Wednesday, September 30, 2009

New video!

Each day the pony amazes me with her work ethic. Kelsey came out again today, so I was able to get video and photos of today's ride. And I'm so glad she was there because the pony just worked SO hard.

 Each day she progresses more and more towards self carriage. I have to ask fewer and fewer times, and she seems to really want to go with a loose and supple back. She tries to bend her whole body, and she continually tries to do what I ask. There is definitely something to be said for a horse that tries to please.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Brrr, its cold out here

Last night it got down into the forties overnight, so it was the first night the pony wore her sheet. Grayson and I decided that anytime it gets below 65 we are going to keep a sheet on her. Sarah has some Ace left over from when Moose was hurt, so if we do end up needing to clip her, we can use that. I'd rather just keep her blanketed early so that she doesn't grow a winter coat anyway.

She is still in season so she was very hot, but not as hot as yesterday. Therefore I just got on and was sure to warm her up slowly since it was still so cold this morning. The ring was still a little sloppy from the thunderstorm last night, so that was taken into account when we began work.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Strengthen the back, carry yourself lightly

As I pulled up today Pony was trotting/cantering around her field upset that her friends were at the bottom of their field. She has become very attached to Peppy, the King Ranch cutting mare that lives the large field next door. Since she is in season she is much more vocal and much hotter than she normally is. I decided that I would take the edge off by lunging and then work on channeling the energy into effective use of her body.

After about ten minutes of cantering (5 in each direction) on the lunge I got on and began to work her down onto the bit. Today was one of the first days that she really lifted her back to round on the bit, and carry herself in a light but forward trot. She really felt great, and as Grayson put it she really just wants to please. She doesn't get everything on the first try, but she sort of asks, "Hey, can you show me that again?" until she eventually understands the questions being asked. That became clear today as we practiced transitions some more. I jumped a few of the jumps in the ring, asking her for a halt right away.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Different disciplines, different days

The pony had Friday and Saturday off, and today she was HOT. Its hard for her to even control herself when she gets too hot for her own skin. She is also in season so her head isn't really on straight. I think she went into season yesterday, so hopefully by the end of the week her head will be back on and we can continue with our schedule. Until then I will continue to work on improving her fitness and trying to maintain her flatwork, framing, and bending. I'm also working on a suggestion Anne had about downward transitions.

 She says she has all her horses trained to stand still when she presses her hands into their withers. She said it helps her a lot when she is foxhunting and has to go from a gallop to a halt, and keep her horse calm. The pony's downward transitions are lacking in crispness, so that is what we practiced today. I worked her for a solid 45 minutes, and spent most of the time doing serpentines, changing the bend, circles, and transitions. Her upward transitions are not as crisp as they used to be, so we will practice that too.

Grayson gave me a short lesson on Emma today! David was riding her and I commented on how slow she was! I've never really spent much time around any western riders or horses, especially western pleasure horses. So Grayson told me to get on and gave me some helpful hints about how to ride a western pleasure horse. It felt so weird to be on a horse that lopes slower than the pony can walk! Grayson had me play with her mouth to get her to drop her head, then kiss to her and off she loped. I didn't get it right right away though, apparently she was going way too fast (slower than the pony's slowest gear). So Grayson explained the concept again: I needed to essentially ride her with her haunches in and keep my shoulders turned in so that it looks like she is straight. Grayson got on and showed me Emma's slowest gear and then had me get back on and do it. It was so cool! That was three disciplines in three days!

On that note, I loved my dressage lesson! Patrick had me ride a very cute Dutch Warmblood mare that schools fourth level. We practiced lots of 20m circles, and maintaining the bend the whole time. Patrick had to spend much of the time teaching me some of the things that I will have to know to do well on my tests, like the difference between a free walk and a medium walk. He also gave me tips on how to make things more showy. He lengthened my leg, and I felt like I was riding with no stirrups. I am excited for the team though, I will be riding at Training level since I have never done dressage, and he thinks that I will do really well and really help us win.

