Friday, April 28, 2017


I think we all have those days when we just wake up grumpy. A bad nights sleep or wicked scary dream to set the tone for the day. Or maybe it's hormone related, either your own or your partner/husband/wife/child's. Maybe something changes our perspective on the way to the office (like the asshole in the fancy ass car that cuts you off with a one finger wave in heavy traffic) and we spend the day steaming in unacknowledged anger or frustration. Or maybe it's the waded up underwear in the corner of the bathroom left there by your significant partner/wife/husband/child or an open toilet at two in the morning. The point is, most adults have times in their lives when they fight/struggle/squabble with those most important to them. (Our kids do too, although I think they are cut a lot less slack when it comes to expressing emotion to the adults in their lives.) I think couples that have marriages that last figure out how to ignore those moments, letting them slide by without it upsetting the apple cart. I think that parents that maintain a healthy relationship with their kids do the same thing. You just have to let some of the shit slid off.

Last night it felt like Ashke and I were an old married couple that was a little tired of each other.

Thankfully, our marriage councilor was there and was able to keep us focused on our job at hand, rather than letting us fall into squabbling. Or outright fighting. No one wins when that happens: feelings get hurt and tears are shed. Luckily, I realized that I was spoiling for a fight, and that perhaps Ashke was as well, and turned ourselves over to Amanda to fix.

I'm so tired of the buck and bolt away from the scary corner while cantering around that end of the arena, after cantering past it without reaction four freaking times. It seems dirty and mean to me, like your partner/husband/wife/child saying you look "yuge" in those jeans. My flashpoint was sparked, but then I calmed down before any damage was done by the quiet insistence of my trainer. Sometimes we have those moments.

In the end, we had a good effort on Ashke's part to keep his butt under him, move his shoulders as I directed, got a much better result from our haunches in, and even tried a bit of counter canter. Ashke for the most part, gave a solid ride and tried to be a considerate and loving partner/lover/friend/child with only a little bit of attitude toward the end. I tried to ride better, rather than doing the motorcycle lean into the turns, with lots of leg in support. Doing the double slalom correctly and with control is hard.

We finished the lesson with some Simon Says, which included the counter canter, w-t-c, stop and back movements, with lots of transitions, while out on the rail, to give his right hind a break from the twisty pretzel movements we had been working on. Amanda reads Ashke's ears as eager and excited, while I feel like he's a tad more angry than that. Although, he did redouble his effort after she started rewarding him with sugar cubes, something that works on teenagers, as well.

In the end, we kissed and made up. We were both tired and feeling the incoming storm. Winter weather advisory makes all of the aches and pains worse. He needs an adjustment to the base of his neck, since we are struggling again to turn to the right. Seems to be where he carries stress and anxiety. We have a storm this weekend, then our dressage practice test on the 6th and then we get to see Dr D.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Play Pen

I have a lesson tomorrow, so when I headed to the barn tonight I wanted to just play. I haven't set up a livestock pen in a long time plus we needed to continue to work on our jump. So, when I got there I pulled out the cones and did a half circle livestock pen (outside edge at 10ft from center, and inside 5ft from center). I pulled out the gate and set up a cross rail jump for us to work over.

The livestock pen looks funny in the pic - it is set for about 3/4 of a circle.

And then I went to pull Ashke out of his stall and found this:

I swear, if I wanted a chestnut I would have gotten one.
The struggle is real.

I worked up a sweat trying to get him somewhat clean. I hate this time of year. And it is going to snow on Saturday so there is no sense in washing him yet. I have a show on May 6, so I will have to bathe him before then. As we were getting close to be ready, the garage door between the two parts of the barn went up and another rider came in. I asked her if it was okay that I had stuff set up in the arena and she said yes. She looked over what I had and asked if I did WE. I said yes, and she said she had seen me at Expo. She recognized Ashke from there. She is a trainer and she was riding a client horse (beautiful mare - gun metal gray) who doesn't get enough riding. It was nice to have another person in the arena while we rode.

Ashke was moving pretty smoothly right off the bat, so we moved through our warm up pretty quickly. He's a lot less spooky of the scary end of the arena in general, and when there are obstacles up he pretty much ignores it completely. We did some walk, trot and then some canter in big circles around the edge of the arena. I wanted him to maintain his balance at the open canter without being on a circle. We went over the jump at the walk and trot, then started incorporating it at the canter.

