Monday, March 29, 2010

A VERY successful weekend!

Wow, what a weekend I had!!! Very busy and VERY successful!

My friend Kate, rider of TinyPony, JoePony, HunnyPony and several other ponies was in town this weekend.
 Kate riding HerTinyPony at River Glen

In addition to riding ponies, Kate is becoming certified to do saddle fitting and gave several of us good advice on how to make our saddles fit better this weekend, including the very exciting news that my jump saddle is extra-super-duper wide and it, in fact, was NOT too narrow for Brandy, it was too wide and needed some extra padding to make it fit her better. 
Kate looking teeny next to Brandy, who is not as big as this picture makes her look!

The addition of a fleece pad and some shims in the front made it much more balanced. *phew* In the words of Kate "You wouldn't have been able to find it if you'd been looking for it, but you weren't and you did!" So, now we're just on the lookout for a super-wide dressage saddle, as well.

So, Kate came in town to have a lesson with Amy and school cross country on Saturday. Of course, it rained all day on Thursday so we had to do some scrambling to try to find a place to have our lesson on Friday. We ended up canceling just because it wouldn't come together quite right and hauled over to Hunter's Court to school. They were having their show on Saturday and open the barn for schooling on Friday for the public. So, for $20, Kate and I were able to get a good school in and play hunters for the evening.We pulled up with our horses in Kate's little stock trailer- Joe facing backwards, Ari facing forwards. I wish I'd gotten pictures. They ride so well together and I know they don't mind it because they both load like pros every. single. time.

Off the trailer came the little arab pony and the one eyed thoroughbred gelding. We got tacked up and I would say I was sticking out about as much as was humanly possible. Between my pink-bling-browband, my figure 8 noseband, colored square pad, mismatched bell boots (one white, one pink), my breastplate and tipperary helmet... I don't think I could have screamed eventer any more had I tried. But that doesn't matter, because it was open schooling, right?! Right.

So, we made it into the arena and walked around for awhile. I saw several people I knew from "Project: Hunter" when I found (the other)Kate her new (not-so-little)pony, so I stopped to say hi to them. Ari got lots of attention for not having an eye! That was fun. :) We warmed up a bit in the non-jumping half of the arena and then moved in to dodge hunters to play over the jumps. At some point, Ari was passed on his blind side. Innocently, nothing traumatic, but he took it as a personal insult to the very fiber of his being and proceeded to buck, twist, fart and spin the whole rest of the school, every time we passed anything on the left. Yes, anything. You know, another horse, the fence, a jump, air... he bucked, farted and twisted like a moron.

However, the JUMPING was great. He had one stupid stop the very first jump I pointed him at. Haybales, of course, which is why I chose to jump those first. THEY'RE EFFING HAYBALES. WE JUMP THEM ALL THE TIME AT HOME. I was just trotting up to them and didn't very well ride him at all, so I guess I deserved it. The rest was awesome, though. He didn't peek at any of the walls, flowers, fillers- nothing. The last thing Kate and I did was a course and he rocked it. I let him go forward a little more and supported with my leg- concentrated on not jumping ahead and succeeded quite well, I think!

The most amusing part of that whole adventure was as I was cantering across the diagonal of the arena. I was going to get to the other side and ask for a simple change as Ari does not, will not, may never ever ever have flying changes. As I passed between two of the hunter coaches who were teaching students, one of them yelled "Change now!" to his student on the other side of the arena and Ari performed a perfect flying change with no prompting from me. I was laughing so hard I had to stop. If only I knew it would be that easy to teach him changes!

Saturday rolled around and I managed to forget my cell phone at home. Yes. I forgot my cell phone. At home. Me. It was horrible, but I survived the WHOLE day without much issue. Julie picked Brandy and I up early, Brandy was less a shoe, but I brought her anyway. Kate loaded Ari up with Joe awhile later and he actually stood tied to the trailer the whole day- amazing. Shasta came after that with Moose, Boston, Gracie, Storm and Audrey.

Brandy had an awesome school. I jumped several things I'd never jumped before and a ton of bigger fences. She didn't bat an eye at anything I pointed her at. Obviously the winter off didn't effect her at all! I hate to let her go, but I hope she finds her perfect person. I also jumped the stone wall for the first time since 2006!

Ari's school was also amazing. I was worried going in after his antics from the day before, but he didn't exhibit any signs of wanting to do that at PWP. Maybe hes a little claustrophobic in an arena? He did have two stops, but both were my fault. The best part about the stops is that I FELT them coming three strides out. He now goes forward with such power that if he is considering stopping its easy to feel- which means I ought to be able to prevent them by riding harder. The downside to that is that I have to ride him to every fence as though he may decide to stop three strides out. His two stops were both easy fences, so it has nothing to do with the "scary factor" just him taking advantage of me not being LOCKED IN and kicking. I had a couple fences that I nailed it on- the second time we went over the lobster trap I managed to hook a spur in his girth I was riding so hard!

So, the points I took away from that lesson are:
  • Don't ride as though he's just going to "float over" any jump. Ever. Ride as though he will stop every time and he won't have the chance.
  • DIG IN. KICK ON. Pick a point on the other side of the fence and just keep kicking until you LAND.
  • Ride hard, but don't let him "squirt out the front." The power has to be capped to work effectively.
Oh, and he had a hissy fit at the water again. He had a similar issue at Poplar in August. He didn't want to jump down into the water. It was probably a 15 minute battle of me pony-club-kicking, smacking him behind my leg with the whip and calling him every swear word in the world as he just ignored me completely. As expected, when he finally stepped down into the water, it had nothing to do with being scared, he stepped in as calmly as can be, it had everything to do with him being an obstinate ass.

