Tuesday, May 4, 2010

See what Brand New I, can do.

And life continues to be...well, endlessly entertaining.
It's odd, this revives at the most opportune of moments! Insofar as, well, it's finals week. And I have a 3,000 paper due tomorrow. (On Autism and education and technology. Needless to say, it's an interesting topic but not one I'm exactly married to.) So what does any good college student do?
Well, not do it, of course!

The big news: Our first show is in eleven days. I'm excited. Sort of.
They've gone and changed up our dressage test this year, for which I am eternally grateful. The last one was full of stupid short diagonals. It goes without saying that I hate a 20x40m arena. The way my instructor puts it is that I drive a cadillac. He can't maneuver like a sportscar, but he's got more staying power and more push/pull. Not to mention a smoother ride. ;D
(Great. I have the middle-aged-midlifecrisis for american men car, of horses?)

I like a little more space than 20x40 gives me. Though I suppose it's convenient that X is at the top of both of my circles? The nastiest thing they threw in for me this year is an odd A-X-M entry. Trot in off the left (my preference) and then have that bizarre little diagonal. Oh well. We'll live, if that's the worst.

Today I had a dressage lesson-normally I'm on fridays, but Diane is going to be out of town so we've got the day off! The last time I rode was actually my last lesson, on friday. We went outside and played on my barn's cross country field.
There are hills, and all sorts of interesting things. I was actually extremely impressed with the big guy. There was all sorts of commotion (horses running in pastures alongside where we were riding; construction machinery coming up and down the driveway) but he was 100% solid. Strong and forward, but..well. Thoroughbred. What else do I need to say?
Eagle learned how to jump brush-unintentionally. We have a pile of saplings that make up a really inviting fence that's just like a 'log' fence. However, it's been a while since someones maitnenced it and apparently one of the saplings is trying to regrow! Sort of. Anyway, Eagle took it in stride. Go figure.

The hardest fence for he and I, stylewise, are coops. While they're super inviting (so I'm told) there's something about them that just unnerve me. I think I don't like the wider bases? I don't really understand what the mental hangup was, but we played with two of them on friday!

Here's a bit of information that I've known for a while that I really had to pay attention to on friday.
When you're jumping downhill-and uphill-just let them jump away (or up) to you. What I was faced with on friday was a coop that the ground fell away from on the backside. I really had to work on keeping my shoulders back and down and just let him go. While I get off his back over the fence (the decline isn't that steep) when I land it's the "British butt tuck", as Diane says. Imagine someone grabbing a hold of all your belt loops and just pulling on strings attached to them (more in the front than the back). Your seat slides into the saddle and your spine lengthens as you come down into the saddle and the horse (provided you haven't caught them with the reins) comes right up to you on the landing and you're in position to rebalance as you depart from the fence.

Setting Eagle up for the fences was one of the expected battles. He wanted to go and sometimes you just have to recognize the best you're going to get and roll with it. When approaching a fence at the trot, I recognize that (provided the fence isn't "skeery" and holds him) the last two strides will be canter. So I have to set him up for the most successful trip I can by being soft and elastic in my back and in my arms.

All in all, friday was a rousing success. Except for the tan. Farmers tans are epically uncool. And so are pale legs.
But hey. I'm a rider. What more can I expect other than horrible tan lines? (I've already got a hellaciously noticable glovetan going..)

Today was a different kettle of beans. Bowl of cherries? I like cherries better, so I guess I'll go with that.
Feeling particularly brave (or stupid..) I switched Eagle's normal bit (a slowtwist D-ring snaffle) to his old french link lose ring. He loves that bit, and we use it for dressage but most of the time I don't know what the traffic in the arena is going to be, or if I'm going to hop over fences...so we mostly just live in the slow twist.
I'm at the point with him though, where I'm willing to try the french link for most things.

The one thing that I noticed today is his propensity to get heavier in my hands. You really notice it when that much horse is expecting you to hold him up! So we'll have to work on that, and the canter but by and far, he was much better than I expected.
And that goes for the dressage portion, too. The stupidest part of my test (beyond the A-X-M entry) is the fact that out of a canter circle (canter circle right at C) you have to trot between M and B.
B? Really? You're doing that to me?
Hell, I'll just try to trot right out of the corner so my horse doesn't think he's the little (big) engine that could!

Urg. We've got work on our hands, but I think that schooling him in the french link for responsiveness will certainly help.

Anyway, Eaglehorse is growing up!
Mostly. Sort of.
He turned 9 on April 22, so I guess I can't say he's my "baby" anymore, either. I've been told by people that thoroughbreds gain a brain between nine and ten.
I'm conservative. I'll give him till 12. Generosity and all.
But we're getting there!

"It is in our choices that we show what we are, far more than in our abilities." -JKR

Friday, April 30, 2010

I'll Take a Chance on Every Breath

Well, it's definitely been a while since I've updated this thing. Bad me, bad! It isn't even as if I've got any grand excuses. Winter, really? What's going to go on in winter? Answer, being, absolutely nothing. Anyway, since the last time I posted nothing catastrophic has gone on. Winter is always a lovely season. I've always loved the snow, and-for all that the pastures are in short supply (conditions need to be ideal at my barn for the pastures to be open-most of the time, we're left with the smaller all weather lots) Eagle is surprisingly charitable towards humanity. We battled the typical rain rot (As always, MTG is the only thing that really works, much to my dismay. Listerine was tried and so was "Banixx", which was advertised particularly for rain rot. Don't waste your money on it.) and generally, just had a good time.

A dear friend of mine, Natalie, stopped by a few times over winter. Most notably, in January, we had a mini "show jumping" clinic at my barn. It was quite the experience.

