Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Seven Oaks Dressage Year End Schooling Show

Going to a show (even a schooling show) is always a little nerve-wracking, but even more so when our dressage court has been closed so I couldn't practice the test in a correct sized and marked arena, and when I'm not even sure I will be able to get there if my horse won't load!  Plus I was pretty sure it would get rained out anyways, but the rain held off.  I got an email 2 days before that the show was still on, but the warm up arena might not be available so everyone got a scheduled time to warm up in the show ring in groups of two or three.  That actually sounded like a good thing, so we can do a quick test run.  I was doing the same two tests I rode last time, Training 1 and 2.

The day before the show I did some loading practice with my trainer.  I was leading Cupid and she held a whip behind him.  After a few minutes we switched, and just a few moments later (with me swishing a lunge whip and tapping the ground behind him) Cupid loaded.  We left the doors open, just closed the divider and let Cupid eat hay.  After about 15 minutes I let him off.  We did an easy hack around the property, and just a few minutes in the arena for some quick circles and transitions.  Then I gave Cupid a bath.  Then we went back to the trailer, where I had Cupid's bucket in the back and he walked right up!  Again I left him on to eat for about 15 minutes.  I hoped we would be good for the next day.  I cleaned all our tack and put in the trailer so we'd be ready to go.

Sunday morning I left early for the barn.  I witnessed an unfortunately accident on the way, and stopped to make sure help was on the way.  I still had plenty of time so went ahead and braided Cupid.  My trainer said it looked good, though a few braids were a little loose by the end they stayed in and I think it was a good first attempt.

I put on Cupid's shipping boots and tried to think positive as we headed towards the trailer.  Again I had his bucket in the back.  I felt him hesitate, and asked my boyfriend to get in the trailer and shake the bucket.  Cupid stepped right up, and I breathed a sigh of relief!

It was about half an hour drive, and I got there about 20 minutes before my warm up time.  Just enough time to check in, unload, and tack up.  I left Cupid on the trailer with the window open while I checked in, with my boyfriend staying with him.  He said Cupid seemed a little anxious, but Cupid was good when I unloaded and stood tied to the trailer while I tacked up.

We headed into the ring to warm up.  Halfway through our first lap, Cupid spooked because there was a hedge along the side separating us from another ring and he caught a glimpse of a horse passing by on the other side.  Oh great, I though.  I kept him moving, and after walking another minute or two we started trotting some circles, trying to get him to bend and focus.  Cupid was starting to settle when my trainer showed up. 

She had us trot more circles, including some 10 meter circles within our bigger circles, and a little shoulder fore.  Then she had me canter, yelling "more! more!" which kind of just made me laugh because a bigger canter was pretty much the last thing I wanted, I was quite happy that Cupid seemed relaxed.

Warm up time was over, and we were up first so the other rider left.  Cupid whinnied after the other horse, a bit distracted.  Training 1 is a very straightforward test, where you trot a 20 meter circle, canter a 2 meter circle, change direction at the free walk, and do the same the other direction.  Our only major mistake was dropping to the trot early from the canter.  I thought our transitions into the canter were decent, and I was happy we got the left lead (which hasn't been a problem the last few weeks but has been in the past). 

We waited outside the ring for one rider to go through, then it was our turn again for Training 2.  Even though I memorized the test I decided to use the reader, just so I don't have to worry about forgetting again since this one is more complicated.  Right when we we about to go into the stretch trot circle and horse trailer drove by with a whinnying horse, and Cupid's head shot up and I couldn't really refocus him quickly enough.  I was pretty disappointed since usually the stretchy trot is one of his best moves.

Overall it went good, a few green moments and I still need to work on sitting more upright.  Our tests were a bit conservative, Cupid was a little quick and above the bit in some parts and I should have pushed him for more impulsion.  But I was very happy with him, and proud of us.  We have some work to do this winter but hopefully will be ready for our rated dressage debut next year.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Good Graces

After Sunday's trailer debacle, I had a renewed determination to have Cupid see me as the leader between us.  If I ask something I want the response to be, yes ma'am!  So on Monday I tacked up Cupid and walked up to the arena.  I asked him to whoa while I adjust his saddle.  As per usual he started creeping towards the jump and pile of stuff around the mounting block.  This is standard operating procedure for him, and usually I just let him because I know at least he will stand still while he's investigating the stuff.  Lazy rider!  Today I told him no, I asked you to stand here, away from the stuff.  Then at the mounting block when he started to amble off before I put my feet in the stirrups I told him no, I haven't asked you to move yet so let's back up back to the block.  Then when I asked him to walk, I expected an actual forward walk not a slow mosey.

