Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Great Blanket Debate

Should I blanket my horse, or should I leave him without a blanket? This is an ongoing debate that has plagued the horse community for years. Blanketing is common practice that is seen by many as a necessity. If the owner is cold, they give their horse an extra layer so he can keep warm. However, what many people do not realize is that in most cases, blanketing is unnecessary, and in some cases detrimental. Except for extreme conditions, such as old age, illness, heavy winds, or when a horse has been body clipped, horses should not be blanketed.

Horses are incredibly adaptive creatures: they can live in the arid deserts like that of Arabia, in the bitter cold, or just about any climate that man has inhabited and brought horses. For centuries before domestication, wild horses have been able to adapt to the climates where they lived, and have never required the pampering that many horse owners give their horses today. Feral horses of today are also well enough adapted that they can stay warm enough in the winter, providing they have enough food and a windbreak. Domesticated horses are no different. They have many ways of regulating their body temperature. The horse's digestive system produces heat as it digests fibers found it hay and other feeds, and the horse's fat, skin, and thick winter coat act as insulators, trapping the heat in to keep the horse sufficiently warm. In a process called piloerection, the horse's hair raises and lowers, depending on the temperature and wind speed. This regulates the amount of heat that is trapped in. Because of this, horses do not need blankets to help keep them warm.

Changes in the coat occur automatically, and much more quickly than it would take for someone to remove or replace a blanket. Because of this, a blanketed horse can begin to overheat by the time the blanket is removed when the daytime temperatures become warm. Furthermore, blanketing actually interferes with the process thermoregulation. As the horse tries to warm the exposed body parts, the blanketed parts sweat and overheat. “Sweating under a blanket is more of a problem metabolically to the horse than people realize”(Natalija). When blanketed or stabled for extended periods of time, the metabolic functions that control body temperature are not used–they do not need to be. As a result, if the horse is exposed to cold temperature after that, these function do not work as effectively. Consequently, the horse will be unable to heat themselves and will be too cold. Overheating or being too cold can cause a host of problems for the horse, so it best that he keeps his body heat at comfortable temperature.

As most horse owners know, blankets, like all horse equipment, are expensive. Depending on where you live, you may even have to buy multiple blankets to used during large changes in temperature, because once a horse is blanketed regularly, they do not have a winter coat to keep them warm. They may require a thick, heavy blanket when it is icy, rainy, and windy, but only a medium-weight blanket in more moderate temperatures. Furthermore, one must consider the cost of replacing broken blankets. Some horses, especially younger ones, are destructive with their blankets. Even blankets not used by horses who intentionally destroy blankets can break as a result of the rough treatment it gets from horses rolling and playing. If the horse is left uncovered however, you will probably only need to buy a light blanket for the coldest, wettest, and windiest days. As a result, you will save money because you will not need to spend as much money on blankets as you would if you blanketed your horse regularly.

Since horses can regulate their body temperature so well, even if temperatures that people find chilling and uncomfortable to be in, they do not need to be blanketed, as long as they are healthy, have enough food, have a windbreak, and are unclipped. Keeping the horses uncovered in the winter may also save the you money because you will not need to purchase blankets for your horses. For these reasons, blanketing is unnatural and unnecessary, unless the horse in unhealthy, clipped, or unadjusted to the climate, or if the weather is particularly inhospitable.


Aleksandrova, Natalija. “No More Blankets–An Amazing Article.” The Soul of a Horse.

Krahl, Stephanie. To Blanket Your Horse or Not to Blanket...That Is the Question. The Soulful Equine. 2015. 1 Dec. 2015. http://www.soulfulequine.com/to-blanket-your-horse-or-not-to-blanket-that-is-the-question/

Williams, Carey A. Ph.D. and Ralston, Sarah L. VMD, Ph.D. Did You Know: Winter Care and Feeding. My Horse University. 2012. 1 Dec. 2015. http://www.myhorseuniversity.com/resources/eTips/November2011/Didyouknow

Monday, November 23, 2015

Who Am I?

*Inspired by DIY Horsemanship's Non-Equestrian Activities Blog Hop
I've come to the realization that most of my readers do not much about me, except for my horse life and the things they have gathered throughout the voice of my writing, so I decided I want to change that by telling you about myself. I have added to my life story on my about me page if you want to check it out(bear with me, it is long), but I will write a brief summary, and much more about what I am like when not riding, right in this post.

My History

 I was born in Fairfield, California on April 8th, 2000. Throughout my life, my family moved and traveled a lot, so I have many memories of being in airports or train stations. I can never really say that I grew up in any one spot; it is always hard when someone asks where I grew up. My dad is an aerospace engineer, so we were always moving to different places depending on where the work was. Before I was nine, I had never lived in any one place for more than three years. Just when I was born, I lived in Vacaville for six weeks before moving to Hanover, Germany. Vacaville is a small town about one hundred miles from San Francisco. Hanover is located in Lower Saxony in northern Germany, and I lived there for a year. Shortly after my first birthday, I moved to Aschau im Chiemgau, another part of Germany that is near the Austrian border. Aschau im Chiemgau is a beautiful, picturesque Bavarian village surrounded by the Alps. While living there, I played in the snow and went up to the top of the mountains in a mountain lift. A year later, I moved to Vies, France, by the Mediterranean. I stayed there for several months before moving to Torrevieja, Spain, also near the Mediterranean. In December 2002, I moved to Clovis, California, the first place that I remember. Later on, I returned to Europe, living in Sweden, my mom's native country. After Sweden, I moved to Wales. We lived in a town called Tonteg, about fifteen minutes outside Cardiff. Wales was grey and rainy most of the time, but was still fun. I started school there. It was my first and only experience wearing a school uniform. There was a playground down the street that I walked to with my family, and we often visited the nearby town of Cardiff, as well as the Brecon National Forest. We took trips through Wales, as well as going to Bath and London. When in London, I traveled London Underground, or the “Tube” as locals call it. I also crossed the Tower Bridge by foot, saw the Parliament Building and the Big Ben.

The summer before starting first grade, when I was six, I returned to the United States. I lived in the small town of Coarsegold, nearby both Yosemite National Park and Clovis, the latter being the city I lived in when I was three. I lived in Coarsegold for three years, the most I had lived in any one place. Shortly after my ninth birthday, I moved to Canyon Lake, Texas, right in the heart of Hill Country. Canyon Lake is not far from San Antonio. My family often visited the historical Alamo, where the famous Alamo battle was fought for the independence of Texas long ago. It's a really amazing historical place. Closer to our home was the Madrone Trail and the Guadalupe River, which we also visited several times. Quite a few times during the summer, my family would take our mountain bikes and ride the trail. My family enjoyed riding our bikes together as my dad is a cyclist. The river was fun to swim in, and many people went river tubing there, although we never did. I also golfed for the first time while living in Texas. My family owned property near a golf course, and my younger brother and I took many lessons on golfing. Two years later, I returned to Coarsegold, where I now live.

