Still a Mare

It gets pretty easy to forget that May is a “mare”. She is totally cool with other horses getting in her personal space, I have never seen her swish her tail and pin her ears at anyone, and 90% the time, she just wants to get on with the thing. Whatever the thing is (eating, turnout, going back to her stall, riding, jumping, etc etc etc)

In fact, May apparently took some kind of small adventure on Sunday. The barn was out at a small show. When they left, May was tucked into her stall. When they came back, May was somehow in a stall on the other side of the barn. NT went over to her normal side of the barn to see what was up, and then she heard hoof beats behind her. May had re-escaped from stall #2 and was sheepishly making her way back to “her stall”.

You can see the stall guard and the step down here.

My theory? May ducked under her stall guard, wandered around the barn to see if there was any grain dropped on the floor. Spotted some food in stall #2, and decided to spend the rest of the day there. I think she is going to be relegated back to having the bottom half of her stall door closed when the barn is empty, especially now that the weather has cooled off a bit.

So how does May remind us that she is, indeed, a mare? She has OPINIONS.

Last week, I decided it was time to put May back into real work. She is sound now barefoot, and seemed perfectly happy to drag me around again. So it was time to reintroduce some real work. I threw on my Dressage saddle and grabbed my Dressage whip. The ride was planned to be fairly easy – reestablishing contact and bend.

Our warm up went fine. She was a bit stiff off both legs, so I returned those with the help of the whip. She got a bit tense while I was schooling the whole “one leg means move over” thing, but she quickly relaxed once we had a few successes. Great. I picked up the canter to the left and had a nice easy bend and lope in that direction.

Then, we went right. If you remember, bending right has been our issue lately. So, when she went to lean through her right shoulder, I lifted my inside hand and added my inside leg more firmly. As a result, she MELTED DOWN.

I mean, full on temper tantrum. Throwing her head around, stumbling over herself, shooting forward, sucking back, etc etc. For maybe a solid 2 minutes. What was I doing? Keeping my right hand up and my right leg on while cursing quite loudly. Here’s the thing with May. No matter how much she escalates, I can’t give in or escalate with her. I have to be firm, clear, and consistent.

Serious Opinions about Pictures lol

After her meltdown, she gave me a big huff and bent nicely around my right leg. I put my whip and cell phone down, since I didn’t want to really use either if she decided to have another meltdown, and we went back to work. She picked herself up through that shoulder, quickened the inside hind to compensate for the new balance, and moved better going over her back.

At this moment, NT came to the ring and complimented me on how well she was working to the right. I think I and both the other riders in the ring with me (both advanced riders thankfully) had a good laugh as we informed her about May’s mini drama series.

She may be a REALLY good mare, but she is still a mare. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. What about you? Does your horse sometimes hit you with overly dramatic opinions?

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2018 Fall Mini Trial – Dressage

Can I start by saying that a horse trial held in mid-August should not be called a “Fall” mini trial? Until the weather is cool and breezy and leaves start to depart from trees, it is summer in my book, and the sweaty horses this weekend is a testament to that.

Let’s back up though. My day actually started closer to 6AM (before the heat but right within prime fog time in KY). The sun wasn’t up yet, but there was a slight glow to the sky that let you know it was trying. What was I doing at this time? I was climbing through some overgrown and wet weeds in May’s field, trying to make sure I didn’t fall on my face while trying to find her. Luckily, she was hanging out by the shelter and let me catch her. She had even stayed mostly clean from the night before. Good mare!

We loaded up the horses around 7AM, since our first rider had an 8:17AM ride time… My ride time was 11AM, but it was well worth getting up early to be a part of a big team again. I forgot how much of what I love about showing is about the people I show with.

Anyway, May got off the trailer more relaxed then she has ever been off property, and this is saying something. Husband of the year decade lifetime held May while she cocked a foot and took a nap. Cool. I tacked up, swapped into my white pants, and hopped on for a quick warm-up before Dressage.

Now, Dressage immediately  had a couple of challenges for us. The warm up area was right next to the start box for XC, and it was on the other side of the property from our actual show ring. Also, the show ring was in the facility’s indoor arena. We have never done Dressage indoors, AND it is one of those indoors with an entrance on the side to the barn and stalls partially open to the indoor (with horses in them).

May was awesome in our warm-up, but she was a bit amazed by the indoor thing. Our minute inside to warm-up got most of the tension out, but it took away my ability to really push her into positive tension and any kind of self carriage. Great. I resigned myself to riding an accurate test and keep a higher emphasis on balance and rhythm then really anything else. After all – this is Intro C we are talking about…

So there it is. There is a lot I can say about it, but I’ll give you all the scores and judges comments, then my own.

1. Enter Working Trot Rising. Halt through Medium Walk. Salute – Proceed Working Trot Rising.

Score: 7.0

Judge: Forward and Square. A little crooked after.

