Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Schooling Show We Didn't Get In To - Part 1

Getting There

There was a schooling show this past weekend. I didn't get my entries in on time, so we didn't get a slot in the show. Three other horses from our barn did get in, so I decided to take Phil over and just school. The plan was to go over on Saturday and school, get stalls for them to stay overnight, and show (or in my case, school again) on Sunday.

One of my concerns was getting Phil in the trailer. The last time I put him in a trailer and took him him someplace, he ended up bleeding from six places.

This is also the reason why I insisted that he get used to wearing wraps. It just wouldn't work out if I took him to a show and he was torn up by the time we arrived. Even with the wraps I know he could get hurt during loading, and that's why we did lots of trailer work when the weather was nice. However it had been a while since we did anything with a trailer, so I was concerned that it would be a huge scene and I wanted to avoid stressing Phil out right before the show.

The barn manager (who was going to the show with two of her horses) suggested that I give him a light tranquilizer of 3 cc of Rompun. This would help take the edge off and give him a positive experience with trailering. I had never given Kaswyn anything like that for trailering or anything else, but I decided that it sounded like a good idea.

We gave him the shot in the muscle and gave it about 25 minutes to take effect. Then we prepared to load him on the trailer. It took us about one minute to get him on. He was a little hesitant, but with minimal help from behind and a little coaxing he jumped right on. I was so happy!

I wrapped him in polo wraps for the trip over, but didn't put bell boots on him because he still kicks at those. But he didn't kick at all in the trailer - or if he did he didn't connect with anything. He got out of the trailer completely unscathed, and not bleeding from anywhere. Success!

Now it was time to school. That should be the easy part, right?

Maybe not...

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Cost of Courage

I got some good feedback on my Phil video. One thing that was said more than once was “more bending/lateral work” to help with connection. I had been working on the bending exercise my trainer gave me, and with releasing the inside rein, but Phil gets really freaked out by my hands moving.

See, I think he was treated rather harshly in his training, and when I move my hands up or out a lot, or take up on my reins quickly, he thinks I’m putting both reins in one hand so I can beat his butt with the other hand. I have never ever carried a whip with him, never have worn spurs with him, so this isn’t coming from me.

Regardless, it’s something I have to deal with. And releasing the inside rein and causing all kinds of anxiety in Phil started to seem counterproductive, so I stopped working on that and concentrated on connection. But after those comments I decided to give it a go again last night.


We started off okay, and I was being very subtle with my inside hand. I knew that he saw it moving, because a few times he took a big leaping step away from my hand, but came right back to me when I reassured him. I thought things were going very well. I was also trying to not restrict him, so I was being brave and letting go.

I’m not sure how it happened, but the anxiety got the better of him and he got tense and quick, causing me to take up on my reins when he shortened his neck. That really set him off and he really took off on me, so I sat back and said “Whoa!” That just made it worse, and be bolted blindly across the arena in a panic, head straight up in the air. It took me five or six circles of him running with his butt down and head up before I got it under control. I’m sure he thought he was about the get the beating of his life. I was just as scared as he was, because I didn’t want to turn him in a tight circle and have us go down in a heap, and I didn’t want to head him into the wall (I know some people do that but I’m not THAT brave).

Eventually we got it back under control, but he was a total wreck after that.

There is a schooling show Sunday that I was planning to take Phil to, but it filled up and I didn’t get a slot (I should have gotten the entries in sooner – argh!). At first I was just going to forget the whole thing, but now I think I will go over on Saturday as planned and school him, leave him overnight with the horses from the barn that did get in, and school again on Sunday. He needs to get off the property and work.

I have to get this horse to trust me eventually. I’m trying very hard to be kind and fair, but also uncompromising in what I’m asking for. I know he didn’t develop this fear in a day, or a month. I guess I need to keep being patient.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

January "Keep It Going" Weekly Post #4

The last Weekly Post in January's "Keep It Going" Theme. I like this one the best (besides the one Dressage Today chose for their program!)

Set The Bar

Everyone has times in their training where they feel like they lack direction. It’s easy to get in a rut and ride the same way, every time, and feel like you aren’t really going anywhere. In the winter that can cause you to be apathetic, and think “I’m not really DOING anything anyway, I can take a few days off.”

