Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Laws will come back in November/December if enough people commit to the clinic. To get on the emailing list, contact Kelley Kays Everett at

The Straight and Tall (and Skinny!)

Today was what we all wait for, anticipate, and love: Cross Country!

If I haven’t said it before, let me say that Falconwood is a super spot. Easy to get to, a lovely grass arena, a sound sand dressage arena, nice stalls, etc., and four separate fields of XC jumps from BN to P, all made with real care and skill. WOW! Kelley and J have built a wonderful facility, and they are kind to share it with us.

Each group warmed up on the flat, and then Leslie had us start over an easy log, just to get our blood going/feel what we feel, critiquing our form and our pace. Then we got into galloping position, allowing our body to come back with our shoulders straight before the jumps. He referred a LOT to yesterday’s lesson: “Think about your horse’s stride! Count before the fence so you can get that feel again!”

It had rained the previous evening, and the morning grass was pretty damp—and more than one horse in the first Training group to go slipped. I was concerned; PC slipped a bit yesterday in SJ when it started to rain, and I didn’t want to stress him (plus every time he slips now I’m thinking EPM??). Perhaps it’s finally time to get studs!

One of the questions that both Training and Prelim groups did was an open ascending logs, a quick turn, and two-three strides to a solid ascending wall. Leslie stressed the importance of setting the horse up before the fence. You need to come at the first with some pace, but you can’t ride to the second jump before getting around the corner; he called it a “patience jump”.

Several riders didn’t approach the first obstacle with enough pace, but the horse was able to sort it out; other riders had pace, but if their horse backed off a wee bit before the jump, they tipped forward. When they fixed this and kept straight before the jump, horse and rider were in balance and looked lovely.

In competition, Leslie said, some horses will go MORE forward, and others will back off. Regardless of what happens with jump one, you quickly re-group, get the forward energy going again, and go on.

Next, riders had to put together water, tires, another ascending not-solid panel, and a corner. Leslie had us do the larger corner set with the widest part against a tree, because he thought it was easier. He cautioned that we needed to approach it with forward energy, and straight. If it’s not a perfect approach, the rider needs to be quiet, tall, and stable; if you tip before the fence, you’ll drop the horse’s front end, and your jump will be less than balanced.

I got to see that happen…and, when it was my turn, I got to FEEL it (in the previous group of fences). It’s SO important to watch others go, because then you have an image for what you felt. AND, in my case, I knew it could be corrected, so I DID correct it!

I have to say that, when it came to my turn, I was pretty nervous. After all, even though this was a “safe” corner, we’d never done one before! I needn’t have worried; PC rocked, mostly because I sat up and kept my leg on!

“When approaching a jump like this, where you need controlled pace, you need to move your ankles up and down, giving little spur taps, massaging your horse’s side—and yet you still need to keep him in your reins. That way, you’re telling him to go forward, but in a controlled manner: Here you go—wait—here you go—wait—here you go…..”

The riders moved to a pair of “related distance” coops. They were set a strong four strides apart, and Leslie told the riders he WANTED four—and if a rider got five strides, he made them come back and do it again. It was a great example of the rider knowing her horse’s pace, and being able to regulate it.

If we tip our bodies before the jump, Leslie reminded us, we’ll be out of balance…and we DON’T want to jump out of balance! We ride the rhythm, we ride the horse. He referred to the exercise from yesterday where riders had to look at the jump at the other end of a 20 meter circle while jumping the one in front of them. If we don’t look at the jump but instead ride the rhythm, we’re less likely to jump ahead, and more likely to let the jump come to us. As I watched the riders, I thought of the fence coming to them, but they were also waiting for the fence. Interesting to switch the “agency”!

We moved on to some pretty big trakehners, and several of the riders noted that they’d had trouble with them before. Leslie stated that these are the only fences he’ll come to “poll high and head out”. “You need more pace, more ‘forward’ here; the fence will back the horse off, and he’ll come back to you, so you have to be ready for that.”

As Nick Larkin said, this type of fence is its own half-halt! I love that what one clinician says is starting to resonate with what others have said (or things I’ve read). In rhetoric, when a text harkens to another, we call it “intertextuality”. Perhaps this is “interclinicality”….or “intertrainerality”!

