Thursday, October 20, 2011

Project Pony Swap: Day Three

I'm either brave or stupid - I haven't quite figured out which - but sometimes, you just gotta do what you gotta do.
Last night was my third ride on Tiki for Project Pony Swap.  I had just ridden Sparky - who was very good - in his Duo bit, so his "bad boy" copper-rolly-ball pacifier had just been removed from his bridle.  And Tiki's bridle was bitless.  And Honorary Big Sister Jen had mentioned that she sometime wanted to try Sparky's "bad boy" copper-rolly-ball pacifier on Tiki.  No time like the present!  And, well, I didn't really want to ride in the dressage saddle last night, either.  At least I'm somewhat honest about my motives.

So I rode Tiki in Honorary Big Sister Jen's jump saddle and Sparky's bit.  And it was the worst ride I've ever had on Tiki - not that I've really had that many.  As I was getting Tiki ready, he seemed fresh and a bit pissy.  Well, when it's suddenly 45 degrees and windy, I can understand the fresh part.  We went up to the arena, and again started with the usual W-T-C on a loose rein.  Immediately, I knew I was in for a tricky ride.  Even on a loose rein, Tiki usually bends relatively correctly around turns.  Not so last night.  I felt like I was riding a sluggish board.  He did seem to like the bit at least somewhat, however - I could hear him playing with  it and sucking on it.

I worked with Tiki for quite a while, trying to gain some semblance of "in front of the leg" and "correct bend."  It improved slightly, but he still just felt tight.  At one point, I got off him and lunged him each direction for a minute to see if he was off.  He seemed fine, but obviously I needed to change my game plan.  So I pulled off the saddle.

Now, like any rider, I have my weaknesses.  But the one thing I do know is that I have a good seat.  I was hoping to use this in two ways: #1) Maybe I could convince Tiki to loosen up by him only feeling a nice, following seat, rather than a saddle that may or may not be in the usual place (Jen typically sets her saddle further forward than I; I tried to get it in the same place, but maybe I didn't); #2) Maybe it would help me stay on!  (Because you know, riding a horse you don't ride that often bareback on a chilly, windy night is so often a good idea).

I remounted and after trotting for a little bit, finally felt like maybe we we getting somewhere.  We never found that same, really nice, swingy trot that we had last week, but at least I wasn't riding a board; we found some bend, but Tiki still didn't think being in front of my leg was a great idea.  Worked on that a bit, and once the trot was decent, I decided to move up into a canter, just to have some positive canter work.  The canter was decent, but certainly not to where I could try any "cantering in a teacup" or magical "closing my knee = collection."  But we did have bend, and we did have acceptance of the bit, so I called it good. 

I didn't want push for too much longer, because my primary goal once I went to bareback was to just finish with something remotely positive.  I had noticed, however, that I could not for the life of me sit up.  One of my favorite off-color expressions (warning: parental guidance suggested; language) is that riders need to have shoulders like a princess and hips like a whore.  There were definitely no princess shoulders goin'on.  More like Quasimodo.  I was completely collapsed in my abs, and though by this point Tiki was going relatively well, I knew I couldn't be very effective riding like that.  We came back to a walk, and I adjusted my seat, sliding back a little bit from where I'd been sitting.  Like magic, I could suddenly sit up.  Now, I'm really not sure how the mechanics of that work, but I'll take it.  We spent a few more minutes at the trot, Tiki going pretty well and me not looking like I belong hidden in a bell tower of Notre Dame.  Walked a few minutes, then dismounted.  I had wanted to also try the concept of "floating my hands" for the halt transition, but I knew better than to tempt fate.  We had managed to finish positively; I wasn't going to push my luck.

I will be interested to see how Honorary Big Sister Jen likes Sparky's "bad boy" bit for Tiki; I'm reserving judgement on everything for now, because our rough time last night could have been due to any number of factors.  I felt that there was significantly less "head tilt is the same as bend, right?" coming from Tiki last night; I don't think there is ever a less-than-stellar ride without some good attributes.  And if I had not ridden Tiki bareback, I don't think I would have become quite so aware of my own issue with collapsing through my core.  Part of the point of Project Pony Swap is to help improve us as riders, as well.  I know that I will now be hyper-vigilant regarding my core.      

