Friday, September 30, 2011

And in other news

I love it when Reveille's in the mood she's been in this past week: totally rideable, totally willing, and open to working as a team. :) On Monday, when I started out longing her, she had this workmanlike attitude, the one you want -- like "Okay, fine, I'm trotting, I'm cantering, I'm walking -- let's go do something now, okay? Just get up on my back!"

And yesterday, I was practicing two-point to settled to sitting, and at the same time practicing bringing her back and sending her on in the canter. I absolutely adore her bigger canter, especially when she's working like she was yesterday. I ask for the canter, ka-da-bump ka-da-bump we canter. I shift my weight a bit; she shifts her balance and gives me her ears, yes? I'm here? I ask for more canter, and it's so fun to hear her footfalls change. Ka-da-BUMP! ka-da-BUMP! Same rhythm, but more authority and bigger strides. I shift my weight and stop some of my hip movement, and she comes back to ka-da-bump canter again. Love it. :)

So yeah. Good little mare. :) Love the little mare.

Lessons from C and B.

So I do a lot of scribing for dressage shows. The whole goal when I started out scribing was to learn: learn what judges look for, learn about building blocks for success, see some good rides and some bad and learn the difference, et cetera. I think I'm in a constant state of success in achieving that goal. Every show or informal Test of Choice night I scribe, I learn something. Whether it's about judges' expectations or showing technique, whatever I learn is invariably valuable.

Some things I learned at the regional championships this last weekend:

* Basics matter. It doesn't matter if you're doing Grand Prix -- if your walk rhythm gets off and starts to look like a pace, you're not going to get a good score. Rhythm is one of the very most basic parts of the Training Scale, and basics matter as much or more at high levels as they do at low levels.

* Every level is hard, when that's the level you're legitimately at. Even at Grand Prix, you need to be doing the movements well. Sure, you have a piaffe, but is it a good piaffe? The point of this is that every level is hard, when that's the level you're at. This is something I think I knew but am just now really internalizing.

* Relax. Breathe. It's really, truly okay. You'll have a better test and a better score if you just ... ride. Without stressing. This is something that I think will take my entire lifetime to understand at a gut level and put into action. It might also take some Ativan for a while ... ;)

* Really use your time well when you're circling the arena, waiting for your bell. Don't just wander or do funny little figure 8s. Establish a good, strong trot or canter rhythm. Halt. Check out the judges' booth; greet the judge (or the scribe, if the judge is busy writing). Make this a focused preparation time. It's like the cars on a rollercoaster going click-click-click-ENERGETIC-PAUSE up to the top before swooping into the free motion of the ride.

* Shoot for consistent 7s, and then ride your best from there. That seems to be how you get 8s and 9s -- by being consistently good and then having even better moments. If you're all focused on getting 8s, it seems to really rush and push the ride, and the ride starts to fall apart and not be smooth any more.

* Understand your test. Understand not only the directives for each movement, what the judge is actually grading on, but also what the judge isn't grading. This is something MT talks about at TOC nights: he only scores the movements listed, rather than what happens in between. If your rhythm bobbles a bit between movements, get it back then. Don't wait until the next movement, because it'll reflect negatively in your score. This is really critical, I think -- it's the difference between memorizing the movements of a test and really understanding the goals of the test. I think it'll be worth it for me to talk to MT about tests well in advance of riding them, study it from this point of view before I focus hard on remembering the moves. I also suspect that remembering the test will be easier when I understand it completely.

