Lesson Recap and General Life Update

To say I have been busy would be a gross understatement. Between photoshoots, riding 2 horses, and you know, life, this little blog has fallen to the bottom of the list.

Something pretty much every day, all month.

Jack has been progressing hugely. His canter is less snowballing-out-of-control and is becoming lovely and adjustable. I am learning how to work through his tension and use lateral work to teach him balance and engagement. While this has obvious rewards in dressage, it was jumping last week that showed me how different he is now. That lesson was probably the most fun I have had jumping in almost 4 years- well before Foster started breaking down.

Lord knows, there is so much for me to improve on (oh hello swinging leg, I’ve missed you- not.). But Jack is really bringing me his best recently- not rushing, listening to my half halts, and forgiving all of my adult ammy stupidity. This was the first time that we jumped around at 2’7″ – 2’9″ since I tried him, and it just felt good.

I hope we can keep the pieces together and continue to progress like this… because it’s rides like this that leave me all smiles, and that’s what it’s all about.

 

Feel the Burn

This post’s cliché title brought on by my thighs and calves, which are somewhat unhappy with me after my attempted jump school this weekend.

But first, let’s recap. The last time I actually jumped was February 11th in the winter clinic at the Carolina Horse Park. The last time I kind-of-attempted-jumping was March 16, in which my calendar entry for that day (anyone else keep a ‘diary’ of their horse’s activities?) says “Foster jump no good”. And I remember that ride- it was the day after I scratched the CT due to his bad attitude and likely ulcers, and I wanted to try jumping just itty bitty things to see if even that would improve his attitude. News flash: it didn’t. We couldn’t jump a 2′ vertical on a 30 meter circle successfully.

Looking derpy with his noseband off center

Looking derpy with his noseband off center

So almost two months later, and a crap ton of gastrogard, we tried jumping again.

I was a bit schizophrenic setting up the arena, as I knew I wanted to keep it small but couldn’t decided how small to go. So I left the cross rail intact, made a somewhat soft angled two-stride line out of two 2′ (2’3″?) verticals. There was a one stride to a two stride made up of 2’6″ verticals in the arena that I left up, but it walked long, so I was a bit skeptical of it but left it up for kicks anyway.

For whatever reason, it took me about 15 minutes of walking around in my jump saddle before I felt comfortable enough to get going. Let me tell you, after being a DQ for the last few months, those stirrups felt really damn short. I also really feel like I (or my saddle, but it’s probably just me) slide left far too easily. I got over it though, and focused on weighting my right heel, warmed up, and took the cross rail.

I swear it was angled, really

I swear it was angled, really

Well, I won’t go into a ton of detail, but he was great. (Me- not so much, yikes where is my leg?) From the X we made a figure 8 over the small verticals before taking the angled line, which rode like a dream. Will definitely make be making the angle more severe for next time. After that I added in the 2’6″ brick wall fence, and really felt Foster bloom- he lifts his tail, he canter becomes active, and you can just tell he’s enjoying himself. We did that a few more times and then added in the 2 strides to another 2’6″ vertical, which as predicted rode so long that I didn’t bother with it again.

After about 20 minutes of actual work, Foster was puffing, I looked like a tomato, and on top of that was actually getting a bit light headed from the exertion and the heat. Called it a day and gave the pony lots of praise and attention for being happy and not killing me.

The jumping session really cemented how much he has changed thanks to the Gastrogard, but also served as a reminder of how much we (I) have to go to get back into shape!

The Competitor’s Toolbox: The Horse

The last aspect any competitor must consider, and equally if not most important aspect of equestrian competition, is the horse.

Without it, I suppose we could still compete, if only in a slightly, er, more humble sort of way.

 

But let’s be a bit more serious. The horse is our partner, and if he is not ready, we mere humans are woefully unable to compensate for the margin of error.

To be fair to the horse, we must ask what is reasonable of him in terms of both fitness and training. It is just as unjust to ask a horse to understand a new skill and execute it perfectly in a stressful environment as it is to push him to the extremes of his abilities and therefore compromise his soundness of body.

Derp faces abound

Derp faces abound

On the rider’s part, we alone are responsible for ensuring our mounts are physically ready to compete at the level we are to demand of them. Foster, for instance, is half warmblood, and as such, requires more work to get his cardiac fitness ready for anything more than Beginner Novice. Looking forward to Training level, it’s up to me to get my horse prepared by incorporating conditioning rides into our regular schedule. Mind-numbingly boring though they may be, that comes with the territory of having a [part] warmblood. Luckily, the reward is worth the work- galloping cross country on a fit (read: non-laboring) and happy horse is an amazing feeling, and gives me an accomplished feeling without ever having jumped a fence.

