Monday, December 31, 2012

My Favorite Horse Photos of 2012

Well, we've made it to the end: 2012 was a heck of a year, and now it's all to play for in 2013. I hope you had a wonderful holiday season and are looking forward to the new year as much as I am :)

Like last year, I thought I would share some of my favorite horse photographs that I saw in 2012. I have to preface by thanking The Chronicle of the Horse, EventingNation.com, and the many amazing equine photographers that captured these wonderful images. I'm so grateful for the generosity of these incredible professionals who share their talent with the world.

So, without further ado:

Riding for (God and) Country
(aka: Olympic Fever, baby)

(This has got to be one of my favorite pictures of the whole year: German eventing DOMINATION epitomized! Kat Netzler/Chronicle of the Horse photo)

 (The Olympics were full of inspiring moments - watching Damon Hill NRW was one of them for me; he exuded an electric power that was awesome to watch. I wish I could remember where I found this one :( )

 (Of course, perhaps the biggest coup of all in equestrian sports at the Olympics was the British dressage medal haul, led by unbelievable performances by Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro - if you want to fairy tail dream come true of hard work paying off, look no further than this pair. Photo via Facebook)

 (This was one of the coolest pictures of the Games, and also one of the most poignant: Nina Ligon rode into Olympic history as the first Asian woman to compete in eventing, and the first Thai athlete to complete the event. In doing so, she brought attention to equestrian sport in a part of the world where it is still a minor competitive entity, especially for girls. New York Times photo)

 (The moment that so many young riders dream of: riding onto the world's biggest competitive stage with your country's flag on your saddle pad for the very first time. Tiana is one of the nicest people in eventing, and it was so thrilling to watch her dreams come true this season. Photo via Facebook)



Going Big
(aka: Horses are awesome, their riders are ok too)

(I loved this picture from Rolex 2012 of Jessica Hampf and High Society: not only is it just beautifully composed, it also exudes a great sense of the focus and power of eventing at its finest. Chronicle of the Horse photo)

(Ingrid Klimke is a badass: not satisfied with being an Olympian and successful 4* competitor in eventing, she also competes at Grand Prix level in pure dressage. The horse isn't too shabby, either! This was by the same photographer as the Damon Hill Olympic shot. I'll do some searching and try to find him.)

(Remington jumped so big at Rolex this year that he popper Boyd Martin right out of the frame! Photo via facebook)

The True and Happy Life
(aka: Horses make life complete)

 (This year the eventing world lost an amazing horseman in Amy Tryon. When I look at this photograph of her that surfaced in the memorials, taken at Rolex several years ago, I imagine that she is riding away from us to a better place. We miss you, Amy. Photo via Facebook)

(Jock Paget had a fairytale 2012, but I like this picture of a quiet moment before the Bramham jogs best. It reminds me of why we go through all the trials and tribulations that the competitive lifestyle brings: it's about the horse. And that's it. Samantha Clark/Eventing Nation photo.)

 (Lucy Jackson's Rolex debute didn't go quite to plan, but her first thought was to comfort her horse. Chronicle of the Horse photo)

 (Meanwhile, Karen O'Connor's Rolex went from strength to strength, and was a triumphant comeback for one of our nation's top athletes. Chronicle of the Horse photo)

(Reed Kessler made history by becoming the youngest show jumping competitor in Olympic history this year, and that was but one achievement in an amazing 2012. But I like this picture best. Photo via What Would Reed Kessler Do (a truly hilarious tumblr))

 :)
(Photo from the same amazing German photographer who shot Klimke and Damon Hill. I'll find him!)


 Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Winter Gymnastics, Round 5

Robin and I braved surprisingly windy and chilly temperatures today (I know, I know... it IS winter, but still) for another round of winter gymnastics, this time in our freshly re-thawed outdoor. Hooray!

I set up another exercise from Jim Wofford's gymnastics book, this one designed to help get the horse to jump sharply off of a 'going' stride. I definitely get a bit chicken when I have to really commit to ride down to the bigger distance, so it was good practice for me to test my mettle a bit in a controlled gymnastic setting.

I totally failed on documentation, but here's what the general grid looked like at we started:

(Note: Ky's adorable little ears and the SUPER PRO drag job my dad did right before we rode - so classy!! Thanks, Pa!)

Basically it was a trot in to a vertical with a placing rail, 2 going strides to an oxer, 2 going strides to a triple bar (the original exercise was 2 strides to 3 strides, but our arena isn't long enough for that and was barely long enough as it was). I haven't jumped a triple bar in years and years, and guess that Ky potentially never has, so that in itself was almost exciting enough!

The longer distances definitely tested my courage, especially given Ky's tendency to be a little flat in trot-in exercises. There was a lot of nervous clucking the first couple times through! I did better at relaxing by the end, and Ky jumped better the better I did.

My other main concern was to make sure Ky was moving and jumping in a relaxed way. My dressage lesson earlier in the week definitely impressed upon me the necessity of making relaxation a top priority. I think I've done well in getting him more forward in the jumping, but it has come at the premium of some relaxation and rideability. So today, I decided to try to take a step back and restore the calmness (while hopefully not throwing away the forwardness we've achieved!). I'd say we had moderate success, though obviously there's still work to be done.

The most surprising element of the gymnastic was how massive it felt: we only ever put the jumps up to  3' for the oxer and maybe 3'3" for the triple bar, but both Kiki and Ky jumped hugely, especially over the triple bar on the way out. The first few times, Ky jumped so boldly, and landed so steeply, that I flopped like a sack of dirt! So in the end it was good practice to practice holding my position for a 'bigger jump' feeling without actually jumping bigger fences. 