Proof. He can jump into water. Ass.
  And step into water, too.

My students all had an awesome school as well. Moose had NO refusals, which is a total 180 from her typical "stop at everything and then jump it the second time." Everyone else did great, but I was most impressed with Moose and Robin's progress! She did several BN fences without so much as a peek.

 Carissa and Jess both had excellent rides and showed lots of improvement from last year! All three made it over the ditch, which is always fun!

Tori had her first XC schooling and showed great form and was very game! I only wish Audrey had been a bit more cooperative, but she was a little overwhelmed. I kept her on the longe line the whole time and it worked out well!

Bobby did great with Storm and Storm had fun and left with a lot more confidence than he came with!

Taryn borrowed a fabulous little morgan named Avalon from a student of Julie's and had a great school too, on a horse she'd never even seen before, doing something she'd never experienced before.

And of course, Kate rode Shasta, who was fabulous. It took some settling in, but she ended up being an angel and having a great time in the water, stepping up and down the bank, jumping all the baby jumps and the baby ditch. I also love that PWP is becoming more "baby friendly" as things go on!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

By popular demand: My clinic review!

I had a great time at Partridge Hill teaching the Cedar Hills Pony Club clinic. Rebecca's barn is gorgeous, great setting and a wonderful ARENA! The kids were very willing to learn, listen, discuss, ask questions and try new things. The parents were so welcoming and supportive, and the ponies were AMAZING.

This is not me, and it was not yesterday, but you can see a piece of Rebecca's lovely arena!

I was so tickled to get home last night and have the familiar gritty coating of sand stuck to dried sweat. I. Was. Exhausted. I fell into bed at 10:30 last night and didn't move until 8:00 this morning!

 Me with my best "teacher-face" on!

My first student was a D-1 getting ready to uprank to D-2. She was on a cutie-patootie chestnut pony mare named Ginger. Ginger was a lovely, honest large pony that I would love to have in my barn for one of my riders. Kay, her rider, was a pistol, needed to get some confidence but really worked hard to do everything I asked. She needed to be comfortable jumping 18" for her upranking and we ended doing a little course at about 2', so she should be more than ready!

My next group was two adorable kids on, again, two adorable ponies- Moon Pie and Sweet Potato. Moon Pie was an... aged... foxhunting mount who knew her job and knew it well! Her darling rider was gutsy and all about going fast and jumping high! Sweet Potato (Puh-tay-tuh) is a tricky little pony who had given her rider a hard time recently, so we really worked on confidence.
Moon Pie, Hanna, Me, Grace and Sweet Potato
 These ponies were turnout buddies, so their girls had a hard time spacing themselves around the arena and keeping that spacing. We did a little drill time exercise in which MP (a very forward pony) and SP (a very. pokey. pony.) started at B and E and had to stay at the exact opposite ends of the arena all the way around. That worked gloriously and I was able to see both girls work their horses in control and balance for several laps! Then, onto jumping. MP's rider was game and so was MP- no problems there besides remembering to grab mane and keep heels down and a little bit of half-halt in the lines. Easy! SP's rider had a hard time making SP go OVER the jump- but had a LOVELY ride down the two outside lines by POSTING over the cross rails to make sure SP didn't have a chance to duck out. She found a nice balance between "too slow" and "too fast" to get SP's mind engaged and not ticking too hard.

 Moon Pie

 Sweet Potato

My next lesson was definitely one of my favorites, it featured two older girls on two very, very nice thoroughbreds- one of them being Lyra!
 Olivia and Lyra, stolen from her Facebook, since there appears to be no pics of her from the clinic!

 Hannah and Baxter

Lyra is still new to Olivia and they haven't had much time to work together this winter, and Baxter was a Christmas present to Hannah, so they were both a bit out of shape but we got some very nice flat work AND jumping out of both of them. I really enjoyed how much these girls were willing to TRY and put their best effort into something. These girls could have big things in their future with these horses, if they choose to go that way!

We had a nice lunch at that point and I got to chat with several of the kids, their parents and the folks in charge of Cedar Hills PC. 

My afternoon lessons were a lot of fun as well- my first lesson was a t-tiny little girl on Tony the Pony! A wonderful, steady, perfect first pony. She learned to be very effective with her legs and her crop because her pony didn't have a very consistant "go" button, but golly was he wonderful- every little girl needs a pony like him. I saw a great rider with a great foundation! Its nice to know there are still teachers out there setting a nice foundation for their riders. Her parents have asked me to help her out at the Learn to Event since their regular trainer has a time conflict. I look forward to that!

The next one was a VERY cool horse with a rider who has a lot of potential and the will to learn. I saw a lot of myself in her- riding a trail horse that she trained to jump herself. This horse was COOL. I would event him in a heart beat. He has some learning to do, as does she, but they're well on their way- I think she can be a trainer in the future if she stays on this track. He was very "up" and wanted to be very fast and go around inverted. His rider did a great job riding him out and getting him in a quiet, relaxed trot and we jumped from that. She had a lot of work to do to get him "back" after every fence, but we were able to slow him down and do a little course while we still had his brain in focus. Really, another fun lesson!
Another really neat pair! Amanda and Eli

The next group was my first gal, Kay, again and Patrick, a hot-rod little boy- maybe six? Kay was riding her adorable pony, Ginger, again we had another great lesson, ending up jumping a 2' course. Patrick was a hoot and will be one of those riders you always wish you could be- grew up bombing around on the GreatestPonyEver and just enough fear to make you smart, but not enough to say no to anything. 
 Kay, Ginger, TeacherLauren, Patrick and Bunny
His pony, the GreatestPonyEver, also has a great name. He named her Bunny because he got her around Easter, but his mom elaborated on the story- She is a 28 year old POA (app) pony. She absolutely does her job because she loves it, with just a little 28 year old pony mare sass thrown in. She was probably never a beauty queen judging by her markings, but was probably a classy little gal- she definitely shows her age now. So, when they got the pony, they thought of The Velveteen Rabbit, as mom described "Maybe a little rough around the edges, but very well loved."
The Velveteen Rabbit
After a heart-melting "awwwwwww" I thought about how lucky that ol' gal was. What a wonderful home for a 28 year old mare who has probably packed kids around her whole life... and she knew how special she was too- she demanded attention any time she wasn't working and I was more than happy to love her up a little bit.

