Saturday, April 30, 2011

Clinic with Conrad Schumacher April 2011

I am lucky to get to ride with such a wonderful instructor 2 to 3 times a year. So even though none of my horses were able to go, I got to borrow Darby from Susan Peacocks barn. He has been schooling I-1 and was looking for that brilliance factor Conrad brings to all the horses he teaches.

The trip to Clovis was uneventful and upon arrival the horses settled right in to their dinner. My student Cindy generously lent us her kitchen to make dinner. One barn check later and some sleep and we were back at the barn for the first ride of the day at 8am.

Every lesson is a different set of exercises. I take copious notes on the patterns and Conrad's comments. I can always use the same exercises for my horses at home, or modify them to be more or less difficult. My lesson is great. We use multiple combinations of lateral movements to get control of Darby's neck and increase his throughness. Using shoulderfore with flexion and counter flexion at the canter we free up his shoulder and get his neck feeling like butter in my hands. By the end of day one my brain is so full of new and old ideas I fall immediately to sleep as my head hits the pillow.

On the second day lunch is not ready on time so I end up riding 3 hours early. I am thrilled to be riding before lunch and happy I don't have to wait to ride till 3. So Rachel helps me get Darby tacked and ready. Susie reminds me how to count my tempi changes since yesterday my brain completely forgot it knew how to do that. I warm up and then Conrad has me ride a line of 4's that is so good, we immediately move on to another exercise. Part of me is elated the line was so good and another says "Can't I just do it one more time?". I take a breath and concentrate on the new exercise. Half-steps and pirouettes are the plan for today. We make good progress although it is clear our school canter needs a bit of work. By the end we have a medium trot that feels like we are flying and his neck feels like it is adjustable to the millimeter. I finish my ride feeling like I am on top of the world.

The final day of our trip dawns early as we check out and hit up the obligatory Starbucks before making it to the barn for Susie to start her ride at 7:15am. It is cold and a little windy but all the rides go well. It is hard to believe I can still absorb anything after 2 days of sponging up information. My ride is great. We work more complex lateral work at the trot and canter. Using the half-steps to make him quick behind and then working on school canter to improve the pirouettes continued to make Darby elastic and expressive in his movement. As I finish my ride and walk out of the arena, I thank Conrad and realize why I love clinics so much. That feeling of accomplishment, satisfaction and pride in a truly productive and good ride is why I am a horse trainer.

Check out video clips of my rides with Conrad at

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

El Sueno Dressage Show April 17th 2011

Sunday Janet and Figaro competed in their second show together. He came out of the trailer curious but not scared. I lunged him for awhile getting all the 'steam out of the pot'. The Janet hopped on and we headed for the warm up. We had left plenty of time for them to walk around the warm up so they could both relax.

It is always hard to go from riding completely alone in an arena to a warm-up arena. Trying not to get in anyone's way will leave you zig-zaging the arena and never get your warm up done. So I reminded Janet to pass left shoulder to left shoulder, stay to the inside if she was walking, and apart from that own the figure she needed to ride. As we got down to work he started being a little upity but she rode him through it beautifully.

Their first test went well, after the first halt Figaro decided to rein back instead of proceed at the trot. Janet handled it with calm composure and they were back on track in no time. The rest of the test was wonderfully smooth, some of the circles a little large as Figaro tried to fade through the outside rein but Janet recovered nicely. They won their class with a 65%.

Their second test was Introductory C, which has about 3/4 of a canter circle in each direction. The warm up was perfect and their excitement showed as they started their warm up around the arena. Then just before the bell rang, Figaro pitched a fit, going backwards and not listening. Janet simply took a deep breath waited for him to stop moving and then sent him forward again. The entrance was perfect, and as she went to move off from the halt he started going backwards and sideways. Again with perfect calm Janet got him going forward again. The rest of the test was excellent. The canter was calm and the transitions were smooth. They won this class too, again with a 65%.