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Difference Between A Good Clip and A Bad Clip? Two Weeks.

After much back-and-forth, I finally decided that yes, Sparky is getting clipped again this year.  So Sunday was the big day.  Armed with a clean horse,  quieter clippers, new clipper blades, Show Sheen, Kool Lube, Blade Wash, earplugs (for the horse), and a bunny suit (science nerd term for full-body protective suit), I set about my mission.
I have definitely improved; the first time I did a whole body clip, it took me 8 hours.  Yes, 8 hours.  This time I think it only took about 2 1/2, partly because I had to spend some time hunting down an extension cord, and I also had to let the clippers cool down a few times.  It's not a perfect job - there are definitely some track marks, and I forgot about the hot water/baby oil rinse - but the reason for clipping Sparky was not to make him show-ready.  For once, I had truly only a practical purpose in mind, and that was to prevent him from getting so hot and sweaty as we work through the colder weather.  Yaks sweat a lot when worked, you know.  As an added bonus, Sparky is now BLACK again!  Two weeks from now and he'll be gorgeous.

I also did a sort of mini-lesson with Susan, to get some outside input on asking Star to work off her back end.  Star did well, and Susan's feedback was pretty much what I had been working on: transitions, working over the back and lifting the abdomen, shoulder-in, spirals, transitions within the gait, etc.  It's a bit hard for me right now, because I feel like I don't know how much I should be asking of Star - I'm always worried whether she's actually comfortable, or just pushing through - and I'm lacking any sort of goal or direction.  Yes, I can perfectly well enjoy riding my horse with no set goal in mind, but it's much easier for me to have a constructive, purposeful ride if I feel I am working towards something.  While I still don't have any actual long-term goal, talking with Susan did give me reassurance that I just need to keep working with Star at a normal load (but be careful about the footing on which I jump her) and gave me the short-term goal of really improving Star's transitions, especially up into trot from walk, as that one, in particular, is pretty much crap right now.

Star is going to another IEA show on Sunday; she was absolutely wonderful at the last one.  She was nearly perfect, just trucking along and doing her job, while other horses in the ring were leaping and bucking.  I was concerned for a time when she had a loose, floppy rider and looked off in the deep footing, but that went away once she had a better rider.  At one point the steward thanked me for bringing her. =)  The one other moment that was less-than-perfect was Star's random stop at a crossrail; I really don't think her rider caused it, so I felt bad for the rider, because they'd had a good round up to that point...  but you know you have a pretty neat horse when the first thing out of that rider's mouth as they come out of the the ring is, "I LOVE this horse!"  

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Figure-8s are Bad-Ass, and I now have a legitimate reason to use one, or XC Clinic Day

Through a various set of circumstances, I found myself able to finally participate in a XC clinic with Local Event Trainer Who's Pretty Damn Good.  Honorary Big Sister Jen was nearly pleading with me to go - she claimed it would make her feel better to have someone there who is brave.  I guess at some point I was assigned the role of "brave."
I decided, after much hard thought, to try a new bitting configuration for Sparky for this XC outing.  I read a lot about people changing the noseband, rather than increasing bit for their horses.  Now, this makes a lot of sense to me and seemed, perhaps, a most excellent solution with Sparky, because he gets so behind the bit in any metal mouthpiece, regardless of how "soft" that mouthpiece may be (JP double-jointed full cheek with copper-rolly-ball, anyone?).  I really like how Sparky goes in his Duo on the flat, but he sometimes gets a little strong in it while in company or over fences.  So I decided to try his Duo with a figure-8 noseband.  I reasoned that it would put an eensy-weensy bit of pressure on his nose, and well, I already had one, so it was rather convenient.  Jumping him around in it a couple days prior, it seemed to work pretty well.  Of course, for XC Clinic Day, the JP was on back-up. ;-)

