Sunday, October 30, 2011

Back on cows!

I really had hoped to have helmet cam footage to show you of today's cow sorting, but when I downloaded the 4 runs I filmed it was all of the arena ceiling. Looks like I forgot to tilt the camera down towards the cows. It's ok, this gives me an excuse to go back sooner than later it had been way too long since the last time Grace and I worked cows. I'm sure Grace thought we were off to another show today,  since I did spend time washing her mane and tail yesterday. I believe she was pleasantly surprised today when I took her to an unfamiliar arena with a pen of cows in it waiting for her.

After a text conversation with Sarah this morning I had a plan for my warm up. She had seen my recently shot video and pointed out to me that my horse was not straight, not tracking up to her front end with her hind end. She recommended more leg when Grace evades my hand by speeding up, to push Grace into the contact and getting her to place her hind footfall closer to her front footfall. The more I thought about it the more sense it made. Once I was on my horse it was interesting to see that my first reaction to her evasion has been to completely take my leg off. Today I added more leg when Grace tried to blow through my outside rein and low and behold the mare stepped up underneath her and went straight!

We were one of the first in the pen when it came time to sort. There were corriente cows that were new additions to the herd this year. They were numbered 2,3,5,6 and 7 and they liked to hang out together. My first draw was number 6. Every time Grace and I got close to it the little bugger would dive in under a bigger cow. I tried to push it down the panels but it would turn back and circle the herd. I felt bad for my partner who didn't even get to leave the gate. I intently watched as other teams worked the herd. The corriente's had a big space bubble and those that took their time with them had the most success. Our numbers improved with each run, but we kept getting dq'd by either cow number 2 or 3 slipping through the gate. On our best run we ha 6 cows in before number 3 slipped past. I was thrilled with Grace, she was a little hot on our first run, but still under control. She settled with each run, got more focused and best of all was moving up beautifully from behind. It always amazes me how much cleaner her movement is when I put a cow in front of her. I lost count of how many times I petted her neck and told her how good she was. I am going to make it a point to get back on cows once a month and next time I will remember to tilt the helmet cam down.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Grace Update with video

Grace has been on her best behavior since the horse show. I'm over being mad about it but the first few days after the show of having one better ride after another really got me frustrated. Why can't we pull it together in the show ring? I had a group lesson at Sarah's last Saturday to work on Horsemanship patterns. Grace gave me one of the best warm ups ever. Her lope was outstanding and then it was time to work on the cones. As soon as we began our pattern Grace tensed up and took over. Sarah said it was because I was thinking about the pattern and not Grace. Grace feels the change - the shift in my energy and somehow takes that as a cue to do her own thing. We spent a good part of the lesson schooling her on the pattern working on getting it perfect because "perfect practice makes perfect". At the end of the lesson I was able to ride the pattern one handed - it was a pattern ride that I would be thrilled with at a horse show.

Sarah suggested that I set cones at home in no particular order and school Grace on them with no patten in mind. The goal is to keep Grace guessing and waiting on me. This is one of those times that I wonder what it would be like to own a less intelligent horse. I swear when I stop at a cone to begin a pattern Grace has every pattern she's ever been on going through her head. When we start the pattern she then recalls the closest pattern in her memory to the gait we are on and the direction we are going. She is convinced that she knows best and when I tense against her decision that is when it starts to fall apart.

Now, when I can get her to work with me and wait on me it is a wonderful ride. Grace is so sensitive to my cues I have to be mindful of how I breath. I've been so afraid of getting on her case, concerned that I will break her "spirit" and end up with one of those dead to the world show horses, that I let her tense up and take over. The result was a ride that neither one of us enjoyed. I've now been able to correct her without being hard on her, knowing when to apply pressure and when to release. The result is a horse that still wants to know the pattern, but is willing to wait for me to show it to her.

In the first video we are working around and through the cones in no particular direction. If I felt her anticipate going to the right, I made her go to the left. There are a few times that she tenses and lifts her head so I had to push her up into the bridle and correct her. The second video - and I wish it were better quality was the end of our ride. The lead change is from the right - which is her easy lead, to the left which is her more difficult lead. Her changes this direction haven't been this clean. You can see my reaction to the lead change - "good girl Grace, your done for the day!"

