Here there be dragons...

"I'm telling you stories. Trust me." - Winterson

The super-awesome-beyond-amazing-Lexi goes to yet *another* clinic. This time with Blyth Tait.

*edited to warn - exhausted, 3h sleep, incredible amount of beautiful sunshine, extreme happiness with the day, less than 10h till I need to be back at the clinic, all totalled = excessively random babbling.  I'm posting anyways because it was requested and I won't have time to do a better job for several days, but consider yourself forewarned!*

Still with me?

I am so overwhelmed by how awesome my superstar pony is that I don't even really know where to start.

Lexi and I were off to the Blyth Tait clinic today.  I didn't tell my coach I was going.  You know it's not a wise life choice when you're not willing to tell your coach about it *g*   hahaha it would be fair to say I was a little trepidatious about this one; partially because, well, the last clinic was a comedy of errors that hurt for several days afterward.  And partially because a friend of mine did a clinic with Blyth in BC the two days before and while she loved it and had only good to say, she did happen to mention it was all about quality of the canter.

hmmmm the canter.  Right.  That three-beat gait that's supposed to be reasonably controllable out of which we ride two - 2.5 of three phases.  You know -- the one we can't do yet?  Right.  At home I'm not convinced we've ever made it more than one lap of the sand ring without falling apart.  Lucinda tried to get us jumping out of the canter -- we broke to trot nine times out of ten.  Had *one* successful canter course (and by "course" I think there were three jumps.  If you scroll down a post or two I'm sure you'll find out!).  At the end of stadium day she was trotting to the fence and cantering away all proud of herself, so at least I knew that'd be a possibility.

We also had a rather unfortunate dressage school earlier this week that left me with a pony who didn't want to move at all.  Booo.  So I spent the rest of the week trying to convince her that riding is fun.  By yesterday, I had my normal Lexi back.

Oh -- and our scheduled XC school got rained out when the property we were supposed to go to flooded *sigh*   In fact, I haven't jumped a thing since the Lucinda Green clinic.  Or even hacked *sigh*.  Love Canadian weather!

So yes, once again, we arrived at a clinic, completely unprepared.  Really, given that I sent my entries in for this one at the same time I did for Lucinda, this is not a surprise.  I did at least have it in my head that since Lissy's riders are both away at the moment, if today went horrifically, I could bring her for XC day.  But I think Lexi's going to stay and play :)

Our new best friends!
Lexi loaded really well but stressed out on the trailer :(  By the time we got there she was pretty seriously unhappy.  Fortunately she settled as soon as another horse arrived.  I think I need to make sure wherever we go next, we go with a buddy.

That being said -- our start was fairly undramatic.  Tacked her up without undo grief and we walked around the sandring until Blyth came.  She was alert and distracted, but not being silly.  I was actually super impressed.  In the introductions I was the last to go and freely acknowledged that we weren't really ready to be there.  Blyth's response though, suggested the day just might go well.  It was something along the lines of "well that's exactly the time to bring a horse to something like this.  Get them off property and let the experience life while in a no pressure situation.  How are they ever going to learn if you don't let them try things?  We'll just be very careful not to overface her."

Sweet.  What followed was a discussion about which the rest of the day would be based -- namely the quality of the canter.  Blyth wanted to see a minimum of three canters:  "the sneaky canter, the ordinary canter, and the GOING PLACES canter."  The emphasis was his - I wish I had it on video :)   Basically you need to be able to cruise, collect or extend as necessary without changing rhythm.

Historically, these clinics are the ones I find the most useful -- when the clinician focuses on quality of the canter both A - I feel successful since it's usually something I practice at home a lot, and B - I find a *ton* of improvement by the end.  hahaha I know those seem slightly contradictory but hey - welcome to my life.   However, in this clinic I was a little concerned due to our aforementioned complete *lack* of any sort of canter.  But que será, será.  Sobeit.

So the entire group starts cantering to the left.  Yeah left -- we have a shot of pulling that off.  Wait - group?  Uh oh...  Lexi's brain temporarily fell out her ears, especially when one of the heavier crosses (who was actually quite speedy) was coming near her.  But it was a comparatively minor brain fart and soon enough we were, indeed, cantering with the group!  Woohoo!   We can go home now :)
Look at us being all grown-up and cantering in a group!
But no, we have to change direction.  Tricky -- we have about a one in ten shot of picking up the right lead.  Ummm sure, why not :)  So we try and - FIRST try!  Woohoo!   I'm sure nobody else got why I was so enthusiastically patting my pony for picking up the canter, but this was a Very Big Deal.  And then she broke *sigh*   Cause really, we never canter very far and even less far on that lead.  But then we got it again!  Yeah!   Now while all this was going on we were supposed to be demonstrating circles in the sneaky canter and long sides in the going places canter but tbh, we were just trying to canter.  And with what we've got right now, I'm *always* aiming for a going places canter.  Blyth basically acknowledged that this was a bit beyond her at the moment and kindly turned a blind eye to our apparent blatant disregard for his instructions.  And after we broke a second time we never did regain the right lead.  Ah well.

So then it was time to jump.  Trot in to an X, canter away.  Maintain canter through the corner regardless of lead.  On the left rein.  Cool.  Actually did this pretty much like a pro star.  hahaha   Then change of direction, trot same X, but maintain a canter five strides to a vertical.  Our first effort was...  Pretty dodgy.  Lex kinda went "wait, two???  You're kidding right?"   And we approached the second one in a figure that an intoxicated dressage judge might consider a serpentine in a gait that roughly resembled a turtle crawl.  Yeah, it was ugly.  The *next* time however -- what a star.  Five strides, almost straight.  This horse is so friggin smart.

Next exercise -- same activity but in four strides.  Yeah, first try, nbd.  My mare's a superstar.  Even repeated it to prove it wasn't a fluke :)   "You better be careful, you keep riding like that, you might end up with a really nice horse."  hahaha line of the day *g*   For me anyways.

