After that marathon post from yesterday, I figured we could all use a break so this is just a looky-lou post. Okay, some reading might be necessary. Either hit the play button, or arrow through the pictures.
But first, a lesson in how we learn.
When we learn anything new, especially like dressage, there is language that must be learned as well. We learn the vocabulary and the speech patterns necessary to participate in the learned activity. Often times, the activity has a language of it's own. If you don't golf, try participating in a conversation with an avid golfer; it will sound like Greek. It is no different with dressage.
Even though we all speak English, many of us, in all honesty it's probably most of us, are not yet fluent in the language of dressage. During my studies of language acquisition (I hold a B.A. with an emphasis in language acquisition), we learned that it takes at least six years to become completely proficient at a language, even our own first language. Have you ever noticed that it's much easier to speak to a six year old than a four year old?
Is it no surprise then that it takes years and years to become proficient at dressage? It's not simply making your body respond in a certain way, it's also about learning the language in order to effectively communicate with your horse, other riders, your trainer, and the judge. The USDF handbook actually has a glossary of Judging Terms.
Stephen Krashen, a noted linguist, developed the Input Hypothesis in the 1970s and 1980s. The Input Hypothesis is actually a series of five hypotheses that describe the process of acquisition of a second language. Stay with me here, there is a dressage connection. The fifth hypothesis, the affective filter, is that one that holds most adults back from learning.
While I understand the affective filter, I am going to let Wikipedia explain it for me. Wikipedia?
The affective filter is an impediment to learning or acquisition caused by negative emotional ("affective") responses to one's environment. It is a hypothesis of second-language acquisition theory, and a field of interest in educational psychology.
Did you get that? If not here's an example of what happened at the clinic that almost caused me to pack it up and go home.
I was feeling a lot of anxiety (negative emotions) about learning in front of other people. I was afraid of being laughed at and made to feel foolish or out of place. I was particularly worried because I knew Christian might ask me to do exercises that I didn't know how to do, which is exactly what happened.
Christian asked for a change of direction. Now remember, I work in a ring filled with jumps. There is no crossing the diagonal. When JL asks for a change of direction, I pick the first available space and do a small figure eight, changing the bed on the one or two straight strides that I get. So that's what I did during the clinic. Christian's comment rang a bit sarcastic (to my anxiety-ridden ears), and the auditors laughed.
I felt my face flush, and tears threatened. I was humiliated. How dare they laugh at someone who had ADMITTED to being a lower level rider without a dressage instructor. I took a deep breath and pressed on. Not long after, Christian asked me to do a leg yield which I was unable to do. I simply didn't understand the exercise, which was to come up centerline, leg yield left to the rail, turn back down centerline, and leg yield left again. It sounds so obvious now, but when I got to the rail, I didn't know I was to turn down centerline again. Even after getting there, I kept getting confused about which way I was to leg yield.
Finally, I simply halted and verbalized that I didn't understand what was expected. Christian's comment had something to do with what kind of endurance rider must I have been to not know my left from my right. The auditors again broke into laughter. Right on the spot, I had to make a decision: was I going to cry and walk away, or was I going to stiffen my back bone and show them what I was made of?
Of course I toughened up, but it was a close call. Once the decision was made, I decided that I needed to get the upper hand (according to Krashen, build self-esteem). I may not be fluent in the language of dressage, but I do have a vast skill set. I am not stupid (as many second language learners are perceived to be) so I fought back.
I completed every exercise with zero complaint, and I did everything the instant he asked for it. While I had watched the other ladies ride, I noticed that most of them asked for a walk break at some point in the lesson. I knew that I wouldn't need a break, and so I decided to let that be my little success in school that day. I can work very hard.
As Speedy and I trot around, I let fly a little comment like, oh, and by the way, I can do this all day. Bring it on! Christian doesn't speak English as his first language so some of my quips had to be explained to him. He asked what I meant, and the auditors told him that I just thrown out a challenge. In reply, he told me to cross my stirrups over my saddle. The spectators laughed again, but this time it wasn't at me, but with me.
I confidently crossed my stirrups and went on at the sitting trot. It was ugly, of course, but very quickly, the ladies started offering me margaritas after the lesson. I gaily laughed that I wanted three! I also started to hear lots of positive comments coming from the auditors. Hearing me laugh, Christian told me to switch to the rising trot which I did with no problem.
I don't know for how long I rode with no stirrups, but I didn't ask for a walk break, and I just kept on going. Before long, I could feel that the ladies were rooting for me and so was Christian. At some point, Christian of course called the lesson to an end, and I let Speedy amble over to him for some final words. I was no longer embarrassed or angry. And I realized that no one meant any harm in their laughter.
