Friday, December 29, 2017

12/2-3/2017 Clinic with GP Trainer

First of all, OMG the stress. Give your clinic organizers a big hug for all that they do to make sure you have a good experience, get the times you need/want, and pay as little as possible. It's hard work and very stressful. I was so stressed about the clinic that I stopped being able to sleep and I wore myself down until I got some kind of coughing disease before the clinic and the cough lasted well after, and since my immune system was so worn down, I got shingles after. Fun fact: If you've had chicken pox, you can get shingles at ANY AGE, especially in times of very high stress. I'm 30 and the doc that diagnosed me didn't bat an eye at my age. Go get your shingles vaccine.

It might have felt like this cat was nomming my back.
I am STILL riding out the pain even though the rash is well past it's contagious stage.

Added to the stress was an outbreak of EHV-1 at a barn on the other side of our major city- I was suddenly asking for vaccine records, where horses are currently located, and where they have been in the recent past. Luckily, it seems the outbreak was contained to just the one farm and only stopped one of our riders from coming.

I was given a lot of freedom for this clinic: I was able to take deposits and became an admin of the farm Facebook page so I could properly promote the clinic and answer questions. I made the schedule, contacted everyone to confirm times, etc. Exhausting.

Going into day 1 of the clinic, we had 2 openings on Sunday. One of the ladies who previously didn't want to do back to back clinics messaged me that morning and asked if the two spots were still available, and if so, was it possible to get a ride in between them so she could take both. I said absolutely, and was able to move around some of the more flexible riders to get the slots filled. In the end, we filled the 20 spots and had levels Training-PSG (and only half of the spots were training level- a huge deal for this area since we're mostly lower level riders). I only had one cancellation for the weekend- it was someone under mandatory quarantine for EHV so that was A-OK.

Overall, there was a lot to learn over the weekend and the clinic covered a lot of ground. Everyone seemed to have a good time and got a lot out of it, especially the lower level riders.

I got a lot out of the PSG horse's lesson. The horse was an above average mover of average build, but not extremely fancy, and he had Penn's 4-beat tendencies at the canter (it was a lot of, that horse can do it! So can Penn!). The horse and rider are confirmed at PSG, so their lesson consisted of more nuanced things that would make PSG even better, and help them move up to I1. Unfortunately I missed the technical discussion of the pirouette- GP Trainer got up and walked over to the middle of the ring to demonstrate something for it, so I couldn't hear her well, and one of the auditors decided to talk to me at that point.
  • Prep for Canter pirouettes: Collected canter. Apply the half halt, but press both legs into the horse at the canter for several strides while not allowing them to move faster or take bigger strides. The horse should gain lift. (this apply the leg was a theme for several riders)
  • Canter pirouettes: Do not touch the inside rein. It's there because it has to be. GP Trainer made the rider hold her reins in the outside hand, canter down the diagonal, collect, and bring the shoulders around to do the half pirouette. OMG it was lovely, and the best one they did all lesson. The horse sat and made a very tidy small circle with his hind feet and did that nice lifting with his front end (GP Trainer's comment on a good pirouette: "They look fun, but they don't feel good. Good ones feel like a boat capsizing.")
  • Canter zig zags: Once at PSG, never end a canter half pass without shifting the shoulders into the new half pass angle, even if you don't intend to school the next half pass. At PSG and after, you will never end a half pass without a change or going into another. Aka, half pass, straighten for a stride, then shift the shoulders to the new half pass direction without changing the lead, ask for the new lead and move off immediately into the new half pass at the same time.
  • More canter zig zags: Don't go for broke sideways in the half passes. Pay more attention to balance, quality, and accuracy. Only the very tippy top horses can move incredible distances sideways in the zig zags (Valegro quality)- the rest are just extremely balanced. Barely go sideways when you start out- nothing crazy. GP Trainer: "When my students move up to GP, there are so many things to worry about in the zig zag that I tell them, 'I want to see on your test: 6, needs bend.' on the zig zag at your first year of GP. You have to worry about the count, the changes, and staying in balance on top of everything else in the test. Let bend go."
  • This rider was struggling with the half pass, but with those few tips, she managed to do 4 half passes and changes down the centerline of our 25m by 45m indoor. She only did 2-3 steps sideways in each direction, but they were of very nice quality.
Other lessons included: one woman cantering her horse for the first time, another one finally getting more than two hurried unbalanced canter steps, and another covered 2nd level and canter walk transitions.

