Monday, May 22, 2017

5/14/2017: We are the Champions...

First level champion, 70.735%
Second level champion, 66.795%
Top two scores of the day.

If you're friends with me on Facebook, you're already aware of the above information. There should have been a #bigfishsmallpond tag on there too because it's true, but oh well. We had a great day, and it would have been great at any show- schooling or recognized.

Seriously, if you're not into watching my videos of dressage tests or lessons (not offended, I promise), these are the ones to watch, if you watch any on this blog. I'm so proud of these tests. I'm sure in a year I'll go, "eww look how bad that was" but right now, I'm excited to watch them.

We went to a local schooling show on Mother's Day (and my mom was thrilled to just go and watch Penn and I do our thing, and was tickled pink that we did it well that day). This show is hit or miss with the number of competitors- sometimes there's enough people to fill the day from 8am to 6pm. Sometimes it's small like this time when it went from 9am to 1:30pm. They usually don't have many riders at second or above, but this show was pretty equally turned out across intro to second level. There may have only been a handful of riders in each test, but every test from intro, training, first, and second level was ridden at some point during the day.

I had to borrow a trailer (small slant instead of my relatively spacious straight load) to get to the show, and maybe that had Penn a little frazzled from his normal travel state. I got on him to warm up and he was more spooky than he's been in recent past. Like, someone was pulling weeds 40 feet away from the walk to warm up and he had a literal meltdown over having to "pass" them. I've been working hard on Cowboy Dressage Trainer's relaxation technique at home, and I warmed up with my serpentine plan and bouncing him from one bend to the next... and Penn really relaxed. Hooray, the day was saved!

I knew Penn was working on a whole different level from every other horse at this show partway through my warm up. He was relaxed, forward, bouncy, and through. The horses I saw in warm-up... well they were giraffing, lacking impulsion, bridle lame, and faking connection. One rider was almost laying on her horse's rump in an effort to do... something. I've never seen someone lean back so far. My mom thought she was going to fall off her horse backwards.

I talked to one of the moms at this show and she was dismayed with the scores, which I understand. Most were in the 50s and by the end of the day, there would be one in the 40s too. She was like, "You just have to be happy to break 60% today! This judge is harsh." I think the judge was probably spot on, but probably harsh for a schooling show. I'm pretty sure by the time I came around, she had already scratched out her eyes, so nice test riding was probably like getting some visine. I think she might have been a bit generous at times in my tests.

Up first was 1-3!

I don't think his first lengthening trot should have gotten a 7, but she nailed me other places where she should have. I'm so super pleased with my 10m circle accuracy- I missed both at the recognized show and these ones were spot on. I have to work on my halts- he was dead square and then stepped back a couple inches. I'm happy with my canter one loop accuracy since that was a miss at the recognized show too. I need to work on the canter-trot transition at A at the end of the test because he anticipates it and ends up breaking early instead of holding the canter like I want him to. I'll have to start cantering past A when I practice at home. I think we could carry a bit more step in all gaits though, throughout the entire test. All in all, I was happy because it was a solid, steady test and Penn stayed very relaxed.

Leg yield left

This test was a "fuck yea!" in terms of accuracy (for the most part lol). Hitting centerline on the 10m circles, one loops, and the halt at X happening with his shoulders ON X. I swung wide turning left at C in the initial centerline and goofed the canter-trot at A at the end. I think the freshly dragged arena helped- I know my centerlines are straight and I could use my own tracks as a marker for the line (only one horse rode it before me, and she swung wide on centerline too, which I think let me go wide too).

Centerline accuracy ftw
He settled here for a moment, then stepped back with the left hind and looked left. *facepalm*

I was so excited to get a run of 7.5's for the collected marks! 1-3 ended up scoring a 70.735%, praise from the judge at the very end (and a comment of nice braids, which was great since it wasn't just "oh at least she did that well"), and we won the class by 17.353%. Like wow, that's a lot. I did see the second place test, and the woman surprised me with the issues she was having- she also does recognized shows and scores very well there at first level. She just had a lot of issues with breaks from the canter work and went off course once. She must have had a very off day.

