Roz Kinstler Clinic

I participated in the Roz Kinstler clinic today.  My brain is overloaded! Next time I’m bringing a note book and writing this stuff down. Just listening to Roz teach the other riders was fantastic.The back story on Ava and my start to the day: Ava refused to load. Tried everything. Last November Ava was walking onto the trailer without batting an eyelash. Not today. Today, she didn’t want to. My ride time was at 9:00 am, and I’m almost an hour away from where the clinic was at. At 8:39, Ava finally loaded. I was very lucky that my trainer offered to switch ride times with me so that I could still participate in the clinic today (Thank you so much, Bern!).

The Ride:
It started off getting Ava convinced that I could hold the right rein and move her shoulders over when going right. Roz had a great tip/tool of raising the inside hand about 2-3 inches higher than the left hand and then basically holding it in place. Kind of a “I am here, you deal with it” hold. Normally if you try that kind of hold on Ava, she tells you flat out that she’s just not going to tolerate it. But (and I asked Roz why it worked), it appears that raising the hand doesn’t feel as constrictive to the horse, and the horse will more easily accept the holding without fighting it. While doing this though, I had to bump her shoulders over in the corners while keeping the nose ‘peaked’ to the right. I especially had to prepare for the corners, and anticipate the problem and correct it before Ava fell in and lost her balance. So it took a lot more thinking ahead and planning each and every corner, circle, everything. I had to prepare before the corner, and ask for bend with the inside rein while squeezing with the inside leg (at the same time).

To the left, I found out that I lose her shoulders because I bring the outside rein over the shoulders. I actually had to hold my right rein quite far out to the right (felt weird) in order to not cross the withers while doing a ten meter circle. However, by doing this it allowed me to actually use the right rein to half-halt and control the outside shoulder. The other really difficult problem I was having was cooperation between the reins. Squeeze left – give right, squeeze right – don’t pull with the left. and then sometimes squeeze both reins to slow the front end. I could feel it when I was riding, but I am definitely not explaining it well. I’ll play around with it more this week and try to find a better way to describe how it works and why.

After getting Ava more even between the aids, we played with shoulder in for a bit. These were the easiest, smoothest, shoulder-in’s I’ve ever ridden. It was like water flowing. Felt amazing. We would do a Volte (haha, that made me feel so upper crust when she called it that) into a 10 meter circle, using the circle to develop good bend in the horse. Keeping the horse’s nose pointed in the direction you wanted her to go in, then slide into the shoulder-in.

Roz had to throw in some harder stuff (I guess we did pretty darn good up to this point), and she asked me to ride a shoulder in, half-pass to the quarter line, then shoulder-in down the quarter line. To be honest, I frazzled out a bit here. So the first attempt was shoulder-in to a diagnol trot across the arena. HA. Second time, and we nailed it. That was awesome! That was the first time I’ve ridden a half-pass and it just flowed. I always try to force things too much, and the fact is, it’s all about setting the horse up so that they CAN do the movement.

Our canter work was not as wonderful as I would have liked it to be. Ava has a great canter, but she’s a spaz about it. I swear that horse thinks she’s going to slip and fall at any moment in the canter. She gets so tense, and then rushes, and… ugh. It’s gotten a lot better over the past year, but definitely a week area. During the canter, Roz wanted to see more engagement from the horse so she wanted to see a slower canter with good rhythm (the rhythm is very important). We were able to do that, but while executing our 10 meter canter circles, Ava kept quitting on me. Roz suggested that I bring her right back to a walk and then immediately canter off again instead of tapping her with the whip to keep her going. The idea being that Ava tends to rush, and instead we want her to think engaged. Bringing her back to the walk helps get that idea across better. Ava felt it’d be fun to pull me from the saddle during our downward transition (embarrassing) and Roz helped me with that. As a result, our upward transition was more from behind then it had been, and we had a much better quality canter.

Overall the clinic was fantastic. The time flew by, and although I was exhausted (it’s hard to sit Ava’s trot) it was a ton of fun!

Other tidbits from the clinic… I’m paraphrasing:

* Push the horse into the contact, but not past it. – I found this one enlightening because I’ve tried to push Ava into the contact, and ended up without any contact before. Roz went on to explain that there’s a fine line where you can squeeze your horse up into the contact, but past that and the horse will run through the bit. I think the underlying idea is that you can rush the horse too strongly forward, the horse loses balance, and can no longer carry himeslf. So in order to balance, the horse will drop the contact (since he can no longer use his back and hind end to power off of)

* put the nose where the horse is going – ironically, this seems so low level, but even the Second/Third level riders had issues with this. I did learn that unless the nose points where you want the horse to go, then the outside rein to steer with doesn’t work. For instance, I was trotting a ten meter circle, and Ava was aimed straight down the center line. I half-halted the outside rein (thinking to bring the shoulders over) and instead of turning we went straight. For Ava, Roz suggested I place the nose in the direction of travel, and then use the outside rein to straighten her neck (on the long side). That caused Ava to place more weight evenly on the front to legs instead of diving off to the right.