Centerline

Me: A little? We practically made it to the quarter line before correcting. The first trot after the halt on centerline was pretty bad. Granted, we have never halted at the beginning of a Dressage test before, so I really shouldn’t have been surprised that May was a bit sticky off my leg and chose to go left ins

tead of forward.

2. Track Right, Working Trot Rising

Score: 6.5

Judge: Could Show More Bend.

Me: Could show more of a a lot of things. She kind of fell through her inside

shoulder through the turn, and I should’ve taken the opportunity in the corner to really lift her and shove her over.

3. Circle Right 20 Meter

Trot Right

Score: 7.0

Judge: Steady Tempo

Me: Ok. Yes. The tempo was steady, but she was so far away from my outside rein that it was a bit like driving a tractor trailer with the steering wheel on the floor.

4. Circle right 20 meters developing working canter in first quarter of circle, right lead. Before A – Working trot rising.

Canter Right

Score: 7.0

Judge: Fairly Balanced

Me: This is a hard movement for me to review because the transitions get their own score. Also weird. No thoughts. It was fine but not nearly as good as I know she can be.

5. Transitions in and out of canter.

Score: 6.5

Judge: 1st could be more responsive. 2nd – Smooth.

Me: Totally agree. The downward transition wasn’t WONDERFUL, but we got the tempo back within the confines of that movement. (i.e. before A).

6. Change Rein, Working Trot Rising

Score: 7.5

Judge: Forward. Clear Bend.

Me: I like straight lines like this. I can open her up a bit and show her off. She was really good here, and we could show off a working trot.

7. Circle Left 20 Meters

Trot Left

Score: 7.5

Judge: Forward. Clear Bend.

Me: Yup.  Not as steady in the contact as I would like, but the rhythm and relaxation were there. Again, that became the aim after we decided that the indoor was not our happy place.

8. Circle left 20 meters developing working canter in first quarter of circle, left lead. Before A – Working trot rising.

Score: 7.0Left Canter.JPG

Judge: Fairly Balanced

Me: Look familiar? Same score and comment as the other canter direction. I thought this one was better, but I’ll take a seven. (Can we also discuss how the judge must have been staring right at the right entryway of the indoor?)

9. Transitions in and out of canter.

Score: 6.5

Judge: 1st Smooth. 2nd could be more prepped.

Me: I am pretty meh about both transitions. I would’ve given me a 6 because I really needed a half halt before both.

10. Medium Walk

Score: 6.5

Judge: Smooth transition. Could be more active.

Me: I agree. Unfortunately, this was one of those tension trade offs. We were right near the scary side entrance and the stalls of horses. I could either push for more activity and get tension and jigging, or just deal with the flat walk. Flat walk won. (Rewatching… I actually don’t think her walk was that flat. What do you think?)

11. Free Walk -> Medium Walk

Score: 7.5

Judge: Better Activity. Clear Stretch. Difference Shown.

Me: See? Boring walk paid off. May’s conformation just makes this movement a bit hard for her, but I think that this time, she clearly showed a stretch over her top-line and an opening of her stride.

12. Working trot rising to A

Score: 7.5

Judge: Forward and Steady

Me: Yup. This is kind of an odd movement to score. It is trotting around half the arena.

13. Down Centerline. Halt through medium walk. Salute.

Score: 8.0

Judge: No Comment

Me: Same. Appropriate for the level. Although – Am I horribly leaning to the right? This video makes it look that way. I need to watch my mirrors/set up my camera at home to see if this is a habit.

Collective Marks: (nothing was underlined or circled).

Gaits: 7.0

Impulsion: 7.5

Submission: 7.0

Rider’s Position: 7.5

Rider’s Effectiveness: 7.0

Geometry & Accuracy: 7.0

Judge: Cute! Pair works fairly well together. Forward thinker. Watch he doesn’t get too fast. Canter transition could show more prep/polish.

Me: Agreed. I don’t think speed is an issue as much as balance.

Final score: 29 to put us in third out of SEVENTEEN.

Not Weightlifting, Yoga

I have seen, many many times, that trainers have associated Dressage with weightlifting. They talk about the strength building, the potential for muscle soreness, and the overall change in how a horse carries itself.

For May and me though, Dressage is more Yoga than Weightlifting. Strength is, as always, an important component of Dressage. As she gets stronger, things get easier for her. Movements go from ok to good. However, how do we get from good to great?

We need flexibility to get there. If you have ever done yoga, you know the balance between flexibility and strength, and you know how the movements build upon one another. Dressage with May is a LOT like that. Take our warmup routine lately, for example.

We start on a loose rein, and I ask her to simply come over her back, while we did big 20 M circles and oversized loops through the arena. The back needs to loosen up from her earns all the way to the top of her tail. Because naturally, with no human interaction, this horse runs around like Pepe Le Pew (tail and nose in the air).

