Tuesday, December 31, 2013

I Wish You Enough

I've seen this poem and some version of a corresponding story multiple times on Facebook but cannot find where it originated.... In any case, I think the poem has a lot to offer.

I wish you enough sun to keep your attitude bright.
I wish you enough rain to appreciate the sun more.
I wish you enough happiness to keep your spirit alive.
I wish you enough pain so that the smallest joys in life appear much bigger.
I wish you enough gain to satisfy your wanting.
I wish you enough loss to appreciate all that you possess.
I wish enough "Hello's" to get you through the final "Goodbye"

I like the sentiment of "enough".  Not more than you need, not more than your neighbor, not more than is humanely possible to achieve.

I am frequently asked how I am involved in so many things and still "keep it together".  How I manage running a business, attend my three kids' events, volunteer on multiple boards, write this blog and still have a bit of time to ride my horse.

The truth is I don't keep it together.  Most of the time I feel like I am on the edge of a cliff with one foot over the edge, hoping the other holds on.  And I have compromised on what I used to feel were important things to get done.

For example, right now my sink is full of dishes but instead of worrying about it I am writing.   I am fairly certain they aren't going anywhere.  

A few years ago my husband came up with ingenious idea to stop folding clothes.  Instead each person in our family has a large bin in my walk in closet.   I go straight from the dryer to the bins and throw the clothes in there -- no folding required.  Its up to each person to take their bin to their room to put away their clothes.  And if they don't?  Well, they are putting wrinkled clothes on straight from the bin.

I can cook.  I cook pretty well actually.   But our family eats way too much fast food during sports seasons.   Sometimes three or four days go by without me cracking open my oven.   My entire house is rarely clean.   A room or two yes... but never the whole thing.

Last week I had a fancy party to attend and when I went to get dressed, I realized the dress I was planning on wearing was on top of the dirty laundry pile.   After a two second hesitation, I threw the dress in the dryer with two dyer sheets and a sprinkle of water.   That isn't much different than dry cleaning, right?

The point is that I am far from "having it together".   And I don't think that I am that different from most of my friends.  I hear from so many of them the disappointment they have in themselves. 

Just today I watched a friend's lesson and it was fabulous.   Her horse has come so far and its completely under her direction.  When she bought the horse, she was a gangly under-muscled horse with little training.  She has brought the horse to a beautiful, well-muscled horse who does a haunches in like its butter.  She is schooling third level and today they were such a fluid pair I couldn't tell where the aids were occurring.   But five minutes after the lesson she commented that she wasn't totally pleased with the medium trot.   Why can't we celebrate our success?   Why do we always want more from ourselves and our horses?

I recently attended a clinic with Steffen Peters and this was a theme of his clinic -- good enough.  When you have tested the movement, its time to move on.  There is no reason to school it over and over again ... or even necessarily complete the movement.

I've been thinking of this for a bit now in regards to Golly.   I had wanted so much to "get" the canter confirmed this year and in the process I realized that I need to celebrate what he CAN give me.  It doesn't mean that I can't continue to achieve and try and strive for more.   But I need to also celebrate what we have achieved and what he can offer.   He is sane.  He is loving.  He has a steady tempo and good trot.  He gets fabulous scores on halts which sounds like it should be easy but lots of people DON'T get good scores on halt!   I can't say I will be perfect on this resolution but I intend to do my best to celebrate him for what he is while we strive for more.

As my life became more busy I came up with a justification for why my house was not perfect.  While I used to freak out if my baseboards weren't clean for guests, now it became okay if toys were strewn everywhere, dishes were in the sink and crumbs on the table left over from last nights dinner.  My justification was that I was doing a service to my friends.  Rather than leaving my house feeling less about themselves because their house wasn't up to par, they could leave with the thought that they weren't all that bad...   their house wasn't all that different from mine.... maybe even better.  And I hope that my friends feel comfortable in my house -- free to put their feet up on the coffee table and relax with a cup of tea.

So as we enter a new year and think about New Year's resolutions, I challenge you to lower your expectations for yourself.   Celebrate your achievements and the achievements of your horse.  I wish you enough.  Anything  beyond is gravy.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Sharing the Joy of Golly

Golly may not be the most athletic horse, especially when it comes to dressage, but he does have a multitude of talents.   One of the best is his brain and his ability to bring joy to others.  Its not every horse that you can share with others - safely and without reservation.
Yesterday I had the daughters of a coworker out to visit Golly.  They had grown up taking hunt seat lessons at a local barn but it had been almost a decade since they had regular lessons.  As young adults, they missed horses and all the joy they bring so I thought they may enjoy some time with Golly. 

I started off riding him so he could complete his required "homework" and so I could talk them through what I do when I first start my rides.  After a half hour, I invited them to hop on.    Although it had been some time since they had ridden I could tell they had very strong basic skills and their bodies remembered the mechanics.  Their hands were steady and gentle which was my primary concern.  They had a giving and forward seat that encouraged him to go forward.   All good things for him.  I don't care if someone hops on Golly for some fun as long as they don't mess up what he and I are working on during our sessions.
They both were able to walk trot and canter him and he seemed to have a good time and they certainly loved getting back in the saddle.   They would like to come back out to ride him again and I think it will be good for him to have some extra rides, especially ones under a young person who wants to go forward and have fun.  Go Golly!

Golly enjoying some loving from his new friends

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Journey to the US Dressage Finals Championship.. A story of perservance and patience

Dressage takes patience.  And I can't think of a better story than Stephanie McNutt's that proves that fact.

Stephanie, Stella and Coco at home
I love her story because it gives me hope for all us struggling backyard riders.  The regular Joe's without sponsors or steady expensive trainers.  Most of us won't get to the US Dressage Finals but certainly her story gives us hope that we can continue to succeed and learn and move up the levels.  It reminds us that setbacks happen and the only thing we can do is brush off our breeches and get back on for another 20 meter circle.  And she is just darn nice... it does the heart good to see the nice people in the world succeed.

Its a long story but I promise the ending is worth it so stick with me.

Stephanie started her dressage journey with a true OTTB (off the track thoroughbred) right from the track.   They are typically a good choice, especially for a budget conscious amateur as they have the ability without the high price tag.   Unfortunately as their training started progressing, the gelding got his foot caught in a fence and he needed over 6 months of rehab to bring him back to soundness.  After his rehab she was able to adopt him out to a local farm.

She then found another OTTB - but this time she found one with a bit of training under his belt from an event barn.  He did well at home but did not handle the stress of shows and would come completely unhinged.

