Saturday, December 21, 2013

It's a Heat Wave!

After what seems like months of torture (even though I think it's been maybe 3 weeks), we're getting some warm weather.  And not just any warm weather, but the possibility of 70 degrees by tomorrow!

I admit that I've totally sucked at keeping to my riding plan so far this month.  Part of it has been the cold, part of it has been the fact that it's December and there are all the Christmassy things that need to be done, and part of it has been a severe lack of motivation on my part.  The cold part is now taken care of, the Christmassy things are done, and Jane Savoie's Choose Your Own Riding Adventure program (see my last blog post for details) has fixed my motivational problem.  Also I have another lesson tomorrow, and it's possible that I need to practice...ahem...

Last night, I finally made it out to the barn for some actual riding.  Not dropping off feed, not doing a mash to keep the pony hydrated, and not just a quick drive by to make sure all four legs are still functional.  And it was great.  It was mostly great because it was still 60 degrees at 5 pm, but it was also great because I rode.  I did not wander aimlessly around while lecturing myself about being more disciplined, which happens more than I care to think about.

Because there was still a little light left, I decided to do my warm-up by walking along the road that runs through the farm.  It was pretty muddy from all the rain, sleet, hail, snow, and other God-forsaken frozen and wet crap that has been falling on us all month, but I figured that would just inspire my horse to pay attention to where his feet were.  This strategy actually worked pretty well...sort of.

Nimo started off just sort of plodding along on a loose rein and my mind was wandering a bit while I started the mental decompression that is necessary for me to be able to focus on riding.  And then...the spin-and-bolt.  Except it really was not Nimo's best work.  I think he caught sight of a small white sign on a fence that has always been there, but I know things look different at dusk, so obviously it had gone from an innocent white sign just hanging out to an evil, alien, horse-eating sign that could spring into action at any moment.  Anyway, he didn't even manage a full 180 degree turn and the bolt only lasted for 2 strides.  If I were rating it, it would have gotten a 3 out of 10.  I think the mud slowed him down and he decided it just wasn't worth the effort.  His walk was definitely more forward after that, though, so mission accomplished with the warm-up:)

If possible, I try to do both my walking warm-up and cool-down for arena work outside the arena.  I feel like I get a more active walk out of the arena and then a good chunk of the ride is out of the arena too, so it kind of breaks things up.  I'm not yet brave enough to do the cool-down in the dark, but I think we can handle warm-ups at dusk.

Anyway, once in the arena, I did end up contending with a couple of hunter riders getting a lesson.  The arena is huge, so there is plenty of space, but there were quite a few jumps to work around, too, so I ended up having to improvise a little more than I wanted to with my ride.  I had intended to revisit the things we'd done at my last lesson: spiral-in/spiral-out on a circle at the trot, 3-loop serpentines in counter-bend, and drifting toward the rail from the quarter line at the canter.  But, I had a little trouble staying out of the way of the lesson and working in the areas of the arena that had the most space for the work I wanted to do.  So, I settled on doing halt/sitting trot/halt transitions, trot lengthenings, leg yields, shoulder-in, haunches-in, and a little counter-flexion work at the trot.  I also threw in some canter transitions and even got a halfway decent walk to canter transition on the right lead (Nimo's easiest lead right now), but I felt like I never quite got to the balance that I'd had during the lesson.

At the end of a ride, particularly one involving a lot of lateral work and sitting trot, I like to do at least a few minutes of working trot on a loose rein.  I think it helps loosen up any muscles that have tightened because of the focused work, and it helps me assess the success of my ride.  A swinging, consistent, forward, and balanced trot tells me we did the work correctly.  Last night, I got a very forward and energetic trot that lacked a little consistency (there were some minor changes in rhythm and speed) that was a little too on-the-forehand.  That tells me why my canter didn't feel like it should have.  We got the forward part of the equation down, but we needed to get more weight on the hindquarters and work on balance a little more.  I think a little more counter-flexion work would have helped and doing some spiral-in/spiral-out circles would have been good too.  But it just wasn't in the cards last night.  What was important is that we did work and had a few really nice movements or transitions.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Jane Savoie's Newest Release

This is just a quick post to tell you about Jane Savoie's newest product.  It came out yesterday, and you can take a look at it here.  It is called "Choose Your Own Riding Adventure."  And no, it isn't like an Indiana Jones movie:)  However, it is pretty cool.  Basically, what Jane has done is develop 69 audio tracks that can be downloaded to your mp3 player in a customized "playlist" for your ride.  The tracks cover pretty much everything, from warm-up to basic movements to flying changes and canter pirouettes.  I would say the vast majority of the tracks are for 2nd level and below, but there are a few for 3rd or even 4th level.  The tracks range in time from 6 to 20 minutes and work like mini lessons to listen to while you ride. They can help you problem solve or just give you a formula for your warm-up.

