Friday, April 30, 2010

YES


I just heard that I got into my study abroad program for next year!! YAY!! That means that, starting next January, I'm going to be spending at least six (hopefully nine!) months in...

OXFORD!

I am sooo beyond excited. Studying abroad has been a dream of mine since wayyy before I came to college, and now it's finally happening. I'm going to be in the eventing homeworld, studying at one of world's finest universities, and learning about the things that I love. Oxford has one of the best Ancient Middle Eastern Studies programs on the planet, so as an Art History major concentrating in Ancient Mesopotamian Art, I feel like I've hit the jackpot!

I'm going to be at Oxford for Winter and Spring quarters of next year, and would like to be able to get a summer internship or job that would allow me to stay through the summer. Plus, I've gotten the ok from the parents that I might be able to have a four-legged companion come with me (shhhh....), so I'd really like to be able to stay for as long as possible to take advantage of that opportunity.

Just seven months from now, I'll be here:






=)

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Oh Ringo, What Have You Done Now?

...or:
Ringo Gets Hurt... Again

Ok, Ok. I'm being a touch overdramatic. I've really had quite good luck with Ringo for what a delicate flower he is in general and all the places we've been to and things we've done so far this year; in fact, the only injury-related vet visit of the year so far has been for Kiki! But, Ringo has come down with cellulitis in his hind left leg again, and I'm super bummed out. Fortunately he seems to be taking everything in stride, and I think has been enjoying the switch of hand grazes in place of work - lucky man! I think Ringo may have coordinated his injury with the end of grass season, just so he could gobble up the last of the green stuff before it dries up for the summer.

Meanwhile, Kiki is doing very well and had her first real dressage lesson today! It was a tough atmosphere with the wind kicking up and down, rain stopping and starting, and about 15 horses split up into 3 separate lessons all fighting for trafficking space on the rail. I usually try to protect Kiki a little bit from these kinds of situations, so it was a good time to force me to practice getting her attention in more chaotic situations. Overall, she was a star! She had moments of being super settled and quiet, and gave tons of good transitions. We came up with some strategies to make Ringo's tack fit her a little better (with the dream of someday having her own dressage bridle for her tiny little nose - sigh!) which I think will be super helpful going forward. I have felt so bad giving Kiki the shaft in the equipment department, and it was a good wake up call that she needs to have a little more attention paid to her in that regard. It was also so nice to hear that Rachel likes her! I've always felt like its been an uphill battle to get folks to see what I see in Kiki, but Rachel liked her right off the bat. Yay! I'm very excited to see what the next few weeks bring with her.

It seems like the rain is just never going to end here, and every time we have a glimpse of idyllic California spring, it promptly gets taken away from us with a week of fitfully blustery overcast skies and rain. And of course, because it's California, it never rains hard enough for me to really feel justified in complaining about it... but in a big openly designed campus like Stanford, it's still a huge pain in the ass. The cross country course still isn't open at Woodside, and I'd really like to get out schooling with Kiki before we move up to Novice at the event at the end of May!! Fingers crossed...

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Isn't that how a life with horses always feels? You always make lovely progress in one part of the equation and then take a step back and realize that something else has deteriorated! Or at least that's what I always feel.

Both Ringo and Kiki have been feeling good lately. Ringo has had a little bit of time off after his lesson with Brian, mainly just because my academic course load is finally starting to tighten down and require some real time and effort (boooo). Kiki, on the other hand, has had it rather busy with a jump lesson with Beth Temkin on Friday for which she was wild but EXCELLENT. It was (again) our first time jumping since Gina's, so I knew that she was going to be a rocket ship, and so was thrilled when she settled down (as much as she does) midway through the lesson and started to put a really solid effort in. Beth was complimentary of her quality (not something I heard too much where I was previously!), but I definitely caught a glimpse her face after Kiki leaped and bolted at the first pile of poles that we tried to trot over, and I'm pretty sure she was thinking, "What the hell have I gotten myself into?" I was really pleased with Beth's strategies for Kiki (which mostly involved my own body placement on her back, as I'm so tall and she's so little) and thought they worked great; she was jumping single fences off of rather long approaches (for her) with no trouble at all by the end, and felt actually very rideable and listening. Sweet!