Well-worn and well-loved

Good ponies
 Pony Royalty

My last group was another more advanced group of D-3's. They were both on out-of-shape horses so we didn't get to do as much with them. One girl was riding an arab/TWH that I adored and the other a QH-trail-horse-turned-jumper who was also really lovely. His rider had done all the work with him herself and had the lightest seat and hands you've ever seen in a youngster. The girl on the arab/TWH had lots of natural timing and feel and I wish I could see her on her regular horse- this one had been out of work for two years while she focused on another. We did some mini-gymnastics with this group to encourage a steady rhythm and good timing.

Overall a GREAT day. I think we all learned something- kids, parents, teachers and myself included!

I also learned a whole new appreciation for my landscape timber poles that we use at SPF- Rebecca has full sized- heavy poles and my back was killing me by the end of the day!!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Feel the fear...

and then do it anyway!

My own horse has been giving me a run for my money here lately. He has been herd bound and is just feeling the oncoming of spring.

I decided two things today. Well, maybe just one, but two parts? I don't know. Anyway, I need to treat all my horses equally- theres the one big one. Part one is riding Ari the way I ride the rest of the crew- I don't take any crap from any of the other horses and it works out well. The second is making sure I expect the same level of competence out of the rest of the crew that I do Ari.

I was riding Gracie this morning and lamenting that she doesn't ever halt square. Then I went "Well, why not? What happens if one day you're entered in an event and Ari can't go for some reason, and Brandy is sold and you decide to bring Gracie? She needs to be just as schooled as Ari! You ride her nearly as much!" So I cracked down. Its like I usually expect less of her because shes such a snot... but not anymore!

She did nearly seek her revenge on the way in, though, I had the reins laid over her neck and was just hacking back to the barn. She spotted a tiny piece of green grass that she wanted and put her head down so fast that the reins flew over her head and she nearly flipped over her own head from the momentum she had going forward. Because her neck disappeared out from in front of me, I had to grab with my legs to stay on top (silly inertia!) and actually tweaked a butt muscle, then had to do the old "grab the cheek piece and pull your head up to get my reins back" move. It was certainly a site to behold!

Ari got put on the longe first today because he was acting squirrely in the cross ties. He did a couple buckn'farts and then settled down. I had the neck stretcher, my favorite thing ever, on him when I got on. Loosely adjusted, but man, it helps so much. I'm sure its a mental thing for me, honestly, because I'm not sure I ever saw it engage.

The last time I rode him I gave him a good stretchy warmup and then practiced riding him uphill and on contact without pulling. He was so springy from behind! We lost it at the canter when he got distracted by a tractor by the hay barn. I had nothing left of his brain so I never got any good canter work out of him.

He's been a turd at the canter all the time it seems like, so we've been getting in lots of fights lately. Today I "felt the fear and did it anyway." He is prone to bolting, and usually with a bolt comes a buck or a spin... Like I said, the neck stretcher was on, and I think it mentally let me "let go." I tend to hang on him when he gets quick and then he pulls against me, braces and runs faster and down hill. I rode him like I ride the rest of my horses today (see how it all plays in?). I had a check list-
  • Breathe in. Breathe out. Repeat. 
  • Sit behind the motion. Lift your stomach. Lead with your belly button. Think german dressage rider.
  • So what if he bucks or bolts (both of which he attempted) RIDE IT. (This is the basis of all- he has been so adept in the past at leaving me in midair, I forget that I'm a fitter rider and he's much more connected and on the aids now- its nearly impossible for him to sneak out from underneath me on the flat.)
  • Don't let him "stall out." (Often, he leans on my hands and then braces his neck- giving him the excuse to stop. I usually get after him after he breaks gate and miss the chance. I was on top of it today, making sure he was staying elevated in the front and soft through his neck- never giving him the chance.)
And success! We had an awesome ride! I'm ready for a jump lesson this week and XC schooling next Saturday! 

Brandy has officially gotten too wide for my jump saddle. I was trying to decide why shes been so anxious lately and in the spirit of instant gratification, changed my saddle, her bit and put her in the neck stretcher all the same day. She's in a flexi mullen mouth eggbutt now and I love her in it.
 She seems happier.

I think the metal mullen mouth was mushing her bars of her mouth.
 She's very sensitive, you know... 

I also put her in my Wintec saddle (fitted for Shasta) with a sheepskin pad to make it fit better. Yes, everything was much better in her world with those changes. I hate my Wintec to ride in though, so I'm on the lookout for a wide tree saddle to borrow for awhile, if anyone has one. 

I also put Shasta in a flexi mullen mouth today. My premise is that they're so squishy and inviting that the horses tend to want to lean on them instead of back off of them, giving me something to work with on the "reschool" horses. Brandy had something like 30 days on her when I got her (I consider myself to have started her though, because she didn't actually know ANYTHING.) and I know they rode her in the... *ahem* "redneck snaffle."
 This is not a snaffle, will never be a snaffle and should be banned. 