So we need to start here:

Back end is starting to track up. Nose is poked out. Horse is open from check to chin. Tail swings back and forth with each stride. The “circle of energy” is more of an oval, but it is developing.

The bending continues to be a focus point when we move into serpentines. Straight, then bent, then straight, over and over again. The shoulders start to come up at this point and the hind end is asked to track up more so that it doesn’t slip out during the change of directions.

Then, we start stretching laterally. Leg yields open up May from left to right, so that the back to front flexibility and strength gets better. Think about stretching your arms straight in front of you before stretching straight up. Same concept. May is still not SUPER flexible laterally, so this is hard for her. She wants to move slower and kind of lean into the movement to make it easier. All the while, I have to make sure that right shoulder is staying where it should instead of moving outside the “box”.

Once those help loosen her up, we have introduced should ins to May’s routine. Now, we are asking for bend AND lateral movement. This is still super hard. Kind of like a new yoga move that you can only hold for a few seconds, May can only hold this movement for a few strides. Then, I give her a break.

As we straighten out, I find myself with this trot. Although, with less tension. (and what are my hands doing?!)

img_0040

This trot translates to a more connected canter AND a more connected walk. It might not be fast progress, and it might not be fancy stuff. However, it is building the right muscles and the right flexibility to create a better Dressage horse in the future.

What about you? Do you think Dressage is more like yoga or weightlifting? (or wrestling!?)

Sometimes – An AA Needs a Pro

Ok or like… all the time hahaha. Recently, I have been having a real issue getting May off of my inside leg and into my outside rein going right. (So right leg to left hand) This isn’t a new issue, and it was definitely something that was exasperated by the wolf tooth on the left side of May’s mouth. I have even, apparently, gotten REALLY good at hiding it. However, I knew it wasn’t correct, and I was really struggling with how to fix it. I also wasn’t sure if it was a ME problem, since I am right side dominant, or a May problem. So I texted NT, and I asked if, instead of a lesson, she could ride May, and I could watch.

too-cute

I got there in time to help her tack up, and we chatted a bit about the issue. Then, she hopped on up. And May did what May likes to do when someone new gets on. She turned into a drunken sailor. This is… not normal for draft crosses, in my experience. Most of them want to be straight and board like and heavy. May? She wants to move every part of her body in a new direction and see if you can put her back together again.

NT had no problem with it… She warmed her up similar to how I do it, encouraging May to move over her back and into the contact. NT immediately picked up on what I had been feeling, and she was surprised at how well I had been hiding it. At this point, I realized that this was the first pro ride May had gotten since… early 2016? I think that has to be right. NT gave me a compliment on how well I have done with her… if only she really knew where we had started.

img_3855
Good thing her neck isn’t any longer. Also, the only piece of equipment I still use from this pic is that saddle pad and the bit. 

Pretty quickly, NT realized that the problem wasn’t so much her willingness to move off my right leg, but in her desire for me to hold up the right ride of her face. She would move off the right leg by swinging her haunches out, while pushing her shoulder forward and in. So instead of a pretty curve through her body, we were getting a horse whose front end and back end weren’t really following the same line. I need to show her that I won’t hold her up on the right side, while also using my outside leg to keep the haunches following the front end.

At the canter, thing’s got even worse. I mentioned that, when I did get her off the inside shoulder, she would then fall apart to the outside. NT immediately identified that her canter to the right made me want to sit to the outside, instead of the inside, of the horse. When I sat on the outside, pushed her off my inside leg, and struggled to get  her on the left rein, it is no surprise that she fell of the outside. Well… duh…outdoor-cantering

She also demonstrated spiraling in to a smaller circle before asking for the downward transition. On a larger circle, May was able to really throw her weight through her inside shoulder in the transition and do the transition off the outside aids. On a smaller circle, the rider can really set her back on that outside hind through the transition. Good stuff!

The final exercise was cleaning up the canter transitions. NT did this through a leg yield towards the rail, picking up the canter, and immediately turning. This got her off the inside front leg before the transition, through the transition, and then immediately turning kept her from falling on it once she was in the gait. It was really cool to watch as, by the third attempt, May had really figured out how to use her body better and lift through her shoulders through the transition, instead of throwing her head up and barreling through the aids.

We chatted a bit about the difference between training a draft cross vs. a thoroughbred as they cooled out. And then NT gave me some homework:

  1. Serpentines – Make sure the haunches are really following the shoulders in all right turns, square off left turns a bit, and keep her right shoulder up and light on the right rein all the time.
  2. Lots of transitions – Transitions will make her stronger in this new way of holding herself, but she might need smaller circles to do them both relaxed and correctly.
  3. Random leg yields – leg yields are important, but she is anticipating where they start and stop. She needs to really understand that the outside rein helps moderate the leg yield, so I need to put them into weird places in the ring. Some leg yields at the canter too.
  4. Sit with the bend ALWAYS – I cannot give up my seat because of where she is trying to throw me. Using my seat will reinforce the leg and hand aids.

