26 December, 2011

Happy Holidays!

Merry Christmas everyone. Had a lovely low key weekend at the barn, Reto and I took Aston and Regal on a stroll through the woods and then caught “Girl with a Dragon a Tattoo” in the evening.  Everyone gearing up for 2012, thinking about riding goals and show schedules? Penwick may be welcoming a new addition to the fold, will know more later this week, stay tuned!

18 December, 2011

Bareback riding is for everyone!

Saturday I only had time for a quick ride between lessons. So I decided to ride Regal bareback. It was Regal’s first bareback ride and he was not so sure at first, rounded his back a bit like he was going to buck then settled in well. We worked a good 20-30 minutes on our dressage and low and behold, today I am a bit sore! Abs and legs thank you very much. Some things I liked about the experience: You can really feel the horse, especially their back muscles. It was very interesting to feel when Regal was tight and relaxed through his back and how his muscles reacted to my own movements, I know it is the same with the saddle, based on his behavior but it was great to feel so close contact. Bareback made me very focused on my bad habit of lightening my right seat bone too much and low and behold when I had my weight correct we could do just about anything – go figure. When I got Regal really through and his back was up and he was over reaching man oh man, that is not easy to sit, I then really thought about soft elbows and hands so he would not be punished for doing his job. Cantering bareback is fun, probably my favorite part! We even did a bit of hand gallop as well, it felt like a million bucks and because we were both feeling each other better than ever it took only a subtle shift of should to come back. I want that in the saddle. Regal tends to downshift too much when I want to collect, he wants to down shift to the next gear or sometimes two gears, rather than collect, he always tries to be one step ahead of me, it’s not mean or naughty he just tries very hard. His sensitivity is really nice but also makes you have to ride all downwards very forward, while bareback that was ever so slightly less.

So based on my fun, I am going to try and make Saturday my bareback day through the winter and I am very much looking forward to making my students do the same!

14 December, 2011

How to select a horse that has a complimentary personality for a successful partnership with you

There are lots of factors that go into choosing a horse, whether you are leasing or buying. Today, I will explore personality. Much like finding a partner to share your life with, not only do you want to have things in common (i.e both horse and rider want to do the same sport, cross country is not fun on a horse that doesn't like it!) but you must also have a personality match. Horses, like humans have their own characteristics and mannerisms. Some typical classifications:

- Hot: This is a horse that is naturally forward and can easily get "wound up", takes a tactful calm rider to get the most out of this horse.

- Lazy: This is a horse that needs to be encouraged to go forward and do just about anything. This horse can do really well with a more nervous rider.

- Alpha: This is a leader, a horse that likes to be in charge and will be in charge of any horse he/she comes in contact with and will often fight to show it. When you ride them you have to have a delicate balance of being in charge but in a partnership. These personalities are usually best suited for professionals, or a tactful amateur.

- Follower: This is a horse that is a bit more submissive; he/she will join the herd and go with the flow without too much fight. This type of horses enjoys a rider that can be their leader; they will relax and bloom when they are not stressed about being in charge.

- Looky/Spooky: Some horses just notice all the little things going on in life and are more reactive to them. They usually need a rider that can ignore their behaviors and can get on with the ride and someone that has patience and won’t get mad at a horse for their insecurities.

- Sensitive: This horse usually listens the first time or already thinks they know what you are going to ask. They will often get flustered when you use large aids, they want to be asked not told that to do.

None of the above traits are good or bad per say and you will come across all sorts of crosses of the above. One of my favorite horses, Spiderman a Thoroughbred, was a hot but lazy horse. In his case that meant I needed to motivate and engage him even when he felt forward and working, as he was often faking it. Regal on the other hand is more sensitive but mellow and very smart with an inclination to get bored quickly.

Another aspect that will prevent or make a partnership between horse and rider is work ethic. This needs to be examined from both the rider and horse's side. Some horses have great work ethic, they want and are willing to try new things; they learn quickly and do not get too frustrated. Others are a bit slower to learn or quickly get overwhelmed when something new is introduced. I once had a horse in training that would close his eyes and try to lie down when he felt overwhelmed, in his case it was learning to canter. He went on to be a great horse after some more maturing. This I found frustrating as I like a horse that will at least try even if it means fail, rather than an outright "no". But that is My personal preference. The latter horse is best matched with a rider that doesn't mind being a motivator, nearly all the time. Typically some of the draft crosses or Warmbloods (there are several breeds of Warmbloods that are considered more “hot”) fall into this category. The first type of horse can really be matched with nearly everyone, though you have to watch, if the rider is not up for keeping the horses, engaged and interested this horse can quickly get bored and look for fun and exciting ways to spice their rides or barn life up, this is usually in the form of some sort of misbehavior.