Stephanie and Merlot / Photo by Dorothy Anderson
Around the same time she found Merlot, a 4 year old gelding in Holland, and fell in love with his potential.  Sight unseen, she imported Merlot and began working with a local trainer more extensively who encouraged her to enter recognized shows.   With  her new horse working out well she found a home for the TB and thought she was on her way to learning dressage with a good partner.  In addition to working with her steady trainer, she also began attending regional clinics with top talent and Merlot and Stephanie steadily moved up the levels.  

It was difficult to find the time to ride as she was holding down a full time job and assisting her husband in his business but with a good partner, it was worth it.  Things were looking up!

Things were going so well she decided to breed her next mount and Vinny was born in 2004.    He was a "stunning black beauty" and a disposition that showed lots of promise.   As a colt, he had an infection that required him to be stall bound for 2 months.  The extra care and attention he received during that time proved dividends later as a horse that trusted his human family and craved their attention.  At three months old you could body clip him without a fuss.

In 2005, she bred again as a hopeful investment and little Levi was born.

Then disaster stuck.   At 13 months Stephanie noticed some odd gait changes in Vinny and by the time he was 15 months he was diagnosed with severe Equine Wobblers and was put down.

Then Merlot coliced.   And coliced again.  And again.  Two years of chronic colic followed along with numerous visits with the vets, trips to specialists and vet hospitals and lots of meds.  It became impossible to train because even a short ride in a trailer could set him off.

In 2008, after a visit to the regional vet hospital and a diagnosis of a thickened intestinal wall, he coliced a final time and he was put down.    Stephanie believes that he was "probably miserable his whole life but he did all he could to work for me" and hid his pain until it became too much.

Luckily she still had Levi and of course the thought of selling was out -- he was going to be her new mount.  Shortly after Merlot's death, Levi was broke to ride and they began their dressage journey.

He was a pleasant horse and things were going well.  The only issue she was having was struggling with bending.   As a precaution she had him vetted and was given a shocking diagnosis.  He had severe arthritis in his neck.    It wasn't a definite no go for riding though.  With growth and muscling he may be able to continue as a dressage mount. 

So she continued training and worked hard to get him fit enough to continue.  It was a no go though.  With the increased work, the inflammation only got worse and his dressage career was terminated.  He now lives the life of leisure as a pasture ornament in her yard and the occasional pony ride.

She'd given it her best.  She had the patience and drive.  She had the talent.  She had scrimped and saved to buy the farm to provide a good home to her dressage horses.  She had gone the route of OTTB. She had gone to the expense and risk of importing.  She had risked even more by breeding.  

And she had failed.

So she stopped.  It just wasn't worth the heartache anymore.  She couldn't stomach getting excited again over the possibilities and then the crushing disappointment and sadness that came from having to put down a horse -- your friend and your dream.  Levi would remain in her field as a souvenir of her dressage days but she was hanging up her spurs.

But she couldn't.

Slowly she started to "just look" at the horse ads.   Not to buy... just to see what was out there.

And then she saw her.   Stella.   A beautiful Oldenburg mare.  The ad picture was of her as the 5 year old Champion mare at Devon.   Still not looking but it wouldn't hurt to look at the video, right?  That was even better.  It wouldn't hurt to pay her a visit, right?

Stephanie and Stella - Photo by Pics of You
All the other horses in Stephanie's life were good horses but with Stella, the first time she sat on her it just felt right.  No other way to say it.   Sometimes its just love at first sight.

Stella could do some 3rd level work but was only showing at 1st level.  There was a lot of work to be done but there was no hesitation... Stella was coming home with her. So in May of 2010 Stella came home and almost immediately they began their showing career by attending Lexington in June where they did 1st and 2nd level.   They finished the year as 1st level BLM champion.

Stephanie cautioned me that Stella is not an easy horse.  Despite knowing that she was the one for her, she has evasions and sticking points like every horse.   But she beamed, "when we both get it and it lines up right, there it is!"

But this relationship hasn't been without its own set of speed bumps.  The first winter home, she noticed what felt like a "parking brake" on when riding.  There wasn't lameness but she knew there was something wrong and after a series of blood tests, she found Stella had Lymes disease.  Luckily after the standard treatment, Stella came bounding back to her normal self.

Changes also were difficult.   After a successful 2010 year showing at 2nd and 3rd level, Stella was getting more anxious each time a change was anticipated.   "If you even thought change, she got emotional."  Stephanie decided to stay home in 2011 and "do my homework."   Her current trainer, Scott Hassler, encouraged her by letting her know, "they are in there, she just needs time."   He gave her a series of exercises to do at home and Stephanie schooled them over and over again so Stella didn't have time to worry about them.  Every horse is different and Stephanie has found that Stella is a horse where you need to push hard and "go to the wall" before she can push past her stumbling block.

She has also found that Stella hates coliseums so Stephanie prefers multi day shows where there is time for her to walk her MANY times around the coliseum to show her the ring, the judges stand and anything else that might scare her.
Stephanie and Stella - Photo by Pics of You

Although she visits Hassler Dressage when she can, for the most part due to geographics Stephanie trains at home alone with her mirrors as her guide.  I asked her how she records what she learns in lessons for her schooling rides and she said that she is very good about keeping the lesson in her "memory files".  While she tacks up she comes up with a lesson plan for herself and decides what she is going to focus on for that ride.  But of course, she also laughed that sometimes you have to "change the plan" because your horse has a different idea.

She rides 5-6 days a week and the length varies as she rides until its right but usually its 30-60 minutes each day.  Stella is not a bubble wrapped horse -- she goes out to pasture at least half a day but Stephanie does make a concession when it comes to a pasture mate for safety as she is with an adorable little mini named Coco who has minimal chance of harming Stella.

I found it remarkable that Stephanie is doing this on her own.  There is no regular trainer and in fact, the only person who has sat on Stella since her purchase was Scott Hassler and that was just once for a short evaluation.  She is certainly not a passenger on a horse trained by another.

Its been a whirlwind for the pair this fall.  For a woman who was once overwhelmed at the thought of doing a recognized show at 1st level, she has come far.  In mid October they were the Region 1 Region Reserve Champion.  At the BLM Championship the first weekend in November, Stella had a blow up at the E judge stand and lost focus.  Despite that they were able to pull a 4th place finish at 4th level.  And then the big finish for the year....

Stephanie and Stella - Photo by Diane Ritz
After returning from the BLM disappointment, just four days later they packed up to go to the US Dressage Finals to compete in the Adult Amateur 4th level.  After experiencing a flat tire on the multi-state trip, they arrived in the midst of a rain storm.  The stalls had canopies blowing in the wind terrifying the sensitive Stella and Stephanie felt she made a mistake coming to the show.  What if she coliced?  Was she pushing her too hard so soon after the blowup at the BLMs?  