There’s probably more. I am sure there is more. I had a serious case of barn blindness through the whole ride. Like how did the horse that I bought go from this:

May Start

To This (and honestly, she looked even better with a pro up):

Can’t wait to see what she looks like once I figure out how to really get her on that left rein! Are you an AA that occasionally throws a pro up? Or are you 100% DIY? Or as a pro, do you think it’s helpful to get on your clients’ horses every now and then?

Dressage Lesson – How Does One Even Fancy Prance?

This is going to be a very text-heavy, Dressage focused post. I could have broken this up into 3 posts, but I didn’t want to torture you all with that. Apologies in advance for what is interesting content to me and probably no one else!

Last week, I texted NT and literally asked her, “Can I get on the schedule for a Dressage lesson? I have forgotten how to fancy prance.” Luckily, she understands my humor (or is just good at faking it), and put me on the schedule for Monday.

On Sunday, I showed up to the barn to a horse missing a shoe. This wasn’t totally unexpected. During the transition period of May to the new barn, she spent a couple of days out during the day, and she spent a good amount of that time stomping at flies on the REALLY hard ground right now. I had already put an SOS out to the farrier, and he was scheduled to come out on Monday afternoon.

img_6954
Old Random Photo 🙂

So on Monday, May’s feet were cleaned and trimmed up (and a hoof supplement was added to her smartpaks), and we were headed into our first Dressage lesson with NT after May basically got 4 days off. Whoops.

Given the heat and humidity, we decided to do the lesson in the indoor arena. I have to say that the shade of the covered arena combines with the breeze through the open sides REALLY made a difference in the comfort level of both May and me. NT gave us a simple directive, “just go ahead and warm up, and I will watch.”

Ummmmm ok. I can do that. I have been riding for 22 years. I can warm up a horse on the flat. Hah… hahahahah. Now, before I get into how our warm-up went, it is probably worth noting that I made a pretty significant change in our equipment lately. I have caught myself riding almost primarily off my spurs and in a way that had May completely behind my leg. As a result, I have switched to a Dressage whip and no spurs. The Dressage whip used to make May incredibly tense, but a lot of hacking out while carrying one has made it a mostly non-issue.

Our warm-up was… mostly terrible. I got her in front my leg, but she was definitely dull to any bending aids, and as usual, she wanted to continuously pop off the connection of my outside rein when tracking right. (i.e. the left rein) I did some loops and worked on moving her shoulders around to try and loosen up the middle part of her body, but she mostly just continued to shuffle along like a board. We did a bit of canter, with a turn on the haunches in between, and then I looked at NT for instruction.

“You need serpentines” was the summation of the explanation that followed. Basically, I was losing either May’s shoulder or her haunches around basically every turn.

“I do a lot of 20M circle exercises…” I tried to explain, but NT explained how, on a 20M circle, you can remain mostly straight and stay on the circle. She wanted us to really make TURNS that forced us to really BEND. 10 meter circles are really beyond us right now, but we could do serpentines with 10-15 meter half circles at each end, so that is what she had us do. She told me not to worry about getting the exact size of the half circles, as long as I got the correct bend and shape through May’s body. Cool! Our first attempt looked something like this:

Oops.png

Basically, I just kind of threw May around the ring and tried to shove her around corners without ensuring I had the right balance first. I realized how badly it was going, and tried to sit the trot for the last loop. It seemed to help a bit, as I was able to better time my aids. Either way, by the end of that experiment, NT learned she needed to be SUPER literal with me. “I know I said you could do whatever size circle you wanted, but they need to be consistent. You still need to ride super accurately.”

During my second attempt, I sat the trot and implemented a solid half halt anytime I felt her balance slip. I rode my lines, and focused on really pushing her into the corner and my outside rein with my inside leg. It ended up looking more like this:

Better

By the end of the exercise, I had a horse that was much more connected in both directions, AND she was moving across her back and lifting through her withers. There will definitely be a lot more of THESE in our future. Now that we had (finally) established a real connection, something I had been struggling with for weeks, we wanted to add in some lateral work. We had a great connection, but the idea of moving off my inside leg was still a bit of a struggle.

The directive was simple, come down the quarter line and ask May to leg yield to the wall. Baby stuff! We started in the better direction, the left, and it was a total fail. Without my spurs, I was basically incapable of convincing May to move over. The closest I got to a “leg yield” was the shoulders sliding towards the wall and the head bent back to the left. I wasn’t even pulling on the left rein, but that is where the head was. “Do you want to try asking for that a different way?” My head snapped up at NT’s words. Do I need to reiterate that I have been riding for more than TWENTY years? Even the H/J did a lot of leg yielding.