It's hard to believe that the start of event season is only 3 months away!! Lots to do, but I'm getting very excited :)

Friday, December 21, 2012

Happy Solstice!

The Winter Solstice is one of my favorite days of the year; it may signal the start of winter (boooo), BUT it does so with the awesome caveat that from now on, the days will be getting longer and brighter from here.

(Robin and I on a hack today at 4:30 - looking forward to it not being dark so early any more!)

Wherever you are, I hope your Solstice is warm, merry, and bright! :)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Lesson with Ringo: REDEMPTION

So as I mentioned yesterday, while my lesson with Ky resulted in some big (but rather humbling) revelations, my lesson with Ringo was... AWESOME. My last lesson with him, as you may remember, was somewhat rugged: Ringo felt tight, stiff, and weak, and I had to leave for my New Orleans road trip the next day feeling pretty low.

Well, that was a month ago, and in the past four weeks we have worked. I've been playing around with the ideal weekly schedule for Ringo, and have found, somewhat surprisingly, that he actually does much better with a little more down time than I'd first guess, and then harder rides in between. So instead of riding 6 days a week in medium intensity each time, I found that he responded better when I only rode him 4 days a week, but made 3 of those days really count (and then had a hack the other day). We did hundreds of walk-canter-walk transitions and I tried to spend a lot more time riding with that target collected canter in mind (whereas normally I would spend a lot less time 'up' with more long and low breaks in between, because I knew that I was going to do that 6 days in a row).

And it showed!! He did get a little strong and heavy at the end when he got tired, but was night and day different from our last lesson. I feel like I'm finally starting to understand what the requirements are for this level, and what it's going to take from me and from Ringo for us to be successful. It's exciting!

Now, to the videos. After doing some haunches-in at the walk and trot (while focusing on less angle and more hind end loading than I'd instinctually go for), we worked the half-pass in trot. The first few times to the left, I struggled at finding the right angle without having him fall against my left leg. Kim had us do a transition to walk and back to trot within the left half pass, with great results. The last time, he had some great reach! Check it out:


After that, we went to canter and returned to the haunches-in, this time starting with a small angle and then going to a steep angle in order to practice controlling the quarters. Ringo was a total champ:


We started incorporating flying changes into the lesson, with some initially wild results:


But after he settled down a little, he was FABULOUS, and even successfully showed off the 4 tempis we've been (somewhat secretly) working on over the past few weeks:


Kim was super pleased with his obedience (and I was, too, since this has been a major breakthrough of the past few weeks to go from melting down by the third change to doing them all neat as a button!) but not so much with his straightness, so we moved on to doing them on a straight line on the quarter line. I've done changes along the rail before but never down the quarter line. It was definitely illuminating to see how much he wandered around! But by the end, we were doing all right:


After a few successful attempts along the quarter line, Kim reiterated the importance of maintaining straightness in the changes... with the incentive that she thought that Ringo would be able to do 1s someday! How cool would that be?? That feels pretty far away at the moment, but is fun to think about. In the meantime, the 4s were more than enough to put a smile on my face :)

At the very end, we started working on an 'approaching pirouette' canter. We still have a lot of work left to do here (but hey, a month ago we didn't even have an acceptable working canter!), but Ringo had a few good steps to the right:


So exciting!! Thanks, Ray!! We've still got lots of homework, but I'm super pleased with how we've come in a month. I'm so lucky to have such an amazing horse :)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

3 Epiphanies in 3 Days

 (Ringo looking perky, even in the nasty weather we've been dealing with)

It hasn't been without a little bit of heartache and a lot of sweat, but I think I've had 3 solid epiphanies in the past 3 days. Like most of the breakthroughs I've had in the past year, the conclusions I've come to in the past days seem tragically common sense in retrospect, but isn't that always the way? Here's what I've been discovering:

1. Control the Shoulders, Control the World... Squash Edition

All right, all right, this one isn't riding related, but bear with me. I've started playing squash again in the past month with my new coaching gig at my high school, and it's been great to get back into the game. In general I've been happy with the fact that, despite not playing in four years (I didn't play at all besides a handful of social games in college), my skills have come back pretty much unchanged, and in some cases improved with a few years more strength and muscle (I was a seriously wussy stick figure in high school). But there are a couple basic elements of my swing that I've always struggled with.

(I have no photos of me playing squash (and they would be tragically not badass compared to this one if they did exist), so here we are)

Today, however, I was hitting the ball on my own, and had a massive breakthrough with my swing mechanics, involving (as it so often does!) controlling the shoulders. Now, usually I'm thinking about controlling my horse's shoulders, so it was a bit of a meta step to think about my own shoulders so carefully. But wow, what a change! Not only was it fun to hit the ball with some awesome newfound power and accuracy, it was a good reminder to be really conscious of my body. I'm hoping to be able to transfer this better body awareness that I've been finding in squash into my riding! (we'll see.)

2. Remember the Half Halt

On Sunday, I got to have a catch ride on a very special horse. You may recognize her:


Kiki!! I obviously don't ride Kiki much any more, since her lessor Robin is enjoying her so much (yayayayay!), so it was great to be reunited with her again. In general, she feels quite good, and Robin has done a great job with her. One thing that still remains elusive with her, however, is a good connecting half halt. 

