Saturday, May 30, 2015

Pony Progress

  I haven't been posting much because Laura has been competing at Bishop Mule Days, the world's largest mule show. Anyways, I recently rode Pistachio, the pony I have been riding off and on since last fall. When I first got him out, he was being pretty obnoxious and hot, trying to test me as I had not ridden him in several months. Just when I entered the round pen and was ready to ask him to lunge, he just cantered off and wouldn't listen when I asked him to slow down. Rather than letting myself get frustrated, I decided to pull him into a really tiny circle around me–the rope between my hand and his head was maybe three feet. I breathed deeply and relaxed in hopes of getting him relaxed. It worked! Gradually, I let him out on bigger circles.

 Before long, he was trotting calmly around me. In fact, he was perhaps even more relaxed than he has ever been since I first started riding him. If you have been reading for a while, you may remember that when I first started riding him, he did not relax at all and wouldn't walk on a loose rein. Now, I had him lungeing calmly around me, slowing almost immediately when I said, "Whoa." He even cantered calmly to the right. He was a little less balanced and  therefore less relaxed to the left, but that was no fault of his own; every horse and pony has a "bad" side. 

 He was just as good under saddle as he had been when I lunged. Like the last time I had ridden Lucky, I tried being extra soft when riding Pistachio. Pistachio was very sensitive to my aids. Mostly, I just looked where I wanted him to go, and he went there. 

 Because he was doing so well, I decided to canter him a lot on circles. It's not easy for him to balance on circles in the canter, especially to the left, without falling into the trot. He needs the support of the inside leg from his rider. I worked on a trot circle to the right first since that side is easier for him. Once he felt ready, I asked for the canter. I made it almost all the way around before he fell into the trot. It was really my fault, because I cut the circle in and didn't make the final quarter wide enough. The next time around, he cantered around the circle beautifully. With short trot breaks in between, I cantered several more circles to the right, then went around the arena immediately following the circle.

 Circling left at the canter took a little more work, so I cantered him once around the entire arena on to the left before trying a circle. He needed a lot more support to keep him balanced on a canter circle to the left. Even so, I managed to get several nice circles. 

 I reward Pistachio with lots of pats for doing so well that ride. It may seem like a small thing to get nice canter circles, and for most horses and ponies it is, but for Pistachio who is primarily a driving pony ridden only by me, it is a big deal. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I am better rider than when I first started riding him. Nevertheless, he has improved a lot since the first time I rode him. I love that I can try some of the things I have learned on my own with a pony that does not have nearly as much dressage training as Lucky. 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Best Riding Ever!

 Yesterday, Laura said that I rode the best that she has ever seen me ride! I was light, soft, and in balance, which caused Lucky to also be balanced and soft. Everything seemed so effortless; it felt incredible. It's rides like these, when everything comes together, that makes all the hard work worth it. Granted, there were a few sticky spots when I became crooked and out of balance, consequently causing Lucky to become unbalanced, but for the most part things went brilliantly. Everything I've been learning just came together and clicked, and I was riding better than I've ever had.

 Lucky was so responsive to my aids, that I tried to find out how light I could make my aids, as if hiding them from any observer. The answer? I could be lighter and softer than I ever thought I could. It didn't take much to get Lucky to become round and responsive to my aids. I rode several serpentines during the lesson, softly changing bend as the direction of each circle on the serpentine changed.

Here I am about to change bend, turning to make a right circle at A on the serpentine.

 I even rode the serpentine in my two-point position, first riding just part of it in the two-point and the rest in rising trot, and then riding any entire serpentine, all in two-point. Since my hands were on Lucky's neck to prevent me from leaning on her mouth, I tried turning her using just my body legs. It worked! All I had to do was look in the direction I should go, turning my body slightly, and Lucky listened. When I successful turned her without hands, I asked her for a the some flexion as well. It was an amazing feeling when both Lucky and I were balanced, and I could feel her back swinging beneath me.

Two-point on the serpentine
Her canter, too was lovely and balanced. There were a few times after the downward transitions from canter when we became a bit disorganized and unbalanced, but I worked through those few sticky spots, reestablishing the forward rhythm returning to the soft, balanced place again. 

 Finally, to end incredible ride, I rode Lucky in the free walk across several diagonals and on loops(HXK and FXM). I let the reins slip all the way to the buckle and rested my hands on her withers so that I would use only my body and legs to turn. I prepared ahead of time, just before the corner where the loop began, looping across the arena without relying on my hands.

 It is the best, most amazing feeling in the world when everything came together and I was riding in harmony with Lucky, and I am so happy that it went so well. I've come a long in the one and a half years since I started riding.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Let's Discuss: Horse Shows and Correct Basics

 I recently read an article by George Morris on Chronicle of the Horse called Where Did We Come From? Where Are We Going. It is a really great article that I would recommend you reading.