I got off Penn, loosened his girth and unbuckled his flash and noseband, and took him back to his stall to see if he wanted a drink. My next ride was in a half hour, so I didn't want to put him away, but I wanted him to relax. He wasn't interested in drinking, so we stood and watched a couple tests before going back outside to fix his tack and warm up a second time.

I had a really cool feeling moment as I did my courtesy lap for 2-2- I asked very gently for SI right from a very straight trot and he simply floated into it. No break in rhythm or anything. I may have grinned.

I think there were even more generous judging moments in this test because the final trot work felt like rubbish to me, and Penn simply wasn't going to turn up the final centerline and I had to drag him there via inside rein, yet both got good scores. I lost Penn's attention after the walk work- the wind was really picking up and banging the arena doors (you can hear it throughout the test in the background). For lost attention, it wasn't so bad!

I don't think his medium trot was enough either time. I love how suppling the SI is in this test though. Travers is hard for us (it suddenly went to hell in the last few weeks and the ones in this test are far superior to anything we've done in the last month), and the turn on the haunches aren't very good (they've gone to hell too, especially the one to the right). The left lead canter's 10m circle back to E ended up small from the aforementioned loss of attention. I asked for the turn and thought nothing was going to happen so I was like, "Let's just get there", lol. The left lead counter canter looked so good... then he broke since I had too much left bend and not enough leg. I had to make a snap decision about trying to get counter canter back so I could attempt to not completely blow the simple change... well I got two 4's (the 20m half circle and simple change) but I don't know how else I could have ridden it without getting even fewer points. The right lead was spot on. I would like a bit more roundness in the 20m counter canter half circle though. He totally tricked the judge in his final halt- she said it was square and he was resting the left hind leg again! Like 1-3, this test could have been ridden more forward.

And now a GIF attack!

Shoulder in left. I really like how he settled into it.
10m half circle left, 10m half circle right.
Shoulder in right. Very settled into this one too!
Left lead counter canter. Oops, lol.
Right lead tear drop.
Into the right lead counter canter work.

The judge commented in the test to make my turn on the haunches closer to the walls, and to collect the walk more before them. The collecting is in the test instruction, I just seem to have forgotten that part. But I have let the turns creep closer to centerline than they should be.

Reach for it left hind!

2-2 ended up scoring a 66.795%, for first place out of one, haha. I still count it as a solid first place because it was the highest scoring second level test of the day, and only second highest of the day to my 1-3 test. This is actually my highest scoring second level test ever- Mikey topped out at 64+% at both schooling and recognized.

So: two first places, two champion ribbons (first level high score, second level high score), high score of the day, reserve high score of the day. I may have sent GP Trainer an email with the subject "We are the Champions..."

Friday, May 19, 2017

5/7/2017: CDCTA Dressage Mania, Part 2

But wait! There's more horse showing to come!

Sunday dawned much nicer than Saturday. Penn and Guinness got some grass, then we headed up to the indoor to watch two of GP Trainer's students ride Grand Prix. We got to see one have a very excellent test that completed her gold medal, and the other made huge improvements from the previous day- very exciting stuff!

I had a lovely ride time of... 5:04 PM. Austen and I stopped by the show office to find out if there was any possible way a First Level TOC class could be created for me in one of the scratch spots because we had such a long drive home. Unfortunately not, but I was able to move up to an earlier slot in my 1-3 class- 4:40 PM. Whatever, I'll take it. It's 20 more minutes on the other side that I can spend packing so we can leave as soon as the class is pinned.

It turned out there were so many scratches that I was able to ride even earlier- 4:20. GP Trainer couldn't stay as late as my test (pre-planned evening festivities from before ride times came out) and her assistant couldn't come to my warm up either because she had a ride time of 5:10 in a different area of the property. However, Austen filled the coaching spot admirably. She pointed out I needed to ride his canter a bit more forward that day because it was a bit irregular.

Penn warmed up quickly, and luckily the riders in front of me were in a hurry to leave too, so they rode their tests early. I'm glad I swapped out- one of the riders between me and my old ride time insisted on keeping her original ride time... which while she's entitled to do that, I would have been super pissed to see the ring empty and me not able to ride my test. Either way, I got to ride 40 min before my original time, allowing for even more packing time!