That's the point of view of a Training-level rider scribing through Grand Prix, anyway. :)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Product Review: New and Improved Davis Splint Boots

I already own two pairs of Davis Manufacturing's splint boots. After using, dirtying, and tearing a set of generic tack shop brand fleece-lined boots, I wanted something that was easy to clean and didn't use plain vinyl on the outside -- something that was stronger and would stand up to use. The Davis boots are made of a stronger PVC, lined with cushioning rather than fleece, and looked easy to clean, plus I liked the idea of the Shock Absorption tubes. I was not disappointed in the least! They have held up beautifully, are quite protective, and they clean up easily. I'm confident enough in these boots that when we had a hangup over a cross-country fence, I didn't worry too much about Rev's legs because she had her splint boots on. I just stayed out of her way and let her sort out her feet. Here's a pic of Reveille in her white Davis boots on that same day:

So when I found Davis Manufacturing on Facebook and clicked Like, I was happy to tell them how much I like their products.

And I was even happier when they offered the opportunity to test out their new, improved splint boots! I love the non-improved boots, so the improved boots are something I'm VERY interested in!

The boots arrived in the mail yesterday, causing me to scare the corgis with a loud "EEEEEEEEEE!", and I was surprised at how gorgeous they were just coming out of the box. They're shiny, sleek, and obviously made of pretty stern stuff.

They're smooth on the outside, rather than showing the support tubes in their contours from the outside. They're so glossy! I would SO put those on Rev for a show. Flashy. From the inside, the support structure is obvious. There's an air support tube in the center, over the splint bone. It doesn't seem to have the other two tubes that the original splint boots have, but I suspect they're there and I just don't see them:

When I took them out to the barn, I showed them to everybody, and got the appropriate "ooh, nice!" from folks. And they even garnered an unprompted "Hey, whose boots are those?!" So they're definitely attention-getting. I think it's the shiny.

They fit Rev nicely, not too long, not too short, and just wide enough. Rev is a sturdy-boned girl, with average horse length legs, and the Medium fits her well. The improved boots are made of less pliable material than the originals, so they didn't mold precisely to Rev's legs, but they did contour well. (The picture I took of this came out terribly; my apologies.) It was easy to adjust them to her legs with the velcro loops.

Which reminds me: one of my biggest boot pet peeves is when the velcro crumples and the metal anchor gets wonky on its binding. I want the boot to fit flat and square without any strange pulling, with the pressure evenly distributed. The usual neoprene galloping boots you can get anywhere are really susceptible to this, but the Davis boots don't do this at all. Maybe it's because this pair is newer, but it seems to me that the improved version is going to keep its velcro flatter than the original set.

Boots on Rev, ready to go:

And a close-up of the boots on her legs. (I probably should have borrowed a gray horse to take this picture on, but alas. You'll have to cope with the gorgeous bay mare!)

So off we went to longe in the sandy, dry indoor arena and then ride in the sandy, wet outdoor arena. Rev didn't show any discomfort in the boots at any time. Because we're eventers, I also made a point of going through the water jump a couple of times, just to see how the boots would do when wet.

When I took the boots off after our ride, there was no grit underneath them. The PVC and cushioning fits closely enough that it keeps everything out (though I wouldn't expect 100% exclusion all the time), but it didn't bind or rub any of her hair. Her tendons were only slightly warm, about as warm as her muscles. I might think they'd be hotter if I were riding in the heat of the day in the dead of summer, but I wouldn't worry too terribly much about it. The boots rinsed clean immediately, and there was no evidence than anything had shifted or had any change due to water. Her legs were quite dry, too!

Verdict? I really like these boots! As soon as Davis releases them in colors, I am SO buying a set in royal blue, and I'll recommend them to anyone. The only concern I'd have would be the slight lack of contouring, but that's a minor concern.

Wishlist? I wish Davis would make open-front boots. I'd want them to be the same material as the splint boots on the outside and the inside, with either air support tubes along the tendons or a harder composite material, and thin elastic in front, like the EquiFit T-boot. If Davis made that kind of boot, I would be all. over. it.

Thanks, Davis!!

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Gah! Since when does life get to interfere like this?! Grrr. I have been SO busy at work that I didn't get out to ride last night. Doesn't the universe realize that I NEED to ride? My horse needs to be ridden, and I need to ride!

Sigh. I hate this working for a living thing. Where's my independent wealth?

