Friday, July 20, 2018

Mini Trail Ride and Lessons

It's been a few weeks since we've hit the trails, so I was hoping to go out last weekend.  Unfortunately my usual trail riding buddy wasn't available, and I didn't want to go out alone (just in case!)  So instead I invited one of my barn mates for a hack around our own property.  It was a nice sunny day, and we had a good time walking around while chatting.  I also found someone else at my barn who might be interested in going trail riding.  She said her horse has experience but it's been a few years, but he's usually as good as his company which is the same for Cupid.
There's the ocean under a layer of fog
Our rides have been going well.  We had two lessons this week.  In our dressage lesson we were doing shoulder-in on a circle, then straightening (still on the circle) into a bigger trot.  I wasn't really getting it at first and my trainer pointed out that I was collapsing through my ribcage.  Once I corrected that, I still couldn't feel as much bend/displacement of the shoulders that I was seeking (it's hard for me to feel it on a circle!) but when I straightened I could feel a huge improvement in the trot - it felt much lighter.  My trainer said right now that's what we're looking for. 

Our canter work also felt pretty good, though going to the left Cupid still has a tendency to break into a trot.  It tends to happen in the same spots around the arena, I think where the footing is a bit deeper, so sometimes I can anticipate it and try to keep him going but today I was surprised because the canter felt really good, not behind the leg.  I'm a bit worried because the Training 3 test has a longer canter to the left (of course!)  My trainer said I need to be a bit more firm telling him that is incorrect.  Usually I just curse under my breath, reorganize, and eventually ask for the canter again - she said I need to tap-tap with the whip right away, even if I take a moment after to reorganize before asking again. 

We also had a "jump" lesson.  Our course was actually just trotting over trot poles, picking up a canter and going over some cavaletti (trot changes after the cavaletti if we don't land on the correct lead), then back to a trot for a little 1' crossrail.  I enjoy these little courses when I'm not worried about the actual jumps!  I can just focus on straightness and getting to the base of the jumps.  My trainer said my eye is getting better - I don't know about that but I do feel more secure.
New shoes

Friday, July 13, 2018

Keeping it Clean

Well two days later that fly sheet isn't looking so white anymore!! 
I've been cleaning Cupid's wound every day - squirting chlorhexidine with a syringe then Neosporin.  It's a little sensitive to the touch, but he's been a good boy about it and it doesn't seem to affect him much otherwise.  It's on his hip so I can't wrap it, but I've been taping gauze over it to keep it clean and that's also why he's been wearing the fly sheet, to help keep the gauze in place.  I don't have the good elasticon just some cheap sticky medical tape from Walgreens, but surprisingly it has stayed in place.
Redneck medicine
We had a super lesson today!  I started off... rough.  We were in the outdoor, and Cupid was perfect last time but this time he decided that something on one long side was going to eat him.  So we started a 20m circle, with 10m circles on the spooky side to make him focus.  I was feeling pretty no-nonsense today and a bit firmer than usual.  It took less than 10 minutes before Cupid decided it was no big deal anymore, and the rest of the lesson went really well. 

We had probably our best canter work to date, continuing the exercise of doing the 20m circle with some 10m circles inside.  I don't think we've ever cantered a 10m circle, but it felt balanced.  All that work turning off the outside rein is paying off!  The right is still our better side but the difference isn't as obvious. 

We finished with trot work that included between a small circle to shoulder in, straighten to a big medium trot, and a slight outward bend with a slight (or just feeling of) leg yield.  It's starting to come together! 

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Summer's Start

Cupid and I have had a relatively quiet week plus since the show - aside from a text from the barn last night that he came in from turnout with an injury.  Nothing serious luckily, but I appreciate that they both noticed and told me about it.  It is finally starting to feel like summer, though we still have plenty of cool days interspersed. 
You know it's summer when the grass turns to weeds

Lessons have continued to focus on improving connection, and making sure I'm beginning turns off my outside rein.  I'm a slow learning but starting to get the hang of it!  I've also been requesting some time on the lunge line about every other week so I can hopefully build muscle memory doing it correctly.  I think it's also helped my coach be more aware of some of Cupid's tendencies - things like finding an excuse to break gait if you get distracted; anticipating what we're doing; when he doesn't want to carry himself; and that he does tire a bit going to the left and picking up that lead will get more difficult if he's a bit tired.