Then, today I took her out for a spin and she was AWESOME. Quiet, cool, and relaxed from the beginning, and she gave me moments of trotwork that seemed to come from another horse: floating, cadenced, and powerful. She could only ever hold it for a couple of strides before falling back into "pony mode" but I was still blown away! What a star, Kiki! Now just to make equal improvements in her canter. . .

So the riding has been going well. But then there's polo. This past week has been a long one polo-wise, with two of three sets I rode having pretty bad moments and practice today going pretty poorly. On both Monday and Friday, at least one of the horses I was supposed to pony just would not play along and just kept stopping over and over again. On Friday it was so bad that we didn't even get all the way down the driveway before I had to give up and leave the offending pony at the trailer! In general I can keep a pretty light attitude towards sets because they're so far removed from "real" riding or even "real" polo, but I found the accumulation of stopping to really get on my nerves after a while. I hate it because I can't find a way to school the horses and make them better once they start acting up. They'll just hang on the rope no matter what combination of clucking, chasing, circling, bumping, or anything else that I try until they decide of their own accord that they want to start moving again. Very frustrating!

Then at practice today, my beginner's luck officially ran out, and then some. I sucked!! I couldn't even hit the ball from the trot. I don't know what was up but I felt totally wonky and out of it. I was so bummed! When we played a practice chukker, I just stood in the back of the pack and felt overwhelmed. Definitely a big change from last week, where I was cantering and hitting (definitely not consistently, but enough to feel really pleased about it!) and felt like I could actually ride forward and aggressively without getting freaked out. Today I just couldn't do a thing right! Oh well, it happens. Next week I'll be one week stronger and more experienced, and hopefully I'll bring my brain along to practice with me for a change!

Ringo rides again with Brian on Monday. The real question is, Flat or Jumping? Jumping would be pretty much the same as Thursday, probably, but would be another chance to solidify what we worked on then. Flat would be a whole new adventure with Brian, but I've heard he's fabulous. I'd love to hear anyone's input!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Lesson with Brian Sabo

Ringo and I are getting back on track!!! Today I had a simply wonderful jumping lesson with Brian Sabo. It was my first time jumping (if you count higher than poles and a single little X) since leaving Gina's, and I was, I will admit, a bit apprehensive. Not all the way to nervous, but half of my mind was trying to convince me that I should do a dressage lesson instead right up until the moment I tightened the girth of my jump saddle!

As soon as we got going, I knew that this was going to be good. Brian really focused on the flatwork, and got me thinking about the quality of his gaits and the straightness of his body long before we approached any fences. I really liked how in depth and consistent his explanations were: he gave a detailed enough description that I really felt like I understood what I was being asked to do front to back, but his vision was unified enough that I also never got confused with the instructions he was trying to give me (a major problem with instructors in the past, who have either been spartan or verbose without purpose, both of which I find very flustering). He was also managed to be very positive while still demanding a lot; there was even a moment where he said (approximately), "Now, I said that that last transition was good, but I know you probably didn't think so. Yes, there is a lot to work on, and I know you could feel all of that, but there were parts that were much better. You're smart, and will keep working on those other parts; focus on what improved." This attitude is so vastly different from the vibe I've been getting in my training in the past, where for some combination of my personality with my instructor's, its been very hard for me to get a positive and yet still realistic impression of what was going on (I would either feel crushed or falsely buoyed up); this time I definitely understood the things to work on, but didn't feel at all deflated.

The entire lesson continued in much the same tone. I didn't ever feel like the lesson was falsely positive or frivolous (in fact the vibe was quite the opposite, with a lot of focus and concentration going on), yet I came out with a very positive feeling of where I should go from here. We focused heavily on the quality of Ringo's canter, his straightness in my reins, and my strategies for approaching each fence. Brian has a very distinct philosophy about approach strategy that I really vibe with, which we revisited today to great success. I was definitely a bit rusty at first! It was interesting to see, when we broke down each phase of the fence so specifically, where my mind shuts off as a rider. I always imagine that its the last few strides where I go to pieces, but it became clear that it was actually much earlier that the disconnect occurs and that I actually manage the problems I give myself in the last few strides pretty much as well as they can be! So, by focusing more on the quality of canter and half halt directly out of the turn, I was able to get both Ringo and I on the same page much sooner and so have to do a lot less work in the last few strides before the fence. It was so cool to feel the change in Ringo's attitude towards the jumps when I did it right! Cool, steady, calm, straight (!!) and a great jumping effort every single time.

