Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A Break in the Rain...

The rain finally went on vacation and we had two sunny days this weekend. I spent Saturday with my husband at a car show (the horse show jokes were plentiful: how much bedding should I add to it's parking space? do you need to check in with the show office? and my favorite: After I wipe it down and feed it I'm going to take it for a hand walk. Could you clean it's parking space while I'm gone?)

The outdoor dried out a good bit Saturday, and we rode Sunday. I spent some time trying to quiet my left leg- less nagging and a more prompt response. I worked haunches in and half pass. Things were particularly stuck and hollow in the left haunches in. The half pass right in trot and canter were good, but we need to make sure the haunches don't lead. That's my fault- it's easier for me to think of half pass as a haunches in across the diagonal instead of a sideways shoulder-in. I figure a soft and smooth, straight or slightly haunches leading with good crossover half pass is better than a hollow and tense one where the shoulders lead with little to no crossover. The half pass left in trot was sketchy and inconsistent, in canter it was hollow and drifting instead of crossing. The left haunches in is harder for Mikey- I collapse my right side and I'm sure I don't help him! We'll have to spend more time in that one at walk (which is very good) and trot before moving on to canter.

I worked on his changes after all that warm up. Mikey's butt was tired but he gave me a good first change, right to left, so good that he got a pat and a walk break. His left to right was consistently hollow and running, but clean over the pole. The right to left fell apart quickly. A friend rode with me and said he had a good tempo and rhythm until I made my turns onto the diagonal, and then he changed to almost 4 beating, and then no change. I got one last OK change and quit before I got much further behind.

One thing I noticed in warming Mikey up with haunches in to haunches in was he needed more new inside leg support than I thought, like a lot more. Any comments from people who have worked changes? I'm interested in knowing what works for other people. I find that as I put my new outside leg back pushing for the new bend and lead if I don't put as much pressure at the girth as I did behind, I got sticky swaps instead of prompt ones.

My trainer said when she put him out after dinner he was all slow and "ohhh we're going out now.... ok" instead of his usual peppy self of "Time to go outside!"

Mikey had Monday off while my husband and I went to see How to Train Your Dragon 2. It made me want to fly a dragon. Maybe Mikey will appease me sometime and let me put dragon wings on him and go galloping through a field, cause that's about as close as we're going to get.

Anyway, I finally got to see my trainer on Tuesday, 6/17, and we went over my tests from last weekend (nothing groundbreaking in the comments), then moved on to picking two of the 3rd level tests to ride in July.

Does anyone out there think 3rd test 2 is harder than 3rd test 3? We looked at the tests and were like, these are horses just learning their changes, so 4 changes? with two being on consecutive short diagonal/short diagonal and two on the rail? She said her 4* event tests are just getting to that kind of thing. Maybe someone out there can enlighten me that test 2 rides better than it reads? We settled on 3rd 1 and 3rd 3 for July, unless things go terribly wrong or don't progress and then I'll do 2nd 3 (and try getting a Dover Medal!) and 3rd 1.

We're going to focus on 3rd 3 for now, so we worked on prepping him for the changes with the half pass like the test uses, and using a pole on the straight line to get the change. I have to work on the quality of my walk canter transition, who knew it was so imperative to getting the right canter to get the nice flowing half pass, so then I can send him more forward into a bigger canter for the change? I know, duh.

So today the homework is to take him out on the road and hills and use them to help his medium trot. I rode the other day using the road to help me, two steps medium, back to collected, back to two steps, back to collected, lather, rinse and repeat. Maybe make it 3 steps. I also want to play with the changes in the open, only paying attention to my cues, and putting more forward into them. Let's make it simple.

Mother nature seems hell bent on dumping on us tonight, so I'm hoping to get a ride in between thunderstorms.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Rain, Rain, Go The Bleep Away.

Right now. No more. We have enough water and I'd like to ride my horse, and not on a trail ride.

In other news, I decided to board Mikey at a friend's farm that has an indoor from the beginning of November to the end of March this winter. I refuse to have a depressing, non horsey winter again.

