Thursday, April 30, 2015

Great Two-Point Lessons!

 These last two lessons, I have been working on improving my two point position since my goal is to be able to jump within a few months from now, providing my jumping position because solid enough that I can remained balanced at all gaits without leaning on Lucky's mouth. The lesson before last, practiced my two-point in both the trot and canter. I transitioned between two-point and posting at the trot, and two point and sitting at the canter.

 I still can't remain in correct balanced the whole time, but both I'm getting stronger, so I can stay out of the saddle without getting tired for much longer than I could in January.

 I worked on a lot of serpentines during my most recent lesson. Since serpentines have many changes of direction and bend, I really have to be prepared to change my inside leg as well as the flexion when I reach the part in the serpentine where the direction is changed. One of the problems I have is letting my inside hand drop, which does not help the horse to flex to the inside and come round. However, when I remember to lift my hand and have enough inside leg, Lucky flexes and comes round. Lucky is a really good teacher because she only does what her rider asks if it is asked correctly. When riding her I can know if I am asking for something incorrectly.

 I also did an exercise that helped both with my two point and my turning. I had to turn left up centerline, without pulling on the reins, and start my two point at the cone set up between S and R. The first few time I used too much hand, so I went back and started the turn again, this time with less hands and more legs.

 For most of the ride, I struggled to find my balance at the two-point, and when returning to the posting trot before C, I hastily made the transition rather than relaxing and taking my time to make a fluid, seamless transition. This resulted in an unbalanced transition, and it took several strides to recover.

 It was my last ride through the exercise, this time to the right, that really stuck out. This time through, I didn't rush and become unbalanced. Instead, I breathed and relaxed, determined to ride through it nicely. This time through, I had a great, balanced two-point, holding it and transitioning smoothly to the posting. It felt effortless, and was one of those moments when everything goes well and correctly. I'd say for sure that it was the best, standout moment of the ride.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Oak Star Ranch Mule and Donkey Derby

 Last weekend, from the 17th to 19th, was the Oak Star Ranch Mule and Donkey Derby, which Laura has been planning and preparing for these past few months. As the name suggests, it was a show specifically for mules and donkeys. Never before have I ever seen so many mules and donkeys in one place. There were at least 30 altogether, I think.

 The first day of the show was the gymkhana and packing day. There were several different classes, including a donkey class. There were various different events, including pole bending, single stake(the horse and rider go to the pole, turning around and heading back the starting line), speed ball(they go to a gone, drop a golf ball in it, and run back), speed barrels(similar to pole bending except three barrels set further apart than pole bending poles), and keyhole(riders have to enter a small circle marked by flour, turn around without crossing the line, and head back). All these events are timed, and the fastest pair wins. I was one of the timers for these events.

 They are really exciting to watch! There were two sisters that were really good, winning or placing in most of the gymkhanas. They literally galloped their mules through each event, finishing most in around ten seconds, at least five seconds faster than most, depending on the event. During the speed ball event, they didn't even to stop to drop the golf in the cone. They just slowed down enough to drop it in and not next to the cone. The donkey classes were hilarious! Donkeys are often stubborn and a little lazy, not wanting to work so hard. Many of them didn't go faster than the walk or a slow jog. It was funny!
None of the pictures turned out too well. Here are a couple dressage pictures.
The jumping one didn't turn out.

 In the late afternoon was the packing competition. Mules are often used for packing because they are smart and surefooted. In fact, the nearby Yosemite National Park has a pack station, which is where Laura worked and first became interested in mules. The object of the packing competition is to correctly tie the packs on the mule faster than anyone else. It was really interesting because I have never seen this before. In another of the packing competitions, the each competitors had to actually load their mule, tie the packs one, and mount their horse, leading the mule to then end of the arena and back. I timed these events too, and really enjoyed watching them.

 The next day was all the English events. There was dressage, followed by hunters and jumpers, ending with the flat classes(English pleasure and equitation). Some of the rides from the clinic were riding in the dressage classes. One of the mules I really like was Señor Grande, a 17 hand mule. He was really consistent in the contact, not once coming off the bit, and he had big movements because of his size.

