Friday, December 29, 2017

12/2-3/2017 Clinic with GP Trainer

First of all, OMG the stress. Give your clinic organizers a big hug for all that they do to make sure you have a good experience, get the times you need/want, and pay as little as possible. It's hard work and very stressful. I was so stressed about the clinic that I stopped being able to sleep and I wore myself down until I got some kind of coughing disease before the clinic and the cough lasted well after, and since my immune system was so worn down, I got shingles after. Fun fact: If you've had chicken pox, you can get shingles at ANY AGE, especially in times of very high stress. I'm 30 and the doc that diagnosed me didn't bat an eye at my age. Go get your shingles vaccine.

It might have felt like this cat was nomming my back.
I am STILL riding out the pain even though the rash is well past it's contagious stage.

Added to the stress was an outbreak of EHV-1 at a barn on the other side of our major city- I was suddenly asking for vaccine records, where horses are currently located, and where they have been in the recent past. Luckily, it seems the outbreak was contained to just the one farm and only stopped one of our riders from coming.

I was given a lot of freedom for this clinic: I was able to take deposits and became an admin of the farm Facebook page so I could properly promote the clinic and answer questions. I made the schedule, contacted everyone to confirm times, etc. Exhausting.

Going into day 1 of the clinic, we had 2 openings on Sunday. One of the ladies who previously didn't want to do back to back clinics messaged me that morning and asked if the two spots were still available, and if so, was it possible to get a ride in between them so she could take both. I said absolutely, and was able to move around some of the more flexible riders to get the slots filled. In the end, we filled the 20 spots and had levels Training-PSG (and only half of the spots were training level- a huge deal for this area since we're mostly lower level riders). I only had one cancellation for the weekend- it was someone under mandatory quarantine for EHV so that was A-OK.

Overall, there was a lot to learn over the weekend and the clinic covered a lot of ground. Everyone seemed to have a good time and got a lot out of it, especially the lower level riders.

I got a lot out of the PSG horse's lesson. The horse was an above average mover of average build, but not extremely fancy, and he had Penn's 4-beat tendencies at the canter (it was a lot of, that horse can do it! So can Penn!). The horse and rider are confirmed at PSG, so their lesson consisted of more nuanced things that would make PSG even better, and help them move up to I1. Unfortunately I missed the technical discussion of the pirouette- GP Trainer got up and walked over to the middle of the ring to demonstrate something for it, so I couldn't hear her well, and one of the auditors decided to talk to me at that point.
  • Prep for Canter pirouettes: Collected canter. Apply the half halt, but press both legs into the horse at the canter for several strides while not allowing them to move faster or take bigger strides. The horse should gain lift. (this apply the leg was a theme for several riders)
  • Canter pirouettes: Do not touch the inside rein. It's there because it has to be. GP Trainer made the rider hold her reins in the outside hand, canter down the diagonal, collect, and bring the shoulders around to do the half pirouette. OMG it was lovely, and the best one they did all lesson. The horse sat and made a very tidy small circle with his hind feet and did that nice lifting with his front end (GP Trainer's comment on a good pirouette: "They look fun, but they don't feel good. Good ones feel like a boat capsizing.")
  • Canter zig zags: Once at PSG, never end a canter half pass without shifting the shoulders into the new half pass angle, even if you don't intend to school the next half pass. At PSG and after, you will never end a half pass without a change or going into another. Aka, half pass, straighten for a stride, then shift the shoulders to the new half pass direction without changing the lead, ask for the new lead and move off immediately into the new half pass at the same time.
  • More canter zig zags: Don't go for broke sideways in the half passes. Pay more attention to balance, quality, and accuracy. Only the very tippy top horses can move incredible distances sideways in the zig zags (Valegro quality)- the rest are just extremely balanced. Barely go sideways when you start out- nothing crazy. GP Trainer: "When my students move up to GP, there are so many things to worry about in the zig zag that I tell them, 'I want to see on your test: 6, needs bend.' on the zig zag at your first year of GP. You have to worry about the count, the changes, and staying in balance on top of everything else in the test. Let bend go."
  • This rider was struggling with the half pass, but with those few tips, she managed to do 4 half passes and changes down the centerline of our 25m by 45m indoor. She only did 2-3 steps sideways in each direction, but they were of very nice quality.
Other lessons included: one woman cantering her horse for the first time, another one finally getting more than two hurried unbalanced canter steps, and another covered 2nd level and canter walk transitions.

There were several green baby horses, and one teenage 3rd/4th level horse that had excessive attitude. I lump all of these together because they worked on the same things: The rider is allowed to tap you with the whip, ask you to trot, flop around, etc. GP Trainer phrased it as, "When you have young, athletic horses, tell them they're wonderful but also 'poke the bear'. Lightly tap them with the whip 20 times for no reason (do not beat them- literally, lightly touch them). Flop around. Ride poorly. These exercises set them up to take pressure later without having a meltdown." If you don't do those things, you end up with fit, young, athletic things that are now teenagers- basically the 3rd/4th level horse's problem.

Penn's version of teenage nonsense.

The horse would have tantrums over just trotting and cantering around- he'd slam on the brakes and threaten to rear. GP Trainer stressed that you absolutely cannot get emotional when he does that. She didn't think he would make good on his threat, which allowed her to take this approach to fixing it: Do not take his bait of a fight. Just keep adding leg with light/no contact on the inside rein (aka the door out). Tap him incessantly with the whip. WAIT HIM OUT. If he goes to back up, change to asking him to back up. It's not so fun when it's not his idea. Give him every opportunity to move forward out of it, and when he does, just go back to what you were doing like nothing ever happened. Zero emotion. Praise him when he's good and when he tries (inside rein forward and scratch him, vocal praise). Recognize he's doing a good job, and don't just keep working him until he thinks he needs to retaliate to get a break.

