Thursday, October 26, 2017

10/21/2017 - Clinic - Half Steps!

To start, Penn's hoof seems to be on the mend. Friday night, I packed it with magic cushion for the heel bruising, covered the cut in corona to protect it from the magic cushion, then wrapped the whole shebang in a diaper, vet wrap, and gorilla tape. My wrap survived the night, morning turnout the next day, and the trailer ride to DT's barn for our lesson with visiting clinician NM. I replaced it with a smaller cover for my lesson- a non-stick gauze pad over the cut and bruise, which was then covered with vet wrap. He's perfectly sound, but I wanted to make sure it stayed clean and was protected.

NM is a Florida based, Puerto Rican FEI rider who has represented her country in several international competitions. She's gotten rave reviews from people at my barn, and 5 of us made our way to DT's barn to participate in the clinic. I had not ridden with her before because she doesn't have GP Trainer's upper level experience, despite participating in international competition. I wanted to see what other people thought first!

I started by warming Penn up with Megan's homework- halt/walk/halt/walk, then mixing trot in. I felt super stupid doing that- it was silent in the ring as NM watched us warm up. I was like, "OK, stick to the warm up you know works." She understood what I was doing (as I was told she would, having done something similar to BO's daughter M), and then asked me for a little bio and what we're up to and where we want to go. I told her that I've had him for 2 years, got him green broke, and we did "baby third" this year, just 3-1, so the goal is to make that work better for next year and then maybe ride 4-1 at the end of summer. I said we had spent the last month going back over the basics- Penn needed to be light in my hand, stay engaged, and use his hind end. I also said I started schooling half steps on my own, but I really wasn't sure what I was doing. I told her that he knows his changes but I haven't really touched them in a while because I haven't really touched the canter a whole lot in the last month.

She wanted to see the canter next, so I showed her the slight train wreck I have going on (though it was much better than it's been). She immediately pinpointed my perching and gave me solid reminders to sit down and sit up, and not to let Penn pull me out of the saddle when he gets rushy or when his balance changes. She had me add a smidgen more step to the canter too, which I'm not entirely sure he's ready for. I'm kind of neutral to the canter work we did- I think he could use a lot more collection because I could not have asked for a walk out of it and gotten it. However, we did focus more on me sitting properly than him really sitting properly. I needed the reminder badly!

We spent the rest of lesson working on half steps!

NM worked with a whip from the ground tickling Penn's rump to encourage sit (she barely needed to apply any contact), and I was to hold the small walk and encourage the "jig-jog" steps. When he gave the right answer, she'd feed him a sugar cube. She likes feeding horses a sugar cube when someone works them from the ground with a whip so they don't get worried about people holding whips. Basically she wants them to think: People on the ground holding whips while tickling them = BEST THING EVER.

The best one! We asked, he gave right away!
"When to quit and try again" - We trotted out at the end of this one.

NM loved Penn. He caught on so quickly, NM was very happy with his brain and try. She helped me identify when to move on from asking him for half steps (aka it has gone bad and you need to start over), and when to allow him to move forward just a hair more while continuing to ask. She suggested I find a longer, very bendy whip that I could use minimal hand motions to wiggle over his haunches to help me school half steps by myself.

Weee and he's stuck, haha.

We quickly moved on to applying the half steps to make the trot better. We did a lot of trot/halt/trot, focusing on keeping him active and sitting. She identified the right hind as the leg to get after both directions, and to keep my leg slightly more back to encourage sit. I needed to sit and apply leg into the halts, and release him a little out of the halts. She described it as him getting stuck sitting by sitting too much, and he can't get himself out of it.

Going forward
Asking for sit, then going.

Here's a link to all the video I have of us working on the half steps, plus trotting out of them, plus doing the trot/halt/trots. You can hear NM's instruction too. Sorry it's so long, if you click to about the 5 min mark, you'll get more of the trot/halt/trot.

Overall, it was a good, worthwhile lesson. Nothing ground breaking, but I got my "Sit down/Sit up" that I needed, and I got help with the half steps so I can continue messing with those as desired. I was really excited to get help on applying the idea of half steps to the regular trot. My half halts were much more effective in finding sit, and Penn found a new lifted trot gear which was really cool.

NM really liked Penn, and asked about the Oldenburg side of him. I explained that his mom was a registered Oldenburg, but was actually half Thoroughbred and half Dutch Warmblood (Alla Czar), so he's actually 75% Thoroughbred. She was like, "Interesting, I didn't realize they were making them like that again!" She also thought he would do better at higher levels because there will be more things that play to his strengths. We laughed about how I struggled with riding him in 1-3 after riding 3-1 a bunch of times. She seemed to think he'd progress up the levels nicely- he should have a super piaffe and good passage, he's probably good at laterals (yupp), and then the only thing that's left are the changes... which he's probably good at too (getting there!).

