Monday, April 30, 2018

Yarra Yarra Dressage Show

I'm going to sum up the show with something positive: at least we got our left lead canter both tests!  And the judge liked our free walk.  Everything else was a bit of a mess, unfortunately.

Things started out okay.  We arrived at the show early, and Cupid seemed settled waiting at the trailer eating his hay.  I tacked him up about half an hour before our scheduled ride time.  He started out okay, a little quick but I figured he would settle down quickly as he has been.  However he never really settled down.  Perhaps because there was some crazy gray horse repeatedly rearing up in the warm up?  Or the cooler weather?  Or maybe because this is the first show we've done with 2 rings going so there were twice as many horses warming up, half of which were upper level horses doing all sorts of pirouettes and half passes and whatnot, making it more difficult to find room.  Whatever it was, Cupid was hyper.

Our first test (Training 1) Cupid had his head in the air almost the entire time except at free walk, and of course I responded by getting into a half seat instead of sitting more deeply.  It's a vicious cycle! Also I somehow thought we walked between C&H instead of at C, and couldn't remember which diagonal we do the free walk on but luckily guessed correctly at E.  The full test is here:  After our test I went back in the warm up and trotted about 10 more minutes until Cupid seemed a little more relaxed.
Free walk - our signature move.  Photo credit K. Farris
We had over 2 hours until our second test (Training 2).  I loosed the girth but left the saddle on, so Cupid doesn't think he's done.  He was very good about waiting patiently, happy to eat his hay.  It was very cold though, I was shivering a bit even with a sweatshirt over my lightweight show coat.  We took one little walk midway.  I got back on about 25 minutes before our ride time.  Originally I was planning a little shorter but I thought maybe we could use a few extra minutes.  Cupid was better in the warm up this time.  He actually seemed like he was starting to get a little tired so we walked the last few minutes.

We started our test, and when we halted I was waiting for the judge to salute back.  I didn't see it and was unsure whether I should continue or not.  I waited a few moments before proceeding.  Things started out okay, if a bit quick and high headed still.  I was trying to do better about sitting upright this time.  We did our trot circle to the right, changed direction, and I was relieved when we got our left lead canter.  Even though Cupid had his nose up in the air, he still relaxed a bit into the stretchy trot.  We did our walk, the picked up the trot but then by H Cupid started cantering.  I'm not sure if it's because that's where we canter earlier in the test and he was just trying to help, or he was just full of it.  I got him back to the trot a few steps but he went back up to the canter in the circle at E!  Oops.  So we got a 3 and 4 for those sections.  Then we were actually supposed to canter he spooked coming out of the corner and went several steps sideways.  Then broke back to a trot right as we were finishing our circle, but I think the judge let that slide.  Here it is in all it's glory:

When we finished the judge called me over, and told me I forgot to salute in the beginning.  I obviously intended to, but can't remember if I actually did or not and even from the video it's a bit dark and blurry so hard to tell.  But I think I won't make that mistake again!

I was a little disappointed it was a bit of a regression from our last show, but I know progress won't always be linear. We just need to keep getting out there and gaining experience.  Also it's good to know even if things don't go perfectly, it's not so bad.  I would have been a nervous wreck trying to go over jumps with Cupid in this state of mind (even if I know he won't do anything terrible, just being quick to jumps scares me).  Even though I'm still a terrible dressage rider at least it feels safe!
Still love this horse!

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Lead Up to Another Show

I was very happy with how my prep went before the last show and am following a similar schedule this week:

Saturday - day off
Sunday - lesson (outdoor), focusing mainly on my hands and getting our training level frame
Monday - light ride including a walk around the property and about 15 minutes mostly trot work in the dressage court (no cantering)
Tuesday - lesson (outdoor), continuing with hands and training level frame
Wednesday - day off, with massage for Cupid
Thursday - lesson (covered because it was very foggy and I wanted to focus on practicing and not deal with any spooking), more of same
Friday - w/t/c and incorporate some poles
Saturday - light ride, including walk around the property and bit of trot work in the court
Sunday - show!

I asked my trainer to video me on Sunday and two things stuck out to me: 1) my heels (especially the left) are way up most of the time; and 2) even though I thought my elbows were bent they are still pretty straight and it looks like I'm giving away the reins much of the time.

My left heel is horrid

My trainer says I'm showing some improvement, but admittedly progress feels slow.  Even though I need to ride more off my outside rein, I also let my inside rein get too long and then try to use it anyways which results in me moving my hand way out in a leading rein or twisting my wrist by my leg.  It's not pretty.