In two rides, they had his stopping down to a minimum that his rider hadn't seen in well over a year. He was willing to try instead of resorting to a tantrum. He simply had to trot and canter on the bit and be straight. Over the last year or so, his rider started compensating for his nonsense by riding him crooked and pulling the inside rein. GP Trainer told her no, ride him straight. He must go straight. Yes, you're picking the fight, but he's not going to be successful at 2nd and above if he is not straight. His rider almost said, "But straight doesn't work for him," but caught herself just in time, lol. He tried everything to avoid being straight- stopping at the trot, and doing tempi changes at the canter. GP Trainer just stressed to wait him out, and praise him when he's good.

We got to ride outside on Saturday!

Ok, on to my lessons! Auditing was fascinating, but I got a lot out of my lessons too. You get the brief recap so I can get this out sooner rather than later:

  • Congrats! You have the 3rd level version of what we've been working on! Horses tend to have something that they revert to when the bar is raised, and they do it throughout their training life. We had the first level version, now we have the third level version. Penn wants to be long flat and scrambly. It's his go-to thing.
  • Roll my wrists to help stop Penn from leaning on the hand. Be more sloppy to test his self carriage. Test him much more often.
  • Penn needs to be rounder- I let him sneak too far above the bit/in front of the vertical, especially at the canter.
  • Sit down and back more. (as usual)
  • Work 10m circles in canter and carry an excessively long whip- gently tap Penn's tail with the lash to encourage him to drop his hind end down in the circles (it worked!).
  • Walk, canter 3 steps, walk. This is SO HARD. It doesn't work if I throw myself at him in the transition (he won't pick up the canter at all), and he can't shuffle into the canter. He also doesn't have time to drop down either. Do this until he starts lifting his own head.
  • Turn walk, canter 3 steps, walk into cantering the short side, or a portion of the long side.
  • Obviously the flying changes went to shit, he's not strong enough to do them out of that much collection. Do them off the 10m circle into the new direction- placement on a line is irrelevant (this is where our huge outdoor is helpful).
  • Do not let him run off when I ask for a flying change- that will only teach him to bolt through them and we'll be in real trouble when it comes to more than one change. If he fails to change and surges at all, stop immediately. This isn't about the change, it's being able to change in the collection. If he does give a change, 10m circle right away to set him back on his hind end.
A short clip from lesson, 10m circle to change to 10m circle:

Riding has basically been misery since the clinic- self carriage is so hard and it's so frustrating. I've given up on changes until I see GP Trainer in January because I don't want to mess them up and in the end, it's a strength issue. Plus the last time I tried one he almost bucked me off (I was on his neck flailing). There's a lot of riding the struggle bus happening and I am attempting to embrace the suck... because I'm having trouble seeing the light at the end of the tunnel where he can do all the canter work for 3-3, and do the changes without hopping.

One thing that has gotten a lot better? The TOH and the start of a walk pirouette. Combining what I learned about canter pirouettes in this clinic with identifying the inside hind at the walk and actively using the inside leg in the TOH has made the TOH right a bit better (it's still a struggle), but it created almost a half walk pirouette left. I don't get after Penn quite enough and he ends up getting stuck at the 2/3rds mark, so I try to keep them to a quarter turn. But he stopped crossing the hind legs and just lifts them up an down in rhythm, it's very cool! All is lost if you pull the inside rein.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

2017 Goal Review

I set out unrealistic goals in January this year, then revised them in March to be more obtainable. Let's see how we did.

Made my goals smarter, but not necessarily better.

2017 Main Goals
  • At least one score at first level (recognized) over 70% - Because if we're going to repeat, let's do it in style. Nope, did not get this. Best we did this year was 68.088% in June. I did get a 70%+ at a schooling show.
  • Second Level Rider Award - I need one more score. Completed!
  • Bronze Medal - I need two Third Level scores. Completed!
  • Region 2 Championships at First Level - Go there and compete, and do it well (top 5 or 67%+) Went there and competed, forgot my test which put me 9th instead of 6th, and scored 65.221%.

2017 Stretch Goals
  • Earn one Dover Medal - Because medals are cool. Nope. We sucked at 2-3.
  • US Dressage Finals at First Level - Because he's leaps ahead of where he was last year. Nope, it was tough at Champs this year.

So let's add that up. We'll give champs a half point because I did get there, so the Main goals were 2.5/4, and we're 0/2 on the Stretch Goals. Well that sure sounds shitty, 2.5/6 goals met.

Main Goals:
Not getting a 70% in a recognized first level test doesn't really bother me that much. Penn and I spanned three levels this year and only rode first level at 3 recognized shows. That meant I didn't really ride First Level that much. Of the 12 recognized tests we rode this year: 5 were first level, 4 were second level, and 3 were third level. I'm sure if I had dedicated the year to first level exclusively, we would have hit 70% at some point.

I did finish my Second Level Rider Award (which I should apply for at some point, facepalm) at the second recognized show of the year.

Bigger completion: My Bronze Medal! Such a long time coming. It took me 4 years to get it done. Mikey and I got my first level scores in 2013, then second level in 2014, and then his injury and death combined with training up a new horse put my medal wayyyy back. Looking back, I'm actually surprised I got Penn ready for 3-1 this summer. He went from intro to third in 2 years.

We all know that having a pin to put on my coat is the really exciting thing, not the medal itself.

Championships was a bit of a mixed bag. My truck died on the way there, so just physically getting there was a big deal. Penn was GREAT in our champ test. I was very happy with him. I forgot my test, which cost me 6th place and earned me 9th place, FOR THE SECOND YEAR IN A ROW. However, not all 9th places are created equal because this was 9th out of 45, not 9th out of 29. I missed a ribbon and my ticket to finals. There were some hard pills to swallow that weekend. I still think we did well, even with the issues we had.