A few of the riders were having problems with their horses trying to pull their arms out. One of the things Roz said (for that rider) was to lock her elbows to her hips while performing the exercise. That way when the horse yanked the rider used her position to solidify her arms without pulling back. The horse tried yanking about 3 times, realized the contact wasn’t going away, and quit. It was really neat to watch.

Oh, and she had one rider ride a medium trot across the diagnol straight into a half-pass at X, and OMG that was the most awesome half-pass I’ve ever seen in real life. What a difference in quality it made.

There were a ton more, but I’m utterly exhausted and I’m going to bed.  I’ll post video soon.

Lilo Fore Clinic – Update

Quick update… Today was the deadline to apply for the Lilo Fore Clinic.

After many, many obstacles, I shot off an email (application attached) to the organizer with a link to a crappy video. And let me tell ya, it is CRAPPY. I have jeans on. In my defense, I swear, I tried a half dozen times to capture us on video in our best attire and neatly braided with utterly no luck. So screw it. This is what I’ve got with the resources I have available.

About an hour after emailing the organizer, she emailed back saying that the app looked good and she’ll be sending it to the selection committee for review (next week since it’s Friday today).

Frankly, I didnt expect to hear anything back. Or if I did, it’d just be the word’s “hahaha, you hick!”

Anyway, application is in, no more getting angry about failed video attempts, and the best part… If I don’t get selected I can blame it on the jeans and tank top and not my piss poor riding skills. I love shifting blame. 😉 jk.

I must be mistaken…

I just love when people say stupid things. It makes for a good chuckle. Well, after I stop steaming, and can cool off, THEN it’s funny.

Yesterday, a new dressage rider brought her horse to the barn. I’m not very good with general chit chat, so at an awkward pause I filled it with a “So, who do you train with?”. We’d been getting along fine up ’til this point, with me making the obligatory ‘oooohhh’s’ and ‘aaaaahhh’s’ over her horse (he was very cute).

Her response… “I ride with Blah Blah in Omgville.” She stared at me for what seemed like an awful long time while I did the “I’m thinking” look (when in actuality I had no clue who she was talking about). I finally shrug and admit I know nothing about the trainer. I can tell she’s offended by this. As though the mention of the name should’ve caused me to wet myself with envy and fear. I insisted it was my fault, since I really haven’t been out in the dressage circle very much the past 20 years. Well, I guess that was enough incentive for her to offer up her strong opinions on the matter at hand. Not only was she adamant that her trainer was the most superior trainer, but that no other trainer in the entire state is worth a crap. She mentioned that twice… no other trainer in the entire state was any good (except her’s).

She was even so generous as to offer to have her trainer come give me lessons (isn’t that sweet ).

I stared at her, blank faced for a while, mulling over the consequences of punching her in the nose. She yammered on for a while, but I missed most of what she said since I’d tuned her out and was giving her the “you’re out of your mind” look. (side note: guess that look needs work, ’cause she never picked up on it.) Finally I decided too many people were watching to get away with punching her lights out, I gave Ava one last pat, and left.

Now, I know we all think our trainer is the absolute best (if you don’t then you may need a different trainer). I utterly adore my trainer. She’s talented, extremely knowledgeable, smart, funny, explains things in a way that is understandable, and knows when to encourage or when to slap you upside the head. She’s fantastic. But I firmly believe that we can learn something from everyone, and that just because one trainer works for you, he/she may not work for someone else. Plus, I can name two other trainers/clinicians that I have ridden with who are definitely worth their weight in gold.

Moral of story: don’t insult someone’s trainer or you could end up with a split lip (you were so close lady!).

Day 3 of "Connection"

This should be so easy, and I’m totally not getting it. We went from perfectly (for us) balanced, soft, and engaged to… to… Yuck. Just Yuck. I’m seriously thinking about throwing in my helmet. It’s so discouraging when you just can’t fix the problem. I know there’s a problem, I’m pretty sure I know what the problem is, but nothing I try fixes the problem. So then Ava hangs on that right rein, and twists her body so that it’s impossible for her to work correctly. Then I get frustrated, and upset, and for some reason I think if I just try harder that that will magically fix it. HA (that was a sarcastic Ha).