Then reverse direction and jump out of the canter - oxer to vertical.  Sure, why not >;-P   We're going left, it's all good.  The canter transition itself was really sticky, but once we got it, she jumped bravely and in the right number of strides :)   Then the line got extended to a mini-course by adding a turn back to a skinny (yeah for having done the LG clinic!  If we hadn't, that wouldn't have gone nearly as well!) and a bending line to the oxer.   Keep in mind, all these fences are *tiny* AND he was lowering the oxer for Lexi.  But still, she was cantering!  A LOT!  And jumping stuff!  And even seemed to be having fun :)
Superstar Greenbean!
Mini pause for another training discussion -- this time on the definition of impulsion.  Power with *control*.  Not just fast but into a contact, butt tucked underneath, that at any point he could ask for a halt or a gallop and expect the response on the next stride.  I found that image really worked for me -- it's easy to see how all too often you might have one option but not the other.  If that's the case, you don't have the correct balance and canter.   Lucinda had a similar take -- her line was that if a 5' fence appeared one stride in front of her, she wanted to always feel she'd be able to take it.  Same concept, but for me, I like the gallop/halt visual as it's one I can actually test.  If 5' fences are randomly appearing in front of me, I have bigger problems than the quality of my canter!  I was interested though to work through how two very different training techniques lead to the same results.

We did a little bit of work on jumping a single fence -- Blyth held up a changing number of fingers and the riders had to rhyme off how many at any given second as they approached.  The concept was forcing them to ride by feel not by eye.  If they couldn't stare at the jump, they couldn't fight for a distance.  All they could do was maintain the quality of the canter.  Every horse got the correct distance -- even those who'd been missing by scary margins earlier.
Our baby oxer :)
With everybody feeling like superstars (Blyth is definitely one of, if not *the* most positive clinician I've ever ridden with) we moved on to a simple figure-8 exercise over a single fence, focusing on tight turns on landing.  Lexi was *really* starting to feel tired at this point and I felt like I was pony-clubbing it to keep her going.  BUT - she nailed every lead change and did it several times.  Woohoo!
Jump out of a canter, land and turn?  No problem!
Interesting side note here -- when discussing whether to worry about her leads (the approach to the first was off the right and it just wasn't happening) the answer was no.  There's no physiological reason she can't do it and when she does get it, she can hold it.  She just needs to learn where her feet go.  Blyth pointed out that in the UK if you go watch the pros on their young horses in PT level, 75% of them will have sections on the wrong lead.  Then at couple levels higher, it's down to about 25%.  By I or A, 0.  He said it's just part of training and as they get better at it, it will be less of an issue.  But if you wait for everything to be perfect before you ever take a jump, your horse will never learn to jump.   Cool.  And sure enough, while we couldn't pick up the right lead on the flat, esp now that she was getting tired, she could land it every time.

From this we did some gymnastics -- an average three to a long one, with the last fence being an oxer and all three fences scary (marshmellows under the first and planks in the second and third).  Our first attempt was of the "just keep kicking" variety.  I'm definitely being sent back to pony club *g*  hahaha but I DID get her through on the first try!  It was all kinds of sticky and drunken and most definitely not in anything that even vaguely resembled a canter.  But we technically got over all three of them in the right order with no complete loss of forward momentum.   The second time?  Like a pro.  Seriously.  Three to a one, reasonably straight, only the slightest hesitation.  Did I mention my pony's a superstar?   And the time after that she took over and did all the work herself. hahaha sadly she seemed to think it sb a two to a one instead, but realizing that was a poor life choice, snuck in an extra one at the last second *g*   See, she DOES have a sneak canter.  It just has to be motivated by self-preservation.  hahaha

But what I really loved was that she was having fun and figuring things out.  Even tired, and she was very tired, she was all for this game.  We did it once more with text-book perfection (completely unbiased statement that) and then I called it and asked if we could be excused from the rest.  Blyth agreed and I dismounted, but kept Lexi in the ring both so I could hear the rest of the lesson and so she could continue to practice being quiet while other horses cantered and jumped around her.   They did the gymnastic another couple times and then one more course that involved a triple bar to a skinny (can we say forward and back?)  -- which by this point seemed easy.

So that was our day.  I put Lexi away, watched another group, took Lex for a walk around XC and another swim in the water obstacle -- WAY less drama on our course walk this time, and then watched the afternoon sessions.  All good.  But since this blog seems to be part story and part clinic report and, oh yeah, I'm tired enough that my internal editor that will SCREAM when I have long enough to reread this on - probably Thursday realistically - is off, there are a few random things that I want to add.

One was a comment Blyth made that just made me laugh for positive spin.  I have no recollection of who it was directed to, but they had a less than successful attempt at whatever they were supposed to be doing.  And his answer (with no audible sarcasm) was "Excellent!  That gives us lots of things to improve upon!"  hahaha oh dear.  I think that's the jumping version of "nice braids".  But it was a good example of the tone of the clinic.  He expected people to pay attention and give it a solid effort, but as long as you were doing that, he was very good at putting a positive spin on whatever he was telling you -- even when he was telling you you completely f'd up.  hahaha  He did ask at the beginning if we wanted to hear what was nice or what was true, but he couched his truth carefully when he presented it.  The NZ accent helps with that too *g*

The other thing which he did differently from almost every clinician I've ever been to is he changed the exercises in each group.  Any clinic I go to, I watch the whole thing (shy of having to leave to feed horses!)  I figure I can learn as much (sometimes more) watching as I can riding.  But in *most* clinics this gets to feel a little like you're being beat over the head as every group does exactly the same thing.  Heights and complexity might change but the same exercises in the same order.  And while that's all good for showing how said exercises can be useful at all levels, it makes it challenging to remain dedicated throughout the whole clinic.   Blyth took the opposite approach -- he used different exercises to effect the same changes.  The jumps stayed in the same places, so obviously there was *some* repetition.  But the warmup fence differed from group to group.  The order of exercises (and indeed even *which* exercises were included) changed between groups.  The focus also seemed to shift -- some spent a LONG time on the 4/5 adjusting while others spent a lot of time on riding a circle inbetween those same two fences.  And yet the end result -- confidently cantering courses in a balanced, rideable canter, was the same for all of them.  Very cool to watch.

Oh and Sasha the superpuppy was so incredibly well behaved!  She had tons of fun bouncing around playing with all sorts of people and dogs and rocks.  She came on our xc walk with Lexi and I.  But I left her with several different people throughout the day and she was always super-good.  I'm pretty excited about that!  Also have to say, it kinda made my heart melt that every time I looked over to her, she was watching me...

Alright - sleep now.  XC tomorrow!