Picture to the right is Eagle flatting that week. It was, I think, the first time we really had a breakthrough at "The" canter. It was amazing!
You may also note the better fitting saddle (on my part). For christmas I was gifted with an 18'' CWD jumping saddle and I have to say
, it's quite the ride. A big step up from my HDR close contact, at any rate! It's nice to be in a saddle that my leg doesn't hang off of, or my butt. Suggestion to all of you who read this, check to make sure that you have room to move in your saddle! Even if you sit in it and it "fits" at a walk or a standstill doesn't mean that you'll have a comfortable ride in it when you need a little more room for cantering, or jumping!
Unfortunately, for as nicely as he behaved on the flat jumping still was liable to fry his brain. There's a certain point with Eagle where you just have to stop. I frequently see it like when you're working on a computer-the more screens you have and the more you make it try to process, the more overheated and temperamental it gets. Same with Eagle. However, this is one of the few nice pictures of the day! It was very, very p
roductive. The course, designed by two of the instructors at the barn, was created with the notion of bending in mind. Jumping on a serpentine, odd directional changes and short, hard approaches to fences were pretty much the

flavor of the day. Even though we weren't too pretty, I really learned a lot about moving my legs to move Eagle's haunches. He's always had a propensity to drift left. I think part of it is, I'm just naturally stronger on the right side of my body so I'll try to "pull" him right with the right r
ein instead of blocking the leftward drift with my leg. That course really illustrated my weaknesses as a rider and it gave me a lot of "homework" to do!

The next momentous occasion I faced this winter was Eagle's and my two year anniversary! I was lucky enough to have him bought for me on February 7, 2008. I can't believe that so much time has passed-and how we've both developed. Let's just say, we've picked up our share of bad habits..but on the other hand, he's more mature as a horse and I'm definitely a far more confidant rider.

He's taught me so much-about riding, about him, and about myself. He's not only a 'pet', but he's a partner. Eagle is the best relationship I've ever had, and the things I've learned I'll, no doubt, carry with me through my entire life. How difficult it is to be patient with a horse that knows better, but just doesn't care and misbehaves anyway! How many times do we have to strip things down to the basics to reteach them something they've already performed wonderfully at? How many times are they going to make fools of us before they decide to show us mercy? And then, how many
times are we forced to show them compassion, when they're worried and frightened? How much confidence do they give us, because we know it's the only way they'll relax? I've learned more about myself in two years than I had in eighteen, before. Simply put, I've been blessed with an amazing gift-and for all the headaches he's given me, and the bumps and the bruises, I'll cherish every one of them-because every one of them comes with a lesson to be learned.

It astounds me to read stories, in the papers or on the websites, or even hear the gossip of what's going on with "youth", or society these days. There are people dropping out of school or getting involved in illegal activities, there are young girls with destroyed images of themselves because of peer pressure and there are boys who try so hard to be a "dude" that they forget everything a
bout themselves. And as much as I might lament at these things, I can go to the barn and see the little girls riding and know that, for as long as they choose to stick with this, they have a place that they're special. Every single time we get on a horse, the extraordinary happens-and little girls know this. As we get older, sometimes we lose sight of this, but the things that little girls could teach us are lessons, too, that we should never misplace.
I've been lucky enough to see a young girl develop as a rider over the past few years. She took lessons with my instructor and eventually ended up leasing a horse that was stabled next to Eagle for some time. This winter, she was finally given a horse. It was a long and exhausting process (I spoke frequently about her father-a regular at the barn, as his daughter can't be older than 12-about the difficulties of finding the "right" horse. She refused to settle!) but in seeing that, I was reminded of myself as a child-and maybe, a little bit, of every single little girl that ever dreamed of having a pony.

This little girl ended up with a very nice, kind thoroughbred gelding who just seems to know how precious his relationship with her is. You can see this horse being so careful as he goes, how much of an old soul he is, even though he can't be older than 8. At any rate, being able to ride with her, and watch her work on herself, has been like reliving my own progression all over again.
How many of us still have "that" little girl inside of us still?

Musings aside, Eagle has grown up. Or at least, sort of. He turned 9 on April 22, and it seems as if this is going to be a
good year for us. This winter we made huge strides in our flat work-pun not intended. There's adjustability in the gaits and the frame. The dressage instructor who drives in to teach at our barn once a week once said that "If you cannot stretch your horse down and out at any point in your ride, then you must reassess what you are doing because you are doing something wrong". I'm happy to say that, for the most part, I'm 'there' with Eagle. Most days, anyway. We still have our moments where Eagle dreams of being the next Funny Cide.
Gaits, sensitiveness to aids and the adjustable frame have come. The canter really has just developed in the past month. I truly believe what happened is that I finally was comfortable enough in my ride to soften my back and sit up. Instead of putting extra weight on his (already) overburdened shoulders-and if you look at pictures of him, you can see that he's very heavily built in front-I'm able to just soften and balance and move with him.
Needless to say, he appreciates the gesture.

Jumping has been hit and miss, up until frequently. There were good days and there were bad days. Quite frankly, there
might be three or four good fences in a lesson and that was Eagle's quota. As a rider, I don't think I was strong enough-or relaxed enough-to give him the sense of "chill" that he needed. He leaves from the base of a fence very aggressively-even if he has a good distance, he really powers off. When this happens, inevitably, he lands long and hard on the other side and it takes a few strides for him to rebalance himself. If I just sit and relax on the backside and don't fuss with his face and give him leg to guide him, he's fine. However, if I get tight and unbalanced, he's never quite able to recover and that's where our disastrous backsides of fences come from.
At least, that's my speculation on it.