XC Clinic Day was a beneficial day.  Though Sparky was there with this two best buddies (the three of them - AKA: The Three Stooges), Sparky, AKA Moe, wasn't pulling or racing around to try and catch up with them.  He seemed content to just listen to me and do as I asked.  After warming up on our own at a walk, trot, and canter, we started out by going over a crossrail in the stadium ring.  Sparky and I approached at a trot the first time.  He wanted to make a bit of a bid at the jump, but I held him and maintained the trot, and he jumped it very well.  The next time over we cantered, and then the jump was raised to a vertical.  I thought Sparky might try something funny with it - like a stop - so I rode very positively to the jump, keeping my leg on.  He jumped that one quite nicely, as well.  We then moved on to a few jumps strung together: vertical to oxer to barrels.  I knew the vertical and barrels would be fine, but I wasn't 100% sure on the oxer, so again I rode in a manner to convey, "We are not stopping."  The Sparkplug was perfect.  So perfect, in fact, that he got a pat from Local Event Trainer and was told "You're a good pony."  I told her to not jump to any conclusions, yet.

It was now time to head out to XC.  No baby steps, here - straight to the point, jumping the Lincoln Logs, a hanging log, and an oddly-shaped log on the ground.  I knew Sparky would nail the Lincoln Logs, and the last log, but we've only ever done the hanging log once, so I had some concerns.  Unfortunately, since I "knew" Sparky would be fine over the Lincoln Logs - they looked so small, now! - I rode rather poorly and we got a crappy spot, causing me to end up too forward with my upper body.  I wasn't too concerned, because I know that's not my standard MO.  Local Event Trainer, however, jumped all over me for it.  This bothered me, because I felt as though a sweeping assumption was being made because of one fence.  I guess you only get one shot to make a good first impression, but had we not just jumped several stadium jumps well?  Didn't that count for anything?  We approached the hanging log, and I asked Sparky to trot to it: I wanted to be sure he was where he needed to be (in terms of being on the aids, that is), and I wanted less forward momentum if he did decide to stop.  I kept my leg on, but held him where I wanted him, and he went over just fine.  And I got yelled at for not kicking and galloping forward.  We cantered to the oddly-shaped log, about which I had no concerns, but having learned my lesson from the Lincoln Logs, also didn't take for granted, and it went well.  I think I was told, "Much better," and then directed to go do the last two again, this time keeping my leg on and kicking to the hanging log.  Hmmmm....  (it went just fine, as, at this point, I knew it would).

On to the ditches.  Sparky was a bit of a pig starting out, and stopped.  And I again got yelled at to sit up.  Okay, this time I really should have known better and stayed back more, given our history with ditches.  I eventually coerced Sparky across (read: smacked him so that he knew I wasn't playing his way today), and we came back over like it was no big deal.  We were to then jump the small ditch, and continue on to a new jump - another set of logs like the Lincoln Logs.  The ditch was fine, but Sparky stopped at the logs, which didn't surprise me.  I'm pretty sure I got yelled at again about leg.  I gave Sparky a tap with my crop, and we re-approached.  I rode better, and Sparky went over.  We turned around and came back over, me keeping in mind a postitive ride with leg.  Sparky went right over, and we continued on to the ditch, which was again pretty much flawless.  It was then decided that Sparky needed to do the big ditch, as well.  Sparky again decided to slam on the brakes.  He got smacked, protested minimally, we re-approached, and over he went.  On our return trip, he stopped again, but I was more ready for it this time, and didn't get tossed up his neck until he bucked in protest at being smacked.  A very small (for Sparky) confrontation, and he went over again, with some hesitation.  We then strung it together with the new logs, and all was well.