The reason I'm writing about this product today is because it is on sale until December 21st, and her sales are usually pretty good ones.  The way the product is set up, you can purchase a fixed number of tracks for different price points, starting with 5 tracks, and then you can incrementally buy more as you need/want to.  Or, you can purchase all 69 tracks for $347.  I went ahead and did the whole package, using the money I had earmarked for a biothane bridle and breastcollar, because I've always been impressed with the books and videos I purchased from Jane in the past.  Having nice tack is great, but I really want to do more dressage schooling and having a tangible lesson plan helps motivate me.  I've used Jane's Happy Horse program, which consists of DVDs that show you how to do a lot of the things that are in the CYORA program, and I've found it really helpful.  What CYORA does is take the Happy Horse 45-60 minute lessons and break them down into smaller chunks that you can customize for your ride.  It also builds on it and provides more combinations and more problem-solving/technique information.

I will definitely provide a more detailed review of the program as I work through it, but for now here's what I accomplished yesterday.  I purchased all the tracks, got a log in to the site, downloaded all the tracks to my computer, and transferred about 20 of them to my mp3 player.  I've listened to all of a couple of the warm-up tracks and parts of some of the more advanced tracks.  What I love about Jane's products, which is continued in the CYORA, is that she is very down-to-earth and practical about her training.  Many of the dressage masters can get a bit "up in the air" when they talk about dressage.  I wish I could find a good example of what I'm talking about, but all my dressage books are packed because we're renovating our office.  I guess what I mean is that when I read a book by someone like Paul Belasik, there's a lot of language that doesn't really make sense to me.  It sounds a lot like an academic, who is respected in his field, but can't communicate his knowledge to people who aren't at his level.

Jane, on the other hand, is a great teacher.  I see her using a lot of techniques that I learned in my education classes.  For example, she breaks down the connecting aids and goes through the order in which they should be applied.  Riders with experience know that combinations of aids are usually given almost simultaneously, but before you get to that point, you have to learn what effect the individual aids have and how they work together.  And she gives beginners or even more advanced riders who are just having trouble a way to work through learning the aids.  She also provides problem solving tips.  For example, what if you followed her directions about applying the connecting aids, and it didn't work?  And that problem-solving advice may be what I love the most about her.  I haven't ever had much trouble applying the techniques from her books and DVDs, but she never assumes that everyone who listens to her automatically has complete success, which is a wonderful attitude for a teacher.  I've worked with trainers and read books by dressage "experts" who basically say, if you did what I told you to do and it didn't work, then you just didn't do it right.  That may, in fact, be true, but it's not helpful to the student.  Instead, you need some trouble shooting tips.

Anyway, this post turned out not to be that brief:)  I'm so enthusiastic about Jane Savoie because I used her Happy Horse program at a time when I thought I might not continue riding anymore and it saved my relationship with my horse and rejuvenated my love of riding.  And when I wrote to her to tell her about my experience, she responded the very next day with a substantive e-mail of her own and a link to another Friesian owner's website.  This other lady had experienced a lot of the same problems I had, and put together a video about it, which made me cry.  If you're interested, you can view it here.  And of course, Jane uses her Friesian, Moshi, quite a bit in her Happy Horse program, and it was so cool to see a Friesian moving so beautifully!

Note: I have not been paid to endorse any of Jane Savoie's products.  I've just had great experiences with them, and wanted to let you know!

Monday, December 9, 2013

How my trailer got snow boobs

After conducting a brief survey of a few people, I discovered that others do not find this picture as amusing as I do.  However, after what turned out to be a very long and stressful day, I thought the snow formations on my trailer were hilarious.  This may be due to giddy relief at being alive, but I thought I'd share just in case any of my readers have my same demented sense of humor.