The second part of this is the horse’s mental preparation. Is the horse completely comfortable with the exercises we are asking him to compete at the show? Knowing that in most competition settings there is going to be some level of distraction, whether that be a horse lunging, a dog barking, or a flag flapping in the wind, keeping the experience positive can live or die by your horse being mentally prepared.

If I’m honest, right now I feel that Foster is more than prepared for Training level dressage, which to me is the equivalent of First level [pure] dressage. The jumping, as is usual, we’re teetering on the edge of being prepared. My goal is to feel comfortable jumping 3’6″ courses before doing any kind of horse trials- this so that when I walk up to a wide Training table on cross country that I won’t pee in my pants with fear (though I’m sure I still will, nonetheless). We’re not quite there yet, the recent snow especially messing things up, but that’s my requirement before moving up to a full 3 phase event. That’s the bar that makes me comfortable asking my horse to complete a task at a show.

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Horses are the entire reason we compete in equestrian events, and therefore must be at the forefront of our competition considerations. With that in mind…

What do you do to get your horse mentally and physically fit for competition? What aspects of this do you struggle with? How do you decide if your horse is ready to move up a level?

 

Blanket Fitting and Jumping 3′ Again

Potentially the most boring title ever, but it’s Monday and my caffeine hasn’t kicked in yet. Judge away.

I tried the new Weatherbeeta blanket on Foster Friday evening, and while the body of the blanket fits him rather well, the neck attachment is a bit big, and bunches around his withers. I guess he has the body of a 78″ horse, but not the neck? Nonetheless, we’re keeping it- I don’t think the extra fabric will rub him (since it bunches over the blanket underneath, not directly on his neck).

photo 1 (21)Unfortunately I can’t say the same for the sweet deal on the leather halter. This full sized halter can barely be buckled at the throatlatch, even with the crown piece at its longest. Sad face- but I guess not everything works out.

photo 2 (22)

In other news, it was actually super nice weather this weekend (even if it was on the cold side), and yesterday we made it out to the jump arena. The jumps were already set up between 3′ and 3’3″, so I decided to give it a whirl- with all the rain coming with week, it’s best to make the most of the outdoor while I can.

Foster was an absolute star, especially since he hasn’t schooled this height since the XC schooling a month ago. The course wasn’t complex, two 4 stride lines and some singles, but it was nice to feel competent again over this size fences. For his part, Foster also was feeling good, and definitely felt more up than he has in a while thanks to bigger fences. With the exception of the pink oxer in one corner that I absolutely despise, we got all of our distances and left all the poles up. I did ride with my dressage whip expecting him to be a little lazy, and in the beginning while we were warming up it was definitely handy. Might be trying to incorporate that at shows too, before switching to my bat before going in the arena. Just things to ponder- in any case, the ride left me super excited for the season!

In other news, this weekend marked one month of Foster being on Ultium– looking forward to comparing images of his best back side tomorrow!

 

Back to Jumping

Last night I donned my turtleneck, and Foster his open fronts, and we headed out to the jump arena in an effort to start building up our stamina again over fences. After riding in a dressage saddle for the better part of the season (and this being my comfort zone in general), I will admit I was a bit anxious to head out to the outdoor for the first time in weeks in the (in my mind) spooky dark.

No jumping pics!

no jumping pics, sorry

Luckily, I need not have worried. Foster trotted around the arena feeling cool as a cucumber. I had set up 3 canter poles, a basic cross rail, and two 2’7″ish fences- one vertical and one oxer.

We spent much of our time over the cross rail, just going back and forth working on straightness and landing on the correct lead. Then I would take him around the arena, over the canter poles, and roll back to either the oxer or the vertical. I wouldn’t say it was super pretty- we had one long spot, one deep spot, and one hell of an over jump, but for his first real jump schooling since mid-November’s cross country school, I’m not complaining.

breaking up walls of text

breaking up walls of text

Moral of the story? There’s no reason for me to be a pansy about jumping in the outdoor in the dark. Cavaletti and canter poles will become our friends, whether they like it or not. And it will take some time to build back up to jumping training level courses, but we’ll get there eventually.

Since it’s going to be frigid tonight and absolutely frozen tomorrow, Foster will get the next couple nights off- I like having all 5 fingers on each hand, thank you very much.

Freaking cold

Freaking cold

We should get back in the saddle Friday, and maybe even get in another jumping attempt this weekend. Until then, stay warm, my friends!

