Thursday, October 22, 2015

In Addition to Riding, I Can Also Read!

This entry is going to be about the differences between the Thoroughbred and Saddle Club book series, detailing their strengths and weaknesses both in content and writing.

This is the reason my perception of horse ownership is completely romanticized.

PSYCH. This isn't going to be about that at all. We're adults now, I read real books about real situations, people and horses not magic super horses that win the Dubai World Cup with whiny sixteen year olds aboard (yes, seriously).

I've been collecting all kinds of horse related books since before I could read, but I've distilled my library down to the most interesting and helpful horse books. Today I'm going to talk about three of my favorites.

1. World Class Grooming

I wish I had risen through my riding ranks in Pony Club. I love how anal retentive pony clubbers are. There is a precise method for everything from braiding to stable presentation. I like that you can't just get a nice horse and ride your way to the top, you have to do ALL of the leg work associated with it as well. Am I too old for it? Can we have an adult version of pony club? I would join in a heartbeat.

Since there isn't an adult pony club (that I know of) I have this book. Every review for it is extremely good, because the book is fantastic. It has tons of pictures of beautiful horses that I've seen competing up and down the East coast. One of the grooms works for an eventer, but both writers have worked extensively in hunters, jumpers, and even Arabian breed shows. I love their wide range of experiences in all these different circles; it means they get to cross reference between people who would rarely end up trading information and cull all the rest to give you the very best tips.

My favorite tip: It's hard for me to pick a favorite tip because I loved all of it, but I most liked the part on tails. Banging, pulling, clipping, and braiding. Usually my tail regimen is very careful conditioning and brushing with a slight trim on the edge. But Cat and Emma go the extra mile (of course) and show how they get those beautiful full perfectly manicured tails. I can't wait until I can show off Runkle's tail in our first show. Yes, that's what I fantasize about.

Judge: Halt at X...emplary tail!! 11 for the halt!

My favorite part of the book: The anecdotes, particularly the mistakes they made. Even after decades in the business you can still make mistakes, sometimes with the best of intentions. It's okay. You can recover from it, just like they did.

Buy it here on Amazon. For a measely $28 you can be a groom worthy of Connaught, American Pharoah, or Valegro.

2. Zee German Books: The Principles of Riding and Advanced Techniques of Riding

I'm not joking when I say these bad boys live on my nightstand.

Back when David O'Connor was made chef d'equipe of the US Eventing team, he had a lot of opinions about how things would have to change for the US to come out on top of the podium again. I poured over the clinic notes Eventing Nation posted because as I have a day job in an office I can't bugger off to Aiken in the middle of winter for a week of upper level horse learning. A very astute friend of mine noticed he mentioned two books every eventer has to have in their library. They are The Principles of Riding and Advanced Techniques of Riding, both from the German National Equsetrian Federation. 

How to win, German-ly.

The Germans are masters of their craft, dominating in Europe and here in the US. Not to mention my current idol is Ingrid Klimke. So I poured over these books, and still do especially now that I'm starting on my own with Runkle. I have a pyramid chart hanging in my home office of the six stages of collection, with the German terms. We are currently on losgelassenheit (looseness, reaching for the bit). 

The book starts from the very basic, which my friend thought I would find boring, but I loved it. I want to mount the horse in the German way. Sit in the saddle like a German. If I could teach Runkle to poop like a German horse I would, but sadly there are no instructions for that and I'm not sure it would help our collective marks.

My Favorite Tip: It suggests at least a ten minute walk warm-up before you pick up your horse to do anything. It spends a page saying how important this is not only for the horse, but for the rider. Neither humans nor horses have a switch that you can flip on and off to be in 'riding mode'. You need the ten minutes to slough off a bad day or warm your horses muscles up if he's been stalled when it's really cold.

My favorite part of the book(s): It's hard to say what part is my favorite. I laughed where they cautioned about how difficult mares can be. I loved the ample amounts of diagrams showing how and where the horse can and should bend. There are also plenty of diagrams showing common mistakes with the rider's positions. The book also goes into extreme detail about tack and event preparation. Basically, it's awesome. Or, if you're feeling German, eindrucksvoll

If you also hope to kick ass like a German, you can pick up these books although they are hard to find. Again, Amazon is helpful.

Happy reading, and riding!

Friday, October 16, 2015

What They Taught Me: Gracia (Part 2)

This Part II of my post from two weeks ago, where I am merely a dedicated student and Gracia my professor.


My first lesson with Gracia was a disaster and an enormous success at the same time. The head trainer of the farm was teaching my lesson on her, and I so admired him that he scared the absolute shit out of me. I could not for the life of me remember so much as a course when he was around much less dig my way to a distance. Riding with him was a disaster.

They tossed me up on her back and I'm pretty sure I was shaking heading out to the ring. Gracia seemed totally unperturbed by my death grip on the giant bit in her mouth and she confidently walked into the ring and started warming herself up.

I say warmed herself up, because as I was trotting around the jumps were being put up, and I mean way up. The most I had ever jumped was about three feet and these were noticeably higher than three feet. I was directed to jump a 'small' vertical with a liverpool underneath to warm up. The vertical kept getting higher and higher. Poor Gracia; the higher it got the tighter I held the reins. At one point she was cantering in place because I had about a foot between my hands and her mouth and everything in me was going NO NO AND THRICE NO.