Saturday, October 22, 2011

7 things you may not know about me

A big thank you to Nina for the One Lovely Blog Award. So here goes - 7 random things you may not know about me:

1. I have a fear of drowning and avoid bodies of water because of it. Somewhat ironic considering that I've been living on an Island for the last 30 years. I am also very susceptible to motion sickness so I avoid boats that are smaller than a jumbo ferry.

2. I do not define myself with any religion. I don't believe in Heaven or Hell - there was a time that I attended church every Sunday and considered myself to be a conservative republican. My political views are now a complete 180 from that stance.

3. I have been married for 15 years. I met my husband right after high school while working in a restaurant. Next summer will be 20 years since our first date.

4. I have an older brother – I am always surprised by how many of my friends that I grew up with don’t know about him. He is 10 years older than me and went to live with my biological father when I was 3 and he was 13. We moved 3,000 miles away when I was 7. My brother moved to Washington as an adult and now lives in San Diego. I will always view him as a giant who can do no wrong in my eyes. He will eternally be the hero I saw him to be when I was 3 years old.

5. I have not consumed alcohol since May 29th 1989. Yes I quit drinking when I was 14 years old. I still consider myself to be an alcoholic even though I will go the rest of my life without drinking. It makes me crazy to see social drinkers leave half a class of wine or not finish a beer. Don’t they know that’s wasting? I have absolutely no desire to drink – not even to try it socially.

6. I love public speaking but rarely get the chance to work a crowd. Nothing like attending AA meetings at the age of 14 to get you over any fear of public speaking

7. I could eat pasta 3 times a day 7 days a week. I love it and it is one of the things I can actually cook. Luckily my husband does most of the cooking in our house and he makes sure that I get plenty of protein and veggies in my diet. He’s even been known to sneak asparagus into spaghetti sauce when I’m not looking.

Most of the blogs that I would nominate have already been given this award. If you read my blog and you want the award just let me know - it's yours! The blogs I have listed list on the sidebar are my favorite they are the ones I read almost every day. I can't think of any better way to promote them than that.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Shameless Vote Grubbing

I entered the story of when I met Grace into Horse and Rider's Your Horse, Your Life contest. So I am plugging it here shamelessly looking for your vote.

Let me know if you entered and I will return the favor and vote for you.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Schooling at the Schooling Show

Grace and I had a great ride on Sunday. I’m kind of pissed off about it. Where was that ride the day before at the horse show? What am I missing the day of the show? I didn’t feel nervous at all at the horse show, not one bit. So why is my ride still different every time I step into the show ring? Apparently this is what I am tasked with figuring out this winter.

“Schooling shows are for schooling” I had to keep reminding myself that throughout the day on Saturday. I had a wonderful ride on Friday night, possibly the best ride I’ve had at that show grounds to date. Grace was relaxed, supple and lovely to ride. I warmed her up in the elevator bit; Sarah had suggested that I switch back to it after our last lesson to help Grace come over her back. I rode it in this last week and it was exactly the change I was looking for. Grace softened her left jaw and I found I could do more with less hand. Friday night after warming up I switched back to my show bit, a Myler curve with Calvary shanks. “Your horse is short stepping behind; she wasn’t doing that in the elevator bit, why don’t you switch back.” I could feel exactly what Sarah was saying. As soon as I picked up the reins with the show bit Grace locked her left jaw against it. With her back dropped her jog now felt like a rock on cement. “It’s a schooling show; you can show in the elevator.” Sarah was right, there was no reason for me to force Grace into a bit she wasn’t working for us. The elevator bit has a snaffle mouth piece, this meant I would be riding two handed; again it is a schooling show so it didn’t matter. I would just have to make sure my show headstall worked with the bit change. There was no way I was going into the show ring with my blinged out cowhide rodeo headstall. Even I have limits!