Tooling around

My philosophy when it comes to dressage and riding in general is pretty classical. I believe in creating a solid foundation of basics, and try to be disciplined in not skipping steps before progressing to the next thing. Sometimes my insistence on perfecting the basics of dressage holds me back from practicing new skills, but that’s another story for another time.

In general, I abhor tools that help riders cut corners. I’ll never be impressed by the horse that only goes ’round’ in side reins, or in an elevator bit. (Side story- when I first started riding Ivan I spent months retraining him in a snaffle, because his former trainer/consigner was trying to sell him as a 1st level horse in an elevator bit.) However, there are times when these ‘tools’ can find a place in a classically influenced program.

After many discussions with my dressage trainer, we decided to try riding Foster in draw reins to improve his canter transitions. Traditionally the weakest part of our tests, Foster loves earning 6’s by using his neck to pull himself into the transition, causing him to go momentarily hollow before coming back into the bridle. It’s been very hard to train out of him, because conformationally his underneck is a very big, strong muscle (though much smaller than it used to be). While he is not trying to be disobedient, I struggle physically with showing him how not to engage those muscles for balance. The use of draw reins in these transitions helps me maintain a round topline and connection, and I am quick to release and praise him, hopefully teaching him that this is the correct approach to transitions.

Coming back into the bridle

Coming back into the bridle

My last lesson was in draw reins, as I wanted a professional to watch the way I rode and confirm that I am using them in a correct way. I feel quite clumsy having so much in my hands, but I feel I’ve got the hang of it now. The plan is to ride in this way for 4 rides before taking them off, because obviously I don’t want to create dependency on them. This weekend was ride #2 in the reins, and I’m anxious to see how he goes in that first ride away from them.

Round canter is round

Round canter is round

Similarly in the jumping world, I have been exploring new bits. Generally I ride in a full cheek Waterford, which solved the issue of Foster’s bracing and rushing a couple years ago. Now that I feel like I have solid brakes, and need something with leverage to break the poll. I previously tried the Waterford Baucher, which made Foster break at the poll but also lowered his neck and sent him on the forehand. At the advice of my last lesson, we discussed a Wonder Bit, and I finally was able to try the below model yesterday.

metalab+loop+ring+gag+oval

Color me impressed- he was uphill, softer, and engaged, and I felt like I had good control without going overboard. I set up some fun jumps in the arena, including a faux (tarp) liverpool and fan oxer and played with bending lines and collection/lengthenings. Everything rode really well, and I’m hoping to repeat the experience and make sure it wasn’t just a fluke!

photo (8)

So overall, it’s been a weekend of experimenting and twinging our regular program to incorporate new tools.

Show Recap: Hunter/Jumper Land Overall Impressions

So now you’ve read the run down of our first and second days at our first real hunter/jumper show, and you’re probably sitting on the edge of your seat with anticipation wondering, “what now? Will they make the jump (pun intended) to hunter/jumper land permanently? *gasp*”.

Let me end your pretend anxiety and say, probably not. However, I was thoroughly surprised to find that I did not see evidence of many stereotypes I had in my head of the hunter/jumper crowd, and that I would certainly be willing to enter a hunter/jumper show again, if only for a day rather than the weekend-long shebang.

Here are the overall Pro’s and Con’s I experienced over the weekend. In hopes that I won’t offend any hunters out there, keep in mind that this is a first real H/J experience for someone who has only done Dressage and Eventing for the last 10 years.

photo 3 (2)

The Pro’s:

Warm up
These trainers have obviously taken the time to school their students in proper warm-up ring etiquette, and it showed. Calling fences or inside/outside, as well as staying out of the way when standing, were all observed. Considering that I was warming up with people mostly half my age (yay 2’6″ classes!), this was all the more impressive. I feel like at any typical event I am the lone voice in the warm up arena and have been known to yell at more than one person for not calling out their warm-up fences. So, eventers, let’s get our act together.

No snobbery
I’ll be honest, I fully expected to see a bit of hunter/jumper princessness while I was here. Instead, I saw a lot of down-to-earth people and comraderie amongst the competitors.

Adding/scratching classes is awesome
Especially for people who can’t make up their minds (*cough* like myself, Sunday morning), this was a great feature to the show. The downside of course being that nothing can be scheduled down to the minute like at an event, but it still comes in handy.

photo

part of our badly abuse class-sheet

Legit Jumper Courses
This was pretty cool to see. The level of difficulty was exactly what was expected, and I thought it was still fair throughout the different heights. It might have been neat to ride through a triple combination, but that’s about all that was missing from the courses. Thumbs up from me!

Footing
Also known as water/drag all the things! These people mean business about footing, and the water trucks and tractors came and went so much they had it down to a science.

