eventers need to have a little bit of "get it done no matter what" attitude, and I figured I'd never forgive myself if I didn't at least TRY. So I loaded the trailer Saturday night and was on the road in heavy fog early Sunday morning.

This was my first show where I've had a coach there in... oh, 15 years. Lisa Bauman of Austin Eventing did a great job of coaching us (she's only seen me ride twice), and it really showed for our dressage test. I'd planned on sitting all the trot work, but she suggested posting so we could both be a little looser. Sure enough, her advice paid off, and we put in a stellar (for us, right now) test. Our transitions were great, circles were round and our centerlines were straight (!!!!). Our only bobble was on the right lead canter, where he sort of bolted into it. I hadn't set him up well for the transition and it was in a corner with deep footing, so he was understandably unbalanced. We got it back under control in half a circle, but otherwise had a super nice test.

We got dinged a lot for him having an open mouth... steady, quiet, soft contact is definitely a work in progress.

But look! We can canter without running around like a freight train!

And we had some suuuuper fancy trot moments.

So at this point you guys are probably like "SO WHAT WAS YOUR SCORE ALREADY!?!?!" but I have this weird thing where I DO NOT look at my scores until I'm done with all my rides. I don't want to go into any phase thinking "If I drop a rail that will take me from 2nd to 8th" or whatever, so I just don't look. I also tell whoever I'm with not to tell me. It's not failsafe, but somehow not knowing takes some of the pressure off. So let's just say I was super happy with our test... especially since 2 minutes before we went in the arena, a MULE came into the warmup area and started braying. Paddy, bless his giant Haffie heart, didn't even bat an eyelash. What a good guy!

We had a bit of a break until stadium, so I cooled Paddy out, stuffed him with carrots, and changed clothes. My white breeches were pinching badly behind my left knee, so I opted for tan for stadium. I went and walked the course in between divisions (nice inviting figure 8 shaped course, but the footing was DEEP). One challenge during the day-long shows is to eat and stay hydrated, so I had a few bites and some water, then it was time to tack back up. Warmup for stadium was short - an X, 2x over the vertical, and 2x over the oxer. Lisa reminded me to stay back and keep my shoulders back, and to ride what I had. I had decided to trot the fences unless he felt really balanced, in which case I would canter if it seemed right. We stuck with the plan and cantered the one line in a lovely 6 strides - he was soft and just as nice as you please. I think we trotted the rest of the course but can't quite remember, lol! We had two hard rubs but the rails stayed up - maybe someone duct-taped them in place? Still, it only counts if they come down, so we were clear and still standing on our dressage score.

Looking sensible and not like a train wreck.

Last jump - can you see my smile?


We had a long wait before XC, so I took the opportunity to get more to eat and drink, visit with some friends, and do a bit of shopping. Let's just say I now have one of the new Horseware washable jackets, which I am SUPER excited about. Do you have any idea how gross a coat gets after a day fox hunting? I'm sorry, but no amount of dry-cleaning can possibly get that much horse snot and mud out of anything. Yay washable jackets!

Anyway, on to XC. We kept warmup short and sweet. Paddy felt tired for the first time I have ever ridden him. He still had plenty of gas, but I didn't feel like I was holding back a bullet train for once. We did a warmup log and oxer, then Lisa and I talked through what I would do if I had a refusal (I believe in having a plan, even if I had no intention of having a refusal!) After that, we headed over to the start box for countdown. I punched my watch with two seconds to go, then trotted out of the box and asked for a canter. Of course he got the wrong lead, but off we went anyway!

The first jump was a roll top, which went great. As we were cantering toward the second fence, I heard the Austin Eventing crew yell "GO PADDY!!!!" and had to smile. It's super nice to be with a group! 

On to fence two, which was the white coop in this picture:

Sproingy XC.

Three was a small ramp, no problem, and four was an option between the water and a log. I picked the water - he had a tiny hesitation and then plowed right in. We had a nice canter over to a second roll top for fence 5, and then over to a tiiiny drop for 6. Except that he leapt off it like there was an 8 foot moat with alligators in it.

Can you even SEE the drop? That's how tiny it was.

So of course I got bounced around in the saddle a bit, but managed to stay on board. The next jump - which you can just barely see as the blue dot past the drop - looked like this:

Seriously, that's 2'3???

