Show Recap: WHES Novice Championships- Dressage

So, last week was bananas and I’m lucky to find 5 min today to recap part 1 of our second Championship adventure of the year. First, a little background though:

The War Horse Event Series is an amazing competition series that allows competitors to school the day before the show in all three phases, and due to this and it being well run, with beer and wine and snacks available in the hospitality tent throughout the day (even mimosas in the morning!), it’s exceptionally popular.

I often participate in these shows throughout the year, and was excited to not only qualify for the year end championships, but also have a sound horse available to compete in it! The qualifications for the champs were thus:

TO QUALIFY, place 1st – 6th at any of the first five WHES events OR enter all five events OR place 1st – 6th in any of the VA Horse Trials Starter Series events. Riders in these Championship divisions will be competing for $10,000 prize money.

Considering that the WHES is often utilized by the many (*many*) local pros, and divisions tend to have 20+ riders, it was a fair ask to get to the champs, but also it was expected that the championship division would be massive, and likely the biggest show of the year.

….or split Pro vs Ammy divisions

As it turned out, there were over 40 riders in the Novice Championship division, and several professional riders, including Daryl Kinney (former assistant trainer to Denny Emerson, currently competing Advanced) and Bonnie Mosser (former 5* rider and trainer), among others. Add this to the 6 dressage rings being run simultaneously, and a sudden drop in temperature, and you can start to imagine the atmosphere in the dressage.

Actual footage of the warmup ring

Luckily, Jack is somehow pretty good in traffic, though it often frazzles me. We did our pre-ride in the morning and just stretched his legs at the walk for 20 min, so when he came back out he was feeling fairly loose, if just a bit behind my leg. So we followed our usual warm up process- lots and lots of walk, then boring walk/trot trans, then a break, then W/T/C and into the ring. Holly had me focusing on getting his balance up and his haunches stepping under, and cautioned me against letting the tempo get too fast. I tried to keep that feeling going into the ring, and this was the result:

Overall I am pretty happy with the test, though there were a couple bobbles I felt we’d get knocked for. First, I went too deep into the corner at the start of my serpentine. Then Jack was somewhat resistant to picking up the left lead canter (never usually a problem), and I had to goad him at the last second to stay accurate. And lastly, in my attempt to get him uphill in the right canter (where he tends to get low in the poll), I got his neck a bit short. Being no slouch, the judge did pick up on most of this and then some. But hey- we finally got that 9 on the free walk I’ve been chasing all year!

For our efforts, we ended up with a 24.1 going into XC. That put us tied for 4th, and I felt like we represented ourselves pretty well for where we’re at. XC post to come tomorrow!

The Training Moveup

My absence recently hasn’t been due to lack of riding, I can tell you guys that! And since this last weekend included our [soft] move up to Training level, I figured that would be more interesting to capture than the XC at BRHT (though maybe I’ll get back to that).

We signed up for the Training CT at the October War Horse, with the plan of schooling the Training cross country course since Jack hasn’t seen some of the questions that are now at this level. My goal for this weekend wasn’t necessarily to be competitive, but more to focus on building confidence over larger fences and different combinations.

Because of my habit of running around like an idiot these days, I didn’t get to put the time into the dressage preparation that I normally would. There were a few things that were somewhat tricky for Jack, including the 10m circles from B to X and X to E. I wasn’t sure how well we would execute the canter lengthening on the circle, nor the trot lengthening, which would likely be dependent on how loose his back was.

As it turned out, the judge has a bit of yellow fever (is that funny? Probably not) and scored us much better than expected. Though our class was small, our 31.4 landed us in 2nd behind Becky Holder, a longtime idol of mine. [photo of test to come!]

I’d like to encompass all of my learnings from the cross country in a separate post, so I’ll focus on just the CT for now. But let’s just summarize by saying that the dressage seemed somewhat lackluster, but the jumping made up for it all.

The course was actually somewhat tricky in my opinion, with the only straight line being from 3 to 4. All was maxed out in typical War Horse fashion.

I wasn’t sure if the warmup would change as a result of moving up a level, but it didn’t, which ended up being reassuring. Essentially we started over an x, went to a vertical, then an over, and built it up until we were set to go in.

I think this was one of those courses where I found myself actually riding the course, focusing on the balance of his canter while making sure he jumped all the things, because as you’ll see in the video- he wasn’t keen on the mini gates filling the rainbow color fences, and took a hard peek at the liverpool as well.