Saturday morning started early with showmanship. I was amazed by how relaxed I was going into the first class. No jitters or nervous tension, it didn’t even bother me when the ring steward picked me to go first. All was well until I stood in front of the judge for inspection, my brain shut down just in time for quartering. I couldn’t remember for the life of me which side of the horse I was supposed to be on when the judge was on the same side of me so I just stood there. I beat myself up for it the entire way back to the line. I had to remind myself that this is a schooling show and it’s been years since my last showmanship class. The second pattern was smoother, but not near as sharp and consistent as some of my fellow competitors.

I had plenty of time to tack up for my first under saddle class. Luckily my show bridle was able to adjust short enough for the elevator bit. As soon as I stepped into the covered warm up arena Grace tensed. I had added my right leg to her side to ask her to step over, her reaction was to throw her head and grunt at me. I pointed her towards the less crowded outdoor arena so we could finish our “missy chat”. My goal was to get her soft and supple before our first class, but the left side just wasn’t there. Walking through the in gate to the show arena I immediately felt tension rip through Grace’s body as she lifted her head and dropped her back. “Really Grace?” Sarah coached me from the rail to use less hand and more leg, something I find near impossible to accomplish when I am sitting atop a ball of tension. As I watched my competitors jogging their obedient horses on loose reins I had to again remind myself that this is a schooling show and we are here to school.

We fit in a few trail patterns outside in between the rail classes being held in the main arena. Our trail patterns were clean, but Grace was tense with her head in the air. This was not the picture I was looking for. I couldn’t help but compare my ride to those around me. There were some really nice obedient horses at this show. They made it look easy. Again I had to remind myself that it was a schooling show and I was here to work through these issues. This is the first show that I’ve entered in equitation pattern classes and while Grace was not where I wanted her in the show ring I really enjoyed the pattern classes. We had a long break before our last class of the day which allowed Grace and I to put on warm clothes and eat lunch.

When it came time to warm Grace up for our last class of the day I seemed to finally figure it out. Her left shoulder was locked down and she could not come over her back. I circled her to the right and then brought her back to the left keeping the counter bend. I then added left leg and finally left rein. Instantly I felt Grace unlock her left shoulder and come over her back. I was able to back off my hands and control her movements with my body. Why did it take me all day to figure this out? Grace tensed up walking into our last class but I was able to circle her to unlock her shoulder. While her head was still higher than I would liked it to have been she gave me her best ride of the day for that last class. I would have loved to started the day on that the horse, but again I had to remind myself that this is a schooling show, we were there to school.

After a giving Grace a massage on Sunday afternoon I threw on the bareback pad and hit the trails. My plan was to let her walk just to get her legs moving to unkink anything from the trailer ride and the show. She moved up to the jog and it was so lovely I decided to just go with it. On our way back home we slipped into the arena. Grace gave me all 3 gaits without any attitude; I was able to ride her on a loose but connected rein. I worked her for only a few minutes before stopping and asking “where the hell was this horse yesterday?” I’m pretty sure the answer I got back was “where the hell was this rider?”

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Lope Overs that separate the men from the boys!

Grace was at the short end of my stick this week. Between the extra hours at work, a company meeting, writing class and an after work session at the Strength Lab she didn’t get the attention she is accustom to. I found myself apologizing to her on Friday night, followed by assuring her that by the end of the day on Saturday she would be sick of me. 24 hours later my prediction rang true.

I was excited for our trail pattern lesson on Saturday, that was until I saw Sarah setting the course. My first clue was when she drove into the arena with a flatbed full of poles. As we proceeded to place them in specific piles around the arena it got me to thinking – isn’t it time to change the name of “trail” when it refers to the class that is held at horse shows? Long ago it was a class that simulated conditions you may have to encounter while out on an actual trail ride, as in outside of an arena. Grace and I spend a lot of time out on actual trails, but I have yet to encounter a lumber yard full of painted poles that I had to negotiate at a slow rhythmic pace. Maybe the class should be called Horsemanship Over Poles or Super Technical Pattern Class or even Horses with Long Strides Need Not Apply. Either way I learned on Saturday just now technical trail class really is.