There were several green baby horses, and one teenage 3rd/4th level horse that had excessive attitude. I lump all of these together because they worked on the same things: The rider is allowed to tap you with the whip, ask you to trot, flop around, etc. GP Trainer phrased it as, "When you have young, athletic horses, tell them they're wonderful but also 'poke the bear'. Lightly tap them with the whip 20 times for no reason (do not beat them- literally, lightly touch them). Flop around. Ride poorly. These exercises set them up to take pressure later without having a meltdown." If you don't do those things, you end up with fit, young, athletic things that are now teenagers- basically the 3rd/4th level horse's problem.

Penn's version of teenage nonsense.

The horse would have tantrums over just trotting and cantering around- he'd slam on the brakes and threaten to rear. GP Trainer stressed that you absolutely cannot get emotional when he does that. She didn't think he would make good on his threat, which allowed her to take this approach to fixing it: Do not take his bait of a fight. Just keep adding leg with light/no contact on the inside rein (aka the door out). Tap him incessantly with the whip. WAIT HIM OUT. If he goes to back up, change to asking him to back up. It's not so fun when it's not his idea. Give him every opportunity to move forward out of it, and when he does, just go back to what you were doing like nothing ever happened. Zero emotion. Praise him when he's good and when he tries (inside rein forward and scratch him, vocal praise). Recognize he's doing a good job, and don't just keep working him until he thinks he needs to retaliate to get a break.

In two rides, they had his stopping down to a minimum that his rider hadn't seen in well over a year. He was willing to try instead of resorting to a tantrum. He simply had to trot and canter on the bit and be straight. Over the last year or so, his rider started compensating for his nonsense by riding him crooked and pulling the inside rein. GP Trainer told her no, ride him straight. He must go straight. Yes, you're picking the fight, but he's not going to be successful at 2nd and above if he is not straight. His rider almost said, "But straight doesn't work for him," but caught herself just in time, lol. He tried everything to avoid being straight- stopping at the trot, and doing tempi changes at the canter. GP Trainer just stressed to wait him out, and praise him when he's good.

We got to ride outside on Saturday!

Ok, on to my lessons! Auditing was fascinating, but I got a lot out of my lessons too. You get the brief recap so I can get this out sooner rather than later:

  • Congrats! You have the 3rd level version of what we've been working on! Horses tend to have something that they revert to when the bar is raised, and they do it throughout their training life. We had the first level version, now we have the third level version. Penn wants to be long flat and scrambly. It's his go-to thing.
  • Roll my wrists to help stop Penn from leaning on the hand. Be more sloppy to test his self carriage. Test him much more often.
  • Penn needs to be rounder- I let him sneak too far above the bit/in front of the vertical, especially at the canter.
  • Sit down and back more. (as usual)
  • Work 10m circles in canter and carry an excessively long whip- gently tap Penn's tail with the lash to encourage him to drop his hind end down in the circles (it worked!).
  • Walk, canter 3 steps, walk. This is SO HARD. It doesn't work if I throw myself at him in the transition (he won't pick up the canter at all), and he can't shuffle into the canter. He also doesn't have time to drop down either. Do this until he starts lifting his own head.
  • Turn walk, canter 3 steps, walk into cantering the short side, or a portion of the long side.
  • Obviously the flying changes went to shit, he's not strong enough to do them out of that much collection. Do them off the 10m circle into the new direction- placement on a line is irrelevant (this is where our huge outdoor is helpful).
  • Do not let him run off when I ask for a flying change- that will only teach him to bolt through them and we'll be in real trouble when it comes to more than one change. If he fails to change and surges at all, stop immediately. This isn't about the change, it's being able to change in the collection. If he does give a change, 10m circle right away to set him back on his hind end.
A short clip from lesson, 10m circle to change to 10m circle:

Riding has basically been misery since the clinic- self carriage is so hard and it's so frustrating. I've given up on changes until I see GP Trainer in January because I don't want to mess them up and in the end, it's a strength issue. Plus the last time I tried one he almost bucked me off (I was on his neck flailing). There's a lot of riding the struggle bus happening and I am attempting to embrace the suck... because I'm having trouble seeing the light at the end of the tunnel where he can do all the canter work for 3-3, and do the changes without hopping.