This was one of the fences on the course I was worried about. It was narrow, out in a field, huge, and BLUE (you can also see it doubles as a BN jump coming the other way). I had planned to sit up, leg on, cluck to him, and ride hard. And I did just that. But remember that 8 foot leap off the tiny drop that was the fence before? Yeah, I didn't take enough time to get ourselves reorganized to actually make my riding plan work. Paddy ducked left, then right, then left, then stopped in front of it. I was disorganized, he was unbalanced - it was a recipe for disaster on a green horse. Totally my fault - he still needs me to keep us together at this stage in his career. Unlike Cash or Red, he's not going to save me and jump anyway if I don't have everything together.

So, we paused, took a deep breath, and approached again. He took it like a pro, and we were off to the next one. This was another one I was worried about - a big brush fence. But I stuck to the plan, coming in at a balanced trot and giving him plenty of time to look at it. Sit up, leg on, and he sailed over. Next was a small log pile, also no problem. Our last two fences were a big log and another roll top, both pointed toward home. We were both pretty tired by then, but I did my best to ride him to the fence and encourage him with leg. He took them both with no problem and finished well. We were roughly 20 seconds over time, but we did have a refusal and that's easily 20 seconds right there, so I know we were right on pace for this level.

Good 325 mpm canter - and we're even balanced and he's not pulling! My stirrups need to go up 5 holes though.

We walked back over to the start area to report our go to Lisa, and then I took him back to the trailer to cool out and feed him dinner. I cleaned stuff and put it away, since I knew I'd be too tired to do so when I got home. Finally, when I was ready to load, I went to check the scoreboard.

Sooo... yeah. I'm not going to lie, it would have been amazing to bring home a blue ribbon. Even so, I'm not at all disappointed with our day. We had a great dressage test, a good stadium round, and a cross-country course that was pretty amazing, considering where he is in his training. The mistakes we made were all me, not him being dirty or ugly. We definitely have our work cut out for us, but we're laying a solid foundation. 

Good Haffies get extra carrots... right?

Many thanks to Lisa Bauman for great coaching on-the-fly, and the folks at Austin Eventing for making us feel so welcome and providing a cheering section. Also, all the pics on this page (except for the last one) are courtesy of Lisa. Thanks so much!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Lightbulb moment

Last night we had another amazing dressage lesson. I’m telling you guys, having the right trainer makes all the difference in the world. There’s no way Paddy and I would be making so much progress if it weren’t for her.

As per usual, we worked on getting him off the left rein and moving away from my left leg. Walk and trot “squares” have been really helpful, because that gets his shoulders moving and makes me ride with an actively supportive inside leg. We’ve been working on shoulder in and leg yields, with varying degrees of success. To the left (moving away from my right leg), he’s responsive and tries, although we can’t consistently hold the angle and straightness. To the right (moving away from my left leg), it’s a different story.

Here’s what it feels like to ride it:

Imagine you’re going straight down centerline, prepping to leg yield right. Your horse is straight; you can see it in the mirror. You relax your right hip and nudge with your left leg, asking him to move away. Instead, he throws his haunches in left (the damn mirror doesn’t lie), and then he starts half-passing left, INTO your leg pressure! It’s the EXACT opposite of what you’re asking for, so you bump him with your left leg. He straightens, and you bump again. He throws his shoulders right, flexes his neck left (despite a steady right rein), and sort of drifts over to the right. Bah! You’re out of space in the arena, time to try a shoulder in to the right, down the long side. Only, all you get is haunches in! You pony-club kick with your left leg and he straightens out, but no amount of begging, pleading, and kicking can get his shoulders away from the wall. You drop back into the walk and sort of manage to make it happen as you crawl down the long side.

We went over body position. I’m not the greatest rider out there, but we made sure I wasn’t hampering from moving right. We know his right hind is the less strong leg, so crossover that direction is hard for him. Still, he was just NOT getting it. So we worked on other things – stretchy circles (we might actually have one, sort of!) switching between posting and sitting trot, canter departs, canter-trot transitions (for now, I am to do canter-walk except in tests so he doesn’t get too “bargey” going into the trot), strechy canter circles… and then at the end of the lesson we went back to laterals.