Our first time over was pretty solid. I am getting better at being able to support him in the approach to the jump and he feels like he's figuring it out. The second time we headed for the jump at the canter he tripped three strides out, stumbled, righted himself and went over the jump anyway. And I managed to ride it without jamming him in the mouth or falling off. Then the next two times we rode it, he was perfect and I got up out of the saddle with my hands forward. The thing we need to work on is that he doesn't seem to see the jump until we are about three strides out. I think the time he tripped was because he was startled to find the jump suddenly in front of him. We are the opposite of "hunting jumps" - we sudden have them pop up in front of us.

We cantered to the gate, worked the gate and then turned to canter away. It's getting it through his head that we can canter up in balance, then canter away without losing our shit. The gate is awesome, because he KNOWS what the answer is in both directions. It was good to add that in after doing the jump, because it helps his confidence. I did figure out that if I lift the rope he will begin to back up. If I wait at the side of the gate for an extra fifteen seconds, he will stand quietly. I just need to drill it into me that I need to be quiet for a few seconds before reaching out for the rope. 

At the beginning, I cantered around the outside of the livestock pen. Then I stopped and walked the pen. Then we trotted it. Then I cantered the outside again. Finally we tried the inside loop. He managed to do it on the right lead the second time we tried. I really have to keep my leg on to keep him moving forward at the canter. It's a much tighter circle than we've been riding. 

After we had done it to the left, I got off and put the jump away, leaving the poles out in an L. We worked that in both directions, another obstacle he KNOWS. It's a great way to get him to do lateral work, without having to work on leg yields. He is much more able to hold his body in a half pass position now than he has in the past. 

Then we went back to do the livestock pen again, this time on the right lead.  The first time through we lost it about half way around and trotted out. I said to him "you need to get your shoulders up. You can't do this with your head down or your shoulders low." Then we walked the pen with him in haunches in a couple of times. Then trotted it the same way. Then I tried it at the canter. We struggled but made it further than our first attempt. I said to Ashke, "if you can do this, we can be done with it." He gave it a great effort and I gave him lots of leg and verbal support. He did a very nice canter around that tight turn. 

I made a huge deal out of him and then we followed the mare for a while. Finally, using my legs and neck reining, we wove through the orange cones at a walk. That was really hard since they were set very close together and on a bend. The fourth time we went through I let Ashke stop while I gave him lots of attention. I asked if he was done and he agreed.

It was a fun night and a great ride. Ashke keeps stepping up and answering any question I ask him. It makes me very happy and he seems to enjoy the challenge. Looking forward to my lesson tomorrow night.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017


So. A lot of things have changed in the past year. A year ago I was dealing with a degloving injury which pretty much sidelined us for the year.

 This was the picture texted to me by BO.
Thankfully it was just the skin. Still.

 Clipped, cleaned and ready for bandaging

Just as the injury was about healed, Ashke cast himself and kicked it open again. That happened in early August and Ashke has spent all of his time since then with that leg in a BOT quickwrap.

Happened overnight. Pretty sure he cast himself, based on the scraped skin on his face.

Clipped, cleaned and ready for bandaging.
Got some antibiotics from the vet, but otherwise treated it myself.

Back on track Quickwrap

The BOT quickwrap was a life saver. Or at least a leg saver. It reduced the swelling (the scar tissue is pretty thick) and kept him from scratching it open with his other hoof. Because yes, that is a thing. And yelling at him to knock it off doesn't work. Go figure.

After the body work with Tracy in March, his overall movement improved. He is so much more centered and focused through his body. And so much of the emotional turmoil was healed, which was strongly reflected in the how he was moving. I decided to try and ween him off the quickwrap because the additional sweat as we moved toward warmer days was not going to help the scratching thing. I don't want to keep him in them forever. At some point the training wheels have to come off.
For the record, I used both quickwraps on the one leg and they are both torn to shit. The padding is still in one piece, but the outside wrap has holes rubbed in it from him scratching with his other foot. At some point we needed to just pull the wrap (although neither myself or the BO really wanted to) and hope he wouldn't tear the skin open again.

It's been almost two weeks now and he seems to have gotten past the "scratch til the skin breaks open and bleeds" desire he was acting on the last time I tried to take the wrap off. There was a little blood one day when I was out, but it was lower on his pastern, away from the scar tissue, and I figured he did it on something else. Cuz horses. The leg swelled a bit when I first pulled the wrap, since the point of the quickwraps is to keep the blood circulating and to help with wind puffs or stocking up. The swelling went down with exercise and wasn't tender to the touch, so I figured the leg just needed to stop being lazy and make all of the blood circulate properly.

