Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Trail Ride Vids

I'm still on a GoPro kick - I figure when I'm old and grey and can no longer ride (or just in the winter when it's rained for two weeks straight) it'll be fun to look back at these moments.  I also find it tells me interesting things about my riding - the video is much more jarring at a seated trot than I'd like.  Anyhow on Sunday we went out on our classic two-hour, 8 km trail ride and I strapped on the camera again - I guess the camera only records for an hour because about half the ride is missing.  Anyhow the part that was recorded is in my opinion the best part and we'll go back soon anyway so I'm not worried.

Anyhow in case you're interested in the type of terrain we ride through I've uploaded a couple of the prettiest bits which also happen to be spots where we trot and canter.  And if you're interested in seeing more including Starbuck's stellar behavior on country roads, you can see all the videos from the trail ride here.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Happy Summer!

I can think of few things more summery than eating a perfectly ripe watermelon so sloppily that you get the juice everywhere.  Here's Starbuck's particular rendition of this classic summertime ritual.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Open Season


Don't tell my husband because he'll get the wrong idea, but I've formally declared open season on Starbuck.  It's not that I want to wear her out, but if I want to take her on all day trail rides at some point (and hopefully half day trail rides pretty soon), it's not fair to her if the only conditioning she gets beforehand is a pretty light hour-long lesson with me five days a week and a couple of longeing or roundpen sessions.  I've also noticed that Marina's lesson horses are MUCH more robust than the privately owned horses - of course part of that is that private owners tend to notice changes in the status quo quicker and be a lot more paranoid than the folks who take lessons on a different horse each week, and we do freak out and call the vet for things which perhaps don't merit much more than neosporin or at the most stallrest.  But the lesson veterans don't have nearly as many colds, lameness episodes or other issues as the private horses do, even though a lot of them are nearing retirement age.  And I think most of this is simply that they get more exercise and less coddling than the private horses, so I want her to start getting at least two hours of exercise a few days a week.  Finally, if I only ride Starbuck and she's only ridden by me, we'll likely only end up finding "workarounds" to conceal our our bad habits (like using too much leg, slouching to the right and letting my shoulders hunch forward, or like keeping her head in the air, letting her hind legs trail behind her and spooking) instead of actually being motivated to identify and fix them.

So by now, coinciding with the day my CSA veggie basket has to be picked up in town and Saturday afternoon which is my siesta time, Lola's been riding her most Thursdays and Saturdays for months, which in my opinion is really positive - Lola has a much better seat than I do and is pretty much fearless not to mention probably 20 pounds lighter so at least Starbuck's been getting a different experience twice a week from her chubby, unbalanced and neurotic owner who tenses up with every gust of wind.  Here are some recent videos of Lola and Starbuck:

But then my CSA delivery changed from Thursday to Wednesday, so I could go to the stable on Thursday but not on Wednesday, when Lola's not there.  So I asked Alberto, Alex and Marina (not my teacher, just has the same name) three of the more experienced kids whose horses are pretty much on the same crazy level with Starbuck if they wanted to take turns riding her on Wednesdays and they said absolutely.  So on Thursday both Lola and I will ride Starbuck, and Wednesdays are covered too.  And finally, there's a guy named Boris who recently started riding but is a total natural and has been on nearly all the horses at the stable - he just bought two young horses and is trying to get as much riding experience as possible, riding 3 and 4 times on the days he's there (he's a pilot so he has one of those weird work-five-days-get-five-days-off schedules).  Since I like the way he rides as well, the other day I just mentioned to him that if he wanted to ride Starbuck any old morning he was welcome to and he said yes, so I've got him on the roster as well.  Here they are, getting to know each other:

Anyhow I know that there are all kinds of horror stories about people's horses being "ruined" by having them ridden by other people but I honestly think that all of these folks have something to teach Starbuck and I can always turn selfish again and "take her back" if I see it's going badly.  Having seen all of them ride out-of-control horses at one point or another, I'm confident she won't be abused or mistreated by any of them, and I think that her getting a few more hours a week of exercise and experience can only be a good thing.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