None of this left my mouth; instead, I just meeked out a “yeah.” NT came into the middle of the ring and pretended she was on a horse. First words out of her mouth are, you don’t move your aids because you aren’t changing your bend. Wait… what? I kept watching, quietly, while she positioned her inside leg “at the girth” and moved her outside leg back to keep the hind end underneath her. She took a step to the right in the “leg yield” and then half halted by squeezing her thighs. (I really hope the cambox picked up all of this. I will have to check tonight.) She took another step, explaining how she was scooping the horse up with her inside leg and moving them into the outside rein and outside leg, which were allowed the horse’s body to move into them. WHEW!

She explained how I was losing the shoulder because I wasn’t half halting, and that made it impossible for May to move her body over effectively. Oh, and sit with the bend. Yup, sit with the bend. I have ALWAYS sat on the outside of my saddle. In a leg yield, I will practically throw myself off the outside of the saddle in an attempt to get my horse to move with me in the direction. No one had ever told me I should be sitting on the inside (or with the bend).

Part of me was shrugging my shoulder at this. Part of me was tempted to ask if I could just go get my spurs. It didn’t even seem like this new set of aids could work, but what I was doing right now wasn’t working. I figured I would at least try it. We started tracking left and came down the quarter-line. I shifted my weight SLIGHTLY in my left seat bone, I kept my left leg at the girth, and I moved my right leg back. I half halted with my thighs, and then, I thought of scooping up May’s body with the entirety of my left leg and moving her one step to the right… and it worked. I half halted and asked again, and it worked again. Pretty soon, we were cruising right along from left to right. May was straight, there was no fighting with her head, and we ended the leg yield with an EVEN BETTER connection. Magic. (Below – old footage of me asking the “old” way, outside of a lesson, and thinking I was doing amazing)

The right was definitely the more difficult direction, so May lost a lot of power through the leg yield. However, they remained straight and correct. NT explained that strength and flexibility in that leg yield will come with time. Sounds good to me. We walked for a bit so that May and I could recoup, given the heat. Then, NT asked me how our shoulder-ins were. I almost laughed, but I gave her a pretty diminutive, “not good.” She nodded and explained the movement to me again.

Again, the concept didn’t change. The inside leg stayed at the girth to keep the bend, the outside leg stayed back to steady the hind end, and my weight stayed on the side with the bend. Cool. This time, I would look to move as if we were going to make a 10 meter circle, and I would ask her to hold that shape while going straight. It was pretty rough. I REALLY wanted to swing my inside (left) leg back and the outside (right) leg forward to try and push the haunches towards the wall and the shoulders against the wall. Shockingly to no one, that didn’t work. May’s left shoulder popped on the inside, and the loss of bend and balance meant she was basically running away with me (albeit incredibly slowly).

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❤️ #may #palomino #draftcross #ponylove

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NT reminded me to fight the urge to give up on the inside leg to outside rein, and she reminded me to half halt. Half halt? We are barely moving. Again though, I suspended my disbelief and tried it. I kept my inside leg on, my outside leg back, sat to the inside, and then, I turned her shoulder just to the inside and half halted. She took two steps of great shoulder-in before coming off the rail a bit. I half halted again, and we got three good steps. And then, I got another nugget of wisdom from NT, “the moment you feel her wanted to come off the rail, that is when you need to half halt.” However, we didn’t want to drill the exercise, so we took a walk break before going in the other direction.

To the right, things were a bit more difficult. Granted, this is May’s more difficult direction, so I wasn’t sure we would be able to do it at all. We would get straight, I would ask for the shoulder in, and May would throw her head around. I was told just to do a 10M circle and try again. I tried again, and I got the same response. “STOP PULLING ON YOUR INSIDE REIN!” I heard from the other end of the arena. From more than 100 feet away, NT had seen something I hadn’t even noticed I was doing. I shoved my inside rein forward, and we suddenly had a small, but correct, shoulder in. We did one more line with me riding like someone who has done this before, and then, we gave her another break.

“She really tells on you when you’re pulling on that rein,” NT joked. Then she asked if there was anything at the canter I wanted to work on specifically, since we didn’t want to do much of it in the heat.

“My transitions suck.” I explained how, in my last real Dressage lesson, May had been completely incapable of picking up the right lead, and that, since then, I have basically settled for letting her throw her head up and then just shuffle her way into the canter. NT made a comment about seeing that in our warmup, and she told me to pretend that I was asking the stifle for the canter.

“Take a deep breath, let it out, swing your outside leg really far back, and ask for the canter.” No… there is no way that is going to work. Hah… hahahahaha.

I picked up the trot to the left, got the connection, started sitting, took a deep breath, let it out, and swung my right leg back. And good Lord, that mare just threw that right hind leg under the body, rocked back, and picked up a canter. It was uphill, it was connected, and it was prompt. I looked up at NT with a MASSIVE grin on my face. We did it one more time, and decided to switch to the right. To the bad direction.

