If I Fits, I Sits - Aka How Erika is like a cat

My name is Erika, and I'll admit that I've never cared about how a saddle fit me.  It's true.  I've ridden for 22 years now, and I've never cared where I plunk my ass down, so long as that ass is sitting on top of a horse.

I'll also admit that when people start talking about stirrup bar placement, and twist width my eyes tend to glaze over.  I think part of the issue is that I am so bad at visual thinking that my brain just shuts off when it's asked to visualize.  So doing saddle physics in my head... not gonna happen.

I also grew up po' as hell, so when I was lucky enough to ride horses, I certainly wasn't doing it in my custom made saddle.  And once I owned my own horse, you better believe I just rode in whatever saddle came with the horse.  Even when that saddle was an 18" Stubben from the 19th century (or maybe it just looked that way compared to all of the new saddles with their fancy gadgetry).

So you can see why when I grew up and got a pony of my own the last thing on my mind was saddlery.  The fact is... I just don't care that much.

Horse comes with some weird toilet/saddle combination... I'd be like "okay, how can I work with this"...

Horse comes with some weird toilet/saddle combination... I'd be like "okay, how can I work with this"...

One thing that has always been important to me is that the saddle fits the horse.  I'm no expert on saddle fit, so I've always gladly checked with people who know more than me (trainers, saddle fitters, etc.) what they think of my saddle in relation to my horse.  So don't worry that Gavin is riding around in a narrow tree, long as hell saddle that bridges because that's just not the case.

Right - so where am I going with this?  Well - a saddle fitter came out about a year ago and said "your Black Country fits Gavin okay, but it's a hair long for his back and a little tight in the front".  She pulled some of the flocking to give him some room to breathe up in the tight spot (right behind his withers).  Then she came out again about six months later and repeated the exact same thing.  Kind of a "no big deal, but this isn't an ideal saddle".  Because I'm a bit apathetic to saddles in general, I just kept plunking my ass down in the, what I like to describe as, meh saddle.  When I started working with my new trainer, she was examining the saddle fit and said the exact same thing.  Just mentioned it might be hard for him to really lift his back and swing his shoulder with the length and the tightness. 

Difficult to lift his back and swing his shoulder?  But these are things I've been wanting and working on!  It was like a fog had lifted and I suddenly realized the importance of saddle fit.  I said, okay fuck it!  I need to get real about saddles!

So - I took some pics of Gavin's back and brought them in to what I'd call Denver's #1 saddle fitter.  She had me sit in a ton of saddles and picked nine (that's right NINE) to bring out and try on Gav.  Ashamedly, I told her about my "If I fits, I sits" attitude towards saddles.  She smiled *shock number 1* and told me that was the best way I could feel, because it keeps my mind open to all saddle possibilities *shock number 2* and that the hardest people to get a good fit for are the people who already have it in their mind exactly what they need before they even try the saddle on the horse *shock number 3*. 

So, in a little less than two weeks, Gavin and I will likely be getting a saddle that not only fits him properly (no more meh fit saddle!), but also fits me properly!

Saddles above (Selleria Equipe Synergy, Jeffries Flyover, Prestige Bellagio, Prestige X-Meredith)

Saddles I'm excited about trying: Selleria Equipe Synergy, Prestige Bellagio (the saddle fitter said this was her favorite fit for ME), Prestige X-Meredith (this saddle is beautiful and as a former dressage queen, I love the deeper seat), Prestige Versailles

Saddles I'm terrified about trying: Prestige Boston (*throws all of my money in a garbage can and sets it on fire*)

Saddles that we nixed: Prestige Roma (my tight ass hips were like - uhhh no...), Adam Ellis Jupia (I can't remember if we fully nixed this one, or if she's bringing it just to try to see how his back likes a wooden tree, but she hated it for me and my short legs)

Saddles that look funny to me: Jeffries Flyover monoflap (the thing looks like a stingray), Prestige X-Breath (I hate the holes in the saddle... I know they're meant for the horses back and air flow and not some sort of weird place holder for my business, but it feels funky to me and I had to weirdly tell the saddle fitter and her apprentice "I'm not sitting on the holes right...")

 

 

 

Hands

Hands.  I've got 'em.  Little, chubby hands. 

Horses.  I ride 'em.  Little, chubby horses ;)

Roly-poly pony out on his Easter cool down

Roly-poly pony out on his Easter cool down

Steady hands?  Gentle, still, strong hands?  I've never had them.  I watch riders who DO have them with ill-concealed jealousy.

This has been the biggest challenge of my horse riding career (at least to date).  It's a persistent issue that every single trainer brings up.  I've always had a hard time with keeping them steady.  And I've tried just about everything to fix them (whip in hand, whip in between elbows and back, elbows ALWAYS at side, very soft elbows, closed hand, open hand, etc.)

We is tired... we is chillin on the road. 

We is tired... we is chillin on the road. 

My dear horsey bestie tries to buoy my spirits with gentle pep talks that sound a bit like this:

L: "You're hands aren't unsteady."

Me: "That isn't the same thing as steady."

L: "But few riders have truly steady hands"

Me: "Fine.  But I want to be one of those riders."

L: *shrugs* "yeh...."

Gavin deciding it's a good idea to try to roll in snow directly next to road.  No pony, just no!

Gavin deciding it's a good idea to try to roll in snow directly next to road.  No pony, just no!

So, you can imagine my happy shock when over the course of the five lessons I've had with my new instructor my hands have magically transformed.  I'm serious guys... I haven't wanted to say out loud to anyone (including my trainer or my friend) "my hands are so much steadier!"  Instead I've been carrying the secret around for a few days, afraid to tell anyone for fear that the ability will suddenly vanish.  But it doesn't seem to be vanishing.  It seems to be sticking! 

And I think I have the secret formula (at least for dressage queens).  It is something I didn't understand until my stirrups were raised several holes.

When my stirrups were raised, and I was asked to quit bothering my pony with my leg, I was pretty put off.  It was painful and I felt as if a lot of my control had been taken from me.  But slowly, after many, many rides - I've learned a bunch of stuff.  Stuff I was never taught by multiple dressage instructors (a couple of which are very successful).  Here are the two major things I've learned:

  1. Forward is key.  If you don't have forward you don't have anything.  I don't care if the horse is framed up.  If the horse isn't forward, then the frame isn't true anyways.
  2. If your legs aren't stable, your hands aren't going to be stable.  If you have a stable lower body (legs, pelvis), and a strong core you are set-up for hand success!

