Sunday, May 31, 2009

Rock star

This weekend I took Saga XC schooling down at Pine Hill. I invited Ziggy to come with me, since his dad had never taken him XC either. We set up a lesson with Toni, since I wanted to have some eyes on the ground. She proved to be very positive and had some excellent things to say.

My goal was to keep things low-key and very positive, since I wasn't sure what Saga would do with all the funny fences. We started off warming up over in the stadium area with a few cross-rails - I shortened my stirrups two holes, and looking at the pictures, they could have come up another hole or two. The warm-up was short since neither of our horses are very well conditioned, and we wanted to save both horses for the fun stuff.

This is the trot we need to have ALL the time! Very forward.

We got out on course and started with the very inviting GAG fences. Toni had a way of showing a fence to a horse that I'd never seen before but really like: she lets them walk along the fence, first on the right side, then on the left. If they want to stop to sniff it, that's fine. Neither Saga nor Ziggy were concerned about any of the fences, so we just went to jumping them cold.

Holy monster coops, Batman! (I am fairly sure we could not have gotten a bigger spot if we had TRIED!)

I discovered that Saga jumps new stuff BIG. Very, very big sometimes. I was out-of-synch with him on almost every fence, but he jumped everything like a champ. Some of it was certainly prettier than others, and you can see that I'm all over the place. I need to shorten my stirrup, close my hip angle more, and STAY IN TWO-POINT after the fence. It's not obvious in these pictures, but I sit up really quickly on the way down.

Pretty flat jump from him, and our distance is still long. I wonder what my leg thinks it's doing all the way back there?

I STILL have a problem waiting for my fences. I'm jumping so far ahead of him here, it's amazing he's still under me!

We're more together here but I'm just not folding my body well enough to stay with him. All of my angles are too open. Shorter stirrups would definitely help.

We also schooled all the "booger" fences: a Novice ditch (we actually ended up going over another Novice fence that was just after the ditch, he was great and never batted an eye), banks up and down, and of course, water. He was a bit hesitant into the water the first time, but by the time we had finished, he was really attacking it.

First ditch (Novice, no problem!).

First bank up (good heavens, could we GET a bigger spot? And WHAT is my leg DOING???)

Good strong canter through the water. He was really tired by this point but was still paying attention.

Overall, Saga exceeded expectations. He was very ratable and quite bold to the fences. He obviously takes a big spot but I need to ride him to the base and be more decisive about it, rather than just praying that he will go. I rode him in a french link loose ring snaffle, which was plenty of bit, although I think I need a bigger one as the 5.5 inch seems a touch too small. He did lean on me in the downward transitions sometimes, which I think is due to lack of strength on his part and good riding on my part. He definitely needs to be worked on uneven terrain, up and down hills, to get his balance better. I'm not sure where I'm going to do that since there's really no place to gallop at Ramaker, but it needs doing.

As for me, I've gotta get fit. I need more time in two-point so that I can stay with him better. I need to pull my stirrups up so that I can close my angles better and be closer to him. I think we both need to do a lot of gymnastics work so that we learn to wait for each other and stay together better, but that will come with time. Certainly we've got our work cut out for us, but the beginning is beautiful!

Are there bugs on my teeth? :)

Hosing off after our ride. Saga likes to play with the hose!

All photos in this post are courtesy of Chimeara Productions. Thank you for taking all these wonderful pictures!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Remember to let go

One of Saga's favorite evasions is to tilt his head and twist his nose to the right, while locking his poll and jaw. I've tried bending him left and right, but I'm pulling against a brick wall, and I'm just not that strong. I also ask for forward, but it takes him a while to respond. Usually we go on for a few steps and he starts listening to my leg again and softens, but it's not pretty and it takes far too long for my taste.

I was showing him to a friend who will be riding him occasionally while I'm on vacation in June, and was explaining this to her. As he was in the midst of the tilt-and-pull game, I just decided to let go. I pushed both hands forward about two inches, dropping all contact... and you know what, he unlocked, softened right up, and went back to work.

You would think that, seeing as one of the first things I learned in riding was to let go instead of pulling, I would have figured this out before now. Just remember to let go!

My friend had a nice ride on Saga after I'd warmed him up. We warmed up very forward and up, and I just kept light contact. When asked to go together, he was just lovely. I tried to get some pictures but it was too dark by the time I got my camera out. His canter transitions are still miserable (he just runs into them), but those will come. He's also much less resistant to my leg and laterals, although we didn't do much of those tonight, and I think that's due in huge part to his back being more comfortable. That ThinLine pad is awesome, and the stretches that we're doing really seem to help.