It occurred to me in retrospect that yesterday's blog post didn't dwell enough on Sunday's canter out on the trail.  This is something that I'm generally somewhat uneasy about even on "normal" horses, especially since a lot of the people I tend to trail ride with like to flat-out race at a full gallop, which when your horse a half-thoroughbred can be interesting to say the least.  And another thing - falling off at a controlled, 15 mph canter when you're in a soft sandy and above all closed arena is really something I've made my peace with.  But falling off at 30 mph onto hard rocks and sharp woody bushes, when your spooky horse has the freedom to decide to hoof it back to the stable along and across country highways?  Not so much.  Don't get me wrong - some my most thrilling, enduring and enjoyable horsey memories are of amazing gallops across fields and through wooded paths.  For example, the first time I realized how much I loved to ride was when my pony took off with 5-year-old me and galloped back to the stable - throughout my childhood on the few and far between trail rides I took I'd (unsuccessfully) try to secretly spook my horse into running away with me.  And cross-country jumping seems to me like it must be just about the funnest thing you can do with a horse.  It's just that the galloping on trails and I have a complicated relationship based on nearly equal proportions of glee and fear.

So when I was confident enough to suggest a little canter on Sunday's trail ride, I was pretty proud of myself, especially since René is someone who likes to turn any cantering into a race.  But he very generously agreed to stay behind and let us stay in front, and Starbuck was behaving very well at walk and trot.  So when we got to a good spot with about half a mile of clear, fairly straight trail with good footing ahead of us, I nudged her up into a canter.  At first she was like "Really?  You want me to go faster?  Out here!?!" and mostly just stayed in a fast trot, but I gave her a little rein and kept asking for just a little more and she broke into a lovely, rhythmic and controlled canter.  Then back to a trot which I used to change leads and once again there we were, at a canter again.  I tried to let her have as much rein as possible especially since on the trail with all the pebbles and brush it's harder for her to balance than in the arena, and at a certain point I realized "This is it, we're cantering!" and went into two-point for a while to free up her back and just enjoy the moment.  Then we got to some curves and low-overhanging trees and I slowed her down into a trot and then a walk without any trouble at all.  What a feeling!  I had a huge smile on my face as I gave her a good long neck rub and thanked René for his help.

We walked for 30 minutes or so and then came to another good canter spot, this time headed uphill and on the way back to the stable.  Not surprisingly, this time she was a little harder to control.  By this I mean she pulled a little harder on the reins and wanted to go a fair amount faster than I wanted her to, and that when it was time to slow back down to a walk it took us a little longer than before.  I also lost a stirrup, which might have had something to do with it - obviously the seat aids which I rely on a lot for slowing down are not going to be as clear if I'm fishing around for the stirrup with my left foot.  But still, she behaved very well with no bucking, headshaking, crowhopping, spooking or zig-zagging and I never got that "Oh my God I have no brakes" feeling you get with some horses out on the trail.  Proud of myself, extremely proud of her and absolutely thrilled about all the cross-country canters we have in our future.

Monday, July 21, 2014

On a Roll

We have really been making progress the past week or so, and I want to share our successes.  In our lessons, Starbuck is much more responsive and although my leg aids are still not as light as I'd like, I find that after warming up I can use much less leg than I had to a month ago.  She's also starting to give to the bit and round out a little from time to time - for now we just have fleeting moments of her moving correctly but if I can nurture them and not screw things up they'll get longer and longer until she realizes that it's really in her best interest to lower her head, flex her poll, round her back and reach forward with her hind legs rather than to run around with her head in the air, her back hollowed out and her legs all strung out.  She's also been behaving exceptionally, very little spooking and only a few bucks and those mostly only when I use the whip which tells me I need to be softer with the whip anyway.  And what's most rewarding is that she really seems a lot more focused and motivated - I don't know if this is her realizing that I'm trying hard to make her life easier and she's returning the favor, or if it's the transitions or the trail riding or what, but it's noticeable enough for even Marina to comment on it.