I can imagine alllll of the eye-rolling on the other side of the screen.  A lot of whispered duhs. ut whatever.  These two things might help someone else just like me who for whatever reason didn't get it! 

I'm not saying that my dressage instructors didn't know these things.  They probably knew them instinctually.  But I didn't.  And it didn't really click with me until the last few weeks.  It has been soooo awesome and soooo eye-opening and really a relief to say to myself "get these two things and then we'll discuss contact with Gavin".  And guess what?  He takes the contact like a boss.  He's happy and through and swinging.  His canter is fucking majestic now.  Fucking.  Majestic.  :)

Yay!

The Spa Day That Lasted Two Weeks

So after my last blog post, I decided to give Gav a little break.  I had scheduled an adjustment and massage for him, which I'm still waiting on *damn you busy schedules of horse professionals!!* and had ordered some Ulcergard.

Why the Ulcergard?  Well let me tell you!  About 6 months ago, Gavin kept acting like he was in pain.  I don't know how to describe it except very very midly-colicky.  He'd purse his little pony mouth, and the look in his eyes was "mom - I don't feel good", or I could be misreading and the look was actually "bitch - don't touch me! My stomach hurts!".  Once I went out and he was acting colicky.  Not majorly colicky, but enough for me to call out the emergency vet.  She checked him out and after about an hour and a little tranquilizer she declared him okay.  The ongoing symptoms seemed weird to me though.  They included: pursed lips, uncomfortable look on face, extreme salivation while eating (I'm talking huge gobs of saliva coming out of his mouth), and lameness behind (there was no way in hell he was going to track up and he would roach up his back).  I mentioned all of this to my actual vet - who I'll refer to here as McDreamyVet (seriously tho...).  McDreamyV suggested a whole slew of possibilities, but mentioned that mild colic symptoms could also be ulcers.  An easy way to check was to treat with Ulcergard for 8 days. 

Never one to turn down advice from McDreamyV I immediately began dosing him up.  And low and behold - no more colic symptoms.

I look like an asshole, but Gavin looks soooo cute.

I look like an asshole, but Gavin looks soooo cute.

Well - guess what returned as soon as I gave Gavin a break?  That's right - the weird inability to track up in the trot and the roached up back.  It really was just luck that I had already ordered the Ulcergard.  I do think that maybe there had been a bit of foreshadowing that I was just blind to.

Clues Erika totally missed:

  1.  The weird back-tracking at the canter
  2. Another boarder mentioned to me that she saw him only on-off eating his hay.  Have you seen how fat my horse is?  He didn't get that way by leaving his food and going back to it throughout the day.
  3. He's been holding his breath when saddling him - very unusual for him and I've had him long enough to know. 

So, his spa day has turned into a two week spa retreat.  Tomorrow will be day 7 of Ulcergard.  He's back to walk-trot-cantering like a pro on the lunge (has seemed better since day 4 of Ulcergard), but I'm going to wait until after his adjustment to get back up on him.

Like a kid at Christmas with these things!  Read through all of the instructions the first night.  PS - they are wayyyy cheaper at Riding Warehouse than at SmartPak.

Like a kid at Christmas with these things!  Read through all of the instructions the first night.  PS - they are wayyyy cheaper at Riding Warehouse than at SmartPak.

While I haven't been riding him, I have been grooming him like crazy, refining my roaching skills with my brand spanking new favorite toy (Lister Star clippers, I'm in love!!!), getting rid of all whiskers and over-grown bridle paths, and finally instilling some discipline on the lunge (when I say go, that actually means go).  Not gonna lie - the lay off has been kinda fun in a my-horse-actually-nickers-to-me-now-when-I-show-up way.  This weekend though - it's back to work!  :)

The general with his unskilled, but still cute roach job.  I was too nervous to go shorter.

The general with his unskilled, but still cute roach job.  I was too nervous to go shorter.

Expect a roaching discussion in the near future. 

Never sell that horse

Warning: really lacking in media until the very end

I had a lesson this Monday with my instructor and told her about our awesomely delicious post-warmup trot that we've been getting, and also told her about our horrendous-trainwreck canter.

She decided we'd skip canter work for the bulk of the ride and just work in the trot.  I've been doing a lot of two-point practice and it came in handy this time!  She actually set up a small cross-rail and then converted it to a small vertical (I'm talking reallllly small, but baby steps!).  We were to trot to it, myself in two point.  Right before the jump she asked me to do a crest release (a phrase I've often read, but never myself learned or performed).  It was a bit robotic feeling, but she said timing comes with lots and lots of practice, and given this was our first official crest release - she was going along for the ride with us ;)  We did that both ways at both jump configurations about 3 times. It felt good!  He was interested, but not rushy or pushy.  In fact, I'd say he was a super good boy.  She actually said multiple times how good he was, and to "never sell that horse".  Yeh --- I won't.  Not ever.  :) <3

Eventually, the time came to show her the canter.  I bemoaned her having to see such an ugly sight, but she pushed it "I'm here to see the ugliest thing you have to offer!".  She's right, I know, but ya know... my pride.  ;)

She watched for about 1/2 of the arena and told me to stop him.  She think he's out behind and could do with an adjustment and massage (he has one scheduled for this coming Monday).  She also mentioned him being due for a trim, which yes, he was!  He actually got trimmed on Tuesday, so hopefully that helps as well.  Annnnd - she mentioned that the narrowness of the arena might be making him a bit sore and backed off (sound familiar, Emma?).

She mentioned if she hadn't seen his canter look differently than the way it looked now, she'd just think it was a sticky, pony canter, but since she's seen him cantering in his full canter-glory, she knows that isn't the issue.  She said he looks stiff and sticky behind, which is exactly how he feels.  We cantered both directions, not to torture him, but just to get a baseline for both directions.  She said I rode the canter about as well as I could given he clearly wasn't feeling good about it.  Suggested lots and lots of trot work before any canter work and that when I canter let him just go along on a loose rein, make sure to let go with the inside rein, and for only short amounts of time.

