Tuesday, September 11, 2012

National Standardbred Show 2012

This past Sunday was my favorite show of the year, the National Standardbred Show! You may find it odd that a Standardbred show would be my favorite show since I own a Quarter Horse. If you are a follower of this blog, you know that while Quarter Horses are my all time favorite, I am a HUGE fan and supporter of the Standardbred. They are an extremely talented, versatile, and underestimated breed. Anyone who attended Sunday's show saw just that. The show is a lot of fun, has something for everyone, and the SPHO-NJ does a phenomenal job planning and running it. The other thing I love about this show is the people. Everyone there is very nice and friendly and extremely supportive. There is none of the catty attitude typical at most horse shows. Everyone cheers each other and on and congratulates and compliments each other regardless of the outcome. Every one who attends the show is there to support and further the success, versatility, and progress of the breed as a show horse. As you all know, I have been working with my friend Helene's Standardbred JB (aka MR. Versatility) on western pleasure for the past year and half. Last year we were unable to show in the western division at the National show because it conflicted with Helene's driving division. This year, however, the schedule changed and we were able to compete. Unfortunately, the Western division was immediately following the Model division (in which we took 5th in Showmanship and 5th in Model Geldings) so we only had a few minutes to warm up before entering the show ring. Our first class was Western Pleasure (walk/jog). JB had a nice jog, but he did not have his usual low head set. This was a combination of distraction from riders coming into the park from a judged trail ride, lack of warm up, and a bit of rider error (which is usually always the case when we can't get our horse to do what we want at least in part). We received 2nd in the class and the judge commented that we had a nice jog, but inconsistent head set, which I knew right away. Our second class was a walk/jog Horsemanship class with a pattern. We executed what I thought was a nice pattern followed by some good rail work. The head was still an issue in this class, but horsemanship is judged on the rider so it did not matter. We won this class! Our third class was a walk/jog/lope class and this was our first time attempting the lope. We had only practiced the lope riding one handed twice at home in the week before the show, since we decided last minute to enter these classes. He was awesome! He picked up the lope right away (it was more of a collected canter, but very good with our limited practice). His head set was a bit higher than I would like, but it had been at the lope at home too, so I just gave him his head and let him go along. We won this class too and judge commented that we had the a nice and very consistent lope. Our final class was a walk/jog/lope Horsemanship class. We won this class too executing a pattern that tested your transitions and included some tight circles for loping, quite nicely. We ended up being champion for the division! Helene and JB also picked up many blue and red ribbons and championships of their own in Equitation, Jumping, and Driving classes. As always, a big thank you to Helene for lending me her rockstar horse and supporting and helping us every step of the way.
JB and I with our ribbons from the western division! (We later received a champion sash that unfortunately we did not have in time for this photo)

Not Enough Hours in the Day

I apologize for my lack of blogging, but this summer just totally got away from me. I was so insanely busy with work, riding and showing multiple horses, photography, school, and attempting a social life. Anyway, so here is a quick catch up. I will start with the most important topic aka Satin. We have been continuing to show in the Baby Green Hunters throughout the summer and my mare impresses me time and time again. She goes out there and tries her heart out for me every time and has just gotten better and better with each lesson and each outing. We are still trail riding and riding western as well, but unfortunately have not had the opportunity to get out to any barrel shows or team penning this summer. I hope to do so soon because we are both missing it. The one hitch in our summer was a swollen hind leg in the end of August, which took over a week to get right again. I am not entirely sure what the cause was, but it seems to be under control. She is 23 and about twice a year she has this issue where we see some swelling in a leg. It is usually stocking up and goes away after 2-3 days of treatment. She was not lame on it, but as I mentioned it did take me over a week of working her lightly and several types of wrapping to get it down to normal. (Knock on wood) it stays that way. I have still been riding the wonderful JB and he just gets better and better each time. His jog is awesome! It is slow and consistent with a great head set and the neck reining is getting much better. He is going so much like a QH I even forget he is a Standardbred myself! (More on this in my next post) I am back in class and just started my final semester (yay!). I am also interning this semester at Freehold Raceway, doing some public relations work, as well as, learning what it takes to be a Race Secretary. It is a pretty interesting behind the scenes look and I am liking it so far.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Slowing Down the Mare

Yesterday's lesson focused on slowing down the mare over the jumps after her superhero impression in our last show. First in the flat we focused on adjusting my two point to find the position that worked best for Satin and I. Once we got that straight, we took that position to the jumping. Renee had us practice one line working on making her adjustable and keeping her slow. Our goal was to trot into the line and do it in a 7. She ended up going so nice and slow and collected that we did it in an 8. Renee was happy with that though because her pace and distances were good so we did it again in an 8. Then we began working on my hands and finding the right position for them, as well as, steadying myself because I was anticipating Satin speeding up or jumping big as she tends to do at trot jumps. Well, she eventually woke up from her nice slow pace and began speeding up a few strides from the jump than getting strong down the line. Renee then had me practice trotting the first jump than halting in the middle of the line before the second jump. She wanted me to do this by adjusting my position and having her halt into the bridle, as opposed to to sitting deep and leaning back to get the halt. Well, it took quite a few times before we got a halt. Satin was a bit confused since we spent so much time teaching her not to stop and now we were asking her to. The point of this was Renee wanted me to learn the proper position to be in to slow her down when she got strong, so we took this a step further by halting instead. When we turned around to do the line towards home she got strong again. Renee was having me do a very slow jog to the line to keep her calm, but she would still try to speed up right before the jump. When I did keep her slow all the way to the jump she was calmer in the line and halted easily when asked. After a few times going towards home with no halt and not a lot of slow down, Renee hopped on to give it a try. She did some hopping up and down for her and got strong in front of the jump a few times, but of course after a few minutes Renee got her settled down. She had her trotting in, halting, and trotting out very easily. She was even able to get the halt in just a few strides in both directions, while I had only been successful in the one. When I got back on she had me trot into the line, halt, and trot out in both directions. She did so nicely and easily. Then she had me trot in and do the whole line. In the direction going away from the gate she stayed nice and slow and steady. She even did the line in a 9 it was so collected. In the other direction, however, she immediately got strong again. We ended up having to do the line in that direction a few times, and Renee decided we should work on trotting the first jump then getting the halt and would end on one of those. After a couple tries, we finally got one where she did not rush to the first jump so I was able to get a nice halt.