Of course while we chatted at the end of lesson, Penn was snuggling with NM and looking for more sugar cubes. She loved his in-your-pocket personality and joked about stealing him and putting him in her carry on home.

I got a few irksome comments from someone (not online) that really took away some of my excitement about my lesson. They praised the ground NM walked on, and how nice Penn looked because of her instruction, but between the lines trashed GP Trainer. In reality, NM told me the same thing about the canter that GP Trainer does, and I have had zero prior instruction on half steps, but I expect GP Trainer would have me do something similar based on watching her GP students. There wasn't anything truly ground breaking here, I just got an excellent idea on how to really apply the half steps to the trot (which is a really good lesson, don't get me wrong). I have to remember the comments come from someone who has only ridden in a handful of schooling shows a long time ago at training level, and basically audits clinics and bebops at home and is content to move at a glacial pace with zero competition goals... which is not really GP Trainer's style. That's ok, that's why there's a bunch of trainers out there! It irks me that I get these undertones that I shouldn't work with GP Trainer because she doesn't work for this person.

I believe next time NM is here, my barn is going to split the clinic time with DT's barn. We'll have NM out for 3-4 days instead of 2, and 1 or 2 of those days will be at our home barn. Either way, I'll ride with her again!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

At Least Show Season is Done?

Penn and I walked up to the gate together Wednesday night.
Took me less than a second to go WTF IS WRONG WITH YOUR HOOF.
Apparently moderate panic levels make me incapable of taking a picture that isn't blurry.
I washed it with microtec, then some other medicated shampoo, then medicated spray to kill any bacteria.
I went to Tractor Supply to buy corona ointment to put on it Thursday.
I didn't notice the heel bruising until I scrubbed up the whole hoof.
He did a super job stepping on himself.
That's a scab in there btw, not dirt.

I fully expect him to blow some abscesses from this incident. He's only mildly lame- he walks fine, trots to the left a bit inconsistent, but trots to the right very mildly lame. I expect him to become sound again and then 3 legged in the next few weeks.

One of the farriers at the barn took a look at it- she wasn't comfortable trimming off the flap. She thought it would help protect the cut on the coronary band. She said to just let it dry out and fall off on it's own.

Of course it's not an "OMG YOU'RE DYING," but it is a "sigh, really?" He was working so well. The clinic is on hold- if he's sound by Saturday he'll go, otherwise... oh well, I'll have to catch her next time!

Oh, and yes, I ordered him bell boots already, and he'll start wearing them as soon as this heals enough that it won't get rubbed back open. He's never had a problem before now... but apparently he's going to try damaging all his legs via interference: he cut himself nicely on the right hind, then hooked the inside of his left front when he was freaking out that he was alone in his field. This was the right front that he probably landed on from a twisty buck. Please Penn, you do not need to damage the left hind! I do not want to have the barn bubble wrap your legs again...

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Blankets, Clipping, and Training

First off, I am selling this beautiful Smart Pak Ultimate Turnout. Size 78", heavy weight (360g). Still waterproof, freshly cleaned (it doesn't even smell horsey). $100 negotiable (money vs no money is great, so make me an offer), email codexdressage at gmail if you're interested. I even have the right size shipping box available right now!

There is absolutely nothing wrong with the blanket. It is really super tough and has seen 2 winters with zero exterior damage from a pair of unforgiving baby horses. There is some staining on the outer shell- I promise when it's rinsed, the water runs off clear. There are some rips in the lining, but they're small things as you can see. New, this blanket is $209. Take advantage of my loss!

I wanted the combo version of the blanket because Penn seems to have trouble staying warm when it's truly cold. You all know the lengths I went to to try to fix the shoulder gap issue (plus chewy friends). This one won't gap at the shoulder, and won't drive my BO crazy switching the medium weight hood back and forth between med and heavy blankets. I'll admit, the second reason was a large part of getting it... because it made me crazy too. I did price buying a heavy hood (which seems to be available now!), except for a hair more money, I could buy the combo blanket and not deal with the detachable hood. With the recent sale, (20% + USEF 5%), I was able to nab the blanket for much less than list price, so I jumped on it.

"Mama, why did you wrap me up in a heavy weight blanket when it's 65 degrees out?"
He's so thrilled that he basically has a turtleneck sweater.

Penn got full body clipped this past weekend. With the unseasonably warm fall we're having, I was hosing him down after every ride. He would sweat everywhere like he does an 80 degree day, except it's been in the 60s (with some 70s). I promise I am not working him for hours- that's after 45 min of walk/halt/walk/trot/walk hell. Minimal cantering because we just can't do more or we don't get to it.

Being bathed is exhausting.

I ordered new blades then shaved him last Saturday. I kept him in after breakfast, bathed him (like scrubbed him squeaky clean- I have NEVER done this to clip before), then kept him in while I cleaned stalls. By the time I was done working, he was dry, and I got straight to work on his legs and face, finishing with the body.