First centerline. So much more uphill, I love it.
First lengthening trot. I need to keep his poll up.
More of the first lengthening.
I was very pleased with this stretchy circle... but for some reason I've forgotten how to steer and make them round.
Apparently this was a flat canter (according to the judge's comments). Coming up to the simple change through trot.
Penn decided he was going to quit on me in the left lead canter and just get stuck. I had to really kick him on in this lengthening, which the judge called "labored". Which I get it, he was tired.
Half a moment later, I just like his neck in this one.
I swear I'm not about to show the same picture 3 times. He had some really nice moments on the final trot lengthening. (the first pic in this post is from this line too)
Super consistent strides at the start of this diagonal.
We need to make this more uphill though.

I was happy with the test, except Penn simply got tired during the canter and our slew of 7's and 7.5's for the trot and walk became a slew of 6's and even some sub-6 scores for the rest of the test. Mostly his irregular canter rhythm popped up (but not nearly as bad as it has in the recent past) and the judge rightly nailed me for it. Who knew standing in a stall all day (with some grazing time in the morning) was exhausting? We ended up with a 64.853% for 5th out of 7 people. It's still a qualifying score, but I can't use it because it was earned at the same show as my other score, so I still need one more.

I have to say, I'm quite disappointed with a sub-65 score at first level. We're better than that, we need to bring it, especially if I want to meet my goal of a 70+ at a recognized show and going to First Level AA Finals. This is just me being a picky bitch because of very lofty goals. I'm happy to continue upping my average first level score and average 1-3 score.

The faces of boredom while we wait for scores.

Austen and I were super efficient in packing up- we had everything ready to go before the last rider rode 1-3... which also meant we had to kill a bunch of time at the show office... we got there as they were announcing her going down centerline. Ugh.

Penn wasn't very happy, so I clipped his hay net out front of his stall so he could channel his inner racehorse and stick his head out AND eat. Poor Guinness had to try to eat it through the chain link, lol.

All was not lost though, I think we got to leave the show grounds around 6:30 PM about ten min after they pinned 1-3. We stopped in "Creamery Row" to get ice cream (which was delicious and well worth the stop) on our way back to Austen's barn to drop off Guinness. We were off to home around 8PM.

Husband earned his keep as "Best Horse Show Husband Ever" by making the 5 hour drive home by himself while his wife slept it off in the passenger seat. We tucked Penn in at 1 AM, unpacked everything I needed in the barn, cleaned the trailer, then took the trailer home with us... More on that later, but long story short, it needed some basic welding work to fix some steel supports, and now needs a crap ton more work because we found so many more things wrong with it. That's for another post though.

Still a good weekend, we accomplished what we needed to! The first of two qualifying scores for Championships.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

5/6/2017: CDCTA Dressage Mania, Part 1

At attention! I love his ears.
Courtesy of Liz Stout

Several weekends ago we went on an adventure to the first recognized show of the year. First up was picking up Austen and Guinness! Austen insists Penn has grown since last year and that I should stick him again- his butt and Guinness' were the same height! He also filled out to match Guinness' butt width too. I don't have a pic of it, sorry! Guinness freaked out Husband by not being able to stand in the trailer when we turned right on our way to Morven Park. We got there in one piece though.

Ready for two horses! Except the second horse is 5 hours away, lol.
The rain that plagued us at home and on the drive down finally went away when we picked up Austen and Guinness.

We arrived in time to unpack and for me to scurry off to have a half hour lesson with GP Trainer (we stabled with her group of riders- which was a ton of fun!). We kept our lesson short and sweet- no reinventing the wheel, just a run through of all the gaits and test tricks. The first thing she said was, "Look at you sitting up! Someone has been working very hard on her homework!" She had me prepare a bit more for the across the school halts, and sit on the back of my butt more in downward transitions to help Penn keep his balance. I think we only worked for 15 min, because Penn was super on and we didn't want to tire him out. I got to test out my new warm up plan- work everything on the serpentine and then move off to canter.

Saturday simply pissed down rain (though not as bad as the last time we were at Morven). All day. I think it stopped raining for my test at 3:36, but the rings were already quite wet by that time.

I got to meet Liz at this show too! She's so great, and was nice enough to take some really great pictures of us on Saturday (and edit them too!).

