Settling In

It’s been a whirlwind few days since Oakley arrived, so forgive my absence from the blogosphere [if indeed you care.]

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A couple of hours after the big dude arrived

He arrived on Monday, having left home right on schedule and loaded up ‘like a kitten’ in the words of my trainer in Montreal. (I didn’t have the heart to tell her that the BF and I had tried to load our own kitten into his cat carrier the day before to bring him to my parents’ for Thanksgiving – it took us fifteen minutes and about ten treats, and we ended up having to physically stuff his furry little bum in there. Anyway.) When I arrived at the new barn a couple of hours after he did, he was ensconced in his BIG, well-bedded stall, having hoovered down hay and drunk a good amount of water. He was still a bit high and seemed pretty lonely – he could see the horses turned out outside and definitely was interested in making friends. But all in all, he stood like a brave boy while I groomed him, doctored a couple of little cuts, plied him with an apple, tried on his blankets, and generally made a fuss out of him. After turnouts had been brought in, I took him outside to eat some grass next to the outdoor ring and let him see the lay of the land, which he did with gusto. Finally, I brought him up to the main barn (he lives about 100 feet down a hill in the lower barn, which has bigger stalls) and let him hang out on the crossties there for a while; this is where we’ll be tacking up for rides as all my stuff lives in a locker up there. KPT and her boyfriend had stopped by to see Oakley, so they supervised us while I stuck him on a longe in the indoor to get a bit of juice out. He was very lonely in there – lots of screaming and Hackney-style trotting – so as soon as I got some relaxation and stretching I fed him some cookies and put him away. As I left the barn, he looked at me like hang on – you’re the only one I know here! Maybe come back?!

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“This ain’t so bad.”

Tuesday night I arrived to find him looking totally happy in his stall and with one side covered in shavings. Phew – he felt comfortable enough to nap. We moseyed up to the main barn where Oakley made many, many new friends who wanted to feed him treats and comment on how tall he is. (Side note, cheers to the non-horsey mom of one of the girls at the barn who zeroed in on all Oakley’s ‘faults’ and felt the need to ask if I had noticed them: “But why is he so skinny? Did you see this cut on his nose? Is it normal that he holds his head so high?” Sigh.) I wanted to stick him on the longe again before getting on, as I had the sneaking suspicious that he would have some opinions about going back to work, all alone in the scary arena, after his week of vacation. He did indeed demonstrate some back-humping, flailing canter transitions, once I could get him to move out of a shuffling trot, that is. Finally, under the watchful eye of our new trainer, A, I hopped on. He felt a bit volatile, still wondering where the other horses were, but as soon as I put him into trot, he basically said “Oh, this – ok” and went about his business without any shenanigans. We stayed at the end of the ring closest to the door to the barn to keep him comfortable, but he was really very good – a bit starstruck and behind the leg, but he never wanted to do anything wrong. We quit after a few minutes and told him how good he was.

Trainer A seems like he will be a good fit for us: he was calm and precise, and articulated things in a way that made a lot of sense. He zeroed in right away on our need to build muscle basically everywhere as our immediate goal. He’s asked me to longe in sidereins a couple of times a week to encourage the naturally upright Oakley to stretch his outline downward. Once he’s cleared to ride again in three weeks following a shoulder injury this summer, I’m going to have him ride Oakley once a week, at least for the first little while. Although the perfectionist in me would love to say I did all the work on my green horse myself, I definitely want to take advantage of having someone available to fix whatever problems I inevitably create, especially having been alone with Schmoodle for 90% of the time for the last eighteen months.

After our ride, I doctored Oakley’s hind pastern dermatitis, got him in his pajamas and headed back down to his stall. Note to self, leave the outside light on in the lower barn so you don’t have to awkwardly feel around in the pitch black for the lights while your big gawky horse attempts to push past you, insisting he knows exactly where he’s going, duh Mom. Ground manners: we need better ones.

