Product Review: No Slip Pads Put To The Test

Here’s a short feature I did for The Chronicle’s Untacked magazine on no-slip pads. I wrote about the Ogilvy, Success and Nunn Finer pads. I own an Ecogold pad as well and love it, but I think my new favorite is the Success pad.

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Doing A Whole Lotta Nothing

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As the title implies, the last week has been a total waste when it comes to riding. It started a week ago Sunday when we had an absolutely bitter day, with temperatures in the teens and wind chills below zero at night. I can’t remember the last time we had 60 mph wind gusts, and we had to barricade the barn doors because of how strong they were.

I actually had a very good lesson with Bear the day before where we worked on shortening his stride. I guess I’ve always thought that the concept of shortening the stride was a little too advanced for Baby Bear, but Lisa said it was time.

We’re not exactly working on it yet in canter on the flat (mostly just working on proper bend on the circle both directions, some short bursts of counter canter and some lengthening down the longside to get him moving forward), but when we set up a simple vertical on the short side of an indoor ring with a placing pole on both sides set a little short, as long as I kept my leg on around the turn and sat up a bit, he grasped the concept easily.

Oh So actually got a bath before the big snow storm!

Oh So actually got a bath before the big snow storm!

I was excited and inspired to continue with some homework later in the week, but that never happened because of the Polar Vortex 2015 edition!

The ring was quite dry and unfrozen last Sunday despite the temperature being in the low 20s and I could have ridden if I wanted to deal with the horrible wind. On Monday late afternoon, we got our first serious winter snow storm–about 5 inches that fell over night, luckily.

And ever since, it’s remained below freezing, save for this Sunday, so no riding! I’m bummed that we had to get pretty much all of our winter weather within the span of a week. We got another 3 or 4 inches of snow on Saturday, canceling any plans I may have had to trailer out to an indoor to see Lisa.

I walked Oh So up and down the driveway one day and actually took him to an indoor about 5 minutes away on Sunday, but the footing was not good, so I decided not to take Bear and ended up walking him around the outside of the ring where my dad had plowed and it had melted because it was 50 degrees (!!!). We went up and down the driveway a few times and that was that, unfortunately.

It’s not looking like we’ll get much melting until later in the week and I scratched the dressage show Bear was going to do last weekend and the derby cross for Oh So this weekend.

Will it ever end? :(

I’m more concerned about Oh So losing fitness since he’s ring fit, but is lacking with hill fitness. Bear will be the same when I get back on him as he was the last time I rode, which is a strange feeling for me!

My tentative plan, depending on how much we can get out to school cross-country, is to enter Bear in a combined test at Morningside in March and then Morven Park beginner novice, but only if he feels very confident and I don’t feel too rusty! We can always make it a CT if the footing is bad or we’re not totally ready. If he’s not sold by then, he could do CDCTA or a starter trial at Loch Moy in April.

Oh So is going to need to regain his fitness on the hills since he wasn’t quite there last year after he did something to his hip. We’re going to be very careful about when we start competing and probably won’t do a full event until late April, maybe Loudoun Hunt HT.

I’m a planner by nature, so it’s really hard for me to not have a schedule for Oh So, but roughly, we’ll do a couple of novices, mostly to get me back into jumping the bigger fences, and do training for most of the year and see how he goes. The vet was pretty confident about the strength of his tendon last year and as long as we’re careful about what kind of footing he goes on, I don’t see why he couldn’t do prelim again. I’m actually more concerned about his hind end now that he’s older and had that injury to his hip. I hope that was a one time thing, but I’m guessing he has some arthritic changes in his hocks too, so we’ll be continuing with hock injections once a year like we’ve been doing for a few years.

But this all hinges on the snow melting and actually getting out to school cross-country and see how he feels.

A circus world at WEF.

A circus world at WEF.

As for my trip to Florida a couple of weeks ago, I had a really awesome time, save for it being quite chilly, but I guess it doesn’t even compare to the -1 we had last week at night!

I covered the Adequan Global Dressage Festival CDI 3* and 5* and unfortunately the winners were the usual suspects and a bit boring to interview, but how can you complain about watching some of the best horses and riders in the world?

I went over to the WEF showgrounds on Saturday night and watched the Great Charity Challenge, a fun costume class run like a relay against the clock. I hadn’t been to WEF since 2004 when I won an award from the American Hanoverian Society, and it’s changed so much. It’s pretty much a circus world, like, literally there were fire throwers and circus food!

I had to miss a big jumper class the next day because of my flight, but it was fun to get a little glimpse into a world that I will probably never be able to participate in.

It was a wet weekend in Florida.

It was a wet weekend in Florida.

Connecting You Head To Your Body

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I took a big step this past weekend and decided to take Bear and Oh So for their lessons together since I’ll be traveling this coming weekend. Bear has been in the trailer with my mom’s horse a couple of times, but he was quite “friend sour” when I tried to take him away from his buddy once we got where we were going.

Baby stuff I know, but it’s hard since we have such a small group of horses at home–they’re all sort of attached.