This was the first time I've ever had someone warm me up at a recognized show. I've had two trainers warm me up at shows, and by far I prefer GP Trainer's approach. She let me warm up at my speed (aka slow), and had comments and recommendations as we went along. Other trainers who have warmed me up always seemed to be rushing me along, and it always worked out (at least with my recent Event Trainer it did! Not so much with the one before her, but that's another story), but I stayed relaxed and focused this time. The biggest thing GP Trainer had me do was keep him rounder and more forward in the trot.

Courtesy of Liz Stout

Off we went for our test! Enjoy a bunch of pictures of Penn looking positively beefy in this test!

Courtesy of Liz Stout
Courtesy of Liz Stout
Courtesy of Liz Stout

I was really happy with Penn's test. So much more solid than anything we've put forward this year, and steadier than last year. The trot work was definitely the weak point (along with me blowing the walk by asking for too much), but the canter was a strong part of the test. I was completely boggled that I missed the centerline on my leg yield and one loops. I got an 8 for rider position, and then a 6.5 for rider effectiveness with a comment about missing the centerlines. Such a stupid place to lose points!

I couldn't help but pull a pic from last year at Morven, because I found one that is the exact same pose as one from this year!

Courtesy of Liz Stout

I think he's improved from last year! (well duh, he's much steadier) I don't think his stride length hasn't increased by much, but he's better muscled and more engaged now, and more on the vertical instead of hiding behind it. He still hides behind it, but not as much as he used to.

Penn whipped his tail around after our test. Oops.
Courtesy of Liz Stout

We ended up with a 66.324% and tied for 2nd place in a class of 7! The 66+% was also good enough to be our first qualifying score for this year's championships!

Blogger meet up (plus my husband) at the show's Kentucky Derby Party after the end of the show.
So much fun!

Monday, May 1, 2017

Lesson of Frustration (aka left hand and bend)

This seems to be one lesson after another for us! Not really, I'm just not writing about our rides in between lessons.

I'm writing about this though! More on it at the end of the post.
Sorry for it being a fuzzy screenshot... someone else used their older phone to video, not my nice new smart phone...

It's been a long time since I had a lesson where I was so supremely frustrated that I was mentally checking out DURING the lesson.

I had an under saddle lesson with the Cowboy Dressage lady a few weeks ago (4/14). She immediately keyed on: 1) my left leg was doing way too much spur digging, 2) didn't like the weight my hand carried in contact on the bit (I personally don't see a problem with it, it doesn't feel like much contact to me, but that might be because he was so heavy for so long), 3) any tension he carried, and 4) his head tilt. Left bend is a problem- it always has been. It's probably why the left rein became my favorite to hang on and my left spur does so much digging. I'm sure the head tilt comes from that.

She immediately got after us about bend, after only a few minutes of walking around while I worked on our beginning ride suppling exercises- changes of bend on linked 10m circle. My own warm up was scrapped and we proceeded with her instruction. What followed can only be described as a complete lack of understanding on my part with ever increasing frustration. I understood she wanted him to bend from my inside leg (because I'd like that too), but I did not understand how she wanted me to get it.

She wanted him to be completely relaxed, which I totally want too. She kept having me drop all contact with his mouth, and letting him fall heavy on the forehand, which I really didn't like. It was all: leg on, Penn would run away, I'd take up contact, she'd yell to stop touching his mouth and keep asking him to leg yield out, then pull the left rein, then STOP pulling the left rein, catch him on the outside rein and leg, why are you holding the rein, let go of the rein, etc. Then combine that with Penn truly running away on the forehand in all gaits. Penn's gaits got nice and big, and the canter rhythm cleared up, but he felt rushy and running and incredibly heavy on the forehand. So frustrating. She asked if any of it felt better and I gave probably what is the rudest answer I've ever given, because I was so completely and utterly frustrated by the work and thinking about how long it was going to take me to undo whatever it was we were doing, "To be perfectly honest, he feels really super shitty to me. I'm sorry to phrase it like that, but it's how he feels."

It took over an hour (these lessons were supposed to be 45 min), but I finally caught what she was getting at: he needs to be allowed to make mistakes, so I can correct him when they're wrong (running away or transitioning to the next gait up instead of yielding to the inside leg, and later when riding on my own I added being on the forehand to the list). That's very much the same as how GP Trainer wants to let him make mistakes- he can try to answer the question, and if he's wrong, I correct it AFTER he's finished his answer, then ask again. I kept stopping Penn from moving off into the next gait when I'd put my inside leg on. He needed to move to the next gait, get a correction that put him back to previous gait, and then asked the same question again. Only then did he stop moving to the next gait.

