Show Recap: SPHT Novice dressage

It’s been a hell of a week. And at times when I wanted to blog most I had either no time, no brainpower, or no computer handy. #firstworldproblems amirite?!

But onto the show.

For the last couple months, I’d been working though the Novice B test in a committed way- something about those changes of direction from B to E and vice versa give me a certain form of heartburn. Add in that out right lead center depart had been, let’s say, a bit dramatic/erratic, and I was more than a little worried.

As most horse folks know, recognized shows are not exactly cheap. They represent a significant investment monetarily,  and of course also occupy a decent chunk of mental space and hours preparing to boot. They aren’t exactly a throw-away scenario, and I wanted this show to count, as much as possible. Feeling like I hadn’t prepared enough was the scenario I wanted to avoid most.

Anyways, that is all to say that I schooled the hell out of that test. Mostly not all at once but in pieces, because I’ve discovered that this is the best way to avoid serious frustration and make for a better test in the long run.

We arrived at the show Friday just after lunch, and had plenty of time to do a long walk warmup (like 25 min) before running through a test situation. Saturday I did my pre-ride as planned, and though tense at first, felt like Jack settled fairly well.

Our warmup for the actual event was not quite as relaxed, but with a bit of coaching he felt as good as possible and we entered the ring early.

Bar the free walk, I really am quite happy with the test. There were moments when I felt like I could have asked for more impulsion, but at the risk of getting tense, I feel ok with the result. The only part that really fries me is the free walk- normally this is an easy 8 or 9 for us. But as you can hear in the video, our OK-ish free walk was also interrrupted by a big spook in the ring next to us, just out of sight of the camera. Jack looked up understandably, then came back to me like the good boy he is, but in a short arena even that blip was enough to earn us a 6.5.

In the end, we ended up scoring a 27.4, which earned us 3rd place in a pack of 16. I won’t lie that the free walk score sort of sticks in my craw, but luckily some well meaning Instagram folks have been good about giving me a better way of looking at things.

I guess, when you’ve been building up for a return like this, or a show that you’ve been preparing for for months at a time, you let it become this gargantuan goal that it should never be. Horses are animals, and even if yours is perfect, it doesn’t mean that someone else’s isn’t going to be a distraction. That ended up being true for show jumping as well, which I’ll get into tomorrow.

Horses, man. Always a teaching opportunity. Always giving us an opening to become a better, wiser human being. Gosh darn it, we have to love them and hate them for that. Anyways, tomorrow (if I’m lucky), I’ll recap SJ!

Show Recap: Jack’s Novice CT with another pilot

While I was in sunny Florida stalking gorgeous [$$$] ponies, my own pony was trudging through the mud and muck, competing with another rider. Before the show she had taken a jumping lesson on him, and flatted him once on her own. Luckily though, she’s a talented rider (just placed 2nd at Pine Top’s Prelim!) and sensitive enough to absolutely have no problem with my occasionally spastic yellow pony.

Since I wasn’t there, I can’t go into the day in detail, but obviously it didn’t go too shabby. Together they scored a 27.9 in Dressage, which was fourth after a 3-way tie for 1st place (score 27.1 – dang it!). The video shows a test that is accurate with only small moments of tension, and I’m pleased that Jack had a fairly confidence boosting experience.

Then there was showjumping. Jack typically warms up beautifully for showjumping, then goes into the arena and ‘pings’ off all the fences in total sensory overload (the colors! the ferns! the poles! ah!). And you can see that A had a bit of that ride herself, though she implements the gag bit better than I to get his frame in a better shape so we wouldn’t go hollow over the fences.

They did get one rail, as you can see- where he got hollow on the approach and took out the back rail of an oxer. But overall, again, a really nice round that looked more settled than normal. Which is all I wanted!

Fake news

They accidentally recorded an extra rail, but Jack would have placed 5th overall. Since it’s a CT, and I wasn’t riding, I could care less, but it was good to see that overall he did fairly well in a course that looked like it caused lots of rails down.

In general, I’m happy with the experience that this rider gave him. I would say I would have preferred myself to be in the tack, but given the weather conditions, I won’t – Florida was glorious and that show looked wet and miserable. #sorrynotsorry

The next time we hit up the horse park it will be for a recognized show- and there’s a lot to prep between now and then! Thanks A for the great ride 🙂

The NOT-so Steady Eddie

Jack is lovely. Like, the more I get to know the giant yellow pony, the more I love him. And it’s been 1.5 years officially now, so you know, he’s grown on me.