Oversized photo aside, I felt as if it were an appropriate moment to drop that in! The third week of April we went cross country schooling. Our first show is in the third week of May, so it was about time we got "out" there. Suffice to say, I was more than a little nervous. Eagle? Field? Fences? This can go nowhere but downhill, I've been taught.
It's also entirely possible that I'm not all there in the head because I keep going back for more? That aside, with how good he had been on the flat (the canter had been "discovered" in the week before this schooling.) I felt as if I were obligated to at least try. Sort of. Maybe?

As all things with my horse goes, what you expect isn't what you get. What you get always surprises you-either for the better or for the worst. It's definitely a marriagesque quality, there. ("Till death do us part" isn't worth speculating on though.)

I go Cross Country Schooling with the main eventing instructor, a lovely woman who shows prelim, named Brigitte. My general instructor is Diane-timing has never worked out for her to come out with us and take me along, so I'm a bit of the ugly duckling in the group of girls. Brigitte has seen us at our worst though (last year, probably..) so it was gratifying to have her see us as something other than a complete wreck.
My horse..we had the straight! Straight lines to fences, manageable gaits, and overall good temper. He was quick on the back side of fences, but he wasn't ignoring me as he did so, and he wasn't running away with me. It was just a longer canter. More importantly, I seem to have discovered some semblance of form over fences! I'm not (completely) on his neck and my hands aren't glued to my saddle!

Releases have always been a bone of contention between Eagle and I. He would love a nice long rein release. If I would just slip a little more of the rein through my fingers? Yes? (No, says I.) What we've (Brigitte, Diane and I) have developed with him as we jump is that I never truly let go of his face over a fence. I should never block, but I will always be in contact with where his mouth is-following, but never throwing away. To some degree, it seems as if I'm getting there.

Hell. I'm just happy I don't look like a sack of potatoes, to be honest.

Oddly, for he and I, one of the hardest things for us still, is to just get a calm canter in a field. We can canter between fences, to fences, away from fences-we can have fantastic trot work, but for some reason, the canter is always going to be the gait that gives us trouble. Part of it is, no doubt, that he is extremely active in the gait and I've never been very good at moving with him.

Today (4/30) I had a lesson out in the Cross Country Field. First time Diane and I have done a lesson outside (well..beyond the Sand Arena. We ride out there frequently.) and I mentioned something to a friend of mine about it the night before. I told him that, no doubt, since it was likely to be hot (82) and windy, I'd have my lesson in a field somewhere. (And naturally, my horse would be a moron for it.)

Well. Let me count the ways how Eagle surprised me. We walked all the way down the driveway (about a third of a mile) to the cross country field without any unnecessary stupidity. I allow him some fast walking, but jigging, walking sideways, trotting and headtossing are all "stupid" in my book. We managed to trot and canter without too much fuss. We did not have a cow over other horses running in pastures alongside where we were working!
We...actually, didn't do half bad.
Let me tell you what I'm not surprised at.

In 45 minutes, I was sunburned. It only took a warm April and my "rider" tan lines are back in full force. Glove tan? Check. Farmer's tan? Check. Super burned nose? Yep, I have that, too.
Go me.

Today was really just a good day to work on fences, though. Our Cross Country Field is very uneven-we've got a hell of a hill going on, and so there's a lot of opportunity for jumping up and down hills, which is something that I've never been particularly fond of. Actually, jumping uphill is fine. Having to sit quiet in the back seat and let Eagle jump away from me going downhill though, is not on my list of fun times.
(Really, it's counter intuitive to every single survival instinct I have.)

All in all, we were good. Eagle got fast to the base of some of the fences, but I didn't pick that fight. I know by now what he's going to give me and so long as I ride whatever that is, well, we can manage cleanly enough. Form over fences is coming, too. SOFT ELBOWS are something I need to work on. When I get frustrated, or tight, or tense--it all shows up in the arm around the elbow, which is not good for any form of following his face over a fence-or even releasing.
The other thing I seemed to get "down" today was halfhalting to my hip! When we turned away from the barn, we certainly had a few moments of "Welllll I'd rather go that way" and trotting (or cantering) sideways commenced.
Instead of trying to haul his face around or change directions, my rein created a wall-his nose to my hip, and then the leg came back and bumped him a little bit behind my saddle pad (Long legs. I can reach back that far) to establish a line of "You will not cross this". It took a little while but actually, we figured it out pretty well.

Jumped downhill (a coop) to another coop (jumping away from the barn) to a brush/log fence combo thing (uphill to the barn) to stumps (downhill landing, towards the barn). My horse..well, he was pretty damn good.
And so was I, if I don't say so myself.

And so, that's it.
Let's hear it-to hopes, progress, happiness..and horses.

For as difficult as it can be, and as much of a headache as they are, and how much we hurt for what we do..it's what we love.
And I'll take a chance on it every single day.
Because, really--if not this, then what?
I can think of no other place-no other people, and no other partner I would rather be at and with.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Money, Fame and Fortune could never compete

So it's on the eve of thanksgiving. I know, I know. Just another holiday that involves way too much food (blasphemy!), too much family and too much liquor. Okay, x-nay on the last bit. The only time you can drink too much is when you're thinking about it the morning after. Really, I understand. I wrote an entire essay on "How to Survive Thanksgiving Dinner with Family". (I kid you not.)

Anyway. If your family is like mine, some obnoxious soul will stand up and clank on his glass (so cliche) and demand you take a second to think about what you're thankful for. If your company resembles anything like the Kids Table (To which I have been long since banished to, being one of the youngest three or four in my family) you (and company) will roll your eyes, fall silent, staring gluttenously at the food placed in front of you that you really want to eat, but are not yet permitted to. It's kind of like having a sugar cube in front of your horse, but popping them in the nose every time they go for it.
So the point is, you probably may give a passing thought to things you're 'thankful' for, but you probably give the half-assed answers that everyone has. Family. Health. Friends. That you still have a job/home. If you're reading this you are probably one of the few people who follow this, to which I'll invite you to take a moment to really think. What are you thankful for? What in the past year has happened that has enlightened you, taught you and pushed you to grow?