I've been trying to make sure I'm not constantly drilling him, and add variety to the routine.  So on Saturday I rode him around the property including some paths which have recently been made usable again after getting a bit overgrown, before dropping into the outdoor ring for a little trot work, then continuing around.  We did a day of ground driving, and another day of in-hand work.  We practiced backing up straight between two poles, then I had Cupid step over a pole with just his front feet and side pass down.  He's finally starting to get this but it took some time! 

I was going to do some jumping this week too, but Cupid took a few funny steps before I mounted.  He seemed okay after, but we decided to keep it light and did a course with just ground poles and cavaletti instead.  I asked for some lead changes over the cavaletti, we don't always get them but had a few (especially if I repeat a course and Cupid knows which way we're going!)

Getting turned out with his Fresian friend
New fly sheet, still fits a 69"!
Cupid also saw the chiropractor last week.  A few adjustments but looking good overall.  She said his left hamstring was a bit tight, and his pelvis was rotated up to the left and lower back had some rotation to the left as well.  She also recommended adding rice bran to his current rations as he's lost a little weight, you can see he's a bit ribby.  I haven't had him on rice bran before but luckily it doesn't seem to cause any adverse effects for him.

I'm hoping to get a trail ride in this weekend.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Yarra Yarra Dressage July Show

I entered Training 1 and 2 again for this show, since we've been having a bit of trouble with the left lead and it's a bigger part of Training 3.  My ride times were 11:30 and 1:10.  So on the bright side I don't have to wake up super early, but it is kind of nice to be done and home by noon!  Plus the heat.  So I got to the barn with lots of time to spare, especially since I still cleaned by tack and loaded the trailer, and bathed Cupid the day before (since I wasn't sure how cold it would be at 7am)  I was taking my leisurely time grooming and braiding him.  I decided to do his forelock first, since that takes me the longest.  It's still not perfect but I was happy with how it turned out.  Then as I was doing his mane one of my fellow boarders came by and asked if that was my truck and trailer, and said there is a screw in my tire!!  Her trailer is parked next to mine and fortuitously she was also going someplace that day and somehow happened to notice a nail in my tire, though the tire was still fully inflated.

I have no idea how this nail got in my tire, it's not really on the driving surface??!!  But good thing she noticed before it blew out on the freeway with Cupid in the trailer.  And lucky I had plenty of time, so I could put my spare on.  (Big thanks to my dad for teaching me how to change a tire!!)  Once that was done I still had just enough time to finish braiding and still leave with plenty of time in case we got some traffic - luckily we didn't so we got to the showground about an hour before my first test.
Got nailed!!
I got on just over half an hour before my ride time.  The warm up ring wasn't too crowded, and I think the upper lever horses were pretty much already done for the day so I didn't have to worry about dodging them.  It is nice not to feel rushed!  I started with about 10 minutes walking, first just around the ring to loosen up than adding some bending.  Then we did trot work, with some 20 meter circles and serpentines and some smaller circles to increase engagement.  Cupid got a little startled once by the automatic gate opening right by the arena, but overall he felt good, neither too lazy nor quick.  I think I only cantered to the left in warm up.  We didn't get it first time, so I still had some doubts we would get it in our test.

We headed to the test arena, and as I was circled around it I kept Cupid to a walk as we passed the corner he spooked last time and the judge's booth, then picked up the trot.  I thought the test was okay overall; Cupid was a bit tense but the geometry was good and transitions prompt, no errors.  We got both leads correct and didn't break early, so I was happy about that!  I left the arena feeling pretty good.

With over 1.5 hours to go, I untacked Cupid, sponged him off with cold water and scraped him, and found a shady spot to hang out.  He was pretty content to eat hay and drank plenty of water.  Since I was all alone the only show pictures I have are during this time.
Shady spot
Braids turned out okay
I eventually went to pick up my test, and I admit I was pretty disappointed.  It was pretty much a 5 or 5.5 on everything, with the comment "hollow."  Except a 6 on both halts, "square", and the free walk, "stretches out but not down."  I had a little pity party and thought why do I even bother.  I thought about how we would do better in the hunters, if only I could get over my nerves.  If I had picked my test up earlier and still had a long wait I would have just said forget it and left.  But since it was almost time to tack up I figured I'll just go do it since I'm here.

