ATLOSCon… and a New Horse!

 Posted by on 30 May 2014 at 10:00 am  Animals, AtlosCon, Horses, Personal, Sports
May 302014

Last weekend, Paul and I headed to Atlanta for ATLOSCon, a weekend-plus conference produced by the Atlanta Objectivist Society. We couldn’t attend the whole conference due to conflicts in our schedule, but we greatly enjoyed ourselves nonetheless. So if you’re interested in Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism and you’d like to meet a slew of interesting, benevolent, and happy people, set aside Memorial Day of 2015 to attend! The conference just gets better every year, and new faces are very welcome.

Two days before heading to Atlanta, Martha Deeds suggested that I look at horses to buy there, as the pickings are very slim for thoroughbreds in Colorado. My reaction: “Uh uh uh…. OKAY!” I drove out to Conyers with Arthur Zey on Sunday evening to check out a just-off-track thoroughbred mare, and I liked her so much that I bought her!

She’s very forward, she’s built uphill, and she’s powered from behind. All of that is critical, but I fell in love with her big floating gaits and unflappable attitude, which you can see in this video:

I rode her too, of course — walk, trot, and canter. I even jumped her over a little crossrail a few times. She’s very, very green (i.e. inexperienced, untrained), but she’s also calm, sensible, and willing.

She only raced nine times. Apparently, she never took to it. Her race name is Phantom Opera. I don’t want keep that, although I like “Phantom.” I think I might compete her as “Phantom Luck,” but I’ll call her Phantom or Fanny (Phanny?) at home. Oh, and here’s her pedigree.

She’ll be mine — ALL MINE — when she arrives from Atlanta in just a few days! We’ll have lots and lots to learn together. Since she’s so recently off-track, I’ll be training her slow and easy for the next few months. (She needs to gain about 100 pounds too.) Meanwhile, I’ll continue to train and compete Lila, who will soon have a new friend!

My First Normandy Bank

 Posted by on 26 April 2014 at 8:00 am  Horses, Sports
Apr 262014

Earlier this week, I took a clinic with big-time British eventer Lucinda Green. We struggled on the first day, but we did well out on the cross-country course on the second day. Happily, now Lila and I are very ready for our first novice-level event in mid-May.

Mostly, I’m just amazed that we were able to jump this Normandy Bank:

It was a looooong drop down for us — somewhere between 4 and 4.5 feet. I still can’t believe that we did it! Lila didn’t even hesitate. That’s my girl!

Meanwhile, I’ve begun looking in earnest for a second event horse — hopefully, a horse that I can take up through preliminary level, at least.

Oh, and if you want to see some really amazing eventing, check out the live feed of the Rolex Three Day Event this morning. The cross-country phase starts at 10 am ET!

Feb 202014

I really enjoyed this article on the upside and downside of perfectionism: Is Perfectionism Growth-Minded? Here’s a tidbit:

According to Dweck, the research says there might be two kinds of perfectionism, and those two ways of behaving have drastically different outcomes for people both in accomplishing their goals and in how they feel about themselves. One kind of perfectionist tends to agree with statements like: “People will think less of me if I make a mistake;” and, “A partial failure is as bad as a complete failure.” Another kind of perfectionist agrees with these statements: “I try to do my best in everything I do.” “I am driven to be excellent.” “I strive for high standards.” In these responses we can hear echoes of the person-focused vs. process-focused fixed and growth mindsets.

In the past, I’ve tended to think of perfectionism in purely negative terms — as just the “perfectionism monster.” However, in light of the horse training that I’m doing here in Aiken, I’ve been rethinking that view, along very similar lines to the article.

In my riding, my explicit goal is to achieve “best practice” most of the time, and that requires having very high standards and not accepting less. So if I shouldn’t transition to canter unless I have a damn good walk, and I shouldn’t approach that fence unless I have the kind of canter I need. I don’t ever want to just slop through what I’m doing: either I do it seriously and well or not at all. That’s the approach of the amazing coach we’ve been working with, Eric Horgan, and I can already see the huge benefits of his approach. Plus, he’s perfectionistic in that way without ever being unrealistic or belligerent. (He does threaten to kill us on a regular basis, but only in a very friendly way!)

That kind of growth-oriented perfectionism need not come with beating myself up for mistakes, seeking to show off for others, hating to admit ignorance, or any of the other problems of the fixed mindset. (I’m still doing the first, but I’m working on it. Eric has been very kindly discouraging that.) Instead, this growth-oriented perfectionism requires a heck of a lot of patience. The goal isn’t just to get it done, but to wait until you’re properly prepared to do it right. Oh, you’ll need endurance too, because you’ll still make mistakes left and right.