I'll let you know what I'm thankful for.
I'm thankful to be in a barn where I have a fabulous instructor on hand who is accessible to help me whenever and if ever I need it. If she's not there, there's other people who are always so willing to give me a hand.
I am thankful that I'm at a barn where I can take it 'at my own pace'. It isn't about making the cut, the ribbon or the grade. I am not expected to be able to do certain things that may be within my capacity, but am not quite prepared for them yet.
I am so very, incredibly greatful for my overall wellness. This year has been up and down-I fell off on a rear that, had it gone differently, might have ended with a horse on top of me. My back relapsed and for a while there it looked really bad with the prognosis. However, PT and time has improved that. I can still ride, and I can get on a horse without being in pain.
More than that, I am thankful that I have been blessed to be around horses. So many people never have the opportunity to interact with them, wish they could but don't have the means or the opportunity. Not only can I, but I have been gifted with the ability to call one of these incredible creatures my own. I've been taught to value not only patience, but have been given lessons every single time I'm out there on compassion, understanding, tolerance, keeping my temper and how much the simple things really do matter.

So this thanksgiving, I am thankful for so many things-but more than anything, I am thankful for all of the things that I have learned this past year. That I can do what I set my mind to, that there are people behind me-no matter what my decisions are. The only person keeping me from doing what I'd like, is me. And that it's not all about what other people think-it's about seeing where you've come from, and realizing where you stand now.
(Feel free to post what you feel thankful for, what your horses have taught you or revelations you've had in the past year!)

Anyway, sappy mentality aside, the horse was good for our lesson today. I had last week off (lesson wise) as Diane was sick. It was a nice break, but I definitely feel it now! The horse was very, very good.
Perhaps the oddest thing about my riding experience to date (the past week or so) is that I have been having to use my leg. I know, it's a normal, average little thing. Leg to sustain a gait? Open it up? Yeah, typical. For so long to transition up with Eagle I just had to give him an opening to go. If I wanted a 'bigger' gait I just had to open up a little bit (ease up on contact, seat saying "Whoa") and we were there.

However, as I said, this new experience has been showing up since about a week ago. Diane and I have really been working on getting him to support himself, particularly at the canter. With the aid of ~10/12m canter circles he's having to carry himself-I'm not hauling his face and neck around anymore! We're almost at the point where touching his face at the canter is a no-no. He's so responsive to turning off the leg that I can effectively drop his face and say "Take care of yourself, sucker".
With the help of circles (Randomly thrown in at the canter-anywhere and everywhere) he's actually really reaching under with his inside hind. I guess his canter before was so likely to get quick because for much of the time, I was holding onto his face to hold up his head and neck and shoulders. Hanging onto him that way, he never could really use himself fully to balance himself. Now that he's balanced, he doesn't need to go fasterandfasterandfaster to avoid falling on his face.

It's the catch-22. When a horse goes fast, you want to take their face and say "Whoa". On the other hand, the more you try to get their face the more quick they're likely to go because they can't use themselves correctly to regain their balance. That is still my biggest problem with Eagle behind fences. When he gets quick I want to start 'water skiing'. My leg comes infront of me and I lean back, holding on his face. I don't keep 'dancing' with him.

So with Eagle finding his balance, I'm actually having to ride with more leg that I'm really used to. It's slightly surreal when I have to leg him up at the canter to get him to open up. (Sanity? DO I FEEL IT COMING ON?) A slightly surreal moment, to say in the least. Today we had some beautiful flat work, though there were no particularly 'eureka' exercises or moments. It was just solid and consistent, which has been a first.

Also a first today was cantering fences. I do not canter fences. If they're in a line, I'll do so but for the most part Eagle will get so excited and 'whee!' that we focus on trying to solidify him (and me) trotting to the base of a fence and then bring him back right after. He was good enough today that we ended up cantering to fences, and cantering related distances.
Started out really nice, but a fudge with arena traffic really wound him up. I also have discovered I am not at all forceful on a 'whoa' on the backside of a fence. I'm so aware of touching his face (I used to be horrible about catching him in the face) that I do not want to be firm about it.

I forsee a new exercise. Canter, trot. Canter, trot. Repeat. Incessantly. He does have a very nice transition, but most of the time it's once we've cantered for a bit and have it settled in. The backside of a fence is not so 'settled in', which means he's much more interested in "More? We'll do more. Thanks." We started out on a figure eight-trot to canter out, trot, and then trot to the second fence. Once we had done that a few times, trot in, canter out-if you're on the right lead, continue on to the other fence. He'd consistently land on the left lead, but did not want to land on the right lead. So we kept having to "Whoa" and then pick it up. Blech.
Not so fun.

All in all, it was not a particularly stellar lesson-things kept interrupting us, between another person jumping the fences that I was starting to work over on a green horse (I ended up walking the horse for about 15 minutes-dropped the reins and worked on steering with legs) and then the arena traffic got the horse jazzed up. However, I do not dare say that it was a bad lesson! We've come so far. Even a month ago I would have called someone crazy if they said consistently cantering to fences would be possible. We're not quite on the level to really do a solid course, but we're getting there.
Isn't that the story of life, though? We're always getting somewhere!

Happy thanksgiving, everyone.

"Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out."
-Robert Collier

Friday, November 13, 2009

made mistakes, but we found our heart

Well it's been a good long time (again) since I've uploaded. In August I was already talking about improvement and whatnot. Since then, we've only gone farther. There was a CT show (second place, beginner novice) up at Fields and Fences. he was amazing. We've gone through bits (my mother is riding him in a pelham-featured here for photo opportunities. I know, I know. So lame-putting it on him because it's pretty..) and for the most part I'm riding him in a happy mouth mullenmouth. (From the slow twist D.) As it gets colder we may have to put him back in the slow twist just to keep things settled down. He's still very strong jumping in the mullenmouth, though he flats wonderfully in it.
Lots has been going on beyond that little 'floof' update. In September, he was breaking out in hives from bugs (Sad) and had runny eyes, we suspect from reactions to it. So he got a fly mask and an antihistime which did the job. As christmas gets closer, I'm looking at getting a new saddle. (A CWD has my attention right now.. I can dream!) Really, Eagle has just been maturing so well in the past few months. Inevitably we'll have our two steps back from time to time, but the fact is that now we can canter down the long wall of an arena without our canter falling to pieces. That's a huge step. For the longest time, I relied on circles and couldn't go more than 10 meters or so on a straight line.

Lines are, as always, our biggest issue-he sees the space (cantering down the long wall or jumping a line) and decides that he just wants to go. It's hard because I need repetition so I can learn to see distances, but the more we repeat things the more aggressive Eagle gets. It's a catch-22, but we're slowly getting there. (Cantering a fence on a circle is good Stuff, and switching directions over a vertical on an angle is another good way to keep him paying attention to me.)

That's a picture from Fields and Fences directly after our dressage test. We were going straight into our jump warmup. It was quite an experience, truth be told. He was going so well that day, though, it was astounding. You can find a video of our Stadium round loaded on SilhouetteMind's account on youtube (titled "Stadium"). Also there are videos I've finally loaded from various points in time.
"Eagle Montage" is a video that was originally intended to show a high school class ("companion animal" project-a friend asked me to go in and speak) however the footage was from about a week after the Fields&Fences show and it just ended up looking nice enough that I wouldn't mind showing the world.
"At the beginning" features video clips of me riding Eagle from March, 2008-I had him about a month and a half at that point. Hopefully, you can see the improvement!
"October schooling" is from the same night as the top picture in this update. A little bit of flat work, a little bit of jumping.

More than anything, it has struck me recently how absurd I can be. I have been told by a friend that I have an absurd notion of what correct riding is. I've been trying to downgrade bits (From a slow twist to a mullenmouth, though I'd settle with a french link) in the quest to have a horse that can do just about anything (and everything!) in a mild bit. Flatting Eagle in anything more than those two bits is percieved as 'cheating'. Having to jump in the slow twist is a percieved failure. It's interesting to think about, and I think, in large part, this determination to do the best I can with as few 'outside aids' as I am able to achieve, has really helped our growth.
Time shouldn't be a reflection upon success. There are some horses that may take years to amount to anything to anyone other than the few people involved in their growth. While Eagle is 'pretty', and certainly talented, it has taken a very, very long time to get to this place where I can actually say that I am proud of where we're at.

It has been a very, very long road and there are still challenges. It won't be easy, but then again, it never has. In reflection, I suspect that Eagle was a poor choice of a horse for me to buy at that point in my life. I had never really dealt with a 'hot' horse. Green horses and off the track horses and polo ponies have 'go', but none of them really have the mind that I've encountered with mine. Repetition is supposed to calm a horse down, not wind them up. He was 'too much'. Too much heart, too much mind, too much talent. I took him to a place that wasn't really able to utelize his mind to everyone's mutual benefit and because of it, he soured.
It's taken a half a year to get my horse to the place where he can canter down a long wall without having to hold onto his face and whittle his canter away.

As horse people, we are responsible not only for our own safety and an awareness of the situation around us (other riders, horses, circumstances that may create problems for anyone involved), but we are also charged with the responsibility to do the best thing for our horses. This may mean confronting a farrier who is late on trims, or a vet who is lax on hygenic standards, or initially unwilling to help us do the best thing for our horse. It also may mean taking our horses away from trainers we want to trust, are even programmed to trust. Owning horses will put you out of your comfort zone, but if you aren't willing to do so, then you shouldn't have a horse. It's on me, what happened to Eagle last year.

However, as much as Eagle's condition-jazzed up and stressed out-coming out of school is on me, I'm also a huge part of where he's come to. We've grown up, and grown together. With the help of a trainer who is familiar with both of us, Eagle and I have really shaped up.

Other developments.. He's always been a bit on the slender side. He's a thoroughbred, 'fat' isn't really in his vocabulary. However, he's on 2 scoops 2x a day of grain (approx. 8 lbs-half 12% protein, pelleted content and then the other half is sweetfeed) and then 12 flakes of hay. On top of that, he gets beet pulp. The BP is a new addition to his diet and finally has made a noticable difference! No more ribs! He's also on a supplement with biotin & omega bran fatty acids.
Beyond his weight, after about three months of consistently working correctly-reaching under from behind and lifting his back and shoulders up-he's getting muscled in the correct places. The most noticable improvement has occurred through his neck and right around his withers-his back just feels so much broader.

While Eagle has always been a charismatic presence, he seems to have grown-he's just 'big' to be around. It's humbling to work with him, and there are moments when I am struck with the realization that, while getting him was without a doubt, an incredibly stupid thing to do, I am also extremely lucky. I have a horse with mind and heart that, when you ask him right, will do just about anything.