The ribbons we should have earned and the ones we did earn. #porkloinandporkchop

Stretch Goals:
I gave myself two shots at a Dover Medal after initially crossing it off the to do list for this year (despite putting it on my goals). The Dover Medal program ended on 10/1/2017, so I pressed for it on a whim and lost big time. The tests were riddled with issues and accuracy problems. Things might have gone better accuracy wise if I had a standard ring at home (3 loop serpentines are hard to practice properly without it). While sad, it wasn't the end of the world. I did get one score of 60%+ so in theory, I could go back and ride a second level freestyle if I wanted without having to reride 2-3.

First Level Finals. Again, mixed feelings. I ended up being happy I didn't go. I was burnt out by that point in the year, and I didn't even have a truck to take me there (I could have borrowed one I'm sure though). I would have been thrilled to go and visit with the local bloggers and JenJ, but I ended up having a quiet fall which was nice.

Saluting out for the year, lol

Bonus items:
- Second Level Open/AA/Jr Champion at Penn's first show at Second Level.

6/4/2017 - Loch Moy Spring II

- Third Level All Division Champion at Penn's first show at Third Level. It also came with a $150 scholarship since I am an AA.

7/22-23/2017 - NODA Dressage and Encore

- NDPC Small Horse - First Level AA - 5th/18
- NDPC Small Horse - Second Level AA - 5th/8
- NDPC Small Horse - Third Level AA - 7th/9

You know what's not shitty? This.
I love this.

All in all, not a shitty year, despite a 2.5/6 on our goals. We traveled a lot, did a lot of showing, went swimming in GP Trainer's pond, and had a lot of fun in general! Plus I have a few more things that we've done in the last few weeks that I haven't put up here yet (double bridle!).

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Year End Awards


My bronze medal arrived this past weekend, but I missed it since I was away having adventures with Austen. Every year, medals are awarded at a USDF ceremony in Kentucky at the end of the season. I couldn't go since GP Trainer was here for a clinic that weekend. No worries, if you can't be there, they'll mail you your award mid-December.

I have been waiting (impatiently) for mid-December. I can't imagine earning a medal right after Decemeber then having to wait almost a year for them to be awarded!

I have also been waiting (impatiently) for my NDPC Small Horse awards. Since Penn isn't registered, I figured the next best thing was signing up for National Dressage Pony Cup, Small Horse Division. "Small Horse" can be his breed, lol. We've been accumulating scores all season, and they had degrees of difficulty added to them and were averaged then compared to all the other Small Horses that registered.

The season closed on 10/31/17, with the final list being put out mid-November...

   5th/18 First Level AA
   5th/8 Second Level AA
   7th/9 Third Level AA

While the Third Level award is the lowest place of the three and in a small division, I don't care. We won a HUGE PURPLE RIBBON. I have to say, that was the most exciting part of getting our awards.

Penn and I covered so much ground this year- first to third. Second and Third were new levels for Penn, and he rose to the occasion wonderfully for a pretty successful year!

Monday, December 11, 2017

Mystery Lameness

The Saturday before GP Trainer came to town, I pulled Penn out of his stall to ride him after we turned out horses... and found this:

The hind legs had some fill and bow-like looks.
The front of the cannon had a bow on it too, can't seem to find that pic though.
He was also very lame on the left hind.

The left leg was hot hot hot. The right was hot, but not as hot. I had a farrier hoof test him for the world's worst abscess- nothing. Except when he put Penn's hoof down, Penn was positively crippled, just standing in the barn aisle. Penn had tried to jerk the left hind away from the farrier, then lifted it ultra high, which I'm guessing basically acted like a flex test. The horse could barely stand for the first 10 seconds after.

Cold hosing did absolutely nothing to the heat in either leg. I didn't evaluate it as an emergency- everything that should be on the inside was still on the inside, and his eyes and face were fine. If it was a soft tissue injury, stall rest was the answer and he could chill in his stall until the vet came on Tuesday for an already scheduled appointment.

I had to get help to wrap Penn's hind legs- he really wanted nothing touching his legs and kept trying to kick me. I gently wrapped him in his BOT no-bows. I didn't want him naked while he stood in a stall for a few days, but I didn't want to hurt him either.

Panic. I did an OK job keeping the panic to a minimum. I was more panicked about trying to fill my two lesson spots the following weekend, or try to find another horse to ride, than "OMG my horse is going to be sidelined for a while." Probably wrong priorities, but it was the first thought.

I tried the barn's ice compression boots the next day (Sunday), and they did a good job on the swelling.

Penn HATED them. Ugh.

Penn seemed to be a bit better on swelling and touch sensitivity the next day, and he was eating and drinking like a champ. If anything, he was drinking more.

I took him to the indoor to check his soundness and to let him get out of his stall.

The large ball is suspicious when the human is not sitting on the horse.
His barrel is dappled when shaved! (hard to see in this pic)

I ended up spending basically the entire day at the barn on Sunday. The barn has some kind of time warp going on, haha. I was able to monitor the leg swelling all day between the ice compression boots and cold hosing.

Imagine my horror when I went to wrap him up for the night and found ALL of his legs swollen. The hinds were the worst they'd been all weekend. Leg swelling from injury is not contagious from leg to leg- at least not like this. We weren't dealing with a soft tissue injury. Maybe cellulitis? Maybe something tick-borne?

This plus a fever of 101.1 meant we called the emergency vet!