So, Gavin is getting a little mini-break.  I've been busy at work, so it's perfect timing.  I'm going to ride him lightly Friday and Saturday, bathe him on Saturday (what, whaaaaaaaat?!?!?! 70 and sunny in February?!?), and do a very late clipping on Sunday (the heavy pony coat + the unusually high temps = hot and sweaty mess). 

And just to throw some pics in - here are some of me in my show duds.  I have a pretty much full show outfit now - having bought two VERY discounted Asmar Equestrian shirts (thanks for the tip, T!).  Now I just need to get to showing!  (don't mind the messy room, I know I don't!)

Jacket - Horseware Competition Jacket, Breeches - Kerrits, Boots - Tredstep Raphael (my calves are too fat, but you can't tell that here), Shirt in first two pics - Asmar Equestrian show shirt, Shirt in last pic - Ariat short sleeve show shirt, Belt - Hunt Club.  Weeeee!  All the horsey things!

3 trot steps forward, 1 big canter fail

So, I've been riding Gavin A LOT recently and doing a not so awesome job documenting it on this here website.  I feel like my riding has really been reinvigorated and given new purpose as I've been working with this new instructor.  I was very on the fence about her for my first lesson and really, for part of my second lesson, but I've seen changes in Gavin that I can't deny!  I've definitely had some ah-ha moments that everyone who's been riding for any real length of time will laugh at (seriously, just wait) and I'm also struggling with some old demons that have come out of the wood work.

                                        Happy rider on her warming up trotting machine

                                        Happy rider on her warming up trotting machine

Let's talk the good first:

  1. His trot work in general has gotten wayyyyy better.  By the end of my ride, pretty much any ride, he is an engaged, powerful, swinging, machine.  I can only describe the contact I have with him by the end of the ride as buttery.  It's soft, it's steady, it feels AWESOME.  We change rein across the diagonal or on a circle and you don't feel that weird jolt from one rein to the other.  Its fluid feeling.
  2. I, myself, have become much more stable in my posting.  This I believe is for two reasons.  1) I have really sunk my heels down, 2) I try to focus on an ab-engaged post - this leaves me a bit more sturdy and not-so noodly/wimpy in my posture and way of going.
  3. Forward at the walk and trot.  I don't think Gavin is ever going to be a horse hot off my leg, but he might be a horse warm off my leg.  His walk has gone from a leisurely stroll to a slightly less leisurely, more march-like walk.  The walk may for eternity need work, but I'd say the baseline walk is improving.  The forward trot is something he's caught onto awfully fast.  I know you'll all laugh, or go "c'mon - have you really not been taught this before?!?", but I think the forward trot combined with the steady ab-centric posting is what has created the awesome trot and contact mentioned in bullet 1.

Now, the bad:

  1. Where his walk and trot have made huge positive strides, his canter seems to have reverted back to what we were working with a few months back.  Before I started working with this trainer I felt like I was finally getting somewhere with his canter.  He would promptly jump to the canter and the contact was relatively light and stable.  Now he's back to slugging his way into the canter and then four-beating to his hearts delight.  I don't get it! AND IT'S MAKING ME CRAZY!!!!  Part of the issue is that the arena we ride in is extremely narrow (under 20 M across for sure) - this is such an excuse, but it can be very discombobulating to be constantly doing relatively tight turns.  Part of the issue is his seeming unwillingness to just go forward in the canter.  And part of it seems general unhappiness on his part.  I actually voiced something about a month ago (before all of this new work started).  I noticed that Gavin wasn't tail-wringing as much.  He's not a huge tail-flicker, but he does it when entering the canter and also when being asked to move more forward in the canter.  Anyways - it had at some point magically disappeared, and now it's back in a big way.
  2. That's really all of the bad, but it's totally throwing me off into a shitty mind space about my riding. 

Reading this back to myself I can only think that something doesn't feel good to Gav.  He's on oral supplements for his tummy (he was acting a bit ulcery about 5 months prior).  I've had my vet check him multiple times (though not recently) and found nothing amiss with his stifles.  He had Adequan injections last summer to support good overall joint health.  I'm just thinking - what is new that is making him so funky about the canter.  My vet will be out in the not so distant future for his spring shots, and I'll probably have him examined at that point.  In the meantime - any thoughts?

 We're a couple of big badunked betties.  ;)  Not only does our hair match, but so do our butts.

 We're a couple of big badunked betties.  ;)  Not only does our hair match, but so do our butts.

This new way of riding seems awesome and is paying big dividends in the walk and trot, but the canter has me flummoxed and a bit depressed if I'm being honest.

   

Something New, Something Used, Something Borrowed, Something Blue

I have a boat load of horse stuff all tangled up in my brain right now and I'm having a hard time sorting through it all.  So, I think instead of dealing with it, I'll just sort out all the ridiculous shit I recently bought (gift cards and Christmas money sure are handy).  Something new, something used, something borrowed, something blue.  Shit - I could wear this stuff to my wedding!

                                          Gavin is appalled by my blatant materialism

                                          Gavin is appalled by my blatant materialism

  • Something new - Okay, I lied.  A few things are new.
  1. I got a full set of XC boots from Majyk Equipe.  Thanks Riding Warehouse for your bomb ass sales.  I feel like this was a necessity purchase, and had to happen at some point.
  2. PS of Sweden Marshmallow browband.  Think pearls and lots of bling.  Decidedly NOT a necessity, but I'm considering it part of my 30th birthday present to myself.
                                                                     Shiny shiny

                                                                     Shiny shiny

  • Something used
  1. A used Equine Comfort sheepskin pad.  Craigslist for $50.  I bought some sheepskin soap to go with it, so in total it was about $65.  Its in pretty good shape, so I'd call this a good deal!
  • Something borrowed
  1. This happens constantly (see main and tail conditioner).  I'm sure this annoys my friend, but I like to think she uses my wound care spray a lot.
My horsey friend crocheted this awesome scarf for me and in my colors - god she knows me too well!!! <3

My horsey friend crocheted this awesome scarf for me and in my colors - god she knows me too well!!! <3

  • Something Blue
  1. PS of Sweden navy fleece halter.  Purely fluff.  I thought the beastie would look magical in it.  He does.
  2. A tipperary eventing vest in navy.  Also a necessity purchase.  This purchase also has the added bonus of really making my mom happy.  ;)

I almost feel like I have a tack purchasing hangover.  Some of the stuff felt like a necessity, but the PS of Sweden accessories definitely weren't.  Ah well - we all go a bit overboard every once in a while.