One thing that has gotten a lot better? The TOH and the start of a walk pirouette. Combining what I learned about canter pirouettes in this clinic with identifying the inside hind at the walk and actively using the inside leg in the TOH has made the TOH right a bit better (it's still a struggle), but it created almost a half walk pirouette left. I don't get after Penn quite enough and he ends up getting stuck at the 2/3rds mark, so I try to keep them to a quarter turn. But he stopped crossing the hind legs and just lifts them up an down in rhythm, it's very cool! All is lost if you pull the inside rein.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

2017 Goal Review

I set out unrealistic goals in January this year, then revised them in March to be more obtainable. Let's see how we did.

Made my goals smarter, but not necessarily better.

2017 Main Goals
  • At least one score at first level (recognized) over 70% - Because if we're going to repeat, let's do it in style. Nope, did not get this. Best we did this year was 68.088% in June. I did get a 70%+ at a schooling show.
  • Second Level Rider Award - I need one more score. Completed!
  • Bronze Medal - I need two Third Level scores. Completed!
  • Region 2 Championships at First Level - Go there and compete, and do it well (top 5 or 67%+) Went there and competed, forgot my test which put me 9th instead of 6th, and scored 65.221%.

2017 Stretch Goals
  • Earn one Dover Medal - Because medals are cool. Nope. We sucked at 2-3.
  • US Dressage Finals at First Level - Because he's leaps ahead of where he was last year. Nope, it was tough at Champs this year.

So let's add that up. We'll give champs a half point because I did get there, so the Main goals were 2.5/4, and we're 0/2 on the Stretch Goals. Well that sure sounds shitty, 2.5/6 goals met.

Main Goals:
Not getting a 70% in a recognized first level test doesn't really bother me that much. Penn and I spanned three levels this year and only rode first level at 3 recognized shows. That meant I didn't really ride First Level that much. Of the 12 recognized tests we rode this year: 5 were first level, 4 were second level, and 3 were third level. I'm sure if I had dedicated the year to first level exclusively, we would have hit 70% at some point.

I did finish my Second Level Rider Award (which I should apply for at some point, facepalm) at the second recognized show of the year.

Bigger completion: My Bronze Medal! Such a long time coming. It took me 4 years to get it done. Mikey and I got my first level scores in 2013, then second level in 2014, and then his injury and death combined with training up a new horse put my medal wayyyy back. Looking back, I'm actually surprised I got Penn ready for 3-1 this summer. He went from intro to third in 2 years.

We all know that having a pin to put on my coat is the really exciting thing, not the medal itself.

Championships was a bit of a mixed bag. My truck died on the way there, so just physically getting there was a big deal. Penn was GREAT in our champ test. I was very happy with him. I forgot my test, which cost me 6th place and earned me 9th place, FOR THE SECOND YEAR IN A ROW. However, not all 9th places are created equal because this was 9th out of 45, not 9th out of 29. I missed a ribbon and my ticket to finals. There were some hard pills to swallow that weekend. I still think we did well, even with the issues we had.

The ribbons we should have earned and the ones we did earn. #porkloinandporkchop

Stretch Goals:
I gave myself two shots at a Dover Medal after initially crossing it off the to do list for this year (despite putting it on my goals). The Dover Medal program ended on 10/1/2017, so I pressed for it on a whim and lost big time. The tests were riddled with issues and accuracy problems. Things might have gone better accuracy wise if I had a standard ring at home (3 loop serpentines are hard to practice properly without it). While sad, it wasn't the end of the world. I did get one score of 60%+ so in theory, I could go back and ride a second level freestyle if I wanted without having to reride 2-3.

