Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Sunday just got even more Absolut Awesome

So you remember how proud I was of the Sparkplug after Sunday?  Well, in talking to Honorary Big Sister Jen today, Sunday just got even awesomer.

That train?  A bit over Beginner Novice.  The bridge?  Solid BN.  The wavy rails?  Another solid BN.  The dog run cabin?  Novice.  Yeah, novice.  The bench at the end?  Also Novice.  And the banks we jumped up?  Training.  Yes, training.

This all means that Sparky, whose poor brain I didn't want to fry by increasing height compared to what he is used, who had previously jumped 2'9" once, has officially jumped higher than I had ever previously jumped with him - while on cross country.  Holy crap!  I had NO idea!  Wow.

(Postlogue: BN = 2'7" max height for non-brush; N = 2'11" max height for non-brush; T = 3'3" max height for non-brush.  This means that Sparky jumped up at least a 3'0" bank... and that 2'9" is starting to look small).

Monday, March 14, 2011

Absolut Awesome

Considering that I am now in possession of an injured wrist, a finger that got smashed and is now swollen and impressively bruised, and a very sore back, one would be inclined to think that I had a terrible weekend.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Sunday, Sparky and I tagged along with Honorary Big Sister Jen and Tiki to go XC schooling at Calimar Farm and meet up with The $700 Pony (of The $700 Pony fame) and her staff, Marisa.  Calimar is a very inviting, nice facility with a beautiful water complex.  The owners are wonderfully nice, as well, which makes it all the better.  Now some of you may recall that I wasn't sure if I was going to take Star or Sparky.  I guess subconciously I always knew that I was taking Sparky - when I left Jen a message on Saturday night, I said something about giving Sparky a bath Sunday morning; but this was before I "decided" to take Sparky!

We arrived at Calimar and proceeded to unload the horses.  Well, Tiki, anyway.  Sparky decided that he was having pretty much none of this "backing of the straight load trailer" stuff.  After trying to convince him otherwise (and getting my finger smashed in the process, hence the swelling and impressive bruising), I decided to use Sparky's driving ability to my advantage.  A leadrope on either side, and Sparky was convinced to back off the trailer, just as if he were backing under harness.  Brilliant.  I was pretty proud of myself for that one.

We started our warm-up in the stadium field.  W-T-C both directions, with extra emphasis on the right lead, which he picked up with no problem.  Near the end, Sparky had a pretty nice right lead canter.  Hopped over some crossrails and applied "the George Morris Method to Schooling Scary Obstacles*" (hence forward referred to as the George Morris Method) to a jump of blue barrels lying on their side.  No problem either direction.  Then I decided to try a couple more of the stadium jumps - a red and white vertical with a red gate and a pretty decent (for Sparky)-sized blue and white oxer.  Sparky hopped over them like it was no big deal.

We then moved on to jump out into the XC field over the Lincoln logs.  The Lincoln logs jump was our "oh-my -gosh-wow-that-was-amazing-I-can't-believe-we-did-it!" jump the last time Sparky and I schooled at Calimar.  It was pretty much the biggest thing he had ever jumped (certainly the biggest solid jump), and no one was quite sure that he would do it.  When he did, we were amazed, and I was giddy beyond belief and absolutely thrilled with my pony.  Coming up to it this time, I found myself thinking that it looked small... and Sparky went right over!

Jen and Marisa put their ponies over the hanging log, and I was thinking that Sparky and I would take a pass on it for the day.  But then we got closer to it, and it didn't look as big as I'd thought.  So I decided we'd give it try.  No problem - up and (way) over!  Over the little-ish log on the ground, and over to the ditches.  Of course, with all the rain we had earlier in the week, there was actual water running through them.  Sparky managed to put on his big-boy pants and go over the little one a few times, but wasn't ever comfortable with the bigger one.  I had two options: A) Push the issue, and go over it, or B) Forget about it.  Since I knew that his insecurity stemmed only from the water, and because he's done that same ditch with no problem without water, I decided that if I was going to fry his brain, I would do it on something more worthwhile.  So we walked up to the edge of it, called it good, and went over the little ditch a couple more times.

