Rides This Week: Night School

Monday: jump school — already covered!

Now on to the evenings … I get to the barn after work around 7, so it’s totally dark now that we are back on Central Standard Time.

Tuesday: easy exercise day
I think getting Eli out and letting him move around under saddle the day after jumping seems to help his demeanor. I didn’t really want to do too much, just give him the exercise and not ask for much else but forward. I rode him in the full cheek mainly so that I would clean it after. He tends to lean on it less (like he even leans all that much, but over fences it can come in handy in the corners).

Wednesday: flat work focus
I let Eli get some stretchy trot in, then some forward cantering and tried to open up his gait a little bit, then I asked him to come back and do a slower, more collected canter (not actually dressage-y collected, just more contact and uphill balance). He pretty much did everything I asked him to do.

Thursday: flat work focus
I did not ask for much in the trot, but did take him through a trot pole to low cross rail a couple times to get him paying attention to where he is putting his feet. We then worked on cantering, and canter-walk transitions on a big figure 8. Sometimes I struggle with keeping Eli in the right gait, so I am working on not letting him fall out at the canter. Trying to do that while also asking for canter-walk transitions was difficult at first, because Eli anticipated so early. He definitely tried, though. I need to be clearer with my aids, too, and that will obviously help us.

Friday:
This might be a good day to work with Eli on the ground, on the longe line. He’ll be pretty relaxed and focused from getting turnout and work all week, plus the weather is still mild right now. On the other hand, I don’t want to needlessly stress him out — I’ll just have to see how he does.

Monday Make-up

On Monday, I was able to get a “make-up” jump school with my trainer because I was doing a mostly non-horsey thing all day on Saturday. I say “mostly” because the group I met up with are horse people. But we didn’t touch a horse, promise!

So you are going to hear about Saturday first … some close friends were going to be in the area and we planned to meet up near Fredericksburg, a German community in Central Texas near a LOT of vineyards, cellars, and tasting rooms, as well as some great state parks. A trip to Fredericksburg would be a fun vacation for anyone, whether you’re from Texas or not. Although, probably don’t go in August.

First, we hit Becker. The tasting was pleasant and the people pouring were super nice. It was still a bit chilly, but we decided to grab an early lunch outside from the food truck.

I think it was called the Lone Star Cafe Food Truck but the tacos tasted like ambrosia in the form of beef

This lunch turned out to be the most memorable thing I tasted at Becker. Those were some damn good tacos. It’s not that the wine wasn’t good, but I was just not expecting bad ass street tacos at a vineyard.

Next, we hit 4.0 Cellars  as none of us had been yet. This tasting room was hopping, and I had the two most memorable wines from this trip at this place — a Montepulciano, and a very light, airy white called Roussanne. The Montepulciano was probably my favorite.

We ride horses but we also like wine.

With Inwood being right across the highway, we decided to stop there before dinner–and fair warning, this paragraph contains an f-bomb or two. The tasting was good, but I must say the guy pouring annoyed the crap out of me. I don’t mind surly people, which he was, but that wasn’t the problem. I am not a big wine person but he was trying to tell me that terroir was bullshit and had no basis in scientific fact and it’s just a selling point blah blah blah … sorry, wut? So all of France is … wrong? Whatever, dude. It doesn’t matter if terroir has no basis in scientific fact or not, it’s a whole effing concept, very well-developed, related to the aspects of WHERE a grape grows influencing the character of the wine made from the grapes. OF COURSE it’s a selling point. And it’s not a concept exclusive to wine. But as an example … you think you want to drink a Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley? Or one from Central Texas? Oh, wait, how hard is it to actually even find a Pinot Noir from grapes grown in Texas? You mean the Tempranillo grapes produce better here? Et-fucking-cetera. You get what I’m saying. The wines on the tasting menu were all pretty delicious, though. I wish he had just told me more about those and said the word “phenotype” a little less. I wasn’t there for a mini-lecture on Gregor Mendel and the pitfalls of American consumerism — just pour the damn wine.

Now on to my favorite part of the whole trip: GERMAN FOOD. We headed to The Auslander in Fredericksburg and ate all the schintzel and spaetzel and German potato salad which is not a salad at all and some of our party even ordered gigantic glass boots full of beer called “Das Boot.” I opted for the Chimay.

Okay, back to the make-up. Eli warmed up nicely and proved pretty composed, so I asked my trainer about working on ME, my position, using my seat and core to regulate Eli’s pace and all that kind of thing. News flash: riding is hard. Riding well is even harder. It took a number of tries for me to get to an appropriate distance to the first fence and then balance Eli without pissing him off before the second fence. This is the last time through the line:

Monday jump school from patentlybay on Vimeo.