Tack Ho Problems

I have been turned on to many tack and apparel companies since following bloggers and also since upping my instagram usage (Erika 2015: "Instagram... whaaaa?", Erika 2016: "Instagram... I still don't think I'm doing this right").  I'm in love with pretty much everything I see, but I don't think I've ever fallen so hard for a company as I did with PS of Sweden.  I don't know how else to describe all of their items except sparkle pony meets patent leather magic. 

Sadly, I have absolutely no need for a new bridle (not that that's really ever stopped me, but I'm trying to be better about spending).  Lucky, or not so lucky, for me - they have an assortment of items that are both gorgeous and don't break the bank.  I've had my eye on an adorable navy halter set that would look more than perfect on Gavin's big ole cow face.

So you can imagine my excitement when I saw their Instagram post this morning.  It was only in Swedish, but my trained eye could see that it was a sale.  I promptly google-translated that bitch and my heart rate went way WAY up.  It seemed they were having a $100 off a $200 order.  I raced to the site and quickly loaded up on total non-essentials.

The halter set (of course), the marshmallow browband, and a pair of super grip brown reins.   I go to checkout, feeling giddy as hell.  I put in the special sale code annnnnnd my heart sinks.  It wasn't $100 off, it was $10 off.  Google translate, why you gotta fuck with me?!?!

Like any good addict - I couldn't go home with nothing.  That wasn't going to happen.  In the words of George R.R. Martin (who I hate for not getting his next book out before the show) my blood was up!  I put the reins back as they were just a last minute decision, but I kept the halter set and the browband.  I'm going to call it my birthday present to myself.  I can't wait to get my grubby little tack ho hands on that shit.  And from what I hear, I should be seeing it early this coming week.

Anybody else have a special place in their heart for a different tack company?  Believe me, I'm interested to hear all about it! ;)

 

Monday Night Arena Lights - Lesson 2

It took me awhile to put this blog together.  I actually took a go-pro video of the whole shebang, but I've realized that a go-pro lesson of a ride might be the most boring thing ever.  Gahhh - sooo boring.  So I have zero media.  I've also been digesting the information and just generally feeling a bit bluesy about my riding and lessons.  Sometimes I wish I were a mountain man who just rode my horse by feel and just went by the motto that if Gavin works better a certain way then that's how I'd ride him.  I'd see a log and be like "Ooooh - a log, I want to jump that log" then I'd jump it, stop, stroke my long, majestic, mountain man beard and smile.

But, fuck the pity party.  What were the takeaways?

  1. You people post without your stirrups?  WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH JUMPERS?  So, so painful.  I think I'm using the wrong muscles, but god.  I can't believe I complained about two point.
  2. More two point, which is getting much easier, but you know, still sucks and I'm still pretty unbalanced at it.
  3. He likes to have his left rein be his "outside" rein all the time.  He's not a fan of bending to the left.  I've always fixed this by lots of opening rein action, outside rein vibrations, and inside leg.  This trainer is not a fan of my handsiness (part of my post-lesson depression).  To help with his bracing on the left rein we worked on spiral circles to the extreme.  This really did seem to help, and seems quite challenging for him.  I can't say her methods are ineffective.  (Can you tell I'm still skeptical?)
  4. Cavaletti work.  Which is what I'm relegated to until I get two point down and my handsiness under control.  No using his mouth to balance over a jump.  Got it.
  5. Cavaletti work is EXCITING to this pony and his trot can get a bit quick.  She wanted me working on keeping my posting to a certain rhythm to keep his trot for quickening.  This is the first and only time that my posting has really affected a horse.  Me and Gavin in sync.  Who knew?!?

I told her I'd shit my pants at a BN event and was hoping for something smaller.  So we're shooting for the intro/easy level for awhile (nothing above 18 inches).  This sounds much preferable to my adrenal glands.

 

Homework - Riding Recap Since Lesson

Ever since our last lesson, Gavin and I have been diligently working on our homework.  Just a refresher, the homework included:

  1. Get him infront of the leg with less squeezing and more structured leg, then leg + tap, then leg + stronger tap
  2. Lengthenings at all three gaits
  3. Stretchy trot
  4. Five strides sitting trot, five strides posting trot, five strides two point
  5. Keep my stirrups up for two rides, then back down to "normal" for two rides
  6. Work on getting heels way, way down and close hip angle

So.... how did it to go?

                                                 Gavin says he hates it and it's going horribly!

                                                 Gavin says he hates it and it's going horribly!

Well... it's been hard.  I mean, the lengthenings are tough work for Gav.  See above sweaty mess pic.  I really need to clip him, and I'm embarrassed to admit this, but I bought a new blade and when I went to install it I completely messed the whole thing up and now I can't figure out how to put the whole thing (including the blade) back together.  (SOMEONE HELP!!!!)

Side note: This may be overkill, but I spoke with my vet about giving Gav an 8 day round of Ulcerguard due to the increased workload.  We gave it to him early fall when he was behaving a bit ulcery (excessive salivation when eating, acting mildly colic-y with increased frequency, general malaise) and since then he's been on a daily U-Guard pellet supplement.  This has definitely helped his tummy and attitude, but I worry with the increased work his stomach might act up.  Anyways - might do that.

