Tuesday, November 29, 2016

11/16 Day 2: If You Weren't Sore Before...

Sorry this took so long to get out- I had an adventure with Austen at the start of the holiday week, then the holiday itself, then I got sick (good thing I wasn't able to get into that show, it wouldn't have gone well due to illness and lack of practice). Anyway, back to the adventure:

Day 2 started out as if we weren't away from home- GP Trainer's team fed Penn, changed his clothes, turned him out, cleaned his stall, and generally did everything our home barn would do. It really threw me for a loop- I'm away from home with my horse, I need to take care of him!

Since they were taking care of him, Mom and I got to take our time and get breakfast, and then stop by Tractor Supply for more Vetrolin. I ran out, and with it being so warm and the barn having heaters, I wanted to try and give Penn some muscle relief after lesson.

Also note, he got turnout! I knew they had private turnouts for every horse, and I was thrilled that he was allowed to be turned out. I warned them he's used to group turnout and may not handle being by himself, but behaved himself and acted like it's his normal routine.

Walking up to him in the morning to fetch him for lesson.

Of course he looked so peaceful out there, so I snapped a bunch more pictures. (some of the farm too)

The indoor and the beautiful path down to this section of turnouts.
A panorama for good measure.
So pretty.

Penn saw me coming, and he just kind of looked at me like, "Please don't come get me." As we watched him and looked around at the farm, he kind of wandered away. He kept looking back up at us in this "pretend I'm not here" type look.

Wandering all the way to the bottom of the field.
I finally did go catch him, he looked at me like, "Please no, I like it out here." Sorry bud, we came here to ride!

We started our second lesson by talking about bend- I told GP Trainer we had been struggling with half pass, and she started with the basics of bend.

GP Trainer equates bend with lifting the inside rib cage more than the outside rib cage, instead of thinking of it as driving the inside leg to outside rein. I found this more effective than my previous method of "inside leg until something happens" because guess what, something never happened for us.

I also got a tip on how to get my lower leg on my horse! GP Trainer is taller than I am, and she has similar struggles that her leg hangs well below the widest part of her horse's barrel. She said to put my pinky toe on the iron and lift my big toe to get my ankle around my horse. I've had similar instruction before, but it's all been a bracing action that I find impossible to hold, let alone be functional and use my leg. The way she explained it just spoke to me.

This small change went into immediate effect with our trot work- a simple spiral in and out. Going to the left, I need to make sure to keep him a hair straighter (hello left hand turrets), and focus on making his shoulder lead on the spiral in, yet keep his head right (aka straight). Trainer also gets after me for this.

See the following video for her exact wording (mom was really super about catching 90% of her instruction in this lesson!) and me on the struggle bus:

Then there was the great, "Shoulder in FAIL." *facepalm* Yupp, I've ridden second, and was attempting third, and had my shoulder in majorly corrected. I'm not sure if it was like this on Mikey, I had many comments about "needs more bend" which is what I was lacking with Penn, but man, I felt stupid.

In short, we have a lovely leg yield. Penn's haunches don't stay straight and parallel to the wall. Instead, he crosses his hind legs a bit, which makes it a leg yield and not a base for further work.

And here's the great video of GP Trainer correcting me, and then direction on how to reintroduce and fix Penn's shoulder in. We were going to look at half pass, but GP Trainer said it's useless to work on half pass when our shoulder in isn't correct.

Basically, we're going with the "explicit instructions" for Penn. As GP Trainer said, "Subtlety comes later." That means putting the outside leg on slightly back to keep his hips straight, and the inside leg on at the girth, with my inside rein opening way away from the neck, and the outside rein coming over a bit too, then only hold the correct shoulder in for a few steps because he simply can't hold it any longer with any real quality. She didn't care that he wandered in off the track, she only didn't want him wandering out to it. I have to say, your inside leg has to really be on to counter act the inside hand. As soon as I could get the leg on, I could do what GP Trainer wanted with my hand. Ugh, my inside leg. Maybe that's why the "inside leg to outside rein" idea never worked for me. I can't get the leg to do what I want!