But one thing both my trainers have always told me, as if I needed to know, (though I hang on their every word- after all I respect it enough to pay for it by the hour), is that- well, this horse is not exactly a dead head. In fact, more often he is just an outright spaz.

See last night’s BN-A practice:

This was our second attempt at the test that we are doing this weekend. The first run-through was okay but marred by lots of tension and a little rushy. Since I felt like the next attempt would be better, I asked a barnmate to record before I went down centerline again.

For Jack this is fairly typical- we’re getting more and more moments of relaxation, but homeboy is always on alert to some degree, hence the spooks. What I’m most pleased about in watching this is how quickly he settles back into work- early in our relationship he would spook, then I would get tense, then he would get more tense, and, well, you can see that would be difficult to resolve.

Knowing that there won’t be mirrors around the dressage court at CHP, nor cell phones appearing out of nowhere, hopefully there’s a shot at getting a more confident test out of him on Saturday. We’ll see 🙂

Dressage Homework for the Winter

Since my trainer is spending the winter amongst the palm trees and fancy ponies of Florida for the next several weeks, she made sure to give Jack and I a good butt kicking before departing.

Kate, trainer’s working student who is also in Florida

I love a good butt kicking.

No, really. Those are the best lessons.

We started out working on the length of stride within his trot, using my seat aid to collect or allow the stride. Sitting deeply = collected trot. Sitting more lightly and following with my hips = a larger more natural stride. While I feel like a sack of potatoes as I try to get my riding fitness back, Jack still appreciates being ridden off of the seat first. And trainer’s main point was that most horses prefer to be ridden off the seat (vs hands or legs), and while it might take slightly longer to achieve the same result from seat alone, it has a more lasting effect and is a more useful tool in the long run.

From there, we moved into canter work.

The canter is one of Jack’s best gaits, but he also naturally has a huge stride, and that can cause some balance and engagement issues. So we are working to make his canter smaller with the end goal of engaging his hind end more without causing the stride to become even bigger.

One of the tools we are using to create this effect is the counter canter. We worked on the idea of going from haunches in to renvers on a circle for a little bit (which sort of melts my brain a bit to think about – see below video). Changing the bend like this on the circle, while keeping the hind end really active will also help with his straightness – an issue we run into in jumping as well. So despite it being hella hard, there’s an added bonus that makes it worth it. I think?

Other exercises that I have been asked to work on are more traditional counter canter exercises. Such as:

  • Pick up “wrong” lead on straight line and just canter down the long side of the arena then trot. After time start adding in corners (but not steep). Trainer thinks this will be easier for Jack
  • Pick up correct lead, change rein across diagonal then canter around short side on wrong lead.

The other part of the homework we’ve been given while she’s in Florida is to work on our walk-canter departs. Make them soft, small, and as boring as possible. Which is going to be hard, but hey, she’s gone for a long time so I’ll do my best!

We may pick up a lesson while she’s away with her trainer, who I’ve heard amazing things about. But that’s still up in the air. Until then, it’s canter bootcamp for Mr Yellow.

PS – if you want to follow along on my trainer’s Welly world adventures, you can follow her blog here!

First lesson back!

OK, first of all, thank you to all who joined my pity party that was last week’s post. Much appreciated, and your comments honestly left me feeling so much better!

Hoping against hope, I scheduled a short dressage lesson for Tuesday, and lo and behold, the golden pony actually came through!

We did a lot of talking about how sound he looked (which was pretty good, huzzah!) and mostly spent the lesson just focusing on transitions and some of the basics. After 6 months (seriously WTF SIX MONTHS) since last having a lesson, that was A-OK by me.

Jack was fairly tense, which could be due to his longer break, it being dark, the scary saddlepad sitting by the ring, or any combination of those things. So we spent a decent amount of time just letting his brain relax (which can often be a theme even when he’s in full work) by doing boring trot circles until he released the tension in his back, occasionally incorporating leg yields to play with some lateral work.

I got nothin.

One other thing we focused on in the time available was the quality of Jack’s canter. In previous tests, he has been described as being downhill and behind the vertical. This comes from a habit of landing heavily on his front end on the ‘3’ beat of the canter, almost nodding with his head.

1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2,3

It’s my job then, to make the 1 beat (the active inside hind) the strongest beat by using my seat and upper body to support him. Ideally, he will start rocking back onto his haunches, in turn lifting his forehand, and making the landing gear come down with more of a pitter-patter than a thud.Tonight, I have dared sign up for my first jump lesson back (it’s a week for firsts!). Mostly I expect it to be jumping at shadows versus actually jumping, and anything we do make it over will likely be small. But it’s nice to dip our toes back in the water!