I gave us about 20 minutes in the warm up.  Cupid actually had a bit more energy.  Our warm up routine was similar just a bit shorter than the first time.  Cupid did try to break into a canter from the trot a few times, so I ended with doing transitions between the trot and walk on a large circle to get him listening.

Cupid was a bit exuberant during the test.  He did break into a little canter when we were supposed to be trotting, but came back down quickly.  We did manage to get all the transitions in the correct places, and again got the leads correct though it felt like Cupid lept into the canter a little, and did a mini half-buck at one point.  (Note to self to schedule a chiro visit for him - I think it was more from excitement but he feels due anyways.)  Overall it felt a bit more mixed; clearly there were anxious moments but there were some good moments too when he relaxed a bit.  The stretchy trot felt good, and I tried to push him a bit more in the free walk. 

Despite a few exuberant displays it was actually fun, I felt good about it and was happy I decided to stay.  I was first to go in my class, and decided not to wait over an hour for the class to finish and get my test sheet.  I check my score online and it was still terrible, though slightly above the first test which I was a little surprised about since we did have a few naughty moments.  A few positive takeaways:
-Finally, I didn't feel nervous beforehand!  The last few shows I wasn't sure if it was pregnancy or show nerves making me feel a bit nauseous, but I felt fine.
-I still need to work on keeping my shoulders/upper body back, but I am getting much better keeping my butt in the saddle.  I made a conscious point to check in with myself on this and make sure I can feel the saddle.
-Cupid can handle the heat, when he wants!
-Even if Cupid is a bit excited, he (probably) won't do anything too terrible (though our scores might be).  But my confidence has improved a lot, and I feel a lot more secure taking him new places. 

I am hoping to do a 2 day show next month, which may be it this year for Cupid and me.  I might do a schooling show before that, and since it's local maybe have my coach come to that so she can see how we've been doing in a show environment and help me improve.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Best Laid Plans

I sometimes say that horses have a way of laughing at our plans.  That's how I felt today, when I was doing my final show prep.  I wanted to practice some elements of the tests, but Cupid decided he wanted to practice jigging and scooting sideways instead.  Sigh.

We got off to a bad start when I saw the sprinklers were on in the dressage court.  Usually the covered arena is dragged and water first, from about 7-8am, then around 8 then do the dressage (outdoor).  So usually I ride before work, in the covered arena while they are watering it.  (It's a guy with a hose, and I just stay on whatever end of the arena he's not working on.)  Since I ride there most often, Cupid is very good in the covered but can be a little spooky in the outdoor.  Which, I mean yes we go there less often but we've been there at least 100 times already so it shouldn't be an issue!!!

So I stall a bit, and around 7:45 the sprinklers are off and I go in and Cupid is a jigging spooking mess.  I spent the next 15 minutes mostly just trying to keep him walking straight.  He can spin around pretty quickly and seamlessly if I'm not paying attention, all of the sudden we'll just be facing the opposite direction!  He was finally starting to settle and I thought yay we can get to work, but of course I see the tractor heading down, so much for that.  We had to go to the covered arena, which is bigger than a dressage court and also full of jumps so I couldn't go down the centerline or proper diagonals.  But I did make Cupid work, since he seemed to have so much energy outside. Overall our ride was okay, but we were having trouble with the left lead again.  Double sign.  The first few rides after we got back from Oregon it wasn't a problem at all.  The best strategy I've found is to counterbend him a little, then ask for the canter as we straighten back.  The bigger problem is a lot of times when we get it incorrect it takes several strides to get him back down to a trot, then rebalance, before we get it - way too long. 
Looking contrite after finally deciding to behave

I'm not feeling optimistic about our show this weekend.  We'll be in the outdoor ring at Yarra Yarra, where Cupid was a bit spooky last time, plus we'll probably blow the left lead.  Oh well, we'll do the best we can and try not to embarrass ourselves too much!

