Show Recap: Novice at Carolina Horse Park

Spoiler alert- I’m about to brag on my horse.

But before that, let’s recap on the goal(s) for this show. Primarily, don’t do anything stupid. Ride every fence/movement. And then secondly, allow for the forward pace (i.e, go pony go!) and have soft elbows.

Dressage
We arrived on Saturday and first thing I hopped on and schooled dressage, which turned out to be OK, but exhibiting some tension in his neck and back. So Sunday before our test I spent the first 15-20 minutes solely on stretching work. This definitely helped with the relaxation, but got him a little flat with his movement. I made the decision to sit the trot and use my seat to get him moving a little more up. So with that, we went in to do our test.

Overall, I felt like the test was pretty good. Sure, we had a bobble in our canter depart, and he ran into the fence in our walk/trot transition (at least he didn’t take it out this time!), but I was really proud of myself for riding every corner, and preparing at every diagonal and centerline. I think the judge was a little rewarding, but here’s what she thought:

5 8's! Booyah!

5 8’s! Booyah!

And here’s the video of the test.. Other than my chair seat, I know we could improve a bit with the impulsion and forward energy, but otherwise a respectable test in my book. Also- I have to call out the ‘beautiful turnout’ comment by the judge. My friend A was my eyes on the ground, coach, and groom, and every time she helps me get ready for a show we get this comment! Kudos to her!

 

Showjumping
There were a ton of professionals in my large division of 18, so my 31.3 test landed me tied for 7th headed into showjumping. Watching the showjumping go, we noticed a lot of people getting either poles or time penalties. I have faith in Foster’s handiness to get around the course, so our warm up focused on getting a good pace and keeping my elbows soft and following. I think the pace held up through the course (with again unfortunate counter cantering from 6 to 7), though we got seriously stuck heading into the 2 stride combination, and the last 3 fences are as a result… fugly. But clean and clear and onto XC!

 

Cross Country
After walking the course twice (I was not going to get lost this time), I felt like this was a nice, inviting course to build confidence in horse and rider, and the technical and terrain questions were really appropriate to the Novice level. Here’s a look at the jumps:

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Goofing off while looking at the jumps.. we’re not in Beginner Novice anymore!

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The fences I was worried about, and planned to ride aggressively to, were 3 (the skinny), element 9A of the sunken road, and the second bank. But as I rode through the course, I don’t remembering using my bat at all! Foster locked on to every fence and I didn’t feel an ounce of hesitation- he ate it up! All the photos show his ears perked and a confident expression on his face, which makes me swell inside with happiness. We came through the finish flags with 1 second to spare!

Wrapping up

Ending on our dressage score of 31.3 earned us a fourth place ribbon. Considering the seriously stiff competition, I never imagined placing, and feel really good about future Novices this year. I am heartened by the thought that we can definitely improve on our score, and… we checked off our major goal for 2014!

  • Get a 65% or better on dressage and go double clear in show jumping and cross country.

Check!

I also need to give credit where credit is due… This weekend would not have been nearly as successful or fun without A by my side! And if you are reading this, A, thank you again!

Next horse trials, maybe this summer!

Love the one you’re with

Viva Carlos has a great topic for their blog hop this week- loving the pony you have, whether you own them or just ride them. I’ve had many ponies over the years, and sometimes it’s unfair when I compare Foster to them, because in his own right, he’s got a lot going for him.

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He’s super easy to handle (just last night I was clipping his legs, basically underneath him, and the BO thought he looked drugged, but he was just falling asleep!)

He self loads and unloads when traveling

He is adorably cuddly

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This was my favorite moment from the shoot- Foster wanted to cuddle!

He’s adorably playful, and I have to watch that he doesn’t pick up stools, buckets, steps- you name it.

He’s got super fun lateral work

He knows his people (he picks me, and now my friend A, out of the crowd!)

He’s consistently tight over fences

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He’s got a fun looking tail, and he keeps it mostly clean!

