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Swimming Through Summer Heat

By Margaret Freeman, June 12, 2014


It's a lot more comfortable to show without a jacket when temps are high.
Last weekend I rode in my first show in a year, plus it was my first show in four years where the temps clawed their way into the 90-degree range, not to mention the humidity that goes with it.  When I’m loading up for a show, there’s always a point where I declare loudly to anyone within range that I’m going to take up competitive swimming.  Only problem there is that I hate to swim.  But, the only gear you need is a swim suit and maybe a towel.

It’s a good thing I’m a compulsive list maker, sometimes making lists of lists, because there is always something at the last minute I can’t find. I almost prefer to take a follow car for the truck because then we don’t have to pack so carefully – but if I was driving by myself I’d miss that great opportunity to catch up on gossip.

Anyway, departure day was agony, too little sleep, too much heat and too much to carry.  I put my new expanding cart from Costco to good use and earned definite cart envy from others at the show.  Bed was midnight and reveille at 5 a.m., and I had leg cramps all night.  I rode my FEI Intermediare I test at 9:45 in relative cool (lower 80s). With all of us done by early afternoon, dinner was early and I was asleep by 9 p.m.

Just before bed, I realized I was so hot that day that – despite always having water or Gatorade in my hand -- I’d never visited the PortaJohn, a side benefit to heat and humidity but not exactly a healthy life style.  Even my fit mare was huffing a bit but made a faster recovery than I did.

So lessons learned this weekend: Either show just in the spring and fall or get fitter!!! Especially since I won’t be getting any younger.  I’m looking forward to maybe showing Grand Prix next year – passage is a lot easier to sit than collected trot.  Darn it, but I can’t get away with posting in FEI-level tests.

Margaret Freeman, Associate Editor


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Low-Tech Arena Maintenance

By Margaret Freeman, May 19, 2014


A clean, clear riding arena is a joy to all.
I don’t recall seeing people hand-pick manure from arenas very much until the high-tech – and very expensive – surfaces with a wax component became popular a decade ago.  One of their strongest features is a lack of dust but also no need for watering.  The surfaces come with a caveat that manure must be removed religiously, because it breaks down and becomes dust, and then that very expensive lovely footing is no longer so lovely.

The basic rule for these arenas is that, if your horse poops, you pick the manure as soon as you’re done riding. You don’t expect someone else to do it for you, and you don’t wait any longer than necessary because once other horses start tromping through it, then the little bits of manure will mix into the footing.  A corollary to the rule is that if someone is on foot in the arena – trainer, spectator, anyone – they go pick manure immediately when it falls.

Now, I’ve started to notice that even arenas with more ordinary sand footing are being hand-picked following the same rules.  Basically, the people who use that arena are all in this together. A clean arena helps to reduce flies and dust and also potential slick spots.  This de-pooping procedure is particularly true with indoors and covered arenas and even occasionally with outdoor arenas, maybe not huge ones but certainly smaller dressage-sized rings.

It helps in an indoor to have a muck bucket and fork stationed in each corner or at least at each end of the ring.  With covered arenas, the usual practice is to just toss it over the rail onto the grass outside.

In Europe, apparently, manure removal in arenas has been a practice for a lot longer than here, and they even have specialized tools, like a small rake combined with a container on a handle.  I expect the tools will catch on here as well before very long.   

Several years ago, the barn I was in moved the horses en masse to winter quarters with an indoor arena that happened to have the new high-tech waxed footing.  I was already accustomed the de-pooping procedure, but a couple of the other boarders protested, saying it should be the job of a barn worker at the end of the day.  No, it was explained, this is everyone’s responsibility.  Besides, a barn worker can’t be posted at the ring just to pick manure all day there.  Arena picking has become just like other good manners in a shared boarding barn, like always sweeping the grooming area and always passing left to left.  A clean arena is just nicer for everyone.


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Longe Whip Techniques

By Margaret Freeman, May 06, 2014



Fly fishing improved my whip technique while longeing my horse.
With a weekend off from shows (shocking in May), on Saturday I indulged a long-held desire to try fly fishing, especially since a local chapter of Trout Unlimited was offering an all-day course at a local park.  Tryon being a horsey capital, there was a three-ring hunter show right next door (cutting into our field for casting practice), but I mostly kept my eyes where they belonged.  But I couldn’t keep my mind from swirling around the similarities between fly casting and longeing, and I even picked up some ideas to improve my longeing technique.

For example, when I got a pop of sound, my fishing coach said it was because my line wasn’t fully extended on the back cast and still curling forward at the end when I brought it forward. And, when I got a knot in my leader (annoying in a longe line, but a breaking point in a fishing leader and thus a much more serious matter) it was because I again hadn’t allowed the cast to fully extend behind me or I had allowed the line to pool on the ground behind me.

Huh, I thought, would the same thing apply to longeing?  A fly fishing pole is much lighter than a longe whip and the line much thinner, but the arm mechanics are similar.  One difference is that you mainly cast overhead while fishing (you wouldn’t want to do that with a longe whip unless you want the whip to snap the top of the horse’s back!), while you mainly cast side arm when longeing. We were admonished to keep the upper arm near near the body and do most of the action with the lower arm, keeping the wrist stiff.  I found that lower-arm mechanic to both have better control than if my arm was extended and to be less tiring.

I could hardly wait to try the same techniques with my longe whips at the barn Sunday.  I have both a telescoping Fleck longe whip with a long leather lash and a traditional one-piece nylon braided whip, and I tried both. The fly casting technique worked better with the Fleck – no surprise there since it’s closer in weight and construction to a fly rod – but it also worked with the one-piece whip.