And hopefully as a result you’ll be hearing more from me on a regular basis!

On the Mend and Under the Weather

Jack and I finally got to have a dressage lesson together on Tuesday, and once he loosened up he felt beautiful, washing away all my worries about the cluster that was the previous week. We are playing around with the “dial” of a gait – taking a boring, dinky trot to something with more impulsion and even pushing into lengthening territory, but keeping the focus on him staying relaxed and swinging through his back. This has been a major challenge for us, since Jack is not an incredibly relaxed horse by nature and can get tense rather quickly.

Jack this Jan

I tend to think of Jack as a micromanaging kind of ride, and when we discussed my trainer corrected me- when you’re on him it’s not about being busy as a rider, but staying mentally focused through every step, watching his frame and his mental energy through every stride. He’s simply not a “get on and coast” sort of dude. And while that can be a little challenging, it also means that he’s good for the rider, in that it requires correct riding in order to produce good results with him.

Unlike Foster, who could get away with (and sometimes needed) a little bit of uglier riding

Unlike Jack, who seems to be feeling significantly better the last couple days, I myself am feeling rather shitty. Fully body aches, shooting pain in my R hip, and feeling sick after every meal- not my personal best really. But still, there’s riding to be done, and a show to get to this weekend. But man, what I would do for a 12 hour nap right now!

Show Recap: Longleaf Horse Trials Dressage

So, the recap of our Novice debut begins!

We arrived at the Carolina Horse Park much later than I originally had hoped for Friday evening after a day of utter chaos, but I was able to eek in our ride, which was 20 minutes free walk-medium walk transitions plus a little trot and canter, before the light ran out.

Saturday morning because of the timing I opted to do Jack’s pre-ride instead of hand walking, because it seems to settle his brain much more to have a job. So we meandered along the track of the warm up ring for a solid 10 minutes, followed by 5 min of free walk – medium walk transitions, then trot-walk transitions and a canter circle in each direction before going back in.

The pre-ride seems key for Jack, and when we went back out to the warmup ring before the actual test he felt much more relaxed. We repeated much of the routine from earlier in the day, with a focus on energy and straightness, and with him feeling ace we headed into the dressage ring.

Overall I’m thrilled with the test. He felt so relaxed that I was finally able to ask for more energy in the trot. This in itself has been a big goal, as we’ve been keeping his trot small and relaxed in the show ring to be a little risk-aversive. If we had pushed for a bigger trot before he was really relaxed, we always had moments of tension, hollowing, or breaking to the canter. This time I could put my leg on and not get an anxious tail swish or hollowing. Eventually I think I can ask for an even more forward trot, but this was a solid milestone for us.

We scored a 31 for our efforts, though I had very much been hoping to break into the 20’s again. But a 31 put us tied for 3rd out of the pack of 14, and so I really shouldn’t complain. Jack was a really good boy and his confidence is just gaining and gaining with every show- and that means so much to me! Besides- we had his first Novice course to consider! Details of that to come tomorrow 🙂

Show Recap: SPHT Dressage

This last weekend represented my third recognized event ever, with my last one being almost 4 years ago. Of course this was also Jack’s first recognized show.

Putting that into perspective, I’m pretty fucking thrilled with how it went.

Jack is still figuring things out about travel, making friends (and not becoming obsessed with them), and the show horse life in general. So Friday we packed up and got to the Horse Park, with plenty of time for me to do my first course walk and then get in the saddle for a long hack around the rings followed by a very light (read:12 min) dressage school.

The plan for Saturday was to do a pre-ride (15 min walk and 5-10 min transitions) in the morning and then get ready for my test that afternoon. Unfortunately Jack felt explosive and was screaming profusely, and I decided to let him express some anxiety on the lunge line rather than beneath me. He lunged for 10 minutes and with a much softer eye I got back in the saddle. 15 minutes of walking, and 5 minutes of walk-trot transitions and he went back in his stall for a nap.

We came out for our test about 35 minutes early, and again just spent a long time walking around a quieter part of the warmup, doing transitions between free walk and medium walk to ease his brain. Following our dressage trainer’s plan (which was determined at the schooling dressage show the weekend before), we then did 5 min of easy walk-trot transitions, then a short walk break, then a full walk-trot-canter set that basically continued straight into the dressage ring.

The plan worked perfectly. Jack felt super rideable and attentive, and allowed me to ride him through any tense moments.

It’s a bit hard to read, but you get the jist!