He doesn’t scare me over fences

He’s quite handsome 🙂

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He’s got a good work ethic

Did I mention he’s adorable?

Clinic Recap: Day 2

Day 2 Cross Country

Day 2 was our second cross country lesson, and I felt really confident after the prior day’s success. Unsurprisingly, when I got Foster out on the field, he felt sluggish- the poor thing was tired! But he put his game face on and rallied (for a while). Since he felt so relaxed, I allowed myself to finally relax too, and felt a big difference in the ride. I could follow with my elbows more, and pay a bit more attention to the task at hand. Because I was feeling more confident, I asked Holly if we could push the envelope a bit, and boy did she deliver! We hopped over this rather large training oxer (right after the rollback in the video), and did a super fun bank combination. Foster particularly loved this, and launched himself off the bank with all the boldness I could ever want in an event horse!

Off the bank we go!

When that went well, Holly asked if I’d like to try the ditch/up bank combo. It’s a bit hard to see in the pic, but there is a shallow ditch behind the ground line- and I was super stoked to try it! Foster flew up it without hesitation- it was very exciting!

Woohoo!

Woohoo!

The themes of the day were continuing to allow him to come forward, and keep my elbows soft (though this was improved over the day before). I definitely need to add more pace to bigger fences (such as the bank above, and the training oxer in the video), and keep him straight/allow for a straighter approach to the jump. Also might try lowering my hands, as with show jumping.

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Unfortunately towards the end of the session, Foster had decided he had had enough, and put in a couple of naughty run outs. These were all to the left, and it’s my job to pull him right if this happens. No matter what! Things were going so well, I definitely let my guard down and he slipped out on me a couple times. I honestly think these were due to him being fully exhausted, and while that’s no excuse, I’m still proud of him for all the good work he did over the weekend. We ended on a good note, jumping over a small vertical into the water, and called it a day!

Summing it Up

All in all, this clinic was hugely helpful in re-establishing the basics and getting us back to where we need to be with our confidence. It was a nice, laid back atmosphere with fun people, and left us with a manageable amount of homework. I’m excited to hear that Holly will be hosting multiple clinics this year, and I am already looking forward to the next one!

 

[Flying] Changes a comin’!

It’s been a mostly uneventful week in the world of horses, since the husband and I went down to visit my parents over the weekend, leaving Foster to eat to his heart’s content and work on bulking up a bit. In that department, luckily you can’t see his ribs anymore, but he still needs more poundage.

Not *as* ribby, but still a bit skinny

Not *as* ribby, but still a bit skinny

My great buddy A has offered to ride Foster while I travel once again, and after I complained to her that we are a cross cantering mess in the jumper ring, she decided to give me a mini lesson on flying changes.

Let me start by admitting, I have never done a flying change on purpose. Somehow it just hasn’t happened yet in my riding career, and simple changes have sufficed. But how many times do we land on the wrong lead/cross canter in this video? A lot.

With that in mind, we set up a relatively simple exercise of a figure 8 at the canter, with a 1′ cavaletti at the center. So, canter a 15 meter circle left, and ‘jump’ the cavaletti, ideally landing right, then reverse, rinse, and repeat. I understood the concept of shifting your weight midair in order to encourage the change, but I felt like some sort of monkey cowboy throwing my body around over the cavaletti.

After several attempts though, we did get our first change! It appears the name of the game for the moment is a way over exaggerated open rein and using my new outside leg as we go over the jump. Also, I must come in to the fence at an angle and correctly bent- every time I came in straight, or with his neck cocked to the side, we didn’t get it.

No pictures unfortunately!

No pictures unfortunately!

While at the end of the session we still weren’t getting them every time, it was much more consistent as I began to get the feel of changing my rein over the fence. Ideally, we will turn the fence into a pole, and then remove the pole and voila! Changes.

Looking forward to working on this fun new skill, and putting it in practice over real fences! Yay!