So the leg is better, but he is a bit tight through the right side of his body. I have an appointment in three weeks with Dr D and in the meantime, I just have to do plenty of lateral work to help loosen that side up. J is pretty sure that he needs some accupuncture to rebalance his energy, and I'm sure he needs to have the base of his neck adjusted again. I did some carrot stretches last night and he is very tight there. He will also have his teeth done and we will attempt to clean his sheath.

Sunday, April 23, 2017


First thing this morning I had an appt with my saddle fitter. Ashke has had a couple of dry patches bilaterally on his back, not after a dressage ride, but clearly there at the end of our last trail ride. She could feel what I could feel and agreed the flocking needed a touch more just under my seat bones, which is also right where the billets attach. She added more flocking on each side, then smoothed it out with her little mallet. When we placed the saddle on Ashke's back the slight gap was gone and the middle of the saddle was solid against his back.

After that was finished, we loaded him up and took him to Barr Lake.

It was a wonderful ride with lots of nature.

It started with Black-Bag Trolls. They were crouched by the edge of the trail and it took a long time to get Ashke to walk past them. There was snorting and backing up and more snorting. Then some quick sideways steps as we went past them. The large herd of Black-Bag Trolls was not as scary as the two single Trolls sitting right next to the trail. Sideways at the edge of a deep canal, not as much fun as one would think.

We were trotting at a solid pace, when we came to a screeching halt and let the very large Bull snake sunning in the middle of the path to slither his way into the bush. Then back to the trot. Ashke moves so effortlessly on trail now, it's such an amazing feeling. And then we came to another big ass Bull snake. They are pretty hard to see.

We saw some Black Scoters (a kind of duck), a Cooper's Hawk, a Redtail Hawk, pelicans (yay!!! they were back), cormorants and their rookery, Canada Geese, red wing blackbirds, Blue Heron, a Osprey and a couple of deer. It was a feast for the eyes.

We stopped at a big patch of grass and stopped to let Ashke munch some. There was a huge splash and Ashke spooked pretty hard. And then another Splash. I turned around in time to see a big ass fish flop out of the water. It had to be 8 or 10 pounds. J got it on video.

We saw them at the bottom of the canal on our way back to the trailer. Very good sized catfish, I'm pretty sure.

J commented several times about how strong Ashke looked, how good he was moving and the solid rhythm of his trot. So J captured this video:

On the way back we spooked another snake. So happy that none of them were rattlers.

We were almost back to the trailer and saw a couple of hikers who had just seen a couple of Bull snakes. I told the woman that there were snakes on the trail the way they were headed. She asked what kind. I answered. Then when we walked off I said to J, "Big, motherfucking snakes, is what kind." J almost fell of her bike with laughter.

Lots of wonderful wild life. Nice temp during the ride. Even sweat patterns under the saddle when I pulled it off.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Two Horse Tack Update

I didn't write about this when it happened, but I have decided since that point that I need to say something about the halter I was given by Two Horse Tack.

Remember this?

Hunter Green halter - Arab sized

I liked the halter and thought it looked really good on Ashke's head. J was less impressed but mostly because of the color and my desire to have everything matchy-matchy. I purchased a cotton rope lead rope at the Expo that matched the color of the halter and decided I would use it but store it in my tack box, leaving the beat up, faded blue one for the barn to use. And I haven't rushed out and purchased a bunch of green gear, although I've wanted to.

So the 19th of March, I stole the truck from J, hooked up the trailer by myself and hauled Ashke to Circle Star Arena to work cattle for a couple of hours. When Circle Star hosts events, we park in the pasture, with a solid fence between us and the road, which has a lot of fast traffic and big trucks that whizz by. When it's just a few of us, as it was that day, it's easier to park in the gravel lot at the end of the dressage arena. I was the first one there and parked as close to the edge of the dressage arena as I could, but we were still twenty yards from the road, with a partial fence between the trailer and the traffic. I got Ashke out, got him settled with his bucket and started tacking him up.

I always ride in the Alta Escuela and when I go to put it on him, I usually have the girth hanging over the seat of the saddle. I have short billets and the girth is jumper long. On that Sunday, it was over cast and blowing in the 10 - 15 mile an hour zone. I hadn't had a chance to work Ashke since the Expo, which had been more than a week prior (traveling for work). The combination of those two things made him a bit antsy. As I was trying to adjust the saddle pad and the saddle, I must have lifted the flap on the saddle too high and the girth slipped out and hit the ground next to Ashke's front leg. 

He startled, spooked sideways about six inches while giving the girth the death stare, and managed to dump the saddle off his back. At that point, he spooked and pulled back.