The process became something like this (we'll use bending in walk to the left for example) on a 15-20m circle:

  • Left/inside leg on (aiming for it to be mostly calf, no spur or ankle), with both reins giving/zero contact (especially the right/outside) to ask for leg yield right/bend left.
  • Did the horse:
    • Move into trot?
      • Catch immediately with the right rein and leg in a half halt and reset him to walk. It must be a sharp correction with immediate, 100% release.
      • Repeat inside leg for bend question.
    • Not respond, or not respond enough?
      • Use sharp pulls up or tugs towards my left hip of the left rein (take, release, take, release, very similar to how she set him on his outside shoulder from the ground using a lead rope), to bring his head around and force him to move his shoulder.
      • If that does not work, tap with the whip on the hip to make the inside hind step under.
      • Catch him on the outside aids with a big half halt to set him back on his haunches. Big release of the reins immediately for giving the right answer.
      • Ask again or ask for a transition.
    • Bend?
      • Allow him to move his body and bend.
      • Catch firmly but gently with the right rein and leg in a half halt to set his balance on his outside legs.
      • Full release of reins.
      • Ask again or ask for a transition.
  • Ask again/transition/do something right away.

What I failed to understand was basically the flow chart of responses and how I needed to respond in kind, and how QUICKLY I needed to respond. It's never a several stride hold of anything, except maybe the inside leg, but even that should be bumping along in the rhythm of the gait. Once you're done with a correction or whatever, you need to be applying the inside leg again to shift the balance again. It's a complicated half halt really, where the end goal is better bend and inside hind leg engagement, and from the half halt stage of it, you can ask for better longitudinal balance.

In the last 5-10 min of the lesson, while tracking left on a circle, I could put my left leg on, and with zero contact, he would shift his rib cage and shoulder and give better bend without moving his body out. Very good boy. The only thing I didn't like was he was still too heavy on the forehand, and started responding to any kind of contact by curling (his natural tendency). He was also becoming more tuned into seat for the half halt, a definite plus.

Penn got a new fly mask since the velcro on his finally gave up and he lost it. I had to take off the nose piece of the Noble Outfitter mask because he was constantly making faces and tossing his head. Otherwise, he seems to approve!

I spent a solid 24 hours with thoughts that ranged from varying degrees of "OMG I hate her, I'm never riding with her again" and "What she had us do was really really useful, and we should work on that." and "GAH why is it always something basic that we have messed up?!?!" I went back to the barn the next afternoon to try and replicate now that I had a grasp of what she actually wanted.

And we were able to! Right off the bat, Penn was bending off my left leg. I'm sure I had much more contact than she would have liked, but damn it all, I AM NOT going to let Penn run around on his forehand. I am going to correct the shit out of that. I spent a long time correcting it the first time around in his training. It is a zero tolerance, not the right answer. By the end of that ride I still had a regular rhythm in all gaits, I could ask for collection and he would give it for a few strides, however, I still had a horse that wanted to curl.

Since then, I've continued to play with a very broken down inside leg to outside rein half halt.

One day he felt pretty spiffy and had a big huge warmblood canter complete with floppy ears and air time. I had zero clue what to do with it, so I asked for flying changes (because why not?). He gave me both lead changes, big and clean, and kept working in between. BO's daughter said he was reaching way up under himself with both hind legs, and that while he wasn't as uphill as he's been, he was still plenty uphill with a ton of jump in the canter. Towards the end of the ride, he started curling again and I got frustrated... but the BO's daughter pointed out that I had been at it for a while already, and his outside hind was starting to look tired.

It was the ride after this ride that I found out his medium trots were broken from the work we'd been doing- I'd put leg on for a bigger trot and he'd immediately canter. He didn't even wait until his balance got iffy, he'd just canter off. Sigh.

We haven't had that awesome amount of jump since that ride, but I've been trying to get him to lighten his forehand again. I had one really horrific ride where I could not get anything- he had a 'baby horse day' where he couldn't focus or listen. I tried to ride him through it, since if he's like that at a horse show we would have to, but every time I'd feel him get on the right track, he'd veer right off it again.