Resolution Check-In

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Since we’re about to end the first quarter of 2014, it seems a good time to see how we’re doing (or not doing) on our resolutions for the year. Let’s take a look 🙂

The Horse

Resolution 1: Move up to Novice with final score below 35 (or >67% in dressage)
We have gotten so close to this… or rather, the dressage score. Our score at the only Horse Trials this year is not worth noting, since I goofed so badly at the end of the XC course. If I hadn’t, we would have finished on that 35. At the Combined Training a couple weeks ago, we got a 66% in dressage… So this one is definitely doable, but not accomplished yet!

Resolution 2: Nail canter transitions
Well, this one we haven’t worked on pretty much at all. I’ve been babying him because of his fitness/condition and so avoided anything tough, like making him use his hind end to transition rather than his neck. With that said, he has actually gotten 7’s on them at the two shows this year! Sure surprised me!

Resolution 3: Not be embarrassed by lack of trot lengthenings
Nope, haven’t even touched this. Soon, hopefully!

I should have added 'not do shit braids' to my resolution list...

I should have added ‘not do shit braids’ to my resolution list…

The House

Resolution 1: Landscape front and backyard
We’ve made lots of progress in the backyard, taking out the big mamajama pine tree and lots and lots of scruffy small stuff. Now what we’re looking at is 6″+ of leaf mold/debris in most areas, that will have to be hauled away before we can seed. We’re trying to get this done soon before the summer hits and nothing grows, else we’ll be waiting till fall!

Resolution 2: Kitchen Transformation
Oh, this one I am *so* excited about! Right now we are collecting quotes for all the different projects, and hopefully we will have either wood floors or granite countertops by the summer! Squee!!

Resolution 3: Replace grody couch
Done!! The cats kind of pushed this one along, as *somebody* (cough, Elliot), decided to let us know he had a UTI by peeing on the couch, thus grodying said grody couch to the point that we didn’t want to even sit on it. We have now replaced it with a pretty new leather couch! Yay!

Hardwoods in the kitchen? Yes please!

Hardwoods in the kitchen? Yes please!

 

The Rest

Resolution 1: Take calcium supplements
So far so good! I found these caramel flavored ones that are like a little treat for me! Easy peezy!

Resolution 2: Not be a Red Bull zombie
Hahahahaha. Nope!

Resolution 3: Be more positive
Making some progress! Headed in the right direction, at the very least 🙂

A surprise outing for the husband's birthday, in which I proved I cannot bowl worth a crap, but did not embarrass myself otherwise!

A surprise outing for the husband’s birthday, in which I proved I cannot bowl worth a crap, but did not embarrass myself otherwise!

 

 

Case of the Skinnies

And alas, it’s not me.

Foster has been gaining and losing weight since our move three weeks ago, but unfortunately it has been a mostly downward trend. Earlier this week I was shocked to get to the barn and actually see his ribs, a difference that occurred within 2 days of my last visit. Of course my immediate reaction was to feel dramatic, and like a terrible horse owner. I hope I am not, but still I cannot decide what factor has contributed to this less-than-ideal body weight.

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I’m not sure if it’s the continuing bad weather that has caused the drop, the stress of the barn change, or any other number of things. Grass is of course minimal to non-existent, but he has a nice big round bale that he should be eating. He is on a weight gain supplement, and is getting heaps of Alfalfa mash every time I see him. His exercise has, if anything, decreased. And although he seems a little flinchy and spooky in the barn, he relaxes nicely when I ride him outside.

So, we’re adding to his grain and working with the barn managers to make sure he is blanketed well in the nightly below-freezing temps. He’ll be getting the next couple days to just sit and eat, and I’m hoping that he’s a bit plumper when I see him again on Sunday. If he doesn’t change by mid next week, I may be looking to switch supplements, increase grain again, or both. Meanwhile, I’ll be trying not to gorge myself on Cadbury eggs! Ugh, the irony!

Eat up, bud!

Eat up, bud!

 

Big [Horse-related] news

… I have decided to move Foster. It was a long-thought out, emotional decision, but one I had to make if I wanted any kind of life outside of work and horses. Since I started my new job, the commute to the barn has been much longer (50 minutes long), and has been taking a toll on me- mentally and physically.

