Monday, March 12, 2018

Clinic with Katie Hoefs-Martin

Dressage judge and grand prix rider Katie Hoefs-Martin had a clinic at my barn.  I was a little worried Cupid wouldn't be feeling up to it in time, but after a week off I had good rides on Saturday and Sunday and felt ready to go.  Our outdoor (dressage court) was also ready - it has been closed due to the rain.  Since I hadn't ridden in it lately I was worried Cupid would be spooky, but it ended up not being a problem.

I got on Cupid about 10 minutes before our ride time to start warming up, just walking around the arena to get loose and let him see everything.  Then Katie told me to just warm up as I normally would while she observes.  Is that a trick question??  I trotted some 20 meter circles and did some changes of direction on the diagonal.

During our ride we focused mainly on my outside rein connection (same as in my lessons, imagine that!).  Katie said I need to think about directing Cupid through his shoulders, not his nose and neck.  We did a lot of counterflexion to help with straightness.  Then Katie hopped on Cupid and said she can see why I keep losing his shoulders.  After a few minutes Cupid looked transformed.

Katie, who is this horse and what have you done with Cupid??
He looked like this a few minutes ago
My hands have minds of their own.  My inside hand usually drifts inside, and tries to use a direct rein to keep Cupid on the circle.  My outside hand will just let the rein go slack, and occasionally cross over the neck.  And my right hand will always be either/both half open or twisting into "piano hands."  So Katie told me to think about having my inside hand down by Cupid's shoulder, and my outside hand a few inches out.  (Obviously exaggerations and not what I actually want long run, but just something to think about to get my hands where they should be.)  I fix it, but a few strides later they start wandering again - it's a work in progress!

Then Katie told me to increase the contact and just hold it steady, and keep my leg on.  Silly as it sounds, it's a foreign concept to me.  I've never ridden any of my horses with that much contact.  But Cupid responded without much fuss, quickly dropping his nose.  I could be way off, but I would estimate it to about 3 lbs pressure in the reins.We drifted in and out of it a few times, but again, progress. 
Ok, looking better (I just need to sit up. And bring my lower leg forward)
Then it was time for some canter work.  Again we struggled with the left lead, not getting it our first several tries.  Katie said this goes back to controlling his shoulders - I need to keep his inside shoulder light.  I normally make my circle smaller and ask for the canter as I leg yield back out.  Katie suggested the opposite - stay on the circle, counterflex, and leg yield in as I ask.  This method wasn't foolproof (due to pilot error I'm sure), but we did get it twice.  Hopefully seeing the chiro on Thursday will help too!

Overall I really enjoyed riding with Katie, and felt like Cupid and I took a small step forward in our dressage journey.  Though then I was a little confused, is this how I should ride Cupid from now on??  And should have been riding him all along??  I had a brief chat with my trainer after, she said don't worry we won't get there in one lesson and has a plan on how to slowly incorporate everything.  Now if I could just get my darned body under control!

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Centaur Climate Control Polo Wraps Review

Several people at my barn have raved about the Eskadron Climatex polos.  However, I'm lazy and prefer boots to polos so I balked at spending about $65/pair on them for the rare occasion I might use them.  But I did decide to buy some knock-offs for fun (white, perhaps for a dressage clinic some day) - the Centaur Climate Control, at $18 per pair with an additional 20% off during Riding Warehouse's black Friday sale.

The Centaurs are 9 feet long (compared to 9.5 feet for Eskadron, but the Centaurs a little wider from what I recall), split equally between the plush "moisture-wicking, highly ventilated cushioning material" and "stretchy supportive wrap".  This makes it easy to wrap, since you know exactly when you're at the halfway point and should start wrapping back up.  The first half feels like a terry-cloth type material.  I'm not a huge fan of the double lock velcro - they have to line up just right (which I'm getting the hang of), and even so then you end up with the end tab facing inside.  Aside from that, I'm happy with the purchase for the pricepoint.  I don't know if they last as long as Eskadrons (thought I've seen some pretty ratty Eskadrons), for my limited use I think they'll be just fine.  Obviously I haven't tried them in the heat yet though!