So what does this mean to you as the rider? Whenever you meet a new horse, try to take a quick inventory of their traits. Do they come up to you when they are at liberty in their stall or field? Do they make grumpy faces to try and intimidate you? Does the horse require a spur or stick to get forward? Do they spook if anything changes in their daily surroundings? Ask if the horse minds multiple riders or prefers a single rider. Note: A horse that prefers a single rider is usually more sensitive or an alpha personality. Take notes and don’t rely on breed generalizations, horse are individuals too.

When horse shopping or trying a horse for a lease, make a list of what type of horse you like to ride. Make a list of your own characteristics. Then decided what you must have and what secondary requirements are. For example a timid rider should have a bold horse, where as a more aggressive or bold rider can encourage a more timid horse. I often find less mature riders who do not have total control over their emotions do better with a lazier/mellow horse, they often get the more sensitive horses jazzed up with their own emotions. BE HONEST with yourself, if you aren’t, you and the horses will suffer in the end. Your goals will not be reached and frustration will rule.

Lastly, have someone that knows either the horse really well or you as a rider give you an outside opinion. There are so many wonderful horses out there, don't get matched up with the wrong one!

One of my favorite young horses for sale right now:


13 December, 2011

One door closes and another will open

Today I made arrangements for Dubai to go to his new home with Dineen. Dineen was the person who graciously connected him to me in the first place, so it only seems fitting! After chatting we discovered that she was very smitten with him (and missed him) and was interested in having him back in her fold. After a few weeks with me, I had decided he was probably not going to be my next upper level eventer, though I am sure he is going to be awesome at whatever job he heads for as he is VERY smart and learns very quickly. His sweetness factor ranks right up there with Regal. So in the next few weeks we will arrange for him to head home to her and I will be on the lookout for my next partner.  Happy and sad decisions, which seem to accompany all horse decisions…

07 December, 2011

Under the weather

Today was a quick trip to the barn for a dressage lesson and a hello to the horses. I am still sick and feeling miserable. While improved from over the weekend, I will skip tomorrow and then full steam ahead come Friday.

I am feeling a bit guilty about not riding Regal since Saturday. I am sure he doesn't really mind but his belly is a bit round these days, insert guilty face here. With weather still looking decent I am going to add in an extra jump school each week before we are forced to the indoor for the winter as our dressage is doing well. I am going to keep Dubai on his break, as his feet are still adjusting to being without shoes and I will resume riding him come January, hopefully enough time for his feet to toughen up! Friday will also become an additional Aston schooling day, will work on keeping a steadier pace around a course of jumps.

06 December, 2011

When it rains, it pours

When I get sick, do I ever. It started off as the sniffles and progressed to a sore throat, by the time I was teaching my last weekend lessons on Sunday, I sounded like Darth Vader, sipping hot chocolate of course! I am still not back to normal after hours of sleep and missed work, but I will be heading to the barn tomorrow.

This past weekend was a mixed bag for both horses and riders. The long run of crazy progress seems to have come to an end (it was a good run). As students work at their new harder levels, some frustrations flared up, for the most part we were able to work through it but it can be hard succeeding constantly at a lower level then in the move up find a little wall that must be worked through on the way to advancement. I was not the only one sick over the weekend and this played a part for sure.

A theme for the weekend was forward and straight, let the jump hold the horse. I set up several canter poles in a row, up to 5 at one point, that had guiding poles to keep the horse and rider straight. Success was only found with a good turn keeping the outside shoulder straight, pace held so the canter hit the poles and the horse gave a little jump over each in rhythm. Much harder than you would think. Was surprised to see how hard Spiderman was working on this exercise, it also showed how every little move of our body changes the horse both positive and negative.