Cupid seemed to enjoy his massage, though it was a long time for him to stand still.  The areas that needed the most attention were the neck, especially the right side; the left side of his chest and shoulder; and the left side of his back.  The body worker said he seemed a bit better overall then when she last saw him in January.  My trainer said he seemed looser and was moving a bit better the next day, so I'll keep doing it for periodic maintenance.
Happy horse, and I swear his body is not this puny compared to his head

Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Importance of Turnout

Cupid is usually turned out from about 9-3:30, in a large field with a few other geldings.  I don't know if he'd be the same easy horse without it!!  Yesterday I rode him in the morning, and then he saw the dentist and spent the rest of the day inside because he'd been sedated.  Saturday morning I was going to go see him around 8, though I was planning to give him the day off.  But then I thought since I'm always rushing off in the morning it would be nice to actually have breakfast with my boyfriend for once, so I didn't get to the barn until about 10:30.  I was very surprised to see Cupid in his stall, I forgot I put a no turnout sign on his door!!  Oops!!  Cupid was super excited when I led him towards the pasture.  He wasn't pulling, but was prancing a bit and wasn't even interested in stopping for grass.  Then when I let him out this happened.

Play with me!

Practicing the stretchy trot

Lol.  He tries to get the other horses to play with him, but they mostly just ignore his antics and he quickly gives up.  I'm kind of worried what will happen when we do an away show and he can't get turned out!!!

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Trail Horse Extrodinaire

It's been several weeks since Cupid and I have been on a trail ride, but with sunny weather forecasted for this weekend I made arrangements to go with my friend.  We couldn't have picked a nicer day, as it was sunny and 70s! 

As has been the case recently, Cupid came off the trailer very relaxed.  I tacked him up at the trailer and headed up the road to meet my friend.  This involves riding along the road, but it's a quiet road where lots of horses walk so the drivers tend to be very courteous.  Cupid responded to a horse the whinnied at him from a pasture, but kept walking along calmly.  No problem either walking by people doing yardwork, trash cans, grates, and stepping from dirt paths to crossing driveways, and going up and down the curb.

We met up with our friend and headed into Huddart Park.  Unfortunately the trail we got on was a bit rough, but we accepted it as a training challenge.  There was piles of trimmed off tree branches across the trail.  My friend asked if Cupid would cross it, I said I wasn't sure but he handled it like a pro!  He also stood quietly while my friend broke off part of a dead branch and dragged it out of the way.  Finally we made it to a wider, better groomed but still interesting trail.  Cupid stepped down some banks, crossed a few flowing creeks, and didn't bat an eye at a group of wild turkeys crossing in front of us.  Even when my friend's horse was a little fussy (after having not been out in over a week) Cupid stayed relaxed.  We even led for the last part.  Cupid is still a little bit more tentative being in front, but was a total champ.  I could not have been prouder, or had a better day! 

Enjoying a little grass after the ride, before we head back home

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Idle Hands

The last few rides have been a little frustrating for me as I work to become a proper dressage rider.  My upper body has gotten a lot better, which has even helped me while jumping, and even my elbows are somewhat bent now, but my hands are still a mess.  It's very hard to change something I've been doing for over 25 years now!!  I do have a weakness in my right hand so keeping it closed is physically more difficult for me, but that doesn't explain the swiveling wrists or the floating inside or up the neck.  My trainer finally suggested I plant my hand on Cupid's neck and get a feel for a really steady connection.  This did help, and succeeded in getting Cupid rounder.  Interestingly I didn't need as much pressure as I thought, it just needs to be more steady.  So Cupid was using himself really nicely when it felt like I had about 1 lb pressure in the reins, and I thought I needed ~3 to achieve that (total guesses on what 1 vs 3 lbs feels like though).

Today I tried putting a strap through the D-rings on my saddle, so I could hold that as a guide for my hands.  However it was very hard to shorten the reins while holding the strap, and like I said I have a week hand and my reins do tend to gradually get long so I eventually gave up.  But I'll keep it on my saddle for now because it might help as an occasional reminder.

The only bright side through all this has been what a trooper Cupid was.  We did two trot sets today, one about 15 minutes and the other nearly 20 and Cupid was steady, focused, and eager throughout.  I feel bad that he has to suffer through this with me, but his attitude has been great.  He used to get a little balky or cranky sometimes when he thought he's done enough.  I have a trail ride planned for Saturday which will hopefully refresh us both!

Friday, April 6, 2018

After the Show

Well the bad news - Cupid seems to have an abscess brewing.  But he's walking ok, and at least we made it through the show first!

