Friday, September 20, 2019

Hitting Our Stride

Cupid has been going so well (physically feeling good, as well as progressing in our training) I decided it was time to try jumping again!  I surveyed the arena and was happy to see the jumps were all small verticals, about 18" with one little oxer.  I briefly considered dropping one to a crossrail, but instead put out a caveletti. 

After a short warm up we did some flatwork, where I focused on putting Cupid on my outside rein.  I was ready to bail on my plan to jump at the first sign of any resistance or hint of misbehavior, but Cupid was being very good.  So we picked up the right lead canter, did a few 20 meter circles, went around the arena, and I focused my gaze on the caveletti.  We met it perfectly!  A few times to the right, then switched to left (Cupid has been consistently picking up the correct lead since he got the pads, hurray!) and found great distances each time! 

I added a vertical after the caveletti.  I didn't realize until I was heading towards it that we were aiming straight for the gate, but Cupid was very good and didn't quicken.  So big pats for him.  Then I put together a little course, I think about 6 jumps including the little oxer.  Cupid was super - we mostly did trot changes but I did get a lead change over the caveletti which I was very happy about.

I couldn't be happier with how the ride went.  Even though we haven't jumped in about 4 months I didn't feel rusty.  I actually felt more secure and confident then I have in a long time.  All that dressage work paying off, haha.  We may have some jumping related events coming up soon ;)

Another thing we have coming up is a Working Equitation test ride clinic, so today I wanted to practice for that.  I signed up for the Novice test, which I haven't ridden before but it's comparable to a Training level dressage test - except there is a reinback and no walk steps into/out of the halt.  Plus it's on a short court so everything comes up quicker!  The dressage ring was unavailable so I did it in the covered arena, in a space even a bit smaller than a short court.  I thought it went okay, except the transitions into the canter were quite late so we worked on sharpening them.  First between trot and walk, then trot and canter - the downs were fine but if Cupid wasn't prompt it was a quick tap-tap.  After a few reminders they felt pretty good, so we ended with a little stretching trot.

I am feeling very optimistic about our progress!  If the next few weeks go well, hopefully we can think about trying First level end of next moth!

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Momentary Magic

Our trainer worked us extra hard in our lesson this week, and I think we had a bit of a breakthrough!  But first we had to get Cupid in front of the leg as he started out a bit lazy.  From the walk give a light squeeze, and immediate tap-tap if I didn't get an acceptable response (a forward walk was what we were looking for).  After repeating that twice more I squeezed and Cupid picked up the trot, and I patted him and told him good boy.  We did a few nice transitions between walk and trot, and Cupid was being very responsive. 

Then we worked on getting the trot rounder.  We started to the right, on a 20 meter circle at A.  Touch the saddle pad with my outside pinky (without lengthening the rein!), my trainer said.  It felt weird, and I had to use some leg to keep the trot going, but it did make our 10 meter circle feel a little easier.  Then we picked up the canter and again, pinky to saddle pad.  Cupid thought this was hard work, and can't we just go back to the longer floppier reins we're used to, so I had to use a lot of leg to keep him going and Cupid kicked out when I gave him a touch with the whip.  (This time I was sure his reaction was just annoyance, not pain.)  But then I felt it, all of the sudden it was like I was sitting on a rocking horse!  I wasn't totally confident when my trainer said now do the 10 meter circle at A, that I could both bend enough and keep him cantering (there was a jump standard there to keep us honest!) but we did it!  We did a few more laps of the bigger circle with the 10 meter circle each time we passed A and we kept that rocking horse canter going.

It was a bit harder left, my weaker side.  Whereas we sometimes overbend to the right, we tend to not bend enough going left so my trainer told me to apply inside leg and move my left elbow back past my sides for a stride.  Not there yet, more!  More!  And release.  =)  The canter was not quite as round and we did break to the trot twice.  But on the bright side we got the lead correct each time, and got a few good 10 meter circles where we didn't break gait.

After a quick walk break we finished with trot work doing some serpentines.  I ended feeling very happy and optimistic, feeling like Cupid is quite capable of being a dressage horse!  And we are both ready to take it up a level.  And also acknowledged that Cupid can be a little opinionated, lol.

The next day I wanted to take it a bit easier, so we mainly just walked around the property, dropping in to the outdoor arena for about 10 minutes of trot work getting that roundness we got in our lesson.  Short and focused - so we can sustain the high quality throughout!  We finished with a little stretching trot, before finishing up with our walk outside.

Tiny visitor last weekend =)
For a few recent rides I put a rubber spur strap around my stirrup leather and girth, to help keep my leg from swinging back.  I couldn't really feel a difference, though I'm not sure it's because the strap was too long or I can keep my leg in a semi-normal position without it feeling too weird!

