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.

Show Recap: Running Start BN Combined Training

Saturday, Jack and I (with the help of our amazing friend C) headed out to do a quick Combined Training event in Southern Pines. The goal was to get a little more exposure and get a confidence building round. Essentially we were to do our dressage test, go back to the trailer for a tack change, jump, and head home again.

Jack’s dressage test was okay. The next time I take him out I’ll be adding spurs, because I feel as though his tension translates into getting behind my leg, and I definitely was not able to be nearly as quiet as I am at home. Still, the judge liked him well enough, giving him an 8 on the following movements, as well as his gaits:

  • Trot circle right
  • Change rein KXM
  • Trot circle left
  • Change rein HXF
  • Downward transition to trot
  • Free walk
  • Upward trot transition + turn down centerline

We got dinged overall for our hollow moments which was not surprising- again I know that we are going to have hollow canter transitions for some time until we re-wire Jack to use his hind end instead of his massive shoulders to change gait. The test scored a 29 (71%) with plenty of room for improvement.

Our jump warm up was also just okay, and I needed a swift kick in the butt to hold to the base of the fence. Our jumping round was then the total opposite, as each fence impressed Jack more and more and we got ugly chippy distances and even a stop at the swedish oxer (which is fine- that’s a new question to him and no ground line). So after having cowboyed him through the course, I was not satisfied and quickly requested a schooling round, which is what you see below.

It’s amazing what change you can effect when you actually ride. I was really thrilled with the result and felt like Jack would have a very positive note to end on. The pony got lots of pats and stuffed full of treats and we were homeward bound.

Thanks to a brain fart on my part, we likely won’t be competing in October, but definitely lots of lessons and hopefully even a clinic with a certain former trainer of ours. The more miles the better!

Show Recap: September War Horse Dressage

Questions I ask myself this morning… Why do cats only barf on carpet instead of hardwoods? Why is the Dunkin Donuts closest to me 3 times slower than every other one? Why am I so sore?

Well, at least I can answer the last one. Riding 2 horses is hard work, y’all, but competing two horses is brutal. I now have so much more respect for Buck Davidson and his 10,384 string of horses that he competes. I took Jack (doing BN) and Riley (Green as Grass) to a schooling horse trial this weekend and my body is wrecked. But rather than whinge about my aches and pains, we’ll focus on dressage.

Jack did a cross country schooling the day before as well as a showjumping round, then proceeded to wear himself out by screaming and pacing his stall for an hour. So when he came out on Sunday for dressage, he was a very tired pony. I warmed him up away from the hustle and bustle of the warm up ring and tried to put some spring in his step, but overall he felt a little flat and not nearly as supple as I am used to.

This definitely translated into our test. While our upward canter transition is hollow at home as well (a training issue we are working through!), he’s not normally braced in the other changes between gaits. But in the test I was challenged to keep him soft through those movements. Jack earned an 8 on his free walk (awesome) and the judge nailed me for bracing my own legs into the downward transitions (a known issue for me, darn it). I walked out of the ring expecting to score a 34 or 35, and was pleasantly surprised to earn a 32, which shockingly put us in 2nd out of our division of 19 after dressage.

Riley handled the new atmosphere with his general aplomb, and spent Saturday toodling around at the walk checking out the sights. With energy conservation as the name of the game, he got a whopping 5 minute warm up before dressage. We practiced walk trot transitions and a few centerlines and headed over to the ring. My goal for the test was to ride with better geometry than the previous weekend, get straight centerlines and ride him more forward to my hand. Unfortunately my phone ran out of space just after the centerline, but I believe we accomplished all those goals.

Riley earned a 26 in dressage, a full 10 points ahead of the other (admittedly pint-sized, adorable) competitors in our GaG CT division. If you want to see a slightly less steady version of the test, you can watch this video from the previous weekend. Our free walk was hugely improved this time around, and Riley garnered sweet comments from the judge and even earned a 7.5 on gaits!

Riley’s ribbon and Jack’s test

To say I’m proud of both boys is an understatement- they were phenomenal and given how green they are they handled everything amazingly well (bar Jack’s screaming). Tomorrow, jumping recaps!

Raleigh Dressage Show II Recap: Day 2

Sunday at the show was an exciting day, as TC and I moved up to First Level in an Opportunity class. I felt like despite not really working at that level for very long, TC was more than able to handle it. After all, 10 meter circles are a lot easier on a 14.2 1/2 hony than on a 16.3 gigantor palomino. His trot lengthenings might be so-so, but they are there, and the canter lengthenings were quite good for this pony with a motor.

TC warmed up a little quietly, and I worried that we wouldn’t have enough gas in the tank to make for exciting lengthenings. Though he did wake up once we got into the arena and were surrounded by more of the show environment. In hind sight I should have slowed his tempo down slightly in the trot in order to show more of a difference in the lengthenings, but that’s a learning experience for me. We score 6’s on all the lengthening movements (bummer), but an 8 on the stretchy circle and a good smattering of 7’s. I was surprised to see the judge give him less than a 7 on his gaits, but rewarded me slightly more. Overall we earned a 65% and another blue ribbon for our efforts.