Dressage horse chic

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Drivers Ed

At a bit of a loss on Cupid's prognosis, I decided to give him a few days off.  So we've been doing a lot of groundwork this week.  My trainer gave me a refresher course on ground driving, and we did that on Monday and Tuesday.  Cupid seems happy doing it, and from what I could tell walking behind him he looked pretty good.  He oversteps nicely at the walk (clearing his front hoofprints by about an inch).  He was not pokey in the trot, I have to hussle a bit to keep up!  My trainer told me to work on the same things I've been doing in the saddle, keeping my elbows by my side and making sure there is steady contact in the outside rein. 

The first day we mostly just went around the arena and across the long diagonals, practicing walk-halt-walk transitions and walk-trot-walk.  The second day I added some shallow serpentines too.  I still have a little trouble with Cupid cutting corners, but it's been fun.

Today we did groundwork.  Cupid was good with the things we've done before: halting and walking forward on voice/body commands, yielding his haunches, backing up, sending forward.  He was a little confused backing up between two poles.  Then when I asked him to step over a pole with just his front legs and stop, he thought that was super confusing.  Once he was okay with that, I asked him to sidepass over it he was completely baffled.  We did practice a little sidepass the other day in front of the arena fence, but it did not seem to translate.  So when he took the smallest sideways step I gave him big praise.  Eventually we were able to get several steps, though we need to keep working on it.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Horse Show No Show

I was planning to do some hunter rounds at a local schooling show this weekend.  Then he started feeling a little tight so we haven't been jumping, and I thought we would just do flat classes.  But over the past week Cupid hasn't felt any better.  I rode him Friday, and again Saturday and if he felt even a little better I would have gone and just done the walk/trot.  But if anything he feels worst.  I don't know.  He's not lame, and his attitude has been very good - usually if he's not feeling well he let's me know and doesn't want to work at all!  He looks fine, but he just isn't moving as freely as usual.  I hope the chiro helps him, if not I'll have the vet take a look.

I've joked before that Cupid suffers from seasonal affective disorder.  I'm not sure about that, but he can get a little funny when the seasons change. 
Cupid (left) and friend

He doesn't mind missing the show!
Cupid and I went for a walk around the property.  Someone put up some flags and balloons.  Cupid stared a little, but was okay walking by.
Sees balloons

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Back on Track Saddle Pad

I recently added to my Back on Track ("BoT") collection with a new saddle pad.  Though they looked nice, I've always balked at the price.  I usually buy saddle pads on sale for $10-15, and though I've learned the hard way a few I don't like I have several in that price range that have worked out quite well for me.  But then a friend generously gave me a Contender pad, which is a BoT saddle pad with a thinline half pad built in - best thing ever!!  The underside is a soft, almost fleecy material and the contoured shape is perfect for Cupid and my saddle.  It's the only saddle pad where I can put both my billets through the billet keeper (usually I can only do the rear one since I have a point billet in front, but the BoT pads have two keepers that fit my saddle perfectly.)  I haven't used it in the summer, but per the description it is breathable and wicks away sweat.  So when I saw the pads were included in Riding Warehouse's sale, and they now had the dressage pad in navy blue, I had to have it!
Why yes, Dressage Sports Boots come in navy too!
I don't know if the ceramic technology helps Cupid or not, but it couldn't hurt.  The quality seems worth the price regardless, so I'll be looking to add more as some of my other pads get retired.

Our rides have been pretty light the last week due to family events and work being very busy.  My trainer rode Cupid on Tuesday when I had to cancel my lesson due to work.  She said he was super, but she also had trouble picking up the left lead.  She said the transition and canter to the right has improved a lot though.  She still thinks he's tight in his shoulders, and that it isn't anything to be too worried about, see how he feels after he sees the chiropractor.  And then if he still seems amiss talk to the vet.  Unfortunately the chiro isn't available for another 2 weeks though, so in the meantime I'm going to keep trying stretches and reading up on the Masterson Method a bit.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Too Cold!!

All this week it's been in the 30s in the morning - way too cold for this California girl!  On Wednesday Cupid and I took a vote, and it was unanimous in favor of staying in the barn and not riding. :p 
Big nope to leaving the stall!
So on Thursday I forced myself to tough it out and do a lesson.  The covered arena was being worked on, so we went to the outdoor.  Cupid started a little fresh, and I was pretty much just trying to survive the cold and not really using my seat to slow him.  As I suspected, he got tired of speed trotting pretty quick and settled down to work.