We then moved on to the "middle" of the Calimar XC field.  We were now to string together the small bank up, the small bank down, to a kinda-rampy-hangy-log thing that I'd never done before and looked bigger than the previous hanging log, up the big bank, over the barrel-train, back over the barrel train, down the big bank (gulp) and an almost 90-degree turn to another new jump that distinctly reminded me of a firewood rack.  The small banks were fine - we'd done those before - but I was a bit nervous about the kinda-rampy-hangy log thing.  Remembering the new log jump, I kept my leg on, thought positive thoughts, and we went over - despite Sparky's misgivings about the jump and his desire to stop.  It had not been a very good approach, because Sparky was looking for a way out and was being wiggle-wormy, BUT he went over.  This was definitely something of a breakthrough.  Of course, Local Event Trainer didn't see it quite the same way I did, and wanted us to do it again, this time stay in the middle of the log thing.  So we did it again, and this time as we went over, I channeled our work with Greg Best, and used my right leg and an opening left rein to keep him straight, with a successful result and a much better jump.  Up the big bank with some hesitation, and over to the barrel train and either a rotten jump.  I suppose here I was again taking the jump for granted.  We went over a few times, but it was always sticky, even coming back over.  We then went to the big bank down.  I think this was the only jump I was truly nervous about.  Even if I stay back, Sparky is still pretty talented at tossing me forward... I really did not want to go over his shoulder and down another three feet beyond the usual.  Sparky did stop, and it took a little convincing to go down the bank, but eventually he did.  It was also always a bit sticky, so it's now on the list of "Things To Work On."  We then cantered up to the firewood rack, and for some reason, I felt really good about it.  And dammit, I was right.  Another jump we'd never seen before, and really, it felt pretty perfect.  Figures that the hardest jump is the one we'd do the best.  We took a break, and then did the last three jumps again.  The barrel-train and down-bank were still not great, the the last one was again pretty damn good.

We then progressed to the water complex.  Down the little bank into the water, up the little bank out, down the ramp into the water, and canter to a vertical right at the exit.  When I had my approach right, the canter in and vertical out went really well.  Of course, that was the minority of the time.  Once we did a reasonable job with that, we were to then go jump another rampy set of logs and then the small cabin right by the water wheel.  These were also jumps we'd done before, so I knew the only reason we might have problems would be if Sparky decided to again test me.  The two jumps rode fine, but now Local Event Trainer got on my case about my hands and catching my horse in the mouth.  At least she did seem to realize that it's a trust issue - I don't trust that Sparky is going to not stop/duck out, and hard - but she kept on harping that he will start stopping all the time if I'm not softer in the air.  So we did it again; of course, this time I knew we were okay, so of course, it was much easier to trust my horse.

As we were heading back to the trailer, Local Event Trainer again admonished me about my hands, and "he'll start stopping all the time."  Really?  *Sigh*  Please don't get me wrong - I think that going to this clinic was a great thing for Sparky and I, but I also think it illustrates some of the shortfalls of one-day clinics, and the fact that all clinicians are not created equal.  As a clinician, I realize that one has to make some relatively quick assessments of horses and riders, which I'm sure is no small task.  However, the drawback is that (I feel) sometimes the assessments made are not always 100% accurate.  No, you don't know me, my horse, and our history... but there is a reason I ride the way I do (for the most part!  See the section about the Lincoln Logs).  And I *do* know my horse.  He doesn't stop because I sometimes might have a rather strong feel on his mouth.  He stops because he's either worried, or an asshole.  I think I felt a bit like Honorary Big Sister Jen did when people kept suggesting she remove Tiki's hind leg wraps.

Honestly, I left feeling a little defeated.  Sparky was pretty much a rockstar, and I am actually feeling like maybe we might have a future in this eventing thing, but... 
I'm not used to being told that I'm going to hurt my horse's confidence, or that I'm going to cause him to start stopping.  No, I didn't ride perfectly.  I made some dumb mistakes, yes.  But it's not like I'm riding some made packer.  Really, my horse is not an easy horse to ride.  Someday he will be, but we're not there, yet.  But I really don't like leaving with the feeling that I didn't ride well.