As we came down centerline for the umpteenth time, I cued for a right leg-yield… and something in his little brain must’ve clicked. He started crossing over INSANELY much. Granted, we were doing more of a messy half-pass (with bonus haunches leading right) instead of a leg yield, but HE WAS MOVING AWAY FROM MY LEFT LEG. We actually made it to the rail just after B, and the crossover I could see in the mirror was something I’ve never ridden before. It was one of those moments where you can just feel the horse do magic things under you, and you hope it never ends. Jeanne was yelling “Yes, YES!” from the rail and I was telling him “Good Boy!!!” with every step. I could tell he was SO pleased with himself, it was as if he was saying “See mom? I get it! I finally get it!” We quit on that, amongst lots of pats and praise. What a good pony!

What it felt like

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Deb Rosen Clinic: Cross-Country (what we've all been waiting for, right?)

After the dressage and stadium portion of the clinic on Saturday, we hauled to Pine Hill for XC schooling on Sunday. The two-hour drive was uneventful, and we arrived in plenty of time to tack up and have another zoomy warm-up session. Unfortunately, the rest of the group wasn't quite so on time, so we started about 30 minutes late.

We trotted and cantered an X to warm up, then moved on to a small log. I focused on keeping him rhythmic and balanced up to the jump in both the trot and canter, and any time he locked up on the left, I was to flex him left immediately. After a few times over the log, we practiced coming out of the starting box and jumping a different log. A lot of horses get REALLY amped in the start box (Cash was one), so we just walked out and then picked up the trot.

My first mistake of the day was when we moved up to a slightly larger log - I started leaning at the jump and got loose in the tack. That combined with Paddy's giant leap made for a not-so-classy landing, and I didn't reorganize well enough so he stopped at the following fence.

This brought us to three giant take-home points:
  • Before every jump, you need to have a conversation with your horse so that he knows what he's supposed to jump. It's different with every horse, but you can feel the moment when they "lock on," and you know they're with you. I remember Cash used to "lock" on to fences 10+ strides out - he was totally point and shoot. Well-trained horses do this almost automatically, whereas green horses like Paddy need more help and time - even if that means coming down to a trot 15 strides out so he can see it and focus on it. Getting that "lock" doesn't mean you can stop riding because they are going to jump, but it means you're on the same page. If you don't get that "lock," you'd better be prepared to ride hard, because your horse is probably off dreaming of carrots, or staring at the jump judge. Paddy never understood that we were jumping that second log, and I didn't ride him positively enough, so we didn't make it.
  • If approaching at the canter, sit UP and put your butt in the saddle. Pretend like you're riding canter in a dressage test - no two-point, no half-seat... SIT DOWN. Ride up and forward to the jump, keeping steady. This works shockingly well.
  • I cannot be a passenger and hope that he jumps. He's bold, he's forward, and that's great, but forward does NOT mean that you're going to go over if you're not really riding to the fence. Early on, I felt like I was riding OK but was definitely not pushing him to the fence, but toward the end of the ride, I kept my body up and back, my leg on, and rode all the way to the base. The difference was AMAZING - I KNEW we were going over, because I felt him lock and I rode him all the way there. I have to make that the "norm" instead of the occasion if we want to jump All The Things on the first try. 
Haffies are so awesome they can jump with their eyes closed! Also, my equitation got a ton better after I started riding for realz.

After that little discussion, I really got after myself. I got focused, I kept my leg on and out in front of me. I made sure HE was focused too. And damn if it didn't work. We hopped over a little white coop, blasted over a roll top, went through the water and over another log, and finally took a tiny ramp. I swear he splashes more than any other horse I've ever ridden - I was positively SOAKED after three trots through the water! We ended by doing a small course of 5 jumps, and I was very pleased with how I rode him and how he went. 

I swear I'm jumping that fence like it's 4' high. Maybe we should just go find a 4' fence already?