In other news, earlier this week I asked my trainer for a lunge line lesson.  I wanted to work on sitting down and back, especially in canter transitions.  I have a bad habit if leaning forward and raising my hands when I ask for the canter, so not helpful!  I tied and dropped my reins, and just held my whip under my thumbs and it was great to be able to focus on less things.   Cupid was a really good sport about it.  (Of course he's almost always good, in the covered arena at home!  We just need to learn to take that relaxation elsewhere.)

Monday, June 25, 2018

4 Years!!

The week plus since we've been back from Oregon has passed quickly, and uneventfully.  I gave Cupid a few days off, and then the first few rides back he felt focused and refreshed.  It feels like he's working into the bridle a bit more, and the left canter lead hasn't been much of a problem.

The weather has been all over the place, a few cool foggy days followed by a few hot days, then back to cold.  It's making it kind of hard to plan my rides, or life in general!

In other news, Cupid and I celebrated our 4th anniversary together!  It's hard to believe how quickly it's gone by.  And kind of sad that we're still toiling at Training level and jumping 2', but oh well.  In honor of our anniversary here are some clips from my first ever ride on Cupid, about 2 weeks after his last race!

He always had a nice long stride at the walk!
In other news, before Oregon I tried out a western saddle that I wanted for trail riding.  Although it was very comfortable for me, I didn't think it was a great fit on Cupid (though I'm certainly no expert).  But he did look super cute with it!

Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Long Haul

Our destination in Oregon was over 400 miles away.  I've never trailered that far, so did a little research to try and make it as comfortable as possible for the horses.  This is what I did to prepare for and during the trip:

-Truck/trailer maintenance:  I've had my trailer about a year now, so it was about time for my annual maintenance check anyhow.  There is a trailer place nearby, where I got my trailer brakes: AB Trailer Hitch.  It's the only place I know in the area so I didn't compare prices, but they are very nice.  They checked the lights, tires and wires, greased the bearing, and whatever else they do.
I'm lucky my dad is a mechanic, so I asked him to take a look at my Ford Expedition before the trip, top off oil etc.

-Fans:  While my trailer was in the shop, I also asked them to install fans.  Even though I have adequate windows and vents, I thought it couldn't hurt and is especially useful if we have to sit in traffic.  My fans are installed on the same wire as my trailer's interior lights, so they are on if I turn the lights on.  The guy at the trailer shop recommended this because having them separate requires a lot more labor to install.
Trailer fan
-Frequent stops:  The advice I read online was to stop about every 3 hours for about 20 minutes, to give the horses a break from the vibrations.  So I got gas, and if the station wasn't busy stayed under the awning at the pump, otherwise I tried to find a shady spot, and opened the windows.

-Water:  I offered the horses water during some of our stops, and read that they may or may not take it.  Cupid drank a little each time I offered, while the other horse with us didn't at all.  My trailer has a water tank, which made this pretty easy.

-Wraps:  People have pretty strong opinions on each side of this issue, whether to wrap legs or not.  I did put on Coolmax no-bows on all 4 legs, and bell boots in the front.  The wraps did not get loose, and his legs did not feel hot underneath when I took them off.  I just feel more comfortable with this, I would feel horrible if he sliced his legs somehow.  My friend's horse was bare legged, and didn't have any problems either - so this one goes down to personal preference.

-Hay:  I had grass hay in front of Cupid, and he ate pretty much the whole ride, so I refilled his hay at one of our stops both on the way there and back.  His travel buddy only ate about half her hay bag on the way up, and finished that up on the way back.  I also brought hay with me, so he has what he's used to at home. 

-Camera:  I got a little camera that transmits a live feed to my phone through Wi-Fi.  The one I got (Rear View Safety model RVS-83112-Wifi) is listed as a back up camera, not specifically intended to watch horses in a trailer, but it did the job.  It was $140 on Amazon.  A camera is totally unnecessary, but it did give me peace of mind, especially since I wasn't sure how Cupid and the other horse would get along.
Camera, placed in rear trailer window
Captured on the camera

-Ulcergard: I started giving Cupid Ulcergard the day before we left, and continued until the day after we got back, in case he was stressed from the travel or being in a new place.

Driving by Mt Shasta