Our First Reserve!

Well our last show had it's ups and downs. It was an extremely unorganized show. They kept changing the order of the divisions with out making any announcements and it was just about impossible to find someone working at the rings to ask about the order. If I had not been sitting at my ring and keeping an eye on what was going on I probably would have missed my division. So we ended up waiting around for almost 2 hours and then having to rush to get ready and warm up since they went from having two more divisions until ours to doing ours immediately. Satin does not enjoy the whole waiting around forever thing. Luckily we were able to distract her with grass up until the time we had to tack up, but by then she had had about enough of this show and decided the fastest way to be done was to go really fast. We had about 15-20 minutes to warm up both on the flat and over fences so that did not give me much time to try and calm her down. She entered the ring the way she used to enter the barrel ring...hopping up and down. Her first course was okay. The pace was a bit quicker than I would have liked, but she was consistent all the way around and got all of her leads and distances. She ended up winning this class. The other two courses were a complete mess. She was extremely worked up and was very quick in one line than I would get her back for the next and then she would go even faster. In the last course I had to pull her up before the first line. She decided to gallop instead of canter down the rail on our way to the first line so I had to get her attention back. There were only three in the jumping so of course she got third in the last two courses after the superman performance. She was still keyed up and muscley in the flat, but I had a few minutes to try and get her head back. Luckily I was able to get a calmer trot and establish the walk before the class began. Her trot started strong and with her head up, after a few minutes of half halting I was able to get her nicer trot that we had been working on at home. It took a bit longer to the right to get this and I was afraid she would break to the canter, but luckily I was able to hold her. The canter was okay. She did not give me much in the way of a head set, but the pace was pretty nice, though I did have to work for it. Our transitions down to the walk were delayed, since she was strong it took me more time than usual to get her settled. The flat had four and she ended up pinning 2nd so that was good. Despite her hyperactivity we ended up reserve for the division, so this was our first reserve as hunters :)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Last Few Lessons

The two lessons following the last horse show were spent focusing on improving our flat work. We spent a lot of time on the trot. In the lesson following the show I think we did an hour of just trot work. In that lesson she did very well to the left as far as giving me a good pace and getting on the bit and staying there without much maintenance. The right was another story. The right is the bad direction for a both of us. I tend to let my right shoulder get too ahead of me, so we did some exercises to fix that such as riding with my hand on the back of the saddle. She was also refusing to bend and drop her head in that direction. Renee was having us do the exercise where I bring her head in as far as I can and then let it go, as we had done at the canter a few weeks ago, but to the right she was not having. Finally my body couldn't take it anymore and I had Renee got on to work her magic. She got the same resistance, but after about 20 minutes of trying some different tactics she started to get some really nice stuff. She had me get back on and told me lateral half halts worked much better than our previous tactic. By the time I got on Renee had her going so beautifully I didn't have to do anything. She just stayed going along perfectly. In between lessons, I did not have much luck getting the head set as nicely we Renee had been able to. When we had our next lesson the following week though I found out why. I did my warm up and asked for the head set the way I had been doing at home. Renee pointed out that my issue was my hands and elbows. She said I needed more bend in my elbow to make a smoother line from elbow to hands to reins. I also needed to lift my hands to achieve this. Once I did this she went right on the bit and into a beautiful head set and trot. What a huge difference something that seems so small makes! We also did the same work at the canter, but I had locked my elbows a little to much at this gait. Renee gave me an exercise I call the Superman to fix this. Every few strides she had me put my arms straight out in front of me to loosen my arms and body and get the feeling of where I need to be. This week, it was finally nice out on a lesson day so we were able to ride outside. We started with our flat work, which Renee had though was much improved over all. I was still not quite right with my right shoulder, so we did the hand on the back of the saddle exercise again. Then we moved on to some courses. Renee didn't give us a warm up jump, but instead had us jump right into the course, so our first course was a bit iffy. I called it practice LOL. The next time through the course was a little better. We had a few rushy spots, especially on our bending line. Renee then gave us a second course. The course started out well with a nice even pace through the first three then got a bit rambly. Our final jump was a single diagonal, which had been part of our bending line, going in the opposite direction now. We were cantering along quite nicely, then about 5 strides out she started to suck back and stared down at the jump. I could feel she wanted to stop, but I put my heel in her and kept my focus up and she went over. I was quite proud of myself, as was Renee, because her sucking back would normally cause me to go with her and result in a stop. After this Renee had me do an exaggerated position with my shoulders very low, but my chest and chin up. She had me do it down this one line that she was getting particularly quick on to show my that that position slows her down better than sitting up or going to the reins as I had been doing. It made it ten times better. Then she had me do my first course again and wanted me to do whatever I had to in my position to make the course nice. Well, that was a bit of a fail. There was basically nothing nice about the course. She got quick in spots, took some short and long distances, etc. I did the course again and this time I kept my eye and position steadier and worked on the lower position. This was our best course so far. She stayed at much nicer pace all the way around, including a better bending line. The only thing that neither Renee or I liked was our final outside line. She had rushed a bit into it, but I got her to hold and not get the long distance coming out. We worked on that line by itself a few times and finally got it nice and smooth with good distance. Overall, it was a successful lesson and I feel confident going into our next show this weekend.