In all seriousness, though ... sigh. I miss my horse.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

I was a little surprised this afternoon by a very physical feeling of really wanting to be in the saddle. Very odd. But fair enough -- I do want to ride! Now! Sadly, I am still working and will be for at least another hour.

I ran across this thread about crockpot recipes to make riding nights easier on the Chronicle of the Horse, and I am now absolutely BRIMMING with ideas! I also found the crockpot blog (look left) on this thread, and just wow. I lurve having something good to come home to, and in the absence of a boyfriend/husband who cooks, I think my crockpot will do fine. Must pick up some coconut milk and ginger on the way home so I can start this!

Anyway, just posting so I don't get any guff from TheSprinklerBandit. ;) Really looking forward to riding tonight. I miss my little mare, and it's only been a day since I saw her.

Monday, September 19, 2011

It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing

Sunday's jumping lesson went better. Not perfect, and some of the same problems, but better than Saturday, as usual.

Homework? Practice over poles. Pace pace pace pace. Straightness -- if she pops her shoulder in one direction between the poles, circle her off to that direction to correct the pop. And practice between two-point and sitting. And practice softer hands through the lines.

And gym work. MT says "cardio, cardio, cardio." Okay, can do. :)

Also, in the immortal words of Louis Armstrong, "Work that rhythm with all you got." Yup, that's important too.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Zen and the Art of Jumping (long)

or, Overthought and Underpaced: Why I Love My Horse

So it's been a really stressful last four-six weeks around the Rinsie household. I've been sick, my girl dog has been sick, and I've been entirely off my game. I've been riding and enjoying it, but I haven't been hitting on all eight cylinders. My head is either completely not in the game, or it's too much in the game, and neither is a prescription for riding success.

This week's lessons are about focusing on a line, really riding that line and keeping rhythm and balance, and did I mention the line? The exercise MT set us really exposes all the weaknesses of both horse and rider. It's a series of poles on the ground or verticals, and MT teaches that it's a canter exercise, not a jumping exercise (drat you, blogger! Here, have a fancy Paint image):

So we'd go through, first starting with 3 2-3-4 1-3-5 2-1. The goal is to keep straight and keep rhythm, kind of like a grid, but with anywhere from 2-4 strides between fences in the diagonal lines, something like 6 between the horizontal lines. Okay, easy enough course, but I was all over the place, balance and position wise. Poor Rev knocked a bunch of the rails down because I wasn't doing anything to help her. My head was not really in the game for the first two runs. My stomach was kind of angry with me for the Chinese food the night before, and my brain was somewhere between ACK and derp. Un. helpful.

So our second course was 5-4 1-3-5 4-3-2 5-3-1. This time I got the LEG ON TIGHT message, and the jumping got easier. But we were still getting really awkward in the lines, like trotting, jumping from almost a standstill, balance getting a bit awkward, etc. Sigh. My head was way too in the game for this one -- I was really focusing on Getting It Right. Didn't help. Narrating just gets me to overthink everything. MT asked me to work on letting go of her face and not slowing her down over and between fences -- fair enough. Overthinking=going slow, when you're me.

The last course was 4-5 4-3-2 5-3-1 2-3-4. Yoiks! Tight turns after the third and before the fourth lines. And this time, MT told me what I needed to hear: I was so underpaced that Rev was having real trouble and that I carry a stick for a reason. So this time, I focused on keeping her moving forward. And holy crap amighty, it worked! We jumped like we know what we're doing. Until the end, when we did fine but not great. Rev can handle those turns pretty well, so it's not a huge deal, but I could have done better. And she got a nice, even 3 strides between the fences on the diagonal lines, a nice forward 3. Good girl! Good me. Anyway, my mind had both calmed down and woken up, and I was able to really pay attention to riding and pacing, cantering FORWARD.