The weekend in general was a great success, and a huge feather in the cap for TC who is becoming a star of a show horse. I can only hope that Jack will settle into the fray just as quickly, but then again, TC has that ponytude to give him an edge in that area. I’m glad to have wrapped up my time riding TC on such a high note- I think his next rider will do an even better job with him and honestly am excited for the little guy’s future!

Raleigh Dressage Show Recap: Day 1

Since buying Jack, I knew that eventually I would need to give up the ride on TC, since riding 3 horses (with Riley back in Raleigh) is more than I can manage longterm. Because I also wanted to compete him one more time and improve on the last show’s experience, we determined that the Raleigh I/II dressage show would be our last hurrah before handing the reins over to someone else.

On Saturday, we competed in Training 2 and 3, tests that we also competed in at the prior show. TC’s entire demeanor was that of a well-traveled show horse, not the 7 yr old at his second competition, and he was the consummate professional.

Training 3 was our first test (why, oh why do they do the higher tests first?) and he warmed up beautifully. The test itself was fairly good, barring some spooking/looking at the water in one of the corners that turned into us almost leaving the arena in the next. Our only real bobble was in the canter, where for the first time TC did this fun thing where he got disunited, so I brought him back to a trot and picked up the lead again in time for the next movement, which was the downward trot transition across the diagonal. We got an unfortunate 4 for the break in canter, but that’s fair.

Our test scored a 67%, earning us 4th out of 16 competitors. It’s of course frustrating to think that if we hadn’t broke in the canter that we could have maybe even won the class, but overall I was really pleased and surprised to earn that score.

Training 2 was our afternoon ride, and even the in-laws turned out to witness dressage brilliance (kidding- Training 2 is a boring test at best). Luckily there was enough time to read the same judge’s comments from the morning, and learn from that feedback to make a plan for our second visit. Barring a little lookiness at the continuing standing water in the corner at A and scooting into the downward walk transition in the next corner, I am really happy with how the test went. The judge thought so too, and we finally broke 70% with a 72 for a pretty blue ribbon.

Some big goals (for us) were met in this test. I was finally able to show off his good stretchy trot and get an 8 on that movement (where’s my coefficient at- boo!). One of the goals I stated to my trainer before the show was also improving my rider score in the collection marks. Depending on where we are, I generally get a 6.5 or 7. So a 7.5 was a definitely step in the right direction, as I am finally getting the feel for where my elbows should live and keeping my hands closer together.

Tomorrow, we look at TC’s first First level test!

Lesson Notes 7-22

Somehow I survived my two lessons on Saturday, and both horses lived to tell the tale as well. And considering whatever the heat did to potentially addle my brain, in addition to my head already spinning with deadlines and the impending show this weekend, I find that I need to jot down the things I learned from those lessons while I still remember.

TC’s Dressage Lesson:

  • Conservative and correct is better than up tempo and tense
  • Sit into the canter transition (and keep mentally reminding myself to push him off the right leg from time to time)
  • Keep my elbows heavy and hands low
    • TC can be a head wagger occasionally- keeping my hands low and together (thinking about having a low center of gravity) stops his mouth from taking on any movement that happens as a result of posting with my elbows up high
  • Think about 10 meter circles as 2 halves
  • Prepare early for transitions- TC needs more time to process than I realize
  • Look out on the stretchy circle to maximize the number of steps available
  • Think about walk in the transition from lengthening trot to working trot- show off the “coming back”

Jack’s Jumping Lesson:
I had a very different horse under me for this jump lesson, despite the near three-digit temperature. Jack came out and was much stronger than I was used to, which is a result of his getting fit and building confidence. It’s also a direct reflection of his time as a foxhunter, where I was told that he was taught to either trot fences or gallop them. While we worked on managing his stride in front of the fence, trainer had some words of wisdom:

I’m going to take the suspense out of the situation for you. You’re going to have some ugly jumps for a while.

And well, as you’ll see in the video, she ain’t wrong. Here are the other tidbits that I need to stick in my skull moving forward:

  • Our flatwork is coming together (yay!) but I need to remember to not camp my legs out in front of me
  • As he gets stronger/fitter, I shouldn’t be surprised about his wanting to take the bit
    • Add a running martingale to allow for more control
      • Keep my hands up and reins short for same
  • Do not lean for the lead
  • Hold to the fence, then be sure to release as his front legs lift off

Between fences, we also chatted about goals. I would like to do a recognized show by the end of the year, and we decided to aim for Stable View at the end of September as a result. Even if showjumping looks a bit ugly, we should be able to get around a Beginner Novice course by then as long as I stick with the program. And with lots of schooling options between now and then, including a clinic in a few weeks, we should have a lot more experience under our belts as a pair before taking on Aiken!