Besides living in many places, I have also traveled a lot with my family. We visited Klamath Falls, Oregon many times, probably more than any other state, because me grandparents lived there. Sometimes we went there in the winter and played with their Golden Retriever in the snow. In the summer one time, we went fishing with my grandpa, an avid fisher, who taught me how to fish. We never caught anything, but it was fun. Another time we visited Crater Lake, which is not far from my grandparent's home. Crater Lake is a volcanic crater that is filled with clear, pristine water.
On another trip, we spent a week on the Big Island of Hawaii, where we swam at the beaches, seeing a variety of ocean life in the water–everything from colorful fish to sea turtles to bottle-nosed dolphins to black crabs. We even went to one beach with sand that was black because of the lava from the volcano on the island. Since most of the beaches had large waves that loomed above us, my younger brother and I were only allowed in the shallow water. While in Hawaii, my family visited the rainforest near the top of the volcano. It did actually rain while we were strolling through the forest. We even went to a real Hawaiian Luau, where the pig was roasted underground, cooked from hot volcanic ground. As is as tradition, we tossed our flower leis into the ocean before leaving. Hawaii was really fun; I loved being there because I got to swim at the beaches and see amazing tropical animal life. 

Another time, my family went on a rode trip to Nevada, Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah. In Nevada, we stopped in Vegas and saw many amazing sights, including the MGM building and the Egyptian museum. Inside the MGM building, we saw many lions with tawny hides and paws as big as my head. We could even stand underneath the lions, with only a thin sheet of glass stopping the lions from falling on top of us. In the Egyptian museum, which is a giant glass pyramid, we saw King Tut's golden coffin and other artifacts. Colorado was also exciting to visit. We visited a dinosaur museum in Woodland Park, seeing giant dinosaur statues and fossils. In Utah we saw the magnificent Zion National Park and the beautiful Temple Square. 

Las Vegas

Since my family loves road trips we always drive everywhere, so we have gone through the lonely deserts of Arizona and New Mexico when first moving to Texas and when returning to California. When living in Texas, we drove through Arkansas, Tennessee, and Kentucky to reach the college town of Athens, Ohio. Athens is a charming town with lovely brick buildings. It is small enough that my family could walk everywhere we wanted to go, and the people were very friendly. When I was 11, my dad attended a conference at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. While there my family camped in a tent at a campground, which was really exciting. One night, a bear entered our camp. I didn't notice it because I was asleep, but my older said that bear walked right by his tent, and we noticed the footprints in the morning. Since we moved back to California, my family has traveled to Utah again. This time, we were dropping my older brother, Robin, off at college in Provo, Utah. It was the beginning of January, and there was snow on the ground. One memorable moment of the trip was when were passing Cedar City just after dawn and temperature dropped to -28 degree Fahrenheit. Later, when we picked Robin up from college in the summer, we drove on Highway 6, a desolate desert highway. After passing Las Vegas, we were pretty much in the middle of nowhere until we neared Provo.

Things I Love

What may not apparent from simply reading my blog posts, I am a huge geek/nerd and proud of it too.  Outside of my horses, most of interests are geeky things. They include board gaming, Star Trek, and much more.

Slytherins summed up in one quote.

Shows, Books, and Movies

One look at my Pinterest will show that I am obsessed with a variety of books, movies and TV shows–one may even consider me a fangirl(a girl obsessed with books, movies, shows, and such).  My favorite book series ever is Harry Potter; I've read it and seen the movies more times than I can count, and for me, it is a obsession that will never die.  I love the story, the magic, the themes, and everything about it.  As you probably know, at Hogwarts, there are four Houses: Gryffindor, Slytherin, Ravenclaw, and Hufflepuff.  Personally, I see myself as a Slytherin because I am ambitious, competitive, determined, have a disregard for rules, and always have a desire to be the best.  Although I do consider myself brave–not much scares me–I do not see myself as a Gryffindor.  I don't really have the other Gryffindor traits of nobleness, chivalry, and desire to be hero.  I'm not a reckless brave like Gryffindors. I like to think situations through, though sometimes my stubbornness and determination does lead me to do stupid things.  The House I think I fit into the second best is Ravenclaw though, because I try to be smart and rational, and I get good grades, but those are not the only Ravenclaw traits, and my Slytherin traits outweigh them.  As for Hufflepuff...I don't think I really have any of those traits. 

My two favorite shows are The X-Files and Star Trek Deep Space Nine(though I like all the Treks I have seen).  The X-Files is an amazing show about two FBI agents who investigate paranormal activity and a government alien conspiracy.  It is a '90s show, but a new mini-season is coming out in January.  You probably know what Star Trek is an if you don't, then where have you been all your life? I have seen the Original Series, the Next Generation, and Deep Space, and the latter is my favorite. I really love the characters and the story in that one(though I love all the other Treks I have watched).
I really love dragons too. This is my artwork.

There are way too many movies I love to list, so I'll just say that I love movies with excitement and adventure. James Bond, the Matrix, and Planet of the Apes, some Marvel movies, and the Bourne movies are some examples. 
I love making fan art. This is Deep Space Nine

Board Gaming

Board gaming is another thing I really love, though I do not typically play the usually kinds, like Monopoly and such.  My favorites are Pandemic, Star Trek: Catan, Star Trek: Deck Building, and the X-Files.  They are all really fun games.


I don't play music, but I love to listen.  My taste in music is quite interesting for people my age; I love '80s and '90s alternative, mostly.  Some of my favorite bands include New Order, Depeche Mode, the Smiths, the Cure, REM, Talking Heads, and OMD.  There are also quite a few bands that only like a couple songs by.  Some such songs include I'll Melt with You(Modern English), the Funeral(Band of Horses), Iris(Goo Goo Dolls), Somebody that I Used to Know, some songs by Counting Crows and U2, and other similar songs. 

That's about it. If you any questions about me, please feel free to ask them.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Just Do It!

 No-Stirrup November continues, and I feel I have been improving a little bit each time I ride. I will likely continue no-stirrup work through December as well, because I hope that it can help me gain a more solid, independent seat, and to post without balancing on my hands or swinging my lower leg.  It's interesting how much more evident these problems become when I ride without stirrups.

I lunged Lucky just before I rode her last, and she was splendid!  She went the best I have ever seen her gone.  Interestingly enough, she worked much better to the right, which in the past has been her weaker side.  Normally, she leans excessively on her inside shoulder went going to the right, and consequently, I have to use a lot of inside leg(or point a dressage whip at her shoulder in this case).  This time, however, she did not lean nearly as much, and most importantly, actually began seeking the sweet spot(roundness/stretching) on her own, after I set her up correctly(Laura worked with her before I lunged).  She was able to stay round for several circles without me having to constantly correct her by squeezing on the line.  It was spectacular.  Unfortunately, she did not do as well to the left, which is usually her best side, but these things happen as horses are trained

After having ridden with no stirrups for several times, I am able to more easily lift myself out of the saddle when posting.  However, watching my video from my first no-stirrup ride has made it clear that I have been balancing on my hands while doing this.  Because of this, the foci of my ride was not using my hands to lift myself out of the saddle.  Instead, I should use my core strength.  To help me do this, I ditched my hands entirely, putting them on my hips or stretching them out to the side instead.  By doing this, I had no choice but to use my core.  However, this aggravated another problem at first: my lower legs swung back instead on staying I place.  Again, this is a problem that I am pretty sure I have had before; it just has been made more evident now that I am riding without stirrups.