In the end, our one rail down didn’t change our position in the line up, since everyone had at least one rail in our division. But Jack successfully finished his first Training course, and we are on our way towards really considering ourselves a Training level pair, which is the goal!

Show Recap: Blue Ridge Horse Trials Dressage

The Blue Ridge Horse Trials were the second recognized horse trials to go on the calendar at Tryon, and it was exciting to not only have a new local fall recognized horse trial, since the Five Points stopped offering a full HT below Prelim for the last few years.

I signed up for the BRHT mostly because A) they advertised said horse trial as having the XC on the WEG course and B) they were discounting the stabling by $100. The fact that I have yet to be refunded said $100 is… annoying. And we’ll see- if they don’t pay me back be sure I will pitch an absolute fit. Ahem, anyways.

But really.

We arrived the day before the competition, and after the more recent memories of the too-small stalls at KYHP, it was pretty much amazing to find that Jack looked normal sized in the stalls at TIEC. And not only that, but there were ample (read: more than I could use) hooks on the walls for the various accruements that come with traveling and horses- I was easily able to set up my water buckets, hay net, and stall guard without pulling out any of the normal Tom-foolery (aka double sided hooks and the like). Not only that, but each stall already had a fan built in (though I added my own since the temps were/are still in the 90s) but that was a wonderful and unexpected bonus.

Handsome bathorse in his spacious batcave

I walked Jack around the grounds to show him the way of things, since we don’t typically see such venues like Tryon, and he seemed to take it all in hand. The thing we seemed to dislike most was getting near the [previously named George Morris] Tryon Stadium, which has a pagoda for the humans, and high walls surrounding the warm up ring, as well as all sorts of jump standards being stored and trucks parked and in general, just lots to look at. Luckily the event was cornered off to one end of the facility, so this was not of consequence, but still got Jack a bit riled nonetheless.

Jack in a less riled state

The day of dressage (and showjumping, but that’s another post), I took him into a “temporary” tent ring to do our pre-ride, though much of this included watching a rather feral horse being lunged at one end. Once that horse left, I was less distracted and Jack gave me some really nice work (it’s occasionally my fault for being ADD/spooky, and I’ll own it in this case). Then a couple hours later I went out for my actual warm up for the test, giving ourselves 20 min to just refresh some of the things we’d been working on- namely the free walk, and transitions from walk-trot and trot-canter.

If I had to judge my test just as I finished it, I would have put it at a 27. And this is only based on the scores that I’ve had before- but I was really happy with the balance and the straightness, both things I have been working hard on at home. I decided to forego some of the ‘forward’ that I had in my AEC test because I felt like at times I was running him off his feet, and focused on using bend and geometry to put together the best test that had the most relaxation (or at least what was possible given the environment). So while I felt like it was good, I did not in any way expect that judge to like us quite as much as she did.

A 17.9, then, put us tied for 1st. As it happened, our partner in the tie was a familiar pair- they had schooled with us the day that I fell off the second time at Will Faudree’s amazing facility. Considering he’s gone intermediate, I am pretty okay with that!

 

 

 

 

 

Show Recap: AEC Dressage

Holy moly, I have so much to share with you guys!

But first, let me first shout out to the awesome people I have met so far because of this blog- from Hannah the Bates rep, to Hillary and Emily! Hearing that my voice [any voice] is relevant is so uplifting and I love love love the experience of meeting people irl that I know from the inter webs.

Anyways.

Jack was a freaking STAR. With the exception of the night before dressage, in which he was a total idiot, planting his feet and snorting at the horse-eating-hoomans and flipping out about his tail (why is this a thing?), but since his brain was fully in its box when it mattered, I will forgive him these things.

Overall he was much more chill about the whole KY Horse Park atmosphere than I expected, though the hack out to the rings did get increasingly tense as the days passed. But in general, Jack really settled every time I put him to work, even if it was just a long and low walk to stretch his legs- if I asked something of him, his mind was so much more at ease.