I had reread the basic principles behind Jane Savoie's famous 'demystified half-halt' the day before, and holy geeze, having those clear steps was super helpful. I've watched Jane Savoie's tapes before but not in many years, and honestly was pretty sure that I had the half halt down, so it was a bit of a revelation to have these simple steps work so well. Kiki got better and better with each half halt I applied, and was going gangbusters by the end. A definite reminder that returning to basics is often best!

3. Less is More

This last epiphany came this evening, and was by far the biggest and toughest to digest. I had lessons with Kim on both Ringo and Ky (more on Ringo's tomorrow - it was awesome!!), and my lesson with Ky was... rugged. He was very tight and up from the beginning, and I was really struggling at getting him to relax into the contact. It felt like one of our first rides all over again, with him bouncing off the contact and constantly lugging behind my leg.

When he gets like this, my first reaction is to press him forward. On days where he's being naughty like tonight, my goal of 'forward' becomes gogogogoogogo, with the result that he's running off his feet, tense and mistrustful of my aids, and worse than ever. My instinct, in this case, is WRONG. Dead. Wrong. And the more I think about it, the more I realize that I often fall back to the this strategy, rarely with good results. I think this habit comes from my time with laaaaaazy Stanford schoolhorses, perhaps the only type of horse that this "light the horse's hair on fire" strategy is remotely helpful for. I found it work for them, and then got into the habit of using it whenever I ran into issues, regardless of the horse underneath me.

The problem is, though, that for a horse like Ky who is somewhat tense and nervous, constantly jabbing, spurring, and otherwise ambushing him into a sewing machine pony trot is in many ways the EXACT OPPOSITE of what I should be doing. With a horse like Ringo who gets fast and electric, I know to be calm and soft as much as I can; but with a horse like Ky that feels 'lazy,' I go to a place that is WAY too harsh and mean. I need to chill out, get zen, and let him settle into a rhythm that he's more naturally comfortable with and let him relax and push himself forward naturally.

I got very frustrated in my lesson, and Kim offered to get on. She did exactly that: quietly encouraged him to relax while letting him stay more in his comfort zone tempo-wise. It was huge to watch: he transformed, and was using himself beautifully in a few minutes. I was humbled, but focused. I definitely know where I need to go from here! 

Meanwhile, here's Ky in one of our better moments before the nagging, frustration, and Kim getting on:


I just need to remind myself of how far he's come in two months whenever I get annoyed... And of how adorable he is! :)

Meanwhile, Ringo was a STAR. I have tons of videos that merit their own post, which will come tomorrow.

(Though even great lessons have their, umm... 'moments' when Ringo is involved!!)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

I Heart My New Saddle (And Ringo Does, Too)

It looks like we're heading into one of our first major winter storms over the next few days, and it's likely that our arena is going to freeze (possibly for the foreseeable future). So, Ringo and I celebrated what might be our last working ride 'at home' for 2012 with a great ride... in my new saddle!


Seriously, how sexy does he look? What a stud. Even with his crusty, icicle-filled old man beard.

I rode Ringo, Ky, and Kiki in the new saddle today and loved the way it felt on all of them: it's such a treat to have a flap big enough and blocks small enough that my leg can actually hang naturally instead of getting jammed around! I found it much easier to sit and keep my lower leg quiet, which is something that I'd been really struggling with in my old saddle. It also didn't hurt that I greased it this morning, making it so sticky that I literally felt superglued in... haha.

Feeling very lucky this evening!! :)

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Christmas Came Early!!

To jump to the end of the story first: I HAVE A NEW SADDLE!!!


Now, the back story:

If you've followed the blog for a while now, you may have gathered that I do not own a fancy dressage saddle. In fact, other than a brief stint with an nightmarishly-fitting Devoucoux that came with Ringo but had been designed with his SIGNIFICANTLY shorter previous owner in mind, I've ridden my entire life with but one dressage saddle: a swiftly aging Roosli that was my Christmas present 11 years ago. I still remember vividly finding the Roosli under the tree all those years ago--it was shiny black, a total surprise, and one of the most beautiful things I'd ever seen.

Over the years, the Roosli turned from pristine black to faded and sunkissed brownish-grey, and I grew from a fat 5'3" preteen to an average-sized 5'9.5" adult. Needless to say, by 2012 the Roosli wasn't quite the perfect fitting saddle for me, but I'm a somewhat tough fit (being tall and approximately 80% thigh but also having a penchant for riding smaller, short-backed horses that make big seats and flaps difficult) and buying custom (or even new) wasn't really in the cards. So we made do. I'd occasionally make a tour of local used saddle listings, but never found anything that seemed like it was going to be remotely right.

But then, this fall, I got some exciting news over the Interwebz: Stubben was having a massive one-day sale in late November, and would be selling new and very used lightly models of many of of their different saddles for up to 60% off. My heart leapt. I love Stubbens, and had been lusting over some different Stubben models for several years now. I despise saddles with too much blocking, especially in the knee, and so the minimalist design of many of the Stubben dressage saddles appealed to me right away. I made a list of models that I thought would be good for my body type based on Internet reviews, figured out what width Ringo and Ky were in Stubben measurements... and waited.

The morning of the sale, I eagerly waited on my computer for the second it opened. As soon as the list came up, I dove in, eagerly looking for the model and size I was hoping for... and struck out. None to be had. After briefly panicking, I went through the list again, and came across a model name I hadn't seen in my original research: the Parzival. A quick google search revealed that the Parzival was a Tristan-esque model sold only in Europe.

