Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Online Learning with Amelia Newcomb

I've been following Amelia Newcomb, a dressage rider in So. California, on social media for a while now.  She regularly puts out short, high quality videos generally each addressing a specific riding issue.  She has helpful exercises, and what I particularly like is she generally shows common "wrong ways" people do something and how to fix it.  She also has a few workout videos I've been doing, along with the "MadFit" workout videos on YouTube.

It was actually right before the current shutdown that she announced new Training Level and First Level courses, which unlike most of her content have a fee but also include a video review of you riding a test.  Since I have been enjoying her free content for a while I decided to support this - I figured even if it's not as helpful as I hoped I have learned a lot over the past few months and want her to continue making videos!  Plus at the time I was still planning on our First Level debut coming up so the First Level course was timely.  (Now I don't know when we'll show, and will probably do Training just because it's been a while, but hopefully it will still be this year!)

The course includes a demonstration of each First Level test in full, and then additional videos and some written material breaking down moves, discussing directives and expectations, and some general tips.  I'm not sure how I'll get a video to submit, but I'll figure it out.

Cupid has been feeling really good our last few rides.  I switched back to our Myler, but I feel like it's a bit easier getting him rounder in the single joint snaffle.  But even with the Myler it's getting more consistent, I've been getting fairly good energy out of Cupid (trying not to settle for less!), and our lengthenings are coming along.  Overall I'm feeling pretty good about where we are.  Since we're not having lessons currently we may not necessarily move forward much but are definitely focusing on improving what we've been doing.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Back to Nature

Right now being out in nature, away from crowds, is not only a prudent thing to do but helping me keep my sanity and emotions in check.  After a few drizzly days the weather has been beautiful, and I have been going for lots of walks, runs, and thankfully enjoying my horse.
Alternate title: Oh Deer! But let's focus on the positive 

Even though I'm a little disappointed my show plans are all on hold, I know I can't really complain about something so relatively insignificant.  In our rides I've mainly been focusing on improving the consistency of contact, trying to quiet my lower legs, and improving our working gaits while also playing with the lengthenings.

Outside of riding, I like to go for a run when I have a lot on my mind.  There is a nice paved trail along a reservoir just a few minutes from my house.

I listen to music while I run - mostly classic rock (like Queen, Led Zep, Bon Jovi, Foreigner) and country music from the 90s (Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, George Strait, Toby Keith, Brooks & Dunn).

Eucalyptus (I think)

I'm trying to pass on my love of nature and the outdoors to my son.  He doesn't know many words, but quickly learned "walk" and says it as he brings me his little shoes.  He also hands me mine.  I almost always drop whatever I'm doing when I see the happy hopeful look on his face and go for a walk.
That's our house on the right, we are lucky to have space to explore in our own backyard!

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Trail Trials Clinic with Carlena Kellogg

Yesterday Cupid and I took the opportunity to learn about the sport of trail trials, which is typically an about 5 mile trail ride where you are judged on about 10-12 obstacles which should be of the type you might naturally encounter on a trail ride.  Generally you go in groups of 4 (you can come with a group, or form one there), and take turns going through the obstacles.  There are 3 levels: novice, intermediate, and advanced, but your group can be mixed as the obstacles are in the same place for each group.  There are actually only 2 options for the obstacles, as the intermediate group does half novice obstacles and half advanced.  Generally you walk in between obstacles, and you are not judged.  You can unmount in between if you need to.  You can ride in either english or western tack, and you can be bitless.  You are required to carry a knife and hoofpick on your person (not in a saddle bag).  Most riders also bring water and snacks.

The first obstacle we worked on was a drag - dragging something tied to a rope.  We had, for increasing levels of difficulty: nylon bags with filling, a paper bag with a bell, tire slices, and a log.  Before trying a drag you want to make sure your horse is okay with ropes around him and touching his legs, which Cupid is fine with.  You can start by following someone else's drag, since sometimes then a horse is more curious instead of fearful.  Then lead your horse and hold the item in your other hand, off the ground.  Then hold the rope just long enough for it to touch the ground, then gradually let out the rope.  When leading you want to be in between the horse and the drag item, and always turn with the horse on the outside.

For Cupid and me, it went well when I was on Cupid's left side but not as good from the right - even though he's generally fine with me leading from the right.  Carlena's tips for me were to hold the rope further from the snap, and with some slack; and also to quit looking at Cupid.  (Which is a problem I have while riding too, always looking down at him!)  We ended up only doing this from the ground, but if you do it from the saddle you need to sit up straight and want to have your hand that you're holding the rope with resting on your thigh.

