Wednesday, September 26, 2012

4 strand french braid

As part of showing horses it is usually necessary to braid their manes for dressage, and if you have a long maned horse you'll need to use a french braid.  There are two types of french braids, a three strand, and a four strand. 

Here is my test subject, plenty of hair to work with.

This link from Lucky Braids  shows you how to do the traditional 3 strand Running braid which is very common.  It's very difficult to get this braid to stay on the top of the neck, and as you add in hair it tends to get longer and move down the neck, especially if you aren't very good at it.   It will also come undone if you let the horse put its head down to graze or eat hay.  Or I just suck at braiding.  I've been experimenting with using 4 strands which is a traditional French braid, sometimes seen with the baroque breeds, as a way of keeping the mane on top of the crest. 

Here is what the braid looks like part of the way down the neck. You do this braid like you were doing a tail, or a person's hair.  You take hair from BOTH pieces that crossover, the top and bottom piece, and not just the top (3 strand french).  So make your first full crossover, then take an extra piece into the part you hold in your left hand, AND pass a piece UNDER the braid to the piece you hold in your RIGHT hand.  Then make a full revolution of turns.  Repeat. When you add to the piece in your left hand pull DOWN hard to make it tight and when you add to the piece in your right hand pull UP hard to make it tight. 

Here's a closer look.  The key here is to get a ladder so that you are standing over the top of the horse.  You want to keep your LEFT hand on the left side of the neck and your right hand on the RIGHT side of the neck so that you keep the braid on top of the horse's neck.  Pull the braid tight as you go. 

Here's a view from above.  Since I finished this braid off half way down the neck you can see that it's pulling to the side, but closer to her ears you can see how it stays on top of the crest.  I'm still in the beginning stages of learning how to french braid so it's all pretty rough, but that's where I am right now.  Hope you've enjoyed my tutorial and please feel free to ask questions!

Friday, September 21, 2012 review

Well, my Horze items came today after 3 days shipping which was pretty fantastic. 

Here is my review:

Horze Active Check breeches,en_US,pd.html?dwvar_36452_color=CDBR%2fLLG&start=9&cgid=Breeches

Very nice quality, I am usually a 26 or a 28 and I ordered the 26 which fit great. They list the inseam, and it is long. I'm 5' 3" and it comes all the way to my ankle bones so anyone taller would be very happy and anyone shorter would have to hem.

Horze Chooze pad,en_US,pd.html?dwvar_17000_color=BL&start=3&cgid=Saddlepads

Color exactly as depicted, well made with a good level of padding.

Venice Bridle,en_US,pd.html?dwvar_10045_color=BL&start=1&cgid=Bridles-parts

Leather is very soft and does not need oiled to use the buckles, crank noseband is well padded, and the reins are very nice quality. Overall it looks like a much more expensive bridle. I'm having trouble deciding if I like it on her head though. It's definetly a little chunky and the buckles and white stitching give it a very distinct look.

Head on shot of Venice Bridle

anniebridle3 by enjoytheride
anniebridle3, a photo by enjoytheride on Flickr.

Left view of Venice Bridle

Anniebridle2 by enjoytheride
Anniebridle2, a photo by enjoytheride on Flickr.

Venice Bridle

anniebridle3 by enjoytheride
anniebridle3, a photo by enjoytheride on Flickr.

Head on shot of the Venice bridle.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Matchy Matchy heaven

I have the same feelings about horse apparel as I do about people apparel.  I LOVE having nice things that look fantastic, but I'm a terrible shopper.  Usually when I'm out shopping for clothing I run out screaming but occasionally I persevere and I get great fashion pieces for making outfits (Thank you What Not To Wear).  I was recently introduced to a website called Horze, which is a Finnish company that is recently available in the US (and shipped from the US).  They are mostly jumper and dressage oriented but have a HUGE collection of matchy matchy saddle pads and clothing, as well as a line of tack and stable supplies. 

Matchy Matchy Heaven

When I did some googling it seems like it's a well kept secret with people loyally purchasing from them for several years with satisfied results. 

Best of all they are known for having huge sales and currently have a code for %50 off everything.  Yes, everything. 

So I've been busy for the last two days adding things to my cart and removing them.  Do I really need a nicer pair of open fronts?  If I do, what color?  They have like 20 different choices.  What about saddle pads?  Do I really need yet another saddle pad?  At what number do I have to admit to having a problem?  Dressage or jumping?  What color?  What piping?  What design? 

How about purple checked breeches? 

How about that dressage bridle I've been thinking about buying?  I don't really NEED a bridle, the one I have holds the bit on just fine, but the leather isn't super quality and it buckles all the way up instead of in the middle. 

What about a grooming tote?  Fleece dress sheet?