During the next trot set, I tried my hardest to keep my legs steady.  This time, I succeeded.  Afterward, I spent a few moments trying to memorizing exactly how that felt, so I could repeat it. Solid is really the only way I can think of to explain it.  It made glancing while posting much easier, and I felt much more steady.

Next, I held my arms out to me side, like an airplane, as I trotted quite a few circles around the round pen, posting in short intervals.   I could feel the burning in my inner thighs as I did this, but wanted to push myself just enough that increased my strength and endurance, but not enough to overdo it and get fatigued. Before long, though, I could even feel my arm strength begin to flag, and was relieved to to them on my hips and walk for a bit.  I worked like this for a it, sitting and rising the trot, and walking in intervals.  When I was done, I tried a two-point at the halt, because that is what Laura plans for me to work on next: two-point without stirrups.  It may be difficult, but it will be infinitely useful.  It will not only increase my strength and balance, but will also prepare me for accidents that can happen when riding a jump course.  I cannot count the number of times I've seen pictures of jumpers losing or breaking stirrups(or even bridles–yikes) while on a course. At any rate, it will be a great thing to learn.

To finish, I took a trail ride around the property to cool out.

Friday, November 6, 2015

No-Stirrup November!

I've been riding for two years now, and decided to start the third off by participating in No-Stirrup November for the first time.  Although I have ridden stirrup-less at the walk a couple times, and bareback at the trot, this will be my first time riding without stirrups for extended periods of time.  Riding western trail has really improved my ability to use my legs for steering; I am much less reliant on my hands than I have been in the past, and I know that I can ride on a loose rein without using it for turning now.   Now it is time to solidify my seat.  I will do that through riding without stirrups.  I am starting slow,  but I'm hoping to work up to riding longer and to riding the canter.


 Since Lucky has been on a mini-hiatus these past couple months and the whether has finally turned cold, and I lunged her before both rides.  It's part of my routine anyways, and besides allowing to let Lucky buck her crazies out, it gives me the opportunity to work her and prepare her for being ridden. When I lunged, I worked on flexing her head to the inside, bending her body, keeping her in an even rhythm, and making her become round.  With Lucky, getting roundness and bend often takes many repetitive light squeezes because she often looks to the outside.  I tried to catch her before she looked to the outside.  The lungeing on the second day was more successful than the first.  Laura lunged Lucky for a bit before me, showing me how to keep Lucky's head bent to the inside by squeezing the line just before Lucky looked to the outside.  She also showed me how to keep Lucky's body bent and how to prevent her from leaning, which she did by pointing the whip at Lucky's girth, using it as an inside leg.  Ideally, a horse she be flexed to inside, bend along their ribcage, and round, what Laura calls "the sweet spot."  She always waits until this moment before making any transition. After a while she handed the line over to me.  Under her guidance, I worked on the same things at the walk, trot, and canter.

No-Stirrup November

The improved seat, increased strength, and yes suffering(no pain, no gain, right?) of No-Stirrup November begins for me.  The first day, I only rode for twenty minutes or so.  Laura lunged me so I could focus on my position as I rode, although I did work on spiraling the circle in and out, so I did control Lucky in some respects.  

The stirrups come off for the month! No turning back now. ;)
The walk was not too taxing, though I could still feel my thigh muscles working.  It was the trot that was the real killer.  Although I was riding without stirrups, Laura wanted me to rise at the trot rather than sit, which proved quite strenuous to say the least.  My lower leg swing and I could barely rise out of the saddle.  What Laura was discovered is that I have been bracing against the stirrups and using them to rise out of the saddle, rather than supporting myself with my calves and only moving my knee and thigh to post.  My legs are also often far behind me, but that is something I've known for a while. More no-stirrup work should fix both of those things! My thighs were like jello afterward; it is strenuous work.

Click here for video.  I'll have a comparison video next month.
I would say that I did better the second day.  Again, I was lunged and focused on getting my position correct: my legs at the girth, my elbows at a 90 degree angle, my upper body straight, and my inside shoulder bent slightly back.  I was successful at the walk.  However, it was more difficult at the trot.  During the trot, I sat for a circle before posting, and posted in short burst of a few strides at a time. When I did this, I felt I bit more solid, but my hands, which held the reins with no contact, were not as still as they should be.  Still, I worked on it and did quite of bit of trotting, but only for several times around the round pen at time, as I did not want to get fatigued.  

Afterward, I rode around the ranch on my own for several minutes, trying my best to not use my hands to turn Lucky.  I was able to turn Lucky in the trail and on twenty meter circles with just my legs!  

The no-stirrup work will continue throughout November, and maybe even through December.  I'm hoping that I can try cantering without stirrups by the end of the month; I'm sure the work will greatly improve my canter.  That's the goal anyways!  It will be tough, but it will be worth it! Is any one else doing No-Stirrup November? 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Golden State Mule Show, my First Show!

My first show ever, at the Sugarland Horse Park in Woodland, was an absolutely phenomenal! I had a great experience and successfully showcased all my skills, everything I have been working on this past year, and my love of riding, which was exactly what Laura and I desired that I should do.  Although I was the only person riding in the walk/jog class, and there were no other youth in my classes, it was still an amazing experience, and Laura thinks that I rode well.

Saturday: Western Pleasure Walk/Jog

 My first class, the 16th of the day, wasn't until late Saturday morning, and I only had one class a day, so I didn't have a stressful show weekend.  Before my class, I watched the cutting and cow working, which I really enjoyed.  There were several champion cutting mules there that have done well against horses, just like Laura's mules do well against horses in dressage.  Dyna's half brother was even competing there.  Ruby's owner, Casie, rode Ruby as cutback, someone who diverts the cow back to the person competing if the cow gets too far away, in the cutting classes to warm her up for me.  Shortly after the cutting began, my parents arrived, and not long after that, it was time to get Ruby ready for my class.  I tacked her up in the saddle I would be using, got dressed in jeans, a show shirt, my helmet, and a western belt buckle, the mounted and waited near the gate for my class to begin.  Laura and I discussed what I would do, and I watched the Bridled, Green, Amateur, and Donkey pleasure classes.  The time ticked closer to the moment I would enter a show ring for the first time, and though I wasn't extremely nervous, I was a bit tense.

I was so tense and concentrated so hard that I forgot to smile until near the end.
 Finally, it was time for me to enter the ring.  I squeezed Ruby into the jog and began tracking to the left in the arena.  She started out a bit fast, but after passing the gate or the first time, we both relaxed more.  After I had jogged around twice, the announcer asked for the walk.  I sat deeply in the saddle and complied, making a smooth downward transition.  Before long, I was asked to reverse, which was easily done, then jog around once more before halting and backing several steps.  She nearly broke gait after reversing and jogging, but I kept her going.  Finally, I lined up before the judge.  Everyone was happy with how I had done!

My first blue!
 The show ran late that night, until well after dark.  I enjoyed watching the other cow working classes, some of which were like a combination of cow working and trail.  While I don't remember what that was called, it looked like a lot of fun. The last class was the cow sorting, also an exciting class.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Hitting the Road

   Currently, I am on my way to my very first show.  It is strange that for me the show seemed an eternity away while I prepared for it, like something that would happen in the vague future.  Only now, I as am making the final preparations, does it hit me that this is really happening.  I will arrive at the grounds the day before the show, which begins on Saturday the 16th.