Basically, I’m thinking of “perfectionism” as more of a moral amplifier — with an upside and a downside, depending on how and when it’s deployed — rather than as a vice or failure mode. That’s not a fully settled view: I’ll be thinking more about this as this month in Aiken draws to a close and once I return home. Still, I thought that tidbit worth sharing now.

A Quick Report from Aiken

 Posted by on 18 February 2014 at 10:00 am  Horses, Personal, Sports, Uncategorized
Feb 182014

Dear Everyone,

As you might have been able to tell from my lack of blogging, I’ve been a bit busy here in Aiken. Mostly, I’m on my feet from sunrise to sunset — riding horses, mucking stalls, feeding horses, moving horses, stacking hay, and so on. Then we often have lesson video to review in the evenings. (That’s very helpful, but also time-consuming.) Also, Aiken was hit hard by the ice storm last week. We were covered in an inch of ice, and our power and water were out for 4 days. (It was a god-awful mess!) Anyway, I don’t think I’ll be able to resume regular blogging until after SnowCon 2014 in mid-March.

Anyway, here’s a bit of video of me jumping Lila and Maria that I meant to post eons ago, but I’ve just not found the time until now. These were lessons from early this month — February 8th. These few fences were the culmination of a lesson’s worth of work at getting the proper canter into a fence. Watching them again just now, I can see that I need to do even more to get Lila into a collected canter, and I think we’re doing significantly better now. Still, this quiet balance over fences was a huge achievement a mere 10 days ago!

On Lila:

On Maria:

I’ll try to post more video, and perhaps some pictures from the ice storm, soon. Overall, I’m a bit worn out — particularly after yesterday’s lesson with Eric over cross-country fences. However, I’m learning and progressing like crazy, and I can’t wait to see what the next two weeks will bring!

Love and Cuddles from Aiken,

Diana Hsieh

My (Equestrian) Biological Clock

 Posted by on 18 January 2014 at 2:00 pm  Courage, Horses, Personal, Sports
Jan 182014

This fall, I felt my “biological clock” ticking for the first time. No, not over having children, but rather in the form of “Oh no, I only have another decade or two for crazy awesome fun with horses!!” — that is, eventing.

When I began training and competing, I wanted to get up to training level, i.e. 3’3″ jumps. Now I want to get to preliminary (3’7″), maybe intermediate (3’9″), and perhaps even advanced (3’11″).

I’m reasonably sure that I can develop the skills to do that, although I’ll need another horse or two. Lila isn’t athletic enough to go beyond novice (2’11″) in cross-country safely. I’m not sure that I have the courage, but I’ll work on that (and the skills) like mad in Aiken in February!

Basically, I want to do like Andrew Nicholson and Quimbo at the 2013 Rolex:




I just watched those videos again, and I can’t express enough admiration for those performances. Andrew Nicholson and Quimbo make everything look easy… and wow, it’s not!

About Foxhunting

 Posted by on 18 January 2014 at 10:00 am  Horses, Personal, Sports
Jan 182014

If you’re wondering what the heck I do when out “foxhunting,” here’s some helpful descriptions from the Masters of Foxhounds Association. First, from About Foxhunting:

Foxhunting is the sport of mounted riders chasing wild quarry with a pack of hounds. It is a union of humans and animals in the beauty of nature’s setting. Man is an observer mounted on a horse, the vehicle that allows him to follow and observe the hounds as they hunt the fox. The scenario unwinds before the foxhunters eyes and ears with the sound of the huntsman’s hunting horn as hounds give chase. The fox or coyote maneuvers, circles and runs through the country cunningly evading the hounds.

The music of hounds in “full cry” is laced with the sound of the horn echoing off the woodlands and hills as they pursue the quarry across plains or through woods, fields, creeks, marshes and over rock walls and fences. A crescendo of sounds and sights that thrill you beyond imagination play out in front of you and your horse until the fox goes to ground or hounds lose the scent and the hunt is over. One can compare it to a theatrical production with mother nature the conductor and the hounds in full cry, accompanied by the hunting horn, the orchestra. Man is the audience privileged to watch, as hounds and fox or coyote, the actors, unveil the plot with never ever the same act repeated twice.