Hmm. Reviews were pretty spartan, but from the few pictures I could dig up, it seemed like something I would like: minimal knee/thigh blocks, moderately deep seat, and an ever-so-slightly forward flap to accommodate my supah long thighs (and the fact that I still ride pretty short in dressage terms, and so usually have a little more bend in my leg than other folks). It came in a size and width I wanted, and even though the only available color was "Mud Brown" (seriously, worst color descriptor ever??), I was getting a super good vibe. And at less than 1/2 retail price, even including shipping from Europe, I thought it could be worth the gamble. With my parents' blessing (thank you thank you thank you), the purchase was done.

And then today, it arrived!!!!

(not pictured: the huge can of darkening oil I just ordered to try to reduce the heinous coloring)

I don't love the color, but I had prepared myself for it and it's not as bad as it could be (my treasured pumpkin orange Stubben jump saddle I had as a kid pretty much desensitized me to ugly coloring for the rest of my life). And, after one ride, I think I'm in love!! The flap is actually long enough to fit my leg, and isn't so bulky that I feel constantly jammed into it. The seat feels great, and isn't even as hard and uncomfortable as I had prepared for it to be (being, you know... a Stubben, after all).

YAYAYAYAYAY

Thank you so much, Mom and Dad. This is an amazing gift and I feel very, very lucky. I can't wait to start breaking it in! Though I might need some advice to figure out how to coordinate a "mud brown" saddle with my black and white horse and all my black, white, and grey stuff...

Friday, December 14, 2012

Winter Gymnastics, Round 4

This morning, Robin and I braved the CHILLY CHILLY CHILLY temperatures to head over to the indoor to do some jumping (seriously. it was freezing. we rode over with our heavyweight blankets over our saddles and my hands and feet were still going numb even after 45 minutes of riding and jumping, whereas normally I can rip my gloves off almost as soon as I get started).

We did a gymnastic that I got out of Jim Wofford's gymnastics bible that was a trot in one stride, with then two options from there: either a bending two stride to the right or a bending three stride to the left (okay, I think in Wofford's exercise the two stride is on the left and the three stride is on the right... sue me). The idea is that it's building on the regular straight gymnastic by requiring the rider to plan and execute the bending line. The offset final elements also meant that we could easily circle around and jump them as singles, which is good for me as I've been sort of chicken about leaving the grid and need to keep working on improving my eye and ride to single fences on longer approaches.

In general, Ky was great. He feels SO MUCH BETTER through the gymnastics now than he did a month and a half ago: forward, sharp, quick off the ground, and taking me to the jump. Check out the little dude in action (sorry for the blurriness of this first video--the next two are sharp):


After getting comfortable with the bending lines on their own, we started to add in some single fences at the end. Ky was definitely feeling a little feisty and, in the short turn around the end of the arena, I had a hard time at first in keeping my balance and not falling ahead of him. His feistiness also made him a little more squirrelly than usual, meaning that we flubbed some lead changes that we normally get easily. But look at how nicely he's jumping! Good boy:


We put the jumps up to a pretty decent size, with the oxer at around 3'3"at its biggest iteration. Interestingly, I never had any trouble with keeping Ky straight and in front of my leg in the gymnastic itself, but when it came to the single fences I struggled a little bit more with maintaining a good canter. The result was a few EPIC misses, detailed in the lovely video below:


I think what was happening was he was coming in strong, getting a little crooked, and then sucking back right at the last second, and I was just sort of sitting passive and not putting my leg on strongly enough. I was happy though that I was able to recover within the round and jump the last two jumps well, and man: when this horse jumps well, he feels SO AWESOME. But we definitely still have some more work to do before we're ready to tackle full courses at height!

(Good job rooftop poneh!!)

Friday, December 7, 2012

Looking Forward to 2013

Thank you so much for the wonderful comments on my 2012 wrap-up yesterday. In a year of such big changes such as this one, I'm deeply comforted by the stories and support of people who have been in my shoes and made it through to the other side. Thank you so much for reading!

(Also, in a good tie-in with my post from yesterday, my Bronze Medal lapel pin came in the mail yesterday! It joins the USEA Preliminary Gold Medal that I earned with Ringo in 2009. Thank you, Ringo, for giving me so much pretty hardware!)

Looking ahead, here's what I'm hoping to achieve in 2013:

Me:
-Either get a full-time job that I enjoy OR win an artist residency in Berlin for late fall/winter 2013-
-Apply to graduate school (next fall)-
-Continue making pictures-
-Get at least one more exhibition-
-Sell some work-

Ringo:
-Stay sound and have a fun, competitive 2013 season-
-Earn the 4th Level portion of the scores required for the USDF Silver Medal-
-Qualify for Region 8 Championships at 4th Level-
-Move up to Prix St Georges (this is a big stretch, I know!)-

Ky:
-Also stay sound and have a fun, competitive 2013 season-
-Get back into eventing!-
-Move up to Training by the end of the season-
-Compete in the Saugerties East Coast Pony Cup (Level as yet undecided)-

I'm so thankful for my wonderful horses, coaches, and of course my endlessly supportive parents for the past year, and am excited to see what adventures the next year will bring!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Looking Back on 2012

Well, the days are short, the nights cold, and there are just a few short weeks left in 2012. It's hard for me to really wrap my head around the past year: it's been a whopper, and I feel eons from where I was a year ago, for both good and bad. I had an amazing senior year at Stanford but struggled all year with grappling with and worrying about the future.