So here's what happened...Several weeks ago, I signed up for a dressage lesson with Allison Spivey, the assistant trainer for Sprieser Sporthorse.  Over the years, I have heard some pretty good things about Lauren Sprieser, the head trainer, and more recently, her assistant trainer.  Lauren is in Florida for the winter, but Allison is still here, and offering Sunday afternoon lessons at a decent price.  In fact, at one point, I had looked into boarding at the farm, but Lauren only accepts full training clients, and while the now $2000 a month price tag does seem to be a good value for what you get, that kind of expenditure just isn't possible in my world.  Plus, I really didn't want my horse in training 6 days a week.  I like to procrastinate and ride when I feel like it.  I always imagine that the inconsistency adds a new dimension to the relationship I have with my horse.

Anyway, I had decided that I really needed to start getting some regular lessons to help motivate me for my dressage schooling this winter.  And I was looking for someone to work with who does not view dressage as an elite sport for the dressage queen few.  It turns out that Allison is just the ticket.  Her mother has competed in endurance riding for a long time, so she is familiar with that world and understands that dressage can be a means to an end instead of an end in and of itself.

So I booked several lessons over the next couple of months to help keep me on a regular schedule.  And I crossed my fingers.  Working with a new trainer is always hard.  I've only done it a few times, and each time was nerve wracking until I got to know the new trainer.  I think having a trainer is sort of like dating.  It is important that you get to know each other (although not too well too soon) and develop a mutual respect for each other.  I have come to expect my trainer to treat me as a person who is knowledgeable about my horse, who is capable of riding well and understanding complex concepts, and who can say that I've had enough or my horse has had enough without the trainer getting offended.

Unfortunately, as anyone who lives in the mid-Atlantic or northeast part of the country can attest to, Sunday was not a great weather day.  There was a winter advisory out for most of the day in my area, and unlike previously predicted weather "events" that turned out to be nothing, this one turned out to be something.  Here's the thing, my lesson was scheduled for Sunday at 2:45.  The Sprieser farm is about 25 miles from the barn where I keep Nimo, which doesn't seem like a huge distance, so against the common sense voice screaming in my head, I decided not to cancel my lesson.

I kept telling myself that I'd see how the roads were on the way out to the barn and if they seemed too treacherous, I'd call and cancel.  So I drove out to the barn, and I stopped for gas on the way, which took waaaayyyy longer than necessary due to the lines of people waiting to fill up their cars, their ATVs, empty gas cans, and possibly even their lawn mowers.  Saiph mentioned some of the nonsense that can occur in the Washington, DC area during even minor storms in this post, and I've found that nonsense to be a constant in the 12 years I've lived in the area.  The threat of even a lot of rain will empty grocery stores of bread, milk, and water within hours and these same idiots who believe the world could end in 2 inches of snow are apparently licensed drivers who are incapable of driving in even light rain, thus leading to stupid accidents and the need for any halfway decent driver to drive as defensively as possible.

Luckily, traffic seemed reasonably light and while there was some minor accumulation, I didn't see anything to get excited about.  So I hooked up my trailer and loaded my horse and started what turned out to be an hour and a half drive out to Marshall, Virginia.  Once I passed Warrenton, the last 10 or so miles of the trip were brutal.  With the roads less traveled and the terrain going from gently rolling to some steep hills and curving roads, I became concerned about my decision.  But, being so close to the farm, I opted to keep going.  My truck has 4-wheel drive, anti-lock brakes, and some kind of skid control feature that diverts power away from an axle when a tire starts to spin.  These things were great (I drove in 4-wheel drive all the way to the lesson), but I noticed that on a couple of hills, I would lose power to an axle because of slipping, and the hill was steep enough to be difficult to climb with just one axle (usually the front) working.

Anyway, I made it to the lesson in time.  Nimo was definitely apprehensive at first in the indoor arena (which reminds me a lot of the one Hannah writes about in this post), but he settled enough within a few minutes to get some work done.  The lesson turned out to be one of the best I've ever had.  When I rode on Saturday, Nimo was strung out and heavy on the forehand.  Within minutes of starting our lesson, he was trotting smoothly and in a much more connected way.  This great movement was the result of an exercise that we've done before but that I thought was too advanced for us after taking such a long break from serious dressage work.  We started out trotting regular 3-loop serpentines, then did the serpentines with normal flexion for the first and third loops, but counter-flexion for the middle loop.  Finally, we did the serpentines with counter-flexion for all three loops.  Never in a million years did I think we were ready to do that type of more advanced exercise, but it went very well.