It's a mini Penn, made from his own hair!

I was so proud of him! He was antsy about his legs (resulting in me having to touch them up the next day when I saw the wide swaths of hair I missed), but he stood without freaking out about the clippers! I couldn't cross tie him, but he stood ground tied. I was able to cross tie him the next day to do touch ups, which is VERY exciting!

I've always clipped my horse "dirty." Mostly because it's time consuming to wash them and then wait for winter hair to dry, and because I'm not used to having hot water to bathe with, or a warm barn to keep him in while he dries. It worked out perfectly for me to help feed and turnout, bathe, clean stalls while he's drying, then clip. I think I'll be scrubbing Penn down every time from now on to clip. It was soooo easy to clip him. I shampooed and conditioned him with suave that I got on sale from the grocery store, and then sprayed him with an old coat spray that I don't like much anymore. It was a shame to shave off all his beautiful fluffy brown hair- I really love his coat.

His shaved coat turned out MUCH better this year!
Plus fewer lines since he was clean when I shaved him.

It seems the feed combination plus vitamin supplement is really working for him, because his shaved coat this year isn't an ugly mousy color like previous years. We took some new coggins pictures while he was spiffy clean (hence the pretty shot above).

Since I had to clip him so early this year, I'll probably have to touch him up in mid-Dec and then again sometime in early Feb. I won't do his legs or face again, I got most of the hair off those, so they'll grow in more controlled now. Plus I hate shaving the face and legs, it's annoying to get in all the crevices!

We continue to plug away at Megan's homework. We're nearing the end of the 3rd week of walk/halt/walk/trot/walk hell, 3-6 weeks to go before we can start adding in normal work? There were some pretty frustrating days in there, that's for sure. But, we're nearing the end of the first 3 weeks, which according to GP Trainer, is when changes start to settle and things get better... I sure hope so!

Let's ogle the pretty bling on the bright orange hunter safety bonnet, haha.

Things actually are looking up- we've had a couple really good days, and they're starting to happen more than the bad.

Penn started to not want to be on the bit, and I absolutely could not figure out why. "He doesn't want to be on the bit." "Let me get more handsy." "Wait, I'm doing to much. I shouldn't be doing this much." "Wait a second, I'm letting him go from halt to walk by coming off the bit. I'm teaching him that that's acceptable." "Fffffffffffff."

I spent some time redoing the halt/walks. As soon as I set the tone of, "No, coming off the bit is not acceptable" and "No, I will not be helping you stay on the bit," he started being on the bit extremely reliably, and holding it when I released in the walk and trot.

I also started giving him antacid before riding. 5000mg of calcium carbonate. $0.31 a dose
Not pictured: the vitamin E pills I also started giving him (2000 IU to go with the 500 IU in his vitamin)
$0.19 a dose vs $1.07 in Smartpak's vit e supplement.
I just feed him a handful of minty pills with the two vit e pills, and everything gets gobbled down!

Something else Megan helped me with was getting him bendy again- sometimes he comes out one direction like a 2x4 and no amount of inside leg helps move his ribcage. She had me put the outside leg on enough to hold his haunches from stepping out, but then use the inside leg to activate the inside hind. The rib cage has to swing out to allow the stifle to come up. Voila, it's magic. This idea has been particularly helpful when he comes out like a 2x4 or when he wants to look to the outside or when he wants to throw his haunches in. I vary the outside leg with the situation (umm we don't need more when the hips are in, it just needs watched), but thinking about making the inside hind step up instead of moving him around has been soooo helpful.

Last night's ride was great, I never got to the canter, and it took a half hour to get the trot I wanted, but we got there. And I was able to leave my circle and keep my trot! I started with a long slow torturous walk/halt/walk warm up. It sets the tone for the ride. By the end of the half hour, I had a horse who was absolutely through, light in the hand with elastic contact, and was pushing through his whole topline- I watched the muscles from his poll to his shoulder all bulging evenly. I do a lot of staring at his neck these days. It's really helpful when I don't have mirrors or eyes on the ground to double check me- if I can get the muscle right in front of the shoulder working, I know I'm on the right track.

Overall, super super happy, now to just put the time in to cement that feeling as Penn's default setting. Megan was hopeful on 2-3 months of work, so I'm hoping for that! But if he needs more, then oh well. Plus we'll be constantly revisiting this for the rest of his dressage life anyway. I'm so excited to see what he's like next year, after 6 or more months of building on this base!

Look! Cute floofs in their natural habitat.

This weekend we're going to a clinic at DT's barn. Everyone likes the clinician coming in, so I figured I'd give her a whirl. I signed up at the end of September, before lessons with Megan. I almost wish I hadn't now, because I don't want to mess up the work I've done, but apparently the clinician had M do something similar in her last lesson, so I'm hopeful that it'll mesh well.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Unexpected Lessons

I managed to finagle some lessons from an unexpected source- Megan! She was in town the first week of October so I was like, "Hey, I'm royally sucking at riding, want to come yell at me?"

