Cue the smiles: baby pictures of Starlight

Like any fond parent (“horse mother”) I see the beginnings of greatness in the picture below of Starlight at One Day old, kindly sent to me recently by Janne Rumbough, Starlight’s breeder.

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Look at Starlight cantering already on those long, spidery baby legs. Her momma is pretty gorgeous, too, if you ask me. Here’s a close up of one day old Starlight…IMG_1293.JPG

You can see she from her coat and gangly legs that she’s really just newborn, and yet she already looks like a nice package. It’s amazing how quickly they get up and get running! Essential, of course, because in the wild they might have to run from a predator, but still amazing when you think about how long a human baby has to be carried around.

Below you’ll see Ms. Starlight at Three Years Old. Notice that her mane and forelock are roached, and her dock is trimmed. This is traditional for the presentation of Andalusian PRE mares.  If I were showing her in breed classes I would need to prepare her this way.

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Now she’s looking pretty grown up and elegant, with a lovely reach and an eager expression. That star stands out nicely against her black coat!

The picture below shows her cute backside. She’s almost saying, “excuse me, are you admiring my nicely rounded hindquarters? Humph.”

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Such fun for me to see baby pictures of my big grown up girl, who is now 16.1 hds. The same sweet and interested expression is there, and the same leggy elegance, but now she is filling out and muscling up.

Here is her wise, kind face in July, 2016. I just love to kiss that nose – and she doesn’t seem to mind it.

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Should you go to a clinic?

Star and I have struggled a little with finding a steady connection with the bit. Star’s automatic reflex is to raise her neck and brace herself, especially if she is a bit tense or nervous, becoming quick in her gait and keeping her back hollow. Ick.

Of course I would like to slow her tempo, adding cadence and push from her hindquarters, engaging her back, and getting a nice, steady connection with the bit. It’s a work in progress.

Right now I’m in the midst of a three day clinic with Corinne Dorrepaal, a wise and experienced trainer from Holland who comes to the USA for clinics occasionally. Lucky me!

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Much improved connection, thanks to Corinne’s help at the clinic

Clinics are expensive – each lesson usually  two to four times what you normally spend on a lesson – and I found myself thinking about that cost. Is it worth it?

It depends. In Corinne’s case, Yes! Here’s my metric for deciding whether to spend the money on a clinician:

  1. Is he or she an effective teacher?  Many clinicians offer years of experience, having seen literally thousands of horses and riders of all sorts. They draw on that vast resource of knowledge to quickly solve your riding problems.
  2. Does this person treat the students and horses with respect?  A positive attitude with respect for horse and rider is nonnegotiable. They must not drive the horse into the ground with too much work during the clinic (and if you feel the work is too hard, Speak Up!), or use their authority to abuse horse or rider.
  3. Does this clinician offer something different from my current teacher, but not conflicting with her general methods? If it’s just more of what your teacher offers (without further depth), why bother? If it conflicts with what you do at home…you will have a problem continuing the work and either lose all you gained at the clinic, or have conflict with your trainer. Don’t do it.
  4. Do I finish the lessons with practical exercises to take home and a clear understanding of what I need to do, practice, work on, aim for?

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    Starlight in a nice uphill collected canter. She can’t maintain this very long yet, just a few strides and then we let her go bigger for a few strides, then collect again..

  5. Is the clinician open to questions and discussion when I need more clarification?
  6. How did I feel about the lesson(s)? I always try to have my clinics videotaped, as many of the sessions as I can. I’m a visual learner, not auditory, so watching video helps me understand what happened and reinforces what I felt. It also helps me decide if it is worth going back to the clinician because the real question is…
  7. Does this clinician make a positive difference in my horse and me quickly and effectively? 

Day one of the Corinne Dorrepaal clinic, within 15 minutes she had my horse looking so much better! Of course, in my lessons at home, this happens too. A little warmup and some coaching does a lot of good. But I felt we made some important strides forward in the area of getting a good connection over the top.