They were third to last to complete the class and thankfully it went well.  Well enough that after her ride, she was in first!   After her class, she and Stella returned to their stall to apply polo wraps for the award ceremony so they missed the last rides that would confirm her final placing.  While they were waiting to enter, a staff member checked her number and then asked her dismount.  Looking at him with some disbelief, he confirmed it -- "Yup.  You won.  I need you to get off so I can get the cooler on!"

And so they began their victory gallop! 

Congratulations Stephanie and thanks for inspiring the rest of us!

Here is the long list of accomplishments for the pair:

#1 USDF ISR Oldenburg NA at Fourth level
#3 Fourth Level AA in USDF
#3 Prix St. George at Dressage at Lexington, VA
Champion  Adult Amateur Fourth Level US Dressage Finals
#4 Fourth Level at BLM
Reserve Fourth Level at Region 1 Championships

BLM Division A Champion Third Level
Region 1 Fourth Level AA Reserve Champion

Champion First Level at BLM

  Stephanie and Stella - Photo by Susan Stickle

I love reading your comments and about your dressage journey. Like reading about my journey? Click on the link to subscribe and you can receive all the updates via email.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Steady Rein Contact

Earlier this week I was reviewing some videos of my riding and I realized that when I ride at a show it appears my hands are moving up and down and not staying steady.  It bothered me so I discussed it with my trainer.  She said I don't usually do it during lessons but when I do, it was usually when I lost my deep and centered saddle position. Made sense.

Another thing that bothers me is that while Golly gets a wet slightly white mouth when I ride, its no where near what happens when my trainer rides him.  Within ten minutes of her getting on, he has a mouth full of white lipstick and froth is dripping to the ground.  Since a wet frothy mouth is a sign of bit acceptance, I have to assume that he "enjoys" her hands more than mine.

I was reading another blog this week and it got me thinking about another reason why both the hand moving and lack of moisture occurs.  The blog was http://horselistening.com/2013/12/01/why-a-straight-rein-is-not-a-bad-rein/ and it was about keeping a steady but short rein so you could maintain contact.

I tend to ride with a fairly loose rein and this article discussed how that is not really the most kind method of riding.  By giving and taking and not maintaining steady contact, its more annoying to the horse than a steady contact.   Another issue I have is that when I do have a more firm contact I don't give enough with my hands.  The hands SHOULD be constantly moving -- not up and down - but in motion with the horse.  So as the horse's head moves forward and back, your hands should be doing the same in time with the motion so that you can maintain a steady contact.  I do this to a certain extent, but my trainer of course does it better.

So during tonight's ride I focused on keeping a steady contact that moved with him - not releasing the rein pressure but keeping it soft and moving with him.  I do this well until I have to do a correction and then I get a little too much pressure and not enough give.  This dressage thing is a very fine dance in the nuances of gray.  Give .. but not too much.   Steady... but move with him.

I am not sure if I got more moisture in his mouth but I did have a very forward horse tonight, much more than his usual.   Maybe it was coincidental or maybe it was the improved rein contact.   Time will tell.

I love reading your comments and about your dressage journey. Like reading about my journey? Click on the link to subscribe and you can receive all the updates via email.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Dressage Visuals: Wheelbarrows and Cowboys

Everyone learns a bit differently.  Some like specific directions -- "drop your heels one inch and pull them in towards your horse two inches".  Some like general directions that let you figure it out -- "if you want your horse to push from his hind engine, what do you think your body should be doing?"  Others, like myself, like visuals.   Even when my instructor gives me specific instructions (which I like too), I tend to go home and mull over those directions until I come up with a visual that matches the instructions.

I've come up with three visuals that I have been using to get more forward energy from Golly and they seem to be working well.

Cowboy Legs
Visualize your legs opening up as if you were a bow legged cowboy.  I have a tendency to lock my knees and upper thighs on his sides, essentially shutting down his forward motion.   I visualize my legs looking more like the legs on the right with open knees and upper thighs.  My ankles and lower calf muscles are also relaxed and draped, only coming in contact with Golly's sides when I need more energy.  Even when I use the lower leg to tap him, the leg from knee up remains relaxed and open.

Now of course, if you have normal muscular structure, this posture is actually impossible so its not that you are REALLY making your legs look like this.  Its more that you are visualizing the feeling and the end result is that you have a lighter upper leg.

This visual applies to both you and your horse.  For the horse, I visualize the power coming from the "large" engine in the back funneling the power to a smaller area in the front.  You have to add the visual of the person pushing the cart so you get the feeling of the pushing power coming from the rear.

http://www.mycarpentry.com/thanksgiving-crafts.htmlThe second way I use this visual is how to hold my reins, especially when I am starting my ride.  Of course, the "ideal" is to hold your hands at the wither, close together.  However, with horses new in their dressage education (and with horses like Golly), it usually works better to separate your hands similar to this wheelbarrow diagram.   It allows you to have steadier contact for one as you can move your hands in and out as needed to shorten the reins (faster than moving your hands up and down the rein).  Plus, for reasons I haven't quite yet figured out, they just like it better and respond with a softer neck and give to the bit.   Sometimes the why isn't needed... I know it works and will continue to do it and figure out the why later!

Body Position
The last one is something I am working on and still not good at yet. ...  having my body behind the vertical position.  I was riding at an upright or slightly forward position, with equal weight on all three points (pubic bone and seat bones).   If you read many dressage magazines and books, they will tell you that you should have equal weight on all three.   However, the ideal is not always what works for your horse and you have to be flexible to his needs.   With a sluggish horse like Golly it works better to have less weight on the pubic bone and more on the seat bones.   Its not that I am dragging the seat bones into him, but more than I am lightening the pubic bone.   Granted.. that sounds like a grey difference but there is a difference.

Putting all three together I am getting a lighter horse that is more willing to go forward.   I'm still working on figuring it out and hope to finesse this approach.   And like most things on this blog....  I may find that some of it isn't quite right later.... its a journey folks!  (By the way, I'd love to hear your approaches to get a sluggish horse to be lighter and move with more forward energy.)

I love reading your comments and about your dressage journey. Like reading about my journey? Click on the link to subscribe and you can receive all the updates via email.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Giving Up

I had been having some health issues that were causing some substantial fatigue so my trainer was riding my horse for half of my lessons and I would ride for the second half.   Thankfully the health issues are easing up but I have to say I've enjoyed watching her ride Golly.