Last night, I flatted him on my own and just had an awesome ride. Although he was still distracted by the prospect of so many prospective friends, so tantalizingly close on the other side of the arena door, he did his best to concentrate and he had some really good moments, even after the horse we were riding with left us ALL ALONE!! near the end of our ride. Although he still felt discombobulated sometimes, when I did manage to channel the energy correctly from front to back, he gave me an absolutely great feel in the bridle. Woo! We even got a bit of long-and-low trot work at the end. A few things that are going to need work in the next while:

  1. Sharpness off the leg. Mr. Oakley’s default response to scary/distracting things at the moment is to sloooow down. While I vastly prefer this to Schmoodle’s approach of “teleport first, ask questions later,” we’re definitely going to need to install a prompt and reliable GO button.
  2. Containing the canter. As can be expected from a green 18h horse in a medium-sized indoor arena, cantering in an organized fashion is difficult. Strength and adjustability are going to be crucial. Although he doesn’t get strong, he does alternate between rushing and breaking to trot, with short periods of balance in between. (This is intimately related to #1 obviously.)

Overall, Oakley has been quite chill for his first forty-eight hours in his new home, and I’m really happy about what a nice personality he turns out to have. I, of course, am still not entirely chill – there’s always an adjustment period as you learn the ins and outs of a new barn – but I will get there.

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“I think I might like it here!”

For our next installment: tackling Oakley’s hind leg gunk, and the organizational nightmare that is my new locker…

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Small Trials and Tribulations

This week is just a humid, sweaty mess. The air pressure changes have left me with a low-grade headache every day – maybe Schmoodle is feeling the same, as he was desperate for a head rub when he came in last night. He was also a bit fussy about the fly bonnet when I bridled him – lots of head flailing, which is unlike him – so I elected to leave it off.

MISTAKE. The little biting bugs were out in force – good luck getting a steady connection when your horse is shaking his head furiously. He was a bit on the muscle in trot, but manageable – but as soon as I picked up my left lead canter, he basically spit out the bit and I lost any semblance of throughness. I tried lateral work, tried transitions, tried changing the flexion – all I had was tension. So instead of upping the ante and increasing the pressure – I’ve learned my lesson since last week! – I came back to walk and asked for a series of ten-metre figure-eights, keeping the neck long and the body in proper shape. Then I built back up to trot on a 20 metre circle – still good.

As soon as I picked up my canter to the right, though, I could tell that Schmoodle was DONE. He proceeded to throw a full-blown tantrum – rocking horse leaping, jigging, trantering, swinging the hindquarters willy-nilly, rooting against my hand. Again, instead of increasing the pressure, I sat as still as possible; kept a steady leg pressure and a solid but following contact; and waited him out. It took a few circles, but eventually I won – I lengthened and then shortened the canter a bit, then changed directions. I love the feeling I get when he is finally round and neither pulling nor ducking out from the contact – so much power. A bit more of the same shenanigans ensued to the left, but it took way less time to get through to him this direction, surprisingly, as this is usually his stiffer side. As soon as I got the feel and was able to keep it while lengthening and shortening a bit, I let Schmoodle trot and canter on a long rein to leave the idea of stretching as the last thing in his mind. Then I called it a day. Not the best ride – I wasn’t impressed by the tantrum – but it ended positively, and this time I’m pretty sure I had the right response. Plus, he felt good in his body at the end: tired, but supple, and his eye was super soft and relaxed.

I do think something might be going on in Schmoodle’s right hind – consistent heaviness on the left rein/shoulder, tantrum when asked to carry himself in canter on a circle going right, a bit of sensitivity in the right hindquarter when brushing. He also has quite a few bite marks from his pasture mates on that side, some under the saddle pad area. I’m going to see what my trainers think when I see them on Thursday.

After stopping for our mandatory apple under the trees lining the driveway, my very sweaty horse and I headed for the showers. Alas, the hose reel was not connected to the spigot, which I only realized after turning on the tap, thus causing a mini-flood of the barn aisle. Cheers to whoever detached the hose and didn’t write a note about it on the board. After struggling in vain to reattach everything while a hot Schmoodle waited patiently, I settled for a sponge bath (and very wet feet for me) instead. That’s just the kind of week I’m having: on Monday morning, my bicycle broke down on the ride to work; that evening, I put my laundry plus soap in my apartment building’s washer only to realize that it was out of order, forcing me to hand-wash the load in the bathtub.

Anyways, maybe I should stop complaining about being hot and sweaty. It’s September, the days are getting shorter, and any day know I’ll be knocking ice balls out of my horse’s feet while wearing Michelin-man style layers.