He started the Training and Prelim groups out with the smaller N/T trakehner. Most of the horses didn’t have any trouble with it, so he moved most of them to the Prelim trakehner. It didn’t SEEM that much bigger, but it did have a bigger ditch underneath, and I guess the horses saw it right before/during take off….and that certainly backed a few off!

We had a good run at the smaller trakehner, so we tried it. I came in with a lot of pace, but PC backed off…and then jumped it VERY big. I was all over the place! The second time, he was super, and he was so excited he ran off. She-Law Lesley (who was a really great cheerleader, btw—thank you!) suggested I put my hands up when he pulls down, taking the bit. I’ll try that next time. My little arthritic hands are having trouble holding PC when he gets his blood up!

He encouraged a couple riders to give their horse a tap behind the saddle right at take off (which means the reins must be in one hand). If the horse is really backed off, he might need to do it before the base of the jump. It certainly worked for the riders who tried it!

A few of the horses were SO forward that he encouraged them to ride a bit more controlled; they weren’t going to be backed off by the fence, and they needed to be reminded that the rider would give them a safe pace to go at rather than winding the rubber band so tight it’s not good before a jump. When slowing them, Leslie intoned, you first use your body (slowing your body down, half halting, etc.), and THEN your hands. ALWAYS in that order.

Leslie had riders next go through a narrow water to a skinny. He encouraged them NOT to go too fast before the skinny or they’d “blow out” of it…and he conceded that the water would slow them down some. But it didn’t surprise me that the riders who had trouble initially were the ones who cantered in, tipped forward, then their unbalanced horse said “no way!”

The riders who trotted in all did fine. Leslie put together some make-shift wings (note to self: in a pinch flags can be wings!), and eventually, all the horses did the skinny...including dear old PC! A skinny AND a corner! Woo, hoo!

The T and P groups before ours got to finish on a pair of slightly off set corners, one which was bumped against a tree, and one which stood on its own. Once again, he encouraged riders to be looking at the second jump, allowing the first jump to fold their bodies, so they could be prepared for the second one only two strides out. “Stay out of the way of the horse, and he’ll jump!” Leslie encouraged. By knowing the length of your horse’s stride, Leslie taught, referring to the exercises from the previous day, a tricky combination like this one will be easier, because you’ll be able to come into it with the proper pace to create the proper stride.

We asked Leslie about the tension in the sport now in terms of how much the rider should “tell” the horse what to do, and how much the horse should be left alone to “sort things out” on his own. Leslie falls in the middle of these two poles. Early on, riders with little experience need the horse to do more work. The horse NEEDS to be able to sort things out, because the rider doesn’t have the experience to do it as well—and, in fact, a beginning rider might actually interfere with a horse by trying to direct it. Of course, this beginning rider is doing beginning jumps, so none of them will be too difficult to “sort out”.

However, as the rider progresses, she needs to be able to take on more responsibility—but that doesn’t mean it’s a dictatorship. The horse needs to be a part of the partnership for the partnership to work. If the horse blows through the bridle, then the partnership is lost. Similarly, if you are too controlling, the partnership ceases to work. Every horse is different, but every horse deserves a balanced, working partnership. Greg Best calls this “riding on the edge of control” (thanks to Heidi for that!).

It started to rain during the last group (mine, alas!), so not only was our session a bit short, but the planned “cowboy night” was a bust. However, Kelley and J called a local place, The Crawfish Hole, and we all went out there and had several pounds each of boiled “purged” crawfish. MMMMMM!

All in all, it was an amazing clinic (with some pretty impressive perqs, like working with TWO Olympians, sampling some excellent local cuisine, riding on the beach, and so forth). I’ll definitely be back again! Thanks to Kelley, J, and both Leslie and Lesley!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Coming to the Aid(s)

I missed the first group-and-a-half this morning (training and prelim) because I had a lesson with the “she-Law”, Lesley Grant Law, who was recovering from a nasty accident, operating from a four wheel vehicle and crutches. I didn’t know much about her other than she is a formidable, talented competitor..but I was here to learn.

I started out the lesson feeling intimidated. Lesley didn’t say much at first, so I kept thinking “I must be really bad!”. Funny thing, though, because one of the first things she DID say to me was “you shouldn’t be so worried—I’ve seen a lot worse riders than you! You guys are really quite good!”. I guess I needed some encouragement, and that was just what I needed to hear. I told her I was having trouble with the “be straight, engage the core, but be soft” thing, and she talked about how the best riders NEVER look like they have a rod up their..behinds…, but instead look soft, straight, and supple. THAT’S what I want to look like!