The canter was similar to the day before, repeating the canter circle exercise. Magically, I could get my lower leg on my horse in the canter, a notable change in my riding.

I ached all over after two lessons. My thighs hurt from finally getting my lower leg on, my sides and back hurt from the stretching up, and my abs felt the burn after finding that sweet spot in sit trot where I tuck my butt under me to help encourage Penn to sit, yet hold up my own torso so Penn doesn't struggle with sitting. Everyone in the relationship has to hold themselves up. Sorry bud, I owe you one. Especially after watching my hands in the trot work. Ugh, I look like I've never sat on a horse before. It'll take time to get all my body parts acting properly again with all these changes!

After lesson, we went for a little hack around the farm. That is a big thing for GP Trainer- the horses must get out of the ring, even for little hacks.

One of the big fields at the front of the property.
Walking back to the barn, down the main drive.

After lesson, Penn got a vetrolin bath and then tried the infra-red solarium. I thought the fans would disturb him. Newsflash: he could get used to this kind of treatment. The spoiled pony.

Well on his way to spoiled.

I finally got around to getting more pictures of the farm and the set up:

The walk out to Penn's turnout, next to the indoor.
Stevie the kitten.
Umm, tack room or luxury sitting area?!?! I loved this tackroom and the matching trunks.
And the cleaning station. OMG all the love to the tack cleaning station. I would clean my stuff every ride if we had it at home... but I mostly cleaned my tack because I was having lessons and I was attempting to get my tack clean enough to sit in a cubby!
I saw this on their bulletin board and loved it.

Dinner or window? Penn went off his feed a bit on this trip, but I don't think it was because he was upset- I think it was because he had so much to see.

Penn got to spend the rest of the day outside, and Mom and I went to lunch, did some shopping, and paroozed a local tack shop that was heavily into fox hunting and had all the wonderful horsey trinkets and pillows that make up a very horsey home. I managed to leave without buying anything!

GP Trainer's team brought Penn in and dressed him later on in the evening after it cooled down for the night. It's still a bit boggling that I didn't have to do anything for him while we were gone!

Next up, Day 3, putting the pieces back together.

Monday, November 21, 2016

11/15 Day 1: To Hell With Second Level

Penn and I went on a grand adventure down to VA to take 3 lessons with a GP rider with all the things I'm looking for in a new/additional coach (GP rider, multiple horses to GP, FEI students, a very successful record of bringing young horses to the FEI levels). I don't want to name names since I never asked if I could put her name on here, so I am going to call her GP Trainer. I made our lesson plans almost a month ago, got my vacation time approved at work, and then waited excitedly for the time to come to make the drive!

Mom went with me (as usual for non-weekend things), and after a five hour drive, we arrived at GP Trainer's gorgeous farm. Everything is very thoughtfully laid out and well organized, and there are very nice amenities. I love it. Mom and I spent more than our fair share of time oogling the barn and property. It is also super expensive to board there- training board only.

I arrived much later than I wanted to (poor planning and poor time addition. Seriously, I promise I was a math major), but her Barn Manager helped me unload and settled us in, just in time for me to head to the rather grand indoor for our first lesson.

The grand indoor. With very fancy, expensive, soft, no dust footing.
Seriously, there's a sign that says if your horse pees in there, there's a $50 fine.
Mom was my photographer... So things are a little crooked!

We went over a couple basics about Penn and I, and she asked me to move around so she could have a look at us. I warned her that Penn recently had an SI problem, but seemed ok now.

One of her first comments was about how useless Penn's current trot "frame" was. There wasn't a lot going for it (thanks time off for really not helping). She said it's fine for training/first level, but that is not our end goal. She stressed riding him like he was an FEI horse, so that when (and if of course) he got there, it wouldn't be a shock to his system.