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IT’LL BE HERE BEFORE WE KNOW IT

In other news, my best friend KPT just booked our tickets to the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair (“the Royal”) in November! Woohoo! The Royal is basically all of American Indoors wrapped into one, plus a huge agricultural show, loads of vendors, and awesome food. We’re going for the final of the Canadian show jumping championships, which is also the finale of the indoor eventing (always controversial), and most importantly…SHETLAND PONY STEEPLECHASING! There also may or may not be a repeat of the time we snuck in bottles of Fanta spiked liberally with whiskey (…I know) and got drunk in the bathrooms between rounds. You just never know.

PS, I just received the Hunt Club belt I recently ordered – it’s rare that I a) order stuff online from the US due to shipping costs and b) order trendy riding stuff, but I reeeeally loved the look of these. I ordered the “On Deck” colour (all the names are great: Long Spot, Single Oxer, Lake Placid…) My review: it’s really well-made and spiffy looking! It’s pleasantly stretchy and I love the silver hardware, as well as the colour of the leather fixings.

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Two things to note: first, I would have liked the belt to be a half-inch wider, as I like that look with wide-waistband breeches (there was no measurement on the website). Second, when I adjust the belt to my optimal setting, the cute round silver finial gets bisected by the leather keeper, so I have to have it a bit looser or tighter than ideal to get a really clean look. (Yeah, #firstworldproblems.)

Overall, for about $35 CAD shipped, I like this belt a lot; it fancies up my barn look in a pleasantly preppy way, and makes me feel kinship with those cool juniors I stalk follow on Instagram. Win.

Anyone else have any upcoming horsey tourism planned? I’d love to go to Harrisburg to watch Medal Finals some day.

Breaking the Streak

How to Break Your Fourteen-Month No-Falling-Off Streak

  1. Choose a day when the temperature outside has plummeted ten degrees Celsius. It should also be a day when your horse has had a week off without any human contact outside of feeding time.
  2. Decide that this is the day you want to work on relaxed huntery cavalletti lines.
  3. Get lulled into complacency by your horse’s good behaviour on the flat. Wow, nice bending and topline relaxation!
  4. While cantering and preparing to approach your first fence, observe the neighbours at the barn across the street beginning to repair something outside, accompanied by their big leaping dogs and the clanging of lots of metal tools. Horse’s head shoots up and canter immediately becomes tense and four-beat-y.
  5. Decide that today of all days is the day you’re going to ride through the spook and git er done. No wimpy defusing the situation! Cowboy up!
  6. Jump your first single, circle out of the line, horse’s body feels like a block of wood given his determination to stare at the source of the scary movement and noise across the street.
  7. Come back around to jump into the line. Rev up in the corner a bit – remember, we’re doing huntery lines on a long stride today! No adding!
  8. Continue down the line in a bold six strides, as the intermittent noise from across the street gets louder. You got the numbers! (Though not the relaxation!)

    Oh man, Schmoodle, you're right, that looks hard /sarcasm

    Oh man, Schmoodle, you’re right, that looks hard /sarcasm

  9. Land from the second jump and feel the acceleration continue.
  10. Sit one big buck. This is one consequence of having a very athletic horse who you’ve been training all year to be stronger and rounder. Congratulate yourself!
  11. Horse says NOPE to your sitting his big buck, sticks head in the air, leaps and twists hard left.
  12. Fall off. Luckily, land on the area of your body that has the most padding, a.k.a. your ass.
  13. Get up, growl “Schmoodle!!!” at horse as he beats feet for the barn. Horse looks at you like Ah, the provider of treats is still alive – that’s good and promptly starts eating grass. Hope the guy across the street didn’t see you fall off.
  14. March horse back to mounting block, get on, boot horse into canter, put horse on the bit, jump the jump again.
  15. Porpoise-leaping continues. Jump the jumps many times over until you can add, double add, and get the numbers without risking your life afterwards. Insist to horse that he is able to canter in a circle without craning his neck to stare across the street. While walking out, consider the fact that the bucking, combined with the sticking his head in the air and scooting, combined with the twisting, is a lethal combination.
  16. Bathe horse. Take “angry” selfie with horse.

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Attempt to take kissy selfies with horse.

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Ignore horse’s nasty sun-bleached coat.

17. Do not feed horse his usual mint. Walk horse back to paddock while he sulks about this. Turn horse out and he RUNS AWAY in a huff.