The whole point of recounting all this is the mindset that I managed to achieve in the last go-round. I've read it written that "there are only two emotions that belong in the saddle: patience and a sense of humor." I'd add to that that a sense of Zen and mental balance is really important too. There's a particular mind feeling that I get when I ride correctly and even well, and it's like balancing a lever perfectly on a fulcrum. It's difficult to achieve and can be broken, but it's also relatively easy to maintain with little work. It's the fine line between laser focus and relaxation.

Sort of like the mental equivalent of Sally Swift's concept of soft eyes. You take it all in, even though you're not trying so hard, and yet you're focused on your goal and the path you're going to take to get there.

I don't think I can state how grateful I am to my horse for putting up with me until I reach that point. Not just for the hour span of the lesson, but in general. Getting to that point improves absolutely everything else in my life. The stress that'd been jangling in my brain and in my muscles dissipated more easily, and I was feeling MUCH better about everything when I dismounted.

I told TW later that my life would be much harder if I didn't have a horse. Seems counterintuitive, but it's true. I wouldn't have the opportunity to reach that point or feel that in harmony with another creature. When I did martial arts, sometimes I'd notice that I'd achieved that point -- it'd surprise me every time, too. It got me thinking about what it means when people say "leave it all at the door, don't bring it onto the mat." I don't know that I can explain it, in aikido or in the saddle, but it's definitely true. It takes a bit to get to that mental balance, that Zen state, but once you're there that's all there is. There is you, your motion and your study, and everything else just drops away.

I'm so grateful to Reveille for helping me reach that point today. I needed it.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Non-traditional family

I am pretty sure I don't need to explain this to anyone who reads me, but I just kind of want to state it.

So my little girl corgi, Annie, has been having some problems lately -- stomatitis, which is just Latin for 'mouth infection.' It started a month or so ago, got better after steroids, got much worse, got better after antibiotics, got worse again, and that's where I found myself yesterday. I called the vet as I drove into work, just to see if I could pick up another course of antibiotics, and he ended up referring me to a specialist, a canine dermatologist. She's the only board-certified canine dermatologist who practices in this area, and she's only here 3 days out of 60, on average. As luck would have it, yesterday was her last day here for this cycle.

So my vet got us worked in to see the specialist, but I had to go get Annie and turn around RIGHT THEN so I could get her there in time to catch the vet. So I ran to work, got my laptop, turned around, drove 15 miles home, got Annie, turned back around, retraced my path plus 5 miles, dropped Annie off, and came home to work from home. Four hours later, I went back to the vet to talk to the specialist and pick Annie up. So I put something like 80-90 miles on my truck last night and had a really chaotic work day to boot. All to make sure that my dog had the best care available.

I think my mom and my boss think I'm kind of nuts. I could be seen as blowing off work -- but the truth is I don't, and I'm not. I managed to get 8 hours in, but I did it around the needs of my kid. See, the animals are my family. I would go to great lengths to keep them healthy -- financially, effort-wise, and time-wise. It doesn't make sense to people who don't have pets, or who consider their pets inferior auxiliaries. But to me, these guys are my kids. They have fur and tails, but they're family. They depend on me for everything -- food, water, general health, medical care, and emotional care. And they mean as much to me as anything else. It's no different, in a lot of ways, than my coworkers who have kids or grandkids who need them. I'm lucky that the animals don't always need to be shuttled around during the day, and I'm lucky that most of them don't need much, vet-wise, but if they need it, by god I will provide it. They're not human kids, and I don't have any illusions about that, but they are still my family.

Annie's doing okay -- I have her on a new antibiotic, clindamycin, and the specialist wants to rule out food allergies before we go to the next round, which would be treating for an autoimmune condition. So she's eating only fish and potato food, with no treats other than the prescription kibble or actual potatoes, and we'll see if that has any effect. I strongly suspect, though, that this is going to be end up being autoimmune. Which is its own set of difficulties -- she'll need another medication added to her regimen, and it'll be expensive. But I'll find a way to make it work. She's my kid, right? :)

Monday, September 12, 2011


Well, the weekend went much better. From jumping lessons (shortening my stirrups affected my riding more than I thought!) to watching a cross-country lesson from Rev's bare back, it was a good weekend.