What I took away from my first day:

  • The gray areas matter: always pay attention to the little things, don’t be sloppy. Every transition, every moment.
  • Keep asking Star to lower her neck (from the base of the neck) all the time. Be wary because she starts to bring it back up and you don’t realize it. Especially in the transitions, lower the neck, it improves them and also makes her stronger.
  • Slow the tempo down in trot and canter. Keep the energy through frequent transitions within the gait (“almost walk, trot on”), but keep the tempo fairly slow.

More insights in a few days! And here is a small portion of the lesson video, focusing on collecting for a few strides, then lengthening for a few strides exercise, all while keeping the neck low to engage the back. We begin with a little walk work and proceed to trot.

 

 

 

Love affair with a mare

My dear friend, Velda Ruddock, professional photographer extraordinaire, captured something special in her lens…

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Oh yeah, THAT’s the itchy spot, mom. Keep currying there please…ahhhhhh…..

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What are we going to do today, mom? Something fun I hope? How about a nice trail ride?

 

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Starlight, today you’re going to learn Tempi Changes, Piaffe, and Passage!

Ha ha, just kidding. It will be the usual walk, trot, canter.

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That was a good day’s work, mom. I like being with you.

 

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Let’s just snuggle. You wouldn’t happen to have any sugar, would you? I do love that stuff.

Starlight at the horse show

Starlight made the jump to Second Level this weekend, and did it in style with some quite good scores. Below are a few nice pictures from test 2-3. What a truly lovely setting and we always enjoy showing at Osierlea in San Juan Bautista, CA, where everyone is helpful and friendly, the footing is excellent, and there are gardens all around you. No dust or flies, either, I don’t know how they do it!

It’s horse heaven. Star told me she’d like to live there, but unfortunately it would be too long a commute for us. We’ll just have to visit occasionally.

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Up the Centerline for the halt and salute

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Shoulder-in

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Medium trot across the diagonal

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Collected canter right

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More collected canter right!

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Counter canter serpentine, right

Getting better all the time…

Starlight is at a stage where progress happens fast. I know  plateaus will come soon enough, but I’m enjoying her willing attitude and aptitude for dressage.

What a dance partner she is!

A fellow blogging friend challenged us to a “before and after” post about our horse, so here we go: the first five months with Starlight

Starlight in March 2016 when I bought her:

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Talking to Starlight before the vet check. You’re going to be my girl now (assuming you pass the vet check)!

A few weeks later, under saddle as we got to know each other. Looks at those happy smiles.DSC02965

 

In April, at the Woodside HorsePark on a cold windy day, having a clinic with Miguel Tavora, Starlight gets a little TOO enthusiastic about the canter depart!

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Whoa there, girl! I don’t want to play Calamity Jane in this partnership!

Our first show, Training Level, six weeks after I bought her. She was very tense, but obedient and safe.

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Notice how shiny her coat is as she sheds out the bleached winter coat and grows in a nice shiny black summer coat. I feed her Platinum Performance and Chia Seed which helps with shine, too.

By our fourth and last show at Training Level (hooray!), she feels like an old campaigner. Works beautifully in a crowded warmup ring, has no problem with the judge’s booth or the flowers on the ring, knows her job and does it. A little tension in the first test but performs very well.

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See how much more grownup she looks now!

While we continue to struggle a bit with reaching over the top for a solid connection with the bit, Starlight improves weekly and always has a willing spirit. I can’t say enough good things about the Andalusian – when you find a good one.  For me they are the perfect combination of trainability, willingness, good sense, forwardness, comfortable gaits, and beauty. You can tell I’m besotted. This horse would follow me anywhere and do anything for me. It is a precious trust.

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Starlight in May 2016, finishing a Training Level test and feeling quite pleased with herself.

 

Saddle fitting lessons

After many, many saddles and endless experiences over many years with countless saddle fitters, I’ve learned some lessons the hard way, through experience and often expensive mistakes.DSC03470

Lesson Number One: Your saddle is only as good as your fitter. Find a good fitter.