2nd Hunter Show

Sorry for my lack of posts. I have been crazy busy with the end of the semester, working, etc. Anyway, Satin and I had our second hunter show at the end of April. She put in yet another great performance. She once again warmed up perfectly, staying at a nice pace and jumping everything with this ease. The course involved a bending line, which is something we practice often at home, so I knew Renee would be happy to hear that and that it would be no problem. Our first course went pretty smoothly. She got a little quicker to the first and last singles, but was pretty consistent in between. The second course had some issues. She had a late lead change coming off the bending line, which made the turn to the next diagonal not as nice as could be. We also had a break to the trot coming around to the outside line, not really sure why. The break to the trot messed with her striding in that line though, so it didn't match with our distance in the other lines. The third course, had another late lead change, but was otherwise okay. The flat work was better than last show. She kept a nicer trot and more consistent head set. I think the canter is what helped her in this class, since that seemed to be when he looked at her the most. We ended up with a 6th in this class again, which I was happy with out of 12. She earned a 6th in the first course, nothing in the 2nd which I expected because of the break, and nothing in the third, which I was surprised about, but I was happy with her course so that is ok. Sorry for the lack of details, the show was a few weeks ago now so it is not as clear in my head. We are going to another show on Saturday from a different schooling series. Renee thought it would be a good idea to get her out another time since there is 6 weeks between our last show from our regular series at the end of April to the next in the end of June. I will try to post earlier this time!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Yet Another Wonderful Lesson

Yesterday my little wondermare put in yet another great performance in our weekly lesson. We did a LOT of work on the trot. The last two weeks we focused a lot on the canter and now we are back to focusing on the trot, which has been our primary focus for the flat work. We worked on getting her to go on the bit and stay there with slight contact. It took a while, but once I got us both in the right place it really improved the trot and once the trot was steady we began working on getting the head set back to the right spot. Just as with everything else with Satin it was much easier to the left than the right, but we finally got some nice stuff to the right after quite a few times around.

The main focus was getting my hands and body in the right spot in order to get Satin in the right spot. Once this was achieved it was easier to get the trot where we wanted it. Renee has me take a slight contact with my hands touching her neck so I was not tempted to want to move them or do too much with them. I also have a tendency to let my right shoulder get too far out in front going to the right, so we also had to work on adjusting that, which we had worked on last week.

After we finally got what we wanted to the right, Renee had me turn around and try it to the left one more time. Well, if we got good trot to the right, we got fantastic trot to the left! I could feel it before Renee even said a word. She put herself into perfect frame and stayed there. She also had a wonderful pace and was coming up from behind perfectly. Renee and I were both beaming as she just kept repeating "There", "That's it", "perfect". It was what Renee called a "flat class winning trot". Our homework is to keep doing those trot exercises and achieving that "flat class winning trot".

As far as the jumping, that went very well too. Renee had moved some of the smaller, interesting jumps from the indoor outside changing the course up a bit. We started with a simple 4 jumps course, all jumps we had done before, 2 singles and a diagonal line. She went over them all no problem, just slight hesitations on my part. It takes me longer to warm up for the jumping than her! LOL

Anyway, after that we worked on a single line we had done before, which went okay except for a long spot. Then we did another course starting with what Renee called a "stile" jump. It was a narrow 6 foot wide jump coming off the standard of another jump. I am not a fan of the narrow jumps so I was a bit hesitant, which translated to Satin. That plus not having her straight enough, since it was a diagonal jump coming off a turn, caused a couple of stops. I straightened her out, lifted my seat, and attempted it at the trot and she popped over no problem. Then we went right back to it at the canter and she was perfect. Then we continued the rest of the course which was the diagonal line around to two single jumps. It was our best trip ever up the diagonal line. She got the striding and distances perfect.

We finished up working on the one stride which was a cross rail to an oxer. Well when we cantered around to face it, Miss Mare did a double take and slowed to stop. She gave a look like "Um guys, do you know there are 2 jumps very close together here??". We attempted it a few more times, including at the trot. We finally got her over the cross rail than she cut out on the oxer. Renee came down and took the cross rail down so we could do the oxer on its own. She stopped once than realized "oh it's just one jump now, okay" and then went over the oxer fine. We did the oxer on its own a few times and once she was comfortable put the cross rail back up. We put her through the one stride a few times and she got some really nice jumps. In the end Renee and I were quite pleased with the little wondermare.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Last 2 Lessons

My last two lessons since the horse show have taken the wondermare to a whole new level. In our lesson last week following the horse show, we did a lot of work on the flat to improve some of the things Renee and I noticed in the flat class.

We started with the walk, continuing some of the exercises we had been working on for the walk and adding to it with a different foot position when using the spur. After we got that where we wanted it we moved on to the trot. She started a bit pokey so Renee had me stop and start over bringing her into a tighter frame to push her up then letting her stretch her head down into the position we want for showing.

After that we did a lot of work on the canter. We wanted to improve the headset, as well as, get her to use her hindquarters just a bit more. We started with using the new spur application method, while also using a subtle half halt where I move the hands almost in a circle going with the motion of her shoulders. This helped us achieve the goal of getting the hindquarters and resulted in a lovely canter. We did make some progress with the headset with this, but not enough.

The next exercise we did, we worked on getting her to stretch her head all the way down, past where we would even want it at the show. Renee says you should get the poll to flex 5 or 6 inches in either direction from neutral, which is about where we would want it at the horse show. I would half halt for 5 strides, then let out the reins an inch and leave her alone for at least ten strides, then repeat. Renee wanted us to eventually get to the point where I was just about parallel with her neck in position and had my hands down to about my knees. We did this a few times each direction until I was able to get her head nice and low. By the end she was about 6 inches below where we would put her at the horse show which is just what Renee wanted.

We also did another exercise where I brought her nose in as far I could until she dropped it and curled her neck. I would hold this for about ten strides then let her stretch back out. Renee said this exercise if repeated daily would cause her to build neck muscles and that I would see an improvement in just a couple of weeks. Well in the lesson that day it took quite a few times around the ring before she would do what I call the seahorse neck, but the next day she would do it within 4 to 5 strides and hold it longer.