 Wednesday, I did my last training preparations.  Before I practiced any obstacle, I warmed up on my own, riding along the rail and maintaining an even, regular jog.  I practiced turning around as I would in a pleasure class, making a wide tear drop shape at the walk, and later the jog. I even jogged a clover leaf through the box.  Through all this, I did well.

 Finally, I practiced the rope gate for the first time, which turned out to no trouble at all since I relaxed and went through it one step at a time, pausing to breathe and think between each step.  First I had to line up parallel to the gate and put the reins in my right hand, as I would be opening a left handed gate.  I grabbed the rope in my left hand, paused, then back Ruby a couple steps.  Then I pushed her shoulders over so she was perpendicular to the gate.  After waiting a couple of seconds, I pushed her shockers over again, waited, then backed up and put the rope back in place.  It was simple, really.  The only problem I had was the Ruby began to anticipate; she's a champion trail mule, and has won at the Extreme Trail Challenges–the ones where people ride across rugged terrain and through water and such.  Needless to say, she knows her job.  It's just up to me to take my time.  As long as I do so, it should go well.  I don't expect it to be a breeze, but I'm confident and prepared.

I leave Friday morning; I'm so excited.  If you are friends with me on Facebook, you may pictures be posted over the weekend(I have to conserve my phone battery, so we'll see), and if you are not you are always welcome to friend me; just click the Facebook icon on the left-hand margin of this page, and go ahead and add me.  Otherwise, you can see them next week when I update my blog.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

One Week to Go!

 I rode Ruby a two times last week, and have been steadily improving.  All the work at turning Ruby without out my hands are finally paying off; I did some nice maneuvers the last couple rides, and even improved at the cone serpentine.  While doing the cone serpentine, the goal is to keep the horse almost straight, sidestepping slightly rather than making a part circle, which I have done successfully. However, turning around the last cone proved to be the most difficult part until Laura explained how to do it properly.  Instead of trying to pivot around the final cone, she told me to start turning just after the second to last cone, making a circle around the last cone.  It worked out much better than attempting to turn tightly around the last cone.  I even attempted to jog the serpentine, though the cones were made a bit wider than it was before I attempted it at a jog.

 Laura also made me do a short course.  I started by entering the box at the walk and halting, then prepared to do a turn on the haunches to the right.  When I asked her to turn her shoulders, she went a bit fast, but didm;t bump any poles.  I straightened her, took a breath, and gently asked her to walk off.  As she stepped out of the box, I asked for the jog, heading straight towards the rail.  I focused intently on keeping straight lines of travel rather than allowing Ruby to cut in on the turns as I have before.  Cutting in does not look pretty, and I would likely lose points for that.  Once I reached the rail I turned right, continuing along until I was across from a cone marker.  Here I turned right again, traveling several strides before turning directly to the box.  I entered it, halting. After a few moments, I took off again, heading directly to the white wooden side pass pole.  Taking a deep intake of breath, I began to side pass to the right.  I slowly, carefully, pushed her over step by step.  I reached the end of the pole, jogging off almost immediately.  After just a few strides, I reached the rail, traveling left along the rail, down the short side and around the corner.  I swerved left and right through the serpentine.  I had barely exited the serpentine when I turned Ruby left into the box.  Laura thought I had done really well!

 I also practiced a side pass around the corner of the box. At first, my aids were discordant;  Ruby was unclear at what I was asking her to do, and I didn't prevent her from becoming crooked.  She began to get flustered, balking and becoming discombobulated.  I inhaled deeply.  Laura mounted her for a few moments to school her for a couple minutes, then allowed me to remount.  This time I relaxed, taking my time as I pushed her to the corner.  Then, I put my outside leg forward to push her shoulders over, asking her to do a quarter turn on the haunches around the corner of the box.  I poised my inside leg at her side block her should her shoulders move too far.  This time she moved around the corner smoothly and fluidly.

 I also worked on some western pleasure and cantering this week.  The walk and jog is going well, though I'm having struggles with the canter.  During the canter, my aids become discordant and unclear, my body tenses, my hips move against the rhythm and/or comes out of the saddle, and everything falls apart, becoming inconsonant, wild, and inharmonious.  In short, it was a disaster. It doesn't always happen to that extent, but I've had some of these struggles for a while.  Funnily enough, when I accidentally cantered last week, I did not have these problems, which proves that when asking for canter, something in my mind makes me shut down slightly.  It's not that I'm scared or nervous; I'm not sure why it happens.  Does anyone have any ideas on how I can relax in the canter, and move my hips in rhythm with it, and not against the rhythm?  I'm looking at articles online, but I'd like to know what anyone else thinks as well!  I'm just doing walk/jog classes, so I'm not too worried, and besides that, everything went really well!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Interview: Sarah Crowe, Creator of Dyna Does Dressage Documentary

 Sarah Crowe and Amy Enser have been working on the project "Dyna Does Dressage," a documentary about Laura Hermanson and her mule Dyna, the first mule to ever compete in the U.S. Dressage Finals, which is an incredible feat.  Together, Laura and Dyna have defied the odds and realized their seemingly impossible dream.  Sarah and Amy were there to document it, and have since worked with Laura to record Laura and Dyna's backstory as well.  I had the opportunity to discuss the documentary with Sarah Crowe.

The Aspiring Equestrian: How did you get started filmmaking? What made you become interested in filmmaking?  

Sarah Crowe: I had a friend who went to film school and I helped out on all of the student projects. I fell in love with the process and from that friend’s networks started working and volunteering on film sets. Eight years later I am a professional producer and I direct and produce documentaries for the love of it. 

A poster by Isaac Novak.
TAE: When and where did you first meet Laura Hermanson?  

SC: I met Laura in Yosemite National Park.  We worked together in the back country. She was a packer that brought all of our supplies to the High Sierra Camps where I managed a back country retreat. We became fast friends and have supported each other in our careers and personal endeavors. Even after we both left Yosemite we stayed friends.

TAE: How did you become interested in filming the documentary Dyna Does Dressage about Laura and her mule, Dyna? 

SC: I have always known that Laura had a unique and interesting story. When she told me that she and Dyna were invited to the Finals, I helped her with some fundraising ideas and got her going with the GoFundMe page. In only 2 weeks she raised $11,000 and was flooded with an outpouring of support. When she called to say thank you, I knew that the timing was finally right and I asked her if I could join in Kentucky to document the adventure. She said, "Yes!" and has graciously allowed me to follow her around all over this year and is supporting me in telling her story in a full on documentary film.

TAE: What is your main purpose in filming it?  

SC: Laura’s story is the ultimate underdog story. Laura and Dyna’s journey have inspired so many people already. I want to share it with the world. 

TAE: Could you write a brief summary of the documentary? 

“Dyna Does Dressage” is a documentary about the first mule ever to compete at the national level in the competitive equestrian sport of Dressage. Defined by the International Equestrian Federation as “the highest expression of horse training,” the idea of mules competing at this level has never been considered.  This underdog story follows Dyna and her owner/rider, Laura, as they defy the odds to find their place among this elite world of horse riding.