If I break it down, here's how things are going:

  1. Getting him in front of my leg, especially at the walk, remains an issue.  He certainly seems to be getting the point, but 5 years of me riding him and not asking for this is pretty engrained in his pony brain.  I can't blame him, and will continue being patient on this one.
  2. Lengthenings at all three gaits - massive cardio workout, Gav seems to really thrive at the canter lengthening.  Unless I workon it the whole ride we tend to lose contact at the trot lengthenings.  My thoughts are to ask for less until he's solid at a more medium lengthening.  Any ideas?
  3. Stretchy trot - NAILED IT.  Gav loves this exercise.  He tends to get a bit strung out behind in these, but with the increased drive for forward this doesn't seem to be an issue.  It feels powerful, but loose.
  4. Two point - still ouch.  I think I'm getting some muscle memory for it though.  The last couple of rides I was like "oohhhh - I think this is what it's supposed to feel like".
  5. Did stirrups up until my last ride.  I definitely got used to it, and then when I put them back down to normal I felt so much more solid in my seat.  I expected the opposite to happen, but it was almost like my legs wanted to stretch down into the stirrup and it helped my seat a lot!
  6. Getting my heels down and closing hip angle.  The stirrups up seemed to help with this and it became much easier every ride.  The hip angle seems like a muscle memory thing, and again, became much easier with every ride.
                                                                          Sweaty beastie

                                                                          Sweaty beastie

Ultimately, I've been enjoying the change of pace (ha! Literally), and I think Gav is too.  My next lesson is this coming Monday, so we'll see what homework I get next!  :)

And for no other reason than cuteness, here's a video of how Gav acts when he's getting his happy stomach pellets (U-gard).  He clearly REALLY wants it, but he hides his head.  It's like he's trying so hard to be a good boy.  God he's cute.


Dinner by Candlelight - Black Beauty Theme

Black Beauty did and does things to my heart that no other movie can do.  The tears.  Oh god, the tears.  But, it's lovely.  And the music - ugh.  I was so in love with the music that my brother actually found it for me when I was a teenager.  I have it on my iPhone, and on nights after a really nice ride, I play it as I drive home, drifting away into my love for horses.  :)

I hope someone out there in blog land will remember this music and it brings them a smile, who knows, maybe even shed a tear, god knows I do when I listen.  <3

My very first jump lesson

Earlier this evening I had my very first jump lesson.  It was all things.  I felt many ways about it.  I felt good about certain parts; I felt bad about certain parts; and I felt very challenged by certain aspects.

So, let's break it down!

What was good:

  1. The instructor was friendly, seemed knowledgeable, and pushed me, but wasn't mean or overbearing
  2. Her methods seemed humane and effective
  3. I felt like I learned some new things (to discuss later)
  4. I was given homework
  5. Gavin got a hell of a workout

What was bad:

  1. After giving me some instruction on my overly-loose/giving hands, the instructor proceeded to ask who my old dressage instructor was.  When I told her, she almost immediately started some light shit-talking about my old trainer (who happens to be a pretty well known and successful rider/trainer in the area).  Not cool.  I just met you and don't want to talk about my old trainer who happens to be a nice woman who I learned a lot with.  I think it was pretty obvious I didn't want to have that conversation and it didn't get brought up again.
  2. I have completely neglected clipping Gav for the winter so the cool down period was quite lengthy.  But I don't mind hanging with my boy so much ;)
  3. That was really all the bad, oh - except what is with toes having to be pointed completely forward?  I get that it's correct and that it allows more of your leg to lie against the horse.  I've been told to do it my entire riding career, but homies, my legs are NOT built that way.  Yes, I'm admitting that I'm a bit bow-legged.  It hurts them when the toes are turned in.  Also seems unlikely that I'm a more effective rider in that stance, but whatev. Really this is just me bitching.

What was challenging:

  1. Uhhh TWO POINT.  I have a new found respect for all hunter/jumper/eventers.  Pretty much anyone who hangs out in two point with short stirrups.  My thighs were ON FIRE!
  2. Can I say two point again?  Holy moly!
  3. Having your stirrups SOOOO short.  My ankles were quite stretched out by the end.  This is going to take some getting used to.

What did we work on:

  1. It was an intro lesson, so she first just watched us warm-up walk/trot/canter.
  2. She noted that he has short little legs which makes him have a shorter stride than most horses.  She's worried about him being able to keep up in a pair pace, or time in cross country.  So we worked on lengthening at the trot and canter.  I smiled to myself when she asked for this - we've been working on it a lot!  He's a boss at trot lengthening, though sometimes it feels like there's a jetpack attached to his butt and he takes off in his infamous cob trot.  It's crazy feeling.  The canter was also a success.  She said his stride got dramatically longer when I asked for it.  *proud pony mom*
  3. Two point.  THE STRUGGLE IS REAL!
  4. We did some trot poles and we actually had to shorten his stride.  Gavin's like "Oh, my legs are so short, huh? Watch THIS!"

Homework for next week and a half (til next lesson):

  1. Alternate 2 rides with shortened stirrups/2 rides with longer stirrup
  2. Get him more in front of leg with dear Mr. Tappy (whip name stolen from Carly, but it's just so perfect)
  3. 5 strides sitting trot, 5 strides posting trot, 5 strides two point AND REPEAT (ouch)
  4. Continue working on lengthening in all gaits.  :) 

My overall thoughts are positive.  I'm excited to see where this goes and excited to learn some new stuff with my red boy.  :)  PS - she mentioned doing something beginner novice this summer and suggested I watch a couple youtube videos.  I did and promptly shit my pants.  Those jumps look big!

 

All Aboard the Good Ship Mutiny

If you think about it, boarding stables are a bit like pirate ships.  You've got your scallywags, your good-for-nothings, your *tack* thieves, your loyal compatriots, people who love the sauce, people who love to swear, and the occasional parrot (CobJockey, I'm looking directly at you on this one).

Like any good pirate ship, you're going to have to deal with a mutiny at some point.  Now I myself have been feeling a hair mutinous recently, but have kept it to myself (see: people pleaser who hates to tell people when I'm upset about anything they're doing or have done).  But suddenly the entire barn has erupted in it.  People are parking their horses out front and just talking, which is typically not a good sign at a barn.

The mutiny is both good and bad.  Good because hopefully the issues at the barn will finally be addressed; bad because the people who own the barn are good people who don't know a whole lot about barn ownership and thus I feel bad for them (see people pleaser comment above).

Here's the backstory as to what led to the rebellion.  Our barn has two main arenas.  One is indoor, one is outdoor.  The outdoor is large and in-charge in the summer/fall.  Everyone would rather use the outdoor.  But that's only when it's available.  I live in Colorado, and winter = snow, here.  So you can imagine we haven't been using the outdoor.  That means everyone and their mother (sometimes my mother ;)) is in the indoor.  The indoor is pretty tight, but that's not the real issue. 