We hadn't had an intense flat lesson like that in a while, but we sure needed it. In today's lesson we had a great walk right from the start. She was bit funny at the trot though, but it ended up being stiffness in her hocks which is typical. After trotting a little each way, we cantered once each way to wake her up and stretch her out. After that we did the trot again and did a lot of bending to help with the hocks. Then we did our canter exercises from last week. Renee was impressed with how quickly she took to what I deemed the seahorse exercise. She thought her head position had improved a lot and she was now beginning to naturally put herself in the headset we wanted.

We did a short course for the last half of the lesson, which included the bending line that I sometimes have problems with. Not today though! I kept my focus dead on and she went over it perfectly. The first time over the course we had our usual rough patches that result from my mistakes. We soon got into the groove and went through the course smoothly though it was a bit quick. We worked on my hands which often get in my way, doing an exercise where I put my hands out in front of me going to and then over the jump. This also made it easier for her to stretch her neck down while jumping and use her back more. We had a few mishaps with my changing position or losing focus causing her to get out after the first few times we did this. Then I got it together and we did the course a couple more times.

By the time she was doing the course quite nicely. The only issue was the final bending line, which she rushing a bit and taking the bigger distance. Renee said the issue here was I was changing my back just before the jump. We did the line a few times by itself to fix that and ended up with what Renee called a perfect line.

Wondermare Does it Again!!

This is a bit late because I have just been completely overwhelmed and busy, but better late than never. Last weekend I took my little wondermare to her first real show as a hunter pony. I was extremely nervous, especially because we had some few rough rides during the week before the show, including me taking a spill in the lesson that week.

I went to Renee's to ride in the indoor the day before the show because it rained. While my ride wasn't great, I was really glad I went because Renee gave me a big pep talk which ended up being just what I needed. When I got to the show I just kept thinking about the things she said and put them into action. I also gave the mare a pep talk on Saturday and apparently she took it to heart!

She was an absolute ROCK STAR at the show. We got there early so we could take our time and avoid some of the craziness that usually happens in the warm up ring. She warmed up perfectly. She went over every jump without even blinking an eye and at a slow steady pace. I got her over everything about 3 or 4 times, more for me than her really.

It was the first show of the season for that series so things got off to a late start. We went into the first course and she jumped around nicely, keeping a good pace. The only major flaw was going long into and out of the one outside line, which was my fault, but it was over all a good course. The second course went much better with good pace and good distances all around. The third was a bit rough. We were both just looking forward to being done and both got a bit sloppy. This lead to some rambliness on Satin's part which in turn resulted in a knocked rail. That was okay though because she was so perfect otherwise I could not complain.

I had a friend who knew I had been nervous come over to me and ask what I was so nervous about because it looked like I was riding a packer. I had to laugh at that one. My friend's trainer also remarked that I was setting a record with the oldest horse in the baby greens! LOL

Next it was time for the flat class. Her trot had a good pace but she could have used a bit more impulsion. Her canter had a nice quiet pace to it, though her head could have been a bit lower. The walk was pretty good after all the practice we had been doing. As we stood for the pinning in a class of 15 I didn't know what to expect. Satin had done well, though I could have pushed her for a bit more I decided to leave her be after such a wonderful performance over fences. I was very happy to receive a green ribbon in that class. To pin at all in a class of that size our first time out was a big achievement in my book.

After the flat they finally gave the placings for the three over fences classes. Again I didn't know what to expect. I thought my mare had done phenomenally, especially for her first time at a hunter show, but with a class that large and it being her first time my only goal was doing our best ribbon or no ribbon. I was extremely happy to receive a 4th place ribbon in our first over fences class. When they called the pinning for the second over fences class I almost fell over from shock. Satin had WON, yes I said WON, as in 1st place. I couldn't believe that not only had she exceeded my expectations for the show in performance, but had not only come home with ribbons, but WON an over fences class!! She didn't get anything in the third course because of the rail, which I expected, but after the blue ribbon I didn't even care.

I was do beyond proud of my mare! She keeps showing everyone that age is just a number! She rises to every challenge I throw at her and exceeds my expectations over and over. I shouldn't be surprised, she is the wondermare after all!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Another Wonderful Lesson

Last week we had yet another wonderful lesson. Miss Satin was in perfect hunter pony mode, which helps make for a great lesson. I had taken her on a trail ride the day before and getting a good run out of her system calms her down for the lesson.

She was a bit lazy at the trot to start, but after a few minutes she got into a good pace. Renee has me a do a lot of two point at both the trot and canter. She is on a mission to give me legs of steel. We also did some work on the walk, since at the show she did more of a prance than a walk in the flat class. Of course, because we were at home, which is much less exciting, she didn't do the prancing. We worked on some things to help anyway, like a change in seat position and the proper way to adjust the reins.

We started jumping with our usual green vertical warm up jump, which we did at the trot a few times. Renee wanted the focus of this lesson, other than two point, to be release. At the show I rode with basically no release, which Renee said was most likely due to nerves, so she decided to work on lots of release. After a few practice jumps, I had the release right where she wanted it and for the right amount of time.

Then we started working on some hunter courses. The first course started with this bending line that had been a problem for me in the past. Usually the problem is because the mare and I both have this weird thing about the second jump in the line so she sometimes stops. That wasn't the problem this time though. In our lesson in the indoor the week before we had a bending line as well and I had a hard time getting her over the second jump. Several times she cut out and if I went to the jump on its own she was fine, but for some reason I could not make the line work. I never had a problem with bending lines before, but apparently my bad luck in the indoor had carried over.

The same thing happened with this bending line. She cut out at the second jump, but when I went to it again on its own she went right over. It obviously was a mistake I was making, and we found out it was in my focus and sometimes my hands. At first I was moving the right hand too much, then I had my hands nice and still, but my focus wasn't steady enough. In the second course we did, the bending line was the last line of the course. We had the same issue our first time doing this course, but on the second time through the course I made a declaration to Renee that this was going to be the best and steadiest focus she had ever seen. Sure, enough when we came down to that final bending line she cantered right through it perfectly, without even a second thought! I was quite happy with myself as was Renee.