Mini Dressage Clinic

So one of the advantages to being a working student here, is you occasionally get opportunities that aren't necessarily open to the rest of the school.   Today was one of those days.  Mary Ambrose came to do a mini-clinic, but we had space for only four riders.  I claimed one, and opened the other spots to my working students on a first-come, first-serve basis.  The clinic filled in under a minute *g*  

Our last clinic with Mary was on one of the coldest days of the year; makes perfect sense that we'd balance that out having this one on the hottest day!  Sheesh.

First up today was Steph on Dixie -- this pair has come a LONG way in the last couple months and today really helped solidify that.  Saw some amazing canter work happening :)   Then I rode Lexi, which might've been a bit of a mistake *sigh*   Lex isn't quite mentally ready for dressage yet.  hahaha we'll try again in six months or so :)  
Amy on Willow
Next up was Amy on Willow.  This is a new partnership, since Jack's been off lately, and the clinic really helped her to find Willow's buttons and get some great movement from her!

Last rider of the day was Kennedy on Athena -- these two have been on the edge of putting all the pieces together and today brought them that much closer.  They had some of the best trot work I've seen them do yet.  Woohoo!
Kennedy on Athena
So yeah - awesome job ladies!  Esp to Steph and Kennedy who then went on to do their normal evening lesson as well!  Super dedication there!   And, as always, a huge thanks to Mary for another great day!

GRS goes to Caledon HT

Victoria and Nina on XC
I was *so* proud of the girls at Caledon today!

We had Emily on Charlie (their first HT together), Olivia on Bella (their third HT - old pros really!), Rowan on Lissy (also first HT together), and Victoria also doing her first HT ever on her horse Nina.
Olivia and Bella in dressage
Rowan was, as seems to be tradition, first in dressage for the day -- but it was great as it meant we had the warm-up to ourselves.  The times were such that I was pretty much in the warm-up ring all day.  The only test I got to really watch was Victoria's, as she was last.  The snippets I saw though all seemed to go reasonably well :)

Steph walked the girls around xc as there really wasn't time for me to go with them and when I finished in dressage warm-up I headed over to help the first riders warm-up for stadium.  Stadium was a tough PE course, maxed and including a related distance.  But it was fair, set on good distances, and almost all on flat approaches.  We gave Lissy a "scary" fence in warm-up -- once again having the warmup ring to ourselves.  She wasn't too sure about that, but by the time she was jumping confidently in w/u, she was totally ready for the show ring.  Rowan jumped her around clear and on time!  Sweet.

Olivia was next in with Bella the Superpony :)  Bella likes this game and has been to Caledon often *g*  But Liv did a great job controlling her enthusiasm as they booked it around show jumping.
Olivia and Bella in Stadium
And then, moments before it was Emily's turn, the sky let go with its wrath.  The rain was torrential enough to shift my theoretically water-proof contacts in my eyes so I couldn't see (and was desperately hoping I had a spare back in my car after the last time I cleaned it!).  Despite thunder and the odd burst of lightning, the show wasn't called, so Em went in the ring.  Charlie was less than amused -- his contract does *not* include inclement weather.  But Emily did a fantastic job of relocating his brain, and once she got him pointed at the first fence he remembered he *likes* jumping and they put in a fabulous round!  Woohoo!

Emily and Charlie in stadium in the torrential downpour!
 The rain seemed to have scared everybody away, because even though it lightened significantly, Victoria was the only one left in the warm-up ring :)   So she too got to play with a scary jump before going in and entered the ring ready to tackle anything!  They had a brief drive-by, but other than that an excellent run with no drama -- which for Nina, is a good thing!
Victoria and Nina in stadium
Then off to play the XC game.  The warmup had a few natural fences spread around which made navigating more awkward, but jumping more fun and realistic for XC.  The first three girls all had a blast and jumped clean.  Time faults all around -- Olivia was fast but took a detour *g*   The other two took their time -- all good on the first show!  Victoria and Nina had a double look at fence four, but other than that and one minor temper-tantrum when Nina felt she should get to go home, they made it around beautifully!
Rowan and Lissy on XC
When all was said and done the skies opened once more and the ponies basically loaded themselves back in the trailer to escape it!  They're not stupid :)   Rowan and Lissy finished in 2nd, Olivia and Bella in 7th, Emily and Charlie in 8th, and Victoria and Nina in 10th.  Awesome job ladies!
Emily and Charlie

Only an eventer can hit the ground three times in two days and call it a success.

So I got a message from my mum this morning:  "Loved the blog post, but let's not have any more yellow rabbits today."  My mum's a wise lady.  One of these days I'll learn to listen to her.  Today was not that day. And let's be honest, wisdom wasn't exactly the word of the weekend. Sheesh.

If you're just joining us -- the game is, I took Lexi -- basically unbroke, after six weeks off and four rides back, to the Lucinda Green clinic at Eventing Canada.  Right.  If you actually know me in person, you won't be terribly surprised by this *g*  If you don't, you may be considering sending the men in white coats my way.  You may be right >;-P

Alright, back to our regularly scheduled program.  I figured the only thing we had going for us with our utter and complete lack of preparation, was that by XC day, she'd be *very* tired.  And a tired horse is a ridable horse.  Theoretically.
About how I expected to find her...
As with yesterday, my goals were actually *very* realistic.  I wanted her to hack out (something she's never done), with a group of other horses (which she did for the first time yesterday), and not lose her brain.  I also had vague thoughts of trotting her around said other horses and hopefully riding her through the water.  Banks and ditches were in the far periphery of my brain (cause, let's be honest, I'm a xc rider) but were not sincerely part of the actual goals of the day - more of a "maybe if everything else is perfect" variation.

Lexi was still pretty calm and happy in her stall when I got there. This is something I've noticed from day one with her and am *thrilled* about -- she seems to settle easily in new environments. Not that she's been to many -- but when I brought her home, no drama.  Change paddock, no drama.  Ride in the sandring - okay admittedly there was some drama, but not insanity :)   I was expecting a very tired grey mare...  That's not what I found.  Alert, happy, head over the open part of the stall watching the world.  Uh oh...
What's next?
Tacked her up and got on indoors -- needed Steph to hold her for that (thanks again Stephy!).  Our "never get on unless you're standing still" rule isn't terribly easy to apply in a clinic scenario.  If I lunged her long enough to overcome her adrenaline, I'd not have any horse left to ride.  So I made the decision that for these two days, she could be held to mount.  She still had to stand -- but she had help to do so correctly *g*  We followed her newest best friend out where the others were walking around the start of the xc course.  Amazingly she didn't really seem to care about the donkey we had to pass at all.  hahaha now the dirt, and the grass, and the rocks, and the . . .    Well you get the picture.