Again, pretty effing thrilled with this test. I got my first 8 on rider score, a goal that I’ve been working toward, and Jack really nailed a lot of the things we’ve focused on lately. Considering this horse wouldn’t go down centerline in August, he’s come a long way. We earned a 26.8 for the dressage, putting us in first out of 15 for the day.

Tomorrow, the showjumping update!

Show Recap: Pinehurst Schooling Dressage

Sunday we went to the Pinehurst Harness Track to get some more mileage at Beginner Novice Test B, which is the test for the big recognized doozie this weekend. Instead of doing 2 different tests, I actually chose to do BN-B twice, and save some precious brain cells in the process.

We got to the Harness Track and squeezed into a spot along the rail (thank goodness for my teeny rig), got Jack tacked up and hustled to the warmup. He had gotten Perfect Prep Gold the day before, and PP Supreme before getting on the trailer, and I don’t know if it was that or just happenstance but while alert and looking around, once I was in the tack he gave me the best warm up to date.

Our first test was obedient with moments of tension, namely in the corner at K where he fixated on departing trailers and other new things. We scored a 70.5% (29.5) for this one, and the video is below:

Following that, we had roughly 15 minutes before going back in, and made good use of a warm up area just outside the ring so that we could get his attention focused on me near scary K. It worked, and while test B felt better in many ways, Jack got the idea to start hollering through pieces of it, which apparently the judge didn’t like. We got a 70.25% (29.75) for that one. Nothing like being consistent, eh?

As you can see, the highlights in both tests were the left trot circle, left lead canter, free walk, and final centerline. Everywhere else there are subtle differences, as he was tense in different places between the two tests.

In general, I’m pretty thrilled with the outing. Jack got some more experience in the dressage court, I got to test out Perfect Prep products, and we achieved our goal (albeit barely) of scoring in the 20s. Our dressage trainer got to see him in a show environment and help us formulate a plan for the warm up at the Southern Pines HT. So all in all, despite no blue ribbons, it was a big win-win!

Dressage Recap: A Lesson, A Blogger Meetup, and a Saddle Fitting

Since buying Jack in June, his body has changed a ton- homeboy has never been in a program quite like this one and he suddenly has muscle in places he never did before. So even though I had my saddles fitted to him in the summer, his back and demeanor was telling me that the saddles no longer were a good fit. Cue 2 saddle fittings (and crying into my empty wallet) and we are starting to see signs of a happier, looser version of Jack.

During the second fitting, Tracy of The Printable Pony swung by while they were in town and met the giant banana beast and listen to me complain about Jack’s not-so-rude rudeness (aka his shoving habits). It was so great to meet her and her sweet husband, and all the photos in today’s post are thanks to her! (Yay new media- thanks Tracy!)

Blogger meetuppppp

After weeks of not having a proper dressage lesson due to my Fair Hill and photography commitments, I finally got one in last night. The trainer rode Jack first to feel him in his “new” (read: not new) saddle, which sits up so much better than before. Jack is so much more relaxed than he’s ever been, even with a dropping temperature and riding in the spooky indoor. She commented on how much more rideable the canter is getting (thank goodness- that was such a hot mess before) and how he’s more reliably pushing to the bit, even if sometimes it means that he gets heavy in the hand. We’re fine with that, since he’s still finding his balance – all things in good time, especially with dressage!

I’m learning not to brace my legs in the saddle (this applies to both my jumping and dressage position) and engage my core and lower back- a constant struggle for me. And Jack is learning not to use his neck/giant shoulders to transition from walk to trot. As simple as a walk/trot transition is, doing it correctly is probably the most difficult thing we are working on, and a large part of our lesson was focusing on this one aspect.

There was plenty else to work on though, and so as not to bore everyone to tears, here’s the short version:

  • Get him in both reins before going down centerline to stop him bouncing off my L/R aids
  • Prepare early (earlier than I think) for centerline as he still doesn’t feel at home on that line
  • Use outside rein/core/lower back when he goes hollow- next two steps will likely be ugly but then he will soften
  • Keep walk small but active for trot transition
  • Don’t overbend to the right, keep thinking about having the neck come straight out of his withers
  • To the left, think about riding a hexagon instead of a circle to bring his shoulders around (not lean on R shoulder)

Banana Boat

Dressage is hard, folks, and we’re still getting those all-important foundational elements cemented. Once they are there I have the feeling we will start doing all the fun stuff. But for now, getting the basics- including saddle fit- will make for a happier, more correct horse with hopefully a long career ahead of him.