The rest of the courses went very nicely. She jumped everything gamely and at a nice calm and steady pace. After we had that perfect bending line, we did a third course and this time Renee made it a short course. We hadn't practice many of those and I think after my victory with the bending line, she figured that was a good point to end on with that line, so left it out of the short course. We had one or two long spots on this course and one line that was a bit quicker and ramblier which caused us to take a rail. I collected her up and our final attempt resulted in a just about perfect course, so Renee decided that was a good point to call it quits. I was quite happy with us both, as was Renee, so it was a quite a successful lesson.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Our "Big" English Debut

Well, big is a bit of an exaggeration. It was big for us in terms of it being our first English outing, but size wise the show was just the opposite.

Yesterday Satin and I attended what I knew would be a small schooling hunter jumper show at a local farm. I chose this because I figured it would the perfect situation / environment for our first time jumping off the property. I expected it would be quiet, not a lot of people, and low stress. I also wanted to get Satin jumping somewhere other than home or my trainer's farm before the hectic atmosphere of our local schooling series. I also figured she could get some energy out here, as she tends to be a bit hyper at the first show of the season.

I was right about all of these things. I did not predict just how low the numbers would actually be. Our partners in crime, Kayla and her horse Smokey, came to the show with us. They intended to compete in the Baby Green Hunters as well. According to the pre-entries posted the day before, there was to be 4 in the division including us. Perfect. Just what I was looking for. Well, one scratched and one didn't show up so it ended up being just the two of us. This was just fine with me though because it made it even quieter for us and gave us all the time in the world to school.

Both horses were a bit snorty, but their usual quiet reliable selves. Two of Kayla's school friends came along, as well as, my friend Rob and of course Daryl, the ultimate pony chauffeur / show assistant. This kept things light and fun. Achieving the big girl trot was no problem as I knew it wouldn't be. She trotted right out from the beginning. Her canter was perfect and she was overall her usual self.

The jumps were a bit scarier than your typical hunter jumps. They were all colorful for one, which was no big deal. One oxer had a dead Christmas tree underneath, another was narrow with trees tied to the standards, and another had the "liver pool" (which was really a blue tarp) under it from the jumpers. The liver pool was taken out at my request before the actual class started, but we did school over it anyway. She stopped at it the first time, mostly from my hesitation, but popped right over the second time. She stopped at both tree oxers on the first approach, most likely a combo of her and me, but popped right over both the second try and each consecutive attempt. I must say she was quite adorable on the first approach to the oxer with the tree beneath it. It was the second jump in a line that started with just a plain vertical. She jumped the vertical no problem and cantered on down to the oxer. Then she got sight of the tree and had "What the hell is that moment?" stopping dead in her tracks and giving it a good once over. But, she very gamely jumped on the second try without another thought. She is a very brave mare for the most part, luckily.

Anyway, we schooled over all the jumps a few times, until we were both comfortable and then the classes began. Overall, I was quite happy with her performance, especially for her first time jumping off property. She went over everything in the courses without hesitation. She did get a bit quick in some of the lines and we cut some corners in areas of the ring we should have used more of because of it. She also had a few long spots, but all in all she was a very good girl. Some of these issues could have been fixed with some better riding on my part, which I learned upon viewing the video and discussing it with my trainer. I brought back some of my old bad habits, such as not using enough hip angle or release, which Renee says is normal when people get nervous.

The other thing we need to work on is our entrance into the ring. As we entered for all three courses I attempted to start in a trot and pick up the canter as we had practiced with Renee. Satin had other ideas. She reverted to barrel horse and immediately took off upon entering the ring. I tried to pull up and start the canter over, but she was a bit too head strong. I was, however, able to bring the pace back a notch or two before we got to the first jump, luckily. When watching the tape with Renee, she said the hip angle issue we had already discussed would help with this, as would really riding her before I even entered the ring instead of waiting until we were already in to organize and prepare her.

As far as the flat goes, she was very good. Her trot was nice and her canter perfect. I could have had her a little rounder at the trot, or at least more consistently round, as she got distracted in certain parts of the ring and would spring her head up. We also had a difficult time with the walk. Difficult, as in, she preferred to jog. She often does this at home too. When I have her on a loose rein she will walk easily, but if I pick up the reins and begin to collect them and ask her to go on the bit, she anticipates being asked to trot or canter. This anticipation leads to her beginning to prance or jog. This is exactly what happened in the class, often during the walking portion she would break into a jog and I would have to bring her back. This also make her walk a bit stilted and short, when she is actually walking. Renee said she would work with us on this in the next lesson, as we had discussed it before but never addressed it.

Smokey is a more experienced hunter horse and has shown over fences before, as has Kayla. He was calm, cool, and consistent through all of the classes so it was no surprise that he brought home the blue ribbons. Satin and I can still say we were Reserve our first show though! LOL!

All in all, it was a successful day and we got what we wanted to get out of the experience. The jumps at our usual schooling series are all plain natural gates and poles, so if she could jump these scarier jumps, the other show will be no problem. I was very happy with her on her first outing as a hunter pony. Renee was very happy with both of us and now we have some things to work on for next time.

Kayla and I with our ribbons.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Party of the Year aka SPHO Banquet

This past Sunday, was the banquet I look forward to the most every year, the SPHO-NJ year end awards banquet. As you all know, I am the proud owner of a Quarter Horse, but have become a very active member of the Standardbred community, especially the SPHO-NJ. It started through friends that owned Standardbreds that I spent a lot of time showing with and now has spread to showing some very nice Standardbreds myself. Along the way I have had the opportunity to show friends Standardbreds, such as Valiant Legacy and Don Dinero, and this year I was lucky enough to show the ever wonderful JB, whose rock star capabilities are often written about on this blog.

