Weekend in numbers

asgaard
Asgaard & Richal. Asgaard is 1/2 Friesian, 1/4 Arabian, & 1/4 Saddlebred. 100% cute.

10: Approximate number of Friesians or Friesian crosses I saw at the show this weekend! One of the teams for the adult team competition was appropriately named Fabulous Friesian Fillies.

9: Number of times people confused the tack trailer for the show office on Friday afternoon.

8: Number of high point awards I presented on behalf of work at the Green Country Dressage Classic. Presenting awards is so fun! Can I be a professional award presenter?

7: Number of pieces of pizza I had at the Friday night competitor’s party. Hey, don’t judge me.

6: Number of times one of the judges told me about her very recent colonoscopy while I was driving her from the airport to her hotel. And it was only a half-hour car ride.

5: Number of massaging grooming mitts I sold on Saturday; I had to go back to the store early Sunday morning to get some more! One woman told me she was tired of using the one she’d bought for her horse and wanted one for herself!

4: Number of helmet boxes almost ruined by rain; I’d shoved them under the trailer so they wouldn’t blow away, and they got soaked by water running under the trailer during Friday night’s rainstorm. Several hours in front of a fan on Saturday mostly dried them out.

How much do I hate outdoor setups? A LOT.
How much do I hate outdoor setups? A LOT. You can see that pink shirt is trying its hardest to blow off the rack, despite being strapped down!

3: Number of tickets I purchased from a junior rider for the 4H club’s raffle. What’s the prize? A yearling Paint gelding. I think Johnny might divorce me if I end up with that horse.

2: Number of adorable Haflingers at the show. Seriously, could they be any cuter trotting around a dressage arena?

1: Number of rated dressage shows my GMO puts on; thank god for that, because I don’t think I could handle more than one!

Riding Moe vs. Riding Gina

Though Moe and Gina are the same breed (Thoroughbred), they’re very different horses. Physically, they look nothing alike. Gina is about 16.1 hands with an average build. She’s well put together and her regal appearance supports her noble lineage. Moe is a runty 15.3 on a good day, with a host of conformation faults that make him look as if his parents were a camel and a donkey. He’s extremely narrow, which makes riding him feel a lot like riding a 2×4.

ginaribbon

Some of this can be attributed to breeding: Gina’s ancestors are all of the heavier-boned, big Thoroughbred variety (Mr. Prospector, Affirmed), while Moe is linebred to Turn To. (His breeder’s plan surely backfired.) Some of their differences are the result of training and life experiences. Gina has bounced around from broodmare to hunter to jumper to dressage/eventing and had numerous owners; Moe went from the track to a trainer to me and has been an eventer since his failed career in racing.

I alternate between the two of them throughout the week when I don’t have a competition coming up. It’s harder than it seems!

DRESSAGE
Gina is basically the easiest dressage horse, ever. Small children and competent beginners can make her look good. She accepts the contact quietly, stays steady in it, and maintains a good rhythm in whatever gait she is in. Her lateral work is fine. She always scores pretty well because she’s flashy and fancy. Riding Gina has completely changed my opinion of dressage: now it’s something fun and challenging in its own right, rather than something to be suffered through.

ginadressage

Moe, on the other hand, is a hot mess in the sandbox, and has been for the last decade. He is tense and evades contact by inverting his neck and doing his best impression of a deranged llama. When he isn’t trotting sluggishly, he is flailing wildly. He leaps into the canter. Halts typically occur somewhere in the neighborhood of G instead of X. He’s so narrow that I have trouble getting my leg on him in a dressage saddle; recent dressage work reminds me of why I used to wear spurs in dressage.

moedressage

JUMPING
Moe makes up for every dressage failing by being the world’s gamest jumper. I don’t know why he’s so enthusiastic about jumping- he came to me that way. He is, for the most part, completely fearless. He will occasionally look to me for reassurance, but typically approaches jumps out of a headlong, wildly exuberant gallop that is more suited to Rolex than Novice-level events. Moe jumps everything: picnic tables, drainage pipes, Christmas trees, the hood of a car, regular old verticals. He’s endlessly forgiving of his rider’s faults, too- you don’t have to have any real skill to get over fences with him, you just have to hold on. On the down side, Moe’s preferred method of jumping involves leaving very, very long which leads him to sometimes knock rails.

jumpermoe

Gina is basically the opposite of Moe. She is a careful, neat jumper- when you can persuade her to do so. She is much better over natural obstacles than show jumping fences. She’ll gleefully fly over big coops on the hunter pace, but have a total meltdown over an 18″ cross rail in the arena. She’s much more adjustable than Moe, which means that when she deigns to bail her rider out, she picks better spots. That isn’t often, though. Gina is an unforgiving horse who requires decent riding to jump. She also requires lots of encouragement in the form of verbal praise and neck scratches or rubs.