Start setting some goals for yourself. A schooling show. A clinic. Finally getting that clean flying lead change from left to right. Start small, and build on that. Having a goal of “I want to ride better” is far too broad, and can make you feel like you’ll never get there. Be specific, be analytical. How do you want to ride better? More stable seat? Quieter hands? Break it down, and work on that. Keep track of your progress by summing up your rides on a calendar. In a few months you’ll be surprised at how far you’ve come. Start now and set yourself up for a beautiful spring!

Don’t hibernate this winter. Work hard, make progress, and have fun. You know you want to!

February's theme - Five Pieces of Equipment I'm Loving Right Now

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


I have heard people say that bravery isn’t the absence fear. It’s doing something in spite of being afraid.

Well, I forced myself to be brave on Monday.

I’m still struggling with connection on Phil. The strong steady leg has worked really well to help him focus and to get him to go to my hand. But I felt that he really wasn’t maintaining the steady connection that I wanted. He seemed to go to my hand, then come up, then root around and push down on the bit. He just seemed unsettled.

So I thought back to when I was riding Lee and was trying to get connection with him. I remember my trainer saying “Just let him go. I think he gets frustrated when he wants to go forward and you stop him.” Maybe I was letting my fear get the best of me and was stopping Phil a bit too much.

Mind you, this horse has jumped straight up in the air, taken off with me in a panic, and bulldozed almost into the wall when I tried to use my leg when I first got him. Therefore I’ve been a bit cautious with this whole “strong leg” thing. But maybe I just needed to let him go.

So I did. I put my leg on him and just went with it. He gave me some very big, strong strides, and it felt really good. However, we were covering a lot of ground, and it was hard for me to tell if our tempo was maybe too quick.

I had my friend Debbie make a short video of me riding Phil tonight. Here it is -

I'd say that he doesn't look too quick, but he does look too short in the neck, and still not steady enough. Needs more reach into my hand with a longer neck and more constant contact.

I'm going to send the video to my trainer and get her take on it. What do you all think?

Whine and Sawdust

I love my girls, but sometimes I want to drop-kick them into the next state.

Craig was out of town on Saturday, and I didn’t have anyone who could get the horses out for me. The weather had been miserable with frigid temperatures and lots of blowing snow, so there hasn’t been a lot of turnout going on. So in order for my horses to get out, I had to take the girls with me.

Now Lily, the older one, doesn’t really like riding. She likes horses, and thinks it’s fun to feed them little pieces of hay through the bars of their stalls, but she thinks horses “smell like butt”. Macey, on the other hand, loves horses, loves to ride, and doesn’t care if she steps in poop. I had to bring both girls to the barn with me that day, and I knew it was going to be really cold, which meant that I was going to have to work quickly so that they didn’t freeze.

Macey got very excited when I told her we were going to the barn. She begged to ride Kaswyn, and wanted to trot. So I told her that she could walk Kaswyn while I took ten minutes to lunge Phil, and then I would help her with trotting. I made it clear that I had to lunge Phil, so she would have to walk, and only walk, Kaswyn while I worked Phil. Yes yes, she said, that would be great.

As soon as we got to the barn, Lily asked “Can we play in the sawdust pile?”. “NO. Absolutely not. Last time you got sawdust EVERYWHERE.” “Okay.” She said. I told her that she could feed the horses, or walk outside, or play with the kittens. “Okay.” She said. And she was off to do whatever.

I got Kaswyn ready, got Macey on board, slapped boots on Phil and started lunging. Three minutes later she says “Mommy, I want to be done. I want to go outside with Lily.”

ARRGH! It took me longer to groom and tack Kaswyn than the entire time she had ridden! I had Phil out already, and I wasn’t about to stop lunging him so I could get Macey off of Kaswyn. I told her she would just have to walk him around until I was finished. We then began an annoying banter back and forth that I’m sure made everyone in the barn want to strangle us both.

“Mommy, how much loner?”
“Five minutes, Macey.”
“Mommy my hands are cold.”
“I’m sorry sweetie, just wiggle your fingers.”
“Mommy, how much longer?”
“A few minutes Macey. Look, stop whining! I told you would have to wait until I finished lunging Phil!”
“I know, but I’m sick of doing this!”
“Just stop complaining!”
“Mommy, my nose itches.”
“Put both reins in one hand and scratch your nose!”