I feel like I’ll never get this.  *sigh*

Day 2 of "Connection"

It’s not really day two, but I’ve been busy, so I’ll just mark these in chronological order.

What I’ve learned in a week of working on a straighter horse that’s using her back better, is this… it’s all incremental levels of straightness, connection, and engagement. I think for some reason I’ve always had the idea that connection was either there, or not there. I mean, I get that connection can be better, or worse, depending on the day and other factors, but I think I was holding onto a believe that for the most part connection was just there. But it’s more complicated than that. And my belief about connection was hampered by the idea that connection has to do with the bit and the horse’s mouth.

From what I’m learning, it has very little to do with the mouth, and so much more to do with having the horse directly between the knee’s and powering off both sides evenly. This is my tentative theory on the whole thing (take it for what it’s worth. ha)… If your focus (not eye’s, just focus) is aimed toward the horse’s withers and keeping those directly in front of your hips, then your horse can push through with more energy and you can “contain” it easier with smaller adjustments through the reins.

Easier said than done.

I’m still not quite ‘getting’ the bigger picture, because I can’t fix the issues that occur between lessons. But I feel like we’re in one of those low points where a big “Ah Ha” will hit eventually. It’ll just take some time. Until then… it’s frustrating when you know what it should feel like and you’re not quite able to keep that feeling going as well as you’d like to.

And thank goodness for very patient, and knowledgeable trainers (Thank you, Bern!).

Day 1 of "Connection"

If the horse doesn’t meet the hand consistently, then I have a tendency to pull back. How do I not pull back? I’m supposed to drive the horse forward into contact, but the horse doesn’t always agree with that. I shorten the reins to get back to a point where there is consistent contact and drive forward. But now the horse’s neck is an inch long.

And at this point I’m screwed.

Return to forward hands…. I place my hands back in the box and press the horse forward with my calves. Horse meets the contact so I give a little with my fingers and release the leg pressure. Horse then leans solidly on the bit. I press horse forward again, head and neck come up and back, I shorten my reins (since there is now a big loop in them). Horse’s neck is an inch long… Again.

What I learned today is that it’s all in the release. And, I’m not doing it right. I’m like 2 seconds too slow every time.

I also learned that screwing it up is easy, fixing it is not.

Update on Video

I know you’re all dying to hear how video taping went. Well… It didn’t.

I get to the barn and apparently every one, and half their family, decided that tonight was the night to ride. I haven’t seen most of these people in over a week.

I tell myself it’s okay. Maybe they’ll clear out before the lesson. The lesson I put on the board. The one in big block letters.

So I pull out all of Ava’s gear, and have to use the bathroom. Run up to the house, come back and every cross tie is full. I stand there a minute, but no one seems to be in much of a hurry to move. I grab Ava’s stuff again and haul it all down to her stall to start getting Ava tacked up.

Then the text message comes through. Our second vehicle, my hubby’s truck, is spewing gas like a fire hose on full volume. Husband apologizes, saying he can’t make it to video tape tonight.

I finally get Ava tacked up and braided, and lead her out to the arena. At this point I notice the horse hand galloping around on the lunge line. Going, and going, and going…. I finally ask her if I can sneak past to use the mounting block. The girl was very nice and decreased the size of the circle, but to be honest… Ava loves kicking other mares. It is her passion in life to kick the crap out of other female horses. She gets this gleeful little look in her eye and starts shifting her hindquarters to line up a direct shot on the mare coming back around on the lunge. I whack her. Ava gives me a snotty look and keeps walking while the other mare canters safely passed us on the lunge.

I finally mount, and Ava and I are ready!!

We start our lesson, and of course I have no one to video tape, the ring is full of horse’s going every direction, and people in the aisle are trying to carry on conversations with me. I ignore them, but then that nagging guilt for being rude starts eating away at my intestines. Every time I veer off the 20 meet circle I nearly have a head on collision with another horse. Oh, and the radio and conversations were making it hard to hear Bern, even up close.

However, I am very happy I had a lesson today. Ava was squirrelly, and I utterly could not fix it. It was like trying to squeeze water. Squished out her left shoulder, now her right, oops, half left and half right with a corkscrew in the middle. Aaaaarrrrgggghhh! 🙂 It’s all okay now. Bern fixed us up, and gave us good direction on keeping Ava straight for our next ride. Thank goodness for wonderful trainers!

But still…. No video. 😦 Guess I now have time to slip into Target for a nice looking, warm, shirt to wear for my video (Thanks for the tip, Speedy!).