I still don't have a clear vision of what I'm supposed to be doing with my life (something that my emotions about range from accepting to despairing on an approximately hour-by-hour basis), but I think I'm in a good place. I feel like I've spent the past few years of my life racing around from one place to another, spinning aimlessly at times like a whirling dervish, and so being at home and allowing things to quietly flow for a little while is good for me. I've been happily surprised with the number of opportunities that had slowly come my way in the past few months, so even though I'm struggling with feeling a little 'out of the action' being home on the farm, compared to my friends who all seem to be doing big things in the big big city, I know that I'm in the best place for me right now.

(Plus I'm pretty sure they don't have views like this in the city...)

At the beginning of the year, I wrote some goals for 2012 that have been sitting at the top of this blog ever since. Unlike in pervious years, I haven't done monthly goals and analysis (mostly because my year has been a little too erratic for steady tracking of that kind), but have tried to keep these annual goals in the back of my mind. So, how did I do?

Ringo:
-Get my Bronze Medal- 
Yes! Success! Good boy, Ray :)

-Start working towards my Silver Medal- 
Yes, though I don't have any scores yet. Though my Fourth Level debut was, well, somewhat embarrassing, it was still a good learning experience. Coupled with the weekly lessons I've been taking this fall, I'm feeling a lot closer to the work that's going to be required for the Silver Medal. The move from Third to Fourth is a big one, but I'm feeling closer to being able to successfully make that leap. 

 Me:

-Graduate from Stanford- 
Success! And I even graduated with Stanford's top prize in photography, which was an unexpected and wonderful treat. 

-Get a job!!- 
Well, yes, then no, then sort of yes again. I had a job, left it, was completely unemployed for a while, travelled all the way back to California for another short-term job, and then returned home. Now I have three part-time jobs, two of which are paid. I'm feeling pleasantly occupied, though I obviously don't have a traditional 9-5 'job' job at the moment. I'm ok with it, though talk to me again in 6 months and I might be telling a different story.

(One of my current part time jobs is as a squash coach at my high school - it's been fun to get back into a coaching/teaching role, and to get back to a game that I absolutely loved in high school but sort of lost track of in college)

-One word: RESOLVE. I want to find myself the first day of 2013 a more confident, tough, and happy person.- 
Sigh. I've tried. I cannot lie, however, and say that this year has been without some pretty low lows. I had an absolutely miserable year from a love life perspective (not a topic normally covered on this blog, to say the least) that's left me feeling pretty crushed, and while I'm definitely on the upswing, I'm not completely back to normal yet. My inability to figure out what I want to do with my life has also been a massive source of stress and unhappiness, as I'm not used to not being able to come up with the 'right answer' to a question. I'm finally realizing that perhaps this is a question without a 'right answer,' or at least without a correct answer that one can find right away, but it has taken its toll. But I'm still trying. I'm not going to stop trying. 

-Call into my favorite radio show, "Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me"- 
No. Fail!

-Get my photography exhibited somewhere, even if it's just a coffee shop or something- 
Yes! This was a great year for me, photography-wise. I got my photographs published in a wide variety of publications, had my own senior show at Stanford, and even got a piece shown in a special exhibition at the DeYoung in San Francisco. I also made a full-length photography book from scratch, right down to the binding, and I'm currently hoping to get another exhibition in the spring (more details to follow). It's been a real source of happiness for me. If you'd like to check out what I've been doing, photography-wise, check out my other blog here

 Kiki:

-Get her back into shape successfully, filling in holes along the way- 
Well, I didn't, but Robin has done an absolutely amazing job with her. I'm so happy that they've found each other, and can't wait to see what next season holds for them.

-Return to eventing, positively- 
Yes! Kiki and Robin successfully moved back up to Training this fall: Kiki's first Training since August 2010. Good girl, Piggy!

-Find an instructor that I feel really positively about to improve Kiki's jumping technique-
Yes. Robin has been taking lessons with a variety of people and Kiki's jumping technique has improved by leaps and bounds. 

----
So, not a bad year, all told. I competed less but learned more this year than I have in many years previous. I feel like I grew immensely as a rider--especially in my ability to catch-ride (thanks, IDA), where I went from being a competent pilot to a tactful and active rider on most unfamiliar horses on the flat. I'm still not perfect by a loooooooooong shot, but I'm proud of the progress I've made. I sit the trot better, ride with better timing, more tact, and more feel than ever before. I'm excited to see what 2013 will bring. 

(Meanwhile, Ringo got one last bath for 2012 yesterday in the incredible mid-50s temperatures we had!)

Check back tomorrow for my 2013 goals!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Winter Gymnastics, Round 3

Well, I survived my last road trip of the year and now, with 45 unique states under foot in the past 12 months, am ready to settle down and stay put for a little while! I had a wonderful time (and took lots of pictures), but was definitely feeling antsy to get back in the saddle... especially after my less than stellar lesson right before I left.

Both Ringo and Ky got ridden a little bit while I was away, but for the most part they both got a little vacation. And I definitely think they both enjoyed the recharge time, because they've been feeling great!

Today I had my third round of winter gymnastics - I couldn't connect with Robin and so was all on my lonesome and didn't want a million rails to move around by myself (having already single-handedly moved every rail and standard from the garage to the gazebo on the side our arena yesterday). I've also mentioned several times that I feel like Ky's trot lacks pop sometimes, and that I find trot-in exercises with him rugged sometimes because I feel like I have zero horse under me when I get to the base of the jump.