Then, even though I had told her to stay on the rail and walk around the outside of the arena, she walked Kaswyn right into my lunging circle while my back was to her. I turned around, with Phil at the canter, to see Phil and Kaswyn on a collision course. Kaswyn just stopped, and I screamed “MACEY!!” and yanked Phil towards me as fast as I could.

Kaswyn didn’t move. Phil managed to narrowly miss Kaswyn by leaping towards me. Luckily Kaswyn is such a fantastic horse. He didn’t spook or jump or anything. I’m very lucky. Macey could have been seriously hurt.

I looked at Macey. She said “Oops.” I fumed.

At this point the barn manager said “Hey Sheri, do you want Anna to take over? She could ride Kaswyn and give him a bit more exercise.” “Yes, that would be GREAT. Thank you.” I said.

So I yanked Macey off of Kaswyn and handed him over to Anna, who has taken lessons on Kaswyn and is a great little rider. Then I sent Macey outside to look for Lily. I told her to keep out of trouble while I finished with Phil.

When I had Phil all tucked away in his stall, I went looking for the girls. I found them.

In the sawdust pile.

I was furious. Lily had sawdust all down on the insides of her brand new snow boots. Sawdust does not brush off of that felty material very easily, so now she’s going to have splinters in her boots all winter. I asked her why she played in the sawdust when I specifically told her not to. She said “I don’t know.” I got her as brushed off as I could and sent her outside. Macey was playing in the sawdust too, but she hadn’t done as much damage. She had made a quiet and smooth exit out of the barn while I was scolding Lily.

I finished putting my stuff away, and then went to find the girls. They were outside, sitting in the snow on a slope. Lily was crying.

Well, then I felt like a meanie. But really, she disobeyed me. Shouldn’t she feel bad?

We headed home, and talked about it later. I felt bad that I made her cry, and she felt bad for disobeying me. We hugged it out and made up.

As far as Macey goes – she’s going to come out to the barn only when she has a lesson, or when I’m not pressed for time. That way I can concentrate on her and we don’t have another near miss collision in the arena. It’s probably safest that way anyway.

I really want my kids to ride, or at least like horses, but not at the cost of their safety. Or my sanity.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

January "Keep It Going" Weekly Post #3

January Weekly Post #3! This one I actually like.

Buddy Up

Sometimes it’s hard to keep motivated. You get the barn and you think “Hmm, what if I just lunge today” or “I’ll just hack today...it’s winter, we could use some down time.” But all those easy days can add up, and make you think “What happened?” when show season rolls around.

Find a barn buddy with the same goal as yours – to get through the winter and actually take forward steps in your training. You don’t need to be at the same level – you don’t even need to be at the same barn! Just find someone who can motivate you by asking you “Did you ride today? You riding tomorrow?” A long distance buddy works too. Social networks and cell phones make great ways to check up on each other. So send that text, or instant message, that says “Hey, we did a great half-pass today. What did YOU do on your horse?”

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


I had the day off of work today, so I went to the barn this morning. I never have been to the barn on a Tuesday morning, so I wasn't prepared to see a line of big jumps set up in the arena. There are a few gals who have hunter/jumpers, and in the summer they have these ginormous jumps set up in the outdoor arena. In the winter there are never jumps in the arena, and I always wondered if they just didn't jump in the winter.

Turns out that they only jump once a week, and that's Tuesday morning. I had been curious about whether Phil would have any talent or desire to jump, so I asked them what they thought would be the best way to figure it out. The answer was "ride him at a jump and see what happens."

So we did!

The gals really helped me out, and we started with just poles in the ground. I wasn't sure how he'd react, but Phil wasn't afraid at all. Then we went to a low crossrail fence. He was hesitant a few times but he really seemed to enjoy it. We went over eight or ten crossrails, and then I schooled the canter a little bit. I was amazed at how the canter felt after we did our little tiny jumps. It was amazing! Phil was really using his back and haunches, and pushing a lot in the canter. It felt fantastic.

Overall it was a little scary, but very exciting. I might have to bring out the crossrail once a week or so and see what we can do with this. It might end up being nothing, but at the very least it will be fun!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Wow. Just wow.

This is the best horse related video I've seen in a long time. The horses, the riders... everything about it is just badass.