(Thanks for filming, Vicki!) I like to pull as a knee-jerk reaction when really what works best is allowing Eli to take the distance he wants at the first fence and focus on lifting my shoulders and stabilizing my core and stop messing with my hands … all the same stuff we’ve been working on. We finally got some decent lines in and called it a day. Not my best riding to date but workable.

Still ducking after all these years. Quack.

Of course he jumps so consistently over the fences themselves, so at least I don’t have to worry about that. He is the perfect horse for me in that respect. Eli earns his apples every time, too. I hope to get to a lot of clinic-inspired flat work this week, which will hopefully translate into me riding better between the fences.

Lund Saddlery Calfskin Stirrup Leathers Review

Stirrup leathers are arguably one of the most important pieces of tack — if you are going to use them, they better be durable, right? When I had an opportunity to try the new Lund Saddlery stirrup leathers I jumped at it. I have been so impressed by the bridle that Eli now wears it every ride. The breastplates and girth are equally well-designed and high quality. Why should the stirrup leathers be any different? I had been using a pair of 54″ Toulouse nylon core leathers that served quite well for a number of years — not exactly sure when I bought them, but it’s been years. But they were in pretty bad shape at this point — no major fraying or breakage, but definitely on the cusp of failure.

And once I had the Lund leathers in hand, I knew immediately I liked them better than the Toulouse. While the Toulouse are nice, the Lund stirrup leathers are absolutely high-end, buttery, fine-grained calf, with a nylon core. They were not stiff at all and honestly I think I could have gotten away with using them without any oiling or conditioning, but I don’t like to do that to nice leather. At $88USD, $115CAD these are a steal. I have also used the Beval nylon core leathers that run for $120 and these are completely comparable, if not a little nicer. I find they have a feel more like CWD or Devoucoux leathers, although I have only picked those up in passing and never purchased because my money tree died in the drought.

Length: Lund stirrup leathers come in a handful of lengths, so if you aren’t interested in trimming excess stirrup leather (as George Morris likes to advise) you can probably get the right length for your leg and discipline. I chose the 52″ ones. The holes are also numbered for convenience, although if you’re like me your legs aren’t all that even so you might not have your stirrup leathers on the same number on both sides …

Thickness: Thickness is actually a really important factor to me in stirrup leathers. I want thick enough that I know they’ll hold weight and won’t wear too thin at pressure points like at the top of the stirrup iron or at the stirrup bars on the saddle, or the holes themselves. Most stirrup leathers fit this profile. At the same time I don’t want them too thick. The Toulouse were so thick I could not adjust them while sitting in the saddle at all. I tested that the first time I rode using the Lund stirrup leathers. I tried to approximate how long they would need to be before mounting, but of course I like my stirrups hiked up so I had to shorten them a few holes from in the saddle. I had no problem at all doing this. Huge advantage right there of the Lund leathers!

Color: The leathers come in what I would call a chestnut color, and I think the actual color name might be Australian Nut. If you like the color, I think just a coat of conditioning and you’d be good to go. I wanted to match the leathers to my saddle, which is a warm brown with reddish undertones.

Darkening process: I have a couple different ways to darken tack, depending on what that tack is. I typically do not soak leathers in a vat of oil, like you could do with the Sedgwick leather of Lund bridles (although I don’t do that to bridle leather either). So to make the color richer, I started with 3 or 4 coats of Hydrophane darkening oil. The leathers took the oil beautifully, and I finished up with conditioning with Belvoir. I still condition them regularly, and occasionally put on another coat of Hydrophane. They’re a nice, deeper chestnut color now, although I think I could get them even a little darker to match my saddle better, but I don’t want to go too dark, so I am doing this gradually.

Durability:  Obviously until you use a pair of leathers for years, you can’t speak to the durability. But there are some features that can indicate durability and quality in a pair of leathers, such as the feel of the leather and the stitching. Both leather quality — hello, calfskin — and the stitching of the Lund stirrup leathers stand up to scrutiny. The edges are also finished, and have not shown any signs of wear or fraying yet.

If you are looking for new leathers or know of an equestrian in the market for new leathers, I can’t recommend these enough AND they are under $100USD! I haven’t paid under $100 for leathers since I was like 12. And these could definitely be priced much higher for the quality.

Clinic Day 2: Jumping

I’d like to get right to the jumping part of day 2, mainly because the flat work was similar and Eli seemed to remember and understand everything from the day before. The clinician focused on the junior I was paired with because she had not ridden the day before. I did not mind one bit! I don’t think I could have done quite that much cantering again the very next day.