They both traveled well and Oh So probably thought I was crazy to put him on the other side of the trailer, but I wanted to make sure Bear was in his usual place since he’s less experienced with trailering (by about 10 years!).

I convinced my dad to come up and help babysit/video, so off we went to an indoor in Middleburg on a frigid, sleeting afternoon.

I decided to do Bear first since Oh So stands on the trailer well. And…that idea went out the window when Oh So neighed once and Bear got uptight about it. Since the trailer was right next to the entrance of the indoor, my dad tied Oh So up with a haynet and he was perfectly content.

Bear settled down once he could see his buddy, but subconsciously, I was already undone a bit. Mostly it was because they both had to have two days off while I was away and I usually like to have a flat day before jumping, for me and for them to get back in the swing of things.

We started off OK by cantering over two verticals on a half circle. At that point, he was settled into his job and not worrying about Oh So, but I was worried about having “lost my feel” for a distance a bit.

I just got wrapped up in my own head a little. I wasn’t picking to a spot, which I can do with Oh So when I get nervous, but I was more taking long spots or just not seeing anything at all and doing nothing. Thankfully, Bear is such a good baby that he kept jumping from any spot, whether I took my leg off (which I also do when I feel like I’m going to get it wrong) or not.

As a result, he was jumping a little low in front and landing in a heap over a few fences, so I had to make sure I sat up even more on landing.

It’s frustrating when you can’t connect what’s going on in your head with your limbs! I know how to jump Bear over beginner novice jumps in an indoor ring, but for some reason, my subconscious worry about not having ridden for two days, added to the fact that we only had two hours to use the ring and that I was nervous about bringing two horses and how they would react, made me lose that connection and ride badly.

After watching my video, it actually didn’t look as bad as it felt, and we ended on a good note. As my trainer Lisa said, I should be happy we were out, not stuck at home because of a snowstorm, and he was going great considering the new stress we put on him by adding a travel companion.

I knew I didn’t want to carry that bad energy over to Oh So, and once I got on, I felt immediately at home since I know him so well.

My dad and Lisa took turns holding Bear in the ring because it had started sleeting outside and I knew he wouldn’t stand tied to the trailer with his buddy out of sight. He seemed perfectly happy to watch and learn though!

I started off on a good forward note with Oh So over a similar exercise on a bending line and he was actually relatively compliant for him. There’s a short clip of him at the end since we didn’t do too much. He does fuss a bit in between the jumps, but he wasn’t actually running off with me like he can when he gets really into it.

He felt really good over the jumps and was jumping in a nice shape. Once we can get out in a bigger ring, we’ll start bumping the fences up again, but right now, it’s more important that we work on strengthening his hind end, which is proving hard with the crappy weather and footing. So lots and lots of gymnastics!

I ended the lesson by walking him up and down the cross-country hill for about 15 minutes while Lisa led Bear by hand and let him handgraze.

I’m hoping to get in a couple more rides before I leave on Wednesday for Florida. I’ll be covering the CDI***** for COTH until Saturday. I’m excited to get a break from this cold weather. I was gritting my teeth last night as I rode Oh So for about 20 minutes in the dark with the wind howling and the ring freezing beneath our feet. I’m ready for spring!

Book Review: 200+ School Exercises With Poles

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Who knew there were so many ways to trot around poles?

Claire Lilley’s book, 200+ School Exercises With Poles (JA Allen, 2012) ensures you’ll never be bored again in the ring, whether you jump or just do dressage.

While it’s a bit of a dry read from cover to cover, I found it easy to flip through and pick out a few exercises to try, all of which require four poles or less, making them easy for nearly anyone to try.

Poles can be used for everything from teaching a young horse to be straight on the centerline to giving the rider a visual “longside” on the diagonal when learning half pass. You don’t have to actually trot over them to benefit.

There are 30 pole layouts in the book using between one and four poles, and each layout has about five exercises each.

Each exercise gets its’ own page and Lilley explains how to lay the poles out by distance (which is in meters, unfortunately for us U.S. readers) in a standard sized dressage ring. There are illustrations using different colored lines with arrows to follow for particular movements or gaits and Lilley describes each exercise in detail with bullet points for more ways to ride each one.

She also includes bullet points on common rider faults to watch out for during the exercise and “Teacher’s Tips” that focus on the finer points of rider position and can be useful in any situation, not just for the particular exercise they’re included with.

On alternating pages, there are some cute inspirational quotes like, “The horse must respond to and respect the rider” and “You’re sitting on the greatest teacher in the world: learn from your horse”.

I think the biggest thing missing from the book are more exercises actually trotting or cantering over consecutive poles. There are a few that include four trot poles at about 4 1/2′ apart to go over, but for the most part, the exercises require you to trot around or between poles, focusing on your flatwork.

I think this book would most benefit dressage riders who might want to spice up their routine, but I think it can definitely benefit eventers too, especially those of us stuck in the indoor all winter!

The book is available and Horseandriderbooks.com for $45.00, but it can be found for cheaper on Amazon.