So, our homework for next time:

-straightness, especially through outside aids
-equal weight in both reins, in both directions
-shoulder-fore in canter down the quarterlines
-practice the approach strategy (forward through turn, set stride length, half halt according to fence type, sit chilly to fence) over SMALL fences
-angle fences on the left lead from right to left to practice jumping straight to untrain the right drift

Good man, Ringo!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

In a Rolex Frame of Mind

"If you're like me, you've recently been walking around with an extra bounce in your step. Life has seemed richer and better, full of a sense of anticipation. The dogwoods are bursting, the hardy perennials are in full bloom, and the barn swallows are back. The other day I suddenly realized why I've been in such a good mood: I'm in a Rolex state of mind [emphasis mine]. The last weekend of April means its time for one of the biggest horse events on the continent, and 2010 looks as if it will be the best yet."
-Jim Wofford, April 16th Chronicle of the Horse

I couldn't have said it much better myself. The sun is finally shining (well, not today, but you get my drift), the barn swallows ARE out in extreme force, and, even though I'm pretty far from the action at the moment, there's just a good sense of excitement in the air. Rolex is one of my favorite weekends of the year, even though I've yet to go in person (this fall for WEGs, though, I'll be there and CANNOT WAIT!!). Now with the awesome live webcasting they do, it's almost as good, with pretty much every second of the weekend covered. I've definitely already set aside my Saturday for an entire morning of vegging and watching the best horses and riders in the US and abroad compete. This year is even more exciting, because someone I actually know personally will be riding! So. Exciting.

In other news, life has been moving right along here at Stanford at high speed. Ringo has been feeling awesome, and we've actually been enjoying the dressage recently. I can honestly say that I never thought I would say that... ever! Its so exciting because he's reached an all new level of relaxation, and from there can build up to much more complicated things. Now I can finally tap into Ringo's amazing education, and we've been half-passing and and medium-trotting our way to the best quality of gaits I've ever gotten out of him. I've even been persuaded by Rachel, my amazing dressage instructor up here, to enter a dressage show for the third weekend of May... at Fourth Level! Yikes!! I'm a bit nervous but very, very excited. It's going to be quite the adventure!

Kiki is also doing very well and finally relaxing. We did some little canter poles the other day and she was very well behaved, so I'm excited to get jumping soon.

For me, I've been playing polo and having a BLAST! I hit the ball for the canter for the first time on Sunday, which was seriously exciting, and am already addicted. I even want to test out Kiki to see if she would let me practice hitting off her this summer! (I know better than to try Ringo haha).


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

We're Back!


Ringo and I are back in action! We had our first lesson since coming back to Stanford, and he was AMAZING! He's never felt so good before. Ever. He was loose and relaxed, to the point where I felt like I could take the next step in asking for more trot, more collection, and more expression of movement. He was straight and on the aids, and I felt like I did a good job correcting him when he tried to lean on my inside leg. We were able to do things that I've never really done with him (or any horse for that matter) before, like trot half-passes, canter half-passes into flying changes and into counter canter, and the most lovely straight line flying changes we've ever done. We also developed a really good strategy for doing a mini half-halt and release to let him relax a bit when he starts to feel pressured (which he makes very clear by sticking his tongue out!) that seemed to work well and kept the tongue appearances to a minimum. I also came away with some good, clear "homework" guidelines: bumping him with my calves (or my spur) to keep encouraging him to step up more with his hind end, riding with my reins SHORT so that my hands carry half-way up the white part of his mane, and using my hands in a more sympathetic and quieter way to discourage him getting fussy in the bridle.

Today I just lunged him and really focused on tracking up at the trot while maintaining a nice and slow cadenced rhythm. Ringo is such a pleasure to lunge; he's probably the best trained horse I've ever come in contact with. It's really fun to actually get to watch his body relax and his trot improve.

Kiki, on the other hand, has been a total snot the past few days, though she is definitely getting calmer and more acclimated day by day. I'm trying to find a good balance between firmness and gentleness with her; the line between being just strong enough and too harsh with her is very fine and seems to change every day! She definitely keeps me guessing. I'm toying with the idea of using draw-reins on her; I'm pretty opposed to draw-reins in general but felt with Dually that I reached a good system where I was using them in a positive way. At the moment, Kiki gets to a place where she just shuts down to the aids and becomes basically unstoppable. I'd like to try the draw-reins just to use when she gets like that to be able to say, "NO you must respond in SOME WAY when I make a half-halt; completely blowing me off is NOT an option" and then be able to bag them again as soon as she does respond. On the other hand, she is already sensitive to contact and I want above all to keep riding a positive experience for her; I'd hate to inadvertently back her off. I'll have to think it over a bit more.