Cupid got the message that I meant business.  I didn't have to do much, no crop or anything, just have to set my intention.  Cupid tested me a few times, tried to see if he could be a little balky when I asked for a trot but I said no we're going, slight tap, and away we went.  Cupid got the message, and I could feel a lightness underneath me.  It's hard to explain, but it just felt like I had more horse under me.  It did make some things easier, though it was also a little scary because it felt like more power!  But he was being very good.  We did a little leg yielding, then a circle in the corner and holding a haunches in a few steps coming out of the corner.  We practiced some transitions, and the ups were good but he did creep forward a little at the halts.  The we practiced walking a square, halt before the corner, and yield the haunches over.  Overall I thought a very productive ride!

On Tuesday it was more of the same in our lesson, and this time with less testing by Cupid.  We warmed up and did some trot work, then got a pretty big canter going.  Again it felt different and a little scary.  I would not be comfortable jumping out of that canter!  I probably wouldn't be comfortable cantering like that with other horses in the arena either, but luckily we had it to ourselves.  But I guess I just need to get used to it, and hopefully it will feel normal eventually.  We ended the lesson with some sitting trot, which needs some work.  At least my saddle is comfortable!  We did a 20 meter circle, big trot forward, then shorten the trot with some shoulder fore into the sitting trot.  Then we added walk transitions from the sitting trot.  The transitions were going going to the right, but not so good on the left.  I still have trouble keeping the contact to the left.

On Wednesday I didn't have time to ride, but did want to take Cupid up to the trailer.  He walked right up to it like no big deal, and I fed him his grain off the back.  We didn't try to load (it wasn't hitched), but I just want him to see the trailer as a happy place.
Trailer = not so bad!
Cupid has mostly earned his way back into my good graces!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

When he's good he's very good, when he's bad he's horrid

We were planning on going for a trail ride on Friday, but it was raining so we decided to do a little jumping instead.  A little variety so Cupid doesn't get bored!

We warmed up trotting in two-point, then did some shallow loop serpentines.  We warmed up the canter then trotted over a pole, then made it 2 poles, then 3.  Then we jumped a little crossrail a few times each direction, trotting in and cantering out.  We started going to the right, and the first two times Cupid landed on his left lead (surprising since usually he prefers the right), but got it correct the third time.  We haven't jumped in a while, but he was relaxed.

There was an accident on the road, we could see and hear the sirens and bullhorn directing traffic.  I was a little distracted, but Cupid didn't care.  So we went on and did a little course: one jump on each long diagonal, then the third jump was on the centerline so we completed the diagonal and around the short side, halfway down the long side then turn down the middle and a left hand turn to the jump.  They were all small crossrails, probably about 1'.  I felt a little rusty, and we got a few long spots when I didn't sit up before the jump, but we got it the third time through.  I was happy with our ride, and had fun doing the little jumps.
New rain sheet with hood, from Jeffers

I gave Cupid Saturday off, I thought he could use it.  Then Sunday we were going to go on a trail ride, but he refused to load!  He has been really good, I'm not sure what the issue was today.  He would come within a few feet, then back up.  If we applied more pressure he would kick out, or leap up in the air.  I tried doing some groundwork, he was good until he got close to the trailer.  We tried bribing him with grain, that didn't work either.  I once got him up to the edge of the trailer, then lifted his hoof and put it in the trailer.  I patted him and gave him a treat, but he just stood on his toe and the treat fell from his mouth, almost like he was in shock.  I lifted his second hoof and placed in the trailer.  He stood for a moment and I gave him a treat, then he leapt backwards and wouldn't get close again.  My trainer tried doing a little groundwork and getting him in; make him work if he didn't go forward.  That didn't work either.  We tried putting another horse on the trailer.  Cupid walked up to the edge and started lifting his leg, then quickly backed up.
Being stubborn
Angry horse, biting he air
I was frustrated, and confused.  Cupid knows how to load, and he didn't seem anxious.  At this point I wasn't sure if I should give up.  Continuing seemed kind of pointless, though I don't want Cupid to think he can get out of doing something by being naughty.  We took a break for a little while, walked around and I gave him a bath because he was already filthy before and now he worked up quite a sweat.  Then when my trainer was done teaching I got him back out.  My trainer led him, while I stood behind him with a lunge whip.  Luckily I didn't have to hit him, as tapping behind him got him forward.  We tried to be patient, and praise him when he went forward but every few steps forward he went back again.  Finally I saw him start licking and chewing, and I thought maybe there is hope.  Then all of a sudden Cupid just walked up, like no big deal and we hadn't wasted half the day!  I gave him treats, let him eat hay on the trailer for 10 minutes, then let him off and we were done for the day.