I described a dead air feeling in the bridle- he wasn't leaning on my hands, but he also didn't feel connected to the bridle, but he also wasn't consistently on or off the forehand, and it felt like a fake connection. The left lead had suddenly turned to scrambled eggs again too.

Megan basically told me, he might be lighter in your hand (not leaning on the bit) but he's leaning on his shoulders instead. That's why he feels on and off the forehand. Oh.

Ok guys, Megan is incredible. She outputs a lot of information at once (I really need audio recorded so I can just play it back during my schooling sessions. Or while I sleep. Either or.), but she is more than happy to reiterate all the things as many times as you need. I was a bit on overload (think computer with not enough RAM for what you're trying to do), but she made everything so much better!

Penn's OMG face is appropriate for what we're learning.

Walk/Halt/Walk/Halt/Walk/Trot/Walk/Halt/Walk/Trot Hell

Or as we'll call it, "Penn's life for the next 3 months".

Megan did something similar with Rico, but it basically amounts to being extremely scrupulous about the hind end engagement and every single transition and every single step. If it's not improving the horse, go back and redo everything.

She talked a lot about changing the rhythm of the horse (ie, walk/trot/canter) without changing the speed of the horse. She had me keep the walk and trot very slow, but active. He could not disengage his hind end for any reason. He could not lean on my hand (something I did an ok job starting before our lessons!). He could not surge forward in upward transitions. He wouldn't flop down in downward transitions. He couldn't flip his head. He had to maintain his engagement (ie, keep bending those hocks dude). I had my own list of things to do: continuously test the connection- brief releases of the reins to make sure he's going to maintain the current rhythm/speed, no hanging on the rein, every cue must come from the seat. Thigh with slightly raised seat to collect, release the thigh to allow forward. The desired result is that I ask for a transition and release into it and he puts himself even more into the connection.

The biggest thing I took away was in Penn's collected/medium/collected trot transitions. He could collect, medium, then somewhere in the medium he'd lose his balance. When I recollected, he would plop on the forehand. Megan stressed making the medium steps not as many (quality over quantity), and trying a pattern of 4 steps medium/4 steps collected. I really found his balance point is not strong enough to maintain a medium trot, simply because he can't come back from a medium trot and be ready to go again (see 4-1's first diagonal). I have to fix the collected trot first, then we can go again. That isn't how it should be done.

She said he's holding his tension at the base of the neck, so everything we do has to be to make that stretch without him leaning on me or his shoulders. She also said this whole exercise is much more difficult on the rider than the horse when the horse is like Penn- they're a bit downhill already, we want to help them, and it's easy to get talked into helping them again.

Bend those hocks!

I need to remember all of the following: (I hope I am remembering these correctly)
  • Think about giving my hands forward in the downward transitions. It must come from the seat.
  • Give my hands forward in the gait briefly to check that Penn will stay at the same rhythm/speed/connection.
  • I can use my hands to remind him he can't put his head in the air, and that he can't lean on the bit (I give the rein a wiggle). But I can't hang.
  • Any resistance in the upward, go back and repeat (resistance = head flip, rushing the first step, diving down to pull himself up, disengaging a single hind leg, anything that isn't stepping semi-politely into the new rhythm at the same speed).
  • Any time he disengages, go back to the previous rhythm (med trot to collected, collected trot to collected walk, walk to halt).
  • Anything that does not improve the horse, go back to prior rhythm and find the hind end again.
  • Transitions, transitions, transitions!
Partway through the walk/trot/walk/halt hell in our first lesson, a switch flipped in Penn's head. He suddenly went from quiet resistance to outright tantrums. I asked for a halt/walk and he reacted by hopping his front end and flipping his head (no real danger of rearing). Megan said he's just testing out new ways out, and to keep going like I was. He tried surging through the first step of the transition to disengage his hocks. He tried being "zoomie." He tried growing roots through his hooves into the sand. Every time, we just asked again. In the second lesson, we added rein back to the halt. Not flying backwards, a very controlled, one step at a time rein back. He had to bend the hocks and not drop his shoulders to use them to push himself backwards. This helped when he would halt and disengage. I could re-engage and then he wouldn't drop out from under me.

By the end of this work in the first lesson, he was much much better in the contact/connection at the trot, and I had my hands further forward than I usually do, but it wasn't a struggle for me to keep them there. He was light in my hand, had a real elastic connection, was stretching his neck forward, and I had contact again. It was great!