Semi-related photo of the day:


(Dually and I rock the draw-reins at Rebecca Farm 2009)


Sunday, April 11, 2010

IHSA Zones

This past weekend my equestrian team hosted the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association Zone 8 Finals; Zones are the last stage before the national finals and so are a very, very big deal! Our Zone is simply ENORMOUS, covering all states west of the Rockies... and Nebraska, which means that there were tons of teams from all over the Western United States here to compete. I got the fun of being "Official Zones Photographer" and borrowed my roommates awesome digital camera to take about 850 photos over the two days. It was so much fun, though my hands were definitely shaking a bit on Saturday after a 10 hour day of trying to hold a 3 lb lens steady!! Here are a few of my favorite shots from the weekend:


(Practicing my panning technique in the low light conditions of Sunday)


(My roommate Fallon gives Toby a pat)


(Another pan, this time of Lando and a non-Stanford rider in their Over Fences class)


(Flashy Biscuit, ex-eventer and all around badass)


(Stanford rider Kate Fernhoff rides El Rey to the Intermediate Flat Championship!!)


(My favorite school horse, Stanley, in a flat class)


(Stanford rider KC Simon on Kalypso on the flat)


(Stanley thundering along; at 18.1hh he makes almost every rider's legs look short!)


(One of my favorite shots of the whole weekend: Luke)


(Me and Stan... Pure Love)


(Stanley puts up with my embarrassing behavior)


(The conditions were much nicer on Saturday and we were able to hold the show outside. Here's Jane on Toby for the win!)


(Chocky displayed some "unusual" jumping technique)


(Pi being a ham)


(Stanley rolling strong with all four hooves off the ground!)


(Awww... why I love the big guy so much)


(A handsome shot of Lando)


(Claire and Jack)

The icing on the cake for the team was coming home with the team championship and three individual championships! Even though I didn't compete with the team, most of my closest friends at Stanford are on the team and I was so proud and happy for all of them. They're off to Nationals in Kentucky at the beginning of May.

In other news, Ringo and Kiki have been doing great. Kiki has turned a corner in terms of relaxation and has been working well under saddle; I've been lunging her very briefly before each ride and I think I'm going to keep doing that for the short term until she settles in completely. Of course, she got the short end of the stick for the weekend, as I was too exhausted to rider after an all out marathon at the barn on Saturday and then too wet and cold from a miserable morning in the rain on Sunday to ride her, so this coming week should be interesting!! We'll be spending some quality time in the round pen, for sure.

Ringo should be having his first lesson since returning to Stanford tomorrow! Hopefully he'll carry over his perfect behavior (and I mean seriously perfect: canter half-passes, flying changes, counter canter... I even did a 4 tempi today just off the top of my head and he did it like we'd been practicing it all winter).

Monday, April 5, 2010

One Week Back

...only 7 1/2 left! Haha no, I'm not really thinking about it that way (though it's actually pretty crazy to realize how short this quarter is! Got to make the most of every moment). It feels really good to be back; I'd forgotten what it's like to be in the company of such wonderful supportive people and in the reach of such diverse and amazing resources.

I have to admit though, despite the happiness of coming back, that it's been a pretty low week. I've just been feeling super flat; the way that things ended with Gina really upset me and those feelings stayed with me a lot longer than I expected. I know I haven't really talked about what happened here, and I don't plan to: I'll just say that it was not in any way, shape, or form the way I'd hoped to leave things off.

Fortunately, the group of friends I have here is pretty amazing, and they've been doing a good job keeping me from moping too much. And, even better, Ringo has been amazing this week and Kiki is back in work (though she's been a little more... umm... "erratic" in her work haha!). Ringo has never felt this relaxed in all the time I've had him. He's actually heavy in the bridle sometimes, of his own accord, which is not something I think I've ever felt from him before! Usually I feel like I have to wheedle every ounce of contact out of him, and just beg him not to stack up against me. These past few days, though, we've been cantering around on the buckle with his neck loose and back swinging. Even his transitions, which he usually fully exploits to drop the contact for a second, have been relaxed, forward, and stretching down. Yesterday I cantered over some polls and had to really think about keeping his neck UP, which I'm not sure has EVER been a problem before. I'm not complaining! Seeing him this chill makes me realize how wound up he was at Rancho. And how can I keep him this way?