With those two things in mind, I made the following:


One vertical with a 9' placing rail in front of it, approached from the trot--simple but surprisingly mighty! I started with the jump very small (like less than 2') and really focused on making him take me powerfully to the fence and pop off the ground, even with a trot approach. To try to keep his trot energized, I opted to canter around the corner until I was lined up with the jump, then came back to a active, bouncy trot for the fence itself. I liked this approach because it also doubles as a good half-halt exercise, and reminded Ky to keep listening to me even in front of the jump.

In general, the little dude felt AWESOME. He just has such a great feeling of power off the ground when he's in front of my leg. He jumped super cleverly all the way up to 3'6", then we did have one major 'miss' where I flubbed my line, came in crooked and underpowered, and he completely clobbered the fence. I was proud of myself for not getting rattled, resetting the fence, and coming right back around again. The second time around he felt like a rocket ship off the ground! After many, MANY good boy pats I quit for the day on that.

What a champ! I definitely feel like I'm getting my moxie back, inch by inch. I'm so thankful to have this awesome little pony in my life :)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Blurgh

So yesterday was a frustrating day for me. Actually, what was more frustrating was that the whole of the day wasn't that frustrating, but it ended on a frustrating note and so I'm working hard to put things into a balanced perspective. It was my lesson day with Kim and I was lucky enough to ride both Ringo and Ky, but it ended up being A LOT of info for me to process effectively by the end of the day.

In a strategy learned from my pony club days, here's an "oreo sandwich" version of my lesson (positive start, gooey troubling middle [delicious], and a crisp positive close):

The Good (Part I):
Ky

I hadn't taken a lesson with Ky in a month, and so it was great to bring him out and have Kim agree on how much progress he's made in even a pretty short time. We worked even more on getting him more consistent into the contact, and Kim gave me some great pointers: namely, to break up asking him to be 'up' and connected, which is really hard for him, with lots of breaks of stretching to keep him fresh and cooperative, instead of getting into a spiral of fighting which is normally the route we end up going down.

 (I have a lot of video but am too exhausted to upload them, so here are some crappy stills)



(Stretchy ponaaayy)


When I got him straight and stretching--WOW! His trot was killer awesome. I was able to sit it well (I looked up at myself in the mirrors and actually saw a dressage rider looking back at me instead of a floppy eventer trying to cling on desperately--THIS DOES NOT HAPPEN OFTEN AND WAS HUGE). The connection is definitely a problem that's going to take a while to solve, but if the glimmers of brilliance I got yesterday were any indication, it will be well worth the trouble to solve. This little dude's going places, man. I'm very excited.

(Ky thought the dogs playing nearby were wayyy more exciting than posing for a picture)

The Rugged:
Ringo (Canter)

I came back for my lesson with Ringo, and it felt like the wheels came off pretty startlingly quickly. I thought he warmed up really well, but when we went to work I was having a very hard keeping him straight and the exercise Kim set up to do (leg yield off the wall into a shoulder fore on the quarter line, at trot and then at canter) really highlighted my struggles. 

I got a little confused by the way Kim was explaining what she wanted, and then got progressively more and more confused and frustrated as she attempted to explain herself. It was a classic miscommunication problem that I take full responsibility for (I didn't articulate what was confusing me nearly well enough), but the end result was that we got into a long wrangle about the theory of shoulder-fore, and I came out of it feeling like an inarticulate idiot and was pretty sure that Kim was thinking the same thing. D'oh. Definitely not my intention. I tried to set it aside and keep going, but I was definitely a little mentally flustered from then on.

(Gahh the low inside hand, a perennial problem)

By that point as well, Ringo and I were just flat out tired, both mentally and physically. Kim kept pushing us (as she should! There's no way we're going to improve if we don't leave the comfort zone every now and then) but I really felt like I was lacking in both skills and horsepower to do what she was asking (really get Ringo to sit into a more collected and shorter canter). He kept breaking, and breaking, and breaking, and I felt like I was doing literally everything in my power to keep him from doing so but just couldn't make it happen. 

Then we moved onto some canter-walk transitions, which are one of Ringo's weakest movements, which we obviously bombed because at this point we were both exhausted and I was tense and completely frazzled. The canter-walk transitions are an especially sore subject for me because they are a 2nd level movement, so whenever I can't do them satisfactorily (which, by the way, is ALWAYS), I always feel like like a total sham and moron for even considering hoping to move up to 4th level next year. We did some mediocre ones that neither Kim nor I was very happy with, and then ended. Whomp whomp. It was with a pretty deflated feeling that I headed home. 

The Good (Part II):
Ringo (Trot)

In contrast, Ringo's trot seems to be going from strength to strength. I felt like I sat really well, and Kim agreed that his frame is looking stronger and better all the time. It's somewhat confusing to me, as historically his canter has always been sooooooo much stronger than his trot, and so perhaps that's why I'm having a hard time grasping the amount of homework his canter currently requires, but I'll definitely take improvement where I can get it. Good boy, Ray!

Unfortunately I now am leaving for a week-long trip to New Orleans for Thanksgiving and my friend's wedding, which means plenty of time to stew and no time in the saddle to start moving forward. I'm definitely not crushed, but to say that it wasn't a frustrating day would be a lie. Of course, failure is a key part of the road to success, so I'm more excited to look forward, learn from this disappointment, and  come out even stronger in the future.


Happy holidays, everyone! See you in a week :)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Winter Gymnastics, Round 2

Today Robin and I did our second round of winter gymnastics -- we're trying to make it a weekly routine until the start of next season, because otherwise there's a big chance that we could both get caught pretty flatfooted when we attempt to make an early spring debut next year.