Anyway, the Standarbred community has always been very kind and welcoming to me and they know how to throw one hell of a party. At this event, you not only see people who ride Standardbreds, but you also see many very well known and highly respected members of the harness racing community, such as Bill Weaver, an owner who attends this event every year and donates quite a lot of money. Jeff Gregory, well known driver, and husband of my friend Helene, assists with MC-ing the event. Many trainers, owners, and drivers also attend such as Julie and Andy Miller, Lou Pena, Tony Alagna, Donna and Jim Marshall, George Brennan, Steve Smith, Dan Dube, and many more. It is great to see such support from the harness racing community at this event.

The main focus of the evening is the year end awards earned by hard working Standardbreds and their owners / riders. Riders came from as far as Maine and Kentucky to accept their awards and celebrate their achievements. This was the first year out of the four or five years I have been attending this banquet that I was going home with an award, and several at that. JB and I had received the award that had been our focus all year: Grand Champion in Model for both the state and national awards! We also received some thirds, fourths, and fifths in the various riding divisions.

The SPHO-NJ gives out gorgeous and very different awards. Instead of a wooden or plastic trophy like most associations give, they give gorgeous, big year end ribbons and very creative trophies. My friend Rob, who chooses most of the awards also tries hard to make the trophies different each year, beautiful, creative, and personalized when possible. For instance, for my year end trophy for the State Grand Champion in Model I received a gorgeous plate in my favorite color.

This is Jeff Gregory and I with my plate for Grand Champion in Model for NJ, as well as, our fifth place ribbon for Showmanship.

JB also proved himself in his many endeavors with Helene. He was Grand Champion is just about every division in which they competed this year and was Horse of the Year for both State and National.

I have to take a moment to thank Helene for lending me the extremely talented JB for the show season and giving me the opportunity to participate more fully in this wonderful organization. She has given me basically free rein with him, as far as his western training, given up days she could have been riding him so I could practice western with him. She also ships him all over for us both to show and is very encouraging and helpful in my goals for him as a western horse and he has proven himself every time.

Anyway, back to the banquet. Besides, the awards, the event also includes a Chinese auction, 50/50, and live auction items. I assisted with selling the 50/50 just as I do every year, which brought in a nice amount of money. The winners, who own the famous race horse Hands Off My Cookie, were kind enough to donate the money back to the club. The Chinese auction always includes fabulous prizes, such as lessons, gift certificates, baskets full of supplies, and much more. I won a basket full of very useful veterinary supplies, such as electrolytes, wormers, arnica cream, vet wrap, and much more.

This year the live auction was expanded beyond previous years. It included a beautiful canvas print done by Vicki Wright, a favorite photographer among NJ Standardbred people. She is very talented and has done work for me, as well as, becoming a friend and go to source for photography questions. Two beautiful framed photos taken by Vicki were auctioned, as well. Two veterinary gift certificates, one for the famous Patty Hogan, and one for Barry Danvers, were included in the auction, as well. Two new items this year were a harness donated by Finn Tack and a race bike donated by Brodeur. All of these items brought the club several thousand dollars!

Helene pulling me around in the race bike as it was being auctioned off

After the awards, Chinese auction, and live auctions comes the dancing! This is the favorite part of just about everyone in attendance. Attendees of all ages hit the dance floor and party like rock stars! It always promises to be a good time and everyone goes home with sore feet from hours spent on the dance floor. Everyone enjoys themselves, has a great time, and gets to drink, dance, dress up, and celebrate with each other outside of the barn (which doesn't happen very often LOL).

This year they added a red carpet to the event, which made it even more special. They also had a back drop with their logo, just like the awards shows do.

Rob and I posing on the red carpet

Many people commented to me and I agree that this year's banquet was the best yet. The SPHO-NJ has out done themselves yet again! It was a fabulous event, with beautiful trophies to recognize the hard work and accomplishments of all the riders. It included something for everyone, and raised funds for the club. There is not one person that did not have a great time and enjoy an evening of celebration, dancing, and smiles. I can't wait until next year!

Racehorse Training at its Finest

Helene and I have started on yet another new project with Standardbreds. We began taking her racehorse CC Mister C (aka CC) out on training trail rides. Helene rode him one time at home and the very next day we took him out to the Assunpink with miles of trails, large fields, and hills for what some consider to be a bit of an unconventional training method for a harness racer. Riding racehorses is very popular in Europe, especially Sweden, and is growing in popularity in the U.S. as well. It switches it up for them and gives them a break and some variety.

CC was a total champ the first time we went out. Helene rode CC and I rode JB. CC acted like a seasoned trail horse. He was very brave and willing. We trotted a few miles through the cross country fields and up and down the hills. We all got our workout in! It helps CC, builds muscle for me, and gives JB lots of extended trot practice. He has been doing the most gorgeous extended trot, flicking out his feet and everything. Well, I should say it feels gorgeous to me and Helene confirms it is since she can see it LOL. We also went to the lake, which JB loves. He wades like in a hippo and splashes us all. CC was a bit skeptical at first, but after a few minutes followed JB in and stood quietly as JB splashed him over and over. This is the reason people own Standardbreds! You could never take your still on the track or just off the track Thoroughbred out on trail and have them be perfect on the first time.

He raced two weeks ago shortly after our first trail outing and came home a winner! After that Helene's husband, Jeff, a well known catch driver, who of course drives CC, jumped on board and encouraged the riding to continue. We went twice last week, increase our trotting time, which gives the boys quite a work out and has been great for me too. It helps me build my legs with all the miles of posting and two point, which is something Renee and I have been working on. I even rode JB English for one of the rides to build me up even further.

We rode the boys in the Assunpink today, but CC races tomorrow so we kept it to a leisurely walk, with just a short spurt of trotting up one hill, when JB decided it was necessary to stretch a bit. Fingers crossed CC brings home another win tomorrow! He is up a class and coming from the 7 hole, but Helene and I still have faith!

Rock Starrrrrrrr!!

JB proves himself to be a rock star, yet again! We got back to western work a week or two ago, after a few weeks off from it. We used the shank bit once again and he proved his limitless talents.