Enjoy this video of it pouring at my house. My sidewalk and driveway were small creeks.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Planning... Not Riding

So today's post is about formulating a plan for my rides up until the July 20th dressage show. Why no riding you ask? Because it's 80% chance of thunderstorms today (and tomorrow) and I am at the mercy of my job's hours and mother nature. So usually I am sitting at my desk when it is sunny, watching the clouds come in as I ride the bus back to my car, and driving home because a wicked thunder and lightning storm has come my way. Why does it matter what the weather is? Where I board doesn't have an indoor arena. While this usually doesn't matter (I'll ride in the rain, snow, darkness etc), I won't ride in a thunderstorm. The barn is on top of a hill and more than one jump standard in the outdoor has met its doom via lightning bolt.

So I plan. And then I get twitchy because I'm ready to implement my plan. But can't. Because I'm sitting in a chair, not in a saddle.

Things to accomplish before the July 20th show:
  1. Confirm trot and canter half passes. They used to be good, and they've gotten a little wonky lately. Time to sharpen that up!
  2. Find a better medium trot. Our medium trots were better last year and for some reason they have gone by the wayside. Time to get those a good bit better so I can fudge an extended trot. In being realistic, I know I'm not going to get a solid medium and solid extended trot in 5 weeks, but what I can do is develop a better medium trot so I can show my best medium as extended and medium, and then pair it with nice transitions back to collected trot. I'll lose a point on the extended, but I can't have it all.
  3. Get those flying changes down. Mikey and I started learning our changes last fall but had trouble getting the front to change, and then getting the back to change at all. I wanted to test the waters my first time riding with the German Clinician (and save money) by only riding with him once during his two day clinic. I had a such a good lesson with him, he made room for me to come back at the butt-crack of dawn the next day for a second lesson so we could keep working on the flying changes. He watched my sorry attempts at a change before we went through his flying change exercises toolbox before ending up in what I called "remedial flying changes": put a pole at an angle to the arena wall and use it to help the horse out. He said, "Your horse knows how to change the front, but it's hard for him to change behind. It's just going to be hard for him- some horses are like that. You just have to work twice as hard at it." Day 1 we went through the various exercises he's used to teach horses the changes (changing directions and ask for the new lead, counter canter on a circle and ask for the new lead, etc) before moving on to thinking of the change as changing the horse from right haunches-in to left haunches-in (and back and forth and so on) so I could focus on making Mikey's hind end change the bend first. I spent a bit of time in walk and trot, going down quarter lines and center lines, asking for Mikey to change his bend by riding haunches-in to haunches-in while keeping his front end on the straight line. He said that this method is how he teaches horses tempi changes- if you want changes every 3 strides, you practice asking for the new haunches-in every 3 strides in walk or trot. It doesn't matter what the final haunches-in looks like, all that matters is the response to the cue. Is it prompt and willing? Yes- then you got the change. Day 2, we repeated the haunches-in exercise, and then went back to the poles at the end of a short diagonal and maintained the same thinking over the pole. My horse got it right 90% of the time (sometimes making a clean change before the pole), and eventually on the better direction he pulled the pole out from the wall and told me to ride between the pole and the wall, and the change next to the pole... and Mikey did it! A clean change. A hollow, tense, and above the bit change, but a clean change. He said, "A 5 in the show arena. It will get smoother, but good enough for now."
Now it's my fault all 3 of those items are not better. German Clinician told me to make sure to use the pole every time for a while with the changes, don't rush it. Well I usually school by myself. No eyes on the ground, and no grounds person. The spring weather stopped cooperating with my riding, which limited where I could ride (none of the footing was suitable for changes), I don't have an arena with walls to put poles against (our outdoor is a converted baseball field), Mikey came down with some cough that seemed allergy related and I couldn't ride for 2 weeks, and I saw my regular trainer maybe twice in a month in a half because we couldn't get the planets to align so we could lesson (aka our schedules and the weather- I'm not dependant on her, but she stops me from making new bad habits!). I ended up schooling without the poles at a neighboring farm with real arena walls, which turned out ok at first (the first change was always clean), then my horse started having royal tantrums (as he is prone to doing when learning something new), and those drizzled down to effect the rest of our riding... Half pass became a fight because we're going laterally across the arena. And a tense horse that's not coming through certainly will not be doing even a mediocre medium trot. I went back to the changes with the pole two weeks before the recognized show last weekend, had a horse that was leaping around the arena (but doing a clean "expressive" change every time), so I decided to scrap it until after I rode second level last weekend.