She jigged her way out but once we were there I was mostly able to keep her in a walk.  When Lucinda arrived the others halted all around her.  I tried to do the same but it was an utter and complete fail.  So though I felt incredibly rude walking around while she was talking, forcing Lexi to stand would've had her standing on two legs.  Her brain just wasn't up to that yet.  So we walked.

The warm-up was, imo, going to be the most exciting part of the day.  I've ridden with Lucinda a few times so was reasonably confident the actual lesson would involve one horse going at a time in an organized fashion through whatever exercise we were working on.  But warm-up?  We'd only just gotten out there and suddenly all four of her buddies were going different directions at different speeds.  Oh dear.

And I have to give her credit -- that's a difficult situation and she didn't lose it entirely.  There was some dancing on her hind legs (I *really* hate that game) - then finally got her at least moving forward.  A couple scoots at high speed when another horse cantered or jumped behind her.  I have to say the other riders were being amazingly considerate and cognizant of the fact that I had little to no steering.   They basically rode around us. I know at least one changed her line when she saw I was having a challenge.  She had right of way, but I couldn't give it to her.  I did at least shout a "sorry/thanks" as they turned away *g*  I love eventers.  Especially eventers who ride babies.  They get it.

But Lexi dealt.  And soon I could at least pick the gait (Trot please!  Walk gives too much time to think and canter too much adrenaline).  She'd go *really* fast then super slow depending where we were or how much she wanted to investigate the footing -- which was perfect, but you know, different colours of grass are a problem.  Steering was slowly coming into play.  It wasn't exactly accurate yet, but I could at least get her going mostly where I wanted to go.
Brain almost reinstalled :)
All too soon we were being called over to start the class.  Fair - everybody else was ready to go.  I would've liked a brain, but really - I wasn't finding it in that field, so may as well ride on!  First exercise -- go between the barrels and drop down the bank.   Right, about that...   Did you read yesterday's experience?  Oh dear...

But I think the outside world was just entirely too fascinating to focus on silly barrels.  Lexi went through them with barely a scoot and walked off the bank like a pro!  We cantered away with more enthusiasm than was strictly required to shouts of "straight line halt! Don't let her learn to run away!" behind us.  Tricky with neither steering nor breaks, but we got there *g*   Going back up, Lucinda let us go first so we could go through the barrels once rather than over them.  She was a star!
First time down the baby bank
Next it was down the bank, right turn, over the skinny.  It wasn't pretty, but we got it done.   Reverse and go back up -- this time *with* the barrel jump on top of the bank.  And she did it absolutely perfectly!   Back over the barrels, down the drop, over the skinny...   And so on and so forth.  By the end she was trotting the bank easily and we were well under control -- getting to the skinny as though we knew what we were doing instead of resembling a drunk but determined snake on speed.   The others in my group did the same thing with a second skinny on top of the bank and the log afterwards, but Lexi was excused from that one.

Did you get this though, cause this was the highlight -- she jumped the barrels like a SANE horse.  On the first try!  Do you have any idea how excited I was by that???  hahaha oh yeah, and up and down banks a complete non-issue.  After Si who always *launched* off a bank, this was pretty sweet too.

We had a stop and group chat about the different issues being faced by each rider in the group and suggestions on how to deal with them.  While this was going on though, Lexi was supposed to be learning to stand still.  At least a little of the edge was off by this point, but this was definitely a challenge.  And I'll admit, far more of my focus was on keeping her still and calm (she'd eat a bite or two but then wanted to be off again) than on the actual conversation.  But she does have to learn to be patient in a group, and when Lucinda says halt, she means it *g*  Eventually I got her to hang out between two horses where there was enough space for a tiny circle every few minutes when it reached the "forward or up" stage of her abilities.  Not ideal yet, but admittedly far better than I'd expected even half an hour earlier.

Okay, next stop - the ditch.  Ohhhh, ahhhh...   Having hand walked her over the ditch yesterday, I wasn't actually concerned about this one at all.  She might clear it by a mile, but I had complete faith we'd do it.  We watched a couple others go and then took a lead from her super-star buddy, Oz.  Great name eh?  :)  Oz is 18 and knows his job, but can be over-enthusiastic about it at times *g*
First ditch ever!
So I rode to the ditch reasonably defensively -- baby horse, first ditch...  Not new here.   She jumped it absolutely perfectly.  I was thrilled.  And subconsiously relaxed the defensiveness a little on takeoff.  I thought she might bolt or buck a little on landing but I was okay with that.  We were over.  Right, my subconsious is no longer allowed to make executive decisions.  She landed, perfectly.  And then I was standing on the ground next to her holding her reins.  Again?  Really???
Just like that.  Really.
Oh dear.   But I pretty quickly figured out what had happened.  You see, our fearless leader Oz had been having speed issues, so Lucinda had been getting them to stop after every fence.  Until this point it had taken multiple strides to make that happen.  His rider though was working *really* hard.  And on this jump got him stopped on the FIRST stride.  Which meant as Lex landed she had nowhere to go *sigh*  So she jumped off to the right in a big way, and I kept my nice straight line.  Classic. Apparently it was nearly identical to the move that unseated me yesterday, except this time she had a reason for it.  hahaha I'm going to have to learn to stick that or convince her to jump straight!  Preferably both :)

So Oz got a new rule - when they're being the babysitter, they keep going after the fence for at least a few strides *g*  After the second try though we got to do it by ourselves and she was an absolute pro-star!  I was so stoked.  Lucinda gave us permission to excuse ourselves then if we wanted -- I guess hitting the ground twice in two days isn't always easy to shake off *g*  But no way, my pony was being a superstar!  The fact that I can't seem to stay on her isn't her fault.