He started off jogging like we just had worked on it yesterday. He kept the perfect pace, perfect headset, and all. Last time we had practice I had started working on riding with one hand. He is fine with the neck reining, keeping the pace and headset while using one hand was what needed work. In our last sessions he had done well, but I had only done short spurts of jogging with the one hand and not holding the reins the proper way to make it easier to go back to 2 hands if necessary. He had done very well with that and we also did a lot of neck reining work at the walk.

Now back to our last session. I decided to try some more one hand work since his jog was so nice. I again started with shorter spurts and not holding the reins properly, in case I had to switch back to two. He did so well I decided to try going longer and hold the reins the way I would in a horse show.

Well once again JB proved himself and had me smiling in disbelief at what appears to be limitless natural ability. He jogged several times around the ring, one handed, loop in the rein, keeping a beautiful jog, and perfect head set. The one or two times he sped up I corrected him and he came right back, responding perfectly.

This is when Helene said, "Show me some turns and circles." Well, there is nothing I like more than a challenge. JB accepted that challenge effortlessly. We did several turns, serpentines, figure eights, and circles. He neck reined like a champ and again held a perfect pace and headset throughout.

We plan to have another western session this week, so I look forward to another rock star moment from the handsomest Standardbred in town, who never ceases to amaze me or put a smile on my face. I look forward to next show season more and more each ride!

Lessons like these....

Lessons like this week are the reason I love my mare and give me hope for show season. We got to ride outside as it was another unseasonably warm 60 degree February day. We did a lot of work on her trot, which has been coming along quite nicely. We have the pace up to a good spot, now working on getting her to round up at that pace without slowing down.

We did a few trot jumps to warm up, then Renee had us play horse show and exit the ring, re-enter, and do a course. The first course went pretty nicely, with just one of two slightly tight jumps. Then we did a second course that had an extra line in it, as well as, a broken line. This course went pretty well, but not as nice as the first course. She had 2 really big / long jumps and got quick in a few spots.

For the third course, we repeated our first course and she did it even more beautifully than the first time. Then we repeated the second course where we had two chips from tight distances due to her getting a bit speedy and a 2 stride break during a long canter to a single diagonal from me trying to slow her too much. Overall, Renee and I were both happy with the course, those simple mistakes aside.

Overall, I was very happy with both my mare and myself, for that matter. She was very brave over all the fences, had a lot of really nice jumps, and kept a good pace for the most part. Renee was quite pleased with both of us as well. Lessons like these remind me why I call Satin the wondermare and give me hope for us in the hunter ring this season!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Watermarking Program

When I do product recommendations here, I usually just focus on equine products. I am changing it up and doing it for a photography related service. It is a program called Batch Photo Watermarker. You can load as many photos into the program as you want. You can customize your trademark or copyright and position it appropriately. After that all you have to do is hit save and it applies it to all of the selected photos. This is great for me as a photographer with a Facebook page, as well as, a website.

I am doing this for two reasons:

1. I like the program. It is easy to use efficient and a time saver.

2. If you link this program to your blog or website they give you a free registration code :)

So here is the link (Photo Watermarking Software), fellow photographers be sure to check it out!

Satin Update

My super senior has been fabulous as usual. In last week's lesson, she was the perfect little hunter, except for a few stops. She tends to rush at the jumps and often takes the long spot. The day before the lesson, however, I decided to try and get some of that out of the way by cantering ground poles and an 18 inch cross rail. This seemed to work, because while she was rushy doing this work, she went around nice and quiet on lesson day.

We were able to ride outside because February 1st was unseasonably warm at 63 degrees, so we were able to work on courses. The fact she was going around like a quiet hunter was an added benefit. However, I am still not completely comfortable at the slower pace. While, yes I enjoy it and it is ultimately what I am aiming for, I tend to get nervous that she will stop. When she is rushing at least I know she is going to go over. This nervousness on my part translates quite easily to my mare, through the subtle cues I am not even aware of. We did have a few stops and one resulted in me taking the jump without her, but overall she was wonderful. Plus, we learn more from doing it wrong than doing it right, right? It gave me hope for show season, as I am afraid we will get to the show and she will go barrel pony on me LOL.

Speaking of shows, we are aiming for March 4 to be not only our first show of the season, but also our English debut. I need to get her out before the first show of our usual schooling series, which is April 1. The show we are aiming for is at a farm so I expect it will be smaller and probably a little lower key, which is exactly what I am looking for. Plus, she is always a bit hyper at the first show of the season, so I would like to get her off the property to jump in a show like atmosphere before then.

In other news, we have recently done some beautiful stretchy work in our western saddle. She also had an awesome collected canter and counter canter yesterday. We have been doing a lot of work on flexion, as well, especially to the right. When we started she would lock her jaw on the bit and refuse to bend, but after just a few consecutive days of work on it, she was flexing softly and easily. Now her flexion at the poll to the right is even better than the left!

Our next lesson is tomorrow and unfortunately the weather forecast is not as good as last week, so we will most likely be in the indoor. Either way, some major learning will be happening, always does with Renee!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

2012 Equestrian Goals

I know we are already a month into 2012, so this post is a bit late. But, hey, better late than never right?

I accomplished many things last year that were either yearly goals or on my equestrian bucket list such as winning grand champion in speed, turning JB into a kick ass western pleasure horse, riding Satin on the beach, swimming with her in the Assunpink, and trying a new discipline (aka English).

Here are some of my equestrian goals for this year:

1. Enter my first English show (Hunters and maybe eventually Jumpers)
2. Win my first English ribbon (of any color)
3. Ride on the beach again.
4. Make more trips to the Assunpink.
5. Improve my bareback and bridleless skills
6. Have JB neck reining for this show season, hopefully by the start.
7. Ride as much and as many horses as possible.
8. Keep taking my mare out to all different kinds of competitions and showing people age is just
a number!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

2011: A Photo Review

2011 had its ups and downs for me as it did for everyone, but I figured I would recap some of the highlights here on my blog (at least the equine and photo related ones, which are obviously most important anyway).