 At the end of the lesson he asked me if I have any experience working with babies and breaking and working greenies. I told him some experience but I'd like more, and I'd be happy to help him with the ones that he is going to have. He then proceeded to tell me that he wouldn't charge me for helping him. I had spent most of the lesson telling him how hard I have worked to get where I am, since I didn't have the money for any of it. It caught me by surprise that he would think that there was even a chance that I would pay him to help him break babies, considering that is what he is getting paid to do.

 Oh well, I guess I still have a lot to learn about human nature.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Fine tuning

Today was the first lesson with my coach Anne! It has been so long since I've had instruction, that it really was time. We spent much of the time talking about the pony, what she does, can do, has done etc. She loves that I put lead changes on her, and thinks that it adds a lot to her value. She also thinks that we should put some hunter mileage on her and work on a lot of those fundamentals since they will play a lot into her foundation for the jumpers.

She gave me a lot of homework to work on before the next time she comes out to the farm. She wants crisper downward transitions, including after fences. She wants me to be able to halt within a line, or right after a fence. I then should be able to pick up the canter from a halt. We worked on this a lot over the summer, but I haven't been a stickler about transitions lately. Thats definitely something I need to keep in mind though.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Rain, rain, GO AWAY

These pictures are a little taste of what we have been working on - lead change in picture 1 and coming down on the bit in the others.

Kelsey came out today to video my ride, but we were worried that it was going to rain and we weren't going to be able to do anything. It rained alright, but yesterday and last night. It was lightly misting when we arrived, but the ring was VERY wet. So I had to adjust my goals for the ride/video accordingly. I decided to just focus on continuing to develop her ability for self-carriage.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Practice doesn't make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect

In the september issue of Practical Horseman there were several interesting articles that I found particularly relevant for the pony's progress.   "Are you practicing perfectly?" by Jim Wofford and "Peak at the right time" by Melanie Smith Taylor.  In Jim Wofford's article he discusses the proper foundation for a performance horse coming from a dressage perspective.

Everyone who knows me knows that I take horsemanship very seriously and subscribe to the George Morris school of thought.  After growing up playing soccer for a man who didn't accept less than perfect, I have learned to discipline myself as a person.  This discipline has carried over into my riding, and I take "correctness" seriously.  In Wofford's article he mentions the need to understand classical theory.  "This means we need a solid understanding of the correct theories of riding and training horses to school them effectively.  If we do not have an idea of what "perfect" looks like, they we will not know if things are "pretty good" or not.  ... but we need to have that theoretical standard in our mind as a measure of our progress to date."  Later in the article he discusses the need for a dressage foundation, and describes the basic dressage seat.

Monday, September 21, 2009

10 meter circles. Smaller and smaller...

Today I rode with Nina, the lady who leases Ritter from Janene.  She had already heard about Ritter's jumping excursions yesterday!  Apparently Janene called both Grayson and Nina because she was just so excited about what she had just watched.  She is just too cute.

After my ride Nina also let me know that she has left several people messages about Zena.  She used to do the jumpers before her accident so she contacted some friends about her.  She says she likes her so much that she just wants one of her friends to have her.  

I also talked to my coach about her.  She said at the show this weekend she saw several riders who she thinks would be perfect for Zena.  Everyone knows how successful she is going to be when we find the right person for her.  There is a show on October 10th a Sedgefield that has a 2'6 jumper division.  She thinks I could have some people try her out there too.  I think before that I'm going to try and trailer over to Townsend at least once for a lesson so that I can school over those jumps.  Anne has about 20 show quality hunter and jumper jumps, and we all know how good change is for the pony.  

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The clock is ticking...

Although I knew that the lady was probably not going to be a good match for the pony, I was still extremely excited to have someone come out to see her.  I got to the barn around 11:30 after a trip to Tractor Supply for supplements and shampoo, and began cleaning her up.  She has a cut on her neck from a bite from a neighbor, so I cleaned that out, put the Corona ointment on it, gave her a good brushing etc.