For one she is such a fabulous rider.  Its fun to see how good a dressage horse he can be under a great rider.   She pulls the potential from each horse that she rides. Its also been fun to watch her find the fun in Golly.   I will always think of him as a bulldozer doing ballet but he is good honest guy who tries hard and you have to love him for the effort he puts out.  She has found good things in him too that I didn't appreciate -- like that his back is loosy goosy and he offers it to you without fighting.   That he loves the sitting trot when its done correctly. 

Because I've had the chance to see and appreciate how well he does at the walk and trot work and how much he actually enjoys it, its made me question why I am continuing to push him to canter.  Why can't I just appreciate him for who he is and what he does well?  At what point do you realize that your horse has gone as far as he can on the scale?  It happens to every horse at some point -- whether its at Second Level or Prix St. Georges -- their rider will eventually decide they have reached their potential and to push them past it is not a good idea.  They may be able to go just a bit further but at what expense?  Will it damage them physically?  Will the mental stress make them unwilling and grumpy mounts?

I'd hate to think that Golly has reached his potential at just the Intro Level but after watching my instructor and him doing their trot and walk work with so much joy and ability and in previous lessons watching him struggle so hard with the canter both mentally and physically, maybe he has.  I just wonder if its fair to him to expect more than his bulldozer body can give, especially since he is so willing and tries so hard. 

So I've been sort of contemplating this and thinking that perhaps we need to focus on making the walk and trot the very best it can be (there is ALWAYS more to perfect there).  And perhaps trying out some other activities with him.....  perhaps jousting?!  (Wow... that would be an interesting activity.)   Just loving and appreciating him for who he is and what he can offer.    If I want to work on the canter, there are other horses I can ride to get that training and experience.

And then.....   there was tonight.   I got home from work a little early and with just about an hour of sunlight, I hurried to the barn to feed and squeeze in a ride before the sun set.  He was a little stiff to start but quickly offered his loosey goosey back and eased into the connection.  He felt nice and even had a bit of energy and lightness under me. 

I couldn't help it.  After just fifteen minutes of riding I asked for the canter and not only did he swing into it lightly but offered to continue it without my typical begging.  It was light and easy and wasn't any big deal.  It felt like he cantered all the time with ease.   We tried the other side and he not only caught the lead (its the side he rarely catches the correct lead) but it was light and easy again.

Maybe its not time to give up.  This dressage thing is hard on the emotions!

I love reading your comments and about your dressage journey. Like reading about my journey? Click on the link to subscribe and you can receive all the updates via email.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

White Breeches... The Curse of doing Dressage?

At my show this past weekend I made a promise to myself I will NEVER put on those stupid white breeches again.   Really...  who came up with such a silly idea anyway?  Let me recount the ways I hate them and why they make no sense whatsoever.

I have googled like a mad woman trying to find WHY we wear these silly pants and can't find any logical explanation except that its tradition.  I think its time we start a new tradition of common sense.

I am not sure if you noticed but we are competing in a sport that involves lots of dirt.  We deal with animals with fuzzy coats that are essentially mud and dirt collectors.  It is our job to get all that mud and dirt out and chances are much of that is going to get on our clothes.  Even after we have our mounts looking as clean as possible, all it takes is a good hearty pat on the neck to show that there truly is no way to get ALL the dirt out.  So chances are we are going to get some of that dirt on our immaculate white pants.

And its not just dirt from the horse.   Black marks from the saddle are common.   Plus we are riding a 1200 pound animal with large hooves in a dirt ring.  Chances are that dust is going to puff up and hit those cursed pants.  And that's on a good day... shows are run in rain or shine.  Check out this picture of Golly and I at a show with heavy rain -- look carefully and you can see the big blobs of mud shooting up, aiming towards my clean pants.

When I was a child I remember my parents preparing to purchase a new truck.  This was a big deal for them as money was not the most plentiful resource in our house and it was the only time I can remember them purchasing a new car during my childhood.  In fact, the truck they purchased is still in operation almost forty years later.

One thing my Mom said during that preparation stuck with me.  She remarked, "We need to be sure to get a color that matches the dirt on our road so it looks clean even when its not."  Common sense -- my mother's trademark.  We need to do the same with our expensive show breeches -- purchase a pair that matches most ring colors!

Looking Good
Now let's be honest.   Does anyone look good in a white pair of breeches?  Even skinny people don't look their best in them and fluffier people look even worse.   They show every single flaw in your body shape.    Bubbly fat?  Don't worry... everyone will know.     Belly pouch left over from multiple pregnancies?   It declares itself in glory with sharp contrast to your black jacket.  

And let's discuss panty lines.    Most breeches do a decent job of covering the evidence but white breeches... well those you have be very careful of your underwear choices.  Colors and prints are definite no nos.    Thongs are the choice for many under white pants but the thought of a thong while straddling a horse ... well... if you do that you either are looking for a cheap thrill or you hate your private parts.   However, since your chance of panty lines showing while wearing the cursed white pants is high, I'm not sure I want the world to know that I wear granny panties.   Flesh colored moderate cut underwear seems to work the best but seriously... should we have to put this much thought into our underwear?   Shouldn't we be spending more time thinking of how to get more fluid movement from our horse?

So that's it for me... I'm done with white breeches.   I'm going with common sense and finding a nice pair of dirt colored breeches to put under my nice blazer and white shirt -- which of course also makes perfect sense to wear while riding a horse!

Anyone want some white breeches?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Escaping Horses

Its that time of year when the pasture starts looking a little weak and across the fence there is still lush green fall grass.  Its tempting and I can understand why the horses believe the grass truly is greener on the other side.  Golly has turned out to be the great escape artist.   For three days in a row I showed up to feed and found this...

Yup... this is Golly loose as can be and enjoying the green grass.  The perplexing thing was that the other two horses were still safely ensconced behind the fence.  If he knocked down a fence (and he does that occasionally with his bulldozer body), why didn't the other horses follow?

I wasn't too worried because I let him loose frequently and he never leaves the yard.   In fact, when he saw my truck drive up to the barn, he came trotting up to see what else I could offer his palate.

Since there are three individual paddocks, we shut off the one with the low fence that we thought he may be jumping.  Nope.. next day he was out again.  So began the fence walk.  I found a fence in the back where the lower line had come loose.  Sure enough on the other side were LOTS of footprints.  So many that I think he's been using this route longer than we thought and maybe even returning before we noticed.   He didn't actually knock down the fence but must have been ducking low underneath it somehow.    How sneaky!  Its hard to see in my awful photography the footprints but they are there.