Homework and basics–keeping things interesting in the winter

As Oh So has come back into jumping after his hip injury, Lisa and I have come up with some small exercises that still challenge him without stressing him too much or too soon.

A couple of weeks ago, she set up three small verticals that he could basically canter over at three strides apart on the short side of the ring we went to. She also had a jump on the short side, so we made a circle of three jumps at three strides, then about 5 or 6 strides, over the jump, then 5 or 6 strides back to the short side. It was meant to make jumping seem “blah” for him and to work on his canter stride and my position.

I’ve recreated that in my ring on a smaller scale these past few weeks. I’ve made them small cavaletti with one stride in between so I can just canter him over them (see first two clips in the video above where he is actually relaxed!). My plan is to make them small bounces on a smaller circle next time to really get his hind legs active and strong. I feel like I’m behind in his legging up because I don’t have much of a hill at home and it’s been so wet, so this is the best I can do for now.

This past weekend, I took him to an indoor, which is always challenging. Indoors make you tend to ride backwards and this time, we were actually jumping solid beginner novice/novice fences.

We trotted over a low, wide oxer, which was beneficial for me since I had to follow through with my hands and wait with my upper body. It also helped him stretch his topline and use his back.

It took me a few tries to get my feel back as we cantered over it, then we continued on to a tall cross-rail across the diagonal, three strides angled over an oxer that was part of a gymnastic on the centerline, then three more strides to a tall cross-rail at the end of the diagonal.

The first time, he actually waited and listened because it’s been awhile since we’ve jumped such an acute angle. The next time, the first two were good, then he tried to plow off over the last.

So, we had a very strong half halt the next time, and by the final try, he actually backed off and listened! He knows how to do this and just wants to jump bigger and get on with it, so I’ve accepted the fact that it will take several rides before we get our “whoa” button back. I certainly can’t fault him for wanting to jump again!

We finished by trotting into a bounce, one stride, one stride, bounce, which really made him sit up and listen. I tend to build things gradually at home for my own sake, but the more times you do things with him, the worse it can sometimes get, so it can be a good strategy to go right through.

On New Year’s Day I took Bear cross-country schooling since the footing seemed to be the best it’s probably going to be for awhile.

He was certainly happy to be out and it took him about 20 minutes to focus. I was worried since we didn’t have stud holes that he might slip, but he stayed quite balanced the whole time.

As you can see from the video, he was quite good. The brush jump tickled his foot I think, so he kicked out on landing, but the bounce bank was great considering he’d never done it before.

He was even happy to trudge through the water with ice on top, but we unfortunately couldn’t do much more than that at the water jump.

On Sunday I jumped him before taking Oh So to his lesson. I just cantered a few things, like the spooky Christmas tree, which he could care less about, and did a double bounce to a one-stride, which he just loped over.

I’ve got two new books with tons of cavaletti and grids in them, so I’ll set something up this weekend after the deep freeze comes and goes this week and write reviews.

Book Review: Blyth Tait’s Cross-Country Clinic

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Over my Christmas break, I was in search of some inspiration and new gymnastic exercises as Oh So and Bear are coming back into jumping work, so I pulled out an oldie but a goodie–Blyth Tait’s Cross-Country Clinic, which was published in 1999.

A four-time Olympian for New Zealand, Tait brings a wealth of experience to his book. The format is question and answer, which makes it really easy to find what you’re looking for.

The book is laid out into five sections–Horse Problems, Rider Problems, Cross-Country Problems, Problems Arising At Competitions and Training Exercises.

Each question is pretty broad, such as, “What are the causes of a run-out?” and “How can I prevent a run-out from happening”, and Tait provides several bullet point answers, making it an easy read. The book is illustrated throughout with photos of Tait and others demonstrating both correct riding and flaws, as well as diagrams.

Tait’s training philosophy is systematic and common sense–for nearly every problem he advises being consistent in your training, empathetic to your horse, but also keeping a firm insistence when things go awry.

He’s also good at explaining the mechanics of cross-country position–from things as simple and obvious as looking up to improve balance to how to improve weakness on landing from a fence.

Perhaps the most useful section was the Training Exercises at the end of the book. Some of the 14 exercises are quite simple, such as working on a figure 8 over a vertical, but others ramped up the difficulty with multiple fences to help improve the horse’s form.

Tait explains the benefit of the exercise, things to be aware of and most importantly, provides the distances and strides in meters AND feet!

While I wish there were maybe a couple of exercises that focus on rider position, I’m only too happy to have more ideas to work on Oh So’s technique.

For those new to eventing, those who want a refresher on cross-country technique or those who are looking for a few new exercises to try this winter, Blyth Tait’s Cross-Country Clinic is a good choice.

 It’s available for $11.00 from Amazon.com.

Product Review: Bedding Test

I did a bedding test this fall for The Chronicle’s Untacked magazine. I didn’t quite find one I loved better than the wood shavings we use, but Bear sure does make a nice model, doesn’t he?

Be sure to pick up a copy of the Jan/Feb 2015 issue!

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