First Level Finals. Again, mixed feelings. I ended up being happy I didn't go. I was burnt out by that point in the year, and I didn't even have a truck to take me there (I could have borrowed one I'm sure though). I would have been thrilled to go and visit with the local bloggers and JenJ, but I ended up having a quiet fall which was nice.

Saluting out for the year, lol

Bonus items:
- Second Level Open/AA/Jr Champion at Penn's first show at Second Level.

6/4/2017 - Loch Moy Spring II

- Third Level All Division Champion at Penn's first show at Third Level. It also came with a $150 scholarship since I am an AA.

7/22-23/2017 - NODA Dressage and Encore

- NDPC Small Horse - First Level AA - 5th/18
- NDPC Small Horse - Second Level AA - 5th/8
- NDPC Small Horse - Third Level AA - 7th/9

You know what's not shitty? This.
I love this.

All in all, not a shitty year, despite a 2.5/6 on our goals. We traveled a lot, did a lot of showing, went swimming in GP Trainer's pond, and had a lot of fun in general! Plus I have a few more things that we've done in the last few weeks that I haven't put up here yet (double bridle!).

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Year End Awards


My bronze medal arrived this past weekend, but I missed it since I was away having adventures with Austen. Every year, medals are awarded at a USDF ceremony in Kentucky at the end of the season. I couldn't go since GP Trainer was here for a clinic that weekend. No worries, if you can't be there, they'll mail you your award mid-December.

I have been waiting (impatiently) for mid-December. I can't imagine earning a medal right after Decemeber then having to wait almost a year for them to be awarded!

I have also been waiting (impatiently) for my NDPC Small Horse awards. Since Penn isn't registered, I figured the next best thing was signing up for National Dressage Pony Cup, Small Horse Division. "Small Horse" can be his breed, lol. We've been accumulating scores all season, and they had degrees of difficulty added to them and were averaged then compared to all the other Small Horses that registered.

The season closed on 10/31/17, with the final list being put out mid-November...

   5th/18 First Level AA
   5th/8 Second Level AA
   7th/9 Third Level AA

While the Third Level award is the lowest place of the three and in a small division, I don't care. We won a HUGE PURPLE RIBBON. I have to say, that was the most exciting part of getting our awards.

Penn and I covered so much ground this year- first to third. Second and Third were new levels for Penn, and he rose to the occasion wonderfully for a pretty successful year!

Monday, December 11, 2017

Mystery Lameness

The Saturday before GP Trainer came to town, I pulled Penn out of his stall to ride him after we turned out horses... and found this:

The hind legs had some fill and bow-like looks.
The front of the cannon had a bow on it too, can't seem to find that pic though.
He was also very lame on the left hind.

The left leg was hot hot hot. The right was hot, but not as hot. I had a farrier hoof test him for the world's worst abscess- nothing. Except when he put Penn's hoof down, Penn was positively crippled, just standing in the barn aisle. Penn had tried to jerk the left hind away from the farrier, then lifted it ultra high, which I'm guessing basically acted like a flex test. The horse could barely stand for the first 10 seconds after.

Cold hosing did absolutely nothing to the heat in either leg. I didn't evaluate it as an emergency- everything that should be on the inside was still on the inside, and his eyes and face were fine. If it was a soft tissue injury, stall rest was the answer and he could chill in his stall until the vet came on Tuesday for an already scheduled appointment.

I had to get help to wrap Penn's hind legs- he really wanted nothing touching his legs and kept trying to kick me. I gently wrapped him in his BOT no-bows. I didn't want him naked while he stood in a stall for a few days, but I didn't want to hurt him either.

Panic. I did an OK job keeping the panic to a minimum. I was more panicked about trying to fill my two lesson spots the following weekend, or try to find another horse to ride, than "OMG my horse is going to be sidelined for a while." Probably wrong priorities, but it was the first thought.

I tried the barn's ice compression boots the next day (Sunday), and they did a good job on the swelling.

Penn HATED them. Ugh.

Penn seemed to be a bit better on swelling and touch sensitivity the next day, and he was eating and drinking like a champ. If anything, he was drinking more.