On a less dramatic note, something that's struck a chord with me during my lessons has really helped me improve my riding. My instruction is fond of saying "Don't stop dancing with him!" when things start getting tight. As I've mentioned before, Eagle has a habit of opening up in the air over fences. There isn't much I can do about that other than stay calm and let him find his own feet and his own balance, but the hardest part for me is that on the back side of fences I want to 'water skii'. My leg comes forward, I open up my hip angle and I lock in my back and shoulders. In effect, I 'stop dancing'.
However, when I stay relaxed and just breathe through it and let him do what he's going to do, but stay there to pick up the pieces after, the effects are dramatic. When I lock up, I stop the conversation. With any horse, riding should be a constant conversation-even if it's just keeping them between your legs or saying "not quite that long" with your hand, or just saying "Yes. This is it." with your seat if you have 'the' canter. Stopping the movement, the dance, is shutting off the conversation.

Since then I've really been trying to work on just remaining fluid, regardless of what happens. A wider fence? Don't lock in my hips and try to 'snap' up over the apex of the fence (an old habit of mine). Getting quick in the approach? Sit up and breathe and say "No" with my seat and hips. It's so hard for me. I am not really a 'natural' rider by any means. I'm a little too long in the leg and too short in the torso, my shoulders are too broad and my bust inhibits my arm position just a little. My leg doesn't really sit well on any horse-Eagle's a better fit than most, but it would take some warmblood tank or a draft cross to really 'eat' up my leg. The canter is, inarguably, the hardest gait for me to work at.

A myriad of issues come into play-my leg is too long and isn't particularly secure on his side, my saddle doesn't fit me spectacularly well and that, on top of all of the other issues, makes for some interesting moments. When we're having a good day, none of it really is an issue. However, when we're trying to work on something or Eagle is feeling his oats, I am not very stable.
Today was interesting in that I had my first experience in a really nice dressage saddle on my horse. I've ridden other horses in dressage saddles and it's always been fun, but my instructor has a semi-custom Amerigo dressage saddle with a very deep seat. I've got much longer legs than she does so I had virtually no stirrup to ride with, but it didn't really come into play overly much.

I have to say, we had it. The canter, moving off my leg at the canter, I was good, he was good-it was just there. I was quiet in the saddle and in my hand, and he, in return, was quiet.
Eagle has always been, effectively, a mood ring. What I do, he will reflect. It's good and bad-he's quite the tattle tale when I'm doing something wrong, but it makes moments like 'this' all the more special. We're getting there.

It's been a long, long time coming-but things are coming together and falling into place and, more than ever, I realize that I wouldn't trade this for the world.
I've made mistakes but I've also done the best I am able to correct them. With the help of staff that's really put in 110% to get him 'fat' (hunter people seem to like chubby ponies! I doubt Eagle will ever get there, but they're trying!), of my instructor who has put countless hours into training rides (once a week and more frequently when I'm sick or gone) and lessons for me (I ride once a week in a lesson and my mother rides Eagle twice a week in a lesson) we've built a community of individuals invested in this horse. I can't take all the credit for getting him where he's at.

But I know that, at least, he reflects the changes and growth in myself that sometimes I can't always see when I look in the mirror. He is, without a doubt, showcasing the very best of me-and we've both come a very, very long way.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Who'll be the lucky ones who make it all the way?

So, I have been horribly remiss about updating this. I suppose a part of it is simply being out of sorts at the entire 'horse thing' going on. I'll give a runup of what's been going on and how things went--and then a series of updates pertaining to 'now'! They may come in a series of posts, depending on how long things are!

I did eventually go to the Will Faudree clinic on father's day weekend. It was interesting-Eagle was far more interested in staring at everything and trying to "gogogo" to really settle down. I was a touch disappointed. He had been so fantastic up to that point that I really was hoping to make a point to everyone who had seen him and I and gone "That'll never work". It wasn't unmanageable of course, but I was nervous the first day and really locked up on him. As a result, we were in that fatal game of tug o' war. In retrospect I'm actually fairly glad that Eagle wasn't 'gold'.
If he went into it being so good, the advice I would have gotten would be great, the impression, too, would be nice-but what would I take away form it? Instead, I had a great learning experience.
It was all about sitting deep in the tack, even coming behind the motion (particularly at the canter) and letting go of his face. Instead, use my body to regulate it-which is a common concept but when I get nervous I lock up every which way.
The second day was much better. I was much more relaxed and far more interested in my horse than making an 'impression', which is nice. As a result of me being calmer, Eagle was fantastic! Or, mostly. We were working on canter/halt (particularly after fences). When he didn't stop soon enough, we backed him up.

This comes with a disclaimer. My horse has never really been taught to back up beyond a few steps here and there to straighten at the halt. It's just nothing he ever learned-and he's not particularly comfortable, nor proficient at it. He was doing very well for the first hour or so (we rode for about an hour and twenty minutes both days). However, after one particularly 'interesting' fence-he left long, I asked him to halt-we stopped-and then the instant he felt the contact asking him to back, he went up instead.

Eagle has reared with me-perhaps twice-in the past, and I've always handled it well. While he won't (cannot?) buck under saddle, rearing has always been the "Hey you, I'm at my limit"-mentally, physically or otherwise. However, this time he went up and spun. I really had no chance to begin with. I've seen the video (And oh yes, all of this is on tape) and it was just ugly. By the time I realized what was going on, I had to bail. It was getting into the sketchy territory of possible falling over backwards onto me.

I rolled off, didn't land too badly. Got back up and brushed myself off (scraped cheek and elbow, bruise on hip) and went to get the horse. (He was walking away from Will and the jump setters). I got up, he wandered back over to me. Will got on him (he rode him briefly on day 1, too, to see what 'we were dealing with') and Eagle was put into pony detention.