This was also a good time to talk to Grayson about the weight gaining supplement I picked up at Tractor Supply.  Supposedly it will be a high calorie supplement that won't make her hotter (ie I won't need to give her as much grain). Anyway, I think I probably pampered her for about an hour and a half before I put her in her stall with several flakes of hay while I waited for the lady to show up.  

And waited.

And waited.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The neighbors must think I'm crazy...

With the potential customer coming out tomorrow, I wanted to make sure today was a good, positive experience.  The weather has been changing a bit, and it has been much cooler (in the 70's now) so being the pony she is, she has gotten much hotter.  She is also getting fed more as we try to put that weight on her and fatten her up.

The goal of todays ride was to continue practicing what we have been working on all week - getting her down on the bit.  We started out same as always - loose rein to warm up.  I also wanted today to be a little bit of a fitness day since I had so much time.  I spent about 10 minutes walking and trotting on a loose rein before I started to ask her to really work. 

Friday, September 18, 2009


Convincing myself to get out of bed to ride today was difficult, with the weather acting the way it has been.  Its difficult to get out to the barn when i know its raining and I'm not sure if it will be too wet to ride.  Thats the only downside to boarding with Grayson, there is no indoor!  No matter, I braved the light rain and went out for my morning ride.  
I decided that it would be a light flat, today, since I didn't ride yesterday (rain) I wanted to get her out for a longer but more relaxed ride.  At the same time though I wanted to continue to build on what we started earlier this week - coming down onto the bit.  I warmed up outside the ring, trotting around the property.  I love being able to just ride anywhere on the property.

Anyway, after a fifteen minute trot warmup I headed to the ring.  I've been riding her in and out of the ring every time I ride, she cannot continue to have issues at a gate, so what better way to get used to it than doing it every time we ride!  Anyway, once in the ring I began practicing more moving away from the leg, coming down onto the bit, and shoulder ins.  She is really starting to respond to these questions, and using her body well.  At the end of our ride, I spent about 15 minutes working her down onto the bit.  Towards the end she was really able to round her back and move from her hind end into the hand.  Yay!

And on the subject of rounding her back, we do carrot stretches everyday, and have been practicing bowing.  She will do anything to get that carrot!  And she is so darn flexible! Today while i was on her she had an itch right around her hip bone, so what does she do?  Turns her head all the way around and starts biting her hip. While I'm sitting on her!  Grayson couldn't stop laughing. "She's just so funny, she's got so much personality!"
I updated Zena's sale ad, so now hopefully more people from North Carolina will see it and show interest.  There is a woman coming out to try her Sunday, although I'm not positive she will be a good fit.  Time will tell.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Circles and right turns

In a surprise move, one of my best friends Kelsey was able to come out to the barn today and watch me ride!  She is an art major and equestrian, and therefore the perfect person to have with me on days like today.  Her mom trains and sells horses from their home in Millbrook, NY.  Kelsey hasn't been riding since coming to Elon, but is going to hopefully bring her horse down in the spring!  Anyway, she loved the pony and was able to video/photograph my ride in addition to reminding me to maintain my equitation and give me advice from the ground.

Today was an over fences day, with a focus of riding straight and not pulling left.  An exaggeration of the crest release from my left hand, lots of encouragement from that left spur, and a right turn just after the fence helped to encourage her to ride straight. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Can you tell I'm proud of her?

"Yes!" I yelled to Sarah as I watched the pony responding to Sarah's questions.  Sarah put a training ride on Zena for the first time today, and it was amazing to watch.  I asked her to walk me through each thing that she asks, and how to ask each question the right way.  All of it was AMAZING to watch.  She is so talented, and the pony was so responsive.  Sarah also seemed really impressed with how far she has come (she saw her at the VERY beginning in June during that lesson in the indoor), even though she hadn't gotten on her back then  

Sarah's project for the day was starting to work her down onto the bit, something I put on the back burner in exchange for getting her to work back to front, leg to hand laying the foundation for her capabilities.  I think with how far she has come in the past two months, and even in the time that she has been in North Carolina, it is now time that we can start asking these questions of her.  She also started doing the shoulder-in at the trot and canter, which I hadn't attempted yet.  Overall it was really fun to get to watch someone so talented play around with her.  