We are all looking forward to their next show together.

Congratulations Janet and Figaro!!!!!!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Festival of the Horse

4am is still dark outside, and on a Sunday most rational people are sleeping. But it's a show day and I am wide awake several minutes before the alarm goes off. I put on my sparkling white outfit, makeup and shlack my hair down with more hairspray than one person should ever use. Then I am out the door and driving down deserted streets to the barn.

I wake the horses from their sleep as I walk down the barn aisle and have to drag Figaro out of his stall to be braided. I think he is still asleep. I watch the sun rise out of the mountains as I finish braiding his forelock. Janet shows up with coffee and breakfast, I eat while her husband Richard brings the trailer around. Then everyone is in the trailer and we are headed for LAEC. I review my tests and notes about my warm up as we drive. This will be my first show on Figaro this year, and I am stoked. In no time at all we have arrived, I am mounted and we are headed for the warm up.

He is tense but we start working through our exercises and he begins to concentrate. A scratch ahead of me sends us into the Equidome early. I can feel his tension come back as we walk down the hill into the arena. So I repeat the exercises we have already done to get his focus back, it works wonderfully and then it's our time and we trot into the arena.

The test starts well, he is tense but listening. Then comes the canter, it starts well and then he doesn't want to step under my outside seat bone. So instead he breaks and backs off my leg. I breath sit down deep and tap him with my leg till we are back on track. The rest of the test switches between good moments and extrema disobedience. We finish strong and I get a comment about the test being tactfully ridden. Back to the warm up to work out some kinks and then a water and snack break before my next test.

The second warm up goes even better, and I realize quickly I don't need as much time as I planned. Luckily there are some more scratches and we can go early. As soon as the person before us halts, we are ready. This test is much better, not one disobedient moment, but he is tired. Everything is very accurate and smooth. He just doesn't have enough energy to really push for the lengthenings or to drive his poll up or open his throat latch. We improve over our first score by almost 10% points and I am thrilled.

Showing a young horse is not always easy but I couldn't be more please with how he focused in the second test. There is a lot from this show that will affect future warm ups, but I look at every day as a chance to learn something and improve for the next time out. I can't wait for our next show.

A big THANK YOU to Janet and Richard Kurtosik for being such wonderful clients and so supportive. :) Couldn't have done it without you guys.

Rain, lessons and learning.

Usually by the end of March Los Angeles has seen the last of winter rain. So when I signed up for a show the first weekend in April the last thing on my mind was what the alternative plan would be if it rained. Hansen Dam does not have a covered arena and when it rains all the covered arenas in the area are packed. So when they forcasted a week of rain just before my show we had to be creative. I decided we should take a trip to Eastvale Equestrian Center about an hour and a half drive to ride with my mentor Susan Peacock. Janet, the horses owner, was excited about using her new truck and trailer and taking her young horse on some outings. So we packed up our things and headed to Eastvale.

The trip was easy and before long I was walking Figaro around the covered arena. Since he is only 5 anytime we go somewhere new there is a bit of anxiety. Susan coached me through several exercises to help Figaro focus and overcome his anxiety. When he started to anticipate she would change the exercise so that we were working on the same idea but on a different pattern. By the end of the lesson he was calm and relaxed. I was thrilled, in less than 45 minutes Susan had helped me transform a ball of stress into a wonderful ride. Plus adding several new tools to my tool box.

I discussed it with Janet and we decided to bring him back for a longer stay at the end of the week. Thursday morning we showed up with all Figaro's gear and feed and settled in for a few days of focused training. At the beginning of each ride it took a few minutes to get him focused and ready to work but each day we got farther along in our expectations. By Saturday I had a long list of exercises to help him focus and a great plan for our up coming show.

Even as a professional having lessons is important to keep you on track, and really in dressage we never stop learning. Videos of my lessons on Figaro are posted here:

Hope they can help you :)