I think that perhaps Local Event Trainer is not the right match for me.  It's not at all that she didn't help me, or that I don't like her as a person, or that I don't think she knows her stuff - because she did help, I do like her, and I do think she knows her stuff.  I just think that maybe it's not a good personality match for a teaching relationship.  That said, I do really appreciate that she pushed me a bit beyond my comfort zone in jumping Sparky over scary new fences.  Jumping the never-before-seen kinda-rampy-log-thing and the firewood rack on the first presentation is a BIG accomplishment for Sparky and I.

It's like I've said before: everyone has something to teach you.  You take what works now and use it, and you file away the rest for future reference.  So I'm taking the good stuff, filing away the not-so-good stuff, and remembering that I would still rather ride with Local Event Trainer than some other trainers out there.

And Sparky's figure-8 and Duo combination worked great!  I now have a legitimate reason to put him in a bad-ass-looking figure-8!   


Friday, October 14, 2011

Project Pony Swap, Part Deux: Under the Lights

I don't know why it's crooked, and I can't fix it.
Wednesday night I interrupted Tiki's normally scheduled programming to bring him Part Deux of Project Pony Swap.  I had ridden Sparky first, in hopes of having some daylight (no such luck), so it was about eight when I pulled Tiki out of his stall.
Honorary Big Sister Jen had used his dressage bit for the IEA show on Sunday, so I used that same bridle; to protect the preshus, speshul, sensitive red-head's ears, I did a very Morgan-y thing, and tucked Tiki's forelock under the browband and to the side.  Because I was feeling a bit lazy and a bit pressed for time, I also used my saddle on him.  Because my saddle is too wide for him, and partially due to a discussion on Sunday, I also used my sheepskin halfpad (with front shims) on him as the only pad.  Delicate, preshus flower and all that.

I would like to make an aside here, and point out that I really have the best barn owners ever.  Last year, they put some lights in the arena, largely because it was always dark by the time I was at the barn and working with Star in prep for Nationals.  Throughout summer I didn't need to use them, but for the first time this season, I turned on the arena lights.

Because I knew Honorary Big Sister Jen was planning on taking a dressage lesson with Susan the next day, I didn't plan on doing anything too terribly difficult with Tiki.  I figured dragging him out at 8:00 PM and riding him under the lights (something I'm not sure he's done before) was trying enough.

We warmed up much as we did last week - W-T-C on a loose rein.   An improvement over last week is that Tiki immediately settled in to a decent length of stride at both the walk and trot, rather than doing his best impression of a sewing machine.   After warming up, I picked up contact and was greeted with some pissy-fine-I'm-going-to-trot-ness.  Back to a walk - on contact - and proceeded to do some circles each direction.  We moved up into the trot, and trotted for a long time, with lots of serpentines, circles, and general changes of direction.  My primary focus was to acheive as little head tilt as possible and to maybe convince Tiki to soften, but keep contact. 

To this end, I actually asked Tiki for less bend than normal, riding him a little bit straighter.  This worked in two ways: #1) If I'm not asking for a BIG bend, then Tiki has no reason to give me his goofy head tilt.  Since I know he can bend, I wasn't worried about "loosing" his ability to do so - it's not always about putting together all the parts, sometimes it's just about the pieces; and #2) Tiki is your typical chestnut Thoroughbred mare, except for the mare part.  He is sensitive.  I mean, he swishes his tail and kicks out from his tail brushing him-type sensitive.  And what I've found is that sometimes he gets in such a hurry to move away from leg that he forgets to use himself properly.  The "riding straight" seemed to work pretty well (remember, "straight" is all relative).  By asking for a bit less bend, and focusing on inside-leg-to-outside-rein, I felt that we maintained a pretty good track, with his hind end following the track laid by his front end.

In terms of contact and softening and keeping shape and all that good stuff, other than focusing on the above, I kept a steady contact (still working to keep my elbows soft and following), setting the parameters Tiki was allowed to work within.  It started out with a bit more "telling" him where he needed to be, but once he was there and maintained the "acceptable" range, it was much more "asking" him to keep up the good work.  Over time, this, along with our changes of direction, circles, serpentines, etc, resulted in Tiki really lightening, carrying himself, and developing a little bit of schwung - swinging in the back.  And he felt great.  I could have ridden that trot for hours.