The popularity of foxhunting continues to grow. There are now 165 organized clubs in North America and Canada and organized member hunts exist in 37 states. There are many reasons for its popularity. There is an old adage that says, “some people ride to hunt, others hunt to ride”. Certainly the thrill of galloping over the countryside on a fine horse, who meets his fences well, is a thrill for anyone. Also, the sight of a pack of hounds in full cry is breathtaking. Today’s hunters have a special reward, the permission to ride over private and public land which still constitutes magnificent open spaces. No group of individuals is more aware of this privilege, nor is there a group more outspoken in their desire to protect quarry and preserve their environment. It is enjoyed by people from all walks of life and any age. It is a wonderful recreation for the whole family that can be enjoyed for a lifetime.

And, from Our Sport: The Hows and Whys of Foxhunting by Lt. Col. Dennis Foster

Through the years, North American foxhunting has developed its own distinct flavor that is noticeably different from British foxhunting. The most obvious difference is that in North America the emphasis is on the chase rather than the kill.

In addition, a large number of hunts chase the coyote, rather than the fox. The coyote population has increased by large numbers throughout the United States and Canada. It is bigger, stronger and faster than a fox. In Britain the goal is to kill the fox. Because there is no rabies in the British Isles, the fox population is extremely high and fox are considered vermin. Farmers who keep sheep want the fox population controlled. In America, this is not normally the case.

A successful hunt ends when the fox is accounted for by entering a hole in the ground, called an “earth.” Once there, hounds are rewarded with praise from their huntsman. The fox gets away and is chased another day. When hounds do not account for a fox by chasing him to an earth, the vast majority of times hounds lose the scent of the fox and that ends the hunt.

On many hunts scent isn’t sufficient for hounds to run at all. They cannot run what they can’t smell. Even these slow days are fun as the scenery is always beautiful, fellow foxhunters enjoy the camaraderie of watching the hounds as they attempt to find the quarry.

That is not to say that foxhounds in America do not sometimes kill, but it is always the exception. Fox populations in hunt country are exceptionally healthy due to natural selection.

Here’s a decent introductory video on the sport:

(No, I don’t consume any “Dutch Courage” before I hunt. Yes, I do dress that fancy! Augh, there’s some awful riding and jumping in that video!)

In Colorado, hunts chase coyote — and that’s still called “foxhunting.” I’m a new member of the Arapahoe Hunt, a well-known hunt with a long tradition of excellence. Our territory is wide open, and the coyote is damn fast. We never have “slow days,” and I’ve yet to be able to keep up with the hounds for a full outing. (You can see our territory for yourself in my helmet camera video of me foxhunting Dixie.) Here’s a description of our hunting from the web site:

The Arapahoe hunts only the coyote and was probably one of the first hunts in the U.S. to hunt coyotes exclusively since its reactivation in 1929. The fox and the coyote seldom appear to coexist peacefully. The coyote has extended its range in the face of civilization–one of the very few animals to do so. You have probably seen pictures of the coyote drinking out of a Los Angeles swimming pool or loping through a suburban New York City cemetery. Unlike foxes, coyotes do not scurry about or “go to ground” frequently. They tend to “take off” and run long distances; for example, runs of seven to ten miles are quite common. We have hunted since 1972 without “drawing a blank,” i.e. failing to chase a coyote. Although we hunt several coyotes each time we go out, accounting for them is the exception rather than the rule.

I hunted as a junior with my mom, with the Howard COunty-Iron Bridge Hounds. I loved it, and it’s great fun to be back in the field!

Jason Brown, Fabulous Free Skate

 Posted by on 14 January 2014 at 2:00 pm  Sports
Jan 142014

I don’t follow figure skating much, but this free skate by 19-year-old Jason Brown (of Colorado!) is spectacular!

I love his smile toward the end of his performance! I’m so glad that we’ll see more of him in the Olympics this winter!

Jumping Lila in a New Bit

 Posted by on 11 January 2014 at 12:00 pm  Horses, Personal, Sports
Jan 112014

After my lesson on Dixie yesterday, I rode Lila. After warming her up on the flat, Martha took me over a few fences, because we wanted to see whether Lila would be more elevated and light in front a new bit — the Gina Miles Full Cheek Double Snaffle Bit. She was, particularly upon landing. That’s huge, because now we can do 90° turns in three strides — as you’ll see at the end of this video. I’ve included all the jumps in the video, even the minor disasters.