Jen led the way to the next grouping of jumps - another kinda funny looking log, a biggish bank, and a bridge.  Sparky and I did approached each jump individually first.  The log was pretty much a no-brainer.  The bank up was a bit harder for him - he literally almost climbed up it the first time.  And then we came to the bridge.  I wasn't sure it was going to happen - it looked HUGE.  A few false starts, I was pretty well reconciled that it was just too big, and it wasn't happening.  But then, after one "last" attempt, employing the George Morris Method, I felt Sparky actually offer to try and jump.  So we approached once more, and over he went.  Came back the other way, and he actually trotted right up to it and went over with no hesitation.  We then followed Jen's lead, and strung the three jumps together both directions (omitting the bank down - I wanted to do a smaller bank down first).  While Jen and Marisa played around some more, Sparky and I tried our hand at the  train made of barrels.  Sparky had no problem with it, and the log next to it was cake.

Up next were the ramped "wavy logs" that I was never able to convince Sparky to go over the last time we were at Calimar.  He did that with no problem, while Jen did a big red coop next to it.  Sparky and I took a pass on the coop.  It was easily bigger than anything he'd ever jumped, and it didn't seem like the ideal jump for introducing more height.  We then proceeded to the water complex.  Sparky went right in, and also jumped down a little bank into the water and back out up a little bank with no problem.  I knew I wanted to try the cabin right by the water wheel, but the sound of the water wheel can be distracting, so I decided to try another cabin first.  The dog-run cabin looked pretty okay, so we did that.  Coming back the other direction, though, Sparky decided that now it looked pretty scary.  As I was working with him on it, Jen yelled over, "Nicole, this one's smaller!"  I replied, "He already did this one the other way!"  A little more schooling (again with the George Morris Method), and Sparky went over.  We then moved on to the cabin by the water wheel.  Silly me for thinking he would be distracted; he went right over!  We then played a little more in the water complex, jumping in from a slightly bigger bank, and eventually out the biggest plain bank.

By this time, Sparky was getting pretty tired and was pretty close to the end of what his brain could handle for the day.  We all headed back towards the beginning.  Jen was determined that to get back out, she was going to jump the bench that always rattles her.  The $700 Pony did it first, and then Jen followed with Tiki.  It was pretty good... but I know Jen well enough to know that sometimes she has to be pushed just a little bit more... so I told her she had to come back over.  Which also meant that she would have to jump it back out again.  And she did, with no problem at all.  The $700 Pony followed.  Now, I had planned on jumping back out over the Lincoln logs... but looking at the bench, it really didn't look *too* bad.  So I decided that Sparky and I would just jump out over that.  Again, he went right over.  What a good boy!

Gave my Napolean Dynamite lots of pats and praise and hopped off.  I absolutely could not be more proud of him - he did absolutely everything I asked, and even jumped almost all of the same things as the "big horses."  He might get this figured out, yet!

PS - For those of you wondering about the where the wrist works in: I injured it on Saturday helping a girl take off a boot.  Yes, you just read that right.     

Thursday, March 10, 2011

So Excited!

I'm pretty damn excited right now - really looking forward to Sunday.  Honorary Big Sister Jen made plans to go cross country schooling with another friend, and she invited me along!  Yay!  We're going to Calimar Farms, which is where Sparky made his first-ever XC schooling trip.  It's a beautiful facility... maybe this time I'll manage to not fall off at the ditch!  I still haven't decided which horse to take.  Sparky is the DEP - Designated Event Pony - but I also feel like Star might like to go, and have a break from our usual routine.  Hmmmm....  The important part here, though, is that Jen obviously understood that I was right when I posted on her Facebook page, "No fair going XC schooling without me!" hee, hee... (nevermind that in reality, I am a good source for gas-splitting needs).