Turnout
All the pretty ponies, and all the pretty people! And even though I am fond of wearing my Ugly Boots and Ugly Pants to horse shows, it was kind of nice to pretend to be part of the fancy crowd all weekend.

The Ugly Boots (shown here) came along for the trip, luckily the Ugly Pants (also shown here) stayed at home

The Ugly Boots (shown here) came along for the trip, luckily the Ugly Pants (also shown here) stayed at home

No timers
Obviously for the hunter classes, there’s no obnoxious buzzer sending you on your merry way. Not gonna lie, at the end of day 2, this was something Foster and I were seriously appreciating. Thank you, hunter gods, for not asking us to be relaxed and fast. Thank you.

photo 1 (3)

The Con’s:

The Wait
I know you were expecting this. Waiting around with no schedule sucks. To be fair, I understand why (note my earlier comment about scratching classes), but there is definitely something to be said for knowing exactly when you are going, and being able to plan your day accordingly.

Inconsistent Judging
Maybe it’s my uneducated eye, but I could not find rhyme or reason between the  different judges. And really, I’m talking about flat classes. Where I thought I saw a relaxed ‘hunter-type’ with big strides, swinging movement, and relaxed demeanor, the horse that was clenching it’s jaw and avoiding contact by head-tilting pinned. Or in another arena, when I though a horse and rider produced a nice outline/frame, the horse that had it’s nose to the sky placed. I just couldn’t understand how the scoring was done, and this was a bit frustrating- adding to the mysteries of hunteryness.

The Clothes
And specifically, the rules about what’s OK and what’s not. Your boots need non-functioning laces, the saddle pad must be fitted (or non-existent, the route we went), your breeches must be knee patch, etc, etc. In the (mostly) form-follows-function world of eventing wardrobe, some of these things just made my eyes roll.

Feeling sneaky riding in Full-seats that don't look like Full-Seats!

Feeling sneaky riding in Full-seats that don’t look like Full-Seats!

Confusing class descriptions
Again, totally based on my ignorance as an eventer, but seriously- who comes up with these names? Even checking the state’s Hunter-Jumper Association doesn’t immediately describe what a Special Hunter was, and asking multiple people about the difference between Special Hunter and Pre-Green Hunter didn’t seem to clear up the difference. So. much. confusion.

Photography
It was pretty amazing to see how much more expensive the photography was at this C rated show than it is at any event. And sure, maybe it’s because the clientele are willing to pay that prices, in which case, good for the photographer. But hot damn, that’s a lot of money! Maybe I’m just bitter because they got 4 photos of me, and they were some of the worst photos I have seen in my life. I watched the videos, I know our level of awkwardness wasn’t quite that bad. Maybe next time, Mr. Photographer.

Foster and one of our 2 4th place ribbons!

Foster and one of our 2 4th place ribbons!

Overall Take-away
When it really comes down to it, this weekend was a wonderful opportunity to get in the jump arena in a low-pressure kind of way. I was able to somewhat successfully implement and learn a new technique, expose Foster to new types of fences, and take in a lot of knowledge about a new discipline. I learned a lot about what my horse can handle, and where his fitness limits are, which, though frustrating at the time, is really useful in preparing for future competitions.  So all-in-all, this was a good experience and I’ll be keeping an eye on the hunter/jumper calendar next year in case another opportunity comes up to visit hunter/jumper land again!

Tonight, we return to the world of dressage with another lesson with Eliza. Until next time, hunter/jumper land!

Getting desperate

For a lesson, that is. I feel like I’m at a point in Foster’s training where I’m chasing my tail. Instead of progressing forward, I’m routinely checking in and picking at tiny nuances that are appropriate for the level we’re at. Case in point- I’ve been meaning to work on lengthenings ALL YEAR. Have we? Nope!

Getting Foster ready for another lengthening-less ride

Getting Foster ready for another lengthening-less ride

So I’m ready for a lesson. Many lessons, in fact. Even if it’s temporary, I would like to start some kind of program where we are pushed to work on things outside our comfort zone. Like jumping combinations, and lengthenings. How the fritz am I supposed to move up to Training if we aren’t even practicing Training level things? Corners, coffins, triple combinations… I mean hello?! Wake up Britt and smell the sawdust- it ain’t happening at this rate.

Mane is show ready finally, with no show in sight

Mane is show ready finally, with no show in sight

In an effort to get on the right track, I have a dressage lesson scheduled for Saturday morning. It’s been since December when I last saw Eliza, and I am very curious to see what she thinks of where we are now. And I am a little ashamed of not progressing much in the last 6 months. I guess craptastic weather + traveling + new barn + weight loss + mystery swelling are excuses, but still…

Also, my horse is a dirty pig. Another good excuse for not lessoning?