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Airs Above Ground

I finally got my video from the show, and it turns out the buck was actually more of a crowhop. 
My partner (who doesn't ride) was watching with me.  His first comment was, "are you laughing?"  And then "why are you patting him, he was bad!" I can't really answer those questions, except to say... horses!  If I wanted it to be easy / predictable I would pick a different sport or hobby.  You never know what can happen, and sometimes you just have to laugh!

If anyone is interested in the full test, it can be seen here:

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

On the Upswing

I don't know if it's the new shoes, time, or something else entirely but Cupid seems to be moving better and his attitude has been great. 

We postponed my usual weekly lesson from last Tuesday since he just got his feet done.  The first few rides with them he felt about the same to me, but at least it didn't seem to cause any discomfort.  And he was good cantering both directions; no bucks and picking up both leads.

We had our postponed lesson on Sunday, and it felt terrific!  I told my trainer the canter seemed better so we did a lot of that.  During warm up we did a longer canter each direction, then later we did a lot of transitions between trot and canter.  Just to see if after a few he would get cranky or inconsistent picking up the left.  But he was great! 

Then on Monday (Labor Day) I went on a trail ride with my friend I usually ride with, plus another friend from my barn.  It was a bit challenging because each of our horses preferred a slightly different pace (Cupid being right in the middle), but we all took turns leading.  Cupid got a little anxious and jiggy when he was second, with the fastest horse first, if his buddy disappeared around the bend.  I tried him behind the slowest horse, and that seemed to cause less anxiety.  But we had a very nice ride overall.  I rode with Cupid's fly mask on because the bugs are bad in a few parts under the trees, which helped keep Cupid from getting fussy.
Then today we had our usual Tuesday lesson.  Usually Cupid feels energized after a trail ride, but today he was being a bit lazy.  Maybe he realized that I forgot my whip, and also didn't have spurs since he's shedding his coat he's a bit extra sensitive and getting a little rub mark so I haven't been using them.  I realized that the whip is a bit of a crutch for me and I do need to be a little stronger with my legs.  But we had a good lesson again, and again the canter work felt really good both directions.  We are still working on not overbending through the neck going right, and bending more going left.  Without the whip I did feel like it was a bit easier keeping a steadier contact, but of course my left hand still wants to cross over the neck! 

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

New Shoes

Cupid got his pads for his front feet, so we'll give some time to see if that helps.  Right now he's not lame, but still just doesn't seem 100%.  I can feel "something" especially when we're going right.  His attitude has been good, no resistance or reluctance to go forward, no bucking.  So we're being patient, and just keeping things a bit easier for the time being. 

I hope Cupid has better luck than I did - I also got 2 new pairs of shoes for myself.  Same brand, slightly different styles.  One was super comfortable right out of the box, the other totally shredded my feet! 

My summer in a nutshell:
credit: the internet

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Mostly Good News

Cupid saw the vet this morning, and thankfully it was mostly good news.  After listening to me relay the backstory (recent tight back and time off, occasional short stride seeming from the LF, recurring abscesses including presently in LF, bucking at the show) the vet started by watching Cupid jog on hard ground, then we did a flexion test, and then trotted and cantered on the lunge good footing.  The vet felt it was all coming from the LF hoof.  He said he could administer a block, but was pretty confident in the diagnosis.  So we pulled the shoe and took some x-rays of the LF hoof.  The good news is there are no changes from the last x-rays 2.5 years ago, no inflamation or rotation, and overall the vet thought the minor trimming changes did yield some improvement in the overall shape.  He also said it wasn't a problem with bacteria entering through the white line. 
4 weeks into the shoeing cycle

Part of the problem is his LF hoof is a bit smaller/more narrow then the RF.  His soles are on the thinner side, but not dangerously so.  The area Cupid was sensitive to hoof testers is on the inside hoof wall by where the clip is.  I had been carefully watching the larger chip in the front but didn't realize the area under the clip was a bit eroded.  I don't recall how long we've been doing clips, we added it a while back since he is prone to pull shoes, but the vet said that the downside of the clips is they don't allow the hoof to expand.  He explained it as a balloon on a stick, and when you push the stick down the balloon expands over the ground if that makes sense.  I didn't really realize the hoof does that!  So the clip creates a bit of a pressure point where the hoof can't expand.

The vet's recommendation is to do some corrective shoeing, and he is going to discuss options with our farrier.  The aim is to increase the load bearing surface.  The vet said we will probably try something temporarily, perhaps a frog support pad, see how that goes, then (hopefully before the winter mud) depending on how things look see where to go.

Others options we discussed: glue-on shoes (very expensive, doesn't stay on, except when you need to get it off they're difficult, but they do give the foot more flexibility); copper nails (they look cool; probably wouldn't help but they couldn't hurt and may have some small benefit); bar shoes (not ideal in turnout); feed through supplements (he's currently on Farrier's Formula, vet said he hasn't seen definitive proof it does anything but again doesn't hurt). 