Anyway, it made her hard mouthed and fussy from the get go, so encouraging her to lean on the bit a little is teaching her to accept contact and giving me something to work with. We did the same thing with Lyra (fussy off the track mare) and now I'm repeating it with Shasta, who was also a western horse and was taught to be "behind" the contact to be ridden in a curb bit.

She did have a very nice ride in it, of course, and was willing to give me some flexion and didn't take the wrong lead at all. Wonderful!

I also decided today that Ari was going to have to quit being so freaking herd bound and remember how to stand tied, since he's learned that he can sit back and break things.

So, I put some leather strips around the posts in the roundpen and tied him with a trailer tie. He didn't sit back and break the leather, oh no, he bumped on that tie long enough that he bent the clasp and let himself free.

Ari- 1, Lauren- 0

And then he did it again with another one.

Ari- 2, Lauren- 0

So I tied him with his lead rope to the leather strip. Abby reported that he broke it fairly easily (we're talking leather laces here) and as soon as she retied him, he did it again. So, he was loose when I got back from riding Brandy.

Ari-4, Lauren- 0

I tied him again and he immediately broke the leather piece with a simple tug of his head. No effort required.

Ari- 5, Lauren- 0

So I ran the rope around the post and held the end, in case he decided to sit back and try to rip the round pen down.

No, no. He's too smart for that. He just stood there. No problem.

Ari- 6, Lauren- 0

So, I think I have to officially declare Ari a "non-tier." He is not reliable, thats for sure, and the blocker tie rings have just taught him to play the rope out until he can do whatever he wants. He won't tie fast to anything- he'll fight until he breaks away or kills himself. What do you do with that? I'm tempted to tie him to a tree and see who wins...

So, while the bad news is that Ari defeated Lauren today in regard to tying, the good news is that Murray beat Vandy in a last minute buzzer-beater. And while I don't really care about sports, its exciting because its my alma mater vs the local favorite. (and that is likely the last time I'll ever mention anything about basketball on this blog.)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Adventures in Dogsitting: What Goes With Oatmeal?

In case you're wondering, aside from the run-away oatmeal incident, yesterday's oatmeal turned out quite well.

Okay... maybe "quite well" is pushing it. It is acceptable. It is similar to the "perfect pot" of oatmeal Amy left for me.

So, what do the dogs eat besides oatmeal?

Mostly chicken thighs. That's easy, though- chuck thighs in the crock pot, cook all day, fish out of fat, burn the prints off your fingertips trying to remove skin from meat and meat from bone, put meat on top of oatmeal, serve.

Easy, aside from the burning the snot out of your finger tips when you pull the thighs out of the slow cooker.

Well, Amy left me with enough chicken thighs to get through most of the week, with a couple "quick-fix-extras" to cook the other nights.

Me, being the caring person I am, didn't want the dogs to eat chicken thighs every day until I ran out and then have to eat other stuff until Amy came home, so between "thigh cooking-s" I thought I'd use some of the quick-fixes to break things up. So, the first night between thigh cookings, I used chicken soup. Easy enough.

The next morning, I grabbed a can of mackerel.

Before I go any further, let me tell you about fish.

I hate it. I think its gross. Its pretty much the one thing I won't eat. I'd eat a big ol' steak before I'd eat fish. I don't even like when people I'm eating with eat fish. Because it smells fishy. And it tastes fishy. And its just... blech. Gross.

I CAN, however, eat tuna. Sometimes. I used to eat it a lot, when mom would make tuna melts etc. I can HANDLE tuna.

Now let me tell you more about fish. A story, even.

When I was ittybitty, my family was on vacation. We were in Michigan. Or Wisconsin. Or maybe Indiana. I don't remember, I was ittybitty. Keep that in mind. Anyway, it doesn't matter- we were somewhere in the midwest. For some reason, they decided to take us to a trout farm. Maybe we passed it and they thought it would be fun, maybe they knew it was there and it was a special trip, maybe... well, who knows, really.

I'm sure I had expressed an interest in fishing, because my dad and brother occasionally went fishing. I'm SURE I just wanted to sit on the dock with a pole and a bobber and no hook and "fish." Of this, I am sure. I probably did not express that quite coherently.

So, they took me to the trout farm. Naturally, I caught a trout. Again, I'm sure my ideal version of fishing would have been throwing a handful of fish food over the railing on the dock. And again, I'm sure I didn't quite express that.

So I had this trout. And my parents were proud of me! And they wanted to take a picture of me with my trout! What a momentous occasion! But wait...

I was horrified. It was DYING! It had a HOOK IN ITS MOUTH! I was responsible for that. They wanted me to hold it up by the HOOK! It started to BLEED! I was a murderer! I could never call myself an animal lover again! What a horrible person I was! I was the murderer of innocent trout and I could never be forgiven. Besides, what kind of person takes pictures while holding suffocating, bleeding, flopping, hooked trout?

I started to cry.

No, I didn't just cry. When I was ittybitty, I couldn't just cry.

I sobbed and bawled and everything-short-of-hyperventilated like I had lost the only friend I ever had. Poor little trout. Poor ittybitty sobbing-while-holding-a-bleeding-trout-and-yes-there-is-photographic-evidence-of-this-somewhere Lauren.

That may or may not have something to do with my utter loathing of fish.

Fast forward 20-some years to not-as-itty-bitty Lauren, doing the big-girl job of dogsitting for her riding instructor's 6 dogs. Who always eat oatmeal and sometimes eat fish. Out of a can.

So, I open a can of mackerel, expecting something like tuna fish.
Tuna. I can handle Tuna. 