Was made to canter over fences, do circles, ect-and do them all at the pace the rider wanted. Anyway, I pretty much got back on after and then did a few lines. Nothing too dramatic, I wasn't really shaken. Falling is a part of it, you know? Regardless of how, it'll happen from time to time and if you're going to get hung up on it then you really shouldn't be doing it. The manner of how I fell was perhaps the ugliest I've ever had-rearing isn't something to screw around with, I freely admit-but at the end of the day, Eagle is mine and for better and for worse, we're in the long haul.

After we popped over cute little things, we got to play at being actual eventers! Enough of the flatwork and the grid work, we were actually using the little water fence the arena had built in on the edge. All four of us (four per class) were told to just walk in and around the water. No biggie, Eagle's seen it before-he'll look but if you give enough leg, he'll go in.

We walked right in, and then hopped out on the bank when it got too crowded. We were told to just come around and trot at it and trot out. Um, apparently my horse has been given a personality transplant. He locked onto it and in the last stride out, took off at it. That was quite the experience. Anyway, cleared the lot with flying colors. Eagle and water and banks, are no problem what so ever.

So, all in all-the clinic was interesting. I was in a group of riders who either were on made horses or were reriders on very forgiving horses of their own and I felt a bit out of place on my hot, hot, hot TB. But I wouldn't have changed it for the world. I learned loads, and really-what I needed to know, I did.
I don't need the affirmation that my horse is a nice horse, I don't need to recognize the people saying I'm overhorsed. There aren't many people who could have come this far with the horse I have, and still be standing at the end. So who knows who the real winners are.
I'd like to think that, in part, I'm one-because Eagle and I have grown so much, both as individuals and as partners.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Tomorrow I will change & Today won't mean a thing

Perhaps it is my perpetual tendency towards pessimism that makes me believe that this streak of 'good' cannot hope to last. It has been nearly four weeks (as of this friday) that my horse has been phenomenal. We have had 'moments' where the old Eagle shows up but then he settles down into this sensible horse that I, quite frankly, don't know what to do with.

Everything I knew about my horse, have always taken as a certainty, is changing. Before, I could be confident in the knowledge that Eagle would jump a fence and jump it long. He'd leave long and jump too deep over the fence, landing long on the other side. I knew that I would have to sit up, sit down and collect. Touching him with your leg? Hell no. You'd never have to extend, you'd never have to use anything more than your hand (and keep him straight) and you'd have a fight to the fence and on the backside of a fence. He'd rush, get heavy and get unbalanced.

As life is wont to do, though, those certainties have been destroyed. He comes back after fences-he'll go to the base of a fence. I need to use my leg in lines so he doesn't have to chip in to make a good distance-and he would rather chip in than leave long. Seriously? This is screwing with my head, here.
And for an instant today, I thought I had my 'old' horse back.

Bounces, traditionally, have been difficult for us. Anything that could be a bounce could also become an oxer. However, once you get past that, they've always been a good exercise to get him to use himself. Today was the first time we've had one since we've returned. We started out warming up over a little vertical. (For the past two weeks, x's have not been spotted! Thank goodness!) He trotted to the base of the fence, even when I got ahead of him expecting him to leave long. Like, you know, he almost always does (/would.) However, we figured it out for me to stay with him (hard enough when you realize that I am constantly expecting to get pushed out of the saddle by him bumping up into the canter then launching long) and got that resolved.

Then we started playing with a bounce. Sigh. I'm very much not a fan of them. However, my horse returned to the one that I knew well! (I rode him well through it! Talk about regression.) He locked onto that set and bolted into a fast trot and then canter and tried to bull his way through them. Diane promptly made us halt (from rushyfastunbalancedcanter) and do a turn on the forehand off the right leg. Come back on it from the same line.

And--wait, what?
You're telling me that you think he did it again?
Well, that's what I thought, at any rate. I thought he had (finally!) reverted back to the horse I knew. Not neccessarily the horse I 'love" (I really do enjoy these changes, I swear. I'm just having such a hard time adjusting my riding after a year and a half of doing things a certain way!) but the one I'm familiar with.

However, Eagle continued on this most recent trend of "Let's confuse Mom!" He slowed down. Head came down, trot had impulsion but wasn't too quick. Let me keep him in hand. And, we went to the base of the fence without a canter step. The hell is going on, here? Exercise: repeat.
Horse: Continues to be doing this.

Then we graduated to a bounce to a trot in-canter out four line. We went in really well(I'm finally getting "the trot"-where we have impulsion but aren't too fast, but it isn't a slow crawl without any momentum) and..landed fantastically. And was so mellow that I had to (or should have) put leg on through it. Trotted around, came through it again...thought he'd get bolder and more aggressive at the fence... Nope. No dice.
I still needed more leg.

What the hell? I don't ride with my leg. Ever.
I'm really good at bending with it, but...asking them to go forward? This confuses me.

Regardless, we ended up cantering into the line. We tried cantering fences (on a circle) about two months ago. He was fantastic. We tried it about a month and a half ago, after a series of flat lessons. It was a wreck.
Well. Go figure. He was fantstic. After I figured out how to get him closer to the base of the fence and kept him straight, we had a really nice series of fences. Our issue though is that I don't leg him forward so we still leave long for the out fence. (Even had what should have been a canter-in, three become a collected four. I didn't ask for collected.)

And we even did a course! Trot into the bounce (coming off the left), canter into the line, trot after the line, ride through the corner that's directly after the line and then at the other corner, go into an angle-it was a small oxer, big whoop-towards the open side of the polo arena, and then come around to a roll top.
Yeah, go figure. Horse? didn't go crazy. Rolltop? He used himself.
is so confused. I Feel as if I don't know how to ride anymore, even though my riding is allowing him to be good, I feel like trash.
Oh well. We'll work through it. Just a bit discouraged, even though we're making huge strides.