Once the feet are sorted out we will also re-evaluate and see if there is anything else we need to address.  But for now the vet thought his back and hind end all looked fine.  Teeth were fine too, I forgot they had actually gotten done fairly recently.  Now if only there was a simple fix for my riding!

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Where to go from here

Apologies in advance for the incoherent jumble of thoughts to follow...

I'm going to start this by saying I adore Cupid.  If I didn't already have him, in all honesty I would probably look for something different right now since my goals have changed in the last few years. But I can't imagine not having Cupid, and he has a home with me for the rest of his life!  And if he was unhappy with what we're doing then I would definitely change.  Sometimes I worry that showing is too stressful for him, and it's never going to get better and I'm a horrible person for making him do it.  But I've been there before, and last year when we went to a clinic or show 1-2x a month eventually he seemed relaxed and quite content to do it.  We just haven't been very consistent getting out this year, between the baby and his health issues.  And he actually has gotten a lot better overall, whereas before at first he was anxious the moment we got off the trailer, dragging me around, not interested in his food.  Now he's quite happy hanging out at the trailer and very much interested in his hay.  He just gets a little quick in the warmup, and then more anxious in the showring.  Which... maybe it's a me problem.  I no longer feel nervous/sick to my stomach like I used to but I'm sure I still hold a lot more tension then normal. 
Still my #1

So as you might have guests for that introduction, the show did not quite go according to plan.  We had some challenges, taking longer to get to the show then I anticipated, then missing a turn and  having to back up the trailer in an uncomfortably narrow place, and when I finally got there there was some confusion over my late entry that took sometime to get sorted out.  So I thought I gave myself enough time to longe and have a leisurely warm up, but ended up with only 30 minutes to tack up and warm up before my first test.  There was a short delay in starting so we had a little extra time and after a nice long to canter Cupid felt pretty settled.   We headed to the show arena and proceeded to lay down another tense test.  Cupid was a little spooky around a platform with a fire hose (aka snake) outside the arena, so we briefly stopped to investigated it.

No problem I thought, we still had a second test to try again. We went  back to the trailer for a drink of water and to relax for about 10 minutes before we went back to the warm up.  And I thought we had quite a nice warm up and I was feeling optimistic.  Overall the second test was slightly better then the first, but still only about 50% of what we produce at home.  And then, mid-canter near the end of the test Cupid unexpectedly does a giant buck and scoots across the ring.  I got pitched up his neck a bit but pull myself back into the saddle, resume our canter circle, haul him to a trot, turn (apparently widely) down the centerline and halt to a "nice save" from the judge! 

I thought Cupid was being bratty because he didn't like having to do 2 tests.  I didn't want him to think he can be naughty and be done so I took him back into the warmup.  We trotted once around, then picked up the canter and a few strides in he bucked again, slightly smaller this time.  I kept him going in the canter a bit, then down to the trot.  Then we changed directions and picked up the canter again, and another buck.  I kept him cantering, then did some more trot work, then finally cantered with no bucks, and did a few more transitions between the trot and canter and Cupid behaved.  Then we did a little more trot work, no bucking but Cupid did try to break into the walk a few times.  I kept him going, and after a few minutes of nice trotwork ended on a good note. 

So of course my first thought is to make sure we rule out any physical problems, and we have an appointment with the vet.  He wasn't off, the was picking up his leads correctly, but bucking is unusual for him so I want to make sure.  We've had crazy up and down weather, hot a few days then cold and foggy, and a week and a half ago he seemed abscess-y but after one soak and pack he looked fine.  (Update Tuesday morning he was off, and looked like a LF abscess again.)  I had his feet x-rayed a few years ago because of recurring abscess-like symptoms to make sure it wasn't anything more, so it might be worth x-raying again and seeing if there are changes.  Or evaluating whether he needs adequan or other support.  Or is his back still tight, or are his teeth sharp? 

If that all checks out, was he just being bratty because he thought he was done?  He hates showing?  Was I annoying him by pulling too much, since at the last show he kept breaking into the canter maybe I was just being to handsy trying to prevent that?  Is it just my nerves and general crappy riding?  Hopefully I will get the video soon and see if that provides any more information.

Buck aside, all the comments were along the lines of "prompt but above the bit" or "accurate but hollow".  Even though I feel like we've made a lot of progress at home, I am facing the truth that right now we haven't quite mastered the requirements of even training level in a test setting.

At this point Cupid has been a riding horse twice as long as he was a racehorse.  But, he was bred for generations to simply run as fast as he can, even if that means with his head low and pulling with his front end.  Quite the opposite of what you want in a dressage horse! And on top of that, I've never ridden a real dressage horse so I'm not always sure what I'm supposed to feel.  Riding with that level of contact is still unnatural to me.  I really thought this show was going to go well, and was looking forward to hopefully moving up in the fall.  It's getting harder for me not to feel discouraged..