Overall, it was a great clinic and I'm really glad we had the opportunity to school one more time before our first event next weekend. I wish we'd had more time and could have schooled more jumps on the course, but again, it's hard with a group. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Deb Rosen Clinic: Stadium

The stadium session with Deb was late in the afternoon, so Paddy got to hang out on the trailer with Taran in the interim, eating hay and generally annoying each other. When it got close to time for our session, we tacked and headed over to the outdoor. Once again, we did the zoomy trot warmup – I’m pretty sure we terrified some of the other folks as we careened around the arena, but I kept his nose between his shoulders and just let him do his thing. After about 5 minutes, he let me know he was done with the zoomies, so I pushed him to keep trotting for another minute or two, did some serpentines and circles, and took a walk break. We did some squares at the walk and trot to get his shoulders under control (and off my left leg/rein), and then we got going with the jumping.

We started out with a grid of 6 ground poles. The goal was to canter in and out without getting unbalanced or rushy in the middle. I had my work cut out for me to get him to canter in soft and balanced, and then make corrections in the middle as needed. Last time we tried this in November, he ducked out left and I almost ate a standard, but this time we were straight as an arrow. Eventually the ground poles became 3 Xs with spacer poles in between, and we managed to have some lovely straight, cadenced runs through. SO exciting when your work pays off!

After that, we moved on the Circle of Death exercise. Four poles on the ground in a circle, four canter strides between each pole. You have to be balanced and have really strong outside aids to make this work, and you have to be REALLY determined and looking ahead. We nailed it the first time through at a trot, and then nailed it a few more times when the poles went up to Xs. We were not able to keep the canter in between each jump because a) we don’t have the leads yet, b) he’s not that balanced, and c) I’m not that good, but I focused on turning his shoulder (with my outside leg forward) and that helped a lot. We never missed a jump even though we had a couple of ugly twisty-turny approaches. 

New jumps must be cleared with plenty of space, just in case of lava or alligators.

Once again, there were a couple of big takeaways:
  • Do NOT come in to a fence in a canter if he’s unbalanced/leaning/strong. We are at a level that it’s OK to come back to trot and trot every single fence. 
  • Do NOT make a move over the jump like I’m jumping 4’ (haha, like I’ve never heard that before!). Think about not letting my helmet move. 
  • When in doubt, don’t worry about pretty. GET IT DONE. MAKE IT HAPPEN. I heard this over and over again, directed at every rider. This is a little different from what I hear in my H/J lessons… not that I don’t need to get it done, but it’s OK to make a circle or whatever so that I can be balanced and rhythmic. Even though coming in balanced and rhythmic is super important, I also think it’s important to KNOW, deep down, that even if you’re not coming in perfectly, you can still make it happen if you ride hard and are determined. Sh!t happens out on XC, and every fence isn’t going to ride like you’re in a hunter round. You have to know you can make it work. 

We finished up with a small course – a line where I trotted both fences, a vertical across the center of the arena, an oxer, and then the grid of Xs. He was a super good boy and even though we trotted everything with some cantering after each fence, I felt like we stayed straight and mostly balanced.  

Haffie Power!

Unfortunately, my lesson with with a big group, so each individual rider didn’t get to jump that many times.  But again, clinics are tough on everyone – the clinician doesn’t know everyone’s skill level, so it can be hard to arrange the groups so they work well. Hopefully if we do this again, we’ll be able to get a little more jumping in!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Deb Rosen Clinic: Dressage

This weekend was the clinic with Deb Rosen. She’s a Rolex competitor, so it was super cool to get an upper-level eventer’s perspective on Paddy.

Deb Rosen on The Alchemyst. For the record, I'm never jumping anything like that. Ever.

After three days off, Paddy was READY TO GO on Saturday morning for dressage. Unfortunately our warmup was pretty limited, since there was a kid’s lesson going on in the outdoor and the other clinic riders were in the covered arena. That left the round pen, so we did our new trot-till-you-drop warmup routine in there. Paddy was super distracted because we brought Taran along as well so Fuzzypony could ride, so they spent quite a lot of time calling to each other. It was annoying but I just ignored it and kept him moving.

It’s interesting how different a clinic is from a regular lesson. You show up and ride for 30 minutes with someone you’ve never met and has never seen you or your horse. You just sort of dive right in and they start picking you apart. There’s no time for breaks, no time for breathers. You ride what you have and work through the issues. Deb was super awesome because she immediately picked up how heavy he is on the left aids.  She had me constantly correcting him for left bend – as she put it, pretend like you have Tourettes’ and just keep annoying him about it. My left leg was SO TIRED by the end of our ride, I swear. I really need to start riding with a whip – I recently got the tiny spurs out, so that helps, but I need a whip to back it up.