My friend really liked him and said he was "lovely". What a wonderful compliment! It is such a relief knowing that someone with such a nice seat and hands will be riding him and looking after him while I'm gone, and I hope she has fun with him.

In other news, the new saddle fitter is due out on Monday, and has several saddles for me to try if she can't get my existing Wintec AP to fit. She saw the pictures of Saga's back and said that he shouldn't be too hard to fit (which is good!!!). We're set to go XC schooling on Saturday, leaving Friday night. Tomorrow is pack the trailer and the camper night, and one more ride before we leave.

The horses got to go out again today, finally, for the first time in five days. They were all so happy!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Quiet evening

Kinda cute, isn't he?
The arenas were all still closed tonight due to being soaked, so I headed back out to the mown stretch along the road in front of the barn and the property next door. This time we were by ourselves (no Reddums for moral support). We got scolded by some Scissortails (birds) and someone a mile or so away was shooting a gun. Saga was alert and looky but not spooky. We walked all the way down the ROW and I turned around toward home, curious to see if the jigging would return. It did not, thank goodness! He was much more forward toward home, but not silly, and he listened.

The problem arose when I got back to the home property line and turned him around to go back away from the barn. Someone had just turned a mare out in the pasture, and she was running around like a nutcase. We had about 5 seconds of "I DON'T WANNA" when I tried to turn him around, complete with the usual jaw-and-poll setting action, with a head toss thrown in for good measure. Saga has his opinions about things, make no mistake. Unlike Cash or even Red, he is definitely stronger than I am and it could turn into a dirty fight if I'm not careful to squash those moments quickly. He is also just so frickin' BIG, it's intimidating sometimes.

Anyway, we got over that and went on to have a very nice, quiet ride. We started off doing shallow serpentines at the walk, from one side of the lane to the other (the lane is about 12 feet wide). I concentrated on making sure he was straight in both reins, then changing the bend with my legs, body, and hands, and then moving to the other side of the lane in almost a shoulder-fore position. When we got to the other side, I'd again make sure he was straight in both reins, THEN change the bend with legs, seat, and hands, then when he was soft and supple, move him over. We also worked on leg yields, and I made sure that going left, I had my weight in my left stirrup and my hips and shoulders pointed in the correct direction. Amazingly, he moved off my leg very nicely - not quite as well as to the right, but he tried and we definitely are making progress on that.

We also did some trot work, both away from and toward the barn. I measured the path as I was driving to the barn, and I think it's about 0.1 miles one way. I'd estimate we got in about 0.5 miles of trot, over harder, uneven ground. Definitely better than the arena! We worked on changing the rhythm of the trot, more collected, more forward, more collected, walk, etc. He was very nice about coming back to me from just my seat and body aids and stayed very uphill the entire time. Actually, he's been more uphill the past two days than ever before. I'm hoping I can find a way to work him outside more, as he clearly likes it.

One nice thing about working on the straight lane was that I didn't have to worry about him drifting off the rail or having him bent to the inside or whatever. We just worked on STRAIGHT. It was SO NICE. I concentrated on keeping my knee down and back and my elbows out in front of me and my hands turned up. I don't know if it was my position or what, but he just felt so light and responsive. Where IS that video tape when you need it???

Toward the end Saga was getting fussy with his head, and it occurred to me that once again, I didn't give him enough breaks. We didn't do a lot of work but I didn't give him rein and let him stretch as much as I usually do, and he lets me know when he needs some stretch time. We had an ENORMOUS walk as we headed back to the barn, and I could really feel my hips and legs swinging from side to side. What a feeling! I had a bit of a moment when I opened the gate (we have a gate with a code box to get into the farm), concerned what he would do when it started to open "magically." I needn't have worried - he started through it as soon as it opened! We spent about 5 minutes in the dry end of the arena when we got back, and he was VERY fussy, resistant in his poll/jaw, and falling to the outside, which are all his ways of saying that he's done. However, I don't want him to think that when he heads back to the barn after a trail ride, his job is necessarily done. So we did some walk and a few trot circles each direction, then called it a day.

Before our ride, I took some pictures of his back, per the request of the new saddle fitter who will hopefully be out later this week. I'm posting them below.

Monday, May 25, 2009


Two things I forgot to mention earlier.