Or maybe I don't spend anything and save my money.  Pffftttttt.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The meticulousity of dressage

I had an opportunity Wednesday to take a dressage lesson with Nancy Kleiner after a friend's horse showed up suddenly lame (and who is suddenly sound the day after the lesson, sneaky beast.)  I had to delay this post so I could ruminate on the lesson and the things I learned.

Nancy is very aware of body position and focuses almost 100% on your body, what it is doing in the saddle, and how that effects the horse.  I ride with my heels way down and my leg firm and stiff, a product of lots of time in jumping saddles on explosive horses.  An excellent way of staying on, a very bad way of staying soft. 

Nancy wanted me to keep my leg loose and almost hanging, lightly on, with my heels almost level in the stirrup to my toes.  She wants a stable upright core with arms that look like "L's."  I really noticed this when Annie wanted more rein and would rudely shove her nose forward to jerk the reins and my entire body forward.  By responding to this with a more stable core and leg I was able to prevent it from happening.

I also needed to give more support in my downward transitions which we usually blast out of.  Letting Annie know where she needed to keep her head and neck by letting her know that I wouldn't be pulled forward AND would be a soft and supportive fixture for her. 

At the canter I lean forward with my body (thank  you jumping saddle) so when I sit up I take my legs off.  I had to work hard to sit the canter while keeping my core still, my shoulders back, my leg on, and following with my seat. 

When Annie got weak in the right lead canter and started picking up her left lead I learned that I don't help because my stiffer left leg and hip allows her to pick up the wrong lead much easier. 

I also spent a lot of time learning how to generate more bend in her hind legs without making her go faster.  It lead to a slower trot that was a better trot. 

We really focused on my seat at the posting trot, and how you should SIT on the saddle.  By sitting softer and staying in the saddle longer you can control the speed of the trot without using the reins.  Nancy wanted me to sit almost slouchy, scooping my butt under me further and almost up then down softly.  When I got this very distinct motion Annie went wonderfully.  It took a lot of concentration to achieve that level of control with my lower back and butt. 

This lesson was filled with highs and lows, spending so much time working on the nuances of body control lead to plenty of moments when Annie didn't look as "nice" but when I got all the body parts in line she looked wonderful. 

Here's a longish video of part of my lesson.  It shows walk, sitting trot, posting trot, and some canter work.  We definitely look like novices here.  It left me with a ton of things to work on.  The feeling of sitting upright and following at the canter, and the scoopy butt motion are two things that I hope to really  nail down.  

Saturday, September 8, 2012

September show report

We arrived at Come Again Farms with a major storm right on our heels but I was able to get a decent school in on Annie in the dressage arena.  Even though we've been to the farm several times she's only been in this ring once so she was quite looky and spaghetti like.  I was able to draw on some of the things learned from my dressage lesson (keep your right rein stupid) and had a good school. 

We drove home through some of the worst rain and lightning I've ever seen, the storm dumped almost 3 inches of rain on the showgrounds but the facility owner really put a lot of thought and effort into the outdoors so each ring only had a small spot holding water the next morning.  Unfortunately the ground was too slick to run the hunter pace so that was cancelled.  Better safe then sorry.

I have terrible show nerves (nausea and tingly feelings) and combined with a crisp breeze and a rather fresh Annie our warm up morning of started off rough.  We got it under control and when we marched slightly crookedly into the dressage arena we put off our best test to date, good enough for 4th place.  We really lacked a free walk but since this has just been developing at home I wasn't expecting much.  What we did have was a prompt left and right lead canter transition and we held the canter the entire way around.  A huge difference from shows past was I was able to look at the 20m circle figure and ride it as "points" counting the number of steps in each quadrant of the circle to make it rounder and more accurate.  GO ME!

Moving on to show jumping my butterflies were more like Olympic level trampoline gymnasts and Annie steaming around the grass warm up like her tail was on fire didn't help.  I had to draw deep and rely on my own internal coaching monologue.  "jump the damn crossrail"  "now jump it again and try to look up"

I even, bless my heart, jumped the oxer.  There's something about that lonely oxer in warm up that makes me spazz out, but this time I had enough confidence in me and in Annie to jump it.  TWICE.

Trotting into the stadium ring my plans to confidently canter most of the course went out the window as Annie Arab Snorted her way around spooking at various things.  We squiggled our way over fence 1 but I was discombobulated and Annie almost ground to a halt over fence two. 

One of my issues is that if I think my horse is going to jump big I sit back and don't do anything so I don't make them jump bigger (why yes, I am aware of the faulty logic).  So I was sitting like a lump on approach to fence 3.  Which she stopped at her first time over in a lesson.  So I should have known better.  Eventually (I'm a slow learner apparently) I realized that my good ol right rein was flapping in the breeze.

I circled back chanted "right rein legs right rein legs right rein legs"  No really, I actually did.  Out loud.  And poof we jumped it.  The rest of the course rode well and I cantered down one of the more difficult bending lines with ease.  The correct tract for the last fence was under water and I had discussed my options while walking.  I could try and go through it, or I could go around it and come in at an angle.  By then I was good and mad at myself and I had finally gotten my stadium legs on so I decided that we were going through the water.  Damn it.  So we did.  So there. 

