Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Give and Take

 For my ride yesterday, Moe was extremely energetic and all go, acting as if she was half her age. When I walked her she wanted to trot, and when I was finally ready trot, she was ready to canter or just speed away, becoming all twisted and crooked when I tried to slow her down. She had so much go that Meghan had to get on her to slow her down and to show me how best to handle such a situation. My trainer usually doesn't get on and has done so only once before, when Chester was giving me some trouble. Nevertheless it was a good learning experience to watch my trainer ride.

 Rather than using pulling the reins every time Moe sped up or tried to canter, Meghan half halted with her seat and gently pulled the outside rein. Whenever Moe slowed down, Meghan rewarded her with softness, telling me to do the same. Riding has a lot to do with giving and taking, and it is essentially to learn when to do which to get the desired result.

Cantering for real now!

 I remounted, keeping all this advice in mind, and focused on keeping my hands soft and light while I rode Moe on a circle to the right, Meghan said I looked really good and soft when I first got on. Whenever Moe tried to take off, I held the outside rein, softening my connection when she responded by slowing down.

Here's the cute one.
Making funny faces while being groomed!

 After doing this for a bit. I asked for canter right on a circle. Moe picked up the left lead, strangely enough as she usually prefers the right left, so I did a simple change the pick up the correct lead. As I rode, I focused on sitting deep in the saddle, keeping my outside leg back, and half halting the outside rein to keep her at a comfortable pace.

 Even though I had to spend the entire lesson keeping Moe under control, it was a good learning experience, because after all, challenging horses teach you a lot. Not every horse I'll ever ride will be easy.
Rolling--right after I gave her a thorough grooming
She looks so cute laying down.
 After I gave Moe a thorough grooming because she was very sweaty, dirty, and hasn't been trimmed yet, Moe decided to roll, the first time I've seen her do so.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Great Ride on Moe!

 I had a great ride on Moe yesterday for my lesson. I was a lot more balanced and was gripping with my calf rather than my knee as I had found myself doing during my last lesson. Also, I was a lot more relaxed and so was Moe, though she was still just as speedy as usual.

I love this one!
 Throughout my lesson, I asked her come round and on the bit, working on that the entire lesson. I rode her around the dressage arena at the trot, changing directions several times and asking her to drop her head. When it came time to canter, I sat back, asked for the transition, and managed to get a left lead canter on a 20 meter circle. As I cantered, I held the outside rein to slow her down. The second time I cantered, she picked up the right lead rather than the left lead, so I made a diagonal and circled to the right on the other side of arena instead.

Toward the end of the lesson, I tried one of the new Training Level dressage tests, the 2015 Training Level Test 2. I gathered up my reins at A, then circled, gradually shortening the reins as I circled until Moe had lowered her head and relaxed. Then I went up centerline, Besides Moe not picking up the correct lead on the left lead canter part, the test when smoothly and seemed like one of the best tests I've done. Moe was relaxed and wasn't taking off. In fact she was going quite slow, probably because I had shortened the reins to get her to lower her head and become round.

 One of her best traits is her walk. She has an excellent, smooth walk, with her legs reaching forward and her hips swinging. If she went to a show, she'd likely get a ten for her walk---it's that nice.

The test went like this: Up centerline, X halt salute. C track right. At B 20 meter circle, at K across the diagonal, then canter between C and H. As I said this is where we had the problem of Moe not picking up the correct lead, so I returned to trot to try again. When she still didn't pick up the correct lead, Meghan said to go ahead and stay in counter-canter. I made a 20 meter circle at E, then before K returned to trot. I made a circle at A, then I free walked a loop from F to X to M, then trotted again, circled left at E, made a diagonal at H, cantered before M, circled at B, then returned to trot and turned up centerline.

  I had a great ride and test, and Meghan said that I had done great. It was a much more successful ride than last time, when I first rode after some time off.
This is what winter riding clothes looks like in California.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Interview with Dressage Rider Laura Hermanson

If have been following the dressage world lately, or have looked at my recent post on the topic, you probably heard about the mule, Dyna, and her owner Laura Hermanson competing in the U.S. Dressage Finals. The pair earned 67% in Training level. I have actually met Laura before; she's local and owns the tack store in town, so I decided to interview her for my blog. You can watch the video I embedded, or read the interview below if it doesn't work.

How did you get started in dressage?
Laura: I got started riding hunter jumpers and dressage as a child at the LA Equestrian Center at Foxfield Riding Academy down in southern California.

 How did you first become interested in riding and competing mules?
 Laura: I've ridden horses my whole life and I spent a summer packing mules up in Yosemite National Park, and that was when I was first introduced to mules, and they were fascinating. They were just so interesting to watch and to work with and so I thought, "This might be kind of interest to try and teach them dressage and to be ridden."