No Thermal Wearin’ RedNecks need Apply

My application for the Lilo Fore clinic has to be in the mail this week and I don’t have a video yet. That isn’t for lack of trying, but every time I plan on video taping, it down pours the night before. So these are my choices: take video in the dust bowl, postage stamp, arena and hope for the pity vote; or slog through knee high footing and pray I don’t seriously damage my horses tendons (not a risk I’m willing to take).

Tonight, my trainer is coming to help me finesse a great ride out of my horse, and my husband is coming to man the video camera. And….. it’s snowing. In April.

Why does this matter, you ask? Well, I don’t have much in the way of asthetically pleasing riding attire that isn’t designated as show wear. So, I figured I’d wear a polo shirt for my video. The, uh, “it’s 70 degree’s in the office and I’m freezing” short-sleeve polo shirt.  In my infinite wisedom, I decided to ask my sweet hubby to bring along a thermal shirt that I can wear under the polo shirt. His response, “Oh, that’s going to go well. You might as well go for the redneck vote too.”


Okay, fine. To be honest, the thermal shirt I own has some stains on it. There’s some grease, a bit of pine tar, and that unidentifiable stain on the lower sleeve. But… It’s COLD out there. Like 30 some degree’s out type of cold. So I’m weighing out the pro’s and con’s of this thermal shirt showing in the video I send in.

The “pro’s” include warmth and rider comfort, but we all know how much judges or critics give a crap about that (i.e. Not much).

The “con’s”… Imagine sitting around with a bunch of die hard dressage riders whose sole purpose is to choose the best horse/rider combinations out of hundreds sent in. You see clean, well-presented, horse after horse. When suddenly, this short, tubby woman (wearing a stained up thermal) starts riding in a postage stamp sized arena, while billowing dust floats through the air, until finally obscuring the camera so badly that the screen goes brown.


Sometimes you just gotta know when to quit. And I think this is the “know when to quit” point in time. You can only take a dream so far without the proper equipment. Apparently, proper equipment are asthetically pleasing warm weather shirts.

Half of me say’s “Screw you unseen people who judge me based solely on my attire”.

The other half thinks, “Yeah, I know. But I’d rather ride than shop. Unless…. it’s horse tack, then I’ll ride, then shop.”


I was in the Marines for 4 years. While I was in, I achieved “Guide” in bootcamp (like platoon leader, except you have no power and you suffer the wraith of the Drill Instructors if anyone else screwed up).  I was Guide for nearly the entire last half of bootcamp. If you graduate as Guide, you get a promotion and all kinds of accolades for being the best of the best. I was || <- this close.

You know what happened? I turned left, instead of right, when change of direction was called. I blew it. Months of being quarter decked for every single perceived infraction another Marine did, fire watch every other night for a straight month, AND I gave away every reward offered to me to the Marines in my platoon. That phone call home I earned half way through, where I could’ve heard my parents voices again? I gave it to the girl who missed her daughter so much that she cried herself to sleep every night. I had to be tougher, stronger, and faster then every other Marine there to keep the title of Guide. And I blew it because I got frazzled.

What does any of that have to do with horses…. The circumstances are different, but the underlying concept is the same. Success is in the details. You can ride every day, take lessons from the greatest trainer ever alive, buy all the best tack and attire, but if you lose your focus (especially as you get closer to your goal), then all that hard work and sacrifice is for nothing. The closer you get to your goal, the more crucial it is to pay attention to your surroundings and keep yourself focused on the task at hand.

I’m only saying this because I need a reminder about this sometimes. With barn drama, work stresses, financial issues, and other boarders wanting to talk when I need to ride…. It’s too easy to get distracted. And there is nothing worse, after losing something you wanted, then to look back and think “I should’ve done [xxx]”.

On a side note… I find it highly ironic that I was ‘fired’ as Guide for not following a directional change, and have yet to ride a dressage test without going off course (with a caller).  Guess I’m consistent.  😉

March Training

March is over, so I thought I would do a recap of our improvements and stumbling blocks.

Canter Transitions:
We’re still having issues with our canter departs and Ava throwing her head around.The walk/canter departs still create an immense amount of stress, and anxiety, for Ava. I’ve been trying everything I can think of to get her to relax, but nothing has worked. She had this same issue with the trot/canter departs last June, and the only thing that really helped was repetition. Repetition until she was so bored with it that she didn’t care anymore. Until now, I haven’t felt that Ava was really strong enough to do a lot of walk/canter departs so I’ve been fairly judicious about asking her for them.