The real issue is that the footing is dirt.  This isn't a huge deal until it gets too cold to water the footing with the overhead sprinkler system.  Suddenly you can't see from one end of the arena to the other.  It is DUSTY.  I feel like a coal miner in there, and can only imagine the black lung Gavin and I are slowly acquiring. 

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I can actually feel the grit in my teeth.  When I spit, which I do because of said grit, it comes out brown.  It's gross.  This wasn't an issue last year, as the barn manager at the time would just water with a hose, turn the footing over, and repeat.  It's not the world's greatest footing, but it does just fine.  That manager left, and in her place, the property owner's came in.  Like I said, nice people, but not barn managers.

Everyday that we tack up our horses and optimistically march them to the indoor only to be met with a brown haze is one more day that we can't really ride our horses properly.  My friend's horse, who is typically a saint, has turned into a bit of a pig from the lack of real exercise.  But Sterling isn't the only one developing a bad attitude; it seems to have spread to all of the boarders.  And that is a scary thing. 

As sorry as I feel for the barn owners, and I do, they are good hearted people, they're also running a business, and that business charges me a price indicative of having an indoor arena.  I can't use the indoor, though.  I don't want to be just another boarder nagging at them as I'm sure they've got plenty of that, but I'm not sure if I should just stay silent either, as I know the arena smog is bad for me and bad for Gavin.  And I don't want to go from being Real Old Tom to being Dead Tom.

Any thoughts or suggestions on footing fixes?

A New Year

I didn't make any normal resolutions for this new year.  I'm constantly struggling to find a balance of eating right/working out enough/spending enough time with my dog/riding Gavin enough/exceling at work/spending time with friends/spending time with Shawn.  It'd be silly to consider any of those things new goals.  It'd just be a continuation of the same struggle.  The struggle made a little easier recently by the fact that I drive about an hour and fifty minutes less every day for work (I actually get out to the barn while it's still sorta light out - HOLLLLAAAA!). 

But that doesn't mean that I'm not excited for the new year.  Au contraire, I'm very excited!  I love fresh starts.  And my fresh start for the new year goes something like this - don't wait around for everything to be perfect before you go out and do what you want.  I'm resolving to be a little looser in my scheduling, a little less rigid in my goal making, and a little kinder to myself.  But I don't think that boils down to me doing less, I think it actually opens me up to do more. because now I'm not going to say to myself "you must reach such and such goal before you can move forward".  I'm going to try to take more chances, and laugh off more failures (more tries = more epic fails, right?).  I actually came upon the idea from a blog post on Chronicle of the Horse.  Find it here.  I found it to be a great article - both inspiring and relaxed at the same time.

Snow pony gives snow cuddles for treats. 

Snow pony gives snow cuddles for treats. 

Of course, I couldn't NOT go see Gavin today.  I'm glad I did.  The sun was out and he was in an obliging sort of mood.  Really he's in this mood about 95% of the time - the other 5% he's a total crank who likes to pretend bite me then snap his head back with alarm. 

Proof that I really do own a GIANT ASS pony.  He almost looks a little donkey-ish in this pic.

Proof that I really do own a GIANT ASS pony.  He almost looks a little donkey-ish in this pic.

I know that I have and will always obsess over his canter departs, but they are sooo much better than last year (and by that I mean a year ago, not 2015).  He's stronger now, and that helps him push into the canter and also stay more balanced in it.  I've started working on walk to canter (because why the fuck not? see resolution above).  He definitely gets it on the right lead.  The left lead still needs work, but he definitely gets the idea.  Really, I think it's improved his canter departs at the trot as well; there seems to be a bit more jump into them.

Gavin's bestie, Sterling.  And my bestie, Laura!

Gavin's bestie, Sterling.  And my bestie, Laura!

I don't talk about Gavin's accomplishments very much.  I'm always so focused on what needs fixing.  But, he and I really have developed as a team in the last two years, which seems odd to me because we've been flying solo trainer-wise for most of that time.  I think it's been good because it's forced me to think things out on my own.  I have to recognize the problem, then I have to think up a possible solution and try it.  It doesn't always work, but that's also something I learn from. 

Ears pointed firmly to the future.  :)  Grown-out roached mane looking extra Brillo-y

Ears pointed firmly to the future.  :)  Grown-out roached mane looking extra Brillo-y

Having rambled on about the benefits of no trainer (for me, personally), I also recognzie the benefits of being schooled in something you're totally unschooled in (jumping, being bold, the technical aspects of eventing, etc.)  I'm excited to say that I have a lesson coming up this coming Thursday.  She's an eventing instructor recommended by a close horse-friend of mine.  I'm sooooo excited.  Like I said - I'm not going to wait for the perfect barn, the perfect set-up, the perfect truck and trailer combo before I start doing stuff this year.  I'm gonna go for it and see where it leads me.  :)

A Very Merry Christmas

I'm bundled up and warm on this lovely Christmas afternoon.  :) Grateful for many things, including having so many wonderful blogs to read and enjoy.  Though reading through all of them is making me wish that I had gotten in on the gift exchange (I say this every year!) - everyone does such a wonderful job with their equine-related gifts! 

I did a gift exchange with my barn and real-life bestie, Laura, the day before Christmas and was sooooo happy with my present!  She did a portrait of Gavin in colored pencils.  I LOVE IT!  I'm going to get it framed along with his welsh cob papers.  :)

I'm in a bit of a food coma, so I think this'll be the end of this post.  I foresee more puppy cuddling and eating for the remainder of this wonderful day.

I hope everyone is having a very merry Christmas! :)

PS - Jen at Cob Jockey is having a great giveaway right now for an entire Noble Outfitters outfit.  Check it out! :)

Costa Rica

                                                             The Arenal volcano

                                                             The Arenal volcano

Horses are my greatest passion, but another, though admittedly lesser passion of mine is traveling.  I didn't travel much when I was young - couple being poor and having a mom terrified of flying and see how far you get ;)  But since I've been a "grown-up" and able to pay my way for at least one trip a year, I've tried to take it.  It started off with girl trips to different states, and after meeting and moving in with Shawn, it turned into going on one southern trip out of the country every December.  Our first year we went to the Riviera Maya, the year after it was Jamaica, and this year we chose Costa Rica.  We're slowly just going farther and farther south.  I'm assuming at some point we'll wind up in Antarctica.