When our "affective filter" is raised high, we are not able to learn as the filter blocks any input. Once I realized that I was not in a learning frame of mind (by being embarrassed), I decided to tear down the filter by demonstrating what I am good at. I empowered myself which restored my self-confidence and helped me to get what I needed from the lesson.
I had a fantastic time at dinner and even sat beside Christian. No one knew that the initial laughter had embarrassed me and nearly brought me to tears, (although they do now!). But it's okay. It wasn't personal; it was simply how I perceived it.
Jen, the clinic organizer, kindly pulled me aside on the first day and explained the rule about crossing the diagonal to change direction. And during the second day's lesson, Christian pointed out that he wanted me to change my posting diagonal closer to the letter. Somewhere I had read that when crossing the diagonal, it should be done at X. From Christian's comment forward, I changed my posting, and the bend, just before reaching the letter. I am a quick learner.
I had a wonderful time at the clinic and came back with a lot of information. Much of it will no doubt need time to be absorbed and fully understood. You know that I am always honest here. The honesty is to myself first. If I had let my own insecurities rule my day, I would have simply wasted hundreds of dollars and come home empty handed. Be honest with yourself, let go of your fear and anxiety, and ride your horse!
Bring it on I say; I can trot forever!
Even though we just returned home from two days of intense riding with a clinician, I had a lesson with my own trainer last night! I really felt it was important to discuss what I had heard with her while it was still fresh in my mind. I am glad I did as the lesson was really, really good. But all about that on another day.
I still want to share my feelings on how the clinic went, but before I had the chance to sit down and sort out what I saw and heard, Sarah, from Eventing in Color went and did it for you! In fact her synopsis of the clinic was far better than what I would have done so I am hijacking her blog post and sharing it with you here. If you would like to see it in its original form, including a photo, please go visit her blog here.
I was pretty nervous about riding in front of so many advanced riders. I was especially worried about riding in front of a clinician of such high repute; he's an international judge for Heaven's sake! When I read Sarah's post, I was a little wowed by it. I couldn't believe that I had participated in such an event. You see, I was so emotionally connected to the riding part that I wasn't able to be such a neutral observer, and I certainly didn't remember with such clarity the finer points of Christian's instruction.
After reading Sarah's account however, all of what he said and did came flooding back. Sarah hit the nail on the head. Please read her review of the clinic; it's what I wanted to say, but she did it even better.
Here's Sarah's Post. More from me tomorrow ...
You might get tired of this series as it might take me the whole week to share how it went. This morning, I am tired and don't have much time to share. In fact, I am writing as I pack my lunch and make my breakfast!
Everything went great, Speedy was a champ, and maybe best of all, I spent the weekend with the nicest people. Sarah, of Eventing in Color, came to the clinic to meet me! She is a lovely, lovely person and gave me some excellent feedback after my Sunday ride. Please check out her blog to read more about her OTTB Hemie. I got to meet him, too!
The ladies of the Ventura County Chapter of the California Dressage Society are simply fantastic. I have never been made to feel so welcome at an event. The property owner sought me out several times to see if I needed anything and then even made a point of inviting me back in June.
The riders and their friends and spouses went to dinner on Saturday evening. I was so pleased to have been invited, and then to prove that they could be an even nicer group than I thought, Jen, the clinic coordinator drove me to dinner and then brought me all the way back to farm.
Enough for today. Here are a couple of photos.
I've been trying to prepare since this past weekend, but last night I really wore myself out! Of course it was raining lightly, which is a good thing as we desperately need it, but it made loading a bit of a pain.
Speedy gets really excited when he sees me loading the trailer so I had to let him burn off some of the steam that was building. There was no way that I was going to risk a pulled shoe or other freak calamity so I pulled out my 30 foot cotton rope lung line and let him work out his wiggles that way. He can get ripping around pretty good with 30 feet of rope. After he was done, his legs were covered with wet sand/mud. It was worth it though; he'll be quieter this morning for having worked off some of his energy.
Last weekend, I gave Speedy G a partial bath: head, neck, and legs, but after his evening "turn out," I had to give him another leg bath.
I also loaded my trailer with most of the other stuff that I need for an over night ride: the generator and gas can, the trailer batteries, saddle, show bridle, schooling bridle, pads, boots, helmets, shavings, feed, braiding box, and on and on. Since I've never been to a clinic quite like this, I really don't know if I should bring my show stuff or my schooling stuff so I am just bringing everything. I'll watch a few riders go and then decide how to dress both Speedy and myself.