So we arrived Monday evening, and by the time we has somewhat unpacked it was too late to do more than a cursory walk around the barns. Therefore Tuesday and Wednesday were our days for exploring, gaining confidence, and trying to navigate the huge horse park. This all well swimmingly until we got to our dressage warm up ring, which was not only somewhat remote and required crossing a very busy street (within the horse park, but still overrun with bikes, golf carts, and people in a hurry), but it was also adjacent to the Egyptian Arabian show that was going on. Jack would start to relax and then we would hear whooping and hollering from inside the indoor ring, or a hotter-than-hell Arab would pop out of the entrance with its tail flagged and screaming its tiny head off. This caused Jack to go into the afore mentioned melt down- not a great premonition for the actual test the next morning.

And yet somehow the eventing gods smiled down on us, and our start time of 9:24am was minutes before the Arabian show started (9:30) so we got to warm up in relative peace and quiet compared to the days before. The other ~4-5 riders in the warm up were polite and everyone was communicating well, basically a rare delight at any show, let alone a championship competition. I went through Jack’s warm up routine as planned- lots and lots of walk, asking him to go forward and back in that gait and adding in halts, then picking up to trot and a little canter before giving him another 5 min walk break. When we had about 5 minutes left, I picked him up and started asking for suppling and forward in the trot, and threw in a couple canter transitions to make sure they were crisp, and we headed up.

Immediately some of the tension returned when Jack saw the cameras, the volunteers, test runners, and what not that hadn’t been there the day before. So I gave him tons of pats and walked him over to the judge, said our hello’s, and got him cantering to loosen his back. Then away we went.

My first centerline isn’t captured in this video, but I did fill out the paperwork to get the official RNS copy. Overall I was trying to go for forward and relaxed, which I think we mostly achieved. Nerves got the better of me with some of our geometry, and then there’s the free walk. The simple truth is, Jack got behind my leg, and when I squeezed with both legs he took it as a cue to trot. Luckily he was obedient in coming back, which one judge gave us kudos for, but that particular part of the test may or may not haunt me from that day.

I think my scores from the 2 judges had the largest spread of the division- a 71.9 and a 65.2. The closest spread between scores was 4 points… so apparently the big yellow pony was somewhat controversial between the judges, and their vantage points.

Still, we were tied for 4th after dressage- but this was no dressage show!

Dressage Lesson Recap

Since I had Jack fully looked over, I noticed some major changes in him. First he was beautifully relaxed and swinging through his body. But he was also stiff through the left side of his neck, whereas he used to be more flexible to the left and stiffer to the right. There’s always been a stiffness in his left front, and a sensitivity in his right shoulder. In any case, there are more upsides than downsides, but since getting him totally checked out he’s been a little different in the bridle and the saddle, and some adjustments have been needed.

Combining that with the outright (repeat) slap in the face that was my last dressage test, I was having some major confidence issues. Though in previous lessons we’ve been focusing on moving up the levels, I asked to specifically look into certain aspects of the test that I knew would make it or break it in the Championships.

In this particular lesson, it was transitions that we discussed, since I’ve been frustrated with how bracing he’s been in transitions in the last couple weeks.

So at the beginning of our lesson, I asked E to get on and feel him out. Our first nugget came when she explained that she was feeling out his medium walk to free walk transition, where any tension in the transition is sure to first come up. Within each step of walk, she wants me to feel like I have the option to halt, so that he is sitting (versus leaning over his shoulders), and within that more correct balance ask for the trot depart.

I may be biased but gosh he’s purty

We then looked into working on my contact- many people let go with their fingers more than they realize, and even though that may feel “soft” to us, it can be confusing to the horse- much like having a conversation with someone on the phone and their voice is going in and out. Having a consistent connection is a much more palatable experience for the horse, and so we worked on my connection.

For this, she wrapped a straw in a tack sponge and placed that combination in each hand. The straws were meant to point up his neck, never to cross or point in. It’s a great visual indicator of what my hands are doing, since they are mostly in my peripheral vision and I can immediately see when they go astray. The sponge was to help me hold and keep a steadier connection.

I learned pretty quickly how difficult it was for me to truly keep my right hand closed- since it’s the more dextrous hand, it opens and moves more easily. So I had to work to keep my hand closed and my elbow soft, and using just my elbows to lengthen his neck made for a much better connection than I’ve had lately. Below if you look closely (and ignore the side conversation of my sweet and ridiculous barn family who are kindly videoing me) you can see the straws sticking out as I ride:

We also looked into his canter departs, both up and down to/from trot. These have also been a little sticky, and I have a hard time avoiding comments about him falling into the trot even when it feels pretty balanced. However, as you’ll hear in the video, I learned that’s not uncommon for big horses to struggle with that transition, and while I can manage it as much as possible it’s probably not going to be the highlight of the test- so aim for a 7 and move on. Also, enjoy more side commentary from the barn fam.