But how?

“Think about your spine being straight,” Lesley said, “your shoulders down, supported ribcage, but the rest jelly.”

I’ve heard that before, but I guess in conjunction with the image of the spine and supported ribcage, I got a better picture for me….which, in turn, became a better feel. She encouraged me not to lean back (ha! I lean back because I used to lean too far forward!), and to make my elbows very fluid. She doesn’t like to see people rise too much at the trot (from their feet)…so I tried to get that feel.

She had me trot, then collect WITHOUT USING THE REINS (just tightening and slowing my posting), and then allowing him to extend. “He should WANT to extend!” Lesley commented. I needed to think “up” with my body as I collected. When I did it right, he did! It felt really good to have that power under me, that I didn’t have to work that hard to get. Key thing for me to remember: If I’m working too hard, it’s not good. Good stuff takes work, planning, but not “hard” work. Soft and subtle work. I recalled Rebecca’s “milking the cow” reference, and it made me “feel” what a soft squeeze of the rein felt like.

I had some trouble with the collected trot until she said that collection takes more leg. Duh. I was thinking “slow down” and I should be thinking “push up”. When I re-framed it like that, PC was great.

We did the same thing in the canter. We were working on grass in the field, so it was hard to “find” my 20 meter circle. But I did try what Rebecca said to so (look ½ way). I couldn’t tell if it worked on the grass, though!

I said I wanted some help with my sitting trot, too. I was told to post using my belly like a belly dancer—but then I was told DON’T break at the belly. I wasn’t sure what to do.

She had me sit for ½ circle then post for ½ circle, and she noticed that my legs were creeping up (uh, yeah, I still do that, Chris and Bobo and Whit….sorry). She tried to get me to relax them, and I really had a hard time. I took them out of the stirrups, but still gripped. Then I tried relaxing them in parts, and suddenly, my ankles were loose and my legs (w/ feet in the stirrups) were, too….but the difference I felt was this: before, I tried to relax my legs so that they’d bob up and down in the stirrups. But when I was really relaxed, they bobbed side to side, against the horse. I’m not sure if I’m describing that right, but I “felt” it.

I talked with Lesley about “feel”, and she said that the sports psychologist that worked w/ the Canadian team said that we do what we do because we love it…we feel good doing it. So what he suggested was that we try to capture the moment BEFORE we did something really well—before we got that “feel”. We capture the moment before, the one that precipitated the feel, because most athletes, when asked “what were you thinking when you did X”? will say: “nothing”. They were “in the moment”, in the zone. If we can remember what went on that got us there, that will help us get there again.

One of the auditors, Heidi Ziemer, a former professor at Rice University, was taking notes (really good ones!) during the clinic, so I asked if I could borrow hers. She graciously agreed, so what follows is some of my recollections/notes, and a lot of her information. Collaboration is a GOOD thing.

The “he-Law” started the stadium sessions out with a lot of flat work. In the walk and trot, he had riders do shoulder-in and haunches-in along ¼ of the arena. I was a little taken aback—we have practiced some, but not much, because we don’t need it. But Leslie insisted that horses need to learn to accept the leg and be soft in the bridle, and this type of work encourages that.

Even though we might have a tight rein, we need to have a relaxed arm. If I take nothing else from this clinic, the “supple arm” is one that I have SEEN and FELT make a difference.

The MOMENT we get on a horse, we should be thinking “position!” The rider needs to stay over her leg when doing these movements, staying WITH the horse. Behing the horse hollows the horse’s back; ahead puts it on the forehand and unbalanced. When the rider is in balance (weight in heel, lower leg at girth, tush middle of the saddle) then the horse is happy, because the rider isn’t nagging.

When I did this exercise, there was a jump in the middle of where we were supposed to be doing shoulder/haunches-in….and it messed me up. But I think that was part of his plan; I had to be able to think about what I was doing w/o being freaked out by outside influences.

Legs need to be on/relax/on/relax. Too much is nagging; continual pressure eventually means nothing.

Once they’d done the lateral movement, he had them try counter-canter. The rider needed to stay in position to help the horse stay in balance; that is, outside leg back became inside leg back, and inside leg at the girth became outside leg at the girth. The inside bend needs to stay the same, and become a counter-flex. If the horse breaks, simply stop and start again on the lead you were on. I got one circle of counter-canter to the left, but he broke every time I tried it to the right. More homework!