Well it's after. So here's the aforementioned plan. I usually ride 5-6 days a week.
  • 3 days a week are going to be flying changes days. As we were told to do by German Clinician.
  • 1 day a week will be a combo of collection/lateral/medium work. For us, they all go hand in hand. Laterals help his collection, collection creates the push to do the mediums.
  • 1 day a week (plus any extra days I may get to ride) will be hacking on the road, through the fields or doing a gallop set (no more frequent than every 5 days for the gallop set). That's a lot of work the other 5 days, we'll both need a letdown day.
Normally I would go eventer on the plan and say Monday is collection day, Tuesday and Wednesday are flying change days, Thursday is a rest day, and so on (this is what I did as an eventer, schedule the whole month, flat days, jump days, gallop set days, rest days), but I am at the mercy of the weather now, so I'll create the schedule at the beginning of the week and alter it as I see fit based on when I can lesson and when the footing will be right for each exercise. I feel fine making 1 day a week be the dedicated combo flatwork day because in all reality, when I do my flying change day I am going to warm up with laterals and collection anyway.

So now to wait until I can actually ride, and work, again.

Monday, June 9, 2014

USDF/USEF Recognized Show Outing on 6/8/14

This past weekend I packed up Mikey and my husband and we drove a couple hours to the recognized dressage show closest to us. We've been planning and working hard to be ready to get our second level scores at this show. The show is actually 2 different shows, one Saturday and one Sunday. Same location, same judges, just two different shows... two office fees, two drug fees...... The weather on Saturday was beautiful. It's too bad I didn't show on Saturday and chose to show Sunday only. Not that I could afford to do both show days, not after a second hotel stay. Mother nature decided Sunday would be stormy, but we at least had a nice morning.

Mikey and I had a good school on Saturday after we arrived. I checked in and checked with the TD about my spurs. I like my pair of smooth rowel spurs- I get my point across with minimal effort. Those however, were quite illegal at my level. I have a pair of roller ball spurs, and they work as well but I couldn't find anything in the rules for them, so better to ask first and not be disqualified later. The TD approved my roller spurs, and here's a tip to everyone: check in with the TD if you have questions, she really appreciated me coming up and asking before riding. I got to talk to her again that weekend and we had a super nice chat.

Anyway, our first test Sunday morning was Second 2, and using the tips I got last week, we had a super super warm up, and a super test. Our medium trots leave something to be desired, and one turn on the haunches was sticky and he planted the inside hind, which earned us a 5. Our only five on the test. Everything else was between 6 and 7.5, so a very solid test! We ended up with a 64.211%!

And now some pics from the test, courtesy of my amazing husband who spends his weekends with me at horse shows without complaining. It helps he likes photography and horse shows have ample opportunities for that.

Haunches In

Medium Canter

Medium canter, I love this picture!

Medium-ish trot

About an hour or two after our test, mother nature decided to dump water on us. A lot of water. The nice dry farm became a very wet soggy place. The rain broke for my warm up and second test, which was 5 hours after my first test........... Anyway, I misjudged how fast the show was moving and ended up over-warmed up. I was ready to go 1.5 rides before I was set to go, which amounts to about 10 min early, which is fatal for Mikey and me. He lost whatever softness he was able to get, and gets tense and bit chompy. We had an alright test and it turned out a lot better than it felt, 62.024%! He needed to be more through and not brace. Since it was the adult amateur section of Second Level Test 3, and the test works well for Mikey's strengths, I had hoped to give a good try at winning the Dover Medal, but I was third. I was only 2% behind first place, and I know the test was not our best, so maybe next time we'll get that medal! :-) But what really matters to me is that I got the second level scores I needed for my Bronze Medal. Only two scores left!

