Let’s Discuss: Riding Multiples

I have been so incredibly grateful to ride TC for the last several months, as he’s taught me a lot about myself, and allowed me to have saddle time while I was technically horseless.

Aww TC

Even though I officially own my own pony right now, I’ve continued riding TC with the goal of hopefully competing at another recognized show at the end of July. Between getting to know Jack on the ground and in the saddle, and riding TC, albeit a bit more sporadically, plus of course the adult responsibilities like working a full time job… I admit I may be getting a bit burnt out.

What I would love to know is those that have more than one horse to ride- how do you prioritize? How do you keep yourself from eventual exhaustion? Do you feel that something eventually has to give? Or have you found a way to balance multiple rides with the rest of life’s responsibilities? Do you employ professional help? Or have strategies for keeping the rides fresh and exciting?

The BDH Dressage Assessment

Now that I have been riding the BDH for roughly a month, I have a much better idea of his strengths and weaknesses on the flat. For later comparison, I think it would be interesting to chronicle our starting point together.

Jack has three quality gaits- i.e, a 4 beat walk, balanced trot, and an engaged 3 beat canter. I can’t tell you how many bad canters I saw while shopping, and so this most basic of criteria was actually quite important to me in seeking a dressage partner. Anyways. The best way to document his abilities is by gait.

The Walk
Jack is a fairly forward thinking horse, until it comes to the walk. It’s obvious that the walk is not much more than a ‘break’ to him, and so he’s quite good at moseying in this gait. I am working on reminding him that he’s still working, and over-emphasizing my following hand and getting him forward. When he’s using his neck and actually walking with purpose, he has an 8 walk, but man do you have to work for it at this point in time. Meanwhile, transitions down to the walk tend to have that horrid ‘splat’ quality, so thinking forward into the downward transition is also a point of concentration for us.

The Trot
The trot is probably Jack’s best gait right now. He’s fairly balanced, though tends to lean on the right shoulder in both directions. Our main focus right now is encouraging him to reach out to the bit, but I imagine the trot is going to come along the fastest in the scheme of things.

The Canter
Jack has a good quality canter right now, but man is it green. Those giant shoulders of his are his best bet at balance, and it takes some work to convince him to sit and balance from back-to-front and not the other way around. So while longitudinal and lateral balance are both an issue for him at the moment, we’re focusing most on the lateral balance. The fact that his canter is huge is also a little tricky- it’s easy for his body to just run away with him, and surprise us both. Keeping it organized can be like riding a fine line between breaking into the trot or getting flat, long, and running. All the baby problems, in the body of a 9 year old!

Photography Friday: Black Background Photos Behind the scenes

Black background images are all the rage right now, and it’s easy to see why. So simple in their essence, they are a study of the horse as a form with an extra dash of drama.Any photographer worth their salt will tell you that the best way to do these images is in camera, and I completely agree. They mostly require a center aisle that allows light to be blocked in such a way that you achieve a distinctive difference between light and dark (shadow and well, not shadowed). Even better if either the aisle then is a very long one, or has doors at the opposite end that prevents light from seeping into the background. This is less commonly available, so is a nice-to-have rather than a necessary component.

So at the risk of ruining the magic, here are a couple examples of what I see in-camera versus the final product.

In this photo, and the image below, you can see a frequent participant in my photoshoots: a giant blue squeaky toy. Sometimes the horses could care less when something so bright and blue and loud is seemingly dying beneath their nose. Other times, you get what I call the dragon pose, where the horse elongates and arches his neck and there becomes a definite spark to their overall expression. That, as Cinderella demonstrates below, is my favorite way to show off these horses as the athletes they are.

As you can see, there is a variance in how much editing a particular shot will require. My job when I show up to do one of these images is to utilize the given environment to the best of my ability, then consider the horse/model’s best features and how to pose them and show them off. Then, it’s about reading the light, making the right decisions for settings on my camera, and spending time in post-processing (I use both lightroom and photoshop) to create the final image.

And there you have it folks! A peek behind the curtain on the ever-popular black background photo! Happy Friday all!

A little about Jack

I have now officially owned Jack for 2 weeks, and though there is still so much to learn, slowly I am starting to figure out his personality. Here is what I have got down so far, for the uninitiated.

Things Jack likes:

  • Cross country
  • Chewing on ropes, particularly his lead line

Things Jack loves:

  • His new best friend Gunnar
  • Being groomed

Things Jack rather dislikes:

  • Bath time
  • The farrier
  • Walking on concrete

Things Jack hates:

  • Flies- or any winged creature that deigns to land on his sensitive skin
  • Having his face washed

Show Recap: Capital Dressage Classic Day 2

When we left off last week with TC and I’s recognized dressage show debut, we chronicled the ups and downs (as in, downs- falling off a pony at a dressage show, and ups, as in blue satin) that always follows horses.