ginajump

HACKING
Both horses are surprisingly pleasant to hack. They go out alone without fuss, never whinny for their stablemates, and don’t become especially anxious. They’re also pretty good in groups, although Moe is a real pain in the ass to stop once he gets going in a group. (This is why Moe does not go to hunter paces.) It’s been fun to hack them down the roads near the barn, because it really highlights some of their differences. Gina is terrified of trash cans, mailboxes, loud rattling trailers whizzing by, and changes in pavement color (like between a driveway and the road). Moe is unfazed by all of these things, but completely loses his shit when he sees a neighboring miniature donkey. Gina’s spooks are explosive and sideways, while Moe halts dead in his tracks or backs away from the object of his fear.

I like riding both, and I know they both make me a better rider! It’s easy to say Moe is my favorite, because I’ve had him a very long time and I’m very comfortable on him. Truthfully, though, my favorite depends on the activity; dressage on Moe is a level of self-torture I am not a huge fan of!

Tips on teaching

 

Johnny on Moe following Holly on Roscoe.
Johnny on Moe following Holly on Roscoe.

Over the weekend, I gave Johnny a riding lesson. He caught, groomed, and tacked up Moe, then mounted and spent 25 minutes walking, halting, and practicing simple ring figures.

Johnny’s a lot different from most people I’ve taught riding skills to. I spent the better part of three years working as a certified therapeutic riding instructor; I basically adapted horseback riding for people with a wide variety of special needs. After that, I taught lessons sporadically for extra cash. Regardless if you’re teaching a 30 year old first timer or a visually impaired 12 year old, there are some basic tenets to follow for teaching effectively:

  • Break skills into small steps. Think through the process you go through to ask your horse to turn left. You might tell someone, “Pull your left rein out to the side” or “Pull you left rein back to your hip”, but if you really think through the process, that’s not what you do at all! You look where you’re going, then gently pull your left rein, and release once the horse has turned. If the horse begins to go off-target, you pull gently again and release. With beginners, it’s tempting to just give them a general instruction, but you’ll help them become a better rider if you’re more specific with your directions. Tell them, “Look where you want the horse to go and gently pull your left rein back. When your horse turns, stop pulling.”
  • Remind, don’t nag. Beginners make a lot of mistakes (as does everyone!) but there’s nothing like constant nagging to dampen their spirits. Instead of chiding them every time you notice them slumping in the saddle, remind them sit up tall once or twice during the lesson. There’s a lot going on when you’re learning to ride- balancing on the horse, remembering how to steer and stop and go, conquering nervousness or anxiety that sometimes comes with trying something new. As students become more comfortable and confident on horseback, you can give more frequent reminders for things they ought to know. (My sometimes-trainer Anne is constantly reminding me to bring my shoulders back!)
  • Specific praise is key! When you’re teaching, it’s easy to give general encouragement like “That looks good!” or “Nice job!”. While that’s important, the real trick to helping students understand what they’ve accomplished is specific praise. “I like how quiet your hands are right now!” or “You did a great job squeezing your horse back to a trot when he started walking!” are examples of specific praise. You’re telling the student what they did that was good instead of leaving them to figure it out for themselves.
  • Have a plan. It’s not impossible to just wing it for a lesson; I’ve certainly done that. But it’s easier for everyone if you, the instructor, have a plan. Take the time to organize your thoughts (or write them down) for each lesson you’re teaching: what do you want the student to accomplish? How will you help them accomplish this? What exercises do you want them to do? Do you need any equipment like jumps or ground poles? You’ll have to take into account things like the student’s goals, their ability level, their horse’s ability level, how much time you have, and what external conditions like temperature are like.

I’ve always found teaching riding lessons to be extremely rewarding; I love sharing the knowledge I’ve acquired and help other people become better horsemen!

Anyone else have experience teaching? What tips would you add?

Tips for summer riding

summerriding

Oklahoma is the hottest place I’ve ever lived, y’all. Temperatures regularly stay above 100° F, and it can get very humid. The wind also blows constantly (the musical was not lying), which somehow makes things even worse. It’s like having a hair dryer pointed at you all the time.