A behind the scenes shot of Sarah Crowe(front right) filming Laura(at the left in the stall), her friend Casie(middle), her trainer Renee Johnson(right), and Dyna at the U.S. Dressage Finals. 
TAE: Could you tell me a little bit about what has gone into making the documentary? 

SC: I invested $8,000 of my own money, and flew to Kentucky in November 2014 to film Laura and Dyna competing at the U.S. Dressage Finals in order to film the origins of this story. My filmmaking partner Amy Enser has traveled with me to almost all of the locations and worked with me to capture the footage. She will also be editing the movie. We needed to raise an additional $15,000 to really make this happen. With a successful GoFundMe fundraiser of my own, together as a team we were able to travel to California and visit Laura where she lives and trains at the Oak Star Ranch with Dyna and her other mules. We went to Mule Days, which is one of the largest mule competitions in the world. In August we filmed in Yosemite National Park with Laura, to learn about the traditional roles of mules and see the place where she discovered and fell in love with them and then our last location was the USDF CA area 7 regional finals in CA, where we saw Laura competing at a proper horse show.

TAE: What has been the most exciting part about filming the “Dyna Does Dressage?”  

SC: The most exciting part of filming "Dyna Does Dressage" is being able to spend so much time with Laura this year. She trusted me through this whole process but over the course of these last 10 months she has opened up and truly forgotten that the camera was even there sometimes. She believes in me and is so supportive of this whole process, and so open to allowing me in her world with cameras. 
Laura Hermanson and BB at the Region 7 Dressage Championships

TAE: What has been the most difficult part?  

SC: The most difficult part of the process has been the challenge of recreating a story and showing the path of Laura after it had already happened. Traveling to so many places was necessary to tell the story. 

TAE: What is one thing you want people to know about the documentary before it is released? 

SC: I am so thankful for the support that both Laura and I have received on this journey of filmmaking and Laura’s work with the mules in Dressage and beyond. I appreciate everyone that is believing in us and supporting us. I can’t wait to share the finished product. 

TAE: Is there anything you would like to say about the documentary that I have not asked about?

SC: I  really hope that people enjoy the story and are inspired to take on their own dreams and adventures. 

Support "Dyna Does Dressage" by liking their Facebook page  You can watch the trailer here.  Photos are courtesy of Sarah Crowe, Amy Enser, and "Dyna Does Dressage."  The documentary  will be released in 2016. 

Monday, October 5, 2015

Preparations Continue

 I rode Ruby two other times last week.  The second time, I rode her out of the arena and in an empty pasture while warming up, with Laura, who was on BB, following me.  I took up and down several steep hills, and circled around trees and rocks, trying to use as little aids as possible to turn her.  Before heading back to the arena, I worked on riding her on a perfect square.  It was difficult, and I kept letting her dive in on accident, causing the corners to become round rather than the sharp, 90 degree turns I desired.  I also overused my hands.  After riding it a few times in each direction, I got pretty good corners, though it still needed some work.

 In the arena, I once again worked on riding into the box.  This time I added a second element: a turn on the haunches to the left while inside the box.  The trick with this is to work it slowly, one step at the time, but the first several times I didn't block her with my inside leg in time,  causing the turn to become uncontrolled.  After a few times, I relaxed and successfully asked her to turn slowly.

 Next, I needed to jog out of the box.  This required me to be quick with my aids.  I had to first ask softly, and if she only walked, I had to immediately back it up with a kick.  If I was too slow, she would walk a few strides, which is undesirable.  I squeezed lightly.  She began to walk off, so I backed it up with a kick.  It was a bit to strong, because she ended up loping instead, which was not completely bad excuse it at least meant that she was listening.  However, she continued to be super responsive extremely responsive to me leg aids.  Even when I squeezed lightly to sake her to exit the box, she loped off.

 A couple tries later, I managed to slow her down, halting at a white ground pole several strides away from the box.  I was going to learn how to side-pass, a movement that is often required in a trail class. I walked Ruby over the pole, halting when I was directly over the pole.  Side-passing takes concentration, coordination, and skill.  Like the turn on the haunches, it is best done one step at a time.  I had to just barely lift my inside leg off Ruby's side, poising it near her side in case I had to block her from going too fast.  Furthermore, I had to keep my hands ready to stop her from stepping forward.  I side-passed to the left.  The first few times were fiascos–I failed to block her with my inside leg and my hands.  Consequently, she rushed to the side, becoming crooked and knocking the pole with her hoof, then surged forward a couple steps.  It took many tries, but finally I was able to push her sideways, step by step, without hitting the pole a single time.

 Friday,  I rode her for the third time.  This time, I worked on turning and on riding over the walkovers, a series of four poles that the horse walks over in a trail course.  I rode an exercise in which I would go over the walkovers, turn around a cone to the right, go back over them, turn left around a different cone, then repeat.  It was quite similar to an exercise I have done on Lucky before.

Such a good girl on Friday.
At the beginning of the ride, I had difficulty making tight turns, and used my hands way too much.  Once of my problems is that I don't turn my shoulders nearly enough while turning, especially to the left.  The walkovers, however, went well almost from the beginning.  Ruby bumped them the first few times through, but when I actually put my hand forward, allowing her to stretch, she walked over them nicely.  Midway through the lesson, I really concentrated on preparing ahead of time for the turns, making them much more tightly.  I did the same exercise at the jog,  but still walked over the walkovers.  I struggled with turning left tightly in the jog, had difficulty slowing the walk enough; Ruby bumped the poles with her legs as a result.

I then tried another exercise.  The walkovers were situated near the rail, so I headed over them, jogged off, and continued along the rail right after, tracking left.   When I was across from the box, which was not far from the walkovers, I turned left, entered it, then halted.  Next, I trotted out of it, turn right immediately, and circled to the right around the cone.  I jogged toward the walkovers(which were ahead of and to the left of the box), slowed to the walk, and walked over them.  I went a little too far out of the box before halting one time, but the exercise otherwise went well.

 Now, the only obstacle I haven't tried is the rope gate.  It's still a work in progress, and I have a lot to learn, but I'm starting to feel more confident in my trail abilities.  I am better at turning Ruby than I was the first time.  I need to focus on taking my time more when doing the obstacles though.  The show is on the 17th and 18th, so I have a couple more weeks.  I'll be entering a couple walk-jog classes: pleasure and trail.  I feel pretty confident about the pleasure class.  As long as I prepare during the transitions the same way I do with Lucky, and keep my split reins even, which I've had a problem with; I'm a rein leaker, I should do well.  Regardless of that, this show is about having a fun, successful first show experience.  A successful experience doesn't necessarily mean one where I place in the ribbons(although I would like to as I am a very competitive person).  Mostly,  I want to ride the way I am learning and not throw everything I learned out the window while I'm there.  I'm looking forward to it!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Ruby Lesson + Laura at Championships

 I have some exciting news--Laura and BB place 4th and 3rd in Regional and State Championships, respectively, putting them first on the long list for the U.S. Dressage Finals.

 In other news, I'm going to be riding a mule named Ruby in the show next month instead if Moxie.  I've just been having too much difficulty slowing his jog, and he has had difficulty as well because he has been trained to take large strides for dressage.  Ruby is a nice, little, all-around mule who has been ridden by her owner in pole bending(and other classes).  Even her owner's young son has had success on Ruby in kid classes.