There were a couple of big take-away points from my ride:

  • Keep the rhythm slow. This is a constant theme and even more important as we make our switch from the mach-one-Haffie warmup trot to the now-we’re-working trot. Use my core to half-halt him when he gets quick.
  • Remind him CONSTANTLY to bend left. All the time, every step. Don’t quit, don’t take no for an answer.
  • Do not canter more than 5-10 strides at a time. As soon as I feel him start to fall apart, back to trot, reorganize, then canter again. Cantering while he’s unbalanced won’t help, and right now he’s not strong enough to hold it for longer than that.

It was a pretty damn awesome ride, all things considered. I rode him in Taran's baucher and it was enough bit - of course my new Myler baucher arrived during the day Saturday, so now I'll be using that. I could half-halt him effectively with my body – a month ago, he would have blown me off, so that’s pretty huge progress. It’s still very hard to get him off the left aids and into the right aids, but it’s happening. The canter… wow, it’s getting so much better. SO MUCH. Exhibit A: right lead canter footage.

See? We haz canter! 

Deb was super positive and seemed pleased with the ride we put in – I know I was! I was also drenched in sweat at the end of our 30 minutes of torture, despite it being 40 degrees with a 10 degree wind chill. Anyone who says riding isn’t hard work clearly isn’t doing it right!

Friday, February 7, 2014

TGIF. Also, it's cold here.

I had such good plans to ride this week, but it's been really cold here. I know, y'all up north will scoff, but the past two nights it's been below 20 with the wind chill. That's not a big deal if you're in a nice covered arena that blocks the wind, but I ride in an open field and since I'm not as hardcore as Andrea, I wussed out. This wouldn't be a big deal except that the clinic I've been wait listed for actually came through, so now I get to ride in front of a Rolex competitor and hope I don't fall off. 'Cause Paddy is gonna be fresh like whoa tomorrow after three days off.

Not actually taken this week, because this week the sun is not shining. But it looks cold, right?


In other news, it's a good thing Paddy is from Michigan, because apparently none of the other horses know how to break ice on the water troughs. They all stand around and wait for him to break it, then get a drink. Silly southern horses!

Still revoltingly cute.

Keep your fingers crossed for us tomorrow that I can stay in the saddle and not screw up too badly. Cuteness only gets you so far with a clinician... at some point, you gotta have some skillz too! We've got a dressage lesson in the morning, then a stadium ride in the afternoon. Oh, and it's supposed to warm up to the mid-60s. Here's hoping the weather forecast is actually correct for once!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Dressage: better and better

Y’all, Paddy is just the most awesome horse ever. I may be slightly biased, I know, but he just keeps getting better and better, every ride
Sunday we had another dressage lesson. I told Jeanne about our Very Forward Warmup experiment, and she said that we should try it for the lesson. We did maybe 10-15 minutes of trot at whatever speed Paddy wanted, where the only requirement was for him to keep his nose between his shoulders (that is, stay straight). He wanted to look around a bit but Jeanne was adamant that we are working now, distractions are not allowed. Poor Haffie. Toward the end of the trot, we had a nice forward canter in each direction where I let him find his own balance on a 20 meter circle. It felt like we were zooming around, but Jeanne assured me it didn’t look like it.

After a walk break, we got to work. I was concerned it would be hard to get him back to a more manageable speed, but after a few squares, 10 m circles, and some walk laterals, he was very willing to steady his trot rhythm. Jeanne commented that he was really tracking up and was much more over his back than usual, so we both agreed that the full-speed-ahead trot warmup seems to be the way to go! He’s still throwing his haunches left whenever I ask him to move off my left leg, like in a leg-yield right, so we worked on making sure he’s moving away from my leg rather than into it.

We also did some leg-yields on the wall since he didn’t seem to be getting the leg-yield to the wall concept, and that was much more successful. Surprisingly, he was great to the right with plenty of angle and moving off my left leg (whut?), but to the left he got stiff in the left rein and tried to throw his left shoulder. We just threw in a couple of squares to the left and got the shoulder back under control – it’s like the magical exercise, I swear.