18. Reconsider your life choices.

Dog Days of Summer

I’m lacking a bit of inspiration in my riding at the moment, likely because I’ve been out of town three out of the last four weekends, and Trainers M and L are still on the road for another week – thus, it’s hard to have any sort of consistency in my schedule.  I’m hosting a huge group of friends at our family cottage this weekend, so this week has been devoted to menu planning and grocery shopping, as well as a few social things, so Schmoodle has been slightly neglected.

It’s been really hot all week to I had intended to just do a bareback hack-n-graze yesterday, but by the time I got to the barn it had burned off a bit, so I stuck the saddle on.

Mistake #1, I had no real plan beyond getting Schmoodle forward after our lacklustre performance in that area in our Saturday lesson. Honestly, the less said about this ride – our only ride of the week!! –  the better, as it did not accomplish anything good. For the sake of posterity, here is what sucked about it:

  1. No real progressive plan of well-thought-out exercises.
  2. When I did decide on an outcome – more forward – I tried to solve the problem I was having on Saturday, rather than riding the horse I had under me today.
  3. Halfway through, I changed my mind and decided to work on consistency in the bend and frame. Too bad I hadn’t set myself up to actually achieve that, through a progressive plan of well-thought-out exercises.
  4. When Schmoodle got stroppy and resistant (likely due to my POOR RIDE PLANNING), I increased the pressure rather than changing his mind. Dude. Fail. Especially as it was still pretty hot and he was likely just tired and fed up.

And the one big problem that reared its head: controlling my emotions. When Schmoodle gets yucky in the contact, refuses to hold the bend, or insists he’s never heard of a half-halt from the seat before, I take it personally. Rather than slowing my roll, taking a break and thinking of a better way to achieve what I want, I get more and more insistent, almost mad. This usually means a heavier contact and seat and more emphatic leg aids, which always, without fail, winds Schmoodle up and, even if I get the result I want, he is not relaxed about it. Then I feel like a sad, bad horse mom 😥

A couple of things I try to keep in mind, many of which I have gleaned from insightful Chronicle of the Horse Forums posters, but on which I obviously need to be concentrating more:

  1. If a bystander watching your ride is seeing a lot of dramatic flailing on your horse’s part, it’s not necessarily the end of the world, as it’s possible that he is just having a moment. But if this bystander would be seeing a lot of dramatic, flailing aids on your part – that is NEVER good. No matter what outcome your aids have, they should always look and feel tactful and sympathetic.
  2. There’s a difference between a horse saying, “Yes, ma’am!” and being afraid of you. I don’t ascribe to the theory that the horse should be more afraid of your consequences than of spooking at the jump or whatever. Stay your horse’s friend: a herd-leading, moral authority-wielding type of friend, but still – friend, not tyrant.

I showed my remorse (lol, no, I know horses don’t understand apologies) by giving Schmoodle an extra-long shower and an extra mint. And I let him hand graze, or more precisely, bareback graze, as really should have been my whole plan in the first place.

Sorry, silly man.

Sorry, silly man.

It’s all good, I know I haven’t ruined him, but still. Can’t wait to get back to our normal schedule next Tuesday.

Anyone else have these struggles with mental composure? Any handy tricks for those moments of madness?

A Letter of Apology

Dear Schmoodle,

I feel that I must apologize for my conduct of yesterday, in which I spent the whole ride convincing you that you were not, in fact, in danger of being eaten by a predator hiding in the jumps stored on the side of the ring. I appreciate that you allowed yourself to be persuaded by my forceful application of inside leg and my muttering under my breath of, “Keep the proper shape in your body, you big chicken!

Alas, I regret to inform you that you were, in fact, not too far off the mark, as evidenced by the BIG BLACK BEAR I saw running onto the barn property as I drove away last night.

NO, this isn't him. Come on, I was too busy shrieking to take a picture.

NO, this isn’t him. Come on, I was too busy shrieking to take a picture.

You might appreciate that my actions upon sighting this bear were essentially the human equivalent of your spooking: slamming on the brakes and screaming “Oh my God! Oh my God! Ahhhh! Don’t eat my horse!!!”

[Editor’s Note: Schmoodle lives outside with three other geldings. AHHHH!]

I have been informed that you and your companions survived the night, for which I am devoutly grateful. Anyway, Google tells me bears don’t eat adult horses, but still – stay vigilant!

Love,

Liz

P.S.: I will note that, in your consistent aversion to the pile of jumps by the side of the ring, you were actually spooking towards the direction in which the bear came. So maybe work on your situational awareness a bit.