Yesterday's ride was one of the most quiet rides I have had.  Simply thirty minutes of walk trot canter, with lots of transitions. Practice, practice, practice! Walk, trot, walk, halt, canter, trot, canter, halt, walk, halt, trot, etc.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Cool, calm, collected: maintaining a rhythm

One of the most rewarding things is seeing your goals come to fruition.  For the first time since the pony got down here, my big in my sorority, Sarah, came out to see her.  Sarah is captain of the dressage team, and also boards her horse at the same barn (though Moose won't be down here for another two weeks).  Sarah had come to visit during June, and watched one of my lessons on the pony, before the pony became my project.  At that point the pony was not bending, was not ratable, and simply knew that kick meant go, pull meant stop (sort of, she did have a tendency to run through the hand).  She also ran at the fences, and had no balance.
Today on the other hand, I was able to show Sarah the pony's leg yields, shoulder in, w/t/c on a loose rein (see picture: I'm talking NO contact), and transitions solely from the body.  What Sarah saw was a calm and confident pony, happy about the job she has.   Now all we need is a kid who loves to ride!

Just a hack

Knowing that a tough day was ahead of us, and because it was 80 degrees, Friday was a light day.  Readjusting the goals to recognize that, I decided to hack pony around the property.  We rode in her field, around the outside of the ring, and behind the barn near Ritter's field.  The goal became to quietly hack on a loose rein in and out of the ring.

Success!  To say that I'm proud of the pony's recent successes would be an understatement.  It seems like the little girl is finally growing up! She has been handling new situations well, she likes the constant change in routine, and she has just been fabulous overall.  While the ride was just a light walk, trot, canter outside the ring, I have been finding that the more the ride is changed up (with consistency in the questions of course).  For example, I can ride her like a pleasure pony with the reins on the buckle the whole time, circling, transitions, etc.  Or I can take up contact, do lead changes, our basic dressage etc., and still be successful.  It also no longer matters if I'm on her back or up off it.  Yay for adjustability!  The adjustability will certainly come in handy when its time to work over fences!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

On the buckle...

“You’re jus’ so good,” Grayson called out her car as she drove up to the barn during my morning ride.  I woke up and was out of my apartment by 7:15 this morning.  By 7:45 I was on and ready to go. 
Each day I try to make goals for the ride that I can achieve throughout the ride.  I’m a very driven and goal oriented person, and without a something to work towards I feel like I’m not achieving anything.  Today’s goal: lengthening and shortening of stride, movement from behind, and balance. 

I started out on a loose rein and warmed her up – walk, trot, canter.  Who knew this pony could do the pleasure divisions!  I decided that instead of constantly getting out of the pony’s way, that now I would go back and forth between using my seat for contact and getting up off her back, especially at the canter.  Interestingly, after some no stirrup work, I found that she is just as responsive to collection when I use my seat effectively as she is when I use my hands.  This morning I was able to achieve a balanced and collected canter on the buckle.  And as I took up contact I began to do my figure eight – I want a pony with auto-changes! The more we practice the better we get.  Today I even got a full change with just a weight shift and leg!  We did tons of lengthening and collecting at the trot and canter as well, and at one point I even opened her up into a big hand gallop, which I was able to collect and package within three strides by sitting deep and packaging her up again. 

At the walk and trot I also worked on staying round through the whole circle (she usually loses the bend three quarters of the way through the circle, or pops a shoulder out).  We also practiced our shoulder-ins and leg yields.  We still can only shoulder-in at the walk, but she does move away from pressure while staying on the aids at the trot to achieve the leg yield.  Yay!