What made you decide to use a mule for dressage, rather than the more conventional warmbloods?
Laura:  I think it was 2004 when they allowed mules into the USDF I had some clients who had some mules and liked mules and wanted some to go do dressage. They said to start looking for some that had the qualities for dressage. It took a long time and I ended up finding two mules, CR Moxie J and BB Magee. In the mean time, I also had my own personal mule, who I had been training in dressage, and that was Dyna. I waited for a while with her. She was tricky minded, and when I felt that she was ready it was time to show her dressage as well.

What is your favorite thing about mules?
Laura: That's a tough question! There are so many wonderful things about mules, but the first thing that comes to mind is their ears. That is what sets them apart in a lot of ways from horses, because they really let you know how there're feeling through there ears. The best thing is that when you're riding a mule, you look down and see these giant radars. your hope is for the relaxation and when you get it when the mule's ears start flapping, then you know you're in a good place.

Could you tell me about your mules?
Laura: Right now I'm currently riding four mules. one. he's pretty much retired and only get's exercised for conditioning. He was my first mule, Stretch, who I used for jumping. Then I have Dyna, who has just competed at the Finals but who also competes in hunters, reining, cutting, and cow working. Then I have the two I mentioned, CR Moxie J who competed at First Level, who I have been working at Second and Third Level movements for hopefully next year; and BB Magee, who is also at First Level.

How did you meet Dyna and what made you want to do dressage with her?
Laura: I found Dyna after I had worked with Stretch in jumping. He was a thirteen year old pack mule when I started, so he was a bit of a challenge, and I thought, "I'd like to try to find something younger and try to train it to be a performance horse or mule. I started looking for good breeders and found the Heart B Ranch in Idaho and chose Dyna. I  was at a show in Nevada and saw Dyna and immediately knew that she was the one that was supposed to be in my life.

 Dressage is my background, my basics. Whatever discipline I train for with my horses and mules, dressage is the basis for it all.  She was mentally a tricky one and was very reactionary, spooky, difficult to get shown so I knew that it would take a while for her to mature before I was comfortable showing her at USDF rated shows. with horses. I just kept working on all of basics, trying to get good dressage basics in her, and when I felt she was mentally ready, which was this year, I went ahead and shoed her.

Training any equine for dressage can be difficult, but what are specific challenges you face when training a mule? 
Laura: Mules are tricky in the sense that you just have to have a lot of patience. Their very smart, so you have to be clever in the sense of not overdoing something. Once they understand something, it's time to move on. You don't want to reiterate things. But also you have to have a really good sense of humor, because their dads are donkeys, so every once in a while they have days when they decide they just don't want to do something and you need to be willing to not get frustrated, be able to laugh about it, and creatively find a way to work with what you want to do that day. 

Is riding and training them more difficult than riding and training horses?
Laura: In some aspects I think it is. I just think ti takes the right kind of personality. you have be someone that's not going to try to force something. You have to, like I said, have a great sense of humor, so in that sense I think they can be somewhat trickier, but at the same time there are a lot of tricky minded horses as well. I think just trying to get a good basis of good horsemanship helps with all equines.

What did qualifying for the U.S Dressage Finals include? 
Laura: Originally, I had to qualify for the state finals, which was the CDS since I live California, so I had to go for the state qualifying, which was five scores of 65% or higher. For the U.S. dressage Finals you first have to qualify for the regional finals, which as an Open Rider I had to have two scores of 68% or higher at the highest test of the level. So I qualified for those scores and went to the regional championships. From the regional championships, of the horses and mules that declare nomination for the U.S. Dresage Finals, they take the top two and one wild card. By placing I was actually originally on the long list, the alternate list, which was exciting. Then I got the email that said the other horses had decided not to go, so we had an invitation to the finals.

What was your best experience in Kentucky for the finals?
Laura: There were so many incredible experiences. I think the thing that was most exciting for me was meeting al, the other competitors. There was a real comradery. Sometimes I think dressage can be looked upon as an elitist sport or as a very solo sport, but it really is about the coaches, and the grooms, and the emotional support, and friends. I think that everyone who rides dressage recognizes how difficult it is, what a group effort it is to just even get those five minutes of showing accomplished. I think there was a real sense of comradery amongst all of the competitors and their help. I think everyone in my barn aisle cam and watched each other's classes. There was a real sense of meeting people from all over the United States who share the same passion as we all do for dressage.

What are your future plans for Dyna?
Laura: My future plans are to just continue. I hope to be a better rider and continue to learn from her. We're just going to keep on our track of improving and moving up the levels as far we're able to go. This trip really taught me how there is no impossible dream. This was the impossible dream for me to go to the Finals, and the fact that it happened showed that there are no limits. I feel like I'm just trying to stay open minded and to not set boundaries and see how far we can go.