  Jack le Goff said, "The young trainers are teaching their students to compete. They are not, necessarily, teaching them to ride. Therefore, when the student reaches a certain level, he or she fails or falls short. The student doesn't really know how to ride.

 There are a lot of trainers who focus on preparing their students for shows, saying that going to as much shows as possible is important. Sometimes they go to shows almost every other week. I know because I used to ride at at such a barn. Let me make it clear that I am not against showing and I am not against anyone who goes to a lot of shows. In fact, I wish to show in the future, eventually at the top level of eventing, though I am in no rush. What I have learned the past months is that solid basics come first. 


 In the article, George Morris said, "These are just some of the many things that come way before competing with a horse. These are the basics, the platform from which you might successfully and correctly reach the top of your particular discipline."

 He says that shows are tests, and the lessons and riding on your own are meant to prepare horse and rider for the "test," just like homework and lectures prepare students for tests. According to George Morris, training should take up the majority of the time and shows should not happen nearly as often. A while ago I read a Practical Horseman article about the care of several top horses, including Boyd Martin's Shamwari and Laura Grave's Verdades. What these horses have in common, despite their varying disciplines, is that they don't compete in very many competitions a year. Obviously these horse will go to less competitions than the typical horse for many reasons, but the still take time between shows.

 George Morris also makes a point about that many riders have poor positions. It is a work in progress for many people(myself included), but many riders become negligent about it. I've even shocked noticed some  Grand Prix and CCI**** riders jump ahead or have legs that swing back when going over a jump. 

 I wholehearted agree with the article, considering the fact that I am dedicated to learning correct basics, horsemanship, and riding. What is your opinion about the article? What thoughts do you have? I am curious to read what other riders think, especially since many of my readers have the showing experience that I don't. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015


 Over the weekend, I went to the local rodeo, which was very fun because rodeos are so different than riding I normally see. There was bronco riding, bull riding, team roping, barrel racing, and tie-down roping–the usual. I came for the last the day of the rodeo, so heard them announce the rodeo princesses and queen. One of favorite events was the barrel racing. My observation from this one time watching it is that barrel racing horses tend to be a bit high-strung, which is probably because they are excited to run like racehorses are before a race. That's just my observation. Either way, I think it is really exciting to watch and would be fun to try. Enjoy the pictures I took!

Bringing in the state flag

A couple of the flags.
Bronco riding

Another bronco rider and horse
One of the horses was especially feisty(not this one) and was trying to climb out of its pen.
Team roping
One of the roping teams were trying to qualify for the National Finals Rodeo(NFR). Another pair had many family members that had gone to the NFR. I'm not sure which par that was though.

Barrel racing

A gorgeous horse
Bull riding..Yikes! It look much harder and more dangerous than bronco riding. one of the bulls charge
at the rider after he fell and brushed him with the horn. One of the bulls even fell down with the rider.
Since no stayed on for the full 8 seconds, no one qualified for the next round.
Here people are catching the bull. This particular one was very stubborn and didn't want to get caught.
It took several minutes to finally get him through the chute.

What is your favorite rodeo event?

Friday, May 1, 2015

Book Review: Centered Riding

  I recently read the book Centered Riding, by Sally Swift. There is a countless amount of books out there that teach you all aspects of horsemanship, from riding a variety of disciplines, to riding exercises, to groundwork, and more, and many of them are great. However, Centered Riding is unique in that it focus completely on body awareness and becoming balanced and centered using right-brain techniques. These techniques can apply to all disciplines and every rider, no matter what the experience level. Even very good riders can benefit from these techniques.

 After introducing the concept of centered riding, the author describes what she calls the four basic: soft eyes, breathing, balancing, and centering. When you have soft eyes, your eyes are relaxed and you are aware of your surroundings. Breathing is another important basic, because tension is often caused by the rider holding his/her breath. Short, shallow breaths can also be a cause of tension, so breathing deeply is important. The third basic principle is balance. As most riders know, sitting straight with the ear, shoulder, hip, and heel aligned creates the most balance. The author describes each part that needs to be in alignment as building blocks. If the blocks are not stacked straightly, they will topple over. A jumping position, of course, is different, but you still must be balanced. For this you want the center of your body(more on that soon) over your heels. The final basic is centering.  Your center of balance is the middle of your body, towards where the pelvis is. Centering is being aware of your center of balance and using it to move more in harmony with the horse. This is, of course, what the whole book is about.
Buy on Amazon
 Ultimately, centered riding is about being aware of your body and using the four basics to ride well. The author uses imagery and visualization to help the rider achieve this. For example, she writes that a rider's legs should grow down like tree roots, and that the body should grow tall like a tree. Even just being told in a lesson, "Grow tall like a tree and let your legs grow tree roots," helps me to sit straight and let my legs be long with my heels down. There are plenty more helpful mental images found within the book.

 The bottom-line is, I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to improve their riding and take it to a deeper level, no matter what the discipline.