Life. It continues. We get better. Always will. The day I stop improving, stop learning, is the day I die.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

&&You're the Star of this Scene

It's been a while-nearly three weeks-since I've updated and, for all intents and purposes, Eagle is still the same phenomenal horse that I wrote about last. I don't understand it and I'm waiting for his brain transplant to wear of shortly.
However while it lasts, I will definitely be enjoying it!

I'm not really quite certain where to start, to be strictly honest. We've had a phenomenal lesson last week and I think the really notable thing is that I've been riding him bareback.

Last Wednesday I had a fantastic lesson. We started out with just tracking forward, regardless of where his head was. I have a bad habit of getting 'handsy'. I was taught a very long time ago to pretend to whisk eggs *once in a while* to play with the bit and encourage them to soften on it. However, I've come into the habit of doing it far too frequently.
So instead of working for the frame, we've been working for the trot and the consistent contact. Fancy that, when I have constant contact and don't throw away the reins and just follow his face instead of pull on it (or abandon it) he comes down. It takes longer and it isn't "instant gratification" but it feels truer. He's much looser through his back when he comes down that way.

Eventually, we started jumping. As per the week before, he's trotting nicely over things. There was even an instance where he didn't even jump the fence-he trotted over it. This, coming from the horse that will jump ground poles and cavaletti if you give him the opportunity, is huge. That and I'm starting to not know when to leave for fences. Previously it was obvious that he'd push me out of the saddle. Now, though, I actually have to work to get up and off his back!
Let me tell you, my legs are definitely feeling it.

Probably one of the biggest things of last week though was that he was adjustable through lines. After warming up over verticals we were going through a four stride line-and we had to chip to get a good space! He's not landing and leaving long, he's coming back. I'm almost collecting him too much. There are points where I almost have to push him forward to lengthen instead of collectcollectcollect. It's absolutely astounding.

We've finally graduated from 2'0 verticals and X's! And the occasional line/gymnastic/angle. We actually did a course. It was phenomenal. We never ran off at or away from fences. He was in my hand the entire time and I actually could let him have his head instead of constantly battling him for a rhythm. Whether it's the weather, or something has finally clicked, Eagle was fantastic. I'm hoping that tomorrow he'll be just as good.

The day after I saw my Mom ride him in her lesson-and perhaps it is slightly cruel of me, but I was perversely pleased that she was having some difficulty riding him. I suppose that, at the end of the day, Eagle is still "My horse". Per Diane, when I came he started ignoring her more (I could tell that every time he was passing me he wanted to stop) but she isn't doing too poorly. He does have a bit of a fixation with the wall and she's not always able to catch him before he dives into it, but he's not too adverse to her riding.
Actually, for a woman whose only been riding for the past three months (for the first time in 30-odd years) my Mom is really not doing badly at all. This upcoming thursday she canters him for the first time. I may be tempted to put in a bit more of a bit so she has the brakes, but I'll talk to my instructor for that. He isn't keen on stopping, even with me-though my Mom really doesn't get rattled when he doesn't stop so I suppose the slow-twist D ought to be fine.

Regardless, last thursday she rode and I hopped on and cantered him a bit to stretch his legs.

Friday, Diane rode him and he was phenomenal. One of these days I'm going to get some video of it. My riding him is laughable at best in comparison to her. (Though I have noticed she has the same problem my mother does-he gives her trouble when I'm around and watching. I suppose this means I should try to sneak past my horse from now on...)

Saturday was interesting. I wasn't going to ride him originally but he had been turned out in the grass earlier (had just come off it-it was too buggy) so I didn't really want to pitch him out there again. At the same time, I'm a lazy sort and tacking him up didn't sound appealing, either.
Solution: Bareback.

I've been riding him bareback from time to time, but almost always after I've exercised him before. Think of it as a 'final five minutes of trot and then cool down' if you would. However, Saturday I got on him without such preliminaries. I was expecting a bit of a bouncy ride-Eagle gets very forward when you first start out.

Though, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that he surprised me. The beginning was a bit rough-he wanted to keep his head up which made his spine markedly uncomfortable, but once we 'discussed' his options, he really was traveling very nicely. My problem with bareback is that because I do feel so insecure in my balance, I typically crank his nose into his chest to feel like I'm in 'control'. (Hah!)

Saturday though I was really focusing on keeping my arms long and infront of me with shorter reins. Unsurprisingly, the horse appreciated it. (he's no one's fool, afterall.) After about twenty five minutes (my legs were shaking!) of trot work I really came to the conclusion that I had no excuse not to canter. I do not ride bareback frequently-I never have. In all my years of riding (about thirteen) I have had maybe ten serious rides bareback that had w/t/c-and all of those beyond Eagle, were on a little mare who I had gotten so used to me that she'd stop on command.

Cantering Eagle with a saddle can be precarious at best. At worst, it's a freight-train disaster of monumental proportions. It's all about the balance and keeping him steady. His right lead is, currently, less comfortable than is left so I started out in that direction. Picked him up on a circle and got a beautiful upward transition. Only did a few circles before we stopped (It was MUCH bouncier than I wish it had been) but he didn't protest by raising his head which is huge.

He normally goes in a standing martingale just to remind him that head =up is not okay. Riding him without it, he actually didn't bring his head up too frequently.

The left was beautiful! We had a gorgeous collected canter that just kept me in the seat (though initially I was reminded as to exactly how big his step is! When you go up and come down four inches behind where you started, you begin to realize that..yes, this is a big horse. And yes, he goes forward very well!). It was, all in all, a very successful day.

So those are my triumphs. Hopefully my lesson tomorrow will continue in the same vein!