Next we worked on canter.  We easily cantered more in the lesson than we've cantered in the last 6 months.  And even more amazing was that the canter was actually decent.  Nimo picked up the canter smoothly and was able to hold it for up to 2 whole 20-meter circles.  I know that doesn't sound like a big deal to most of you, but canter is a notoriously difficult gait for Friesians.  While Friesians must be inspected at age 3-4 to be entered into the Dutch studbook (I'm not sure what the German studbook qualifications are), they are never evaluated for canter.  Stallions are as part of their special approval process, but mares and geldings are not.  And I think that has led to the breeders to fail to properly weight a horse's canter quality as compared to walk and particularly trot.  Anyway, it was awesome to get such a great canter and then Allison had us work on coming down the quarter line and "drifting" to the wall in the canter to help improve the action of the inside hind.  It was a hard exercise for us both, but even asking Nimo to drift improved the quality of canter.

Allison was really positive during the whole lesson (no comments about how I suck as a rider - yes, I used to work with a trainer who told me that on a weekly basis - and no comments about how my horse was inappropriate for dressage - yes, I've heard that one too) and her conclusion was that Nimo was a nice horse and I was an effective rider.  Both were great to hear and I am really looking forward to more lessons!

But once the lesson was over, I still had to get Nimo back to the barn, and the weather had not improved.  I won't bore you with all the details, but a couple of miles into our trip home, we hit the Hill of Death.  I almost made it to the top, but eventually lost power to both axles because of loss of traction.  The road was just too slick for me to haul my heavy-ass horse and trailer up this hill.  So, as carefully as I could, I backed the trailer all the way down the hill, trying to figure out my options.  I could call for a tow, but it could be hours before someone could get to me, and in the meantime, I'd be blocking the road (it was one of those 1-and-a-half car width country lanes) and my horse would be stuck in the trailer.  I had brought hay and water for Nimo and food for me (I like to always be prepared in winter), but it still wasn't a great situation.

As I was backing down the hill, another car came up behind me.  I got out to tell the other driver what was going on and ask if there might be another way out that didn't include such a steep hill.  She told me there was another way, but that the hill was even worse.  She offered to help, and at first I couldn't really think of anything, so I told her I'd try to get my truck and trailer as close to the side of the road as I could to see if she could get around.  Then, as I was walking back to my truck, inspiration hit.  If I could just lighten my load, I could probably get up the hill.  So I turned around and asked this Good Samaritan how comfortable she'd be with holding a horse.  She was fine with it, having ridden and competed horses for much of her life.  So, I unloaded my horse in the middle of an icy road, handed him off to a stranger, got back in my truck, put it in 4-wheel drive low, 1st gear, and drove up that hill.  Then I walked back down the hill, profusely thanked this lovely lady, and led Nimo back up the hill.  And about half-way up, I gave him an impromptu tailing lesson because I was near death from lack of oxygen.  I now understood why the truck had so much trouble - it was a damn steep hill.  I loaded Nimo back on to the trailer and headed back home.  Some creative driving kept us from getting stuck on any more hills and we made it back safely.  And when I got out of my truck and saw how the snow had formed on my trailer, I just couldn't stop laughing.  I'm thinking that I might have to name the trailer now...

I know there are those of you who are thinking that I must not have the intelligence God gave a turnip because I hauled my horse in bad weather.  Here's the thing.  On the one hand, you're probably right.  On the other hand, I grew up in North Dakota and then lived in Iowa for 8 years.  Both states have long, cold, snowy, windy, crappy winters.  And that's how I learned to drive in bad weather.  I don't enjoy it, but I can do it.  And the only way for me to know how my trailer is going to haul in winter weather is to haul it.  I don't intend to haul in bad weather routinely, but the fact is that I have to haul for all my conditioning rides and all my lessons.  For me to ride this winter, I'm going to have to haul and ride in less-than-ideal conditions and even if the day starts out great, I could end up hauling back to the barn in surprise bad weather.  Now I have an idea of what I can and can't do, and even a potential solution if I get stuck.  There's always US Rider insurance, which I have, or calling a friend for help but waiting for a tow or asking a friend to come out in stormy weather is not my idea of fun, so if I can figure out how to get out of a situation on my own, I'd rather do that.

And that's the story of how my trailer came to have snow boobs...