I had seen the vet earlier in the day (she boards with us and came to ride while she was on call), and we chatted about Penn's issues. I sent her a text around 5:00 Sunday afternoon saying "Hey, all of Penn's legs are swelling now and he has a fever. Want to come out to see him now?"

She was out within a half hour. She manipulated and squeezed and poked and prodded, and then we jogged on the lunge line. She asked if I pulled any ticks off of him lately, I told her I've pulled off at least 4 tiny deer ticks in the last few weeks.

She didn't think there was any soft tissue damage, but wanted to run a full course of blood work to check all his organ function and to check for other things.

She pulled blood and left me with a bottle of SMZs and we dosed him with banamine. By this point, he was finally looking lethargic and unhappy. Stupid fevers. She said to turn him out the next day- she wanted to keep him moving. We talked about possible tick-borne illness, and decided against a lyme test for now and we'd see how the other tests came out.

The vet texted Monday morning that everything came back normal, but he had a high inflammatory response. We opted to switch him from SMZs to doxy (without testing for lyme or anything). I went out to the farm Monday morning to bring his new meds, take his temp, and to long line him to wear him down a hair before turnout.

Luckily his fever broke overnight and he was back to his normal 99.7 by the time I got to the farm! He seemed to feel better- he was downright rude to handle. He was a lot sounder too.

His BOT sheet was really gross because he slept in his pee Sunday night, so I washed it and used cables to line dry it, haha!

Poor Penn spent a total of 2.5 days locked in a stall. So of course I videoed his freedom after I long lined him: he rolled, ran a little, mildly terrorized the village, rolled again, and terrorized some more.

Long story short: Ticks are the devil. We think it was some kind of tick borne disease, probably anaplasmosis and we caught the fever as it was going up. The vet looked at him again Tuesday and declared him sound and fit for work, and he's been peachy ever since. It was an expensive 4 days for my wallet!

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Embracing the Suck

Alright, I am trying to get back on the wagon here. My fall was slow for blogging because working on the basics isn't really exciting blog fodder, I haven't had new media (the cats have been featured a lot on the Instagram), and then November was particularly bad because of the stress of organizing GP Rider's clinic (which was this past weekend and was great!) and that time when I thought Penn tore tendons in both hind legs. Good times.

So let's start going over stuff!

The barn had a fall party where we pulled out all the obstacles: cowboy curtain, side pass over a pole, weave through some cones with no reins (or as I did it, hit a ball with a broom and make the ball weave through the cones), walk over a tarp and mat, walk over the bridge, walk over the mattress, drag the sled, push the giant ball.
Penn has taken to walking into, and kicking, the giant ball with glee. He actually seems to enjoy it.
Side note: I found a dressagey barn a few hours from here that holds "Intro to Cattle" clinics. Hehehe.

Embracing the Suck:

I have had a bunch of rides this fall where I have thoughts along the lines of, "I am completely inept, why do I think I can dressage, I need to sell everything horsey and buy a goldfish."

Usually the day's trauma is an inability to canter or Penn is stuck as a 2x4 in one direction. It was inability along the lines of, "How did this horse and rider even compete at First Level this year, let alone Third?"

Through the inept feeling, I've been pushed to really think about my feel and timing. Penn is not at fault here; it is completely rider error. The walk and trot have been bad, the canter horrendous, and then zero bend and a 2x4 feeling in Penn's spine.

That was so frustrating to me- I couldn't get the inside hind stepping up. Penn was just speeding off. Half halts didn't work. He was laying HARD on my left rein, both directions. I let it bother me for a few hours one day a few weeks ago, then resolved to work out an easy way to feel the inside hind because I was thoroughly stuck.

Here's some conclusions I came to about timing the aids for a better walk and trot, and thereby better bend and a better inside leg to outside rein connection. I needed to write them down to further cement them in my mind, but I think some readers might like to read what works for me:
  • To find better bend, think about making the inside hind step up even more. The barrel will move to the outside to make room for the inside stifle to come further up. I need to activate the inside hind to do that, which means Penn needs to not move sideways or faster in response to my leg.
  • Walk: the rib cage naturally swings in and out with each side's footfalls. To get better inside hind activation, push the inside leg into the girth as the barrel swings out. The barrel is already swinging out to make room for the inside hind at this moment. A few leg bumps and Penn is bending in like a champ.
  • Trot: This was harder. You post up and down with the outside front, and therefore the inside hind. When I was originally teaching myself to feel my diagonals all those years ago, I found if you relax your hips, they naturally fall right and left as the horse trots. I got the correct diagonal every time by posting on the next step after my outside hip dropped. Therefore, if I stayed sitting instead, the inside hind is stepping forward as my outside hip comes up. Apply inside leg as the outside hip comes up, and inside seatbone sits down. Bam, all of a sudden I had a supple horse in the outside rein instead of a 2x4 from Home Depot that enjoys my left rein all the time. This is probably why my Event Trainer always had me post on the wrong diagonal to help get the inside hind going- I would sit as the inside hind was stepping up, and you apply leg in the sitting step of the posting trot. I think that's why I found First Level so much easier to do in the sitting trot- you really shouldn't post on the wrong diagonal at a show.
  • In lateral movements, like the half pass where Penn wants to not bend and I don't want to sit on the inside seatbone: Same rule applies, apply inside leg when the outside hip comes up. This sits you on the inside seatbone in the half pass. Start the half pass by trotting on the diagonal, then asking for haunches in while keeping the outside shoulder on the diagonal line. I applied alternating inside leg and outside leg (not always outside leg, it just stayed put to remind Penn to keep stepping sideways). This kept me on the inside seatbone, kept my inside rein soft and light, and kept pushing Penn to the outside rein.
  • There is no "just apply the leg all the time" in dressage. Biggest lesson here. Tactful application of leg gets better results (durr, it's the same as lesson horses getting dead to the leg because their riders constantly thump away).