I also tackled Speedy's HORRIBLE mohawk. I've "hidden" it in recent pictures because it so awful. Over the winter, I've been letting some of his bridle path grow out. It's a section about four inches long that is currently sticking straight up about five inches. I decided to braid it, but it didn't turn out very well. It's better than it was, but it's still a bit of an eyesore. Pictures later, I promise. I also braided his forelock which always turns out well. I'll braid his mane just before I ride as the running braid is quick and easy to do.
All in all, I was at the barn until six which meant that I was doing a lot of those chores in the dark with my headlamp, even the braiding. We'll see what that looks like in the light of day! I packed my riding clothes and food this morning and with any luck, everything will make it into the trailer.
I am looking forward to the opportunity to improve on what we've been learning and to come home with some extra confidence for this year's show season. In case you missed it, here's the short video I shot of Christian Schacht at Horse Expo last year. See you on Monday!
White Birch Farm - Click to enlarge.
No, it's not cancelled! My times have changed slightly. I am actually riding at 4:00 p.m. on Saturday and 10:45 a.m. on Sunday.
There are nine ride times for Saturday. The first is at 10:00 a.m. and the last begins at 4:45 p.m. On Sunday, the first rider will go at 10:00 a.m. with the last riding at 3:15 p.m.
Thank you all so much for the many kind and encouraging messages! Wow, what great people I find myself connected to. Not one person has suggested that I am in over my head! I can't wait to get going!
And it's a rain or shine deal; check out their covered arena pictured above. Nice, huh?!
I feel like I owe an explanation about my trailer pictures the other day. There were so many nice comments about the trailer itself. I hope, hope, hope, the pictures didn't come across as a "brag." My intention was to show that having a bigger trailer with living quarters is expensive and a LOT of extra work!
I never went to horse shows as a kid, and as an adult I've only been to dressage shows. I've been to three or four local h/j shows, but they're not rated and only attract local riders. My experience with traveling with my horse is essentially from competing in endurance races. I have only recently learned (over the last two years) that not everyone who competes has a trailer. It seems that many riders get to shows via their trainers.
Endurance riders drive all kinds of rigs. Some are small bumper pulls with a truck with an extended cab that serves as a sleeping area. Some riders make do with a tent. You will see every type of camper/trailer/tent that you can imagine. But the truth is, sleeping in your truck or tent really, really stinks. Any rider who plans to do endurance rides for any length of time eventually upgrades to something bigger.
Long time endurance riders have BIG trailers. Doing-it-forever endurance riders have BIG trucks that carry BIG campers. Some of them drive HUMONGOUS RVs that pull even BIGGER trailers. My rig was nothing fancy at an endurance ride. In fact, it was a little on the smallish side, at least out here in California.
One of Bakersfield's endurance families (Mom, Dad, two daughters) hauled a 4-horse living quarters trailer that was around 40 some odd feet! My trailer is barely 27 feet long. I once met a woman at a ride whose camper was big enough to host a party with at least ten people, and I am NOT exaggerating!
When my trailer is paid off, hopefully in the next three months, I promise to tell you how I went through TWO living quarters trailers. Believe it or not, I've never even owned a regular bumper pull!
As always, horses are expensive. Getting them somewhere, even more so!
My last few lessons have been jammed packed with ideas to get Speedy's hind end to move evenly with his front end. He has pretty much given up going above the vertical to escape the contact. His go-to maneuver is now to drop behind the vertical. For weeks we've been addressing this evasive action which is of course a direct result of shortcomings in my own riding.
Being above the bit or behind the bit is a result of poor feel on the rider's part; that would be me. I am slowly understanding what I need to do/feel to "catch" him before either one of those things happens. The best strategy for preventing either thing is to shorten my reins. I've done that. The next thing I had to learn was to be much quicker to add leg and less eager to use my hands. We seem to have "fixed" that, too.
Before I rode on Monday, my BO had her lesson. There is nothing better than watching someone who is just learning what you have already learned. It was a free lesson for me. As she was riding, her gelding's nose kept coming above the vertical. Right away, it popped into my head that I know how to fix that! Sure enough, JL told her to add leg and quit leaning forward. The rider has to set the parameters and the horse has to come to her.
Watching it happen as opposed to riding it, really helped it make perfect sense. It is so obvious when you see the rider letting her arms get longer and longer and her body begin to tilt forward. Doh! I was struggling with those same ideas, but I am finally getting that I am not helping my horses by letting my arms move forward. This just help them be heavy on the forehand.
As soon as RM's lesson was over, I hopped up on Speedy with all of JL's recent suggestions to RM ringing in my ears. I also had a very good mental picture of what giving the rein away looks like and what happens when you let your body lean forward.