 Ruby is very maneuverable and sensitive.  I rode her in a western saddle and bridle, kept a very light contact on her most of the time, and used only one hand on the reins.  It was much easier to slow her jog and walk than it was to slow Moxie's, but she still got fast quit a few times, which was entirely my fault--I became tight and leaned forward several times.  I also had trouble getting her to love.  I often become floppy in my upper body when I ask for canter, becoming very disorganized.  Ruby is very sensitive and usual responds to a kissing sound; it was only my fault.  However, Laura handed me a whip.  I didn't use it but once I was holding it, Ruby looked off right when I asked.

I also tried a few trail obstacles: the serpentine cones and the box.  As I mentioned earlier, Ruby's owner had done pole bending on her at a gallop, so Ruby is pretty easy to steer.  I only needed to use leg.  The first time however, I oversteered by using the reins, making a large circle to turn around and missing the last come on the way back.  I tried it a few more times with much more success.  I started turning her with my legs as soon as her front end passed each cone, just barely going to the side of the cone.  At the end, I managed to make a tighter turn to head back through the cone serpentine.
Ruby and I in the box.

 Next, I had to jog around the arena, turning into the box and halting.  At first, I turned too soon and halted in the side of the box rather than the center.  I also asked Ruby to stop too early, and she walked over the pole instead.  I should have asked for the halt just a tad later, as she was over the pole. I continued with varying degrees of success, but finally managed to halt near the middle.

Next, I tried the exercise again, this time turning left after exiting the box(I had jogged to the right around the arena before).  My reins were also more slack, with the slightest amount of contact.  Like before, I cut in too early, so I wasn't heading toward the box head on.  I found myself in at the edge of the box instead. Again, I often asked for the halt a bit early, so Ruby walked over the pole rather than jogging over it.  At one point, I jogged over the pole and asked her to halt with my seat.  However, I didn't back it up with my hand when she didn't respond.  She went over the first pole, and out the other side.  Laura told me that it would be better to lose points on a trail course for using my hands than it is to have no points on the obstacle because I hadn't stopped in the box.

 Finally, though, I really set Ruby up well for the halt by keeping my inside leg on to prevent her from cutting in.  I headed straight toward the box, breathing out and blocking my seat to ask Ruby to halt.  She halted just in the center of the box.

I enjoyed riding Ruby and can't wait to ride her again.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Bodywork on Lucky

  Last week, Loni did some bodywork on Lucky.  For those of you who do not know, bodywork is something that combines massage, acupressure, and other forms of touch to release tension in an animal of person's body.  This an benefit a horse in many, making their muscles more loose and free.

 Lucky, as Loni found, had huge amounts of tension in her poll, which could make flexing and coming round difficult.  The poll is detrimental when restricted because it can block the energy from flowing through the nuchal ligament, which runs all the way to the tail.  If the energy is blocked in the poll, in cannot flow all through the back, as it should when the horse becomes round.   Loni worked on releasing Lucky's poll by lightly applying and releasing pressure to that area to release the tension and get Lucky to lower her head.  Gently pulling Lucky's head each way one at a time was another way she used to help release the muscle.  While she wanted Lucky to do what she asked, Loni never forced it, because that does not help release the tension.  Instead, she used light amounts of pressure, causing Lucky to move her head just a teensy bit at a time.  Lucky is a very sensitive mare, so stronger motions are rarely necessary with her.

 Additionally, Loni worked on releasing Lucky's temporal mandibular joint, or TMJ.  The TMJ lies on both sides of the horse's head; it's the protrusion behind the eyes.  Releasing this joint, which is connected to the jaw, relaxes the jaw.  The tension in the TMJ is likely related to the poll tension, as I learned from the Masterson Method website.

“Issues in your horse’s body have a way of reflecting in his poll and atlas. Therefore, tension and pain he might have from a sore back or compensation for pain in other places - such as the feet - is generally going to collect in these two hot spots. And when the poll tightens up, pain radiates into the TMJ and jaw." ~ Jim Masterson.

Lucky also had restrictions in her pelvis and hip, other important areas.  Loni lifted Lucky's tail by a surprising amount to help release some of this tension.

 It was interest to watch Lucky's reaction to all this.  See, while she is a sensitive horse, and is often quite expressive, she likes to keep mull over her feelings, not sure whether she should reveal them or not.  This comes from being the alpha mare in her herd.  Showing emotions in a herd can that cause her to be taken advantage, such as tiredness, pain, etc, are weaknesses when shown by a herd leader.

 Often, when lunging her, I can see Lucky's teeth grit and lip quiver while she contemplates whether she should snort, stretch, and chew in relaxation.  She was the same way when Loni worked on her.  She took a long time to begin to react to the bodywork.  After a while, though, she began to chew and lick her lips.  Eventually, she even yawned.  The second day Loni worked on her, the yawning came much sooner, which meant that Lucky was relaxing much sooner.

 Loni showed me a few things I can do to benefit Lucky each time a ride(a few muscles and joints I can release).

 One last thing–I am doing a show next month instead so I can get a few more weeks of practice.  Also, Laura did amazing well at the Championships and I will go into detail in the next post.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

BB Magee and Laura off to the Championships!

It has been an excellent summer for Laura and her palomino mule, BB, who are off to the CDS State Championships/USDF Regional Championships(held at the same place/time) in Rancho Murrietta, California.  Last year, she came with her beloved Dyna, who as you may know qualified for the Championships and later the US Dressage Finals at Training Level.  This week, Laura and BB will compete at First Level in both the Freestyle and First Level Test 3 events, riding the former at both State and Regional level.  Getting there for the second year running(might even be more than that) is an extraordinary feat.

 Being in California means that she will compete not only against some of the best riders in the state/region, but also some of the best riders in the nation and the world.  Hilda Gurney, Steffen Peters, and Jan Ebeling, to name a riders who train in California, will be there.  Some of their horses will be competing against Laura.  It was amazing to look at the entry list with Laura and to see her and BB's names next to those of Olympians and fancy warmblood.  Imagine that: a mule I have handled and ridden, ridden by someone I know, competing against warmbloods ridden by Olympians.  It's amazing!  For those who think mules can only be pack animals that have no place in dressage,  BB is living proof otherwise.
Here is BB and I when she has her golden spring/summer coat.  She is more of a light brownish in the fall with roan hairs.

  Her Freestyle is an upbeat, Italian/South American sounding music(one part is called "Mambo Italiano) and was designed by Karen Robinson, who has designed numerous Grand Prix, Olympic, and Pan American Games freestyle.  It's a great freestyle.

 It will be an exciting weekend for Laura.  Unfortunately I won't be able to watch, but I will be supporting Laura from back home.  If BB goes anything like she did Monday and most of the rest of the summer, she will put in a fantastic test!   It would be even more amazing if she made it to the Finals.  Please send positive thoughts her way!  I hope she has great rides at the championships.  In the mean time, look at het website so you can see what BB looks like.  It introduces the mules towards the bottom.  http://oakstarranch.com/
And here is a short video from February: Click here

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Moxie Ride No. 2

For my second ride on Moxie, I mostly worked on slowing his trot to a leisurely jog, and on getting him to become round.  I also rode one-handed for the first time, which was a little difficult to get used to. To ride one-handed, I held the split reins in my left, with my middle finger between them.  My left fist pointed down and was almost close enough to touch Moxie' s withers.  My other hand stayed where it usually is, as if I was holding reins in that hand.  Mostly, I steered with my legs, neck rein. if necessary.