We cantered only a little bit after that really good trot work; I only wanted to improve our transitions.  A few up and down transitions, and I was content there.  We did just a little bit more trot (mainly because I'd been having so much fun with it), and then came back down to the walk and halted.  It was again a nice halt - not quite square - but with no head-flingy pissiness.

So overall, the really neat things were as follows:
- Minimal head tilting
- Really excellent trot work with softness, lightness, and swinging over the back
- Maintaining correct bend and outline on a circle when I "gave up" the inside rein
- Much improved canter transitions
- Nice stretchy-over-the-back work at the trot
- Pretty darn good halt
- Tiki didn't seem to give a rat's ass about the lights

One more thing:  Tiki is not quite as clean as I'd thought.  I have to wash my saddle pad now.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Quarter-Circle of Death

The thing with having two horses is that it seems that it's never time to get one horse going again... it seems like it's always time for both!

It's been a while since I jumped with Sparky, and if he's going to play at IEA horse this year, let alone play at any eventing-like things, he needs to continue progressing in his jumping - preferably without the attitude.  Therefore, last night was jumping night.

I planned on starting out in the usual manner - W-T-C, followed by some lateral work and circles, but Sparky had a different idea.  He quite clearly wanted to work off some steam, so I gave him the reins and let him set the pace.  He picked up a brisk trot, went a few times around, then picked up the canter.  After a couple of circuits at the canter, he came back down to the trot, and then walk.  We changed directions, and he did the same thing - trot, to canter, to trot, to walk.

Now that Sparky was content and ready to focus on what I wanted, we moved onto some lateral work and circles.  He's still not quite figured out haunches-in, but he's getting there.  He was definitely less frustrated with it when asked on the circle rather than on the rail.  His shoulder-in, as always, was quite good, and his leg yield is continuing to improve.  Well, really, I should say my leg yield is continuing to improve, because I know the issues we have with it are really more mine than his.

Once I felt we were sufficiently bend-y and warmed up, we moved onto jumping.  Honorary Big Sister Jen had set two jumps at 9:00 and 12:00 on the circle of death.  I'm usually too lazy and/or too pressed for time to move jumps much, so those were the same jumps Sparky did.  I had set the 9:00 jump as a cross rail to start out.  We approached on the left lead, and I used the same approach Greg had me use in the clinic, of starting to the right of center and landing to the left of center.  Once we had done that a few times, we reversed and did the same on the right lead.  Sparky behaved perfectly, so I hopped off and changed the crossrail to a 2'3" vertical.  We again started on the left lead, and repeated what we had done over the crossrail. 

Once we had gone both directions over the 2'3" vertical, I decided it was time to move on the the 12:00 jump, which I'd set at 2'6".  Sparky was listening well on the approach, but I will admit, I had a moment of worrying that he was going to stop.  Instead of continuing to worry though, I quickly formed Plan A and Plan B.  Presented in the order in which they were formulated: Plan A was that if he stopped, he was getting his butt beat, and it might turn into the previously-predicted knock-down, drag-out battle;  Plan B was to sit up, keep my leg on, keep a slight, but soft feel of his mouth, and ride confidently to the jump.  Plan B prevailed, and Sparky jumped the 2'6" off both leads very well.

Finally, I decided that we were doing well enough to attempt the quarter-circle of death, at least on the left lead.  Twice in a row, Sparky complied and neatly jumped over the 2'6" vertical at 12:00 and then went right over the 2'3" vertical at 9:00 with no hesitation.  I was very pleased with all his effort, so I called it quits with that.

There is still room for improvement in the areas of bending and following the track for Sparky; he didn't have quite enough bend through his body to execute the ideal bending track between the two jumps, but I was very pleased with his willingness to try.  He is still green, so perfection is definitely something I cannot expect.  On the plus side, he was really good about moving off my leg to correct our track, and his canter continues to improve.  He very readily took both leads, even during our Sparky-guided warm-up, so that indicates to me that he is getting stronger and more comfortable on his right lead.  Overall, I was very pleased with my Napolean Dynamite.