This is not a horse that pulls back very often, but he is still a horse. And on that day he was pretty spooky (in fact the saddle hitting the ground made such an impression, we had issues with lifting the saddle onto his back from his right side for a couple of weeks - he was pretty sure it was going to eat him). He sat back one time, fairly hard, but without any of the thrashing side to side or butt almost on the ground behavior you might expect from a younger or more volatile animal. It was one hard spook.

Imagine my surprise when suddenly he was free. Twenty yards from a dangerous road and a blind hill. I couldn't process what had happened. I thought maybe I hadn't secured the halter correctly. I watched in horror as he trotted off. Thank all of the Gods that he headed into the property at a trot, rather than heading for the road. Uncle Daniel and his horde of Indian angels were riding flank that day. I had nothing but the lead rope and a bucket to entice him back to me and although he is usually a dream to catch, the day was going bad enough that I was worried he would consider this a game and decide to play. I didn't have a back up halter, which I usually do in the trailer, but I had emptied the trailer of all extraneous stuff for the Expo and hadn't moved it back in yet. 

As I walked around the end of the trailer, carrying the bucket in one hand and my lead rope in the other, Ashke spotted the cows and headed toward them. That meant he was boxed into a 20 x 20 arena and I had a really good chance of getting a rope on him before he decided he really wanted to play Spirit, Wild Stallion of the Cimmarron. Thankfully, the BO of Circle Star had seen him running loose and had come out of the house. I asked her if I could borrow a halter and she headed to the barn to get me one. Ashke let me walk right up to him, throw the rope around his neck and lead him into the arena, where if he freaked out and got away from me, he couldn't go very far.

This is what the halter looked like:

 As you can see the crown piece of the halter ripped through.

An up close look at what ripped out.
It tore out right along the seam.

I do not believe that the break away halter I got at Expo a year ago would have broken, because I don't believe that Ashke pulled back hard enough to tear apart the leather crown piece. I think this is a defect in the material used.

I reached out to Two Horse Tack (the woman who had contacted me about reviewing the product) and told her what had happened. I got back an email that 'splained all of the ways in which I could make sure, going forward, that Ashke did not break another halter. Her offer to replace the crown piece was at the very end of the email, and after the lecture, I read the offer as being given grudgingly.

I didn't get another crown piece. Honestly, I would never trust it to hold him again, and let's face it, halters are designed for one thing. I went out and purchased a web halter in the same color green (slowly but surely, I will win the matchy-matchy war) and have been using it when I have him out. This was the second time I got something from THT. I still have the bridle and breastcollar I ordered from them in 2013, but would probably not spend the money for more gear. I certainly would not tied Ashke in a halter they made.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017


Ashke has really put on muscle over his withers, along his shoulder, across his chest and in his hips. I credit Amanda and dressage for the transformation. I had the saddle fitter check his back a couple of days ago and we have plans to adjust the flocking in the saddle just a bit, however, he is not sore at all.

One of the things that has changed is his attitude. We have been spending a lot of time in the sandbox, which he used to hate, but now he seems to like it. My last few rides he has seemed almost lethargic, although he has plenty of energy when I ask for it. I've been worried and concerned, wondering if I need to tweak his feed (although he looks awesome). Last night it finally hit me.

He is being both obedient and submissive. With a ton of try.

That's what this is? No wonder I didn't recognize what was happening. We are in a brave new world. He's meeting me more than half way. He's trying even when it's hard. And he's sore. Because he is meeting me in the middle and letting me dictate the terms. He's trying so hard. I just have no words.

He and Sal explore a Bromance

Our lesson was a great one, hard but great. We did a lot of lateral work, adding in some new exercises to help strengthen and develop his inside right hind. And teach both of us more flexibility. We had a couple of steps of decent half-pass in each direction. It will take more practice for Ashke and I to figure out how to do it by ourselves, without Amanda calling out suggestions and commands behind us. That's more about me. It will take a while to make it pretty and do it on purpose, but it is a start on our next level for WE. 

Afterward, we took some pics of the little beefcake. 


Sunday, April 16, 2017


There was a post going around on FB with an exercise for dressage riders to practice riding from their seat. I liked the pattern and thought Ashke and I would enjoy playing with it. On Saturday, when I got to the barn the only rider, I'll call her Sara, was riding one of her two horses, Sal. She finished up and saddled up Rain while I was getting Ashke ready. I asked her if I could put up some cones and she said yes, so I put up this pattern:

The spacing in the diagram is 36 - 48 feet. I set the cones at about 25' apart, with the two lines of cones closer to 30' apart, which made it seem really huge. I also only used one ground pole at the far end (near to the scary corner) because I wanted to leave enough room for us to work around the cones on the rail. Plus I put it at the top of the pattern in the middle rather than on the right side, so we had to make the turn, line up for the ground pole, and then turn again for the single slalom.