We flew into Liberia, which was the smallest airport I've ever been to.  Customs took all of 5 minutes and we were out and headed to Arenal.  Arenal is an area in the interior of Costa Rica.  We were directly outside of the small, but active town of La Fortuna.  We were also in the shadow of a HUGE, but dormant volcano (pictured above).  It's only been dormant since 2010, which seems freaky to me, but it doesn't seem to bother the locals at all.

           The center square of La Fortuna.  A very active and fully utilized park and gardens.

           The center square of La Fortuna.  A very active and fully utilized park and gardens.

We tend to be lazy travelers, preferring coffee and slow meanderings as opposed to tours and educational excursions, but seeing as we didn't have an ocean to stare at, we decided to book two tours.

One of the tours was a horseback ride through pastures (think a mix of Kentucky and rainforest.  Sounds weird, but it's stunning), rainforest, and up to the opening of a trail to a rather large waterfall.  Of course they asked who didn't have experience riding horses.  When Shawn and I stayed quiet, they laughed and called us cowboys and gave us their boss mares.  Chiquita and Corena.  The moment I got on Chiquita she peed.  I took that as a good sign and off we went.  It was great.  Being on boss mare meant I was always in the lead.  She was a hardworking little mare, and I made sure to give her plenty of pats and some ear rubs.  The waterfall was incredible.  I've never been to what I can only call "tropical paradise", but we were there.  It was like no picture or video could capture it.  It was truly shockingly beautiful in all of it's cool, mossy, jungle-ness.

                                 Shawn and our guide on our nature hike.

                                 Shawn and our guide on our nature hike.

The next day we went on a nature hike through a protected area where you can see monkeys, sloths, toucans, parrots, etc.  We didn't see ANY of those things.  But that's okay.  It was beautiful and our guide was very informative about the plants, the rainforest, the birds, the snakes, and the lizards (all of which we did see).  We got to walk over multiple suspended bridges.  They weren't quite made of wood and rope, but they still swung and bounced around. 

We spent the rest of our time in Costa Rica making fools of ourselves in the pool, drinking coffee, eating Ceviche (not something I've tried before as I'm not a huge fish lover, but YUM!), and napping.  It was a great trip.  I'd say the most awesome thing I saw was how close and happy the residents were.  Everyone hung out in the park - playing with their dogs, kids playing kick the ball, couples kissing, people talking.  Not a phone in sight.  It was a beautiful thing and something I hope to bring back with me to my life.

                      Los Nenes - some bomb ass ceviche available here.  And a cool bird mural.

                      Los Nenes - some bomb ass ceviche available here.  And a cool bird mural.

Weekly Riding Recap (late) - Week ending the 13th

I'll admit, I'm not off to a good start as far as my weekly riding recaps are considered.  My second one is late, but with video (oooh!).  Things have been hectic here.  I accepted a new position, left my old job on December 11th, then immediately turned around and left for Costa Rica for 5 nights (hint hint: later post).

Monday - went out and rode with my lady friend again.  When we got to the indoor (a rather skinny indoor) there was a young girl tacking up about to get a lesson and another girl somewhere in her mid-teens who was already on her horse just riding around solo.  Lucky for us, she had set up a little crossrail, but unlucky for us - she's awful and scary to ride around.  I know I sound like a giant grinchy monster saying that, but she is.  She's got to be around 16, but she seems more like a pre-teen (sorry to any self-sufficient, independent, dependable pre-teens reading this).  Just all over the place with her horse, doesn't watch out for other people, doesn't really seem able to read her horse very well, doesn't pay particularly good attention to her horse.  I've been burned a couple times by her horse getting loose and charging full speed ahead at Gavin only to pull up short at the last minute.  Not fun.  Anyways - none of those shenanigans were pulled this evening.  We just worked with the small amount of arena space we had and jumped the little crossrail.

Evidenced here:

https://www.instagram.com/p/_BCCPON2IR/

Yes... I just referenced a link to Instagram.  I deleted the damn video off my phone and now can't figure out a way to share it on here.  Boooo.  But, check it out if you want.  OR - tell me how to get my damn video back so that I can embed it. 

Here's a little left lead canter.  Left lead is our tricky lead.  I think this is definitely partially my fault.  The left side of my body is just weaker than the right side.  I mean, it's like I'm right-handed to the extreme.  Considering Gavin has had very little experience outside of me cantering him, I'm sure this has prejudiced him to prefer the right lead.  Combine that with maybe his own preference for the right lead, and we've got a pretty weak left lead.  He feels like he leans in a lot, and four beats.  You can kinda see what I mean while he's going down the long side of the following video.  I've found that if he's very forward this typically goes away (though it doesn't always work).

Wednesday - our night ride was more chill.  I'm trying to get Gavin used to ropes trailing behind us, next to us, under us.  This is for the extremely immature ultimate goal of pulling my husband in a tube behind us after a good snow.  Yes, I'm that yeehaw asshole.  But it sounds like so much fun.  And because he's so chill, I think it's doable in a safe way.  I might be a yeehaw asshole, but you also need to tack on total scaredy-cat to that title.  The whole afraid for my life thing tends to temper the yeehaw aspect of my character ;)  Of course, Gavin didn't mind his trailing, swinging, slapping lead rope at the walk in either the direction, on either side.  Next to master the trot and canter and then on to the next step!  Besides our little line desensitizing, we also did some normal cardio exercises, walk/trot/canter.

Saturday - transitions, transitions, transitions.  My boy can be light as a feather after 10 minutes of transitions.  He was keyed up.  :)  I always forget how important these exercises are.  I kissed him goodbye, fed him his happy stomach pellets, and said see you next week!

              This is what happens whenyour horse's roached mane starts to grow out and it's insanely thick, wiry, and wild.

              This is what happens whenyour horse's roached mane starts to grow out and it's insanely thick, wiry, and wild.




Blatant Stealing - Weekly Riding Recap

So I stumbled upon the idea of a weekly riding journal while reading a Guinea For A Guinness blog, and then again today was reminded of it by A Work in Progress.  I like the idea of doing a general recap of all the rides on a weekly basis.  I'm hoping to not get bogged down in the day-to-day blog minutiae where you'd hear me day-in, day-out say something along the lines of "and we had a hard time transitioning to the canter...". ;)

 

I'd say this week was about standard on the pony-time.  Maybe a little on the light side for real riding.  It had been cold and snowy here for a couple of weeks and this week the sun finally decided to start showing itself. 