GP Trainer: So you're working towards second level... to show when?
Me: We were supposed to ride it in a couple weeks, but I couldn't get into the show. So sometime next year.
GP Trainer: You have your second level scores?
Me: Yupp.
GP Trainer: Let me tell you about my philosophy of Second level... Second level is where hopes and dreams go to die. I think one of the hardest jumps is from First to Second. To be truly good at Second level, you are usually ready for Third. You've been to Second already, skip straight to Third.
Me: I did want to try and get a Dover medal...
GP Trainer: We'll get some tin foil and make you one.
Me: I wanted to finish my Second Level Rider Award?
GP Trainer: Just one more ride then, make it count.

It made me laugh. We went on to talk about flying changes vs counter canter, and in her experience, the horse has to have some idea of flying changes prior to Second level work. If you're going to ride 2-3 and really make the counter canter strong and perfect for it, the horse better have a good idea of flying changes first, otherwise you're in for a world of hurt when you try to train them for Third. She was not surprised at the difficulty we had teaching Mikey- almost 10 years of vacillating between disciplines and not insisting on them, then we blew his mind asking him to do them after strengthening his counter canter. That made me feel a bit better about basically completely failing at teaching Mikey changes (and good about my decision to teach Penn changes now and having them be on my terms from the start).

So that basically set the theme for the week- an end goal of Third for the spring, not Second (I will be riding a couple Second level tests, I'm not making an entire level skip!).

The first step in making that happen: Penn needs a more uphill balance with more sit. He's not badly put together, but he is built a hair downhill and we're fighting that for the most part. First thing in doing that? I need to sit up. A lot. And tuck my butt under me. As soon as I did that, he was immediately freer in his shoulder at the trot... and of course I lost some of my roundness and connection because it's hard and he's weak in his lower back.

She had me show her the canter, which was a complete hot mess disaster. She immediately got after me to sit up, tuck my butt under me, and lift my feet ever so slightly off the irons because I tend to pinch my knee which lets me hover above him. Then something curious: don't worry about the connection right now in the canter. His answer to connection is falling on the forehand. We need to teach him to sit down and carry himself. He doesn't have to be connected, but he should always feel like if I were to focus on it, he would be there. If that's not the case, abandon the exercise and focus on connection for a little while and then come back to the exercise. (so we're not throwing it away entirely and teaching him bad things)

She made an excellent comparison for me, which is better to build strength: a single 100lb dead lift, or 100 reps with a 5lb weight? Obviously the reps are what builds strength, and you get more in with the 5lb weight. Apply the same to half halts: do more tiny half halts than the huge ones I was trying to do.

Then she had another good visualization for me, because I continued to struggle to sit up and under myself: Pretend every stride is like jumping down the head of the lake. Bam, instant sit up and under!

(Notice a trend? She's a master at visualizations for the rider.)

The next exercise she had me do was in canter: ride a 20m circle (or that general idea in her arena that was much bigger than 20m wide), and at each point on the circle (North, South, East, West), ride a 10m circle. And sit up. And don't hold him up. And don't catch him or save him- let him make a bunch of small mistakes and fall all over himself. Teach him to sit in this exercise. Patience. Endless patience. If he breaks, no worries, just reset him back to canter and go again.

And slowly the canter got steadier and less hot mess, and as long as I held myself up, he held himself up. She got after me to not fall forward into his collapse- keep sitting up and encouraging the sit. For as much as she told me not to help him, he did a very good job holding himself up with much less breaking than I thought he would have.

She also gave me a quick tip about timing the aid for walk-canter (and maybe everyone else already knows this, but it really worked for me): put my outside leg in position, and cue for canter as the inside front leg steps forward. It was the "step ahead" focus I needed, because I was always late when I focused on the hind legs.

Here's some video that Mom got in our canter work (and managed to hook together clips into a single file on my phone?!)

I asked about bend at the end of our lesson, since we seemed to ignore it and it's something I've struggled with so far. GP Trainer basically said that judges will pick at bend at these lower levels, but not to worry about it just yet- we have other issues, but we can look at shoulder in and half pass the next day (spoiler, guess what failed us? bend!)

After lesson, I took Penn out to hand graze while he dried, and got a couple more pics of the farm.