I continued focusing on my upper body, primarily arms.  We had a few nice moments going to the right, where my trainer said Cupid was on the bit.  The left was more difficult, I just can't seem to keep my right hand from floating forward, or resort to pulling the inside rein.  My trainer was telling me to make sure I'm not on the inside rein as I ask for canter, so I was pushing my inside hand forward and then realized I have no contact at all since my outside rein isn't engaged but try as I might I just couldn't get coordinated to do it.  I may have to revisit holding the whip in both hands to keep them together.  Not surprisingly we struggled with getting the left lead, but I felt my balance was so bad it almost wasn't even fair to ask.

Sensing my frustration, my trainer had me trot in a 20 meter circle, then counterbend on the circle to feel the outside rein.  Then use my inside leg to straighten him (resulting in a slight inside bend, since we were on a circle), keeping the outside rein steady.  Then I would ride a 10 meter circle to the inside of the big circle, pushing my inside hand forward to test the connection.  Then when I was back on the big circle, big trot a few strides, collect a bit and back to the outside bend when I feel I'm starting to lose the connection.

On Friday we had a fun day with cavaletti and poles.  Cupid was pretty pokey, but I blame it on the cold.  Keeping him going in the canter was somewhat laughable, we did break gait several times.  But we did get the left lead canter on first ask, starting from the right lead and going down the diagonal with a trot change before we get back on the rail.  We did a circle exercise over a pole and 2 cavaletti, first starting to the right at the trot, then canter.  It was a little sloppy with us breaking into the trot a few times, but otherwise ok.  We took a walk break before doing it to the left.  We started at the trot, and were able to pick up the correct lead and go once through before we broke back to the trot.  I let Cupid trot a bit (because it is cold and it is hard work keeping him cantering!) but eventually we got the canter back and made it once around.  I told him he's a good boy and ended on that.

He'd rather wear it over his face then lift his nose from the bucket long enough to get it over his head!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Post-Clinic Rides

Even though I was very excited to get to work on my improvements, I though it's only fair I give Cupid Sunday off.  :p  I had Monday off (yay!) so I could wait to ride until the outdoor arena was groomed.  Cupid was very good in the outdoor, not distracted by the piles of stuff stored outside the ring like he sometimes can be.  I was working hard on keeping my shoulders and elbows back, and even weight in my seatbones.  Cupid's ears kept flicking back; he sensed something was different but wasn't quite sure if I was asking him to do something.  We did serpentines, circles, changes on the diagonal, and of course some leg yielding, staying at walk and trot.  We kept it pretty simple, so I can focus on my elbows and proper alignment. 

On Tuesday we had a lesson.  Despite the cold, Cupid was relatively forward in our walk warm up.  He was wearing his wool exercise sheet, which seems to help.  I was continuing to focus on my elbows.  It still feels unnatural, and I can feel the pulling across the fronts of my shoulders where I am tight.  I'll have to figure out stretches or exercises I can do in the gym to help with that.

Cupid did a mini spook the first two times we went on one of the short sides, and my trainer said it was probably the coops (jumping, not chicken) that were on the other side of the wall.  So I let Cupid look over the wall, and he snorted and balked a few seconds but then ignored them the rest of the ride.

We did a fairly long trot set, mostly 20 meter circles and serpentines, before going into canter.  We started to the right, and the new arm position felt especially odd in the transition since I'm so used to shortening the reins and holding my hands up the neck.  My trainer noticed that I had made a conscious effort to hold my elbows, and said that must have felt strange but keep doing it.  We completed our 20 meter circle and headed up the long side.  Cupid's canter got a little bigger than usual, but this time I was a little more comfortable than the last time he did it and just continued on as I was.  We circled on the short side and down the next long side, then another complete lap.  We changed direction and I got the left lead on the second try, but we broke on the long side.  That same spot, a few strides out from the corner we always seem to have a problem.  (Meaning I should know it's coming and make sure I keep my leg on!!)  I think it took 3 tries to get the left lead canter back, with me resisting the urge to use my inside rein.  Though I did make our circle a little smaller when we finally got it.  We went back down the other long side (where we usually don't have a problem breaking), and down transitioned on a circle on the short side.  A little stretchy trot before a walk break.
It's an improvement from before.

We ended with another trot set doing leg yield exercises both down the rail and on the circle.  On the circle we leg yielded out to get on the outside rein, then I would push my inside hand forward to test the connection and ask for a bigger trot, before shortening again then back to the leg yield out.  My trainer said Cupid was responding positively to the changes I'm making, and was carrying himself better and more through.  Apparently the past 3+ years now he's just been waiting for me to get my act together!