Pink, Flowery Danger

Aha, I thought to myself on Friday evening.

Rather than struggling to move heavy cavalletti*, I will create today’s exercise using readily portable flower boxes.

[* I feel like I complain about this a lot; it’s not because I’m a huge weakling, it’s because someone {ahem} broke my wrist as I fell off him last year; my wrist has never really recovered its strength and gets really painful when I try to carry heavy things while bending it.]

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Like this.

We will work on all manner of things, I thought, lulled by Schmoodle’s weeks of excellent behaviour. Halting in the middle of a line, cantering in and trotting out, simple changes in the middle of the line, 10-metre circles in the middle of the line…

My first inkling that my plan might not work was the minute we stepped onto the field and Schmoodle stopped dead, his ears pricked violently towards the flower boxes. I could practically hear the thoughts running through his little horsey brain: HOW DID THOSE GROW OUT OF MIDDLE OF THIS PRISTINE GRASS FIELD since I was in here yesterday?! Are those flowers…SWAYING IN THE WIND?!?

Needless to say…my plan didn’t exactly come to fruition. Our ride consisted of, first, trying to approach within a ten-foot radius of the flower boxes without skittering sideways; then riding like an eventer facing the deepest, widest ditch in the world on our initial approach to the 12″-tall flower box; then ratcheting down our speed on landing from “Holy God Panic Mode” to “I Am Not Running Away With You Any Longer But Will Still Throw In A Few Exuberant Lead Changes To Show the Flower Boxes Who’s Boss”.

I decided to quit once I got the correct number of strides in the line (i.e., without the tiny stutter step that Schmoodle kept wanting to put in, the better to inspect the monsters in the flower boxes), didn’t overjump the boxes by four feet, and cantered away with some semblance of control, Schmoodle heaving and blowing like he had just run Rolex.

I got off up at the barn and Schmoodle looked at me with wide eyes like, “You’re lucky I saved your ass from those pink flowery things. A ‘thank you’ wouldn’t be outta line.”

Pseudo (and real) Dressage

I sure got lucky last night with the weather – it was just starting to sprinkle when I arrived at the barn and by the time I hauled Schmoodle (me running, him dispiritedly jogging) into the barn, it was a full-on thunderstorm.  It was one of those vicious summer storms that’s gone as quickly as it came, though, so by the time we were tacked up, the skies had cleared, and I had perfect, beach-at-tide-level footing to play in!

Alas, I took advantage of the virgin footing to analyze Schmoodle’s footprints and realized that, despite how good he is being re. relaxation and suppleness, our straight lines are still more like a micro sine wave depending on where is focus is. So I set out so have a real straightness-oriented workout.

Schoomdle: "A dog on the left! A jump on the right! A bird on the left! An uneven patch of sand on the right!"

Schoomdle: “A dog on the left! A jump on the right! A bird on the left! An uneven patch of sand on the right!”

Backtrack: last winter, when trainers M&L were down in Florida, leaving the rest of us up here to freeze our buns off, I decided to start taking dressage lessons. As I’ve mentioned before, I loooove a good flatwork sessions and had always counted myself pretty proficient. I prided myself on my ability to get on pretty much any horse and have it going round, straight and relaxed. Little did I know, I was basically in a state of unconscious incompetence: in 2011 I moved to England and started riding with a bunch of Intermediate/Advanced level eventers (more on that at a later date), and realized how woefully inadequate my capital-D Dressage skills were compared to theirs. So when the opportunity came around to remedy this, I jumped on it.

I would say I have now progressed to conscious incompetence?

I would say I now tend to fall squarely in the conscious incompetence category?

I began riding with a local dressage trainer, Robin, who runs a full-service show barn on whatever the dressage equivalent of the A-circuit is, but also has lots of lesson clients. I explained to her that I wanted some new flatwork tools for my toolbox, and we started weekly lessons.

That first dressage lesson kicked my butt HARD CORE. I don’t know how you dressage riders do it, honestly. Even now, with about twelve months of dressage lessons under my belt, I can’t say maintaining a dressage-y leg and seat isn’t a constant struggle. For my first couple of rides, my victim chosen mount was Franklin, a 3rd/4th level schoolmaster type. Franklin accepted my flailings as I learned that a) I didn’t know how to get a dressage horse to canter; b) my sitting trot muscles were seriously underdeveloped; and c) although I thought I knew what a half-halt was (basically, hold the outside rein harder?), I actually didn’t. At all.