Here are my top ten tips to make summer riding productive and enjoyable for you and your horse:

  1. Don’t skimp on the sunscreen! This is kind of obvious, right? I’m absentminded and sometimes forget to put it on before I head to the barn, and I always regret it. I’ve started keeping a bottle at the barn and a tube in my tote bag! My favorites? Coppertone SPORT AccuSpray for my body & Neutrogena Ultra Sheer for my face.
  2. Stay hydrated! Another obvious tip, but so, so important and very easy to forget. Drink water often, but don’t be afraid to bring a little powered Gatorade to mix in if you’ll be at the barn or at a show all day. Electrolytes are important. Y’all know I love Nalgene bottles: they’re ultra-durable, big, and easy to clip to your saddle on a trail ride.
  3. Ride early or ride super-late. In the summer, the sun rises around 6 AM. I find that it stays tolerably cool out until 11 AM or so. If you’re not a morning person, plan on riding late. Super late. A couple of years ago, I was working a evening barrel racing series. On the hottest days, it wouldn’t feel cool until at least an hour after the sun went down, around 9:30 PM. If you’ve got a lighted area, go for a late-night ride!
  4. Ditch the tall boots. I ride in tall boots every ride; they’re comfortable for me, and I like training in what I’ll show in. That said, in the summer, tall boots are hot. Bring a pair of paddock boots, cowboy boots, or another sturdy shoe to change into after your ride. You’ll be so much more comfortable doing barn chores when your legs aren’t encased in leather. (Some of my friends ride in their paddock boots and breeches; I’ve never found that comfortable!)
  5. Wear technical fabrics. We all know sunshirts are amazing; don’t be afraid to look outside the equestrian world for them, though. Lands’ End has a big selection of moisture-wicking, UPF protective shirts starting at $35. Don’t stop at shirts, though! You can find breeches, socks, and gloves in these types of fabrics, too.
  6. Invest in ice packs. If you wear a safety vest when you ride in the summer, buy some small ice packs like the Cryopak Flexible Ice Pack. Freeze them, and stick them between your vest and your shirt. You’ll feel cooler, and the flexible packs won’t get uncomfortable while you ride.
  7. Scrape your horse! One of my favorite things about riding in the summer is that I can hose my horse down after riding. Clean and shiny, right?! Just make sure you’re using a sweat scraper on your horse! Excess water on a horse’s coat makes them hotter instead of cooler, which is the opposite of what you’re going for.
  8. Get fit. This goes for you and your horse! Both horses and humans cope with heat better when they’re in good physical condition. If you and/or your horse aren’t in the best shape right now, take it a little easier in the summer heat until you’re in better condition.
  9. Summer tack. Invest in some summer saddle pads. Toklat makes a line of half pads and contoured pads made with their Coolback lining; it allows for rapid heat dispersal and breathability. If you’re a regular half-pad user, buy or make a couple of baby pads; they’re thinner and lighter than regular pads!
  10. Know when to pack it in. Put safety first for both yourself and your horse. Keep an eye on the heat index (temperature + humidity). When it’s over 120, your horse’s ability to regulate his temperature decreases. Learn the signs of heat illness in humans and in horses. Don’t endanger yourself or your horse!

What would y’all add?

Volunteering

Have you ever thought of donating your time to improve your local equestrian scene? As someone who jumped at the chance to be on the board of my local USDF Group Member Organization, let me enlighten you about the things that make it truly special:

Group Text Messages
grouptextForget emailing, calling, or having frequent meetings. Group texting is where it’s at! From topics ranging from where to hold the schooling show to who needs to buy the staple gun, all business that can be conducted by group text will be conducted by group text. Your phone will never stop blinking/vibrating/beeping. You will also never figure out whose number has the weird area code.

Two hour meetings
If it can’t be addressed via group text, the next step is meeting in person, preferably at a fast-casual restaurant that is local to no one. (It’s only fair that everyone has to drive!) The meeting will have only the most basic of agendas and will be conducted by a person who has never heard of Robert’s Rules of Order. Many topics will be addressed, but nothing will actually be decided. No one will take notes, so at the next meeting, no one remembers what was previously discussed.

Ungrateful membership

Despite your best efforts to spend the organization’s money on its members via low-cost riding clinics, junior rider camps, schooling show venues that offer level arenas and parking that doesn’t require four-wheel drive, the membership will not be pleased. They will complain that the warm-up arena is outdoors. They will complain that $35 is way too much to pay for semi-private lesson in clinic. They will ask why there isn’t an adult camp; you will plan one, but no one will sign up and you’ll have to pay the clinician anyway. Occasionally, a nice person will send you a nice note thanking you for your excellent management of a schooling show. This person is the only reason you continue to punish yourself.

Never competing
Your competent and efficient management of one schooling show now means you are forever entangled in the schooling show management process. You will advise on spreadsheets for ride times. You will post on the group’s website and social media accounts. At the show itself, you will show people how to type scores into an Excel file. You find the missing stapler and are the only person who knows how to put a new roll of paper on the adding machine. You will be so involved in managing the show that you warm up your horse for approximately 45 seconds before your ride time; subsequently, you will score terribly and decide to stop competing for the season because you just don’t have time when you’re co-managing all the shows. (Ironically, the whole reason you joined the club is so you could win sweet year-end awards.)

Anyone else have experience with the benefits of volunteering?