Leslie set up two low verticals parallel to each other on a 20 meter circle, and as the rider jumped one, he was to look at the other one. Each rider was to count strides to reinforce rhythm. By concentrating on the rhythm and looking at the other jump, the horse and rider were in MUCH better position; they stayed together!

The rhythm will get you there in stride, Leslie insisted: “Most people try to ‘send’ their horses with the body, instead of riding the rhythm.” Sounds a LOT like my hero, Jimmy Wofford.

Here’s a quote I like a lot: “You know how I learned most of my riding? WATCHING. Watch and learn. Don’t wait for someone to tell you.” Being a huge believer in the Greek arts of imitatio and mimesis, I add a hearty “Amen!”.

By counting strides at home, you become aware of how your horse goes, and you “know” his stride. It also releases tension; if you count calmly, your horse is likely to GO calmly. Counting strides also takes the “luck” out of it.

Leslie then set out two verticals in a related distance. He had riders do the line in six strides, then seven. “You need to control your horse’s stride,” Leslie noted “without being a dictator.” You set the strides up BEFORE the first fence by choosing the pace. Try for level strides, all the same length, for a balanced ride. Wait for the jump! Don’t be too eager to “get the jump done”!

A good rider can shorten and lengthen the horse’s stride.

Never take the long spot, Leslie warned. It encourages a flatter jump. If you can get your horse to the base, the horse will jump rounder and safer.

The riders finished with a grid of four bounces to a three stride vertical. THIS is where the rider’s balance was challenged! He had the more advanced riders practice an automatic release over these jumps. In the automatic release (or “following hand”), the rider follows the contact over the jump, with the arms operating independently of the seat. The crest release, invented by George Morris to help beginners with their balance over jumps, has become an end, rather than a means to an end, said Leslie. When the rider becomes balanced enough, she should begin practicing the automatic release to help her horse with his balance and to prepare earlier for the next jump.

Kelley and crew set up a fun “show” and dinner at Alligator Park just down the road. Fun stuff! We got to hold baby alligators, touch crocodiles and caymen and a GIANT Python, and even play with a hedgehog. Then we got to see “Big Al”, the largest alligator in TX, and the second largest (whose name I forgot) do a mating call/dance. Dinner was fun, too, because I got to pick the brains of the Laws. 

Monday, June 1, 2009

Contra-Dressage and a Happy Coincidence

Because of how impressed I was with J and Kelley’s lesson with Brooke Cramton, I decided to take a lesson with her Monday (since both Laws were full). That way, I’d have a private dressage lesson, then be able to process it while I watched the Laws teach private dressage lesson. A day of dressage!

Of course, this was after I took Joyce and boys to the local airport….and wrong way Rickly took the wrong exit initially. But we eventually found it via the back way, and they got off just fine.

The lesson with Brooke was just as good as I had hoped. She started out watching me warm up, and soon began commenting: straighten up! Don’t look down!

She asked what type of comments we got in our dressage: needs more impulsion; loses energy in trot; behind the vertical; needs to push into the bridle. Watching me, she said she thought I was fiddling too much with his head and not enough “push” from behind. I end up “fixing” his head/neck, but NOT his impulstion. I realized that part of the reason I was looking down is to see his neck/my hands (and their effect on his neck). I need to look UP and over his ears, NOT even at his neck/my hands. As Brooke said: “you don’t need to look at his head! You’ll be the first to know if it falls off!”

What was amazing to me is that I was less “hands-y” and more consistent when I DIDN’T look at my hands. Go figure! If I keep my hands still, and push into them, using my inside leg, I’ll get better gaits. She was also concerned that I had to work so hard, and made me get a whip (I’m not very coordinated, so I don’t like to work w/ a whip…but I know that I can only get coordinated by working with a whip. Sigh). She told me to ask for trot/lengthening with my inside leg, and if he didn’t respond immediately, touch him with the whip. I did, and he really did “wake up”. Which then left me behind! So I need to ask but be READY for the change I just asked for (and that goes for transitions, stops, and so forth). There’s that dang “planning ahead” thing that keeps cropping up more and more for me.