I had a bit more trouble reestablishing the connection on this side after our walk break. She really wanted to throw her shoulders to the right, but I got it. Then I sat, then I took a deep breath, I let it out, I swung my left leg back, and she gave me the best canter transition I have ever gotten. On any horse. We came back down to the trot, I let her stretch, and NT said we should just be done on that. It was a 9 transition, and there was no point to trying to “train” a tired horse to do something it already did great.

Today, I am sore. My abs hurt from all the sitting trot. My inner thighs hurt from all the half halts, and my back muscles hurt from making sure I was sitting as tall and balanced as possible. However, I feel like we are fancy prancing better than ever before!

As for the cambox, the instructions are in French, so I am fumbling my way through learning how to use it. Also, I am learning how to use my Mac at the same time… anyone know how to get a video from iMovie to my iPhone, so that I can put it on instagram??

05.13.18 Horse Trial – Dressage (and May’s Fan Club)

Let me start my saying, my horse is a magnet for attention. More than once, I found myself surrounded by multiple girls, as they asked questions, petted May, and even gave her kisses. The horse, who is usually so aloof, really loves all this at shows. Go figure.

Our day got off to a bit of a rough start, as a scheduling conflict at the barn meant that we couldn’t get on the road until 9AM, vs. the 8:30AM I had been planning on. Luckily, the show venue was maybe 10 minutes down the road, so we weren’t in danger of missing my 10:06 ride time. I did, however, change into my boots, my hairnet, and my helmet while we drove.

As soon as we got to the venue, I sent my husband off the office to get my number and whatever information he could glean from the staff there. This was the same place we had went to for XC schooling the prior week, but I wasn’t sure where everything was set up for the actual competition. While he was gone, I pulled May off the trailer myself. For some reason, she isn’t a fan of my trainer’s 2+1 trailer, but she was patient as I worked out how to get her off of it myself.

The husband arrived back in time to help me finish tacking up, and then May decided to be a total beast to get on. Now, my husband is not a small man, and May full body shoved him out of the way as I was swinging a leg over… I guess It’s truly time to get serious about the standing at the mounting block thing at home.

I then wandered aimlessly around where SJ and XC were, trying to figure out how one gets to the Dressage arena on the other side of the pond. I finally found someone to ask, and it turns out you had to go down what looked like a private driveway, take a right onto a dirt path past a hot walker, walk up into a random field and around the fence line to the dressage arena. I am not going to lie, being lost like that and on a bit of a time crunch really stressed me out.

Whew! When we finally found the Dressage warm-up, it was broken into two areas: a big grassy field that was mostly flat, and an actual dressage court. I rode around in the field for a while before the Dressage court emptied. Then, I moved to the court. Of course, as soon as I got in there, someone else, let’s call her Competition Crazy (CC), decided she needed to run through her WHOLE test in that little court multiple times in a row. Maybe I am naive, but I feel like there is no scrubbing a test right before you go in. Practice the movements to get your horse as connected and tuned in as possible, and then go into the ring. (more on CC later too)

With a couple of riders left to go, I just let her walk around in the shade for a bit, hoping that would help relieve her of some of our combined tenseness. As I was watching the last rider go before me, a couple of girls came up to pet May. It’s amazing how just talking to people about my pony helps keep my nerves at bay. The rider before me wasn’t ready, so I happily agreed to go a bit early.

I wandered down to the arena and gave the judge and scribe my number. ANNNND they couldn’t find me. They asked for my name, and I gave it. They said my number didn’t match my name… cool. Then I gave them my horse’s name, and they were like “OOOHHHH. We thought YOU were May”. I may be a bit short, a bit round, and quite pale, but I am definitely not May.

We got it sorted out, and I got to trot a bit around the arena before they honked the horn, and we headed down centerline for the first time in 2 years. Below is how it went.

(a copy of the test can be found here, I am just going to give the scores and comments for each movement below)

Movement Scores

  1. 8.0 – No Comment
  2. 8.0 – Nice Energy
  3. 7.5 – Slight Head Tossing
  4. 7.0 – Could Have More Balance
  5. 7.0 – Slight Loss of Bend
  6. 6.5 – Could Have More march
  7. 8.0 – 2-3 jiggy steps, but very nice stretch (This was VERY generous)
  8. 6.0 – Could March More. Slight Tension
  9. 8.0 – No Comment
  10. 7.0 – Could Have Been Cleaner
  11. 6.5 – Losing Bend. Slight Loss of Balance
  12. 7.0 – No Comment
  13. 8.0 – No Comment
  14. 9.0 – No Comment

Collective Marks:

  • Gaits: 7.0
  • Impulsion: 8.0
  • Submission: 8.0
  • Rider: 8.0
  • Overall Comments: Well Matched Pair. Lovely Test. Work on Canter transitions and tension.
  • Final Score: 24.1

So my thoughts? The scoring was CLEARLY generous, but it was equally generous for everyone. I was happy with how May stayed connected and engaged throughout the trot work, and I thought the canter work was a lot less scrambly then the last time we competed. However, the tension in the walk is definitely something we need to work on, as it comes up at home too.