A couple pics from that test:

Free walk through the puddles.

Up center line in canter.

One of the low spots at the farm has become a swamp.

I did have the videographer take video of my two tests. 2nd-3 looked a lot better than it felt, and I couldn't believe how far we've come in 2nd-2!! If I can figure out how to get it off the DVD, I'll share.

And now we're going to move on to third level. We'll school the poop out of our flying changes between now and July. My trainer is holding a ride-a-test at a nearby farm on the Saturday of one of the two day shows, and I'm going to ride there then immediately leave for the show and ride in Sunday's recognized show. Hopefully I'll get a score. I'm not hopeful for 2 scores, but I'll live with one!

Busy week!

So we'll start with the beginning of last week, since I had some good rides and not enough time to write about them on here (I did steal the log book from my truck and hijack several pages to write notes on).

So after work last Tuesday (6/3/14), I went out to the barn, hooked up, and hauled Mikey to a clinic with a trainer from Germany that was being held at a farm nearby. I rode with this trainer last time he visited, and his ideas mesh well with my regular trainer's instruction. Not that I'm opposed to a completely different viewpoint, but I don't like doing a complete overhaul with a new trainer I've never met. I came home last time with a good introduction to flying changes and a bunch of exercises to help Mikey (and me) learn.

The goal this time out was not working on flying changes, I wanted to work on perfecting my second level work for the horse show I was going to the next weekend, while keeping in mind the very sticky horse I had two days before at my last show, so I could hopefully get my second level scores for my bronze medal.

These are the highlights:
-Keep my warm-up moving and varied. Don't just let him trot around. Don't go more than a short side, long side or circle without doing something lateral, changing gaits, or changing within the gait. Be smart about the transitions I do and when I do them, and do more thinking and planning.
-My horse tends to lean and motorcycle corners, so do a transition in/before/directly after the corner.
-Use the counter canter to my advantage. Mikey has a good, balanced counter canter that really helps him use himself. So take advantage of it and mix it in.
-Make the last few transitions easy and mix in a stretchy canter or trot.

He really made me think about 'what next' for my warm up and when I'm done. I found I had a much more responsive and supple horse. I know this is something I should have known, but I find I just mill around in my warm up because I find it uninteresting. We moved on to working through 2nd test 3 and breaking it down, mixing in the same ideas from warm up- even if the test calls for one gait, think a lateral movement in a corner or longside every now and then to get him thinking that I'm going to ask for something different soon.

-Enter left no matter what. I always entered right because he was softer, but the trainer had me change that because he's better balanced left.
-Ride a good trot. Don't worry about collected or whatever, this horse needs to find the swing in the trot more than he needs to find the collected. Collected will come soon after the swing is more natural.
-Right shoulder in- less angle, add more angle near E, change to renvers.
-Left shoulder in- less neck bend, more angle, add more angle near B, change to renvers and pay attention to bend.
-After each renvers, make sure to be straight by the time I reach the letter that ends the movement, so I can push him forward and into almost shoulder fore into the corner. Don't push the horse past the halt at C. If he's offering it a little early, take the excellent halt and go with it instead of pushing for halting at the letter and having something ugly.
-PAUSE in the halt. I have 3 seconds to move. Use it! Then rein back.
-Let turn on the haunches wander a little bit. They can be up to a meter in diameter at this level.
-Ask for more in the free walk to change the 7 into an 8. Collect up the walk and think shoulder fore to make him think about doing something else besides turn on the haunch, then near the letter push forward and straight, canter.
-Add leg to the 10m canter circles, ask for walk in the last step of the circle, then canter on in the counter canter. Make the 20m half circle, push forward out of the circle and down the diagonal.
-Go forward on short sides to help with swing.

