Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Baby Steps

The much-welcomed break from winter was short lived, and the wind and rain has returned.  To make matters worse, I'm in a busy period at work, so most of my rides have been somewhat short.  So I just pick one or two things to work on each ride, and this week it's been very basic things to fix some holes.

I like to start with 10 minutes of walking, then sometimes I only get on trot set in before I have to cool down and wrap up.  So I'm making sure, even if we're walking on a longer rein that Cupid is moving out, and responding to my leg if I ask.  As I worked on in my last lesson, I ask lightly and if no response tap-tap with the whip. Cupid is not totally convinced I mean it, but it's been improving!  I feel kind of silly that we haven't nailed down something this basic by now.

We also practiced our halts.  Cupid still has a tendency to swing his haunches right after we halt, and even though I'm trying to keep my leg on I'm not being very effective.

In our shoulder ins and leg yields we've been making sure we aren't overbending through the neck.  A recent lesson in in-hand work with my trainer was very helpful in visualizing a correct shoulder-in - I had always just focused on the front end of the horse and never really thought about the hind legs crossing.  Again, silly I know!
Bundled up for a little visit
Also snuggly and warm in his rain sheet.
I also did a short lunge session this week.  The up transitions are not very prompt.  But I was happy to see that even just warming up, before I put the side reins on, Cupid was looking a bit rounder though still dumped on the forehand.  He naturally overtracks at the walk, but at the trot he has to be warmed up and then pushed to get him to track up.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Back on Track Gloves Review

I've long been a fan of Back on Track's horse products for Cupid.  He has a blanket, leg wraps, and several saddle pads from them.  Though I'm not sure how much they help, anecdotally they do seem to offer some benefits, and even if they don't actually do anything beyond their basic functions as a saddle pad or blanket they are good quality products that have been holding up very nicely. 

As I've mentioned before, I have a poor grip especially in my right hand.  Possibly from years of piano when I was young, I'm not sure, but my joints crack every time I make a fist, like it will crack 20 times in a row if I close my fingers.  I always ride in gloves anyways, so I figured why not try the Back on Track ones.  I got them a while back but the reviews had said they are warm so I didn't start using them until this winter.  And so far I've been quite happy with them! 

Same as with the horse products I can't say for sure if they do anything beyond function as gloves.  There is no magical improvement in my hands.  But what I will say is that before, in just regular winter gloves my hands were stiffer and hurt on the coldest days.  With these gloves on, even though they are a bit thinner, my hands just feel the same as on non-cold days.

I am happy with the grippy-ness of these gloves.  They are not bulky, and I don't have a problem doing up buckles with them on.  After a few months they are holding up very nicely, no loose stitching or visible wear.  (They are reinforced between the thumb and pointer finger, but not between the ring and pinky fingers.  Made of a synthetic material)
Obviously not the correct way to hold reins!
The only thing I don't like is they have built-in liners, and sometimes when I take the gloves off the liner separates from the outer layer, then it is kind of harder to put them on again.  But that's a pretty minor inconvenience.  Oh, and I can't really operate my phone's touchscreen with them on. 

Incidentally last time Cupid saw his body worker when she finished she commented that she forgot to bring her Back on Track gloves.  She said that after doing body work if she wears them her hands feel less tired that evening, whereas without them she has trouble. 

Overall I am quite happy with the quality for the price, and would rate these 4.5 stars out of 5.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Hitting the Trails

It's been four months since I've taken Cupid on a trail ride (or anywhere really), so I took advantage of a little break in the rain to head over to Huddart Park.  I wasn't sure if I should expect some regression since it's been so long, but it turned out I had no reason to worry!  Cupid loaded like a champ and was pretty much foot perfect throughout!  He was a bit giraffe-necked when I first got on but settled down quickly.  On the way to the trailhead we passed by a woodchipper surrounded by cones and he didn't bat an eye.  He was also surprisingly good about not trying to stop to eat grass.

We met up with our friend and her two horses and headed into the park.  The footing was surprisingly good, not muddy or rutted.  Since it was the first nice weekend in a while there were lots of people out, though we didn't see any other horses.  The creek had a good amount of water, Cupid stepped in without hesitation but then started playing a bit, pawing, so I thought I better get him moving! 
Crossing the creek
Cupid felt great during our rides the rest of the week.  Our lesson again was primarily focused on roundness.  Also a bit of back to the basics - Cupid was being a touch lazy so my trainer said put let on, then immediately tap-tap with the whip if I don't get the response I want (and don't settle for something that's not great, but hey I did get some sort of change).  My response time and coordination with the whip are still not great, but after a few times Cupid got the message. 

I went to the whip again when I felt Cupid about to break from the canter, just barely a tap which caused him to kick out, lol.  He's been feeling a lot more balanced going to the left, it feels almost as good as to the right.  My trainer had us doing a bit of counter-bending at the canter, to help keep us straighter. 

We ended with a bit of shoulder in to leg yield, then straighten and increase the trot.  I'm tentatively looking at a dressage show end of next month.  I was hoping to debut First level there since it's at our favorite venue and they won't have another one there until August, but I don't know if we'll be ready, right now we don't quite have the correct frame.  I'm thinking of doing Training level on Saturday, and enter both Training and First on Sunday and scratch one depending on how the previous day goes.  But I have a few weeks until entries are due to decide :)

Friday, February 15, 2019

Happy Birthday Cupid!!