I know some people like to pop their longe whip, but I was taught not to do that – rather to cast steadily toward the horse’s hind leg and if I needed a bit of emphasis to flick the tip at a hock rather than to crack the whip.  Since a pop is basically the tip of the whip breaking the speed of sound, it makes sense that allowing the lash to fully extend would reduce some of the speed there and thus the likelihood of a pop.  It worked just that way. When I started the whip back while it still had curl, I got a pop, but when I got a steady rhythm and allowed it to extend – with a brief pause as instructed by the fly casting coach – there was no pop and I had overall better control of where the tip ended up.

And, sure enough, when I brought the whip forward while the tip was still curled, or if I let it puddle behind me, I got knots near the end, which was much more annoying and harder to release with the leather lash than with the braided nylon lash.  I found I could replicate all the instructions from the overhead fly cast to the side arm longe cast, including the part about keeping the upper arm close to my side.  Again, holding the heavier longe whip that way was much less tiring than letting the arm extend.          

So, fly fishing school actually turned out to be horsemanship school.  Who would have guessed?!

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Grand Prix Dressage Training

By Margaret Freeman, April 21, 2014


Trading short shanks for long shanks.
Last weekend had perfect weather for our first scheduled show of the year but unfortunately we didn’t get to enjoy it.  My mare loaded like the lady she is, but her companion flipped out for some reason – went on the trailer fine and then lost her cool.  I have never seen a horse so angry. 

Fortunately, we had a crew of horsemen on hand who were both experienced and calm, so no one was hurt except for a few scratches on the culprit.  But, we were so shaken up by our close call that we decided to stay home rather than make the long drive to the show with just the one horse.

It’s now back to the drawing board with the training.  My mare spent the winter in Florida working on basics to establish FEI Grand Prix movements.  She now has some “buttons” in new places, especially further forward toward her girth area and elbow.  This means that I need to learn a new vocabulary for my leg aids to keep up with her sophisticated responses.

The upside is that using aids close to the girth is preventing me from raising my heels and likewise raising my seat.  The downside is that I have to think too much.  This just isn’t automatic for me yet. 

One solution we are trying is to substitute long-shank spurs for my regular short spurs.  The idea isn’t to use stronger leg aids but rather much lighter leg aids, usually with my calf but with a light touch of the spur if necessary.  It isn’t really a kick but rather a curved movement, sort of like the Nike swoosh.  Ideally, this will encourage my mare to more easily contract her stomach muscles and raise her back, bend around my inside leg and raise her shoulders.

When I do it right, I find that the canter, especially, gets lighter and more collected as everything behind the saddle starts working more efficiently.  I can also use my outside rein aid with a light touch to mobilize the shoulders.  All this is helping the passage steps for Grand Prix to elevate. 

While the canter strides (and the pirouettes and half passes) have also improved, I still can’t get down the timing for the one-tempi changes (flying changes every stride).  I have no problem with two-tempis, but the one-tempis are an entire different ball game, since you have to be giving an aid while the horse is still changing from the previous aid.  Perhaps the most important quality is straightness; if either the horse or rider is crooked, then the timing for the aids on each side is different and the horse goes 1-2-1-2 or something equally frustrating. 

We’ll play around with all these Grand Prix goodies for the next month and then power down two weeks before our next scheduled show at Intermediate I, so that the mare isn’t confused by the requirements of the different tests, especially the tempis.  The neat thing is that all this collected work is helping to make her stronger and should make her strides more expressive for the lower-level test.


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Bargains Not Found at the Tack Shop

By Margaret Freeman, April 11, 2014


My great stepstool find.

My first show of the year is coming up this week, and as usual at this point my credit card is getting a workout at the tack shop:  new saddle pad, more fly spray and shampoo, even new hairnets and braidettes.  But my best purchases so far have come from big box stores, not the tack shop. 

I positively love finding a bargain or a useful item out of its usual context.  Last week I scored a new stepstool at Home Depot and a new wagon at Costco. 

The stepstool cost all of $10 and is extremely light.  It’s also wonderfully stable.  I will use it for both braiding and as a mounting block.  My previous stepstool for shows was the folding kind, but I think this one will be worth the extra space it takes up in the trailer, and stored upside down stuff can be crammed inside. My husband even bought two more to live at home in the garage and workshop. 

My other new goodie is the canvas wagon.  My husband had to talk me into it – seemed too much like an extra luxury, even though it was just $57.  However, it folds up into the size of a suitcase (thus making up for the stepstool), is very light, has good wheels for rough terrain and is tough and roomy.  I will use it first for unloading the trailer, thus saving my back, and then for cleaning my stall.  The alternatives are to drag a muck bucket, talk someone into taking the other handle to carry it, or borrowing something with wheels from another competitor. 

My only problem is wresting it away from my husband, who has been testing it out with gardening.  I already took the trash out with it – one trip to the end of the driveway rather than two.  I may not be allowed to keep it at the barn.  It’s going to have to come home between shows. 

I love my big tack box at the barn, but it’s too heavy for me to wrestle to shows by myself.  My solution is two big plastic tubs I got at Target, a total investment of less than $20.  One fits inside the other.  I then fill it absolutely full with all my odds and ends and fit both lids on top.  When I get to the show I separate out the empty tub and fill it half full.  Both tubs are now easy to carry and stack nicely in front of my stall and I can find what I’m looking for without any rummaging around.    

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