We took the day after the show off, just lots of hand grazing and telling Cupid how proud I was of him.
Eating grass
And moss, weirdo
On Monday we had a very nice ground driving session, complete with a few perfect left lead canter departs!  This continued in our lesson on Tuesday.  Since Cupid was so good about doing what I wanted on Saturday, I thought we should do something he enjoys which is jump.  It's probably been about a month since we jumped, so we kept it easy.  We started going through a set of trot poles a few times each direction.  Then we trotted through the poles, turned right and picked up a canter, and went over a cavaletti.  We continued with a change of direction on the diagonal, with a good trot change and circled around to a second cavaletti.  We kept it to just the trot poles and two cavaletti (ending on the highest setting), and Cupid got each left lead through a trot change.  I guess I don't overthink it as much when I'm jumping a course!  My position felt more secure and Cupid more rateable from all the flatwork we've been doing.

Wednesday I was planning a light walk/trot ride.  Cupid was a little fresh in the outdoor, and I could feel the beginning of an abscess brewing.  Not lame yet so we still did a bit of trotting until Cupid settled down and focused a bit.  Around that time the tractor came to drag the ring so we had to leave anyways, and ended the ride with a walk around the property.  I packed Cupid's feet.

Thursday I could feel a little heat in his right front foot.  He was not lame though, so I packed his feet and he got turned out.
Heading to turnout (Cupid on the left)
Friday his hoof still felt a little warm.  We had a lesson scheduled, so I told my trainer to take it easy.  We did a lot of walk work and ended up with a bit of trotting.  We focused on forward and straightness.  It's raining again and my weak right hand was hurting a bit so it was harder than usual keeping my fingers closed.  Afterwards I gave Cupid an epsom soak, and wrapped his leg with an animalintex poultice.  Due to the weather the horses aren't getting turned out anyways.  Hopefully this foot thing clears quickly!

Oh here's a video from the show of our second test:

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Greenville Dressage Show

Saturday morning I work up at 4:30 and headed out to the barn.  I gave Cupid some food to keep him busy while I braided his mane, which worked well to keep him still.  I still need more practice, especially with the forelock, but I think it turned out ok.  Sectioning the hair last night did help speed up the process a little.  It was still dark when I loaded Cupid at 6.  I turned the truck lights on and had my phone flashlight, and luckily Cupid loaded easily and we arrived at the show a little over an hour later without incident.

For once we managed to arrive early and didn't have to rush!  Cupid seemed pretty relaxed right off the trailer.  We tacked up with just under half an hour until our first test and headed to the warm up in the covered arena.  Cupid was behaving great!  He whinnied once to answer another horse, but otherwise was very focused and not distracted.  (Maybe being in a covered helps since that's where we ride most often.)  We warmed up primarily trotting on a large circle, with some smaller circles and shoulder-out sprinkled in.  We cantered to the right first.  Then to the left, still some trouble getting that lead but I praised Cupid when we got it.  Then we were called to the ring, where there was an additional warm up area.  I was told I have a few minutes if I want it, but felt ready to head in.

We started trotting around the outside of the court.  I moved his shoulders a little to get him focused and soft.There is a large hedge around it, but luckily nothing behind the hedge that distracted Cupid.  I said my number as I rode by the judge's booth (Cupid didn't even bat an eye, yay!), and the judge or scribe said good luck.  But I wasn't sure if I was still waiting for a bell or whistle, lol.  So I lapped around again and heard the bell.

Our first test was Training 1.  I tried to make sure we had some energy coming down the centerline.  Our halt felt good.  The test is simple: start to the left, trot circle, canter circle, walk, change direction at free walk, then trot circle and canter circle to the right.  Unfortunately we did not get the left lead, at all, but no other major mistakes.  We got straight 6's except a 4 for the left lead, and a funny comment about how it's great we're starting our dressage training and need to improve connection in the bridle for higher scores.  I know we still have things to work on, but I was very happy with Cupid.

We had over an hour until our second test, so I took Cupid back to the trailer and took his bridle off but left his saddle on with the girth loosed.  In the past he's been a bit cranky about having to go twice, so I thought leaving the saddle on might let him know he's not done.  Cupid was content to stand and eat hay.

I got back on about 15 minutes before my second test in the covered warmup.  Cupid felt super relaxed, like he usually is at home.  We kept the warmup easy, a little trotting then just walking.  The second test felt even better than the first!  Since Cupid was so relaxed I was able to focus a little more on sitting up straighter and trying to push Cupid into the bridle a bit more.  We were able to get the left lead on the second try.  This was the first time Cupid wasn't too distracted at a show to stretch down in his stretchy trot circle.  I was ecstatic with how he felt!
Even though we haven't yet cracked 60% at a rated show, each time feels better and my confidence is increasing.  Last year I wasn't sure if Cupid would ever get over his nervousness being in new places, but all the trips we've gone on have paid off.  I'm still trying to break my habits from hunt seat riding.  I know he would be further along with a more skilled rider, but I am loving this journey that we are on together and I couldn't ask for a better partner than him!