 I also enjoyed watching the hunters and jumpers. There were so many hunter classes at different fence sizes, with the final hunter class of the day being a 2' 6" class. Some of those mules were really good jumpers and tucked their knees nicely over the fences. I helped fix the fences if needed and timed the jumper classes. The most exciting jumper class to watch was the Gambler's Choice class. In this event, the rider has to jump as many fences as possible within 45 seconds. Each jump is worth a certain amount of points, depending on the difficulty of the jump, and each jump can only be jumped twice. The time goes by quickly, but the riders found creative ways to jump as many fences as possible. It is a really exciting competition to watch!

 The final classes were hunter hack, English pleasure, and equitation. Even the donkeys has their own flat class. Sunday was all the western classes, but I did not get to watch those. It was a very busy yet exciting weekend!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Auditing Conrad Schumacher Clinic

 Last week, I had the opportunity to audit a Conrad Schumacher clinic. Conrad Schumacher is a German dressage rider who has coached the Dutch Olympic, World Championships, and European Championships dressage teams for many years. Many of the riders he has coached have earned individual and team silver and bronze medals. 

 All the horses and riders in this clinic were very advanced and have competed at Grand Prix. It was amazing to see so many excellent horses and riders. In fact, these horses were the nicest horses I have ever seen in person. I have never seen a Grand Prix horse before the clinic, except in pictures and videos, and I believe that the piaffe, passage, and Grand Prix movements look even more spectacular in person. 

 The riders were all really great too. Many of them had trained multiple horses up to Grand Prix level. One of the horses there, Vinnie, was actually stabled next to Dyna at the U.S. Dressage Finals, so Laura, who was with me, knows the rider. Laura's trainer, Grand Prix rider and judge Renee Johnson, was also riding in the clinic. Renee actually lives in the area. I didn't relayed until recently that there is a Grand Prix rider living within an hour from me!

 A lot of the things Schumacher talked about during the clinic was very advanced and applied to the particular rider he was teaching(they rode one at a time). Even so, there were some things I can understand and apply to my riding now, and it was awesome to watch those great riders. It's not everyday that I see so many Grand Prix riders and horses, and very rarely do some many Grand Prix riders and horses come to this area.

 One of the things he said during the clinic was that your leg is very important when riding. It is what clearly tells the horse what to do(or at least it should clearly tell the horse what to do). When one of the horses was a bit nervous and not really paying attention, Schumacher told the rider that in your relationship with your horse, you have to be the alpha mare. Horses need someone to be their leader, or they will be the leader. When you are there leader, it is important not to react when they spook or get nervous. If you do, then the horse will react as well. I also watched Schumacher lunge, getting the horse to use his body correctly as he did so, which is what Laura does when lungeing as well.

I really loved to see these fancy horses and great riders. Seeing a great trainer who has taught many Olympic teams was also awesome.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Dyna Does Dressage Documentary

I have exciting news! The story of Laura Hermanson and Dyna is being told by Sarah Crowe and Amy Enser in a documentary called Dyna Does Dressage. Their story is an incredible, inspiring one that needs to be told. Last year, at the U.S. Dressage Finals, Laura and Dyna made history. To think that a mule, which is normally thought of as a pack animal, beat many horses and competed against the best horses in the country at her level is incredible. It goes to show that nothing is impossible if you work hard and believe.


The movie poster
 What is also awesome is that I know Laura, and I know Dyna. Furthermore, I met Sarah and Amy over the weekend. Take a few minutes to watch beautiful trailer and learn more about Laura. The video is touching, inspiring and moved me close to tears. Also check out the Go Fund Me page if you would like to support this documentary and this story that needs to be told. Check out the Facebook page for regular updates on how the filming is going. Finally, please share with your friends on social media

Laura Hermanson Dressage Clinic

 Before the western clinic, I rode in Laura's dressage clinic. This time, too, I rode Anna, and I was still getting used to her as I had only ridden her one time before that. Laura started by checking everyone's bridles to make sure the nosebands and flashes were correctly tightened. Then she talked about the proper way a horse(or mule) should flex. She always flexes her mules slightly to both the inside and then the outside before a transition. After everyone had tried this, Laura talked about roundness. When a horse or mule becomes round, it's back should come out and the neck should bend. Laura flexed every mules(and the one horse's) back by gently pressing on the haunches so that each rider could feel what it feels like when an equine becomes round.