One annoying habit of hers which I've been puzzling over is her falling out, especially going to the left.  This, much like the dull on the leg thing, also only started when I began working her on a contact and after several sessions of just being frustrated and trying to pull / push her back into place with legs and reins I finally decided that it was more of a balance / straightness problem than an obedience problem (without being able to throw her head up in the air, she has to figure out new ways to balance herself, and if one foot pushes harder than the other it's normal for her to go sideways).  So I tried a different solution - weighting my inside stirrup when she starts drifting out through her shoulder - and it works wonders!  It's also a good reminder to keep myself centered and pay attention to my center of gravity since I tend to slouch this way and that if I'm not careful.
Here's something fun - I actually recorded an entire lesson on video thanks to my husband's recent acquisition of an open-source "GoPro"-style camera (one of these really light-weight cameras with attachments so you can wear it around) - if you're interested in at least seeing what it's like to ride Starbuck you can check out the videos here.

Her bugbites are also much better than a few months ago - I think a combination of the blanket + mask, thrice-weekly baths with the new shampoo (chlorhexidine and aloe vera instead of just chlorhexidine) my vet recommended and an herbal anti-itch cream which I bought at the tack shop are finally paying off.  She still has some bald spots, but a lot less than before, hardly any of them with the skin broken, and she's not as obsessive about rubbing herself on the tying posts and whatnot.  I also changed her bedding from hay to pressed wood pellets, which expand, turn into powder and clump together like kitty litter as they're exposed to moisture.  This not only makes mucking out her paddock a lot quicker, but it also makes it possible to remove almost all traces of poop and pee from her bed (not to mention semi-decayed hay) which means less flies and hopefully less fly bites.  Here are some pictures, already I'm reaping the benefits of the 10-minute muck-out and with any luck her bites will get even better.

And last but not least, we've been trail riding fools lately!  Last Saturday after our morning lesson there was only one student for the next class so José Luis (the kid who helps out around the stable) took him out for a trail ride, and me and my friend Mar went with.  Sidebar - isn't the name "Mar" (which means "Sea" in Spanish) a wonderful name for a girl, especially one born on an island?  I love it.  Anyhow it went really well on the way out, but on the way back it seems like Starbuck got her second wind and went a little crazy with the passing cars.  No harm done except for some really freaked out drivers, but it definitely made me decide to use the butterfly bit for outings, at least until she's more consistent.  Then I was supposed to go on a trail ride with my German friend René on Sunday but had a hangover, so agreed to go with him on Tuesday after work.  This one was much better - Starbuck's best friend Coco came along for the first 20 minutes or so but then turned around and went home, so we got to work on (and survived!) some separation anxiety there, then I was really proud of her for going over some brightly painted speed bumps that René's horse Rodrigo balked at.  And we even went down a rocky streambed for about 200 feet before deciding it was going to be a pain in the ass and heading back, but just getting up and down the steep bank to the streambed was a challenge to be overcome.  She behaved really well on this one and even though we were on unfamiliar roads with narrow streets with stone walls and barking dogs on either side and cars and bikes passing and she was nervous, was able to overcome her instincts and stay under control.  I need to remember that it's better when I push her just a liiiiitle bit beyond what I know 100% she can do since it builds both our confidence.
But yesterday was the cherry on top of my trail riding sundae - we went on a longer 2 1/2 hour route (the same one we did a few weeks ago) and not only did she hardly spook at all even with cars speeding past us at 55 miles per hour at some points and rabbits and partridges exploding out of the brush at our feet, but we even did a nice controlled canter several times and were nearly as comfortable leaving the way as we were following René and Rodrigo.  We did a little hillwork too - at the far point of the trail ride there are some lovely hills with different inclines from pretty flat to extremely steep which are also handily covered by tall pines and dotted with blackberry patches, so we went up and down a few times just to show ourselves we could.  We're also getting pretty good at moving sideways to get to ripe blackberries and carob beans - which is good practice for the upcoming fig season.
So I'm really enjoying our progress and hoping that the inevitable setback, when it comes, won't be too disastrous.  But mostly I'm just grateful to her for all she's giving me and trying really hard not to screw it all up.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Whoa & Go