Penn got a fresh clip job too! So shiny. And he's got some dapples!

Some neato things that have happened since I worked this stuff out:
  • More bounce and suspension in the trot.
  • More suppleness everywhere.
  • Better throughness everywhere.
  • Lateral movements in trot are infinitely easier. I can time the inside leg to the inside hind and maintain better bend through the movement. I can even fix it mid movement. Penn positively glides sideways in the trot and canter half passes.
  • Speaking of lateral movements, I've found I am unintentionally gravitating towards sitting on the inside seat bone in all of the movements, just like you're supposed to in order to keep the bend.
  • I was able to take shoulder fore on a 20m circle, half pass it in, and eventually settle in a large trotting pirouette/turn on the haunches. No fuss, no fight, both directions. AND in both trot and canter!
  • I've been able to do the first diagonal in 4-1: medium trot, collected trot over X, medium trot. What we do isn't really a true medium, but it is a true go and come back and go right away again. A few weeks ago, Penn could not do this. He could go, he would struggle to come back, and then we'd fuss for a while before we could go again. This isn't exactly because of the inside hind work, but it is because he's carrying himself more in these last few months.
  • Penn doesn't speed up when I apply the inside leg tactfully. He bends instead.

I'm still struggling with finding the inside hind in the canter- each footfall in the stride happens so fast, by the time I work out what might work, my timing is completely off/rushed or Penn has broken to trot. The best I can come up with is to apply leg directly after the most downhill moment of the canter- that is just before suspension, and in suspension, his inside hind is already off the ground coming forward.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Stress and Things and a Lesson

Modeling his SmartPak clothes... He was featured on their Instagram!

Unfortunately, I spent the last week super sick, and I am super busy with life things (ok, horse things) and the blog is going to suffer for it. Especially since work blocked Blogger (and Centerline Scores by the way, they've labeled it "gambling." Ha. Ha ha ha.), so that means I can't write things at lunch... And I'm not writing on my phone, so you're stuck with what I can write in the rare evening at home, the weekend, or on a Wednesday (when I work from home).

Side note, that's also why I've been a bad reader/commenter. I used to catch up on blogs while I ate breakfast at my desk. I can't do that when they won't load :(

We went for a two hour trail ride a few weeks ago before Mother Nature decided to dump rain on us day after day!

Penn's hoof is healing nicely- he became sound again quickly and has *knock on wood* stayed sound. I started him on SmartHoof Ultra to help the cut and bruise grow out as quickly as possible. I'll keep him on that for 4 or 5 months, then drop it. He has good feet, and doesn't really need a biotin supplement, but I want that to grow down as fast as possible, preferably without an abscess or other weakness. I also ordered bell boots for him and I hate them. Not these in particular, but just bell boots in general. He's developing a scum on his ankles from the amount of wet we're having, and they just hold mud. It was very noticeable after I wasn't able to be at the barn for a week- I take the bell boots off every day and wash them and clean his ankles, and that wasn't done for a week.

These do fit kind of strangely, but they have held up to a very naughty and roughhousing horse at the farm, so I picked them for Penn too.

Penn continues to be great. We have good and bad days, but I'm really excited about the direction he's going. He also has recently taken to pointing out when I'm being a shitty rider. Thanks bud. I guess he's done that before, but now there's some discussion if he thinks I've been unfair.

I decided to really work the canter the other day... I had somehow neglected it like an unwanted step child, and it had become a raging shitstorm of flailing and ugly. I decided to be super picky about the transitions to canter, with GP Trainer's thought of "he's not strong enough to make good canter out of bad canter," so if the transition is crap, the canter itself is going to be crap, and we're going to waste energy. Ensuring the transition itself was good worked really well to develop a nice canter.

I started picking at the bend on the 20m circle to the left since Penn wanted to bulge his ribcage in... so I booted him extremely hard with my inside spur. He promptly did a flying change and bucked HARD. Sorry dude, my bad. Good boy for the change to the outside lead on a 20m circle coming back to the wall. Super job. I LOVE that he offered that. Rider error! I got him back together for the canter, then made sure I was in my "rider doing a lunge" position (it keeps my inside seatbone on and I can't shove the haunches in with my outside seatbone), and then asked him to move his inside hind leg forward more, and I magically had sit and bend.

He's getting so foamy these days!