It's hard to believe Cupid turned 8 today!  Time flies when you're having fun, and we sure have had some good times together!
Awaiting his grain with extra birthday treats!
I callously made Cupid work even though it was his birthday :p  We had a lesson.  He was surprisingly on the lazy side even though he stayed in his stall the day before due to the weather, and the wind was howling and rain beating on the roof during our ride.  He made me work for it a bit, but he felt really good!  I asked my trainer about the toe drag, and she said even just standing he is sinking almost hoof deep in the footing.  He still had the drag marks, but she said he was moving well, and again tracking up perfectly.

The main focus in our lessons continues to be improving the roundness.  We do a lot of shoulder-in to help with that.  My trainer still tells me pretty constantly to shorten my reins, but I'm getting better about it and starting to develop a feel.  We also did a bit of leg-yielding.  The first one off the left leg was sticky, as is often the case, but was good after a little tap with the whip.

I also had to utilize the whip a little in the canter work, as Cupid broke once cantering on the left.  We had a decent transition into it on a 20 meter circle, went all the way around the arena with a slight outside bend on the long sides, but then coming out of corner starting the second lap we hit a slightly deeper patch of footing which is where he broke.  So, as my trainer had suggested, I tapped him with the whip to remind him that is not what we want, put him back on a circle and picked up the canter again and completed the second lap.  Overall the left lead canter is feeling better balanced, though the transitions into and out of it are still not quite as smooth as to the right. 

I'm optimistically hoping we get a break from the rain this weekend, in which case we are going to go on a trail ride!

Monday, February 11, 2019

Good Lines and Bad

I generally ride in the morning before work, and usually have the arena to myself.  An additional benefit is they drag early morning, so I can see our tracks which is very helpful in checking straightness or geometry.  Of course by the end of our ride it is kind of hard to tell!

Here are some things I noticed in our ride today.  Our small circles are tighter going left (which is the right circle in the picture). 
Small circles - the tighter one on the right was actually on the left rein
On a 20 meter circle at the trot I was happy to see only two hoof prints, indicating that Cupid was tracking up exactly.  However the lines indicate a bit of toe drag.  The arena was deep dragged last week so may have been a little deeper.
I haven't jumped in a while but took advantage of the low crossrails set up.  I felt a bit rusty and was throwing myself on Cupid's neck a bit, but he was being good.  I was pretty happy with his trot changes between the jumps.  What I really need to do it put up cones before/after the jumps so I come in straight and complete the lines.  Here's one fence I really goofed, you can see the bad turn to the fence and then being very offcenter, which got even worse after landing.
Bad approach...
...leads to landing crooked
We were straighter into this jump, but did waver a bit on the landing side.
Better but still not straight
By the end of our ride the tracks are no longer discernible!

In other news Cupid is starting to shed.  This is the first year he wasn't clipped, so it should be extra fun.  :)

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Quarter Sheet Weather

It's mainly been in the mid to upper 40s at the barn when I go in the morning.  Last night we got a bit of a cold snap, and it was in the mid 30s with a light dusting of snow on the ground!  Cupid didn't seem to notice. 

I thought he might be a little stiff in the cold, but he actually felt quite good.  We kept it fairly easy but had a nice ride.  A long warm up including plenty of serpentines working on changing the bend, then practiced some transitions.  We ended with a bit of light collection.  Then I left his Back on Track sheet on under his turnout blanket, and ran for the heater in my car!

Monday, February 4, 2019

What We've Been Doing

The weather has been rainy, windy, and just yucky all around.  I know I shouldn't complain because most of the country has it a lot worst, but I still hate winter.  But I am lucky to have a covered arena, and a lovely horse who behaves even when the wind is howling and the rain beating on the metal roof, so we are still making our slow and steady progress.  We haven't had any major developments, so here are the highlights from our recent rides:

-Improving contact: I'm finally getting more comfortable with a more steady feel of the reins.  Unfortunately I have some hand problems so physically it's still hard for me to keep my hands closed on the reins and I have to re-shorten my reins frequently.  In my lessons I do a bit of work with my inside hand very low to establish the contact - which feels a bit awkward and I have to work extra hard to keep the outside rein steady but it seems to help both Cupid and I get the concept.

In our lessons we've been starting out (after warming up) with small circles, at the walk about 5 meters, getting Cupid to cross his hind legs.  This also helps me mentally to make sure he is going forward enough in the walk (which we've been better at recently since I'm making it a priority).

-Transitions: We still have a lot of room for improvement in making our transitions more prompt.  I let Cupid get behind the leg sometimes so that's a big focus.  We're working on trot-halt-trot which we'll need to do for First level - it's not quite there.  And between trot and canter: the up transitions are not prompt (several steps between when I ask and finally get the canter), and sometimes results in Cupid's nose in the air.  But on the bright side he has been picking up his left leads most of the time.  He does still seem to get tired and struggle a bit more after a few transitions or canter laps, so we'll have to work on the stamina.  But our last lesson we focused on the down transitions canter to trot, which had always been too abrupt, and I'm really happy with the progress we made there.  My trainer told me to half halt and think / get the feeling of leg yielding out (without actually making the movement) into the transitions and that seems to help.

We've also been doing transitions within the gaits, working and medium and playing with a bit more shortening and lengthening (working towards collected and extended though obviously not there yet).  We use the shoulder-in a lot in conjunction with the shortening.

Since I didn't have any other recent pictures, I took a few in his stall after a lesson.  Here is Cupid in all his hairy, sweaty, feral looking winter glory.
Fuzzy, sweaty, feral looking