First, I stretched Saga both before and after my ride. His right hind is definitely harder to stretch than his left hind, and he did not like me poking on either side of his tail to get him to lift his back. But we did it anyway and will continue to do so. Let me say that stretching a horse is HARD! But hopefully I will get better at it with time and practice.

Secondly, on the walk back to the barn, we went across a little streamlet (it's maybe all of a foot wide and 6 inches deep) that appears on the barn property whenever we have a heavy rainfall. The first time we went up to it, he looked at it pretty carefully but never stopped, and then LEAPED over it. The second and third times were similarly large leaps, but with much less hesitation. I ended up in an inglorious heap on Saga's neck (this does not bode well for XC schooling next Saturday, but maybe something miraculous will happen between now and then). Red, of course, walked right through it, since jumping it would have taken FAR too much energy.

Loverly day

Since my jumping lesson was canceled due to a super-soggy arena, I decided to head out and see how Saga would be hacking on the trails. My best friend came along - although we usually ride together pretty regularly, she's been out of commission for several months due to family health issues. Since her horse is WAY out of shape, she rode my husband's horse Red.

Before we went to the barn, we stopped at Half Price books and perused the equestrian section. I actually snagged a couple that look pretty good - Stretch Exercises for Your Horse, Feeling Dressage, and Ride Right with Daniel Stewart. I confess that I have spent very little time reading books about how to ride, and most of my time actually riding. However, that was in an age when I had all the instruction I could possibly want as often as I could possibly want it, and now I'm without a regular trainer. So, picking up information wherever I can get it seems like a good idea. I'll let you know how the books are!

Anyway, once at the barn and tacked, we headed down the barn driveway and turned onto the right-of-way by the road. They're in the process of widening the road (bummer), so for now the barn property and the property to the south have wide grassy right-of-ways in front of them. We started by walking all the way down to where we'd have to go on the road, and then turned around to walk back. As soon as we turned around, Saga started jigging and flipping his head in the air. No amount of "whoa, easy," sitting loose with my seat, half-halting, or anything changed his behavior. I had visions of disastrous trail rides with Cash (The Other One) flash before my eyes, along with "ye gods, I have bought the WRONG HORSE!" Fortunately, I knew how to deal with this from previous experience. I asked for collection, halt, walk (more jigging), and then shoulder-ins each way (holy smokes, we actually got laterals to the left!!!) I believe we also got in some very nice baby passage steps, and maybe even a baby piaffe step or two. I was thumbing through my de Kunfy book last night and remembered reading "take what the horse gives you and make it seem like it's your idea," and just sort of went with it. When we got back to our starting point, we turned around away from the barn, Saga went back to a nice forward walk. Um... okay. Poor Reddums with his short little legs had to really work to keep up. Then we turned around again to walk home... no jigging. None. He was FINE. Chalk that up to having spent three days in his stall and just being a bit fresh. In fact, after that first bit, he didn't jig again during the ride.

We took advantage of the fence along the front of the property line and used it to work on leg-yields down the rail. In the indoor arena, only one short wall has a rail on it, so it's hard to use the wall for laterals. I pretty much parked Saga at a 45 degree angle to the fence line and told him to move off my right leg. He was very fussy at first but eventually got the hang of it. Having the rail there preventing him from moving forward allowed me to focus on me, too - did I have my weight in my left stirrup (not enough), was my left rein contact solid (not enough), were my shoulders and hips pointed left (nope), and what WAS my left leg DOING (still trying to figure out how it got where it was). In other words, I *think* I'm asking for laterals to the left with my right leg, but that's the ONLY part of my body that's doing the right thing. The rest of me needs to get with the program so that I can help Saga get with the program. He's trying, but I'm not giving him the right cues and I'm hindering more than helping. Poor guy.

After torturing him with laterals, I decided to finish off the ride with a few trot sets down the ROW of the next-door property. We trotted away from the barn and then walked back, three times. Each trot was perhaps 30 seconds, but they were BIG trots. Saga stayed with me the whole time, coming back when asked, moving out when asked. He was very light in front as well, definitely that "uphill" feeling that my old trainer said to look for in my warm-ups. On the last trot, I asked for a bigger movement, and suddenly I had a HUGE trot. Definitely medium, maybe extended, it was hard to tell because the rhythm barely changed but suddenly we were FLYING. I wish I had pictures or some video! It's always amazing what they'll offer you out in the field, but then when you get back in the arena, they're so much more reserved.