 Posted by on 11 January 2014 at 8:20 am  Horses, Personal, Sports
Jan 112014

For the past two months, my horses have enjoyed the company of Dixie, a very agreeable four-year-old paint mare. I borrowed her from my friend Cyndi Meredith when Lila was in treatment for her chronic pain problems, particularly because I wanted a horse to foxhunt. Although Dixie is mostly western-trained, I suspected that she would be quiet out hunting, and Cyndi wasn’t riding her much. So my taking her for two months was a lovely win-win.

Dixie turned out to be a great hunt horse — quiet beyond her years. After she did so well, I decided to take a few lessons with my trainer Martha Deeds to get her started over fences. I’ve never started a horse over fences before, so that was a nice education for me… and fun too! She’s darn cute over fences, and she seems to really enjoy herself.

Cyndi wants to sell Dixie now, as was the plan all along. Until that happens, she’ll receive more western training from Cyndi. She’d make a lovely all-around horse, particularly for a young teenager. She’s got much to learn, but she’s so quiet, easygoing, and willing.

Last night, I put together these videos for Cyndi’s prospective buyers, and I thought I’d share them with you too. Dixie has been a really fun project for me, and I’m a bit sad to see her go. However, I’ve got to focus my attention on my upcoming month in Aiken, which is approaching fast!

First, Dixie being vacuumed, including in the face. Yes, you read that right. When it’s too cold to bathe, but your horse needs to be clean, vacuuming is the way to go! Most horses are scared of the vacuum, but Dixie was nonchalant about it from the get-go.

Second, Dixie loading and unloading quietly from the trailer. She’s an extremely easy loader, as you can tell from her loading herself before I was ready.

Third, highlights yesterday’s lesson with Martha. It’s flat work at the beginning, then we jump! She’s really cute over fences — and fun to jump too! I hope that whoever buys her wants to continue that with her, as she seems to enjoy it. We had her in a new bit — a Gina Miles Full Cheek Double Snaffle Bit. It wasn’t too strong, but it helped elevate her front end. Oh, and I almost forgot: This is Dixie’s third lesson with Martha — and just her fourth time over fences. So she’s doing remarkably well.

Fourth, highlights from foxhunting with the Arapahoe Hunt. This was actually the last day of the four-hunt “Rendezvous” in November, so the field was about 80 horses. That’s huge. Dixie was completely unfazed, as you can see from this video.

In addition, I didn’t hesitate to put my mother (an accomplished horsewoman, but she no longer rides except when visiting me) on Dixie, as well as a complete novice, on Dixie. She doesn’t spook on the trail, even when alone. She gets along with other horses, and she has good manners on the ground. She’s remarkably sensible, eager to please, and just plain sweet. She deserves the best of homes!

Jan 042014

I had an amazingly fabulous lesson with Martha on Lila yesterday, just working on the flat in my new dressage saddle. Early on, Lila was resistant in the mouth — raising her head, crossing her jaw, and so on — as she is too often. Usually, I correct that my holding my hands and giving her some spur in the belly until she softens, on the assumption that she’s just saying “screw you!”

However, Martha didn’t let me do that yesterday. Instead, I wasn’t to do anything extraordinary with my hands or legs. Instead, we focused on my body position: shoulders back, sternum up, rotating the top of my hips back, sitting evenly on my seatbones, controlling her hind end movements with my seat, keeping my inside knee on the pad and my outside leg back and strong against her. When I would get that right, Lila wouldn’t just soften in the mouth: her movement became fluid and engaged from behind, just as it ought. With just a centimeter change on my part here or there, Lila would become a different horse. Basically, she’s willing to do her part, but I have to make that possible for her by obtaining and maintaining just the right position as she moves under me. (Holy hell, that’s hard!)

Most people think that horses are controlled via hands and feet. That’s true, in a gross way: I signal Lila to change gaits or directions that way, mostly. I’ve long known that seat matters too: that’s a point of contact felt by the horse that can be used to control movement. Now I’m seeing just how superficial a view that is. Martha has always emphasized body position with me, and I’ve seen the beneficial effects of that. After this lesson, however, I see that my body position is the key to everything that I want to extract from a horse. This feels like a great leap forward… HOORAY!

Alas, I won’t be riding today, as we’re in the middle of a snowstorm, as you can see from this picture that I took this morning. Lila was waiting for me by the fence, as she often does in the morning. When she saw that I was stopping on my way to the barn to take pictures rather than rushing down to feed her immediately, she got this delightfully exasperated look on her face.

I’ve learned so much from this fabulous horse of mine… and she has so much more to teach me!

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