Shorter stirrups meant I had to ride more from my seat and less from my leg. And my thighs were much sorer than they are normally! I just -- just now, as I type! -- made that connection. Derp. ;) Anyway, we finally got our act together in the last line or two, and I was a little sad that we couldn't go again, just to really really do well. But apparently it looked good, so we ended there. Yay.

And I really, really love riding around bareback on Rev. Sometimes I suspect that that's what it's all about, just riding and bonding. She's got a very comfortable back, too. :) When we moved to the cross-country field, though, she was eating and generally making a distraction, so I went ahead and put her away. No need to disturb someone else's lesson just so I can amuse myself with my horse.

This week's practice: ride in my jump saddle in short stirrups!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Some days.

Some days I have really disjointed rides. Tonight was one of them -- I just couldn't seem to get myself together, I was stiff and sore, and I need to see my chiropractor and my massage therapist like nobody's business. Rev was herself; I wasn't doing her any favors tonight, for sure. She was counterbent no matter which direction we went, at first, and then eventually I was able to get some semblance of bend from her. And eventually she rounded up, but when I'd try to do such radical things as steer, she'd bring her head back up. Sigh.

Some days I think that this would be so, so much easier with a horse that was actually bred for dressage. Or at the least a Thoroughbred with a smaller, finer throatlatch.

Some days I think maybe I should give up on this eventing thing and just go be a jumper -- I think Rev would make a fine hunter or jumper (but I am so not going near hunter-land!!), and I know I can do the jumpers.

But no. I want to event. Reveille is entirely capable of dressage -- I've seen her do it! I'm entirely capable of dressage. This was just a bad day. It wasn't even a bad ride, to be honest -- we had good moments. And everybody stayed on her own side of the saddle.

Some days, though, are harder than others.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Birthday girl

Reveille turns 7 this month! I don't know exactly when, so I've nominated 9/15 as her birthday. This means I've had her for four and a half years -- she was 2 coming 3 when I bought her.

*shakes head* All things considered, we're right on schedule, training-wise. If I were TD, Rev would be going Training already, but ... I'm not TD! Still, I'm really delighted with our progress, and we're just going to keep going.

I wish I had a better picture of her when I first got her -- I do, somewhere, and I'll find it eventually, but here's what I have:

And here she is a couple of weeks ago:

Same horse, but big difference! She's much more solid, much more ... well, mature! :)


Oh my goodness. We have a WINNER of a bit! The double-jointed, medium weight, loose ring snaffle is the right thing. (It's mostly like this.) It was obvious almost immediately when I mounted up last night -- Rev's neck and jaw were softer, I had more in my hands, and it was easier to get her and keep her round.

Don't mistake me here -- this is not to say that it was easy to get her round. Or that she stayed that way all ride. Just that it was easiER. Much, much easier.

She didn't have the muscle bulges behind her ears that spell resistance as much, and she didn't root around against the contact. She wasn't even in the contact, but then again, my hands weren't perfect. Better, but not perfect.

Still. YAY!! Winner winner chicken dinner!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Still working on the contact and roundness issue. I can get contact, but I really want softer, rounder contact, not trotting like a pony contact.

To that end, I've been playing with bits. I have a couple that I'm trying out before buying, one that I want to borrow from MT, one that works okay, and one to buy if nothing else is any better. To keep my thoughts straight and my impressions recorded, here's a list:

  • Full-cheek snaffle, 5": Meh. Rev argues with it, and it doesn't seem to have any effect either positive or negative. Seems like the corners of her mouth are irritated by it. I've moved away from this.