I am going to try having him hang around the trailer more, let him eat off the back and tie him to it for grooming so he sees it as a good place.  My trainer said we also need to work on the send forward command.  But hopefully this was just a fluke?

Thursday, November 9, 2017


Since Cupid's shoe got pulled, he got a few extra days off until the shoer was able to come back out.  At least it was pretty cold; not being able to ride in nice weather is worst!  I did put an easy boot on for a little walk around the property, but that was it for a whole week.  And I did get lessons on two of my trainer's horses.  I was a little nervous riding new horses, but they were good.  Both of them were a little lazy, on one I had to work pretty hard to keep him cantering.
Wrapping the hoof with Vetwrap or gauze wrap seems to help the Easyboot stay on.

Cupid got his shoe back on Monday, and on Tuesday we had a lesson.  I was worried he would be a little full of it after a week off, but he was great!  Actually he started out a little lazy but worked out of it.  We just did walk/trot, but the trot work felt very good and Cupid start getting a little round.
New saddle pad to go with the new saddle

On Wednesday we just did a little hack.  I rode in the new saddle without a pad to help with the breaking in.  I am still very happy with the saddle!

On Thursday I had a group lesson with 2 of my trainer's other students.  Again Cupid started out lazy so I spent the beginning trying to wake him up, but I was glad he was relaxed working with the other horses.  We did a lot of trot work, and he felt like he was finally working through.  Then we took a long walk break while my trainer worked with each of the other riders individually for a bit.  When it was our turn, Cupid was done.  He would not go forward at all, he would just balk, or kick out, or back up.  I tried asking him to go but he resisted.

The extent of his protest concerned me, I thought maybe he really was hurting from the abscess still or the saddle wasn't fitting or something.  But he had felt sound, and I got off and checked and reset the saddle and it seemed fine.  So I made him go, as gently as possible but insistent.  Once he got going he was good.  We did a few trot-canter transitions, and he got the left lead each time.

I thought that maybe I shouldn't have walked for so long; if I kept him more engaged we probably wouldn't have had a problem.  But on the other hand this is a problem we need to work through; I didn't ask for anything unfair and Cupid doesn't get to decide he is done.  I suspected this was an issue at some of our shows but wasn't sure and haven't had the opportunity to address it.  At least this form of tantrum is far preferable to a bucking fit!  Hopefully today was a step in the right direction, and Cupid realized that 1) he can't get out of work so easily; and 2) even if I do make him work it's not that bad!
Tired pony after our lesson

Monday, October 30, 2017

Fast Acting Abscess

I rode Cupid on Friday, everything was normal.  We had plans to go to the Horse Park the next day, so I didn't go to the barn my usual early hour.  Then Saturday morning I get a call from our shoer, asking if he should do Cupid's feet.  Normally he just comes on a regular schedule, I wasn't sure why he was asking me.  The only thing I could think of was maybe he wasn't quite due but if it doesn't get done today then maybe he wouldn't be able to until he's overdue.  So I asked how long it's been, the shoer said 6 weeks.  I said go ahead and do him.  Then the shoer asked what happened, I'm still confused.  Finally I realize he's saying Cupid is lame!  Not just lame but totally dead lame!  I told him I'd be there in half an hour.  I get there and sure enough Cupid can barely hobble out of his stall.  The shoer tested his hoof but couldn't see where it was hurting.

I soaked his foot with epsom salt, then poulticed and wrapped.  Even though Cupid has had several abscesses I decided to call the vet.  The vet confirmed the diagnosis, and tested his feet but wasn't able to locate it either but suspected it may be in the bar.  I poulticed and wrapped, and Cupid stayed in his stall.