Video of Starbuck and Lola, the teenager who rides her once a week or so

I've been having the feeling for the past couple of months that we're seesawing, especially as concerns the "whoa / go" quandary.  It seems like some days I have a gas pedal, and other days I have brakes.  But I nearly never have the two in real working order at the same time.  She'd always been heavy off the leg but really light in the hand until the beginning of this year when she discovered she could run through the hackamore and aside from turning her in a tight circle (not always a good idea, especially with late winter rains creating slippery spots all over the arena) I didn't have much success convincing her to stop when she'd run off after a spook.  In addition, on certain days she'd be so fired up that I had to hold so tight to the reins that I would have to take my rings off.  So on Marina's suggestion, I got a butterfly bit (more lever action, unjointed, slightly harsher) which at first worked like a charm.  Until it didn't anymore and she started to run through the butterfly bit as well.

So I decided to mix things up and use a mix - butterfly, snaffle and hackamore - and also ride a bunch of transitions to get her used to stopping when I told her to, every time I told her to.  And in my opinion this went really well, and when José came to give us our "dressage lesson" I was proud of the on-the-marker transitions I showed him at the start.  But then he had me take up more of a contact than I'd been used to (although when I see photos and videos, it's really not much) and I had to really use my legs just to get her to keep going, and it was nearly impossible to transition upwards to a trot and canter.  Since then, I've been working on trying to maintain the contact but lighten my leg aids - as a matter of fact when I started my lessons at Sa Fita my instructor tried his hardest to get me to wear spurs.  And with Marina's help I've been working on getting my leg farther back so it's centered under my body (that ankles - hips - shoulders lineup) and also in a more sensitive area where my aids can be lighter.

Starbuck and Lola again

Mostly I think I use my legs wrong and so have been trying hard to not keep nagging her with them the whole time, but old habits die hard and I know I fall back into them, especially when we're in a group lesson and have to keep up with the rest of the horses.  But lately we seem to have made some progress, and I find I can be a little lighter sometimes and go longer and longer between squeezes.  For example, after my last two classes in Sa Fita, my instructor didn't say anything else about spurs but did ask me if I didn't want to consider using a harsher bit.  And last week, she "ran away" with Lola again after a jump and got halfway across the arena before Lola could stop her.  So yay!  Gas pedal!  But once again - no brakes.

I see a parallel here with the "good girl / bad girl" thing she does, where she'll be marvelous for a week or so and then suddenly be really really naughty for a few days.  I certainly hope that this is just another instance of the "learning rollercoaster" - that as we get better at the leg aids and concentrate more on "forward" than on anything else, we get a little worse at the rein aids and vice versa until both are finally more or less consolidated.  The only thing which makes me doubt is that I haven't read about this phenomenon in horse training books, blogs or other online resources, which makes me think it might just be me not knowing how to find a happy medium (yet).  Regardless, we'll keep working on it - I think transitions are key and am going to try to follow Carl Hester's advice to try to work more than 100 transitions into each riding session.

And after all, the French riding master François Baucher used to say "Hands without legs, legs without hands" so maybe Starbuck and I are just taking him a little too literally.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Magic Saddlebags!

And no, I'm not talking about the ones on my thighs - those are not magic at all (I know, I've spent the past 25 years trying to make them disappear) and the internet doesn't need any photos of them!  Anyhow I've been wanting saddlebags - the horsey kind - for the past three years but have never actually bought them since so far I haven't done too much trail riding with Starbuck and there's always something I need more in the tack shop.  And I've dropped subtle (obviously too subtle) hints to everyone I know around every birthday and Christmas, but so far have had no luck.  Until I finally decided to be a little more direct the other day when I was at the tack shop with my girls and called all of them over to tell them that my birthday was coming up next month and that I really, really, really liked this specific model of saddlebags which just happened to be the standard cost of a "group gift" birthday present.

Then on the trail ride the other day René asked me why I used a backpack instead of saddlebags and I explained it to him and he said "Well I have like 3 sets of saddlebags I don't ever use - why don't you take one of them?"  I politely refused in case he got second thoughts, but he insisted so I finally gratefully agreed to use his until I get some of my own.  Suddenly, saddlebags!