I threw two or three jumps into the mix today as well.  Jumping is no longer a big deal for the pony.  There is no longer the mentality of RUN RUN RUN! She has learned that it doesn’t take speed to get over a fence, when she is balanced she jumps big and round despite the small size of the fence, and can come right back to the trot with a question of collection from my body language – not from my hands.  I’m planning a jumping session for the weekend, and Sarah will video. 

As our conversation was wrapping up, while the pony was grazing, I said “So pony, what do you think?” She was ripping out the grass like it was going to run out.  Grayson responded for her, “I’m starvin’, they’re starvin’ me! I’m an Ethiopian!”  I couldn't help but laugh hysterically.   Grayson and I had been discussing the pony’s nutrition.  She looks like she may have dropped a few pounds since she got here, although she was definitely thin to begin with, and conformationally narrow and petite, so we decided to up her food to a scoop and a half.  Grayson hopes that we can put maybe a hundred or hundred and fifty pounds on her, and they go from there.  

FYI - I know the photo is from July - but its my favorite!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Left bound

"Mornin' Ms Wild Thang" Grayson said playfully to the pony as she greeted us after our morning ride.   The pony and I were up and moving way before anyone else on Elon's campus or on the farm this morning.  With class at 10:30 I determined I would need to get up around 7:00 am to achieve everything I want to achieve with my day.  But no matter, I have a remote control for the property's gate and my stuff is all in my tack trunk.

First things first as always, after I pulled up I went inside the barn to say hi to the pony.  Her forelock and tail had shavings everywhere, so I assume she had a great night's sleep.   After saying good morning, I went out to the ring and began rearranging jumps.  I put the barrels on their sides, lined up the green boxes, set up a bounce, and two single jumps.  Then I went inside to tack the pony up.   On my way back to the barn I noticed something amusing - one of the barn cats was sitting on my car!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Grayson's first impression

The weather down here is so unpredictable – despite the fact that yesterday was well into the 80s, this morning it barely broke 70 (if that).   As I drove in Grayson waved and laughed – “Oh she’s ready for you today!” in her lovely southern draw.  Laughing with her she continued on to let me know that the pony was fairly upset that her boyfriend Ritter was turned out a field different than yesterday.  No worries – this sounds like it would be the pony that I know.  

It already seems to be so good for her head that her routine is constantly changing.   We keep surprising her, whether with a new field, new friends, or a different ride.  Today Grayson watched me ride – it was her first time watching the pony go.  Again she seems impressed!  “Awh, she’s got that long horse stride in that small little body! She’s sure somethin’!” Despite being in North Carolina for over a year, I still love that southern accent! 

Sunday, September 6, 2009

First ride

It was hot by the time I got to the barn today - luckily I won't normally ride midday.  It will fit into my schedule better to ride first thing each day.  As I pulled up to the barn I noticed she was turned out in the big field, and it looked like she had made friends with her neighbor!

Pony has a boyfriend!  Anyway, I brought her in and cleaned her up and got tacked up.  The barn is very quiet, which is nice.  I went out and bought a big box to keep all her stuff in - two sheets, a winter blanket, fly sheet, skrim and all the saddle pads brushes etc.  Basically everything that was in the back of my car all summer now has a place!

Its only the beginning...

The past few weeks have been spent in conversation about what is next for the pony.  She is for sale, but there is not a huge market for what she is - a pony jumper.  So the next question was what will she do when I leave to go back to college?  After a summer of intensive training and horse showing it would be a shame to let her go back let her stop working and moving forward in her training.  And so the next step was to find a shipper to bring her from Center Line to Elon, North Carolina so she can continue her training.

Derrick with Tulip Tree Farms Transport did a fabulous job shipping her, and she had a layover in Maryland at his parent's farm.  She shipped like a champ and looked wonderful when she finally stepped off the trailer.