To paraphrase the Dowager Countess: "Is this a saddle, or an instrument of torture?!"

To paraphrase the Dowager Countess: “Is this a saddle or an instrument of torture?!”

Mercifully for him I moved on from Franklin to Billy, a QH who, though basically stiff and earthbound, could plug out a really solid 3rd Level test if you rode him correctly; then Lady, a former 2* eventer, who fulfilled all the stereotypes of a flighty TB mare but who gave a really good feel if you could just calibrate your aids subtly enough. I took a hiatus for the summer then returned to Robin’s this winter, when she presented me with a new horse to ride: Cedrik, her first FEI horse, now 21 and enjoying life in his paddock.

Even at 21, Cedrik’s power, sensitivity and energy were waaaay beyond my skill level at that point. Our first lesson together consisted of him lugging me around at what felt like Mach 10 – at the trot. I realized I had better shape up pretty quickly if I didn’t want to spend every Monday evening feeling like an idiot (a very sore idiot: every muscle in my body hurt after those first 45 minutes on Cedrik.)

After a couple of lessons, Robin offered to put me on a different, easier horse. It was tempting, I’ll admit, as Cedrik had basically totally demoralized me; but I’m so glad I stuck with it. Thanks to Robin’s patience, good humour, and generally great teaching skills, I learned how to half-halt, apply a dressage leg, coordinate my lateral aids, and most of all, really ride from my seat. Cedrik began to take a liking to me and although I still finished every lessons with many huge pats for him for putting up with my ineptitude, I began to develop the ability to actually influence the “conversation” in our rides. The best part was the moments in which I could tell I was doing it right, and Cedrik gave me a feeling I have never felt before or since: real collection, lightness and balance. (Then I would do something stupid like pull on the reins and it would all go off the rails again.)

Cedrik in his heyday. He is a lot furrier now, but still adorable!

Far from our bumbling beginnings (Robin, at one of my last lessons: “Hahaha! Remember when you couldn’t steer? That was hilarious!”), by June Cedrik and I had done half-pass, three-time changes, and canter pirouettes (dressage riders: pirouettes feel AWESOME and I am jealous of those of you who get to ride them regularly.) I was even able to do renvers without collapsing into a pretzel! (Incidentally, straight talk: renvers is the dumbest and most confusing dressage movement ever. In my humble opinion.) More importantly, I learned so much about connection, balance and straightness that I now try to being to my rides with Schmoodle.

So: today with Schmoodle, I put my pseudo-dressage-rider hat on: we did lots of serpentines, lengthenings across the diagonal, and stretchy trot circles; lots of leg-yield, followed by shoulder-in and haunches-in in each direction; canter voltes at each letter; center lines; and counter-canter patterns. I focused on the balance and angle of my lateral work, and the quality of the connection in our transitions. I concentrated on riding up into the bridle, rather than using my hands to create the shape I wanted. I ended the session with a much straighter and more supple horse – success.

Homework:

  1. I’m still struggling with Schmoodle wanting to swing his haunches out or in to avoid truly carrying himself, mostly in canter. I will bring a dressage whip to our next ride to attempt to nip this habit in the bud.
  2. I’m not sure if I’m really uneven with my shoulders/ribcage. I suspect that one shoulder is usually higher than the other. I need to document this and then correct it. Wish I had the ability to videotape on something other than an iPhone – or that we had arena mirrors.

Heat Wave, continued

Yes, I know – if any solitary readers of this blog any of you live in a truly hot climate, our measly 35*C temperatures probably seem like child’s play to you. Meanwhile, we are wilting up here in Ottawa and struggling to move at anything faster than a shuffle. I capitulated to the heat and adopted a fashionable riding outfit of tank top and sunglasses:

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The bug-eyed look. We also decided to forego a saddle for most of this week.

Today saw a bit of rain and slightly lower temperatures, so I planned an actual workout for Schmoodle. After last lesson, I wanted to work on rebalancing the canter on landing from a jump, as well as continuing to insist on a consistently sharp response to my inside leg. Luckily I had this diagram of four-jump exercises in the annals of my computer (provenance unknown):

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The second exercise, switchbacks, is for balance and bending – sounds good to me! (Unlike Bending Bounces Massacre, which sounds terrible.) I set it up with cavalletti as the centre elements and poles as the outside (because, once again, my motivation only extended to moving two heavy cavalletti.)