Reflecting back I still need to ride more confidently on course and I need to work on getting and keeping Annie's attention when she's looky.  My instructor suggested that I not stand around waiting to go in letting her get lazy and sleepy and instead school some dresage while waiting in the cue.  So I'll try that next time.  I also need to fumigate my show nerves.

Here's a video of our dressage test

Sunday, September 2, 2012

A real live dressage lesson

The hurricane finally reached us and it was pouring rain by the time I got to my lesson.  So I decided that I would probably melt in the rain seeing how I am so sweet (ok ok, I'm a wuss), and I really needed a dressage lesson. 

This lesson started out with being more focused on making Annie go where I wanted her to go and not going where Annie wanted to go.  The far end of the arena has an opening to the barn area and that end was also open to the outside so she didn't want to go all the way into the corners of that end. 

I got a good focus area of giant orange cones almost all the way against the wall to ride between.  I really had to focus on keeping my inside rein short and fixing my  hand on her withers so she couldn't escape through her neck and evade sideways and using my inside leg to push her against the wall.  This is counter intuitive to your first reaction of taking the outside rein and trying to pull the horse against the wall.  Horses are pretzels and don't have to go the direction their head is pointed at if they aren't so inclined. 

Next we focus on riding accurate figures by riding the 20m circle like I was riding to each specific letter in the arena.  Many of my previous dressage tests are more in the vein of "oh god let's get it over with" then actual planning and strategy.  I think that riding the circles as points will help me with more accurate figures.
Here's a nice picture of us trotting to the right, which is our more difficult direction.  I like how she's tracking up all the way and looks focused and engaged.

We did this at both the trot and the canter. Her weak lead is her right lead and I discovered that since she is weaker and tends to fall in on this side I don't need to be as firm about steering her in this direction, more just looking and thinking about turning right and she'll turn right. 

In conclusion (can you only say that when giving a closing argument in a court room?) I thought the dressage lesson was much needed and should put us in a good position for our show next weekend. 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Flying Changes or the lack of

This week I've been focusing on dressage work and teaching Annie how to do simple changes.   I want to put flying changes on her, or at the very least a smooth simple change for jumping courses.   I've done a lot of thinking and talking with hunter friends about flying changes and the lack of them in the eventing world.  My hunter friends don't understand why more eventers don't change.  My eventer friends say they're waiting for when they need it in dressage.

Horses that do hunters have their flying changes as soon as they can canter without falling over and hunter riders don't think it's a big important long to do about teaching them.  If these horses eventually become equitation horses they have no issues learning how to counter canter, so I don't think that teaching changes before you teach counter canter is a big issue as long as you do it right.

Hunter changes should be forward, even, and straight.  Hauling a horse into a change in a corner will earn you less points then a change on a straight line but just like anything there are good hunter changes and bad ones.  The biggest difference I've seen between dressage and hunter changes is that hunter people want changes to be smooth and part of the course, and dressage people want them to be obvious and have more jump in them.  In fact, dressage horses turned into hunters need work on taking the jump out of their changes because it makes the round less flowy (that's an official word).

My personal opinion is that many eventers simply don't know how to put a flying change on a horse, myself included.  It's simply not an eventing skill set because it doesn't take off points in a round.  I think that a good simple change is just fine, but I've seen plenty of ugly simple changes or none at all. If you can hold the counter canter more power to you.   Everything I've ridden with changes has come with them pre installed.  Nikki the Grey and Snorty had auto changes.  We once changed 8 times down a 5 stride bending line (figure that one out) because I couldn't make up my damn mind.  The hunters I rode just rolled their eyes at me and changed leads.

My belief is that I'm never going to get to the dressage level where I need a counter canter and neither are a large majority of ammy eventers but I have more of a need for it over fences. 

So my plan is to polish our simple changes through the trot and if she feels like she's ready to do a flying I'll ask.  If not it's no big deal.

What I'm doing is coming across the diagonal.  Go down to an orderly forward and soft trot, leg yield over onto the new bend, ask for the new lead, canter off.  In theory you are waiting until you can do a smooth and quiet simple change using your legs and as little rein as possible so you don't make them crooked.  When you feel the horse shift his weight in the canter in anticipation for the leg yield, change of bend, new lead, that is when you ask for the change.

I can SEE the moment when the flying change is hiding inside the canter from the ground while helping another rider, but FEELING it in the saddle is another thing!

Right now we get awful excited about our simple changes and pretzel across the diagonal with angry faces because less trotting leads to more cantering so we're a long way off!  So stay tuned for an exciting new development 12 years in our future!


 Hello all,  Life has been busy and I have not felt I've had anything worth blogging about.  Or that my blog is particularly interestin...