I had a lesson with Megan while she was briefly in town Sunday! Sorry Megan, this recap is no where near as detailed as the last one because being sick/coughing was occupying a lot of my brain and you have so much information to share and well... you'll get to teach me this one again! :-D Can't wait for my SoloShot3 to get here so I can record the audio.
  • First thing Megan did was straighten me out in the saddle by having me sit more to the left (both directions).
  • I'm not crazy, he's better in the walk, and MUCH BETTER in the trot! The connection is much better, and he's getting more suspension in the trot.
  • The canter, while still really not good, is actually much better. It's just awful in a totally different way now, lol. Victory?
  • The rein back is still small, but it's more constructive and is setting him back on his haunches and lightening his front end like it should.
  • The new pressure in my hand is acceptable- we'll always be evaluating if it's leaning, but Megan confirmed that most of the time, the weight I have in my hand is an acceptable contact of him reaching for the bit. He's still seeking a little support, but is spending much more time on his own. She said to look at the overall picture- is he up, forward, and seems like he's reaching? Then the pressure is probably OK and part of an elastic connection.
We got a lot of rain the morning of my lesson. The driveway does have a drain... it was inadequate though.
  • Start asking for shoulder fore on the circle in trot. Keep asking until he can't hold it- that's his balance point where he'll cross his legs or flail or fall out or shift his haunches in or get super flat. Work to stay in the bouncy trot while maintaining as much shoulder fore as I can (it's not much tracking right, it's almost SI tracking left).
  • This is also where she pointed out that he's very free with the use of his body. Meaning, he thinks I'll save him (or I guess not punish him?), so he's willing to try to figure out what I want by hopping or lifting or throwing himself around a little. It's not a bad thing- he's trying hard!
  • If the trot suddenly becomes easy to sit, I've lost the suspension and the trot is crap.
  • Be mindful of the walk- when he tries to collect in the walk, he ends up a bit lateral. His good "collected" walk is somewhere between a medium and collected walk right now. Be sure to follow his neck oscillations with my hand to help encourage the swing and relaxation.
  • Ask for shoulder fore in the canter too. Be mindful of the angle and time spent in shoulder fore since he gets tired quickly and the work is really difficult for him. This exercise will help him on his extra shitty days. I described days where he was a dream to canter and it was great (like three times in the last month or so), and then the rest of the days are like he's never cantered before. She suspects that he is wide behind on the bad days as he gathers tension or gets tired. He widens his base instead of sitting, and then it's super hard to rock him back and sit. I have to keep the hindquarters close behind, which the shoulder fore will help with. I had kind of applied a lateral thought to the canter (haunches in), but Megan pointed out that doing that will eventually come back to bite me in the ass when we work on pirouettes. The inside hind will be in the way of the rest of the body and create a larger pirouette.
  • Overall, keep in mind neck length. He needs to keep stretching towards the bit, especially when I try to apply half steps to the trot. Eventually he'll have to step from piaffe to passage, which to step up and out properly, he has to be reaching out to the bit. I can't be crushing him into it

We had a waterfall off the wall. The water at its deepest was about 6" deep.

The other part of my extremely stressful existence is filling the clinic with GP Trainer when she's here Dec 2-3. Only about half the riders from last time are coming back (for various reasons), so I'm trying to fill 10 spots with outside riders... and the local dressage barn won't come or send riders, period. Even though we go to their clinics... So basically, I am freaking out trying to fill the clinic because cancelling isn't an option, and neither are $200 lessons. Slowly though, things are filling... As of this writing, there are 5 spots left. If you're within a driveable distance to my barn in Western PA and are interested in a lesson, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE send me an email at codexdressage at I can't put you up myself (GP Trainer has my guestroom), but we can probably put up your horse!

I am about to start a 2 week vacation though (counting down the days!). I am very excited about that. I feel very burnt out (work and horses), and I think part of me getting sick last week was burn out and stress from the clinic.

Let's finish with a fun video of Penn running away from me while I was trying to catch him (long story):

Thursday, October 26, 2017

10/21/2017 - Clinic - Half Steps!

To start, Penn's hoof seems to be on the mend. Friday night, I packed it with magic cushion for the heel bruising, covered the cut in corona to protect it from the magic cushion, then wrapped the whole shebang in a diaper, vet wrap, and gorilla tape. My wrap survived the night, morning turnout the next day, and the trailer ride to DT's barn for our lesson with visiting clinician NM. I replaced it with a smaller cover for my lesson- a non-stick gauze pad over the cut and bruise, which was then covered with vet wrap. He's perfectly sound, but I wanted to make sure it stayed clean and was protected.

NM is a Florida based, Puerto Rican FEI rider who has represented her country in several international competitions. She's gotten rave reviews from people at my barn, and 5 of us made our way to DT's barn to participate in the clinic. I had not ridden with her before because she doesn't have GP Trainer's upper level experience, despite participating in international competition. I wanted to see what other people thought first!

I started by warming Penn up with Megan's homework- halt/walk/halt/walk, then mixing trot in. I felt super stupid doing that- it was silent in the ring as NM watched us warm up. I was like, "OK, stick to the warm up you know works." She understood what I was doing (as I was told she would, having done something similar to BO's daughter M), and then asked me for a little bio and what we're up to and where we want to go. I told her that I've had him for 2 years, got him green broke, and we did "baby third" this year, just 3-1, so the goal is to make that work better for next year and then maybe ride 4-1 at the end of summer. I said we had spent the last month going back over the basics- Penn needed to be light in my hand, stay engaged, and use his hind end. I also said I started schooling half steps on my own, but I really wasn't sure what I was doing. I told her that he knows his changes but I haven't really touched them in a while because I haven't really touched the canter a whole lot in the last month.

She wanted to see the canter next, so I showed her the slight train wreck I have going on (though it was much better than it's been). She immediately pinpointed my perching and gave me solid reminders to sit down and sit up, and not to let Penn pull me out of the saddle when he gets rushy or when his balance changes. She had me add a smidgen more step to the canter too, which I'm not entirely sure he's ready for. I'm kind of neutral to the canter work we did- I think he could use a lot more collection because I could not have asked for a walk out of it and gotten it. However, we did focus more on me sitting properly than him really sitting properly. I needed the reminder badly!

We spent the rest of lesson working on half steps!

NM worked with a whip from the ground tickling Penn's rump to encourage sit (she barely needed to apply any contact), and I was to hold the small walk and encourage the "jig-jog" steps. When he gave the right answer, she'd feed him a sugar cube. She likes feeding horses a sugar cube when someone works them from the ground with a whip so they don't get worried about people holding whips. Basically she wants them to think: People on the ground holding whips while tickling them = BEST THING EVER.

The best one! We asked, he gave right away!
"When to quit and try again" - We trotted out at the end of this one.

NM loved Penn. He caught on so quickly, NM was very happy with his brain and try. She helped me identify when to move on from asking him for half steps (aka it has gone bad and you need to start over), and when to allow him to move forward just a hair more while continuing to ask. She suggested I find a longer, very bendy whip that I could use minimal hand motions to wiggle over his haunches to help me school half steps by myself.