In lesson 2's halt/walk/trot hell, we attacked a bit of his tension to the right- he sometimes comes out one direction bending like a 2x4. I respond by digging into his rib cage and shoving his haunches in (because he's pressing his rib cage against my inside leg and the haunches trail out). That usually results in haunches in or the inside hind crossing the outside. Megan had me keep the outside leg on to only stop the outside hind from leaving our circle (Penn uses lateral moves to evade sometimes), but then the inside leg asked the inside hind to keep stepping up very actively. In order for the inside hind to keep moving up, the stifle needs to keep moving, and Penn will be forced to shift his rib cage out to make room for the stifle to keep coming forward. It was extremely tricky, but worked extremely well. She said to focus on keeping his hind legs close together since he uses the lateral moves to evade, so it might seem a lot like bouncing his hind end from leg to leg while he figures out the walls.

Playing in water is so much more fun than training.


I described the canter as being irregular again. I wasn't sure how to fix it, it was just bad. The first thing we had to do was get him working again after our little break. I went back to walk/trot/walk/halt hell, and in the first halt, he voiced his displeasure by halting with his head up and parking out. We got that sorted, and off to the canter.

It wasn't nearly as irregular as it has been, but it was irregular. She said the mechanic of the canter has a downward step and no matter what, the horse is going to be downhill. Instead of trying to lift him in that step, lift him even more in the uphill portion of the canter. It's a very fast half halt in the uphill portion, and a quick give in the downhill. Then once the uphill/engagement has been properly established, add energy slowly to improve suspension. Bam, no more irregular canter. I had a canter I could do something out of. He wants to be earth bound in canter because it's easier than bending his hocks. Earth bound = irregular.

Penn was most displeased by these findings- he gave me all the warnings before finally bucking to disengage his hocks. We started over from the walk/halt/walk, and he grumbled about cantering, but we started having much better trot/canter transitions. He pinned his ears very threateningly for the transition, but each time I did less and less fixing the canter immediately after the transition (re-engaging the hocks) before moving on to timing the half halts. By the end I had a canter I would have been happy to try changes or half pass out of. It still needs to be much better though. We talked about how the lack of suspension is why he's hopping so much in the changes. He consistently hops first, so he's trying to create the suspension that allows him to do a clean change.

In our second lesson, he did not want to be on the bit as much as he should be- Megan said this is ok. He can't keep the uphill balance and be fully on the bit. Give him some time.

Excessive hopping to create suspension to get the changes done.

Megan warned me it will get worse before it gets better. The first couple rides are great- he's working out what I want. Then he starts to realize this is hard and he's sore, so he starts looking at ways out. That's when the rides start to go downhill. GP Trainer told me the SAME THING. She likes having horses in for training for 3 days or 3 weeks- the time in between sucks, is frustrating, is difficult, and everything looks pretty bad. I am glad I got to ride once between our two lessons- Megan got to help me through some of the suck that is to come.

Suffice it to say, we've got a seat far away from the door on the struggle bus. Penn has decided being on the bit is terrible. He also oscillates between zero activity and running away. I have to be so much clearer with my seat with what I want- any little drop back sends him gushing forward. We hit a 12/10 on the frustration scale the other night.

So... one week down, 2 to go? And then another month or more? I'm looking forward to the horse I'll have on the other side!

Friday, October 6, 2017

Since Champs

Ok, so what have we been up to since Championships?

More on this below!

I spent the first two weeks after championships trying to resolve all the bad feelings I've had about being able to school myself, while also feeling very lost without a short term goal. I still haven't totally resolved those bad feelings, but I suspect they'll come and go in the next few months. Since we didn't make it to Finals, show season was a wrap, which left me a bit directionless. Though, I think everyone wanted/needed a break.

I decided to take some regularly scheduled lessons with Dressage Trainer while I'm in trailering limbo (can't go see GP Trainer without a functional truck!). Of course this hasn't panned out yet- she's out every other Saturday, but I missed the first Saturday because I was doing a road rally with Husband, and then the next time had to be changed from Saturday to Wednesday, but I had other plans that day too. I need some structure in my riding again, and I miss having lessons every other week like I was used to with Event Trainer. I did get some really great lessons though, from an unexpected source! More on that in the next post. ;)

A week after its hauling disaster, the truck was given a non-diagnosis from the dealership we had it towed to (PISSED). They basically said they could not reproduce the problem and offered us an engine rebuild for $3700, plus the cost of whatever parts they find out are bad. Uh, no. We paid the $122 for their "check" and attempted to drive the handful of miles home. We had to stop halfway through the 10 min drive home because the truck'as oil pressure had dropped to zero. We waited about 20 min, and then drove the rest of the way home (it was back to zero by the time I backed it into it's space). Husband left the dealership a bad review, and they ended up refunding us the entire $122, which is nice since we weren't any further ahead.

Husband did some research, but couldn't fix the problem with what he has available to him at our home garage. He thinks it is a bad oil pump, but we either have to take the engine out (uhh he doesn't have a lift big enough), or he has to drop the suspension and axle to get to the underside (uhh he doesn't have those capabilities at home), so off to a shop it goes. Not back to the one that handled its original "diagnosis." It's going to another shop that told us flat out that they don't repair engines, only replace them. Husband said we didn't want a replacement yet, so they offered to diagnosis for $60. We'll see what they say, but they seem more willing to talk possibilities than the original dealership.