All in all, a wonderful day despite the lack of jumping lesson. Now, I'm off to peruse the books I just purchased!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Showing off

Today is the first time I've ridden Saga in five days. He got two days of groundwork, then a day of saddle fitting, then two days off due to company in town for my graduation (Ph.D., thank you very much. You may now call me Dr. Jen... once or twice.) So today I got on him and showed off a bit for my parents and my adopted "horse parents," who I acquired when I was about 13 because my real parents know nothing about horses, and I needed some parents who not only knew about horses (my adopted horse-mom teaches lessons), but also had a few they were willing to let me ride.

So the plan was to ride, and that should have been no big thing, even with the inch of rain we got last night, since our barn has a covered arena. What I didn't realize was that the rain came at a 90 degree angle and flooded half of the arena. So I got to ride in a teeny area that was perhaps 12-15 meters wide and about 40 meters long. Yikes! We did WTC both directions (only a bit of canter, just to show off), and got some pointers.

First of all, I need to warm Saga up riding uphill. What this means is ask him to go forward and up, and THEN ask him to come down to me (as opposed to asking him to go long and low, which he'd prefer to do). This is completely different from how I'm used to riding Cash, who is built a touch uphill and never had a day in his life on his forehand. We also really focused on getting my reins shorter and my elbows out in front of me where I could relax them more, and it was amazing how much better he went when I did that. We also lengthened my stirrup one hole and worked on getting my knee back and down (I draw my knee up, which I've known for years) and keeping my inside leg forward where it should be instead of 4 inches back, which is where I keep trying to use it. Saga is also frequently not straight nose-to-tail (his shoulder falls to the inside while he's counterflexed) so we worked a lot on that. We tried some walk-trot-walk transitions which went poorly, mostly because he wasn't going forward enough due to the smallness of the space we had to work in. The homework is to get him very forward and big and uphill, keep him straight, and work on walk-halt transitions, being sure to start with the body. And keep my leg under me. And my elbows in front of me. As if I can remember all that!

Also, I was riding in my husband's dressage saddle (mine needs a billet repaired) with a borrowed ThinLine pad. My adopted horse-mom spent some time looking at both the dressage and my AP saddle, and came to the conclusion that Saga is a very hard-to-fit horse. He has extremely high withers and has a big "dent" right behind his shoulder and under his withers. He also has no muscle on either side of his spine, which may mean that the gullet, while quite wide, could be putting pressure on his spine. Because his withers are narrow but he widens out quickly, I will need a saddle with a wide gullet that is flocked heavily around the withers to keep the saddle from sliding downward and forward, and taking me with it. Come to think of it, I do feel like I'm having a hard time staying off the front of the saddle.

The dressage saddle fits "OK," and with the ThinLine pad, seemed to work pretty well. Certainly his back was drier and cooler than any other ride we've had. My beloved Wintec 2000 AP, however, is a joke. It doesn't look like it's going to work for him no matter what gullet I've got in it. The current recommendation is to go look for a used Schleese jumping saddle, then get it reflocked and adjusted to fit him. Schleese comes to Austin in late June, so I called and left a message to try to schedule a saddle fitting with them. Hopefully that will work out and I can get a used eventing saddle from them. I may also try to contact another saddle fitter in the area who does Borne' saddles, which are also custom-made. We'll see. For now, it's the Wintec Isabel with the ThinLine pad. And lots of uphill walk work to get that back in shape!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Fun with massage

Last night, I had the saddle fitter out. Unfortunately, she only spent a few minutes looking at my saddles. She decided that Saga needs a medium gullet, but is very narrow around his spine and withers because he has no muscle there. She recommended a ThinLine pad, and that was pretty much the sum of my saddle consultation. Since I'm not very satisfied with that, and still don't understand a lot of details about saddle fit, I will probably get another saddler who was recommended to me out next week. In the meantime, I will try a friend's ThinLine pad to see how that works.

While the saddle-fitting session was less than satisfactory, the massage part of the session went extremely well. I learned that Saga is very tight on the under side of his neck, and all through his haunches. I also learned a number of stretches that I can do with him to help work those muscles (I'll have to describe those in another post, when I can take pictures of what I'm doing, because some of them are hard to explain). A friend of mine recommended another stretch to loosen his hips, so we'll be adding that one to the mix too.