A recent change to a higher protein grain left my two steady boys wild and galloping around the farm, luckily no one was hurt and the boys are back on a lower protein grain and their lovely personalities have resumed. Knock on wood everyone else seems to be fine on the new grain, but I will be keeping a close watch!
I have been enjoying the weather, if only every December could be like this! The horses spent a few nights outside this past weekend, even with mid-20 temperatures they were happy to munch on their hay snug in their blankets. Now that the rain is upon us everyone is back inside at night, but it looks like another glorious weekend. How long will it last, I can only hope. I have started to think about what we will work on over the winter, once we are forced inside. There will be a lot of position work in dressage, lunge lessons with no stirrups and trotting single fences to work on rider form and recognizing the “right” pace.

I am starting to think about my 2012 goals both for the horses and personally, stay tuned as I find making these things public adds some accountability to the mix that I think many miss when they make these silent pacts with themselves.

29 November, 2011

Back in the Ring

Felt good to be back at the barn today after a holiday break. I am now in NYC/NJ well through the New Years and looking forward to enjoying the woods if the weather holds out. I decided to lunge Regal in side reins today as he had a few days off and I hadn’t worked him on the ground in some time. We had a nice drizzle of rain but went out regardless. At one end of the ring there is a bit of a slope which I love to use to get the horses thinking about their balance and feet so we headed for that. I left the reins loose to encourage him to find them and not force him into the bridle and we were off. He at first was happy to go around, head up in more of a galloping position, we did many transitions from trot to canter which got him thinking about his body more and he started to come into the bridle.  After my lesson with Sally this weekend I have decided to take a different approach to leads so on the rare occasion that Regal picked the wrong one, I sent him on and he quickly figured out he was more balanced when he swapped, being on the slope also helped to point this out.  I then switched to the right, which is typically the harder side because he is weakest there. Trot was strong and he was quick to find the reins, then up into the canter with a few half halts from me he was starting to balance back a bit more which really improved the quality of his canter (which can suffer at times to the right). What I was most proud of was Regal was able to hold it for several circles up and down the slope, good boy!
Today I taught Kristin and Leyla. It was a challenging lesson for both, Aston was a bit hot from a few days off and Spidey was testing Leyla’s resolve to use both sides of her body and keep him straight. Dressage work for both horses continues to improve, they are getting more comfortable and strong traveling uphill, both need to come off the leg a bit faster, but that will come with clear signals and strength.  Aston is funny, as he is an awesome jumper and very game, yet requires you to really ride him even when his shoulder gets quick, not an easy thing if you are not used to it. He doesn’t have enough experience yet that you can just sit there but I am guessing pretty quickly he will become more adjustable when jumping. We did a lot of trot fences today, incorporating some placement poles before, to help with takeoff and after, to get them lifting their shoulders after the jump and rock back quicker. Both horses responded well, but required the riders to stay committed to the jump, legs on and a soft communication up to the fence. When they didn’t the horses reacting accordingly and the second time around was a huge improvement. This is not always easy if there is any mental stress, as both horses pick up on that very quickly and react accordingly. All and all went well with both ending on very positive notes.
In other happy news, my second pair of body clippers were fixed and we have a half dozen freshly sharpened blades. Which means Regal, Decker, Dubai and Cali are getting clipped! Our wonderful farrier Ken was here today and it is now officially “that time”, snow studs are going in. I hope we do not need them anytime soon!

27 November, 2011

Tri means 3 not 1

So, early Friday morning I was able to score a lesson with my long time mentor Sally. I rode a large WB mare called Tango. I hadn’t had a set of eyes on the ground since May and I was quickly reminded that I can’t spend all my time in the dressage saddle. When jumping I was using my leg more in a dressage way which was messing up my position. So I have instructions to get in the jump saddle and lots of half seat, use less lower leg, more thigh and to lengthen my base. We also discussed flying changes, she introduced me to a new way I hadn’t heard, so I will be curious to see how our horses respond to it.
I had a smile a bit as I was walking around her beautiful frost covered fields after the lesson, I was thinking that as an eventing rider, I do the triathlon of horse spots, which means all areas need training on a regular basis, for the last few months I defiantly failed this one. To my own defense, Regal outgrew my jump saddle this summer and after much back and forth I did finally order one, which should be here in 2-weeks. I am looking forward to climbing in it and rediscovering my longer base. But clearly if this happens again I need to jump one of the other horses who my saddle does fit until the situation is remedied. 