One major issue in this ride was the head tilt/looking to the outside that I kept getting, especially in SI left. He'd keep looking to the outside of the ring. It eventually dawned on me that proper contact is EVEN contact in both hands, not zero pounds in the inside hand and many pounds in the outside. I enjoyed pulling the left rein so much that in trying to break the habit, I stopped using it altogether and put heavy weight in the right hand (which would make his head look right while trying to bend left). Always rider error. Sigh. I decided I got and understand my lesson, but we have to work it productively into our work. Dressage riders don't go around with zero contact, just light contact.

My birthday was this past weekend, so Husband got me this awesome garden decoration!

Towards the end of this past week, we've had some awesome rides where I've developed a warm up for upcoming shows that develops bend while forcing me to maintain light and even contact in both hands.

I put Penn on a 3 loop serpentine at the walk, focusing on bend from the leg. Every time I would change bend, I'd put on my new inside leg, take a hair of the inside rein to give him clear direction, give the outside a hair, get the bend going and then half halt and take up my even contact again. It all gets done in a handful of steps. I'd do the same at the trot, paying attention to keeping my own shoulders and balance back and thinking, "bring up his knees" by using the same bend cues to half halt and really encouraging up in the second half of the half halt. This let him get off the forehand, lift his shoulders, and still go forward. He got very soft and relaxed with floppy ears. The canter was great too- nice even rhythm with no irregularities. Doing my half halts inside aids to outside aids really shifts his balance onto his outside legs at the canter and he becomes very round and relaxed, and I can lift him up as long as I remember to lift my shoulders. The medium canter was great too- I apply the inside part of the half halt in one stride, outside catch in the next, repeat. He stays very up in the shoulder and powers down the longside.

Both rides I had at the end of this past week contained nice flying changes too! The first day where he felt so super, I used the serpentine in trot, then a canter circle at A, then a short diagonal for the first change, a circle in the middle to really establish the new bend and balance, then headed down the next short diagonal and asked for the next change. They were all round and within the rhythm, so I'm assuming they were clean too (but I could barely feel they happened, so I donno).

Smart cookies get to quit early and go for long walks in the grass instead of more ring work!

The second ride I did this warm up was in the pouring rain- I didn't want to ride inside and I haven't actually worked Penn in the pouring rain (and so had no clue how he'd react at a show). I opted to put my warm up to the test: will he go to work in the pouring rain? Yes, he will. He's not happy about it and he swings his hind end into the wind/rain a good amount, but he will. It was not as good as the previous ride, but I got good work and two changes again. I didn't have him set up properly for the left to right (the harder one), so he didn't give me that change right away, but he let me rebalance him on the same short diagonal and ask again, and he promptly changed that time.

We finished up with this little grid that has been in the ring for a couple weeks, and it's been calling to me since it was set up! So I dismantled the oxer and put up a tiny cross rail. (yes, that is pouring rain you hear)

I am well aware of my extremely rusty jump skills. It isn't helped by jumping in long dressage stirrups! It's why I chose a grid to jump- it does a lot of the setting up and I just have to put my leg on and try to stay out of the way. We don't have the first time through on video- he really brought his knees up on that one! It made me want to get a new jump saddle. I don't feel very secure in mine anymore- it's a flat Pessoa XC jump saddle with extra forward flap. I need a more all purpose jump saddle. I'll keep it in mind, but I think next time I'll just shorten my dressage stirrups a couple holes! There will be a next time- he's much more fun to jump now that his legs aren't noodles!

We were a bit soppy at the end of the ride.
At least my barn has a dryer and I had a fleece vest, so I was able to put my soaked shirt in the dryer so I could go grocery shopping on the way home!

So what's next? Well we're heading down to VA this weekend for the first recognized show of the year where we'll meet up with Austen and GP Trainer, then the next weekend we're going to a schooling show where we'll ride 1-3 and 2-2 (Austen and I had a chat about 2-2 and it's much more up Penn's alley at this point, so probably no Dover medal attempts for us this year). The next day, I'm hauling to the local dressage trainer's barn to ride with a clinician everyone raves about and I was finally invited to come ride with. Lots going on!