This week, we set up a grid that I first encountered when riding with Gina Miles. She had a lot of great gymnastic exercises, and this was one of my favorites: canter in over a placing rail, 9' to a cross rail oxer, a short two strides to a vertical, a short two strides to another cross rail oxer, and out over another 9' placing rail. The eventual goal is to make the cross rail oxer wide and impressive enough to make the horse jump sharply and spread across it, then have to compress to get up over the vertical, and then show some scope over the oxer again. I'm not sure we ever got the jumps quite big enough to really force Kiki or Ky to stretch and compress in the way the exercise intends, but it was still a great workout for both of them.

 (The grid from the way in -- we probably could have done a littttle better job at making it straight!)

 (Pa walks the distance in the grid - we made it a very short 2 stride at 30')

(The last oxer was not insubstantial!)

I was really thrilled with Ky: last week he felt a little flat and underwhelming going into the grid, so that I felt like I really had to egg him along every time to get him through. When I jumped bareback on Wednesday, we had sort of a light bulb moment together where I felt like, for the first time, I could really rev his engine while keeping him in a really upright balance. Today, I was able to recreate that energized canter, and he really carried me through the grid with a great sense of power. He jumped neat as a pin and made the exercise feel easy from start to finish, even when we had it at its maximum dimensions (3'3" vertical and roughly 3'3" oxers). What a champ!

Kiki found the exercise a little difficult to start, as it really tested her to be clever with her front end and adjustable in her canter -- two things that she's not a massive natural fan of! It was cool to watch her improve from start to finish. For example, in some of her early attempts at the biggest setting, she jumped in VERY boldy, and then got a bit over her shoulder at the vertical and on the way out. By the end, though, she had sharpened up impressively:


What an improvement! Robin jumped a few single fences at the end, and Kiki jumped absolutely beautifully; a great sign that the gymnastics are doing what they're supposed to be doing!

Next week both Robin and I will be away, but as of the first week of December all systems are go for Winter Gymnastics, Round 3. The first show of 2013 feels pretty far away still, but at this rate it's going to be here before we know it!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Rocketship

Ky and I jumped 3'6" today...


...bareback! Definitely the biggest I've ever jumped bareback, on the most diminutive steed. This pony, man. This pony.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Lesson with Kim - Position Revisited (Again.)

So if you've been worrying that the blog has been a little light on Ringo action of late, never fear! The Prowler has been alive and well, and got some well-deserved limelight today in my lesson with Kim. I admit that I've been having a few struggles with him recently, as the weather change has made him EXTREMELY VOLATILE and even spookier than normal, so I've been spending a lot more time trying to complete a sane circuit of the arena than I have actually working. Despite this somewhat remedial route that we've been on, he came out with his best hoof forward for his lesson and was a total star, even when Kim really pressed both of us to the edge of our comfort zones.

After warming up, we set to work on the canter, and especially strengthening the canter through the addition of some lateral work. Here was the process of straightening the canter to the left using a spiral in/spiral out and then a leg yield:



I'm not very happy with my hands in this video (or any of the video my dad got - ugh!!), but other than that was very pleased. As you can see, Ringo came out a little stuck in his canter and wringing his tail, which Kim believes might be linked to some arthritis in his hocks. He's currently not on any supplements whatsoever, so perhaps some Adequan is in his future.

After getting the canter established, we moved on to one of the more difficult exercises I've done with Kim: starting in counter canter, we began by leg yielding away from the wall, developing a shoulder fore feeling on the quarter line, and then half-passing back to the wall. It required a lot of fast thinking and management on my part! But Ringo was a star:



It was great to feel like, by the end of the exercise, I really had control of both sides of Ringo's body--something I normally struggle with. And the flying change at the end was one of our better efforts as a result - excellent!

After a break, we returned to the trot. I'm (as always) pretty unhappy with my sitting trot, so we started out with doing some forward/back within the gait while sitting to try to get me feeling a little more solid with my position:



Despite my stiff and whacky hands, I actually thought I did pretty well. My main weaknesses in my sitting trot are my wobbly core and my flopping ankles. Kim really got after me to try to keep as solid as possible, and while it's not totally visible, I do think I did better as a whole on that front. The road to a Charlotte Dujardin-style sitting trot is still a looooooong one from here, though (perhaps infinitely so! But I'm staying positive, haha)

After that we worked on some shoulder in before moving on to half pass at the trot. I typically struggle with this movement with my own body, especially to the left, but tonight felt pretty positive with how we did:


The right half pass felt even better. By the end, I was MASSIVELY tired. I think I need a fitness regimen!! But I was super proud of how Ringo had performed, and thankful as always for Kim's guidance. I have some good homework (position, position, position! Will I ever leave a dressage lesson without positional homework? Doubtful.) and I'm excited to keep working before my next lesson... If I can keep my spooky steed firmly within the arena!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

It's Not Called 'Gym-nice-tics'

Any Stick It! fans here? No? One of my good friends in college loved both Stick It! and Bring it On, meaning that I got to watch both films a lotttt over the past few years. I wouldn't call them my favorite movies, but the title of this post has to be one of my favorite quotes.

I digress.