Thanks to Taya for the link. Enjoy.

Friday, January 13, 2012


My ride on Phil last night was very tiring. It was good, but tough.

I started right away with my firm leg and insisting that he go to my hand. He started by leaping into my hand, then backing off as soon as he felt the rein. This went on for about thirty seconds, then he settled down to a decent trot. But THAT only lasted a minute or so, and then he was back to attempting to leap around. I know my leg was a bit overstimulating, but it really kept him moving into my hand and that's what the goal was. That didn't mean it was an easy ride.

There was a fair amount of resistance to my hand, and plenty of resistance to going forward when I had my leg on, even though as soon as I took my leg off he didn't have any problems rushing off. Although, at times he got too quick when I put my leg on, and was kind of leaning on my hand instead of making a middle-of-the-road contact. So it seems we have two things to work on - acceptance of the leg, and acceptance of my hand.

Before last week I had let Phil lure me into the trap of not using my leg and riding off of my hand and seat. Since he's a spicy little tomato, I started to ride with my leg totally off of him most of the time in order to avoid having him bolt away. But now I see just what a mistake that was. I don't know how many times I've read "leg/seat first, then hand". I know this, I used to do this, but that tricky Phil, he fooled me!

It took most of the ride, and some pretty ugly moments, but by the end I had a nice driving trot into my hand. It made me realize that my "contact" before wasn't really contact - it was Phil setting his head in one position and me holding the reins. That wasn't true contact, and it wasn't going to get me a real connection, which I'm going to need to do anything beyond Training Level.

So now we will really start this thing correctly. We'll be working on acceptance of the aids. It's not always going to be pretty, but Phil is smart and he wants to please me, so he'll figure it out. I only hope my legs and my abs can handle it! I'm sore!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Simple, but Clear

The last two weeks have been a bit of a struggle for me as far as Phil is concerned.

My trainer flew off to sunny Florida for two months to train with her trainer (not that I’m jealous or anything…stuck here in dreary, cold Cleveland…blah) and I didn’t get a chance to get one more lesson in before she left. I figured I could muddle on through for eight weeks and she could help repair the damage when she got back.

Well, the issues I was having just got bigger and bigger, and I couldn’t figure out how to fix them. I was still trying to help Phil establish and maintain a connection with my hand. This was something my trainer mentioned that I had to work on in my last lesson. She gave me an exercise to help straighten him that also helped improve the connection, so I began to practice that. I continued to practice the bending exercise and it help improve his connection a little bit, but it didn’t seem like I was really making progress.

So I started concentrating on the connection. I just couldn’t get Phil to maintain it for more than a few strides. Then he would bounce against the bit, and even jiggle his head a little.

I tried to just be still, and let him find my hand, and loosen his neck when he got stiff and resistant. That wasn’t working. So I tried transitions. I tried changing directions. I tried changing the gaits within the gaits – lengthening then shortening the strides at the trot and canter. We were both getting frustrated because nothing was working. Phil became very distracted and started reacting to everything that was going on in the arena. Another horse walking around, someone walking in, a cat running by – he just could not concentrate and would bring his head up and quicken his stride.

Over two weeks things deteriorated into Phil just rushing forward, avoiding contact, being resistant when I tried to make contact, and being stressed out and distracted. Suddenly I had this horse that was acting more like a wild green 3-year-old than a trained 6-year-old. I called my trainer on the way to the barn with a pleading message of “Phil’s being a jerk – help me figure this out!”

Our ride that night was the worst one yet. Distractions in the arena made him tense and inattentive, and I spent my time trying to get him to slow down and get on the bit. I tried everything that night, but what mostly happened is we flew around the ring in a barely controlled frenzy. It seemed that Phil didn’t know what I wanted, and that was making him frantic that he was going to get in trouble despite my assurances to him that “It’s ooookkkkaaaay…you’re a goooood boooy…”. After 40 minutes I was out of ideas. I sat on him and walked for a minute, trying to figure out what to do. Then I thought, “What would I do if Kaswyn were acting this way?”

The answer – I’d sit my ass down, put on my big girl breeches and RIDE.