I open the can. My face wrinkles up like I found something stinky and dead. I grab a fork and go to fork some mackerel out into the first bowl. Remember, I had deluded myself into thinking I was going to get something like the above picture out of this can. 

I was WRONG. Have you ever seen canned mackerel? No? Here's a stock photo I found on the internet. You'll have to make do with a stock photo because THERE IS NO WAY IN HELL I AM OPENING ANOTHER CAN OF MACKEREL. EVER. AGAIN.
*Lauren grabs barf bag*

Its like... slabs of fish, shoved into a can. When I stuck my fork into the can, expecting TUNA, I was rewarded with half of a fish. There are bits and pieces of fish in that can that should never be consumed. Shiny bits, crunchy bits, innards. (Okay, maybe I'm using a bit of hyperbole here. I don't care. I'm making a point, right?) But my reaction to what I found in that can can only be described as... visceral.

Maybe you would eat them. I wouldn't want to offend you if you're a lover of canned mackerel. Obviously the dogs enjoy it! I have a strong stomach. I talk about things over dinner that would make most people gag a little. Or a lot. I can't handle a can of fish.

It smelled like fish. It was seeping into my pores. I had to rinse the bowl and run the dishwasher immediately. I took the garbage out and it wasn't even full. 

Okay, okay, maybe I over reacted. I mean, I doubt it, but maybe you think so. 

But let it be known that I think canned mackerel is the nastiest thing ever. In fact, I may be self-diagnosing myself with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder right now, via this enlightening blog post. 

So, sorry dogs, if you want mackerel on your oatmeal again, you'll just have to wait until your Mom gets home. I will feed you chicken soup and chicken thighs and oatmeal. And I will have no issues besides those listed previously. 

Mackerel. Is. Out.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Adventures in Dogsitting: My Mortal Enemy

Well, its been almost a week of dog sitting at Panther Springs.

Everyone is still alive.

No one is bleeding.

My dogs are going to HATE me when I bring them home. They think they're in heaven here. They get to go in the car to the barn and back an average of 3 times a day. They get to go out the front door and run and sniff and bark and sniff and bark and run and sniff and bark and bark and bark. There are CATS. And HORSES. And MICE. And the bed is HUGE (in fact, I haven't slept this well since Shea started sleeping on the bed- I think I need to upgrade to at least a queen.) The WHOLE back of the house is WINDOWS! LOW windows, so they can look out them and BARK. They can go on the back porch and its like being outside without getting your feet DIRTY or WET (okay, so they're still house dogs...) The one thing they don't appreciate is that Amy's dogs get really, really yummy food and they just get kibble.

What do Amy's dog's eat that is so yummy? They eat a variety of things... oatmeal being the base of their meals.

Amy and I have very different talents. We've discussed and agreed on a couple of them. For example, she is a better rider than me. I am a better facebooker than her. She is a better teacher than me. I am a better cook than her.

Well, I thought I was a better cook than her, anyway. I finally met my match. I have completely and totally given up on successfully cooking oatmeal. Yes. Oatmeal- you know, boil water, add oatmeal, let sit, serve?

Amy, you win. You can cook oatmeal way better than I ever will be able to.

My Mortal Enemy

Here's the problem. I have to cook one giant canister of oatmeal at a time. In one giant pot. One canister of oatmeal feeds the dogs for three meals. So, I've been here for almost six days. That, if I'm counting correctly, equals four oatmeal preps. Amy left me a pot when she left. It was lovely, creamy, easily spooned out and served.

I made my first oat meal on Monday night. The water boiled. I added the oatmeal. It cooked for awhile, and then I turned it off. I was sitting on the coach on my laptop, so I didn't pay any particular attention to the timing of the oatmeal. When I went to serve it, it was chunky. Thick. They probably had to chew it. By the last feeding (it only lasted me two meals, by the way) of that particular pot, I had to add water to the blob of what was, I assumed, the petrified version of what was once oatmeal, to get the spoon to penetrate the crust that had developed.

Monday's score? Oatmeal-1    Lauren-0

Okay, the next oatmeal would have been on Wednesday. In the morning. Usually, it takes me about two hours in the morning from when I wake up to when I leave the house. I figured I could make oatmeal in that time frame, right? Wrong.

I put the pot on to boil. I filled it with piping hot water. I covered the pot. I put the stove on high. (No, I didn't add salt. Hindsight.) I'm fairly certain it took 90 minutes for the !#%$%^ water to boil. Maybe I wasn't paying attention to the clock well enough, but the (@&;#$*&; water took forever to boil. Remember, the EFFING oatmeal is advertised as quick oats. So, I added the oatmeal and sat down to wait for it to cook. I checked it about 10 minutes later. It was still water with oats floating in it. I got dressed. Still water with oats. I sat on the couch, checked my email, facebook, COTH, email, facebook, COTH, email, facebook, COTH, oatmeal. Thickening, slightly. I took it off the heat, thinking it would thicken. HA. I put it back on the heat. It cooked about 20 more minutes and then took it off the heat, swore at it and told it I would deal with it when I got home. So there.

Of course, when I got home, it had reached a reasonable consistency, it wasn't thick enough to spoon out in chunks, but it was decent. Of course, I found giant blobs of partially cooked oatmeal in the rest of the watery mess. I think I could have drank it through a straw. It'd be like drinking a shake though- you know, where you get the cherry stuck at the end of it? I'm pretty sure they had to lap it up.

Wednesday's score: Oatmeal: 2   Lauren: 0

Next try:  I ran out of oatmeal on Thursday morning. I saved myself the grief of making it in the morning and thought I'd make it when I got back, before I gave them dinner. Uh-huh.