The group. I am third from the left.
 Next, we worked on getting our equine's in a forward, steady rhythm. We did this by using poles. We started with walk poles. Heading around the arena, we rode in a free walk, but just before we had to shorten our reins and push our equine forward if needed. I had to push Anna forward several times, because I had trouble keeping her in front of my leg.

Getting Anna to stretch down at the walk(free walk).

 After doing it at the walk, everyone tried the exercise over trot poles. It was a sharp turn to get to the poles, so we had to make sure to keep the correct rhythm around the turn and over the poles. The first few time, I made it over the poles but not in a very good rhythm. The last time heading over the poles, I kicked Anna forward. This time, she really reached forward, keeping a good rhythm over the poles and on the straight line after it as well. Laura said that that was the rhythm I need to have all the time.
More free walking

Over the walk poles

During the break time, a saddle fitter taught about fitting both western and English saddles, particularly focusing on mules. Mules have straighter backs than horses, and their ribs start out narrow then widen out, so they are built much differently than horses. Consequently, saddles are much harder to fit. It is hard to fit English saddles made for Thoroughbreds, or western saddles made for stock horses. To fit English saddles, the fitter uses special half pads with three pockets on each side. She inserts foam pads into the pockets to adjust the saddles fit and fill in the empty spaces between the saddle and the horses back. Thus doesn't fix a too big saddle, but it helps a saddle to be custom fitted to a horse or mule. I don't think any saddle you would by online would fit perfectly without some minor adjusting. She also flocks saddles to help the fit as well.

Over the trot poles. Straight-arming though

 In the afternoon, we worked on pats of Dressage Training Level Test 3, the test ridden at Bishop Mule Days, the mule world show(look Mule Days up). We practiced a serpentine loop, which is a loop that goes from H to X to K. The judge looks for a change of bend in this loop. The first few times I didn't quite get to X, and I used to much outside rein rather than inside leg, but the last time I tried it I got a fairly nice bend.

 Connie then decided that I should rest Anna for the day because I Anna would have to work a lot over the weekend at the western clinic(1, 2).

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Connie Lara Western Clinic, Part II

 The second day of the clinic was a lot about reining and western pleasure, and I learned a lot. We started by learning some of the warm-up exercises that Connie does. We combined both arenas for more room. One of these exercises was one in you ride down the side of the arena, making a large circle at each corner. This is one way of getting the horse to be responsive to the aids. We did the exercise at the jog and the lope, working both ways. Another exercises Connie uses is the counter canter. Counter canter is difficult, but it helps the horse to become responsive and more balanced. First, we started on the left lead, cantered down the side of the arena, made a diagonal, circled, then headed back. This was very difficult, and the first time I intentionally counter cantered. Nevertheless, I could keep Anna in the counter canter without her falling into the trot/jog. the next exercise was more difficult: we had to ask for canter right away, rather than making a diagonal. Connie said to think of it as just asking for a right lead or left lead and not asking for a "wrong lead." Since I was heading left, I used my left leg when asking for the canter(from the walk) so that Anna would ice up the right side lead. She picked up the counter canter, but I difficulty maintaining for the circle and across the diagonal. It was great that I was able to get the counter canter right away, though.

Next, we rode some western pleasure. Western pleasure is a discipline that is very different than dressage. In western pleasure, you the horse to be in a low frame and you want the horse to take short, slow steps, rather than the big, expressive strides of dressage. I did a pretty good job at this,  except I need to lower my hands a bit to allow Anna to stretch down like the horses do in western pleasure.

 We also worked on reining circles. There were lots of cones that were it up into one large circle and two small circles within the larger one, and we would ride the big circle, then break it down into smaller ones. The practice of the day before had prepared me for this. I tried the exercise in the jog and the lope. However, I had a little trouble when I returned to the jog because I didn't continue to make a wide turn all the way out to the edge of the arena. I instead let Anna cut the circle small. I loped off and tried again, this time continue to focus as I returned to the jog, making a good, wide circle.