At our last dressage test, I got rigid, and he got hollow. How, I asked, can I engage my “core” and still be soft? (someday I’m going to write up a post about dressage being nothing but contradictions: Bend and push to be supple; use your core to be soft; push to be light; plan ahead but ride in the moment; and so forth. How the heck does ANYONE master this crazy sport?!?). Brooke realized right away that I was doing too much (um, I’m the one who tries to do it all for the horse: “here, let ME jump that for you by jumping ahead! Let ME lift you up with my mighty core…” etc.), and that “core” didn’t mean “perpetually engaged like someone was going to hit you in the stomach”. Instead, she said, think “toned”. Lift the ribcage, but think light and relaxed. Riding is fun!

She noted that I was holding my arms away from my body and riding with very wide hands. I remember when I started doing that: I’m a huge believer in the fine art of imitation, or imitation, and I watched Kim Severson ride Dan that way my first Rolex….and win! I figured if I rode that way, maybe I’d get better….but I’m guessing she had a good reason to….and I’m not getting the same result, and now it’s become a nasty habit. Brooke had me actually hold my outside hand so that the thumbs weren’t just up, but actually angled away from the horse’s neck, and even a bit lower than the inside hand. THAT was hard, but it really made me aware of where my elbows were.

She had me work on the changing bend in the two loop serpentine in the trot, and her suggestion was for me to think of my bend NOT just as I was coming to it, but half a circle away. That took some getting used to, and I actually started the bend early—but it worked.

I came back from lunch in time to watch the end of the first dressage lesson with the “he-Law”, Leslie. He had gotten on a very nice but stiff and un-engaged dressage horse, and he was using lateral work to push the horse into connection. My first thought upon seeing him was “he’s not perfectly straight!”. But BOY, was he relaxed and supple on the horse….and BOY was the horse getting better as he rode it!

I sat down next to someone I didn’t know, and as is my MO, I chatted with her briefly. She commented on the next rider who requested a whip: “first thing I’d do for her is to put some spurs on her before I gave her that whip”. The next breath, I caught the tail end of what Leslie was telling the rider: “people do more damage with whips than spurs”. Hmmm, I thought.

Once again, he had the rider work on lateral work (lots of leg yields, some bending and counter bending) into submission and connection. I asked the woman next to me what he was doing, and she explained that If you get the hind end engaged and the front end supple, you’ll be able to bend both ways, and this horse was stiff. I marveled at how she seemed to know just what was going on, and she smiled and introduced herself: Rebecca Algar, who was Leslie’s Pony Club instructor back in England (Herefordshire)! She now lives outside Dallas and trains/shows cutting horses!

One of the riders was particularly tight/stiff, and so was the horse. They had real difficulty finding a consistent rhythm. Leslie tried to get him to soften his elbows, and find “strength in his fingers, not his arms”. When the rider relaxed his elbows, the rider got a much better gait/rhythm. Rebecca noted that he shouldn’t pull back so much, but just flex and give “like you’re milking a cow”. Now, as a former Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, I have milked cows by hand, and that image…that “feel” of muscle memory…really resonated for me. I’ve heard people say it’s like squeezing a sponge, and while I’ve cleaned, I’ve not really connected with that image/feel.

Rebecca suggested that riders who want to learn/maintain rhythm should ride to music, because riders and horses will both try to stay in the rhythm, follow the beat. Then it becomes second nature.

A couple of the riders rode with what my colleague calls “Puppy paws”—wrists turned inward. Rebecca noted that she hated that—and when I asked her how to stop doing that unconsciously, she said “ride with carpal tunnel braces!”

As I watched Leslie ride several other participants’ horses (and watched the riders, too), I began to realize how important “rubber”, following arms were. Rebecca reinforced the idea: “let the horse do the work—you need to follow”. This didn’t mean, however, that a rider’s hands simply followed “dumbly”. The rider is always keeping the horse in the contact, milking the reins to keep a bend, a connection, and so forth.

Several of the horses had trouble stopping square. Rebecca noted that US riders don’t spend any time working on their stops, and they tend to be bad. She said to ALWAYS fix legs at the stop, and then the horse does it naturally. You can rock to make a horse bring a front leg back, and tap to get a back leg. I need to work on that!

The riders weren’t doing a very good job finding a 20 meter circle, so Leslie placed cones so that riders had to go through them…and suddenly, they rode better! They were concentrating on making it through the cones, and they ended up not worrying so much about their horses…and their horses were then able to get into a rhythm. The circle kept them supple. Rebecca said that, to get a perfect circle, don’t look ¼ of the way ahead; look ½ the way ahead. I’m going to have to try that.