I let JL know that I was feeling anxious about looking inadequate and too inexperienced for the clinic. I asked if we could just work on pulling together the last few ideas that we've been working on without really throwing in anything new.
We started out at the trot. JL was quite happy with how well Speedy was pushing off with his hind end. I've gotten much better at catching him when he even thinks about dropping behind the vertical. And the best part was that I could feel it start to happen before JL even gave me one of her, "Oops!" comments.
When Speedy thinks about dropping behind the vertical, I "lift" him back up by adding leg without letting my hands push forward. He doesn't get to go faster. He can speed up his butt, or slow down the front, but I am not letting him fall apart. His head up with hind legs two strides behind means that his back is hollow and he's not round. If he gets a chance to drop the contact and fall behind the vertical, I know that he is just preparing to let his hind legs slow down which will hollow his back and send his nose into the air.
It's like riding a handheld accordion; there's a whole lot of keeping his front and back ends in the right place.
I now know how to put my horse together. I also know what it takes keep him put together. With my reins nice and short, I can be more proactive and less reactive. With shortened reins, I can feel any loss of contact and correct it before it shows up as a horse with his nose above the bit, or a head dropped behind the vertical.
My lesson went really well. Speedy and I were able to do some lovely figure eights without a loss of contact when I changed rein. We also schooled the left lead canter just a bit. JL suggested I really get him off my inside rein during my warm up. While on a left lead, I exaggerate the bend so much to the inside that she can see both eyes while I keep him out on the circle with my inside leg. When I return to a normal bend, his neck is much more supple.
It shouldn't feel like a show, but it does. I just want to show up prepared to ride my best for the clinician. I feel like if I have some basics under control, we might be ready for something more. I think we're ready for this weekend's ride.
The Christian Schacht Clinic is this weekend. I am riding at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday and at 9:00 a.m. on Sunday. I am both nervous and excited. I am excited for the obvious reasons: it's a clinic with a well-known trainer whom I have seen before and admire. I am nervous though because Speedy and I are pretty low level riders, and I really don't want to be embarrassed. We work very hard here at home, but no one else is going to know that. They're simply going to see an aging adult amateur on an average horse struggling with the basics.
It's too late to back out, and I wouldn't anyway. No matter how inexperienced we are, I am going down there as prepared as I can be: my farrier gave Speedy some sparkly new shoes yesterday, we have good fitting tack, and my pony is pretty darn likable. Our performance may not wow anybody, but I am hoping Speedy's charismatic personality will win them over!
On to the real point of this post. I haven't gone anywhere with the horses since October. Remember the dead battery from the other weekend? I decided that maybe I better give my trailer a once-over to be sure that it had weathered this cold snap without any surprises.
After I vacuumed the floor, I replaced my large outdoor floor mat and lawn chairs. I also bring an EZ-up if it's going to be hot, but that's stored in my garage. I need to load my generator, but I usually do that on the day I leave as I need to fill it with gas. For a quick one night trip, I'll only run the generator to charge my phone and maybe to watch a DVD on my laptop.
I am pretty sure that I'll be the only out-of-towner at this clinic which means I'll certainly be the only one staying over-night on the grounds. It can be a little intimidating to camp alone, but knowing Speedy is close by always makes me feel less "alone." I always get up in the night to check on him and without exception, he always looks for my arrival. Sometimes I even hang out in his stall with a glass of wine and just visit. I know he enjoys the company as much as I do.
If you're interested in seeing Christian Schacht work, we will be at White Birch Farm, 10680 Broadway Road, Moorpark, California.
Now that winter is Game On, I thought I'd take a minute to review my feed and supplement routine.
We've had some very cold weather here in California's central valley. Our winter temps are commonly in the 40s and 50s with cloudy skies that threaten rain that rarely arrives. We live in what's known as a rain shadow. The mountains on our three sides get all of the rain before the clouds can finally lift themselves over and reach us. We do get some rain of course, but it's usually less than six inches a year.
This winter, instead of rain, we've had unusually low temperatures. For several weeks, our skies have been brilliantly blue and cloudless, which has allowed our temperatures to plunge into the 20s with highs barely reaching into the 40s. It's been cold.
I don't body clip my horses, but I don't blanket them either. Even with this cold weather, my boys have had only their winter coats and their nightly hay to keep them warm. I've been quite happy to see that even though it has been quite brisk at night, both boys seem to be holding their weight well. Their coats are dense and thick, and all their bony points are well padded. I try to groom both boys each day to remove the sand that attaches itself to their coats. I don't know if it helps them to stay warmer, but I always feel that fluffing their hair must do some good. With little to no rain, mud hasn't been a factor. And even when it does rain, both boys enjoy the barn roof and tend to sleep "indoors."