 In the afternoon, the riders who had done more reining practiced the reining spins. Since one other rider and I had never done this before, we watched the other riders instead. Then, we rode a mulemanship pattern. This is something at Bishop Mule Days where the riders ride down a koine of cones, following a set pattern where they have to walk, jog, and lope, circling some of the cones. I think the rider is judged in this one, as well as if they do do the pattern correctly(of course) and make even circles. The first pattern was simple: walk from the first cone to the second, jog to the third cone, lope off, circle to the left, return to jog and halt at the last cone. I did pretty good, except I came into the circle a little tight and halted a little early.

The next pattern was similar, except the lope circle was a figure eight first to the right and then to the left, with a simple change in between. Again, I cut the circle tight rather than going deep into the turn.  It's harder than it looks! The last time I did it, though, I did really well. I made transitions at the right moment, and made a great figure eight with large circles. Connie was so happy and proud of me for doing so well with her mule, especially considering that I had only ridden western a handful of times before that weekend, never before trying reining, western pleasure, or trail course. Furthermore, I was new to the mule, who isn't green but is only six and doesn't have much experience. I was the only teenager there, and held my own against experienced riders, many of which had been riding for 20+ years.

By the end of the weekend Anna and I had gotten the hang of each and my riding was greatly improved. A lot of the exercises I had done that weekend really helped me make better circles and to ride much less with my hands. Plus, I got to try a lot new things. Also, I just turned 15 on the 8th.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Connie Lara Western Clinic, Part I

 Over this past weekend, I rode in a western clinic taught by Connie Lara, a friend of Laura's. Connie let me ride Annalissa, her bay six year old mule that is actually very horse-like. At the start of the clinic, I learned about riding a good warm-up. If you have a warm-up plan, you will be better prepared to ride, and you will be more prepared when warming up at a show. Connie has a list of several things she wants in her mule when warming up. She wants her mule to be responsive on a small circle, driving from the hind end with impulsion. She also wants to be able halt and reverse her mule, and to be able to control both the front end and the hind end. If she loses any of these, she goes back to the beginning.

 Everyone warmed up together, moving the hind end and the front end after circling. I had some difficulty moving the haunches at first, but once I relaxed I was able to do it. We next worked on circles, a very important aspect of riding because every pattern in riding consists of either straight lines or circles. The goal was for the mule or horse to have a nice bend and to be in the proper western frame, where the equine's head is low. She also wanted each rider to be looking two cones ahead(there were four evenly spaced cones on the circle). When it was my turn, I made sure to use enough inside leg to keep Anna bent on the circle. Connie thought I did a good job and commented that I made her mule look nice. Because I had done so well, she had me break the circle down into very small circles at each of the four points. I had no problem doing this either and made the circles.
Spiraling it in. Each layer of cones represents a circle. This is before the circle was made into the smaller version.

 Next, we worked on adjusting our mounts by spiraling circles in. There was a large circle marked by cones, with several smaller ones inside, the smallest being only several meters in length. I spiraled in and out of this, making a fill circle at each layer. Then Connie made the circles even smaller, with the innermost circle being just large enough to put a barrel standing up in the center. I didn't have much trouble with this either.
Heading around the box
Before the box was made smaller

 In yet another exercise, we had to enter a box made of four poles, circle a cone within it, then exit the box. I did it well the first time. Connie made the box even smaller, and I tried again. It was a tight squeeze, but I made the circle. However, I rushed getting of of the box, going out at a steep angle and heading over the pole rather than going in between the corners. The next time around, I focused more, making the turn and heading out nicely.
The cone exercise in which I circle around several cones. I go to the middle cone on the right after this and circle twice to the left.