Grazing after a long day- trailer ride and lesson!
Hay barn and the exerciser/hot walker type thing.
Outdoor ring with fluffy footing too.

As it got dark, I put Penn in his stall and  of course snapped a pic or two.

Stall front. These are huge stalls - 12x14.
Begin Penn's fascination with the window. He was in love.
Mom and I were both really liked GP Trainer. She seems to not sweat the small things, focuses on the big picture/end goal, and has endless patience for the horse to learn and get stronger. Day 1 was a bit of a shock as Penn and I got a feel for the barn, for GP Trainer, and then for the work she was having us do. Next Post, day 2!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Very Big Event

Today (by the time this gets posted), Penn and I will be on our way to an adventure! I'm not naming any names, just in case we don't click, but Penn and I are heading off to have 3 lessons with a successful GP rider that is several hours away. As I've said previously, I've been looking for a trainer that has GP experience and has brought more than one student up to the FEI levels. I was able to arrange lessons for this week, so we're off to learn! I'm really hoping we click- I'd have a GP rider to visit and learn from, and my own trainer at home who has an excellent eye for making sure things are being practiced properly.

Penn is feeling a lot better, by the way. His movement has drastically improved- much more bounce in his back at walk and trot, and much bolder in his canter. I'm having trouble figuring out what is him not feeling right, what is his own weakness (the right hind was weak anyway), and what is me not riding him properly for fear of hurting him. I've lunged him a bunch of times, had several people watch him go, and everyone is basically telling me I'm crazy and he looks great, so I decided to keep our Very Big Event plans.

I did have to remove our next horse show from our plans... mostly because 2.5 weeks out, this schooling show is full (approx 90 rides), has a significant wait list, and I didn't get my entry in on time. Second level debut will be another time!

Hopefully I have excellent things to report back! See you in a few days!

Monday, November 7, 2016

2 Week Overview (Lesson, Trail Rides, Clipping, Browband Bling, Chiropractor)

I promise I haven't fallen off the Earth. I've been super busy at work, busy with Penn, tired of working 7 days a week, and haven't felt like writing, nor really had time to. I'm trying to keep up with everyone else's posts! But things have gone on:

I had another lesson where I struggled with my seatbones. Very discouraging, I didn't bother writing about it. We focused on different ways of trying to get my seatbones working properly, but at this point I'm overthinking it and overdoing it.

Queen Penny and her court jesters, Sophie and Felix.

I took Penn for some long over due walks.

Pretty scenery... but we somehow missed the fall leaf change. The leaves went from greenish to dead and off the trees.
Trail ride at Trainer's when we hauled over to see a new chiropractor. (details below)

Penn got clipped almost two weeks ago. He was a gem this time around- clipping his whites all summer really helped desensitize him to clipping. I still can't cross tie him, and I had to wedge him against the wall and ground tie him, but we got the job done! This is the first time I've fully clipped my own horse- I've fully clipped Trainer's but I've always left the face and legs unclipped on my own horse.

One last look of his pretty mahogany color. I braided his mane, tail, and forelock to keep them out of the way.
Part of the pile of fluff. #notpoop
So pretty! (Except that mane- I was halfway through pulling it)

I really like the no-hair look! I did a poor job with the saddle patch though. It doesn't match side to side and it is a bit big, but whatever. I can fix it when I clip a second time this winter.

Penn was such a big boy about me clipping his face, I was very happy with him!

I also finally finalized the Dark Jewel Designs browbands I won from EventingSaddlebredStyle's Olympics contest- I'm so totally smitten by the one, so much so that I haven't even taken a picture of Penn wearing the other!

Black/Gray/Clear ombre with tanzanite spacers.
I was completely distracted by it when I went to hang the bridle in my trailer- the sunlight really caught the tanzanite spacer's color.
It has merited a lot of looking- sometimes the clear beads catch the light, sometimes the black. It never looks the same and I love it!

I also got a gorgeous gray and navy one, which I'll post when I get a pic of it!

Penn looking at the trailer when I pulled it up to haul him over to Trainer's barn last Wednesday.