I took him to the indoor to check his soundness and to let him get out of his stall.

The large ball is suspicious when the human is not sitting on the horse.
His barrel is dappled when shaved! (hard to see in this pic)

I ended up spending basically the entire day at the barn on Sunday. The barn has some kind of time warp going on, haha. I was able to monitor the leg swelling all day between the ice compression boots and cold hosing.

Imagine my horror when I went to wrap him up for the night and found ALL of his legs swollen. The hinds were the worst they'd been all weekend. Leg swelling from injury is not contagious from leg to leg- at least not like this. We weren't dealing with a soft tissue injury. Maybe cellulitis? Maybe something tick-borne?

This plus a fever of 101.1 meant we called the emergency vet!

I had seen the vet earlier in the day (she boards with us and came to ride while she was on call), and we chatted about Penn's issues. I sent her a text around 5:00 Sunday afternoon saying "Hey, all of Penn's legs are swelling now and he has a fever. Want to come out to see him now?"

She was out within a half hour. She manipulated and squeezed and poked and prodded, and then we jogged on the lunge line. She asked if I pulled any ticks off of him lately, I told her I've pulled off at least 4 tiny deer ticks in the last few weeks.

She didn't think there was any soft tissue damage, but wanted to run a full course of blood work to check all his organ function and to check for other things.

She pulled blood and left me with a bottle of SMZs and we dosed him with banamine. By this point, he was finally looking lethargic and unhappy. Stupid fevers. She said to turn him out the next day- she wanted to keep him moving. We talked about possible tick-borne illness, and decided against a lyme test for now and we'd see how the other tests came out.

The vet texted Monday morning that everything came back normal, but he had a high inflammatory response. We opted to switch him from SMZs to doxy (without testing for lyme or anything). I went out to the farm Monday morning to bring his new meds, take his temp, and to long line him to wear him down a hair before turnout.

Luckily his fever broke overnight and he was back to his normal 99.7 by the time I got to the farm! He seemed to feel better- he was downright rude to handle. He was a lot sounder too.

His BOT sheet was really gross because he slept in his pee Sunday night, so I washed it and used cables to line dry it, haha!

Poor Penn spent a total of 2.5 days locked in a stall. So of course I videoed his freedom after I long lined him: he rolled, ran a little, mildly terrorized the village, rolled again, and terrorized some more.

Long story short: Ticks are the devil. We think it was some kind of tick borne disease, probably anaplasmosis and we caught the fever as it was going up. The vet looked at him again Tuesday and declared him sound and fit for work, and he's been peachy ever since. It was an expensive 4 days for my wallet!

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Embracing the Suck

Alright, I am trying to get back on the wagon here. My fall was slow for blogging because working on the basics isn't really exciting blog fodder, I haven't had new media (the cats have been featured a lot on the Instagram), and then November was particularly bad because of the stress of organizing GP Rider's clinic (which was this past weekend and was great!) and that time when I thought Penn tore tendons in both hind legs. Good times.

So let's start going over stuff!

The barn had a fall party where we pulled out all the obstacles: cowboy curtain, side pass over a pole, weave through some cones with no reins (or as I did it, hit a ball with a broom and make the ball weave through the cones), walk over a tarp and mat, walk over the bridge, walk over the mattress, drag the sled, push the giant ball.
Penn has taken to walking into, and kicking, the giant ball with glee. He actually seems to enjoy it.
Side note: I found a dressagey barn a few hours from here that holds "Intro to Cattle" clinics. Hehehe.

Embracing the Suck:

I have had a bunch of rides this fall where I have thoughts along the lines of, "I am completely inept, why do I think I can dressage, I need to sell everything horsey and buy a goldfish."

Usually the day's trauma is an inability to canter or Penn is stuck as a 2x4 in one direction. It was inability along the lines of, "How did this horse and rider even compete at First Level this year, let alone Third?"

Through the inept feeling, I've been pushed to really think about my feel and timing. Penn is not at fault here; it is completely rider error. The walk and trot have been bad, the canter horrendous, and then zero bend and a 2x4 feeling in Penn's spine.