I started my warm up around the outside while Sara warmed up Rain in the inside. Sara and I ride together at night, sometimes, and we do our lessons back to back with Amanda, so we know each other fairly well. I had to spend five minutes or so walking back and forth in front of the scary corner with turn on the haunches at either end, before Ashke decided spooking was too much work. About that time, Sara asked me what the pattern was so I trotted Ashke through it.

I realized the first time through, that it was set a lot bigger than the stuff Ashke and I have been working on, so it would be a "loose" pattern for us. Sara said she could probably trot it, but didn't think they could canter it. We started with the above pattern, and rode through it as directed. Ashke did it great at the trot and even better at the canter (the trot was to show him the pattern). Rain did it handily at the trot and I think even Sara was surprised. Then I tried it at the canter, which Ashke did very well, as long as I was changing my legs properly. We did have a bit of bounce from excitement, but we backed up a bit and kept going. I think we must have inspired Sara, because she and Rain tried it next at the canter. They did really well.

I was showing Sara the double slalom pattern next, when Amanda got to the barn to ride Laz (Her Intermediare I horse). She was so excited about playing with the pattern she threw her western saddle on Laz and hurried out to join us. Sara tried the double slalom at the canter, then rode the first pattern again. By that time, Rain was getting pretty excited about what they were doing and when Sara asked for a canter, Rain crossed the diagonal with dolphin bucks. Sara had to go back and calm her down by doing simple circles, with soft transitions, until Rain had her brain back. By that time, Amanda had joined us in the arena.

Laz was amazing to watch, which shouldn't surprise anyone, considering. Watching Amanda play with him around and through the random patterns she was riding was pretty amazing. Sara rode through the pattern one more time, to show Amanda how they were doing. Then she was out of time to ride, and ended up having to leave. We did have fun riding together, though, and she suggested we play like that again. She is coming to the barn potluck in May and we are going to set out a small course for people to play at WE if they are interested. I think she and Rain would really be good and would enjoy it.

I ended up playing follow the leader with Amanda, until Laz smoked us because his changes were so smooth, Ashke and I couldn't keep up. Ashke did the double slalom in both directions and he was very good. We also did the sidepass pole. Amanda said that in the Western trail class the horse is taught to stay completely straight along the pole and it took Laz a couple of times to recognize he could angle his body to make passing over the pole easier. It was a lot of fun to ride with Amanda and play with the cones.

That was Saturday.

I rode again today. Put up the same pattern, except I set it to 20' (double slalom standards) and warmed up. Then had J video me so there is proof of what we are doing right now.

Doing the circle, pole, slalom 
Still having difficulties finding our distance and stride over the pole.
I am not a jumper.

Double slalom starting with a left first turn

Starting from the right.
He picked up the wrong lead at the end because I wasn't being careful with my legs.

After the last double slalom I was done. I'm still feeling tired and the pollen level is really high, which is effecting my breathing and overall energy level. Ashke seemed a little lethargic today too. I should have taken him out and rode around the field, but I just didn't have the energy.

Heckin golly gosh big pupper doing me a follow

Thursday, April 13, 2017


I can feel the sweat trickling down my hair line as I pull up Ashke's stirrups and loosen the girth. We are both breathing heavily, him with flared redlined nostrils and me with short panting breaths, a hint of wheeze in the sound. Gah! having asthma is still new enough that I am struggling to figure out when I am out of breath and when the inhaler might help. I can feel heat rising from Ashke's skin and the sweat slicking my skin. We rode for fifty minutes, but we are both wiped out.

Ashke follows me as we put the ground poles away. They were set in a L shape and we utilized them through out the lesson. Ashke demonstrated how much he understands that obstacle by sidepassing the L without losing where his feet were. He also demonstrated how we have no clue about going over ground poles at either the trot in a ten meter circle, or as a pole on the ground to launch ourselves over at the canter. I have no idea how to count strides and adding leg to take a long spot rather than breaking into a trot to go over the pole sounds dangerous. Although, with enough practice and Amanda yelling "MOAR LEG" Ashke finally figured it out while I was trying not to jam him in the mouth. Over a ground pole. Seriously.