On Monday I wanted to give her a break from riding and decided to kill two birds with one stone, so I saddled Starbuck up, tied on the saddlebags (the "official" straps are missing so I used some strips of leather) and led her into the arena for a little longeing.  She was completely unfazed while tacking her up and walking her into the arena, but when she started working in a circle she suddenly started to feel the saddlebags moving around.  At a trot she spooked a couple of times when the wind and her movement caused them to flap around a fair amount (I'd left them empty), and then at the canter she gave a few bucks to figure out whether she could get them off or not.  But I just ignored all that and asked her for loads of transitions, and before I knew it she was completely used to them.  And we had a really productive longe line workout :)

When I untacked her, I made sure to move around the bags a bunch and let them flap around and lifted them up and then dropped them back down on her hindquarters and even between her legs and it didn't bother her at all.  But just to make sure, I put them back on her yesterday for our lesson, just so that if she was going to have any residual spooks from the saddlebags flapping against her it would be inside the arena where if she bucked me off or I lost control at least she wouldn't be able to run too far.

And it turns out they are MAGIC saddlebags!  Right after I mounted up and started our warm up walk, she dropped her head and relaxed, then when I took up the reins a little for a very light contact and nudged her just a little with my leg to let her know that I wasn't putting on the brakes, she reacted just like I wanted her to and started putting her back into it and tracking up with her hind legs a little more instead of just slowing down and tensing up.  Then we did our flex head in - straighten - flex head in - straighten exercise José taught me and today was the first day I could really tell that she understood what I wanted her to do which is drop her head and stretch her neck into the rein contact.

While still in the walk, I also discovered a new and fabulous skill which I was beginning to worry I would never develop which is being able to feel her footfalls through my seat.  I actually felt this warming up on Friday afternoon but it was so fleeting that I decided it was just my imagination.  But I felt it again yesterday for more time although as soon as I started to think logically about it (comparing what I was feeling with what I know to be the correct walk footfall pattern) I stopped being able to feel it, and then started working on something else and forgot about it.  But I'm really excited about this, since if I develop it until I can always feel the footfalls I'll be able to time my aids so that they're much more effective in addition to that "centaur" connection thing.

Then we went into trot and I focused on getting at least a basic steady rhythm without so much starting and stopping... and she gave it to me!  With way less leg than is normally necessary and without her signature spooks and charges - it was just like riding a "normal" well trained horse!  I worked on "hanging my arms" - this is a posture improving exercise Marina has us working on lately where we take up a light contact, close our fingers on the reins and then just let our lower arms hang between the elbow and the reins, following the horse's movement through the reins and letting the weight of our arms create the contact.  I also tried to remember to open my fingers slightly every time I had to nudge her with my legs to encourage her to go forward, and as opposed to what normally happens, it worked!  The whole time we were trotting she kept up a really nice working rhythm without too many "reminders" and towards the end even started to relax her poll a little and start working more from behind.

The canter went really nicely as well, with hardly any spooks or bucks which really allowed me to relax and "hang my arms".  The jumping part of the lesson didn't go as well - a little zig zagging and hesitation which probably had more to do with me trying ineffectually to relax and push forward at the same time - but she didn't refuse or dodge any of them and our recovery (balance, speed, control, direction...) time after each jump was much quicker than usual.  Honestly I don't like these horses (very common at some of the more "competitive" jumping stables) that jump really well but can't do anything else - I'd much rather she did everything else well, even if she's never a terrific jumper.

This pretty much sums it up - after the lesson I told my friend Amanda "Even if she never got any better than she was today and just maintained today's quality of work for the rest of her life, I'd be perfectly fine with that".  I mean that - of course I want her to keep improving but she really was that fun to ride yesterday.

And it's all thanks to René and his magic saddlebags! ;)

Monday, July 7, 2014

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch...

In the past couple of weeks since my Gredos trip, I've been too busy to write much thanks to a visit from my mother-in-law (who in opposition to all laws of nature I adore) but I've thankfully been able to cram in a fair amount of quality time with Starbuck since I took a couple of days off work.  Anyhow here's an update on what I've been up to.