And Penn made a big trip to the land of NQR last week. He's not lame, but his right hind is not willing to step up and under. It's always been weak, but this was beyond normal for him.

Trainer called a halt to lesson as soon as she saw it when we warmed up last Tuesday. I told her we'd been struggling in general, and I had long lined him Sunday to try and work on his canter. He had bucked into the canter numerous times, which is completely unlike him, and he struggled to the right on the lines. She had me trot/canter each way, then lunge him so I could see what it looked like and so she could see if it was better or worse without a rider.

He was much worse without a rider (no wonder I feel like I'm holding him together again, it's because I am). It's not visible in the walk, it's barely visible in the trot, and it was horrible in the canter. To the left, it was like he completely forgot to bring his right hind along with him. It was barely coming up even with his hip. To the right, it was like he was bouncing on his hind legs instead of striding properly.

He was about 2 weeks overdo for chiropractor work, and we had been working hard at flying changes, more collection and extension, and more lateral work. We're hoping it's a mix of fatigue and overdue for bodywork. I'm upset I didn't notice it riding him, but it seems to have been graduallying getting worse so I attributed it to something going wrong in training.

I had already scheduled Penn to be adjusted by a traveling vet who does chiropractor and acupuncture injection therapy (B12 injections). He has quite a following and came highly recommended- he travels over half the country to just do chiropractic work on horses. Luckily, that appointment was the next day after lesson. I hauled Penn over and we went for a gentle walk before he was adjusted (it was a gorgeous day!).

This vet was very concerned about Penn's lumbar/SI area/hips- more so then his regular chiropractor. He was quick to point out that Penn's right hip was considerably lower than his left. It's been that way since last winter, and his regular chiropractor had been working on it. I figured what was left was poor muscling on that side since he didn't really want to step up and under with the right hind... apparently not. He said he thought it had been like this for a long time, is probably from an injury long ago, and it would take him a few visits to get it fully worked out. He also pointed out how the lower lumber region wanted to turn to right (and I could actually feel it- he showed me where). The vet was surprised I had just reported that Penn had just started bucking this week- he thought Penn should have started bucking long ago.

Let me say that Penn did not enjoy getting adjusted. The vet did a quick check all over, adjusted his shoulder, then worked on the problem area in his hips. He showed me how stiff Penn's back was before, and then how bouncy it was when he was done. It was very neat. He used a bit of force in his adjustments, and Penn decided he had enough and moved away sideways... so we reset him and he decided to try walking away... so I held his head and shoulder, Trainer had two hands on his right side as the vet worked on the left side to release the right (very interesting). Penn did reach around and pin his ears and snap a couple times, so I did feel bad for him... But I know when I'm worked on effectively, it does hurt, but I also understand what's going on so I don't bite my chiropractor. Towards the end, he started stomping his right hind- something vet said is from his back releasing and it creating a tingly feeling down his leg.

He then popped in 6-8 needles in the SI area and one on his right shoulder, and injected them all with B12. I think the B12 is supposed to help the adjustments stay longer. The vet said to give Penn at least one day off with normal half day turnout- I said he'd get 4 days off because I simply couldn't make it to the barn again before Monday.

Holy shit though, Penn's hips were extremely close to level when he was done. When Penn's regular chiro adjusts him, his hips still look the same. I was floored. I've never been able to see physical results of the work... and this guy is only $15 more expensive than Penn's regular chiro. After hauling him home and finishing up there, one of the other girls at the barn noticed Penn being willing to stand square behind, instead of his usual pose of the right hind under or resting while the left holds up his hind end. Interesting.

Penn is, of course, on this vet's schedule for next time he's through this area (about every 8 weeks- the guy likes every 6 weeks but finds he can't get all his clients seen within 6 weeks for the correct rotation, so it's 8 instead). I do believe Penn has a new regular chiropractor.

I'll see how he is tonight! I'm hopeful that this NQR will be gone with that big adjustment and time off. Our Very Exciting Event is next week and I wanted to make Penn's second level debut at a show the weekend after Thanksgiving! Both are up for cancellation depending on how Penn is this week.