So I fixed the fence and thought I had it.  Nope..... within an hour or two of putting him back in the pasture, he was out AGAIN!!   Well he had ruined the fun for everyone with his antics -- I closed off all the paddocks and confined them to just the sacrifice one.   This seemed to work.  When I showed up to feed all three horses were behind the fence!   I live about a half mile from the barn and as I pulled into my driveway after feeding, my cell phone rang to let me know all three horses were loose!  How could that be?   I was JUST there.  But yup.... the neighbor confirmed that there was a brown one, a black one and a white one running loose. 

I rushed back to find three horses running down the driveway towards another neighbor's horses.  Not mine though.   Yes... the right colors but not mine at all.  After gathering grain and leads to catch the fugitives, I collected them into my neighbors empty paddock and went knocking on doors to find the owners.

Seemed that breaking free was a problem not just in our yard.

I was still perplexed over one thing though.   If Golly was getting out and enjoying the lawn all day, how come there weren't piles of manure scattered around the lawn?   He's a big horse and well....   he has big piles.  I think we'd see them!

Today I found that my horse is either immensely neat or immensely sneaky.   When dumping the stall manure at the compost pile which is set into the woods, I found several piles of manure near but not in the compost pile.  That darn sneaky horse had been walking to the compost pile to hide the evidence of his droppings!  Not sure if I should be annoyed with him or impressed!

I love reading your comments and about YOUR journey.   Like reading about my Journey?   Click on the link to subscribe and you can receive all the updates via email. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Oct 20th Chapter Challenge Prep Show Results

The day was a nice cool fall day.  I was the first rider and surprisingly I got him prepped more quickly than I thought and we arrived an hour before my class.  In fact, we were so early that we beat the show staff there.  Not bad idea though.  Golly had a chance to graze next to the trailer and I had a chance to sit in the cool air and sunshine relaxing.   Quite nice actually!
As we waited for everyone to arrive, Golly pondered his
test and was trying to remember did he go left at C or right?
When I was loading him I saw him jerk his foot quickly in the trailer and I realized the very top edge of the ramp had caught his foot.  When I dropped the ramp at the park I saw blood on his heel bulb and my heart fell.   No way was he going to be sound with that blood on his bulb.   I got some wipes and cleaned up the blood to find a small flap of broken skin -- granted in a bad place but it wasn't too big.   I trotted him around and he seemed sound.   So nice to have a sturdy horse!
Warm up went well -- focused on the relaxation and getting him to bend to the right, bend to the left.  Relax the poll.  Relax the back.  I focused myself on sitting back and asking the energy (what little there was) to come from back to front.   Thought about keeping contact with the outside rein and releasing with the inside rein.  Flowing underneath in a straight line.
My trainer and I had decided to choose our battles at this show.  With my current health issue of fatigue, I only had so much breath to give to the effort.  Golly has a wonderful relaxed attitude as long as you don't ask for energy beyond his comfort level.  Since relaxation is the main theme to the Intro tests, we were going for relaxation even if it meant sacrificing a bit of the energy.
First test was good.  Judge remarked that his head was a bit high and wanted it lower and that she wanted me to use spurs rather than kicking to get the energy.   I laughed to myself because while his head was high it was SO much lower than it was a year ago.   But a judge doesn't know where you are coming from.. only where you are at that moment.
As for the spurs I was using this test to "test" a concept.  Wondered if not using the spurs would give me a more relaxed horse as he wouldn't be reacting to the spurs by tightening his back.   Guess that failed!    So off to find my spurs for the second test I went.
Second test was better.  Because she wanted his head lower I decided to sacrifice perfect hand position and went with what I call the wheelbarrow - hands further apart but connected.  It gives you more of an "open rein" and he responds with better connection and a lower head.  Used the spurs occasionally and got a TINY bit more energy.  Not much though as you can see in the video.  He certainly had the RELAXED down!  At times it looks like he may take a nap in the corner.

So my hope is that at the Chapter Challenge, the chaos of the show grounds will give him a bit more energy without me nagging him and we can keep the relaxation.  Something to work on for the next two weeks.
So what were our results?  I think the relaxation worked -- while Golly is not impressed with his placing, I think he looks fabulous in a first place ribbon! 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Show Preparation - Themes I am Keeping in my Head

For the most part, I am not into showing. I like dressage for the effect it has on my horse and I and our riding.   The relaxation and improved effectiveness of my aids.  The way that our aids have become lighter and yet more effective.  I don't like all the primping that goes into the ten minutes that showing allows as I'd rather spend that time actually riding.

Successful Chapter Challenge Show - hope to repeat!
Despite that, I do show occasionally.   One of our upcoming shows is the Chapter Challenge where we compete in a group of four riders whose compiled rides are scored against the other Chapters in our Association.   Since Golly and I haven't shown lately, in preparation we are doing a show tomorrow.

During my lessons this week we have worked on lots of things to get ready but I am trying to focus on just a few of them to make sure the most important ones stay to the forefront.
  • Keep my weight on the back side of the saddle. I have a tendancy (and Golly has a tendancy to push me there) to sit too far forward and start "climbing his shoulders".  When I sit back and open my legs he responds with more energy and freedom. 
  • Relaxation.  Don't give up the relaxation to get more energy.  Golly is NOT energetic and when you ask past the level of energy he is ready for, he loses the relaxation.  The show atmosphere should give us enough extra oomph... don't get greedy and ask for so much that it sacrifices the base of the pyramid -- relaxation.
  • Straightness.   And for us this straightness is going to come from contact on the outside rein.   When I ask for just the feeling of a counterbend (it feels to me like we are really counterbending but my trainer and others on the ground let me know it really is not), I am getting the straightness.  And don't forget to give on the inside - can't take unless I give as well.
  • Accuracy.  Don't make my circles bigger than 20 meters.   I have been making them a bit too large which means that they are actually eggs.  Circles are the same all around.
I am sure lots of other little tidbits from my trainer will be running through my head but focusing on these should get me to a good place.   I'll let you know how it goes.
I love reading your comments and about YOUR journey.   Like reading about my Journey?   Click on the link to subscribe and you can receive all the updates via email. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Readjusting my Dressage Goals

If you have been reading along my journey, you know that in the Spring I set a major goal to get the canter well established.   I'd say we have made some decent progress but I have not even come close to meeting my goal.   At the mid summer point, I think we were making decent progress.   The departs were coming without bucks or much anxiety.  The departs had gone from what looked like a cowboy having a seizure (imagine arms flapping while my whip whirled around my body) to something that had at least the semblance of a dressage rider.    I was asking for the canter with light aids instead of demanding it and we were getting a nice response.  Yeah!

Now granted we would get about six strides into it and Golly would start asking to move to trot.  And I'd ask again.  And get a response to stay in canter.  And then two more strides and he asked to slow down.  And I asked to speed up.  You get the idea... he is NOT a forward horse.