This deceptively simple exercise totally kicked our butts! It forced Schmoodle to be super respectful of the bending aids from both legs, to keep his engine going through the short turns, and to maintain shape in his topline and body despite wanting to stiffen and resist (given that my exercise was set next to the pile of scary jumps, there was significant resistance away from that direction.) After running through it a couple of times, I added halts after each element (as a “woohoo, I’m up here” kind of deal); next time, I added ten-metre circles instead of rolling back directly to the next element (including a solid correction with the whip which engendered a literal squeal of offense on Schmoodle’s part). Then, I suddenly had a super engaged, straight horse under me, who jumped the shit out of the cavalletti the final times through – really round and using himself correctly. Will definitely be using this exercise again.

(Our only misstep was when Schmoodle stopped dead in horror to stare at the German Shepherd that had wandered into the road from the barn across the street. He is forgiven, as I also thought it was a coyote at first glance.)

I shampooed his tail tonight with a shampoo that smelled like delicious coconut and gave me a visceral longing for pina coladas.

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“For dogs and cats.” Oops. Also, “adds highlights”. Sure it does.

I’m out of town again this long weekend and am taking bets on whether Schmoodle will still have his fly mask on when I return. I suspect it will have been ripped from his face, destroyed, and partially buried in a far corner of the field – thanks, gelding friends.

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Hey, dudes.

(Mostly) Wordless Wednesday: Heat Wave

It felt like 38*C (around 100F) in Ottawa yesterday. Today will be going up to 42*. I’M NOT DOWN.

We went on a bareback jaunt yesterday night, then had a nice bath (I say “we” because I’m incapable of bathing a horse without soaking myself totally.) More of the same on the agenda tonight, I should think. I may even break my self-imposed rule of “no riding in tank tops”.

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By the way, that cutie got into some mischief while I was out of town on Sunday…a good friend of mine took a lesson on him (her own horse is lingeringly lame) and, following a disagreement about a distance (at the horrifying fern jump, wouldn’t you know), she fell off and broke her finger. BAD SCHMOODLE.

Flat Days: Musing on Draw Reins and Vacations

Had a good flat school on Thursday night – once again, Schmoodle came out with ants in his pants, but once again, he settled and produced some lovely work.

I elected for draw reins today as I was encountering some resistance in the jaw and diving in and out with the shoulders that I was finding difficult to correct. Full disclosure, I’m not a huge draw reins fan. I know many people who never flat without them, and honestly, I don’t get it – how do you trust in the quality of your work (namely, hind-end engagement versus headset) without them? (Honest question here.)  That being said, I like them attached to the billets or side D-ring of the girth when I need to emphasize straightness once in a while.

Despite a few struggles in trot, the canter work was very good. I was able to put my leg on and create a forward, round canter even in the ~*~scary corner~*~ where all the jumps are stored. I added in the two cavalletti we worked on in my last lesson, this time upping the ante and alternating between eight strides and eleven strides each time through. Schmoodle was super responsive, not strong after the very flowing eight, and nicely balanced in the very holding eleven. Success!

However, Schmoodle’s coming out tense and spooky two days in a row, after last week being so quiet and relaxed, makes me think I have to integrate more “vacation” days into our regular schooling, as I think he gets sour/bored by too much ring work. Prior to last week, I had spent the last month riding bareback due to an ankle condition that prevented me from riding normally (more in another post.) Schmoodle LOVED this and just generally seemed like a happy horse. He still seems like he’s in a good mood – always very happy to see me and come in to work – but I need to be conscious of mixing in some days where we tool around and have fun, I think.

Or, Schmoodle needs to come to terms with the fact that he basically works five hours a week at things that are pretty easy in the grand scheme of things. Not exactly slave labour, there, buddy.

Loafing in the field: a favourite pastime

Loafing in the field: a favourite pastime. Unfortunately, you have a job, Schmoodle.

Homework:

  1. Body control! I need to be very cognizant of what I’m doing with my body, especially as I ride alone most of the time. I have worked hard on my leg and hand position and am pretty happy at the moment, but I find myself influencing too much with my body a lot of the time. I need to keep my posting very quiet, even when Schmoodle gets stuck and looky; and in canter, not use my body to create the forward or sideways that needs to come from my leg. Shoulders like a princess, hips like a harlot, as they apparently say in dressage world.