As we walk back to pick up the cones we used during the lesson, Ashke paced beside me with his nostrils pressed against the skin of my arm. He is over the top affectionate lately and demonstrates daily that not only does he understand English, he is pretty darn smart as well. I think he likes to learn new things, just as much as he likes to explore new trails, and the dressage we are working on is a thinking horse's dream.

The cones were set once again in the pattern we used last week and we spent most of the lesson riding through them. I rode random circles around the cones with the reins in my left hand, riding entirely from my seat and the neck rein. My biggest thing to work on in that exercise is not leaning to the inside like a motorcycle, but rather keeping myself upright and in his middle. We did figure eights with a straight transition, and then worked on the figure eight with a diagonal transition. We rode the double slalom in both directions and he was much better than a week ago. I can feel the difference in his hind end strength. However, I had to really work on keeping my heel back on the outside of the turn to help him keep his hip in.

In between at least 50 transitions, we did a turn on the forehand around the cone. We backed around the cone. We rode the double slalom at a walk in a haunches in position, keeping Ashke's hip closest to the cone and bringing his shoulders around. It was exhausting. And hard. We alternated those activities with random patterns around the cones, riding the drum pattern backwards, leg yielding between the cones at a walk and then trot. The trot was really hard, since the distance we had to move sideways vs forward was very steep for trot work.

It took longer for his right hind to get tired, even though we are focused almost entirely on canter work and turns during our lesson. I had him really compressed during one of the exercises, and then took him out on the circle and let him uncollect from the tiny pretzel shaped knot I had tied him into. We did big circles at the extended canter, while trying to figure out how to cross one tiny ground pole. Jumpers we are not.

I wish I could point at one thing and say "that right there" is the biggest change in Ashke in the past six months. He is calmer, more focused, less reactive to my requests during all of our rides. He is enjoying the arena work and doesn't seem to hate the circles we ride over and over again. The scary corner of the arena is less scary and once we've walked past it a couple of times, we can both ignore it. If anything, he seems a bit lethargic. Not resigned, because he is still very engaged, but more willing to stand still and rest when he is given the opportunity. He is SO much more able at the canter, feeling balanced and relaxed, rather than struggling to get himself and me in the same place. It feels amazing. He is amazing.

And I am getting stronger. It is still amazing to me that Amanda has us doing stuff that makes my abs hurt, my legs shake with weakness, and the breath come short in my chest. Riding from your seat and core is no easy thing, while trying to figure out a canter pirouette in an 8m circle around a pole, on a horse that is also learning. I crawled into bed achy and sore, but grinning ear to ear at what we've managed to accomplish. I think Amanda likes applying our learning to the obstacles just as much as Ashke and I like it.

Sorry for lack of video. I had the GoPro and forgot to give it to Amanda. Maybe next week.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Speed Round

When I first talked to the psychic about Ashke the first thing he told me is that he is fast and sees himself as a race horse. I guess it should come as no surprise, that Ashke loves the Speed phase of Working Equitation. I think it gives him the chance to race against the clock, make tight turns and demonstrate how well he knows the obstacles. He totally gets it and things are moving so fast that I can't micromanage him during that phase. Although I am sometimes worried I will get bounced from the saddle, the better I get at riding in general, the better I will get at speed.

Because we approach the Speed round with enthusiasm and actual speed, we have kind of gained a reputation in the WE community here. This week I was asked by a trainer, who vaguely knows me,  to teach a clinic with her, focused on the Speed phase. I considered it (because my ego got stroked), but I won't do anything that might jeopardize my amateur status, and so turned down the offer. It was a nice compliment, however, and got me thinking that offering suggestions for how to make the speed round better might make a great blog post.

Although, I might regret it at some point in my future.

My last disclaimer is to never practice the speed round. You can practice other things that will make the speed round better, but never practice speed.

So here are my suggestions for improving your speed round:

#1 - Install a solid stop on your horse. Make it a sliding stop, even. Cue it with both your seat and your voice. Practice it, because as your horse stops faster, you are going to have to be ready. This particular skill will help with so many obstacles: the gate, the corridor, switch a cup, allowing you to hand gallop into the obstacle and stop without exiting the obstacle (or crashing the gate). In my speed round at Expo, Ashke stopping when I started yelling whoa, was the only reason we didn't lose more time at the bridge. I was off balance and my reins were too long, plus I had an eleven foot long stick in my hand. The whoa is the only thing that kept us alive.