I have several theories for the change. First, I think he likes his stall better at Stanford because, while the bedding isn't deep, they have this cushion technology which makes the floors of the stalls really comfy and inviting. At Rancho the floors were rubber mats that were also extremely thin-bed: Ringo (and half the other horses at the barn) had serious rubs on his elbows and hocks from having to lie directly on the mats. So, because it wasn't as comfortable, I don't think he ever really lay down or relaxed in his stall at night, whereas at Stanford I've gotten news from the night grooms that he does a lot of rolling and napping in his stall. Also, the walls of the stalls at Stanford are fully paneled, whereas at Rancho they had bars from midway up. Now, I personally like the barred stalls better, because they seem so much ore convivial for a social creature like the horse. However, Ringo's neighbor at Rancho was a HUGE DICK, and I could see Ringo not liking being constantly harassed while he was trying eat, rest, etc. Meanwhile, at Stanford, his stall is like a little privacy box: he can look out and see his neighbors if he wants (his across the aisle neighbor is the horse I used to groom for, Zwansea, and is probably the friendliest horse on the planet), but he can also retreat and chill on his own if he wants. Knowing Ringo's personality as I have, I think it makes sense that he would prefer this setup, even if I don't think it's ideal for most horses.

Second, I think he enjoys his turnout more. The turnouts at Stanford are all in a row next to one another, so all the horses are in a big group. Yet, at the same time, each one is big enough that a horse can remove itself to a corner for some "alone time" as well. I think this suits Ringo pretty perfectly, as he is both a very friendly, social guy and a bit of a recluse. The footing is also deeper at Stanford than in his turnout at Rancho, which again I think encourages him to roll more. He's been FILTHY!!! Which was something he never was at Gina's. Ever. I just don't think he ever felt comfortable enough at Gina's to really unwind.

Third, and probably most importantly, I've changed his grain. He was on a Nutrena sweet feed called XTN at Gina's which I actually thought I liked quite a bit and didn't think much about. It definitely helped him put on some weight and muscle that he'd been lacking through the fall. However, I'm now thinking that the XTN was a little too much. I know it's supposed to have some sort "cool energy" technology but, now that I've seen him off it, I'm still thinking it was hotting him up a bit unnecessarily. He's now on the school grain for the moment, which is a basic low-fat, low-protein, high-fiber pellet. When he starts working more than 30 min a day again he's going to need more calories, but at the moment he's happy as a clam. When the time comes to get him back into "real" grain, I'm just going to have to investigate our options much more closely to find what's right for him.

Kiki, unlike Ringo, has been a firecracker since coming back from her little break! I don't blame her, because this is definitely the most atmospheric barn she's ever been at (even more than the show at Three Day!), the weather's been terrible, and she's been out of work for a week. She definitely made an interesting impression her first day, when she spent most of the ride leaping and flailing around the arena while all the big fat Eq horses stared on bemusedly! Fortunately, every ride I've had on her has been better than the one before it, so I'm thinking she'll be back to her old self soon enough. She definitely also loves her new digs at the Mare Motel, though I do think that being pent up has also contributed to her behavior. Going forward, I'm just going to have to be more thoughtful with her routine to compensate.

This week I'm going to try to get my first lesson back - very excited!!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Kiki settles into Stanford


Here are some photos of Kiki on her second day at Stanford. As I've come to expect from her, she got off the trailer like she owned the place, took one look around, and settled right in. She's such a star!

Unfortunately, she came in from the field just before leaving Rancho with a big swelling on her hock which has just refused to go down, despite rest and sweat wrapping. Yesterday the vet came out for a second time and we decided to drain the swelling and inject a steroid to try to resolve the issue. She's still on stall rest for two more days; fingers crossed that she'll be feeling better by then! If not, then we'll have to look into more serious issues as the root of the problem. Ugh... Just another piece of EXCELLENT LUCK in the horse department that I've had of late.


(Kiki on the alert)

(Cute Kikiliki)

(Nom nom nom)

(Who's that?)

(The prettiest girl)


(Hiiiii)

(Man, I like you)
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