The ditch was then built up into a coffin, using show jumps but with natural standards and rails so it looked xc-ish.  Lexi got to go first.  You remember -- the one who has done gymnastics what, maybe three times?  And not since before she got hurt.  And never been ridden outside before.  And been introduced to a ditch only a couple paragraphs ago?  Yeah that one.  And she did it like an absolute pro.  Both directions, shadows be damned.  You can imagine the grin on my face.  It's still there actually.
Through the baby coffin
The only thing Lexi was having trouble with was standing still while the others were going.  Esp if they all happened to be on the other side of an obstacle from her.  Even though she could always see them, that wasn't allowed.  When the drama really started to present itself we were given permission to resume our walking around *g*  Phew - that makes life easier.  And knowing that she could walk, she was actually willing to stand for longer periods -- although it probably helped that at the same time another horse came through the coffin and joined us.  There'd been a rather long discussion going on while Lex was on one side and everybody else on the other.

So everybody's having their turns and Lexi's being patient, standing slightly off the path in the longer grass.  And then - we're on the ground.  No signs, no pawing, no change of behaviour.  Her front legs buckled, she went down and flopped over sideways.  I was terrified something horrible was happening.  Hopped off her (fortunately kicked my leg out as she lay down, so not trapped or squished). And then...  she starts to roll!  Omg.  I was actually stunned -- my emotions couldn't get around utter fear that something horrible had happened to my horse to dealing with the fact that no, she just felt like a roll.  Frig.  And then I just had to laugh -- what else can you do at this point?  I mean *really*???  I said we were there to provide the comic relief, but this was excessive!
But when Sasha does it, it's cute...
I'm still shaking my head remembering.  Seriously?  Does that even happen?  I'd understand it if we were in the water, or if she'd been pawing and I'd ignored her, or even if she'd stepped way under with her hind legs.  But no.  Nothing.  Just standing still then on the ground.  Sheesh.

Was offered yet another chance to excuse myself from the class -- by this point I was starting to wonder if Lucinda really thought it'd be best if we went home *g*  But she seemed amused when I simply fixed my saddle and accepted yet another leg-up.  Tried to position Lexi so she was downhill but that wasn't going to happen -- however, the guy who was actually giving me the leg-up just laughed.  No problem.  Turns out he's a lot stronger than the hundred-and-nothing pound twenty year old women who I usually get a boost from *g* Imagine that.  So I'm back on and Lucinda's just kinda shaking her head - credit for guts if not sanity.  hahaha   "But Lucinda, I haven't been swimming yet."

"No, you've had your three, you're done."  hahaha oh good.

We went and had more standing still practice while the three more experienced horses practised with the training coffin.  One of the other horses was ditchy and had been an absolute superstar over the baby ditch, so his rider opted out of this exercise and she and I hung out and watched the others play.  Good practice for Lexi who stood still AND stayed on her feet.  Funny, I never thought I'd consider that an achievement!

Then it was to the big hill, for lack of a better description.  They've built two decent sized steps out of nothing, so there's an easy slope up one side of this man-made bank and one-stride steps down the other.  But what Lucinda does is have them climb up the side of the bank, halt at the top, then climb down the other side.  This is not my favourite exercise, having ridden a couple horses who tend to leap off of it.  But Lexi had been *really* sensible so far so...   Yup, she was a pro.  An absolute star.  Only hesitated once at the scary down (one side is steeper than the other) but she still did it without a lead and calmly.  I was pretty stoked.
Up the mountain
Then it was time to jump the actual steps, which I figured we'd be excused from.  But she actually got to play!  Just instead of doing both steps, we climbed up the grass to the bottom step and dropped off of it.  Much bigger than the first bank, but she did it like an absolute pro!  A bit more enthusiasm than technically necessary *g* but she went on the first try.  Super brave!  Lucinda's instructions: "slide the reins to the buckle, grab the oh sh*t strap, and lean back." bahahaha and there we have the real reason for the martingale.  We did not progress to the double steps, which I think was the right choice.  I don't doubt we would've done it, but I'm not convinced it would've been pretty or a positive experience.
Off the bigger bank
So ditches, banks...  The only thing left is water.  Lexi wasn't certain she wanted to go in, but after everybody else went in and a buddy came back to get her, she gave it a go and soon enough was confidently splashing through on her own.  We also went up the bank out several times.  Then it was time to go down it -- she *really* wasn't sure about that, but she gamely made the effort to follow the Great and Mighty Oz.  She oh so quietly stepped down - no wild leaps for her!  And then got her foot caught on the edge of the bank :(  Had a horrible time getting her feet under her and very nearly went swimming :(  Sooo disappointed. She really scared herself and after that there was no way she was going off the bank again.  But I did, at least, get her back in the water -- first taking several leads and then getting her going in all the entrances on her own several times.  So that part's good.  But suspect down drops into water might be an issue for a little while...  I see more wading in my future *sigh*   Will deal with that another day :)
Pats for the brave pony in the water
Finished up with more discussion, which will get its own post, and then hacked back.  This amused me to no end -- pony should be tired.   She doesn't have the best walk in the world and I wouldn't let her jig, so she was having to work to keep up with the other horses.  And yet -- she still had all kinds of energy to spook at the backpack lying on the ground, the rock that was clearly offending her, the mud puddle...  Sheesh.  She was still bouncing when we finally made it back to the barn.  hahaha gotta love her!

Line of the day from Lucinda - "Your mare is *such* a character and I'm so glad you are such a plucky rider!" bahahaha love it!   She also gave me a mini confirmation analysis when I ran into her while grazing Lexi afterwards (she was on her way back out to teach again) showing me what exactly it was about her build that she really liked.  So what a great way to finish the clinic :)

Uber-Green Drama Queen Meets Lucinda Green

So let's discuss wise life choices.  This would include things like:
- making sure your horse is reasonably broke and confident in at least three gaits and two directions before going out in public
- practising loading a baby horse before actually needing to go somewhere
- exposing your baby horse to being ridden with other horses before going out in public
- teaching your horse to jump out of at least two, preferably four, gaits before attending a jumping clinic
- or at very least, teaching your horse to jump before attending a jumping clinic
- ensuring horse is fit and consistently in work
- ensure rider is fit and consistently in work *g*
- wear broken in gear
- be well rested

Anybody want to make a guess how many of those wise life choices I applied today?  Anybody?

That's right, absolutely none.  You're not new here...   Wise life choices I *did* make:
- remembered Lucinda's running martingale preference; found and packed one
- packed the trailer and cleaned tack the night before!

Yeah me.  So what if it's a *slightly* shorter list -- at least there's a list!  Does two things count as a list?