Do you have any advice to give to young dressage riders?
Laura: I think the best advice I can give is to just keep at it. I hope that my story has helped inspire other riders to want to learn dressage. I want dressage riders to realize that no matter what horse you have, what breed it is, what stage of life your horse is, to just recognize that there is something to be learned from every animal you ride, whether it's a mule, a horse, and to just stick with it because there's lessons your going to learn from riding that animal that will carry you on and teach you invaluable life lessons as well.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

First Ride at the New Place!

  I finally had my first lesson since the end September. As you may recall, all the horses have been moved from Silver Rose after it was sold and now live at a place called Third Day Farms, a nice eventing facility. It's a beautiful place with nice white fencing surrounding each of the paddocks and arenas. The barn is a beautiful white with a green roof, and the stalls inside have small turnouts attached to them for the horses to be turned out. All the horses from Silver Rose seem to be near each other, in the paddocks behind the barn and next to the dressage arena.
The barn, which you face as you come in.
Turnout for the horses in the barn, which is to the left of the barn if you are facing the front.
Dressage arena, which you reach after you pass on the left side of the barn.

The round pen is in front of the barn.

the jumping arena is in front of and to the right of the barn,
 When I arrived, Meghan showed me where everything is. Moe is on the end right next to the dressage arena. Also nearby are two sheds, where the tack is stored. I grabbed Moe, tying her up next to the shed, not in the barn---everyone tacks up outside, right next to the tack shed. Fall is here, so Moe was looking quite fluffy. I was also using a new intercom that my trainer now uses in lessons. All her students now wear earphones during the lesson so she can talk directly to them rather than shouting across the arena.
The paddocks that are across from the jumping arena.
The paddocks where the lesson horses are. Just turn left when you reach the turn in the picture above, pass those paddocks and make one more left turn, and these are on the right.
The tack sheds, which are across from the paddocks pictured above.
 My riding wasn't the best; I had to spend the whole lesson reviewing basic things and getting used to riding after a month break(well I have been riding the pony but not very much). For some reason I had trouble putting my leg on Moe, gripping with my knees instead, stuggling for balance as I flopped around. I felt tense the entire time. As I rode around the arena and on circles and serpentines, I focused on using my calves, pushing Moe forward and balancing with me seat, not on the bit. Of course Moe was becoming tense and worried because of the way I was riding.
Fuzzy horse!

My position looks pretty nice here.

 Around halfway through the lesson, Meghan asked me if I was comfortable cantering. I said that I was, and made a 20 meter circle to the right. I took a deep breath, then asked for the canter. I had to ask a couple times because I was unbalanced. Once I was cantering I finally began to relax and focused on enjoying the canter, which really helped. I softened my hands and sat deep in the saddle. At one point I felt a strange change in her gait, realizing that Moe had done a flying lead change, either because she just wanted to or from conflicting aids, I'm not sure. Either way, it's cool I experienced my first flying change even if it was by accident.
My favorite from yesterday's lessons. It also looks the part where my riding was best that lesson.

 After a few circles, I trotted and tried cantering left, also on a circle. Moe sometimes has trouble picking up the left lead, but she picked it up nicely after just a couple tries. It went smoothly, but after several circles I lost my balance and she fell out of canter, not picking up the correct lead again. Instead of trying many more times, Meghan had me change directions and canter right several more times.

 To end my lesson I rode past the front of the barn, around the corner to the left, through a path that went between to groups of paddocks, and around to the left again, past the tack sheds where I had tacked Moe up at. This path is quite a bit shorter than the one at Silver Rose, but it was nice going around and exploring the new place. Afterward I hosed Moe off at the wash rack, which is next to the jumping arena near the barn. It's a neat place; I like it.

 Hopefully by my next lesson I will get back into things again. For now I am riding just once a week though.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

First Mule at the U.S. Dressage Finals!

 Update: Forgot to mention that Laura owns the local tack store so I met her once before! She is a really nice women. Also she and Dyna earned 67% at the Finals!

The U.S. Dressage Finals are coming up this weekend, and competing in it is a very unique competitor: a 16 hand high, 12-year-old mule named Heart B Dyna and her owner, Laura Hermanson. She is the first mule to ever compete in the U.S. Dressage Finals, so this is really special. Mules have only been allowed to compete in dressage since 2004, but even though they are allowed the are not commonly found in the show ring, and up until no one has ever competed in the U.S. Dressage Finals.

 Laura herself has been showing mules for several years, yet has known Dyna since 2006. While working in a pack station in the Sierras, Laura observed mules and grew to love them, deciding to compete with them.