Also in the future (next weekend, that is), Star will be playing at hunter for one of Honarary Big Sister Jen's students at Wills Park.  The girl who will be riding her is on Jen's IEA team and regularly takes lessons with Jen.  She's an absolute doll, so I'm excited about her showing Star.  Jen will take Star to PWF on Monday so her student can ride Star in her lesson.  They'll be showing in the Jr/Sr division, with jumps at 2'6".  I'm excited to hear how it goes.

Maybe I should actually pull Star's mane... 

Monday, March 7, 2011

And Sometimes More is Just Right...

Last Saturday was the Regional Finals for the PWF IEA team, coached by My Honorary Big Sister Jen.  This doesn't really relate to much in my life (other than the fact that Star carts children around at IEA shows).  However, what does relate to my life is Star's bitting.  I feel like I'm always talking about bits...

Anyway, at the Greg Best clinic, Greg had wanted to try a single-jointed rubber Pelham on Star.  One was not available that day, so we modified a loose ring elevator (fitted it with a curb strap) to use, and I used that the rest of the day.  And I then proceeded to go on a Bit Procurement Process.  During said process, I purchased a Myler jointed Pelham (curved metal mouthpiece), a Korsteel Flexi Mouth jointed Pelham, a JP jointed loose ring elevator (curved metal mouthpiece), and the icing on the cake: a beautiful Stuebben single-jointed rubber covered Tom Thumb Pelham with a 15mm-diameter mouthpiece.  Most rubber Pelhams have pretty thick mouthpieces, so I was very excited to find what I thought was pretty close to the perfect bit.

Only not.  Just as she tends to do with every other jointed bit, Star pretty much ran through the "perfect" Pelham.  (And the modified loose ring elevator, too, once back on home turf).  *Sigh*  Can't put a crossrail rider on a horse that runs through the bit.  So back to a solid, unjointed mouthpiece for Star.  Which is fine... it just means that the Bit Procurement Process continues.  If anyone can point me to both a Tom Thumb and "normal" (longer) -shanked mullen mouth rubber covered Pelham with not greater than a 16mm-diameter mouthpiece, please let me know.

All three horses (including Kellie here) flatted well last week.  I kept Star in the bit she ultimately wore for the IEA Regionals - a traditional Pelham with a ported mouth.  I did not, however, ask her to carry herself in a "Morgan" frame.  Instead, I asked her to carry herself in a (fairly nice, if I say so myself) lower-level, long-ish and low-ish dressage frame.  And I'll be damned if she didn't actually work the bit in her mouth and end up with some "lipstick."  I think that in the immediate future, I'm going to just keep her in a Pelham, and not switch back to a snaffle for flatwork.  I know there is a danger of a false frame using the Pelham, but really, the bit just works better for her right now.  Why intentionally make my poor mare dislike even more something she already doesn't like (that would be dressage, folks)?  So we'll stick with the Pelham until she has better built the requisite muscles for dressage-y work, and then we'll try to switch back to a snaffle.

Sparky has seemingly forgotten what it means to bend, so we're working to re-establish that.  We've also been working quite a bit on his right-lead canter.  I'm not so much concerned with it being a truly quality canter right now... the goal is to build up his "right-lead canter muscles" so that we CAN have a quality canter in both directions.  I may actually work with Susan a bit on counter-canter for Sparky, to help strengthen those muscles.

Kellie had a really good work.  I did something very different with her than usual: we walked for a good 30-40 minutes before doing ANY trot work at all.  Bending, in her mind, is iffy, and staying nice and swingy through the back at a trot is also suspect.  So we stayed at the walk for a good, long time, and I slowly took up more contact (while still encouraging her to stretch over her back) and slowly asked her to bend.  We did circles, serpentines, spirals-in, spirals-out, baby shoulder-in and baby haunches in... all at the walk.  When we finally picked up the trot, she seemed much more willingly to maintain good working form.  More circles and changes of direction and then finally a right-lead canter.  Just a couple circles, with relatively decent transitions and not much "omigod, I can't hold myself up!"  Called it good with that.  We were supposed to have a lesson on Sunday with Susan, but with the crappy weather (a cold, windy day with all her pasturemates running around like idiots sounds like perfect conditions to ask an opinionated part-Arab mare to bend, no?), we postponed until Tuesday.  I'll definitely try to get on her ahead of the appointed lesson hour so we can walk around again... though, by then, it will have been a week since she was last ridden, so who knows what she'll be like!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Less is Sometimes More