(Ky looking even littler than usual with me up on the mounting block, sassing with Robin, per usual)

Today, Robin (Kiki's lessor) and I decided to do some 'gym-nice-tics' outside while we can still enjoy some decent weather and sunshine before being driven into the indoor for the next five months. I love gymnastics; they are a pretty crucial step in building my confidence, as I like being able to jump a little bigger in a controlled gymnastic environment before I have to go out and do it in a course. When I was getting ready to move up to Intermediate (many years ago, now!), I did gymnastics religiously every single week to try to push my eye up to the next level, and I'm absolutely certain that I wouldn't have had the guts to make the move if it hadn't been for all those trips through the grids.


Now that I'm getting back into jumping, I'm feeling the importance of gymnastics all over again. Whereas before I was jumping 4'3" to try to make 3'9" look smaller, now I'm jumping 3' to to 3'3" to try to make... anything seem smaller! haha.

We set up a pretty simple gymnastic today to get us into the groove of what will hopefully be a regular tradition over the winter. Today it was a trot in bounce, one stride to a vertical, one stride to an oxer. It was interesting to do the exercise with Kiki and Ky, who could not be more different in terms of jumping style.

(Good boy!! Ky doesn't care about grids)

Kiki has gotten wayyyy better at gymnastics over the years (and Robin has improved her miles beyond what I could ever do), but is still prone to getting EXTREMELY ENTHUSIASTIC on the way in, which mostly manifested itself in attempting to canter/leap the trot poles. Robin did a good job settling her, though, and she largely jumped very well.

(Kiki being very clever)

Ky, on the other hand, suffered from a very different problem. In the past few weeks I feel like his flatwork has improved in leaps and bounds in terms of a solid connection to the bridle and strength in his canter. The downside of this, however, has been that being connected in his body has required a lot more strength in the trot than just bouncing around did, meaning that now he feels a lot more conservative and sort of leaden in his trot. I am quite certain that this will get better as he gains strength, but he's in an awkward saddle point in his flatwork progress right now.

(But as you can see, he jumped out like a champ)

This weakness came strongly into play in the trot in bounce, as I felt like I had very little pushing power in the trot coming into the grid. The result was that the first two fences almost always felt like an 'oooph' level of effort. Once he got his momentum, however, he could cruise out of the line easily. I'm pretty sure the gymnastics were a great exercise for him to keep strengthening his hind end... but it didn't always feel pretty today!

(I like this pony. Just a little bit ;D)

Position-wise, I felt pretty good, though I feel I could still be deeper in my heel and flatter in my back. My release felt good, though, and I thought I did a good job staying in the middle of him. Baby steps.

Hopefully we will get a chance to ride with Kim this coming Tuesday. For one reason or another I haven't had a lesson with her at all in 3 weeks, and she hasn't seen Ky in a month, so I'm excited to show her the progress we've made!

(Wylie was a good ring crew. Thanks, Ma, for the awesome photos!)

Monday, November 5, 2012

And Then They Were Wed

About two years ago, my brother left his erstwhile home in Brooklyn, where he had been working as a gaffer and cinematographer since his graduation from film school some years previously, to move home to the farm with his girlfriend in order to try their hand at organic farming and animal husbandry. At the time, I must admit that I found the move utterly mystifying: my brother had always been the ultimate city mouse to my country mouse, and had never, as far as I could tell, given a lick of interest about the goings on at the farm. However, he and his girlfriend took to their task with hard work, dedication, and love, and have led a happy life here.

This past weekend, they celebrated their second harvest (and for the moment, their last, as they have decided to move back to the city in the new year) in grand style: by getting married on the farm in a massive ceremony that made the most of the wonderful organic produce and land that they've spent the last two years of their lives cultivating.



I was very honored to be a bridesmaid, which was very fun for me as I don't think I'd normally be cool enough to be allowed within a hundred yards of my brother and his fiancee's friends! It was a pretty unbelievable display of well-dressed and handsome hipsters; I just tried to hang on for the ride.


(One of the horse pastures was converted to the reception area)

 (We converted the round pen to a "beach" area, complete with inflatable palm trees and iced Coronas)


 (Me and the other bridesmaids and bride (and our intrepid flower girl), waiting in the warmth of the greenhouse for the outdoor ceremony to begin)

 (Me and my brother, all cleaned up and de-farmified)

 (My brother and his new wife sharing their first dance)


My major duty, besides providing hours and hours of grunt labor in the days leading up to the festivities, was to bake the wedding cake. When I'd agreed to do this several months ago, I hadn't given it much of a thought. When I assembled the ingredients, however, the gravity of attempting to bake enough cake to feed 200 people suddenly became quite clear:



Yikes.

Fortunately I found a very easy recipe for a pumpkin spice cake (bride's choice) with maple cinnamon frosting, and though it took me a solid hours on the day before the wedding to make it happen, I did it! And I even got word back that it didn't suck (I was too nervous to eat it myself, though now in the 48 hours since I have eaten a LARGE quantity of the leftovers and can, in fact, confirm that it was much to my taste)


 (Three hours in, deep in the trenches)

 (Frosting station)


(The finished products! Note the adorable sheep toppers)

It's a little strange now to have the wedding behind us. For the past month it has been a daily, even hourly topic of conversation. It was the best party I've ever gone to and I'm so, so happy for my brother. I'm quite certain my wedding, when and if it ever occurs, could never live up to it. But for now, it's back to normal, and back to doing some serious riding and thinking towards next season. I may have had to break out the quarter sheet for the first time this season, but I'm still very excited for the months ahead!

(There were also roman candles at 1am and a midnight food truck. It was a Brooklyn-comes-to-the-country wedding done right)
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