Eli approached Sunday with more focus than he had on Saturday so we were able to make a little more progress over fences. Which is to say, make more progress in between the fences. Having a more rideable horse also helped!

Again, we started simple and worked over a cross rail, eventually adding an outside line.

clinic day 2: organizational skills from patentlybay on Vimeo.

The junior and I both had at least one similar issue: our horses tend to get downhill in the corners. The clinician emphasized pushing them uphill, not pulling. Seat, not hand. This is good advice.

clinic day 2: riding the turns from patentlybay on Vimeo.

clinic day 2: sticky changes from patentlybay on Vimeo.

rideability is getting there from patentlybay on Vimeo.

After jumping, our session was not over. Did you notice Eli doing something a little unusual for him (meaning me, really)? We worked on schooling lead changes next.

I don’t really school changes. But nothing the clinician was saying was foreign to me. I have just never been the go-to lead change person, considering most of the horses that I have ever ridden ever had auto, easy, or uncomplicated changes. But Kathleen walked us through it and tolerated my slow wit when it comes to following instructions, and we actually got a few changes! It was a struggle, but Eli can do them. Now we just need to work on me. And my timing. And my position.

I really got a lot out of the clinic and so much of it is stuff I can apply right away and keep practicing. I probably won’t be trying to school lead changes daily, but as far as riding uphill, adjusting gaits with my seat, and using square turns for balance … that is all possible to incorporate into my rides. And I will try cantering more. It’s the most important gait for jumping, after all, so I should be practicing at the canter on the flat as much as at the trot, if not more.

Clinic Day 1: Jumping

So everything we just worked on with the flat work must be incorporated over fences, right? Especially riding the turns like quarter-circles or even square turns but going straight in between the turns … apparently a totally novel concept to me. Eli and I just kind of loop around aimlessly sometimes, but the clinician was putting a stop to that.

We started with a very basic warm up and gradually moved on to working on two lines together, putting together flat work and jumping warm up exercises. Balanced uphill turns are key to a decent chance of having a good round over fences. Also key to lead changes … but more on that on day two of jumping.

Back to day one of jumping. My theme was MAKE A DECISION. Gee, where have I heard that before? I am glad for the sound on these videos, because I can hear the clinician saying things like you have to make a decision to do the add step or move up in strides one or two, not strides six or seven (in a 82′ line). Does that sound familiar to me? Um. Yes. I mean. I might hear it a lot. Maybe. But, we got it going pretty well for a few tries …

cantering both lines from patentlybay on Vimeo.

… Until we started to get kind of tired. See: day one flat work with all of the extra cantering. I basically started jumping up the neck and chipping HARD. Thankfully for Eli’s quick reflexes he saved my ass every time. Nothing rattles me more than a bad chip (having a rail is a close second). I could feel dread creeping over my brain. But I could also hear the clinician giving me excellent instructions about making decisions — early decisions — and using my seat and waiting for the jump. Still, I had an epic fail course, commemorated here on video: bad chip, break in gait, massive stumble, getting handsy … but there were still some good takeaways — we recovered and kept going after Eli tripped (no idea if this was random or from fatigue but probably a little bit of both and I assure you it was frightening and I was glad to feel Eli trotting okay afterward), and as Eli tried to dive to the left after the last fence I decided not to let him do that much more forcefully than I usually ride him. I am not proud of this video, but it is instructive. I can’t let me or my horse being a little tired result in sloppiness or a lack of discipline (another theme of the day: discipline!).

total meltdown from patentlybay on Vimeo.

But our last attempt was much better. Eli and I both had enough gas left in the tank for a few more organized, balanced turns with some fences thrown in and I really like that we seem to be pretty good at a single oxer off a long approach (thank you, trainer!!). Eli also got a bit leapy after jumping the oxer nicely and I was like “OMG” and the clinician was like “KEEP CANTERING.” Oh. Yeah. Good point.

strong finish from patentlybay on Vimeo.

Day one left me feeling physically fatigued and I am sure Eli wondered why we worked so damn hard, but he got a liniment bath and lots of treats, poultice, and pampering for his exceptional efforts. I still was very excited for day two, because I knew Eli would be in a better frame of mind and I had a lot to build on.

It was also such a treat to catch some of the riding other groups were doing, and getting to watch Kathleen teach and communicate her program is just as valuable from the sidelines as being on a horse in the ring with her. I am also eternally grateful for all of the filming Vicki and JenJen did for me and Eli, and to anybody else who caught film of us, thank you!