By Sunday morning Cupid was walking comfortably.  In fact when I brought him out for a walk he was full of energy, prancing instead of walking.  I couldn't see that anything had burst, but it was hard to tell since I had put icthammol on it.  So I soaked his foot again, and this time wrapped with a dry poultice.  By his second walk Cupid was still full of energy, so I decided to try turning him out for a little bit while I watch to make sure he stays out of trouble.  Cupid looked like he wanted to play, but the other horses ignored him so Cupid decided it wasn't worth it running around by himself.  After about an hour I put him back in his stall.

While I was hanging out with Cupid this weekend I got a lot done, cleaning most of my tack and also practiced my dressage braids!  I haven't braided a horse in over 15 years, but my trainer recently showed me her method.  The best part is I don't even really have to pull Cupid's mane for it, yay!
First attempt
Day 2 attempt

I also got the opportunity to ride one of my trainer's horses, a thoroughbred gelding much further along than Cupid.  It felt strange and was a little scary riding a different horse, but he was was good.  He did test me a little, luckily just by taking small steps and not by running or bucking! 

Friday, October 27, 2017

Fixing my Arms and Hands

We had a flatwork lesson on Thursday.  My instructor has been on my case for a long time about how my inside hand still likes to do a leading rein.  She thinks I forget that Cupid is not a green 3 year old who needs it anymore; in truth I don't even realize I'm doing it.  So in sheer frustration I help my whip in both hands, horizontal over Cupid's withers under both thumbs.  Now my hands are locked together so the inside one can't go floating towards the center!  As an added bonus it prevents me from twisting at my right wrist, another bad habit of mine.  I need a catchy name for this, on par with T-rex arms!  Whip hands?  Sorry it's the best I can think of.

We had been riding on a 20 meter circle, alternating an outward bend, then switching back to an inside bend and doing a 10 meter circle.  It was in the 10 meter circle that I was really having the inside rein problems which led to the whip hands.  So I did the whip hands and my trainer said great idea!  I told her I didn't think I could do a 10 meter circle with whip hands, so we just aimed for going from a 20 meter circle to a "smaller circle".  It did feel pretty weird, and was hard to maintain the circle.  But I guess this is what it should feel like if I'm actually using the outside rein?
Trying to emulate the proper position (but my elbows are still too forward)

We then practiced trot-canter transitions with the whip hands.  Cupid was still a touch behind the leg, though after a few he started anticipating them. 

On Friday I tacked up in my jumping saddle for a group lesson with one other rider, to add a little variety for Cupid.  We ended up doing flatwork the majority of the lesson except a few minutes of trot poles on the end, but I'm still trying to nail down those transitions.  I did a bit more of the whip hands.  Cupid seemed a little tired (or maybe was just ignoring me, but I'll give him the benefit of doubt), so we had a few where he just starting trotting super fast so we regrouped and tried again.  But we had a few good ones. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

T-rex Arms - Riding with Whip Behind my Back

I had my first lesson in my new saddle today, and was excited to get my trainer's feedback on whether the improvements I felt where real or just in my head.

Cupid was very lazy to start.  I tried getting a good walk going while we were warming up, and he would respond but then quickly taper off a bit.  I was even worried that maybe Cupid didn't like the saddle!  But as we kept going I could feel him start stepping under himself.

My trainer confirmed that I was indeed sitting up much straighter in this saddle.  Yay!  But my arms and hands still need work.  So we revisited what I call the t-rex exercise; riding with the whip behind my back, in front of my elbows.  I need to be careful because it does tip me forward a little, but it is pretty much the only way I actually bend my elbows!  While I'm doing it it doesn't feel unnatural, but as soon as I remove the whip my elbows go straight again. :/  It also helps me with some of my other bad habits, like pumping with my arms/upper body, pulling the inside rein, and doing weird things like lifting my hands when I ask for the canter.  But it does make it hard to keep a steady contact, or shorten the reins when I inevitably let my hands open and the reins start to slip.

We did a lot of transitions between trot and canter, on a 20 meter circle.  It is still definitely a work in progress, but we had a few decent ones.

If you want to try T-rex arms, I recommend wearing a long sleeved shirt, as I usually get some abrasions on my elbows from the whip!  (Unless you have a smooth whip, mine is woven nylon.  Or maybe I'm just very unsteady??)