The beautiful backdrop driveway for our current barn

The beautiful backdrop driveway for our current barn

Since I am also working later hours than I used to, it means I have been getting out to the barn close to 7 pm every night. Add in an hour and a half of ride time, basic grooming, and a 35 minute drive home and any kind of ‘down time’ doesn’t start until 9 pm. I know I should think of riding as down time, because it’s certainly not a chore, but let’s face it- everybody needs to veg out just a little bit. Not to mention my poor husband is already thinking about bed time at 9 pm, and frankly, so am I. All these reasons, plus the costs of gas meant the whole situation was less than ideal.

Another photo from our engagement shoot at the barn... oldest wood barn in NC!

Another photo from our engagement shoot at the barn… oldest wood barn in NC!

So I found a place that is closer to work – a whopping 15 minutes away, to be exact! Added bonus that it has an indoor arena, so I can ride even if it’s nasty outside. There are of course a couple compromises to be made, but I am hoping it will be a good fit for us.

Indoor arena at the new facility

Indoor arena at the new facility

I think the hardest thing about making this decision was the thought of leaving a wonderful group of fellow boarders that I have had for the past 3 years. These ladies are fun, fun, fun, and a nice down-to-earth type that I know I can rely on in a pinch. Luckily, they have all been super supportive of my decision and I desperately hope we all stay in touch after the move. It will be sad not to see their faces around the barn, but I hope I can make more barn friends at the new facility.

Fingers crossed that our big move [tomorrow] goes well!

Keeping all our fingers and toes: A successful lesson recap

The cooking of Thanksgiving dinner went off without a hitch, the turkey was perfect, the timing worked out, and no one died of food poisoning. Of course, in a small house with 9 people in it, something is bound to happen, but luckily this presented itself just after dinner, when one of the tables collapsed, sending red wine, candles, and leftovers to the floor. But no one died, so it’s OK.

Thanksgiving: Centerpieces, Good food, and English Christmas Cracker Crowns

Thanksgiving: Centerpieces, Good food, and English Christmas Cracker Crowns

Anyways, regarding that lesson… If you really want to watch part of it (and I won’t take offense if you don’t), here’s the video- otherwise pics and talking below!

Though the temps were definitely in the lower 30’s, we did indeed drag ourselves out to the trainer’s farm for a lesson this Sunday. Foster has been making progress with his canter transitions in the draw reins, and I was eager to report this to our instructor and take advantage of her beautiful mirror set up an focus on weaknesses in our trot- namely, lateral work and lengthenings.

Trotting

We warmed up at the walk and trot (and a bit of canter, in which there was minimal bracing -good boy!-) and then started with an exercise to get him thinking about crossing over behind. We were asked to do a head-to-the-wall leg yield, similar to a haunches in but with more angle. At the walk it’s okay to ask for more cross over than at the trot, and it helps stretch the muscles and get him mentally prepared for the real thing. Foster handled this exercise quite well, other than hopping up the bank that surrounded the dressage arena once (XC schooling and a dressage lesson- cool!).

Accidentally schooling banks...

Accidentally schooling banks…

Then we moved on to proper leg yields at the trot. Come down the quarterline, leg yield to B or E. Moving off of my left leg, the instructor describes him as a magnet to the wall, he tends to fall over too quickly. The solution to this, for now, is to break the leg yield into two parts, moving off the leg a few strides, then a stride going straight, then over again. This definitely helped Foster to balance and perform the movement more correctly. Moving off my right leg is more difficult, and I just need to be patient with him and if need be bring him back to a walk to explain more slowly what I am asking. We did get a couple leg yields done in this direction, it’s simply more difficult for him.