#2 - Teach voice commands. There is no rule against using your voice in the Speed round and I talk to Ashke all the time. He knows whoa, back, stand and settle. The back is for the reinback obstacles. The stand is at the gate or switch a cup. The settle is when we have handgalloped to the sidepass poles and he needs to calm enough that we can work the poles without to much enthusiasm. One of the big challenges of the Speed is the frantic haste coupled with the precise execution of some of the obstacles. Tarrin demoed the Speed round at one of our clinics at Expo and she uses the command "here" to indicate to her horse when it is to turn. I will incorporate that as well in my next speed phase. And I say "good boy" to encourage Ashke to be brave and fast.

#3 - Teach a rollback. I do this by using a neck rein and kissing sound to encourage Ashke to jump into the gallop. The neck rein, because your horse will be more willing to lift his front end and swing around then if you were using a direct rein, and because I spend at least part of my run holding on with the other hand. I usually combine this with my slide stop when I am practicing it, which I only do a couple of times a year, because it really gets Ashke hyped up. By the time we've done four or five, he is sliding to a stop, spinning into my weighted leg and flinging himself forward into a run, which is what I want but not really very dressagey.

#4 - Figure out the shortest distance between the obstacles. The speed round is not the time for fancy circles and nice transitions. It is the time for direct lines and cut corners. There is still the need to plan the obstacles, like the direction you are going to turn for the livestock pen to set yourself up for the next obstacle, but mostly its about straight lines. Figuring out the line you will ride for Speed is as personal and as important as the line a show jumper picks for the jump off round.

#5 - Try to grab the ring. It will lower your time by ten seconds. However, if grabbing the ring will take longer than ten seconds, then it makes no sense to waste the time. At Expo, I decided to trot from the livestock pen to the bull, grab the ring and then gallop. In part, I made that decision because the distance was too short to leap directly into the gallop and still be sure to make the turn at the edge of the bull (following the shortest distance is a straight line maxim). I trotted it, grabbed the ring and then cantered off.

#6 - Don't drop the pole or bounce it out of the barrel. I always slow Ashke for the drop off, letting the pole slide smoothly into the barrel and not bounce off the bottom. It would cost me a couple of minutes of dismounting, picking up the pole, remounting and depositing the pole. In comparison a couple of seconds to make sure I don't fuck it up is worth it.

#7 - Don't worry about leads. Ashke will change leads at the drop of a hat in the Speed round. He also neck reins very well during that round. Part of that, is that he loves that phase and part of it is that I am finally out of his way.

#8 - Work on neck reining. You are going to eventually have to neck rein anyway, you might as well work on it now. I use neck reining a lot and Ashke understands what it means. Last September, when I rode the Speed round in our last show, we came over the jump and I lost both stirrups. Our next obstacle was at a ninety degree angle to our direction and I laid the rein over Ashke's neck  while we were still in the air. He turned sharply in that direction as soon as we landed, which is why I ride with an "oh shit" strap on the front of my saddle.

#9 - I move the reins to my left hand when approaching an obstacle that I need to use a hand for (gate, bell, cup). This keeps me from accidently reaching up with the wrong hand to touch the obstacle. That is the number one reason why people DQ in both the Speed and the EOH phases. If my reins are in my non-dominate hand when I approach, I am much less likely to switch the reins and reach up with the wrong hand.

#10 - Don't be afraid to go fast. Once you have the stop installed and you know your horse is going to stop, you can make up time in between the obstacles by asking for a hand gallop. Even if you have to trot the double slalom or drums, you can gallop between them. This is where having a short coupled, quick horse can make a huge difference.

One of my biggest issues with the Speed round is that I giggle the entire way through it. It is so much fun. It is three minutes of riding by instinct and trust, with no thought of anything but finishing the round without a DQ. Ashke is the perfect partner and meets me more than half way.

However, it isn't as easy for me as it might seem. Usually by the time I'm at obstacle seven or eight I am completely gassed, gasping for breath and about to pass out from lack of oxygen. I actually had my vision dim in the show last September (hot and dusty make it worse) and we had to slow to a trot until I could get enough air to finish the course. I've been blaming my age, but come to find out, I have exercise induced asthma. Well, I might have asthma all of the time, but it reaches critic status when I am running the Speed round. It is something that I am addressing physically, and using an inhaler before racing the course seemed to help at Expo.

So, I hope this gives you some things to work on. And remember - DONT PRACTICE THE SPEED ROUND. It will make your EOH phase so much more out of control if you do.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Canter Work

Last night was another lesson. Amanda worked our butts off and I ended up sweatier than Ashke was. We are focusing a lot on our canter work, primarily a collected, 8 - 10 meter circle. We started with serpentines at the w-t and then added in the canter. Ashke was stiff to the right (I need to schedule him to see Diane) and so we went to work on a circle alternating between shoulder in and haunches in.