Anyway, on 9/24, I got my mom to come out and video one of my early morning rides because I have had zero feedback for what I'm feeling (no mirrors, eyes, or video). I ran Penn through a bunch of transitions between walk and trot and trot and canter, with the goal of him being lighter in the bridle each time. I lost some of the connection since he's so used to a heavier contact (so he didn't have true connection before). He seemed to remember being lighter from our last ride where I did that (yay!), and then I moved on to the fun stuff:

Trying to teach Penn to piaffe!

It's very much the blind leading the blind. All I have to go on is GP Trainer saying she teaches it by frustrating them in the walk until they offer piaffe as an answer. I tried to find the rhythm of the walk with my legs, lighten my seat, and tickle his haunches with the whip. I never get more than a good step or two, and nothing so far has been as good as what he offered in the above gif (which is obviously still a baby horse response and it needs more sit in the good steps and less muddled steps). I'm still happy even though he spends a good amount of time taking muddled steps- they're at least in diagonal pairs! He's getting it though. This was my third ride working on it, with basically no feedback whether he was right or not. I need some instruction before I do something wrong though. He started giving me some real sit with attempts to leap into canter towards the end of the practice, and I wasn't quite sure what to make of that, so I stopped there and haven't really revisited it since.

The next thing I worked was his counter canter. I want to do more of it since he's fairly confirmed in his changes (even if they're not always clean), since it'll make his canter better. I want to start making the turns in CC smaller too, so I mirrored the 4-3 pattern a little (10m half circle to 10m cc half circle, down the next wall, flying change halfway, repeat 10m half circle, 10m cc half circle, flying change, corner). I skipped the flying change parts in this ride (I did the middle one the other day), so that I could loop 10m half circles on the same lead, only they aren't 10m, they're more like 15m.

I ended up turning these half circles into a counter canter figure 8. Or rather, I tried to; Penn kept breaking on the left lead cc. I did manage to finish the ride with a figure 8 with straight diagonals, with cc on the round edges and flying changes near X. Super super happy with the work. His canter got much better, and his changes quieted immediately- no hopping. He did one clean one and a bunch of late behind, but it doesn't bother me. He's been clean or late up front in normal changes, so I think it's a footwork/strength problem.

I knew he had talked me into not sitting as much as GP Trainer wants, but I didn't realize how much!! I need to practice cc without perching!

If you're interested, the full 25 min of work is here. The first bit is warm up (walking, transitions), then messing with piaffe, then around the 20min mark we start the canter.

I'm looking forward to more lessons this fall!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

9/17/2017 - Championships, Part 4: The Final Day and Drive Home

No tests on Sunday- of course that doesn't mean I didn't look! I checked out the regular 1-3 test that day and there were scratches and very few entries... so technically I could ride and come home with a ribbon maybe! But nope, Penn and I were done, and happy to be done.

Instead, I headed down to one of the championship rings to watch the First Level Freestyles. Some were good, some were meh, and some were cute as can be (Chincoteague pony riding to Mario music!). The judges absolutely could not agree on these tests though- they had some of the biggest score ranges (72/59% on the same test) of the weekend.

It got too late to do Saturday, so in the morning before we headed home, Karen and I got a pic with the ponies in front of the regional champ sign:

But here's what it really should have looked like:

9th place ribbons with green 6th place middles because we're bad pilots.

Of course their 5 minute interaction made them BEST FRIENDS and Hampton totally took Penn under his wing since Hampton is the guard dog of his turnout.

Husband snagged this one on our way back to stabling.
The white and blue tent had tests and ribbons... and treats.
Karen held our wild stallions while I ducked in and got each of them some peppermints, an apple, and a carrot.
Staring at Husband, ever watchful.
Staring at Husband, ever spooky.
I swear, this is deer in headlight face.

Penn decided to make the morning WAY too exciting. I set him up with a full hay net and went to get smoothies with Karen. Husband stayed behind at the stall. Penn somehow got his head stuck in his hay net, pulled back against it (because that's how he rolls), kicked the walls, then busted out of his stall through the stall guard. In the process of busting out, he opened the net, flung hay everywhere, and managed to connect with the bottle of molasses that I've been using to make him eat his grain. It splattered EVERYWHERE. On the stall fronts, fans, and on the dog sleeping peacefully next to his stall front. Glass, molasses, and hay everywhere. He then trotted out to the space between barns and got distracted by the other people and horses. Husband did great in catching him- some nice horsey strangers helped keep Penn distracted while Husband came over with his halter. He seemed lame on the right hind, but otherwise unscathed. Husband called me to tell me and I came hurrying back and helped clean up- we tossed all of the hay just in case there were pieces of glass that we missed. I checked Penn's hooves for glass and jogged him when I got back, and he seemed fine. He must have just stung himself.