So, I put the water onto boil. It finally boiled (like, four hours later) and I added the oatmeal. I used less water this time- faster cooking, thicker oatmeal, right? Sure. So, same deal. Waiting.... waiting... waiting... it finally cooks to a reasonable consistency and I turned it off to thicken. About an hour later, I was about to beat my head against the wall. So, I started to spoon it into the dogs bowls and put them in the fridge to help it thicken. You know, smaller amounts split apart and all that jazz. Well, the @(#;$@(#* oatmeal was so thin it was running down the sides of the spoon. So I got out the LADLE and dished out the oatmeal. It thickened in the fridge in about 10 minutes and the dogs were able to eat it in a fairly normal manner.

Thursday's score: Oatmeal: 3    Lauren: 0

OKAY, that brings me to tonight. WHAT ELSE CAN GO WRONG, LAUREN?! WHAT ELSE?

I filled it with the "perfect" amount of water. It boiled (seven hours later), I added the oats, I left it to cook. I kept an eye on it while it cooked from my spot on the couch. I hear a sizzle. And another, and another. I RAN to the stove where about three cups of oatmeal had caught a bubble from the water and boiled over the side of the pot. *insert massive amounts of cursing and screaming and contemplating going to Kroger and buying individual packets of instant oatmeal!* I cleaned the range, scooped the salvage-able oats back into the pot and continued on my way.

The oatmeal is now sitting on the stove, cooling and thickening to what I hope will be the perfect consistency.

Friday's Score: Oatmeal: 4     Lauren: 0

Sunday will be my last "go" at making oatmeal. Hopefully it will go perfectly. Probably it will not.

Tomorrow's story: What Goes With Oatmeal?

Monday, March 8, 2010

One Full Day at Panther Springs...

So far, so good! Nothing very exciting short of I plugged in the toaster this morning instead of the crock pot. Fail.

My dogs and Amy's dogs are pretty much getting along. Whenever they're all in the house, I just stick mine in the back porch or the bathroom, just to avoid conflict.

Karma and Gio are both champion pouters and have spent most of the time on the couch, competing for title of Best Pouter Ever.

The kitties are not so thrilled with my dogs, but my dogs are... being reminded... why kitties rule the world.

I thought I lost Buddy last night, but he was just waiting for me patiently at the barn!

Millie has been barking at Gio and Shea- Gio has learned to avoid her, skirting the very outside of the room. Shea just takes the barking with a panicky look on her face and turning a cold shoulder to Millie (Its a very "I can't hear you!!! I caaaaaan't heaaaaar yoooouuuu!!!" type of thing). The only one who really isn't in love with mine is Bailey, and who can blame her?

I managed to make oatmeal.. and burn it. I have to put chicken in the crock pot tomorrow for them to eat- yes, Amy feeds her dogs oatmeal and various toppings- they all look great, but my dogs look at their kibble with disdain as I put a bowl of oatmeal with chicken thigh meat down for the others.

They're currently all outside barking at things. Its like being at the kennels!

I had a great ride on The Redhead this morning. She was totally ADD on the flat, so I had to really lay into her... it made her brain tick and then I was able to get some good jumping done! I had a big course set up again- Gracie had SO MUCH FUN jumping it. I think its the best shes ever done, honestly.

I had a really productive ride on Ari. I gave him a long, stretchy warm up to make sure he didn't have any excuses for not wanting to use himself. He was really fixated on the wooded end of the arena, and when he was cantering to the right, as he'd lose sight of the woods with his eye he would really have a hard time, he wanted to drop his shoulders to the inside and bolt, so instead of making him really bend to the inside and look away, I just focused on straightening him through his body and really holding him on the outside rein, almost a counter bend. That translated really well to our jumping, too.

As far as jumping, I made sure to have excellent upwards transitions so I had a good start to the gaits I was asking for. It made a huge difference. Shocking, I know. This is what Amy talked about in our last lesson- everything always makes so much sense in the space of a lesson, but having the tools in my toolbox to try to apply at a later date is invaluable.

Shasta had a cute little jump school today. He flat work was great- I didn't ask for anything new, just consistent and making sure everything was sticking. I trotted her around a little 2' course- she did a panel, the hay bales, two small verticals and a big x. I don't think she's going to be the next Brandy (though who knows when shes fit) but she is certainly a willing little girl. Her jumped is very inefficient right now- lots of up and not much out. Some gymnastic work will help that, but right now I'm just happy that she's going around and is game to go over what I point her at. She needs more fitness, front shoes and better flat work before I ask her to start going through grids.

Brandy was hot and heifer-ish. I decided not to jump her and focused on dressage. Her canter is really getting better- her trot work is much better but lacking consistency (story of her life.)

So my plan to eat chili on the porch with the dogs and a good book was thwarted since my chili was uncooked and I got back too late to do anything besides feed the dogs (a process all its own) and veg on the couch... so, here I am. On the couch. Vegging.

It was a gorgeous day today- I rode in short sleeves AND got a sunburn. Now rain for the rest of the week- but warm rain! That's better than snow, right?

Friday, March 5, 2010

Spring is coming...

the horses are shedding and it was warm and dry enough to do a little jump school today.

My jumps are scattered around the arena right now, left over from when Amy came to do a clinic (which was Thanksgiving, if you're counting). I had three set up in a decent pattern to run a little course and I put them up to a wide 2'9" oxer, a 2'6" vertical headed downhill and then a 3' vertical on the edge of the arena headed out into space.

I jumped Brandy and had a great time, did Ari later in the day and Gracie, too!

Unfortunately, with warm weather comes the frustration of the steps backward you've taken over the winter.