Some of you may know that I tend to love attending clinics.  I go to a *lot* of them, with a lot of different people and riding a lot of different horses.  In hopes of learning, well, a lot :)  Of all the clinicians I've ridden with, Lucinda Green is by far my favourite.   I've ridden with her a few times now, always with different horses and always had a good result.  So when April 1 (April fools...  hmmmm were the fates trying to tell me something?) arrived and the clinic was officially open, I sent in my entries.   At the time, Lexi was in the middle of a growth spurt, so slightly unbalanced, but for the most part she could w/t/c and jump small fences.  Sweet.  I figured with 10 weeks till the clinic, and spring theoretically arriving, I should be able to introduce her to most of the things on the "wise life choices" list...   Even including another jump clinic.  I was going to ride her when Waylon came to our place.  Great plan -- introduce a challenge in a controlled environment where she's comfortable.  Horse training 101.

All good right?  The day before the first clinic she went lame.  Stone bruise.  Okay, nbd.  Except the bruise took *weeks* to heal!  I got on her again, *this* week.  Oh dear.  So she hasn't jumped in...  about six weeks.  Has been ridden in the sandring once.  Has never really hacked or even pretended to do XC.  Certainly hasn't been schooling.  Is very much not fit (nor, for that matter, am I!).   But we can still go right?

Knowing this was a Very Bad Idea, I called Arthur to ask how green the green group really was.  Emerald.  Sweet!  Just what we need.  He amazingly generously offered me the loan of one of his horses for the clinic if it wasn't going to work out with Lexi -- which, having ridden one of his horses before, I know would be a *ton* of fun!  But I really wanted to take my pony.  I've seen Lucinda work with greenbeans before and really like her methodology.

Alright, so...  Well rested.  Right.  First lesson in six weeks on Friday, Wits End on Sat -- which was awesome btw and will get its own post on the GRS Blog later this week!  My superstar students came 3rd and 4th. BUT, that property involves a *lot* of walking and a 5:30 am load time.  And we know how much I like mornings...  And then I was in the first group today.  Slightly better - 6:45 load time.  But still.  Rest = fail.

Also neglected to do any loading practice.  Ashley came out to help (thanks Ash!) but she doesn't actually have a ton (read "any") loading experience, so if Lexi chose to make that a drama moment, I'd be toast.  She loaded easily enough to come home though, so I had hope.  And sure enough, she walked right on following the sweet feed.  Woohoo!  She was *not* happy once she got on -- rocking truck and trailer together *sigh*  So can only hope she'll choose to get back on again tomorrow to come home!

Anyways - we got there!  Yeah!  She had some trouble unloading :(  But managed it injury free.  She grew a whole lot looking around, but was being manageable.  We found our stall (in my favourite of the three barns - pretty stoked about that.  hahaha little things in life!)  and she settled really quickly.  Yeah!  Tacked her up in there - didn't want to risk cross ties.  hahaha I'm only *mostly* insane!  I do know about picking our battles!  Then I put on my "worn three times" new field boots -- sure, may as well complicate the game with knees that don't bend and super-slippery boots.  No problem!

She was awesome when I led her into the ring.  It was raining and she was pretty huffy about that, but as far as brain-cells go...  I was super impressed.  Three other horses walking around, lots of people, little dogs, and strange place.  She was alert, but really not stupid at all.  I led her around the ring a couple times and then hopped on.  Needed Ashley to hold her so I could mount, but otherwise she was awesome.  We continued our exploration of the ring and I was soooo pleased with her.  A fourth horse joined us and she didn't care.  She was a little snarky toward one of the horses, so we kept our distance, but no meltdown with others trotting around/by/toward her.  And tbh, that alone would've been enough for me.  I could've dismounted and gone home and still been thrilled.   We loaded, went to a strange place, walked and trotted with strange horses, and kept her brain.  That's pretty good.

And *then* Lucinda got there.  That's right, you read all the way to here and the clinic hasn't even started yet!  Welcome to my life >;-P

We did the introduction thing and I was brutally honest about our complete lack of preparation and stated my willingness to sit out anything inappropriate or once Lexi got tired (two hour lesson people!  Lex has never been ridden more than 45 minutes, ever.  And has four days under saddle since being deemed sound.) And as the introductions were going on I realized that other people's ideas of "emerald" and mine differed slightly *g*   But, admittedly, all at an appropriate level for where we would've been had I actually *had* the 10 weeks to work with Lexi.  One an 18yo horse who's done intermediate.  hahaha fair though, being ridden by an entry rider and it absolutely was an appropriate group.  One that was a rescue/retrain that had a lot of challenges, so that seemed reasonable.  A nine year old who was competing entry -- they were probably the strongest of the group.  And a hunter horse/rider pair just learning to event.

So we're to head out and w/u over fences.  Two rules: no cantering (sweet!) and no runouts.  If the horse stops in front - okay.  Stay there till somebody comes and puts the jump down for you.  But do not let them go around.  And *most* of the fences were tiny skinnies.  But nothing over 2'.

Have I mentioned Lexi's never done a skinny?  And we only sort-of have steering.  And some of them were built on marshmellows, which I thought might be absolutely horrifying...
Even in the rain!
She was a *saint*.  Tried her little heart out.  Jumped everything on the first try.

So then it was time for course work.  "Can everybody jump out of the canter?"   Everybody else nods obediently.  Lucinda looks at me.  hahaha "Well I suspect we can...   Haven't actually done it before, but we *should* be able to."

Of course I volunteer to go first *g*   Partially because I'm *really* good at memorizing courses and confident enough to go first, and partially because I figured if we went first it'd make everybody else look really good *g*  hahaha   The rule for Lexi was trot the skinnies and if the world was good canter the easier fences.  Oh, and don't help in the canter.  Let baby horses make mistakes over baby jumps so they learn to develop their own eye.  Ummmmm a little terrifying.  Effective - Lex smartened up really fast and was super cool to ride.  But man we got some wicked jumps - I felt like I was being launched all over the place and my eq in some of those photos *cringe*  Oh dear...
Crazy bendy lines over skinnies.  Go superpony!
She did it!  On the first try!  There were a few dodgy jumps and a few unusual lines and distances, but she did it.   Canter wasn't really happening at all and she felt pretty sticky...  But she did technically go over everything *g*

Rinse and repeat.  We did several of these (with breaks inbetween so others could go of course).  And then Lucinda had us jump a skinny-less forward moving course (a challenge to design since there were only three non-skinny fences to work with) to get her jumping out of the canter.  And here she did let me help a little in that I was permitted to keep her reasonably collected and aim for the deeper spots rather than letting her launch herself wherever.  Tricky since...  Well...  We've only just started cantering to begin with -- collecting (or lengthening for that matter) is still a bit of a dream.   BUT she had so much impulsion and enthusiasm that I actually had something to work with and we got it done.
I was *so* happy with her!
And then we were dismissed from class *g*   I deemed that she would stick around for the rest of the class because hanging out eating while others jumped would be a good thing for her.  So I pulled off her martingale and loosened her girth and then left her with Ashley to go ditch my helmet, vest, etc before returning to the ring to be jump crew and listen in on the rest of the class.  (ummmm I'll do a summary of actual lessons learned tomorrow or the next day on the GRS blog).