  To make him round, I lifted my hand, which applied pressure to the bit and caused Moxie to become lower his head and lift his back.  It was important to use leg as well, because simply pulling his head down does not create proper engagement.  The bit is just there to "catch" the roundness and to give him something to come round to.  Therefore, you need both leg and hand in the formula.  Once he became round, I lowered my hand until it almost touched his withers, giving him a release.

I also worked on collecting his pace to make it like a jog; I wanted his steps to be small, but with proper engagement.  To this, I made him round, jogged off, and worked on collecting his stride by squeezing my fist and sitting back slightly when his stride became faster and bigger than I desired.  It still needs some work, which I will do soon.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Lesson on Moxie(3rd Level Mule)

*Long, word heavy post without a lot of pictures, but there is a lot to tell!

Yesterday, I rode Moxie, Laura's big black john mule.  It was a great privilege to ride him because he is very well trained, and because of that, Laura doesn't let many people ride him.  Since he has a lot of training, he is extremely sensitive to the small nuances in the rider's position and aids.  Every aid means something to him, and he's always looking to his rider to be the leader, and to make all the decisions.  He is constantly asking what his rider wants next and he wants the rider to take initiative and control everything. This is the reason why he is not a lesson mule(and why high level horses don't always make great lesson horses).  It's difficult for novice riders to focus on controlling the horse/mule while still working out their own body, which is why most lesson horses are horses that will make their own decisions when the rider can't/doesn't.  It was a real privilege to ride Moxie, and I appreciate the opportunity because it shows that Laura trusts me.

For example, when I looked down and to the left before taking off, he went that way.  I can't just look down and squeeze him to make him go off like I might do with another horse; I have to be prepared, have a game plan, and look exactly where I want to go.

 I rode Moxie in a western saddle and bridle because I can possibly do a mule show at the end of the month(instead of the dressage show).  According to Laura, mule shows always have a very fun, relaxed atmosphere, even at rated ones like the one I might do, and the people are very friendly, so it will be a great first show experience.  Plus, Laura knows most of the people there–the horse world is small, and the mule world is even smaller.  If I go, I will enter a novice western trail course, and possibly a pleasure class.

 While riding, I had to be extra careful with my hands because like I said, he is sensitive, and curb bits can be strong and harsh in unsteady hands.  I rode with split reins and kept them long, with only a light contact on his month.  My hands stayed close together because in the show I will have to ride with one hand, which shouldn't be too much of a problem since I have been learning to turn with my legs and upper body instead of my hands.  However, if I did need my hands I was told to move my hands slightly to the inside so that the outside rein touched his neck, making him turn.  This is what is called neck reining.

 I struggled at first, using too much hand and becoming tight.  I walked him around a bit, then asked for the jog.  However, I was too tight and leaned too far forward, resulting in a tight, bigger than intended trot.  Laura got on for a few minutes to school Moxie and to demonstrate just how light he could be, then let me back on again.

 A western position is about relaxation, not tightness(no position should have a lot of tension but Laura told me to be relaxed and loose in western).  Also, I was told to sit more on my seat bones.  In my head, I kept a mental image of a reiner doing a sliding stop to help me to see how my position should be like. One mental image she used that was helpful in causing me to relax was to imagine that I was riding the best mule in the nation–the king mule.  It really helped me to sit upright and proud.  It should also be noted that riding western, I focused on having my legs more loosely at my side rather than keeping a hold Moxie's side.
Picture of Moxie from the first time I went to Laura's
ranch, back in January.  I miss the green grass!

The next time I asked for the jog was a bit better.  When I focused on leaning slightly back(really I was upright but it felt like leaning back because I had been too far forward in my upper body) and relaxing, Moxie jogged off really nicely.  To return to walk, I was told to lean slightly back, relax my body by breathing out, and to close my fingers slightly.  This is where the stopping reining rider imager proved useful, because my position should be similar to that, though perhaps not as pronounced.  The first few times, it took several dribbling strides to return to the walk.  However, after doing walk-jog transitions every few strides, and focusing on breathing out even more quickly, I began to get sharp transitions between the walk and the jog.  There were a few times throughout the ride when I became tight again and leaned forward.  Guess what?  It caused the faster, tight trot.  All I had to do to fix it was to sit up more.

 At the same time, I worked on steering without my hands.  To do this, I put my outside leg slightly forward and squeezed to push his shoulders over.  As the ride progressed, I had to do less and less with my hands.

 After a while, I tried one of the obstacles that had been set up around the arena.  There were walk-overs(cavaletti that are walked over in trail course), cone serpentines, a rope gait, a side-pass pole, and four poles arranged in a box, though I only worked on the box this time.  I jogged over it, turned around, and jogged back several times.  Moxie is surprisingly maneuverable in spite of his large size(17 hands).  Laura could almost turn him on the dime when she rode him!  I was able to turn fairly tightly when turning around to go back over the box.  I didn't make a large circle; I used leg to push his shoulder over and turn him around.  Unfortunately, one of Moxie's hooves dinged each pole when I rode over them, which would have resulted in a 1/2 point off for each ding had it been a competition.

 Next, I practiced the turn on the haunches because they always show up in trail courses, and are performed in the box, but I did it outside of the box.  To perform a turn on the haunches, I had to lift my inside leg to "open the gate," put my outside leg forward to push his shoulder over, and be prepared to close my fingers should Moxie decided to surge forward.  At first, I didn't close my fingers in time and he made a small circle instead.  Then, Laura told me to break it down step by step.  Doing this, I was able to get him to turn bit by bit, though he did go forward a few times before I could stop him.

 Then, I incorporated the turn on the haunches into the next exercise, which was to make a square at the walk.  At each corner, I had to do a quarter-turn to make the 90 degree angle.  Starting out, I used way to much rein, and I didn't close my inside leg in time to stop him from make a turn more than 90 degrees, causing him to cut in.  Consequently, I over-corrected and used the reins, pulling him too far to the outside.  After a bit, I breathed and decided to take my time.  I kept my hands at the horn and applied outside leg to push him shoulders over, then quickly blocked his body with my inside leg almost before he was finished turning, which worked out well.  There were a few times when I slipped into letting him make round turns again, but after I was doing the exercise well, Laura decided it was best to stop on the good note.

  I will continue to practice on Moxie and soon tackle the other obstacles.  If I can keep Moxie round, which I worked on too but didn't focus entirely on like I do with Lucky(he didn't have a martingale or training aid I might add), go through the obstacles without touching them, and ride one handed,  I should be prepared.  The key to trail course is for me to take my time; it is not a speed event like show jumping.  Lucky will get the month off as I get to know Moxie, but the next step with her is to ride her roundly without a training aid.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Wait for the Sweet Spot

 Things have been a bit hectic lately, and Laura has been to several shows in the past month.  She has qualified for the California Dressage Regional/State Championships in Rancho Murrieta with BB Magee(one of her mules) for the freestyle event with a 76%  in one of the freestyles, which is phenomenal for a mule, and fantastic even for a horse!  This weekend they are at Starr Vaughn trying to qualify for the First Level event at the Championships.  It's really exciting that another of her mules, not just Dyna, is doing so well in dressage.  Mules rule!