Brandy was hot and didn't much want to listen to me. She settled down as the school went on, but she wasn't very focused and didn't want to re-balance until a stride away. Her dressage has gotten better this winter, so its not all lost, but still frustrating.

Arizona is back to head flinging again. He jumped around fairly well, but I don't have much for rhythm. I think its all stemming back to the balance- I can't quite get him uphill enough. He is VERY resistant to contact right now, I can't really get him in my hand- he just gets mad when I try to push the issue. He's lost a lot of the suppleness I had at the canter a couple weeks ago, so when I try to half-halt and re-balance him, he has no where to go since he's too tight through his neck, so he just flips his head instead. I've been trying to address the canter issues over the last few weeks, but I haven't had much luck. He's also landing and pulling immediately against me- this is an old habit that was resolving itself as of our last lesson with Amy. I tried a couple things to combat all of this while I was riding today- I added leg, added leg, added leg and added MORE leg. I tried the "we're going-we're not-we're going-we're not" trick, but he was not responsive to that. I felt as though I was lifting through my core and had my shoulders back, but I'm sure it wasn't enough. I'm hoping that a lot of this is just lack of fitness on both our parts, but I'm hoping to talk to Amy before she goes away and see if she has any hints for me since I won't get to have another lesson for probably two weeks.

Gracie was... well... Gracie. She is such a trooper as far as getting things done. She is honest as the day is long and will pretty much get me out of any situation I put us in. Or she puts us in. She often has to figure her way out of a trouble spot that her snot-nosed-self has put us in. Her flat work is not nearly as nice as it was- again, I'm hoping this is lack of fitness for both of us. She is just kind of cranky about everything. He canter transitions are improving with the idea of "just add canter" that we learned about at the clinic.

The last time I jumped her I had a small grid set up- just a placement pole on the front and back side of a low vertical. Gracie cantered in and as she stepped over the first pole, busted through my hands and launched the little vertical- landing on the OTHER side of the landing-side placement pole... long jump, anyone?

Anyway- today in that same spot was a 2'9" oxer. Wide. Gracie left the ground a STRIDE early and jumped it. I was sittin' chilly, waiting for that last stride and I KNOW she could have fit it, but she just launched. Cute. And then she did it AGAIN. The third time I got her, though, and she added and we quit with that.

The GOOD news about today is that all three horses had one fence that they would have liked to run out at. I had a split second each time where my stream of consciousness went something like "ohcrapwhatiftheyrunoutandifalloffshutupandcloseyourlegthey'regoing!"  before I just closed my leg and sat in the middle and all three jumped without fail.

The others I rode today all get a gold star, as well. Sam gets two, maybe. He was lovely at the canter, both leads and then he jumped around a little course at 2', landing on the correct lead each time and loping off like a hunter. Awe inspiring, really. 

Audrey, the connemara/arab mare who has a heck of a motor trotted around on a loose rein with a long, low frame and I had to stay after her with my leg the whole time! Progress!

Vanna (the marshmallow) tried to pull a little pony-tude with me but quickly decided that was not in her best interest. She trotted around quietly both directions and is starting to move off a leg a little bit. She is not very respectful of the bridle right now, so that is the lesson for next week. I rode her in the arena though, in an English saddle and she was not a problem at all, so that is a nice start!

We have a busy day tomorrow with the vet coming and with the nice weather, we should be swamped!

Thursday, March 4, 2010


they're called that for a reason. Really. Its because they work... and they will work for everyone, and they've worked for a long, long time. Now, I understand that "the right way" varies for certain disciplines- in the hunters a front to back change is commonly accepted, in the AQHA circuit, they're all about the "headset" and "see-sawing" and "framing up" are commonly heard there and in other disciplines.

I'll also be the first to admit that sometimes you have to shortcut things. I mean, I don't like to admit it, but there are some things I can think of that I'll use a cheat or a shortcut to accomplish.

A kid thats a bit over-mounted on a horse or a pony, for example. If the horse goes out of its way to make life harder for the kid and there is an easy way to squelch that silly resistance, by all means, as long as it keeps kid and pony safe. I'll do this for novice adult riders as well. I KNOW my clients are not made of money, they can't have lessons every day, they can't keep their horse in full training, they're not as fit as they could ideally be and they don't get to ride enough to work on some things. Why torture everyone involved when the rider only gets to ride once a week or even twice a month? I just make it fun and enjoyable and I'll keep working to make it better when I'm the one riding.

Another time I've "quick-fixed" or "short-cutted" is with a barn full of sale horses I had. They were all various shades of green and needed to find new homes fast. I omitted some of the basics to give them a wider base of knowledge to make them more sale-able. Okay, so maybe you don't pick up your leads 100% of the time, BUT you can now jump around XC and have been to a horse show or two. With full disclosure during the sale, there was no problem. Horses found good homes and are continuing their education as needed for their new jobs.

So, all that said, I'm not about to preach that dressage is the only way. Its not. You have to do whatever makes you happy in your world, but the more I learn about dressage, the more I love it- its like the pieces of a life-long puzzle are just falling into place. I have little "duh" moments every once in a while that really remind me about the pieces.

Shasta is the one who keeps making me knock myself upside the head with the dressage pyramid. She is broke. I'm not REALLY teaching her anything she doesn't know, I'm just conforming her to "my" way of doing things. She is also a mare and thinks "my" way is a little bit silly. It requires her to do more work than she's used to.
Shasta is so social- she always comes over to say hi when I ride by her gate!

So, I spent my first couple rides with her trying to teach her to bend and be supple and got nowhere. Hm. So, I backed up and stopped to think... what was I missing?