  • Single twisted fat wire sweet iron snaffle, loose ring, 5": This is the bit MT suggests for jumping, especially cross-country, because she was ignoring him and his half-halts while he was schooling her after the Rafter K debacle. She goes pretty well in it, I think. She doesn't argue with it as much, and I don't have to haul on her. I plan to use this (or maybe a slow twist dee) for jumping. Unfortunately, it's not dressage legal, so I need a dressage bit.

  • Baucher snaffle, medium weight, 5": Voof, she did not dig this one this weekend. Head tossing, resisting, rooting for the reins, all that. Very stiff in the poll; more than usual. I thought the mouth fit her well, even though it's a 5", but I think she prefers a 5.5". At any rate, this is a no-go.

  • Double-jointed, medium weight, loose ring snaffle, 5": This is the one that's currently on Rev's bridle, ready for me to try out tonight and this week. The woman who's given it to me on trial says it acts like a mullen mouth when you take on the reins. I played with it myself for a while, and I can see how that would work -- but you have to kind of shove the side pieces toward the center to get it to lock up. I don't know how that'll work when it's in her mouth. We'll see. I have hope.

  • Myler mouth plain dee ring snaffle, 5.5": MT said that his favorite bit to ride her in is a thin, dee-ring snaffle. I couldn't for the life of me find a thin-mouth dee snaffle at any of the tack shops around, just fancy mouth dee rings or fat mouth dee rings. So I bought the Myler, and I made sure to get it in a 5.5" because of the corners of the mouth issue. Rev seems to like this width best -- she doesn't try to rub her muzzle on me after we ride, and there's no evidence of pressure or (god forbid) chafing. The mouth isn't particularly thin, but it's acceptable -- MT's comment when I showed it to him was "well, not quite what I had in mind, but probably okay." This is the closest to neutral/positive so far.

Things I have yet to try:

  • Mullen mouth: I just suspect she might like it. I don't know exactly why I think this; call it either intuition or magical thinking. MT has one I can borrow. I'm not sure whether he has only the Happy Mouth or has a HM and a regular metal mouth, but I'd like to try both. I also wonder how the 5" versus the 5.5" will work in a mullen mouth.

  • Plain mouth, dee ring, thin snaffle, 5.5" or 5.25": If nothing else is any better, I'm just going to pick this one up from It works for MT. And really -- am I looking for a magic bullet here, instead of learning to ride better? Maybe the plainest, simplest bit is the best after all.

  • Copper roller mouth, dee ring snaffle, 5.5 or 5.25": This would be a "what the hell, why not?" bit. I don't know if they're legal for dressage, though.

  • Happy mouth elevator snaffle, 5.25" or 5.5": I'm dubious about this one. Rev doesn't duck her head, and she seemed to really object to the slight poll pressure that the baucher offers, so I wonder if this will be useful. Her usual trick for avoiding the bit is to raise her head, not roll it, so ... yeah. I'll try it, if MT agrees, but I'm not so sure. And is it dressage legal?

That's my bitting quandary for now. Like I mentioned, I wonder if I'm looking for a magic bullet that'll solve all our roundness problems for good, in one fell swoop. I know for sure that MT can get her round and forward and engaged. Which means that a large part of the issue is me and my riding and that I need to work more at it. But will a different bit help me get there? Dunno.

We have been having some good success at it, particularly in the walk and a little in the trot. What I'm noticing is that I need to hold my hands a little lower and steadier, and that I need to get on my seatbones in a particular way. I've said that before, and I'm still learning about it. And one thing I noticed Sunday is that when she's round and on the bit, I can stop riding with my upper body almost completely, that I can control her through my seat and leg and weight so much more easily. And she's much rounder and softer when my leg is stretched long and down, when my leg is on between the hip and thigh rather than middle thigh to calf. And I think that's why I have problems in the posting trot: I find myself tipping forward too much in the saddle and my leg moves around.

And I keep saying this -- because it remains true -- this is the sort of thing that will resolve through lots of practice. Balance balance balance. And flexible strength.

And maybe a new bit. (Which would then necessitate a new, dressage-only bridle ... twist my arm ...)