22 November, 2011

Shining in the Rain

Today was Leyla’s day to shine, despite the grey sky and light rain. It was her second ride on Spiderman in the bit after a month plus of working in the hackamore in order to get a better feel of half halts without the fear of catching Spidey in the month. Our weekend lesson with the bit had some good moments but left a lot of room to be desired. Today she nailed it. After a warm up, she found the perfect leg to hand connection and Spiderman was rocking around the ring pushing into the bridle. We even got to start the conversations about how high the poll should be and how to correct him up when he dropped too low, a little leg and outside rein. Canter again was confirmed as a success with Leyla able to send him into the bridle, adjust the bend, his straightness all while keeping him connected. It was such a pleasure to watch.
We moved on to jumping with a few single fences for warm up. We then worked on a grid from over the weekend that we did not get too due to all our dressage work. Cross rail, 5 strides, vertical, one stride then an oxer. Leyla has been learning to keep her leg on no matter what, even if Spiderman feels fast, slow or perfect, she has to stay there for him. Today she nailed it nearly every time, allowing the jumps to get up around 3’6” and with ease they sailed over. Her leg was also in great shape and with a fist full of mane was able to keep with him as he over jumped it by an easy 12 inches.
Teaching feel is a hard thing, teaching self-awareness is also hard and I consider it one of the first steps to feel.  I find my adult riders that rode as kids find their feel again much faster than those that are learning to ride as adults or even the teenage riders. Most horses scream what they need from the rider or clearly tell us with their body, it’s the rider’s job to feel and see this and react accordingly with one of the many tools in their kit.
Leyal and Spiderman over the weekend:

21 November, 2011

Mind over body

Today was a rare Monday where I went to the barn. Typically Lindsey, my working student, covers the barn and works the few horses that need it and oversees the management for the day. However, today everything fell into place, starting with the traffic. It was smooth, even though I left a little later than normal, I sailed through the tunnel and was on my merry way. I had high hopes that it was in indication of my morning.
When I got to the barn the sky was blue and I was taking off a layer of clothing, amazing considering it is mid-Nov. Regal was waiting at the gate for me, which always puts a smile on my face. We had a lovely dressage school. He was  bit annoyed at me as I put a flash on him, which I usually do not ride in expect for shows. So we spent some time walking and giving, carrying himself up and forward. We then do approx. 10 transitions as we went around the ring, all downwards off seat and breathing. I then snuck in a bit of lateral work then on to canter with simple changes. It had to be some of our best canter work in a few weeks. He felt very even and responsive a nice clear 3-beat. Regal was so good I think we’ll trail ride tomorrow then he will have a few days off while I am away in Connecticut visiting family and attending my high school reunion…
The lesson I taught this morning was also a lot of fun. Aston got to work on steady and rhythmic, Kristin really got him coming into the bridle in the trot and after a few small corrections the canter was also lovely. Since both rider and horse have to work on moving slower and steady to keep a relaxed when jumping,  I decided to have them warm up over some singles then go through a 4 stride to an in and out.  The longer line into the tighter combo sets the horse up to get long and a bit strung out, which can make the A jump element harder as they can get tight and under or over jump and have trouble getting out. As an added element the ring slightly slopes up hill in that direction, which requires a bit more leg without getting carried away.
When everything was warm up height both were good, almost a little too slow to the first element but corrections came easily and jumped out well over the B element oxer. For Kristin we worked on keeping her butt out of the saddle but keeping a little fold in her hips with open shoulders. The results in Aston were amazing, he was relaxed jumped up nice and square and hit the striding. I added 1 placement pole after the first element and the 1 stride before the A element of the in and out. After some mental adjusting both were spot on, as the fences got bigger reaction times got slower when correcting where Aston’s body was, which resulted in a right drift and some interesting distances. Once that was corrected both horse and rider looked great and were even able to quietly canter around and take a nice Swedish oxer without stress.
Mental space has such a large element in the success of a ride for both horse and rider. The rider always has the job of seeing where they are in their own mind as well as how the horse is feeling and making adjustments to the approach plan, etc to get the best out of the session. I see all different levels of riders on different horse personalities all week and one thing remains the same. We as the rider have to control our energy and body if we can’t do that the horse is unlikely to perform to the best of its ability. I highly recommend the Book, The Mind Gym.  It’s cheap and very useful, buy it today and see your performance improve. There is a reason our top riders are given sports psychology sessions!