When I was done with the Sparkplug, I hopped on Star to do some work on the flat.  I had changed her Pelham back to the one she seems to prefer, with the longer shank and the ported mouthpiece.  It was like I had a completely different horse than I did the other night.  I don't think bending is ever going to be Star's strong suit, but she was much less stiff, and just seemed, in general, more happy.  The current plan is to do some jumping with Star on Thursday, also with this Pelham, and evaluate which bit to use for the IEA show from there.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Commence Project Pony Swap

As I was riding Sparky sometime last week, a comment made by Honorary Big Sister Jen came to mind.  On the day a few months ago when we rode together and flatted each other's horses, she had commented something to the nature of if we were to combine our horses, we would have a really good horse.  So the other day, I had what can only be described as a Brilliant Idea.

So I call up Honorary Big Sister Jen, and tell her I have a Brilliant Idea.  And she says, "Oh, boy..."  Huh?  Turns out that the phrase "teetering on the brink of brilliance or disaster" must apply to my so-thought Brilliant Ideas, and Honorary Big Sister Jen wasn't sure which one this would be.  But this one was a good one.  For real.  This was my idea:

Once a week for the next month, Honorary Big Sister Jen and I should ride each other's horses.  This is to be dubbed "Project Pony Swap."  (Though in all honesty, I didn't come up with that name right away).

Obviously, Jen and I have different strengths and weaknesses in our riding abilities.  Not only is this reflected in our horses, but our horses also have different strengths and weaknesses, which is reflected back in us... because we are the primary riders and trainers of our own horses.  Therefore, by riding each other's horses, potentially both riders and both horses could benefit.  So it actually was a brilliant idea, and Honorary Big Sister Jen agreed.

Commence Project Pony Swap
Date: 02Oct2011
Time: 13:30
SOP: Flat only, any and equipment preferred by rider

Project Pony Swap commenced on Sunday, with me riding Tiki.  I put him in his dressage tack, because I wanted to use his Myler dee, which is on his dressage bridle.  The dressage saddle then became a necessity, because, well, we can't have mismatched tack.  Tiki's reaction to the entire pre-ride and starting-ride process was pretty funny - from "You're getting me out of my stall?" to "Oh, hey, yeah, I know you," to "Oh, you're tacking me up?  Okay," to "Wait, where are we going? to "Huh?  You're riding me?"

Once I was aboard and after much fiddling with stirrups, we started off at a walk on a loose rein.  Tiki, quite predictably, seemed to think, "You're not my mom, so... this slow, pokey walk is what you get."  Umm, no.  He quickly got the idea that we were still going to have a nice, forward walk.  As we moved up to the trot, still on a loose rein, Tiki reverted to his best impression of You're-Not-My-Mom-So-I'm-A-Sewing-Machine.  Sorry, Charlie.  Again, once he figured out that I knew better and that he really is capable of a decent trot and insisted he use it, we had a nice, forward trot.  We then moved up into the canter; by this time Tiki had figured out he wasn't going to get away with bare minimum effort, and the canter was also quite nice.

We came back down to a trot, and from there we proceeded to do lots of circles, figure-eights serpentines, and other various changes of direction.  When I saw that Tiki thought that tilting his head was the same as bending, we dropped back to some much smaller circles at the walk to really encourage actual bend.  Ah, what an overachiever!  As we moved back out to a bigger circle, Tiki offered up a lovely rubberneck, complete with a shoulder lost (popped) to the outside and a "Ohp - shoulder's going this way, so am I!"  D'oh!  So I didn't try to pick at him on the circle; instead, we moved back to an outside track and started playing with some shoulder-in and haunches-in.  I also threw in some leg-yielding and spirals in and out for good measure. 