But we weren't getting bucks and we were getting a response off a lighter aid.  And we were cantering!

In this case Golly isn't the one who is holding us back.  I think if we had kept down that path we would be cantering well and getting more energy.  He was getting the idea and dare I say... even enjoying his work a bit more.

Its me.

Lately I noticed I have been getting winded quickly.  I know that when you start down the path of asking for canter you better be able to finish the conversation.  If you stop asking for the up transition when he is asking for the down transition... he wins.   And the next time we have the conversation it will be even harder. 

So until I figure out this health issue, I have to revise my goals.

We are still going to work on the canter but it will be in open fields where its easier and I know I can win the conversation.   We will also work on the canter in the ring but in limited efforts that I know I we can achieve and have good results.  And we will do it without the looming goal of achieving the canter in a show.   I have a show at the end of October and we won't be doing the test that requires the canter because I know I can't do the proper warmup to get him to the point where he can do the canter well in the test and if I did do the proper warmup I won't have the energy to get him through the test.

I'm disappointed but I'm trying to tell myself that its okay because I can't control what life throws at you.  You just have to roll with the punches and wait for your turn.  The good news is that I have  horse that is perfectly happy with this plan.  He enjoys his hacks in the woods.

I took him to a hunter pace last weekend and wow!  It feels great to feel the energy and power in Golly when its HIS idea to canter.   When a group of horses passed us and cantered off, there was no way that Golly was going to let them get out of his sight.  As soon as I gave the word that he could speed up, he broke into a very happy and forward hand gallop.  Woopee!!!

I feel so immensely fortunate to have Mr. Golly in my life. He is a bulldozer of a guy and no one will ever say he is light on his feet but we understand and trust one another.    And he is willing (and probably thrilled) to wait until we are both ready to tackle the canter challenge in the ring.

I love reading your comments and about YOUR journey.   Like reading about my Journey?   Click on the link to subscribe and you can receive all the updates via email. 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Steffen Peters clinic sponsored by Hassler Dressage at Riveredge

Photo Courtesy of Hassler Dressage
Last Sunday I audited a clinic with Steffen Peters.  Steffen Peters is by far my favorite rider to watch -- he is one of the few riders where you truly cannot see his aids and the horse and he are in such good harmony they look like they are dancing partners.   So when I saw he would be in the area I had to go.

The day began with setting my alarm for 4:30 am so I could feed my animals and prep the truck.   Of course I was so excited I was out of bed by 4:20 am!  By 5:00 am I was out the door and beginning my course to pick up five fellow enthusiasts along the path to Riveredge Farm in Chesapeake, Maryland.

This post would not be complete without mentioning the fabulous facility.   You enter the sprawling farm between two brick pillars and proceed down a paved driveway between shade trees.  The farm, built in 2010 with the finest architecture and functional attributes, is a pleasant cross between Southern charm and European elegance. Weathered wood, cast iron latches and copper accents abound.  Large stalls, grass paddocks, all weather footing and weather controlled arena make it extraordinarily functional.  As a barn junkie, I felt like I had access to a rock star's home.

Photo Courtesy of Hassler Dressage
All seven rider and horses were upper level who enjoyed a private 45 minute session.   If I could criticize anything about this clinic it would be the same thing I wish at most upper level clinics -- as an amateur rider on a backyard horse, I wish they had some riders or horses closer to my level.  I understand that someone schooling 1st or 2nd level is not going to want to pay huge fees to attend a clinic but this is something that would make it more appealing to a majority of auditors so perhaps the increased auditors would help subsidize those lower level riders.

With that said, although the riders at the clinic were working on canter pirouettes and piaffe, there was still plenty a lower level rider like myself could learn from the clinic.   Good riding is good riding ... at every level.  And the basics of dressage - forward, relaxed and straight -- are the same at every level.

Steffen Peters is a great instructor who expects riders to listen and perform well but is also encouraging and instructs in a soothing quiet voice.   I know each rider went home with an echo of a quiet, slightly German accent of "goooooood" in their head!

Good Enough
A primary theme of Steffen's instruction was "good enough".  I heard him say many times that once you got the job done then you need to move off and do something else.   Don't drill the exercise over and over once your horse has done it correctly.   Along those same lines he frequently emoted that you "test" the movement.   Test to see if its there and then move on.

He compared his visits to the gym to help us understand why "good enough" is a concept worth embracing.   When you are at the gym your trainer may give you an exercise to perform and it may take awhile for your brain to wrap around how to do it.  You try and may do it okay the first time, but not perfectly.   You move onto another exercise and come back to the first one after a bit.  The second time you try it though your brain has had some time to reflect and learn and you most likely will do it better on the second attempt.

For example, he schooled the riders to "test the IDEA of the piaffe, not doing the entire piaffe movement."  If the test shows that the piaffe is working, there is no reason to continue schooling it.

At one point one of the riders was attempting a canter pirouette and the horse was backing off.  Steffen pointed out that the second you feel him begin to back off the pirouette, you need to push him forward out of the circle.   Be proactive and be quick and accurate in your responses to your horse's actions.  By the time he or the auditors saw him backing off, it was too late.  Obviously, you cannot take this approach during a show so schooling is the time and place for it -- you need honesty in each movement and your proactive and timely response will get you there.

In a number of the gaits, Steffen discussed the preparation required before the actual gait change.  For example, at one point he said, "if I tell you to walk and you do it a half hour later, I'm perfectly happy" because we don't spend enough time to prep for the walk.  Certainly he was exaggerating a bit but I did get the feeling that he would prefer the half hour prep than no prep at all.

One tip he gave as good preparation for a down transition was to be careful not to give away the rein, but to maintain the contact. 

"Be picky about the meaning of each single aid."  Each aid should have a meaning and teach something.  This also applies to schooling as a whole.   He felt that you should not school a 20 meter circle just to do a 20 meter circle.  Thought into WHY you are doing the circle and a goal to achieve should occur while schooling it.

For example, "Don't just do a half pass to do a half pass, do a half pass to achieve more suppleness."

His theory is that while you are doing the movement itself you never compromise but you do compromise by taking breaks between each attempt.  He wanted honesty and correct movements but then let the horse rest and stretch or move onto another exercise. 

Steffen also reminded us that going from walk to trot to canter to walk are all done in the test and so we need to be able to mix up what we do in schooling as well so they know they aren't "done" when they go to walk.  He also encouraged the riders to do quick transitions from one gait or movement to the another.  The "important part is quick repetitions."