Leg Yield Left

Leg Yield Left

After a quick break to discuss we then moved on to shoulder in and then lengthenings. I explained that he doesn’t seem to have that 4th gear that my last two horses have had in the lengthenings- where they would explode off the ground and really enjoy the work, Foster gets a bit worried and rushing. One piece of advice I got is the try to verbally get him excited, which I will be sure to try at home and hope no one mocks me terribly. What also started to help was collecting, asking him to really sit on his haunches, and then drive forward for 12 meters or so. After doing this for some time I did finally feel a burst of impulsion when asking for the lengthening, and I think eventually this will help us get a true lengthening that last the diagonal length of the arena.

Shoulder In

Shoulder In

Overall, it was a great lesson and I have plenty to work on and new exercises to implement into our dressage schools. It was obvious to me that he is still a bit green, but every time he repeats an exercise he gets better. Foster felt great, and was very workmanlike the whole lesson, amazing for a 6 year old in freezing temperatures.

Good boy!

Good boy!

Video Critique: Dressage

Over the weekend Ali kindly videoed me in lieu of having a lesson. While there is nothing that can take the place of professional advice, it was extremely helpful to have a visual on what our flatwork looks like. The video mostly speaks for itself, but here is a partial critique of myself anyways.

I found watching the video that I was surprised- a few things looked better that they felt, and others the opposite.

Our canter lengthenings leave me with the most frustration. If I feel him coming apart I tend to lower my hands, and I let my reins get long (something that seems to happen throughout the ride). I would also like to see a more precise transition from working to lengthened canter. In the future I think I will practice these after the lateral work to help him swing through his back and get the engine going.

Reins getting a little long in the trot, but happier here with my leg-hip-shoulder alignment

Reins getting a little long in the trot, but happy here with my leg-hip-shoulder alignment

This is better

This is better

The lateral work is better than I expected, though the challenge to keep him supple and maintain energy throughout the movements still remains. I am however very pleased to see on video how straight he is moving! Also with my position, my hands tend to be better at the trot but I think I could benefit from a more flexible elbow, shorter reins and lifting my hands slightly to maintain the bit-to-elbow connection. I left out the shoulder-in left in the main video, here it is below:

Leg Yield: Foster is mostly straight, me, not so much

Leg Yield: Foster is mostly straight, me, not so much

Stepping under in the Shoulder In

Stepping under in the Shoulder In

In general I will be focusing more on my elbows and trying to wrap my leg around his barrel more. Watching this also really makes me want to pursue getting my knee blocks adjusted to help me keep a longer leg without getting into a chair-seat. Plenty to work on, for Foster and myself!

Compare this to when I first got him- he’s growing up!

More Rain (AKA tour our arena)

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So, this weekend we tried for a lesson, and then a makeup lesson, both of which were cancelled thanks to rain. And as I look out the window at the gloomy rain clouds, I’m pretty sure tomorrow’s jump lesson will be cancelled as well. 4 attempts at lessons cancelled in one week. Bummer.

So instead, I would like to show you the fences that have been recently painted by the ladies I board with. We happen to have a wonderful leader in Ali, who took it upon herself to build the chevron, the brand new brick wall, and organize painting days to make the jumps all scary as crap bright and shiny!

The brand new brick wall!

The brand new brick wall!

I applaud the first person to go over this fence- the brick wall itself is 2’6″ and with rails it’s a cool 3’3″.

Probably my favorite, the stone wall

Probably my favorite, the stone wall

A classic big brown oxer

A classic big brown oxer

Swedish Oxer with 'Liverpool'

Swedish Oxer with ‘Liverpool’

chevron

The first chevon, part of the two/three stride line

The above single chevron has been really great practice for a similar (albeit much less colorful version) at MacNair’s that seems to cause most horses problems. After riding this though, it was a piece of cake!

The scary chevron oxer

The scary chevron oxer

The golden gates gymnastics

The golden gates gymnastics

The idea with these jumps is that we can practice pretty much everything we might see at a show- and most of these jumps are way scarier! But because all of this is now second nature to our horses they (and we) have so much confidence entering the jump ring! Now we’ve just got to build up the courage to attack the new brick wall… Fingers crossed!