I was pretty cool back then.

My trainer told me to stop and had me walk over. He told me all she had done. She had competed in grand prixs across the US and in Europe. As she got older she was slowly moving down the levels so what we were doing now was nothing to her. Gracia snorted, relieved someone finally clued me in that there was absolutely nothing to worry about.

I was told to "ride like I knew what I was doing."

Margie Engle riding Hidden Creek's Perin, Peter Wylde riding Fein Cera <333

Anne Kursinski riding Eros, 
just a few of my childhood idols.

I went back out and pretended I was one of the riders I idolized at the time; Anne Kursinski or Margie Engle. Peter Wylde or Karen O'Connor. Suddenly we were jumping, really jumping. We did complicated combinations and even the big eight foot water jump! They were littered with mistakes, don't get me wrong, but Gracia bailed me out over every single thing and then some.

And so began our relationship.

Game Face: ON.

It was definitely one-sided at first, and we rarely brought home a ribbon. Three foot six still looked impossibly huge and I was always cantering down to the jump wondering what I was doing, what business I had hanging all over this horse's face or kicking off to the long spot.

I'm not sure when it happened but gradually I stopped being a passenger. I started really riding because I wanted to win, and I knew we could do it if I helped even just a little bit. The last summer I competed her we climbed up the ranks until we were winning every class we entered. It was an incredible feeling, to be able to win that much. Mostly because I felt like I was making it possible for us. Gracia could only get me so far alone; eventually I had to help.

Unfortunately after just a year I had to say goodbye to her, and go off to college. But I wasn't that sad. She had given me so much, and now she was going to help another nervous rider. Unbelievably, she had more to give. That horse has the purest heart and most uncomplicated, straightforward mind. She knew her job, and knew it damn well.

So thank you, Gracia. For teaching me to be brave and competitive. Thanks for letting me get a blue ribbon more than a few times, and being patient until then. Thank you for turning the passion of a little kid into something real.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Baby's First Cross Country Schooling

My brain is such a pile of mush right now that I almost started writing the definition of homoscedasticity instead of about  my horse.

 When you make a scatterplot and the points... 
You know what? Nevermind.

I'm in that period of my year where I'm furtively studying for an exam. I mean, from July to August I'm studying but I wouldn't call it furtive. I have a LOT of flashcards. I have four binders of notes and six practice exams that I'm going to start taking ... soon. I get home from work so late that by the time I'm finally out of my work clothes I just fall straight into bed.

The only escape from this work-sleep-study cycle I have is Runkle. Every time I see him it's like I finally rest. Even when I'm asleep I dream about the problems and the time and the clicking of calculator buttons.

But when I'm at the barn or riding I am completely consumed by it to the exclusion of all else. I'm thinking about our steering, or what new cut he has, or my position. I go on hacks and even if it's cold and windy and miserable out I have a huge smile on my face because at least I'm not inside with a book in front of me.

As a self declared Professional Unprofessional Rider, I have to say the best thing to do when your brain is liquified is to take your baby horse cross country schooling for the first time. Especially when there's a hurricane off shore and the doppler looks something like this:

But at least the footing will be good!!!

I wasn't sure what to expect from our first school. Initially I had this idea that we'd be cantering around the tiniest beginner novice jumps. That got downgraded to elementary jumps. Which got downgraded to just jump one jump. By the time I got on I decided to go with, I hope I stayed on.

And all that makes it sound like he was an out of control wild animal, which he wasn't. But he is a four year old who raced just a few months ago and can't read a job description and go, "Oh cool, this is my new occupation and I am cognizant enough to throw out everything I used to know." I have to teach him we're not going to race, ever again, and what we're going to do now is way more fun and he's actually naturally really talented at it so it's all going to be okay!

At the start we had a minimal loss of steering but my brakes seemed fine. After demonstrating amazing moonwalking abilities (he wanted to head back to the trailer but I wouldn't let him turn) and having a piss (twice!) I finally walked him over a jump and after that he calmed down. We walked and trotted a few more of the tiny logs, and then graduated to the little tiny bank. He jumped up it amazingly. When we trotted down it he tried to launch into orbit which should have been terrifying but I won't lie, it was a pretty cool feeling. We both need to work on the enthusiasm a little.

I almost missed my end goal anyway, after all that, at the very last jump. I trotted him to the WORLD'S TINIEST BENCH.

I wish I had something to scale this. Like a chihuahua.

I'm serious. That was the fence that almost did me in. It's not even up to my knee.  He likes to get deep to the jump, which he did, but then instead of popping over it like normal he looked at it. I think he was trying to figure out why we would bother. Of course I jumped up his neck like a jackass and when he put his head down to look I had to quickly backtrack to keep myself from rolling off.

I gave my trainer a good laugh and managed to stay in the tack so all's well that ends well. And don't worry, I'm going to save my epic falls for when they're really worth it, like this week in my lesson when I tried to nose dive at trot poles.