The rest of my group jumped some bigger fences and slightly more technical lines, and then Lucinda pulled out two barrels and had them working on jumping out of the walk and practising the emergency rein contact on landing (ie - long reins, held out to the side, leaning back).  So as they were finishing and doing a recap I asked if I could walk Lexi past the barrels...

Now, keep in mind - until this point, Lucinda has seen nothing except a quiet superstar greenbean willing to try her heart out.  The fact that I mentioned in passing two hours ago that she has some drama-queen tendencies had either been forgotten or put down to exaggeration.  But I had a pretty good idea that the barrels were going to be exciting and thought it'd be good to at least let her see them.

"Well why don't you get back on?  We'll spread them apart and you can go through them a few times and work with her while the next group warms up."

Okay.  So I book it back to the barn to grab my helmet -- hesitate for a moment about my vest and decide it'd be stupid not to wear it since I was already there.  Opted not to bother with the martingale though -- we were already going to be going into the next group's time so didn't want to waste more.  Ashley gave me a leg up (I was very impressed by that since she doesn't have a ton of experience with it and there's more of an art to it than people think!) and we were set.
Seriously - you *can* fit through the gap...
My friend Adriana had separated the barrels and I suggested perhaps they should be wider apart.  She rolled her eyes at me, but obliged :)  And as we approached it became clear people were going to see the other Lexi... hahahha oh dear.  But even I underestimated her.  I was prepared for the quick stop or the speedy spin...  I was evidently not prepared for the "take one step and then jump the moon -- oh, and go sideways at the same time."  *sigh*  That whole be well rested thing?  That might've been good.  I might've been sharp enough to stick it then.  Alas, I was not.  One of my friends figured between Lexi's height (16.1 ish... = a little over 6') + as high as she jumped (guesstimating about 4') + the extra I got launched on top of that...  I was prob about 8-10' up when we parted company.  I would like to say I bounced, but sadly it was more of a dull thud.
Yeah - just like that.
I looked up to make sure she hadn't gone anywhere and wasn't tangled in her reins and then chose to just sit there for a second.  It was a good fall, as far as falls go.  I landed pretty much flat out and other than a headache and some stiffness, I'm totally fine.  I did, however, decide discretion was the better part of valour and led her through the barrels a few times before remounting *g*   When she started stepping through them like a sane horse, I got back on.
The barrels crept closer and closer together every few rounds...
Lucinda had to lead us through the first time, but then we were able to make it through.  There were a few mad dashes to the end of the ring to escape the scary monster that lives between the barrels, but she started coming back to me faster and faster.  Every few laps the barrels would be moved closer together and she'd jump them a few times and then chill again...

So it turns out Lexi can jump! 

And in the end they were actually together.  Wooho!  hahaha from the look on my face you'd think *I* was seeing gremlins too.  hahaha but actually I was thrilled that she was actually jumping it!  And that she demonstrated there's some power there when she wants it :)
Returning from one of our out-of-ring adventures
So we did that a bunch of times (it was scary every time) and then jumped around some "easy" stuff to end positively.  She was pretty excited by this point -- trotting after the fences wasn't such an option any more, but we got *the* most amazing canter!  I was just riding around grinning like a little kid.
Uphill canter much?
She got put away and I played ring crew/photographer for the next group.  Had a moment when I realized all the photos of my group were shot in HUGE size and had to figure out how to change the resolution so I could keep taking photos.  16g card filled in 150 photos.  Yikes.  I fit more than 2000 on that card the other day.  hahaha  Double duty kept me busy and I really enjoyed myself.

But at lunch time, I decided to *actually* be wise, and took Lexi for a walk around the xc course.  In hand - halter and leadline.  We walked through the field, down the bank, over the ditch and into the water.  Seriously!  I was soooo impressed.  The bank and the ditch were *massive* flying leaps that had me fearing for my life on the ground -- so tomorrow could be seriously entertaining.  The water she didn't want to go in at all, but I just waited her out standing in it and telling her she was a superstar...  She eventually joined me -- quite calmly actually.  The only problem?  The water's *deep*.  About half way up my thigh.  So I got very soaked.  After we were done playing I dumped the water out of my boots (they're surprisingly heavy when full of water!) but I still squished on the ride home.  bahahaha Lexi spooked at the noise the first few steps, but chilled eventually.  We went back over the ditch and up the bank on the way home -- still pretty horrifying.  Tomorrow should be highly entertaining.  But the only *real* goal is to hack out with other horses and maintain a brain.  Anything extra is merely a bonus :)

Finished with more ring crewing and photography.  Really having fun playing with my camera :)  And, pretty well as soon as I stopped riding the sun came out.  I had foolishly listened to the weather forecast (not like I haven't lived her my whole life or anything.  Sheesh.) and was prepared for all sorts of horrid weather, but not for sun.  So I'm a little toasted now.  hahaha ah well - at least it was a gorgeous day.

Oh, and Lucinda really likes my horse *g*  That pretty much made my day.  Just saying.

XC tomorrow.  And the barrels are part of a bank combination.  And a water combination.  Wish us luck :)   Or velcro -- methinks velcro would be more useful than luck!

GRS goes to Wits End

Kennedy and Athena warming up for XC
The weather was perfect for our adventure to Wits End today!   SO much fun!

With just two riders and times together it made for a super-easy day.   Kennedy's first HT ever, riding Athena.  And Olivia on Bella doing their second run.