It was pretty cool to feel the bend change under my seat as Ashke moved from one to the other and then back again.

Then we set up a grid of cones to practice through. They were set up in a triangle with the points making a figure 8 in the middle. We did the figure 8 at the canter, trying to ride inside the cones set as the outside line of the triangle. Then we worked the drums (three barrel pattern) on the big triangle, then the little triangle. He does better when I remember to use my legs and heel to keep his hip in. I could feel him falling out when I forgot.

Then we rode this pattern:

We rode this at the trot

I rode this with my left hand, right one tucked against my side once I realized that I was pulling him around, instead of turning him with the outside rein. That and my legs. Ashke did really well with the exercise while I worked on sitting upright (instead of leaning into the turn). At some point in the near future, we will try this at the canter, but not last night.

We finished the lesson by working the double slalom pattern, with the pattern being set smaller and tighter than regulation. We did it at the walk, asking Ashke to keep his hip toward the pole, then at the trot and finally the canter. The second to final canter through, I lost his hip, so we tried it one more time. As I lined him up to canter it the final time, he kicked out at my foot and gave a bit of a buck to let me know he was done. We cantered it anyway, because who wants to reward that behavior, but he did give me a really good try. We ended it there.

I think his behavior was due to being asked to do more than he has in the past. We rode for a full hour and the majority of the ride was at the canter. I'm sure he was tired, since I felt his foot slip as we finished our final turn, but we have to push or he won't get any stronger. I'm so pleased with how much we've progressed in the last six months.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Unexpected Benefits

I wish to discuss a dark secret many women deal with: stress incontinence. Stress incontinence occurs when the abdomen is engaged, or we bounce, sneeze, fall, etc. It is the leaking of urine regardless of how strongly we try to hold our pee. For many women who have had children, stress incontinence gets even worse due to the stretching and damage childbearing and child birth can cause. It is such a wide spread issue that FB routinely advertises pee proof underwear.

Yesterday I had a bout of stomach distress. If it is possible to be allergic to lamb, I believe that I am there. I woke up from a restless sleep to begin my worship at the porcelain goddess, leaving my poor son to suffer cheerios for breakfast. I crawled back into bed to suffer through. I hate the stomach flu and it has been about a year since the last time I was sick. Several times through out the morning, I ended back up in the bathroom.

I final time I was dry retching into the bowl, feeling a rib pop out of place with the violence of my poor body trying to turn itself inside out, and frankly the only bright light in that moment was that I did not also have urine running down the inside of both thighs. That was the case a year ago.

What changed? I started doing dressage.

I credit dressage riding and my lessons for that. Better than keigel exercises. I may look pudgy but underneath is a layer of muscle that I use to engage my core. And engaging my core must have helped the muscles responsible for keeping fluids where they belong.

Sunday, April 2, 2017


So Amanda got swept away with one of her students, to spend the week at the World Cup finals in Omaha, NE, where she watched lots of big, bold dressage horses doing dressage. It was a wonderful Christmas gift for both her and Deb. The photos on FB look like they were having a great time. While they were gone, Ashke and I have been working on homework.

I rode Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. Our rides lasted between 25 and 30 minutes in the arena, except for today, when we did what we needed to in the arena and then wandered around in the field for another 45 minutes, riding circles around J and Tia.

Our rides start with some warm up, which is much less now than it was three weeks ago. Then we do some lateral work, with leg yields and shoulder in (I still don't understand the haunches in so I only do it with Amanda there to tell me when we are doing it correctly). I usually work on the leg yield from F to X to M movement from our test. We do a couple of Turn on the Haunches in each direction, then start our serpentines. Once Ashke is listening to my seat at the walk-trot serpentines, we add in the canter. We usually finish up with some figure eights at the canter with a transition at X through the trot.

Today, we didn't do the turn on the haunches or the figure 8's. Ashke gave me such a nice canter, with easy transitions, in the serpentine, that we through the rest out the window and opted to walk the fields and enjoy the sunshine.

Shoulder In at the Trot

Leg Yields with Teardrop at Trot

Canter Serpentines

In the field afterward, Ashke had a huge, forward, swinging walk. I would guess it was a 4.2 mph walk, he was swinging so big. He was relaxed and engaged and radiated such joy, I have no words. We did walking serpentines from my seat, with a slight twist of my shoulders for the turn. We jumped a pile of ground poles twice and the second time his enthusiasm carried us away at a canter. 

J, who hasn't seen him since Tracy was out, said he was more centered and balanced than she has ever seen him. And that he looked so very happy.