I set our feed scale to re-measure my boys' nightly beet pulp to make sure I was still feeding what I thought I was feeding. I usually increase their supplemental feed a bit during the colder months, but this winter I've actually fed a bit less than before.
Both boys get a pound and a half of shredded beet pulp ...
... and then they split another pound and a half of rice bran pellets. Most winters, they each get their own pound and half serving, but since they're holding their weight so well this winter, they're just getting the shared portion for now.
I didn't bother to weigh the hay this time as my barn owner re-weighed when the last load of hay came in. And the truth is, she wants everyone to have plenty to eat and then some, so we mostly check to see that nobody's feeder gets too empty too quickly.
Speedy gets alfalfa/oat cubes at night. I haven't weighed the bucket lately, but the three shovel fulls that get dumped in weigh about ten pounds. In the morning he gets a solid flake and then some of alfalfa hay. When I arrive in the afternoon, there's still lots of stems and some leaves left in his hay net and on the ground. If there is too much wasted hay, we feed just a little less in the morning.
For Sydney, we just try to keep something in his hay net at all times. I feed two large flakes of alfalfa in the afternoon, but there is always a pile of hay at the bottom of the feeder from the morning. He gets a flake and a half to two flakes in the morning.
If I boarded at a big barn, I am sure that my boys wouldn't get such unlimited access to hay, but that's why I am where I am. The last place I boarded at was managed by a guy who fed each horse according to his work load and size so Speedy had ample feed while there. I am willing to pay whatever it takes so that my boys have hay in front of them at all times. I think it helps their overall health.
My barn owner prides herself on providing the best living arrangement possible for the horses under her roof. Stalls are cleaned meticulously; the boys are fed generously; turnout is a priority; flies are managed; and the general atmosphere is always one that encourages the horses to be relaxed and happy.
I love Boarding Heaven. Only happy horses live here!
Sometimes I get tired of writing about riding. Maybe if I experienced more moments of perfection, the task of recording my journey would feel less like a task and more like a celebration. The trouble with being a perfectionist is that you're never quite happy; there's always that little more than can be done. When I get to a place where progress is slow and perfection seems unattainable, it's best if I take a moment to look up and watch where I am going. Invariably, the change in focus brings about a fresh perspective, and I can move on.
To clear my mind of canter departs and rein length, I started to do some chores that I've been doing only inadequately at best, or not at all, at worst. When my new bridle arrived, it prompted me to give my old bridles a thorough scrubbing. Speedy's schooling bridle is a synthetic so I dropped it into the sink with some Palmolive dish soap and took a sponge to it. I also gave his bit a thorough scrubbing as well. When the whole thing was dry and reassembled, I was quite pleased with the result.
Sydney's bridle is leather which meant that I had to do things the old fashioned way. I didn't clean it perfectly, but it did look much better afterwards. His bit, too, got a thorough scrubbing.
I actually keep leather wipes handy so my tack never gets too dirty, but since it's never horribly filthy, I am never very motivated to really condition it either. During show season, I do condition and clean at least once a month, and often times more if we've been really busy.
My saddle, a Custom Revolution, is made from a nice quality leather so I work hard to keep it relatively clean. One nice thing about winter is that we have very little dust which means I don't have to clean and wipe it down as frequently as I do during the dusty, summer months. I also keep it covered when not in use.
I am going to a clinic this weekend so I decided my saddle needed some attention. Since I couldn't ride on Friday or Saturday, Thursday afternoon was the perfect time to do a thorough conditioning and cleaning. The conditioner would have several days to penetrate and absorb without funking up my breeches.
For the last year or so, I've been using Effax's Leder Combi cleaner/conditioner. It seems to work, but it's really "liquidy" and doesn't lather up at all. I've also used Leather New by Farnam, but it never feels as though it wipes away cleanly. It also leaves my tack feeling sticky. I bought Lexol's Leather Cleaner a few weeks ago in hopes that it might work a little better.
I was delighted with how well it worked. I followed the directions: spray Lexol Leather Cleaner onto a damp sponge and gently scrub leather. I liked how thick the Lexol was. It sprays out almost like liquid hand soap, and it lathers quickly. I used a clean, damp sponge to wipe the cleaner off. It dried quickly and didn't feel sticky afterward.
After the saddle was dry, or as dry as it was going to get on a cold winter afternoon, I smoothed on a layer of Passier's Lederbalsam, a product I really like.
I'll ride during the week of course, but with a quick swipe with a leather wipe, my saddle should look nice enough for the clinic. And with my new bridle, Speedy should look quite handsome!