Both Kristen and I pondered the distances between the poles as Sarah set them with a measuring tape. There were jog overs which were approached on a serpentine but had to be ridden straight, a rope gate, cones, a bridge and a set of lope overs that would soon become my nemesis. Starting with the jog overs it didn’t take long before it was clear that I didn’t have my horse together. Sarah had me ride two handed driving Grace up into the bridle. Sarah explained that Grace had to learn the pattern and obstacles in contact and working over her back. The goal being to eventually ride it one handed where she will continue to work over her back relying on my body for cues. When I rode the jog overs straight and kept my horse together they were easy every time, but if I dumped her at the base of them or allowed her to drift coming into them she would drop her back and rush through them. It was the same feeling I have experienced from her in the show ring when rushes in a Western Riding pattern.

From the jog overs we had to pick up the right lead and head to the lope overs. The first pole was set on an angle with the remaining 4 poles in the line set straight. The line was ridden at a diagonal set from the first pole. Where you started at the first pole depended on the length of your horse's stride, you also had to come deep enough to the approach to make the line. In other words there was a ton of thinking to do before you even got to the obstacle. This one line of poles seems to quickly brought up all of the weak spots that Grace and I possess. It required the turn to come off the left rein, pushing the horse's shoulder through the turn as opposed to pulling their nose. It became very clear that I didn’t have Grace in my left rein, my right leg didn't seem to want to say on her side, which was needed to keep her together through the turn and over the poles. At one point I was convinced that we were not going to pull it together. I watched Kristen and Rhett Butler negotiate the poles while Grace and I took a much needed break. This is why I love group lessons, seeing another rider go through the same obstacle allows me to process it on a deeper level. I was able to see why the horses needed the deeper approach to the line and why the left rein was so critical on the approach. When it was our turn again not only did we make the line but Grace also waited on me and did not rush through the poles.

Our first schooling show of the season is next weekend and I plan to use it for exactly that –schooling. I am secretly hoping for an easier trail pattern than the one at my lesson. I believe that we are about 1,000 more lope overs away from being able to accomplish a course of that level one handed. I guess I’d better set some poles in the arena at home today. Let’s see, 1,000 divided by 3 …. I have my work cut out for me.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Change of Season

I looked outside last night at 7:30pm and it was dark. Once again the shorter days crept up on me; I am getting closer to accepting that summer is over. I’ve been working 10 hour days for the last few weeks and had lost track of what hour the sun was rising since I was already under the florescent lights of the office at 6:00am. It didn’t bother me as I thoroughly enjoy my job, I‘ve been there almost 10 months now and I still look forward to going to work every day. My department smashed our previous record this month; it was not only a sense of accomplishment for our customers but for us as a team. My co-workers are a big part of my love for my job; we work well together and collaborate throughout the day.

The other night while on a trail ride after work I noticed the woods darkening around me. I’m still getting home from work with plenty of daylight, but each night the light is dimmer while I ride. I’m also back to wearing long sleeves and even sweatshirts during my evening rides; my beautiful tattoo is going into hiding. Every time I brush Grace I have more hair to curry through. Her winter coat is fast upon me, even blanketing will not keep it at bay. I had her blanket off while I was at work the other day because the weather man said it would be 70 degrees. It was nowhere near his predicted temperature and as I looked at the clouds out the office window I swear I could hear Grace’s coat growing in the distance.

While I am sad to see summer go, I look to fall with a great deal of anticipation. I have a long list of things to look forward to. I start a creative writing class this Wednesday; I desperately need the classroom setting to help make my writing a priority. Group lessons with Sarah start next Saturday; we are going to work on different patterns each lesson. I love learning in a group as I always get more out of watching another rider go thought the process of accomplishing a new exercise. Our winter show series start this month in Spanaway our winter home away from home. Sarah and I have often joked about how it is always 20 degrees colder at the show grounds than anywhere else in the state. No matter the weather, we always have a good time at those shows. We are hiring one more person for our team at work. This should allow me to go back to 8 hour days and if I continue to arrive at the office at 6:00am I could be home in time to ride in daylight all winter long. This weekend the wet weather we are known for here in the Pacific Northwest returns. As I trade out my favorite tank tops for long sleeves I am determined to bring with me the joy I experienced this summer while basking in the sun. Please remind me of this on or around December 21st when I am miserably whining about the cold, dark, wet days.