The score was good enough to put us in 4th place out of 19, so that was very encouraging. Either way, we had about 2 hours to cool off. Then it was going to be time for jumping!

Move. Over.

So as May and I have been upping our fitness lately. There is one aspect I have let go. Lateral work.

After getting May’s teeth and joints squared away and getting our fitness back up to a respectable level (still not where I want it, but much closer), I figured it was a good time to see where our lateral work stands. If you read this blog at all last year, you know that, without a jumping saddle, almost all of our lessons were Dressage lessons where there was a strong focus on lateral work. Why? Because as my trainer describes it, May is a body builder… not a ballerina. She needs more yoga before we can achieve real collection.

It makes sense to me, and I did see a lot of progress in her way of going throughout last year. So, I started with the old 40 degree angle, nose to the wall, at the walk exercise.

Dressage Exercixe 1

This one… Black is wall, yellow line is horse (who should be straight) and arrow is direction of travel.

She was really good. She moved off my left leg, held herself mostly straight, and finished the move by straightening out and marching forward through the end of the arena. Awesome. I repeated it a second time with the same results, and then we switched to the other side.

I got nothing. I set her up for the move, closed my outside rein, but my outside (right) leg on, and she threw her hind end through my leg and snapped into a straight line along the rail… No.. not what I asked. I made a small 10M circle,and asked again. Same result. She got a tap with my spur and reluctantly moved her hind end over. Eventually, we mostly got there, but she was still a bit of a pretzel. I didn’t want to drill the move, so I moved on to walking leg yields.

I thought about my trainer’s advice last year. Ride the horse like a table. If you had a table around you, and you picked it up and moved it along the diagonal, without turning, the legs of the table would trace the line your horse’s hooves should follow. It’s a weird visual, but it works for me. Again, I started with having her move off my left leg. We started with the quarter line to the rail, then the center line to the rail, and it was something sort of magical. She kept her body straight, moved at the angle I requested, and I could simply hold the contact with the outside rein. She got a big pat and lots of praise.

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Old media, you can see how much this helped us last year.

Then, I reversed directions and asked for the same from the right leg. Again, I got no response. Cool. I rolled my spur into her, and she moved on her front end. Even more cool. I tried to hold her with my outside rein, but she sucked her neck back, popped her shoulder further to the outside, and twisted her neck to the right. Ugh. Mare. I straightened her out, rolled my spur into her, and asked again. Same response.

Of course, I didn’t have my dressage whip with me (which only really makes her tense and might not have helped anyway), so I reached back and patted her just at the hip. It was meant to be a “hey, you need to move this part too”, and was definitely not hard enough to cause any pain. However, May took serious offense to the whole thing. She flung her head around, threw her body sideways, and gave me a giant huff. Maybe I just surprised her? I have no idea. It mostly seemed to work though, and I was able to get some correct (albeit very shallow) leg yield off my right leg.

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Still pretty though… I gotta fix those hands!

The rest of the ride continued in mostly the same fashion. She moved easily off my left leg and tried to ignore my right side. (This is probably the root of my issue of getting her on the outside rein and was probably exasperated by the wolf tooth) I think the issue is still likely related to some general stiffness issues, so I am adding in some carrot stretches and her Back on Track sheet to see if those help. I am also going to continue with the pony yoga to see if it improves.

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Something like this for our next ride?

I think my next ride (hopefully tonight) will focus on stretchy circles where we leg  yield in and out. I think that will help with the stretching and moving over issues. All the mud probably doesn’t help any stiffness of muscle soreness either. -.- In fact, it is supposed to rain 10 out of the next 15 days. Pretty sure KY is going to float away at this point.

ADDED: Found an awesome resource on some carrot stretch exercises and information: https://vetmed.tennessee.edu/vmc/EquineHospital/Documents/EPR/UTCVM_LACS-EquineCarrotStretches.pdf 

Some Days – We’re a Drama Llama

One thing May has really lacked as we have bumped up her fitness is true connection. Sure, she’ll put her head down and look cute, but the back end wasn’t taking on the workload like it should. Part of this was likely the soreness of the hind end that has since resolved with the injections. My original plan was to do a long and slow walk on Saturday, when the weather was supposed to get up to around 50, and then do real work on Sunday when it was going to be a bit cooler.