Dressage was way off in the valley, but with the two of them riding back to back they were able to go down to the ring together so neither horse had a meltdown at being alone.  Both put in reasonable tests -- Kennedy's was a great example of brilliance (on the bit and forward) or disaster (inverted drunken giraffe) depending on the moment.  Hahaha I had a few of those tests myself with Athena last year *g*  Olivia's test was civilized, now we just need to finesse it a little more :)

After dressage we paused to walk stadium on the way back.  It was a decent course for PE and the girls seemed a little trepidatious about it -- especially Kennedy who's never actually jumped a full course before :)  But I trust my horses and the girls are ready, so I wasn't particularly concerned.  There were no real horse eating monsters on that course.
Olivia and Bella in stadium
Warm-up went well -- Kennedy was a little hesitant and as a result Athena a little lazy, but she woke her up in time.  Bella was, as per her usual Superpony self, raring to go :)   Olivia was in first and put in a great round.  She rode this one far more than at Glen Oro, sitting up before her fences and making sure to hold her lines and use all her space.  Was really happy to see that!   Kennedy racked up a few time faults with some extra trotting in the ring, but she put in a great round jumping clear and confidently.
Kennedy and Athena in stadium
XC walk revealed a fun and inviting course -- all the scary things from last year had been removed.
So, we go over there, then...
We did stop a few times so the girls could make really sure they knew where they were going, but overall it seemed like it should make for a good run.

Olivia and Bella on XC
And so it did :)  Both girls were clear and smiling by the end of it!  Ponies totally fit and no problems despite the warmer temps.  Overall a great day :)
Kennedy and Athena on XC
And in the end -- both came home with ribbons!  Olivia was 3rd and Kennedy 4th.  It's taken all of two shows for Liv to qualify for champs.  Awesome job kiddo!
Taking care of Athena afterwards...

#FridayFlash 60: In the silence of the night

“Highness, I could use your assistance.”

“Of course,” she said instantly.

Lissa turned her horse to follow the wizard Zander across the camp, nodding to people as they passed through.  It was Illian's turn to be her shadow again tonight, and he followed without question or comment.
They left camp and rode toward the quickly setting sun.  Her eyes adjusted to the dim light easily enough, but soon she was relying on her horse to follow as she could hardly see Zander in front of her.

Zander’s voice, when he spoke, seemed exceptionally loud in the silence of the night even though in reality it was barely more than a whisper.  “Highness, you know what I’m looking for?”

“Yes,” she answered after realizing he couldn't see her nod.

“It is here somewhere.  There is a chance you might be better able to find it than I.  You should be able to communicate with the earth the same way you speak to the dragons.”

Speak to the earth the way she spoke to the dragons.  Right.  Hi earth, how you doin'?  She smiled, amused by her own smart-ass attempt.  The only answer she received was a crunch of grass as her mare snagged a bite to eat.  But she acknowledged that wasn't going to get them anywhere.  Zander said she had the skill; he didn't, so he couldn't teach her to use it.  She was on her own, but she’d been on her own before. 

Speak to the earth the way she spoke to the dragons.  Okay, so how did she speak to the dragons?  She brought the image of her dragon, Dezian, to mind. Can you hear me? She asked.

Yes highness, how can I serve you? The voice was fainter than she was used to, but no less majestic.

Don’t come here, she said, warding off any instinct the dragon might have; Dezian showing up would not aid 
their stealth mission.  I need to talk to the earth; do you know how to do that?

It is no different than us talking.  Just open your mind and listen.  The earth is far older; it speaks 
slower and only when necessary.  Be patient.

Thank you Dezian.  She didn't really know how to apply what she’d just been told, but at least she’d been paying conscious attention to how she spoke to her dragon.  First she had to visualize her; then she could communicate.

She dismounted, somehow knowing it was the right thing to do.  Illian appeared behind her and she gave him her reins.

“Your highness?” he asked as she stepped away from him.

“I’m not going far,” she took only a few more steps to a tree bigger than any she’d ever seen at home, but of average height here, and ran a hand softly down its bark.  She sat at its base, leaning back against it.  Her legs were stretched out in front of her and her hands lay softly at her sides.  One, resting on a dirt patch, the other on slightly damp moss.  She closed her eyes.

Great and mighty earth, she said, serious this time and her tone one of pure respect.  Would you do me the honour of sharing your knowledge?

She waited patiently, focusing on her breathing.  Slowly inhale, pause, and exhale – as though she were preparing to meditate.  Without her vision, her other senses became more attune.  The moss seemed softer under her hand.  She could smell the dirt, but also the rain that had fallen hours earlier and a whiff of a flower somewhere nearby.  Her ears heard the songs of the crickets calling; she felt like she understood their longing, but could do nothing to remedy it.  An owl hooted somewhere far in the distance and a wolf howled; the two couldn't possibly have been connected, but somehow it seemed as though they were communicating with each other.  But she couldn't quite grasp what they said.

She tried to close her ears to the night, listening only to the sound of her own breath.  Inhale, pause, exhale.  She lost track of time.  She could've been sitting there minutes or hours.  Inhale, pause, What is it you seek?  She was startled, because she hadn't really expected to receive a response, but exhaled just as calmly, focusing on maintaining her meditative state.

Inhale, pause, Once, long ago, a tunnel was dug through your magnificent forest. Exhale.

This did happen, it wasn't so much a voice as a memory.  The image of a much younger forest floated through her mind.  She was having trouble separating the earth’s thoughts from her own.

I would really appreciate knowing where the entrance to the tunnel is, she thought in-between breaths.

You already have this knowledge, and while that answer should have both surprised and frustrated her, it didn't.  Because it was correct.  She found she had the knowledge of this forest and all it had seen since the days when it was nothing but weeds and dirt.  She knew of the trees that had grown mighty, only to be felled by an axe.  She knew of the animals and their reliance on one another in their life circle.  And she knew of the people – those who had loved, those who had killed, and everybody in-between.  Watching eons of history flip through her mind in seconds she continued to focus on her breathing and paused when she saw a boulder being moved, a tunnel being sealed.  And she knew, better than she’d known her own home, exactly where the tunnel Zander sought was.  

Thank you for this gift, meaning so much more than thank you.  Is there anything I can do for you, majesty?  She doubted the title was correct, but it seemed to suit and she hoped at very least it wouldn't offend.

Use your tunnel, Lissa, and then restore this forest to those who belong here.  She was unsurprised to hear her given name used; what was a queen next to the earth?

It will be done. It was a promise she would keep.

From my WIP.  Thoughts?