Thursday, December 31, 2009

Trip to TEXAS!!

I just got back from a great trip to Texas, where I went on a horse-buying trip with a client. It was only a couple of days, but the weather actually was decent, the horses were quite nice, and we had a great time being entertained by the Texas "culture"!
Ok, so imagine nonchalantly walking into a Wal-Mart to find some beer, only to be morally shunned by the checker who piously declares, "we don't sell THAT here!" I swear, she even crossed herself. Evidently, we were in a "dry county". This is a concept with which I was unfamiliar, until that fateful day in Texas. They don't serve beer, but they serve their morality straight up! And these are the same crazies that are totally against gun control. Can't buy a beer at Wal-Mart, but you can get an AK-47!
My favorite was the Texas draaaawwwwwlll...some of those people actually made me anxious, as if I would forget how their sentence began by the time they were finished with it! It is really difficult to hold a conversation with someone when you are forgetting how their sentences began. I think my anxiety might have also resulted from them talking SOOOO slow, that I just felt really fast and anxious talking at a normal speed. Kind of like driving a car at 80 mph, thinking you're going really fast, then being passed by some BMW going 100+, and then thinking you're really slow!
On the plus side, I have perfected my Texas accent. You know, it is really difficult not to talk with a Texas drawl down there. I swear, anything you say is more entertaining when you use the accent. Try it, it's a fun game! (Probably better with a few beers, but you'd have to be in the right county for that.)
The horses were at Garner Creek Farm, located in the Middle of Nowhere, Texas, (ha, I mean Ranger). It is a fairly large Hanoverian breeding operation, and a very good one at that. Sharon Garner stands the stallion Bonheur (who is from Brentano II) and has quite a few very nice imported horses and horses she has bred herself. It was great to see such a nice operation, with beautiful barns and friendly (and knowledgable) people. Even if it was in Nowheresville.
We flew back today, on New Year's Eve. Nothing like spending the holiday rushing from airplane to airplane. We even got to finalize the day with a bomb scare at the Boise airport, which kept my client from her checked luggage. We tried to get around the cops, but they were ready for us. Me, I dun' got outta dodge and took the truck home!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

New Painting

When I lived in Portland, I attended the Pacific Northwest College of Art for a year or so and earned credit towards a certificate in painting. I haven't been painting much lately as I have been very busy with the horses. Last Sunday I got the urge to paint, and I did this still life (normally I do landscapes) in oil.
I really like the vertical orientation here, I think it really emphasizes the strong vertical lines of the composition. The rounded forms at the bottom, oriented in a more horizontal fashion, work really well against the strong vertical lines, keeping them from totally dominating the painting. I don't normally use a lot of white space, which I did in this painting, but I think it helps the forms stand out and provides a visual relief from the highly saturated color.

I rarely use black in a painting, and this one is no exception. The darks are a combination of ultramarine blue (my favorite "black") and/or one of the darker earth tones (raw sienna, burnt sienna, or burnt umber). I find it makes the darks much more vibrant.

I don't think the painting is entirely done yet, could use some more color depth (especially on the rounded forms and yellow areas). But a pretty good start!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

20 degrees actually feels warm!

All week has been unbelievably cold around here, Tuesday through Thursday highs were around 16, lows subzero. Ick! I never thought 20 degrees would actually feel warm.
I read a very thought-provoking post on the 'net a few days ago, and decided to re-post my response here. The original post, by a veterinarian/dressage rider, brought up some interesting points about how riders' horses reflect their own balance issues and speculated how these rider induced problems can lead to long-term soundness problems in the horse. The original post specifically "picked on" dressage riders as being more guilty of creating a host of soundness and physical problems in their horses, as opposed to other disciplines (specifically eventing).
Here is my response:

When I was 15 or so, my half-Arab came up a little lame behind (right hind). We did diagnostic work (x-rays) and found mild arthritis. We also had a massage therapist/chiropractor come out and work on him. This guy was amazing, he worked on the horse for a bit, then proceeded to tell me exactly how I was sitting, which leg would be forward, how my hips were twisted, etc. And he was exactly right. He understood rider biomechanics better than most instructors.
This brought up a huge moral dilemma, which your post so beautifully can dressage, which is supposed to make the horse's more balanced, stronger, more even, actually create lameness or possibly lead to breakdown? How can one do dressage knowing this?
My resolution is to acknowledge this danger, and to pay attention to dressage specifically as a therapeutic means. Good riding should make the horses go better, more balanced, more sound. That means structuring your program accordingly and looking to yourself for chronic imbalances. But this is become this rider requires more time and energy than most people can commit (most only ride one horse a day, if that). Many people also want to look outside themselves for lameness issues, they don't deal with it as a training issue (and by training, I mean a fundamental balance problem with horse/rider). You can pour as much money as you like into your chiropractor or massage therapist or whomever, but if your way of riding is creating the problem, it will ultimately get you nowhere.
To this day I still have problems getting my horses to use their right hind leg property, which tends to overload the left shoulder. I still sit slightly crooked (too heavy on the left). Guess what, even good riders aren't perfect, and even slight imperfections will show up in the horse's way of going. Similarly, I can sit on any horse and feel some degree of unevenness/unlevelness. They aren't perfectly ambidextrous either. The job of training is to improve on this.
I agree 100% that many dressage horses are overweight and underworked. I tend to like mine on the lighter side (by dressage horse standards). I have had this discussion with several clients (your horse is obese), I have absolutely NO idea how anyone can expect an athlete to be overweight and perform to their optimum. Unfortunately most clients don't listen until they have a horse founder. It takes a vet to convince them.
I have also started incorporating more outdoor riding in my program (we have several outdoor arenas and a cross country course here, plus it doesn't rain as much here). Also some light jumping/cavaletti work. I think these are good ways to build strength and work different muscle groups. I also think the horses balance themselves better outdoors (not as many tight turns as in an indoor). Also my dressage program is very structured in the sense that I don't go out and work the same way every day. I have hard days (more collection, perhaps), then more forward/longer riding, some days only walking with lateral work (or a hack), etc. Sometimes the lateral work emphasizes engagement, sometimes looseness. It depends on what I think the horse needs. But even in a "light" ride the horse is still balanced. My version of a "light" ride is still harder than what most people think.
Furthermore, I think some people confuse what is comfortable for them, with what is best for their horse. Sure, Dobbin is probably "happier" cruising around on the forehand forever and argues whenever he is asked to use his hindend, but ultimately it will break down his front legs if continued forever. So the rider will have to go out of their comfort zone. That doesn't mean drill engagement every day of the week!
I think the moral dilemma I described earlier is brought into full relief in the rollkur discussion. Especially since you have the upper echelon riders doing, what looks to many people, as something abusive or physically destructive to their horses. How can this be compatible with the basic principles of dressage? But you're right, the rollkur discussion is really a small portion of the larger moral problem that faces every dressage rider.

Hope you find this issue as thought-provoking as I do!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Temperature starts dropping!

Brrr...cold training this week. It was actually hitting the low 40s early in the week, but started to get colder and colder as the week progressed, down to teens at night and low 30s during the day. Winter is coming!
On the plus side, all the horses were fantastic this week. My FEI horse "Monkey" (aka Escorial) is heavily into the piaffe-passage program and fussing with his one-time changes in preparation for Intermediare II next year (Monk is Westfalian, Ehrentusch/Fruehlingsrausch). Lots of exciting times being chased with a lunge whip, getting lazy Monk to pick his hind legs up. :)
My Mom's Holsteiner gelding Majek (aka Charismatique) will hopefully be showing Third level next year (he is Camiros/Meisterwerk/Landgraf). He picked up on the flying changes extremely quickly, and has absolutely no problem with them. Overall I've been working on improving his suppleness in the back and engagement. I often start by riding him very long and deep in the trot work to get the back working, then through increasingly engagement behind (lots of transitions), let him bring himself up. The canter can 't be ridden quite so deep as he gets croup high very easily.
I have a 3 year old Pablo/Idocus colt in training, who has been doing fantastic. He's been undersaddle for maybe a month, so this week I took him outside and rode him outdoors. This is a very important part of baby to behave in multiple environments! Fortunately he is really great, so absolutely no problems. I love the Pablo babies, I started and showed another gelding earlier this year (Pablo/Winnetou) who is also fantastic.
Another training horse, a hanoverian mare by Londonderry, has been steadily improving. She came to me to resolve a difficult warm-up arena issue...around the barn we say she is very antisocial. :) Anytime another horse gets near her (and it actually varies depending on the angle and speed at which they approach her) she tries to wheel around and run the other way. She is a well-trained third level dressage horse, but has some of her own ideas. In the beginning, I had to really stay on her case to keep her going, now she is much more ridable. I can at least deal with it. But I'm trying to get it even more manageable, and I think I need to get her more uphill and securely in front of the leg in general for that to happen.
Finally, I also have a 4 year old German Oldenburg gelding by Harvard (Hohenstein)/Grusus in training that I really love. He is super sweet and easy going, but also a super nice mover and well balanced. He's been working on improving the basic gaits, ground cover and uphill feeling, hopefully for 1st level next year. He is super easy in his temperament, can be ridden outside and with other horses with no problem. He's great. :)
My 7 year old Dutch gelding Victor (Welt Hit II/Purioso) is unfortunately on layup due to a quarter crack in his foot. It is a long involved saga, which has been going on for several years, before I finally decided to lay him up for a while. It is unfortunate, as he is a fantastic talent and really likes having a job. He is bored and irritable at Mom's house, but hopefully I can get that crack grown out and put him back to work next fall. Kind of a bummer, but better than dealing with the constant stuggle of keeping his foot patched together.
As for my students, they have all been suffering by riding without stirrups for extended periods of time. A month ago, I watched Megan (Jordan) teach a jumping lesson, where she took away her students' stirrups and made them jump athletic, scopey jumpers through 3 foot grids. OMG! Subsequently, I have no patience now for dressage riders whining about doing a little sitting trot without stirrups. :) Plus its good for them.
That's it for now, I could write loads more but that's probably good.