Weee and he's stuck, haha.

We quickly moved on to applying the half steps to make the trot better. We did a lot of trot/halt/trot, focusing on keeping him active and sitting. She identified the right hind as the leg to get after both directions, and to keep my leg slightly more back to encourage sit. I needed to sit and apply leg into the halts, and release him a little out of the halts. She described it as him getting stuck sitting by sitting too much, and he can't get himself out of it.

Going forward
Asking for sit, then going.

Here's a link to all the video I have of us working on the half steps, plus trotting out of them, plus doing the trot/halt/trots. You can hear NM's instruction too. Sorry it's so long, if you click to about the 5 min mark, you'll get more of the trot/halt/trot.

Overall, it was a good, worthwhile lesson. Nothing ground breaking, but I got my "Sit down/Sit up" that I needed, and I got help with the half steps so I can continue messing with those as desired. I was really excited to get help on applying the idea of half steps to the regular trot. My half halts were much more effective in finding sit, and Penn found a new lifted trot gear which was really cool.

NM really liked Penn, and asked about the Oldenburg side of him. I explained that his mom was a registered Oldenburg, but was actually half Thoroughbred and half Dutch Warmblood (Alla Czar), so he's actually 75% Thoroughbred. She was like, "Interesting, I didn't realize they were making them like that again!" She also thought he would do better at higher levels because there will be more things that play to his strengths. We laughed about how I struggled with riding him in 1-3 after riding 3-1 a bunch of times. She seemed to think he'd progress up the levels nicely- he should have a super piaffe and good passage, he's probably good at laterals (yupp), and then the only thing that's left are the changes... which he's probably good at too (getting there!).

Of course while we chatted at the end of lesson, Penn was snuggling with NM and looking for more sugar cubes. She loved his in-your-pocket personality and joked about stealing him and putting him in her carry on home.

I got a few irksome comments from someone (not online) that really took away some of my excitement about my lesson. They praised the ground NM walked on, and how nice Penn looked because of her instruction, but between the lines trashed GP Trainer. In reality, NM told me the same thing about the canter that GP Trainer does, and I have had zero prior instruction on half steps, but I expect GP Trainer would have me do something similar based on watching her GP students. There wasn't anything truly ground breaking here, I just got an excellent idea on how to really apply the half steps to the trot (which is a really good lesson, don't get me wrong). I have to remember the comments come from someone who has only ridden in a handful of schooling shows a long time ago at training level, and basically audits clinics and bebops at home and is content to move at a glacial pace with zero competition goals... which is not really GP Trainer's style. That's ok, that's why there's a bunch of trainers out there! It irks me that I get these undertones that I shouldn't work with GP Trainer because she doesn't work for this person.

I believe next time NM is here, my barn is going to split the clinic time with DT's barn. We'll have NM out for 3-4 days instead of 2, and 1 or 2 of those days will be at our home barn. Either way, I'll ride with her again!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

At Least Show Season is Done?

Penn and I walked up to the gate together Wednesday night.
Took me less than a second to go WTF IS WRONG WITH YOUR HOOF.
Apparently moderate panic levels make me incapable of taking a picture that isn't blurry.
I washed it with microtec, then some other medicated shampoo, then medicated spray to kill any bacteria.
I went to Tractor Supply to buy corona ointment to put on it Thursday.
I didn't notice the heel bruising until I scrubbed up the whole hoof.
He did a super job stepping on himself.
That's a scab in there btw, not dirt.

I fully expect him to blow some abscesses from this incident. He's only mildly lame- he walks fine, trots to the left a bit inconsistent, but trots to the right very mildly lame. I expect him to become sound again and then 3 legged in the next few weeks.

One of the farriers at the barn took a look at it- she wasn't comfortable trimming off the flap. She thought it would help protect the cut on the coronary band. She said to just let it dry out and fall off on it's own.

Of course it's not an "OMG YOU'RE DYING," but it is a "sigh, really?" He was working so well. The clinic is on hold- if he's sound by Saturday he'll go, otherwise... oh well, I'll have to catch her next time!

Oh, and yes, I ordered him bell boots already, and he'll start wearing them as soon as this heals enough that it won't get rubbed back open. He's never had a problem before now... but apparently he's going to try damaging all his legs via interference: he cut himself nicely on the right hind, then hooked the inside of his left front when he was freaking out that he was alone in his field. This was the right front that he probably landed on from a twisty buck. Please Penn, you do not need to damage the left hind! I do not want to have the barn bubble wrap your legs again...

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Blankets, Clipping, and Training

First off, I am selling this beautiful Smart Pak Ultimate Turnout. Size 78", heavy weight (360g). Still waterproof, freshly cleaned (it doesn't even smell horsey). $100 negotiable (money vs no money is great, so make me an offer), email codexdressage at gmail if you're interested. I even have the right size shipping box available right now!

There is absolutely nothing wrong with the blanket. It is really super tough and has seen 2 winters with zero exterior damage from a pair of unforgiving baby horses. There is some staining on the outer shell- I promise when it's rinsed, the water runs off clear. There are some rips in the lining, but they're small things as you can see. New, this blanket is $209. Take advantage of my loss!

I wanted the combo version of the blanket because Penn seems to have trouble staying warm when it's truly cold. You all know the lengths I went to to try to fix the shoulder gap issue (plus chewy friends). This one won't gap at the shoulder, and won't drive my BO crazy switching the medium weight hood back and forth between med and heavy blankets. I'll admit, the second reason was a large part of getting it... because it made me crazy too. I did price buying a heavy hood (which seems to be available now!), except for a hair more money, I could buy the combo blanket and not deal with the detachable hood. With the recent sale, (20% + USEF 5%), I was able to nab the blanket for much less than list price, so I jumped on it.