We moved on to canter, and our transitions were better than ever. Canter left is really coming along – we were able to do rudimentary canter squares on the left lead, which of course got him to rock back, stand up, and not fall in. The right lead is much, much better, but it still feels like we’re zooming around, and he’s definitely less balanced on the right lead. I also actually RODE the downward transitions instead of letting him flop into a trot, and although we have 5 or so steps of ick, I’m able to put my leg on and ask him to rebalance relatively well.

Toward the end, we worked on halting straight and square. The straight is getting better… some of the time. The other times we look sort of drunk as we stagger to a halt. I love having mirrors, but it’s also horribly obvious when your horse zig-zags around. Oops. At least I can laugh at our attempts? I worked really hard on keeping my weight even, through my reins and seat and legs, so that he wouldn’t have the slightest excuse to be anything but straight. He’s super sensitive when he wants to be and will use my being uneven as a reason to flop around. I mean, it’s a perfectly legit reason to flop, lol, but it’s hard to be precise with your body! Of course, if I ask it of him, I should ask it of myself as well, right?

So much to work on, but getting better every time!

Posin' like a pro!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

What's your warmup routine?

Back in the day, when I'd been riding Cash 6 days a week for several years, we had our warmup routine down pat. I'm sure the routine evolved over time, but I don't remember it ever being a conscious process. What I do remember is what the routine was: two laps of walk each direction around the (very large) arena, two laps of trot each way, and then a lap of canter each direction. This was all done on the buckle, and I didn't ask anything of him other than to go forward in the requested gait. I didn't ask for round, or straight, or anything - just stick on the rail and go forward. I remember that I used to do a lot of trot work with contact before cantering, and then one day I cantered him much earlier in the session... like magic, he was much more over his back and into the bridle after the canter. After that experience, cantering became part of our warmup - do it early, do it often.

I'm still trying to figure out what works with Paddy. Normally I focus on having a steady, slow rhythm (because we all know how zoomy Paddy can be), and since our last dressage lesson, I've also been working on getting him straight and evenly in both reins by moving his shoulders around. But yesterday, I just didn't have the energy to be super demanding of him and ride every step, which is really what's required to make straight and steady happen for us right now.  So instead, I took him out on the back track for a little conditioning work. We did our usual mile or so of walking to get loose, and then we did about 10 minutes of trot, alternating directions with short walk breaks. He was allowed to go whatever speed he wanted, but he couldn't haul on me and he had to stay balanced and over his back. I rode with a really soft rein, even as he flew over the ground, and tried to remember not to let him get really heavy on the left rein.

Note to self: We could totally win a trotting race against a Standardbred. Just sayin'.

After we did our little trot session, I decided that I did actually have it in me to ask for some more demanding work. I picked up the reins and started on some 15 meter trot circles, along with some trot squares and halts. He had a faster tempo than I would have liked, but he remained balanced and very over his topline. I could really feel his back lift up, and that was new. We also did some canter, which, while fast, was balanced and longer/lower than usual. I think that's a direct result of our warmup - normally if we work on slow rhythm, coming over the back doesn't happen so much.

So I don't think we have a warmup routine that works for us just yet, but it's interesting to try different things and see what sort of ride we have because of it. Maybe I need to let him trot it out for the first 10 minutes or so, then ask for more steady work? I don't know, but we'll continue to try different things. Paddy is a big thinker, and he needs the mental challenge of something other than zoomy trot to really get him working. At the same time, I don't want to kill the forward or stifle his desire to come over his back by having him do too much slow/collected work. It's a tough balance!

What do you do for warmup? What works for your horse and what doesn't?

Unrelated: I looked closely at the pics from the show on Saturday and discovered Mr. Sneaky trying to sample his winnings. I swear he has a prehensile nose!

Monday, February 3, 2014

50 pages of cuteness

When I got Paddy, I had to become a member of the American Haflinger Registry to transfer his papers to my name. While I was at it, I signed us up for two year-end award programs - we'll see how that goes! But what I didn't realize is that AHR membership includes a bi-monthly magazine of Haffies.

That's right... and ENTIRE magazine with nothing but adorable Haflingers in it! If you think Paddington is cute, I almost died looking through this magazine.

So handsome

I'll take this one.

Also these guys... especially the one that jumped a 5' 6" jump! I'm sure I can find room for them somewhere around here...