For a competition, you approach the judge and announce your level and rider number.  Then the judge reads the instructions for your level.  For the drag, and certain other obstacles like if you need to dismount and mount, you need to first show the judge (from the saddle) that you check your girth/cinch to make sure it's tight enough and if you have a breastcollar you check that too.  The instructions will tell you which side you need to drag the object and where to.  Then you drop the rope, thank the judge, and proceed (or wait for the rest of your group.)

The next thing we worked on was sending - which means asking the horse to move his feet without moving yours.  In a trail trial competition this is often tested by having a rock or stump you ride up to and dismount onto, then send the horse around the object, ask him to halt, and get back on - sometimes from the right side.  Unlike in dressage you are allowed to cluck or use voice commands.  You should not use the rope or extend your arm to the lead the horse.  Cupid and I have done some of this during our regular groundwork so it went pretty good - but when halting he usually turns in to me which won't really work if I need to remount.  Plus I am not really used to dismounting onto something and worry my aim might be off!

For competition purposes you need to secure your reins, and use your lead rope (horse wears halter under bridle) for sending.  Carlena was not sure how you secure your reins if riding English, so that is something I will need to look up if I do an actual competition.

Practicing sending
Next we ventured out to the obstacle course, which was pretty cool.  There were a lot of log configurations, like a sundial, alternating raised poles, and singles or parallel.  There were a few bridges and wood boxes, and I think I saw a see-saw but we didn't check that out.  For a competition you always want to step over a pole, no jumping.  Cupid was good with the singles, but on some of the more complex designs he did occasionally duck out or jump over. 
Sending around a log
Playing at the obstacle course

I didn't stay for the after lunch portion, unfortunately, when they worked on backing and pulling - which is when an object on a rope is in front of you, and you back your horse either dragging the object or hoisting it up if it's on a pulley.  But I enjoyed continuing to build my partnership with Cupid, and also learning about a fun new sport we may try!

Updating to add some additional trail trial tips so I don't forget and if anyone else wants to learn.  Safety is a big consideration, and the rules are generally intended to promote safety.
- For the drag, you want any excess loop / end of your reins on the opposite side as the drag rope.
- Points are bad!  If you negotiate an obstacle correctly you get zero, any points are penalties.
- After the third refusal at an obstable you get the maximum 24 penalties for that obstacle, and then you move on to the next one.  A refusal includes stopping forward motion or backing up, unless that is in the instructions for the obstacle.
- You need to maintain "balance in the saddle" and can get penalties if you lean excessively while negotiating an obstacle (either a true loss of balance or for sloppily trying to execute, instead of properly lining up your horse with an additional step for instance)

Monday, March 9, 2020

Play Date at the Horse Park

Yesterday Cupid and his BFF had a play date at the horse park.  Since his buddy is bigger then him, we got to ride in his extra tall and wide straight load trailer.  Cupid loaded fine, and on the way home he even self loaded and unloaded :)
Sharing a hay bag, as BFFs do

We started out in one of the arenas, which had no jumps and just one other horse.  I let Cupid walk for several minutes on a longer rein, trying to get him to stretch, then taking up contact.  We started trotting on a circle and once he seemed settled around the arena, with lots of circles thrown in.  Cupid had a little spook, I think from a horse walking by below, but was able to refocus quickly.  We cantered a bit both directions on a circle, then ended our arena work with Cupid relaxing into a nice stretchy trot. 

Would rather stop and eat
Once on the XC field we trotted around and through a water complex, and jumped a tiny vertical stadium jump set by it.  I was pretty conservative - when my friend asked if I wanted to trot or canter in the open areas I told her if it's okay I would rather walk, and pick a few places with a larger clearing where we can do a bit more.  Cupid probably would have been fine... but I'm a chicken.  We did hop a few logs, and canter a bit where we had room to circle.  Cupid was fairly good when his buddy cantered off a bit.  He was anxious for a moment, but then realized there is grass everywhere and got distracted trying to eat.

We also tried a few of the trail obstacles, and Cupid was surprisingly not into it.  He wanted nothing to do with the bridge, and was not great with the gate.  ??  Hopefully he will be better if we go to the trail trial clinic at the end of the month!
What a view!  If only all that land was open for riding.
Despite chickening out a bit and Cupid being uncooperative with the obstacles, it was a fun day and I'm glad we went.  I still find myself getting a little tense and riding up his neck, which I need to continue working on.  But the more I do it at home the more it becomes a habit and it's already better then it used to be.  Hopefully we go again before too long, and can both be a little more comfortable and confident and try a bit more!