  Anyways, in spite of not having ridden in a month, I had a lovely ride on Lucky.  I lunged her first to get her to become round, use her body, and respond to my aids.  Then I mounted, and began to do a similar thing in the dressage arena.  I asked her to come round in the walk, then began to the do they same in the trot.  Once I had her moving round and free in the walk and trot, responding to my aids, I began the exercises I would do that lesson.

 I worked on 10 meter circles for the first time, starting by going the to left at the walk on a 10 meter circle at B. To help me out, Laura marked where I should go with small cones.  At first, I had some difficulty with having enough bend in Lucky's body; she was too straight, particularly at the rail.  I also pulled too much on the inside rein without supporting with the outside rein.  The inside rein is only used for flexion, the inside leg is at the girth and pushes the horse to the outside rein, and the outside leg keeps the shoulders from popping out. Once I had Lucky moving roundly, I prepared to trot the circle.  Before the transition I squeezed Lucky with my calves to create energy, capturing it by squeezing the reins.  The goal here was to create upward energy, rather than forward energy, so it was important that I captured it and didn't let her trot off.  Only once I had Lucky round and moving with energy did I ask her to trot off.  I kept her round through the trot by squeezing the outside rein during the transition.  I continued on the 10 meter circle.

 After giving Lucky a break to let her stretch, I prepared for a new exercise that involved half 10 meter circles and tear drop shapes.  I started with a 10 meter circle to the left at B, as I had been doing.  Once my position was correct and I had Lucky round and flexed nicely, I went from X, the part of the circle that touched centerline, onto a diagonal to P.  I had to keep Lucky completely straight until just before P, where I changed the flexion(and my diagonal when I did the exercise at the trot).  I continued on until reaching E, where I made a 10 meter circle to the the right, and I made diagonal to the V when I was ready.  
A basic diagram of the exercise.  The parts along the rail are ridden both to the right and to the left, but the others only in the direction the arrow is pointing.

 I tried the exercise at the walk first, and then trotted it. At first, I had to circle several times before heading onto the diagonal so I could get Lucky round. Laura didn't want me to head onto the diagonal until both Lucky and I were ready.  There where a few times during the lesson when things fell apart(I leaned too much to the outside, and Lucky lost her roundness as a result, becoming rushed and on the forehand).  At these times, I returned to the walk to rebalance both myself and Lucky.  For the most part, however, I rode nicely.  I kept Lucky round through most of the walk-trot and the trot-walk transitions.

Next, I took a break from that exercise to canter.  Lately, I have been able to effectively keep Lucky round through transitions between the walk and the trot, which is a huge improvement from a few months ago.  In the canter, however, I toss myself forward and throw the contact all away, losing everything I had worked for in the few minutes before the transition.  During this lesson, I worked extra hard keeping the roundness.  The first few times went just as they always have.  For the rest of the times, I focused on having a beautiful, round transition.  I worked on getting Lucky to the "sweet spot" in the trot before asking for canter.  Put simply, the "sweet spot" is any moment when Lucky is balanced and round.  Once she was in this sweet spot, I asked for canter, squeezing the outside rein to keep her round.  Miraculously, I had a wonderful transition. Lucky stayed round through the transition, and for the next few strides after.  It felt amazing.  Once I got several nice transitions like that, I repeated the same exercise as earlier, except with the canter added.

The canter version.

 This time, I started on a 10 meter circle to the right at E since Lucky canters more easily to the left.  Once I found the sweet spot at the trot, which was pretty quickly, I head across the diagonal to V, staying in the sitting trot and preparing for canter.  Just before V, I changed the flexion and asked for canter.  Lucky bounded into canter, staying round.  It felt amazing.  I cantered to P, then returned to the trot.  Then I made a half 10 meter circle at B and prepared to canter at P.  Once more, Lucky bounded into the canter, making a lovely transition.  I made one more circle at E, cantered, then walked at P, paying special attention on keeping Lucky round.  It was a beautiful transition.  Of course, all these transitions didn't just happen–I had to ask carefully to keep Lucky there.

It was fabulous to have a step forward.  Previously, I have watched people ride in a balanced, rounded  canter and wished that I could ride like that. Having a taste of that was amazing.  I'm so happy to have progressed so much this past year.  In fact, a year ago, I could hardly get a horse.  I wonder where I will be a year from now.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

I Drove Pistachio!

 I haven't been doing much horse related activities this past month, though I lunged Lucky several times and rode Pistachio once.  Lucky has done really well the last few times I lunged her.  She stretched her neck down and become round consistently,  and even circled to the right without leaning and letting her shoulder drop into the circle, which is great news.   Pistachio has also been doing well.     Under saddle, he has been more accepting of contact, and even reached for the bit.  He stayed round for more than just a split second, a huge improvement.

 Recently, I went driving with Pistachio and his owner, Gretchen, at the same ranch where the Halloween Haunt event was held last year, and where the Spring Fling was held earlier this year.  Before we drove, I lunged Pistachio, then harnessed him with Gretchen.

 First, Gretchen drove to one of the new driving hazards obstacle.  Hazards are made up of sturdy wooden poles that the driver must weave through, and consist of several elements, all of which must be performed in order.  This particular one had an A, B, C, D, and E element.   Each element consists of two poles: a red pole and a white.  Like in eventing and jumping, the red is always on the right.  The hazard was tricky at first, but after driving Pistachio at a walk through it a few times to see where every element, Gretchen was able to drive it at a trot.

 In the dressage ring, Gretchen drove Pistachio in a serpentine loop.  A serpentine loop, unlike the serpentines consisting of three 20 meter circles, are straight lines that snake across the arena, making a U-turn at each arena wall.  Gretchen did this to slow Pistachio, who often rushes when being driven.

 We also drove in the cones course.  The cones course consisted of 20 pairs of cones, each labeled from 1 to 20, the order they are meant to be driven in.  He rushed quite a bit during the cones course as well.

 Later on, Gretchen surprised me by allowing me to drive Pistachio.  I had only driven twice before that time, and had only driven a miniature horse.  However,  driving is not terribly difficult for someone who knows how to ride, although there is one major difference that was hard to get used to: I couldn't use inside leg to help Pistachio bend.  To help me, Gretchen touched Pistachio's barrel with her whip, encouraging him to bend.  He was bit fast a few times, but wasn't uncontrollable.  I drove him in the dressage arena for a few minutes, playing around with the serpentine exercise I did with Lucky(the one with a few walk strides in between each change of direction).  He did it pretty well, and even came round a few times.

 Next, I tried the cones course.  It was challenging, but fun.  I didn't go through a few of them completely straight and bumped a few cones though, accidentally knocking down the white number eleven.   Just before gate six,  I asked him to slow down slightly.  Just after six was a short(only about a stride), steep, hill leading into an indent that was several strides long.  I wanted to slow him, because I knew the downhill, and the following uphill, would cause him to speed up.

 I really enjoyed driving Pistachio!  It was great.