Day 2 was a little more subtle in general. We were only doing 1 test, Training 3, which was the test I had practiced most before the show. The arena we were to compete in was in a different part of the showgrounds than TC had seen before, so I spent lots of time hanging out near the ring so he could see the busier side of the facility. We decided to stick with our plan of not cantering in the warmup, and instead focused on extreme relaxation and throughness. For myself, I made sure to stay very quiet with my hands and focus on moving him off of my right leg to keep him straight.

Heading down centlerline like 🙂

Really truly, we had the best warmup yet. He was attentive, obedient, relaxed- all the things I wanted and more. We went into the dressage court feeling super confident and ready to eek every possible point out of the test.

Overall, I am thrilled to pieces with the test. Sure there are things to fix- him staring off into the distance in our free walk because Oh! vendors! and Oh! Ponies! and Oh! bleachers!. That bogey right lead canter (earned my first ‘2’ for that one!). Some moments where I lost his attention after the last downward canter transition.

But for me, there’s a lot to love. I love how swingy he is through his back and his forward but balanced tempo. I love how despite some blips, he was [mostly] obedient and focused on me throughout the test. I love that he was able to stretch and release tension through the stretchy circle, and how prompt our first canter depart was. And for the first time, I was able to focus on not hollowing my lower back and keeping my elbows from expressing their inner chicken! For me, despite scoring a 62% on the test (4th place in a biggish class- judge was harsh!), I felt like this was a huge breakthrough for TC and I, especially at his/our first show!

We are now discussing taking TC back to the fairgrounds for the show at the end of July. It may be hotter than blazes, but I would love the opportunity to improve upon this first experience!

The End of an Era

This week, I helped put my family’s last two equines, a mini-donk and my beloved Riley, on the market. As the youngest of my siblings has now officially graduated from high school, my parents are preparing to become empty nesters, and as such, are planning to sell their 6 acre equestrian property and transition to a much smaller house, with less acreage to tend for, and that plan sadly does not include horses.

My mother has taken care of horses since she was a little girl, across more than 4 countries and as many decades. She said to me in regards to the horses that after so many years of horse-stewardship, and watching the horses become less and less used in the backyard, that she was tired. And in my personal opinion, maybe a little sad, to see such loved family members not be doted on any more.

My last couple trips down to my parents’ home have included taking sales photos and making videos where applicable of the horses still there. My dad’s horse, Cochise (pictured above), is a butterball of a spotted draft cross, and his main goal in life is to be a couch. He has now been placed with a veteran’s therapy program in New Jersey, and I couldn’t be more thrilled with this practically perfect match for him.

It’s a little more bittersweet thinking of the other two finding homes beyond my family’s backyard. Hudson, the mini-donkey, has been in our family since he was 3 months old and we found him at an auction as a sickly orphan wedged in a 3′ wide space between two stalls. For the last 7 years he has been the source of much entertainment, chasing the German Shepherds around and braying for ear scratches when someone gets within range. Luckily, there was essentially a facebook-brawl to get to Hudson, and he is very securely spoken for and to be picked up this weekend.

Which leaves Riley. He, of course, has been with the family longest of all. He’s the product of two of our personal horses, and though people looked at us squiggly-eyed when we said we bred an Irish Draught x Haflinger, he’s been exactly what we were hoping for and some. I taught him to lead, crosstie, bathe, flyspray, and together with B, started him under saddle. I got to spend some more quality time with him last summer and fell in love with him all over again. All I can say is I hope whoever is lucky enough to end up with this guy appreciates a horse who rests his head on your shoulder when you scratch under his chin, who grabs the hose to drink out of it before he will stand to be bathed, and who had more athleticism and ability in him than we ever found time to tap. It’s going to be tough having this one belong to someone else, that’s for sure.

I can’t imagine how I will feel when I visit my parents and see not a single equine out in the fields. For years, it was my duty to feed the horses, so much that when I went to college I often woke in a panic realizing I hadn’t done the chore already. But beyond the habit of having horses in my life, and theirs, it is bittersweet to me to think of how others will enjoy the products of our love, in a home beyond our own.

Let’s Discuss: Is Age only a Number?

With age on the mind, I got thinking about the irony of spending my birthday playing with a Barbie Dream Horse and watching Beauty and the Beast.. at 30, not 3. Will the horse obsession ever end? Probably not.

But let’s talk about how the horse obsession gets started. I personally started riding at the age of 4, and showing in W/T classes at 5. Luckily the environment I grew up in meant that horse-sense was something that was learned quickly, so maybe this age was appropriate for my personal entry into equestrianism. Maybe? Maybe not?