 The final exercise of the morning was one in which we had circle around multiple cones set in a pattern. Basically there was a row of several pairs set at an angle, and we had to circle the top one in the pattern, head to one set at an angle to it, circle it twice and continue. To do it successfully, one had to go straight across and not right next to the cone that would be circled, making a wide turn around. I did well on the first two cones, but in two tight heading toward the third cone and couldn't finish the pattern. The second time, the same thing happened. The third time, however, I really focused and made nice turns around all of them.
Going between the tall poles
 After lunch, we worked on straight lines. The first exercise was a straight line between several pole-bending poles. It was very narrow, and I almost bumped my legs on the poles, but I kept Anna going straight. There were also several sets of parallel poles set in a straight line, with each of these chutes set in front of and a little off to the side of each other. The object was for each rider to use their legs to push their mule over into each chute. The first few times, I was weaving in between them rather than leg-yielding over. Then I tried to use more leg and was able to push Anna over when I wanted to. Next with did the same thing, except for with cones set close together(like pole bending). The object was to push the mule over, rather than pull them and weave around the cones. I did well for the first few cones, but then Anna rushed off and I couldn't use my legs to push her over. This happened a couple of times, so Connie got on Anna, and it turned out that it was something Anna was doing wrong, not me.
Moving sideways from the poles to between the cones
 When I remounted, I was prepared to ask Ann to stay at a nice slow jog. I went through the pattern nicely, and could even wind my way back. I later tried the same thing with even closer cones that had poles set between then. I tried the exercise at the walk first, doing it successfully, then jogged it. It went well! It's amazing how much better I was at using my legs to move Anna than I was when I started the clinic.

The figure-eight after the poles.

 The final exercises involved poles set in a step pattern. We had to do some circles over each of poles, starting at the top and working our way down, so circles got larger further through the exercise. That wasn't too hard after the small circles from earlier that day. next, the poles were moved into steeper angles. This time, we had to jog a diagonal across all the poles in one line, then turn left and go across the sharp angle made by two of the poles. After that, we would make a shape u-turn go across another angle made by two poles, the jog to two barrels and figure eight around them. This was challenging, but I could do it.

 It's amazing how much better my riding was by the end of the day. I was better and more refined at turning without relying completely on my hands. Laura thought I did a great job holding my own against adult riders who had been riding for much longer than I have. Stay tuned for part II, where I try reining. Also, another highlight of the clinic was meeting Olivia from DIY Horse Ownership. It's always fun to meet a fellow blogger!

Monday, April 6, 2015

I Rode Western!

 I don't think I've mentioned this before, but Laura loves trying all kinds of disciplines, English and western. She believes that there is something to be learned from every discipline. Furthermore, she believes that it is great for horses and mules to try different, not only to relieve boredom from doing the same thing but also so the horse/mule can cross train and gain skills helpful to their main discipline. For example, she has done cutting, reining, western trail course, and hunters with Dyna.

 So I can try new things, I will be riding in a western trail course clinic later this month. One of Laura's friends is teaching, and I will get to ride the clinician's well-trained western mule. It's going to be exciting! The name is pretty self-explanatory, but for those of you who don't know, western trail course is a competition in which horse and rider go through a series of obstacles. The obstacles can be logs, poles bending, gates, and so much more. Riding western trail course can help me prepare for jumping because I need to prepare for each obstacle, like preparing for a jump, and the horse has to be responsive too.

She looks so cute in western! She has a nice jog too.
 To prepare for this clinic, I rode Lucky in a western saddle. I learned how to but a western saddle on and to to tighten the cinch. Basically there is a long strap that hangs from the saddle, and you put it through a loop at the end of the cinch and another below the flap of the saddle several times and tighten. I also rode in split reins, where the reins are in two pieces rather than being buckled together. As I was riding western, I sat for the trot and kept it at a slower, western jog.

 I tried to keep my position correct and get Lucky round. It's amazing how simply bending my elbows can get her to drop her and relax. Mostly, I need to let my legs go long without pinching, especially in the canter/lope. The first time cantering, my legs were stiff, and I braced. Consequently, Lucky's movements were not free. When I tried again, I really focused on letting my legs go long, and voila, her canter was more free.

 The most fun part was riding the trail course. The course started with a figure eight around two barrels, which were so close together that Lucky could just barely go between them. Then I would ride straight to the end of the arena, which wasn't very many strides off, canter straight and around the corner, past three pole bending poles, returning to trot and bending throughout the last few in the line, then bending back, turning right just before the last pole, and making a hair-pin turn to go between two cones and walk.