20 November, 2011

Ahh weekends

Weekends are teaching marathons for me. I absolutely love it, however they are long intense days.

Saturday was the last session of our Saturday camp aside from a few make up sessions from snow in October and a few girls missing we are pretty wrapped up until early next year and a special winter break day camp. It was a good 10 week session, we had 1 rainy Saturday and other than that no complaints from me. The kids are great and the schooling tack and my own tack got lots of attention, the barn and buckets were scrubbed and the girls learned a lot of horse care and management. Almost all the girls learned to canter in the 10-weeks, which was great to see. Saturday we also did an early celebration for Leigh Ann and Emily's birthday.

Amanda on Royo (left), Emily on Aston (right) and Irina in the middle. Yes, they should be wearing helmets!

Saturday was a 7 hour teaching day with no breaks. The weather was great and for another weekend the horses are all going really well. Many of my riders have made such break troughs this Fall it leaves me feel so awesome. Royo, one of the new additions, is learning by leaps and bounds, he is even happily clearing some 3ft fences with room to spare. Cannot say how excited I am to see him next Spring. He is going to be so fun for Amanda. Irina and her partner Quest jumped their first 3ft fences over the weekend, both were relaxed and happy and all their hard work is paying off! Aston and Emily also have come together a lot over the last few months, Leigh Ann and I are looking forward to schooling him a bit more with Emily out for a few weeks. The time we took to re-teach him how to carry himself up and on his butt has paid off. He now jumps like a grand prix horse.
Check him out over jumping a warm up cross rail (this is pretty standard for him over any jump of any size) he is going to make someone an awesome upper level eventer as he is so mellow for the dressage.

Leyla and Spiderman also have had some break through rides especially in the canter. Friday Leigh Ann had an all time best dressage and jump lesson on Rex. I think we were both glowing. Rex is really finding his stride and coming more trustingly into the bridle in a 1st level self carriage.

Regal and I had some nice rides this weekend. We worked a bit in the ring and went out for trot and canter sets. On our way home we stopped to play in the water, where he licked it, like a dog would drink, not fully drinking just licking. That was a first and very funny. Dubai had a second ride on Friday. He was more relaxed tacking up, still pooped twice but over all was less worried. He was great under saddle, I may move his barefoot schedule up and put shoes on him in Dec rather than Jan since I will be around through the holidays.

Reto's riding is also making leaps. He got on 3 times this week. He has deemed Aston his favorite with Spiderman running a close second. His relaxed attitude really has made him progress come quickly. Soon he'll be canter around daily rather than just in lessons. Can't say how thankful I am to have a supportive other half to the horses, never mind one that likes to ride!

Reto in action today:

This week looks like rain for the first half, so I will be getting wet the next few days as I refuse to go into the indoor, today's 65 degrees has put me back in Spring mode!

17 November, 2011

Young Horses

Today was a baby day. I did my first ride on Regal who had Wednesday off, he was fresh and in a bit of a mood to fight so it was a day or relaxing and just going back to the basics. Regal has had a slow transition to self carriage and really has gotten in beautifully this fall, however when he is a bit naughty the first place he goes is hallow and heavy at time, today was one of those days. So I skipped the up work, got him streaching down into the trot with lots of transitions from the seat and breath. We were able to get some good turn on the forehand and haunches before calling it a day.

Next was Dubai. Dubai is a new OTTB who came into my life recently. I had these great plans to get on and just go for a walk. So I brought him in from turnout and he immediately poops three times and can barely stand still. He now looks much bigger then his relaxed self. I push ahead dancing around him getting a dressage saddle on adjusting the bridle. Reto suggested treats and suddenly wasn't so thrilled to be riding Aston in the same ring as me. Once we were off the cross ties and out to the ring he was a ham. Even stood by the mounting block. We worked on breaks, steering and bending. He even was unexcited when a horse broke out of a paddock and Aston came trotting up behind him. He is a very quick learner. I will need spurs for the next ride. Steering is still not always accurate but we stop on an exhale and doesn't feel like a block of concrete in his mouth, success! Very excited to see what this boy can do next year.

Tomorrow is more riding, teaching, we were going to school cross country but the rain for the last two days has left everything too wet.