A beautiful saddle that doesn’t fit is like a designer shoes (bought on sale!) that just don’t fit. They stay in the closet because you’re not gonna wear them. Although in this case you might put that saddle on your poor horse, who pays the price with a sore back. Just. Don’t. Do. It.

Do everything you can do get it right. Get professional help. No, not therapy – a saddle fitter!

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Kristen of Saddle Solutions measures Starlight’s withers

But HOW do I find a good saddle fitter? Get recommendations from savvy (experienced) friends or trainers you trust. Beware that many people are very blind in this area  or have limited expertise. Ask around widely. If you keep hearing a certain name repeated as a good Fitter, then that’s probably your person. Check out their training and give them a try.

Lesson Number Two: An Independent saddle fitter is usually better for your purposes than one whose main agenda is selling a certain brand of saddles. Unless you are certain that you only ever want that one brand of saddle.

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Kristen from Saddle Solutions educates me about saddle fit.

Experience, Expertise, and Integrity are the most important qualities you want in a saddle fitter. Professionalism and reliability are nice to have, too! If the only one that fits those criteria who will come  to your area is the rep for a certain brand, you may have to use them. They will most likely be willing to work on other brands (ask); just be aware that their agenda is often to sell you one of their saddles, but it may not be the best fitting saddle for you or your horse because their product line is limited. This is why an independent fitter, whose only agenda is to fit you and your horse, is a better bet. He or she can recommend saddles/brands and/or objectively assess and fit what you already have.

Today Starlight and I enjoyed a fitting with Kristen Vliestra of Saddlery Solutions (www.saddlerysolutions.com). Kristen is an independent saddle fitter with many years in the business and her deep knowledge and expertise were very helpful in finding a good fit for me and Star.DSC03482

Below, Kristen demonstrates with chalk the proper weight bearing surface on Star’s back. She helped me to understand WHY this is all so important. If we don’t get this right, we will cause our horses pain and possible long-term damage to the musculature and spine. It also causes discomfort (back or fork pain) for the rider as the saddle is off-balance and we’re put out of position.DSC03490

In the video below, Kristen explains this clearly…

And here you see us trying a saddle that turned out to be a good fit for both of us. It has not yet been flocked to Star, so the balance is not quite right yet: It is a little low behind.  Later, Kristen took care of that. If you felt under the panels, you would feel nice smooth contact (no bridging!), no pressure points, which makes Star happy. As for me: I sat down in it and said, “ah, nice comfy saddle,” which is exactly what it ought to be.

Life is too short for your saddle to hurt you…or your horse! Invest in building a relationship with a good fitter!*

*If you’re within driving distance of San Jose, I recommend Saddlery Solutions (www.saddlerysolutions.com).

At last! Bill is accepted into Star’s herd

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Who is this interloper? Perhaps that carrot is poisoned.

It took only took a few weeks before Star began to relax with me, but it was about four months before she fully accepted my husband, Bill, as one of her herd. We could not figure it out. Bill is wonderful with animals and is my right hand man at shows, helping with trailering, horse handling, and so on. He is show and clinic photographer, horse holder, and giver of treats. He worked so hard to woo her – gentle pats, carrots, helping me brush her… but the suspicious look remained.

What does this strange man want from me? Why is he here with my mom? He’s going to make me go in the trailer, I just know it.

Actually, I think that might have been the problem: almost every time Bill showed up, Starlight had to get in the trailer and go somewhere. While she was willing to go in the trailer, it did worry her at first. That was THEN; NOW she happily LEAPS into the trailer (“Oh boy, free food, let me at it! And let’s go on an adventure!”).

Instead of greeting Bill with wary suspicion, Starlight now looks at him with soft eyes of anticipation: treat for me, my friend? Surely you have something for your best mare buddy?

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Picture this recent scene: I am braiding Star, while Bill stands at her head, stroking her and murmuring to her. Soon I hear him softly singing her lullabies while her eyes drift closed. Is that a snore I hear? Not quite, but clearly she is entranced.

Somehow, her relationship with Bill has turned a corner: now she loves him. I smile: all’s well with the world.JD_DwanHorse_160708_0102