"Mama, why did you wrap me up in a heavy weight blanket when it's 65 degrees out?"
He's so thrilled that he basically has a turtleneck sweater.

Penn got full body clipped this past weekend. With the unseasonably warm fall we're having, I was hosing him down after every ride. He would sweat everywhere like he does an 80 degree day, except it's been in the 60s (with some 70s). I promise I am not working him for hours- that's after 45 min of walk/halt/walk/trot/walk hell. Minimal cantering because we just can't do more or we don't get to it.

Being bathed is exhausting.

I ordered new blades then shaved him last Saturday. I kept him in after breakfast, bathed him (like scrubbed him squeaky clean- I have NEVER done this to clip before), then kept him in while I cleaned stalls. By the time I was done working, he was dry, and I got straight to work on his legs and face, finishing with the body.

It's a mini Penn, made from his own hair!

I was so proud of him! He was antsy about his legs (resulting in me having to touch them up the next day when I saw the wide swaths of hair I missed), but he stood without freaking out about the clippers! I couldn't cross tie him, but he stood ground tied. I was able to cross tie him the next day to do touch ups, which is VERY exciting!

I've always clipped my horse "dirty." Mostly because it's time consuming to wash them and then wait for winter hair to dry, and because I'm not used to having hot water to bathe with, or a warm barn to keep him in while he dries. It worked out perfectly for me to help feed and turnout, bathe, clean stalls while he's drying, then clip. I think I'll be scrubbing Penn down every time from now on to clip. It was soooo easy to clip him. I shampooed and conditioned him with suave that I got on sale from the grocery store, and then sprayed him with an old coat spray that I don't like much anymore. It was a shame to shave off all his beautiful fluffy brown hair- I really love his coat.

His shaved coat turned out MUCH better this year!
Plus fewer lines since he was clean when I shaved him.

It seems the feed combination plus vitamin supplement is really working for him, because his shaved coat this year isn't an ugly mousy color like previous years. We took some new coggins pictures while he was spiffy clean (hence the pretty shot above).

Since I had to clip him so early this year, I'll probably have to touch him up in mid-Dec and then again sometime in early Feb. I won't do his legs or face again, I got most of the hair off those, so they'll grow in more controlled now. Plus I hate shaving the face and legs, it's annoying to get in all the crevices!

We continue to plug away at Megan's homework. We're nearing the end of the 3rd week of walk/halt/walk/trot/walk hell, 3-6 weeks to go before we can start adding in normal work? There were some pretty frustrating days in there, that's for sure. But, we're nearing the end of the first 3 weeks, which according to GP Trainer, is when changes start to settle and things get better... I sure hope so!

Let's ogle the pretty bling on the bright orange hunter safety bonnet, haha.

Things actually are looking up- we've had a couple really good days, and they're starting to happen more than the bad.

Penn started to not want to be on the bit, and I absolutely could not figure out why. "He doesn't want to be on the bit." "Let me get more handsy." "Wait, I'm doing to much. I shouldn't be doing this much." "Wait a second, I'm letting him go from halt to walk by coming off the bit. I'm teaching him that that's acceptable." "Fffffffffffff."

I spent some time redoing the halt/walks. As soon as I set the tone of, "No, coming off the bit is not acceptable" and "No, I will not be helping you stay on the bit," he started being on the bit extremely reliably, and holding it when I released in the walk and trot.

I also started giving him antacid before riding. 5000mg of calcium carbonate. $0.31 a dose
Not pictured: the vitamin E pills I also started giving him (2000 IU to go with the 500 IU in his vitamin)
$0.19 a dose vs $1.07 in Smartpak's vit e supplement.
I just feed him a handful of minty pills with the two vit e pills, and everything gets gobbled down!

Something else Megan helped me with was getting him bendy again- sometimes he comes out one direction like a 2x4 and no amount of inside leg helps move his ribcage. She had me put the outside leg on enough to hold his haunches from stepping out, but then use the inside leg to activate the inside hind. The rib cage has to swing out to allow the stifle to come up. Voila, it's magic. This idea has been particularly helpful when he comes out like a 2x4 or when he wants to look to the outside or when he wants to throw his haunches in. I vary the outside leg with the situation (umm we don't need more when the hips are in, it just needs watched), but thinking about making the inside hind step up instead of moving him around has been soooo helpful.

Last night's ride was great, I never got to the canter, and it took a half hour to get the trot I wanted, but we got there. And I was able to leave my circle and keep my trot! I started with a long slow torturous walk/halt/walk warm up. It sets the tone for the ride. By the end of the half hour, I had a horse who was absolutely through, light in the hand with elastic contact, and was pushing through his whole topline- I watched the muscles from his poll to his shoulder all bulging evenly. I do a lot of staring at his neck these days. It's really helpful when I don't have mirrors or eyes on the ground to double check me- if I can get the muscle right in front of the shoulder working, I know I'm on the right track.

Overall, super super happy, now to just put the time in to cement that feeling as Penn's default setting. Megan was hopeful on 2-3 months of work, so I'm hoping for that! But if he needs more, then oh well. Plus we'll be constantly revisiting this for the rest of his dressage life anyway. I'm so excited to see what he's like next year, after 6 or more months of building on this base!

Look! Cute floofs in their natural habitat.

This weekend we're going to a clinic at DT's barn. Everyone likes the clinician coming in, so I figured I'd give her a whirl. I signed up at the end of September, before lessons with Megan. I almost wish I hadn't now, because I don't want to mess up the work I've done, but apparently the clinician had M do something similar in her last lesson, so I'm hopeful that it'll mesh well.