In general it was a good check in and some helpful reminders of the basics for Jack and I. With all the conditioning and focus on jumping we’ve been doing lately, the dressage work has been a bit neglected. But this lesson helped me get inspired to work on cleaning up some moments and making myself a better rider, hopefully to put our best foot forward at the AECs and also to be a better partner to him going forward.

 

 

Biomechanics, Pirouette Canter, and a Dressage Lesson

In addition to attempting death by humidity, I’ve also been getting my learn on this week.

On Monday it was a dressage lesson, and I warmed up Jack with a long walk warm up on a long rein, changing direction and overbending him through the neck to work out the kinks from his chiropractic session a few days prior (she had found issues on both sides of his neck, and he was wonky a couple days after). I then asked E to get on him since I had expected him to still be stiff, but actually he felt and looked really supple through his whole body.

After feeling him out, I hopped on him and we discussed some specific body mechanics concepts that were picked up from a recent Suzanne Von Dietz clinic. One of these nuggets included correcting a common rider problem- low hands. Often, if a rider is told to raise their hands, their shoulders also creep up- whereas instead the shoulders should stay down and back.

The visualization for fixing this then is to think about a wheel mechanism driving up our torso. As it brings the arms and hands up, it drives the shoulders down and the upper torso back. This was a really helpful mental reminder for me as we went along, and I could quickly correct myself when my hands got low by just hearing E mention the wheel.

The other position tip I got was regarding how my pelvis sits in the saddle. My pelvis should mirror his, just as my shoulders should mirror his. So for lateral work or work where he is truly bent around my leg, my shoulders are turned even more, creating a corkscrew effect on my torso which engages my core and makes for a stronger rider in general. My pelvis should sit somewhat forward on the inside of the saddle, specifically thinking about the pelvis and not the hip. Bringing the hip forward tends to make us tip forward and close the hip angle to the inside of the horse. Bringing the pelvis forward keeps the upper body back. By having the inside of the pelvis forward, and outside leg should stay back. You know you’ve got it right when you can feel the stretch through the outside hip flexor.

That stretch in particular was a really good indicator of whether or not I was doing it right- no stretch = pelvis not twisted to follow his bend.

We took these concepts into working on his collected canter and bringing his hind end along for the ride in order to start developing what will eventually become his pirouette canter. Homeboy is obviously feeling really well, because he was really sitting and was taking the weight himself versus dumping 1300# into my hands. Our half pass at the trot was also feeling great and so much easier in each direction.

Honestly, I was smiling from ear to ear after this lesson, despite Jack and I being soaked through and dog tired.

We had a successful jump lesson as well, but that’s enough detail to bore you with for now!

 

 

June War Horse: Novice Dressage A

I guess I’ve been long overdue for a great big WTF moment in dressage, but I sure got it this weekend.

I thought we put in a pretty respectable test. Sure, he came above the bit in a couple transitions, but I thought our geometry was good, his balance was up, and I was really focusing on my position.

Apparently the judge didn’t agree. I got my first 6.5 on rider score, and my mind is still blown by that 6.5 on the free walk. Also, her overall comment wants more bend through his ribcage, but wants him straighter in the canter transition on the circle? Any DQ’s out there that want to explain to me? I’m all ears.

In any case, that was a bit disappointing but I’m going to try to learn from it and move on. I’ll recap SJ and XC this week!

The answer to Life, the Universe, Everything… Minus 10

WHEW.

I’ve been running around like an idiot (emphasis on idiot) but I wanted to capture a few of the learnings from the last couple weeks so that my silly brain doesn’t lose them.

Last night I had a dressage lesson where we worked on some big-kid stuff, namely canter half pass. Jack has a good concept of haunches in on a circle, so mostly this involved trying to get the haunches in as we travel on a short diagonal. In theory, this should set us up for success once we get to learning flying changes, as we can use the lateral movement to help him think about sitting versus exploding through his shoulders (which is his MO in general).

The exercise

The way we introduced this concept to him was by trying what E called ‘the paperclip’, that is getting his haunches in and him sitting, then trying to bring that across a short diagonal before turning and trying again. To really get him to step sideways she had me leaning into the direction to show him more clearly which way we were going. Apparently Carl Hester has some students lean so far as to look at the inside hind as they ride it, but luckily I wasn’t asked to do that!