The weather has been beautiful lately, so I've been taking every opportunity I can to ride.  Last week I was actually able to ride with Honorary Big Sister Jen for the first time in ages.  She had set a few jumps in the arena for us to use... I was happy to see that they were set closer to "Sparky height" than "Star height," as I had planned on riding Napolean first. 

Fresh on the heels of what I had gleaned from the Greg Best clinic, I had made the decision to try a new bit on Sparky.  Sparky is an interesting horse... he will get behind the bit on the flat, but sometimes "makes a bid" for the jumps and gets a little strong.  In my lesson with Jen's-Boss-Lady, it was mentioned that the George (that would be George Morris, demi-god of all hunter-jumperdom) would likely suggest a little twist in the mouthpiece for Sparky.  Jen's-Boss-Lady said she wasn't sure she would agree with that... mainly it was put out there as an idea to consider.  It started me thinking that maybe I would start flatting him in a milder bit, and keep his current bit (JP full cheek with copper rolly-ball) just for jumping.  I didn't at all consider putting Sparky in a twist; knowing my horse, I knew that was not the right answer.

In the Greg Best clinic, Greg changed many horses to bits that were softer than their current mouth hardware.  He wanted the horses to not be afraid of contact, and he wanted the riders to not be afraid of contact.  In other words, he wanted the riders to be able to maintain contact with the horse's mouth over the jump without inflicting pain on the horse due to the horse being overbitted.  If the horse is still going willingly forward into contact and not making ugly faces or acting out, then the horse is not overbitted.  ("Bit to the horse's sensitivity level, not the horse's energy level").

With this in mind, I tried a loose ring Nathe on Sparky.  I had already been toying with the idea of trying it on the flat, but decided that there was value to trying it when jumping, as well.  So, new bit in hand, er, mouth, we started out.  Aside from the fact that Sparky would. not. bend. at. all., it was a good ride.  The not bending was later revealed to have been likely due to my brand-spankin' new Ariat Westchester dress boots and subsequent inability to really use my leg.  The first jump we approached was the biggest crossrail Sparky has ever seen (~2' at the center), so of course, he said, "No, thanks."  Little turd.  I wasn't expecting him to hesitate - I mean, it's a crossrail - so I hadn't done enough to prevent his stop and detour.  So we tried again, and it was no problem, except for a little over-jumping.  I'm telling ya, 4' will be NO problem for this horse... once he stops jumping 4' over 2', that is.

After the crossrail a couple times, then moved on to the line consisting of the stacked cavaletti and the cabinet.  The cav stack was only about 2' and the cabinet is 18", so I knew it would be no problem.  The point was to keep Sparky listening to me and going straight.  Set on a "regulation" four-stride distance, Sparky did six strides.  Okay, well, at least he's listening to me and not running off!  We did the line a few times, and Sparky was very good each time.  The halt at the end of the line sometimes got wiggly, be overall, he did a good job of staying straight before, between, and after the jumps.  And he continued to listen to me, even with the next-to-nothing Nathe bit.  We called it good with that.

I jumped Sparky around again on Sunday; this time we did all the jumps (I lowered a couple from where Jen had set them previously).  We again focused on straight and listening, but also threw in "no refusing" and "right lead" (as in opposite of left).  Sparky was pretty much as perfect as I could ask.  He worked his little butt off for me and jumped over everything with no problem at all.  We continued to work on straight and on staying consistent.  The four-stride line was done in five strides every time on Sunday.  I'm okay with this, because you can always ask a naturally forward horse for "more forward;" it's the idea that sometimes "whoa" is needed that is often more difficult.  All in all, a very good day for my little Napolean... maybe there's hope, yet!