That was so frustrating to me- I couldn't get the inside hind stepping up. Penn was just speeding off. Half halts didn't work. He was laying HARD on my left rein, both directions. I let it bother me for a few hours one day a few weeks ago, then resolved to work out an easy way to feel the inside hind because I was thoroughly stuck.

Here's some conclusions I came to about timing the aids for a better walk and trot, and thereby better bend and a better inside leg to outside rein connection. I needed to write them down to further cement them in my mind, but I think some readers might like to read what works for me:
  • To find better bend, think about making the inside hind step up even more. The barrel will move to the outside to make room for the inside stifle to come further up. I need to activate the inside hind to do that, which means Penn needs to not move sideways or faster in response to my leg.
  • Walk: the rib cage naturally swings in and out with each side's footfalls. To get better inside hind activation, push the inside leg into the girth as the barrel swings out. The barrel is already swinging out to make room for the inside hind at this moment. A few leg bumps and Penn is bending in like a champ.
  • Trot: This was harder. You post up and down with the outside front, and therefore the inside hind. When I was originally teaching myself to feel my diagonals all those years ago, I found if you relax your hips, they naturally fall right and left as the horse trots. I got the correct diagonal every time by posting on the next step after my outside hip dropped. Therefore, if I stayed sitting instead, the inside hind is stepping forward as my outside hip comes up. Apply inside leg as the outside hip comes up, and inside seatbone sits down. Bam, all of a sudden I had a supple horse in the outside rein instead of a 2x4 from Home Depot that enjoys my left rein all the time. This is probably why my Event Trainer always had me post on the wrong diagonal to help get the inside hind going- I would sit as the inside hind was stepping up, and you apply leg in the sitting step of the posting trot. I think that's why I found First Level so much easier to do in the sitting trot- you really shouldn't post on the wrong diagonal at a show.
  • In lateral movements, like the half pass where Penn wants to not bend and I don't want to sit on the inside seatbone: Same rule applies, apply inside leg when the outside hip comes up. This sits you on the inside seatbone in the half pass. Start the half pass by trotting on the diagonal, then asking for haunches in while keeping the outside shoulder on the diagonal line. I applied alternating inside leg and outside leg (not always outside leg, it just stayed put to remind Penn to keep stepping sideways). This kept me on the inside seatbone, kept my inside rein soft and light, and kept pushing Penn to the outside rein.
  • There is no "just apply the leg all the time" in dressage. Biggest lesson here. Tactful application of leg gets better results (durr, it's the same as lesson horses getting dead to the leg because their riders constantly thump away).

Penn got a fresh clip job too! So shiny. And he's got some dapples!

Some neato things that have happened since I worked this stuff out:
  • More bounce and suspension in the trot.
  • More suppleness everywhere.
  • Better throughness everywhere.
  • Lateral movements in trot are infinitely easier. I can time the inside leg to the inside hind and maintain better bend through the movement. I can even fix it mid movement. Penn positively glides sideways in the trot and canter half passes.
  • Speaking of lateral movements, I've found I am unintentionally gravitating towards sitting on the inside seat bone in all of the movements, just like you're supposed to in order to keep the bend.
  • I was able to take shoulder fore on a 20m circle, half pass it in, and eventually settle in a large trotting pirouette/turn on the haunches. No fuss, no fight, both directions. AND in both trot and canter!
  • I've been able to do the first diagonal in 4-1: medium trot, collected trot over X, medium trot. What we do isn't really a true medium, but it is a true go and come back and go right away again. A few weeks ago, Penn could not do this. He could go, he would struggle to come back, and then we'd fuss for a while before we could go again. This isn't exactly because of the inside hind work, but it is because he's carrying himself more in these last few months.
  • Penn doesn't speed up when I apply the inside leg tactfully. He bends instead.

I'm still struggling with finding the inside hind in the canter- each footfall in the stride happens so fast, by the time I work out what might work, my timing is completely off/rushed or Penn has broken to trot. The best I can come up with is to apply leg directly after the most downhill moment of the canter- that is just before suspension, and in suspension, his inside hind is already off the ground coming forward.