The last page of the magazine is called "Between Golden Ears". It's nothing but pics taken through Haffie ears. Ermahgawd, they are all SO CUTE AND TINY. I want them all!

I think I will see about sending in a picture of Paddington for the ears page, although he'll have a lot of competition - there are a lot of cute Haffie ears in there!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

2/1 schooling hunter show: Breaking news! Paddy's not a hunter

Saturday, Lauren and I went to a tiny hunter schooling show at a farm about an hour north of us. Unlike my last experience at a tiny hunter schooling show, this one was very well-run, and the people there were very friendly. I contend the fact that there were several eventers and at least one dressage rider there helped both the timeliness and the overall cheerfulness of the folks there, but Lauren swears that hunter/jumper shows are normally like that. Hm.

Photo courtesy of Gorgeous Equine Photography. I actually wore a grey hunt coat instead of my usual black dressage jacket. Yay me?

Lauren and I both entered the 2'3 hunter division and the 2'3 eq class. Tragically for us, so did 10 little girls under the age of 14 or so, all of whom were mounted on well-trained ponies with auto changes. Still, we had a great time!

Simon and Paddy becoming BFFs at the show

We were able to school before the show started, and Paddy didn't take a second look at any of the jumps. Granted, they were all poles with one gate and one wall, but still, I was very pleased with how he went. We're still figuring each other out for warm-up - I think he needs way more time than I was able to give him, and that showed when our actual rounds begin. Sure, I can get him straight and on the aids after 45 minutes in a dressage lesson, but without that, we are motoring around the turns and falling in like mad. It's less than ideal, but it's not like all the pieces are magically going to fall into place overnight. A steady round is going to take a lot of work on all the pieces between the fences - we're getting better, but we're certainly not able to put in a steady, consistent, balanced round yet.

Paddy sports the classy tousled look

After we schooled, we took the boys back to the trailer to chill for almost 2 hours while the 2' division went. Eventually,  we tacked back up and headed back to the arena. The only problem with the show grounds was that there really wasn't any warmup area. We were able to walk and trot a little in a rather rocky field, and do one little X. That really wasn't enough for Paddy, so we went into our warmup round really underprepared. My only goal was to keep him steady, relatively balanced, and not suck, and I'd say that didn't really work. The last line was especially bad - headed straight for the in gate at mach one-Haffie. The second round was even worse - at one point we were barreling down a line with no brakes to speak of. For the third round, I decided that we needed to change things up, so we trotted into every line and all the singles. It wasn't pretty, but he sat back and started listening to me, and I started riding better. Finally, in our last round, which was equitation, I finally got things together. Paddy was much more relaxed and balanced in between the fences, listening, and we got most of our spots. We still weren't really hunter-show worthy, but I was much happier with our round as a whole.

Our second round. You may want to close your eyes - or better yet, just not watch.

We had a bit of a wait before our flat classes. There were 12 people in the arena together, and it was a pretty small arena, especially with all the jumps in it. In the first class, I was a little worried about how he'd so with so many other horses around him, but I needn't have. Aside from breaking several times in a canter both directions (my fault, not his), he was very good. We aimed for a steady trot, which we mostly got, but of course he's not got the long-and-low hunter frame that the judges were looking for. Our final class was hunter equitation on the flat, and he was even better for that one. I tried to ride quietly and do better with the canter leads, and we successfully had nice walk-canter transitions both ways - and I managed to keep it. It was enough for a 6th place! It was our only ribbon of the day, but it was hard-fought and I'm pretty damn proud of it.

They had cool red-and-white ribbons for Valentine's Day! 

Paddy got like 1293873571293 comments on how cute he was. The photographer couldn't stop taking pictures of him - every time I turned around she was snapping a shot of him. At one point she asked me if he ever WASN'T posing for the camera, and I said that I was pretty sure he practiced cute looks in the mirror.

So there you have it. We're definitely not cut out for the hunters, but we had a great time with Lauren and Simon and we lived. I have a much better idea of what to expect at shows where jumps are involved, and I am understanding what sort of warmup Paddy needs to put in a good performance. Despite all the zoomies, he's such a great little guy and such a trier. He was honest and sane and got better as the day went on. I really can't ask for more!