The morning after the Trashumancia ride ended I had a few hours before I had to take the bus back to Madrid, so I asked José for a dressage lesson and he very generously agreed.  I rode Gala, a lovely blue roan PRE mare who belongs to trail ride companion Carmen and her daughter Celia.  She was very light both in the hand and off the leg as well as supercomfortable (although that may have had a lot to do with using José's superfancy dressage saddle) and a real pleasure to ride.  The lesson went really well - mostly circle work trying to maintain a good rhythm and keeping my and her posture somewhat correct.  He later sent me a video he took of us and I was really surprised at how well I was able to sit the trot - I certainly didn't feel as stable as I look ;P

At any rate here are some of the instructions he gave me to practice back home, which I've been trying to keep in mind:

  • Sit deeper in the saddle to maintain stability, control movement with abdominal muscles, shoulders up, back and open, outside rein firmer than inside rein, create flexion with inside leg, use less heel and more whole leg, work towards becoming lighter with whip and using leg less often and less brusquely
  • Don't bring hands downwards toward knee, leave hands at withers height and to lower horse's head open (straight outward) inside rein leaving outside rein stable
  • Elbows bent to absorb shock from the reins and at my side (no chicken wings!), fingers closed and only opened to momentarily reward for the right response

When I got back from Gredos and went to see Starbuck I could really tell she had been bored and itchy - her bugbites were worse than ever, even with the blanket and mask.  She can reach with her hind legs to scratch her face like a dog, and had some big patches on her cheeks that she had rubbed raw.  This, coupled with the fact that riding lessons have been moved back an hour (from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m.) for July and August, made me decide to re-start our three-showers-and-aloe-a-week routine.  As far as I can tell this is paying off pretty well, she still has several bites which are raw but at least they look less inflamed.  I also found an anti-itch cream at the tack store I decided to try and so far it seems to work - at least yesterday for the first time in months she wasn't completely obsessed with herself against the tying post.  I really hope it does work, I feel awful every time I scold her for scratching herself and when I think of how uncomfortable she must constantly be.

Since I've spent some time at the beach with Sergio's mom, one of the things I have had time for is some serious reading about dressage (my new obsession).  So I've read Down to Earth Dressage by Carl Hester which I found really useful, sensible and eminently readable, Riding in the Moment: The Hidden Language of Dressage by Michael Schaffer which was a little hippy-dippy for my taste but had some really interesting ideas I learned a lot from, especially in its analysis of FEI rules and guidelines and Dressage for the Not-So-Perfect Horse by Janet Foy which for me was the least useful of the three, since it was more geared towards succeeding in competition (US competition at that) and less towards just ending up with a horse who's a joy to ride.

And of course with all this newfound knowledge in hand I went to the stable with the daft idea that my aids would have magically improved via osmosis and that Starbuck would simply fall into that magical space in front of the leg but behind the bit.  Which of course after nearly two weeks without riding her did not happen.  She was the same old Starbuck, lazy and dull and then spooky and chargy.  In between the spooks and bucks we worked on the exercises José taught me to get her to work forward and down, lifting her back and teaching her to relax and stretch but I was having trouble telling if she was really progressing.  Then trying to work on circles with Marina I realized I was having to contort my body just to get her to bend correctly onto the circle at the same time as I was pushing her forward and I just sort of gave up.  "I feel like I'm telling her 'Don't do A, do B' but I'm not making B comfortable enough for her for it to be convincing", I said to Marina.  "My body just isn't giving her the aids right and I'm not sure if I'm just making this more unpleasant for both of us".  Well, Marina gave me a firm talking-to (she gets really pissed off when people give up or say they can't) and I agreed to keep trying but was secretly unconvinced, and went home worrying about whether all I was doing with this dressage stuff is to make Starbuck hate me.