Friday, March 6, 2020

Tune Up

It's been a year since my trainer rode Cupid, so I thought it would be helpful for our continued progress to have her get on him so she can help me ride him better. She is a lovely quiet rider, as much as I was trying to observe I didn't see her doing much.  It certainly didn't look like she had to take a strong hold, just remain steady and consistent.  She also commented that Cupid was more forward then she expected, though he does tend to be in the outdoor.  But she said the he tried to break from the canter, and recommended we canter longer sets to increase his fitness as well as earlier in the ride to help loosen him up.

He was still suspicious of the chair and blocks and things around the arena - though she did a good job keeping him straight.  He got a little tense midway through the ride, she recommended just staying consistent (don't let him change my position or posting) and lots of circles until he relaxes.  Watch his ears until they return to you.  I mentioned maybe trying some fleece padding on his bridle, mild blinkers, to see if that helps him focus.  Of course he'll need to be able to focus at a show without it, but I'm curious to see if it helps.
In addition to being a much better rider, she is also much taller then me!
I forget what we worked on in my own lesson, but I remember being really pleased afterwards.  At that point I was still optimistic I would be moved up from the waitlist of a show this weekend, but unfortunately it didn't work out that way.  But we have a fun back up plan of going to our local horse park instead.  We're going to play it by ear how much we'll do once we're there, but we did a few jumps today just in case!  We did a little course with 2'6" verticals, which is the upper end of what we've jumped lately.  We did a semi-skinny, and a one stride combo and Cupid was super!  Hopefully we are both relaxed at the horse park and can do a little more jumping there!
Semi-skinny, with blocks underneath
One stride combo

Tuesday, February 25, 2020


Good thing Cupid and I have been improving responsiveness off the leg, because in our lesson today we worked towards medium gaits. 

The exercise was to trot a 10 meter circle in the corner, sitting and with a bit of shoulder fore feel, then come out of it into a medium trot halfway down the long side, before collecting into another circle.  Then we did a few from the small circle into a short diagonal.

The good news is the small circles felt pretty good.  I think down the line collections are going to be easier then extensions for Cupid and me, he's just a compact little horse with a low set neck and his natural way of going is more daisy cutter.  But I have a bad habit of shoving my hands forward when I want Cupid to move out, which is so counterproductive!  I've been holding the girth loop on my saddle pad with my outside hand to help keep it in place.

We're not at true mediums yet, and I do lose the roundness sometimes but the last few felt like progress.

In the canter we just worked on lengthening and shortening on a 20 meter circle, then around the arena lengthening on the long sides.  The working canter feels super, but I wasn't feeling enough difference in the lengthenings.  Part of the problem is that my hips are a bit locked. 

I was really happy at the end when we went to do some stretching trot to feel that not only was Cupid stretching his neck down (which at home he is always happy to do), but he was really pushing from behind and stepping under himself.  He felt both powerful and light at the same time!  So we must have been doing something right during the rest of the ride!

Monday, February 24, 2020

Work hard, play harder

We had a few rides that felt a bit sluggish.  It was taking a long time, like half an hour, before we were getting somewhat round, and even then Cupid was a bit behind the leg.  So I reminded myself to set my intentions and ride correctly from the start (yes we need to warm up, but that doesn't mean drift around on a long rein) and work on lots of transitions to sharpen up.  There was an immediate improvement :)  I just need to stay on top of it and make sure neither of us are getting lazy.

Our good weather had been continuing so yesterday Cupid and I went on a lovely trail ride at Huddart Park.  We saw more hikers then usual, everyone was taking advantage of the spring-like conditions.  Horses are not uncommon at this park and people tend to be very respectful passing, and generally seem happy to see us.  I always say hello, and thank you if people stand aside on the narrow trials to maintain this good relationship so we can all enjoy the nature.

So lucky we get to enjoy the beautiful redwood forests!
My friend's mare was in heat and trying desperately to get Cupid's attention, but he could care less.  Midway through we switched so Cupid was in front.  He is still a teeny bit more hesitant in front, but it's gotten almost imperceptible.  For the most part I did just let him walk on a loose rein, we can still take a break and relax once in a while as long as he responds when I ask :)
Walking along the road to the trailhead
There is only a little bit of water in the creeks, and it's not really flowing.  Here's a video of one of several little bridges we crossed.

After we got back several boarders asked where we had gone and how it went.  One said that it must be nice to have a horse you can just go out and do fun stuff with.  I couldn't agree more!  I'm very lucky to have my lovely reliable horse, own truck and trailer so we can go wherever we want whenever we want, and to live in such a wonderful area where there are beautiful places to ride and lovely weather to do it almost year round. 

Relaxing in his Back on Track blanket after all that hard work