Instead, about 40 minutes into our long and slow walk, I realized something. I had no breaks. She wasn’t “running” away with me, but any aids I gave to halt were met with straight up refusal. The head got flung in the air, and she just barreled on. No mare… That’s not how this works. So I spent the next 20 minutes establishing a halt, and I decided that we probably needed a few minutes of actual work.

I hopped into the outdoor arena and began asking her to move off each leg, and I was met with… nothing. I swear some days this horse puts in ear plugs, decides that she knows how to be a trail horse, and that should be her true occupation. Today, however, I had my Dressage whip in my hand. So after she ignored my rather wrong leg aids, I gave her the slightest tap with end of the whip just behind my leg. Cue May flinging herself sideways and throwing her head around like I was beating her to death. The yield got rewarded, and the dramatics got ignored.

After a few more leg yields each way, with less and less drama and definitely no more of the whip, I asked her to step into the trot… And I got “ER MAH GAWD, RUNNING NOW!” I just concentrated on keeping my body still and slowing the front end. Slowly, the weight rocked back, and we finally got some solid work in.

I added in a couple of minutes of canter. (the canter was really nice, and we we were over the dramatics by then.) Then, we went back to walking for another 15 minutes, and we sprinkled in some really nice, soft halts. See the math? Ended up being an hour and a half ride… because she didn’t want to halt.

I did end up getting some (rather poor) media from this. May looks mostly the way she felt, which is a good thing, but GOOD LORD what are my hands doing? Definitely putting more of on emphasis on bending my elbows and riding her up into my hands again. However, I am really happy with how well she is doing with trot poles. This has to be the clearest point of improvement for her after injections. Before, she would try to stuff an extra step into the poles or even just knock them around. Now, she is properly pushing through them, even when she comes in under powered.

Does your horse ever have days where they prefer to be in charge?

Thankful Thursday

Amidst all the driving back and forth to the barn, I have had an opportunity to reflect on what I am more thankful for in my riding career. However, the thing I am most thankful for, is the mare that turned out to be much more than she was ever supposed to be.

I have talked a lot in the past about how May was a complete impulse buy. You can read the full story here: A May As Well Purchase However, I am not really sure I ever explained what I was expecting. Originally, when I bought her home, we joked that I had overpaid for her. After all, she couldn’t even do a 20M circle before she popped her shoulder and ran in the opposite direction, a canter took nearly 20 steps of trot to pick up, and I quickly learned that she had never seen a gymnastic.

To be honest, my original thought for buying her was that, if she didn’t work out, I could recoup most of my money and just sell her as a trail horse. She was sane, and sensible, and had color. All the things trail people want. Right? I mean, she could comfortable carry a larger rider for miles without discomfort. Then, we went to our first CT. It was a W/T Dressage Test and 18″ stadium round.

And we had SO MUCH FUN. She was a champion, and I finished with a giant smile on my face. I was hooked on competing this horse, and I think the man in this situation finally understood what it was all about. She never was supposed to be as cool as she is, but gosh… she is really cool…

 

I think she has turned out to be really cool… And I can’t wait to see what more she has to show me.

You Know Nothing, Adult Amateur.

The wisdom of ignorance is a ridiculously important part of doing this thing we call “learning to ride”. I think many of us that rode as kids can think of a time when we really felt like we knew how to ride… like if we had the right horse and enough money of COURSE we could make it to Rolex or the Olympics or wherever. Then, we get a bit older. We get introduced to the “greats”. We read books, we watch clinicians, we LEARN. And somehow, in learning, we learn how little we do know.

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Recently, I was reading one of my favorite blogs. I real OG in my book. A Enter Spooking (If you EVER had a clinic in KY, I need to be there.)

I am not a Dressage rider. My only real Dressage training has come from Eventing riders and that only began in late 2015. During my first Dressage lesson, the trainer asked me to ride the horse into the contact, and I couldn’t do it properly. It was the first day in many days in which Dressage makes me feel like a total fool.

However, I had felt like I had started to grasp how this whole Dressage thing works, at least on a basic level. Then Megan makes a comment about how “the rider should kneel into their thigh”. What…. WHAT? I stopped. I blinked. I read it again. Dressage riders should not sit on their butts. They should kneel into their thighs. Oh… Oh well… That actually makes a ton of sense. So now I was staring at my screen, and I realized that I didn’t even know how to properly sit in a saddle, much less ride in one.

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But riders do not let our inability to do something stop us from trying. The first time you sat in a saddle, I bet that you couldn’t even make the old schoolie trot… or even turn. The first time you jumped, you probably had no idea where your horse would takeoff. And the first time you went a trail ride, I bet you had no idea how to get your horse through that one damn puddle. However, you worked at it. You read books, you tried different things, you sought instruction, and you got better.

Each time we peel back another layer of the “riding” onion, we realized another skill (or set of skills) we do not know. But now, we have something that we know we can learn to make us better. So we try, and we get better, and we master more skills… and learn how much more we don’t know and can’t do. 🙂

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