Steffen cautioned one rider who is getting ready for some major shows to not ride differently for the show and "crank it up a notch".   Ride no more or no less than you do when schooling.   Adrenaline and excitement will help you get that extra sparkle without consciously shooting for it.

Consistency is also important when practicing your movements.  Use "simple aids as if he has always done this."  Test the movement as if you believe it will go perfectly and then if it does not, adjust your schooling to help you achieve the perfection.   "If it goes wrong, then we fix the problem.  Don't anticipate the problem."

Overall, this was a great clinic and well worth the long drive to get there.  Completely enjoyed the facility and Steffen did not disappoint.  I loved his honest, consistent but calm approach.  

I love reading comments about YOUR journey.   Like reading about my Journey?   Click on the link to subscribe and you can receive all the updates via email.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Lesson and Solo Trail Ride

Golly and I heading down the trail
I had a lesson this weekend that we did at our local park and the weather was so nice that I decided to go on a trail ride afterwards.  As we approached the woods, I realized its been a good year, or maybe two, since we have done a solo trail ride.   Golly was not thrilled about turning away from the trailers to head toward the trails.  He jigged and did his best to turn away.  Stopped in place.   Backed up.   And generally did his best to evade going that way. 

I stuck with what we had been practicing -- providing firm steady pressure as long as he was going backwards or holding still and then neutral soft legs the second he took a step forward.   Reins stayed fairly neutral the entire time, just ensuring that he kept his head facing the woods.

In less than five minutes, we made it the trail head and we started down the path.  The second we entered the woods, he calmly moved forward and the rest of the ride was on the buckle and at a steady but relaxed pace.  Even when a hawk came swooping out of a tree, he startled slightly but kept on his steady pace. 

I had forgotten how nice it was to be alone with your horse in the woods.  Its like taking a walk with your best friend.    Its even better when the temps are in the 70s in there is no humidity!

Definitely need to repeat this again very soon.  All weekend I've had a warm fuzzy feeling of happiness and appreciation for the good reliable horse that I have the privilege of owning.  Riding with friends is fun but riding with just you and your horse is good too!

Begging for treats after our ride
I love reading your comments and about YOUR journey.   Like reading about my Journey?   Click on the link to subscribe and you can receive all the updates via email.  

Monday, September 2, 2013

Another Trail Ride -- Two in the Same Weekend!

Just a quick posting tonight.   Had another great trail ride today.  Started off with some schooling in the field while I waited for everyone else to tack up and then worked in the ring for a bit.  Worked on the 1,2,3 method of getting him to move forward off light cues (see the previous posting on that).   Even cantered in the field a few times and while it wasn't a nice straight canter it was a canter off an easy cue so I will take it.

Then went on a trail ride with the great group you see in the picture.  One of the riders was taking her "new to her" 4 year old horse out on his first ride off the farm with her.  They did a small creek, a bridge, hills and a tough stream crossing today.  Very impressive and I can't wait to see where they are a few months from now once they have some more time to solidify their relationship.

Back to work tomorrow... sigh...   Its been a good long weekend.

I love reading your comments and about YOUR journey.   Like reading about my Journey?   Click on the link to subscribe and you can receive all the updates via email.  

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Trail Ride with a One Eyed Horse

Rocky, not understanding why
we want to take a picture of his missing eye
I had a lovely ride today with a friend whose horse had his eye removed just one month ago.  Rocky, an Appaloosa, has had some eye issues since last October and his human partner has had to treat his eye twice daily.  Its been tough on poor Rocky (and his human).   He had to be stall confined part of the time and just looking at him you could tell he was not comfortable.  Despite the discomfort, he has been a remarkably tolerant of all the medical treatment and has still remained his sensible self.

Last month his eye issues became worse and the decision was made to remove his eye surgically.  Today was the first time I've seen Rocky since his surgery and I have to say he looked magnificent.  You can tell he feels better and it shows in his coat and attitude.  If a horse could smile... he was.

He is still trying to figure out his surroundings and with his other eye most likely not fully functioning, it makes it even more difficult for him.   He is doing great though and shows confidence in his attempts to try.

When we went to load him on the trailer, he tripped on the base of the ramp and fell to his knees, nearly hitting his head on the partition.   He jumped up, ran down the path and stood and waited for his human to retrieve him.   On the second try we picked up his foot and placed it on the ramp and after a few seconds for him to ponder it, he headed up the ramp and calmly entered the trailer stall.  Well done!

Once we reached the park, I parked in the grass where it was slightly downhill with the hopes that the ramp would be less steep.  He came off very well.  I stood on the side and just lightly touched his side so he knew where the edge of the ramp was.    Loading to come home he had the same problem and tripped on his first step on the ramp.  This time, he fell to his knees but with no alarm.  He simply had this look of "oh wow, that is where the ramp is.... " and then calmly walked up the ramp.  I think eventually he will understand his owner's cues that the ramp is there.

I was very impressed with his confidence under saddle.   We started off in the ring and while he side passed a couple of times when he wasn't sure what was on his "bad side", for the most part you couldn't tell he couldn't see well.  When we started our trail ride, he decided to lead and there was almost no sign of his disability.   His only issue was that he tripped going up slight inclines and on tree roots.   

I likened his human's treatment of him to the way you would treat a disabled child... for the most part  you treat them like any other child (or horse in this case!) and where you need to, you make accommodations.  Since today was his first day off the farm since his surgery, we kept the ride to almost all flat ground and limited how much we went in and out of sunlight as it may have been difficult for this remaining eye to adjust the light change.

One thing he is having problems with is moving between small spaces.  Its hard to tell if its he's worried about what he can't see on one side or what might be potentially under his feet but I am sure his human will figure it out.  She has done a great job loving on him and trusting him that he WILL figure this out.  I know the faith she has in him is one reason he has such confidence despite the loss of his eye.

What fun to see a horse happy in his job and enjoying his day! 

Next Sunday I am attending a clinic with Steffen Peters at Hassler Dressage.  I can't wait to share with you what I learn.

I love reading your comments and about YOUR journey.   Like reading about my Journey?   Click on the link to subscribe and you can receive all the updates via email.  

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Happy Anniversary to My Blog!

Tomorrow is the one year anniversary of my blog.  One year ago I had the thought that I should start writing down what was happening during my rides and lessons so I could 1) remember the lessons and 2) hopefully see improvement over time.

The blog has been so much more than I thought.  I have had so much fun writing and by documenting my rides, I have learned more from them.  I have met people throughout the world that I consider my blog friends now.  I have received encouragement and advice from fellow riders and readers.  I have been humbled by posting my failures and enjoyed my success even more because I could share it.  Thank you for sharing this journey with me!

So here are the stats one year into this blogging journey.