Is 4 or 5 the right age to start riding? What about even younger? I know I can’t be the only one who has seen ISO ads for riding ponies for their 1/2/3 yo children. And while I personally cringe to think of a toddler trying to balance themselves on the backside of even the most saintly pony, it happens.

And what about showing? Sure, leadline classes with assisted balance by a responsible adult are open to just about anyone- but what about your more typical show? Walk trot equitation classes, or even dressage tests? Are the expectations of actual competition too much for tender ages? And what about the interaction with other older competitors, in the warm-up as well as in relation to how a young child scores compared to more mature riders? Should judges take into consideration a rider’s age when judging them in competition? Or no?

What do you think? Is there a good age to expose children to the occasionally rough-and-ready world of horses? How should equestrianism and its many responsibilities be introduced to youngsters? What age were you when you started riding? What age is appropriate for starting to show or ride beyond the safety of the barn? 

New decade, new goals

Today I turn the big 3-0. I kind of treated myself to a giant [16.3 hand] personal birthday gift, so now I can go, you know, hog wild with the calendar. Kind of.

My big goals this year aren’t really new, but now that I officially have a pony in the stable I can really start preparing for this. On the agenda are the following fun-filled activities! Priorities in bold. Recognized events *

  • June 17th – XC schooling with Holly Hudspeth at the Carolina Horse Park
  • June 25th – EITHER Ryan Wood XC clinic OR (more likely) XC schooling independently at local venue
  • July 20-21 Eric Duvander Clinic (anyone ever cliniced with him??? Would love thoughts on this!)
  • August 19-20 Holly Hudspeth Clinic at Southern Eights
  • August 26 – Portofino Horse Trials
  • Sept 9-10 Five Points Horse Trials*
  • Sept 29- Oct 1 Stable View HT*
  • Oct 12 – 15 Fair Hill (Photographing/Cheerleading only)
  • Oct 21-22 FENCE Horse Trials*
  • Nov 11 War Horse Horse Trials

There may be a recognized dressage show in there, but feeling like this is already an ambitious calendar! Woohoo- hope this is a great year!

Show Recap: Capital Dressage Classic Day 1

So in and amongst the activities involved in exploring the qualities of a future next horse, I also competed in my first recognized dressage show.

Just to recap, I have been riding TC, a 14.2h Paint gelding, for the last few months, imparting my admittedly limited knowledge to him along the way. Not to puff myself up (don’t worry, my ego gets thoroughly deflated if you keep reading), but I’m exceptionally proud of his progress- he has literally changed shape, become consistent in the bridle, and in general become a fairly solid little dressage pony [hony]. We took him to one clinic, which was my first off-property adventure with him, and promptly signed him up for his first show- and a big one- a recognized dressage show at the State Fairgrounds in Raleigh.

So we arrived at the fairgrounds the day before, and I had a beautiful schooling in a fairly quiet atmosphere, running through our tests and feeling like the 70% I was shooting for was there in sight. Our first test was bright and early Saturday morning, and the atmosphere was definitely more electric. For the first time since high school, I luckily had a coach to get through warm up, and things were going swimmingly until I asked for the right lead canter. Now I should caveat this with saying that TC has been fairly reactive to my left leg of late, but that morning he simply wasn’t game to pick up the canter. So I tapped him with the whip. Which induced a series of bucks and crop hops, almost running into another horse, and between steering, sitting, and pulling out a braid in my effort to grab mane, I ended up in the dirt. Cue 5 people who were sweetly concerned about my fall from on-high, and after assuring them that it wasn’t far to fall and thank goodness for good footing, my adult-amateur self girded my loins and got back on the damn pony.

We schooled the right canter a couple more times, which continued to induce drama, and I determined to sit way back in the transition and let the chips fall as they would. Our test, as you can see in the 2 photos above, was a little high and tight, and my position a bit defensive and hollow itself. We scored a 64% and a fourth place ribbon for Training 2.

After chatting with the trainer, we decided to leave canter out of our warmup for the second test (Training 1) and focus on relation and suppleness, and getting him off my right leg which he was bracing against. The warmup then was much more pleasant, and I went in to the arena and determined to ride the shit out of every movement.

Overall I am really pleased with the transformation here. We earned ourselves a 69.78% with a tough judge and a blue ribbon, which felt like redemption after the morning’s damage-control type of ride. I actually felt like the free walk maybe even deserved a little more credit than was given, but after trainer said we could round that up to 70%, I felt like it wasn’t worth nit-picking over.

Pony got lots of praise and cookies and we washed him down while avoiding getting nipped (a fun new habit of TC’s). 2 ribbons, and roll in the dirt, and our first day at a recognized dressage show was in the books!