Yesterday I weighed out the pro’s and con’s and decided she’s at the point where she can step up the engagement. I spent a majority of yesterday’s lesson drilling walk/canter departs until she could do a few without making a big deal out of it. I then let her rest for a while, and we worked on the other side. And yet again, it was a big deal for several minutes until she got into the swing of things. Overall, by the end of the ride, she was a bit more relaxed and stepping under herself better then before. I’m planning on taking one, or possibly two rides, per week and working on this until she’s bored of it.

The added benefit is that I get to practice my canter depart aids. Half of the issue is my upper body getting in the way of Ava’s balance. Improving my seat and the timing of the canter depart aids will help both of us.

Haunches In:

The other obstacle we’ve been facing is the dreaded haunches-in (Travers). If I so much as hint at the fact that we may do a canter depart sometime in the near future, then the haunches-in become a huge struggle. I’ve been working on making that outside rein more effective with a lighter touch, but so far I just feel like a big noob about the whole thing. In the past couple of weeks though, Ava has really been relaxing into the haunches-in, and allowing me to adjust her more easily with the outside rein. Part of this is that I’m sitting better, with my weight on the correct seat bone instead of off in la-la land. Part of it, I think, is that Ava’s getting stronger and the exercise isn’t as hard as it used to be for her.

Introducing Haunches in or Travers by Lilo Fore:

Our other big hurdle is getting Ava’s shoulders correctly in front of her. I read an article the other day talking about aligning the shoulders, and they mentioned something that really made the whole thing click for me. They were stating that since the haunches are wider than the shoulders, then in order to get the shoulders directly in front of the haunches the rider needs to offset the shoulders slightly (either left or right). When Ava and I are going to the right it appears to me as though Ava is straight. However, her shoulders are actually leading just slightly, which allows Ava to put more weight on that front right foot and kind of power her way through a corner on her forehand. This decreases my ability to half-halt and re-balance her, it decreases Ava’s engagement, and allows her to get lazy with that right hind leg (not bring it as far under as she should to carry herself). By moving Ava’s shoulders further to the left when circling right, she is more solidly on my outside rein, and she can bring that inside hind up and under her further.

One of the indicators that she’s falling in on the right shoulder is that she gets very tough on the right rein. When this happens I have to move Ava’s shoulders over with my inside knee. It’s really important that I don’t get stronger on that right rein (which is my instinctive response to her getting tough).  I have to fix her body before Ava can soften at the poll. Sometimes she utterly refuses to listen to my thigh/knee aid to move the shoulders over, and I have to tap her with the whip on the right shoulder. After that, it’s usually enough to just add some knee during corners (or when she starts to fall in) to remind her to stand up straight. Amazingly, once her shoulders are aligned with her hips, she’s very malleable with the right rein. Until then though… ugh. The whole thing can be so frustrating sometimes. One day we spent the entire ride with Ava throwing her right shoulder in, me kicking it back out, two steps of straight, and Ava’s diving back on the right shoulder again… on and on. I don’t think we had more than 4 good steps the entire ride. Since then though, it’s progressively gotten better the stronger Ava gets. I have to remind myself that it just takes time.

Our trot lengthens are coming along very well. The one’s in the video (below) aren’t very good. I was having issues with straightness. You can see in the video (2:30) that just after I come out of the corner and attempt to straighten her before the diagonal, that I’m fighting with her because she blew through my outside rein.

I also didn’t allow her to stretch forward through her neck enough during the lengthen. Which, in my opinion, was a result of her being a bit on her forehand an a little crooked so even if I had allowed her to stretch out more, it would’ve exacerbated the issue. I should’ve transitioned at “X” to a working trot, corrected the straightness issue and re-balanced her, and then asked for the lengthen again. Some day’s you just don’t get it right though….

Our canter lengthens are great. However, we have absolutely no half-halt at the end. She blows right through my seat and reins, and joyously romps through the corner like a freight train. You can see what I’m talking about in the video below. At 3:16, we’re coming into the corner after a half-hearted lengthen and I’m attempting to half-halt back to a working canter. There isn’t any change in the canter as we blow through the corner. I finally get her down to a trot (which was off balance and too fast) and it took me the entire corner to get her re-balanced. This is a major issue that I need to have fixed before we can successfully compete at First, or Second, Level this year.

Video of Ava taken March 24, 2012: 

That’s the recap on March’s issues. At the end of April we have a clinic with Roz Kinstler, and we have to have our submission for the Lilo Fore clinic in. Hopefully by then we’ll have cleaned up these rough spots.