Also, my horse is a dirty pig. Another good excuse for not lessoning?

But I did say *many* lessons. And since 1 lesson does not many lessons make, I am on the hunt for what to do. Since I am gone every weekend in August (that’s right, every. weekend.), trailering out to our regular lesson place is not an option. So, I may be looking to what’s available at my current barn. Lots of trainers come in for various boarders, and I’ve just got to choose who to ask. But herein lies a question- is a lesson a good thing no matter what, or does it really matter who the trainer is? When you are desperate for feedback, does it matter who the eyeballs belong to? What do you guys think? How do you decide?

Fork CT Show Prep

Somehow, it’s June already, and the Combined Training show that seemed so far away is now just days off.

Right now, I’m feeling a lot of pressure, and I know it’s because I will have an unusual audience this weekend- my family. While my mum has come to a couple of my horse shows over the past several years, it’s basically been since high school that my parents really came to watch me compete. It should be noted that my mother taught me almost everything I know about horses, and spent many, many years successfully reselling OTT TB’s, and then running a just as successful warmblood breeding program. Her good opinion means a lot to me.

Mum meets Foster for the first time, about 30 days into my owning him

Mum meets Foster for the first time, about 30 days into my owning him

Add to that, that the last time my mother saw Foster a couple years ago (she’s only met him twice), he decided to be an uncharacteristic brat and actually ran away (kind of) with my sister. So we’ve got to prove that I did not buy myself a crazy, pig headed animal and that he is in fact the awesome-tastic beast that we all know and love.

After his bout of naughtiness, I give my sister a mini-lesson and we ended on a good note!

After being a naughty pony, Foster calms down and teaches sister about stretching.

So, I’m trying to tell myself to keep it simple, stupid, and stick with the plan of having just a couple goals for the show. The first is to again ride every corner, every turn, every fence. While my parents know I can be a ditz, let’s not go showing it off for them! I’m going to change up my warm up a little by doing a little less stretching (like, 10 minutes instead of 20) and incorporate some bright transitions instead.

And then for jumping- maintain a forward but uphill rhythm to each fence. This in addition to last show’s goal of soft elbows. I had an absolutely craptastic jump school this weekend (not his fault, but mine), which has made me lose confidence a bit, so this week I am going to get A to come check me out jumping and make sure I don’t eff up my horse before the show. Ugh.

I is good pony, I swear.

I is good pony, I swear.

Tonight, we ride dressage!

 

 

Holy Hamstrings

… and quads, for that matter.

Well, I finally got my jump school in, after setting up 5 jumps in the small sand arena between 2’9″ and 3′. Foster was a really good boy and was jumping well with some pace (I think, at least it felt like a good pace) but I was a hot mess. I got left behind. My lower leg swung all over the place. I roached my back. Ugly.

Regressing back to 2012, when this was taken... Oh hello swinging leg!

Regressing back to 2012, when this was taken… Oh hello swinging leg!

To be a little fair to myself, it’s quite a tight space, with enough wiggle room for 3 strides before and after the jump at the widest part, so I was mostly focused on A) getting over the fence and B) not dying in the process. But I do wish all that muscle memory for jumping position was still there while I was at it!

So I went out there again last night and set up a gymnastic that I could work over. With no measuring tape I just walked the distances, and set up a crossrail-to-crossrail bounce, one stride to a 2’7″ vertical, two strides to a 3′ vertical.

After dashing out there this morning before work I hopped on and had a go of it. I remembered quite quickly that Foster doesn’t have a 12′ stride when the bounce became a one stride (what? woops!) and the two stride became 2 1/2. Ugh! So I interrupted my ride to shuffle fences around and try it again. We went through it a couple times, and I was somewhat able to focus on my position, and I felt my leg and shoulders improve quite a bit.


(Grid struggles from the clinic)

As I was cantering around, I was trying to remember all the handy pointers from the clinic, and ride with a longer rein, lower hands, and get my butt out of the saddle. While somewhat successful remembering the first two, the latter was still just as difficult. I just flat out haven’t practiced two point due to my lack of jumping for the past few weeks, and man, does it show.

Even Foster gets tired sometimes of carting my butt around...

Even Foster gets tired sometimes of carting my butt around…

So that’s where we are- a heavy butt, sore legs, and arms that feel black and blue from moving 54,230 jump standards around this week. But luckily, I’m not so worried about Foster’s stamina as much as mine for this weekend! While I know it will really only come with practice and time…if you have a magic Hulk formula for riding stamina… Please share!