I finally noticed a problem- he managed to twist his right hind shoe enough that it was pulled back on the hoof by a solid inch. At least the clips were still on the outside of the hoof wall and not in the sole. Off we trekked to the show farrier, who promptly pulled the shoe and pounded it flat again, and tacked it back on. I only had one super concerning moment during this, when the farrier picked up the hind leg to take the shoe off, Penn leaped out of his hands like he'd been stung. That made me worry there was other damage to the leg, but Penn settled right after and was a gem. I've only used a show farrier once before- Mikey pulled a shoe in his stall at an event and the farrier tacked it back on. This guy did a good job and charged A LOT to pound the shoe and put it back on... like almost what I pay my farrier when he resets all 4 shoes using the same shoes.

When Penn and I got back to stabling, he and Hampton exchanged loud whinnies. I swear, five minutes together and they were attached!

Penn was SO THRILLED to be wrapped up to go home.

We had a less exciting drive back home (OMG thank goodness for that. I've had enough excitement, thank you very much!). We made it back home with the guidance of our truck pig, G-Force! (named that way because if he moved on the dash, that means there's too much g-force on the trailer and Penn). Barn owner happened to have him in her purse when she brought the truck over, so we were like, let's keep him in the truck and rub him for good luck, lol.

G-Force and some Pittsburgh skyline.

All in all, this trip was wayyyyyy too exciting. Truck dying, spooky Penn, forgetting my test, Penn tweaking his shoe. Did I get all my bad things all in one go? Did it have to pick this particular show?

But there were so many great things- meeting Karen and Hampton and getting to celebrate their ticket to Finals, meeting Cob Jockey, and making a great finish in a large class despite errors and a terrible prep test. We got home safe and sound too, which is both exciting and very good, haha!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

9/16/2017 - Championships, Part 3: Championship Test

So handsome!
PC: Cob Jockey

After Friday's debacle of a test, I got my head together and wrote up my entire 1-3 test in notepad on my phone. I wrote out every movement, a plan for that movement (where to aim to make it accurate and how to avoid 4 beat canters). I had "The Plan".

Writing it out helps.

I also went to Walmart Friday night and bought myself a digital wristwatch. I used to wear one all the time, but I got away from the habit with the popularity of cell phones. I checked my phone for the time, why would I need a watch? How about to keep track of the time when you can't have your phone out?

Penn got out for a walk and graze Saturday morning, I put fresh braids in him, and got 40 minutes of MiniPhaser in. I didn't score check before I rode. Tack clean, boots clean, and everything was ready to go on time for my 10:36 ride time (a real watch FTW). Got to warm up with 12-15 min to go (which made the ring stewards very very nervous because they thought I'd be a no show).

As I swung up on the horse at stabling, I thought, "I should read The Plan over one more time. Nah, you got this." **foreshadowing**

Penn's Topline crown and my bronze pin!
I just liked that his feet were off the ground. I'm pretty sure this is just as he fell out of the canter, lol.

Warm up was good. I kept my hands down and elbows in and remembered to ride and not sit like a useless lump. Karen gave me feedback on halts and no 4-beat canter and connection. I checked my watch for the time to make sure I didn't overdo it and that he peaked right when it was our turn. Penn was much more relaxed on Saturday. I rode much better. Warm up went well, and then it was time to go in...

And then I forgot my freaking test. **GP Trainer: You'll be fine, just make sure you... know your test.**

Karen was kind enough to video, and give excellent commentary!

This was the 20th time I have ridden Penn through 1-3. I made it through the test 19 times without forgetting that stupid 15m circle. And I chose this day to forget it. Afterwards, I reasoned, it's only 2 points out of 340. That's really not that bad. I crunched it out later and it's worth more than I thought. It amounts to losing 0.588% from your end score. When there's 45 riders in a highly competitive championship, it could mean a place or not. I laughed after the test because I wasn't aware it was worth so much, and joked that I'd be super pissed later if it cost me a place. **foreshadowing**

How about a bunch of pics from the test:

Halt looks square from here! But blurry, oops.
I just like the activity in his hind legs.
This halt looked awesome from A, and I suppose C. I see why the judge at B gave it a 6.5 instead of 7!
Cantering past A, without doing a 15m circle.
Re-approach to A, before actually doing the 15m circle.
Needs better connection but this lengthening seemed to whoosh!
I feel like this final halt had a lot of promise with all that hock bending. It didn't pan out, haha.

Overall, I was super happy with the test. I had a listening horse. Penn nailed the halt with the double coefficient. Actually, all of the double coefficients went very smoothly.