I was super happy with the lesson, and my trainer has said similar things. A good ride!

I had to run out to the barn the next night, and it was raining. It takes me 45 minutes to get there and we don't have an indoor arena. I decided to dig out my rain coat, brush the stink bugs off and go for a short walk/hack in the rain. We had a lovely relaxed ride and it was good for both of us.

I saw my trainer the next day (we're at Thursday now), and we worked on similar ideas as the clinic on Tuesday. She added that I need to keep the jump in the canter, and a little less bend in the counter canter to help him come through. Also I needed to pay attention to my left hand/arm. I tend to lock it, and then Mikey tends to brace against it, and it's all downhill from there. I found wiggling my fingers keeps it soft.

We worked on rein back because usually I get a 4 or so on it because it is reluctant, braced, hollow and crooked. She had me halt, then ask for rein back. When I asked, she would tap his front legs with the whip so he'd be more inclined to go backwards. He got it after a few tries and then I got the whip back. She had me ask again and tap his shoulder or front legs if I could reach. Eventually he figured out how to be soft and go backwards. Now we're only left with crooked! Without an arena wall it'll be harder to fix but it wasn't going to be all fixed in the next few days. We moved on to trot-halt-trot, and mixed in shoulder in and renvers to keep him thinking. Good ride!

I rode again myself the next day, reviewed the shoulder in to renvers and halt-rein back. I tried to pay extra attention to halt and no rein back. He's been thinking too backwards in the halt and we're losing our square halts unless I am painfully accurate in riding the halt. Who knew stopping was so hard? We also had the atmosphere from a neighbor target shooting and mowing the fields with a large mower that was behind the treeline. No excuses at a quiet horse show!

We went for a walk after working- we were leaving for a horse show the following day and he was going to see more than enough work!

A walk in the grass is all you need at the end of a good ride!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Schooling Dressage Shows... Where mistakes are made!

So Sunday (6/1/2014) I got up at the nice hour of 4:00am to pick up my mom and then my horse and trek out to our local schooling dressage show location. As in, we have one farm in the area that hosts schooling dressage shows (or any dressage shows for that matter, schooling or recognized).

Mikey handled being in his stall overnight really well (he hadn't handled it well in the past when all his buddies have been outside and he's been in), so I fed him and we were off!

I've never had such a short show day- my ride times were at 8:10 and 8:49, but due to a number of scratches, I rode at 8:10, another rider rode a test, then I was back in the arena for my second ride. So I was done with my horse show at 8:40am. Now that's a quick show!

Mikey was very sticky off my leg and slow to respond. He also wasn't relaxing like he should of and we got a lot of comments of need more impulsion, engagement, and more in general. We also got nice comments like obedient horse, nice rider, nice horse, nice turnout. I was also told to post the trot for the next 2 months at home and then go back to sitting and see if he is more willing to be soft and round. Not that that isn't a good idea, I'm sure it is, but we've been posting the trot for 8 years. I need to really learn to sit his jack hammer trot and he needs to accept the sitting trot. I've struggled with sitting his trot for the last 9 years, I'm finally getting it down. I'm not posting.

Anyway, the final breakdown comes out like this: in my second level test 2 we scored a 62.895% and in second level test 3 we scored a 64.048%. The scores look good, but I don't think they accurately reflect how I rode and how he felt. We were nailed where we should have been, but I feel like it was a very average day to have such nice scores. I'm sure at a recognized show they would have been less than 60%.

So here are some pics, and the thing I'm most proud of is my horse's condition and turnout. He's braided neatly, shiny, clean tack, white sock, and his hooves were polished but they got dirty.

A lacking medium trot. It needed "more".

This shoulder-in was a 7, then deteriorated into a 5 for the renvers as we didn't get a complete change of bend.

This got a 4.5 and the comment: "horse not correct, but obedient!"

Finding his engagement again from a very poor turn on the haunches.

Rocking the counter canter that got a 7 (the other direction was a 7.5)!