So I did. I wrapped my legs around Phil, like a vice, and said “GO. Now. Go to my hand.” And I kept that leg on. Not a kicking, hard driving leg, but a firm hug that said GO. When he launched forward I absorbed the energy in my hand and just went with it, using my seat to help slow him. When he tried to come off the bit I squeezed harder and drove him back down to my hand. When he got distracted, he got another hard squeeze. I put my leg on strong, and I kept it there.

I asked him to do only one thing – go to my hand. I realized that I hadn’t been putting my leg on him at all, since he was so jumpy and squirrely. I was keeping my leg off of him, afraid that he would over-react and jump forward. Even though he was rushing forward, and jumping around, and was too quick, he needed MORE leg. It sounds like that’s the last thing I would want to do on a horse that’s apt to run off with me, but that is just what he needed.

The last ten minutes of our ride was bliss. He did what I asked, and I felt him make contact, connect the back to the front, and use his back. I was so proud of him for turning it around, and listening to what I was asking.

When I was able to talk to my trainer later about it, she said that sometimes it’s hard with young horses like that, and you just have to tell them in no uncertain terms what you want. And when you do, be uncompromising, but not in a mean or combative way. Just be clear, and firm. My problem is that I wasn’t using my leg enough, I wasn’t being clear, and I wasn’t giving him direction. The firm leg and clear direction was comforting to him. I think most of his issues with anxiety stem from not being sure of what I want, and thinking that he’s in trouble when he makes a mistake.

Fortunately I think we have cleared that up. Today I’ll ride again, and we’ll see if I can give him better direction. Then he can relax and get to work without so much stress (for either one of us). I’m hoping to show Training Level at a schooling show in about two weeks. I was starting to get worried, but now I think we can pull it off.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

January "Keep It Going" Weekly Post #2

January Weekly Post #2! Stronger than last week, but still, nothing you haven't thought of yourself...

Just Do It

In most parts of the country, winter changes how we ride. It’s cold. It’s dark. Your horse has more hair than a yak, and you’re stuffed into heavy coats with pockets filled with tissues to wipe your runny nose on. Some days it seems easier to stay at home and curl up with a good book.

But on those days when you think you can’t possibly pull on those boots, and make that drive, just get it done anyway. You’ll feel better once you get out there,and both you and your horse will benefit from it. You can crank the heater on your drive home and feel warmed by the fact that you made progress.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

January "Keep It Going" Weekly Post #1

Welcome to the first installment of my Weekly Posts. The theme for January is "Keep It Going". This one is admittedly weak... ah well.

Pencil It In

For those of you with families, better weather brings more activities. Kids and spouses who aren’t horse-crazed probably get more involved on their own sports once spring rolls around. During the longer, warmer days of the year it easier for everyone to get time in on their passion. But the winter can put a serious cramp in everyone’s sporting activities. However, serious horse people have indoor arenas (and horses with hair). The winter calendar can be yours, if you play your cards right.

Try and plan out what might be going on for the rest of the year as far as the whole family’s activities go. You could find out that golfing doesn’t start until April, soccer in March, etc., so you might be able to take extra riding days. Talk it over and try to get just one extra riding day in a week. And then get your family to help you stick to it. Kids always enjoy ribbing their parents when given the chance, so let them guilt you INTO going to the barn. You can thank them later.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012


I’m such a bad blogger!

For a variety of reasons, I haven’t been able to blog on a regular basis. I could go into all the boring details, but really, they are just excuses for me not sitting my butt down and banging out some posts. It’s not like I don’t have anything to say, cause I have stuff going on. Too much stuff!

So, in an effort to encourage myself to take time to write blog posts, I’m going to adopt a monthly theme and write a post within that theme once a month. Fortunately for me, January is already completed!

As you may have read in my previous post, I was contacted by Dressage Today to write a tip for their New Year, New You Program. I ended up writing five tips, and they chose the best one. Since I have four other tips written (which vary in quality from decent to kinda lame) I’m going to post the remaining four each Wednesday in January. Please excuse the lame ones.

Then in February I’m going to post about four more things within a theme. I’m pretty sure February’s theme will be “Four Pieces of Equipment I’m Loving Right Now”. For March, I’m toying with “Four Simple Dressage Exercises I’m Using”. That’s as far as I’ve gotten.

Have a suggestion for a monthly theme? Please shoot me a comment or an email (dressagemomblog@yahoo.com). I’ll give you a shout out!

Header Image from Bangbouh @ Flickr