The only real hang up spot (besides my rider error), was when I asked for the first lengthening canter and then added inside leg to lift his belly into the working canter (I don't think I mentioned that in my post for my last GP Trainer lesson), and the snarky creature decided I was asking for a flying change. Nevermind that I have never asked for one on the long wall, or from true canter to counter canter. Penn blew through me with his flying change snark face.

When we started the the next shallow loop, I knew I had to be explicitly clear with my aids that I absolutely did NOT want a flying change. Penn started the diagonal ready to give me the snarkiest change ever, but quickly understood I wanted nothing of the sort. Apparently that discussion really worked for the judge at B, because that was one of her few scores that matched the judge at C (7.0). He ended up with a ton more collection and better balance because he was ready to do a flying change man!

Obligatory photo in front of the Region 2 Championships at Majestic Farm sign!
Obligatory awkward horse leg placement too.

My championship class ended up having 45 entries of the 76 AA riders who qualified for the championship. That meant these judges went through first level hell (I'm fairly sure that's a thing). First Level AA Championships went from 8:00 am until 3:45 pm. That's A LOT of first level.

When I checked my score the first time, I was tied for second with a 65.221%. It would have been a 65.809% if I hadn't had my error (and I would have sat in first place for a while!). About a third of the horses had scores by that point, and I was still tied for second.

The scores were interesting, it appeared the judge at C was being a lot more generous, and the scores had up to 4-5% differences between each judge. I had a 4% difference - a 67.206% and a 63.235%. The judges disagreed on a couple early movements, but then the judge at B consistently gave me a half point less on each movement, so the tests weren't all that different. This weekend in general had some HUGE differences between judges - the biggest I saw was a 72 and 59 for the same freestyle. I did get to see that freestyle, it didn't look like it should have been sub 60.

By the time Karen and Hampton went and rode their exceptionally nice Third Level Championship test, I think I had been knocked down to a tie for 6th. Karen really did an incredible job- their test was nice and relaxed and very, very solid. Definitely something to make a goal for myself!

While I waited for the day to pass, I also got to meet Jen from Cob Jockey! She snuck in some great pics of Penn and me. She was super nice and fun to talk to.

I hid in his stall to escape the sun. It's almost like he's guarding me!
PC: Cob Jockey

Right around 4 I learned from my phone that it was over- I had ended up tied for 9th, bumped down by one of the last riders. Again (remember last year how I ended up 9th too?). The horse I tied with had the highest first level average this year of the horses that entered the class (I may have looked up everyone on a whim one night when I was really bored), so there's no shame in tying with them! I think the judges were a bit harsher in the morning, and got a little lax in the afternoon, and then toughened up again. All of the horses who were in the top 8, except one, had incredible scores all year long, and had much better averages than Penn and me. I did catch the one's test and it was quite fussy, yet she ended up 4th. That combined with me tying with a horse with a first level average for the year of over 70% (with 8 tests ridden I believe), makes me think the judges relaxed a little in the afternoon.

I love this picture. Maybe Penn knew I was upset, but he came in for a snuggle while I was sitting in his stall. He pressed his face up on me, not the other way around! My love for this horse grew several times over at that. Ribbons are nice, but the love of the horse is so much better. He really reminded me that that is what's important, not the ribbon.

It was a really hard pill to swallow when I did the math and realized I would have tied for 6th if I hadn't forgotten that circle. It's still bitter as I write this 2 weeks later. However, we competed against really good horses and riders that day. Losing to the high caliber of rider and horse that showed up is nothing to be ashamed of. They had a better day than I did. And 9th out of 45 horses and riders is not bad either!

Top 11
I thought it was interesting that these judges didn't agree very often. 11th place had a large percent spread like my score.
Once the sun started to set, Karen and I hid in the shade on the other side of stabling drinking (she too made a rider error that cost her 6th place. We commiserated together.).
I'm pretty sure this is when I melted my brand new Higher Standards Lavender soap- it was in my blue grooming bag and the sun was HOT.

Karen and I commiserated together over missing a placing due to rider stupidity. Part of getting a ribbon means getting to partake in fancy prancing around an award ceremony and doing a victory lap. We decided we'd have to hold our own fancy prance in a back field somewhere!

Another hard pill to swallow (but no where near as bad as losing the place due to my own error), was not earning the wildcard score for Finals (68%). I felt better than no one in the class did either, other than the people who earned their trip to Finals by being first and second. I was actually ok with not going- Husband, Penn, and I were kind of burnt out on showing.

There was an AMAZING competitor party that night. One of the ladies in our stabling group had two horses, so she got two wristbands for the food. She gave one to Husband, so we all got to engorge ourselves on really really awesome food.

I lost 12 pounds for championships, and I felt no shame in eating almost all of this delicious food!

Overall, we had a good test that would have been right up there without my mistake, my horse was great, I got to spend time with some great people, and ate great food, so it must qualify as a great day anyway!

Next is part 4, our departure day and the excitement never ends!