I have to say that several times each ride, Rebecca would say something to me (like “if that horse could get into a consistent rhythm, he’ll learn to be balanced. And then he’ll be easier to supple. And then he’ll be amazing”) and then five minutes later, Leslie would say almost the same thing. He obviously learned a lot from her!

It seems to me that riding dressage is like pulling a trailer. You have to think ahead (prepare for stops, turns, and so forth, and when you do those things, you have to do them appropriate for the size of the trailer/road/etc.). And you do it all in part for the vehicle, but mostly for the horse!

Leslie echoed Brooke from earlier in the day when he told one rider to “follow with your body when asking for a canter depart! Otherwise the horse is confused!”

Leslie chided a rider for not making the horse listen: “He’s got 23 hours a day to do what HE wants….for 45 minutes, he can darn well listen to me!” Rebecca laughed and said that he got that line from her!

He had a couple riders do a circle around a cone in the middle of the arena, making sure to keep an equal distance from the cone at all times. This suppling exercise really seemed to help some of the horses.

He told riders to “make a roof” with their thumbs….that is, they need to be up and pointed to the opposite ears of the horse, like a rooftop. Good image.

Sitting next to Leslie Law’s first Pony Club instructor and watching him teach was like getting a double clinic experience. I’m truly lucky to have picked that seat, and that Rebecca Algar found the ad for this clinic and opted to come. Bravo to her for doing such an excellent job with Leslie and, I’m sure, many, many other students.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Life's a Beach

Today was a lazy day to begin with; boys spent some time fishing in the great little pond behind the house (“little” is an understatement—it’s not “big” in TX terms, to be sure, but it sure ain’t little; it’s probably 10 acres), and we all cleaned our horses getting ready for our long-awaited “perq” that came with a clinic in Winnie, TX: a beach ride.

While it was a bit like herding cats to get everyone here, ready, loaded, and off, we eventually got everyone together and on our way. The boys were a bit miffed, however, that we had to “hurry up and wait”….as youngest told me “no offense, mom, but this isn’t a very fun day so far”. Perhaps the beach will help that!

We brought the horses saddled and bridled in the trailers—wise move, because the beach was hopping! Lots of beach goers and fishermen, and the horses were a bit “up” with all the activity combined with the new setting.

My friend Chris, who’s ridden on the beaches of Cyprus, warned me that horses don’t like the surf. She was right. Most of the horses didn’t know what to think of “the very, VERY large water complex” that moved!

Several of the horses boldly entered the water, only to run out when the breaking white waves scared them silly. Eventually, though, Kelley and J and her crew, whose horses were experienced, led the way, and we all got our horses at least into knee deep water and kept them there and/or moved laterally with the water. The white breaking surf still freaked many of them out—including dear PC—but he bore it like the good soul he is.

Trotting and cantering alongside the surf was MUCH more to his liking! My only complaint was that in my previous fantasies of galloping my horse on the beach, there weren’t nearly so many other beach goers or fisherman to weave around. Nonetheless, it was indeed a fantasy to be able to walk, trot, and canter/gallop alongside the breaking waves (and sometimes in the breaking waves). What a great experience. How many other clinics can compete with a beach ride!?!

After we put the horses away, several of us went out in the ocean sans horses, and it was glorious. Bathtub warm and soft, undulating waves….totally serene and therapeutic. The only bad part was that both of the boys got stung by jellyfish, and they weren’t so happy to be in the water anymore…so I ended up taking a walk with one to boost his spirits, cutting my own therapy short. Ah, well, I did get to live out a fantasy of riding on the beach…AND I’m ready for a lesson with Brooke tomorrow, and the arrival of the Laws! Several dressage rides tomorrow to watch, then the clinic begins Tuesday. Until then….

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Friends, Family, and Fun!

Saturday was glorious. PC was still upset about being alone, but we soon remedied that by getting him tacked up and going out with a group. J, Brooke, and Merideth all went out to school/ride in the morning before it got too hot. Let me say that Falconwood is an amazing place, worth the drive already! They have a top of the line grass jumping arena, a superb sand dressage arena, and four or five different pastures all with incredible, state-of-the-art cross country jumps from BN through P. WOW. I could live here!