I also discovered that when doing carrot stretches, I can "help" him a little by gently holding his halter - not pulling his head to the side, but just holding his halter. He can barely make it to his shoulder, he's so stiff in his neck. I should also mention that it's hard to do carrot stretches with a horse that doesn't like carrots - those teeny horse nuggets just don't provide much motivation!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Longeing, Take 1

Since Saga's back is still sore and the saddle fitter isn't due out till tomorrow, I attempted to longe Saga tonight.

Perhaps I should start by saying that I like to think I'm pretty good at longeing. When I first got Cash, I longed him every time before I rode for probably three years, to help work him out to the western pleasure mindset. He learned how to do a lengthen trot on the longe line, learned that he could go from canter to trot (instead of walk), and learned that light bit contact didn't have to hurt.

And when I say longeing, I mean with a longe line, usually with side reins, and the horse does what I ask. This isn't your mad free-for-all gallop around the round pen to tire the horse out. This is disciplined work, and the horse has to listen.

So, back to Saga. He's apparently from the free-for-all gallop around the round pen school of longing. He turns in when asked to stop (yes, I know the natural horsemanship folks want this, but I have no interest in my 17hh monster turning in and running me over). He's fairly certain that he can wheel (away from me) and change direction any time he wants to. And voice commands? Nope.

So we spent the better part of 45 minutes doing things like learning to walk from a trot. Learning to trot off when asked, instead of thinking about it for half the circle and THEN trotting off. We did one (horribly unbalanced, running with head up) canter in each direction. Most of the time was spent walking, asking him to step up and under himself. That in of itself was a very good exercise, it really got his butt and back moving. And now that I know what it looks like on the ground, hopefully I can replicate and keep that walk from the saddle.

He's worse to the right than to the left. He leans on the longe line to the right, and because of the excess contact, started tossing his head toward the end (more on the head tossing in another post). He's also more likely to stop and turn to go the other way when going to the right.

To get him to walk from the trot, I found that I had to step in front of his shoulder and use a "walk" voice command at the same time. Of course he thought he should stop, so it was tricky timing to get him to slow and then ask him to move on at the walk. He's a smart cookie though, so he was starting to get it toward the end.

I have GOT to find my longing surcingle. I'm sure it's at home somewhere but probably hasn't seen the light of day in several years (I usually longe with a saddle, but since the saddles don't fit right now, obviously that's out). Oh, and I have got to remember to wear gloves. DUH.

Tomorrow night the saddle fitter comes out, so hopefully we can get that issue resolved and get more time in under saddle. However, longeing definitely needs to go on my list of things to do more of, although I want to keep the sessions easy until Saga gets more fit. I know that longeing is hard on an unfit horse, so we spent most of our time just walking, and will continue to do so until he's more fit.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Working in-hand

I'm starting this blog a week and a half into owning my new horse, Saga. In just this short amount of time, he's progressed from not coming round at all to having some very nice round, soft, through moments at all three gaits. We're working on laterals at the walk, which are challenging because he doesn't go off my leg well yet.

To top it off, two days ago I figured out that Saga's saddle is bothering him (yeah, it took me this long to figure it out). Currently, his back is sore, but the saddle fitter doesn't come out until Thursday. Since that "shiny new horse" phenomena hasn't worn off yet, I wanted to get out and work with him, even just a little bit, so I decided to try working in hand. I wanted to work on moving his haunches away from an aid, since we are having a hard time doing that mounted, especially to the right. However, I've only ever tried working in hand a few times with my other horse, Cash, and he was always game for whatever insane thing I could dream up. He was also only 15.2 hh.

I have to say, trying to work a 17 hh horse in hand (I used the 'reins over the neck' technique, since all I had to work with was my regular bridle) is nigh on impossible, even though I'm not short. At first, Saga didn't have a clue that he could go forward while I was standing next to him. Then he wouldn't go straight. Then we got some straightness and bending to the inside, but when asking him to move laterally, my timing with the whip aid was off at the walk.

We did eventually get moving forward, and we also got some decent shoulder-in steps and leg-yield steps in both directions. Once I got it together, it's definitely easier to do in-hand. But, after I got home and spent about three seconds on the Internet looking up how to do in-hand work properly, I realized that I managed to get it all wrong (reins over the neck? WHERE did I get THAT idea???). So, I will be investing in a copy of Training the Horse in Hand: The Classic Iberian Principles. Hopefully Saga will stop looking at me like I'm nuts once I get my stuff together.

Tomorrow night I think we will go for the tried-and-true method of longeing. At least I have a clue how to do that, although Saga may not.