Monday - went out with every intention of riding, but then got scared when I got there as the barn was dark and empty.  Wound up just feeding Gav his happy stomach pellets and calling it a night.  Literally kept a metal curry with me at all times in case I needed to ward off an attacker or pack of coyotes (really, I think the coyotes are more likely).

Tuesday - Met my friend at the barn and did a bareback ride.  I use the Bestfriend plush bareback pad.  I've owned it about a year and I'm pretty sure it has lost all of its cushion, that or my ass is just incredibly sensitive.  I get saddle sores every single time I ride bareback.  This is sort of crossing over into a TMI post, but equestrian underwear is actually a topic I'd like to discuss, and will likely post on later this week.  So, of course, I got saddle sores from my Tuesday ride.  Gavin was a doll, outside of one canter transition where he decided to cob power trot down the long side before breaking into a sloppy canter.  That didn't help the sore ass issue 0.o

Thursday - I felt like shiiiiiit due to one of my lovely chronic migraines (the Botox I get for them seems to be wearing off for this cycle) but met my friend at the barn for another weeknight rendezvous.  Happily (or unhappily?) she also felt like shit and didn't want to ride.  We wound up chasing our boys around the indoor.  At one point her horse just I think we're making the transition okay. 

Saturday - We did a "conditioning" ride.  It was pretty wimpy as far as actual conditioning goes, but it was just lots and lots of canter (Gavin's favorite gait!).  He was sweaty and I was happy by the time we were done.  No complaints except I lost steering over my wiggly creature anytime he got near my friend's husband.  Apparently Eric = stop and chat.

Sunday - We jumped in our tiny ass indoor.  We set up a small (very small by most of your standards) cross-rail (about 18 inches) across the diagonal.  This set us up for a relatively tight turn into the jump and then hopefully land on  the other lead.  Gavin luuuuuurves jumping and was a boss throughout the whole exercise.  He got his lead switched about 90% of the time and it was a breeze to pop him into the canter.  Gavin on a normal day: "Canter?  I guess so... Ask again in 5 seconds"  Gavin on a jumping day: "Canter?  WOOHOO YES RIGHT NOW AND IT'S GOING TO BE BIG AND BEAUTIFUL!"  Jumping Gavin makes me smile.  And writing that down makes me realize that I need to do it more.

And now here I am on a Sunday night, with my cuddly puppy snoozing next to me.  Thinking about all the things I want to discuss horse-wise in the future.

A little bit of Erika

So I'm absolutely all on board with this being primarily a blog about my pony adventures, but part of that equation is me - your friendly blog operator.  So after catching you all up on where Gavin is and what he's been up to, I figure I should do some catching up on myself.

During my last blog-run, I let you all know that I got engaged!  The engagement itself was a sweet little affair outside of a restaurant that overlooked some beautiful land.  It was my now-husband's birthday and we were there by his request.  We finished up our dessert and coffee and he started fiddling with this little container that he typically keeps nicotine lozenges in(ex-smoker that he is).  Instead, he pulled out a wad of toilet paper and started unraveling it (I can't make this shit up).  And out-popped a beautiful sapphire ring (the ring that was later stolen in Jamaica).  He knelt and asked.  And of course I said yes!  I love the man!  Fast forward 10 months and we were getting married with Fudge as our ring-bearer.  I wouldn't call it a simple wedding, but I kept it pretty relaxed.  I only had one melt-down and that was the day before when we were setting up the venue and I just started weeping to my older brother about how stressed out I was.  He walked me around the property for about 5 minutes and I got my cool back.  It's been about 6 months since the wedding and honestly, it doesn't feel any different to me.  I mean, it feels great, but not a ton different.  I adore Shawn and seem to grow fonder of him by the day. 

But enough heart-warming, barf-inducing, love stuff.  The other exciting thing that happened was I recently was offered and accepted a new position at a new company.  I loved working for my company (a large non-profit healthcare administration company that worked for CU Medical School).  Problem was - it took me about an hour to get there and an hour to get home or to the horse.  (L is shaking her head and calling me a pansy complaining about that commute).  But it was killlllling me!  So I went looking closer to home.  I found a job 10 minutes from my house and about 15 minutes from my pony.  I am so excited to get an extra hour and a half on each workday.  I'm hoping to utilize this time with more puppy-walks, horse-riding, and general lounging and life-enjoyment.

And finally, for the exciting thing right around the corner - I'm going to Costa Rica in a week and a half and will be there for about a week.  It's a very belated honeymoon.  I'm soooo excited, and this time I won't be bringing my ring with me for anyone to steal. ;)

Gavin 9.0

Gavin is now 9 years old and quickly approaching 10.  They grow up so fast!  It seems like just yesterday he was a hairy little three year old introducing himself to me out in a field.  And now he's a 9 year old, stoutly built Welsh Cob with a sweet heart and a good work ethic.

                                                                                                                 Twinsies!

                                                                                                                 Twinsies!

Not too much has changed since I last blogged.  We're still at the same barn (and by we, I mean myself, Gavin, my friend Laura, and her Connemara X, Sterling).  That may be changing in the near future *fingers crossed*.  Our names are on a list for a small jumper barn with a bigger indoor and access to field jumps.  I'll be a bit sad to leave our current barn as it offers a welcoming atmosphere, a clean barn, an awesome tack-up area, and a stellar indoor/heated wash rack, but it'd be nice to have access to trainers in the discipline I'm interested in.   

We work a lot on the same things - being relaxed in all gaits, promptly responding to requests, being agreeable to ride and handle.  I'm not going to lie - Gavin has got to be a bit bored.  He's got it all pretty well down.  Me?  I'm still learning.  But, Gavin has my janky-ass pretty well figured out.  ;)

Here are a couple of videos from my last lesson.  Note the beautiful weather and the light riding clothing.  Yes, it was summer.  Shame on me.  I really liked the instructor (Kim) - I need to call her again (she lives in Florida, but travels to Colorado regularly).  She was very much about fixing the rider to help the horse go correctly.  If you listen to her talk to me, it's all about my position, my movement.  And she really got some good work out of both of us - and this is on our bad lead!