First and foremost, 2011 was the year Satin and I took grand champion in the Open Speed division at the age of 22 (for both of us LOL)

Obviously this means 2011 brought us some of our best runs:

This year was also the start of our English career:

This pic isnt me riding but she looks adorable and it was her first time 3 foot so had to include it.

Another highlight of 2011, or two highlights I should say, are with JB.

He was a total rock star in open model this year coming in 3rd against some major competition at a local show series and Champion for the year with the SPHO-NJ

JB also started his career as a western pleasure horse and was again a total rock star! He took third for the year in the Beginner Western division at our local schooling series.

2011 also introduced me to two horses that would become big parts of my riding life, as well as, give me a lot more valuable time and experience with my trainer and great opportunities.



Another major highlight of 2011 was the Firecracker Fun Show. It was a huge accomplishment and a great event.

I was able to cross something off my equestrian bucket list in 2011: my first beach ride on my pony :)

I also got to go swimming with my mare, which was also on my equestrian bucket list

I have to include a picture of my year end awards from our local schooling series.

On a more personal note, 2011 was the year I graduated college.

2011 also marked 4 years with my wonderful mare <3

While 2011 did have some lows, overall it was a pretty good year as you can see from these memorable moments. Here's to some even more memorable moments in 2012!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


I swear I did not run away! Things were very overwhelmingly busy with the holidays and the end of the semester. Now everything is finally winding down, of course right when school is about to start up again.

Let's start with the most important updates: the horse related ones.

First and most important, Satin is doing wonderfully. She is turning 23 this Sunday and continues to prove that age is just a number. We have still been diligently taking our English lessons. We had a few bumps along the road with some rough lessons for a us both, but we learned a lot from them and are better for it. The past few weeks we have been working on serpentines both on the flat and over jumps. The work on the flat has really helped in completing the pattern over fences. Two weeks ago Renee had us remove our stirrups and do it to work on our positions. It wasn't so bad on the flat, but then we had to jump, which was quite an experience. I did it, but had a few close calls.

Today we had a great lesson. Her trot was awesome! It has been getting better and better every week, as far as, both speed and frame, but today was especially good. We did trot serpentines with single poles at each end of the ring and a set of four trot poles to go over in the middle. Then Renee change the trot poles to canter poles and we did the serpentine that way. She was absolutely excellent. First time through she completed the pattern perfectly, keeping an even steady rhythm, getting perfect distance over the ground poles, and completing flawless lead changes. We worked on the serpentine, which she did quite nicely by the end. We also worked on serpentining over three small jumps that were basically brush boxes standing on their own with no standards. This make it quite tempting for the horse to go around it, which both Satin and Lexie did several times. It took quite a few tries, but I eventually got her over all three. The best part was that Renee remarked on how nice my rides were to the jumps as even though I had a feeling she would stop at them I rode her perfectly to them and the stops were Satin's decision not mine. I also did not give up or get frustrated. I remained calm, confident, and kept trying until I got it right.

Next we have Taz, who I have begun to conclude is basically the male version of Satin. He cracks me up. He is a very good boy though, and I have a lot of fun with him. We have been continuing our twice weekly rides. We have been doing work on serpentines, as well, and circles over poles, as well as turns on the haunches and collected work at both the jog and canter. Like Satin, he is very talented and willing to do just about anything you ask of him, often with enthusiasm. He agrees with Satin that raised ground poles are very exciting and should be done at warp speed. LOL Though, she has gotten over that a bit now that she has been jumping.

I have to mention what a total rock star JB has been. Since our last horse show in October I have ridden him once or twice, but it was usually English. His owner, my friend Helene, has been in Sweden for the past 10 days, which makes me the appointed substitute rider. This gave me the extra incentive to pack up the western tack and get him back to work. I rode him last Friday and decided to put him in the shank bit as my goal is to ride him on handed next show season. I had ridden him in that bit before but not in quite some time. I got on expecting him to start a big quick and have to be worked into the jog as we usually do, especially since we had not done any western in a while.

Well being the total rock star he is, JB showed me otherwise. When I asked him to jog off he went immediately into a beautiful, slow jog with his head nice and low. I just went with it and instead of doing short spurts of jog mixed with transitions until he was in the zone we went right off around the ring in perfect pleasure horse mode. I think this was aided by the shank bit, which I absolutely love him in! Anyway, I decided while we were being so fabulous it was a great time to start trying some one hand. He neck reins just fine, he just doesn't always go slow, with his head down when using the one hand. I got him into perfect jog mode then held the reins in one hand keeping a low hand to see how long he would stay at the nice, slow, head down jog. He surprised me once again by staying there for about half way around the ring before speeding up or lifting his head. I corrected him then asked again and let him go about ten nice strides then stopped. We repeated this again going with the one hand until we got 10-15 good strides then stopping. Afterwards, I took him out into the grass field to canter as the ring was getting quite crowded. He gave me the most beautiful canter in both directions.

I went again on Monday and he again gave me a great jog, though he was a bit distracted by the scattered jumps with the poles stood against them. We did a lot more work on the one hand and he again did very well with it. He also responded nicely to the correction with the one hand. I did some canter work and he started out a bit rough, but then settled into a very nice canter. We finished up with a lot of neck reining work at the walk. We weaved in an out of the standards and did a lot of figure eights and tight circles. I couldn't be prouder. I have high hopes that we will be neck reining like champs by the start or show season.

Last, but not least, we have Try. I rode Try up until Christmas and his owner has decided to give him off for the winter. He was doing very well riding wise up until the time we stopped riding. He was still a bit cranky with the ground work and tack up, but all in all not too bad.

I promise to try and and be more diligent with my posting, lets call it a New Year's resolution. I plan to do a post with some of my favorite photos of 2011 and some of my Equestrian and photography related goals for the new year.