Friday, March 30, 2018

Lead Up to the Show

In the past week I've been riding with more resolve, and it's worked in making Cupid less lazy without having to do much.  Since we are coming up on our show this weekend, it's been a fine balance of getting prepared and keeping fresh.  I'm still usually only cantering every other day, so when we do it we can be successful and build good muscle memory.

Saturday - About 40 minutes walk/trot.  Cupid was very good with several other horses in the arena.

Sunday - Lesson.  I contemplated putting on my jumping saddle so we can do some poles/cavaletti and maybe even some small jumps if everything goes well, but then I chickened out because I thought the arena might be too busy, so we did flatwork.

Monday - Ground driving, ending with a canter on long lines.  We did not get the left lead the first try, but got it twice after.

Tuesday - Lesson. The outdoor arena was open for the first time since the clinic, and Cupid thought it was very exciting.  He started out very distracted and kept shying on one of the long sides, I couldn't figured out what it was over.  But he wasn't doing anything too bad, so we just worked through it.  We managed to get the left lead canter, though Cupid was kind of racing around with his head up feeling pretty unbalanced.  Eventually he broke to the trot, and I told my trainer we probably should have down transitioned sooner but she said she was waiting to get him to relax.  So we picked it up again just for a circle then back to the trot. 

Wednesday - Day off.

Thursday - Lesson.  Outdoors again, and Cupid was much better.  We did Training Test 1, then worked on increasing the contact just a little.

Friday - Cupid and I walked around the property, and popped into the outdoor arena for about 15 minutes.  We trotted some cloverleaf patterns to practice our centerline turns, and trotted some 20 meter circles.  Then we continued walking around, just about half an hour total.  Then I gave him a bath (the weather was great, about 70!), and cleaned my tack.  It's going to be an early morning so I tried to get as much done today as I can - put all my tack in the trailer, filled the hay net in the trailer, and standing wrapped Cupid's legs.  I also separated his mane into sections for braiding tomorrow.  I don't know how much time that saves.  Any other show prep hacks I could use?
Bath time - not Cupid's favorite

Treats please

Friday, March 23, 2018

Lessons from the Ground

When I ride I feel like there is so much to do.  If I concentrate on my hands, my legs come off.  I try to bend my elbows and my hands open.  So I find ground driving a nice change of pace, with less things for me worry about and in addition I get to see more of what Cupid is doing.  Today's ground driving session could not have gone better.

We started walking around on the rail, doing a much better job staying on the rail and not cutting the corners, and long diagonals.  Then we did some 3 loop serpentines.  Then we did some trotting.  Cupid is responsive to my clucking and picking up my feet more, and trots quite nicely.  Not to fast, thankfully, but with decent impulsion.

Overall he actually does seem a bit more forward compared to when I ride him - which makes me think that something in my body is blocking him.  I've gotten better about lightening my seat, and I don't pull on the reins (if anything they are too loose - but I guess that may be where I lose energy), so I want to talk to my trainer about it and see if she has any suggestions.  Other people who have ridden him have said that he is actually a forward horse even though I feel like he's lazy a lot of the time.  So that was my first revelation.

Then I let the lines get longer, with the outside line going behind his hindquarters, and put him on a large circle (~25 meters).  We started on the easier side, the right, and from the trot with just a little kissing noise (again no whip) he picked up the canter.  Usually when I'm just regular lunging him I have to chase him into it - we both get lazy lunging.  We did a circle, then back to the trot, and did several trot-canter transitions.  The canter looked very well balanced, nicer even then when I lunge him with side reins.

Then we changed direction, and though I was a bit hesitant to try the more difficult side, he picked up the left lead 100% through several transitions!  Another revelation.  I'm not sure how to translate this to my riding.  Maybe I need to do less, since he does it well when all I do is keep light but consistent contact on the lines.  Instead of contorting myself in all directions trying to muscle him into it, just assume he can and ask lightly!

No new pictures so here is a random video of me feeding Cupid a parsnip.  (Spoiler alert, he does eat them!)

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Week Recap

The day after the clinic I had one of my best rides ever on Cupid, the canter has never felt better!  Especially to the right, but the left was pretty good too.  I thought about bending him a little to the outside into the transition, which did feel like a true counterbend to me but my trainer said we were just straight.  We still aren't getting it 100%; we got it the first try, but then the next time it took a few attempts.  Still an improvement though.

Cupid got a well-deserved day off on Wednesday.
On Thursday we struggled a bit.  I'm not sure if it was the weather (raining again) or what.  We did a short canter on the right but it didn't feel great, so I told my trainer I'd rather not even try to the left because I want us set up for success, and create good muscle memory.  So we took a little walk break and refocused and had some good trot work.  Cupid was feeling a little more himself by the end.

Cupid saw the chiropractor after our lesson, which I was hoping would help.  She made some adjustments on his neck, and said his pelvis was tight.  He also had a spot of inflammation on his back - not from the saddle but probably just tweaked himself playing out in the pasture.  The chiropractor said he looked good otherwise, and said his hind leg flexibility (pulling his leg under his belly) was better.

At the chiropractor's recommendation I didn't ride on Friday, but did ground driving instead.

On Saturday I was optimistic we would have a good lesson.  It actually was pretty good, despite the busy arena, but we were not able to get the left lead at all.  I'm not sure why, I thought I was keeping Cupid straight but even when the transition felt good he kept picking up the right lead.  It left me feeling a little confused because I didn't think there was much I could do differently.  However I did have a revelation when Cupid got quick or distracted by all the activity in the arena, all I had to do was slide my inside hand forward a bit and he would stretch down and get steady again!

I'm in Tahoe for a ski trip so Cupid is getting a few days off.  I am really looking forward to riding him tomorrow!!

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.