As of tonight I have 20,080 hits!  Wow .... I can't believe that many people have found what I have to say worth reading!

These are my top postings:
Am I Too Heavy to Ride my Horse                                  541 hits
Partial Knee Replacement Healing and Rehab                 251 hits
Putting Together a Quadrille Team                                  237 hits
Why I Don't Ride Horses with Blue Eyes                        222 hits
Tenacity                                                                            154 hits

These are my top visiting countries:
United States
United Kingdom
New Zealand

Top Referring Sites:
Chronicle of the Horse

Top Search Keywords:
tom mulqueen
pony girl dressage
dressage blog
horses with blue eyes
am I to heavy for my horse
blue horse eyes
dressage horse heavy hands
quadrille riding patterns
dressage blogs

I love reading your comments and about YOUR journey.   Like reading about my Journey?   Click on the link to subscribe and you can receive all the updates via email. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Achieving Relaxation when Attending Clinics and Shows - Clinic with Jaralyn Finn

I attended a clinic with Jaralyn Finn (sponsored by the Potomac Valley Dressage Association and the Charles County PVDA) a couple of weeks ago as a rider  but also took notes during the other lessons.  One of the riders had an 8 year old Oldenburg Cross who is fairly green.  

When they first entered the ring, the gelding was a bit tense and jumpy.  Jaralyn gave them some great pointers on how to achieve relaxation that ultimately worked and could be applied to horses at any level.    What is interesting is that many of the suggestions were the same ones she gave a rider earlier in the day who was riding at a much higher level which proves that good advice for riding is the same at all levels.   “Don’t ride into the tenseness or the horse is less likely to be confident.  You need to keep yourself neutral when he is hesitant.”
Other suggestions were:

  • Use bending circles to get rid of tension
  • Use the calm moments to go forward and ask for more bend
  • Where it is scary for him, use half halts and nothing with your legs
  • Don’t work hard when he is against you
  • Relax your legs when he is tense; allow the horse to carry you
  • When you get the neck stretchy and low his back will open up and he will be happy
  • Use the 1 2 3 system of aids (highlighted in a prior post) once you have him happy
Bottom line – “Go forward when the horse is calm and when spooking, be a calm rider – don’t overreact.”

It worked – horse and rider left their lesson smiling and relaxed!

I love reading your comments and about YOUR journey.   Like reading about my Journey?   Click on the link to subscribe and you can receive all the updates via email. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Aaaack! Can I just chop my legs off?

So last week I thought Golly was lame due to a cut on his leg.    With a couple of days of rest though he is doing well.  I rode him Saturday and he was wonderful.  The lessons we learned at the clinic to try to get him lighter to the aids are working and he did two very nice canter circles.  I was feeling pretty good that we were finally on an upswing after my recovery from knee surgery.

Then today I was just getting ready to go to a picnic, turn to say something to my son and BANG!  a sharp pain shot me behind my left knee.    All day today I have not been able to put weight on it and I think I may have pulled a hamstring.  Very frustrating.

I have been going to physical therapy for my right leg (the un-operated one) for the last few weeks trying to keep it going for a year or two before I need surgery on that one as well.  Now the one that was hurting needs to be the strong one for the pulled hamstring one.

For the most part I try to keep a positive attitude about my physical limitations and try to deal with them but today I just wonder if I will ever have legs that do what I want and need them to do.  I know it could be worse and there are many people dealing with much more serious issues but tonight.... wah wah... I just want a pity party.

Tomorrow is another day though and hopefully with the ice I applied and some rest tonight, I will be able to walk and can keep heading down this road of recovery.

I love reading your comments and about YOUR journey.   Like reading about my Journey?   Click on the link to subscribe and you can receive all the updates via email. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

1, 2, 3 GO - Clinic with Jaralyn Finn

Last Sunday I attended a clinic with Jaralyn Finn hosted by the Charles County Potomac Valley Dressage Association with my horse, Golly.

Golly has been under saddle for five years and we are attempting Intro C and are showing well at Intro B.    Moving off my leg without constant pressure and specifically canter departs have been a struggle for us.

After watching me continue to harass Golly with leg aids, Jaralyn stopped us to explain her “1, 2, 3” system.   “Your horse doesn’t want to work this way.  Think of it from his point of view.  He is thinking ‘Well I don’t LIKE her jabbing me in the sides with those spurs but she is pretty nice and she feeds me so I will put up with it.  She seems kind of upset so maybe I should slow down.  Well hey!  She jabbed me again… maybe she wants me to go faster.’ He would much prefer to just move along without the constant nagging.”  Jaralyn’s solution was one that I thought I had been using but her clarification and refinement of how I was using it gave us clear improvement.
Step One is the “Utopia aid” – just a gentle pressure on their side should move them forward.   She likened it to just brushing “the hair on their sides the wrong way”.  That is how she trains her horses to move off the leg aids.

Step Two is gradual escalation of the Utopia. When the leg aid from Step 1 doesn’t work, then you gradually escalate your aides until you get what you want, walk to trot, halt to walk, etc.
Photo by Dorothy Anderson
Step Three is the “wake up call” and it takes courage and some planning because you are going to give them a swift whomp with your leg or a tap with your whip and you have to be ready to go with them, not hold them back. Your body language has  to tell your horse they did a good job responding despite them potentially shooting forward or bucking.  Jaralyn explained that whenever you find yourself stuck in Step 2 (using more pressure than your “utopia” leg aid) you wait a few strides and then give them a #3 “wake up call” and really allow them to carry you forward. After the wake up call, you should take a few moments out of your ride and carefully repeat the process of all three steps. After two or three times, Jaralyn said most dull horses become sensitive and forward just from the Step 1.

Some version of this I have heard from my instructor, from articles and books and from other clinicians.  However, Jaralyn gave me some additional pointers I had not considered before and also pointed out very clearly that despite KNOWING this, I was not following what I knew.
The biggest pointer she gave is that I was escalating from Step One to Step Two to Step Three too quickly.   I wasn’t giving him time to process, learn and succeed so he saw the three steps of escalation as one big aid that he ultimately was failing to achieve.  The second pointer was that I needed to “leave him alone and keep my leg off” completely once I gave the aid.  Let him carry me.

Jaralyn summed it up with, “The trick with lazier horses is to incentivize them into moving forward. You need to get to a point where you don’t use your leg.”
We used her pointers a few days later in our ride and they continued to work.  I did realize that this is one of those situations where I need more training than my horse.   I ride tomorrow and I will be looking forward to seeing how much I can improve!

I love reading your comments and about YOUR journey.   Like reading about my Journey?   Click on the link to subscribe and you can receive all the updates via email.