The transitions to the canter were not as neat and clean as I would have liked, but I do think this goes back to the idea of "different people doing things different ways."  I am 100% sure I don't ask for the canter the same way Jen does.  However, he did get the idea, and moved up into a very decent canter, despite the not-beautiful transition.  We didn't do too much at the canter, because I was really only looking for an agreeable canter on contact, rather than it just being an agreeable canter because he could do whatever he wanted with his head. 

We came back to the trot and did some more circles, spirals, and various changes of direction.  By this time, Tiki was feeling really good - nicely balanced and even between the reins, no head tilting, shoulder-popping, or haunches drifting.  The spirals to the left were definitely not as good as the spirals to the right - much stiffer - but overall, there was much improvement through the course of the ride.  As we finished up, we trotted down the quarter line and came to a lovely, square halt without the slightest head toss.  Tiki's nose was definitely not vertical as we came to the halt, but he was very accepting of the contact.

Overall, it was a very good ride, and I really had fun.  While Tiki is not a complicated ride, per se (something with which Honorary Big Sister Jen has done a really good job), he does sometimes have some tricks that have to be carefully managed, like the head-tilting thing.  I had to be very careful with my aids to correct the head tilt without losing bend.  And the occasional sewing machine impression rearing its ugly head.  If I didn't ask just right for a bigger step, I was given faster instead.  I was particularly pleased with our halt at the end.  When I've ridden Tiki in the past, he has sometimes seemed almost resentful of contact.  I think that his very nice halt demonstrated a much better acceptance of contact not only from what I have experienced from him previously, but even from what was offered up at the beginning of the ride.

I think Project Pony Swap is going to be fun! 

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Out of Practice

Okay, so maybe 2'9" wasn't the best starting point, but in my defense, I really did think it was only 2'6" at best.

I rode Star on Friday, with the intent of jumping her (over something bigger than a crossrail) for the first time since her knee injection.  And we are definitely out of practice.

So the story goes something like this:

Star has been an IEA horse for the past two seasons.  But the situation is a little different this year, and I wasn't sure I could justify letting some kid I don't really know who might ride with a trainer I don't really like jump around my amazing horse when my costs for maintaining her have gone up (and said kid will likely have no appreciation for this) and it is more wear and tear on an already-deteriorating joint.

But the fact remains that Star is good at her job as an IEA horse, and the fact of the matter is that as winter rolls around, I simply will not have the time to keep her as fit as she needs to be.  I now need to be extra-vigilant about keeping her weight down, and exercise really is one of the best things for an arthritic horse.

So I've decided to just take it one day at a time.  Star will be going to her first IEA show of the season next Sunday.  I will be there all day, so I will be able to monitor how she is doing, and I will see how she comes out of it at the end of the and the next.  If she's uncomfortable at all, she's done.

So to this end (and because I'd been meaning to do it for a while, anyway), Friday was a jumping day for Star.  She was great in the sense that she never hesitated, never stopped, and didn't knock down a single rail, but we do need to get back into a better working partnership.  Some distances were long, some were close, and some, when we were working as a team, were pretty darn good.  Several of those long or short distances did results in pretty good rubs, which, although the rail didn't fall, are still not my favorite thing.

And I'm pretty sure I didn't look too pretty, either.

I think that it's just a matter of time before we're back in the swing of things.  I think, too, going back to our regular Pelham will help.  I have now tried her a couple times in a mullen mouth Pelham with a shorter shank than our usual Pelham, as I thought it might be a more appropriate bit for IEA riders.  But I flat out don't like the mullen.  I personally don't like riding Star in her Kimberwicke, either - in both the Kimberwicke and the mullen Pelham, she gets stiff, and she was very brace-y in the Pelham.  She seems to really like her regular Pelham, so... well, who am I to argue with a reserve world champion?

So we'll try out out usual Pelham again later this week, after tomorrow's Adequan shot.  If all is well, Star can go in that for Sunday.  And if it's not great, we'll just put her back in her old IEA-standby Kimberwicke.

And for our own purposes, we'll just keep working to get back into the swing of things.