Yep. I had no rhythm. You don't think of the walk as having rhythm, really, but if they're just trudging along, there is no "oomph" and you have nothing to work with. So, I had to get the walk to be "marching" and in front of my leg. If you don't know what "in front of your leg" is, you'll know when you feel it. The hard part is keeping it there!
So, I spent the next couple days making sure we had a good rhythm at the walk and the trot. The trot was harder... she didn't want to maintain anything- it was lurching and ugly. NOW, though... it is lovely. She will trot around and have a steady rhythm all day long. She will do it without hanging on my hands, too! So, once we got that down, I added some leg and made sure I could move her shoulders a little and then began to add the next step of suppleing- making sure she can swing her neck from side to side. I thought she was a lost cause for awhile, because she would do anything she could EXCEPT soften. But I kept asking gently and now she'll do it! Another victory!

I had another frustration the other day because while I can get her to soften from side to side, she has yet to show any sign of being round and dropping her head. I got a little over-enthusiastic and tried to force it... did I mention she is a mare? She steadfastly stuck her nose out in the air and I saw her cute little snip get closer and closer to my face until I finally went "LAUREN! NOT WORKING! Wait it out!" So, I went back to our nice rhythmic trot and "supple-soften-supple-softened" until I wanted to stab my own eyes out, but toward the end of the ride she really responded and all the tension left her neck and she started to reach down when I gave her my inside hand. She held a lovely trot circle on the outside rein both directions and we quit. 

The other nice thing about her is that shes pretty good about picking up where we left off. So today, we worked nicely in a soft, low shape for awhile and I was very happy. When Shasta came to me, she only had a right lead. Well, I've been able to trick her into the left lead a couple times, but with no consistency to speak of. Not today, oh no, not today. Since I had a REAL inside bend and she was very light off my leg... I was able to yield her over, keep her connected on my outside rein to keep her from bulging her shoulder and VOILA! Three left lead canter transitions in a row. 

Basics. They're wonderful. 

Another two "moments" I had today involved Brandy, my lovely perchie cross with the pendulous head and Vanna, my newest charge.

Lets talk about Vanna. She is cute. She is white. She is friendly. She is STUBBORN. I rode her for the first time today, shes been a problem child for her mother, so she's in Lauren Boot Camp. 

I mentioned chunky, right?
Guess what her first lesson was today? Yep, the very first iota of rhythm- forward. If you're not going forward, you can't get anything accomplished. I had spurs on for the rest of the list today and didn't pull them off for her- thank goodness! Her first time being ridden in about a year and I NEEDED them. Next time I'll have a dressage whip. :)

She is cute, though, isn't she? Like a big Thelwell pony.

And then theres Brandy. Brandy is not one to give you anything easily. Over a year later and I'm still struggling with a steady connection. Every once in awhile I realize that everything I'm trying is totally useless if I can't move her off my leg. I insist that she is quick to respond to my leg and- can you guess? She is fine. Of course. So, I have to be more consistent with her... it makes such a difference and she is so willing to do when you ask the right way, I need to just make it easy for her AND me!
Brandy expressing herself after a hard workout...
I mentioned a post from Three Days Three Ways the other day. There is an interview with Holly Hudspeth in which she states this:
Q. What’s your philosophy on teaching? Riding?
A. The biggest thing is not skipping any steps. If there’s a hole somewhere you got to go back and fill it in. If you skip a step you will get caught out at some point. You have to be as well rounded as possible. If there’s a hole you’ve got to go back and fill it in. You gotta have your big picture.

Simply. Brilliant.

Eventing in inherently dangerous. Just this past weekend at Pine Top, my friend Stacy witness two rotational falls at the fence she was jump judging. She wrote a fabulous blog about her experience and what it meant to her, what she would take away from it and how to "let the fear make you smarter." On Tuesday, Stacy met Amy, Megan, myself and a couple others out for dinner, and naturally, we discussed the whole thing. Megan followed up with another awesome post.

Sure, at the tadpole (2'), beginner novice (2'7"), or even novice (2'11") and training (3'3) level, rotational falls are rare and I would venture to say, hard to accomplish because of the height of the fence... but it is STILL dangerous. I've said about a million times this year and I'll say it again "Just because you CAN do something, doesn't mean you SHOULD do something." Its not about being physically capable and making it "over a fence" or "around an XC" course. It's about doing it SAFELY and successfully. Luckily, at events, a rider can be pulled for riding dangerously around course or in warmup. What some people lose site of is "how" they made it around- not JUST that they made it around. Sure, the score board doesn't count near-misses and hanging legs and awful spots, but maybe it should.

At my first event with Brandy, I was whining to Amy (shocking, I know). Something to the tune of "I don't want to look like I'm floundering around on a horse thats not ready." She assured me that Brandy WAS ready and then told me that the best thing I could (I think she added "as someone who brings along youngsters") do was simply give her the best opportunity that I could to do her job. Another friend of mine, Juni, followed up with something to the effect of "you never know what those greenies are going to do, but if you can stay in the backseat and just support their efforts, they'll usually get themselves out of it!"

So, that is what I keep in mind as I ride now- on any of my horses- it is my responsibility to get them there safely. I'm not just talking about getting to a fence, mind you, I'm talking about the training that goes into getting them anywhere- their first trail ride, a set of ground poles, a big oxer... whatever it is I'm asking them to do- I just need to prepare them the best I can and then let them do their job. And it is MY responsibility to them to not skip any steps so I can jump higher or do more, because a skipped step may result in a refusal or a loss in confidence, an injury to me... or the worst thing- an avoidable injury to my mount... and that is NOT a risk I'm willing to take!