 The barrels were difficult, and I had to make a wide turn around each barrel so Lucky wouldn't return to trot. I started to the right, her most difficult side, then turned left and went down the arena. I sat back and asked her canter. Because I knew that she is easy to get to return to trot, I waited until she was at the third pole to ask her to make a downward transition, then began bending around the poles. Pole bending is really not all that different than serpentines. For both, your horse has to be balanced enough to change directions multiple times. It can be difficult to keep a horse going through a serpentine/pole bending, but I had no trouble keeping Lucky in the trot, even there were only small gaps between the poles. Finally, I make a sharp right turn just before the last pole, heading toward the side of the arena. Then I made a sharp, hairpin u-turn to two parallel pole. I halted in between them then walked off.

 I really had fun riding western and I can't wait for the clinic. Has anyone else tried western trail course before?

Thursday, April 2, 2015

I Rode a Donkey!

 I had a very exciting weekend at the Donkey Days Clinic, which was taught by a donkey expert named JoDee. At the clinic, I rode a seven year old donkey named Buddy. Donkeys are quite different than horses. They take a lot more patience to work with, and typically do not want to work very hard, yet they are the safest equines because they don't bolt or buck. They are very fun to ride and be around. They aren't as sensitive in the mouth as horses are, so when riding donkey you can't just pull on their faces, which will only make them brace, which I noticed as I watched other riders. You ask for something, like circling, with the leg aids and pull only if needed.

 One characteristic necessary for riding donkeys is patience. It can take a long time for them to understand what you are asking if you ask something new, but you have to keep asking until they make an effort. I experienced this first hand when I was asked by JoDee to back Buddy up. I cued Buddy to back up, but he only opened his mouth and braced, and then began evading by doing a turn on the forehand. He wasn't doing this to be naughty, he just didn't know what to do. It is important with donkeys just to hang in there and keep asking. I continued to ask, and used my left leg to keep him from spinning, but he just decided to go the other way. JoDee stood nearby helping by holding the reins near the bit.

The group and I(I'm on the left).
 It took a long time before Buddy backed up. After a while, I began to get a little frustrated, so I took a deep breath and tried to relax. Finally, I managed to get him to back up a few steps. I praised and patted Buddy. He didn't back up straightly, which was okay, and JoDee reiterated the importance of rewarding the effort. The allow Buddy to think about what had happened, she went on to work on the other donkeys and riders. I even watched her ride a beautiful dark brown(it looked like something you would see in a painting) male donkey. He had not been ridden in a year, and had only been ridden about fifteen times prior, so he was pretty green. It was neat to watch.

 A little later on, I witnessed some funny donkey behavior. While everyone was sitting on their donkeys, watching the clinician work on a young, on of the donkeys laid down–with a rider on her. It was hilarious! I had never seen that happen before! After watching for a while, I again attempted to back Buddy up, this time with a lot more success. He backed quite a few strides, which was great!

A donkey all the way from Nevada! I rode in an Australian saddle.
 Next, I rode a Western trail course for the first time. There were several obstacles, including a rope gate, two barrels to figure eight around, a box to do a turn on the forehand in, and two parallel poles to back out of. I had some difficultly at the rope gate, not being able to keep Buddy standing still parallel to the gate. Buddy seemed to be a little nervous as he was one of the least experienced of the group. I tried quite a few times, to no avail, so JoDee helped by opening the gate and having me follow her through the gate and back. We did this several times, and them I moved on.

 The rest was pretty straight-forward. I trotted him in a figure eight pattern around two barrels, then halted in a box made of white poles. I spun Buddy around first one war, and then the other, before exiting. I then walked through two parallel poles, halted a few seconds, and asked Buddy to back. He did it, and well too! It was so rewarding. To finish off, I went to the rail and headed towards the group. I kicked him into a fast trot and tried to get him to canter. I managed to get him to canter a few strides and trot the rest of the way, which was great because as I said donkeys don't always want to world hard.

 I had such an amazing and educational time riding Buddy! Now, I have ridden a horse, a mule, and donkey, all in one month! If you ever get the chance to ride a donkey, you should. It's fun and can be a learning experience.