We started out doing some flatwork in the SJ arena, doing some X rails and them some smaller jumps, and finally a grid. I was impressed with Brooke, who was on a Friesian cross who was doing LOVELY flying lead changes. Turns out she’d shown him Grand Prix dressage all last year, and he was learning to jump now. WOW. It was a total illustration of how flatwork really DID improve jumping; the horse was “up” and collected so that every fence was round and beautiful!

I had a blast jumping over the N and T jumps. PC actually stopped at a silly barn-like jump (N height, much like the ones at Greenwood he’s done 5+ times…!), but I made him jump it from a standstill. NOTE TO SELF: even if the jump looks familiar, don’t become a passenger! Squeeze with my legs to let him know I’m “with” him.

We did a T&P bank up and down, as well as some other fun jumps like a ditch and wall and a trakehner. The only other problem he had were with the drainage ditches scattered throughout the property (it used to be a rice farm!). He’d never seen such things: ditches with actual water running through them! He stopped then jumped several of them. Finally, I think he’s getting “over” the newness.

J’s horse Phillippa is gorgeous, but she wants to GO!

I got to watch Brooke school the gorgeous Friesian dressage stallion Rintse 386. WOW. What beautiful movement! She was quiet and effective on his back, being still and relaxed but definitely “pushing” him to go. They made a lovely picture. J jumped on to see what “real” dressage felt like….and he, too, looked good on the stallion. He wasn’t used to holding his hands still, allowing the horse’s impulsion to “rest” in his hands, but he did a good job. Brooke encouraged him to push him forward more, and NOT to “break” at his midsection following the sitting trot. That was something new to me; J tried it, and he had a hard time…but when he did it for even a few steps, he looked GOOD. Brooke said that if you broke, your core couldn’t lift the horse—you’re coming down to the horse, rather than asking the horse to come up to you. I think I “get” it cognitively, but I don’t think I have a clue what it feels like…so since the “he-Law” is full Monday for private lessons, I’m going to get a lesson with Brooke on Monday am. Let’s hope I can feel it enough to work on it at home.

The family flew in this afternoon, and we all went to the beach just a half hour down the road after a DQ lunch. The Gulf water was glorious, warm and inviting. We all walked out to a sandbar, then the boys began jumping the waves and frolicking in the water. Alas, though, our fun was cut short when Ellis was stung by a jellyfish. He had 10 or so stings on his leg—OUCH! We went to find some white vinegar which took care of his pain. I’m looking forward to going back with the family, AND to the beach ride tomorrow!

Thanks to J and Joyce (who make quite a team) who were able to fix the plug on my trailer (and to Kelley for finding/buying the plug!). Now the boys are staying in my trailer, and Joyce and I are in the Taj Mahal. Life is good.

Friday, May 29, 2009

It's Always Something

I’m terribly excited; I’m about to clinic with the Law family, Leslie Law and Lesley Grant Law—both Olympians, both amazing horsepeople. It’s a longer drive than usual—just over eleven hours—but if it’s like any of my other clinic experiences, it will be WELL worth it.

If you’ve read my clinic blogs before, you’ll know that something always happens on the way to or from clinics. It’s sort of like having horses: they are rarely all healthy, happy, and whole.

Luckily, this trip, while loooooong, was relatively uneventful. No blow outs. No gas emergencies. No mechanical or equine failures.

This time, it was when I arrived that the problems began.

I pulled into Faconwood, just outside Winnie, TX, at about 10:30 pm on Friday evening. I wanted to get there a couple days early so that both Paycheck and I could rest from the long haul and get used to the new surroundings. I hate to wake folks who might be early to bed types, so I didn’t call—but out came Kelley and J to greet me. We quickly got Paycheck situated (though as usual, he was upset about being in a new place and he wouldn’t eat/drink, though he DID roll…erasing the HOUR PLUS I worked getting him shiney and white before we left..sigh!), and then we pulled my LQ trailer over to where we could plug it in.


That is, we plugged it in, and got nothing. No current. No AC. In south TX. In the summer. Dang.

Long story short, it was the plug. Kelley and J graciously offered to let me us their LQ trailer, which had been plugged in, and was cool and inviting. WOW. I love my trailer, but it’s the dream house, while theirs is the Taj Mahal!

PC, however, didn’t have a good night. He was in a smallish pen so that he could stretch his legs, but he did nothing but sit and pine while he looked for other horses. He’s SUCH a herd animal! Let’s hope he has a neighbor soon!