 “It’s hard to pinpoint what makes them so special,” Laura said. “Everything with them is like a horse, just amplified. Their power of retention is amazing, so the biggest trouble is reiterating something too much. You just have to be very accurate and fair… and you need a sense of humor because their dads are donkeys! They just have a piece of them that says, ‘nope, I’m not doing that today.’”

 At first, Laura didn't think of doing dressage with Dyna. She tried everything from jumping to cutting, but finally decided to compete in dressage since she has be riding dressage for a long time and Dyna seemed to have lovely gaits for dressage. Amazingly, despite the doubts of others, Dyna and Laura's client's mule began doing very well, and Dyna qualified for the regional finals in California, earning scores up to 75% in Training Level.

 Laura and Dyna have been long-listed for the Finals, but one day she got and email saying she had qualified. It was dream come true! Laura created a GoFundMe page soon after, and in less than two weeks, she earned well over the $8,000 needed to transport her mule across the country from California to Lexington, Kentucky.  I'll be rooting for this amazing pair this weekend!

Driving on my Own and More Rides on Pistachio

 Last week I was able to drive a mini on my own! The woman who owns Pistachio, Gretchen, also owns a mini  named Shadow, who is really adorable, took me with her to drive with her driving group, who meets often to drive on the trails. I drove Shadow while she drove another mini names Sage.
He makes cute faces.

 Driving is not too different than riding in the sense that you use the reins to control the horse in the same way you do when riding. The main difference is that you are behind the horse(or mini in this case) and it is consequently more vocal and more based on the reins rather than seat. It was fun to be able to control the cart on my own this time, and although I had a bit trouble at first I got used to it.

 The whole group, which consisted of five mini and driver pairs, drove around a dressage arena a few times to stet out. Then we went down a path that led to a cones ours, which each of us drove one by one. I got lost going around it at first because I hadn't walked it before, and also knocked down a few cones, but made it through.

 After each of us had gone, we all drove all around the trails for quick a bit---at least an hour. One of the funnest parts was when we let the minis canter full speed up the steep hills. I enjoyed doing that, and it was pretty easy to get Shadow to slow down at the top since he is used to canter to the top, then slowing down once he reaches the top. It was an enjoyable experience.

 I have also been riding Pistachio several more times. He has been improving a lot since the first time I have first ridden him. While he had started out stiff and fast because he is mostly driven and not ridden, he is now much more relaxed, supple, and smooth. He doesn't try to take off and circles much more easily now. He even successful does leg-yields, though he us much better to right. Nevertheless I can see and feel an huge difference. Just being worked under saddle loosens up his muscles. It's a great feeling to ride a much more sideways leg yield with less resistance after only several rides. He even crosses his legs over very well, according to Gretchen and Mom. I could see him doing at least lower level dressage.

Monday, November 3, 2014

First Riding Year

 A year ago yesterday, I rode a horse for the first time. As you may remember, or if you are a new reader, his name was Reno, and he was a small bay gelding that once did Western pleasure and was the most laid-back horse I have known. It's hard to believe that a year has gone by already. In some ways it seems like it has been forever, but in other ways it doesn't seem very long ago at all. A year ago I struggled to halter a horse and didn't know how to handle or tack one, much less ride one. I really didn't know much at all.
  Now, a year later, I know so much more. I am comfortable handling, tacking, and grooming a horse. I can now walk, trot, canter, leg-yield, do a little jumping, and have even learned how to get a horse on the bit, though I still need to practice that a lot. In my first year of riding I have ridden almost a dozen horses, including Reno, Ginger, Moe, Chester, Bentley, Roxie, Ronnie, Frankie, Romeo(the horse I test rode but never ended up getting) and a few others that friends outside the group that rides with Meghan have. Over the summer I got to ride Chester, the chestnut Thoroughbred/Percheron that I leased and learned so much on. He was the first horse that I regularly rode and he taught me how to canter and how to ride a challenging horse. It really is true that challenging horses have the most to teach us.

 More than that, I have made friends and had many great experiences. Some of the funnest moments include the Pony Club mounted games night, when all the girls were playing fun games on horseback. We had done pole bending with apples in our hands so we couldn't use the reins, egg races, a musical chairs game with dressage cones, and even a bareback dollar game. One of the greatest times I had with my friends was at the barn slumber party. All my friends and I rode bareback around the barn and in the arena, swapping mounts when we were in the arena to see how riding other horses was. It was a great, fun experience. After dark we watched horse movies and had a horse scavenger hunt, looking for items such as brushes, girths, halters, and saddles.


  I learned so much this year and have come so far in my riding. I can't wait to see what this next year of riding brings.