Until I read the following passage on Dr. Thomas Ritter's blog which really shed light on the fact that this is not easy and will never be easy, which is part of what makes it so fulfilling.  And I do care enough to make sacrifices, like feeling supremely physically uncomfortable while trying to find a seat which is more comfortable for Starbuck, or like feeling unsure about whether the particular direction I'm heading in is really the best one and trusting the people who know more about horses than I do to guide me.  I'm so glad I found this, it's really given me a new outlook and some much-needed motivation - I'm very easily frustrated and discouraged by not being good at things, and as clumsy as I am I'm definitely not as good at riding as I think I should be.
Nobody can have good performances all the time. Each high quality performance has to be earned by many practice sessions that bring us face to face with our limits and our current shortcomings. C.A.Huang & J.Lynch quote the Buddhist proverb "The arrow that hits the bull's eye is the result of a hundred misses" in their book "Thinking body, dancing mind" (1992, 93). This captures very well the essence of what I am trying to say. Every correctly executed half halt, e.g. is the result of many others in which the timing, coordination, and intensity of the aids was incorrect, which led to completely different results than we had intended."

P.T. SUDO talks about the same phenomenon in his book "Zen Guitar", 1998, 44: "Frustration results when the body will not perform as the mind directs, or the mind becomes confused about what it wants the body to do. These confrontations are an integral part of training. They bring us face to face with our motivations and limitations: Why are we putting in all these hours of practice? Why do we desire what we desire? Are we willing to make the sacrifice necessary to progress? Are we asking more of our body than it can do?"

As usual this is getting really long, so I'm going to try to wrap things up.  I went shopping on Saturday and apart from the itch cream got a long-desired leather halter - I'm really tired of the way that my beautiful new brightly coloured nylon halters instantly turn brownish or grayish as soon as they've been worn more than once.  I am determined to take good care of it and oil it at least once a month.  I think Starbuck looks really good in it - here are some photos.

Along with the halter I got a nice rope lead which Starbuck promptly broke when I took her to my last class at Sa Fita on Saturday.  I went with a friend and tied Starbuck to a tie ring mounted on a wall while I helped my friend tack up her horse.  What I didn't realize, and what Starbuck did, is that on the other side of the wall was a bulldozer doing some heavy duty landscaping.  Luckily she waited until I was next to her and could grab her halter before she could get away and mix it up with the other horses.  And luckily it was the lead which broke and not the halter (or her neck).  Her little escapade was a good indicator as well of how the lesson would go - she did some really good work especially while jumping, but at one point when my instructor at Sa Fita, Toni, told me not to hold her back so much she decided that that was a cue for some serious rodeo bucking.  Honestly I wasn't sure if I'd be able to stay aboard, but I simply stayed in two-point and turned her in a circle until she went back to a decent canter, and the rest of the horses apparently weren't even phased by it so I guess no harm no foul, and a memorable way to end our Sa Fita lessons.

And finally, yesterday we went on a really lovely trail ride.  It's the longest ride we've done so far - about 8 km in 2 1/2 hours - and it also goes along about a 1 km stretch of rural highway so I was a little unsure of how she'd do, but I figured she was ready for it and that I really need to get out more often and push the envelope a little if I ever want her to be able to do a Gredos ride, or the Camì de Cavalls.  There were a couple of spooks here and there and when we trotted she definitely wanted to go faster (think full-out gallop) than I wanted her to go, but for the most part she behaved like a complete pro and there were several times during the ride when she was on a completely loose rein.

Our crowning moment of glory was when René (a German guy who went with us on his horse Rodrigo) wanted to gallop and Silke (his girlfriend who was riding one of Marina's horses) and I didn't, so we decided to try staying behind while he went ahead.  This is really hard for horses - they feel like their herd's being split up and that they've lost a lot of security - so it was a real test for Starbuck, especially since she was in front and didn't have Marina's more seasoned horse Chico to "block" her.  And she piaffed a little and was obviously not happy about it, but she stayed behind without too much of a struggle and after a minute or two chilled out enough for me to relax and enjoy the ride.  Until we came to a clearing where some goatherd had set up a bunch of big white portable plastic water tanks on either side of the trail.  Which neither Starbuck nor Chico wanted to have anything to do with.  And the braver horse, Rodrigo, was so far ahead of us we couldn't even see him.  But after a minute or so of balking and forwards and backwards and sideways stuff, we finally got the two of them to walk side-by-side through the clearing.  In my book, a big success and a reminder of the fact that my ultimate goal with Starbuck is not a horse who looks pretty when I ride her, but a horse that enjoys her job and that trusts me enough to be able to do just about anything with.