I have been feeling rather crooked recently, and so we also worked on an exercise to see where I am sitting in the saddle. This involved thinking of the seat of the saddle as a clock face, and I tried to land my seat at 3 and 9 when posting, then 12 and 6, then post around the clock backwards and forwards. It was definitely an interesting feeling and gave me a better feel of where I was in the saddle, so I’ll be playing around with that in my warm up whenever I feel super crooked.

mind numbing

In case you are simply burning with desire to see part of our lesson, a lovely friend took some video for me. You can see a bit of our warm up here, which includes references to the clock idea, and also some canter where we do micromovements- pushing his haunches in and out, flexing him right and left, and moving his shoulders around.

 

Show Recap: VAHT Dressage

I haven’t been to a show outside of North Carolina since high school. And I haven’t competed at a recognized event besides the Carolina Horse Park or FENCE in just as long (let’s just put the number at well over a decade). The Virginia Horse Center had always intimidated me- mostly because my friends had bigged up how horrible the drive was, how scary the coliseum, and how gnarly the hill was on XC. All these things, plus the 4 hour drive to get there, left me less than enthused about making the trip.

Now in hindsight, I won’t say they were wrong (the drive definitely requires attention, even on the easier approach), but I’m so glad I went.

I got there mid-afternoon on Friday, and after settling Jack in discovered that they were allowing people to school in the coliseum, which was where our dressage was to be. So I took Jack for a hand walk inside, then did our normal lonnnnnng walk warm up before running through a 20 minute flat school. Despite the scary noises- people walking above, doors opening and closing, the buzz of the electric lights- Jack took it all in beautifully given that this was his first time encountering such a place.

Saturday we did our pre-ride around 10am, and I kept the actual work part very short so as to save him for later. Even still, when I got back on 30 minutes before our test, he felt a little sluggish. I don’t normally carry my whip for the actual test, but I kept it on me and spent a lot of time working to get him to unlock his back and stay in front of my leg. A few transitions and I headed into the coliseum.

As expected, Jack got a little tense being alone in there with the scary hoomans now sitting at the table. I tried to let him get a good look at the judges up close, but it wasn’t long before the bell rang for us to begin. Because there was space and to try to get his back unlocked again, I quickly threw in a canter circle and headed down centerline.

The tension approaching the judges was obvious and less than desirable, but I’m pretty proud of the test we put in despite that.

I thought the judge was fair, and she definitely picked up on our weaker right lead canter. Her overall comments are spot on- it is a risk right now with Jack to ask for more, and we’re slowly developing more relaxation in the ring so that I can try for a bigger trot without tension marring his gaits and suppleness. I was able to try for it in a few places in our test, like the circles and the trot diagonal, but it’s not consistent throughout the test.

Overall this was a huge learning moment for us, and to say I am proud of how Jack handled it would be a vast understatement- I am thrilled with him despite the scary judges for how mature he was in that environment. We ended up with a 26 which put us in 2nd out of 18, and well placed to tackle the big cross country!

Show Recap: May War Horse Novice Dressage

Lucky me, I was the first ride of the day at 8 am on Sunday, and so didn’t have time to do my typical pre-ride (read: was not willing to wake up even earlier to go ride in the dark), but figured we’d give it our best shot with a slightly longer warm up than usual, and incorporate my 20 min of walk work there.

Honestly, I felt like we won the warm up. He was forward, relaxed, listening, getting beautiful departs in the canter- I was thrilled. But when we walked over to the dressage court, I felt a bit of tension building in Jack. Of course he hadn’t seen the white fencing up close for a while, and though I tried to give him all the pats and options to see it, the judge rang us in before he truly settled.

The first half of the test felt a little electric as a result, and you can see where he gets a bit hollow and against my hand at times. My geometry was also not at its best- one of the faults to being the first rider in is that there are no tracks to go by, and I didn’t realize how much I rely on this at a show (whereas at home I do make myself think about it- will definitely pay attention going forward!).

I don’t think it was our best test ever- in general I like him to be a little more relaxed and swinging through his back, but opted for forward in this test instead. So while the judge was fair and marked us down where appropriate, we apparently still made enough of an impression that we sat just behind Andrew McConnon for 2nd place after the dancing was done.

Lots to improve on, but a decent way to start the day!